Morris Hillquit.

Socialism; promise or menace? online

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The second or dogmatic school of theology is much
more concrete in its conceptions, and defines religion as
the belief in and ritualistic worship of a personal God
as the conscious and intelligent creator of the universe
and the deliberate guide and judge of our individual
actions and destinies.

The term Christianity is somewhat less vague than
Religion, but like the latter it also stands for two widely
different meanings. As a general belief in the moral
doctrines and practices of Jesus, Christianity is a branch
of what we have designated as idealistic religion; but
as a literal belief in the rigid body of Church doctrines
attaching to the term it is but a particular form of "dog-
matic" religion, one of its many other similar forms,
past and present.

The term Church is not synonymous with either Re-
ligion or Christianity. It is a concrete and material
institution with an organization, history, and policy
of its own, and must be judged by different standards
than either religion or Christianity.


There is obviously no antagonism or inconsistency
between the Socialist philosophy and the various ethical
and philosophic systems which we have designated as
idealistic religions. In fact, Socialism has itself often
been called a religion in that sense. But even the rigid
Catholic conception of religion does not always seem to
be incompatible with the doctrine of Marxian Socialism,
including the much-maligned theory of economic de-

One of the best works in English in defence of the
economic interpretation of history comes from the pen
of a prominent and orthodox Catholic priest. This
scholarly book is entitled "History of Economics, or
Economics as a Factor in the Making of History," and
its author is the Reverend J. A. Dewe, late Professor of
the Catholic College of St. Thomas in St. Paul. It is
published by Benziger Brothers, "printers to the Holy
Apostolic See," and its fly-leaf bears the indispensable
"Nihil Obstat" of the Catholic book censor as well as the
official Imprimatur of Archbishop, now Cardinal, John
M. Farley.

The summary of the author's economic and historical
views, contained in his introduction, reads like a page
from Frederick Engels. "It is evident," says the Rever-
end Dewe, "that economics must have an almost un-
bounded influence on human conduct, both public and
private. For the great majority spend the greater part
of their time either in producing or distributing wealth,
and, from the point of view of extension, the time that an
ordinary man has to employ in earning his daily bread
is greater than that which he can possibly expend in ex-
plicit acts of religion. This all-pervading activity of


economics is still more apparent in the state or common-
wealth. In the whole course of ancient and modern his-
tory there is scarcely any single important political event
that has not been caused, either directly or indirectly, by
some economic influence. Religion and physical causes
may also have been present, but the economic factor seems
to have been the most constant and the most pervasive." 1

Evidently Professor J. A. Dewe disagrees with the
assertion of his colleague John A. Ryan that the theory
of economic determinism contradicts the belief of every
Christian, and, what is particularly interesting to note,
Professor Dewe's views seem to have the official sanction
of the Catholic Church.

Still I am inclined to believe that the majority of
Socialists find it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile
their general philosophic views with the doctrines and
practices of dogmatic religious creeds. In that sense my
opponent is perhaps justified in asserting that the So-
cialist party contains a larger proportion of "agnostics"
than either the Republican or the Democratic party. .

But Dr. Ryan is entirely in the wrong when he points
to the Marxian philosophy, and particularly to the theory
of economic determinism, as the specific source of the
non-orthodox religious views of the average Socialist.
Orthodox and dogmatic religious beliefs and formalistic
religious practices are as inconsistent with any other
scientific system of social or philosophic thought as
they are with Marxism, and the "irreligion" of the So-
cialists is neither greater nor less than the "irreligion"
of the average enlightened person who has been trained
in the methods of contemporaneous thought and who
1 The Italics are mine.


accepts the conclusions of modern science. The only
reason why the type of the "agnostic" occurs more fre-
quently in the Socialist movement than in the ranks of
the old political parties is that the average Socialist is
better instructed and more independent in his thinking
than the average Republican or Democratic voter.

Dr. Ryan assures us that to-day "genuine science no
longer puts itself in opposition to religion" ; but unfor-
tunately he fails to specify the sciences which he con-
siders "genuine," or to define the term religion in this
bold sentence. If he has in mind the more modern and
rather vague idealistic conceptions of religion, then I
repeat that Socialism also does not "put itself in opposi-
tion " to it ; but if he refers to the more orthodox and
cruder forms of religious belief, I know of no pact of rec-
onciliation between them and modern sciences.

"Genuine" modern science shows no inclination to
compromise with traditional dogmatic theology, and the
conflict between the two world views is sharpest where
the latter exerts its strongest sway. Thus Italy, Spain,
and France, the strongholds of Catholicism, are also the
seats of the most aggressive and militant atheism. The
Socialist movement in those countries likewise presents
a much larger proportion of agnostics than it does in the
United States and in other countries of modernized liberal
creeds. In this it merely reflects the general state of
the enlightened public mind in precisely the same way
as any other advanced section of the population no
more and no less.

The attitude of the average individual Socialist toward
Religion and Christianity may thus be said to be identical


with the attitude of the average non-Socialist of similar
state of general enlightenment. What are his relations
to the Church as an organization distinct from the gen-
eral institutions of Religion or Christianity ?

As a rule, these relations must be admitted to be
rather strained, and I believe Dr. Ryan's observation
that the majority of Socialists "seem to have severed
their connection with the Church" contains a large
element of truth. Not alone the Socialist movement, but
organized labour all over the world seems to develop an
ever growing sentiment of distrust and suspicion toward
the Church. And the responsibility for that attitude
rests entirely with the Church, and particularly with its
social and economic attitude and activities.

For the Church has undergone very radical changes
within the nineteen centuries since its original founda-
tion. Born as a revolt of the lowly and disinherited
against the oppression of the rich and powerful of the
world, it had for several centuries remained the true and
class-conscious organization of the proletariat for their
mutual economic protection and social salvation. The
primitive Christian community at Jerusalem was, in the
testimony of St. Luke, a purely communistic institution,
in which all members "who were possessed of lands or
houses sold them, and brought the price of the things
that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles'
feet ; and distribution was made to every man according
as he had need. "

Throughout the first centuries of our era the fathers
of the Church, following the example of their Master,
condemned the wealthy as "robbers of the poor" and
championed the right of all human beings to the earth


and the fruits thereof. It was owing to this proletarian
and revolutionary character of the primitive Christian
Church that it grew and expanded into a world power ;
and when it had attained that power, it fell. The Chris-
tian Church never had a concrete social and economic
programme. Its teachings were purely abstract, purely
ethical. Its sole social significance lay in its negative
expression of revolt ; and when the shrewd ruling classes
of the Roman Empire, under Constantine, turned per-
secution into favour, and elevated Christianity to the
dignity of a State and court religion, they drew the fangs
from the dangerous movement. The meaningless form
was preserved, but the living substance was destroyed.

Official Christianity was reduced to a set of formalistic
practices and deprived of its great social significance.
And the Church as the material representative of domi-
nant Christianity became itself a dominant and oppress-
ing social and economic organization. In the Middle
Ages the social position of the clergy is quite akin to
that of the nobility. It is an exploiting class. It owns
lands and costly edifices and untold treasures. It em-
ploys labourers and armies and taxes the people. It vies
with kings and princes for temporal power and often
outdoes them in worldly splendour. Of the spirit and
traditions of its early teaching and practices remains
nothing but the dry skeleton of formal almsgiving.

In modern times the Church has been shorn of much
of its temporal power, but it has remained the steadfast
ally and the loyal apologist of the classes in power, and
the determined foe of the common people. Every form
of political tyranny and social and economic oppression
has invariably had its spiritual support and pastoral


blessing. Every effort of the downtrodden to lift their
heads has infallibly met with its stern rebuke. Serfdom
and slavery were sanctioned by the Church as God-
ordained institutions. The brutal and rapacious feudal
lord was acclaimed by it as the "soldier of Christ," and
the autocratic tyrant as the "anointed of God." The
struggles of the nations for political liberty in the eigh-
teenth century and the American antislavery movement
in the earlier half of the nineteenth century were com-
bated by the Church as wicked, and so, on the whole, are
the modern struggles of the workers for economic justice.

The Church can be relied on to take the employer's
side in every important labour struggle. It counsels
"Christian" resignation and preaches to the exploited
workers the paralyzing and immoral gospel of servile sub-
mission. It hates and execrates all revolts against the
ruling classes, and that is the true reason for its em-
bittered war against Socialism, the most radical and
potent expression of the modern working-class revolt.

It is not true that the strenuous anti-Socialist agita-
tion of the Catholic Church was inspired by the alleged
"immorality" or "irreligion" of the movement. The
Catholic Church remains indifferent and inactive in the
face of the most shocking spread of prostitution, white
slavery, and all forms of moral degeneracy, as well as
to the rankest manifestations of atheism, so long as they
do not endanger the material power of the dominant
classes. The Catholic Church cares little for morality
per se. Its active and aggressive attacks are always
directed against liberating movements, and the charges
of immorality and irreligion are its invariable weapons
of warfare in such cases.


Of course, this rule, as all rules, does not operate with-
out exceptions. All modern movements for human up-
lift have had the active and enthusiastic support of some,
often many, high-minded ministers of the Church.
But they have been the exception ; and, particularly in
the case of Catholic priests, the exceptional and anoma-
lous position of clerical champions of popular liberty has
often been accentuated by severe discipline from the
Mother Church.

And still I should advise my good Catholic comrades
in the Socialist and labour movement not to take the
attacks of their Church too much to heart. For just as
the Church has ever opposed every progressive and
revolutionary movement, just so has it uniformly recon-
ciled itself with those movements in the hours of their
triumph and victory. The Catholic Church seems quite
loyal in its support of republicanism, personal liberty,
and even religious freedom in all countries where these
privileges have been won, although it had bitterly op-
posed all these institutions before their establishment,
and still opposes them in countries of monarchical form
of government and backward social organizations. It
is therefore quite within the realm of the possible that
when the Socialist movement shall have attained its
object, and the Socialist commonwealth shall be an ac-
complished fact, the Catholic Church will confer on it
its belated blessings, and proclaim it the only God-
ordained social order.

I have thus met the attacks and answered the argu-
ments of my opponent as fully and frankly as I could.
But there still remains one phase of the subject, upon


which Dr. Ryan has scarcely touched and which to my
mind is vastly more important for a proper evaluation
of the Socialist attitude toward religion than all the
points heretofore discussed. I mean the religious tolera-
tion of the organized Socialist movement and the prob-
able effect of the Socialist order on religious liberty.
For, after all, the private religious beliefs of individual
Socialists are of no greater importance or significance
than those of any other persons. The agnostic, the man
of philosophic religious beliefs, and the orthodox Catholic
face each other with different and conflicting views.
Who is right and who is wrong ?

My beliefs differ from those of Dr. Ryan. I think I
am right. Dr. Ryan is convinced that he is right. The
absolute or relative truth of our positions can only be
established by a free interchange of arguments and by
our respective ability to persuade the greatest number
of persons. Hence the important question is not,
whether and what the individual Socialists believe, but
whether the Socialist movement manifests an inclination
to interfere with religious organizations and propaganda,
and whether the "Socialist State" is likely to suppress or
curtail the freedom of religious beliefs, teachings, and

The organized Socialist movement has at all times
actively and consistently defended the absolute freedom
of religious beliefs and practices not only within its own
ranks as a matter of tactics, but within the community
at large as a matter of principle. The first definite test
presented itself to the young Social-Democracy of Ger-
many, when the government of the newly founded em-
pire under the reactionary leadership of Prince Bismarck


undertook to suppress the Catholic Church. Three bills
were submitted to the Reichstag. One to limit the
freedom of expression from the pulpit (1871) ; another,
to expel the Jesuit order from the country (1872) ; and
the third, to remove the education of priests from the
Church (1873). The Socialist deputies in the Reichstag
and the Socialist press and speakers outside of it fought
consistently and energetically against each and all of the

The Catholic Church is still one of the "religious
communities" officially recognized by the German gov-
ernment, but that does not always protect it from moles-
tation and persecution on the part of several constituent
States of the empire. In order to put an end to such
molestations and at the same time to preserve all
privileges arising from official state recognition, the Cath-
olic Church through its representatives in the Reichs-
tag (the "party of the Centre") introduced the so-called
"Toleration Bill" in 1900. The bill provided for "free-
dom of religious beliefs" in general terms, but demanded
very specifically the entire independence of the religious
communities recognized by the State. To this the Socialists
opposed an amendment calling for the absolute freedom
of convictions, beliefs, and religious practices for all
persons. In the final vote the Catholics cast their
strength against the Socialist proposal, while the Social-
ists unanimously voted in favour of the Catholic measure.

A still more recent test of the Socialist sincerity in the
matter of religious tolerance presented itself toward the
close of 1912, when the German government renewed
its attack on the Jesuit order in the shape of a rigid and
hostile interpretation of the anti-Jesuit laws of 1872,


known as the " May laws." The attitude of the Social-
ists on that occasion is best told by some of the Ameri-
can Catholic publications.

The Catholic Telegraph of December 12, 1912, reports :
"In the situation which has arisen from the break be-
tween the government and the Catholic Centre over
the decision of the Bundesrath in a case affecting the
anti-Jesuit law, for which Dr. Spahn, the Catholic
leader, denounced the Imperial Chancellor in the Reichs-
tag, the ministry has resorted to the unprecedented
step of inviting the Social Democrats to make common
cause against the Catholic Centre, which was formerly
part of the government bloc.

"The Centre, with the aid of the allied (sic) Socialists
have 200 votes [the Socialists no, the Centre only about
90. M. H.] or a full majority of the Reichstag, and
can obstruct the voting of the supply bill and clog all
other wheels of legislation. . . .

"The government's appeal to the Socialists will ap-
parently fall on deaf ears."

"'It would be a mesalliance and is not to be dreamed
of,' says Eduard Bernstein, the Socialist writer and one
of the leaders in the Reichstag. 'All our traditions ex-
clude such a combination.'"

The Catholic Tribune of the same date informs its
readers that "a Socialist speaker assured the Centre of
his party's support."

From all of which it follows not only that the Social-
ists are absolutely consistent and sincere in their profes-
sion of religious tolerance, but also that the Catholic
Church may occasionally find them highly reliable and
desirable political "allies."


The modern Socialist movement has thus demon-
strated its broad-minded religious tolerance by word
and deed. Is there any good reason to apprehend that
an established Socialist State would be less tolerant or
that its existence would be incompatible with the con-
tinuance of religious practices?

Socialism, on the one hand, demands the complete
separation of State and Church, and, on the other, it
stands for absolute religious liberty. These two funda-
mental principles determine the attitude which the
Socialist State must take on religion and worship. It is
safe to predict that a Socialist administration will confer
no special rights, privileges, or exemptions on the
Church, nor will it give it official sanction or recognition.
On the other hand, it will not interfere in the slightest
degree with its existence, teachings, and practices.

The Church will thus be a free and voluntary associa-
tion of persons entertaining similar religious beliefs, and
will be supported and maintained by the private con-
tributions of such persons. The extent of its strength
and influence will depend entirely on the measure in
which it satisfies the spiritual requirements of the popu-
lation. Will the Church stand that test? Will Chris-
tianity survive under those conditions?

Dr. Ryan asserts that in the conception of the Marxian
Socialist "Christianity will go out of existence with the
downfall of capitalism and private property." This
prediction may be quite plausible from the point of view
of those who consider Christianity as a mere "bulwark
of the capitalist class." But surely the forecast cannot
be accepted by true believers, who hold that Christianity
is an independent and absolute force capable of surviving


all political and economic changes. There is, therefore,
no reason why a good Catholic should have any mis-
givings about the fate of Christianity under a Socialist
regime unless his faith is not as strong as it might be.

Dr. Ryan concludes his able article with what he terms
an "entirely reasonable" proposition to the Socialist
movement. The proposition is indeed quite "elemen-
tary in its simplicity." All my opponent requests is
that the Socialists forswear all views contrary to the
"traditional" teachings of morals and religion; that
they abandon the doctrines of Marxian philosophy and a
substantial part of their practical programme. In return
for these slight concessions he holds out the promise, or
rather prospect, that "religious opposition to Socialism
will probably cease."

I regret my inability to accept the friendly invitation
on behalf of the Socialist movement. Socialism has
succeeded exceedingly well with its present philosophy
and methods. Since the days when the movement
ceased to represent a mere pious and philanthropic sen-
timent and became a militant organization of the work-
ing-class based on the radical social and economic phi-
losophy of Karl Marx, it has grown from a handful of
dreamers into a potent international army of many mil-
lions, a modern social factor more powerful than the
powerful Catholic Church. It has grown in spite of
political persecution and "religious opposition," per-
haps even to a certain extent on account of them. It
is therefore quite unlikely that the Socialist movement
will at this time change its philosophy and tactics to
suit my amiable opponent.


But if suggestions are in order, I may in my turn
offer one to Dr. Ryan, which is likewise "elemental in its
simplicity " :

Let the Catholic Church dissolve its un-Christian
partnership with the rich and powerful of this world ;
let it abandon its persistent opposition to all organized
efforts of the poor for social and economic betterment ;
let it cease to interfere with political and class struggles,
to which it is not a party and on which it is not com-
petent to speak ; let it cast aside its pomp and splendour,
its mundane ambitions and greed for power ; let it return
to the spirit and practices of the lowly Nazarene ; in a
word, let it limit itself to its legitimate functions within
the spiritual sphere of life, and I can assure Dr. Ryan in
positive terms that when this has been done, all an-
tagonism between the Socialist movement and the Church
will cease forever.



In his reply to my main article, Mr. Hillquit com-
plains that I "go behind the record" of the Socialist
platforms in order to get the attitude of the movement
toward religion. Yet he does that very thing himself.
Of the three writers whom he cites in his vain effort to
show that "the party declarations mean precisely what
they say," one, Kautsky, is a rather unfortunate selec-
tion. My opponent has omitted an important qualify-
ing sentence which intervened between the two that he
quotes from Kautsky ; stranger still, he has neglected to
inform us that, in the second edition of the pamphlet


from which the quotation is taken, the great German
Socialist corrected his statement thus : 1

"As many letters addressed to me have shown that
this sentence has been misunderstood, I do not think it
out of place to remark that I do not view as possible the
union of Christianity with Social Democracy as a political
party in the sense that it is possible to arrive at a full
understanding of Socialism from the standpoint of Chris-
tianity. . . . The acceptance of a personal God (and
an impersonal God is a meaningless word) and of per-
sonal immortality is incompatible with the present stage
of scientific knowledge in general, of which scientific
Socialism is a part which cannot be severed from the

The other two authors, Pannekoek and Liebknecht,
do assert that religion is not among the concerns of
Socialism. But how can we know whether they are
not moved by purely "tactical" considerations, quite as
Arthur Morrow Lewis and other delegates to the Chicago
convention of 1908 finally voted for the religious-neu-
trality plank, although they had in the course of the
debate denounced it as a lie ?

At any rate, Mr. Hillquit's "abundant testimony"
comes from only two persons, while the contrary expres-
sions that I have cited represent more than a dozen

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