søndag den 25. oktober 2015

Religion and Socialism

As far as I am aware, nobody has published the text of Horace Jarvis' pamphlet Christianity and Socialism. Therefore I shall be reproducing it at about a section per blog. It is 80 pages long, in 20 "chapters" and looks (and feels) like the 1978 SPGB pamphlet Questions of the Day.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always had the position that religion is not a personal but a social issue, therefore applicants for membership are not allowed to join if they have religious beliefs. There is a specific question on this in the membership test so applicants are in no doubts as to where we and where they stand.

A book review from the Socialist Standard (November 1998) with some pertinent details:

Socialism and Religion

By F. A. Ridley. Rational Socialist League, 70 Chestnut Lane, Amersham. 40 pages.

This is a reprint, updated by the author before he died in 1994, of a pamphlet originally published in 1948.

On religion, it takes up a basically similar position to ours, derived from Marx: that religion is an expression of human alienation, of the fact that humans are not in control of their destiny but are the playthings of uncontrollable, impersonal economic and social forces and resort to religion to console themselves and to try to make sense of this. This is why, as Ridley puts it in a criticism of bourgeois non-political rationalists and freethinkers, "no amount of merely expository or destructive criticism—useful and necessary as such criticism is in itself—can finally destroy religion; only the coming of international socialism can do that, by abolishing the social antagonisms which necessitate its existence".

On socialism, however, Ridley is not so clear. Since he was a member of the old Independent Labour Party (ILP) who hob-nobbed with Trotskyists this is not surprising and explains his reference to that contradiction in terms a "workers state" existing in socialism.

He mentions our 1910 pamphlet Socialism and Religion which he says relied too much on Herbert Spencer's ghost theory of the origin of religion according to which the first gods represented the imagined spirits of dead heroes as they appeared in the dreams of their followers (fair enough). He also mentions a pamphlet, Christianity and Socialism, published by an SPGB member, Horace Jarvis, in the 1970s. This was published privately, partly because a pamphlet on religion was not considered by us to be a priority but also because it was more oriented towards textual criticism of the bible than a deeper Marxist analysis of the social and historical origins and role of the Christian religion. Even so, some Socialists have always liked that sort of thing. Jarvis, incidentally, before he joined the Socialist Party, had been a member of the Communist Party's front organisation, the League of Atheists, but left the CP when they dissolved this body so as to be able to attract religious support for the Popular Front policy they adopted in the second half of the 1930s.

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