Sunday, February 7, 2021

Letter: Confusion about religion (1966)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard


It appears that there is a lot of confused thinking amongst socialists on the subject of religion. It is not necessary here to go into the evidence there is to show that God exists, but if this is so, as millions believe, then He must exist forever—even under Socialism. Now, essentially religion should be an expression of this belief at all times regardless of what type of system we live under. It is grossly unfair that socialists should attempt to link up religion with capitalism by exaggerating, as your December 1965 issue does, examples from the history of religion in order to shake beliefs of people. And the sad thing about it is that these instances have no relevance at all to the true purpose and meaning of religion. Many traditional concepts and practices of religion may have to be reviewed, reinterpreted, condemned or even discarded without in any way affecting the real significance of religion.

Furthermore, if the existence of God is a reality, then how can you say, as you did in your December issue, that “socialism involves a rejection of leadership” which I suppose includes religious leadership? Surely, religious leadership must exist even under socialism because the need for religion will not disappear then. It appears that socialists are determined to keep religion out of socialism. It is amusing to think that this is analogous to aeronautical engineers engaged in designing a plane but determined to disregard gravitational forces!

Socialist theory in relation to religion is based solely on certain practices in the name of religion in the past. In doing so they overlook the relevance and significance of the essentials of religion. This I think is the reason why socialism does not appear to be gaining momentum in certain European and many non European countries.

It is unfortunate that religious sentiments have been exploited at times for the ultimate triumph of capitalism, but need this be so, and need socialism and religion be incompatible?

Or, does the answer lie in the fact that socialists themselves have not really understood the true meaning of religion perhaps because their knowledge of religion is confined to Christianity only and hence they tend to regard religion as something dispensable.

Capitalism may be an abominable system, but then, to me, Socialism with its exclusion of religion from its theory is totally outdated and irrelevant.
N. J. Verjee, 
London. NW11.

If Mr. Verjee wants to convince us that God exists, and will exist under Socialism, he really must do better than airily say that it is “not necessary here to go into the evidence . . .”  For if there is no adequate evidence, there is no reason to say that God exists, and Mr. Verjee's case falls.

It is worthwhile, then, for us to go into this ‘‘evidence". The case for religion is expressed entirely in terms of man’s material environment and therefore reflects that environment. Thus as our knowledge of our environment has developed religious “evidence” has been forced to change its ground. This is why the Church in many parts of the world is now in turmoil, with prominent clerics challenging some of its most cherished beliefs and dogmas.

In any case, religion is nothing if it is not a faith; it should not rely on material evidence. To use Mr. Verjee’s own example, a religious person should accept that, if God wills it, he could fly. It is the materialist who argues that man must first learn about gravity and all the other essentials of aeronautics. It is not faith, but material knowledge, which keeps men orbiting in space.

Socialists reject leadership of all kinds because Socialism can only be established by a politically conscious working class. When the workers in the mass have gained the knowledge needed to bring in Socialism they will know how to act and will not need leaders to tell them how to think and what to do. This includes religious leaders, who cannot be seen in isolation from the world in which they operate. It should be remembered that, when they are not too busy making “infallible” statements on doctrine, men like the Pope and Aga Khan are mainly concerned with wielding the enormous political power which they have.

Religion has always supported property society, with all its oppressions, in one shape or another. Mr. Verjee asks ". . . need this be so . . . ?” but the fact is that religious leaders have always thought that it should be so. He should really be arguing with them, and not with us, on the point.

Mr. Verjee also mentions the “true meaning” and the "real significance” of religion. These are confusing and meaningless phrases, typical of much religious thinking. Almost every religious person has a different idea of the “true meaning” of his faith; and who is to say when we have come upon the ‘real significance” of religion? Hitler had his ideas on the subject and so did the millions of Protestants. Catholics, Muslims etc. on both sides who were busily killing each other during the World Wars.

Socialists do not reject religion because of what Mr. Verjee calls " . . certain practices in the name of religion in the past.” We reject it because it does not fit the facts; it does nothing to explain man’s environment; it offers a blind faith in the workings of a supernatural being in place of the materialist’s scientific analysis which goes to the roots of social development and which stands up to practical examination.

Religion supports capitalism, as it supported other properly societies, because it encourages people who are oppressed to suffer their burdens humbly, living in hopes of the after world. This is a confusing and misleading philosophy, and one which diverts the working class from what should be their first object—gaining the knowledge needed to set up a Socialist society of freedom, plenty and brotherhood.
Editorial Committee

50 years ago: The abolition of class divisions (1966)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have seen how the whole structure of present-day or any other society, rests upon and takes its shape from the property base; and now we can proceed to consider what, broadly, must be the result of the carrying out of the Socialist proposal to change the social base from private ownership of the means necessary to satisfy the economic needs of the community to one in which these things are owned and controlled by the whole people.

The first and most important effect must be to abolish class distinctions. Just as, when the needs of gaining a livelihood have only reached such a stage that common ownership in the land was the only form of ownership that was useful to either the community or the individual, and therefore the only form that was possible in the circumstances (i.e. when the chase offered the highest reward to human product activity), there were no class divisions, so in the society arising from the new social base there could be no classes. Where property is owned by some only of the people, those who own are marked off from those who do not; they are a class apart, and their interests are to try their utmost to maintain and increase the advantage which their properly gives them over the property-less. In the nature of things, these endeavours are more effective if carried out collectively, hence they harden into class effort to support class interests.

But when all these things necessary for the well-being of the community cease to belong to individuals, but are owned as a single individual instrument of production and distribution by the whole people as an organic unit, none are possessors and none have any advantage over others. Since all are in the same situation, all have the same interests, namely to make the means of gaining the common livelihood serve with the utmost efficiency the common purpose. Society, therefore, so long rent by class divisions founded upon unequal properly conditions, at once loses its class nature with the abolition of private properly, and being classless, there can be no class interests.
From the Socialist Standard February 1916

News from the World Socialist Party of Ireland (1966)

Party News from the February 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

“We distributed 30,000 copies of our Election Statement in eight areas of Belfast, in Derry, Armagh, Newry, Portadown, Lurgan, Larne, Carrickfergus and Lisburn. This was the widest and biggest distribution of a single Socialist statement in Ireland, 

We also distributed 300 copies of 'Comment'. This activity look its toll of Party funds. Had it not been for the generous help of the SPGB it would not have been possible to campaign on such a large scale. But at least on this occasion all the money was spent on actual propaganda and did not find its way into government funds in a lost deposit! We are now recovering and have plans for producing a new leaflet for 'follow-up' distribution in the areas where we put the Election Statement."

The Passing Show: Radio Rot (1966)

The Passing Show Column from the February 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Radio Rot

I have to make an admission that I do like listening to the radio—and watching the TV, too, when I get the chance, which, as I don't have a TV set, is not very often. Of course, you have to use discrimination in choice of programmes and learn to resist the mesmeric effect of the box. There is, after all, a little switch on one side and this must be firmly turned off if you are not to sit through programmes such as "Take Your Pick" with Michael Miles or “Juke Box Jury" with David Jacobs. This was a cruel lesson I learned when I did have a set, but maybe there was some value in watching them once or twice—a sort of immunisation process.

Of course, not all the radio and telly programmes are “light,” at least not intentionally so. There are some pretty good documentary features which are useful as far as they go, and the B.B.C. does encourage some controversial discussions in programmes like “Any Questions.” And they can be quite enjoyable providing you don’t get too het up at the puerile questions which they deal with in all solemnity. If you are a Socialist, you will naturally feel it just that much more acutely.

For a Socialist is so very aware of the really big problems of the world and how to solve them, that it must be like twisting the knife in a wound to hear the questions panel heatedly discussing whether Bernard Levin should be more polite or whether gambling winnings should be taxed. The piffling, inconsequential drivel that some of the “personalities" talk at a time when millions are starving and the world is dangerously close to a third big war, has to be heard to be believed. Even the “serious" commentators rarely get anywhere near a fundamental consideration of the way we live today.

But after all is said and done, it should be no more than we expect. The BBC, ITV, Pirate Pops as well, can only in the main reflect public interest and as we are all too painfully aware, this does not include a serious consideration of the Socialist case. Which is the real reason behind the consistent refusal of the powers-that-be to grant time on the air to our Party. When Socialist ideas are much more widely accepted and discussed we will not have to pester the authorities for a measly five minutes. They will be asking us instead.

Goodbye to the Afternoon Nap 

It is just another of the many nasty tendencies of capitalism that it is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to abolish or whittle down those of our leisurely customs which interfere with production and profits. In our December issue, we recalled how the 12 days of Christmas was very quickly reduced to one when the industrial revolution got under way, and although we get more than one day nowadays, it is nowhere near the original number. But even then, we were wrong to take it. according to some newspapers who seem to place the national productivity drive before all else.

Then again, some of our older readers may recall the circumstances under which pub licensing hours in this country were restricted. When my father was a boy, the public houses were usually open all day. some from 6am till midnight, but the First World War stopped all that. It was found that there was a tendency for munitions workers to spend their overtime earnings over the bar and to miss some of their shifts, so the licensing hours were severely curtailed and remained essentially so until fairly recently when there were minor revisions. Nothing really to do with any concern for our health—this time it was munitions production which caused the axe to be wielded.

No doubt you can think of other examples such as the shifting of May Day to the first Sunday in the month, and thus you might be inclined to think that it's a good job workers have struggled over the years to increase the paid holidays allowed by their individual employers.

Britain is not, of course, the only country where the cry is for more work and less leisure. You would never have thought that the afternoon siesta, such a part of life for those in hotter countries, would go: yet this is what looks like happening in Chile. The government there has decreed that the four hour lunch period be reduced to 30 minutes, and that all bars close between mid-day and 7pm each day.

Perhaps, as the Evening Standard editorial of January 8th pointed out, somewhat slyly, the indigestion pill manufacturers will do a roaring trade and the ruling class will get some increased production and profits. But for the Chilean workers it is the same sad story of the reduction of their leisure time and per- haps an increase in stomach ulcers. For as the Evening Standard also points out: "A half-hour hastily snatched lunch breeds ulcers faster than almost anything else in the world.”

More New Year Hypocrisy

It was perhaps in the nature of capitalist polities that the late premier of India, Mr. Shastri, should receive praises and tributes following his death on January 11th. With China breathing hotly down their necks, there had been strenuous efforts by USSR to patch up the India-Pakistani quarrel and Mr. Shastri's death occurred only a few hours after he had signed a peace agreement with the Pakistan president Ayub Khan.

Doubtless it came as a shock to various statesmen, not least the Soviet Prime Minister, Mr. Kosygin, but Shastri's demise is not likely to have any great or lasting effect on the world situation, despite the sloppy tributes of Harold Wilson and Lyndon Johnson. The U.S. President was true to his usual hypocritical form when he spoke of the news as “a tragic blow to the hopes of mankind for peace and progress.”

Indeed, the history of Shastri's short term as Premier (a mere 18 months or so) has been anything but peaceful. In that time he had been involved in clashes with China and Pakistan and had openly stated that his government were considering the production of a nuclear bomb. Previously he served under Nehru, whose government went to war originally with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue, and not so long ago annexed Portuguese Goa. In dealing with striking workers, Shastri’s government was just as brutal and repressive as its predecessors.

But all this you are not supposed to remember as canting politicians heap praise on the dead man’s shoulders. And the tragedy of it is that many workers will indeed not remember, even though the events were all so very recent. It is the Socialist who will bear it all in mind and point out that despite his apparent gentleness as a person, Shastri was one of Capitalism's politicians, and in that role, he was as much an enemy of the working class as Winston Churchill or Adolf Hitler.


  “In 1960 nearly seven and a half million people in the United Kingdom were living in poverty, defined as below the National Assistance standard." (Report by Professors Smith and Townsend 23-12.65.)

  "Mr. Jack Stone, who has resigned as managing director of Lloyds Packaging Warehouses, is reported to be in line for a Golden handshake 'well in excess of £50,000'." (Guardian 10.1.66.)

  "Protecting this (copper) trade is not merely a matter of charily towards Zambia since about 45 per cent. of Britain's copper comes from the Zambian mines." (Guardian report 7.1.66.)

   ". . . Only by accepting a less ambitious full employment target will employment be brought under control." (Daily Telegraph editorial 10.1.66.)

  "Aspro-Nicholas Ltd. said last night that it was prepared to send Oxfam and War on Want £250,000 worth of tablets which were being withdrawn from the market . . .” (Guardian 11.1.66.)

   “The Duchess of Norfolk is planning a banquet for 300 dogs in the grounds of Arundel Castle, to raise funds for a stray dog Sanctuary." (Guardian 10.1.66.)
   ". . . Labour won the last election, and is proving a visibly non-Socialist party." (The Economist 8.1.66.)

  "Christmas, for me, is out of this world” (The Bishop of Guildford in his Christmas Day broadcast.)
Eddie Critchfield

Russia (1966)

Book Review from the February 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Atlas of Soviet Affairs by Robert N. Taafe and Robert C. Kingsbury (Methuen, 7s. 6d)

This is the latest in a paperback series; others have been Atlases of African and of World affairs

Maps are useful, indeed fascinating, things also be exciting, and can tell a story of more than a country's physical features.

An Atlas of Soviet Affairs illustrates the growth of the Russian state, from the Great Duchy of Moscow in the late 15th Century. It shows the steady Russian expansion into Europe and the Far East, the spheres of influence which the present great Soviet Union dominates and where it now conflicts with the United States.

There is one map which tells, with its arrows and dotted lines, of the deportations under Stalin of the Volga Germans, the Crimean Tatars and the North Caucasians. The text, in a stunning understatement, says that the deportations took place ". . . often with great loss of life . . ."

There is a lot to be learned from this little book, of the Soviet Union's physical geography, its history, economy and communications. The idea behind it, if not new, is excellent; but the question is whether a paperback can do proper justice to it.

The authors are University professors in the United States. They are not misled by the all too common delusion that the conflict between Russia and America is one of ideology; they show that it is anything but.

The commentary alongside the maps is balanced and occasionally there is a flash of humour, grim or wry or sardonic: ". . . the abstention of Albania from COMECON is a relatively minor economic problem and is probably compensated for by the recent addition of the Mongolian People's Republic (Outer Mongolia)"

Government (1966)

Book Review from the February 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Insight into Government by Lord Craigton, Pitman 21s.

This little book is intended as a primer for those who want to play the game of bourgeois politics. It is written by a Conservative peer for the benefit of “individuals and organizations who desire to exert influence on the British Government” in order to “get things done”. The multitude of tedious activities with which Lord Craigton concerns himself are those aimed at the endless reform of capitalism. Naturally, the socialist movement — whose object is the establishment of a system of society on an entirely different basis — is considered too trivial to warrant any consideration.

We can, however, endorse two of the points which Lord Craigton makes. Firstly, that the House of Commons is the seat of power in Great Britain. Secondly, that the state machinery of capitalist society is manned by paid officials and civil servants members of the working class. But his lordship is blissfully unaware of the irony of such a situation—where the working class loyally runs capitalism in the interest of its capitalist masters and uses its voting power to perpetuate its own degraded status.

This book, then, contains little of any importance to the workers. Socialism will not be achieved by attempts at exerting pressure and influence on a government which has been elected for the declared purpose of administering British capitalism.

Those who fooled themselves into thinking otherwise are having this lesson painfully taught to them at present. But one useful fact does emerge from Lord Craigton's sketch of the machinery of government If a majority of working men and women, equipped with a knowledge of what socialism is and how it may be realised, chose to elect socialist delegates to the national parliaments nothing could stand between them and the classless reorganisation of society. But the workers have no need to glean such information from Lord Craigton’s over-priced book. Throughout this century the SPGB has been putting forward the case that, once a consciously organised working class has captured the coercive apparatus of the State, this may be converted into the agent of emancipation.

As long as working men look to their leaders and the apologists of capitalism for political inspiration they will stay where they are—propertyless wage earners at the whim of capital. When they choose to shake off their lethargy and work it out for themselves there'll be a different tale to tell. Until such time there will continue to he a market for such books as this.