August Bebel 1903

Clericalism and the Socialist Attitude Thereto

A Symposium.

Source: Social Democrat, Vol. 7 No. 11, 15 Nov. 1903, pp. 669-671;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The following short piece is from a symposium conducted by the Social Democrat, organ of the British Social Democratic Federation where leading Socialists in all countries were asked their views about the conflict between religion and socialism with the main focus on the Roman Catholic Church.

The best answer that I can give to your question is to send you the chief passages, of the speech which I made in Munich on this question. Comrade Welker, in the course of the discussion of the tactics to be adopted with reference to the Catholic Centre, had quoted several passages from a pamphlet of mine, “Christianity and Socialism,” written in 1874. I thought it advisable to make the following remarks:-

“Welker has referred to some phrases of my pamphlet on ‘Christianity and Socialism.’ I have never been able to understand how these conclusions, which are very clear, could be thus interpreted. I must really put you on your guard against that, and if the remainder of Welker’s speech did not afford me an opportunity, the words with which he concludes it, ‘Ecrasez l’infame!’ would compel me to do this. (Applause.) Those are the words which Voltaire used when he was inciting men to destroy the Church. It would indeed be a fine thing if the Social-Democratic Party used these words as a watchword for the elections. (applause.) In the beginning of his first speech, Welker expressly declared that it was necessary to show what contradictions there were in religious ideas; in other words, as Vollmar has said, we ought to engage in a kind of Kulturkampf. Our party would lose its character; we should become a kind of church council. (Applause.) No one can doubt that this attitude contradicts the very words of our programme, ‘Religion is a private matter.’ This formula is found in our programme because it is our opinion, and nowhere do we say that we interfere with religious convictions. Each one may believe what he please. If he is a Social-Democrat he may be a Catholic, a Protestant, a Materialist, or an Atheist – that is no one’s business in the party. It is only when, as a Social-Democrat, he wishes to make a propaganda in the party in favour of his religious convictions that we energetically protest, for then he interferes with the principle that religion is a private matter. (Applause.) Moreover, our programme explains precisely and clearly what we think when we make this declaration. We protest against the confusion of the public and religious powers; we ask for their complete separation, We ask that the State should be secular, and that religious communities should be private societies. We are opposed strongly to the State, either by legislation or coercion, compelling anyone to subscribe to a religious body, or that the State should endow the same. I think, therefore, that when we shall discuss later on the propositions that we should have pamphlets attacking the Centre that we shall insist on that part. It is desirable that in a pamphlet we should say clearly and distinctly what we mean by Article VI. of our programme. We must declare that religion is a private matter. (Applause.) We must take care not to shock the religious idea of any member. It is our opinion, on the contrary, and we cannot hold it too strongly, that in religious questions we must observe absolute neutrality and nothing but neutrality. (Applause.) And I protest most energetically that Welker should have seen in my words what was not in them. I beg him to remember that, and not to make the same mistake again. I can assure him that if he is to be a candidate in a district where there are many Catholics his methods would not ensure his success. (Applause.) What Welker held to be a defect in our party is really a great advantage. He thought that our propaganda had been badly directed, and that this was the reason why we had not had much success in the electoral districts where the Centre is influential. But what advantages have he and his friends gained during the last ten years? (Applause.) Does he not see that they are losing ground? Bavaria is a Catholic country where the Centre is largely represented. But the attitude adopted recently in the Landtag by the Social-Democratic deputies on the question of money allowances for inferior officials, has done much more for the influence oŁ the Social-Democratic Party and has so far injured the Centre, and a thousand speeches of Welker – like the one of which we had had a sample to-day – would not have brought about this result. (Applause.) This is not only evident in this question, but in others also. In practical questions our point of view is quite clear. It is seen that the Social-Democracy will help all the oppressed, and that is the best propaganda! “ (Loud applause.)

That is my opinion on the question which you put to me.

Deputy to the German Reichstag.