The Pope’s Socialism

By Robert Blatchford
Pass Pamphlets. No. 16.
See also Henry George’s
Open letter to the Pope

[This pamphlet was first published in 1892, and has been reprinted in response to numerous requests for an answer to the recent Roman Catholic attacks on Socialism].


For the love of money is the root of all evil. — Paul.
Render therefore to all their dues. — Paul.
He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent. — Solomon.

THE Archbishop of Westminster has issued a book, called “A Catechism of the Rights and Duties of the Working Classes,” in which he asks a number of questions on the labour problem, and replies to them by quotations from the Pope’s Encyclical on “The Condition of Labour.” The book also contains a preface by Archbishop Vaughan, from which I quote the following passage:

This instruction ought to go into the hands of every intelligent working man, and of every capitalist; it should be found in every club and reading-room and home. It should be the Catholic’s guide upon the question of capital and labour, upon the rights and duties of the working man.

The book itself is so weak and so ambiguous that were it the work of an obscure writer we should pass it by with contempt; but as it is written by the Pope and the Archbishop of Westminster, and may therefore be read by very many working men with more respect than it deserves, I have decided to answer it. The Archbishop makes two mistakes in his second paragraph.

1. He says the social problem baffles the economists, which implies that it baffles all the economists. But it does not baffle all the economists. It baffles those economists who attempt to justify the idle rich, and therefore it baffles the Pope; but it does not baffle the Socialists. They understand it well enough.
2. He says the Social Problem is the problem of how to adjust the “respective claims of capital and labour.” But capital has no claims. Capital is not a sentient being. It is an inanimate thing. It is the -product of labour.

To talk about “the respective claims of capital and labour” is as inaccurate as to talk about the “respective claims” of coals and colliers or of ploughs and ploughmen. Capital has no claims.

This is not a quibble. The distinction between capital and the capitalist is one of vital importance. Capital is a necessary thing. The capitalist is as unnecessary as any other kind of thief or interloper.

The capitalist has “claims.” But “claims” are not rights, and certainly the Archbishop means rights, though he says claims, and the Social Problem is really held by the Archbishop and the Pope to be the problem of how to adjust the respective rights of the capitalist and the labourer.

Here is the first great fundamental error of this mischievous book. The capitalist, though as loud as greedy in his “claims/” has no rights at all.

The real Social Problem is the problem of how to defend the rights of the labourer from the claims of the capitalist.

The Pope begins with the usual sneer about “crafty agitators.” Now, we are used to that kind of slander and malice from political leaders and their hireling scribes, but we do not expect it from a scholar and a gentleman.

The Pope warns the workers against “the false and pretentious errors of Socialism, which would end in an odious and intolerable slavery.”

On his part, without claiming to have solved the whole problem, he does claim to have made clear the principles which truth and justice dictate for its solution.

He says: “It is not easy to define the relative rights and the mutual duties of the wealthy and the poor; of capital and labour.”

He is right there, and he proves it when he tries to define those “mutual rights and duties,” for he fails most miserably, as indeed he was bound to fail, since he had undertaken to define rights and duties which have no existence.

The poor owe no duty to the rich, unless it be the duty which an honest man owes to the thief who has robbed him. The rich have no right to any of their possessions, for there is but one right, and that is the right of the labourer to the fruits of his labour, and the rich do not labour.

No man has any right to be rich. No man ever yet became rich by fair means. No man ever became rich by his own industry. No man can either become rich or remain rich without violating the “principles of truth and justice,” and defying the explicit teachings of Christ, to whom and to which the Pope bids us turn for direction in the first instance.

The Pope says that Socialists work “upon the poor man’s envy of the rich.” That is a gross error. The Socialist denounces riches. The Socialist does not say to the poor, “Arise, take from the rich his riches, and be rich thyself.” He teaches the poor to despise and not to covet riches. He knows that all cannot be rich. He knows that some cannot be rich unless others are poor. But he also knows and he also says that no man can be justly rich, and that every man has a right to enjoy the fruits of his own labour, and no more.

The Pope says:

The “Socialists,” working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, endeavour to destroy private property, and maintain that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies.

The Socialists do not endeavour to destroy private property. They do desire to prevent the earnings of the many from becoming the property of the few.

The Pope says :

Their proposals are so clearly futile for all practical purposes that if they were carried out the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. Moreover, they are emphatically unjust, because they would rob the lawful possessor, bring the State into a sphere that is not its own, and cause complete confusion in the community.

1. Under Socialism the “working man” is the very man who must benefit, for he would then enjoy all the fruits of his labour, which now he does not.
2. Socialism would not rob anyone. It would distinguish between the lawful possessor and the rightful possessor, and it would compel the ” lawful M possessor to restore to the rightful possessor the property of which he had robbed him.
3. The Pope uses the word State in its narrow meaning— as signifying Government. When Socialists speak of the State they mean the nation. It would be unwise to place tne business of the nation in the hands of the present small and incapable Government of capitalists, landlords, aristocrats, soldiers, lawyers, and prelates. But when a Socialist speaks of making the ” State ” the owner of land ana capital, he speaks of making the nation the owner of land and capital.
Socialists assert that the wealth and the land of the British Islands belong by right to the British people, and it is the proper ” sphere “of the British people to use and to protect that which is theirs.
4. The management of the people’s business by the people would not lead to complete confusion. The monopoly of the wealth and land by the few does lead to complete confusion, and this the Pope acknowledges in the following words:

What has brought about the present unsatisfactory state of things?
(1) The destruction of the ancient trades guilds and the banishment of the influence of the ancient religion from the laws and public institutions. Hence by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been given over, isolated and defenceless, to the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition.
(2) The evil has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is, nevertheless, under a different form but with the same guilt, still practised by avaricious and grasping men.
And (3) to this must be added the custom of working by contract, and the concentration of so many branches of trade in the hands of a few individuals, so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the masses of the poor a yoke little better than slavery itself.

The italics are mine. The Pope agrees with Socialists as to the present condition of things being wrong; he partially agrees with the Socialists as to the causes of the wrong. But he does not agree with them as to the remedies. The Socialists demand freedom and democracy. In a free and democratic country the Church could have no temporal power. The Pope covets temporal power. Hence he says:

The remedy and relief to the evils complained of are to be sought first in Jesus Christ and- His Church, and secondly in the co-operation of the State, of guilds or Christian unions, and all classes of men.

So far as concerns the teachings of Jesus Christ, I will endeavour to show by-and-bye to what extent those teachings are in harmony with the teachings of the Pope.

As for the Church, we will have none of its patronage nor interference for two reasons—
1. That after nearly nineteen centuries of pretentious effort, the Church has failed to secure justice and liberty to men.
2. That the Pope, who claims to be the supreme head of the Church, does by this message of his prove himself to be utterly incapable of understanding, much less of directing, the affairs which he bids us entrust to him.

I return to Archbishop Vaughan’s catechism:

How would the working man be among the first to suffer were the Socialists to prevail?
When a man engages in remunerative labour, the very reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and to hold it as his own private possession.

This motive is a base and selfish motive; it is, however, under a competitive system, a very common motive indeed. We are not concerned with the motives which do actuate men, but with the motives which should actuate them. I say, then, that every worker has at least two clear duties—one to himself, the other to the State.

His duty to himself is to maintain his life by his own labour, and to improve his body and mind by his own labour. His duty to the State—that is, to his fellow-citizens—is to repay by loyal aid and service the benefits the State confers on him.

But the Pope, in his mistaken defence of private rights, plunges still deeper into error. He says:

If one man hires out to another his strength or industry, he does this for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for food and living; he thereby expressly proposes to acquire a full and real right, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of that remuneration as he pleases.

A few pages further on the Pope flatly contradicts himself. Thus:

The chiefest and most excellent rule for the right use of money is one which the heathen philosophers indicated, but which the Church has traced out clearly, and has not only made known to men’s minds, but has impressed upon their lives. It rests on the principle that it is one thing to have a right to the possession of money, and another to have a right to use money as one pleases. If the question be asked, How must one’s possessions be used? the Church replies without hesitation, in the words of St. Thomas of Aquin: Man should not consider his outward possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without difficulty when others are in need. Whence the apostle saith, “Command the rich of this world … to give with ease, to communicate.”

Now, any Socialist will tell you that for a man to “hire out his strength and industry” to another man is to enter into a foolish and degrading bondage, whereby he is certain to be defrauded of a part of his earnings, and whereby the worker must eventually be, to use the Pope’s own words—

Given over, isolated and defenceless, to the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition.

Observe the word “isolated.” The Pope feels that in the union of men there is strength; but he does not seem to understand that this privilege of union creates duties.

Observe now into what a tangle of inconsistencies the Pope has wound himself. He says a man has a right to use his earnings as he pleases. Then he says a man should not consider his outward possessions as his own. While if we turn back a little we find the Pope denouncing usury, and if usury is wrong, how can it be right for a man to use his earnings as he pleases, since he may not put them to usury? The fact is the Pope does not know anything at all about the subject upon which he has written this “false and pretentious” book. He does not even know that all profit is usury, and that no man can by any exercise of ingenuity or strength ever become rich except by usury.

The Pope says usury is wrong, but in a little we shall find him defending it as right. The Socialist says usury is wrong. The Socialist is consistent, because he knows what usury is, and why it is wrong. The Pope is inconsistent, because he does not know what usury is, nor why it is wrong.

Read again the quotation from Thomas Aquinas. Then notice how the Pope again denies his own statements:

True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own necessities and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, for no one ought to live unbecomingly.

So now we have whittled it down to this, that the rich man is to give away what he can spare, after keeping up his condition in life. In the next paragraph the Pope says the law and judgment of men must give place to the law and judgment of Christ.

Now, the Pope is a man, is he not? And his law and judgment say that no one is commanded to give away what is required to keep up his condition in life. But his law and judgment must give way to the law and judgment of Christ, who said, “Sell all that thou hast and give to the poor;” and “It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” There is no qualification here; no mention of keeping up a condition.

But then the Pope goes on again to make some startling assertions:

But when necessity has been supplied, and one’s position fairly considered, it is a duty to give to the indigent out of that which is over. It is a duty, not of justice (except in extreme cases), but of Christian charity—a duty which is not enforced by human law.

Is not this a fine jumbling and juggling of justice, and expediency, and charity, and divine judgments, and human law? Does this sound like the language of a man who understands his subject?

Well, I answer the Pope as a Socialist, and I say we will have none of your charities, and your sophistries, and your laws of God and the House of Commons. Give us reason and justice, and they shall serve.

What is the justice of the case as between the rich idler and the poor worker? All wealth is created by labour. I will prove that to you shortly out of the Pope’s own mouth, but, for the present, take the statement on the authority of John Stuart Mill. And as the Pope has just assured us that a man has a right to the produce of his labour, it follows that only those who have produced wealth have any right to enjoy it.

Now, the rich can only have become rich because they have on various false pretexts, and by various dishonest means, robbed the labourers of a portion of the fruits of their labour.

The “condition” which these people are to keep up is the condition of a gang of luxurious barbarian banditti. Are the workers to take back a fraction of their own as “charity” from these robbers?

No. Justice says that the thief shall render back that which he has stolen. Reason says that the industrious shall not bow down to the idle, nor the honest man give honour to the robber.

I said just now that we should find the Pope defending usury. Here is the proof:

Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and invests his savings, for greater security, in land, the land in such a case is only his wages, in another form; and, consequently, a working man’s little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his own disposal as the wages he receives for his labour. But it is precisely in this power of disposal that ownership consists, whether the property be land or movable goods. The Socialists, therefore, in endeavouring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, for they deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thus of all hope and possibility of increasing his stock and of bettering his condition in life.

That paragraph is disfigured by an ignorance and a confusion of thought which would be lamentable in a leader-writer or a member of Parliament.

The fact that a man can invest his earnings in land implies that some other man has land to sell. The fact that a man has land to sell implies that the land is his own property. But no person has a right to call anything his own but that which he himself has made. Now, no man makes the land. The land is not created by labour, but is the gift of God to all. The earth belongs to the people. For the nonce please take the statement on the authority of Herbert Spencer: “All men have equal rights to the use of the earth.” So that he who possesses land possesses that to which he has no right, and he who invests his savings in land becomes a purchaser of stolen property.


In writing his Encyclical the Pope seems to have been between two minds. He had evidently a desire to help the poor; but he had just as evidently a reluctance to interfere with the rich. He sets out to define the “Mutual Rights of Labour and Capital,” and is therefore doomed to disaster from the beginning. He has nothing new and nothing true to tell us. He pins his faith to the old rotten method of preaching mercy to the rich and patience to the poor. This method has been tried for nineteen centuries without success. Robbery and justice cannot be reconciled; the wolf and the sheep cannot be preached into amity. The Pope means well, but he is timid, and he does not understand the subject. Hence his Encyclical is a ridiculous mess of inconsistency and error. I now resume the consideration of Archbishop Vaughan’s book. The Pope says:

To say that God has given the earth to the use and enjoyment of the universal human race is not to deny that there can be private property. For God has granted the earth to mankind in general; not in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they please, but rather that no part of it has been assigned to anyone in particular, and that the limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man’s own industry and the laws of individual peoples. Moreover, the earth, though divided among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all; for there is no one who does not live on what the land brings forth. Those who do not possess the soil contribute their labour; so that it may be truly said that all human subsistence is derived either from labour on one’s own land, or some laborious industry which is paid for either in the produce of the land itself or in that which is exchanged for what the land brings forth.

Thus the Pope asserts :
1. That God has not given any part of the earth to any one person; but has given all the earth to all men, which is just what the Socialists affirm.
2. That the distribution is to be fixed by the laws of individual peoples, which is just what the Socialists want.
3. That there is no one who does not live on what the land brings forth.

That is to say, we all live upon the produce of the land; and the Pope admits that the produce of the land is the result of the labour spent upon the land. And he owns that the poor, who do not own the land, contribute that labour. Now, since all men live on the produce of the land, since the produce of the land is won by labour, since the labour is supplied by the poor, it follows that the poor, who labour on the land, maintain and feed all the peoples of the earth.

“The poor contribute their labour.” The Pope does not tell us what the rich “owners” of the land contribute, for they contribute nothing. He does not justify the existence of these idlers, for their existence is unjustifiable.

So far, then, the Pope, in endeavouring to prove the justice and reason of private ownership in land, has really proved:
1. That the land is the heritage of mankind and not of an idle few.
2. That all the peoples of the earth are maintained by the labour of the poor.

But the Pope has not finished with the land yet. He says:

That which is required for the preservation of life, and for life’s well-being, is produced in great abundance by the earth, “but not until man has brought it into cultivation, and lavished upon it his care and, skill.” Now, when man thus spends the industry of his mind and the strength of his body in procuring the fruits of nature, by that act he makes his own that portion of nature’s field which he cultivates—that portion on which he leaves, as it were, the impress of his own personality; and it cannot but be just that he should possess that portion as his own, and should have a right to keep it without molestation.

The Pope repeats that only by labour can we win food from the land. But he goes yet farther, for he emphatically declares that the man who cultivates the land is entitled to possess the land. He omits to say that at present the land is held by those who do not cultivate it, though he must be aware of that fact.

Now, if this argument of the Pope’s were sound it would justify the surrender of the land to the farmers and farm-labourers. But it is not sound, or rather it is not complete. For the Pope appears to think that only the men who work upon the land produce the crops. This is wrong.

Does the farmer till the soil with his fingers? No. In the cultivation of the land he uses horses, carts, tools, machinery, and manure. Then for his own maintenance he needs clothing and shelter, medicines, and many things.

All these tools, clothes, machines, and medicines are made by labour; so that the collier, the iron miner, the carrier, the smith, the wheelwright, the forgeman, the tailor, the tanner, the doctor, the brickmaker, the joiner, the builder, the sailor, and, in fact, all the workers who work for the support of equipment of each other and of the farmer and farm-labourer are actually assisting in the work of producing crops from the land, and are, therefore, entitled to a share in the ownership of the land.

To sum up these considerations of the Pope’s defence of private property in land, we shall find that the land is the right of those who cultivate it, or who support and equip the cultivators; and as all the workers of all useful trades either cultivate or support and equip the cultivators, it follows that the land is the right of the whole body of useful workers, from the Cabinet Minister to the hod-bearer; and as these useful workers are the nation, and as the nation is the State, we arrive at the Socialistic dogma that the land should be owned, held, controlled, and used by the State.

Let us support these conclusions by yet more quotations from the Archbishop’s book:

But may it not be said that it is right for private persons to have the use of the soil, but unjust for them to possess it as owners?
No; those who assert this do not perceive that they are robbing man of what his own labour has produced. For the soil which is tilled and cultivated with toil and skill utterly changes its condition; it was wild before—it is now fruitful; it was barren, and now it brings forth in abundance. That which has thus altered and improved it becomes so truly part of itself as to be in great measure indistinguishable and inseparable from it. Is it just that the fruits of a man’s sweat and labour should be enjoyed by another? As effects follow their cause, so it is just and right that the results of labour should belong to him who has laboured.

The italics are the Pope’s own. They grant to the Socialist all that he claims: that “the results of labour should belong to him who has laboured.”

But the Pope, having thus destroyed his own position, proceeds to quote Moses, and tells us that:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his house, nor his field, nor anything which is his.

Has the Pope forgotten the Book of Isaiah? In it he will find:

The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders of his people. It is ye that have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses; what mean ye that ye crush my people, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts.

And that seems rather severe on the landlords and capitalists. But again, in the next chapter, we find the following lines regarding private property in land:

Woe unto them that join house to house, -that lay field to field, till there be no room, and ye be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.
But in the Book of Ezekiel we shall find yet stronger and clearer condemnation of the whole system of rent and usury. “The Lord God” gives account of the just one who shall live and of the unjust one who shall “surely die,” and amongst the unjust are—
Those who have given forth upon usury, and have taken increase.

I could find a score of such passages, any one of which would demolish all the Pope’s sophistical house of cards with one fierce breath of truth.

The Pope, in his eagerness to defend private ownership, sets up the authority of the family against that of the State. But the family is indebted to the State just as the individual is. As families derive comfort and defence from the State, they must in return render service and loyalty to the State.

Then the Pope tries to save himself from the unpleasant consequences of his own theories by advising the nation to adopt a system of small estates:

This great labour question cannot be solved except by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favour ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many of the people as possible to become owners.

Now, there are several objections to this plan :
1. If England were cut up into small allotments the general state would be harder and leaner than before. A farm of a thousand acres would yield more, and with less labour, than a thousand farms of one acre. So that the Pope’s plan would curtail the food supply.
2. Some one must make clothing and implements. Every family its own tailors, builders, smith, and farmer, would mean wattle huts, clumsy clothes, and inefficient tools.
3. If labour be divided for the general good into trades, who is to till the private allotment of the collier and sailor?
4. Divide the land into small allotments, and very soon the cunning and rapacious would “acquire” the estates of other men, and so we should come back to the present state of chaos.

In fact, the parcelling out of the land means putting back the clock of civilisation about one thousand years.

Having demonstrated his ignorance on the land question, the Pope proceeds to show that he does not understand Socialism. Thus:

Let it be laid down in the first place that humanity must remain as it is. It is impossible to reduce human society to a level. The Socialists may do their utmost, but all striving against nature is vain.

Socialists do not propose to reduce human society to a level. They simply propose to render it possible for all honest and industrious people to enjoy the fruits of their labour, and to render it impossible for idle or dishonest people to grow rich on the labour of others.

The Pope, as usual, proceeds to tie himself in knots:

There naturally exist among mankind innumerable differences of the most important kind. People differ in capability, in diligence, in health, and in strength: an unequal fortune is a necessary result of inequality in condition. Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community; social and public life can only go on by the help of various kinds of capacity and the playing of many parts. As regards bodily labour, it became, after man had fallen from the state of innocence, compulsory, and the painful expiation of his sin.

If bodily labour is compulsory on man, that means that it is compulsory on all men. How, then, does the Pope excuse the idleness of the rich? To see all men labour is exactly what the Socialists desire.

Then the Pope says;

In like manner, the other pains and hardships of life will have no end or cessation on this earth; for the consequences of sin are bitter and hard to bear, and they must be with man as long as life lasts. To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity: let men try as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it.

This is admirable. It is sound and true philosophy, and worthy of the Pope. But it has no bearing at all on the Labour question. The fact that life is, at best, a thorny road, is no reason for allowing the road to be infested by footpads. The fact that life is a stormy sea does not excuse us for feeding the passengers on turtle soup and champagne, and the crew on bones and bilge water.

No society, Socialistic or other, can secure human bliss. But that is all the more reason why preventable ills should be abolished. Death and decay, disappointed hopes, baffled desires, spiritual humiliation, and mental defeat we must endure. But we can get rid of the sweater and the slums, and we will get rid of them, too.

We return to the Pope, and find him floundering deeper into error at every step:

The great mistake that is made in the matter now under consideration is to possess oneself of the idea that class is naturally hostile to class; that rich and poor are intended by nature to live at war with one another. So irrational and so false is this view that the exact contrary is the truth. Just as the symmetry of the human body is the result of the disposition of the members of the body, so in a State it is ordained by nature that these classes should exist in harmony and agreement, and should, as it were, fit into one another, so as to maintain the equilibrium of the body politic. Each requires the other; capital cannot do without labour, nor labour without capital. Mutual agreement results in pleasantness and good order; perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and outrage.

Capital is necessary to labour, but the capitalist is not necessary. To say that the rich are not hostile to the poor is to say that the plunderer is not hostile to the plundered. The existence of the rich makes poverty inevitable. It is because rich men take the earnings of other men, and use them to defeat and disorganise the industry of the world, that poverty is possible.

But the Pope, with his usual confusion of thought, has confounded the idea of the useless rich with the idea of the useful director of industry. The captain of a ship is necessary. The owner of the ship is not. There must be captains as well as sailors, and managers as well as workmen. But there is no need for the usurer and the thief, nor can there be peace and prosperity whilst such are suffered to exist.

Then the Pope’s idea as to the dignity and rights of labour are curious and conflicting. He says:

Labour is nothing to be ashamed of.

No. But that is like saying that honesty is nothing to be ashamed of. Labour is something to be proud of. The shame belongs to idleness and rascality. The Pope goes on to say:

Then, again, the employer must never tax his workpeople beyond their strength, nor employ them in work unsuited to their sex or age. His great and principal obligation is to give to everyone that which is just.

To defraud anyone of wages that are his due is a crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven.

Well? A little way back the Pope owned that all produce was the result of labour, and that man had a right to all that he produced. Now he says the labourer is to have the wages that are his due. All the produce is his due; so that here the Pope takes away everything from the capitalist, and leaves him to labour or to starve. That isn’t what the Pope meant to do, but is what he has done.

And that is exactly what the Socialists demand.

But the Pope soon revokes again. He speaks of the consolations of religion and Heaven for all, and then he says:

These reflections cannot fail to keep down the pride of those who are well off, and to cheer the spirit of the afflicted; to incline the former to generosity, and the latter to tranquil resignation.

But, what! Resignation? Generosity? We want Justice! We want labour paid “the wages which are its due.” The Pope says all the produce of labour is the due of labour. Then let labour be paid. But no. The Pope is prattling about ‘generosity’ now. We know that generosity: it is the generosity of the thief who takes the gold and throws back the odd shillings. We will have none of it.

Neither will we be bribed by charity. On page 36 of the Archbishop’s book I find the Pope speaking of the valuable services of the Church in relieving poverty. But why relief? Why all this costly machinery for the purpose of making the wronged industrious poor into paupers? Why relieve poverty? Why not abolish poverty To raise the evil spirit of poverty by injustice and mismanagement, and then try to “lay” the spectre with alms, is as foolish as to build fever wards for slum children instead of pulling down the slums.

There is a great deal of such unwholesome sentiment and galling condescension in this book:

In providing material for the well-being of a country, the labour of the poor—the exercise of their skill and the employment of their strength in the cultivation of the land and in the workshops of trade—is most efficacious and altogether indispensable. Indeed, their co-operation in this respect is so important that it may be truly said that it is only by the labour of the working man that States grow rich. Justice, therefore, demands that the interests of the poorer population be carefully watched over by the Administration, so that they who contribute so largely to the advantage of the community may themselves share in the benefits they create—that being housed, clothed, and enabled to support life, they may find their existence less hard and more endurable. It follows that whatever shall appear to be conducive to the well-being of those who work should receive favourable consideration. Let it not be feared that solicitude of this kind will injure any interest; on the contrary, it will be to the advantage of all; for it cannot but be good for the commonwealth to secure from misery those on whom it so largely depends.

The italics are mine. Can the Pope possibly contradict himself any further; or utter any greater folly? The Pope says it is only by the labour of the working man that States grow rich. And he calls those who solely create the wealth “cooperators!” He says that the workers should share in the benefits they make. But they are not to have all their due. They are not to “keep up their position.” No, they are to be “enabled to support life,” they are to be “secured from misery,” their lot is to be taken into “favourable consideration.” This is very fine. The lot of the workers, the lot of the creators of all wealth, the lot of those who maintain the peoples of the earth, is to receive “favourable consideration” from the idlers, the usurers, the rack-renters, the blood-suckers, and other legalised robbers and gilded paupers, who find the Church so much employment in the “relief of poverty.”

Ah! It is very pretty, very merciful and kind and condescending; but, it will not do for the Socialist, who will have neither the charity of the rich, nor the patronage of the pious, but will have justice, and will have his earnings to the uttermost penny, or will know the reason why.


THE Pope seems to have been more anxious to attack the Socialist than to defend the poor. His suggestions for the adjustment of the “claims” of capital and labour are trite and ineffective. The thing he advocates is Competitive Individualism, tempered by religion. We have had Competitive Individualism tempered by religion for many centuries, and the results are bad.

The Pope admits the magnitude of the evils now existing; but seems to think all would be well if we had more religion. But we are likely to have less religion, for Competitive Individualism is too rank a weed to allow religion to thrive in the same field with it. Moreover, the thin and weak religion which the Pope offers in his Encyclical would not sustain life, even if it could grow.

This is the nineteenth century of the Christian era. We have competition, we have individualism, and we have religion. But we have not morality, we have not justice, and we have not peace.

Take an untaught, famished child of the slums, take a drunken wife-beater, take a lost woman of the streets, take a gaol-made criminal, a sweater’s slave, an unemployed workman, an overworked labourer, a broken-down pauper, a senseless masher, a bowelless money-lender, a time-serving politician, a fraudulent bankrupt, a jerry contractor, a dissolute nobleman, a vicious lady, a lazy parson, and a lying Pressman; and make a bouquet of them. Will the flowers do credit to the garden or the florist? Will the odour thereof be the odour of sanctity?

Now, the system which has produced, and does produce, these horrors is the system of competition tempered by religion; the system of psalm-singing and dividend-making, and God-a-mercy buccaneering which the Pope has so anxiously hastened to defend against the machinations of crafty agitators.

The Pope is an eminent man. He is the head of a great and powerful Church. He is recognised by millions as their earthly father, and the direct Vicar of Christ. From such a man we might expect the highest principle, the deepest wisdom, the tenderest love, and the most unflinching championship of justice. But in this Encyclical we find nothing but casuistry and a desire to shield the rich and pacify the poor.

I am one of those described by the Pope as crafty agitators; but I am a man, with a head on my shoulders, and eyes in my head, and I am sick and sorry with the sights I see. I look up, I see the solemn heavens and the shining stars; I look down, I see the fertile earth, and the pure rivers, and the radiant flowers of the field. I look around, and I see my fellow-creatures struggling and sweating, suffering and debauching; I see them fighting and plundering and oppressing each other the wide world over.

I bethink me that the earth is fruitful and fair; that man is clever and strong; that life is short, and its needs few. I bethink me that with order in the place of chaos; that with wisdom in the place of folly; that with peace in the place of war; that with helpfulness in the place of antagonism; that with love in the place of hate, the earth would yield to all men all things needful, both for the body and the mind.

I see that men might be happier and better, and more free and able to grow in grace than they now are. I see that grace and peace can no more be born of lust and hatred than a dove of a vulture, or a lamb of a wolf. I see that lust and hatred prevail in a society which foredooms helpless babes to crime and young girls to prostitution; which rewards industry with contumely and seals brave histories with a pauper’s grave; which promotes vice and greed to high places, and clothes idleness in robes of price; which fosters craft and falsehood, and dignifies the whole swinish, hellish system with the name of Christ. I say that such a society is bestial and accursed. I say that such a society now exists; and that it is the inevitable outcome of the theories of sanctified exploitation upon which the Pope relies for the earthly salvation of the people.

The Pope sets out to make clear the principles of truth and justice; but he darkens council with a multitude of words; confounding justice with expediency, truth with sophistry, and offering the people a pauper’s dole instead of a rightful due. His ideal is as low as his principles are lax. He either does not know all the truth or he dare not tell it.

What is the principle of justice as regards property? Of justice, mind, not of love—which is above justice. Justice demands that a man shall have that which his labour has produced, provided that other men enjoy the same opportunity as he.

Justice demands that a man shall make what use he chooses of that which is his own, provided that he does not use it to the injury of others.

Take the case of a hunter who kills a deer. The deer is his. His labour has won it. He has a right to eat it all, and to make a coat of its skin.

But suppose there is but one deer, and there are two men. It would not be just for one man to rise before the other, and go and kill the deer. It would be just for both men to set out together hunting, and for the man who killed the deer to keep it.

If the killer of the deer ate it all, and let the other man die of hunger, that would be quite just, but it would not be humane.

But what should be said of a man who first of all took the wood from its owner by force? Then set the owner to catch the deer? Then took the deer and ate them, giving the hunter only the offal, and of that not enough to maintain life?

And what would be said of a priest of the religion of justice and mercy who justified that action on the plea that “God had not given the land to any one man,” and that a “labourer is entitled to that which his labour produces”?

Then as to the making use of one’s earnings. If the killer of the deer said to his fellow-man, I will give you enough meat to keep you alive until you have made nets to catch fish, on condition that you give me nine fish out of every ten taken, and that the nets are mine,” that would not be just, because, in the first place, the lender would be demanding a payment in excess of his loan, which is usury, taking increase; and in the second place he would be enslaving and starving his fellow-men for ever, which would be criminal injury.

A religion of love and reason would say that the two men should help each other to catch the deer, should share the flesh; should help each other in the making of the nets, and share the fish.

A religion of charity and devotion would say that the strong, and the swift, and the clever should do more work, brave more risk, and take less reward than the weak, and the slow, and the dull.

This is the principle of self-sacrifice and mercy which makes the men give way to the women and the children when the ship is wrecked or the house on fire. It is a principle exemplified in the lives of Christ and His Apostles; but not exemplified in the sweating dens of England.

What is the principle of justice as to the use and ownership of the land? The land is the common heritage of all, just as are the water and the air. There is no reason why land should be held by individuals any more than air or water are held by individuals—except the bad reason that the land is easier to steal.

We admit the universal right of all men to the air, to the seas; we have Socialism in rivers and bridges and roads. Why not admit the universal right of all men to the land? Why not have Socialism in mills, in railways, and in ships?

If a man cultivates a barren field and gets crops from it, the crops are justly his,—provided that other men have the same opportunity as he. But if there is but one field and there are two men, it is not just for one man to take the whole field and cultivate it. It is just for him to take half the field and to take the crop he grows thereon.

And if the other man’s crop fail and he has no food, it is just to let him starve. But it is not humane to do so; nor is it wise.

But it is wise for the two men to aid each other in the cultivation of the whole field, and then to share the crop; and it is noble and it is well that the strong should be generous and forbearing towards the weak.

These are the simple principles of right, of justice, of wisdom, and of mercy; and they apply to all the relations of men towards each other.

One would expect to find the Pope echoing the sentiments of Christ, and inculcating those simple principles of justice and love and sacrifice. But instead we find the Pope declaring that the rich shall relieve the poor out of their abundance; but that before they give to the poor they shall maintain their own position.

Study the words of Christ and the Apostles, and you will find that the true dignity and honour of the great and the strong are in their sacrifice, not in their clothing and their wages. It is the duty of the brave to lead, of the able to rule, of the strong to work. It is the right of the colonel to die first, and of the captain to quit the sinking vessel last.

What would be said of an Atlantic liner if, while the crew were dying of typhoid fever and starvation, the captain, the chaplain, the passengers, and the ladies were feasting in the cabin or dancing on the quarter-deck?

Yet the ship of State is just such a ship, and in it are such things done.

What would be said of a man who sold his children’s bread and clothing, and spent the money on plate and jewels for the Church? But such men ate the holy rich men of England.

Observe the magnificence and ostentation of our Church and State. Observe the luxury and display of our Parliament Houses, our town halls, our palaces, our art galleries, our colleges, our cathedrals, and our ships of war; contrast these things with the slums, the workhorses, the prisons, the coal-pits, and the workshops of the poor. Can you reconcile the splendour and the poverty, the vanity and the misery, to the principles of justice or of wisdom?

I say that while women are weeping and children are starving; while industrious men and women are herding like beasts in filthy and fever-haunted hovels, to build art galleries and churches, town halls and colleges, is like putting on a muslin shirt over a filthy skin, a diamond crown upon a leprous head.

I say that the religion and the culture which demand riches and blazonry while vice and misery are at their side are like painted harlots hiding their debaucheries with rouge and their shame with satin and spices.

I say that the cant and affectation of piety and culture which lisp sentiment and chant hymns in drawing-rooms and chapels while flesh and blood are perishing in the streets, and while the souls of our sisters creep shuddering to hell—I say that this religion and this culture, these maudlin, sickening things, with their poems and sonatas, their chants and benedictions, are things false and vain, and nothing else but lies.

I do not attack the Pope; I attack his foolish arguments and his unwholesome sentiment. I dare say he means well. I have no doubt he and Archbishop Vaughan are a good deal better than their book. I do not attack religion, but only the pretence of religion. I do not put one religion against another. I have often met the Catholic priests and sisters, and I believe them to be sincere and charitable people. I have met them in the slums engaged in works of mercy; I have met them in Ireland fighting for the people. I am satisfied that they are the most devoted and the most unselfish of all clergymen; but we must have justice, and we must have truth, and the Pope’s message is neither true nor just.

The Pope’s methods have been tried, and they have failed. We Socialists are honestly desirous of doing good. We submit our proposals frankly. We demand sound argument and fair hearing. We think Socialism would prove practicable, and we are sure that it is just. Socialism would not bring perfect universal happiness. No political system could do that. But Socialism would reduce the dreadful sum of misery. Socialism would let labour breathe. Think again what Socialism is, and then you may easily compare it with the state in which we now suffer and struggle for a brief, anxious, and feverish life.

Under Socialism we should not have heaven on earth. But there would be no starvation; there would be no pauperism; there would be no sweaters; there would be no strikes; there would be no barefooted children in the streets; there would be no fraudulent trustees, no bankrupts; there would be no slums, no annual massacre of innocents by preventable disease; there would be hardly such a thing known as ignorance, there would be scarcely any drunkenness, and crime would shrink to microscopic dimensions.

Then no man who would work need be idle, no man who had worked should be unpaid; idleness would be checked, luxury would be despised, the people would have freedom and hope and rest and pleasure; and the commercial greatness and the great cities and the vast wealth of this sordid, famine-stricken, benighted, miserable land would appear to the happier people of “Merrie England” like the memory of a hideous dream.


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“Merrie England” first appeared as a series of articles in the Clarion in 1892-3. These articles, with some revisions and additions, were afterwards produced in volume form at a shilling. The book met with immediate success, some 25,000 copies being sold.

In October, 1894, the Clarion published the same book, uniform in size and type with the shilling edition, at the low price of One Penny. As the book contained 206 pages, and was printed by trade-union labour, and on British-made paper, it could only be produced at a loss. This loss was borne by the proprietors of the Clarion.

The sale of the penny edition outran all expectations. No one supposed that more than 100,000 would be called for, but in a few months over 700,000 had been sold, without a penny being spent in advertisement, and in face of the tremendous opposition excited by Socialistic publications in those days.

Later on an edition was published at 3d., and the total sale reached nearly a million copies.

An American edition is said to have sold equally well, and the book was translated into Welsh, Dutch, German, Scandinavian, Spanish, and other languages, on none of which editions, it may be remarked, did the author receive any royalties.

The British edition has been out of print for some years, and there has recently been a growing demand for the book’s re-issue. To this the author at length reluctantly acceded, and the present edition was announced. That the demand was real may be judged from the fact that orders for 20,000 copies were placed before the date of publication, and the new issue promises to sell as well as the first threepenny edition.