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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is it Marx or Booth?

I’ve been fielding some complaints recently from members of my denomination (The Salvation Army) that I am too liberal, that I am a Socialist, that I am a Marxist etc.  I’ll admit that I am somewhat liberal in my political and theological views (more than some, less than others), and I will wear the label “Socialist” with pride – though I don’t think of myself as a Marxist (unless you mean Groucho, Harpo, and Chico).

But I propose a little test.  Tell me, of the quotations below, which came from William Booth – founder and first General of The Salvation Army – and which came from Karl Marx.

“Legally the State accepts the responsibility of providing food and shelter for every man, woman, or child who is utterly destitute.  This responsibility it, however, practically shirks by the imposition of conditions on the claimants of relief that are hateful and repulsive, if not impossible”.[i]

“But what is the use of preaching the Gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?  You might as well give a tract to a shipwrecked sailor who is battling against the surf which has drowned his comrades and threatens to drown him.  He will not listen to you.  Nay, he cannot hear you any more than a man whose head is under water can listen to a sermon.” [ii]

“If anyone asked me to state in one word what seemed likely to be the key of the solution of the Social Problem I should answer unhesitatingly Co-operation.  It being always understood that it is Co-operation conducted on righteous principles, and for wise and benevolent ends; otherwise Association cannot be expect to bear any more profitable fruit than Individualism.  Co-operation is applied association – association for the purpose of production and distribution.  Co-operation implies the voluntary combination of individuals to the attaining of an object by mutual help, mutual counsel, and mutual effort.” [iii]

“It is inconvenient for ministers or responsible church-wardens or deacons to ask how Mr. Moneymaker gets the golden sovereigns or crisp notes which look so well in the collection.  He may be the most ‘accursed sweater’ who ever waxed fat on that murderous cheap needlework system which is slowly destroying the bodies and ruining the souls of thousands of poor women, both in this and other civilized countries. He may keep scores of employees standing wearily sixteen hours per day behind the counter, across which they dare not speak the truth, and on salaries so small that all hope of marriage or home is denied to them.  Or he may trade in some damning thing which robs men of all that is good in this world and all hope for the next, such as opium or intoxicating drinks; but if you were simple enough to suppose that modern Christianity would object to him on account of any of these things – how respectable Christians would open their eyes, and, in fact, suspect that you had recently made your escape from some lunatic asylum.”[iv]

“Of the schemes of those who propose to bring in a new heaven and a new earth by a more scientific distribution of the pieces of gold and silver in the trouser pockets of mankind, I need not say anything here.  They may be good or they may not.  I say nothing against any short cut to the Millennium that is compatible with the Ten Commandments. I intensely sympathize with the aspirations that lie behind all these Socialist dreams.  … What these good people want to do, I also want to do.” [v]

If I am a Socialist (and I am) it’s not because I’ve read Marx; I came to it through the gospels and through General William Booth. 

[i] William Booth – In Darkest England and the Way Out– pg. 75
[ii] William Booth – Darkest England – pg. 53
[iii] William Booth – Darkest  England – pg. 237
[iv]  All right – this one is actually Catherine Booth, William’s wife – quoted in The Life of Catherin Booth: the Mother of the Salvation Army  -(1912) Vol. 1 page 288
[v]  William Booth – Darkest England  - pg. 87

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