A CATECHISM by Paul Lafargue (hat tip to MRZine for another of Lafargue’s “religious” writings)
That Is to Say, An Instruction, to be Inculcated in the Working People from Early Life.
Q. What is your name?
Q. Who are thy parents?
A. My father was called Wageworker; my mother’s name is Poverty.
Q. Where wast thou born?
A. In a garret under the roof of a tenement house which my father and his comrades built.
Q. What is thy religion?
A. The Religion of CAPITAL.
Q. What general duties does thy religion enjoin upon thee?
A. Two principally: first, the duty of Abnegation; second, the duty of Toil. My religion commands me to abdicate my rights to all property on earth, that common mother of us all, to the treasures she bears in her womb, to the product of her surface, to her wonderful fertility through the light and the heat of the sun; it commands me to abdicate my rights of property in the product of the labor of my hands and my brain. My religion commands me to toil from early childhood to my dying day – to toil by sun light, gas light, or electric light, by day and by night; to toil on the earth, under the earth, and in the waters that are under the earth; to toil everywhere and evermore.
Q. Does thy religion lay upon thee any other duties?
A. It lays upon me the further duty of self-denial and privation; to still my hunger only partially; to pinch all my physical wants; and to suppress all my mental aspirations.
Q. Does thy religion forbid thee to taste of certain articles of food?
A. It forbids me to touch game, poultry and meat unless they are of fourth rate quality, and it forbids me to taste at all the better qualities of fish, wine or milk.
Q. What food does it allow thee?
A. Bread, potatoes, beans, herrings, the refuse of the butcher shops and also sausages. To the end that I may stimulate my exhausted strength, it also allows me adulterated wines, beer and similar liquors.
Q. What duties does thy religion lay upon thee with regard to thyself?
A. To retrench my expenses, to live in narrow and spare rooms, to wear torn, tattered and patched up clothes, until they actually fall off my body in shreds. To go about out at toes and heels and without stockings, exposed to the wet and the soilure of the streets and roads.
Q. What duties does thy religion lay upon thee with regard to thy family?
A. To deny my wife and daughters all ornaments of elegance and good taste; to cause them to be dressed in rude materials and with barely enough to escape being hauled up by the police for indecent exposure. To teach them not to shiver in the winter in calicos, and not to smother in the summer in close or topfloor rooms, under tin roofs heated with the heat of the Dog Days. To inculcate in my little ones, from their tenderest years, the sacred principle of toil, to the end that they may be able to earn their living from early childhood, and not become a burden upon society; to teach them to go to bed without a light and supperless; and to accustom them to the misery that is their lot in life.
Q. What duties does thy religion lay upon thee with regard to society?
A. To increase the national wealth – first through my toil, and next through my savings as soon as I can make any.
Q. What does thy religion order thee to do with thy savings?
A. To entrust them to the savings banks and such other institutions that have been established by philanthropic financiers to the end that they may loan them out to our bosses. We are commanded to place our earnings at all times at the disposal of our masters.
Q. Does thy religion allow thee to touch thy savings?
A. As rarely as possible; but it recommends to us not to insist too strongly upon receiving our funds back; we are told we should patiently submit to our fate if the philanthropic financiers are unable to meet our demands, and inform us that our savings have gone up in smoke.
Q. Who is thy God?
Q. Has He existed since the beginning of time?
A. Our most learned high priests, the official political economists, say He exists since the creation of the world. At first, however, He was very little, hence His throne was usurped by Jupiter and other Gods. But since about the year 1500, He grew daily into power and glory, and to-day He rules the world according to His will.
Q. Is thy God omnipotent?
A. Yes. His grace can grant any and all enjoyments. When He turns His countenance from a person, a family, a country, they are smitten with misery. The power of the God CAPITAL increases with the increase of His bulk. Daily does He conquer new countries; daily does He enlarge the swarms of His vassals, who devote their lives to the mission of increasing His power.
Q. Who are the chosen ones of thy God?
A. The Capitalists – manufacturers, merchants and landlords.
Q. How does thy God reward thee?
A. By furnishing work to me, my wife and my children, down to the youngest.
Q. Is that thy only reward?
A. No. Our God allows us to help still our hunger, by looking through the large pier glass windows of stylish restaurants, devour with our eyes the delightful roasts and delicacies that we have never tasted and never will taste, because these viands are there only for the nourishment of the chosen ones and their high priests. Out of His kindness we are also allowed to warm our limbs, numb with cold, by affording us occasional opportunities to admire the soft fur and the thick-spun woolen cloths exhibited in large stores and intended for the comfort of the chosen ones and their high priests only. He also grants us the exquisite joy of regaling our eyes, on the streets and public resorts, with the sight of the sacred crowds of Capitalists and Landlords, to admire their sleekness and roundness, together with their gorgeously decked lackeys and footmen as they drive by in brilliant equipages.
Q. Are the chosen ones of the same race as thyself?
A. The manufacturers and landlords are kneaded out of the same clay as myself, but they have been chosen out of thousands and millions.
Q. What have they done to deserve this elevation?
A. Nothing. Our God manifests His omnipotence by bestowing His favors upon those who have not earned them.
Q. Then is thy God unjust?
A. CAPITAL is the incarnation of Justice; only, His justice passeth our understanding. CAPITAL is omnipotent. Were He compelled to bestow His grace upon those who earned it, He would be weakened, because then His power would have limits. Consequently, He can show His power in no stronger way than by picking His favorites from among pickpockets and idlers.
Q. How does thy God punish thee?
A. By sentencing me to idleness. From that moment I am ex-communicated; I then know not where to find food, or where to lay myself down. From that moment I and mine must perish with hunger and want.
Q. What are the sins that call this punishment upon thy head ?
A. None. CAPITAL throws me out of work whenever it pleases Him.
Q. What prayers does thy religion commend to thee?
A. I pray not with words. My prayer is LABOR. The bare utterance of any other prayer would interfere with my actual prayer – LABOR. This is the only prayer that profits, because it is the only one that pleases CAPITAL and that produces surplus values.
Q. Where do you pray?
A. Everywhere. On the fields and in the work-shops; in mills and mines; ashore and at sea. To the end that our prayer be granted, we are in duty bound to lay our freedom, our dignity, our will at the feet of CAPITAL. At the ringing of the bell, at the whistling of the machine, we must hasten to congregate, and, once engaged in prayer, set our arms and legs, hands and feet in motion like automata, we must grunt and swear, we must strain our muscles and exhaust our nerves. At our prayer meetings we must submit with humble mien and patiently to the ill-temper and insults of the boss and his foremen; they are always right. We must never utter a complaint if the boss lowers our wages and raises our hours of work; everything he does is right, and is done for our best. We must consider it an honor if the boss takes undue liberties with our wives and daughters. Rather than ever to allow a complaint to escape our lips, rather than ever to allow our blood to boil, rather than ever to think of striking, we should submit to all trials, swallow our bread moistened with our own spittle only, and drink dirty water to wash that down. Should we be impertinent enough to dare find fault with such treatment, then would our masters scourge us with the prisons and penitentiaries, sharp-cutting sabres, repeating rifles, cannons, policemen’s clubs and even the gallows. They would clap us behind the bars if we were to grumble; they would mow us down if we were to do aught that is contrary to the decrees of the laws which they have enacted and promulgated.
Q. Do you expect any reward after death?
A. A very great one. After I am dead CAPITAL allows me to lie down and rest; I am then freed from hunger and cold, and from the fear of want forevermore. I then enjoy the eternal peace of the GRAVE.