Churchill: Christianity is not Socialism, or “All mine is yours” vs. “All yours is mine”

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In 1908, the year Winston Churchill, as a Member of Parliament, became one of the youngest Cabinet members in British history (in this case, President of the Board of Trade), he also began exhibiting his lifelong anti-socialist tendencies.

The end of the 19th century saw the rise of modern socialism in Great Britain under the auspices of the Fabian Society, and other left-wing political groups.  Most of them would eventually become part of the Labour Party, which officially began in 1906.

But while modern socialism may be over a hundred years old, very few of its arguments have changed.  For example, many in the American Left have contended for decades that Christianity is the source of their socialist principles.  The socialists in Churchill’s day were doing the same thing.

And Churchill took them to task for it, in his typically witty and sardonic way.

In a 1908 speech in Manchester, England, Churchill directly addressed the socialist claim to be the political heirs of Christianity:

The Socialists—the extreme and revolutionary party of Socialists—are very fond of telling us they are reviving in modern days the best principles of the Christian era.  They consider they are the political embodiment of Christianity, though, to judge by the language which some of them use and the spirit of envy, hatred, and malice with which they go about their work, you would hardly imagine they had studied the teaching of the Founder of Christianity with the attention they profess to have given to the subject.

Apparently, in addition to claiming Jesus and Christianity as its own, socialist appeals were as prone to greed and envy in 1908 as they are today. 

But before we get to Churchill’s comic conclusion, we must recall that he was not at all opposed to government assistance for the unfortunate.  In fact, in the same speech, he explicitly stated his support for “trying to build up and fortify a minimum standard of life.” 

“[B]ut if that is to be done,” he said, “if you are to have great combinations and greater harmonies in society, you can only have it by becoming better men and women.”  In other words, efforts to improve society may on occasion involve the state, but they fundamentally begin with the individual.

But the socialists inverted this—they believed real improvement could only begin with a government bureaucrat directing the economic and social concerns of society.  Churchill scorned such a notion.  “Any attempt to replace the existing organization of society by an official hierarchy,” he warned, “to replace the men who now manage mills by officials who are elected in some way, will end in failure.”

Even while saying this, Churchill asserted his belief that working men and women were entitled to higher wages, food assistance for the poor, etc.  He even acknowledged that too much property was owned by too few proprietors.

But at the end of the day, that still did not justify, nor could it ever justify, the fundamental tenet of socialism, namely that the state should be the owner, and in many cases even the manager, of the means of production—of all enterprises and property.  That was an entirely different proposition.

Churchill thus arrived at his comedic conclusion about the supposed relationship between Christianity and socialism—a quick and witty summary which the modern opponents of socialism would be wise to employ in their own rhetoric:

But there is one great difference between Socialists of the Christian era and those of [today]. The Socialism of the Christian era was based on the idea that ‘all mine is yours,’ but the Socialism of [today] is based on the idea that ‘all yours is mine.’ And I go so far as to say that no movement will ever achieve any real advantage for the mass of the people that is based upon so much spite and jealousy as is the present Socialist movement in the hands of its extreme men.[1]

SOURCES

[1]Winston Churchill, Socialism (January 22, 1908); Winston S. Churchill, Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897-1963: Volume I, 1897-1908 (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1974), 874-75.