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Workers’ Conception of Religion (1890)

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He was already in the best society. He shared a good room with a young fellow from Pomerania of about his own age, namely, twenty years, whom he had met in Berlin, and in whose company he had come to Chemnitz. The Pomeranian was a quiet, inoffensive fellow, from a very poor artisan’s family, but one of the few whose Christianity is an integral part of itself not to be sloughed off, from whom all counter influences seem to slide off harmlessly. He had a silent but strong ascendency over his room-mate.

This same young man, a vice-hand, worked in the factory between two others of the same age. Of the religious views of one of these latter I know but little. He came from the neighbourhood of Wurzen, near Leipzig, where his father had a large well-established smithy in a little country place, to which the son was to return when he had seen the world and the factory and sown his wild oats. He showed me once a flask of fresh water, and said with a laugh, “Here’s the pure Word of God!” The last of the three was a type of the ordinary young factory hand, and lived a wild life. I met him every Sunday in the dance-halls with a girl; he knew that his parents were fairly prosperous. The scepticism of the social-democratic agitation had produced its normal effect in his case. He was, to give an example, godfather to the child of a young married friend. One day his god-child died; the funeral was held three days later in the middle of the afternoon. The next day he was completely worn out; and in response to my questions he told me in one breath that the pastor had spoken beautifully at the grave, and that they had kept on drinking till four o’clock the next morning: a half-holiday for once! The dead child’s father, I ought to say, went home from the saloon at ten o’clock.

I remember another young fellow exactly like this last in age, calling, and temperament. He believed in a higher Being, of whom, however, he had not formed the slightest conception, and to whom he was supremely indifferent. He “believed” merely because he was a man; man must have something to distinguish him from a brute!

These are side-lights upon the tendencies and religious ideas of our growing youth; they confirm my previous estimate. I now return to the characteristics of men of maturer years, clear-sighted social democrats.

It was in the morning, and I had been for several days painfully at work with a hand-drill, boring holes in the heavy iron work of a circular saw frame, marking them out first with chalk. A machinist, the oldest of the nine foremen, whose work was near mine, came across to me; another man, a hand-worker, soon joined us; finally a third, whom I have already mentioned more than once. The last was a consistent social democrat, much more loyal to the party idea than the other two. We fell into a long conversation.

When I was not looking they rubbed out my chalk-marks on the frame for a joke. I took it in good part when I saw what they had done, and cried out, “Only don’t destroy my circle!” “What does that mean?” someone said. I asked if they had never heard the story of Archimedes and the fall of Syracuse. “No,” they said, so I told it to them, and explained my quotation.

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