Thursday, October 1, 2015

Is There a Class War? (1904)

From the October 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

MR. J. KEIR-HARDIE,    M.P., ANSWERS " YES-NO " AND "NO-YES!"

The "Socialist" humorist of the day is Mr. J. Keir Hardie, M.P. At least, Mr. Hardie claims to be a Socialist. Of his humour there is no question. That it is unconscious humour makes the gentleman's contortions even a little pitiful. Mr. Hardie has Capitalist friends. He is a Reform politician. One of his methods of advancing Socialism is to give electoral support to non-Socialists ― he would, in fact, cast out Beelzebub by means of Beelzebub. Consequently, he appears to find himself in this dilemma : he desires to "moralise" the capitalists; thinks it possible that the wolves of Commercialism will loose their hold upon their prey voluntarily, and, whilst he is incapable of arguing the position, feels instinctively that he cannot reconcile reform with the fundamental principle of the class war, without recognition of which no scientific theory of Socialism is possible.

In order to conclusively prove this statement it is only necessary to place together the contradictory expressions used by Mr. Keir Hardie himself in a recent article entitled "An Indictment of the Class War."

Mr. Hardie states on the one hand: 
"For my own part, I have always maintained that to claim for the Socialist movement that it is a 'class' war dependent for its success upon the 'class' consciousness of one section of the community, is doing Socialism an injustice, and indefinitely postponing its triumph. It is, in fact, lowering it to the level of a mere faction fight."
On the other hand, he also states: 
"Now, it is not disputed that there is a conflict of interests between those who own property and those who work for wages. The tenant and his landlord and the worker and his employer have interests which lead to inevitable conflict and antagonism, and the object of Socialism is the removal of the causes which produce this antagonism."
It appears, then, that "conflict" is not "war" and "antagonism " means ― mutual interest between two opposing classes! Perhaps Mr. Hardie also considers confusion the same thing as clearness.

Later, this amusingly superficial thinker states "the working class is not a class, it is the nation." How it can be a class and not a class at the same time we leave Mr. Hardie to explain, and he may also let us know what he means by the following:
"Socialism will come, not by a war of classes, but by economic circumstances forcing the proletariat into a revolt, which will absorb the middle class, and thus wipe out classes together."
Thus we have a class which is not a class, a nation without classes, which yet contains a working class and a middle class, the revolt ― not war ! ― of the former which is to "absorb" the latter and the wiping out of classes without those hostile operations which, in ordinary language, are tersely denominated war. And all this confused medley of what is either ignorant stupidity or deliberate misleading in order that Mr.  Keir Hardie may somehow or the other cover the defeat of himself, of his friend Jaures and of the Utopians generally at the International Congress.

But whilst we may smile at the scarcely concealed anger and dismay of the Confusionists at the growth of uncompromising Socialism, it becomes a rather more serious matter when we find  this moral philosopher misquoting  the works of recognised exponents of scientific Socialism and claiming that such men as, for instance, Belfort Bax, are supporting his compromising attitude. In his well-known "Ethics of Socialism," this author has stated :
"All class-character qua class character is bad ... The particular class-qualities in the character of the modern capitalist may be roughly indicated by the definition,  vulgarity IN a  solution of hypocrisy ; the particular class-qualities in the character  of the modern proletarian  as brutality IN a solution of servility." 
Mr. Hardie leaves out the   three essential words "qua class-character," and makes Bax's definitions to read respectively ―
"Vulgarity IN a solution of hypocrisy," and "brutality IN a solution of servility." 
By this substitution Mr. Hardie totally alters the character of the thought expressed.

In non-ethical circles this is known as dishonesty.

But not content with mutilating what he does quote, Mr. Hardie leaves out all those portions of the article in question which would enable his readers to gain an intelligent idea of the author's real meaning.   Will it be believed that in this very essay, Mr. Bax contemptuously dismisses the Keir Hardie attitude as that of a
"Benevolent old gentleman who says, 'Let us ignore classes, let us regard each other as human beings,'"
And as that of the "benevolent bourgeois Radical" ?

It seems most remarkable that anyone noting the differentiation between natural class-instinct and the political class conscious action of the workers insisted on by Bax can possibly hold Mr. Hardie's conclusions. For does not Bax say in the same article :
"Classes exist; you may ignore them,  but they will exist still with the respective characters they engender.  Though you ignore them, they will not ignore you. . . .  In the Socialist workman the class-instinct has become transformed into the conviction that, in the words of Lassalle, 'he is called to raise the principle of his class into the principle of the age.'   He knows that in the moment of victory ― of the realisation of the dominion of his class ― the ugly head of   class  itself  must   fall, and   society emerge. Militant, his cause is identified with class; triumphant, with Humanity." 
Poor, indeed, must be the case of the Reformist reactionaries when they have to bolster up their absurd and contemptible position by mis-quotation and suppression. The marvellous thing is that any intelligent being should be duped by such palpable dishonesty.
H. J. Hawkins



1 comment:

imposs1904 said...

Hat tip to ALB for scanning this article in.