Book Review from the January 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard
An Exposure of Socialism, by Max Hirsch. 48 pp., 2d.
In contrast with most so-called exposures of Socialism this one is readable and even interesting. It consists, nevertheless, for the most part of rhetorical pyrotechnics and of perfervid appeals in the sacred names of Liberty, Purity, Justice and the like, illustrating both the astuteness of Max Hirsch and the power that such ambiguous abstractions still wield over the sheep-like multitude.
The pamphlet (which has not been sent to us for review) consists of three addresses originally delivered by Max Hirsch in Australia. The “exposure,” indeed, amounts principally to assertions by Hirsch that the ultimate outcome of Socialism:
is deplorable in every direction. Industrially it means retrogression, enormous loss of productive power, and poverty for the whole of the people. Politically, it means absolute despotism on the one hand, and absolute slavery for the great majority on the other. Socially it means the loss of the monogynic family, sexual license as bad as in the declining days of Rome, and the loss of all the highest and purest joys men and women are capable of. Ethically, it means the loss of all the virtues that a thousand years of the struggle for freedom have developed among the nations of the world, and a return to the vices which distinguish slavery everywhere.
How familiar it all sounds. With the word and content of capitalism inserted in place of Socialism, the above might be the conclusions of a Socialist pamphleteer in scathing condemnation of the present social disorder. Let us apply it to the facts of to-day.
“Industrially, owing to the wasted labour force of the unemployed, the waste of competition and the competitive barriers to the complete and efficient organisation of production, the continuance of the present order means retrogression, enormous loss of productive power, and poverty for the overwhelming mass of the people. Politically it means the absolute despotism of the propertied exploiters and the absolute slavery of the whole of the wage workers. Socially it means the loss of family life by compelling husband, wife and children to sell themselves as wage slaves to provide subsistence, while low and insecure wages, which are insufficient to enable a man to keep a family and compel women to sell themselves upon the streets, engender inevitably sexual licence; while accumulated wealth joined with idleness and degeneracy at the other end of the social scale lead, as is known, to the practice of vices as bad as during the declining days of Rome. Ethically, capitalism means class antagonism, chaos and crime through the poverty and slavery of the mass compelling many to robbery and violence, and degrading them mentally and physically, while among the class that lives by exploitation there is inevitably inculcated all forms of swindling, poisonous adultery, robbery and murderous repression, leading in very truth to vices worse than any which distinguish other forms of slavery.”
As applied to to-day Mr. Hirsch’s description may undoubtedly be said to fill the bill. As applied to Socialism, however, not a single point is proven. Indeed, Max Hirsch has the audacity to offer as proofs of red tape and repression under Socialism, examples of class repression by capitalists in Colorado and the ridiculous red tape of some royal household!
It would appear from Mr. Hirsch’s statements that Tom Mann declined to debate with him, but while we have at present no means of ascertaining the full facts of this, yet we cannot refrain from quoting and commending to the careful consideration of the British Constitution Association and the rest of our not over brave opponents the following observations of our author on the uses of debate:—
A mere lecture may appeal, not to reason, but merely to prejudice or sentiment. All the difficulties may be slurred over, all the opposing arguments put out of sight without the majority of the audience detecting the trick. But in a public debate, if both debaters are competent men, this is not possible. More or less of the true value of the arguments used, more or less of the weakness of the proposals made if they are weak, must come home to the audience. A man who believes in the truth of his teaching therefore, has no reason to avoid debate; the man who knows or suspects that there are flaws in his teaching has every reason to avoid debate.
It is even now, not too late for our opponents of the B.C.A. to "come on," but it is to be feared that they still let "'I dare not want upon I would,'" like the poor cat in the adage.
It is not necessary - nor indeed is there space - to deal with more than the essential position of Mr. Hirsch. His standpoint, is entirely that of the free competition, free trade and anti State enterprise capitalist, and he endeavours to confuse Socialism with State capitalism and tilts against the latter. Even here, however, his arguments are palpably weak, as when be speaks of the enormous increase of officials and decrease of efficiency in State capitalism. In point of fact State enterprise in practically every case has been found to be more efficient and labour saving than private capitalism (and this is the reason for its adoption by the capitalist class) while the proportion of officials in the branch of industry taken over suffers in general no increase. Thus the nationalisation of the railways would decrease not only the number of wage-workers employed but also, through centralised management, the number of officials required. There would therefore result from State ownership an increase in the number of State officials but in reality a great decrease in the total officials; for the officials of private concerns are not less capitalist officials than the State bureaucracy. This, however, is no concern of ours, for it is not Socialism, nor is it our objective. Bureaucratic tyranny is the enemy and is but the reflex of class rule; our object requires the destruction of this tyranny which clips the political wings of Post Office employees, civil servants, and State railway workers, and the substitution of working-class control as the necessary prelude to the abolition of class domination through all becoming workers in the lighter and happier labour of the common weal.
Max Hirsch’s statement that productivity would decrease under Socialism is at utter variance with the facts. If in the most efficient methods of modern production uniform wage labour is the basis of that efficiency—in spite of the fact that the incentives, so far from being favourable to productivity, are such as to make the worker feel that the more he produces the sooner will the market be glutted and he be thrown out of work to starve - does it not therefore become obvious that through Socialism productivity will increase enormously, not only by the absorption of the unemployed, the idle, the lackeys and the like and the use of the most efficient machinery, but also through the direct incentive given the producers, not as to-day to restrict output, but to increase it in every way so that more wealth and leisure shall accrue to those who produce, instead of more unemployment and poverty? So far, indeed, from the natural incentives to productivity being present to-day and to be abolished by Socialism, the contrary is true, and these incentives are non-existent to-day for the working class, and can only again become operative through Socialism.
Most of Mr. Hirsch's so-called arguments are belated Manchesterisms, which are given the lie direct by capitalist practice. It is too late in the day to dish up 18th century arguments that were directed against the possibility of joint stock companies, and to endeavour to apply them to State industry, when the question that is pressing ever more threateningly for solution is not the destruction of social production and a return to the middle ages, but whether the workers shall, to their increasing misery, continue as wage-slaves in production that is already social, carrying on production in company, trust, and State for useless idlers, or whether the social powers of production shall be wrested from the capitalists, to be controlled and used by and for all who produce. And the solution of that question in industrial democracy will end bureaucracy and enslavement and poverty, at the same time that the productive forces, released from the forms which impede their useful development, reach a height of efficiency and usefulness hitherto unattainable.
The blessed words of liberty, justice, and other fraudulent aliases of capitalist interests, constantly recur with our author as with the usual bourgeois politician. In the absence of argument such "wind-jamming" has the aching void and is the occasion of perverted and soul-stirring rhetoric which effectively prevents sound analysis in the mind that falls under its spell, As Lafargue has shown, how the content of liberty, justice, and the like varies with the class, group, or even individual using the words! How liberty of the capitalist to exploit is in contradiction with the liberty of the worker, unless it be to sell himself as a wage-slave, or starve! The facts of modern industrial life are to the capitalists, necessary, rose coloured, but to the workers they become unnecessary, harmful, degrading, impoverishing and dreary.
So the facts of modern life for the working class are the basis of Socialism, and Socialist logic is the logic of proletarian history. And thus it is that, as a London newspaper recently discovered, arguments which appear conclusive to a bourgeois mind, leave the worker who realises his position utterly unconvinced, nay, wondering even that such inane and childish statements could anywhere be accepted as argument. This is illustrated not alone by the above-mentioned “eternal” self-contradictory ideas but also by theories of economies. Thus in common with the usual “ up-to-date” apologist of exploitation, Max Hirsch has a feeble tilt at the labour basis of value, and on this the capitalist attitude is easily understood.
When the rising bourgeoisie were directly concerned in the processes of production, when their personal directing activities were also involved, their political economy, from Sir William Petty to Ricardo, came to recognise labour to the full as the creator of value. As, however, with economic development the capitalists became less and less personally connected with the labour process, as they become increasingly mere absentees, coupon clippers, and ignorant of production, which came to be carried on entirely by hirelings, and as moreover by the culmination of classic economy by Marx the kernel of capitalist exploitation was laid bare, so it became necessary to find a theory of economics that did not lead with inevitable logic to Socialism. At the same time, by the capitalist becoming a consumer solely, so the consumer grew in importance in his eyes and the attributes of consumption in the form of “demand,” “ utility,” etc. — the reflex of the value process — became its foundation from the inverted viewpoint of the parasite. Thus a school grew into prominence which no longer recognised value as a result of the application of labour to useful ends, but held in effect that under the guise of “demand,” “esteem,” and “utility,” the value of a commodity was the creation, not of the producer, but of the consumer!
To the workers, however, in daily contact with the material basis of life, such a theory must ever remain unreal and fantastic, and with them the fact of the worker as source of value must retain its fundamental importance until and unless a time comes when wealth is produced without labour, and when palaces, banquets and motor cars descend ready made from heaven.
Socialism, indeed, apart from its accidental manifestations, is irrefutable from the standpoint of the wage-worker, for the Socialist is in essence only the conscious expression of the economic and social necessities of the wealth producers, adding definite aim, organisation, effect and intensity to the demand born of modern oppression and contradictions. Hence arises both the confidence of the Socialist in the future and the world-wide and inevitable advance of the Socialist movement.
F. C. Watts