Sunday, August 12, 2018

Who Are The Fatalists? (1932)

From the August 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

In its issue of May 19th, the Daily Worker published, without dissent, a letter from a correspondent (C. I. H., Manchester), from which the following passages are taken:—
   During our May Day Meeting I heard a local party speaker say that capitalism is responsible for the world economic crisis, but that the individual capitalist is not to blame.
   In the May number of the revisionist Marxist (tea) party's paper, the Socialist Standard, the conclusion of an article on Kreuger states that he was a victim of the capitalist system.
   This view is held by many workers and is a source of much confusion. . . . This philosophy of blind circumstance, somewhat similar to that of divine predestination, is the philosophy of mental and physical paralysis . . . Where is the system?
The first paragraph quoted seems to indicate that the Communist Party possesses at least one intelligent speaker with some understanding of the nature of capitalism.

Let Karl Marx reply to the second paragraph :—
   To prevent possible misunderstanding, a word. I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history can, less than any other, make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them. (Preface to Capital, p.xix. Sonnenschein edition.)
From the third extract one gathers that the correspondent not only fails to understand the difference between Marxism and Calvinism, but that he is ignorant of facts known to most schoolboys.

Are we to regard the Puritan rebels of the seventeenth century (who regarded themselves as the predestined “servants of the Lord,” wreaking his vengeance upon the unholy Cavaliers) as examples of paralysis? Were the fatalistic disciples of Mahomet, who overran Northern Africa and invaded Spain, samples of passivity? On the other hand, is the modern Pleasant Sunday Afternoon brother, who prates of his “free will" and tamely acquiesces in his exploitation by the capitalist, a fair specimen of virility ?

True, under certain social conditions we do find fatalism associated with servile submissiveness to the will of the ruling class. Oriental countries offer numerous cases in point; but this apparent contradiction illustrates in a forcible manner the principle that the political life of a given country or epoch can only be explained by reference to its stage of economic development, and not merely by its philosophy. The Puritan movement in England offers an admirable example of the way in which a class, forced to the surface by economic conditions, can revive antiquated ideas in order to express new needs, pouring new wine into old bottles, usually with disastrous results to the bottles.

Marx, however, was the product of a scientific age. People who ascribe their activity, or lack of it, to chance, fate or God, only show thereby that they do not understand the real forces which mould their conduct. It was the task of Marx to lay those forces bare and to show that the development of social life, like every other aspect of evolution, takes place according to certain discoverable laws. In particular, he demonstrated that the accumulation of capital follows a definite and inevitable course (inevitable, that is, in the sense that while it can be retarded or accelerated, it cannot be avoided), and that this accumulation has certain definite and equally inevitable results, including constantly recurring crises and intensified suffering for the workers.,

Those workers who have grasped the teachings of Marx, however, are far from being blind creatures of circumstances. They are class-conscious; conscious, that is, of the class nature of the system which has made them what they are. They recognise the social character of the productive forces which has reduced the present system to an obsolete absurdity which can be swept away when the producers will it. As a result, they endeavour to co-operate with those social forces by persuading their fellow- workers to take the necessary political steps. They do not foolishly imagine (as does C. I. H.) that they can “ fight the system by struggling against the conditions imposed by the individual capitalist.” They know that the system is the cause of these conditions and that one does not get rid of causes by tinkering with effects.

The policy advocated by C. I. H., like that of all reformers (so-called Communists included), resembles that of individuals who, when faced with a house on fire, try to prevent the flames blistering the woodwork. They are just as blind as any fatalist in their violent revolt against the effects of capitalism.

The basis of present-day society is the ownership of the means of living by the capitalists as a class. It is the class that holds the power; not a number of isolated individuals acting independently of one another. Capitalism survives as a system because it is organised. Communists, however, encourage the workers to fritter away their energies in sectional conflicts, thus reducing the ability of the workers to organise as a class for the establishment of a new system. They teach the workers to regard strikes as the weapon of their emancipation.

A hundred years or more of strikes have failed to shake the capitalist ownership of the means of living. They are necessary and useful from time to time as measures of defence against capitalists, but they do not, and cannot, alter the fact that the workers are compelled to go on producing profits in return for wages so long as the capitalist class retains its ownership of the land, factories, railways, etc.

The workers cannot gain possession of the factories by walking out of them, nor even by staying in, so long as the capitalist class controls the coercive forces of the State. The class struggle, therefore, necessarily assumes a political form. In the words of the declaration of principles of the Socialist Party : "The working class, must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that .this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation.’’

This policy, consistently advocated by the S.P.G.B. for nearly a generation, is not that of fatalists or paralytics. It is the policy of those who understand their environment and adapt their efforts intelligently to it. It is no more blind than the attitude of the electrician or engineer who uses his knowledge as a tool to enable him to take advantage of a natural force instead of submitting himself to annihilation by it. 

As for paralysis, nothing is more futile than the attempt to work miracles or to find a port by means of a weathercock. Nothing finally produces greater apathy than the expectation of the impossible; yet these are the characteristic attitudes prevalent in the Communist Party, whose leaders have affected, in the past, such hearty contempt for patient study and organisation. Signs are not wanting that "ruthless self-criticism” is about to give way to reckless self-destruction. Morbid introspection generally leads to a fit of the blues!
Eric Boden

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