Book Review from the May 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Modern Socialism" 3rd edition, by R C K. Ensor. (Harper Brothers)
If a writer on modern biology were to begin by stating that the basis of that subject, in its modern aspect, was laid by Darwin and Wallace, and then devoted the larger portion of his space to the anti-Darwinians’ statements and writings as an exposition of modern biology, he would be denounced on all hands as one quite unfit for the task he had set himself to perform.
It is just such a position as this that Mr. Ensor occupies with regard to modern Socialism.
In the Introduction to the first edition (1907) he says of Marx, Engels and Lassalle :
“Their ideas made an epoch, because with them two decisive qualities first come to the front in Socialism—the scientific and the political.” (Page XXXII.)
Without troubling to question the inclusion of Lassalle in the list, the above statement would be accepted as correct by all Socialists. Then it follows that a correct exposition of modern Socialism can be given by a survey of the statements of Marx and Engels, or their followers, and by no other method.
Yet in the volume under notice, apart from a couple of articles on the general view of Socialism and excluding the various programmes at the end of the book, over 190 pages are given to the views of the avowed anti-Marxians—S. and B. Webb, Millerand, Vollmar, David, Jaurès, Hervé, Sarraute, Vandervelde, Anseele, Keir Hardie, John Burns, and the Fabian Society— while only 55 are given to the views of Marx, Engels, Liebknecht, Bebel and Kautsky.
Lest any Fabian or ‘practical’ Labour Party advocate should find fault with Mr. Ensor for devoting so much space as given above to the so-called Marxian section, let us hasten to point out first that the only statement of Marx’s is taken from the Communist Manifesto, and consists of the list of reforms at the end of Section II! When it is remembered that as long ago as 1872 Marx and Engels declared in a new preface that this portion in particular had become obsolete, Mr Ensor’s object begins to peep through.
Secondly, on page XXXVI of the introduction to the first edition we are told :
“It seemed desirable in this volume to give some excerpts from one of the many general discussions between revolutionaries and reformists, which have occurred in the great European parties. For this purpose the Millerand debate at the Bordeaux Congress of the French Socialist party has been chosen.”
And how is this purpose carried out? By devoting 21 pages to the discussion, of which 4 are given to Millerand, 13 to Jaurès, 3 to Sarraute and 1 to Hervé. All these are reformers and anti-Marxians, while no Marxian speech is given at all?
Evidently Mr. Ensor’s idea of excerpts from a discussion is to give one side and ignore the other.
Similarly with regard to agriculture and peasant proprietorship. On page XLI it is stated that “the nearest approach to a volte-face which Socialists have attempted since Marx has been in relation to Agrarianism . . . Marx thought that the advantage of concentrating capital would be felt in agriculture as in other industries; but in spite of a temporary confirmation of this view by the mammoth farms which sprang up in Western America, it now appears very doubtful.”
Yet the very article chosen to defend this view by the “most brilliant, up to date and elastic exponent . . . M Vandervelde,’’ proves up to the hilt the correctness of Marx’s view by showing how the number of peasant proprietors in Belgium had been reduced to “barely a few thousands, who can still painfully, by a hard toil, by a real exploitation of themselves and their families make the two ends meet. The rest have fallen into the proletariate, or cultivate for someone else's profit , and this diminution of cultivating ownership in consequence of insufficient capital, of partition due to the laws of inheritance, of the ever-growing aggravation of fiscal and military charges, is to be found indicated in the official statistics.” Page 206 (Italics ours )
Far from being a real description of modern Socialism, the book has been written to defend the job-hunting bargains of the I.L.P. and Labour Party under the guise of showing how the Continental “Socialists" do the same thing, and thereby to justify the actions of these who claim to be Socialists here. This is shown not only by the great preponderance of space given to the Reformists, but also by the fact that though two editions of the work have been published since a party based on Marxian principles was formed in this country in 1904—the Socialist Party of Great Britain—no reference to it is made anywhere in the book. The old I.L.P. absurdity that Socialism means the Socialisation of capital is again trotted out. Capital being the instrument of exploitation, to talk of ‘‘Socialising" it is a contradiction in terms. The statement in the preface to the third edition that "the second piece by M. Millerand and the piece by Mr. Burns might not have been chosen today after the final secession of their authors from the ranks of regular Socialism” (sic) merely expresses the chagrin felt by the Labour Party managers at the success of Burns in making an individual bargain with the Liberals.
At the head of Burns’ article is a note saying "after 1895 he drew closer to the Liberal Party." This is utterly incorrect. As shown in the Socialist Standard for January 1906, Burns openly avowed his full adhesion to the Liberal Party in 1893, when, in the House of Commons, he defended Asquith over the shooting of the miners at Featherstone. Yet when the Labour Group was first formed in Parliament after the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee, John Bums was made its first chairman. It was not going over to the Liberals that was s crime from the Labour Party's standpoint —that was the game they were playing themselves and in which they were successful in 1906 —but the individual bargaining was the sin.
As a collection of the views of various reformers, at home and abroad, the book has a certain value; as an exposition of modern Socialism it is entirely misleading, while the confusion existing in the mind of the author is shown by the following gem: "Socialism is essentially an appeal (!) on behalf of the interests of one class, the proletarians, against what the other, the capitalists, conceive to be theirs. Socialists can either emphasize this contrast, the Class War, and rely wholly on conscious proletarian support, or they can take the line rather of reconciling the opposition in a higher unity, the Solidarity of Classes, pleading with the capitalists that they have misconceived their interest and that the true interest of all the community is that of the workers.” (Page XXXV.)
It was probably due to this mental condition that Mr. Ensor, when running as Labour candidate for Poplar at the late L.C.C. elections, advised the workers, on bis programme, to vote for the other capitalist candidate—Sir John McDougall.