A critic's rejoinder and our reply.
To the Editor of the Socialist Standard.
Sir,—Your answer to my criticism of socialism in the December Socialist Standard was very interesting, and I thank you for printing my letter. But why say that to-day is beloved of myself if I point out that exploitation, war and appropriation are features of all life, and are bound up in the function of living things; and that capitalism is a manifestation of the life process. I shall be even more interested if you can show that this is not a fundamental fact of all history up to the present moment. Especially as you seem to regard yourselves as authorities on that subject, and accuse me of ignorance.
You say that civilisations proceed from the changes in the material conditions of existence. Perhaps the S.P. might study the characters of the men who played a prominent part in the English rebellion, and find out whether Cromwell and his colleagues were not far different men than Charles I in appearance, in habits, and in tastes. Also whether the civilisation proceeding from that rebellion was marked by the puritanical avaricious character of the men who ruled it. It is human beings who make history; and the breeding, tastes and racial characteristics of those human beings set their mark upon a civilisation and give it its meaning and its peculiar form and excellence. Thus we have the noticeable variety and diversity of such civilisations as Egypt, Greece, the East, etc. To say that civilisations proceed from material conditions is equivalent to saying that pictures proceed from paint and brushes and not from artists. Civilisations, which are works of art on a grand scale, proceed from the race, and more particularly from the higher and more gifted members of that race. Why are the terms higher and lower men the cant and humbug of a ruling class? They are tangible, existing realities.
Next I come to your explanation of philanthropy. That it “has its roots either in a fear of a hereafter, the belief in a heaven or hell, or else a desire to achieve notoriety.” But why precisely should a reward in the hereafter be expected to be earned by bestowing sums of money upon asylums for cripples, the insane, and the diseased—why should people fear not to do so, and why should such bestowals achieve fame on this earth? You say that this is no different from any other philanthropy—ancient or modern. But whenever did entry to Valhalla or Olympus depend upon exactly such terms? One had to possess far different qualifications to earn a place among the heroes. The reason that modern philanthropy takes the form it largely does, and the fame it obtains in so doing, is to be found in Christian morality. There everything weak, exhausted, declining and ailing is declared holy. The healthy, the vigorous, the triumphant are looked upon with suspicion. “The Lord has chosen the things that are not, to bring to naught the things that are, that no flesh shall glory in his presence,” says Paul. The lowly were declared to be holy. This train of thought has become uppermost. It has paved the way for the conception that evolution results in revolution; therefore it has paved the way for Socialism with its belief in the working-class as introducers of the next step in social evolution.
No wonder you distil from history the theory that it is a series of emancipations; and that the working-class, which is the bottom class, can establish a society in which there will be no privilege, no slavery, no poverty; instead, comfort, equality and freedom for all. But first, my dear fellows, you will have to discover a new sort of life, for none existing can be made to fit that nihilistic dream.
However, I regard it as quite possible so to weaken and suppress living beings that for long periods they will acquiesce in a tame and castrated society whose level is determined by the majority vote of its members. Your assurance that there is nothing in Socialism to prevent ideas being furthered, with the stipulation that this furtherance is not to the injury of the community, is a revelation of the sort of freedom permissible under Socialism. Everyone as agent of the community watching everyone else. What a community ! What a conception of freedom ! To offset this you say that to-day ideas that do not suit the ruling class are crushed at birth. Then how is it that the Socialist Standard appears every month? And is quite old, I believe. Perhaps, after all, it was crushed at birth by somebody, as its ideas are very strange. But the Socialist seems unable to comprehend the simple explanation that life is a multifarious, changing, conflicting phenomena, wherein none are consulted as to whether they want it, and in which it is impossible to live, breathe, eat and breed without violating some other form of life.
Your accusation of robbery against the capitalist smacks of that pious fraud whereby existence was made to appear as a struggle of good against evil. And, as I pointed out in my criticism, it is an emanation from the vanquished and resentful, who thus find a way to get back at the victors. This cannot change the essential nature of life. But by misunderstanding life you can come to believe that it is possible to establish that simpleton’s paradise “that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.” How little you know of life if you believe that. But I doubt if you do believe it. It is a bait with which you hope to draw the unhappy over to your side. A hollow fraud for dupes; a wretched self-deception; the heir of Christianity. The most tremendous falsehood that has ever existed.
—I am, Yours, etc.,
Reply to Mr. Hart.
In our previous reply to Mr. Hart we pointed out that his first letter consisted almost entirely of unsupported assertions, and we challenged him to give any evidence to support his defence of the claims of capitalists.
His second letter makes not the slightest attempt to meet this challenge, and supplies no evidence in support of his statements.
Instead of doing this he repeats his baseless assertions, and then calls upon us to prove a negative. This cheap, ancient, but badly-worn trick of the dodger in controversy, is useless when it is attempted to be played on any who have some acquaintance with the elements of logic and sense. Unless Mr. Hart is prepared to give something beyond mere assertion for his stale and exploded views, it is no business of ours to fall into his obvious trap by setting out to establish the contrary.
When Mr. Hart attempts to meet some of our points in the answer to his previous letter the results are childish. Thus he thinks he is refuting the fact that material conditions determine the form of society when he says this “is equivalent to saying that pictures proceed from paints and brushes and not from artists” ! He is evidently mentally unable to distinguish betweeen the tools one may use from the material conditions under which one must live.
This mental incapacity is further illustrated when he fails to see that his question on English philanthropy : “Why precisely should a reward in the hereafter be expected to be earned by bestowing sums of money upon asylums,” etc., has already been answered by our pointing out that it is based upon a belief in a heaven and a hell. It is to seek the approbation or goodwill of the “God” believed in that such acts are taken. The Valhalla is not comparable with a heaven or a hell, as Mr. Hart would know if he had the slightest acquaintance with the facts of history.
To say that we will have “to discover a new sort of life “to live under Socialism is merely to say that Socialism has not existed before, which is one of the things we state ourselves.
Mr. Hart’s last sentence certainly clears the air. Socialism is “a hollow fraud for dupes,” “a wretched self-deception,” “the most tremendous falsehood that has ever existed,” etc. Here is the shriek of the apologist for Capitalism, who, unable to meet the facts and arguments of the Socialists, starts out with false assertions and ends up with a scream.