Saturday, February 5, 2022

Economics and ideas. Their influence on political institutions (part 6) (1925)

From the September 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from last month).

The workers demand the franchise.
But the revolt of the workers though it could be repressed could not be destroyed. In spite of all opposition their Trade Unions, though declared illegal by the Combination Acts, persisted and waged a never-ceasing war of resistance against low wages, the extension of the working day and intolerable conditions of labour.

Side by side with the industrial struggle went on a ferment of political ideas at length issuing in demands that were the outcome of the antagonism between the social relations of capitalist economy— fostering ideas of “equal rights” and “individual liberty”—and the actual oligarchic form of the state with its assumption of unequal rights and of different grades of social status.

At first the workers’ aspirations for political and legal rights were inarticulate and unorganised, but the spread of workers’ associations, of discussion and reading and the growing ease of communication facilitated the growth of an organised movement. Political groups aiming at constitutional reform sprang up in the cities and these, though dominated by intellectuals and bourgeois radicals had considerable influence amongst sections of the working class. One of the earliest was the London Corresponding Society, founded in 1797 by Hardy, a bootmaker. With it Paine and Godwin were associated. Its leaders nearly all suffered imprisonment or transportation. At a later date Cobbett carried on a vigorous agitation amongst the workers :
“When he reduced ‘The Weekly Political Register’ from a shilling and a halfpenny to twopence, 50,000 copies were scattered over the country, and everywhere men gathered in clubs to hear the paper read by one of them who had schooling” (Green’s “Short History,” p. 846).
But the great political movement of the period was that of the industrial bourgeoisie. Their struggle for the Reform Bill was undoubtedly instrumental in rallying masses of the workers. But the political demands of the working men had roots independent from and antagonistic to the basis of the bourgeois movement. To them electoral reform was primarily a means of alleviating their economic miseries. At the same time it is impossible to separate, in the stimulus behind their demands, the economic discontent that was the chief spur to action, from the force of the political ideas which gave their discontent expression in aspirations towards political democracy and demands which spoke eloquently of the extent to which they had moved from their old confirmed belief in the necessity of “status” and the inevitability of political privilege.

The details of the Reform Movement need not detain us, but it was a severe and a bloody struggle in which the workers bore the brunt of the fight. After forming the backbone of the struggle for the Reform Bill of 1832 which enfranchised the new capitalists but excluded themselves, the exasperated workers threw their strength into their own Chartist movement and carried on the conflict afresh. Again we may note that, though the Chartist working men meant political reform as a means to economic ends, the purely political demands of the Charter—manhood-suffrage, vote by ballot, etc.—indicate how widespread “democratic” and “libertarian” ideas had become.

Though the Chartist movement broke down and its demands were resisted, the concepts that it had done so much to popularise were now permanently rooted and could not be eradicated. But for a period the agitation for political reform died down. After the worst excesses of the factory-system had been alleviated by the Factory Acts, after a period of comparative prosperity due to the rapid extension of British production and its supremacy in the World Market and to the rising strength of their Unions, the workers had become reconciled to the system. Their Trades Unions, now tacitly recognised by the masters, became benefit societies and means of diplomatic negotiations with the employers. Their leaders declared the common interests of Capital and Labour, and counselled conciliation and mutual good-will between the classes.

But in the “sixties” events revealed the legal insecurity of the Unions and their funds, and a strong demand ensued for their definite legalisation. Along with this movement began an active revival of the agitation for the franchise. Reform Leagues sprang up spontaneously all over the country. The “International,” founded in 1864 and led by Marx, actively supported the new movement.
“All through the autumn and winter (1866-7) great meetings were held in the great towns and cities to promote the cause of reform. A most significant feature of these demonstrations was the part taken by the organised trades associations of working men.” (McCarthy— “Our Own Times.”)
At length, as Engels says, “the workers’ claims to the franchise gradually became irresistible,” and the ruling class gave way.

Significantly enough, it was the Tories who passed the second Reform Bill of 1867, which enfranchised a great mass of the town workers, thus demonstrating that even the most traditionally, cautious party of the master class had seen “the writing on the wall,” and were convinced that working-class suffrage was inevitable. In 1872 the secret ballot was instituted, and in 1885 the vote was further extended to the counties and the agricultural workers.

The ruling-class had made in 1867 what Lord Derby called a “leap in the dark,” but, to their relief—though this must have been half-expected — the plunge proved harmless. It was soon overwhelmingly apparent that the working-class — though jealous enough in the defence of their immediate interests—had no thoughts of disrespect to or revolt from the “rights of property,” and that they believed and acted on the assumption that “capital” and “wages” were eternal categories, and the only practical basis of social life.

Before this, in America and in France, the workers had already achieved the franchise, and since then all over the capitalist world an enfranchised working-class has been recognised as the indispensable basis of stability in the State.

The Great Illusion.
With the vote, with his Unions legalised (1871 in England) and other legal rights established, the workers seemed to have achieved what bourgeois historians regard the be-all and end-all of social evolution—full “civic rights and liberties.” They had in actuality reached the very fullest “freedom” as a class that they could achieve or even conceive so long as their ideas and aspirations kept within the bounds of the capitalist system. The facts of law and politics now no longer seemed in contradiction with the “liberty” and “individualism” of economic life. Did not the “people” now “rule the country,” did not they decide the fate of statesmen and governments, did not the politician plead and struggle for their support and tremble at their indecision? At last, the son of toil seemed truly a free man, and he could sing “Britons never, never, never !” with never a twinge of conscience.

That the overworked, ill-fed slave of the factory-blast can live in the same city with the gilded drones who live in luxurious leisure upon the product of his toil— and yet believe in the reality of his freedom— in liberty of contract and the reward of enterprise seems a ghastly joke. Yet the positive reality of the belief is a fact to which anyone who knows the workers can testify.

The wage-slave does not perceive that the unequal distribution of property into which he is born exercises as compelling a tyrannical control over his destiny as any law that the State can make. He is blind to the fact that freedom for property means slavery for those who possess none. He explains the inequality of wealth op the theory that the rich have been “lucky” or particularly clever. The man who has “got on” he admires, and he lives in the shadowy hope of following in his steps. His hero is the “self-made man.”

It is essential to clearly understand that the resignation of the average worker to the capitalist system and, indeed, his active support of it arises directly from the fact that he accepts private property in the means of life without question. Once this basis is granted, the support of the whole system follows of necessity. The worker may and does desire economic security, but this only results from control of the means of life. In the early, days of the system the workers did endeavour to return to the measure of such control that the hand-tool period allowed them. They fought the machines and tried to turn back the wheels of history. But with the generations that had grown up amongst and known nothing other than the machine system, such aspirations could have no place. The means of production were now giant mechanisms jointly operated —no one worker used them. So long as the traditions of individual ownership persisted, therefore, the workers could not own or even with sense think of owning the instruments they operated. The social productive mechanisms of modern society can only be owned by the users in common —and the idea of social ownership had not yet taken wide and deep root.

But the impossibility of security for the workers did not prevent them continuing to seek for it—but as they accepted the system they had also to accept the only method of aiming at security that the system offers — increase of income, through collective bargaining largely, but also through—if only as a vague but persistent aspiration—”getting on,” if possible, accumulating property—processes that naturally foster the outlook of individualism.
R. W. Housley

Publications Fund Acknowledgments. (1925)

Party News from the September 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Answers to correspondents. (1925)

Letters to the Editors from the September 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

T. Mosley (Notts).—We have no trace of a previous letter asking about trade unionism. Your suggestion that the weakness of our position lies in our aloofness from the trade union movement is not supported by any evidence. The aim of trade unions is not Socialism and, therefore, the principles and policy of The Socialist Party is quite distinct from those of trade unions.

Trade unions are organised within capitalism to “collectively bargain” with employers terms of wage slavery. The Socialist Party’s aim is to abolish wage slavery and establish Socialism.

We recognise the necessity of trade unions under capitalism, and, therefore, endeavour to make them more effective by urging the workers to recognise the class struggle and its implications. The spread of Socialist knowledge is the best antidote to the poison of “labour-leaders,” and is the only policy to hasten the abolition of wage slavery which trade unions are powerless to accomplish.
—Ed. Com.

W. C. E. (Leyton).—Your question : “What is the relative economic position of the worker compared to 50 years ago?” will be dealt with in an article at an early date.

S. Warr (Southend) asks the following-question :-—
“As value is determined by social necessary labour power or time, what then would be the value of gold as means of exchange if its production were unrestricted and of great volume ?
“I ask this as the machinery, science and organisation of mines to-day has very greatly increased the production of gold; also the knowledge of its location.”

(Answer).—The effect of the reduction of the value of gold due to less labour being required to produce it is that more gold has to be given in exchange for other articles. In other words, there is a general rise in prices. If gold could be produced with relatively very little labour, it would make it less suitable as a medium of exchange. It still contains, however, a large value in a small compass and, therefore, serves the purpose of a medium of exchange better than any other commodity.
—Ed. Com.

H. G. Wells’ idealism and the working class (1925)

From the September 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has often been said that the ideal society will be one in which its members consciously direct their efforts for common good. In the moment when every man will promote the interests of his fellow men regardless of his own individual preferences, so soon will the highest conceivable stage of social progress have been reached. This popular view is also upheld by “pseudo-Socialists.” H. G. Wells, in his “Outline of History,” states
“that the impulse to devotion, to universal service and to a complete escape from self . . . which ebbed so perceptibly during the prosperity, laxity, disillusionment and scepticism of the past seventy or eighty years will re-appear again, stripped and plain, as the recognised structural impulse in human society.”
This Christian sentiment, so lofty and admirable as it appears at first sight, devolves into a very mischievous doctrine—a common consequence of Christian ethics. Here we are led to imagine society as being an undivided mass of individuals each one being capable of a free-will offering to the common prosperity. The idea implies that poverty and all social inequalities can be accounted for by a lack of certain tender feelings on the part of the richer individuals. Mr. Wells has discovered that they have not sufficiently exercised their “impulse to devotion, universal service, etc.” Then what is the remedy? Surely, to convince these misguided wrong-doers of the errors of their ways and persuade them in the Wellsian manner—whatever that may be—to pay more regard in future to the interests of their poorer neighbours. Presumably, they are required to part with a portion of their wealth and distribute it among the unfortunate beings who somehow managed to combine a Christian heart with an empty pocket. It was with exactly this end in view that the Labour Party launched their scheme for a Capital Levy. This was indeed a brilliant idea, concealed in the Gospel of Christ, obscured for nineteen hundred years of misery and want, and re-discovered at last by Mr. Pethick Lawrence under the inspiration of Mr. Wells ! There is but to allow for a Labour Government to give practical application to the divine plan and behold, labour shall cease its awful strife with capital and both shall for ever go arm in arm together. But in the meantime, let us repair to the churches to solicit the spiritual aid of Jesus Christ and Mr. Wells, his prophet !

The Capital Levy might satisfy the Labour Party but it offers no solution to the economic problem. So long as Capitalists own the means of life, so long will the workers be enslaved as wage-earners and poverty prevail. They must concede to the condition that their portion of the wealth produced by his labour—whether paid in the form of wages, salary or otherwise—shall be reduced to something like a living minimum. If he declines this condition, his labour-power is not purchased and he is left to starve into submission. The worker’s prospects under the present system are, therefore, in general entirely hopeless and the Capital Levy can have no effect whatever upon his economic status. The only logical solution to the worker’s problem is to grapple with its roots. The secret of the Capitalists’ power is the fact that they own the means of production, giving them illimitable authority over the whole social system. The worker’s aim, therefore, must be to capture the means of production. This is a task in which the solemn worship of divinity in any form will avail nothing. It will be accomplished only when a workers’ class-conscious majority has achieved political power and wields it in the communal interest. This being established, social progress enters upon a new lease of life which is the only Socialism.

To the sentimental advocates of “complete escape from self,” there is one unmistakable reply—it is unhuman. It does not conform with man’s mental make-up. We have to admit that the first, greatest and happiest effort of the individual is to consider his own welfare. But in human society—and possibly among the higher animals—there is a conscious co-operation between individuals for the purpose of facilitating the struggle for existence. This combination of effort occurs only in the presence of a common enemy, whose defeat can better be secured by social rather than by individual effort. In other words, “mutual aid “—as this co-operative practice is called—is adopted under pressure of necessity when the individual welfare is being threatened. Apart from the union of similar egoistic ambitions, it has no existence; it rests, not on any moral basis, but only on one of utility.

The truth of this interpretation of “mutual aid” is borne out in the facts of modern industrial history. The workers are to-day expressing dissatisfaction with their standard of living. This discontent is manifested in the Trade Unions in which each member aims at promoting his own individual interest, or rather, we should say, apparent interest. To do this more effectively, he is obliged, often against his immediate desire, to unite with his fellow-workers and employ the machinery of the Trade Union to fulfil the common collective demands of the whole body of workers. In order to benefit individually, the workers must act collectively; it is a condition forced upon them by the very magnitude of the modern economic system. They, therefore, employ “mutual aid” but essentially to further the apparent interests of the individual, that is to say, an improvement in the standard of living. For no other cause will they co-operate than for this egoistic purpose.

But this process, as practised to-day by the Trade Unions and the Labour Party, is confused with an element of ignorance. The workers are being educated into the false view that their economic emancipation lies at the far end of a series of steadily improving scale of wages. All that the workers are taught is to strive for a slightly larger share of the wealth they produce. They seek only to gratify their immediate and apparent interests. The result of this policy has been the ever-increasing poverty by which the present society is distinguished.

The Socialist Party, based upon a thorough understanding of the Capitalist mode of exploitation, makes full use of this experience. Under the present economic system the worker receives only a small fraction of the wealth he produces. His scale of wages is determined, on the average, by the cost of his subsistence and the reproduction of his kind. An increased wage scale is, therefore, only of temporary benefit to the workers. The solution of the Socialist Party, briefly stated, is to secure, not a larger fraction of the wealth produced, but actually the whole value of the productions. It is the one indispensable condition by which Capitalist exploitation will definitely cease to exist and for which the class war, as the collective endeavour of individuals, must be waged.

Socialism, therefore, far from advocating “escape from self” really preaches the doctrine of self-interest as the essential feature of a contented community. It is the ideal by the attainment of which the emancipation of the working class and, with it, of society at large will be established. The workers must learn to cease being satisfied with the crumbs which fall from the richly spread table of Capitalism, Nor is it enough that when the crumbs cease to fall, they beg like Oliver Twist for more. They must stimulate their individual interests to the fullest limit and vote for Socialism, i.e., the collective ownership of the means of life It is a simple doctrine, but an all-engaging one. Any ideal short of this may very aptly conform to the reactionary elements of Christianity. But it is not Socialism and will lead society to anything but complete emancipation.

The meaning of the Pensions Bill (1925)

From the September 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard
“I submit that this scheme is a social insurance scheme in more than one sense. It is a good scheme of insurance for the poor, and it safeguards them against some of the risks and anxieties of life, but it is also a good insurance scheme for the rich. The rich should pay up and so avoid the dangers of the social revolution.” Speech of Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck (Hansard, 19/5/25, Column 354).

Socialism and Darwinism. (1925)

From the August 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two of the branches of scientific work that have done more to revolutionise human thought than any others are those known as Darwinism and Socialism. Though both these owe their final achievements to the painstaking research of many previous investigators, it was not until time and development had provided the material for proof and demonstration that they were raised to a scientific position by Darwin and Marx respectively. The previously held belief in a supernatural creation of plants and animals had received rude shocks by the discovery of fossil remains that apparently could not be related to existing species. As new methods of grouping and classification came with increased knowledge a closer examination revealed resemblances between species both fossil and living. The fish and the amphibian, the reptile and the bird, the anthropoid ape and primitive man; could there be a remote relationship? The theory of descent grew. It was at this stage that Darwin undertook his patient investigations. In his autobiography he says:—
“In October, 1838, that is 15 months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on population, and, being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long continuous observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work.”
In passing we may mention that Malthus was a capitalist apologist who claimed that population increased faster than subsistence, and that therefore working class poverty was inevitable and natural. His theory was, many years ago, completely shattered by Godwin and Henry George in “On Population,” and “Progress and Poverty” respectively. Dr. Alfred Wallace, Darwin’s co-worker, showed conclusively in “The Wonderful Century” that even under capitalism during the last century our powers of production increased ten times greater than the population. To aid him in his studies Darwin turned to that branch of plant and animal reproduction that mankind consciously operates upon in order to breed special types, the racehorse or the heavy shire, the whippet or the bulldog, the various breeds of pigeons, all of which can be made to vary more than wild species. Did this artificial selection by which man bred new species have its counterpart in natural forces? In his works “Origin of Species” and “Descent of Man,” Darwin showed that it had. The gradual advance of plant and animal life had been brought about by an intense struggle with natural obstacles. The peace and tranquility of nature sung by the poet is an eternal struggle to maintain existence. The lower forms of life have powers of reproduction far in excess of their available subsistence (not civilised humans, note), hence the two great motive forces, the preservation of the individual and the species, are impelling forces to warfare. Those that can defend and protect themselves against enemies and conditions in the struggle for existence by any sort of advantage, acquired from generation to generation, will be the new species “fittest to survive.” The failures will be exterminated : The struggle is carried a step further by those animals that live in groups or are gregarious. Their combined powers give them a new strength of protection both for themselves and their young. Bearing in mind the immense periods of time taken for development in nature’s working it will become more clear how such groups developed social feelings, instincts and advantages, that enabled them to struggle successfully right up to the man-like apes, our progenitors in the line of development.

The final step that enables man to emerge from the animal kingdom is the making and use of tools. He acquires the first rudiments of speech and becomes “primitive man.” Space only permits of a brief mention of the proofs of the correctness of Darwin’s theory. Man within his body contains many rudimentary parts only explicable on the basis of his lowly origin. The physical and mental differences of living races of men are greater than those between the lowest men and the highest apes, and a study of embryology shows that the human embryo recapitulates the whole history of the evolution of the species, the last form left behind being that of the anthropoid ape.

What organs are to the animal world, tools are to mankind. These man-made tools in conjunction with other discoveries give him a great advantage in the struggle for the food supply over the animals, he is indeed able to dominate them and later domesticate them. Struggle at this stage does not cease, it merely takes a different form, those groups or tribes of men who possess better tools and weapons compete more successfully in the conflict and struggle now takes place between tribe and tribe. Further development in tools and methods of production makes the preservation of those captured in conflict desirable, a surplus can be produced, slavery begins :

All history says Marx “is the history of class struggles ” (i.e., since the break up of the tribes) and thus he supplies the key :
“In every epoch the prevailing mode of social production and exchange, and the social organisation necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch.” (Communist Manifesto).
As with Darwin and Wallace in the domain of natural history, so with Marx and Engels in the materialistic conception of history. Marx shows that with changed economic conditions, come new social classes, new ideas, new interests. The subject class that has sought to possess tools or means of livelihood has always fought for political supremacy. Every class struggle must be a political struggle. The decline of the Roman Empire, the French Revolution, the vast changes within capitalism including the growing conscious discontent of the workers, can only be explained by Marx’s theory.

The handicraft worker had a mentality different from the city proletariat of to-day, the conditions had not developed the Socialist who is a product of the modern slave system of social production : What then is the struggle that is paramount to the Socialist? It is the Class struggle, it is the struggle between the producers, and the non-producers who possess and control the means of life, between the wage workers and the Capitalists. To remove poverty and degradation the workers must wage that struggle consciously for the establishment of a higher order of society in which class distinctions will be abolished and all can enjoy the comfort and leisure modern means make possible. The decadent parasites of Capital will be no match for a majority organised for Socialism. It will indeed be “the survival of the fittest.”
W. E. MacHaffie

Letter: Is the Socialist Attitude towards Religion Sound? (1925)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Criticism by Mr. Archie McArthur and our Reply. 

Being on the Thames Embankment last May Day, I bought a copy of a pamphlet on “Socialism and Religion,” issued by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. If my memory serves me right, I encountered this same pamphlet some fourteen years ago in Winnipeg. The manifesto, for such it is, bases upon materialism. I submit that it is a mistake for Socialists any longer to found their propaganda upon such a questionable doctrine. To do so is but to invite attack and inevitable discomfiture.

Fifty years ago—which was an age of triumphant Science—it was widely believed that in matter and motion there had at last been placed in man’s hands the key to the interpretation of the universe and all its contents, including man himself. Fifty years ago that was ; but time in the interval has wrought many changes. Science, now wiser and less confident, recognises its limitations and confines itself to a description of things as they appear to us, being silent about them as in their ultimate nature they are. Materialism is no longer regarded as a truth of science.

Neither is materialism an established truth of philosophy. It amounts to no more than a philosophic speculation; and it is endorsed to-day by few thinkers of repute. The main reason for this, briefly expressed, is that the theory cannot reach its starting-point. Thought itself bars the way. You can never get to a position beyond thought where you are face to face with matter per se—where you have matter pure and simple—and then show thought evolving from it. Matter in its primordial form—the atom with its electrons—is always matter with an element of thought already present in it. Anyone who grasps the significance of this statement will at once see how precarious a basis materialism is for Socialism.

Materialism is in truth a philosophic issue, which must be settled upon philosophic principles. No apparent value of it for propaganda can avail against a position established in opposition to it—finally, as I think, and irrevocably—far from “the tumult and the shouting,” in the quiet and remote chambers of the thinkers.

Socialism—in essence the view that as production is now social, so also ought to be distribution, and that this can be secured only through the collective ownership and control of industry with its materials and implements—Socialism is strictly an ethico-economic doctrine, which may be held on various grounds. It is that which constitutes its strength and makes it a possible world-polity. The Socialist world of the future—infinitely rich it will be in human types and their contributions to the common stock—is not to be for a handful of doctrinaires, but for all the world’s inhabitants, whatever their opinions on matters irrelevant. The facts upon which the “materialist conception of history” founds, when not coloured and falsified beforehand by the “conception” itself, are susceptible of another and, as many think, a sounder and more inspiring interpretation ; and there is no warrant for using it as a test of orthodoxy. To discard the theory would detract nothing from the achievement of Marx. His genius and industry it was that brought the facts to light and forced them upon the attention of the world.

I speak of the “materialist conception” not without some acquaintance with it. Eighteen years ago I came to grips with it when a student under Morris Hillquit, the well-known Marxian and Internationalist, at the Rand School, New York, in the first year of its existence. Hillquit, I remember, was careful to exclude the “materialist conception” from his definition of Socialism. Socialism would do well, like science, to learn its limitations and refrain from dogmatising about the ultimate nature of reality, whether it is material or spiritual. Not as an enemy of the cause do I write, but as an old and deeply interested friend. I was one of the original members of the Independent Labour Party thirty-two years ago and, before that, was on the executive of the old Scottish Labour Party. Looking back over the past generation, I deeply regret the way in which Socialists have, unwarrantably and without profit to themselves, undermined morality and religion.

As to morality, there is the phrase “the morality of Socialism.” But how much, on a materialistic basis, does this come to? It comes to no more than self-interest. That is why the healthy moral consciousness revolts against it. Self-interest is not necessarily selfishness. Selfishness can exist only in one whose deeper nature it is not to be selfish. It is a quite legitimate element in the moral life. That the working-class itself has been so long blind to its own true self-interest has indeed been its bane. All the same, mere self-interest is not morality, and to proceed upon it would be no ethical advance upon capitalism.

The fatal objection thus to materialistic Socialism is, strange to say, that it is individualistic. It conceives of men as isolated units, each seeking ends that are purely his own, or at any rate ends that are only accidentally united with those of his fellows. Upon such a basis society would be impossible.

However imperfect society at present is, it expresses a principle qualitatively different from self-interest and incommensurably higher. That principle is the idea of the common good. The idea of the common good it is round which ethical controversy has moved throughout the ages—its nature and how it can be justified. It can be justified, as the greatest thinkers have taught and as I myself am profoundly convinced, only on the ground that there is in man a universal and non-material element which lifts him above a merely individual existence and makes him potentially one with his fellows and with the universe. It is, not a life of prudential calculation, but the ever richer and wider realisation of the common good thus conceived—our happy and ennobling privilege, our sacred duty even to the point of self-sacrifice—it is this that constitutes morality. And morality Socialists, by their alliance with materialism and its resulting determinism, have done much to weaken.

As to religion, I could say much, out of a full heart, of the damage done to it by Socialists, but space forbids. Theologically I belong myself to the extreme left, and when Socialists seek wisely to destroy the socially hurtful superstitions that still survive in outworn creeds, I am naturally with them. But religion itself—the apprehension with mind and heart of the Divine Perfection as He gradually unfolds Himself in the universe and in human life—that is another matter. It cannot be destroyed ; it is eternal.

For myself I glory in religion. It is, in this closing stage of my life, what it has been since first in far away years I got at my beloved mother’s knee my earliest glimpse of its secret and acquaintance with its power—it is life’s chief good.

Reply to Mr. McArthur.
The pamphlet under consideration traces religion from its origin, in savage fear and inexperience, to its modern forms; bringing forward a multitude of facts and reliable authorities in support of the view set forth. Our opponent makes no attempt to touch this historical statement, so that it evidently stands as a correct record, as far as he is concerned. His criticism consists in the main of a series of unsupported assertions ; these I will deal with as fully as space will allow. The pamphlet further points out the use to which religion has been put as an aid to the different ruling classes. This also our critic leaves severely alone.

He opens up with the assertion that materialism is an outworn philosophy which science has outgrown, and further on he says that materialism is endorsed by few thinkers of repute.

Let us hear what a “scientist” has to say in the matter :—
“This procedure has to be adopted not merely within the limits that are popularly assigned to the term science, but also in the realm of what is popularly termed philosophy. As a matter of fact there is no fundamental distinction between the two. Science is not the mere collection of facts. It has indeed to give a great part of its time to the ascertainment of facts, using all the resources of modern technique to secure accuracy in so doing; but the facts once ascertained are merely its raw material. Once they are obtained the real task of science begins—to find out exactly how the facts fit together in that wonderful edifice that we call the universe of nature. The working hypotheses of science are the provisional sketches of particular little bits of the edifice; in their final form and pieced together they would form the complete theory of nature.”— Professor J. Graham Kerr, “Manchester Guardian Weekly.” 29th February, 1924.
Here we have a scientist giving the opposite to our opponent’s contention. But, this apart, how can science achieve anything except by materialistic methods, whether scientists are conscious of the fact or not? Science can only deal with things, whether those things be tables or thoughts, and things exist. If they exist, then that fact itself demonstrates their material nature. Would our opponent suggest that a thought consists of nothing? If so, then let him get in touch with the woman who wears her brain out thinking how she can make ends meet. She will tell him that thinking is a tiring process in which much energy is used up and that food is required to replace this energy.

This brings me to his next assertion, that matter in its primordial form is always matter with an element of thought. (One is reminded of the mysterious attributes of capital !) He helps this assertion out by the previous contention that we can never get to a position beyond thought where we are face to face with matter pure and simple. And later he proves we cannot go beyond thought by doing so himself—and finding the “thing in itself” !

Does our opponent contend that “the atom with its electrons” thinks and consciously combines into stones and half bricks, and that during times of trouble these half bricks consciously fling themselves at our heads. If he does hold this view, then he rules out the cloud-pusher and divine scene-shifter. The brain is a combination of atoms and the brain thinks; feet are a like combination and they dance; snow is such a combination and it melts ; trees are such a combination and they sprout; which is the more wonderful? and which is non-material?

It is the material nature of thinking that is apparently denied. Perhaps an illustration will make the position clearer.

If an object be held up to a mirror a reflection appears. This reflection and reflecting process is just as material as the object reflected. The brain is like such a mirror, obtaining its images through the senses, but it is a living one that sorts out, combines and stores up images. The correctness of the sense perceptions and thought process is demonstrated by future action. For instance, you walk round a moving motor-bus, not under it. The living activity of the brain is just as material a process as walking, or cycling, or thundering, and no more wonderful.

The primordial form of matter contains in the embryo the volcano, dancing girls, the whirlwind, trees, growth, smoking, and so forth, each of which material manifestation is every bit as wonderful as the “element of thought.” Things only exist in their relation to each other. The brain learns of objects by their material manifestations, whether these manifestations take on a physical or a mental form. If our opponent is only going to call touchable things material, then the sound of thunder must be included in his mystical world. We can’t touch thunder, but we can hear it; we can’t touch thoughts, but we can feel them. All phenomena have the same general nature ; they exist and can be made the subject of scientific investigation. There is nothing mystical about thinking, briefly it is the faculty of deriving the general out of the particular, abstract conceptions out of concrete things—a material operation of the brain.

He next asserts that the facts of the materialist conception of history admit of another interpretation, but as he does not give any other interpretation, the statement is a waste of paper. Anyone who is not blinded by illusion must be able to see that all authoritative history is now written from the standpoint of the materialist concept. As epoch after epoch gets a more complete treatment so the economic roots of social development are made clearer and clearer. In the course of history, morality and religion are demonstrated to be changeable things. The moral and religious ideas prevailing at a given period are those favouring the maintenance of the method of production and distribution of that time. As production develops and new classes rise to supremacy the moral and religious ideas that hinder their development are discarded and new ones substituted. History, since the break-up of tribal communism, has been the record of the struggle of different classes for control of the productive forces and the wealth produced. These classes have arisen out of the economic soil and have pursued economic ends. As this point has been dealt with over and over again in these columns and as our opponent has deprived me of the opportunity of grappling with the alternative that he is keeping up his sleeve, there is no occasion to go further into the question at the moment.

The aim of the Socialist is to get all to work harmoniously together on a basis of equality, as only by doing so can each develop himself to the fullest degree and enjoy the best of life—”Man is a social animal.” This idea is no non-material element, it is the heritage of the herd. Hence the assertion that “materialist Socialism” is “individualistic” is foolish and futile.

Our opponent is blind to the practical facts of life and has lost his way in the maze of metaphysics and thus, instead of seeing the principle of the individualistic pursuit of profit and the robbery of the wage worker that faces him at every turn, has discovered somewhere in the byways a vague abstraction, the “principle of the common good.” In its essence he has again got hold of the wrong end of the stick—society should exist for the benefit of man and not man for the benefit of society.

Finally, in the oppression of one class by another, the control of the means of production by the few idlers and the enslavement and impoverishment of the many toilers, he sees “the Divine Perfection” gradually unfolding himself (he knows it is a “he”!). This is a slavist view as it involves resignation and, in the light of previous remarks, a denial of the class struggle. Hence, if the workers would be free they must throw off these religious shackles, and struggle until their class conquers economic freedom in order that the groans of the hungry, the cries of the outcasts, and the whines of the religious, shall alike take their places in the annals of the past. I have retrained, as far as possible, from touching upon points and arguments that are already fully dealt with in the pamphlet that is the subject of attack.

New Publications. (1925)

Party News from the August 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our readers will readily appreciate the hard struggle an organisation like the S.P.G.B. has to raise the necessary funds to continue the publication of new pamphlets on Socialism. Since the object of the S.P.G.B. is the establishment of Socialism and nothing less, unlike other Political Parties—Capitalist and pseudo-labour—we are not likely to receive any assistance from benevolent or vote catching millionaires. No, we are dependent upon you—our members and sympathisers—the Working Class. Fresh literature, which will supply the Working Class with much needed Socialist education, is constantly needed, and the S.P.G.B. is trying to fill the bill though necessarily handicapped by lack of funds. However, in response to the great demand, we have just reprinted the second edition of “Socialism and Religion” and this admirable pamphlet is now on sale (see advert, in another column). The MS. of another pamphlet, one that is long overdue, is now ready. The title will be “Socialism,” and it is a comprehensive brochure of 48 pages, covering every phase of the Socialist position and is the official statement of the Party, of the case for Socialism. We are only held up for want of cash to pay for printing, and we address this appeal to all those who desire the propagation of Socialism to continue. It rests entirely with you whether or not we shall be able to publish this new pamphlet during the coming propaganda season and we urge all to put their shoulder to the wheel to make this possible. Send along your donation—no matter how small—to the Publications Fund Committee, 17, Mount Pleasant, W.C.1.