Friday, March 18, 2022

Letter: Materialism v. Spiritism: A Criticism and Our Reply. (1926)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

9, Maybury Mansions, 
Weymouth Street, W.1.
Dear Comrade,

Someone kindly sent me a copy of the Socialist Standard yesterday containing your review of my pamphlet. As you have honoured me with a front page notice, I think you might have got the title of the pamphlet correct. It is, “Is Materialism Basis of Communism?” Not ” communion,” as you print it. And, by the way, if, as you say, the pamphlet contains its refutation, why didn’t the Standard accept an advertisement of it?

Before criticising my facts you ought to have studied the subject with which I deal. But Socialists are too busy fighting one another to find time to inform themselves on new discoveries. They are still under the delusion the limits of the Knowable were fixed by Victorian science.

I believe a great revival of religion on a scientific basis to be imminent, and it is possible that spiritualism and theosophy, perhaps in alliance with a reformed Roman Catholicism, will sweep Socialism aside. As I think this would be a disaster, I am trying to get Socialists to recognise the importance of the great spiritualist movement, which is wholly proletarian in its origin. 
Yours fraternally,
Isabel Kingsley.

Reply to Isabel Kingsley.
The misprint of the title of Isabel Kingsley’s pamphlet was so clearly a printer’s error that it was not thought that anyone would be misled by it. The proof-reader has been suitably admonished. The Socialist Standard did not accept an advertisement of the pamphlet because the only advertisements we insert in the Socialist Standard are those of our own publications and announcements. As the review was placed on the front page it is rather difficult to see any reason for the authoress’s complaint on this point.

It is interesting to note that Isabel Kingsley makes no attempt to meet the criticism of her pamphlet beyond the statement that I ought to have studied the subject with which she deals. This statement is entirely gratuitous. As a total stranger to myself Isabel Kingsley has no knowledge whatever of my studies in any direction. But this “retort” is the usual one of the Spiritist, who finds his or her case demolished by a critical examination. Those who were present at the debate between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph McCabe will remember that when Conan Doyle’s bubble of bluster had been coolly pricked, when his statements of supposed facts were shown to be wrong in every essential particular, his only reply was, “My opponent has not read the books, or if he has he doesn’t understand them.”

This was too much for even the respectable audience of the Queen’s Hall, and the protests from them led to one of Conan Doyle’s usual shuffles. He gave another illustration of this habit when faced with the confession of the gentleman who arranged the “Masked Medium” illusion, that Conan Doyle claimed as an instance of an actual materialisation.

Equally gratuitous is the statement that Socialists “are still under the delusion the limits of the Knowable were fixed by Victorian Science.” Not a tittle of evidence is offered in support of this assertion, though it may be said in passing, that Victorian Science, with its names like Darwin, Tyndall, Huxley, Hemholtz, Spencer, etc., is certainly in advance of the archaic ideas of the ethnological period of savagery held by Isabel Kingsley.

The last paragraph of her letter supplies a key to Isabel Kingsley’s attitude. A person who talks of religion having a “scientific basis” is evidently mentally incapable of understanding either science or religion.

The basis of all religion is the fear of the unknown; and all religions attempt to explain what the unknown is, and what occurs there. Here is the happy hunting ground of the wildest and most degrading superstitions, often accompanied by filthy rites and barbarous mutilations. A large section of the Spiritist movement openly claims that their views are those of a new religion.

Science is based upon knowledge and knowledge only. Observation, experiment, classification, generalisation, are its methods.

Such errors as occur are the usual human ones of faulty observation, incomplete experiments, or too hasty generalisations. But these errors are corrected as further knowledge is acquired and applied to the various departments of science. No scientist places any definite limit upon the Knowable. All the scientist asks is that any claim to the extension of the Knowable must be based upon knowledge, not superstition.

And even if “the great spiritualist movement … is wholly proletarian in its origin “—a debatable point—it has not only wandered far from its “origin,” but such “origin” does not excuse its superstitions any more than those of the other mental deficients around us.

Nor does Isabel Kingsley give us any information to show how a movement, based upon the ideas of primitive man plus the puerile conjuring tricks of “mediums,” can be of any “importance” to Socialism—except as a stumbling block to be cleared out of the way.

The various attempts to foist crude superstitions, by those of limited or perverted mentalities, upon the Socialist movement, are evidences of the progress of Socialism, but such attempts must be fought and exposed.    
Jack Fitzgerald

Letter: The Currency Question. (1926)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard


Please find enclosed cuttings from the Daily Herald. You will notice they deal with the question of Currency.

As it is somewhat bewildering to me, I would like your opinion on the following questions. Being a reader of the Socialist Standard, I understand you hold the opinion that the Currency is not inflated or deflated. The Daily Herald states it is “Inflated.” The Financial News states it is “Deflated.” My questions are therefore :—
1) In what way are the above ”Papers” wrong?
2) Do the working class have to pay the interest on War Loans, or National Debts?
3) Do the movements of Currency affect the workers’ wages?
4) Is it a question of affecting prices of commodities in such a way as to lower the standard of living of the workers, or does it mean the exploitation of the working class is intensified.
If you could unravel the above what seems to me a most complexing problem, I feel sure it will help a good many people like myself out of the confusion.
A. W. S.

Answer to A.W.S.
The cuttings referred to in A.W.S.’s letter deal with a controversy between the financial expert of the Daily Herald and Mr. G. Bernard Shaw on the question of “Inflation” and “Depreciation” of the currency. The discussion is too long and too confused on both sides for summarising here. Moreover, A.W.S. did not send any cutting from the Financial News, so we are unaware of their particular argument. In one of the Daily Herald cuttings (undated) Mr. J. Lea, from Lancashire, puts some posers to both Bernard Shaw and the Daily Herald that, apparently, they were unable to answer.

The point actually in dispute was “What is the cause of the rise in prices during and since the war?” Mr. Shaw says the currency has been “depreciated” in value by the Government. The Daily Herald says the currency has been “inflated” by the Government. In itself the dispute between these two controversialists is largely a war of words and is of small concern to the workers. But it is interesting to note that both make the same claim—namely, that the chief cause of high prices is the tampering with the currency. This tale, invented by the agents of the master class to hide the truth about the huge profits made during the period mentioned, has been swallowed by the Labour Party, the Daily Herald, Bernard Shaw, etc., without the slightest examination as to its truth.

This question of the supposed “inflation of the currency” was dealt with in the Socialist Standard for [December, 1922], and [May, 1923], in a controversy with the Plebs Magazine ; while the question of paper money and credit was worked out in answer to a correspondent in the June, 1922, issue. A.W.S. is referred to these issues for a fuller explanation, but, in the meantime, a brief answer to his questions may be useful.

(1) Both papers are wrong because they ignore, or deliberately attempt to hide, the facts. When the rise in prices began to cause unrest and suspicion among the workers they were told it was due to “high” wages. This was so obvious a lie that another excuse had to be invented, and so “inflation” was brought forward. A few facts will show the falsity of this excuse.

The amount of currency required for any given period under normal conditions is determined by :—
(1) The total of the prices of the commodities sold.
(2) The rapidity with which each piece of currency (coin or note) circulates in the given period.
(3) The difference between the debts falling due and the payments deferred in the period
War was declared on Germany by Great Britain on Sunday night in the fateful August of 1914. On Monday morning people rushed to buy up supplies and prices began to rise at once, before any inflation could take place. As a matter of fact the new currency notes were not issued till some little time after. Prices continued to rise and more currency was, therefore, required to circulate the goods. All through the war the rises in prices preceded the increases in currency. In fact, as shown by the Cunliffe Committee, the total increase in prices was greater than the total increase in currency. These facts prove beyond dispute that no “inflation” of the currency had taken place.

(2) No. The working class, applying their labour-power to the materials provided by Nature, produce the wealth of modern society. But they do not own or control this wealth. Out of what they have produced there is handed back to them sufficient, on the average, to keep them in the state of efficiency desired by the master class. It is thus easily seen that the working class cannot pay interest on war loans or National Debt, nor can they pay taxes in general. These expenses are paid out of the share of the wealth retained by the capitalist class, technically termed “surplus value.”

(3) It depends upon the character of the movements. To take an illustration. When in Germany the fall of credit was followed by a huge inflation of the paper currency, the rises in prices, due to this movement, were far more rapid than the rate at which the workers were able to force up wages. The result was that the workers suffered a continual reduction in real wages —that is wages measured by their purchasing power. This is an extreme case, but the principle applies generally. In “Value, Price and Profit,” Marx refers to this point in the middle of the nineteenth century.

In the early years of the present century the new processes applied to the production of gold reduced the amount of labour power required to produce each ounce, and so lowered the value of gold. This was shown, in the general rise in prices—how trivial these seem compared with our war and post-war experiences—followed by various efforts to raise wages. In other words, when a movement of currency affects prices it then affects wages, but, in general, this is the only way in which it does so.
Editorial Committee.