Thursday, April 20, 2023

Socialism & slavery. (1911)

From the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

G. K. Chesterton affords a signal example of a man who, for lack of knowledge of basic principles, is ever hovering around the truth without hitting its centre ; playing bob-apples with the Fruit of Knowledge, to the amusement of the unthinking and the grief of the wise. The warping of intellect, whether as a result of bad education, of crusted prejudice, or of servile surrender for a living, is one of the saddest of the many sad phenomena which attend capitalist society. Chatterton, in his last garret-sleep, symbol of society-strangled genius, is hardly a more pathetic figure than the literary monkey skipping to the tune of the Press barrel-organ.

In an article entitled “Slavery,” in the Daily News (Feb. 25), G. K. says : “Nobody sees the largest danger of our age. It is simply that the rich are slowly enslaving the poor, partly by industrial despotism, partly by scientific benevolence, partly by State officialism.” The curious jumble of truth and error contained in these few lines is typical of the whole article.

persistently proclaims, not merely that the rich are slowly enslaving the poor, but that the very fact of society being founded upon private ownership of the means of life involves wage-slavery for the dispossessed class, and that, therefore, that class is already enslaved. “Blood-drinkers,” “Devil-worshippers,” S.P.C.C. reformers, railway directors, country magistrates bent on preserving game and their class privileges—all these figures distasteful to Mr. Chesterton, together with other vermin which feed fat on the-body politic, are bred by capitalist society. They are as characteristic of the present regime as are cunning of priest, snuffle of philanthropoid, and job-lust of Labour member.

The tilt at “scientific benevolence” and “State officialism” by one who carries the lance of laissez-faire, is doomed to futility. Beelzebub will not cast out Beelzebub. “Scientific benevolence” and “State officialism,” are but additional heads to the foul monster guarding the capitalist hell. Possibly a desire not to hurt

induced G.K. not to mention also “industrial benevolence,” as typified by the enterprising family who exist to manufacture profits by the (benevolent) exploitation of their employes, and who turn out cocoa as a bye-product.

The article in question refers to the “almost supernatural fact of the parent sometimes hating the child,” of “such hatred of one’s own flesh” being “mysterious and unfathomably shameful.” The Socialist sees nothing “mysterious,” still less “supernatural,” in the fact that parents have sacrificed, and are sacrificing, their children to “Moloch, horrid king,”—whether Moloch be the reflex of religious mental perversion or of economic necessity. Does G.K. remember the fate of Don Juan’s tutor? The shipwrecked crew that washed the portly pedant down with salt water were neither better nor worse than an average boatful of Fleet-street scribblers. In similar circumstances, with G.K.C. on board, there is little doubt the Daily News would be the first to be one contributor the less. Hunger is a primal passion, and for one Fantine who sacrifices her teeth, her hair, her all for her child,, there are scores of Jewish mothers who, under stress of famine-born delirium at the siege of Jerusalem,

who, in normal circumstances fill the horizon of their whole being.

Capitalist society has consecrated child-selling. None may escape. The Divorce Court tells its own tale for the bestialised exploiting class. “Religious” scruples vanish when pursy Rothschild meets haughty Rosebery ; aristocratic exclusiveness melts away before the bright beams of the Yankee dollar.

One would imagine that G.K.C. knew nothing of child-selling, literal or otherwise, that has been, and is, one of the corner-stones of capitalist society. Let him consult Engels’ “Working Class in England in 1844” ; let him consult anyone with a working knowledge of the “half-time question” in the manufacturing North today. Does G.K. know who were, and are, the chief opponents of the abolition of half-time ? Lacking information upon this point he may be enlightened by the Senior Labour Adviser, D. J. Shackleton, sturdy defender of child-labour and of the rights of parents. Engels wrote: “Even children from the workhouses were employed in multitudes, being rented out for a number of years. They were completely the slaves of their masters, by whom they were treated with the utmost recklessness and barbarity.” O.K. agrees “with the Socialists about things like the nationalisation of railways.” Let. us state, here and now, for the benefit of new readers, that “nationalisation of railways,” dear to the hearts of reformers, self-styled Socialists or otherwise, is


of the Socialist Party. That programme is simple but all-embracing. Carried out, it obviates the necessity for “reform” to the capitalist class by abolishing that class, and so abolishing “classes ” altogether. “Reform” implies continuance of the present system of society ; Revolution (the policy of the Socialist Party) implies the destruction of that society, based as it is upon the selling of working man, woman, and child—as so many units of labour-power—and the substitution of a system of society based upon the ownership of the means of life, and the effective control of those means of life by all.
That is the programme of the S.P.G.B. In a word—


Nationalisation of Railways is simply one of the many devices which economic development will render necessary to the bolstering-up of the State, and will enable the “economic superiors” of the porter (for whom G.K. affects concern) to “control him” still more effectively.

“I quarrel with Socialism because it quarrels with the passion of the peasant for his field.” The most charitable thing to do with this extraordinary statement is to assume that G.K. has a certain reputation to sustain for “brilliance,” for “paradox,” and other qualities which are demanded of the unfortunate writer whose bread and butter depend upon his grinning through the literary horse-collar.

“The passion of the peasant for his field” !—The platonic affection of Giles for “his” insanitary cabin ! The yearning love of the quill-driver for “his” top-soiled, clay-soddened back yard ! The burning attachment of the one-roomed dweller for “his” (hire-purchased) little ‘ome ! The touching bond of sympathy between the muck-raker and his rake ! !—The only quarrel the Socialist has with his fellow-worker, carter or coalheaver, farm-slave or factory-slave, wielder of pen or of hoe, is on account of that fellow-worker’s


From those chains Socialism alone is able to deliver. And that that deliverance may not come too late to save G.K. from sealing for ever his undoubted ability to the interests of the class to whom he is now selling, peradventure even that the blinding light of reason may send the dazzled Saul to seek guidance from the Socialist Simon, to emerge a better, wiser Paul, is the wish of
Augustus Snellgrove

Asked & Answered. (1911)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

D. A. Conroy writes :
I have read your article entitled “Might is Right.” To me it was a regular “stunner.” I fail to see what good can come of such views. They seem to vitiate all the aims of Socialism. If what you say is correct, why trouble at all about your fellow-wage-slaves? They are hopeless and helpless, and provoke only cynicism or pity. “Might is Right.” Those on top are only there because they are mighty—on your own showing they have every right to rule. “Down with the meekling,” so be it. It is only just and natural that the weakling and the meekling should go down and be kept down, You can’t make a giant out of a jellyfish. Take the lowest types of physical and mental degenerates one meets in the streets by the million—is the new democracy to be evolved from such human wreckage? Is this dull-brained human herd fit to assimilate revolutionary ideas, much less act upon them? Or is the task of emancipation to be achieved by those amongst us who are of a fairly high order of intelligence ? If so, it will be a very incomplete democracy. You would still have the rule of a class, the intellectual class.

Can you help me out of this dilemma ? What has become of skill and cunning as factors in the struggle for survival and supremacy ? You seem to have left them out of account.

My critic’s letter has been handed to me to reply to. There is a suggestion of poetic justice about the editorial command. Having thrown friend Conroy into the frying-pan, it serves me right that I am ordered to get him out again. Haply I may not drop him into the fire.

The first question is : “What good can come of such views?” “Such views,” as set forth in the article criticised, are that man has no other right to live than that based upon his ability to do so ; that the only right he has to exist, therefore, is the “right of might.” Is this correct or incorrect ?

In the first place, the possibility of the view that man has a God-given right to live was admitted, and it was pointed out that such a view commits one, logically, to the conquest of the means of life by the whole of the people. The Socialist, however, who has no place for God in his philosophy, cannot admit any God-given right to live. If there is no intelligent force outside the human (or animal) race, then there can be no other source of man’s right to live than man himself—and man can give himself no more than the right to live if he can. This is nothing but the right of might.

Does Mr. Conroy go so far with me ? If he does not, he must be clinging to the hem of some metaphysical garment, for the external and the internal are the whole, and the external intelligence (if such exists) is God, and the internal, man.

Now if man gives himself the right to live if he can, he must also give himself the right to live as well as he can. Between such miserable, attenuated existence as is not worth living, and the full flush of riotous luxury which can only be possible to a very small number, there is no place where the logical man can put a mark and say : “Here ends the right of might.” Even the plea that the right of might ends where exploitation begins—that men are justified in using their might to secure all that they produce, but not to obtain more, is shattered by the facts of history, for exploitation was in the direct path of human development. From the communism of primitive man, with its intimate dependence upon the capricious hand of Nature, to the fuller communism which it is yet our task to achieve, there was but one way to travel— through the robbery or exploitation of the wealth producers. How, then, can it be maintained that the right of might ceases on the border of robbery ?

“Those few on top,” then, have all the justification they need. They are there, as my critic puts it, “because they are mighty.” And, by the same token, they are there because the many underneath are weak.

So it becomes apparent “what good can come of such views.” The weakness of the underlings lies primarily in their ignorance, hence it is quite in accordance with Socialist aims to teach them that there is no special Providence watching over them; that there is no Justice, even ever so blind, and with ever so rusty a sword, holding a balance between the weak and the strong ; but that the only hope is strength, the only right—might.

If I showed that the strong few “have every right to rule,” at least I pointed out that the right ceases with the power. “It is just and natural,” says Mr. Conroy, “that the weakling and the meekling should go down, and be kept down.” Why, then, should we not say so ? It might lend the weakling strength, and the meekling combativeness ; it might put vertebra into the jellyfish, and make a giant of it.

And it is quite as “just and natural,” when the weakling has lost his weakness, and the meekling his meekness, for them to rise and overthrow those who have kept them down—a fact my critic seems to overlook.

As to who are to achieve the emancipation of the working class, the answer is : the working class itself. Not “the lowest types of physical and mental degenerates,” nor “those amongst us who are of a fairly high order of intelligence,” but the working class. And Mr. Conroy’s fear of being ruled by an intellectual class may be set at rest by this comforting assurance—there is no intellectual class.

Finally, it is difficult to understand why my critic distinguishes between the mighty and the wise. Might may proceed from wisdom, or from “skill and cunning”—which I am supposed to have forgotten.

And now, after the “finally,” a “lastly.” I desire to express my appreciation of the compliment so delicately conveyed in the words “those amongst us who are of a fairly high order of intelligence.” I am quite sure Mr. Conroy was thinking of me first and (to return the compliment with that delicacy my friend’s modesty demands) of himself second.
A. E. Jacomb

Asked & Answered: Reply to M.H.Geeson (Toronto). (1911)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reply to M.H.Geeson (Toronto).

(1) The S.P.G.B., as its name implies, is the Socialist Party of this country, and does not claim to be ” the Socialist Party of the world.”

(2) We do not seek recruits among residents in Canada, but accept those temporarily abroad.

(3) The S.P.G.B. is not identical with the S.P. of Canada. We are not sufficiently informed to be in a position to discuss in detail the action of their members on local Governing bodies, but remembering that the interests of the workers are the same the world over, we do not hesitate to condemn such actions as the advocacy, by members of the S.P. of C., of the exclusion of our Asiatic fellow-workers from British Columbia.

(4) The function of Socialists elected to Parliament is to fight for Socialism. In doing so they will expose the fraudulence of measures introduced and use the Parliamentary platform in order to make a wider appeal to the working class.

Upon any measure brought forward the Socialist Member would express the democratically ascertained views of the Socialists he represents, always keeping to the fore the interests of the toilers. It must be understood, however, that we cannot bind the future representatives to a policy that, by its very purpose, must always deal with conditions arising at the time.—Editorial Committee.