Saturday, April 22, 2023

Sensitive Content Warning . . .

Help me out here. 

Just stumbled across the following 'warning' that concerns the April 2015 Voice From The Back column, which appeared on the blog in March 2019:

The warning from blogger did not pop up at the time. It's obviously something that been flagged in recent months. Is it the passing reference to Russia's predatory 'interest' in Eastern Ukraine? Is it about gender inequality in Saudi Arabia or is it about the lack of basic sanitation for tens of millions of people in Pakistan? Blogger doesn't tell me. It's a real head scratcher.

Looking forward to future 'Sensitive Content Warnings'.

Fatalism and Historic Necessity. A Vindication of the Socialist Position. (1911)

From the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Perverted Vision.
The opponents of our method and theory – bourgeois scientists, and Syndicalist or Anarchist doctrinaires – are in accord in urging against Marxism the accusation which men like Guyot, of vulgar political economy, levelled of old against Socialism in general: they say we are guilty of an attack upon the individual, of an attempt upon liberty.

It is not the capitalist system which sacrifices the liberty of the many to the greater liberty of the privileged few; it is we who do so. It is not the regime of capitalist property which makes the “free” will of the immense majority of the population obey the hard law of labour for another; it is Socialism!

From the Frenchman De Molinari to the Prussian Eugene Richter, from the Englishman Herbert Spencer to the Italian Syndicalist Arturo Labriola, from the extreme right of the political horizon to the extreme left of “Socialist” opportunism, we hear vituperation against “the Socialist tyranny”, against “the future slavery”, and, above all, against the “suppression of individual liberty” – of capitalists!

But among our opponent there are, it seems, men of good faith who sincerely imagine that Marxism replaces "liberty" with the "fatalism" of immutable economic laws.

Note, in the first place, that the same accusation of fatalism has been made against all modern philosophers who proclaim the subordination of so-called moral phenomena to natural law. When Hippolyte Taine, the author of L’Intelligence, wrote that vice and virtue are as necessary products of certain conditions “as are vitriol and sugar”, he was stupidly accused of recommending the replacing of the consumption of sugar by that of vitriol. The minds of many moderns are so degraded by centuries of theological and metaphysical education that they take plain statements of fact for approvals or condemnations. They resemble the capricious woman who broke her mirror because it revealed the decline of her beauty.

This accusation of fatalism is somewhat comprehensible, and even excusable, when applied to those theories which subordinate human history to the influence of climate or the geographical environment. The climate, within certain limits, is practically invariable. The sky of Greece and of France has varied little from the most remote times; but how many revolutions have occurred under the same sun!

Man Makes History.
Thomas Buckle has been reproached for his climatic fatalism; but hardly with justice, because the celebration author of The History of Civilisation proved that as men developed they emancipated themselves from the influence of the geographical and climatic factors, and began to dominate nature.

But, I repeat, the geographical interpretation of history may well give rise to a fatalistic tendency. The semi-invariable nature of the geographical factor lends itself easily to this. One may say the same of all historic theories which subordinate history to external nature.

Such is not the case with the Marxian theory. Nothing is more human or more varied than the mode of production. To produce, said Marx in his Capital, man needs a plan, a consciousness of the work to be done. He know what he is doing. He thinks his work. After Vico,  Marx affirmed that history is made by man. Revolutions in the method of production which generate political and social revolutions are due to the great and small “inventions” – that is to say, to the products of human talents and genius.

Therefore Marx has not excluded man from history. He did not consider individuals as mannequins launching “new modes of production”, like modes of another kind are “launched” – that of the harem skirt, for example.

That is not all; it is the “dogmatic”, “sectarian”, and “orthodox” Marxians who have insisted, against Bernstein and his more or less idealistic school, on the necessity of affirming and propagating the “final aim” of Socialism.

Marxists alone are Constant.
It is they, and they alone, who have, in the great crisis of International Socialism (which is far from being terminated) remained unshakeably faithful to the Socialist ideal – without stupidly repeating the word – while opportunists of every order, or even of disorder, have allowed themselves to drift at the mercy of the political events of the day, along with the blind and fatal forces of the system which knows only the inexorable struggle of appetites and interests.

But the dialectical method is the enemy of all that is arbitrary. It does not place history in an aeroplane at the mercy of the winds of “His Majesty, Chance”. The movement of history is nothing like the zig-zag of a drunken man. It is governed by necessities. Humanity is not free to renounce its physical and intellectual needs. As it is not suicidally disposed, it submits, in order to live, to the necessities of production. Production gives rise to and determines the social system. To a given social system there correspond definite ideas and conceptions; religion, morality, philosophy, science.

It requires all the interested blindness, all the brutal selfishness, of the capitalist to say to the worker: You are free to cease to work. Absolute liberty is death.

A society is not transformed by the force of The Word, nor by strokes of will. It is necessary that all the forces of the past and present collaborate therein. Already Saint Simon, the true precursor of Marx, had clearly shown that the elements of the new system accumulate during centuries, and prepare themselves within the framework of ancient systems. according to him, the capitalist class has taken seven or eight centuries to become the dominant force in society.

Evolution Includes Revolution.
Isolated men, or small minorities, may, from time to time, indulge their gentle fantasies. They may dream of transformations in the twinkling of an eye. In the name of the “right of abortion” they may apply the forceps of “direct action” to the body social in order to bring the new society into the world before its time. But society as a whole – an entire class – only gives itself such aims as are in the domain of the realisable and possible. And when the time comes it shrinks from no necessary means. Evolution does not exclude revolution, any more than the gradual transformation of the earth excludes cataclysms. Births occur in blood, and are associated with cries and painful rendering. But only monsters come into the world before the normal hour.

A ship is launched. Does it deprive its captain of liberty to give him a nautical chart, prepared with scientific accuracy, and a compass? Would he be more free if he drifted at the will of the waves? The dialectic method, as used by Marx and Engels, provides us with chart and compass to determine the movement of history. It does not fetter us. It simply shows the way. In helping us toward the desired goal, it emancipates us from blind forces, from the fatality of chance. It is, therefore, an influence of freedom – not of slavery.

Primitive man is the slave of Nature. He is literally terrorised by natural phenomena. He seeks by cruel human sacrifices to obtain a mitigation of his lot. Natural science emancipates him. From being the slave of Nature he becomes master. Modern society is still at the mercy of blind, semi-natural forces. We are, in relation to society, what primitive man was in relation to nature. It is necessary to conquer our liberty. We must emancipate ourselves from the blind social forces which bind and oppress us. Society must become our thing, as the great forces of nature have become. We must become masters of society, just as we have become, more or less, the masters of our natural environment.

Science is Liberty.
But how have we conquered nature? By studying it; by learning its laws and making them serve our ends. It is the same with social laws. We shall only vanquish social oppression when we have discovered the laws of the working of society. Science is liberty. And the dialectical method, which powerfully aids toward that discovery, toward the edification of social science, is the tool of liberty, the instrument of precision of our emancipation.

The dialectical method is therefore quite the contrary of fatalism. In making us cognisant of historical necessities, it makes us able to effectively combat the fatalist decree of capitalist ignorance that there always have been poor, and always will be!

No, replies the dialectical method. Capitalist poverty is an “historical category”, which will disappear with the historical conditions which create and nourish it.

The dialectical method of Socialism is the method of science and of liberty.

[Ch. Rappoport in Le Socialisme. Translated by F. C. Watts.]

Capitalist “Humanity”. (1911)

From the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The Socialist is almost always, yet, in most cases, without conscious hypocrisy, a non-Socialist in his own private life. On all sides of his character, indeed, the average Socialist shows the absence of that feeling for humanity which his creed inculcates.”—Witness (Ontario).

Ignoring the obvious contradiction that “the Socialist” is “nearly always a non-Socialist,” the truth of the above depends upon the writer’s interpretation of the words.

If the term Socialist is intended to mean one who endeavours to practice Socialism, then none can be other than non Socialist—unless our critic would expect the aspirant to the name to start a co-operative commonwealth, as a hobby, after knocking off work.

Let me elucidate. Socialism is a name given to a system of society wherein the present anachronism : social production—private ownership, shall find no place; a system wherein classes with opposing interests shall give place to a community with a common interest.

A Socialist is one who recognises that private ownership must give place to social control in order that society shall progress ; one who sees that the evils attendant upon mankind are due to the clashing interests of producer and owner, and who works for the society of harmonious material interests that must result from the abolition of class domination.

That is a Socialist, both public and private ; and the piebald individual with Socialistic principles in spots is ruled out.

The “feeling for humanity which his [Socialist] creed inculcates” is, evidently, conspicuously absent in the pro-capitalist, for, be it noted, our Socialist in parts “shows its absence” on his non-Socialist side. Certainly such feelings are not rapidly generated in the hothouse of capitalism. It does not pay ; but capitalism is never at a loss. If the real thing cannot be produced at a profit, nevertheless, quite an overdose of shoddy goods of this character has been dumped upon an unsuspecting proletariat in this enlightened country.

The humanity made so much of by the pro-capitalist does not appeal to the Socialist, who is more concerned with preventing the evils than sympathising with the unfortunate victims thereof.

What does capitalist humanity amount to ? Human beings are maimed and crippled in the scramble for dividends. Commerce demands such sacrifice. Production for profit ignores humanity, and after each day of modern industry hundreds are left by the wayside, maimed and bleeding.

The humanitarian here steps in and calls upon his brothers to assist in the holy work of rescue. How awful it is for the “image of the Creator” to expire in the gutter ! To tend the sick and to comfort the weary should be the work of the more fortunate ones.

To be sure. And, apart from the usefulness of such work, it may be very dangerous to allow the carcass to rot. Germs from the body may travel even into the homes of those more fortunate brethren. So, while supporting the system which maims and kills, they erect hospitals and poor-houses to receive the wreckage from the capitalist workshops.

Year by year the mass of that wreckage increases, and, of course, with the growth in the number of those who have fallen among thieves and got broken, the “good Samaritan” business expands also. To quote a writer in the Daily Chronicle, “they are awaiting the half starved children and consumptive sempstresses who will never get well until they have had enough to eat, and for the mothers who cannot feed their babes because they have no food for themselves.”

Describing a visit to the “House of Horror” (the London Hospital) the same writer says :
“Throughout the length and breadth of a building covering a space of eight acres, men and women were busy with the great and ceaseless fight with death. Always the great city casts up its human wreckage, its broken bodies, its scum of disease. The supply is inexhaustible from the torture chamber of life. . . I saw the vision of life’s cruelty in a great city. I saw sharp knives in whirling machines of great factories chopping off the fingers of working men and slicing off their limbs. I saw great ladders falling and smashing the bodies of men. I saw starvation weakening the fibre of the people of mean streets, and the microbes of disease grow fat in the filth. I saw vice eating up the bone and blood of men and breeding children of despair. For here around me in the London Hospital were the victims of all the seething cruelty of a great city in a civilised world.”
The modern hospital resembles nothing so much as the repairing department of a large factory. The human machine is received broken and worn ; the broken parts are patched and the worn parts rebuilt, and then it is returned to be rebroken and again repaired, until at last it is thrown on the industrial scrap-heap as utterly useless.

At present parsons, labour leaders, and others engaged in the dissemination of the “feeling for humanity” are busy denouncing the horrors of war and calling for “international arbitrament of national quarrels,” heedless of the fact that wars are necessary factors in the expansion of markets, and that standing armies are required to subdue a subject class.

Great though the loss of life by warfare is, it pales into insignificance beside the myriads needlessly slaughtered in factory and mine.

“Where is the Socialist’s humanity ?” “Where is he who practices Socialism in ‘private life’?” “Where are your Socialist hospitals ?” “What has Socialism done for the workers?” Such are the questions of the unthinking. Ask rather “What does that ‘humanity’ amount to which waits until the damage is done and then applies the sticking plaster; which calmly stands by while the limb is broken, and then hastens to supply a splint ?”

Look for the humane instinct in a system which is based upon the robbery and murder of the useful in the interest of the useless. Enquire into and discover what capitalism has done for the toiler.

Dr. Newman, chief medical officer of the Board of Education, reports that of the 6 millions of children attending elementary schools, approximately 50 per cent. require medical treatment.

The chief registrar of births and deaths, in his report for 1909, states that 20 per cent. of the deaths in that year occurred in the workhouses, hospitals, lunatic asylums, and prisons.

In London 1 in 7 and in Glasgow 1 in 2 live in overcrowded conditions, while in both cities thousands of houses are unoccupied, and there are thousands upon thousands of acres of unused land in both England and Scotland.

We are told that in Great Britain “there are a million men unemployed ; that one third of the population are on the verge of hunger.”

The total wages paid are ever decreasing, it being estimated that the wages now paid to the workers of this country are less by 6 millions than they were 8 years ago, and further, that the number of paupers in the United Kingdom has increased by 118,000 since 1901.

T. S. Chouston, M.D., LL.D., F.R.S.E., in a recent work, says : “In the report of a Royal Commission it is estimated that there are at least 350,000 persons representing the mentally helpless, dependent, and diseased element in the body politic. I should add another 50,000 and be well within the mark. Those have as first cousins an army of defectives of another kind. . . . It comes to this, that a large part of our ‘submerged tenth’ lacks brain-grit to cope with the conditions of modern life, especially in large cities.”

These are a few of the good things capitalism has done for the workers. The mechanism to cope with this enormous poverty, disease, and crime, necessary for the maintenance and upkeep of present society, springs, we are told, from a “feeling for humanity.” The Socialist wants none of it.

Just as every vice alleged against Socialism is found to actually exist to-day, so every pretended virtue of capitalist society shows its inherent rottenness.

No greater condemnation of the existing order can be given than the fact that it creates the necessity for these vast “humane” institutions to deal with the worst of its flotsam and jetsam, to provide, for decency sake, a screen for awful spectacle of its wreckage.
T. W. Lobb