Marx and Faith.
But the essential difference between Karl Marx and all prophets and the orthodox economists as well, is that he was a Social-Democrat first, and an economist only as a means of making an end of capitalism. The orthodox economists might deprecate the excessive share taken by capital; but they were not concerned with anything beyond the ‘moralisation’ less or more of a relationship which Marx held to be fundamentally immoral and which could be moralised only by extinction. Marx was so much of a moralist that, unlike the commercial economists, he believed the evil thing could be ended.
The commercial economist, moreover, is usually a man of the study; but Marx was a man of action as well. Hunted out of Germany, hunted out of France, resident for a time in Brussels, but, returning to Germany and expelled once more, finally making London his home; dominating the strongest and inspiring some of the best men with whom he came into contact; leader and teacher of the International; watching events and in touch with revolutionists everywhere; opportunist man of affairs; London correspondent of the New York Tribune (at a guinea a week!); friend of trades unionists and of co-operators, Marx was an insurgent politician working for remote but inevitable ends.
Despite the careful analyses in the first volume of the ‘Capital’ – analyses which the historical student will best appreciate as marvels of generalization – Marx, with all his deductiveness, was full of preconceived ideas passionately held and promulgated. He had faith that a system motived on reaping without sowing, to which Adam Smith made placid reference, must end. The expropriators would themselves be expropriated. He had faith that the progress made in the class stuggles of the past would result in the conquest of the means of life by the proletariate and the ending of classes and class struggles alike. The historical process which had seen the end of chattel slavery and of serfdom, why should it not witness the end of wage servitude, under which the proletarian must ‘beg a brother of the earth,’ to give him the means of living upon it?
Marx a Politician.
Unlike some of his doctrinaire followers today, he did not wait for the great change to work itself out, looking for ‘the inevitable to function inevitably.’ He believed that social order could not be secured without social organization by the individual units who desired and required it.
His opportunism was shown by the way in which, in ‘Value, Price and Profit,’ he downed Weston for attacking trades unionism by maintaining that the policy of strikes was, what we know it to be, a see-saw of prices and wages, wages and prices, a chasing by the dog of its own tail. He may have realised that, even so, trades unionism could not, under capitalism, give up its powers to resist and to attack, just as today we cannot give up the idea of the right to strike even if strikes fail oftener than they succeed, and hit the striker and his dependents first and most heavily. The trade union can standardise conditions and preserve a minimum. In periods of expansion it may advance the standard, and resist retrogression in times of slump. Finally, and most hopeful of all, the trade union is a political force even more potent than the employers’ federation, since it controls more votes.
Marx gave the revolt against exploitation a political turn. He said ‘Workers of the world, unite! You have a whole world to win and nothing to lose but your chains.’ He left no definite scheme whereby the expropriators were to be expropriated, and his early followers in all lands looked to barricades and a cataclysmic revolution. It may come to that as a result of the lack of class-consciousness and of political aptitude on the part of the proletariate. The present attempt to make the House of Lords supreme in Britain is the counterpart of Fascism in Italy and dictatorships in Spain, Portugal, Turkey etc. If the gradual socialization of industry and commerce are to be frustrated by the janissaries of the established order, it is possible that there might be fighting in Britain. A few swashbucklers like Galloper Smith and Birkenhead might easily precipitate civil war.
But it should not be, it need not be, and we hope it will not be. Russia had proved, what never was in doubt, that a change of government is one thing and a change of social structure is something very different and a much more prolonged process. Mrs Kingsley rejects Mr Ramsay MacDonald’s theory of gradualism, as based on the slow course of organic transformation. We need not, indeed, make love to gradualism. Quite the reverse. Let us, if anything, make love to speed. But even speed has its laws, and furious driving is apt to end in a smash. In the commandeering of socially-created wealth for public purposes, Britain, with its hundreds of millions of taxation extracted from the rich for education, water-supply, streets and roads, poor relief, unemployment and maternity benefit, art galleries and museums, public libraries, public health, street-lighting, traffic control, and research, is more communistic than Russia is after ten years of Maximalist government. So that gradualism has it as against ‘Mutations’ so far.
Mrs Kingsley, however, believes in miracles, as we have seen, and she would fain shift the onus probandi to those who question the occurrence of miracles. She says it is an ‘example of the loose and unscientific statements so often made by rationalists’ that ‘science on its own data cannot explain miracles, but it does not refute them.’ But the onus of proof rests with those who assert that miracles have happened. Science does not need to refute what it does not believe. The proofs of the universal reign of unbroken law form a categorical refutation of miracles. A miracle requires an abrogation of natural law, and Mrs Kingsley, who pins her faith in a general way to the transcendentalism of Emerson, would do well to recall Emerson’s dictum that ‘Nothing is that errs from law.’
I seem to be emphasising my points of difference with Mrs Kingsley more than my points of agreement; but I hope all my denials have really an affirmative upshot. I should not write of her pamphlet if I did not find it, as I have said, arrestive and tending to make us review the grounds of our beliefs. As a Socialist and a public administrator I am at present busy with schemes of housing and of road-making byt direct labour because in a small community there is little else that one can do that is anything like so important. These schemes are all of the very essence of gradualism, and when a critic comes along and tells us in effect that all this is neither here nor there, and that the Social Revolution is to be carried by a Mutation, one is naturally pulled up sharp and nettled into meeting views that may very well be held by thousands besides this lady. Her pamphlet abounds in the signs of wide reading and she can state her extraordinary case very pointedly.
The Two Materialisms.
Philosophical materialism we accept. The vulgar materialism of ‘wealth, material comfort, and sensuous pleasure’ we reject. That is to say, philosophical materialists mostly reject it. And be it said, also, a great many spiritists, including most conventional Christians, are very much fonder of the fleshpots than are the philosophical materialists. No one could be less of a vulgar materialist than was Heinrich Karl Marx, born to middle-class comfort, but choosing the rugged service of the Social Revolution; grinding microscopic lenses and writing to the press for a living; not unfamiliar with the pawnbroker’s shop, and losing several of his children by death; consecrating his great powers to the service of an event in any case remote from his time – surely none was ever less of a materialist in the vulgar sense. He is but one in a noble company, living and dead, who have seen man’s life conditioned by circumstances over which man himself had potentially real control, with neither gods above nor devils below to prevent his being master of his fate collectively. The one condition was that he should learn the laws of social life, should realise and perform its civic duties, should above all things believe that the strong shall bear rule, and that the great mass of the exploited were in their numbers and the justice of their cause immensely the strongest and socially most important of all.
Sir Thomas Harrison, the amiable old-time author of ‘Oceana’ believed that ‘The highest earthly felicity that people can ask or God can give is an equal and well-ordered commonwealth.’ But to Mrs Kingsley this does not seem enough. ‘No Communist’ she says, ‘can think that by merely getting enough food and clothes and better houses the workers are going to be happy and virtuous; look at the rich!’
But why ‘merely’? Could such a good change come without being accomplished by other good changes? The appeal does not hold. The rich do not work and can have none of the satisfactions discipline, and self-respect of the worker. Those who have no work have no leisure. Robert Burns was a good judge, and he saw the rich as those who ‘By evendown want o’ wark are curst.’ Patmore sang ‘Who pleasure follows pleasure slays.’ And Matthew Arnold saw the idle rich of decadent Rome sated and disgusted with the hell of a life in which there was nothing to enjoy because there was nothing to do. Look at the rich indeed! With their cars and their tennis racquets, their golf clubs and their jazz, their night clubs and revues and bawdy plays, their Blue Train and their attempts to fly from themselves and the boredom of their empty lives, they are indeed a warning rather than an example.
Mrs Kingsley apparently seeks to make out that even lawful pleasure, comfort, and the highest mundane endeavour are not enough. She cites the longing of Morris’s wayfarers for the Earthly Paradise, the Acre of the Undying, and their ‘half-shame at having undertaken the quest and their regret that it has been all in vain.’ The poet’s excuse for their quest is that they ‘Had need of Life, to right the blindness and the wrong.’ But the blindness and the wrong are not to be righted by quitting the field. That was written before Morris had fully learned the great secret of the happy life, which is to be found in service and the immortality of fellowship as pictured by him in the ‘Dream of John Bull’
And the deeds that you do upon the earth, it is for fellowship sake that ye do them, and the life that is in it, that shall live on and on for ever, and each one of you a part of it, while many a man’s life upon the earth from the earth shall wane.
The Craving for Unending.
When he wrote of the old-time traditional quest of ‘a land where death is not’ he was still ‘the idle singer of an empty day,’ content that other people and not he should bear a hand with the slaying of the social monsters. The hatefulness of death as a mere deprivation of life and all its legitimate satisfactions was the most outstanding feature in Morris’s reflective life. The intensest pleasure made him in the last resort, ‘only the more mindful that the sweet days die.’ All this meant that he enjoyed life so much that death would be the greatest imaginable evil. Very evidently it did not mean that he had any hope of a reincarnation. Perhaps, also, Morris had an idea that he would not live long enough to be willing to take the final rest. He was but sixty-two when he was cut off in the full tide of his happy craftsmanship, with the latest of his great experiments, the Kelmscott Press, still in its infancy. In private he dwelt sometimes on the shortness of life and the possibility of lengthening it: but, unlike Shaw, whose thoughts tend the same way, he neither husbanded his great strength nor denied himself ‘pig,’ latakia, nor many cups of tea. Even so, he lasted longer than his father. We mostly do. Every generation extends the span of life by living less unhygenically.
The remedy for the craving for unending life lies, not alone in the great extension of the life-span, but, above all, in the recognition of the quite plain fact that life is not to be reckoned in terms of the individual. The philosophy of Socialism leads in its ultimate interpretation to the frank recognition that man at his best is only a unit in the social scheme, a link in the endless chain of eternal life, not a complete being with a godlike claim to eternal life himself. In times of national stress this unitary character of man is recognised. Man, the lower animals, even ants, give their lives automatically, under stress of strong social feeling, for the good of the nation, herd, or colony. Humble people of socialised instincts risk their lives any day to save a fellow-creature.
The poet Swinburne payed that he might be saved ‘from too much love of living’ and when we hear very ordinary people objecting strenuously to being ‘snuffed out’ as they indignantly say, and see them holding ‘circles’ and prying into the possibilities of a continued life for them on another plane, we cannot help regarding it as a greed of life which no achievement of theirs has ever justified in the past or is likely to justify in such a future as they picture. All that we learn from Spiritualists as to life on the astral plane shows it to be such a dull, stagnant, trivial affair that it would add a new terror to death if we believed that a life of that kind lay beyond.
At one time I worked as a printer on The Two Worlds, the Spiritualist weekly, and saw a good deal of the Spiritualist fraternity at close quarters in that way and otherwise. Of their messages from the other world the general impression is of paltryness, the most outstanding memory being of repeated assurances to ‘take car of yourself’ and to ‘be sure you wear flannels next your skin.’
Carlyle somewhere tells of an old man who spoke to his (Carlyle’s) father in rapturous terms of the joys of heaven. And the old Scots mason retorted: ‘Who wants a stinking of clog like you in heaven? Don’t you think that seventy years of you is enough?’ It was brutal; but Carlyle manifestly tells the story with a chuckle as if he agreed with the rough justice of it. What we think about life on an alleged astral plane will not alter the fact whatever the fact may be; but in the absence of adequate proof it seems an overweening claim that the human mite, marvellous as he is, should seek to live for ever, or otherwise viewed, should, like the idiot Struldbrugs of Gulliver, have sentence of eternal life passed upon him.
The good we do lives after us, and if that is sometimes very little, our claim to continued life on another plane is surely all the less, unless, indeed, we are to be taught there to be less self-centred, to have more of the spirit of comradeship and service.
Already we have more pity than is needed for our own sorrows, more laughter than is warranted by our own joys, even when we know nothing of its cause, and we often worry over the troubles of others more than they do themselves. This altruism, which is by no means overdone, cannot but be greatly strengthened in the more socialised life of the future.
In a letter to me Mrs Kingsley says there are no moral sanctions today. She means, I take it, that the law and the commandments have lost their Divine authority and that no authoritative taboos have taken their place. But there are surely more taboos than ever, while law and public opinion are more strongly operative than ever. Morals are always ahead of theology. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not bear false witness – the public opinion behind these existed long before Moses formulated it as Divine law. All these taboos and many others have more force than ever they had; and they are reinforced by a thousand acquired instincts that are more potent than any old priestly taboo. In spite of a very much extended penal code, with vastly more efficient policing, the prison population is less and less.
In spite of the coarsening effects of war, the increased decency of average social feeling is manifested in various ways. The war itself actually helped. Profiteering was never generally condemned till the word was coined for it, and till, with our backs to the wall it was felt to be the dirty game which it is, whether peace or war. The ‘slacker’ was one who wangled out of his duty as a citizen in time of national danger, but it stands in time of peace, also, for the two million men in Britain who were not ashamed to return themselves to the census-takers as ‘of no occupation.’
Homes for heroes, self-determination, direct labour, direct action, camouflage for that which needs to be disguised, C3 as a deplorable category – all are hopeful, illuminating verbal facets augmenting the vocabulary of a more socialised world.
Mrs Kingsley, quoting Bertrand Russel says: ‘The whole solidity of matter has gone,’ En avent! That does but make it the more plastic and potent. The trouble with the grey matter up to now has been stodginess. That its solidity has gone is good news. It is still material despite its fluidity.
By a natural dialectical tendency, I have dwelt upon the controversial aspects of Mrs Kingsley’s thesis, passing by much of which it is possible heartily to approve. The production of marvels – such as spirit-writing, ‘precipitation’ of letters from the ceiling, and ‘materialisations’ – has been so often shown to be mere trickery that it is depressing to think of fine minds being deflected from open forthright pursuit of the open forthright business of the world to such jugglery. There is no particular mystery about the things that really matter.
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