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Materialism v. Spiritism

The October 1926 Socialist Standard reviewed a pamphlet by a Communist Party sympathiser entitled Is Materialism the Basis of Communism? The case against Materialism from the Revolutionary Standpoint. The author replied. We republish our reply as a still valid exposition of the scientific method.

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,



The misprint of the title of Isabel Kngsley'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.