There are people about who actually take pride in being called cranks. Crankiness (or is it crankery ?) bids fair to become an established cult: it already has one periodical, The Crank, as an official organ, and there are hundreds of newspapers and magazines, daily, weekly, and monthly, that preach it under one or other of its hundred forms.
On the cover of “An Unconventional Magazine” a crank is defined as “a little thing which makes revolutions,” but the dictionary gives us a much less flattering account :—”a crook or bend ; a conceit in speech ; a whim.” Into the composition of the modern crank all these constituents would seem to enter.
The crank is a man (or woman) who sees a part as the whole, a triviality as all important; his mind is so filled with his particular whim or fad that, nothing else has place there. He looks at it so closely that he cannot see beyond it, like a man who holds a small object so near his eye that it obscures his view of everything else.
To set forth all the classes and subdivisions of cranks is impossible in a short paper, for they are “as the sands of the sea shore are multitude,” but we all know and have suffered from, among others, the health crank, the food crank, the religious crank, the land reform crank, the municipal crank, the education crank, the social reform crank, the temperance crank, the political crank.
All these people have recognised that there is something wrong with existing conditions, but instead of analysing these conditions as a whole in order to seek a remedy, they have all and each seized on some particular detail and made reform thereof a hobby horse to be ridden to death. And so there are hundreds of little sects of cranks, each trying to remedy some little social evil. Enormous quantities of ink and paper are wasted every year in voicing their views; each little group completely ignores all the others, and each has its own little patent panacea for the evils of Society.
“Reform” is the watchword of them all, and they have it in common that they all devote their attention to eliminating some effect of economic conditions while leaving those conditions themselves unchanged.
The Socialist, on the other hand, has regard to the whole rather than to any particular detail. He analyses all social conditions and traces them back to their economic root; he recognises that to alter effects is impossible without eliminating causes. In a word his method is the direct opposite to thatof the crank !
The Socialist proves that all the evils from which Society suffers have their origin in the class ownership of the means (land, machinery, mines, etc.) by which the necessaries of life are produced, and the consequent wage-slavery of the great mass of the people; he shows that from this one great economic wrong at the basis of Society arise all the other wrongs, social, political, and moral, and that therefore to right these, it is necessary first of all to change the economic basis of Society by bringing the means of production and distribution under the ownership and control of the whole community. To the Socialist it is just as sensible to try to rid a garden of nettles by picking off their leaves as to attempt to reform the social edifice while the rotten foundations remain untouched.
The Socialist therefore is not a crank.
But there are many cranks who call themselves Socialists. Sometimes these add a distinguishing epithet as “Christian” Socialists. When they do not do so, however, they can only be judged by their words and works. The crank Socialist is always going to do great things for Socialism after his own pet fad is achieved as a first step. To give a full list of these “first steps” would be impossible in the space at my disposal, but among the most familiar are :—Female Suffrage, Adult Suffrage, Payment of Members, Reversal of the Taff Vale Decision, Solution of the Unemployed Problem, Free Maintenance of School Children, Old Age Pensions, etc, etc. “Reform” is the magic word of the crank Socialist by which all these things are to be conjured up out of nowhere, while wage-slavery is still to remain, though shorn of all its ill effects by successive acts of Parliament, and capitalism, though still existing, is to become a kind of metaphysical entity, an evil thing with no evil properties ! This is the dream of the crank Socialist, but it is not Socialism.
Unfortunately, crankery is not only humorous, but, harmful. Thousands of the working class who should be organising for Socialism have been drawn off to follow the will-o’-the-wisp of reform in search of the paradise of cranks.
If this were not so, and if crankery were confined to the bourgeoisie, we could afford to laugh at it; but as things are we must fight it and destroy it as perhaps the most dangerous obstacle in the path of Socialism.
Under the heading “The Earth for all” The Crank proposes to publish a series of papers on political economy. The introductory article says “under conditions where there was no private property in land extremes of poverty and wealth could not exist.” Couldn’t they ? If the writer proposes to show that extremes of poverty could not exist under a system of nationalized land only, we shall await further contributions with interest.