On Personalities

A standing objection to us and our method of propaganda in press and on platform is tbat we are too personal. When all other criticism has been reasoned down, we can generally rely that our opponent for the time being will fling at us as the last word in the category of the objectionables—too personal. Generally, also, we get this dialectical missile hurtled at us as our worthy critic hastens without the reach of any reply we may wish to make—which provokes in what I endeavour shall be my exceedingly charitable mind, the thought that the objector is more concerned with scoring a point at our expense than with urging an argument for the sake of truth.

Nevertheless, I am aware that the same objection seriously influences some number of persons to regard us unfavourably, so that it may be worth while to occupy a little space in an enquiry into the validity and the value of the objection.

My endeavour will be to shew, not that we do not use what is called personalities, but that such personal references as we make are entirely unobjectionable and are, indeed, absolutely indispensable to the elucidation of the problems and the discussion of the questions we direct our attention to as a Socialist Party. Not, of course, that the use of personalities is peculiar to a Socialist Party. Every other body of propagandists, from the occupants of professional chairs dilating upon the wonders of a universe, to the denizens of a pot-house dilating upon the virtues of a particular brand of four ale ; from men of the standing of Ernst Haeckel to men of the lying of say, Dr. Torrey, all make the personal appeal, the personal reference, use the personal illustration. Even our friend the anti-personality man commits what he regards as the unpardonable sin in illustrating his objectiou by personal references to us. There is no subject under high heaven that can be discussed without personalities of one sort or another. We can hardly talk of the law of gravity without reference to Newton and without pointing our remarks upon the operation of the law by the illustration of the unfortunate men who have fallen out of balloons. Nor can we dissociate Darwin from evolution, Marx from the theory of value, Armour and Co. from the recently disclosed horrors of embalmed beef, “Labour” Leaders from political impotency and the cause of working-class confusion and so on. These are all personal references and should be, if our objector’s case is a good one, taboo. Does our objector agree ? So far as the first four cases are concerned probably he does, but he disagrees about the last mentioned. Which means that he is in favor of some personalities sometimes. Then where does he draw his line ? How does he discriminate ?

If I know my honest objector well (as I think I do), his protest is not against the use of personalities at all. It is against the unfair and the unnecessary use of them. And his idea of the unfair and unnecessary personality is that one which for certain reasons is distasteful to him. He is an admirer say of Will Crooks or John Burns. He thinks they are good men who are striving whole-heartedly for the benefit of the working class. And when we lump them together among the crowd of working-class enemies, he is indignant and declaims our use of personalities. But when in our examination of the workings of Capitalism we make denunciatory references to the pork packers of Chicago who are prepared to poison the proletariat for personal profit, he says “hear, hear,” and applauds vociferously.

Now why is this ? It is in the one case because he can appreciate enough of the facts to know that our personal references to Armour and Co. are fair and necessary and serve as a forceful illustration of our argument, while in the other the references are not fair or necessary, because he has not appreciated the facts. Yet we are continually placing on record facts in proof of our arguments against Burns and Crooks, who we hold are poisoning the minds of the proletariat. We make our personal references to them serve as illustrations in just the same way as our personal references to the poisoned pork packers.

Why does not our friend appreciate the facts as much in the one case as in the other ? Because in the case of Crooks or Burns he starts prejudiced in their favour and either will not listen to tlie facts at all, or dismisses them as personalities. Which simply means that he is in favor only of the personalities of approval so far as they are concerned and is in favor of the personalities of disapproval so far as we are concerned, because he usually stigmatizes us as “personality” purveyors of an objectionable type. But be it observed he approves the use of personalities in any case.

The same thing applies to our references to the I.L.P., the S.D.F. and similar bodies or members of similar bodies. It is frequently urged that we may and should go on our way preaching our gospel, regardless entirely of such men and organisations. But this is just as impossible as the omission of references to the individuals whose names are inextricably intermixed with such subjects as Evolution would be, were we discussing those subjects. As a Socialist Party, we have to face and deal with a doleful mass of working-class ignorance. To do so we have to face and deal with what we regard as contributing factors to working-class ignorance such as the organizations and individuals named. In their case we have the greater incentive because their existence is known of in every district that we can reach in our national propaganda work and we are, therefore, the more urgently called upon to shew cause why we, making for the goal which they too are ostensibly working toward, are yet dissociated from them. Moreover, even if it were possible to drop them from our consideration entirely, we should be discarding the potent illuminating force to be obtained from personal reference. Anything that may be fairly used to illustrate our argument and emphasise our attitude, should be utilised. We should be failing in our duty to our class were we to omit to do so. We should most certainly be voluntarily weakening ourselves as propagandists and to that extent should be defeating our own purposes. Incidentally we should be laying ourselves open also to the charge of cowardice from those who, knowing of the existence of these other bodies, observe that we studiously avoid tackling them.

Very well. The position narrows itself to this : personalities, so far from being objectionable, are proper and necessary, so long as they are fair. A fair personality is one which expresses that which can be substantiated as true. If any objector thinks he has a case against us he must, therefore, shew that our personal references are unfair because they are untrue. If he can find any such and will point them out to us and so prove his objection, we, for our part will be very ready to withdraw and apologise. So far as I am aware, no such unfair reference has been made by members of this Party. If it has, I am quite confident that the Party will immediately repudiate it. We are out to speak the truth as we know it to the end that the working class knowing the truth may organize upon a sound basis and proceed along right lines towards their emancipation.

That is our business. Simply that and nothing more, and if in the process we come full tilt against the words or the deeds of the heroes of our good friend the consciencious objector to personalities, I hope that, before he stultifies himself by launching the personality of opprobrium against us, he will carefully weigh with what of calm, cool dispassionate discrimination he may, the facts and the argument which we adduce in support of our attitude. Then he will be the better able to judge whether we deserve dismissal from his or any other’s consideration. In any case, I am sure a fair attention to this little screed will induce him to regard his objection to the use of personalities with rather less favor than at present.


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