Destructive criticism

At almost any propagandist meeting held by the Socialist Party of Great Britain will be found individuals—many of them more or less sympathetically inclined toward the purely constructive policy placed before them—who resent most bitterly any criticism of capitalist society, and the various institutions springing from capitalism. One has only to mention religion, for example, in an adverse manner, or to criticise the various reform measures advocated by the orthodox political parties—Liberal, Tory, Labour or pseudo Socialist—and immediately there arises an outcry against our “destructive criticism” (terrible words), as these people delight to call it. They apparently do not, and cannot yet, realise that the many erroneous ideas concerning both capitalism and Socialism, held by the majority of the workers, must be destroyed before the possibilities of Socialism can be entertained, and Socialism itself established on the unshakeable basis necessary for its erection and continuance.

From our point of view this charge of “destructive criticism,” so far from being taken by us as simply opprobrious, is, as a matter of fact, rather in the nature of a tribute to the policy we are pursuing and a compliment to the success of our movement.

Suppose for a moment we take literature as an analogy. The criticism of a literary work—if such criticism be correctly given—will inevitably tend to destroy whatever in such a work is false to life and to the canons of literary art, leaving only that option which is worth maintaining. So with our criticism of capitalism. If there were any part of capitalism that it was possible for a Socialist to defend, if there were any institution appertaining to our present system of society that we could uphold, then our defence and support would be given to such. When, however, it is found by scientific investigation and analysis that unemployment and poverty, with all their far-reaching concommitant evils, are inherent in capitalist society itself, then any institution or measure that is necessary to and helps to maintain and strengthen, capitalism, must, of course, be subjected to our adverse and destructive criticism.

Religion, as has been clearly shown in our recent pamphlet, “Socialism and Religion” (particularly Chapter VIII., “The Modern Purpose of Religion”) is conservative and reactionary ; is the antidote par excellence to Socialism ; is, moreover, as Marx said, “the opium of the people.” We, understanding these things, and understanding, also, how and why religion originated and has developed, are thus compelled to oppose with all our strenuousneness the religious idea.

Again, with regard to measures of reform, fiscal, political and social. Capitalism is beginning to totter on its base. These reform measures are useful, are indeed necessary, to the dominant class, to prop up and keep standing a little while longer the present unhealthy and decaying social structure. But we as Socialists recognise that the object of the Socialist Party is, firstly, the acceleration of the downfall of capitalism, and, secondly, the establishment in its place of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community. Socialism and the reform of capitalism are quite incompatible, and only the confused mentality of S.D.P.ism and I.L.P.ism would attempt their reconciliation. We, for our part, take reform measures at their real valuation to the capitalists and their consequent reactionary disadvantage to the workers. We point out certain facts in regard to reforms and deduce certain logical conclusions from the facts so premised. If this process should tend toward the destruction of society as it at present exists, then we are accomplishing part of our object as a party, and the accusations levelled against us of “destructive criticism” only recoil on the heads of our accusers. “Let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung.”

On every hand can be seen the rottenness of capitalism. Facts may be adduced, and multiplied by the hundred, proving up to the hilt our contentions regarding the evil conditions under which the working class is compelled to exist. The following extracts from a speech by Mr. Lloyd George at the City Temple, on the 17th October last are very significant, more especially when it is remembered that they are the criticisms of the man who,four years previously, had publicly stated that if “slums, pauperism and great want in the land of plenty” were not removed in three years, “the Great Liberal Party (as he called it) would deserve to go, and a new movement would grow up to displace the Liberal” bunglers or rogues (vide speech, at Birmingham, 22.10.06).

These are some of his statements at the City Temple (Christian Commonwealth, 19.10.10):

“There is a great unrest among the people. It is not confined to this country, it extends all over the world. . . . The area of disturbance precludes us from attributing this unrest either to Protection or Free Trade. East and West you get it in Protectionist and Free Trade countries alike. . . . Within a few score, not hundred, yards of this magnificent building I have had cases brought to my notice of old women over seventy toiling the livelong day, morning, noon, and late into the night, only to earn a bare pittance, that just kept them above starvation, but never above privation, just enough to keep the machine from stopping. 68 or 70 were some of the cases; 3s. 6d. paid for rent.
“It is facts such as these—gigantic wealth at one end that a man cannot spend in a lifetime of luxury, at the other end millions torn with semi-hunger and the pain of poverty—that are producing the murmuring in the heart of Britain which shows there is some disease in its system.
“There is a numerous class without labour leading lives of luxury and indulgence. There is a vast multitude leading lives of laborious toil who die without ever earning sufficient for food or raiment or shelter.”

The foregoing is a damning indictment of modern society and of the reform parties. That Mr. Lloyd George recognises the impossibility of solving the social evils under capitalism is shown in the same speech. He says, speaking of the problems awaiting solution : “We are hopelessly in arrears, and ere we have half settled one problem now ones have cropped up.”

Mr. Lloyd George’s impetuosity has apparently here led him to do something that is not often expected of him—that is, to adhere to the strict path of veracity.

We may very well conclude with the following “human document,” not based on the speech of a Cabinet minister, but the testimony of a man who has been broken on the wheel of capitalism. It is taken from the Daily Chronicle, January 7th, 1911:

“One of the most extraordinary speeches probably ever made in a court of justice was delivered by a prisoner at Cardiff Quarter Sessions yesterday.
“Richard Barr, aged 28, was about to be sentenced for breaking into a co-operative stores, when he said to the recorder :
” ‘You have heard a record of a few of the deeds I have been guilty of. I feel proud of them ; proud of my career ; and proud also to think that the country must go to the expense of finding such a one as I legal aid.
” ‘I am one of those degenerates you hear so much about—useless to the country, useless to my friends, and useless to myself. I am a living lie, and I know I shall never be anything else. Life is a gigantic fraud. Selfishness and oppression abound on all sides. The chief object in life seems to be that men should “do” their neighbours: if they don’t succeed their neighbours will “do” them. I am one of those who “do” their neighbours. I believe in “doing” my neighbour, for it is but self-defence.
” ‘My career might have been very different. What I am to-day, you, the recorder, helped to make me. Ten years ago last Monday you sent me to prison for six months. During those six months I learnt more roguery than I learnt before or since. During that time I determined to get my own back. I have done my best to get my own back, and to do injury to others. I think I have succeeded very well.’
“Sentence of three years’ penal servitude was passed.”

The above two speeches, one by a Cabinet minister, the other by a convict, should to anyone with ordinary intelligence, be destructive of all belief and trust in capitalism as any criticism of ours could very well be. Further comment here is superfluous. It maybe left to the reader to judge how far the Socialist Party’s policy of analytical criticism is justified. If the matter is thought out without prejudice, only one conclusion can be come to : that while conditions in society remain as at present, the methods they are adopting are the only ones logically possible.


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