The Meaning of Life

Probably ever since men have possessed the faculty of reasoning they have, each one of them, at some time or another, asked themselves what life means to them. Most men have conceived of life in its direct relation to themselves. A few, however, with a wider knowledge and a greater power of concentrated thought, have attempted to discover some


in life which shall apply, not only to themselves individually, but to the whole of humanity as they know it. How unsuccessful they have been in this attempt a study of the history of philosophy clearly shows. From the philosophy of Thales in the 6th century B.C. to the Bergsonian cult of the 20th century A.D. is a far cry. Yet if we smile at the conclusion arrived at by Thales that the principle of all things is water, it may well be asked whether the theory of Bergson that “life is nothing more than consciousness using matter for its purpose” is very much more satisfying to the ordinary man or woman.

No. Though abstract ideas (or ideas as abstract as they can be conceived) may possibly be a source of a certain amount of intellectual pleasure to idle dreamers and philosophic doubters, yet how little do such ideas come within the scope of the man or woman


in the seething whirlpool of modern capitalist society ! One can imagine what would be the outcome, for instance, if such a man as Bergson, instead of addressing himself to a well-fed, well-clothed, more or less well-educated “upper class” audience, were to turn his attention, say, to a meeting of miners striking for a minimum wage of 5s. per day, or a crowd of sweated East-end tailors and tailoreeses, and try to talk to them about the “identity of contraries” or the “joy of creative evolution.”

It is the same with philosophy as with art and literature, as with culture in general. Such things are only for the rich, for those who, neither toiling nor spinning, live on the labour of the uncultured working class. Even if any “culture” manages to filter down to the great mass of the people (the working population) it usually reaches them in such a


as to be worse than nothing at all. The workers’ business in the world (so our pastors and masters tell us) is to work, to work hard, to work contentedly, leaving to their “betters” the philosophical, the literary, the artistic knowledge. But they do not tell us that philosophy and art are, actually, the gift of past and present society to the philosophers, and should, in turn, be offered with a free hand back to society.

What does life mean to the working class today ? What is the working-class outlook on the world ? Ask the alkali worker of Widnes or St. Helens and he will tell you that to him it means working for twelve or more hours a day in return for the sum of perhaps twenty shillings a week, a dragging out of existence, with teeth rapidly rotting away, half-blind and asthmatical, liable at any moment during his period of employment to inhale sufficient poisonous gas to make speculation on life, or on anything else, evermore impossible for him.

What does life mean to the men and women in the white-lead factories ? A period between birth and death, wherein they work for a miserable pittance in an atmosphere laden with death-dealing dust, becoming paralysed, purblind and insane at the time when they should be in the fulness of health and strength; it means for the women the agony of bearing


or children literally soaked in the poisonous fumes among which the mother is obliged to work. What does life mean to the railwaymen, to the miners, to the industrial workers in general ? Hard and unremitting toil; the contemplation of the killing and maiming of their comrades, with the fear of the same happening to themselves ; and perpetually hanging over them the possibility of unemployment, slow-starvation, an early and wretched death.

The majority of men are totally unable to realise what life could be made. Even if a few have a vague idea of what existence should be and the strength of will to put such idea into practice, yet the environment in which they find themselves, the circumstances surrounding them, very soon crush out this vitality, leaving them disillusioned and bitter, doggedly going through their day’s work


or the possibility of change (except for the worse) ; or, in despair, blindly smashing themselves against the forces that enslave and degrade them.

Surely life holds for us something more than this if we could only understand it. The Socialist, at any rate, with his knowledge of the forces working in society and his further knowledge of the way in which these forces could be used, could be diverted, in his own and his fellow’s interest, sees life as something different, something greater, than a continual round of hard and degrading work, of sordid sorrows and still more sordid pleasures. If philosophy is of any use at all it is to teach men how to live. And the Socialist philosophy does this. It speaks to the only people in society who are now worth speaking to—the people of the working class—adjuring them to work out their destinies in spite of the almost overwhelming powers of capitalism that are arrayed against them. Learn, it says in effect, that no man is fit to be your master any more than you are fit to be the master of any man ;


with all its evils and miseries, find the cause of these evils and miseries, and then act in such a way as to abolish, once and for all time, the root-evil that makes life a curse. While you have two classes in society, while there is a dominant class and a class dominated, while there are masters and slaves, you must have brutality on one hand and cringing servility on the other, and undying hatred on both sides. With such a state of things what chance is there to evolve any other form of life but one that can only be compared to the ape and the tiger stage.

Life is movement. Nothing living can ever become stagnate. If the human race is not going forward to something higher than itself then it ie certainly going back to some lower form of life. It rests with the working class to say whether we shall sink back into a state of barbaric chaos, whether we shall, perhaps (it is possible), perish in our entirety ; or whether we shall move upward to a form of life undreamt of to-day.


a hard task admittedly, but worth the doing. Life to the Socialist means unremitting toil in the cause of Socialism, perseverance in spite of all discouragement, the marching onward in the face of all doubts and difficulties. Even if we of this generation do not see and taste the fruits of our sowing, yet even then we shall have our reward—in the knowledge that we have fought on the side of energy against apathy, of youth against the decrepit, of life itself against death.


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