1910s >> 1913 >> no-101-january-1913
Socialism and “Science.”
Spencer and Huxley, Tyndal and Lewes, Darwin and Buckle, are names coupled with science in the fighting stage, battling against the learned champions of ignorance, the clergy, and the Church. But Science to-day is in a bad way. She no longer battles for her existence against a militant clergy, but sleeps beneath their caresses. The progressive materialism of an earlier time has gone out of fashion, and our scientists now talk mysteriously and darkly about thought-waves and telepathy, discarnate souls and such immaterial subjects. Witches and magic, demons and angels, that we had confidently supposed had been laid for ever with the other ghosts of popular superstitions, have cropped up again under the patronage of “scientific” men. The immortality of the soul is said to be established on evidence sufficiently strong to satisfy the scientific mind, and doubtless hell will flare up again, if only to illumine the same “scientific” minds.
The connection between the clergy and the ruling class is too historically obvious to need elaboration; the partnership of the parson and the squire in the government of the country belongs to history. The attack on the clergy by the scientist was simultaneous with the attack on hereditary privilege by the capitalist The political struggle and the intellectual struggle arose from the same set of economic circumstances. The thing preceded the idea; the actual power achieved by the capitalist class on the economic field had to be accompanied by political recognition and intellectual sanction.
The same movement of economic forces explains the present reaction of science. Capitalism has achieved its mission: it is the predominant power in the State. In the main it has absorbed the aristocracy, its erstwhile enemy. Being at peace with the landlord, it is at peace with the parson.
The capitalist having absorbed the landlord, the Whig and Tory being transformed into the Unionist, the scientist and the theologian have also called a truce. The whole force of united rulers are therefore able to show a single front to the working class pressing upon them. The side-tracks of the patriotic and political order are still useful in some quarters, and the mysticism of the scientist-cum-theologian is equally useful in others. The possibility of conversing with the spook of a departed friend, or the possible influence of the planets on the individual character, may have as much fascination as a game of whist or a visit to St. James’s Hall, bat that they are established as ready for the acceptance of “scientific” minds is beyond credulity. They are still useful as will-o’-the-wisps to set the more curious of the workers chasing instead of looking into the things that matter in their own lives. The New Theology and Christian Science, with a hundred and one forms of occultism and mysticism that are fashionable in some quarters point out the trend among our intellectuals.
All this would not matter if it were not that Socialism—the social philosophy of Materialism —is dragged into it by some of its alleged votaries. R. J. Campbell, who, it is confidently asserted, is controlled by the spirit of Jesus Christ, is a member of the I.L.P. Bernard Shaw, who is said to believe in the Yogi Rama seeing with his eyes blindfolded, in spite of a scathing exposure of the performance, is a Fabian. Others might be mentioned who are both pseudo-Socialists and occultists ; while the effort of advanced churchmen to nobble the Socialist movement is a recognised phase of the workers’ struggle by the really class-conscious ones among them.
Fortunately, the S.P.G.B. stands clear for Socialism alone. The attractions of the higher life or the call of the spirit leave us Socialists all the time. The bread and butter question is first for us. The struggle for working class supremacy has first to be fought out. Given the success of Socialism, there will be time enough to investigate with a far greater degree of dispassionate and clear-sighted enquiry, the claims of the new science, new theology, theosophy, spiritualism, and what not, to separate the grain of truth there may be in the mass of commercial charlatanism that passes now under the various titles of psychic mysteries.
Socialists at this time of day have no business with Psychical Research, however attractive the “search for truth” may be made by those who have nothing better to occupy their time and minds with. Sufficient economic and social science is incontrovertibly established to enable us to know, even if we did not know by rougher and more empirical methods, that food, shelter, and clothing, the prime necessaries of existence, can be had in abundance by all when the cornerstone of capitalism is dislodged and the workers control industry for their own ends. Until this is done nothing else matters.
The education and organisation of the workers for this great purpose is the work of Socialists. No “saviour from on high” will help us. All the “saviours” of the past, and their current representatives, are on the side of the powers that be; and there is no reason for supposing that the future will differ from the past in the part the priesthood, in its widest sense, will play in the social straggle. That science—or rather, the scientists, with some commendable exceptions— are hobnobbing with the mysticists is but another indication of the union of the forces of capitalism in every field, that points to the rapidly approaching time when this consolidated forces of organised class-conscious labour will meet the existing order for the last bout.
Then will be required all the strength of the Socialist demand. The more Socialism is overlaid with excrescences and absurdities the more chance is there for Socialism to suffer. The more simple the Socialist demand is kept the greater is the concentration on the essential point. Against the central citadel of Socialism all the thunder of capitalism’s politicians, preachers, and wizards will break in vain.