The Forum: “Directive Ability” and Other Bogeys

[To the Editor]

Sir,—Referring to your front page article, “The Capitalists’ Directive Ability,” in the “Standard” dated July, 1914, I respectfully beg to ask if you will make clear to me a few points on that subject. According to the above article your contention is : there is no such thing as directive ability among the capitalist class. Assuming that to be true, then it is essential there is no such thing as directive ability among the working class; in short, there is no such thing in existence.
Now I ask you what is genius? Herbert Kaufmann says : “Genius is a birthright” (“Reynolds,” July 5th, 1914). In my dictionary, 1 read, “Genius: a man endowed with superior faculties.” Now is it a fact that we mortals (both capitalist and slave) are born, each one different in calibre and disposition to the other ? If you answer in the affirmative then you must admit that one individual can be born with superior mental faculties to his brother. There are men of the capitalist class who are certainly very clever, possibly through the splendid education their wealth enables them to procure, but there are also many men of that class who are confirmed imbeciles.
On the other hand, we have men of the working class who, through their own exertions, work their way to fame and fortune, while others, with an indolent disposition—certainly born in them—live to be led by the individual of sharper mental faculties. The reason I have quoted both classes is to disprove the theory that environment or condition make any difference. To make my meaning more clear I will deal with a few cases of what I consider come under the heading of directive ability.
I am very fond of chess, and though I am considered good, I am perfectly sure I should never make a “Dr. Lasker” or a “Capablanca.” These eminent players were, I firmly believe, born with a natural aptitude for the game.
Then again, we have that famous composer, Gniseppe Verdi, who, though a poor man in his youth, became Italy’s favourite composer.
Now I venture to say that few men still living have a theoretical knowledge of music equal to the well known Major A. J. Stretton, M.V.O., R.M.S.M. Yet I think you will agree with me, with all due respect to Major Stretton, it is impossible for him to conceive beautiful ideas of melody equal to those of Verdi.
There are many instances which I could go on quoting. Take, for instance, our public schools. Are the scholars equally clever at drawing, arithmetic, and mechanics ? No ! one may develop into an eminent artist, the other into a brilliant mathematician, and where is the school without its “dunce” ?
All this seems to show very clearly that genius does exist, and though, as you point out in your article, Lipton or Rockefeller may now be tyrants of the first water—which is evidently true—they must (unless they inherited their wealth) in the first place have possessed ”Directive Ability.” RICHARD SHARMAN


Our critic’s letter is rather confused and misses the whole point at issue. The question, in reality, is not whether “directive ability” exists but, if it exists, who exercises it.

If our view is correct (and our friend has not denied it) that all the work of society, from the obtaining of the raw materials of production to the distribution of the finished articles to the consumers, is performed by wage workers, from the “unskilled” dock labourer to the highly skilled scientist, from the office boy to the manager, then obviously there is no room in production for the capitalist, and he is merely a parasite. His function is simply to hold shares or titles to a certain amount of profit ; but he is in no way instrumental in the actual turning out of wealth. And it is with the production and distribution of wealth that we are concerned.

This is the position laid down in the article criticised, and our opponent has not attempted to deal with our argument.

And now for the few isolated points or misconceptions of our opponent.

He sets out in the following confused and unscientific manner “according to … your contention . . . there is no such thing as Directive Ability among the capitalists ;” then comes an unwarrantable assumption: “Then it is essential, there is no such thing as Directive Ability among the working class, in short, there is no such thing in existence.” Why ? No reason is given.

What “Directive Ability” actually is seems to be shrouded in mystery. It is the name given to something that is supposed to organise industry. In reality, however, modern industry is like a vast mechanism in which all the parts are interdependent and of equal importance. The ignorant, superficial and superstitious, unable to clear the cobwebs from their cloudy brains, do not see the natural interdependence of every cog in the wheel and have to imagine a mysterious master mind, like the god of the theologians, keeping everything in order.

Socialists agree that men are born with different faculties, but we contend that only under a system where economic security for all exists will it be possible for all to exercise these varying faculties to the best advantage. No matter what his faculties may be, the child of the working class has to find a job. He cannot pick and choose his job, but must take one of the first to hand, and from that day to the end of his life the continual struggle with poverty leaves him scant time to employ his faculties in. directions that satisfy him, leaving out of sight the fact that the degrading and brutalising conditions that surround his childhood tend to strangle his finer feelings at birth.

Among the millions of workers very few ever “work their way to fame and fortune”; the vast majority work their way to early graves instead. Here and there, perhaps, one may have the good luck to struggle into a position of comparative security, but they who do so possess the particular faculties necessary for money making : the faculty to lie unblushingly, to work little children till they become almost imbeciles, and to take no thought at all for the much vaunted sanctity of womanhood and the family hearth. Our critic instances Rockefeller and Lipton who have made their own (!) fortunes. If he digs a little deeper and sees how they made their beginnings he will obtain ample proof of the truth of our remarks. The facts recorded in the article in question are in themselves sufficient to damn the characters of both the honorable gentlemen. We may also point out that both Rockefeller and Lipton started at a time when conditions favoured their undertakings. The large industries were just coming into being.

The remark that environment and conditions make no difference to individuals is obviously absurd. For example, why are the inhabitants of Equatorial regions indolent while the inhabtants of Temperate regions are energetic ? Is not the outlook on life of a coast tribe different to that of an inland tribe ? But take the references quoted. Where would Capablanca be were it not for the development of the science of chess, and Verdi but for the development of the science of constructing musical instruments and in musical technique ? Probably in the same position as the embryonic landscape painter, born in the slums of some great city, never seeing the beauties of nature, but sweating his life away in a modern factory. Myriads of potential Verdis die every year unknown and unheard of.

Regarding the existence of dunces in schools that can safely be put to the credit of the capitalist method of educating the young, which makes no allowance for the natural curiosity and aptitude of children.

Apparently, judging from our critic’s remarks, he considers genius and “directive ability” much the same thing. A glance through history will show that the fate of the genius has been anything but similar to that of the alleged possessor of directive ability. We will give a few instances in support of our contention.

James Thomson (author of “The City of Dreadful Night”), one of the finest of poets, was
in early life a book-seller’s hack, after which he spent his nights on the Thames Embankment, dying in poor circumstances from a disease brought on by hardship. Henrich Heine, the leading lyrical poet of Germany and an incomparable essayist, had a perpetual struggle for existence. Herbert Spencer, the Synthetic Philosopher, could only carry through his great work by the subscriptions of friends. Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, had to accept a position as tax farmer in order to obtain funds to carry on his experiments. Linnaeus, the father of modern botany, had to work his way to the Universities of Lund and Upsala, living on £8 a year, and making his own boots from the bark of trees. Fortunately for him he attracted the notice of a man with similar tastes who made his future life comparatively smooth, otherwise the famous classification of the animal and vegetable world might never have been attached to his name. John Kay, the inventor of the “fly shuttle,” one of the most important inventions ever made in the loom, was beggared by the costs of litigation owing to the unblushing infringements of his patents by the capitalists of his day. He starved to death in France, in spite of the fact that his brain teemed with schemes for the improvement of industrial machinery. Joseph Marie Jacquard, the inventor of the famous silk-weaving loom, had to sacrifice everything he possessed to carry on his experiments. He was unsuccessful, bscame a labourer, then a soldier. It was not until he was fifty years of age that the fame of his invention became public. Inigo Jones, the great architect, was born in poor circumstances, and would never hive been heard of had he not attracted the attention of the third Earl of Pembroke, who sent him to Italy to study. And lastly, Karl Marx, admitted by his most bitter opponents to have been ons of greatest minds that ever applied themselves to Sociology, spent nearly the whole of his life in the direst poverty, sometimes being without a crust of bread in the house. There is just one further instance that the present European conflict calls to mind. General Shrapnel, the inventor of the explosive that has done such terrible execution, was an English officer and (according to the “News of the World,” 18.10.14) died in 1842 a poor and bitter old man. The Government never repaid him the money he spent on his experiments. Wellington stated that the most important battle of the Peninsular War, and even Waterloo itself, were won by the aid of shrapnel.

In conclusion, when the economic problem is solved for all men and we no longer crawl along on our bellies, the innumerable splendid minds that abound will no longer be stifled, but will be given the opportunity to develop to their fullest extent.

G. McC

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