The Life Here, or Hereafter
We are often told that evolution proceeds by cycles, wending upward as it were in helical fashion ; a point of development in each period being a repetition of that below, though modified because on a higher plane. Some scientists amuse themselves by tracing these parallels with no apparent object other than surveying ind marvelling, just as amateurs sometimes experiment in chemistry, amusing themselves with the effects produced, such as fermentation, explosions, and colour combinations. Occasionally, however, a parallel is drawn that has some significance and exposes the stupidity or fraudulence of those who claim superiority in knowledge and wisdom.
Grant Allen, in his “famous work,” “The Evolution of the Idea of God,” points out such a parallel. He says: “Thus the Cult of the Dead, which is the earliest origin of all religion, in the sense of worship, is also the last relic of the religious spirit which survives the decay of faith due to modern scepticism. To this cause I refer on the whole the spiritualistic utterances of so many among our leaders of modern science. They have rejected religion, but they cannot reject the inherited and ingrained religious emotions.” And in another passage he remarks: “The fact is, the religious emotion takes its origin from the affection and regard felt for the dead by survivors, mingled with the hope and belief that they may be of some use or advantage, temporal or spiritual, to those who call upon them ; and these primitive faiths and feelings remain so ingrained in the very core of humanity, that even the most abstract of all religions, like the Protestant schism, cannot wholly choke them, while recrudescences of the original creed and custom spring up from time to time in the form of spiritualism, theosophy, and other vague types of simple ghost worship.”
Rather a long quotation, and not fully approbated until read in conjunction with the recent statement by Sir Oliver Lodge: “We ourselves are not limited to the few years we live on the earth ; we shall go on without it. We shall certainly continue to exist. I say it on definite scientific grounds. I say it because I know certain friends of mine still exist, because I have talked with them. I tell you with all the strength of conviction which I can muster, that the fact is so—that we do persist, that these people still take an interest in what is going on, that they still help us, and know far more about things than we do, and that they are able from time to time to communicate.”
According to Grant Allen, Sir Oliver Lodge, obsessed with the primitive idea of the early savage, is a recrudescence to that early type. With all the advantages that civilisation and a scientific education can give him, he (like many others) is merely a specimen freak ; but, as we shall see, conditioned by circumstances—just as the ignorance of the savage in the face of natural phenomena determined his beliefs. As Grant Allen says of those beliefs, “They were inevitable, and man’s relation with the external universe was certain a Priori to beget them as of necessity.”
Propitiation of the dead, as Spencer shows, was the fundamental idea that dominated religion in its earliest days. The aid of the spirit was evoked f or the achievement of the economic aims of the living. Since then, religion has evolved every form of belief in turn that was consistent with the economic development and prevailing knowledge of each period, culminating in abstract gods like Jahveh and Allah. But science develops alongside of religion, and, in spite of religious antagonism and persecution, establishes once for all the Materialist Philo-sophy.
Then capitalism, dependent for its existence upon the continued ignorance of the working class, encourages every form of mystification that does not interfere with the cheapest possible methods of wealth production and the apropriation by the capitalist class of the largest possible portion of that wealth in the shape of surplus-value.
Sir Oliver Lodge is publishing evidence (!) that may either be fraudulently manufactured, or mental imagery, the result of aesthetic fasting or concentration. In either case his object is to support religious beliefs generally and, through them, the capitalist system—an order under which every kind of chicanery and corruption flourishes. Those who feast at the capitalist board must needs justify the favours they receive. Titles are bestowed for generous subscriptions to party funds. A testimonial to the authenticity of ghosts and spooks from a distinguished scientist is received with applause by the class that see in the decay of superstition a sign that their system is over-ripe.
The motive of the scientist is more apparent than the usefulness of the actual discovery he professes to have made, until we remember a portion of his quotation: “these people [spirits] still take an interest in what is going on ; . . . they still help us and know far more about things than we do.”
Now the only direction in which the capitalist class need help (any help for the working class being out of the question, the spirits being nobbled by a capitalist defender) is in their combat with Socialism. The discontent of the worker increases ; Socialism has grown out of its Utopian youth to its scientific and practical manhood. But if the working class are becoming practical, the capitalist class have always been so, relying upon their control of physical force in the last resort, while they fight the revolution with misrepresentation and lies. How simple must Sir Oliver be if he imagines he can spoof them with spirit legions as Theirs and other capitalist ministers have boasted armies that only existed on paper.
No matter what social or biological laws are responsible for his recrudescence, it must be obvious that Sir Oliver has rushed into the conflict on the side of superstition ; and the frantic expression oi his absurd “convictions” provides one more instance of the poverty of capitalist philosophy, and the pitiful despair and impotence of its defenders when confronted with materialist conceptions.
This is not an extremist or fanatical conclusion, but one that is forced upon us after a careful survey of the intellectual superstructure of capitalist society. Every section of capitalist pioneers and defenders admit the tottering state of their system when they cry—as they do—Beware of the Revolution.
From ecclesiastical circles emanates a prolonged screech of horror at the growth of materialism, in their eyes a certain indication of the proximity of “the day,” which they would stave off with frequent libations of charity and gospel—decidedly more gospel than charity by the way.
In political circles the fear is no less marked. The Liberal Party is prompted by it to inaugurate social reforms—that do not reform —and carry on a tremendous propaganda of promises to abolish poverty. Why they do it was admitted by Mr. Lloyd George in his 1914 Budget speech, which is typical of the Liberal mind. “There was a revolt surging up in this country among millions of men against their conditions, and unless the rich and the opulent were prepared in time to make sacrifices to lift their less-favoured fellow citizens out of their wretchedness, the day would come, and it would come soon, when they would look back with amazement and with regret to the days when they protested against a one and-fourpenny extra insurance against revolution when it came from a Liberal Government.”
The Tories expose their fear by the frequency with which they accuse the Liberals of breeding class-hatred ; thereby acknowledging their acquaintance with the fact that revolution is the outcome of the antagonism of classes.
But Ecclesiastics and Politicians, clinging to the conditions of their respective creeds, are sane and rational in their methods compared with Sir Oliver Lodge and his efforts to popularise spiritualism either as a soporific for the working class or an oracle for the master class. But the scientist must always appear ludicrous when he attempts to bolster up religion or capitalism; he is out of his element because science, consisting of ascertained and ordered facts, cannot be used to justify superstition and anarchy.
Science cannot be restricted to the sphere of production alone, cannot be the mere hand-maiden of industry. The pressure of numbers is felt in every profession, including scientists. They try to serve the capitalist in new ways ; to denounce materialism, however, is to deny their own offspring, the result of their collective labours ; and when we find their personal opinions, as expressed, so obviously at variance with the facts they have laboriously established, we can only conclude they are actuated by material interests. Those interests, in the majority of cases, are bound up with capitalism, consequently we find that it is only on questions that affect the stability of capitalism that they differ. On such questions they contradict themselvei and one another in the wildest fashion. Herbert Spencer showed the antagonism between science and religion, then pretended to reconcile them. Voltaire, described as the great Atheist and iconoclast, believed that “Natural religion was not only, true, but indispensably necessary to the well-being of society.” Charles Darwin, the first to define the laws that govern the evolution of life, and the most powerful opponent of the idea of creation, writes of powers having been originally breathed into the first forms; while Sir Oliver Lodge, who consistently panders to capitalism through religion, in a lapse to honesty denied the possibility of a beginning, saying : “To every past, however remote, there is an antecedent past. Nothing points to a beginning or to an end. At every point we can ask, and what before ? or what after ?”
Amid all the confusion and contradictory statements of those who claim to know, the worker may well ask: What can we believe ? The answer is, believe nothing if believing means to accept in faith without evidence. Ignore everything unless substantiated by facts and of sufficient importance from the workers’ standpoint to justify examination. When facts like the motions of celestial bodies, the igneous and stratified nature of the earth’s crust, the struggle for existence among life forms, the merchandise character of labour-power, and the class struggle that springs therefrom, have been ascertained, belief is unnecessary. Such facts have become established along with all the minor experiences of life—they are known.
The problem before the working class is not: Do the dead persist ? Do plants think ? Is there life on Mars ? These questions may interest those whose duty it is to mystify or side-track the workers. They are outside the working-class philosophy, which must find its chief concern in those economic arrangements that condemn the working class to poverty and excessive toil. Because they are a slave class, and suffer more acutely than slaves have suffered in any previous age, they must study the nature of those social arrangements, of the system that makes them slaves. The cause of their misery will then become apparent to them; the class ownership of the means of wealth production. This class ownership is one of those established facts ; quite beyond dispute or question. It is the pivot and centre upon which the capitalist system works. Until private or class ownership is abolished and Socialism—common ownership and democratic control—substituted for it, there can be neither emancipation for the, working class nor improvement in their condition. The only life of which we are certain is the life here and now. Capitalism with its slavery, poverty, and insecurity, makes it a pandemonium of wretchedness and suffering. Socialism alone can make life worth living for the workers because, controlling their own means of life—within the limits imposed by nature—they would, under that rational system of society, live free, happy and eminently glorious lives.