“Can a Man worship God and Mammon?”
A pamphlet issued by the Church Socialist League, and written by the Rev. Paul B. Bull, suggests in its title, “What is Socialism,” that within its pages is to be found an answer to this “perplexing” question. The writer informs us of the general ignorance existing on the subject, and proclaims the necessity for lucidity. In the subsequent pages, therefore, one naturally expects to find something definite.
In the reverend mind the systems of the past, and even the capitalist system itself, is fairly well understood. The basis of each can be explained in a few words, and the abuses common to them shown and condemned in a few more. But Socialism, which, he informs us, follows these other systems as inevitably as manhood follows youth, cannot be summed up by him in this fashion. In fact, he is uncertain, pitifully mixed, and self contradictory from the commencement. Before he has reached a dozen paragraphs his ignorance of his subject is patent.
“I must remind you,” he says, “that Socialism means so many different things that the only way to get at clearness of definition is to find out the fundamental principles which underlie the various forms of Socialism.” Some of these forms are mentioned later on, as for instance, “railways, tramways, water supply, gas works, and schools” ! He is evidently serious when he calls these “forms of Socialism,” for he remarks : “It would be quite possible for England to allow several private companies to do all its postal work. But we have socialised this section of our life, and it works excellently.”
These “forms of Socialism” that can be obtained by evolution, i.e., by capitalist administration, according to him are good. “The nation is able to regulate the wages, hours of labour, holidays, etc., of those whom it employs, so as to-secure for them a reasonable, healthy and happy life, instead of allowing their conditions of life and labour to be beaten down . . The result is a very fine body of workers who are diligent and efficient and often take a real pride in their work“—to the satisfaction of the capitalists, who pay less in rates as a result.
Evolution is Paul’s panacea ; revolution his bogey. Evolution has been the bugbear of the priest for half a century, but Paul embraces it. Continued evolution means capitalism continued, with possibilities for a priestly caste, consequently the proverbial “bull in a china shop” is not in it with the Rev. Bull among the revolutionaries. “The evolutionary Socialist is like the hen who lays an egg and provides the environment which will in due time enable the chicken to hatch out.” “Revolutionary Socialism is like the foolish child who wants to break the egg before the chicken is ready.” How blind these “evolutionists” always are to the revolution by which even their “chicken” must launch itself into its new existence !
Karl Marx needs no defenders, because he has not been attacked. To say that “he had the French Revolution on the brain” might pass for criticism with the feeble minded, but, alter all, is only empty abuse. It is questionable whether the gentle follower of the “lowly Nazirene” even, is quite sure of what he means by the the “French Revolution.” A close acqaintance with the works of Marx, especially “Das Capital,” would make his own puny efforts appear childish and insignificant ; for, where he is not busy contradicting his previous statements, he does little more than separate ideas and persons into “good and bad” according to the opinions generated by his vocation.
As, for instance, when he says: “Socialists are doing bad work by the bitterness with which they preach the class-war.” Shall they preach the class-war at all ? He does not say. In what he does say, though, he admits the existence of the class-war, and if he was desirous of its speedy termination he would not help towards that end by trying to smother the knowledge of it.
I leave out of consideration whether the class-war should be preached with or without bitterness, or whether it is possible to preach any sort of war with “meekness and brotherly love” towards the enemy. Does the class-war exist? ?-Emphatically yes, says the Christian exponent of “many different forms of Socialism.” “There is no rational method of distributing the rewards of Labour. It is left to the ruinous conflict between Capital and Labour, which inevitably breeds the bitterness of class war, and strikes and lock-outs, etc.” To sum up his conclusions, the capitalist system breeds a class war, but those who advocate its prosecution to a speedy termination are a bad lot.
The establishment of Socialism without class war and revolution is equally as impossible as hatching a chicken without breaking the shell, and the Rev. Bill, being anti-revolutionary, it follows that he is anti-Souialist. If he has completely failed to answer the question that forms the title of his pamphlet, he has at any rate succeeded in establishing his opposition to Socialism. His denunciations of the evils of capitalism are enhanced in value, because they now take the character of admissions by a capitalist defender. He might have made a thorough and energetic Socialist had his environment permitted—but regrets are useless and we can only take him as we find him. Illogical, superstitious, childish, and self-contradictory, yet with-all strong in his faith that the capitalist system “is pregnant with evils that corrupt and destroy every possibility of a decent and happy life for the mass of the people.”
Written long before the European War, he might claim tho following as prophesy equal to anything achieved by Blatchford, if the Defence of the Realm Act did not deter him from calling attention to it.
“So the silent, cruel, bloodless war of commerce goes on under this evil system of individualism and unrestrained competition, until the whole world is one armed camp, in which day by day twenty million men are being carefully trained to kill one another. . . . As long as our social and commercial life is organised on the principle of unrestrained competition there can be only one ending—and that is universal war, as all nations fight for the markets of the world. It has not yet come to that because till now there has always been some outlet of energy, some undiscovered land, some new country to be developed. But now all lands are discovered, most markets have been seized, and each nation of Christian Europe must wait in the silence of awful preparation, gathering strength by inventions, by alliances, by diplomacy, by increase of army and navy till, by some swift act of cunning it can strike the first blow which shall destroy its adversary. Socialism can alone avert this universal war.”
To those who claim that Socialism would destroy individuality this Clerical anti-Socialist replies most effectually, thus:
“For every one individual properly developed, thousands are crushed without a chance of developing their body, soul, or spirit. Thousands of the children of the poor are worse housed and fed than the dogs and horses of the rich. . . . . How can men say that individualism develops individuality when English towns are miracles of soul-destroy ing monotony ; thousands of acres of squalid slums, hundreds of miles of monotonous streets witnessing the fact that our present social system has killed the sense of the beautiful from the soul of our race, and turned out millions of machine-made men without any individuality at all.”
Touching on unemployment he is equally emphatic :
“This pitiful tragedy of unemployment is not a temporary accident. It is of the very essence of our system. It is to the advantage of employers that there should be a fair margin of “unemployed,” as this keeps wages down to the lowest possible point, and enables employers to count on plentiful recruits when they have to suppress a revolt or to expand work to meet a special emergency.”
In the pamphlet under review are many similar admissions, though often confused by religious vapourings ; we might, space permitting, quote more with some advantage, but it is imperative that errors should be exposed because of the mischievous results that follow their acceptance by any considerable number of the workers. One of these errors is rather uncommon, but perhaps deserves notice. He says “Political economists defined the economic man—that is the man with whom they had to deal—as a money-making animal. They carefully eliminated all his affections, ambitions, appetites, instincts, hopes and aspirations, except that of self, and then from this mere beast of selfishness they constructed this evil economic system.” The assumption here is, that economists are responsible for the Capitalist System, whereas a little thought will show that their influence on the methods or development of the system has been almost nil. Is Adam Smith to be held responsible for the system which he merely describes ? or Nasau Senior to be charged with the crimes of the cotton lords when he was only their tool ? One might as well say that Professor Ashley is responsible for the recent rise in prices, because he explained their cause, or that the S.P.G.B. has created selfishness because they correctly affirm that “Self interest dominates all human actions.”
Herbert Spencer, though more sociologist than economist, enlarging upon the ideas of Adam Smith, endeavours to show that the beautiful thing about capitalism is that every individual in seeking his own interest is bound to further the interest of the community. But in order to elucidate this doctrine he affects not to see the division of classes into capitalists and wage-slaves, assuming the equal freedom of all to enter the commercial world in the desire for private gain. The Rev. Bull, however, is under no such delusion ; he quite understands that the wage-worker is powerless to resist the tyranny of the capitalist, generally speaking. He says: “The bad employer does not mean to be a cmel man. He ie the creation of this competitive system. He does not really want to underpay and over-work his work-people-all he wants is money, more and more money, larger and larger dividends. He must have this or perish commercially.”—The mere beast of selfishness.
Apart from the naive suggestion that it is only the bad employer that must perish commercially unless he sweats his work-people, the Rev. gentleman exposes his own error, by revealing the motive that prompts the capitalist. It needs no economist to show the capitalist where his interest lies. Bat whether the system is the result of evolution—as Paul himself shows in another place—or is consciously built up in strict accordance with the plans of economists, only concerns us so far as it helps us to understand how the system came to be. The problem before the workers is how to replace the present system based on slavery by one based on co-operation and freedom, within the limits imposed by nature.
Paul’s answer to this problem is “to march under the banner of the Cross,” and the league’s method is “to cultivate by the regular use of prayer and sacraments the life of brotherhood” —notwithstanding the statement by himself that “the present system makes brotherhood impossible.” From such an impossiblist organisation one should expect to find a contradictory attitude on reforms—one is not disappointed.
After depicting the horrors of unemployment and poverty Paul says: “No palliatives, no mere social reforms, can remedy this. It is deep-rooted in wage-labour and capitalist system.” Yet one of the rules of the organisation reads : “The members are pledged to make themselves familiar with at least one branch of social reform.”
This contradictory attitude is typical of the B.S.P. and I.L.P, But the Rev. gentleman becomes if anything more ludicrous than they by a third contradiction. He says: “Revolutionary Socialism, in appealing to force and self interest, contains in itself the seed of its own destruction. For as soon as reform has satisfied the majority they will cease to be keenly socialistic.”
To sum up, capitalist economics like capitalist history is self-praise of the capitalist system, the eulogy of time-servers that prostitute their talents for a place in the sun. The workers, at any rate, can feel no pride in the victories and achievements of the ruling class, because their subjection has been the chief result. When they awake to this fact their antagonism to the ruling class will be real and deep. Class hatred is the natural outcome of the division of classes. The class that in its own interest endeavours to maintain a method of wealth distribution that no longer harmonises with the prevailing mode of production is at enmity with the rest of society—the working class. The workers cannot fight the system, their fight is with the class whose first principle is to maintain it.
When the history of to day comes to be written it will be a record of the vissicitudes of the working class in awaking to a consciousness of their slave position and establishing themselves in uncompromising hostility to their rulers. The class struggle must continue till the working class are victorious ; there can be no cessation, because there are no reforms possible of application that can stay the worsening of workiug-class conditions, or lying defenders that can permanently confuse the workers and hinder their enlightenment.