Argument by interrogation

The Bishop of London, writing in “Reynolds’s Newspaper” of March 18th last, asks the question : “Can there be a real brotherhood between the representatives o£ Capital and Labour ?” He says : “The answer at first sight is ‘Why not?’ ” The answer to his first question is a second question which does not answer the first, and remains itself unanswered.

The bishop tells us a number of things about this class struggle, deplores some, and expresses the hope that better relations will exist at the termination of the war. But never once does he make the attempt to show either the possibility of better relations between the working class and the capitalist class or why better relations are not possible. He says :

“For the last fifty years Capital and Labour have been incessantly at war, and in some industries suspicion and hatred have grown to such a pitch that many despair of ever seeing a better state of things. “

Instead of tackling the questions without fear or predudice, the eminent priest continues to ask further questions—and leaves them all unanswered. “Why,” he pleads,

“should not an amicable agreement be possible as to the share which each is to have in industry ?”

and again—

“Sirs, you are brothers ; why do ye wrong one another ?”

This Church dignitary, having obtained his share of the fruits of working-class industry, imagines that he is free of the sordid commercial struggle for markets, or the class war, which, growing in bitterness and magnitude, shocks and pains his sensitive nature. He aspires to the position of arbitrator between the warring classes, but being in the pay of the ruling class, his aspiration is impertinent and fraudulent.

As a priest the bishop is charged lay the ruling class with the duty of “ministering to the spiritual needs of the people,” i.e., persuading them to ignore the material needs of this life and look to the ghostly future, or a supposed spiritual side of this mundane and even sordid social existence. Thus we are told that—

“The only worthy outcome of the struggle and sacrifice of to-day is a new country, a new Church, a new Empire, a new world. A new country in which Capital and Labour are on friendly terms, in which every man and every woman has his or her chance —every dog his day—and in which there should be a living wage and decent houses for all. But this can only be produced by a new spirit.”

Then follows another question, which, like the rest, remains unanswered : “Is this new spirit possible ?”

So many new things are predicted that some sort of change seems inevitable ; a new world, for instance would be a universal change. But as a new spirit must precede and be the actual cause of these material changes, and as this new spirit can only be the outcome of previous material conditions, his lordship finds it necessary to demonstrate these and show their connection with all the new things to be, including a day for every dog, a living wage and decent houses for all—himself included, eh?

It is one of the surest signs of the growing intelligence of the working class that even a bishop, when addressing them on subjects connected with their conditions, is compelled to observe the rules of logic and supply a material basis for all his arguments. Thus he argues that the “new spirit” is possible because the material basis is being laid in the trenches. He still makes no definite statements, however he seems quite content to go on asking questions as though afraid of committing himself. He says:

“To-day there seems already a new spirit of bro¬therhood abroad in the trenches. Is it too much to hope that this spirit will last beyond the war ? . . Cannot this trust and confidence follow after the war ? . . . They were ready to die for a common cause; why should they not be ready to live for a common cause in the same spirit ?”

So the ecclesiastical string of economic interrogations runs on. Every plaintive query is a repetition of the same idea. Every statement is a lament, every question a dismal prayer for industrial peace—the peace that passeth all understanding—as, indeed, such a peace would be.

But while perceiving with pleasure the bishop’s necessity—when discussing industrial questions—to argue from a material basis, one cannot hut deplore his inability to refrain from distorting the truth, a practice so common to his trade. Nowhere can the working class and the capitalist class have a common object. Their interests are in sharper antagonism than any national or sectional divisions. Their hostility is rooted in the system. National quarrels cannot stifle the workers into a blissful unconsciousness of their poverty and wretchedness. The promises of social reformers and fraudulent labour leaders no longer impede, with their former success, the growth of working-class indignation and knowledge. Industrial development brings intensified industrial war. Cheaper production breeds a world-struggle for markets, universal anarchy, and the separation of the two classes in society into opposing camps, with full knowledge on both sides of the real and fundamental antagonism of interests that has always been a feature of the capitalist system, though more or less successfully veiled by issues consciously or unconsciously introduced by the capitalist class and its agents.

The bishop, failing to perceive the inevitability of the class struggle, can only deplore it and, in his official capacity, pray to both sides and to God to remove it, and then prattle about the details of the system under which it appears. His discourse, if not his mind, is confined and restricted to the narrow capitalist philosophy that measures everything by its equivalent in gold, and affects to scorn every scientific generalisation or abstract truth that exists independently of commercialism, or that does not serve it.

He does not deny that the Church has failed in courage on the question of Capital and Labour, but he pleads that—

“the Church seldom learns the true facts, and again the Church cannot know in any particular dispute which side is to blame. … It would be equally wrong to denounce all employers as bloodsuckers and tyrants as to hold up trade unions as instruments of the devil.”

Accepting the system wherein a small class owns all the means of wealth production and the rest are wage-slaves to them, as constant and durable and not to be questioned, our reverend piffler pretends to adjudicate. He aspires to “sit on the fence” in imitation of, his heavenly father. But if he knows nothing else he knows perfectly well that to “denounce all employers as bloodsuckers and tyrants,” or even to assert the truth and describe them as exploiters, would be to renounce his princely income and all the other advantages of his position.

It is to the interest of the working class that they should realise the necessity of abolishing class ownership of the means of life, and establishing a system where those means and instruments should be owned in common. The Bishop of London fails to see this necessity because he is not of the working class. Though possibly a transfer might not open his eyes, it would doubtless make him less complacent. In the bishop’s opinion there are good capitalists and bad capitalists, and good workers and bad workers. The good capitalists predominate over the bad ones, who no doubt are few tween. But of the workers the less said the better : we shall best understand his opinion of them from a few more extracts.

First, however, let us see what our Christian big-bug proposes as ameliorative measures to deal with poverty. He can see the necessity for two only.

“(1) No industry should be carried on which cannot pay a living wage to the labourers, according to the standard of living at the time. Industries which can only be carried on by sweating must be barred out of the country.
(2) The conditions of labour shall be the best possible. No care or expense must be spared to see that every security for life and limb is taken.
Having secured a fair wage and sound and healthy conditions, it is an equally Christian principle that the work shall be given in full and fair measure for the wage received.”

His first suggestion is an enlightening commentary on the rapidity of capitalist development. It is scarcely a century ago that a justice of peace had the power—and used it—to compel workers to accept “a living wage under the standard.” To-day the boot is on the other foot, and social reformers of all kinds endeavour to bring moral pressure to bear on the capitalist to compel him to pay at least a living wage.

Among other things it would be interesting to know what constitutes the standard of living at any given time, and why the workers, who produce all wealth, should be content with that standard—should not ask for more, or, as we advise and urge them, organise to retain the whole of the wealth produced, and arrange for its distribution according to their needs.

The surest way to prevent the workers from taking this line woultL be to carry out the bishop’s suggestions if that were possible. Work for all under the best possible conditions is the plea of many a social softy ; but the man, woman, or superman is not yet born capable of making it practicable. So long as the means of wealth production are class-owned, labour-power must remain a commodity, to be bought, in the main, at its cost of production, and subject to all the fluctuations of supply and demand. The increase of unemployment in normal times exerts a depressing influence on these fluctuations, preventing upward movements in wages except among small groups of workers here and there. So true is this, and so patent, that it has become a common complaint among the workers that their standard of living is constantly falling.

The worthy bishop, having suggested these improvements, sees no reason why they should not be introduced ; consequently he proceeds to lecture the worker on his duty.

From this we see on which side of the scales Christianity is lumped. All that the workers should aspire to and struggle for, according to Christian principles, is a fair wage and sound and healthy conditions. Christianity sees no degradation in wage-slavery, no crime in the wholesale robbery of the working class. The avowed object of the capitalist class to intensify exploitation by increasing the efficiency of the workers and by abolishing all rules and regulations for restricting output is supported by the Church. Already the capitalist class take two-thirds of the total wealth produced—by the working class alone. For eight months in every year the working class toil to support an idle clairs in affluence and luxury. The Bishop of London not only thinks they should continue to do so, but that they should increase their efforts.

Let the workers reply to him by using their intelligence and judgment that they may obtain a true perspective of their class position, when they will at once perceive the necessity for organising as a political party, in order to take under their own control the means of production, to be operated in their own interest. This is the only effective answer to the capitalist exploiter and the religious parasite, whether they profess to palliate exploitation or intensify it.

F. F.

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