Correspondence: Wants to know what to do


Sir,—”F.F.” in the August SOCIALIST STANDARD puts an interesting question to Socialists, and then gives his only “solution.” The question refers to the mean and slavish mind of the worker, how he does not think for himself on vital questions, and how his environment weakens and degrades his mind, the question being: “How to induce the toiler to think for himself.” I suppose the question should be: “How to get the worker to think.”
In “F.F.’s” “solution” he alleges lack of real knowledge and apathy on the part of the worker. To counteract or solve this he looks to “a Socialist party alive to its task,” to a clear and easily understood Socialist position, to the avoidance of confusion and to the clearly defined and precisely stated object of this Socialist party.
This is rather well put, and if it were added that this Socialist party should be able to tell the worker what to do, one would be able to call it a “solution” of some merit. But I know of no such party, and Socialism is a long way off without it and withall needs it very badly.
Put all the “programmes” extant before our eyes, let alone before the apathetic worker, and there is nothing “clearly defined,” “precise and easily understood,” among any of them. Put all the programmes condemned by the S.P.G.B. aside and consider its own alone, and it is in the category of the others. I turn to the last page of the “S.S.,” and I find platitudes, abstractions, ambiguities, and no way out of slavery, nothing to be done to get out of it excepting a faithful awaiting for something to turn up.
For instance, I read that class antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class … by the conversion into the common property of society (whatever that means) of the means of production and distribution and their democratic control by the whole people. I further read about the conquest of the powers of government and its usage as agent of emancipation and as an overthrower of privilege, and about the working class mustering under the banner of the S.P.G.B. for the speedy termination of poverty, privilege, and slavery. These are all fine-sounding phrases that signify nothing concrete, definite, plain, and well understood. Underneath them lies either a self-confessed inability to give clear expression of what it is driving at, or a confession that beyond the terms “emancipation,” “common property of society,” “conversion,” etc., no other explanation is thought out or even dreamed of. As for “government” being the agent, democratic or otherwise, of emancipation and a kind of miraculous terminator of poverty by mustering under any body’s banner is too thin to deceive.
What does it all mean ? What is it to any live Socialist to for ever enunciate, iterate, and reiterate terms and phrases that have no backing of concrete acts which in themselves should constitute the very revolution ? Will any working man be drawn by them? Can Socialism under the dead weight of these abstractions be anything more to a Socialist than Heavenly Bliss is to a Salvation Army lass? It can be less, for she believes she has her consummation when the bell of her demise tolls one !
A little introspection is good for the soul. [So stout a champion of the definite and concrete might have been a little more clear with regard to his last term.—Eds. “S.S.”] I trust this letter will lead to a much-needed stocktaking.
Yours fraternally,


Mr. Rennolls is not to be complimented on the ability he has acquired of being able to read without comprehending what he reads. He says the question I put is “How to induce the toiler to think for himself ?” And he further “supposes” the question should be, “How to get the worker to think ?” If, however, he turns to the article in question he will find that both his guesses are wrong. The actual question, or, rather, problem is put in a single continuous sentence : “How to induce the toiler to think for himself on the all-important question, ‘Socialism” versus Capitalism.’ ” And even if Mr. Rennolls, either unwittingly or to suit his argument, is prepared to cut a sentence in two and leave out what is necessary to make sense of it, he must, in common fairness, admit that the worker, before he can think intelligibly on this subject, must rouse himself, or be roused, from his apathy, and acquire some knowledge of the subject. The mere statement, “To get the worker to think,” is nonsense unless we get him to think about something totally different to what engages his mind at the present. For, as was pointed out, though Mr. Rennolls failed to read and comprehend, every worker thinks, but his thoughts are mainly about work, how it should be done, or “how to dodge it,” as the case may be. Anything else he thinks, politically or spiritually, is manufactured for him by capitalist agents. Even on the question of Socialism itself an army of agents is engaged to misrepresent it to him and prevent him from obtaining clear and rational ideas on the subject.

Having failed to read or quote correctly, Mr. Rennoll’s second point does not arise ; because when the worker “thinks for himself on the all-important question, ‘Socialism versus Capitalism,’ “ “what to do” is included, as a more careful reading of the “S.S.” will prove to our critic.

But Mr. Rennolls, besides having a mote in his eye that—conveniently—blots out phrases and whole paragraphs when he reads as a critic, is possessed of a deplorable form of second sight ; a creative faculty that “finds”—not on the printed page before him, but somewhere in the associated ideas of his own mind—just the very phrase or idea that he is in need of in his capacity of critic. I pass over his discovery of “platitudes, abstractions, and ambiguities,” because he does not define what he means by them. But when he says that somewhere in our declaration of principles he finds the expression, advice, or even the insinuation, that there is “nothing to be done to get out of it, excepting a faithful awaiting for something to turn up,” I pity him, not because he is blind, but because his sight is abnormal and his mind excessively imaginative.

But Mr. Rennolls’ slipshod methods do not end here ; as he reads, so he quotes. Always, there is either something left out or added, something twisted or inverted, that alters the sense. As anyone can see by comparing his quotations with the Declaration of Principles, which, in itself, is the essence of the working-class position. Every paragraph and sentence is pregnant with axiomatic and scientific truth. If it errs at all, it is on the side of simplicity and clarity, which, of course, would be right for the average worker, but would constitute a stumbling-block for Mr. Rennolls and the Anarchists and Industrial Unionists whose phrases he has adopted. Simplicity is not for them: they delight in being recondite, notwithstanding their inability to translate their ideas and phrases into language intelligible to the man in the street—that is, of course, crediting them with the capacity to understand them themselves.

For instance, we are told that the S.P.G.B. “enunciate, iterate, and reiterate terms and phrases that have no backing of concrete acts which in themselves should constitute the very revolution.” On the nature of these “concrete acts” Mr. Rennolls is silent. Why ? Is he ashamed of the “direct action” piffle so often exposed in these columns ? He might well be so when placed in comparison with the policy of the S.P.G.B.

Beside the Object and Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Party, the Policies and programmes of every political party and economic organisation are mere shuffling and wasted energy, because they leave intact political control by the ruling class. Anarchists and Syndicalists may prate of Direct Action and Freedom, but they, and the workers with them, will remain nonentities in the working-class struggle for emancipation until they realise their slavery, recognise the means by which they are enslaved and take the necessary steps to control the forces that, to-day, control them. The source of power is the political machine ; until the workers have control of that they are powerless to change their status or conditions ; therefore we urge them to understand and organise for control of the political machine, that the power to transform society may be theirs, in spite of capitalist opposition. Where is another party that urges this obvious course—let Mr. Reynolls answer—we stand alone, and by that token are the only Socialist party.

F. F.

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