The Consolations of Illusions. Balm for Materialist Bosoms

In those halcyon days, “before the war,” it was not uncommon for the criticism to be levelled at the materialistic philosophy of Socialism that it held out no hope for the bereaved. Are there not many of us who, in the critical stage of our development into revolutionists, met some old wiseacre who gravely informed us that when we, rejecting the ordinances and promises of God, were brought face to face with death, in the loss of a loved one, the foundations of our creed would slip from beneath our feet, leaving us nothing but black despair? Well ! How is it now, comrades, after four years of carnage in which comrades, brethren, and friends have fallen beneath the scythe of the dread reaper—dragged there by the lords of the harvest, our masters ? Do we recant under the burden of irreparable loss, or seek to ease our aching hearts by hugging to our breasts the wraith of hope? Or do we not rather fix our eyes more firmly on the real and only goal of our class, Socialism, the substance rather than the shadow of human life? And are we not determined to end the sooner the hellish system which, not content with our ceaseless labour, must also crush out our heart’s blood.

The priestly class is well aware of the value of sorrow and especially of the intense form of it associated with bereavement, as a support to their pretensions. The tribulations of “this world ” have always been their favourite text on which to base their claims respecting the next. They know that under the stress of intense emotion the logical faculties are not at their best, and they do not hesitate to use this moment as their best opportunity to apply the mental drug in which they trade. Those who lack scientific knowledge almost invariably succumb, but it is otherwise with the Socialist. Educated in the school of working-class experience, he is prepared to face facts, even if they threaten to break his heart. He knows of a courage, born of despair, indeed, so far as this cursed social order is concerned, but of hope for a new one which the lessons he has learned brings to light. For he has ceased to attach a transcendant importance to his own individual interests, as such, or to those of any one individual, and in the prospective triumph of his class (embryo of a new humanity) he is prepared to see even his own “death swallowed up in victory;” He recognises himself as a unit in the human mass, a cell in the social organism. Apart from the terrestrial life-process he has no interests at stake. For what are the facts ? What do we know of human personality and the possibility of its survival of physical dissolution ? From physiological and psychological investigation we know that acts of perception are dependent upon the sensory nerves; that acts of volition are likewise dependent upon the motor nerves ; and that the intermediate processes of reflection, which embrace memory, imagination, and all that we understand by mind, take place in the main nervous centre, the brain. Honest introspection reveals the fact that all our images and concepts are based on direct physical sensation on the one hand of the outside world, on the other of our own organic composition. The average individual does not pretend to know anything by direct “spiritual” experience of what happened before his material body was horn. He recognises the limits of his consciousness in that direction. On what ground does he postulate infinity in the other direction ?

No human element of consciousness demands anything but known material elements for its existence. On the other hand, the effects of commonly recognised physical states (such as drunkenness, exhaustion, etc.) on consciousness are inexplicable if the latter is independent of matter.

The various adherents of religious creeds, professional and amateur alike, all offer comfort to the bereaved in the shape of a “hope” of life beyond the grave—an abstraction in exchange for the concrete being we have lost; the spiritual in place of the material; the false for the real.

The extreme bibliolator proclaims “a sure and certain glorious resurrection.” He conveniently forgets that the coming of the day of glory was predicted by Christ to occur during the the life-time of some who heard his words (Vide Matt. 10th chap. 27-28 vs., and Luke 9th chap. vs. 27). Generations of faithful Christians who have periodically swallowed Christ’s mystic “body and blood” believing in its magic power over death, have rotted into unity with the soil which feeds a myriad new forms of life, and the time which the fervent scribes of the New Testament proclaimed so near at hand recedes ever further into the dim distance of the Church’s perspective, or is explained away altogether by its more modern and enlightened pundits.

Then we get the spiritualist who does not rely on resurrection at all, but advocates “direct action” in spiritual matters by the aid of professional mediums. By some curious oversight the disembodied spirit (whom one would imagine from Spiritualist principles to be free from mere material and human trammels) can only manifest himself to those he loves through through the agency of one who has acquired the special knack of doing it at so much a time. One’s heart may bleed with grief, but unless one can produce the dibs there are no “results.” No wonder seances are confined to leisured and moneyed circles.

Neither of these main forms of religion offer any solid reality on which to base our hope. Blind faith alone can accept the other world in principle, and only a credulous imagination can supply its details. In rejecting it the Socialist rejects something which has not a shred of evidence in its favour, and he is quite prepared to risk suffering in an imaginary hell hereafter as a reward for trying to get rid of the very real hell here and now, which certainly rivals the weird conceptions of the author of the Book of Revelation, in the quality of horror.

We neither fear nor love an almighty being who must accept responsibility for our present sufferings. What, then, can we hope for? Must capitalism and its misery endure for ever ? Are they the final product of human effort?

By no means ! In season and out of season we preach Socialism : the possession by a community of workers the world over, of the things needful for human existence. The end of production for profit ; the abolition of slave-jobs and subsistence wages ; the end of commercial rivalry and the struggle for political supremacy on the part of rival groups of bosses; the end of the wholesale slaughter of the workers by the machines they themselves produce ; the death of blinding superstition and the birth of rational hope ; the end of all things capitalistic and the beginning of a real society; the beginning of production for social use, of co-operation for mutual welfare, of universal brotherhood ; life, not death !

Show us, if you can, you idealistic praters a fairer dream than this. Conjure up, if you will, a vision to be “realised ” when we are dead and cold. We prefer to live now. If it is natural that we must toil, then we demand nature’s reward here, which is joy, not misery.

Fellow workers, what does all this welter of blood and agony mean to us ? Will it bring freedon or the continuance of slavery in a worse form than ever ? Do you seriously imagine that the profiteers will disgorge and that the chains of servitude will be more golden than before? And if not, what then ? Will you be content with the reward that the slaughtered in France have attained? Empty “Glory” and barren “Honour”!

Tear aside the mask of the “Prince of Peace” and you have grinning death’s head ! Listen while the bugler draws breath to sound again the call of “Duty!” and you can hear the money-bags chinking ! Illusions all ! It is for them you fight and toil and die. Is it worth while ?

“One moment in annihilations waste
One moment of the well of life to taste—
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend
Before we too into the dust descend !”

So sang old Omar ! And the centuries have not upset his wisdom. Our lives are ours to make them what we will once we rid ourselves of this loathsome bondage. If we sow can we not also reap ? The fruits of our toil – may they not be ours? And if so why this slaughter ? Why rush to death? Why be butchered to make a capitalist victory ? What can heaven hold that is half so sweet as tbe possibilities of this existence? Why forfeit Life? And the only answers of the priest and patriot, saint and soldier, are as “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.”

The hideousness of the system they support stands revealed as it has never done before. Ere this crisis in its history is passed it will be stripped of every rag of hypocrisy with which it seeks to hide its obscene nakedness. The irresistible logic of events coupled with Socialist propaganda will do the stripping. Weep we may for our murdered dead, but our tears shall not blind our eyes ! Heavy with grief our hearts may be, but not too heavy to rise in revolt again determined to see the last thrust home.

The master class may publish figures of the money they are spending on the carnage, but they are running up another bill which they can never pay save in dissolution. If primitive man avenged his clansmen shall not the working class declare a blood-quarrel with its tyrants for-this carnival of death ? This final crime of Capital can never be forgotten nor forgiven till Capital settles its last account in the day of Revolution ! Socialism is our only hope ! All else is illusion.


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