1920s >> 1920 >> no-193-september-1920

Love and Hunger (Turgenev)

It was a vision . . .

Two angels appeared to me . . . two genii.

I say angels, genii, because both, had no clothes on their naked bodies, and behind their shoulders rose long, powerful wings.

Both were youths. One was rather plump, with soft, smooth skin and dark curls. His eyes were brown and full, with thick eyelashes ; his look was sly, merry, and eager. His face was charming, bewitching, a little insolent, a little wicked. His full, soft, crimson lips were faintly quivering. The youth smiled as one possessing power — self-confidently and languidly ; a magnificent wreath of flowers rested lightly upon his shining tresses, almost touching his velvety eyebrows. A spotted leopard’s skin pinned up with a golden arrow, hung lightly from his curved shoulder to his rounded thigh. The feathers ot his wings were tinged with rose colour ; the ends of them were bright red, as though dipped in fresh-spilt scarlet blood. From time to time they quivered rapidly with a sweet, silvery sound, the sound of rain in spring.

The other was thin, and his skin yellowish. At every breath his ribs could be seen faintly heaving. His hair was fair, thin, and straight; his eyes big, round, pale grey . . . his glance uneasy and strangely bright. All his features were sharp; the little half- open mouth, with pointed fish-like teeth ; the pinched eagle nose, the projecting chin, covered with whitish down. The parched lips never once smiled.

It was a well-cut face, but terrible and pitiless ! (Though the face of the first, the beautiful youth, sweet and lovely as it was, showed no trace of pity either.) About the head of the second youth were twisted a few broken and empty ears of corn, entwined with faded grass-stalks. A coarse grey cloth girt his loins ; the wings behind, a dull, dark grey colour, moved slowly and menacingly.

The two youths seemed inseparable companions. Each of them leaned upon the other’s shoulder. The soft hand of the first lay like a cluster of grapes upon the bony neck of the second ; the slender wrist of the second, with its long, delicate fingers, coiled like a snake about the girlish bosom of the first.

And I heard a voice. This is what it said:

“Love and hunger stand before thee—twin brothers, the two foundation-stones of all things living.

“All that lives moves to get food, and feeds to bring forth young. “Love and Hunger—their aim is one; that life should cease not, the life of the individual and the life of others—the same universal life.”

IVAN TURGENEV.

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In the foregoing, Turgenev has, in his allegorical way, personified very strikingly the two forces to which can be traced the motive-power of all animal activities. The desire to live and the desire to propagate the species are common to all animals; but beyond this, the animal man, since he has developed along the lines which have set him apart from, and ahead of, the lower animals, has evolved further desires, to live as easily and safely as possible, and to be in such an economic position as will allow of his breeding and rearing offspring who shall develop a healthier physique and a higher intelligence than his own.

Let us examine shortly man’s place in nature and society looked at from this point of view. A society is defined by Professor Edward Jenks as “a group or mass of people, bound together by a certain common principle or object.” A political society, which is the particular type of society we are dealing with at present, the type of society, that is, in which the civilised peoples of the World are to-day grouped and organised, he defines as not being formed for any special or limited objects, but which has grown up, almost spontaneously, as part of the general history of mankind, and which is concerned with its general interests.

The last part of this definition must, however, be taken in a very limited sense. We shall see how far, and in what way, society—present-day capitalist society—is concerned with the general interests of the group of people of whom it is composed. While you have—as you now have —society divided into two classes, of which one is the dominant class and the other the class dominated, you must necessarily have a clash of interests ; in which case the advantage of the one section can only react to the disadvantage of the other. To-day, the members of the dominant or master class, by virtue of their possession of all the means of life, are able to maintain their position, as individuals and as a class, only by keeping down, and pressing ever harder upon, the class they dominate—the working or wage-slave class.

So you have a comparatively small number of people who are only able to satisfy their desire to live (as easily and as safely as possible) and their desire to breed and rear a progeny (healthier and more intelligent than themselves) by keeping the rest of society—i.e., the great majority of the people—in an enslaved, unhealthy, and mentally inefficient condition.

Hunger and love are quite as powerful in their effect upon the workers as they are upon the masters, but owing to the latter’s more intelligent conception of their class position, the one class is able easily and satisfactorily to obtain the necessaries and luxuries that make life for the individual, and the extension of that life in the form of the breeding and maintenance of offspring, worth the having; whereas all that the other class—the working class—can do is simply to lead a precarious existence, with little or no outlook for themselves or for the children whom the forces of nature compel them to bring into the world. Hence the paradox that instead of the life of the individual and the maintenance of the race being the concern of society as a whole, one section is fighting another section to the death because only by so doing can it satisfy the insistent demands that the forces of hunger and love make upon the units that compose that particular section.

To the Socialist, with his knowledge of the fundamental forces of nature and their relation to the individual and to society, it seems that such a paradoxical and unnatural condition of things must inevitably end in disaster unless some way can be found by which the equilibrium between man and nature can be satisfactorily adjusted. The contention of the Socialist is that the remedy is to be found in the abolition of the master or capitalist class. It is indisputable that a certain quantity of food, clothing, and shelter is necessary to human existence; without such food, clothing, and shelter mankind would vanish from the face of the globe ; but as all the necessaries of life are the product of human energy applied to nature’s resources, so it follows that actually the only necessary people in society are the people who do the work of the world—that is, the members of the working class.

The master class might very well go out of existence and yet all that is requisite for the maintenance of life still be produced. Food would still be grown and manufactured, clothing still be made, houses still be built, even though such a calamity (!) happened as the extinction of the members of the capitalist class, who, while themselves performing no useful function in society, yet manage to secure for themselves and their dependents the major portion of the wealth produced by the men and women of the working class, without whose efforts mankind would soon pass into oblivion.

The abolition of the capitalist class can only be accomplished by the strenuous efforts of a class-conscious working class. It is obviously futile to expect the capitalist class to abolish itself. Therefore it is that the Socialist Party, by oral and written propaganda, is striving to implant in the minds of the workers the conciousness of their real position in the society in which they live. Not until they have been brought to an appreciation of their position as wage-slaves and a further appreciation of the overwhelming power they possess as a political force, will it be possible for them—by organising with us, in a class-conscious political party—to wrest from their masters the power which will enable them, not only to win their freedom from class-domination, but also enable
them, by harmonising their economic position with their desire or will to live and to maintain and develop the species, to secure for themselves and their children initial entrance to the vast and unexplored wonderland of life, only fleeting glimpses of which are at present vouchsafed to them when they are perhaps able to contemplate nature in its pristine grandeur ; to watch the demonstrations of a great scientist; or to study the works of a great imaginative and creative artist.

F. J. WEBB

(Socialist Standard, September 1920)

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