1920s >> 1921 >> no-200-april-1921

What The World Wants. A Vapourer Criticised

On reading in any newspaper the editorial comments appertaining to what is known as a “question of the hour,” one is continually and increasingly aware of the obliqueness of mental vision, or the conscious hypocrisy (or often a combination of both), shown by the writer of such commentary. If there is any possibility of the facts of the case being distorted or the generalisations deduced from such facts being drawn exactly the reverse of their sequential logic, one may reckon with confidence on the possibility becoming a certainty.

What a Leader Writer Wants.
The main qualifications for success as a writer of editorials seem to be a blindness to the truth, a vagueness of expression, and a fear of facing the facts of life and the obvious and inevitable deductions any intellectually honest man would draw therefrom.

The writer of a recent leader in the “Daily News” under the heading “What the World Wants,” gives a very fair example of the truth of the above statement. To start with, the title he uses, “What the World Wants,” is in itself vague and misleading. He seemingly uses the word “world” as embodying the whole of the individuals existing in the world, and takes it for granted that the needs and desires of every individual must be similar to those of every other. He presumably does not and cannot understand that the desires of one portion of the populace may—owing to the basis on which our present social structure is built— very well be strongly objectionable to some other portion.

What Parson Wants.
He quotes and agrees with the President of the National Free Church Council, whose opinion is that “the most obvious need of the day is a renaissance of personal morality.” The supposition is that what is here meant is personal sexual morality. (By the way, why is it that religious people are always so obsessed with the idea of sex ?) Undoubtedly greater sex continence would be an excellent thing, both for the individual and for the race. But supposing, for a moment, that the President had his way and all the vicious people became virtuous, what does he propose to do with the monstrous army of women who now earn their living by pandering to the vicious desires that run rampant in the modern social system, and who would then be thrown out of employment ?

What our author DOESN’T Want.
Here is a question that the editorial writer might very well have attempted to answer; but as that would have necessitated a scrutiny into the fundamentals of capitalist society, it is perhaps just as well for his peace of mind and the retention of his position as a wage-worker, that he elects to pass over what is, after all, a difficulty impossible of solution whilst society remains on its present basis.

What WE Don’t Want.
After writing some meaningless rubbish about the world needing “a renaissance of personal religion, using the word in its broadest and oldest sense,” and pointing out very truly that “to the horrified eyes of many very honest men and women the great war and ‘the little peace’ which has followed it has [sic] revealed a generation as cruel, as unscrupulous, as frivolously selfish and wonton as any that preceded it,” the writer goes on to deplore the fact that the virtues and vices of the man of to-day tend more and more to be mechanical products, the conventions of the class in which he lives. “Man is becoming morally standardised to a degree never before approached.”

We congratulate him on his realisation of the truth of the Socialists’ contention that the material conditions prevailing in any given society determine not only the economic position of the men and women comprising such society, but also their moral and conventional outlook; indeed, it may be said that their whole mentality is so determined. We are afraid, however, that our congratulations will not be accepted with the grace they deserve. The writer of the editorial, being of the usual type of journalist, that is, timid, conservative, and unintelligent, is frightened at his discovery, and the remainder of his article is an endeavour to convince himself and his readers that the theory of historic materialism must, somewhere or other, contain a flaw, its acceptance implying a reversal of the laws of nature ; that only by the workings of what he calls “personal virtue,” and “individual effort,” and “individual conscience” can the world be saved.

The Socialist knows that man is, always has been, and always will be, the creature of circumstances. To-day, as heretofore, he is the outcome of the social system in which he lives. He must conform to the capitalist morality and conventions. The laws under which he lives, the ethics and religion which he learns in childhood, the rules and tastes which govern his conduct and which he acquires in the same way and at the same time as he acquires what is miscalled his “education,” are all themselves offshoots of the tree of capitalism.

They force his mentality into a groove useful and necessary for the maintenance and development of capitalism. Mentally and physically, capitalism holds a man fast in its iron embrace so long as he is born and dwells within its precincts. The writer says “The system is made for man and not man for the system.” True, man is not made for the system, but neither is the system made for man, Man is born—without volition on his part—into the system, and its workings and ramifications determine his outlook on life and his mental and physical development. He may indeed react against his environment (he may be a Socialist), but even then his efforts are infinitesimal compared with the mighty social forces which encompass him on all sides. He may perhaps slightly accelerate the development of the system, may hasten to some extent the dissolution of what he has come to consider an inherently rotten condition of society, but, in the main, he will be compelled to watch and wait until the system works itself out. Capitalism, like any other organism, has had its birth, has developed and matured to the full extent of its powers, and to-day we are witnessing the gradual decay and disintegration of what has been, in some respects, the greatest, and in other respects the most brutal and degrading, social system ever known.

Although we can see on every hand signs and portents of the ultimate downfall and dissolution of capitalism, yet the intelligent man—that is, the man who is able to appreciate the facts and conditions of life in their right proportion relative to his status as an individual amongst other social units—will certainly not be content to sit with folded hands watching the wheels of capitalism run on to their destined end. Inactivity is the forerunner of stagnation and atrophism ; one’s mental faculties must find some outlet of expression, otherwise they quickly become effete and cease to function. By organised collective effort much can be done to accelerate the forces of disintegration working in the midst of capitalism; and further, the power behind such collective effort will gather strength in a ratio proportionate to the growth of the organisation.

Moreover, it must be remembered, the organisation can, by means of written and oral propaganda, raise the mentality of its members and the outside general public to a plane sufficiently high to enable them, when the change from the present order of things to the forthcoming order ensues, to seize and take charge of the institutions then obtaining, and use, divert, and improve them for the benefit of society as a whole.

To the ordinary non-Socialist member of the working class, the present outlook is, without question, black and threatening. To such a one existence must appear very similar to that of a rat caught in a trap, running round and round and turning this way and that, in wild and abortive efforts to find a means of egress from captivity to freedom. Only when he hears and accepts the lessons taught by the Socialist philosophy, when, for example, he realises that organic society—like any other organism—is doomed by its governing laws eventually to pass from its present form onward to a different and, as we believe, a vastly superior and higher form, will a gleam of hope appear on the dark horizon of his fears and disappointments. Nay, more, to the man who understands his class position, who is able to conceive the possibility of the emergence of his class from wage-slavery into the freedom of Socialism, the gleam of hope will glow ever brighter as the erstwhile problems and puzzles of his economic and political position are found quite easily solvable ; until, standing on the high peak of Socialist philosophy and viewing the whole intricate workings of capitalism spread like a map beneath him, he will be able, by the power of his imaginative reasoning, to catch glimpses of the promised land of Socialism, whose actuality is not yet too bright for the purblind, still chain-bound victim of present-day conditions altogether to visualise.

What does the world want ? What common factor can be found whereby the people of the world shall benefit ? The Socialist, looking at all phenomena in the light of his Socialistic knowledge, sees that until the present system of private property ends, the majority of the people—the working class, that is—will remain in their present condition of penury, sordidness, and degradation, dependent upon another class for their very existence.

The capitalists themselves, although they would probably scoff at the idea, would actually be far higher under Socialism (where, of course, they will have ceased to be capitalists) than they can ever hope to be while capitalism lasts. When there is neither a class to exploit nor a class to be exploited, all men then being on an economic equality, it would be possible for everyone—the former capitalists included—to live sane, healthy, and joyous lives. To-day, the workers are born, they suffer, they die— such is an epitome of working-class life; while, on the other hand, the capitalists live amid a whirl of inane and unsatisfying pleasures, or in a state of brutal rapacity.

But we can leave the case of the capitalists on one side. It is our own class—the working class—to which we appeal for help in our task of making Socialists. We ask for their co-operation so that when capitalism falls, out of the wreck the working class will rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of an outworn and unregretted order, into a new world of freedom and happiness.

Looking back, we seem to have travelled a long way from the editorial in the “Daily News” to the words just written. How far have we travelled, is it asked ? As far as the distance dividing the “Daily News” from the Socialist Standard and the writer of a capitalist editorial from a Socialist writer.

F. J. Webb.