1920s >> 1921 >> no-206-october-1921

A Sentimentalist in the Antipodes

The Marxist has many kinds of critics. Some endeavour to refute his “statement of facts,” others admit the facts, but quarrel with the Marxists’ generalisations therefrom. A third variety centre their attack upon what they are pleased to call the Marxists’ “dogmatic, intolerant, and narrow” attitude of mind. Frequently these anti-Marxists pay lip-service to the Marxian theories of society, and call themselves “Socialists.” Such an individual is M. Sawtell, who contributes an article— “Greater than Marx”—to the “Socialist” (Australia, 17/6/]21).


“Although Marx and the Marxists are right in much of their economic and historical data,” he tells us, “they are generally wrong in their philosophy and attitude.” As he gives no evidence in the article before us to show that the Marxian philosophy is unsound, we can waive a discussion on this point and deal with his criticism of the Marxists’ “attitude.” His attack, however, is vague and confused. He makes no definite and concrete accusations against the Marxists, but contents himself with throwing out insinuations and making rhetorical assertions.


He says, “ . . . we must leave this intellectual parasitism of sucking other men’s minds by merely memorising their writings.” “It is fatal to the scholar and the Socialist to be continually memorising other men’s ideas. Nothing vitiates a movement so much as this slavish acceptance of intellectual authority or repressed on being asked, ‘Dare we to refute Marx?’ ” “Let us be ourselves.” “Let us be greater than Marx.”


We have not yet met the Marxist who has “memorised” the writings of Marx, but we would very much like to. One may exist, of course, but even so it is folly to take that individual as typical of Marxists in general, for they, poor fellows, have neither the capacity, nor the time, nor the desire to perform such a remarkable mental feat.


As for memorising Marx’s ideas (if by this is meant his main principles and theories), it is difficult to see how a person can understand theories at all, let alone accept or reject them, without committing them to memory. Memory is one of the most important faculties of the mind, without which all reasoning and intelligent action becomes impossible. Of course, anyone can see that, were it possible for anyone to be “continually memorising,” it would be “fatal” in a very literal sense, whether they were “scholar,” “Socialist,” or even ordinary human being. Total lack of sleep is a very unhealthy thing.


As a matter of fact, the Socialist memorises the main principles of Marxism (and, for that matter, Manchesterism and Toryism) during the process of understanding them. He keeps vivid and renders more detailed these “memories” by reading, discussion, and observation, and uses them as a means of further understanding and as a guide to thought and action.


Some Marxists, of course, may, and do, exaggerate the personal importance of Marx as an authority owing to their admiration for his genius—they are not perfect, they are human beings, not automatic logic machines—but it is quite untrue to suggest that they as a body “slavishly” accept his intellectual authority.


Marx and Engels made wrong judgments, like other people. In 1848 and even later they under-estimated very considerably the longevity of Capitalism. Engels, especially in his later years, had an exaggerated idea of the strength and soundness of the Second International, and particularly of the German S.D.P.


Mr. Sawtell has no use for slavish Marxists, intellectual parasites, and continual memorisers. He tells us in the most definite terms the type of individuals of which a movement ought to consist. “The greatest and most useful people are not those who strive and struggle, or who waste time and energy denouncing those who do not agree with them; but rather those who serenely and calmly cast themselves upon the great unseen laws of Nature, for peace and power.” What these wonderful people who neither strive nor struggle nor propagate their opinions, but merely cast themselves (etc., etc.), are “most useful” for, he does not tell us, nor does he go into any detail about the “great unseen” laws upon which the “casting” is performed, so that criticism of this remarkable passage is somewhat difficult.


More definitely he tells us that “any self-reliant individual is worth a whole movement of imitators.” It seems to us rather difficult to reconcile the “self-reliants” with the “anti-strife, serene-casters,” but we’ll let that pass.


All men are “self-reliant”; all men are “imitators.” There is no antagonism. There are extreme types, of course, but in no case is one faculty developed to the exclusion of the other. As a matter of fact, it is because man is imitative that he can become self-reliant. Imitation, as an elementary acquaintance with social psychology would show, is one of the fundamental bases of human society. All of which shows the un-wisdom of taking copybook headings as axioms from which to theorise.


Part of Mr. Sawtell’s antipathy to Marxians apparently arises out of his geographical situation, for he tells us: “We have every hope that Australia will be a cradle of the new civilisation. There is no need for us to slavishly follow the examples of the old world.” “Let us, in a new land, inspire a new attitude; let us be creators, not imitators. . . .”


As neither the land, nor the people, nor the form of Society, nor its traditions are NEW, Mr. Sawtell’s sentimental appeal has little groundwork in facts. Which shows the foolishness of building a theoretical edifice (or even a one column article) upon idiotic catch phrases.


R. W. Housley