1920s >> 1922 >> no-215-july-1922

The “Right” To Live

Upon the publication of a work explaining the natural development of the world, the author Pierre Laplace, the celebrated French mathematician, was asked by Napoleon the 1st why there was no word of God in his system. Laplace replied, “Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis.” And if we were asked why we had not mentioned God in our declaration of principles we should answer in a similar manner.

There was a time when the idea of a God who created, controlled and guided the universe passed practically unchallenged. The heaven and earth, the sun, moon, stars and everything including man and the most minute organism was supposed to have been conceived, fashioned and completed within the short period of six days. Whether overtime was worked we cannot say, but judging by the output no modern foreman would be likely to complain that it was not a fair week’s work for one person. Primitive man being ignorant of the operation of natural laws, and living in a community of a small and scattered kind, the victim of dangers seen and unseen, created his gods through fear and ignorance. How the gods of the savage have become modified under the pressure of a continuous social development, and have resulted in the idea of one all powerful God is foreign to our purpose here. Suffice it to say that the idea of a supernatural power has considerably influenced human thought throughout the ages.

But step by step the advance of science and industry has expelled this power from its celestial throne, and now-a-days it is almost a commonplace to assert that the universe is governed by ascertainable natural laws. The Socialist sees everywhere in nature a complex chain of cause and effect, a variety of natural happenings which occur in accordance with immutable laws, leaving no room for the existence or the operation of an external power. Thus, in making a study of social relationships, we know that the movements of man grappling with the forces of nature to sustain himself, no less than the forces which mould a planet, are governed by laws. The supernatural is ruled out here as elsewhere.

The life history of the human race from the simple untutored savage to the highly skilled civilized man, shows that man has depended entirely upon his own energy and nature given material to maintain his existence. It does not require a great amount of knowledge to see that if the mental and physical qualities of man fail him, no matter how much he may look to heaven for support, he ceases to exist.

Thus, if man is thrown back upon himself to obtain the wherewithal to live, the “God-given right to live” about which we hear so much from the priestly cult, cuts a sorry figure, and in various ages men have solicited the support of their gods or God in times of trial and trouble, implying that the final word as to the preservation of life rested with some power external. The Christian chants “Give us this day our daily bread,” and although his eyes be heavenward, his thoughts cannot be separated from a knowledge of the fact that he will have to get it for himself.

Apart from a consideration of other sides of the God-given right to live idea, one has only to examine present day society to see how the “right to live ” is respected. A few people monopolize the means of life, which enables them to live in luxury and affluence, while those who produce the wealth live in life long poverty, many of them dying of starvation amidst plenty. The “right to live” is here shown to be a sham and a mockery.

The right to die might be more appropriate.

Throughout all organic existence we observe the various forms of life struggling to adapt themselves to the conditions of existence for the purpose of preserving life.

The tiger tracks down its prey and devours it. The swallow devours the gnat. The ichneumon fly lays its eggs under the skin of the caterpillar where they are hatched by the warmth of the caterpillar’s blood, producing a brood of lavre which devours the caterpillar alive.

In human society, although there is a code of morals to obscure the parasitism prevalent, nevertheless, it is there just the same. The policeman with his baton; the soldier with his gun; the airman with the aerial bomb all bear witness to its existence. The “right to live” of the ruling class is no other than their power to live upon the backs of the subject class. In view of what has so far been said it may be argued that if the right to live really means that there is no right but might, then the Capitalist class are justified in holding the means of life in spite of the poverty and misery arising from their ownership. This is quite all right so long as those who starve will allow them to do so.

The Capitalists when they found the restrictions of feudalism a hindrance to their social advancement needed no other right than that of expediency, to aid them in their struggle for power, and the feudal lords did not forego their power without a struggle to retain it.

The Socialist does not direct his appeal for the establishment of Socialism to the Capitalists. He knows it would be worse than useless. No ruling class ever gave up its power of domination without being forced to do so. Make no mistake about it, when the master class are confronted with a serious attack upon the private property institution no abstract “right to live” will prevent them using all the might at their command to maintain their power. To those who think that the Capitalists may respect the rights of the workers to live as they want to, the slaughter of the communards in Paris in 1871 provides a conclusive answer.

The appeal of the Socialist is directed to the working class because this class has everything to gain by the acceptance of Socialist principles. At this stage the question arises as to the means to be employed against the might of the ruling class. While we are on this point we wish to refer to a recent interpretation of an article that appeared in the Socialist Standard some years ago. The writer of the article in question made clear what the present writer has intended to make clear, namely, that there being no God-given right to live, the workers must look to themselves if they desire a more comfortable existence.

The interpretation just referred to is on a passage in an article entitled “Might is Right,” which states : “We deserve nothing more than what we can get with our teeth and our claws.” In a recent controversy this was quoted as though we favoured the stupid tactics of the broken bottle and big stick variety. The passage will not bear this interpretation except to knaves or fools. Granted that we deserve nothing more than what we can get. The question then is: Since we assert that the workers must look to themselves to get out of Capitalist conditions, by what means can they do so? The solution of the problem lies in the conditions of the problem itself.

While it is true that the master class use their power to consolidate their domination of the working class, it is also true that this power has been handed to them by the latter. In other words at every election the workers have voted the Capitalists into power. It is as though the lamb delivered itself over to the lion. The workers must understand that they can use this political weapon in the interest of themselves. This weapon, together with the knowledge of their class subjection, is their “teeth and their claws.” They must study Socialism wherein they will learn the cause of their subjection, how they are subjected, and the means by which they can combine their forces as a class and use their might to ensure the right to live a comfortable and healthy life.

Robert Reynolds