1920s >> 1923 >> no-221-january-1923

Wells at the World’s End

It has become the fashion with those who cannot controvert Marx, to do the next worst thing—belittle him or patronise him. Usually, the most obvious fact that emerges is that the critic has not even a nodding acquaintance with his subject. One of the nightmares that afflict prospective Labour candidates is the probable “voice” from their audience testing their knowledge of Marx. As they will probably have heard that Marx took rather an important part in the founding of scientific socialism, it is clear that some “mugging up” of the subject will be handy, if not essential. Take H. G. Wells, for instance, the prospective Labour candidate for the University of London. I have spent such delightful hours with his Mr. Polly, young Ponderevo, Kipps, and other creations of his earlier fertile fancy, that it seems almost ungrateful to do it, but really  . . .

According to the Telegraph, October 20th, his speech to his prospective constituents included these two sentences:

  “In Marx’s time there was in Germany, a very defined barrier between the aristocratic land-owning class and the traders and the labourers. Marx failed to realise that this was a passing state of affairs which would break down in time.”

That is what Wells said. This is what Marx said 70 years ago. Writing on December 1st, 1852, to the New York Tribune, he speaks of the numerous secret societies which sprang up after the German Revolution of 1848.

   “There were some other Societies which were formed with a wider and more elevated purpose, which know that the upsetting of an existing Government was but a passing stage in the great impending struggle, and which intended to keep together and to prepare the party, whose nucleus they formed, for the last decisive combat which must, one day or another, crush forever in Europe the domination, not of mere ‘tyrants,’ ‘despots’ and ‘usurpers,’ but of a power far superior, and more formidable than theirs : that of capital over labour.
“The organisation of the advanced Communist Party in Germany was of this kind. . . . History showed to the Communist Party how, after the landed aristocracy of the Middle Ages, the monied power of the first capitalists arose and seized the reins of Government; how the social influence and political rule of this financial section of capitalists was superseded by the rising strength . . .  of the manufacturing capitalists, and how at the present moment two more classes claim their turn of domination, the petty trading class and the industrial working class.”

And then Wells tells an audience that “Marx failed to realise this was a passing state of affairs which would break down in time.” True, it was only a University audience, comprising the sons of that noble “middle class” who served us so well during the recent international pogrom. Few would have heard of, and less would have read, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, or the Communist Manifesto. Here are a few scattered excerpts from the latter. It was written in German in 1847, as the platform of the “Communist League,” first exclusively German, later international. (Italics mine.)

   “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other : Bourgeoisie and Proletariat ” (page 13, Kerr’s edition).
” . . . the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway ” (page 15).
“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal patriarchal, idyllic relations ” (page 16).
“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production . . .  and with them the whole relations of society ” (page 17).
“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns ” (page 19).

After briefly detailing the change from feudal to bourgeois society, he says, “ A similar movement is going on before our eyes ” (page 21).

    “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie to-day, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry ” (page 29).

And so on. Space precludes quoting more. But is it necessary? Had not Wells better read Marx?


W. T. Hopley