1920s >> 1926 >> no-261-may-1926

The Humanitarians. A criticism of our position

Comrades,
I always read the “Socialist Standard” with interest and profit,and if I am troubling you in writing, it is because the article ”Socialism and the Humanitarians” seemed to me to be unworthy and just a little bit mean. The general sentiment of the article, while admitting the cruelties perpetrated upon animals, appeared to censure any organised effort to improve their lot while OUR wrongs remained unredressed. This attitude is probably due largely to a Christian upbringing. It seems to me mean because for every ounce of effort that is expended on behalf of animals, a ton goes on man, and the latter the strongest of all—and then to begrudge that ounce ! Why, if man would only exert himself ever so little and rid himself of that habit of mind characteristic of inferiors on the doorstep, he could shake off his tyrants and exploiters very soon. Is it within the power of any animal to do the same? When I read instances of the miner ill-using the pit pony, the carter his horse, the fashionable lady and gentleman following the hounds, and the “scientist” probing in to the nerve machinery of a dog, I think “poor devils !” for I know they have no union and no appeal. It seems to me that it is not so much thousand pound cheques that are necessary to look after the poor workingman, but a determination to unload a little of his ignorance and take a different cargo on board. I imagine you would do the gentleman much more good by mixing up a few kicks with the tears, not spitefully administered, but educationally.
Advise occasionally, in your interesting articles, the heroes of Capitalism’s bloody quarrels that a little of his highly developed sense of justice and decency abroad might be of some service at home, that to be apathetic and indifferent amidst squalor and poverty for wives and children as well as himself, is something to be profoundly ashamed of, and that it is high time he took a hand himself in working out his own salvation. Dilute sympathy with a few bricks. Remind him that it is not lords and dukes, earls and admirals, that keep him down, but rather himself, and that the heredity and environment that explains him, and too often excuses him, does precisely the same for the other fellows. It is impossible for animals by their own efforts to escape or throw off the cruelty served out to them, so. that a helping hand from any quarter, and in much more generous measure, is worthy and commendable and necessary.
Yours​ fraternally,​
V. WILSON.​
Manchester.​

REPLY.

So because we put babies before baalambs, and men before mutton—we’re mean. The result, we are informed, of a Christian upbringing. And we thought we had got it out of our system. Which just shows you, doesn’t it?

No, friend. We like criticism, and plenty of it, but—read the article again. There is none who hates cruelty as we do. We said : “Surely we are not going to crab any attempt, however feeble, at abolishing avoidable cruelty ! Perish the thought. . . . But we do believe in first things first. We do insist on a sense of proportion.”

To amplify still further: it seems to us, shall we say—incongruous, for men who have so recently waded in human blood up to their knees, to discover springs of pity, for slaughtered sheep. It seems to us not altogether fitting that those who viewed the massacre of men, women and children for four and a half years with a certain amount of composure, should now turn their attention to the death agonies of the meat they eat. It may be mean, but we cannot help thinking the reference to pain-poisoned meat may have considerable weight with them. We need not spend much time on the question, but it all boils down to a sense of proportion. What about the cruelty of sealing, of whaling, of fur trapping, of plumage robbing, of even fishing? Many excellent people spend their lives and energies in fighting one or other particular little evil, that they, as it were, adopt. We don’t. We retain a sense of the shortness of our individual lives, and the magnitude of our common task. And we concentrate on the big issue—the slavery of our class. So when we see slave-owners preaching pity, and butchers decrying bloodshed—well, we are just ironical, that’s all. It may be mean, but we think generosity would be lost on them.

Ed. Com.

(Socialist Standard, May 1926)

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