1920s >> 1927 >> no-273-may-1927

Materialism v. Spiritism


Dear Comrade,
It is only the great importance of the subject under discussion that induces me to continue a controversy in which my opponent, conscious of the weakness of his case, stoops to personal abuse. I will leave it to your readers to judge which of us, your reviewer or myself, has been guilty of “evasions, assumptions and misrepresentations.”

The Society for Psychical Research was NOT “founded by Spiritists,” and it has never hesitated to expose fraudulent mediumship when it met with it. If J. Fitzgerald were up-to-date in his knowledge of its methods, he would know that nowadays mediums never dictate the conditions of the séances arranged by the Society. It is simply laughable to read my opponent’s description of its publications as “chatter, drivel, and ramblings,” when we know that the Society number amongst its members scientists of the standing of Madame Curie, Dr. Hans Driesch and Professor Julian Huxley. So much for the first and second points raised by your reviewer.

I now come to points three and four. Years before Einstein the Theory of Relativity was anticipated in occult writings, which called in question the then accepted dogmas of Space and Time, and, moreover, regarded Matter itself as a “derived” instead of a fundamental concept. Occultism also declared that there had existed very early civilisations resembling our own (see Mrs. Besant’s Man—Whence, Whither?) and later, archaeologists laid bare the traces of the Minoan civilisation with its modern system of sanitation. Occult science has always taught the underlying unity of all created things—one spirit but many forms. Now orthodox biology surveys the entire zoological series, and sees the psyche increasing in powers and capabilities as we rise higher and higher in the scale. But the chief discovery of occultism is the supernormal powers of man, and modern science has by hundreds of recorded laboratory experiments by first-class men, incontrovertibly proved that the phenomena due to these powers are true occurrences in nature. I refer readers to the writings of Osty, Tischner, Richet, Geley, and Schrenk-Notzing, now obtainable at Boot’s Libraries. These things are not matters of opinion, but of hard fact. The objection that since they were known to primitive man they must be “cleared out of the way,” has no validity whatever. On the contrary, the antiquity and wide prevalence of the ideas constitute a claim on the attention of the unprejudiced. We are here in the presence of faculties or senses, more or less latent, but at the same time universally distributed, which form part of the general heritage of mankind.

In conclusion, I brand as a wicked lie your reviewer’s assertion that my pamphlet contains “pages of abuse of Marx.” I challenge him to quote ONE WORD of the kind from my pamphlet. Marx’s view of the universe was that generally held in his day. His true glory, obscured by his followers, is that his idea of society should be so much in line with the idealistic reactions of today against materialist science.
Yours fraternally,


After accusing Marx, among other things, of intellectual dishonesty, and myself of ignorance of the subject I was criticising, Isabel Kingsley now claims that her opponent, ” conscious of the weakness of his case, stoops to personal abuse ” !

The readers will certainly be able to judge of the “evasions, assumptions and misrepresentations” as the numerous quotations from her pamphlet given in the review published in the October, 1926, SOCIALIST STANDARD, prove the truth of my charges. Isabel Kingsley has not made the slightest attempt in any of her letters to meet those charges. The only shadow of a reply is the hysterical shriek that it is “a wicked lie” to say that she abuses Marx, and her challenge to me to quote “ONE WORD” of the kind from her pamphlet. Why does she not read the instances given in the October, 1926 issue? There it was pointed out that on page 13 of her pamphlet she says :—

“Never was there a less scientific mind than Marx nor a less scientific book than Capital .”

Perhaps, with her peculiar mentality, Isabel Kingsley thinks it is praise. This point is further emphasised on the same page, when she says that Marx’s theory of value “is not a scientific deduction; it is an ideal of social ethics, a moral ideal” ; while it is extended on page 15, when we are told :— ” Marx’s method in Capital is the method of the moralist. He first postulates on absolute morality.” This is only one of the falsifications of Marx given in the pamphlet. Worse than these is the direct charge of dishonesty levelled against Marx on the same page where Isabel Kingsley says:—

“No doubt Marx realised that the law of determinism, if valid, would tend to paralyse all revolutionary action by making us condone the brutalities of capitalism on the ground that those responsible for them wire automata moved by some impersonal force called history.”

Thus, having first twisted Marx’s theory from the “Materialist Conception of History” into “Economic Determinism,” our authoress then suggests that Marx disbelieved his own theory ! But perhaps the greatest, if more subtle, instance of abuse, as pointed out in the review of the pamphlet, is Isabel Kingsley’s deliberate refusal to quote a single word from Marx on his theory, but to substitute a travesty from a Capitalist publication in its place. After perpetrating such a dirty trick, she does well to protest against a truthful description of her attitude as abuse.

On her defence of Spiritism, the reader will notice that although this is her third letter on the subject, she makes no attempt to bring forward any evidence to support her case. As in her pamphlet, all that is done is to make various assertions without a single fact to back them up. Her only reply to my statement that the Society for Psychical Research was founded by Spiritists is to say—in capital letters—that it was NOT so founded.

This retort raises an interesting—and instructive—point. Does Isabel Kingsley know who founded the S.P.R? If she does not, and the extremely superficial character of her writings gives some support to such a view, then why wildly deny my statement? If she does know, then why did she not quote their names and so smash my argument? The answer to this is easy. Here are the names of the four men who founded the S.P.R. : Frederick W. H. Myers, Henry Sidgwick, Edmund Gurney and William Barrett—all well-known leading Spiritists.

When our authoress says “that nowadays mediums never dictate the conditions of the séances,” she is guilty of another deliberate mis-statement. Eusapia Palladino refused to allow a Committee of the S.P.R. to uncover her feet during a test séance (F. Podmore, Newer Spiritualism, page 117).

“Eva C.,” one of Conan Doyle’s “white angels,” insisted upon her clothing being left in a certain manner to suit herself. The Thomas brothers—other of Conan Doyle’s loudly advertised marvels from Wales—refused to allow Stuart Cumberland to be present at the séance they gave in London. Unfortunately for the mediums, the latter gentleman was allowed to assist in arranging the preliminaries with the result that nothing more wonderful happened than a pair of braces being thrown upon a sitter’s knees—a terrible disappointment to those who thought there “must be something in it,” because of Conan Doyle’s extravagant claims. But the over-riding fact that shows the falsity of Isabel Kingsley’s statement is that all séances are held in shaded or red light or else in total darkness. When it is remembered that conjuring tricks far more marvellous than anything ever performed at a séance, are given every week-night on music halls in brilliant light, and yet completely mystify the audiences, one may judge the value of the mediums’ tricks.

The only attempt at a reply to my description of the contents of the 40 volumes of proceedings is to give the names of three scientists who are members of the S.P.R. But what does Isabel Kingsley mean by this? Does she wish to suggest that these scientists are responsible for the contents of these volumes? If not, then why give their names? If she does suggest it, the only answer is that she is again guilty of deliberate falsification. The bulk of the contents of these volumes are descriptions of séances, and so-called supernormal occurrences. In many instances they read like conversations in Bedlam, or conferences among persons in an advanced state of intoxication. Has my opponent read these volumes herself? If so, what has she to say to the statement of one of the S.P.R.’s own committees, when they remark :—

” Further we would warn future readers that the details of the evidence are in many cases not only dull, but of a trivial and even ludicrous kind.” ‘ (Proceedings S.P.R., Vol. 1, page 118.)

One can certainly agree with this after reading the stuff. This trick of quoting names is, of course, an old one with defenders of Spiritism. When, however, one turns to “evidence” that is supposed to have convinced many of these scientists the reader is amazed at the credulity that can swallow such drivel. One example is the séance held by Sir Oliver Lodge with Mrs. Thompson at the former’s house in Birmingham. The conversation of the supposed F. W. H. Myers that Lodge says “was in fact as convincing as anything that could be imagined ” (Survival of Man, p. 290) was too stupid to impose upon a school-child in an inquiring frame of mind.

I asked for one scientific discovery that confirms occultism or Spiritism. In her third paragraph of about 250 words, she has to admit that she does not know of one, for the whole paragraph consists of vague assertions without a single fact or quotation to support them.

The history of Spiritism is one long record of fraud and swindling. Practically every prominent medium—whether paid or unpaid—has been proven a fraud, while not a single “miracle” has been produced when the conditions have been at all stringent. In other words, while fraud has been proven as rampant throughout the Spiritist movement, not a single claim of anything “supernatural” has ever been established.

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