Socialism and “supermen”
A CRITICISM AND OUR REPLY.
The Editor of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.
Sir,—When reading socialist literature I do not disagree with its claims that capitalism is based upon exploitation. But surely this does not constitute an exception ? It seems to me that all life is one immensity of desire to exploit and attain power and supremacy. Even in the obedience of the slave there is the ceaseless desire to take advantage of any weakness in the master. There is no equality or desire for equality to be found in alert and healthy organisms. But there is youth and decay, triumph and death. And it is when failing powers, frustration and consequently misery are paramount that the sentient creature begins to doubt the wisdom of the warlike nature of existence. It is in this condition that we get the following conceptions : (1) That robbery and exploitation are abominable ; (2) that equality is desirable ; (3) that one should sacrifice for one’s neighbour ; (4) that the base have been chosen to bring to naught the things that are; (5) that in the order of social evolution the emancipation of the slaves will involve the emancipation of all mankind; (6) that all souls are equal before God. Some of these are to be found in Christianity, others in Socialism. It appears to me that there is not a great deal of difference between either, allowing for phraseology and the periods when written. I contend that they are both emanations arising from revolting and submerged peoples or classes who have found means to present their case as if their conceptions and values of existence were worthy objects for all. Thus the vanquished can teach that the highest goodness is to sacrifice for one’s neighbour. This, if successful, would act powerfully in their favour. Or they could teach that democracy and equality are involved in the order of social evolution, and interpret history to that end. Both are ruses of the vanquished designed to turn the tide in their behalf. And both have met with partial success.
For instance there is that phenomena the Christian capitalist, who is a monster of contradiction and falsehood, whose very existence depends upon a mode of conduct that is anti-Christian as well as anti-Socialist. But he is yet Christian enough to will vast sums to succour the miserable and unfortunate of life, he has a conscience that way ; and English philanthropy is perhaps one of the most amazing spectacles in existence. Further, he is democratic enough to enfranchise vast numbers of slaves, etc. That which separates me from Christian, Socialist and modern ideas is that they are wholly or in part attempts to exercise a paralysing effect upon enterprising and thoughtful men under cover of the lie of equality, and they hold up the ideas emanating from decline, envy, resentment and decay as the goal of human well-being and goodness.
The object of the Socialist Party is in opposition to the natural desires of extraordinary men, for they wish to further their ideas regardless of the indifferent and conforming multitude. But Socialism would have it that they must, before embarking on new ideas and therefore on new actions, consult by democratic means the opinion of the majority who are inhospitable to ideas, suspicious of anyone who is different, and who cling tenaciously to a few simple superstitions, hates, aversions and longings—most of them idiotic, and all of them coarse, blunt, cowish and stupid.
I am convinced that new civilisations proceed from the higher levels of the race. They are the work of men of exceptional energy, powers of thought and audacity. Both Socialism and Christianity are attempts to paralyse the free play of these men by means of the belief that the low, the ordinary and wretched have something sacred or worthy in them. At their best they are useful, and cannot be more than that. Socialism is the unification of the belief in the greatest good of the greatest number, government of the people by the people for the people, and similar products “in the interest of the whole community” emanating from mob and slave ideas. I claim that these ideas are opposed to the development of higher men, and therefore of a higher race, which can only proceed from its exceptional individuals who should be above responsibility to the general mass of ordinary men. And if among Socialists there happen to be working men of profound intellectual perceptions, they are surely jumping out of the frying pan into the fire in elevating the common man by means of revolt from below and equal rights for all.—I am, Yours, etc.,
REPLY TO MR. HART.
Mr. Hart’s letter consists almost entirely of baseless assumptions for whch he does not attempt to give the slightest evidence.
For instance, he uses the term “equality” on several occasions without defining it, and then tries to fix his term on us. In view of our published attitude in our pamphlet, “Socialism and Religion,” Mr. Hart’s claim that we differ little with the statement that “all souls are equal before God,” is not merely absurd, it is a direct misrepresentation.. Moreover, we do not say that “the emancipation of the slave will involve the emancipation of all mankind,” but that the emancipation of the working class will involve this. The modern working class is a slave class, but it is only one in an historical series. What distinguishes it from previous slave classes in this connection is the fact that it is the last class in the series and there is no class below it. Hence its emancipation must mean the emancipation of humanity as a whole.
Neither does the Socialist talk about or advocate “sacrifice for one’s neighbour.” On the contrary, we distinctly point out that it is to the interest of each member of the working class to do his or her share in bringing about Socialism.
Mr. Hart’s ignorance of even elementary history is shown in his statement that “English philanthropy is perhaps one of the most amazing spectacles in existence.” At base English philanthrophy is no different from any other philanthropy, ancient or modern. The sort of philanthropy Mr. Hart mentions has its roots either in a fear of a hereafter, the belief in a heaven or a hell, or else in a desire to achieve notoriety or fame. There is nothing “amazing” about this.
When Mr. Hart says the object of the Socialist Party is in opposition to the natural ( !) desires of extraordinary men, he merely shows his ignorance of Socialism. Unless the men desire to be “extraordinary” thieves and murderers, there is nothing in Socialism to prevent them furthering their ideas unless this furtherance is to the injury of the community. To-day, so beloved by Mr. Hart, these people can only “further their ideas” if such ideas suit the ruling class. If they do not suit this class, the ideas are crushed at birth.
Mr. Hart summarises his views in the last paragraph of his letter when he says “new civilisations proceed from the higher levels of the race.” What are the “higher levels”? He does not say. Further on we are told that higher development “can only proceed from exceptional individuals who should be above responsibilty to the general mass of ordinary men.” How charming! But are these “exceptional individuals ” also going to “be above” using the services and abilities of this mass? If not—if, as happens to be the fact, they are utterly dependent upon these abilities of the “general mass,” even for their existence, then on what ground does Mr. Hart claim that the “exceptional individuals” should be above responsibility to those on whom they depend?
Apparently Mr. Hart has been reading some defender of Capitalist robbery, like Mr. Mallock, who argued that the Capitalist was entitled to the wealth he stole from the workers, because of his (the Capitalst’s) “exceptional abilities.” If—and when—Mr. Hart cares to give a little time to the study of historical development, he will find that “new civilisations” proceed from the changes in the material conditions of existence. That this development is due, not to the “higher levels of the race,” but to growth and changes in the instruments of production and distribution. When these changes reach a stage where they become fettered and hampered by the then system of Society, a struggle ensues between the class interested in the new forms of production, and the class wishing to retain the old system of Society. From the point of view of social status, the class interested in the new forms is always a “lower” class, but from the wider point of view of social evolution, it is a “higher” class because it is endeavouring to establish a more developed, and therefore a “higher” system of Society. But these terms “higher” and “lower” are the cant and humbug of a ruling class and its dupes, who use them to try and hide the truth from their victims. Socialism is the next stage in the order of social evoluton, and when the growing knowledge of the working class in the truth of our case is extended over a majority of that class, they will take the necessary steps to establish that system despite all the squeals of the “exceptional individual ” who may try to sweep back the ocean with a broom.
(Socialist Standard, December 1927)