Socialist Definitions: A Rejoinder
Sir,–In your answer to my objection to the use of the word “services,” you adduce two equally inane arguments. First, you ask me, “By what reasoning does he reach this conclusion?” namely, that services are things done. My reply is : not by abstract reasoning, but by the simpler process of reference to several authoritative dictionaries. In the main, the dictionaries define services as things, duties, etc., performed, done, effected, the verb always being in the past tense.
Now, Capitalists do not buy anything done from the workers, but their power to do things. This is as true now, in spite of the fact that wages in their money form are not paid in advance, as it was when Marx pointed it out. In simple language the masters say, “You can work a few hours for yourselves if, and only if, you will work more hours for us.” Secondly, you say that “the word ‘service’… will have a meaning depending upon its context and tense.” Apart from the fact that “service” is a noun, and therefore has no tense, your admission destroys your own case, since any textbook of logic will inform you that the desideratum of a definition is that, by giving a precise and fixed meaning to every name capable of having such a meaning assigned to it, so that we may know exactly what attributes it connotes and what objects it denotes, it be unambiguous. It is by the use of such sloppy, equivocal words as “service” that you build definitions with which bourgeois economists mislead our class. Your definitions 1 and 2 quoted in my previous letter use the word “service,” which you admit varies in meaning. Your definitions are therefore loose, equivocal, anti-Marxian.
Your answer to my fourth objection savours of intellectual dishonesty. You said, “Wealth is the product of human activities applied to Nature-given material.” I protested that sweat fulfils the conditions of your statement, and in consequence your definition is anti-Communist because it is only half true. That it is produced by labour on natural material is not a sufficient mark of wealth.
Test it with a syllogism :—
The product of human activities on Nature-given material is wealth.
Sweat is a product of human activities on Nature-given material.
Therefore sweat is wealth.
Oh, well-endowed workers !
Similarly, waste, factory-smoke is wealth, which is absurd. You cannot claim a fallacy on the grounds of my putting your definitions backwards because a good definition is affirmative, unconditional and universal, hence cannot suffer by direct conversion. Manifestly your definition is incomplete. It should run, “Some products of human activities on Nature-given materials are wealth, namely, the useful products.”
I therefore added “useful” to your sentence and turned it into a definition of wealth, thereby correcting an unfortunate blunder of Mr. Fitzgerald’s. Marx always stressed the necessity for use-value as a basis of wealth. You remarked, in addition, that my word “useful” begs the question. What question?
Finally, you had recourse to an interesting bit of bourgeois chicanery, known as argumentum ad ignorantiam, i.e., you think you prove your definition by showing the impossibility of proving the negative. Conjuring tricks ! You ask me : “If wealth is not the product of man’s activities applied to Nature-given materials, what is it?” I never denied it. My point is that your vague statement is not a definition until you accept the modification “useful product” or something equivalent in meaning.
Your masters love slipshod definitions ; it becomes so easy to trip them. An egg is the product of evolution. True enough, but so is an elephant. Half-true statements can put the Socialists in the same category as rat-fleas on the ground that they carry trouble about with them.
If sweat is not wealth, why not?
Your final stab about . the difference between “Communist” and “Socialist” is merely silly. You evidently believe that Communism is the policy of the Communist Party of Great Britain, who are as anti-Communist as your definitions were anti-Socialist. Either Mr. Fitzgerald is getting into that doddering stage where incisiveness of argument disappears or else he is afraid of admitting his mistakes. A quicker man than Maxton would have slaughtered his definitions without accepting them.
Yours for Socialism,
In our previous reply to Mr. Woltz we gave an illustration of the use of the word “service” —”offered their services”— to show how in a certain context the word meant power to perform given actions. Another instance is when a firm “dispenses with the services” of a number of workers. Mr. Woltz carefully ignored our point and refers to “authoritative dictionaries” to support his view. Wisely, however, he does not mention any particular authority, but prefers to indulge in general terms.
The greatest “authoritative dictionary” in the English language is the “Oxford English Dictionary,” and if one consults that work they will find no less than 38 different meanings given to the word “service” ! In addition, shades and qualifications are given to many of them. These meanings vary both in time and place. Mr. Woltz’s “authorities” have let him down badly.
Moreover, when he says “the verb always being in the past tense” he is just indulging in a piece of bounce. In certain instances the verb is given in the future tense in the work referred to above, as when defining feudal service as a duty which a tenant is “to render” to his lord.
Mr. Woltz is hardly happier with the term wealth. He stated that the definition given in the report of the debate was “self-evidently only half true.” We asked him to tell us what wealth was, if not the product of the application of human energy to Nature-given material ? He now says he never denied it, and then goes on to deny it again by calling it a vague statement.
We said his own definition merely added a word that begged the question. Mr. Woltz now asks “what question?” The question: “Useful to whom or what?” Let us take the word Mr. Woltz thinks so wonderful and crushing—sweat.
In his former letter he said sweat is not wealth because it has no use. A little elementary knowledge of physiology would have saved Mr. Woltz from this absurd blunder. Sweat is necessary for the preservation of health; so much so that in a certain stage of fever its presence or absence will mean life or death to the patient. Moreover, as is well known, many people will pay to be placed under conditions that will induce sweat, as in a Turkish bath. Sweat therefore is not only useful, but necessary to life, and according to Mr. Woltz’s own definition, is wealth.
Mr. Woltz’s claim that a good definition is “unconditional” is metaphysical nonsense. There is nothing “unconditional” in existence, but probably this is a sample of “Communist” logic. In conclusion, we may state that we are not concerned whether the communism of Mr. Woltz is that of the Communist Party of Great Britain or some particular brand of his own. Our definitions and propaganda are Socialist, and not Communist of any type.