1920s >> 1929 >> no-304-december-1929

The Delusions of a Critic

An individual of any standing cannot with impunity set out a criticism of a subject such as Physics, Biology, or Chemistry, without the necessary qualifications for the task. Among the defenders of Capitalism this same disqualification does not appear to matter, providing the subject to be criticised is Socialism. In the “Ninteenth Century and After,” a 3s. publication, a Lieut.-Col. Stewart Murray writes in two monthly issues (August and September) upon what he terms “Socialism.” If we are to accept his own statements as evidence he is little acquainted with the subject he sets out to criticise.

 As a sort of apologetic preliminary we are told that:—”Capitalism, or private enterprise, or self interest, or whatever name we please to give the system or right of private property, has done, and is still doing, wonders for Labour.” It has enabled Labour to “live and multiply,” and whilst so doing, “to improve its standard of life.” It has enabled “manual labourers” to obtain an ever-increasing share of the ever-increasing value of production, “and to become Capitalists themselves in vast and ever-increasing numbers.” So says this defender of Capitalism. Truly the Capitalist is a Capitalist solely for the benefit of the Worker—and yet, despite this philanthropic sacrifice, we read on the following page that :— “The truth is that Labour is discontented to-day . . . because human nature is such that man is never satisfied.”

How sad to reflect ! Labour dissatisfied with its slums, adulterated scraps and offal, overwork and enforced idleness, misery galore—ungrateful Labour ! The Capitalist Class, being of course of a different nature, are perfectly contented with things. Why shouldn’t they be? Next we learn that it has been to most people a “great surprise” that 8,000,000 electors have “voted Socialist.” You must be careful not to jump to conclusions, because, on the next line, we read that:—”not one in a hundred of them, and probably not one in ten, properly understood what they were voting for, or could have even rightly defined Socialism if they were asked.”

In order to explain what Socialism is, “properly understood,” our critic, who claims to have carried on for 30 years discussions with “Socialists of all sorts and of all camps,”—then defines it. It is, he says, “the nationalisation of all the means of production, exchange, and distribution.” According to this definition Capitalist industry is Socialism if it is State or Government controlled as it was until recently by a Labour Administration in Australia, or as it is here in the Post Office and the Municipalities.

Having thus assumed that State Capitalism is Socialism, and that those who voted for the State Capitalist programme of the Labour Party are Socialists, we are prepared for what our critic wants to pass off as Socialism. How many, he says, “would have voted Socialist if they had properly realised it?” Let Lt.-Colonel Stewart Murray make his horrifying revelation thus :

“Ask a Socialist to describe in detail the working of a real complete Socialistic State, and you will find that he will very soon land himself in the most hopelessly insurmountable difficulties. No one can tell you, for example, if Socialism in power should or will allow wages of ability or not, or only equal remuneration for all work ; nor how Socialism is going to nationalise ‘all the means of production, exchange, and distribution’; nor how it is to avoid the conscription of labour and telling everybody off not to do the work they wish to do, but to whatever sort of work the State orders them to do ; or how it is to avoid the greatest and most hopeless tyranny ever seen in the world as in Russia.”

It is a reasonable assumption that our critic knows as much, and no more, about Russia, than he gives evidence of knowing about Socialism. He doesn’t even know that in Russia, where he says “Socialism has had absolutely free scope,” the bulk of the population are peasants, whilst the industrial workers work for wages as in this country. Wages are the price of labour-power, whether that labour-power is employed by the Capitalist State or by a private employer. The Working Class are compelled to sell that labour-power, their only possession, to a non-producing class who own society’s means of life, and who consequently can retain much of the product of the workers’ labour. Socialism means the abolition of classes, wage payers, wage receivers, nations, states and tyrannies. It means, in short, a system of society in which the commonly-owned and commonly-controlled means of social living would make such things absurd and unnecessary. A statement of Stalin’s makes it clear that these things, classes, wages, exploitation, do exist in Russia. He says in his book “Leninism” :

“When Lenin analysed the nature of State Capitalism, he was thinking mainly of concessions. Well, then, let us consider these concessions, and consider whether two classes are represented in the work of production. Yes, certainly, two classes are represented here ; the class of the Capitalists, the concessionaires, who are exploiters, and who for the time being own the means of production, and the class of the proletarians, who are exploited by the concessionaries. Here, obviously, we have nothing to do with Socialism.” (“Leninism,” page 388.)

To make his criticism appear intellectually deep and, above all, destructive of Marx’s teachings, Stewart Murray pretends to a wide knowledge of what he terms the views of various groups in the Labour Party. So different are these views, he says :—” that it is difficult to find any important points on which they agree, except a common allegiance to Karl Marx’s antiquitated exposition of Socialism,”

Poor old Marx—strange why so many should be trying to-day to show that his exposition of Socialism is antiquated. This brainy defender of Capitalism marshals a number of what he seems to think are brand new objections. These he declares Marx overlooked. They include “Racial differences” ; “Psychological attributes”; “Inequalities, mental and physical, of men at birth”; heredity; evolution ; and production and distribution. Surely a formidable lot—but only to those unacquainted with the writings of Marx. Possibly one paragraph in an early work of Marx and Engels (The Communist Manifesto) summarises the whole lot.

There Marx says :—

“Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man’s ideas, views and conceptions, in one word, man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?”

Did racial differences prevent Japan from becoming a Capitalist country with a Western culture and a constitution developed on lines similar to that adopted by all Capitalist countries in their course of development? Does not the development of India and China show like tendencies? Regarding national differences, even the Capitalist League of Nations does not consider these of any importance where their own problems are concerned. Mental and physical inequalities at birth, we are told, “produce economic inequalities.” If this were so, then we should expect to find the present economic classes at every stage in society. Any student of the subject could tell our critic that the greatest part of the time of man’s existence upon the earth has been lived in communities in which classes and private property were unknown. Biologically a Capitalist is born the same as a Worker.

Says Marx :—

“One thing, however, is clear : nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour power. The relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product. of many economical revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.” (“Capital,” pp. 147, 148.)

To-day any child or imbecile could be the recipient of Rent, Interest, or Profit, providing he or she owned the legal right to the particular form of property. The less said about the reward meted out to superior mental attainments under Capitalism the better. Compare the rewards of a Rothschild and a Schubert, General Booth and Karl Marx, Crompton and Carnegie. Which wins through to-day, money grabbing mediocrity, or painstaking, scientific enquiry and efforts that will benefit posterity?

Says this would-be critic:—”The Marxian hypothesis, even in its most evolutionary forms, demands a change in human nature for any possibility of success. But the elements of human nature do not change.” When we reach the opposite page we are told that the conditions of one age are fallacious if used dogmatically as data for those of another.

“The Marxists forget this when they cite as authoritative the economic theory or speculation formulated by Marx in the middle of last century, since which period, so many and so great changes have occurred.” This reminds us of the old-time song, ” ‘E dunno where ‘e are.”

Let us, in conclusion, again quote Marx, and note how his masterly summary meets practically every objection raised :—

“No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society. Therefore, mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.” (Critique of Political Economy, pages 11-13.)

Let the Capitalist apologists proclaim the death of Socialism from the turrets of their cowards’ castles. When the Workers in any numbers become acquainted with Socialist principles efforts to rebut scientific Socialist teachings will be impotent.


(Socialist Standard, December 1929)

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