1930s >> 1931 >> no-324-august-1931

Letters: The Socialist Forum: The Value of Emotional Appeals

The correspondent whose letter was replied to last month, writes again on the need to make an “emotional appeal.”

Tottenham, N.17,
July 7th, 1931.

The Editor,
Socialist Standard,
42, Great Dover Street,
London, S.E.1.

Dear Sir,

(1) May I reply to the points raised against my letter in the July issue. The success of the emotional appeal of the war reveals how powerful appeals to irrational forces can be. The workers do not simply commit an error of judgment, mistaking “the capitalists’ interests for their own,” but respond because their behaviour is so largely influenced by emotional tendencies, which, suppressed by the demands of civilised life, find outlets in behaviour often irrational when judged from an economic standpoint.

(2) The Socialist case may be rejected or fail to arouse interest because the dominant trends in a person do not respond sympathetically to the exposition. Trivialities such as the manner, speech, or clothes of the propagandist may evoke unfavourable impressions, or the immediate attraction of a tennis game or dance distort the value of the propaganda.

Influences which seem remote from politics play a part in the making of Socialists. As mentioned in my letter, “experiences of sexual character, dislike of certain individuals, jealousy, etc., find consolation in Socialism,” supplying motives other than a sense of inferiority.

(3) It is noteworthy that, while Christian, Communist, and Socialist vigorously assert the intellectual character of their convictions, it is not difficult for each to discover emotional influences at play in the others.

(4) Modern psychology, distinguished by its emphasis on a dynamic or hormic view of the mind, is reversing the conceit that man, among animals, is a rational creature. In the nineteenth century, when Darwin established the truth of evolution, those whose approach to people depended on the retention of an obsolete account of man’s origin, resisted the theory strenuously. Now, a like opposition is offered to the psychologists’ conviction that the intellectualist interpretation of man’s behaviour is equally outworn.

Just as evolution is older than Darwin, so there may be much that is not new in modern psychological theory, but it is through the mass of evidence collected that theories gain weight and insist on scientific recognition.

(5) The tendencies within capitalism seem to point to a drift towards Socialism, but they, after all, are tendencies only, to be worked out by human-beings. There is no divinity benevolently directing events to a happy ending, and so if Socialists persist in presenting their propaganda to a mythical working-man, guided by intellectual preference, and, with a fine disdain, refuse to stoop to moulding their propaganda nearer the hearts of the workers, their efforts may be mis-spent.

Yours faithfully,
R. Hobsbaum.


(1) Our correspondent now claims that the workers’ support of the war proves “how powerful appeals to irrational forces can be,” and he denies that they responded to an appeal to their “interests.” Does our correspondent then deny that the workers in 1914 were trapped by being told that defeat would mean the loss of “their” colonies, “their” foreign trade, “their” merchant shipping, “their” property, “their” liberties, “their” jobs, and “their” security, not to mention their lives and those of their dependants? If these are not appeals to the workers’ interests what are they? Even the talk about “poor little Belgium” was backed up with the threat that defeat would mean the same treatment for this country as had been meted out across the Channel.

If the workers respond merely to “emotional tendencies,” not guided, by assumptions as to their interests, why do not the workers endeavour to treat their class enemies at home as they treated the Germans when they (the workers) believed their interests to be bound up with the outcome of the war? What sort of “emotional tendency” is it that leads the half-starved and unemployed dweller in a slum to vote for the class (and even for the individuals) responsible for his miseries, makes him leave the place where the miseries are inflicted and could be ended, and actually lay down his life on foreign soil under the orders and in the interests of that class? If the uncontrolled “emotional tendency” dominates the situation why did not and do not the victims make a direct attack on the landlords, employers, and politicians with whoso activities their miseries are closely and obviously associated?

The answer is that the workers are always having it drummed into them that they have a common interest with the capitalist class in maintaining capitalism.

Our correspondent, as was pointed out last month, ignores the results of 40 years of I.L.P. and Labour Party appeals to emotion. He persists in ignoring the results, except to make the claim that the war shows how powerful the emotional appeal can be. In his anxiety to seize a supposed point Mr; Hobsbaum appears to have forgotten what we are discussing. His admission that years of emotional appeal from the Labour Party and I.L.P. did not succeed in making socialists but did succeed in making willing victims for the slaughter only supports our objection to the emotional appeal as a means of making socialists.

(2) The remarks in this paragraph are obvious but not in the least helpful. Of course socialist propaganda will be listened to more readily if it is pleasantly and tellingly presented; but so will anti-socialist propaganda. Does our correspondent imagine that Liberals are all of them people who think that Lloyd George has a nice kind face? And that the workers are all childish like H. G. Wells and will, like, him, allow their dislike for Marx’s Victorian whiskers to dissuade them from studying socialism?

(3)  It is difficult to make out what this paragraph is intended to imply, as it seems to have little to do with the argument. Our correspondent lumps together Christian, Communist and Socialist and says that he finds “emotional influences” in us all. It would indeed be strange if he did not. If he looks a little closer he will discover that we are actually human beings. But what has that to do with our contention that emotional appeals are not a method of building-up a socialist organisation, and with his contention that emotional appeals are such a method? /

(4)  Again, we must ask our correspondent to consider the facts and not just discuss airy assumptions. “Modern psychology,” he tells us, has shown that the emotional appeal is the way to build up a socialist party. Will he then explain why the I.L.P., which concentrated on this emotional appeal, from its formation back in the eighteen nineties, has failed so utterly to get socialism, or to build a socialist organisation, or even to build a solid and dependable organisation at all? Why, in face of emotional appeals backed up with lavish funds and delivered by professors at the game such as J. Maxton, why, in face of that has the I.L.P. lost half its members in two or three years?

(5)  In this paragraph our correspondent (who, by the way, writes in language which the average reader would find it very difficult to understand) tells us how to get to the hearts of the workers and thus not waste our efforts. We can only reply that if we had had the relatively enormous financial resources of the emotional appealers the I.L.P. and the. Communist Party, and yet found our efforts had produced as little result as theirs have done, we would indeed have cause to look for different methods. But the facts point to the reverse conclusion. Apart from confusing the workers’ minds and making our propaganda efforts more difficult, the emotional appealers have achieved nothing of assistance in the task of getting socialism.

Editorial Committee