An Archbishop’s Revolution

Russia is usually thought of as a backward nation. How much backward ? Its rulers have shown themselves a match for Western intellectuals on the United Nations Organisation. While the credulity of the Russian worker in industry is little, if any stronger than that of the British worker. The working-class of both countries have accepted nationalisation, either as Socialism, or as an instalment of Socialism.

It is a good many years since the Labour Party in this country were dubbed Socialist. They protested against the title, with truth, but not overmuch. And they quickly dropped the protest when they realised that many workers, far from being repelled by the name, and notwithstanding their hazy conception of its meaning, were really attracted by its promise of some drastic change in the conditions prevailing at the time— and still are.

We now know that the Labour Party’s notion of Socialism was nationalisation. This fraudulent misrepresentation has brought rich rewards to the Labour Party. It has helped them to become the second, if not the largest political party in the country. As an issue it has raised a smoke screen causing confusion and apathy among their followers. However, modern intellectuals are now going one better.

Julian Huxley in a book entitled “On Living in a Revolution,” E. H. Carr in radio talks entitled “The New Society,” popularised the fallacy that a social revolution is actually taking place under our very noses, while the majority are unconscious of its rapid movement. Now, with a still more significant title, “This Age of Revolution,” Dr. Garbett, Archbishop of York, endeavours to show in a book of 312 pages the sort of revolution it is, and the need to limit its advance, to confine it within the present system. He “rejects as impossible and utopian the Marxist conception of Socialism.”

His opening sentence is not intended to frighten the capitalist so much as to assure the worker that activity on his part is unnecessary. The revolution he has in mind is inherent in the conditions and will work itself out. He says “ We are living in an age of revolution. Fifty years ago we should have used the word evolution. By this we should have meant the continuous progress of the human race through struggle and competition in which the weak would be eliminated and the fittest survive.” By this he infers that in the intervening years economic causes or political reforms have operated in favour of the weak, who are still with us. He then follows with some of the items in the revolution : “Technics, machinery, wireless, internal combustion engine, the aeroplane, weapons of destruction, political changes, social and economic upheaval, etc”

It will be seen that none of these things, nor all of them combined, plus the much advertised welfare system—with its boasted care of the individual from the cradle to the grave—constitute a social revolution, or even the promise of one. They are simply bits and pieces in the evolutionary pattern sketched by a rapidly developing system. Their total effect is to emphasise the contradictions and conflicts within the system, and by increasing the worker’s knowledge and power of discrimination, enable him to understand more readily the rational appeal of Socialism.

A Social Revolution means a complete change—involving the basic principles—from one system to its opposite. In the present instance, from a profits basis to one of production for use. Without private or class ownership in the means of life. And without all the complex machinery of capitalist ownership and exchange.

It is plain that Dr. Garbett has never considered that revolution in the social sense has this very definite meaning. In any case he would dismiss the idea as “impossible and utopian.” On his intellectual plane he could not visualise the working-class as being capable of conceiving and organising such a revolution.

His misuse of the word revolution is frequent throughout the book. On Page 190, he says: “The old Bolshevism believed in revolution from below, such as the upheaval of 1917 had been.” The absurdity of this statement is apparent when we remember that both the Menshevik and the Bolshevik seizures of power only became known to the workers after their accomplishment.

On Page 174 he says: “Post revolution Russia claims to a socialist state. It is a socialist state, for the state owns the means of production and distribution.” This is a misleading statement because distribution is effected by means of exchange as in every capitalist country. Possibly the mistake is unintentional on his part. But as the Russian economy is commodity production its production and distribution is saddled with exchanges which includes profits, wages and of course wage-workers.

On Page 177 he says: “Private property on a small scale is allowed in the socialist state, but there is no possibility of investment except in government stock.” In Russian industry the state owns the factories and rolling stock, pays the wages and allocates dividends on privately owned stock. In other words gilt edged securities for the most active supporters of Stalin and Co.

On Page 181 he says: “The fears of the forced labour camp come now to play the role that the fear of unemployment played under capitalism.” And under Western capitalism is called redundancy and used to increase the mobility of labour.

Although Dr. Garbett “rejects as impossible and utopian the Marxist conception of socialism” he nevertheless asserts that “Marxism is an optimistic creed. It can be hastened by human action.” The Socialist has affirmed that it can be either hastened or retarded by human action. But whether achievement is inevitable or only probable rests entirely with the working- class. His admission that “it can be hastened by human action” seems to register a fear in his mind that it is inevitable.

On Page 230 he says: “Christianity rejects entirely the utopianism which believes that a new social order will automatically change man from his selfishness, acquisitiveness and combativeness into a being who will ever afterwards live in peace and happiness with his fellows. And this is where the Archbishop got bogged in and lost his revolution. Socialism was in conflict with church and state, his most cherished institutions. His imagination that builds mansions in the sky cannot soar to such lowly heights as a society without the opium of the church and the armed forces of the state to render the workers amenable to exploitation. So he quotes holy scripture: “ Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things which are God’s,” and again according to St. Paul: “That they must honour and pray for the Emperor and submit themselves to those in authority.” He then bolsters up the state with the following more up-to-date avowal: “It is usually accepted that the state obtains its authority from God, and exists to preserve peace and to protect its citizens from injury to their persons and property.”

His concern for preservation of state authority is not merely because it “protects its citizens from injury to their persons and property,” but also because the church relies on it for support and protection. For that reason he is opposed to disestablishment. He says: “The establishment is a national recognition of religion that should not be thrown away at a time when aggressive atheism is persecuting Christianity in many parts of Europe.” From this it might be inferred that he had discarded his age of revolution. Not so. He still persists in it, even while retaining the state. He says: “It is no longer a question of making profits for private owners and shareholders; regulations and taxation have cut down severely this form of profit-making, many of the great industries are either nationalised or controlled by the state.”

Now, profits result from exploitation of the workers. The exploitation is just as real whether it takes place under private, company or state ownership. But Dr. Garbett can hardly be expected to see clearly on economic questions when his conception of profit is so hazy and indefinite as the following seems to indicate : “In every generation there can be found men and women who will work without any thought of profit . . . The ordinary man expects some profit from additional skill and harder work . . . The profit motive is so deeply rooted that it is impossible to ignore it.”

The “ordinary worker” is confined to one market—the labour market. His only commodity is labour-power, human energy, the ability to perform some task among the many required in industry. Whether it is pushing a barrow, selling nylons, managing a department in a chain store or handling test tubes at Harwell, all he gets in return is wages or salary, the price of his particular brand of energy on the labour market. Official figures issued from time to time—and published in the press—give approximate amounts taken respectively in profits, salaries and wages, showing that the department concerned is in no doubt as to what constitutes profits. Had Dr. Garbett taken the trouble to examine such a statement he would have discovered that the amount going to profits varies only slightly from year to year. And the Archbishop will be staggered and gratified by the amount, if he is not already aware of it.

Dr. Garbett’s revolution has back-fired. The state is where it was. His church is threatened with an “aggressive atheism” and he has nothing to offer despairing mankind except some Christian advice on the issue of peace and war. On Page 289 he says, quite truly : “It is dangerous folly to imagine that a state bent on war will swerve an inch from its chosen path on account of the pacific utterances and expressions of goodwill of those whom it purposes to destroy.” His answer to that one ? Prayer not to the powers on earth but to power in the sky.

“A fragile barrier the cynics may say.” But the cynics are not alone the aggressive atheists. There must be many, many more cynics than prayer addicts. Page 296 he says: “Prayer for peace is not asking that the peoples may have the wish for peace, for this they already have . . . but it is asking God to move a small group of dictators, generals and statesmen—possibly the actual decision may rest with one man alone—to choose peace instead of war.” Pray Christians, pray like hell.

F. F.

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