E. Belfort Bax in To-day December 1887
Source: To-day December 1887, pp. 157-8;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
We publish in this number a short criticism, by Mr. Belfort Bax, of Mr. Champion’s recent address to the Church Congress. We do not agree with our contributor’s censure, and we think that is founded on a wrongheaded and mistaken conception of the meaning of Christianity; but we publish the article because we believe that it truly reflects the views of a good many prominent English Socialists, and we desire that our Magazine, while having a decided and definite policy of its own, should be the mouthpiece of every section of English Socialism.
“Playing to the Gallery” was originally sent by its author to the Editor of the Commonweal, but was refused by that gentleman on the grounds that it might “offend” Mr. Champion. This seems to us to be just the worst of all possible reasons for declining to publish anything in a Socialist journal. When Socialist editors take to suppressing hostile criticisms because of any “offence” they may give to anybody, then it is all over, it seems to us, with the independence and healthy life of Socialism in England. “Murdered by mutual admiration” will not be a pretty epitaph for its tombstone.
Apart altogether from any arguments which may be urged generally in favour of free criticism by Socialists of Socialists, we think that Mr. Morris does Mr. Champion a grave wrong in supposing that he could possibly be “offended” by any strictures on his conduct by such an outspoken and candid critic as Mr. Bax. He must have clearly foreseen that exception would have been taken, in more than one quarter, to his Wolverhampton address, and if he is made of the good stuff of which we believe him to be made, he will welcome an open and manly attack as cordially as he now hates and despises the underground plotting and muttering of which he has been the victim.
As a matter of fact no Socialist living knows better than does Mr. Champion that nine-tenths of the divisions and quarrels which have distressed and disheartened the faithful, and caused the heathen to blaspheme, during the last five years, would never have come about had Socialists only had the pluck to have said of each other publicly the things that were freely enough spoken in confidential conversation, and written in letters marked “private.” The best antidote to intrigue and cabal is free and open criticism, and the conditions most favourable to the prolific generation of “party splits” are those which inevitably arise from forced efforts after smug unanimity. Criticism is likely to be friendly just as long as it is free; it only becomes rancorous and corrosive when burked and forced under the surface. It is rather sad, though, that one should have to repeat such hackneyed truisms as these for the admonishment of Socialist editors.
While on the question of the conduct of the Socialist press we should like to ask the editor of the Commonweal how it is that no reports have appeared in his columns of the recent important conference of German Socialists at St. Gallen, and that English Socialists have been compelled to seek for information on the subject in the “Capitalist” papers. From these we gather that the conference was almost unanimous in favour of strictly political action, and that Liebknecht moved a resolution categorically repudiating and denouncing the views and methods of the Anarchists. Do these facts explain the strange silence of Mr. Morris’ organ? We hope that they do not, and that the omission is due merely to careless editing; but if they do, then we do not hesitate to say, that the basest of the “hireling prints” have never been guilty of a more disgraceful piece of suppression.