E. Belfort Bax, Bowing Down in the Temple of Rimmon, British Socialist, Vol.I, No. 4, 15 April 1912, pp.153-155.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
The question indirectly raised (in Justice) by “Tattler’s” remarks on the marriage relation is one which is continually confronting us in the present day, and which I take it is of salient importance in the propaganda of Socialist principle, as opposed to mere Socialistic legislation and to Labourism. By Socialism in this sense I, of course, mean conceptions logically involved in Socialism as a social ideal. It is useless attempting to confine Socialism to a bare economic formula. People very naturally, and very properly, insist on knowing what its outlook is on the other aspects of human life. Now, singularly enough, it is these other aspects of human life which the bourgeois opponent of Socialism is fond of selecting as his special ground for attack. They resolve themselves in the main into three points: Marriage, Religion and Country. In fact, the ostensible object of the zeal of the Anti-Socialist he often tries to make appear is more the integrity of religion, family, and the national State-system as at present existing than it is the preservation of current economic conditions. This, though usually but a subtle device to delude the unsophisticated, does not fail of its object, and sometimes even deceives the very elect. How often do we find exponents of Socialism who ought to know better eagerly protesting that Socialism need not in the least affect the cherished bourgeois prejudices and conventions professedly so dear to the heart of his opponent. He does not stop to reflect that the preservation of the institutions for the integrity of which the Anti-Socialist professes so much zeal means the continuance of a system of forcible coercion of persons in their private relations which is radically incompatible with a condition of society leaving for its aim, as Frederick Engels used to put it, “the substitution of the regulation of things for the coercion of men.” Stripped of all its specious verbiage, what the bourgeois advocate really professes is a zeal for the direct coercion of individuals in their intimate and private relations of sex, and their indirect coercion in their opinions on speculative questions, inasmuch as he wants the continuance of a favouritism to be officially shown by society in its corporate capacity towards a certain set of such opinions handed down by tradition, as opposed to other, it may be contrary, opinions. Since no Socialist proposes persecuting anybody for their religious beliefs, this can be the only possible meaning attachable to the portentous fuss made by Anti-Socialists anent Socialism and Atheism. Similarly with the patriotic zeal of the same individuals. What the bourgeois patriot means is the right of his particular national State to crush other countries if it suits its purpose, and if it can do so with a minimum of danger to itself, and of the duty of every member of his national State to support his country in its action, right or wrong – in a word, to force that member to do violence to his own moral convictions, Now, what I contend is that the Socialist advocate only too often when faced with these objections is apt obsequiously to protest the neutrality of Socialism in such questions. Frankly speaking, such an attitude I cannot find consistent with straightforward dealing. Why cannot every public advocate of Socialism follow the example of some I have heard, and say openly: “Yes, Socialism is incompatible with all these things for which you profess so much zeal!” and follow this up with an explanation of how and why, in the Co-operative Commonwealth of the future, Marriage and the Family, institutional Religion, and Patriotism must pass away, at least in the forms in which we know them, explaining, further, that Socialism has an ethical as well an economical content, and that with this ethical content the above institutions, as at present existing, are at variance? Thus should we see an end of this perpetual grovelling before the bourgeois Rimmon.
I had not intended adding any more in connection with the recent controversy between “Tattler” and myself, but “Tattler’s” championship of the unlimited right in an “economically free society” to impose conditions “for entering upon or assenting to any course of action” compels me to put one or two questions to him on this point alone.
A man sees another drowning. Technically he is not bound to endanger his own life to save him. He is a free agent. And as a free agent he claims “the right to impose conditions.” His conditions for saving the other man are that the latter shall become his bond-slave for ever after. Does “Tattler” think this is a contract which could be consistently enforced by the law or public opinion of a Socialist society? Again, A, who is possessed of exceptional surgical or medical skill which, as a free agent, he can employ or not, as he likes, in any given case, agrees to save the wife or daughter of B from a dangerous malady on the condition that B should subsequently shoot himself. Does “Tattler’s” zeal for “the right to impose conditions” lead him to assert that an economically free society should give such a contract as this the seal of its protection and approval? “Love and hunger” are alike powerful aids to the extortion of unfair conditions, and though in an economically free society the latter might no longer be operative, yet it is obvious that the former would probably still be available. For my part, while conceding the right of the individual in a free society in general to do or to forbear, I should entirely demur to the proposition that this right included “the right to impose conditions” if by this be meant to extort any conceivable terms from weakness or infatuation, and then to expect society in its corporate capacity to use its influence to enforce such terms. To my thinking “the right to impose conditions” is a right which ought to be very severely controlled in any society.
Last updated on 15.10.2004