E. Belfort Bax

Socialist Ethics and Abstinence

(11 January 1896)

Belfort Bax, Socialist Ethics and Abstinence, Justice, 11 January 1896, p.3. (letter) [1]
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DEAR COMRADE, – I have no design at the present time to enter into a controversy with comrade Leatham on the above subject, more especially as, in addition to what I have already written, a forthcoming volume of mine, now in the press, deals with some of the points raised by him. But I would like to suggest that his attempts to smuggle a slightly improved Puritan ethic into Socialism by the back door, as it were, are based upon a number of assumptions few of which he makes any attempt to substantiate. Comrade Headingley has already dealt with the medical and hygienic assumption at the back of his anti-alcoholic onslaught, an assumption which would certainly not be admitted by the majority of Socialists. Similar assumptions, medico-psychological and other, lie at the root of his “social purity” crusade this week. In addition to this one cannot help noticing that the starting-point of the whole is existing economical conditions and the existing middle-class moral sentiment which is their outcome. I know It is difficult to rid ourselves of prepossessions derived from our moral and social environment, but does not this point to the conclusion that the attempt to work out in any sort of detail a constructive Socialist ethic is as yet premature? I think it does.

One alternative now [2] seems to have occurred to our comrade Leatham, and that is, that the notion of laying down any uniformly binding rule of conduct for all men (and women) alike (individual variations of temperament being so wide) in such debateable questions as alcoholic and sexual indulgence may itself be fallacious, and hence for all time doomed to failure. May it not be the case, as I have elsewhere hinted; that it is only when these questions touch more fundamental and generally admitted moral principles that a moral judgment on actions involving them justifiably comes in? – Yours fraternally,

Belfort Bax


Transcriber’s Footnote

1. This is one of a series of letters by others on this topic. On the same page he is challenged to debate on Women. In a reply in the following issue Bax refuses to debate the question.

2. Bax corrects this sentence in his letter in the following issue, replacing “now” by “never”.


Last updated on 19.7.2005