E. Belfort Bax

Socialism Real and So-Called

A Reply to Dr. Beattie Crozier

(August 1908)

E. Belfort Bax, Socialism Real and So-Called, Fortnightly Review, August 1908, pp.244-257.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Modern Socialism, in the strict sense of the word, dates as a theory from the Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels in 1847, and is the outcome of they principles laid down in this essay and developed in scientific form and in the detail of a full and close analysis in the subsequent works of its authors, but, above all, in the magnum opus of Marx, Das Kapital, the first volume of which, laying down the basis of the Marxian economy, was published in 1867. The above statement as to the fathership of Marx, with respect to modern Socialism, so far as main principles are concerned, I maintain is true without any reserve whatever. I am fully aware that there are not wanting English “Socialists” who are very anxious to disclaim all connection with the great founder of modern Socialism, and who are apt, when it is said of any one of them, “thou too art of his disciples,” to begin, I will not say precisely to “curse and to swear,” but certainly to protest very vehemently “I know not the man!” Of such as these a recent critic of Socialism in the Spectator was thinking, I suppose, when he alleged that time was when a criticism of the economic principles of Socialism was virtually synonymous with the criticism of Marx’s Kapital, but now that this basis is repudiated by so many it was difficult for the critic to know the precise nature of the doctrine he was dealing with. The critic may reassure himself in respect of what constitutes the theoretical basis of present-day Socialism. If he will analyse the speeches and writings of those true British Socialists who boast that they have never read Marx, he will find that all those ideas which differentiate them as Socialists from the ordinary Radical Democrat come, directly or indirectly, out of Marx. In fact, generally speaking, we may define the Socialism of certain Members of Parliament and popular writers for whom Marx is a “back number,” as a species of bastard Marxism. The logical consequences and real bearing of the main Marxian theses are ignored, while a determined effort is made to reconcile them with all manner of bourgeois prejudices. As practical men, members of Parliament and popular writers, having seats and circulations to be considered – seats sometimes in constituencies in which a Nonconformist element in the electorate may readily turn the scale, and circulations in respectable suburbs which are not to be despised, they hold the wind must be tempered to the prejudices of these shorn lambs. Provincial Non-Conformists sometimes have their own opinions on the subject of German Jews and of doctrines derived from them, while subscribers to local libraries are apt to be strict disciplinarians as to the views held by authors whose books are to be read in their family circle. Hinc illae lacrimae.

If he will forgive me for saying so, Dr. Crozier’s whole criticism of Marx is throughout based on what logicians term an ignoratio elenchi. He sets up a terrible bogey purely of his own construction and device which he would have us take to represent Marx, and which he straightway proceeds to hew in pieces with manifold objurgation, in approved style. We expected in this last article, which claims to be a direct challenge to Marx himself, that Dr. Crozier would deal systematically with the main positions ,of the treatise on Capital, rather than continue to harp upon the one or two deductions of his own which he fastens on to Marx in the course of the articles dealing with his English opponents. In this we have certainly been disappointed. Dr. Crozier, I suppose, might urge as an excuse for repeating himself, that neither Mr. Blatchford nor Mr. Snowden, proud in their ignorance of Marx’s works, were in a position, or were concerned, to deal with the subject from the Marxian point of view. This being so, it only remains for the present writer to point out in detail the misapprehensions under which Dr. Crozier is labouring on the subject of Marx’s teaching, and to endeavour to indicate the fallacy underlying, his chief counter-proposition.

Marx shows that value, as the fundamental economic element running through all produced and exchangeable articles of use, is the human labour which has gone to their production. This is, of course, a doctrine Marx has taken over from the old classical British economy. In consequence of the part it plays in Marx’s system, this simple and obvious truth recognised by Adam Smith, Ricardo, and all the older theorists, has come to be viewed with abhorrence by the modern bourgeois economist, who is never tired of decrying it as out of date. Now, this principle of value being embodied labour, Marx applies as the touchstone in his analysis of the modern Capitalist system of production. He points out that the value of wealth produced under the conditions of the great machine-industry of modern times with all the complexity of its processes, is au fond nothing but the “congealed human labour” expressed in it. The complexity of the economic forms may often hide this fact from view, but, as Marx contends, it remains a fact nevertheless. But now steps in our critic. “No,” says. Dr. Beattie Crozier, “it is not labour, it is not the workman who produces the wealth, it is the power of nature embedded in the machines, these are the real originators of wealth.

How the machines could produce wealth by themselves without the application of human labour to them, or how the machines themselves could come into existence save as the product of human labour as applied to the iron, wood, stone, in a word to the raw materials of nature, Dr. Crozier does not tell us. But, after all, it is not so much the machines themselves that interest our learned critic as the inventors of the machines, and thereby hangs a tale. Dr. Beattie Crozier bases his criticism on Marx on the theory that the latter was chiefly concerned in his analysis with the question of “strict economic justice” in the division of the surplus product, over and above what was necessary to the maintenance of the labourer, a division, as Dr. Crozier informs us, “whereby each man gets the fruits of his labour, neither more nor less.” Hence we are told “it became necessary as a preliminary for him to inquire as to precisely what men or body of men it was to whom this surplus was due, and without whose special exertions it could not have come into being at all.” Here, therefore, according to Dr. Crozier, we have the kernel of the Marxian system. Marx, of course, insists that the whole of wealth production, the whole of economic value (and surplus value), is the creation of labour, or, to put the matter concretely, of the workman operating on the products of nature. But herein, says Dr. Crozier, Marx was a subtle deceiver. The real creator, if not of all value, at least of the surplus value, the surplus product, over and above the labourer’s means of subsistence, now appropriated by the Capitalist, is neither the labourer nor the Capitalist but the inventor.

Now, before going any further, it may interest Dr. Crozier to learn that his statement of Marx’s position would be accepted by no Marxian and would be certainly unrecognisable by Marx himself. The author of Das Kapital was led to his Socialist conclusions as the logical outcome of his analysis of Capitalist production, and was certainly actuated by no intention either beforehand or afterwards, of discovering “strict economic justice” in the division of the surplus whereby each man gets the fruits of his labour, “neither more nor less.” I defy Dr. Crozier to produce any passage in Marx which would justify the caricature of Marx’s position contained in the words above quoted. It is a gloss put upon Marx by Dr. Crozier. The idea of “strict economic justice,” in Dr. Crozier’s sense, certainly never entered Marx’s mind, while as to “each man” getting “the fruits of his labour, neither more nor less,” it requires but a very little consideration of the conditions of modern industry to enable anyone to see such a scheme was preposterously chimerical. In the complicated process of modern production, the impossibility of assigning the precise amount of labour put by any given workman into the finished product, is obvious. If Dr. Beattie Crozier was really under the delusion that Marx was capable of propounding such nonsense as this there may have been some excuse for his thinking him a Utopian Schemer whom he could “dispose of as a serious economist,” and for his talk about getting “Marx and his followers under hatches.” In fact, Dr. Crozier’s latest utterances look as though he were anxious to confirm Hyndman’s opinion as quoted by him, as to his understanding of Marx. Take for example the statement that Das Kapital is a book not distinguished for its profundity, but that “on the contrary, as we shall see, it is a most simple and childlike piece of work.” Now none of Marx’s previous detractors of any mark in political economy, that I am aware of, have denied either depth or acumen to Das Kapital, or have claimed to make their readers see that it is “a most simple and childlike piece of work.” What we do see, of course, in Dr. Crozier’s case, is that, for some reason or other, he has completely missed all the bearings alike of Marx’s method and conclusions. If Dr. Crozier asks me to make good the above contention by extracts from Marx’s writings, I must respectfully decline to take up the position of proving a negative, more especially as the space at my disposal in the Fortnightly Review precludes me from quoting the whole of Das Kapital. On the contrary I must, in my turn, call upon Dr. Crozier to justify his interpretation of Marx by the ipsissima verba of Marx himself.

What, then, it may be asked, was the real gist and intention of the labours of Karl Marx? The answer is, Marx took not things as they might be, or things as they ought to be, but things as they were – the Capitalist system, in which we live and move and have our being – as the subject of his investigation and analysis. He did not start with, or call to his aid, any abstract “economic man.” What he sought to inquire was the meaning of, and implications involved in, the present conditions of production and distribution which we term the Capitalist system. The course of his analysis brings out at once its historical bearings, its roots in the past of the evolution of human society and the tendencies latent within it as regards the future of that evolution. [1] This tendency, he finds, points inevitably to the Communist ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, as the next salient stage in the economic development of society. But for Marx the economic side of human affairs is that side which determines all the rest. A fundamental economic change involves sooner or later a corresponding change in all the other departments of human life – political, religious, juridical, ethical, artistic. It may be that Marx himself, and I certainly think that such is the case with some of his followers, has unduly exaggerated the direct causal efficacy, great as it undoubtedly is, of the economic factor in some aspects of human evolution. With this question I have dealt elsewhere, but whether or not, the point is, for our present purpose, more academic than practical. For the truth, established by Marx – a truth all but unrecognised before his time – of the stupendous import of economic development on human development generally, whether, as with some Marxians, we treat the economic development as the sole cause of the rest, or whether we regard the economic factor and the intellectual factor as co-efficients in a common result (i.e., as reciprocally determining and determined by each other), is alike undeniable. Now of criticism of Marx’s method or of any scientific treatment of the results of his analysis, I can find no trace in Dr. Crozier’s animadversions. Instead of this he sets up an Aunt Sally of his own, consisting of fragments of Utopian dogma, which he proceeds to demolish.

The great piece de resistance of Dr. Crozier, and also, I believe, of Mr. Mallock, in the attack on Marx, namely, the trotting out of the “inventor,” can surely not be meant to be taken quite seriously? In the first place the ideas of the inventor do not as such enter into the sphere of economics. Marx found in the great industry, as established, the three factors – the Workman, the Capitalist, and the Machine. He did not find Dr. Crozier’s pet, the inventor, “fooling round” (as Mr. Dooley might say), and, therefore, not being there he was not in a position to get him “huddled away,” as alleged by the learned doctor. Marx explains that in the process of Capitalist production, the workman is necessarily docked of a portion of the product of his labour, a portion which may be determined with fair accuracy, in the long run, in the different phases of Capitalist production, although it would be impossible to assess the amount of surplus value of which any given individual workman had been deprived. In estimating the rate of the exploitation of labour by capital we start from economic value as defined by Marx and the older economists, namely, specially useful average labour, simple or compound, as measured on a time basis. Hence the value of the Machine for Marx’s purpose is neither the use-value nor the exchange-value but the economic value as defined by Marx in the sense I have just given. Such is my answer to Dr. Crozier’s challenge on page 88.

Let us now come back to Marx, not as the analyst of Capitalist production, in other words, not in his capacity as scientific exponent of economic truths, but to Marx, the human agitator for the rights of the working classes, to Marx in his capacity as man with ethical impulses and socio-political aspirations. As I have already pointed out, sheer scientific analysis of the conditions of Capitalist production had led Marx to the conclusion that the present system of society must inevitably become transformed into Socialism. This, however, per se, is a purely theoretical deduction. It has, in itself, no immediate ethical or other practical bearing. But Marx was more than a mere theorist, he was also a Social Revolutionist with human sympathies. He desired the realisation of that future human society which scientific analysis showed him was already gestating within the womb of modern Capitalist society, and he desired its realisation as speedily as possible. His economic and historical studies had shown him the Proletariat as the heir of the ages in this connection, and as the class, in and through which the great change should be effected. They taught him further that the entry upon the scene of the Proletariat, as the dominant class, must mean the crucial step towards the abolition of a society based on classes altogether. Now here undoubtedly on the practical side of Marx’s activity, the ethical moment, the idea of justice towards a class which since entering the arena of history has been oppressed and disinherited, did play a strong rôle with him. That the producers of wealth have always been those who have been the least enjoyers of wealth is an undoubted fact. This fact, under the conditions of modern Capitalist production, is daily and hourly staring the whole world in the face. But that portion of the world for which writers like Dr. Crozier and Mr. Mallock have taken to themselves a special brief, the portion which has the good fortune to belong to the propertied classes, is very unwilling to recognise in its true bearings this same fact. Hence its advocates are compelled to have resort to subterfuges. Across the great patent fact of injustice inflicted on the working classes by the present system of society it is accordingly sought to draw a red-herring in the shape of an imaginary counter-victim, to wit, the Inventor. Now this poor fellow, it is contended, ought to have the whole increment of wealth produced by the machine-industry over earlier methods of production to his own cheek. It is not the working man who slaves at laborious toil his eight, nine or ten hours a day who is unjustly treated by the present system! Oh, dear no! It is a man who probably by the mere easy and acceptable exercise of natural gifts with which he has chanced to be endowed by “nature,” in the shape of ancestors, who themselves have had to thank untold generations of men for the faculties they possessed and for the whole social environment which has made them what they were – he it is, forsooth, whose lot ought to be bewailed, and not that of the workman who, by his toil, gives effect to inventions which but for him would be dead devices! Dr. Crozier himself admits, besides, the Socialist contention that “hundreds or thousands of minor workers have been engaged in building up the successive steps to every great scientific discovery and invention, before the single discoverer with whose name the great invention is identified has planted his flagstaff on the summit.” And how is Dr. Crozier going to find these out, be they few or many? No invention is isolated. It is inextricably bound up with innumerable other inventions and with the general scientific knowledge of its time. All this does not, of course, alter the fact that, as things are in present society, the actual inventor of any industrial process has a greater claim on its results than the mere man of money, the Capitalist, who exploits his invention. But this is as far as I, or probably any other Socialist, would be prepared to go. The idea of the machine as elaborated by its inventor would be as useless to him (the inventor) as the machine itself would be to the Capitalist, without the labour of the work-man. Socialists can see no justice, economic or other, in the man who has had the good fortune, without any exertion of his own, to find himself in the possession of great natural gifts, being allowed in addition to absorb, as an individual, a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth. Dr. Crozier affects to sneer at anything so immaterial as “honour” being a sufficient stimulus or reward to any man for exercising natural faculties which it would be probably a deprivation to him not to exercise. And yet he can hardly deny, one would think, that of all the great inventions of the last century there is hardly one in which ambition and honour did not play a far larger part with the inventor than any hope of mere material gain. It would be interesting, by the way, to know precisely how Dr. Crozier proposes to indemnify his precious “Inventor” after all is done. I suppose a perpetual patent, transmissible to “heirs and assigns,” &c., is what he has in view. If so, would he make such a patent law retroactive?

Would hypothetical claims to patent rights in the plough-share or the loom be admissible for examination? Or, again, does Dr. Crozier’s large heart open out equally to the artist, the composer and the author? Would he grant a perpetual literary copyright, for example, likewise with retroactive effect? In that case we expect some interesting points to arise when the population of the Minories lays siege to the High Court with its claims on the copyright of the Old Testament. No, no, Dr. Crozier, in vain is the snare laid in sight of the bird? Your plea for the “Inventor” is too thin. We can all see through this pathetic figure. We can all appreciate the fact that his theatrical entrance upon the scene of controversy is an ingeniously conceived device designed to confuse the issue by offering an object of counter-interest to that accusing figure – the working-man. However, Dr. Crozier is welcome to canvass for all the crocodile tears the bourgeoisie may have at its disposal, to be expended on the man who considers he has a right to place an indefinite charge for all time upon that labour without which his invention would be as useless to himself or to society as the fish that remain at the bottom of the sea are to the fisherman. The Socialist will certainly never discover any justice, economic or otherwise, in his demand, still less feel his heart moved to any sympathy with such a fellow, or his “heirs and assigns.”

Now let us consider the indications afforded us by Dr. Crozier of the extraordinary “scheme” he seems to think Marx of all people in the world, and with him all revolutionary Socialists, have up their sleeve. In the first place it may surprise him to hear that modern Socialism, and least of all Marx himself, does not offer any “scheme” at all. Individual Socialists may elaborate “schemes,” but these, whether right or wrong, good or bad, represent only their own personal opinions. Socialism as a doctrine, as recognised by the Socialist party as a whole, proclaims tendencies, the main lines upon which political and economic action must take to be effective in bringing us nearer the goal, namely, the complete communisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, which is the fundamental economic aim of Socialism. But as regards the immediate practice on which the detail of action or policy rests at any given time or at any particular phase of social progress, the guiding maxim of Socialism is pre-eminently solvitur ambulando – always, of course, within the limits of the economical, political, and ethical bases of the party-programme. But I am aware of no individual Socialist even of any note who has ever put forward a scheme involving the absurdities attributed to the unfortunate Marx and his followers by my respected opponent in the present controversy. As usual with the critics of Socialism, Dr. Crozier confuses between current Capitalist conditions and Socialist conditions. He tacitly assumes the whole framework of existing society and the existing state, and interpolates into it a measure supposed to represent the carrying out of some principle of Socialist society. The incompatibility being obvious, it only remains for him to exclaim, “Behold the absurdity, behold the monstrosity, of this proposal!” He cannot see that just as a statement of the main features of modern Capitalist society, rehearsed by some prophetic seer to a feudal baron of the twelfth century, would have involved preposterous absurdities to the mind of the latter simply because he crudely judged them by the conditions and standard of the society in which he lived; so he, Dr. Beattie Crozier, finds a difficulty in placing himself at the point of view of the principles enunciated by the scientific-Socialist seer of to-day, being equally incapable with our hypothetical feudal baron, of divesting himself of the prepossessions derived from the society around him in which he has been all his life immersed.

Let us take Dr. Crozier’s assumption, which troubles him, like so many other would-be refuters of Socialism, to wit, the assumption anent “payment” of labour, to the effect that a rigid beggarly pittance is to be the lot of all, including even that gentle and oppressed creature “the inventor.” Now here again we have a confusion between Socialism as a realised ideal of Society and Socialism in the making, between Socialism still militant and Socialism triumphant. For a completed Socialist society this question of payment does not arise; for such a society it is an anachronism. A Socialist society, as such, with its production for the use of all its members and not for the profit of the few, implies the requirements of life being equally within the reach of each and all. In such a society, therefore, the bogey anent the amount paid in wages will disappear since the wage-system itself will have disappeared, the whole wealth of the Socialised World being created for the needs of the inhabitants of that world. Some may require more of the “good things of life,” others less, just as some men now require three full meals a day, while the writer of the present article is content with what amounts to about one and a half. Again, some may require more in one direction, less in another; one may require things which minister to his intellectual needs, but be indifferent to the quantity and the quality of those things pertaining to his animal requirements; another may be just the reverse; a third may be a man of the juste milieu all round. But whatever the requirements of the Socialised world may be, a communistic production, distribution, and exchange, with the power man has acquired, is acquiring, and must further acquire, over the powers of nature, will afford abundant means of satisfying each and all. Then for the first time in history the mass of mankind will have at least the opportunity of leading that higher life of which we hear so much. Socialists hold that they have grounds for believing that this economic change will be followed by a corresponding intellectual change, and that the “three parts animal,” of which Dr. Crozier speaks, will tend to disappear as the sphere of the human extends itself. Hitherto economic conditions have effectually hindered this transformation of the animal into the human.

But what Dr. Crozier probably has in his mind when he is troubled as to scales of payment is not the completed Communistic Society above referred to, but the earlier stages of the transformation of Civilisation into Socialism. Here necessarily a modified form of the wage system, and hence of payments, must continue to survive. It might be alleged, of course, that it were incorrect to term such a transitional state of Society Socialism at all. In this I am unable to agree. I hold that as soon as the conscious aim of the directive and administrative forces of Society is towards Socialism, then Socialism may be deemed to have begun. Herein I adhere to the statement in Socialism, its Growth and Outcome (p.285), which reads – “It is clear that the first real victory of the Social Revolution will be the establishment, not indeed of a complete system of communism in a day, which is absurd, but of a revolutionary administration whose definite and conscious aim will be to prepare and further, in all available ways, human life for such a system – in other words, of an administration whose every act will be of set purpose with a view to Socialism.” This definition clearly shuts out mere Socialistic legislation, such as may obtain to-day within the framework, economic and political, of present Capitalist society, from the right to be described as Socialism, as is often done by “practical politicians.” Well, it is to this earliest phase of Socialism proper that, I take it, Dr. Crozier is referring when he expresses himself with so much concern as to his heart’s love, the “inventor,” having to subsist on the wages of the unskilled labourer. But who, I would ask, informed Dr. Crozier of any such hard and fast line as he supposes, having been drawn and decreed by Socialism? Certainly not Karl Marx, for nowhere in his writings, so far as I am aware, does he discuss points of constructive detail such as these. So long as the work of Socialisation is incomplete and the system of wage-payments for work done continues, such payment would doubtless be determined, to some extent at least, by the conditions of a still-surviving “market.” And even apart from this it would probably be regulated in some proportion to the needs of the special class of worker. That there would be a strong tendency to “levelling” up on the one side and “levelling down” on the other is undoubtedly true. But if it could be shown that a certain class of work, owing to its being more exhausting or for any other reason, required a different standard of living from other classes of work, this fact would doubtless be an element in the determination of the rate of payment for such work. To each “according to his needs” is a doctrine of the old Utopian Socialism which will never intrinsically lose its application. The dummy Marxian “street-corner stalwart” of Dr. Crozier’s imagination may, notwithstanding, possess his soul in peace as regards the danger of any differences of actual remuneration at this stage bringing hack “all the old inequalities of fortune and all the old exploitations again.” In proportion as the Socialisation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange progressed, the possibility of the Capitalisation of individual savings, and hence of their becoming the nucleus of a new exploitation of labour for private profit, would diminish in an increasing ratio day by day. Any positive material advantage that one man had over another at this stage could for practical purposes only take the form of consumable wealth, which would be a matter of little consequence one way or the other.

I cannot enter at length into Mr. Crozier’s psychology of human nature or his dogmatic assumptions as to the yearning of mankind, bien entendu of all mankind, I suppose, that was, or is, or is to come, for Inequality! I would only remind him that early humanity lived for ages under conditions of primitive communism without experiencing, so far as we can see, any of that yearning for inequality which seems to be a “ground principle” in the “human nature” postulated by Dr. Crozier’s psychology. The ideal indicated by the latter is that of human life as based universally upon the gambling principle, though the intensive application of the principle may be subjected to some sort of quantitative regulation. Now, I am no sympathiser with the Nonconformist conscience or with its ascetic theory of morals, and in consequence I have not the smallest objection to gambling as a pastime, any more than to any other pastime not involving cruelty, and pursued with reasonable moderation. I have no sympathy with the hypocrisy which persecutes gamblers for amusement and suppresses games of chance, while tolerating and approving the gigantic system of gambling involved in modern business life. But it is precisely this principle of gambling which the present organisation of Society involves as an essential element that Dr. Crozier would apparently consecrate as being proper to human nature for all time. Need I remind the reader that it is this very condition out of which all the ethical elements of our time, some of them not even avowedly Socialistic, are professedly striving to raise humanity. And yet this same appears to Dr. Crozier, who would probably, like a good Christian gentleman, regard roulette or baccarat as very wicked and demoralising, as a source of moral strength and joy in life. To base the whole principle of human life, with all the serious issues it involves, on chance plus cunning is as it should be; to speculate, as an occasional pastime, a few shillings “upon the hazard of a die” is a terrible evil to be promptly dealt with by drastic legislation. While it is wicked to play a game of chance as an occasional episode in life, it is right to treat life itself as a game (Dr. Crozier himself calls it the “game of life”), so at least says the bourgeois moralist of the Nonconformist persuasion. Not only does Dr. Crozier, like many of his predecessors in the task of finding fault with Socialism, read present conditions into a Socialist society, but he sets himself to depict certain evils which are the conspicuous and inevitable results of present-day competitive society – the dead-level of sordidness, the “scraping together the few odd shillings,” broken-up family life, &c. – and then, if he will pardon me for saying so, by an astounding piece of controversial “bluff,” attempts to saddle them on to a Socialist Society of his own imagining.

But if we examine the main drift of Dr. Crozier’s dread of what he terms the “dead-level of economic equality,” we shall find that this consists not so much in the fear lest he himself should not get enough of the good things of this life, as in the dislike of the “other fellow” having the same advantages with regard to them as himself. That the fecundity of economic production under Socialism cannot fail to provide, not merely a sufficiency but an abundance for each and all, I have already pointed out. But this, I fear, would not satisfy some of the critics of Socialism, Dr. Crozier among them. It matters not that they might have within their reach enough to satisfy all their reasonable requirements; they would not be happy, or at least they think they would not, without the knowledge that others were worse off than themselves, without the consciousness that others were suffering from the want of those things which subserved their own necessities and happiness in life. In a word, if we may believe their own report about themselves, their objection to Socialism rests upon the most brutal and unqualified form of egoism, on the confession that complete self-satisfaction is impossible unless accompanied by a sense of economic inequality, i.e. of the suffering of others. Now this strikes me as about the rawest and crudest exemplification of that so often misapplied and misused concept – selfishness – which it would be possible to imagine. In fact, so crass in their brutality do the words of these critics strike me that I am loath to “believe their own report about themselves,” and am inclined to take their protests in the light of a dialectical device to cover up the hollowness of their case. However this may be, I cannot think that the views in this sense expressed by them would be openly admitted by any considerable section of “human nature” even as it is at present, and would certainly not appeal to the “under dog,” to wit, the proletarian masses.

Once again let me point out that the inequality and the scramble for wealth which is the essence of competitive conditions, so far from furnishing an incentive to the best human endeavour, is wholly and solely productive of demoralised and bad work. To place even genius in the position to give the world of its best, the present accursed incentive of immoderate material gain must be removed. This it is which is the breeding-ground of all that is trashy and worthless in literature, in music, in the plastic arts, and in all the higher departments of human activity. The man who has something to give the world worth having feels he must give it even though he suffer materially the while. The charlatan who has nothing of worth to give, and even the genius who has yielded to the temptation to sell his birthright for the economic mess of pottage by pandering to passing and usually depraved public taste, work naught but corruption and degradation. In the case of the latter, indeed, mankind is a positive loser, since genius is perverted by the prospect of material gain from its true function to the production of trash.

Of course, we are treated in this latest attack on Socialism to suggestions as to the tyranny and coercion the “Socialist State” would exercise over the individual. Of the tyranny exercised to-day by the possessors of capital over the non-possessing classes, nothing is said. The tyranny imposed by the directive power of a Socialist Society would at most amount to the obligation of every average man to contribute a limited portion of his time to the carrying on, in some form or shape, of the necessary work of the world, by which true liberty would he ensured to all. Socialism means the administration of things, in contradistinction to our present civilisation, which means the coercion of men. The present state implies coercion in the interests, direct or indirect, of private property, all round. The ethical basis, which is the motive-power of the movement for economical and political reconstruction, may be found in the motto of the old revolutionaries of the eighteenth century – “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” It is, however, pregnant with a new content. The sense in which the earlier revolutionary took it has proved itself illusory, but its ethical significance none the less remains. The conditions of Capitalism themselves suffice to do the coercion in the economic sphere, but there are other forms of coercion of men in what Mill called “self-regarding actions,” which the State still exercises directly. It coerces men, in many cases by military service, to fight its battles with other States. This, again, is the result of the desire of each national State system to get the better of its neighbour, and of them all to enslave and plunder the savage and barbaric peoples of the earth in the pursuit of new commercial outlets and of fresh fields for the capitalistic exploitation of natural resources. Modern wars invariably take their origin in commercial or colonial rivalry. Again, in the purely personal relation of marriage, the existing State claims rights over the individual. Yet again, in the matter of religion it is, as a rule, bound up with, and favours, some form of the dogmatic Christian creed, which implies the coercion in various ways of the individual intelligence. Now Socialism stands for liberty in all these things. It stands for equal rights for all nationalities, and for the freedom of weak and backward peoples to pursue their own life and to develop in their own way uncoerced from without. It would free the individual from the obligation to take up arms in defence of the capitalist interests of the class-State to which he happens to belong. With the sentiment of patriotism or its opposite as a mere private emotion it has nothing to do. It would free marriage from coercive laws having their origin in property relations or in superstitious beliefs, while in no way dogmatising on the form which the institution of marriage and the family will take in the future or as to what is the best form. In this respect Socialism is no more opposed, as is sometimes represented, to the principle of life-long monogamy than it is to less stringent forms of the sexual relation. What it is opposed to is coercion, either by law or public opinion, of the individual in such a self-regarding matter. The question of children rests, of course, on a different basis, and ought to be dealt with separately. Similarly with theological beliefs and religious cults. Socialism claims a secular and scientifically up-to-date education for every child and young person. It would not prevent any citizen from amusing himself with, or persuading himself he believes in, Christian theology, Buddhist theosophy, or any other theory concerning the supernatural. But a Socialist polity, as such, would undoubtedly maintain a rigidly secular attitude showing no favour or affection for priestcraft, and for dogma claiming supernatural sanctions, in any of their forms.

To conclude, I think I have said enough to indicate the Socialist’s grounds for believing that under Socialism for the first time in history the individual will have the opportunity of real freedom, of real self-development, an opportunity he can never possess under the dead level of sordid struggle which characterises the Capitalist society in which we live.


E. Belfort Bax



1. It may be as well to point out here that the purely bogus opposition, so popular with a certain order of politician today between evolution and revolution does not exist for Marx and his followers. They recognise that every revolution forms a part, usually the consummation, of an evolution and that every evolutionary process contains within itself revolutionary momenta.


Last updated on 3.2.2005