Christopher Caudwell Studies in a Dying Culture, H.G. Wells, A Study in Utopianism
‘The Utopian’s mode of thought has for a long time governed the socialist ideas of the nineteenth century and still governs some of them. Until very recently all French and English Socialists did homage to it.... To all these, Socialism is the expression of absolute truth, reason, and justice, and has only to be discovered to conquer all the world by virtue of its own power. And as absolute truth is independent of time, space, and of the historical development of man, it is a mere accident when and where it is discovered. With all this, absolute truth, reason, and justice are different with the founder of each different school. And as each one’s special kind of absolute truth, reason, and justice is again conditioned by his subjective understanding, his conditions of existence, the measure of his knowledge and his intellectual training, there is no other ending possible in this conflict of absolute truths than that they shall be mutually exclusive one of the other. Hence, from this can come nothing but a kind of eclectic, average Socialism, which, as a matter of fact, has up to the present time dominated the minds of most of the Socialist workers in France and England. Hence, a mishmash allowing of the most manifold shades of opinion; a mish-mash of such critical statements, economic theories, pictures of future society by the founders of different sects, as excite a minimum of opposition; a mish-mash which is the more easily brewed the more the definite sharp edges of the individual constituents are rubbed down in the stream of debate, like rounded pebbles in a brook.’
Engels: Socialism – Utopian and Scientific.
It is evident that long before H.G. Wells had become famous as a writer, Marx’s collaborator, in the analysis quoted above, had accurately characterised Wells’s Utopianism. Engels was interested, not only in the phenomenon presented by each Utopian socialist who feels that he knows to the last detail what the world ought to be, but in how when these Utopian socialists, each with their precise but widely differing ideas, attempt to co-operate in any way, nothing can result but a general cloudy vagueness inhibiting action. This mixture, as Engels said, is a mish-mash.
The peculiarity of H.G. Wells, however, and the point in which he, as a later development of the school, differs from the earlier Utopian socialists Engels referred to, is in that he is not just one of the contributors to a mish-mash but the mish-mash itself. This was inevitable. Wells’s muddled thinking is not due, as he naively suggests in his Experiment in Autobiography, to some peculiarity of the blood supply to his brain, but to the anarchy of the world in which he was born. To early Utopian socialists the world was something precise, for bourgeois values were still precise. Equality, freedom and democracy were concepts that seemed to have meaning. How can they now, when equality has in some strange way become domination by trust capital, freedom is wage-slavery and democracy is Fascist Imperialism?
The Utopian socialists’ absolute liberty, freedom, etc., were the bourgeois values of their time, hypostatised as eternal. So are Wells’s. But in Engels’s time these values were not changing so rapidly as to be transformed into their opposites almost overnight. In Wells’s time this is just what has happened. And so each year sees Wells and those like him with a different Utopia and a new world-view. Wells is in the unhappy position of a tailor whose yard-rule alters capriciously in length overnight. Each morning he patiently measures off his yard of cloth, and the result is a long succession of inconsistent bundles of material. With each new book Wells sees Utopias run on new principles; new forms of salvation for man; new secret diseases accounting for present discontents; new Gods, invisible Kings. It is the unreason of it all that sickens Wells. If only man would be reasonable. Yet surely man can hardly be blamed for not trusting to reason if, in Wells’s hands, it produces so many diverse solutions, from a universal world-democratic federation to a world run by Samurai-bosses, from Liberal Fascism to a Roosevelt Brain Trust, from an open conspiracy to a world saved by a war so ghastly it destroys civilisation. Surely, rather than trust to the yard-stick of Wells’s ideology, it would be better to go on measuring out the material in the old Victorian bourgeois way. Other men have their separate standards of absolute truth, reason and justice, according to the different parts of the bourgeois system in which they find themselves, and Wells’s absolutely just and reasonable Utopias do not appeal to them at all. To God-fearing folk the morals of some of Mr. Wells’s Utopias seem most unjust. To the dress trade the nudity of Men Like Gods appears far from divine. Business men consider that scientists are unduly important in these States of to-morrow. Even those whose conceptions of the absolute are quite as simple and petit bourgeois as those of Wells, cannot fight down an uneasy feeling that the perfectly just, happy and beautiful State he paints would be unutterably boring.
For Wells is a petit bourgeois, and of all the products of capitalism, none is more unlovely than this class. Whoever does not escape from it is certainly damned. It is necessarily a class whose whole existence is based on a lie. Functionally it is exploited, but because it is allowed to share in some of the crumbs of exploitation that fall from the rich bourgeois table, it identifies itself with the bourgeois system on which, whether as bank manager, small shopkeeper or upper household servant, it seems to depend. It has only one value in life, that of bettering itself, of getting a step nearer the good bourgeois things so far above it. It has only one horror, that of falling from respectability into the proletarian abyss which, because it is so near, seems so much more dangerous. It is rootless, individualist, lonely, and perpetually facing, with its hackles up, an antagonistic world. It can never know the security of the rich bourgeoisie or the companionship of the worker. It can never rest on anything, for it is always struggling to better itself. It is the most deluded class, for it has not the cynicism of the worker with practical proof of bourgeois fictions, or the cynicism of the intelligent bourgeois who even while he maintains them for his own purposes sees through the illusions of religion, royalty, patriotism and capitalist ‘industry’ and ‘foresight’. It has no traditions of its own and it does not adopt those of the workers, which it hates, but those of the bourgeois, which are without virtue for it, since it did not help to create them. This world, described so well in Experiment in Autobiography, is like a terrible stagnant marsh, all mud and bitterness, and without even the saving grace of tragedy.
Everyone seeks to escape from this marsh. It is a world whose whole motive force is simply this, to escape from what it was born to, upwards, to be rich, secure, a boss. And the development of capitalism increases the depth of this world, makes wealth, security, and freedom more and more difficult, and thus adds to its horror. More and more the petty bourgeois expression is that of a face lined with petty, futile, bewildered discontent. Life with its perplexities and muddles seems to baffle and betray them at every turn. They are frustrated, beaten; things are too much for them. Almost all Wells’s characters from Kipps to Clissold are psychologically of this typical petit bourgeois frustrated class. They can never understand why everything is so puzzling, why man is so unreasonable, why life is so difficult, precisely because it is they who are so unreasonable. They are born of the irresponsibility and anachronism of capital expressed in its acutest form. And they do not understand this.
The ways of escape from the petit bourgeois world are many. One way is to shed one’s false bourgeois illusions and relapse into the proletarian hell one has always dreaded. Then one finds a life hard and laborious enough but with clear values, derived from the functional part one plays in society. The peculiarly dreadful flavour of petit bourgeois bitterness is gone, for now the social forces that produce unhappiness – unemployment, poverty and privation – come quite clearly from above, from outside, from an alien world. One encounters them as members of a class, as companions in misfortune, and this generates both the sympathy and the organisation that makes them easier to be sustained. ‘It’s the poor what helps the poor.’ The proletariat are called upon to hate, not each other but impersonal things like wars and slumps and booms, or classes outside themselves – the bosses, the rich.
It is the peculiar suffering of the petit bourgeoisie that they are called upon to hate each other. It is not impersonal things or outside classes that hurt them and inflict on them suffering and poverty, but it appears to be other members of their own class. It is the shopkeeper across the road, the rival small trader, the family next door, with whom they are actively competing. Every success of one petit bourgeois is a sword in another’s heart. Every failure of one’s own is the result of another’s activity. No companionship, or solidarity, is possible. One’s hatred extends from the workers below that abyss always waiting for one, to the successful petit bourgeois just above one whom one envies and hates.
The development of capitalism increases both trends, the solidarity of the workers and the dissension and bitterness of the petit bourgeoisie.
It is also possible to escape upwards. Many are called. All who do not sink into the proletariat strive upwards. Only a few are chosen. Only a few struggle into the ranks of the rich bourgeoisie. Wells was one of those few. The story of this sharp, fierce struggle and its ultimate success in terms of his bank passbook is recorded in Wells’s Autobiography.
Some try to escape into the world of art or pure thought. But this escape becomes increasingly difficult. Take the case of the artist in the young Wells’s position. A dominating interest in art will come to him perhaps as an interest in poetry, in the short story, in new novelist’s technique. Painful and unproductive at first, his study of his craft will also be uneconomic. It will not pay. But how is he to live? Is he to proletarianise himself? Is he to starve in a garret on poor relief? But starvation in a garret as an outcast despised member of the community will necessarily condition his whole outlook as an artist. He will write reacting with or against proletarianisation, or as an unsuccessful petty bourgeois, or as an enforced member of the lumpen-proletariat, and all society will seem compulsive, rotten and inimical to him. Moreover, art itself in that era, being the aggregate of art produced by these and their like antecedent conditions, will be more and more outcast, turned in on itself, non-functional, and subjective, it will be the sincere, decadent, anarchistic art of a Picasso or Joyce.
It was impossible for Wells, imbued with this burning desire, to escape from the petty bourgeois hell, to accept art as an avocation, a social rôle, and be driven in on himself as an outcast from bourgeois values. He could only accept it as a means to success and the best road to cash. His autobiography reveals the early stages of his struggles in the literary market to attain five-figure sales and a five-figure income.
It is probable that Wells had, naturally, a primarily artistic bent. His gift for vivid metaphor and the word used with a delight in its texture appears in welcome flashes amid oceans of turgid and shoddy thinking. But once having denied art as an avocation justified by its social utility in favour of art as a cash-producer justified by sales, the development of his writer’s gift was stifled. No characters live in his novels except as transitory aspects of himself. The conflicts of his characters are unreal, their relationships unconvincing and non-progressive, the whole background and action is pervaded by a superficiality and shoddiness which Henry James analysed correctly. Wells has not created any art of importance, and his life spent in the petty bourgeois upward struggle has prevented him from getting into touch with reality. No real contemporary problem is ever the theme of his novels. Doubtless this explains the appeal to his mind of the scientific fantasy, with which alone – and then only in his youth – he achieves any measure of artistic success.
There was also the escape into the world of ‘pure’ thought. But the scientist is faced with the same kind of problem as the artist, although only now has it become as acute. One can fasten oneself to thought, but then how, speculating, is one to live by speculating? The problem will affect one’s thought, by one’s isolation and inability to obtain the apparatus and assistance for experiments.
Alternatively one can find work as a thinker and bring one’s scientific capabilities to the cash market. Here bourgeoisdom is kinder to science than to art, for science is more often profitable to it. There are posts where the thinker is paid merely to think. But these are few and already growing fewer. Most scientists must live on patents, armament research, and teaching. Bourgeoisdom warns them severely that science is growing a nuisance; there is over-production, ‘there should be a close period for invention’.
As it happened, Wells tried this way of escape also. He studied under Huxley. Rightly or wrongly, he believes he would have made a good scientist. But once again the necessity of escaping from petty bourgeois poverty stepped in. He became a demonstrator in order to be able to afford to marry, and presently was writing articles for the popular press. His possible scientific career was blocked by the necessity of ‘keeping up’ a wife and home.
But these experiences of his in his escape into wealth, necessarily taught him all the difficulties and all the frustrations of his class in their acutest form. His books are full of pity for the typical petit bourgeois – ‘poor dear muddled’ So-and-so, solitary, discontented, ambitious, subject to blind forces. He is unable to overcome his petit bourgeois reverence for the big bourgeois – the Roosevelt, the far-seeing capitalist visualised as a Samurai. And he is unable even to imagine what workers are like. As he acknowledges, he does not know them, has not talked to them, cannot understand them. All he has of them is childhood memories of the proletarian abyss below the petit bourgeois, the dreadful Morlocks whom one must kill blindly when revolting they come up to the light of day.
This means that Wells’s world is unreal. The whole world of modern society derives its energy and character from the interplay between the bourgeois and. the workers. The petit bourgeoisie, the only class Wells understands, is simply the dust flung off by the impact of these two forces. Therefore it is impossible for him to grasp what is happening in the world to-day. Everything seems mysterious, arbitrary, frustrated. But because he has climbed into bourgeois security he must always without realising what he is doing identify himself with bourgeois interests. He must crusade for Imperialism in the War, for liberal Fascism and a New Deal during peace. He must always loathe all signs of the arising of the Morlocks, and crusade relentlessly against Marx or any Socialism that admits the existence of classes, that is ‘ungracious’ or ‘bitter’. Classes are mere fictions, he tells us, due to our deluding ourselves with ‘personæ’ and myths. Thus Wells understands the world less than the crudest hard-fisted capitalist, who knows clearly what he stands for and with whom he is fighting.
Since contemporary conditions not only hurt and frustrated Wells in his upwards struggle from the petit bourgeoisie, but forced him also to trample on such longings as he may have had for art or science, Wells necessarily took a critical attitude towards these conditions, and equally necessarily, because he did not understand them, could only criticise them with irresponsibility and constantly changing opinions. He took the rôle of popular ‘thinker’, writer of the novel ‘of ideas’ and of ‘outlines’ of science and history, because he had been unable to pursue real art and had been forced to forsake real science. He could not be creative, for creation is the prerogative of the man who is real artist or real scientist. Necessarily therefore he became the great entrepreneur of modern and not-so-modern theories. Although lately science and history have left him behind, he was able to use all the discoveries of, say, 1890 to 1910 – psycho-analysis, early anthropology and comparative religion, archæology, physics and biology. But because he was devoid of any world-view and had not escaped from the inborn bewilderment of the petit bourgeois, he can make nothing but a muddle of all these ideas – an eclectic mish-mash. The subtlest and acutest hypothesis in his hands somehow becomes clumsy and shoddy. Science’s most vital discoveries recounted by him seem grey and linen-draperish. Can there ever have been a man accepted seriously as a thinker, who showed so little capacity not merely for original but even for clear and logical thought? Wells might have occupied a position similar to that of the Encyclopædists. But the Encyclopædists were bourgeois in an age of bourgeois revolution. They belonged to the dynamic force of society. They were part of its structure, one of the vital levers in the machine, not like Wells part of what is not even a dying class but the fluff broken off that class in its operation. Therefore these Encyclopædists had a perfectly clear and definite world-view. It was a real world they lived in, and whose structure they knew from inside. All the contemporary discoveries they popularised, were fitted into a coherent real frame. Wells had nothing in which to fit them; hence the characteristic Wellsian muddle.
It is a strange and in a way pathetic illusion this of Wells, that by forsaking art, science and action for propaganda he can change the world. We can see its genesis, how it arose necessarily from the circumstances of his ascent from the petit bourgeois hell and his abandonment of science and art. It takes shape in the typical bourgeois error, the error that thought is prior and moves the world and that if only people would see reason (while the capitalist machine remorselessly constrains their every movement) they would act rightly.
Wells sees – as must every man of even normal intelligence, and Wells is a man of more than that – on the one hand the hopeless confusion of bourgeois social relations, and on the other hand that society’s productive forces, in the form of physics (science) and machinery (technical resources), contain enormous potency which can only be realised in different social relations.
But the proletariat does not exist for Wells. The change therefore can only come from within the bourgeois class. The tack of ‘setting right’ the world becomes one of showing the bourgeoisie their errors. The world is to be set right by argument. But the very fact that he thinks this indicates that he himself has no rational basis on which to argue, that he is intellectually one with those he wishes to convert. He does not see that the principle of causality involves that bourgeois social relations have not only given birth to enormous powers and the possibility of their own destruction, but also to all the irrationalities of ideology which reflect the same confusion. He assumes on the contrary that the concepts lying naturally in his mind were not formed by his education and his environment, but are God-given concepts of absolute justice and truth, a spark of the undying fire. He supposed instead that the muddleheadedness, ignorance, blindness, wickedness, wastefulness, and militancy of men that he saw around him had produced the muddled world of economic, politic, and social relations, as if men had not been born with blank minds and educated in the world but had stepped suddenly on the earth and by a fiat of their wills had produced the sad picture. It is the old bourgeois error of knowing producing being, of the freedom and primacy of thought. As always, man’s will is believed free in itself, and not only in so far as it creates conditions which realise its freedom. The historical outline which made Wells famous is not defective, as bourgeois historians assert, because of its neglect of this or that fact, its minor inaccuracies, its cavalier treatment of ‘great men’, its ‘new’ interpretation of policies. On the contrary, never was a better miniature bourgeois history written than this Outline. There are no classes. Wars are caused by man’s identification of themselves with tribal gods such as Britannia and Kathleen in Houlihan. The Outline is notable for its complete lack of any causal presentation of historical development, so that man’s enthralling and noble history, so rich in content, so tense with effort, so perpetually new in quality and process, seems nothing but a nightmare of ideological futility, in which unreasonable kings and unscientific statesmen and well-meaning religious leaders lead their unfortunate followers in a will-o'-the-wisp dance – a gloomy scene, relieved only by the shrill voice of Wells’s angry preaching.
Wells makes the old bourgeois assumption that men are born, each perfectly free, and that their wants and dreams mould the world of social relations, not that the world of social relations their wants and dreams, which in turn react upon the world of social relations to produce a continual process of historical development. Because of this Wells naturally makes the ‘logical’ deduction that to change man’s mind it is necessary to preach to them convincingly and interestingly, and then all will be accomplished as one desires. Moreover, since he assumes that the relation between mind and environment is perfectly fluid, that the mind can make of the environment anything it pleases, he quite logically considers as his primary task the drawing up of a completely planned Utopia, including details of drainage, morals, and election methods, so that this planned Utopia can by his converted readers be brought into being. And because this Utopia is planned in minute detail, according to the best ideals of the bourgeoisie on the particular day on which he is writing, he has the ludicrous illusion that this is scientific socialism and (actually) that Marxism is unscientific. Wells’s ‘science’ requires as its first step the substitution for all laws of causality of the free operation of the mind, and it is characteristic of his completely bourgeois mentality that he does not see this and does not even understand the principles on which his theories are based. It is doubtful if Wells has ever realised, in spite of his scientific education, that the whole purpose of Marx was to write history causally. Social development may, as in the bourgeois world, be apparently governed by the blind forces of nature producing slumps and wars, or as in communism it may be governed increasingly by the conscious and therefore planned forces of society; but in both cases there is a causal relation beneath phenomena. It is because the bourgeois denies causality as Wells does in his Outline, and because the Communist asserts it, and discovers its law, that man in communism can become free. To deny the existence of laws, as the savage denies the existence of physical causality by substituting mythology, is to be the slave of those laws. To assert or discover them, as does the scientist, is to be their master.
In these latter days Wells can see small hope for our troubled world. What hope can exist within the circle of the ideas that rule his mind – since they are bourgeois ideas? Only two alternatives exist to-day within the bourgeois class, collapse or Fascism, and both are ultimately the same. All Wells’s Utopian dreams of the future turn more and more on these two alternatives – on the one hand a New Deal, a State run by Samurai, a giant ultra-Imperialistic democratic world-state as the result of an open conspiracy – on the other hand, as in the Shape of Things to Come, complete collapse with the vague faith that somehow in some unspecified way, in some remote corner, the problems have all been miraculously solved and a Redeemer arrives from this Utopia in a glittering aeroplane to put things right from above, like a divine bureaucrat.
In all these Utopias thought reveals its solitary poverty. Thought visualising the future and divorced from action, can do no more than project the disheartening poverty of the present into the richness of the future. These bourgeois dream-Utopias with their standardisations, their extinction of national distinctions so dear to the heart of human beings, their characterless, commercialised, hygienic, eugenic, Aryan-Fascist uniformity not only do not allure us – they revolt our minds. If the future holds no more than this, we think, let civilisation die. They hold us back and discourage us, rather than urge us on. But the lesson of history tells us that it is not so. Thought is not here to be trusted. Thought is static so long as it treads only thought’s round and, like a metaphysical logician, cannot bring to birth newness or greater complexity, but only a reshuffling of those elements it already held, given it aforetime by action in experience. It is action that is rich and creative; being is perpetually contriving new patterns and higher complexities. Action is more mysterious than that unmysterious word mystery, more varied and enchanting than that Utopia which, like a Christian Paradise, either repeats the sensual delights of the present or takes refuge in negatives – ‘tongue cannot say or heart conceive’. Action is the process of development itself and brings into birth what our limited thoughts cannot to-day conceive, and by doing so makes possible those richer thoughts we would long to think but cannot, those dreams we only dream of having. Is thought then utterly vain, a chance iridescence on the seething tumult of the sea of being? No, for thought is being, is a part of being, developed historically as part of action to aid that action which we regard as primary, which action in turn casts fresh light on being. At every stage thought must find issue from action and, with what it has learned from action, return to fresh thinking, which again goes out to fresh action. Thus the boundaries of the known and influenced world perpetually widen, while its image in consciousness perpetually deepens and grows in complexity. This is the law of development, not only of science but of all thought whatever. The function of thought is not to shuffle its stale concepts into some fresh might-have-been world and expect action to follow suit, but to probe deep into the world of being, lay bare its causal structure, and draw from that causal structure the possibilities of future being. Man has already done this with physics, where, by knowing the necessities of dead matter, we are free of them and can subdue them within the limits of those laws to our own will. The same baring of causal structure was performed by Marx in the sphere of society, where, by exposing the principal laws of motion of bourgeois social relations, he has shown how thought can follow the grain thus revealed. Thought following the grain of social relations can, by action, by social revolution, make man fully conscious of himself as a man and plan society to achieve his own freedom. Thus while the Utopians project their unsatisfied aspirations into the future and expect being to conform, how they know not, the scientific socialist is concerned to find what defect in contemporary social relations has given birth to his aspirations, and to what new system of social relations, generated step by step out of the present, this symptom points. But as for what this world will be when social relations no longer press on man blindly but he is truly free – how can we children of a collapsing world, in all the ruin wrought by our outworn social relations, ourselves exactly predict?
Thus thought by remembering its integrity with being, whereby thought acquires a history and change and returns on the rest of action to enrich and guide it, gains the power it possesses only in bourgeois theory and in bourgeois use seems not to possess. In bourgeois theory thought is free of necessity and in bourgeois practice is therefore helpless in the face of necessity. In Marxist theory thought is conscious of necessity and is therefore free. Wells, believing that thought and consciousness are prime movers, has spent his whole life in ‘popularising; his absolute truth and justice, in making them bright and attractive and vivid and easily digestible. He has been read ‘by millions’ but simply because of that his work has been a vain beating of the wind, for his very appeal to millions resulted from this, that his readers like himself were caught in the same round of bourgeois metaphysics, of thought eternally returning on itself and finding no outlet in action or connexion with reality. Yet Marx, who made no concessions to popular appeal and never attempted to make his doctrine ‘attractive’ who preached the subservience of thought to social necessity and wasted no time in planning beautiful Utopias – it is this Marx who appears to have shaken the bourgeois world. It is Marx’s writing which appears to have overturned the government of one-sixth of a world and established a new order. It is Marx whose ideas in the remaining five-sixths are always the spear-point of social action and form the rallying point for the active forces of revolution in all countries. No one has moved into action behind the banner of Wells. If indeed thought alone moves the would ‘of its own right’ independent of its connexion with being, how is it that Marx’s ideas, explained with so little propaganda such lack of emotional appeal, prettiness and fantasy, so destitute of poetry and sex-appeal, appear to have conquered reality? All unconsciously, a bourgeois critic of Marx has grasped the truth. Marx, he said, has not produced revolutionary activity anywhere. It is the revival of revolutionary activity which has ‘revived and reinflated’ Marx. And this is true. The tremendous power of Marx’s ideology is drawn, not from the form of that ideology but from the content of contemporary social relations. Marx, instead of voyaging into the Future on a Time-Machine to find his own petit bourgeois ideas symbolised in Morlocks and Eloi, pierced into the heart of contemporary capitalist being and escaped from bourgeois ideology into the structure of bourgeois society. By exhibiting in his writings the causal laws he thus discovered, he also made possible the machinery of revolution which would change social relations by action, just as a scientist’s discovery of a physical law permits the construction of machines to produce at will the phenomena generalised in the law. Marx’s ideology has behind it all the pressure of the social forces of our age. Each slump, each war, every new business transaction, every concentration of capital, every fresh exploitation, every second of the development of bourgeois social relations, adds fresh force to the ideology of Marx, and as frosts break up a ground, prepares our minds, long tranced in the aridity of bourgeois thought, for the dawning consciousness of tomorrow.
It is Wells’s tragedy that of all contemporaries who have interested themselves in social change and seen the anarchy of current social relations, he is least a Socialist and farthest from Marxism. And this, in its turn, is due to his petit bourgeois mind.
The bourgeois, as soon as he becomes disgusted with the muddle and decay of his own class, necessarily turns to the proletariat, and since he has only been taught to regard them as inferior brutes, he is able to turn to them with pity, as one turns to animals. He is able to regard them as the most suffering class, and this pity for the proletariat as the most suffering class burns brightly in the writings of Wassermann, Toller, Tolstoy, and Barbusse, and even warms faintly Shaw and Galsworthy. There is no trace of it in Wells, for Wells comes from a class that regards the proletariat not as passive inferior brutes but as something dirty and evil and dangerous and terribly near. Because he has been so busy getting upwards out of the petty bourgeois hell, Wells has never had time to become conscious of this limitation or learn the truth.
The conception of the proletariat as the most suffering class fills the disgusted bourgeois with indignation and passion. It becomes a source of emotion and humanity, well seen in Wassermann’s Christian Wahnschaffe, that prevents such a man’s writings from ever having the unreality or emotional aridity of Wells’s. They may burst into white flames of fury at the sufferings of the proletariat, as in Christian Wahnschaffe’s cry to his father:
‘The guilt that arises from what men do is small and scarcely comparable to the guilt that arises from what men fail to do. For what kinds of men are those, after all, who become guilty through their deeds? Poor, wretched, driven, desperate, half-mad creatures, who lift themselves up and bite the foot that treads them under. Yet they are made responsible and held guilty and punished with endless torments. But those who are guilty through failure in action are spared and are always secure, and have ready and reasonable subterfuges and excuses, yet they are, so far as I can see, the true criminals. All evil comes from them.’
Wells could never see his ‘Morlocks’ as Wassermann sees them, as ‘poor, wretched, driven, desperate, half-mad creatures’. He could never burn with indignation and be restless at the thought of the proletariat ‘Under Fire’, exploited, transported to Siberia, always and everywhere the most suffering class.
And yet what leagues and leagues the bourgeois has yet to travel, even when arrived at this realisation of the proletariat as the most suffering class, before he can understand the reality of the society in which he finds himself! For he has to understand that this most suffering and exploited class, this herd of ill-treated animals, is something very different, the sole creative force of contemporary society. This class which he comes to comfort and set free and relieve, has on the contrary the task of comforting and releasing and reviving him. These sufferers afflicted by war and capitalist anarchy and slumps are to fight and destroy these very evils. The world of his youth whose ruins he sees tumbling on them, is to be rebuilt and more largely planned by them. This humiliating knowledge, which can only be won against his instincts, by an insight into the structure of the social relations in which he lives, is the most difficult of all wisdoms for the bourgeois to attain. Wells is a hundred miles from it. A long dispersed array of draggled pilgrims filed along the road to the revolution of thought and being. Only a few bourgeois have yet arrived there.