Daniel DeLeon

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The flippancy of the last sentence is to be regretted, especially in view of the importance that our critic seems to attach to his private opinions in the premises, an importance that, in a way, they deserve seeing that in the course of the Socialist Movement they have before now periodically recurred, and, although uniformly rejected, present a recurring mental phenomenon that should be well understood, that has to be reckoned with, and that must, be resisted if Socialism is to triumph. Comrade Connolly’s coat-tails shall remain untouched. He will be met in front.

The three heads – Wages, Marriage and the Church – under which the above criticism is presented, obviously resolve themselves into just one head. Nevertheless, the three shall be taken up seriatim.

Wages and Prices

Under Wages an S.L.P. organiser on the stump is quoted as having said that rises in wages are offset by rises in prices; that a Kangaroo quoted against that a passage from Marx’s Value, Price and Profit; that the S.L.P. organiser airily brushed aside the objection; that, consequently, he probably knows of Marx nothing but the name, and that such a theory knocks the feet from under the S.T. & L.A. and renders it little else than a "ward-heeling club" for the S.L.P.

The S.L.P. organiser was right on the matter of wages and prices; the conclusions drawn against him and as to the effect of his position on the S.T. & L.A. are wrong; and it was just like that superficial Kangaroo, to have digested Marx so ill as to whip up an abstract theoretic sentence as from an ambush, against facts known and felt by all, and that no wise affect or are affected by the theory.

The story is told of a prisoner who sent for a lawyer and told him his case. The lawyer pulled out of his pocket his manual of the criminal code, hunted up a section, read it aloud to the prisoner, and said: “Stuff and nonsense, you can’t be arrested!” “But here I am in a cell.” The lawyer again quoted from the code, insisting that the man could not be arrested, and kept it up until the prisoner kicked the shyster out. The clause quoted by the shyster lawyer did stand in that code, but the code contained also another clause, and the two had to be interpreted synthetically, and not dislocatedly. And so on this matter of wages and prices. In that identical work on Value, Price and Profit in which the theory is correctly shown that a rise in wages does not necessarily imply a rise in prices, Marx says: “Having shown that a general rise of wages would ... not affect the average price of commodities or their value,” the question comes whether Labour can secure higher wages without having to submit to higher prices, and this question he answers: “As with all other commodities, so with labour, its market price will, in the long run, adapt itself to its value; ... despite all the ups and downs, and do what he may, the workingman will, on the average, ONLY RECEIVE THE VALUE OF HIS LABOUR, WHICH RESOLVES INTO THE VALUE OF HIS LABOURING POWER, WHICH IS DETERMINED BY THE VALUE OF THE NECESSARIES REQUIRED FOR ITS MAINTENANCE AND REPRODUCTION,” – in other words, higher wages, in the long run, without at least proportional higher prices of necessaries, would mean a market price for labour out of keeping with its value, which is determined by the value of the necessaries required for its maintenance – an economic absurdity.

Marx does not consist of one sentence for Kangaroo agitators to star the country on, or for scribblers to set up such articles on Marxism as abound in the London Justice. Marx consists of a vast literature that is both practical and theoretic, and the distinctive feature of Marxism is the practical application of its theoretic part.

The economics on the question being as just stated, do they “knock the feet from under the S.T. & L.A.”? Not in the remotest. A notion prevails in some quarters that, if, indeed, all increase of wages which a labour organisation may secure is nullified by a corresponding rise in price, then labour organisations have no purpose. The notion is false, and the false reasoning is overthrown by Marx himself in scores of passages.

For one thing, a Trades Union’s incapacity to actually raise wages does not imply incapacity in all other important wage respects. While the actual raising of wages is an ideal, and that ideal, cannot be enjoyed in the long run, there is a ‘next best’ thing – the preventing of wages from dropping to the point that they inevitably would in the total absence of organisation. That the trades union, even the pure-and-simplest, does that is not open to discussion. Wages are declining on the whole, relatively and absolutely, but long ago would we have reached the coolie stage if the union did not act as a brake on the decline.

This fact, superficially considered, would only seem to be another knockout to the S.T. & L.A. It might be argued: “Very well, I drop the idea that, if prices keep step with higher wages, the theory of unionism is knocked out; I drop that, but then the feet of the S.T. & L.A. are anyhow knocked out from under it. If even the pure-and-simplest of unions perform the only beneficial function that unionism can accomplish, why start the S.T. & L.A.? Why not all join the pure and simple union?”

This argument is frequently heard on the part of men who call themselves Marxists, and every time it is made it betrays their incapacity for a synthetic comprehension of Marx. For the same reason that the beneficient though negative provisions contained in a truce between two armies on a field of battle, would result disastrously to that one of the two that may be so ill informed as to construe the TRUCE for a TREATY, and deem victory won and the war ended – for that same reason do the compacts, periodically entered into by pure and simple unions with capitalists, and that have the beneficient effect of brakes on the decline of wages, exercise a steadily evil influence upon the working class. Pure and simple unionism condemns the Labour movement to the status of a routed and retreating army, with unionism as the rear guard, uninformed and visionary enough to imagine its periodical and temporary stands against the advancing cavalry of capitalism to be victories that end the war. All the good that there may be in such stands and truces are hereby lost, they become a bane. As the scourge that concentrated machinery is to-day upon the race is not a feature essential to the concentrated and otherwise beneficient machinery, but only the result of an incident, and an incident that can be and must be removed, to wit, its private ownership character, so is the steadily evil influence exercised by pure and simple unionism not a feature essential to unionism but only the result of an incident, to wit, its pure and simple character, which ignores the perpetual condition of war between Capital and Labour. This incident in unionism can and must be removed. Class-conscious unionism CAN profit by the truces that it concludes with Capitalism because it will not mistake them for treaties that end the war, consequently its retreats would never be retreats that inevitably are but the preliminaries for further and ever worse retreats, its retreats would be the preliminaries for final triumph. The S.T. & L.A. is there for the purpose of removing that incident that now blights unionism; that is the reason for its existence, and that is why, even though prices rise in tempo with the alleged rise, of wages, and even though pure and simple unionism checks the decline in Labour’s earnings, the S.T. & L.A. form of unionism is a necessity.

Without mentioning other valuable features of bona fide unionism, apart from the wages feature, grossly unfit would that S.L.P. organiser be who, on the stump – not engaged at writing a book – but on the stump, and in the face of both the obvious rises in prices and the false pretences of the Labour fakirs concerning how they are raising wages, would indulge in the Kangaroo vanities of quoting theories, out of their context, befuddle his hearers, play into the hands of the fakirs, and thereby boost the pure and simple delusion. Whatever else may be said of the S.L.P. organiser who would resist such vanities, not to him the charge will stick of knowing of Marx hardly more than his name.

In sociology as in biology formations shade into each other without destroying the typical feature of each. The Labour Movement or Socialism is political, and economic. The S.L.P. represents the type of the political, the S.T. & L.A. of the economic arm of the Movement in the continuous war between the Working Class and the Capitalist Class. For all these reasons both organisations stand on feet too firm to be knocked from under them, and, while each trains and is bound to train recruits for the other, unfit is any remark that even remotely hints at either as a present or potential ‘ward-heeling club’ for the other.

The rest and bulk of the criticism is pointedly at the alleged "anti-religious" tendency of the S.L.P. Our critic takes up the subject under three distinct heads: The People’s treatment of clergymen who attack Socialism; Bebel’s Woman, and Vandelvelde’s article –; all of which appeared in these columns.

Attacks on ‘theology’

As to The People’s treatment of clergymen who attack Socialism the charge is: “If a clergyman anywhere attacks Socialism the tendency is to hit back, not at his economic absurdities, but at his theology.” In vain do we search in that passage, or in any of the others that precede or follow it, for even a remote hint of an allegation of fact or instance illustrating the charge that if a clergyman anywhere attacks Socialism he is hit back not at his absurd economics but at his theology. Being unaware of ever having tackled our clerical opponents on their theology, left in utter darkness for an illustration of such being done, we have ransacked our memory. A long procession of instances where we ‘hit back’ at clergymen started a cavalcade before our mind’s eye, and as each instance crossed the reviewing line, we questioned it, Art thou a case in point? For instance:

The Roman Catholic Cardinal Gibbons, fresh back from the conclave at Rome, where he took the oath to defend the temporal power of the Pope, “usque ad effusionem sanguinis” (up to the shedding of blood), declared Socialism unpatriotic and Socialists un-American. He was ‘hit back’ by asking him with what grace he, who had just been swearing such extreme allegiance to a foreign temporal power, could denounce the Socialists as ‘un-American and unpatriotic.’ – Was that theology?

A Chicago Jewish Rabbi sermonised on the baneful effects of Socialism inasmuch as it would destroy the incentive to work. He was ‘hit back’ with the figures and facts showing how the sweat-shopped Jewish workingmen fell by the wayside utterly despondent, seeing that the more they worked the quicker they knocked themselves out of work. – Was that theology?

Clergymen of all denominations have insulted the Socialists’ wives and children. They were ‘hit back’ by holding up to them the utterings of their own savants, pronouncing prostitution a necessity of capitalist society. – Was that theology?

Clergymen of all denominations have slandered Socialism as a destroyer of the family. They were ‘hit back’ with proofs that the capitalist system, which they uphold, tears the mother from the child, and throws her into the factory; reduces earnings and thereby prevents marriages; makes the worker dependent on the fickleness of the market and thereby sends him far away from his family in search of work; separates the sexes thereby building ‘he-towns’ and ‘she-towns’, and they were convicted of being the abettors of the ruination of the family. – Was that theology?

A Roman Catholic Archbishop denounced Socialism as an inciter to rebellion against the “word of God,” which commanded man to be satisfied with “the station in which it has pleased God to put him.” He was ‘hit back’ and silenced with the question whether he was not a hypocrite, seeing he was then an Archbishop, whereas “it had pleased God” to put him in another station by making him the son of a rum-seller. – Was that theology?

Another Roman Catholic prelate pronounced Socialists unutterable on the ground of their materialist conception of history. He was ‘hit back’ with two arrows from his own quiver. One was the passage where Jesus, before preaching to the multitude, satisfied their physical wants, and considered that so important as even to perform a miracle, so as to first feed them on loaves and fishes; the other quotation was from a leading Catholic divine who maintained the necessity of the Papal temporal power, on the ground that, without the temporal (material) basis, the spiritual duties of the Church could not be performed. – Was that theology?

The whole Catholic hierarchy in chorus slandered the Socialists as murderers of rulers and disturbers of the State at the time of the Czolgosz affair. They were ‘hit back’ by citing a long list of murderers of rulers down to present days, including Czolgosz himself, all of whom were Catholics, and by showing that their theory of society, terrestrial society, by exaggerating the value of the individual and by claiming that governmental power comes from above instead of from below, was, under given conditions, a natural breeder of assassins of rulers, as the long list showed. – Was that theology?

We call a halt to the procession. If such instances are instances of attacking theology, then the subjects. must be considered theologic. There should be no confusion regarding such definitions. The S.L.P. does not consider them theologic. If any there be who does, he should state so categorically. We should all know it.

Theology or religion is a delicate and occult thing. No man of sense and surely none of feeling will, ‘hit back’ at that tender vein. He will respect that private feeling with others, as he will expect others to respect it with him. But that is one thing, and another is to allow clergymen to extend the jurisdiction of ‘theology’ over terrestrial and civic matters, as they endeavour to do. To allow them to, and not ‘hit back,’ and hard, too, at such clerical usurpations over a domain that is purely civic, would be to allow them to walk into our encampment, take possession, and non-suit the cause of Socialism – and that indeed would “be satisfactory to the enemy.” With Daniel O’Connell, the S.L.P. says: “All the religion you like from Rome, but no politics.”

Bebel’s Woman

As to Bebel’s Woman, our critic is certainly right when he says that “judicious extracts,” that is, garblings, from the work will repel. So, decidedly so, would “judicious extracts” from the Bible or Shakespeare. The visitation of being ‘judiciously’ garbled is one that no work, not the purest and soundest, is free from. There is nothing in that charge. Moreover, what sort of intellect is that that will place its judgment in the hands of garblers, and allow it to turn from a work by garblings? Surely, not upon such material could Socialism build – nor did any great movement ever build on such intellectual quicksands. Nor are we inclined to dispute the view that some of the revelations in the book may tickle the prurient who may see in them only pruriency. We all know that there are men of the Comstock make-up who can see in the shape of the Venus of Milo only prurient nudity. That, however, the popularity of the book is due to such pruriency, is an unfelicitous statement, which, in its preposterous sweepingness, cannot but shake confidence in the coolness of our critic’s judgment. Finally, and first to dispose of minor objections, our critic’s “case in point” – where, after economic independence has been secured to man and woman, the instance is supposed of a man ceasing to love his wife and mother of his children, then loving some other woman, and leaving the former, and closing with the question whether economic freedom would be solace to the deserted mother and children – is in strange contradiction with the observation that the paragraph opens with, and in which our critic asserts that he always has been and is now of the opinion that “the tendency of civilisation is toward the perfection and completion, instead of toward the destruction of monogamic marriage.” This “case in point” recalls the “cases in point” that single-taxers are wont to adduce against Socialism – they all proceed from the mental bias acquired under present conditions, and from the error of forgetting that the altered and superior conditions will remove the results that are the essence of most of these “cases in point.” How can anyone expect to see monogamic marriage perfected, and yet conceive such a “case in point,” despite the material conditions have been removed that to-day render “elective affinity” or “natural selection” a lie on the lips of the praise-singers of capitalist society; that to-day lash man and woman into false acts, before, during and after marriage; and that so cruelly bruises monogamic marriage? How can such a monstrosity as the one cited in the “case in point” be imagined – not as an exception whose shockingness only would tend to promote monogamic marriage – but as a "case in point" that society must reckon with? How can such a "case in point" be conceived but by a mind that carries into future society the sights of the present, and the material impressions from which they proceed? We hold that, using the term ‘monogamic marriage’ in its ethnologic and only sense in which it may properly be used, both the facts gathered by Bebel and the further facts and argumentation presented by the translator’s preface, leave room for no conclusion other than that monogamic marriage only awaits the economic freedom of the race to blossom like the rose.

The “case in point” directly leads to the fundamental error from which the objection to Bebel’s Woman proceeds.

The opinion that “the abolition of the capitalist system will, undoubtedly solve the economic side of the Woman Question, but will solve that alone” is utopian in that it denies the controlling influence of material conditions upon any and all social institutions. What that influence is no Marxist should question. For its influence on ‘marriage,’ etc., there is the monumental work of Lewis H. Morgan – an undisputed authority in ethnic science. Here are some of his conclusions, gathered at random after a mass Of demonstrative facts:

It is impossible to overestimate the influence of property in the civilisation of mankind.

After the experience of several thousand years it (property) caused the abolition of slavery upon the discovery that a freeman was a better property – making machine.

The monogamian family owes its origin to property ... The growth of the idea of property in the human mind ... is intimately connected with the establishment of this form of the family.

The whole work abounds with illustrations that revolutionised ethnology and furnished Marxian sociology with its irrefutable ethnic basis, going to show that the tenderest affections and sentiments – physical, sexual and mental – have developed along the line of and in the measure that material conditions made them possible. This thirty-third edition of Bebel’s Woman, planted squarely on Morgan, supplementing Morgan with Marx, and weaving in the historic connection of marital relations, has an educational propagandistic value which no amount of actual or imaginary thorns that may attach to the stalk of that rose can nullify. No wonder the S.L.P. never went through the superfluous trouble of consulting or voting upon the essential merits of this cannonball fired through the web of lies that the spokesmen and candle-holders of the usurping class have woven and seek to stuff the human intellect with.

Vanderevelde’s article

Finally, as to Vandervelde’s article, which, barring a few obvious typographical errors, was published in these columns in full, and not in extracts, as it appeared in The Independent. Here our critic is, if possible, still more infelicitous than under the previous heads.

Is a man wrong in what he is right because he is wrong in what he is wrong?

What sort of argument is that which leaves allegations of fact – that may be true and may be false – untouched, and would seek by indirection to discredit them with the utterer’s wrong doings in other respects? Vandervelde expresses private opinions and he also adduces allegations of fact. As to the former, for instance, his opinion touching the numbers of free-thinking workingmen who are Socialists, such opinions are not statistics of facts but of fancy, like our critic’s statistics about “hundreds of women who were repelled from studying Socialism” by judicious extracts from Bebel’s Woman; or the statistics of the man he once ran across somewhere who told him “De Leon had driven hundreds of thousands of men out of the S.L.P.” Why spend so much time on these unimportant matters, and not a word on Vandervelde’s allegation of what M. Woeste, one of the heads of the Belgian Catholic party, said? Or his other allegation quoting the Catholic writer, Donoso Cortes? Or on his allegations that go to show the Catholic Church in Belgium to have openly converted itself into a political machine? Our critic says truly that “on every question of tactics he (Vandervelde) has proven himself unsafe,” but what about the questions of FACT that he alleges? Our critic pronounces the article “absurd”, does the sentence of “absurd” extend over the allegations of fact regarding the Catholic political party in Belgium, and the quotations from Catholic writers? If the allegations of fact are “absurd” why not expose them with counter allegations so that the readers may verify the allegations of both sides, and find out on what leg the “absurd” boot lies? Or must we conclude that seeing it is clergymen who run that political machine, and seeing they give their party a religious name, the matter, therefore, becomes ‘theology’ – and the Belgian Socialists should not ‘hit back’ at that.

Without abandoning the judicial temper and moderation necessary in the handling of such grave issues – grave in view of the role they have played in former movements – we must emphatically say that – after enumerating a long list of Kangarooic and heels-over-head acts of Vandervelde, for all of which he has been severely taken to task in these columns, and on account of which The People has uniformly expressed a poor opinion of the man as a tactician – our critic is unhandsome in his climax: “but, lo, he (Vandervelde) speaks against the Catholic Church, and presto, he is become an oracle!” There is no warrant for the reasoning, least of all for the conclusion of “oracle.” With greater justice could one argue:

The Belgian Socialists have been fighting for the suffrage – good; they have been opposing the system of plural voting, that artificially raises their exploiters from a minority to a controlling majority – good; they have been struggling to gain political power under a programme that demands the public ownership of the land on and the tools with which to work – good; they have been claiming that Labour alone produces all wealth, consequently Labour being in poverty, is plundered, consequently, the idle capitalist, being in affluence, is in possession of stolen goods – good; they have been demanding liberal education and leisure to profit by it, and proving their plunderers to be in a conspiracy to breed and perpetuate ignorance – good; but, lo, the Catholic Church takes the political field in Belgium against all that, and presto, all that is become theology and should not be bothered with!

Aye, Socialism is a political and economic movement, and the S.L.P. is seeking to clear the way for the Social Revolution. It will keep to that! It will neither degenerate into Kangarooic vain splittings of hair on economics, nor will it allow any one clergyman or organisation of clergymen, to rule it one inch off its legitimate, terrestrial field of action. It will firmly keep hold of the whole of its big enough and noble proposition.

Editor “The People”,
April 9, 1904.


Last updated on 7.8.2003