"The Challenge of Social-ism" by Benjamin Farrington (1947), ed. by Tadit Anderson (2014)
Preface by Tadit Anderson: The following is an article published in 1947 in the Irish "Review" by Benjamin Farrington, who was a noted "social-ist," classics scholar, and professor. The title "The Challenge of Socialism" combined a call by James Connolly, who had been an inspiration and mentor to Farrington in absentia. Farrington echoes Connolly in calling for the communal capacity for the creation of jobs. This specific advocacy did not have the economic and fiscal depth which has evolved as part of the legacy work to Modern Monetary Theory/functional finance(MMT/ff). Even so, it is based upon both archeo-economics and an affinity to a functional and socialized variety of governance. Its advocacy for both economic literacy and essentially a jobs guarantee capacity makes his perspective deeply congenial to MMT/ff. The text of this booklet seems strongly sympathetic to the then contemporary calls for an "instrumental" economics and for fiscal objectives in support of democracy as voiced by Adolph Lowe, by Abba Lerner, and by others.
Farrington's primary claim to fame is in his scholarship demonstrating the cultural and philosophical roots in classical antiquity of western capital-ism and imperialism. Also it addresses many of the superstitions which continue to occupy the western discourses related to being in the economic world. In a strong sense this part of Farrington's body of work represents a broader contribution to our understanding of the European reformation and how it also was the functional, empirical, and interpretive basis of modern science. Farrington also incorporates Giambattista Vico's interpretive methods which are described in Vico's New Science and are as well the basis of his critique of a familiar array of superstitions and cultural conceits. The related discourse was also very influential in the development of the interpretive methods which later characterized the European social sciences through Hegel, Marx, and the societal based hermeneutics.
The perspectives of Connolly and Farrington also share an emphasis upon a practical sort of socialism which is distinct from the sentimental "socialism" which currently dominates the majority of the discourse of contemporary "socialism." Part of the MMT/ff legacy, I believe, is that Lowe and Lerner favored a similar sort of functional socialization of institutional economics. Their version was voiced in a somewhat different way due to the cultural environments in which they lived. I believe that the two approaches are both compatible and largely isomorphic.
Connolly and Farrington were much less restrained in their language than Lowe and Lerner. Part of this difference was to distance Lowe's and Lerner's research and theoretical models from the more familiar versions of socialism. In the era and context where they lived, in the west, "socialism" was routinely demonized. Often it was assumed that the state was the appropriate socializing agency representing control by workers over the means of production of economic and fiscal policies. This semantic shift was partly due to self-preservation as foreign nationals in the U.S. while it was under the fever of fascism and xenophobia as embodied by the US House Un-American Activities Committee as political show trials and in the public book burnings of that era.
In his time and place outside of the literal territory of the U.S. Farrington tended to a form of idealistic over-reach favoring the U.S.S.R. as an imagined and contemporary bastion of "socialism." It was a sentiment widely held among self described socialists, and largely accounted for in their reaction to the more familiar abuses of western capital-ism and imperialism. Here it needs to be emphasized that Ireland was the first British imperial conquest, and that Farrington and Connolly were also strongly Irish culturally. Farrington provides a clear analysis of the apologists and conceits supporting the British occupation of Ireland within this article. Prior to the date of Farrington's article Stalinist socialists were an important factor in the collapse of the Spanish Civil War as a majority "anarchist" and democratic resistance to both Franco's forces and to the feudal control of the Catholic Church well prior to the official dating of World War II. Also pre-dating this article is the view of Wilhelm Reich that the U.S.S.R. had already descended to a form of state fascism, as described in Reich's The Mass Psychology of Fascism first published in 1933. It was fairly common in that era for declared "socialists" in the U.S. outside of political office and of academia to admire the U.S.S.R. based upon their own reactions to their immediate political cultures and their ardent expectations of socialism, even if weak on the functional nature of that political fiction.
Hyman Minsky, as another example, avoided the literal language of socialization by his very dry sense of irony exemplified in his maxim "economic stability, tends to be destabilizing." Minsky's zen like maxim seems like a concise reference to the influence of the cultural conceit of economic "stability," as capital-ism upon the management of communities. The elimination of social standards within a market under the fiction of economic stability favors the private accumulation and control of capital. The market which operates contrary to the interests of the community will be simply be anti-social. This is also expressed within the patterns summarized as "Gresham's dynamic," as the destabilizing of a market by private interests will enable the occupation of that market by private interests as capital-ism. This remains directly contrary to various forms of capital-ist "libertarianism" framing Gresham's dynamic as a pattern of seniorage issues.
There also comes a point when the need for speaking in the code of polite and politic language needs to be dropped for a more literal definition of "social-ism." The main agency of a socialized and sovereign governance should serve the "demos," or "the people," rather than serving private wealth and the private control of wealth. My choice is for a semantic based upon a socializing process comparable to common stocks of social knowledge and in the conditioning of social capacities, as advocated by Alfred Schutz and Hannah Arendt. In my view the differences are less by their intent, than in their semantics.
This is also consistent with Istvan Meszaros's specific criticism of 20th century "socialism," as lacking an authentic "communal critique." In the absence of a communal critique the economics of an institution will take on an anti-social character. In this perspective social control favoring democratic outcomes require a communal critique. There is an ironic content as well in that naive "socialism" has tended to assume the functionality of "socialism" by fiat. Without a communal critique the related institutions would lack the social nature to validate its socialism. It could only be a conflation and conceit by political and economic convenience and superstition. This goes as well to the lapses in the scope of what is presented as "social-ism" in the US. Often it is little more than antiquarian polemics limited to a strictly "Marxian" or pseudo-Marxian rhetoric. At worst it represents the betrayal of the very values and objectives that that are usually assumed to identify social-ism.
Farrington describes this sort of social-ism as "sentimental socialism," as socialism absent of a sense of functionality or economic literacy. In our present context this is an apt description of the singular concern for income inequality without full recognition how that these concerns might be remedied other than through the acceptance of capital-ist and neo-classical economic superstitions. Even so, taxation and subsidies are an important folio of fiscal capacities, though it is not the only set of capacities that can be applied to remedy a dysfunctional community. Further the simultaneous concern about the social nature of a market or other "social" institutions, and the acceptance of the theo-classical doxology affirming ritualized faith in the "invisibility of capital-ism and oligarchy ends up producing economic instability. Using the public purse to promote a national equity can also support employment in a counter-cyclical fashion. This is also a socially conditioned communal capacity.
When "social-ism" descends to a form of reactionary polemic or antiquarian seance, much like neo-classical economics, it escapes the objectivity of science, institutional functionality, and a more public form of communal critique. Admitting that Marx 's theoretical model was imperfect in some of its details only diminishes the certainty of a perverse sort of "socialist" authoritarianism, ie ' if Marx wrote it, it must be right.' Acknowledging the massive breadth and depth of his synthesis, one of Marx's errors was in his adoption of the neo-classical assumptions defining currencies. As a major contributor to the project of socializing politics, history, and economics for the management of communities, we can still appreciate the majority of Marx's efforts. It is simply fundamental to both an objective and communal critique. The main point is to move forward at least to restore a more appropriate level of economic and thereby political literacy and of social functionality.
One of Farrington's major contributions was in exposing the ideology and affinities deep within what is presumed to be Western culture, more specifically the mythological nature of classical Greek, as per Mycenaean, culture under the the presumptions of the idealistic and oligarchic conceits of "republican democracy." I suspected what he validatedshed through his scholarship. If not for Clifford Conners's A People's History of Science, I possibly would have never had discovered Farrington's research. His (Farrington's) best book, in my opinion is "Science and Politics in the Ancient World," and should be on the same shelf as the archeo-economics that underpins Modern Monetary Theory and multiply cross referenced.
Conners also was led to retrieve Farrington's historiography to establish an expanded understanding of the European reformation and thereby the development modern science. In essence it was in the capture of the historical narrative that the actual foundation of modern science was expropriated to impose an elite narrative of what is framed as origin of modern physical science, industrial design, and technologies. This approach also frames MMT/ff as a genuinely scientific variety of social science, just as the hermeneutic versions of sociology and history depart from elite dominated social "sciencism" and the narratives of social "physics."
In substance Farrington identified an important part of the ideological legacy which defines western capital-ism and imperialism. These assumptions and superstitions are foremost represented by Plato, Aristotle, ... and then the Roman Catholic Church after the 325 CE Council of Nicaea, and the elevation of Catholicism to the status of a state religion. They were then reproduced to validate Euro-centric "enlightment" and other more modern forms of the bundling of privilege, authority, and wealth also typical of "capital-ism." This is one piece of how slavery and tribute based economics which continues to dominate most of the nominal present day social sciences and elite fictions of entitlement. This package of cultural conceits and superstitions needs to be exorcised.
Neo-classical economics as the primary model sustaining the fictions and friction of capitalism approaches the same level of superstition and fraud which presume to validate the conceits of nations, scholars, and courtiers. The subversion is also reflected in Bill Black's frequent quips about "Theo-classical" economics. The question then turns to when we will finally exit the superstitions of the dark ages" One important thread is the high level of importance of employment for working people, and particularly the hardship and deep poverty experienced in an economy and community which has surrendered to the interests of plutocratic capitalism. I've generally adopted a convention of hyphenating "social-ism" and "capital-ism to emphasize their character as participles and verbials, rather than as nouns with massive imputed and misrepresented conflation.
I have taken a few minor editorial liberties for the sake of clarification. Assume that the references to "men" are intended to be "neutered" to refer to both men and women. This is all in the context of economic sociology as based upon an interpretive paradigm, as per Marx, Mannheim, Weber, Lowe, Arendt, Schutz, and others. I can transmit a digital copy of Farrington's actual original text, since it is difficult to find, upon request. TA
"The Challenge of Socialism" By Benjamin Farrington 1947 published by the "Review," Transcribed from the original pamphlet
Three quotes from James Connolly:
"The control of all the means of life by private individuals is the root of all tyranny, national, political, militaristic. They who control the jobs control the world." The Workers' Republic December 18, 1915
"In the long run the freedom of a nation is measured by the freedom of its lowest class. Every upward step of that class to the possibility of possessing higher things raises the standard of the nation in the scale of civilization. Every time that class is beaten back into the mire, the whole moral tone of the nation suffers." The Workers' Republic, May 29, 1915
"As we count civilization it means the ascendancy of industry and the arts of industry over the reign of violence, pillage, and slavery... "Civilization" necessarily connotes the gradual supplanting of the forces of order and careful provision for the future. It means the leveling up of the classes and the initiation of the people into a knowledge and enjoyment of all that tends to soften the natural hardships of life and to make that life refined and beautiful. The Workers' Republic, October 30, 1915
Introduction by the "REVIEW":
This is the first pamphlet to be published under the auspices of REVIEW, the monthly journal, published in Dublin, which, in the tradition of James Connolly, is endeavoring to arouse among the Irish people an intellectual interest in and understanding of the science of Socialism and the great world wide movement that has grown up around it.
Appropriately enough, our first pamphlet has the title "The Challenge of Socialism." The Author, Benjamin Farrington, was born in Cork in 1891. Educated at University College, Cork, and Trinity Colleges, Dublin, he has held posts in the universities of Belfast, Cape Town (for fifteen years), Bristol, and since 1936, Wales where he is now professor of Classics at University College, Swansea. Besides translating from the Latin and editing early accounts of South African native peoples and portion of the medical writing of Vesalius and portions of the medical writing of Boerhaave, he has written Primum Graius Homo, Samuel Butler and the Odyssey, Science in Antiquity, The Civilization of Greece and Rome, and Science and Politics in the Ancient World. In August, 1946, he delivered two lectures in Dublin at a weekend school sponsored by the "Review."
(Farrington's edited text follows:)
Thirty Years ago I was already unconsciously a Marxist. [T.A. : "Socialist": here should be defined early as toward validating the economic and fiscal functionality, objectives and structure of the community, not only by the democratic electoral selection of representation.] I owed this initiation to James Connolly, whom I heard speak, though unfortunately once only, and all of whose writings I read. His "Labour in Irish History," his "Reconquest of Ireland," his "The Axe to the Root," seemed to me then, when I was a student in Dublin, and seem to me still the most important political utterances of any Irishman of our day. It might indeed be questioned whether any other generation of Irishmen had any leader so intellectually adequate to the demands of his time as Connolly was.
I am one of those on whom the Dublin Strike of 1913 left an indelible impression. The social misery and the moral inadequacy then revealed are things one ought to not forget. I do not forget them, and much of 1913 survives into today. The Irish people do not yet own Ireland. Indeed there cannot be many countries in Western Europe where the mass of the people own so little. After having lived ten years on the other side of the Irish Sea I was shocked to encounter again what I had known so well in Ireland, the immense gap between the rich and poor. The poor in Ireland are much poorer than they are in Great Britain. The multitude of necessitous or practiced beggars are one proof of this.
The housing conditions, even if there have been improvements, are very bad and the prospect of real relief seems much farther away than in England. The conditions of the work of the teachers, as disclosed in discussions of their strike, comparatively very bad. Emigrations may not necessarily be an evil, though I cannot forget that in the days of struggle against England, after World War One, one of the hopes held out to us was that self government would put an end to emigration. But the thought of Irish workers being drafted into the mis-managed mines of Great Britain until conditions there improve is not pleasant. Looking at the situation all around, there is not much evidence of workers' power in Ireland, and Irish capital seems to be doing pretty well. It seems to enjoy all of the freedom it could want. What has been emancipated by the struggles of the last generation is not the Irish worker but the Irish bourgeoisie.
You cannot gather figs from thistles, and the capital-ist system is not one which can emancipate labour. It must enslave it. The negative effects of the structural concentration and control of wealth and in the circulation of currency are massive. Is there any evidence that wide sections of responsible Irish opinion are beginning to appreciate this truth? Recently there was a Commission on Vocational Organisation. I must admit I viewed the composition of the Commission with some surprise. When old enemies get together easily it generally means they are frightened by some common danger and the alliance lasts until the danger has been dispelled. And here we have a Catholic bishop and a Protestant bishop sitting side by side, a Jesuit in council with an eminent Presbyterian, a veteran trade union leader in conference with representative of the new financial oligarchy. In peaceful discussion they settle everything. With a few reservations here and there they were able to agree on a plan to make everyone in Ireland prosperous and happy. Had they agreed to liquidate capital-ism? [TA: Hyphenated from the original to emphasize the strategies used to exploit capital in the private occupation of the public commons including the common currency for rentier profits. Literally the focus upon the private accumulation and control of the distribution of capital, including currency.] On the contrary they had agreed to recommend its perpetuation in its latest pernicious form - the corporate state. It seemed as if a spectre was haunting Ireland, the spectre of worker's power, once fought for by Connolly and now realized....in many other places, and as if the leaders of Irish opinion (if the commissioners be allowed that name) had gathered in hasty council to summon the shade of Mussolini to rescue them.
Far more interest seems to me to attach to Arnold Marsh's study, "Full Employment in Ireland." Here is a mass of information about Ireland and some other countries, well digested and clearly set forth, which it seems to me should prove of the greatest service to serious students. I cannot but regret, however, that the whole discussion is based on a false premise. Reviewing the book in The Irish Monthly (May, 1946), the Jesuit priest begins: "Can mass employment be abolished in a free society?" This question fairly represents Arnold Marsh's problem. But we have to ask: "Can a society be free in which there is mass unemployment or the threat of it?" Again, the democratic functionality of the economy. This is the net result of the occupation of fiscal capacities and policies. This is an equally important question, and it does not seem to me that Arnold Marsh does anything to help solve it in putting his whole argument under the aegis of the Papal encyclicals. The evocation of state sanctioned superstitions to control the general population is a well worn pattern, by definition it is absent a communal critique, and usually based upon the conflation of position and privilege.
Arnold Marsh tells us: "To the majority of the people of Ireland the teaching contained in the Papal Encyclicals is the authoritative guide according to which practical policy must be formulated." And what help or guidance is there in the empty and ambiguous phrases which Arnold Marsh selects from the encyclicals for our education? " Each class must receive its due share." But what is a due share? And are the classes eternal? "Social justice cannot be said to have been satisfied as long as workingmen are denied a salary that will enable them to secure proper sustenance for themselves and their families; as long as they are denied an opportunity for acquiring a modest fortune and forestalling the plague of universal pauperism." What workingman has ever benefited by such platitudes? "The State must take every measure necessary to supply employment, particularly for the heads of families and for the young."
Only one state in history,(the US under the leadership of President F.D. Roosevelt,TA) has ever done that, and it cannot be said to be in favor at the Vatican. "Such social and economic methods should be adopted as will enable every head head of a family to earn as much as is necessary for himself, for his wife, and for the rearing of his children." That is obscure enough in all conscience, but Arnold Marsh also comments: "(These) extracts make certain religious-political duties so plain that the attitude of some leaders has become a cause for astonishment and scandal. Knowing what is required of them they do not set themselves to do it." What guidance is there in all of this? A man might as well hamstring himself before a race. Here are our "plain and religious duties." But where does the religion end and the economics and politics begin? Where do we begin to think for ourselves and where do we wait for someone to do our thinking for us?
The question of poverty, of avoidable poverty, is deserving of more serious treatment than this. It goes to the very roots of our society and cannot be helpfully handled by commissions or individuals who are not prepared to strip themselves of all illusions, drop all shams, and prepare themselves of all illusions, drop all shams, and prepare themselves for a fight for truth and justice which will make demands upon their minds and hearts of a new and unfamiliar kind. In the Dublin of 1913 it was clear that we did not know enough and did not care enough to tidy up the mess in which our city lay and still lies, in which our country lay and still lies. Some kinds of problems we can deal with. We can send food and clothes to starving groups in Europe. We can bring French or German children to rest and recuperate in Ireland. But we cannot do the same for our Irish poor. It is beyond our capacity to secure for all Irish children food, clothing and medical attention. Why should this be so? I put the question bluntly to one of our reformers and he gave me a blunt answer. " We can rescue refugees from war-stricken areas without changing our social system. We cannot rescue our own poor without changing our social system." This is the challenge of socialism. When shall we answer it?
When I was a boy, and I should add, where I was a boy - for there may have been parts of the earth more enlightened than Cork - when we "went socialist" we supposed that socialism meant taking what wealth there was in the country and dividing up equally. The problem was one of distribution. We thought that if the wealth of the community was fairly distributed everybody would be pretty well off. Later on our elders and betters pointed out to us that if the available wealth was equally distributed everybody would be miserably poor and all enterprise would be strangled. When we had digested this truth we recovered from our "socialism." We had our measles and were safe from infection for the future. I suppose I too should have recovered from my socialism, if I had not learned from Connolly to understand the word socialism a little better, to understand the socialism that is a science and not a sentiment, the socialism to which a serious man can give his mental as well as his sentimental allegiance.
Some seventy years ago the socialists of Europe were in conference to discuss what is called the Gotha Programme, a document which was intended to guide the practical activities of socialist parties in the struggle that lay before them. Karl Marx could not be present but he prepared a critique of the programme which seemed to him to labour under grave scientific defects. The document, short and unpretentious in form, gives expression to ideas that are potent in transforming the world to-day. To the burden of intellectual toil involved in the composition of the document was added the moral burden of sharp criticism of fellow-workers in the socialist cause. In acknowledgement of the double strain Marx wrote at the end in Latin: 'Dixi et salvani animam meam,' "I have spoken and saved my soul." Perhaps the most fundamental truth Marx was here attempting to win acceptance for was that social-ism is fundamentally a matter of production not of distribution. I shall now give you his statement in his own words.
"In general it is incorrect to make a fuss about so called distribution of the means of production and put the principle stress on it. The distribution of the means of consumption at any time is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capital-ist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, viz., labour power. Once the elements of production as so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the cooperative property of the workers themselves, then this likewise results in a different distribution of the means of consumption (from the present democracy) has taken over from the one of the bourgeoisie economists. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of democracy) has taken over from bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of social-ism is presented as turning principally on distribution. After the real position has been made clear, why go back again?" (Marxist-Leninist Library, Vol. xv, p. 15).
[[On this Lenin comments: "Marx contrasts vulgar socialism with scientific socialism. The latter does not attach great importance to distribution, but explains the social system by the organization of relations of production and considers that the given system of organization of relations of production already includes a definite system of distribution. This idea runs like a thread through the whole of Marx's teachings." (Selected Works, Vol. I p. 460)BF]]
Marxism calls itself scientific socialism and teaches that one cannot be an effective socialist without serious study of history and politics. [TA: unfortunately "economics" and fiscal capacities are left out or implicit within "history and politics."] It is contemptuous, and rightly and necessarily contemptuous of that superficial and sentimental socialism which thinks that all a socialist requires is a soft heart and a sense of fair-play. It is this superficial socialism which thinks that the ills of the world could be remedied if people would only divide things up fairly (to reduce inequality). Placing all the emphasis on distribution, they imagine that all that is necessary for a radical reform of the world is an appeal to the conscience of mankind. Such persons are wholly ignorant of the depth and complexity of the problems of poverty. And when socialists point out to them that their appeal to the conscience of mankind is utterly inadequate, unless conscience includes much more than a soft heart and a sense of fair play, they are shocked and join the ranks of those who cry out upon socialists as indifferent to morality, but they try to practice that higher morality which makes demands on the head as well as the heart
The fact is that mankind must produce wealth before it can divide it. Only in the highly industrialized portions of the globe does the possibility exist, even to-day of producing a sufficiency of food, clothing and shelter for all. The whole history and fate of humanity has depended in the past and depends to-day on man's possible control of production. No civilization at all was possible until man had gained a considerable measure of control of the productive forces, and the reason why, though man has been on this earth perhaps for 500,000 years, and Homo Sapiens has been on the earth for 50,000 years, man has been civilized only for the last 5,000 years. It is also the reason why, throughout the whole history of civilization, only a minority of mankind has enjoyed the fruits of it.
The majority of men have been hewers of wood and drawers of water, a minority have enjoyed leisure, adequate food and shelter, opportunities for culture. It would be idle for the Chinese(1947), whose techniques of production is still primitive, to seek the well being of all by dividing the wealth of the few land-owners among the masses of peasants. They have to conquer modern methods of production. It would have been idle in classical antiquity for any pagan philosopher to have tried to abolish slavery unless he had been prepared to abolish civilization. Classical civilization rested on the slave. As little could any Christian teacher in feudal Europe, had he been so minded, have raised the lot of the serf.
The means of emancipation for the mass of mankind have come only with the conquest of power. It is the special province of scientific social-ism to have analysed the development of society in relation to man's control of his material environment, that is, in relation to the development of the productive forces. It is the special message of Marxism to have taught mankind that it is no longer in sufficient control of the productive forces. It is the wrong relations of production and a faulty social system, that stands in the way of the emancipation of all men from the spectre of want. The scientific socialist analysis of history makes clear how the present form of capital-ist society has come about. This analysis of capitalist society also makes clear how it can be transformed into something better. It attempts something more than an appeal to the emotions. It also makes demands on the head as well as the heart.
The fact is that mankind must produce wealth before it can divide it. Only in the highly industrialized portions of the globe does the possibility exist, even to-day, of producing a sufficiency of food, clothing and shelter for all. The whole history and fate of humanity has depended in the past and depends to-day on the social control of the means of production. No civilization at all was possible until man had gained a considerable measure of control of the productive forces, and that is the reason why, though man has been on this earth for about 500,000 years, and Homo Sapiens has been on the earth for about 50,000 years, man has been civilized only for the last 5,000 years. It is also the reason why, throughout the whole history of civilization, only a minority of mankind has enjoyed the fruits of it.
The majority of men have been hewers of wood and drawers of water, a minority have enjoyed leisure, adequate food, and shelter, opportunities for culture. It would be idle for the Chinese, whose technique of production is still primitive(1947), to seek the well-being of all by dividing the wealth of the few land-owners among the masses of peasants. They have to also conquer modern methods of production. It would have been idle in classical antiquity for any pagan philosopher to have tried to abolish slavery unless he had been prepared also to abolish civilization. Classical civilization rested on the slave. As little could any Christian teacher in feudal Europe, had he been so minded, have raised the lot of the serf. The means of emancipation for the mass of mankind have come only with the conquest of power.
It is the special province of scientific socialism to have analysed the development of society in relation to man's control of his material environment, that is, in relation to the development of the productive forces. It is the special message of socialism to have taught mankind that it is no longer insufficient control of the productive forces of an economy, but also the wrong relations of production, A faulty social system also stands in the way of emancipation of all men from the spectre of want. The evolving socialist analysis of capitalist society makes clear how it can be transformed into something better. It attempts something more than an appeal to the emotions. It makes also an appeal to the head.
The fact that socialism has become scientific, that it now demands of its adherents (as the condition of the solution to the crisis in the capitalist world in our day) also an understanding of the development of society in relation to the development of the forces of production, -- this fact has brought about the alliance between intellectuals and workers so characteristic of the modern world.
And do not forget that one purpose of this alliance is to bridge the gap between workers by hand and brain. This is a division which has been created by the slow process of history and which the process of history is now closing again. James Connolly is a case in point. While the hard conditions of manual toil often preclude for the workers the possibility of a high intellectual culture, a man of exceptional mental endowment can triumph over these difficulties, and if he should have the good fortune, as Connolly had, to encounter a true theory of society, a theory that truly orientates the place in history of the productive forces of labour, he may, aided by his own experience, assimilate that theory, feel and know the truth of it, expound it, and develop it, with an independence, originality and grasp, which will leave the academic student far behind. Such was the case with James Connolly, and I take this opportunity to acknowledge again the debt I owed when a student to this working man.
Permit me to dwell a moment on this point. In 1915, having completed my studies at University College, Cork, I was undergoing furher training at Trinity College. For a second time, in a second university, I was completing a course of studies in the civilization of the ancient classical. It was at this point that I came across Connolly's "Labour, Nationality, and Religion." This little book, as no doubt you know, is a reply to the Lenten discourses against socialism delivered by Father Kane, S.J., in Gardiner Street, Dublin, in 1910. Father Kane's discourses were an average sample of obscurantism. A great parade of ancient learning designed to produce confusion of mind on a contemporary issue. A perpetual gush of pseudo-emotion designed to paralyse the will before a challenge to bold action. James Connolly, who had had to make a living as a dustman, had not had what seemed ideal opportunities of education. But not only did his mind and heart reject the obscurantist purpose and shoddy rhetoric of Father Kane. Trained as he was in scientific socialism he had also the clear understanding which enabled him to expose the fallacies of his learned opponent. Father Kane affected to quote Aristotle in condemnation of socialism, meaning hereby to cast Aristotle's vote on the side of Martin Murphy against the Dublin workingman.
Connolly comments: "The word 'Socialism,' and the socialist principles were unheard of until the beginning of the 19th century; and Aristotle was born in 384 B.C.. Hence to quote Aristotle as writing about Socialism is like saying that Owen Roe O'Neill sent a telegram to the Catholic Confederation at Kilkenny in 1647, or that George Washington crossed the Delaware in a flying machine."
This is the end of part two of three parts
(This part three of three parts)
Having secured Aristotle's vote for Martin Murphy, Father Kane tries all he can to exalt his authority. "We will go back to the old Greek philosopher, Aristotle, the philosopher compared to whom Kant, Hegel, Comte, Hobbs and Locke are merely dreaming boys or blundering students. Aristotle founded his philosophy on fact." Yes, but on what fact? Father Kane was trying to recommend the social philosophy of Aristotle to his trusting audience as founded upon fact. On what social fact was it founded? Connolly gave him the answer:
"We will purify Aristotle's philosophy of the teaching he derived from the slave world in which he lived, and make it socialistic. Let us remind Father Kane that Aristotle's mind was so completely dominated by his economic environment that he was unable to conceive of a world in which there would be no chattel slaves, and so declared that slavery must always exist. A prophecy now falsified for hundreds of years." (from "Labour, Nationality, and Religion," 4th ed., 1935, pp. 32-34.
These words of Connolly's did more for me than dispose of Father Kane. They corrected also a false impression which had been left in my mind by able and sincere teachers. All through my years as a university student: I had been studying the history of thought. Nobody before Connolly had brought home to me that the history of thought does not exist in isolation but is part of the history of society in which the thought is produced. This is an important lesson to have learned. In this particular instance it implied that the social philosophy of an old slave-owner in a tiny city-state in the 4th century B.C. may not be immediately applicable to the class struggle of modern industrial society, and that is something that many classical, political, and economics professors seem not to know. But it means more than that. In exposing the relations between thought and society Social-ism helps us to distinguish between those thoughts which hinder and confuse us in our efforts to overcome the evils of society, and those which clear our minds and strengthen our purpose. This again is a big subject on which I cannot now embark. But I am conscious that it is to a working man I owe the conviction that learning need not be pedantic or obscurantist but a guide to action in the present. That debt to James Connolly I am eager to acknowledge.
It was in the excitement of the Dublin strike of 1913 that I once heard James Connolly speak. All sorts of persons were moved to deliver themselves of their opinions on the crisis in those tremendous days, leaders in Church and State, university professors, intellectuals, and what-not. But nobody else really said anything so far as I could perceive except Connolly. It was at an over-flow meeting I heard him and the crowd, grown impatient before he came, greeted him with cheers and cries of "Murder Murphy." Connolly silenced that cry at once. "It will do him no harm, and you no good." Simple words, but as Connolly pronounced them they lifted the meeting out of a moral rut, just as every subsequent word he spoke lifted it out of an intellectual rut. Do not waste you time, he said in effect, discussing whether this is a lock-out or a strike, whether men made a mistake at this point in the negotiations or the masters at that. See what is happening in Dublin as being for the moment the high light in what is a crisis of capital-ist "civilization." Try to understand the nature of that crisis and take your stand on one side or the other as your enlightened conscience may direct.
I have not found better guidance in this crisis than in the writings of Connolly himself and in the literature on which he had trained and nourished his mind, the classics of Socialism I never was so innocent as to suppose that these writings of Connolly would meet an easy acceptance in Ireland, and for years I watched their failure to make head against those forces which have which have made the Irish national struggle conspicuous for its mindlessness. But there was a certain occasion after the Treaty when I wondered for a brief moment whether recognised authorities in relevant fields of learning might not be about to assert the right to discuss Marxist principles seriously. I attended a lecture at University College, Cork, at which Professor James Hogan expounded the materialist conception of history. He went on for two and a quarter hours, a crime for which I would not pardon even a Russian, but he succeeded in being interesting because he had made a real effort to understand his subject and explain it to his hearers. I remember him saying that there were really only two theories of history worth discussing, that of St. Augustine and that of Karl Marx. He even added that he had not made up his mind on which side he must come down. With his book Could Ireland Become Communist? he came down. That was to be expected and it is neither here nor there. The pity of it is that his book should be written with so little of the scientific temper that distinguished his lecture.
This is a pity, for the substitution of abuse for argument in public discussion of the principles which Connolly expounded so well can be a public danger in the world today. Like it or dislike it, the socialist sixth of the world is a powerful State to-day. Like it or dislike it, Communists and Socialists play an increasingly important role in the governments of many other countries. Like it or dislike it, Socialism exercises an enormous sway over the minds and hearts of hundreds of millions of people in the world to-day. It is no use frothing at the mouth about this. It is better to understand it.
The British too had historians who, like Professor Hogan, chose to froth at the mouth instead of argue, and when the need to argue arose they did it badly. This is how the late Professor Hearnshaw wrote: "The Russian revolution was in effect little more than an orgy of plunder carried through in a leisurely and systematic manner with merciless completeness and cynical disregard of all ethical principles, under a dictatorship of the criminal classes. Its communism was simply a screen of Marxian verbiage which barely veiled the naked hideousness of predatory individualism -- the perverted and anti-social individualism of the burglar and the assassin. The communism of Marxian socialists is nothing else than the massed individualism of a horde of primitive cavemen, or a pack of hungary wolves. It is not the next step in a progressive evolution; it is a reversion to a pre-historic stage of barbarism and savagery."
Too much of this sort of thing meant that when it was desired to write real history, history sufficiently true and realistic to be a guide to political action, the British were incapable of it. The acclaimed triumph of British historiography just before the war was Fisher's History of Europe. There we read: " The Hitler revolution is a sufficient guarantee that Russian communism will not spread westward. The solid German bourgeois holds the central fortress of Europe. But there may be secrets in Fascism or Hitlerism which the democracies of the West will desire to adopt without abandoning their fundamental character." That book was still a best seller in England when Churchill joined hands with Stalin to batter down "the central fortress of Europe." Since then certain very responsible quarters in England have learned to reverse Fisher's tune. Churchill himself may have acted from mere expediency.
The London Times has taken the lesson of the war to heart. It seeks, as the condition of the survival of the British people, to stop flirting with fascism and try serious co-operation with socialism. In its issue of March 6,1946, in its first leader we read "While western democracy and state communism are in many respects opposed, they have much to learn from each other -- Communism in the working of political institutions and in the establishment of individual rights, Western democracy in the development of economic and social planning. The ideological warfare between Western Democracy and Communism cannot result in an out-and-out victory for either side. The issue will be determined neither by clashes of eloquence nor by clashes of arms, but by the success of the Great Nations in dealing with the problems of social organization in the broadest sense which the war has left behind it." That may not be the last word in wisdom, still it is a very wise word.
The Irish Times, I notice by the way, though it is careful to say it does not necessarily agree with him, offered its columns to Randolph Churchill who gave Irish readers a daily diatribe against what he called "Asiatic Communism." Sad to relate, this kind of abuse deceives many people. For some people Asiatic is a term of abuse and British imperialists, with their customary insolence, play on this prejudice. It is the glory of the Socialist regime in the U.S.S.R. to have made no distinction between the European and Asiatic peoples under its control, nevertheless it would be historically incorrect to describe the Socialism of the U.S.S.R. as Asiatic. It is, on the contrary, the direct outcome and fine flower of Western European culture. It will be remembered how Lenin defined its triple source as being classical German philosophy, classical German philosophy, classical English political economy, and French political theory together with their practice of revolution. Nothing very Asiatic here.}
It may be appropriate to say a word as to how Marx came to turn his attention to these various fields of study. When, as a brilliant and indefatigable student at the university, he had been through the history of human thought from remote antiquity down to Hegel, he was left with the Hegelian doctrine of the State as a power standing above society holding an even balance between contending interests. It was the special character of Marx's thinking always to relate theory to practice, and Marx did not observe that Hegel's theory of the impartiality of the state worked out in practice. On the contrary, while the economic interests of various elements in the community were contradictory, the State invariably made itself the servant of the dominant interest. Instead of protecting the weak it aided the strong.
The Hegelian theory of the State was not a true reflection of reality. To find a truer account of the real conditions of modern society Marx embraced in his studies such English economists as William Petty, Adam Smith, Ricardo, and others, writing a Critique of their opinions, that is to say, an estimate of what was permanently valid in the theory in these great founders of economic science. Having thus arrived at an understanding of the real nature of society and being concerned with its betterment, Marx proceeded to instruct himself from the leaders of that nation which had made the decisive revolution against feudalism and was destined to be the chief revolutionary force of the 19th century, the French. (The notable exception is the "American Revolution" in that it was dominated by oligarchs and slave owners.TA)
The truth of this theory has been imperceptible to ignorance, feared by selfishness, and persecuted by reaction, but where minds are free and disinterested it has not lacked recognition. Thus the veteran Italian philosopher and historian Croce wrote: "A man who returns to the study of history after familiarizing himself with the theories of Marx and Engels is in the same situation as a short-sighted man who has been given a pair of spectacles. The whole world at once assumes a new aspect. many things which once appeared as mysterious shadows now assume clearly defined shapes." Croce then lists the main features of the materialist conception of history, what he call "the genuine discoveries which enable us to understand life and history." Here are the four most important of them: --
1. All parts of life are mutually dependent on one another and all have their origin in the economic sub-soil.
2. The real nature of the State, considered in its historical development, is it tends to be an institution for the defence of the dominant class in society.
3. We must recognize, then historically the religious, legal, political, and philosophical opinions which prevail from time to time in society depend on class interests and represent the ideas of the dominant class.
4. Generally speaking the great historical periods correspond with the great economic periods. Although political, legal, and other ideologies may influence economics, in the last analysis it is the economic conditions which are decisive.
To this analysis of Croce's should be added the following. Enemies of social-ism have pointed to this assertion of the dominance of economic conditions over men's lives in the past as proof that social-ists deny the freedom of the will. Social-ism is the only philosophy which adequately safeguards the freedom of the will. While recognising the historical fact that man's life in the past has been determined by economic conditions, Social-ism alone points out how man may become the master instead of the slave of his material environment. Social-ism does not deny that man is a moral and purposive creature, but, accepting the doctrine of his animal origin, socialism sets it as a challenge to the historian to trace as well as possible the steps of his transformation in society from the animal state to his present level of civilization. In this, as in every aspect of its teaching, socialism is not a closed dogmatic system, but a powerful impetus to fresh observation and fresh thought.
There is one great forerunner of Marx to whom I would like to devote a few words -- the eighteenth century Neapolitan thinker Vico. To Vico more than any other man we owe the emergence of the idea of a purely human history, history interpreted by the activity of man himself. It would make a good basis for the appreciation of the development of the historical sense to read in succession Augutine's City of God, Vico's New Science (which after two hundred years, is now being translated into English for the first time), and Marx's Capital. Vico marks a new epoch in the development of the concept of history. During the Middle Ages human history was swallowed up in theological conceptions, but the crisis in Christianity called the Reformation produced the beginning of historical curiosity. The reformers tried to make good their plea that the Church had become corrupt by reviving the knowledge of the first centuries of the Church and thereby the theological materialism of slave based economies. These and other sources produced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries profound efforts to understand the history of human society through the history of the institutions in which the life of society expresses itself. The names of Grotius, Selden, Pufendorf, Hobbes, Bacon are representative of this effort toward history and were recognized as both sacred and profane, and the eloquent French theologian Bossuet was the author of the saying that "God made sacred history, but man made profane history."
But the process by which man made history was very obscure before Vico. Great thinkers like those I have mentioned, regarding man as in his essential nature a rational animal, looked to the rational design of the great legislators, for the origin of human institutions. Vico was the first to grasp the truth that the beginnings of human institutions were the work of men at a savage stage of development groping after the satisfaction of their immediate necessities and gradually transforming themselves in the process. He saw not only that man makes his own history but that he makes himself in the process. Clear purpose and rational design is not the beginning of the historical process but its fruit.
The greatness of Vico is now widely recognised, but it is also beginning to be recognised that the destiny of of his thought, like that of many other fruitful and fertilising streams of thought, is to be swallowed up in the great river of social-ism. Marx accepted from Vico the idea that man makes his own history, that he makes it by a process of trial and error, arriving at results that he has not willed by paths he had not foreseen, and that in the process of making his history man continually remakes himself. But he immensely enriched Vico's conception by disclosing, as we have seen in the quotation from Croce, how all the institutions of man grow up in the economic subsoil, by relating the changing forms of society.
Let us illustrate these ideas by an example. In Greece in the fifth century the level of technical efficiency in production was such that slaves, if they could be obtained, would be worth having because they could produce enough to keep themselves and their masters. The level of naval and military efficiency was such in comparison with neighboring barbarians that the kidnapping of slaves was a manageable enterprise. The Greek city-states accordingly began to solve their labor problem increasingly by the use of slaves. Then their philosophers began to think that slavery was the divinely ordained constitution of human society, with the final result that reactionary preachers in twentieth century Dublin, ignorant of and indifferent to the mode of formation of ideas (and institutions), use the the opinions of pagan slave-owning philosophers of the fourth century B.C. to perpetuate the cruel injustice of wage slavery.
But let us get back to what Marx made of Vico. In a footnote to the chapter on Machinery and Modern Industry in his Capital Marx has this reference to Vico: "Darwin has interested us in the history of nature's technology, that is in the formation of the organs of plants and animals, which organs serve the animals as instruments of production for sustaining life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man, of organs that are the material basis of all social organization, deserve equal attention? And would not such a history be easier to compile, since, as Vico says, human history differs from natural history in this, that man has made human history but has not made nature? Technology discloses man's mode of dealing with nature, the process of production by which he maintains he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and then of the mental conceptions that flow from these relations. Every history, even of religion, which fails to take account of this material basis, is uncritical."