restricted access A Commentary (Apr 1935)
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238 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 14 (Apr 1935) 431-36 The usual form in which Communism is made attractive to us is that of economic necessity. We agree that the present economic system is not very satisfactory, and that it works in such a way as frequently to offend our feelings of humanity and our notions of justice; we are aware that it frequently rewards excessively a type of person which, at best, is hardly that which we most admire. We may also agree that it works less and less efficiently, and that some drastic alteration will be necessary if life is to be made even tolerable . When any revolutionary change of system is proposed, we have to consider whether the diagnosis of our troubles is correct, and whether the remedy offered is likely to work; and any scheme which looks as if it might work better than the present one has to be seriously considered. We know, in a general way, that any thorough-going change of economic system will tend to alter the whole structure of society, to affect our private behaviour and moral prejudices. These remoter, but most important consequences, we cannot accurately predict: some may be for better, others for worse; but if a scheme commends itself to us on the whole, we are willing to take risks for the sake of ending an intolerable situation. Mr. Middleton Murry and Professor John Macmurray, in the volume Marxism1 * approach the matter the other way about. They do not ask us to accept whatever moral and social changes Communism will induce, for the sake of a demonstrably more workable and satisfactory economic organization . They recommend these moral, philosophical and religious changes directly for their own sake; and they seem to say in effect that a change of heart and the understanding of a system of philosophy, are more essential than a grasp of economic principles. Indeed, they almost persuade us that Marxism is the faith we ought to adopt, even if its economics will not work any better than what we have now. This is, for the person whose approach is not that of the trained economist, a very interesting point of view. Neither Mr. Murry, nor Mr. Macmurray, would admit what I say in the preceding paragraph as a fair statement of their faith. Being monists, they must surely affirm that what is, in one aspect, the true faith, is in the other aspect the true economic order. But it is my contention that you cannot [ 239 A Commentary (apr) identify religion and economics; and that those who attempt to do so, prove on examination either to subordinate the religion to the economics, or the economics to the religion. It is frequently said that Communism is a religion;2 but at the same time Communism claims the right of succession to every economic system, and the right of priority over every economic theory; though its right over other economic theories amounts to this, that it is also a religion and they are concerned only with the temporal world. For Mr. Murry and Mr. Macmurray, I believe, the religious aspect of Communism is dominant over the economic aspect. Mr. Macmurray does, it is true, occasionally dangle before us the economic advantages which we are commonly assured will be ours under Communism. He says that progress consists in “man’s gradual conquest of nature, his gradual abolition of the harshness of primitive conditions, the elimination of starvation and disease, the provision of a more and more adequate supply, for more and more people, of the necessaries of life, and of a life which is itself of fuller and richer development.”3 This is all excellent, especially if we are allowed to decide for ourselves what meaning lurks behind that dark phrase “fuller and richer development.” It is true that we might like to add a few more items to the list, such as “man’s gradual conquest of himself ”; but there is nothing in the list which one would wish to strike out. But Mr. Macmurray’s partner, Mr. Murry, does not intend to let us choose according to our own notions of fuller and richer development. We need a regime as severe in its way as that of a Trappist or a Yogi, if we are to become complete Marxians. We have to penetrate the veil of illusion, and realize that as individuals we do not exist. What exists is a “totality of social relations...