THE writer of an article on “Brotherhood” in the December number of “Lucifer” has given an erroneous impression of Socialism, which, as a student of Theosophy (I do not know if I can yet call myself a “disciple ” ) who has been in a large measure drawn to this great study through Socialism, I may, perhaps, be allowed to correct. Indeed, I should feel that I was shirking a task clearly indicated to me at the present moment were I to leave such errors, so far as all the readers of “Lucifer” are concerned, uncorrected.
“ T. B. H.,” the writer of the article in question — an interesting and, I believe, useful article in many respects — has, I venture to conjecture, confused the general system or class of systems known as Socialism, with certain methods of propagating its principles. Let me commence by quoting the paragraph in his article to which I take exception. He says (“Lucifer”, No.3, p. 213): —
(1) “Socialism, as preached during this nineteenth century, it [the Universal Brotherhood, which is the mainspring of Theosophy] J.B. B.] certainly is not. (2) Indeed, there would be little difficulty in showing that modern materialistic Socialism is directly at variance with all the teachings of Theosophy. (3) Socialism advocates a direct interference with the results of the law of Karma, and would attempt to alter the dénouement of the parable of the talents by giving to the man who hid his talent in a napkin, a portion of the ten talents acquired by the labour of his more industrious fellow”.
I will first take the three statements contained in this paragraph separately, and, for convenience’s sake, in inverted order. The allegation against Socialism contained in the third is the most specific, and that which, in the eyes of Theosophists, must appear the most serious. This statement — namely, that “Socialism requires a direct interference with the results of the law of Karma, and would attempt, etc..” — constitutes, in fact, the only definite premise in his argument. Of course, if Socialists do advocate, consciously or unconsciously, anything of the sort, they advocate a physical and psychical impossibility, and their movement is doomed to failure. More than this, if they do soconsciously, they are sinning against the light, and are impious as well as childish in their efforts. Of such, clearly, the Universal Brotherhood is not.
But neither Socialists nor Socialism, “as preached in this nineteenth century”, does anything of the kind. By “materialistic” Socialism, I presume “T. B. H.” implies (if he has really studied Socialism at all, which I venture to doubt) so much of it as can be urged upon purely worldly grounds, such as the better feeding, housing, etc., of those who do the active work of society, technical instruction, such general education as fits a man for the domestic and secular duties of life, and the reorganization of society with these objects upon a [Page 283] “co-operative basis”, [Co-operative, that is to say, in the sense that the various sections and individual members of society shall willingly co-operate, being fully conscious of their interdependence — St. George Lane Fox ] in which public salaried officials, elected by their fellows, will take the place of capitalists and landlords, and in which the production and distribution of wealth will be more systematically regulated. This system, of course, takes no account of the law of Karma.
In a rough sort of way, however, all Socialists recognise the law, so far as its effects are visible in this world in the physical, intellectual, and moral planes. The fact that “the evil that men do” (and that classes and nations do also “lives after them”, none are more ready to own and act upon. The action and re-action of individual will and individual and social circumstance both upon each other and upon individual and social conditions forms part of the foundations of Socialism. Quâ Socialists, we do not, of course, take any more account of the law of Karma than do non-Socialistic Christians and Agnostics, but I maintain that there is nothing whatever in Socialism repugnant a belief in this law. If anything, it is the other way. All Socialists, whether they call themselves Collectionists or Anarchists, Christian Socialists,[Socialists who consider their Christianity to supply them with sufficient motives for their Socialism. They do not strictly form a sect either of Socialists or of Christians] Communists, or purely economic Socialists, are anxious to give freer play to human abilities and social impulses, by creating leisure and educational opportunities for all. We may thus, if it is permitted to me to speculate while criticising, become the instruments of a greater equalization and acceleration of Karmic growth, “good” or “evil”, upon and among individual souls during their incarnation upon this planet. This would come to pass by the transfer of a great deal of the responsibility for Karmic results which now lies with each individual in his personal capacity upon the collective entities composed of individuals acting in public capacities,e.g., as nations, provinces, communes, or trade corporations.
It is surely true even now to speak of a collective e.g., a national or municipal Karma, as we do of a national conscience. We speak of reward or retribution to nations and cities as if they had distinct personalities — are these mere figures of speech ? But what is more important is that Socialists may prepare the way for a revelation of the noble truths of Theosophy to the multitude; they may help to raise the intellectual and instinctive moral standard of the whole community to such an extent that all will, in the next generation following after the Social Revolution, [This word, of course, is employed in the general sense, without any reference to the physical character which the revolution may assume. It may be attended with violence or it may be as peaceful as, for instance, the religious revolution accomplished by Constantine in the fourth century. All I am postulating is a more or less sudden transformation of the existing social order, effected by one of those impulses with which evolution seems to complete its periods, and of which Theosophy may some day afford the explanation ] be amenable to these truths. In this way, Socialism would not, indeed, interfere with the results of the law of Karma, but [Page 284] would, as the precursor of Theosophy, be the indirect means of enabling multitudes to rise and free themselves from its bonds.
As to the parable of the talents, well, Socialists would be only too glad to see its moral better enforced in this and other “civilized” countries. To them it seems impossible that it could be less enforced or taken to heart than it is now. They see that under the present system of society —that vast engine of usury, by which whole classes are held in economic servitude to other classes — many are encouraged to live in sloth and hide their talents, even if they put them to no worse use. This could hardly happen under a régime of economic Socialism (such a régime, for instance, as Lawrence Grönlund contemplates in his “Co-operative Commonwealth” ), for these able-bodied or talented citizens who declined to work would simply be left to starve or sponge upon their relatives. Under a purely Communist régime, [The only kind to which T.B.H’s remark are in any way applicable ] no doubt there would be a few who would shirk their proper share of social work, but at least none would be brought up from infancy, as now, to “eat the bread of idleness”.
Finally, on this point, if to advocate such changes as Socialists advocate, the substitution of social co-operation for competition; of production with a view to use for production with a view to profit; of peace between nations, classes, and individuals, for war; of harmonious organization, to the advantage of all, for laissez faire and chaos for the advantage or supposed advantage of a few. If, I say, to advocate such changes be to advocate an interference with the results of the law of Karma, so must be every proposal for the amelioration of the physical or intellectual welfare of our fellows. And if participation in this and other movements, which may with equal justice be called materialistic, be prohibited to Theosophists, they may as well, for all the good their Universal Brotherhood will do to the masses of those at present outside it, stay at home and content themselves with communing with the select few who alone will ever be in a position to appreciate them. If, for one reason or another, they do not care to co-operate with Socialists, let them at least recognise that the latter are preparing their way for them, doing the dirty (?) and laborious work, without which Theosophy can never descend, from the serene heights on which it now dwells, to replenish spiritually, this sadly benighted world. For, apart from a healthier physical and psychical atmosphere than “civilized” life engenders in either rich or poor ( collective Karmic effects), a fair amount of leisure and freedom from sordid care is indispensable to most human beings for the higher development of the perceptive or gnostic faculties. At present this minimum of leisure and economic independence is probably unattainable by nineteen-twentieths of the population, yet this self-same society, with its scientific learning and experience, its machinery, and its business organization, contains within it all the germs of such a reconstruction of the physical environment as shall very [Page 285] shortly place the means of spiritual and psychical regeneration within the reach of all.
“T. B. H.’s” second statement is that “Indeed, there would be very little difficulty in showing that modern materialistic Socialism is directly at variance with all the teachings of Theosophy”. Such an expression as “materialistic Socialism” is, as I have already hinted, erroneous. All Socialism is materialistic in the sense that it concerns itself primarily with the material or physical conditions of mankind. So do chemistry and mechanics, pure or applied; so, in ordinary politics, do Liberalism and Conservatism. No Socialism is materialistic in the sense that it is based upon any materialistic as distinct from spiritualistic or pantheistic conceptions of the universe. It has hardly any more to do with such questions than have cotton-spinning or boot-making. I do not, however, pretend to mistake “ T. B. H.’s ” meaning. Taking Socialism in its purely economic aspect (which I admit is the foremost for the present, and must remain so until disposed of), he asserts that “there would be very little difficulty in proving, etc”. This is a mere general charge against it, although, I think, a less plausible and, therefore — from the point of view of harmony between Socialists and Theosophists — a less serious one than the particular charge which follows it, and with which I have already endeavoured to deal. For my own enlightenment I would like to have some samples, taken at random, of his skill in showing this variance; but I doubt if such a demonstration could effect any good. Moreover, it is impossible to answer the charge on account of its vague, albeit sweeping and all-comprehensive, character. “All the teachings of Theosophy” are quite too much for a student like myself to attempt to compare them with economic Socialism as a system. Nor do I think one with ten times the learning and discernment that I can claim would readily attempt it. I merely record, therefore, my sincere conviction that on this general point “ T. B. H.” is also mistaken, and that it is not Socialism, economic or otherwise, which he has really been scrutinizing, but the sayings and doings of some particular “Socialist” whom he has seen or read of.
Individual Socialists have, of course, many faults which cannot fairly be charged to the social and economic tenets they profess. Thus one besetting fault of militant advocates of the cause is the use of violent language against individual capitalists, police officials, and landlords. It is so easy, even for men of a calibre superior to the average, to be drawn on from righteous indignation at a corrupt system, to abuse of the creatures and instruments thereof — or even, on occasion, to personal violence against them. Every good cause has its Peters no less than its Judases. Socialism, unfortunately, has a rich crop of the former. Another still worse fault on the part of certain agitators, but one which might easily be predicted from the character of the struggle and the condition of the classes who must form the backbone of the Socialistic party, is the frequent appeal to lower motives, such as revenge and love of luxury. [Page 286]
But such faults, although by all human prevision necessary incidents in the movement, are by no means inherent in Socialism. Even the purely “materialistic” Socialism of Karl Marx, to which “ T. B. H.” seems (although, I think, not with any clear picture of it in his mind) to refer, aims simply at securing the decencies and ordinary comforts of life to all as a recompense for more evenly distributed social labour. The very conditions of life under a co-operative commonwealth such as Hyndman, Grönlund, and other followers of the late Karl Marx’s economic ideal, have in view — above all the obligation (virtual, at any rate) under which every able-bodied member of the community would find himself or herself to do a few hours of useful work of one kind or another every day, and the elimination of the commercial and speculative element, with the wretched insecurity and dangerous temptations which it involves — would preclude inordinate luxury. A healthy simplicity of life would become first “fashionable”, then usual.[ I do not, of course, mean to predict that “sin” (or its Theosophical equivalent) would die out. It is, after all, a relative matter to the capacities and potentialities of the individual and his surroundings. Under Socialism, sensuality, social or plutocratic pride, and other sins fostered by the present order, would simply give way to ambition (to obtain popular distinction,e.g. as an artist or inventor) and perhaps to magic and other at present unfashionable vices] Communism, of course, goes further than economic Socialism, as it implies not only the claim of the individual upon the community for the means of labour and the enjoyment of its fruits or their equivalent, but his claim for subsistence, irrespective of the amount and social value of the labour which he is able to perform. It would abolish, therefore, not only individual property in the means or production, but in the products themselves. The practicability of Communism, the motto of which is “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”, obviously depends upon the prevalence of more generous motives, of a higher sense of duty both to work and to give — a more perfect development, in fact, of the sense of human solidarity. It is for this very reason more commendable than mere economic Socialism, as an ideal, to the attention of Theosophists, although its appreciation, on the national or universal scale, cannot yet be said to have entered “the sphere of practical politics”.
Communism, which may be either Collectivist or Anarchist, leads me to add a few words about Anarchism. I refer, of course, to the social ideal philosophically denoted by this name, and not to the means advocated by some of its supporters for putting an end to the present society. Anarchism involves Communism as well as extreme decentralization; more than this, it involves the abolition of all permanent machinery of law and order such as the “State” is supposed to provide, and the abolition of physical force as a method of suasion even for criminals and lunatics. As a protest against political domination of all kinds, and an antidote to the excessive centralization advocated by some State Socialists, Anarchism may be of some use; but it is obviously further even than Communism (of the Collectivist variety) from becoming a school of “practical” politics. It could only become so after society at large, all the world over, had grown sufficiently homogeneous and solidaire for its [Page 287] members to co-operate spontaneously and automatically for all necessary purposes, grouping themselves into large or small organizations (limbs and organs) as required, and forming a complete body social, or Mesocosm, if I may be allowed to coin a word for the purpose.
The erroneous conceptions of Socialism which I believe “ T. B. H.” to have formed, do not necessarily invalidate the first statement in the paragraph of his article upon which I have been commenting, to wit, that the Universal Brotherhood which he has in view (and which, I understand from him, forms a part of the programme of the Theosophical Society) is not “Socialism as preached in the nineteenth century, or at any other time, past or future, for that matter . Still I am inclined to hope that a more intimate study of Socialism will lead him to see that, whether identical or not, they are at any rate not antagonistic. My own belief is that Theosophy and “materialistic” Socialism will be found to be working along different planes in the same direction.
Any Universal Brotherhood of Theosophists must be based upon Socialist principles, inter alia, its foundations may extend further and deeper than those of Socialism, but cannot be less extensive. Greed and war (political or industrial), social caste and privilege, political domination of man over man, are as out of place in a true brotherhood as wolves in a flock of sheep. Yet the exclusion of these anti-social demons and the enthronement in their place of Universal Love and Peace, if effected by such a Brotherhood, would simply leave Socialists nothing to do but to organize the material framework of their co-operative commonwealths. To preach economic or “materialistic” Socialism to a world already converted to the highest and completest form of Socialism, would be to advocate the plating of gold with tin or copper.
Modern Socialism, if the noble aspirations of some of its apostles may be taken as an earnest of its future, is already developing (incidentally, of course, to its main economic and ethical doctrines) strong aesthetic and spiritual tendencies. No reader of William Morris or Edward Carpenter, to speak of English Socialists only, will fail to notice this. At present the mass of Socialists content themselves with basing their social and economic faith upon the ethical principles of Justice, Freedom, and Brotherhood. But the highest, because most mystical, of these principles, that of Brotherhood, or better, Human Solidarity — the ancient conception of “charity” — forms the unconscious link between modern Socialism on the one hand and Esoteric Buddhism, Esoteric Christianity, and Theosophy generally, on the other. I say unconscious link, but I mean to imply that it may soon be rendered conscious and visible. As the various “orthodox” varieties, first of Christianity, then of Mahomedanism, perish with the collapse or destruction of the social systems that have grown up along with them, this simple religion of Human Solidarity will take possession of the deserted shrines of Christ and Allah, and will begin to seek out its own fount of inspiration. Then will be the time for the Universal Brotherhood of Theosophists to step into the breach. [Page 288]