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Three Early Articles
by Maurice Spector (1916)

Maurice Spector was elected to the executive of the Communist Party of Canada at its founding convention in 1921. He was Chairman of the party and editor of its newspaper through the 1920s until his expulsion for supporting Trotsky, in November 1928.

Spector was 18 years old when he wrote these articles for the Toronto-based socialist newspaper Canadian Forward, in 1916.

Professor Ian McKay of Queens University provided these articles to the Socialist History Project. He can be reached at  imckay@magma.ca.

The Divorce of Principle and Practice

by Maurice Spector
Canadian Forward, October 28, 1916

Inconsistency has often been declared to be the striking characteristic of modern capitalist industrial society. The vast gulf between its idealism and its reality, between its religious ethics and its actual social conduct has constantly been a subject of ridicule, scorn and protest to the social dissenter. Yet in spite of all the taunts of the Zolas and Tolstoys, the Ibsens and Shaws, for its hypocritical smugness, its callous indifference or deliberate blindness in relation to social matters, the bourgeoisie apparently go on their placid way with the same self-satisfied righteous feeling. They are as content as ever to endorse and applaud one set of morals on holy days, to practice a contrary set on week days and to defend both with equal zeal. This they consider to be normal behavior, and are ready to condemn anyone as an extremist and undesirable who, having a sense of humour or capacity for logic, will insist on regulating his conduct in accord with just one set of morals. It affects the bitterness of the radical’s objections but slightly to know that this anomalous condition is the result of the wedding of inherited traditions and a church influence older than modern society, to economical circumstances stronger than t he ethics of the church.

This peculiar psychology of the middle classes seems grounded in the fear that they would lose their power and comfort were they to act in spirit with their religious ethics or were they to resolve their actual economic life into a philosophy to replace those ethics. For in the latter case they would just as certainly lose comfort and power as in the former, for the realties would become too evidence to the proletariat, who would also follow in abandoning religion. Perhaps also, the bourgeois realize the need of some softening influence such as religion to take their minds off the merciless rigors of their economic system.

This accounts for the relative failure of both Tolstoy and Nietzsche’s appeal. The former pleaded with the world to become Christians in deed as in creed, preached the Christian virtues of resignation and humility; the latter urged the necessity of making ethics agree with the facts of life, that is the abandonment of Christianity, and boldly proclaimed the expediency of the will to power, the recognition of the claim of the strong to dominate the weak. But Tolstoy’s gospel was not in harmony with the facts of industrial life and the middle class regarded him as a visionary who would replace Sunday ethics. And though in the business world there is no mercy for the weak, and the will of the strong is law, and there is no peace but war, yet the business men (a notable example is the millionaire, Rockefeller) are loyal supporters of the Church. They shudder at Nietzsche’s brutality.

The worship of the principle divorced from practice is a disagreeable characteristic of bourgeois society. In the matter of war and capital punishment, in spite of the fact that the state takes the lives of thousands, yet the bourgeois would never think of abandoning the absolute “Thou shalt not kill” and “Love they enemy.” Their point of view is, I suppose, that if there is so much of crime, war, etc., when we have such beautiful moral principles to guide us, there would verily be chaos if we were to lose these formal principles altogether.

Bourgeois society regards the home as a sacred institution, the cornerstone of our social arrangements. No greater indictment can be hurled against any movement than that it is inimical to the home. But the present economic system, besides having turned the home into a very poor thing indeed, is gradually undermining its existence by compelling the wife and child, as well as the husband in the proletariat, to serve in the bleak factory. Very few and far between are the protests of the bourgeois against this attack on the institution “home.” Millions of homes are destroyed when fathers and sons conscripted by the state are sent to destruction by the state in times of war. And war is an inevitable result of the capitalist industrial system. But the principle of the home must be upheld.

Another illuminating example of this attitude is the bourgeois relation to property, which is, if anything, more highly esteemed than human life, and is the prop of capitalist society. Socialism is vigorously denounced for its hostility to private property—for Socialists, they urge, would abolish it, confiscate it, destroy it. When that symptom of capitalism, international war looms up, private property is confiscated on the grounds of necessity, and millions of dollars worth of private property is destroyed. (Witness the German cruiser “Emden.”) Nevertheless, “all’s right with the world” as long as private property is maintained in principle.

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