Page 6, 4th June 1937

4th June 1937
Page 6
Page 6, 4th June 1937 — WHY ERIC GILL CANNOT GET AWAY WITH IT Read And Think Of His Alternative

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Locations: Madrid, Canterbury


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SIR, Personally I have the highest ' opinion of Mr. Gill's writings. Only recently I read his Necessity of Belief for the third time, each time with increasing admiration for its originality and good sense. But Mr. Gill has always been vague and hesitant about the remedy for the evils he diagnoses, and now in the letter which started this correspondence one cannot help feeling that a change has occurred. This is what is new. So far as 1 remember, in the Necessity of Belief nowhere does he suggest that the remedy for the evils of capitalism is to be found in any socialistic Or communistic programme, developed under the same false philosophy of life as produced these evils.

Mr. Eric Gill asserts four propositions; the first is certainly true; the other three are demonstrably false.

(1) He asserts the necessity of transferring the owner,ship of industrial enterprises to the workers—whether comparatively, collectively, or otherwise.

(2) He asserts Communism means a return to workers' ownership.

(3) He implies that Communism and Catholicism have accordingly certain ground in common.

(4) He gives it as his opinion that the destruction of churches and the murder of priests and religious in Spain is not the product of atheism but is due to the anger aroused by " the real or supposed alliance between the clergy and the capitalists."

As to the desirability, and I will go further and say the necessity, of associating the worker in the ownership of the industrial enterprise in which he works there can be no two opinions. It is a matter of elementary justice. Unfortunately it

is not as easy as it looks. To the average worker it may seem the most natural thing in the world that he and his fellowworkers should " take over the whole show and run it by themselves." In practice all sorts of obstacles have to he overcome, and unless the process is gradual and organic, the workers will in the long run have simply swopped one set of taskmasters for another. In the Soviet Union the regime of direct exploitation by the workers lasted about six months, that is to say not a day longer than the State could avoid.

It is almost incredible that at this hour of the day that Communism should be said to effect a return to workers' ownership. We are not living in a cloud cuckoo land with unlimited leisure to discuss what Marx or Lenin meant Communism to be. The Communism with which we are concerned is Communism here and now. the working in the Soviet Union; the Communism of Stalin, Litvinov, etc.; bureaucrats, and party men; ruthless bureaucracy exploiting the labour of hordes of slaves; in a word, the servile state. It is not a. matter for surprise that the Bloomsbury intellectuals should mistake a thing as stale as Carthage and as old as Mammon for " the newest and brightest thing on earth." Nor is it just a chance that the Webbs, with their myopic concentration on efficiency, should see in the Soviet super-trust the realisation of their cherished dreams. What is surprising is that a man of Mr. Eric Gill's insight should see any connection betwen the Soviet ant-heap with that sense of personal dignity and responsibility which he repeatedly tells us cannot be restored without a return to pre-industrial methods of production.

Mr. Gill distinguishes between the atheism and the economics of Commun ism. The first is said to be a natural development of capitalism. The second is something quite new and revolutionary. This distinction invented by Mr. Gill is quite fictitious. Even Marx recognised capitalism to be an essential stage in the evolution of Communism, and present day Russian Communists regard the supercapitalisation of American big business as about the only thing outside Russia worth imitating. From the historical point of view Soviet Communism appears as a natural and logical product of the industrial capitalistic type of civilisation taken as a whole. It is, as Berdyaev has said, what a decadent plutocracy rots into; it is a sequel, not an antidote or alternative to capitalism, as Mr. Gill half suggests when he talks of Communism affecting a return to workers' ownership. One can readily understand Mr. Gill's detestation of capitalism, and share his horror of the socalled Christian bourgeoisie who have been largely responsible for the greatest tragedy of modern times, the apostasy of the masses, and out of whose treason therefore has come atheist Communism, but we would be nice fools if, like Mr. Gill, we were to be so blinded by our detestation of bourgeoisie capitalism as to be taken in even for a second by the completely proletariagised State capitalism which in Russia goes by the name of Communism.

But perhaps the beet refutation of Mr. Gill the letter writer is Mr. Gill the author of The Necessity of Belief. There is scarcely an objection to Communism which Mr. Gill himself has not there advanced with incomparable skill and force. Frankly I am at a loss to understand what has come over Mr. Gill. Is it the Spanish Civil War which seems to work " like madness in the brain " of the English intellec

tual? Certainly Mr. Gill's reference to Spain is a cold-blooded performance. Ti is not atheism but the " real or supposed alliance between the clergy and the capitalists" that Mr. Gill believes to have been responsible for the massacre of priests and

religious in Spain. That is in effect also the thesis of the Dean of Canterbury and those other English friends of the Basque Catholics, the Barcelona Anarchists, and

the Madrid Marxists. Be it noted that Mr. Gill has apparently not been able to make up his mind as to whether this alliance between Spanish Catholicism and Spanish capitalism really existed or not. Professor Alison Peers, who knows a " damn sight more" about modern Spain (if I may be allowed the expression) than any other contemporary English writer, recently took the Protestant Bishop of Gibraltar to task for stating definitely what Mr. Gill has implied. " I do not hesitate to say," writes Professor Peers, " that the Church in Spain has presented Christianity faithfully and fearlessly to the nation; and that it has its reward in the millions who worship with a frequency, a regularity, and a fervour too rarely found in the Church of England, and in the thousands Of saintly men and women who live the life of contemplation."

Mr. Gill seems to imply the possibility of co-operation between Catholics and Communists on certain issues. Turning from his letter on page 6 of the Catholic Herald to page 12, the following passage in the encyclical caught my eye: "See to it, venerable Brethren, that the faithful do not allow themselves to be deceived! Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilisation may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever."

(PROF.) JAMES HOORN. University College, Cork.

Hague and Gill

St,—Mr. Rene Hague is not lacking in candour when he openly avows his admiration for Communism; but when it is a case of Mr. Hague versus the Supreme Pontiff, the normal Catholic will not be tempted to follow Mr. Hague in his role of Communist-Catholic Contortionist. Indeed, any importance which might attach to his letter lies not in the airing of his illogical opinions but in the fact that he writes from Mr. Eric Gill's headquarters during the latter's absence abroad, and it might therefore be supposed by some that he is Mr. Gill's official spokesman as well as his sonin-law. This may or may not be the case, but the issue should be kept perfectly clear.

The present correspondence is concerned not with the Pope's condemnation of Communism (which is well-known to every instructed Catholic), nor with Mr. Hague's alleged superior knowledge of the situation, but with the opinions of Mr. Eric Gill as a Catholic who has become widely known to the public through his work as a sculptor. Unless, therefore, Mr. Hague is authorised to write on behalf of Mr. Gill, it seems a pity that he should, even unwittingly, allow the possibility of his own ideas being accepted as representing those of Mr. Gill.


High Wycombe.

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