Liberalism vs Communism - IRR

Text of a 1950 Race Relations News editorial setting out the liberal mission

Never resting, never tiring … the ceaseless liberal mission

The following editorial published 68 years ago in Race Relations News, the monthly journal of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), remains as relevant and important in the democratic South Africa of 2018. It was written in 1950 by Dr Agnes Winifred Hoernlé, noted anthropologist and liberal, and, at the time, president of the IRR, and advances the liberal argument in favour of “free minds in free societies”.

Her husband, the liberal philosopher Dr Reinhold Frederick Alfred Hoernlé, who died in 1943, also served as IRR president, from 1933 until his death. His contribution to South African liberalism is commemorated in the IRR’s Hoernlé Memorial Lecture – most recently delivered by Danish journalist and celebrated champion of free speech Flemming Rose last year.

Liberalism versus Communism

Communism, according to the text-books, is simply the term used loosely to cover “all forms and theories of social ownership of wealth”, but more specifically it donates the type of revolutionary socialism first expounded in The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels, which openly declared that “social ownership of wealth can be attained by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” It was first published in 1848.

In our own day we have seen Russia develop first into a communist state, with the relatively small Communist Party holding power for the whole “proletariat”. From that it has developed into a police state not only dominating the people of Russia but over-running neighbouring states and threatening other states by fifth column activities.

Though the manifesto claims that the ultimate aim is an association in which “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”, there exists to-day a rigid control by a small minority of the lives of countless millions. Man in all the areas controlled by the Russian Communists is subservient to the state in all phases of his life.

On the other hand the aim of Liberalism is “to free human beings from whatever stands in the way of their realising the best that their nature is capable of”. It is ever concerned with the quality of human lives and every social system is judged by this standard – that is, the degree to which it provides the conditions for the development of the inborn capacities of man and the institutions which will enable him to live a full life in satisfying the wide range of potentialities in his nature. The lives of individual members are the test for any society.

“Liberals have always found themselves compelled to criticise and challenge all inter-group relations in which one group in its own interests, disintegrates other groups without offering opportunities for new integration, or imposes rigid limits to the progress and self development of other groups. They have always stood up both for the liberties of oppressed or restricted individuals and for the liberties of oppressed groups, whether economic classes, churches, nations or races.”

Communism is prepared not only to deny satisfactory lives to millions of human beings, but even to destroy millions of human beings in the professed search for “free development for all”.

Liberals are convinced that it is possible to share advantages and privileges and to communicate them to others without in the process denying to generations of men any worthwhile life at all. They are satisfied that it is possible, without violent revolution, to give open access to the culture values of humanity to all. Never resting, never tiring, it is the duty of liberals to devote their initiative and their energy to the achievement of “free minds in free societies” in which the quality of human lives is no longer a reproach to any but maybe some individual selves.

Liberals must be prepared to make great sacrifices to prove that material benefits can be won without crushing the freedom of the spirit. “The state was made for man, not man for the state.”


President of the S.A. Institute of Race Relations

August 1950