'To Do or Not To Do' - by Marat, Socialist, 28 July 1911, page 5

In a letter to Elsie Macleod in 1977, Tom Fitzgerald wrote:

In the Socialist there was an article signed Marat expressing the writer’s sense of difficulty in upholding socialist principles while pursuing a personal career, and noting the general tendency to let sleeping dogs lie “if you are a member of Parliament or a Union Secretary.” I think there is a strong possibility that John Curtin wrote this brilliant piece, and I am enclosing a copy of it in case it is of interest. [1]

In his research notes, Fitzgerald made frequent reference to this article, including:

The John Curtin we first get glimpses of (1906), the young man we start with, is an ardent Socialist and anti-Militarist by conviction built upon considerable reading and collation of ideas. (Evidently a rationalist or atheist? also.) These convictions underwent considerable modification and development, (as perhaps rather) they were required (continually) to make accommodation for new experiences. (eg question/crux of VSP members helping Labor Party candidates), (and very soon the complexity of Curtin’s intellectual position becomes evident.) The passion and the idealism are almost immediately seen as being required to co-exist, however reluctantly, with (a) stark and even bitter sense of realism, and the tension (war) between these instincts leads to forcefulness of expression. Fervour checked and corrected by the requirements of practical action/(effect) and the adjustments to human nature, “the human element”. (The struggle between the two parts of himself, one self bidding farewell to his previous self in “To Do or Not To Do”, 1911.) This tension remained throughout his life…the idealism always ready to respond, given appropriate circumstances, as with the sacrifices of servicemen in WWII, which he felt more intensely than most or all other politicians, including Menzies. [2]


Socialist masthead

To Do or Not to Do - MARAT

The Work and the Way

As a fact I feel repentant. It seems an age since I penned a column to please my soul. Deterioration is so easy. One has only to drift. Do you know, there is no foe so insidious as one’s own readiness to please – others. People will point to a work which is so intensely practical; its performance will evoke so much public praise; and there is a reputation for sanity to be gained. And, perhaps, one may be requisitioned to a position of prestige and – salary. Verily the voice of the corrupter pleadeth gently! Submission is not difficult, though memory may be otherwise. And so now and again we call up the spirit we put to sleep, and bid it affirm the ‘truth’, and nothing but the truth,” even as ‘twere ourselves when we were true.

In this world we perceive men exploited by men; but why talk about it? Does not the statement involve social changes detrimental to established dominion? Alterations are desirable when you are disadvantaged – not, no, not otherwise. If you are a member of Parliament, or a Union Secretary, or whatever you are, so long as you are receiving more than you justly earn, then it is not in the public interest that you seek to upset things. “Let sleeping dogs lie,” lest they tear your trousers.

But the fact still remains, does it not, that ninety and nine they work and die so that one may have opulence and too much, while the ninety and nine have too little. And it is also a fact; is it not, that the aforesaid exploitation of man by man is the root cause of the frightful inequality and wrong. And it is also a fact, as I have heard said, that if those who knew the cause would only explain the cause to those who did not know, then – Ah, then! There would ensue correction!

So that the remedy for our social disorder is knowledge. Then, my friend who is looking after my career urges the appointment of a National Council of Education. He would have me devote myself to the awakening of a popular appreciation of art; he counsels classes in technical handicraft, and is not above, or below, the establishment of libraries and singing classes. “Let the people read Shakespeare,” he will loudly assert, as though poverty proceeded from the wrong choice in dramatists. And as my career is the thing, I will study the various educational systems, and pose as a Solomon in my criticism of our "backwardness in education."



But, somehow, I feel, in fact I know, that the before-mentioned ninety and nine will not have even become ninety and eight -–but still the career is the thing!

But if we did not care a damn for the career, wouldn’t it be fine to challenge my advocate of education to give as much attention to the economics of society as he does to the elements of music? Could we not roast him on the grid-iron of fact and logic? Would it not be splendid to inform him of the history of human evolution; to tell him of the wonderful work the village blacksmith has done for civilisation, and to demand that the village blacksmith be clothed in fine raiment instead of rags, because the village blacksmith has wrought so patiently?

Knowledge! Ah, yes! But let it have relevancy to the fundamental. The chemist does not use the Bible as a text-book; nor does the parson ponder a manual of engineering. The working-class are not ignorant over the entire field of knowledge. Every man and every woman comprehends some special department sufficiently well to work it. The most ignorant Sociologist I know is a crack football captain; the least interesting conversationalist may be an expert pianist. The working-class do not suffer because they are unable to read Livy, or because they only know Homer as the translations state him. No! They suffer because of capitalist exploitation. They will cease to suffer when exploitation ends. Hence the great counsellor of the working-class is not the man who will open the Universities. He is the man who will give to the people the proper point of view. Let us have demagogues. Let us substitute for the musician the madman – so-called. And let us supplant the practical reformer with the impossibilist – so-called.

Knowledge is essential. A career, save the mark, is also essential. If I choose the latter the multitude would be wise to possess the former. In my career I will talk to the many about topics of general interest. It is, of course, not to be expected that I will expound principles aiming at the disestablishment of the social system. The many would be wise to insist upon it; but I have my career to consider. I wonder how much longer my career is to remain the chief concern of the ninety and nine, and I also wonder how much longer the ninety and nine will remain the stepping stone for my pushful barrow.


1. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Letter, Tom Fitzgerald to Elsie & Stan Macleod, 11 April 1977. JCPML00705/1/131

2. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. John Curtin: - the opening, 1911 - 1988. JCPML00653/280