The foregoing survey of the development of man in society, and the social revolutions which have accompanied and been a part of his growth, shows, brief and imperfect as it is, how little conscious appreciation our ancestors had of their own surroundings, or of the course of events which led them from one stage of social conditions to another. They drifted on the tide of human evolution from they cared not whence to they knew not whither. Only now, at last, at the beginning of the twentieth century of our era, which has itself witnessed the most tremendous war of all the ages, do we see dimly what went before, and are able to understand in part what shall come after.
From the primitive and rude, and then the more refined, communism of ages past, which endured for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, mankind passed through long, long periods of tribulation and sorrow. Chattel slavery, serfdom, wage slavery each in turn had their will of the many, who have been at the mercy, which has ever meant the cruelty, of the few. Much of brutality, much of bestiality, much of horror clung around the early days of our communal forbears. But, compared with the evils that grew out of nearly all forms of private property – the individual ownership of man by man, and the creation of wealth for the minority by the toil of the masses – savages certainly fared no worse, and the more advanced communists enjoyed life far, far better than their successors of modern times.
Civilisation has throughout meant, and still means, the degradation and embrutement of vast numbers of the men and women who exist under its social system. In the most highly civilised countries, in the greatest and richest of civilised cities, crowds of people pass their lives in wretchedness and misery, from which the higher barbarians shrink in disgust. So little has humanity as a whole thought of this, so natural and inevitable has the squalor and suffering of millions of human beings seemed to the ablest brains of each successive period of civilised life, that it has all been taken for granted, and no organised collective effort has yet been made to attain to a less deplorable form of human association. Nor, on looking back over the long records of history, does it appear possible that the intermediate stages of unconscious social evolution could ever have been overleaped.
Certainly, the forcible revolts of outraged human nature against intolerable suffering almost invariably failed to secure improved conditions, or, where accidental success was achieved, it meant only that the victors placed the vanquished under the yoke from which they had freed themselves.
We of our day are inheriting the results of the martyrdom of man to the forms of production and exchange, developed by slow gradation from the institutions of private property, and the individual ownership of goods and men and lands by the dominant rich. As described above, all the marvellous discoveries and inventions of the six or seven generations preceding our own, built up on the still more marvellous achievements of earlier times, have passed into the hands of the wealthy, who enjoy, with little or no advantage to the poor, who toil and suffer. With all this morality and religion have nothing to do. Against the relentless weight of the Juggernaut car of capitalist progress ethics are powerless and religion has no say. Such improvement as is attainable comes not from the so-called good side but from the bad side of civilisation. From the proletarians, not from the plutocrats, does the need for change make itself felt. Modern capitalism, barely two hundred years old, is showing itself to be not only injurious to the vast majority of individuals, but a definite obstacle to the advance of the race. Capitalism, also, is itself destroying the competition which, not more than a generation ago, was its economic deity, and is substituting, for this dethroned fetish, combination and monopoly, impelled thereto by those same economic forces which it claims to control.
But this change of method is accompanied by more important changes still. The combinations of the propertyless wage-earners are becoming every day more and more complete and more formidable, owing to the same economic pressure. Only by the suppression of individual selfishness, in the common interest of trade and of class, can even a better scale of wages be secured, against the combined capitalists, for the individual workers themselves. A higher standard of life and more leisure is the war-cry on the one side, as against greater production and higher profit on the other. The class war in the field of economics and sociology becomes more strenuous each day. But, as a result of this manifest antagonism, the State, even the bourgeois State, steps forward first in peace, then more widely in war, and again more widely still as nations strive against industrial monopoly or industrial anarchy. All can now see that this is inevitable, however vigorously they may strive to postpone its action, in the time of peace restored.
So far the controlling class have nowhere displayed any serious intention to lead in the transformation which precedes the coming period: nowhere, also, have the toilers in one solid class put themselves forward as the capable heirs of capitalism in decay. But, in all the advanced nations the claims of the wage-earners, set forth by their more vigorous and intelligent champions, reach out towards the new social dispensation, when the payment of wages by one class to another class – the last of the slave systems – shall be finally swept away.
The problems of social life which now, manifestly, lie immediately ahead of us, cannot possibly be solved so long as we bemuse our intelligence by bowing down before the fetishism of money, and imagine that to produce articles of exchange for profit is the highest end and aim of man in society. Even to-day the machinery of international exchange is breaking down in its banking form, and elaborate barter is replacing the methods which were thought unchangeable. What co-operation between nations is doing on a small scale to-day, international understandings for the collective transfer of social wealth will accomplish on an infinitely greater scale to-morrow.
In the transition period, when monopolies, trusts and combines are being absorbed and administered by collective agency, in the form of nationalisation, there will almost certainly be, as indeed is already apparent, a struggle between State Bureaucracy, miscalled State Socialism, and Social Democracy, which, in its developed form, is Democratic Co-operation or Communism. The former may involve a continuance of the wage system, and an extension of modified class management; the latter means the entire abolition of the payment of money wages, and the production and distribution of wealth by all, for the use and benefit of all. It is a return to the old democratic primitive Communism, on an immensely higher plane, due to the almost infinitely greater powers of man over Nature. This difference between State Bureaucrats and Social Democrats was acute even in the days of the Chartists; it will now have to be settled in the political and social field before any definite system of Socialist organisation is generally accepted.
In the past I thought that only when all, or nearly all, nations and peoples had reached the comprehension of Social Democracy, and the economic development of each had embraced the Cooperative Commonwealth of all, could men attain to that higher communal life and fraternal intercommunication towards which humanity, formerly unconsciously, and now, in part at least, consciously, is tending. This view I hold no longer. On the contrary, I believe it is possible that one people, which is in the latest period of developed capitalism, can so transform their national life as to be able to attain alone to that brotherhood of democratic collectivism or Communism which shall not only enable them to suffice for themselves, but, by the social happiness secured for all their citizens, shall also serve to lift others to the same level more rapidly than would otherwise be possible.
It is no mere patriotic regard for my own country, whose terrible misdeeds at home and abroad have often horrified the world, which leads me to the conviction that such a possibility of independent yet ever more closely inter-Socialist development is nearest in Great Britain. This island, although it has fallen behind both the United States and Germany in the struggle of national capitalist competition, is, nevertheless, further advanced than any other country towards the desired reconstruction, and that, too, notwithstanding the lack of education of the people. The reason is that here the working population is wholly divorced from the soil, and destitute of any valuable personal property. Hence there are no real economic antagonisms between the workers in country and town, nor between various grades of wage-earners, when once they understand that only by joint action can they gain complete control of the forces which now dominate them; and thus acquire collectively, as a free community of fellow-workers for the common good, that general ownership, and personal emancipation from long, compulsory and irksome toil, which individually they could never obtain. This absence of internal conflict between the British proletarians, which they themselves are learning to take advantage of more definitely every day – as shown by the closer and closer relations that they cultivate – is accompanied by a development of economic forms, and an increase of State interference, leading to the co-ordination of competitive anarchy by co-operatve effort. That is no mere hypothesis: the process can be seen going on all round us. It can only be arrested by armed force from within, or armed force from without. And then only for a time. Not even the most terrific force, however ruthlessly applied, can permanently prevent, though it may partially retard, the birth of a new society which has been created in the womb of the old.
When the workers claim, as part of a clear political programme, nationalisation of the railways and transport generally, nationalisation of the mines, nationalisation of land, nationalisation of shipping, nationalisation of this or that necessary of life, as they are demanding all this in England at present, it is obvious that they are striving for a complete social revolution, in which ownership, control and management by the bourgeoisie shall be set aside in favour of the collective ownership, control and management by the whole adult population, all of whom shall contribute their quota to the general social service. It is impossible to stop short of complete socialisation – that is to say, of all the great means and instruments of production and distribution. This in turn must inevitably lead on to the equitable sharing of products among all members of the community. Every step will be in the direction of the Co-operative Commonwealth. Since there is no difficulty whatever in creating wealth far in excess of our requirements, by the scientific organisation and application of the light labour of all to the satisfaction of our social needs, then the old motto, “From each according to ability, to each according to needs,” ceases to be Utopian and becomes a national reality.
The problems of society, so far as they relate to daily life and sustenance, will then no longer be affected in any way by money values, but Labour will be devoted to this or that branch of production in proportion to the desires of the community. Work that, after all possible amelioration, remains dangerous or difficult will be shared by all of the community who are fit, instead of being relegated to a class. The standard of life for each and all will be far higher than anything ever yet attained or suggested. The best possible conditions will be so obviously to the general benefit that the elevation of the level of society will be the aim of each individual as of the whole community.
Education and administration of the highest quality will be required to carry out to the full this establishment of real social order. But, in the preliminary stages, it is quite as easy, nay easier, for the workers to make use of the best brains of the country to serve the community, as it is for the capitalists to command them for their own private gain. The question of pay or remuneration need not arise. New conceptions of the dignity of man and the honour of social service will inevitably take the place of sordid ideas of personal advantage. Besides, if men and women, for their social service, obtain all that they want to maintain themselves in perfect physical and mental health and activity – what more do they want?
But, it may be argued, if we admit that all which it is possible to produce within the limits of our populous island is produced, still there will be necessaries and luxuries that cannot be grown or produced within its limits. Here collective in place of individual exchange at once steps in; and it is certain that a highly organised society could and would produce so vast a surplus for exchange or barter that a higher offer could be made for desirable imports than any non-Socialist country could afford. The waste in all directions, from coal onwards, under our existing system is so great that, apart from infinitely improved methods, the mere cessation of this bootless extravagance would vastly increase national capacity for exchange.
Of the new ethic inevitably arising out of a scientific and enlightened communism it is not necessary to write. Nearly all the crimes of the decalogue are property crimes. Remove the incentive and the crimes will vanish. We may hope that, with the perfection of all social and material conditions, man's aim-"'-: [?] ineradicable tendency to torment his fellows or himself will at last disappear.
But what of art, of letters, of beauty, of charm of existence at every stage of life? Here a new world indeed will open up before humanity. With the disappearance of overwork and anxiety, infinite possibilities of the development of the higher faculties will be afforded to the exceptionally endowed, while all will be able to use and enjoy every capacity they possess. “Leisure and pleasure in ample measure” will be at the command of each and all. And leisure where there is no more toil means, not idleness, but an alternation of agreeable exercise of mind and body for personal and communal advantage. Such freedom of the individual, trained from childhood to use its powers in all liberty of action which involves no harm or annoyance to others, with the examples of art ever at hand for encouragement and guidance, will harmonise with the highest efforts towards the realisation of perfection in every department of human endeavour. None being depressed by his calling and surroundings, all will breathe a fresh atmosphere of exhilaration where the ideal fades insensibly into the real.
For such delight in life as we can now foresee to be possibly attainable for all has never yet been experienced, even by the fortunate few. When from infancy and youth to full development and age the beauties of nature and the pleasure of perfect health can be entered upon and enjoyed with none of the sordid and degrading drawbacks due to the dire poverty or extreme riches of our day; when work is but the useful and pleasing expression of zeal for the community and regard for the individual, toil and exhaustion being wholly unknown; when, throughout the longer, fuller and more active life which mankind will then be heirs to, the minds of all will be more completely cultivated than those of the most gifted have ever yet been; when art naturally rises to higher and ever higher pitch of exquisite achievement due to a keener public conception of beauty in sculpture, painting, architecture, decoration than the best of the Greeks themselves could realise; when ethic in all its branches is no stiff formula devised to limit the natural play of human desires and faculties in accordance with a crude, ascetic notion of personal self-sacrifice, but is a well-founded coordination of physical, mental and moral pleasure, virtually unrestrained for the whole of human society; when the whole world is fully, freely and rapidly open to the travel and survey of all its inhabitants – when all this is achieved, as achieved it assuredly will be within a calculable period, death itself will be nothing more than a sigh of satisfied content at the close of a charming and well-ordered banquet of life.
Last updated on 7.7.2006