The last paragraphs of our declaration of principles reads as follows:
“This social transformation means the liberation, not only of the proletariat, but of the whole human race. Only the working-class, however, can bring it about. All other classes, despite their conflicting interests, maintain their existence on the basis of the private ownership of the means of production, and therefore have a common motive for supporting the principles of the existing social order.
“The struggle of the working-class against capitalist exploitation is necessarily a political struggle. The working-class cannot develop its economic organization and wage its economic battles without political rights. It cannot accomplish the transfer of the means of production to the community as a whole without first having come into possession of political power.
“To make this struggle of the workers conscious and unified, to keep its one great object in view, – this is the purpose of the Socialist Party.”
In all lands where capitalist production prevails the interests of the working-class are identical. With the development of world-commerce and production for the world-market the position of the workers in each country becomes increasingly dependent on that of the workers in other countries. The liberation of the working-class is, therefore, a task in which the workers of all civilized lands are equally concerned. Being conscious of this fact the Socialist Party proclaims its solidarity with the class-conscious workers of all lands.
“The Socialist Party, accordingly, struggles, not for any class privileges, but for the abolition of classes and class-rule, for equal rights and equal duties for all, without distinction of sex or race. In conformity with these principles it opposes in present day society, not only the exploitation and oppression of wage-workers, but also every form of exploitation and oppression, be it directed against a class, a party, a sex, or a race.”
The introductory sentence of the first of these paragraphs needs little explanation. We have already shown that the triumph of socialism is in the interest of our entire social development. In a certain sense it is even in the interest of the owning and exploiting classes. These, like their victims, suffer from the contradictions of the modern method of production. Some of then; degenerate in idleness, others wear themselves out in the ceaseless race for profits; while over them all hangs the Damocles’ sword of bankruptcy.
But observation teaches us that the great majority of the owners and exploiters are bitterly opposed to socialism. Can this be due simply to lack of knowledge and insight? The spokesmen among the adversaries of socialism are, on the contrary, the very persons whose positions in the government, in society, and in science should fit them best of all to understand the social mechanism and to perceive the law of social evolution.
And so shocking are the conditions in modern society that no one who wishes to be taken seriously in politics or science dares any longer to deny the truth of the charges preferred by socialism against the present social order. On the contrary the dearest thinkers in all the capitalist political parties admit that there is “some truth” in those charges; some even declare that the final triumph of socialism is inevitable unless society suddenly turns about and reforms – a thing these gentlemen imagine can be done offhand, provided the demands of this or that party be promptly granted. In this manner even those among the non-socialist parties who best understand the socialist critique of capitalist society save themselves from accepting the conclusions of this critique.
The cause of this remarkable phenomenon is not difficult to discover. Although certain important interests of the property-holding classes plead against the private ownership of the means of production, other interests, more immediate and easily discernible, demand its retention.
This is especially the case with the rich. They can expect no immediate gain from the abolition of private property in the means of production. The beneficent results that would flow therefrom would be ultimately felt by them as well as by society in general, but such results are comparatively distant. The disadvantages which they would suffer are, on the other hand, self-evident; the power and distinction they enjoy today, would disappear at once, and not a few might be deprived, also, of their present ease and comfort.
It is otherwise with the lower ranks of the property-holding classes, the small producers, merchants and farmers. These have nothing to lose in point of power and distinction, and they can only gain in point of ease and comfort by the introduction of the socialist system of production. But in order to realize this they must rise above the point of view of their own class. From the standpoint of these small capitalists or farmers the capitalist system of production is unintelligible; modern socialism, naturally, they can understand still less. The one thing they have a clear notion of is the necessity of private ownership in their own implements of labor if their system of production is to be preserved. So long as the small manufacturer reasons as a small manufacturer, the small farmer as a small farmer, the small merchant as a small merchant, so long as they are still possessed of a strong sense of their own class, so long will they be bound to the idea of private ownership in the means of production, so long will they instinctively resist socialism, however ill they may fare under capitalism.
We have seen in a previous chapter how private property in the means of production fetters the small producers to their undeveloped occupations long after these have ceased to afford them a competence, and even when they might improve their condition by becoming wage-workers outright. Thus private ownership in the means of production is the force that binds all the property-holding classes to the capitalist system, even those who are themselves among the exploited, whose property-holding has become a bitter mockery.
Only those individuals among the small capitalists and farmers who have despaired of the preservation of their class, who are no longer blind to the fact that the form of production upon which they depend for a living is doomed, are in a position to understand the principles of socialism. But lack of information and narrowness of view, both of which are natural results of their condition, make it difficult for them to realize the utter hopelessness of their class. Their misery and their hysterical search for a means of salvation have hitherto only had the effect of making them the easy prey of any demagog who was sufficiently self-assertive and who did not stick at promises.
Among the upper ranks of the property-holding classes there exists a higher degree of culture and a broader view. Here and there a few individuals are still affected by idealistic reminiscences from the days of the early revolutionary struggles. But woe to the person in these upper ranks who shows an interest in socialism or engages in its propaganda He must soon choose between giving up his ideas or breaking all the social bonds that have held and supported him. Few possess the vigor and independence of character requisite to approach the point where the roads fork; few among these few are brave enough to break with their own class when they have reached the point; and, finally, of these few among the few the greater portion have hitherto soon grown tired, recognized the “indiscretions of their youth,” and finally turned “sensible.”
The idealists among the upper classes are the only ones whose support it is at all possible to enlist in favor of socialism. But even among these the majority are moved by the insight which they have acquired only far enough to wear themselves out in fruitless searchings for a peaceful solution of the social problem; that is to say, in searching for a solution that will reconcile the interests of the capitalist class with their more or less developed knowledge of socialism and their consciences.
Only those bourgeois idealists develop into genuine socialists who have, not only the requisite theoretical insight, but also the courage and strength to break with their class.
Accordingly, the cause of socialism has little to hope from the property-holding classes. Individual members may be won over to socialism, but only such as no longer belong by convictions and conduct to the class to which their economic position assigns them. These will ever be a very small minority, except when, during revolutionary periods, the scales incline to the side of socialism. Only at such times may the socialists look forward to a stampede from the ranks of the property-holding classes.
Thus far the only favorable recruiting ground for the socialist army has been, not the classes which still have something to lose, however little that may be, but the class of those who have nothing to lose but their chains, and a world to gain.
The recruiting ground of socialism is the class of the propertyless, but not all ranks of this class are equally favorable.
Though it is false to say, with the Philistines, that there have always been poor people, it is nevertheless true that pauperism is as old as the system of production for sale. At first it appeared only as an exceptional phenomenon. In the Middle Ages, for example, there were but few who did not own the instruments of production necessary for the satisfaction of their own wants. In those days it was an easy matter for the comparatively small number of propertyless persons to find situations with the property-holding families as assistants, farm-hands, journeymen, maids, etc. These were generally young persons, and their lot was alleviated by the prospect of establishing their own workshops and owning their own homes. In all cases they worked with the head of the family or his wife, and enjoyed in common with them the fruits of their labor. As members of a property-holding family they were not proletarians; they felt an interest in the property of the family whose prosperity and adversity they shared alike. Where servants are part of the family of the property-holder, they will be found ready to defend property even though they have none themselves. Among such socialism cannot strike root.
The position of the apprentices was much the same as that of the classes just discussed (Compare Ch.II., 1).
Gradually, however, there grew up beside these classes, which really took part in production, another class, that of personal servants. Some of the poor turned for support to the families of the greater exploiters. In the Middle Ages this meant entering the personal service of the nobles, rich merchants, or higher clergy. The poor entered this service, not to assist in productive labor, but to act as mercenary soldiers or mere lackeys. The ancient feeling of mutual interest has disappeared, but a new one has taken its place. There are various grades of servants, with different work and different pay. Each individual is eager to improve his position by any means within his power. His success is dependent on the master’s favor. The more skillfully he adapts himself, the better are his prospects. Again, the larger the income of the master and the greater his power and distinction, the more plentiful are the crumbs which fall to his menials; this holds especially of those menials who are kept for show, whose only task is to make a parade of the superfluities which their master enjoys, to assist him in squandering his wealth, and to stand by him loyally if he commits crime or folly. The modern servant, accordingly, comes into relations of peculiar intimacy with his master, and thus he has naturally developed into a foe of the oppressed and exploited working-class; not infrequently he is more ruthless than his master in his treatment of them. The master, if he has any discretion at all, will not kill the hen that lays the golden egg; he will preserve her, not only for himself, but also for his successors. The menial is not restrained by any such considerations.
Small wonder that among the people generally nothing is more hated than this class of menials. Their subservience toward those above and their brutality toward those below have become proverbial.
The characteristics of the menial are, however, not confined to the propertyless people of the lower classes. The poverty-stricken noble seeking a livelihood as courtier is on a level with the servant of the lowest class.
But we are here dealing with menials of this latter class. The growing intensity of exploitation, the constantly swelling surplus enjoyed by the capitalist, together with his resulting extravagance, all favor a steady increase in the number of those employed as servants. That is to say, they favor the growth of a class which, despite its lack of property, is not at all a promising recruiting ground for the socialist movement.
But other tendencies, fortunately, are working in the opposite direction. The steady revolution in industry, with its encroachments upon the family, its withdrawal of one occupation after another from the sphere of household duties and the assignment of them to special industries, and, above all, the infinite division and subdivision of labor, are building up the various trades of barbers, waiters, cab drivers, etc. Long after these and similar trades have lost their domestic character they tend to preserve the characteristics of their origin; nevertheless, as time passes, these characteristics wear off and the members of these trades acquire the qualities of the industrial wage-working class.
However numerous the class of menials may be, it has not, as a rule, been able to absorb the whole number of those left propertyless. The unemployable, children, old people, sick and cripples have been from the beginning unable to earn a living by entering into service. To these were added at the beginning of modern times a large number who could work but found nothing to do. For them there was nothing but to beg, steal, or prostitute themselves. They were compelled either to perish or to throw overboard all sense of shame, honor and self-respect. They prolong their existence only by giving precedence to their immediate wants over their regard for their reputations. That such a condition cannot but exercise the most demoralizing and corrupting influence is self-evident.
Furthermore, the effect of this influence is intensified by the fact that the unemployed poor are utterly superfluous to the existing order; their extinction would relieve it of an undesirable burden. A class that has become superfluous, that has no necessary function to fulfil, must degenerate.
And beggars cannot even raise themselves in their own estimation by indulging in the self-deception that they are necessary to the social system; they have no recollection of a time when their class performed any useful services; they have no way of forcing society to support them as parasites. They are only tolerated. Humility is, consequently, the first duty of the beggar and the highest virtue of the poor. Like the menials, this class of the proletariat is servile toward the powerful; it furnishes no opposition to the existing social order. On the contrary, it ekes out its existence from the crumbs that fall from the tables of the rich. Why should it wish to abolish its benefactors? Furthermore, beggars are not themselves exploited; the higher the degree of exploitation, the larger the incomes of the rich, all the more have the beggars to expect. Like the menial class, they are partakers in the fruits of exploitation; they have no motive for wishing to put an end to the system.
But though this section of the proletariat has never: offered any resistance to the system of exploitation, still it cannot be regarded as a bulwark of this system. Cowardly and unprincipled, it soon deserts its benefactors when power and wealth have slipped from their hands. This class has never taken the lead in any revolutionary movement. But it has always been on hand during social disturbances, ready to fish in troubled waters. Occasionally it has given the last kick to a falling class; as a rule, however, it has satisfied itself with exploiting every revolution that has broken out, only to betray it at the earliest opportunity.
The capitalist system of production has greatly increased the slum proletariat. It constantly sends to it new recruits. In the large centers of industry this element constitutes a considerable portion of the population.
In character and view of life the slum proletariat approaches the lowest ranks of the farmer and small bourgeois class. Like these, it has despaired of its own power and seeks to save itself through aid received from above.
It was from the last mentioned classes that capitalism drew its first supply of wage-labor. It needed not so much skilled workers as docile ones. And since the slum-proletariat and the sections of the population most closely related to it had already learned obedience and humility they were well fitted to supply the demand. With workers from this source capitalism could develop without opposition. They were easily exploited to the limit. They would work long hours amidst almost intolerable conditions. Whoever wishes to learn of the deplorable state of the proletariat during the early days of modern industry has but to read Frederich Engels’ classic work on the working-class of England.
At the time of the beginning of modern industry the term proletariat implied absolute degeneracy. And there are persons who believe this is still the case. But even in the earliest days there was the beginning of a great gulf between the working-class proletariat and the slum proletariat.
The slum proletariat has always been the same, whether in modern London or ancient Rome. The modern laboring proletariat is an absolutely unique phenomenon.
Between these two there is, first of all, the difference that lies in the fact that the first is a parasite and the second the most important root of modern social life. Far from receiving alms, the modern working proletarians support the whole structure of our society. At first, to be sure, they do not perceive this, but sooner or later they discover that instead of receiving their bread from the capitalist they furnish him his.
From house-servants and apprentices, on the other hand, the working proletarians distinguish themselves by the fact that they do not live and work with their exploiters. The personal relations that formerly bound them to their employers have disappeared.
On the other hand, the modern working-man does not envy and imitate the rich, as did the poor of pre-capitalist days He hates them as enemies and despises them as idlers.
At first this feeling exhibits itself sporadically. But as soon as the workers discover that their interests are common, that they are all opposed to the exploiter, it takes the form of great organizations and open battles against the exploiting class. The sense of power that goes with class-consciousness means the regeneration of the working-class. It raises this class forever above the level of the parasitic poor.
All the conditions of modern production tend to increase the solidarity of the laboring classes. In the Middle Ages each artisan produced a finished product; he was industrially almost independent. Today it often takes scores, or even hundreds, to produce a finished product. Thus does industry teach co-operation.
Perhaps modern uniformity of conditions is even more effective in this direction than the necessity for co-operation. In the Medieval gilds there were the beginning of internationalism, but the various trades were sharply divided. Among the menial, as we have seen, divisions in rank were endless. But in the modern factory there are practically no gradations. All the employees work under nearly the same conditions, and the individual laborer is powerless to change them. Under the influence of machinery, moreover, the distinctions among the trades are rapidly disappearing. This is indicated by the fact that apprenticeships are constantly being shortened. Whole trades are often rendered unnecessary by some new invention, and those employed in them are forced to turn to another form of labor. This tends more and more to make an individual worker forget his craft and fight for his entire class.
Uprisings against employers are nothing new. They occurred in plenty during the Middle Ages. But only during the nineteenth century did these uprisings attain the character of a class-struggle. And thus this great conflict has taken on a higher purpose than the righting of temporary wrongs; the labor movement has become a revolutionary movement.
The elevation of the working-class is a necessary and inevitable process. But it is neither peaceful nor regular. The tendency of the capitalist system is, as we have shown in Chapter II, to degrade the proletariat ever more and more. The moral regeneration of the working-class is possible only in opposition to this tendency and its representatives, the capitalists. It cannot come about except through the new tendency developed in the working-class by the modern conditions of labor. But the two tendencies, the one upward and the other downward, vary constantly in different places and at different periods. They depend on the condition of the market, the organization of industry, the development of machinery, the insight of the capitalists and workers, etc., etc. All of these conditions vary from year to year in all the numerous branches of industry.
But fortunately for human development there comes a time in the history of every section of the proletariat when the elevating tendencies gain the upper hand. And when they have once wakened full class-consciousness in any group of workers, the consciousness of solidarity with all the members of the working-class, the consciousness of the strength that is born of union; as soon as any group has recognized that it is essential to society and that it dare hope for better things in the future, – then it is well nigh impossible to shove that group back into the degenerate mass of beings whose opposition to the system under which they suffer takes no other form than that of unreasoned hate.
If every section of the proletariat had been dependent on its own efforts, the uplifting process would have begun much later and been much slower and more painful than it actually was. Without help many a division of the proletariat now occupying an honorable position would not have been at all able to overcome the difficulties that are inherent in all beginnings. Aid came from many an upper social rank, from the upper ranks of the proletariat as well as from the property-holding classes. The assistance rendered by the latter of these was of no slight value in the early days of capitalist large production.
During the Middle Ages poverty was so slight that public and private benevolence sufficed to deal with it. It presented no problem for society to solve; in so far as it gave occasion for reflection it was only the subject of pious contemplation; it was looked upon as a visitation from heaven, intended either to punish the wicked or try the godly. To the rich it furnished an opportunity to exercise their virtue.
With the growth of the capitalist system, however, the number of the unemployed increased, and poverty assumed tremendous proportions. The spectacle of a large pauper class, which was as novel as it was dangerous, drew upon it the attention of all thoughtful and kindly disposed persons. Primitive means for the distribution of charity proved inadequate. To care for all the poor was soon felt to be a work that greatly exceeded the powers of the community. Then there arose a new problem: how to abolish poverty? A great many solutions were offered. These ranged from schemes to get rid of the poor by hanging or deportation to elaborate plans for communistic colonies. The latter met with great applause among people of culture, but the former were the only suggestions ever really tried.
By degrees, however, the question of poverty took on a new aspect. The capitalistic system of production developed rapidly and finally became the controlling one. As this development went on, the problem of poverty ceased to exist for the thinkers in the capitalist class. Capitalist production rests upon the proletariat; to put an end to the latter were to render the former impossible. Colossal poverty is the foundation of colossal wealth; he who would eliminate the poverty of the masses assails the wealth of the few. Accordingly, whoever attempts to remedy the poverty of the workers is pronounced “an enemy of law and order.”
True enough, neither fear nor compassion has ceased, even under this changed aspect of things, to be felt in capitalist circles, and to tell in favor of the proletariat. For poverty is a source of danger to the whole social fabric; it breeds pestilence and crime. Accordingly a few of the more clear-headed and humane among the ruling classes are willing to do something for the working-class; but to the bulk of them, who neither dare, nor can afford, to break with their own class, the problem can no longer be that of the abolition of the proletariat. At best they cannot go beyond the elevation of the proletarian. The proletariat is by all means to continue, able to work and satisfied with its condition.
Within these bounds, of course, philanthropy can manifest itself in manifold ways. Most of its methods are either wholly useless or calculated only to give temporary aid in isolated cases.
There is, however, one notable exception to this generalization. I refer to labor legislation. When, during the first decades of the nineteenth century, capitalist production on a large scale made its entry into England and was there accompanied by all the horrors which it can produce under the worst conditions, the wisest among the philanthropists arrived at the conviction that there was but one thing able to check the degeneration of the workers in the industries affected. They immediately began to propose laws for the protection of the workers, at least for the protection of the most helpless among them, the women and children.
The capitalists engaged in large production in England did not at that time constitute the ruling section of the capitalist class, as they do today. Many economic, as well as political, interests among the other sections – especially the small producers and landlords – spoke in favor of limiting the powers of the large capitalists over their workmen. The movement in this direction was favored also by the consideration that unless the large capitalists were restrained, the working class, which was the foundation of English industry, would inevitably perish. This was a consideration which could not fail to influence every member of the ruling class intelligent enough to see further than his own immediate interests. Added to this there was the support of a few large capitalists who realized that they had sufficient means to adapt themselves to the proposed laws and who saw that their less wealthy competitors would be ruined by them. In spite of all this, and notwithstanding the fact that the working-class itself set in motion a powerful movement in favor of factory laws, it took a hard fight to obtain the first slight factory legislation and subsequently to extend it.
Slight though these first conquests seemed, they were, nevertheless, sufficient to awaken out of their lethargy those ranks of the proletariat in whose behalf they were passed and to arouse in them the upward tendencies inherent in their social position. Indeed, even before the movement had achieved any victory, the struggle was enough to reveal to the proletarians how important they were and what a power they wielded. These early struggles shook them up, imparted to them self-consciousness and self-respect, put an end to their despair, and set up before them a goal beyond their immediate future.
Another, and extremely important, means of improving the condition of the working-class is the public schools. Their influence cannot be overestimated. Nevertheless their effect in the direction of elevating the proletariat is inferior to that of thorough-going factory laws.
The more fully the capitalist system develops, the more large production crowds out inferior forms or changes their character, the more imperative does the strengthening of factory laws become. It becomes necessary to extend them, not only to all branches of large industry, but to home industry and agriculture, as well. In the same measure as the importance of these laws increases there grows also the influence of large capitalists in modern society. Property-owners who a are not industrial capitalists – landlords, small manufacturers, shop-keepers, etc. – become infected with capitalist modes of thought. The thinkers and statesmen of the bourgeoisie, formerly its far-sighted leaders, sink to the role of mere defenders of the capitalist class.
The devastation of the working-class by capitalist production is so shocking that only the most shameless and greedy capitalists dare to refuse a certain amount of statutory protection to labor. But for any important labor measure, the eight-hour law, for example, there will be found few supporters among the property-holding class. Capitalist philanthropy becomes constantly more timid; it tends more and more to leave to the workers themselves the struggle for their protection. The modern struggle for the eight-hour day bears a very different aspect from the one which was carried on in England fifty years ago for the ten-hour day. The property-holding politicians who are advocating the modern measure are moved, not by philanthropy; but by the necessity of yielding to their working-class constituents. The struggle for labor legislation is becoming more and more a class-struggle between proletarians and capitalists. On the continent of Europe and in the United States, where the struggle for labor laws commenced much later than in England, it bore this character from the start. The proletariat has nothing more to hope for from the property-holding classes in its endeavor to raise itself. It now depends wholly upon its own efforts.
Struggles between laborers and exploiters art nothing new. Extremely bitter and protracted ones occurred toward the end of the Middle Ages between apprentices and masters. As early as the fifteenth century, masters here and there would seek to escape from work by increasing the number of their apprentices. On the other hand they made it more and more difficult for any but their sons to become masters. Gradually the family relation between master and man was loosened, and the modern division into classes had begun.
As soon as the master began to play the part of modern capitalist, conflicts were inevitable. And in one respect the apprentices were in a good position to assert themselves. In each city they were well-organized. Each gild included all the apprentices in a particular trade; it controlled absolutely the supply of labor so far as that trade was concerned. When the time of conflict arrived, it could use with tremendous effectiveness the weapons which have become so familiar in modern times, the strike and the boycott.
All the increasing power of the modern state was called into action to teach the unruly apprentices their place. The suppression of the working-class has been from the beginning the chief function of the state, and in these early days it performed this function with terrible effect. But all its efforts did not succeed in putting an end to the trouble. Denied the right of organization, the apprentices formed secret unions and maintained them in the face of frightful persecutions.
But what the state could not accomplish was accomplished by industrial evolution. After the close of the Middle Ages, particularly during the eighteenth century, manufacturing was becoming an increasingly important feature of the industrial world. Before the introduction of machinery, employees in factories had the advantages neither of the Medieval system of industry nor of the modern. They lived in large towns and were often of various races. More than this, different degrees of skill were demanded for different occupations. For all of these reasons they found it difficult to organize. Their only advantage lay in the fact that their work did require skill. They were not compelled to compete against the entire mass of the unemployed.
Only the introduction of machinery altered this last condition. It made the whole mass of the unemployed serviceable to capitalism and threw even proletarian women and children upon the labor market.
Since the introduction of machinery the transformation of industry has proceeded at an unprecedented pace. To be sure, mechanical methods were not immediately introduced into all industrial branches. In some branches even the old handicraft methods have survived. Such survivals, however, instead of tending to prolong former conditions, usually lead, as has been the case in the tailoring industry, to sweat-shop labor. That is, they produce the class of laborers least able to resist their masters.
But the tendency is to introduce machines into all departments of industry. The effect on the power of resistance developed in the working-class is of the utmost importance. In the first place this change tends to divide the workers into two classes, skilled and unskilled. The former class includes all whose work requires any special degree of skill or efficiency. The latter includes, of course, all those who perform such labor as can be done by any one having the requisite strength. The characteristic mark of members of this latter class is to be found in the fact that they can be easily replaced.
It was naturally the skilled workers who began the struggle for better conditions. The fact that it was difficult to find substitutes for them in case of a strike gave them an important strategic advantage. Their position was not unlike that of the medieval apprentices, and in many respects their unions were natural descendants of the gilds.
But if modern skilled laborers inherited certain advantages from their predecessors, they also took over from them one tendency which has done great harm to the modern labor movement. This is the tendency to separate the various crafts. Naturally those in the best position to fight have won for themselves superior advantages and have come to look upon themselves as an aristocracy of labor. Looking only at their own interest, they have been content to rise at the expense of their less fortunate comrades.
Far-sighted politicians and industrial leaders have not been slow to take advantage of this condition. Today the worst enemies of the working-class are not the stupid, reactionary statesmen who hope to keep down the labor movement through openly repressive measures. Its worst enemies are the pretended friends who encourage craft unions, and thus attempt to cut off the skilled trades from the rest of their class. They are trying to turn the most efficient division of the proletarian army against the great mass, against those whose position as unskilled workers makes them least capable of defense.
But sooner or later the aristocratic tendency of even the most highly skilled class of laborers will be broken. As mechanical production advances, one craft after another is tumbled into the abyss of common labor. This fact is constantly teaching even the most effectively organized divisions that in the long run their position is dependent upon the strength of the working-class as a whole. They come to the conclusion that it is a mistaken policy to attempt to rise on the shoulders of those who are sinking in a quicksand. They come to see that the struggles of other divisions of the proletariat are by no means foreign to them.
At the same time one division of the unskilled after another rises out of its stupid lethargy or mere purposeless discontent. This is in part a natural consequence of the successes achieved by the skilled laborers. The direct results of the activities of the unskilled proletarians may seem unimportant, nevertheless it is these activities that bring about the moral regeneration of this division of the working-class.
Thus there has gradually formed from skilled and unskilled workers a body of proletarians who are in the movement of labor, or the labor movement. It is the part of the proletariat which is fighting for the interests of the whole class, its church militant, as it were. This division grows at the expense both of the “aristocrats of labor” and of the common mob which still vegetates, helpless and hopeless. We have already seen that the laboring proletariat is constantly increasing; we know, further, that it tends more and more to set the pace in thought and feeling for the other working classes. We now see that in this growing mass of workers the militant division increases not only absolutely, but relatively. No matter how fast the proletariat may grow, this militant division of it grows still faster.
But it is precisely this militant proletariat which is the most fruitful recruiting ground for socialism. The socialist movement is nothing more than the part of this militant proletariat which has become conscious of its goal. In fact, these two, socialism and the militant proletariat, tend constantly to become identical. In Germany and Austria their identity is already an accomplished fast.
The original organizations of the proletariat were modeled after those of the medieval apprentices. In like manner the first weapons of the modern labor movement were those inherited from a previous age, the strike and the boycott.
But these methods are insufficient for the modern proletariat. The more completely the various divisions of which it is made up unite into a single working-class movement, the more must its struggles take on a political character. Every class-struggle is a political struggle.
Even the bare requirements of the industrial struggle force the workers to make political demands. We have seen that the modern state regards it as its principal function to make the effective organization of labor impossible. Secret organizations are inefficient substitutes for open ones. The more the proletariat develops, the more it needs freedom to organize.
But this freedom is not alone sufficient if the proletariat is to have adequate organizations. The apprentices and journeymen of previous periods found it easy to act together. The various cities were industrially independent. In any given city the number of those engaged in any trade was comparatively small. They usually lived on one street and spent their leisure time at the same tavern. Each one was personally acquainted with all the rest.
Today conditions are radically different. In every industrial center there are gathered thousands of working-men. A single individual can know personally only a few of his comrades. To make this great mass feel its common interests, to induce it to act as one in an organization, it is necessary to have means of communicating with large numbers. A free press and the right of assemblage are absolutely essential.
The free press is made especially necessary by the development of modern means of communication. It is possible now for a capitalist to import strike-breakers from far-lying districts. Unless the workers can organize unions covering the entire nation, or even the entire civilized world, they are powerless. But this cannot be done without the aid of the press.
On this account, wherever the working-class has endeavored to improve its economic position it has made political demands, especially demands for a free press and the right of assemblage. These privileges are to the proletariat the prerequisites of life; they are the light and air of the labor movement. Whoever attempts to deny them, no matter what his pretensions, is to be reckoned among the worst enemies of the working-class.
Occasionally some one has attempted to oppose the political struggle to the economic, and declared that the proletariat should give its exclusive attention either to the one or the other. The fact is that the two cannot be separated. The economic struggle demands political rights, and these will not fall from heaven. To secure and maintain them, the most vigorous political action is necessary. The political struggle is, on the other hand, in the last analysis, an economic struggle. Often, in fact, it is directly and openly economic, as when it deals with tariff and factory laws. The political struggle is merely a particular form of the economic struggle, in fact, its most inclusive and vital form.
The interest of the working-class is not limited to the laws which directly affect it; the great majority of laws touch its interests to some extent. Like every other class, the working-class must strive to influence the state authorities, to bend them to its purposes.
Great capitalists can influence rulers and legislators directly, but the workers can do so only through parliamentary activity. It matters little whether a government be republican in name. In all parliamentary countries it rests with the legislative body to grant tax levies. By electing representatives to parliament, therefore, the working-class can exercise an influence over the governmental powers.
The struggle of all the classes which depend upon legislative action for political influence is directed, in the modern state, on the one hand toward an increase in the power of the parliament (or congress), and on the other toward an increase in their own influence within the parliament. The power of parliament depends on the energy and courage of the classes behind it and on the energy and courage of the classes on which its will is to be imposed. The influence of a class within a parliament depends, in the first place, on the nature of the electoral law in force. It is dependent, further, upon the influence of the class in question among the voters, and, lastly, upon its aptitude for parliamentary work.
A word must be added on this last point. The bourgeoisie, with all sorts of talent at its command, has hitherto been able to manipulate parliaments to its own purpose. Therefore, small capitalists and farmers have in large numbers lost all faith in legislative action. Some of these have declared in favor of the substitution of direct legislation for legislation by representatives; others have denounced all forms of political activity. This may sound very revolutionary, but in reality it indicates nothing but the political bankruptcy of the classes involved.
The proletariat is, however, more favorably situated in regard to parliamentary activity. We have already seen how the modern method of production reacts on the intellectual life of the proletariat, how it has awakened in them a thirst for knowledge and given them an understanding of great social problems. So far as their attitude toward politics is concerned, they are raised far above the farmers and small capitalists. It is easier for them to grasp party principles and act on them uninfluenced by personal and local motives. Their conditions of life, moreover, make it possible for them to act together in great numbers for a common end. Their regular forms of activity accustom them to rigid discipline. Their unions are to them an excellent parliamentary school; they afford opportunities for training in parliamentary law and public speaking.
The proletariat is, therefore, in a position to form an independent party. It knows how to control its representatives. Moreover, it finds in its own ranks an increasing number of persons well fitted to represent it in legislative halls.
Whenever the proletariat engages in parliamentary activity as a self-conscious class, parliamentarism begins to change its character. It ceases to be a mere tool in the hands of the bourgeoisie. This very participation of the proletariat proves to be the most effective means of shaking up the hitherto indifferent divisions of the proletariat and giving them hope and confidence. It is the most powerful lever that can be utilized to raise the proletariat out of its economic, social and moral degradation.
The proletariat has, therefore, no reason to distrust parliamentary action; on the other hand, it has every reason to exert all its energy to increase the power of parliaments in their relation to other departments of government and to swell to the utmost its own parliamentary representation. Besides freedom of the press and the right to organize, the universal ballot is to be regarded as one of the conditions prerequisite to a sound development of the proletariat.
In the first place the ballot was useful to the working-class only because it now and then made various sections of the bourgeoisie dependent on it for favors. In their internal struggles capitalist factions, as, for example, the industrial capitalists or the landlords, would offer advantages to the proletariat for the sake of securing its support. Though this procedure often resulted in valuable concessions, nevertheless so long as the working-class went no further in its political activities there was a definite limit to its possibilities.
The interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are of so contrary a nature that in the long run they cannot be harmonized. Sooner or later in every capitalist country the participation of the working-class in politics must lead to the formation of an independent party, a labor party.
At what moment in its history the proletariat of any particular country will reach the point at which it is ready to take this step, depends chiefly upon its economic development. In some degree, also, it depends upon two other conditions, the insight of the working-class into the political and economic situation and the attitude of the bourgeois parties toward one another.
But an independent labor party is bound to come sooner or later. And, once formed, such a party must have for its purpose the conquest of the government in the interest of the class which it represents. Economic development will lead naturally to the accomplishment of this purpose. The time and manner of its accomplishment may vary in different lands, but there can be no doubt as to the final victory of the proletariat. For this class grows constantly in moral and political power as well as in numbers. The class-struggle widens its view and teaches it solidarity and discipline. In capitalist countries it tends constantly to become the only working class, hence the class upon which all others are dependent. On the other hand, the classes opposed to the proletariat diminish constantly in numbers and lose visibly in moral and political power. In industry they become, not only superfluous, but often actually detrimental.
Under these circumstances there can be no doubt as to which side will eventually be victorious. Long ago the possessing classes were seized with fear of their approaching fate.
But the proletariat, as the lowest of the exploited classes – the slum-proletariat is not exploited – cannot use its power, as the other classes have done, to shift the burden of exploitation to other shoulders. It must put an end to its own exploitation and in the same act to all exploitation. The root of exploitation, however, is to be found in private ownership of the means of production. The proletariat can do away with the former only by destroying the latter. If the propertyless condition of the proletariat makes possible its winning over to the abolition of this form of private property, its exploitation will compel it to abolish exploitation and to substitute co-operative for capitalist production.
But we have seen that this cannot come about so long as commodity production remains supreme. In order to substitute co-operative for capitalist production it is absolutely necessary to replace production for the market with production for the community and under the control of the community. Socialist production is, therefore, the natural result of a victory of the proletariat. If the working-class did not make use of its mastery over the machinery of government to introduce the socialist system of production, the logic of events would finally call some such system into being – but only after a useless waste of energy and time. But socialist production must, and will, come. Its victory will have become inevitable as soon as that of the proletariat has become inevitable. The working-class will naturally strive to put an end to exploitation, and this it can do only through socialist production.
Thus it appears that wherever an independent labor party is formed it must sooner or later exhibit socialist tendencies; if not socialist in the beginning, it must become so in the end.
We have now examined the chief recruiting grounds of socialism. Our results may be summed up as follows: the militant, politically self-conscious divisions of the industrial proletariat furnish the power which is behind the socialist movement; but the more the influence of the proletariat affects the ways of thinking and feeling in vogue among allied social groups, the more will these, also, be drawn into the movement.
In the beginning socialists were slow to recognize the part which the militant proletariat is called upon to play in the socialist movement. It could not be otherwise, in the nature of things, so long as there was no militant proletariat And socialism is older than the class-struggle of the proletariat. It dates back to the time of the first appearance of the proletariat on a large scale. It was not until much later that the proletarians showed the first stirrings of independent life. The first root of socialism was the sympathy of upper-class philanthropists with the poor and miserable. The early socialists were merely the bravest and most far-sighted of these philanthropists. They saw clearly that the existence of the proletariat was a natural result of the private ownership of the means of production, and they did not hesitate to draw the logical conclusions from their observation. Socialism was the deepest and most splendid expression of bourgeois philanthropy.
There were no class interests to which the socialists of that day could appeal; they were forced to turn to the sympathy and enthusiasm of upper-class idealists. They attempted to secure support by means of alluring descriptions of a socialist commonwealth, on the one side, and persistent representations of the prevailing misery, on the other. The rich and mighty were to be persuaded to furnish means for a thoroughgoing relief of misery and the institution of an ideal society. As is well known, these philanthropic socialists waited in vain for the noblemen and millionaires whose magnanimity was to save the race.
During the first decades of the nineteenth century the proletariat began to show signs of an independent life. During the thirties a vigorous labor movement got under way in France and England.
But the socialists did not understand it. They thought it impossible for the poor and ignorant proletarians to attain to the moral elevation and social power requisite for the realization of the socialist plans. But distrust was not their only feeling toward the labor movement. This new phenomenon was inconvenient to them; it threatened to rob them of their most effective argument. For the bourgeois socialists’ only hope of winning over the sensitive capitalist lay in being able to show him that every attempt to alleviate misery and elevate the poor was doomed to failure by the conditions of modern society and that, consequently, it was impossible for the proletarians to rise through their own efforts. But the labor movement proceeded upon premises absolutely opposed to this line of argument. Another fact tended to bring about the same result. The class-struggle naturally embittered the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. In the eyes of the capitalists the working-class were transformed from pitiful unfortunates who needed help into a pack of miscreants who should be subdued and kept down. Sympathy for the poor and miserable, which had been the chief root of socialism, began to wither. The teachings of socialism came to appear to the terror-stricken bourgeoisie as a dangerous weapon which might fall into the hands of the mob and bring about unspeakable harm. In short, the stronger the labor movement appeared the more difficult became socialist propaganda among the ruling classes, and the more well-defined became the opposition of these classes to the socialist movement.
So long as socialists were of the opinion that the means of attaining the objects of socialism must come from the capitalist class, they were compelled, not only to look with suspicion upon the labor movement, but often to assume an attitude of direct opposition to it. As a result they came to regard the class-struggle as the enemy of socialism.
This naturally reacted upon the laboring classes, tended to make of them enemies of socialism. The ambitious, struggling proletarians discovered nothing but opposition among the socialists and nothing but discouragement in the socialist teachings. As a result, there was born among them a distrust of the whole body of socialist doctrine. This feeling was favored by the ignorance even of the militant proletariat at the beginning of the labor movement. The narrowness of their view made it impossible for them to grasp the purposes of socialism, and as yet they were unconscious of their economic position and of the tasks which confronted their class. They felt only an indefinite class instinct which taught them to distrust everything that had its origin in the capitalist class. Under the circumstances they were naturally as much opposed to socialism as to any other form of bourgeois philanthropy.
Among certain groups of working-men, especially in England, distrust of socialism took deep root at this time. It is partly because of this that until recently England has been comparatively unaffected by the socialist movement.
But no matter how wide might grow the chasm between socialism and the militant proletariat, socialist philosophy is so adequate to the needs of thinking proletarians that the best rinds in the working-class, as soon as they had opportunity, willingly turned to it. Then the bourgeois socialist came under the influence of proletarian thinking. The new, proletarian socialists took little account of the capitalist class. They hated it and were fighting against it. In their hands the peaceful socialism which was to save the race through the intervention of the best elements in the upper classes was transformed into a violent revolutionary socialism which was to depend for its support upon proletarian fists.
But even this movement, though essentially proletarian in its origin, had no understanding of the labor movement; it stood in opposition to the class-struggle in its highest form, that is, the political struggle. In the nature of the case it was impossible for it to transcend the theories of the utopians. At best a proletarian can do no more than appropriate for his own purposes a part of the learning of the bourgeois world. He lacks the leisure necessary to carry independent scientific investigation beyond the point reached by bourgeois thinkers. Therefore primitive working-class socialism bore all the marks of utopianism. It had no notion of the economic evolution which is creating the material elements of socialist production and, by means of a long struggle, is training the class that is to vitalize these elements and develop from them a new society. Like the utopians, the early proletarian socialists looked upon society as a building which could he constructed arbitrarily according to a preconceived plan if one had only the required space and materials. They trusted themselves to furnish the power both to build and to preserve this structure. As to the materials and place, they did not expect these from the bounty of some millionaire or nobleman; the revolution was to be sufficient to tear down the old structure, to overpower its defenders, and give the discoverers of the new plan an opportunity to build the new structure, the socialist commonwealth.
In this course of reasoning there was no place for the class-struggle. The proletarian utopians found the misery in which they lived so bitter that they were impatient for its immediate removal. Even if they had thought it possible for the class-struggle to raise the proletariat gradually, and thus fit them for the further development of society, this process would have seemed to them much too tedious and complex. But they did not believe in this gradual elevation. They stood at the beginning of the labor movement. The group of proletarians who participated in it were few, and among these only a still smaller number saw beyond their temporary interests. To train the great mass of the population in socialist ways of thinking seemed hopeless. The most that could be expected of this mass was a violent outbreak which might destroy the existing order and thus clear the way for socialism. The worse the condition of the masses, thought these primitive socialists, the nearer must be the moment when their misery would become unbearable and they would rise and topple over the social structure which oppressed them. A struggle for the gradual elevation of the working-class seemed not only hopeless, but harmful. For any slight improvement that might be achieved could only tend to postpone the moment of their uprising and, therefore, the moment of permanent release from misery. Every form of the class-struggle which was not aimed at the immediate overthrow of the existing order, that is, every serious, efficient sort of effort, seemed to the early socialist as nothing more nor less than a betrayal of humanity. It is now more than fifty years since this way of looking at things made its appearance. Its best expression it received, probably, in the works of Wilhelm Weitling. Even today it has not died out. The tendency toward it appears in every division of the working-class which begins to take its place in the ranks of the militant proletariat. It appears in every land where the proletariat becomes for the first time conscious of its degraded condition and imbued with socialistic notions, without at the same time having reached a clear insight into social laws and gained confidence in its ability to carry on a protracted struggle. And since new divisions of the proletariat are constantly rising out of the depths into which economic development has thrust them, this primitive socialist way of thinking may be expected continually to make its reappearance. It is a children’s disease which threatens every young socialist movement which has not got beyond utopianism.
At present this sort of socialistic thinking is called anarchy, but it is not necessarily connected with anarchism. It has its origin, not in clear understanding, but rather in mere instinctive opposition to the existing order. Therefore it may be connected with the most varied theoretical points of view. But it is true that the rude and violent socialism of the primitive proletarians is often associated with the refined and peaceable anarchy of the small bourgeois. With all their differences these two have one thing in common, hatred of the protracted class-struggle, especially of its highest form, the political struggle.
The proletarian utopians were no more able than their forerunners to overcome the opposition between socialism and the labor movement. It is true that conditions occasionally compelled them to take active part in the class-struggle. But they were too illogical to see the connection between socialism and the labor movement. Therefore their activity merely resulted in the crowding out of the former by the latter. It is well known that the early anarchist-socialist movement sank sooner or later either into pure-and-simple craft unionism or mere co-operative communism.
If the socialist movement and the labor movement were ever to become one it was necessary for socialism to be raised beyond the utopian point of view. To accomplish this was the iilustrious work of Marx and Engels. In their Communist Manifesto, published in 1847, they laid the scientific foundation of modern socialism. They transformed the beautiful dream of well-meaning enthusiasts into the goal of a great and earnest struggle, they proved it to be the natural result of economic development. To the militant proletariat they gave a clear conception of their historical function, and placed them in a position to proceed toward their great goal with as much speed and as few sacrifices as possible. The socialists are no longer expected to discover a new and free social order; all they have to do is discover the elements of such an order in existing society. They need no longer attempt to bring to the proletariat salvation from above. On the other hand, it becomes their duty to support the working-class in its constant struggle by encouraging its political and economic institutions. It must do all in its power to hasten the day when the working-class will be able to save itself. To give to the class-struggle of the proletariat the most effective form, this is the function of the Socialist Party.
The teaching of Marx and Engels gave to the class-struggle of the proletariat an entirely new character. So long as socialist production is not kept consciously in view as its object, so long as the efforts of the militant proletariat do not extend beyond the framework of the existing method of production, the class-struggle seems to move forever in a circle. For the oppressive tendencies of the capitalist method of production are not done away with; at most they are only checked. Without cessation, new groups of the middle class are thrown into the proletariat. The desire for profits constantly threatens to bring to nought the achievements of the more favorably situated divisions of labor. Every reduction in the hours of labor becomes an excuse for the introduction of labor-saving machinery and for the intensification of labor. Every improvement in the organization of labor is answered with an improvement in the organization of capital. And all the time unemployment increases, crises become more serious, and the uncertainty of existence grows more unendurable. The elevation of the working-class brought about by the class-struggle is more moral than economic. The industrial conditions of the proletariat improve but slowly, if at all. But the self-respect of the proletarians mounts higher, as does also the respect paid them by the other classes of society. They begin to regard themselves as the equals of the upper classes and to compare the conditions of the other strata of society with their own. They make greater demands on society, demands for better clothes, better dwellings, greater knowledge and the education of their children. They wish to have some share in the achievements of modern civilization. And they feel with increasing keenness every set-back, every new form of oppression.
This moral elevation of the proletariat is identical with the increasing demands which it makes on society. Moreover it advances more rapidly than the conditions of labor which necessarily prevail under the present system of exploitation. The result of the class-struggle can, therefore, be nothing else, than increasing discontent among the proletarians. And therefore the class-struggle appears purposeless so long as it does not look beyond the present system of production.
Only socialist production can put an end to the disparity between the demands of the workers and the means of satisfying them. By doing away with exploitation it would render impossible the luxuries of the exploiters and the natural discontent of the exploited. With the removal of the standard set by the rich the demands of the workers would, of course, be measured by the means at hand to satisfy them. We have already seen how much the socialist method of production would increase these means.
Perpetual discontent is unknown in communistic societies. In our capitalistic world it results naturally from the distinction of classes wherever the exploited feel themselves to be the equals of the exploiters.
So long, therefore, as the class-struggle of the proletariat was opposed to socialism, So long as it did nothing beyond attempting to improve the position of the proletariat within the framework of existing society, it could not reach its goal. But: a great change came with the amalgamation of socialism and the labor movement. Now the proletariat has a goal toward which it is struggling, which it comes nearer to with every battle. Now all features of the class-struggle have a meaning, even those that produce no immediately practical results. Every effort that preserves or increases the self-consciousness of the proletariat or its spirit of co-operation and discipline, is worth the making.
Many an apparent defeat is turned into a victory. Every unsuccessful strike, every labor law defeated, means a step toward the securing of a life worthy of human beings. Every political or industrial measure which has reference to the proletariat has a good effect. Whether it be friendly or unfriendly, matters not, so long as it tends to stir up the working-class. From now on the militant proletariat is no longer like an army fighting hard to defend positions already won; now it must become clear to the dullest onlooker that it is an irresistible conqueror.
The founders of modern socialism recognized from the beginning the international character which the labor movement tends everywhere to assume. So they naturally attempted to give their movement an international basis.
International commerce is inevitably connected with the capitalist system of production. The development of capitalism out of early, simple production of commodities is most intimately connected with the growth of world-commerce. But world-commerce is impossible without peaceful intercourse among the various nations. It requires that a foreign merchant be protected equally with a native.
The development of international commerce raises the merchant to a high position in our society. His way of looking at things begins to influence society as a whole. But the merchant has always been an unsettled person; his motto has ever been, Where I fare well, there is my home. Thus in proportion to the extension of world-commerce and capitalist production there develop international tendencies in bourgeois society.
The capitalist system of production, however, develops the most remarkable contradictions. Hand in hand with the movement toward international brotherhood goes a tendency to emphasize international differences. Commerce demands peace, but competition leads to war. If, in each country, the different capitalists and classes are in a state of war, so are the capitalist classes of the various countries. Each nation tries to extend the markets for its own goods by crowding out: the goods of other nations. The more complex becomes international commerce, the more essential international peace, the fiercer grows the competitive struggle and the greater the danger of conflicts between nations. The closer the international relations which are developed, the louder swells the demand for attention to separate national interests. The more urgent the need of peace, the greater the danger of war. These apparently impossible antitheses correspond exactly to the character of capitalist production. They lie hidden in the simple production of commodities, but only capitalist production develops them till they become intolerable. That it develops at the same time the necessity of peace and the tendency toward war is only one of the contradictions which will bring about the destruction of the capitalist system.
The proletariat has not assumed the inconsistent attitude with regard to this matter that is characteristic of the other classes. The more the working-class develops and becomes independent, the clearer becomes the fact that it is influenced by only one of the opposing tendencies which we have just observed in the capitalist system. The capitalist system, by expropriating the worker, has freed him from the soil. He has now no settled home, and therefore no country. Like the merchant, he can take for his motto, Where I fare well, there is my home. Even the medieval apprentices extended their wanderings to foreign lands, and the beginning of an international relation was the result. But what were these wanderings in comparison with those made possible by modern means of travel? And the apprentice journeyed with the intention of returning to his home; the modern proletarian journeys with his wife and family in order to settle wherever he finds conditions most favorable. He is not a tourist, but a nomad.
The merchant in a foreign country depends upon his government for the support which is necessary to successful competition. He appreciates his country; often enough, in fact, he becomes the most confirmed among the jingos. It is different with the proletarian. At home he has not been spoiled by government protection of his interests. And in foreign lands, at least in such as are civilized, he has no need of protection. On the contrary, the new land is usually one in which the laws and their administration are more favorable to the worker than those of his original home. And his co-workers have no motive for depriving him of what little protection he can get from the law in his struggle against his exploiter. Their interest lies rather in increasing his ability to withstand the common enemy.
Very differently from the apprentice or the merchant is the modern proletarian torn loose from the soil. He becomes a citizen of the world; the whole world is his home.
No doubt this world-citizenship is a great hardship for the workers in countries where the standard of living is high and the conditions of labor are comparatively good. In such countries, naturally, immigration will exceed emigration. As a result the laborers with the higher standard of living will be hindered in their class-struggle by the influx of those with a lower standard and less power of resistance.
Under certain circumstances this sort of competition, like that of the capitalists, may lead to a new emphasis on national lines, a new hatred of foreign workers on the part of the native born. But the conflict of nationalities, which is perpetual among the capitalists, can be only temporary among the proletarians. For sooner or later the workers will discover that the immigration of cheap labor-power from the more backward to the more advanced countries, is as inevitable a result of the capitalist system as the introduction of machinery or the forcing of women into industry.
In still another way does the labor movement of an advanced country suffer under the influence of the backward conditions of other lands. The high degree of exploitation endured by the proletariat of the economically undeveloped nations becomes an excuse for the capitalists of the more highly developed ones for opposing any movement in the direction of higher wages or better conditions.
In more than one way, then, it is borne in upon the workers of each nation that their success in the class-struggle is dependent on the progress of the working-class of other nations. For a time this may turn them against foreign workers, but finally they come to see that there is only one effective means of removing the hindering influence of backward nations: to do away with the backwardness itself. German workers have every reason to co-operate with the Slavs and Italians in order that these may secure higher wages and a shorter working-day; the English workers have the same interest in relation to the Germans, and the Americans in relation to Europeans in general.
The dependence of the proletariat of one land on that of another leads inevitably to a joining of forces by the militant proletarians of various lands.
The survivals of national seclusion and national hatred which the proletariat took over from the bourgeoisie, disappear steadily. The working-class is freeing itself from national prejudices. Working-men learn more and more to see in the foreign laborer a fellow-fighter, a comrade.
The strongest bonds of international solidarity, naturally, are those which bind groups of proletarians, which, though of different nationalities, have the same purposes and use the same methods to accomplish them.
How necessary is the international union of the class-struggles of the proletariat, as soon as they extend beyond a certain limit in purpose and strength, was recognized in the beginning by the authors of the Communist Manifesto. This historic document is addressed to the proletarians of all lands and concludes by calling upon them to unite. And the organization which they had won over to the acceptance of the principles of the manifesto, and in the name of which it was issued, was international, the Society of Communists.
The defeats of the revolutionary movements of 1848 and 1849 put an end to this society, but with the re-awakening of the labor movement in the sixties it came to life again in the International Workingmen’s Association (founded in 1864). This association had for its purpose, not only to arouse a feeling of solidarity in the proletarians of different lands, but also to give them a common goal and lead them toward it by a common route. The first of these purposes was gloriously fulfilled, but the second was fulfilled only in part. The International was to bring about the union of socialism and the militant proletariat in all lands. It declared that the emancipation of the working-class could be accomplished only by the workers themselves; that the political movement was only a means to this end, and that the proletariat could not emancipate itself so long as it remained dependent upon the monopolists of the means of production. Within the International opposition to these principles developed in proportion to the clearness with which they were seen to lead to modern socialism. At that time there was still a comparatively large number of bourgeois and proletarian utopians. These, together with the pure-and-simple unionists, dropped out of the International as soon as they understood its purpose. The fall of the Paris Commune, in 1871, and persecutions in various European countries. hastened its fall.
But the consciousness of international solidarity that had been generated could not be smothered.
Since then the ideas of the Communist Manifesto have taken hold of the militant proletariat of Europe and of many proletarian groups outside of Europe. Everywhere the class-struggle and the socialist movement have become one, or are in a fair way to do so. The principles, objects and means of the proletarian class-struggle tend everywhere to become the same. This in itself has been sufficient to produce a feeling of union among the socialistic labor movements of different countries. Their international consciousness has constantly grown stronger, and it needed only an external impulse to give to this fact visible expression.
This came about, as is well known, in connection with the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, which occurred at the International Congress of Paris in 1889. Since then the international character of the proletarian struggle has had a visible symbol in the May Day celebration. It has been strengthened, moreover, by regularly recurring international congresses. These congresses are made up, not of isolated enthusiasts, like the bourgeois peace congresses, but of the representatives of millions of working men and women. Every May Day shows in the most impressive manner that it is the masses of industrial workers in all the great centers of population of all civilized lands that feel in themselves the consciousness of the international solidarity of the proletariat, that protest against war and declare that national divisions are no longer divisions between peoples, but between exploiters.
Such a bridging of the chasm between the nations, such an international amalgamation of great sections of the people of different lands, the history of the world has never seen before. This phenomenon appears the more imposing when we remember that it has come into existence under the shadow of military armaments which, on their part, also offer a spectacle the like of which has never before been seen in the world.
The Socialist movement has, in the nature of things, been from the beginning international in its character. But in each country it has at the same time the tendency to become a national party. That is, it tends to become the representative, not only of the industrial wage-earners, but of all laboring and exploited classes, or, in other words, of the great majority of the population. We have already seen that the industrial proletariat tends to become the only working-class. We have pointed out, also, that the other working-classes are coming more and more to resemble the proletariat in the conditions of labor and way of living. And we have discovered that the proletariat is the only one among the working-classes that grows steadily in energy, in intelligence, and in clear consciousness of its purpose. It is becoming the center about which the disappearing survivals of the other working-classes group themselves. Its ways of feeling and thinking are becoming standard for the whole mass of non-capitalists, no matter what their status may be.
As rapidly as the wage-earners become the leaders of the people, the labor party becomes a people’s party. When an independent craftsman feels like a proletarian, when he recognizes that he, or at any rate his children, will sooner or later be thrust into the proletariat, that there is no salvation for him except through the liberation of the proletariat – from that moment on he will see in the Socialist Party the natural representative of his interests.
We have already explained that he has nothing to fear from a socialist victory. In fact such a victory would be distinctly to his advantage, for it would usher in a society that would free all workers from exploitation and oppression and give them security and prosperity.
But the Socialist Party represents the interests of all non-capitalist classes, not only in the future, but in the present. The proletariat, as the lowest of the exploited strata, cannot free itself from exploitation and oppression without putting an end to all exploitation and oppression. It is, therefore, their sworn enemy, no matter in what form they may appear; it is the champion of all the exploited and oppressed.
We spoke above of the International. It is significant that the occasion for its founding was furnished by a demonstration in favor of the Poles, who had risen against the yoke of the Czar. It was characteristic, also, that the first address sent out by the International was a letter of congratulation to President Lincoln in which this association of working-men expressed its sympathy with the abolition movement. And, finally, the International was the first organization existing in England, and the first counting Englishmen among its members, which took the part of the Irish who were oppressed by the English ruling class. Not one of these causes, that of the Poles, the Irish, or the African slaves, was directly connected with the class interests of the wage-earners.
We are told, it is true, that the socialist movement depends on the progress of economic development; that socialist production depends on the earliest possible crowding out of small industry. Socialism has, it is therefore thought, an interest in the disappearance of the independent craftsman, the small business man and the small farmer. It demands their ruin, therefore cannot work in their interest.
In answer to this there is the following to be said: The socialist movement does not create economic development; the crowding out of small industry will be taken care of without its help by the capitalist class. It is true that socialism has no reason for attempting to hinder this development. But to stop economic development would not be to serve the real interests of the small farmers and business men. For all attempts to this end must remain fruitless, if they do not cause positive harm. To propose to the independent craftsman or farmer measures by which their small concerns can once more be made profitable, would not be in any sense to serve their interests; the only effect would be to arouse illusions which could not be realized.
Furthermore, although the downfall of small production is inevitable, it is not necessarily accompanied by all the horrible circumstances which are usually connected with it. We have seen that the disappearance of small production is only the last act of a long drama. The previous acts were taken up by the painful degeneration of the small producer. But the socialist movement has not the slightest advantage to gain from this degeneration. On the contrary, its advantage lies all in the opposite direction. The more degraded the groups from which the proletariat is recruited the more difficult it is to elevate the recruits to the point at which they are willing and able to join the ranks of the militant proletariat. It is upon the extension of this division of the proletariat, however, that the size and strength of the socialist movement depend. The fewer the demands made upon society by the farmer or independent craftsman, the more accustomed he is to ceaseless labor, the less resistance he will be able to offer after he has fallen into the proletariat. To a certain extent the: same causes which bring about the international solidarity of the workers lead to a solidarity with the classes from which the proletariat is recruited.
Of course if the sinking farmer or small business man attempts to keep his head above water at the cost of the working-class, if, for example, he tries to lower wages or hinder the organization of labor, then he will always be opposed by the proletariat and by the Socialist Party. On the other hand, the socialist movement does all in its power to support measures which are calculated to bring about, without injury to the working-class, an amelioration of conditions for the farmer and small business man.
This appears unmistakably in the nature of the immediate demands which the socialist parties of different lands make on their respective governments. Certain of these demands are purely industrial in their nature, designed especially to secure the protection of the wage-earner. But the majority are concerned with interests which the proletariat and the other groups of the laboring population have in common. These include demands for such reforms as an income tax, the initiative and referendum, freedom of press and speech, election of judges, etc.
Some of these demands are included in the platforms of bourgeois parties; others can, in the nature of the case, be formulated only by an anti-capitalistic organization. And no bourgeois party will fight for them with the same energy as the Socialist Party. For this is the only party that really has an interest in relieving noncapitalist classes of their burdens, educating their children, and elevating their lives in general.
Only measures of the sort proposed by the Socialist Party are calculated to improve the position of the small producers so far as it is possible to improve it under existing conditions. To assist them as producers by fortifying them in the retention of their outlived method of production, is impossible, for it is opposed to the course of economic development. It is equally impossible to make capitalists out of any considerable number of them. It is only as consumers that the mass of them can be helped at all. But it is precisely the parties most friendly to the small producers that cast upon them, as consumers, the heaviest burdens. These burdens are real, but the elevation of small production which is supposed to accompany them, is nothing more than empty pretense.
To assist the small producer in his character of consumer, tar from hindering economic development, is a means of promoting it. The better the position of the small farmer or small capitalist as consumer, the higher his standard of living, the greater his physical or intellectual demands, the sooner will he cease the struggle against industry on a large scale. If he is accustomed to a good living he will rebel against the privations incident to a protracted struggle, and will the sooner prefer to take his place with the proletariat. And he will not group himself with the most submissive members of this class to which he has joined himself. He will pass directly into the ranks of the militant, purposeful proletarians, and thus hasten the victory of the proletariat.
This victory will not he born out of degradation, as many have believed; no more out of the degradation of the small producers than out of that of the proletariat. Socialism has as much cause to oppose degradation on the one side as on the other, and it does so to the best of its ability. To strengthen the socialist movement, therefore, is to the interest, not only of the wage-earners, but of all sections of the population which live by work and not by exploitation.
The small business men and farmers have never, since the beginning of the modern state, been in a position to defend their interests as against the interests of the other classes. Today they are less able to do it than ever. In order to fight their battles, they are forced to unite with one or more of the other classes. The instincts bred by the ownership of property drive them into the arms of the capitalist parties; that is, into coalition with one of the various groups of great property-owners. The capitalist parties themselves seek this coalition, in part because they need votes, in part because of more profound reasons. They know that today the private property of the small producers is the strongest support of the principle of private ownership in general, and therefore of their whole system of exploitation. To the good of the small producer they are indifferent. They are quick to burden him as a consumer; so far as they are concerned, it makes no difference how far he is shoved down, so long as his small business does not perish utterly and he thus remains in the ranks of the property-owners. At the same time all the bourgeois parties are interested in capitalist exploitation, hence in the progress of economic development. They desire, indeed, to maintain the farmer and independent craftsman, but as a matter of fact they do everything in their power to extend the domain of industry on a large scale and thus to suppress all forms of small production.
Quite different is the relation between the small producer and the socialist movement. Even if socialism can do nothing to maintain small production, the small producer has nothing to fear from it. It is the capitalists, not the proletarians, who expropriate the farmer and craftsman. The victory of the proletariat is, as we have seen in the previous chapter, the only means of putting an end to this exploitation. As consumers, moreover, the independent small producers have the same interests as the proletarians. They have, therefore, every reason to protect their interests by joining the Socialist Party.
It is, of course, not to be expected that they will quickly recognize this fact. But the stampede of the farmers and small capitalists from the ranks of the bourgeois parties has already begun. And it is a stampede of most remarkable character, for it is the best and bravest who lead the way – not to desert the field of battle, but rather to escape from the petty strife for their miserable existence into the gigantic, world-moving struggle for the institution of a society which shall give to all its members opportunity to share in the great conquests of modern civilization, into the struggle for the emancipation of all civilized peoples, yes, of all humanity, from the bondage of a system which threatens to crush it.
The more unbearable the existing system of production, the more evidently it is discredited, and the more unable the ruling parties show themselves to remedy our disgraceful social ills, the more illogical and unprincipled these parties become and the more they resolve themselves into cliques of self-seeking politicians, the greater will be the numbers of those who stream from the non-proletarian classes into the Socialist Party and, hand in hand with the irresistibly advancing proletariat, follow its banner to victory and triumph.
Last updated on 23.11.2003