August Bebel

Society of the Future


An existence worthy of man for all members of society cannot be the way of life of a single privileged people, since it would be unable to establish or maintain such a state in isolation from all other peoples. Our entire development is the product of co-operation between national and international forces and the consolidation of the ties between them. Although for many people the national idea still holds sway and provides an instrument for the maintenance of political and social domination, which is possible only within national boundaries, we are already deep in internationalism.

Treaties on commerce, tariffs and shipping, the Universal Postal Union, international exhibitions, congresses on international law and measurements, other international scientific congresses and associations, international scientific expeditions, our trade and communications, notably the international congresses of working men, who are the bearers of the new era and whose moral influence made possible the first international conference for labour legislation in Berlin in the spring of 1890 at the invitation of the German Empire — all this testifies to the international character the relations between the various advanced nations are increasingly assuming despite national isolation. We speak of the world economy, as opposed to national economy, and attach more importance to the former, because the well-being and prosperity of individual nations largely depend on it. A large part of our own products is exchanged against the products of foreign countries without whom we are no longer able to exist. And just as one branch of industry is injured when another branch suffers, so the production of one nation suffers considerably when that of another is paralysed. Relations between individual countries become ever closer despite such temporary disturbances as wars and incitement of one nation against another, because they are subject to material interests which are the strongest of all. Every new highway, every improvement of a means of communication, every invention or improvement in production, which leads to a cut in the cost of goods, consolidates these relations. The ease with which direct relations are established between mutually remote countries and peoples is a new powerful factor in the chain of relations. Emigration and colonisation are additional powerful stimuli. Nations learn from each other, and each seeks to excel. Together with the exchange of material products of the most diverse kinds, there also proceeds an exchange in intellectual values, both in the original language and also in translation. The study of modern languages becomes a necessity for millions. Next to material advantages nothing contributes more towards removing antipathy and establishing cordial understanding than the grasp of the language and intellectual values of a foreign people.

The effect of this process of drawing together that is proceeding on an international scale is that countries are coming to resemble each other more and more as regards their social conditions. Among the advanced and therefore standard-setting nations this similarity is already so great that those who have learned to understand the economic structure of one nation also understand, in the main, that of all the others. The same rule applies as in Nature: where among animals of the same species the skeleton is identical in its organisation and structure, and if we possess part of such a skeleton we can in our mind's eye reconstruct the whole animal.

A further result of this similarity is that where identical social foundations exist, the effects they produce must also be identical: the accumulation of great wealth and its antithesis — wage-slavery, the enslavement of the masses by machinery, domination of the masses by a propertied minority and all the consequences stemming therefrom.

Indeed, we see that the class antagonisms and the class struggle raging in Germany are stirring up the whole of Europe, the United States, Australia, etc. In Europe, from Russia to Portugal, from the Balkans, Hungary and Italy to England and Ireland, the same spirit of discontent prevails, and the same symptoms of social ferment, general malaise and disintegration make themselves felt. Externally dissimilar, depending on the degree of their development, the character of the population and the form of its political system, these movements are essentially the same wherever they appear. Deep social antagonisms are what cause them. Every year these antagonisms become more pronounced, the ferment and discontent permeate society ever deeper and spread their roots ever wider, until finally some incident, possibly an insignificant one, sparks off an explosion that spreads like lightning through the entire civilised world and calls upon all thinking people to take sides for or against.

The struggle of the new world against the old has broken out. The masses step upon the stage, an abundance of intelligence is being applied to this struggle, such as the world has never seen before and will never see again in a similar struggle. This is because it is the last social struggle. Standing at the rise of the 20th century, we see how this struggle is drawing ever closer to its last phase, in which the new ideas shall triumph.

The new society will then rise up on an international foundation. The peoples will fraternise, they will stretch out their hands to one another and will strive gradually to extend the new conditions to all the peoples of the earth.(1) One nation will no longer approach another as an enemy, intent on exploiting or oppressing it, or as the representative of an alien faith, which it wants to impose upon the other, but as a friend who wants to educate all humans so as to make them cultured. The efforts of the new society to civilise and colonise will differ as regards their essence and their means from the present ones, just as the two social systems differ radically in their essence. Neither powder nor shot, neither "firewater" (brandy) nor the Bible will be used, the civilising mission will be carried out only with friendly means, which will make the civilisers appear to the barbarians and savages not as enemies, but as benefactors. Intelligent travellers and scientists have long since learned how successful this approach is.

Once the civilised peoples have united in a large federation, the time will have come when the "storms of war" will have subsided forever. Eternal peace will then no longer be a dream, as the gentlemen strutting about in uniform would have the world believe. The time has come when the peoples have realised where their genuine interests lie. These will be promoted not through struggle and dissension or through armaments ruining whole countries and peoples, but through mutual understanding and cultural collaboration. Moreover, the ruling classes and their governments see to it that an end is put to armaments and wars because of their monstrosity. Thus the latest weapons, like so many before them, will find their way into collections of antiques, where they will demonstrate to future generations how their predecessors have for thousands of years frequently torn one another apart like wild beasts — until man finally triumphed over the beast in him.

That only national peculiarities and conflicts of interests — which are everywhere nourished artificially by the ruling classes so that when the occasion demands a great war may furnish an outlet for dangerous tendencies at home — engender wars is confirmed by a remark of the late General Field Marshal Moltke. In the first volume of his literary legacy; which deals with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, this passage is to be found in the introductory observations:

"So long as nations lead separate existences, there will be controversies which can be settled only by arms, but it is to be hoped in the interests of humanity that wars may become as rarer as they have become more fearful."

This national separate existence, that is, the hostile shutting off of one nation from another, will gradually vanish despite efforts on every side to retain it, and thus future generations will with no difficulty accomplish tasks which brilliant minds have long since contemplated and attempted to resolve without success. Thus, Condorcet conceived the idea of an international language. And the late Ulysses S. Grant ex-President of the United States, said in a public address "As commerce, education, and the prompt transmission of thoughts and matter by telegraph and steamer have changed everything, I believe that God is preparing the world to become one nation, to speak one language, and to attain to a state of perfection in which armies and fleets of war will be no longer needed." It is natural that for a pure-blooded Yankee the equalising role is to be played by the dear God, a role which is solely the product of historical development. Yet this is only to be expected. Hypocrisy, or again ignorance in questions of religion, is nowhere greater than in the United States. The less the state uses its organisation to lead the masses, the more this has to be done by religion, by the Church. That is why the bourgeoisie seems most pious, where state power is at its most lax. After the United States come England, Belgium and Switzerland. Even the revolutionary Robespierre, who played with the heads of aristocrats and priests as if they were nine-pins, was known to be very religious, which explains why he solemnly reinstated the Supreme Being, whom the Convention, in equally bad taste, had shortly before declared dethroned. And since before the Great Revolution the frivolous and dissolute aristocrats of France had frequently vaunted their atheism, Robespierre regarded atheism as aristocratic and denounced it in his speech to the Convention on the Supreme Being in the following words: "Atheism is aristocratic. The idea of a Supreme Being that watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is in keeping with the spirit of the people. If there were no God, one would have to be invented." The virtuous Robespierre had a foreboding that his virtuous bourgeois republic would be unable to settle social antagonisms, hence his faith in a Supreme Being that metes out punishment and seeks to settle what people in his time were unable to settle, hence this belief was necessary for the first republic.

This will soon no longer be the case. One cultural advance will evoke another, and mankind will continue to set itself new tasks and their accomplishment will lead to a stage of cultural development which will not know national hatred, wars, religions strife and similar remnants of the past.

1. "Today national and human interests oppose each other as enemies. At a higher stage of civilisation, these interests will coincide and become as one." Thünen, Der isolierte Staat.

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