Woman and Socialism. August Bebel
The Socialisation of Society

Chapter XX.
The Social Revolution.

1. – The Transformation of Society.

The tide rises and undermines the foundation of state and society. Every one feels that the pillars are swaying and that only powerful props can support them. But to erect such props means great sacrifices on the part of the ruling classes, and there the difficulty lies. Every proposition, the realization of which would seriously damage the material interests of the ruling classes and would threaten to question their privileged position, is bitterly opposed by them and roundly condemned as a measure destined to overturn the present order of state and society. But, without questioning and ultimately removing the privileges of the ruling classes, the diseased world cannot be cured.

“The struggle for the liberation of the working class is not a struggle for privileges, but one for equal rights and equal duties and for the removal of all privileges.” This declaration of principles is contained in the Socialist platform. It follows that nothing can be attained by half measures and small concessions.

But the ruling classes regard their privileged position as natural and self-understood; they will admit of no doubt in its permanence and justification. So it is quite natural that they oppose and combat every attempt to shatter their privileges. Even proposed measures and laws that do not change their privileged position and the present order of society in the least, cause the greatest excitement among them, if their purse-strings are loosened thereby or likely to be loosened. In the parliaments mountains of paper are printed with speeches until the laboring mountains bring forth a ridiculous mouse. The most self-understood demands of workingmen’s protection are met with as much opposition as if the existence of society depended upon it. When, after endless struggles, some concessions are won from the ruling classes, they act as if they had sacrificed a part of their fortune. They show the same stubborn opposition when called upon to recognize the oppressed classes on a basis of formal equality; for instance, to discuss questions of labor agreements with them as with their equals.

This opposition to the simplest things and the most self-understood demands confirms the old experience that no ruling class can ever be convinced by reason, unless the force of circumstances compels discretion and compliance. But the force of circumstances may be found in the growing measure of understanding created in the oppressed by the development of our conditions. The class extremes are constantly becoming more severe, more noticeable and more evident. The oppressed and exploited classes begin to recognize that existing conditions are untenable; their indignation increases, and with it the imperious demand to transform and humanize conditions. As this perception grows and reaches ever widening circles, it finally conquers the vast majority of society, which is most directly interested in this transformation. But to the same extent in which this perception of the untenableness of existing conditions and the need of their transformation grows among the masses, the power of resistance of the ruling classes declines, since their power is founded upon the ignorance and the lack of understanding of the oppressed and exploited classes. This reciprocal action is evident, and therefore everything that advances it must be welcomed. The progress of capitalism on the one hand is balanced on the other by the growing perception that the existing social order is adverse to the welfare of the vast majority of the people. Although the solution and removal of social extremes will require great sacrifices and many exertions, a solution will be found as soon as the extremes have attained the height of their development, toward which they are rapidly advancing.

What measures are to be resorted to at the various stages of development, depends upon circumstances. It is impossible to predict what measures will be necessitated by circumstances in particular instances. No government, no prime-minister, be he the most powerful person, can predict what circumstances will compel him to do a year hence. It is all the more impossible to predict measures that will be dictated by circumstances unknown to us at present. The question of measures is a question of tactics to be observed in a struggle. The tactics are influenced by the opponent and also by the resources at the command of both parties. Means that are splendid to-day may be harmful to-morrow, because the circumstances that justified their employment may have changed. It is but necessary always to keep our aim before us; the means for attaining same depend upon time and circumstances. But the most effective means that time and circumstances permit of should be resorted to. In depicting future developments we must therefore resort to hypothetical methods; we must surmise certain conditions.

Proceeding from this point of view, we surmise that, at a given time, all the depicted evils will have developed to such extremes and will have become so evident and tangible to the great majority of the population, that they come to be regarded as unbearable; that a general, irresistible demand for a thoroughgoing transformation will manifest itself, and that, accordingly, the quickest help will be considered the most appropriate.

All social evils, without exception, spring from the present social order, which, as has been shown, is founded on capitalism, on the capitalistic method of production. This method of production enables the capitalist class-the owners of all the means of production, the ground. mines, raw materials, tools, machines, means of transportation – to exploit and oppress the masses, which leads to insecurity of existence and to the degradation of the exploited classes. Accordingly the most rapid and direct way would be to transform capitalistic property into common, or social property by a general expropriation. The production of commodities will be socialized; it will become a production for and by society. Manufacture on a large scale and the increasing productivity of social labor, until now a source of misery and oppression for the exploited classes, will then become a source of well-being and harmonious development for all.

2. – Expropriation of the Expropriators.

The transformation of all means of production into common property forms the new basis of society. The conditions of life and work for both sexes in industry, agriculture, traffic, education, marriage, science, art and social intercourse become radically different. Human hic is given a new purpose. Gradually the organization of the state also loses ground; the state disappears; it, so to say, abolishes itself.

In the first part of this book we have shown why the state had to arise. It is the product of development from primitive society, founded on communism, that becomes dissolved as private property develops. With the rise of private property antagonistic interests are formed within society. Differences of class and caste arise that necessarily lead to class struggles among the different groups and threaten the maintenance of the new order. To keep down the opponents of the new order and to protect the threatened proprietors, an organization is required that opposes such attacks and declares property to be “righteous” and “sacred.” This organization, which protects and maintains private property, becomes the state. By laws the state secures the proprietor’s right to his property, and upon those who would attack the order laid down by law it turns as judge and avenger. By their innermost nature, then, the interests of the ruling, possessing class, and of the powers of the state, always are conservative. The organization of the state only changes when the interest of property demands it. Thus the state is the indispensable organization of a society founded on class rule. As soon as class extremes have been removed by the abolition of private property, it becomes unnecessary and impossible. The state gradually ceases to exist with the passing away of class rule, as surely as religion ceases to exist when belief in superior beings and occult powers is no longer met with. Words must have a purport; when they lose same they cease to convey a meaning.

Here a reader who is capitalistically minded may object and may ask on what legal ground can society justify these overthrowing changes? The legal ground will be the same that always was found, when similar changes and transformations were needful: The common welfare. Society, not the state, is the source of law. The state is only clerk to the society, whose duty it is to measure and dispense the law. Until now, ruling society was always but a small minority, but this small minority acted in behalf of the entire nation and represented itself as being society, just as Louis XIV represented himself as being the state: “L’etat c’est moi.” (I am the state.) When our newspapers report: “The season has begun, society is returning to town;” or: “The season is over, society is hastening to the country,” they do not mean the people, but the upper ten thousand who constitute society as they constitute the state. The masses are the “plebs,” the vile multitude. In the same way, everything undertaken by the state for society in behalf of “the common welfare,” has, first and foremost, served the interests of the ruling classes. “Salus republica suprema lex esto” (the welfare of the republic shall be the supreme law), is the well-known legal principle laid down by the ancient Romans, But who formed the Roman republic. The subjected peoples, the millions of slaves? No! The comparatively small number of Roman citizens, above all the Roman nobility, who permitted the slaves to support them.

When, during the middle ages, nobility and princes robbed the communal property, they did so on the legal ground of “the common welfare,” and in what manner. they disposed of the communal property and the property of the helpless peasants, the history of the middle ages, down to recent times, has amply shown, The agrarian history of the past thousand years is a history of uninterrupted robbery of communal and peasant property, practiced by the nobility and the Church in all civilized states of Europe, When the great French Revolution then proceeded to expropriate the property of the nobility and the Church, it did so “in behalf of the common welfare,” and the greater part of the eight million of property holders who form the chief stay of Bourgeois France, owe their existence to this expropriation. In behalf of the “common welfare,” Spain took possession of much Church property, and Italy confiscated it entirely, applauded by the most ardent defenders of “sacred property.” The English nobility for centuries robbed the Irish and English nations of their property, and from 1804 to 1832 legally presented itself – “in behalf of the common welfare” – with no less than 3,511,710 acres of communal property. When, after the great North American civil war, millions of slaves were emancipated, who had been the lawfully acquired property of their masters, without reimbursing the latter, this was done “in behalf of the common welfare.” Our entire bourgeois development is an uninterrupted process of expropriation and confiscation. In this process the mechanic is expropriated by the manufacturer, the peasant by the great landowner, the small dealer by the large merchant, and, finally, one capitalist by another. To judge by the declamations of our bourgeoisie, all this is being done to serve “the common welfare,” in the “interest of society.” On the 18 Brumaire and December 2, the followers of Napoleon “saved” “society” and “society” congratulated them. When society will save itself by taking back the property it has created, it will perform the most noteworthy deed. For then its actions will not purpose to suppress one to the advantage of another, but to obtain equality of opportunity for all and to enable each and every one to lead an existence worthy of a human being. It will be the grandest measure, morally, ever enacted by society.

In what forms this great process of social expropriation will be consummated and under what conditions, is of course quite impossible to predict.

In his fourth social letter to v. Kirchmann, entitled “Capital,”[1] Rodbertus says: “A confiscation of all private property in land, is not a chimera, but quite possible from the standpoint of political economy. It would also be the most radical help for society. For society suffers from the increase of rent in land and capital. With the abolition of private property in land, traffic and the progress of national wealth would not be interrupted for one moment.” What do the Agrarians say to this opinion of one who was formerly a member of their party?

The further course of events, after such a measure has been resorted to, cannot be definitely laid down. No human being is able to foresee how coming generations will shape the details of their social organizations, and in what manner they will best succeed in satisfying their requirements. In society, as in nature, there is constant change. One thing appears while another disappears; what is old and wasted is replaced by what is new and full of vitality. Inventions and discoveries along varied lines are made whose significance cannot be foreseen, and when applied, such inventions and discoveries may revolutionize human life and the entire social organization.

In the following,, therefore, we can only discuss the development of general principles. They may be laid down as a logical outcome of the prior explanations, and to some extent it is possible to overlook in what manner they will be carried out. Even heretofore society could not be guided and directed by single individuals, although it sometimes appeared so. But appearances are deceiving; presuming to direct, we are being directed. Even heretofore society has been an organism that developed in accordance with definite, inherent laws. In the future the guidance and direction, according to the will of individuals, will be entirely out of the question. Society will then be a democracy that will have unravelled the secrets of its nature. It will have discovered the laws of its development and will consciously apply them to its further growth.


1. Berlin, 1884.