Socialism and Modern Science Enrico Ferri 1900


The first of the objections, which is brought against socialism in the name of Darwinism, is absolutely without foundation.

If it were true that socialism aspires to “the equality of all individuals,” it would be correct to assert that Darwinism irrevocably condemns it.[3]

But although even to-day it is still currently repeated – by some in good faith, like parrots who recite their stereotyped phrases; by others in bad faith, with polemical skillfulness – that socialism is synonymous with equality and leveling; the truth is, on the contrary, that scientific socialism – the socialism which draws its inspiration from the theory of Marx, and which alone to-day is worthy of support or opposition, – has never denied the inequality of individuals, as of all living beings – inequality innate and acquired, physical and intellectual.[4]

It is just as if one should say that socialism asserts that a royal decree or a popular vote could settle it that “henceforth all men shall be five feet seven inches tall.”

But in truth, socialism is something more serious and more difficult to refute.

Socialism says: Men are unequal, but they are all (of them) men.

And, in fact, although each individual is born and develops in a fashion more or less different from that of all other individuals, – just as there are not in a forest two leaves identically alike, so in the whole world there are not two men in all respects equals, the one of the other, – nevertheless every man, simply because he is a human being, has a right to the existence of a man, and not of a slave or a beast of burden.

We know, we as well as our opponents, that all men cannot perform the same kind and amount of labor – now, when social inequalities are added to equalities of natural origin – and that they will still be unable to do it under a socialist regime – when the social organization will tend to reduce the effect of congenital inequalities.

There will always be some people whose brains or muscular systems will be better adapted for scientific work or for artistic work, while others will be more fit for manual labor, or for work requiring mechanical precision, etc.

What ought not to be, and what will not be – is that there should be some men who do not work at all, and others who work too much or receive too little reward for their toil.

But we have reached the height of injustice and absurdity, and in these days it is the man who does not work who reaps the largest returns, who is thus guaranteed the individual monopoly of wealth which accumulates by means of hereditary transmission. This wealth, moreover, is only very rarely due to the economy and abstinence of the present possessor or of some industrious ancestor of his; it is most frequently the time-honored fruit of spoliation by military conquest, by unscrupulous “business” methods, or by the favoritism of sovereigns; but it is in every instance always independent of any exertion, of any socially useful labor of the inheritor, who often squanders his property in idleness or in the whirlpool of a life as inane as it is brilliant in appearance.

And, when we are not confronted with a fortune due to inheritance, we meet with wealth due to fraud. Without talking for the moment of the economic organization, the mechanism of which Karl Marx has revealed to us, and which, even without fraud, normally enables the capitalist or property owner to live upon his income without working, it is indisputable that the fortunes which are formed or enlarged with the greatest rapidity under our eyes cannot be the fruit of honest toil. The really honest workingman, no matter how indefatigable and economical he may be, if he succeeds in raising himself from the state of wage-slave to that of an overseer or contractor, can, by a long life of privations, accumulate at most a few hundreds of dollars. Those who, on the contrary, without making by their own talent industrial discoveries or inventions, accumulate in a few years millions, can be nothing but unscrupulous manipulators of affairs, if we except a few rare strokes of good luck. And it is these very parasites – bankers, etc., – who live in the most ostentatious luxury enjoying public honors, and holding offices of trust, as a reward for their honorable business methods.

Those who toil, the immense majority, receive barely enough food to keep them from dying of hunger; they live in back-rooms, in garrets, in the filthy alleys of cities, or in the country in hovels not fit for stables for horses or cattle.

Besides all this, we must not forget the horrors of being unable to find work, the saddest and most frequent of the three symptoms of that equality in misery which is spreading like a pestilence over the economic world of modern Italy, as indeed, with varying degrees of intensity, it is everywhere else.

I refer to the ever-growing army of the unemployed in agriculture and industry – of those who have lost their foothold in the lower middle class, – and of those who have been expropriated (robbed) of their little possessions by taxes, debts or usury.

It is not correct, then, to assert that socialism demands for all citizens material and actual equality of labor and rewards.

The only possible equality is equality of obligation to work in order to live, with a guarantee to every laborer of conditions of existence worthy of a human being in exchange for the labor furnished to society.

Equality, according to socialism – as Benoit Malon said[5] – is a relative thing, and must be understood in a two-fold sense: 1st, All men, as men, must be guaranteed human conditions of existence; 2d, All men ought to be equal at the starting point, ought not to be handicapped, in the struggle for life, in order that each may freely develop his own personality in an environment of equality of social conditions, while to-day a child, sound and healthy, but poor, goes to the wall in competition with a child puny but rich.[6]

This is what constitutes the radical, immeasurable transformation that socialism demands, but that it also has discovered and announces as an evolution – already begun in the world around us – that will be necessarily, inevitably accomplished in the human society of the days to come.[7]

This transformation is summed up in the conversion of private or individual ownership of the means of production, i. e. of the physical foundation of human life (land, mines, houses, factories, machinery, instruments of labor or tools, and means of transportation) into collective or social ownership, by means of methods and processes which I will consider further on.

From this point we will consider it as proven that the first objection of the anti-socialist reasoning does not hold, since its starting-point is non-existent. It assumes, in short, that contemporary socialism aims at a chimerical physical and mental equality of all men, when the fact is that scientific and fact-founded socialism never, even in a dream, thought of such a thing.

Socialism maintains, on the contrary, that this inequality – though greatly diminished under a better social organization which will do away with all the physical and mental imperfections that are the cumulative results of generations of poverty and misery – can, nevertheless, never disappear for the reasons that Darwinism has discovered in the mysterious mechanism of life, in other words on account of the principle of variation that manifests itself in the continuous development of species culminating in man.

In every social organization that it is possible to conceive, there will always be some men large and others small, some weak and some strong, some phlegmatic and some nervous, some more intelligent, others less so, some superior in mental power, others in muscular strength; and it is well that it should be so; moreover, it is inevitable.

It is well that this is so, because the variety and inequality of individual aptitudes naturally produce that division of labor that Darwinism has rightly declared to be a law of individual physiology and of social economy.

All men ought to work in order to live, but each ought to devote himself to the kind of labor which best suits his peculiar aptitudes. An injurious waste of strength and abilities would thus be avoided, and labor would cease to be repugnant, and would become agreeable and necessary as a condition of physical and moral health.

And when all have given to society the labor best suited to their innate and acquired aptitudes, each has a right to the same rewards, since each has equally contributed to that solidarity of labor which sustains the life of the social aggregate and, in solidarity with it, the life of each individual.

The peasant who digs the earth performs a kind of labor in appearance more modest, but just as necessary, useful and meritorious as that of the workman who builds a locomotive, of the mechanical engineer who improves it or of the savant who strives to extend the bounds of human knowledge in his study or laboratory.

The one essential thing is that all the members of society work, just as in the individual organism all the cells perform their different functions, more or less modest in appearance – for example, the nerve-cells, the bone-cells or the muscular cells – but all biological functions, or sorts of labor, equally useful and necessary to the life of the organism as a whole.

In the biological organism no living cell remains inactive, and the cell obtains nourishment by material exchanges only in proportion to its labor; in the social organism no individual ought to live without working, whatever form his labor may take.

In this way the majority of the artificial difficulties that our opponents raise against socialism may be swept aside.

“Who, then, will black the boots under the socialist regime?” demands M. Richter in his book so poor in ideas, but which becomes positively grotesque when it assumes that, in the name of social equality the “grand chancellor” of the socialist society will be obliged, before attending to the public business, to black his own boots and mind his own clothes! In truth, if the adversaries of socialism had nothing but arguments of this sort, discussion would indeed be needless.

But all will want to do the least fatiguing and most agreeable kinds of work, says some one with a greater show of seriousness.

I will answer that this is equivalent to demanding to-day the promulgation of a decree as follows: Henceforth all men shall be born painters or surgeons!

The distribution to the proper persons of the different kinds of mental and manual labor will be effected in fact by the anthropological variations in temperament and character, and there will be no need to resort to monkish regulations (another baseless objection to socialism).

Propose to a peasant of average intelligence to devote himself to the study of anatomy or of the penal code or, inversely, tell him whose brain is more highly developed than his muscles to dig the earth, instead of observing with the microscope. They will each prefer the labor for which they feel themselves best fitted.

The changes of occupation or profession will not be as considerable as many imagine when society shall be organized under the collectivist regime. When once the industries ministering to purely personal luxury shall be suppressed – luxury which in most cases insults and aggravates the misery of the masses – the quantity and variety of work will adapt themselves gradually, that is to say naturally, to the socialist phase of civilization just as they now conform to the bourgeois phase.

Moreover, under the socialist regime, every one will have the fullest liberty to declare and make manifest his personal aptitudes, and it will not happen, as it does to-day, that many peasants, sons of the people and of the lower middle class, gifted with natural talents, will be compelled to allow their talents to atrophy while they toil as peasants, workingmen or employees, when they would be able to furnish society a different and more fruitful kind of labor, because it would be more in Harmony with their peculiar genius.

The one essential point is this: In exchange for the labor that they furnish to society, society must guarantee to the peasant and the artisan, as well as to the one who devotes himself to the liberal careers, conditions of existence worthy of a human being. Then we will no longer be affronted by the spectacle of a ballet girl, for instance, earning as much in one evening by whirling on her toes as a scientist, a doctor, a lawyer, etc., in a year’s work. In fact to-day the latter are in luck if they do that well.

Certainly, the arts will not be neglected under the socialist regime, because socialism wishes life to be agreeable for all, instead of for a privileged few only, as it is to-day; it will, on the contrary, give to all the arts a marvelous impulse, and if it abolishes private luxury this will be all the more favorable to the splendor of the public edifices.

More attention will be paid to assuring to each one remuneration in proportion to the labor performed. This ratio will be ascertained by taking the difficulty and danger of the labor into account and allowing them to reduce the time required for a given compensation. If a peasant in the open air can work seven or eight hours a day, a miner ought not to work more than three or four hours. And, indeed, when everybody shall work, when much unproductive labor shall be suppressed, the aggregate of daily labor to be distributed among men will be much less heavy and more easily endured (by reason of the more abundant food, more comfortable lodging and recreation guaranteed to every worker) than it is to-day by those who toil and who are so poorly paid, and, besides this, the progress of science applied to industry will render human labor less and less toilsome.

Individuals will apply themselves to work, although the wages or remuneration cannot be accumulated as private wealth, because if the normal, healthy, well-fed man avoids excessive or poorly rewarded labor, he does not remain in idleness, since it is a physiological and psychological necessity for him to devote himself to a daily occupation in harmony with his capacities.

The different kinds of sport are for the leisure classes a substitute for productive labor which a physiological necessity imposes upon them, in order that they may escape the detrimental consequences of absolute repose and ennui.

The gravest problem will be to proportion the remuneration to the labor of each. You know that collectivism adopts the formula – to each according to his labor, while communism adopts this other – to each according to his needs.

No one can give, in its practical details, the solution of this problem; but this impossibility of predicting the future even in its slightest details does not justify those who brand socialism as a utopia incapable of realization. No one could have, a priori, in the dawn of any civilization predicted its successive developments, as I will demonstrate when I come to speak of the methods of social renovation.

This is what we are able to affirm with assurance, basing our position on the most certain inductions of psychology and sociology.

It cannot be denied, as Marx himself declared, that this second formula – which makes it possible to distinguish, according to some, anarchy from socialism – represents a more remote and more complex ideal. But it is equally impossible to deny that, in any case, the formula of collectivism represents a phase of social evolution, a period of individual discipline which must necessarily precede communism.[8]

There is no need to believe that socialism will realize in their fulness all the highest possible ideals of humanity and that after its advent there will be nothing left to desire or to battle for! Our descendants would be condemned to idleness and vagabondage if our immediate ideal was so perfect and all-inclusive as to leave them no ideal at which to aim.

The individual or the society which no longer has an ideal to strive toward is dead or about to die.[9] The formula of communism may then be a more remote ideal, when collectivism shall have been completely realized by the historical processes which I will consider further on.

We are now in a position to conclude that there is no contradiction between socialism and Darwinism on the subject of the equality of all men. Socialism has never laid down this proposition and like Darwinism its tendency is toward a better life for individuals and for society.

This enables us also to reply to this objection, too often repeated, that socialism stifles and suppresses human individuality under the leaden pall of collectivism, by subjecting individuals to uniform monastic regulations and by making them into so many human bees in the social honey-comb.

Exactly the opposite of this is true. Is it not obvious that it is under the present bourgeois organization of society that so many individualities atrophy and are lost to humanity, which under other conditions might be developed to their own advantage and to the advantage of society as a whole? To-day, in fact, apart from some rare exceptions, every man is valued for what he possesses and not for what he is.[10]

He who is born poor, obviously by no fault of his own, may be endowed by Nature with artistic or scientific genius, but if his patrimony is insufficient to enable him to triumph in the first struggles for development and to complete his education, or if he has not, like the shepherd Giotto, the luck to meet with a rich Cimabue, he must inevitably vanish in oblivion in the great prison of wage-slavery, and society itself thus loses treasures of intellectual power.[11]

He who is born rich, although he owes his fortune to no personal exertion, even if his mental capacity is below normal, will play a leading role on the stage of life’s theatre, and all servile people will heap praise and flattery upon him, and he will imagine, simply because he has money, that he is quite a different person from what in reality he is.[12]

When property shall have become collective, that is to say, under the socialist regime, every one will be assured of the means of existence, and the daily labor will simply serve to give free play to the special aptitudes, more or less original, of each individual, and the best and most fruitful (potentially) years of life will not be completely taken up, as they are at present, by the grievous and tragic battle for daily bread.

Socialism will assure to every one a human life; it will give each individual true liberty to manifest and develop his or her own physical and intellectual individuality – individualities which they bring into the world at birth and which are infinitely varied and unequal. Socialism does not deny inequality; it merely wishes to utilize this inequality as one of the factors leading to the free, prolific and many-sided development of human life.


3. J. De Johannis, Il concetto dell'equaglianza nel socialismo e nella scienza, in Rassegna delle scienza sociali, Florence, March 15, 1883, and more recently, Huxley, “On the Natural Inequality of Men,” in the “Nineteenth Century,” January, 1890.

4. Utopian socialism has bequeathed to us as a mental habit, a habit surviving even in the most intelligent disciples of Marxian socialism, of asserting the existence of certain equalities – the equality of the two sexes, for example – assertions which cannot possibly be maintained.

BEBEL, Woman in the Past, Present and Future.

Bebel, the propagandist and expounder of Marxian theories, also repeats this assertion that, from the psycho-physiological point of view, woman is the equal of man, and he attempts to refute, without success, the scientific objections that have been made to this thesis.

Since the scientific investigations of Messrs. Lombroso and Ferrero, embodied in Donna delinquente, prostituta e normale, Turin, 1893 (This book has been translated into English, if my memory serves me right. – Tr.), one can no longer deny the physiological and psychological inferiority of woman to man. I have given a Darwinian explanation of this fact (Scuola positiva, 1893, Nos. 7-8), that Lombroso has since completely accepted (Uomo di genio, 6e édit, 1894. This book is also available in English, I believe. – Tr.) I pointed out that all the physio-psychical characteristics of woman are the consequences of her great biological function, maternity.

A being who creates another being – not in the fleeting moment of a voluptuous contact, but by the organic and psychical sacrifices of pregnancy, childbirth and giving suck – cannot preserve for herself as much strength, physical and mental, as man whose only function in the reproduction of the species is infinitely less of a drain.

And so, aside from certain individual exceptions, woman has a lower degree of physical sensibility than man (the current opinion is just the opposite), because if her sensibility were greater, she could not, according to the Darwinian law, survive the immense and repeated sacrifices of maternity, and the species would become extinct. Woman’s intellect is weaker, especially in synthetic power, precisely because though there are no (Sergi, in Atti della societa romana di antropologia, 1894) women of genius, they nevertheless give birth to men of genius.

This is so true that greater sensibility and power of intellect are found in women in whom the function and sentiment of maternity are undeveloped or are only slightly developed (women of genius generally have a masculine physiognomy), and many of them attain their complete intellectual development only after they pass the critical period of life during which the maternal functions cease finally.

But, if it is scientifically certain that woman represents an inferior degree of biological evolution, and that she occupies a station, even as regards her physio-psychical characteristics, midway between the child and the adult male, it does not follow from this that the socialist conclusions concerning the woman question are false.

Quite the contrary. Society ought to place woman, as a human being and as a creatress of men – more worthy therefore of love and respect – in a better juridical and ethical situation than she enjoys at present. Now she is too often a beast of burden or an object of luxury. In the same way when, from the economic point of view, we demand at the present day special measures in behalf of women, we simply take into consideration their special physio-psychical conditions. The present economic individualism exhausts them in factories and rice-fields; socialism, on the contrary, will require from them only such professional, scientific or muscular labor as is in perfect harmony with the sacred function of maternity.

KULISCIOFF, Il monopolio dell'uomo, Milan, 1892, 2d edition. – MOZZONI, I socialisti e l'emancipazione della donna, Milan, 1891.

5. B. MALON, Le Socialisme Integral, 2 vol., Paris, 1892.

6. ZULIANI, Il privilegio della salute, Milan, 1893.

7. LETOURNEAU, Passé, présent et avenir du travail, in Revue mensuelle de l'école d'anthropologie, Paris, June 15, 1894.

8. M. Zerboglio has very justly pointed out that individualism acting without the pressure of external sanction and by the simple internal impulse toward good (rightness) – this is the distant ideal of Herbert Spencer – can be realized only after a phase of collectivism, during which the individual activity and instincts can be disciplined into social solidarity and weaned from the essentially anarchist individualism of our times when every one, if he is clever enough to “slip through the meshes of the penal code” can do what he pleases without any regard to his fellows.

9. “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” is the way Robert Browning expresses this in “Andrea Del Sarto.” – Translator.

10. Note our common expression: He is worth so much. – Tr.


“Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its fragrance on the desert air.
"Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his field withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country’s blood.”
– Stanzas from GRAY’s “Elegy in a Country Church-yard.” Translator.


“Cursed be the gold that gilds the straighten'd forehead of the fool!"
– Tennyson, in “Locksley Hall.”

“Gold, yellow, glittering, precious gold!
Thus, much of this will make black, white; foul, fair;
Wrong, right; base, noble; old, young; coward, valiant."
– Shakespeare, in “Timon of Athens.” – Translator.