Karl Kautsky

The Class Struggle


1. Social Reform and Social Revolution

“Private ownership in the instruments of production, once the means of securing to the producer the ownership of his product, has to-day become the means of expropriating the farmer, the artisan, and the small trader, and of placing the non-producers – capitalists and landlords – in possession of the products of labor. Only the conversion of private ownership of the means of production – the land, mines, raw materials, tools, machines and the means of transportation and communication – into social ownership and the conversion of commodity production into socialist production, carried on for and by society, can production on a large scale and the ever-increasing productivity of social labor be changed from a source of misery and oppression for the exploited classes, into one of well-being and harmonious development.” – Article 5, Erfurter Program.

The productive forces that have been generated in capitalist society have become irreconcilable with the very system of property upon which it is built. The endeavor to uphold this system of property renders impossible all further social development, condemns society to stagnation and decay – a decay that is accompanied by the most painful convulsions.

Every further perfection in the powers of production increases the contradiction that exists between these and the present system of property. All attempts to remove this contradiction, or even to soften it down, without interfering with property, have proved vain, and must continue so to prove as often as attempted.

For the last hundred years thinkers and statesmen among the possessing classes have been trying to prevent the threatened downfall of the system of private property in the instruments of production, that is to say, to prevent revolution. Social reform is the name they give to their perpetual tinkerings with the industrial mechanism for the sake of removing this or that ill effect of private property in the means of production, at least of softening its edge, without touching private property itself. During the last hundred years manifold cures have been recommended and tried; it is now hardly possible to imagine any new recipe in this line. All the so-called “latest” panaceas of our social quacks which are to heal the old social evils quickly, without pain and without expense, are, upon closer inspection, discovered to be but a revival of old devices, all of which have been tried before in other places and found worthless. We pronounce these reforms inoperative in so far as they propose to remove the growing contradictions between the powers of production and the existing system of property and at the same time strive to uphold and confirm the latter. But we do not mean that the social revolution – the abolition of private property in the means of production – will be accomplished of itself, that the irresistible, inevitable course of evolution will do the work without the assistance of man; nor yet that all social reforms are worthless and that nothing is left to those who suffer from the contradiction between the modern powers of production and the system of property but idly to fold their arms and patiently to wait for its abolition.

When we speak of the irresistible and inevitable nature of the social revolution, we presuppose that men are men and not puppets; that they are beings endowed with certain wants and impulses, with certain physical and mental powers which they will seek to use in their own interest. Patiently to yield to what may seem unavoidable is not to allow the social revolution to take its course, but to bring it to a standstill.

When we declare the abolition of private property in the means of production to be unavoidable, we do not mean that some fine morning the exploited classes will find that, without their help, some good fairy has brought about the revolution. We consider the breakdown of the present social system to be unavoidable, because we know that the economic evolution inevitably brings on conditions that will compel the exploited classes to rise against this system of private ownership. We know that this system multiplies the number and the strength of the exploited, and diminishes the number and strength of the exploiting, classes, and that it will finally lead to such unbearable conditions for the mass of the population that they will have no choice but to go down into degradation or to overthrow the system of private property.

Such a revolution may assume many forms, according to the circumstances under which it takes place. It is by no means necessary that it be accompanied with violence and bloodshed. There are instances in history when the ruling classes were either so exceptionally clear-sighted or so particularly weak and cowardly that they submitted to the inevitable and voluntarily abdicated. Neither is it necessary that the social revolution be decided at one blow; such probably was never the case. Revolutions prepare themselves by years or decades of economic and political struggle; they are accomplished amidst constant ups and downs sustained by the conflicting classes and parties; not infrequently they are interrupted by long periods of reaction.

Nevertheless, however manifold the forms may be which a revolution may assume, never yet was any revolution accomplished without vigorous action on the part of those who suffered most under the existing conditions.

When, furthermore, we declare that those social reforms which stop short of the overthrow of the present system of property are unable to abolish the contradictions which the present economic development has produced, we by no means imply that all struggles on the part of the exploited against their present sufferings are useless within the framework of the existing social order. Nor do we claim that they should patiently endure all the ill-treatment and all the forms of exploitation which the capitalist system may decree to them, or that so long as they are at all exploited, it matters little how. What we do mean is that the exploited classes should not over-rate the social reforms, and should not imagine that through them the existing conditions can be rendered satisfactory. The exploited classes should carefully examine all the social reforms that are offered to them. Nine-tenths of the proposed reforms are not only useless, but positively injurious to the exploited classes. Most dangerous of all are those which, aiming at the salvation of the threatened social order, shut their eyes to the economic development of the last century. The working-men who take the field in favor of such schemes waste their energies in a senseless endeavor to revive the dead past.

Many are the ways in which the economic development may be influenced: it may be hastened and it may be retarded; its results may be made more, or less, painful; only one thing is impossible – to stop its course, or turn it back.

When, for instance, in the early stages of capitalism, the workers destroyed the machines, opposed woman’s labor, and so on, their efforts were useless, and could not be otherwise. They arrayed themselves against a development that nothing could resist. Since then they have hit upon better methods whereby to shield themselves as much as possible against the injurious effects of capitalist exploitation. With their trade-unions and their political activities, each supplementing the other, they have in all civilized countries met with more or less success. But each of their successes, be it the raising of wages, the shortening of hours, the prohibition of child labor, the establishment of sanitary regulations, gives a new impulse to the economic development. For example it may have caused the capitalist to replace the dearer labor with machinery, or it may have forced up his payroll and thereby rendered the competitive struggle harder for the small capitalist, shortened his economic existence and hastened the concentration of capital.

Accordingly, however justifiable, or even necessary, it may be for the workmen to establish labor organizations to better their condition by lowering the hours of work and securing other equally wholesome changes, it would be a profound error to imagine that such reforms could delay the social revolution. Equally mistaken is the notion that one cannot admit the usefulness of social reforms without admitting that it is necessary to preserve society upon its present basis. On the contrary, reforms may be supported from the revolutionary standpoint and because, as has been shown, they hasten the course of events and because, so far from doing away with the suicidal tendencies of the capitalist system, they rather strengthen them.

The turning of the people into proletarians. the concentration of capital in the hands of a few, who rule the whole economic life of capitalist nations, none of these cruel and revolting effects of the capitalist system can be checked by any reform that is based upon the existing system of property, however far-reaching such reform may be.

2. Private Property and Common Property

Indeed, there can no longer be any question as to how private property in the instruments of production is to be preserved; the only question is what shall, or rather must, take its place. It is not a question of making an invention but of dealing with a fact. We have as little choice in the matter of the system of property that shall be instituted as we have in the matter of preserving the present one or throwing it overboard.

The same economic development that forces on us the question, What shall we put in the place of the system of private ownership in the means of production? brings with it the conditions that answer the question. The new system of property lies latent in the old. To become acquainted with it we must turn, not to our personal leanings and desires, but to the facts that surround us.

Whoever understands the conditions that are requisite for the present system of production knows what system of property those conditions will demand when the existing system of property ceases to be possible. Private property in the instruments of production has its root in small production. Individual production makes individual ownership necessary. Large production, on the contrary, means co-operation, social production. In large production the individual does not work alone, but a large number of workers, the whole commonwealth, work together to produce a whole. Accordingly, the modern instruments of production are extensive and powerful. It has become wholly impossible that every single worker should own his own instruments of production. Once the present stage is reached by large production, it admits of but two systems of ownership.

First, private ownership by the individual in the means of production used by co-operative labor; that means the existing system of capitalist production with its train of misery and exploitation as the portion of the workers and suffocating abundance as the portion of the capitalist.

Second, ownership by the workers in common of the instruments of production; that means a co-operative system of production and the extinction of the exploitation of the workers, who become masters of their own products and who themselves appropriate the surplus of which, under our system, they are deprived by the capitalist.

To substitute common, for private, ownership in the means of production, this it is that economic development is urging upon us with ever-increasing force.

3. Socialist Production

The abolition of the present system of production means substituting production for use for production for sale. Production for use may be of two forms:

First, individual production for the satisfaction of individual wants; and,

Second, social or co-operative production for the satisfaction of the wants of a commonwealth.

The first form of production has never been a general form of production. Man has always been a social being, as far back as we can trace him. The individual has always been thrown upon co-operation with others in order to satisfy some of his principal wants; others had to work for him and he, in turn, had to work for others. Individual production for self-consumption has always played a subordinate part; today it hardly deserves mention.

Until the present system of production (production for sale) was developed, co-operative production for common use was the leading form; it is as old as production itself. If any one system of production could be considered better adapted than any other to the nature of man, then co-operative production must be pronounced the natural one. In all probability for every thousand years of production for sale, cooperative production for use numbers tens of thousands. The character, extent and power of co-operative societies have changed along with the instruments and methods of production which they adopted. Nevertheless, whether such a commonwealth was a horde or a tribe or any other form of community, they all had certain essential features in common. Each satisfied its own wants, at least the most vital ones, with the product of its own labor; the instruments of production were the property of the community; its members worked together as free and equal individuals according to some plan inherited or devised, and administered by some power elected by themselves. The product of such co-operative labor was the property of the community and was applied either to the satisfaction of common wants, whether these were occasioned by production or consumption, or were distributed among the individuals or groups which composed the community.

The well-being of such self-supporting communities or societies depended upon natural and personal conditions. The more fertile the territory they occupied, the more diligent, inventive and vigorous their members, the greater was the general well-being. Drouths, freshets, invasions by more powerful enemies, might afflict, or even destroy, them, but there was one visitation they were free from, the fluctuations of the market. With this they were either wholly unacquainted, or they knew it only in connection with articles of luxury.

Such co-operative production for use is nothing less than communistic or, as it is called today, socialist production. Production for sale can be overcome only by such a system. Socialist production is the only system of production possible when production for sale has become impossible.

This fact does not, however, imply that it is necessary to revive the dead past or to restore the old forms of community property or communal production. These forms were adapted to certain means of production; they were, and continue to be, inapplicable to more highly developed instruments of production. It was for that reason that they disappeared almost everywhere in the course of economic development at the approach of the system of production for sale, and wherever they did resist the latter, their effect was to interfere with the development of productive powers. As reactionary and hopeless as were the efforts to resist the system of production for sale, would be today any endeavor to overthrow the present by a revival of the old communal system.

The system of socialist production which has become necessary, owing to the impending bankruptcy of our present system of production for sale, will and must have certain features in common with the older systems of communal production, in so far, namely, as both are systems of co-operative production for use. In the same way, the capitalist system of production bears some resemblance to the system of small and individual production, which forms the transition between it and communal production; both produce for sale. Just as the capitalist system of production, as a higher development of commodity production, is different from small production, so will the form of social production, that has now become necessary be different from the former systems of production for use.

The coming system of socialist production will not be the sequel to ancient communism; it will be the sequel to the capitalist system of production, which itself develops the elements that are requisite for the organization of its successor. It brings forth the new people whom the new system of production needs. But it also brings forth the social organization which, as soon as the new people have mastered it, will become the foundation stone of the new system of production.

Socialist production requires, in the first place, the transformation of the separate capitalist establishments into social institutions. This transformation is being prepared for by the circumstance that the personality of the capitalist is steadily becoming more and more superfluous in the present mechanism of production. In the second place, it requires that all the establishments requisite for the satisfaction of the wants of the commonwealth be united into one large concern. How economic development is preparing the way for this by the steady concentration of capitalist concerns, has been explained in the foregoing chapter.

What must be the size of such a self-sufficing commonwealth? As the socialist republic is not an arbitrary creation of the brain, but a necessary product of economic development, the size of such a commonwealth cannot be predetermined. It must conform to the stage of social development out of which it grows. The higher the development that has been reached, the greater the division of labor that has been perfected, the more intercourse has developed between the producers – the larger will be the size of the commonwealth.

It is now nearly two hundred years since a well-meaning Englishman, John Bellers, submitted to the English Parliament a plan to end the misery which even then the capitalist system, young as it was, spreading through the land. He proposed the establishment of communities that should produce everything that they needed, industrial as well as agricultural products. According to his plan, each community needed only from two hundred to three hundred workmen.

At that time handicraft was still the leading form of production; the capitalist system was still in the manufacturing stage; as yet there was no thought of the capitalist concern with its modern machinery.

A hundred years later the same idea was taken up anew, but considerably deepened and perfected, by socialist thinkers. By that time the present factory system of mills and machinery had already begun; handicrafts were here and there disappearing; society had reached a higher stage. Accordingly, the communities which the socialists proposed at the beginning of the nineteenth century for the purpose of removing the ills of the capitalist system were ten times larger than those proposed by Bellers (for instance, the phalansteries Fourier).

In comparison with the economic conditions of the time of Bellers, those which Fourier knew seemed wonderfully advanced; but from the point of view of a generation later these, in their turn, had become trivial. The machine was restlessly revolutionizing social life; it had expanded capitalist undertakings to such an extent that some of them already embraced whole nations in their operations; it had brought the several undertakings of a country into greater dependence upon one another so that they virtually constituted one industry; and it constantly tends to turn the whole economic life of capitalist nations into a single economic mechanism. The division and subdivision of labor is carried on further and further; the several industries apply themselves more and more to the production of special articles only; and what is more, to their production for the whole world; and the size of these establishments, some of which count their workmen by thousands, becomes constantly larger.

Under such circumstances, a community designed to satisfy its wants and embracing all the requisite industries, must have dimensions very different from those of the socialist colonies planned at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Among the social organizations in existence today there is but one that has the requisite dimensions, that can be used as the requisite field, for the establishment and development of the Socialist or Co-operative Commonwealth, and that is the modern state.

Indeed, so great is the development that production has reached in some industries and so intimate have become the connections between the several capitalist nations that one might almost question whether the limits of the state are sufficiently inclusive to contain the Co-operative Commonwealth.

Nevertheless, there is something else to be taken into account. The present expansion of international intercourse is due, not so much to the existing conditions of production as to the existing condition of exploitation. The greater the extension of capitalist production in a country and the intenser the exploitation of the working class, the larger also, as a rule, is the surplus of products that cannot be consumed in the country itself and that, consequently, must be sent abroad. If the population of the country have not themselves the means to buy the staples which they produce, the capitalists go with their products in search of foreign customers, whether or not the population of their own country stand in need of the products. The capitalists are after purchasers, not after consumers. This explains the horrible phenomenon that Ireland and India export large quantities of wheat during a famine; recently, during the frightful famine in Russia, the exportation of wheat by the Russian capitalists could be checked only by an imperial order. When exploitation shall have ceased, and production for use shall have taken the place of production for sale, exportation and importation of products from one state to another will fall off greatly.

The existing commerce between the several nations will not entirely disappear. The division of labor has been carried on so far, the market which certain giant industries require for their products has become so extensive, and, on the other hand, so many commodities, – supplied only by international commerce, – coffee, for instance – have become necessities, that it seems impossible for any Co-operative Commonwealth, even though co-extensive with a nation, to satisfy all its wants with its own products. Some sort of exchange of products between one nation and another is sure to continue. Such exchange will not, however, endanger the economic independence and safety of the several nations so long as they produce all that is actually necessary and exchange with one another superfluities only. A co-operative commonwealth co-extensive with the nation could produce all that it requires for Its own preservation.

This dimension would by no means be unalterable. The modern nation is but a product and tool of the capitalist system of production; it grows with that system, not only in power, but also in extent. The domestic market is the safest for the capitalist class of every country. It is the easiest to maintain and to exploit. In proportion as the capitalist system develops, so also grows the pressure on the part of the capitalist class in every nation for an extension of its political boundaries. The statesman who maintained that modern wars are no longer manifestations of dynastic, but of national, aspirations was not far from the truth, provided one understands by national aspirations the aspirations of the capitalist class. Nothing so much injures the vital interests of the capitalists of any nation as a reduction of their territory. The capitalist class of France would long ago have pardoned Germany the $1,250,000,000 which she demanded as an indemnity for the war of 1870, but can never pardon the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine.

All modern nations feel the necessity of extending their boundaries. This is easiest for the United States, which will soon actually control all America, and for England, which is enabled by its sea power to expand the extent of its colonies without interruption. Russia also enjoyed at one time great advantages in this respect, but the limits of her aggrandizement seem to have been reached; she is bounded on all sides by nations which resist her advancement. Worst off are the nations of continental Europe in this respect; they, as well as others, require territorial expansion, but they are so closely hemmed in by one another that none can grow except at the expense of some other. The colonial policy of these states affords inadequate relief to the need of expansion caused by their capitalist system of production. This situation is the most powerful cause of the militarism which has turned Europe into a military camp. There are but two ways out of this intolerable state of things: either a gigantic war that shall destroy some of the existing European states, or the union of them all in a federation.

This is enough to show that every modern state has the desire to expand in response to the demands of economic development. In this way each is seeing to it that its boundaries become sufficiently extensive to satisfy the needs of the coming co-operative commonwealth.

4. The Economic Significance of the State

All communities have had economic functions to fulfill! This must, self-evidently, have been the case with the original communist societies which we encounter at the threshold of history. In proportion as individual small production, private ownership in the means of production, and production for sale underwent their successive development, a number of social functions came into existence, the fulfillment of which either exceeded the power of the individual industries, or were from the start recognized as too important to be handed over to the arbitrary conduct of individuals. Along with the care for the poor, the young, the old, the infirm (schools, hospitals, poorhouses), the community reserved the functions of promoting and regulating commerce – i.e., building highways, coining money, superintending highways – and the management of certain general and important matters pertaining to production. In mediaeval society these several functions devolved upon the towns and sometimes upon religious corporations. The mediaeval state was little concerned with such functions. All this changed as the state took on its modern form, that is, became the state of office-holders and soldiers, the tool of the capitalist class. Like all previous states, the modern state is the tool of class rule. It could not, however, fulfill its mission and satisfy the needs of the capitalist class without either dissolving, or depriving of their independence, those economic institutions which lay at the foundation of the pre-capitalist social system, and taking upon itself their functions. Even in places where the modern state tolerated the continuance of mediaeval organizations, these fell into decay and became less and less able to fulfill their functions. These functions became, however, broader and broader with the development of the capitalist system; they grew with such rapidity that the state was gradually compelled to assume even those functions which it cares least to trouble itself about. For instance, the necessity of taking over the whole system of charitable and educational institutions has become so pressing upon the state that it has in most cases surrendered to this necessity. From the start it assumed the function of coining money; since then, forestry, care of the water supply, building of roads, come constantly more under its jurisdiction.

There was a time when the capitalist class, in its self-confidence, imagined it could free itself from the economic activities of the state; the state should only watch over their safety at home and abroad, keep the proletarians and foreign competitors in check, but keep its hands off the whole economic life. The capitalist class had good reasons for desiring this. However great the power of the capitalists, the power of the state had not always shown itself as subservient as they wished. Even where the capitalist class had virtually no competitor with whom to dispute the overlordship, and where, accordingly, the power of the state showed itself friendly, the officeholders often became disagreeable friends to deal with.

The hostility of the capitalist class to the interference of the state in the economic life of a country came to the surface first in England, where it received the name of the “Manchester School.” The doctrines of that school were the first weapons with which the capitalist class took the field against the socialist-labor movement. It is therefore no wonder that the opinion took hold of many a socialist workingman that a supporter of the Manchester School and a capitalist were one and the same thing and that, on the other hand, Socialism and the interference of the state in the economic affairs of a country were identical. No wonder that such workingmen believed that to overthrow the Manchester School was to overthrow capitalism itself. Nothing less true. The Manchester teaching was never anything more than a teaching which the capitalist class played against the workingman or the government whenever it suited its purposes, but from the logical practice of which it has carefully guarded itself. Today the Manchester School no longer influences the capitalist class. The reason of its decline was the increasing force with which the economic and political development urged the necessity of the extension of the functions of the state.

These functions grew from day to day. Not only do those which the state assumed from the start become ever larger, but new ones are born of the capitalist system itself, of which the former generations had no conception and which affect ultimately the whole economic system. Formerly, statesmen were essentially diplomats and jurists; today they must, or should, be economists. Treaties and privileges, ancient researches and matters of precedent, are of little use in the solution of modern political problems; economic principles have become the leading arguments. What are today the chief matters with which statesmen concern themselves? Are they not finance, colonial affairs, tariff, protection and insurance of workingmen?

Nor is this all. The economic development forces the state, partly in self-defense, partly for the sake of better fulfilling its functions, partly also for the purpose of increasing its revenues, to take into its own hands more and more functions or industries.

During the Middle Ages the rulers derived their main income from their property in land; later, during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, their treasuries derived large accessions from the plundering of church and other estates. On the other hand, the need of money frequently compelled the rulers to sell their land to the capitalists. In most European countries even now, however, very considerable survivals of the former state ownership of land can be found in the domains of the crown and the state mines. Furthermore, the development of the military system added arsenals and wharves; the development of commerce added post-offices, railroads, and telegraphs; finally, the increasing demand for money on the part of the state has given birth, in European countries, to all manner of state monopolies.

While the economic functions and the economic power of the state are thus steadily increased, the whole economic mechanism becomes more and more complicated, more and more sensitive, and the separate capitalist undertakings become, as we have seen, proportionately more interdependent upon one another. Along with all this grows the dependence of the capitalist class upon the greatest of all their establishments, – the state or government. This increased dependence and interrelation increases also the disturbances and disorders which afflict the economic mechanism, for relief from all of which, the largest of existing economic powers, the state or government, is, with increasing frequency, appealed to by the capitalist class. Accordingly, in modern society the state is called upon more and more to step in and take a hand in the regulation and management of the economic mechanism, and ever stronger are the means placed at its disposal and employed by it in the fulfillment of this function. The economic omnipotence of the state, which appeared to the Manchester School as a socialist Utopia, has developed under the very eyes of that school into an inevitable result of the capitalist system of production itself.

5. State Socialism and the Social Democracy

The economic activity of the modern state is the natural starting point of the development that leads to the Co-operative Commonwealth. It does not, however, follow that every nationalization of an economic function or of an industry is a step towards the Co-operative Commonwealth, and that the latter could be the result of a general nationalization of all industries without any change in the character of the state.

The theory that this could be the case is that of the state Socialists. It arises from a misunderstanding of the state itself. Like all previous systems of government, the modern state is preeminently an instrument intended to guard the interests of the ruling class. This feature is in no wise changed by its assumption of features of general utility which affect the interests not of the ruling class alone, but of the whole body politic. The modern state assumes these functions often simply because otherwise the interests of the ruling class would be endangered with those of society as a whole, but under no circumstances has it assumed, or could it ever assume, these functions in such a manner as to endanger the overlordship of the capitalist class.

If the modern state nationalizes certain industries, it does not do so for the purpose of restricting capitalist exploitation, but for the purpose of protecting the capitalist system and establishing it upon a firmer basis, or for the purpose of itself taking a hand in the exploitation of labor, increasing its own revenues, and thereby reducing the contributions for its own support which it would otherwise have to impose upon the capitalist class. As an exploiter of label, the state is superior to any private capitalist. Besides the economic power of the capitalists, ii can also bring to bear upon the exploited classes the political power which it already wields.

The state has never carried on the nationalizing of industries further than the interests of the ruling classes demanded, nor will it ever go further than that. So long as the property-holding classes are the ruling ones, the nationalization of industries and capitalist functions will never be carried so far as to injure the capitalists and landlords or to restrict their opportunities for exploiting the proletariat.

The state will not cease to be a capitalist institution until the proletariat, the working-class, has become the ruling class; not until then will it become possible to turn it into a co-operative commonwealth.

From the recognition of this fact is born the aim which the Socialist Party has set before it: to call the working-class to conquer the political power to the end that, with its aid, they may change the state into a self-sufficing co-operative commonwealth.

Socialists are frequently reproached with having no fixed aims, with being able to do nothing but criticize and with not knowing what to put in place of that which they would overthrow. Nevertheless, the fact remains that none of the existing parties has so well-marked and clear an aim as the Socialist Party. It may, indeed, be questioned whether the other political parties have any aims at all. They all hold to the existing order, although they all see that it is untenable and unendurable. Their programs contain nothing except a few little patches by which they hope and promise to make the untenable, tenable and the unendurable, endurable.

The Socialist Party, on the contrary, does not build on hopes and promises, but upon the unalterable necessity of economic development. Whoever declares these aims to he false should show in what respect the teachings of Socialist political economy are false. He should show that the theory of development from small to large production is false, that production is carried on today as it was a hundred years ago, that things are today as they have always been. Only he who could prove this is justified in the belief that things will continue as they are. But whoever is not feather-brained enough to believe that social conditions remain always the same, cannot reasonably suppose that the present conditions will continue forever. Can any other party than the Socialist Party point out to him what will and must take their place?

All other political parties live only in the present, from hand to mouth; the Socialist party is the only one which has a definite aim in the future, the only one whose present policy is dictated by a general, consistent purpose. Because they neither can nor will see, because they stubbornly persist in star-gazing they declare offhand that the Socialists know not what they want except to destroy the existing order.

6. The Structure of the Future State

It is not our purpose to meet all the objections, misconceptions and misstatements with which the capitalist class strives to combat Socialism. It is profitless to attempt to enlighten malice and stupidity. Socialists could wear themselves to the bone in such an undertaking and never have done.

There is, however, one objection that should be met. It is important enough to merit thorough treatment, and its removal will make clearer the point of view and purpose of socialism.

Our opponents declare that the co-operative commonwealth cannot be considered practicable and cannot be the object of the endeavors of intelligent people until the plan is presented to the world in a perfected form, and has been tested and found feasible. They claim that no sensible mall would start to built a house before he had perfected his plan, and before experts had approved of it; that least of all would he pull down his only dwelling before he knew what else to put in its place. Socialists are, accordingly, told that they must come out with their plan of a future state; if they refuse, it is a sign that they themselves have not much confidence in it.

This objection sounds very plausible, so plausible, indeed, that even among Socialists themselves many are of the opinion that the exposition of some such plan is necessary. Indeed, some plan seemed a necessary prerequisite as long as the laws of social evolution were unknown, and it was believed that social forms could be built up at will, like houses. People speak even to-day of “the social edifice.”

Social evolution is a modern science. Formerly, economic development proceeded so slowly that it was barely noticeable. Mankind often remained centuries, and even thousands of years, at the same stage. There are neighborhoods in Russia where the agricultural implements still in use can scarcely be distinguished from those that we meet at the very threshhold of history. Hence it happened that the system of production in existence at a certain time seemed an unalterable arrangement to the people of that age. Their fathers and grandfathers had produced under that system and the conclusion was that their children would do likewise. Man naturally considered the social institutions into which he was born as permanent and ordained of God, and thought it was sacrilege to attempt innovations. Great as the changes might be which were wrought by wars and class-struggles, they seemed to affect nothing but the surface of things. Such convulsions did, as a matter of course, affect the foundations also, but this fact was hardly noticeable to the individual observer who stood in the midst of such events. History is essentially nothing but a more or less faithful chronicle of events recorded by such spectators; hence history remains essentially superficial. Although one who takes a bird’s-eye view of the thousands of years of antiquity can clearly perceive a social evolution, the average historian takes no notice of it.

Not until the age of capitalist production was reached did social evolution proceed at such a pace that men became conscious of it. Of course they first looked for the causes of this evolution on the surface. But one who sticks to the surface can see only the forces which determine the immediate course of progress, and these are not the changing conditions of production, but the changing ideas of men.

As the capitalist system developed it created among the persons who depended upon it, capitalists, proletarians, etc., new wants wholly different from those of the people connected with the feudal system of production. To these different wants there corresponded also different ideas of right and wrong, of necessities and luxuries, of usefulness and harm. In proportion as the capitalist system grew and the classes that had part in it became more marked, the ideas which corresponded to this system of production became clearer, asserted themselves in the government, and were felt in the social life, until finally the new classes that had been formed took possession of the state and shaped it agreeably to their own wants.

The philosophers who first endeavored to investigate the causes of social development thought they found them in the ideas of men. To a certain degree they recognized that these ideas sprang from material wants; but the fact still remained a secret to them that these wants changed from age to age, and that the changes were the results of alterations in economic conditions, that is, in the system of production. They started with the notion that the wants of man – “human nature” – were unchangeable. Hence they could see but one “true,” “natural,” “just” social system, because only one could correspond to the “true nature of man.” All other social forms they pronounced the result of mental aberrations which came about only because mankind did not realize sooner what they needed; human judgment, it was thought, had been befogged, either, as some imagined, on account of the natural stupidity of man, or, as others maintained, on account of the willful machinations of kings or priests. Looked at from such a standpoint the development of society appears to be the result of a development of thought. The wiser men are, the quicker they are to discover the social forms that suit human nature, the juster and better does society become.

This is the theory of our so-called liberal thinkers. Wherever their influence is felt this view prevails. As a matter of course the first socialists, who appeared at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were under the influence of it. They, also, imagined that the institutions of the capitalist state had sprung from the brain of the philosophers of the previous century. But it was clear to these socialists that the capitalist system was not the perfect thing which the eighteenth century expected. Accordingly this system appeared to them as still falling short of the true one; the philosophers of the eighteenth century must have made a mistake somewhere. The early socialists addressed themselves to the task of finding the mistake, and, in their turn, finding the true social system, that is, the one that would perfectly suit human nature. They realized that it was necessary to elaborate their plan more carefully than any of their illustrious predecessors had done, lest some untoward influence should nullify their work also. This method of procedure was, moreover, dictated by circumstances. The early socialists did not stand, as did their predecessors, in the presence of a social system near its downfall, nor did they have, as did their predecessors, the encouragement of a mighty class whose interests demanded the overthrow of the existing order. They could not present the social order for which they strove as inevitable, but only as desirable. It was a necessity of their situation, then, to present their ideal in as clear and tangible a form as possible to the end that the mouths of people should water after it, and none should entertain a doubt either as to its practicability or desirability.

The adversaries of socialism have not got beyond the standpoint occupied by the social science of a hundred years ago. The only socialists they know and can understand are, accordingly, those early utopian socialists who started from the same premises as they themselves. The adversaries of socialism look upon the socialist commonwealth just as they would upon a capitalist enterprise, a stock company, for example, which is to be “started,” and they refuse to take stock before it is shown in a prospectus that the concern will be practicable and profitable. Such a conception may have had its justification at the beginning of the nineteenth century; today, however, the socialist commonwealth no longer needs the endorsement of these gentlemen.

The capitalist social system has run its course; its dissolution is now only a question of time. Irresistible economic forces lead with the certainty of doom to the shipwreck of capitalist production. The substitution of a new social order for the existing one is no longer simply desirable, it has become inevitable.

Ever larger and more powerful grows today the mass of the propertyless workers for whom the existing system is unbearable; who have nothing to lose by its downfall, but everything to gain; who are bound – unless they are willing to go down with the society of which they have become the most important part – to call into being a social order that shall correspond to their interests.

These statements are not mere fancies; socialists have demonstrated them with the actual facts of our system of production. These facts are more eloquent and convincing than the most brilliant pictures of the future order could be. The best that such pictures can do is to show that the socialist commonwealth is not impossible. But they are bound to be defective; they can never cover all the details of social life; they will always leave some loophole through which an enemy can insinuate an objection. That, however, which is shown to be inevitable is thereby shown, not only to be possible, but to be the only thing possible. If indeed the socialist commonwealth were an impossibility, then mankind would be cut off from all further economic development. In that event modern society would decay, as did the Roman empire nearly two thousand years ago, and finally relapse into barbarism.

As things stand today capitalist civilization cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism.

In view of this situation it is wholly unnecessary to endeavor to move the enemies of socialism by means of a captivating picture. Anyone to whom the occurrences of the modern system of production do not loudly announce the necessity of the socialist commonwealth will be totally deaf to the praises of a system which does not yet exist and which he cannot realize nor understand. Moreover, the construction of a plan upon which the future social order is to be built has become, not only purposeless, but wholly irreconcilable with the point of view of modern science. In the course of the nineteenth century a great revolution took place, not only in the economic world, but also in men’s minds. Insight into the causes of social development has increased tremendously. As far back as the forties Marx and Engels showed – and from that time on every step in social science has proved it – that, in the last analysis, the history of mankind is determined, not by ideas, but by an economic development which progresses irresistibly, obedient to certain underlying laws and not to anyone’s wishes or whims. In the foregoing chapters we have seen how it goes on; how it brings about new forms of production which require new forms of society; how it starts new wants among men which compel them to reflect upon their social condition, and to devise means whereby to adjust society to the new system in accordance with which production is carried on. For, we must always remember, this process of adjustment does not proceed of itself; it needs the aid of the human brain. Without thought, without ideas, there is no progress. But ideas are only the means to social development; the first impulse does not proceed from them, as was formerly believed, and as many still think; the first impulse comes from economic conditions.

Accordingly it is not the thinkers, the philosophers, who determine the trend of social progress. What the thinkers can do is to discover, to recognize, the trend; and this they can do in proportion to the clearness of their understanding of the conditions which preceded, but they can never themselves determine the course of social evolution.

And even the recognition of the trend of social progress has its limits. The organization of social life is most complex; even the dearest intellect finds it impossible to probe it from all sides and to measure all the forces at work in it with sufficient accuracy to enable him to fore-tell accurately what social forms will result from the joint action of all these forces.

A new social form does not come into existence through the activity of certain especially gifted men. No man or group of men can conceive of a plan, convince people by degrees of its utility, and, when they have acquired the requisite power, undertake the construction of a social edifice according to their plan.

All social forms have been the result of long and fluctuating struggles. The exploited have fought against the exploiting classes; the sinking reactionary classes against the progressive, revolutionary ones. In the course of these struggles the various classes have merged in all manner of combinations to battle with their opponents. The camp of the exploited at times contains both revolutionary and reactionary elements; the camp of the revolutionists may contain at times both exploiters and exploited. Within a single class different factions are frequently formed according to the intellect, the temperament, or the station of individuals or whole sections. And, finally, the power wielded by any single class has never been permanent; each has risen or fallen as its understanding of the surrounding conditions, the compactness and size of its organization, and its importance in the mechanism of production increased or diminished.

In the course of the fluctuating struggles of these classes the older social forms, which had become untenable, were pushed aside for new ones. The social order which took the place of the old was not always immediately the best possible. In order to have made it so the revolutionary class of each epoch would have had to be in possession of the sole political power and the most perfect understanding of their social conditions. As long as this was not the case, mistakes were inevitable. Not infrequently a new social order proved itself partially, if not wholly, as untenable as the one overthrown. Nevertheless, the stronger the pressure of economic development, the clearer became its demands and the greater the ability of the revolutionary classes to do what was required of them. The institutions of the revolutionary class which were in opposition to the demands of economic development fell into decay and were soon forgotten. But those which had become necessary quickly struck root and could not be exterminated by the upholders of the former system.

It is in this way that all new social orders have arisen. Revolutionary periods differ from other periods of social development only by virtue of the fact that during them the phenomena of development proceed at an unusually rapid pace.

The genesis of a social institution is, it thus appears, very different from that of a building. Previously perfected plans are not applicable to the construction of the former. In view of this fact, sketching plans for the future social state is about as rational as writing in advance the history of the next war.

The course of events is, however, by no means independent of the individual. Everyone who is active in society affects it to a greater or less extent. A few individuals, especially prominent through their capacity or social position, may exercise great influence upon the whole nation. Some may promote the development of society by enlightening the people, organizing the revolutionary forces and causing them to act with vigor and precision; others may retard social development for many years by turning their powers in the opposite direction. The former tend, by the promotion of the social evolution, to diminish the sufferings and sacrifices that it demands; the latter, on the contrary, tend to increase these sufferings and sacrifices. But no one, whether he be the mightiest monarch or the wisest and most benevolent philosopher, can determine at will the direction that the social evolution shall take or prophesy accurately the new forms that it will adopt.

Few things are, therefore, more childish than to demand of the socialist that he draw a picture of the commonwealth which he strives for. This demand, which is made of no other party than the Socialist Party, is so childish that it would not deserve much attention were it not for the fact that it is the objection against socialism which its adversaries raise with soberest men.

Never yet in the history of mankind has it happened that a revolutionary party was able to foresee, let alone determine, the forms of the new social order which it strove to usher in. The cause of progress gained much if it could as much as ascertain the tendencies that led to such a new social order, to the end that its political activity could be a conscious, and not merely an instinctive, one. No more can be demanded of the Socialist Party. At the same time, never yet was there a political party that looked so deeply into the social tendencies of its times, and so thoroughly understood them as the Socialist Party.

This is due, not so much to the Socialist Party’s merit, as to its good fortune. It owes its superiority to the fact that it stands upon the shoulders of capitalist political economy, the first that ever undertook a scientific investigation of social relations and conditions. One result of this investigation was that the revolutionary classes which overthrew the feudal system of production had a much clearer conception of their social mission and suffered much less from self-deception than any other revolutionary class before them. But the thinkers in the ranks of the Socialist Party have carried the investigations of the social relations much further, they have gone much deeper than any capitalist economist. Capital, Karl Marx’s great work, has become the lodestar of modern economic science. As far as the work of Karl Marx stands above the works of Quesnay, Adam Smith and Ricardo, just so far stand the socialists of today above the revolutionary classes that appeared at the close of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century in point of clearness of vision and certainty of purpose. If the socialists decline to lay before the public a prospectus of the future commonwealth, the bourgeois writers can find in this fact no reason to mock or to conclude that we do not know what we are after. The Socialist Party has a clearer insight into the future than had the pathfinders of the present social order.

We have said that a thinker may be able to discover the tendencies of the economic development of his day, but that it is impossible for him to foresee the social forms in which that development will ultimately find expression. A glance at existing conditions will prove the correctness of this view. The tendencies of the capitalist system of production are the same in all countries where it prevails; and yet how different are the political and social forms in England from those in France, those in France from those in Germany, and those in the United States from any of these. Again, the historical tendencies of the labor movement, which has been brought on by the existing system of production, are everywhere identical, and yet we see that the forms under which this movement manifests itself are different in each country.

The tendencies of the capitalist system of production are today well known. Nevertheless, no one would venture to foretell what forms it will take in ten, twenty or thirty years – provided, of course, that it endures that long. And yet some demand of the socialists a detailed description of the social forms that are to come into existence after the present system of production.

It does not follow, however, from the refusal of the socialists to draw up a plan of the future state and the measures which must lead up to it that they consider useless or harmful all thought about the socialist society. The useless and harmful thing is the making of positive propositions for bringing in and organizing the socialist society. Propositions for the shaping of social conditions can be made only where the field is fully under control and well understood. For this reason the Socialist Party can make positive propositions only for the existing social order. Suggestions that go beyond that cannot deal with facts, but must proceed from suppositions; they are, accordingly, phantasies and dreams which remain at best without result. In case their inventor is vigorous and intellectually gifted he may affect the public mind, but the only result will be a waste of time and energy.

We should not, however, confuse with these vagaries those inquiries to ascertain the tendencies that the economic development will or may take as soon as it is transferred from the capitalist to the socialist basis. In such inquiries there is no question of schemes for the future, but of the scientific consideration of results revealed by the investigation of definite facts. Inquires of this sort are by no means useless; the more clearly we see into the future, the better will we employ our energy in the present. The most noted thinkers of the Socialist Party have undertaken such inquiries. The works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels contain the results of many investigations of this sort. August Bebel has given in his book on Woman Under Socialism the result of his work in this field.

Similar inquiries every thinking socialist has probably carried on in private; for everyone who has placed before himself a great goal realizes the need of clearness in regard to the conditions under which he can reach it. The most widely divergent views have been formed and expressed by persons of different position, temperament, insight into economic questions and acquaintance with other non-capitalistic, especially communistic, forms of society. But such differences in the manner of looking at things in no way disturb the compactness and unity of the Socialist Party. It makes little difference how various may be the views of our goal, so long as our eyes are all turned in the same direction-and that the right one.

We might close this chapter here. But so many false notions about the socialist commonwealth have been inherited from the utopians or invented by ignorant men of letters, that this course would have the appearance of an evasion. Therefore we shall take up certain of then in order to show how the tendencies of our economic development might work themselves out in a socialist community.


Last updated on 17 October 2014