Karl Kautsky

The Class Struggle


7. The “Abolition of the Family”

One of the most widespread prejudices against socialism rests upon the notion that it proposes to abolish the family.

No socialist has the remotest idea of abolishing the family, that is, legally and forcibly dissolving it. Only the grossest misrepresentation can fasten upon socialism any such intention. Moreover, it takes a fool to imagine that a form of family life can be created or abolished by decree.

The modern form of family is in no way opposed to the socialist system of production; the institution of the socialist order, therefore, does not demand the abolition of the family.

What does lead to the abolition of the present form of family life is, not the nature of cooperative production, but economic development. We have already seen in another chapter how under the present system the family is torn to pieces, husband, wife and children are separated, and celibacy and prostitution made common.

The socialist system is not calculated to check economic development; it will, on the contrary, give it a new impulse. This development will continue to draw from the circle of household duties and turn into special industries one occupation after another. That this cannot fail to have in the future, as in the past, its effect on the sphere of woman is self-evident; woman will cease to be a worker in the individual household, and will take her place as a worker in the large industries. But this change will not be to her then, as it is today, a mere transition from household slavery to wage slavery; it will not, as it does today, hurl her from the protection of her home into the most exposed and helpless section of the proletariat. By working side by side with man in the great co-operative industries woman will become his equal and will take an equal part in the community life. She will be his free companion, emancipated not only from the servitude of the house, but also from that of capitalism. Mistress of herself, the equal of man, she will quickly put an end to all prostitution, legal and well as illegal. For the first time in history monogamy will become a real, rather than a fictitious, institution.

These are no utopian suggestions, but scientific conclusions based on definite facts. Whoever wishes to overthrow them must prove the facts non-existent. Since this cannot be done, there remains nothing for the ladies and gentlemen who wish to know nothing of this phase of our development than to become indignant and prove their morality by all manner of lies and misrepresentations. But all their demonstrations will not delay our inevitable evolution a single moment.

This much is certain: whatever alteration the traditional form of the family may undergo, it will not be the act of socialism or of the socialist system of production, but of the economic development that has been going on for the last century. Socialist society cannot retard this development; what it will do is to remove from the economic development all the painful and degrading features that are its inevitable accompaniments under the capitalist system of production. While, on the one hand, under the capitalist system of production the economic development is steadily snapping, one after another, the family bonds and destroying family life, under the socialist system of production, on the other hand, whatever existing family form may disappear, can be replaced only by a higher.

8. Confiscation of Property.

Our opponents, who know better than we what we want and can picture with greater accuracy the future state, also declare that socialism can never come into power except through a wholesale confiscation of property, confiscation without compensation not only of house and farm, but of superfluous furniture and savings bank deposits. Next to the charge of intending to forcibly dissolve all family ties, this is the trump card played against us.

The program of the Socialist Party has nothing to say about confiscation. It does not mention it, not from fear of giving offense, but because it is a subject upon which nothing can be said with certainty. The only thing that can be declared with certainty is that the tendency of economic development renders imperative the social ownership and operation of the means of large production. In what way this transfer from private and individual into collective ownership will be effected, whether this inevitable transfer will take the form of confiscation, whether it will be a peaceable or a forcible one – these are questions no man can answer. Past experience throws little light on this matter. The transition may be effected, as was that from feudalism to capitalism, in as many different ways as there are different countries. The manner of the transition depends wholly upon the general circumstances under which it is effected, the power and enlightenment of the classes concerned, for instance, all of them circumstances that cannot be calculated for the future. In historical development the unexpected plays the most prominent role.

It goes without saying that the Socialist Party wishes this unavoidable expropriation of large industry to be effected with as little friction as possible, in a peaceful way, and with the consent of the whole people. But the historical development will take its course regardless of the wishes of either socialists or their adversaries.

In no case can it be said that the carrying out of the socialist program demands under all circumstances that the property whose expropriation has become necessary, will be confiscated.

Nevertheless, it may be said with certainty that economic development can render necessary the confiscation of only a part of existing property. The economic development demands social ownership of the implements of labor only; it does not concern itself with the part of property that is devoted to personal and private uses. This is applicable not only to food, furniture, etc. We recall what was said in a previous chapter about savings banks. They are the means whereby the private property of the non-capitalist classes is rendered accessible to capitalists. The deposits of every single depositor, taken separately, are too insignificant to be applied to capitalist industry; not until many deposits have been gathered together are they in a condition to fulfill the function of capital. In the measure in which capitalist undertakings pass from private into social concerns, the opportunities will be lessened for patrons of savings banks to draw interest upon their deposits; these will cease to be capital and will become merely non-interest-bearing funds. But this is a very different thing from the confiscation of savings bank deposits.

The confiscation of such property is, moreover, not only economically unnecessary but politically improbable. These small deposits come mainly from the pockets of the exploited classes, from those classes to whose efforts the introduction of socialism will be due. Only those who consider these classes to be utterly unreliable can believe that they would begin by robbing themselves of their hard-earned savings in order to regain possession of the means of production.

But not only does the introduction of socialist production not require the expropriation of nonproductive wealth, it does not even require the expropriation of all property in the means of production.

That which renders the socialist society necessary is large production. Co-operative production requires also co-operative ownership in the means of production. But just as private property in the means of production is irreconcilable with co-operative work in large industry, so co-operative or social ownership in the means of production is irreconcilable with small production. This requires, as we have seen, private ownership in the means of production. The aim of socialism is to place the worker in possession of the necessary means of production. The expropriation of the means of production in small industry would mean merely the senseless proceeding of taking them from their present owner and returning them again to him.

Accordingly, the transition to the socialist society does not at all require the expropriation of the small artisan and the small farmer. This transition not only will deprive them of nothing, but it will bring them many advantages. Since the tendency of socialist society is to substitute production for use for production for sale, it must be its endeavor to transform all social dues (taxes, interest upon mortgages on property that has been nationalized, etc., so far as these may have been not wholly abolished) front money payments into payments in products. But this means the raising of a tremendous burden from the farmer. In many ways that is what he is striving for today, but it is impossible under the supremacy of production for sale. Only the socialist society can bring it, and with it remove the main cause of the ruin of the farming industry.

It is the capitalists who expropriate the farmers and artisans. Socialist society puts an end to this expropriation.

Certainly, socialism will not put an end to economic development. On the contrary, it is the only means to ensure its progress beyond a certain point. In socialist society as in society today large industry will develop more and more and increasingly absorb small industry. But here, too, the same conclusion holds good as in the case of the family and marriage. The direction of the evolution remains the same, but socialism removes all the painful and shocking manifestations that under the present system are the accompaniments of the social evolution.

Today the transformation of the small farmer and the small producer from workers in the field of small production to workers in the field of large production means their transformation from property-holders into proletarians. In a socialist society a farmer or artisan who becomes a worker in a large socialized industry will become a sharer in all the advantages of large industry; his condition is plainly bettered. His transition from large to small industry is no more to be compared with the change from a property-holder to a proletarian, but rather to the transformation of a small property-holder into a large property-holder.

Small production is doomed to disappear. Only the socialist system can make it possible for farmers and handicraftmen to become participants in the advantages of large production without sinking into the proletariat. Only under the socialist system can the inevitable downfall of the small producer, industrial and agricultural, result in an improvement of their condition.

The mainspring of economic development will no longer be the competition which grinds down and expropriates those who fall behind, it will be the power of attraction which the more highly developed forms of production exercise upon the less developed ones.

A development of this sort is not only painless, it proceeds much more rapidly than that brought out by the spur of competition. Today, when the introduction of new and higher forms of production is impossible without ruining and expropriating the owners of industries carried on under inferior forms, and without inflicting suffering and privation upon the large masses of workers who have become through this means superfluous, every economic progress is doggedly resisted. We see on all sides instances of the tenacity with which producers cling to antiquated forms of production, and of their desperate efforts to preserve them. Never yet was any system of production known so revolutionary as the present one; never did any revolutionize so completely within the space of a hundred years all human activities. And yet how many ancient ruins of antiquated, out-lived forms of production still exist!

Just as soon as the fear disappears of being thrown into the proletariat if an independent industry is abandoned; just as soon as the present prejudices against large production disappear because of the advantages which the social ownership of large production will bestow upon all; just as soon as it is possible for everyone to share these advantages, only fools will strive to preserve antiquated forms of production.

What capitalist large production has not accomplished within a hundred years, socialist large production will bring about within a short time, the absorption of outgrown small production. It will accomplish this without expropriation, through the attractive power of improved industrial methods. In places where agricultural production is still not production for sale, but prevailingly production for use, small farming will perhaps continue for some time under the socialist society. In the end the advantages of co-operative large production will be discerned in these districts also. The change from small to large production in agriculture will be hastened and made easy by the steadily progressing disappearance of the contrast between city and country, and by the tendency to locate industries in rural districts.

9. Division of Products in the Future State.

There is still a point, the most important of all, that should be touched upon. The first question which is put to a socialist is usually: How will you go about the division of wealth? Shall each have an equal share?

“Dividing up!” That sticks in the crop of the Philistine. Their whole conception of socialism begins and ends with that word. Indeed, even among the cultured the idea prevails that the object of socialism is to divide the whole wealth of the nation among the people.

That this view still prevails, despite all protests and proofs on the part of socialists, is to be ascribed not only to the malice of our opponents, but also, and perhaps to a greater extent, to their inability to understand the social conditions that have been created by the development of large production. Their horizon is still, to a great extent, bounded by the conceptions that belong only to small production. From the standpoint of small production “dividing up” is the only possible form of socialism. The notion of dividing has long been familiar to the small business man and farmer. From the beginning of production for sale in antiquity, it has happened innumerable times that as soon as a few families had heaped up great wealth and reduced farmers and artisans to a state of dependence, these latter rose in rebellion and attempted to improve their condition through the expulsion of the rich and the division of their property. They succeeded in this for the first time during the French Revolution, which laid such stress on the rights of private property. Peasants, artisans and the class that was about to develop into capitalists, divided among themselves the church estates. “Dividing up” is the socialism of small production, the socialism of the conservative ranks of society, not the socialism of the proletariat engaged in large industry.

Socialists do not propose to divide: on the contrary, their object is to concentrate in the hands of society the instruments of production that are now scattered in the hands of various owners.

But this does not dispose of the question of “dividing up.” If the means of production belong to society, to it must belong also, as a matter of course, the function of disposing of the products that are brought forth by the use of these means. In what way will society distribute these among its members? Shall it be according to the principle of equality or according to the labor performed by each? And in the latter case, is every kind of labor to receive the same reward, whether it be pleasant or unpleasant, hard or easy, skilled or unskilled?

The answer to this question seems to be the central point of socialism. Not only does it greatly preoccupy the opponents of socialism, but even the early socialists devoted a great deal of attention to it. From Fourier to Weitling and from Weitling to Bellamy, there runs a steady stream of the most diversified answers, many of which reveal a wonderful cleverness. There is no lack of positive propositions, many of which are as simple as they are practicable. Nevertheless, the question has not the importance generally ascribed to it.

There was a time when the distribution of products was looked upon as wholly independent of production. Since the contradictions and ills of the capitalist system manifest themselves first in its peculiar method of distributing its products, it was quite natural that the exploited classes and their friends should have found the root of all evil in the “unjust” distribution of products. Of course, they proceeded, in accordance with the ideas prevalent at the beginning of the nineteenth century, upon the supposition that the existing system of distribution was the result of the ideas of the day, especially of the legal system in force. In order to remove this unjust distribution, all that was needed was to invent a juster one, and to convince the world of its advantages. The just system could be no other than the reverse of the existing one. “Today the grossest inequality rules; the principle upon which distribution should be based must be one of equality.” Today the idler rolls in wealth while the laborer starves, so others said: “To each according to his deeds” (or in newer form, “To each the product of his labor”). But doubts arose as to both these formulas, and so arose a third: “To each according to his needs.”

Since then socialists have come to realize that the distribution of products in a community is determined, not by the prevailing legal system, but by the prevailing system of production. The share of the landlord, the capitalist and the wage-earner in the total product of society is determined by the part which land, capital and labor-power play in the present system of production. Certainly in a socialist society the distribution of products will not be left to the working of blind laws concerning the operation of which those concerned are unconscious. As today in a large industrial establishment production and the payment of wages are carefully regulated, so in a socialist society, which is nothing more than a single gigantic industrial concern, the same principle must prevail. The rules according to which the distribution of products is to be carried out will be established by those concerned. Nevertheless, it will not depend upon their pleasure what these rules shall be; they will not be adopted arbitrarily according to this or that “principle,” they will be determined by the actual conditions of society and, above all, by the conditions of production.

For instance, the degree of productivity of labor, at any given time, exercises a great influence upon the manner in which distribution is effected. We can conceive a time when science shall have raised industry to such a high level of productivity that everything wanted by man will be produced in great abundance. In such a case, the formula, “To each according to his needs,” would be applied as a matter of course and without difficulty. On the other hand, not even the profoundest conviction of the justice of this formula would be able to put it into practice if the productivity of labor remained so low that the proceeds of the most excessive toil could produce only the bare necessities. Again, the formula, “To each according to his deeds,” will always be found inapplicable. If it has any meaning at all, it presupposes a distribution of the total product of the commonwealth among its members. This notion, like that of a general division with which the socialist regime is to be ushered in, springs from the modes of thought that are peculiar to the modern system of private property. To distribute all products at stated intervals would be equivalent to the gradual reintroduction of private property in the means of production.

The very principle of socialist production limits the possible distribution to only a portion of the products. All those products which are requisite to the enlargement of production cannot, as a matter of course, be the subject of distribution; and the same holds good with regard to all such products as are intended for common use, i.e., for the establishment, preservation or enlargement of public institutions.

Already in modern society the number and size of such institutions increases steadily. It is in this domain especially that large production crowds down small production. It goes without saying that so far from being checked, this development will be greatly stimulated in a socialist society.

The quantity of products that can be absorbed by private consumption and, accordingly, be turned into private property, must inevitably be a much smaller portion of the total product in a socialist, than in modern, society, where almost all the products are merchandise and private property. In socialist society it is not the bulk of the products, but only the residue, that is distributed.

But even this residue socialist society will not be able to dispose of at will; there, too, the requirements of production will determine the course to be pursued. Such production is undergoing steady changes; the forms and methods of distribution will be subject to manifold changes in a socialist society.

It is entirely utopian to imagine that a special system of distribution is to be manufactured, and that it will stand for all time. In this matter, as little as any other, is socialist society likely to move by leaps and bounds, or start all over anew; it will go on from the point at which capitalist society ceases. The distribution of goods in a socialist society might possibly continue for some time under forms that are essentially developments of the existing system of wage-payment. At any rate, this is the point from which it is bound to start. Just as the forms of wage-labor differ today, not only from time to time, but also in various branches of industry, and in various sections of the country, so also may it happen that in a socialist society the distribution of products may be carried on under a variety of forms corresponding to the various needs of the population and the historical antecedents of the industry. We must not think of the socialist society as something rigid and uniform, but, rather as an organism, constantly developing, rich in possibilities of change, an organism that is to develop naturally from increasing division of labor, commercial exchange, and the dominance of society by science and art.

Next to the thought of “dividing up,” that of “equal shares” troubles the foes of socialism most. “Socialism,” they declare, “proposes that everyone shall have an equal share of the total product; the industrious is to have no more than the lazy; hard and disagreeable labor is to receive no higher reward than that which is light and agreeable; the hod-carrier who has nothing to do but carry the material is to be on a par with the architect himself. Under such circumstances everyone will work as little as possible; no one will perform the hard and disagreeable tasks; knowledge, having ceased to be appreciated, will cease to be cultivated; and the final result will be the relapse of society into barbarism. Consequently, socialism is impracticable.”

The fallacy of this reasoning is too glaring to need exposure. This much may be said: Should socialist society ever decide to decree equality of incomes, and should the effect of such a measure threaten to be the dire one prophesied, the natural result would be, not that socialist production, but that the principle of equality of incomes, would be thrown overboard.

The foes of socialism would be justified in concluding from the equality of incomes that socialism is impracticable if they could prove:

(1) That this equality would be under all circumstances irreconcilable with the progress of production. This they never have, and never can, prove, because the activity of the individual in production does not depend solely upon his remuneration, but upon a great variety of circumstances – his sense of duty, his ambition, his dignity, his pride, etc. – none of which can be the subject of positive prophecy, but only of conjecture, a conjecture which makes against, and not for, the opinion expressed by the opponents of socialism.

(2) That the equality of incomes is so essential to a socialist society that the latter cannot be conceived without the former. The opponents of socialism will find it equally impossible to prove this. A glance over the various forms of communist production from the primitive communism down to the latest communist societies will reveal how manifold are the forms of distribution that are applicable to a community of property in the instruments of production. All forms of modern wage-payment-fixed salaries, piece wages, time wages, bonuses – all of them are reconcilable with the spirit of a socialist society; and there is not one of them that may not play a role in socialist society, as the wants and customs of its members, together with the requirements of production, may demand.

It does not, however, follow from this that the principle of equality of incomes – not necessarily identical with their uniformity – will play no part in socialist society. What is certain is that it will do so not as the aim of a movement for leveling things generally, forcibly, artificially, but as the result of a natural development, a social tendency.

In the capitalist system of production there exist two tendencies, one to increase and the other to decrease the differences in incomes; one to increase, one to diminish inequality. By dissolving the middle classes of society and swelling constantly the size of individual fortunes the capitalist system broadens and deepens the chasm that exists between the masses of the population and those who are at its head, the latter tower higher and higher above the former. Together with this tendency, is noticed another, which, operating within the circle of the masses themselves, steadily equalizes their incomes. It flings the small producers, farmers and manufacturers, into the class of the proletariat, or at least, pushes their incomes down to the proletarian level, and wipes out existing differences among the proletarians themselves. The machine tends steadily to remove all differences which originally appeared in the proletariat. Today the differences in wages among the various strata of labor fluctuate incessantly and come nearer and nearer to a point of uniformity. At the same time, the incomes of the educated proletariat are irresistibly tending downward. The equalization of incomes among the masses – that which the opponents of socialism, with the greatest moral indignation, brand as the purpose of socialism – is going on before their eyes in the society of today.

Under the socialist system, as a matter of course, all those tendencies that sharpen inequalities and that proceed from private ownership in the means of production, would come to an end. On the other hand, the tendency to wipe out inequalities of incomes would find stronger expression. But here, again, the observations made upon the dissolution of existing family forms and the downfall of small production hold good. The tendency of economic development remains in socialist, as in capitalist, society, but it finds a very different expression. Today the equalization of incomes among the mass of the population proceeds by the depression of the higher incomes to the level of the lower ones. In a socialist society it must inevitably proceed by the raising of the lower to the standard of the higher.

The opponents of socialism seek to frighten the small producers and the working-men with the claim that equalization of incomes can mean for them nothing else than a lowering of their condition, because, they say, the incomes of the wealthy classes are not sufficient, if divided among the poor, to preserve the present average income of the working and middle classes; consequently, if there is to be an equality of incomes, the upper classes of workers and the small producers will have to give up part of their incomes, and will thus be the losers under socialism.

Whatever truth there may be in this claim lies in the fact that the wretchedly poor, especially the slum proletariat, are today so numerous and their need so great that to divide among them the immense incomes of the rich would scarcely be enough to make possible for them the existence of a worker of the better-paid class. Whether this is a sufficient reason for preserving our glorious social system may very well be doubted. We are of the opinion, however, that a diminution of the misery, which would be accomplished through such a division, would mean a step forward.

There is, however, no question of “dividing up”; the only question is concerning a change in the method of production. The transformation of the capitalist system of production into the socialist system of production must inevitably result in a rapid increase of the quantity of wealth produced. It must never be lost sight of that the capitalist system of production for sale hinders today the progress of economic development, hinders the full expansion of the productive forces that lie latent in society. Not only is it unable to absorb the small industries as rapidly as the technical development makes possible and desirable, but it has even become impossible for it to employ all the labor forces that are available. The capitalist system of production squanders these forces; it steadily drives increasing numbers of workers into the ranks of the unemployed, the slum proletariat, the parasites and the unproductive middlemen.

Such a state of things would be impossible in a socialist society. It could not fail to find productive labor for all its available labor forces. It would increase, it might even double, the number of productive workers; in the measure in which it did this it would multiply the total wealth produced yearly. This increase in production would be enough in itself to raise the incomes of all workers, not only of the poorest.

Furthermore, since socialist production would promote the absorption of small production by large production and thus increase the productivity of labor, it would be possible, not only to raise the incomes of the workers, but also to shorten the hours of labor.

In view of this, it is foolish to claim that socialism means the equality of pauperism. This is not the equality of socialism; it is the equality of the modern system of production. Socialist production must inevitably improve the condition of all the working classes, including the small industrialist and the small farmer. According to the economic conditions under which the change from capitalism to socialism is effected this improvement will be greater or less, but in any case it will be marked. And every economic advance beyond that will produce an increase, and not, as today, a decrease, in the general well-being.

This change in the tendency of incomes is, in the eyes of socialists, of much more importance than the absolute increase of incomes. The thoughtful man lives more in the future than in the present; what the future threatens or promises preoccupies him more than the enjoyment of the present. Not what is, but what will be, not existing conditions, but tendencies, determine the happiness both of individuals and of whole states.

Thus we become acquainted with another element of superiority in socialist over capitalist society. It affords, not only a greater well-being, but also certainty of livelihood – a security that today the greatest fortune cannot guarantee. If greater well-being affects only those who have hitherto been exploited, security of livelihood is a boon to the present exploiters, whose well-being demands no improvement or is capable of none. Uncertainty hovers over both rich and poor, and it is, perhaps, more trying than want itself. In imagination it forces those to taste the bitterness of want who are not yet subject to it; it is a specter that haunts the palaces of the wealthiest.

All observers who have become acquainted with communist societies, whether they were situated in India, France or America, have been struck with the appearance of calmness, confidence and equanimity peculiar to their members. Independent of the oscillations of the market, and in possession of their own instruments of production, they are self-sufficient; they regulate their labor in accordance with their needs, and they know in advance just what they have to expect. And yet the security enjoyed by these communities is far from being perfect. Their control over nature is slight, the societies themselves are small. Mishaps brought on by diseases of cattle, failures of crops, freshets, etc., are frequent and smite the whole body. Upon how much firmer a basis would a socialist community stand with boundaries co-extensive with those of a nation and with all the conquests of science at its command!

10. Socialism and Freedom.

That a socialist society would afford its members comfort and security has been admitted even by many of the opponents of socialism. “But” they say, “these advantages are bought at too dear a price; they are paid for with a total loss of freedom. The bird in a cage may have sufficient daily food; it also is secure against hunger and the inclemencies of the weather. But it has lost its freedom, and for that reason is a pitiful thing. It yearns for a chance to take its place among the dangers of the outside world, to struggle for its own existence.” They maintain that socialism destroys economic freedom, the freedom of labor that it introduces a despotism in comparison with which the most unrestricted absolutism would be freedom.

So great is the fear of this slavery that even some socialists have been seized with it, and have become anarchists. They have as great a horror of communism as of production for sale, and they attempt to escape both by seeking both. They want to have communism and production for sale together. Theoretically, this is absurd; in practice, it could amount to nothing more than the establishment of voluntary cooperative societies for mutual aid.

It is true that socialist production is irreconcilable with the full freedom of labor, that is, with the freedom of the laborer to work when, where and how he wills. But this freedom of the laborer is irreconcilable with any systematic, co-operative form of labor, whether the form be capitalist or socialist. Freedom of labor is possible only in small production, and even there only up to a certain point. Even where small production is freed from all restrictive regulations, the individual worker still remains a dependent on natural or social conditions; the farmer, for example, on the weather, the artisan on the state of the market. Nevertheless, small production offers the possibility of a certain degree of freedom; this is its ideal, the most revolutionary ideal of which the small bourgeois is capable. A hundred years ago at the time of the French Revolution this ideal was based on industrial conditions. Today it has no economic basis and can persist only in the heads of people who are unable to perceive that an economic revolution has taken place. It is not the socialist who destroy this “freedom of labor,” but the resistless progress of large production. The very ones from whom is heard most frequently the declaration that labor must be free are the capitalists, those who have contributed most to overthrow that freedom.

Freedom of labor has come to an end, not only in the factory, but wherever the individual worker is only a link in a long chain of workers. It does not exist either for the manual worker or for the brain worker employed in any industry. The hospital physician, the school teacher, the railroad employee, the newspaper writer – none of these enjoy the freedom of labor; they are all bound to certain rules, they must all be at their post at a certain hour.

It is true that in one respect the workingman does enjoy freedom under the capitalist system. If the work does not suit him in one factory, he is free to seek work in another; he can change his employer. In a socialist community, where all the means of production are in a single hand, there is but one employer; to change is impossible.

In this respect the wage-earner today has a certain freedom in comparison with the worker in a socialist society, but this cannot be called a freedom of labor. However frequently a worker may change his place of work today, he will not find freedom. In each place the activities of every individual worker are defined and regulated. This has become a technical necessity.

Accordingly, the freedom with the loss of which the worker is threatened in a socialist society is not freedom of labor, but freedom to choose his master. Under the present system this freedom is of no slight importance; it is a protection to the workingman. But even this freedom is gradually destroyed by the progress of capitalism. The increasing number of the unemployed reduces constantly the number of positions that are open and throws upon the labor market more applicants than there are places. The idle workingman is, as a rule, happy if he can secure work of any sort. Furthermore, the increased concentration of the means of production in a few hands has a steady tendency to place over the workingman the same employer or set of employers whichever way he may turn. Inquiry, therefore, shows that what is decried as the wicked and tyrannical purpose of socialism is but the natural tendency of the economic development of modern society.

Socialism will not, and cannot, check this development; but in this as in so many other respects socialism can obviate the evils that accompany the development. It cannot remove the dependence of the working-man upon the mechanism of production in which he is one of the wheels; but it substitutes for the dependence of a working-man upon a capitalist with interests hostile to him a dependence upon a society of which he is himself a member, a society of equal comrades, all of whom have the same interests.

It can be easily understood why a liberal-minded lawyer or author may consider such a dependence unbearable, but it is not unbearable to the modern proletarian, as a glance at the trade union movement will show. The organizations of labor furnish a picture of the “tyranny of the socialist paternal state” of which the opponents of socialism have so much to say. In the organizations of labor the rules under which each member is to work are laid down minutely and enforced strictly. Yet it has never occurred to any member of such an organization that these rules were an unbearable restriction upon his personal liberty. Those who have found it incumbent upon them to defend the freedom of labor against this “terrorism,” and who have done so often with force of arms and bloodshed, were never the working-men, but their exploiters. Poor Freedom! which has today no defenders except slaveholders!

But in a socialist community the lack of freedom in work would not only lose its oppressive character, it would also become the foundation of the highest freedom yet possible to man. This seems a contradiction, but the contradiction is only apparent.

Down to the day when large production began, the labor employed in the production of the necessities of life took up the whole time of those engaged in it; it required the fullest exercise of both body and mind. This was true, not only of the fisherman and the hunter, but also of the farmer, the mechanic and the merchant. The existence of the human being engaged in production was consumed almost wholly by his occupation. It was labor that steeled his sinews and nerves, that quickened his brain and made him anxious to acquire knowledge. But the further division of labor was carried, the more one-sided did it make the producers. Mind and body ceased to exercise themselves in a variety of directions and to develop all their powers. Wholly taken up by incomplete momentary tasks, the producers lost the capacity to comprehend phenomena as organic wholes. A harmonious, well-rounded development of physical and mental powers, a deep concern in the problems of nature and society, a philosophical bent of mind, that is, a searching for the highest truth for its own sake, – none of these could be found under such circumstances, except among those classes who remained free from the necessity of toil. Until the commencement of the era of machinery this was possible only by throwing upon others the burden of labor, by exploiting them. The most ideal, the most philosophic race that history has yet known, the only society of thinkers and artists devoted to science and art for their own sakes, was the Athenian aristocracy, the slave-holding landlords of Athens.

Among them all labor, whether slave or free, was regarded as degrading – and justly so. It was no presumption on the part of Socrates when he said: “Traders and mechanics lack culture. They have no leisure, and without leisure no good education is possible. They learn only what their trade requires of them; knowledge in itself has no attraction for them. They take up arithmetic only for the sake of trade, not for the purpose of acquiring a knowledge of numbers. It is not given to them to strive for higher things. The merchant and mechanic say: ‘The pleasure derived from honor and knowledge is of no value when compared with money-making.’ However skilled smiths, carpenters and shoemakers may be at their trade, most of them are animated only by the souls of slaves; they know not the true nor the beautiful.”

Economic development has advanced since those days. The division of labor has reached a point undreamt of, and the system of production for sale has driven many of the former exploiters and people of culture into the class of producers. Like the mechanics and farmers, the rich also are wholly taken up with their business. They do not now assemble in gymnasiums and academies, but in stock exchanges and markets. The speculations in which they are absorbed do not concern questions of truth and justice, but the prices of wool and whiskey, bonds and coupons. These are the speculations that consume their mental energies. After this “labor” they have neither strength nor taste for any but the most commonplace amusements.

On the other hand, as far as the cultured classes are concerned, their education has become a merchandise. They, too, have neither time nor inclination for disinterested search for truth, for striving after the ideal. Each buries himself in his specialty and considers every moment lost which is spent in learning anything which cannot be turned into money. Hence the movement to abolish Greek and Latin from the secondary schools. Whatever the pedagogic grounds may be for this movement, the teal reason is the desire to have the youth taught only what is “useful,” that is, what can be turned into money. Even among scientific men and artists the instinct after a harmonious development is perceptibly losing ground. On all sides specialists are springing up. Science and art are degraded to the level of a trade. What Socrates said of ancient handicraft now holds good of these pursuits. The philosophic way of looking at things is on the decline – that is, within the classes here considered.

In the meantime, a new sort of labor has sprung up – machine labor; and a new class – the proletariat.

The machine robs labor of all intellectual activity. The working-man at a machine no longer needs to think; all that he has to do is silently to obey the machine. The machine dictates to him what he has to do; he has become an appendage to it. What is said of hand labor applies also, though to a slighter extent, to homework and hand-work done in the factory. The division of labor in the production of a single article among innumerable working-men paves the way for the introduction of machinery.

The first result of the monotony and absence of intellectual activity in the work of the proletarian is the apparent dulling of his mind.

The second result is that he is driven to revolt against excessive hours of work. To him labor is not identical with life; life commences only when labor is at an end. For working-men to whom labor and life were identical, freedom of labor meant freedom of life. The workingman, who lives only when he does not work, can enjoy a free life only by being free from labor. As a matter of course, the efforts of this class of workers cannot be directed to freeing themselves from all labor. Labor is the condition of life. But their efforts will necessarily be directed toward reducing their hours of labor far enough to leave them time to live.

This is one of the principal causes of the struggle on the part of the modern proletariat to shorten the hours of work, a struggle which would have had no meaning to the farmers and mechanics of former social systems. The struggle of the proletariat for shorter hours is not aimed at economic advantages, such as a rise in wages or the reduction of the number of unemployed. The struggle for shorter hours is a struggle for life.

But the unintellectual character of machine work has a third result. The intellectual powers of the proletariat are not exhausted by their labor as are those of other workers; they lie fallow during work. For this reason the craving of the proletarian to exercise his mind outside of his hours of work is just so much the stronger. One of the most remarkable phenomena in modern society is the thirst for knowledge displayed by the proletariat. While all other classes kill their time with the most unintellectual diversions, the proletarian displays a passion for intellectual culture. Only one who has had an opportunity to associate with the proletariat can fully realize the strength of this thirst after knowledge and enlightenment. But even the outsider may imagine it, if he compares the newspapers, magazines and pamphlets of the workers with the literature that finds acceptance in other social circles.

And this thirst for knowledge is entirely disinterested. Knowledge cannot help the worker at a machine to increase his income. He seeks truth for its own sake, not for material profit. Accordingly, he does not limit himself to any one domain of knowledge; he tries to embrace the whole; he seeks to understand the whole of society, the whole world. The most difficult problems attract him most; it is often hard to bring him down from the clouds to solid earth.

It is not the possession of knowledge but the effort to acquire it that makes the philosopher. It is among the despised and ignorant proletariat that the philosophical spirit of the brilliant members of the Athenian aristocracy is revived. But the free development of this spirit is not possible in modern society. The proletariat is without means to instruct itself; it is deprived of opportunities for systematic study, it is exposed to all the dangers and inconveniences of planless self-instruction; above all, it lacks sufficient leisure. Science and art remain to the proletariat a promised land which it looks at from a distance, which it struggles to possess, but which it cannot enter.

Only the triumph of Socialism can render accessible to the proletariat all the sources of culture. Only the triumph of socialism can make possible the reduction of the hours of work to such a point that the working-man can enjoy leisure enough to acquire adequate knowledge. The capitalist system of production wakens the proletarian’s desire for knowledge; the socialist system alone can satisfy it.

It is not the freedom of labor, but the freedom from labor, which in a socialist society the use of machinery makes increasingly possible, that will bring to mankind freedom of life, freedom for artistic and intellectual activity, freedom for the noblest enjoyment.

That blessed, harmonious culture, which has only once appeared in the history of mankind and was then the privilege of a small body of select aristocrats, will become the common property of all civilized nations. What slaves were to the ancient Athenians, machinery will be to modern man. Man will feel all the elevating influences that flow from freedom from productive toil, without being poisoned by the evil influences which, through chattel slavery, finally undermined the Athenian aristocracy. And as the modern means of science and art are vastly superior to those of two thousand years ago, and the civilization of today overshadows that of the little land of Greece, so will the socialist commonwealth outshine in moral greatness and material well-being the most glorious society that history has thus far known.

Happy the man to whom it is given to contribute his strength to the realization of this ideal.


Last updated on 23.11.2003