Austin Lewis

The Economic Interpretation of History
and the Practical Socialist Movement

(April 1907)


Source: From International Socialist Review, Vol. 7 No. 10, April 1907, pp. 608–622.
Transcription: Matthew Siegfried.
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IT IS not my purpose to enter into a discussion of the Economic Interpretation of History with the intention of endeavoring to establish its correctness, nor even to investigate the arguments pro and con which have been urged upon both sides of the question in recent years. I shall only call attention to the main thesis and to such discussion of it as has occurred in the United States so as to illustrate its effects on current political life and, in particular, on the constitution and objects of the socialist movement.

Let us first take the statement of the theory in its pure form as expressed in the Communist Manifesto for this still remains as the clearest and most unmistakable formulation of it.

“In every historical epoch the prevailing mode of production and exchange and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis on which is built up and from which alone can be explained the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes.”

This term “economic production and exchange” having been too narrowly interpreted so as to mean changes in the technique of economic production has been further defined as follows by Engels in one of his letters to the Sozialistische Akademiker in which he says:

“We understand by the economic relations which we regard as the determining basis of the history of society, the methods by which the members of a given society produce their means of support and exchange the products among each other, so far as the division of labor exists. The whole technique of production and transportation is thus included. Furthermore, the technique, according to our point of view determines the methods of exchange, the distribution of products, and hence after the dissolution of gentile society into classes the relation of personal control and subjection, and thus the existence of the state, of politics, of law, etc. Although technique is mainly dependent on the condition of science, it is still more true that science depends on the condition and needs of technique. A technical want felt by society is more of an impetus to science than ten universities.”

This statement fell flat, I mean the general statement with regard to the influence upon institutions and governments of economic conditions, and the reference of all social development and the antagonisms involved in such development to a material and economic basis. The most fruitful of all the ideas propounded by the great man whose real greatness is only just coming to be understood, was far in advance of his time, and it is doubtful if it could have been comprehended even by the more intelligent of his contemporaries, to whom such a point of view was so outré, so beyond their preconceived notions and training, as to be almost grotesque. History and philosophy were both wrapped in a cloudy idealism, a sort of mystical belief in the permanence of certain fundamental ideas of truth, goodness and beauty, which like the cherubin with flaming swords marked the confines of the political Garden of Eden so that such a plain and, one may say, common sense idea would have been scouted as heretic and irreverent. Of course we know that Marx himself arrived at the conclusion as a philosophic result of his attitude to the Hegelian philosophy and more especially in pursuit of certain notions which the reading of Feuerbach had produced in him, as can be readily seen by an examination of the short notes which he made and which Engels has appended to his own criticism of that writer. The genius of Marx therefore raised out of the dry bones of the preposterous Hegelianism that living theory which is to-day dominant in the academic world and at the same time finds a rough practical interpretation and objectivity in the proletarian movement.

One reason for the neglect with which the theory was received is to be found in the method of writing history, which at the very best but aimed to show the triumph of certain ideas at certain periods, and treated of humanity as climbing stage by stage from one abstraction to another. It is precisely this point of view which you will hear expounded in the average protestant pulpit, even at the present day, when the minister wishes to illustrate the working of the Divine Will through the centuries. But then the theologians always have carte blanche to be at least fifty years behind the times. It is the boast of protestant liberalism that it is not more than fifty, just as it is the boast of Catholicism that it is not less than nineteen hundred years in the rear.

Ten years after Marx had stated this theory in its rough shape Buckle started his ambitious attempt to construct a history of peoples based upon a material, but not an economic, conception of social growth, and, though he was by no means successful, the followers of Marx were grateful for even small mercies, and those who were in the socialist movement in the late eighties will remember that students were always recommended to read Buckle in connection with Marx and Engels. For my own part, I could never see that we derived much benefit from it except perhaps that it taught us to look at a people as a whole and helped to draw our attention from the play of governments and the schemes and counter schemes of politicians. It certainly made a very welcome oasis in the dreary desert of constitutional history and the study of comparative jurisprudence as part of general historical training.

Later on in the seventies, however, an American, Lewis, Morgan, published a work called Ancient Society, founded in the first place on personal investigations of certain Iroquois Indian organizations, which treated history in a new manner and incidentally furnished much material in support of the doctrine of Marx and Engels. The socialists were the first to see the value of Morgan’s contribution, and have pushed it wherever possible, in fact they always keep it on sale. Engels made a sort of abstract of the work which he published under the title The Origin of the Family. It may be mentioned by the way that his treatment of the work in this fashion has lately been the subject of considerable adverse criticism in the British socialist press.

But no real controversy on this question really took place until the Social Democratic party of Germany took up the matter in 1890 and, forthwith, a fierce dispute took place which treated the younger generation to an entirely new view of history and morals. On the one side were social democrats, with the accent on the democrat, the representatives of the petty bourgeois element which had always formed such a conspicuous part of the movement, the element which first carried the red flag in the Paris revolt of 1848 and had proved its incompetency in the failure of the Paris Commune. On the other side were the socialists proper, the proletariat, that new class which has arisen by virtue of modern social conditions. The conflict proceeded on its academic side with much scattering of pamphlets and all the extravagance of language, and distortion of fact which mark a contest of this description, but step by step the sentimentalists were driven back, the Marxists winning all along the line. Other countries naturally became involved in the fight, for it is a natural antagonism, produced by economic conditions and must of necessity occur wherever the modern system penetrates. The result has been the accumulation of vast masses of historical material in support of the theory. The overhauling of records and historical phenomena, particularly with respect to primitive institutions, has been from the point of view of the scholar simply invaluable. It is very doubtful if the universities really recognize how much they owe to the discussion of academic socialism in this respect. To this accumulation most of the nations have made contributions, of most of which it may be said, however, as the old Scotch lady said of the minister’s commentary, “the old Bible made the commentary a great deal clearer.” These controversies have made themselves felt everywhere in the practical movement. The conflicting ideas result in struggles for the possession of the organization of socialist parties. The socialist movement everywhere has been agitated by controversy wherever the doctrine here discussed has come to be recognized and a definite application of it has been sought.

The discussion has spread to the United States where the theory of the economic interpretation has been almost enthusiastically adopted by a large number of the progressive university men, while the trend of economic events has prepared the popular mind as far as the popular mind ever bothers with abstractions, for its reception. Indeed, the recent history of this country has produced a condition of mind which renders the average citizen glad to hear a formulated statement of that which has for a long time been knocking at his own consciousness. He has an uneasy feeling that the country is not the country as he was taught to consider it, that the virtue appears to have gone out of its republican institutions, and that this political change has been simultaneous with a complete economic change. As at instance of this I may mention that I happened quite casually to speak of two economic interpretations in the course of conversation with a certain judge, who had been educated in the old school and was well stocked with all those phrases which, mystical and seductive as they are, have made of our politics a sort of opera bouffe with all the fun left out. His trained mind at once saw what was involved in the statement and his intelligence and practical experience caused him to understand the idea forthwith. This is only an instance, and I have met many, of the readiness with which the average American will accept the theory, and the eagerness even, which he shows in its adoption.

That this is so has been evidenced by the ever-increasing numbers of articles in the leading reviews showing this bias, but it cannot be said that these articles have so far had any practical value. As a rule they show no scholarly grasp of the subject but a desire on the part of the authors to run after a new notion and to make the most of a sensation rather than a serious and earnest purpose to investigate phenomena in the light of this new theory. Such articles have dealt with isolated phenomena like the Spanish American War and their authors have fancied that they have accomplished something when they have shown that that war was conducted in the interests of the greater capitalism.

The best account of the theory published in English is that by Professor Seligman which put the matter in fair light and has given students an opportunity to grasp the full significance of the idea. But this work is disfigured by a too evident desire of the writer to keep his skirts clear of the taint of socialism, and its endeavors to make two Marxes, one, the genius who propounded the theory of economic determinism, the other, the silly charlatan whose advocacy of socialism is proof of his inborn incompetence, lead him into funny little bogs of unreason and force him to the making of some most illogical and even ridiculous assertions.

But Professor Veblen in his recent work entitled, The Theory of Business Enterprise practically takes the theory as true, and in fact his whole view of the social and political relations rests upon and is inseparable from a recognition of the importance of the economic factor. Thus he says:

”Popular welfare is bound up with the conduct of business because industry is managed for business ends, and also because there prevails throughout modern communities a settled habit of rating the means of livelihood and the amenities of life in pecuniary terms. But apart from their effect in controlling the terms of livelihood from day to day, these principles are also in a great measure decisive in the larger affairs of life both for the individual in his civil relations and for the community at large in its political concerns. Modern (civilized) institutions rest in great part on business principles. This is the meaning, as applied to the modern situation, of the current phrases about the Economic Interpretation of History and the Materialistic Theory of History.”


“Modern politics is business politics This is true both of domestic and foreign policy. Legislation, police-surveillance, the administration of justice, the military and diplomatic service, all are chiefly concerned with business relations, pecuniary interests, and they have little more than incidental bearing on other human interests.”

And again, with respect to the comparative values of ethical and economic considerations, the same writer declares:

“It is not a question of what ought to be done but of what is the course laid out by business principles; the discretion rests with the business men; not with the moralists, and the business man’s discretion is burdened by the exigencies of business enterprise. Even the business men cannot allow themselves to play fast and loose with business principles in response to a call from humanitarian motives.”

So that we may consider the point of view of the economic doctrine sufficiently widely received and firmly enough established at the present to accept it at least as provisionally true for the purposes which we have in hand, or at all events not so utterly incongruous with probabilities as to render an analysis of present conditions, with this theory as a guide, preposterously unreasonable. It may be mentioned, however, in passing that the natural result of the reception of the theory at the hands of both bourgeois and socialists has been a tendency to overestimate its scope, and by making the economic factor the sole factor of social development, to set up a doctrine of economic determinism which could only be tenable by distortion of terms, and certainly was far from the thought of the first propounders of the theory. We do not need to claim that the economic factor is the sole factor, it is sufficient to point out that it is probably the sole constant factor, though even this is perhaps an unnecessary straining of the limits of the doctrine.

To say that it is the dominant factor will be found sufficient for all practical purposes and avoids a tremendous amount of unnecessary argument.

Now, if we grant the terms of the theory as set forth we are involved in a practical matter and one which is of the gravest importance when we come to consider economic conditions, one moreover which cannot be overlooked as it furnishes the key to politics and shows the path of progress. There is but one factor which, in the United States, at all events, can have the effect of ranging men into hostile classes and of precipitating that intellectual, and possibly material, conflict upon the result of which depend the further development of the people of this country and its social and moral welfare. No other factor than the economic factor could range the people into opposing classes. We have practically political equality, and no conflict can possibly arise owing to the possession by one set of men of political privileges which are not enjoyed by another. In respect of moral or intellectual equality, the wise do not form political organizations against the wise, nor the good against the bad or vice versa. There is just one inequality on which men fasten their attention and which by virtue of its existence has the power to draw men into conflicting classes, gives them class watchwords and class aims, and aligns them for a struggle in order to determine which of the contending classes shall possess the control of the economic power. Thus we find that the country which has granted the greatest amount of individual liberty to its citizens and is at the same time the most clear from the traditional class distinctions, is itself divided into classes which gather themselves round this economic phenomenon.

And that the country is divided into economic classes nobody will venture to deny. It stares at you from the headlines of the newspapers, it confronts you at every turn. Even the President himself, who is generally able to close his eyes to the unpleasant fact, feels called upon to notice it and in a recent speech has said,

“No republic can permanently exist when it becomes a republic of classes, where the man feels not the interest of the whole people, but the interest of the particular class to which he belongs as being of prime importance. In antiquity republics failed as they did because they tended to become either a republic of the few who exploited the many, or a republic of the many who plundered the few, and in either case the end of the republic was never in doubt, just so in one case as in the other and no more so in one than in the other. We can keep this Republic true to the principles of those who founded it and of those who afterwards preserved it, we can keep it up a republic only by remembering that we must live up to the theory of its founders, to the theory of treating each man on his worth as a man, neither holding it for or against him that he occupies any particular station in life, so long as he does his duty fairly and well by his fellows and by the Nation as a whole.”

Thus the President voices his alarm at the growing feeling of alienation between various sections of the community, interprets the conditions in terms which are now obsolete appeals to traditions which we are already setting aside in our universities and which have long been practically ignored on the street and in the forum, and as a panacea for the growing discontent offers us a moral gospel based upon the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, interpreted in terms of an individualism which has been exploded these many years. Place the statement of the President by the side of the plain dry words of Professor Veblen which I quoted and the contradiction is palpably obvious. But the President is perfectly right in one respect, the Republic cannot continue to exist in face of a class war, that is the Republic as he understands it, the Republic of a hundred years ago. As a matter of fact it is dead already for under the forms of the old republic there thrives a moneyed oligarchy under whose influence law is made and war or peace declared. An oligarchy is no less an oligarchy because it rests on universal suffrage any more than the Empire of Napoleon the Third was any the less an Empire because universal suffrage lay at its base, or than Kaiser Wilhelm is any less a War Lord because his subjects have at stated intervals the power of recording their vote. There are therefore economic classes in the United States, classes with conflicting interests. It is not possible to regard the people of the country as an entity, as an undivided whole which can progress simultaneously along moral paths, and of whom it may be truly said, the benefit of one is the benefit of all and the injury of one the calamity of the nation. As a matter of fact the benefits of one class in the community are obtained at the expense of another class or, perhaps, it would be better to say other classes in the community. The economic advantage of one element is by the economic deterioration of another element, and hence occurs an antagonism which has economic foundations, an antagonism which must find its expression.

It may be suggested that if this antagonism is recognized some means may be found which will reconcile the warring elements, and all sorts of expedients have been suggested. The Christians, for example, generally urge submission upon the element which feels the weight of the economic power, and resignation to worldly oppression for the sake of moral development The Comtists on the other hand, have preached the humanizing of the rich and the recognition on the part of the economic strong of duties to Humanity. Neither of these moral schools have so far appeared to have accomplished much, for the simple reason that neither side to the controversy is its own master. They are both equally in the grip of economic force, just as thoroughly as were Mr. Shaw’s characters in the grip of the “life force.”

These antagonisms then existing, and having for their basis economic antagonisms, it should follow from our theory, if it is correct, that these divergences and antagonisms find a mirror in the political world. One of the advantages of the democratic system is that it affords a ready opportunity of roughly gauging the political tendencies at a given time by the votes which are cast in favor of certain, principles. An examination of present-day politics in the United States will show that these economic antagonisms are writing themselves into political history and that the alignment of political parties is according to their acquiescence in or opposition to the dominant economic power. Hence we find a party in power which is the direct exponent of the interests of the dominating economic power. This party undertakes the task of aggrandizing and securing the power of the economically superior, and by the enactment of strong tariff legislation and in other ways aids it in obtaining that greater share of the product which always falls to the lot of the already powerful and in fact signalizes their power.

On the other hand we find a class which feels that it is losing ground and which, with much the same sentimental notions with respect to the Republic as Mr. Roosevelt, still differs from him. For, whereas the President finds in the Republic of to-day, always provided that the status quo is not disturbed, the counterpart of the Republic of the founders, the opposition party cries loudly that a fundamental difference does exist, and that the only remedy is to be found in the restoration of the Republic of their forefathers. Hence they cry loudly for the democracy of Jefferson, which they fail to perceive is as obsolete as the mastodon. They have not learnt that society is constantly changing, a part of the universal process, and that no static government can be instituted which will defy the ravages of time and the operation of economic evolution. Their views are as jejune as those of the President, but much more mischievous, for whereas the present economic dominant power is in the very nature of things destined to develop into something other, and hence forms but a step in the social, industrial and intellectual development of the country, the victory of the opposing political party would simply mean a backward step and the undoing of much that has hitherto been done. But, as we have already remarked, societies do not travel backward, and hence the party which puts its faith in the individualistic doctrines of the Jeffersonian school is doomed. But that this party has an economic foundation for its existence is sufficiently obvious to those who read its programs and editorials. The predatory trusts, the thieving corporations, the greedy railroads, the monopolistic tendency of modern commercialism are the objects against which its wrath is most energetically hurled. It feels that the man, the individual, the very crux of this philosophy, is being crushed out of existence and it would snatch him from under the wheels of the economic juggernaut. But it may save itself the trouble. The individual man had practically died when the tool developed into the machine and the individual had, by virtue of that fact, become lost in society, just as the work which he put into a piece of fabric was lost in the general product of all the other individuals co-operating in its production in the factory.

It is obvious, however, that though the economic interests of the two classes described are antagonistic, their antagonism is not theoretically irreconcilable, for both of them rest upon the same economic foundations, and consequently hold the same political philosophy. Each party seeks to advance its economic interests within the confines of the present society, neither holds views which are antagonistic to the recognized concepts of social organization. It is true that the one party succeeds, economically, and the other does not; that the economic power of the other is on the decline. But they each appeal to the same legal and philosophic sanctions, each supports the doctrine of liberty of the individual to make contracts and to own property, each regards society, not as the unit, but as an aggregation of units, these units being individuals, who have parted with some of their rights for the advantages of social organization, but who retain indisputably those rights which have been described in the somewhat hyperbolic language of the Declaration, as the “Right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But there is another economic class whose economic position renders it unable to accept this philosophy of law and government, and which, by virtue of its very existence is bound to challenge these concepts, that is to antagonize the concepts upon which all modern liberal states have framed their laws and administer their governments, and this class is itself a product of the very conditions against which it is compelled to protest. It has no interest in the theory which recognizes the power of the individual to make individual contracts. Its members are helpless when they come to make contracts as individuals. They are powerless, except as members of organized groups, into which they have been forced, not because of any wisdom or foresight on their part, but because their work has thrown them pell mell into factories and workshops where they have been compelled to associate. They have been obliged to develop a class consciousness and solidarity by reason of this association to which they are driven by the conditions under which they labor. Hence their attitude, latent, for the most part, it is true, but brought into consciousness when the matter is explained to them, is as regards the existing state, revolutionary. They seek to mirror that association which they have been compelled to form on the economic field in the government. They have no interests in the maintenance of property rights, which the law recognizes, because they have no property. They simply possess their labor force which they sell from day to day. The price which they obtain for that labor force is not dependent on their strength or skill as individuals, generally speaking, but simply upon the power of their associations, upon the strength which they are able to bring to bear upon their employers by and through their organizations. The very nature of their work moreover is inimical to the individualistic idea. They labor not in their own strength, but by virtue of the strength of their associated fellows. Their product is not their own product but the product of associated effort. The rewards of their toil are not the rewards of individual effort, but the terms which their associated strength has managed to wring from the possessor of the machine without which they are not able to earn a living. The ownership of these by individuals, real or fictitious, in accordance with the laws of private property, upon which rests the present social structure, separates them from the ownership of themselves. They recognize in the legally established rights of private property, the force which deprives them of their own existence as individuals, for, when they sell their labor power they sell themselves.

Here we come to the antithesis in modern society, here is the essential antagonism which cannot be bridged. Either the dominant power must maintain its dominance and so doing perpetuate an industrial slavery, in which case society would tend to become stationary, and so perish, or it must be overthrown by the new power which has arisen in the objective phenomenon of associated proletariat. Of course between these two extreme possibilities lies the possibility of a host of compromises. Though it must be considered that no compromise is a settlement, for in such a case also we should arrive at a stationary condition of society which means death. The intellectual, social and political progress of the nation, depends upon a continuance of the conflict. But every compromise implies a weakening of the fundamental doctrines upon which the present state rests, and constitutes for all the purposes of the student of history a step in a definitive revolution. Hence, as the philosophy underlying the present republic is a philosophy of individualism, so the philosophy underlying the revolutionary movement is one of association, a philosophy which has received the name socialism.

It must be noted here, however, that these two opposing philosophies regard the state from very different standpoints. The modern state was founded in the name of certain abstract ideals, and hence has come to be regarded as an ideal representative of society, a sort of impeccable, untouchable holy of holies. According to some writers indeed it carries almost a mystical character. This notion of the state is also explainable from an economic position, but there is here no opportunity of examining it from that standpoint. To the proletarians, however, the state merely represents an instrument, a developed social tool, which at present accomplishes the work of its proprietors, the economic masters, as it will accomplish the work of the revolutionists when they become economic masters in their turn. In their hands it loses all ideal qualities and becomes a simple register of force and a means for the employment of force by the party which has the control of it. This idea of the state rises from the position of economic inferiority which they occupy and in which they have realized to the full how the power of the State is employed against them, in defiance of all those abstract qualities of liberty and equity with which it has been endowed by its present possessors. In their associations these working people have had to institute governments on their own account, they have learned roughly the scope and limitations of such governments and measure all governments in terms of their experience, for when the force of economic evolution drove the proletariat to the formation of organizations it also drove him to make governments for those organizations.

So we have arrived at the economic reasons for the existence of the philosophy of socialism and the attitude which that philosophy adopts to the foundations of modern society and the state. But we have to push our inquiry still a step further. Behind the socialist philosophy stand the individual men of whose brains it is a product and who seek to realize the philosophic concepts in actual facts, that is to impress them upon the law and politics of their time. These men form themselves into associations and the course taken by these associations in pursuance of their objects political, social, and ethical is termed the socialist movement.

Now it might be supposed that these people being so associated and having a common aim would be agreed at least upon the main lines of their advance. But, as a matter of fact this movement, wherever it has spread, has been divided into two sharply distinguished parties. And here again, we may employ our doctrine and arrive at an explanation of this phenomenon also by means of the economic formula.

Referring to the statement from the Communist Manifesto, again, we see that social progress has been the result of the conflict waged by an economically oppressed class against its oppressors. Hence socialism as the philosophy of the oppressed appeals to the idealistic and poetically minded people belonging to classes other than the proletarian. These classes enter the movement with their idealistic views and the bourgeois intellects. Now one way in which the antagonism existing to a given state of society is made evident is by picturing a condition of society which is the entire opposite of that which has provoked the antagonism. Thus to the feudal system we get contrasted pictures of a perfectly free state, in which the individual is unshackled by all the bonds of feudal superiority and caste, a state of anarchy, in short, using the term, not in its popular but in its philosophic sense. So the present conditions of society are denounced inferentially by the picturing of a state of society differing from the present in every essential particular, a state in which competition and individualism no longer exist, but are abolished, the details of which imaginary conditions of society vary according to the whim of the individual writer, from the poetic Arcadia which William Morris drew in his News from Nowhere to the shoddy picture of the vulgar bourgeois socialistic ideal of Looking Backward. Forthwith our bourgeois friends proceed to realize their model State. They go into the wilderness, like Owen, there to found a new society or they merely form clubs and pass resolutions like the American Bellamyites. But with these vagaries the proletarian has nothing to do. And their propaganda like all purely idealistic propaganda proves abortive. Sometimes it proves to be even worse, especially when the advocates of Utopias plan violent revolts against political systems, and under certain circumstances, get a proletarian following. Then the modern state puts forth the strong hand against such immature enterprises and death and destruction mark the path of the amiable dreamers who have taken the sword and proved their incapacity for anything but platform heroics. Such was the Commune of Paris, the leaders of which were well meaning idealistic bourgeois men of much feeling and some talent, but, for the most part hopelessly incapable and without the least appreciation of the real strength and meaning of the socialist philosophy. This class is, however, too small to have any effect upon the movement in its recent developments particularly as the proletarian clement is becoming better educated and economic conditions are having an effect upon the mental structure of its members.

There is a still larger and more important class which is generally termed the petty bourgeoisie. This class is very nearly proletarian but not quite so. It consists to a great extent of small industries, clerks, unsuccessful member of the professions and incompetents of the middle classes, who, being unable to make their way, under existing conditions, in the society in which they have been reared have flocked into the ranks of the socialist army and constitute in a large number of instances the public exponents of the socialistic movement. The small traders and others whom we have mentioned in that category are to a large extent people who make their living by supplying the needs of the proletarians, keeping small stores, small saloons, and following other occupations which bring them into close touch with the proletarian class. In fact very many of them have been proletarians but for some reason or other have left the ranks of the wage-earning classes and set up for themselves, very frequently making less money than the proletarians and being often in a much more precarious position, as their occupations are constantly threatened by the competition of the great firms which in their turn are part of the capitalist class against which the propaganda of the movement is directed. These two classes the idealists and the petty bourgeois formed the first adherents of the socialist movement, they and a number of workingmen by no means typical of their class, peculiar people, in fact, just as peculiar as those members of the middle classes who take up with unconventional religions. As a matter of fact, socialism was with these people a sort of religion of a materialistic kind, their meetings were and as a matter of fact are to-day a sort of dogmatic clubs, “where the balm of human ills is found in the recital of certain “formulas, and the Co-operative Commonwealth represents the summum bonum, a sort of Kingdom of Heaven.

These people are enamored of a certain concrete thing which “they call socialism. But they are shrewd bargainers and are ready to take anything that comes, hence they constitute what is called the opportunist wing of the socialist movement which tinder the leadership of Jaurès in France, Bernstein in Germany, and Turati in Italy are trying to make terms with the capitalistic state and to obtain specific reforms, none of which it will be seen go to the amelioration of the conditions of the working class as the working class, but tend to relieve the small bourgeois of certain burdens which he desires to throw off at the expense of the greater capitalist. This attack upon the greater capitalism enables the opportunist to still retain the socialist name, and gains for him a certain electoral support among the proletarians who are not informed on matters economic but are willing to throw in their lot with anything which smacks of socialism.

The war between these people and the conscious proletarians is today agitating every division of the socialist movement in every country. Every organization which contains these two elements resolves itself into two parties. The reason for the division is not always obvious but there it is and it has come to be recognized. So closely, in fact, do the qualities of the combatants, correspond with their several economic environments, that one may classify the vote on a given question in advance by knowing the economic character of the voters. The elements which gather round the exponents of the two opposing tendencies are always the same. Every program bears the marks of the controversy, every political utterance of the party at large in this country varies as one or other element is in the ascendancy.

It is easy to discover the economic basis of the proletarian class. It is the product of the machine industry and its mental characteristics are influenced by the environment in which it labors. Its work at the machine has given it a materialistic rather than idealistic trend. It has a peculiarly logical disposition produced as Professor Veblen points out by always working from cause to effect and being continually engaged in a coordinated process every step of which tends to a desired logical result, and which affords no play for the emotions or the imagination. This class by virtue of the necessities of the modern industry and the political system which they have produced and which places individuals on a footing of practical equality, receives an education, and the first generation of these educated proletarians is coming into the socialist ranks, and finding the petty bourgeois in possession forthwith opens a conflict with him for the control of the movement. The proletarian brings his peculiar mentality and his lack of patience with ideals, he does not project his imagination into dreams of the Co-operative Commonwealth. He sees that the capitalistic system is the enemy and he is prepared to give battle to the system and to employ against the capitalistic class the tool of society, the government, precisely as in earlier stages of his fight he has employed the strike and the boycott against the individual capitalist. He refuses any compromises unless they be of such a nature as directly affect his own personal welfare or that of his children, but as such compromises would go to the very root of the system and could not be acquiesced in by the class in possession, since they would materially affect the sources of its power, he is revolutionary in his politics. And this attitude too it will be observed is the direct product of his peculiar economic environment.

Thus by empirical investigation of the facts of political life we arrive at the conclusion that the economic interpretation is at least a rough guide to the explanation of those political differences upon which the vitality of public life depends and is even explanatory of the essential and vital differences which agitate the organizations of the socialist movement.

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