Christian Rakovsky

Socialism and the Working Class


Published: 13 March 1905
Translation: Patricia Gorky
Source: România Muncitoare, 13 March 1905
HTML: Joonas Laine
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2019

What is socialism?

Socialism is the sole solution, the only one on a scientific basis, the only one that follows the evolution of economics, to the major problems which dominate over all others and which is called the social question, meaning the question of poverty, the question of exploited labor.

The scope of the efforts of an internationalist social party are known: socialists hold that the exploitation of labor, with all of its consequences of the political, moral and intellectual order, will not disappear until the day the means of production –– land, machinery, and in general all that serves production –– will be transformed from private property into public property.

Even from this summary definition, workers can understand just how deeply socialism is in their interest. Even if they are not socialists, workers cannot remain apathetic in the face of a party who tells them: only we bring the cure to the abuses that you suffer in society. Thus, it is of absolute necessity for a worker who cares about his fate and the fate of his class to know socialist doctrine and its methods of struggle. And, any worker who closely investigates our teachings will be quickly convinced that they need to become a socialist, not only because in these teachings they will find the satisfaction of their class interests, but also because socialism is the final word to real economic sciences, and because the inexorable law of social evolution itself pushes humanity towards the phase of socialist property.

Here I feel that an objection could be made, which I have to prevent. "How is it possible" –– one could say to me –– "that socialism, which is a real science and that claims to have the final word to modern political economy, how can it be that socialism searches for its members among workers, who in general are less enlightened than the ruling classes.” [...]

To this objection I will respond with the words of English philosopher Hobbes: If during the computation that two plus two make four, there were to enter a selfish interest, then half of people would support that two plus two make five. But precisely the so-called social truths, being that they relate to economic, political and religious establishments; they closely touch on each of these interests, whether their own individual interest or that of their class.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the educated do not know socialism: their class interests, habits and prejudices push them towards other investigations rather than towards those that apply to socialism. [...] As it stands today, obscure workers are the champions of truth, because their class interests especially are the interests of social science itself. The working class can be proud of its role. Only the working class has the ability to lift itself determined in the face of all these presumptuous and fool diplomats, and to tell them: how vile your class-based science is, that hides its face so that it cannot see the sad realities of life.

Why do socialists hold that only with the socialization of the means of production can we find the solution to the social question? But first, what is the social question? If we investigate thoroughly the society in which we live , we will strike upon a fact that becomes ever more constant, ever more universal, and which repeats itself across all branches of social production. We speak of the contradiction, of the continued struggle that exists between the two principal factors of any kind of economic progress: labor itself, on the one hand, and the instruments of labor, on the other. And by "the instruments of labor", we must understand this to mean as all that serves production (aside from the labor of the worker): machinery, tools, land, raw materials, means of transport, in a word, all that is called capital in the economic game. Therefore, on one side we have labor disarmed and alone, represented by the working class, and on the other side all-powerful capital, under the control of the capitalist class.

This situation is especially characteristic of modern capitalist society. Primitive communist society did not know a single antagonism between the means of labor and labor itself, because both were under the control of all of society. Ancient society and feudal society experienced this antagonism only in part. It is a dominant fact that this antagonism did not exist but in agriculture, to which was reduced almost all of economic life of this epoch. But in the skilled crafts, and in the small industry from that time, we see everywhere that labor and the instruments of labor are found in the same person. Shoemakers, tailors, roofers and all other skilled craftsmen were at the same time workers and owners, and, in most cases, the only labor they exploited was their own.

As for this former harmony between labor and the means of labor, capitalism has put an end to it, or is on the verge of putting an end to it. To produce these deep changes in the economic relations between people necessitated the apparition of mechanization, the great development of international commerce, and the major role that credit, i.e. money, has begun to play.

We can not even speak in passing in this article of the historical development of these factors of production. We remain content to only make a note of this, leaving us to take up this explanation another time. What especially interests us is are the results of this historical development. This disappearance of labor from the means of labor, to whom is this owed if not mechanization. Machines with steam or with electricity guided the industrialization of the skilled crafts, the creation of major production, the large workshop, and the large plants towards whom all of the economic life of the country now straightens. The numerical figures demonstrate this to us, and I shall avail myself of our industrial statistics. Thus, from the motive forces of 60,744 horsepower that is used by the small and large industry in Romania, 45,211 belong to major industry, represented by 625 establishments. Here, as in other countries, major industry increases its monopolization of industrial production.

And the results? They are apparent. The constant and fatal dwindling of the small independent producers, whom mechanization, having wrested their old tools from them and dispossessed them of their property, casts them into the ranks of the wage-earner.

Mighty capital, well-armed with machinery and other advantages which it can procure, dominates the small workshop, who either disappears or continues a shameful vegetation in his own precarity. The number of owners decreases, and that of the wage-earner, the dispossessed, increases, and when socialists say that that the law of the concentration of capital is at the same time the negation of property and the destruction of the sentiment of ownership, they do not speak a paradox, but a truth. Also, when socialists claim that capitalism itself prepares the masses for the socialist regime, destroying through its brutal competition the notion and sentiment of owner, they are found again in reality.

The role of capitalism does not stop here. It does not satisfy itself to take the instruments of labor from the hands of the antiquated independent manufacturer. This arrives in the hands of the capitalist as a means of exploitation and of oppression. The old obedient tools with which the worker subjugated his creative power to the raw materials that Nature has placed within reach, now transformed into a great machine, today becomes his enemy. The machine usefully replacing the necessary labor of the worker, slashes his salary when he is allowed to work, and throws the worker into the street when an improvement makes this machine more productive. This is how appeared the reserve army of labor, meaning the thousands of workers who, remaining without work, are reduced, to the utmost shame of our so-called civilized society, to begging, to dishonor/disgrace and to crime.

We stop here to pass to the second part of the problem.

We saw that the social question stays in a state of forced separation of and in antagonism between labor and the means of labor. And, when we reduce the problem to its most realistic expression, we favor the finding of the solution. Because, is it not therefore an evident fact that this solution is found in the re-establishment of harmony between the two factors of production? But for this, is it really/therefore necessary for us to go back to the old forms?

Furthermore, workers, seeing all of the evils that machinery has brought, would destroy them and interrupt their introduction. And with all of this, what powerful factors for the material betterment of life has been mechanization! And what unknown abundance until them have they brought to the productivity of human labor!

Returning to the old forms, to the marginalized life of domestic industry and to the patriarchal customs of the past, would mean the negation of whatever scientific and technical progress, would mean the destruction of the immense richness accumulated from the efforts of millions and millions of proletarians, in a word, it would be the negation of civilization itself.

Here intervenes the socialist solution, collective property concerning the means of labor. Thus would disappear, on the one hand, the antagonism between the two factors that will serve towards the same scope and will be resolved in the same person of the producer –– the entire society –– and, on the other hand, all technical research will not only be preserved, but also enriched.

With this we turn towards the deep thought of the great socialist Saint-Simon: the happiness of the human race is not in the past, but in the future.

Dr. C. Racovski