The Survival of the Fittest. Is Socialism the Gospel of the Unfit?
Twenty years ago the principles of Socialism were certainly most imperfectly understood by the mass of the people, but the recent article in the Daily Mail entitled “The Gospel of the Unfit,” shows also that a large number of educated men are still ignorant of its simplest elements. Mr. Percival Gibbon, confused no doubt by the fact that every philanthropist and “labour leader” or any one else who expresses sympathy with the poor and oppressed, is dubbed a Socialist, has hardly grappled the “pure principle of Socialism” of which he writes. He is undoubtedly correct in his assumption that the Cause has attracted to its ranks many would-be politicians who find therein an outlet for their own personal ambitions, and who, obtaining a following, use the power thus obtained for their own ends. This is a parasitic growth common to all great movements ; and in all countries it has been recognised by the Socialist parties as unavoidable. Meanwhile the Revisionists and “labour leaders” are being vigourously attacked; the Liberal, who tries to conceal his identity under a cloak of Socialism, is like the ass in the lion’s skin, and betrays himself when he begins to bray.
The false idea of Socialism is still further increased by the action of that Press which sees Socialism in every measure touching the working-class. Even the late Labour Ministry in Australia was described as “Socialist,” despite the absence from the Senate and House of Reprsentatives of a single Socialist member.
It is admitted that these misleading statements have rivetted the attention of the public on self-seeking individuals to the neglect of the “pure principles of Socialism.” This, too, Mr. Gibbon finds “noxious and hostile to the natural tendency of the human race to growth in all directions,” for, “by opposing the law of the survival of the fittest it rallies the unfit to its side.”
This statement is the portion of Mr. Gibbon’s article which needs serious consideration. Now. if this hostility to Nature be really present, the scientists—and there are many—who support Socialism must be in a somewhat difficult position, for it is on scientific grounds that the Socialist bases his principles, and it is from the Theory of Evolution that he draws his conclusions ; in fact the Theory of Evolution forms the bed-rock of his Economics and Philosophy. How then can his Socialism be in opposition to the natural tendencies of the human race ? The mistake, only too often made, is due to a narrow interpretation of the Darwinian theory.
The word “fittest” is made to apply always to the individual instead of to the community or species. The “fittest” then, in the modern state of “civilised society,” is the cunningest, even though physically and morally rotten ; that is to say, the big financier, the swindler, etc ! No doubt such folk are the fittest under the present conditions, but let the present conditions be altered, and the fittest to survive will be a totally different being. And the present conditions must alter, for modern competition between man and man is largely a hot-house product, forced on by artificial means, and unfitted to survive long in the open field of Nature.
Further, this suicidal struggle does not eliminate, but creates, the “unfit” and “unemployable.” Strenuous competition is apt to throw out the capable and fit as well as to increase the degradation and misery of the “unfit” by heredity. It must be remembered also that it is from the section of the “unfit” that Socialism draws none of its recruits, while it is from the loafer and parasite at both ends of the social scale that the Movement meets with most of its opposition. On the other hand, it is from the more intellectual and capable of the citizen class that Socialism receives its chief support.
What then is this “Gospelof the Unfit,” and at what system of Society does it aim ? It demands, broadly speaking, a Society in which social production shall be for social use. This involves the forming of the Co-operative Commonwealth. The questions to be considered are, therefore, whether co-operation on a large scale is in accordance with the Laws of Evolution, and whether it will tend to aid the advance, intellectual, physical, and moral, of the human race.
The Theory of Evolution as put forward by Darwin, still remains the clearest conception of the origin and development of the various organic kingdoms, but it must not be forgotten that his theories were largely influenced by two important forces, namely, the desire to prove that man had evolved, and the teaching of Malthus. These two considerations led him to ignore, for the most part, a factor of evolution into which he had not the time to fully enquire. This factor was the Law of Co-operation, which perhaps played a more important part in the development of species than any law of struggle or competition. Most of Darwin’s followers have, however, been too narrow-minded to follow out a train of thought often suggested in his works. In the third chapter of “The Origin of Species” he says, “I should premise that I use the term ‘Struggle for Existence’ in in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual but success in leaving progeny.”
We find too, in “The Descent of Man,” that “those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best,” and he points out further that co-operation leads to the highest development of the intellect and morality needful for the survival of the species.
If we examine carefully this “dependence of one being on another” and “the success in leaving progeny,” we find that the former results in the latter, and that co-operation regularly takes place during the breeding season for the sake of protection against a common enemy—the combination of several species of birds to attack a bird of prey is one of the commonest sights in nature. This same “dependence of one being on another ” results in the highest development of the individual, for we find that individual intelligence and activity are conspicuous wherever the members of the species co-operate.
Among insects none are of higher intellect than the bees, ants, and termites. Their great works—their roads, their storehouses, are all marvels of workmanship, and each member of the community is capable of performing any part of the necessary work. Nor is any greater or less than another: an ant that refuses to help with food a fellow ant in need of it is killed.
Among birds, none are of greater intelligence than the parrots and cranes, who always live in communities and practise mutual help.
Among mammals there are few that do not associate with their species. The happy lives of the members of the marmot communities, and the wonderful powers of the beaver are notable examples of the development attained through co-operation.
We find, too, that the monkeys, which show the highest development of all mammals, except man, live almost wholly in societies. Finally, among primitive men, savages, and barbarians, communism was the rule, and it is undoubtedly to this that we owe the high development of the human race.
So then, the “survival of the fittest” does not imply mutual competition, which leads to the destruction and weakening of the species, but rather mutual help. This, however, can only be properly practised in a Society where social production is for social use instead of for individual profit; and where the individual, freed from the degrading and destructive struggle for the means of existence, may have time and space to fully develope his own individuality without depriving the other members of his species of the necessaries of life. For Socialism by no means aims at reducing all men to the same dead level— a sheer impossibility—but rather seeks the development of a Society in which Nature, with her laws of natural selection, may have perfect freedom from all artificiality, and in which the mutual law shall be, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”