Correspondence: Is Society an Organism?


DEAR COMRADE,—It is affirmed by Socialists and others that Society is an organism. If this be true it is evident to me that the reforming or evolutionary Socialist is right when he contends that Socialism can evolve from, and grow up side by side with, Capitalism. For, if human Society is an organism it must be governed by the same evolutionary laws that govern the human being and must be in itself at least as complex as man.

A child born of human parents grows up under their care, is tended by them, evolves to manhood or womanhood and eventually takes the place of its parents in the perpetuating process. Therefore, if society is an organism, we must look to Socialism, as the offspring of Capitalism, to follow the same lines as to both birth and development. That is to say, Socialism, born of its parent Capitalism, must evolve to maturity, side-by-side with, and under the care of, Capitalism, which it will finally supplant in the perpetuation of Society.

If Society is an organism, such a process appears to me not only possible, but inevitable, for an organism must act in accordance with the organic laws of its nature.

By the way, I do not know, when an infant society-organism is born, whether the old society stands merely as mother (in which case I wonder where the father may be found), or whether it serves in the dual capacity of both mother and father.

The analogy of the birth of a child as used by Kautsky, does not apply to the question under discussion. The birth of a child, which he terms a revolution, does not kill the parents (occasional exceptions in the case of the mother recognised) who, as we see, go on living and tending the child to maturity. The birth of Revolutionary Socialism, not as an idea, but as a living entity, would most certainly kill its parent Capitalism. Consequently were Socialism an organism the day of its birth by revolution would be the day of its death, for by analogy, and as an infant society organism, it would require a parent society to take care of it.

Though I have studied the question for some years, I have hitherto been unable to find an atom of evidence to prove that Society is any more of an organism than the Milky Way, a herd of cattle, or a field of cabbage. The word “man” suggests an organism; the words “a society of men” suggests to me a number of these organisms, all of similar organic structure, not an intangible organism arising from their association.

Again reminding you that human Society to be an organism must be as complex and contain the same organic parts as its individual members, I will ask, to where in Society can you point and say, “There are the brains of Society, there are the lungs of Society, there is the heart of Society,” and so on.

We know that in Society a deadly struggle has been waged for centuries. What would be the result to any organism that was continually at war with itself? Complete and utter destruction, and no other organism could arise from its ashes, for it would die long before it reached maturity. The fight that takes place in Society is between organism and organism, not between organic parts of the same organism.

In Society there are two chief parts, sections or classes warring against each other. By Socialists this conflict is termed the “class struggle.” But this is not all. These two sections known respectively as the capitalist and working classes, are again further divided and sub-divided until they practically come down to units, each unit fighting desperately against his fellow unit.

I do not know what part of the organism the capitalist represents, but he is fiercely fighting the rest of his own organic division in addition to the working-class section. The working-class part of the organism is engaged in precisely the same game, so that a raging, tearing cross action amongst the individual cells of the organism is ever in progress.

But, and here comes the funny part of the matter, when the class interests of the Capitalists are threatened by the attitude of the working-class section the capitalist units band themselves together for defensive purposes.

That an organism should be divisible into two classes, that it should possess class-interests, or that a fractional part of the organism should be able to maintain any interest whatever apart from the welfare of the rest of the organism, is to me extremely comical. But if in spite of this, Society is an organism, the fact that the capitalist part of it know how to defend their interests would appear to show where the brains of the organism are situated.

But where in the whole of nature may be found an organism the organic parts of which are all of similar structure ? Where is the organism that ruthlessly and unceasingly kills off its organic parts and still waxes stronger and stronger?

Where in nature may be found the animal organism in which, say, one third part doing no useful work in the economy of that organism, grows sleek and fat and is able to keep the other two-thirds, which do all the necessary work, unnourished and undeveloped ?

Where in nature is to be found the vegetable organism, a third part of which, doing nothing useful in that organism, receives the greater portion of the sap, and the other two-thirds, drawing all the sap from the roots, die for lack of nourishment ?

Such monstrosities are to be seen only in nightmares.

We all know that the part of an organism which does not take its proper share in the work of supporting the organism is the part that is undeveloped and uunourished. The reverse is the case in Society.

How then can Society be said to even resemble an organism in any particular.

If my reasoning is unsound, if Society is an organism, then I repeat, the position of the Socialist who asserts that Socialism may be and must be brought a bit at a time is logically unassailable, for that position is strictly in harmony with organic law. The complex animal organism, born of another complex animal organism must in its infancy be attended to, and for a longer or shorter period grow up beside its parents ; otherwise it will perish. Therefore, if Socialism is to be born in natural order from Capitalism, the child must live under the care of its parent, or some other similar organism ; which, of course, does not exist.

Socialists appear to be oblivious of the fact that the social revolution for which they are working will be something entirely unique in the world’s history ; though the revolutionary sections are conscious it will require unique efforts to bring it about. Thereby, from the point of view I have laid down, showing that their belief is not in harmony with their base.

Despite all beliefs to the contrary, a new Society has never been born in tlie whole of the recorded history of civilisation. The infant, Private Ownership, saw the light many centuries ago, and the effects of all revolutions so far have been to change his appearance : to win for him the right to wear a new suit of clothes : to wax his moustache or part his hair in the middle. That is absolutely all that previous revolutions social, and, political, have accomplished.

But though Private Ownership is dressed in a different fashion, though he has substituted the frock coat and the tool of industry for the armour and the sword, he is still the same individual in essence as he was on the day of his birth. The storm and stress of the centuries have left their mark upon him, but there’s life in the old boy yet, and the numbers of his loyal supporters are as the sands of the sea shore.

Putting metaphor aside, various forms of Society have evolved from their predecessors because they grew from the same base—individual ownership in the means of life. But I submit, it is as absurd to expect collective ownership to evolve directly from private ownership as it would be to expect an acorn to evolve directly into a beech tree. Both the oak and the beech are trees, but they evolve from different bases, and neither can evolve into the other, unless, it may be, by the passage of a long period of time. If the oak is to grow in the ground now occupied by the beech, then the beech must be uprooted before the oak can be planted.

Here we touch upon the essential difference between evolution and revolution, as the latter word is used and understood by Socialists; but as that is not the subject with which we are now dealing, it must be left to another occasion.

I trust I have now said sufficient to show how much depends upon the question as to whether Society is, or is not, an organism. Upon demonstrable proof, one way or the other, hinges the possibility of Socialist unity.

Not only that. If it is proved as I think it may be that the term is merely figurative, then it will be seen that such a base is not the right one upon which to build a scientific thesis, and in consequence, many concepts arising from its assumed truth will have to be reconsidered or abandoned. If the proposition is proved correct, then I, for one, will most readily accept the proof, even though in the process my reasoning faculties are twisted out of shape.

The vital importance I conceive to be attached to this question must be my excuse for the length of this epistle.

—Yours fraternally,

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