Correspondence: Evolution and Revolution

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[To the Editor of the SOCIALIST STANDARD].


Dear Comrade,—On Sunday evening last I heard a member of the I.L.P. refer to himself as an Evolutionary Socialist. At the moment he was leading up to the statement that the revolutionist position was not in harmony with the law of evolution. A revolutionist who was present, claimed that he also was an Evolutionary Socialist, and that evolution was the same thing as revolution.

As each man was an able exponent of his particular school of thought, and as I, at almost every Socialist meeting I attend, am brought face to face with differences, all primarily hinging upon this subject, I am more convinced than ever that the relative value of the terms, evolution and revolution, is not even approximately apprehended by those who use them most. I, therefore, ask your permission to be again allowed to express in the STANDARD my views on the subject.

All Socialists contend that revolution is part and parcel of the evolutionary process, the meaning of their contention being that revolution is part and parcel of the evolutionary process it eventually supercedes. Here they become involved in a glaring absurdity, and in consequence great confusion arises.

Revolution being regarded as part and parcel of the evolutionary process in which he is interested, the Evolutionary Socialist believes that the former can be grafted on to the latter a bit at a time. If the above premiss were correct, the reasoning would be sound, for if the two terms mean the same thing, the one would merge into the other by a gradual and regular process, like a boy evolving to manhood ; the boy being always the potential man.

The Revolutionary Socialist believes that revolution must be applied at one set time, and he is right; but he does not appear to know how he is right or where he is right, and so long as he holds the aforesaid premiss to be true, he never will know.

Now let us to the subject.

On examination we find that the law of evolution is universal. Every single thing in nature, whether organic or inorganic, whether it be a substance or a quality, evolves ; but each evolves from its own specific base, so representing a distinct phase of the law which governs it.

Revolution is no exception to this rule; it evolves, but that does not constitute it an integral part of evolution any more than growth makes an animal, a plant or a planet a integral part of it. The law is superior to each.

Revolutions in Society are the effect, like all other effects, of a dual causation—in this case, social conditions on the one hand, man on the other. Man evolves under one phase of the law of evolution, his social conditions under another. The interaction of these two phases stands as the positive and negative causes to a third, which we distinguish by the word revolution.

Revolutions, then, are the result of two opposing forces, one not evolving from the other, but each growing from a separate base within Society. One of these forces is now evolving as an established fact from a set social foundation ; the other, though itself subject to the common law of evolution, yet represents a different and hostile phase of that law ; and again, to distinguish it from the phase at present in active and practical operation, we call it revolution.

The recognition of the class struggle clearly demonstrates the truth of the foregoing. The evolutionary phase in actual social operation is represented by the capitalist class, the evolutionary phase, which is still a theory—revolution— is represented by the working class. Each of these phases of evolution has its base in an opposing interest, and each, therefore, must be in hostility to the other. That the conflict of these two forces will finally lead to harmony of interest in Society, does not prove that the working-class interest has evolved from the capitalist interest—the capitalist system—for, from the outset, they have been in deadly antagonism, and therefore must have evolved from different bases.

All changes in Society are brought about by the interaction of man and his environment. The social conditions prompt man’s thought, the thought evolves as a theory until the idea stands clothed in its palpable, material form. This embodiment stands in turn as the stimulating impulse to further advance.

Similarly, the theory of Socialism, prompted and sustained by social conditions, is evolving—not with revolution as its objective, for it already stands as revolution in the process of evolution—but towards its final consummation ; the day when the theory will have become the established fact.

The revolutionary forces at work within capitalist society must eventually evolve to the point of upheaval. The result will be the downfall of capitalism and the consequent exhaustion of the forces which have destroyed it. Having accomplished its mission, revolution disappears and the new system starts to grow, not from a revolutionary base, but from an evolutionary base. That is to say, the antagonistic phases of evolution having performed their functions, die out, and there arises from the expended energies of both a new form of evolution—a new species, as it were.

Socialism, then, will not have evolved from capitalism, nor from the revolutionary forces now at work against capitalism, but it will .start a new and distinct form of evolution, which has been produced by the meeting and mutual destuction of the two hostile forces. A new base has been established which can be changed only by another revolution.

This creation of a new evolutionary base is the function of revolution in the evolutionary process, whether in Society or in the broad domain of nature. Revolution grows slowly but acts quickly. When fully developed, and only then, it grapples with its enemy, conquers, and in the effort, dies.

Nothing else is a revolution in the Socialist sense. A Social Revolution means a revolution in the social base, not a change in the upper structure; and such a revolution has never occurred since private ownership in the means of life was dropped in its adamantine setting ages ago.

And now, having, as I hope, made fairly clear the view I hold of the vital difference between the two evolutionary forces under discussion, I should like to lay down a few general propositions in regard thereto.

Nothing in nature evolves to a base; everything evolves from a base, and must for ever go on evolving from that base unless it is changed or destroyed by revolution, this force being a counter phase of the general evolutionary process, and one which has evolved from a base hostile to the one it displaces.

It is a law of nature that like evolves like ; that is, anything which evolves from another thing must of necessity perpetuate the basic characteristics of the thing from which it evolved. Socialism will have none of the basia characteristics of capitalism ; therefore, it is unscientific to contend that it will evolve from capitalism.

No system of society can evolve from another system of society unless they both grow from the same base. To change the base requires the aid of revolution. In producing the change, revolution not only destroys that which it opposes, but itself also ; a new form of evolution springing as an effect from the juxtaposition and destruction of the two causes.

The revolution which the Evolutionary Socialists claim to be their objective may be brought nearer a bit at a time, but that bit at a time must consist of the education of individual members of the working class. That is, they must try to hasten the evolution of the revolutionary forces, not waste their time trying to palliate the phase of evolution to which they are opposed. That stands upon its own base and can look after itself. It can and will evolve the necessary palliatives and reforms when conditions are ripe, and not before. To ripen conditions, help along the revolutionary principle ; the opposing conditions ripen fast enough.

To aim chunks of so-called revolution at capitalism and expect to see it fall, is about as wise a proceeding as trying to measure the moon for a suit of clothes. The problem of the Socialist is how to make revolutionists, not how to evolve capitalism into Socialism. That, I again assert, can never be done while the word retains its present meaning, and to the best of my ability I am prepared to defend that assertion against anyone who cares to dispute it. I should most heartily welcome the attention of an evolutionary Socialist.
Yours fraternally,

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