The Modern Tyranny

Man’s Dominion over Things
Whether it could ever have been truly said that man was “Lord of Creation,” using the last word in its mundane sense, is a point the profit of discussing which may be doubted. But if we agree that there was some modicum of truth in the Scriptural statement that man had dominion over all “created” things, then indeed has he had such a fall from his position of universal ascendency as even the historic experience of Humpty Dumpty does not parallel.

The rude savage, launching his arrow at the light-footed denizen of the plains; or contriving traps and pitfalls and poisoned welcome for the lumbering giants of the forest, might still, perhaps, be looked down upon with an air of condescension by the modern “Lord of Creation,” whose bow has evolved into a rifle, and whose chemistry has advanced from poison to explosives.

But, low as we adjudge him in the scale of humanity, the savage’s dominion over things had one distinguishing characteristic of vital importance, which made him a true dominator, and the absense of which has reduced civilised man, with all his vaunted triumphs over the forces of nature, to a condition of slavery more abject, more subtle, and more general than any form of subjection which has previously cumbered the earth.

This characteristic lay in man’s relation to the simple tools and weapons which constituted his means of procuring the necessaries of life. Early man was master of his instruments of production. He took up his bow when he was hungry or in danger, and laid it aside when it had served the logical purpose of its existence. He plied his axe, spun and wove on rude frames, and produced wealth by toilsome processes, to the end that he might have shelter and clothing and the comforts of his age, and these obtained, his axe might lie idle, and his loom be still.

Was given him by his tools
And if, in these material things, the instruments of wealth production were the servants of those who made and owned them, still more effectively did they serve them in other ways. They lifted man up above the beasts of the field and gave him dominion over them. They brought him self-consciousness,—the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They built him up moral codes and ethical standards who had known no law of conduct. They prescribed his methods of life, determined his sexual relationships, fashioned alike the canons of his art and of his religion. They made unto him images to bow down to and worship—images of his idealised self, decked out in the barbaric splendour of savage virtues—”good’uns according to his lights.”

The savage sustaining himself by the weapons of the chase and war esteems certain qualities as virtues which people whose means of production have evolved to a higher stage condemn as vices. Thus the bow and spear demand for courage and cunning and ferocity, recognition as the highest of virtues, and decree the merciful unworthy and contemptible, while the plough and the windmill elevate the peaceful and the compassionate. Ferocity is a social necessity in savage life, as peace is to husbandry.

As also were his Gods
So, the needs of Society as fashioned by the means of producing wealth, determine what shall be virtue and what vice, and the gods of the people being the embodiment of the people’s ideal, we find those of the savage and nomad races to be mighty gods of war, merciless and pitiless—the god of the barbarous Jews of the Old Testament, who smote the Amalakites and the Egyptians, and bade his victorious people take their male captives and “put them under axes of iron and under harrows of iron, and pass them through brick-kilns,” while for the virgins he devised a fate quite in accord with the jolly nature of one who said of Solomon (who numbered his wives by the hundred) “He is a man after my own heart.” And we find the ever developing means of production mould the people’s gods like plastic clay as they mould the people,—as they moulded the god of the Hebrews of the Old Testament into the loving and merciful father (an impossible conception to the savage) of the New.

In this way the tools—the means of producing wealth—served man in the past; served him with an irresistible hand if you like, and very much as a benevolent despot might serve his people, but served him nevertheless, since they developed in the individual, and set up in public esteem those qualities which were necessary to the public welfare.

But the tool has become master
But when we examine the relative position of man and his means of production we stand appalled at the changed condition. The servant has become the master. That which man conceived and created in order that he might use it to assist him in the production of wealth, now uses man, not in the production of wealth, but of profit. The savage bent his bow to procure him meat and clothing and shelter, but human productive activities have long ceased to be purposive of the feeding, clothing, sheltering and comforting of humanity. If bread was produced to feed the hungry we should not find plaster in part substituted for flour. If cloth was produced to clothe the naked we should not weight it with useless and harmful mineral substances. Our universal custom of adulteration should show those whom no other argument can convince, that our modern means of wealth production are only incidentally means of producing those things which are necessary to the life and well-being of the people, while they are purposely conceived and designed and created with the primary object of producing—profit.

And Man its mere Lackey
Think of it, ye exultant admirers of the march of civilisation, this wonderful development of the productive powers of man, has subjugated the lightning and exploited the tides, which has conquered the obdurate barrenness of the desert and set at defiance the terrors of capricious and untoward seasons, which has taken the very earth in its grip and forced it to yield up its treasures willy-nilly, what of human advantage has it brought, with all its evolution and its revolution ? What is it to us that it has made two blades of grass grow where one grew before, if we may never lie down upon it be we never so weary ? What is it to us that the drought can no longer bring us famine or the storm destroy our crops, if from abundance we reap only stint and from very surfeit starvation ? What is it to us that the cataract has been harnessed to our wheels and the electric element put to our revolving wonders, if we find no respite from toil save in utter exhaustion, and no relief from the cares of penury and insecurity but in the oblivion of the grave ?

It Starves Man amidst Plenty
Yet this is what the development of our means of production has brought us to. It has made the fields to bring forth with astonishing prodigality, but it has created private ownership in those fields, and driven us from them, and brands us trespassers when we set foot upon their green sward. It has made us independent of the seasons and secure from famine, but instead it has given us the terrors of plethora—the casting of producers into the streets to starve because they have produced too much. It has placed the mighty forces of water-power and steam and electricity at the disposal of man, to enable him to produce with economical expenditure of effort, yet, instead of lightening his toil, it has augmented it until it is limited only by his endurance, and instead of saving him from the insecurity and vicissitudes of life, it has extended them until he finds surcease only in his death.

And has reduced him to a Commodity
What dignity may ever have attached to the human state has been crushed out under the fearful tyranny of modern machinery. Not only has man’s productive energies been subverted so he labours for profit instead of for use-values, but he himself is reduced to the status of a commodity, is driven to market with a price upon his head like the most vulgar of the inanimate objects which he produces for sale, there to struggle for recognition as a common use-value, to find a purchaser or to perish. And in the struggle he is undone by the child of his own bosom. His position is undermined and he is rendered increasingly superfluous by the very machinery which he has created and raised up in opposition to him.

Nor is it only the producer who lies trammelled beneath the modern tyrant. Just as much is the possessor under the lash, at least as regards the development of those finer qualities and feelings which the evolutionary processes have rendered socially expedient and therefore moral. Our means of production have set the individual in opposition to the community. No longer are those qualities which are good for Society those fostered by our economic relations. The purchaser of labour-power who allows himself to be actuated by humane feelings, who pays above the market price for the human flesh and blood which he incorporates in the commodities he produces, or (which is the same thing) neglects to drain the last drop of sweat out of his workers, to just that extent weakens his position in the race for accumulated capital. To that extent he proves himself the unworthy steward of Capital, and Capital has a process of selection wonderfully effective in eliminating her unworthy stewards. She has no place for them in her economy—there is no room in production for profit for any humane feelings, but only for mean, sordid avarice and the qualities which support it. The capitalist even, dare not stand up and be a man ; dare not if he would give free rein to the feelings which (perchance) surge up within his breast. He also is a servitor of the modern tyrant, compelled by irresistible economic forces to play his part in the grim tragedy, in which each must be either oppressed or oppressor.

So human nature itself writhes under the heel of the tyrant. The ferocity of the savage, fostered by his method of production, was good both for the individual and his tribe, but who can pretend that that avarice nourished by capitalist production, at the promptings of which, when a man asks for beer we give him arsenic, and when our soldiers at the “front” ask for food we somehow get the powder mixed up with the beef, and the can explodes as Tommy opens it—who can pretend, I ask, that the mean and sordid qualities which our capitalist system of production tends to develope are good for the race, whatever they may be for the individual ? The savage, so far from being ashamed of the ferocity and cunning which are nurtured by his method of obtaining subsistence, idealises them, and makes them the inherent qualities of his gods ; but dare we so elevate and deify those personal attributes which tend to success in our mad system of blood-sucking competition ? No, they are anti-social, and instinctively we contemn them, as the savage contemns as undoing weakness the feeling that would spare an enemy. They are base, and we hate, loathe and despise them, as we must all baseness, and try to cover them up with the veil of hypocrisy, and put them out of sight behind vain pretences.

The machinery then, which we have perfected with so much patient application, has not only increased our toil and decreased our security, driven us from the fields to the city slum, set us so in opposition one against another that the son must struggle with the father, and the mother snatch the bread from the mouth of her babe, but it has so taken hold of us and our lives that the very possession of the social qualities which alone are moral, are damnation to their possessors. It has dethroned us, not only from any position of “lordship” we may have had over “creation,” but from that of being dictators of our own better feelings and guardians of those social instincts which play so important a part in our collective advancement.


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