Since Man left the conditions of savage existence behind him and wandered forth in search of freedom from the tyrannical domination of the ruthless forces of Nature, the chronicles of his progress are a record of tragedy, unlitten by any realised hope. For the few there has been, in each succeeding ago, a crowning glory which has in its day, assumed the importance of being divinely preordained, the objective, the purpose, of all phenomena, natural and supernatural, the end of every celestial movement, the final effect to which each pulsation of the cosmic heart, beating through endless space and timeless endurance, is subsidiary and a contributory cause. But for the many the centuries of “progress” have been centuries of bitterness, of barren striving and of wasted life. The wheels of time, in their ceaseless turning, have crushed each hope in its hour of maturity, and might be the mechanism of the mills of the gods—they have ground so exceedingly small. Time after time have the class of subjugated labourers sought emancipation in the enthroning of a new class, only to find that they have but exchanged one set of masters for another, an old form of slavery for a new one, the frying-pan for the fire.
But the student of the Marxian school nourishes the spark of hope within his breast. He sees, not, it is true, a purpose in, but an inevitable connection between, the endless number of natural phenomena. To him they are the links of a chain which is endless, and which, utterly void of any conscious purpose, cannot exist without creating certain effects. The life-development of human races he knows to be subject to this chain of external causes or influences, acting upon, and reacted upon by, the child of their own copulation—the human race itself. The idea that any particular stage of development, be it barbarism, feudalism, or capitalism ever was or is purposive of the operations of the unnamed powers, is to the Marxist a riotous form of the fancy, and far from accepting that view, he regards each of those stages as inevitable and necessary to the one that followed it, and (the irony of it) all of them the indispensable forbears of that which is to come.
He reconstructs the historic march of mankind by the light of modern enquiry. He sees savage man, face to face with the same problem that scowls at the civilised worker—the problem of obtaining the necessaries of life. He sees a population of one to the square mile pressing as hardly upon the means of subsistence as do one to the acre under modern resources. He beholds him there, poor painted savage, untutored aud unknowing, the sport of every wayward wind, lean with the niggard season, overawed by the rustling reed, seeing a supernatural presence in every stone and cloud, gaining little else than fear from his mental elevation above the animals. But he sees him free, at all events, from that worst of all forms of domination—human domination, and that worst of all forms of servitude—servitude to the means of his own livelihood, the machinery of his own inventing and fashioning. If he bows his head or quakes it is before the mystery of the tongued wind and the moving cloud, and not because his fellow has disarmed him and holds him defenceless at his mercy. If he starves it is because food does not exist within his reach, and not because there is too much ; because the population presses upon the means of subsistence, and not because the means of subsistence press upon the population.
The savage, the student discovers, is a democrat, but not from choice. He is the creature of his environment, and his environment decreeing that he shall be a democrat he cannot be anything else. Until the slow process of evolution has so improved the means of production as to enable the workers to support a non-working class all must be workers. Heated argument on the subject of the “six and eighty ways of constructing tribal lays” may develope into strife and the fortunes of war provide a top-dog and a bottom-dog, but the vanquished becomes no servitor since he can produce no more than enough for himself. The utilitarian spirit of the age dedicates him to a useful purpose, and, seasoned to taste and served either hot or cold, he ministers to the comfort of those who are, in a double sense, about him. From which it would appear that, cannibalism is an essentially democratic institution, since it depends upon the same conditions that support early democracy, and passes away when the means of production make a slave a profitably and therefore a possible, possession.
The student, then, beholds savage man awaiting the development of the means of producing wealth to the point of yielding a surplus before he can surrender his liberty and take unto himself the responsibility of keeping a master. But at length the accumulated discoveries and inventions of ages—the discovery of the domestication of animals and of agriculture, the invention of the bow and arrow, and so forth—sets him fairly on the way. He forsakes his old democracy, his ancient freedom, and embarks on that long, weary journey of ceaseless pain, about which we have only lately learnt that it must inevitably have been accomplished. Accumulated property, monopolisation of lands, enslavement of workers, feudalism and serfage, capitalism and wage-slavery—each growing out of a former, each being parent to a later—such are the landmarks of his trodden path. Tossed hither and thither on the lap of Time, cuffed kicked and buffeted down the stairs of the ages, one fact only has saved the under-dog from utter extinction—the fact of his essential necessity to his dominator.
As the means of production could not develope in the earlier stage without in time involving the people in slavery, so they could not continue to develope without changing the form of that slavery. Thus from handicraft production the only possible step was to capitalist production, with its concomitant, wage-slavery. The machine was more economical than the tool, hence, in a system already competitive, was bound to make way. The more costly means of production could not be owned by every handicraftsman, as was the tool, and there existed no means of organising machine production save on the basis of the private ownership of the means of production. Private ownership, in the very nature of things, means that the non-possessors become wage-slaves. So was the worker handed over to the last of his bespoilers, to pay the final pence of the price of humanity’s victory over climates and seasons and stubborn mother earth.
For, be it understood, without this painful dragging of weary bodies across the wilderness there could have been no advance from the precarious existence of early man to the fuller life of the future. Only by abandoning the democracy of savagedom was it possible, after exhausting in turn the bitter dregs of all forms of oppression, to reach the freer, worthier democracy of true and well-ordered civilisation.
Holding to this it would appear to be illogical to rail at either barbarism, feudalism or capitalism, at chattel-slavery, serfage, or wage-slavery, at patriarchal tyrant, feudal bully, or capitalist exploiter, but experience seems to show that we may sometimes fly in the face of logic with impunity, if not indeed, with some solid advantage. Be this as it may the recognition of the necessity of the capitalist phase of human development need not prevent us determining on its overthrow. Rather, we learn from our investigations that, necessary as it has been, it was only so as an evolute in the process of eternal change. It came into existence solely as part of the unceasing motion which pervades all nature, is therefore essentially transient and must inevitably give place to something else. Urged by this knowledge, we examine most minutely every sign that may be granted us by Fate, intent on reading, in the path of the past and the trend of the present, the destiny to which the immutable power of events has pre-appointed our travel-worn and burden-bent class.
We mark how, since man embarked on his undemocratic wanderings, class after class has risen to power and been in turn overthrown, and we observe, firstly, that each succeeding ruling class is environed by a distinct advance in the means and instruments of wealth production, and a peculiarly fitting method of production, and secondly that the conditions for each change of domination have been gradually prepared by the very system which it displaced. Therefore we look to capitalism itself for the key to the destiny of the working class, nor do we look in vain.
We see competition ever narrowing the circle of those whose interest lies in the perpetuation of the present system and increasing the relative number of those whose only hope is in change ; we see the development of industrial organisation rendering increasingly unnecessary to production that class who hold all the means of life in their hands ; we see the triumph of large-scale operations drawing clearer and clearer the line between the capitalist class and the working class by precipitating the smaller fry of the former into the ranks of the latter; we see by the gradual separation of the owning class from production and their replacement by paid servants, the whole industrial organisation shaping itself for a change of masters. We see that, as there was no possible way of organising machine production on any but a basis of private ownership out of the conditions of handicraft production, so there is no possible way of continuing production on any but a basis of social ownership when capitalist development reaches, its zenith. For, together with the fitting of the productive machinery for its taking over by the community, there is developing a knowledge and consciousness of the mission which the events of history have been leading it to in the mind of the working class.
This growing knowledge is the gift of capitalist development. It takes the place of the material force which had accumulated in the hands of other revolutionary classes and made their victory certain. It makes its possessor one with the evolutionary process. Thus the Socialist is a product of capitalist development. This growing consciousness of the class mission is to be one of the chief factors of the class destiny. It is the safeguard of the working: class at that moment when the fabric of the social edifice shall fall about its worn out foundation. Without it the destiny of the working class is chaos and hopeless slavery—with it the return to democracy, the resumption of the mastery of their means of production, the reaping in glorious possibility of all that they have sown in centuries of bitter anguish.
Let us therefore, accepting ourselves as part of the historical evolutionary process, as appointed instruments of our own destiny, fix all our present attention on the spreading of that Socialist knowledge which is the first essential of our accession to power, and without which our destiny must be as tragic as our sad journey to it has been.
A. E. JACOMB