Capitalist morals

A deal of time is occupied on our platform in refuting objections raised by people who labour under the delusion that the Socialist proposes to introduce a system of society from which all pain shall be eliminated ; a sort of paradise on earth. Our “Utopia” is usually described by these opponents as a system wherein the chief occupation of the people will be falling upon each other’s necks in order to show their brotherly love.

Such ideas are, no doubt, generated by the twaddle of some of the semi-Christian fools who masquerade as Socialists in “Brotherhood Churches,” and hang upon a few good natured, weak-minded old women of both sexes, who possess a little money and, oh ! so little sense.

To be frank, even at the risk of losing the moral support of the “unco’guid,” we must confess that the Socialist is but of human clay, little better, or no better, than his neighbour. He depends for the success of his teachings not so much upon the generation of “brotherly love ” among the working class as upon their selfish desire to benefit themselves and their kind.

We have not to “wait until selfishness has teen stamped out of the human race” for the realisation of our scheme. We have no expectation of being “born again” plus wings and minus faults, before commencing operations. We have no visionary ideas regarding a return of some mythical Christ who can with a wave of a magic wand exorcise all evil and leave mankind absolutely “pure and without viciousness and desire.” It is not the Socialist who paints pictures of the future “buck navvy” with mincing step, waltzing round a golden throne twanging a harp.

Such notions we are content to leave to our opponents, the kind Christian capitalists and their supporters, who, in the few brief spells between their deeds of exploitation and murder, may gush their pleasant Sunday afternoon platitudes to those who are foolish enough to listen to them.

The morality of to-day is but the custom of the time rendered necessary by the mode of wealth production and the social needs of the people by whom the system is controlled. But the moral precepts of to-day are not the same as those of yesterday, nor could they be. That which is best for a ruling class in a given system, that which for the time is the most profitable—that is “moral” and “right,” and that conception of morality changes as the social requirements change.

Codes of ethics are not fixed and unchangeable, as our religionist would have us believe. Our ideas of morality are not those laid down some centuries ago by some hero or god. Ideas of right and wrong, of morality, social and sexual, change as social conditions alter, as must necessarily be the case since the tenets of morality are but an effect of the conditions arising from social needs.

Moral rules of society remain only while they meet social requirements. What custom has rendered distasteful to the average person dwelling within a given system becomes immoral, and is so only because the conditions of the time make that custom or convention unnecessary, and therefore wrong.

For instance, monogamy to-day is considered moral because the system of private ownership demands at least the formal recognition of such a code. Private ownership requires heirs to the property owned ; requires that there shall arise no question as to whom the property shall legally descend to. Hence one wife only is allowed, and the progeny of that sanctified union alone are the “natural” heirs.

The pious theory that monogamy was accepted by civilisation because it was the more holy and righteous cannot be swallowed even with the most generous pinch of salt.

That woman suffered by the change cannot be doubted, and however righteous it may be for the wife to have exclusive intercourse with her husband, the latter is never expected to be monogamous.

The old form of group marriage with descent in the female line was not possible with ownership of property by the male. Where all the males of one group were the husbands of all the females of another group, who were in turn the wives of all the males of the first group, to trace descent by the father was not possible. Maternal descent alone could be recognised. The loose pairing “family,” too, did not allow of the privately-owned property of the father being handed down to the child, and consequently the monogamic family and permanent marriage became the order of the day.

Then only was the family in its real sense brought into being, the origin of the word being in itself significant. According to L. Morgan (“Ancient Society”): “In its primary meaning the word family had no relation to the married pair or their children, but to the body of slaves and servants who laboured for its maintenance and were under the power of the pater familias. Familia in some testamentary dispositions is used as equivalent to patrimonium, the inheritance which passed to the heir. It was introduced in Latin society to define a new organisation, the head of which held wife and children and a body of servile persons under paternal power.”

And again: “The word family, derived from familia, which contained the same element as familus=servant, supposed to be derived from Oscan famel=servus, a slave.”

Mommsen (“History of Rome”) uses the phrase “body of servants ” as the Latin signification of familia.

The “sacred” family, then, originated as an expression of a group of dependents or slaves held in bondage by the “father,” a property owner. The wife then degenerated to the chief slave, which, for all practical purposes, she remains to-day.

By maternal law, when descent was traced through the mother, the woman was of some importance, and the relatives on the maternal side inherited what little property may be said to have existed. All the wealth of the tribe or gens had to remain with the gens, and fathers could not pass their “property” down to their sons, who were of another gens or group. Paternal law was therefore necessary for the continuation and growth of private ownership, and paternal law was possible only by permanent marriage and exclusive co-habitation on the part of the wife. Hence monogamy.

So with all moral conduct. Among certain races it would be considered the height of immorality for one man to live upon the exploitation of another, but under capitalism that is quite moral and quite right. At one time a “landless” man is an exception and is classed as a rogue and vagabond. He is an “immoral” person whom it is right to scorn and imprison. To-day the majority are without an inch of soil. While at one period it is considered wrong to attack a man who is at a disadvantage, yet at another it is the order of the day.

If under capitalism one refuses to take advantage of another’s weakness, and fails to clinch a bargain at the right moment, then he fails as a business man, and people, instead of admiring his ethics, call him a fool. The successful man of modern times is he who can take advantage of others in their weak moments and make money thereby. To corner wheat and hold a nation on the verge of starvation is considered quite moral by the same delicately stomached individual who would vomit at the idea of one man killing and eating his enemy. Yet the latter process at one period in history was quite right and moral.

So, the Socialist does not base his appeal on some abstract idea of right ; does not ask for support on the shifting ground of morality or justice. He appeals to the material interests of the working class, and endeavours to show that, logically, to support the present system is to support his own subjection and enslavement. We do not ask that slavery should be abolished just because it is immoral, but we do suggest to the slave that slavery is nasty, irksome, and foul.

We appeal to the wage-slave to join with us, his fellow wage slaves, in an organisation to remove his chains and ours, for we know that he feels the weight of those fetters, though unconscious of the cause of his pain.

Once the working-man does become conscious of the cause of the trouble, and the remedy for all his ills, then no vague ideas of wrong and right, no finely woven abstract theory of capitalist morality will have any weight with him; nor will he stop to impress the opponent with the justice of his appeal.

It will be a question not of appointing an arbitrator to worry over whose ideas are correct, but then, as now, those who have the power to enforce their will shall say what is right, and will compel obedience to their verdict by the force of their intellect and their arms.

That is the only deciding factor to-day. The capitalist class rule because they have the power to rule, and their moral code is enforced upon society. The majority of the people are in favour of the present system, and, strange though it may seem, the workers themselves, the wage-slaves, give their voices in support of the system which enslaves them.

Without this support the capitalist system could not last. Without a willing wage-slave class capitalist society would crumble, and this the capitalists know. They are forced to keep the workers in the dark. They know that once the toilers realise wherein their true interests lie it will be short shrift for them and their system. We, on the other hand, knowing the antagonism that exists at all times between the master and the slave, between the robber and the robbed, have but one object as revolutionary wage-workers, and that is to show our fellows that their interest lies with ours ; that they will benefit only by the establishment of Socialism, which will place them in the position of being masters of the world—masters of themselves.

When men recognise that they can only serve their best interest by serving the best interest of the community, then, being selfish, they will serve the community in order to benefit themselves.


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