The Scientific Basis of Socialism

The aim of the Socialist movement is, as the declared Object of our party states, “The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.” We claim to be, not Uto­pians, seeking to found a perfect social order because of its justness and moral advantages, independent of time or conditions, but rather working as a part of a social process which has made that change in society which renders our object necessary if society is to continue to develop. The scientific basis of Socialism must therefore be—an analysis of the laws in accord with which society evolves.

It was the work of the founders of modern Socialism, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, to make such an analysis, and the result of their labours, although for long ignored, suppressed, and misrepresented by the “intellectuals” of the bourgeoisie, continues to secure an ever-increasing acceptance. As students of the Hegelian philosophy, Marx and Engels were familiar with that dialectic form of reasoning which considers all things in their interrelations, in their birth, growth and decline, connected together into one universal evolutionary process. Marx and Engels were, however, materialists, and thus stood in contradistinction from the orthodox Hegelians, who were, like their master, idealists of the purest type. This evolutionary view of the Universe from the materialist standpoint is the basis of all real scientific work; and in the hands of Marx and his co-worker it became the basis of the sociological theory which subsequently became known as the Materialist Conception of History.

“The materialist conception of history,” says Engels, “starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which, wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders, is depend­ent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and ex­change. They are to be sought, not in the philo­sophy, but in the economics of each epoch.” (“Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.”).

The necessary facts for the formulation of the theory of historical materialism had gradually accumulated, and by the forties of the nineteenth century they only waited to be corelated and unified. So it came about that, as in the case of most great discoveries, this principle of social development was thought out independently by different minds. Engels himself partially developed the theory in this fashion before the work of Marx became known to him, and Lewis Henry Morgan, the American ethnologist, came to the same general conclusions in the course of his studies of primitive society. Morgan states In his work, “Ancient Society” (page 19) that “the great epochs of human progress have been identified, more or less directly, with the enlargement of the sources of subsistence,” and his greatest book, the one here quoted, consists largely of an attempt to trace the rise of the family, government and property upon this basis.

It was, however, Karl Marx who gave to the doctrine under consideration its most complete form; the form in which it, to use his own words, “continued to serve as the leading-thread” in his studies, and the elaboration of which, especially in the elucidation of the phenomena of modern society, constituted the great work of his life. Marx’s work, unfinished as it was, has been carried on and popularised by a host of thinkers amongst the revolutionary workers of all lands; so much so that the bourgeois professors and intellectuals, no longer able to ignore, now seek to revise, modify and un-revolutionise the Marxian philosophy.

One common misconception of the materialist view of history is that it makes social changes dependent entirely upon the technical improvements in the tools and means of production, without taking into account man’s physical con­ditions and natural environment. Nothing is, however, further from the truth. In “Capital,” Vol. I., p. 521, Marx points out the influence of physical conditions upon the mode of produc­tion; he says: “Apart from the degree of develop­ment, greater or less, in the form of social produc­tion, the productiveness of labour is fettered by physical conditions. These are all referable to the constitution of man himself (race, etc.), and to surrounding nature.”

A good example of the effect of different geographical situations and natural environments upon communities of originally the same type, is to be seen in the evolution undergone by the various branches of the Semitic race. In origin they were a pastoral people, living in nomadic tribes in the region of Arabia. Migrating to the north-east, one branch settled in the Euphrato-Tigris valley. They assimilated the culture of the original inhabitants the Akkado, a people of Turanian descent and originally pastoral like the Semites. The fertile alluvial soil being adapted to agriculture, this soon became their mode of existence, and chattel-slavery arose as the productivity of labour increased. The periodic inundation of the river in the lower part of the valley necessitated a system of drain­ing, irrigation, dams and other water works, resulting in the rise of a class of expert officials and a priesthood versed in geometry and astro­nomy. This was the rudiments from which the great slave states of Babylonia and Assyria arose.

Another branch of the Semites settled on the narrow strip of coast land to the east of the Mediterranean. On this restricted area, hemmed in by the Lebanon mountains,

“the agricultural resources of the little country were soon outgrown, and the Phoenicaus were forced to gather a harvest from the water. They invented the fishing line and net. . . . The Lebanon mountains supplied them with timber ; in time they dis­covered how to make boats with keels, and to sheath them with copper which they also found in their mountains. From those heights of Lebanon the island of Cyprus could plainly be seen, and the cur­rent assisted them across. They colonised the island ; it supplied them with pitch, timber, copper, and hemp, everything that was required in the architec­ture of a ship . . . they discovered villages on other coasts, pillaged them and carried off their inha­bitants as slaves. The Phoenicans from fishermen became pirates, and from pirates, traders ; from simple traders they became also manufacturers.”— Winwood Reade’s “Martyrdom of Man.”

Handicraft and commerce continued to rapidly develop and spread, and numerous sea-ports arose. All this resulted in the rise to promin­ence of a wealthy merchant plutocracy. This Semitic people the Phoenicians, in this manner became the first great sea-faring and commercial nation of the ancient world.

Still different were the methods of develop­ment among the Arabs and the Hebrews. The former living on the fringes of the great deserts, retained their nomadic habits, and plying to and fro, in time became the overland carriers and traders between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies, between which their caravan routes formed means of communication. On the other hand, the Jews, in the region of the Jordan valley, on a rugged tract of territory with mountains on one side and the desert on the other, were continually buffeted by and exposed to the invasions of the predatory tribes and powerful nations which surrounded them. Time and again plundered by their mighty neighbours, their country forming the battle ground in the campaigns waged by the Hittites, Egyptians and Assyrians, the rise of private property, and as a consequence classes, was a slow process, accompanied by irregularities and set-backs. At the time, therefore, when their cousins the Phoenicians had arrived at political government, the Jews still retained their tribal organisation.

We here see the great effect of natural environment and outside influence in modifying social forms, but it must be remembered that, apart from migrations, such as those we have just considered, transformations of these natural factors, is almost inconceivably slow, except in the case of such comparatively rare phenomena as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and the like; and the effect of these is, as a rule, only transitory. The influence exerted by physical con­ditions is best seen in primitive societies, where the natural predominates over the artificial environment, and where social change is corre­spondingly slow. The Marxian theory places the natural features such as race, climate, and geographical situation in their proper position as part of the determining factors among the causes of social changes. In this Marx differs from the thinkers of the type of Buckle, who made physical surroundings of primary importance. Marx and Engels saw that these factors often remain stationary in the midst of social transformations, and as it is the changes in society which constitutes history, the motive force in history must be looked for in something other than the comparatively static physical conditions, except in those cases where a definite physical change can be shown to have occurred. Natural differences must, however, always be considered when social structures in different parts of the world are to be examined.

The same conclusions are arrived at when we consider the evolution of ideas. All ideas are but the more or less transformed reflections of real things. Our brain receives through the medium of the sensory organs impressions or sensations from the world exterior to it. Our thoughts are all of necessity based upon these impressions, which however, become combined in the most intricate manner. Nevertheless, our ideas can never go beyond the limits set by the experience thus gained.

From this basis the origin of entirely new ideas can only be explained by the fact that man is continually creating ail artificial environ­ment, which means that fresh material from which impressions may be received are brought into being, and which also may assist in the perception of an hitherto unknown side and fresh attributes of the material in the Universe, which, up till then, he had been conscious of only in an imperfect manner or not at all. In either case it is the result of man’s powers of production, which adds to and supplements the world of nature, which is at the root of the new ideas.

Take for example the invention of the tele­scope. Not only does the newly constructed instrument of itself form the basis of new ideas, but the manner of its use also. The laws of light which may incidentally be discovered by its aid become further objects or rather subjects of contemplation, as also do the details of the Universe unfolded by its use, which previously, although obviously forming a part of man’s environment, had yet been unperceived by him because of the insufficiency for this purpose of his organs of sight. Metius, Lipperhey and Jausen, the three Dutchmen who, according to Professor Simon Newcomb, may each be credited with the invention of the telescope (this by the way, is a splendid example of the fact that, when the materials for the solution of any prob­lem, or the invention of any instrument are at hand, several minds usually make the required discovery independently of each other; a fact which completely knocks the bottom out of the “great man” theory.) gave to society a rich source of farther ideas; and when Galileo turned his “optik tube” upon the starry heavens, and first beheld the spots on the sun, the lunar mountains, and the Jovian satellites, he could little have known of the boundless matter for research and contemplation which his observa­tions, primitive though they must have been, judged by modern astronomical standards, laid the foundations of.

We have seen that the statement that the materialist conception of history ignores natural factors is contrary to fact. Nor is the charge of fatalism against the theory valid, for Marx says in his “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bona­parte,” “Man makes his own history, but,” and mark this, “he does not make it out of the whole cloth; he does not make it out of conditions chosen by himself, but out of such as he finds close at hand.”

Historical materialism does not exclude the influence of tradition, or deny the usefulness of studying the past experience of society and turning it to good effect; for in the same work we have it stated: “The tradition of all past generations weighs like an Alp upon the brain of the living.” In considering the ideas, institutions, and history of a given period, therefore, not only have the natural and artificial conditions of the society in question to be examined, but also those of the previous societies which may have influenced it, together with the traditions, customs, and institutions which have persisted from times earlier.

Many institutions and ideas originated out of man’s contact with external nature in very early times, and although modified by subsequent economic development, they persist throughout history. Among this class, may be mentioned the fundamental ethical principles, and also religion.

Morality, as Darwin has shown, originally consists of certain social instincts necessary for the preservation of society. He traces them back to our pre-hurnan progenitors, and indeed they must assert themselves to some degree in all organised communities whether animal or hu­man. Man being by nature a gregarious animal, the instinct of sociability is part of his physical make-up. Darwin says in his “Descent of Man” (page 149): “any animal endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well or nearly as well developed as in Man.”

The social instincts, however, become modified by the social transformations which occur as a result of economic development. In a hunting community, for instance, the killing of newly-born infants at a time of food scarcity is considered no crime. Infanticide is, indeed, one of the most universal customs among savage peoples, who find the struggle for existence very keen, it being in the interests of the tribe to keep clown the number of consumers as much as pos­sible ; and, where children are to be saved, preference is given to males as forming potential hunters, thus increasing the productive capacity of the tribe. In an agricultural community, however, where food is more plentiful and more regularly obtained, infanticide is no longer practiced, and it comes to be looked upon as horrid and immoral in the extreme.

In class societies the prevailing ethical code is always that best suited to the interests of the ruling class. Old ideas are cast aside or are modified to justify their position. This, of course, is necessary, for no ruling class ever maintains its supremacy for long by physical force alone. Chattel slavery was moral in America until it was discovered in the North that wage-labour was cheaper, and it is interesting to note that both North and South obtained the support of the Bible for their respective positions.

Religion arises out of the relations between savage man and the unknown and, to him, mysterious forces and phenomena around him. The partial or total lack of consciousness caused by sleep and by death, and also dreams, were explained by assuming the living body to be the temporary abode of a soul or spirit (the Egyptian Ka) which leaves the body for longer or shorter periods. The wind, fire, smoke, thunder, etc., were regarded as manifestations of these ghosts which became objects of fear and veneration.

The spirit of a dead chieftain in course of time is elevated to the dignity of a god with power over various natural forces, he is con­ceived of by the living of his tribe or people, in the shape of a glorified personification of themselves. Thus Thor, the Scandinavian god of thunder, was a mighty warrior, the sparks and noise from the crash of whose battle-axe constituted the lightning and the thunder. The beliefs of the Norsemen, indeed, form an excellent illustration of the intimate connection between material condition and theology. The discovery of the smelting of iron-ore had raised them to the upper stage of barbarism—the “Heroic Age” of history. Now, the iron sword and scale armour supplanted the cruder and less effective weapons of the earlier period. The warrior class became predominant, and when one of the mighty ones passed away, his corpse, together with his paraphernalia of battle, were burned in his Viking vessel, that his spirit, clad in ghostly armour and armed with ethereal weapons might ascend to the “Hall of Valhalla,” there to live with his ancestors.

The rise and further development by modifi­cation of religion is excellently dealt with in the pamphlet on the subject issued by the Socialist Party, and need not be longer dwelt upon here. Nevertheless, an interesting illustration given by Marx, of the effect of changed conditions upon religious opinions, and also showing how the ideas of the ruling class are accepted in the main by the mass of the community, may not be out of place. Writing upon the Crimean War, Marx says:

“We see England, professedly Protestant, allied with France, professedly Catholic (damnably heretical as they are in each other’s eyes, according to the orthodox phraseology of both), for the purpose of defending Turkey, a Mohammedan power, whose destruction they ought most religiously to desire, against the aggressions of “holy” Russia, a power Christian like themselves. … To perfectly appreciate this state of things we must call to mind the period of the Crusades, when Western Europe, so late as the thirteenth century, undertook a “holy” war against the “infidel” Turks for the possession of the Holy Sepulchre. Western Europe now not only acquiesces in the Mussulman jurisdiction over the Sepulchre, but goes so far as to laugh at the contests and rivalries of the Greek and Latin monks to obtain undivided possession of a shrine once so much coveted by all Christendom ; and when Christian Russia steps forward to “protect” the Christian subjects of the Porte, Western Europe of to-day arrays itself in arms against the Czar to thwart a design which it would once have deemed highly laudable and righ­teous. To drive the Moslems out of Europe would once have roused the zeal of England and France ; to prevent the Turks from being driven out of Europe is now the most cherished resolve of those nations. So broad a gulf stands between the Europe of the nineteenth and the Europe of the thirteenth century ! So fallen away since the latter epoch is the political influence of religious dogma.
We have carefully watched for any expression of of the purely ecclesiastical view of the European crisis, and have only found one pamphlet by a Cam­bridge D.D., and one North Irish Reviewer for England, and the Paris Univers for France, which have dogmatically represented the defence of a Mohammedan power by Christendom as absolutely sinfnl ; and these pronunciamentos have remained without an echo in either country.” “Eastern Question,” pp. 482-3.

Religion and ethics wo characterised as deriv­ing their origin in man’s natural environment. A further set of institutions arise only at a certain stage of economic development. Occupying a prominent place among tins division of institutions are, the State with its political and juridical sub-divisions, and social classes. The distinguishing feature between classes is the mode by which the members thereof obtain the wealth which is necessary for their subsistence; except in those cases where the class in question is a remnant of a decaying order of society, in which case it sometimes happens that it will retain its distinction, by reason of its political power, and the force of tradition, after all economic distinction has passed away. This state of things can, however, but be of temporary duration, as instanced by the Roman patricians who in time lost the political privileges which were their only distinction from the upper or wealthy land-owning plebians.

Although there have been classes, such as handicraftsmen, who worked with their own tools and material, and owned the product of their labour and were, therefore, to a large degree economically independent, the most typical form of class division is that between producers and non-producers, exploiting and exploited. The division of society into producers and non-producers only arises when the pro­ductive forces have progressed to a certain point ; for, when man’s whole time was occupied in providing the necessities for his own con­tinued existence, there could be no idle class. When it became possible to produce a surplus of wealth over and above that essential for the maintenance of the producer, the war captives previously slaughtered or eaten, were set to work for their captors whose sole property they became. Thus arose chattel slavery, the first form of exploitation. Three historical varieties of exploitation may be distinguished : chattel-slavery, where the slave was bodily owned by somebody and was bought and sold, typical of ancient civilisation; serfdom, where the serf produces part time for himself, and part time for his lord to whom he owes allegiance, and who gives in return protection, prevalent in the Middle Ages, and wherever feudalism exists ; wage-slavery, where the worker is “free” to-work for anyone who will employ him, but being propertyless is compelled on pain of starvation to sell his labouring power to one who owns tools and material for production, thereby losing all claim to the product of his labour, the value of which must be greater than that which is paid to him as wages, this form characterises. the modern capitalist epoch.

It is out of the growth of classes that the State arises. Wherever ruling and oppressed exist, the ruling class must control a coercive force, the function of which is to keep in subjection, the exploited class and maintain the existing order of property conditions. “The antique state was, therefore,” says Engels, “the state of the slave owners for the purpose of holding the slaves in check. The feudal state was the organ of the nobility for the oppression of the serfs and dependent farmers. The modern repre­sentative state is the tool of the capitalist ex­ploiters of wage labour.” “Origin of the Family,.-etc.,” page 208). The political State marks the-dawn of the era of civilisation.

The nature of and the relations between the classes of any epoch, are determined primarily by the mode of production operative, which gives rise to certain forms of property. When new productive methods arrive, new classes are born into society. The struggle for supremacy be­tween the old methods and the new reflects itself in the struggle between the classes whose material interests are bound up with the re­spective modes of production. The struggle between classes having divergent and clashing interests, has been behind all the political con­tests, upheavals, and revolutions which have characterised the history of society since the epoch of civilisation was entered upon. The control of the State, the stronghold of every ruling class, has been the objective in every struggle for emancipation.

The class war, more enduring and pitiless in its form than any other war, contains innumer­able instances of the savage extremes to which a ruling class will go when its material interests are menaced. Brutal suppression, followed by wholesale crucifixions, was the price paid by the revolting slaves of Roman days; and this finds its counterpart in the crushing of the peasant, risings in mediaeval Europe, and in modern times by the massacres of proletarians, after the Paris Commune in France, on the Rand, in Colorado, and in Dublin, Featherstone, and elsewhere in these British islands. “The civilisation and justice of bourgeois order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and drudges of that order rise against their masters. Then this civilisation and justice stand forth as undisguised savagery and lawless revenge. Each new crisis in the class struggle between the appropriators and the producers brings out this fact more glaringly.” (Marx’s “Civil War in France.” Page 68.)

However necessary were classes at the period in social evolution at which they arose, it can no longer be claimed that such is the case now. In support of this first proposition, Engels says (“Anti Duehring,” page 209) :

“Slavery first made the division of labour between agriculture and industry completely possible and brought into existence the flower of the old world, Greece. Without slavery there would have been no Grecian State, no Grecian art and science, and no Roman Empire. There would have been no modern Europe without the foundation of Greece and Rome. We must not forget that our entire economic, poli­tical and intellectual development has its foundation in a state of society in which slavery was regarded universally as necessary. In this sense we may say that without the ancient slavery there would have been no modern Socialism.”

But he also says in the same work (page 211) ;

“As long as the actual working people claim that they have no time left at the close of their necessary labours to attend to the common business of society—the organisation of labour, the business of the government, the administration of justice, art, science, etc.—just so long willclasses exist which are free from actual labour to carry on these functions . . . The development of the great industry with its enormous increase in the forces of production for the first time permitted the subdivision of labour in all the social grades and this allowed the reduc­tion of the time necessary for labour so that enough leisure remains for all to take part in the actual public business—theoretical as well as practical. So that now for the first time the dominant and exploit­ing classes have become superfluous and even an obstacle to social progress.”

The bourgeois era has fulfilled its “historic mission”—the organisation and development of the machine process of industry—but it has now become a fetter upon the full utilisation of the great powers it has created. Just as the feudal forms and restrictions hindered the ex­pansion of the capitalist method of production, so now, socialised production cries out for the social ownership and control of the productive forces, which the revolutionary proletariat alone can establish. As the bourgeoisie rising to power swept aside the remnants of feudalism which obstructed its progress, and reared a social edifice adapted to its own mode of produc­tion, so the proletarians realising the interests of their class, must seize upon the governmental power, and establish that form of society which economic evolution demands.

With the rise to political predomiuence of the working class and the subsequent institution of Socialism, the period of classes and class struggles with its concomitant social forms, including the State, will be at an end, and a new era will be entered upon.

To this end let all our energies concentrate. With the lamp of science held up to the record of history, let us read its lesson aright. Guided by the class-struggle, with faith in the sound­ness of their position, let us spread this know­ledge of Marxian teaching among the wage-slaves of the world. To them as to us, the work of Marx and Engels stands, a beacon light, shed­ding rays around it; shining down the path of man’s social history it illuminates the gloomy passages of his past. Ahead, its beams piercing the haze, light upon a glorious future, which through the triumph of the workers will become the heritage of all mankind.


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