Socialism or Utopia?
From the present writer’s experience there still appears to be a considerable number of people who regard the Socialist as a Utopian—a kind of mystic idealist who spends his time dreaming about a beautiful New World, weaving all manner of fanciful details from that ethereal entity, imagination. Yet why ?
If we turn to the official Declaration of Prin¬ciples of the Socialist Party we find no trace of this fantastic frame of mind. It expresses nothing but the relations of forces actually existent at the present time, and only asserts anything concerning the future as the direct outcome of these relations. To the “genuine idealist” this attitude must appear “grossly materialistic,” while even the “practical man” is invariably found criticising it for the very reason that it is devoid of any detailed elaboration.
Seeing, however, that all erroneous notions must reflect some facts albeit in a distorted out-of-focus fashion, it is well to discover such modicum of truth as may exist in anti-Socialist criticism before considering the case settled. While the modern Socialist, following the scientific method of Marx and Engels, can effectually clear himself of the charge of Utopianism, so much cannot be said of the forerunners of the movement such as Owen, St. Simon and Fourier. Our opponents are welcome to all the satisfaction they can get out of this, considering that we now-a-days recognise the efforts of the above named thinkers to be getting on for a century out of date so far as their ideal reconstruction of society is concerned. Their criticisms of existing society, however, still hold good, and have been preserved by the analysis of Marx and placed upon “the solid rock” as Engels terms it.
The law of evolution holds good in the realm of theory no less than in the physical world ; consequently Socialism could hardly be expected to spring itself on the world full-fledged and complete. Its germ came into being as the result of certain definite historical events, and has developed alongside of the full fruition of other results of these events.
About the middle of the eighteenth century mechanical industry took its rise, seized upon trade after trade until by now it has revolutionised the entire character of the production of wealth, converting isolated groups of workers into a vast economic network, and replacing competition between a large number of small manufacturers by that between a small number of Titanic concerns.
Early on it commenced to intensify the poverty of the workers and widen the gulf between them and their employers, and it was these facts, following on an increase of wealth produced, that gave the Utopists the data for their criticisms. Hard on the heels of the industrial revolution in England followed the political upheaval in Prance which, in its turn, left the workers there worse off than before. Thus almost simultaneously the application of science to production and the establishment of “liberal institutions,” so far from improving the condition of the majority of the people, brought increased misery for them.
This glaring contradiction could hardly fail to arouse the curiosity of such members of he educated class as had not completely prostituted their intellectual faculties to the service to lie new capitalist order of society, and out of the genuine research thus developed arose certain definite critical opinions which extended to the conventionalities of society, religion, the state, marriage, etc., in addition to its economic basis, i e private property.
As yet, however, the class antagonism had only manifested itself in spasmodic conflicts such as the machine smashing riots, consequently these original critics of society had nothing to point to as the factor winch was to supplant the existing structure by a new one. The organised revolt of the workers against exploitation was quite foreign to their notions. Hence they had to imagine some way out and started experiments according to elaborate schemes for the regulation of communal affairs. They ignored the fact that it was the new industrial change that made a social change possible, and cut themselves off from that change by forming small groups of co-operators and endeavouring to be independent of the rest of society. Such ventures were foredoomed to failure, not because of some imaginary innate individualism of mankind as some self-styled “practical people” insist, but by reason of their insufficient economic basis. To these ideal fantasies the term “Utopian” can correctly be applied. Curiously enough, however it was the further development of industry and the growth of the class-war which simultaneously scotched them and gave birth to the scientific Socialism of the Communist Manifesto.
In the early half of the nineteenth century the workers commenced to organise for the conflict with capital. Trades Unions sprang up and the movement for political rights, Chartism, came into being. The fact that these first efforts did not realise the sanguine aspirations prompting them rendered necessary a scientific analysis of the conditions of the field of battle, in other words, the pressing of critical research to fundamental issues. This led to the discovery of the method by which the workers are exploited and condemned to poverty, and of the necessary outcome of the consequent struggle, i.e., the conquest of political power by the workers and the abolition of exploitation by the conversion of the implements of social production into common property.
The key to the future was obtained not by imagination but by science. The class-war, which is the basic fact upon which modern Socialism as a theory rests, is no mere fantasy but bitter truth.
Socialism, i.e., the criticism of existing society and speculations concerning the future was only Utopian so long as the class-war between wage-earners and capitalists was in its rudimentary stages. No sooner did this struggle develop into the most vital and glaring phenomenon of social life than Socialism became a science. On the other hand, Utopianism, i.e., the deliberate attempt to plan beforehand a social ideal, while it became obsolete, nevertheless persisted in a new form. Instead of being part of an honest criticism of society it became a phase of capitalist politics. The more the workers commenced to chafe against their fetters, the more necessary it became from the capitalist view-point to provide them with visions of economic improvement. The “practical” class, which had scorned the earlier Utopists’ plea for social harmony on the ground that struggle was the law of life, now became anxious that the workers should not put this notion into practice. Hence the “brotherhood of capital and labour” became a most respectable doctrine, and all capitalist legislation took on the form of measures for “the amelioration of the lot of the masses.” Every blessed section of the ruling class developed its own special kind of social policy. The Tory landowners boomed factory legislation, the Radical manufacturers went in for anti-Corn-Law agitation, all apparently for the benefit of the class they were mutually plundering, i.e., the working class. All the latter had to do was to allow the masters to continue to wield the political machine.
So soon as the workers acquired the franchise (as a result of the competition of different sections of the masters for their support) a new aspect of the question arose. In spite of all the promises of Tory and Radical, the onward march of machine industry rendered life ever more burdensome to the workers and the class conflict more acute. The science of revolution spread, much to the rulers’ dismay. A more elaborate Utopia became necessary to play the will-o’-the wisp; and the more nearly it caricatured the revolutionary policy the better.
“Advanced wings” of the capitalist parties composed of “middle-class” parasites, journalists, lawyers, parsons, professional intellectuals of every description arose with a “new Socialism” which had the advantage of not being revolutionary—oh! dear no !—while it appeared on the surface to grant all that the “extremists” asked for. All that was done was to substitute the capitalist “State” for the “community” in the revolutionary formula.
From the standpoint of the capitalist, of course, there is no difference between the words. What community does he know of other than the organisation of his class ? A community of organised workers is to him something outside the realm of “practical politics.”
To the genuine Socialist, however, the gradual purchase by the State of various concerns is but a phase of capitalist evolution. There is in it nothing more Socialistic than in the transformation of “private firms” into joint stock companies. In each case the transaction is conducted on approved business lines, the nominal ownership of material things being exchanged for interest hearing credit. Which means, for the worker, continued exploitation. Practical—isn’t it?
Parties whose political prestige is based on the boosting of this sham Utopia can never be anything but the catspaw of the master class;—of this the compromise-stained records of the I.L.P. and B.S.P. are sufficient proof.
They may pretend to be building the future “step by step,” but their imaginations, like everyone else’s, are limited to the experience of the past and present. To try and project a detailed castle in the air as “the ideal State” is, therefore, nothing more than wandering round in a circle, for their “details” are all derived from the capitalist system itself, and can, therefore, never get them out of it, and the Socialist Party of Great Britain is following the only scientific course in opposing their endeavour to get the workers to indulge in such peregrinations.
We are not keen on drawing pictures of the future. Shall slaves imagine freedom they have not known ? We are concerned with the vital present—the oppression of our class and our struggle to end it. There is only one way—to unite and seize the actual means whereby we live.
There is nothing Utopian about this. All that is lacking is the consciously revolutionary organisation powerful enough to effect the change ; and this is growing, slowly, maybe, but surely, as the results of the present relations between the workers and the tools they use, force themselves upon our attention, along with the means by which these relations are maintained, i.e., the forces of government.
Every Socialist principle is but the actual reflection of existing circumstances which, when correctly analysed and grasped in their entirety, provide us with the essential programme of a working-class political party.