History As A Science. A Study of Social Evolution

III. The Course of History Continued.

Furthermore, the more division of labour in society grows the more is the personal experi­ence of the individual, especially of those classes with little or no leisure, narrowed down to a particular section of the social environment—that in which he pursues his mode of life. The more, therefore, must he rely for his knowledge of the increasingly greater part of the environ­ment, upon the experience and interpretations of others in the various departments of the rest of the social life. The possibility therefore arises in a society with antagonistic elements, for a dominant class to impose, consciously or unconsciously, its conceptions upon a class below it, and in fact we usually find that the prvailing ideas in a given community are those of its rul­ing class. In fact, it is not unconrnon, but quite the contrary, for deliberate distortion of facts to be resorted to in order to keep a class resigned to or even ignorant of its subjection. And, singular to say, this is often done quite sincerely in, so it is thought, the interest of social harmony and progress. Thus the dominant ethical code, the science, the philosophy, and the religion considered orthodox in any society are usually those which pander to the interests of the domi­nating class. Even Aristotle, perhaps the most encyclopaedic mind of the ancient world, “quotes with approval the saying of a poet that when a foreigner becomes the slave of a Greek that is only as it should be.” 1

Here, then, in the State force and in what Marx calls the social consciousness, we have two conservative agents, which vary inversely in intensity. The greater the illusion of the subject class as to its real interests and its social status the less the necessity for the application or the threat of physical force to maintain the “status quo,” and vice versa. Contrast in this respect the chattel-slave who was openly op­pressed and exploited, and whose labour appears entirely unrewarded, with the wage-worker who is exploited under cover of a free contract with his employer to work for a stipulated wage. The essence of the two processes are the same ; both are compelled to labour for a master, one by the application or fear of direct physical torment, the other by the certainty of physical torture indirectly applied in the shape of star­vation does he do otherwise. In both cases the product of their labour belongs to the master or employer, and both are “rewarded” by a quan­tity of use-values, either directly, or indirectly in the form of money, which is, on the average, sufficient to maintain them and their offspring in a condition fit enough to meet the require­ments of the master class. Nevertheless, while a chattel-slave could be under no illusion as to the fact, character and source of his subjection, the wage-slave, by reason of the supposedly free-contract into which he entered, is easily deluded as to his position in society and his real interest. Hence the superiority, from the masters’ point of view, even from this reason alone, of wagedom over chattel-slavery.

We see, then, that the saturation of society with the ideas of its ruling class, supplemented by the power of the State, produces a condition of apparent strength and stability in the social order, at any rate over certain periods. A superficial observer of such a society in its prime, might well be excused if he made the remark, “this social system is grounded on a secure foundation; it is as enduring as are the eternal hills.” But the hills are no more eternal, as geology tells us, than the waves of the sea-shore. So in society, however permanent may the social superstructure, over a limited period appear, the essential basis on which this superstructure rises—the conditions of technique and produc­tion, like an organism, is ever changing. This evolution of the technical conditions may at times be almost imperceptible, sometimes per­haps so rapid that an innovation becomes obsolete and superseded almost before it has got fairly into use. Be it slow or fast it is sure, and as the past shows, sooner or later overcomes all obstacles.

As the technique, the powers of production, become transformed, the division of labour in society alters also. Side by side with the changing means and methods of production, new functions in the social productive process appear together with the classes which perform these functions.

One of the first effects of this change is seen in the position now occupied by the ruling class. As the division of the necessary social functions gradually alters, the classes of the old regime at first partially, but eventually entirely lose their function in the social economy. While, however, the subjected classes under the old order slowly disappear as they become less and less essential, and the persons composing them become absorbed into the classes newly arising, the old ruling class is enabled to retain its ex­istence and supremacy by reason of its control of the State forces and, to a diminishing degree, its ideological influence ; but only for a time. It becomes parasitic, and lives at the expense of society without rendering any useful service in return. When, for instance, owing to the de­velopment of industry and commercial relations, the face of Europe assumed a more peaceful aspect, after the turbulent times following the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the Feudal lords, although no longer necessary to defend and protect the producing communities as had been their original social function, still lived on and in many cases became increasingly power­ful. On the other hand the serfs gradually became supplanted by, or transformed into, a class of peasant farmers, of handicraftsmen and wage-workers, as division of labour became more marked and money payments more general.

When the germ of the class brought to the fore by the new productive methods first ap­pears, the breach between it and the existing order of society is small. Born out of and under the shelter of the established regime, it at first partakes of the general ideas of that community, with which its interests do not at this stage materially conflict. As its field of operations widens, however, as the mode of production which it represents is more and more perfected and increases in importance in the social econ­omy, it is increasingly found that the existing social relations and institutions hinder the full development and most complete use of these productive powers upon which society more and and more relies, and with which its own class interests are bound up. The new class begins to feel these institutions and arrangements as so many fetters upon its freedom, and the control exercised by the politically dominant but now reactionary class becomes ever more irksome to it, especially as it becomes conscious of its own growing strength and influence. Gradually new concepts awaken in it; what it previously regarded as just and reasonable now appear in the light of its newly found interests as unjust and unreasonable. Every weapon—literature, oratory, science, art, religion—which it can possibly turn against the existing order is seized upon and the social fabric subjected to a re­lentless criticism. Side by side with the revolt of the rising class, the ruling class representing the existing system uses every effort, and every institution it can summon to justify and to maintain the continuance of its domination and order. Its science is pitted against that of the ascending class ; likewise with its religion and its art. Meanwhile, as the influence of its ideas decline, (owing to the fact that they are no longer in line with social progress) it turns to what has always been in reserve—the armed forces—which, through the political machinery, it controls. While the ruling class now becomes more and more reactionary and oppressive, the aims of the rising class are increasingly better de­fined, as the faults of the old and antiquated social conditions manifest themselves with ever greater distinctness. As these faults become more obvious the aims of the now revolutionary class receive support from all sections of society, although, naturally, only in a small degree from the members of the ruling class itself.

Seeing the impossibility of realising the ob­jects which it desires so long as the govern­mental machinery is in the hands of the class of reaction, it determines upon the seizure of the control of the State forces to promote its own interests. The class-struggle now assumes its most mature and acute form—the struggle for political supremacy. The character assumed by the struggle will depend upon a variety of factors, among them the existing form of the State, but the outcome is usually, ultimately the same a victory, perhaps after many attempts which fail, for the forces of progress, by the revolutionary class assuming more or less completely the directorship of society, and the conse­quent casting from the seat of power of the old ruling class.

After the high-tide of the revolution has subsided, leaving high, dry, and exultant the revo­lutionary class, this class takes immediate steps to secure its ascendency, and following upon this a wholesale sweeping away or modification of the fossilized social institutions—legal, political and intellectual—of the previous order, which it had so much hated, is accomplished. Its own form of property being now predominant, the social relations which flow therefrom are sanctified by force and result in the institution of new legal and political forms which maintain or promote its own interests. Those institutions of the past capable of being used to advantage under the new conditions are retained either entire, or, where necessary, modified; ; and thus through a transformation more or less rapid of the social structure a new historical epoch is entered upon.

Sound and stable as this may at first appear, forces analogous to that which undermined the preceding system and caused its downfall—the changes in wealth production—still remain unceasingly at work. Sooner or later the social superstructure will, from being the conditions of progress and economic advancement, turn again into agents of stagnation, and will be in­exorably swept away.

We see, therefore, that the evolution of human society presents itself as a series of stages or eras each having many distinct characters and fol­lowing in a necessary succession like geological strata. But, as Marx says, these “epochs in the history of society are no more separated from each other by hard and fast lines of demarcation, than are geological epochs,” 2 for each goes through a cycle of changes which interlink it with those which precede it and those which follow it, and which may be compared to that undergone by an animal during its life history. First a preparatory or embryonic period in the body of the older systern, then, as its growth demands freedom of development (which free­dom, unlike that of the animal, always means the ultimate death of its parent) it is “born.” At length it reaches its prime and, lastly, dies in the birth-pangs of its offspring, the preparation of which is an inevitable product of its own in­ternal development. In every social system, therefore, there exists in rudiment the forces which will bring about its destruction.

It must not, of course, be thought that the cycle of changes above outlined is the course rigidly adhered to by all societies during their evolution. It merely represents the process which these societies tend to follow under nor­mal conditions. But there exists room for all manner of variations from the main tendency. This is especially noticeable in cases affected by conquests or emigration. For instance, take the South African colonies, where so long as farming only predominated the Boer government was quite adequate, and the entire farmer class, both Boer and Uitlander, were comparatively satisfied. But when the country was found to be rich in mineral wealth, a class of speculative Europeans, headed by unscrupulous adventurers of the type of Cecil Rhodes, were attracted. The gold mag­nates, finding, however, that with the govern­ment of the country in the hands of the farmers their interests were not catered for, sought the backing of the State representative of their interest—the British Government—resulting in the Boer War and the smashing of the Boer republics, and the institution of a form of gov­ernment suited to their interests.

Looked at from this viewpoint, the history of those societies in which private property and classes exist, appears as the outcome of the desire on the part of these respective classes to satisfy what they believe to be their own needs and interests. The more conscious these classes become of their real interests, the more definite are their aims, and the more compact and united, do they become. And where their desires con­flict with the aspirations of another class, a more or less open struggle takes place between them, Besides the great revolutionary class struggles, the outcome of which has at different periods wrought fundamental changes in society, there have also been innumerable minor struggles between the various groups and factions into which the larger and more embracing classes are often divided. The sections of society whose interests are either really or apparently identical at a given moment, unite themselves more or less completely, and for greater or less periods of time, into various political groups or parties which aim at the satisfaction of those interests.

Political activities, such as legislation, wars, etc., are always directly or indirectly in the interest of the governing class, although, because of the influence of that class on the ideas of society, these are often supported by large masses of the community who have nothing to gain, or might even lose by their enactment.

The ideological manifestations of society such as science, art, philosophy, and religion, while deriving their substance from man’s relations with his known environment, have the course of their development largely influenced by the class contests prevailing. They are often used to defend or to attack the ideas of the respective classes.

We see, then, that in History, as in the rest of nature, the law of necessity, of causality, of determinism, holds inexorable sway. Accidents, occur, but accident, rightly understood, paradoxical as it may seem, is also governed by necessity. Accidents appear where seemingly disconnected currents of evolution cross, which crossing, although not a necessary outcome of either process considered separately, is, nevertheless, seen to be inevitable when the greater process of which these form subordinate but necessary parts, is reviewed as a whole. Thus it was evidently inevitable that man would at a certain period make pottery, otherwise it would never have happened. But the first crude pot­tery was probably never deliberately fashioned, and this might properly be regarded as an accidental discovery, looked at from the point of view of man’s development alone. Likewise it was not a necessary result of the geological process of the formation of clays that they should be made into pottery. Accident, therefore, like every­thing else, is a relative matter.

(1) “The Nemesis of Nations” (page 181), by W. R. Paterson, M.A.
(2) “Capital,” p. 366, Vol. I. English edition.

(To be continued.)


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