Past Class Struggles

The whole of the tactics of the International Socialist Party turn upon the knowledge and correct appreciation of the modern class struggle. As has been often pointed out in the columns of this journal, the pitfalls and absurdities into which have fallen the so-called Socialist parties of this and other countries are entirely due to the fact that the members of those parties are almost completely ignorant of the meaning of the class war and are, therefore, at the beck and call of any “revolutionist,” or other individual, who desires to make private profit out of their support.

There are many workers who believe that the trade union movement will accomplish all things ; there are others who put their faith in various types of reform, such as Land Reform, Food Reform, Electoral Reform, etc. On this account the working class is to be found split up into various factions, fighting each other instead of the real enemy, and all because they have no key, no touchstone, to keep them on the correct road. They are like the traveller floundering in the morass through ignorance of the path across.

As things can only be correctly understood when considered in the light of their origin and growth, whether it be the revolution of the earth round the sun, the form and colour of a plant, or the tastes of men, so, in order to understand and correctly appreciate the significance of the modern class struggle we must study it also in the light of its development.

It is proposed, therefore, to investigate the conditions surrounding some former class struggles in the history of society with the view of drawing conclusions for future guidance. The great importance of the subject warrants the continual traversing of ground previously covered, in order to fix the true position firmly in the minds of our fellow workers.

The necessity of a firm grounding in Socialist knowledge is now more than ever obvious from the waverings of the various “Socialist” parties in the different countries engaged in the present war, our little party being the only one, so far as our information goes, that has, up to the present pursued an unwavering policy and adopted an unflinching attitude. In the first weeks of the war we issued our war manifesto, and we have never withdrawn nor wavered from the attitude there taken up.

In the early development of the human race the associations of men and women were based upon kinship or blood relationship ; but the entrance of private property broke up the old tribal communities and substituted the association based upon territory. The subsequent history is that of the struggles of the various sections of society for the social wealth.

The wealth of the communities was commonly owned, but this, in very early times, is saying little, as it generally meant merely their daily subsistence, their weapons, and the skins with which they were clothed. The domestication of animals appears to have first rendered pos­sible the attainment of a surplus of wealth and to have introduced the idea of private property.

The Gens, the centre of the first form of association, was the family, a group of brothers, sisters, etc. A man always married into his wife’s group, the children belonging to the gens of the mother. The inheritance of property was therefore through the females, the property always belonging to the gens of the mother. The change in the law of inheritance to the father (the first class struggle) consequent upon the increase of wealth, enabled him to bequeath his property to his children, and gave rise to the possibility of inequality of wealth.

A full and clear idea of the early history of society can be obtained from a careful study of Engels’ “Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State,” Lewis H. Morgan’s “Ancient Society,” and Jenks’ “History of Politics.”


The first people to play an important individual part upon the stage of history were the Greeks, and the part of Greece where they were most active was Attica.

The first historical view obtained depicts Attica (and for that matter all Greece) covered with small communities, each governed by accordance with the old tribal regulations founded upon the associations of Gentes (the plural of Gens) and therefore communal property. But although the laws were based upon common property, the communities were composed of units owning varying amounts of wealth as a result of the law of inheritance through the father.

The population consisted of four classes (excluding the slaves, who formed a large part of the population) : (]) Landed Proprietors ; (2) Dependent Cultivators, by whom the land was tilled ; (3) Peasant Farmers, or small self-working proprietors ; (4) the townsmen having do land, but exercising handicrafts, arts, and commerce. The Government was exclusively in the hands of the Landed Proprietors, some of whom, through continual division, had become poor; whilst in the development that ensued the wealth and importance of the small self-working proprietors and the artizans grew and consequently they found the old laws, suitable to common property, irksome, and frequent outbursts were the result.

This state of affairs was further complicated by the general revolt of the poorer population against the rich, resulting from misery combined with oppression. In the words of Grote (“History of Greece”) :

“The bulk of the population were weighed down by debts and dependence, and driven in large num­bers out of a state of freedom into slavery. . . . All the calamitous effects were seen of the old harsh law of debtor and creditor combined with the recognition of slavery as a legitimate status, and of the right of one man to sell himself as well as that of another to buy him.”—(Vol. 3, p. 311.)

Here, then, was the position : Owing to the tribal conditions kinship operated irrespective of wealth, yet the poor as a body, some of whom belonged to the governing class, were revolting against the rich. At the same time the rich, in the classes excluded from political power, were fighting for a share in the government. The society based upon private property was hampered by the old laws based upon common property.

In the revolts of the poor against the rich the former generally had for their leaders rich men who were in the classes excluded from political power. just as, in the last century, Cobden and Bright, in fighting for political power on behalf of their class, the capitalist manufacturers, posed as the leaders of the poor against the rich until subsequent history exposed the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Eventually the evils reached such a point and the rebellion of the sufferers became so strong, that the existing laws could no longer be enforced. Such was the condition of affairs that the governing class were eventually compelled to look around for some means of quelling the trouble, and they invoked the aid of one named Solon (an ancient of whom Lloyd George is a caricature) 594 B.C.

Solon was a descendant of the wealthy who had fallen upon evil days, having had to spend his earlier years in trade. As a result, of course, his activities were turned to the advantage of his class, the citizens and small proprietors.

His attention was first directed to the abolition of the old law of debtor and creditor, thus sweeping off the mortgage pillars from the landed properties in Attica and protecting the persons of enslaved or endangered debtors. And next he turned his activities to the enfranchisement of the land and the drawing up of a constitution for future government.

One incident relatirg to Solon deserves mention because it recalls the recent Marconi dealings of certain people in high places in this country :

“Three rich friends of Solon, all men of great family in the State, having obtained from Solon some previous hint of his designs, profited by it, first to borrow money, and next to make purchases of lands.”—(Grote, Vol 3, p. 317.)

By which, needless to say, they added considerably to their wealth.

Solon’s repudiation of debts was carried far enough to exonerate the poorer people but no further, and in the words of Grote “is to be vindicated by showing that in no other way could the bonds of government have been held together.”” (Italics mine )

The sum total of the results, then, achieved through the instrumentality of Solon were the alteration of the laws to conform to the mercantile development.

There were still rich and poor, but all the rich participated in political power whilst all the poor were excluded.

The old classification into gentes, tribes, etc. was superseded by the classification into classes according to the amount of property, the first or richest class taking to itself the functions of government. The fourth or poorest class, comprising the vast majority of the population was entirely excluded from the franchise.

The later development of Greece, owing to commercial advance, necessitated further modifications in the classifications, but they always continued to rest upon the private property basis.

(To be Continued)


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