1910s >> 1918 >> no-171-november-1918
Society and Morals Part 11
Part XI. Morals and Socialism
The need for the efficient organisation of the Socialist movement has enforced, as a part of its moral principles, a stern “party discipline.” Faced by innumerable obstacles, surrounded and attacked by every agency of the ruling class, the butt of misrepresentation, the hunting-ground of the would-be demagogue, self-seeking “leader” and agent provocateur, the revolutionary organisation can only maintain its integrity unsullied and its vitality unweakened by being democratic in constitution, definite in principles, self-critical, and by the rigorous exclusion of non-revolutionary elements. The Socialist must be loyal to his party organisation and vigorous in its defence. He holds as despicable traitors those who, while affirming their adherence to Socialist principles by mouth, deny those principles by acting in contradiction to their implications.
Owing to the cosmopolitan nature of capitalism, the economic and social status of the workers is fundamentally the same the world over. They have the same problems to face in every country, like interests to satisfy, and a common enemy to combat. Evidently, therefore, proletarian revolutionary morality is of international application.
This “Internationalism” of the Socialist movement is in direct antagonism to that national sentiment which is fostered by the bourgeoisie under the name of “patriotism.” Despite cosmopolitan finance, the growth of world trade, and the fact that the capitalist class is internationally solid when faced with the opposition of the proletariat, the politics of the bourgeoisie have always been predominantly “national” in character. This has been so because, during the evolution of the bourgeoisie, their class power became consolidated into numerous national governments which could not expand in power territorially for the purpose of enabling the acquisition of further economic advantages and resources without sooner or later coming into conflict. With the rise of Imperialism this “national antagonism” became exceedingly acute and, as we have seen, “patriotism” received a still greater moral significance by reason of its being the prime mental agent in the satisfaction of the imperialist needs of the capitalist class.
But the class-conscious worker sees that “nationalism” is a snare in the path towards emancipation. Not only does it serve to cloud the class issue within the nation, but it also hinders the workers of the world from recognising and acting up to their unity of interest. To the Socialist, therefore, national pride, like racial aloofness, is a contemptible and pernicious prejudice which it is highly immoral for any Socialist to uphold or give way to.
What significance has the “fatherland” or the “glory of Empire” for the wage-slave whose only guarantee of livelihood rests on his ability to sell his labour-power ? None! save that it receives from political superstitions inculcated and carefully nurtured by agents of the dominant class. “Workers of all lands unite!” will inevitably be the watchword of the latter-day revolutionary.
For that organ of oppression and of capitalist protection and attack—militarism—together with closely-allied phenomenon—”war”‘—through which are sacrificed millions of workers on the altar of Profit, the Socialist cannot possibly have anything but the liveliest hatred. He never fails to unveil their hideous reality to his fellow-workers. Nevertheless, being a stern realist, he does not allow himself to be led into the delusion, so fervently held to by idealistic pacifists, that the use of force itself is futile and unjustifiable. The use of force is never an end in itself but always a means to an end. History shows that, whilst force has frequently served as a means of subjection and a preserver of enslavement, it has also been indispensable to any movement of revolt on the part of the oppressed.
“Strife” is likewise considered by many so-called “advanced thinkers” to be in itself immoral, and by these the Socialist doctrine of the class-war is discredited and disliked. As we have seen, however, Socialist principles are not deductions from any “absolute ideals,” but have been arrived at by a study of the actual evolution of human society ; and such a study shows that class-struggles have been, and that inevitably, the medium of social progress. The proletarian revolutionary movement, therefore, clearly recognises the necessity of a consciously organised struggle against the forces of opposition and reaction, together with the vital importance of acquiring that social and political power by the use of which alone it can institute social control of the means of life.
Conclusion and Summary.
With the emancipation of the workers achieved through economic socialisation human society will enter upon a new phase of its existence. With the forces of production democratically used by and for society, economic exploitation will become impossible and class distinctions a thing of the past. Then the prevailing ethical code will no longer represent, as it has done for so many centuries, the interests merely of a minority of the community. As in the far back savage and barbaric communism the social organism will be a harmonious structure in which the welfare of each and every member is conditional upon the well-being of the society as a whole.
But whereas the morality of tribal society was narrow because the groups were small and exclusive, the communism of the future will be embracing, and probably as wide as the human race itself. Thus the “brotherhood of man,” often dreamt about but never achieved, will become a living reality. Grounded upon the world-wide inter-dependence of economic processes, such a ”world” society will leave as little room for national and racial antagonisms as for those of class.
Moreover the elaborate political machinery which to-day is necessary to enforce the most vital tenets of the capitalistic code will be rendered functionless and obsolete, because the incentive to act in a manner menacing to the social system will have diminished to insignificance. Free from drudgery and emancipated from the miseries or even possibility of material poverty, having access to every avenue of knowledge and art, the men and women of the future will also witness the reconciliation between egoism and altruism, because through economic democracy the merging of the interests of the individual in that of the whole community will have been for the first time rendered completely possible.
The writer has in this series of essays attempted to give a brief account of the changes which have taken place in human society with especial emphasis upon the co-relative changes in the opinions of men as to which modes of conduct and principles of living were good and which were bad in the moral sense. In thus epitomising the results arrived at by the wide researches of many historians and sociologists, many points, even important ones, have necessarily been omitted. The outstanding features of each epoch have alone been dealt with. But as an introduction to an immense subject, rendered in simple language, to members of the working class, its purpose will have been served if it succeeds in dissipating, even in a slight degree, those superstitions prevalent in the minds of so many workers, that what is “right or wrong” always has been and always will be, and that social phenomena, such as the division into classes and the wages system are anything more than temporary and relatively short-lived products of changes in the material conditions under which men have lived.
This last point is important, for a wider appreciation of the truth of the “materialist conception of history” is a necessary factor in achieving that supreme aim towards which the writer has made this humble contribution —the emancipation of the proletariat.
Let us now, in conclusion, recall to the reader’s mind some of the essential facts set forth in this rather disconnected series of essays. First, the nature of morality was discussed, and it was seen to consist of certain opinions regarding conduct and the principles which underlie it. These opinions are forced upon men by the social life which they lead. The impulse to moral activity was seen to be based upon certain instinctive sociable feelings which antedate the existence of man himself, and are to be found among all the higher animals which live in organised communities. Then it was shown that the evolution of the artificial appliances and processes which, among animals, man alone has been able to use in maintaining existence, is the root cause of the changes in the form of his social aggregations.
Following these changes in greater detail from the rudest organisations of savagery to the capitalist civilisation of our own day it was seen that, along with changing needs and interests, went a corresponding development in outlook, in men’s notions of good and evil, right and wrong. Parricide, cannibalism, incest, and group-marriage, once normal and moral, through the pressure of economic change became immoral. Maternal “law” makes way for the dominance of the patriarch. Polygamy, then normal, is later superseded by monogamy. Chattel slavery becomes the basis of society, and its many horrors are upheld by the moral law until, at a later date, having become obsolete, it is declared anathema. Serfdom passes through the same phases.
Wage-labour and “free contract” become lauded to the skies, and along with the “rights of capital”’ are declared the only just and moral basis of society. Competition is now the “life of industry,” and free trade, according to the cant of Liberalism, the ”hope of humanity.” Imperialism dashes this hope to the ground and substitutes the patriot’s answer to the call of empire as the virtue par excellence. Only by the clear-eyed workers for the proletarian revolution is the veil torn from these hypocritical shibboleths revealing naked the profit-hunger of capital, of the bourgeois interests.
Spurning the ideals, the threadbare theories and canting morality of decadent capitalism, the Socialist formulates his own code of morality upon those principles and ideals which flow from the logic of Marxism. Socialist morality is revolutionary because its ideal is the overthrow of bourgeois society and the institution of communism; it is critical because it ruthlessly analyses all the manifold institutions, opinions and motives supported by and themselves in turn supporting existing society ; it is scientific because based upon the findings of sociology ; it is a fighting morality because it promotes the class-war and provides the discipline and fervour necessary for the revolutionary struggle; it is proletarian because the Socialist movement draws its vitality and strength from the working class who, alone in modern society, are fitted by their mode and condition of life to accept the Socialist Ideal.
R. W. Housley