1920s >> 1921 >> no-207-november-1921

As it was not in the beginning, it will not always be

In human history, just as in all other directions, the principle of change operates. Social systems arise, grow, and decay, just as animals and plants do, the new system being a growth out of the older system.

A glance along the path the human race has traversed in its development brings to light the fact that there have arisen at different times certain fundamentally different social systems, and in each epoch the people of the period have had their own particular outlook on life; as the epochs have been fundamentally different, so have the ideas of the times.

Until the latter half of the last century the early history of mankind was, comparatively speaking, something of a mystery. There was no guide or key to assist investigators ; no scientific theory to bring order out of the apparent chaos and render fruitful and intelligible in this field the work of ethnologists and archaeologists ; all was shrouded in darkness.

To the late Lewis Henry Morgan, the American ethnologist, we are indebted for the clearing away of the clouds that obscured man’s early social history. His laborious, careful, and lengthy investigations have not only provided us with a wealth of material, but have also given us the key to the progressive movement of man from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilisation. Morgan analysed and explained the development of the Gens (the blood relationships and all that this signified) and the part it played in primitive society.

Since Morgan published the results of his investigations, other workers in the same field have followed the paths he pointed out, so that we now have ample material to enable us to understand primitive society.

In view of the attempt on the part of Capitalist professors to spread the false idea that Capitalism, in one form or another, has always existed, the work of Morgan is especially valuable to the Socialist movement. He has provided us with indisputable proof of the existence in the past of communities practising communal ownership; and he has shown that the introduction of private property broke up the old societies founded upon kinship and started society off on a new career founded upon private property—the territorial tie. The re-introduction of communism—the aim of the Socialist—will write finis to the social systems based upon property, and bring society to a new communism—but communism upon a vastly higher scale; communism with the advantages that will accrue from all the discoveries and accumulated means of wealth-production obtained by the human race at such a cost of blood and tears and misery to the wealth producers since society passed out of primitive communism into early civilisation.

If a broad glance be taken at history, it will be found that four distinct forms of society have existed at successive periods in social development, i.e., the Primitive, the Antique, the Feudal, and the Capitalistic. In each of these social systems the method of obtaining the means to satisfy social needs, or, to put the matter more simply, the way in which wealth was produced, differed. In the Primitive commune all the able-bodied members took their allotted part in obtaining what was required to satisfy the needs of the commune, and as all shared the work, so they also shared the fruit of their, work. In the Antique system, which flourished during the palmy days of Greece and Rome, the wealth of society was obtained by means of the work of chattel slaves, and the wealth produced flowed into the hands of Greek and Roman proprietors. Under Feudalism the bond slave was the beast of burden, and the feudal proprietor the appropriator of the wealth obtained. In our day, the day of fully-fledged Capitalism, the wage-slave does the toiling and moiling in the obtaining of the means of social existence, whilst all the wealth produced is owned by the Capitalist proprietor.

So far, then, each social system had a different economic foundation—its own peculiar method of satisfying its needs. But each system has not been what we may call “self-developed” ; that is to say, they have not grown from separate isolated seeds. Each has grown out of the preceding system. The question that immediately confronts us, then, is : What has been the dynamic factor of the matter? What has caused one to be transformed into the other? How, for example, came society to forsake its communistic basis for a private property basis?

In the first place, Karl Marx subjected this point to a thorough analysis and elucidated the cause of social change. But, independently of Marx, Morgan also solved the problem, and his investigations shed light on the matter.

Morgan divided early social development into two main periods—Savagery and Barbarism ; and these periods he split up into six sub-periods—lower, middle, and upper stages of Savagery, and lower, middle, and upper stages of Barbarism. The transition from one sub-period to another is marked by the discovery of a new means to obtain from nature a better subsistence. For example, the transition from the earliest form of social existence to the middle stage of Savagery was marked by the discovery of fire; the transition to the upper stage of Savagery was accomplished by the invention of bows and arrows; the discovery of pottery introduced the lower stage of Barbarism ; the cultivation of food plants and the domestication of animals introduced the middle stage of Barbarism; the melting of iron ore the upper stage of Barbarism; and the invention of letter script and its utilisation for writing records brought mankind to the threshold of Civilisation.

Each of the different discoveries mentioned brought mankind into better harmony with natural forces; enabled him to take greater advantage of the latter to the end that he obtained a better subsistence. But the increase in the means of production, the obtaining of a better and easier subsistence, led to the production of a surplus over and above what the community immediately required, and this in turn led to a struggle for the ownership of the surplus.

Here we have the embryonic class struggle, the germ of future class struggles and social systems. Society had developed to the point where all need not be workers, owing to the fruitfulness of the wealth-producing appliances; hence the struggle as to who should own and who should work these appliances; the establishment of a class of owners (the introduction of private property); and the struggle between the owning and producing classes, which, as fresh method of obtaining wealth were discovered, gave birth to new social systems with new social classes.

The following quotations from Morgan’s chief work, “Ancient Society,” on the introduction of private property, are an example of his insight and grasp of the matter :

”When field agriculture had demonstrated that the whole surface of the earth could be made the subject of property owned by individuals in severally, and it was found that the head of the family became the natural centre of accumulation, the new property career of mankind was inaugurated. It was fully done before the later period of barbarism. A little reflection must convince anyone of the powerful influence property would now begin to exercise upon the human mind, and of the great awakening of new elements of character it was calculated to produce. Evidence appears, from many sources, that the feeble impulse aroused in the savage mind had now become a tremendous passion in the splendid barbarian of the heroic age. Neither archaic nor later usages could maintain themselves in such an advanced condition. The time had now arrived when monogamy, having assured the paternity of children, would assert and maintain their exclusive right to inherit the property of their deceased father.”—pp. 553-554.

“During the Later Period of Barbarism a new element, that of aristocracy, had a marked development. The individuality of persons, and the increase of wealth now possessed by individuals in masses, were laying the foundation of personal influence. Slavery, also, by permanently degrading a portion of the people, tended to establish contrasts of condition unknown in the previous ethnical periods. This, with property and official position, gradually developed the sentiment of aristocracy, which has so deeply penetrated modern society, and antagonised the democratical principles created and fostered by the gentes. It soon disturbed the balance of society by introducing unequal privileges, and degrees of respect for individuals among people of the same nationality, and these became the source of discord and strife.” —Page 560.

“Since the advent of civilization, the outgrowth of property has been so immense, its forms so diversified, its uses so expanding, and its management so intelligent in the interests of its owners, that it has become, on the part of the people, an unmanageable power. The human mind stands bewildered in the presence of its own creation. The time will come, nevertheless, when human intelligence will rise to the mastery over property, and define the relations of the state to the property it protects, as well as the obligations and the limits of the rights of its owners. The interests of society are paramount to individual interests, and the two must be brought into just and harmonious relations. A mere property career is not the final destiny of mankind if progress is to be the law of the future as it has been of the past. The time which has passed away since civilization began is but a fragment of the past duration of man’s existence, and but a fragment of the ages yet to come. The dissolution of society bids fair to become the termination of a career of which property is the end and aim ; because such a career contains the elements of self-destruction. Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes.”— pp. 561-562.

The above quotations are an indication of the remarkable insight and thorough grasp of his material Morgan had. Perhaps it will be an incentive to the reader to get a closer acquaintance with Morgan’s writings. In particular, a study of “Ancient Society” would reward well the effort expended.

From the foregoing it can be seen that each social system has had at the back of it an older one, right away back to the time when our ancestors forsook their arborial abodes for the solid ground. Just as each social system has given birth to or foreshadowed a later system, so Capitalism at the high tide of its development foreshadows another system in which the evils that flow from the economic foundations of Capitalism will cease to exist; economic insecurity will be as remote as the marvellous development of science can make it; no longer will those toiling myriads be bowed down with the weight of economic troubles, and the miseries we know to-day will disappear as snow before the sun.