1920s >> 1925 >> no-252-august-1925

Socialism and Darwinism

Two of the branches of scientific work that have done more to revolutionise human thought than any others are those known as Darwinism and Socialism. Though both these owe their final achievements to the painstaking research of many previous investigators, it was not until time and development had provided the material for proof and demonstration that they were raised to a scientific position by Darwin and Marx respectively. The previously held belief in a supernatural creation of plants and animals had received rude shocks bv the discovery of fossil remains that apparently could not be related to existing species. As new methods of grouping and classification came with increased knowledge a closer examination revealed resemblances between species both fossil and living. The fish and the amphibian, the reptile and the bird, the anthropoid ape and primitive man; could there be a remote relationship? The theory of descent grew. It was at this stage that Darwin undertook his patient investigations. In his autobiography he says:—

“In October, 1838, that is 15 months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on population, and, being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long continuous observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work.”

In passing we may mention that Malthus was a capitalist apologist who claimed that population increased faster than subsistence, and that therefore working class poverty was inevitable and natural. His theory was, many years ago, completely shattered by Godwin and Henry George in “On Population,” and “Progress and Poverty” respectively. Dr. Alfred Wallace, Darwin’s co-worker, showed conclusively in “The Wonderful Century” that even under capitalism during the last century our powers of production increased ten times greater than the population. To aid him in his studies Darwin turned to that branch of plant and animal reproduction that mankind consciously operates upon in order to breed special types, the racehorse or the heavy shire, the whippet or the bulldog, the various breeds of pigeons, all of which can be made to vary more than wild species. Did this artificial selection by which man bred new species have its counterpart in natural forces? In his works “Origin of Species” and “Descent of Man,” Darwin showed that it had. The gradual advance of plant and animal life had been brought about by an intense struggle with natural obstacles. The peace and tranquility of nature sung by the poet is an eternal struggle to maintain existence. The lower forms of life have powers of reproduction far in excess of their available subsistence (not civilised humans, note), hence the two great motive forces, the preservation of the individual and the species, are impelling forces to warfare. Those that can defend and protect themselves against enemies and conditions in the struggle for existence by any sort of advantage, acquired from generation to generation, will be the new species “fittest to survive.” The failures will be exterminated : The struggle is carried a step further by those animals that live in groups or are gregarious. Their combined powers give them a new strength of protection both for themselves and their young. Bearing in mind the immense periods of time taken for development in nature’s working it will become more clear how such groups developed social feelings, instincts and advantages, that enabled them to struggle successfully right up to the man-like apes, our progenitors in the line of development.

The final step that enables man to emerge from the animal kingdom is the making and use of tools. He acquires the first rudiments of speech and becomes “primitive man.” Space only permits of a brief mention of the proofs of the correctness of Darwin’s theory. Man within his body contains many rudimentary parts only explicable on the basis of his lowly origin. The physical and mental differences of living races of men are greater than those between the lowest men and the highest apes, and a study of embryology shows that the human embryo recapitulates the whole history of the evolution of the species, the last form left behind being that of the anthropoid ape.

What organs are to the animal world, tools are to mankind. These man-made tools in conjunction with other discoveries give him a great advantage in the struggle for the food supply over the animals, he is indeed able to dominate them and later domesticate them. Struggle at this stage does not cease, it merely takes a different form, those groups or tribes of men who possess better tools and weapons compete more successfully in the conflict and struggle now takes place between tribe and tribe. Further development in tools and methods of production makes the preservation of those captured in conflict desirable, a surplus can be produced, slavery begins :

All history says Marx “is the history of class struggles ” (i.e., since the break up of the tribes) and thus he supplies the key :

“In every epoch the prevailing mode of social production and exchange, and the social organisation necessaiily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch.” (Communist Manifesto).

As with Darwin and Wallace in the domain of natural history, so with Marx and Engels in the materialistic conception of history. Marx shows that with changed economic conditions, come new social classes, new ideas, new interests. The subject class that has sought to possess tools or means of livelihood has always fought for political supremacy. Every class struggle must be a political struggle. The decline of the Roman Empire, the French Revolution, the vast changes within capitalism including the growing conscious discontent of the workers, can only be explained by Marx’s theory.

The handicraft worker had a mentality different from the city proletariat of to-day, the conditions had not developed the Socialist who is a product of the modern slave system of social production : What then is the struggle that is paramount to the Socialist? It is the Class struggle, it is the struggle between the producers, and the non-producers who possess and control the means of life, between the wage workers and the Capitalists. To remove poverty and degradation the workers must wage that struggle consciously for the establishment of a higher order of society in which class distinctions will be abolished and all can enjoy the comfort and leisure modern means make possible. The decadent parasites of Capital will be no match for a majority organised for Socialism. It will indeed be “the survival of the fittest.”


(Socialist Standard, August 1925)

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