1920s >> 1926 >> no-258-february-1926

The survival of the fittest

“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as consequently there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, it vary however slightly, in any manner profitable to itself under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life will have a higher chance of surviving and will thus be ‘naturally selected.'” Introduction to “The Origin of Species,” C. Darwin.

This generalization in Darwin’s epoch-making work, the result of a lifetime of study of the evolution of organic life, can with equal force be applied to the evolution of the organism known as Society. Modern capitalist society—the outcome of many thousands of years of development—depends upon the individual and collective effort of the workers. The sum total of all these efforts results in the production and distribution of all those things which provide the comforts and wants of modern civilization.

The millions of unemployed workers throughout the world are perfectly conscious of a desire to use their energies, their manifold capabilities, to this end, but they are unable to find a suitable opportunity. It is obvious that, in order to live, mankind is forced to make such efforts as will wrest from mother earth those things which will satisfy his needs. The earth is ready to hand—but !—and there’s the rub—the unemployed worker finds himself obstructed by a code of laws and regulations which says, in effect, that the land belongs to various individuals—a distinct and separate class in society. It is the nature of this legal code, this property right in the private ownership and control of the source of the means of life which the workers have to enquire into. It comes to this, therefore, that by a generalization similar to the one made by Darwin quoted above, the organism known as society can be divided, in the main, into two classes :—

1. The class who possess but do not produce—the property-owning master class, and
2. Those who produce but do not possess—the propertyless working class.

The socialist, therefore, may be said to vary from the rest of the members of his class, as a result of a consciousness of this division of society into classes. Let us now examine in what way such variation makes for ultimate survival of himself and his class.

The socialist, being class-conscious, recognises that there is a constant struggle going on between the two classes referred to. He probes into the nature of this struggle, and as a result of his study of the economic conditions and the political history of capitalism, is forced to the conclusion that it is through their control of the political machinery of the state that the master class—the owners of the means of life—are able to subject the working class to their wage-slavery position.

The long history of the struggle which has taken place between these two classes is admirably expressed in the life-long labours of Karl Marx, in whose writings is revealed the nature of the struggle and the historical mission which confronts the working class, so far as the future reorganisation of society is concerned.

Inherent in the capitalist system is an antagonism, a conflict of interests—the class struggle. Leaving aside for the moment periods of trade depression, when such conflicts of interests between the workers and the masters is glaring and needs little illustration, let us examine the conditions when so-called peace prevails. Even then the struggle still goes on; the struggle on the part of the worker to obtain as much by the sale of his labour power as he can get, and the struggle on the part of the master to buy that labour power at the lowest possible rate. Employers of labour compete for the world’s markets. To do this successfully, up-to-date machinery, the very latest equipment and industrial organisation, efficient workers, are essential for this success.

Further, the workers also compete with one another for jobs. Non-unionists, blacklegs, the introduction of women and juveniles into industry, all tend to keep the workers’ wages, in the aggregate, down to the bare cost of subsistence.

Despite all these obvious facts, we have the Rt. Hon. J. H. Thomas, the railwaymen’s leader, making the following observations in a speech on the occasion of the opening of the Congress of Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire at the Guildhall. London :—

”Cheap labour is bad, but while we demand the best, we should be in a position to give the best in return. That can only be done by sweeping away that absurd and dangerous doctrine that the Empire belongs to one class or section of the community. Nothing is more dangerous than that doctrine of class hatred” (Daily Herald, 2nd July, 1924).

If the worker will compare the above with our brief analysis of the workers’ position, he can only come to one of two conclusions, either that Mr. J. H. Thomas is a fool or a deliberate distorter of the facts of every-day working-class experience.

Utterances like these are typical of modern labour leaders. They are attempts to blind the minds of a credulous working-class following, in the hope of reward from the ruling class, when the plums of office are being distributed. By such servile conduct do labour leaders endeavour to prove their fitness to survive—at the expense of the working class.

It would be interesting, however, to know why J. H. Thomas considers the doctrine of “class hatred” so dangerous. He and his kind conveniently forget to explain their reasons. On the other hand, is it likely that a recognition by the workers of their class position tends to make them love the system which crushes all their aspirations? Of course not. The more the workers become convinced of the nature of the class struggle, so will their respect and reverence for their “betters” dwindle, and to that extent will their worship of trade union and political leaders diminish.

In conclusion, therefore, we repeat that the fundamental principle of Socialism is based on the recognition of the class struggle. The workers will prove their fitness to survive by associating themselves with the work of the Socialist Party. That work consists in resolutely organising for the dethronement of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. Naturally this work falls upon those who will benefit therefrom, i.e., the working class.

Help to prove the fitness of your class to survive ! “Eat or be eaten” ; that is the issue.

O. C. I.

(Socialist Standard, February 1926)

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