The onward march of capitalism
To show the degrading effect of capitalist production on the modern wage-worker, Paul Lafargue uses this comparison.
“Look at the noble savage whom the missionaries of trade and the traders of religion have not yet corrupted with Christianity, syphilis and the dogma of work, and then look at our miserable slaves of machines.” —The Right to be Lazy (p. 10).
To justify this statement, we need only compare the general conditions of the workers to-day with the following description that Lewis Morgan gives of the American Indian :—
“All the members of an Iroquois gens were personally free, and they were bound to defend each other’s freedom; they were equal in privileges and in personal rights, the sachem and chiefs claiming no superiority; and they were a brotherhood bound together by the ties of kin. Liberty, equality, and fraternity, though never formulated, were cardinal principles of the gens. These facts are material, because the gens was the unit of a social and governmental system, the foundation upon which Indian society was organised. A structure composed of such units would of necessity bear the impress of their character, for as the unit so the compound. It serves to explain that sense of independence and personal dignity universally an attribute of Indian character.” (Ancient Society, pp. 85-6.)
Such was the state of man in this form of society, before modern civilisation played its part. And the curse it has been to these people is evident from the following item of news that appeared in the “Daily News,” 7/3/1927 :—
“The Red Indians, confined to reservations in various parts of the United States, even as near the east coast as New York State itself, are dying by thousands, abused and neglected.
Mr. Robert E. Callahan, a writer on western life, has just spent a year surveying the 22 principal Indian reservations. He declared that on some reservations he found the Indians killing their pet dogs and their horses to keep themselves alive”
And further, we are told that :—
“Judges appointed by the agents have been known to throw Indians into gaol for resenting an agent’s treatment of them. An Indian named Kill Thunder was chained by one of these men, who was judge, gaoler, and prosecutor all in one, for visiting a friend without the agent’s permission.
There are estimated to be 340,000 Indians left in America. Mr. Callahan says 225,000 of them have been reduced to the most miserable conditions of existence, and that unless some drastic changes are made the Red Indians within a few years will be extinct.”
So we see that the capitalist method of wiping out, what is to them, an odious comparison, between the Barbarian and the wage-slave, is to reduce the former to a state of poverty and subjection, parallel to that suffered by the latter.
Exploitation by the capitalist class, together with the evils that flow from it, spreads like a plague, and to escape from its vile influence is out of the question.
In drawing up the manifesto of the Communist Party (1847) Marx and Engels dealt with this point :
On page 10, they say :—
“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere. ”
And further, on the same page, we read :
“It compels all nations on pain of extinction to adopt the bourgeoisie mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”
Events since this was written have demonstrated the truth of the assertions made. The most recent example, on the one hand, is China, whose development has been accelerated through its exploitation by the Western Powers. And an effort is now being made by the property-owning class in China, to rid itself of that influence, and secure the full benefits from the exploitation of the workers of that country.
On the other hand, there is the American Indians, who, not having reached the preceding stage in historical development to capitalist society, is unable to adopt that form of production, and consequently must suffer the penalty of extinction.
A nation or class can only establish that form of society which has been made possible by conditions which have developed within the prevailing system. And the chief factor which determines the character of a society; and the direction or form which the new system will take, is the way in which the wealth of that society is produced, and the form of ownership or distribution.
The introduction of capitalism, necessitated, not only that the production of goods for sale should be developed, together with the merchant and his capital, but also the presence of a body of producers that could be profitably utilised as wage-workers.
The backward nature of the vast populations of Russia and China, accounts to a great extent for the slow development of these countries. And the fact that they are, in spite of this handicap, following in the direction of the more advanced countries, speaks volumes for the penetrating powers of the capitalist method of production. But had the social system of these countries been in a more primitive state, their fate would have been that of America and the Colonies, which were developed by the modern emigrant wage-worker. And the original inhabitants, who were not slaughtered by the invading force, pushed in the background, and used later as chattel slaves or exterminated in compounds, provided by the “benevolent” Christian capitalists, because they could not profitably use them in the modern method of production.
As the establishment of capitalism was made possible by conditions that developer in feudalism, so in turn have the conditions been developed in the present system that makes the next social change both possible and necessary.
The growth of social production within the present system, supplies the foundation of the society that is to take its place, and makes the change to Socialism possible. The private ownership by a non-producing section of the socially produced wealth implies on the other hand a propertyless producing class, whose interest dictates the need for that change; a change that awaits the understanding by this class; that to secure the benefits their social productive powers justify, they must end the private ownership in the means of life, and establish a system of society in which the wealth that is socially produced, shall be socially owned.
And by taking advantage of the political conditions that have grown up with the system, they will secure control of the machinery of state, and with command of this force, accomplish the social change which their class interest dictates.
(Socialist Standard, June 1927)