1920s >> 1929 >> no-301-september-1929

Living the Double Life


“So hard it seems that one must bleed

Because another needs will bite.”


In one of his books, Fabre, the noted French entomologist, gives a wonderful description of the manner in which the Sphex wasp stings its victim in three places in order that its grub, when it wakes up, will find an adequate supply of fresh, living food immediately available.

This is a case of simple, or partial, parasitism, of which there appear to be several degrees existing in nature. Sometimes an organism will be parasitic for only a portion of its career, others are completely parasitic for the whole of their existence. Whatever the degree the association is generally specific and is bound up solely with the problem of nutrition.

Parasitism may be defined as one organism living upon another without rendering any useful service in return. When one individual directly kills another, the relation is called predatism ; when one party feeds upon another, without killing it directly, the relation is called parasitism. Various theories have been advanced to account for the origin of parasitism, but perhaps a good covering explanation would be that parasitism arose as a consequence of the discovery of the successful application of the law of least effort. Whatever their origin, the existing forms probably represent degenerate forms of former useful species.

This brings us to the consideration of another and more intimate phase of the subject, easily recognised by the discerning worker—social parasitism. Essentially this is the same as the organic variety so far as the end result is concerned—the acquisition and accumulation of the means of subsistence and enjoyment without effort. There is, of course, no moral involved, the question does not enter at all. The ability on the part of one section of society to extract the productive power of another section and to appropriate the results of the application of that power, is based entirely on the relatively unchallenged possession of the requisite machinery to enforce subjection. In nature parasitism on the part of certain organisms is known to possess what is termed “survival value,” that is, this feature plays a successful part in the struggle for existence. Not so in human society. Parasitism in human society owes its success to the fact that those who practise it control the means of enslaving their victims while at the same time permitting them sufficient to keep them from dying and so ensure an abundance of material to serve their needs. Though there are two classes in society—a slave class and a parasitic class—and though one class occupies what is termed a higher social rank, it is not because of its biological fitness to survive, measured by nature’s laws, but merely because in the course of the development of society certain individuals have seen their opportunity to relieve themselves from the necessity of providing a living by their own efforts, and in the course of time to improve the opportunity by introducing the necessary legal sanction in accordance with the degree of development.

It was mentioned that the organic parasite was generally specific—so is the social parasite. Yet he is not so discriminating in the choice of his victims. The wasp will select a particular caterpillar as its prey, but to the social parasite all are victims— red, black, yellow or white. One animal species, instead of killing its prey, will often subdue another and compel it to perform some service for it, as is the practice among certain ants. On the other hand man is the only instance known to Biology of an animal preying on its own kind. This is specificity with a vengeance !

As already suggested, this parasitic impulse is not by any means a primitive feature of human society. It does not appear in savage society to-day, any more than do the regular features of civilised society—slavery, robbery, murder, etc. It is essentially a product of “civilisation.” In another particular the social parasite resembles the Sphex in that he rarely fails to provide an abundance of material for the sustenance of his progeny. The only difference between the victim of the Sphex and the victim of the social parasite is that the former is stung in three places and the latter in one—but quite as effectively nevertheless. Despite the beliefs of many of those who claim to have the cause of the workers at heart, an accurate examination of the factors at work reveals the fact that the working classes are exploited once, and once only—that is, at the point of production.

Man’s conquest of his environment has made possible a remarkable increase in the productivity of every kind of material wealth. But hand in hand with this development has gone an appalling increase in the differences of prosperity and well-being. This concentration of wealth into the hands of a relatively small section of the human race has meant the demoralisation and degradation of literally millions. It is quite true, as history will testify, that the emphasis upon luxury, idleness and extravagance has been just as demoralising to those who hold the wealth, but such an outcome is only in keeping with a system where slavery is practised. Degeneration is the natural corollary of a parasitic mode of life.

All sorts of remedies are forthcoming whenever the question of the extermination of organic parasites arises. Even the individual whom we are trying to reach will instantly produce a remedy for the elimination of parasites on the physical body when required, but appears to be at a loss, even
if cognisant of its existence, when it comes to the question of eliminating parasites on the body politic. Hence the Socialist Party of Great Britain.


(Socialist Standard, September 1929)

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