When Engels wrote to the effect that the establishment of Socialism would mean the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom he was not guilty of a mere rhetorical flourish. He was expressing a profound sociological truth. The fact that under Socialism social forces will be under man’s control to an extent never previously reached, and further, that this would be the inevitable result of the development of society, as the dissolution of Capitalist society is mainly a question of time, plus the action and interaction of social forces in their entirety.
Let us explain, in a more general way, our meaning.
The continuity with which the presence and pressure of adverse social conditions has pervaded human society is such that the idea of moulding human association to exclude privation and want impresses some people as being the product of a sentimental imagination. This arbitrary assumption is wholly wrong. The idea in question is the result of a logical deduction made after a study of the social history of mankind, and considerably animated by the pressure of the effects of capitalism upon us as members of the working class.
The socialist philosophy of life is born and nourished by the knowledge that capitalism can never be made to function in the interest of those who produce the means of living, or even of making the essential needs of social life its primary concern. This view may be challenged on the ground that capitalism is a social system and, as such, must concern itself with social needs.
We may speak of capitalist society as a social order, as one that has evolved from other and different forms of social life, but our reason for doing so is that its structure has a basis from which certain more or less regular and regulated economic, political, legal and sex[ relationships arise. It is, therefore, known in the science of sociology as a social order.
Since the breakdown of tribal society, under which private property had little or no meaning as a social status, social convulsions and revolutions have been experienced through which one form of class rule has superseded another. But whilst each ruling class has fought for social control in order to remove the obstacles that impede its further development, the social organisation following the conquest of power is the result of normal development and not the conscious design of the ruling class in question. Economic and political development has continued without those who have gained most from it being aware of the nature of the process.
Society to-day has an orderly appearance, but the anarchic character of its foundations produces effects that are constantly felt. At the very basis of this social system, in the course of the production and distribution of its wealth, there exists, despite the social form which production takes, a considerable degree of anarchy among those under whose “guidance” the process of production and distribution is carried on. The preservation of class rule compels a measure of co-ordination among the rulers in order to conserve the institution of private property, but in the quest for enrichment the scramble between capitalists is carried on with an intensity that bears comparison with the struggle for life in the animal kingdom.
In this scramble for wealth the machinery of production is overworked and the world becomes flooded with goods which the producing class cannot obtain in sufficiency and the owning class cannot dispose of at a profit. Where this condition obtains wealth is often destroyed instead of being consumed, because consumption was not the underlying purpose of its production.
Looking at the matter superficially one might take it for granted that the needs of society as a whole would be the first concern, but ,this is not sq in class society. Were it really so, the trash that passes under the name of human requirements would never be placed at our disposal.
It is true that the wealth produced in capitalist society has a use-value, but such use-value as it may have is a mere incident to its existence. It is not for its usefulness that it is produced, but for its capacity to bring profit to the capitalists. No profit, or ultimate prospect of profit, then no production is permissible.
In thus criticising capital’s mode of activity, we socialists imply nothing of moral significance. We are too well aware that things cannot be different from what they are as far as the main purpose of capitalism is concerned. Our case is strengthened, not weakened, by the recognition of the fact that business in capitalist society cannot be run without profit. But we are concerned with the consequences which flow from the quest for profit, because, as workers, we know our exploitation is the source from which profit is derived, and hence is inseparable from capital’s existence. And this brings us to a lesson from another side of the effects of capitalism.
It is estimated that approximately thirty millions of people throughout the world are unemployed, and not even the most daring of our social optimists can reasonably point to the probability of these millions being entirely absorbed in a “trade revival.”
Were it not for the tragic side of this feature of social development, it would be possible to share some sensation of humour from the irony of the situation. Here is the vital force of capital’s organism, the source which gives it life and growth, a mass of human labour power rendered stagnant because of the inability of those who normally profit from its use to set it in motion. At the behest of the capitalists more has been produced than is sufficient to satisfy what the economists call the effective demand of the market. Therefore, workers must be unemployed, with their already meagre means stinted still further.
It is idle to insist that the conditions so far referred to arise from such a social disturbance as the late European war, or that they are occasioned by the particular government in office at any given time. Their existence is independent of any political administration, and would be here though the late war had never been. Wars and policies of governments may aggravate such conditions, but they do not cause them to exist. Given the condition that an individual or a class has the right and power to own the land, mines, mills, factories, and other means of obtaining those things which we need to live, and the whole of the conditions referred to follow as an inevitable consequence. Class ownership of the means of life, it cannot be too often stated, is the root cause of poverty, unemployment, wars and such-like social anomalies.
The class division in modern society tends to become wider and wider as time goes on, which no amount of social “amelioration” can stay. So much so that world economic conferences are now a generally accepted fact in capitalist psychology. Many who previously accepted the doctrine of no interference or intervention in matters of finance and industry by the State, now gladly welcome its assistance. Surely this must be taken as a sign of the trend of events, when the capitalists employ their State machine more and more to check the havoc wrought by their own machinations.
Yet these things were all seen by thinkers long before they reached their present dimensions; in fact, whilst they were yet in their infancy.
In the early part of the 19th century, Charles Fourier, an eminent French historian and sociologist, and one of the early utopian socialists, predicted that the unbridled competition of his time (immediately after the French Revolution of 1789) must result in great concentration of the means of production in the hands of a few. He saw, also, the growth of one of civilisation’s greatest contradictions, poverty “born of superabundance itself.” Fourier proved to be a forerunner of a writer on a similar theme, who came a few decades later and had the added advantage of surveying a more developed capitalism, namely, Karl Marx. It was he who first scientifically diagnosed the source of the economic ailments of mankind, and correctly exposed the process by which the working class is exploited. The mechanisation of industry (I almost said, of life itself) Marx saw with the full force of its consequences. But he did not blame the machine or its inventor. With the clear insight of the social scientist he saw that in the form of its ownership, together with the same form of ownership in all the means of production, lay the cause of the trouble.
Since Marx wrote, the ever-increasing development of machinery has proceeded apace, spreading misery among the producers throughout the entire capitalist world, and making more difficult the problem of finding markets.
What, then, of the future of human society? Are we to relapse into a state akin to barbarism, which some fear? or is society to move forward along the path marked out for it by the laws of social development ?
In the light of the lessons of history, we socialists declare for the latter course, not merely on the ground of the wish being father to the thought, but because, as indicated above, history shows that when any given form of society reaches a stage where further development is hampered, those whose interest it is to take the step for advancement, invariably do so; even though the immediate consequences of the act may serve as a deterrent.
It is a fact becoming demonstrably clearer as time proceeds that capitalism has outgrown its usefulness to humanity, and stands as a barrier to social advancement. How this increasingly affects certain sections of the capitalist class itself, causing them to cry out for world organisation, the cancellation of war debts, and the thousand and one other nostrums now proposed for the rehabilitation of capitalism, is no concern of ours or the working class in general. Our only concern is the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.
The workers are denied the possibility of enjoying the fruits of their labour, as they are hampered in sharing the real benefits bequeathed to society by all past history. It is they whom social laws have selected to bring the next stage in the development of society.
The generalisation of Frederick Engels, with which we opened this article will then be an accomplished fact. The subjection of the powers of production to social control and regulation through Socialism will likewise vindicate the words of Marx, who declared of the capitalist thus: —
“Fanatically bent on making value expand itself, he ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production’s sake; he thus forces the development of the productive powers of society, and creates those material conditions, which alone can form the real basis of a higher form of society, a society in which the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle.”
(Socialist Standard, May 1933)