50 Years Ago: The Ethics of Revolution

Some good people in the Labour movement . . . are keenly endeavouring to get the workers to study ethics. They urge that the world would be much better and happier if only people were more moral and altruistic, and they further argue that if the working class, the despised and rejected of men, would display a higher morality, the Capitalist class would be converted to the Labour movement. The Socialist has one of his most insidious foes in the ethical culturist. Their position is a denial of the materialist basis of Socialism, because it is simply an appeal to the individual, as though the majority of individuals could elevate themselves above their environment. If the teaching of ethics were all that is required to bring social salvation, how comes it that after 2,000 years of the teaching of the ethics of Christianity for example, the hewers of wood and drawers of water are worse off, than they have been for ages? Buddha, Confucius and others taught the Golden Rule long before Christ, yet the world is little the better.

The teaching of love and brotherhood, in a system that exists owing to the robbery of one class by another, is immoral. The moral course is that followed by the Socialist, who points out why this robbery takes place, explains the method by which it is done, and shows how it may be ended.

Standing firmly all the time on his material philosophy, the Socialist keeps clear of the illogical position taken up by the ethicist and the alleged Labour leader. Realising that with a society whose material foundation is conducive to a better relationship between man and man, a higher morality must ensue because of this advance in civilisation, he endeavours to teach his fellow members of the working class the opposition of the Capitalist class and their system to their interests, and the immorality of their position, and he organises them for the overthrow of Capitalism and the establishment of the higher system—Socialism. The revolutionist is the most moral because he points out the causes of today’s evils, and organises to uproot them, while the Utopian ethicist leads the workers, consciously or unconsciously, in a manner calculated to breed despair, since they do not show the way to social emancipation, but on the contrary, blind them to the root causes of their misery. Revolution alone is moral, because it is consistent with the facts of life. The revolutionist is the true ethical teacher, because he endeavours to establish a form of society in which man’s relationship with his fellows would necessitate a higher ethic than that of today.

(From the Socialist Standard, March, 1906)

Leave a Reply