Socialism and Darwinism

Socialists are reproached for being revolutionists, by alleged Darwinians, (who have never studied evolution) as well as by some psuedo Socialists, who pretend to apply Darwinism to social movements. Both sections object to revolution, as unscientific. This objection can only arise from a misunderstanding of evolution, or from a deliberate attempt to switch the working-class off the revolutionary path. Socialism, as expounded by the S.P.G.B, through its official organ and its lecturers, is essentially scientific, never pandering to ignorance or prejudice, or attempting to escape from scientific truths by bowing to unscientific sentiments. This being so, and science being considered from the standpoint of evolution, we must consider the laws of evolution.
“The survival of the fittest,” is the law arising from the fact that all things constantly change. It means that an organism, out of harmony with its surroundings, must either adapt itself to the new conditions, or perish, Let us apply this law to society and see if the position taken up by the Socialist is tenable, bearing constantly in mind that man can consciously act on his environment, and thus help to bring it into harmony with his needs.

To-day capitalist society is composed of two classes, a working class producing all the wealth of society, and, a capitalist class that, as such, produces nothing. The members of the working class own none of the means of living, and are only allowed to use the means owned by the other class, on the condition that a profit is made out of their power to labour by hand or brain, which, being their only possession, they are forced to sell to obtain the necessaries of existence. This system of society has evolved from previous forms in which were other class distinctions. Just as, following the lines laid down by Darwin, we trace the evolution of man from his ape-like ancestors, so, from that stage onward, we trace his social evolution.
The Socialist deals with society, that is with man as a social being. He does not run counter to the laws which govern physiological development; rather does he find the same laws running parallel, both in biology and in sociology.
Take man as he was just a few stages ahead of his fellow animals, He lived in caves and trees; his means of subsistence were the spontaneous products of nature – roots, fruits and nuts, The development of articulate language, and the discovery of the use of fire enabled him to convert fish into an article of food, and caused a revolution in his means of securing an existence. Stationary conglomerations of individuals were transformed into migratory co-operative groups, following the shores of lakes and seas, and the courses of rivers. The numerous dangers that now confronted man, and the more easy acquirement of food by co-operative effort, caused the cementing together of various groups on a co-operative principle, holding wealth, that is, food, etc., in common. Thus the earliest known form of society was what is termed Primitive Communism, that is, a society based upon the common ownership of the means and necessaries of life, with those means used co-operatively for the benefit of all members of the community. This had its reflex in a form of government, crudely democratic, to correspond with the economic basis of that society. Thus, man carried on collectively the struggle for existence.

The next stage was common ownership within the consanguine group, i.e., within a group whose members considered themselves to be descended from a common ancestor, With the growth of chattel slavery, first of all in the Eastern hemisphere, the domestication of animals and the development of agriculture, we can trace the growth of the patriarchal system. This system was a further step from primitive communism, as, while it was still mainly a system of consanguine collectivism, it contained the beginnings of private property – other than purely personal articles, such as ear and nose rings, &c.

In other tribes property was held by the women. This, the matriarchal system, arose from the fact that the earliest known forms of property were the weapons of fighting and hunting and domestic utensils,  and, as the division of labour took place along the line of sex, the women, who had control of the domestic utensils in the first instance, continued to control other property as it came into existence, though the nature of that property had changed. This lasted throughout the earlier forms of society, down to the Greek and Roman civilisations, with the exception of the minority of tribes who had established the patriarchal system.
Even in early society, after the break-up of primitive communism, there were struggles over the ownership or non-ownership of wealth. After the discovery of the art of writing, and the ascendancy of man’s power over Nature, the struggle for existence took the form, not so much of the character of man against Nature, as class against class. Then, after generations of. development of the matriarchal and patriarchal systems, a revolution took place in some parts of Asia and Asia Minor that completely overthrew the form of society based upon a real or fictitious blood-relationship of its members, and established the system of political society based upon territory rather than kinship, the basis of modern civilisation. The various struggles that took place in the old Roman Republic are common knowledge to most students of history. The struggle for political supremacy between the holders of large and small estates, the ownership of chattel slaves, etc., continued till that form of society, a bastard form as it was, was finally overthrown and feudalism became general in Europe. The struggles that took place between the old feudal nobility and the rising merchant class that had developed out of the old guildmasters, the growth of manufacture, &c., with which all historical students are familiar, culminated in the overthrow of feudalism and the establishment of capitalism. The development of machinery and the application of steam thereto, completed the work and put the capita1ist class into supreme power. To-day the struggle proceeds between the capitalist class and the working-class.

Present day capitalist society is, therefore, seen to be the result of evolution, consisting of a series of revolutions, mainly consummated by the force of arms. Sixty years ago, in the Communist Manifesto, the evolutionary theory had been applied to society, even before Darwin’s Origin of Species had appeared. It is pointed out in that manifesto, how the economic factors develope within society until the political and social superstructure of that society prevents their further development. Society then undergoes a revolution in order to harmonise its social and political conditions with its economic foundation.
To-day the production of wealth is a social act, but the wealth is appropriated by individuals; and although man’s power of producing wealth is greater than ever it has been in the world’s history, yet we see the greatest poverty. Each class that controlled the means of living in the past, did so by virtue of controlling the political power and endeavouring to maintain the politica1 and social superstructure best suited to the maintenance of its economic power. Society only entered upon a new stage of progress when the class beneath overthrew the class above and established its own particular social and political forms. To-day the ruling class, the capitalist class, is wholly destitute of the ability to govern society. It performs no useful function; and the biological law, that when an organ or organism becomes useless, it atrophies and finally perishes, wi1l apply here. The ring, combine, and trust have proved the capitalist class to be superfluous, while the chronic poverty of the workers in the midst of plenty, the evil of unemployment, and the thousand-and-one evils that afflict modern society, show it to be unable to control the productive forces. It must, therefore give way to a more vigorous class that shall establish a new system in consonance with the social character of production. That class can only be the working-class.

Professor R, Darwin, in delivering the first portion of his inaugural address to the British Association at Cape Town recently, stated that in applying the evolutionary method to the state, we found that the state would progress until it reached the point when it could no longer properly perform its functions; then a revolution was necessary for that progress to go on and a new state to be established. This from the son of  the man whom these pseudo-scientists and bogus Socialists would use against us! Thus after 60 years of comparative obscurity, the revolutionary scientific principles are acknowledged as correct. So will the revolutionary scientific attitude of The Socialist Party of Great Britain be acknowledged as correct, and rescued from obscurity when those ill-balanced evolutionists and bogus Socialists have been prevented from misleading the workers, and attempting to rob them of the vigour which a clear knowledge of the scientific principles of Socialism imparts,

Socialism, then, is a necessary complement to evolution. He who admits  evolution in Nature generally, but denies it to society, has grasped only half its application and cannot form a correct judgment, He who would deny that revolution is a necessary factor in social evolution, is a dangerous misleader who must be opposed on every occasion. The revolution from capitalism to Socialism can only be accomplished by a conscious act on the part of the working-class. For the workers to clearly understand their position in society and the historic role they are called upon to play, they must be educated along these lines. To educate them in these principles, and organise them on this basis, is the work of the Socialist Party. When the unconditional surrender of the capitalist class shall have been demanded by an educated intelligent proletariat, the hour of revolution will have struck. With the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth by the workers, it will have been demonstrated that the effete and corrupt capitalist class has perished – that the workers have survived. It will have been demonstrated that Socialism means “the survival of the fittest.”


Socialist Standard, January 1906)

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