The Ethics of Revolution
In stating the case for Socialism the modern revolutionist proceeds from the material ground work upon which Society rests, to trace the manner in which present day capitalist society came into being, to show the forces at work within that society, and to explain how the foundation is being prepared for a social revolution. In showing how men’s actions are mainly determined by their material interests, and how the economic factor is the chief determinant of material conditions, the Socialist takes little notice of the individual as such, but deals almost solely with the classes winch are in existence owing to economic necessity. It is generally admitted that environment is a principal factor in the creation of character; so that the strength of the Socialists’ claim as to the importance of the economic factor is at once apparent.
Some good people in the Labour movement, however, 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. The Socialist alone, in the light of his economic determinism, can point to the moral advances of the past and lay his linger on each of the causes. The advance from cannibalism to chattel-slavery was only accomplished because the domestication of animals and the growth of agriculture made it more profitable to enslave a man than to eat him. The change from chattel-slavery to wage-labour occurred through the advent of manufacture by machinery which rendered “free” wage-labour more profitable, because the wage-labourer has only to be kept while producing profit, whereas the chattel-slave had to be kept whether his labour was profitable or not
Both cannibalism and chattel-slavery appear immoral now, because the advanced material position renders them unnecessary. Under Socialism, the worker having lost his commodity character, wage-slavery will appear just as immoral as chattel-slavery and cannibalism do now.
Standing firmly all the time on his materialist 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 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 to-day’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 to-day
E. J. B. Allen