The Principles of The World Socialist Movement

Our Declaration of Principles forms the basis of membership of the World Socialist Movement. Only those who accept and conform in political practice become and remain members. Thus is the socialist character of the organisation preserved and a tool provided to counter any opponent who endeavours to misrepresent its object or policy.

Let us then turn our attention to it in the hope that we may appreciate their accuracy and assist us in the task of spreading the knowledge they express.

Heading the Declaration is a definition of socialism, the object of the Party: A system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of wealth production, etc. This raises in the mind of the reader the question, is it possible to change the basis of society in the manner proposed and, if possible, is it necessary?

In spite of the wide-spread acceptance of the theory of evolution, many people still retain a belief in “eternal truth” where social institutions are concerned. “What is, always has been, and always will be,” is their creed in reference to the relationship between rich and poor. Yet a study of history reveals the fact that here, as elsewhere, constant change obtains.

This failure to see the facts arises largely from the interested propaganda of the present ruling-class, but is also due to the circumstance that the workers have not yet consciously grasped the basic importance of the instruments of labour and their evolution.

If one could transplant an Amazonian tribe member to the heart of London, he or she would be, not merely bewildered, but terrified at the population and the mechanical contraptions aound. Similarly, a Londoner in the heart of the jungle, experiences dismay at the desolation. Yet it is a matter of history that these two states of human life have been bridged in the course of centuries.

Two thousand years ago, our ancestors struggled for life in barbaric obscurity. Their means of obtaining food, shelter and clothing were of the most primitive description when contrasted with those in use at present yet even they represented thousands of years of painful experience and development.

This development can be divided into several fairly well-defined stages. Thus the discovery of fire, the invention of smelting and pottery-making, the domestication of animals and plants, the invention of the plough and the substitution of slavery for cannibalism, mark epochs in social growth. The changes in the mode of life resulted in the expansion and internal development of the social groups which, until the dawn of history, were small and narrowly exclusive in their customs and outlook.

Up till them kinship, rather than property, was the basis of the group and its institutions were communal in character. A crude instinctive equality couple with hostility to strangers marked the relationship between the kinsfolk. Yet the very conception of kinship was itself the product of ages of experiment in trying to control the sexual aspect of human life. So long as sexual relations were promiscuous, descent could not be definitely determined. Among such peoples as the Australian Aborigines, however, intercourse is restricted to the members of certain groups, and the narrowing of the group up to the point where the clan (or gens) emerges, forms the general tendency of social development in pre-historic races. (The reader cannot do better than consult Morgan’s “Ancient Society,” and Engel’s “Origin of the Family,” for details on this point.)

The driving force behind this change was the gradual division of labour, first as between the sexes, secondly as between members of the same sex and tribe. As mankind forsook their primitive homes, the forests, and spread over the plains and along the rivers, hunting and fishing, a more regular social discipline became necessary than had hitherto obtained. Men became the breadwinners, women the homemakers. With the adoption of a pastoral mode of life, and the use of metals for the protection of the flocks and the herds against wild beasts, special crafts, such as that of the smith, arose. Finally, with the beginning of agriculture, the establishment of slavery completed the foundation of the complex hierarchy of occupations on which arose the first class-society, the City-Empires of ancient history.

From that point onward, kinship commenced to wane as a social bond. It survived in a class-form (i.e., aristocracy), based upon property in land. For the mass of the population it had ceased to count. Only the rich had ancestors and were men of family. Patricians, plebs and slaves gave way to nobles, burghers and serfs until with the increase of trade and the response of industrial development, modern society, founded upon wage-labour, arose.

It is not our immediate purpose to describe how each successive change took place; the point to be emphasised is that a variety of social forms have preceded that which exists today, that society is no solid crystal, the structure of which only fools would challenge.

The socialist has all human experience at that  change in the economic basis of society, and consequently in the whole edifice of human life is possible. The necessity for such a change at present remains to be demonstrated in further articles.

Is Socialism necessary?

This question can only be answered by considering the nature of the forces at work in present-day society. In a previous article it was shown that history has been the record of class-struggles based upon the development of the means of production and of various forms of property.

The present-day means of production are capital, the modern form of property; that is to say, they are used by their owners, a small class in society, for the purpose of obtaining profit.

The capitalist, owning a certain sum of money, uses it to purchase machinery and raw material with a view to selling the product at a profit. For this purpose he needs to buy a special commodity, labour-power, which, applied to the raw material and machinery, produces useful articles of a value greater than that of the combined, value of the original factors. The value of the labour-power used is determined by the time socially necessary to reproduce it.

This applies to all commodities. Labour-power, however, plays the active part in the creation of value, and consequently of surplus value, which is that part of the value created which is kept by the employers. Surplus value is that part of the product left over after paying for labour-power and the cost of raw materials, wear and tear, etc.

Now, how comes it that the capitalist finds this extremely useful commodity, labour-power, to hand? The labourers have no means of living except by the wages they can earn. The land, factories, transport, etc., are owned by the capitalist class. The majority of members of society to-day are propertyless. In order to live, therefore, they must sell the only commodity they possess, their own energy.

The separation of the labouring class from their means of life was a prolonged process in history. The enclosure of common lands, the forcible ejection of the peasantry, the introduction of large-scale workshops, and later on of machine-factories, all played their part in making the workers dependent upon their present-day masters. At the same time, all other classes but these two have vanished from social life. Of the aristocracy and middle-classes of the mediaeval world, nothing is left but their titles and prejudices. The capitalist class preserve both as a means of displaying their power and duping the workers.

To-day, therefore, the social stage is set for the struggle between the last two classes to emerge in the course of social evolution. The patricians and the plebs (of Rome) alike went down before the barbarians of the North of Europe. The feudal nobility were vanquished by the upstart burghers of the towns. Beneath them lay the slaves and serfs, occasionally rebellious but doomed to defeat by the undeveloped state of the economic conditions of their life. The isolation of the peasant groups based upon the backward character of their mode of life prevented them rising to the level of a ruling class.

Today, however, the means of production unite the workers-in vast world-wide organisations. In the effort to cope with the effects of the capitalist system the workers develop a measure of solidarity undreamed of under the systems of former ages. The internet and social media enable ideas to spread with greater rapidity than ever.

The struggle between the capitalists and their wage-slaves over the wealth produced by the latter results in ever-worsening conditions for them. Every improvement in machinery or methods strengthens the owning class by increasing the number of unemployed and the competition for jobs. This competition enables the capitalists to push wages down ever nearer to the physical limit, the bare subsistence level.

Since their works were published the standard of life of the workers generally has been reduced still further. The acceleration in the pace of machine development during the war resulted in an unheard-of level of unemployment, and wholesale cuts in wages which had already failed to rise to the same extent as the cost of living.

After a century of trade union effort the workers find themselves grappling with the same problems in an aggravated and chronic form with less success than ever before. All the victories of the past are rapidly losing their value in face of the modern organisation of capital, and the share of the workers in the product of their labour grows constantly less. The very process by which the workers create a mass of wealth much greater than they are allowed to consume heaps up in the hands of their masters one of the means by which the workers are beaten.

For the workers, therefore, there can be but one hope — a complete change in the ownership of the means of production and in the motive for which industry is carried on. The interests of the capitalist class lead that class to fortify their position by every means in their power. The interests of the workers demand that they shall attack that position.

The very nature of the means of production at the present time renders any form of individual ownership by the producers out of the question. In order to produce wealth to-day each worker must co-operate with his fellows; he cannot act alone. Social effort is the very essence of modern industry. Private ownership is, therefore, out of harmony with the means and methods of production in their present stage of development. Common ownership must take its place. The antiquated legal form must yield to economic progress.

The mature social character of modern industry has rendered poverty unnecessary and a drag upon further development. The capitalist class own and control forces which they cannot fully utilise, forces which flood the markets with goods that the workers cannot buy.

In order to solve their problems the master class can think of two alternatives: either to lower wages still further and thus render still more goods unsaleable, or to introduce more machinery and by intensifying production increase still further the amount of commodities seeking purchasers.

These solutions ran only help individual capitalists against their competitors. They cannot help the capitalist class as a whole. They cannot prevent the thinning of the ranks of that class. They can only hasten the concentration in the hands of the few of the total capital and the reduction of the many to bankruptcy. The scramble for profit can have no other result than to prepare industry for its transfer to the workers. Concentration paves the way for socialisation.

With the abolition of private ownership the profit-seeking motive will cease to operate. This is what our capitalist opponents mean when they say that there will be no incentive under socialism. They can conceive of no other incentive. The workers, however, will still need food, clothing and shelter, and, having in their hands the necessary means, will go on producing these things in greater abundance than ever. The productive forces, freed from control by competing interests, will be utilised by society as a whole in accordance with a common plan, democratically determined in the interest of all.

If this brief summary has carried with it the reader’s conviction, one will agree with the first three clauses of our Declaration.

Many people who profess to agree with the first three clauses of our declaration either fail to see the logic of the remaining clauses or decline to follow that logic in practice. They assent to the statement that the workers are slaves requiring emancipation, but ridicule the notion that they will emancipate themselves by means of the political machine. Yet a little reflection should show that there is no logical alternative.

The interest of the master-class leads them to resist any attempt at changing the social order. Consequently such a change necessitates a force strong enough to overcome such resistance. It requires an organisation sufficiently widespread to supplant the representatives of the interests of capital at every salient point.

In spite of this fairly obvious fact, however, we find numerous self-styled champions of the interests of the workers who profess to be able by one means or another to inaugurate a new social order by “leading” the mass of the politically ignorant and unorganised; and who deride the idea that socialist education in the scientific sense is either necessary or even possible within reasonable time.

Such an attitude indicates (where it is honestly held) a serious lack of knowledge or failure to appreciate the lessons of history. It is frequently alleged that previous social changes have been effected by minorities, and that is, of course, largely correct; but the point is seldom considered that the changes so effected have been in the interests of minorities and not in the interests of the mass. Thus when the capitalist majority overthrew the feudal minority in the French Revolution, the result was that the workers merely changed their masters. They merely secured a change in the form of their servitude.

Today we are faced with the necessity of abolishing servitude and subjugation, of shattering every institution by which privilege and exploitation are upheld. Such a change implies, by its very nature, the conscious self-assertion of the mass, the workers themselves. Beneath the whole question lies the character of the productive forces at the present time. No mere minority can run the intricate industrial mechanism.

 That task obviously requires the active co-operation of the disinherited millions. So long as those millions are content to accept their enslaved state, so long as they are prepared to go on piling up wealth for their masters, those masters can afford to smile at the ravings of fanatics who fancy themselves as dictators.

On the other hand, once the majority awakens, once it realises its social power and importance, those same “leaders” will be swept away as chaff before the wind.

The mistake made by those who pour scorn on the educational work of the Socialist Party arises from the metaphysical habit of looking only on the resources of the propagandists as the sole force helping the Party’s work. The influence of the social environment in shaping the outlook of the class, preparing it as a soil for the socialist seed, is ignored. The inertia of the mentality of the mass is insisted upon almost as a religious dogma. A psychological miracle is postulated. We are asked to believe that the human mind in the mass is an organism which fails to act according to the laws of its own development.

The socialist reviewing history sees that as each class in turn has been thrust to the surface by economic evolution, that class has acquired a consciousness of its identity and interest. It has developed its own political organisation necessary to smash the institutions which stood in the way of its advance and to establish others which favoured it. By degrees the workers to-day are losing the illusions which bind them to their masters’ interests; they are groping (not for a lead as we are often told) but for knowledge which will enable them to dispense with “leaders.” It is the task of the Socialist Party to spread that knowledge.

Beneath the workers there lies no further class. Neither from above nor from below can we look for assistance in the hour of social revolution. Labour is the most fundamental of social functions; consequently, the emancipation of the labourers will free every social function from the character of prostitution which clings to it under the regime of capital.

Science and art today are the hirelings of capitalist interests. Adulteration and advertisement of articles of sale, these are their most obvious functions. The elaboration of instruments of murder and plunder, and the idealisation of such processes on a national scale, are others.

With the freeing of the workers, science and art will acquire new meanings; they will become vested with a social purpose. Knowledge and beauty will be embodied in the actual material environment as well as the brains and bodies of mankind.

Women will no longer be under the necessity of providing heirs for property nor embryo bearers for the labour market. Secure in a social heritage they will no longer need to offer their sexual attractions in return for the means of subsistence. Common property in the means of production will involve, therefore, the disappearance of both vice and virtue, dull respectability and its garish complement, monogamy and prostitution.

Thus every human being from birth onward will acquire a new social status. His or her own development will provide the basis for the maximum degree of social efficiency. The interests of society and individual are only antagonistic under a system based upon private property.

Consequently the ethical conflict which forms the basis of moral codes will likewise disappear. Where the interests of each and all. are identical, abstract moralising will be simply so much waste of time. The object of existence will be to be happy, the place to be happy will be here, and the means of happiness will be to hand for all. Hence none will need to seek in the realm of shades for the forces with which to guide their lives. A life hereafter will no longer offer consolation for non-existent misery; while ghosts and gods will become as meaningless as fairies and hobgoblins. A rational outlook will accompany a rationally-ordered social life.

There remains to be considered the central power of the capitalist, i.e., the State; its seizure by a revolutionary working-class cannot fail to alter its entire character. From an instrument for maintaining private property it will become the agent of its abolition. Wrenched from the control of their present masters, the armed forces will be reserved only so long as any danger of counter-revolution remains. As the reorganisation of society proceeds, the need for repression of anti-social elements, the relics of the dying order, will gradually disappear. The political character of society, that is, its organisation for the purpose of government, will give way to economic functions. The administration of things in the interests of all will render unnecessary the constant supervision of personal relations by the public power. Once these personal relations lose their pecuniary basis and become purely voluntary, their arbitrary regulation by an outside force becomes absurd. Hence it is clear that the entire organisation of society as we know it to-day will be sprung into the air with the uprising of the working-class. What will take its place we can only express in the most general terms. The mission of the workers is to destroy the existing obstacles to their own development. For that purpose we call upon them to organise into a political party in opposition to all forces assisting to maintain the present social order.

Eric Boden

Socialist Standard 1926/27