Monday, October 18, 2010


History, as it is commonly understood, is a chronicle of more or less unrelated events of wars, battles, and murders, of the deeds and misdeeds of kings and heroes; a chronicle wherein the more spectacular occurrences are given an exaggerated prominence, while little if any attention is accorded to either their underlying causes or to their ultimate effects.

To the Socialist, however, History is but a chapter of Biology. It is the life story of the human race. Studied from this viewpoint, its features rapidly fall into their proper perspective. The importance of wars and battles diminishes. The glory of kings and heroes fades when these appear in their true light as but the pawns of circumstances tricked out in a little tinsel. Events, so far from being unrelated, are seen in their order and sequence, interlinked into a vast chain of causation, and the great panorama unfolds showing us the human race in its progress from the mists of the past towards the receding veil of the future. Then, too, is perceived that feature of history which most historians ignore – the evolution of human society. For society is seen, not to be now as it ever was, but to be in a process of growth, in obedience to the universal law of evolution, from the simple to the complex.

And the beginning of our present society may be traced to a preceding phase and thence through previous forms back to the earliest tribal communities. It is this development of society which it is proposed here to sketch.

The Ante-Slavery Period

So far removed in the dim past is the period of human development previous to the appearance of slavery that it has left little historic trace beyond the scattered remains of primitive handiwork that have been unearthed from time to time, and any conception of that period would be almost impossible were it not for its present day survivals – the races yet existing in a state of primitive savagery.

By piecing together, the information derived from a study of these races, with what can be gathered or guessed from the prehistoric remains, such knowledge as we have on the subject has been attained.

The characteristic that marks the ante-slavery period from ours is the non-existence of property in the true sense of the word. Personal possessions the primitive savage has, such as his weapons and his dwelling, but the resources of the earth, being free of access to all, are the property of none. For property is not so much the assertion of the claim of the individual as owner as a denial of claim of all others to ownership.

Transition from Slavery to Barbarism

The economics of this period is as simple and crude as its tools, but is, nevertheless, worthy of attention, as, owing to that very simplicity, it affords a clearer conception of the fact that labor is the determining factor in comparing the values of articles – a factor of supreme importance to the Socialist conception.

Production under savagery differs from that of today in being hand production instead of machine, and individual instead of social production. That is to say, each article produced is completed by one individual instead of being, as it is today, the result of the toil of a whole army of workers, each one doing a little to it. Furthermore, under savagery, articles are produced for use; under capitalism, for profit.

The elimination of these three factors – social production, machinery, and profit – reduces economics to its simplest form.

Such exchange, or barter, of articles as would take place under savagery would be carried on in the first place at the whim and caprice of the parties to the exchange; but with the division of labor that would come with dawning civilization there would be an increasing tendency for exchange to take place on the basis of the labor involved. Thus a savage wishing to barter, say, ornaments for weapons, would exchange them upon the basis of the labor it would cost him to produce either. He would know how long it took him to make the ornaments, and he would have a pretty good idea how many of the weapons he could make in the same time, and would therefore insist on just so many in exchange for his ornaments. To accept any less would be foolish, as he would be better off to make them himself. And, be it noted, that this standard of value has endured through all the succeeding changes in the methods of production and exchange.

The resources of the earth have no value, a fact which is quite clear under savagery, but obscured under capitalism by the fact that they are bought and sold on the strength of their potentialities. It is only when the hand of labor is applied to the natural resources to convert them into articles usable by man, that anything of value is created.

The primitive savage’s method of life is predatory. He lives by hunting and fishing, and upon wild fruits and roots. Such a method of life is, at any time, precarious and becomes more so with the increase of population and the consequent restriction of the tribal hunting grounds. As time goes on the savage is driven to domesticate animals and to cultivate the soil in order that his means of life may be more certain. Once this becomes general, the way to slavery is open.

The primitive savage kills his enemies on the battlefield – perhaps eats them. He has no incentive to make them captive, as it would only mean so many more mouths to feed. He cannot even compel them to maintain themselves by sending them to hunt, as obviously, they would escape.

But with the cultivation of the soil it becomes at length possible for an individual to produce more than is necessary for his own keep. It then becomes well worth while to make captives. They can be compelled to toil in the fields and produce for their masters; their escape can be prevented by armed guards. So property, the slave and the soldier make their advent upon the scene of events together, never to leave it till they leave it together – when the slaves shall emancipate themselves.

A Comparison

The slave of old toiled in his master’s fields and the fruits of his toil belonged to his master; the worker of today toils in his master’s factory or farm, and the fruits of his toil belong to the master. The former received for his toil enough for his own subsistence, just what the latter today receives at the best. The slave was bought and sold bodily and, being so much invested wealth, was more or less well cared for whether he worked or not. The worker of today sells himself from day to day, and being a “freeman” and nobody’s property, nobody is under any obligation to care for him or to feed him when there is no work for him to do. The slave was generally an unwilling slave, but the worker votes for a continuance of his servitude. His freedom lies in his own hands, but he refuses to be free. Which is the baser slave?

To sum up: the savage came upon the scene endowed with power to labor, which he applied to the natural resources, and produced for himself wealth – articles of use to him. The chattel slave was owned by a master, who compelled him to apply his labor power to the natural resources, and took the wealth he produced. The worker of today sells his labour-power to an employer, to whom belongs the wealth produced by the application of that labor-power.

The Slave Empires

It is noticeable that those people among whom slavery of one sort or another does not exist are not very far advanced in the arts and sciences. This would point to the fact that slavery is essential to human progress, and such is actually the case.

When man lived by fishing and hunting he had little leisure for the pursuit of knowledge. All his time was taken up with the economic problem – how to provide for his wants.

When, however, the agricultural stage was reached, and it became possible for an individual to live upon the fruits of another’s labor, society became divided into two classes, the slaves and their masters, the working class and the leisured class. This master class then had leisure to turn its attention to other things besides its immediate necessities.

Upon this basis the civilizations of the ancient world were built. Upon the labor of slaves Babylon upraised her temples and gardens, Egypt her pyramids and tombs, Greece her colonnades and statuary; the armies of Xerxes and Hannibal, the mighty empire of Rome, were all maintained out of the surplus product of vast armies of chattel slaves.

Built thus upon the backs of toiling millions, empire after empire arose, attained its zenith and crumbled to decay, some of them leaving scarce a trace to mark their place in history. The course of each one was in many respects similar, for the reason that they were slave civilizations.

Commencing as an aggregation of rude husbandmen conquering their neighbors until, becoming great and having overcome all dangerous rivals, the masters degenerated into a mere horde of parasites living upon the ever-increasing product of their slaves.

Wealth tends ever to accumulate into the hands of the most wealthy, and, as the wealthy become fewer the slaves become more numerous, until the disproportion becomes so great that the wealthy few, with all their luxurious extravagance and wastefulness, are no longer able to consume the volume of wealth, and there are more slaves than employment can be found for. As the slave thus becomes of little value his condition becomes more and more precarious and miserable. Society is no longer able to provide for the wants of the useful portion of it, and, there being no possibility, at the time, of any new form of society to take its place, the slave civilization perishes, its extinction as a general rule being hastened by the inroads of some younger and more virile race.

The Prelude to Feudalism

The fall of the last of these, the decadent Roman empire, marked the dawn of a new era. For thousands of years chattel slavery had been the only form of slavery. In endless rotation civilizations founded upon that basis had succeeded one another, but now, at last, conditions were ripe for a change for which these cycles of chattel slavery had been but a preparation.

The drying out of the uplands of Asia displaced the population of that continent, and a great westward migration commenced. Goth, Frank, Vandal and Hun swept wave on wave across Europe. Before the inrush of these rude barbarians, Rome, already tottering, could not stand. Gnawing at her vitals was the old disease common to all slave civilizations – “where wealth accumulates and men decay”. The wealth of Rome had concentrated into the hands of a very small percentage of her population; the number of slaves was greatly out of proportion to the masters; their productivity beyond even the wasting capacity of the dissolute Roman patricians. Roman society had reached the brink of destruction. The barbarians had but to push it over.

The Institution of Feudalism

Western Europe, formerly one great forest, had now become populous. The incoming races amalgamated with the former inhabitants who had, under Roman rule, been reduced to some semblance of order. Conditions became so settled that it was no longer easy for a slave to escape. It was no longer necessary to own and guard him. Therefore, gradually, a new system of slavery evolved. The slave was attached to the land; he became a serf. His master was now the owner of the land – the lord. The serf toiled on his lord’s land, producing wealth for him, in return for which he was permitted to toil on his own behalf upon a piece of land set apart for that purpose. The wealth he thus produced was just sufficient to meet his necessities so that he might continue to live and produce more wealth for his lord.

The difference between the chattel slave and the serf is one of form rather than of reality. Each produced the wealth that maintained both himself and his master. Each received of that wealth only sufficient, at the best, to maintain him in good working condition. While the chattel slave, being generally bought, represented so much cash laid out, and was therefore worth taking a certain amount of care of, the personal welfare of the serf was a matter of little concern to the lord beyond that it was to the lord’s interest to protect him from other robbers in order that he himself might get the full benefit of the serf’s labor. The reason serfdom displaced chattel slavery was that it was a more economical and less troublesome method of exploiting the workers. The point most worthy of remembrance in the feudal system is that the serf worked a part of the time for himself and the rest of his time for his lord, much as the worker today works a part of his working day producing his own wages and the rest of the time producing profit for his employer.

The Passing of Feudalism

It had taken several thousands of years of chattel slavery to prepare the way for serfdom. And it took several centuries of feudalism to prepare the way for a new form of society – capitalism – the kernel of which already existed in the feudal society. While the agricultural districts were under the sway of the nobility, the towns and cities of the Middle Ages were, to a certain extent, free from their domination. Here were congregated the merchants, artisans and handicraftsmen, whose interests were at all times more or less antagonistic to those of the land-barons, who naturally sought to place restrictions on the manufacture and marketing of the city products. This antagonism was accentuated by the discovery of America and of the southwest passage to the Orient, and the consequent expansion of trade.

As the wealth and power of the townsmen increased, that of the nobility decreased. The invention of gunpowder sealed the fate of the mail-clad knights and their chivalry. The nobleman became a mere parasite upon society; feudalism ran its course as other forms of society had done. It was dying when the steam engine gave it its death-blow.

That invention threw wide the doors of opportunity to society’s new masters, the townsmen or bourgeoisie. Heretofore the production of articles of commerce had been carried on by hand. The town worker was a craftsman who learnt his trade by a long apprenticeship, who, when he became a journeyman, worked by the side of his master, and had reasonable hopes of becoming himself a master. The tools of production were yet so primitive as to be within the purchasing power of the thrifty workman. Land alone was the sacred property of the ruling class.

The coming of the steam-driven engine changed all this. The hand tool grew step by step into the gigantic set of machines we know today. Ownership of the tools of production became more and more an impossibility for the worker. The master workman left the bench for the office; the foreman took his place. The factory called for more labor – cheaper labor. The capitalist turned profit-hungry eyes on the brawn of the agricultural districts. Serfdom stood in the way, so serfdom was abolished. The serf was freed from his bondage to the land that he might take on a heavier yoke, that of the factory. The factory needed not brains, but “hands”. The hands of the country yokel, of his wife, and of his children, would serve equally as well as those of the skilled craftsman. No apprenticeship was needed, no training. Only “hands” with hungry stomachs attached. The serf was not only freed from the land, he was driven off it by the closing in of the commons and by other measures. The freeing of the serfs was no humanitarian measure. Greed – and greed alone – was its inspiring motive.


The capitalist class had humble enough beginnings. Its progenitors were the bourgeois, literally townsmen, of the Middle Ages. A part of the feudal society, they were yet, in a way, apart from it. They were neither nobles nor serfs, but a species of lackeys to the nobility. From them the noble obtained his clothing and the gay trappings of his horse; they forged his weapons and his armour, built his castles, loaned him money. He stood to them in the relation of a consumer, and, as a consumer, he legislated, defining their markets, prohibiting them from enhancing prices, enacting that wages should not exceed certain figures, insisting that goods should be of such and such a quality and texture, and be sold at certain fixed prices.

From Serfdom to Wagedom

Naturally these restrictions were little to the taste of the bourgeoisie. As trade and commerce increased they found these conditions less and less tolerable. As they grew in wealth and influence they became less and less inclined to tolerate them. In England they had joined with the nobles to weaken the king, and with the king to weaken the nobles. Finally they broke the power of both. In the name of freedom they crushed feudalism. But the freedom they sought was a freedom that would allow them to adulterate goods, that would allow the workers to leave the land and move where the factories needed them, their wives, and their children.

While in other lands the course of the bourgeois revolution was somewhat different to that in England, the result was the same. In France, for instance, the revolution was pent up for so long a period that when it burst forth it deluged the land in blood, through which the people waded, bearing banners inscribed “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, to a new order wherein Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were the last things possible.

The Mission of Capitalism

Once freed from the fetters of feudalism the onward march of capitalism became a mad, headlong rush. Everywhere mills, factories, and furnaces sprang up. Their smoke and fumes turned fields once fertile and populous into desolate, uninhabitable wastes; their refuse poisoned and polluted the rivers until they stank to Heaven. Earth’s bowels were riven for her mineral hoards. Green flourishing forests became mere acres of charred and hideous stumps. Commerce pierced all mountains, fathomed all seas, explored all lands, disturbing the age-long sleep of hermit peoples that they might buy her wares. Capital spread its tentacles over all the world. Everywhere its voice was heard, crying “Work, work, work”, to all the workers; “Buy, buy, buy”, to all the peoples.

The New Slavery

The conditions of the new form of slavery that took the place of serfdom, and now is the form prevailing throughout the “civilized” world, are somewhat different from the old.

As has been pointed out before, the essence of enslavement is that one man should be compelled to work for others, and surrender to them the product of his toil. Wage-slavery, the present form of servitude, fulfils this condition exactly as much as did chattel slavery or serfdom. The workers of today have not an atom of claim upon the wealth they produce. That is sufficiently self-evident to call for no proof. And while they may not actually be compelled to work for any given master, they must work for some master. They are therefore slaves in the proper sense of the word. And, indeed, the conditions of their servitude are in the main more severe than under previous forms of slavery. They are exploited for more wealth – that is to say, the masters obtain from their labor greater returns than did the masters under any other form of slavery. In fact, were it not so, the other forms would now be in existence. But no feudal serf or chattel slave can compete with the modern wage slave at slaving. Moreover, while in favored trades and in favored localities, the modern worker may lead a more or less tolerable existence, the misery and suffering prevailing in populous centres today are undeniably worse than could have existed under the old forms of slavery at their worst, for the reason that the masters of old were, to a certain extent, interested in the welfare of their slaves, having, directly or indirectly, a property interest in them. The modern master, on the other hand, has no such interest in his slaves. He neither purchases nor owns them. He merely buys so much labor-power – physical energy– just as he buys electric power for his plant. The worker represents to him merely a machine capable of developing a given quantity of labor-power. When he does not need labor-power he simply refrains from buying any.

The Achievements of Capitalism

Ages of chattel slavery were necessary to break the ground for feudalism, centuries of feudalism to prepare the way for capitalism. In a dozen decades capitalism has brought us to the threshold of Socialism.

Capitalism has done a great work, and done it thoroughly. It found the workers, for the most part, an ignorant, voiceless peasant horde. It leaves them an organized proletarian army, industrially intelligent, and becoming politically intelligent; it found them working individually and with little co-ordination; it has made them work collectively and scientifically. It has abolished their individuality and reduced their labor to a social average, levelling their differences, until today the humble ploughman is a skilled laborer by comparison with the mere human automata that weave cloths of intricate pattern and forge steel of fine temper. In short, it has unified the working class.

It found the means and methods of production crude, scattered and ill-ordered, the private property of individuals – very often of individuals who themselves took part in production; it leaves them practically one gigantic machine of wealth production, orderly, highly productive, economical of labor, closely inter-related – the collective property of a class, and of a class wholly unnecessary to production, a class whose sudden extinction would not affect the speed of one wheel or the heat of one furnace.

It found the earth large, with communications difficult, divided into nations knowing little or nothing of one another, with prairies unpopulated, forests untrod, mountains unscaled. It has brought the ends of the earth within speaking distances of one another, has ploughed the prairies, hewed down the forests, tunnelled the mountains, explored all regions, developed all resources; it has largely broken down all boundaries, except on maps; it has given us an international capitalist class with interests in all lands on the one hand, and, on the other, an international working class with a common interest the world over.

The Passing of Capitalism

Aristotle, with something akin to prophetic vision, laid down the axiom that slavery was necessary until the forces of Nature were harnessed to the uses of Man. This has now been accomplished and the necessity for slavery is past. Armed with the modern machinery of production, with steam, electricity, and water power at their command, the workers, a fraction of society, can produce more than all society can use or waste – so much more, that periodically the very wheels of production are clogged with the super-abundance of wealth, and industrial stagnation prevails.

At the very heyday of prosperity, industry suddenly becomes disjointed; the wheels of production come to a standstill. Furnaces cool off; smoke ceases to belch forth to the skies; the belts stay their eternal round over the pulleys. The workers, from being worked to the limit of their endurance, find themselves unexpectedly without work at all, and soon without means of subsistence.

Not here and there alone, but everywhere where capitalism rules, from all quarters comes the same tale. Famine-stricken where food is plenty; ill clad where clothing lacks not; shelterless among empty houses; shivering by mountains of fuel; tramping where carwheels rust. And ever the tale grows! There is no promise of alleviation, but rather portents of worse to come.

Society can no longer feed itself. When the societies of old could no longer feed themselves they perished. And capitalist society is about to perish. A revolution is at hand. Another leap in the process of evolution. Society has grown too big for its shell. It must burst that shell and step forth a new society.

The means of wealth production are the collective property of the capitalist class. The operation of these means of wealth production is the collective function of the working class. The working class, working together, produces all wealth. The capitalists, owning the means of production, own all the product. They allow the working class, when working, sufficient, on the average, for their subsistence – just what the slave owner allowed his slaves; what the feudal lord allowed his serfs. But when the worker of today is not working he is allowed nothing except freedom to starve. His is the worst kind of slavery.

What stands between him and his emancipation is the collective ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class. If the means of production were collectively administered by the working class that now collectively operates them, the product would also belong collectively to that class, and the workers would be able to individually consume the wealth they collectively produced. They would not need to be hungry, homeless, ragged, shivering outcasts. The world is theirs for the taking. Presently they will be compelled to take it. Man cannot be equalled in endurance by any animal, but even his endurance has a limit. When that limit is reached capitalism will be at an end; its mission will have been accomplished to the final touch.

The economic problem, whose solution lay in the advent of slavery, will have been solved. Labor will step forth free at last from its aeons of bondage. Man shall be the master of his own destiny, able with little effort to produce all that his mind desires, with ample leisure to enjoy the fruits of his handiwork, and the legacies of time. The earth shall be his and the fullness thereof; the forces of Nature his to command; the giant machine his tireless servitor. Speed the day!

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