Historical Support for Revolution.
It may be asked what historical support the Socialist has for advocating a social revolution. We shall try to prove briefly that all social history supports the revolutionary idea.
It is beyond denial that the primary reason people come together in a form of society, whether they are conscious of the fact or not, is to get their living together. This is seen clearly in the simpler forms of society, such as the hunting pack.
It is obvious that the primary reason for coming together was co-operation in the chase.
The methods by which the people co-operatively get their living must evidently be determined by the means at their disposal. Thus one would not expect to find top sawyers and bottom sawyers co-operating as they do until the pit-saw and the saw-pit had been invented.
If it is admitted that the methods by which people produce their living must be determined by the means by which they do so there is no escape from the revolutionary position.
The means of wealth production are always evolving. The discovery of the art of domesticating animals, of the art of agriculture, of the method of smelting and working iron, and of the means of adapting steam as a motive force, are all epoch-making cases in point.
Now this evolution of the means of production is always more or less steadily taking place; and as the development proceeds it sets up different conditions which make changes in the social system imperative and inevitable.
Thus the domestication of animals and the development of agriculture made it possible for men to produce more than sufficient for their own needs, and so opened the road for a social system based upon chattel slavery — in which slave labour produced a surplus upon which the owners of the slaves lived. The knowledge of iron and its manipulation, bv affording eventually large and complicated machinery, made possible the complete divorce of the user from ownership of the means of production, and hence produced the necessary conditions for the establishment of society based upon wage slavery — in which wage-labour produces surplus wealth upon which the owners of the means of production live.
And now the application of steam and electricity to production and distribution, together with the general advance of the instruments and processes of labour, have carried society on to the point where the social base no longer suffices for the social needs, and the conditions which at one time were socially necessary have become social fetters.
Let us make our meaning plainer. It is easily understood that, given the general conditions prevailing in the Middle Ages, the only means by which production could develop to its present stage was through the wages system. The man who operated the hand loom might own it, but in the development of the hand loom into the weaving factory it was necessary to make men propertyless, to deprive them of the means of living, in order that they might be driven into the factory to operate for wages the looms that did not belong to them. At the time there was no other way in which the developing instruments of labour could be operated, therefore the divorcement of the working class from the means of production in spite of the enormous suffering it has entailed, was necessary to the ultimate good of the race. It enabled human labour to reach its present high state of fertility.
But the very development, the very fertility, which has resulted from the reduction of the workers from peasant-proprietors and artisans owning their own labour-instruments to wage-earners owning nothing but their labour-power, has itself rendered a change of social basis necessary. Class ownership of the means of production was essential to enable wealth to be more freely produced. It has resulted in wealth being too freely produced for class ownership to continue. While the wealth which the vast bulk of the people is permitted to consume remains relatively stationary, the wealth which they produce increases by leaps and bounds. The surplus reacts against production, and chokes it. Because this surplus belongs to those who own the instruments of labour, it must glut markets and throw men out of employment. Thus the property condition that made possible such lavish wealth production, has become a drag upon the social industrial efforts.
It may be asked how it is that, if the means and methods of production evolve continuously and without violence, the social base does not nlso evolve smoothly and without the pain and shock of revolution.
The explanation is simple. The gradual development of the means of production forces itself on the owning class. Self-interest compels men to adopt improvements as opportunity offers. Under the present system competition forces the owners of the machinery, etc., to seek continually to render them more perfect. The only people who might find it to their interest to endeavour to check this development of the means of production — the working class — cannot do so because they do not control these instruments. So the means by which society gets its living develop by a process of evolution in which the shocks of revolution do not occur.
With the social basis it is different. The social basis in private property forms of society, has always been the result of the conscious efforts of the class which has risen to power upon it. Thus, for instance, the rising manufacturing class placed society firmly on the capitalist class-ownership basis bv depriving the, workers of their lands. But a class which, by revolutionary action, has succeeded in establishing that social system they desire (and which system is demanded by the stage of development of the means of production which has brought them to power) at once ceases to be revolutionary. They have got the system they want, and have nothing left to revolt against. Hence from revolutionary they become reactionary, ooncerned only with maintaining the social basis which makes them the dominant class in society.
But if the basis of the social system remains stationary the means of production do not. These go on evolving and relentlessly undermining the position of the dominant class. They produce another revolutionary class, and press it on until it overthrows the class above, and in turn dominates society.
The feudal nobility, for instance, held their power through their control of the land; but as the instruments of labour developed they became superior to land as a source of social power. These instruments of labour made men richer and more powerful, and as they were chiefly in the possession of the merchants, this class was ultimately advanced to domination through the overthrow of the nobility.
The basis of the social system, then, and therefore the social system itself, while it is ultimately determined by the stage of development of the means of production, evolves by revolution. It is changed by a victorious revolutionary class, and brought into line with the methods by which wealth is produced.
History, then, teaches us that our emancipation must be sought in revolution.
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