Chapter 2 : The Proletariat and the Beginning of the Modern Labour Movement
Modern Socialism was at first only a profounder understanding of the interconnections in social life, an attempt to solve the contradictions implicit in the present social order and to give a new content to man's relations with his social environment. Its influence was, therefore, for a time confined to a little circle of intellectuals, who for the most part came from the privileged classes. Inspired with a profound and noble sympathy for the intellectual and material needs of great masses they sought a way out of the labyrinth of social antagonisms in order to open to mankind new outlooks for its future development. For them Socialism was a cultural question; therefore, they made their appeal directly and chiefly to the reason and ethical sense of their contemporaries, hoping to find them receptive to the new insights.
But ideas do not make a movement; they are themselves merely the product of concrete situations, the intellectual precipitate of particular conditions of life. Movements arise only from the immediate and practical necessities of social life and are never the result of purely abstract ideas. But they acquire their irresistible force and their inner certainty of victory only when they are vitalized by a great idea, which gives them life and intellectual content. It is only when viewed thus that the relation of the labor movement to Socialism can be correctly understood and intelligently valued. Socialism is not the creator of the modern labor movement; rather, it grew out of it. the movement developed as the logical result of a social reconstruction out of which the present capitalist world was born. Its immediate purpose was the struggle for daily bread, the conscious resistance to a trend of things was constantly becoming more ruinous for the workers.
The modern labor movement owes its existence to the great industrial revolution which was going on in England in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and which has since then overflowed into all five continents. After the system of so-called "manufactures" had at an earlier period opened the door for a certain degree of division of labor--a division which was, however, concerned more with the methods of applying human labor than with actual technical processes--the great inventions of the subsequent period brought about a complete transformation of all the apparatus of work; the machine conquered the individual tool and created totally new forms for productive processes in general. the invention of the mechanical loom revolutionized the whole textile industry, the most important industry in England, and led to a complete new set of methods in the processing and dyeing of wool and cotton.
Through the utilization of steam power, made available by the epoch-making invention of James Watt, machine production was freed from its dependence on the old motive forces of wind, water and horse power, and the way first properly opened for modern mass production. The use of steam made possible the operation of machines of different function in the same rooms. Thus arose the modern factory, which in a few decades had shoved the small shop to the brink of the abyss. This happened first in the textile industry; the other branches of production followed at short intervals. the utilization of the power of steam and the invention of cast steel led in a short time to a complete revolutionizing of the iron and coal industries and rapidly extended their influence to other lines of work. The development of modern big plants had as a result the fabulous growth of the industrial cities. Birmingham, which in 1801 boasted only 73,000 inhabitants, had in 1844 a population of 200,000. Sheffield in the same period grew from 46,000 to 110,000. Other centers of the new big industries grew in the same ratio.
The factories needed human fodder, and the increasingly impoverished rural population met the demand by streaming into the cities. The legislature helped, when, by the notorious Enclosure Acts, it robbed the small farmers of the common lands and brought them to beggary. The systematic theft of the commons had already begun under Queen Anne (1702-1714), and by 1844 had taken in more than one third of the tillable land of England and Wales. While in 1786 there had still existed 250,000 independent landowners, in the course of only thirty years their number had been reduced to 32,000.
The new machine production increased the so-called national wealth on an undreamed-of scale. But this wealth was in the hands of a small privileged minority and owed its origin to the unrestrained exploitation of the working population, which by the rapid alteration of the economic conditions of living was plunged into the most revolting misery. If one reads the dismal descriptions of the situation of the workers of that period as it is set down in the reports of the English factory inspectors, of which Marx made such effective use in his Capital; or if one picks up a book like Eugene Buret's De la misère des classes labeurieuses en Angleterre et France, to which Frederick Engels was so deeply indebted in his initial work,The Conditions of the Working Classes in England; or any one of numerous works by contemporary English authors, one gets a picture of that time which staggers the mind.
If Arthur Young, in his well-known account of his travels in France just before the outbreak of the Great Revolution, could declare that a large part of the French rural population stood almost on the level of beasts, having lost every trace of humanity as a result of their horrible poverty, the comparison could apply in large measure also to the intellectual and material status of the great masses of the rising industrial proletariat in the initial period of modern capitalism.
The enormous majority of the workers dwelt in miserable dirty holes without even a glass window, and they had to spend from fourteen to fifteen hours a day in the sweatshops of industry, innocent of either hygienic equipment or provision for the protection of the lives and health of the inmates. And this for a wage that was never enough to satisfy even the most indispensable of needs. If at the end of the week the worker had enough left to enable him to forget the hell he lived in for a few hours by getting drunk on bad liquor, it was the most he could achieve. The inevitable consequence of such a state of affairs was an enormous increase in prostitution, drunkenness and crime. The utter wretchedness of mankind dawns on one when he reads of the spiritual degradation and moral depravity of those masses whom no one pitied.
The pitiful situation of the factory slaves was made still more oppressive by the so-called truck system, under which the worker was compelled to purchase his provisions and other articles of daily use in the stores of the factory-owners, where often overpriced and unusable goods were handed out to him. This went so far that the worker had scarcely anything left of their hard-earned wages, and had to pay for unexpected expenses, such as doctors, medicines, and the like with the goods they had received from the factory owners, which they had, of course, to turn in in such cases at a lower price than they had been charged for them. And contemporary writers tell how mothers, in order to provide burial for a dead child, would have to pay the undertaker and the gravedigger in this way.
And this limitless exploitation of human labor-power was not confined to men and women. The new methods of work had enabled the machine to be served with just a few manual movements, which could be learned with no great difficulty. This led to the destruction of the children of the proletariat, who were put to work at the age of three or four years and had to drag out their youth in the industrial prisons of the entrepreneurs. The story of child labor, on which no restrictions of any kind were imposed at first, is one of the darkest chapters in the history of capitalism. It shows to what lengths of heartlessness a Christian management would go, untroubled by ethical considerations, and unthinkingly accustomed to unrestricted exploitation of the masses. Prolonged labor under the unwholesome conditions of the factories at last raised child mortality to the point where Richard Carlile could, with perfect justice, speak of a "gruesome repetition of the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem." Not until then did parliament enact laws which were for a long time evaded by the factory owners, or simply broken.
The state lent its best assistance to the freeing of management from restrictions burdensome on its lust for exploitation. It provided it with cheap labor. For this purpose, for example, there was devised the notorious Poor Law of 1834, which rouse such a storm of indignation, not only from the English working class, but from everyone who still carried a heart in his bosom. The old Poor Law, which had originated in 1601 under Queen Elizabeth, was an outcome of the suppression of the monasteries in England. The monasteries had made a practice of expending a third of their income on the maintenance of the poor. But the noble proprietors to whom the greater part of the monastic holdings had fallen had no thought of continuing to devote the required third to alms, so the law imposed on the parishes the duty of caring for the poor and finding some human means of subsistence for those whose existence had been uprooted. the law saw in poverty a personal misfortune for which the human being was not responsible, and conceded to him the right to call upon society for aid when through no fault of his own he had fallen into need and was no longer able to provide for himself. This natural consideration gave the law a social character.
The new law, however, branded poverty as crime, and laid the responsibility for personal misfortune upon alleged indolence. The new law had been brought into existence under the fateful influence of the Malthusian doctrine, whose misanthropic teachings had been hailed by the possessing classes as a new revelation. Malthus, whose well-known work on the population problem had been conceived as an answer to Godwin's Political Justice, had announced in blunt words that the poor man forced his way into society as an uninvited guest, and could therefore lay no claim to special rights or to the pity of his fellow men. Such a view was, of course, grist to the mill of the industrious barons and gave the required moral support to their unlimited lust for exploitation.
The new law took the provision for the maintenance of the poor out of the hands of the parish authorities and put it under a central body appointed by the state. Material support by money or provisions was for the most part abolished and replaced by the workhouse, that notorious and hated institution which in the popular speech was called the "poor law Bastille." He who, smitten by fate, was compelled to seek refuge in the workhouse, surrendered his status as a human being, for those houses were outright prisons, in which the individual was punished and humiliated for his personal misfortune. In the workhouses an iron discipline prevailed, which countered any opposition with strict punishment. Everyone had a definite task to perform; anyone who was not able to do it was deprived of food in punishment. The food was worse and more inadequate than in actual prisons, and the treatment so harsh and barbarous that children were often driven to suicide. Families were separated and their members permitted to see one another only at stated times and under the supervision of the officials. Every effort was directed to making residence in this place of terror so unendurable that only the utmost necessity would drive human beings to seek in it a last refuge. For that was the real purpose of the new poor law. Machine production had driven thousands out of their old means of living--in the textile industries alone more than 80,000 hand weavers had been made beggars by the modern big plants--and the new law saw to it that cheap labor was at the command of management, and with it the possibility of constantly forcing wages lower.
Under these horrible conditions a new social class was born, which had no forerunners in history: the modern industrial proletariat. The small craftsman of former times, who served principally the local demand, enjoyed comparatively satisfactory living conditions, which were only rarely disturbed by any considerable shock from without. He served his apprenticeship, became a journeyman, and often, later, a master himself, as the acquisition of the necessary tools of his trade was not dependent on the possession of any great amount of capital, as it became in the era of the machine. His work was worthy of a human being and still offered that natural variety which incites to creative activity and guarantees inner satisfaction to man.
Even the small home industrialist, who at the beginning of the capitalist era was already disposing of the greater part of his product to the rich lords of trade in the cities, was far from being a proletarian in the present sense. Industry, the textile industry in particular, had its centers in the rural districts, so that the small craftsmen in most instances had at his disposal a tiny bit of land, which made maintenance easier for him. And as the oncoming capitalism was before the domination of the machine, still tied to the handicraft stage of industry, its possibilities of expansion were for the time limited, since the demand for the products of industry was as a rule greater than supply, so that the worker was safeguarded against serious economic crises.
However, all that was changed within a very few years after modern machine production had began to play its part, as it was dependent in advance on mass demand, and hence on the conquest of foreign markets. Each new invention raised the capacity for production in ever increasing measure and made industrial capital the undisputed master of capitalist industry, dominating trade and finance. And since free competition, which was held by theorists to be an iron economic law, put any planned control of industrial production out of the question, at longer or shorter periods there must occur periods when, owing to various causes, the supply of industrial products outstripped the demand. This brought on abrupt cessations of production, so-called crises, which were ruinous to the proletarian population of the cities because they condemned the workers to enforced inactivity and so deprived them of the means of living. It is just this phenomenon of so-called "over production" which is so indicative of the real nature of modern capitalism--this condition in which, while factories and warehouses are crammed with wares, the actual producers are languishing in bitterest misery. It is this which reveals most plainly the horror of a system for which man is nothing and dead possessions everything.
But the developing proletariat was completely exposed to the economic fluctuations of this system, since its members had nothing to dispose of except the labor of their hands. The natural human ties which existed between the master-workman and his journeymen had no meaning for the modern proletarian. He was merely the object of exploitation by a class with which he no longer had any social relationship. For the factory owner he existed merely as a "hand," not any more as a human being. He was, one might say, the chaff which the great industrial revolution of that time had swept up in heaps in the cities, after he had lost all social standing. Socially uprooted, he had become just a component of a great mass of shipwrecked beings, who had all been smitten by the same fate. The modern proletarian, he was the man of the machine, a machine of flesh and blood who set the machine of steel in motion, to create wealth for others, while the actual producer of this wealth must perish in misery.
And dwelling close-packed with his comrades-in-misfortune in the great centers of industry not only gave a particular character to his material existence, it also gradually created for his thinking and feeling new concepts which he had not originally known. Transplanted into a new world of pounding machines and reeking chimneys, he at first merely felt himself as a wheel or a cog in a mighty mechanism against which he as an individual was helpless. He dared not even hope sooner or later to escape from this condition, since to him, as the typical dispossessed with no means of keeping alive except by the sale of his hands, every way out was barred. And not he alone, his posterity was doomed as well to the same fate. Bereft of every social tie, he was personally a mere nothing in comparison with that enormous power which was using him as the insensate tool of its selfish interests. In order to become something once more and to effect some betterment of his lot, he would have to act along with others of his kind and call a halt to the fate that had smitten him. Such considerations had sooner or later to control him if he did not wish simply to sink into the abyss; they led to the first proletarian alliances, to the modern labor movement as a whole.
It was not the "agitator" who conjured this movement of the dispossessed masses into life, as narrow-minded reactionaries and a rapacious management dared to assert then, and still assert even to-day; it was the conditions themselves which roused to life the movement and with it its spokesmen. The combination of the workers was the only means at their command for saving their lives and forcing more human conditions under which to live. The first proposals of those bands of organized wage-workers, which can be traced back to the first half of the eighteenth century, went no further than the abolition of the most crying evils of the capitalist system and some improvement of the existing conditions of living.
Since 1350 there had existed in England a statute in accordance with which apprenticeship, wages and hours were regulated by the state. The alliances of the ancient craft corporations concerned themselves only with questions relating to the production of commodities and the right of disposal of them. But when, with incipient capitalism, and the spread of "manufactures," wages began to be pushed down further and further, the first trade union organizations developed among the new class of wage-workers to combat the tendency. But these efforts of the organized workers at once encountered the unanimous resistance of the managers, who besieged the government with petitions to uphold the ancient law and suppress the "unlawful" organizations of the workers. And parliament promptly responded to this demand by passing the so-called Combination Acts of 1799-1800, which prohibited all combinations for the purpose of raising wages or improving the existing conditions of work and imposed severe penalties for violation.
Thus labor was given over unconditionally to exploitation by industrial capital, and was faced with the alternatives of, either submitting to the law and accepting without resistance all the consequences this entailed, or breaking the law which had condemned them to outright slavery. Confronted with such a choice the decision could not have been too difficult for the more courageous section of the workers, as they had scarcely more to lose anyway. They defied the law which mocked at human dignity, and tried by every means to get around its provisions. Since the trade union organizations, which were at first purely local in character and confined to particular industries, had been deprived of the legal right to exist, there sprang up all over the country so-called mutual benefit associations or similar innocuous bodies, having as their sole purpose the diverting of attention from the actual fighting organizations of the proletarians.
For the inner core of these open associations was composed of the secret conspiratory brotherhoods of the militant element among the workers, smaller or larger groups of determined men, bound by an oath to profoundest secrecy and mutual assistance. In the northern industrial sections of England and in Scotland in particular there were a large number of these secret organizations, which carried on the fight against the employers and spurred the workers to resistance. It lay in the nature of the affair that most of these struggles assumed an extremely violent character, as is easy to understand when we consider the miserable situation of the workers resulting from the disastrous development of economic conditions and the pitiless prosecutions following even the most modest attempt at improvement of the proletarian standard of living. Any violation of the letter of the law was visited with horrible punishment. Even after trade union organizations were legally recognized in 1824, the prosecutions did not cease for a long time. Conscienceless judges, openly and cynically protecting the class interests of the employers, inflicted hundreds of years imprisonment on insubordinate workers, and a considerable time elapsed before somewhat endurable conditions prevailed.
In 1812, the secret labor organizations brought about a general strike of the weavers in Glasgow. In the following years the whole of Northern England was continually shaken by strikes and unrest among the workers which finally culminated in the great strike of the spinners and weavers in Lancastershire in 1818, in which the workers, in addition to the usual demand for higher wages, called for reform of factory legislation and humane regulation of the labor of women and children. The same year brought the great strike of the Scottish miners, which was staged by their secret organizations. In the same way the greater part of the Scottish textile industry was periodically crippled by cessation of labor. Often the strikes were accompanied by arson, destruction of property and public disorder, so that the government was frequently under the necessity of throwing the militia into the industrial sections.
As later in every other country, so then in England, the resentment of the workers was directed against the introduction of the machines, the social importance of which they did not yet recognize, and which were the immediate cause of their want. As early as 1769, a special law had been enacted for the protection of the machines; but later, when the application of steam power started a rapid advance in machine production, and, in the textile industry in particular, thousands of handworkers were robbed of the means of subsistence and plunged into deepest misery, the destruction of machines became an everyday occurrence. This was the period of so-called Luddism. In 1811, over two hundred machine looms were destroyed in Nottingham. In Arnold, where the introduction of stocking-weaving machinery had thrown hundreds of the old stocking weavers on the payment, the workers stormed the factories and demolished sixty of the new machines, each of which represented an investment of forty pounds. Similar performances were repeated everywhere.
What was the good of laws, so long as the need of the proletarian population was steadily increasing, and management and government had neither understanding nor sympathy for their situation! King Ludd 1 made his royal entry in industrial circles everywhere, and even the harshest laws were unable to put a stop to his work of destruction. "Stop him who dares; stop him who can!" was the watchword of the secret worker's societies. The destruction of the machines ceased only when a new understanding of the matter arose among themselves, and they came to see that they could not halt technical progress by this means.
In 1812, parliament enacted a law imposing the death penalty for the destruction of machines. It was on this occasion that Lord Byron delivered his celebrated indictment of the government and ironically demanded that, if the bloody law was to be put into force, the house should provide that the jury should always consist of twelve butchers. 2
The officials put a price of forty thousand pounds in the heads of the leaders of the underground movement. In January of 1813, eighteen workers convicted of Luddism were hanged at York, and the deportation of organized workers to the penal colonies in Australia increased at a frightful rate. But the movement itself only grew the faster, particularly when the great business crisis set in after the end of the Napoleonic wars, and the discharged soldiers and sailors were added to the armies of the unemployed. This situation was made still tenser by several short harvests and the notorious corn laws of 1815, by which the price of bread was raised artificially.
But although this first phase of the modern labor movement was in great part a violent one, it still was not revolutionary in the proper sense. For this it lacked that proper understanding of the actual causes of economic and social processes which only Socialism could give it. Its violent methods were merely the result of the brutal violence which was inflicted on the workers themselves. But the methods of the young movement were not directed against the capitalist system as such at all, but merely at the abolishment of its most pernicious excrescences and at the establishment of a decent human standard of living for the proletariat. "A fair days' pay for a fair day's work" was the slogan of these first unions, and when the employers resisted this modest and certainly fully justified demand of the workers with the utmost brutality, the latter were obliged to resort to whatever methods were available to them under the existing conditions.
The great historical significance of the movement lay at first less in its actual social objectives than in its simple existence. It gave a footing once more to the uprooted masses which the pressure of economic conditions had driven into the great industrial centers. It revived their social sense. The class struggle against the exploiters awakened the solidarity of the workers and gave new meaning to their lives. It breathed new hope into the victims of an economy of unrestricted exploitation and showed them a course which offered them the possibility of safeguarding their lives and defending their outraged human dignity. It strengthened the workers' self-reliance and gave them confidence in the future once more. It trained the workers in self-discipline and organized resistance, and developed in them the consciousness of their strength and their importance as a social factor in the life of their time. This was the great moral service of that movement which was born of the necessities of the situation, and which only he can undervalue who is blind to social problems and without sympathy for the sufferings of his fellow men.
When, then, in 1824, the laws against the combination of workers were repealed, when the government and that section of the middle class possessed of insight had at last become convinced that even the harshest persecution would never break up the movement, the trade union organization of the workers spread over the entire country at an undreamed-of rate. The earlier local groups combined into larger unions and thus gave to the movement its real importance. Even the reactionary turns in the government were no longer able to control this development. They merely increased the number of victims among its adherents, but they could not turn back the movement itself.
The new upsurge of political radicalism in England after the long French wars naturally had a strong influence on the English working class also. Men like Burdett, Henry Hunt, Major Cartwright, and above all William Cobbett, whose paper the Political Register, after the price had been reduced to twopence, attained a circulation of sixty thousand, were the intellectual heads of the new reform movement. This was directing its attacks chiefly against the corn laws, the Combination Acts of 1799-1800, and most of all, against the corrupt electoral system under which even a large part of the middle class was excluded from the franchise. Huge mass meetings in every section of the country, and particularly in the northern industrial districts, set the populace in motion. But the reactionary government under Castlereagh opposed any reform, and was determined from the first to put an end to the reform process by force. When in August, 1819, sixty thousand people poured into the Petersfield in Manchester to formulate a mass petition to the government, the assembly was dispersed by the militia, and four hundred persons were wounded or killed.
To the stormy outburst in the country against the instigators of the massacre of "Peterloo" the government replied with the notorious six gag laws, by which the right of assembly and freedom of the press were in effect suspended and the reformers made liable to the harshest prosecution. By the so-called "Cato Street Conspiracy," in which Arthur Thistlewood and his associates planned the assassination of the members of the British Cabinet, the government was given the wished for opportunity to proceed with draconic severity against the reform movement. On May 1, 1820, Thistlewood and four of his comrades paid for their attempt on the gallows: the habeus corpus act was suspended for two years, and England was delivered to a reactionary regime which respected none of the rights of its citizens.
This put a stop to the movement for the time being. Then the July revolution of 1830 in France led to a revival of the English reform movement, which, this time, took on an entirely different character. The fight for parliamentary reform flared up anew. But after the bourgeoisie saw the greater part of their demands satisfied by the Reform Bill of 1832, a victory which they owned only to the energetic support of the workers, they opposed all further attempts at reform, looking towards universal suffrage, and left the workers to depart empty-handed. Not only that: the new parliament enacted a number of reactionary laws by which the workers' right to organize was again seriously threatened. The shining examples among these new laws were the notorious poor laws of 1834, to which reference has already been made. The workers felt that they had been sold and betrayed, and this feeling led to a complete break with the middle class.
The new reform movement from now on found vigorous expression in the developing Chartism, which, it is true, was supported by a considerable part of the petty-bourgeoisie, but in which the proletarian element everywhere took and energetic part. Chartism, of course, had inscribed on its banner the celebrated six points of the charter, which aimed at radical parliamentary reform, but it had also appropriated all the social demands of the workers and was trying by every form of direct attack to transform these into realities. Thus J.R. Stevens, one of the most influential leaders of the Chartist movement, declared before a great mass meeting in Manchester that Chartism was not a political question which would be settled by the introduction of universal suffrage, but was instead to be regarded as a "bread and butter question," since the charter would mean good homes, abundant food, human associations and short hours of labor for the workers. It was for this reason that propaganda for the celebrated Ten-Hour Bill played such an important part in the movement.
With the Chartist movement England had entered upon a revolutionary period, and wide circles of both the bourgeoisie and the working class were convinced that a civil war was close at hand. Huge mass meetings in every section of the country testified to the rapid spread of the movement, and numerous strikes and constant unrest in the cities gave it a threatening aspect. The frightened employers organized numerous armed leagues "for the protection of persons and property" in the industrial centers. This led to the workers also beginning to arm. By a resolution of the Chartist convention, which convened in London in March of 1839, and was later moved to Birmingham, fifteen of their best orators were sent out to every section of the country to make the people aquatinted with the aims of the movement and to collect signatures to the Chartist petition. Their meetings were attended by hundreds of thousands, and showed what a response the movement had aroused among the masses of the people.
Chartism had a large number of intelligent and self-sacrificing spokesmen (such as William Lovell, Feargus O'Connor, Branterre O'Brien, J.R. Stephens, Henry Hetherington, James Watson, Henry Vincent, John Taylor, A.H. Beaumont, Ernest Jones, to mention only a few of the best known.) It commanded, in addition, a fairly widespread press, of which papers likeThe Poor Man's Guardian and the Northern Star exerted the greatest influence. Chartism was, as a matter of fact, not a movement with definite aims, but rather a catchbasin for the social discontent of the time, but it did effect a shaking-up, especially of the working class, whom it made receptive to far-reaching social aims. Socialism also forged vigorously ahead during the Chartist period, and the ideas of William Thompson, John Gray, and especially of Robert Owen, began to spread more widely among the English workers.
In France, Belgium and the Rhine country also, where industrial capitalism first established itself on the Continent, it was everywhere accompanied by the same phenomena and led, of necessity, to the initial stages of a labor movement. And this movement manifested itself at first in every country in the same primitive form, which only gradually yielded to a better understanding, until at last its permeation by Socialist ideas endowed it with loftier conceptions and opened for it new social outlooks. The alliance of the labor movement with Socialism was of decisive importance for both. But the political ideas which influenced this, that or the other Socialist school determined the character of the movement in each instance, and its outlook for the future as well.
While certain schools of Socialism remained quite indifferent or unsympathetic to the young labor movement, others of them realized the real importance of this movement as the necessary preliminary to the realization of Socialism. They understood that it must be their task to take an active part in the everyday struggles of the workers, so as to make clear to the toiling masses the intimate connection between their immediate demands and the Socialist objectives. For these struggles, growing out of the needs of the moment, serve to bring about a correct understanding of the profound importance of the liberation of the proletariat for the complete suppression of wage slavery. Although sprung from the immediate necessities of life, the movement, nevertheless, bore within it the germ of things to come, and these were to set new goals for life. Everything new arises from the realities of vital being. New worlds are not born in the vacuum of abstract ideas, but in the fight for daily bread in that hard and ceaseless struggle which the needs and worries of the hour demand just to take care of the indispensable requirements of life. In the constant warfare against the already existing, the new shapes itself and comes to fruition. He who does not know how to value the achievements of the hour will never be able to conquer a better future for himself and his fellows.
From the daily battles against the employers and their allies, the workers gradually learn the deeper meaning of this struggle. At first they pursue only the immediate purpose of improving the status of the producers within the existing social order, but gradually they lay bare the root of the evil--monopoly economy and its political and social accompaniments. For the attainment of such an understanding the everyday struggles are better educative material than the finest theoretical discussions. Nothing can so impress the mind and soul of the worker as this enduring battle for daily bread, nothing makes him so receptive to the teachings of Socialism as the incessant struggle for the necessities of life.
Just as in the time of feudal domination the bondmen peasants by their frequent uprisings--which had at first only the purpose of wresting from the feudal lords certain concessions which would mean some betterment of their dreary standard of living--prepared the way for the Great Revolution by which the abolition of feudal privileges was practically brought about; so the innumerable labor was within capitalist society constitute, one might say, the introduction to that great social revolution of the future which shall make Socialism a living reality. Without the incessant revolts of the peasantry--Taine reports that between 1781 and the storming of the Bastille nearly five hundred of these revolts occurred in almost every part of France--the idea of the perniciousness of the whole system of serfdom and feudalism would never have entered the heads of the masses.
That is just how it stands with the economic and social struggles of the modern working class. It would be utterly wrong to estimate these merely on the basis of their material origin or their practical results and to overlook their deeper psychological significance. Only from the everyday conflicts between labor and capital could the doctrines of Socialism, which had arisen in the minds of individual thinkers, take on flesh and blood and aquire that peculiar character which make of them a mass movement, the embodiment of a new cultural ideal for the future.
1 The origin of the word is veiled in darkness. Some trace it to a weaver by the name of Ned Ludd, but there is no historical basis for this. in some regions they talked of "Jack Swing" and "Great Enoch," but the meaning of all the names was the same.
2 Lord Byron felt a strong sympathy for the Luddites, as is shown by one of his poems, the first stanza of which runs:
"As the Liberty lads o'er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free
And down with all kings but King Ludd!"
(ANARCHOSYNDICALISM is available in print form from Freedom Press, in Angel Alley, 84b Whitechapel High Street, London E1, England; Phenix Press, BM Bookserv, London WC1N 3XX, England, or Pluto Press, 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA, England.)
From : Spunk.org
No comments so far. You can be the first!