Thursday, November 27, 2008

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

[Excerpts from a talk at Cooper Union, N.Y.C. November 23, 1973. This was originally printed in the Western Socialist, No.1, 1974. The talk was delivered by World Socialist Party comrade Charles P. Davis]

Our subject this evening is “Socialism - Utopian and Scientific.” Most relevant in the examination of this subject is history. Not the history you have studied at school nor the history with which current literature is so preoccupied. Currently a history titled “History as Mirror” comparing the fourteenth century and its horrible conditions with the twentieth century that we know contributes very little to understanding with a statement such as: “Chivalry was to the landowners ideology, their politics, their system - what democracy is to us or Marxism is to the Communists.”

The speakers that I have listened to at Cooper Union with their declaimers of being apolitical and their talks of historical developments with a collection of “we,” “our,” and “us,” spoke as if the world were made of one homogeneous non-political mass of mankind rather than those who own little but the ability to work for wages. Such speakers never impressed me as understanding their subjects.

As to being apolitical, that is some kind of myth. Man has need for food, clothing and shelter and the manner in which these needs are obtained is political. Saying one is apolitical is like saying one has resigned from the human race.

The view of the course of history which seeks the ultimate cause and the great moving power of all important historic events in the economic development of society, in the changes in the mode of production and exchange; in the consequent divisions of society into distinct classes and in the struggles of these classes against one another is called “Historical Materialism.”

Rise of the Utopian Socialists

The reactions the industrial revolution with the end of the old institutions of serfdom and feudal agriculture brought about a group of “socialists” such as Saint-Simon, Francois Fourier, Robert Owen and Weitling.

Viewing the agonies, the poverty and misery of the workers in the shops, factories, mills and mines, these men interpreted it all as a matter for morality, justice, humanity, altruism and philanthropy instead of what it was - a matter of compulsion of a system of society called capitalism - a system based upon “free” wage workers and a master class which buys the only commodity these workers have to sell in order for them to live - their labor power. It, labor power, is bought for the purpose of creating commodities which will yield profit from the values over and above that of labor power.

Exploitation is not a personal matter, it is a social fact. The contradiction between socialized production and capitalist appropriation manifested itself then, as it does now, as an antagonism between proletariat and bourgeoisie.

So great was the struggle both in Europe and America that Robert Owen and Francois Fourier established communities, phalanxes, groups and cooperatives in this country with the blessings of many Americans including Albert Brisbane, the father of Arthur Brisbane, chief editor for William Randolph Hearst. Horace Greeley, like Albert Brisbane, supported Fourier until, when we saw the phalanxes established by Fourier falling apart, he ran successfully for Congress and introduced a measure for free land which was enacted.

One Heman Kriege, in the New York Volk Tribune, wrote: “According to the notions of the Fourierites, the working men in their phalanx would do from inclination what, in his present work, he does to keep himself from hunger. It would become, in a sense, his religion to make the capitalist rich. For that end, everything should be so arranged that the working man would be well fed, well housed, well dressed, perhaps even better than the slave in the south.” Arthur Schlessinger Jr. in “The Age of Jackson” says: “Fourierism in a way was a scheme to perpetuate capitalism by incorporating feudal satisfactions in the work and status into the new process of production.”

Now the Utopian Socialist idea that all of the inequities were due to the wickedness in the hearts of men was not a too unpleasant thought for the bourgeoisie. The American evangelists Moody and Sanky carried on a regular schedule of revival meetings in England. They were the precursors of Billy Sunday, Amie Semple McPherson, Billy Graham. And the Moody-Sanky success in England paved the way for the Salvation Army. In England, later, Thomas Carlyle - who is always quoted as the one who called Economics the Dismal Science - with others formed what was called Christian Socialism, a contradiction in terms as are such contemporary expressions as Marxist guerila, socialist state, and national socialism.

Historical Materialism

Historical materialism is the repudiation of religion and mythology and the recognition that the political, religious, philosophical and juridical institutions arise out of and correspond to definite stages of history. This was a consistent view of Marx and Engels from 1848, in their Communist Manifesto through 1892 with Engels’ preface to Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.

The reason the first draft of scientific socialism was called the “Communist Manifesto” was to avoid confusion with Utopian Socialism. It was sketchy but precise and as Engels wrote in a preface of the Communist Manifesto in 1888 after observing the changes that had taken place since 1848: “But then the Manifesto has become a historical document which we have no longer any right to alter.”

Here I must caution that the Communist Manifesto has nothing to do with what is now generally called Communist and which refers to Russia with its state capitalism, its K.G.B. - the counterpart of the F.B.I. - which the so-called Communists have used to their advantage in knocking off their dissidents. The “Manifesto” has no connection with those so-called Communists who, during the depression of the Thirties made it their business to disrupt peaceful meetings; the people who told workers that capitalism was collapsing, the ones who advocated every kind of reform from cheap bagels to better home relief; the ones who during World War II were staunch patriots after Hitler invaded Russia; who helped elect Jospeh McCarthy over LaFollette; who during the Johnson-Goldwater campaign suggested voting for L.B.J. as a “lesser of two evils.” The Communists would have us believe that what there is in Russia is “growing socialism” which will eventually become communism. And now we have a Chinese branch of that agony. Need I tell you how these organizations are peppered throughout with provocateurs to the detriment of the misguided individuals who have eyes but who see not?

Marx, in his preface to Critique of Political Economy discusses the Materialist Conception of History:

“In the social production which human beings carry on they enter into definite relations, which are determined independent of their will, productive relations which correspond to a definite evolutionary phase of the materialist forces of production. The totality of these productive relations forms the economic structure of society - the real basis upon which a legal and political superstructure develops with infinite forms of social consciousness. It is not the consciousness of human beings that determines their existence but conversely it is their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

The changes which human beings effect in the ways by which they satisfy their material needs are attended by changes in social forms, legal institutions, principles of state, scientific systems, moral and artistic ideas etc. But be it noted and it cannot be stressed too much that a scientific socialist never will agree that economic forces are the only forces that make history. What they have always contended is that among the factors of history, economic forces have the last word.

Revolt of the Godly

In Socialism: Utopian & Scientific Engels traces the role of the Catholic Church as the center of feudal Europe, the biggest feudal master, and shows how the class of merchant traders, financiers and manufacturers had to cast aside the Catholic Church in order to throw off the vestments of feudalism. Wycliffe, Knox, Martin Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Melancthon, notwhithstanding their claims, were the stirrings of the breakaway from the Church. One has only to compare the number of days of obligation in the Church then and now. Industrialism could never countenance 220 days of interruption of the profit system. Martin Luther cast his lot with the aristocracy and this godly man, at the time of the Peasant Wars, suggested that the peasants be boiled in oil. As for Calvin, the work ethic and predestination was the answer to the problem of slave and master.

Engels shows how the rising capitalist class of England compromised with the feudal aristrocracy in 1689 and had to struggle again for political supremacy in 1832 - the Bill of Franchise Reform.

The 1832 act which had excluded workers from the franchise lead to the Chartist Movement and the publication of the Peoples’ Charter of 1838 - “The first working men’s party of modern times.” (Engels)

To the Utopian Socialist, history was of no consequence - humanity had to be saved. As Engels put it, however, we do not belittle the efforts of St. Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen. We point out, rather, that they proclaimed not the emancipation of the working class that produces the wealth but some vague idea of emancipating humanity. A benevolent ruling class or society of pure reason and justice, independent of time and place, they believed could arise in any stage of history.

To the Scientific Socialists socialism derives from history and has its roots in the development of industry and technology and social consciousness. Only a conscious working class majority can establish socialism but they will do so because humans always solve social problems when the conditions or means for their solution are at hand.

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