From the November 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard
A few weeks ago a member of this organisation attended a meeting of the I.L.P., with the object of selling some literature. While engaged in this nefarious project, he was accosted by the secretary of the branch holding the meeting, to whom he had previously sold a copy of our pamphlet on "Socialism."
"Ah," exclaimed the independent labourer. "I've been reading your pamphlet and I take it that it represents the official views of your party."
Our comrade admitted that this was the case.
"Well," continued the humble follower of Ramsay Mac., "It appears that between us lies the cloven hoof. We are a constitutional body, whereas you have no hope, except in violence."
The Socialist thereupon produced a copy of the pamphlet, and asked for proof of the statement. (You may have noticed that this is a nasty dogmatic habit which Socialists have.) His critic hesitated, and then admitted that he was unable to lay his finger on any particular statement, but that he had gathered the general impression by reading between the lines. The next move, however, was decisive.
Turning the inside of the cover, the hardened revolutionist pointed out that the sixth clause of our Declaration, and asked what impression that conveyed. The answer was that it was a clear statement of the Socialist position.
Incidents like the above illustrate the value of the Declaration for the critic referred to went on to express the wish that the Labour Party had a similar pronouncement, and actually let fall the damning admission that if it had it would lose a large percentage of its members!
The Declaration forms the basis of membership of the Party. Only those who accept and conform in political practice thereto become and remain members. Thus is the Socialist character of the Party preserved, and a weapon provided with which to flay any rash opponent who endeavours to misrepresent its object or policy.
Let us then turn our attention to its clauses seriatim in the hope that the reader may appreciate their accuracy, and throw in his lot with 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 African savage to the heart of London, he would be, not merely bewildered, but terrified at the population and the mechanical contrivances by which he was surrounded. Similarly, a Cockney in the heart of the bush, experiences dismay at the desolation and crudity of savage in the existence. 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 primitive beings as the Australian blacks, 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 the writer's 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 to-day, that society is no solid crystal, the structure of which only fools would challenge.
The Socialist has all human experience at the back of his statement that a 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.