Зображення сторінки

Revolution, page 45.) There has been "a moral re-birth of the proletariat which has transformed them from the barbarians of modern society into the most significant factor in the maintenance and furtherance of our culture." (Page 101.)

This I insist is the way all the great Socialists look upon the proletariat. And if Sladden cannot or will not accept the ideals of Socialism, then let him stick to his bellows and forge. He may yet become a very useful member of the proletariat there. Such ideas only discredit Socialism in the eyes of intelligent workingmen and make it hard for us to win them.

And yet it is this element of society, we are told, this lowest strata of the working class that is to bring about the social reconstruction. Sladden makes the most extravagant claims for this type of men. “His vision is clear,” he says, “and he is ever on the alert; his hearing is keen, his nature suspicious, his spirit unconquerable.” He is a sort of "king of civilization, who waits and watches at the fast corroding bars that imprison him. Soon he will launch his mighty weight against them and this prison will tumble like a house of cards.

With one swoop he will tear away your puny intellectuality, your bogus respectability, and as master of all he surveys he will determine what is right and what is wrong.

Upon his shoulders rests the problem of freeing society. From his brains (of which we were told a moment ago he has none) must come the plan of the new order."


Where does Comrade Sladden get this crude idea? Certainly not from Marx. He has referred to the Manifesto. One can hardly believe he has read it. At any rate he has entirely overlooked this striking paragraph: “The 'dangerous class,' the social scum, that passively rotting class thrown off by the lowest layers of old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution. Its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue." Marx at least realized that the social revolution would never be brought about by this class. And I believe the experience of the Socialist movement throughout the civilized world has proven that you can never organize the social revolution among the lower classes of society to which Comrade Sladden appears to wish us to restrict the movement.

This idea that the slums cannot be organized for a constructive social revolution runs throughout the literature of the Socialist movement. It is a well understood fact. Says Kautsky, in the Class Struggle: "This

[ocr errors]

division of the proletariat never yet has shown the least spontaneity of spirit for resistance against the system of exploitation. Cowardly and unprincipled, it readily leaves in the lurch those whose alms it has taken so soon as wealth and power have slipped from their hands.

This class has never taken the lead in any revolutionary movement, but it has always been found on hand, during social disturbances, ready to fish in troubled waters.”

Over and over again this same idea recurs in Socialist writings. I quote the above only as an illustration of what is the universal conception of those who have studied this question. I never heard before of any Socialist writer proposing that the social revolution should come up from among the slums.

It is absurd to limit the force of the social revolution wholly to one class.

Much more so to limit it to any section of the working class. But it is worst of all to limit it to the lowest and least resourceful and least revolutionary section of the working class.


Who are the proletariat? A great deal has been written by Socialist students upon this question, and from their writings we could get quite long and elaborate definitions. But for us it will be sufficient to say that the proletariat is that class in society that does not own the means of its employment. A more exact and exhaustive statement by Kautsky is as follows: "Workers who are divorced from their power of production to the extent that they can produce nothing by their own efforts and are therefore compelled in order to escape starvation, to sell the only commodity they possess—their labor power.”

“To this class (the proletariat) virtually belong in fact the majority of the farmers and small producers and merchants; the little property they still possess is but today a thin veil, calculated rather to conceal their dependence and the exploitation to which they are subjected than to prevent these; any little gust carries away the veil." In other words, while Kautsky implies that a rigid interpretation of the term might exclude these latter elements, nevertheless for all. practical purposes they also belong to the proletariat.

We are often upbraided, as we are in this case by Comrade Sladden, for including in our appeal to the working class, the farmers and the small merchants. But as a matter of fact, every intelligent Socialist, and every writer of any importance in the Socialist movement has always included them. And most of them have been quite as liberal in this matter as any of us in the American movement.


We cannot appeal to a better authority than Wilhelm Liebknecht. I want to quote at length from him, and let his words stand as a direct and complete reply to the absurd narrowness of Comrade Sladden's conception. I want to insist, however, that Socialists ought not to be blind followers of authorities. We have brains of our own—we ought to use them. I here and now assert my right and the right of every comrade to see and speak the truth for himself. If Liebknecht, or Kautsky, or Karl Marx himself said what Sladden has said, it would be the right and the duty of every thinking Socialist to challenge the absurdity.

But as a matter of fact, they did not hold such views. Sladden must have developed them out of his inner consciousness.

Says Liebknecht: "We must not limit our conception of the term 'working class' too narrowly. As we have explained in speeches, tracts, and articles, we include in the working class all those who live exclusively or principally by means of their own labor and who do not grow rich through the work of others.

"Thus, besides the wage-earners, we should include in the working class the small farmers and small shopkeepers, who tend more and more to drop to the level of the proletariat-in other words, all those who suffer from our present system of production on a large scale.

"Some maintain, it is true, that the wage-earning proltariat is the only really revolutionary class, that it alone forms the Socialist army, and that we ought to regard with suspicion all adherents belonging to other classes or other conditions of life. Fortunately these senseless ideas have never taken hold of the German Social-Democracy.

"But if the wage-earner suffers more directly and visibly under the system of capitalist exploitation, the small farmers and shopkeepers are as truly affected by it, although in a less direct and obvious manner.

"It is true that both small farmers and small shopkeepers are still in the camp of our adversaries, but only because they do not understand the profound causes that underlie their deplorable condition; it is of prime importance for our party to enlighten them and bring them to our side. This is a vital question for our party, because these two classes form the majority of the nation.

"The German Socialists have long understood the importance of propaganda and the necessity of winning over the small shopkeeping class and the small farmers.

“A tiny minority alone demands that the Socialist movement shall be limited to the wage-earning class.

“The frothy and theatrical phrases of the fanatic supporters of the 'Class Struggle' dogma were at bottom a cover for Machiavellian schemes of reactionary feudalism.

“The hyper-revolutionary dress-parade Socialism, that addresses itself exclusively to the 'horny-handed sons of toil,' has two advantages for the reaction. First, it limits the Socialist movement to a class that in Germany at least is not large enough to bring about a revolution; and besides this, it is an excellent way of frightening the main body of the people who are half indifferent, especially the peasants and the petty bourgeoisie, who have not yet organized any independent political activity.”

"We ought not to ask, 'Are you a wage-earner?' but ‘Are you a Socialist?'

"If it is limited to the wage-earners, Socialism cannot conquer. If it includes all the workers and the moral and intellectual elite of the nation, its victory is certain.” (Studies in Socialism, Jaures, pages 81-85.)

The essential element that distinguishes the proletariat from the other class, is the loss of the power of self-employment, which reduces the proletariat to dependence upon others and makes him the victim of exploitation. One might say that it is the power to exploit another that is the vital element in the capitalistic system and in capital itself which we seek to destroy. And it is the lack of power to earn one's living without falling a prey to exploitation, arising from capital, that puts one into the class of the proletariat.


This position is fairly well stated in nearly every one of the international socialist platforms. For example, the program of the German Social-Democratic party adopted at Ehrfurt in '91 opens with the statement that the growth of capitalism separates the worker from his means of production, "and thus converts him into a propertyless proletariat.” It is the taking away of the means of production upon which he depends that makes the worker proletarian.

The program of the Belgium labor party distinguishing between the proletariat and the capitalist class uses this expression, "the one is able to enjoy the property without working, the other obliged to relinquish a part of its product to the possessing class.” It is the inability to protect one's life or one's class from the exploitation by the other class that is the vital matter. The program of the Austrian Social-Democratic party adopted in 1901 brings this out very clearly: "The cause of this unsatisfactory condition lies not in the political arrangement, but in the fact


essentially conditioning and dominating the whole state of society, that the means of working are monopolised in the hands of individual pos

The possessors of the power to work, the working class, fall therefore into the most oppressive dependence upon the possessors of the means of working." And these comrades also saw very clearly that this tendency of capitalism would draw into their movement not only the distinctly wage working classes, but other sections of the common people as well. “The capitalistic development,” they say, "will have the effect of depriving ever-widening circles of small industrial employers and peasants, formerly independent, of their means of production, and bringing them as wage workers, employes or debtors into direct or indirect dependence on the capitalists."

Note here the recognition of the fact that a class may become dependent and thus proletarian not only by being driven into the wage-earning class, but also by becoming debtors. This is true of a very large section of the farming classes in America who own their land and machinery. They nevertheless are almost wholly dependent upon the capitalist class by reason of the fact that the excessive burden of debt and mortgage on their farms and machinery puts them into complete dependence. This class of workers might be said technically to belong to the capitalist class because they "own" their means of production. As a matter of fact, however, in any sensible use of the term, they are decidedly proletarian. And there are hundreds of thousands of them in America. We need not quote statistics.

One who wishes to read these platforms should consult "Modern Socialism" by Ensor, which gives a translation of most of the European Socialist party platforms.


One of the most careful and satisfactory discussions of the questions of classes in our American Socialist literature is Comrade Ghent's “Mass and Class.” In his third chapter, beginning on page 69, he makes the very wise observation: “It is evident that hard and fast lines cannot be set for all the various groups in the great body of workers in gainful occupations."

In his last chapter, summing up his analysis of the various forces that are marshalling their opposition to the present capitalistic regime, he says: “So intolerable is the burden which it entails, that now opposing, class, ever increasing in numbers and ever attaining to a clearer consciousness of its mission, threatens the traders' dominance. A class it has been termed; but it is something more than a class. It is a union


« НазадПродовжити »