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1 Socialism in History
THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF MODERN SOCIALISM
Nothing is more difficult than to get a clear, historical perspective of a contemporary
movement. The proximity of the phenomenon makes it difficult to recognize the whole
in true proportion. Historical judgment above all demands distance.
Wherever Europeans or the descendants of European emigrants live, we see Socialism
at work today; and in Asia it is the banner round which the antagonists of European
civilization gather. If the intellectual dominance of Socialism remains unshaken,
then in a short time the whole co-operative system of culture which Europe has built
up during thousands of years will be shattered. For a socialist order of society
is unrealizable. All efforts to realize Socialism lead only to the destruction of
society. Factories, mines, and railways will come to a standstill, towns will be
deserted. The population of the industrial territories will die out or migrate elsewhere.
The farmer will return to the self-sufficiency of the closed, domestic economy.
Without private ownership in the means of production there is, in the long run,
no production other than a hand-to-mouth production for one's own needs.
We need not describe in detail the cultural and political consequences of such a
transformation. Nomad tribes from the Eastern steppes would again raid and pillage
Europe, sweeping across it with swift cavalry. Who could resist them in the thinly
populated land left defenceless after the weapons inherited from the higher technique
of Capitalism had worn out?
This is one possibility. But there are others. It might so happen that some nations
would remain socialistic while others returned to Capitalism. Then the socialist
countries alone would proceed towards social decline. The capitalist countries would
progress to a higher development of the division of labour until at last, driven
by the fundamental social law to draw the greatest number of human beings into the
personal division of labour, and the whole earth's surface into the geographical
division of labour, they would impose culture upon the backward nations or destroy
them if they resisted. This has always been the historical fate of nations who have
eschewed the road of capitalist development or who have halted prematurely upon
It may be that we exaggerate enormously the importance of the present day socialist
movement. Perhaps it has no more significance than the outbreaks against private
property in the medieval persecution of the Jews, in the Franciscan movement, or
in the Reformation period. And the Bolshevism of Lenin and Trotsky is possibly no
more important than Knipperdolling's and Bockelson's anabaptist rule in Münster;
it is no greater in proportion to the latter than is modern Capitalism in proportion
to the Capitalism of the sixteenth century. Just as civilization overcame those
attacks so it may emerge stronger and purer from the upheavals of our time.
2 The Crisis of Civilization
Society is a product of will and action. Only human beings are able to will and
act. All the mysticism and symbolism of collectivist philosophy cannot help us over
the fact that we can speak only figuratively of the thinking, willing, and acting
of communities, and that the conception of sentient thinking, willing, and acting
communities is merely anthropomorphism. Society and the individual postulate each
other; those collective bodies, which collectivism assumes to have existed logically
and historically before individuals, may have been herds and hordes, but they were
in no way societies--that is, associations created and existing by means of the
collaboration of thinking creatures. Human beings construct society by making their
actions a mutually conditioned co-operation.
The basis and starting point of social co-operation lie in peace-making, which consists
in the mutual recognition of the "state of property." Out of a de facto having,
maintained by force, arises the legal concept of ownership, and simultaneously,
the legal order and the coercive apparatus to maintain it. All this is the result
of conscious willing and awareness of the aims willed. But this willing sees and
wills only the most immediate and direct result: of the remoter consequences it
knows nothing and can know nothing. Men who create peace and standards of conduct
are only concerned to provide for the needs of the coming hours, days, years; that
they are, at the same time, working to build a great structure like human society,
escapes their notice. Therefore the individual institutions, which collectively
support the social organism, are created with no other view in mind than the utility
of the moment. They seem individually necessary and useful to their creators; their
social function remains unknown to them.
The human mind ripens slowly to the recognition of social interdependence. At first,
society is so mysterious and incomprehensible a formation to man that, to grasp
its origin and nature, he continues to assume a divine will guiding human destinies
from outside long after he has renounced this concept in the natural sciences. Kant's
Nature, which leads humanity towards a special aim, Hegel's World Spirit, and the
Darwinian Natural Selection are the last great expressions of this method. It remained
for the liberal social philosophy to explain society through the actions of mankind
without having to draw on metaphysics. It alone succeeds in interpreting the social
function of private property. It is not content to accept the Just as a given category
which cannot be analysed, or to account for it by an inexplicable predilection for
just conduct. It bases its conclusions on the considerations of the consequences
of acts and from a valuation of these consequences.
Judged from the old standpoint, property was sacred. Liberalism destroyed this nimbus,
as it destroys all others. It "debased" property into a utilitarian, worldly matter.
Property no longer has absolute value; it is valued as a means, that is, for its
utility. In philosophy such a change of views involves no special difficulties;
an inadequate doctrine is replaced by one more adequate. But a fundamental revolution
of the mind cannot be carried out in life and in the consciousness of the masses
with the same lack of friction. It is no trifle when an idol before which humanity
has trembled and feared for thousands of years is destroyed and the frightened slave
gets his freedom. That which was law because God and conscience so ordained, is
now to be law because one can oneself make it so at will. What was certain becomes
uncertain; right and wrong, good and evil, all these conceptions begin to totter.
The old tables of the law are shattered and man is left to make new commandments
for himself. This cannot be achieved by means of parliamentary debate or in peaceful
voting. A revision of the moral code can only be carried through when minds are
deeply stirred and passions unloosed. To recognize the social utility of private
property one must first be convinced of the perniciousness of every other system.
That this is the substance of the great fight between Capitalism and Socialism becomes
evident when we realize that the same process is taking place in other spheres of
moral life. The problem of property is not the only one which is being discussed
today. It is the same with the problem of bloodshed which, in its many aspects—and
particularly in connection with war and peace—agitates the whole world. In sexual
morality, too, age-old moral precepts are undergoing transformation. Things which
were held to be taboo, rules which have been obeyed for moral and almost sacred
reasons, are now prescribed or prohibited according to the importance attached to
them in respect of the promotion of public welfare. This revaluation of the grounds
on which precepts of conduct have been based has inevitably caused a general revision
of standards which have been in force up till now. Men ask: are they really useful
or might they not really be abolished?
In the inner life of the individual the fact that the moral equilibrium has not
yet been reached causes grave psychological shocks, well known to medicine as neuroses.
This is the characteristic malady of our time of moral transition, of the spiritual
adolescence of the nations. In social life the discord works itself out in conflicts
and errors which we witness with horror. Just as it is decisively important in the
life of the individual man whether he merges safe and sound from the troubles and
fears of adolescence of whether he carries away scars which hinder him permanently
from developing his abilities, so is it important in what manner human society will
struggle through the vexed problems of organization. A rise to a closer interdependence
of individuals and hence to a higher well-being, on the one hand; a decay of co-operation
and hence of wealth, on the other: these are the choices before us. There is no
The great social discussion cannot proceed otherwise than by means of the thought,
will, and action of individuals. Society lives and acts only in individuals; it
is nothing more than a certain attitude on their part. Everyone carries a part of
society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others.
And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction.
Therefore everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the
intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interests of everyone
hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great
historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.
Neither God nor a mystical "Natural Force" created society; it was created by mankind.
Whether society shall continue to evolve or whether it shall decay lies—in the sense
in which causal determination of all events permits us to speak of freewill—in the
hand of man. Whether Society is good or bad may be a matter of individual judgment;
but whoever prefers life to death, happiness to suffering, well-being to misery,
must accept society. And whoever desires that society should exist and develop must
also accept, without limitation or reserve, private ownership in the means of production.
Freud, Totem und Tabu (Vienna, 1913), pp. 62 ff.
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