What Socialism Means as a Philosophy and as a Movement

William Thur&on Brown

Principal "The Modern School"


Published by 'THE MODERN SCHOOL"



Harriet T. Churchill this booklet is gratefully inscribed by the Author


William Thurston Brown.

There is one observation which should be made at the beginning of this talk on the meaning of Socialism, and it is this: No merely academic interest, no merely academic discussion, can put men and women in possession of the meaning of Socialism. No great movement in human society in all the world's history had its rise either in academic discussion or in academic circles. It may not be an altogether cheerful confession for us human beings to make, but it nevertheless is absolutely true to historical facts and records that all great advance movements in the life of man have had their origin outside of colleges and universities, outside of the so-called places of learning, indeed, outside of all fixed social establishments of any kind, the church included. The rise of democracy in the world was not due in any sense to the initiative or leadership of the schools. The movement for the abolition of chattel slavery in this country—which, however, bears no analogy to the movement called Socialism—was not born in the colleges or the legislative bodies or the churches. It was born outside them all. In other words, for the mastery of any philosophy, for the real understanding of any movement, an incentive is necessary. Visit any labor union in this country, where labor unions do not represent as high a level of intelligence as they do abroad, and you will find a much larger number of men who understand what Socialism means than you will find in the average church congregation or in the average educational body. These men of the labor unions possess an incentive which neither the churches nor the colleges nor the legislatures nor business men's associations possess for understanding the Socialist movement.

It is nothing less than a social tragedy, in my opinion,

that there is such widespread ignorance of Socialism among so-called intellectual people; that such ignorance is bound to continue, too, almost indefinitely. It is a tragedy for this reason. Society—as all sociologists of any reputation teach—is an organism, somewhat as the body is an organism. One of the laws of any organism is the law of change, the law of growth, of evolution toward a more complex form. The social body has passed through many such changes within the historical period. But every such change has been attended by widespread upheaval, social convulsion, often by bloodshed, destruction of life and property, and unspeakable desolation and misery. If there is any particular value in institutions of learning or any other establishments whose purpose is enlightenment, it must lie in their capacity for preparing the minds of men and women for these inevitable changes in the Bocial organism, so that they may take place without so much pain and upheaval. Perhaps it is too much to expect that human society will ever reach a point where any institutions will exist which will actually devote themselves to such a process of enlightenment. And if so, then we must expect all future changes in the social body to be attended by the same sort of events which have marked all past stages of social growth.

It is a comparatively easy matter to define Socialism, to give a definition of the word. But no definition one may give it really tells what Socialism means, any more that a definition of chemistry tells any one what chemistry means, or a definition of religion tells any one what religion really means. Much more than any definition is necessary in order to know what Socialism means. I suspect, indeed, that a knowledge of Socialism can really be gained only in experimental action in and with the Socialist movement. No minister would say that reading or even mastering a definition of religion puts any person in possession of the meaning of religion. Something much more than that is necessary. If we may assume that men like Isaiah and Amos and Rosea and Jesus and Paul were examples of real religion—not of theology merely—we can readily understand that the religion of these men, and even their understanding of religion, was not a matter of definition. Neither did it arise from definition. It arose rather from the consciousness of profound meaning both in the individual life and in the social organism. That consciousness made each of these men dynamic, made him an active participant in certain dynamic movements. The same is true in regard to Socialism. Theoretical Socialists do not amount to very much. The real Socialist—even the man who really understands in an intellectual way the meaning of Socialism—will be found in the midst of the Socialist movement, a vital part of it, living in it as nowhere else.

A very common definition of Socialism is this: The collective ownership and operation or administration of the modern machinery of production and distribution.

And I have no doubt that will be a feature of Socialism. That is to say, a Socialist organization (if society will be marked inevitably by the collective ownership, and the democratic administration of the modern social machinery of production. But merely to say that is to say scarcely anything as to the meaning of Socialism. Indeed, merely to say that is to create an impression concerning Socialism which is utterly false. Hosts of people, depending upon some such definition as this of Socialism, have straightway become Utopians of one sort or another. Assuming that this is really the core of Socialism, quantities of people immediately jump to the conclusion that it doesn't matter in the least how this is brought about—the main thing is to get the collective ownership and the democratic administration of industry. And in that they are wrong, at least so far as the philosophy of Socialism is concerned, for Socialism is a philosophy—a philosophy of society, of social evolution. Socialism sustains to social evolution the same relation that the great modern philosophy of evolution sustains to the process of biological development. Karl Marx is "the Darwin of social evolution," as Professor Scndder, of Wellesley College, has called him.

It is impossible to understand what Socialism means without some knowledge of the evolutionary science and philosophy. For Socialism is not only a word that describes an actual economic and industrial system or organization of society, but also a term which includes the philosophical explanation of the process by which that new economic or industrial organization of society is to be realized. Indeed, there is included in the word Socialism, in my judgment, or at least there is immanent in that, term a whole new system of morals, of ethics, and the germs of something which will take the plaee of what, is called religion today. However, there are other thinkers, I have no doubt, who would take issue with me as regards this last point., and I shall not insist upon it here. The great body of Socialist thinkers would agree, I think, that in order to have an understanding of what Socialism means there is needed some knowledge of what is called "economic determinism," some knowledge of the economic theory of surplus value, and some knowledge of what is called the "class struggle." Some knowledge, also, should be had of what are called tactics.

The term "economic determinism" involves the idea that the determining, decisive factors or forces in history and in all social and industrial change are economic rather than what is sometimes called "spiritual" or "moral." That is to say, changes in the structure of society may be traced, in the last analysis, to economic sources. The author of this theory of economic determinism was Karl Marx, as Prof. Seligman, of Columbia University, acknowledges in his book entitled "The Economic Interpretation of History." Prof. Seligman, after a very careful and thoughtful analysis of that theory, and while disclaiming any belief in Socialism at all, affirms that the theory itself is impregnable, that it is, in fact, the only possible explanation of much of the phenomena of history. The mind demands some philosophy of history —that is, some explanation of the causes of historical events, historical changes, changes in the societary organism. Up to a comparatively recent time, no attempt was made by so-called historians to give any philosophy of history. History, for example, as illustrated in such a worthless product as "Rollins' Ancient History," meant merely a description of the rise and fall of nations, governments, civilizations, dynasties, and so on. without any hint at deeper causes. Then came the 4'Great Man theory," which even Carlyle seemed to hold; the notion that historical events were the product of great human geniuses. Thus, Luther was held to be the creator of the great Reformation, Voltaire and Rousseau and others of the French Revolution, Abelard and Dante and others of the Renaissance, Columbus and his fellow navigators the mainspring of the era of discovery which included the opening of this western continent for colonization and exploitation, and so on. This theory is no longer held by any reputable historian or philosopher. Neither is it held by any reputable thinker that some supernatural agency has directed all this social and economic and industrial development.

We are living in the era of science, especially of the revolutionary influence of evolutionary science and philosophy. To this period and to its influences, to its research, is due the knowledge that society is an organism and that the root of this organism is in the economic soil. Or, to put it in the form in which Marx stated it in the Communist Manifesto, in 1847: "In every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production, and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis apon which is built, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of the epoch; and that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; that the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolution in which, nowadays, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class—the proletariat —cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the* exploiting and ruling class—the bourgeoisie—without, at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class-distinctions and class struggles."

The fundamental proposition, Frederic Engels declares, was the work of Marx alone, and so I credit it to him. I suppose it would be impossible to find in all history a more beautiful or more perfect friendship than that which subsisted between these two men: Karl Marx and Frederic Engels. And I do not think it would be possible to find in all history the record of a finer or more absolutely sincere, generous, noble nature than that of Frederic Engels. It might almost be said that these two men, whose names are and must be inseparably linked together in Socialist thought, were the united mind and heart of scientific Socialism—the only Socialism that is worth thinking about.

This proposition which I have quoted from the preface to the Communist Manifesto embodies, better than any other combination of words, the foundation of the Socialist philosophy. The Communist Manifesto, published in 1847, as already said, is not only regarded by Socialists themselves as the most important contribution to Socialist literature when all is taken into account, but it has been called by a professor in the University of California "the greatest document ever written." It doesn't make much difference, however, about the comparative merits of this brief statement of economic philosophy. The important thing is to know its contents and to subject them to all the tests which reason or knowledge may require. I do not hesitate to say that no one can have any adequate understanding of Socialism who does not know the facts and principles embodied in the Communist Manifesto. I will go farther than that, and say that if every man or woman who comes into the Socialist movement—at least every person mentally capable—would carefully read and master the substance of the Communist Manifesto, there would be no such thing as the statement that there are "57 varieties of Socialists." As a matter of fact, there can be but one variety of real Socialists. There can no more be two kinds of Socialism than there can be two kinds of arithmetic. Socialism, considered from the intellectual point of view, is a science, a philosophy, as much so as geology, or chemistry, or astronomy. This docs not mean, of course, that every utterance of an alleged Socialist or of a real Socialist is infallible. "What it does mean is that Socialism has taken its place in the intellectual world as a distinct philosophy as really as sociology has taken its place as a distinct science.

If you will think for a moment again about this proposition which I have quoted from the Communist Manifesto, you will see what is meant by saying that Socialism is a science or a philosophy. Let me put it into a series of single statements. First, there are such things as epochs in history. These epochs are periods marked by certain characteristic institutions. The period of the Roman Empire might be called an epoch. Feudalism in Europe was an historical epoch. Capitalism today forms another epoch. In the opinion of Socialists, the next historical epoch in the evolution of society will be Socialism. Second, in every oue of these periods of history the prevailing mode of social organization varies with the economic mode of production. That is to say, the social institutions and usages, the customs and laws, the morals and ethics, existing under one mode of economic production and exchange, will differ radically from corresponding institutions of society under a different mode of production and exchange. For example, the social institutions of the South under chattel slavery were radically different in many ways from corresponding social institutions in the North, where chattel slavery did not exist. A man going from the North to the South before the Civil War felt himself going from one civilization into a very different one, in many ways. The difference arose from the difference in the economic mode of production. Why, for example, did the clergy of the South, practically without exception, believe in and defend the institution of negro slavery, while many of the clergymen of the North opposed it and denounced it as a most damnable institution, a hoary iniquity? It wasn't because the clergy of the North represented a higher moral level in their personal lives. It wasn't because the clergy of the North were more orthodox than those of the South, or better educated. Many of the clergy of the South were educated in the universities of the North, and the same was true of the planters and business men of the South. Yale University had a large proportion of its students -from the South before the Civil War. No, the difference can be accounted for at all only on the ground of this great principle of social economy: That social institutions and even moral and religious beliefs take their shape largely as a result of economic conditions. Men are very largely what their environment—especially their economic environment—makes them. Further still, the political and intellectual history of an epoch is built upon and can only be explained from this same material basis; the mode of economic production. A mode of economic production, such as existed in the Koman Empire, in which the mass of the laborers were chattel slaves, would produce very different political institutions and even intellectual ideas from what an economic mode of production, for example, like that of today, in which production is carried on wholly for purposes of private profit to the capitalist owners of the modern industrial tools, would produce. The social and intellectual and aesthetic and moral products of capitalism are widely different from those of an epoch based on chattel slavery.

Now, the inevitable result, or one inevitable result, of these various modes of production and exchange has been the antagonism of two classes in society; the class which owned and controlled the means of production, and the class which had no such ownership. Since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, in which the land was held in common and where there could not be any division into classes—or in other words, since the change to private ownership, instead of tribal or common ownership, there has been, in the nature of things, an exploiting class and an exploited class. The fact that some members of the exploited class have been able to escape from that class and take their place in the exploiting class, or the fact that some members of the exploiting class have fallen out of that class and taken their place in the exploited class, doesn't alter the fact of classes or of class antagonism. That is recognized by all persons who actually go through what might be called a process of thinking. No one has recognized that, fact more frankly than Dr. Lyman Abbott, editor of the Outlook, as you can see by referring to the Outlook for August 6, 1910, in which Dr. Abbott, distinctly states the fact of the class struggle as an inevitable result of capitalism, or the present economic mode of production. That is to say, under this mode of production, society must be divided into two classes, the one owning the tools and implements by means of which industry is carried on, but not using those tools; while the other class does the work of production with those tools, but has no ownership in them. The capitalist class owns the modern machinery of industry and sources of wealth. The working class use that machinery but do not own it.

For example, it is the working' class alone which constructs and operates a railroad. The owners of the stocks and bonds of a railroad company do not do the work which that industry represents. That is not their function. Doing the work of a railroad is the function of men who do not own its stock or bonds and who stand about as much show of owning such stocks and bonds as I stand of being the next president of the United States. This fact has been recognized and stated far more radically than I am staling it oven by a man so far removed from Socialism as Judge Peter S. Grosscup, of Chicago, now retiring from the bench—under fire, it is said. Judge Grosscup pointed out to a company of business men in Boston about, the year 1894 that whereas the working class were indispensable to the building of a railroad and to the creation of all the wealth which n railroad represents, they do not become part owners in their own product, but remain merely laborers for hire, and he warned his listeners that a system of things which was denying to a large class in society, and that the only indispensable class, any permanent stake in the property of the country was in no sense of the word either a permanent or a tolerable system.

The teaching of Socialism is that human history, since the days of tribal communism, has been a history of class struggles everywhere, and that the history of these class struggles forms a series in evolution in which today a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class—the proletariat—cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class—the bourgeoisie or capitalist class—without at the same time and once for all emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class-distinctions and class-struggles. In other words. Socialists are students of evolution, social evolution. Indeed; during the past hundred years a vast amount of investigation has been carried on in spheres hitherto practically untouched, unsurveyed, by thinkers. And no investigation of this sort has been more fruitful than that in anthropology, in the study of the evolution of social and economic forms. Marx and his associates were in possession of this material, and that is what enabled them to do what other men did not do, namely, construct a science of social evolution, or in other words, disclose the laws which govern the successive changes in the social organism.

It will probably be news to some of you, as it. was to me, in spite of my seven or eight years spent in college and divinity school, that the ordinary historian has deliberately ignored a vast amount of material which we are beginning to recognize today as vitally necessary to any understanding of society at all. I mean all that relates to the struggles, the organization, the warfare, the ideas and aspirations of what is called the 4<proletariat/' In fact, the name itself tells the whole story. Proletariat describes a vast class of people, a distinct class in society, and a class without which society could not go on at all. And yet, that name indicates that the only thing that class was regarded as being useful for was that of begetting children. The ruling class which invented that name thought the people they were naming did nothing at all except merely reproduce their kind. They were at the bottom of the scale. And the same thing is true today. Look into the dictionary—for example, the Standard Dictionary—and you will find you can hardly read the definition there given—a definition, remember, which came from the mind of the explioiting class—without feeling the disdain which it contains. It is a definition which carries contempt in every word. In fact, there are many individual capitalists today who say. as I have heard them say. of the working class, that they are parasites on the social body, indeed, are a burden on the backs of capitalists. Here again may be seen evidence of the class struggle, for this opinion on the part of capitalists is reflected in the habitual and fixed conviction of every intelligent member of the proletariat, that capitalists are themselves nothing but parasites on the body of Labor, and that the goal of the class struggle is the destruction of the system that produces these parasites.

As I have said, the ordinary historian has given us no information at all regarding the life and struggle and aspirations or even the function of the working class as a class. This is not to be wondered at, for the working class was first of all a chaltel slave class, without any rights whatever. The master had the right of life and death over his chattel the same as over any other piece of property. Then, under feudalism the feudal master had almost as great power over his serfs as the Roman master had over his slaves. And under Capitalism, the wage-slave class, as even Dr. Lyman Abbott recognizes the workers of (he present time to be, still occupies the

status in society of a commodity. The laws and institu-


tions and political forms of capitalist society are not made for the working class, but for the capitalist class. The officers of government under capitalism are men who serve capitalism. Government is bound to reflect the interests and wishes of the economically owning and therefore powerful class. And the only way in which government can really be changed is by changing the ruling economic class.

One of the principal points which I wish to make in this whole talk about the meaning of Socialism is that society is an organism. It grows just as any other organism docs. It is possible for us to study this social organism at various stages in its growth and learn the law which governs that growth. And that is what has been done. And, as I said or intimated a moment ago, such study within recent time lias been most fruitful. Mr. C. Osborne Ward, for example, while resident in Turkey as a Consul of the United States, made extensive researches in that country and found a vast mass of material concerning the ancient labor organizations of the time of the Roman Empire, found that at the time of Christ the whole empire was honeycombed with labor organizations and was the arena of tremendous labor struggles. He shows that one labor leader had an army of many thousand men under him and conducted a war that lasted for years and which the Roman armies put down only with great difficulty. Spartacus was :i labor leader. So was Catiline, whom history as written by tools of the ruling class—Cicero, in particular—has pilloried before the world as a despicable character, a dishonest and disreputable grafter. Whereas, it now turns out that Cicero's invectives against Cat aline were exactly parallel to the "stop thief" which is cried on the streets by the real criminal as he makes bis escape. A revised history of that period docs not reveal some of the heroes of our college days in as favorable a light afc might be supposed. In fact, the habit , of manufacturing news in the interests of the exploiters of labor is not as recent a development as the pages of our daily newspapers would lead some of us to think. The modern misleaders of public opinion are but imitating their ancient prototypes, though, of course, it is an unconscious imitation. The same motives which produced the biassed history of two thousand years ago operates and gives us the manufactured mis representations of labor and its struggle which constitute so large a part of our newspaper output today.

Socialism, then, is a stage in the evolution of society, ar more properly speaking, will lie a product of the next stage in the evolution of the economic mode of production and exchange. It has been found that every new form of social or industrial organization has developed, as the seed does, within the shell of its precedent form of social or industrial organization. Capitalism developed within the forms of feudalism until the old form fell away, because it was no longer adequate to the demands of the growing social body, and capitalism took its place. Socialism is now developing within the forms of capitalism, and it is only a matter of time when the old shell of capitalism must fall away, must perish, and the new economic organization, called Socialism, will take its place.

It could be shown easily, if there were time, how every former economic organization has inevitably developed the seeds of its own downfall. That capitalism is doing this is becoming more and more evident all the while. That is to say, the profit system is not a system which can be made permanent. A profit system is incapable of feeding the world or clothing the world. Capitalism is the production of commodities for profit—profit to the owners of the modern means of production. The profit is derived largely from the surplus value which the laborer creates but does not receive. It is not necessary here to enter into a discussion of the merits or demerits of the theory of surplus value. The philosophy of Socialism would not be destroyed even if it could be proved that surplus value is not sufficient to account for the profit system. The United States statistics show that of the values created by labor, or of the wealth produced by labor, labor receives only a small percentage, less than one-fifth. That may be taken as a fair and true statement of the facts. The exact proportion is not the important thing. The important thing is that labor is exploited of a large part of its product. That is conceded even by men who are not Socialists. And that fact not only has big consequences to the laborers, but it has equally significant consequences to the capitalist expan class="font2">III. The Moral Basis of the Demand for Free Divorce ....................................32pp. 15c