HOW SOLIDARITY CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

THE CLASS STRUGGLE


Karl Kautsky

The conditions of labour under capitalist production themselves point the workers to the necessity of standing by each other, the necessity that the individual should be subservient to the collective body. While in handicraft , in its classic form, each individual himself created a complete whole, capitalist industry is based upon working together, upon co-operation. The capitalist industry worker can accomplish nothing without his comrades. If they attack the work unitedly and according to plan, the productivity of each one of them is doubled and trebled. Thus their work makes them realise the force of united action, and develops in them a voluntary joyful discipline which is the first condition of co-operative socialist production, but which is also a primary condition of any successful struggle of the proletariat against exploitation under capitalist production. The latter itself in this way educates the proletariat to overthrow it and to work under Socialist production. Capitalist production throws the most different trades together. In a capitalist institution workers of various trades work for the most part side by side and together towards the attainment of a common object. On the other side there is the tendency to obliterate altogether the idea of the special trade in production. The machine shortens the apprenticeship of the workers which formerly extended over years, to a training of a few weeks or often even days. It makes it possible for the individual worker to change over from one trade to another without too great difficulty. If often forces him to do so, by rendering him superfluous in that branch in which he was hitherto employed, throwing him into the street, and forcing him to look round for a new trade. The freedom of the choice of occupation, which the Philistine fears so greatly to lose in Socialist society, has today already lost all meaning for the worker. Under these circumstances it is easy for him to overstep the barrier before which the handicraftsman halted. The feeling of solidarity in the modern proletarian is not only international but it includes the whole working class.

Various forms of wage work existed already in ancient and medieval times. Neither are the struggles between wage workers and their exploiters anything new. But it is not until the dominion of capitalist large industry that we see a united class of wage-workers arise, who are quite conscious of the unity of their interests, and who make their special interests (not only personal, but also local and - as far as they still exist - trade interests) more and more subservient to the larger interests of the class as a whole. It was not until the nineteenth century that the struggles of the wage workers against exploitation assumed the character of a class struggle. And this is the only means of giving these struggles a broader and higher goal than the liberation from momentary evils, of converting the labour movement into a revolutionary movement.

Thus from among the despised, ill-treated, downtrodden proletariat arise a new historic world-power, before which the old powers are beginning to tremble; a new class is growing up with a new morality and a new philosophy, and increasing daily in numbers, in solidarity, economic indispensability, self-confidence and insight.

The upraising of the proletariat from its degradation is an unavoidable process, based on natural necessity. But it is by no means a peaceful or steady process. The capitalist method of production tends to crush down the working population more and more. The moral regeneration of the proletariat is only possible by means of the reaction against this tendency and the capitalists who are the representatives of it. It is only possible by means of the sufficient strengthening of the reaction, the contrary tendencies which are engendered among the proletarians by the new conditions under which they work and live. The debasing tendencies of the capitalist method of production, however, vary extremely at different times, in different localities and in the different branches of industry; they depend upon the state of the market, on the competition between the individual undertakings, on the degree to which the machine system has developed in any given branch, on the amount of insight possessed by the capitalists into their more permanent interests, etc., etc. The opposing tendencies, which are developing among the individual categories of proletarians, depend also upon various circumstances, upon the habits and requirements of the classes of the population from which these particular proletarians are for the most part drawn; on the degree of skill or strength demanded by the labour in that branch of industry in which they are engaged; on the extension of women's and children's labour; on the size of the industrial reserve army, which is by no means equal in every trade; on the insight of the workers, and, finally, upon whether the nature of the work tends to disperse and cut off the workers from each other, or to unite and draw them together, etc.

Each of these conditions varies very much in different branches of industry and among different categories of workers, and is subject to constant changes as the technical and economic revolution uninterruptedly progresses. Every day fresh districts and fresh trades are subjected to exploitation and proletarianisation through capital; every day new branches of industry are created, while the present ones are incessantly revolutionised. As in the early days of capitalism, so today we see ever new categories of the population sinking into the proletariat, perishing among the outcasts of society, while new categories are also continually rising out of it; among the working proletariat itself, a continual rise and fall may be seen, some strata moving in an upward, others in a downward direction, according as the elevating or degrading conditions happen to preponderate among them.

But happily for the development of human society, the moment arrives, sooner or later with most categories of proletarians, when the elevating tendencies decidedly get the upper hand, and when these tendencies have once became so effectual among any such category as to awaken in it self-confidence, class consciousness, the consciousness of the solidarity of all its members with each other and with the whole working class, the consciousness of the strength which springs from unity of action; as soon as they have aroused in this category of proletarians self respect and the consciousness of their economic indispensability, and the conviction that the working class is moving on towards a better future, as soon as a category of proletarians has once risen so far then it becomes immensely difficult to crush them down again to the level of the indifferent masses of those degenerate existences, who, indeed, hate, but without being able to band themselves together to a prolonged struggle, who despair of themselves and their future and seek oblivion in drink, who, from their sufferings do not draw the spirit of defiant revolt, but of timid submission. It is almost impossible to destroy class-consciousness in any category of proletarian when it has once become deeply rooted there.

The Political Struggle

Just in the same way as the proletariat, in forming its organisations of self-defence, imitated those of the journeymen, so its original weapons in the struggle are, wherever it is compactly organised, the same as those the journeymen made use of: the boycott, and, above all, the strike. But the proletariat cannot continue to limit itself to these two weapons. The more that the single categories of which it consists become welded together into one united working class, the more must its struggle assume a political character, for, as the Communist Manifesto points out, every class struggle is a political struggle.

Already the needs of the pure trade union movement, as such, force the workers to make demands of a political nature. We have seen how the modern State looks upon it as its principal function with regard to the workers, to render their organisations impossible. But a secret organisation can never be anything but an insufficient substitute for an open one, and that is all the more the case the greater the masses that have to be united in one body. The more the proletariat develops itself, the more does it require freedom to unite, freedom of coalition.

Today thousands of workers are employed in the great centres of industry, each of whom is only acquainted with some few of his fellow workers, and quite out of nearer personal touch with the great mass of his comrades. In order to bring these masses into communication with each other, to awaken within them the consciousness of the unity of the interests, and to win them over to the organisations which serve to protect those interests, it is necessary to be able to speak freely to great masses; it is necessary therefore to have the right of free assembly and a free press. The journeymen had no need of the Press. In the small circle in which they moved, verbal communication was sufficient. But to unite the enormous masses of the present-day wage workers in organisation and in united action, is, without the help of the Press, quite impossible.

This applies all the more in proportion as the modern means of communication develop. These constitute a forcible weapon for the capitalists in their struggles with the workers. They enable them, for instance, to procure great numbers of workers quickly from a long distance. If they are embroiled in a conflict with their own workers the latter can easily be replaced by others - always presupposing that the two sets are not in communication with each other. The development of communication thus makes it more and more necessary for the single local movements of the workers in the different trades to unite into one single movement, embracing the whole militant working class of the whole country - yes, indeed, of all the industrial lands. But this national and international union of the wage-workers needs, still more that the local organising work, the aid of the Press.

Thus, wherever the working class is stirring, where it is making the first attempts to elevate its economic position, we see that besides demands of a purely economic nature, it formulates others of a political nature, especially those concerning freedom of coalition, the right of public meeting and the freedom of the Press. These liberties are of the greatest importance to the' working class; they belong to the conditions of its life which are absolutely necessary for their development. They are to the proletariat as light and air, and whoever deprives the former of them, or tries to hold back the workers from the struggle to win or extend these liberties, belongs to the worst enemies of the proletariat, however great the love he may feel, or pretend to feel, for them. And whether he calls himself Anarchist, Christian-Socialist, or anything else, he injures the workers just as their open enemy does, and whether he does so from malice aforethought, or from mere ignorance, is indifferent - he must be fought just as much as the recognised opponents of the proletariat.

Sometimes the political struggle has been represented as opposed to the economic struggle, and it has been said to be necessary that the proletariat should turn only to the one or the other. The truth is that the two are inseparable from each other. The economic struggle requires the above-mentioned political rights, which, however, do not fall from heaven, but which, to be acquired and retained, demand the most rigorous of political action. But the political struggle itself is in the last instance also an economic struggle; often, indeed, it is directly so, for instance in questions of taxation, protection of labour, and similar matters. The political struggle is only a particular form - the most all-embracing and generally most intense form - of the economic struggle.

Not only those laws which directly concern the working class, but also the great majority of the others, touch their interests more or less. Therefore the working class, like every other class, must aspire to political influence and political power, must seek to get the State power under its control.

Where the proletariat approaches the parliamentary struggles (especially election campaigns) and takes part as a conscious class in parliamentary life, the nature of parliamentarism begins to change. It ceases to be a mere means towards bourgeois rule. It is just these struggles that constitute so effectual a means of arousing the still indifferent categories of proletarians, of inspiring them with confidence and enthusiasm; they prove the most powerful means of welding the various categories of proletarians together into a united working class, and, finally, also, the most powerful means which is at present at the disposal of the proletariat of influencing the State force in its favour, and of wresting from it such concessions as it is possible, under present circumstances, to wrest from it; in short these struggles are among the most powerful levers for raising the proletariat from its economic, social and moral debasement.

The working class has, then, not only no reason to abstain from parliamentarism, it has every reason for taking active part in everything that tends to strengthen parliamentarism as against the administration of the State, and to strengthen its own representation in Parliament. Alongside of the right of coalition and the freedom of the Press, adult suffrage constitutes a necessity of life for the proper development of the proletariat.

The Labour Movement and Socialism

The socialists did not always, from the beginning, recognise the part which the militant proletariat is called upon to play in the socialist movement. They could not do so as long as there was no such thing as a militant proletariat, for socialism is older than the proletarian class struggle. Socialism dates back to the first appearance of the proletariat in the mass. But the proletariat existed a long time without its showing the slightest stirring of independent thought within it. The first, and at that time the only, root of socialism was the pity which the philanthropists of the higher classes felt for the poor and miserable. The socialists were the most intrepid and far-seeing of these friends of humanity, those who recognised most clearly that the proletariat was rooted in the private ownership of the means of production, and who did not hesitate to draw the fullest conclusions from this realisation. Socialism was, of all the expressions of middle-class philanthropy, the one most full of character, most far-seeing and magnificent. There was no class interest to spur on the socialists of that time in the struggle towards their goal; they could only appeal to the enthusiasm and sympathy of the idealists among the upper classes. These they sought to win by means of, on the one side, seductive pictures of a socialist commonwealth, and, on the other, by forcible representations of the existing misery. Not by fighting, but by peaceful persuasion, were the rich and mighty to be moved to provide the means towards a thorough amelioration of this misery, toward the formation of an ideal state of society. The socialists of this period, as is well known, waited in vain for the princes and millionaires whose generosity was to deliver mankind.

In the first decades of the last century the proletariat began to show some signs of independent life. We find in the thirties, in France, and especially in England, a strong labour movement.

But the socialists did not understand this movement. They did not think it possible that the poor, ignorant, crude proletarians could ever reach that moral elevation and social power which would be needed in order to realise the socialist aspirations. But it was not mistrust alone that they felt towards the working-class movement. They began to find it awkward, as it threatened to deprive them of a forcible argument, for the middle-class socialists could only hope to make the sensitive bourgeois see the necessity for socialism if they could prove that it was the only hope of even keeping the distress within bounds, that any attempt to mitigate the misery or to elevate the propertyless class under existing conditions would prove futile and that it was impossible for the proletarians to help themselves. The labour movement, on the other hand, was based on assumptions which contradicted this train of thought. There was also another circumstance. The class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie naturally embittered the latter against the rising proletariat, who, in the eyes of the bourgeoisie, instead of pitiable unfortunates who must be assisted, became vicious, dangerous miscreants who must be beaten and kept down. The chief root of socialism in bourgeois circles, pity for the poor and miserable, began to wither. The socialist doctrine itself no longer appeared to the frightened bourgeoisie as a harmless plaything, but as a highly dangerous weapon which might get into the hands of the mob, thereby causing unspeakable disaster. In short, the stronger the labour movement became, the more difficult became the propagation of socialism among the ruling classes, and the more antagonistic they became towards it.

As long as the socialists were of the opinion that the means of reaching the socialist goal could only come from among the upper classes, they naturally viewed the labour movement not only with distrust, but sometimes even with decided animosity, as they inclined to the idea that nothing was more injurious to the cause of socialism than the class struggle.

This unsympathetic attitude of the middle-class socialists towards the labour movement naturally did not fail to react on the attitude of the latter towards socialism. If the rising portion of the proletariat not only met with no support from the socialists, but even with opposition, if the teachings of the latter threatened to discourage them, it was all too easy for mistrust and dislike of the whole socialist doctrine itself, not only of its application to the struggles of the times, to arise among them. The mistrust was increased by the thoughtlessness and want of education which, in the early days of the labour movement, were rife even among the masses of militant proletarians. The narrowness of their horizon made it very difficult for them to understand the ultimate objects of socialism, and they had as yet no clear and far-seeing consciousness of the social position and function of their class, they only felt a dim class-instinct, which taught them distrust of everyone who came from the bourgeoisie, thus also of the middle-class socialism, just as of middle-class philanthropy in general.

Among many categories of workers, especially in England, this mistrust of socialism at that time took deep root. To the after-effects of this - combined with many other causes - it is partially to be ascribed that until about twenty-five years ago England was practically impregnable to socialist aspirations, even though the newer socialism takes up a completely different attitude towards the labour movement from that of the middle-class Utopians.

All the same, however great the gulf between socialism and the militant proletariat might at times become, the former is nevertheless so perfectly adapted to the needs of those proletarians who think for the future, that even when the masses were in opposition to socialism, the best intellects among the working class soon turned towards it in so far as they had the opportunity of getting acquainted with its teachings. And it was through their agency that the views of the Utopian socialists underwent an important metamorphosis. They were not like the latter, obliged to respect the ideas of the bourgeoisie, whom they hated and bitterly opposed. The peaceful socialism of the bourgeois Utopians, who wanted to bring about the deliverance of mankind by means of the action of the best elements among the upper classes, changed among the workers into a forcible, revolutionary socialism, which was to be carried out by the efforts of the proletarians themselves.

But even this primitive working-class socialism had no comprehension of the labour movement; it, also, was opposed to the class struggle - at least, to its highest form, the political form - for other reasons, it is true, than the middle-class Utopians. In a scientific sense it was impossible for it to get beyond them. At the best, the proletarian can but appropriate a part of the knowledge which the learning of the middle classes has brought to light and adapt it to his desires and needs. As long as he remains a proletarian he has no leisure nor means to carry on science independently beyond the point attained by the bourgeois thinkers. Therefore the primitive working-class socialism bore all the characteristic marks of Utopianism; it had no idea of economic development, which creates the material elements of socialist production, and nurtures and ripens, by means of the class struggle, that class which is called to take possession of those elements and build up out of them the new state of society. Like the bourgeois Utopians, these proletarians also believed a form of society to be a structure which could be voluntarily erected according to a previously worked out plan once one had the means and the site for it. The proletarian Utopians, who were as bold and as energetic as they were naive, credited themselves with the strength to manage the building up; it was only a question of procuring the necessary site and means. They did not, of course, expect these to be placed at their disposal by a prince or a millionaire; the Revolution was to demolish the old structure, break up the old powers, and give the dictatorship to the little group who had discovered the new plan of building, which would enable the new Messiah to erect the structure of socialist society.

In this train of thought the class struggle found no place. The proletarian Utopians were feeling too keenly the misery in which they lived not to wish impatiently for its immediate abolition. Even if they had considered it possible for the class struggle to elevate the proletariat and make it capable of assisting in the further development of society, this process would have appeared to them far too complicated. But they had no faith in such in elevation. They were only at the beginning of the labour movement, the categories of proletarians taking part in it were but few and small, and even among these militant proletarians there were very few individuals who had more in view than the protection of their immediate interests. To educate the mass of the population in socialist thought appeared hopeless. The only thing this mass was capable of was an outbreak of despair, in which everything existing might be destroyed, thereby clearing the path for the socialists. The worse the condition of the masses the nearer - so thought the primitive working-class socialist - must the moment be when their lot would become so unendurable to them that they would demolish the upper part of the social structure which was crushing them. A struggle for the gradual elevation of the working class was, in the opinion of these socialists, not only hopeless, but decidedly injurious, because the trivial improvements which such a struggle might temporarily attain, would make the existing order more tolerable to the masses, thereby putting off the moment of their rising and of the destruction of this order, and therewith also the moment of the thorough abolition of their misery. Every form of the class struggle which had not the immediate and complete overthrow of the existing order as its goal - that is, every effectual form which is to be taken seriously - was, in the eyes of these socialists, nothing less than treason to the cause of humanity.

It is more than half a century ago that this line of thought, which probably found its most brilliant exponent in Weitling, appeared among the working class. It has not yet died out. The inclination towards it is apparent in every category of the working class who are about to enter the ranks of the militant proletariat; it shows itself in every country the proletariat of which is beginning to be conscious of its unworthy and unbearable position, and to become filled with socialist tendencies, without having yet gained a clear insight into the social conditions and without crediting itself with the strength for a prolonged class struggle; and as new categories of proletarians are ever lifting themselves up from the quagmire into which economic development has pressed them down, and new lands are ever becoming invaded by the capitalist method of production, and the resulting proletarisation of the masses, this train of thought of the primitive Utopian workmen-socialists may yet reappear many times. It is a disease of childhood, which threatens every young proletarian socialist movement that has not yet advanced beyond Utopianism.

It is usual today to describe these kind of Socialist views as Anarchism, but they are on no account necessarily akin to the latter. As they do not arise from clear insight into things, but only from an instinct of revolt, they are compatible with very diverse theoretical standpoints. But it is true that lately the rough and violent socialism of the primitive proletarian and the often very sensitive, highly strung and peaceful anarchism of the over-refined petty bourgeois are often in alliance with each other, because, in spite of all the far-reaching differences between them, there is one thing that they have in common, the disinclination for, indeed the hatred of, the prolonged class struggle, especially in its highest form - the political struggle.

The Utopian Socialism of the proletarians was quite as unable as that of the middle classes to overcome the antagonism between socialism and the labour movement. It is true the proletarian Utopians were at times forced by circumstances to take part in the class struggle, but, owing to their instability on the theoretical side, the participation did not tend towards a final union between socialism and the labour movement, but towards the crowding out of the former by the latter. It is well known that the anarchist movement (the word is used here in the sense of this proletarian Utopianism), wherever it has become a mass movement, a real class struggle, has, in spite of its apparent radicalism, sooner or later ended either in narrow trades unionism pure and simple, or in an equally narrow exclusive co-operative movement.

Social-Democracy: the union of the labour movement and socialism

In order for the socialist and labour movements to be reconciled and welded into one united movement, it was necessary for socialism to rise above the Utopian line of thought. The accomplishment of this is the historic work of Marx and Engels, who, in 1847, in their Communist Manifesto laid the scientific foundations of the new modern socialism or, as it is called today, social-democracy. They thereby gave a backbone to socialism, which had until then been but a beautiful dream of a few well-meaning enthusiasts, and converted it into a serious goal to be fought for, and proved it to be the necessary result of economic development. To the militant proletariat they gave a clear consciousness of its historic mission, and placed it in the position to proceed towards its great goal as quickly and with as little sacrifice as possible. The function of the socialists is no longer to invent a new state of society according to desire, but to discover its composite elements within present day society. They no longer have to bring it upon the proletariat deliverance out of their misery from above, but to support their class struggle by increasing their insight and assisting their economic and political organisations, so that they may ripen faster and less painfully towards the time when they will be able to deliver themselves. To make the class struggle of the proletariat as conscious and as practical as possible, that is the function of the Social-Democracy.

A further exposition of the line of thought in the teaching of Marx and Engels is unnecessary, for all that we have already said is founded upon it, and is nothing more or less than an exposition and working out of this teaching.

The class struggle of the proletariat receives, through this teaching, a new character. As long as it has not Socialist production for its goal, as long as the aspirations of the militant proletariat do not extend beyond the framework of the present method of production, the class struggle appears only to move in a circle without leaving the spot, and the struggles of the proletariat for a satisfactory existence seem to be Sisyphean labour. For the degrading tendencies of the capitalist method of production are not destroyed but at the utmost, only held somewhat in check by the class struggle and its achievements. The proletarianising of the middle classes of society continues unbrokenly; fresh members and whole categories of the working-classes are ceaselessly being forced into the ranks of the outcast class, while the capitalists' greed for gain is ever threatening the destruction of even the little that the better-situated workers have already attained. Each shortening of the working day, whether attained through economic or political struggles, is made the occasion for the introduction of labour-saving machines, for intensifying the labour of the workers; every improvement in the proletarian organisations is answered by an improvement in the capitalist organisations, etc., and at the same time unemployment is increasing; the crises are becoming extended both in dimensions and intensity and the precariousness of existence is becoming even greater and more tormenting. The elevation of the working class, which the class struggle brings about is less an economic than a moral one. The economic conditions of the proletarians in general only improve slightly and slowly - if at all - as a result of the class struggle. But the self-respect of the proletarians increases and also the respect that other classes of society give them; they are beginning to feel themselves equal to those who are better situated than they are, and to compare their circumstances with their own; they are beginning to expect more from themselves, from their housing and clothing, their knowledge, the education of their children, etc., and to demand participation in the acquisitions of culture. And they are ever becoming more sensitive towards every slight and every oppression.

This moral elevation of the proletariat is synonymous with the awakening and steady growth of their demands. This is growing much too rapidly for those improvements in their economic position, which fare compatible with the present-day method of exploitation, to keep pace with it. All these improvements, which some hope and others fear will make the workers contented, must always be less than the demands of the latter, which are the natural result of their moral elevation. The result of the class struggle then can only be to increase the discontent of the proletarian with his lot, a discontent which naturally makes itself specially felt wherever the economic elevation of the proletariat remains farthest behind moral elevation, the increase of which, however, is nowhere, in the long run, to be hindered. And so the class struggle appears, after all, objectless and fruitless if its aspirations do not extend beyond the existing method of production. The higher it elevates the proletarian, the further he finds himself from the goal of his aspirations, namely, a contented existence, answering to his ideas of human dignity.

Only socialist production can put an end to the want of proportion between the demands of the worker and the means of satisfying them, by abolishing all exploitation and class differences; it will, by this means, abolish that powerful incentive to the worker to be discontented with his lot, which is today roused in him by the sight of luxury. Once this incentive is removed, the workers will, of their own accord, limit their demands to the bounds of possibility, that is, of the available means for satisfying the wants of all.


How Solidarity Can Change the World was first published as a double issue of Workers' Liberty magazine, numbers 46 and 47, in April 1998.

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