What is the nature of our civilisation? What is the controlling force which is guiding our destinies, and regulating our actions? What is the nature of the system? Is it operating for good or evil? could it be replaced by a better or a worse one? Is our social system a success, or is it a failure? These are questions some of us ask ourselves. We pride ourselves in being called “civilised.” We point at our great culture and grand works of art, our wonders of scientific achievement, our massive cities and communications, our complex technology as our glories of civilisation. It is our labour alone which supplies all human wants. The workers never cease toiling to satisfy the insatiable demands of the owning and employing class. It is the worker alone who carries on civilisation and keeps humanity going, too.
What about the capitalist? What is his place in our social system? It is to extort another huge slice out of the worker, by buying his or her services as much beneath their true value as he can possibly procure them, and selling them as much above their worth as the circumstances will permit him to extort. The more extensive his trade, the greater will be his power over his employees.
Civilisation is successful so far as it is associated with harmony. Civil conflict, political intrigue, and internal strife of all kinds are its destruction. Mutual peace and prosperity mark its success. Which course are we now pursuing? Whether it be a theocracy, autocracy, constitutional monarchy, or bourgeois republic we find in all alike the one common political basis – the division of the people into the rulers and the ruled. The government may differ in form, but they are alike in fact; whatever they may be called, presidents are virtually kings, plutocracies are intensified aristocracies, elections are conquests by oligarchs. Whatever the form of government, they are all marked by this general characteristic – they all rest upon APPROPRIATION and EXPLOITATION. Slavery, in some form or other, is found to underlie the social structure. Those who have appropriated the world to which all are justly entitled, hold in slavery the millions whom they have expropriated and live upon the results of their toil. And the State holds guard with all the machinery of law, police to protect the idle proprietors’ extortion.
That the present social system has failed must be apparent to all. It has made the many subservient to the few; it has thwarted the best human endeavours, and facilitated every method of exploitation; it disinherits the great mass, and fore-ordains their lifelong misery before they are even born. It is an incentive to pillage and plunder. It creates jealousy, hatred, and injustice. All political institutions are destructive and reactionary, self-seeking, dishonest, and tyrannical, and ever ready to dominate and oppress those over whom they exert authority; and not only does it corrupt those who rule it, but its evil effects extend to those whom they govern, for every extension of governmental function assists in decreasing and dwarfing the energies self-reliance of the people themselves and making them more helpless, cowardly, and servile than before.
No reform can end the evils which the capitalist machine has brought into being. The existing evils of society are too gigantic to toy, tinker or tamper with. “Remedies” are no remedies at all. The slavery and the robbery of the workers by rent, interest, profit must be abolished – abolished peacefully, expeditiously, and permanently. And to do so, we must start from where we now stand, and despite all the disadvantages which surround us, and with all the ignorance, all the bigotry, all the intolerance, and all the debasement and cowardice which characterise the down-trodden, we must side by side make our way along the path which so many have found slippery until we reach the long-cherished goal of labour’s emancipation.
But how can we do it? How can we get from the present unjust, destructive system, into one in which justice and happiness shall be the distinguishing characteristics? How shall we fight out of the present blood-thirsty system without the shedding of blood and without the disastrous reaction which has marked the bloody rebellions of the past? How shall we walk from bondage into liberty? Slaves as we are, have to emancipate ourselves. It can be done. It must be done.