The prevalent understanding of history is a compendium of more or less unrelated events.We view it as an annal of wars, battles, and murders. A chronicle of the deeds and misdeeds of a pantheon of kings, despots, villains and heroes. It is a scrapbook of spectacles where the more conspicuous and dramatic occurrences are given a skewed, distorted, and hyperbolized prominence. Little, if any attention is given to either their underlying causes or to their ultimate effects.
"Those Who Don't Know History Are Doomed To Repeat It"
We have all heard these words. Yet "knowing" history as it is commonly perceived is simply not enough. History is littered with loud-mouthed authoritarian ego-maniacal "leaders" who dupe nations into following them on a conquest of ruin. The cup of history, my friends; "runneth over" with despots who scapegoat foreigners of any stripe, intellectuals, or any other group who may seem "different" to the local normalcy. Everyone knows this history, yet still the lackeys come.
Still the followers gather and kill each other in foxholes for one local tyrant or tyrant's ideological propaganda or another.
Knowing the chronology of events in history has little value.
Clearly, analysis of the causes and effects of these events is what matters.
|If you understand the concept of perspective, you know that this woman isn't exactly holding the sun is she?|
We are in error to view society now as it ever was, as it has always been, and is now; in a process of growth, the universal law of evolution dictates that it moves from the simple to the complex. The beginnings of our present society must be traced to each preceding phase unraveling the previous forms back to the earliest tribal communities. If one sketches this out, history takes on a clear and consistent form. In a very real sense, you do need to understand where you are coming from to reach a destination. And you do need to choose a destination...or someone will be choosing it for you. This is one of the great lessons to be gleaned from history.
The Pre-Slavery Period
The period of human development previous to the appearance of slavery is so far removed in the dim past that it has left little historic trace beyond the scattered remains of primitive handiwork that we unearth from time to time. There isn't a lot that we can ascertain, but there is one characteristic that marks the ante-slavery period (as well as cultures in existence today that managed to develop on their own due to their remoteness)...and that is the non-existence of property in the true sense of the word. Oh they had personal possessions of course, such as his weapons and personal dwellings, but the resources of the earth, were and are of free of access to all, these resources are the property of none. Property is not so much the assertion of the claim of the individual as it's owner as it is a denial of claim of all others to ownership.
The Slavery Period And The Transition To Barbarism
The tools of this time were simple and crude, and so too were the economics. Human activity and thus production under savagery differs from that of today as everything was a matter of hand production instead of machine, products were created for individual use instead of social consumption. That is to say, each article produced is completed by one individual instead of being, as it is today, the result of the toil of a whole army of workers, each one doing a little to it. Furthermore, under "savagery", articles are produced for use; whereas in more recent times articles are produced for individual profit. What we can observe about this time, is that if we eliminated the social production, the machinery, and profit we'd see economics reduced to it's lowest common denominator. Its simplest form. In the pre-civilization and early civilization days, exchanges were carried on mostly on whim, but the more civilized we became, the more exchanges became based on the labor required to fashion things. An "uncivilized man" wishing to barter, say, ornaments for weapons, would exchange them upon the basis of the labor it would cost him to produce either. He would know how long it took him to make the ornaments, and he would have a pretty good idea how many of the weapons he could make in the same time, and would therefore insist on just so many in exchange for his ornaments. To accept any less would be foolish, as he would be better off to make them himself. This standard of value has endured through all the succeeding changes in the methods of production and exchange until the introduction of machines and profit. Then we allowed foolishness to prevail. In those times, the earth's resources had no economic value in themselves, they are simply there and accessible to all.They were no one's property. No one claimed to own the water, the sky, or the land upon which one treads. It was understood that only when the hand of labor is applied to those natural resources to convert them into articles of use by mankind, that anything of value is created. Something we have allowed to be obscured in the industrial age.
The primitive's way of life was predatory. It involved hunting and fishing, and relied upon wild fruits and roots. Such a method of life is precarious and becomes more so with the increase of population. There would necessarily be consequent restrictions of the tribal hunting grounds etc. and as time goes on the people would be driven to domesticate animals and to cultivate the soil in order that this means of life may be more certain. Once this becomes generalized, the door to slavery is opened.
The primitive kills his enemies on the battlefield – maybe he even eats them. There is no incentive to make them captive, as it would only mean more mouths to feed. He cannot even compel them to maintain themselves by sending them to hunt, as obviously, they would just escape. But with the cultivation of the soil it becomes possible for an individual to produce more than is necessary for his own keep. It then becomes practical to make captives. They now can be compelled to toil in the fields and produce for their masters; their escape can be prevented by armed guards.
So property, the slave and the soldier make their advent upon the scene of human events together. Through our clear lens of historic causation, we can see this was not an accident and these events are definitely related. To sum this era up: the savage came upon the scene endowed with power to labor, which he applied to the natural resources, and produced for himself wealth – articles of use to him. Later, the chattel slave was owned by a master, who compelled him to apply his labor power to the natural resources, and then took the wealth he produced.
The Rise Of The Slave Empires
Uncomfortable as it may be, it is noticeable that where slavery of one sort or another did not exist, the societies did not advance much in the arts and sciences. This would indicate that slavery was essential to human progress, and this is actually the case. Why? When man lived by fishing, gathering and hunting he had little leisure for the pursuit of knowledge. His time was taken up with the economic problem – how to provide for his wants. When, however, the agricultural stage was reached, and it became possible for an individual to live upon the fruits of another’s labor, society became divided into two classes, the slaves and their masters, the working class and the leisured class. This master class then had leisure to turn its attention to other things besides its immediate necessities. It was in fact upon this foundation, that the civilizations of the ancient world were built. Upon the labor of slaves Babylon upraised her temples and gardens, Egypt her pyramids and tombs, Greece her colonnades and statuary; the armies of Xerxes and Hannibal, the mighty empire of Rome, were all maintained out of the surplus product of vast armies of chattel slaves. And so upon the backs of toiling millions, empire after empire arose, attained its zenith and crumbled to decay, some of them leaving scarcely a trace to mark their existence in history. The course of each one was in many respects similar. Because they were all slave civilizations, and because they all commenced as bands of rude conquerors subjugating their neighbors until having overcome rivals, the masters degenerated into a horde of parasites living upon the ever-increasing product of their slaves.
We can readily observe that in all these cases, wealth accumulated into the hands of the already most wealthy, and, as the wealthy class became fewer, the slaves became more numerous until the disproportion becomes so great that the wealthy few, with all their luxurious extravagance and wastefulness, were no longer able to consume the volume of wealth, and there were more slaves than employment could be found for. As the slave's value declined, his condition became more and more precarious and miserable. Society was no longer able to provide for the wants or needs of the useful portion of it, and, there was no possibility, at the time, of any new form of society to take its place. So the slave civilization perishes, its extinction generally being hastened by the inroads of some younger and more virile empire. The fall of the last of these ancient chattel slave empires, the decadent Roman empire, marked the dawn of a new era. For thousands of years chattel slavery had been the only form of slavery. An endless rotation of civilizations had been founded on that basis, they had succeeded one another, but conditions were ripe for a change, for which these cycles of chattel slavery had been merely a preparation.
The Institution of Feudalism
Western Europe, formerly one great forest, had now become populous. The incoming races amalgamated with the former inhabitants who had, under Roman rule, been reduced to some semblance of order. Conditions became so settled that it was no longer easy for a slave to escape. It was no longer necessary to own and guard him. Therefore, gradually, a new system of slavery evolved. The slave was attached to the land he toiled; he became a serf.
His master was now the owner of the land – the lord. The serf toiled on his lord’s land, producing wealth for him, in return for which he was permitted to toil on his own behalf upon a piece of land set apart for that purpose. The wealth he thus produced was just sufficient to meet his necessities so that he might continue to live and produce more wealth for his lord. The difference between the chattel slave and the serf is one of form rather than of reality. Each produced the wealth that maintained both himself and his master. The serf received of that wealth only subsistence...sufficient, at the best, to maintain him in a good enough working condition. While the chattel slave, being generally bought, represented so much cash laid out, and was therefore worth taking a certain amount of care of, the personal welfare of the serf was a matter of little or no concern to the lord beyond that it was to the lord’s interest to protect him from other robbers in order that he himself might get the full benefit of robbing the serf himself. The reason serfdom displaced chattel slavery was that it was a more economical and less troublesome method of exploiting workers. The point most worthy of remembrance in the feudal system is that the serf worked a part of the time for himself and the rest of his time for his lord, much as the worker today works a part of his working day producing his own wages and the rest of the time producing profit for his employer. We have not yet left the shackles of serfdom in a sense. A particularly nasty irresponsible form of slavery.
The Rise Of CapitalismIt had taken several thousands of years of chattel slavery to prepare the way for serfdom. And it took several centuries of feudalism to prepare the way for a new form of exploitation – capitalism – the kernel of which already existed in the feudal society.
While the agricultural districts were under the sway of the nobility, the towns and cities of the Middle Ages were, to some degree, free from their domination. The merchants, artisans and craftsmen gathered in these places. Their interests were at all times antagonistic to those of the land-barons, who naturally sought to place restrictions on the manufacture and marketing of the city products. This antagonism was accentuated by the discovery of America and of the southwest passage to the Orient, and the consequent expansion of trade. As the wealth and power of the townsmen increased, that of the nobility decreased. The invention of gunpowder sealed the fate of the mail-clad knights and their chivalry. The nobleman became a mere parasite upon society; feudalism ran its course as other forms of slave society had done. It was dying when the steam engine gave it a death-blow.
That invention threw wide the doors of opportunity to society’s new masters, the townsmen or bourgeoisie. The production of articles of commerce had been carried on by hand until this point. The town worker was a craftsman who learned his trade by a long apprenticeship, who, when he became a journeyman, worked by the side of a master, and had reasonable hopes of becoming a master himself. The tools of production were yet so primitive as to be within the purchasing power of the thrifty workman. Land alone was the sacred property of the ruling class. The coming of the steam-driven engine changed all this. The hand tool grew step by step into the gigantic set of machines we know today. Ownership of these tools became more and more an impossibility for the worker. The master workman left the bench for the office; the foreman took his place. The factory called for more labor – cheaper labor. The new capitalist turned his profit-hungry eyes on the brawn of the agricultural districts. Serfdom stood in the way, so serfdom was abolished. The serf was freed from his bondage to the land that he might take on a heavier yoke, that of the factory. The factory had no use for brains, but “hands”. The hands of the country yokel, of his wife, and of his children, would serve equally as well as those of the skilled craftsman to operate machines. No apprenticeship was needed, no training. Only “hands” with hungry stomachs attached. The serf was not freed from the land, rather, he was driven off it by the closing in of the commons and by other measures. The freeing of the serfs was no humanitarian measure. Greed – and greed alone – was its inspiring motive. This was a power struggle...the new capitalists rose up to take the reins the lords had accumulated.
The capitalist class had humble enough beginnings. Its progenitors were the townsmen of the Middle Ages. They were a part of the feudal society and yet, in a way, apart from it. They were neither nobles nor serfs, but a species of lackeys to the nobility. Sycophants. From them the noble obtained his clothing and the gay trappings of his horse; they forged his weapons and his armor, built his castles, loaned him money. He stood to them in the relation of a consumer, and, as a consumer, he legislated, defining their markets, prohibiting them from enhancing prices, enacting that wages should not exceed certain figures, insisting that goods should be of such and such a quality and texture, and be sold at certain fixed prices. Naturally these restrictions were not pleasing to the townsmen. As trade and commerce increased they found these conditions less and less tolerable. As they grew in wealth and influence they became less and less inclined to tolerate them. In England they had joined with the nobles to weaken the king, and with the king to weaken the nobles. Finally they broke the power of both. In the false name of freedom they crushed feudalism. But the freedom they sought was a freedom that would allow them to adulterate goods, that would allow the workers to leave the land and move where the factories needed them, their wives, and their children. While in other lands the course of the bourgeois revolution was somewhat different to that in England, the result was the same. In France, for instance, the revolution was pent up for so long a period that when it burst forth it deluged the land in blood, through which the people waded, bearing banners inscribed “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.
The Industrial Age And Beyond
The New SlaveryThe essence of enslavement is that one man should be compelled to work for others, and surrender to them the product of his or her toil. Wage-slavery, the present form of servitude, fulfills this condition every bit as much as did chattel slavery or serfdom. The workers of today have no claim upon the wealth they produce. And while they may not actually be compelled to work for any given master, they must work for some master. They are therefore slaves in the proper sense of the word. They are exploited for more wealth – that is to say, the masters obtain from their labor greater returns than did the masters of the past. Sadly, if this were not so, the other forms would still be widespread. But no feudal serf or chattel slave can compete with the modern wage slave at slaving. Where the masters of old were, to a certain extent, interested in the welfare of their slaves, having, directly or indirectly, a property interest in them. The modern slaver, on the other hand, has no such interest in his slaves. He neither purchases nor owns them. He merely buys so much labor-power – physical energy– just as he buys electric power for his plant. The worker represents to him merely a machine capable of developing a given quantity of labor-power. When he does not need labor-power he simply refrains from buying any. The human....can go to hell. He could care less.
The ages of chattel slavery broke the ground for feudalism. Centuries of feudalism prepared the way for capitalism. In a few decades capitalism has brought us to the threshold of ruin.
Capitalism has done remarkable work for itself, and done it thoroughly.
It found workers, for the most part, an ignorant, voiceless peasant horde.It found them working individually and with little co-ordination; it has made them work collectively and scientifically. It has abolished their individuality and reduced their labor to a social average, leveling their differences, until today the humble ploughman is a skilled laborer by comparison with the mere human automata that toils at meaningless tasks.
It found the means and methods of production crude, scattered and ill-ordered, the private property of individuals – very often of individuals who themselves took part in production; it leaves them practically one gigantic machine of wealth production, orderly, highly productive, economical of labor, closely inter-related – the collective property of a class, and of a class wholly unnecessary to production, a class whose sudden extinction would not affect the speed of one wheel or the heat of one furnace. It found the earth large, with communications difficult, divided into nations knowing little or nothing of one another, with prairies unpopulated, forests untrod, mountains unscaled. It has brought the ends of the earth within speaking distances of one another, has ploughed the prairies, hewed down the forests, emptied the mountains, explored all regions, exploited all resources; it has largely broken down all boundaries, except on maps; it has given us an international capitalist class with designs on all lands and nations. Aristotle, with something akin to prophetic vision, laid down the axiom that slavery was necessary until the forces of Nature were harnessed to the uses of Man. This has been accomplished and the necessity for slavery is past. Armed with the modern machinery of production and technology, the workers, a small fraction of society, can produce more than all society can possibly use or waste – so much more, that periodically the very wheels of production are clogged with the super-abundance of wealth of 1%ers. We see at the pinnacle of prosperity, industry suddenly become disjointed; the wheels all come to a standstill. Furnaces cool off; smoke ceases to belch forth to the skies; the belts stay their eternal round over the pulleys. The workers, from being worked to the limit of their endurance, find themselves unexpectedly without work at all, and soon without means of subsistence having committed their lives to serving faceless corporate overlords who have no interest in their personal survival....one dead peasant, "no problem another will come along and I'll cheat them even more!" Everywhere where capitalism rules, from all quarters comes the same sad tales. Famine-stricken where food is plenty; ill clad where clothing is plentiful; shelterless among hordes of empty houses; shivering by mountains of fuel. There is no promise of alleviation, but rather portents of worse to come. So it is imperative that humanity learn from it's history. It is time to end all slavery. It is time to create a society that does not tolerate the greed of capitalism. One that does not tolerate the poverty of the many. One that refuses to let any human being go to bed hungry when there is plenty of food. One that does not deny health care when there is plenty of medicine. The economic problems, whose solution laid in the advent of slavery, have long been solved. Humanity must step forth free at last from its aeons of bondage. There is no reason we shall not be the master of our own destiny. Our technology and machines have enabled us with little effort to produce all that we need. And with ample leisure to enjoy the fruits of our work, and the legacies of time. The time has come to rethink what the next human society should be. What it should embrace....and what it should reject. The title of this article comes from a 1914 socialist pamphlet...."They have sown the wind – they are reaping the whirlwind."
The slave of old toiled in his master’s fields and the fruits of his toil belonged to his master; the worker of today toils in his master’s office, factory or farm, and the fruits of his toil belong to the master. The former received for his toil enough for his own subsistence, just what the latter today receives at the best. The slave was bought and sold bodily and, being so much invested wealth, was more or less well cared for whether he worked or not. The worker of today sells himself from day to day, and being a “freeman” and nobody’s property, nobody is under any obligation to care for him or to feed him when there is no work for him to do. The slave was generally an unwilling slave, but the worker votes for a continuance of his servitude.
His freedom lies in his own hands, but he refuses to be free. Which is the baser slave?
What next fellow humans? Why do we continue this charade? It is not necessary.
What sort of world do we really want? One that values human dignity? One that values resources?
One that transcends the shackles of the slaver? Or not? It is time to move forward.
Going to the moon was hard. Rejecting the "need' for servants isn't. We really can do this.
No...we must. For the future generations of humans. We must.