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Three Early Articles
by Maurice Spector (1916)

Socialist Influence on Social Progress

by Maurice Spector
Canadian Forward, November 11, 1916

About election time when the politicians are clamoring for the vote of the free and enlightened citizen who in spite of his amazing privileges, such as the permission to sell his labour power when there is a demand for it, to travel freely if he has the means, to starve unhindered if done quietly and decently, to go to war when called upon by the masters of the state, still feels disquieted over sundry matters; about this time, we repeat, the free and much “lightened” citizen beings to seek ways and means of bettering the condition of the country. Being somewhat of a social reformer, philanthropist and independent all in one, he had voted alternately for the great political parties Tweedledum and Tweedledee, always in the hope that the party that had just been “out” would be a much sadder and wiser party when it would be returned to power. But it must sorrowfully be admitted that our enlightened citizen had always been regularly and monotonously disappointed but not disillusioned. Whenever it was suggested, however, that he should give his vote to the Socialist, he would observe with profound political sagacity that there were two objections to such a policy. In the first place, no matter how comprehensive the Socialist platform be, it is yet extreme and ignores the fact that human nature changes but slowly if it changes at all; secondly, the need for just and efficient administration and legislation is immediate. Thus a vote for the Socialist is a vote wasted, as in most cases it is improbable that he will be elected. So vote instead for the good and honest candidate of Tweedledum or Tweedledee—who stands a more certain chance of being elected, and who will thus be enabled to secure good legislation earlier.

Such an attitude, incredibly short-sighted and stupid tho’ it be, is undoubtedly present among great numbers of otherwise intelligent people. So after heartily condemning the stupidity of their reasoning, let us calmly enquire whether the facts of the case really warrant the assertion that a vote for a Socialist is ever wasted—granting even that the Socialist is unsuccessful in his efforts at election. We shall, in this present article, only deal with this matter and leave the question of extremeness and human nature for a second occasion.

A great part of this attitude towards the Socialist party is caused by the knowledge of the strength of the older existing political parties. These parties, which may have stood for something vital in the past, which may have (satisfied) certain political and social demands a long time back, having by reason of the progress of history with its involved changes in political and social life, lost their once vital significance, act no longer as anything but a burden in the way of modern movements grappling with the problems of modern society. These historical parties have retained their power only by means of that strong and often lamentable influence—tradition, combined with a limited amount of adaptability to changed times. Families have inherited their policies as they have inherited their property and religion. Entrenched in political privilege, the Republicans and Democrats of the United States, the Liberals and Conservatives of Canada, tho’ having origins due to far difference causes that are at work at present, still govern the country and hinder social progress.

But, it may be objected, the generalization that the older political parties are so much “live lumber,” is too wide. Behold, for instance, the apparently distinct line of cleavage between the Liberal and Conservative parties in Britain. The Liberals are pushing forward radical and reform legislation, whereas the Tories are the embodiment of cautious re-actionism. The question for us here is whether the Liberals became so liberal because of their own desires, or whether there was some outside force which threateningly compelled them to follow the course they have.

Whoever has studied the origins of the British political parties knows that they never were conceived in the idea of democracy in the question of the rights of the people. The Whigs and the Tories originated over a division as to which of two rival royal dynasties should be supported. Soon each party had a set of traditions and a line of policy peculiar to itself. Gradually certain social classes identified themselves with one or the other party—the land-owning classes with the Tories, the mercantile classes with the Whigs. The plans and policies of each party were dictated by the most prominent family group or “compacts” in the party. In the main the British proletariat was as yet uneducated, class-unconscious, and received its ideology from one or the other of the ruling classes. Thus its influence was almost nil.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, not only did the structure of the world of industry change, but the spirit of the proletariat, too, underwent a profound reformation—under the pressure of the merciless exploitation which was then prevalent, the proletariat was aroused to a sense of its subjection and to the need of a working-class solidarity. Then came a real expression of the historical class-struggle—the organization of unions. The older political parties had meanwhile been terrorized by this startling Renaissance of the demos (it is amusing to read the doleful lamentations of the clergy over the “increasing irreverence” of the workers, and the bitter denunciations of the journalist henchmen of the governing classes); and began to seek for the means to control or pacify this growing menace to their security.

But an even more important result of the new conditions created by the Industrial Revolution, as the appearance and development of modern Socialism with its clear-cut ways of criticism, its keen and accurate analysis of capitalist society, and its definite proposals of remedy. The Socialist propaganda found a fruitful soil among the working class. The governing classes were thus faced with a perplexing alternative—either they could ignore the spirit of proletariat [proletarian] discontent and invite a catastrophe,  or adopt a conciliatory attitude, which would at least temporarily check the storm of social protest. Neither by reason of their own intellectual enlightenment, nor by reason of their love of abstract justice, nor by reason of their Christian ethics, have the Liberal or Conservatives, the Republicans or Democrats, ever passed radical social legislation—only through their fear of what they term, the “Red Spectre,” through their fear of the success of the Socialist appeal, through their fear of retaining nothing by ceding nothing, have they introduced any reform. What has done most to alleviate the lot of the working class, is not innate affability of the aristocratic or middle classes, but the standing threat of a Socialist victory.

For this reason it does not always appear necessary for the Socialist to emphasize the reformist part of his platform. He knows that by steadfastly striving to realize the ultimate aims of Socialism, he will compel the possessing classes in self-defence, to pass social legislation, the demand for which would be ignored, if it came from the good-hearted social reformer. A careful examination of the social legislation of the last ten years will show still more clearly this extraordinary potential influence which Socialist propaganda exercises on social progress. The various Compensation Acts, Insurance Acts, old age pension systems, which are the boast of German, British and French reform legislators, have been proposed as palliatives on the Socialist platform ever since the days of Ferdinand Lassalle. An interesting bit of history, for example, is involved in the passing of the first workmen’s aid legislation in Germany. During the brilliant period of Bismarck’s triumphant blood and iron policy, the German proletariat steadily refused to be led astray from the paths of domestic reform by the glittering prizes of Imperialism. Under the leadership of Lassalle they organized themselves into a class-conscious Socialist movement which threatened to destroy the German aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Bismarck shrewdly divined wherein lay the trouble, and hastened to weaken the springs of the Socialist movement by himself passing a series of workmen’s protective acts. He hoped by this drastic action to destroy once and for all the raison d’etre of Socialism in Germany. That he failed is due to the fact that he neutralized this political stroke by a blundering use of force to aid in throttling the Socialist party. The latter means of attack had, fortunately, just the opposite effect from that which Bismarck had wished for.

The influence of Socialism is pervading all social life and all intellectual life. When new parties are formed they looked to the Socialist platform to give them the issues for a campaign (witnessed the deceased Progressive Party in the United States). We have succeeded in familiarizing the world with the concepts “class-struggle,” “class-consciousness,” “social revolution,” and other phrases that sum up our philosophy of history.

We are urging on society a practical realization of ideals based on reality. We wage war against British “virtueism” and gushy American “idealism” as much as against German militarism. Humanitarian cults, Christian fraternities, social reform bodies, etc., can never accomplish anything unless they are supported by the organized strength of Socialist propaganda—with the organized strength of millions of workingmen behind it.

Socialism has not had to wait till the day of realization in toto in order to influence social progress. It has been an active factor in modifying the course of history for a long time without actually ever having been in power.

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