by Eric Trevett
HUMAN beings first emerged and developed from a class of primates that had a large family group social structure and at all stages of development humans have always been social beings. Early humans maintained the collective group because isolated individuals, especially if they were mothers and infants, could not survive.
Humans have always been social beings and in the first phase of human existence they survived on the basis of food gathering and hunting. Their diet would probably have included insects and their life was very harsh.
Science and art were both based on observing nature. Gradually over the millennia the knowledge acquired from these observations led to animal husbandry and arable farming being established. The ability to learn from experience and pass on knowledge proved that humans could do what no other animal could aspire to. Humans developed the power to be able to foresee the future and consciously make changes in their mode of living and to the environment generally.
In changing the world early humans changed themselves. Without this the continuous advance in knowledge up to modern science and technology could never have been achieved.
The point is that in the womb of primitive society development was taking place that created the opportunity for a new society to be born.
Trade was established as nomadic herders met each other, or met settled arable farmers, and exchanged goods. This was done at first by straight barter but later exchange was made easier by the first coinage. Gold discs carrying an image of a cow to show they represented the exchange value of a cow but were easier to carry about in a pocket or bag.
This gave rise to the beginnings of the notion of private property and wealth that could be accumulated — not by tending animals or working in the fields or crafting implements or ornaments but simply by buying the products of other people’s labour at one price and selling them at a higher price.
This undermined the tribal principles of common ownership and gave rise to the possibility that, like cattle and sheep, people could also become private property — slaves. The most common routes to becoming a slave were either being taken prisoner in a war or falling into unpayable debt. This was the beginning of slave-based societies, where one class, the owners of the slaves and the means of production, controlled the labour of the slaves to create more wealth for themselves. Society divided into classes.
Slave society had to impose its authority on the slaves and created a state or armed bodies of men to coerce slaves against rebellion or absconding. Slave societies were very labour intensive. Huge numbers of slaves worked under the direction of people who were beginning to acquire knowledge of mathematics and engineering, leading to remarkable achievements. People began to use horses and produced war chariots and complex giant catapults as weapons. Building, mining and the production of food and other commodities became organised on a large scale, leading to creations like the Roman systems of roads and aqueducts — some of which still stand today.
The advancing technology also led to the possibility of new forms of exploitative society, like feudalism, which gave serfs a motive to work. Under slavery the workforce has no incentive to work.
The economic factor has always been basic to the development of the character of society and the ideas and forces for a new society grow in the womb of the old society. It is a common factor in feudalism and capitalism.
In order to change it is necessary to unleash new productive forces to satisfy the needs and desires of successive ruling classes. The factor of exploitation was easy to see in the circumstances of slavery and in the development and revolutionary transformation of feudalism, where the serf was tied to the land to serve the lord of the manor’s requirements. But they also had a certain degree of freedom and could develop cottage industries.
Through feudalism and capitalism the development of technology has enhanced the productivity of the individual worker leading to the accumulation of more wealth for the ruling class.
The merchant capitalists and bankers took advantage of peasant revolts and discontent to take control of the state machine and they demoted the landed aristocracy. This development was used to increase the exploitation of the working class.
The seeds of capitalism came with the development of trade on a local and international scale. Britain emerged as a major capitalist country and colonial power but this could never have happened without its rupture with the Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholic church was against usury and lending capital with an interest charge. Released from that bondage the British ruling class was able to build mighty fleets and not only conquer but occupy other countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas and so have access to raw materials used in the manufacture of a variety of goods and to markets to sell the commodities.
By contrast Spain and Holland plundered the seas in search of gold and occupied territories in Africa and America. A measure of Britain’s dominant position is to look at old maps of Africa and Asia and note the predominance of the pink bits that showed countries under British subjugation — out numbering those of France, Germany, Belgium and so on. Britain was regarded as the workshop of the world.
The increasing demand for wool, which was accelerated by the introduction of the factory system, undermined what was left of feudal practices in rural areas as the enclosure movement — the privatisation of land — to create more and more sheep pastures. This drove peasants from the land into urban areas where they were persecuted and disciplined to become factory workers. Throughout the period there had been some revolutionary changes in technology.
Most productive work and services were still labour intensive compared to modern practices and this was the case up until the Second World War. Water power, coal and steam gave way to electricity and the internal combustion engine. Engineering made great strides after the Second World War. In older factories when an overhead belt drive broke down, a whole line of machines would be put out of action. This system has been replaced by machines that stand independently and have their own power supply.
New technologies have allowed some capitalist enterprises to rise to become monopolies and become giant global powers. And the state machine has been reinforced along with this rise. And alongside that there has been the ideological campaign to popularise capitalism, using religion, praising the monarchy and making the armed forces part of the coercive legal system.
At the same time they have taken advantage of the divisions in the labour movement. Reformism, which means limiting working class struggle to gaining improvements within the capitalist system, became the dominant theoretical trend within the working class. We still have a long way to go.
But bearing in mind that the economic factor is basic to realising change and where revolutionised technology is being used to maximise profits and reduce costs possibilities for change are increasing.
Capitalism is incapable of solving the economic and political crisis that we are enmeshed in. The creation of a xenophobic and racist party — the United Kingdom Independence Party in addition to the basic fascist British National Party reflects the divisions within the Tory party and also the divisions within the ruling class itself.
Fascism is still capitalism under a harsh anti-working class dictatorship that cannot resolve the crisis of capitalism and uses racism, militarism and jingoism to persecute minorities and raise the threat of war.
“They shall not pass,” was the statement of the anti-fascist movement before the Second World War. The validity of it today is relevant for all democratic people’s ideas and organisation.
One of the main aims of the capitalists’ use of new technology is to reduce production costs by reducing labour costs, which means cutting the workforce.
There is a balance between the introduction of new technology and the labour power required for the production of wealth. Labour power is being discarded and the aim of the ruling class is to establish a small technologically equipped highly paid elite workforce.
Technology has made it possible for the use of heavy metals to be replaced by the use of lighter metals, plastics, fibre glass and composites.
The answers to the new developments are far reaching. Experience has shown that the approach of the Luddites, who destroyed new technology, is not the answer.
The capitalist system is bankrupt, corrupt and viciously opposed to the trade unions and the whole working class movement. The current austerity policies reduce living standards and this exacerbates the deepening crisis by undermining any possibility of creating an expanding economy.
It is the historic role of the working class, united and led by the revolutionary party to replace capitalism. There is no future for the working class in seeking a crisis-free capitalism. The working class now has the freedom of necessity to ensure a social revolution takes place. The alternative would be an increasingly authoritarian, brutalised and ruthless capitalist class keeping the working class down.
In socialist society new technology will be used in the interests of the workers and to strengthen world peace. Poverty, nationally and internationally, will disappear.
Under socialism the arts and sciences will flourish. It will be possible to invest in green, renewable sources of energy and possibly to produce nuclear energy safely and desalinate sea water to irrigate crops. There would be a real prospect of overcoming and reversing the effects of climate change under the new system of socialism.We are confident that the international struggle against the cuts and the austerity programme will lead to rising class awareness and the rebirth of revolutionary socialist and communist parties.