The Working Classes—Might and Right

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Vol. 01 Saturday, August 11, 1849 — pdf. No. 06


"The Working Classes—Might and Right." The Spirit of the Age. I, 6 (August 11, 1849), 82-83.


In regarding any and every remedy which real or pretended friends may offer to them, the working class should take a broad and comprehensive view of their present position as a whole—the amount of their toil, their dependence on, and subjection to other classes, the inadequacy of their remuneration, and their probable condition in old age—and test all these remedies by the influence they are likely to exert on this position. When the producer is told to seek for the acquisition of political power—to contend for this or that particular governmental measure— he should inquire of all who direct him:—"Will this change lighten my toil, increase my enjoyments, add to my independence, insure me work and remuneration until age, und then support me comfortably until death?" It is to acquire all this that men ask for changes, and it is for the opposite state of things that they want a remedy. Every remedy, therefore, which shrinks from the application of the test of equality of rights—every remedy which professes merely to modify the position of the working class as a working class—every remedy which does not go at once to first principles, and tend to the removal of the causes of existing wrongs and evils, should be scouted as insulting alike to reason and to justice.

In the conflict which is now going forward between might and right, and while men are contending as to whether force or reason shall be the weapon made use of, the experience which former times afford of the operation 01 these two powers must not be neglected. Such considerations, however, do not affect the establishment of the system of community of possessions ; for this depends not up in force, nor upon impressing the government with a conviction of its necessity, but upon the acquisition of a sufficient fund to purchase the existing accumulations either at once, or by instalments paid after obtaining possession.

There have always been two ways for accomplishing merely governmental changes—one by persuasion, and the other by compulsion. For popular revolutions to be effectual, conviction must always precede force; for force may establish, but it cannot always preserve. When u people have no knowledge of human rights, they may be persuaded to submit to despotism, or they may be forced to submit; when they possess this knowledge in a limited or imperfect degree, it is possible that a people may overthrow their government; but, if they thus succeed, it is almost certain that they will lose all the benefits of their conquest. When, however, the knowledge of principles is widely spread, and the desire for change is as universal as the knowledge, then is a nation unconquerable, and no power can long exist in opposition and hostility to the popular power.

But, omnipotent as is the might of the oppressed when it thus meets hand to hand the might of the oppressor, there is not one instance on record which shows that the people of a nation have over yet obtained the fruits of the victory which force had won for them. They have never yet done more than build up a fresh tyranny with the fragments of that which they had pulled | down: and so long as they leave unregarded and unregulated that principle of unequal exchanges and that inequality of condition from which tyranny springs, all their appeals to physical force, and all their subversions of despotic governments, for the time being, will in no way advance the progress of true liberty. The establishment of the proper remedy does not depend upon t ho subversion of a government, hut upon the destruction of the existing social system; and therefore reason, and not force—conviction, and not compulsion—purchase, and not plunder—a systematic application of combined forces, and not an undisciplined and chaotic movement—are the proper instruments to be employed.

The correctness or incorrectness of the estimates which have been given of the burthens imposed upon the productive classes by the present arrangements of society, is of no importance. These estimates serve as elucidations of the existing system; and a momentary glance at the present state of society, and the income of various divisions, will show at once that the losses of the producers have not been over-rated. Although some of these evils may be modified, by particular governmental measures, yet such partial alleviation affords no ground for the maintenance of the present system. All existing wrongs, are wrongs on principle—wrongs of reason, and justice, and equal rights— and must therefore be subverted on principle.

As the knowledge of the character and tendencies of the present system becomes generally diffused—as the productive classes are brought to direct their attention to a social instead of a governmental change—as they begin to unite their scattered forces and to adopt means for carrying their objects into execution— as all these preparatory movements are going forward, many false prophets and interested advisers will rise up and endeavor to mislead and delude the people. When, likewise, the nature and magnitude of the end to be attained is considered—when it is viewed in connection with the present composition of society and the ruthless and sanguinary character of the governments which arise from society thus constituted—there can be no doubt that senatorial harangues and pulpit fulminations will follow each other in quick succession against all innovators of existing usages. The page of history, fraught with many a brutal and bloody record of governmental despotism, gives warning, also, that when vituperation shall hive exhausted all its materials in condemnation of a social change, the weightier arguments of the cannon and the musket will not be far off. Considerations of this character, however, do not concern the enquirer after truth, nor do they in any way invalidate the principles which he may bring to view. Individuals have not the power to decide in what manner particular changes shall be accomplished. Placing their trust in principles, they calmly await the issue of events. There are manifestations on all sides which tell men, in accents not to be misunderstood, that the elements of mighty changes are at work ; and, whatever may be the immediate prospect there are to be seen harbingers of blighter and better times. The light of Mind is beaming through the gloomy boundaries of the age of Might, and ushering in the age of Right!