The New World Order, by H. G. Wells

4. Class-War

Now here it is necessary to make a distinction which is far too frequently ignored. Collectivisation means the handling of the common affairs of mankind by a common control responsible to the whole community. It means the suppression of go-as-you-please in social and economic affairs just as much as in international affairs. It means the frank abolition of profit-seeking and of every device by which human beings contrive to be parasitic on their fellow men. It is the practical realisation of the brotherhood of man through a common control. It means all that and it means no more than that.

The necessary nature of that control, the way to attain it and to maintain it have still to be discussed.

The early forms of socialism were attempts to think out and try out collectivist systems. But with the advent of Marxism, the larger idea of collectivism became entangled with a smaller one, the perpetual conflict of people in any unregulated social system to get the better of one another. Throughout the ages this has been going on. The rich, the powerful generally, the more intelligent and acquisitive have got away with things, and sweated, oppressed, enslaved, bought and frustrated the less intelligent, the less acquisitive and the unwary. The Haves in every generation have always got the better of the Have-nots, and the Have-nots have always resented the privations of their disadvantage.

So it is and so in the uncollectivised world it has always been. The bitter cry of the expropriated man echoes down the ages from ancient Egypt and the Hebrew prophets, denouncing those who grind the faces of the poor. At times the Have-nots have been so uneducated, so helplessly distributed among their more successful fellows that they have been incapable of social disturbance, but whenever such developments as plantation or factory labour, the accumulation of men in seaport towns, the disbanding of armies, famine and so forth, brought together masses of men at the same disadvantage, their individual resentments flowed together and became a common resentment. The miseries underlying human society were revealed. The Haves found themselves assailed by resentful, vindictive revolt.

Let us note that these revolts of the Have-nots throughout the ages have sometimes been very destructive, but that invariably they have failed to make any fundamental change in this old, old story of getting and not getting the upper hand. Sometimes the Have-nots have frightened or otherwise moved the Haves to more decent behaviour. Often the Have-nots have found a Champion who has ridden to power on their wrongs. Then the ricks were burnt or the châteaux. The aristocrats were guillotined and their heads carried on exemplary pikes. Such storms passed and when they passed, there for all practical purposes was the old order returning again; new people but the old inequalities. Returning inevitably, with only slight variations in appearance and phraseology, under the condition of a non-collective social order.

The point to note is that in the unplanned scramble of human life through the centuries of the horse-and-foot period, these incessantly recurring outbreaks of the losers against the winners have never once produced any permanent amelioration of the common lot, or greatly changed the features of the human community. Not once.

The Have-nots have never produced the intelligence and the ability and the Haves have never produced the conscience, to make a permanent alteration of the rules of the game. Slave revolts, peasant revolts, revolts of the proletariat have always been fits of rage, acute social fevers which have passed. The fact remains that history produces no reason for supposing that the Have-nots, considered as a whole, have available any reserves of directive and administrative capacity and disinterested devotion, superior to that of the more successful classes. Morally, intellectually, there is no reason to suppose them better.

Many potentially able people may miss education and opportunity; they may not be inherently inferior but nevertheless they are crippled and incapacitated and kept down. They are spoilt. Many specially gifted people may fail to “make good” in a jostling, competitive, acquisitive world and so fall into poverty and into the baffled, limited ways of living of the commonalty, but they too are exceptions. The idea of a right-minded Proletariat ready to take things over is a dream.

As the collectivist idea has developed out of the original propositions of socialism, the more lucid thinkers have put this age-long bitterness of the Haves and Have-nots into its proper place as part, as the most distressing part, but still only as part, of the vast wastage of human resources that their disorderly exploitation entailed. In the light of current events they have come to realise more and more clearly that the need and possibility of arresting this waste by a world-wide collectivisation is becoming continually more possible and at the same time imperative. They have had no delusions about the education and liberation that is necessary to gain that end. They have been moved less by moral impulses and sentimental pity and so forth, admirable but futile motives, as by the intense intellectual irritation of living in a foolish and destructive system. They are revolutionaries not because the present way of living is a hard and tyrannous way of living, but because it is from top to bottom exasperatingly stupid.

But thrusting athwart the socialist movement towards collectivisation and its research for some competent directive organisation of the world’s affairs, came the clumsy initiative of Marxism with its class-war dogma, which has done more to misdirect and sterilise human good will than any other misconception of reality that has ever stultified human effort.

Marx saw the world from a study and through the hazes of a vast ambition. He swam in the current ideologies of his time and so he shared the prevalent socialist drive towards collectivisation. But while his sounder-minded contemporaries were studying means and ends he jumped from a very imperfect understanding of the Trades Union movement in Britain to the wildest generalisations about the social process. He invented and antagonised two phantoms. One was the Capitalist System; the other the Worker.

There never has been anything on earth that could be properly called a Capitalist SYSTEM. What was the matter with his world was manifestly its entire want of system. What the Socialists were feeling their way towards was the discovery and establishment of a world system.

The Haves of our period were and are a fantastic miscellany of people, inheriting or getting their power and influence by the most various means and methods. They had and have nothing of the interbreeding social solidarity even of a feudal aristocracy or an Indian caste. But Marx, looking rather into his inner consciousness than at any concrete reality, evolved that monster “System” on his Right. Then over against it, still gazing steadily into that vacuum, he discovered on the Left the proletarians being steadily expropriated and becoming class-conscious. They were just as endlessly various in reality as the people at the top of the scramble; in reality but not in the mind of the Communist seer. There they consolidated rapidly.

So while other men toiled at this gigantic problem of collectivisation, Marx found his almost childishly simple recipe. All you had to do was to tell the workers that they were being robbed and enslaved by this wicked “Capitalist System” devised by the “bourgeoisie”. They need only “unite”; they had “nothing to lose but their chains”. The wicked Capitalist System was to be overthrown, with a certain vindictive liquidation of “capitalists” in general and the “bourgeoisie” in particular, and a millennium would ensue under a purely workers’ control, which Lenin later on was to crystallise into a phrase of supra-theological mystery, “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. The proletarians need learn nothing, plan nothing; they were right and good by nature; they would just “take over”. The infinitely various envies, hatreds and resentments of the Have-nots were to fuse into a mighty creative drive. All virtue resided in them; all evil in those who had bettered them. One good thing there was in this new doctrine of the class war, it inculcated a much needed brotherliness among the workers, but it was balanced by the organisation of class hate. So the great propaganda of the class war, with these monstrous falsifications of manifest fact, went forth. Collectivisation would not so much be organised as appear magically when the incubus of Capitalism and all those irritatingly well-to-do people, were lifted off the great Proletarian soul.

Marx was a man incapable in money matters and much bothered by tradesmen’s bills. Moreover he cherished absurd pretensions to aristocracy. The consequence was that he romanced about the lovely life of the Middle Ages as if he were another Belloc and concentrated his animus about the “bourgeoisie”, whom he made responsible for all those great disruptive forces in human society that we have considered. Lord Bacon, the Marquis of Worcester, Charles the Second and the Royal Society, people like Cavendish and Joule and Watt for example, all became “bourgeoisie” in his inflamed imagination. “During its reign of scarce a century”, he wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “the bourgeoisie has created more powerful, more stupendous forces of production than all preceding generations rolled into one. . . . What earlier generations had the remotest inkling that such productive forces slumbered within the wombs of associated labour?”

“The wombs of associated labour!” (Golly, what a phrase!) The industrial revolution which was a consequence of the mechanical revolution is treated as the cause of it. Could facts be muddled more completely?

And again: “ . . . the bourgeois system is no longer able to cope with the abundance of wealth it creates. How does the bourgeoisie overcome these crises? On the one hand, by the compulsory annihilation of a quantity of the productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets and the more thorough exploitation of old ones. With what results? The results are that the way is paved for more widespread and more disastrous crises and that the capacity for averting such crises is lessened.

“The weapons” (WEAPONS! How that sedentary gentleman in his vast beard adored military images!) “with which the bourgeoisie overthrew feudalism are now being turned against the bourgeoisie itself.

“But the bourgeoisie has not only forged the weapons that will slay it; it has also engendered the men who will use these weapons — the modern workers, the proletarians.”

And so here they are, hammer and sickle in hand, chest stuck out, proud, magnificent, commanding, in the Manifesto. But go and look for them yourself in the streets. Go and look at them in Russia.

Even for 1848 this is not intelligent social analysis. It is the outpouring of a man with a B in his bonnet, the hated Bourgeoisie, a man with a certain vision, uncritical of his own sub-conscious prejudices, but shrewd enough to realise how great a driving force is hate and the inferiority complex. Shrewd enough to use hate and bitter enough to hate. Let anyone read over that Communist Manifesto and consider who might have shared the hate or even have got it all, if Marx had not been the son of a rabbi. Read Jews for Bourgeoisie and the Manifesto is pure Nazi teaching of the 1933–8 vintage.

Stripped down to its core in this fashion, the primary falsity of the Marxist assumption is evident. But it is one of the queer common weaknesses of the human mind to be uncritical of primary assumptions and to smother up any enquiry into their soundness in secondary elaboration, in technicalities and conventional formulæ. Most of our systems of belief rest upon rotten foundations, and generally these foundations are made sacred to preserve them from attack. They become dogmas in a sort of holy of holies. It is shockingly uncivil to say “But that is nonsense”. The defenders of all the dogmatic religions fly into rage and indignation when one touches on the absurdity of their foundations. Especially if one laughs. That is blasphemy.

This avoidance of fundamental criticism is one of the greatest dangers to any general human understanding. Marxism is no exception to the universal tendency. The Capitalist System has to be a real system, the Bourgeoisie an organised conspiracy against the Workers, and every human conflict everywhere has to be an aspect of the Class War, or they cannot talk to you. They will not listen to you. Never once has there been an attempt to answer the plain things I have been saying about them for a third of a century. Anything not in their language flows off their minds like water off a duck’s back. Even Lenin — by far the subtlest mind in the Communist story — has not escaped this pitfall, and when I talked to him in Moscow in 1920 he seemed quite unable to realise that the violent conflict going on in Ireland between the Catholic nationalists and the Protestant garrison was not his sacred insurrection of the Proletariat in full blast.

To-day there is quite a number of writers, and among them there are men of science who ought to think better, solemnly elaborating a pseudo-philosophy of science and society upon the deeply buried but entirely nonsensical foundations laid by Marx. Month by month the industrious Left Book Club pours a new volume over the minds of its devotees to sustain their mental habits and pickle them against the septic influence of unorthodox literature. A Party Index of Forbidden Books will no doubt follow. Distinguished professors with a solemn delight in their own remarkable ingenuity, lecture and discourse and even produce serious-looking volumes, upon the superiority of Marxist physics and Marxist research, to the unbranded activities of the human mind. One tries not to be rude to them, but it is hard to believe they are not deliberately playing the fool with their brains. Or have they a feeling that revolutionary communism is ahead, and are they doing their best to rationalise it with an eye to those red days to come?*

Here I cannot pursue in any detail the story of the Rise and Corruption of Marxism in Russia. It confirms in every particular my contention that the class-war idea is an entanglement and perversion of the world drive towards a world collectivism, a wasting disease of cosmopolitan socialism. It has followed in its general outline the common history of every revolt of the Have-nots since history began. Russia in the shadows displayed an immense inefficiency and sank slowly to Russia in the dark. Its galaxy of incompetent foremen, managers, organisers and so forth, developed the most complicated system of self-protection against criticism, they sabotaged one another, they intrigued against one another. You can read the quintessence of the thing in Littlepage’s In Search of Soviet Gold. And like every other Have-not revolt since the dawn of history, hero worship took possession of the insurgent masses. The inevitable Champion appeared. They escape from the Czar and in twenty years they are worshipping Stalin, originally a fairly honest, unoriginal, ambitious revolutionary, driven to self-defensive cruelty and inflated by flattery to his present quasi-divine autocracy. The cycle completes itself and we see that like every other merely insurrectionary revolution, nothing has changed; a lot of people have been liquidated and a lot of other people have replaced them and Russia seems returning back to the point at which it started, to a patriotic absolutism of doubtful efficiency and vague, incalculable aims. Stalin, I believe, is honest and benevolent in intention, he believes in collectivism simply and plainly, he is still under the impression that he is making a good thing of Russia and of the countries within her sphere of influence, and he is self-righteously impatient of criticism or opposition. His successor may not have the same disinterestedness.

But I have written enough to make it clear why we have to dissociate collectivisation altogether from the class war in our minds. Let us waste no more time on the spectacle of the Marxist putting the cart in front of the horse and tying himself up with the harness. We have to put all this proletarian distortion of the case out of our minds and start afresh upon the problem of how to realise the NEW AND UNPRECEDENTED POSSIBILITIES OF WORLD COLLECTIVISATION that have opened out upon the world in the past hundred years. That is a new story. An entirely different story.

We human beings are facing gigantic forces that will either destroy our species altogether or lift it to an altogether unprecedented level of power and well-being. These forces have to be controlled or we shall be annihilated. But competently controlled they can abolish toil, they can abolish poverty, they can abolish slavery — by the one sure means of making these things unnecessary. Class-war communism has had its opportunity to realise all this, and it has failed to make good. So far it has only replaced one autocratic Russia by another. Russia, like all the rest of the world, is still facing the problem of the competent government of a collective system. She has not solved it.

The dictatorship of the proletariat has failed us. We have to look for possibilities of control in other directions. Are they to be found?


A friendly adviser reading the passage on p.47 protests against “the wombs of associated labour” as a mistranslation of the original German of the Manifesto. I took it from the translation of Professor Hirendranath Mukherjee in an Indian students’ journal, Sriharsha, which happened to be at my desk. But my adviser produces Lily G. Aitken and Frank C. Budgen in a Glasgow Socialist Labour Press publication, who gave it as “the lap of social labour”, which is more refined but pure nonsense. The German word is “schoss”, and in its widest sense it means the whole productive maternal outfit from bosom to knees and here quite definitely the womb. The French translation gives “sein”, which at the first glance seems to carry gentility to an even higher level. But as you can say in French that an expectant mother carries her child in her “sein”, I think Professor Mukherjee has it. Thousands of reverent young Communists must have read that “lap” without observing its absurdity. Marx is trying to make out that the increase of productive efficiency was due to “association” in factories. A better phrase to express his (wrong-headed) intention would have been “the co-ordinated operations of workers massed in factories”.

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30