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A Socialist Party of Canada leaflet, published in 1912 or earlier. Thanks to Peter Campbell for transcribing it for the Socialist History Project.

The Evolution of Human Society

Leaflet Number Eight

Just how long mankind has inhabited the earth is not known. It is safe to assume, however, that it has been many thousands of years. The most careful research into the history of the human race shows conclusively that man was not always the wonderful creature as we know him to-day, with his highly-developed faculties and his marvelous command over the forces of nature. It is generally conceded that back in remote antiquity he was low down in the scale of being, with ill-developed faculties, and in fact with little to distinguish him in habit and instinct from other animals that roamed the earth at that time. As he emerged from among the lower animals, he did so by taking on one peculiar characteristic or habit, which had proven the distinguishing mark separating him from all other animal kind. That is, he makes and uses tools with which to obtain his living. All others rely solely upon the means with which nature has supplied them Ė teeth, claws, etc.

Man, then, is a tool-using animal. When he first raised himself above the balance of animal kind, the tools with which he made his living were of necessity primitive and puny. Very likely a sharp stone or stick, by aid of which he dug a root or killed some weaker animal for the purpose of satisfying his appetite was the most primitive tool of ancient man. Having adopted this primitive tool he opened out before himself a career that was destined to eventually make him not only master of all animal kind, but master of the forces of nature as well.

The history of mankind could be written in industrial terms. In fact it cannot be correctly written in any other. The history of the human race is a history of the growth and development of the means and method whereby mankind feeds, clothes and shelters itself.

Human society and its institutions are but a reflex of this economic basis. Social institutions, ethics, morals and religions of any given period are only such as are made possible by the economic development of that time.

As the tool grew from primitive form, with each successive step becoming more powerful, and the method of its operation more complex and far-reaching, it logically follows that changes in social institutions must needs occur from time to time, in order that human society might adapt itself to the ever-increasing pressure of the economic development going on within it. That some of these changes would be sudden and violent goes without saying. A period of such sudden and oftentimes violent change is usually termed a revolutionary epoch. Human society is just now upon the verge of such an epoch, greater and more far-reaching in its consequences to mankind than any that have preceded it. It will be accompanied by less of violence and leave less of misery and sorrow in its wake if every man bestirs himself to understand the nature of the change that has been made necessary by the industrial development of the past. The more wide-spread the knowledge of the impending change and the necessity for it, the less the shock incident to it.

Man as a Savage

Man, then, emerges from the ranks of the lower animals adapting himself to the use of tools with which to make his living and protect himself against other animals. The family, the community, the tribe, the nation, government, religion, etc., are unknown quantities to him. His language is as yet but the chatter or speech of an animal; his code of morals and ethics is that of a beast. In other words, he is a savage, very low down in the scale of being. By slow degrees he develops his means of living. Hear learns how to make fire and obtain fish for food. He begins to gather in communities alongside of ocean, stream or lake, where fish may be obtained. The more fixed abode and the learning of how to store food for times of scarcity, lays the foundation of the family, which begins to form from out of the former promiscuous sex relations. This is still further hastened by the growth of the spear, stone-axe and club into the bow and arrow, thus adding the products of the chase to the food supply. It is needless to say that this development must have been painfully slow, probably covering many thousands of years. But it is beyond question that the basis of our boasted present-day industrial power was in this manner laid by our savage ancestors of remote antiquity.

Man as a Barbarian

Emerging from savagery, man entered upon his career as a barbarian. The art of making pottery was acquired. The domestication of animals and the cultivation of cereals followed. He learned how to make garments from textile fabrics; how to build of wood and stone; how to smelt ores and fashion implements of iron and copper. The canoe of the savage was improved upon by adding the sail and rudder. The insignificant savage community grew into the powerful tribe, taking on more and more the character of the nation. The family continued to develop towards the monogamous form.

But the achievements of savagery and barbarism can only be hinted at in this article. Suffice it to say, that manís power to produce wealth during these periods had been greatly increased. His wants had, no doubt, likewise increased during the same period. It remained for the closing years of barbarism to bring his power of wealth production up to the point where human slavery was possible. So long as it required all of manís time to provide himself with the necessaries of life all motive to enslave him would be lacking. When the power of production had passed that point to any appreciable extent, the motive to enslave their fellows would be acted upon by the stronger ones at the first opportunity.  That opportunity came at last and out of the tribal wars that arose over possession of territory, as tribe crowded upon tribe, arose the custom of the conqueror enslaving the conquered.


Civilization announced its advent upon the stage of events by the inauguration of slavery. The slave worked for the master. The product of his labor belonged to the master. The master saw that the slave had food, etc., sufficient to enable him to work on the morrow. If he allowed his slave to starve, he might be unable to get another, unless at considerable cost.

With slavery there came the carrying out of works of greater magnitude than formerly. Under the lash of the master the mighty achievements of Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, etc., were accomplished, tasks that were undoubtedly impossible except through enforced labor. Slowly and painfully, through some thousands of years were the burdens of civilization borne upon the backs of chattel slaves. The tools of wealth production were by the same token growing more powerful, making the labor of the slave more prolific in wealth production. This continually increasing power to produce wealth eventually surfeited the master class and its institutions, until the civilization of the time, rotten to the core, went to pieces at the touch of the barbarians of a more northern clime; and out of the chaos of its ruins there emerged a slavery wearing a different garb but in essence the same. The feudal slave worked a part of the time for the feudal lord for nothing, being allowed to work the balance of the time for himself upon land set aside for his own use. He kept himself and his family by this latter labor. The amount of time he was allotted to work for himself was as a rule very nicely adjusted to the actual requirements to enable him to work for the feudal lord the balance. His predecessor, the chattel slave, worked for his master all of the time. The feudal slave worked for his master but a part of the time. But in as much as neither got more than the bare necessities of existence, the difference between them was one of appearances only. The very essence of their servitude was the same in either case.

For some hundreds of years the feudal system of slavery held sway. The tools of wealth production were continually being improved upon and the power of production increased. Like their predecessors, the chattel slave masters, the feudal lords became surfeited with wealth and their civilization became a nuisance in the pathway of human progress. The wealth the feudal slave could produce in excess of his own keep could not be consumed by his master. It cried out with ever-increasing insistence to be disposed of. A new master class arose out of the ranks of the slaves. Skilled workers in the towns partially broke loose from feudal rule. Master workmen with their tools ever becoming more powerful under their hands, scented rich profits in the production and sale of their wares, if the restrictions of feudal rule could be completely broken. The feudal lords could not withstand the pressure of this economic power developed within feudal society, and were forced to give over the sceptre of rule to the master workmen who were speedily to develop into factory lords.

As the feudal system gave way a vista was opened up before the feudal workman that had every appearance of being that freedom of which he had long dreamed. But it proved to be a delusion. The individual workman in the individual shop grew into a collection of workmen in a larger shop, and the sub-division of labor. The worker no longer made an article entire. He performed a certain part of the work only, and passed it along to a fellow workman. The hand tool grew into a machine and the process of production became more complex and the necessary equipment more costly; it became more and more impossible for the individual worker to lift himself from the rank of worker to that of master. Awakened from his dream of freedom he found himself in the grip of a veritable industrial monster, that squeezed the last drop of blood from his quivering body, even more completely than did ever chattel slave master or feudal lord. Though he appeared to be free inasmuch as he might refuse to labor if he so chose, he awakened to the fact hat he was compelled to surrender his life to his industrial masters in exchange for the price of that which the chattel slave got at first hand, and the feudal slave was allowed to produce for himself, and that was the bare necessaries of existence.

After dreaming of freedom, to be awakened to the stern reality that wage-labor is but another name for slave-labor is a rude awakening, indeed.

The wage slave does precisely for his master what the chattel slave and feudal serf did for theirs. No one would be impudent enough to assert that either of the latter were paid for their work, yet in common parlance the wage-worker gets paid for his. The fact asserts itself with ever increasing emphasis that chattel slave, feudal serf and wage slave worked for practically the same thing - a bare existence, and this has been rendered ever more insecure and uncertain as each of these successive stages of civilization became more highly developed.

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