Lecture 5 of 8
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
The Social Question as a Question of Consciousness
The Social Question as a Question of Consciousness
Lecture 5 of 8
Lecture 5 of 8
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, March 2, 1919:
Yesterday from a certain standpoint we endeavoured to go deeply into the present social movement. The fact brought to light by the subject of our observations was that, to have any understanding of a movement promoted by mankind, careful distinction must be made between what goes on superficially in ordinary consciousness in the soul, and what on the other hand is working in the depths of the soul in the subconscious regions. We became aware of the three impulses behind the modern proletariat movement — first, the so-called materialistic interpretation of history; then what the proletariat have learnt from their leaders, what they understand as the class struggle that is at the basis of all that happens historically; and then we gave our attention to the theory of surplus value which has worked so incisively on the proletarian soul. These are the things at work today on the surface of their soul life. In its depths something very different is stirring and coming to life. Whereas the modern proletarian surrenders himself to illusion when he says that all that develops historically amply reflects purely economic processes, arising like smoke from the spiritual life, he in really yearning, with all present-day humanity, for definite spiritual knowledge of the world. But so far he is ignorant of this subconscious yearning of his soul for spiritual knowledge. What is going on in the subconscious depths of his life of soul and appears in a different guise on the surface, often just expresses itself in the most uncontrolled instincts.
Similarly, when the modern proletarian utters the word class-struggle, he does not realise that this is only an attempt to disguise what is filling the soul of modern mankind as a deep yearning, namely, the impulse towards freedom of thought. On its way from the subconscious to the conscious, the striving for freedom of thought changes into its opposite. This striving for freedom of thought is the real basis of the very intensive life in the element of authority, in sheer class-consciousness. And true socialism, which is the fundamental aim of our times, is expressed also in its opposite — in the striving to put all surplus value to egoistic uses.
Whoever does not understand this secret of the existing proletarian movement cannot today discover the underlying social impulses. Having had all this before our souls yesterday, we will now consider a few of its relevant truths.
A very different attitude to a world historic movement arises in those who look more deeply into what is happening, from the attitude of those who observe merely what is on the surface. The present social movement is now finding its most radical expression in Bolshevism, which is more a social method, having for its content all that has been absorbed into the will of the most advanced so-called socialism. The student of history as reality rather then theory, endeavours above all to understand how certain streams in the cosmic development of man reveal themselves in their most extreme form. For in an extreme form it is often easier to recognise what, though no less active, is frequently hidden in the less extreme. If we are rightly to understand the historic consequences of Bolshevism, the horrifying deeds of which are already historic fact, we shall, in some measure, have to observe the more recent life of history.
In answer to the question: Who are the Bolshevists? — various names would have to be given today. The names most often repeated are those of Lenin and Trotsky. I will, however, give you a third name which may Perhaps astonish you. But from a certain point of view I can do no less than call Johann Gottlieb Fichte a genuine Bolshevist. I have often spoken to you of him and tried to present his life history from a rather more profound standpoint, and we have also called up before our souls some of his leading thoughts. It cannot be denied that Fichte was one of the most forceful thinkers of recent times and, in the truest sense of the word, an idealist. He stated his views on socialism in a little book entitled Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (The Enclosed Commercial State). If what he there presents as a kind of ideal picture of social conditions is studied in its reality, it can only be said that, if realised, this social ideal set forth in Fichte's book could lead to nothing but Bolshevism. Trotsky is writings sentence for sentence, almost word for word, as far a this can be the case in such widely different things, are reminiscent of Fichte's Der geschlossene Handelsstaat.
Now Fichte is, it is true, a Bolshevist long since dead. This is a reason however to go further into the matter. In Fichte we have, above all, a solitary thinker who reached great heights in in his philosophic ideas. He reflected upon the crying injustices of the social order of his time, and how they could be swept away to give place to juster social conditions. And out of his own innermost soul arose a picture of a communal order that aimed at organising human beings in much the same forceful way as Russian Bolshevism organises them, and as its followers will continue to do. I can imagine that many people today, concerned about the injustices arising within the social order, feel themselves captivated by the very simple conceptions developed by Fichte in his book. I need not dwell upon this; it is enough to think that you have here, described in the cultured language of a philosopher, what Bolshevism is doing. You will then have an idea of Der geschlossene Handelsstaat by Johann Gottlieb Fichte. It is just these facts that can prove a justification of the threefold nature of the healthy social organism.
Now what is the aim of this threefold order? In public lectures I have often pointed out how this particular way of thinking socially differs from other ways. I have said that seeing what has partly come into being already, in one or another of the forms of States, seeing what those who are socialistically minded aim at realising, we have the feeling that what people think of already as medieval superstition is nevertheless deeply rooted in their souls. It is as if in the human soul there were a certain hankering after superstition, and when superstition is driven out on the one side, it turns to the other side. Thus, many things existing in social life, as well as the aims of socialistic thinkers, recall the scene in the second part of Goethe is Faust where Wagner is producing Homunculus. Homunculus is supposed to be put together mechanically, out of certain ingredients in accordance with dry intellectual principles. The Alchemists, looked upon as superstitious, considered that this could not be done thus simply, and set this artificial creation of a manikin, of Homunculus, in contrast to the forming of a true human organism. A true human organism cannot be put together out of just so many ingredients; the necessary conditions must be forthcoming in which he can to a certain extent produce himself. It is thought that in scientific spheres alchemistic superstitions have been overcome. But in the social sphere superstition continues to flourish. And it endeavours to sot up an artificial social order consisting in all manner of ingredients out of the human will.
This way of thinking is diametrically opposed to the fundamentals of Spiritual Science represented here. The way of thinking we represent, aims at getting rid of all social superstition, so that in a practical way we can answer the following question: What conditions must be set up, not to enable some cleverly designed, socialistic ideal to be put into practice, but so that human beings in mutual cooperation should bring about the necessary shaping of the social life
One finds, however, that in actual fact this social organism like the natural organism must consist of three relatively independent members. Just as the human head, the chief bearer of the sense-organs, by reason of these organs stands in a special relation to the external world and is centred in itself; just as, too, the rhythmic system, the lungs and the breathing, end then again the digestive system are centred in themselves, as these three work together in relative independence; so it is fundamentally necessary for the social organism to be threefold, its three members being relatively independent. There must work side-by-side the independent spiritual organism, the independent organism of the political state in its narrow sense, and the independent economic life. Each of these bodies should have its own legislation and government, arising out of its own conditions and its own forces. This seems to be abstract, but this threefold order is just the element in which man can be so fused that from the working together of all the members a healthy social organism can result. It cannot be just a question of thinking out what for the social organism is to take. Our thinking, indeed, is not so advanced in the social sphere that a structure can be given straightway to the social organism. One individual by himself could as little bring about such a structure as a man growing up alone on a desert island without any human society could, out of himself, learn to speak. Everything social arises through cooperation, but a cooperation harmoniously regulated on this threefold basis. It is only by keeping in mind the direction leading to a really practical structure, a really practical life, that we understand how a men like Johann Gottlieb Fichte came to think out a social system which, put into practice, would actually be Bolshevism.
For what kind of personality is Fichte? Fichte is a characteristic modern thinker. He cultivated in the most energetic way and in its purest form the thinking that was evolving, as we know, though not always on the same level. (Read up this in my Rätseln der Philosophie; Riddles of Philosophy). It is just in a personality like Fichte that one can see in what direction thinking goes when a man wishes to draw it entirely out of himself, out of his ego. And if one applies this thinking to the social structure there arises the picture given in Fichte's Der geschlossene Handelsstaat. Only with deep insight can it be understood how thinking like Fichte's is not suitable for finding the right social structure. Thinking drawn entirely from the impulse of the ego is not able to find the social structure of the ego, any more than the single man can invent speech. The social structure is far more readily found when men are brought together into such a relation that this structure can be created through their mutual intercourse and cooperation. We must make a halt, so to speak, before certain things relating to the social structure; we must dare to follow the way only so far as we are shown: This is the relation in which men must stand if the social organism is to be realised through their combined efforts — That is thinking in terms of reality and experience! Fichte's thinking is born out of the pure ego and is ultimately, though in a different form, Bolshevistic thinking. It is an anti-social thinking because it is born out of the ego alone; its form does not originate in human association. The community life of the proletariat has accepted this anti-social form on the authority of an individual leader who has become its guiding principle.
The question now arises: How is it that this life in common gives more just in the social sphere than does the inner life of the individual man? Here we must be clear whither the purest form of thinking, as arising in Fichte, actually leads. The ordinary man with no grounding in philosophy, accustomed to reading the newspaper or light literature, and having perhaps some knowledge of science as taught today in the universities — this man coming to Fichte's works cannot cope with them. He feels himself overcome by the thoughts which are so forceful and so abstract in their development. To most people they seem just a web of thoughts. The reason is that it is pure thinking, woven out of the content of the soul alone, apart from all concrete experience. Studying Fichte's Wissenschaftlehre (Theory of Knowledge) you follow it sentence by sentence in the heights of abstraction, often with no idea why, as these thoughts mean nothing to you, you should be concerned with them at all. You can read pages of this and simply experience the following: The ego is asserting itself. To begin with many pages are taken up with en analysis of this. Next we come to — the ego fixes the non-ego, which again takes up a number of pages. Thirdly, the ego establishes itself, its limits being the non-ego, and the non-ego being bounded by the ego. — So it goes on through the Wissenschaftlehre in which only these propositions with far-reaching deductions are set forth. You will say: I am not interested in all this, for ultimately it is just empty abstraction. — Nevertheless when you consider Fichte's life and endeavours, as I described them to you here a little time ago, you come to respect both him and his striving after pure thinking. Whence comes then this remarkable contradiction It arises from the necessity for man to arrive at a certain period of his evolution at this pure thinking, this thinking filled with pure thought. For in more ancient days human thinking was filled only with pictures. Men like Fichte, Schelling and Hegel have thought in thoughts alone, pictureless thoughts. The Greeks could never have thought in this way, nor the Romans, nor could men have thought thus in the middle ages, for in spite of all their abstractions, the thinking of the Scholastics was still quite different. Why then has abstract thinking arisen in modern historical evolution? It is because men have to make great inner effort! And it partakes of this effort when, in Fichte's sense, for example, an endeavour is made to rise to the abstract, and there is a real struggle to attain to such abstraction. This is said by the ordinary, practical men to be of no use because all experience has been eliminated. And that is indeed so. Such abstractions are, however, necessary as a stage in progress. And as soon as there is sufficiently strong impulse within the human life of soul to develop to a stage beyond these abstractions, then the soul rises into the spiritual life. In modern mysticism there is no sound path that does not lead through vigorous thinking. That must first be achieved. After vigorous thinking, the next step is to actual experience of the spiritual. In historical evolution this naturally takes a long time, but it is the path on which mankind has to travel. And this longing holding sway in present-day mankind, to get beyond the abstract to the spiritual life, lies secretly at the basis of the force in the modern proletarian movement. The proletarian fights against the activity of spiritual forces in history, where he considers economic forces alone should prevail. He clings to the most blatant external perception, and regards what he thus perceives as the only historic development. The life of the spirit is for him a mere superstructure, an ideology, a reflection of external economic processes. He pictures it thus because when modern man directs his gaze within, he can no longer discover the old atavistic visions; he sees merely abstractions, abstract thoughts, in which he can find no reality. For that, he would have to take the next step which I have already described. Thus each seeks in the external world that reality for which he inwardly yearns. Being tied, since capitalism arose, to the economic life alone, the proletarian seeks there his reality.
And what will be the next obvious step? The next step will be to see that ultimately no real driving forces lie in the economic order. In exact contrast to this historical materialism, it is out of the inner life that, as historical impulse, the force will develop for pressing forward to the spiritual. What comes to appearance in historical materialism is only the caricature of the yearning in the deep recesses of man is soul.
In the same way the force of each man's individuality is contained in class-consciousness, and this individuality looks within itself for a content it has so far been unable to find. Still finding emptiness there it leans on the class as a whole in order, as man, to feel the strength of a common bond.
Thus, all the impulses holding good. on the surface of the social movement, secretly issue from the sources I have described. Therefore at the time Fichte was working, a time not then ripe for developing Spiritual Science, nothing more could appear than a thinking that awaited the approach of the spiritual world and had no power to serve external reality. For when thinking that really should be concerned with the spiritual world, is applied instead, powerfully, logically and fundamentally, to the external reality of the senses, it does not work upon this reality constructively but destructively. Now I have often spoken to you of the function of evil. I have told you what forces are really active in what we call the evil in man. I have said that, from a plane higher than that of the senses, from the spiritual plane that is nearest to ours, we can with the perception we then have see what is at work in evil. For the forces living in thieves, robbers, murderers, would not then be experienced in their unlawful aspect as here in the sense-world, but on the higher plane they would be metamorohosed, transformed, and thus fully within their rights. That is where evil belongs. Evil is misplaced good. Only because the ahrimanic powers force upon our world something belonging to a quite different world, does what we see as evil arise. And thus arises also destructive thinking, when social ideals are spun out of what is within man, and the pure thinking does not wait to be filled by the spiritual world.
This gives us a glimpse into the difference between all the prevalent ruling abstractions and what is striving for a really practical grasp of the social organism. For in what arises and is cultivated in man's community life, when rightly brought about , there does not live abstract thought. Abstract thought is not experienced when human beings are together. For then hidden, secret Imaginations are experienced. And only when these are actually realised do they give the appropriate form to the social organism. The progress to be made in modern Spiritual Science will be closely connected with the only impulses essential for a sound socialistic ordering of the world. And the deficiencies and defects, all that is unhealthy in the present social organism, consist in what can be the result of experience alone being, in the manner of Fichte, woven out of demands arising merely within man.
When we observe the direction of modern endeavour, to make the State more and more into a uniform State in which everything would be centralised, it becomes clear that this can lead to nothing but a shattering, a disturbance, of the social organism. And the reason for this lies far deeper than is thought by those who consider the modern proletarian movement to exist merely to be concerned with bread or wages. For even if a movement concerned with bread and wages should be necessary or were in actual practice today, what is important is not the endeavour to change the bread situation or its organisation, but the way in which this is striven for. And you arrive at that way through considerations such as today I have once again put forward. Think of the question of surplus value to which we came at the end of yesterday's lecture. Whoever has had experience of the proletarian movement knows what a deep effect this question has made, as it has been planted in the souls of proletarians by certain of the leaders.
Now upon what does this theory of surplus value rest? It rests actually upon what I was describing in yesterday's public lecture in Basle, namely, that there is something false in the relations between employer and employee, of which neither employer nor employee is conscious. The facts of the matter are masked. But although unconsciously, it is working on the soul out of the subconscious depths as fact, it is working as feeling.
Let us observe the main point more closely. The employee stands today in a quite definite relation to the employer, a relation that, as a human being, he finds unworthy, though in a although in a conscious description he might sometimes put it quite differently. In his soul he experiences it as unworthy because it leads to the sale to the employer of his labour power as a commodity. In the secret depths of his soul he feels that nothing human should be for sale. When a man sells his labour power the whole man is sold.
The question could be put differently, and in the usual socialistic way of thinking it is put thus: How is man to be refunded in the right way for his labour power? The socialistic ideals run mostly on the lines of making adequate refund for power expended on manual labour. But the facts are quite otherwise. A human study of folk-economy makes it clear that no form of human labour power can be exchanged for anything else — neither goods nor anything representing goods, such as money, are interchangeable with labour power. Even when transformed into reality it is no real process but only a thing of the imagination that the manual worker should give his work, and then, in exchange, receive money for what he expends in labour power. That is absolutely false and the true process is masked; something quite different happens. In the present social organism the worker brings his labour power to market and the employer, the contractor, buys it with wages. But it is not really thus. In the economic life there can only be exchange of one commodity with another, commodities, that is, in the widest sense; and in reality the whole of economic life consists in the exchange of commodities. What is a commodity, if we think of its reality? A piece of ground is not a commodity; coal, when under the earth is not a commodity. A commodity is the result of human activity alone, something transformed by human activity or something men has moved from one place to another. Under those two headings you find everything that can be brought into the concept ‘commodity’. The nature of a commodity has been the subject of much argument. A close study of economic connections generally shows that in reality only this definition will hold water.
Now in the modem social organism there has been an element of confusion in the circulation and interchange of commodities, which has driven the social organism to its present revolutionary convulsions. It is fantastic today to believe it possible not only to exchange commodities for commodities but also commodities for labour power, as in the matter of wages. It is fantastic too when we believe it possible to exchange commodities, or the money representing them, for what cannot be a commodity — ground, land, for example, that has not been changed by man. For land, as such, is not an object belonging to the economic process. Upon the land things of the economic process are attained by human activity, but land, as such, cannot be counted as belonging to this process. With regard to the significance of the land in the social organism, we see that one man or another has exclusive right to use and work this land. It is this right to land that has a real significance for the social organism. Land itself is not a commodity but commodities come from the land. And here enters the right the possessor has to the land. If you acquire a piece of land by sale, that is, by exchange, what you really acquire is a right, you exchange something for a right, such as is the case for example in buying a patent. There one gets a good idea of the process of fusion that has had such unfortunate results. The fusion of the purely political rights-State with the economic life. For this there can be no cure other than separation. The economic life must be left to the independent management of its own production, circulation, consumption of commodities, in a life of association in which production, consumption, and individual professional interests link men together and place them in proper relation. But in these associations and groups there would be only mutual economic activity, just as the human metabolic system is concerned only with the digestion. Digestion is then taken up from another aide by the independent system of lung and heart, which for its part is connected with the external world. So, too, must be established from a special source what is implanted in the economic life as rights. This means that everything relating to political conditions should have a relatively independent existence alongside the economic life. Those who are observant see what unreality lies in the relation between employer and employee, where their relation is represented as though labour power could really be refunded. Labour power is not immediately but only immediately funded, what appears being a certain apparent right which has become economically powerful, by which, not manifestly but fundamentally, the employer is able to drive the worker to the machine or into the factory. What is here exchanged is in reality not labour power for commodities or for the money representing them, but for something performed. Commodities produced by the worker are bartered for other commodities or money. For the commodities given him by the employer the worker barters the goods he produces. Here, clearly revealed, we have the unreality of goods apparently being bartered for labour power. This is what the modern proletarian secretly feels to be beneath his dignity as a man, and makes him say: You produce an amount of goods of which the employer gives you back only a certain proportion.
The correct relation between contractor or employer and the worker cannot be brought about in the sphere of economic processes, but only in the sphere of the political State as a relation of rights. That is what it really comes to. If on the one side man stands on the ground of economic life, on the other side on the ground of an independent life of rights, then the economic life will be determined by the two sides; on the one hand by the life of rights, on the other hand it will depend on the natural independent factors of human activity.
At Basle, in public lectures, I have pointed out that on a certain piece of ground in order to produce wheat, for example, more labour has to be expended than in other places where the rate of productivity is higher. That is the working of natural causes on which, on the one side, border on the economic life. On the other side, what should be the relation between employee and employee must flow from the life of rights into the economic life.
How people who take a superficial view of things will say; yes, but today that is already the case, for a contract is drawn up. — How does it help if a Trade Union decides about something that is recognisably a false relation? For the decision is made about the relative position between worker and employer in respect to labour power and its earnings. The right relation will come about only when the decision is not concerned about payment but about the way in which employer and employed share in the results produced. Then the worker will see — and more depends on this than is thought at present — that without the production of surplus value no subsistence will be forthcoming. But he must perceive how surplus value arises. He must not be implicated in a false relationship. Then the worker will see that without the creation of surplus value there can be no spiritual culture at all, and no rights State, for all this comes out of surplus value. When the social organism is healthy, however, all this comes into being as a result of its threefold ordering.
One can naturally speak not for merely hours but for weeks on end about all this, and this is what we have already nearly done. And of course we continually come upon fresh details that help to make the matter clearer; for every individual concrete question that will arise makes itself felt, the solution of which will be sought in practical life through the threefold social organism.
The following above all must be kept in mind. In the economic life commodities are exchanged; with this life is closely allied that of the political State that controls the labour power in man's common life, in his life of rights. So that whereas this economic life is, on the one hand, dependent upon natural elements, on the other hand it depends on what is settled by the State, for instance, the hours of work, work in relation to the individual man — to his strength, weakness, age, and so on. There can be no set maximum for working hours, or anything of that kind; in reality there can be merely a higher or lower limit. These are conditions flowing into the economic life from the side of the rights State, just as the natural elements come to meet it from the other side. Once the social organism is put on this healthy basis, the evil will disappear that arises from the connection of wages with the economic life. The fact that wages rise in good times and fall in a crisis will be changed into its opposite. The good and bad times will be influenced by what is paid for labour.
This can be seen especially clearly where ground-rent is concerned, which today largely depends upon the price of the goods produced on the land, upon market prices. The opposite would be healthier, namely, for the rights expressed in ground-rent on their part to influence market prices. Under the threefold order much will be the exact opposite of the existing conditions that have caused the present revolutionary upheavals. The whole of life will run a different course.
Now what is it that above all calls for our attention in the mutual relation of the economic life and the political State, in their narrower sense? Let us take as an example what is sometimes felt to be extremely unpleasant — the payment of taxes. In this connection we have simply to make ourselves clear that taxes must come out of surplus value; while in the common democratic political life we must always bear in mind the living conditions of the political organism, lust as we do those of the economic life when, in buying and selling, we perceive clearly through human needs the realities of the economic conditions. Here, too, the opposite will result to what exists today. I do not say that the legislation with regard to taxes should be altered; there is much today that does not allow of change, for then what is at fault might just be shifted to another quarter. So many things in social life will be regarded differently under the influence of the sound threefold organism. It will be seen that for the social life as such, for the life of men in the social organism, getting money has no significance. Man separates himself from the social organism in money-getting which is a matter of indifference to it. In the functioning of the social organism, what money man gathers in has no significance; he becomes a social being only when he gives out.
It is in his giving-out that a men begins to act in a social way. The point is — and here I am not thinking of indirect taxes but of direct taxes which are a quite different matter that it is in connection with paying-out that the rate of taxation should be settled. Although it could be worked out, naturally I cannot give details here, because for a lecture it would mean going too deeply into the science of economics. Nevertheless some indication of it can be given.
In a healthy economic life of the social organism, separate from the other members, it is clear that for geographical reasons, because of natural conditions, wheat in a certain territory, for instance, must be dearer to produce than elsewhere. And it can be shown that no adjustment will be created through mere Associations. But the matter can be properly adjusted by the Rights-State in such a case and this would arise out of its very nature by those who buy wheat more cheaply, namely, those who pay out less being more highly taxed than those who give out more when buying the wheat.
If the rights in the economic life are well regulated by the Rights-State, if the rights are not merely economic interests brought to realisation, if members of the agricultural Unions have no seat in Parliament but only those are there who consider rights as between man and man, then there will come about a satisfactory ordering of the economic life.
I have shown this in an abstract generalisation but it could be gone into in detail. The tax position is a question to be regulated between the economic life and that of rights. The regulation, however, between these two spheres, on the one hand, and on the other the cultural, spiritual life, is such that it can be established only on mutual trust and understanding. As the payment of taxes must be compulsory even in a healthy social organism, what on the other hand is given to the spiritual life can be a matter of free will alone; for the spiritual life must be built wholly upon the spirit of man and be completely emancipated from anything else. Then it will react on everything else in the deepest, most intensive way.
Such is the outline I can give you of the way in which the healthy social organism must function. This Threefold Order is not an invention, it is simply what can be observed if one recognises the underlying forces active today in human evolution. These forces can be brought into action in the next ten, twenty, thirty years if only various people exert their will in various directions. It is a question of the way. The forces have been observed and have been given a perceptible form. It is in this way we must live in regard to historical life. Freedom, in its quite different relations, will be as little disturbed by this as by the fact that one cannot grasp the moon, for example, however much we wish to do so. Freedom is realised according to the necessities lying in the natural as well as in the historic processes of evolution.