The Roots of Class Revolt
Robert V. Andelson
[Reprinted from the Henry George News,
President Kennedy, in a recent statement, spoke of the revolutionary
heritage of the United States, and of our oneness with the
revolutonary aspirations of other peoples. But the word "revolution"
may mean many things, and our War for Independence had virtually
nothing in common with the uprising associated with the names of Marat
and Bakunin, Babeuf and Marx. On the one hand, impatience with
mercantilist restrictions led to a demand for national autonomy. On
the other, there occurred particularized eruptions of the
international struggle of classes.
The year 1776 has a double significance in the annals of
revolutionary history. For while our War for Independence was taking
place, across the Atlantic the first revolutionary conspiracy was in
process of organization. On May Day (May 1), 1776, Professor Adam
Weishaupt of the Bavarian University of Ingolstadt formed a secret
society which was to become the mother of all revolutionary
organizations dedicated to class warfare in the modern era.
Known as the Order of the Illuminati, it claimed two thousand lodges
just six years after its founding. In her scarce and revealing book,
World Revolution (Constable, 1922), the British historian,
Nesta H. Webster, traces the clandestine influence of the Illuminati
-- through the French revolution the Babeuvist Conspiracy, the
Revolution of 1848, the First Internationale, Syndicalism and
But although Mrs. Webster is able to demonstrate a fascinating
linkage of persons and events, and indeed gives a convincing history
of the world conspiracy, we must remember that conspiracies may
precipitate revolution but can never really cause it. The underlying
causes of revolution must be sought on a deeper level. A biological
explanation is advanced by Lothrop Stoddard in The Revolt Against
Civilization (Scribner's, 1923).
Dr. Stoddard, a Harvard-educated lawyer, holds that every society
contains human elements which are, consciously or instinctively, its
enemies because they are uncivilizable. Congenitally incapable
of competing in a milieu of increasing complexity, they are
psychologically predisposed to turn against a civilization which
imposes upon them intellectual demands which they cannot meet and
burdens of self-discipline too onerous for them to bear with
The more civilized the society, the more restricted is the operation
of the age-old process of natural selection which weeds out the weak
and the degenerate. Instead they are preserved and their
multiplication accelerated, while the race dies out at the top due to
the low birth-rate which usually characterizes the successful. But
although the number of incompetents increases ever-swiftly, their
standard of living remains marginal and their social outlook bleak and
hopeless. The spark of insurrection never issues from such as these;
they are the dry tinder which conspiracy ignites.
Here indubitably is a compelling theory: that of the structural
overleading of human stock, which, even as it declines in quality, is
called upon to support a burden which gets progressively heavier with
every civilized advance.
Jack London's nightmarish picture of the East End and its denizens (The
People of the Abyss, Macmillan, 1903) lends eloquent support to
Stoddard's view. He speaks of them as "a short and stunted
people, a deteriorated stock left to undergo still further
deterioration; brutalized, degraded and dull." And he prophesies
that "unable to render efficient service, made desperate as wild
beasts are made desperate, they may become a menace and go 'swelling'
down to the West End to return the 'slumming' the West End has done in
But in searching out the causes of their debasement, he brings to
light a factor overlooked by Stoddard. He quotes the following from
the Reverend Stopford Brooke: "Their families had lived for a
long time in the country, and managed, with the help of the
common-land and their labor, to get on. But the time came when the
common was encroached upon, and they were turned out. Where should
they go? Of course, to London, where work was thought to he plentiful.
But the inexorable land question met them in London."
(Italics mine.) The only lodgings they could afford were in
pestilential East End hell-holes, ridden with crime and vice. Broken
by the inescapable sordidness of slum-life, and having nowhere else to
go, they sank into a state of degradation and disease which was all
the patrimony they had to confer upon their progeny.
Thus, in unearthing the roots of class revolt, we are brought in the
last analysis to the dictum of Henry George: "The ownership of
land is the great fundamental fact which ultimately determines the
social, the political, and consequently the intellectual and moral
condition of a people."