Daniel De Leon editorial : Individual and Social Advancement


Individual and Social Advancement
by Daniel De Leon
from the Daily People, May 29, 1905
as reprinted in The People, February 24, 1996



Once in awhile individual workers may claw their way to the top, but only the working class can move all of society forward.



(DAILY PEOPLE, May 29, 1905)

The desire for advancement is deeply planted within the human breast. It is a laudable desire, and has been manifesting itself ever since the first stages of human development. Without it the race could not progress; with it retrogression and decay are impossible. This desire is strongest with workingmen. To them it offers release from poverty and oppression, and promises instead riches and power, with all the leisure and independence that they imply. A recent instance of this last fact has come to our notice. A workingman, bemoaning his $12-a-week position, writes to a contemporary for advice. He is told: "Fill your mind with optimistic pictures -- pictures of achievement. No matter how poor or how hemmed in you may be, stoutly deny the power of adversity to keep you down. Constantly assert your superiority to your environment. Resolve that you will be the master and not the slave of circumstance" -- and more of a similar nature.

This advice, addressed, as it is, to an individual, is good advice. Certain psychic forces are necessary to individual advancement and success. A man must have determination, self- assertion and confidence to dominate a situation. But it is folly to suppose that psychic factors are alone sufficient; or that because the course outlined for the individual is a good one, it therefore applies with equal force to the entire class of which he is a member, as is often claimed. Economic, political and social forces are also essential; and what is of great importance in the case of individuals is of great importance in the case of classes, under the present system of capitalism. Imagine the 5,370,814 wage earners employed in 1900 in the 640,056 manufacturing establishments of this country, with their $10 billion capital and their 708,626 proprietors and firm members, resolving that they will rise superior to their environment and become the master instead of the slave of circumstance, under the present economic, political and social system! The idea is preposterous -- unthinkable; and yet day after day the working class is told that under capitalism it can, with pluck, determination, etc., etc., change places with the capitalist class!!

Advancement in the sense described is possible only to the individual worker -- wage slavery and oppression is the inevitable lot of the working class -- under capitalism. Working-class advancement is only possible when the working class, acting in conjunction with industrial evolution, rise en masse, economically, politically and socially, for the overthrow of capitalism -- when it determines to use its psychic powers, together with all its other powers, for the inauguration of socialism. When society (of which the working class is the vast majority and to which it alone is indispensable) owns capital, and every member is a part owner of it according to his share of the social labor performed -- then, and only then, will working- class advancement be possible!