Classic Essays

The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman (Part 17)

As part of our commitment to the celebration of forgotten classics—i.e., great works of the past which have been intentionally flushed down the memory hole by our Orwellian overlords—National Vanguard is proud to present a condensed edition of Lothrop Stoddard’s pioneering treatise The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman, originally published in 1922.

To appreciate the significance of this work, one must understand that in his day Stoddard was a certified member of America’s (now-former) WASP establishment. An old-stock Yankee from Brookline, Massachusetts, Stoddard held a Ph.D. in History from Harvard University and was one of the most prominent intellectuals in the country prior to the Second World War. It is only because of the triumph of Jewish propaganda from that war that racialists like Stoddard have since been relegated to obscurity.

By Lothrop Stoddard

BEFORE DISCUSSING SYNDICALISM, however, let us turn back to examine that other revolutionary movement, Anarchism, which, as we have already seen, arose simultaneously with Marxian Socialism in the middle of the nineteenth century. Of course, the Anarchist idea was not new. Anarchist notions had appeared prominently in the French Revolution, the wilder Jacobin demagogues like Hebert and Clootz preaching doctrines which were Anarchist in everything but name. The launching of Anarchism as a self-conscious movement, however, dates from the middle of the nineteenth century, its founder being the Frenchman Proudhon. Proudhon took up the name “Anarchy” (which had previously been a term of opprobrium even in revolutionary circles) and adopted it as a profession of faith to mark himself off from the believers in State Communism, whom he detested and despised. Proudhon was frankly an apostle of chaos. “I shall arm myself to the teeth against civilization!” he cried. “I shall begin a war that will end only with my life!” Institutions and ideals were alike assailed with implacable fury. Reviving Brissot’s dictum, “Property is theft,” Proudhon went on to assail religion in the following terms:

God — that is folly and cowardice; God is tyranny and misery; God is evil. To me, then, Lucifer, Satan ! whoever you may be, the demon that the faith of my fathers opposed to God and the Church!

While Proudhon founded Anarchism, he had neither the organizing skill nor the proselyting ability to accomplish important tangible results. His disciples were few, but among them was one who possessed the talents to succeed where his master had failed. This was the celebrated Michael Bakunin. Bakunin is another example of the “tainted genius.” Sprung from a Russian noble family, Bakunin early displayed great intellectual brilliancy, but his talents were perverted by his idle and turbulent disposition, so that he was soon at hopeless outs with society and plunged into the stream of revolution, which presently bore him to the congenial comradeship of Proudhon. As stated in the previous chapter, Bakunin was truly at home only in the company of social rebels, especially criminals and vagabonds, his favorite toast being:

To the destruction of all law and order and the unchaining of evil passions.

In the period after the storm of 1848, Bakunin was busy forming his party. His programme of action can be judged by the following excerpts from his Revolutionary Catechism, drawn up for the guidance of his followers. “The revolutionary,” states Bakunin,

must let nothing stand between him and the work of destruction. For him exists only one single pleasure, one single consolation, one reward, one satisfaction — the success of the revolution. Night and day he must have but one thought, but one aim — implacable destruction. . . . If he continues to live in this world, it is only to annihilate it all the more surely.

For this reason no reforms are to be advocated; on the contrary,

every effort is to be made to heighten and increase the evil and sorrows which will at length wear out the patience of the people and encourage an insurrection en masse.

It is easy to see how Anarchism, with its measureless violence and hatred of any organized social control, should have clashed fiercely with Marxian Socialism, becoming steadily more reformist and evolutionist in character. As a matter of fact, the entire second half of the nineteenth century is filled with the struggle between the two rival movements. In this struggle Socialism was the more successful. The Anarchists made a frantic bid for victory in the Paris Commune of 1871, but the bloody failure of the Commune discredited Anarchism and tightened the Socialist grip over most of Europe. Only in Italy, Spain, and Russia (where Anarchy flourished as “Nihilism”) did Anarchism gain anything like preponderance in revolutionary circles.

Nevertheless, Anarchism lived on as a forceful minority movement, displaying its activity chiefly by bomb-throwings and by assassinations of crowned heads or other eminent personages. These outrages were termed by Anarchists the “Propaganda of the Deed,” and were intended to terrorize organized society and arouse the proletariat to emulation at one and the same time. The ultimate aim of the Anarchists was, of course, a general massacre of the “possessing classes.” As the Anarchist Johann Most declared in his organ, Freiheit, in 1880:

It is no longer aristocracy and royalty that the people intend to destroy. Here, perhaps, but a coup de grace or two are yet needed. No; in the coming onslaught the object is to smite the entire middle class with annihilation.

A little later the same writer urged:

Extirminate all the contemptible brood! Science now puts means into our hands which make it possible to arrange for the wholesale destruction of the brutes in a perfectly quiet and businesslike fashion.

In 1881, an International Anarchist Congress was held at London, attended by all the shining lights of Anarchy, including “philosophical” Anarchists like Prince Kropotkin, and the resolutions then passed throw a somewhat sinister doubt on the “non-violence” assertions of the “philosophical” faction. The resolutions of the Congress stated that the social revolution was to be facilitated by close international action,

The committees of each country to keep up regular correspondence among themselves and with the chief committee for the sake of giving continuous information; and it is their duty to collect money for the purchase of poison and arms, as well as to discover places suitable for the construction of mines, etc. To attain the proposed end, the annihilation of all rulers, ministers of state, nobility, the clergy, the most prominent capitalists, and other exploiters, any means are permissible, and therefore great attention should be given specially to the study of chemistry and the preparation of explosives, as being the most important weapons.

Certain peculiarities in the Anarchist “Propaganda of the Deed,” should be specially noted, as they well illustrate the fundamental nature of Anarchist thought. Bakunin taught that every act of destruction or violence is good, either directly by destroying a person or thing which is objectionable, or indirectly by making an already intolerable world worse than before and thus hastening the social revolution. But, in the business of assassination, it is often better to murder good persons and to spare wicked ones; because, as Bakunin expressed it in his Revolutionary Catechism, wicked oppressors are “people to whom we concede life provisionally, in order, that, by a series of monstrous acts, they may drive the people into inevitable revolt.” The killing of wicked people implies no really valuable criticism of the existing social order.

If you kill an unjust judge, you may be understood to mean merely that you think judges ought to be just; but if you go out of your way to kill a just judge, it is clear that you object to judges altogether. If a son kills a bad father, the act, though meritorious in its humble way, does not take us much further. But if he kills a good father, it cuts at the root of all that pestilent system of family affection and loving-kindness and gratitude on which the present system is largely based. [57]

Such is the spirit of Anarchism. Now Anarchism is noteworthy, not only in itself but also as one of the prime motive forces in that much more important “Syndicalist” movement which we will now consider. The significance of Syndicalism and its outgrowth Bolshevism can hardly be overestimated. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the most terrible social phenomenon that the world has ever seen. In Syndicalism we have for the first time in human history a full-fledged philosophy of the Under-Man — the prologue of that vast revolt against civilization which, with Russian Bolshevism, has actually begun.

If we examine Syndicalism in its mere technical economic aspect, its full significance is not apparent. Syndicalism takes its name from the French word Syndicat or “Trades Union,” and, in its restricted sense, means the transfer of the instruments of production from private or state ownership into the full control of the organized workers in the respective trades. Economically speaking, Syndicalism is thus a cross between State Socialism and Anarchism. The state is to be abolished, yet a federation of trades-unions, and not anarchy, is to take its place.

Viewed in this abstract, technical sense, Syndicalism does not seem to present any specially startling innovations. It is when we examine the Syndicalists’ animating spirit, their general philosophy of life, and the manner in which they propose to attain their ends, that we realize that we are in the presence of an ominous novelty — the mature philosophy of the Under-Man. This philosophy of the Under-Man is to-day called Bolshevism. Before the Russian Revolution it was known as Syndicalism. But Bolshevism and Syndicalism are basically one and the same thing. Soviet Russia has really invented nothing. It is merely practising what others had been preaching for years — with such adaptations as normally attend the putting of a theory into practice.

Syndicalism, as an organized movement, is primarily the work of two Frenchmen, Fernand Pelloutier and Georges Sorel. Of course, just as there were Socialists before Marx, so there were Syndicalists before Sorel. Syndicalism’s intellectual progenitor was Proudhon, who, in his writings had clearly sketched out the Syndicalist theory [58]. As for Syndicalism’s savage, violent, uncompromising spirit, it is clearly Anarchist in origin, drawing its inspiration not merely from Proudhon but also from Bakunin, Most, and all the rest of that furious company of revolt.

“Revolt!” There is the essence of Syndicalism: a revolt, not merely against modern society but against Marxian Socialism as well. And the revolt was timed. When, at the very end of the nineteenth century, Georges Sorel lifted the rebel banner of Syndicalism, the hour awaited the man. The proletarian world was full of discontent and disillusionment at the long-dominant Marxian philosophy. Half a century had passed since Marx first preached his gospel, and the revolutionary millenium was nowhere in sight. Society had not become a world of billionaires and beggars. The great capitalists had not swallowed all. The middle classes still survived and prospered. Worst of all, from the revolutionary view-point, the upper grades of the working classes had prospered, too. The skilled workers were, in fact, becoming an aristocracy of labor. They were acquiring property and thus growing capitalistic; they were raising their living standards and thus growing bourgeois. Society seemed endowed with a strange vitality! It was even reforming many of the abuses which Marx had pronounced incurable. When, then, was the proletariat to inherit the earth?

The Proletariat! That was the key-word. The van, and even the main body of society, might be fairly on the march, but behind lagged a ragged rear-guard. Here were, first of all, the lower working-class strata — the “manual” laborers in the narrower sense, relatively ill-paid and often grievously exploited. Behind these again came a motley crew, the rejects and misfits of society. “Casuals” and “unemployables,” “down-and-outs” and declasses, victims of social evils, victims of bad heredity and their own vices, paupers, defectives, degenerates, and criminals — they were all there. They were there for many reasons, but they were all miserable, and they were all bound together by a certain solidarity — a sullen hatred of the civilization from which they had so little to hope. To these people evolutionary, “reformist” Socialism was cold comfort. Then came the Syndicalist, promising, not evolution but revolution; not in the dim future but in the here and now; not a bloodless “taking over” by “the workers,” hypothetically stretched to include virtually the whole community, but the bloody “dictatorship” of The Proletariat in its narrow, revolutionary sense.

Here, at last, was living hope — hope, and the prospect of revenge! Is it, then, strange that a few short years should have seen revolutionary Socialists, Anarchists, all the antisocial forces of the whole world, grouped under the banner of Georges Sorel? For a time they went under different names: Syndicalists in France, Bolshevists in Russia, “I. W. W.’s” in America; but in reality they formed one army, enlisted for a single war.

Now what was this war? It was, first of all, a war for the conquest of Socialism as a preliminary to the conquest of society. Everywhere the orthodox Socialist parties were fiercely assailed. And these Syndicalist assaults were very formidable, because the orthodox Socialists possessed no moral lines of defense. Their arms were palsied by the virus of their revolutionary tradition. For, however evolutionary and non-militant the Socialists might have become in practice, in theory they had remained revolutionary, their ethics continuing to be those of the “class war,” the destruction of the “possessing classes,” and the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The American economist, Carver, well describes the ethics of Socialism in the following lines:

Marxian Socialism has nothing in common with idealistic Socialism. It rests, not on persuasion, but on force. It does not profess to believe, as did the old idealists, that if Socialism be lifted up it will draw all men unto it. In fact, it has no ideals; it is materialistic and militant. Being materialistic and atheistic, it makes no use of such terms as right and justice, unless it be to quiet the consciences of those who still harbor such superstitions. It insists that these terms are mere conventionalities; the concepts mere bugaboos invented by the ruling caste to keep the masses under control. Except in a conventional sense, from this crude materialistic point of view there is neither right nor wrong, justice nor injustice, good nor bad. Until people who still believe in such silly notions divest their minds of them, they will never understand the first principles of Marxian Socialism.

“Who creates our ideas of right and wrong?” asks the Socialist. “The ruling class. Why? To insure their domination over the masses by depriving them of the power to think for themselves. We, the proletarians, when we get into power, will dominate the situation; we shall be the ruling caste, and, naturally, shall do what the ruling castes have always done; that is, we shall determine what is right and wrong. Do you ask us if what we propose is just? What do you mean by justice? Do you ask if it is right? What do you mean by right? It will be good for us. That is all that right and justice ever did or ever can mean.” [59]

As Harold Cox remarks:

The Socialist is out to destroy Capitalism, and for that end he encourages or condones conduct which the world has hitherto condemned as criminal. . . . The real ethics of Socialism are the ethics of war. What the Socialists want is, not progress in the world as we know it, but destruction of that world as a prelude to the creation of a new world of their own imagining. In order to win that end they have to seek the support of every force that makes for disorder, and to appeal to every motive that stimulates class hatred. Their ethical outlook is the direct reverse of that which has inspired all the great religions of the world. Instead of seeking to attain peace upon earth and good-will among men, they have chosen for their goal universal warfare, and they deliberately make their appeal to the passions of envy, hatred, and malice. [60]

Such are the moral bases of Socialism. To be sure, Marxian Socialism had tended to soft-pedal all this, and had become by the close of the nineteenth century a predominantly pacific, “reformist” movement — in practice. But this peaceful pose had been assumed, not from any ethical change, but because of two practical reasons. In the first place, Marx had taught that society would soon break down through its own defects; that the “possessing classes” would rapidly destroy each other; and that Socialists might thus wait for society’s decrepitude before giving it the death-stroke, instead of risking a doubtful battle while it was still strong. In the second place, Socialism, as a proselyting faith, welcomed “liberal” converts, yet realized that these would not “come over” in any great numbers unless it could present a “reformist” face to them.

Reformist Socialism, as it stood at the close of the nineteenth century, thus rested upon equivocal moral foundations. Its policy was based, not upon principle, but upon mere expediency. The Syndicalists saw this, and used it with deadly effect. When the reformist leaders reprobated the Syndicalists’ savage violence, the Syndicalists laughed at them, taunted them with lack of courage, and pointed out that morally they were all in the same boat. The Syndicalists demanded that questions of principle be excluded as irrelevant and that the debate should be confined to questions of policy.

And here, again, the Syndicalists had the Socialists on the hip. The Syndicalists argued (justly enough) that Marx’s automatic social revolution was nowhere in sight; that society was not on its death-bed; and that, if it was to die soon, it must be killed — by the violent methods of social revolution. In fact, the Syndicalists invoked Marx himself to this effect, citing his youthful revolutionary exhortations, uttered before he had evolved the utopian fallacies of Capital.

These fallacies, together with all subsequent “reformist” accretions, the Syndicalists contemptuously discarded. The ethics of the “class war” were proclaimed in all their naked brutality. “Compromise” and “evolution” were alike scathingly repudiated. The Syndicalists taught that the first steps toward the social revolution must be the destruction of all friendship, sympathy, or co-operation between classes; the systematic cultivation of implacable class hatred; the deepening of unbridgeable class cleavages. All hopes of social betterment by peaceful political methods were to be resolutely abandoned, attention being henceforth concentrated upon the grim business of the class war.

This war was not to be postponed till some favorable moment; it was to begin now, and was to be waged with ever-increasing fury until complete and final victory. According to Georges Sorel: “Violence, class struggles without quarter, the state of war en permanence,” were to be the birthmarks of the social revolution. As another French Syndicalist, Pouget, expressed it:

Revolution is a work of all moments, of to-day as well as of to-morrow: it is a continuous action, an every-day fight without truce or delay against the powers of extortion.

The methods of the class war were summed up under the term “direct action.” These methods were numerous, the most important being the strike and “sabotage.” Strikes were to be continually called, for any or no reason; if they failed, so much the better, since the defeated workers would be left in a sullen and vengeful mood. Agreements with employers were to be made only to be broken, because all lies, deceit, and trickery were justifiable — nay, imperative — against the “enemy.” Even while on the job, the Syndicalist was never to do good work, was always to do as little work as possible (“ca’ canny”), and was to practise “sabotage” – i.e., spoil goods and damage machinery, if possible without detection. The objects of all this were to ruin employers, demoralise industry, decrease production, and thus make living conditions so hard that the masses would be roused to hotter discontent and become riper for “mass action.”

Meanwhile, everything must be done to envenom the class struggle. Hatred must be deliberately fanned, not only among the masses but among the “possessing classes” as well. Every attempt at conciliation or understanding between combatants weary of mutual injury must be nipped in the bud. Says Sorel:

To repay with black ingratitude the benevolence of those who would protect the worker, to meet with insults the speeches of those who advocate human fraternity, to reply by blows at the advocates of those who would propagate social peace — all this is assuredly not in conformity with the rules of fashionable Socialism, but it is a very practical method of showing the bourgeois that they must mind their own business. . . . Proletarian violence appears on the stage at the very time when attempts are being made to mitigate conflicts by social peace. Violence gives back to the proletariat their natural weapon of the class struggle, by means of frightening the bourgeoisie and profiting by the bourgeois dastardliness in order to impose on them the will of the proletariat.

The uncompromising, fighting spirit of Syndicalism comes out vividly in the following lines by the American Syndicalist, Jack London:

There has never been anything like this revolution in the history of the world. There is nothing analogous between it and the American Revolution or the French Revolution. It is unique, colossal. Other revolutions compare with it as asteroids compare with the sun. It is alone of its kind; the first world revolution in a world whose history is replete with revolutions. And not only this, for it is the first organized movement of men to become a world movement, limited only by the limits of the planet.

This revolution is unlike all other revolutions in many respects. It is not sporadic. It is not a flame of popular discontent, arising in a day and dying down in a day. Here are 7,000,000 comrades in an organized, international, world-wide, revolutionary army. The cry of this army is, “No quarter!” We want all that you possess. We will be content with nothing less than all you possess. We want in our hands the reins of power and the destiny of mankind. Here are our hands. They are strong hands. We are going to take your governments, your palaces, and all your purpled ease away from you. . . . The revolution is here, now. Stop it who can. [61]

Syndicalism’s defiant repudiation of traditional morality is well stated in the following quotations from two leaders of the “I. W. W.” (“Industrial Workers of the World”), the chief Syndicalist group in America. The first of these quotations is from the pen of Vincent St. John, and is taken from his booklet, The I. W. W., Its History, Structure, and Methods. As Mr. St. John is regarded by Syndicalists everywhere as one of their ablest thinkers, his words may be taken as an authoritative expression of Syndicalist philosophy. Says Mr. St. John:

As a revolutionary organization, the Industrial Workers of the World aim to use any and all tactics that will get the results sought with the least expenditure of time and energy. The tactics used are determined solely by the power of the organization to make good in their use. The question of “right” or “wrong” does not concern us.

In similar vein, another I. W. W. leader, Arturo Giovannitti, writes:

It is the avowed intention of both Socialists and Industrial Unionists [62] alike to expropriate the bourgeoisie of all its property, to make it social property. Now may we ask if this is right? Is it moral and just? Of course, if it is true that labor produces everything, it is both moral and just that it should own everything. But this is only an affirmation — it must be proven. We Industrial Unionists care nothing about proving it. We are going to take over the industries some day, for three very good reasons: Because we need them, because we want them, and because we have the power to get them. Whether we are ‘ethically’ justified or not is not our concern. We will lose no time proving title to them beforehand; but we may, if it is necessary, after the thing is done, hire a couple of lawyers and judges to fix up the deed and make the transfer perfectly legal and respectable. Such things can always be fixed — anything that is powerful becomes in due course of time righteous. Therefore we Industrial Unionists claim that the social revolution is not a matter of necessity plus justice, but simply necessity plus strength.

The climax of the class war, as conceived by the Syndicalists, is the “general strike.” Having sufficiently demoralized industry by a long process of “direct action” and having converted enough of the workers for their purpose, the Syndicalists will call the general strike. Before leaving the factories the workers will destroy the machinery by wholesale sabotage; the railways and other forms of transport will likewise be ruined; and economic life will thus be completely paralyzed. The result will be chaos, which will give the Syndicalists their opportunity. In that hour the organized Syndicalist minority, leading the frenzied, starving masses, and aided by criminals and other antisocial elements, will overthrow the social order, seize all property, crush the bourgeoisie, and establish the social revolution.

This social revolution is to be for the benefit of the Proletariat in its most literal sense. Syndicalism hates, not merely capitalists and bourgeois, but also the “intellectuals” and even the skilled workers — “the aristocracy of labor.” Syndicalism is instinctively hostile to intelligence. It pins its faith to instinct — that “deeper knowledge” of the undifferentiated human mass; that proletarian quantity so much more precious than individualistic quality. Both the intellectual elite and their works must make room for the “proletarian culture” of the morrow. Intellectuals are a “useless, privileged class”; art is “a mere residuum bequeathed to us by an aristocratic society” [63]. Science is likewise condemned. Cries the French Syndicalist, Edouard Berth, in his pamphlet significantly entitled, The Misdeeds of the Intellectuals:

Oh, the little science — la petite science — which feigns to attain the truth by attaining lucidity of exposition, and shirks the obscurities. Let us go back to the subconscious, the psychological source of every inspiration!

Here we see the full frightfulness of Syndicalism-Bolshevism! This new social revolt, prepared a generation ago and launched in Soviet Russia, is not merely a war against a social system, not merely a war against our civilization; it is a war of the hand against the brain. For the first time since man was man there has been a definite schism between the hand and the head. Every progressive principle which mankind has thus far evolved: the solidarity of civilization and culture; community of interest; the harmonious synthesis of muscle, intellect and spirit — all these the new heresy of the Under-Man howls down and tramples in the mud. Up from the dark purlieus of the underworld strange battle-shouts come winging. The underworld is to become the world, the only world. As for our world, it is to be destroyed; as for us, we are to be killed. A clean sweep! Not even the most beautiful products of our intellects and souls interest these Under-Men. Why should they care when they are fashioning a world of their own? A hand-world, not a head-world. The Under-Men despise thought itself, save as an instrument of invention and production. Their guide is, not reason, but the “proletarian truth” of instinct and passion — the deeper self below the reason, whose sublimation is — the mob. Spake Georges Sorel:

Man has genius only in the measure that he does not think.

The citizens of the upper world are to be extirpated along with their institutions and ideals. The doomed classes are numerous. They comprise not merely the billionaires of Marx, but also the whole of the upper and middle classes, the landowning countryfolk, even the skilled working men; in short, all except those who work with their untutored hands, plus the elect few who philosophize for those who work with their untutored hands. The elimination of so many classes is, perhaps, unfortunate. However, it is necessary, because these classes are so hopelessly capitalist and bourgeois that, unless eliminated, they would surely infect at its very birth the gestating underworld civilization.

Now note one important point. All that I have just said applies to Syndicalism as it stood prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Every point that I have treated has been drawn from Syndicalist pronouncements made before the appearance of “Bolshevism.” We must recognize once and for all that Bolshevism is not a peculiar Russian phenomenon, but that it is merely the Muscovite manifestation of a movement which had formulated its philosophy and infected the whole civilized world before the beginning of the late war. Thus, when in the next chapter we come to contemplate Russian Bolshevism in action, we shall view it, not as a purely Russian problem, but as a local phase of something which must be faced, fought, and mastered in every quarter of the earth.


57. Professor Gilbert Murray, “Satanism and the World Order,” The Century, July, 1920.

58. About the year 1860, Proudhon wrote: “According to my idea, railways, a mine, a manufactory, a ship, etc., are to the workers whom they occupy what the hive is to the bees; that is, at the same time their instrument and their dwelling, their country, their territory, their property.” For this reason Proudhon opposed “the exploitation of the railways, whether by companies of capitalists or by the state.” The modern Syndicalist idea is here perfectly epitomized.

59. Professor T. N. Carver, in his Introduction to Boris Brasol’s Socialism vs. Civilization (New York, 1920).

60. Cox, Economic Liberty, pg. 27 and 42.

61. Jack London, Revolution and Other Essays, pg. 4-85 (New York, 1910).

62. Another name for Syndicalists.

63. Sorel.

* * *

Source: Dissident Millennial

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