Christopher Caudwell 1938
A study in bourgeois illusion

Source: “Studies in a Dying Culture,” first published 1938.
Republished 1977 in “The Concept of Freedom,” Lawrence & Wishart, London.
Transcribed: by Dominic Tweedie;
Proofed and corrected: by Guy Colvin, November 2005.

Many will have heard a broadcast by H. G. Wells in which (commenting
on the Soviet Union) he described it as a “great experiment which has
but half fulfilled its promise,” it is still a “land without mental
freedom.” There are also many essays of Bertrand Russell in which this
philosopher explains the importance of liberty, how the enjoyment of
liberty is the highest and most important goal of man. Fisher claims
that the history of Europe during the last two or three centuries is
simply the struggle for liberty. Continually and variously by artists,
scientists, and philosophers alike, liberty is thus praised and man’s
right to enjoy it imperiously asserted.

I agree with this. Liberty does seem to me the most important of all
generalised goods – such as justice, beauty, truth – that come so
easily to our lips. And yet when freedom is discussed a strange thing
is to be noticed. These men – artists, careful of words, scientists,
investigators of the entities denoted by words, philosophers
scrupulous about the relations between words and entities – never
define precisely what they mean by freedom. They seem to assume that
it is quite a clear concept, whose definition every one would agree

Yet who does not know that liberty is a concept about whose nature men
have quarrelled perhaps more than any other? The historic disputes
concerning predestination, Karma, Free-Will, Moira, salvation by faith
or works, determinism, Fate, Kismet, the categorical imperative,
sufficient grace, occasionalism, Divine Providence, punishment and
responsibility, have all been about the nature of man’s freedom of
will and action. The Greeks, the Romans, the Buddhists, the
Mahomedans, the Catholics, the Jansenists, and the Calvinists, have
each had different ideas of liberty. Why, then, do all these bourgeois
intellectuals assume that liberty is a clear concept, understood in
the same way by all their hearers, and therefore needing no
definition? Russell, for example, has spent his life finding a really
satisfactory definition of number and even now it is disputed whether
he has been successful. I can find in his writings no clear definition
of what he means by liberty. Yet most people would have supposed that
men are far more in agreement as to what is meant by a number, than
what is meant by liberty.

The indefinite use of the word can only mean either that they believe
the meaning of the word invariant in history or that they use it in
the contemporary bourgeois sense. If they believe the meaning
invariant, it is strange that men have disputed so often about
freedom. These intellectuals must surely be incapable of such a
blunder. They must mean liberty as men in their situation experience
it. That is, they must mean by liberty to have no more restrictions
imposed upon them than they endure at that time. They do not – these
Oxford dons or successful writers – want, for example, the
restrictions of Fascism, that is quite clear. That would not be
liberty. But at present, thank God, they are reasonably free.

Now this conception of liberty is superficial, for not all their
countrymen are in the same situation. A, an intellectual, with a good
education, in possession of a modest income, with not too uncongenial
friends, unable to afford a yacht, which he would like, but at least
able to go to the winter sports, considers this (more or less)
freedom. He would like that yacht, but still – he can write against
Communism or Fascism or the existing system. Let us for the moment
grant that A is free. I propose to analyse this statement more deeply
in a moment, and show that it is partial. But let us for the moment
grant that A enjoys liberty.

Is B free? B is a sweated non-union shop-assistant of Houndsditch,
working seven days of the week. He knows nothing of art, science, or
philosophy. He has no culture except a few absurd prejudices, his
elementary school education saw to that. He believes in the
superiority of the English race, the King’s wisdom and loving-kindness
to his subjects, the real existence of God, the Devil, Hell, and Sin,
and the wickedness of sexual intercourse unless palliated by marriage.
His knowledge of world events is derived from the News of the World,
on other days he has no time to read the papers. He believes that when
he dies he will (with luck) enter into eternal bliss. At present,
however, his greatest dread is that by displeasing his employer in
some trifle, he may become unemployed.

B’s trouble is plainly lack of leisure in which to cultivate freedom.
C does not suffer from this. He is an unemployed middle-aged man. He
is free for 24 hours a day. He is free to go anywhere – in the streets
and parks, and in the museums. He is allowed to think of anything –
the Einstein theory, the Frege definition of classes, or the doctrine
of the Immaculate Conception. Regrettably enough he does none of these
things. He quarrels with his wife, who calls him a good-for-nothing
waster, and with his children, who because of the means test have to
pay his rent, and with his former friends, because they can enjoy
pleasures he cannot afford. Fortunately he is free to remove himself
from existence, and this one afternoon, when his wife is out and there
is plenty of money in the gas-meter, he will do.

A is free. Are B and C? I assume that A will reply that B and C are
not free. If A asserts that B and C do enjoy real liberty, most of us,
without further definition, will know what to think of A’s idea of
liberty. But a Wells, a Forster, or a Russell would doubtless agree,
as vehemently as us, that this is not liberty, but a degrading slavery
to environment. He will say that to free B and C we must raise them to
A’s level, the level, let us say, of the Oxford don. Like the Oxford
don, B and C must have leisure and a modest income with which to enjoy
the good things and the good ideas of the world.

But how is this to be brought about? Bourgeois social relations are
what we have now. No one denies that the dynamic motive of such
relations is private profit. Here bourgeois economists and Marxists
are agreed. Moreover, if causality has any meaning, and unless we are
to throw all scientific method overboard, current economic relations
and the unfreedom of B and C must be causally inter-related.

We have, then, bourgeois social relations on the one hand, and these
varying degrees of unfreedom – A, B, and C – on the other hand,
interconnected as cause and effect. So far, either might be the cause,
for we have not decided whether mental states arise from social
relations, or vice versa. But as soon as we ask how action is to solve
the problem, we see which is primary. It is useless to give B, by
means of lectures and picture galleries, opportunity for understanding
philosophy or viewing masterpieces of art. He has no time to acquire,
before starting work, the taste for them or after starting work the
time to gratify it. Nor is C free to enjoy the riches of bourgeois
culture as long as his whole existence is clouded by his economic
position. It is circumstances that are imprisoning consciousness, not
vice versa. It is not because B and C are unenlightened that they are
members of the working class, but because they are members of the
working class, they are unenlightened. And Russell, who writes In
Praise of Idleness, praises rightly, for he is clever because he is
idle and bourgeois, not idle and bourgeois because he is clever.

We now see the cause and effect of the situation. We see that it is
not this freedom and unfreedom which produces bourgeois social
relations, but that bourgeois social relations alike give rise to
these two extremes, the freedom of the idle bourgeois, and the
unfreedom of the proletarian worker. It is plain that this effect, if
undesirable, can only be changed by changing the cause.

Thus the intellectual is faced with another problem, like that when he
had to define more precisely who enjoyed the liberty he regarded as
contemporary. Does he wish that there should exist for ever these two
states of captivity and freedom, of misery and happiness? Can he enjoy
a freedom which is sustained by the same cause as the workers’
unfreedom? For if not, he must advance further and say, “bourgeois
social relations must be changed.” Change they will, precisely because
of this unfreedom they increasingly generate; but to-day the
intellectual must decide whether his will be part of the social forces
making for change, or vainly pitted against them.

But how are bourgeois social relations to be changed? Not by a mere
effort of the will, for we saw that the mind was made by social
relations, not vice versa. It is matter, the quantitative foundation
of qualitative ideology, that must be changed. It is not enough to
argue and convince. Work must be done. The environment must be

Science shows us how. We achieve our wants always, not by the will
alone, not by merely wishing them into being, but with action aided by
cognition, by utilising the physical laws of reality. We move
mountains, not by the mere movement of desire, but because we
understand the rigidly determined laws of kinetics, hydraulics, and
electrical engineering and can guide our actions by them. We attain
freedom – that is, the fulfilment of our will – by obedience to the
laws of reality. Observance of these laws is simple; it is the
discovery of them that is the difficulty, and this is the task of

Thus, the task of defining liberty becomes still harder. It is not so
easy after all to establish even a contemporary definition of liberty.
Not only has the intellectual already had to decide to change
bourgeois social relations, but he must now find out the laws of
motion of society, and fit social relations into a causal scheme. It
is not enough to want to be free; it is also necessary to know.

Only one scientific analysis of the law of motion of social relations
exists, that of Marxism. For the understanding of how, physically, at
the material level of social being, quantitative movements of capital,
of matter, of stuff, provide the causal predictive basis of society,
and pass via social relations into the qualitative changes of mind,
will, and ideology, it is necessary to refer the bourgeois
intellectual to Marx, Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin and Bukharin. Let us
suppose that he has now done this and returns again to the difficult
pursuit of liberty.

His causal conception of society will now enable him to realise that
the task of making social relations produce liberty is as rigidly
conditioned by reality as the task of making matter fulfil his desire
in the form of machines. All matter – machinery, capital, men – and
the relations which they exhibit in society – can only move in
accordance with causal laws. This involves first that the old
relations must be broken down, just as a house must be pulled down if
we would entirely rebuild it, and the transition, putting up and
pulling down, must follow certain laws. We cannot pull the foundation
first, or build the roof before the walls.

This transitional stage involves the alteration of all the adherences
between humans and the capital, machinery and materials, which mediate
social relations. These must no longer adhere to individual persons –
the bourgeois class – but to all members of society. This change is
not a mere change of ownership, for it also involves that no
individuals can derive profit from ownership without working. The
goods are not destined to go the rounds of the market – the profit
movement – but directly into use – the use movement. Moreover, this
involves that all the visible institutions depending on private profit
relations – laws, church, bureaucracy, judiciary, army, police,
education – must be pulled down and rebuilt. The bourgeoisie cannot do
this, for it is by means of these very institutions – private property
(the modest income), law, university, civil service, privileged
position, etc., – that they attain their freedom. To expect them to
destroy these relations on which, as we saw, their freedom and the
workers’ unfreedom, depend, is to ask them to go in quest of
captivity, which, since liberty is what all men seek, they will not
do. But the opposite is the case with the unfree, with the
proletariat. The day they go in search of liberty, they revolt. The
bourgeois, fighting for his liberty, must necessarily find himself in
antagonism to the non-bourgeois, also fighting for liberty. The
eventual issue of this struggle is due to the fact that capitalist
economy, as it develops, makes ever narrower the class which really
owns liberty until the day comes when the intellectual, the doctor,
the petty bourgeois, the clerk, and the peasant, realise that they too
are not after all free. And they see that the fight of the proletariat
is their fight.

What, to the proletarian, is liberty – the extermination of those
bourgeois institutions and relations which hold them in captivity – is
necessarily compulsion and restraint to the bourgeois, just as the old
bourgeois liberty generated non-liberty for the worker. The two
notions of liberty are irreconcilable. Once the proletariat is in
power, all attempts to re-establish bourgeois social relations will be
attacks on proletarian liberty, and will therefore be repulsed as
fiercely as men repulse all attacks on their liberty. This is the
meaning of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and why with it there
is censorship, ideological acerbity, and all the other devices
developed by the bourgeois in the evolution of the coercive State
which secures his freedom.

There is, however, one vital difference. Bourgeois social relations,
generating the liberty of the bourgeois and the non-liberty of the
proletarian, depend on the existence of both freedom and unfreedom for
their continuance. The bourgeois would not enjoy his idleness without
the labour of the worker, nor the worker remain in a bourgeois
relationship without the coercive guidance and leadership of the
bourgeois. Thus the liberty of the few is, in bourgeois social
relations, built on the unfreedom of the many. The two notions dwell
in perpetual antagonism. But after the dispossession of the
bourgeoisie, the antagonism between the expropriated and therefore
unfree bourgeois, and the inheriting and therefore free proletariat,
is only temporary. For the owners of the means of production, being
also the workers of that means, do not need the existence of an
expropriated class. When therefore, the transition is complete, and
the bourgeois class is either absorbed or has died out, there is no
longer an unfree compelled class. That is what is meant by the
“withering away” of the State into a classless society, after the
transitional period such as is now taking place in Russia.

This, stated in its simplest terms, is the causal process whereby
bourgeois social relations can change into new social relations not
generating a mass of unfreedom as the opposite pole to a little
freedom. We have purposely made it simple. A fuller discussion, such
as Marx gives, would make clearer the fluid interpenetrating nature of
the process; how it is brought about causally by capitalist economy
itself, which cannot stand still, but clumps continually into greater
centralisation, giving rise to imperialistic wars, which man will not
forever tolerate, and to viler and viler cash relations, filling men
with hate, which will one day become hate for the system. And as
capitalism perpetrates these enormities, the cause of revolt, it gives
the proletariat the means of revolt, by making them unite, become more
conscious and organised, so that, when the time of revolt comes, they
have both the solidarity and the executive ability needed to take over
the administration of the bourgeois property. At the same time
bourgeois social relations reveal that even their freedom is not real
freedom, that bourgeois freedom is almost as imprisoning to its
enjoyers as the worker’s unfreedom. And thus the bourgeoisie does not
find itself as a solid class, arrayed against the proletariat, but
there are divisions in its own ranks, a few at first, and then more
and more. The revolution takes place as soon as the proletariat are
sufficiently organised by their fight against bourgeois social
relations to co-operate, sufficiently harried by their growing
unfreedom to demand a new world at all costs; and when, on the other
side, as a result of the developing contradictions of capitalism, the
bourgeois themselves have lost their grip.

Let us, therefore, go deeper, and examine more closely the true nature
of bourgeois freedom. Are H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, E. M.
Forster, you, reader and I, really free? Do we enjoy even mental
freedom? For if we do not enjoy that, we certainly do not enjoy
physical freedom.

Bertrand Russell is a philosopher and a mathematician. He takes the
method of science seriously, and applies it to various fields of
thought. He believes that thoughts are simply special arrangements of
matter, even though he calls matter mind-stuff. He agrees that to
every psychism corresponds a neurism, that life is a special chemical
phenomenon, just as thought is a special biological phenomenon. He is
not taken in by the nonsense of entelechies and pure memory.

Why then does he refrain from applying these categories used
everywhere else, to the concept of liberty? In what sense can he
believe man to be ever completely free? What meaning can he attach to
the word freedom? He rightly detects the idealistic hocus-pocus of
smuggling God into science as the Life-Force, entelechy, or the first
cause, for the sleight of hand it is. But his liberty is a kind of
God; something which he accepts on faith, somehow intervening in the
affairs of the universe, and unconnected with causality, Russell’s
liberty and his philosophy live in different worlds. He has made
theology meet science, and seen that theology is a barbarous relic.
But he has not performed the last act of integration; he has not asked
science’s opinion of this belief that the graduate of one of the
better universities, with a moderate income, considerable
intelligence, and some leisure, is really free.

It is not a question of whether man has in some mysterious fashion
free will. For if that were the problem, all men would either would or
would not have liberty. If freedom consists in having free will, and
men have free will, we can will as freely under a Fascist, or
proletarian, as under a bourgeois government. But everyone admits that
there are degrees of liberty. In what therefore does this difference
in liberty consist?

Although liberty does not then depend on free will, it will help us to
understand liberty if we consider what is the freedom of the will.
Free will consists in this, that man is conscious of the motive that
dictates his action. Without this consciousness of antecedent motive,
there is no free will. I raise my hand to ward off a blow. The blow
dictated my action; none the less, I was conscious that I wanted to
ward off the blow; I willed to do so. My will was free; it was an act
of my will. There was a cause; but I was conscious of a free volition.
And I was conscious of the cause, of the blow.

In sleep a tickling of the soles of the feet actuates the plantar
reflex. Such an action we call involuntary. Just as the warding
movement was elicited by an outside stimulus, so was the bending of
the leg. None the less, we regard the second as unfree, involuntary.
It was not preceded by a conscious motive. Nor were we conscious of
the cause of our action. We thus see that free will exists in so far
as we are conscious of the antecedent motive in our mind, regarded as
the immediate cause of action. If this motive, or act of will, is
itself free, and not forced, we must also be in turn conscious of the
antecedent motive that produced it. Free will is not therefore the
opposite of causality, it is the consciousness of causality. That is
why man naturally fits all happenings outside him in a causal frame;
because he is conscious of causality in himself. Otherwise it would be
a mystery if man, experiencing only uncausality in free will, should
assume, as he does, that all other things are linked by causality. If,
however, he is only assuming that other objects obey the same laws as
he does, both the genesis and success of causality as a cognitive
framework for reality are explicable.

Causality and freedom are thus aspects of each other. Freedom is the
consciousness of necessity. The universe as a whole is completely
free, because that which is not free is determined by something else
outside it. But all things are, by definition, contained in the
universe, therefore the universe is determined by nothing but itself.
But every individual thing in the universe is determined by other
things, because the universe is material. This material is not “given”
in the definition of the universe, but is exactly what science
establishes when it explains the world actively and positively.

Thus the only absolute freedom, like the only absolute truth, is the
universe itself. But parts of the universe have varying degrees of
freedom, according to their degrees of self-determination. In
self-determination, the causes are within the thing itself; thus, in
the sensation of free will, the antecedent cause of an action is the
conscious thought of an individual, and since the action is also that
of the individual, we talk of freedom, because there is

The freedom of free will can only be relative. It is characteristic of
the more recently evolved categories that they contain more freedom.
The matter of which man is composed is in spatio-temporal relation
with all other matter in the universe, and its position in space and
time is only to a small degree self-determined. Man’s perception,
however, is to a less degree in relation to the rest of the universe;
it is a more exclusive kind of perception that sees little not in the
immediate vicinity of man, or in which it is not interested, and it is
largely moulded by memory, that is, by internal causes. Hence it is
freer, more self-determined, than the spatio-temporal relations of
dead matter. Man’s consciousness is still more self-determined,
particularly in its later developments, such as conscious volition.

Man constantly supposes that he is freer than he is. Freudian research
has recently shown that events at the level of being – i.e.
unconscious psychological events – may give rise to disturbances which
usurp conscious functions. In such circumstances a man may not be
conscious of the motives of his actions, although he believes he is.
He is therefore unfree, for his will’s determination arise from events
outside consciousness. An example is the neurotic. The neurotic is
unfree. He attains freedom by attaining self-determination, that is,
by making conscious motives which before were unconscious. Thus he
becomes captain of his soul. I am not now discussing the validity of
the various methods by which this knowledge is obtained, or what
neurological meaning we are to give to Freudian symbolism. I agree
with this basic assumption of Freudian therapy, that man always
obtains more freedom, more self-determination, by a widening of
consciousness or, in other words, by an increase of knowledge. In the
case of his own mind, man, by obtaining a knowledge of its causality,
obtains more freedom. Here too freedom is seen to be a special form of
determinism, namely, the consciousness of it.

But man cannot simply sit and contemplate his own mind in order to
grasp its causality. His body, and likewise his mind, is in constant
metabolic relation with the rest of the universe. As a result, when we
want to trace any causal mental sequence, in order to be conscious of
it, we find it inextricably commingled with events in the outer world.
At an early stage we find we must seek freedom in the outer as well as
the inner world. We must be conscious not only of our own laws, but of
those of outer reality. Man has always realised that whatever free
will may mean, it is not will alone, but action also which is involved
in liberty. For example, I am immersed in a plaster cast so that I
cannot blink an eyelid. None the less, my will is completely free. Am
I therefore completely free? Only extremely idealistic philosophers
would suggest that I am. A free will is therefore not enough to secure
liberty, but our actions also must be unconstrained. Now everyone
realises that the outer environment continually constrains our
freedom, and that free will is no freedom unless it can act what it
wills. It follows that to be really free we must also be able to do
what we freely will to do.

But this freedom, too, leads us back to determinism. For we find, and
here no philosopher has ever disputed it, that the environment is
completely deterministic. That is to say, whatever motion or
phenomenon we see, there is always a cause for it, which is itself
caused, and so on. And the same causes, in the same circumstances,
always secure the same effects. Now an understanding of this iron
determinism brings freedom. For the more we understand the causality
of the universe, the more we are able to do what we freely will. Our
knowledge of the causality of water enables us to build ships and
cross the seas; our knowledge of the laws of air enables us to fly;
our knowledge of the necessary movements of the planets enables us to
construct calendars so that we sow, embark on voyages, and set out to
meet each other at the times most conducive to achieving what we will
to do. Thus, in the outer world too, determinism is seen to produce
freedom, freedom is understood to be a special form of necessity, the
consciousness of necessity. We see that we attain freedom by our
consciousness of the causality of subjective mental phenomena together
with our consciousness of the causality of external phenomena. And we
are not surprised that the characteristic of the behaviour of objects
– causality – is also a characteristic of consciousness, for
consciousness itself is only an aspect of an object – the body. The
more we gain of this double understanding, the more free we become,
possessing both free will and free action. These are not two mutually
exclusive things, free will versus determinism – but on the contrary
they play into each other’s hands.

>From this it follows that the animals are less free than men.
Creatures of impulse, acting they know not why, subject to all the
chances of nature, of other animals, of geographical accidents and
climatic change, they are at the mercy of necessity, precisely because
they are unconscious of it.

That is not to say they have no freedom, for they possess a degree of
freedom. They have some knowledge of the causality of their
environment, as is shown by their manipulations of time and space and
material – the bird’s flight, the hare’s leap, the ant’s nest. They
have some inner self-determination, as is shown by their behaviour.
But compared to man, they are unfree.

Implicit in the conception of thinkers like Russell and Forster, that
all social relations are restraints on spontaneous liberty, is the
assumption that the animal is the only completely free creature. No
one constrains the solitary carnivore to do anything. This is of
course an ancient fallacy. Rousseau is the famous exponent. Man is
born free but is everywhere in chains. Always in the bourgeois mind is
this legend of the golden age, of a perfectly good man corrupted by
institutions. Unfortunately not only is man not good without
institutions, he is not evil either. He is no man at all; he is
neither good nor evil; he is an unconscious brute.

Russell’s idea of liberty is the unphilosophical idea of bestiality.
Narkover School is not such a bad illustration of Russell’s liberty
after all. The man alone, unconstrained, answerable only to his
instincts, is Russell’s free man. Thus all man’s painful progress from
the beasts is held to be useless. All men’s work and sweat and
revolutions have been away from freedom. If this is true, and if a man
believes, as most of us do, as Russell does, that freedom is the
essential goal of human effort, then civilisation should be abandoned
and we should return to the woods. I am a Communist because I believe
in freedom. I criticise Russell, and Wells, and Forster, because I
believe they are the champions of unfreedom.

But this is going too far, it will be said. How can these men, who
have defended freedom of thought, action, and morality, be champions
of unfreedom? Let us proceed with our analysis and we shall see why.

Society is a creation by which man attains a fuller measure of freedom
than the beasts. It is society, and society alone, that differentiates
man qualitatively from the beasts. The essential feature of society is
economic production. Man, the individual, cannot do what he wants
alone. He is unfree alone. Therefore he attains freedom by
co-operation with his fellows. Science, by which he becomes conscious
of outer reality, is social. Art, by which he becomes conscious of his
feelings, is social. Economic production, by which he makes outer
reality conform to his feeling, is social, and generates in its
interstices science and art. It is economic production then that gives
man freedom. It is because of economic production that man is free,
and beasts are not. This is clear from the fact that economic
production is the manipulation, by means of agriculture, horse-taming,
road-building, car-construction, light, heating, and other
engineering, of the environment, conformably to man’s will. It enables
man to do what he wills; and he can only do what he wills with the
help of others. Without roads, food supplies, machines, houses, and
clothes, he would be like the man in a plaster cast, who can will what
he likes, and yet is not a free man but a captive. But even his free
will depends on it. For consciousness develops by the evolution of
language, science, and art, and these are all born of economic
production. Thus the freedom of man’s actions depends on his material
level, on his economic production. The more advanced the economic
production, the freer the civilisation.

But, it will be argued, economic production is just what entails all
the ‘constraints’ of society. Daily work, division of labour under
superintendents, all the laws of contract and capital, all the
regulations of society, arise out of this work of economic production.
Precisely, for, as we saw, freedom is the consciousness of causality.
And by economic production, which makes it possible for man to achieve
in action his will, man becomes conscious of the means necessary to
achieve it. That a lever must be of a certain length to move the stone
man wills to move is one consequence; the other is that a certain
number of men must co-operate in a certain way to wield the lever.
>From this it is only a matter of development to the complicated
machinery of modern life, with all its elaborate social relations.

Thus all the ‘constraints’, ‘obligations’, ‘inhibitions’, and ‘duties’
of society are the very means by which freedom is obtained by men.
Liberty is thus the social consciousness of necessity. Liberty is not
just necessity, for all reality is united by necessity. Liberty is the
consciousness of necessity – in outer reality, in myself, and in the
social relations which mediate between outer reality and human selves.
The beast is a victim of mere necessity, man is in society conscious
and self-determined. Not of course absolutely so, but more so than the

Thus freedom of action, freedom to do what we will, the vital part of
liberty, is seen to be secured by the social consciousness of
necessity, and to be generated in the process of economic production.
The price of liberty is not eternal vigilance, but eternal work.

But what is the relation of society to the other part of liberty,
freedom to will? Economic production makes man free to do what he
wills, but is he free to will what he will?

We saw that he was only free to do what he willed by attaining the
consciousness of outer necessity. It is equally true that he is only
free to will what he will by attaining the consciousness of inner
necessity. Moreover, these two are not antagonistic, but, as we shall
now find, they are one. Consciousness is the result of a specific and
highly important form of economic production.

Suppose someone had performed the regrettable experiment of turning
Bertrand Russell, at the age of nine months, over to a goat
foster-mother, and leaving him to her care, in some remote spot,
unvisited by human beings, to grow to manhood. When, say forty years
later, men first visited Bertrand Russell, would they find him with
the manuscripts of the Analysis of Mind and the Analysis of Matter in
his hands? Would they even find him in possession of his definition of
number, as the class of all classes? No. In contradiction to his
present state, his behaviour would be both illogical and impolite.

It looks, therefore, as if Russell, as we know and value him, is
primarily a social product. Russell is a philosopher and not an animal
because he was taught not only manners, but language, and so given
access to the social wisdom of ages of effort. Language filled his
head with ideas, showed him what to observe, taught him logic, put all
other men’s wisdom at his disposal, and awoke in him affectively the
elementary decencies of society – morality, justice, and liberty.
Russell’s consciousness, like that of all useful social objects, was a
creation. It is Russell’s consciousness that is distinctively him,
that is what we value in him, as compared to an anthropoid ape.
Society made him, just as it makes a hat.

It goes without saying that Russell’s ‘natural gifts’ (or, as we say
more strictly, his genotype) were of importance to the outcome. But
that is only to say that the material conditions the finished product.
Society is well aware that it cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s
ear or, except in special circumstances, a don out of a cretin. But it
is also aware that out of iron ore you can make rocks, bridges, ships,
or micrometers and, out of that plastic material, man’s genotype, you
can make Aztecs, ancient Egyptians, Athenians, Prussians,
proletarians, parsons, or public schoolboys.

It also goes almost without saying that a man is not a hat. He is a
unique social product, the original of Butler’s fantasy of machines
that gave birth to machines. He himself is one of those machines. The
essential truth about man, as compared with hats, is that he is not a
hat, but the man who wears it. And the essential truth about this
fashioning process of man by society, is that the fashioning is
primarily of his consciousness, a process that does not take place
with anything else. Now it is precisely because society elaborates his
consciousness, that man, although a social product like a hat, is
capable of free will, whereas a hat, being unconscious, is not capable
of free will. The coming-to-be of a man, his ‘growing up’, is society
fashioning itself, a group of consciousnesses, themselves made by
previous consciousnesses, making another. So the torch of liberty is
handed on, and burns still brighter. But it is in living that man’s
consciousness takes its distinctive stamp, and living is simply
entering into social relations.

But, it will be urged, man – the individual – sees the world for
himself alone – mountains, sky, and sea. Alone in his study he
reflects on fate and death. True. But mountains and sea have a meaning
to him, precisely because he is articulate-speaking because he has a
socially-moulded consciousness. Death, fate, and sea are
highly-evolved social concepts. Each individual contributes a little
to altering and elaborating them, but how small a contribution
compared to the immense pressure of the past! Language, science, and
art are all simply the results of man’s uniting with his fellows
socially to learn about himself and outer reality, in order to impose
his desires upon it. Both knowledge and effort are only possible in
co-operation, and both are made necessary by man’s struggles to be

Thus man’s inner freedom, the conscious will, acting towards conscious
ends, is a product of society; it is an economic product. It is the
most refined of the products society achieves in its search for
freedom. Social consciousness flowers out of social effort. We give
vent in effort to our instinctive desires. Learning how to accomplish
them we learn something about the nature of reality and how to master
it. This wisdom modifies the nature of our desires, which become more
conscious, more full of accurate images of reality. So enriched, the
desires become subtler, and, in working to achieve profounder goals,
in more elaborate economic production, gain still deeper insight into
reality, and, as consequence, themselves become yet more enriched.
Thus, in dialectic process, social being generates social mind, and
this interplay between deepening inner and outer reality is conserved
and passed on by culture. Man, as society advances, has a
consciousness composed less and less of unmodified instinct, more and
more of socially-fashioned knowledge and emotion. Man understands more
and more clearly the necessities of his own being and of outer
reality. He becomes increasingly more free.

The illusion that our minds are free to the extent that, like the
beasts, we are unconscious of the causality of our mental states, is
just what secures our unfreedom. Bourgeois society to-day clearly
exhibits in practice this truth, which we have established by analysis
in theory. The bourgeois believes that liberty consists in absence of
social organisation; that liberty is a negative quality, a deprivation
of existing obstacles to it; and not a positive quality, the reward of
endeavour and wisdom. This belief is itself the outcome of bourgeois
social relations. As a result of it, the bourgeois intellectual is
unconscious of the causality that makes his consciousness what it is.
Like the neurotic who refuses to believe that his compulsion is the
result of a certain unconscious complex, the bourgeois refuses to
believe that his conception of liberty as a mere deprivation of social
restraints arises from bourgeois social relations themselves, and that
it is just this illusion which is constraining him on every side. He
refuses to see that his own limited liberty, the captivity of the
worker, and all the contradictions of developing bourgeois relations –
pacifism, Fascism, war, hate, cruelty, disease – are bound in one net
of causality, that each is influenced by each, and that therefore it
is fallacious to suppose a simple effort of the will of the free man,
without knowledge of the causes will banish Fascism, war, and slumps.
Because of his basic fallacy, this type of intellectual always tries
to cure positive social evils, such as wars, by negative individual
actions, such as non-co-operation, passive resistance or conscientious
objection. This is because he cannot rid himself of the assumption
that the individual is free. But we have shown that the individual is
never free. He can only attain freedom by social co-operation. He can
only do what he wants by using social forces. If, therefore, he wishes
to stop poverty, war, and misery, he must do it, not by passive
resistance, but by using social relations. But in order to use social
relations he must understand them. He must become conscious of the
laws of society, just as, if he wants to lever up a stone, he must
know the laws of levers.

Once the bourgeois intellectual can see that society is the only
instrument of freedom, he has advanced a step farther along the road
to freedom. But until then he is unfree. True he is a logician, he
understands the causality of nature, Einstein’s theories, all the
splendid apparatus of social discovery, but he still believes in a
magic world of social relations divorced from these theories, in which
only the god of bourgeois liberty rules. This is proved, not only in
his theory, in the way his doctrine of liberty is accepted like a
theological dogma, and never made to square with all his philosophic
and scientific knowledge; but it is also proved in action, when the
bourgeois intellectual is powerless to stop the development of
increasing unfreedom in bourgeois society. All the compulsions of
militancy, Fascism, and economic distress harry contemporary society,
and all he can oppose to them is individualistic action, conscientious
objection and passive resistance. This is bound to be the case if he
is unfree. Like a man who believes he can walk upon the water and
drowns in it, the bourgeois intellectual asserts a measure of freedom
that does not in fact exist, and is therefore unfree mentally and
physically. Who cannot see iron compulsion stalking through the
bourgeois world today? We are free when we can do what we will.
Society is an instrument of freedom in so far as it secures what men
want. The members of bourgeois society, all of them, worker,
capitalist, and capitalist-intellectual, want an increase in material
wealth, happiness, freedom from strife, from danger of death,
security. But bourgeois society to-day produces a decrease in material
wealth and also creates unemployment, unhappiness, strife, insecurity,
constant war. Therefore all who live in bourgeois society –
democratic, Fascist or Rooseveltian – are unfree, for bourgeois
society is not giving them what they desire. The fact that they have,
or have not, votes or ‘freedom of speech’ does not alter, in any way,
their unfreedom.

Why does not bourgeois society fulfil the wants of its members?
Because it does not understand the laws of economic production – it is
unorganised and unplanned. It is unconscious of the necessities of
economic production, and, because of that, cannot make economic
production fulfil its desires. Why is it unconscious of the
necessities of economic production? Because, for historical reasons,
it believes that economic production is best when each man is left
free to produce for himself what seems to him most profitable to
produce. In other words, it believes that freedom is secured by the
lack of social organisation of the individual in the function of
society, economic production. As we saw, this individual freedom
through unconsciousness is a delusion. Unconscious, deluded bourgeois
society is therefore unfree. Even Russell is unfree; and in the next
war, as in the last, will be put in gaol.

This very unfreedom – expressed as individualism – in the basic
function of society, ultimately generates every form of external
constraint. The bourgeois revolutionary asserted a fallacious liberty
– that man was born good and was everywhere in chains, that
institutions made him bad. It turned out that this liberty he claimed
was individualism in private production. This revealed its fallacious
nature as a freedom by appearing at once as a restraint. For it could
only be secured, it was only a name, for unrestricted right to own the
means of production, which is in itself a restriction on those who are
thus alienated from their livelihood. Obviously, what I own absolutely
my neighbour is restricted from touching.

All social relations based on duty and privilege were changed by the
bourgeois revolution into exclusive and forcible rights to ownership
of cash. I produce for my individual self, for profit. Necessarily,
therefore, I produce for the market, not for use. I work for cash, not
from duty to my lord or retainer. My duties to the State could all now
be compounded for cash. All my obligations of contract, whether of
marriage or social organisation, could be compounded for cash. Cash
appeared as the only obligation between men and men, who were
otherwise apparently completely free – free master, free labourer,
free producer, free consumer, free markets, free trade, free
entrepreneur, the free flow of capital from hand to hand and land to
land. And even man’s obligations to cash appeared an obligation of
cash to him, to be absolutely owned by him.

This dissolution of social obligations could be justified if man was
free in himself, and if, doing what seemed best for him, for his own
good and profit, he would in fact get what he desired, and so secure
freedom. It was a return to the apparent liberty of the jungle, where
each beast struggles only for himself, and owes no obligations to
anyone. But this liberty, as we saw, is an illusion. The beast is less
free than man. The desires of the jungle cancel each other, and no one
gets exactly what he wants. No beast is free.

This fallacy at once revealed itself a fallacy in the following way.
Complete freedom to own property meant that society found itself
divided into haves and have-nots, like the beasts in the jungle. The
have-nots, each trying to do what was best for him in the given
circumstances, according to the bourgeois doctrine of liberty, would
have forcibly seized the property from the haves. But this would have
been complete anarchy, and though anarchy, according to bourgeois
theory, is complete liberty, in practice the bourgeois speedily sees
that to live in the jungle is not to be free. Property is the basis of
his mode of living. In such circumstances social production could not
be carried on, and society would dissolve, man return to savagery, and
freedom altogether perish. Thus the bourgeois contradicted his theory
in practice from the start. The State took its distinctive modern form
as the enforcement of bourgeois rights by coercion. Police, standing
army and laws were all brought into being to protect the haves from
the ‘free’ desires of the have-nots. Bourgeois liberty at once gives
rise to bourgeois coercion, to prisons, armies, contracts, to all the
sticky and restraining apparatus of the law, to all the ideology and
education centred round the sanctity of private property, to all the
bourgeois commandments. Thus bourgeois liberty was built on a lie,
bound to reveal in time its contradictions.

Among the have-nots, bourgeois freedom gave rise to fresh coercions.
The free labourer, owning nothing, was free to sell his labour in any
market. But this became a form of slavery worse, in its unrestricted
form, than chattel slavery, a horror that Government Blue Books
describing pre-Factory Act conditions make vivid for all their arid
phraseology. They show how unrestricted factory industrialisation made
beasts of men, women, and children, how they died of old age in their
thirties, how they rose early in the morning exhausted to work and
knocked off late at night only to sink exhausted to sleep, how the
children were aged by work before they had ceased to be infants. Made
worse than a slave – for he was still free to be unemployed – the
labourer fought for freedom by enforcing social restraints on his
employers. Banding with others in trade unions, he began the long
fight that gave rise to the various Factory Acts, wage agreements, and
all the elaborate social legislation which to-day coerces the
bourgeois employer.

And, after all this, even the bourgeois himself is not free. The
unrestricted following of his illusion of liberty enslaves him. His
creed demands unrestricted competition, and this, because it is
unrestricted, works as wildly and blindly as the weather. It makes him
as unfree, as much at the mercy of a not understood chance, as a cork
bobbing on the waves. So he too seeks freedom in restraint – industry
is increasingly sheltered by amalgamations, rings, tariffs, price
agreements, ‘unfair competition’ clauses, subsidies, and Government
protection for the exploitation of colonial areas. Bourgeois liberty
makes overt its self-contradictions by becoming monopoly.

Here is the secret paradox of bourgeois development and decline. The
bourgeois abandoned feudal relations in the name of a liberty which he
visualised as freedom from social restraints. Such a liberty would
have led to savagery. But in fact the liberty he claimed –
‘unrestricted’ private property – really involved restraint, that is,
it gave rise to complex forms of social organisation, which were more
many-sided, more incessant, and more all-pervading, than feudal
restraints. Thus the cash relation, which he conceived as putting an
end to all social restraints, and thus giving him liberty, did give
him a larger measure of liberty than in feudalism, but in the opposite
way to his expectations, by imposing far more complex organisations
than those of feudal civilisation. All the elaborate forms of
bourgeois contracts, market organisation, industrial structure,
national States, trade unions, tariffs, imperialism and bureaucratic
democratic government, the iron pressure of the consumer and the
labour market, the dole, subsidy, bounties – all these multifarious
forms of social organisation – were brought into being by a class that
demanded the dissolution of social organisation. And the fact that
bourgeois civilisation obtained a greater measure of control over its
environment than feudal – and was that much freer – is precisely
because all these complex social organisations were brought into being
– but brought blindly.

Blindly brought into being; that is the source of the ultimate
unfreedom of bourgeois civilisation. Because it is not conscious of
the fact that private ownership of the means of production,
unrestricted competition, and the cash nexus, of their natures involve
various forms of restraint – alienation from property, captivity to
slump and war, unemployment and misery – bourgeois society is unable
to control itself. The various forms of social organisation it has
blindly erected, as an animal tunnelling for gold might throw up great
mounds of earth, are all haphazard and not understood. It believes
that to become conscious of them fully, to manipulate them consciously
for the ends of the will is to be an advocate of determinism, to kill
liberty, to bring into birth the bee-hive state. For still, in spite
of all the havoc the bourgeois sees around him, he believes that only
the beast is free, and that to be subject to all the winds of chance,
at the mercy of wars and slumps and social strife, is to be free.

Any definition of liberty is humbug that does not mean this: liberty
to do what one wants. A people is free whose members have liberty to
do what they want – to get the goods they desire and avoid the ills
they hate. What do men want? They want to be happy, and not to be
starved or despised or deprived of the decencies of life. They want to
be secure, and friendly with their fellows, and not conscripted to
slaughter and be slaughtered. They want to marry, and beget children,
and help, not oppress each other. Who is free who cannot do these
things, even if he has a vote, and free speech? Who then is free in
bourgeois society, for not a few men but millions are forced by
circumstances to be unemployed, and miserable, and despised, and
unable to enjoy the decencies of life? Millions are forced to go out
and be slaughtered, or to kill, and to oppress each other. Millions
are forced to strive with their fellows for a few glittering prizes,
and to be deprived of marriage, and a home, and children, because
society cannot afford them these things. Millions and millions of men
are not free. These are the elements of liberty, and it is insane –
until these are achieved – for a limited class to believe it can
secure the subtleties of liberty. Only when these necessities are
achieved, can man rise higher and, by the practice of art and science,
learn more clearly what he wants, and what he can get; having only
then passed from the sphere of necessity to that of freedom.

Each step to higher consciousness is made actively with struggle and
difficulty. It is man’s natural but fatal error to suppose that the
path of liberty is easy, that liberty is a mere negative, a
relaxation, the elimination of an obstacle in his path. But it is more
than that. True freedom must be created as strenuously as we make the
instruments of freedom, tools and machines. It must be wrested out of
the heart of reality, including the inner reality of man’s minds.

That is why all lovers of liberty, who have understood the nature of
freedom, and escaped from the ignorant categories of bourgeois
thought, turn to Communism. For that is simply what Communism is, the
attainment of more liberty than bourgeois society can reach. Communism
has as its basis the understanding of the causality of society, so
that all the unfreedom involved in bourgeois society, the enslavement
of the have-nots by the haves, and the slavery of both haves and
have-nots to wars, slumps, depression and superstition, may be ended.
To be conscious of the laws of dead matter: that is something; but it
is not enough. Communism seizes hold of a higher degree of
self-determination, to rescue man from war, starvation, hate, and
coercion, by becoming conscious of the causality of society. It is
Communism that makes free will real to man, by making society
conscious of itself. To change reality we must understand its laws. If
we wish to move a stone, we must apply the leverage in the proper
place. If we wish to change bourgeois social relations into communist,
we must follow a certain path. The have-nots, the proletariat, must
take over the means of production from the haves, the bourgeoisie, and
since, as we saw, these two freedoms are incompatible, restraint, in
the form of the coercive State, must remain in being as long as the
bourgeoisie try to get back their former property. But unlike the
former situation, this stage is only temporary. This stage is what is
known as the dictatorship of the proletariat, the necessary step from
the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie – which is what the bourgeois
State is – to the classless State, which is what Communism is. And as
Russia shows, even in the dictatorship of the proletariat, before the
classless State has come into being, man is already freer. He can
avoid unemployment, and competition with his fellows, and poverty. He
can marry and beget children, and achieve the decencies of life. He is
not asked to oppress his fellows.

To the worker, subject to unemployment, starved in the midst of
plenty, this path eventually becomes plain. Despite the assurances of
the bourgeoisie that in a democratic or national State he is
completely free, he revolts. And who, in those days, will stand by his
side? Will the bourgeoisie, themselves pinched and disfranchised by
the growing concentration of capital, discouraged, pessimistic,
harried into war and oppression by ‘forces beyond control’, and yet
still demanding liberty? On the answer to that question, which each
individual bourgeois must make, sooner or later, will depend whether
he strives in those days to make men free or to keep them in chains.
And this too depends on whether he has understood the nature of
liberty. The class to whom capitalism means liberty steadily
contracts, but those once of that class who are now enslaved to war,
and imperialism and poverty, still cling to that bourgeois
interpretation of liberty that has abundantly proved its falsehood.
They can only escape and become free by understanding the active
nature of liberty, and by becoming conscious of the path they must
follow to attain it. Their will is not free as long as they will
liberty but produce unfreedom. It is only free when they will
Communism and produce liberty.

This good, liberty, contains all good. Not only at the simple level of
current material wants, but where all men’s aspirations bud, freedom
is the same goal, pursued in the same way. Science is the means by
which man learns what he can do, and therefore it explores the
necessity of outer reality. Art is the means by which man learns what
he wants to do, and therefore it explores the essence of the human
heart. And bourgeoisdom, shutting its eyes to beauty, turning its back
on science, only follows its stupidity to the end. It crucifies
liberty upon a cross of gold, and if you ask in whose name it does
this, it replies, ‘In the name of personal freedom’.

Christopher Caudwell Archive

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