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as times will come when technical knowledge will stand still, or even,
it may be, go back. Any one who knows in his own flesh what mechanical
work is like, who knows the feeling of hanging with one's whole soul
on the creeping movement of the minute-hand, the horror that seizes
him when a glance at the watch shows that the eternity which has
passed has lasted only ten minutes, who has had to measure the day's
task by the sound of a bell, who kills his lifetime, hour after hour,
with the one longing that it might die more quickly - he knows how the
shortening of the working day, whatever may be put in its place, has
become for the factory artisan a goal of existence.

But he knows something else as well. He knows the deadliest of all
wearinesses - the weariness of the soul. Not the rest when one breathes
again after wholesome bodily exertion, not the need for relaxation and
distraction after a great effort of intellect, but an empty stupor of
exhaustion, like the revulsion after unnatural excess. It is the
shallowest kind of tea-table chatter to talk about good music,
edifying and instructive lectures, a cheerful walk in God's free
Nature, a quiet hour of reading by the lamp, and so on, as a remedy
for this. Drink, cards, agitation, the cinemas, and dissipation can
alone flog up the mishandled nerves and muscles, until they wilt again
under the next day's toil.

The worker has no means of comparison. He does not know what wholesome
labour feels like. He will never find his way back to work on the
land, for there he cannot get the counter-poisons which he thinks
indispensable, and he lacks the organic, ordering mind which
mechanical employment has destroyed. Even if some did get back, it
would be in vain, for though agriculture is hungering for thousands of
hands it cannot absorb millions. The worker has no means of
comparison; hence his bottomless contempt for intellectual work, the
results of which he recognizes, but which, in regard to the labour it
costs, he puts on a level with the idling of the folk whom he sees
strolling or driving about with their lapdogs in the fashionable

The middle-class conscience, and even that of the men of science,
turns away its face in shameful cowardice from the horror of
mechanized labour. Apart from the well-meaning æsthetes who live in
rural elegance surrounded by all the appliances which mechanism can
supply, who wrinkle their brows when the electric light goes out, and
who write pamphlets asking with pained surprise why people cannot
return to the old land-work and handicraft, most of us take
mechanical labour as an unalterable condition of life, and merely
congratulate ourselves that it is not we who have to do it.

The Utopianist agitators who knowingly or unknowingly suppress the
essential truth that their world of equality will be a world of the
bitterest poverty, treat the situation just as lightly. Before them,
in the future State, hovers the vision of some exceptional literary or
political appointment. The others may console themselves with the
thought that in spite of a still deeper degree of poverty, towards
which they are sinking by their own inactivity, the hell of mechanical
work, by no means abolished, will probably be a little reduced, so far
as regards the time they spend in it. The notion that mechanical work
will be made acceptable and reconciled with intellectual, if only it
is short enough and properly paid, has never been thought out; it is a
still-born child of mental lethargy, like all those visions of the
future that are being held up to our eyes. Try notions like this on
any other ill - toothache, for instance! All our rhetoric about
mechanical work being no ill at all, is ignorant or fraudulent, and if
nothing further be done than to reduce it to four hours, all our
social struggles will immediately be concentrated on bringing it down
to two. The goal of Socialism, so far as it relates to this _pons
asinorum_ of shortening hours, is simply the right to loaf.

Let us look facts in the face. Mechanical work is an evil in itself,
and it is one which we never can get rid of by any conceivable
economic or social transformation. Neither Karl Marx nor Lenin has
succeeded here, and on this reef will be wrecked every future State
that may be set up on the basis of current Socialistic ideas. In this
point lies the central problem of Socialism; undisturbed, as was till
lately that legendary conception of surplus-value, and bedded, like
that conception, in a rats'-nest of rhetorical phrases, repeated from
mouth to mouth and never tested by examination.

The bringing of Mind into the masses, the cultured State,[30] which is
the only possible foundation of a society worthy of humanity, must
remain unattainable until everything conceivable has been thought out
and done to alleviate the mischievous operation of this evil, which
dulls and stupefies the human spirit and which, in itself, is
ineradicable. No Soviet-policy, no socialization, no property-policy,
no popular education, nor any other of the catchwords which form _ad
nauseam_ the monotonous staple of our current discussion of affairs,
can go to the heart of the problem. Instead we must establish and put
into practice the principle which I have called that of the
Interchange of Labour, and which I must now, in broad outline,
endeavour to explain.

The object of this principle is to bring mind into labour. It
demands - since mind cannot be brought into mechanical work beyond a
certain degree fixed by technical conditions - that the day's work as
a whole shall have a share of it, by means of the exchange and
association of mental and mechanical employment. Until this principle
shall have been carried into effect, all true culture of the people
remains impossible. So long as there is no culture of the people, so
long must culture remain a monopoly of the classes, and of escapes
from the masses; so long must society be wanting in equilibrium, a
union open to breach from every side, and one which, however highly
its social institutions may be developed, holds down the people to
forced labour, and destroys culture.


[Footnote 30: Bildungsstaat.]


There is a way by which the day's work can be ennobled, and even have
mind brought into it,[31] on capitalistic lines. Before the War we
were just about to enter on this path - America is treading it now. Its
fundamental condition is a huge increase in general well-being.

The daily wages of the American working-man have risen, as we have
already remarked, to seven or even ten dollars, corresponding to a
purchasing power of over a hundred marks. This amounts to so radical a
removal of all restrictions in domestic economy that one can no longer
speak of the proletarian condition as existing in the United States. A
man who drives to his work in his own automobile can satisfy all his
reasonable needs in the way of recreation and of extending his
education, he looks at his sectional job (as has not seldom been the
case in America even in earlier days) with a critical eye, he forms
his own judgment of its place in the whole, he improves the processes,
and amuses himself by being both workman and engineer. (Consider in
the light of this fact the value of the prophecy that America is
standing on the brink of Bolshevism!)

In a country whose wealth at this moment - in consequence of
war-profits and depreciation of money - is almost equal to that of the
rest of the world put together, the process of abolishing
proletarianism can go forward on capitalistic lines. But we Germans,
since it is decreed that we shall be among the poorest of the peoples,
and must begin afresh, and live for the future - we shall renounce
without envy the broad path of the old way of thought, the way of
riches, in order to clear with hard work the new path on which, one
day, all will have to follow us. The way of Culture is the way to
which we are pointed, and we have described Interchange of Labour as
the fundamental condition which enables us to travel it. It is now
clear that the conception of popular culture is not, after all,
represented by any of the five-and-twenty idealizing catchwords with
which we are wont to console ourselves in our elegiac orations, but
that by it is meant a clearly defined political procedure.

By the principle of Interchange of Labour it is required that every
employee engaged in mechanical work can claim to do a portion of his
day's work in intellectual employment; and that every brainworker
shall be obliged to devote a portion of his day to physical labour.

There are, of course, fixed limits to the application of this
principle, on the one side in intellectual, on the other in bodily
incapacity, as well as in those rare cases where it is recognized that
the interrupted hours of intellectual work cannot be made good.

We would also establish a year of Labour-Service, to be devoted by the
whole youth of Germany, of both sexes, to bodily training and work.

The tests of capacity and of the claim to be reckoned as "cultured" is
not to consist in examinations but in proof of work. Any one who can
offer some show of claim can demand to be tested, and, if the result
is favourable, to receive further culture. Thus we shall be taking
seriously the question of the ascent to higher grades, which, so long
as it depends on a particular age, or on school certificates, must
remain on paper.

Let no one say that this testing system is a mere mechanical method,
that it degrades Culture from its intellectual dignity, and is
equivalent to the Chinese literary tests for office. True culture is
distinguished from mere sybaritic æstheticism in that in some sense or
other it makes for production. Where there is no talent for art or for
creative thought, then there remain to be developed the educational
forces of judgment, or a faculty for the conduct of life, which must
have their influence.

Different categories of Culture will arise of themselves; not ranks or
castes or classes, but grades of society, each of which may be
attained by any one. No one must be able to say that any monopoly of
culture has barred his way, or that training and testing have been
denied him. If the culture be genuine it will never look down in
intellectual arrogance on the stages below it; if it have duties
associated with it, then he who has rejected the path of ascent, or
has failed in it, cannot claim to fulfil those duties. Any one who has
no faculty but that of a glib tongue will find in the multiplicity of
callings some field for his activity; but the rule of the talker,
backed by force or not, will at any rate be spared us.

At this point we may hear a voice from the average heart of Socialism
exclaim: "How is this? Do you call that having no castes? We have just
begun to shake off the yoke of the capitalists and now are we expected
to put the cultured in command? This is pure reaction!"

Softly! If this is a case of misunderstanding, we shall clear it up.
If any scruples still remain, we shall consider them further.

Let us take the misunderstanding first. It is apparently forgotten
that capitalism ruled by hereditary power. Any one who belonged to
that circle ruled along with it, whether he were competent to rule or
not. But culture is not a heritable possession; no one can win it save
by virtue of a higher spirit and will. He who has this spirit and this
will, can and will win it. He who wins it is fit for higher
responsibilities. Is the voice from the average heart answered?

No. It replies: "Heritable or not, what do we care? We are out for
equality. Distinctions in culture are a kind of aristocracy."

Now, good heart, you have revealed yourself. What was the meaning of
your everlasting talk about the ladder for the rise of capacity? I
shall tell you. The capable man is to toil, and to rise just so far as
you permit him, namely, till you can possess yourselves of the fruits
of his labour: then he is to be thrust down, and the loudest mouth is
to rule. You are not pleased with this interpretation? Neither am I,
so we are quits.

For of the folly of imagining a society of equals I do not intend to
speak. The average man, who cannot understand equality of human
dignity, equality before God, thinks nothing of demanding equality in
externals, equality in responsibility and vocation. But this sham
equality is the enemy of the true, for it does not fit man's burden to
his strength, it creates overburdened, misused natures, driving the
one to scamped work and hypocrisy, and the other to cynicism. Every
accidental and inherited advantage must indeed be done away with. But
if there is any one who, among men equal in external conditions, in
duties and in claims, demands that they should also be equal in mind,
in will and in heart - let him begin by altering Nature!

In remuneration also, that is to say, in the apportionment of
conditions of work, a mechanical equality would be tantamount to an
unjust and intolerable inequality in the actual distribution or
remission of work. Work of the highest class, creative and
intellectual work - the most self-sacrificing that is known to man
because it draws to itself and swallows up a man's whole life,
including his hours of leisure and recreation - this work demands
extreme consideration, in the form of solitude, freedom from
disturbance, from trivial and distracting cares or occupations, and
contact with Nature. This kind of consideration is, from the economic
point of view, an outlay which mechanical work does not require. If
mechanical and intellectual work are to be placed under the same
specific conditions, under which the highest standard of output is to
be maintained and the producers are as far as possible to bear an
equal burden, then the scale of remuneration must be different.
Starting from a subsistence minimum it must for intellectual work be
graded two stages upward, one for the output,[32] and one for the
grade of culture implied.

Women will also be subject to this system of grading whether they
exercise any vocation outside their homes or not, for society has a
deep interest in the culture of its mothers, and in external
incentives to culture women must share equally with men.

An intimate sense of association will grow up within each grade of
culture. This, however, will not impair the general solidarity of the
people, since no hereditary family egoism can arise. This sense of
association, renewed with elements that vary from generation to
generation, and corresponding very much to the relations between
contemporary artists who spring from different classes or territories,
will dissolve the relics of the old hereditary sentiment and absorb
into itself whatever traditional values the latter may possess.

Between the separate grades there will not only be the connexion
afforded by the living possibilities of free ascent from one to the
other, but the system of ever-renewed co-operation in rank-and-file at
the same work will in itself promote culture, tradition, and the
consciousness of union. We need only recall the old gilds and military
associations in order to realize what a high degree of manly civic
consciousness can arise from the visible community of duty and
achievement. The mechanical worker will become the instructor of his
temporary comrade and guest, and the latter will in turn widen the
other's outlook, and emulate him in the development of the processes
of production. The manual worker will bring to the desk and the
board-room his freedom from prepossessions and the practical
experience of his calling; he will learn how to deal with abstractions
and general ideas; he will gain a respect for intellectual work, and
will feel the impulse to win new knowledge and faculty, or to make
good what he has neglected.

* * * * *

Two objections remain to be considered and confuted.

First: there are far more places to be filled in mechanical than in
intellectual employment. Is it possible so to organize the interchange
of work that every one who desires intellectual employment can find
it? The answer is: that, whether we like it or not, all work tends
more and more to take on an administrative character. Just as in
industry there is ever more talk and less production, so our economic
life is working itself out through thousands upon thousands of new
organizations. Industrial Councils, Councils of Workers,
Gild-Councils, are forming themselves in among the existing agencies
of administration; and the immediate consequence of this is a
tremendous drop in production, to be followed later by a more highly
articulated and more remunerative system of work. It is as if a marble
statue came to life, and then had to be internally equipped with
bones, muscles, veins and nerves. Or it resembles the transformation
of a shabby piece of suburban building-ground: it has to be dug up,
drained, paved, fenced; and until traffic has poured into it, it
remains a comfortless and dismal waste.

But the administrative side of our future economic and national life
demands the creation of so many posts of intellectual work that at
present there is not the trained _personnel_ to fill it. If the Year
of Labour-Service is introduced, there will be still more defections
and gaps to be filled. The rush for intellectual work is more likely
to be too small than too great.

Let us come to the second objection. Will not confusion be worse
confounded if there are many who have to fill two jobs, if, in these
jobs constant exchanges are taking place, if the periods of work are
brief and subject to untimely interruptions, if time and work are lost
through never-ending rearrangement?

Assuredly. And any one who starts with the idea of the old high-strung
work done, as it were, under military discipline, any one who
cherishes the remotest idea that this system can ever return, in spite
of the fact that its clamps and springs have been dashed to pieces,
may well lament these unsettlements. One who starts from the
fluctuating conditions of our present-day, make-believe labour will
take organic unsettlements as part of the price to be paid, if they
only lead in the end to systematic production. But one who weighs the
fact that the make-believe life of our present economy has not even
yet reached its final form, will discern in every new transition-form,
however tedious, the final redemption; in so far, at least, as any
equilibrium is capable of being restored at all.

The essence of the interchange of labour will, therefore, consist in
this, that while the distinction between physical and intellectual
work will still exist, there will be no distinction between a physical
and intellectual calling. Until advanced age may forbid, it will be
open to every man not merely to acquire some ornamental branches of
knowledge but seriously and with both feet to take his footing in the
opposite calling to his own.

The different callings will learn to know and respect each other, and
to understand their respective difficulties. This applies particularly
to those who call themselves the operative workers.

As soon as hereditary idleness has come to an end and loafing has been
trampled out, then many a one, who now thinks that mental work is mere
chattering, will learn through his novitiate at the desk, that
thinking hurts. If he does not feel himself equal to this kneading and
rummaging of the brain, he will go back with relief to his workshop;
he will neither envy nor despise those who are operative workers with
the brain, and will understand, or at least unconsciously feel, the
oppositions in human nature and the differences in conditions of life,
and will know them to be just. He cannot and must not keep himself
wholly aloof from the elements of mental training; his contact with
brainworkers will not cease; and thus his complete and passive
resignation to the domination of ignorant rhetoric will lose its

Any man will be respected who contents himself with the lowest
prescribed measure of culture, who modestly renounces further study,
and goes back to manual work. But there will be no excuse for those
who know nothing and can do nothing, but pretend to set everybody
right; for there will be no monopoly of culture to keep them down, and
all genuine faculty must come to the test of action.

* * * * *

To-day there are three classes of social swindlers. First, those who
live on the community without returning it any service. These are the
people who live idly on inherited money, and the loafers. Against
these social legislation must be framed. Secondly, those who
deliberately practise "ca' canny," and therefore live on the surplus
work of their fellows. These are the champions of the principle: Every
one according to his need, no one according to his deed; the
_saboteurs_ of labour. Against these the remedy lies in the spread of
intelligence and a just system of remuneration. Thirdly, there are
those who simulate thought and brain-work while they have nothing to
give but hack phrases uttered with a glib tongue. Against these worst
of all swindlers, these sinners against the Spirit, the remedy is

And this, in the new Order, is open to every one, young or old, who
can maintain his foothold in the exercise of intellect, when the
chance is offered him. He who in his test-exercise reaches a normal
standard of accomplishment can demand that he shall not be sent back
to manual work, but continue to be employed in the same occupation,
and be further cultivated in whatever direction he desires. At every
further stage of development a corresponding sphere of activity is to
be opened to him, up to the point at which the limits of his capacity
come into sight.

Let no one object that the rush for intellectual work will become
uncontrollable. Would that it might! For then the country would be so
highly developed and its methods of work so perfected that there would
be quite a new relation between the demand for head-work and for
hand-work. For a long time to come this rush will be far smaller than
we imagine; for the immediate future it will suffice if the rising
forces are set free, and the laggard are tranquillized.

But, the Radicals will cry, what an unsocial principle! Have we at
last, with difficulty, brought it to the point that the accursed
one-year examination[33] is abrogated, and now are we again to be
condemned according to this so-called standard of culture?

Stay! there is a fallacy here. In our transition period which is still
quite dominated by the monopoly of culture, I have nothing to say
against the abrogation of every educational test, even though in a few
years we shall feel the deeply depressing effects which will arise
from the domination of the uncultured.

But the transition period will come to an end. Then every one who
likes will be able to learn and to execute, and every one who is able
will wish to do so.

"But supposing one does not wish? May not he be the very one who is
most capable of achievement? We don't want model pupils."

Nor do I want model pupils. The boy who has learnt nothing may make
his trial as a man when culture is open to all. But if, as a man, he
does not care to rack his brains he will be thought none the less of;
he will merely be offered ordinary work according to his choice.

But those who wish to see responsibility and the destiny of the
country placed in the hands of men who do not care to rack their
brains, must not entrench themselves behind social principles, but
plainly admit that they want for all time to establish the rule of
demagogy and the vulgarization of intellect. It is not for such a one
to pass judgment on the mission of Germany.

The way to the German mission, to German culture, which is to be no
more a culture of the classes but of the people, stands open to all by
means of the Interchange of Labour. The whole land is as it were a
single ship's crew; the issues are the same for all. The manual worker
is no longer kept down by over-fatigue, and the brainworker is no
longer cut off from the rest of the people.

The manual worker no longer regards the territory of culture as a sort
of inaccessible island, but rather as a district which he can visit
every day and in which he is quite at home. Every one in future will
start even in school training, and the degree to which his further
culture may be carried will not be limited by want of money or of
time, or, above all, of opportunity. He will continually have
intercourse with men of culture, and in that intercourse he will at

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Online LibraryWalther RathenauThe New Society → online text (page 7 of 9)