Rudolf Rocker

The Will to Power




These are passages from Chapter 1 of Nationalism and Culture. In this text Rudolf Rocker wants to underline the fact that the "will to power" is a motive much more important in shaping the forms of social organization than the economic or profit motive (as purported, for instance, in shoddy Marxism). To put forward his case the author presents a wealth of historical facts that should make our vision more articulated and precise.



The Insufficiency of Economic Materialism

The deeper we trace the political influences in history, the more are we convinced that the "will to power" has up to now been one of the strongest motives in the development of human social forms. The idea that all political and social events are but the result of given economic conditions and can be explained by them cannot endure careful consideration.

There are thousands of events in history which cannot be explained by purely economic reasons, or by them alone. It is quite possible to bring everything within the terms of a definite scheme, but the result is usually not worth the effort. There is scarcely an historical event to whose shaping economic causes have not contributed, but economic forces are not the only motive powers which have set everything else in motion. All social phenomena are the result of a series of various causes, in most cases so inwardly related that it is quite impossible clearly to separate one from the other. We are always dealing with the interplay of various causes which, as a rule, can be clearly recognised but cannot be calculated according to scientific methods.

There are historical events of the deepest significance for millions of men which cannot be explained by their purely economic aspects. Who would maintain, for instance, that the invasions of Alexander were caused by the conditions of production of his time? The very fact that the enormous empire Alexander cemented together with the blood of hundreds of thousands fell to ruin soon after his death proves that the military and political achievements of the Macedonian world conqueror were not historically determined by economic necessities. Just as little did they in any way advance the conditions of production of the time. When Alexander planned his wars, lust for power played a far more important part than economic necessity. The desire for world conquest had assumed actually pathological forms in the ambitious despot. His mad power obsession was a leading motive in his whole policy, the driving force of his warlike enterprises, which filled a large part of the then known world with murder and rapine. It was this power obsession which made the Caesaro-Papism of the oriental despot appear so admirable to him and gave him his belief in his demi-godhood.

The will to power which always emanates from individuals or from small minorities in society is in fact a most important driving force in history. The extent of its influence has up to now been regarded far too little, although it has frequently been the determining factor in the shaping of the whole of economic and social life.

The history of the Crusades was doubtless affected by strong economic motives. Visions of the rich lands of the Orient may have been for many a Sir Lackland or Lord Have-Naught a far stronger urge than religious convictions. But economic motives alone would never have been sufficient to set millions of men in all countries in motion if they had not been permeated by the obsession of faith so that they rushed on recklessly when the cry, "God wills it!" was sounded, although they had not the slightest notion of the enormous difficulties which attended this strange adventure. The powerful influence of religious conviction on the people of that time is proved by the so-called Children's Crusade of the year 1212. It was instituted when the failure of the former crusading armies became more and more apparent, and pious zealots proclaimed the tidings that the sacred sepulchre could only be liberated by those of tender age, through whom God would reveal a miracle to the world. It was surely no economic motive which persuaded thousands of parents to send those who were dearest to them to certain death.

But even the Papacy, which had at first only hesitatingly resolved on calling the Christian world to the first Crusade, was moved to it far more by power-political than by economic motives. In their struggle for the hegemony of the church it was very convenient for its leaders to have many a worldly ruler, who might have become obstreperous at home, kept busy a long time in the Orient where he could not disturb the church in the pursuit of its plans. True, there were others, as, for instance, the Venetians, who soon recognised what great economic advantages would accrue to them from the Crusades; they even made use of them to extend their rule over the Dalmatian Coast, the Ionic Isles and Crete. But to deduce from this that the Crusades were inevitably determined by the methods of production of the period would be sheer nonsense.

When the Church determined upon its war of extermination against the Albigenses, which cost the lives of many thousands, made waste the freest, intellectually most advanced land in Europe, destroyed its highly developed culture and industry, maimed its trade and left a decimated and bitterly impoverished population behind, it was led into its fight against heresy by no economic considerations whatsoever. What it fought for was the unification of faith, which was the foundation of its efforts at political power. Likewise, the French kingdom, which later on supported the church in this war, was animated principally by political considerations. It became in this bloody struggle the heir of the Count of Languedoc, whereby the whole southern part of the country came into its hands, naturally greatly strengthening its efforts for centralisation of power. It was, therefore, principally because of the political motives of church and state that the economic development of one of the richest lands in Europe was violently interrupted, and the ancient home of a splendid culture was converted into a waste of ruins.

The great conquest by the Arabs, and especially their incursion into Spain which started the Seven Hundred Years' War, cannot be explained by any study, however thorough, of the conditions of production of that time. It would be useless to try to prove that the development of economic conditions was the guiding force of that mighty epoch. The contrary is here most plainly apparent. After the conquest of Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors, there arose in Spain a new politico-religious power under whose baneful influence the whole economic development of the country was set back hundreds of years. So effective was this incubus that the consequences are noticeable to this day over the whole Iberian Peninsula. Even the enormous streams of gold, which after the discovery of America poured into Spain from Mexico and the former Inca Empire, could not stay its economic decline; in fact, only hastened it.

The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon with Isabella of Castile laid the foundation of a Christian monarchy in Spain whose right hand was the Grand Inquisitor. The ceaseless war against the Moorish power waged under the banner of the church had fundamentally changed the mental and spiritual attitude of the Christian population and had created the cruel religious fanaticism which kept Spain shrouded in darkness for hundreds of years. Only under such pre-conditions could that frightful clerico-political despotism evolve, which after drowning the last liberties of the Spanish cities in blood, lay on the land like a horrible incubus for three hundred years. Under the tyrannical influence of this unique power organization the last remnant of Moorish culture was buried, after the Jews and Arabs had first been expelled from the country. Whole provinces which had formerly resembled flowering gardens were changed to unproductive wastes because the irrigating systems and the roads of the Moors had been permitted to fall into ruin. Industries, which had been among the first in Europe, vanished almost completely from the land and the people reverted to long antiquated methods of production.

According to the data of Fernando Garrido there were at the beginning of the sixteenth century in Seville sixteen hundred silk weavers' looms which employed one hundred and thirty thousand workers. By the end of the seventeenth century there were only three hundred looms in action.

It is not known how many looms there were in Toledo in the sixteenth century but there were woven there four hundred and thirty-five thousand pounds of silk annually, employing 38,484 persons. By the end of the seventeenth century this industry had totally vanished. In Segovia there were at the end of the sixteenth century 6,000 looms for weaving cloth, at that time regarded as the best in Europe. By the beginning of the eighteenth century this industry had so declined that foreign workers were imported to teach the Segovians the weaving and dyeing of cloth. The causes of this decline were the expulsion of the Moors, the discovery and settling of America, and the religious fanaticism which emptied the work rooms and increased the number of the priests and monks. When only three hundred looms remained in Seville the number of monasteries there had increased to sixty-two and the clergy embraced 14,000 persons. (La España Contemporanea, Tome I, Barcelona, 1865)

And Zancada writes concerning that period: "In the year 1655 seventeen guilds disappeared from Spain; together with them the workers in iron, steel, copper, lead, sulphur, the alum industry and others." (El obrero en España: Notas para su historia politica y social, Barcelona, 1902)

Even the conquest of America by the Spaniards, which depopulated the Iberian Peninsula and lured millions of men away into the new world, cannot be explained exclusively by "the thirst for gold," however lively the greed of the individual may have been. When we read the history of the celebrated conquista, we recognise, with Prescott, that it resembles less a true accounting of actual events than one of the countless romances of knight errantry which, in Spain especially, were so loved and valued.

It was not solely economic reasons which repeatedly enticed companies of daring adventurers into the fabled El Dorado beyond the great waste of waters. Great empires like those of Mexico and the Inca state which contained millions, besides possessing a fairly high degree of culture, were conquered by a handful of desperate adventurers who did not hesitate to use any means, and were not repelled by any danger, because they did not value their own lives any too highly. This fact becomes explicable only when we take a closer view of this unique human material, hardened by danger, which through a seven hundred years' war had been gradually evolved. Only an epoch in which the idea of peace among men must have seemed like a fairy tale out of a long-vanished past and in which the centuries-long wars, waged with every cruelty, appeared as the normal condition of life, could have evolved the wild religious fanaticism characteristic of the Spaniards of that time. Thus becomes explicable that peculiar urge constantly to seek adventure. For a mistaken concept of honour, frequently lacking all real background, a man was instantly ready to risk his life. It is no accident that it was in Spain that the character of Don Quixote was evolved. Perhaps that theory goes too far which seeks to replace all sociology by the discoveries of psychology, but it is undeniable that the psychological condition of men has a strong influence in the shaping of man's social environment.

Hundreds of other examples might be cited from which it is clearly apparent that economics is not the centre of gravity of social development in general, even though it has indisputably played an important part in the formative processes in history, a fact which should not be overlooked any more than it should be excessively overestimated. There are epochs when the significance of economic circumstances in the course of social events becomes surprisingly clear, but there are others where religious or political motives obviously interfere arbitrarily with the normal course of economics and for a long time inhibit its natural development or force it into other channels. Historical events like the Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, the great revolutions in Europe, and many others, are not comprehensible at all as purely economic. We may however readily admit that in all these events economic factors played a part and helped to bring them about.


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