The word “proletariat” is here and hereafter used to mean any social element or group which in some way is in but not of any given society at any period of that society’s history.
What is the essential difference between the primitive and the higher societies? It does not consist in the presence or absence of institutions, for institutions are the vehicles of the impersonal relations between individuals in which all societies have their existence, because even the smallest of primitive societies is built on a wider basis than the narrow circle of an individual’s direct personal ties.
The privileged exemption of the litteratus from the common lot of the sons of toil is the theme of the Egyptiac bureaucracy’s glorification of its own order in every age of Egyptiac history. The note is struck blatantly in The Instruction of Duauf: a work, composed during the Egyptiac time of troubles, which has been preserved to us in copies made a thousand years later, as a writing exercise, by the schoolboys of ’the New Empire’. In this ’instruction which a man named Duauf, the son of Khety, composed for his son named Pepi, when he voyaged up to the Residence, in order to put him in the School of Books, among the children of the magistrates’, the gist of the ambitious father’s parting exhortation to his aspiring child is:
`I have seen him that is beaten, him that is beaten; thou art to set thine heart on books. I have beheld him that is set free from forced labour; behold, nothing surpasseth books.... Every artisan that wieldeth the chisel, he is wearier than him that delveth... The stone-mason seeketh for work in all manner of hard stone. When he hath finished it his arms are destroyed, and he is weary.... The field-worker, his reckoning endureth forever....; he too is wearier than can be told.... The weaver in the workshop, he fareth more ill than any woman. His thighs are upon his belly and he breatheth no air.... Let me tell thee, further, how it fareth with the fisherman. Is not his work upon the river, where it is mixed with the crocodiles? ... Behold, there is no calling that is without a director except [that of] the scribe, and he is the director...’
In 1918 the methods of 1870 went down before the new methods of trench warfare and economic blockade; and by 1945 it had been demonstrated that the technique which had won the war of 1914-18 was not the last link in this ever-lengthening chain. Each link has been a cycle of invention, triumph, lethargy and disaster; and, on the precedents thus set by three thousand years of military history, from Goliath’s encounter with David to the piercing of a Maginot Line and a West Wall by the thrust of mechanical cataphracts and the pinpoint marksmanship of archers on winged steeds, we may expect fresh illustrations of our theme to be provided with monotonous consistency as long as mankind is so perverse as to go on cultivating the art of war.