صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

duals or classes who possess social power, have at all times, consciously or unconsciously, made use of that power in such a way as to leave to the great majority of their fellows practically nothing beyond the means of subsistence according to the current local standard. The additional product, determined by the relative differences in productive efficiency of the different sites, soils, capitals, and forms of skill above the margin of cultivation, has gone to those exercising control over these valuable but scarce productive factors. This struggle to secure the surplus or economic rent

is the key to the confused history of European progress, and an underlying, unconscious motive of all revolutions. The student of history finds that the great world moves, like the poet's snake, on its belly.

The social power which has caused this unequal division of the worker's product has taken various forms. Beginning, probably, in open personal violence in the merely predatory stage of society, it has passed in one field, through tribal war, to political supremacy, embodied, for instance, in a Jingo " foreign policy, and at home

vindictive class legislation. A survival in England at the present time is the severity of the punishment for trifling offences against property compared with that for personal assaults; and its effect is curiously seen when the legal respect for person and that for property are, to some extent, opposed to each other, as in the case of wife-beating.

The social power does not, however, always take the forms of physical strength or political supremacy. From the Indian medicine man and the sun-priests of Peru down to the Collector of Peter's Pence and the Treasurer of the Salvation Army, theological influences have ever been used to divert a portion of the rent to spiritual uses, often nourishing (like the meats offered to idols) whole classes of non-producers, many of whom have been of no real spiritual advantage to the community.

But by far the most important means of appropriating the surplus product has been in the organisation of labour. The industrial leader, who can oblige his fellows to organise their toil under his direction, is able thereby to cause an enormous increase in their productivity. The advantages of co-operative or associated labour were discovered long before they were described by Adam Smith or Fourier; and human history is the record of their ever-increasing adoption. Civilisation itself is nothing but an ever-widening co-operation.

But who is to get the benefit of the increased productivity? In all times this question has been decided by the political condition of the labourer. The universally first form of industrial organisation is chattel slavery. At a certain stage in social development there seems to have been possible no other kind of industrial co-operation. The renunciation of personal independence is, as Darwin observed of the Fuegian, the initial step towards civilisation.

As a slave, the worker obtained at first nothing but bare maintenance at the lowest economic rate. Cato even advises the Roman noble that the bailiff or foreman need not have so large a ration as the other slaves, his work, though more skilled, being less exhausting. On the other hand, the surplus value was not yet differentiated into its component economic parts, and went in an undivided stream of profit all to the master.

Advancing civilisation, itself rendered possible only by chattel slavery, gradually made this form of servitude incompatible with intellectual and moral development, and inadequate to industrial needs. The slave became the feudal serf or the tribal dependent. As a chattel he had ceded all but his maintenance to his master: as a serf he rendered to his lord three or four days' unpaid labour per week, maintaining himself on the product of the rest.

The further development of the social organism proved no more favourable to feudalism than to chattel slavery; and the modern “ free labourer came into existence. But the economic servitude of the worker did not drop off with his feudal fetters. With the chains of innate status, there disappeared also its economic privileges; and the “free labourer" found himself, especially in England, in a community where the old common rights

over the soil were being gradually but effectually extinguished. He became a landless stranger in his own country.

The development of competitive production for sale, and the industrial revolution of the past century, have made subsistence dependent, not merely upon access to the land, but upon the use, in addi. tion, of increasingly large masses of capital, at first in agriculture, then in foreign trade, then in manufacture, and now, finally, also in distributive industries. The mere worker became steadily less and less industrially independent as his legal freedom increased. From an independent producing unit, he passed into a mere item in a vast industrial army, over the organisation of which he had no control, He was free, but free only to work at the market wage or to starve. Other resource he had none; and even now the freedom to work at all is denied to many at a time for varying periods, and we have the constantly recurring phenomenon of the unemployed. When it suits any person having the use of land and capital to employ the worker, he does so only on condition that two important deductions, rent and interest, can be made from the product for the gratuitous benefit of those possessing the legal ownership of land and capital. The reward of labour being thus reduced on an average by at least one third, the remaining eightpence out of the shilling is then shared between the various classes who have co-operated in the production, that is, the inventor, the managing employer, and the mere wageworker—but in the competitive struggle it is shared in such a way that at least fourpence goes to a favoured set of educated workers num. bering one-fifth of the whole, leaving four-fifths to divide less than fourpence out of the shilling between them. We have the direct consequence in the social condition around us. A fortunate few, owing to their legal power over the instruments of wealth production, are able to command the services of thousands of industrial slaves whose faces they have never seen, without rendering any return whatever to them or to society. A larger body of persons contribute some labour, but are able, from their education or their cultivated ability, to choose occupations for which the competition wage is still high, owing to the relatively small number of possible competitors. These two classes together number only one-fifth of the whole. On the other side is the great mass of the people, the weekly wage-earners, four out of every five* of the nation, toiling perpetually for less than a third of the aggregate product of labour, at an annual wage averaging at most £85 per adult, hurried into unnecessarily early graves by the severity of their lives, and dying, as regards, at least, one-third of them, destitute or actually in receipt of poor-law relief.

When we have bound tho labourer fast to his wheel; when we have practically excluded the average man from every real chance of improving his condition; when we have virtually denied to him the means of sharing in the higher feelings and the larger sympathies of the cultured race; when we have shortened his life in our service, stunted his growth in our factories, racked him with unnecessary disease by our exactions, tortured his soul with that worst of all pains, the constant fear of poverty, condemned his wife and children to sicken and die before his eyes, in spite of his own perpetual round of toil—then we are aggrieved that he often loses hope, gambles for the windfall that is denied to his industry, attempts to drown his cares in drink, and, driven by his misery irresistibly down the steep hill of vice, passes into that evil circle where vice begets poverty, and poverty intensifies vice, until Society unrelentingly stamps him out as vermin. Thereupon we lay the flattering unction to our souls that it was his own fault, that he had his chance; and we preach to his fellows thrift and temperance, prudence and virtue, but always industry, that industry of others which keeps the industrial machine in motion, so that we can still enjoy the opportunity of taxing it. Nay, so that we may not lose his labour, we keep him when we can from absolute starvation; and when the world has taken his all, we offer him the pauper's dole. Nothing gives a more striking picture of his condition than the official statistics of our pauperism We have clogged our relief with irksome and humiliating conditions, so that the poor often die lingering deaths rather than submit to them. Yet there is a class in receipt of this bitter bread during any one year, numbering between three and four millions, one in ten of the whole population, one in eight of the wage-earning class. In some rural districts every aged labourer is a pauper. Of all persons over 70 years of age, 40 per cent. are permanent paupers. When the Queen in June, 1888, passed in review the whole population of London, she may, perhaps, have reflected that for one in every five of that whole crowd, a pauper's death was waiting. One fifth of the population of the richest city in the world die in the workhouse or the hospital (not including recipients of outdoor relief), and the proportion for the wage-earning class alone must, of course, be much greater.

Prof. Leone Levi, Times, 13th January, 1885; and see for the authorities for all these facts, “Facts for Socialiste" (Fabian Tract No. 5).

+ See the statistics given in "Facts for Londoners" (Fabian Tract, No.8): and in article “ The Reform of the Poor Law" (Contemporary Review, June 1890).

[ocr errors]

This is the nett result of our social arrangements after a generation of gradual improvement, greater, we are told, than England ever before knew. The distress is only normal. The condition of the people exhibits a marked advance in prosperity. It may be that this is true : nay, owing to the silent progress of Socialism, it probably is true; yet the problem for us is no lighter. Are things now such as we can dare to be responsible for ? Let sober, nonSocialist authority of weight answer. Mr. Frederic Harrison, writing just five years ago, said :—"To me at least, it would be

enough to condemn modern society as hardly an advance on

slavery or serfdom, if the permanent condition of industry were " to be that which we now behold, that 90 per cent. of the actual

producers of wealth have no home that they can call their own “ beyond the end of a week; have no bit of soil or so much as a

room that belongs to them; have nothing of value of any kind

except as much old furniture as will go in a cart; have the pre" carious chance of weekly wages which barely suffice to keep them " in health ; are housed for the most part in places that no man " thinks fit for his horse: are separated by so narrow a margin " of destitution that a month of bad trade, sickness or unexpected “ loss, brings them face to face with hunger and pauperism.

This is the normal state of the average workmen in town or country." (Report of Industrial Remuneration Conference, 1886, p. 429).

Such then is our position to-day. Those who believe it possible that the festering evils of social ulceration can be cured without any fundamental change in property relations, rely mainly on three leading remedies, Trade Unions, Co-operation, and a general recrudescence of a Christ-like unselfishness. What does the dry light of science say to these homeopathic “pills against the earthquake"?

The belief in universal Trade Unionism as a means of greatly and permanently raising wages all round must be at once dismissed as involving a logical fallacy. Certainly, the workers in some trades have managed to improve their economic position by strict Trade Unions. We are never allowed to forget the splendid incomes earned by these aristocrats of labour, a mere tenth of the whole labour class. But those who merely counsel the rest to go and do likewise forget that the only permanently effective Trade Union victories are won by limitation of the numbers in the particular trade, and the excluded candidates necessarily go to depress the condition of the outsiders. The Trade Unionist can usually only raise himself on the bodies of his less fortunate comrades. If all were equally strong, all would be equally powerless-& point clearly proved by Prof. Cairnes,* and obvious to all Trade Unionists themselves.

Co-operation is a more seductive means of escape: and most social reformers cannot, even now, refrain from keeping alive lingering hopes that some solution may here be found.

But a whole generation of experiment has done little more than show the futility of

“Some Leading Principles of Political Economy," p. 293.

expecting real help from this quarter. Less than one four-hundredth part of the industry of the country is yet carried on by Co-operation. The whole range of industrial development in the larger industries seems against it; and no ground for hope in Co-operation as a complete answer to the social problem can be gained from economic science. It fails to deal even with the real elements of the case. It may claim to obviate competition ; but, as Mill himself quotes, “the deepest root of the evils and iniquities which fill the " industrial world is not competition, but the subjection of labour " to capital, and the enormous share which the possessors of the “ instruments of production are able to take from the produce."* Co-operation can make no real defence against the continuance of the exaction of this “ enormous share"-rent and interest—the continued individual enjoyment of which it, indeed, actually presupposes. It affords a valuable moral training, a profitable savings bank for investments, and a temporary means of interesting the worker in the industrial affairs of his country. But ordinary joint stock investment is now rapidly outgrowing it, and is already a hundred and sixty times as great as Co-operation. Now even the most enthusiastic believer in the virtues of association will hardly expect salvation merely from a régime of Joint Stock Companies; and this, and not Co-operation, is clearly the line in which our industrial development is rapidly travelling, so far as all large enterprises are concerned' The final goal of many industries is, moreover, obviously not the Co-operative Society, but the municipality. Nearly twice as much capital is already invested by town councils in a single industry (gas supply) as the whole twelve millions of the accumulations of the 1,500 co-operative societies. A larger extension of “municipal industry” is made every year than the progress, great as it is, of the Co-operative industry. Already where there is most Co-operation, there is also most municipalisation. Nevertheless, it may be some time before the more enthusiastic co-operators realise the industrial tendency, or even become aware that modern economic science turns regretfully against them; yet such eminent authorities as Cliffe Leslie, Professor Walker, Mr. Leonard Courtney, and Dr. J. K. Ingram, concur in dismissing the idea of universal Co-operation as chimerical. Nor is Co-operation really a rival of Socialism. The real import of the Co-operative movenient is not profit-sharing, but the collective control of the consumer over industry; not the division of so-called "profits" among a larger number, but their elimination as far as is safely possible. Similarly, the purpose of Socialism is not the division of wealth among the poor but the assertion of the right of the community to the complete control over the means of production by which the community lives. Both movements had their rise in the inspiring propaganda of Robert Owen, which, seeming at the time to fail, had really so splendidly succeeded. Owen's advocacy of factory legislation, national education, and other measures, now rightly described as

** Principles of Political Economy," last edition (1865) p. 477. + Article on “ Political Economy" in Encyclopædia Britannica, by Dr. J. K. Ingram. Vol. xix, p. 382.

« السابقةمتابعة »