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English Progress towards Social
HERE are three stages through which every new notion in
England has to pass : It is impossible: It is against the Bible: We knew it before. Socialism is rapidly reaching the third of these stages.
6. We are all Socialists now, said one of Her Majesty's late Ministers; and, in sober truth, there is no anti-Socialist political party. That which has long formed part of the unconscious basis of our practice is now formulated as a definite theory, and the tide of Democratic Collectivism is rolling in upon us. All the authorities, whatever their own views, can but note its rapid progress. If we look back along the line of history, we see the irresistible sweep of the growing tendency: if we turn to contemporary industrial development, it is there : if we fly to biological science, we do not escape the lesson : on all sides the sociologic evolution compels our adherence. There is no resting place for stationary Toryism in the scientific universe. The whole history of the human race cries out against the old-fashioned Individualism.
Ecouomic Science, at any rate, will now have none of it. When the Editor of the new issue of the Encyclopædia Britannica lately required from some eminent Economist an article on Political Economy, fully representing the present position of that science, it was to an avowed Socialist that he addressed himself, and the article took the form of an elaborate survey of the inevitable convergence of all the economic tendencies towards Socialism.t Professor Alfred Marshall's new worki will be as repugnant to Mr. Herbert Spencer and the Liberty and Property Defence League as John Stuart Mill's conversion was to his respectable friends. Have we not seen Professor Sidgwick, that most careful of men, contributing an article to the Contemporary Review, ** to prove that the main principles of Socialism are a plain deduction from accepted economic doctrines, and in no way opposed to them ?
* A Lecture delivered by Sidney Webb before the Sunday Lecture Society, London, 1888, of which a report was previously published under the title of “The Progress of Socialism."
Since republished as a “History of Political Economy,” by Dr. J. K. Ingram. Principles of Economics. Vol. I. (Macmillan, 1890.) ** “Economic Socialism," Contemporary Review, Nov., 1886.
Indeed, those who remember John Stuart Mill's emphatic adhesion to Socialism,, both the name and the thing, in his ** Autobiography,";* cannot be surprised at this tendency of economists. The only wonder is, that interested defenders of economic monopoly are still able to persuade the British public that Political Economy is against. Socialism, and are able to make even Bishops believe that its laws "forbid” anything save the present state of things.
It is, however, time to give a plain definition of Socialism, to prevent any mistake as to meanings. Nothing is more common Than the statement, “ I can't understand what Socialism is.” But this is sheer intellectual laziness. The word is to be found in our modern dictionaries. The Encyclopædia Britannica contains exhaustive articles upon its every aspect. There are enough Socialist lectures in London every week, good, bad, and indifferent, to drivo the meaning into every willing ear.
The abstract word “Socialism” denotes a particular principle of social organisation. We may define this principle either from the constitutional or the economic standpoint. We may either put it as "the control by the community of the means of production for public advantage, instead of for private profit,” or “the absorption of rent and interest by the community collectively.” Its opposite is the abandonment of our means of production to the control of competing private individuals, stimulated by the prospect' of securing the rent and interest gratuitously.
But this definition does not satisfy some people. They want a complete description of a Socialist State, an elaborately worked out, detailed plan, like Sir Thomas More's “ Utopia ” or Gulliver's Travels. Such fancy sketches have, indeed, at times been thrown off by Socialists as by all other thinkers; but with the growing realisation of social evolution, men gradually cease to expect the fabrication of a perfect and final social state, and the dreams of Fourier and Cabet, like those of Godwin and Comte, become out: worn and impossible to us. There will never come a moment when we can say, Now let us rest, for Socialism is established : any more than we say, * Now Radicalism is established." The true principles of social organisation must already have secured partial adoption, as a condition of the continuance of every existing social organism; and the progress of Socialism is but their more complete recognition and their conscious adoption as the lines upon which social improvement advances.
Looking back over the record of human progress, we see one main economic characteristic underlying every form of society. As soon as production is sufficiently advanced to furnish more than maintenance, there arises, wherever two or three are gathered together, a fierce struggle for the surplus product. This struggle varies in outward form according to the time and circumstances, but remains essentially the same in economic character. The indivi
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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 loca 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"
Jingo” foreign policy, and at home in vindictive class legislation. A survival in England at the present time is the severity of the punishment for trifling offences against pioperty 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 luman 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