Fabian Essays in Socialism

Edited by: Shaw, George Bernard
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H. G. Wilshire, American editor.
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New York: The Humboldt Publishing Co.
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Collected essays, various authors. Includes "Industry under Socialism," by Annie Besant.

The Organization of Society
Property under Socialism

by Graham Wallas,
M.A., Oxford


IN the early days of Socialism no one who was not ready with a complete description of Society as it ought to be, dared come forward to explain any point in the theory. Each leader had his own method of organizing property, education, domestic life, and the production of wealth. Each was quite sure that mankind had only to fashion themselves after his model in order, like the prince and princess in the fairy story, to live happily ever after. Every year would then be like the year before; and no more history need be written. Even now a thinker here and there like Gronlund or Bebel*1 sketches in the old spirit an ideal commonwealth; though he does so with an apology for attempting to forecast the unknowable. But Socialists generally have become, if not wiser than their spiritual fathers, at least less willing to use their imagination. The growing recognition, due in part to Darwin, of causation in the development of individuals and societies; the struggles and disappointments of half a century of agitation; the steady introduction of Socialistic institutions by men who reject Socialist ideas, all incline us to give up any expectation of a final and perfect reform. We are more apt to regard the slow and often unconscious progress of the Time spirit as the only adequate cause of social progress, and to attempt rather to discover and proclaim what the future must be, than to form an organization of men determined to make the future what it should be.


But the new conception of Socialism has its dangers as well as the old. Fifty years ago Socialists were tempted to exaggerate the influence of the ideal, to expect everything from a sudden impossible change of all men's hearts. Nowadays we are tempted to undervalue the ideal—to forget that even the Time Spirit itself is only the sum of individual strivings and aspirations, and that again and again in history changes which might have been delayed for centuries or might never have come at all, have been brought about by the persistent preaching of some new and higher life, the offspring not of circumstance but of hope. And of all the subjects upon which men require to be brought to a right mind and a clear understanding, there is, Socialists think, none more vital to-day than Property.


The word Property has been used in nearly as many senses as the word Law. The best definition I have met with is John Austin's: "Any right which gives to the entitled party such a power or liberty of using or disposing of the subject.... as is merely limited generally by the rights of all other persons."*2 This applies only to private property. It will be convenient in discussing the various claims of the State, the municipality, and the individual, to use the word in a wider sense to denote not only the "power or liberty" of the individual, but also the "rights of all other persons." In this sense I shall speak of the property of the State, or municipality. I shall also draw a distinction, economic perhaps rather than legal, between property in things, or the exclusive right of access to defined material objects, property in debts and future services, and property in ideas (copyright and patent right).


The material things in which valuable property rights can exist, may be roughly divided into means of production and means of consumption. Among those lowest tribes of savages who feed on fruit and insects, and build themselves at night a rough shelter with boughs of trees, there is little distinction between the acts of production and consumption. But in a populous and civilized country very few even of the simplest wants of men are satisfied directly by nature. Nearly every commodity which man consumes is produced and renewed by the deliberate application of human industry to material objects. The general stock of materials on which such industry works is "Land." Any materials which have been separated from the general stock or have been already considerably modified by industry, are called capital if they are either to be used to aid production or are still to be worked on before they are consumed. When they are ready to be consumed they are "wealth for consumption." Such an analysis, though generally employed by political economists, is of necessity very rough. No one can tell whether an object is ready for immediate consumption or not, unless he knows the way in which it is to be consumed. A pine forest in its natural condition is ready for the consumption of a duke with a taste for the picturesque; for he will let the trees rot before his eyes. Cotton wool, a finished product in the hands of a doctor, is raw material in the hands of a spinner. But still the statement that Socialists work for the owning of the means of production by the community and the means of consumption by individuals, represents fairly enough their practical aim. Not that they desire to prevent the community from using its property whenever it will for direct consumption, as, for instance, when a piece of common land is used for a public park, or the profits of municipal waterworks are applied to keep up a municipal library. Nor do they contemplate any need for preventing individuals from working at will on their possessions in such a way as to make them more valuable. Even Gronlund, with all his hatred of private industry, could not, if he would, prevent any citizen from driving a profitable trade by manufacturing bread into buttered toast at the common fire. But men are as yet more fit for association in production, with a just distribution of its rewards, than for association in the consumption of the wealth produced. It is true indeed that the economies of associated consumption promise to be quite as great as those of associated production; and it was of these that the earlier Socialists mainly thought. They believed always that if a few hundred persons could be induced to throw their possessions and earnings into a common stock to be employed according to a common scheme, a heaven on earth would be created. Since then, an exhaustive series of experiments has proved that in spite of its obvious economy any system of associated consumption as complete as Fourier's "Phalanstère" or Owen's "New Hampshire" is, except under very unusual conditions, distasteful to most men as they now are. Our picture galleries, parks, workmen's clubs, or the fact that rich people are beginning to live in flats looked after by a common staff of servants, do indeed show that associated consumption is every year better understood and enjoyed; but it remains true that pleasures chosen by the will of the majority are often not recognized as pleasures at all.


As long as this is so, private property and even private industry must exist along with public property and public production. For instance, each family now insists on having a separate home, and on cooking every day a separate series of meals in a separate kitchen.*3 Waste and discomfort are the inevitable result; but families at present prefer waste and discomfort to that abundance which can only be bought by organization and publicity. Again, English families constitute at present isolated communistic groups, more or less despotically governed. Our growing sense of the individual responsibility and individual rights of wives and children seems already to be lessening both the isolation of these groups and their internal coherency; but this tendency must go very much further before society can absorb the family life, or the industries of the home be managed socially. Thus, associated production of all the means of family life may be developed to a very high degree before we cease to feel that an Englishman's home should be his castle, with free entrance and free egress alike forbidden. It is true that the ground on which houses are built could immediately become the property of the community; and when one remembers how most people in England are now lodged, it is obvious that they would gladly inhabit comfortable houses built and owned by the State. But they certainly would at present insist on having their own crockery and chairs, books and pictures, and on receiving a certain proportion of the value they produce in the form of a yearly or weekly income to be spent or saved as they pleased. Now whatever things of this kind we allow a man to possess, we must allow him to exchange, since exchange never takes place unless both parties believe themselves to benefit by it. Further, bequest must be allowed, since any but a moderate probate duty on personalty would, unless supported by a strong and searching public opinion, certainly be evaded. Moreover, if we desire the personal independence of women and children, then their property, as far as we allow property at all, must for a long time to come be most carefully guarded.*4


There would remain, therefore, to be owned by the community the land in the widest sense of the word, and the materials of those forms of production, distribution, and consumption, which can conveniently be carried on by associations larger than the family group. Here the main problem is to fix in each case the area of ownership. In the case of the principal means of communication and of some forms of industry, it has been proved that the larger the area controlled the greater is the efficiency of management; so that the postal and railway systems, and probably the materials of some of the larger industries, would be owned by the English nation until that distant date when they might pass to the United States of the British Empire or the Federal Republic of Europe. Land is perhaps generally better held by smaller social units. The rent of a town or an agricultural district depends only partly on those natural advantages which can be easily estimated once for all by an imperial commissioner. The difference in the rateable value of Warwick and of Birmingham is due, not so much to the sites of the two towns, as to the difference in the industry and character of their inhabitants. If the Birmingham men prefer, on the average, intense exertion resulting in great material wealth, to the simpler and quieter life lived at Warwick, it is obviously as unjust to allow the Warwick men to share equally in the Birmingham ground rents, as it would be to insist on one standard of comfort being maintained in Paris and in Brittany.


At the same time, those forms of natural wealth which are the necessities of the whole nation and the monopolies of certain districts, mines for instance, or harbors, or sources of water-supply, must be "nationalized." The salt and coal rings of to-day would be equally possible and equally inconvenient under a system which made the mining populations absolute joint owners of the mines. Even where the land was absolutely owned by local bodies, those bodies would still have to contribute to the national exchequer some proportion of their income. The actual size of the units would in each case be fixed by convenience; and it is very likely that the development of the County Government Act and of the parochial and municipal systems will soon provide us with units of government which could easily be turned into units of ownership.


The savings of communities—if I may use the word community to express any Social Democratic unit from the parish to the nation—would probably take much the same form that the accumulation of capital takes nowadays: that is to say, they would consist partly of mills, machinery, railways, schools, and the other specialized materials of future industry, and partly of a stock of commodities such as food, clothing, and money by which workers might be supported while performing work not immediately remunerative. The savings of individuals would consist partly of consumable commodities or of the means of such industry as had not been socialized, and partly of deferred pay for services rendered to the community, such pay taking the form of a pension due at a certain age, or of a sum of commodities or money payable on demand.


Voluntary associations of all kinds, whether joint stock companies, religious corporations, or communistic groups would, in the eyes of the Social Democratic State, consist simply of so many individuals possessing those rights of property which are allowed to individuals. They might perform many very useful functions in the future as in the past; but the history of the city companies, of the New River company, the Rochdale Pioneers, or the Church of England shows the danger of granting perpetual property rights to any association not co-extensive with the community, although such association may exist for professedly philanthropic objects. Even in the case of universities, where the system of independent property-owning corporations has been found to work best, the rights of the State should be delegated and not surrendered.


On this point the economic position of modern Social Democrats differs widely from the transfigured joint stockism of the present coöperative movement or from the object of the earlier Socialists, for whose purposes complete community was always more important than complete inclusiveness. Even Socialist writers of to-day do not always see that the grouping of the citizens for the purpose of property holding must be either on the joint stock basis or on the territorial basis. Gronlund, in spite of contradictory matter in other parts of his Coöperative Commonwealth,"*5 still declares that "each group of workers will have the power of distributing among themselves the whole exchange value of their work," which either means that they will, as long as they are working, be the absolute joint owners of the materials which they use, or means nothing at all. Now the proposal that any voluntary association of citizens should hold absolute and perpetual property rights in the means of production, seems to be not a step toward Social Democracy, but a negation of the whole Social Democratic idea. This of course brings us to the following difficulty. If our communities even when originally inclusive of the whole population are closed: that is, are confined to original members and their descendants, new comers will form a class like the plebeians in Rome, or the "metœci" in Athens, without a share in the common property though possessed of full personal freedom; and such a class must be a continual social danger. On the other hand, if all newcomers receive at once full economic rights, then any country in which Socialism or anything approaching it is established will be at once overrun by proletarian immigrants from those countries in which the means of production are still strictly monopolized. If this were allowed, then, through the operation of the law of diminishing return and the law of population based on it, the whole body of the inhabitants even of a Socialist State, might conceivably be finally brought down to the bare means of subsistence.*6 It does not seem necessary to conclude that Socialism must be established over the whole globe if it is to be established anywhere. What is necessary is that we face the fact, every day becoming plainer, that any determined attempt to raise the condition of the proletariat in any single European country must be accompanied by a law of aliens considerate enough to avoid cruelty to refugees, or obstruction to those whose presence would raise our intellectual or industrial average, but stringent enough to exclude the unhappy "diluvies gentium," the human rubbish which the military empires of the continent are so ready to shoot upon any open space. Such a law would be in itself an evil. It might be unfairly administered; it might increase national selfishness and would probably endanger international good will; it would require the drawing of a great many very difficult lines of distinction; but no sufficient argument has been yet advanced to disprove the necessity of it.*7


On the question of private property in debts, the attitude of the law in Europe has changed fundamentally in historical times. Under the old Roman law, the creditor became the absolute owner of his debtor. Nowadays, not only may a man by becoming bankrupt and surrendering all his visible property repudiate his debts and yet retain his personal liberty; but in Factory Acts, Employers' Liability Acts, Irish Land Acts, etc., certain contracts are illegal under all circumstances. With the growth of Socialism, this tendency would be quickened. The law would look with extreme jealousy upon any agreement by which one party would be reduced even for a time to a condition of slavery, or the other enabled to live even for a time without performing any useful social function. And since it has been clearly recognized that a certain access to the means of industry is a first condition of personal freedom, the law would refuse to recognize any agreement to debar a man from such access, or deprive him of the results of it. No one would need to get into debt in order to provide himself with the opportunity of work, nor would anyone be allowed to give up the opportunity of work in order to obtain a loan. This, by making it more difficult for creditors to recover debts, would also make it more difficult for would-be debtors to obtain credit. The present homestead law would, in fact, be extended to include everything which the State thought necessary for a complete life. But as long as private industry and exchange go on to such an extent as to make a private commercial system convenient, so long will promises to pay circulate, and, if necessary, be legally enforced under the conditions above marked out.


To whatever extent private property is permitted, to that same extent the private taking of Rent and Interest must be also permitted. If you allow a selfish man to own a picture by Raphael, he will lock it up in his own room unless you let him charge something for the privilege of looking at it. Such a charge is at once Interest. If we wish all Raphael's pictures to be freely accessible to everyone, we must prevent men not merely from exhibiting them for payment, but from owning them.


This argument applies to other things besides Raphael's pictures. If we allow a man to own a printing press, or a plow, or a set of bookbinders' tools, or a lease of a house or farm, we must allow him so to employ his possession that he may, without injuring his neighbor, get from it the greatest possible advantage. Otherwise, seeing that the community is not responsible for its intelligent use, any interference on the part of the community may well result in no intelligent use being made of it at all; in which event all privately owned materials of industry not actually being used by their owners would be as entirely wasted as if they were the subjects of a chancery suit. It is easy to see that the Duke of Bedford is robbing the community of the rent of Covent Garden. It is not so easy to see that the owners of the vacant land adjoining Shaftesbury Avenue have been robbing the community for some years past of the rent which ought to have been made out of the sites which they have left desolate. I know that it has been sometimes said by Socialists: "Let us allow the manufacturer to keep his mill and the Duke of Argyll to keep his land, as long as they do not use them for exploitation by letting them out to others on condition of receiving a part of the wealth created by those others." Then, we are told, the manufacturer or Duke will soon discover that he must work hard for a living. Such sentiments are seldom ill received by men in the humor to see dukes and capitalists earning, as painfully as may be, their daily bread. Unluckily, there are no unappropriated acres and factory sites in England sufficiently advantageous to be used as efficient substitutes for those upon which private property has fastened; and the community would be wise if it paid the Duke of Argyll and Mr. Chamberlain anything short of the full economic rent of their properties rather than go further and fare worse. Therefore, if we refused either to allow these gentlemen to let their property to those who would use it, or hesitated to take and use it for ourselves, we should be actually wasting labor. The progressive socialization of land and capital must proceed by direct transference of them to the community through taxation of rent and interest and public organization of labor with the capital so obtained: not solely by a series of restrictions upon their use in private exploitation. Such concurrent private exploitation, however unrestricted, could not in any case bring back the old evils of capitalism; for any change in the habits of the people or in the methods of industry which made associated production of any commodity on a large scale convenient and profitable, would result at once in the taking over of that industry by the State exactly as the same conditions now in America result at once in the formation of a ring.


It is because full ownership is necessary to the most intelligent and effective use of any materials, that no mere system of taxation of Rent and Interest, even when so drastic as Mr. Henry George's scheme of universal State absentee landlordism, is likely to exist except as a transition stage toward Social Democracy. Indeed the anarchist idea which allows the State to receive Rent and Interest, but forbids it to employ labor, is obviously impracticable. Unless we are willing to pay every citizen in hard cash a share of the State Rent of the future, it, like the taxes of to-day, must be wholly invested in payments for work done. It would always be a very serious difficuly for a Socialist legislature to decide how far communities should be allowed to incur debts or pay interest. Socialism once established, the chief danger to its stability would be just at this point. We all know the inept attack on Socialism which comes from a debating-society orator who considers the subject for the first time, or from the cultured person who has been brought up on the Saturday Review. He tells us that if property were equally divided to-morrow, there would be for the next ten years forty men out of every hundred working extremely hard, and the other sixty lazy. After that time, the sixty would have to work hard and keep the forty, who would then be as lazy as the sixty were before. It is very easy to explain that we do not want to divide all property equally; but it is not so easy to guard against any result of that tendency in human nature on which the argument is grounded. Men differ so widely in their comparative appreciation of present and future pleasures, that wherever life can be supported by four hours' work a day, there will always be some men anxious to work eight hours in order to secure future benefits for themselves or their children, and others anxious to avoid their four hours' work for the present by pledging themselves or their children to any degree of future privation. As long as this is so, communities as well as individuals will be tempted to avail themselves of the freely offered services of the exceptionally energetic and farsighted, and to incur a common debt under the excuse that they are spreading the payment of such services over all those benefited by them. The Municipalities, Boards of Works, School Boards, etc., of England have already created enormous local debts; and unless men grow wiser in the next few months the new County Councils will probably add to the burden. As we sit and think, it may seem easy to prevent any such trouble in the future by a law forbidding communities to incur debts under any circumstances. But in the case of a central and supreme government such a law would, of course, be an absurdity. No nation can escape a national debt or any other calamity if the majority in that nation desire to submit to it. It is reassuring to see how the feeling that national governments should pay their way from year to year grows stronger and stronger. National debts no longer even in France go up with the old light-hearted leaps and bounds. But local debts still increase. In Preston the local debt is said to amount to seven times the annual rating valuation. And although at present (November, 1888), since the "surf at the edge of civilization" is only thundering to the extent of three small colonial wars, our own national debt is slowly going down; still if war were declared to-morrow with any European State no ministry would dare to raise all the war expenses by immediate taxation either on incomes or on property. It may be objected that no such danger would arise under Socialism; for there would be no fund from which a loan could be offered that would not be equally easily reached by a direct levy. But if we are speaking of society in the near future there would certainly be plenty of members of non-Socialist States, or English holders of property in them, ready to lend money on good security to a timid or desperate or dishonest Socialist government. Again, in times of extreme stress a government might believe itself to require even personal possessions; and it might be difficult under such circumstances not to offer to restore them with or without interest. In any case there would be no more economic difference between the new fund-holders and the old landlords than between Lord Salisbury as owner of the Strand district and Lord Salisbury now that he has sold his slums and bought consols. Perhaps the most serious danger of the creation of a common debt would arise from the earnings of exceptional ability. Modern Socialists have learned, after a long series of coöperative experiments and failures, that the profits of private adventure will withdraw men of exceptional business talent from communal service unless work of varying scarcity and intensity is paid for at varying rates. How great this variation need be in order to insure full efficiency can only be decided by experience; and as the education and moralization of society improves, and industry becomes so thoroughly socialized that the alternative of private enterprise will be less practicable, something like equality may at last be found possible. But, meanwhile, comparatively large incomes will be earned by men leading busy and useful lives, but often keenly anxious to secure leisure and comfort for their old age and aggrandizement for their family.*8 I have already suggested that some of the earnings of a man employed by the community might be left for a time in the common treasury to accumulate without interest. Now, it would suit both these men and the lazier of their contemporaries that the reward of their services should be fixed at a very high rate, and be left to the next generation for payment; while the next generation might prefer a small permanent charge to any attempt to pay off the capital sum. It is often hinted that one way to obviate this would be for each generation to cultivate a healthy indifference to the debts incurred on its behalf by its forefathers. But the citizens of each new generation attain citizenship not in large bodies at long intervals, but in small numbers every week. One has only to warn sanguine leaders that veiled repudiations may always be effected in such emergencies by a judicious application of the Income Tax, and to hope that the progress of education under Socialism would tend to produce and preserve on such matters a certain general minimum of common sense. If this minimum is sufficient to control the central government the debts of local bodies can be easily and sternly restricted.


Property in services means of course property in future services. The wealth which past services may have produced can be exchanged or owned; but the services themselves cannot. Now all systems of law which we know have allowed private persons to contract with each other for the future performance of certain services, and have punished, or allowed to be punished, the breach of such contracts. Here as in the case of debts, our growing respect for personal liberty has made the law look jealously on all onerous agreements made either by the citizen himself or for him by others. In fact, as Professor Sidgwick points out: "In England hardly any engagement to render personal service gives the promisee a legal claim to more than pecuniary damages—to put it otherwise, almost all such contracts, if unfulfilled, turn into mere debts of money so far as their legal force goes."*9 The marriage contract forms the principal exception to this rule; but even in this case there seems to be a tendency in most European countries to relax the rigidity of the law.


On the other hand the direct claims of the State to the services of its citizens show at present no signs of diminishing. Compulsory military service and compulsory attendance at school already take up a not inconsiderable share of the life of every male inhabitant of France and Germany. So far in England the compulsion of grown men to serve in any capacity has been condemned for a century past, because it is considered wasteful and oppressive as compared with the free contract system of the open market. Most English Socialists seem inclined to believe that all work for the State should be voluntarily engaged and paid for out of the produce of common industry.


In considering how far the State has a claim upon the services of its members, we come upon the much larger question—How far are we working for Socialism; and how far for Communism? Under pure Socialism, to use the word in its narrowest sense, the State would offer no advantage at all to any citizen except at a price sufficient to pay all the expenses of producing it. In this sense the Post Office, for example, is now a purely Socialistic institution. Under such conditions the State would have no claim at all on the services of its members; and compulsion to work would be produced by the fact that if a man chose not to work he would be in danger of starvation. Under pure Communism, on the other hand, as defined by Louis Blanc's dictum: "From every man according to his powers: to every man according to his wants," the State would satisfy without stint and without price all the reasonable wants of any citizen. Our present drinking fountains are examples of the numerous cases of pure communism which surround us. But since nothing can be made without labor, the commodities provided by the State must be produced by the services, voluntary or forced, of the citizens. Under pure communism, if any compulsion to work were needed, it would have to be direct. Some communistic institutions we must have; and as a matter of fact there is an increasing number of them already in England. Indeed, if the whole or any part of that Rent Fund which is due to the difference between the best and worst materials of industry in use be taken for the State, by taxation or otherwise, it, or rather the advantages produced by its expenditure, can hardly be distributed otherwise than communistically. For, as men are now, saturated with immoral principles by our commercial system, the State would have to be exceedingly careful in deciding what wants could be freely satisfied without making direct compulsion to labor necessary. It would cost by no means an impossible sum to supply a tolerable shelter with a bed, and a sufficient daily portion of porridge, or bread and cheese, or even of gin and water, to each citizen; but no sane man would propose to do so in the existing state of public morals. For more than a century the proletarians of Europe have been challenged by their masters to do as little work as they can. They have been taught by the practical economists of the Trades Unions, and have learned for themselves by bitter experience, that every time any of them in a moment of ambition or goodwill does one stroke of work not in his bond, he is increasing the future unpaid labor not only of himself but of his fellows. At the same time every circumstance of monotony, ugliness, and anxiety has made the work as wearisome and disgusting as possible. All, almost without exception, now look upon the working day as a period of slavery, and find such happiness as they can get only in the few hours or minutes that intervene between work and sleep. For a few, that happiness consists in added toil of thought and speech in the cause of themselves and their comrades. The rest care only for such rough pleasures as are possible to men both poor and overworked. There would be plenty of excuse if under these circumstances they dreamt, as they are accused of dreaming, of some universal division of the good things of the earth—of some means of being utterly at leisure, if only for a week or two.


But there are products of labor which the workmen in their time of triumph might freely offer each other without causing the weakest brother to forego any form of useful social work. Among such products are those ideas which we have brought under the dominion of private property by means of copyright and patent right. Luckily for us the dominion is neither complete nor permanent. If the Whig landlords who are responsible for most of the details of our glorious constitution had been also authors and inventors for profit, we should probably have had the strictest rights of perpetual property or even of entail' in ideas; and there would now have been a Duke of Shakspeare to whom we should all have had to pay two or three pounds for the privilege of reading his ancestor's works, provided that we returned the copy uninjured at the end of a fortnight. But even for the years during which copyright and patents now last, the system which allows an author or inventor a monopoly in his ideas is a stupid and ineffective way either of paying for his work or of satisfying the public wants. In each case the author or inventor obtains a maximum net return by leaving unsatisfied the wants, certainly of many, probably of most of those who desire to read his book or use his invention. We all know that the public got a very good bargain when it paid the owners of Waterloo Bridge more than they could possibly have made by any scheme of tolls. In the same way it is certain that any government which aimed at the greatest happiness of the greatest number could afford to pay a capable artist or author possibly even more than he gets from the rich men who are his present patrons, and certainly more than he could get by himself selling or exhibiting his productions in a society where few possessed wealth for which they had not worked. Although the State could thus afford to pay an extravagantly large reward for certain forms of intellectual labor, it does not, therefore, follow that it would be obliged to do so in the absence of any other important bidder.


There would always remain the sick, the infirm, and the school children, whose wants could be satisfied from the general stock without asking them to bear any part of the general burden. In particular, it would be well to teach the children by actual experience the economy and happiness which arise in the case of those who are fitly trained from association applied to the direct satisfaction of wants, as well as from association in the manufacture of material wealth. If we wish to wean the children from the selfish isolation of the English family, from the worse than savage habits produced by four generations of capitalism, from that longing for excitement, and incapacity for reasonable enjoyment, which are the natural results of workdays spent in English factories, and English Sundays spent in English streets, then we must give freely and generously to our schools. If this generation were wise it would spend on education not only more than any other generation has ever spent before, but more than any generation would ever need to spend again. It would fill the school buildings with the means not only of comfort, but even of the higher luxury; it would serve the associated meals on tables spread with flowers, in halls surrounded with beautiful pictures, or even, as John Milton proposed, filled with the sound of music; it would seriously propose to itself the ideal of Ibsen, that every child should be brought up as a nobleman. Unfortunately, this generation is not wise.*10


In considering the degree in which common owning of property would be possible among a people just at that stage of industrial and moral development at which we now find ourselves, it is expedient to dwell, as I have dwelt, rather upon the necessary difficulties and limitations of Socialism, than upon its hopes of future development. But we must always remember that the problems which Socialism attempts to solve, deal with conditions which themselves are constantly changing. Just as anything like what we call Socialism would be impossible in a nation of individualist savages like the Australian blacks, and could not, perhaps, be introduced except by external authority among a people like the peasants of Brittany, for whom the prospect of absolute property in any portion of land, however small, is at once their strongest pleasure and their only sufficient incentive to industry; so among a people further advanced, socially and industrially, than ourselves, a social condition would be possible which we do not now dare to work for or even try to realize. The tentative and limited Social-Democracy which I have sketched is the necessary and certain step to that better life which we hope for. The interests which each man has in common with his fellows tend more and more to outweigh those which are peculiar to himself. We see the process even now beginning. Already, as soon as a public library is started, the workman finds how poor a means for the production of happiness are the few books on his own shelf, compared with the share he has in the public collection, though that share may have cost even less to produce. In the same way the score or two of pounds which a workman may possess are becoming daily of less and less advantage in production; so that the man who a few years ago would have worked by himself as a small capitalist, goes now to work for wages in some great business, and treats his little savings as a fund to provide for a few months of sickness or years of old age. He will soon see how poor a means for the production of food is his own fire when compared with the public kitchen; and he will perhaps at last not only get his clothes from the public store, but the delight of his eyes from the public galleries and theaters, the delight of his ears from the public opera, and it may be, when our present anarchy of opinion shall be overpast, the refreshment of his mind from the publicly chosen teacher. Then at last such a life will be possible for all as not even the richest and most powerful can live to-day. The system of property holding which we call Socialism is not in itself such a life any more than a good system of drainage is health, or the invention of printing is knowledge. Nor indeed is Socialism the only condition necessary to produce complete human happiness. Under the justest possible social system we might still have to face all those vices and diseases which are not the direct result of poverty and over-work; we might still suffer all the mental anguish and bewilderment which are caused, some say by religious belief, others by religious doubt; we might still witness outbursts of national hatred and the degradation and extinction of weaker peoples; we might still make earth a hell for every species except our own. But in the households of the five men out of six in England who live by weekly wage, Socialism would indeed be a new birth of happiness. The long hours of work done as in a convict prison, without interest and without hope; the dreary squalor of their homes; above all that grievous uncertainty, that constant apprehension of undeserved misfortune which is the peculiar result of capitalist production:*11 all this would be gone; and education, refinement, leisure, the very thought of which now maddens them, would be part of their daily life. Socialism hangs above them as the crown hung in Bunyan's story above the man raking the muck heap—ready for them if they will but lift their eyes. And even to the few who seem to escape and even profit by the misery of our century, Socialism offers a new and nobler life, when full sympathy with those about them, springing from full knowledge of their condition, shall be a source of happiness, and not, as now, of constant sorrow—when it shall no longer seem either folly or hypocrisy for a man to work openly for his highest ideal. To them belongs the privilege that for each one of them the revolution may begin as soon as he is ready to pay the price. They can live as simply as the equal rights of their fellows require: they can justify their lives by work in the noblest of all causes. For their reward, if they desire any, they, like the rest, must wait.

Notes for this chapter

Woman and Socialism, by August Bebel. (Humboldt Pub. Co.)
Lectures on Jurisprudence. Lecture XLVIII.
There may be always separate homes and yet public cooking. The cook-stove is not the center of the home.—Am. Ed.
One of the strongest claims of Socialism is that it would give economic independence to woman as to man, and economic independence for both women and men is the key to all independence.—Am. Ed.
Published by United States Book Co.
The fact that each able-bodied immigrant could produce much more than his keep for many years to come in the United States at least, makes this danger very little, especially in view that the revolution will be international.—Am. Ed.
Thus a true Nationalism is necessary as the basis of a true Internationalism. Internationalists object not to the true but to false Nationalism.—Am. Ed.
Happily, the ordinary anxieties as to the fate of children left without property, especially weaklings or women unlikely to attract husbands, may be left out of account in speculations concerning socialized communities.
Principles of Political Economy, p. 435.
New York City spends more for policemen than she does for education.—Am. Ed.
This is to many the supreme result of Socialism, that to every man willing to work it will assure the possibility of earning an honest living.—Am. Ed.

The Organization of Society, Industry under Socialism, by Annie Besant

End of Notes

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