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- Political Ideals - 4/12 -

production, the other by robbery. Under our existing system, although what is recognized as robbery is forbidden, there are nevertheless many ways of becoming rich without contributing anything to the wealth of the community. Ownership of land or capital, whether acquired or inherited, gives a legal right to a permanent income. Although most people have to produce in order to live, a privileged minority are able to live in luxury without producing anything at all. As these are the men who are not only the most fortunate but also the most respected, there is a general desire to enter their ranks, and a widespread unwillingness to face the fact that there is no justification whatever for incomes derived in this way. And apart from the passive enjoyment of rent or interest, the methods of acquiring wealth are very largely predatory. It is not, as a rule, by means of useful inventions, or of any other action which increases the general wealth of the community, that men amass fortunes; it is much more often by skill in exploiting or circumventing others. Nor is it only among the rich that our present rˇgime promotes a narrowly acquisitive spirit. The constant risk of destitution compels most men to fill a great part of their time and thought with the economic struggle. There is a theory that this increases the total output of wealth by the community. But for reasons to which I shall return later, I believe this theory to be wholly mistaken.

Economic injustice is perhaps the most obvious evil of our present system. It would be utterly absurd to maintain that the men who inherit great wealth deserve better of the community than those who have to work for their living. I am not prepared to maintain that economic justice requires an exactly equal income for everybody. Some kinds of work require a larger income for efficiency than others do; but there is economic injustice as soon as a man has more than his share, unless it is because his efficiency in his work requires it, or as a reward for some definite service. But this point is so obvious that it needs no elaboration.

The modern growth of monopolies in the shape of trusts, cartels, federations of employers and so on has greatly increased the power of the capitalist to levy toll on the community. This tendency will not cease of itself, but only through definite action on the part of those who do not profit by the capitalist rˇgime. Unfortunately the distinction between the proletariat and the capitalist is not so sharp as it was in the minds of socialist theorizers. Trade-unions have funds in various securities; friendly societies are large capitalists; and many individuals eke out their wages by invested savings. All this increases the difficulty of any clear-cut radical change in our economic system. But it does not diminish the desirability of such a change.

Such a system as that suggested by the French syndicalists, in which each trade would be self-governing and completely independent, without the control of any central authority, would not secure economic justice. Some trades are in a much stronger bargaining position than others. Coal and transport, for example, could paralyze the national life, and could levy blackmail by threatening to do so. On the other hand, such people as school teachers, for example, could rouse very little terror by the threat of a strike and would be in a very weak bargaining position. Justice can never be secured by any system of unrestrained force exercised by interested parties in their own interests. For this reason the abolition of the state, which the syndicalists seem to desire, would be a measure not compatible with economic justice.

The tyranny of the employer, which at present robs the greater part of most men's lives of all liberty and all initiative, is unavoidable so long as the employer retains the right of dismissal with consequent loss of pay. This right is supposed to be essential in order that men may have an incentive to work thoroughly. But as men grow more civilized, incentives based on hope become increasingly preferable to those that are based on fear. It would be far better that men should be rewarded for working well than that they should be punished for working badly. This system is already in operation in the civil service, where a man is only dismissed for some exceptional degree of vice or virtue, such as murder or illegal abstention from it. Sufficient pay to ensure a livelihood ought to be given to every person who is willing to work, independently of the question whether the particular work at which he is skilled is wanted at the moment or not. If it is not wanted, some new trade which is wanted ought to be taught at the public expense. Why, for example, should a hansom-cab driver be allowed to suffer on account of the introduction of taxies? He has not committed any crime, and the fact that his work is no longer wanted is due to causes entirely outside his control. Instead of being allowed to starve, he ought to be given instruction in motor driving or in whatever other trade may seem most suitable. At present, owing to the fact that all industrial changes tend to cause hardships to some section of wage-earners, there is a tendency to technical conservatism on the part of labor, a dislike of innovations, new processes, and new methods. But such changes, if they are in the permanent interest of the community, ought to be carried out without allowing them to bring unmerited loss to those sections of the community whose labor is no longer wanted in the old form. The instinctive conservatism of mankind is sure to make all processes of production change more slowly than they should. It is a pity to add to this by the avoidable conservatism which is forced upon organized labor at present through the unjust workings of a change.

It will be said that men will not work well if the fear of dismissal does not spur them on. I think it is only a small percentage of whom this would be true at present. And those of whom it would be true might easily become industrious if they were given more congenial work or a wiser training. The residue who cannot be coaxed into industry by any such methods are probably to be regarded as pathological cases, requiring medical rather than penal treatment. And against this residue must be set the very much larger number who are now ruined in health or in morale by the terrible uncertainty of their livelihood and the great irregularity of their employment. To very many, security would bring a quite new possibility of physical and moral health.

The most dangerous aspect of the tyranny of the employer is the power which it gives him of interfering with men's activities outside their working hours. A man may be dismissed because the employer dislikes his religion or his politics, or chooses to think his private life immoral. He may be dismissed because he tries to produce a spirit of independence among his fellow employees. He may fail completely to find employment merely on the ground that he is better educated than most and therefore more dangerous. Such cases actually occur at present. This evil would not be remedied, but rather intensified, under state socialism, because, where the State is the only employer, there is no refuge from its prejudices such as may now accidentally arise through the differing opinions of different men. The State would be able to enforce any system of beliefs it happened to like, and it is almost certain that it would do so. Freedom of thought would be penalized, and all independence of spirit would die out.

Any rigid system would involve this evil. It is very necessary that there should be diversity and lack of complete systematization. Minorities must be able to live and develop their opinions freely. If this is not secured, the instinct of persecution and conformity will force all men into one mold and make all vital progress impossible.

For these reasons, no one ought to be allowed to suffer destitution so long as he or she is _willing_ to work. And no kind of inquiry ought to be made into opinion or private life. It is only on this basis that it is possible to build up an economic system not founded upon tyranny and terror.


The power of the economic reformer is limited by the technical productivity of labor. So long as it was necessary to the bare subsistence of the human race that most men should work very long hours for a pittance, so long no civilization was possible except an aristocratic one; if there were to be men with sufficient leisure for any mental life, there had to be others who were sacrificed for the good of the few. But the time when such a system was necessary has passed away with the progress of machinery. It would be possible now, if we had a wise economic system, for all who have mental needs to find satisfaction for them. By a few hours a day of manual work, a man can produce as much as is necessary for his own subsistence; and if he is willing to forgo luxuries, that is all that the community has a right to demand of him. It ought to be open to all who so desire to do short hours of work for little pay, and devote their leisure to whatever pursuit happens to attract them. No doubt the great majority of those who chose this course would spend their time in mere amusement, as most of the rich do at present. But it could not be said, in such a society, that they were parasites upon the labor of others. And there would be a minority who would give their hours of nominal idleness to science or art or literature, or some other pursuit out of which fundamental progress may come. In all such matters, organization and system can only do harm. The one thing that can be done is to provide opportunity, without repining at the waste that results from most men failing to make good use of the opportunity.

But except in cases of unusual laziness or eccentric ambition, most men would elect to do a full day's work for a full day's pay. For these, who would form the immense majority, the important thing is that ordinary work should, as far as possible, afford interest and independence and scope for initiative. These things are more important than income, as soon as a certain minimum has been reached. They can be secured by gild socialism, by industrial self-government subject to state control as regards the relations of a trade to the rest of the community. So far as I know, they cannot be secured in any other way.

Guild socialism, as advocated by Mr. Orage and the "New Age," is associated with a polemic against "political" action, and in favor of direct economic action by trade-unions. It shares this with syndicalism, from which most of what is new in it is derived. But I see no reason for this attitude; political and economic action seem to me equally necessary, each in its own time and place. I think there is danger in the attempt to use the machinery of the present capitalist state for socialistic purposes. But there is need of political action to transform the machinery of the state, side by side with the transformation which we hope to see in economic institutions. In this country, neither transformation is likely to be brought about by a sudden revolution; we must expect each to come step by step, if at all, and I doubt if either could or should advance very far without the other.

The economic system we should ultimately wish to see would be one in which the state would be the sole recipient of economic rent, while private capitalistic enterprises should be replaced by self-governing combinations of those who actually do the work. It ought to be optional whether a man does a whole day's work for a whole day's pay, or half a day's work for half a day's pay, except in cases where such an arrangement would cause practical inconvenience. A man's pay should not cease through the accident of his work being no longer needed, but should continue so long as he is willing to work, a new trade being taught him at the public expense, if necessary.

Political Ideals - 4/12

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