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- Political Ideals - 5/12 -

Unwillingness to work should be treated medically or educationally, when it could not be overcome by a change to some more congenial occupation.

The workers in a given industry should all be combined in one autonomous unit, and their work should not be subject to any outside control. The state should fix the price at which they produce, but should leave the industry self-governing in all other respects. In fixing prices, the state should, as far as possible, allow each industry to profit by any improvements which it might introduce into its own processes, but should endeavor to prevent undeserved loss or gain through changes in external economic conditions. In this way there would be every incentive to progress, with the least possible danger of unmerited destitution. And although large economic organizations will continue, as they are bound to do, there will be a diffusion of power which will take away the sense of individual impotence from which men and women suffer at present.


Some men, though they may admit that such a system would be desirable, will argue that it is impossible to bring it about, and that therefore we must concentrate on more immediate objects.

I think it must be conceded that a political party ought to have proximate aims, measures which it hopes to carry in the next session or the next parliament, as well as a more distant goal. Marxian socialism, as it existed in Germany, seemed to me to suffer in this way: although the party was numerically powerful, it was politically weak, because it had no minor measures to demand while waiting for the revolution. And when, at last, German socialism was captured by those who desired a less impracticable policy, the modification which occurred was of exactly the wrong kind: acquiescence in bad policies, such as militarism and imperialism, rather than advocacy of partial reforms which, however inadequate, would still have been steps in the right direction.

A similar defect was inherent in the policy of French syndicalism as it existed before the war. Everything was to wait for the general strike; after adequate preparation, one day the whole proletariat would unanimously refuse to work, the property owners would acknowledge their defeat, and agree to abandon all their privileges rather than starve. This is a dramatic conception; but love of drama is a great enemy of true vision. Men cannot be trained, except under very rare circumstances, to do something suddenly which is very different from what they have been doing before. If the general strike were to succeed, the victors, despite their anarchism, would be compelled at once to form an administration, to create a new police force to prevent looting and wanton destruction, to establish a provisional government issuing dictatorial orders to the various sections of revolutionaries. Now the syndicalists are opposed in principle to all political action; they would feel that they were departing from their theory in taking the necessary practical steps, and they would be without the required training because of their previous abstention from politics. For these reasons it is likely that, even after a syndicalist revolution, actual power would fall into the hands of men who were not really syndicalists.

Another objection to a program which is to be realized suddenly at some remote date by a revolution or a general strike is that enthusiasm flags when there is nothing to do meanwhile, and no partial success to lessen the weariness of waiting. The only sort of movement which can succeed by such methods is one where the sentiment and the program are both very simple, as is the case in rebellions of oppressed nations. But the line of demarcation between capitalist and wage-earner is not sharp, like the line between Turk and Armenian, or between an Englishman and a native of India. Those who have advocated the social revolution have been mistaken in their political methods, chiefly because they have not realized how many people there are in the community whose sympathies and interests lie half on the side of capital, half on the side of labor. These people make a clear-cut revolutionary policy very difficult.

For these reasons, those who aim at an economic reconstruction which is not likely to be completed to-morrow must, if they are to have any hope of success, be able to approach their goal by degrees, through measures which are of some use in themselves, even if they should not ultimately lead to the desired end. There must be activities which train men for those that they are ultimately to carry out, and there must be possible achievements in the near future, not only a vague hope of a distant paradise.

But although I believe that all this is true, I believe no less firmly that really vital and radical reform requires some vision beyond the immediate future, some realization of what human beings might make of human life if they chose. Without some such hope, men will not have the energy and enthusiasm necessary to overcome opposition, or the steadfastness to persist when their aims are for the moment unpopular. Every man who has really sincere desire for any great amelioration in the conditions of life has first to face ridicule, then persecution, then cajolery and attempts at subtle corruption. We know from painful experience how few pass unscathed through these three ordeals. The last especially, when the reformer is shown all the kingdoms of the earth, is difficult, indeed almost impossible, except for those who have made their ultimate goal vivid to themselves by clear and definite thought.

Economic systems are concerned essentially with the production and distribution of material goods. Our present system is wasteful on the production side, and unjust on the side of distribution. It involves a life of slavery to economic forces for the great majority of the community, and for the minority a degree of power over the lives of others which no man ought to have. In a good community the production of the necessaries of existence would be a mere preliminary to the important and interesting part of life, except for those who find a pleasure in some part of the work of producing necessaries. It is not in the least necessary that economic needs should dominate man as they do at present. This is rendered necessary at present, partly by the inequalities of wealth, partly by the fact that things of real value, such as a good education, are difficult to acquire, except for the well-to-do.

Private ownership of land and capital is not defensible on grounds of justice, or on the ground that it is an economical way of producing what the community needs. But the chief objections to it are that it stunts the lives of men and women, that it enshrines a ruthless possessiveness in all the respect which is given to success, that it leads men to fill the greater part of their time and thought with the acquisition of purely material goods, and that it affords a terrible obstacle to the advancement of civilization and creative energy.

The approach to a system free from these evils need not be sudden; it is perfectly possible to proceed step by step towards economic freedom and industrial self-government. It is not true that there is any outward difficulty in creating the kind of institutions that we have been considering. If organized labor wishes to create them, nothing could stand in its way. The difficulty involved is merely the difficulty of inspiring men with hope, of giving them enough imagination to see that the evils from which they suffer are unnecessary, and enough thought to understand how the evils are to be cured. This is a difficulty which can be overcome by time and energy. But it will not be overcome if the leaders of organized labor have no breadth of outlook, no vision, no hopes beyond some slight superficial improvement within the framework of the existing system. Revolutionary action may be unnecessary, but revolutionary thought is indispensable, and, as the outcome of thought, a rational and constructive hope.

Chapter III: Pitfalls in Socialism


In its early days, socialism was a revolutionary movement of which the object was the liberation of the wage-earning classes and the establishment of freedom and justice. The passage from capitalism to the new rˇgime was to be sudden and violent: capitalists were to be expropriated without compensation, and their power was not to be replaced by any new authority.

Gradually a change came over the spirit of socialism. In France, socialists became members of the government, and made and unmade parliamentary majorities. In Germany, social democracy grew so strong that it became impossible for it to resist the temptation to barter away some of its intransigeance in return for government recognition of its claims. In England, the Fabians taught the advantage of reform as against revolution, and of conciliatory bargaining as against irreconcilable antagonism.

The method of gradual reform has many merits as compared to the method of revolution, and I have no wish to preach revolution. But gradual reform has certain dangers, to wit, the ownership or control of businesses hitherto in private hands, and by encouraging legislative interference for the benefit of various sections of the wage-earning classes. I think it is at least doubtful whether such measures do anything at all to contribute toward the ideals which inspired the early socialists and still inspire the great majority of those who advocate some form of socialism.

Let us take as an illustration such a measure as state purchase of railways. This is a typical object of state socialism, thoroughly practicable, already achieved in many countries, and clearly the sort of step that must be taken in any piecemeal approach to complete collectivism. Yet I see no reason to believe that any real advance toward democracy, freedom, or economic justice is achieved when a state takes over the railways after full compensation to the shareholders.

Economic justice demands a diminution, if not a total abolition, of the proportion of the national income which goes to the recipients of rent and interest. But when the holders of railway shares are given government stock to replace their shares, they are given the prospect of an income in perpetuity equal to what they might reasonably expect to have derived from their shares. Unless there is reason to expect a great increase in the earnings of railways, the whole operation does nothing to alter the distribution of wealth. This could only be effected if the present owners were expropriated, or paid less than the market value, or given a mere life-interest as compensation. When full value is given, economic justice is not advanced in any degree.

There is equally little advance toward freedom. The men employed on the railway have no more voice than they had before in the management of the railway, or in the wages and conditions of work. Instead of having to fight the directors, with the possibility of an appeal to the government, they now have to fight the government directly; and

Political Ideals - 5/12

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