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PERSUASIVE SOCIALISM

I

THE OCCASION OF THE PRESENT ARTICLE

I WRITE the following pages with a view to the circumstances of the moment, my special object being to assist speakers and others who desire to meet, in their varying forms as they arise, the arguments and appeals put forward by the propagandists of English Socialism. Two most instructive utterances have recently been made public, by two prominent Socialistic writers, with regard to the applications of Socialism to actual affairs of this country. These will form the text of my own present observations.

Of the writers in question, one is Mr. H. G. Wells, who is now devoting his many recognised talents to the dissemination of socialistic principles. The other is Mr. Ramsay Macdonald—the most accomplished and adroit member of the Independent Labour Party in Parliament. The former has published a book on contemporary English Socialism-what it is and is not; whilst the other has, in the pages of this Review, issued a manifesto on the same subject. I class them together, because each aims at showing that practical Socialism, in this country at all events, is untouched by any of the arguments usually brought against it—that it has none of the terrible characteristics with which it is vulgarly credited, and that even owners of property need view it with no great alarm.

In utterances such as these, and in argumentative tactics such as these, the propagandists of Socialism are striking a practically new note. They are singing their Marseillaise to the tune of the hundreth Psalm, and the restraints of the music give a certain discipline to their thoughts. But under the plausible surface the situation remains unaltered. The old fallacies inherent in all socialistic schemes, though shorn of some of their crudities, remain substantially as they were, and it is my aim here to show, for the benefit of the less wary among anti-Socialist workers, precisely how this is. I shall begin with a careful synopsis of what both these writers say.

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II

CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH SOCIALISM, AS EXPOUNDED
BY MR. WELLS, A NEW AND EXCEPTIONALLY ABLE ADVOCATE

I shall summarise Mr. Wells's arguments for the most part in the order in which he himself gives them, only changing it by putting together, where necessary, certain statements which he has separated relating to the same subject :

(1) In his first chapter he repudiates the reckless and wholesale abuse which Socialists have hitherto heaped on society under the régime of capitalism. The capitalism, he says, of the past 150 years is so far from having coincided with a general degeneration of social conditions, as compared with previous periods, that it has witnessed the diminution of a variety of evils, such as disease, to an extent previously unknown ; it has given to all classes a multitude of previously unknown conveniences, and has given us (p. 16) ' an unprecedented number of well-ordered homes and well-cared-for children.' It has given us, in short,' an increasing sea of mediocre well being.'

(2) But, though it has done all this, much evil remains, such asto take an initial and fundamental instance—the condition, helpless and neglected, of the children of a large section of the poor. This evil, and others, are due, he says (Chapter II.), not to individual wickedness, but to the fact that society is left too much to the chance or uncoordinated effort of individuals. The ‘fundamental principle of Socialism ’ is that, as an actual fact, the government of the world' is determined by an evolutionary force behind and above chance impulse and individual will,' and Socialism aims at providing this force with a concrete organ-namely, the State—which will systematically absorb all the individual wills into itself, making them work in an orderly manner together.

(3) This fundamental principle of Socialism leads us straight to (Chapter III.) its first main generalisation, which is that the old views and feelings with respect to parentage must be changed. Parental care and authority will still be recognised, if the parents use them well, but parentage (p. 43) will no longer be 'a private affair.' Parents whose conduct does not satisfy the authorities will have their children taken from them. Good parents will be treated as a 'sort of public servants,' and be subsidised in proportion to the number of children which they produce for the 'over-parent’s ’ use.

(4) The second main generalisation of Socialism (Chapter IV.) refers to the conduct of industry. Compared with previous arrangements, 'our present individualistic order is a good working method, but it is becoming obsolete. Private capitalism ‘is working itself out' (p. 72). It is daily exhibiting more and more incapacities, and the State is already taking some of its functions over, with immense

advantage to everybody. It is bound to take over others, with the same desirable result. A simple case is enough to prove this, namely, that of the English railways. As 'a striking sample of the

general unserviceableness of all private enterprise in this direction (p. 76), Mr. Wells selects the South Eastern Railway, which is the railway he knows best himself. This, he says, is a type of English railways as a whole, English trains being slower, and their carriages far worse, than those of any railway on the Continent, except perhaps the Turkish (p. 79). The excellence of the London County Council tramcars shows what a State organisation might make out of our railway system. The same argument applies to the providing of all the main necessaries of life, such as bread, meat, milk, jam, beer. These, as provided by private enterprise, are for the most part bad, tasteless, deleterious, and often filthy. Even houses privately built are miserable, and miserably designed structures, excepting those of the most prosperous. In all these matters the State would succeed where private enterprise fails, and all private property and interests connected with them must be of a terminable nature,' and be gradually, and without violence, taken over by the State likewise (p. 88).

(5) But how, he asks, is this revolution to be brought about? How is the State to 'take over the individual human activities, without which the machinery of production would be useless and 8 mere nominal asset ? What, in the socialistic State, will keep human activity going? To this question he devotes his fifth chapter. At present, he says, individuals work for the sake of gain, and all that Socialism in this respect will have to do is to make among them's general change from the spirit of gain to the spirit of service' (p. 94). This will not be difficult, for, though most people are compelled to work for gain at present, yet to the majority of capable good human stuff, buying, selling, saving, and managing property is a mass of uncongenial procedure.' The people who at present acquire or possess large fortunes are an exceptional class, who are abnormally "energetic in getting,' because they are too 'dull' to care about anything else, or else they are inheritors of the riches accumulated by these dull people' (p. 94). Amongst the mass of men—' of the good capable human stuff '—the desire to serve, untainted by the desire to get, prevails already, and is only kept down by the pressure of untoward circumstances. We can see this, Mr. Wells contends, by any unbiassed consideration of the ways of the British workman to-day. There is not a decent carpenter who does not hate to scamp his work, or 8 decent plumber whose natural desire to make his plumbing perfect does not fill him with indignation when he is asked to paint it over. The same is the case with any tolerable cook. She always burns to do her best for her art's sake. She' feels shame at an unsatisfying dish (p. 101). Socialism, then, will not have to create this noble impulse to service, but only to set it free from the individualistic system which

reserves success for those energetic but abnormally 'dull' persons whose main desire is not to serve but to get.

(6) But still, says Mr. Wells, with all these facts before us, which show us how essentially practicable the Socialist project is, 'the question still remains of how this vast organisation is to be managed,' and he admits that Socialists at present answer the objections that arise on this score 'far too cavalierly.' But in order to estimate these true difficulties, let us clear the air of false ones. First, then, let it be distinctly said that, notwithstanding the slanders of stupid or malicious opponents, Socialism would not abolish any of the existing motives to activity. It would not abolish either the fact or the motives of competition, but would leave men free to compete not only for service,' but for high 'salaries,' for ' position,' for ' authority,' and for 'leisure' (p. 110). With still greater vehemence must the great truth be vindicated against critics whose minds are 'dark reservoirs of evil thoughts,' that Socialism would do nothing to destroy the pure sanctities of the home, or turn it, as some gross opponent has said, ‘into a stud farm.' Instead of destroying the home, Mr. Wells says, Socialism would make homes possible where they are not possible now, for it would assure to the poorest an excellent dwelling, and an income which, however modest, would be at all events sufficient and Becure. The only other changes it would introduce into home life are these. It would make the wife and husband financially independent of one another; it would prevent the husband's having'any control over the wife's movements, or any power of limiting her actions (p. 318), or of imposing on his children any of his own religious convictions, or, as Mr. Wells calls them, “his eccentricities'; it would submit the wife's conduct as a mother to a Government inspector, who would take her children away from her if her treatment of them failed to satisfy him; but not only would it otherwise leave them under her sheltering care—it would actually also give her a pecuniary reward for the production of each new child, which would be proportionate to the number of children which the State happened to 'need' (p. 318). It would encourage marriage, and help couples to settle themselves, and it would only be felt as restraining, in addition to a beneficent force, because it would, by means of some official inspection of intending brides and bridegrooms, forbid, so far as is possible, the marriage not alone of any persons whose health appeared to be doubtful, or who were tainted with criminal instincts, but all those also who exhibited imbecility of mind, or were incapable of being educated up to some Government standard (p. 128). With these exceptions, the home, though it would be emptied of all parental authority, and though wife and husband would be as independent of one another as if they had never been married, the home, under Socialism, would be just what it is to-day. And what applies to the home, applies, mutatis mutandis, to property. Libellers maintain that Socialism would destroy private property. On the contrary, private property in all its legitimate forms will be respected by Socialism as it has never been respected before. The socialistic State, it is true, will be the universal landlord and the universal capitalist,' but it will let land on lease, just as landlords do now, and will let it to the highest substantial bidder. Every leaseholder will be the owner of his own improvements, and will probably be able to bequeath them very much as he pleases. The State will destroy only all 'freehold ' rights and all property rights in

accumulated industrial resources' (p. 147). As to the other objections to Socialism, Mr. Wells enumerates about a dozen ; but with one single exception he dismisses them as mistaken or idle. They are objections such as these: that Socialism is un-Christian, that it is materialistic, that it would be sexually immoral, that it would be monotonous, and would destroy art—which last allegation he oddly enough refutes by a reference to the life and opinions of the late Mr. Oscar Wilde. Of all the objections, the only one which he either states or discusses with any accuracy is the objection that Socialism would destroy freedom, and turn the mass of the people into the serfs of a bureaucratic oligarchy. And to this his answer is remarkable. If we take any scheme of Socialism that has up to now been formulated, it is impossible, he says, to prove that this allegation is untrue. 'A Socialism might exist conceivably ... tyrannised over by State officials,' which might lead to * a state of affairs scarcely less detestable than our own.' In especial, no socialistic scheme has ever yet been formulated which would guarantee (to the citizens at large) intellectual or political liberty.'

(7) ‘It is therefore necessary to supplement Socialism by certain new propositions' (pp. 209-210). He now goes on to indicate what these are. The Socialism of Marx, he says, which is still dominant in Germany and amongst the members of the Social Democratic Federation here, is utterly unpractical, just as Marx himself was personally. It is based on ' a mystical faith in the crowd, which faith is ‘ vague, emotional, uncritical,' and is merely a way of evading the immense difficulties of organisation ' (p. 247). As a matter of fact the economic institutions of every society result from and express the dominant instincts of the day, and a change of institutions must be accompanied by a change of spirit. Conversely, this change of spirit must, in order to give effect to itself, be accompanied by new institutions deliberately thought out, planned and organised ' (pp. 275-276). These can never be supplied by the vague automatism of the crowd, as the Marxians vainly fable. For the mere crowd, or the mandates of a democracy as at present understood, we must substitute a collective will’; we must socialise the achievements of the most gifted members of the community, and thus elicit 'the collective mind of humanity, the soul and moral being of mankind ' (p. 277).

(8) But how is this to be done ? Even Fabian Socialism has not yet approached this problem. It assumes State officials who shall

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