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The Inadequacy of the Reward of Labour^
the Depression of Trade, and the Organization of
Material Progress.


" . . . the proper Epic of this world is not now ' Arms and
the Man ' ; how much less, ' Shirt-frills and the Man ' : no, it is now
' Tools and the Man ' : that, hencefortli to all time, is now our
Epic. . . ."

Carlyle: "Past and Present," Book III., Chap. xii.





Butler 6^ Tanner,

The Sehvood Printing- IVorks,

Froine, and London.



Socialism, in its proper sense as opposed to Individualism,
is in the ascendant and may be considered already the
faith of the majority of those who give any thought to
the great social problems. The State may be hard upon
those who call themselves Socialists or Social Democrats
and who are merely the noisiest, or the most extreme
representatives of Socialism, but Society has nevertheless
been imbued with the socialistic doctrine and is absorbing
it eagerly. There is no need to look for proof to repub-
lican France or America, we can find it nearer at hand
at home. With compulsory education — probably soon to
be free, — with the recent factory and shop hours regu-
lation, with the Irish Land Act and other measures of a
similar character, Socialism may claim fairly to have con-
verted or subdued the majority of the British people.
There is only a difference of degree between the socia-
listic tendency of these measures and that of the most
advanced scheme advocated by professed Socialists.



That the latter find themselves in opposition to the State,
is not the fault of their Socialism, but either of their
extremism or of their obnoxious methods of proceeding.
That they sometimes — as in America — are working hand
in hand with Anarchists, is not due to a conformity of
convictions, but to the circumstance, that both parties
are in a minority. But, as a matter of fact, Socialism is
directly opposed to Anarchism. As the old party-lines
are obliterated more and more, a new cleavage of society
takes place, determined by opinion upon social subjects,
of which so-called political questions form only a part.
On one side will rano^e themselves the forces of Anar-
chism tOQfether with that conservative Individualism which
declines to interfere for the preservation of the common-
wealth, and prefers to let matters drift Into the state
which the Anarchists are endeavouring to produce by
action. The other side will be held by Socialism, the only
really constructive force, reinforced by the enlightened
conservatism of common sense, which has the courage to
sacrifice the semblance for the substance and, if necessary,
the part for the whole.

There is not much even in advanced Socialism which
need be called downright impossible, but there is a great
deal which appears unnecessary and so difiicult as not to
repay the trouble. It is easy enough to show in shadowy


outlines, how the world's business might be conducted,
and easier yet to decline to translate such theories into
action on the plea of impracticability. But for any
practical purpose it is necessary to select the line of least
resistance, and this office can only be performed by com-
mon sense, by a calm appreciation of things as they are
and as they might be. What we want is a recognition
of the fact, that Socialism (in its proper sense) is the
tendency of the future, and the exercise of common
sense as to its practical application.

I have tried to do my duty towards pointing out the
way in the following pages, which I recommend to the
serious consideration of every one who is alive to the
paramount importance of the social problem.





I. Introduction.— Some Popular Fallacies.— The Right

TO Reform i

II. Insufficiency of the Reward of Labour . . .16

III. The Doctrine of Over-population 33

IV. The Moral Condition of the People. — Extravagance,

Drink, Idleness. . • 45

V. Work and Production for their own sake. — Increase

of Production as a Remedy ...... 60

VI. Education.— Skill and Culture ..... 72

VII. Internationalism. — Federation. — Emigration. — Export

Trade. — Protection 84

VIII. The Condition of the Land. — Tenant-right. — Peasant-
proprietorship. — Nationalization of the Land . 104

IX. The new Centre of Gravity. — Progress inherent
in Capital, not in Labour. — Position of Capital
and Labour at different stages of Civilization.
— Modern Monopoly of Large Capital . . . 125 ■

X. The Claims of Capital. — What it gets actually and
how. — Monopoly.— Credit. — Spoliation of Labour.
— Speculation 148




XI. How Capital Fares in times of Depression.— About
Value.— The Real Interests of Capital and of
Labour. — Depression of Trade, its Cause and
Character i75

XII. Final Review of the Relations between Land, Labour

and Capital 192

XIII. Regulation of Maximum Working-time .... 206

XIV. The Future of International Trade and of Agri-
culture 228

XV. The Future of the Commercial Classes.— Duty on
Speculation. — Waste and Display. — The World's
Work and Human Aims 243

XVI. Limitation of the Rights of Inheritance, Bequest

AND Gift.— The Exceptions.— Entailed Property . 263

XVII. Recapitulation.— The Ruling Spirit . . . .287

Summary of Contents.


Introduction. — Some popular fallacies. — The right to reform.

" I ^HE old comfortable habit of resignation to existing evils is
-*- dying out fast. That in ordinary cases it was never more
than a sham, becomes evident from a comparison of the ease with
which people used to accept the sufferings of others, with the
fierce struggles and the burning discontent which they opposed to
anything threatening to inflict suffering upon themselves. Yet,
sham and stupid as it may have been, it supplied at least an
intelligible theory of life. No doubt it was a comforting thought
for the well-to-do, that their special mission on earth was to live
in plenty and security, whilst the lower classes were sent into the
world for the express purpose of toiling their lives away in the
support of the wealthy. In those times not only kings were " by
God appointed," but everything tending to the power and comfort
of the powerful and comfortable was equally accepted as a matter
of right and necessity. As to the toiling masses, they were
grovelling in the dust of ignorance, blind, deaf, and dumb ; even
their sense of suffering dulled to such a degree, that oppression
and insults were borne with a stolid indifference which might
have been sublime, had it not had its source in ignorance, super-
stition, and cowardice.

That sentiment in favour of the privileged has passed away. It
lingers yet in many individuals of all degrees of station, but the
masses are swayed by feelings and reasonings of an independent
character, they have begun to understand the possibility of change,



and the wealthy minority, to do it justice, has accepted the turn
of public opinion favourably enough.

We are making excuses for our social order upon every
occasion. We are always trying to make exceptional circum-
stances account for undeniable facts. The frightful amount of
misery in existence is too apparent to be denied by or to any one
who has eyes to see or ears to hear ; but all of us are disposed at
first to look upon every case as peculiar and to attempt to trace
it to the sufferer's own fault. Where this is clearly impossible,
we ascribe it to exceptional or unavoidable causes. These things
exist. Drunkenness, idleness, vices of all sorts beset the poor on
all sides and produce their terrible crop of moral degradation and
material distress. Sickness, loss of power, sudden death, accidents
of elementary or artificial character throw individuals and families
into unexpected destitution. But that the great mass of misery
and want which oppresses all civilized nations cannot be traceable
to personal circumstances, is evident, and that it is not the
necessary outcome of unavoidable and unalterable conditions, that
human laws and arrangements are to a large extent responsible
for suffering and distress, this is becoming more and more the
universal belief. There is no prospect of an easy rest in this like
that produced by resignation formerly, but there is instead hope
of a better state, to be attained by earnest search and strong,
steady work.

The chances of success in such a search have improved much
and are improving continually. The spread of education does not
only bring classes nearer to each other, but it enables also the
lower strata to take a more active share in the work. If in all
private affairs we expect, taught by experience, that — ceteris
paribus — the man who has the strongest interest in a certain event
is the most likely to find resources for realizing it, we may also
expect that the people, when it is sufficiently educated to grasp


facts and draw conclusions, will be best able to find a basis for
satisfactory relations between all classes and to reduce want and
misery to those cases where they are in fact unavoidable and
irremediable. And, as the lower classes are gaining in intelligence,
whilst the upper are acquiring a more living interest in social
questions, there is a growing probability that all may work
together towards the great aim, each one urging or moderating,
projecting new ideas or translating old ones into practice according
to his natural gifts and inclinations. There is strong hope in
this possibility, which has only arisen in the most recent times
from the extension of education.

But this possibility carries with it not only a hope, but also a
duty. It does not require a very lofty moral standard to conceive
that, when we can do a good work, we ought to do it, nor does it
need a deep philosophy to understand that the bettering of the
condition of the lower strata, which form the vast majority of
mankind, must be a good work. Well may it appear to some
the only work really worth doing, but, with all due regard to
individual duties, rights and inclinations, it is surely not asking too
much that every one capable of thought or action, outside of his
immediate sphere of activity, should devote a share of the surplus
to the great social questions which are pressing for solution. An
answer will be demanded before long; symptoms of a most
significant nature crowd upon us on all sides and will not be
gainsayed. It would be a fearful misfortune and a most serious
danger, if the nation should be found unprepared, but this can
only be averted, if every man and woman capable of thought give
continuous and earnest attention to the common cause. Nothing
can be effected, if the questions coming to the surface from time
to time and the state of things laid bare by the public press are
treated merely as sources of sensation ; they must be transferred
from this sphere to that of serious consideration and, where it is


possible, of practical activity. No one can be excused. It is
our common mother crying for help — who has the right or the
heart to say that it is no concern of his !

I observe at this point that I am not going to recommend
reform for the sake of change. Wherever the existing state of
things appears justified and offers the same advantages as a
proposed change, I would preserve the former ; but where a reform
appears indispensable in order to effect a considerable ^improve-
ment, I shall recommend it unflinchingly. I approach the con-
ditions developed by historical growth in a spirit of reverence,
but not of superstition. By this principle my attitude towards
communism, the most far-reaching reform, is determined. Only
if we come to the conclusion that a lasting improvement on the
basis of the institution of private property is impossible, shall
I accept communism as an unwelcome necessity, but I hope to
prove that such a radical reversal of our ideas and habits is not

Before starting upon the search for the causes of want and
poverty and their possible remedies, we must deal with some
contentions which stand in the way of every reform.

There is an idea extant that state interference with the working
or the results of the laws of political economy is a pernicious,
almost a sacrilegious, process from which no good can be expected.
In some quarters the theory of laissez-faire has been raised to
the dignity of a dogma, and interference with it is looked upon
as a sin. Now this is evidently based upon a mistaken conception
of the idea of law. There cannot be any doubt that the laws of
economy are working in a perfectly regular manner, that they are
as fixed and immutable as the law of gravitation. But an alter-
ation of the conditions under which they apply themselves cannot
and does not alter anything in the law. Such a change may
be good or bad, for or against the interest of the area concerned,


but the natural laws will hold sway afterwards as before. If
an avalanche is stopped half-way by a protecting structure, the
builder has merely altered the conditions ; if we put up lightning
conductors to protect our houses, we have only tried to alter the
direction of the lightning of which we stand in fear. The natural
laws governing the phenomena of avalanches and of lightning will
govern them after the erection of the protecting roof and the
conductor just as much as before. We do not interfere with
them ; things would be very different indeed if we could !

The misunderstood sort of fatalism which would have opposed
the endeavours of men to protect themselves against the action of
natural forces on the plea that interference was sinful, and which
has died out from the ignorant class which held it in former times,
seems to have survived in a class of people where one would
scarcely look for it, namely amongst the devotees of political
economy. They would not quarrel with the man who succeeded
in catching the stone falling in the direction of their heads ; they do
not scold the community when it proceeds to dam rivers threaten-
ing inundation. Inconsistent as it may seem, they feed every day,
and thereby prevent most effectively the consequences of the
natural law by which they must perish, if the condition of their
stomachs is not interfered with at certain intervals. But when it
comes to meddling with social or economic conditions, a change
comes over their spirit, an unwonted timidity falls upon them,
anything existing appears to them sacred and worthy of preserva-
tion in spite of evident evils resulting from the action of the eternal
laws of economy upon the existing state of things.

There is not much prospect of these susceptibilities being con-
sidered when a necessity for change becomes apparent. I suppose
that they are partly a remnant from those times when the state
was governed by a small minority, and when there was good
reason to beware from letting it step in between different classes


or individuals, as neither a full understanding of the conditions nor
perfect impartiality could be relied on. But with the democratic
development of our times the legislative tends more and more to
become the representative of all classes, and there is consequently
much less reason to be afraid of ill-will or of a want of under-
standing of conflicting interests. Still it is easy to understand
that the old feeling lingers in the breasts of politicians of the old
school, even when they profess advanced opinions upon other
matters. In many cases we must also make allowance for a not
unnatural unwillingness of those who profit by the existing con-
ditions, to accept or promote a change which would partly deprive
them of their advantages.

Another obstacle which meets the reformer at every step is the
general doubt, whether any proposition touching the social struc-
ture at a point below the surface is practicable. This is one of
the reproaches which are hurled at most reforming ideas and
dropped quietly, after their practicability has been proved by
actual experience. As long as there is any possibility of failure or
miscarriage, it is easy enough for any opponent of a reform to cast
doubt upon its practicability. By reason of its handiness and
general applicability this reproach will always remain one of the
favourite sticks to beat the dog of reform with, and will at all
times draw the votes of the timid and of those who are either unable
or unwilling to work out the social problems. But what is decried
as impracticability, is in most cases only difficulty or inconveni-
ence. Any one can see clearly enough that a proposed reform
cannot be initiated without a great deal of agitation and of
legislative labour, to bear a share in which most people feel them-
selves with reason entirely incompetent. Any one can point out
that the reform will prove inconvenient to certain people or
classes, that it will impose sacrifices on some, limit the freedom
of action of others ; and most people are tenacious of their rights,


their property, and their personal liberty. But to conclude from
such facts that a reform cannot be effected, is evidently working
on a very weak basis. Once we have recognised the desirability of
certain reforms, no difficulties in the way of their execution
should restrain us from attempting them, and only in that case
should we consider ourselves justified to declare them impractic-
able, when we are forced to acknowledge that their introduction
is, not beyond our individual power, but beyond human power

The most violent reproach thrown in the face of the reformer
is that of selfishness. Not that much is meant thereby, at least by
the leaders who raise the cry. In most instances it is just like
the cry of " fire," or " murder," which is frequently raised when
the apprehended danger is not nearly of so appalling a character.
People either lose their heads or are not inclined to specify
the nature of their peril, but they know from experience that
certain cries are more apt to attract attention and sympathy
than others. So they holloa lustily, " fire," or " murder," in one
case, and " selfishness " in the other ; and for the moment they
obtain their end of drawing a crowd and making it believe that
an awful danger is imminent. But when the people come to con-
sider the reforming aspirations in a cooler mood, they find in most
cases that selfishness does not apply to them at all. Of course
one may wish for a reform for personal ends, just as another may
oppose it for similar reasons ; but these considerations are entirely
beside the issue. The crucial questions are only : " Is the reform
just?" and "is the reform useful .-* " Whether the promoters
have to gain or to lose by it, has nothing to do with its value and
desirability. The individual's duty is simply to take his stand
upon that side which in his opinion has justice for itself. There
is no room for generosity until the question of justice has been
settled ; blind generosity towards one party may be and frequently


is, tantamount to treachery to the other and to justice. I cannot
help feeling that there is something mean in the appeal which is
raised by some special advocates of the upper classes, that the
democracy should not use its full powers. We^need not go into
the historical fact, that these same upper classes did not scruple
to use, and even to abuse, their power when there was nothing to
hold them in check, because retaliation has no part in the ideas
of the democracy. But if the people exercise their power for the
right and for the interest of the whole, is it reasonable to expect
that they should stop short in order to spare susceptibilities of
a personal character ^ Prove to them that they are wrong, show
them the justice of your claims, contrive a system which shall
preserve to you all your advantages and yet allow the masses to
live decently and to thrive reasonably, and you need not be afraid
that they will change anything for the mere love of change. But
let us abstain from that prayer for mercy before the battle has
fairly begun, and smother that parrot cry of "selfishness " which,
if it has any meaning at all, has a false one ! If that cry is
still potent enough to draw some people away from purposes
which they either approve or which they have not examined, this
is only a symptom of the low state of public morality. By a great
number of men and women the demands of the community, in so
far as they do not bear a visible relation to their own interest, are
still treated on the footing of charity, not of justice. This habit
of mind prompts them to oppose all measures which would inter-
fere with the advantages of individuals or classes, no matter how
they may tend to the welfare of the whole. In the case of those
who would personally gain by reform, this opposition bears the
semblance of unselfishness. But is it really unselfish to give up
the rights of one set of men for the benefit of another ? What
right have they to be generous with the whole people's property or
advantages ? Robin Hood ought to be the patron saint of these


generous people. You would not call a man unselfish because he
defrauded the state of its rightful taxes in order to spend the
money in charity. You would call him a goodhearted fool, and
describe his actiqn as mischievous weakness. Yet the whole
difference between him and the man who opposes a reform on the
sole ground that it restricts the advantages of an individual or
a class, lies in the fact, that the community's claim to taxes
approved by Parliament is clear- to the meanest comprehension,
whereas it requires a certain exercise of thought to grasp the
claim of the community to things which have not been formally
assigned to it.

This is sheer ignorance, the only remedy for which lies in the
spread of education and the extension of political power and
activity. For the present it must be admitted that the masses are
still very timid in view of comprehensive changes. " It has been
so in our forefathers' time, and they were as good men as ourselves,
if not better," is an argument which prevails strongly with the
lower classes, and renders them unwilling to attack institutions
which their forefathers have left untouched. But this argument,
although loveable enough in its simple reverence, is based on false
premisses. For one thing, former generations, although probably
equal in a moral sense to the present, lacked the power of
perspective which can only be acquired through the habit of
observing and comparing many different things, and which in
our time is supplied to everybody through the public press.
Further, our forefathers, even if they had the will, had not the
power of effecting great changes in any but the crudest way, by
violent means, from which the normal man recoils unless driven to
extremities. And lastly, circumstances have changed consider-
ably during the last few decades, and some interests have grown
more oppressive than they were formerly. From the extension of
political rights we have good reason to expect that the people


will gain the means of putting into practice peacefully, by orderly
legislation, those measures which by the light of their improved
education and ripened intelligence they will recognise as necessary
and salutary.

As to what constitutes the elements of necessity in this con-
nection we shall consider later on ; but it seems appropriate to
state in this place the extent and the limitation of the right of the
community to interfere with existing conditions, even to the tem-
porary disadvantage of individuals or classes.

I do not intend to go back to so-called natural rights, which
can never be more than postulates, and which as general argu-
ments carry no more power of conviction than special religious
dogmas or spiritual manifestations. None of us are in the secrets
of nature which, for all we know, may create for the purpose of
destroying, or without any purpose whatever. But we can reckon
with the tangible facts of life, with the desires which it implies
and with the relative necessities which it imposes. We can follow
and appreciate the historic development of many ages and dis-

Online LibraryN KempnerCommonsense socialism. The inadequacy of the reward of labour, the depression of trade, and the organization of material progress → online text (page 1 of 28)