Laurence Gronlund.

The coöperative commonwealth in its outlines. An exposition of modern socialism online

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intentions of Providence, but to learn those intentions he must
consider what tends to promote the general good."

John S. Mill.

"Mankind, without any common bond, any unity of aim,
bent upon happiness, has sought each and all to tread their
ow i paths, little heeding if they trampled upon the boi'ies of
their -brothers 7 in name, enemies in fact. This is the state
of things we have reached today. 1 ' — Mazzini.

We have said that socialism, considered as simply an econ-
omic system, will have a great. influence, also, on morals — that
is to say, it will greatly affect our relations to what is " right"
and u wrong," •' good" and " bad," " moral " and *• immoral"
and, though there is really no such thing as Socialist morals,
may even affect our conceptions of what is "right" and
*' wrong."

We have hitherto avoided, and pretty successfully we think,
all commonplaces, all words involved in mist. The above ethi-
cal terms arc, however, such commonplaces. In order to begin,
right at the start, to clear away the mist, we cannot do better
than quote George Eliot:

u Let a co ltractor enrich himself by making pasteboard sole*


pass as leather for the feet of unhappy soldiers; let a spec-
ulator letire to private life on ten thousand a year after cheat-
ing widows and hardworking fathers of all their savings, you
often hear charming women pity such men, when they come
to grief, and exclaim : ' lie is a thoroughly moral man,' mean-
ing thereby, that he is not a drunkard or a debauchee. * * *
Is not this misuse of the word " Morals *' a reason, why the
ablest intellects are supposed to look on morals as a sore of
twaddle for bibs and tuckers, as a mere incident of human
stupidity? "

Now, to be sure, the economic changes which we have con-
sidered will contribute vastly to the establishment of what we
call the decencies.

Drunkenness, i. e. the habit of excessive drinking, which
our social ••reformers" pronounce the cause of almost all
evil, is to the philosophic mind nothing but an effect, especial-
ly an effect of care. When care is banished, we may be sure
that drunkenness will be banisned also. It is absurd to sup-
pose that a happy young man will go and get drunk more than
once. Bear also in mind, that when the New Commonwealth
takes charge of the liquor traffic the dispensers of beer and
liquor will no longer have an interest in the quantities sold,
and none but pure and wholesome products will be sold.

As to sexual irregularities we can say, that they will hardly
be heard of as soon as woman is put in a position to spurn the
bribes of man, and as soon as every young pair can marry
without any fear of consequences.

But it is far from us to limit ''Morals" to this shrunken
meaning. To explain what we mean then by the words "right"
and " wrong'' let us illustrate:

Men for thousands of years used the words "up" and "down"
with reference to themselves, and the consequence was confu-
sion : what was " up " to one in one place was " down " to him
in another place. It is only a few hundred years back 1 that
we commenced to comprehend the real, the scientific meaning
of these terms: that "down" means towards the cen-
tre of the earth, " up " away from that centre, and that


to one suspended in space there is absolutely no "up" and ne
*' down."

In the same way theologians presumed to tell mankind that
u good " and " bad " actions were to be judged from their ef-
fects upon the destiny of the actor. '■ Sins " that were scarlet
could therefore under certain circumstance be made white like

Science, and with it Socialism, which bases itself on the ver-
ities of things, teaches that there would be no morality at all
if man did not need his fellowmun; that "right" and "wrong*'
have reference, primarily, not to the individual actor, but to that
greater organism, called Society.

Gambling is wrong, is immoral, not because it tends to the
ruin of the gambler, but because he cannot win unless some-
body los3s ; because gambling, thus, sears the sympathies
and, therefore, is essentially anti social.

"Ri^ht" is every conduct which tends to the welfare of
Societv : " wrong ** what obstructs that welfare. Bad actions
are no longer *• sins,"' but " crimes,'' and crimes can never be
white as snow.

Now, human beings have already learned by experience that
they must act in a certain way under penalty of being unable
to act together at all ; that Society could not exist at all with-
out Integrity; that it could not progress without Sympathy.
We may call integrity the basis and sympathy the crown of

It will be seen that there is no such thing as absolute,
unchangeable morality. The different stages in the progress
of Society evidently require different standards; what was
right at one period may be eminently wrong at a later period.
Thus if Slavery was, indeed, the first necessary step of our
civilization, the first lesson in cooperation, we must pronounce
Slavery to have been right then — and the fact that the best
men of antiquity: Socrates. Jesus, Aristotle, acquiesced in it
tends to prove it so — however wrong it appears in the light of
a higher morality. It, also, will be seen, that morals is truly
a science, a very subtle scionce, as it involves a correct phil-
osophy of Society, its tendencies and destiny. Is it any won-


der that morals has hitherto been a tissue of rhetorical
and emotional commonplaces? liefore anybody can say
what is *• right " conduct, and whether he is a truly " moral "
man or not, he must possess all the knowledge and mental de-
velopment which we have assumed will be the portion of every-
body when the New Socinl Order is in full swing.

Cut to know what is " right " is only one side of the great sub-
ject, rather the reverse than its front side.

The writer of this once listened to a very interesting lecture
b}' Carroll D. Wright, the head of the Labor-bureau of Massa-
chusetts on **our factory system." the leadingthonght of which
was, that our industrial system would be unobjectionable if
both parties, employers and employes, would only go down
to the foundation and be led by morality and religion.
Therein lurks a fundamental mistake, Col. Wright!
Morals are not the foundation, still less religion. They are
the top of our system. Interest — Self-interest — is the founda-
tion, the prime motor, the mainspring of our actions ; so it is,
has always been, and will always be.

"' Why should /do this thing ?" "• why should / not gam-
ble?" has always been the great practical question, and not
'•is gambling wrong?" It is easy enough to gain intellectual
assent to a moral precept, but the trouble is that a man is
never tempted by things in the abstract, but when he does
something wrong he does it for the sake of some particular,
concrete thing.

There is then the greatest possible difference between end of
and motive to morality: and nothing is. not even the most self-
sacrificing acts are, done without a motive. That which moves
must be primary. Now, Col. Wright ! it is not our morality
or want of morality which makes our economic relations what
they are, but our economic system that makes our morality
what it is.
That is the hinge on which this chapter turns.

In former chapters we have analyzed our economic relations.
Let us now see how it stands with our integrity and note toe
relation there is between it and our economic system.


First in order come the so-called crimes against property.
Robbery, burglary, larceny, embezzlement, common swind-
ling, murder and arson, when committed in pursuit of wealth
(and it is only in that connection we here have to consider
them,) are all acknowledged offences against Society. And
probably no one doubts that there are more such crimes com-
mitted now than in any former age. To take one instance as
illustration : For a merchant to become bankrupt was form-
erly a life-long disgrace; now bankruptcies are so frequent,
that they are considered mere incidents of "* business" and
are facilitated by law. It may be said that there are more oppor-
tunities for committing such crimes, but what we here want
to make clear is the simple fact, that these crimes are more fre-
quent now, in proportion to the population, than/, i. during
the Middle Ages — no matter how it comes.

Cut now we arrive at the first point that we wish to make.
Such practices as those above mentioned are the only ones
which we of this age stigmatize as crimes : we call by that
name only acts that may bring their perpetrators into the peni-
tentiary. Ought not, in view of the philosophic definition of
''right" and ••wrong" conduct, every grievous offence against
Society be so called? To be sure, in that case most of the
leaders of our self-styled " society" may come to be reckoned
as criminals.

Henry Ward Beecher once told his congregation of mer-
chants, bankers, politicians and speculators : ''the laws against
larceny have no relations to me. I am on too high a plane to
be affected by any temptation to steal." In other words:
"Thank God, that I and you. dear brethren and sisters, are
not on a plane with that rabble that commit crimes against
property ! "

Are they on a higher plane?

Herbert Spencer has shown, that Trade in England is essen-
tially corrupt and that there success in business has become
incompatible with strict integrity. It is certainly not better
here. Are the tricks of trade not offences against Society?
Is ••commercial cannibalism," as Spencer calls it, not a crime?


Adulteration of provisions has everywhere become a socia*
institution. Is that not a crime?

Are the traps ingeniously devised by speculators for the
punishment of ignorance in people of small means, are the
corners gotten up in money, stock, wheat and pork not crimes?

Our late income-tax was repealed for the avowed reason,
that it could not be collected, because our rich men were far
more ready to swear falsely, than to hand over a small per-
centage of their vast incomes. Were these rich men not crim-

It is a fact, that directors of gigantic corporations so man-
ipulate things, that the public is taxed heavily to pay divi-
dends on "watered" stocks. Are these men less guilty , be-
canse powerful?

It is notorious, that our politicians are corrupt from top to
bottom. Even if too '•high-toned*' to debauch voters, in per-
son, they are ready enough to raise corruption-funds, and .
never squeamish as to profiting by the bribery. Are these ••emi-
nent citizens'" on "too high a plane'' even according to the
ethical code of to-day?

But we shall have to go a good deal farther; we cannot af-
ford to compromise. In morals there is no difference between
'•legitimate" and ••illegitimate" offences against Society.
Everyone who pockets gains without rendering an equivalent to So-
ciety is a criminal.

Every millionaire is a criminal.

Every one who amasses a hundred thousand dollars is a

Every president of a company with nominal duties, if his
salary is but a thousand dollars, is a criminal.

Everyone who loans his neighbor $100 and exacts $100 in
return is a criminal.

Again, it is a fact, that the mere transfer of products is a
very low order of labor, requiring only the most ordinary and
inferior kind of mental qualities, which, if it received simply
an equivalent in return, would be allowed but the very lowest
compensation. Yet it is that very mercantile class which ab-
sorbs all the wealth by every available form of deception and


strategy, while a thoroughly skilled artisan cannot possibly
amass a large competence by the diligent prosecution of his
trade. This whole mercantile cl.-tss is a criminal class in re-
gard to by far the largest part of their income; one of our
really dangerous classes — and the same applies to their cousins,
the financial class.

It is damnable hypocrisy in these mere dealers in products
and financiers when they pretend to any extraordinary '^exec-
utive ability;" they know in their hearts, that they have
but very little ability, very little skill.

It is hypocrisy, when the poor mechanic who by superior
skill produces all the wealth of the world is taught to look up
to those who only handle his products.

The whole integrity of our rulers can be summed up in one
word: cash-payment.

Our mechanics and artisans cannot be filled with too much
righteous hate against such shams.

And what about integrity in WORK? Well, it is bad at the
start that the duty of doing one's proper work well is entirely left
out of ki morals" in popular speech. And yet it is by work
that man takes his place among the creative forces of the uni-
verse. As has been well said : " Thoroughness of workman-
ship, care in the execution of every task undertaken, as if it
were the acceptance of a trust which it would be a breach of
faith not to discharge well, is a form of duty so momentous,
that if it were to die out from the feeling and practice of a
people national prosperity and happiness would be gone."

The absence of sueh integrity is a most conspicious feature
in the operations of modern industry, and is the most lament-
able fact of all. It was not so during the despised Middle
Ages. Then every artisan felt a pride in his skill and in turn-
ing out good work. Now shoddy work is abounding. It has
some out in the investigations of the Trades-Unions in Eng-
land, that the men are required by their masters to •* scamp "
their work, that is. turn out inferior work and that this is just
the reason why the masters are so determined to introduce
piecework instead of daywork.

Such is our integrity — the basis of our morals. This was


chc first point which it was necessary to establish : that our
"best people" are criminals. If they themselves do not
know it, it is simply because their understanding is being
clouded by their interests and the opportunities of the system.

If this hypocritic age should frankly enunciate its moral
code, it would say :

Thou and thine may keep whatever thou canst get.

Carlyle has illustrated this in a drastic manner. He makes
one pig ask another :

" What is justice? "

u Your own share of the general swine' s-trough ; not any
portion of my share."

" But what is ' my' share?"

" Ah. there is the rub upon which piggism can settle abso-
lutely nothing. My share? Humph! My share is, on the
whole, whatever I can contrive to get, without getting hanged
or sent to the hulks."

Now we come to our second point: how is ir that we have
so far attained to this low level of integrity? Why do people
steal, and rob and embezzle?

We claimed in the preceding chapter, that ignorance is not
the cause of such crimes. We saw there, that these crimes
are abounding in the most educated sections of our own coun-
try. Indeed the most reprehensible of these crimes cannot be com-
mitted by ignorant persons. True, among the lowest criminal
class you lind much ignorance, but so yon find much unclean-
liness, many dirty shirts, and frequently no shirts at all. You
might, therefore, just as well, perhaps with more propriety at-
tribute crime to want of a shirt or of soap as to want of ed-

More superficial yet is it to attribute the crimes we now are
discussing to drunkenness, simply because we find the low-
est criminals so often associated with poor beer and whiskey.
Drunkenness has very little to do with these crimes, most oj
which, in fact, cannot be committed but by sober persons.

Herbert Spencer finds a sufficient reason for the persistence
and growth of crime in the fact, that the code of supernatural
ethics which our forefathers had is losing its authority, and


the moral injunctions, given by it, therefore more and more
losing its sanctions, coupled with that other fact, that while
the regulative system of our forefathers is thus decaying, we
have not yet got any other regulative system to rake its 'place.

There is no doubt, that as long as people had a vivid dread
of purgatory and hell lire, that was a powerful spur to good
behavior. Yet. deliberate dishonesty and carelessness, so pe-
culiar to human work alone, is so unnatural, that there must
be a weightier reason for this decline of integrity. And then,
we verily believe, and have reason to believe, that every man
is naturally honest, and that the most inveterate thief would
have remained honest if there had not been some positive temp-
tation to lead him astray. The decay of religion can never be
more than a negative reason.

No, the oaly rational way is to consider every such crime as
an act, preceded by a motive which, if it be but imperious
enough, it is not in human nature to withstand ; in other words
to look upon crime as essentially human.

And when you do that, can you wonder, that our jails are
full, when honest men are starving? Is it strange, that men
in many of whom vagrancy has become a second nature — often
originally from no fault of their own — prefer larceny, or burg-
lary or swindling to toiling ten hours or more daily for a week-
ly pittance of $5.00? Is it anything but human to use any
means to obtain wealth, when Society has made wealth the
sovereign power? When one reads in novels and witnesses in
plays how trie hero and heroine are always rewarded by mar-
rying—wealth? When one everywhere heirs a man, in every
way no better than himself, as *• worth " so many thousands
of dollars and sees him the admitted superior of the most
worthy of poor men?

The fact is our integrity is simply the fruit of our struggle for
life against each other, and a river can rise no higher than its

The economic system under which we are living creates ail
these frauds, dishonesties and this hypocrisy. Men fnd it
to their advantage to adulterate goods and to manufacture shod-
dy articles; indeed, our Established Order compels men to


seek their success in overreaching others, makes it a merit in
them to he unscrupulous, simply because everybody's interests
have been made antagonistic to the interests of every other
body. By this capitalistic system of ours Society has been
made the hunting ground for the sharpest individuals.

It is evident, that the longer this system lasts, the more will
these evils grow, for the struggle for life and success will be-
come more and more intense ; wealth will come more and more
to mean power, and the chase after wraith, therefore, will be-
come fiercer and more savage. Sermonizing or lectures on
Moral Philosophy have never affected and will never affect
any state of mind. Prize-essavs against embezzlement will
not diminish the frequency of this crime.

No. we just see here exemplified what we stated in another
place. When our social order is to be changed into another
social order, (the case now. and in that other sceptical
period before the introduction of Christianity) the change
commences from above; disorganization commences at the
top : with religion ; then it goes down to morals and down to
the foundation, until the base has changed its position ; then, on
the new foundation, on the new economic system, morals and
religion will be rebuilt anew. Then the changed economic re-
lations will furnish new motives for an enduring morality.

Just as self-interest now is eating away the edges of morals,
so self-interest must build up morals, and that the New Com-
monwealth will make it do. It will make it men's interest to be
honest; will make them find their advantage in being men of
integrity, simply because its very essence is making the inter-
ests of everybody identical with the interests of Society and
of everybody else.

The following reflections from an interesting work from
which we have quoted before : The Value of Life, written
it is understood by an eminent scientist of New York, are here
very pertinent:

" It is no sentimentalism. but the simple expression of fact
that the individual occupations of the members of Society
cannot be adequately regulated, as long as they are regarded
merely as the means for each of these persons to get his or


her living. By a crowd of official acts, from the inspection
of markets to taking the census, Society, even as it is, expresses
its recognition of the fact, that this vast mass of activities,
constituting the 'business' of the community, represents the
sum of its own vegetative functions, by which all its life, from
the lowest to the highest plane of it, is sustained. In the dis-
charge of these functions the moivy or ' living,' earned by
each individual, is really the least important consideration.
Thus it is of much less importance, that a butcher grow rich
than that the thirty or forty families he supplies with meat
receive good meat at fair prices. Whatever value attaches to
the individual life of the butcher is multiplied forty times by
the sum of those of his customers; it is, therefore, their wel-
fare, not his profit which must be the first consideration. In
other words : The essential thing is, not that the butcher shall
have a living, still less be rich, but that meat shall he supplied.
The how and where are secondary details, to be regulated not
by the convenience of the producer, but by that of the con-

" This indisputable line of reasoning overturns the theory,
that work is performed for the sake of the producer, (whose
advantage, indeed is quite subsidiary) and shows, that it is
primarily for the benefit of Society or some group of persons
in it. Of course, the worker, by entering into another group
where he is the consumer, finds his welfare correlatively t:iken
into account. The daily business is thus removed from the ig-
nominy and pettiness of isolated individualism and elevated into
an honorable function, while he who performs it becomes in-
vested with the dignity of a public functionary. That the
worker receives remuneration is incidental— that the work be
thoroughly done is so essential, that it is inseparable from any
typical conception of achievement."

That is it. In the New Commonwealth the butcher will be
conscious and satisfied that *' the essential thing is, not that he
shall have a living, but that meat shall be supplied." The
work of the citizen will be the glad performance of so-
cial office, not, as now. the mere tribute to physical necessity.
lie will be a moral worker, whose best efforts, best ardor and


highest aims will be drawn out by the joy which he takes in
his work — in all but the lowest work, such routine, manual
labor as machinery should remove altogether from human
hands. He will soon be habituated to regard his wages, not
as aquidpro quo, but as amoral claim, as the provision made
by Society to enable him to carry on his labor. The question .
l * why should I do honest work? '' will then seem just as ir-
rational as it is now to ask " why should I eat? "

Most of the offences to which we have called attention will
disappear, simply because the opportunities for committing
thein will be gone.

And when in the Coming Commonwealth a few hours of
daily, agreeable effort will secure to everybody all necessaries,
decencies and comforts of life, why then should any rational
being want to steal or choat or rob? And why should anybody
want to make a living by crime, when it will be far easier to
make it by honest work? And why should anybody care to
procure wealth dishonestly, when wealth no longer will mean
Power overmen? When wealth will not be able to coax the
meanest of men to be your footman and wear your livery?
When wealth simply will mean more to eat, more to drink and
more luxuries?

In short, the economic system of the New Commonwealth
will have two most important effects on integrity. First, it will
institute a higher moral code by giving us a truer conception of
what is ** right " and ' ; wrong'- conduct. It will thus make
us feel that the man who charges six pei cent., or even one
per cent, for the use of his money is just as much a criminal,
in principle, as the highway-robber; that is, it will once more
make us call all interest-charge usury.

Secondly, it will absolutely reverse motives. Instead of the
present Society saying: '• help thyself or go to jail! " the fu-
ture Society will help everybody by removing all temptation
to do what is wrong.

Here we hear some well-fed, well-clad personage exclaim :
' ; So we are to have only negative virtues in your Common-
wealth ! "

Only negative virtues? Let us recall what Beecher said of

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundThe coöperative commonwealth in its outlines. An exposition of modern socialism → online text (page 19 of 23)