Laurence Gronlund.

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

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ry conditions for civilized society. Socialists hold that this
is a fundamental error. They say, with all advanced scientists,
that what is has grown out of something else that was, and
that the present is the parent of the future. The history of
our race is a series of preparations.

In the ancient states where the civilization of our race com-
menced there was no wage-system ; there was Slavery. The
master was lord of the persons of his slaves, lord of the soil
and owner of the instruments of labor. We who have reached
a higher stage of development look very properly back with
horror on this ancient Slavery; and yet we should not forget
that we are indebted to this same Slavery for our civilization.

Progress takes place, only, when either some individuals
control other individuals, or when they voluntarily cooperate
together. But voluntary cooperation is a hard lesson for men
to learn ; and, therefore, progress has to commence with com-
pulsory cooperation ; with control of everything, — with Slav-

Look at our Indian tribes. They work, in their way, as well
as civilized people do. Yet they are strangers to progress.
Why? Because they never accumulated any wealth. And
they accumulated no wealth, because they worked as isolated
individuals; because they never have known any division of
labor. Now Slavery was to our race, the first division of labor ; it
was the first form of cooperation; for it is too often over-
looked, that division of labor is at the same time cooperation in
labor. The ruling principle during Slavery was, of course,
Despotism, the irresponsible will of the lord.

Feudalism, and Serfdom constitute the next great period in
the history of our race, coining in contemporaneously with


the ascendancy of Christianity and the dominion of the north-
ern barbarians. Under it the lords of the soil were the dom-
inant class ; but the persons of the workers were free, though
they were attached to the soil where they were bora. This
change conferred an immense gain on the working multitude.
They were now invested with the most elementary ruht of all :
that of creating a family for themselves. And their belong-
ing to the soil was far from being altogether an evil, since it
conferred on them the right to claim support from the soil.

The ruling principle during that period was Custom, which
proved itself a most efficient protector of the workers. It fixed,
strictly, and in many countries with the utmost particularity
in details, the amount of work due to their lord for the use of
the soil, and all other rights and duties of every class and in-
dividual. '* Freedom'' during the middle ages meant the en-
joyment of those lights which Custom thus gave. It may .
well be a question, whether the workers of that long era were
not a happier class than our wage-workers.

During those two stages of development i; Capital" was un-
known and unheard of. There was Wealth, there were Reve-
nues, plenty of means of enjoyment. The great folks lived
in splendor, certainly; but they did not, and could not cap-
italize their possessions.

Remember that best of economic definitions of Capital, which
we adopted : " That part of wealth, employed productively,
with a view to profit, by sale of the produce." During Slav-
ery and Serfdom Wealth was not employed productively with
a view to profit, by sale of the produce, but with a view to
immediate, personal enjoyment. The lords could not make
their possessions grow by wt profit," by "fleecings," could not
invest them. They could not levy tribute on anybody but their
own slaves, their own serfs.

But the progress of mankind demanded that another step
should be taken. The iron bands of Custom had to be sundered
and that is done by an assertion of the independence of the
individual in the form of Unrestricted Private Enterprise ; which
fructifies the germ of Capital, already found in the previous
accumulations of wealth. Private Enterprise commences,


in the closing years of the Middle Ages, by suddenly advanc-
ing commerce to an unprecedented degree and developing the
Commerce of the World. It gives rise to the discoveries and
inventions which now crowd upon each other ; foremost among
which are the discovery of America, the invention of the print-
ing press and the steam engine. These in their t,urn nourish
Capital. It becomes an. infant, grows up to youth and man-
hood, bursts completely the fetters of the Middle Ages by the
ever memorable French Revolution, and has developed in our
days into a giant by division of labor being carried to an ex-
tent, not dreamt of before; or — what is the same thing — by
a greater cooperation in production than was known before.

Thus we have arrived at the third stage in the development
of our race: this era of Capital and Individualism. Wealth
during all three periods governed the w T orld, controlled the
masses, but never before in the form of Capital. Our Plutoe-
rac} r , our industrial, commercial and moneyed aristocracy,
whom the French called km the Third Estate;" those who by
the control of the instruments of labor have acquired the more
advantageous position, are now our masters, the dominant
power, who by laws and usages, enacted by themselves, have
made this advantageous position of theirs a permanent one.
The workers have hardly occasion to rejoice at the change.
They are free to own land, but have not the means to buy it.
They have personal liberty, yes. They are no longer bound
to the soil ; they have got the barren legal right to go where
they please. But they have, at the same time, lost the right
to claim support from the soil. Their liberty is one that ben-
efits their masters, rather than themselves. The power of
discharge and the advantage of having everywhere an army
of proletarians to hire from, is vital to the growth of Capital.
The workers have lost the power they as serfs possessed to
labor to advantage for themselves, for in all branches of in-
dustry wholesale production has supplanted domestic indus-
try. They have cooperation in production with a vengeance
— think of Plugson and his spinners. The division and enjoy-
ment of the products on the other hand, is entirely onesided.

The Plutocracy, the fleecing class and their retainers, is in


this third stage of our civilization the really governing power
all over the civilized world. But while it is checked, to some
extent, in the European countries by the remnants of Feudal-
ism : the nobility and clergy, it in our country is absolute, sim-
ply because this is a new countiy. Here its power is unques-
tioned and unrestrained. It is the easiest thing in the world
for it to maintain its dominion here; for all it has to do is to
command the government : "leave us alone!'' Indeed our
governments may be said to be merely committees of our Plu-
tocrats, charged with watching over their coinmoj* interests.

Now observe, that Socialists hold that each of these three
periods, though together forming a long and weary road, was
yet a necessary link in the chain of progress, was a prepara-
tory step to each succeeding stage. We cannot accomplish
the progress of our race by leaps but must do it by growths.
We cannot dispense with anv of these stages. We could not
dispense with the present reign of Individualism and Capital.
If a magic wand could restore the mode of production in
vogue two hundred years ago. it would require another two
centuries to mature the conditions for that New Order which
lies in the womb of time. And we also hold, that history
is radically incomprehensible without the conception, that the
social state of each epoch was just as perfect as the corres-
ponding development of our race permitted. The evils, there-
fore, of the ** let alone" policy which we described in thepre-
ceeding chapter are to be considered the legitimate workings
of a principle to which humanity in times to come will rind it-
self greatly indebted.

This conception ought to guard us against feeling any ill-
will towards the individual members of our Plutocracy.
Passions directed against the system are most proper; for it
is only passion that can nerve us sufficiently to overthrow the
system. But our capitalists are as much the creatures of circ-
umstances as our paupers are. Neither should we forget,
that there have here and there been employers and capitalists
who wo ild willingly have sacrificed their all to right society.
Robert Owen was the more noble a man for being rich.


Having not* d the principles and factors which thus far have

shaped the destinies of our race, and having seen how the

c Let-alone" policy has worked, and how it is working at this

very day, the next inquiry naturally is: What will be the

outcome? How will this policy work in the future?

Dr. Theodore D. Woolsey. is a very cautious man, as bene-
fits his profession and his position as a representative of our
luxurious classes. He admits in his " Communism and Social-
ism," that " there is some reason to apprehend, that the 'free
use' of private property must end in making a few capitalists
of enormous wealth, and a vast population of laborers de-
pendent on them," — if not prevented. This conclusion is not
due to any flights of fancy or unseemly rashness on the gen-
tleman's part, for lie goes on to say what we have quoted at
the head of this chapter. If such a tendency " should "man-
ifest itself, then he thinks, a Stewart " would " root out small-
er trades-people ; small producers ; ' would " be ruined by mam-
moths of their own kind and the land and houses of a city
" would " be more and more monopolized. We should say, that
Dr. Woolsey is, if anything, over-cautious. Most people
would be ready to s&y outright, that those things are daily
taking place; and that, thus, the tendency of the "fiee use
of private property" is manifest. Private " Enterprise " will,
evidently, work in the future, as it has done in the past— ay!
it will gather greater and greater momentum — if not pre-

That is to say: Concentration will be the order of the day
along the whole line of production, transportation and ex-
change. The small farm will give way to the large one; the
small producer to the wholesale-producer. The wholesale
trade will be more and more concentrated. All retail trade of
any consequence in our larger cities will be gathered togeth-
er in huge bazaars, after the Wanamaker pattern in Philadel-
phia; they will soon attract to themselves the customers of
the country-stores just as the hardware factories already now
do much of the work, formerly done by prosperous cross-roads
blacksmiths. The contract system of erecting buildings will
soon constitute, and constitutes now to a great extent, all en-


gaged in the building-trades a movable, disposable force, to be
hired now by this contractor and now by that. A few years
hence the entire production and sale of the anthracite coal of
Pennsylvania — that is, of the whole country — will be in the
hands of four companies: the Reading; the Lehigh Valley;
the Delaware. Lackawanna and Western and the Delaware and
Hudson. In other words four persons will practically decide,
how much the producers shall be paid and how much the con-
sumers shall be bled. Probably it will not last long before
the whole output will be controlled by one corporation.
The sugar-reiining business will in a few years be in the hands
of a couple of houses. We shall not have to wait long, before
the whole railroad-system of the country is in the hands of,
say, four companies. The Standard Oil Company already con-
trols the oil business, and a few magnates now control in one
corporation the whole telegraphic system of our country, so
there the concentration is almost complete.

The last census report demonstrates conclusively that this
concentration of manufacturing industries commenced in good
earnest during the last decade ; while, as we already have seen,
the number of workers and values created considerably in-
creased, the number of establishments was in 1880 almost ex-
actly what it was in 1S70.

Such complete centralization of all activities of Society "will,
evidently, render the working-classes more dependent on their
masters ; will make it more and more impossible for the vvork-
ingmen to control their own conditions. They will have in-
dividually, less and less, if any, control as to what shall be
their hours of labor and what their pay. That is clearly the
tendency of the working of " unrestricted private enterprise"
— if not prevented.

It will perhaps be objected, that our own figures do not sup-
port such an inference. The wages of labor it will be said,
rose steadily from 1S30 to 1880; to wit: $218, $310 and $310.

This objection would be a good instance of the bad uses to
which the census-figures could be put. This rise in nominal
wages can be accounted for on the hypothesis of Eicardo.
While laying it down that wages are determined by the cost


of living, he took occasion to observe that wages would prob-
ably steadily rise, because the prices of provisions had a tend-
ency continually to rise. It is impossible to say whether there
has been a real rise in wages before we know bow many of
the necessaries and decencies of life a given sum would buy
in the respective years.

But note that our figures in the 1st chapter for the year 1S70
were all reduced to a gold basis* as the value for the three oth-
er census-years were gold-values. The workman, then, who
in 1870 received the average yearly wage of $310 in fact got
$388 in currency. Now if provisions and many other com-
modities were not dearer in 1870 than in 1SS0 — as we think is
the fact — then, < omparfng these two fairly prosperous years
with each other, there has been an absolute fall in wages.

Again, we do not suppose that this complete dependence of
the working-class on the employing class will take place be-
fore the concentration of the social activities is complete.
When that time arrives, the workingmen will have the screws
applied to them quickly enough, and they will find out the
fact by themselves.

That consummate advocate and retainer of our fleecers —
we again use this word simply as a term of description, to em-
phasize a fact, — Wm. M. Evarts, saw the point clearly when
serving them in the office of national .Secretary of State, and
coolly said in an official document :

"The iirst great truth to be learned by manufacturers {sic)
and workingmen is that the days of high wages are gone. In
the near future the workingmen of Xew York cannot expect
twice or three times the wages of his fellow-worker in Eu-
rope, nor can the coal-miner of Pennsylvania expect twice the
wages of the Northumberland miner."

Thus there is not a shadow of doubt that the enormous ac-
cumulation of wealth in the hands of a few capitalists, and a
vast population of laborers dependent on them will be " an evil
in fact — if not prevented." But can it be prevented?

One of the proposed " remedies " is the extention of our
foreign markets.


This is a "remedy" which our fleecers, our plutocrats,
guarantee as an infallible cure for Dr. Woolsey's " evil." in
other words for the discontent of the working-classes. It must
be admitted that they seek for that '* remedy " with a remark-
able zeal and pertinacity; and not alone our plutocrats, but
the plutocrats of all capitalist countries as well. To get hold
of the panacea their governments, i, e. their governing com-
mittees, write bushels of diplomatic notes and protests (re-
member the American protests against prohibiting the impor-
tation of American pork into Germany and France.) annex
or conquer half-civilized countries, shake up by the roar of
cannon the sleeping Chinese, encourage the building of rail-
ways in Mexico and incursions into the heart of Africa; in
brief, penetrate into and ransack with feverish and frantic en-
ergy every nook and corner of the globe, where human beings
are found that can be coaxed or driven to — trade.

Our own Evarts spent much of his time and energy as Sec-
retary of State in hunting after these foreign markets. What-
ever motive our plutocrats may pretend in pursuing their ob-
ject — and we shall soon see that they have an excellent motive
on their own account — Mr. Evarts cannot very well pretend
solicitude for the working-classes after the " advice " he gave
them — and our manufacturers — which we just now quoted. It
was also Mr. Evarts who, to fortify his advice, caused our
consuls in other countries to prepare reports for the State De-
partment about the wages paid to foreign workers, which
were mis-leading, and afterwards were published to show our
workingmen that they were altogether too well off.

But no matter what the motive was and is, this cry: For.
eign Markets, is very characteristic, indeed, of the •' states-
manship" of these plutocrats who rule us— of these "Eulers
who are no r ilers," in Carlyle's language. It, like all their
other public measures, proves them the veriest quacks, in thia
that it shows that they are satisfied with some temporary ad-
vantages, without considering the ulterior consequences. For
to anybody who takes into account the immediate future these
efforts to secure foreign markets must on a little reflection
appear, as a writer in the Atlantic Monthly for Oct. 1S79 calls


them, " the madOest of all follies."

Because, supposing we could secure them, we could not pos-
sibly hold them. The nations whose custom we are soliciting,
even China, Japan and Hindustan, are even now adopting all
our inventions and improvements, and are fast learning to
manufacture for themselves.

Because to secure them, we have to manufacture cheaper
than any other nation ; that is, we have to lower the wages and
lengthen the working day of oar operatives. Well, that, of
course, does not disconcert Mr. Evarts. But now comes the
point. England and all other competing nations will, on the
same principle, try to oust us by manufacturing still cheaper.
It is, thus, only by continually lowering the remumeration of
our workers, even below the starvation wages of Europe, that
we could possibly hold on to our " supremacy," even tempor-
arily. And then how contemptible a supremacy! Carlyle's
words should be a fitting rebuke : ; * Sad, indeed, that our na-
tional existence depends on our selling manufactured cotton
a farthing cheaper than any other people."

Because, lastly, it is anyway a losing business. As the
wages of our operatives decrease, their power of consumption
decreases. Foreign markets can. therefore, only be obtained
at the cost of losing our home-trade. The writer, mentioned
above, computes, that thus far, we have lost ten dollars in do-
mestic trade to every dollar gained in foreign trade.

Foreign markets, thus, truly mean: grasping at a shadow,
even to our plutocrats. And that it is worthless as a " reme-
dy " against Woolsey's " evil " is ipso facto apparent.

A second *•• remedy" is the voluntary individual coopera-
tion, advocated by the English economist. Prof. Cairnes, and
which has become almost a hobby of so many reformers.

Prof. Cairnes is a man we must respect, lie has got a clear
conception of the condition of the laboring classes:

" The conclusion to which I am brought is this, that, un-
equal as is the distribution of wealth already, the tendency of
industrial progress — on the supposition, that the present sep-
aration between individual classes is maintained — is towards


an inequality greater gtilL
And unlike Evarts he is anxious to raise them :
'•The first and indispensable step toward any serious amend-
ment of the laborer's lot is that he should be, in one way or
another, lifted out of the groove, in which he at present works,
and be placed in a position compatible with his becoming a
sharer in equal proportion with others in the general advan-
tages, arising from industrial progress. * * *
"The laborer shall cease to be a mere laborer."
But the way he indicates, " that the workmen contribute of
their savings towards a common fund which they employ as
capital and cooperate in turning to profit," is, decidedly, not
the way to solve the problem.

In the first place it should be apparent to a man like Prof.
Cairnes, that it is like mocking the laboring classes to suggest
to them, to start productive enterprises, in competition wjth
capitalists. Fancy them contemplating the millions needed
to build factories, to buy machinery and lay in raw materials,
and then feeling in their own pockets and finding them empty !
How can workmen save anything, when their wages vibrate
around the point of necessaries of life? And suppose, that they
by adding together their pennies do start some factory or other,
how can they, pos3i'jly, succeed in enterprises that require
more and more capital; where Capitalists with experience

But admit that such associations here and there have suc-
ceeded and that others therefore likewise might succeed, it
yet leaves the kernel of the Labor-question untouched. These
successful associations are brilliant examples of workingmen
raising themselves out of their clnss, not raising their cla-.s.
They are not truly cooperative but virtually joint-stock com-
panies. They compete among themselves just as ordinary
concerns do. They (the Rochdale Pioneers/, i., who of late
are an industrial as well as mercantile association) hire and
fleece laborers after the approved fashion of the age, and ex-
perience teaches that they are indeed the hardest taskmasters.
The interest of the members of these associations becomes
identified with Capital, and if ever circumstances should make


it easier for the smarter laborers to start si; ih companies suc-
cessfully, that fact would create a Labor-caste. In a general
dispute between Labor and Capital these associations, instead
of being a vanguard of Lnbor, will go over to the side of Cap-
ital. The sons of Rochdale Pioneers, living in luxury and im-
itating the airs and fashions of the wealthy of all times, point
Ihe moral. Where is, then, the gain to the laboring classes to
come in? No. instead of advising workingmen to save, an 1
to invest their savings in such risky enterprises, it would be
much better to advise them to put their savings into their own
flesh and bone, where they of light belong on account of
their more efficient labor.

Voluntary Cooperation in enterprises of consumption is quite
l another thing. Such have in many instances succeeded. They
can succeed, because they require no very large amount of
Capital. And Socialists very often advise workingmen. whero-
ever and whenever they can. to start cooperative stores and
thus get better goods and save the profits, otherwise going to
the middlemen. It is in other words, a very prudent thing to
do for the individual.

But how will it help the body of workingmen? Evidently,
it could only do so, when the whole body, or at least a large
majority of them became the beneficiaries of such coopera-
tion. It is curious, that an economist like Prof. Cairnes does
not foresee the necessary consequences.

In such case, of course, the average wages requisite for a
given standard of living and comfort would become less and
consequently — for Prof. Cairnes admits the law of wagns of
Ricardo and the Socialists — would fall to the new level. The
workmen thus would be no better off than before. Next,
what would become of the small traders and shop-keope s,
thus displaced? They, naturally, would be ruined. They eith-
er would have to become a burden on the community, or fall
into the ranks of the wage-workers, and thus contribute to
lowering the rate of wages still more by their frantic compe-
tition. The writer ot this once hoard a small 1 rader in a west-
ern town bitterly upbraiding the grangers, who had started
one of their cooperative stores at his place, because of theif


meanness. They ought to " live and let live." Was lie so
very unreasonable?

Such voluntary Cooperation may be very excellent for the
individual, just as long as it is a sporadic phenomenon — no

A third " remedy," firmly relied upon by another class of
Labor-reformers, to check the increasing power of the cap-
italist-and employing class is the formation and strength-
ening of Trades-unions and the legal enactment of a normal

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundThe coöperative commonwealth in its outlines. An exposition of modern socialism → online text (page 5 of 23)