Morris Hillquit.

Socialism; promise or menace? online

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Socialists would place the machinery of wealth produc-
tion under the ownership and control of the community,
to be operated by the entire working population for the
good of society.

What is Dr. Ryan's supreme remedy ?


He is not very explicit on that point, but several in-
teresting hints are scattered throughout his discussion.
Thus he admits the possibility of a situation which may
force the government "to some extent" to compete
with the capitalists in the production of certain commod-
ities, particularly in the field occupied by the trusts.
He contemplates an industrial system characterized by
"the direct ownership of the greater part of the instru-
ments of production by the workers themselves by such
methods as copartnership schemes and cooperative


societies," and he even conceives of a stage in social
progress when "interest as we now have it will be for the
most part abolished."

In the phrase "interest as we now have it," my oppo-
nent clearly intends to include all forms of workless in-
come, whether commonly designated as interest or rent
or profit. This is a long step toward the Socialist con-
ception. But Dr. Ryan goes even farther when he as-
serts: "Until the majority of the wage-earners have
become owners, at least in part, of the tools with which
they work, the system of private capital will remain
essentially unstable."

The "system of private capital" to which my opponent
alludes is, of course, the present economic system, and
the expressions "majority" and "at least in part" oc-
curring in the significant statement were obviously
inserted merely to palliate the force of the admission.
These terms of limitation have no justification in logic
or morals. If it is wrong to keep "the majority" of the
workers without tools, how can it be right to leave a
minority of them in that condition ? If ownership of the
tool is essential to the work and life of the labourer, why
"in part " and not in whole ?

If this surplusage be eliminated from Dr. Ryan's
formula, it will read about as follows : "Until the wage-
earners have become the owners of the tools with which
they work, our economic system will remain unstable ; "
or, stating the reverse of the proposition : "Our eco-
nomic system will be stable only when the wage-earners
become the owners of the tools with which they work"
which is good Socialism.



Apparently realizing that his objections to the ulti-
mate aims of Socialism are not very cogent, my opponent
concentrates his attack upon the methods of the Socialist
movement. "The unrighteous and unearned incomes,
and the insufficient distribution of productive property
can all be eliminated through measures of social reform,"
he asserts in one place, and again, more emphatically :
"We shall reach it [Dr. Ryan's social ideal] not by the
futile way of Socialism, but along the solid road of social
reform." Throughout the debate he assumes that
Socialism is antagonistic to social reform, and again and
again he assures us that " the present system is capable
of improvement."

It never occurred to the Socialists to deny that the
present system is capable of improvement and reform.
On the contrary, they contend that it is badly in need of
both. A "reform" is commonly denned as a change for
the better ; a "social reform " is an ameliorative change
in social conditions; and a "radical social reform" is a
thoroughgoing general change and improvement of
social conditions. In this sense of the term Socialism
itself may be defined as a movement for radical social

Nor are the Socialists averse to social reform in the
narrower meaning of the phrase, i.e. as signifying meas-
ures of immediate and partial improvement. They sup-
port every measure calculated to better the present con-
dition of the workers, or to promote social progress. But
they discriminate carefully between true progressive
measures and the numerous Utopian and reactionary


nostrums which falsely parade under the name of reform.
Thus they refuse to wax enthusiastic over the futile and
reactionary efforts of our government to "demolish" the
trusts and to restore the bygone days of general compe-

In this connection I cannot allow to pass without
challenge Dr. Ryan's assertion that "the German Social-
ists in the early years of their parliamentary activity
opposed some very necessary social reforms." In the
very early period of the German Socialist movement one
or two Socialist representatives in parliament refused to
take an active part in the constructive work of that body.
That policy was soon changed, and for decades the
Socialist deputies in the Reichstag have been among
its most active and practical workers. At no time did
they oppose any measure of true social reform.

Nor are my opponent's moral scruples against the aim
and methods of Socialism as strong as some of his ex-
pressions would seem to indicate. He does not consider
the present capitalist system a God-ordained or final
order of society. On the contrary, he admits frankly
and wisely that "if the day should ever come when pri-
vate control of capital became detrimental to human
welfare, the capitalists would no longer have a right to
function as such."

It is my contention that the day has fully come. Dr.
Ryan seems to think that it has not yet quite come.
The difference is one of estimate and sentiment, not of

And even on the methods of dispossessing the capital-
ist class "when the day should come," Dr. Ryan's
notions are at bottom not so strongly opposed to the


accepted Socialist views as he seems to think. Says he :
" I do not mean to deny that confiscation is ever morally
legitimate, for example, in some supreme national crisis
when no other course is physically possible." "Physi-
cally possible," is, of course, only a figurative expres-
sion when applied to non-physical social conditions.
What Dr. Ryan obviously means is that he would sanc-
tion confiscation only if such a grave measure were im-
peratively required for the welfare and self-preservation
of the nation. Ultimately, then, he also would deter-
mine the question on the test of social expediency rather
than abstract individual "morality."

But if Dr. Ryan's arguments against Socialism as a
movement for economic reconstruction are characterized
by concessions, his objections to Socialism on philosophic
and religious grounds are often based on misapprehended
conceptions of the Socialist programme and beliefs.


Thus Dr. Ryan takes it for granted that Socialism is
a materialistic philosophy. He refers to Marx and
Engels, the founders of modern theoretical Socialism,
as "out-and-out materialists," for whom "all that exists
is matter."

The error has been committed by many eminent critics
of Socialism before Dr. Ryan, and is due in no small
part to the title originally chosen by Marx and Engels
for the designation of their economic theory of historic
development the "materialistic conception of history."
But that theory is not even remotely related to the
doctrine of philosophic materialism or to any other phil-


osophic system. The "materialist conception" or "eco-
nomic interpretation" of history is a theory of social
evolution, and nothing else. It does not attempt to deal
with the nature or function of the human mind or with
the ultimate questions of existence. Socialism as such
is neither materialistic nor dualistic. It is not committed
to any school of philosophy and still less does it seek to
advance a philosophic system of its own.

Nor is the philosophy of Socialism tainted with the
element of fatalism. Dr. Ryan is quite wrong when he
asserts that to the Socialist "the social evolutionary
process seems to be a huge and unrelenting mechanical
movement which cannot be checked by any mere action
of human beings." Modern Socialists do not anticipate
a mechanical collapse of the present economic system and
the spontaneous blossoming of a Socialist commonwealth
upon its ruins. When they predict the "inevitable"
coming of Socialism, they have in view a reasonable
need, not a blind categoric imperative. They see in the
Socialist plan the most logical solution of our vexing
social problems. They contend that the workers would
benefit immensely by the introduction of a socialized
system of industry, and that such a system could be
realized if the bulk of the workers consciously desired
it, and were organized for its attainment.

The workers as yet do not fulfil these requirements.
The Socialists realize this undeniable fact, and they bend
every effort to enlighten, stimulate, and organize them,
and to draw them into the Socialist movement. If they
succeed in this task, their cause will be won ; if they do
not, their efforts must fail. The Socialists expect to win
because the economic and social developments of modern


times favour their propaganda and because they have
already accomplished a substantial part of their task,
but principally because they are thoroughly convinced
of the justice and wisdom of their cause, and are prepared
to work long, hard, and patiently for it. It is a case of
determined resolution rather than blind fatalism.

And as a logical corollary from this statement it follows
that the Socialist expectation of success is predicated
not on a theory of progressive pauperization of the
workers, but on the ever growing improvement of their

Dr. Ryan seems to be displeased with my statement
of this theory. He intimates that in some way I have
come by it illegitimately, and that if I had a proper
sense of duty, I should have adhered to the theory of in-
creasing misery. In support of his contention he quotes
a somewhat debatable passage from Marx, written about
fifty years ago.

I respectfully submit that my opponent here goes be-
yond his province. It is no more incumbent on him to
correct my Socialism than it would be for me to set him
straight on his theology. He must accept the issue as
it is tendered to him and not change it to suit his con-
venience. Incidentally it may be noted that Marx
never held that the condition of the workers was one of
absolute and increasing misery, and never acted on the
assumption that a general pauperization of the workers
must precede their ultimate emancipation. In his prac-
tical work he always laid strong emphasis on the impor-
tance of progressive improvement of the material con-
ditions of the working-class.

Nor did Karl Kautsky, as far as I know, ever hold or


express different views on the subject. In the statement
quoted by my opponent in the fourth chapter, Kautsky
asserts that the wage- workers are growing faster in num-
ber than the other economic classes, but not that they
are generally growing poorer. In this he merely reiter-
ates the fundamental Marxian view corroborated by
each periodical census in every civilized country. There
is no conflict between that statement and my views on
the subject.


Another serious error which underlies my opponent's
discussion is his obvious misconstruction of the phrase
"Socialist State" as used by Socialists. "No Socialist
regime is going to be 'set up' by any civilized nation,"
he assures us in one place, and throughout the debate
he refers to the so-called "Socialist State" or "Socialist
regime" as an entirely new and arbitrary social order,
created of nothing but fancy and imposed on mankind
in exchange for an old and discarded structure of society
something in the nature of a utopia transplanted from
another planet or of the Kingdom of Heaven suddenly
come to earth.

The Socialists have no such romantic conceptions. To
them the "Socialist State" is nothing but a more ad-
vanced phase of modern civilization, or, to borrow a
felicitous expression from my opponent, "the existing
system radically amended." Amended by the elimina-
tion of industrial warfare and economic exploitation and
by a relative equalization in the enjoyment of wealth
and opportunities, but still a system of human beings as


we know them to-day, with all their frailty and weakness,
passions and ambitions except with less incentive
and fewer opportunities for evil doing.

The "Socialist State," thus understood, cannot and will
not be "set up," ready-made and full-fledged, one fine
day in the more or less distant future. It has been
persistently filtering into the present order during recent
decades by countless avenues, and it continues the process
of permeation in an ever accelerating pace. If the liberal
economists and conservative statesmen of a century
ago could observe our present political institutions and
the wide social and economic functions of our govern-
ment, they would probably pronounce the modern re-
gime semi-Socialistic, and, comparing present conditions
with the past, we might be justified in maintaining that
we are already living at least in the outskirts of the
"Socialist State."

The main practical task of the Socialist movement is
to accelerate this process of socialization, to give it in-
telligent direction, and to shape it on democratic lines.


And just as the term Socialist State does not convey
to the Socialist the notion of a sudden break, so likewise
does it not imply the element of finality.

In one place in the debate Dr. Ryan, I don't know on
what ground, accuses me of attempting to "set a limit
to industrial evolution, namely, the Socialist State."
Oddly enough, he takes me to task in another place for
lacking a fixed, immutable, eternal, and final standard
of morality.


As a matter of fact, the Socialists do not consider any
part of their programme as final and valid for all times.

When we stand in the midst of an unobstructed plane
we see the objects in front of us only up to the line of the
horizon. The circle around which the sky and the land
seem to meet encloses everything within our view. It
is the limit of our visible universe. But we walk ahead
and the horizon moves back. New vistas are opened to
our eyes. Our world grows larger and ever larger, and
never can we actually reach the seeming limit of our prog-
ress. And so it is with our industrial, social, ethical, and
other ideals. They represent the limit of our present
vision. So long as they exist they are our standards of
perfection. By our approach to them we measure our
progress, and when they are enlarged our demands on
human progress increase correspondingly. To-day we
cannot see beyond Socialism, but when the Socialist
programme shall have been substantially materialized,
mankind will no doubt conceive newer and larger ideals
and strive for their attainment.


In the introductory chapter I expressed the hope that
our debate would be held down strictly to a discussion of
the merits or demerits of Socialism and would not be al-
lowed to turn into an attack and defence of the Catholic
Church. "The Socialists do not fight the Catholic
Church," I observed, "unless forced to do so in self-

The occasion for such self-defence arose when my op-
ponent introduced the charge of alleged Socialist hostility


to the Church. I denied any hostility of the Socialist
movement toward the Church as a religious institution,
but admitted that the majority of Socialists have little
confidence in the Church as a social and political organi-
zation. To account for that attitude, I endeavoured to
show the aristocratic and reactionary character of the
Church as at present constituted. My opponent rules
out my charges somewhat peremptorily on the ground
that they are not within the issues. "I shall refrain
from a formal reply," says he, "... because Mr. Hill-
quit correctly stated the policy upon which we had agreed
when he declared in his first paper that the Catholic
Church is not an issue in this debate."

True, I made that statement. But I left the choice
of weapons in our wordy duel entirely to my opponent,
and I expressly warned him that no matter into what
channels his argument led, I should have "to meet him
on his own ground." Dr. Ryan was fully within his
rights in introducing the subject of the relations between
the Church and Socialism, but having done so he cannot
with propriety close the discussion on the ground that
the Church is not in issue. He has made it an issue.
The Church is not an issue only in the sense that it is
inherently irrelevant to the subject of our debate, but
not on the ground that it is above discussion or criticism.

My opponent seems to take the ground that the
Church is of superhuman origin and that its actions and
policies are entirely uninfluenced by existing social con-
ditions and struggles. He treats the attempts of Karl
Kautsky and Achille Loria to account for the origin and
growth of the Christian Church by economic factors as
preposterous, and gravely asserts that all such theories


are belied by "the authentic documents which describe
the rise of Christianity."

As a matter of well-known fact, there are no authentic
contemporaneous documents bearing on the rise of
Christianity. But whatever might have been its origin
and early history, it is undeniable that the Church to-day
is maintained, fashioned, and directed by ordinary human
agencies, i.e. by mortals capable of errors and subject
to material influences and human weaknesses and im-

The Church has voluntarily assumed the character
of a social institution. As such it is charged with certain
public functions, and in the discharge of these functions
it owes to the people an account of its stewardship.
Dr. Ryan, therefore, does not dispose of the argument
when he endeavours to spell out from my statements an
admission of antagonism between Socialism and the
Church, and thanks me for "this service" in the name
of "truth and honesty."

If an active opposition between the Church and the
Socialist movement be assumed, there still remains the
vital question of right and wrong between the contending
parties. Before the bar of the nations the Church is as
much on trial as the Socialist movement, and ultimately
both will be judged by their effect upon the welfare and
progress of mankind.

In throwing the glove to the Socialist movement the
Catholic Church has challenged an adversary of no mean
calibre. Socialism is an international power, as is the
Catholic Church itself. It represents not merely vast
masses of people, tens of millions, but also a spiritual and
cultural factor or revolutionizing influence. The Social-


ist movement is remaking the mentality and psychology
of the working population and is giving to the world
new ethical standards and social ideals. And it is a
growing power.

The " numerous desertions from the organized Socialist
movement" of which Dr. Ryan speaks, exist only in the
imagination of the optimistic opponents of Socialism.
In actual fact the history of the movement presents one
steady and unbroken march of progress. Occasional
setbacks naturally occur at all times and in all places,
but they are always more than compensated by sub-
sequent gains or by victories in other places. From the
beginnings of modern Socialism to this day, not a year
has passed without showing a solid and substantial
growth of the movement as a whole.

If from this record of steady Socialist gains we turn
to the standing modern complaint of most ministers
of the gospel about the deserted pews, and observe their
frantic and unavailing efforts to recapture the strayed
flocks, we may here find new and wholesome food for
reflection not only on the attitude of Socialism toward the
Church, but also on that of the Church to Socialism and
to all vital social problems and movements which agitate
the minds of the men and women of this generation.



BEFORE summing up the main issues of the debate,
and stating the conclusions that seem to me to have
been established, I desire to call attention to a few
gratifying features of the discussion which are ap-
parently beyond the reach of controversy.

In the first place, Mr. Hillquit and I have succeeded
in demonstrating that it is possible for men to differ as
widely as the poles and yet carry on a protracted argu-
ment with fairness and without bitterness, and conclude
it with both self-respect and mutual respect unimpaired.

Second, we have on all substantial points agreed con-
cerning the meaning and the doctrines of Socialism.
Only those readers who have some knowledge of the
average controversy on this subject can realize the
tremendous importance and advantage of this agree-
ment. It has enabled us to confine the discussion to
positions and principles, instead of fighting over defini-
tions, and to make things correspondingly satisfactory
to the reader.

In the third place, we have formally and deliberately
covered all the important phases of Socialism. We have
considered it not merely as a scheme of politico-economic
reconstruction, but as a living movement, and as a



system of fundamental principles. The movement has
been exhibited as affecting many other departments of
life and thought besides the economic sphere. The
principles have been set forth as embracing a philosophy
of history, of society, of life, of the universe. Owing to
this fundamental and comprehensive discussion, the
intelligent reader has obtained some idea of the larger
aspects of Socialism, and some explanation of the hold
which it takes on many of its followers. It professes to
give them a complete theory of life and of reality.

In view of this thoroughgoing treatment of the sub-
ject, may we not hope to hear less frequently in the
future than in the past the shallow and ignorant asser-
tion that Socialism is merely an economic programme ?


In his rebuttal to my charge that his description of
existing evils was grossly exaggerated, my opponent
merely asserted that the reforms which I proposed were
insufficient. For, he contended, they would leave the
capitalist in possession of profits and interest, which
could be abolished only through Socialism. In my
answer to the rebuttal, I pointed out that to look to
Socialism as the necessary, feasible, and final goal of
industrial progress, was to rely not on facts, but on

Let me take this opportunity to say that I deplore
the actual and removable evils of our social system
quite as strongly as does Mr. Hillquit. I believe that
two generations hence men will look back upon the


greed, materialism, oppression of labour, and hideous con-
trasts between wealth and poverty which characterize
our time, as essential barbarism. Nor am I enamoured
with what has come to be known as the Capitalist Type.
The attitude toward their fellows, the conception of their
functions in society, and the general outlook on life
prevailing among many of our rich men and women,
constitute one of the most unlovely types of human
psychology that have ever appeared in the select classes
of any civilization.

Certain captains of industry seem to think that be-
cause the Catholic Church opposes Socialism she has
pronounced a benediction unqualified upon modern
Capitalism. They would like to have her function as
the moral policeman of plutocracy. They forget that
the late Pope Leo XIII went so far as to declare that
"a small number of very rich men have been able to
lay upon the teeming masses of the labouring poor a yoke
little better than slavery itself." l To represent the
Church as the unquestioning upholder of Capitalism is
to offer an insult to her genius, teaching, and traditions.
One after another, the early Fathers of the Church
denounced irresponsible use of wealth, and proclaimed
the natural right of all men to live from the fruits of
the earth, in terms which have caused them to be
accused of communism. Indeed, as the Abbot Gasquet
has observed, the traditional basis of property as taught
by the Church is not individualism, but Christian col-
lectivism. 2

For well-nigh a thousand years the Church withstood

1 Encyclical, "On the Condition of Labour."

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