Morris Hillquit.

Socialism; promise or menace? online

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As a practical movement Socialism stands primarily
for industrial readjustment. It seeks to secure greater
planfulness in the production of wealth and greater
equity in its distribution.


Concretely stated, the Socialist programme advocates
a reorganization of the existing industrial system on the
basis of collective or national ownership of the social
tools. It demands that the control of the machinery
of wealth creation be taken from the individual capitalist
and placed in the hands of the nation, to be organized
and operated for the benefit of the whole people. The
programme implies radical changes in the existing indus-
trial machinery, political structure, and social relations.
The form of society which would result from such changes
is usually designated in the literature on the subject as
the Socialist State or the Socialist Ideal.
Thus the dominant factors in the Socialist thought,
movement, and ideal may be said to be of a politico-epe^
nomic nature. But Socialism is not devoid of ethical and
spiritual implications. The Socialist philosophy in-
volves certain definite views of right and wrong in the
individual and social conduct of men, which are some-
times at variance with accepted standards; and the
Socialist ideal is predicated on a change in the reciprocal
relations of man and society which are bound to affect
our conceptions of individual and social duty. The
moral conceptions implied in the Socialist programme
constitute the code of Socialist ethics.

An adequate treatment of the subject will thus require
a discussion of the Socialist criticism and programme and
the Socialist ideal and philosophy, as well as the bearings
of Socialism on morals and religion. I propose to present
the Socialist claims under these various heads in the
succeeding chapters, and I trust to the tender mercies
of my opponent to give adequate expression to the op-
posite views.




My opponent's general statement of the methods
that we have agreed to follow in the discussion now be-
ginning leaves nothing under that head for me to add,
subtract, or otherwise modify. He is to defend Socialism
in the ways that seem best to him, and I am to oppose
it with whatever weapons I choose. His generous per-
sonal references to me are naturally gratifying, even
though strict candour would compel me to admit that
they are not entirely deserved. In the spirit as well as
the matter of his first paper he sets a standard of cour-
teous, dispassionate writing which I will at all times
emulate. The debate will be one of issues, not of per-

Mr. Hillquit's delimitation of the subject-matter and
his conception of the sources and standards for argumen-
tation are on the whole the same as mine. Not any of
the minor schools and varieties, but International Social-
ism, is the thing that we are to debate. The doctrines
and policies of this system, as set forth in national and
international conventions, "constitute the most indis-
putable authority on the subjects with which they deal."
Nevertheless, "there are certain other sources which can-
not properly be left out of account." For the living
thing called Socialism is underlaid and permeated by a
fairly definite social philosophy, and "is not devoid of
ethical and spiritual implications."

These elements are to be found in the pronouncements,
whether by voice on the platform or by pen in books


and journals, of the recognized authorities and represent-
atives of the Socialist movement. What they say and
do must be taken as the legitimate expression of the
movement until it is formally repudiated. Some of the
most important of these authoritative persons are named,
and others are alluded to, in Mr. Hillquit's article. They
would be accepted as adequately representative Socialists
by any intelligent student of Socialism. His concep-
tion of the limited sense in which they are recognized
as authorities by their fellow-Socialists is likewise unex-

There is, however, one statement made by my oppo-
nent concerning the competency of these authorities
which is not entirely adequate. They are, he tells us,
authorities only "on the subject of Socialist economics
and politics. Their opinions on all other topics must
neither be credited nor charged to the Socialist move-
ment." For example, the views of Bernard Shaw con-
cerning the drama do not necessarily reflect the Social-
ist thought on the topic.

I admit the truth of the illustration, and for three
good reasons : first, Mr. Shaw's notions on this subject
are apparently peculiar to himself ; second, they do not
appear in those of his writings which deal specifically
with Socialism ; and, third, they are not placed by him
in any definite relation to Socialism or Socialist phi-

When, however, Mr. Hillquit thus continues: "and,
perhaps in a minor degree, it is similarly unwarranted
to claim that Engels' religious beliefs or Bebel's views on
the institution of the family represent the Socialist con-
ceptions on these subjects," he understates the impor-


tance and relevance of these particular utterances. As
I shall try to show at length in the proper place, such non-
economic opinions as these have a direct and significant
bearing on Socialist philosophy and the Socialist move-

We are, as Mr. Hillquit states in his closing paragraphs,
to discuss Socialism under a threefold aspect. We
shall consider it not merely as an economic and political
system, but also as a social philosophy and a living social
movement. Were we to do less than this, our treatment
of the subject would be partial, misleading, and inade-
quate. Every social ideal pursued by a social group
involves a movement and a philosophy. If there be ex-
ceptions to this rule, they do not include in their number
the subject of this debate. Adequately considered, then,
Socialism is an end, a means, and a set of fundamental
principles. The end is the Socialist State, or Socialist
reorganization of society; the means is the concrete
Socialist movement with its organized political party,
its literature, and its general propaganda; while the
principles or philosophy consist mainly of an interpreta-
tion of history, and a theory of social forces and social

Although the Socialist State might conceivably be
cherished and striven for by a different kind of move-
ment from that known as International Socialism, and
might start from and be motived by a different social
philosophy, the fact is that the movement and the
philosophy with which we have to deal are those which
Mr. Hillquit has outlined. It is this living reality and
not some imaginary or artificial Socialism that we are
to discuss.


Thus far we are in agreement. Thus far, and no
farther. For I reject and oppose Socialism in all three
aspects. As a social philosophy, it reaches some glim-
merings of truth, but is in the main false. As a living
movement, it involves and disseminates so many and
such baneful errors, social, religious, and ethical, that it
is a constant menace to right principles and a right
order of society. As a contemplated economic-political
scheme, it would bring in more and greater evils than it
would abolish.

While holding these rather decided views regarding
Socialism, I would have the reader understand that I
am not an undiscriminating apologist of the present
industrial system. In many of-its elements it is far,
very far, from satisfactory or teieTatteT^Ori the other
hand, it is not bankrupt. It has in it the possibilities
of immense improvement. Hence we are not compelled
to continue it as it now is or to fly to Socialism. There
is a third alternative, namely, the existing system greatly,
even radically, amended.

And this I believe to be the only reasonable choice,
and the only enduring outcome.




THAT the world needs mending, is generally conceded.
It is the tacit assumption from which proceed all modern
social and political activities, even those of the most
conservative character. The divisions in public opinion
arise only over the question of the extent of the needed
improvement and the methods of accomplishment.

The old-line politicians and statesmen and the con-
ventional philanthropists and church workers take it
for granted that the prevailing order of society is funda-
mentally sound, and that its workings are, on the whole,
just and beneficial. The few social flaws which they
discern they consider as purely accidental, something
in the nature of a passing sore on a healthy body.

The more modern political reformers and social-better-
ment workers have a somewhat wider range of social
vision, but they too do not question the foundation of
the body social and politic. The difference between the
most advanced reformer and the most conservative
"stand-patter" is one of degree, not of substance. The
distinguishing feature of Socialism as a social philosophy
lies in the fact that it is more scientific in its criticism
and more radical in its remedy.



Socialism proceeds from a thoroughgoing analysis of
the practical workings of the existing economic, political,
and social institutions. It refuses to treat their multi-
form shortcomings as accidental and unrelated phenom-
ena, and endeavours to establish their mutual bearings
and to discover their common source. Its attack is
directed primarily against that source, the underlying
social wrong, which is the root of all minor and specific

The most serious social problems which confront the
present generation may be grouped under five main heads,
which together cover practically all phases of our com-
munal existence the economic, cultural, social, political,
and intellectual. Of these the economic problem is by
far the most important, and des^r^es^oTirfirst attention.

The striking feature of the modern plan of industrial
organization in its early phases of development is the lack
of plan and absence of organization. In the most vital
function of associated human beings, the "production
of wealth," which means the process of sustaining life,
anarchy reigns supreme. The necessaries and comforts
of the community are not produced on an intelligent
plan based on the needs of the population and the avail-
able supply of raw material and productive forces. They
are created and thrown into the market pell-mell by an
indeterminate number of individual, competing, and
unorganized manufacturers.

The system involves an insane waste of human effort
in duplication of plants and machinery, in sales forces,
advertising, and other unproductive factors of competi-
tive warfare. Work is unregulated and uncertain,
periods of strenuous and taxing activity alternating with


seasons of enforced idleness. The planless and casual
mode of production often results either in a scarcity or
in a superabundance of supplies.

In the former case the price of products rises to a point
which puts them beyond the reach of the needy con-
sumer, and the latter is apt to inflict on society that most
fearful of capitalist scourges the industrial crisis.

When the market is stocked with such an excessive
quantity of commodities that the consumers have neither
ability nor means to absorb them, industrial paralysis
ensues. The wheels of production cease to turn, the
arteries of trade are clogged. Millions of workers are
thrown out of employment, thousands of business enter-
prises collapse. Men, women, and children succumb
for want of food and clothing, and all the time food and
clothing are piled up in prodigious quantities, rotting
for lack of consumers.

The competitive system of private capitalism erects
an unsurmountable barrier between the workers and
their work, between the people and their food.

These glaring defects of competition in manufacture
and trade ultimately lead to its partial suppression.
The capitalists begin to organize. The individual mer-
chant and manufacturer yield to the corporation, and the
latter rapidly grows into that most modern of industrial
phenomena the trust. The trusts succeed in elimi-
nating some of the evils of unbridled competition, but
they exact a terrible price for the service. With the
control of the market in each important industry they
acquire practically unrestricted powers over the workers
as well as the consumers, and they do not hesitate to
use and abuse these powers to the utmost.


To the trusts furthermore belongs the credit of having
perfected the most pernicious of modern methods of
financial malpractice the "watering" of stocks. In
creating by their mere fiat new income-bearing "securi-
ties" to the extent of billions of dollars, they impose
a heavier tax on the people of this country than the com-
bined organs of government ever dared to exact.

And the nation, as at present organized, is helpless
before them. No amount of denunciation will shake
their massive foundation, no penal legislation or court
decrees will curtail their tremendous powers, as the
sturdy corpses of the Standard Oil Company, the To-
bacco Trust, and other "dissolved "/combines eloquently
attest. In the face of popular cl^rrjruji^ajidr-in^ignation
they stand like huge giants, complacently grinning at
the impotent ravings of excited pygmies.

The trusts have largely abolished industrial anarchy.
They have reared in its place the formidable throne of
industrial autocracy.

The economic ascendency of the capitalists places
them in a position to apportion the annual product of
the country among its inhabitants. To be sure, they do
not discharge that function consciously or planfully
they operate indirectly, each within his own sphere;
but the collective result of the process amounts to an
effective division of wealth, periodically accomplished
by the capitalist class.

And the plan upon which the division proceeds is
exceedingly simple :

The working population as a whole gets just a little
less than is necessary to maintain it in physical fitness


for its task and to enable it to reproduce the species

The balance is retained by the capitalist purveyors
as their just share of the "national" wealth.

It is this method of wealth distribution which rears
our thousands of powerful millionnaires, with their proud
mansions and dazzling luxury, and it is this method
also that breeds our millions of paupers with their disrep-
utable dwellings, their filth and rags. To this capitalist
system of wealth distribution we are largely indebted
for our libraries, our hospitals, rescue missions, and
charitable institutions of all descriptions; also for our
pauperism, child labour, trade diseases, white slavery,
and many other forms of destitution and its twin sisters,
crime and vice.

The monopoly of material wealth inevitably involves
a corresponding monopoly in education and culture. If
the degree of civilization attained by a community is to
be measured not by the heights of accomplishment
reached by the few, but by the general diffusion of cul-
ture among the masses, then indeed our modern civiliza-
tion is a miserable failure.

The large masses of the people participate to some ex-
tent in the benefits of the practical achievements of
modern science, but the general cultural influences of the
marvellous scientific discoveries of recent times pass by
them with little effect. Millions of mine workers, fac-
tory hands, and street labourers culturally still live in
the fifteenth century, and as to the fine arts, the drama,
literature, music, painting, and sculpture, and all the
things that go so far toward ennobling and embellishing
the life of the individual, they simply do not exist for


the vast majority of the people, who have neither means
nor leisure to cultivate them.

But the most disastrous effect of the system of private
capitalistic industries is the division of the population
into distinct social and economic groups with conflicting
and hostile interests. The prevailing system of industrial
ownership and operation arrays the producer against
the consumer, the tenant against the landlord, and the
worker against the employer.

Most far reaching in social consequences is the war
between the latter two classes. For there is war, and
nothing but war, between the capftajisjt jmd_the worker,
in spite of the conventional cant about the alleged har-
mony of their economic interests. The capitalists'
profits stand in inverse ratio to the workers' wages and
vice versa. So long as the industries of the country are
operated for the private advantage of the individual
capitalist, so long will the latter strive to secure the
maximum of work for the minimum of pay ; and so long
as human labour remains a mere commodity to be sold
to the capitalist in open market, so long will the worker
strive to save and conserve this, his sole valuable posses-
sion, and to obtain as large a price for it as he can.

There is no more harmony between privately owned
capital and wage-earning labour than there is between the
wolf and the lamb. The modern capitalist extracts his
profits by dint of his economic power, the ownership of
the tools of work. The modern toiler does his share of
the world's work under protest. When he does not
strike or boycott or destroy his employer's property, he
renders his services grudgingly. Instinctively he hates


his employer, for he feels that the latter is robbing him
of a large portion of his legitimate product by means of
an artificial social arrangement.

The employer feels and fears that hatred, and is al-
ways on the watch for open outbreaks of the sentiment,
prepared to quell the ever anticipated revolts of his
"hands" by a course of starvation, enforced, if need be,
by the clubs of the police, the rifles of the militia, or by
court injunctions. "Industrial disputes" are not the
exception, they are almost the rule, in the relations of
employer and employee. Our industrial derangement,
miscalled "system," operates through a state of perma-
nent industrial warfare, in which the true producers of
all wealth are treated as prisoners of war.

This general and relentless social strife is not fomented
by malevolent "agitators." It is rooted in the very
foundations of the system of capitalism and is the
most damning indictment against it.

Nor are the direct economic faults of the existing
order its only or even greatest curse. The diseased germs
of the system are bound to infect all organs of the body
politic with their insidious poison. For, after all, modern
politics is mainly concerned with affairs of business
within the municipality, state, and nation. Franchises
and grants for public-service corporations, tariffs for man-
ufacturing industries, supervision of certain quasi-public
business concerns, regulation of rates and charges of
others, and rules with respect to certain employments
these constitute the largest items on the calendar of
every legislative body, and all such legislation has a direct
effect on the capitalist's ledger.


The capitalists are likewise vitally concerned in the
personnel of the executive and judicial officials. The
favours or disfavours of such officials often mean dollars
and cents to them. The big business interests have
thus a direct and practical motive in seeking to influence
or control politics. And therein lies the main cause of
all contemporary political corruption. The national
campaigns of the old political parties are financed, hence
controlled, very largely by the national trusts through
their individual representatives; the state campaigns
by the principal railroad lines of the^state; and the
municipal campaigns by the local tractiony^gas^or-ether
"public-service" corporations.

Under these conditions politics becomes a lucrative call-
ing exercised by a large army of professionals, trained in
the fine art of trafficking in votes, public offices, and legis-
lative enactments. The Spartan band of our honest but
simple statesmen may continue exerting their ingenuity
toward the elaboration of an ideal Corrupt Practices Act
and perfect primary laws, and our public-spirited munici-
pal reformers may remain on their life-job of purifying
local politics ; they may even succeed in curbing the raw
methods of open barter and in introducing greater out-
ward decency ; but they cannot change the substance.

So long as politics has a direct bearing on private
profits, there will always exist a commercial alliance
between the capitalist and the politician, the former
having a constant incentive to corrupt, and the latter
being in the business of being corrupted.

And what is true of politics holds equally good of the
effects of capitalism on all fields of the intellectual and
spiritual life of the nation.


The general state of public enlightenment in the last
analysis determines all social and political developments
of the country.

The natural and direct impulse of every individual or
group or class of individuals is to act in a manner most
conducive to the promotion of his or their interests. But
in order to make the action effective, the interests must
be intelligently understood. If the majority of the
people clearly perceived their needs and rights, and
realized their power, no minority would ever rule. The
fact that all ruling classes in history have been in the
minority is to be largely accounted for by their ability
to impose on the rest of the population such views and
notions as were required to preserve their rule.

Not that the rule of any dominant class was ever
based on purely intellectual concepts on the contrary,
they were always supported by brute physical force in
the shape of strong armies; but nevertheless they de-
pended ultimately on popular sanction. In the absence
of such sanction the ruling classes could not even recruit
and maintain their armies in the long run.

The capitalists are no exception to this general histori-
cal rule. They constitute a minority in the population
of every civilized country. Their rule is based on their
ownership of the tools of work, the laws which sanction
and protect such ownership, and the government organ-
ized to enforce such sanction and protection. But in
a political democracy the laws may change with every
change of the popular notion of justice and expediency,
and the government is always the football of contending
forces of diverse material interests. To preserve their
economic power the capitalists must therefore retain


their political control, and the latter presupposes the
support of a majority of the people.

Modern capitalism depends on popular sanction even
in a larger measure than the class rules of the past, be-
cause that sanction must be renewed and solemnly at-
tested every few years at the ballot-box.

The capitalists are thus vitally concerned in the state
of enlightenment, social views, economic doctrines, and
ethical conceptions of their fellow-citizens, and they
spare no effort to shape them in conformity with-their
own notions and interests. The press, the pulpit, and
the school are largely under their influence, if not directly
in their service.

The most influential part of the daily press is either
owned outright by them, or mortgaged to them, or de-
pendent on them through advertisements and similar
bonds of friendship, and the average editorial writer
quite naturally views the world and its problems through
the coloured spectacles of his masters.

The churches, especially the larger and wealthier, are
also supported by the money interests, and their ministers
in most cases quite innocently and sincerely deliver the
message of Christ in the version of the factory superin-

The public schools suffer from the same malign politi-
cal influences which corrupt the city councils, and the
colleges and universities are often founded, endowed, or
supported by benevolent capitalists, on the tacit condi-
tion that science is at all times to remain respectable and

The existence of an "independent" press and the oc-
casional type of the progressive preacher and the radical

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