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Socialism; promise or menace? online

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college professor only prove that exceptionally vigorous
spirits may assert themselves in spite of the corrupting
influences of capitalist economic pressure. They justify
the hope of Socialism, but do not mitigate the evils of

In his reply to this statement Dr. Ryan asserts that
the press, the school, and the church must furnish the
moral and intellectual remedies against the social evil of
our day and generation. Why and how must they?
This categoric imperative has been hurled at them for
a great many centuries without visible effect. What
reason does my hopeful opponent have to assume that
they will respond to his challenge now ?

It seems to me quite clear that so long as the sources
of popular knowledge and faith and the organs of public
expression are monopolized by private capitalist interests,
so long will they serve the same purpose as the privately
owned tools of production to fortify the capitalist rule.

Thus the most serious defects in our scheme of social
arrangement may be readily traced to one common source
- the system which hands over to a relatively small
number of favoured individuals the very key to the life
and welfare of the whole people, the sources of life and
the tools of work, and allows them to monopolize wealth,
power, ease, and culture, leaving the majority of their
fellow-men to struggle in poverty, dependence, toil, and
ignorance the anarchistic, predatory, demoralizing,
and corrupting system of Capitalism.

It is no answer to the Socialist indictment to say that
with all its shortcomings modern civilization is superior
to all conditions of the past.


The modern or capitalist era has introduced certain
grave social problems unknown to the past. It has
increased the risks and the insecurity of the working
population, it has intensified social contrasts, and has
reared a new social power of unprecedented virulence
and menace, the money power. But with all that the
Socialists cheerfully admit that, on the whole, life is more
propitious to-day even to the masses than it was ^t any
time in the past. The very foundation of
mistic philosophy rests on the realization of the world's
never ceasing process of betterment.

The Socialists, however, refuse to admit that the
capitalist system is the ultimate and perfect form of
social development and the last word of history. The
criterion of their criticism is not the conditions of the past,
but the measure in which the present has taken advan-
tage or failed to take advantage of the available forces
of improvement.

When a nation is poor in natural resources and un-
skilled in the art of producing its sustenance by appro-
priate instruments and methods, the sum of supplies
produced or secured will naturally fall short of the norm
required to satisfy the needs of all inhabitants. Poverty
is legitimate under such circumstances, and struggles
for food among men are inevitable.

But when a people is abundantly blessed with fertile
soil, forests, minerals, and other sources of wealth, and
has developed a perfect system for the production, trans-
portation, and distribution of goods, it is placed in a
position to take care of the reasonable needs of all its
members. In such case poverty and brute fights for food
or wealth are no longer "natural" -they are purely


artificial and evidence of a serious flaw in the organiza-
tion of the industrial system.

The Socialists contend that all modern civilized na-
tions are amply provided with natural wealth, and that
the development of the marvelous instruments of pro-
duction, transportation, and exchange within the last
century has increased the fertility of human labour to
such an extent that every nation is able to feed, clothe,
and house its inhabitants with perfect ease.

The reason that this is not done, and that the richest
nations present the most appalling scenes of poverty
and destitution among large sections of the population,
is to be found in the fact that in modern societies wealth
is not at all created for the satisfaction of human needs,
but for the purpose of enabling a number of chosen in-
dividuals, commonly styled capitalists, to hoard up for-

In other words, our industrial machinery is organized
for private profit, not for public use.

Socialism proposes to abolish the capitalist industrial
monopoly and to organize and develop in its stead a
system of socialized industries, i.e. a system by which
the important industries of the country shall be operated
by the people, under rational and democratic forms of
organization and management, for the benefit of the
whole community, and not for the profit of individual
capitalists. The first step to such a system is the ac-
quisition by the people, through their government, of
all the general sources and resources of wealth and the
modern instruments of labour. More technically stated,
Socialism stands for the collective ownership of all social
sources and instruments of wealth production, to be


operated under democratic administration for the benefit
of the whole people.



The remedy for our social ills proposed by the Socialist
is, indeed, more radical than the programme of the social
reformer. But the Socialist criticism is not more scien-
tific. It is not scientific at all. It exaggerates the wrongs
and defects of the existing order because it considers them
without reference to the achievements of the past and
the possibilities of the present and future ; because it at-
tributes to human nature and human institutions a per-
fectibility that is not justified by experience ; and because
it makes social causality and social processes entirely too

Mr. Hillquit's indictment of our methods of wealth
production may be summed up in his own words, "an-
archy reigns supreme." As a consequence of this
anarchy we have : an enormous waste of energy and re-
sources; alternating periods of over-employment and
under-employment ; untold suffering by millions of
human beings; monopolistic concentration which exer-
cises "practically unrestricted powers over the workers
as well as the consumers," and which defies even the
government itself ; and, finally, a system of distribution
which doles out to the working population "just a little
less than is necessary to maintain it in physical fitness
for its task and to enable it to reproduce the species


worker" a system of distribution which breeds "thou-
sands of powerful millionnaires, . . . and . . . mil-
lions of paupers with their disreputable dwellings, their
filth and rags."

Of these assertions some are true only in a figurative
sense; others are only half-truths; none is true ade-
quately or scientifically ; and all are misleading.

Figures of Speech. The nation, says my opponent,
is helpless before the trusts.

How does he know? The strength of the nation in
this respect has never been tested.

During the period of less than twenty years in which
the trusts were organizing, no systematic, comprehen-
sive, and persistent effort was set in motion to prevent,
control, or dissolve them. To assume that the partial
dissolution of the Standard Oil Company and the
American Tobacco Company by a court decree has ex-
hausted the power of the government, is to ignore the
greater part of its resources both in the field of preven-
tion and punishment. Thank God, we now have a na-
tional administration which does not believe either in the
craven doctrine of trust omnipotence or in the paralyzing
superstition of trust efficiency, and which will earnestly
and intelligently utilize all the powers of the nation
against Mr. Hillquit's "huge giants."

Not until this plan has met with decisive failure will
his pessimistic presentment of national helplessness be
within measurable distance of literal and scientific

Another purely figurative assertion is that " the work-
ing 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 worker" There-
fore, the working-class must in time disappear, since its
ranks cannot be recruited indefinitely from the middle
class. That would be one solution of the class struggle.

As a matter of fact, the majority of the wage-earners
do marry and reproduce. Practically all the skille
workers, and a considerable portion of the unskilled,
get sufficient remuneration to command some leisure,
recreation, and amusement; some education, books,
and newspapers ; some religious advantages and church
affiliation; and some purely "social" intercourse and

Even the statement that we have millions of paupers
is only figurative. When Professor Ely put the number
at three million in 1890, and Robert Hunter made it
four million in 1904, they were using the word "pauper"
in its technical, not in its general, sense. They were
attempting to estimate the number of persons who re-
ceived sustenance from charity for any portion of the
year, however short. Since the vast majority of these
persons suffered this hardship for only a very brief period,
they were not paupers in the general and ordinary
acceptation, nor did their .condition approach that dire
need which is suggested to the average reader by state-
ments like that of Mr. Hillquit.

Half-truths. Under this head comes my opponent's
description of the wastes, maladjustment, and suffering
involved in the competitive system. Even though his
presentation of these evils were literally accurate, it
would not follow that the system is economically and
ethically bankrupt. Such a conclusion would not be


justified until the evils complained of had been shown
to be greater than those of any previous system, until
the present system had been proved incapable of improve-
ment, or until a certainly better system had been found.
None of these conditions is met by Mr. Hillquit.

Economic conditions are better for the masses than
they have been at any previous time. With the excep-
tion of perhaps the poorest one-tenth, the working-classes
are better fed, clothed, and housed, and better provided
with economic goods generally. Even the "submerged
tenth" is probably better fed and housed than was the
corresponding section of the population in the most
favourable period of the past, namely, the later Middle
Ages. The advances made by all divisions of the
working-class since the beginning of the capitalist sys-
tem, about a century and a quarter ago, constitute one
of the commonplaces of economic history.

Indeed, Mr. Hillquit admits that, "on the whole, life
is more propitious to-day even to the masses than it was
at any time in the past"; but he contends that the
present system has introduced certain grave evils of its
own, and has "failed to take advantage of the available
forces of improvement." That the position and liveli-
hood of large sections of the working population are less
secure under the existing arrangement than in the stable
and regulated conditions of mediaeval society, cannot
be doubted; but this defect is gradually diminishing,
and it can be entirely removed through the modern de-
vice of insurance. That our "money power" is a new
thing under the sun, is likewise unquestionable ; yet it
does not exercise the same minute control over the lives
and liberties of the people as the feudal aristocracy;


besides, its sway can be curtailed or destroyed as soon
as the national government seriously makes the at-

That we have not taken "advantage of the available
forces of improvement," is most lamentably true; but
this fact does not justify the assumption that our eco-
nomic system is incapable of so doing.

Neither Mr. Hillquit nor any other critic has adduced
positive evidence to show that the present system can-
not be so reformed as to eliminate all the genuine evils
that he denounces. From the progress made in the
United States in the last twenty-five years in the matters
of collective bargaining between employers and employees,
the protection of women and children in industry, safety
and sanitation in work places, compensation for indus-
trial accidents, minimum-wage legislation, the attitude of
the public and of employers toward the rights and
claims of labour, the realization that the main abuses of
economic power proceed not from capital, but from privi-
leged capital, and other significant changes we con-
clude that our economic society is neither retrogressive
nor stagnant.

The extent to which the grosser evils of competition
have been removed through combination and coopera-
tion gives some indication of the immense progress that
is easily possible along these lines. Industrial crises
have steadily diminished in frequency and intensity.
All these are solid, definite, and substantial gains. To
ignore them is unjust. To assume that they have come
to an end is unwarranted and unscientific.

My opponent's indictment of the existing order be-
comes reasonable only on the assumption that a perfectly


flawless economic system is practically attainable. Such
a system he thinks he has found in- Socialism. How
badly he is mistaken in this supposition, we shall see
in the next and later chapters. In the meantime I would
merely call attention to the fact that the "anarchy"
and waste of the present system may well be a smaller
social evil than the lack of individual liberty and incen-
tive which are inseparable from a rigidly determined
economico-political order.

Is it desirable that all workers should be compelled
to sell their labour to, and all consumers forced to buy
their goods from, one agency, the State ?

With regard to inadequate incentive, Professor Thor-
stein Veblen, who is by no means an unfriendly critic
of Socialism, writes :

"While it is in the nature of things unavoidable that
the management of industry by modern business methods
should involve a large misdirection of effort and a large
waste of goods and services, it is also true that the aims
and ideals to which this manner of life gives effect, act
forcibly to offset all this incidental futility. These
pecuniary aims and ideals have a very great effect, for
instance, in making men work hard and unremittingly,
so that on this ground alone the business system prob-
ably compensates for any waste involved in its working.
There seems, therefore, no tenable ground for thinking
that the working of the modern system involves a cur-
tailment of the community's livelihood. It makes up
for its wastefulness by the added strain which it throws
upon those engaged in productive work." l

If we compare the evils of our present system with the

1 "The Theory of Business Enterprise," p. 65 ; New York, 1904.


elements of an ideal economic order, we cannot condemn
them too strongly; if we compare them with what in
the light of experience seems to be practicable, we see
that they are not nearly so terrible as they appear in the
eloquent pages of Mr. Hillquit. Inasmuch as he employs
the former rather than the latter criterion, his picture
lacks perspective and proportion, and gives us only a
series of half-truths.

The same judgment must be passed on his descrip-
tion of those evils of present society which are not pri-
marily economic. Measured by the general diffusion
of culture among the masses, he says, "our modern civi-
lization is a miserable failure." This verdict is not
warranted if our standard of comparison is to be the
achievements of the past or an accurate interpretation
of the possibilities of the present and the future. Does
Mr. Hillquit think that the culture of, say, the university
professor could, through any feasible arrangement of
economic and social conditions, be brought within the
reach of every human being ?

"Millions of mine workers, factory hands, and street
labourers culturally still live in the fifteenth century."
Surely this is an overstatement. Only a small minor-
ity of these classes, in the United States at least, are en-
tirely without education, books, and newspapers. Only
a small minority of the fifteenth-century populations
possessed any of these things. On the whole, progress,
very great progress, has been made in the task of pro-
viding opportunities of culture for the masses.

According to my opponent, our present industrial
arrangements pit producer against consumer, tenant


against landlord, and worker against employer. To a
large extent this is true. It is also inevitable. In some
degree it would prevail even under Socialism; for the
producers of any article would not be identical with the
whole body of its consumers. The former would seek
the highest possible remuneration ; the latter would for
the most part desire to keep down the price of the article,
and therefore the wages of its producers. The Socialists
make a great deal of this antagonism of interests, yet a
little reflection would show that it could be eliminated
only by a return to that primitive economy in which each
man produces only for himself, and buys nothing from
any one else.

Although much of the current talk about the harmony
of interests between employer and employee is just
what Mr. Hillquit calls it, "conventional cant," his own
figure of the wolf and the lamb is little better than a
caricature. Whether they realize it or not, both em-
ployer and employee prosper better in the long run by
so arranging their relations that the total product to be
divided between them shall be as large as possible. The
share of the capitalist will, in most instances, be greater
if he establishes liberal conditions of employment and
wages than if he rigorously strives "to secure the maxi-
mum of work for the minimum of pay."

That the majority of employers have not yet realized
this truth does not make it an untruth ; that a constantly
increasing number of them is realizing it, shows that it
need not remain forever undiscovered by the determining
mass of them.

The assertion that the toiler "instinctively hates his
employer" applies to only a small minority of the labour-


ing class. It is inaccurate to say that " ' industrial dis-
putes' are almost the rule"; for between no groups of
employers and employees do they prevail most of the
time. A fairly complete array of statistics shows that
in proportion to the wage-earning population strikes are
steadily decreasing. 1 The relations subsisting between
the average employer and his employees during the
greater part of any year are no more correctly charac-
terized by the term "dispute" than is the relation be-
tween the average housewife and the keeper of the corner

Inevitable difference of interests does not imply con-
tinual warfare.

The demoralizing influence of business, especially
"big business," upon our political life is summarily,
though somewhat luridly, sketched by Mr. Hillquit.
I shall not quarrel with his account of the past, but I
cannot accept his inference that no substantial improve-
ment is visible or possible. To characterize the far-
reaching and fundamental changes for the better which
have occurred in the last five years, particularly in the
last presidential campaign, as no more than "greater
outward decency" is to substitute hyperbole for literal
and accurate statement.

Moreover, my opponent takes no account of the fact
that the really formidable corruption practised by the
great corporations is quite as recent as the corporations
themselves, and that time is required to acquaint the
people with the new conditions and the new dangers.

1 For proof of this statement see Adams and Sumner, "Labor Prob-
lems," p. 180; New York, 1905.


That capitalists will always seek to corrupt politicians
is true; but the same will ever be true of any class
whose interests are affected by the activities of govern-

Even under Socialism men would still desire certain
good things, such as larger incomes and better positions,
which would be within the power of political function-
aries. And these goods would be not less, but more, im-
portant to men with moderate salaries than are increased
profits to the present-day capitalists. The only essential
difference is that the bribes would be more numerous
and less liberal.

According to Mr. Hillquit, the press, the pulpit, and
the school are largely under the influence, if not directly
in the service, of the capitalists. Taken as it stands,
this is a gross overstatement.

Despite numerous and notorious instances to the con-
trary, the monthly and weekly periodicals do not support
all the main projects and desires of Capitalism. The
great daily newspapers are, indeed, more subservient;
yet a considerable portion of them are independent on
many important issues, for example, on the trusts and
the tariff. Not a little of the recently aroused public
opinion on these subjects, and on the subject of privi-
leged wealth generally, is due to some of the metropolitan

To be sure, if my opponent merely means to say that
the press upholds the system of private ownership of
capital as against Socialism, he states the truth ; but it is
not, after all, a very illuminating truth.

His assertion that the churches are supported by the


money interest, and that the clergy "deliver the mes-
sage of Christ in the version of the factory superintend-
ent," is adequately true of only a small minority. It is,
however, true of practically all of them in the sense that
they do not preach the Gospel in the version of Karl

To say that "the colleges and universities are often
founded, endowed, or supported by benevolent capital-
ists, on the tacit condition that science is to remain at
all times respectable and respectful," and to imply that
this alleged condition is fulfilled, is to disregard the actual
teaching of these institutions, particularly as given from
the chairs of sociology and economics. The statement
just quoted from my opponent is evidently based entirely
on a priori grounds.

His contention that only the "exceptionally vigorous
spirits" among journalists, clergymen, and college pro-
fessors resist "the corrupting influences of capitalist
economic pressure," is one for which he offers no sem-
blance of proof. All the evidence tends to show that
the contrary statement is nearer the truth; namely,
that it is the men who yield to these influences who
constitute the exceptions in these three classes.

His assertion that the press, the school, and the church
have for centuries failed to achieve anything worth while
toward remedying social evils is obviously pure rhetoric.
Let him soberly, and with an eye single to the facts of
history, eliminate from social progress the contributions
of these three agencies, and then tell us what remains.

That the press, the school, and the church have not
removed all social evils nor brought about ideal social
conditions is most true, but it does not warrant the. state-


ment that they have accomplished practically nothing,
nor the inference that they will have no success in the
future. Here, as in so many other parts of his paper,
my opponent has adopted an unreasonable and impossible
criterion of achievement.

To ascribe all the evils of the present order to a single
source, the private ownership of capital, is neither ante-
cedently plausible nor justified by fact. It offers us an
explanation that is entirely too simple. We are reminded
of the words of Professor Marshall : "Nature's action is
complex ; and nothing is gained in the long run by pre-
tending that it is simple, and trying to describe it in a
series of elementary propositions." 1 Inasmuch as the
situation that we are considering involves the action and
interaction of rational and non-rational nature in a hun-
dred different ways, we should expect its causes and
problems to be hi the highest degree complex.

A sober analysis of the facts shows that the evils de-
nounced by Mr. Hillquit are due to Capitalism only in
part, and that even this part is specifically chargeable
not to the system itself, but to its abuses. Many of our

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