R. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) Ensor.

Modern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; online

. (page 10 of 35)
Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 10 of 35)
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of producing — it was fighting with each other for the aggran-
disement, in earlier times of their special city, in later of their
own selves ; similarly, the mediseval baron, set free from the
necessity of producing by the labour of the serfs who tilled
his lands for him, occupied himself with fighting for more
serf-tilled land either for himself or for his suzerain. In our
own days we see that there is a class freed from the necessity
of producing by the tribute paid by the wage-earner. What
does 010- free class do ? how does it occupy the lifelong leisure
which it forces toil to yield to it ?

Well, it chiefly occupies itself in war, like those earlier
non-producing classes, and very busy it is over it. I know,
indeed, that there is a certain portion of the dominant class
that does not pretend to do anything at all, except perhaps
a little amateur reactionary legislation, yet even of that group
I have heard that some of them are very busy in their estate
offices trying to make the most of their special privilege, the


monopoly of the land ; and, taking them altogether, they are
not a very large class.- Of the rest some are busy in taxing us
and repressing our liberties directly, as officers in the army and
navy, magistrates, judges, barristers, and lawyers ; they are the
salaried officers on the part of the masters in the great class
struggle. Other groups there are, as artists and literary men,
doctors, schoolmasters, etc., who occupy a middle position
between the producers and the non-producers ; they are doing
useful service, and ought to be doing it for the community at
large, but practically they are only working for a class, and in
their present position are little better than hangers-on of the non-
producing class, from whom they receive a share of their privi-
lege, together with a kind of contemptuous recognition of their
position as gentlemen — heaven save the mark ! But the great
mass of the non-producing classes are certainly not idle in the
ordinary sense of the word ; they could not be, for they include
men of great energy and force of character, who would,
as all reasonable men do, insist on some serious or exciting
occupation; and I say once again their occupation is war,
though it is " writ large," and called competition. They
are, it is true, called organizers of labour ; and sometimes
they do organize it, but when they do they expect an extra
reward for so doing outside their special privilege. A great
many of them, though they are engaged in the war, sit at home
at ease, and let their generals, their salaried managers to
wit, wage it for them — I am meaning here shareholders, or
sleeping-partners — but whenever they are active in business
they are really engaged in organizing the war with their com-
petitors, the capitalists in the same line of business as them-
selves ; and if they are to be successful in that war they must
not be sparing of destruction, either of their own or of other
people's goods ; nay, they not unseldom are prepared to further
the war cf sudden, as opposed to that of lingering, death, and
of late years they have involved pretty nearly the whole of
Europe in attacks on barbarian or savage peoples, which are
only distinguishable from sheer piracy by their being carried


on by nations instead of individuals. But all that is only by
the way ; it is the ordinary and necessary outcome of their
operations that there should be periodical slackness of trade
following on times of inflation, from the fact that every one
tries to get as much as he can of the market to himself at the
expense of every one else, so that sooner or later the market is
sure to be overstocked, so that wares are sold sometimes at
less than the cost of production, which means that so much
labour has been wasted on them by misdirection. Nor is that
all ; for they are obliged to keep an army of clerks and such
like people, who are not necessary either for the production of
goods or their distribution, but are employed in safeguarding
their master's interests against their master's competitors. The
waste is further increased by the necessity of these organizers
of the commercial war for playing on the ignorance and
gullibility of the customers by two processes, which in their
perfection are specialities of the present century, and even, it
may be said, of this latter half of it — to wit, adulteration and
puffery. It would be hard to say how much ingenuity and pains-
taking have been wasted on these incidents in the war of
commerce, and I am wholly unable to get any statistics of
them ; but we all^ know that an enormous amount of labour is
spent on them, which is at the very best as much wasted as if
those engaged on it were employed in digging a hole and fiUing
it up again.

But, further, there is yet another source of waste involved
in our present society. The grossly unequal distribution of
wealth forces the rich to get rid of their surplus money by
means of various forms of folly and luxury, which means
further waste of labour. Do not think I am advocating
asceticism. I wish us all to make the utmost of what we can
obtain from Nature to make us happier and more contented
while we live ; but, apart from reasonable comfort and real
refinement, there is, as I am sure no one can deny, a vast
amount of sham wealth and sham service created by our
miserable system of rich and poor, which makes no human


being the happier on tlie one hand, while on the other it
withdraws vast numbers of workers from the production of
real utilities, and so casts a heavy additional burden of labour
on those who are producing them. I have been speaking
hitherto of a producing and a non-producing class, but I have
been quite conscious all the time that though the first class
produces whatever wealth is created, a very great many of
them are prevented from producing wealth at all, are being
set to nothing better than turning a wheel that grinds nothing
— save their own lives. Nay, worse than nothing. I hold
that this sham wealth is not merely a negative evil (I mean in
itself), but a positive one. It seems to me that the refined
society of to-day is distinguished from all others by a kind of
gloomy cowardice — a stolid but timorous incapacity of enjoy-
ment. He who runs may read the record of the unhappy
rich not less than that of the unhappy poor, in the futility
of their amusements and the degradation of their art and

Well, then, the third condition of a reasonable society is
violated by our present so-called society; the tremendous
activity, energy, and invention of modern times is to a great
extent wasted ; the monopolists force the workers to waste
a great part of their labour-power, while they waste almost
the whole of theirs. Our society, therefore, does not fulfil
the true functions of society. Now, the constitution of all
society requires that each individual member of it should yield
up a part of his liberty in return for the advantages of mutual
help and defence; yet at bottom that surrender should be
part of the liberty itself: it should be voluntary in essence.
But if society does not fulfil its duties towards the individual,
it wrongs him ; and no man voluntarily submits to wrong —
nay, no man ought to. The society, therefore, that has
violated the essential conditions of its existence must be
sustained by mere brute force ; and that is the case of our
modern society, no less than that of the ancient slave-holding
and the medi?eval serf-holding societies. As a practical


deduction, I ask you to agree with me that such a society
should be changed from its base up, if it be possible. And,
further, I must ask how, by what, and by whom, such a revolu-
tion can be accomplished? But before I set myself to deal
with these questions, I will ask you to believe that, though I
have tried to argue the matter on first principles, I do not
approach the subject from a pedantic point of view. If I
could believe that, however wrong it may be in theory, our
present system works well in practice, I should be silenced.
If I thought that its wrongs and anomalies were so capable of
palliation, that people generally were not only contented but
were capable of developing their human faculties duly under
it, and that we were on the road to progress without a great
change, I for one would not ask any one to meddle with it.
But I do not believe that, nor do I know of any thoughtful
person that does. In thoughtful persons I can see but two
attitudes ; on the one hand the despair of pessimism, which I
admit is common, and on the other a desire and hope of
change. Indeed, in a year like the present, when one hears
on all sides and from all classes of what people call depression
of trade, which, as we too well know, means misery at least
as great as that which a big war bears with it ; and when on
all sides there is ominous grumbling of the coming storm, the
workers unable to bear the extra burden laid upon them by
the " bad times," — in such a year there is, I do not say no
hope, but at least no hope except in those changes, the tokens
of which are all around us.

Therefore, again I ask how, or by what, or by whom, the
necessary revolution can be brought about? What I have
been saying hitherto has been intended to show you that
there has always been a great class struggle going on, which
is still sustained by our class of monopoly and our class of
disinheritance. It is true that in former times no sooner was
one form of that class struggle over than another took its
place; but in our days it has become much simplified, and
has cleared itself by progress through its various stages of


mere accidental circumstances. The struggle for political
equality has come to an end, or nearly so ; all men are (by a
fiction, it is true) declared to be equal before the law, and
compulsion to labour for another's benefit has taken the
simple form of the power of the possessor of money, who is
all-powerful ; therefore if, as we Socialists believe, it is certain
that the class struggle must one day come to an end, we are
so much nearer to that end by the passing through of some of
its necessary stages ; history never returns on itself.

Now, you must not suppose, therefore, that the revolutionary
struggle of to-day, though it may be accompanied (and neces-
sarily) by violent insurrection, is paralleled by the insurrections
of past times. A rising of the slaves of the ancient period,
or of the serfs of the mediaeval times, could not have been
permanently successful, because the time was not ripe for such
success, because the growth of the new order of things was
not sufficiently developed. It is indeed a terrible thought
that, although the burden of injustice and suffering was almost
too heavy to be borne in such insurrectionary times, and
although all popular uprisings have right on their side, they
could not be successful at the time, because there was nothing
to put in the place of the unjust system against which men
were revolting. And yet it is true, and it explains the fact
that the class antagonism is generally more felt when the
oppressed class is bettering its condition than when it is at
its worst. The consciousness of oppression then takes the
form of hope, and leads to action, and is, indeed, the token of
the gradual formation of a new order of things underneath
the old decaying order.

Most thoughtful people are conscious of the fact that the
tendency of the times is to make the labour classes the great
power of the epoch, in the teeth of the other fact that labour
is at least as directly under the domination of a privileged class
as ever it was. Now these two facts taken together: the
obvious uprising of the workers in the scale, and their being
face to face with a class that lives by exploiting their labour, —



these two facts seem to us Socialists to show that one of these
classes must give way, and that this giving way must mean
that one of those classes must be absorbed in the other, and
so the class-war be ended. If that position be accepted, it is
clear that the class that must come alive out of the struggle
must be the producing class, the useful class ; therefore the
Socialist's view of the labour question is that a new society
is in course of development from the working-classes — the
producing classes, more properly — and that the other classes
which now live on their labour will melt into that class. The
result of that will be, that, so far as society has any conscious
organization, it will be an instrument for the arrangement of
labour so as to produce wealth from natural material, and to
distribute the wealth when produced without waste of labour ;
that is to say, it will satisfy those ideal conditions of its reason
for existence which I began by putting before you.

I told you that I was not prepared to give you any details
of the arrangement of a new state of society ; but I am pre-
pared to state the principles on which it would be founded,
and the recognition of which would make it easy for serious
men to deal with the details of arrangement. Socialism asserts
that every one should have free access to the means of pro-
duction of wealth — the raw material and the stored-up force
produced by labour; in other words, the land, plant, and
stock of the community, which are now monopolized by certain
privileged persons, who force others to pay for their use. This
claim is founded on the principle which lies at the bottom of
Socialism, that the right to the possession of wealth is conferred
by the possessor having worked towards its production, and
being able to use it for the satisfaction of his personal needs.
The recognition of this right will be enough to guard against
mere confusion and violence. The claim to property on any
other grounds must lead to what is in plain terms robbery ;
which will be no less robbery because it is organized by a
sham society, and must be no less supported by violence
because it is carried on under the sanction of the law.


Let me put this with somewhat more of detail. No man
has made the land of the country, nor can he use more than a
small portion of it for his personal needs ; no man has made
more than a small portion of its fertility, nor can use personally
more than a small part of the results of the labour of countless
persons, living and dead, which has gone to produce that
fertility. No man can build a factory with his own hands, or
make the machinery in it, nor can he use it, except in combi-
nation with others. He may call it his, but he cannot make
any use of it as his alone, unless he is able to compel other
people to use it for his benefit ; this he does not do personally,
but our sham society has so organized itself that by its means
he can compel this unpaid service from others. The magis-
trate, the judge, the policeman, and the soldier, are the sword
and pistol of this modern highwayman, and I may add that he
is also furnished with what he can use as a mask under the
name of morals and religion.

Now, if these means of production — the land, plant, and
stock — were really used for their primary uses, and not as
means for extracting unpaid labour from others, they would
be used by men working in combination with each other, each
of whom would receive his due share of the results of that
combined labour; the only difficulty would then be what
would be his due share, because it must be admitted on all
hands that it is impossible to know how much each individual
has contributed towards the production of a piece of co-opera-
tive labour ; but the principle once granted that each man
should have his due share of what he has created by his labour,
the solution of the difficulty would be attempted, nay, is now
hypothetically attempted, in various ways, in two ways mainly.
One view is that the State — that is, society organized for the
production and distribution of wealth — would hold all the
means of the production of wealth in its hands, allowing
the use of them to whomsoever it thought could use them,
charging rent, perhaps, for their use, but which rent would be
used again only for the benefit of the whole community, and


therefore would return to the worker in another form. It
would also take on itself the organization of labour in detail,
arranging the how, when, and where, for the benefit of the
public, — doing all this, one must hope, with as little centraliza-
tion as possible ; in short, the State, according to this view,
would be the only employer of labour. No individual would
be able to employ a workman to work for him at a profit, i.e.
to work for less than the value of his labour (roughly esti-
mated), because the State would pay him the full value of it ;
nor could any man let land or machinery at a profit, because
the State would let it without the profit. It is clear that if
this could be carried out, no one could live without working.
When a man had spent the wealth he had earned personally,
he would have to work for more, as there would be no tribute
coming to him from the labour of past generations ; on these
terms he could not accumulate wealth, nor would he desire to,
for he could do nothing with it except satisfy his personal
needs with it, whereas at present he can turn the superfluity
of his wealth into capital, i.e. wealth used for the extraction
ofprofit. Thus society would be changed. Every one would
have to work for his livelihood, and everybody would be able
to do so ; whereas at present there are people who refuse to
work for their livelihood, and forbid others to do so. Labour
would not be wasted, as there would be no competing em-
ployers, gambling in the market, and using the real producer
and the consumer as their milch cows. The limit of price
would be the cost of production, so that buying and selling
would be simply the exchange of equivalent values, and there
would be no loss on either side in the transaction. Thus
there would be a society in which every one would have an
equal chance for well-doing, for, as a matter of course,
arrangements would be made for the sustaining of people in
their nonage, for keeping them in comfort if they were physi-
cally incapacitated from working, and also for educating every
one according to his capacities. This would at the least be a
society which would try to perform those functions of seeing


that every one did his due share of work and no more, and
had his due share of wealth and no less, and that no labour
was wasted, which I have said were the real functions of a
true society.

But there is another view of the solution of the difficulty as
to what constitutes the due share of the wealth created by
labour. Those who take it say, since it is not really possible
to find out what proportion of combined labour each man
contributes, why profess to try to do so? In a properly
ordered community all work that is done is necessary on
the one hand, and on the other there would be plenty of
wealth in such a community to satisfy all reasonable needs.
The community holds all wealth in common, but has the
same right to holding wealth that the individual has, namely,
the fact that it has created it and uses it ; but as a community
it can only use wealth by satisfying with it the needs of every
one of its members — it is not a true community if it does less
than this — but their needs are not necessarily determined by
the kind or amount of work which each man does, though, of
course, when they are that must be taken into account. To
say the least of it, men's needs are much more equal than
their mental or bodily capacities are ; their ordinary needs,
granting similar conditions of climate and the like, are pretty
much the same, and could, as above said, be easily satisfied.
As for special needs for wealth of a more special kind,
reasonable men would be contented to sacrifice the thing
which they needed less for that which they needed more ;
and for the rest, the varieties of temperament would get over
the difiiculties of this sort. As to the incentives to work, it
must be remembered that even in our own sham society
most men are not disinclined to work, so only that their
work is not that which they are compelled to do ; and the
higher and more intellectual the work is, the more men are
resolved to do it even in spite of obstacles. In fact, the ideas
on the subject of the reward of labour in the future are
founded on its position in the present. Life is such a terrible


struggle for the majority, that we are all apt to think that a
specially gifted person should be endowed with more of that
which we are all compelled to struggle for — money, to wit —
and to value his services simply by that standard. But in
a state of society in which all were well-to-do, how could you
reward extra services to the community? Give your good
worker immunity from work ? The question carries with it
the condemnation of the idea, and moreover, that will be
the last thing he will thank you for. Provide for his children ?
The fact that they are human beings with a capacity for work
is enough ; they are provided for in being members of a
community whicli will see that they neither lack work nor
wealth. Give him more wealth ? Nay ; what for ? What can
he do with more than he can use? He cannot eat three
dinners a day, or sleep in four beds. Give him domination
over other men ? Nay, if he be more excellent than they are
in any art, he must mfliicncc them for his good and theirs,
if they are worth anything; but if you make him their arbitrary
master, he will govern them, but he will not influence them ;
he and they will be enemies, and harm each other mutually.
One reward you can give him, that is, opportunity for
developing his special capacity, but that you will do for
everybody and not the excellent only. Indeed, I suppose
he will not, if he be excellent, lack the admiration — or perhaps
it is better to say the affection — of his fellow-men, and he
will be all the more likely to get that when the relations
between him and them are no longer clouded by the fatal gift
of mastership.

In short, in a duly ordered community, everybody would
do what he could do best, and therefore easiest, and with
most pleasure. He who could do the higher work would
do it as easily as the man whose capacity was less would do
the lower work ; there would be no more wear and tear to
him in it, or if there were, it would mean simply that his needs
were greater, and would have to be considered accordingly.

Moreover, those who see this view of the new society


believe that decentralization in it would have to be complete.
The political unit with them is not a Nation, but a Commune ;
the whole of reasonable society would be a great federation of
such communes, federated for definite purposes of the organi-
zation of livelihood and exchange. For a mere nation is the
historical deduction from the ancient tribal family, in which
there was peace between the individuals composing it, and
war with the rest of the world. A nation is a body of people
kept together for purposes of rivalry and war with other
similar bodies, and when competition shall have given place
to combination the function of the nation will be gone.

I will recapitulate, then, the two views taken among
Socialists as to the future of society. According to the
first, the State — that is, the nation organized for unwasteful
production and exchange of wealth — will be the sole possessor
of the national plant and stock, the sole employer of labour,
which she will so regulate in the general interest that no man
will ever need to fear lack of employment and due earnings
therefrom. Everybody will have an equal chance of liveli-
hood, and, except as a rare disease, there would be no
hoarding of money or other wealth. This view points to
an attempt to give everybody the full worth of the productive
work done by him, after having ensured the necessary pre-
liminary that he shall always be free to work.

According to the other view, the centralized nation would
give place to a federation of communities who would hold all
wealth ia common, and would use that wealth for satisfying
the needs of each member, only exacting from each that he
should do his best according to his capacity towards the
production of the common wealth. Of course, it is to be

Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 10 of 35)