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

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

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Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 11 of 35)
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understood that each member is absolutely free to use his
share of wealth as he pleases without interference from any,
so long IS he really uses it, that is, does not turn it into
an instrument for the oppression of others. This view intends
complete equality of condition for every one, though life
would be as always, varied by the differences of capacity


and disposition ; and emulation in working for the common
good would supply the place of competition as an incentive.

These two views of the future of society are sometimes
opposed to each other as Socialism and Communism ; but
to my mind the latter is simply the necessary development of
the former, which implies a transition period, during which
people would be getting rid of the habits of mind bred by the
long ages of tyranny and commercial competition, and be
learning that it is to the interest of each that all should

When men had lost the fear of each other engendered by
our system of artificial famine, they would feel that the best
way of avoiding the waste of labour would be to allow every
man to take what he needed from the common store, since
he would have no temptation or opportunity of doing any-
thing with a greater portion than he really needed for his
personal use. Thus would be minimized the danger of the
community falling into bureaucracy, the mukiplication of
boards and offices, and all the paraphernalia of official
authority, which is after all a burden, even when it is exer-
cised by the delegation of the whole people and in accordance
with their wishes.

Thus I have laid before you, necessarily briefly, a Socialist's
view of the present condition of labour, and its hopes for
the future. If the indictment against the present society
seems to you to be of undue proportions compared with the
view of that which is to come, I must again remind you that
we Socialists never dream of building up by our own efforts in
one generation a society altogether new. All I have been
attacking has been the exercise of arbitrary authority' for the
supposed benefit of a privileged class. When we have got
rid of that authority and are free once more, we ourselves shall
do whatever may be necessary in organizing the reil society
which even now exists under the authority which uairps that
title. That true society of loved and lover, parent ,ind child,
friend and friend, the society of well-wishers, of leasonable


people conscious of the aspirations of humanity and the
duties we owe to it through one another, — this society, I
say, is held together and exists by its own inherent right
and reason, in spite of what is usually thought to be the
cement of society — arbitrary authority to wit — that is to say,
the expression of brute force under the influence of unreason-
ing habit. Unhappily though society exists, it is in an enslaved
and miserable condition, because that same arbitrary authority
says to us practically : " You may be happy if you can afford
it, but unless you have a certain amount of money, you shall
not be allowed the exercise of the social virtues ; sentiment,
affection, good manners, intelligence even, to you shall be
mere words ; you shall be less than men, because you are
needed as machines to grind on in a system which has come
upon us, we scarce know how, and which compels us, as well
as you." This is the real, continuously repeated proclamation
of law and order to the most part of men who are under the
burden of that hierarchy of compulsion which governs us under
the usurped and false title of society, and which all true
Socialists or supporters of real society are bound to do their
best to get rid of, so as to leave us free to realize to the full
that true society which means well-being and well-doing for
one and all.



By Sidney and Beatrice Webb

This is from the introduction to the second edition (July, 1902) of
Mr. and Mrs. Webb's collection of essays entitled Pro6/e/?7s 0/ /Iforfe/v?

Mr. and Mrs. Webb's principal joint works are, A History of Trade
Unionism and Industrial Democracy, The fullest account of their views
on the development and future constitution of society will be found in
the last chapter of the latter. Mr. Webb has been a leading member
of the Fabian Society since its inception, and a London County
Councillor since 1892. Mrs. Webb is the authoress of The Co-opera-
tive Movement in Great Britain, by Beatrice Potter.

The opening of the twentieth century finds both England
and the United States in a state of acute self-consciousness
with regard to the organization of industry and commerce, and
the influence of financial considerations in national politics.
The last decade has witnessed important and even dramatic
changes in the economic organization of the civilized world.
These changes have, both in the United Kingdom and the
United States, produced a marked effect on the public imagi-
nation. Public opinion learns, it is to be feared, little from
books, and only occasionally absorbs a discovery in the realm
of thought. Its most effective teacher is always some objective
happening in the world of things. The English municipaUties
learned the elements of sanitation, not from the physiologists,
but from three successive visitations of Asiatic cholera. The
economic changes of the last few years — the scramble for



Africa, the territorial expansion of the United States, the
enormous development of individual fortunes, the " inter-
nationalization " of every branch of industry, and, above all,
the startling multiplication of syndicates, trusts, and giant
amalgamations — all these have worked a great change in the
mind of the electorate. In the new Introductions to the
current editions of the History of Trade Unionism and
Industrial Democracy we have described some of these develop-
ments of public opinion, with special reference to trade-unions
and strikes. We now add a few suggestions with regard to
Trusts, and the public alarm concerning them.

It is curious to notice with what a start the ordinary
citizen has all of a sudden realized how entirely both England
and the United States have departed from the industrial
organization described by the classic economists. Adam
Smith's Wealth of Nations and the Declaration of Independ-
ence were given to the world in the same year. We need not
here inquire to what extent the argument and philosophy of
both these masterpieces may have been influenced by the
industrial organization then common to England and New
England. What is brought vividly and dramatically to our
minds by the formation of the so-called " Billion Dollar Steel
Trust " and the " Atlantic Shipping Combine" is the extent of
the change which has come over the economic status of the
mass of the nation. A century and a quarter ago, when
Jefferson and Adam Smith were writing, it could be taken for
granted that the normal state of things was for every man to
become, in due course, "his own master;" it could be
assumed that the work of the world was, for the most part,
done by men who were moved by the stimulus of making
"profit" as distinguished from wages or salary ; it seemed a
scientific fact that values were determined by the mutual
exchange of the commodities and services of independent
producers. It was on these assumptions that the classic
political economy was based. What is more important to us
to-day is that, both in England and in the United States, the


public opinion of the educated and prosperous classes still
makes, with regard to half its judgments, much the same
assumptions. Neither the prosperous Englishman nor the
prosperous American can rid himself of the feeling that it is
open to every one to become a profit-maker, that no one need
long remain a mere wage-earner, and that it is therefore not
really of vital consequence to the nation how those members
of the community who happen temporarily to be wage-earners
are actually living. The opening of the twentieth century
sees, perhaps, some weakening of this assumption. England
pays more and more attention to its factory legislation. The
prosperous American still believes, however, that at any rate
every native-born American can rise to a higher place, and
that the status of the hired labourer is therefore, on the
American continent, still something transient, exceptional,
and relatively unimportant. He is still revolted by any glimpse
of American democracy as a " democracy of the ' hired man.' "
Yet surely nothing is more certain than that in the United
States, as in Western Europe and Australia, the hired men
form, and must necessarily continue to form, at least three-
fourths of the population. This is a fact which the advent of
the Trust, the supremacy of business conducted on a large
scale, the rapidly increasing concentration of nearly every
kind of industry, can hardly fail to drive home to the mind of
the American, as to that of the English citizen. He will, for
the first time, become aware of himself as one of a democracy
of hired men.

We shall be conscious, too, by whom we are hired. It has
long been a fond dream, both in England and in the United
States, to prove, by some mysterious juggling with wage and
price statistics, that wealth is getting more equally distributed,
that the proportion of small competences is increasing, and
that the number is growing of those who, as shareholders or
interest receivers, share in industrial profits. This has, for forty
or fifty years, been an amiable delusion of the statistical philan-
thropist. It is now dispelled. The dramatic concentrations


of capital exhibited by the Rockefellers and Pierpont Mor-
gans, like the visible accumulations of some English ducal
ground-landlords, have forced upon everybody's notice the
indisputable testimony of death-duty statistics. The only point
in dispute is whether wealth-concentration has as yet gone
further in England or in the United States. This is, of course,
not to deny that some or all of the property-less masses have,
during the past fifty years, found their conditions of life
improved. But the advent of the Trust is making both
England and America realize, as they have never realized
before, that in both countries nine-tenths of all the realized
property belongs to-day to a class that comprises only one-
tenth of the population, — that ninety per cent, of the citizens,
the great mass of the people, share among them, even includ-
ing their littles homes and furniture, and all their much-vaunted
hoards, the ownership of not more than ten per cent, of the
capital wealth.

But if the advent of the trust makes us conscious of our-
selves as nations of hired men, it necessarily compels us to
realize that the conditions of our hiring are all-important, not
only to ourselves individually, but to the community as a
whole. " Every society is judged," as Mr. Asquith, the late
Home Secretary, said the other day, " and survives, accord-
ing to the material and moral minimum which it prescribes to
its members." Note that word " prescribes." As hired men,
we find ourselves graded in elaborate hierarchies, from the
sweated trouser-hand or day-labourer, right up to Mr. Schwab
or Mr. Clinton Dawkins at fabulous salaries. But the census
shows four-fifths of us to be manual-working wage-earners,
keeping our families out of earnings which may be anything
from ten shillings to ten pounds a week. These earnings
depend on our successful bargaining with our employers —
employers who used to be men like ourselves, but who, as we
now realize, are, for the majority of us, gigantic capitalist cor-
porations, huge joint-stock mills, railways, shipping combines,
and " Billion Dollar Steel Trusts." Between these employers


and the individual workmen there has hitherto been assumed
to be " freedom of contract," secured to us by the Constitu-
tion of the United States or by the contemporary general
principles of the law in the United Kingdom ; and this
freedom of contract was inaugurated, and is to-day still usually
defended, as being in the highest interests of the wage-earner
himself. " The patrimony of a poor man," says Adam Smith,
" lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands ; and to hinder
him from employing that strength and dexterity in what
manner he thinks proper, without injury to his neighbour, is a
plain violation of this most sacred property." But the con-
ditions of industry have somewhat changed since 1776, and
the " Billion Dollar Steel Trust," though it does not appreciably
alter the circumstances, is opening our eyes to them. We see
now, what the professors of political economy have gradually
become conscious of, that freedom of contract in the hiring of
labour may mean something very like the compulsion of one
party to serve the other, on terms nominally contractual, but
virtually fixed by overwhelming superiority in strength. When
the conditions of the workman's life are settled, without inter-
ference by law or trade-unionism, by absolutely free contract
betW'Cen man and man, the workman's freedom is delusive.
Where he bargains, he bargains at a hopeless disadvantage;
and with regard to many of the terms most important to his
health, comfort, and industrial efficiency, he cannot bargain
at all.i

This conclusion will carry with it such momentous con-
sequences, and is as yet so imperfectly realized, that it is
worth while to think it over. Let us consider how the wage-
contract is actually entered into. Leave out of account, to

' The whole argument on this poinl, witli the lads on which it is based,
will be found more fully set forth in owx Industrial Democracy, part iii. chap,
ii., "The Higgling of the Market;" and chap, iii., "The Economic
Characteristics of Trade Unionism." See, for a more popular presentation,
The Case for the Factory Acts, edited by Mrs. Sidney Webb (London, 1902).
[Authors' Note.]

S. AND B. WEBB 9:;

begin with, any period of bad trade, when mills are shutting
down or running only short time, and armies of unemployed
are looking for work. Assume that things are in equilibrium,
— that there is only one " hand " applying for it. Watch
carefully the play of motives acting on the two minds, that of
the " man with the dinner-pail " seeking employment, and that
of the employer or foreman with a place to fill. Suppose the
workman to demur to the wage offered by the emplo}er.
There is, we assume, absolutely no other spare hand in sight.
To leave the vacancy unfilled may cause some inconvenience
in the mill. To complete the orders in hand, some of the
other men may have to work more overtime. The delivery of
the goods may even have to be delayed, the year's output may
be diminished, and the year's profits may be fractionally less
than they would have been. But in the mean time the capitalist
or his agent is not actually affected in his daily life. He and
his family go on eating and drinking as they did before. At
most, the matter is a trifling one to them. Thus, the capitalist
can afford to wait until the workman returns in a humbler
frame of mind. And this is just what the workman must do.
What is only a trifling matter to the capitalist is to the work-
man his whole livelihood. Moreover, he cannot wait. Even
if he stands out one day, he has thereby lost that day. His
very subsistence depends on his quickly coming to an agree-
ment. If he is obstinate, consumption of his little hoard or
the sale of his furniture may delay the catastrophe. Sooner or
later slow starvation forces him to come to terms. And, since
success in the " higgling of the market " is largely dependent
on the relative eagerness of the parties to come to terms
— conspicuously so if this eagerness cannot be concealed
from the antagonist, — capitalist and workman always meet,
in the absence of law or effective trade-unionism, on unequal
terms. Further, the capitalist knows the cards, and the
workman does not. Even in the rare cases in which the
absence of a single workman is of any real consequence to the
employer, this is usually unknown to any one but himself.


He, too, knows the state of the market, and can judge
whether it might not even suit him better to slacken production
for the moment. The isolated individual workman bargains
in the dark. Add to this the fact that the workman is not
trained in the art of bargaining, which is the daily business of
the employer, or the constant task of an expert specially
trained for the particular work of hiring men. Thus, in the
bargaining between a capitalist corporation and the individual
labourers whom it hires, the labourers stand to lose at every

So far we have been assuming that the labour-market is in
equilibrium, and that only one hand applies for one vacant
place. But at what periods and in what trades is so perfect
an equilibrium to be found ? When wealthy companies are
concentrating their works and shutting down unnecessary
mills; when new processes or new machines are displacing
labour; when industrial crises, changes of fashion, or the
mere shifts and gusts of international commerce cause our
production to wane, now in this branch, now in that, — what
freedom has the hired man? When the unemployed are
crowding round the factory gates, it is plain to each one
among them that, unless he can induce the foreman to choose
him rather than another, his chance of subsistence for weeks
to come may be irretrievably lost. Bargaining, in any genuine
sense, there can be none. The foreman has but to pick his
man and name the price — even if he does so much as name
the price. Once inside the gates, the lucky workman knows
that if he grumbles at any of the surroundings, however
intolerable ; if he demurs to any speeding up, lengthening of
the hours, or arbitrary deductions ; or if he hesitates to obey
any orders, however unreasonable, he condemns himself once
more to the semi-starvation and misery of unemployment.
The alternative to the foreman or ganger is merely to pick
another labourer out of the eager crowd at the gate. The
difference to the joint-stock company is «//.

But much more remains to be said. To the capitalist


corporation the wage-contract is simply a question of so much
money to be paid. To the workman it is a matter of placing,
for ten or twelve hours out of every twenty-four, his whole life
at the disposal of his hirer. What hours he shall work, when
and where he shall get his food, the sanitary conditions of his
employment, the safety of the machinery, the temperature and
atmosphere to which he is subjected, the fatigue or strains that
he endures, the risks of disease or accident that he incurs, —
all these are involved in the workman's contract, and not in
his employer's. These are matters of as vital importance to
the wage-earner as are his wages. Yet about these matters
he cannot, in practice, bargain at all. Imagine a weaver, be-
fore accepting employment in a cotton-mill, examining the
proportion of steam in the atmosphere of the shed, testing the
strength of the shuttle-guards, and criticizing the soundness of
the shafting-belts ; a mechanic prying into the security of the
hoists and cranes or the safety of the lathes and steam-
hammers among which he must move ; a work-girl in a sweat-
ing den computing the cubic space which will be her share of
the work-room, discussing the ventilation, warmth, and lighting
of the place in which she will spend nearly all her working life,
or examining disapprovingly the sanitary accommodation pro-
vided j think of the man who wants a job in a white lead
works testing the poisonous influence of the particular process
employed, and reckoning in terms of weekly wages the exact
degree of injury to his health which he is consenting to under-
go. On all these matters, at any rate, we must at once give
up the notion of freedom of contract. In the absence of any
restraint of law, the conditions of sanitation, decency, and
security from accident in the various enterprises of the United
States Steel Corporation or the Standard Oil Company are
really at the mercy of the rulers of these great undertakings.
They decide these conditions of life for the millions of work-
men whom they employ — and thus, to this extent, for the
nation — as arbitrarily (and, it is to be hoped, as humanely) as
they do for their horses. " In the general course of human



nature," remarked the shrewd founders of the American Con-
stitution, " power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power
over his will." ^

These features of the lot of the hired man are common to
England and America, and, indeed, to every country in which
capitalist industry and production are found on a large scale.
We must, in intellectual honesty, recognize the fact. But this
is not to say that the condition of the hired man is either good
or bad, or better or worse than in bygone times. It is different
from what it was when industry was carried on by the village
blacksmith, different from that described by Adam Smith,
different from that which Jefferson knew. The dinner-pail
may be fuller — as regards whole sections of the community
it can certainly be proved to be fuller — but there has been a
change of relative status. Meanwhile, let us accept the result
in the great wage-earning class as we now know it — a com-
munity of hired men ; a relatively small proportion of skilled
artisans earning " good money ; " the great mass living on
wages, in England of five and twenty or thirty shillings, in the
United States of ten or twelve dollars, per fully employed
week ; while below these come the unskilled labourers and
most women workers, existing, in greater or smaller numbers,
under conditions of "sweating" — authoritatively defined as
*' earnings barely sufficient to sustain existence, hours of labour
such as to make the lives of the workers periods of almost
ceaseless toil, sanitary conditions injurious to the health of the
persons employed, and dangerous to the public." ^ Into one
or another of these three categories come seventy or eighty per
cent, of the whole population. Such are the loyal subjects of
Edward the Seventh of England ; such are the free citizens of
the United States. We hate to think about it, but it is so ;
and the advent of the Trust is going to make us realize that
it is so.

' Federalist, No. Ixxix.

^ Final Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Sweat-
ing System, 1S90.


What effect will this growing consciousness of industrial
subordination have upon public opinion ? England developed
its capitalist industry a couple of generations earlier than did
the United States. Though the time for trusts and great
railway combinations had not yet come, the new mills and
mines which, at the end of the eighteenth century, spread over
the northern and midland counties, were the leviathans of their
day, and great was the power which they wielded in the labour-
market. Complete " freedom of contract" prevailed. The re-
sult, as every one knows, was the terrible " white slavery" of
the first tjuarter of the nineteeth century, when generation after
generation of workers in the factories and coal-mines were
stunted and maimed, brutalized and degraded, and hurried
into early graves, by the long hours, low wages, and insanitary
conditions of those halcyon days, in which, as has been said,
"it was not five per cent., or ten per cent., but thousands per
cent., that made the fortunes of Lancashire." But England
grew alarmed, amid all its profit, at the rapid degeneration of
whole sections of its people. By the untiring efforts of the phi-
lanthropists. Factory Act after Factory Act was passed, setting
limits to freedom of contract, and substituting, for individual
bargaining between man and man, definite " common rules "
on every point deemed of prime importance to the welfare of
the operatives. These common rules, securing a reasonable
minimum of leisure, safety, and sanitation, applied at first only
to the textile and mining industries, and are, to this day, not
yet coextensive with the English wage-earning class. Nor do
they apply to wages. But there grew up, after 1824, in all the
principal English industries, strong trade-unions, which en-
forced, by the instrument of collective bargaining, new common
rules supplementing those laid down by law. The employers
in each trade were numerous and divided. Differing among

Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 11 of 35)