Robert Flint.

Socialism online

. (page 10 of 38)
Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 10 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

upon it ?

Louis Blanc said, distribute according to wants;


take from men accordino' to tlieir abilities and o-ive
to them according to their needs. He did not
explain what he meant by a want, or what wants
he meant. But whatever he meant, we may be sure
that if his formula were to be acted on in any
society, abilities would decrease and wants increase
in that society in a very remarkable manner.

Karl Marx, as I have previously mentioned,
maintains that the value of tvork sJiould he esti-
ifnated according to the quantity of socially neces-
sary labour ex]jended, or in equivalent terms,
according to the time which must he on the average
occupied in tlie ivork. There is neither reasonable-
ness nor justice in this view. Mere expenditure of
labour does not produce any value, and is not
entitled to any remuneration. A man may labour
long and hard in producing something in which
nobody can see use or beauty. If he do so he
will get nothing for his labour, and he has no right
to expect anything for it. He may expend ten
hours' labour in producing what there is so little
demand for that he will get merely the pay of one
hour's work for it. If he say that this is not fair ;
that as it has cost him ten hours' work it is worth
ten hours' work ; he will be told that it is only
worth that in his eyes, and because he has wasted
nine hours' work upon it. It is impossible to
eliminate from the determination of value the
elements of use, demand, rarity, limitation, and to
fix it exclusively by quantity or duration of labour.

Besides, the doctrine of Marx leaves out of
account the infinite difierences of quality in labour,


and implicitly reduces the labour of rare intelligence,
of exquisite artistic taste, and supreme genius to
the level of the mere muscular exertion which may
be replaced with advantage, wherever possible, by
the action of a machine or an animal. In a word,
it is as dishonouring to human labour, as unjust
and discourag-ino^ to talent and merit in human
labour, as the doctrine of Communism itself. Yet
this doctrine Marx regarded as the very corner-
stone of his Collectivism. On it he rested entirely
his hope of a just payment of labour employed in
production within the collectivist community.
Every suggestion which he has made, or which his
followers have made, as to the administration of
distribution in the collectivist world, is but an
application of it. If it be not true, the " labour
certificates " and " labour cheques," of which we
have heard so much, can be no better than false
bank-notes. That a system built on such a corner-
stone should have obtained the confidence of so
many persons shows how prevalent credulity
still is.

So long as Socialists cannot give us better rules
than those just indicated for the remuneration of
labour, or for the distribution of the produce of
industry among those concerned in production, we
must keep to the method to which we are accus-
tomed. It may not always work entirely to our
satisfaction. Still it works with some considerable
measure of justice and success on the whole, is not
incapable of being improved, and does not prevent
co-operation, industrial partnership, participation


in profits, or other like schemes, being tried. But
socialist plans, so far as yet divulged, are so unjust
or so vague that it is obvious they would not work
at all.

Such being the state of the case, we should not
hastily assent to certain sweeping charges often
made by Socialists against the system under which
we are living, and under which society will prob-
ably long require to continue. I shall only glance
at two of these charo-es.

In the present state of economic discussion the
allegation that the law of wages reduces the
majority of labourers to the bare means of sub-
sistence can only be regarded as a sign of ignorance
or bias. No competent and impartial economist
now fails to recoc^nise that Ricardo's treatment of
the law of wages was vitiated by the omission of
important elements which should have been taken
into account ; and still less is any such economist
unaware that Lassalle's exaggeration of Kicardo'S'
conclusion is a gross caricature of the real law,
devoid of theoretical justification, and decisively
contradicted by the history of wages. The law of
wages tends to press us down to bare subsistence
no otherwise than water tends to drown us.
Water tends to drown us, and will drown us, if we
do not keep out of it, or cannot swim, or make no
use of ship, boat, or saving apparatus. The law of
wacres tends to draw us down to bare subsistence,
and will draw us to that level if we do not exercise
self-restraint and temperance ; if we are content to
be unintelligent and unskilled in our work ; if we


do not strive to develop our faculties and improve
our condition ; if we do not seek the best market for
our labour ; and if we are in other ways untrue to
ourselves. Water, however, notwithstanding its
tendency to drown us, drowns not one of us of
itself, or apart from our occasional misfortunes, or
want of skill, or want of prudence. And equally
the law of wages, notwithstanding its tendency
towards bare subsistence, drags not one of us down
to that of itself, or apart from our exceptional ill-
luck, or our insufficient intelligence or virtue, or our
lack of skill or energy.

To represent wages as a badge of degradation
and slavery is another common misrepresentation.
Not only the obscure and irresponsible scribblers
and the io^norant and reckless mob-orators of the
socialist party, but its leading representatives (men
like Engels, Marx, and Lassalle, Hyndman, Morris,
and Henry George) have employed all the eloquence
at their command in dilating on the debasement
and enslavement involved in dependence on


It might have easily been put to a better use. If
there be such a thing as obligation in the world at
all there must be to the same extent such depen-
dence as that which the opponents of the wages-
system denounce as slavery. Whoever enters into
any kind of engagement or contract ceases to have
the freedom of not fulfilling it ; but if that suffice to
make a slave of him it is not only the labourer for
wages, but every man who feels bound to keep a
promise, every respectable husband, every worthy


citizen, every honourable person, who is a slave.
On other foundation than such so-called slavery, no
societv, or social institution, can be established or

And if to serve for washes be debasement and
slavery, few indeed of those who have professed to
regard it as such have not daily and deliberately
consented to their own degradation by accepting
what they denounce. In fact, even kings and
presidents, prime ministers and lord-chancellors,
official and professional persons of all classes,
authors of all descriptions, and, in a word, men of
all degrees, not merely manual labourers, receive
wages under some name or another.

There is nothing servile or degrading in a wages-
contract in itself Wages imply in the very notion of
them that the receiver of them is a moral and free
being, with a right of property in himself The slave
and serf, as such, cannot be the recipient of wages,
but only of the sustenance thought requisite to main-
tain their efficiency as instruments of labour, or a
something more to stimulate their exertions. But
neither sustenance itself nor a premium on labour is
a wage, precisely because the latter implies that the
faculties of him who receives it are his own, and
that he is entitled to use them as his own. There
is, therefore, in the receiving of wages nothing
akin to slavery or serfdom. On the contrary,
it is so essentially contrasted to them, so sharply
separated from them, that where it is they
cannot be, and where they are it cannot be. To
earn wages a man must be a free man, must have


his faculties at his own disposal, and be entitled
to employ them primarily for his own good. There
is no more slavery or dishonour in the workman
receiving wages than in the capitalist taking

Further, the wag-es-contract has been assailed as
unjust. It is represented by Socialists as always
favourable to the employer and unfavourable to the
employed. Workmen are asserted to be so weak
and masters so strong that the former are never
paid a fair day's wages for a fair day's work. The
workman, it is affirmed, is entitled to the whole
product of his labour, but never receives in the
form of wages nearly so much as would enable him
to purchase it. But, again, when we seek for proof
it is not to be found. The wa^-es-contract is as
just as any other form of contract. What more
injustice is there in purchasing labour-power than
in purchasing commodities at market value ? If it
be no wrong to a peasant woman to buy from her
eggs or butter at their current price, what wrong
can there be in buying from her so many hours
of work according to the same principle of re-
muneration ?

It is manifestly contrary to fact that the wages-
system is always favourable to employers, and
unfavourable to the employed. In a multitude of
cases it is just the reverse. Its great merit, indeed,
is that it ensures that workmen get paid for their
labour, although it be economically worthless or
even wasteful. Let me illustrate this statement.
In the west of Ireland there is to be seen the


channel of what was intended to be a canal
connecting Loughs Corrib and Mask, It was cut at
enormous expense through very porous limestone.
When completed the water of Lough Mask was let
into it, but, with the perversity ascribed to Irish
pigs, it refused to take the course prepared for it,
and ran straight towards the centre of the earth.
The canal was simply a gigantic and costly blunder.
What would the labourers employed have got for
their toil if they had been working not for wages
but for shares in the product of their labour or in
the profits of the enterprise ? Again, was it the
capitalists who had an eye to profits, or the
labourers who had the security of a wages-contract,
who benefited by the construction of that unfin-
ished edifice, intended to be a Hydropathic Estab-
lishment, which disfiofures the town of Oban ? Of
enterprises started more than 20 per cent, fail, yet
the workmen connected with them get the ordinary
wages current in the trade at the time. A great
number of industrial companies pay in the course of
a year neither interest nor dividend ; but they all
pay wages.

Those who assert that workmen are always under-
paid should be able to state what would be proper
payment. But they have no certain and invariable
criterion, rule, or law, enabling them to do so. All
the varying conditions of the labour market must
be taken into account. When they afiSrm that the
workman is entitled to the whole product of his
labour, they should explain what they mean there-
by. There is a sense in which they may be right ;


but it is one which would prove nothing against the
justice of the wages-system. The sense, however,
in which Sociahsts wish to get it credited is one
which impHes that if a working tailor makes a coat
in the workshop of, and with the materials supplied
by a master tailor, he is entitled to the whole value
of the coat, and should be able to purchase it with
the waofes which he receives for the labour which
he spent on it. That, of course, is sheer absurdity.
Even if a tailor be both capitalist and workman, so
as at once to pay for every element in the produc-
tion of a coat and personally to execute the whole
process of its production, he is only entitled to
receive for it what buyers will give him ; and if he
part with it to one who sells ready-made clothes, he
cannot expect to be able to repurchase it with what
he received for it. In a word, it is just as difficult
to prove that a workman who receives the wages
current in his trade at the time does not receive the
whole product of his labour as that he does not
obtain a just wage.

I am far from maintaining that the wages-system
is a perfect or final system; the best possible system ;
one which does not require to be supplemented, or
which may not in the course of historical develop- v
ment be superseded by a system which will have
greater advantages and fewer incidental evils. All
that I maintain is that it is wrong to heap on it
foolish and false accusations like those to which I
have just referred ; wrong to strive by unfair means
and poisoned weapons to stir up the hatred of large
masses of men against a system which obviously


secures to them most important advantages, and
which must obviously continue to be the system
under which they will live, until displaced either
by a slow and vast process of moral and social
evolution or by a violent and ruinous revolution
Avhich would be unspeakably disastrous even to

Would the compulsory labour-system of Collec-
tivism be any improvement on the voluntary
wages-system of Capitalism ? It is sufficient, I
think, to quote in answer a few words of truth and
soberness uttered by Schiiffle : " Democratic Collec-
tivism promises the abolition of the wage-system
and of all private service, which involves the con-
tinuous enslavement of the proletariat. ' Wage-
slavery ' is to be sujDerseded by a system of
universal service directly for the community : the
whole of productive labour would be placed in the
position of a paid official department of the Demo-
cratic Kepublic. There is no doubt that private
service is in principle very irksome and oppressive
to workmen of high self-respect and personal
superiority. But it has not been proved that for
the great mass of existing wage-labourers the
position of private service could not be made
tolerable by some other means, nor has it been
demonstrated that the elite of the workino- classes
cannot find within the limits of the capitalistic
sphere of industry leading positions which are also
suited to satisfy a high sense of self-respect. It is
certain, on the other hand, that there is no possible
organisation of society in which no one must obey.


and every one can rule, or in which all ruling would
be mere idle pleasure and satisfaction. In the
existing order of society the mass of officials who
make up the administration, both central and local,
although they have the great advantages of im-
mediate and uninterrupted self-supporting labour,
have it at the price of very strict obedience towards
often the most insignificant and spiteful nominees
of favoritism, and in the face of very great uncer-
tainty as to impartial and fair advancement on the
ladder of promotion. The freedom of the individual
would lose in a degree which democracy would by
no means tolerate. Popular government very
easily degenerates into mob-rule, and this is always
more favourable to the common and the insignifi-
cant than to the noble and distinguished. Hence
Democratic Collectivism itself would be likely to
wound in a high degree the most sensitive self-
respect, without leaving as much freedom as does
the present system of private service, in the choice
of employment and employer, or of a place of abode.
Its only equality would be that no one was in any
wise independent, but aU slaves of the majority,
and on this point again Democratic Collectivism
would come to grief, and utterly fail to keep the
promises it makes to the better class of working
men whose self-respect is injured by the existing
state of things."^

♦ •' The Impossibility of Social Democracy," pp. 94-6.



Collectivfst Socialism rests on economic doctrines propounded
by Rodbertus and Marx. By designating these doctrines " new "
(p. 43) I am not to be understood as attributing to them any
other novelty than that of development and of application.
They were mainly exaggerations of, or inferences from, doctrines
of earlier economists; they were certainly not "new" economic
truths. Neither Rodbertus nor Marx was successful in dis-
covering such truths. They were both, however, learned,
laborious, and able students of economic science ; and, by their
critical acumen, their dialectic vigour, and their ingenuity, they
have, at least indirectly, greatly contributed to its progress. The
views of the former on the distribution of wealth, and of
the latter on the evolution of capitalist production, were of
a kind admirably calculated to stimulate to fruitful economic

I can here only touch briefly on the chief features of Marx's
teaching as to labour. That teaching was drawn mainly from
EngUsh economists — Locke, Adam Smith, Ricardo, Bray,
Thompson, Hall, (fee. Without Ricardo there would have been
no Marx. The essential content of the Marxian economics
is the Ricardian economics. Marx received Ricardo's exposition
of economics as generally correct, narrowed still further what
was already too narrow in it, exaggerated what was excessive,
and made applications of it which Ricardo had not foreseen.

Sismondi, the Saint-Simonians, and Proudhon were his precur-
sors among French economists. His criticism of Capitalism owes,
of course, a good deal to Fouiier. His whole system presupposes
the truth of the idea that there is a radical class distinction, an
essential social antinomy within the present industrial regime,
between bourgeoisie and proletariat, or peuple. That idea was
gradually evolved and popularised in France between 1830 and
1848 by various litterateurs of whom Louis Blanc was the most

As regards the spirit of Marx's teaching, it was the spirit of the
generation to which he belonged ; the irreverent and revolu-
tionary spirit of what was once known as Young Germany ; the


spirit of a race of disillusionised men, without belief in God or
unsensuous good; a hypercritical, cynical, and often scurrilous
spirit. In passing into its latest or German stage Socialism
gained intellectually but lost morally. Under the manipulation
of Marx and Lassalle and their successors the spirit of justice and
of humanity which characterised it as presented by French
. Socialists from Saint-Simon to Louis Blanc was expelled from it,
and it is now everywhere a morally inferior thing to what it was
in its earHer phases.

A fundamental part of the teaching of Marx is his theory of
social development. The general thesis in which the theory may
be summed up is stated by his friend Engels, thus : " The
materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that
the production of the means to support human life, and, next to
production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of aU
social structure; that in every society that has appeared in
history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society
divided into classes or orders, is dependent upon what is pro-
duced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged.
From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and
political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in
man's better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes
in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought,
not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular
epoch. The growing perception that existing social institutions
are unreasonable and unjust, that reason has become unreason,
and right wrong, is only proof that in the modes of production
and exchange changes have silently taken place, with which the
social order, adapted to earlier economic conditions, is no longer
in keeping. From this it also follows that the means of getting
rid of the incongruities that have been brought to light, must
also be present, in a more or less developed condition, within the
changed modes of production themselves. These means are not to
be invented by deduction from fundamental principles, but are
to be discovered in the stubborn facts of the existing system of
production." *

What is true in this theory is that the economic factors of

* " Socialism, Utopian and Scientific," pp. 45-6.


history have at all times had a great influence on the general
development of history ; and that in all stages of the movement
of human society there have been a correspondence and congruity
between the character and organisation of industry and the
character and organisation of law, politics, science, art, and
religion. It is very important truth, but not truth which had
been left to Marx to discover or even to do justice to. Many
authors before him had indicated and illustrated it; and one,
especially, Auguste Comte, the founder of Positivism, had
exhibited the relations and significance of it with an insight
and comprehensiveness to which there is nothing akin in the
treatment of it by Marx. Where alone Marx did memorable
work as an historical theorist, was in his analysis and interpreta-
tion of the capitalist era, and there he must be admitted to have
rendered eminent service even by those who think his analysis
more subtle than accurate, and his interpretation more ingenious
than true. When he imagined that history could be completely
accounted for by its economic factors — that modes of production
and exchange generated hostile classes from whose antagonism
and conflicts arose all the changes, institutions, and ideas of
society — he greatly deceived himself, and ignored and rejected
hosts of facts which testify against so narrow and exclusive a
conception. The causes of his thus erring were two : an un-
proved assumption of the truth of materialism, and a desire to
find some sort of philosophical and historical basis for his social-
istic agitation. His relationship to Hegel determined the form
the error assumed, and the method of its evolution into a
philosophy. The historical philosophy of Marx was reached
mainly by the i-ough and ready process of turning Hegel's upside
down, and retaining the Hegelian dialectic to so slight an extent
that it came to look to Marx as a dialectic of his own " funda-
mentally different from Hegel's, and even its direct opposite."
The historical philosophy of Marx, as well as of other German
Socialists, I shall require carefully to examine in a forthcoming
work on Historical Philosophy in Germany*

* There is a fairly good account and criticism of the Marxian historical
hypothesis in Dr. Paul Earth's " Geschichtsphilosophie Hegel's und der
Htgelianer bis auf Marx und Hartmann," 1890. The claim of Socialism to


The doctrine of Marx on labour rests on what is genei-ally
spoken of as a theory of value but which is properly only a theory
of value in exchange or of price. In attempting to establish this
theory Marx begins by distinguishing between value in use or
utility and value in exchange or simply value, but soon concludes
that the former must be abstracted or discarded in the economic
estimation of things ; that the utility of the goods or commodities
which constitute the wealth of societies does not affect their
relative values ; that labour is the source of all economic value,
the cause of all social wealth. He deserves credit for having
tried to prove that such is the case. Various eminent economists
had preceded him in af&rming that labour produced all, or nearly
all, value. But none of them had made an effort to prove what
they affirmed. Marx is, therefore, not without merit in connec-
tion with the proposition in question. His attempt to prove it,
however, is at once feeble and sophistical. The following quotation
will give an adequate conception of his pretended demonsti-ation : —

"The utility of a thing makes it a use-value. But this utility is not
a thing of air. Being limited by the physical properties of the com-
modity, it has no existence apart from that commodity. A commodity,
such as iron, com, or a diamond, is therefore, so far as it is a material
thing, a use-value, something useful. This property of a commodity is
independent of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful
qualities. When treating of use-value, we always assume to be dealing
with definite quantities, such as dozens of watches, yards of linen, or tons
of iron. The use-values of commodities furnish the material for a special
study, that of the commercial knowledge of commodities. Use-values
become a reality only by use or consumption ; they also constitute the
substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth.

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 10 of 38)