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substantially adopted his extraordinary opinion that different
social stages or conditions have different laws of human increase.
Dr. Sadler composed two bulky volumes to prove that the law of
human increase was one which varied with circumstances through
a providential adaptation of the fecundity of the human species
to the exigencies of society. Marx had, of course, no wish to
justify the ways of Providence, but he had a keen desire to dis-
credit the ways of capitalism, and so he devoted more than a
hundred pages to arguing that " there is a law of population
peculiar to the capitalist mode of production ; " * that " capitalist
accumulation itself constantly produces, in the direct ratio of its

* P. 645.


own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of
labourers — i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the
average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a
surplus population ; " * or, in still other words, that '• the
labouring population produces, along with the accumulation of
capital produced by it, the means by which itself is made
relatively superfluous, and does this to an always increasing
extent." f

Unfortunately Marx forgot that such a law, and the
statements which he made in support of it, could only be
established by statistics and an adequate induction of relevant
facts, not by mere general reasoning and assertion. The only
statistical data, however, which he submits to us — those in the
note on p. 544 (Engl, tr.) — are ludicrously irrelevant and
insufficient. Out of the census reports of 185 1 and 1861 he
selected fourteen industries which showed either a decrease or
only a slight increase in the number of labourers employed, and
said not a word concerning over 400 other industries. But, of
course, what he required to prove was not that there had been
a diminution of labourers in some departments of industry, but
that there had been a general and growing diminution of
industrial labourers. He was bound to establish the prevalence
of a law ; the operation of an essential and inevitable tendency.
Manifestly his statistics do nothing of the kind.

Nowhere, indeed, throughout his lengthened argumentation
does Marx deal even with the facts which bear most directly on
his hypothesis. From beginning to end his method in the
hundred pages which I have specially in view is one of fallacious
dogmatic ratiocination. It consists in inferring what the facts
must be on the assumption that capitalistic accumulation is the
process of exploitation which it has been described by Marx as
being ; silently taking for granted that the facts are what they
have been inferred to be ; and loudly asserting that what was
undertaken to be proved has been proved. But the facts have
never once been looked in the face ; their voices have not been
allowed to be heard for an instant. The facts are indubitably
not what we are asked to believe them to be. They plainly

* P. 643. t P. 645.


contradict at every point the hypothesis propounded regarding

If, as Marx pretends, the relative magnitude of the constant
pai^t of capital is in direct, but that of the variable or wage-paying
part of capital is in inverse, proportion to the advance of accumu-
lation ; if, as capital increases, instead of one-half of its total value,
only one-third, one-fourth, one-fifth, one-sixth, one-seventh, &c., is
transformed into labour-power, and, on the other hand, two-thirds,
three-fourths, five-sixths, seven-eights, into means of production ;
if the demnnd for labour progressively falls in this frightful
manner, undoubtedly there must be a correspondingly continuous
and progressive diminution of the increase of labourers. But
why did it not occur to him to confirm his assertion that there
was such a law by showing that there had been such a diminu-
tion ? Why, instead of doing so, did he content himself with
giving us merely the note to which I have already referred ?
Simply because he could not do any better ; could not deal fairly
with the facts without abandoning his hypothesis.

Within the present century the increase of the population of
Europe has amounted to about 200 millions of men. How has
this happened if the demand for labour has been relatively to the
accumulation of wealth progressively falling in the manner Marx
maintains ? Were the great mass of these milHons born either
with silver spoons in their mouths or in the industrial reserve
army? In 1841 there were employed in British industries
3,137,000 workers, and in 1881, 4,535,000, showing an increase
in their number of about 45 per cent., while during the same
period the whole population increased from 26,855,000 to
35,003,000, or only about 30 per cent. A similar progressive
increase of labourers has taken place in all countries under an
energetic capitalist and manufacturing regime. Marx himself
declares the growth of oflicial pauperism to be the indication and
measure of the increase of the industrial reserve army. Pauper-
ism, however, has been for nearly half a century steadily
decreasing in England, both absokitely and relatively. Whereas
in 1855—9 the paupers of England formed 4*7 per cent, of the
population, in 1885-9 they formed only 2*8 per cent, of it. In
like manner there has been no relative increase but a decided
relative decrease of able-bodied adults who have received tern-


porary assistance owing to want of employment. The " growing
mass of consolidated surplus population," of which Marx speaks,
does not exist. His hypothesis of an industrial reserve army
produced by capitalism for its own advantage, and constantly
dragging the labouring class into deeper and more hopeless
misery, is fortunately only a distempered dream.

5. The famous Condorcet, in the most celebrated of his works,
the "Tableau historique des progr^s de I'Esprit Humain," pub-
lished in 1795, ai'gued that the course of history under a regime
of liberty would be towards equality of wealth, as well as towards
equality in all other advantages, inasmuch as it would gradually
sweep away all those distinctions between men according to their
wealth which have been originated by the civil laws and per-
petuated by factitious means, and would leave only such as were'
rooted in nature. Seventy-four years later we find Marx strenu-
ously contending that when property, trade, and industry Avere
left unfettered, when labour was unprotected, wealth tended
irresistibly and with ever increas ing rapidity to inequality ; the
distance between rich and poor continually and with ever-
growing speed widening, so that only a vast revolution could
prevent capitalist society from being soon divided into two great
classes : one consisting of a few thousands of moneyed magnates
in possession of all the means of production and enjoyment, and
the other of many millions of dependent and pauperised prole-
tarians. Which of these views is to be preferred? Whoever
impartially and comprehensively studies the actual history of the
last hundred years will find no difiiculty in answering. He must
acknowledge that it has clearly shown Condoi'cet to have been
far-seeing and Marx to have been short-sighted. Freedom in
the industrial and commercial sphere has undoubtedly during the
last hundred years proved itself to be, on the whole, a most
democratic thing ; surely and steadily pulling the higher classes
of society down to a lower level ; sui-ely and steadily raising the
lower classes; destroying all fixed class distinctions, moneyed
inclusive ; and not only greatly increasing the number of inter-
mediate fortunes, but so grading them, and so facilitating their
passage from one person to another, as to manifest that liberty
really has that tendency to equality, even as regards wealth, for
which Condorcet contended.



Socialism proposes to reconstruct and reorganise
society. It has the merit of being not merely criti-
cal, but also, in intention at least, constructive. It
seeks not simply to pull down, but also to build up ;
it would pull down only to build up ; and it even
would, so far as possible, begin to build up before
pulling down, in order that society, in passing from
its old to its new mode of life, may not for a moment
be left houseless.

It has often been said that Socialism has shown
itself much stronger in criticism than in construction.
I cannot altogether assent to the statement. Social-
ism is nowhere weaker, it seems to me, than in its
criticism of the chief doctrines of political economy.
It is weak all over, because it has not had sufficient
critical discernment to apprehend the essential laws
of economic life. The leading representatives of
Socialism, and especially the founders of the princi-
pal early schools of French Socialism, have shown
no lack of constructive ingenuity. Saint-Simon,
Fourier, and Comte were men of quite exceptional
constructive power. They were unsuccessful con-
structors, not owing to any want of constructive
ability, but because they had not a soUd foundation


"of principles on which to construct, and chose some
very bad materials with which to construct. Fourier,
for example, displayed an extraordinary ingenuity
in planning his phalanges and phalansteres ; but of
course it was wasted, for he was trying to accom-
plish the impossible, believing that he could so alter
the conditions of life as to insure every person
against requiring to do any hard or disagreeable
w^ork, secure to him eight meals a day, and provide
him in abundance with all known pleasures, and
even with many peculiar to the new era of

If, however, by saying that Socialists have been
more successful in criticism than in construction, is
merely meant, that they have been more successful
in pointing out the evils of our present social condi-
tion than in indicating efficient remedies for them,
the statement is undoubtedly true ; but it is true of
many others beside Socialists, and is no very severe
censure. It is for all of us much easier to trace the
existence and operation of social evils than to find
the remedies for them ; to detect the faults of any
actual system of society than to devise another which
would be free from them, and free at the same time
from other faults as bad or worse. Yet we must not
on that account undervalue the criticism of social
institutions, or the exposure of what is defective and
injurious in them. We shall never cure evils unless
we know thoroughly what are the evils we ought to
cure. In so far as socialistic criticism is true ; in so
far as it fixes our attention upon the povertj'-, misery,
and wickedness around us — upon what is weak and


wasteful, unjust and pernicious, in the existent con-
stitution of society — and compels us to look at them
closely, and to take them fully to heart : so far it
does us real service.

But Socialists, as I have said, do not confine them-
selves to criticism. They make positive constructive
proposals. One of these proposals is the subject of
the present chapter.

Nationalise the land. Private property in land is
unjust in itself and injurious in its consequences.
The land is of right the property of the nation, and
in order that the nation may enjoy its right, labour
reach its just reward, and pauperism be abolished,
what is above all needed is the expropriation of
landlords. This is what Henry George, Alfred
R. Wallace, and many others recommend as a cure
for the chief ills under which society is languishing.
In early youth, I myself held the views which they
maintain, having become acquainted to some extent
with a man whose name should not be forgotten
in connection with this doctrine— a man of talent,
almost of genius, an eloquent writer, as eloquent
a talker — Patrick Edward Dove, the author, amono-
other works, of a " Theory of Human Progression "
and " Elements of Political Science," in which he
advocated the nationalisation of the land ardently
and skilfully. No one, perhaps, has more clearly
and forcibly argued that the rent-value of the soil is
not the creation of the cultivator, nor of the landlord,
but of the whole labour of the country, and, there-
fore, should be allocated to the nation ; that this
would allow of the abolition of all customs and


excise, and the imposition of a single tax of a kind
inexpensive to collect ; that it would unite the agri-
cultural and manufacturing classes into one common
interest, and would secure to every labourer his
share of the previous labour of the community, &c.
I have long ceased, however, to believe in land
nationalisation as a panacea for social misery.*"

I deny that individual property in land is unjust,
and, consequently, that justice demands the national-
isation of land. It is necessary, however, to explain
precisely what I understand by this denial.

I do not mean by it, then, that an individual may
justly claim an absolute proprietorship in land, an
unlimited right alike to use or abuse land. Nay,
I wholly disbelieve that any man can possibly
acquire a right to such absolute proprietorship in

All human rights of proprietorship are limited —
and limited in two directions — limited both by the
law of perfect duty, and the legitimate claims of our
fellow-men ; or, as the Theist and Christian may
prefer to say, by the rights of God, and by the
rights of society. If we have an absolute right to
anything, it would seem that it must be to our own

* Thomas Spence, Fergus O'Connor, Ernest Jones, Bronterre O'Brien,
and others, had preceded Dove in maintaining that land should cease to
be held as private property. The first-mentioned advocated, as early as
1775, fhe parochialisiiuj of all the land of the nation, "so that there shall
be no more nor other landlords in the whole country than the parishes ;
and each of them be sovereign landlord of its own territories." See the
" Lecture of Thomas Spence, bookseller, read at the Philosophical Society
in Newcastle on November 8th, 1775, for printing of which the Society did
the author the honour to expel him," reprinted and edited, with notes and
introduction, by H. M. Hyndman, London, 1882.


lives ; yet we have no absolute right to them. We
are morally bound to sacrifice our lives, whenever
a great cause, whenever God's service, demands the
sacrifice. Thus without an absolute right of pro-
perty even in our own selves, we can still less have
an absolute right of property in anything else. By
no labour or price can we purchase an absolute
right in anything, and so, of course, not in land.
" The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof;
the world, and they that dwell therein." If these
words be true (and Socialists often quote them as
true), most certainly no man can reasonably regard
himself as the absolute proprietor of any portion of the
earth ; but just as certainly can no man reasonably
regard himself as the absolute proprietor of any por-
tion of its fulness, or even of his own limbs, faculties,
or life. In the strict or absolute sense there is but
one Proprietor in the universe. No man's proprietor-
ship is more than tenancy and stewardship. "*

But our rights of property in land, as in every-
thing else, being thus necessarily subordinate to the
sovereignty and limited by the moral law of God,
cannot possibly be absolute and unHmited as
against society. The individual is a member of
society ; connected with it in many ways, benefited
by it in many ways, indebted to it in many ways,
and bound by the laws of morality to seek to pro-

* Socialists often quote merely the words "the earth is the Lord's,"
and then infer that they condemn private projierty in land. If they quoted
the whole sentence every person must at once perceive that what it teaches
is that there is an absolute divine proprietorship, not of land only, but of
all that the earth contains, to the law of which all other proprietorship,
whether individual or collective, ought to be subordinated.


mote its good, and, if need be, to sacrifice his
personal interests to the general welfare. He can
have no rights which are in contradiction to his
duties, no rights to do wrong to society, or even to
do nothing for society. On the contrary, the society
of which he is a member, to which he owes so much,
by which his property is protected, and from which
it is even largely derived, has obvious claims on him
and his property ; and may most righteously insist
on their fulfilment. There is no reason why any
exception should be made, or favour shown, in
respect to property in land. Nay, as the welfare of
a people is even more affected by property in land
than by personalty, the State may reasonably be
expected to guard with special care against abuses
of it, and to insist on its being held and ad-
ministered only under such conditions as are con-
sistent with, and conducive to, the general good.

Yet Socialists continually argue against the
private ownership of land on the supposition that
individual proprietors of land must be allowed an
unlimited right of abusing their position. They
think it relevant, for example, to adduce instances
of landlords who have exercised the power which
proprietorship gave them in interfering with the
religious and the political freedom of their tenants.
But manifestly the proper inference to be drawn
from such facts is, not that landlordism is in itself
an evil, but simply that landlords who venture to
act the part of despots in a free country should be
punished, and compelled to pay due respect to the
constitution of the country in which they live. No


right of property In land would be violated should a
landlord who persisted in interfering with either
the religious or the civil liberties of his fellow-
subjects be expropriated without compensation.

Then, if the right of property in land be only a
relative and conditioned right, what meaning or
force is there in the argument so often and so
confidently employed, that private property in land
must be unjustifiable, because otherwise were a man
rich enough to buy an English county he would be
entitled to make a wilderness of his purchase, and
to sow it with thorns, thistles, or salt ; or even were
he rich enough to buy up the world he would be
entitled to prosecute all its other inhabitants as
trespassers, or to serve them with writs of eviction ?
It would be just as reasonable to argue that a man
rich enough to buy up all the pictures of Raphael,
Titian, and Rembrandt, or all the copies of Homer
and the Bible, Dante and Shakespeare, would be
entitled to burn them all, and that, therefore, there
should be no private property in pictures or books.

Proudhon wrote his celebrated treatise on pro-
perty to prove that property, meaning thereby the
absolute right to use and abuse a thing, is theft ;
and he occupied about a third of it in contending
that property is impossible ; that there neither is,
has been, nor can be such a thing as property :
that property is not itself, but a negation, a lie,
nothinof. He has no less than ten elaborate aro-u-
ments to this effect. His book was extremely
clever, but so admirably adapted to make a fool of
the public that it would have been very appropri-


ately published on a first of April. No elaborate
reasoninor- is needed to convince reasonable men that
property understood as it was by Proudhon, if it
were possible, would be theft ; or that if society
allow such theft — allow rights of property in land,
or in anything else, which are clearly anti-social,
plainly injurious to the community — it is foolish,
and foro-etful of its dutv-"^^

* The argumentation of Mr. Herbert Spencer (see "Social Statics,"
oh. ix.) against the legitimacy of private property proceeds, like that of
Proudhon, very largely on the assumption that a right to do right imjAies a
right to do wrong ; that a right to use carries with it a right to abuse. Mr.
Spencer may or may not have been conscious of making this assumption.
He has certainly not shown that he was entitled to make it. When, there-
fore, he infers that " a claim to private property in land involves a land-
owning despotism," that if men have a right to make the toil private property'
"it would be proper for the sole proprietor of any kingdom — a Jersey or
Guernsey, for example — to impose just what regulations he might choose
on its inhabitants, to tell them that they should not live on his property
unless they professed a certain religion, spoke a particular language, paid
him a specified reverence, adopted an authorised dress, and confirmed to
all other conditions he might see fit to make," and the like, he only
makes manifest the absurdity latent in an assumption of his own.

It is from "the law of equal freedom " that Mr. Spencer deduces "the
injustice of private property." If eacli man " has freedom to do all that he
wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other, then each
of them is free to use the earth for the satisfaction of his wants, provided
he allows all others the same liberty. And, conversely, it is manifest that
no one may use the earth in such a way as to prevent the rest from
similarly using it ; seeing that to do this is to assume greater freedom
than the rest, and consequently to break the law."

Mr. Spencer has overlooked that " the law of equal freedom " only
confers an equal right to try, but not an equal right to succeed. It entitles
every man to try to become Prime Minister, but it does not forbid only
one man becoming Prime Minister. And as to land, not only is it not
"manifest," but it is manifestly ridiculous "that no one may use the
earth in such a way as to prevent the rest from similarly using it." If
any man uses a field for agricultural purposes or a portion of ground to
build a house on it, he necessarily prevents all other people from similarly
using it.

Mr. Spencer, it is proper to add, has ceased to believe in either the



I do not maintain, then, that the individual
•ownership of land is an absolute or unlimited right.
I do not even maintain it to be an essential or
necessary right. It is not the only form of property
in land which may be just. It has been generally,
if not always, preceded by tribal or communal
ownership, and it may be succeeded by collective or
national ownership. It may be limited, conditioned,
modified in various ways according to the changing
requirements of time and circumstance. What J
hold in regard to it is simply this, that in itself, and
apart from al)uses, it is not unjust, but, on the
contrary, as just as any other kind of individual
property, or even as any other kind of property,
individual or collective.

In order to estaVjlish the legitimacy of collective
property in land, the illegitimacy of individual
property in land is affirmed. But the connection
between the one contention and the other is far
from obvious. On the contrary, it is difficult to see
how collective property in land can be right if

equity or expediency of laKcl-nationalii^ation, for reasons which will he
found stated in ''Justice," Appendix B. ed. 1S91.

Proudhon defines property as "le droit d'user et d'abuser," the rif/Jd to
UKc and abuse, and holds that the phrase jvs vtendi cf alvtendl in the
definition of property in the " Pandects " may be so translated (see his
" De la Propriete," ch. ii.). The interpretation is, however, undoubtedly
erroneous. Says M. Ortolan in a well-known work, published long before
Proudhon's, "11 faut bien se garder dattribucr, dans la langue du droit
romain, :i ce mot ahvti, I'idee qu'il emporte dans notre langue, c'cst-a-dire
d'un usage iminodHre, deraisonnable, condamnable. Almti, par sa decom-
position etymologique elle-meme {<ih particule privative, et uti user)
designe un emploi de la chose qui en fait cesser, qui en detiuit, I'usage.
Tel est I'elTet de I'alienation, de la consummation de la chose" ("Tableau
historique des Instituts," t. i. pp. 253-4).


individual property in land be necessarily wrong.
If a tribe of savages may appropriate a portion of
unowned territory as a hunting-ground, surely an
individual man may with as much justice appropriate
a portion of unowned land through occupying and
cultivating it — or rather with more, as he has done
more to the land. The title of savag-es to the land

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 16 of 38)