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trary to justice they are vices. Every State, com-
monwealth, nation, ought to be ethically organic and
healthy, and it can only be so when unified, inspired,
and ruled by the idea of justice, negative and

While Socialism, however, rightly dwells on the
necessity and importance of justice in the institutions
and conduct of society it fails to conceive aright of
its nature. Its exaggerated conception of the claims
of the State and its erroneous economic doctrines
make it impossible for those who accept them not to
entertain also the most perverted views of justice.

Mr. Henry George must leave on every reader of
his eloquent pages the impression of being an ex-
ceptionally large-minded, good-hearted, rich-natured
man. And yet how deplorably false to his better
self have his socialistic illusions caused him to be.
As we have already had to indicate, his sovereign
remedy against poverty is the appropriation by the
State of the value of land without compensation to
its owners. He has also argued that the nations of
the world should repudiate their debts. And he has
blamed the Government presided over by honest
Abraham Lincoln for not devolving the whole cost
of the war which preserved the American union and
abolished slavery on a few wealthy citizens ; for
" shrinking from taking if necessary 999,000 dollars
from every man who had a million." Compared with
such view^s as these, Weitling's justification of petty
theft as a legitimate means of redressing social
wrongs seems almost pardonable. One may easily
find far more excuse for an ignorant and wretched


common pickpocket stealing a handkerchief or a
purse than for great and civiHsed nations, jealous of
their honour and reputation, committing such acts
of gigantic villainy as those of which Mr. George

I have just referred to Mr. George merely for the
sake of illustration. He is not at all exceptional in
the reference under consideration ; and, as a matter
of course, does not go even so far in the advocacy
of iniquity as those who are more thoroughgoing
Socialists. Mr. Gronlund, for example, holds that
men have got no natural rights whatever ; that the
State gives them all the rights they have ; that it
" may do anything whatsoever which is shown to be
expedient " ; and that, as against it, " even labour
does not give us a particle of title to what our hands
and brains produce."

All thorough Socialists who think with any degree
of clearness, must be aware that what they mean by
justice is what other people mean by theft. But few
of them, perhaps, have so frankly and clearly avowed
that such is the case, as Mr. Bax in the following note-
worthy sentences : — " It is on this notion of justice
that the crucial question turns in the debates be-
tween the advocates of modern Socialism and modern
Individualism respectively. The bourgeois idea of
justice Is crystallised in the notion of the absolute
right of the individual to the possession and full
control of such property as he has acquired without
overt breach of the bourgeois law. To interfere with
this right of his, to abolish his possession, is In
bourgeois eyes the quintessence of injustice. The

2 c


socialist idea of justice is crystallised in the notion
of the absolute right of the community to the posses-
sion or control (at least) of all wealth not intended
for direct individual use. Hence the abolition of the
individual possession and control of such property,
or, in other words, its confiscation, is the first
expression of socialist justice. Between possession
and confiscation is a great gulf fixed, the gulf
between the bourgeois and the socialist worlds. . . .
Justice being henceforth identified with confisccition
and injustice with the rights of _2Jrope?^^2/» there
remains only the question of 'ways and means.'
Our bourgeois apologist admitting as he must that
the present possessors of land and capital hold pos-
session of them simply by right of superior force,
can hardly refuse to admit the right of the proletariat
organised to that end to take possession of them by
right of superior force. The only question remaining
is how ? And the only answer is how you can. Get
what you can that tends in the right direction, by
parliamentary means or otherwise, hien entendu, the
rio-ht direction meaninc^ that which curtails the
capitalist's power of exploitation. If you choose to
ask, further, how one would like it, the reply is, so far,
as the present writer is concerned, one would like it to
come as drastically as possible, as the moral eftect
of sudden expropriation would be much greater than
that of any gradual process. But the sudden expro-
priation, in other words the revolutionary crisis, will
have to be led up to by a series of non-revolutionary
political acts, if past experience has anything to say
in the matter. When that crisis comes the great


act of confiscation will be the seal of the new era ;
then and not till then will the knell of civilisation,
with its rights of property and its class-society be
sounded ; then and not till then will justice — the
justice not of civilisation but of Socialism — become
the corner-stone of the social arch." ^

The reasoning in the above passage may commend
itself to advanced Socialists, and has probably been
in substance employed and approved of from time
immemorial by the members of the ancient fraternity
of thieves ; but looked at from a logical and dis-
passionate point of view it is far from convincing.

Mr. Bax's " bourgeois " is one of his favourite
" abstractions," but as mythical as " the man in
the moon." What he calls " the bourgeois idea of
justice" is one too crude and absurd to have been
ever entertained by any minority however small.
If he had known of even one " bourgeois apologist "
who admitted " that the present possessors of land
and capital hold possession of them simply by right
of superior force," he would doubtless have been
ready enough to give us his name. His " bourgeois,"
*' bourgeois idea of justice," and " bourgeois apo-
logist " are, in short, mere fictions of his own

It must be admitted, however, that Mr. Bax
has represented his Socialist as just as devoid of
either common or moral sense as his bourgeois.
He represents him as maintaining "an absolute
right " of confiscating the property of indi-

* " The Ethics of Socialism," p. 83.


viduals. Socialists generally believe in no ''abso-
lute rights," and especially in no "absolute rights"
of property. Does Mr. Bax himself hold that
either the possession or confiscation of property is
absolutely either just or unjust ? Does he beheve
that the justice or injustice of either the one or
the other is not dependent on moral reasons or
does not presu})pose a moral law ? If he does not
he has no right to identify a struggle for justice
with a mere struggle of opposing forces. If he
does he ought to hold that might is right, and
that confiscation and expropriation by the right
of superior force will be justice even in the era of

The defectiveness' of the socialistic idea of justice
makes itself apparent in the socialistic Claim of
Eights. The rights which Socialists maintain should
be added to those already generally and justly
recognised are imaginary rights and inconsistent
not only with those which have been gained, but
with one another.

They are reducible to three — the right to live ;
the right to labour ; and the right of each one to
receive the entire produce of his labour.

( I ) There is the right to live, the right to exist-
ence. By this right is meant the right to be
provided with a living, the right to be guaranteed
a subsistence. It assumes that society owes to
each of its members as much as he needs for his
support, and that those of them who have not
been able to procure this for themselves are entitled
to claim it as their due, and to take it.


Says J. G. Fichte : " All right of property is
founded on the contract of all with all which runs
thus : We hold all on the condition that we leave
thee what is thine. As soon therefore as any one
cannot live by his labour that which is his own is
withheld from him ; the contract, consequently, so
far as he is concerned, is entirely annulled ; and
from that moment he is no lon^-er under ricrhtful
obligation to recognise any man's property. In
order that such insecurity of property may not thus
be introduced through him, all must, as a matter of
right and of civil contract, give him from what
they themselves possess enough on which to live.
From the moment that any one is in want there
belongs to no one that portion of his property
which is required to save the needy one from
want, but it rightfully belongs to him who is in

This so-called right found an influential advocate
in Louis Blanc, and received the sanction of the
Provisional Government of France in 1848. A real
right, however, it is not. And the State which
acknowledges it to be such is unlikely to be able to
fulfil what it undertakes. A right constituted by
mere need is one which so many may be expected
to have that all will soon be in need. Society as at
present organised has entered into no contract,
come under no obli station, which binds it as a
matter of right to support any of its members. It
is their duty to support themselves, and they are

* "Werke," iii. 213.


left free to do so in any rightful way, and to go to
any part of the world where they can do so.

Of course, were society organised as Social
Democracy demands : were the collectivist system
established : it would be otherwise. When society
deprives individuals of the liberty of providing for
themselves where and how they please ; when it
appropriates the capital and instruments of labour
of all the individuals who compose it ; it obviously
becomes its bounden duty to supply them with
the means of living. That the establishment of
Socialism, however, would thus originate such a
right is no indication that it is a genuine right,
while it is a weighty reason for not establishing a
system which would impose on society so awful a

"Society," thus wrote the late Dr. Roswell D.
Hitchcock, " in absorbing the individual, becomes
responsible for his support ; while the individual, in
being absorbed, becomes entitled to support. This
was the doctrine of Proudhon's famous essay.
Nature, he said, is bountiful. She has made ample
provision for us all, if each could only get his part.
Birth into the world entitles one to a living in it.
This sounds both humane and logical. And it is
logical. The right of society to absorb, implies the
duty to support ; while the duty of the individual
to be absorbed, implies the right to be supported.
But premiss and conclusion are equally false.
Society has no right to absorb the individual, and
consequently is under no obligation to support him
so long as he is able to support himself; while the


Individual has no business to be absorbed, and no
rio-ht to be supported. Experience has taught us to
beware of the man who says that society owes him
a living. The farmer has learned not to leave his
cellar door open, when such theorists are about.
Society has entered into no contract to support
anybody who is able to support himself, any more
than Providence has entered into such a contract.
Providence certainly Is a party to no such contract ;
or there was a flagrant breach of contract In the
Chinese famine lately ; and there have been a great
many such breaches of contract, first and last." *

The denial of the right in question does not
imply the denial of duty on the part either of
individuals or of communities towards those who
are in want. Duty and right are not always and
In all respects co-extensive. The Individual Is in
duty bound to be not only just but generous and
cliarltable towards bis fellow-men ; but they have
no rights on his generosity and charity, as they
have on his justice. The only right which a man
has that Is co- extensive with his duty is that of
being unhindered In the discharge of his duty. As
regards his rights in relation to others his duty may
very often be not to assert or exercise them.

So with a community. A community may often
be morally bound to do far more on grounds of
humanity and expediency than It Is bound to do of
strict right or justice. For example, although
parents have not a natural right to demand that

• ((

Socialism," pp. 49-51.


the State shall educate their children, and may
rightfully be compelled by it to educate them at
their own cost, yet it is of such vast importance to
a State to have all its citizens, even the poorest,
physically and intellectually, morally and spiritually,
well- trained, that it may be amply justified, from
the point of view of the national welfare, in pro-
viding for all its young people an adequate educa-
tion, the burden of defraying the expenses of which
may fall chiefly on the richer class of parents, and,
to a considerable extent, on those who are not

Holding that the support of the poor who are
unable to work is only a matter of charity, does not
imply that support is not to be given, or that in the
case of the deserving poor it ought not to be given
liberally and in such a way as may inflict no sense
of humiliation on the recipients. When men have
worked steadily and faithfully during the years of
their strength in any useful occupation a system
securing for them pensions in old age would only, I
think, be the realisation of a orenuine riofht which
they had fairly and honourably earned. Those who
brinfi- about the realisation of this rio-ht will deserve
to rank hiffh among- the benefactors of the workino-
classes and among true patriots.*

(2) The right to labour. It should be dls-
tinofuished from " the riofht to existence," althouMi

* There is a good essay by Dr. Julius Platter on Das Recht mif Existenz
in his " Kritische Eeitriige zur Erkenntniss unserer socialen Zustilnde und
Theorien," 1894. The lengthy chapter professedly devoted to the droit
a I'c.cistence in Malon's " Socialisme Integral" (t. ii. pp. 1 19-168) really
treats of charitable assistance, public beneficence, and social insurance.


it has often been confounded with it. The riofht to
labour can belong only to those who are capable of
labour, and implicitly denies to them the right to
existence, the right to be supported, merely because
of destitution. Were the right to existence affirmed
without condition or limit few would be likelv to
claim a rig-ht to labour for such means of existence
as they already had an acknowledged right to
simply in virtue of needing them.

The " right to labour " {droit au travail) is alto-
gether different from the "right of labour" {droit
de travailler) which Turgot, in a famous edict
signed by Louis XVI. in 1776, describes as "the
property of every man, and of all property the first,
the most sacred, and the most imprescriptible."
By the "right of labour" was meant the right of
every man to feel freedom as a labourer ; the right
of every man to be uninterfered with by Monarchs
or Parliaments, by Corporations or Combinations,
in his search for labour, in the exercise of his
faculties of labour, and in the disposal or enjoyment
of the products of his labour. The " right to
labour " means a right on the part of the labourer
to have labour supplied to him, and necessarily
implies that labour must be so organised and regu-
lated that all labourers can be supplied with labour.
The one right — that affirmed by physiocratists,
economists, free-traders, and liberals of all classes —
signifies a right to such liberty as cannot be with-
held without manifest injustice. The other right —
that demanded by Socialists — signifies a right to
such protection as can only be secured through the


withdrawal of liberty. What Is claimed by the
spurious right is virtually the abolition of the
genuine one.

The basis of right is not charity but justice.
Hence a right may not be withheld from any one ;
whoever is refused his right is defrauded. Any
State which recoor-nlses the rlHit to labour breaks
faith with the citizens, deceives and mocks them,
if it fall to supply them with the labour of which
they are in need.

But can a State reasonably hope to be able to
provide labour for all its citizens who may be in need
of it ? Not unless It be Invested with vast powers.
Not unless it be allowed to dispose of the property
and to control the actions of Its members to a most
dangerous extent.

Eecognition of the right to labour must, it is
obvious, of itself create an extraordinary demand
for the labour which the State acknowledo-ed itself
bound to supply. For it could not fail to take away
from Individuals the motives which had constrained
them to seek labour for themselves, to be careful
not to lose It when they had got It, and to make
while they had it what provision they could for
supporting themselves when they might not have
it. In other words, the State, by assuming the
responsibility of finding and providing labour for the
unemployed would necessarily encourage indolence
and Improvidence, favour the growth of irregular
and Insubordinate conduct amonof those enofao-ed in
Industrial occupation, dhninlsh individual enterprise
and energy, and deaden the sense of personal


responsibility. And the obvious consequence of its
thus demoralising its citizens by leading them to
trust to its intervention instead of depending on
their own exertions is that it would find itself
necessitated to employ and support them in large
numbers, and in always increasing numbers, as they
would become continually less inclined and less fitted
to take care of themselves.

It would, of course, be in seasons of industrial and
commercial depression, when there was least demand
for the products of labour at prices which would
cover the cost of their production, that the greatest
number of men would apply to the State to imple-
ment its declaration of the right to labour. But
during such a season a British Government, were
the right to labour embodied in British law, might
find itself bound to provide labour for millions of
persons. To meet such an obligation it would require
to have enormous wealth at its disposal ; and that
it could only procure by an enormous appropriation
of the capital of individuals.

The right of the citizens to labour implies the
duty of the State to provide labour. But to provide
labour means providing all that renders labour
possible ; all the money, materials, tools, machinery,
buildings, &c., required for carrying on labour.
That clearly involves on the part of the State
the necessity of incurring vast expense, and, if
only a temporary emergency be met thereby, vast

Further, the so-called right in question implies
the right to appropriate labour, to be paid at the


current and normal price of such labour. The State,
and public bodies, have often in hard times given
masses of the unemployed work and wages. But the
work given in such cases has always been work of
the kind which it was supposed that any person
could do somehow, and which it was not expected,
perhaps, that any person would do well ; and the
wages given have generally been only such as were
deemed sufficient to keep hunger away. Now, that
is consistent and defensible in the present state of
opinion and of law, but not if the unemployed be
recognised to have, instead of merely the claim
which destitution has on humanity and charity, a
real and strict right to be provided with labour. In
the latter case there could be no justification of
setting the most dissimilar classes of workmen to the
same kind of work, without regard to what they were
severally fitted for. If a weaver or watchmaker has
a right to be provided with the means or instruments
of labour those which they are entitled to receive
cannot be the pick, spade, and wheelbarrow of a

Further, if there be a right to labour men em-
ployed by the State ought in no circumstances to
be paid less for their labour than men of the same
class who are employed by private individuals. In
a word, if there be a right to labour it must be one
which may well be formulated as it was by Proudhon
in the following terms ; " The right to labour is the
riglit which every citizen, whatever be his trade
or profession, has to constant employment therein,
at a wage fixed not arbitrarily or at hazard,


but accorcliiiir to the actual and normal rate of


But the acknowledgment by the State of the
right to labour thus understood would obviously
lead to the destruction of the present economic
regime. It would make it necessary for the State
to undertake such an organisation of labour as
would produce a complete social revolution. It
would devolve on it the duty of engaging in every
kind of industry and trade ; of becoming a capitalist
and an undertaker and manager of labour to an
enormous and indefinite extent. The end of this
could onlv be that the State would find itself com-
pelled to suppress all freedom and competition in
the sphere of economics, to appropriate all the
means and materials necessary to the carrying on
of all branches of industry and commerce, and to
take all labour into its own employment and under
its own guidance. The affirmation of the right of
individuals to labour is thus by implication the
denial of their right to property. The former right
can only be given efiect to through a transference of
the ownership of the means of production from
private holders to the State or community. Well
might Proudhon say, as he did one day in 1848
while eno-aofed in a discussion with the then French
Minister of Finance : "Oh ! mon Dieu, Monsieur
Goudchaux, si vous me passez le droit au travail, je
vous cede le droit de propriete."

Notwithstanding, however, that the whole social-

* " Le Droit au Travail et le Droit de Propritte," p. 13, ed. 1850.


istic system would naturally evolve and establish
itself from acceptance of the right to labour, con-
temporary Socialism has shown little zeal to get the
right affirmed and guaranteed by law. This may
on first thoughts seem strange ; but Socialists have
had considerable reason for their reticence and self-
restraint in this respect. To recognise the right in
the existing economic order would in all likehhood
speedily result in such serious troubles as would dis-
credit those who were responsible for the step and
cause a reaction from Socialism. Doing so proved
fatal to the French Eepublic of 1848. Even Victor
Considerant and Louis Blanc acknowledged this,
although they contended, and perhaps justly, that
the workmen of Paris left the Provisional Govern-
ment no option in the matter. The events of that
period form a page of history bearing on the right
to labour not easy either to forget or misinterpret ;
and they go far to explain why since 1848 the right
in question has been so little insisted on by the
advocates of Socialism.*

Apparently Socialists have, in general, come to
see that the right to labour cannot be made effec-
tive in the capitalist era. Possibly those of them
who have reflected on the subject may have felt

* In the present year there has been a movement in Switzerland in
favour of the inscription of the right to labour in the National Statute
Book. At the date of writing this note (June 30th) I do not yet know
whether or not the 50,000 signatures of legally qualified voters required
by Swiss law to be appended to any petition for an alteration of the Swiss
Constitution have been obtained ; but I believe it to be very unlikely
that the alteration proposed will receive much support in the Federal
Assembly, where, I understand, there are not more than three or four
Socialist deputies.


that it would be difficult to prove that it could 1)6
made effective even in the collectivist era. In my
opinion that would be very difficult indeed to

The right to labour as understood by Socialists
finds no support in the idea or sense of justice. The
claim to be unhindered in the search for labour and
in the exercise of one's powers of labour for one's
own advantage is manifestly just. The claim to be

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 30 of 38)