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they were " public benefits." The frightful egoism of Max
Stirner led him to socialistic conclusions which Marx and
Lassalle re-advanced. Socialism, in like manner, not only may
be, but largely is, ethically individualistic, a generalised egoism,
by no means the altruistic system which it is often i-epresented
as being.*

* Various writers have already pointed out that there is a sense in
which Socialism is an extremely individualistic theory. Some of them
are mentioned in the following quotation from Mr. J. S. Mackenzie's
admirable "Introduction to Social Philosophy " (p. 250) : " It may be well
to remark at this point that, in one sense, the contrast which is commonly
drawn between Individualism and Socialism is not well founded. Socialism
in many cases, as Schaffle has trenchantly pointed out (Aussichtslosig-
keit der Socialdemokratie, p. 13), is little more than Individualism run
mad. Lassalle, too (the most brilliant of the Socialists) recognised that
Socialism is in reality individualistic. Of. also Stirling's ' Philosophy of
Law,' p. 59, and Rae's ' Contemporary Socialism,' p. 387. Indeed, the
readiness with which extreme Eadicalism passes into Socialism (unless it
be regarded as merely an illustration of the principle that 'extremes
meet') may be taken as a sufficient evidence that Socialism is not in
reality opposed to Individualism. No doubt. Socialism is really opposed
to a certain species of Individualism — viz., to the principle of individual
liberty. But, in like manner, the principle of individual liberty is opposed
to another species of Individualism — viz., to the principle of individual
eqiialltij. The real antithesis to Individualism would be found rather in
the ideal of an aristocratic polity, established with a view to the pro-
duction of the best State, as distinguished from the production of the
happiest condition of its individual members. The most celebrated
instance of such an ideal (that sketched in the Republic of Plato) happens
to be also to a large extent socialistic; but this is in the main an accident."

Adolf Held, in his '' Sozialismus, «S:c.," 187S, was, so far as I am aware, the
first adequately to emphasise the fact that the Socialism of " Social Demo-
cracy " was extreme Individualism, the natural and historical outgrowth
of Liberalism, or, as Mr. Mackenzie says, Radicalism. It is one of the
merits, however, of the Katheder-Socialisten as a class to have clearly
seen that the last merit which can be assigned to the Collectivist
Socialists is that of entertaining any truly organic idea of society. In-
dividualism and Socialism are only antithetic in that Individualism
sacrifices social right to individual licence, and Socialism sacrifices in-
dividual liberty to social arbitrariness. What Socialism means by



The antithesis of Individualism and Socialism is fundamental
in politics and political history. The aim of true politics is to
eliminate and i-eject what is erroneous and excessive both in
Political Individualism and Political Socialism, and to accept,
develop, and conciliate what is true in both. Each of them,
it must be observed, not only does positive injustice to the truth
which is in the other, but also necessarily imperfect justice to
the truth which is in itself. Political Individualism robs society,
but thereby impoverishes the individual. Political Socialism
represses the liberty of the individual, but thereby saps the
strength of the State. This is what is meant by those who
have said that Individualism is the true Socialism, as well as
by those who have pronounced Socialism to be the true Indi-
vidualism. It is to be regretted that they could not find a less
absurd mode of giving expression to so very sound and certain a
thought. How political and general history has moved through-
out the world, and from age to age, between the individualistic
and socialistic extremes, has been shown in a masterly manner
by the late Fr. Laurent, of Ghent, in the eighteen volumes of
his " Etudes sur I'Histoire de I'Humanite." Laurent always
uses the terms Individualism and Socialism in what seems to
me a consistent way ; and certainly no one has shown so clearly
and fully the reasons which history supplies to warn nations to
beware of both Political Individualism and Political Socialism. *

" society," is merely an aggregate or majority of individuals, assumed to
be entitled to suppress individual liberty in order to obtain, as far as
possible, equality of individual enjoyment. Ethically, Socialism is an
individualistic equalitarian hedonism. In the sense in which Indivi-
dualism and Socialism are opposite extremes they are extremes which
meet in Anarchism, which, practically, regards every person as entitled
alike to enjoy absolute liberty as an individual and to exercise the entire
authority of society.

* There is also a profound discussion of both in the fourth book of
Professor Carle's "Vita del Diritto." Mr. Wordsworth Donisthorpe has
given us a professedly individualistic theory of politics in his able treatise
" Individualism : A System of Politics," 18S9. He effectively assails, how-
ever, "extreme Individualists"; and, perhaps, no economist not a Socialist
accepts so fully the ordinary socialistic teaching regarding " the iron law "
and the evil effects of the wage-system. He is vigorous and ingenious,
especially in his criticism.


In the sphere of economics, Individualism has been differen-
tiated from Socialism in several ways. According to M. Maurice
Block, for example, the fundamental distinction between them is
that the former recognises the right of private property, and the
latter wholly or largely denies it. He admits, however, that he
sees objections to thus employing the term Individualism, and
that he does so because it is customary.* He does not indicate
his objections ; but one very obvious objection is that few of
those who fully acknowledge the legitimacy of private property
will consent to be classed as Individualists. The denial of that
legitimacy all will admit to be a sui-e mark of Socialism ; the
recognition of it few will accept as an equally certain sign of

Socialists generally mean by Economic Individualism the
theory which affii'ms that individuals are entitled to exercise their
energies in economic enterprises unimpeded by Governments so
far as they do not contravene the rights of others, so far as they
■do not injure or wrong their fellows : in other words, they
generally class as Individualists all economists who have acknow-
ledged the substantial truth of what has been called " the system
of natural liberty." But to justify this employment of the terms
in question it would be necessary for them to show that the
economists to whom they refer really did, as a class, ascribe more
freedom to the individual and less authority to the State than
were their due ; and that their economic theory naturally led
them to commit these erroi^s. This Socialists have not done,
although some of them have made a kind of show of doing it by
representing the exceptional exaggerations of a few economic
\vriters as the common and fundamental principles of " economic

Cohn, Held, Wagner, and other Katheder-Socialisten, have
represented Individualism and Socialism as complementary and
equally legitimate principles, the one springing from a sense of
what the individual is entitled to as a personal and free being,
and the other from a perception of the obligation of the State to

* "Les Progres de la Science ^^conomique," t. i. p. 199. The chapter
on " Individualism and Socialism " in this work is very learned and


aim at the general good of society. They affirm that Indivi-
dualism and Socialism are both essential to the development of
the economic life, and that neither ever quite excludes the other,
although they coexist in different degrees of strength at different
times. Yet they profess to keep clear of Individualism and to
teach Socialism ; and describe their own so-called Socialism as
" true Socialism " or "Socialism," and Communism and Collectiv-
ism as forms of a " false " or " extreme " Socialism, while they
either treat Individualism as itself " an extreme," or identify
with " extreme Individualism " the theory of natui-al economic
liberty even when held by those who fully acknowledge that the
rulers and also the individual members of a nation are morally
bound to promote as far as they can the common welfare. The
inconsistency of this procedure is obvious, but not its fairness.



Socialism seeks to reconstruct and reorganise the
whole social system, and to effect a vast improvement
in every department of human life. But it aims '
primarily and especially at a thorough reorganisation
of industry and property ; at such an alteration of
the conditions and arrangements as to the production,
distribution, and enjoyment of wealth, as will abolish
poverty and remove the discontent of the operative
classes. While it contemplates a revolution in the
intellectual, religious, moral, and political state of
mankind, it acknowledges and affirms that this must
be preceded and determined by a revolution in their
economic state. It follows that while Socialists, in
attempting to bring about the vast social revolution
which they have in view, are bound to have a new
theory as to the proper constitution of society as a
whole, they are especially bound to have a new
theory as to the proper economic constitution of
society ; to have other and more correct opinions as
to the subjects and problems of which economic
science treats than mere social reformers and ordinary
economists ; and, in a word, to have a political eco-
nomy of their own. New doctrines as to labour,
land, and capital, money and credit, wages, profits.


interest, rent, taxes, and the like, are needed to
justify the new measures which are required to
bringf about the sociaHst revolution.

Socialists cannot be fairly charged with failing to
recognise the necessity and obligation herein implied.
They frankly claim to have a political economy of
their own, entitled to displace that which has been
prevalent ; and they demand that their system
should be judged of chiefly by that portion of its
teaching which constitutes its political economy.
Whatever merits they may assign to their philo-
sophical, religious, and ethical theories, they hold
them to have only a secondary and supplementary
place in the socialist creed, and grant that it is not
by their proof or disproof that Socialism can be
either established or overthrown. They will admit
no verdict on the character of Socialism to be
relevant and decisive which has failed to recognise
that its answers to economic problems, its proposals
for the organisation of industry and the adminis-
tration of wealth, are what is primary and funda-
mental in it.

Thus far they are, I think, perfectly right ; and,
therefore, I shall in the present work confine myself
chiefly to the economics of Socialism. Of course, it
is only possible to consider even the economic teach-
ing of Socialism on a limited number of points ; and
naturally the selected portion of its teaching should
be that which is most obviously crucial as regards
the truth or falsity of the socialist system, and which
is concerned with questions of the widest range of
interest. What Socialism teaches on the subject


of labour certainly meets this requirement. To con-
sideration of the socialist doctrine of labour let us
now accordingly turn.

The importance of true and the danger of false
teaching in regard to labour can hardly be ex-
aggerated. The history of labour is one in many
respects most painful to contemplate. For al-
though it is a wonderful manifestation of the power,
ingenuity, and perseverance of man, it is also a
most deplorable exhibition of his selfishness, injustice,
and cruelty. It is the history of secret or open war
from the earliest times, and over the whole earth,
between rich and poor, masters and servants, labour
and capital. It shows us men not only gradually
subduing nature, so as to render her forces obedient
to their wills and subservient to their good, but
constantly engaged in a keen and selfish struggle
with one another, productive of enormous misery.
Pride and envy, merciless oppression and mad revolt,
wicked greed and wanton waste, have displayed
themselves in it to a humiliating extent, and have
left behind them in every land a heritage of woe,
a direful legacy of mischievous prejudices and evil

On no subject is it at present so easy to satisfy
prejudice and to enflame passion. Religious animos-
ities are now nearly extinct among all peoples in the
first ranks of civilisation, and those who endeavour to
revive them talk and strive without eflfect. Merely
political distinctions are losing their sharpness and
their power to divide, and political parties are finding
that their old battle cries no long^er evoke the old


enthusiasm, and that their principles have either
been discredited or generally acknowledged and
appropriated. But the labour question is in all
lands agitated with passionate fierceness, and gives
rise, in many instances, to violence, conspiracy,
assassination, and insurrection. It is the distinctively
burning question of the Europe of to-day, as the
religious question was of the Europe of the Refor-
mation period, or the political question of the Europe
of the Revolution epoch. And it burns so intensely
that the spokesmen and leaders of the labour party
may easily, by the errors and excesses which spring
from ignorance, recklessness, or ambition, as seriously
dishonour and compromise their cause, and produce
as terrible social disasters, as did the fanatics and
intriguers who, under the plea of zeal for religious
and civil liberty, brought disgrace on the Reforma-
tion and the Revolution,

If they do so they will be even more guilty than
were their prototypes. The excesses of fanaticism
are growing always less excusable, seeing that it
is becoming always more obvious that they are
unnecessary. It might well seem doubtful at the
time of the Reformation whether the cause of re-
ligious freedom would triumph or not ; but in the
nineteenth century, and in countries where speech
is free, where public opinion is of enormous in-
fluence, and political power is in the hands of the
majority of the people, it surely ought to be mani-
fest to all sane human beings that the just claims
of labour will and must be acknowledged, and that
none the less speedily or completely for being


imassoclated or uncoiitaminated with unreasonable-
ness and disorder.

Unfortunately many Socialists refuse to acquiesce
in this view of the situation. Thev have come to
the conclusion that the condition of the labouring
classes is so bad that the first and chief duty of
those who befriend them is to spread among them,
as widely and deeply as possible, discontent with
their lot. And, accordingly, they concentrate their
efforts on the attainment of this end. By the
selection only of what suits their purpose, by the
omission of all facts, however certain and relevant,
which would contravene it, and by lavishness in ex-
aggeration, the past and present of the labouring
classes are so delineated as to embitter their feelings
and pervert their judgments, while their future is
portrayed in the colours of fancy best adapted to
deepen the efiect produced by the falsification of
history and the misrepresentation of actuality.

Further, assertions the most untrue, yet which
are sure to be readily believed by many, and which [
cannot fail to produce discontent as widely as they
are believed, are boldly and incessantly made in all
ways and forms likely to gain for them acceptance.
I refer to such assertions as these : that the
labourers do all the work and are entitled to all the
wealth of the world ; that the only reason why they
require to toil either long or hard is that they are
plundered by privileged idlers to the extent of a
half or three-fourths of what is due for their ser- '
vices ; that capitalists are their enemies ; that
mechanical inventions have been of little, if any,


benefit to them ; that they are as a class constantly
growing poorer, while their employers are constantly
growing richer ; that as the recipients of wages they
are slaves under " an iron law " which is ever press-
ing them down to a bare subsistence ; that industrial
freedom, or competition, is essentially immoral and
pernicious, while compulsory industrial organisation,
or collectivist co-operation, would make society
virtuous and happy ; and that by an act of simple
justice — the expropriation of the wealthy and the
nationalisation of land and all other means of pro-
duction — manifold and immense material and moral
advantages would at once and infallibly be ob-

Vast discontent may be produced by such pro-
cedure and teaching, but it can only be a most
dangerous and destructive discontent. It is a
false discontent, because founded on falsehood. It
is entirely different from the legitimate discontent
which the labouring classes may justly feel, and
may properly be taught to feel ; the discontent
which is founded on avoidable hardships, on real
wrongs, on a correct perception of the many weak
points, the many grievous sores, the many deeply
engrained vices of our industrial and social constitu-
tion. This latter sort of discontent is indispensable
to the progress of the labouring classes ; but nothing
save mischief can result either to them or others
from a discontent which is engendered by error.

Socialism in its latest and most developed form,
evolves its doctrine of labour from the notion un-
fortunately to some extent sanctioned by certain eco-


nomists of high standino-, that labour is the sole
source of wealth ; that an object has value only in
so far as it is the result of human toil ; that every
economic product is merely, as has been said, " a de-
finite mass of congealed labour-time." It insists that
the value of an object ought to be estimated entirely
according to the quantity of labour it has cost, the
quantity being measured by the average time which
it takes to perform it. All commodities, it main-
tains, are so many " crystallisations of human
activity " ; and all of them which require the same
extent of time to produce them are of the same
value. Any labour is equivalent to all other labour,
because it equally represents the mean or average
of social labour. From this view of the function of
labour in the economic process Socialists draw the
inference that as labourers alone produce all wealth
they alone should enjoy it ; that the just wage of a
workman is all that he produces or its full value ;
that whatever a landlord or capitalist deducts from
this is robbery ; and that such robbery is the great
cause of poverty and its attendant evils.

This teaching seems to me a mass of congealed
fallacies. Labour alone can produce nothing, can
create no particle of wealth, can satisfy no economic
want. All labour which is alone is pure waste.
Labour, instead of being the source of all value, is
itself only of value in so far as it results in remov-
ing discomfort or yielding gratification, and such
labour is never alone, but always inseparably con-
joined with natural agents, capital, and intelligence.
We might use our arms and legs as vigorously and


as long as we pleased in empty space, but we could
never become rich by thus spending our strength.
Man does not create. He produces wealth only by
modifying the materials and applying the forces of
nature so as to serve his purposes and satisfy his
desires. He can by his labour effect certain changes
on natural things ; he can change their condition
and form, can transfer them from one place to
another, from one time to another, from one person
to another ; but by his utmost energy and ingenuity
he can do no more. Nature supplies to labour the
materials of wealth, and to what extent labour can
make wealth depends largely on the quantity and
quality of the materials which it has to work upon.
Labour of itself generates no wealth, but derives it
from, and is dependent for it on, nature.

That nature supplies to labour the materials on
which it has to operate, and that these materials
are useful, are, of course, truths so obvious that
they can be denied by no one ; and we are not
charging Socialists with denying them. What we
charge them with is denying that what nature gives
affects the relative worth of things, their cheapness
or dearness, their value in exchange.

Karl Marx himself says : " The use- values, coat,
linen, &c., i.e. the bodies of commodities, are com-
binations of two elements — matter and labour. If
we take away the useful labour expended upon
them, a material substratum is always left, which is
furnished by nature without the help of man. The
latter can work only as nature does, that is by
changing the form of matter. Nay, more, in this


work of changing the form he is constantly helped
by natural forces. We see, then, that labour is not
the only source of material wealth, of use- values
produced by labour. As William Petty puts it,
labour is its father and the earth its mother."*

This would be quite satisfactory if Marx allowed
that the matter of commodities counted for any-
thing in the purchase or price of them ; that the
mother had a part as well as the father in the pro-
duction of economic wealth. But this Marx denies.
And his whole theory of the exploitation of labour
rests on the denial. He represents labour as the
sole source of the value of everything ; the labour
spent on anything as the alone just price of it.

What a preposterous notion ! Are we to believe
that sea-sand will be worth more than gold-dust if
we only spend more labour on it ? that the differ-
ence between the value of a diamond and an Elie
ruby is exactly measurable by the difference in
the amount of trouble which it takes to find them ?
Are we to deny that a fertile field or a seam of
good coal cannot have a high exchange value,
seeing that they are not products of labour ?
There is a class of goods the exchange value of
which may be reasonably affirmed to be regulated
by labour, but to say that labour is the sole source
and only true measure of value, and that nature
contributes nothing to value and differences of value,
is an amazing absurdity.

How did Marx fall into it ? Because the belief of

" Capital," vol. i. p. lo (Engl. tr.).


it was necessary to him. It was indispensable to his
convincing labourers that they were robbed that he
should feel able to assure them that they produced
all value, and that consequently they were entitled
to possess collectively all wealth. People are very
apt to believe what they wish to believe. Marx
was no exception to the rule.

But, further, two celebrated economists, the two
for whom Marx had most respect, Adam Smith
and David Ricardo, had in some measure fallen
into the same error. Kicardo, for instance, had
gone so far as to write thus : " Gold and silver,
like all other commodities, are valuable only in pro-
portion to the quantity of labour necessary to
produce them, and bring them to market. Gold is
about fifteen times dearer than silver, not because
there is a greater demand for it, nor because the
supply of silver is fifteen times greater than that of
gold, but solely because fifteen times the quantity
of labour is necessary to procure a given quantity of
it." * Surely these words, however, should have
been of themselves enough to open the eyes of an
attentive reader to the erroneousness of the hypo-
thesis which they imply. What possible justifica-
tion can there be for a statement so extravagant
as that it takes fifteen times more labour to
procure a given quantity of gold than the same
quantity of silver. It does not take even double
the quantity. It does not require more labour to
extract or gather gold than to work in a coal or tin

* '• Principles of Political Economy, &c.," p. 340 (Gonner's edition).


mine. Gold is not especially difficult, laborious, or
costly to work. Its price relatively to silver depends
obviously very much on its quantity relatively to
that of silver, and very little on difference either in

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 8 of 38)