Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Socialism

( Originally Published 1912 )



THE mind that is not strong shuns mental labor. Reasoning is difficult : it is as wearisome for the intellectually weak to follow truth from premise to premise as it is for the physically weak to attain a distant goal step by step. The latter want to jump at the goal, the former at the conclusion. This is the cause of Socialism's strength and its weakness politically. The pull of truth, that is like the pull of gravitation, is upon it; as it swells in volume and gathers political strength, it verges more and more from the wild unreason of its founders and toward the sobriety and sense of the facts of life. There is hope in this, but not for Socialism. When, as a political movement in this or any other country, it has become a formidable contestant for the control of the government, it will have abandoned its international character, its materialistic philosophy, its economic vagaries. The substance of much of these it has already relinquished, although it clings tenaciously to the terms in which they were once expressed. It is interesting to follow the unfolding process, to watch each successive explication as it sheds like decaying husks the outer coverings that were for a time regarded as the movement itself, revealing with each such divestment a new vesture resembling more nearly than its predecessor the silk hat and frock-coat of ordinary humdrum political partisanship. The early Utopians had their little day and were driven out as mad dreamers by the "scientists" of the movement. History laughs at the expulsion because mad dreamers have successfully maintained cooperative commonwealths, but "scientists" never have been able to do so. The "scientists" builded their philosophy upon what they assumed to be Darwin's destruction of belief in revealed religion. Therefore the "materialistic conception of history"; therefore the hatred of religion as a device of the capitalist to op-press the proletarian; therefore the solidarity and class consciousness of the wage-earners; therefore the hatred of patriotism and its symbols and the devotion to internationalism and its symbols; therefore the reduction of all values to terms of labor power, and the reduction of all labor to terms of physical pressure. God was gone, everything was due to matter; there-fore everything must be materially possessed and materially enjoyed. Over this phantasmagoria of false conclusions still gleamed the light of the Utopian dream. It attracted the oppressed and the generous-hearted but weak-minded; led them like a will-o'-the-wisp into the wilderness. From it issued the smell of death—for to the materialist life is but a process of death, and death another form of life—and this attracted the atheists. The materialist philosophy of it removed the moral check to material passions and suggested irresponsibility for their indulgence, and there flocked to it the licentious, hopeful of a society in which they could "live their life" and be unashamed of what kind of a life it was. God, patriotism, matrimony—none of these had a place in "scientific" socialism.

But the Socialistic party, when it began to deal practically with facts, became parties, and these parties are each day and hour becoming less Socialistic. Your modern Socialist teacher has abandoned "the materialistic conception of history" by gradations, the first of which was "the economic interpretation of history." Spargo's construction of Marx and Engels would hardly be recognized by these "scientists," I am afraid. The politicians of the movement say it isn't necessary to be an atheist any longer. As they interpret Marx's teachings in a fashion that would have shocked Marx, so they now assume "evolution" to mean something of which Darwin never dreamed. They are getting chary of the religious issue; they are less stressful with regard to the Spartan system of dealing with children. We are still to have matrimony, although there is still the suggestion that it is going to be an easy kind of matrimony. Class consciousness, by modern gloss, means that we are all conscious that we belong to the same class. Inter-nationalism or political solidarity is gone; the declaration that the American Socialist party is of a piece with the world movement no longer appears in the American Socialist platform. At the last national convention the international principle went to smash on the question of Chinese immigration. The Mongolian proletariat is shut out of the world movement.

These modifications of Socialism, which the very laws of political development constrained upon it, render it less dangerous as a political movement. Every movement of a political nature must approximate the real laws of development as it approaches a real contact with such laws. A man may make the maddest speeches with respect to the methods of operating a steam-engine, and may have the most delightful theories as to the mechanical marvels possible with respect to such operation, but when he gets down to running a real steam-engine he must run it the way it was made to run, and the value of his plans will depend altogether upon their coincidence with the mechanical facts. Consequently, the economic dangers of Socialism are not as real as might be supposed. They may do some temporary damage, but they can have no permanent place in human history and in social organization. Because, however, these political dangers are not real, the moral dangers must not be considered as negligible. Everything that makes for a diffusion of the sense of obligation, that divests the individual of his accountability and seeks to spread that accountability over the whole of society, loosens the moral system and opens the way to a moral decadence which no nation has ever been able to survive. Some political leaders of Socialism to-day may teach a certain nebulous doctrine which they conceive to be Christianity, but those who join the movement are given for study the books and pamphlets of extreme radicals whose teachings, doctrinal and moral, are opposed to every tenet that even the broadest interpretation will allow to be Christian. The Christian who adopts Socialism as a political or economic plan of amelioration finds himself in close association with pseudo-philosophers who are even more concerned in overturning the laws of Heaven than in subverting the laws of men. It is all very well for the Rev. Dr. Lunn to say that the literature of atheism can do no harm. The fact is that it can and does do harm. The fact is that it can and does pervert the minds of men who are easily turned from faith in religious tenets taught them in childhood to a wild license and irresponsibility that weaken them morally as individuals, and politically as citizens of a republic.

Socialism represents in society at large a certain confluence of aberrant thought. If we can conceive of living thought in the form of an effluent from the brains of millions of individual thinkers, we can visualize the various currents in the living intellectual sea. Some of those currents represent the sane thought of mankind. Others represent the thought that swerves from the standard of sanity and is contributed by minds differing more or less from the normal mind of man. There have been millions of these currents and eddies in the intellectual history of the human race. They have existed in every age. They have been distinguished generally by the significant terminative "ism." Common, healthy minds have always looked with suspicion upon an "ism." Before Marx and Engels the "isms" were very numerous. Social paranoia divided itself into countless little intellectual kinks. Since Marx and Engels these little individual "isms," in accordance with the law of a psychological principle of gravity, have been attracted toward the greatest and latest of all the "isms" of history. For the first time in all the world of time, insanity has been systematized, organized, and utilized as a political dynamic.

It is a characteristic of paranoia that the mind so afflicted is capable of ratiocination. It isn't in deduction that the paranoiac goes astray. It is always his premises that are inaccurately framed. Socialist literature presents a startling analogy here. It has dazzled a great many men with its logic. Its premises, however, are always found to be illusory. It is this quality that has given the new "ism" its astonishing vogue in the colleges and universities. The pro-portion of university thought that differs from the normal takes naturally and eagerly to Socialism. Man's limited knowledge compels him to start all his reasoning processes with an assumption of some kind. He must assume some undemonstrated, and quite possibly undemonstrable, hypothesis to be true. Nature seems to provide those who are sane with an instinct which guards them against serious error. It is the lack of this instinct that makes the "Intellectual" paranoiac. Consequently, the recently fashion-able theories which were the exigents of the science of half a century ago have been unquestioningly accepted as a philosophical basis by the so-called "Intellectuals" of our universities. These theories, which took the form of monism, or a belief in the universality of matter in this universe of ours, very naturally led to the political and economic philosophical formula which has become more and more prominent within the last years as Socialism. No student of the subject can read without complete bewilderment the various and contradictory definitions of Socialism which are given to the public by the Intellectuals of the movement. According to Bax, it means the casting of religion into the limbo of outused superstitions. According to Washington Gladden, it means the strengthening of the religious spirit and the putting into practice of ideals that have hitherto existed no-where but in religion. According to Spargo in one paragraph, it is not hostile but friendly to religion. According to Spargo in another paragraph, its friendliness will consist in taking children from their mothers and having them educated by the state, without the slightest suggestion of religion, until they reach an age when their minds are capable of understanding what theology is and what effect upon it the conclusions drawn from physical phenomena must necessarily have. According to Hillquit and Benson, it conserves the family, which capitalism has destroyed. According to Bebel, the family is a development of the capitalist system, and can no more survive capital than can poverty.

No two exponents of Socialism to-day agree as to what it means in their written works. Each of them has his own view, colored by his temperamental peculiarities, his desires, his affections, and his hatreds. Each of them takes the original formulation of Marx and Engels and bends it to suit his own inclination and purpose. It is only when each of them is studied, when each of them is analyzed, when each of them is probed to the bottom of his thought, that there is found in both of them the common attribute of all "Intellectual" Socialists, which is a materialistic conception of history and belief in the absolute determinative power of the economics of human life.

What is the basic idea of Socialistic philosophy? It is that society is an organism. The idea is that it is an organism, just as man is an organism. Man is a composite of smaller organisms. He is a collection of cells. Society is a composite of human organisms. It is a collection of men and women. That is the idea. The individual isn't responsible : it is the social organ-ism that errs. If an individual commits a crime, it is his social environment that is at fault. Having set up this hypothesis, Socialist philosophy goes on to the question of reforming the social organism. It has lost interest in the individual.

Now let us examine this in the light of common experience and common sense. Let us get out of the mist of "economic determinism" and "materialistic interpretations," and other obscurities and ambiguities, and into the clear light of homely human every-day experience. Let us consider one huge difference between the social organism and the human organism which Socialism seems to have overlooked. In the human organism the sum thinks of its factors: in the social organism the factors think of the sum. Man thinks of himself as a psychological entity. Your brain-cells and heart-cells and stomach-cells do not think of you : you think of them. You realize that they are all parts of you. Your individual, complete consciousness and will combine them all. There is no class consciousness in your make-up, unless rheumatism be class consciousness in your legs. In you there is unity. But society ! What is social consciousness?

Where is it? How does it function? Try to think this out for yourself. Is there any such thing? You may answer that society acts in the laws. It doesn't, and you know it doesn't. It is always some individual mind acting, and other minds agreeing. Who makes the laws? The legislature. A man draws a bill and his associates agree to it. Then it becomes a law. One individual, or more than one, want this or these changes made, and each change represents an individual will. Who interprets the law? An individual judge. Who passes upon the evidence? Twelve individual jurors, each with his individual brain and will. The individual human organism that thinks is always the thing that is conscious. It thinks about what it contains on one side, and what contains it on the other. A man's cells do not think about him : he thinks about them. Society doesn't think about men : men think about society. The individual is a concrete thing; society, an abstraction. An individual can do wrong, or do right; what society does is only what many individuals do. Therefore there is no responsibility in society, but there is responsibility in each human soul.

It would be impossible, within the brief confines of this chapter, to deal with each of the absurdities of Socialism. A few of them, however, may be briefly treated.

Socialism distinguishes between use values and ex-change values. The fact that a thing created ministers to the satisfaction or necessity of its possessor gives it a use value. Socialism says air has a use value but no exchange value : a use value because all men need it to live, but no exchange value because there is so much of it that each man can get it for nothing. This is a favorite Socialist illustration. Air, they say, is not a commodity. A commodity must have an exchange value. It is exchange value that makes profit possible. And it is profit that is evil. We might pause here to ask if the use value is not simply a product of the Socialist term-factory. Why call it a value at all? It is not measurable, and a value, in the sense in which Socialists use the term value, must be measurable. When they use the term exchange value they mean a value measurable in the medium of exchange. A sheik of the desert has fifty camels. Two or three of them can have a use value. The rest are the measure of his wealth. A Hebrew patriarch has flocks of sheep. A few of them have a use value. The rest are the measure of his wealth. The sheik, by the surplus above the camels he can ride, and the patriarch, by the surplus above the sheep he can eat or shear, has the power to purchase other things he may desire. So was Ibrahim of the sandy plains a capitalist; so was David, the son of Jesse, a capitalist; so is every human being to-day who possesses a thing which others desire, and which he does not require to live, a capitalist.

Value is what men will pay fora thing they need or desire. Economically it is governed by the utility of the commodity in relation to its difficulty of attainment. Diamonds, which cannot be eaten, and the sight of which awakens a pleasurable sensation in not all human beings, have a value greater than food, without which no man can live. This is because food is easier to procure. A singer can command a salary of many thousands of dollars an hour, while a maker of clothes must labor for a few cents an hour. This is because the song of the singer is more intensely appreciated and less readily procurable. Is the inequality—the injustice Socialists call it—that pays a pittance for the hard toil of the mill-worker and a for-tune for the few hours of the singer a thing of mere laws? No. Then how are you to cure it by laws? Is there compulsion now upon society to pay a large wage to one kind of worker and a small wage to another? No. Then how are you going to relieve a compulsion that does not exist? The impulse is in human nature. It is in the souls of individuals. It is of the very essence of the human make-up.

This question of values is one of the pet themes of the Socialist economist. Huge volumes have been devoted to proving that labor is entitled to all the value that labor creates. That is a good mouth-filling phrase which rolls fluently from the tongue of the soap-box orator and catches the interest and the sympathy of the man who toils. But to the toiler it has a meaning far different from that laboriously explained in Socialist writings. Although the soap-box Socialist does not mention it, the "Intellectual" insists that Marx and his associates did not mean that every shoemaker was entitled to the value of all the shoes he could make. "Social labor" is what Marx meant. "Social labor" is what becomes value when embodied in a useful or desirable article. And the "social labor" that enters into the shirt you bought is not the labor of the mill-hands who worked the machinery by which it was woven, nor the labor of the sweatshop worker who sewed it, nor that of the cutter who cut it, nor that of the buttonmaker ; but is vastly more than all these. It reaches out to embrace the cotton-grower and his laborers, and the builder who builded the mill, and the brick-maker who made the brick, and the machinist who assembled the looms and the spinning machinery, and the mechanics who made the parts, and the railroad hands that aided in transportation, and so on infinitely in every direction, to the mother who bore all these and their mothers before them. "Social labor" is a symbol for an infinity. It is immeasurable. But this symbol equals value, they insist. Well, let it be so. How, then, by the statement, or even the proof, of this does Socialism help the toiler? The question is not one of conglomeration but of distribution. It is not to prove that an infinite number of immeasurable contributial values constitute a measured value that is important: it is the fair distribution of a measured value among the men who contributed their labor to the creation of the product. That is what will help the world. That is what humanity needs. What good does it do to prove that labor multiplied by x made a watch? The value of the watch is what men will pay for it. It may be twenty dollars or one hundred dollars. The problem is the distribution of that sum justly. x equals y will not do. It is not x with whom you are dealing; it is a certain John Jones who has a mouth of his own to fill, and a wife and children, all of whom have likewise mouths to fill. And John Jones cannot be fed on the symbols of unknown quantities. He cannot live on algebraic terms any more than you can put a five-dollar bill in the pocket of an algebraic term. John Jones must get a definite measurable fraction of the measured value of that watch. He can eat a fifth or a tenth of a loaf of bread, but he cannot eat a square root. He can live in half or one-tenth of a house, but not in Toilers, this huge humbug has nothing for you. You ask for bread, and it gives you a quadratic equation.

The pendulum of nonsense having swung to one extreme, it now goes to the other. Mr. Allan Benson writes a series of articles on Socialism for Pearson's Magazine. Perhaps Mr. Hillquit and Mr. Spargo would not admit that they represent Socialist teaching at all. But they do catch votes. For Mr. Benson does not deal in x's and y's. He finds it just as easy to substitute the word "dollars" for the algebraic symbols. There is an advantage in this, for the man in the street knows what a dollar is. And there is no disadvantage, for as long as Mr, Benson is dealing with the word "dollars," and not with real dollars, it is just as easy to perform interesting feats of legerdemain. So Mr. Benson, instead of talking of "social labor," announces cheerfully that under the cooperative commonwealth every worker is to get the equivalent of $5000 a year. That has a pleasant sound. Every man who earns less than $5000 a year will surely vote for that. There are ninety million people in the United States. I have not the census reports at hand, but shall make a liberal allowance for children (who are to be cared for by the state, and are probably to get less than $5000 a year) and reduce the number of $5000-a-year individuals to 45,000,000. At $5000 a year the American payroll would total $225,000,000,-000. Only two hundred and twenty-five billions of dollars. Such is the "stuff that dreams are made of." Such is the stuff, also, that Socialist votes are made of.

Common ownership of productive machinery seems to be a solid in the fluidity of Socialism. It looks like something you can get hold of. Let us see. Handle it gently, for it isn't very far from the fluid state. What does it mean? What is "productive machinery"? We have the word of some modern American Socialists—Mr. Spargo, Mr. Hillquit, and Dr. Lunn among them—that it is not a spade, or a saw, or a hammer, or a seamstress's domestic sewing-machine. It is machinery such as is used in manufacture by the manufacturing corporations. We are not going to take his saw from the carpenter, nor his hammer from the blacksmith. We are going into the Steel-trust mill to take its huge equipment, and with that equipment we are going to produce railroad tracks, and the framework of buildings, and the countless other things which the Steel Trust now produces. There is to be no change in production; there will be the puddling and the rolling and the moulding, and all the processes to which steel is subjected. But in the distribution it will be different. We are producing for use now, not for profit. We shall so set our prices that each man employed in our huge plant will get a salary of $5000 a year. Puddler, roller, water-boy, engine-tender, oiler, stoker, foreman, superintendent, salesman, office messenger, bookkeeper—all of these are to get out of the value they create the equivalent of $5000 per annum. There are two hundred thousand of them. It means $1,000,000,000 a year for our product. It is like giving the stuff away. But wait. We forgot something. We have taken over the railroad, and there are some thousands employed there who must get the $5000 a year which Mr. Benson has fixed as the living wage. Of course we shall have to pay for that. Then there are the plant betterments with our five-thousand-dollar-a-year craftsmen and unskilled laborers, and we have to get their money out of our income on the products; and the five-thousand a-year miner, and the five-thousand-a-year helpers—all these must be figured in. It will add something to the cost of steel. Then we must all have five-thousand-a-year wives and five-thousand-a-year servants, for everybody is in on this. It will add something, I'm afraid, to the price of steel. The whole thing is to be democratically managed. We are going to determine every question by vote. Here is one now; let us determine it. Boris Humphniak says puddling is a hot, hard job, and he doesn't see why he should blister and sweat while Reginald Carnegie just sits in a cool office talking to a stenographer. Comrade Carnegie explains to Comrade Humphniak that the Carnegie labor is necessary directive labor, and can be per-formed in the office, while the Humphniak labor is manual labor and must be performed in the puddling-room. Comrade Humphniak cannot see it. He says each man ought to take his turn at puddling and at superintending. Let us vote on it. There are a thou-sand puddlers, one superintendent. The vote is a thousand to one for the Humphniak proposition.

Comrade Carnegie goes down to the puddling-room, tries to puddle (to the intense joy of the other puddlers, who cease labor in order to enjoy his weak and inefficient attempts at puddling), and, blinded and exhausted, overturns a vat of molten metal; whereat those who survive are sorry, and those who do not—among whom is Comrade Carnegie—do not care any more. Meanwhile Comrade Humphniak goes into the office, lights a cigar, and neglects to give some orders; as a result of which forgetfulness on his part the mill burns down. So labor gets what labor creates. "The Revolution" is accomplished : there is no profit.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com