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Socialism In The Light Of Sociology

( Originally Published 1915 )

THERE have been many "short-cuts " proposed to the solution of social problems. Among these the various schemes for reorganizing human society and industry, brought together under the general name of " socialism," have attracted most attention and deserve most serious consideration. In criticizing the most conspicuous of these schemes of social reconstruction, the so-called " scientific socialism," it should be understood at the outset that there is no intention of questioning the general aims of the socialists. Those aims, as voiced by their best representatives, are in entire accord with sound science, religion, and ethics. That humanity should gain collective control over the conditions of its existence is the ultimate and highest aim of all science, all education, and all government. No student of sociology doubts that human society has steadily moved, though with interruptions, toward a larger control over its own processes; and no sane man doubts that such collective control over the conditions of existence is desirable. These general aims, which the socialists share with all workers for humanity, are not in question. What is in question are the specific means or methods by which the socialists propose to re-construct human society — to gain collective control over the means of existence. In order to criticize socialism we must see a little more narrowly what socialism is and what it proposes to do.

Socialism Defined. — As a recent socialist writer has declared, socialism, like Christianity, is a term which has come to have no definite meaning. It is used by all sorts of people to cover all sorts of vague and indefinite schemes to improve or revolutionize society.' Such a vague conception would, of course, be impossible of scientific criticism. But fortunately the word historically has come to have a fairly clear and definite meaning. It has come to stand for the social and political program of a party, the Social-Democratic party of Germany and other European states. Karl Marx and his associates were the founders of this party, hence historical socialism is synonymous with Marxian socialism, and we shall so use the word. The cardinal tenet or principle of the socialist party is the public ownership of all capital, that is, of the means of production. Certain other things are, however, involved in this, and we may define the full program of Marxian socialism by saying that it proposes: (I) the common ownership of the means of production (abolition of private property in capital) ; (2) common management of the means of production (industry) by democratically selected authorities; (3) distribution of the product by these common authorities in accordance with some democratically approved principle; (4) private property in incomes (consumption goods) to be retained.

It is evident from this outline of " orthodox " or Marxian socialism that it is primarily and dominantly an economic program. It is true that it emphasizes democratic forms of government, but this is only incidental to its main purpose of securing a just distribution of economic goods. Strictly speaking, in a correct use of scientific terms, Marxian socialism should be called " economic socialism."

The Theoretical Basis of Marxian Socialism. Marx's socialism is frequently called scientific socialism, because its followers believe that it rests upon a scientific theory of social evolution. This theory is best stated in Marx's own words, as he gives it in his Critique of Political Economy, namely, that " the method of the production of the material life determines the social, political, and spiritual life process in general." We find it stated in other words, though in substance the same, by Engels, Marx's friend and coworker. Engels says, " In every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch." In other words, according to Marx and his followers, the economic element in human society determines all other elements; if the other elements cannot be fully derived from the economic, their form and expression is at least determined by the economic. This is the so-called " materialistic conception of history " upon which Marxian socialists believe their program to have a firm scientific foundation.' The followers of Marx, indeed, declare that with this principle Marx explains social evolution quite as fully as Darwin explained organic evolution through natural selection; and they do not hesitate to compare Marx's work in the social sciences with Darwin's work in the biological sciences.

It may certainly be agreed that this social philosophy which we have already said is best characterized as " economic determinism," is the logically necessary foundation of economic socialism. If the change of the economic or industrial order of human society is going to work such wonders as the socialists claim, then it must follow that the economic element is the fundamental and deter-mining element in the social life. If what is wrong with human society is chiefly wrong economic conditions, then the changing of those conditions should, of course, change the whole social superstructure. It would seem, there-fore, that the dominantly economic program of Marxian socialists must stand or fall with the economic interpretation of social organization and evolution which Marx proposed. If it can be shown that Marx's philosophy of human society is essentially unsound, then the proposition to regenerate human society simply by economic reorganization is also unsound. Let us see whether the positions of the economic socialists are tenable in the light of the sociological principles which have been emphasized in the previous chapters of this book.

Criticism of Marxian Socialism. The student has already been told that human society is a complex of living organisms, responding now this way, now that, to external stimuli in the environment. These stimuli in the environment we have roughly, but inaccurately, spoken of as causes, though they are not causes in a mechanical sense. The responses which are given to these stimuli by individuals and groups vary greatly according to heredity, instincts, and habits, — the inner nature, in other words, of the organisms composing society. Now, the stimuli in the environment which give rise to the activities of individuals and societies, though not in any mechanical way, may be classified into several great groups, such as the economic, the reproductive, the political, the religious, and so on. The economic stimuli would be those that have to do with the processes of production, distribution, and consumption of wealth; that is, the economic stimuli are those which are concerned with economic values. Now, while the student has not been even introduced to the psychological theory of human society, he perhaps knows enough of individual human nature to see that there is no reason in the nature of things why one's responses to economic stimuli, those connected with economic values, should determine his response to all other stimuli; and this is what scientific sociology and scientific psychology exactly find; namely, that there is no reason for believing that economic stimuli determine in any exact way or to any such extent, as Marx thought, responses to other stimuli. It is true that our habits of response to a certain class of stimuli affect to a certain extent our habits of response to all other classes. Thus it follows that the economic phase of human society affects to a very great degree all other phases of human society. But this is simply the doctrine of the unity of personality and the interdependence of all phases of the social life, and it is very different from Marx's theory that the economic determines all the other phases; for under the doctrine of social interdependence we can see it is quite as reasonable to state that the religious and political phases of the social life determine the economic as it is to state that the economic determines the political and religious.

Let us bring the discussion down to more concrete terms. The student has seen that in every social problem there are a multitude of factors or stimuli (causes) at work, and that in no problem is the economic factor so all important that it may be said that the other factors are simply subsidiary. On the contrary, in such a problem as crime the methods of production and distribution of material goods, while important factors in the problem of crime, in no way determine that problem; and ideal conditions of the production and distribution of wealth would in no way solve the problem of crime. So, too, the negro problem is hardly touched by the question of the forms of industry or the economic organization of society. We might go on with a whole list of social problems and show that in every case the economic factor is no more important than many other factors, and that the economic reorganization of society would in some cases scarcely affect these problems at all. The social problem, therefore, — the problem of the relations of men to one another, — is not simply nor fundamentally an economic problem; rather it is fundamentally a biological and psychological problem, —it you please, a moral problem.

This brings us to a second criticism of socialism, namely, that it proposes to reorganize human society upon an economic basis, not upon a biological basis. The program of the socialist looks forward to the satisfaction of economic needs, but it has failed to take into account the biological requirements for existence. It would be far more scientific to reorganize society upon the basis of the needs of the family than to reorganize it simply upon the basis of industry. The reproductive process which the economic socialists ignore, or leave unregulated almost entirely, is far more important for the continued existence of human society than all its economic processes, if by the reproductive process we mean the rearing as well as the birth of offspring; and if by the economic process we mean merely the forms and methods of the production and distribution of material goods.

In other words, the socialistic program leaves the future out of account, and aims simply to satisfy the present generation with a just distribution of material goods. If it could be shown that a just distribution of material goods would insure the future of the race and of civilization, then, of course, the socialist plea would be made good. But this is just what is doubtful. On the whole, it must be said that the socialist program is based upon the wishes and desires of the adult, not upon the needs of the child or of the race.

The extreme emphasis which Marxian socialism throws upon economic and industrial conditions in human society is, therefore, not justified by the scientific facts which we know about collective human life. Rather it must be said that this is the vital weakness of Marxian socialism, that it over-emphasizes the economic element. Of course, we are not saying that control over economic conditions is not necessary to collective control over the general conditions of existence, which society is undoubtedly aiming at, but it is saying that conceivably collective control over the social life process might be upon some other basis than the economic. It might emphasize, for example, the health and continuity of the race, or individual moral character, far more than the distribution of economic values. Modern economic socialism proposes simply to carry a step further our already predominatingly economic social organization by frankly recognizing the economic as the basis of all things in the social life. Modern economic socialism is, therefore, rightfully judged as materialistic. It is really an expression of the industrial and commercial spirit of the present age. When the perspective of life becomes shifted again to the more important biological and spiritual elements in life, socialism will lose its prevailingly economic character, or it will cease to exist.

It must be emphasized here that all the material and economic progress of the modern world has not added greatly to the happiness or betterment of man. It is true that material progress is important, yes, necessary for spiritual progress. But material progress alone does not lead to spiritual progress, and therefore mere material progress can never add anything to the real happiness and social betterment of the race. On the contrary, it is possible to conceive of a society in which every one has an economic surplus, — a society rolling in wealth, approximately equally divided, and yet one in which human misery in its worst forms of vice and crime, pessimism and self-destruction, prevail. It is an old truth that making men " better-off " does not necessarily make them " better," and one which cannot be too often emphasized, but one which the modern socialist gets angry at when it is mentioned to him. It is therefore a matter of comparative indifference, from the standpoint of the happiness and ultimate survival of the race, whether economic goods are distributed relatively evenly in human society or not. We say comparative indifference, because, of course, no one can be indifferent to the material needs of life, inasmuch as they are the basis of its higher development. But after a certain minimum is assured it is extremely doubtful whether a surplus will be of benefit or not, and this minimum necessary for the higher spiritual development of the social life can be secured through the reform of present society without trying the doubtful social revolution which the socialists advocate.

This brings us to a third criticism of Marxian socialism. Traditionally Marxian socialism has been revolutionary socialism. The vast mass of the socialist party to-day look forward to some revolution which will, as they say, " socialize the instruments of production," that is, transfer capital from private ownership and management to public ownership and management. Probably rightly, many socialists hold that such a wholesale transfer from private to public ownership would be the only way in which a socialistic régime could be successfully inaugurated. But if this revolution were accomplished it is evident that it is highly uncertain whether its results would be permanent. For all that we have learned concerning human society leads us to say that social organization at any particular time is very largely a matter of habit. Now collective habits are less easily changed than individual habits, because any change in collective habits practically necessitates the consent of all the individuals who make up the social group. We know also that even in individual life old habits are not easily supplanted by new ones and that there is always a tendency to revert to the old. All historical evidence shows that revolutions are always followed by periods of reaction, and that this reaction is usually proportionate to the extent and suddenness of change in social organization.

Some modern socialists have argued from de Vries's mutation theory in biology that in social evolution we must expect mutations also, and that, therefore, the great changes in human society are normally accomplished by means of revolution. But this argument rests wholly on analogy, and arguments from analogy in science are practically worthless. It may be asserted, on the other hand, that all the great changes in human society which have been desirable have come about only after prolonged preparation and after a series of gradual steps which led up to the final change. The Greco-Roman world, for example, was becoming ripe for Christianity before Christianity finally appeared and became triumphant. The centuries from the fourteenth to the sixteenth had prepared for the protestant reformation in the countries of modern Europe before the reformation became an established fact.

Thus, radical reconstruction of the social life by means of revolution is scarcely possible. The instincts and habits of individual human nature upon which the social order rests cannot be easily changed by revolutionary programs in legislation or in institutions. The only probable result of such an attempt would be the collapse of the new social order, because it would have insufficient foundations in individual character upon which to rest. The idea of ushering in the social millennium through some vast social revolution is therefore chimerical.

It is not the place in this book to take up the practical objections to economic socialism. These practical objections are for the most part of a political and economic nature, and they accordingly can be better dealt with in treatises on politics and economics than in one on sociology. It is perhaps sufficient to say that the political and economic objections to socialism are not less weighty than the sociological objections. Government, for example, exists in human society to regulate, and not to carry on directly, all social activities. If the state were in its various forms called upon to own and manage all productive wealth in society, it is extremely probable that such an experiment would break down of its own weight, since the state would be attempting that which, in the nature of things, as the chief regulative institution of society, it is not fitted to do. But it is not our purpose, as has just been said, to go into the political and economic objections to economic or Marxian socialism. To understand these the student must consult the leading works on economic and political science.

Substitutes for Economic Socialism. — Certain steps sociology and all social sciences already indicate as necessary for larger collective control over the conditions of social existence. These steps, however, aim not at instituting a new social order, but at removing certain demonstrated causes of social maladjustment which exist in present society; and as in the solution of special social problems we have seen reason to reject " short-cuts " and " cure-alls," so in a scientific reconstruction of human society we have good reason to reject the social revolution which the followers of Marx advocate, and to offer as a substitute in its stead some social reforms which will make more nearly possible a normal social life.

Perhaps the necessary steps for bringing about such a normal social life have never been better summed up than by Professor Devine in his book on Misery and its Causes. Rather than offer a program of our own we shall, therefore, give a brief résumé of the conditions which Professor Devine names as essential to normal social life, believing that these offer a program upon which all sane social workers and reformers can unite. Professor Devine names ten conditions essential to a normal social life: (i) the securing of a sound physical heredity, that is, a good birth for every child, by a rational system of eugenics; (2) the securing of a protected childhood, which will assure the normal development of the child, and of a protected motherhood, which will assure the proper care of the child; (3) a system of education which shall be adapted to social needs, inspired by the ideals of rational living and social service; (4) the securing of freedom from prevent-able disease; (5) the elimination of professional vice and crime; (6) the securing of a prolonged working period for both men and women; (7) a general system of insurance against the ordinary contingencies of life which now cause poverty or dependence; (8) a liberal relief system which will meet the material needs of those who become accidentally dependent; (9) a standard of living sufficiently high to insure full nourishment, reasonable recreation, proper housing, and the other elementary necessities of life; (10) a social religion which shall make the service of humanity the highest aim of all individuals.

It is sufficient to say, in closing this chapter, that if these ten essentials of a normal social life could be realized — and there is no reason why they cannot be — there would be no need to try the social revolution which Mandan socialism advocates.

There can be no question that the ultimate aim of the social sciences is to provide society with the knowledge necessary for collective control over its own life processes. Sociology and the special social sciences are aiming, there-fore, in an indirect way to accomplish the same thing which political socialism aims at accomplishing through economic revolution. There would seem to be no danger in trusting science to work out this problem of collective control over the conditions of existence. There are no risks to run by the scientific method, for it proceeds step by step, adequately testing theories by facts as it goes along. The thing to do, therefore, for those who wish to see " a humanity adjusted to the requirements of its existence " is to encourage scientific social research along all Iines. With a fuller knowledge of human nature and human society it will be possible to indicate sane and safe reconstructions in the social order, so that ultimately humanity will control its social environment and its own human nature even more completely than it now controls the forces of physical nature. But the ultimate reliance in all such reconstruction, as we will try to show in the next chapter, must be, not revolution, nor even legislation, but education.

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