Thoughts on economics and liberty

Extract from “Socialism” by Charles Bradlaugh

From Our Corner, March 1st, 1884.

IN the first papers I defined Socialism to be that theory or scheme in which all individual private property is denied and in which society, organised as the State, owns all wealth and compels the equal distribution of all produce. That is, a Socialistic State would be a state in which everything would be held in common, and the results of the labor of each individual would belong to the State which would control and direct all labor.

Such a State, if realisable, seems to me fatal to all progress as neutralising all individual initiative. In any Socialistic experiments which have been tried with any approach to even temporary success, they have been maintained and the society held together by some “religious” tie or by personal devotion to some man, or the community has been directed by some strong chief; even in such cases of so-called success the community, limited in number, has held its own property as private and distinct from the dwellers around or near.

The difficulties of carrying on such communities have been found to increase with their size and the absence of any individual strong enough to govern and control malcontents. It is conceivable that in an entirely new country a Socialistic State might be built up, but even there its maintenance and continuance must, by the paralysis of individual effort, prevent any very high degree of progress in arts, sciences, or manufacturing enterprise. The successful advocacy of Socialism in England appears to me to be pregnant with the most serious dangers to our national welfare.

To render the establishment of Socialism possible in an old country like Great Britain it would be necessary to effect two revolutions:—One, a physical force revolution in which all the present property owners who might be unwilling to have their holdings merged in the common fund should be dispossessed. The other, a moral revolution, not only changing and reversing the present forms of speech, ideas and practices concerning property, but entirely effacing the habit of life resulting from long continued teachings, and long enduring traditions. The first revolution would be very difficult, if not impossible, and if possible would even in case of success be attended with serious immediate crime, and much. consequent mischief and demoralisation. Property owners are all those who have anything whatever beyond what is necessary for actual existence at the moment. They are, as I shall presently show, not the “mere handful” that some are fond of denouncing. They belong to the wage-earning class, as well as to the middle class, the capitalist class, and the landed class. Civil war with these would be in any case shocking and horrible.

During the contest, as the Socialists would be in the minority, terrible crimes would necessarily occur in the endeavor to equalise the opposing forces, and it is sad to find the probability of such crimes mentioned without reprobation in a document, signed amongst others by Miss Helen Taylor and Mr. J. L. Joynes. They and their co-signatories say: “Gunpowder helped to sweep away feudalism . . . now far stronger explosives are arranged against capitalism.” The very statement is mischievous in its implication, and if the last half of the quotation has any truth, which I do not believe, then those who signed it should at least have added the strongest possible word of condemnation of the criminal madness of those who dare to encourage the use of these “stronger explosives” in a social contest. I do not suggest that Miss Taylor and Mr. Joynes approve such weapons in a class war, but knowing that equally honest Socialists, as Mdlle. Louise Michel and Prince Krapotkin have distinctly defended and encouraged the user, I find it necessary to mark this beyond the possibility of mistake.

The second phase—that of moral revolution—involves the impossible, if meant as a sudden change. All the educators—schoolmasters, journalists, authors, and public speakers—must be first converted; and all the transmitted habits of thought, speech, and practice must be contested, in the thousand details of everyday life, where their potency is most felt. My house, my horse, my garden, my watch, my plough, my spade, my savings, my life-policy, my book—the constant affirmations of private property involved in these forms of speech must be all unlearned. There would, in a state of pure Socialism, be no inducement to personal economy, no check upon waste. Why should anyone be industrious, sparing, or thrifty? Miss Helen Taylor, Mr. Joynes, and their co-signatories, say that by less than 1 1/2 hours’ work per day, each man may, if labor be properly organised, live in absolute comfort. They do not condescend to statistics to verify this optimist statement, which I take leave to doubt; and they add, equally without evidence, that “were machinery properly applied, far less than two hours’ labor a day for each individual would suffice for all to live in comfort.”

That a Socialistic State would be fatal to progress as taking away the incentive to individual effort seems clear. While one or two exceptional men or women may, from time to time, be found willing to exert themselves without recognition, and without reward, for the good of the general body, ordinarily the spur to exertion is the personally expected benefit.

It is difficult to understand how in a Socialistic State there would be any free expression of opinion, or indeed, any expression whatever, except such as should be directed by the Stat Now, unpopular views may, with more or less difficulty, be published orally or in print. A man or body of men can at his or their private personal risk hire a hall, print a pamphlet or book, or publish a newspaper. If the utterance does not find favor the propagandist is discouraged or otherwise, by the personal loss or unpopularity; or in the reverse case is encouraged by the personal profit or praise.

But what is to happen when there are no private printers owning private presses and type, who may be hired out of the private moneys of aspiring publicists for their private profit? Now, an intending author buys the necessary paper for his book or journal from the stationer; the size of his edition is determined by his hope of profit and fear of loss, or desire of publicity, checked only by his means. What is he to do when there is no private paper mill? no private stationer? May every author, every poet, every waster of ink in a Socialist State, have her or his wisdom or folly alike published to any extent at the public cost? Or is there to be a tribunal to decide what shall or shall not be published? and if anything be published, to what extent? and under what conditions? And if there be such a tribunal, will the people, by plebiscite or otherwise, lay down general principles for the guidance of the tribunal, providing what may or may not be published? If there be any restriction, what becomes of free speech? If there be no restriction, how is reckless waste of labor and material to be prevented?

How are public meetings on public questions to be arranged? All halls will be State property. At present, subject to legal and social consequences, any one man may call a meeting upon almost any subject, if he can engage a hall and pay for bills and other announcements. Is the State to incur this expense in every district whenever one person may desire to convene a meeting? or is there to be a limitation as to the topics which the public may be allowed to discuss, and as to the numbers who may require and be entitled to have a public meeting convened?

Then what is to be the procedure as to theatres, music halls, popular concerts, and exhibitions such as Madame Tussaud’s? Now private enterprise caters for the public taste, in the hope of private profit; but, under a Socialist State, how are actors, singers, and dancers to be encouraged to perform in public, and how are they to be rewarded for performing? Henry Irving, Mary Anderson, Patti, Wilson Barrett, and even the great Vance, may, if we abolish private property here, be tempted to take-themselves and their talents to countries which do specially reward individual ability, proficiency, or genius.

How are literary men, scientists, and artists to pursue their studies in private, when there will be no private libraries, no private laboratories, no private studios?

How is railway travelling to be regulated? May every one, man, woman, and child, travel freely by any train to any distance? How are railway porters, engine drivers, guards, traffic managers, and general superintendents to be secured, without private and special individual reward? How is the selection of each individual in the nation for each pursuit in life to be determined? May a man who wishes to be a doctor be compelled by the State to be a scavenger or chimney-sweep or an agricultural laborer? Are the thousands who are employed in necessary work which is non-producing to share in the production of others, and to what extent?

Will it be possible when there is no private property here to acquire goods from foreign countries, and if yes, how? If the State barters with foreign individuals the surplus products which it receives from its own individual citizens, may it exchange for luxuries? or only for absolute necessaries? and if the former, are all the citizens to have the luxuries shared out to them indifferently? or what, if any, distinction is to be made? And how will it be possible to obtain foreign products here, when, as there will be no internal buying or selling, there will be no home markets? Will the State send out its own citizens as unpaid buyers, and experts of great intelligence and ability, who, without any individual profit, will exert’ themselves to make the best bargains in exchanging home commodities for foreign articles?

When the State takes charge of all children, how are they to be selected, and specially and diversely trained for different occupations in life as laborers, teachers, journalists, magistrates, scientists? Now some expend much money, or face special toil and hardship, hoping for, and encouraged by the hope of achieving, success in a particular line.

How, under Socialism, are inventors to be dealt with? are any opportunities to be afforded for costly experiments? Inventors are often very close to the fine line which divides genius from folly. Is there to be some investigating board to prevent idiotic waste? And how are intelligent inventors to be encouraged and rewarded?

These are only a few of the many thousand difficulties of detail which, at least, ought to be faced by those who propose to annihilate Individualism.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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