Problems of a Great City

White, Arnold


CHAPTER IX: Socialism

CHAPTER IX: Socialism


FRENCH enthusiasts who regard the confinement of in the prison of Mazas as the most practical method of placing the social question on a thoroughly sound footing, and of giving to an effete Republic a new lease of life, have many sympathisers on this side of the . Gesture and passion, no less than the records of modern history, impart to the Socialistic propaganda of the impulsive Gaul a grace that is absent from the burglarious teachings of phlegmatic and half-educated Saxons. English Socialism, nevertheless, under great disadvantages, has made rapid strides since . , with


the taste for picturesque depravity characteristic of mixed races, from the sand-hills of , has excited the land-hunger of English-speaking people in all parts of the world. Poor and almost unknown, a knot of resolute English agitators seized the opportunity arising from the interest excited by the fallacies of the Californian dreamer. They were assisted in their efforts, after one or two abortive attempts, by the imbecile prosecution of an incompetent Minister. Martyrdom, notoriety, power, were conferred at one stroke on the leaders of the Social-Democratic movement by the action of the then Home Secretary: for they obtained without risk, and almost without expense, the brilliant advertisement needed to exploit successfully the elixir of a chemist, or the nostrum of a political demagogue.

The effects of civilization on the poorest classes in great cities, excite the liveliest sympathy of all sorts and conditions of men. arrogate to themselves, however, the virtue of being the only people who have discovered what is, wrong, and know what is required to put it


right. Socialists conceive their eyes to be endowed with clearer vision than those of other men. For fevers, wastings, palsies befalling all flesh, and entering everywhere, they have a specific; and, as the large majority of the Socialist body entertain no hope of a life to come, the grim ending of sad lives oppresses them with longing to sweep away the whole fabric of society.

They think of the inexorable destiny of all; how

Some gust of jungle wind, A stumble on the path, a taint in the tank, A snake's nip, half a span of angry steel, A chill, a fishbone, or a falling tile, And life was over and the man is dead !

and then would fain destroy the good and evil alike, in the myriad convolutions of civilized life, by way of wiping away all tears from the eyes of those who dwell on earth.

It is important to distinguish between the ultimate purposes and the preliminary measures of the leaders of the . Thousands of stronghearted, weak-headed men join eagerly in measures for the insertion of the thin end of


the Socialistic wedge, who would repudiate with horror complicity in the introduction of the thick end.

The thin end of the wedge is summarised by the late as follows:-

" After having carefully examined the proposals of the leading German Socialists, and after having read the proceedings of the various Socialistic Congresses which have been held in recent years, I think it will be admitted that the following is a full and fair statement of the programme of modern Socialism:-

" 1. That there should be no private property, and that no one should be permitted to acquire property by inheritance. That all should be compelled to labour, no one having a right to live without labour.

"2. The nationalization of the land, and of the other instruments of production; or, in other words, the State should own all the land, capital, and machinery, in fact, everything which constitutes the industrial plant, of a country-in order that every industry may be carried on by the State.

" These proposals to prohibit inheritance,


to abolish private property, and to make the State the owner of all the capital and the administrator of the entire industry of the country, are put forward as representing Socialism in its ultimate and highest development. themselves admit that as there is no immediate prospect of obtaining their objects in a complete form, it will be desirable to put forward proposals which involve a less fundamental change, and the following may consequently be regarded as the objects to be first striven for. These objects are regarded as not only desirable in themselves, but are looked upon as facilitating the complete realization of the Socialistic idea :-

"1. The establishment of co-operative agricultural and manufacturing associations supported by the State.

"2. Universal, compulsory, and free education.

"3. A progressive income-tax and the abolition of indirect taxation.

"4. The limitation by the State of the length of the day's work.

"5. The sanitary inspection of mines, factories, and workmen's dwellings.



"6. The State should find work for the unemployed by constructing public works, the necessary funds being supplied by an unlimited issue of paper money." The ultimate purposes of Socialistic policy are:-

1. Abolition of inheritance.

2. Abolition of private property.

3. Abolition of the wages system.

4. Abolition of the competitive system.

5. Government aid to co-operative associations.

6. The institution of paper currency.

7. Abolition of marriage and the family.

8. Abolition of religion.

As, however, any statement of the immediate or ulterior aims of social democracy is not unlikely to be repudiated by some section or other of the party, I have asked to state briefly his views on the Socialistic panacea of which he is so courageous and, it must be added, so unselfish an advocate.

"I am asked to briefly state, as one of the

Social Democrats

in England, my views on these problems. I will not waste words in describing the horrors of our existing society. Where I shall differ from the readers of this

book is in ascribing our social ills almost entirely to economical causes over which man has control, and to the consequent material degradation in which the workers have to live. This engenders the disease, folly, and vice which, surely enough, react on the environment and increase the almost hopeless misery. But the first point of the infernal circle is the poverty to which five-sixths of the population are condemned. In other words, uncertainty of employment and low wages for long hours when in work are the main causes of the evils we all profess to deplore. Let any doubting reader think for a moment whether a thousand infants taken from the slums of a great town, and brought up in wholesome physical surroundings, would show, notwithstanding inherited tendencies, such stunted frames, dwarfed intelligences, and warped sympathies as a thousand others who had been left in the slums to be suckled on gin, poisoned by foul air, corrupted by filth and bad food, and crippled by premature toil. No one who clears his mind of illusions can deny that physical health is the basis of moral and mental health, and that all talk of improvement for the masses is the cruellest hypocrisy until their material conditions are altered. "Why, then, are the workers poor ? Social Democracy says, because they have to provide the rent, profits, and interest on which the idlers live; because the modern capitalist form of production forces them to maintain large numbers of useless middlemen; and, because laboursaving machinery, improvements in industry, and gluts due to mad competition throw thousands out of work. For instance, why are the railway and tramway servants

wretchedly paid for inhuman hours of work ? Simply because those concerns are run in the interest of shareholders whose object is to get dividends by exacting the maximum of work for the minimum of pay. Why are the 800,000 agricultural workers, whose labour, with the aid of sun and rain, creates £240,000,000 of produce annually, constantly "suffering from diseases due to insufficient nourishment ?" Because they only get what is left of their produce after satisfying the claims of idlers, speculators, and middlemen. Why are men by the hundred thousand now out of work ? Because every improvement in manufacture is used by the capitalist to save wages and because the modern captains of industry in their blind race for wealth overstock the markets. The workers of England can produce more wealth than would provide them with all the means for happy and healthy existence, but they cannot meet the exorbitant demands of the useless classes and have enough left to keep themselves with a sound mind in a sound body. "The awful condition of the people is recognised by many well-meaning persons, who hope that the classes who profit by long hours, low wages, and the presence of 'the reserve army of labour,' may be persuaded to use the power their property gives them in accordance with the dictates of humanity and the spirit of the Christian religion. They say, in effect, 'Then must the Jew be merciful.' Our modern Shylock answers, ' On what compulsion must I ? Tell me that,' and pauses for a reply.

Social Democrats

(alone, as I think) are ready with an effective one. The only possible conclusion after an examination of the history of class antagonisms in the past is that the workers must compel the idlers to earn

their own living by depriving them of the power of preying on others which the possession of land and capital now secures to them. Industry must be organized, not for the profit of the few on a competitive basis, but for the benefit of all by co-operation. This transformation of society-the abolition of classes, the expropriation of the property holders, and the reorganization of industry-is the social revolution we are striving to hasten. 'But the possessing classes will fight rather than surrender their privilege of profiting by the misery and overwork of others ' ? If so, the workers, thousands of whom are annually killed or mutilated by preventible accidents, who live on the average only half as long as the middle and upper classes, and who compose the army and police, cannot hesitate to choose the risk of sudden death rather than the certainty of life-long misery, when the truth about their position is clear to them and success seems probable. In these nation-cities how could a determined rising of the victims be suppressed ? Does not God fight on the side of the big battalions? It is possible, however, and certainly devoutly to be wished, that the defenders of vested rights will have the wit to calculate the odds, and surrender-as the Irish landlords have done, with bad grace possibly, but without resort to the last argument of force. "I think I am expressing the opinion of the vast majority of


when I say that there are many practical steps-in the direction of democratising the administration of the country, in extending the control of the community over industry, in limiting the excesses of competition, and in preparing for the reorganization of society on a collectivist system-which we should rejoice

to see, while still relentlessly pressing for the complete change: such are adult suffrage, payment of members and of election expenses, the second ballot, shorter parliaments, the nationalization of railways and mines, the municipalization of gas and waterworks and of working-class dwellings, the limitation of the hours of labour, a graduated income tax, free education and the feeding of children in board schools, and the application of our principles to the relief of the unemployed-these things could be done at once, and if carried out in time without the suppression of freedom of the press and platform, might pave the way to a peaceful reconstruction of society. "Rapidly as the movement is growing in England, we are yet far behind other countries where these views are very popular. This is important, as ultimately


must be international to succeed. Those who are interested in this necessarily curt statement can easily obtain fuller information as to the objects of the English Socialists from the authorised publications of the

Social-Democratic Federation


which (according to "Justice") is the organ of the "brothelfrequenting " classes, has presented from time to time with great ability the case for laissezfaire, maintaining that all things are for the best in this best of all possible worlds. While the summon the governing classes to face the inevitable downfall of a decaying civilization by a peaceful surrender


of all that makes life worth living, "The Times " attracts attention to the improvement in the Nordenfeldt gun, and publishes the recommendations of an expert on the best method of street fighting. The condemnation of skilled mechanics in times of trouble to the disintegration of granite blocks, at a wage of tenpence per diem, creates a sense of the general unfitness of things, which finds expression in an expansive demand for forced community of goods. On the other hand, the fracture of a few club windows impels the owner of property to cry for " resolute govermment," that he may continue to address to his soul an injunction to take its ease in peace and comfort. There is, I believe, a middle path, and it is on this that I join issue with Mr. and the sanguinary faddists with whom he acts, when they attribute the social horrors we all recognize almost entirely to economical causes. Moral wrong seems to me to lie at the root of the evil, and of this the take no account. The reduction of English Christianity to a caricature of the Sermon on the Mount lends to Mr. and his colleagues a weapon of infinite


strength. Christianity says, " Mine is thine." Mr. says, "Thine is mine." Here is the whole difference. Christianity does not fulfil her profession. Mr. is ready to fulfil his. It may be that the ideal is too high; that the rich will always be too sorrowful-without a physical struggle-to part with the portion of goods needed to stay the coming war of classes. Then, and in that case, wild work is ahead, and the struggle can end but in one way.

The case of Robinson Crusoe and his island has often been, and may again be, adduced as an example of the fundamental rights of property. With a nail and a stone he fashions, with infinite toil, a canoe, by which he can visit reefs and islets for crabs and turtle eggs, the wherewithal to mend his fare. Friday, naked and hungry, makes Crusoe's acquaintance, and, admiring the boat and the goatskin clothing, issues the following platform or programme, which is that of the , adapted to the circumstances of . The platform pronounces-

(1). " The establishment of a free condition


of society on , based on the principle of political equality, with equal social rights for both."

(2). "The land, with all caves, gardens, bark dwellings, goats, fowls, and other forms of property, to be declared and treated as collective or common property."

(3). "The State appropriation of canoes, and other means of transit, with or without compensation."

Friday presents this programme to Crusoe, and, in justification of his action, quotes the phrase of Lassalle-" To every man according to his needs." Crusoe's reply would depend on his mood. Assuming the discussion to proceed on philosophic lines, he would quote Locke in defence of the property created by the expenditure of labour on raw material. To this Friday might rejoin with Provdhon's well-known dictum, "Property is robbery." Crusoe, not absolutely convinced by Friday's reasoning, may not have the wit, as Mr. says, "to calculate the odds and surrender-as the Irish landlords have done [1] 


-with bad grace, possibly, but without resort to the last argument of force." On the contrary, Crusoe will fight, and Crusoe will be right, and the debate will assume the form of a personal encounter. If Crusoe has his cutlass handy, and uses it promptly, Friday will be lucky if he escapes with his life, and anyhow will be convinced by Crusoe that he has cause to regret his fidelity to the principles of the .

Substitute for Crusoe the eighteen million holders of property in the United Kingdom, and see how much pith and substance there is in Mr. 's contention.

Since the anomalous is often that which works best in practice, it is possible to admit all the horrors of the present system without assenting to projects for its total destruction. Of the two evils-(1) Mr. 's nihilistic suppression of all moral sanctions, and (2) the juxtaposition of luxury and want as it now exists-the latter seems to be immeasurably the less. But because it is the lesser, is no reason for leaving it alone. Earnest, determined, and continuous efforts by the State on the wholesome lines of the


, and by all individuals on the softer and sweeter lines of the Mount; to suppress and sterilize the evil-doer by the one, and to visit affliction and redress wrong by the other, if a harder task, is a nobler, and yet more feasible ideal than the pitiless gospel of plunder and insurrection preached by Mr. and his colleagues.

The awful selfishness and bovine content of the comfortable classes-especially of the middle-class-are destined to some such shock as that at which Mr. hints, unless they awake out of sleep. Political economy has been employed too much as though it were an end in itself. Mr. Bright, , and the unrestricted rights of property, have had too long an innings. The premium of insurance paid by property to cover the risk of social earthquake is too low. It must be raised-and that forthwith. The right inherent in every workman to spend, save, and devise the product of his labour, is subject to two moral considerations-one of which is that the process shall not be directly or indirectly the necessary cause of misery to others ; and the other, that


the duties of property are as inherent as its rights. Sweating toilers, house farmers, and corrupt vestrymen infringe these moral laws. The consequences of their evil-doing, and of the ignorant apathy of the public in abetting them, are visited on the nation by the scandal and the shame that have generated the poisonous propaganda of .

Equality of opportunity does not, in this dispensation, include equality of personality. Under free Governments and by the inexorable decree of the Supreme power, inequality in personality involves inequality in social condition, wealth, knowledge, and power, and such inequalities must therefore exist and continue to exist under all systems of society. Were the to be established to-morrow morning as a Joint-Stock Company wherein everyone is a director, by noontide inequalities in position caused by inequalities in personality would have reappeared. On a level plain every ants' nest is a mountain; every thistle a forest tree. Dynamite the thistles and the ants' nests, and they disappear, only to be succeeded by new generations of ants and thistles.


Competition is inherent in human nature. Pushed too far it leads to wicked cheapness, and costs men's lives and girls' honour. To abolish competition, as the Socialists propose, is to create a new spirit in the hearts of men. This they cannot do, as the constant bickerings in, and secessions from, the Socialist party appear effectively to demonstrate. The desire of to abolish the competitive system, because the consequences of unrestricted competition are deadly to some and hurtful to many, can be compared only with a desire to abolish the use of fire because in many instances lives are lost, limbs maimed, and property destroyed by the cruel license of uncontrolled flames. Competition, like fire, is an excellent servant: when subordinated to the higher laws lying beyond the purview of political economy. Grates, stoves, chimneys, fire bars, bellows, tongs, and water, are needed for the due subjugation of the competitive principle. Tramway men and the white slaves of the tailoring trade in the East End are scorched by the fire of the struggle for existence, and for the infliction of those injuries Society is directly responsible.


are the recognition by Society of common responsibility for the evils of unrestricted competition. It cannot be alleged that there is an essential difference -a difference in principle-between the serfs of sweating tailors or s of . The difference, if any, is one of degree, not of kind. It cannot be difficult, if this be so, to arrive at a principle determining the proper limits for the interference of the State, and defining the circumstances when the interference of the State is injurious alike to the interests of industry and of capital, and to the wholesomeness and independence of national life.

That principle may be briefly stated thus:- No person or persons are vested with inherent rights to profit arising from the misery and degradation of others.

Fragmentary acceptances of this principle are scattered up and down the Statute Book. In 48 and 49 Vict., ch. 72, section 12, we have these words :-

" In any contract made after the passing of this Act

for letting for habitation by persons of the working classes a house or part of a house, there shall be implied a condition that the house is at the commencement of the holding in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation."

The missing link in the application of this admitted principle is the pecuniary inability of the poor to set in motion on their own behalf the machinery of the law, and the corruption and apathy of the local authorities who are to the poor in loco parentis. Thousands of house-owners in Great Britain are now liable to an action at common law for the insanitary condition of premises let or sublet to working-class tenants since the 14th of August, ; and it is probable that they would be cast in heavy damages for neglect of the condition implied in Section 12 of the . Restricted competition in regard to the disposal of insanitary and dilapidated house property is a palpable admission by the the State that no house-owner has the right to make profits from the letting of houses, the occupation of which is a necessary cause of injury to the occupants.

Unventilated mines, unpointed railways,


ships unseaworthy and half-found, are instances where the intervention of the community in its own protection is already admitted. Once concede that the permanent injury to health and stamina of that class, known to the as " the workers," is an injury to the community as a whole, and the title for interference is complete. The acceptance of the principle I have ventured to formulate would involve a considerable increase to the inspectorial staff, the abolition of the present form of Local government, and a modification of the in the direction of compulsory instead of optional provisions. It will, no doubt, be said that profits will be reduced. This, no doubt, is possibly true; and it is high time that profits should be surrendered when they are obtained only at the cost of national degradation. It is equally probable, however, even on sordid grounds, that the general improvement in the conditions of life of the workers would be profitable to workmen and to capitalists alike.

A surrender of a portion of the profits now legally made must be faced and endured.


The premium of insurance paid by the comfortable classes is not high enough to purchase immunity from spoliation. The strain on the intellect of the poor, when the contrast of poisonous attics and sixteen hours' work with no work and great comfort, is too great for quiet acceptance.

The considerations leading many of the working classes to throw in their lot with the Social Democrats are stated in the following paper, which is being circulated throughout the length and breadth of the kingdom.

If not, you ought to be, for the following reasons:- Because in this wealthiest country the world has ever seen, vice and misery, ignorance and crime, drunkenness and prostitution, disease and degradation are for the most part the results of want and the fear of want. Because the average death-rate in the district of

St. George's, Hanover Square

, and other rich parts of London, is 11 per 1,000, while in poor, overcrowded districts the average death-rate is from 35 to 66 per 1,000. Because in Manchester and other industrial centres the working classes, on the average, live only half as long as the idle classes. Because thousands of men in the United Kingdom are killed every year in mines, on railways, and in manufactories

by " accidents " which could be prevented if money was spent on improved methods of working. Because the useful classes in England are forced to work from 60 to 120 hours a week for a bare living, while black slaves were usually only employed 45 hours a week by their masters and were well fed. Because official Government reports prove that the 800,000 agricultural labourers, who produce more than £240,000,000 worth of food in a year even in these bad times, rarely escape from "diseases due to insufficient nourishment." Because the

Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes

found that the children of the poor are brought up under conditions that make health, decency, and morality impossible for them. Because we have the evidence of

John Bright

that in


70 per cent. of the families have two rooms or less to live, eat, drink, and sleep in. Because women who work are habitually paid wages on which they cannot live, and there are at least 100,000 prostitutes on the streets of London alone. Because in every great industry the amount produced per head of those employed has greatly increased, though the number of men in work at these trades has in many cases diminished. Because it is admitted that children in Board Schools are too badly fed to be well taught without breaking down; and that in one of the poorer districts of London last winter one child out of every three came to school without having had any breakfast. Because everything that the worker gets to eat, drink, and

wear is made unwholesome by the adulteration for profit, which

John Bright

says is " a legitimate form of competition." Because

Professor Huxley

says that the chief diseases in our great cities are due to slow starvation; and that he would sooner be a savage in the backwoods than an English labourer. Because

Mr. Gladstone

says that human life is still for the many a mere struggle for existence.

The statements in this paper are substantially true, and it is pitiful that a poison should be prescribed as a remedy by those who are slowly and surely winning the confidence of the masses: and that the poison should be accepted with avidity, because the natural leaders of the people are silently engaged in other things. Were the middleclasses, with their comfort-worship and their clinging attachment to respectability, to wake out of sleep and to grasp the fact that the next revolution will be directed against them-against the bourgeoisie, and not against the aristocracy-all might yet go well. The Local Government of London is the embodiment of the bourgeois spirit. What wonder then that Socialists seek the salvation of some in the destruction of all;


would fain visit on the nation the sins of the classes; would atone for selfish indifference by the letting loose of passion; and would seek the reconstruction of society by the destruction of civilization. The handwriting is on the wall. Day by day the characters become more legible. As the ocean murmurs ceaselessly is the murmuring of the people. They are, as Kropotkine says, "a multitude whom no man can number; they are the ocean that can embrace and swallow up all else." Discontent, the daughter of education, breeds resolve; resolve, revolution. Remove from the revolutionist just reason for uprooting the foundations of society, and moral considerations will support the physical measures undertaken in defending property and the old order of society.

Science has immensely strengthened the arm of the individual when raised against society. Explosives, easily manufactured, manipulated by one determined man may at any time change the history of Europe. Fear is no reason for hastening the action of justice. Still, there is every advantage in depriving the dynamitards of the


of the semblance of injustice. It must be confessed that much of the responsibility for the blind fury bred of continual woe is to be laid on the shoulders of society. Neglect and hypocrisy conspire to assist the teachings of the communistic propaganda. Repair the neglect and sweep away the hypocrisy with resolution and an honest heart, and the Council of the Social Democratic Federation will warble to the unemployed without causing them to twirl in the dance of death.

Again and again the leaders of Socialism have announced their intention of confiscating, in whole or in part, property in land and in all the means of production. Among all their schemes of forced loans, graduated taxes, irredeemable currency, confiscation, and collectivism, there is never found a solitary appeal to the higher sense of the working classes. That much of the misery which appals every thoughtful man arises from idleness as well as from overwork; from too short hours as well as from too prolonged a period of labour; from gluttony and guzzling, as well as from ascetic abstinence;


from reckless unthrift, indulgence, profligacy, and dissipation-does not enter into the Socialistic propaganda. According to them, if a man of the working classes is a voluptuous prodigal within the limits of his capacity and means of enjoyment, he has become so in consequence of the sins of other people. I contend that the idle poor are as distinctly the enemies of the virtuous poor as the idle rich. This, however, is not the Socialist view. With them the remedy for all poverty, arising from whatever cause, is the confiscation of other people's goods.

What is to be done with criminals under the new Co-operative Commonwealth is thus good-humouredly pointed out by Gronlund:

"We may now add that not only crimes against property, but all forms of crime will probably be practically unknown."

While human nature is what it is the punishment of idleness ought to consist in allowing free play to the consequences of idleness. A great impulse to the sterilization of the unfit would be given if the idle man were allowed to die unpitied in the street. The crapulous tenderness extended by the nineteenth century


to suffering arising from any and from every cause, is the most fertile mother of hereditary pauperism, and all that hereditary pauperism implies. The old Book says, " If a man will not work neither shall he eat." The new edition of the Book, sub-edited to date, absorbs within the scope of its sickly sympathy the misery of the man who will not work. None are better acquainted with the truth of this charge than the industrious poor themselves. We need a wholesome return to that benevolence which was good enough for the prophets and seers of former days. It excluded from the scope of action the interests of the idle man. But the field remaining afforded, and affords, ample play for the finest feelings, for the most devoted energies, for the exercise of the highest capacity, and the display of the most exalted sacrifice. The sinews of our humanity have slackened since it became easier to relieve the idle when they are in trouble, than to seek and to save those who are too proud to ask for alms. As a general rule, the man who can ask charity of strangers is not worthy to receive it. Exceptions naturally occur; but these exceptions


are not to be counted as forming a rule. The unfathomable tenderness and wisdom of the Bible never includes in its code of duty the care of the criminally idle.

State-help may be poured into the Socialistic sack until the State is bankrupt, but without self-help and the stimulus of need the pouring out of State aid is done to waste. Self-help gives industrial partnerships, trades'-unions, co-operative and building societies. The demagogues who undermine the self-help which produces these results cannot be counted friendly to the poor man when he offers him as an alternative the million bayonets that will infallibly be raised in defence of family life and the rights of property. Legislation that impairs the spirit of self-help is hostile to social progress. Legislation that restricts the energies of competition so as to allow free play to all competitors develops wholesomely the spirit of self-help.

Whatsoever things are of good report, the greatest deeds in our eight centuries of island-story, the stirring record of many noble lives, and the firm resolve that fills the minds


of men of action, are the results of self-help well and rightly exercised. The whinings of the modern school for Jupiter to come down and make all men wise and happy and virtuous by the intervention of the State is a prayer hitherto ungranted, and, if England is to retain what is best in her ancient spirit, will remain ungranted by the new Democracy now and for all time to come.


[1] By the way, the Irish landlords have done nothing of the sort.