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Socialism & the State

The Socialist propagandist is often confronted with the assertion that the establishment of a system of Socialism would involve the subjection of the individual to a hide-bound State, that would eventually result in the enslavement of the people. The Socialist, on the contrary, asserts that the working class are enslaved to-day, and that only the establishment of Socialism can effect their emancipation.

The individualist attacks Socialism from the standpoint that the proposed change simply means the continuation of the present wage-system of production, in which the whole of the wealth of society shall be owned by a number of persons incorporated into a State or bureaucracy, instead of being, as at present, owned by private individuals. He maintains that the right of the individual is supreme, and condemns any action on the part of a State or collection of individuals, that interferes with his desires.

Since correct understanding implies correct interpretation of terms used, and the point revolves upon the meaning of the term “slave”, I will preface my remarks with such a definition. A slave is one who is owned by or controlled by another; one who is compelled to labour to satisfy the wants of another. The chattel-slave originally was a prisoner of war, whose life was at the disposal of his owner. He was allowed to live in order that he might produce more wealth, or greater satisfaction, for his owner, than could be obtained from his death, his owner, of course, providing him with the food, clothing and shelter necessary to keep him in a fit condition.

Later on in the development of society we find the serf, who was compelled to labour for a certain period for his lord, the remainder of his time being at his own disposal for the purpose of providing himself and his family with the necessaries of life.

To-day the worker, in order to live, is compelled to labour for a certain period. He receives, however, but a portion of the wealth created. Out of the wealth he has produced he receives (according to Mr. Chiozza Money [who estimates the wealth produced at £4. 5s. per week per family of five, while the average amount received by a working class family of five is shown to be 25s . per week] and other capitalist statisticians) about one-third. That is to say that if he produces goods to the value of £3, he receives as a wage £1, his master taking the remainder.

While there may be a difference in degree in those different forms of exploitation, the principle still remains. The under-dog is compelled to labour for the purpose of producing something to satisfy the wants of others who, holding the things necessary for his life, thereby control him. He is, therefore, still a slave.

The principle would remain if the working class was compelled to work for a State instead of for individual employers. If the whole of the wealth and the means of production are owned by a State and the worker receives a wage, then slavery is not abolished, but is intensified.

The worker to-day, while compelled to work for a master, still has some sort of a choice among those masters, but with the State as the only employer he is compelled to work for that employer and under that employer’s conditions, or take the only alternative and starve. State Capitalism would intensify slavery, but State Capitalism is not Socialism.

Our individualist opponent, if a toiler, is subject to others. Others have the power to say when he shall work and when he shall starve, how he shall work and under what conditions. His life and action are determined largely by his spending capacity; by the extent of his wage. He cannot do as he would wish because he is bound to the bench or to the counter. The greater part of his life is occupied by laborious toil or petty business – toil and worry and anxiety in the interest of others. He is robbed by the capitalist employer and oppressed by the capitalist State.

And what is this State? Merely representative of the dominant class; the class in power, whose interest lies in an opposite direction to the interest of the workers. The State is merely the force that enables the working class to subject the working class.

Large  bodies of drilled and armed men are only necessary where the greater number of the people are subject to the few, and those civil and military forces necessary to control the oppressed and exploited class are the “State”.

The State grew up at a certain stage of economic development with the growth of classes, and when the classes are abolished the State will go too. Socialism means no State.

The propertyless have no “rights” under capitalism – not even the right to live. Far from being in any way free they are the property, to all intents and purposes, of the propertied class. Our opponents have been misled by the so-called friends of the worker – the municipal-cum-nationaliser – by the pet theory of the Fabian, who holds that the “government of the future must be by experts”, with the Fabians, of course, as the experts.

Those who read of the conditions of the people of Peru, prior to its conquest by the Spaniards, will find therein many points of resemblance to the proposed bureaucracy of the Fabians.

The Peruvian State was not capitalism: goods being produced, not for sale, but for consumption by the people. Take the following from Prescott (p. 56):

“The Peruvian Government watched with unwearied solicitude over its subjects, provided for their physical necessities, was mindful of their morals, and showed throughout the affectionate concern of a parent for his children, who were never to act or think for themselves, but whose whole duty was comprehended in the obligation of implicit obedience”.

And on page 26 we are told “Industry was publicly commended and stimulated by rewards”.

Compare this with the following from Fabian Essays (1908 edition) under the heading of “Socialism and the State” (p. 163).

“Out of the value of the communal produce must come, rent of land payable to the local authority, rent of plant needed for working the industries, wages advanced and fixed in the usual way, taxes, reserve fund, accumulation fund, and the other charges necessary for the carrying on of the communal business. All these deducted, the remaining value should be divided among the communal workers as a bonus . . . If there is one vice more than another that will be unpopular under Socialism it is laziness.”

In Peru, we are told (Prescott, p. 26) “Occupation was found for all, from the child of five to the aged matron not too infirm to hold a distaff, no one was allowed to eat the bread of idleness in Peru”.

Well may working-men who have studied the conditions of present-day capitalism resent the proposals of the “State Socialist” with his grandmotherly legislative enactments. Such a change as is proposed by him would indeed mean slavery, and would throw the propertyless class still deeper in the mire of social degradation.

The Government of the Incas was in spirit truly patriarchal since “the task imposed upon him was always proportioned to his strength, he had seasons of rest and refreshment and was well protected against the inclemency of the weather”, and “every care was shown for his personal safety”. Yet the greater number of people in Peru were slaves, and slaves of such a type that the conditions of to-day are preferable to those who, recognising the evils of wage-slavery under which they exist, are trying to find a way out. True the people were kept in subjection by the superstition that the Inca was a supreme being, a descendant of the sun, and they blindly worshipped him as omnipotent. They were prepared to toil for his benefit and for the benefit of his nobles.

But is the superstition of the Fabian worshipper in any way preferable? To blindly worship the State and toil to support the supposed experts in control (for we are told [Fabian Essays, p. 164] that it is probable that the “captains of Industry will be more highly paid than the rank and file of the industrial army”) is as great an error, as foolish a superstition, as to worship the sun and its supposed descendants.

The worker must be forced to realise that to effect his emancipation he must discard  all superstition and must refuse to be led and bossed by self-styled “superior persons”. He must understand that in order to obtain the best of things necessary for life, with the least expenditure of energy he must organise with his fellows.

Individual production is played out. Without doubt the best results are to be obtained by social production. All the evil is caused by that co-operation ending with production, and the wealth, socially produced, being owned by a small section of the community. We cannot go back to individual production, nor is it desirable. What must ultimately come is a system wherein wealth shall be socially produced and collectively owned by the producers, who shall say in what way and in what quantity it shall be produced.

In brief, the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth must be owned and controlled by the whole working community.

(Socialist Standard, December 1910)