Revolution not reform
We are soldiers of the Social Revolution. No reform can bring any economic benefit to the whole working class. Do you think Municipal Ownership will abolish poverty? If you do, read any recent description of the slums of Glasgow, where Municipal Ownership has been carried farther than any American reformer has yet proposed.
Revolution tears an evil up by its roots; reform merely shifts it from one spot to another. When New York demolished its “Little Italy,” and put a park in its place, what happened? Rents in the vicinity rose to a point that drove out all the former inhabitants, and a new, and; if possible, worse Little Italy came into being further up town. Do you think a reform like that is worthy the efforts of a workingman, not a a mere dilettante in philanthrophy ? When the Mills Hotel No. 1 was opened, within a few weeks merchants in the neighbourhood reduced wages, and when their clerks protested they could not live on the new scale, the reply came quickly : “O yes, you can. Go, live at the Mills Hotel.”
Think about that for a few minutes. Do you begin to see the economic law of the matter ? Here it is: Any reform that reduces the cost of living of the working class reduces to at least the same extent the wanes of that class.
Many forms of Municipal Ownership may and do cheapen the cost of living, but as they also reduce wages, they can be of no benefit to the working class. Municipal Ownership may reduce the amount of corruption and graft in our city politics; but whether it does or not is no concern of the working class. If graft were abolished to-morrow, the working class would be no better off economically. The workingman is robbed “to the full extent that the traffic will bear” at the factory door. Graft simply changes the mode of division of the spoil after it has been taken from the working class. To the workingman who is merely getting his bare keep like the horse in his master’s stable, it is a matter of indifference whether the wealth that he and his fellows have been robbed of is expended in the purchase of an automobile, or an alderman, a steam yacht, or a Supreme Court Judge, or in the building of an oil refinery or a railway.
Where Public Ownership is accomplished by purchase instead of by confiscation, let us see what it means. The only way a City can get the money to purchase a street railway, a water works, or a gas plant is—generally speaking—by issuing bonds. These bonds are desirable investments for the perishing Middle Class who are being driven from every other field by the captains of industry and finance. These bondholders are just as truly the owners of the municipalized plants as are the present private owners. But they have a distinct advantage. The security of their investment and the payment of their interest is guaranteed by the City Government. We still have private, not public ownership. The difference is that the City Government has now become the managing and collecting agent of the owners.
Is this reform “enough of a change for you to fight for? You damn it, when you call it a reform. No reform can help you. What you need is a revolution.
True public ownership cannot be allowed, save by confiscation. This sort of public ownership would help you, because it would precipitate the Social Revolution. Why? Because no one class of your masters. your robbers, your exploiters would consent to be stripped of their stolen goods, their means of exploitation, without compensation, while their fellows retained theirs.
Has “confiscation” an ugly sound to you my non-socialist reader? So it has to me, and that is just why I am a Socialist. At present four-fifths of the product of the toil of the working class is confiscated by the masterclass, and the object of the Socialist movement is to end for ever this hideous confiscation: but I for one do not propose to pay the thieves or the fences one penny for the goods they have “confiscated” — stolen from the workers.
Compensation? Yes, they will receive ample compensation in the privilege and joy of living in a world of equals, where poverty and misery will be unknown, and fellowship will be a living fact, and not an empty word. Can you conceive of any greater compensation than this? I can not.
Robert Rives La Monte,
in Progress (New York).