In Defence of Property

“SOCIALISM : Its Fallacies and Dangers.” A collection of papers edited by Frederick Millar. Published by Watts & Co. for the “Liberty and Property Defence League.”

“Let us jealously watch the encroachments of the State, and never suffer it to become more than a watchdog.” Such appears to be the political doctrine of the band of belated individualists who are responsible for this book, for they include and condemn under the name of Socialism practically all State activity other than that of the mere policeman. Since, however, the propertied class has in its own interests been compelled to add to the State many other functions than that of the “watch-dog,” it is hardly necessary to consider the question at issue as being individualism versus collectivism at all, but rather as being—the class which lives by labour versus the class which lives by ownership, and whether those who produce should not own and control the product.

To those who seek a clear and useful criticism of Socialist principles the book under review will be disappointing. The facts of industrial evolution are not appreciated. The significance of the huge company and combine, where great and complicated branches of industry are run by hireling workers for absentee shareholders, is not taken into account. Nor is it recognised that industry is developing to the point at which the workers’ choice lies only between the oppressive collectivism of the trust or capitalist State for the profit of a few, and the collectivism of democracy for the benefit of all united in producing. The writers place themselves athwart the economic trend, and though as modern Mrs. Partingtons they may be excellent at a slop or a puddle, yet, trundle their mops as they will, they can hardly succeed in checking the rising Atlantic of economic development.

That there are misrepresentations is to be expected from such a source. Thus on page 17 we meet our old and hoary friend, “Sharing Out,” Socialism being referred to as the “confiscation and division of the national income.” It is also stated that Socialists “maintain that if a man lives in the house of another man, it is an extortion to ask him to pay a rent.” But the scientific Socialist knows that, apart from what is called economic rent, house rent is but the price of a commodity that, like every other commodity, tends to exchange at its value, which already includes its proportion of unpaid labour. The Socialist, therefore, holds that the robbery of the worker really takes place in the factory, not on the marker.

Those who go into the highways and byways facing the opposition and abuse of the ignorant and the interested, and who, in their championship of the workers against oppression and robbery, brave the malice and persecution of the defenders of property, are told on page 24 that “The root of Socialism is cowardice. Here is the real source of the whole movement. It is the whine and the dream of the weaklings’ base fear of rivalry, of competition. It is the duty of real men to circumvent and defeat, by war if necessary, by invasion if necessary, by conquest if necessary, by extermination if necessary, the despicable effeminacy of creatures unworthy of the name of men, because they fear to carry on the competitive struggle in which the true life of manhood consists. The Socialist movement is popular because it appeals to these numerous creatures ; panders to their baseness ; promises them what they would be ashamed to desire or seek if they were men.”

Socialism and the Family.
Next comes the war-cry of the pro-property hypocrite,—”Socialism means the abolition of family life.” On this subject the defenders of that class whose heroes fill the divorce courts and whose morals are said to be “of the poultry yard,” have only vague inuendo and misrepresentation to offer. But what are the simple facts ? The family life of the workers is being destroyed by capitalism through the man, wife and child being forced into the factory to earn the daily bread; and where the home life remains it too often spells brutalising drudgery and ill-temper, owing to the poverty of the wage earner and the great waste of labour entailed by the individual household. The tremendous saving in drudgery that the co-operative household under Socialism will allow, the improvement in comfort, health, and happiness that it will bring, leave no room for doubt regarding the future of the home, while should any prefer the greater labour and discomfort of the old style, they would certainly be allowed to please themselves.

But what of the relations of men and women ? The Socialist knows that the methods of obtaining the material living, and the social order essential thereto, form the foundations of the moral and intellectual life of the time; and that with the changing economic foundation, not only must the relations of individuals to each other change, but their ideas also. The history of family life affords a striking example of this. As Prof. Jenks points out, permanent marriage had its origin in patriarchal society, and was due to no improvement in morality, but to the necessities of the pastoral pursuits of the man, and to his desire to secure for himself exclusively the labour of the woman and her offspring. The wife was bought or captured, and the children were valuable articles of merchandise. The very word “family” is derived from an old Italian word, famel, meaning a slave.

From its origin in the institution of property the marriage relationship has reflected the changing needs of property. Children are no longer chattels or assets in the old sense ; they are “encumbrances,” and paterfamilias’ former power of life and death over his household is now restricted to very meagre dimensions. The present marriage contract expresses the needs of the economic dependence of women and chidren on the man, and becomes an instrument for the control and transmission of property. Mutual affection is quite subordinated to questions of property and income, with the consequent outcrop of hypocrisy, adultery, and unhappiness. While on the one hand the number of men who do not marry is made greater by the insecurity of their lot, on the other hand the number of women who sell themselves on the streets is increased by the inability of many to obtain otherwise even the bare necessaries of life.

But when socialisation ends the reign of capitalist property and insecurity, when woman has economic equality with man, and the fear for the children’s future is ended by communal life, then the relationship between the sexes ceases to be a property one and becomes human ; and who can doubt that modern forms must alter with such change of circumstances, and that the matrimonial market and property contract, with the buying and selling of cohabitation for title and income, must, together with the corollaries of prostitution and domestic misery, become mere memories of a dark past. Who can doubt that the relations between man and woman, when freed of the demoralising influence of economic inequality and vicious social surroundings, will be healthier and purer than ever before being based no longer on a property transaction or economic compulsion, but upon mutual affection. Yet we are told, among much other nonsense on page 29 of the book under review, that under Socialism “the union of men and women would be an affair of the State, not of mutual regard” !

The Intellectual Few.
On page 54 the reader is told, “the more the origin of wealth is enquired into, the more clearly will the truth appear that wealth is caused by the intelligence of the few, as distinguished from the labour of the many.” Now even if this were so it would not bear the inference that the propertied class are the intellectual few reaping the reward of their intellectual labour, for the wealth of the few is accumulated from the purchase and exploitation of both “manual” and “intellectual” workers. But what is the truth regarding the wonderful inventions and improvements which have occurred in industrial processes ? Have a series of supermen arisen to produce at each stroke a great wage-saving improvement ? Herbert Spencer himself has exploded the “great man” theory, and has shown that the great man is the product of his age, whilst the history of industry shows that nearly all improvements have been the result of an accumulation of small inventions which up to a certain point were ignored or despised, in spite of their possibilities, because they were not immediately cheaper to work than the older methods. But a last slight improvement, based upon and supplementing the labour of those who had gone before, rendered the new process more profitable than the former methods, and rapidly the features of that industry became transformed. In 1857, Hodge, before a Commission said : “Present spinning machinery is supposed to be a compound of about 800 inventions. The present carding machinery is a compound of about 60 patents.”

And those who wrought these improvements, were they rewarded ? And were they members of our amazingly intellectual ruling class ? They were, indeed, rawly rewarded, while it is almost entirely from men of the working class that the leading inventions have come. J. Burnley, in “The Story of British Trade and Industry,” says, “It is a notable fact that the leading inventors of the latter half of the eighteenth century were of the artizan class—humble workers who, in their cottages and little improvised workshops, quietly worked out the mechanical problems which achieved so much for the world, if not for themselves.”

John Kay, after inventing the fly shuttle, died a pauper at the end of a few years of ineffectual struggle. Wyatt, who after three years of close effort produced a machine which “spun the first thread of cotton ever produced without the intervention of human fingers,” was poor, and allied himself with Lewis Paul, of Birmingham, who promised to finance the invention. Wyatt, however, never benefited by it, for nothing came of the idea until Arkwright revised it at a later date. Another poor inventor, Crompton, set himself to combine the spinning jenny and the water frame. It took him five years of secret experiment, but he eventually succeeded and for a while quietly used his improvement in his own work. Crompton, however, was asked how he managed to spin such fine yarn ; he then let the manufacturers into the secret on their subscribing about £50. The firm of which Sir Robert Peel, the grandfather of the statesman, was principal, were the first to make big profits out of the invention, making their machines after Crompton’s model. Soon millions of the spindles were working, but Crompton died a few years later in extreme poverty. Such is, indeed, the usual answer of capitalist practice to capitalist theory. The brains of the workers are picked, and their bodily strength exhausted, in order to increase the wealth of those who own the means of living.

The whole argument that “wealth is due to the intelligence of the few” is, in reality, nonsensical. There is no intellectual labour without some degree of manual labour, and no manual labour, however mechanical, that does not imply intellectual labour also. The marketable wealth of the world is not produced otherwise than by labour, intellectual and manual; yet the fact remains that it is a non-producing class who, by their ownership of the means whereby wealth is created, and by their control of political power, are enabled to compel the people to carry on production for them, and to hand over to them all the enormous surplus that remains when the bare necessities of the producers have been grudgingly provided for.

And it is in defence of the title of this owning class to the wealth created by others, that the book under review is published. Well does the League that is responsible for the book deserve to be called, as it is by many working men, the Liberty to Rob Defence League.


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