Herbert Spencer and Socialism

Reprinted from the Burton Evening Gazette

Sir,—In a recent issue of your paper there appeared a report of a lecture on “Herbert Spencer,” which was delivered by Mr. F. E. Lott, F.I.C., A.R.S.M. Being an ardent admirer of Mr. Spencer and his “Synthetic Philosophy,” as well as an enthusiastic Socialist, I may be permitted to crave your indulgence for the following remarks regarding your report.

The passage which engaged my attention is the following:—

“His principles of sociology showed that he was no believer in Socialism, though he had often been hailed as such. The principle of ethics was, perhaps, the most important part of his works, and in it he demonstrated that Socialism attempted to improve social life by breaking the fundamental law of social life.”

I presume that the fundamental law of social life referred to is the principle of every man being entitled to the fullest liberty so long as the like liberty of others is not infringed. With this principle as thus expressed in abstract terms I think few Socialists would disagree. The difficulty arises when we discuss what constitutes an infringement of the liberty of others. Spencer held that the State was an organism. But in applying his principles to man in his relation to the State he treated Society not as an organism but as an aggregation of individual units.

Another quotation may be allowed me from a letter from Spencer to John Stuart Mill—

“The view for which I contend is, that morality properly so called—the science of right conduct—has for its object to determine how or why certain modes of conduct are detrimental and certain other modes beneficial. These good and bad results cannot be accidental, but must be necessary consequences of the constitution of things, and I conceive it to be the business of moral science to deduce from the laws of life and the conditions of existence what kinds of action necessarily tend to produce happiness, and what kinds to produce unhappiness. Having done this, its deductions are to be recognised as laws of conduct, and are to be conformed to, irrespective of a direct estimation of happiness or misery.”

Now, how can Socialism be viewed as infringing those principles ? The Socialist looks upon Society as an organism of which human beings form the cells. Any disease of the cells of an organism is injurious to the organism. Anything depriving the cellular tissue of its proper nutrition causes a disease of the tissue, and the organism suffers. The Socialist viewing the present society, based upon the class ownership of wealth and the means of wealth production, sees that many millions of the human cells forming that society are deprived of the means of proper sustenance, whilst others of those human cells are fed to repletion. As one organ of the human organism may be a parasite seeking aggrandisement at the expense of the other organs, so in the body social we have a class of machine-owners living as parasites upon the labour of machine-minders.

View human society as it has been pictured by Mr. Charles Booth in his investigations into London poverty, by Mr. S. Rowntree in York, others at Egremont and elsewhere, as well as the conditions mentioned in the Interdepartmental Report on Physical Deterioration, and the more recent report on the condition of the working-class in Dundee. From these reports it is evident that at least 13,000,000 people in this country are living below the line of bare physical efficiency. And why ? Because Society to-day is organised in the interests of a class. That this is the inevitable result of a long process of evolution makes it none the better for the working class, though this knowledge affords a hope that the end of the evolutionary process is not yet.

The reason is that the worker to-day can live only by selling his labour power—his power of working—for such a remuneration as barely suffices to replace the energy expended on his work, together with rearing, in the cheapest possible manner, a family of future workers to replace him when he gets “too old at forty.” In return for this wage—this food, clothing, and shelter—the worker toils for a longer period than is necessary to replace its value. The surplus he creates in this surplus time forms a product which is divided into various parts. These parts are the profit, the rent, and the interest of the ruling class.

The Socialist, therefore, contends that profit, rent and interest are merely the various shapes which is taken by the unpaid labour of the worker. He further contends that every new improvement of machinery, each wage-saving contrivance, which speeds up the working-power of the individual worker, increases the wealth of the capitalist, while it further degrades the worker. The division between extreme wealth and extreme poverty has never been so great as it is to-day. Though the economic position of the worker is declining relatively to his powers over nature, his potential power of altering the structure of Society is ever increasing. The manufacturer, tbe merchant, producing in order that his capital may fructify, has to compete in the market with other men of similar aim. Each manufacturer seeks to augment his share of the market. In prosperous times, like the present, he works his machines at full pressure to meet the demands of the market. Unwitting his efforts, his rivals do likewise, and the market becomes glutted. Men are thrown out of work, thus reducing the “effective demand” for commodities. Amidst the plethora of wealth poverty increases. Under capitalism, says Charles Fourier, “poverty is born of superabundance.”

The capitalist, finding his warehouse glutted with merchandise, ofttimes perishable, and his machines idle, finds it difficult to meet his bills. The necessity of paying his creditors, of redeeming his bills of exchange, makes it imperative to sell at a loss. During such a period of commercial stress bankruptcies are many. On the other hand, those manufacturers with a larger capital who are better able to face those times find in them their most glorious harvest, and buy up their smaller rivals.

Thus the tendency of modern competition is towards the concentration of capital in fewer hands, and the growth of gigantic businesses. Competition must necessarily evolve monopoly. We see, then, that the evolution of modern industrial forms is towards the trust. No human effort can head back this movement. Under Free Trade or Protection, under Monarchy or Republic, the trust alike flourishes. To-day, then, it is evident that the evolution of industrial forces and of methods of production, upon which the social superstructure is erected, is in the direction of sameness of life, sameness of outlook, monotony in dwelling, monotony in work, monotony in every phase of our mental, physical and moral life, under which man must sell his labour as a merchandise, under which he is virtually a slave to a wage system.

Against this the Socialist makes a vigorous protest. The Socialist is an individual who wishes to introduce a system of society under which the highest individuality of every man could be developed. He claims, however, that in the necessary toil of Society in providing the means of satisfying human needs every healthy man and woman should bear their share. With the present power of man and the machinery at his disposal two hours work a day on the part of every adult member of the community, excluding the aged and the infirm, would more than meet the necessary demands of Society, and beyond that Society would not seek to restrict his efforts in any way.

Surely this would not constitute so great an interference with man’s individuality as does the social conditions of to-day with its overwork on insufficient wage. Socialism would be a system of Society in which the needs of the individual would be no longer antagonistic to, but harmonious with, the needs of Society. It would be a condition not of Man v. Society, but of Man and Society with identical interests. In such a society only would it be possible to properly “deduce from the laws of life and the conditions of existence what kinds of action necessarily tend to produce happiness and what kinds to produce unhappiness.”

To prepare for the establishment of such a society is the object of The Socialist Party of Great Britain, which recognises the need of propagating these principles, and building up a political organisation which will capture the forms of Government for the express purpose of taking command of the trusts and of the means of producing and distributing wealth. We are seeking to get rid, once and for all, of individual ownership of social forces, to the end that man’s individuality, health, comfort, and welfare may be secured.

I am, sir,
Your obedient servant,

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