Socialism in debate



Thousands of pamphlets, lectures, and articles lave been published in order to present the case for Socialism, therefore in responding to the Invitation of the Editor of the “Socialist Standard” to state a case against Socialism within a limited space in these columns, I must ask critics to hear in mind that I am only submitting a few of the arguments which can be advanced.

In all debates on Socialism I have heard and taken part in, the champion of Socialism has devoted a very large portion of his speech to a denunciation of the evils which arise under the existing conditions. Obviously, this gives Socialist debaters an advantage on the platform, for they at once enlist the sympathy of their audience, and place their opponents at a great disadvantage. Nevertheless, the successful condemnation of existing evils is no proof that Socialism would be a remedy, nor are Socialists justified in assuming, as they do, that defenders of the present organisation of society are indifferent to suffering and poverty because they oppose Socialism. The constant effort made by legislation and various charities is evidence of the sympathy which exists amongst all classes to assist the unfortunate.

The Socialist, having effectually criticised the evils of “the capitalist system,” which are visible, proceeds to enunciate a remedy, viz., “the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for pro­ducing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.” This formula involves the organisation of a new system of society. The Socialist assumes that the main source of the evil is the “system,” and that by reconstructing it on a communal basis the evil will disappear. But if we examine the actual source of the major portion of poverty and suf­fering, we shall find that the innate selfishness of man, sin, disease, age, and improvident marriages, are all contributory causes. What justification is there for assuming that the so­cialisation of wealth—admitting for the sake of argument that it is practicable—would overcome these ? No new system devised by man could eradicate human failings and selfishness. As the S.P.G.B. Manifesto admits, “in all human actions, material interests rule,” and above all, that interest which affects his own individual welfare.

Socialism is simply a theoretical system which has never been successfully applied. It is not supported by facts—-it is not scientific. Socialists are very pleased when they get an opponent on a platform. They postulate theories as argu­ments and challenge all comers to refute them. I might as well assert that the planet Mars is in­habited by human beings and invite any astro­nomer to disprove it. You cannot disprove the claims made on behalf of Socialism because, like the dwellers in Mars, they exist only in imagin­ation.

Socialism, it is admitted by the S.P.G.B., can only bring about a transfer of the ownership and control of wealth by revolutionary methods. That is the one trait I admire in the S.P.G.B. They give a plain, straightforward interpreta­tion of Socialism, and in this they differ from the I.L.P.ers, who exploit Socialism like some hypocrites exploit religion, using it as a cloak to achieve personal ends. This, by the way, is further evidence of the theoretical character of Socialism, for if it were scientific it would be impossible for a party of opportunists to use it as an instrument for exploiting the masses. Any man can proclaim himself an adherent to the cause, and the rank and file have no means of testing his sincerity. The reason is that all Socialists are Socialists in theory but not in practice, and, therefore, are as logical as a man who declares himself a teetotaler in theory but a consumer of alcohol in practice.

Robert Owen, the father of English Socialism, realised the absurdity of preaching a new system and practising another. He set out to show us how to carry the theory into practice, and spent the whole of his fortune in the attempt. Ever since then Socialists have wisely refrained from making similar ventures.

The greater part of the coveted wealth which is set forth by the Fabian, Mr. Chiozza Money, depends upon security and credit, and would disappear at the first sign of a revolution and upheaval of civilised society, which is the goal of all true Marxists. The billions which exist on paper would drop to insignificant millions in actual gold and materials. Kautsky, dealing with this question, admits :

“The capitalists do not consume all their income ; a portion of it they put away for the extension of production. A proletarian regime would also have to do the same in order to ex­tend production. It would not, therefore, be able to transfer, even in the event of a radical confiscation of capital, the whole of the former income to the working classes.”


“Thus we see that not much will remain for the raising of the wages of the working classes, even if capital were confiscated at a stroke—still less if we were to compensate the capita­lists.”

This, it may be observed in passing, refutes the oft-repeated statement that the capitalists exploit the workers; and certainly dispels the notion that poverty would vanish.

A strong point in Socialist propaganda is the “anomaly of starvation in the midst of plenty.” No scheme devised by Socialists could abolish poverty any more than disease, for both originate from physical causes which no “system” can control. The history of every race in every country shows that the population always increases up to the limits of the means of bare subsistence. Every wave of prosperity is accompanied by such an increase, and if, as Socialists profess, they could so adjust wealth production as to relieve the pressure of existence created by existing poverty, the same natural law would prevail. I know some Socialists contend that wealth is as plentiful as water, but there is not an unlimited supply of necessities, and there is no evidence which warrants us assuming that it is possible to keep pace with the increasing de­mands of a growing population. State aid in the shape of poor relief and voluntary charity are ever engaged in a race against poverty, which they can never overtake and never will. A So­cialist State would be more heavily handicapped in such a contest because it would relieve the individual of parental responsibilities, and thus remove what now operates as the strongest re­straint on parentage.

Socialists as a rule evade this, as they do other fatal objections. Others, including an American Socialist, suggest that a parent of un­wanted children should be compelled to work longer hours. This, to say the least, would be hard on the prolific parent. No one can evolve a practical organisation—political or industrial—dominated by Collectivist conditions, which does not of necessity impose restrictions to which no community would submit. What Socialists fail to realise is that just an you can obtain no monetary aid from a State Exchequer beyond what is taken by the State from the people in the form of taxes, so you cannot obtain from the State services or privileges more than are rendered to the State by individual members to an equivalent degree.

Whilst under Socialism they would eliminate one of the strongest motives tending to pro­gress—the incentive of personal gain—they offer no substitute. Socialism suggests that people would work from altruistic motives, which is quite contrary to human experience. The alter­native would be State compulsion. As Emile Vandervelde admits :

“Absolute freedom of la­bour is only possible in individual enterprises, that is, of course, if we call submission to natural laws alone ‘freedom of labour,’ a submission which is all the more complete as labour is more isolated. From the moment, on the contrary, when labour, whatever be its nature, demands the incorporation of the individual in a whole, his liberty, necessarily, undergoes restrictions.”

In plain language the worker under Socialist conditions would be a slave, as we now use the term.

G. W. DAW.



Beyond stating our Object in a sentence, Mr. Daw has failed to put forward the Socialist case which he tries to attack. It will be an advantage for the sake of clearness to state briefly that case.

Socialists state, and the facts and figures are given in many of the pamphlets Mr. Daw re­fers to in his first paragraph, that all the wealth that exists, whatever the precise quantity may be, is produced by the application of human labour-power to the nature-given materials; that this labour-power is applied by only one class in society—the working class ; therefore the wealth the capitalist class own, enjoy, waste and use, is obtained by robbing the working class. No defender of Capitalism has ever been able to show a flaw in the above statement. The Socialists then proceed to make a simple but strictly scientific deduction from these facts. That deduction is : The working class should endeavour to gain control of power for the purpose of owning and controlling the means of life, and to manipulate them for their own benefit and well-being, instead of for the benefit, profit and luxury of an idle profligate class in society.

Details will be dealt with in the course of the discussion.

It is not long ago that the defenders of the present system denied the existence of the “evils of Capitalism” stated by the Socialist. Mr. Daw not only admits their existence but claims that even the “sympathy” of all classes will be unable to remove it. This is a nasty knock for “sympathy” and the Charity Orga­nisation Society.

He says “the successful condemnation of ex­isting evils is no proof that Socialism would be a remedy.” No Socialist ever claimed it was. The condemnation is contained in the facts of Capitalism and the remedy in the abolition of that system.

We are then told that “if we examine the actual source of the major portion of poverty and suffering, we shall find the innate selfish­ness of man, sin, disease, age and improvident marriages are all contributory causes.” The meaning of this beautiful sentence is hardly startling in its lucidity. Do sin, disease, age— is the latter young or old—form the “actual source” ? or are they merely additions to it ? If the latter, what is the actual source ? And in either case how comes it that the capitalist class never suffer from “the innate selfishness of man, etc.” seeing that they never suffer from poverty ? Was the American millionaire Harry Thaw’s marriage a “provident” one ? Was the Duke of Norfolk’s son free from disease ? If so what did he suffer from ? It certainly was not poverty.

The “actual source” of poverty is wage slavery. Whether a man is selfish or altruistic; sinful or good; diseased or in good health; old or young; married or single; when he receives his wages on pay-day and before he spends a single penny, with the wages in his pocket he is poor—he is in poverty. Wages are never sufficient to keep a man above poverty.

The remark that Socialism is not supported by facts—is not scientific—is met by our opening statement of our case. Mr. Daw is welcome to try and disprove the facts therein or show how the deduction is not scientifically drawn.

The statement that if Socialism “were scientific it would be impossible to use it as an in­strument for exploiting the masses,” touches the depths of absurdity. Any schoolboy could repeat to Mr. Daw from his little primers the [va]st uses made of Science to “exploit the masses.” The harnessing of the electric current to produce light so that the capitalists may carry on their robbery of the workers during night as well as day, does not detract in the slightest from the strictly scientific discovery and its application.

Robert Owen, as a matter of fact, continued preaching until he died. Quite hopelessly, it is true, because he was preaching to the capitalists to come and save the workers.

A brilliant flash of economics is attempted when we are told “the greater part of the coveted wealth which is set forth by Mr. Chiozza Money depends upon security and credit.” It is just the reverse that is true. Credit is never given where no wealth exists. All that credit does is to arrange for existing wealth to be moved from point to point. And Kautsky was not dealing with this point at all—in fact, never mentioned it—when he wrote chapter IV. of one of the worst works he ever penned: “The Morrow of the Social Revolution,” from which Mr. Daw is quoting. How this quotation “refutes” the fact of capitalists exploiting the workers Mr. Daw does not attempt to show.

Let us say at once, however, that we repudi­ate Kautsky on this as we have done on several other points. In the first place a very large portion of the wealth “put away for the exten­sion of production” never figures in the Income Returns at all, but appears on Balance Sheets as Reserve Funds, etc. On other occasions it is used up during the year in these extensions and counted merely as an item of expense and never reaches the Income sphere. Of the wealth that comes under Income Returns huge sums are spent in barbaric orgies that would make the heroes of the Arabian Nights turn green with envy. £20,000 on a single dinner; silken coats and diamond studded collars for four-legged puppies; elaborately furnished suites of apartments for pet monkeys, with attendants to look after them ; more spent by an individual in a single endeavour to look “smart” by some bizarre insanity than a hundred workers receive in a year. Where does it all come from and how much of it is used for “extension of production” ? Even then there remains the fact that “every extension of production” under Capitalism means a corresponding extension of exploita­tion, so that far from “refuting,” it strengthens our case.

In the next paragraph he says that poverty, like disease, “originates from physical causes,” in lofty indifference to the fact that he had previously said it was due to the “innate selfishness of man, etc.” Now it is because “popula­tion always increases up to the limits of the means of a bare subsistence.” Later we are told “Socialists as a rule evade this, as they do other fatal objections.” Firstly, it not only is not a “fatal” objection, it is not an objection at all. Secondly, no Socialist ever evades the point be­cause he has not the slightest reason to do so.

The statement about increases of population is taken from the parson Malthus’ dirty, lying apology for Capitalism called “On Population.” What Mr. Daw is apparently ignorant of is the fact that Godwin—the Utopian Socialist—whom the book was written against, wrote a reply directly after the first edition appeared that tore up every shred of so-called argument Malthus had put forward. Though Malthus lived to edit four or five more editions and in doing so seri­ously altered his whole position, not once did he attempt to answer Godwin. Later on, Henry George in “Progress and Poverty,” taking Godwin’s work without acknowledgment as a basis, built up a case with the fuller information the intervening years supplied that crushed Malthus’ book to powder.

We need only emphasize one point. Neither Malthus, nor anyone else, has ever produced a single tittle of evidence historical or otherwise, that “population always increases up to the limits of bare subsistence.”

In every age since the break-up of the tribal communes mankind has carried an idle luxuri­ous class upon its back. That this could be possible proves there must have been a surplus above subsistence all the time. We may hope that Mr. Daw in his next instalment will give our readers his first point against Socialism.


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