1920s >> 1921 >> no-204-august-1921

Book Review: Gilded Capitalism

Guild Socialism Re-Stated.”by G. D. H. Cole. 6s. Nett.
Among those whose wont it is “to meddle and muddle and fuddle” in vain efforts to “evolve” wage-slavery into something more palatable to the working class, Mr. Cole is indeed the king. After colossal endeavours to construct a scheme in which society would “afford the greatest possible opportunity for individual and collective self-expression for all its members,” our author produces, complete with all its trappings of class division and contradictions, its hideous countenance of war which is hell and “peace” which is worse— capitalism.


Somehow or other our author noticed the “aspirations” of the workers. These “aspirations” he and his select circle of guildsmen have discussed until there is placed before us the plan whereby the social organism, impelled by the logic of his arguments, will flow into the mould that Mr. Cole has been able to “devise and create.”


The latter objects to the class character of capitalism. He eliminates it. This or that economic prop offends his eye. Out it comes. It is painted—and replaced. The result is— Guild Socialism.


Without any consideration whatever of productive forces, economic structure or development, Mr. Cole calmly constructs his social edifice. This he whittles away until it will fit nicely and squarely on the economic structure of capitalism, in a manner favourable to “small scale producers.” Then he impudently takes the existing trade union movement, and alters its shape and policy until it will furnish him with the means of “transition.”


The author bases his case on what he himself terms an assumption : that society is to be regarded as a complex of associations held together by the wills of their members, whose well-being is its purpose. Doubtless this assumption gained weight with the author after thoroughly surveying capitalism to-day. For us it is enough to know that society’s members are held together and their relations decided by the manner of gaining a livelihood.


On this “assumption” he builds his system. With him there is no question of “Historical foundation, economic structure, Socialist result.” Mr. Cole starts from the top. His system when completely established, will be built “on the basis of large scale production and the world market.” “Industrial organisation” will “develope the tradition of free communal service,” then will come, “from producer and consumer alike, a wide-spread demand for goods of finer quality,” which will bring about “a return over a considerable sphere, to small-scale production.”


Our M.A. is certainly amusing.


The system of society we live in is a veritable hotch-potch of antagonisms and contradictions. It is class-divided. Those who make life possible exist, half fed, half clothed, half sheltered. The drones live luxuriously, debauched and useless. The poverty of the workers, the wealth of their masters, the class cleavage, the contradictions of capitalism, all have grown with the development of the productive forces. The capitalist class cannot control these forces, which tirelessly strive to break through their capitalist “shell.” But working-class agency is needed. Mr. Cole sees the danger.


Back to “small scale production” !


The words “evolutionary” and “revolutionary” we told are capable of bearing a variety of interpretations. Revolution implies force, though not, in our author’s opinion, necessarily on a large scale. By “evolutionary” some mean “political,” but “there is also a wider sense in which ‘evolutionary’ tactics can denote a method applicable not merely to politics, but to every sphere of social action, economic and civic as well as political.” The policy, then, should be the maximum use of the “evolutionary weapons” plus the minimum of “revolutionary action.” The more evolution the less revolution.


Doubtless the reader will be pleased to hear of these new “interpretations.” We, however, are quite content with the meanings implied when the words are used in other branches of science. The word evolution expresses the fact that “Nature, and all things in nature” (contrary to old beliefs) change. Evolution does not imply any particular manner or method, of change. What is more, scientists who fully admit the process of change are to this day, in various branches of science, seeking the How and the Why.


Further, evolution does not imply that an organism must necessarily change every moment of its existence. “If there is no perceptible change in environment an organism may remain practically the same for ages” (Dennis Bird). It should also be remembered that it is folly to apply the laws governing evolution in one phase of nature to any and everything.
By revolution is meant a complete change. “The man who says that the secret of progress is ‘evolution, not revolution,’ may be talking very good social philosophy—I have nothing to do with that—but he is not talking science as he thinks. In every modern geological work you read of periodical ‘revolutions’ in the story of the earth” (Joseph McCabe). “The records of those old revolutions of the earth’s surface are contained in the stones beneath our feet” (Prof. Geikie).


Human society has evolved. Its evolution is distinctly marked by each of those totally different systems that we know as Primitive Communism, Chattel Slavery, Feudalism, and Capitalism.


Each system of society functions from a certain basis—the productive forces at a particular stage of their development. Each system flourishes while there is scope for these forces to evolve. When, however, the productive forces are fettered, the conflict between the classes that are the human expression of economic development, reaches its culminating point. The class next in the order of social evolution overthrows the existing system. The new one is born. But as Boudin (who has been speaking of philosophy and science) says: “There is a continuity of human society itself notwithstanding the changes in the form of its organisation . . just as there is continuity in the economic structure of human society notwithstanding the different ‘economies’ which were prevalent at different stages of its development.”


So to Mr. Cole’s twaddle of “evolutionary weapons” plus “revolutionary action,” “working-class economic power,” “productive control of industry,” and so on, we will say that working class activity on the eve of revolution will be determined, as now, by the conditions of capitalism.


The book is all confusion and camouflage. The charms of its author’s Utopia inspire contempt. Financial problems, provision of capital, regulation of incomes and prices, coercive functions, railway season ticket holders’ associations, telephone users’ associations, leaders, discipline, and authority— each and all to satisfy the “aspirations” of the workers !


“Have I not assumed the case against equality of income?” Yes—and yet emphatically no (p. 72). Does Guild Socialism claim to be international ? “It is hard to answer ‘ yes’ or ‘no’ to that question” (p. 208).


Our author may increase his output; he may persistently continue to white-wash the class war. He may blare “Return to small-scale production,” or Primitive Communism, or any other old thing. The workers will organise politically; the workers will abolish capitalism; the productive forces will be unfettered. The private ownership of the means of life, with its corollary, production for profit, will give way to common ownership and production for use.


A. H.