“We are all Socialists Now”
It is more than 40 years since the late Sir William Harcourt made his jocular remark in the House of Commons, a remark which Sir John Simon repeated the other day. During that 40 years the political scene appears at first glance to have been changed almost out of recognition. The old issues in the forefront of party controversies have given place to new ones. The names of parties have changed. At that time there was no Labour Party and no National Government. Labour Governments were hardly dreamed of. The world had not yet been made safe for Fascism by a war to defend democracy. For every person who then called himself a Socialist, there must be a hundred now; and those who would seriously admit being prepared to support what they regard as Socialistic and semi-Socialistic measures must have been multiplied a thousandfold.
Yet when we look below the surface what kind of foundation do we discover for all this talk ? Much as we would have liked to say otherwise, we cannot escape the admission that there is all but no foundation at all. When the Morning Post, in an unusually discerning editorial (“Is Capitalism Dying?” November 16th), chides Mussolini for his statement that capitalism is tottering, the Morning Post is right and Mussolini is wrong.
As the Morning Post justly points out, Laissez-faire, the early unregulated period of capitalism, has been largely done away with, but the surface changes of the past 100 years “have left intact the essential foundations of capitalism as generally understood, which are the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and private, initiative in economic enterprise.”
When, therefore, Harcourt and Simon, Hitler and Henderson claim that they are Socialists, we reply that they are nothing of the kind.
They are not all Socialists now. Sir William Harcourt’s death duties were not Socialism or Socialistic. Sir John Simon is not a Socialist. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald is not and never was a Socialist. Nor is Henderson. Nor are the parties represented by these men. Our institutions are not Socialistic. The Post Office is not Socialism. Nor are the municipal trams and water works and gas works. Nor is Mr. Herbert Morrison’s London Passenger Transport Board, in spite of his description of it as the typical modern form of Socialisation. We live in a capitalistic world, capitalistic through and through.
Lest it be said that we are avoiding the real issue, the alleged building up of Socialism in Russia, let us examine that claim also.
We are told by enthusiasts for everything Russian that a new non-capitalist world is there coming to birth. That never before and in no other place could be found such a multiplicity of successful State enterprises, such rapid social progress raising millions of people from a lower to a higher stage of development.
To all of which the answer is that it is not true. That industrial progress is being made in Russia is not disputed, but that progress is not unique or original, and it is not Socialism or directly in the path towards Socialism.
Let us make a rapid world tour in order to test the Russian claims by comparison with other countries. Russia has State enterprises of one kind or another. Is this original? England has State posts, telegraphs and telephones,, financed by huge interest-bearing loans just like the Russian State enterprises. Probably the majority of countries have either State railways and State ports and telegraphs or both. Australia has experimented at length in a large variety of State enterprises, including State shipping, State railways, State clothing factories, State banks, State woollen mills, State batteries. Prussia has had State iron mines, potash and salt mines. Many countries have had State forests, including Czarist Russia, which also had State coal mines.
At the present moment the Canton Government is setting up State factories for cottons and woollens, and the Government of the Dutch East Indies is also intending to go into cotton manufacture. Roosevelt is trying to encourage municipal enterprise of many kinds in U.S.A.
Has Russia been able to show a great increase in the amount of industrial production during recent years? So have Turkey, Latvia, India, and half a dozen countries in Europe and the East. Has this growth in Russia taken place under the control and with the direct encouragement of the State?—so it has in many other countries. Long before the war, India complained that Japanese exporters were able to undersell in India owing to the help and encouragement given by the Japanese Government to industry. Japan tried out the idea of State factories as a means of speeding up industrial development many years before the Bolsheviks thought of it. Thus in 1912 the British Consular Report (No. 5161, annual series) reported that the Japanese Government steel works had an output of 180,000 tons, “but with their new extensions they will soon be in a position to produce some 300,000 tons.” (See “The State in Business,” Emil Davies, p. 60.)
Between 1908 and 1918 the number of industrial establishments in Japan showed the startling increase of about 96.6 per cent (See Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12th edition, vol. xxxi, p. 644). Thus in 10 years the number of factories had been doubled.
It is interesting to notice, however, that although the Japanese Government led the way by means of State factories and State encouragement of industry, when private factories had found how to fend for themselves the State factories were allowed to go. Thus between 1908 and 1918 the number of Government factories fell from 196 to 161. (They employed over 150,000 men and women in 1918.)
Has Russia got rid of a monarch and established a dictatorship? So have Turkey, Poland, Germany, and Austria.
Did Russia break up the big estates and hand over the land to the peasants ? So have territories which were formerly Russian, and are now independent (e.g., Latvia), and also neighbouring countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Has Russia seen great social changes? So has Turkey. Turkish industry has made considerable strides in the past 10 years, and further development of industry is planned, partly under Government auspices (textiles, for example). In a period of a few years, 2,200 new factories have been built, and 1,200 miles of railways.
Turkish women, like their Russian neighbours, are now entering more and more into all kinds of public activities. They are now allowed to vote in village elections and to become town councillors, magistrates, doctors, civil servants, etc.
One great change carried out in Turkey has been the abolition of the Arabic alphabet and the use in its place of a latinised alphabet more suited to the needs of commerce.
The upshot of all this is that the changes brought about in Russia are not Socialistic, but part of the general development of the backward nations towards industrialisation and commercialism. With the changes at the base, the social superstructure, religion, political systems, the law and social conventions have also changed in greater or less degree.
The world has changed and is changing, but not yet towards Socialism. “We are all Capitalist now” is becoming day by day a more accurate description of the social system from Moscow to Buenos Aires, and from pole to pole.
The Fascist nations are, of course, no exception. Mussolini claims that his plans of a “corporative State ” are not State capitalism, but something new and different, but the claim is no better founded than the claims of Hitler and Stalin, that they are introducing Socialism., The chief thing to observe about Mussolini is that his “corporative State” is still entirely on paper. After 11 years, the “man of action,” who was put into office on the slogan of clearing out the mere talkers, now writes in the Morning Post (November 6th) soft-peddling on action like any other politician who racks his brains for new excuses for doing nothing to give to his impatient supporters. He has discovered that “Fascism has amply demonstrated that, in economic matters, it is necessary to act by degrees. .. . . Many situations have ripened and many minds have opened themselves to the new necessities.” .
After 11 years of dictatorial power, the “man of action” tells us we must “act by degrees”— and the action, the formation of the guilds, has for all practical purposes not yet begun.
The “man of action” turns out to be a Fabian, an apostle of gradualism.
No, we are not all Socialists now. The number of Socialists is still very very small, and the essential problem still remains before us. State capitalism, municipal enterprise, public utility corporations, “corporative guilds,” and all the rest of the forms of capitalism have got to be cleared away before Socialism becomes a reality.