1902 Encyclopedia > Communism

Communism




COMMUNISM is the name that has been given to the schemes of social innovation which have for their starting-point the attempted overthrow of the institution of private property. It is not to be wondered at that so stupendous an undertaking should have failed, except in a very few instances, in its immediate object. The principle of private property has been called by one who was by no means a blind worshipper of the social condition which has been built upon it, "that primary and fundamental institution on which, unless in some exceptional and very limited cases, the economical arrangements of society have always rested."' To attack this primary and fundamental institution indicates a mind so bold as well as so imaginative that it might well be thought that the assaults upon it would be few and far between, limited to a single country or to a single age, or at least to a class of individuals rendered desperate by having nothing to lose by a general social revolution. The opinion that a communist is a man who has no property to lose and who therefore advocates a general redistribution of wealth is very wide-spread and popular. It is embodied in the well-known lines of the corn-law rhymer:—

"What is a Communist? One who hath yearnings
For equal division of unequal earnings.
Idler or bungler, or both, he is willing
To fork out his penny and pocket your shilling."

The facts connected with the history of communism show that the movements against the institution of private property have taken place in nearly every country, and in almost every age. They have originated with men of such divergent intellectual rank as Plato and Robert Owen, as widely sundered in respect of time, country, and social surroundings as the Essenes, Sir Thomas More, Saint Simon, and Father Rapp. The mere mention of these names goes some way towards the refutation of the popular conception of a communist as a needy adventurer seeking a means to possess himself of the property of others. There may have been some so-called communists attracted to the movement by the hope of being enabled to live on the labour and industry of their neighbours; but such men have never originated any socialistic movement, and their motives have generally been quickly detected by the genuine communists, who have not infrequently adopted very vigorous means to expel such black sheep from their flock. Among the modern leaders of communistic movements who have actually reduced to practice the theoretical schemes of The Republic and Utopia have been men who have devoted great wealth and rare organizing faculties to the carrying out of their plans for the reconstruction of society. It has been estimated that Robert Owen, during the course of his long life, devoted no less a sum than £60,000 from his own private fortune to the promotion of communistic schemes; what he sacrificed indirectly to his views on social reform cannot be easily estimated. His faculty for the successful conduct of business was so remarkable that at the early age of twenty-six, without a shilling of capital of his own, he was appointed manager of the mills of the Chorlton Company with a salary of £1000 a year, besides one-ninth of the profits realized by the company. There can be no doubt that Owen had the personal qualities which would have enabled him to amass a colossal fortune if his ambition had lain in that direction. The immense pecuniary and personal sacrifices which he made to the cause of communism show that he at least was animated, by motives the direct opposite of the selfishness and sloth generally attributed to the advocates of that system. Another leading communist, Saint Simon, was the representative of one of the most ancient families of the French nobility. A career in the army was open to him in which he might easily have satisfied the usual ambition of the class to which he belonged. As a young man he served with distinction through five campaigns.

Many other instances might be given of the disinterestedness of the leaders of communistic schemes. Among American associations one of the most successful as to the number and material prosperity of its members is the society known as the Perfectionists of Oneida and Wallingford. Their founder, John Humphrey Noyes, is the son of a banker, and a man fitted by education and natural gifts to have succeeded in any of the ordinary careers of professional or commercial activity. Whether we look at communism as depicted in the pages of Plato’s Republic and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, or in the practical efforts made to realize these philosophical speculations by such men as Owen and Noyes, we find no justification for the assumption that the movement is one for enabling "idlers and bunglers" to live on the industry and talents of their more energetic and skilful neighbours.

As we are here saying what communism is not, rather than endeavouring to define what it is, this is perhaps the right place to state that communism, meaning thereby community of goods and the abolition of private property, has no connection with the doings of the Commune of Paris which was overthrown in May 1871. The French word Commune is a household word in France for "Township" or "Corporation." Every town and village in France has its Commune or municipality. In nearly every town and village there is corporate property called Les Biens Communaux, and this property is vested in the corporation or Commune. The similarity, however, of the French word for corporation to ours for expressing the doctrine of community of goods, has led to a great amount of misconception and confusion, even among writers who are generally careful and well informed. The revolution of the Commune was entirely political; it propounded no new economic theories. It arose from a joint effort of many sections of extreme politicians who were agreed in nothing but in demanding the establishment of (1) a democratic republic, and (2) the communal (or corporate) independence of Paris. Only about seven out of the seventy members of the Communal Government were communists in the economic sense, and these seven were among the most thoughtful and least violent of the party to which they belonged. They never had an opportunity of giving any official sanction to their communistic views, and they were gradually thrust on one side by their more violent and unscrupulous comrades. This is therefore not the place to attempt anything like an account of the brief reign of the Commune, which indeed belongs to the history of Paris. It is sufficient to state that its doings were not even tinged with communism in the economic sense of the word.

Communistic schemes have found advocates in almost every age and in many different countries. The foremost men both of thought and action have from time to time been attracted by them. They have been so various in scope, and the amount of detail with which they are described by their authors is so considerable, that it is difficult to get at the underlying principle which is common to them all. It must be remembered that the philosophic communism of Plato and More has been adapted to the wants of actual daily life by rough German peasants and Lancashire operatives; and though of course the actual has differed a good deal from the ideal commune, yet their resemblance is, under the circumstances, very much more striking than their divergence. The one thing that is shared by all communists, whether speculative or practical, is deep dissatisfaction with the economic conditions by which they are surrounded. In Plato’s Republic the dissatisfaction is not limited to merely economic conditions. In his examination of the body politic there is hardly any part which he can pronounce to be healthy. He would alter the life of the citizens of his state from the very moment of birth. Children are to be taken away from their parents and nurtured under the supervision of the state. The old nursery tales, "the blasphemous nonsense with which mothers fool the manhood out of their children," are to be suppressed. Dramatic and imitative poetry are not to be allowed. Education, marriage, the number of births, the occupations of the citizens are to be controlled by the guardians or heads of the state. The most perfect equality of conditions and careers is to be preserved; the women are to have similar training with the men, no careers and no ambition are to be forbidden to them; the inequalities and rivalries between rich and poor are to cease, because all will be provided for by the stake. Other cities are divided against themselves. "Any ordinary city, however small, is in fact two cities, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich, at war with one another" (Republic, bk. iv. p. 249, Jowett’s translation). But this ideal state is to be a perfect unit; although the citizens are divided into classes according to their capacity and ability, there is none of the exclusiveness of birth, and no inequality is to break the accord which binds all the citizens, both male and female, together into one harmonious whole. The marvelous comprehensiveness of the scheme for the government of this ideal state makes it belong as much to the modern as to the ancient world. Many of the social problems to which Plato draws attention are yet unsolved, and some are in process of solution in the direction indicated by him. He is not appalled by the immensity of the task which he has sketched out for himself and his followers. He admits that there are difficulties to be overcome, but he says in a sort of parenthesis, "Nothing great is easy" He refuses to be satisfied with half measures and patchwork reforms. "Enough, my friend! but what is enough while anything remains wanting?" These sentences indicate the spirit in which philosophical as distinguished from practical communists from the time of Plato till to-day have undertaken to reconstruct human society.

Sir Thomas More’s Utopia has very many of the characteristics of The Republic. There is in it the same wonderful power of shaking off the prejudices of the place and time in which it was written. The government of Utopia is described as founded on popular election; community of goods prevailed, the magistrates distributed the instruments of production among the inhabitants, and the wealth resulting from their industry was shared by all. The use of money and all outward ostentation of wealth were forbidden. All meals were taken in common, and they were rendered attractive by the accompaniment of sweet strains of music, while the air was filled by the scent of the most delicate perfumes. More’s ideal state differs in one important respect from Plato’s. There was no community of wives in Utopia. The sacredness of the family relation and fidelity to the marriage contract were recognized by More as indispensable to the well-being of modern society. Plato, notwithstanding all the extraordinary originality with which he advocated the emancipation of women, was not able to free himself from the theory and practice of regarding the wife as part and parcel of the property of her husband. The fact, therefore, that he advocated community of property led him also to advocate community of wives. He speaks of "the possession and use of women and children," and proceeds to show how this possession and use must be regulated in his ideal state. Monogamy was to him mere exclusive possession on the part of one man of a piece of property which ought to be for the benefit of the public. The circumstance that he could not think of wives other wise than as the property of their husbands only makes it the more remarkable that he claimed for women absolute equality of training and careers. The circumstance that communists have so frequently wrecked their projects by attacking marriage and advocating promiscuous intercourse between the sexes may probably be traced to the notion which regards a wife as being a mere item among the goods and chattels of her husband. It is not difficult to find evidence of the survival of this ancient habit of mind. "I will be master of what is mine own," says Petruchio. "She is my goods, my chattels."

The Perfectionists of Oneida, a well-known communistic society in the United States which has put into practice community of wives, or, as they call it, complex marriage, justify their extraordinary social system by affirming that there is "no intrinsic difference between property in persons and property in things; and that the same spirit which abolished exclusiveness in regard to money would abolish, if circumstances allowed full scope to it, exclusiveness in regard to women and children" (Nordhoff’s Communistic Societies of the United States, pp. 271-2). It is this notion of a wife as property that is responsible for the wild opinions communists have often held in favour of a community of wives and the break-up of family relations. If they could shake off this notion and take hold of the conception of marriage as a contract, there is no reason why their views on the community of property should lead them to think that this contract should not include mutual fidelity and remain in force during the life of the contracting parties. It was probably not this conception of the marriage relation so much as the influence of Christianity which led More to discountenance community of wives in Utopia. It is strange that the same influence did not make him include the absence of slavery as one of the characteristics of his ideal state. On the contrary, however, we find in Utopia the anomaly of slavery existing side by side with institutions which otherwise embody the most absolute personal, political, and religious freedom. The presence of slaves in Utopia is made use of to get rid of one of the practical difficulties of communism, viz., the performance of disagreeable work. In a society where one man is as good as another, and the means of subsistence are guaranteed to all alike, it is easy to imagine that it would be difficult to ensure the performance of the more laborious, dangerous, and offensive kinds of labour. In Utopia, therefore, we are expressly told that "all the uneasy and sordid services" are performed by slaves. The institution of slavery was also made supplementary to the criminal system of Utopia, as the slaves were for the most part men who had been convicted of crime; slavery for life was made a substitute for capital punishment.

In many respects, however, More’s views on the labour question were vastly in advance of his own time, and indeed of ours. He repeats the indignant protest of the Republic that existing society is a warfare between rich and poor. "The rich," he says, "devise every means by which they may in the first place secure to themselves what they have amassed by wrong, and then take to their own use and profit, at the lowest possible price, the work and labour of the poor. And so soon as the rich decide on adopting these devices in the name of the public, then they become law." One might imagine these words had been quoted from the programme of the International Society, so completely is their tone in sympathy with the hardships of the poor in all ages. More shared to the full the keen sympathy with the hopeless misery of the poor which has been the strong motive power of nearly all speculative communism. The life of the poor as he saw it was so wretched that he said, "Even a beast’s life seems enviable!" Besides community of goods and equality of conditions, More advocated other means of ameliorating the condition of the people. Although the hours of labour were limited to six a day there was no scarcity, for in Utopia every one worked; there was no idle class, no idle individual even. The importance of this from an economic point of view is insisted on by More in a passage remarkable for the importance which he attaches to the industrial condition of women. "And this you will easily apprehend," he says, "if you consider how great a part of all other nations is quite idle. First, women generally do little, who are the half of mankind." Translated into modern language his proposals comprise universal compulsory education, a reduction of the hours of labour to six a day, the most modern principles of sanitary reform, a complete revision of criminal legislation, and the most absolute religious toleration. The romantic form which Sir Thomas More gave to his dream of a new social order found many imitators. The Utopia may be regarded as the prototype of Campanella’s City of the Sun, Harrington’s Oceana, Bacon’s Nova Atlantis, Defoe’s Essay of Projects, Fénelon’s Voyage dans I’Ile des Plaisirs, and other works of minor importance.

It is remarkable that all communists have made a great point of the importance of universal education. All ideal communes have been provided by their authors with a perfect machinery for securing the education of every child. One of the first things done in every attempt to carry communistic theories into practice, has been to establish a good school and guarantee education to every child. The first impulse to national education in the present century probably sprang from the very marked success of Robert Owen’s schools in connection with the cotton mills at New Lanark. At a time (1806) when popular education was in the lowest possible condition, Owen, as manager and part owner of the New Lanark Mills, proposed to his partners to spend £5000 upon new schools. They not unnaturally objected to an expenditure at that time quite unprecedented; whereupon Owen bought his partners out for £84,000, and took his own course upon the educational system he had brought forward. It is to be observed that communists have seldom or never relied on their peculiar system alone for the regeneration of society. Community of goods has indeed been their central idea, but they have almost invariably supported it by other projects of less questionable utility. Compulsory education, free trade, and law reform, the various movements connected with the improvement of the condition of women, have found their earliest advocates among theoretical and practical communists. The communists denounce the evils of the present state of society; the hopeless poverty of the poor, side by side with the self-regarding luxury of the rich, seems to them to cry aloud to Heaven for the creation of a new social organization. They proclaim the necessity of sweeping away the institution of private property, and insist that this great revolution, accompanied by universal education, free trade, a perfect administration of justice, and a due limitation of the numbers of the community, would put an end to half the self-made distresses of humanity. Has it never occurred to them that a similarly happy result might be attained if all these subsidiary reforms were carried out, leaving the principles of private property and competition to their old predominance in the economic world? If the principles of communism and of private property are to be fairly compared, the comparison must not be between communism as it might be and private property as it is. Communism to be successful requires to be accompanied by important reforms, towards which existing society founded on private property is gradually finding its way. The power which society, as at present constituted, has shown of adapting itself to altered circumstances, and of assimilating by slow degrees the more valuable concomitants of the most revolutionary theories, is strong proof that it does not deserve to be dealt with in the summary manner advocated by the communists.

We find in many socialistic writings of thirty or forty years ago the assumption expressed or implied that, in society as it is, the most valuable and essential reforms are impracticable. M. Louis Blanc, for instance, in his book called L’Oryanisation du Travail, first published in 1839, says that in the existing order of society the spread of education among the masses would be dangerous,—would, in fact, be impossible. This, if true, would be the strongest possible indictment against the existing order of society. But how have events falsified the assumptions made in the following passage? "On a vu pourquoi, dans le système actuel, l’éducation des enfants du peuple était impossible..... Beaucoup d’esprits sérieux pensent qu’il serait dangereux aujourd’hui de répandre l’instruction dans les rangs du peuple, et ils ont raison. Mais comment ne s’aperçoivent-ils pas que ce danger de l’éducation est une preuve accablante de l’absurdité de notre ordre social? Dans cet ordre social, tout est faux : le travail n’y est pas en honneur; lea professions les plus utiles y sont dédaignées; un laboureur y est tout au plus un objet de compassion, et on n’a pas assez de couronnes pour une danseuse. Voilá, voilá pourquoi l’éducation du peuple est un danger!" (p. 100). Hence, he concludes, a social revolution ought to be attempted; a new system of society ought to be introduced; the old system of society is, he says, so "full of iniquities" that it cannot co-exist with a diffusion of education among the people. Even at the time when these words were written there was much to show that they were not true. Since they were written the spread of education has been most general in those countries in which the old social order, founded on private property and competition, is unshaken. Germany, Scotland, and America have an educated people, and they are distinguished among other countries for possessing a peaceful, law-abiding, and order-loving population. So far from education being a danger to the institution of private property, nearly every one has been convinced by events that it is much more seriously threatened by ignorance and the helpless desperation ignorance brings; and the old order of society has recognized the necessity of protecting itself by the diffusion of education.

L’Organisation du Travail furnishes another example of the mistake communists often make in thinking it is necessary to turn the world upside down in order to bring about some desirable economic change. M. Louis Blanc is describing the organization necessary for the establishment of his "ateliers nationaux," which became so famous nine years later when the eloquent author of L’Organisation du Travail was a member of the Government of 1848. He is speaking of the place occupied by the credit and banking system in the existing economical order of society. "Que doit être le credit? Un moyen de fournir des instruments de travail au travailleur. Aujourd’hui, nous l’avons montré ailleurs" (in an article in the Revue de Progrès called "Question des Banques") "le crédit est tout autre chose. Les banques ne prêtent qu’au riche. Voulussent-elles prêter au pauvre, elles ne le pourraient pas sans courir aux abîmes. Les banques constitutées au point de vue individuel ne sauraient donc jamais être, quoi qu’on fasse, qu’un procédé6 admirablement imaginé pour rendre les riches plus riches et les puissants plus puissants. Toujours le monopole sous les dehors de la liberté, toujours la tyrannic sous les apparences du progrès ! L’Organisation proposée" (that of the national workshops) "couperait court à tant d’iniquités. Cette portion de bénéfices, specialement et invariablement consacrée à l’agrandissement de 1’atelier social par le recrutement des travailleurs, voilà le crédit. Maintenant, qu’avez vous besoin des banques? Supprimez-les" (pp. 97-8). This passage is a striking instance of the way in which communistic writers are inclined to treat social and economic problems. M. Louis Blanc observed that the banking system at the time in which he wrote was in some respects detective. From the nature of their business and the security they were obliged from motives of self-preservation to demand, the banks lent only to those who were able to give them that security, i.e., to the rich. Even this statement requires some modification unless in the expression "the rich" is included every struggling farmer or tradesman who is helped over a time of pecuniary difficulty by the credit afforded to him by his banker. The fact remains, however, that the banks did not give credit to the labouring classes. Credit, urges M. Louis Blanc, which ought to be a means of furnishing the instruments of production to the labourer, is in reality no such thing. What is the remedy which he suggests for this deficiency in the credit system? An entire reorganization of the industrial world, in which every labourer will be supplied by the state with the tools and raw materials which his work requires. If this proposed reorganization were adopted there would no longer be any scarcity of credit, and as for banks, he cries triumphantly, they would no longer be necessary, let them be put down.

It is not M. Louis Blanc only who observed that the ordinary banking system cannot, from want of security, afford to make advances to the labouring classes. Herr Schulze-Delitzsch noted the same fact, but the remedy which he suggested, and which has been carried out with such great success in Germany, is very different from the heroic treatment recommended in the passage we have quoted from M. Blanc. The Schulze-Delitzsch credit banks which began to be established in Germany in the year 1851 are associations of artizans formed for the purpose of enabling the members to obtain by means of credit the capital necessary to production. These associations are entirely self-supporting; they have supplanted nothing, they have up-rooted nothing. Their success, so far from weakening the ordinary banking system, has strengthened it by supplying one of its deficiencies. The individual workman cannot obtain an advance of capital upon credit because he cannot give adequate security that it will be repaid. But the credit banks are associations of workmen who are jointly and severally responsible for the repayment of loans made to any one of their number. A member of one of these associations can through its means obtain a loan on favourable terms, because the principle of the unlimited liability of each of the members for the repayment of a loan made to any one of them affords the means of offering to the lender most ample and sufficient security. The fact that the principle of unlimited liability is strictly maintained is really the essential characteristic of the security which the association is able to give to those who advance capital to it. If this principle were relaxed it is more than doubtful whether the security offered by the association would be sufficiently good to ensure advances of capital being made to its members on remunerative terms. The unlimited liability of each for the debts of all necessitates great caution before a new member can be elected into one of these associations. The circumstances and previous career of candidates for membership are most carefully inquired into. They must give satisfactory evidence as to their previous character and industry, and they are required to give substantial proof that they are in a position to share the pecuniary responsibilities of the association by becoming shareholders in it. Care, however, is taken to elect no one who is not a bona fide workman. The capital required for making loans is partly obtained from the subscriptions of members, but the principal part of it is obtained in the open market, where the association, being able to offer good security, can obtain money on reasonable terms.





The success of these associations has been most striking. In 1865 there were 961 credit banks in existence in Germany. Of these 498 sent in a report of their financial condition to the central bureau, and their accounts showed that they then possessed nearly 170,000 members, and that the money annually advanced was equal to £10,000,000 sterling. As ten years have passed since the time when these reports were sent in, and the prosperity of the associations has during the interval been uninterrupted, there is every reason to believe that the number of members and the amount of the loans would at the present time show a very considerable increase. The very remarkable success of the credit banks is an instance of what great things can be done by self-help and without initiating any attack on the existing order of economic life. It is one of the least pleasing aspects of communism that communists not only do not attempt themselves to bring about by similar means an amelioration in the economic condition of society, but they have often gone out of their way to pour contempt and ridicule on such reforms as that introduced by Herr Schulze-Delitzsch. The establishment of the credit banks was looked on with great disfavour by the German communists. Their leader, Ferdinand Lassalle, published a book, said to be the most important of his economic writings, in which he bitterly attacked the credit banks and the co-operative system generally (Herr Schulze-Delitzsch, Der ökonomische Julian, oder Kapital und Arbeit, Berlin, 1864; Dem deutschen Arbeitsstande und den deutschen Bourgeoisie gewidmet). Co-operation, he saw, made no attack on the principles of private property and competition; and it was these principles which he had set himself to destroy. The good achieved by an amelioration of the condition of the people did not appear to him to outweigh the evils which he believed to be associated with every circumstance that favoured the accumulation of capital in private hands. Cooperation, he urges, is only improved capitalism, and the very improvement by making it more formidable seemed only to make it more hateful to him.

In the same spirit of bitter hostility to all means of improving the existing condition of society without changing the basis on which it rests, communists have often shown great contempt for political liberalism. The changes proposed and carried out by political liberals are condemned by the communists as a mere patching up of an essentially worthless fabric which must be got rid of before anything better can be substituted in its place. At the time when the agitation for the Reform Bill carried in 1832 was uppermost in the minds of all English politicians, Robert Owen took an opportunity of proclaiming in public his belief in the utter futility of all political reform. The German communists, or socialists as they are often called, have, generally speaking, been very emphatic in expressing themselves in a similar strain. The following passage, taken from the writings of Karl Marx, a member of the International Society, is scarcely an exaggeration of the views of the German school of communism on the value and results of political liberalism:—

"Although the liberals have not carried out their principles in any land as yet completely, still the attempts which have been made are sufficient to prove the uselessness of their efforts. They endeavoured to free labour, but only succeeded in subjecting it more completely under the yoke of capital; they aimed at setting at liberty all labour powers, and only riveted the chains of misery which held them bound; they wanted to release the bondman from the clod, and deprived him of the soil on which he stood by buying up the land; they yearned for a happy condition of society, and only created superfluity on one hand and dire want on the other; they desired to secure for merit its own honourable reward, and only made it the slave of wealth; they wanted to abolish all monopolies, and placed in their stead the monster monopoly, capital; they wanted to do away with all wars between nation and nation, and kindled the flames of civil war; they tried to get rid of the state, and yet have multiplied its burdens; they wanted to make education the common property of all, and made it the privilege of the rich; they aimed at the greatest mural improvement of society, and have only left it in a state of rotten immorality; they wanted, to say all in a word, unbounded liberty, and have produced the meanest servitude; they wanted the reverse of all which they actually obtained, and have thus given a proof that liberalism in all its ramifications is nothing but a perfect Utopia."

The condition of England is often pointed at triumphantly by communists of other countries as a complete condemnation of the principles of private property, capitalism, and competition. Lassalle, Marx, Louis Blanc, and others quote passages from bluebooks, speeches of English statesmen, and writings of our public men in which the condition of the English poor is painted in the darkest colours. In England, they say, for the last half century you have had liberalism in the ascendant; you have had free trade, you have had an energetic and industrious people; the amount of capital eager for employment is practically unlimited; competition has had in nearly every branch of trade the most unrestricted development. In England, if anywhere, we may surely look for the nearest approach to perfection of which the present economic condition of society is capable. Then they proceed to quote passages from parliamentary speeches and official reports, and from English writers on political economy, all bearing witness to the terrible poverty and squalor in which a large proportion of the labouring class in this country spend their lives. M. Louis Blanc, in the book already referred to, quoted from Lord Lytton’s England and the English a passage showing that the amount and quality of nutriment consumed by the inmates of our jails and workhouses were at that time far in excess of what could be obtained by the wages of the frugal and industrious working-man. Marx cites the following passage from Dr Hunter’s report to the Privy Council (1862-3) on the domiciliary condition of the agricultural labourer:—"The means of existence of the hind are fixed at the very lowest possible scale. What he gets in wages and domicile is not at all commensurate with the profit produced by his work. His means of subsistence are always treated as a fixed quantity; as for any further reduction of his income he may say nihil habeo, nihil curo. He is not afraid of the future; he has reached zero, a point from which dates the farmer’s calculation. Come what may he takes no interest in either fortune or misfortune."

Whatever may be the value of the remedy which communism suggests for so melancholy a condition as that here described, it is surely useful that the attention of people who have "much goods laid up for many years" should be forcibly arrested, and that they should be made to consider why it is that in the richest country in the world the condition of a large proportion of the labouring classes is so bad that it can hardly be made worse. But at present there is a general conviction that the remedy proposed by communists is one which it would be overwhelmingly difficult to apply, and it is also believed that even if it were applied it would be of doubtful efficacy. Some of the most obvious difficulties associated with the practical adoption of communism have been already adverted to. The social, political, and industrial edifice which is the outcome of centuries of effort and sacrifice would be destroyed by the adoption of communism; it would be necessary to reconstruct society from its very foundations; and society, like a constitution, is one of those things which cannot be made—it must grow. Then also the efficacy of communism as a remedy for the miserable condition of the poor is, to say the least, doubtful. To what cause may be assigned most of the pauperism, misery, and squalor which hang like a cloud over the lives of so many of the labouring classes? What was the principal agency which brought about calamities like the Irish and the Orissa famines? There can be but one answer to these questions,—the pressure of population on the means of subsistence. Many communistic writers have passionately denied this, and have denounced with all the fervour of emotional natures the doctrine laid down by Malthus that population tends to increase faster than subsistence is capable of being increased. No one, however, has attempted to throw doubt on the main fact on which the Malthusian doctrine rests, that everywhere, except in very new countries with a large extent of unoccupied fertile land, checks on population are in active operation. These checks must exist everywhere where population does not increase at its greatest possible speed. Under favourable conditions population sometimes has doubled itself in 20 years. Professor Cairnes has stated that in Ireland the population more than doubled itself in the 38 years between 1767 and 1805. At the rate of increase of the ten years ending 1870, the population of England would double itself in 63 years, that of France in 265 years. In France and England, therefore, checks on population are, in a varying degree, in active operation; and the same may be said of all old countries. It is important, however, to inquire into the nature of the checks on population in actual operation. They may be divided into two classes, the first carrying with it nothing but misery and degradation, the second implying a high degree of self-restraint, independence, and foresight. In the first class may be placed war, pestilence, famine, and all the diseases incident to insufficient food and overcrowding. In the second class may be placed prudential restraints on marriage and on the number of births to each marriage, and emigration. Every circumstance which weakens the efficiency of the checks on population comprised in the second class necessarily adds to the force of the checks which we have placed in the first class. In other words, any circumstance which relaxes the force of the prudential checks on population tends to produce the miseries of famine, scarcity, and "starvation diseases." What would be the effect of communism on the population question? Would it strengthen or weaken the motives which promote a prudential limitation of numbers? Nearly all communists, whether theoretical or practical, have faced in one way or another the population question. The solutions they have offered differ widely. Let us first see what the greatest of theoretical communists have had to say on the subject.

Plato seems to have thought the matter an easy one, and says that the guardians of his state must control the number of births. In Utopia the age at which men and women were allowed to marry was fixed by the state, and all irregularities in defiance of this rule were to be severely punished. The population was also to be kept within certain limits by means of migration, emigration, or colonization. But the theoretical communists of modern times have hardly found words strong enough to express their detestation of the principle that any limitation is desirable to the possible number of births. The writings of Malthus are spoken of as "an outrage on household life." His language, it is said, "brutalized the purest feelings of domesticity." M. Louis Blanc inveighs against the doctrines of political economists, and protests that they are blaspheming God when they say that the prosperity of the poor would be promoted by a limitation of the population. Why are you not logical? he cries. If you were you would recommend that the children of the poor should be put to death! And in another place he speaks of "cette économic politique sans entrailles dont Ricardo a si complaisament posé les prémisses, et donfc Malthus a tiré avec tant de sang-froid l’horrible conclusion. Cette économie politique portait en elle même un vice qui devait la rendre fatale à l’Angleterre et au moude" (L’Organisation du Travail, p. 71). Practical communists have not, however, met the population question in the spirit indicated by these quotations. Several of the most successful realizations of communistic life have maintained the strictest celibacy among their members. The Essenes, who practised community of goods before the Christian era, were a sect composed entirely of men, who lived in seclusion from the world and were in many important respects the prototypes of Christian hermits or monks.

Two of the most important communistic societies of the United States have also made celibacy an essential feature of their system. The "Economites" and "the Shakers," the societies to which reference is made, have existed since 1805 and 1792 respectively. They are strictly celibate, their numbers being recruited by converts from the outside world and to a slight extent by the adoption of pauper children and orphans from neighbouring towns. Other communistic societies maintain the authority of the heads of the society to limit the number of marriages. The Spartan Government, which in many important respects was communistic, exercised the most absolute control over the increase of population. Among the Moravians marriage is not permitted to take place without the consent of the heads of the society, who furnish the newly married couples with a suitable marriage portion. The Separatists, an American community of German origin, established in 1817, favour celibacy although they do not enforce it. No marriage can take place without the consent of the trustees of the society; and they further discourage marriage by entering among the articles of their religion a declaration of their belief that celibacy is more in accordance with the divine will than marriage. The Amana community also, a German society in the United States, which dates its origin from early in the last century, discourages marriage among its members. No man is allowed to marry before he is twenty-four years of age. Mr Nordhoff relates that the reason for this rule was explained to him by one of the elders of the Amana Society in these words,—"They" (the young men) "have few cares in life, and would marry too early for their own good—food and lodging being secured them—if there were not a rule upon the subject." The religious tone of the community is also set against marriage. "In the Amana Church there are three classes, orders, or grades, the highest consisting of those members who have manifested in their lives the greatest spirituality and piety. Now if the newly-married couple should have belonged for years to this highest class, their wedding would put them down into the lowest, or the ‘children’s order,’ for a year or two until they had won their slow way back by deepening piety" (Nordhoff’s Communistic Societies of the United States, pp. 36-7). Even the Perfectionists, whose extraordinary system of "complex marriage" has been already referred to, take many precautions against a superabundant population. The number of births is controlled by the heads of the society. The founder of the community writes as follows: "Previous to about two and a half years ago, we refrained from the usual rate of child-bearing, for several reasons—financial and otherwise." Even when the number of births was increased it was stated that they were purposely kept within such limits that "judicious moral and spiritual care, with the advantage of a liberal education," could be guaranteed to every child (Nordhoff, p. 276). The practical answer made by communists to the population question, even in so wealthy a country as America, in which unoccupied fertile land can be easily and cheaply obtained, is that a strict limitation of numbers is absolutely essential to their social and industrial well-being. As a matter of fact the population of nearly all the American communistic societies has not increased at all, but has greatly declined during the last fifty years. The number of Shakers, for instance, in 1823 was 3800; their number in 1874 was 2415. The Icarians, the only American community which makes marriage compulsory, have declined in twenty-five years from 1500 to 65.

It would, however, be rash to conclude from these facts that the general adoption of communism would tend to strengthen the prudential checks on population. We have seen that modern communists, when freed from the trammels of actual experience of the daily working of the system they advocate, have vigorously denounced the theory and practice of Malthusianism. The American communities have declined in numbers partly in consequence of the adoption in two of them of celibacy as a religious principle. It is also impossible to avoid the conclusion that their numbers have fallen off partly in consequence of the unattractive conditions of communistic life. The young members of these societies not unfrequently leave them when they arrive at manhood and womanhood. The routine and absence of spontaneity of a communistic life is a weight to young and active minds that is not counter-balanced by security from want, or what has been called a bread-and-butter prosperity. The numbers of marriages and of births have been controlled in other of these societies in virtue of the absolute despotism which is vested in their chiefs; individual liberty is entirely suspended; the smallest minutiae of the daily life of their members is regulated from headquarters. A government which decides at what hour its subjects shall go to bed at night and rise in the morning; which prescribes the colour, shape, and material of the dresses worn, the time of meals, the quality of the food consumed, the daily task apportioned to each member; which enforces a rule that each of its subjects shall leave every morning a notice stating at what exact spot he or she will be found during each hour of the day; a government which can do all these things will find no great difficulty in controlling the number of marriages and births. Mr Nordhoff states that "the fundamental principle of communal life is the subordination of the individual’s will to the general interest or the general will; practically this takes the shape of unquestioning obedience by the members towards the elders or chiefs of their society." If, however, communism were adopted throughout a whole nation, the minute despotism which now distinguishes the government of existing communistic societies, and which furnishes them with an effectual control over the growth of population, would cease to be possible; or if, indeed, it should ever become possible it would be through the careful suppression of individual liberty, and through the strenuous encouragement of everything which tended to destroy self-reliance on the part of the people and to build up the absolute power of the state. A people who purchased material prosperity at the price of their liberty would strike a bad bargain, especially when it is remembered that the limitation of the number of marriages and births which is enforced by the central authority in a communistic society can be effected by voluntary self-control in a society based on private property and competition. The difference, therefore, so far as the population question is concerned, between communism and private property is whether the necessary restraint upon the possible number of births shall proceed from the direct intervention of the state, or whether it shall proceed from the combined motives of self-interest, self-control, and parental obligation on the part of the people themselves. It should be remembered that what communism professes o be able to do is to ensure to every member of a communistic society an ample supply of the necessaries and conveniences of life. If the population question is pressing now when the workhouse and parochial relief are the only refuge of those who cannot maintain themselves, would it not become much more pressing if a man could obtain freely, and without fulfilling any disagreeable conditions, food, house, and clothing for himself, and as many children as he chose to bring into existence? It is this consideration which has forced upon the government of communistic societies the control of the marriages and births of their members. Even where the principles of communism are adopted in so very materially modified a form as they are in our poor law system, legislative control over population has been enforced. The regulation which separates man and wife in the workhouse is a practical recognition of the principle that, where the State guarantees a maintenance, it must, in self-protection, exercise control over the numbers of those dependent on it for support. Self-help brings with it self-control; state-help makes state-control indispensable. In the present economic condition of society the solution of the population question is not to be found in placing in the hands of the state, as communism has done, absolute control over domestic life. The solution of the problem must be sought in education, in an improved standard of comfort and a determination on the part of the people not to sink below it, and in a reform of the most communistic portion of our poor law system,—the lavish distribution of out-door relief.

There are some charges made against communism which may be brought with at least equal force against the economic and industrial arrangements which now prevail. One of these is that communism does not avail itself sufficiently of the motive of self-interest in order to obtain from each labourer the best and most conscientious work of which he is capable. If, it is urged, the result of a man’s industry belongs not to himself solely but to the whole community of which he is a member, he will not throw the same energy and zeal into his work as he will if everything which he produces belongs solely to himself. There can be no doubt of the truth of this statement; self-interest is a force on which industrial machinery chiefly relies for motive power. But it is remarkable that the prevailing system of working for fixed weekly wages checks the play of self-interest in the workman much more completely than it is checked in a communistic society by the fact that the results of the labour of each are shared by all. A workman who is in receipt of fixed weekly wages has no motive to reach any higher standard of excellence of expedition in his work than such as will prevent him from being discharged for bad work or laziness. It is a complaint constantly heard among employers of labour that the only ambition of the men seems to be to see how little work they can do for their wages. The actual existence of this feeling among workmen is proved by many of the rules of trades’ unions,—such as that which limits the number of bricks which a hod-man is allowed to carry, and which in one case forbade the use of wheel barrows in taking bricks from one spot to another. Mr Thornton’s book On Labour gives several examples of the rules adopted by trades’ unions to check the tendency which is sometimes found in a workman to exert himself to do his best and thus show his superiority over his fellows. "‘Not besting one’s mates’ has by several unions been made the subject of special enactment. .... The Manchester Bricklayers’ Association has a rule providing that ‘any man found running or working beyond a regular speed shall be fined 2s. 6d. for the first offence, 5s. for the second, 10s. for the third, and if still persisting shall be dealt with as the committee think proper.’" It was urged by the trade unionists in the textile manufactures of Lancashire and Yorkshire as a serious argument for placing impediments in the way of the employment of women in these industries that they were apt to take a pride and pleasure in the excellence and rapidity of their work, and that their vanity was such that a word of praise or encouragement from the overlooker would cause them to redouble their exertions (Report of Dr Bridges and Mr Holmes on the condition of women and children employed in Textile Industries, 1873).

These examples are more than sufficient evidence that the present industrial system does not bring into play the motive force of direct self-interest in stimulating the exertions of the labourers. In this respect communism would seem at first sight to compare favourably with mere wages-receiving industry; for in a communistic society every man and woman has some direct share, however small, in the results of his or her labour. If more is produced, there will be more to receive; and instead of a trades’ union, every member of which is pledged, under penalties, to work slowly and to watch that his fellow-workmen do the same, communism gives to each labourer a direct interest not only in working well himself, but in watching to see that honest and steady work is done by his neighbours. As a matter of fact, the American communistic societies have found no difficulty in enforcing the habit of careful and regular industry on their members. The American communists do not as a rule work hard; for they find that they can provide for all the wants of the community without excessive or exhausting toil. But there are no idle members, and every member works well and steadily while he is working. That the quality of their work is good is proved by the fact that their commercial reputation stands very high. The garden seeds, the production of which is the staple trade among the Shakers, have been celebrated for their excellence for more than seventy years all over the United States. "The Oneida Perfectionists established the reputation of their silk twist in the market by giving accurate weight and sound material; the woollen stuffs of Amana command a constant market, because they are well and honestly made; and in general I have found that the communists have a reputation for honesty and fair dealing among their neighbours, wherever their products are bought and sold" (Nordhoff).

It must, however, be remembered that a few small communities, such as those which exist in America, afford no fair test of what would be the effect of a general adoption of communism on industrial activity and efficiency. The communists in the United States only number about 5000, including children; and though there are eight different societies, these are divided into 72 separate communities, the Shakers alone having 58. On an average, therefore, each community consists of less than 70 persons. The elaborate despotism of communistic government, together with the minute surveillance which the small size of these communities renders possible, makes it easy for the leaders of these societies to exact from each member his quota of toil; idleness would be at once detected and would not be suffered to exist, as the power of expelling an idle member would be resorted to if the voice of public opinion were not sufficient to induce him to mend his ways. Similar means of detecting and preventing idleness would be completely absent if communism were generally adopted. There would, of course, in this case be no power of expelling an idle member, and the difficulty of detecting and proving to the central authorities a disposition on the part of any of the members to avoid a fair share of work would increase pari passu with the size of the community. The motive of self-interest in promoting good work is much more powerful in a small communistic society than in a large one. A man can appreciate the value of his own industry much more clearly if the resulting product is shared between 60 or 70 persons, every one of whom is well known to him, than he can if it is thrown into the common stock of 20,000 people. The weakening of the motives of self-interest which is inherent in communism is reduced to a minimum in small communities, but it would act with fatal results to industrial activity if there should ever be an attempt to make communism universal. For, much as the present system falls short of making the most of the great engine of self-interest among those who merely work for wages, there is no such failure among the other industrial classes. Capitalists, landowners, inventors, Cornish tributers, and members of co-operative productive societies and co-partnerships are all brought under the stimulating influence of self-interest, and thus devote themselves to industrial projects with a zeal completely and necessarily unknown among those who work for wages or those who are members of communistic societies. It is the special feature of co-operation that it brings the motive of self-interest into activity among manual labourers. Without attempting, as communism does, to overthrow all existing economic institutions, it takes these as they are, and men and women as they are, and suggests a means by which the labourer, no less than the capitalist, can be stimulated by direct self-interest to throw some energy and enthusiasm into his work.

We referred above to the melancholy picture drawn by Karl Marx, Louis Blanc and others of the condition of the English poor. Since they wrote, co-operation has in some parts of England done much to brighten the social and industrial condition of the working classes. The Times of 18th August 1875 gives an account of the co-operative manufactures in the town of Oldham. In this one town there are 80 joint-stock co-operative mills; in the county of Lancashire there are 150. The bulk of the share-holders are artizans, who labour in the mills, and who therefore have a direct and immediate interest in the results of their industry. Cotton-spinning and weaving are the principal businesses carried on in these mills. The principle of self-interest has had the effect of producing, not mere activity on the part of the labourer, but thoroughly sound and honest work. We are told by the Times that these mills possess a high reputation for probity of manufacture. They are worked partly with capital subscribed by the shareholders, in £5 or £10 shares, and partly with borrowed capital which bears a fixed rate of interest. Many of the mills pay a dividend of 10 per cent. on their share capital; the ledgers and account-books of each society are open to all the shareholders, who also exercise the power of electing in open meeting the managers and officers of the association. The shareholders frequently invest money on loan to the societies of which they are members, so that the interests of the lenders and of the shareholders are identified in the most absolute manner possible. The most important of these associations is perhaps the Industrial Co-operative Society of Oldham founded in the year 1850-1. From very small beginnings it has gradually extended its operations until in the year 1874 it divided a dividend of £40,000 among its shareholders in four quarterly instalments of £10,000 each. The total turnover of this society is £250,000 a year. It forms, as it were, a kind of bank to the other co-operative societies. At Christmas 1874 it had out on loan to these associations a number of sums varying from £11,732 downwards, making a total of £45,437. The Sun Mill Company, another of the Oldham co-operative associations, has a share capital of £100,000. It is stated in a parliamentary return published in 1874 that there are in England and Wales 790 co-operative societies, with 340,930 members, a share capital of £3,334,104, and a loan capital of £431,808. Their net profits for the year 1873 were £958,721, of which £861,964 was distributed as dividends among the members of the society, and £18,555 was paid away as interest to non-members. There can be no doubt that co-operation was to a great extent originated in England by communists. It is an outcome of the communistic movement, for it was in the first instance mainly promoted by social reformers who had proved by many failures the futility of communism as an engine of social regeneration. Notwithstanding its origin, there is, however, no movement more distinctly non-communistic than co-operation. It strengthens the principles of capital and private property by making every co operator a capitalist, and thus personally interesting him in the maintenance of the present economic condition of society.

When the really great results of co-operation in this country are compared with the very limited success of nearly a century of communism in America, the conclusion is inevitable that co-operation is much more effectual than communism in producing a radical improvement in the condition and status of labour, that it is easier to graft upon existing institutions, and that its working is unaccompanied by the despotism, the crushing of individuality, and the discouragement of self help, which are the admitted dangers and drawbacks of communism. The state banks and national workshops of M. Louis Blanc’s economic dreams were realized in 1848-50 in a manner that must have caused the severest disappointment to their philanthropic author; failure and discredit were their only practical results. The Social Democrats of Germany, with Lassalle at their head, have left nothing tangible which can be said to have advanced their cause. The Schulze-Delitzsch credit banks, which they assailed as an improved form of capitalism, have done and are doing more for labour in Germany than the whole Social Democratic party has ever done.

In France the names of Saint Simon, Fourier, Bazard, and Enfantin suggest chiefly a series of tragic failures. In England Owen’s name recalls the brief existence of Harmony Hall and Orbiston, the establishment of the Labour Exchange and the issue of Labour Notes, and a number of other schemes which raised great hopes and expectations that were doomed to a speedy disappointment. In America the success of communism, such as it is, is hardly more encouraging than its failure in Europe. The measure of material prosperity achieved is not very considerable, bearing in mind the length of time most of the societies have existed and the ease and cheapness with which unoccupied land can be obtained in the United States. Mr Nordhoff estimates the capitalized wealth of the 72 American communes at twelve millions of dollars, or about £2,400,000 sterling. They own between 150,000 and 180,000 acres of land, or on an average about 36 acres a head—a comparatively small holding for America. The 72 communes are spread over 13 States; they possess some of the most fertile land in the world; one of the Shaker villages owns a magnificent estate of 4500 acres lying in the famous Miami bottom, a soil much of which is so fertile that after sixty years of cropping it will still yield from 60 to 70 bushels of corn to the acre without manuring. The material condition of the inhabitants of the communistic villages compares favourably, no doubt, with that of the German peasants by whom the majority of American communes were originally started; but the monotony, the personal submission, the impossibility of privacy or temporary seclusion, the absence of anything like intellectual activity in these societies, would render the life well-nigh unbearable to people who had been previously accustomed to a higher standard of happiness than that at present within the reach of the ordinary day-labourer. Many communistic experiments in America have been unsuccessful. Mr J. H. Noyes, in his book on "American Socialisms," gives a short history of no fewer than forty-seven of these failures. Comparing the history of those societies which have died a natural death with that of those which still continue to exist, it is found that the successful societies had no advantage either in the wealth of their members or the intellectual ability of their leaders. Most of the successful societies began poor; most of the unsuccessful societies began with what were believed to be sufficient means to achieve success. Many of the unsuccessful societies were founded by high-minded, highly-cultivated men and women, and their members were distinguished for their education and intellectual attainments. From these facts and with ample means through personal experience for forming a correct opinion, Mr Nordhoff draws the conclusion that in a communistic experiment success depends upon a feeling among all the members "of the unbearableness of the circumstances" in which their lives were originally cast. They must have suffered from wrong and oppression, as well as from want, before communism can appear as a welcome change in their manner of life. Hence the poorer and more narrow and miserable the condition of the people who start a communistic experiment the more likely is it under judicious leaders to succeed. People are easily satisfied when almost any change in their lives must be for the better. It would be most undesirable to detract from the achievement of the American communes in raising the poorest and most miserable peasants to a degree of material prosperity, which compares with that of the well-to-do small farmer in England or America. This is no small feat; and they have also proved the possibility of putting communism into a practical form, at any rate on a small scale, and under exceptionally favourable economic conditions. But it is impossible to doubt that their principal value to the world has been in illustrating the limitations and drawbacks of the system. As long as communism remained an unexplored region given over to the dreamers of dreams and the seers of visions, it was impossible to prove that it did not possess all the marvellous perfection they fondly attributed to it. The American societies offer a life which is confessedly attractive only to those whose original circumstances are exceptionally unfortunate; to these communism can give, together with a congenial religious atmosphere, material prosperity of a humble type, accompanied by the sacrifice of individuality, liberty, privacy, and intellectual development. It can hardly be denied that these experiments prove that, even were communism on a large scale practically possible, it could never satisfy the aspirations of those who look for a time when increased material prosperity among the working-classes shall be accompanied by a corresponding increase of intellectual activity, political responsibility, and personal independence. The old form of society would seem to be more favourable than communism to the growth of these qualities; and it is probable that the American experiments may help to establish the conviction among economic revolutionists that more can be accomplished by grafting new institutions, such as co-operation, on the old plant of private property than can be achieved by rooting it up altogether, and planting the seedling of communism in its stead.

See Reybaud, Les Reformateurs Modernes; Nordhoff, Communistic Societies of the United States: Rev. M. Kaufmann, Socialism; Louis Blanc, L’Organisation du Travail; A. J. Booth, Life of Robert Owen, Saint-Simon and Saint- Simonism, and art. "Charles Fourier" in Fortnightly Review, vol. xii., new series. See also the articles FOURIER, OWEN, and SAINT SIMON. (M. G. F.)








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