Voluntary Socialism

A SKETCH (1896)

by Francis Dashwood Tandy (1867-1913)

Chapter XIV.

The Prospect.

VS-14.1 State Socialists are always claiming that the system they advocate will soon be adopted in all the leading countries in the world, and so seldom has anyone protested, that it is beginning to be received as an indisputable fact. Laurence Gronlund even goes so far as to maintain, “Collectivism is coming. It is coming whether you like it or not. Do what you will it is coming, because it is the will of God.” When Mr. Gronlund became the confidential adviser of that inscrutable power he does not tell us. It may be well, therefore, to enquire into the general trend of modern thought and see if this claim is well grounded, for coming reforms always cast their shadows before them. By gaining a clear idea of the principal forces at work in the reconstruction of society, we may be able to form some estimate of the probability of the reforms I advocate.
VS-14.2 To the superficial observer the claims of the State Socialist seem to be warranted. He sees a strong tendency in this direction and thinks that State Socialism is about to be adopted. But life is full of tendencies which are never completed. The tendency of the incoming tide is to submerge the earth. The tendency of the growing tree is to reach the sky. The tendency of nearly everything is to do something it never does, and the tendency towards State Socialism is no stronger than many of these, and may result in a similar manner.
VS-14.3 Not many years ago there were but a few State Socialists in America. Now they are numbered by thousands. But the more recent converts are of far different material from the older exponents of this system. The latter were men who braved public opinion, sacrificed the much prized bauble – respectability, and often endangered their chances of making a living, in order to have the satisfaction of expressing their Socialistic ideas. But they were so enthusiastic that they were willing to hail everyone as converts. Let a man express sympathy with some strikers, deplore the greed of capitalists or lament the existence of slums in our large cities, and the first State Socialist he met would fall on his neck and call him “Comrade.” [Online editor’s note: American state-socialist Edward Bellamy (1850-1898), author of the utopian novel Looking Backward (1888). – RTL] assisted this kind of propaganda and it progressed rapidly. Thus, by degrees, the State Socialistic agitation degenerated from definite movement for the collective ownership of surplus value, to a sentimental Sunday-school gospel of free rides, free novels and free lunches. It was A, alive and aggressive, it has become respectable. It is no exaggeration to say, that at least fifty per cent. of those who to-day call themselves State Socialists, have no clear idea of what surplus value is or how it is created, and most of the other half have but little better mental equipment.
VS-14.4 Let some event happen to bring State Socialism into disrepute and the truth of these statements would be demonstrated. The bomb which exploded in Chicago on the 4th of May, 1886, reduced the number of professed Communists from thousands to a few scattered groups. A large multitude escorted the Nazarene reformer into Jerusalem, with shouts of honor and rejoicing. Where were they three days afterwards? This is ever the result of such a form of propaganda. Numbers are not always strength, as our State Socialistic friends will some day discover. The mental calibre of the Neo State Socialists may be judged from their demands. Their energies are bent on gaining governmental control of “natural monopolies,” free coinage of silver and other “reforms” which even consistent State Socialists must consider reactionary. These men may be considered as State Socialists with the Socialism left out. Fortunately their ignorance is likely to prove a serious bar to the extent of their mischief. It is liable to disgust the more intelligent members of their school, and to show them the danger of putting full State Socialistic powers into such hands. They may effect a few minor changes, such as those above mentioned, but the adoption of those very measures will block the way to further developments. They will result in placing a very great number of new offices in the gift of the State, which will inevitably lead, as shown above, to a strengthening of the powers that be and to perpetuating the statu quo.
VS-14.5 With the exception of a few revolutionists, nearly all State Socialists rely upon political methods to inaugurate their system. This is almost essential. They have a system to force upon people, and they cannot institute it without force. I have already pointed out the inadequacy of political methods and, since those are the means by which State Socialism is to be adopted, I think we are fairly safe for a number of years.
VS-14.6 The existing discontent with present social conditions is very great. This must find an outlet in some direction. If not in a move towards Socialism, then in a move Libertywards. When men find they cannot adopt their own pet hobby they often take a substitute. Many of the substitutes for State Socialism are entirely voluntary, and the be-clouded State Socialists cannot see the difference. A little pamphlet entitled “Universal Prosperity,” by Edward Wenning, is a good example of this. In the beginning of his book the author points out the hopelessness of expecting anything from the government. Then he proposes a gigantic co-operative company. This company would be a purely voluntary concern, and, though it could never accomplish the results for which the author proposes to organize it, it shows a tendency to resort to voluntaryism when compulsion fails. But this is not all. Mr. Wenning actually proposes to issue a currency based upon, and redeemable in, the goods of the company. Several companies are being started by other State Socialists upon similar plans, and many of them are adopting Mr. Wenning’s currency idea. When State Socialists are engaged in this kind of work, we need not be very much afraid of them. They have so poor a conception of the logic of their position, that they find themselves fighting in behalf of Liberty instead of for an extension of the powers of the State.
VS-14.7 The free silver craze has drawn especial attention to the money question. The governmental plans of the Populists have gained a number of supporters in the Western States. But these very men are most active in starting the co-operative money schemes just mentioned. The bitterness with which they have been fighting has caused the orthodox economists to assume a marvelously individualistic position. Political economists are saying that a legal tender law is a relic of barbarism. College professors are now teaching that over 90 per cent. of the business of the country is done without the use of government money. Bankers are advocating a removal of restrictions on the issue of money. The Democratic party thinks it can catch votes by proposing to repeal the 10 per cent. banknote tax. And Cleveland advocates “the absolute divorcement of the government from the circulation of the currency of the country.” (See Message, 3d Dec., ’94.)
VS-14.8 I think these facts show that there is a strong feeling in the community that Liberty is the one thing needful. The tendency on the surface may appear to be towards State Socialism, but there undoubtedly is a very strong undercurrent in the direction of Freedom and it probably will, if given time, entirely change the direction of legislation.
VS-14.9 One very good indication of the tendency of the times is found in the recent action of the American Federation of Labor. For several years the State Socialists have been endeavoring to capture that organization. At Chicago, in 1893, they succeeded in getting it to tabulate the following platform, to be submitted for a referendum vote to all the affiliated organizations:
Whereas, The Trade Unionists of Great Britain have by the light of experience and logic of progress, adopted the principle of independent labor politics as an auxiliary to their economic action, and
Whereas, such action has resulted in the most gratifying success, and
Whereas, such independent labor politics are based upon the following programme, to-wit:
1. Compulsory education.
2. Direct legislation.
3. A legal eight hour work-day.
4. Sanitary inspection of workshops, mine and home.
5. Liability of employers for injury to health, body or life.
6. The abolition of contract system.
7. The abolition of the sweating system.
8. Municipal ownership of street cars, and gas and electric plants for public distribution of light, heat and power.
9. The nationalization of telegraphs, telephones, railroads and mines.
10. The collective ownership by the people of all means of production and distribution.
11. The principle of referendum in all legislation.
Resolved, that the convention hereby indorse this political action of our British comrades, and
Resolved, that this program and basis of a political labor movement be and is hereby submitted for the consideration of the labor organizations of America, with the request that the delegates to the next annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, be instructed on this most important subject.
VS-14.26 A full year’s time was allowed for the various unions to consider this question. Most of the delegates who attended the convention held at Denver in 1894, had received instructions from their unions, so we must consider that their act was taken with deliberation. The political platform was considered plank by plank, and was amended to read as follows:
“1. Compulsory education.
“2. Direct legislation, through the initiative and the referendum.
“3. A legal work-day of not more than eight hours.
“4. Sanitary inspection of workshop, mine and home.
”5. Liability of employers for injury to health, body or life.
“6. The abolition of contract system in all public work.
“7. The abolition of the sweating system.
”8. The municipal ownership of street cars, water works and gas and electric plants for public distribution of light, heat and power.
“9. The nationalization of telegraphs, telephones, railroads and mines.
“10. The abolition of the monopoly system of land holding, and substituting therefor a title of occupancy and use only.
“11. Repeal all conspiracy and penal laws, affecting seamen and other workmen, incorporated in the federal and State laws of the United States.
“12. The abolition of the monopoly privilege of issuing money, and substituting therefor a system of direct issuance to and by the people.”
VS-14.39 With the very slight exception of the demand for municipal ownership of water works, every change in this platform is indicative of an increased desire for Liberty. The preamble was defeated bodily. The first nine planks were adopted substantially as they stood, except the addition of “water works” to No. 8 and the consolidation of No. 11 with No. 2. Perhaps all these nine planks would not have been passed so easily, had it not been for the sweeping nature of plank 10. That was the point around which the whole fight raged. It seemed to be recognized by both sides as the final test of their relative strength. Resolutions in favor of free land had come in from all over the country. Many delegates had received instructions to vote against the original plank. So, when the substitute demanding free land came to a vote, it was carried by 1217 to 913.
VS-14.40 The new eleventh plank is clearly a demand for more freedom from State interference. And while plank 12 is rather ambiguous it is conspicuous for the demand for an issuance by the people instead of by the government. This point assumes greater importance when it is considered that the plank in question was submitted by Delegate McCraith, an acknowledged Individualist, and the one who led the fight for the substitute to plank 10. [Online editor’s note: An August McCraith, a sometime contributor to Liberty, was active in the AFL. An Augustine McCraith was active in the AFL. An Augustine McCraith was born in Prince Edward Island in 1864 and died in New York City some time before 1920. An Augustine McCraith, this one a publisher and a member of the Typographical Union, was born in Ireland, and died in Brooklyn in 1909. These are quite possibly all the same person (with ’Ireland” perhaps a mistake for “the Island,” as Prince Edward Island’s inhabitants call it). Or perhaps not. – RTL] I am also informed that this money plank was originally drawn up by one, who is a recognized leader among free-money advocates, and whose name is known and respected by Anarchists the wide world over. [Online editor’s note: I wonder whether this might be Dyer Lum? – RTL]
VS-14.41 Another plank, demanding “The national and State destruction of the liquor traffic,” was introduced. It was killed almost before it was born, so great was the opposition to it.
VS-14.42 When the motion to adopt the planks as a whole was put to the vote, it was defeated by 1,173 to 735. Thus ended the attempt of the State Socialists to capture the American Federation of Labor, and to use it as a political machine for the furtherance of their own ends. No, not ended, for the action of the convention has brought up the whole question of Free Land and Free Money for discussions before the Labor Unions of the United States. Hardly an issue of any of the leading labor papers of the country is now to be found which does not contain at least one article on one of these topics. Yes, Mr. Gronlund, “Collectivism is coming, because it is the will of God!!” At least, that seems to be about the only argument left to those who believe in the inevitableness of State Socialism. The facts of the case seem to point in another direction.
VS-14.43 Several of the leaders in the Woman Suffrage movement are adopting far more libertarian views than was ever expected from this source. At the last triennial meeting of the National Council of Women Mrs. Ellen B. Dietrick championed the principle of Equal Freedom in unmistakable terms. Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton declared for Free Land, and others present manifested a feeling in the same direction.
VS-14.44 Even the conservative law courts seem to be infected in a slight degree, with the spirit of modern progress. My legal friends inform me, that it is more and more becoming the custom to plead the equity of a case at the same time that the legal points are under discussion. As courts are at present constituted this places very great, and possibly dangerous, powers in the hands of the judge, but it also curtails to the same degree the power of the legislature. The main gain from this, is that it allows greater flexibility in the administration of the laws. If the power to decide the law and equity, as well as the facts, was vested in a properly constituted jury, the gain to Liberty would be very important. But failing this, it is better to have a flexible system that can be adapted to the especial needs of each case, rather than a rigid law to which all cases must be made to conform. Probably the most notable example of this tendency that has recently occurred is the income tax decision of the United States Supreme Court. Neither side attempted to make their case good on constitutional grounds. They did not take any clause in the constitution, and by a process of deductive reasoning, show wherein the income tax law was, or was not, consistent with that clause. The whole fight turned upon the question of the justice or injustice of the law. As long as all questions of natural science have to be squared with the Bible, true progress in thought is impossible. Science can only be based upon observed phenomena if it is to be worth anything. So in Sociology, as long as every proposition has to be in harmony with a document that was written over a century ago, when nearly all the truths of science were unknown, true progress in society is impossible. It is only when each question can be referred to the highest social expediency, that social growth is possible. In proportion as we attain correct ideas of what that highest social expediency is, and its application to each question, in that degree do we really develop.
VS-14.45 It must not be inferred from these remarks, that I look for any immediate adoption of the views set forth in this book. I merely mention these facts to show that the tendency of the times is far stronger in the direction of Liberty than is usually supposed. One great danger, however, threatens to overthrow much of our labor for Freedom. Whether that can be averted or not, facts alone can show. I allude to the prospect of a violent revolution. Agitation is often necessary to stir up discontent. But agitation must be followed by education in order to make it intelligent and serviceable. The agitation that is now being carried on by the State Socialists is so extensive, and is reaching such ignorant classes, that the necessary education is left a long way behind. Thus a class of people, who daily see the power of physical force in all their occupations and surroundings, and who are too often incapable of appreciating the power of intellect, is awakening to the social injustice which crushes it to earth. The great question is, can these people be induced to remain peaceful until they can be educated to know what will relieve their distress.
VS-14.46 The most unfavorable sign is the attitude of the bourgeoisie. It seems to be impossible for them to realize that the time has gone by, when platitudes, on the one hand, and bayonets, on the other, will check the growing discontent. They are unconsciously doing all in their power to precipitate an outbreak, when they might, by conceding a little to public opinion, manage to avert a crisis: The imprisonment of Debs has done more to precipitate a revolution, than would inflammatory speeches by all the Socialists in the United States. What the result of such a revolution must inevitably be was shown in the last chapter.
VS-14.47 It is often asserted, that such a social system as I advocate is ideal but eminently impractical. No social system is practicable until people are convinced of its merits. A constitutional monarchy is impracticable in Russia to-day. Is that any reason why those who believe in it should not do all in their power to make it an accomplished fact? The ideal must be made practicable. This can only be done by convincing people that it is the ideal. Everyone who really believes that a certain system is the highest ideal, and who is anxious to better the existing conditions, will keep that ideal constantly in mind. Everything that is in the direction of that ideal will be helped. Everything that is opposed to it will be fought bitterly. As the number of those who believe in the ideal increases, the practicability of the system increases also, and the attainment of the end becomes more sure. We are willing to go step by step if needs be, provided that each step be on the road to Freedom. But not one step will we move in the opposite direction, for we believe with John Morley that “a small and temporary improvement may really be the worst enemy of a great and permanent improvement. ... The small reform, if it be not made with reference to some large progressive principle, and with a view to further extension of its scope, makes it all the more difficult to return to the right line and direction when improvement is again demanded.” (On Compromise, p. 230.)
VS-14.48 Then let every proposed reform be judged by this one principle, is it an extension of individual liberty? On the answer to this should its fate depend. And gradually will Freedom be attained. How long the adoption of such a system will take it is impossible to say. But we know that progress advances with ever increasing rapidity, so perhaps we may hope for a relatively speedy betterment of our condition.

Previous section            Next section

Up to table of contents

Back to online library