Equality (Bellamy)/Chapter 37
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The transition period
|Chapter XXXVIII. The book of the blind→|
"It is pretty late," I said, "but I want very much to ask you just a few more questions about the Revolution. All that I have learned leaves me quite as puzzled as ever to imagine any set of practical measures by which the substitution of public for private capitalism could have been effected without a prodigious shock. We had in our day engineers clever enough to move great buildings from one site to another, keeping them meanwhile so steady and upright as not to interfere with the dwellers in them, or to cause an interruption of the domestic operations. A problem something like this, but a millionfold greater and more complex, must have been raised when it came to changing the entire basis of production and distribution and revolutionizing the conditions of everybody's employment and maintenance, and doing it, moreover, without meanwhile seriously interrupting the ongoing of the various parts of the economic machinery on which the livelihood of the people from day to day depended. I should be greatly interested to have you tell me something about how this was done."
"Your question," replied the doctor, "reflects a feeling which had no little influence during the revolutionary period to prolong the toleration extended by the people to private capitalism despite the mounting indignation against its enormities. A complete change of economic systems seemed to them, as it does to you, such a colossal and complicated undertaking that even many who ardently desired the new order and fully believed in its feasibility when once established, shrank back from what they apprehended would be the vast confusion and difficulty of the transition process. Of course, the capitalists, and champions of things as they were, made the most of this feeling, and apparently bothered the reformers not a little by calling on them to name the specific measures by which they would, if they had the power, proceed to substitute for the existing system a nationalized plan of industry managed in the equal interest of all.
"One school of revolutionists declined to formulate or suggest any definite programme whatever for the consummating or constructive stage of the Revolution. They said that the crisis would suggest the method for dealing with it, and it would be foolish and fanciful to discuss the emergency before it arose. But a good general makes plans which provide in advance for all the main eventualities of his campaign. His plans are, of course, subject to radical modifications or complete abandonment, according to circumstances, but a provisional plan he ought to have. The reply of this school of revolutionists was not, therefore, satisfactory, and, so long as no better one could be made, a timid and conservative community inclined to look askance at the revolutionary programme.
"Realizing the need of something more positive as a plan of campaign, various schools of reformers suggested more or less definite schemes. One there was which argued that the trades unions might develop strength enough to control the great trades, and put their own elected officers in place of the capitalists, thus organizing a sort of federation of trades unions. This, if practicable, would have brought in a system of group capitalism as divisive and antisocial, in the large sense, as private capitalism itself, and far more dangerous to civil order. This idea was later heard little of, as it became evident that the possible growth and functions of trade unionism were very limited.
"There was another school which held that the solution was to be found by the establishment of great numbers of voluntary colonies, organized on co-operative principles, which by their success would lead to the formation of more and yet more, and that, finally, when most of the population had joined such groups they would simply coalesce and form one. Many noble and enthusiastic souls devoted themselves to this line of effort, and the numerous colonies that were organized in the United States during the revolutionary period were a striking indication of the general turning of men's hearts toward a better social order. Otherwise such experiments led, and could lead, to nothing. Economically weak, held together by a sentimental motive, generally composed of eccentric though worthy persons, and surrounded by a hostile environment which had the whole use and advantage of the social and economic machinery, it was scarcely possible that such enterprises should come to anything practical unless under exceptional leadership or circumstances.
"There was another school still which held that the better order was to evolve gradually out of the old as the result of an indefinite series of humane legislation, consisting of factory acts, short-hour laws, pensions for the old, improved tenement houses, abolition of slums, and I don't know how many other poultices for particular evils resultant from the system of private capitalism. These good people argued that when at some indefinitely remote time all the evil consequences of capitalism had been abolished, it would be time enough and then comparatively easy to abolish capitalism itself--that is to say, after all the rotten fruit of the evil tree had been picked by hand, one at a time, off the branches, it would be time enough to cut down the tree. Of course, an obvious objection to this plan was that, so long as the tree remained standing, the evil fruit would be likely to grow as fast as it was plucked. The various reform measures, and many others urged by these reformers, were wholly humane and excellent, and only to be criticised when put forward as a sufficient method of overthrowing capitalism. They did not even tend toward such a result, but were quite as likely to help capitalism to obtain a longer lease of life by making it a little less abhorrent. There was really a time after the revolutionary movement had gained considerable headway when judicious leaders felt considerable apprehension lest it might be diverted from its real aim, and its force wasted in this programme of piecemeal reforms.
"But you have asked me what was the plan of operation by which the revolutionists, when they finally came into power, actually overthrew private capitalism. It was really as pretty an illustration of the military manoeuvre that used to be called flanking as the history of war contains. Now, a flanking operation is one by which an army, instead of attacking its antagonist directly in front, moves round one of his flanks in such a way that without striking a blow it forces the enemy to leave his position. That is just the strategy the revolutionists used in the final issue with capitalism.
"The capitalists had taken for granted that they were to be directly assaulted by wholesale forcible seizure and confiscation of their properties. Not a bit of it. Although in the end, of course, collective ownership was wholly substituted for the private ownership of capital, yet that was not done until after the whole system of private capitalism had broken down and fallen to pieces, and not as a means of throwing it down. To recur to the military illustration, the revolutionary army did not directly attack the fortress of capitalism at all, but so manoeuvred as to make it untenable, and to compel its evacuation.
"Of course, you will understand that this policy was not suggested by any consideration for the rights of the capitalists. Long before this time the people had been educated to see in private capitalism the source and sum of all villainies, convicting mankind of deadly sin every day that it was tolerated. The policy of indirect attack pursued by the revolutionists was wholly dictated by the interest of the people at large, which demanded that serious derangements of the economic system should be, so far as possible, avoided during the transition from the old order to the new.
"And now, dropping figures of speech, let me tell you plainly what was done--that is, so far as I remember the story. I have made no special study of the period since my college days, and very likely when you come to read the histories you will find that I have made many mistakes as to the details of the process. I am just trying to give you a general idea of the main course of events, to the best of my remembrance. I have already explained that the first step in the programme of political action adopted by the opponents of private capitalism had been to induce the people to municipalize and nationalize various quasi-public services, such as waterworks, lighting plants, ferries, local railroads, the telegraph and telephone systems, the general railroad system, the coal mines and petroleum production, and the traffic in intoxicating liquors. These being a class of enterprises partly or wholly non-competitive and monopolistic in character, the assumption of public control over them did not directly attack the system of production and distribution in general, and even the timid and conservative viewed the step with little apprehension. This whole class of natural or legal monopolies might indeed have been taken under public management without logically involving an assault on the system of private capitalism as a whole. Not only was this so, but even if this entire class of businesses was made public and run at cost, the cheapening in the cost of living to the community thus effected would presently be swallowed up by reductions of wages and prices, resulting from the remorseless operation of the competitive profit system.
"It was therefore chiefly as a means to an ulterior end that the opponent of capitalism favored the public operation of these businesses. One part of that ulterior end was to prove to the people the superior simplicity, efficiency, and humanity of public over private management of economic undertakings. But the principal use which this partial process of nationalization served was to prepare a body of public employees sufficiently large to furnish a nucleus of consumers when the Government should undertake the establishment of a general system of production and distribution on a non-profit basis. The employees of the nationalized railroads alone numbered nearly a million, and with their dependent women and children represented some 4,000,000 people. The employees in the coal mines, iron mines, and other businesses taken charge of by the Government as subsidiary to the railroads, together with the telegraph and telephone workers, also in the public service, made some hundreds of thousands more persons with their dependents. Previous to these additions there had been in the regular civil service of the Government nearly 250,000 persons, and the army and navy made some 50,000 more. These groups with their dependents amounted probably to a million more persons, who, added to the railroad, mining, telegraph, and other employees, made an aggregate of something like 5,000,000 persons dependent on the national employment. Besides these were the various bodies of State and municipal employees in all grades, from the Governors of States down to the street-cleaners.
THE PUBLIC-SERVICE STORES.
"The first step of the revolutionary party when it came to power, with the mandate of a popular majority to bring in the new order, was to establish in all important centers public-service stores, where public employees could procure at cost all provisions of necessity or luxury previously bought at private stores. The idea was the less startling for not being wholly new. It had been the custom of various governments to provide for certain of the needs of their soldiers and sailors by establishing service stores at which everything was of absolutely guaranteed quality and sold strictly at cost. The articles thus furnished were proverbial for their cheapness and quality compared with anything that could be bought elsewhere, and the soldier's privilege of obtaining such goods was envied by the civilian, left to the tender mercies of the adulterating and profit-gorging retailer. The public stores now set up by the Government were, however, on a scale of completeness quite beyond any previous undertakings, intended as they were to supply all the consumption of a population large enough for a small-sized nation.
"At first the goods in these stores were of necessity bought by the Government of the private capitalists, producers, or importers. On these the public employee saved all the middlemen's and retailers' profits, getting them at perhaps half or two thirds of what they must have paid at private stores, with the guarantee, moreover, of a careful Government inspection as to quality. But these substantial advantages were but a foretaste of the prosperity he enjoyed when the Government added the function of production to that of distribution, and proceeded as rapidly as possible to manufacture products, instead of buying them of capitalists.
"To this end great food and cotton farms were established in all sections of the country and innumerable shops and factories started, so that presently the Government had in public employ not only the original 5,000,000, but as many more--farmers, artisans, and laborers of all sorts. These, of course, also had the right to be provided for at the public stores, and the system had to be extended correspondingly. The buyers in the public stores now saved not only the profits of the middleman and the retailer, but those as well of the manufacturer, the producer, and the importer.
"Still further, not only did the public stores furnish the public employees with every kind of goods for consumption, but the Government likewise organized all sorts of needful services, such as cooking, laundry work, housework agencies, etc., for the exclusive benefit of public employees--all, of course, conducted absolutely at cost. The result was that the public employee was able to be supplied at home or in restaurants with food prepared by the best skill out of the best material and in the greatest possible variety, and more cheaply than he had ever been able to provide himself with even the coarsest provisions."
"How did the Government acquire the lands and manufacturing plants it needed?" I inquired. "Did it buy them of the owners, or as to the plants did it build them?"
"It co erected them without affecting the success of the programme, but that was generally needless. As to land, the farmers by millions were only too glad to turn over their farms to the Government and accept employment on them, with the security of livelihood which that implied for them and theirs. The Government, moreover, took for cultivation all unoccupied lands that were convenient for the purpose, remitting the taxes for compensation.
"It was much the same with the factories and shops which the national system called for. They were standing idle by thousands in all parts of the country, in the midst of starving populations of the unemployed. When these plants were suited to the Government requirements they were taken possession of, put in operation, and the former workers provided with employment. In most instances former superintendents and foremen as well as the main body of operatives were glad to keep their old places, with the nation as employer. The owners of such plants, if I remember rightly, received some allowance, equal to a very low rate of interest, for the use of their property until such time as the complete establishment of the new order should make the equal maintenance of all citizens the subject of a national guarantee. That this was to be the speedy and certain outcome of the course of events was now no longer doubted, and pending that result the owners of idle plants were only too glad to get anything at all for their use.
"The manufacturing plants were not the only form of idle capital which the Government on similar terms made use of. Considerable quantities of foreign imports were required to supply the public stores; and to avoid the payment of profits to capitalists on these, the Government took possession of idle shipping, building what it further needed, and went into foreign trade, exporting products of the public industries, and bringing home in exchange the needed foreign goods. Fishing fleets flying the national flag also brought home the harvest of the seas. These peace fleets soon far outnumbered the war ships which up to that time exclusively had borne the national commission. On these fleets the sailor was no more a slave.
HOW MONEY LOST ITS VALUE.
"And now consider the effect of another feature of the public-store system, namely, the disuse of money in its operations. Ordinary money was not received in the public stores, but a sort of scrip canceled on use and good for a limited time only. The public employee had the right of exchanging the money he received for wages, at par, into this scrip. While the Government issued it only to public employees, it was accepted at the public stores from any who presented it, the Government being only careful that the total amount did not exceed the wages exchanged into such scrip by the public employees. It thus became a currency which commanded three, four, and five hundred per cent premium over money which would only buy the high-priced and adulterated goods for sale in the remaining stores of the capitalists. The gain of the premium went, of course, to the public employees. Gold, which had been worshiped by the capitalists as the supreme and eternal type of money, was no more receivable than silver, copper, or paper currency at the public stores, and people who desired the best goods were fortunate to find a public employee foolish enough to accept three or four dollars in gold for one in scrip.
"The effect to make money a drug in the market, of this sweeping reduction in its purchasing utility, was greatly increased by its practically complete disuse by the large and ever-enlarging proportion of the people in the public service. The demand for money was still further lessened by the fact that nobody wanted to borrow it now for use in extending business, seeing that the field of enterprise open to private capital was shrinking every hour, and evidently destined presently to disappear. Neither did any one desire money to hoard it, for it was more evident every day that it would soon become worthless. I have spoken of the public-store scrip commanding several hundred per cent premium over money, but that was in the earlier stages of the transition period. Toward the last the premium mounted to ever-dizzier altitudes, until the value of money quite disappeared, it being literally good for nothing as money.
"If you would imagine the complete collapse of the entire monetary and financial system with all its standards and influences upon human relations and conditions, you have only to fancy what the effect would have been upon the same interests and relations in your day if positive and unquestioned information had become general that the world was to be destroyed within a few weeks or months, or at longest within a year. In this case indeed the world was not to be destroyed, but to be rejuvenated and to enter on an incomparably higher and happier and more vigorous phase of evolution; but the effect on the monetary system and all dependent on it was quite the same as if the world were to come to an end, for the new world would have no use for money, nor recognize any human rights or relations as measured by it."
"It strikes me," said I, "that as money grew valueless the public taxes must have failed to bring in anything to support the Government."
"Taxes," replied the doctor, "were an incident of private capitalism and were to pass away with it. Their use had been to give the Government a means of commanding labor under the money system. In proportion as the nation collectively organized and directly applied the whole labor of the people as the public welfare required it, had no need and could make no use of taxes any more than of money in other respects. Taxation went to pieces in the culminating stage of the Revolution, in measure as the organization of the capital and labor of the people for public purposes put an end to its functions."
HOW THE REST OF THE PEOPLE CAME IN.
"It seems to me that about this time, if not before, the mass of the people outside of the public service must have begun to insist pretty loudly upon being let in to share these good things."
"Of course they did," replied the doctor; "and of course that was just what they were expected to do and what it had been arranged they should do as soon as the nationalized system of production and distribution was in full running order. The previously existing body of public employees had merely been utilized as furnishing a convenient nucleus of consumers to start with, which might be supplied without deranging meantime any more than necessary the outside wage or commodity markets. As soon as the system was in working order the Government undertook to receive into the public service not merely selected bodies of workers, but all who applied. From that time the industrial army received its recruits by tens and fifties of thousands a day till within a brief time the people as a whole were in the public service.
"Of course, everybody who had an occupation or trade was kept right on at it at the place where he had formerly been employed, and the labor exchanges, already in full use, managed the rest. Later on, when all was going smoothly, would be time enough for the changings and shiftings about that would seem desirable."
"Naturally," I said, "under the operation of the public employment programme, the working people must have been those first brought into the system, and the rich and well-to-do must probably have remained outside longest, and come in, so to speak, all in a batch, when they did."
"Evidently so," replied the doctor. "Of course, the original nucleus of public employees, for whom the public stores were first opened, were all working people, and so were the bodies of people successively taken into the public service, as farmers, artisans, and tradesmen of all sorts. There was nothing to prevent a capitalist from joining the service, but he could do so only as a worker on a par with the others. He could buy in the public stores only to the extent of his pay as a worker. His other money would not be good there. There were many men and women of the rich who, in the humane enthusiasm of the closing days of the Revolution, abandoned their lands and mills to the Government and volunteered in the public service at anything that could be given them to do; but on the whole, as might be expected, the idea of going to work for a living on an economic equality with their former servants was not one that the rich welcomed, and they did not come to it till they had to."
"And were they then, at last, enlisted by force?" I asked.
"By force!" exclaimed the doctor; "dear me! no. There was no sort of constraint brought to bear upon them any more than upon anybody else, save that created by the growing difficulty and final impossibility of hiring persons for private employment, or obtaining the necessities of life except from the public stores with the new scrip. Before the Government entered on the policy of receiving into the public service every one who applied, the unemployed had thronged upon the capitalists, seeking to be hired. But immediately afterward the rich began to find it impossible to obtain men and women to serve them in field, factory, or kitchen. They could offer no inducements in the depreciated money which alone they possessed that were enough to counterbalance the advantages of the public service. Everybody knew also that there was no future for the wealthy class, and nothing to be gained through their favor.
"Moreover, as you may imagine, there was already a strong popular feeling of contempt for those who would abase themselves to serve others for hire when they might serve the nation of which they were citizens; and, as you may well imagine, this growing sentiment made the position of a private servant or employee of any sort intolerable. And not only did the unfortunate capitalists find it impossible to induce people to cook for them, wash for them, to black their boots, to sweep their rooms, or drive their coaches, but they were put to straits to obtain in the dwindling private markets, where alone their money was good, the bare necessities of life, and presently found even that impossible. For a while, it would seem, they struggled against a relentless fate, sullenly supporting life on crusts in the corners of their lonesome palaces; but at last, of course, they all had to follow their former servants into the new nation, for there was no way of living save by connection with the national economic organization. Thus strikingly was illustrated, in the final exit of the capitalists from the human stage, how absolute was and always had been the dependence of capital upon the labor it despised and tyrannized over."
"And do I understand that there was no compulsion upon anybody to join the public service?"
"None but what was inherent in the circumstances I have named," replied the doctor. "The new order had no need or use for unwilling recruits. In fact, it needed no one, but every one needed it. If any one did not wish to enter the public service and could live outside of it without stealing or begging, he was quite welcome to. The books say that the woods were full of self-exiled hermits for a while, but one by one they tired of it and came into the new social house. Some isolated communities, however, remained outside for years."
"The mill seems, indeed, to have been calculated to grind to an exceeding fineness all opposition to the new order," I observed, "and yet it must have had its own difficulties, too, in the natural refractoriness of the materials it had to make grist of. Take, for example, my own class of the idle rich, the men and women whose only business had been the pursuit of pleasure. What useful work could have been got out of such people as we were, however well disposed we might have become to render service? Where could we have been fitted into any sort of industrial service without being more hindrance than help?"
"The problem might have been serious if the idle rich of whom you speak had been a very large proportion of the population, but, of course, though very much in evidence, they were in numbers insignificant compared with the mass of useful workers. So far as they were educated persons--and quite generally they had some smattering of knowledge--there was an ample demand for their services as teachers. Of course, they were not trained teachers, or capable of good pedagogical work; but directly after the Revolution, when the children and youth of the former poor were turned back by millions from the field and factories to the schools, and when the adults also of the working classes passionately demanded some degree of education to correspond with the improved conditions of life they had entered on, there was unlimited call for the services as instructors of everybody who was able to teach anything, even one of the primary branches, spelling, writing, geography, or arithmetic in the rudiments. The women of the former wealthy class, being mostly well educated, found in this task of teaching the children of the masses, the new heirs of the world, an employment in which I fancy they must have tasted more real happiness in the feeling of being useful to their kind than all their former frivolous existences could have given them. Few, indeed, were there of any class who did not prove to have some physical or mental quality by which they might with pleasure to themselves be serviceable to their kind."
WHAT WAS DONE WITH THE VICIOUS AND CRIMINAL.
"There was another class of my contemporaries," I said, "which I fancy must have given the new order more trouble to make anything out of than the rich, and those were the vicious and criminal idle. The rich were at least intelligent and fairly well behaved, and knew enough to adapt themselves to a new state of things and make the best of the inevitable, but these others must have been harder to deal with. There was a great floating population of vagabond criminals, loafers, and vicious of every class, male and female, in my day, as doubtless you well know. Admit that our vicious form of society was responsible for them; nevertheless, there they were, for the new society to deal with. To all intents and purposes they were dehumanized, and as dangerous as wild beasts. They were barely kept in some sort of restraint by an army of police and the weapons of criminal law, and constituted a permanent menace to law and order. At times of unusual agitation, and especially at all revolutionary crises, they were wont to muster in alarming force and become aggressive. At the crisis you are describing they must doubtless have made themselves extremely turbulent. What did the new order do with them? Its just and humane propositions would scarcely appeal to the members of the criminal class. They were not reasonable beings; they preferred to live by lawless violence, rather than by orderly industry, on terms however just. Surely the new nation must have found this class of citizens a very tough morsel for its digestion."
"Not nearly so tough," replied the doctor, "as the former society had found it. In the first place, the former society, being itself based on injustice, was wholly without moral prestige or ethical authority in dealing with the criminal and lawless classes. Society itself stood condemned in their presence for the injustice which had been the provocation and excuse of their revolt. This was a fact which made the whole machinery of so-called criminal justice in your day a mockery. Every intelligent man knew in his heart that the criminal and vicious were, for the most part, what they were on account of neglect and injustice, and an environment of depraving influences for which a defective social order was responsible, and that if righteousness were done, society, instead of judging them, ought to stand with them in the dock before a higher justice, and take upon itself the heavier condemnation. This the criminals themselves felt in the bottom of their hearts, and that feeling forbade them to respect the law they feared. They felt that the society which bade them reform was itself in yet greater need of reformation. The new order, on the other hand, held forth to the outcasts hands purged of guilt toward them. Admitting the wrong that they had suffered in the past, it invited them to a new life under new conditions, offering them, on just and equal terms, their share in the social heritage. Do you suppose that there ever was a human heart so base that it did not at least know the difference between justice and injustice, and to some extent respond to it?
"A surprising number of the cases you speak of, who had been given up as failures by your civilization, while in fact they had been proofs of its failure, responded with alacrity to the first fair opportunity to be decent men and women which had ever come to them. There was, of course, a large residuum too hopelessly perverted, too congenitally deformed, to have the power of leading a good life, however assisted. Toward these the new society, strong in the perfect justice of its attitude, proceeded with merciful firmness. The new society was not to tolerate, as the old had done, a criminal class in its midst any more than a destitute class. The old society never had any moral right to forbid stealing or to punish robbers, for the whole economic system was based on the appropriation, by force or fraud on the part of a few, of the earth and its resources and the fruit of the toil of the poor. Still less had it any right to forbid beggary or to punish violence, seeing that the economic system which it maintained and defended necessarily operated to make beggars and to provoke violence. But the new order, guaranteeing an equality of plenty to all, left no plea for the thief and robber, no excuse for the beggar, no provocation for the violent. By preferring their evil courses to the fair and honorable life offered them, such persons would henceforth pronounce sentence on themselves as unfit for human intercourse. With a good conscience, therefore, the new society proceeded to deal with all vicious and criminal persons as morally insane, and to segregate them in places of confinement, there to spend their lives--not, indeed, under punishment, or enduring hardships of any sort beyond enough labor for self-support, but wholly secluded from the world--and absolutely prevented from continuing their kind. By this means the race, in the first generation after the Revolution, was able to leave behind itself forever a load of inherited depravity and base congenital instincts, and so ever since it has gone on from generation to generation, purging itself of its uncleanness."
THE COLORED RACE AND THE NEW ORDER.
"In my day," I said, "a peculiar complication of the social problem in America was the existence in the Southern States of many millions of recently freed negro slaves, but partially as yet equal to the responsibility of freedom. I should be interested to know just how the new order adapted itself to the condition of the colored race in the South."
"It proved," replied the doctor, "the prompt solution of a problem which otherwise might have continued indefinitely to plague the American people. The population of recent slaves was in need of some sort of industrial regimen, at once firm and benevolent, administered under conditions which should meanwhile tend to educate, refine, and elevate its members. These conditions the new order met with ideal perfection. The centralized discipline of the national industrial army, depending for its enforcement not so much on force as on the inability of any one to subsist outside of the system of which it was a part, furnished just the sort of a control--gentle yet resistless--which was needed by the recently emancipated bondsman. On the other hand, the universal education and the refinements and amenities of life which came with the economic welfare presently brought to all alike by the new order, meant for the colored race even more as a civilizing agent than it did to the white population which relatively had been further advanced."
"There would have been in some parts," I remarked, "a strong prejudice on the part of the white population against any system which compelled a closer commingling of the races."
"So we read, but there was absolutely nothing in the new system to offend that prejudice. It related entirely to economic organization, and had nothing more to do then than it has now with social relations. Even for industrial purposes the new system involved no more commingling of races than the old had done. It was perfectly consistent with any degree of race separation in industry which the most bigoted local prejudices might demand."
HOW THE TRANSITION MIGHT HAVE BEEN HASTENED.
"There is just one point about the transition stage that I want to go back to," I said. "In the actual case, as you have stated it, it seems that the capitalists held on to their capital and continued to conduct business as long as they could induce anybody to work for them or buy of them. I suppose that was human nature--capitalist human nature anyway; but it was also convenient for the Revolution, for this course gave time to get the new economic system perfected as a framework before the strain of providing for the whole people was thrown on it. But it was just possible, I suppose, that the capitalists might have taken a different course. For example, suppose, from the moment the popular majority gave control of the national Government to the revolutionists the capitalists had with one accord abandoned their functions and refused to do business of any kind. This, mind you, would have been before the Government had any time to organize even the beginnings of the new system. That would have made a more difficult problem to deal with, would it not?"
"I do not think that the problem would have been more difficult," replied the doctor, "though it would have called for more prompt and summary action. The Government would have had two things to do and to do at once: on the one hand, to take up and carry on the machinery of productive industry abandoned by the capitalists, and simultaneously to provide maintenance for the people pending the time when the new product should become available. I suppose that as to the matter of providing for the maintenance of the people the action taken would be like that usually followed by a government when by flood, famine, siege, or other sudden emergency the livelihood of a whole community has been endangered. No doubt the first step would have been to requisition, for public use all stores of grain, clothing, shoes, and commodities in general throughout the country, excepting of course reasonable stocks in strictly private use. There was always in any civilized country a supply ahead of these necessities sufficient for several months or a year which would be many times more than would be needful to bridge over the gap between the stoppage of the wheels of production under private management and their getting into full motion under public administration. Orders on the public stores for food and clothing would have been issued to all citizens making application and enrolling themselves in the public industrial service. Meanwhile the Government would have immediately resumed the operation of the various productive enterprises abandoned by the capitalists. Everybody previously employed in them would simply have kept on, and employment would have been as rapidly as possible provided for those who had formerly been without it. The new product, as fast as made, would be turned into the public stores and the process would, in fact, have been just the same as that I have described, save that it would have gone through in much quicker time. If it did not go quite so smoothly on account of the necessary haste, on the other hand it would have been done with sooner, and at most we can hardly imagine that the inconvenience and hardship to the people would have been greater than resulted from even a mild specimen of the business crises which your contemporaries thought necessary every seven years, and toward the last of the old order became perpetual.
HOW CAPITALIST COERCION OF EMPLOYEES WAS MET.
"Your question, however," continued the doctor, "reminds me of another point which I had forgotten to mention--namely, the provisional methods of furnishing employment for the unemployed before the organization of the complete national system of industry. What your contemporaries were pleased to call 'the problem of the unemployed'--namely, the necessary effect of the profit system to create and perpetuate an unemployed class--had been increasing in magnitude from the beginning of the revolutionary period, and toward the close of the century the involuntary idlers were numbered by millions. While this state of things on the one hand furnished a powerful argument for the revolutionary propaganda by the object lesson it furnished of the incompetence of private capitalism to solve the problem of national maintenance, on the other hand, in proportion as employment became hard to get, the hold of the employers over the actual and would-be employees became strengthened. Those who had employment and feared to lose it, and those who had it not but hoped to get it, became, through fear and hope, very puppets in the hands of the employing class and cast their votes at their bidding. Election after election was carried in this way by the capitalists through their power to compel the workingman to vote the capitalist ticket against his own convictions, from the fear of losing or hope of obtaining an opportunity to work.
"This was the situation which made it necessary previous to the conquest of the General Government by the revolutionary party, in order that the workingmen should be made free to vote for their own deliverance, that at least a provisional system of employment should be established whereby the wage-earner might be insured a livelihood when unable to find a private employer.
"In different States of the Union, as the revolutionary party came into power, slightly different methods were adopted for meeting this emergency. The crude and wasteful makeshift of indiscriminate employment on public works, which had been previously adopted by governments in dealing with similar emergencies, would not stand the criticism of the new economic science. A more intelligent method was necessary and easily found. The usual plan, though varied in different localities, was for the State to guarantee to every citizen who applied therefor the means of maintenance, to be paid for in his or her labor, and to be taken in the form of commodities and lodgings, these commodities and lodgings being themselves produced and maintained by the sum of the labor of those, past and present, who shared them. The necessary imported commodities or raw materials were obtained by the sale of the excess of product at market rates, a special market being also found in the consumption of the State prisons, asylums, etc. This system, whereby the State enabled the otherwise unemployed mutually to maintain themselves by merely furnishing the machinery and superintendence, came very largely into use to meet the emergencies of the transition period, and played an important part in preparing the people for the new order, of which it was in an imperfect way a sort of anticipation. In some of these State establishments for the unemployed the circle of industries was remarkably complete, and the whole product of their labor above expenses being shared among the workers, they enjoyed far better fare than when in private employment, together with a sense of security then impossible. The employer's power to control his workmen by the threat of discharge was broken from the time these co-operative systems began to be established, and when, later, the national industrial organization was ready to absorb them, they merely melted into it."
HOW ABOUT THE WOMEN?
"How about the women?" I said. "Do I understand that, from the first organization of the industrial public service on a complete scale, the women were expected, like the men, if physically able, to take their places in the ranks?"
"Where women were sufficiently employed already in housework in their own families," replied the doctor, "they were recognized as rendering public service until the new co-operative housekeeping was sufficiently systematized to do away with the necessity of separate kitchens and other elaborate domestic machinery for each family. Otherwise, except as occasions for exemption existed, women took their place from the beginning of the new order as units in the industrial state on the same basis with men.
"If the Revolution had come a hundred years before, when as yet women had no other vocation but housework, the change in customs might have been a striking one, but already at that time women had made themselves a place in the industrial and business world, and by the time the Revolution came it was rather exceptional when unmarried women not of the rich and idle class did not have some regular occupation outside the home. In recognizing women as equally eligible and liable to public service with men, the new order simply confirmed to the women workers the independence they had already won."
"But how about the married women?"
"Of course," replied the doctor, "there would be considerable periods during which married women and mothers would naturally be wholly exempt from the performance of any public duty. But except at such times there seems to be nothing in the nature of the sexual relation constituting a reason why a married woman should lead a more secluded and useless life than a man. In this matter of the place of women under the new order, you must understand that it was the women themselves, rather than the men, who insisted that they must share in full the duties as well as the privileges of citizenship. The men would not have demanded it of them. In this respect you must remember that during its whole course the Revolution had been contemporary with a movement for the enlargement and greater freedom of women's lives, and their equalization as to rights and duties with men. The women, married as well as unmarried, had become thoroughly tired of being effaced, and were in full revolt against the headship of man. If the Revolution had not guaranteed the equality and comradeship with him which she was fast conquering under the old order, it could never have counted on her support."
"But how about the care of children, of the home, etc.?"
"Certainly the mothers could have been trusted to see that nothing interfered with the welfare of their children, nor was there anything in the public service expected of them that need do so. There is nothing in the maternal function which establishes such a relation between mother and child as need permanently interfere with her performance of social and public duties, nor indeed does it appear that it was allowed to do so in your day by women of sufficient economic means to command needed assistance. The fact that women of the masses so often found it necessary to abandon an independent existence, and cease to live any more for themselves the moment they had children, was simply a mark of the imperfection of your social arrangements, and not a natural or moral necessity. So, too, as to what you call caring for a home. As soon as co-operative methods were applied to housekeeping, and its various departments were systematized as branches of the public service, the former housewife had perforce to find another vocation in order to keep herself busy."
THE LODGINGS QUESTION.
"Talking about housework," I said, "how did they manage about houses? There were, of course, not enough good lodgings to go around, now that all were economic equals. How was it settled who should have the good houses and who the poor?"
"As I have said," replied the doctor, "the controlling idea of the revolutionary policy at the climax of the Revolution was not to complicate the general readjustment by making any changes at that time not necessary to its main purpose. For the vast number of the badly housed the building of better houses was one of the first and greatest tasks of the nation. As to the habitable houses, they were all assessed at a graduated rental according to size and desirability, which their former occupants, if they desired to keep them, were expected to pay out of their new incomes as citizens. For a modest house the rent was nominal, but for a great house--one of the palaces of the millionaires, for instance--the rent was so large that no individual could pay it, and indeed no individual without a host of servants would be able to occupy it, and these, of course, he had no means of employing. Such buildings had to be used as hotels, apartment houses, or for public purposes. It would appear that nobody changed dwellings except the very poor, whose houses were unfit for habitation, and the very rich, who could make no use of their former habitation under the changed condition of things."
WHEN ECONOMIC EQUALITY WAS FULLY REALIZED.
"There is one point not quite clear in my mind," I said, "and that is just when the guarantee of equal maintenance for all citizens went into effect."
"I suppose," replied the doctor, "that it must have been when, after the final collapse of what was left of private capitalism, the nation assumed the responsibility of providing for all the people. Until then the organization of the public service had been on the wage basis, which indeed was the only practicable way of initiating the plan of universal public employment while yet the mass of business was conducted by the capitalists, and the new and rising system had to be accommodated at so many points to the existing order of things. The tremendous rate at which the membership of the national industrial army was growing from week to week during the transition period would have made it impossible to find any basis of equal distribution that would hold good for a fortnight. The policy of the Government had, however, been to prepare the workers for equal sharing by establishing, as far as possible, a level wage for all kinds of public employees. This it was possible to do, owing to the cheapening of all sorts of commodities by the abolition of profits, without reducing any one's income.
"For example, suppose one workman had received two dollars a day, and another a dollar and a half. Owing to the cheapening of goods in the public stores, these wages presently purchased twice as much as before. But, instead of permitting the virtual increase of wages to operate by multiplication, so as to double the original discrepancy between the pay of the two, it was applied by equal additions to the account of each. While both alike were better off than before, the disproportion in their welfare was thus reduced. Nor could the one previously more highly paid object to this as unfair, because the increased value of his wages was not the result of his own efforts, but of the new public organization, from which he could only ask an equal benefit with all others. Thus by the time the nation was ready for equal sharing, a substantially level wage, secured by leveling up, not leveling down, had already been established. As to the high salaries of special employees, out of all proportion to workmen's wages, which obtained under private capitalism, they were ruthlessly cut down in the public service from the inception of the revolutionary policy.
"But of course the most radical innovation in establishing universal economic equality was not the establishment of a level wage as between the workers, but the admission of the entire population, both of workers and of those unable to work or past the working age, to an equal share in the national product. During the transition period the Government had of necessity proceeded like a capitalist in respect to recognizing and dealing only with effective workers. It took no more cognizance of the existence of the women, except when workers, or the children, or the old, or the infirm, crippled, or sick, or other dependents on the workers than the capitalists had been in the habit of doing. But when the nation gathered into its hands the entire economic resources of the country it proceeded to administer them on the principle--proclaimed, indeed, in the great Declaration, but practically mocked by the former republic--that all human beings have an equal right to liberty, life, and happiness, and that governments rightfully exist only for the purpose of making good that right--a principle of which the first practical consequence ought to be the guarantee to all on equal terms of the economic basis. Thenceforth all adult persons who could render any useful service to the nation were required to do so if they desired to enjoy the benefits of the economic system; but all who acknowledged the new order, whether they were able or unable to render any economic service, received an equal share with all others of the national product, and such provision was made for the needs of children as should absolutely safeguard their interests from the neglect or caprice of selfish parents.
"Of course, the immediate effect must have been that the active workers received a less income than when they had been the only sharers; but if they had been good men and distributed their wages as they ought among those dependent on them, they still had for their personal use quite as much as before. Only those wage-earners who had formerly had none dependent on them or had neglected them suffered any curtailment of income, and they deserved to. But indeed there was no question of curtailment for more than a very short time for any; for, as soon as the now completed economic organization was fairly in motion, everybody was kept too busy devising ways to expend his or her own allowance to give any thought to that of others. Of course, the equalizing of the economic maintenance of all on the basis of citizenship put a final end to the employment of private servants, even if the practice had lasted till then, which is doubtful; for if any one desired a personal servant he must henceforth pay him as much as he could receive in the public service, which would be equivalent to the whole income of the would-be employer, leaving him nothing for himself."
THE FINAL SETTLEMENT WITH THE CAPITALISTS.
"There is one point," I said, "on which I should like to be a little more clearly informed. When the nation finally took possession absolutely in perpetuity of all the lands, machinery, and capital after the final collapse of private capitalism, there must have been doubtless some sort of final settling and balancing of accounts between the people and the capitalists whose former properties had been nationalized. How was that managed? What was the basis of final settlement?"
"The people waived a settlement," replied the doctor. "The guillotine, the gallows, and the firing platoon played no part in the consummation of the great Revolution. During the previous phases of the revolutionary agitation there had indeed been much bitter talk of the reckoning which the people in the hour of their triumph would demand of the capitalists for the cruel past; but when the hour of triumph came, the enthusiasm of humanity which glorified it extinguished the fires of hate and took away all desire of barren vengeance. No, there was no settlement demanded; the people forgave the past."
"Doctor," I said, "you have sufficiently--in fact, overwhelmingly--answered my question, and all the more so because you did not catch my meaning. Remember that I represent the mental and moral condition of the average American capitalist in 1887. What I meant was to inquire what compensation the people made to the capitalists for nationalizing what had been their property. Evidently, however, from the twentieth-century point of view, if there were to be any final settlement between the people and the capitalists it was the former who had the bill to present."
"I rather pride myself," replied the doctor, "in keeping track of your point of view and distinguishing it from ours, but I confess that time I fairly missed the cue. You see, as we look back upon the Revolution, one of its most impressive features seems to be the vast magnanimity of the people at the moment of their complete triumph in according a free quittance to their former oppressors.
"Do you not see that if private capitalism was right, then the Revolution was wrong; but, on the other hand, if the Revolution was right, then private capitalism was wrong, and the greatest wrong that ever existed; and in that case it was the capitalists who owed reparation to the people they had wronged, rather than the people who owed compensation to the capitalists for taking from them the means of that wrong? For the people to have consented on any terms to buy their freedom from their former masters would have been to admit the justice of their former bondage. When insurgent slaves triumph, they are not in the habit of paying their former masters the price of the shackles and fetters they have broken; the masters usually consider themselves fortunate if they do not have their heads broken with them. Had the question of compensating the capitalists been raised at the time we are speaking of, it would have been an unfortunate issue for them. To their question, Who was to pay them for what the people had taken from them? the response would have been, Who was to pay the people for what the capitalist system had taken from them and their ancestors, the light of life and liberty and happiness which it had shut off from unnumbered generations? That was an accounting which would have gone so deep and reached back so far that the debtors might well be glad to waive it. In taking possession of the earth and all the works of man that stood upon it, the people were but reclaiming their own heritage and the work of their own hands, kept back from them by fraud. When the rightful heirs come to their own, the unjust stewards who kept them out of their inheritance may deem themselves mercifully dealt with if the new masters are willing to let bygones be bygones.
"But while the idea of compensating the capitalists for putting an end to their oppression would have been ethically absurd, you will scarcely get a full conception of the situation without considering that any such compensation was in the nature of the case impossible. To have compensated the capitalists in any practical way--that is, any way which would have preserved to them under the new order any economic equivalent for their former holdings--would have necessarily been to set up private capitalism over again in the very act of destroying it, thus defeating and stultifying the Revolution in the moment of its triumph.
"You see that this last and greatest of revolutions in the nature of the case absolutely differed from all former ones in the finality and completeness of its work. In all previous instances in which governments had abolished or converted to public use forms of property in the hands of citizens it had been possible to compensate them in some other kind of property through which their former economic advantage should be perpetuated under a different form. For example, in condemning lands it was possible to pay for them in money, and in abolishing property in men it was possible to pay for the slaves, so that the previous superiority or privilege held by the property owner was not destroyed outright, but merely translated, so to speak, into other terms. But the great Revolution, aiming as it did at the final destruction of all forms of advantage, dominion, or privilege among men, left no guise or mode possible under which the capitalist could continue to exercise his former superiority. All the modes under which in past time men had exercised dominion over their fellows had been by one revolution after another reduced to the single form of economic superiority, and now that this last incarnation of the spirit of selfish dominion was to perish there was no further refuge for it. The ultimate mask torn off, it was left to wither in the face of the sun."
"Your explanation leaves me nothing further to ask as to the matter of a final settling between the people and the capitalists," I said. "Still, I have understood that in the first steps toward the substitution of public business management for private capitalism, consisting in the nationalizing or municipalizing of quasi-public services, such as gas works, railroads, telegraphs, etc., some theory of compensation was followed. Public opinion, at that stage not having accepted the whole revolutionary programme, must probably have insisted upon this practice. Just when was it discontinued?'
"You will readily perceive," replied the doctor, "that in measure as it became generally recognized that economic equality was at hand, it began to seem farcical to pay the capitalists for their possessions in forms of wealth which must presently, as all knew, become valueless. So it was that, as the Revolution approached its consummation, the idea of buying the capitalists out gave place to plans for safeguarding them from unnecessary hardships pending the transition period. All the businesses of the class you speak of which were taken over by the people in the early stages of the revolutionary agitation, were paid for in money or bonds, and usually at prices most favorable to the capitalists. As to the greater plants, which were taken over later, such as railroads and the mines, a different course was followed. By the time public opinion was ripe for these steps, it began to be recognized by the dullest that it was possible, even if not probable, that the revolutionary programme would go completely through, and all forms of monetary value or obligation become waste paper. With this prospect the capitalists owning the properties were naturally not particularly desirous of taking national bonds for them which would have been the natural form of compensation had they been bought outright. Even if the capitalists had been willing to take the bonds, the people would never have consented to increase the public debt by the five or six billions of bonds that would have been necessary to carry out the purchase. Neither the railroads nor the mines were therefore purchased at all. It was their management, not their ownership, which had excited the public indignation and created the demand for their nationalization. It was their management, therefore, which was nationalized, their ownership remaining undisturbed.
"That is to say, the Government, on the high ground of public policy and for the correction of grievances that had become intolerable, assumed the exclusive and perpetual management and operation of the railroad lines. An honest valuation of the plants having been made, the earnings, if any, up to a reasonable percentage, were paid over to the security holders. This arrangement answered the purpose of delivering the people and the security holders alike from the extortions and mismanagement of the former private operators, and at the same time brought a million railroad employees into the public service and the enjoyment of all its benefits quite as effectively as if the lines had been bought outright. A similar plan was followed with the coal and other mines. This combination of private ownership with public management continued until, the Revolution having been consummated, all the capital of the country was nationalized by comprehensive enactment.
"The general principle which governed the revolutionary policy in dealing with property owners of all sorts was that while the distribution of property was essentially unjust and existing property rights morally invalid, and as soon as possible a wholly new system should be established, yet that, until the new system of property could as a whole replace the existing one, the legal rights of property owners ought to be respected, and when overruled in the public interest proper provision should be made to prevent hardship. The means of private maintenance should not, that is to say, be taken away from any one until the guarantee of maintenance from public sources could take its place. The application of this principle by the revolutionists seems to have been extremely logical, clean cut, and positive. The old law of property, bad as it was, they did not aim to abolish in the name of license, spoliation, and confusion, but in the name of a stricter and more logical as well as more righteous law. In the most nourishing days of capitalism, stealing, so called, was never repressed more sternly than up to the very eve of the complete introduction of the new system.
"To sum up the case in a word," I suggested, "it seems that in passing from the old order into the new it necessarily fared with the rich as it did when they passed out of this world into the next. In one case, as in the other, they just absolutely had to leave their money behind them."
"The illustration is really very apt," laughed the doctor, "except in one important particular. It has been rumored that the change which Dives made from this world to the next was an unhappy one for him; but within half a dozen years after the new economic system had been in operation there was not an ex-millionaire of the lot who was not ready to admit that life had been made as much better worth living for him and his class as for the rest of the community."
"Did the new order get into full running condition so quickly as that?" I asked.
"Of course, it could not get into perfect order as you see it now for many years. The _personnel_ of any community is the prime factor in its economic efficiency, and not until the first generation born under the new order had come to maturity--a generation of which every member had received the highest intellectual and industrial training--did the economic order fully show what it was capable of. But not ten nor two years had elapsed from the time when the national Government took all the people into employment on the basis of equal sharing in the product before the system showed results which overwhelmed the world with amazement. The partial system of public industries and public stores which the Government had already undertaken had given the people some intimation of the cheapening of products and improvement in their quality which might follow from the abolition of profits even under a wage system, but not until the entire economic system had been nationalized and all co-operated for a common weal was it possible completely to pool the product and share it equally. No previous experience had therefore prepared the public for the prodigious efficiency of the new economic enginery. The people had thought the reformers made rather large promises as to what the new system would do in the way of wealth-making, but now they charged them of keeping back the truth. And yet the result was one that need not have surprised any one who had taken the trouble to calculate the economic effect of the change in systems. The incalculable increase of wealth which but for the profit system the great inventions of the century would long before have brought the world, was being reaped in a long-postponed but overwhelming harvest.
"The difficulty under the profit system had been to avoid producing too much; the difficulty under the equal sharing system was how to produce enough. The smallness of demand had before limited supply, but supply had now set to it an unlimited task. Under private capitalism demand had been a dwarf and lame at that, and yet this cripple had been pace-maker for the giant production. National cooperation had put wings on the dwarf and shod the cripple with Mercury's sandals. Henceforth the giant would need all his strength, all his thews of steel and sinews of brass even, to keep him in sight as he flitted on before.
"It would be difficult to give you an idea of the tremendous burst of industrial energy with which the rejuvenated nation on the morrow of the Revolution threw itself into the task of uplifting the welfare of all classes to a level where the former rich man might find in sharing the common lot nothing to regret. Nothing like the Titanic achievement by which this result was effected had ever before been known in human history, and nothing like it seems likely ever to occur again. In the past there had not been work enough for the people. Millions, some rich, some poor, some willingly, some unwillingly, had always been idle, and not only that, but half the work that was done was wasted in competition or in producing luxuries to gratify the secondary wants of the few, while yet the primary wants of the mass remained unsatisfied. Idle machinery equal to the power of other millions of men, idle land, idle capital of every sort, mocked the need of the people. Now, all at once there were not hands enough in the country, wheels enough in the machinery, power enough in steam and electricity, hours enough in the day, days enough in the week, for the vast task of preparing the basis of a comfortable existence for all. For not until all were well-to-do, well housed, well clothed, well fed, might any be so under the new order of things.
"It is said that in the first full year after the new order was established the total product of the country was tripled, and in the second the first year's product was doubled, and every bit of it consumed.
"While, of course, the improvement in the material welfare of the nation was the most notable feature in the first years after the Revolution, simply because it was the place at which any improvement must begin, yet the ennobling and softening of manners and the growth of geniality in social intercourse are said to have been changes scarcely less notable. While the class differences inherited from the former order in point of habits, education, and culture must, of course, continue to mark and in a measure separate the members of the generation then on the stage, yet the certain knowledge that the basis of these differences had passed away forever, and that the children of all would mingle not only upon terms of economic equality, but of moral, intellectual, and social sympathy, and entire community of interest, seems to have had a strong anticipatory influence in bringing together in a sentiment of essential brotherhood those who were too far on in life to expect to see the full promise of the Revolution realized.
"One other matter is worth speaking of, and that is the effect almost at once of the universal and abounding material prosperity which the nation had entered on to make the people forget all about the importance they had so lately attached to petty differences in pay and wages and salary. In the old days of general poverty, when a sufficiency was so hard to come by, a difference in wages of fifty cents or a dollar had seemed so great to the artisan that it was hard for him to accept the idea of an economic equality in which such important distinctions should disappear. It was quite natural that it should be so. Men fight for crusts when they are starving, but they do not quarrel over bread at a banquet table. Somewhat so it befell when in the years after the Revolution material abundance and all the comforts of life came to be a matter of course for every one, and storing for the future was needless. Then it was that the hunger motive died out of human nature and covetousness as to material things, mocked to death by abundance, perished by atrophy, and the motives of the modern worker, the love of honor, the joy of beneficence, the delight of achievement, and the enthusiasm of humanity, became the impulses of the economic world. Labor was glorified, and the cringing wage-slave of the nineteenth century stood forth transfigured as the knight of humanity."