Studies in Socialism/The Socialist Aim
THE SOCIALIST AIM
The first condition of success for Socialism is that its essential characteristics should be explained clearly, so that every one can understand them. There are many misunderstandings created by our adversaries, and some created by ourselves. We must do away with these.
The main idea of Socialism is simple and noble. Socialists believe that the present form of property-holding divides society into two great classes. One of these classes, the wage-earning, the proletariat, is obliged to pay to the other, the capitalist, a sort of tax, in order to be able to live at all, and exercise its faculties to any degree. Here is a multitude of human beings, citizens; they possess nothing, they can live only by their work. But in order to work they need an expensive equipment which they have not got, and raw materials and capital which they have not got. Another class owns the means of production, the land, the factories, the machines, the raw materials, and accumulated capital in the form of money. The first class is, then, forced to put itself into the hands of the second, and naturally this capitalist and possessing class, taking advantage of its power, makes the working and non-owning class pay a large forfeit. It does not rest content after it has been reimbursed for the advances it made and has repaired the wear and tear on the machinery. It levies in addition every year and indefinitely a considerable tax on the product of the workman and farmer in the form of rent for farms, ground rent, rent of land in the cities, taxes for the payment of the public debt, industrial profit, commercial profit, and interest on stocks and bonds.
Therefore, in our present society, the work of the workers is not their exclusive property. And since, in our society founded on intensive production, economic activity is an essential function of every human being, since work forms an integral part of personality, the proletarian does not own his own body absolutely. The proletarian alienates a part of his activity, that is, a part of his being, for the profit of another class. The rights of man are incomplete and mutilated in him. He cannot perform a single act of his life without submitting to this restriction of his rights, this alienation of his very individuality. He has hardly left the factory, the mine, or the yard, where part of his effort has been expended in the creation of dividends and profits for the benefit of capital, he has hardly gone back to the poor tenement where his family is huddled together, when he is face to face with another tax, other dues in the shape of rent. And besides this, State taxation in all its forms, direct taxation and indirect taxation, pares down his already twice-diminished wage, and this not only to provide for the legitimate running expenses of a civilised society and for the advantage of all its members, but to guarantee the crushing payment of interest on the public debt for the profit of that same capitalist class, or for the maintenance of armaments at once formidable and useless. When, finally, the proletarian tries to buy, with the remnant of wages left to him after these inroads, the commodities which are necessities of daily life, he has two courses open to him. If he lacks time or money, he will turn to a retail dealer, and will then have to bear the expense of a cumbrous and unnecessary organisation of intermediary agents; or else he may go to a great store, where over and above the direct expenses of management and distribution he has to provide for the profit of ten or twelve per cent, on the capital invested. Just as the old feudal road was blocked and cut up at every step by toll-rights and dues, so, for the proletarian, the road of life is cut up by the feudal rights imposed upon him by capital. He can neither work nor eat, clothe nor shelter himself, without paying a sort of ransom to the owning and capitalist class.
And not only his life but his very liberty suffers by this system. If labour is to be really free, all the workers should be called upon to take part in the management of the work. They should have a share in the economic government of the shop, just as universal suffrage gives them a share in the political government of the city. Now, in the capitalist organisation of labour, the labourers play a passive rôle. They neither decide, nor do they help in deciding, what work shall be done nor in what direction available energies shall be employed. Without their consent, and often even without their knowledge, the capital which they have created undertakes or abandons this or that enterprise. They are the "hands" of the capitalist system, only required to put into execution the schemes that capital alone has decided on. And the proletariat accomplishes these enterprises planned and willed by capital under the direction of chiefs selected by capital. So that the workers neither co-operate in determining the object of the work nor in regulating the mechanism of authority under which the work is performed. In other words, labour is doubly enslaved, since it is directed towards ends which it has not willed by means which it has not chosen. And so the same capitalist system which exploits the labour power of the workman restricts the liberty of the labourer. Thus the personality of the proletarian is lessened as well as his substance.
But this is not all. The capitalist and owning class is only a class apart when considered in relation to the wage earners. It is itself divided and torn by the bitterest competition. It has never been able to organise itself, and in so doing to control production and regulate it according to the variable needs of society. In this state of anarchical disorder, capital is only warned of its mistakes through crises, the terrible consequences of which often fall upon the proletariat. So, by the extreme of injustice, the working classes are socially responsible for the carrying on of production which they have no share in regulating.
To have responsibility without authority, to be punished without having been even consulted, such is the paradoxical fate of the proletariat under the capitalist disorder. And if capital were organised, if by means of vast trusts it were able to regulate production, it would only regulate it for its own profit. It would abuse the power gained by union to impose usurious prices on the community of buyers, and the working class would escape from economic disorder only to fall under the yoke of monopoly.
All this misery, all this injustice and disorder result from the fact that one class monopolises the means of production and of life, and imposes its law on another class and on society as a whole. The thing to do, therefore, is to break down this supremacy of one class. The oppressed class must be enfranchised, and with it the whole of society. All difference of class must be abolished by transferring to the whole body of citizens, the organised community, the ownership of the means of production and of life which to-day, in the hands of a single class, is a power of exploitation and oppression. The universal co-operation of all citizens must be substituted for the disorderly and abusive rule of the minority. This is the only method by which the individual can be enfranchised. And that is why the essential aim of Socialism, whether Collectivist or Communist, is to transform capitalist property into social property.
In the present state of humanity, where our only organisation is on the basis of nationality, social property will take the form of national property. But the action of the proletariat will assume more and more an international character. The various nations that are evolving toward Socialism will regulate their dealings with each other more and more according to the principles of justice and peace. But for a long time to come the nation as such will furnish the historical setting of Socialism; it will be the mould in which the new justice will be cast.
Let no one be astonished that we bring forward the idea of a national community now, whereas at first we set ourselves to establish the liberty of the individual. The nation, and the nation alone, can enfranchise all citizens. Only the nation can furnish the means of free development to all. Private associations, temporary and limited in character, can protect limited groups of individuals only for a time. But there is only one universal association than can guarantee the rights of all individuals without exception, not only the rights of the living, but of those who are yet unborn, and who will take their places in the generations to come. Now this universal and imperishable association which includes all the individuals on a particular portion of the planet, and which extends its action and its thought to successive generations, is the nation.
If, then, we invoke the nation, we do so in order to insure the rights of the individual in the fullest and most universal sense. Not a single human being for a single moment of time should be excluded from the sphere of rights. Not one should be in danger of becoming the prey or the instrument of another individual. Not one should be deprived of the sure means of labouring freely without servile dependence on any other individual.
In the nation, therefore, the rights of all individuals are guaranteed, to-day, to-morrow, and for ever. If we transfer what was once the property of the capitalist class to the national community, we do not do this to make an idol of the nation, or to sacrifice to it the liberty of the individual. No, we do it that the nation may serve as a common basis for all individual activities. Social rights, national rights, are only the geometric locus of the rights of all the individuals.
Social ownership of property is merely opportunity of action brought within the reach of all.