The Chartist Movement/Chapter 3

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During the first three decades of the nineteenth century English political and social ideas underwent a profound change. This mental revolution may be attributed to two main causes, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. Both of these produced different effects upon the different classes of the community. The French Revolution commenced by arousing the traditional political radicalism of the English middle class, but the violence of the Revolution itself, together with the teachings of the Economists, who apparently demonstrated the incompatibility of the interests of the employing and employed classes, drove the middle class to resist even moderate measures of political change. At the same time the theories and presuppositions of the Revolution, based as they were on the doctrine of the Rights of Man, took a great hold upon the imagination of the working classes and produced levelling theories whose justice seemed all the stronger, as the actual course of events seemed to demonstrate the evils which flowed from social and economic inequality.

The Industrial Revolution, especially during the years 1800–1840, was largely on the social side an instrument of social dislocation. Down to the middle of the eighteenth century English agricultural society was still largely feudal in spirit. The internationalism of feudalism, which had given Western Europe a superficially homogeneous society, was gone, but otherwise feudal conceptions still held sway. The landowner was still the head of a local social system—Mr. Wells's "Bladesover"—which comprised household, farm tenants, labourers, officials. Social relationships consisted largely, on the part of the lower orders, of feelings of more or less contented dependence upon the great man at the top—feelings which were religiously inculcated on the basis of "the station of life in which it has pleased God to place you." On the other hand the landowner repaid such sentiments with some real degree of personal interest in the welfare of his subjects, and maintained a certain amount of security and stability, which enabled them to live with some expectation that their lot would never be worse, though it might not be better. Stability, security, and dependence were the essentials of this social system. In industry relations were otherwise but not essentially different. The merchant manufacturer played the part of the landowner. He was often in personal touch with those he employed, living usually in the neighbourhood. The family system of manufacture kept alive feelings of associated enterprise and mutual dependence. The market was known; prices were fixed by custom and not merely by competition. Steady trade rather than speculative enterprise was the rule and the ideal.

Under the influence of that commercial and speculative spirit which prepared the way for the great changes both in agriculture and industry, these social relationships broke down. They were unsuited to a period when movement and enterprise replaced solid security as the basis of economic life. The unlimited unknown of commerce was preferred to the limited known, and Captain Cook's voyages into the distant Pacific were paralleled by many a commercial speculator in the realms of economic enterprise. Acquisition of wealth, which opened up to many the prospects of social advancement, destroyed the old feeling of contented acceptance of that station of life in which they were born. Hence came the increasing specialisation in agriculture and industry, the enclosures which alone made possible the improvement of agricultural methods, and the machinery which superseded men. Employers employed no longer men but hands, no longer human beings but labour, and the relation between the two gradually developed into the payment of cash which was held to cover all the obligations of the one to the other. Payment for labour, conditions of housing, help in bad times, education, all these were now commuted in the payment of a weekly wage. In industry this process was encouraged by the rapid rise to fortune of poor men who had never been influenced by the ancient semi-feudal traditions or by the surviving gild spirit.

The consequence was the formation of a large class of wage-earners who were thrown back upon the earnings of their own hands, and had little claim, besides their labour, to the consideration of society. The natural tendency to association, which under not dissimilar circumstances had appeared so strongly in the early days of the French Revolution, i.e. the Fédérés, and was the most significant manifestation of national as distinguished from feudal ideas, was in England checked, if not suppressed, by the ferocious Combination Laws. It was not until 1833, with the passing of the first important Factory Act, that public opinion admitted the industrial employees to a claim upon society and public attention. The Factory Acts and cognate legislation substituted a public guarantee, based on the authority of the State, for that private and traditional guarantee of the conditions of life which semi-feudal society had maintained. But between the disappearance of the one and the establishment of the other lies a full generation, during which the working classes, often ignorant, unled, ill-advised, sought refuge in their isolation and helplessness against economic and governmental oppression.

In a world of injustice and inequality, the working men found hope and a call to action in those theories of natural rights and justice which the French Revolution had popularised. The rights of man were contrasted with the wrongs inflicted by the new state of society, and out of the conflict were developed political and social theories of a social-democratic character. It is not maintained that English Socialism developed out of the ideas of the Revolution. It was, on the other hand, largely a native growth, deriving its strength from its criticism of the developing English industrial society, and its economics from the writings of Ricardo. At the same time its constructive side, which of course was its weakest, was based upon theories of abstract justice, and these notions had received a great impetus from the French Revolution. Through Paine and Godwin they had been introduced in a complete form to the English public. Yet, as has been pointed out previously, such ideas were prevalent within a limited circle during the Puritan Revolution, and may even be traced in the famous Utopia of More and the equally famous couplet of John Ball. The pre-revolutionary ferment in France did produce its socialistic writers—Morelly, Mably, and to a degree Rousseau himself. Though the teaching of Morelly as to the beneficent influence of suitable environment upon human character is in many cases akin to that of Robert Owen, there is little doubt that the latter founded his theory largely upon his own experience at New Lanark. In any case the socialistic theory of the Revolution was of little practical importance in the events of that stormy period. The futile conspiracy of Babeuf was the only serious attempt to give the Revolution a socialist character. It was, however, recalled to the minds of the English Chartists by James O'Brien, who translated Buonarotti's account of it.

Early English Socialist teaching falls into three classes. The first and least thoroughgoing, and the one which appeared first in order, was mainly a revolt against the enclosures. It was predominantly agrarian in character. It is represented by William Ogilvie, Thomas Spence, and Thomas Paine. These are mainly advocates of land reform of some sort or other, but similar ideas form part of the schemes of the more thoroughgoing writers. The second class is mainly a criticism of the classical economists, and is rather anti-capitalist than constructively socialist. It is represented by Charles Hall, Thomas Hodgskin, Charles Gray, Piercy Ravenstone, and William Godwin. Finally there is a large and important body of communist doctrine associated with the great names of Robert Owen, Thompson, and J. F. Bray. These writers were mainly concerned with the problem of distribution, but Bray and Thompson preface their constructive schemes by a masterly criticism of the dominant "bourgeois" economics, which, taken with the ideas of Hall and his fellows, in all essentials anticipates that of Marx.

There is one quality which is common to nearly all this body of socialistic and kindred doctrines. That is the reaction towards agriculture and the land, the tendency to regard the growth of large-scale industry as abnormal, unnatural, and dangerous. This is not to be wondered at. The process of enclosure was far from complete even as late as 1800, and it did not seem too late to put a stop to it. In any case agriculture was still considered the natural avocation of the majority of the nation. The growing abuses of the early factory system recalled to many, by way of contrast, the fresh air and green fields of their youth. It is significant that Hall, one of the most conspicuous opponents of manufactures, was a medical man. Apart from these considerations it was held, with some degree of justice, that only by applying his labour to land could a man attain the ideal of socialist theory—the full produce of his labour. It was supposed that a nation working exclusively upon the land might thus solve the problem of distribution.

This is not the place for a detailed analysis of this mass of socialistic literature, which is to be found in the excellent works of Beer, Menger, and Podmore.[1] But as these socialistic notions formed a large part of the mental equipment of Chartists, a general sketch of their tendency is essential to a proper understanding of the Chartist Movement. The relation of the Chartist Movement to the evolution of socialist ideas is somewhat complex. The Chartist Movement was not a homogeneous thing. It was a general protest against industrial and political oppression, and as the protest swelled the movement swallowed up a variety of agitations of a special and local character, some of which bore little relation to socialist propagandism. It is true that some of the leaders of Chartism were downright Socialists—as we should call them to-day. James O'Brien (commonly known as Bronterre O'Brien) was the unremitting advocate of land nationalisation and collective control of the means of exchange.[2] William Lovett, the noblest of them all, was persuaded that individual ownership of industrial capital was the prime evil of society. Hetherington was a disciple of Owen and Thompson. In spite of this, however, the Chartist Movement was carefully distinguished by its more prominent adherents from the Socialist Movement of the period, which was a communist movement guided by Robert Owen, Lloyd Jones, and William Pare. Feargus O'Connor's Land Scheme was the very antithesis of Socialism, but it was also not a real Chartist scheme.

The Land Reformers, Spence, Ogilvie, and Paine (the ex-member of the Revolutionary Convention and the author of the Rights of Man), are one and all under the influence of Natural Rights. They belong to the period which preceded the birth of economic analysis, and therefore detailed criticism of the existing social and industrial system plays little part in their discussions. They proceed by the deductive method, commencing with a statement of the natural and inherent rights of mankind. Clearly the right to subsist upon the land of his birth is the most obvious of these rights. Hence the deduction that the land is the common possession of mankind, a proposition to which Locke gave the seal of his authority, but which is probably as old as mankind itself. Spence declares indignantly that "Men may not live in any part of this world, not even where they were born, but as strangers and by the permission of the pretender to the property thereof." Paine suggests that God had not set up an Estate Office in Heaven where title-deeds to perpetual rights over land could be acquired. Ogilvie, a much soberer and more scientific writer, contents himself with the statement that land in its uncultivated state was the common property of mankind.

Naturally the particular conclusions to be drawn from these very wide premises vary immensely. Spence arrives at the absolute prohibition of private property in land; Ogilvie allows a system of private property with taxation of unearned increment and the parcelling of large estates—a remarkable foreshadowing of the modern policy, and based, like it, upon a more scientific consideration of the question; Paine aims at paying, out of heavy succession duties upon landed property, an old-age pension to every person as compensation for the loss of his rights in land. Thomas Spence (1750–1814) was the most outspoken and extreme of the three writers. He probably did as much as any other reforming zealot to popularise that fanatical and unreasoning hatred of the landed aristocracy which characterised English radical and revolutionary opinion during the early part of the nineteenth century, and which formed so large a part of the oratorical stock-in-trade of Vincent, O'Connor, O'Brien, and the like, in the Chartist Movement. A sturdy, stiff-necked, fluent Radical, with much of the rebel in his nature, Spence made many zealous disciples and a powerful enemy—the "panic-stricken Toryism" of the Government. He passed a stormy forty years of political agitation, between 1775 and 1814, and died in poverty, as many other good men did at that time. A sample of Spence ought to be given. One of his pamphlets, the Rights of Infants (1797), is in the form of a dialogue between a mother and a member of the aristocracy. The mother asks who receives the rents:

Aristocrat—We, to be sure.

Woman—You, to be sure! Who the Devil are you? Who gave you a right to receive the rent of our common?

Aristocrat—Woman, our ancestors either fought for or purchased our estates.

Woman—Well confessed, villains! Now out of your own mouths will I condemn you, you wicked Molochs. And so you have the impudence to own yourselves the cursed brood of ruffians who by slaughter and oppression usurped the lordship and dominion of the earth to the exclusion and starvation of weeping infants and their poor mothers? Or at the best the purchasers of those ill-got domains? O worse than Molochs, now let the blood of millions of innocent babes who have perished by your vile usurpations be upon your murderous heads. … Yes, villains! you have treasured up the tears and groans of dumb, helpless, perishing, dying infants. O you bloody landed interest! you band of robbers! Why do you call yourselves ladies and gentlemen? Why do you assume soft names, you beasts of prey? Too well do your emblazoned arms and escutcheons witness the ferocity of your bloody and barbarous origin! But soon shall those audacious Gothic emblems of rapine cease to offend the eyes of an enlightened people, and no more make an odious distinction between the spoilers and the spoiled. But, ladies and gentlemen, is it necessary, in order that we eat bread and mutton, that the rents should be received by you? Might not the farmers as well pay their rents to us, who are the natural and rightful proprietors? …

Hear me, ye oppressors, ye who live sumptuously every day, ye for whom the sun seems to shine and the seasons change, ye for whom alone all human and brute creatures toil, sighing, but in vain, for the crumbs which fall from your overcharged tables. … Your horrid tyranny, your infanticide is at an end!

And did you really think, my good gentlefolk, that you were the pillars that upheld the universe? Did you think that we should never have the wit to do without you? …

Then comes Spence's panacea:

We women (as our men are not to be depended on) will appoint in every parish a committee of our own sex (which we presume our gallant lockjawed spouses will at least for their own interests not oppose) to receive the rents of the houses and lands already tenanted, and also let to the best bidders, on seven years' leases, such farms and tenements as may from time to time become vacant.

Out of the funds so obtained the expenses of the parish and the taxes will be paid, an allowance be given for each child born and each person buried, and the surplus divided equally amongst the inhabitants of the parish. The famous Newcastle Lecture of 1775, Spence's first utterance upon the question of the land, contains substantially similar proposals, but also suggests certain political reforms—the abolition of the standing army and the formation of a militia, universal manhood suffrage and vote by ballot. Spence left many disciples who were not without influence during the succeeding decades.

William Ogilvie (1736–1819) comes chronologically next after Spence. His work, An Essay on the Right of Property in Land, was published in 1782. He stands, however, far above Spence both in depth of thought and in his influence upon later generations. He was a Professor of Humanity at Aberdeen, an excellent scholar and a man of intellectual eminence. He was also a Scottish laird and well versed in agriculture and estate management. Ogilvie conceived agriculture to be the most suitable and profitable occupation for mankind. The higher virtues would inevitably fail amongst a people who lived wholly by manufacture and industry. Ogilvie was thus the earliest foe of the modern industrial society.

Starting, like Spence, with a declaration of the common right of mankind to the land, Ogilvie plunges into an analysis of the greatest importance. Land, he declares, has three values, the original value, the improved value, and the improvable value, corresponding to the value of the land in its natural uncultivated state, the value of the improvement due to cultivation, and the value of the possible improvement of which it is capable. This statement at once puts the discussion upon a higher plane than Spence's dogmatic assertion of natural rights to land, and the analysis is worthy of a countryman of Adam Smith and David Hume. Probably Ogilvie was stimulated by the reading of Smith's great work. In an estate worth £1500 a year Ogilvie suggests £200, £800, and £500 as the original, improved, and improvable value. The first and third cannot belong to the landowner, but the second is undoubtedly private property, as it arises from the labour already applied to it. Ogilvie would recover the original value by a tax upon land, and the improvable or accessory value by a tax upon unearned increment or "the augmentation of rents." Apart from this he is the enemy of large estates, which he desires to break up. He calculates that there is sufficient land in Great Britain to give 10 acres to every citizen. Every landowner who has more than that quantity of land must surrender the surplus. Of the 10 acres remaining the landowner will have a right to all the three values. From the surplus fund of land a parcel of 40 acres will be granted to every adult male who applies. He will cultivate it for his lifetime and be subject to quasi-feudal obligations. Failing such measures Ogilvie advocates a Board of Land Purchase to multiply small holdings. Measures ought to be taken to discourage the growth of manufactures until agriculture is developed to the highest possible degree.

Ogilvie's scheme is not so much a scheme for the recovery of the lost rights to land as the purely utilitarian one of maintaining the ascendancy of agriculture. The agricultural society of the later Middle Ages is his ideal, a society of small landholders held in the bonds of mutual dependence and mutual obligations.

The veteran Thomas Paine (1737–1809) has an equally utilitarian purpose. The title of his work, published in 1797, is a résumé of its contents: "Agrarian Justice, opposed to Agrarian Law and Agrarian Monopoly, being a plan for Meliorating the Condition of Man by creating in every Nation a National Fund, to pay to every Person, when arrived at the Age of 21 Years, the Sum of £15 Sterling, to enable him or her to begin the World; and also £10 Sterling per annum during life to every Person now living of the Age of 50 years and to all others when they shall attain that Age."

The gist of Paine's argument was that the majority of mankind had lost its rights in the land. It was impolitic to try to recover the land itself, but the owners of land could be compelled to compensate the dispossessed out of their revenues. This compensation fund would be raised out of a succession duty of 10 per cent upon inheritances passing in the direct line, and of twice as much upon those passing to collateral heirs. A fund of 5¾ millions would thus be raised annually, which would be sufficient for the purposes indicated. Similar proposals had already found a place in Paine's Rights of Man. Paine's underlying idea—that the landowners ought to compensate the common folk for the loss of their rights in the land—was seized upon by Cobbett as the basis of his opposition to the Poor Law of 1834. Cobbett regarded the Poor Rate as the compensation fund, and taught that the receipt of relief was a right and not charity.

Closely allied with these three agrarian reformers, and standing, too, under the influence of Rousseau and the Rights of Man, is Charles Hall. Hall's book, however, by its greater economic insight, as well as the incisive attack upon the developing industrial system, forms a transition between the criticism of the agrarian system and the anti-capitalistic teachings which followed the publication of Ricardo's work in 1819. It was published in 1805 under the title Effects of Civilisation on the People in European States.[3] Hall was a doctor of medicine of considerable attainments who, soon after he gave to the world his famous book, was consigned to the Fleet Prison for debt, and died there about 1820 at the age of eighty. It was natural that a man so circumstanced should take the pessimistic view of civilisation made current by Rousseau's famous Discourse. Hall's work is a terrific denunciation of the oppression of the poor which seems to be the inevitable consequence of the existing state of society. As a doctor of medicine Hall was acquainted to the full with the terrible effects of extreme poverty and overwork undertaken in pestilential factories. These evils are the result of two great faults in the organism of society—Private Property and Manufactures. The latter is even worse in its consequences than the former. By their means Civilisation divides mankind into Rich and Poor, and gives the former power to oppress the latter. Riches is a power directed to oppression. No despotism is worse than that of Capital. Capital is the means whereby the Rich rob the Poor of the larger part of their produce. It is not Nature, as Malthus declares, who condemns the Poor to poverty, starvation, and death, but Capital. Capital is given in the form of wages and material to the labourer that he may produce more goods, but even the goods given as capital were originally taken from the labourer. The latter is powerless to keep more than a very small share of his produce because he is at the mercy of the Rich, and the law will not allow him to combine with his fellows for better protection. The development of manufactures has not, as Adam Smith declared, freed the workers from dependence, but has plunged them into a worse slavery than ever. It is a slavery which propagates disease, vice, ignorance, and revolution. Manufactures are withdrawing labour from agriculture and so increasing the cost of food. Hunger is added to other evils. The more manufactures develop, the greater the gulf between rich and poor. Such a tendency will end in social anarchy and revolt, out of which, as in France, a military despotism will assuredly arise. But the rich may prevent this by declaring a war. The war against France is a case in point.

Hall's furious analysis ought logically to lead to sweeping proposals of remedy, but these are of the most modest description, amounting to no more than the abolition of primogeniture and the restriction of manufacture of articles of luxury. This logical anti-climax is a feature of nearly all the earlier writings of this school. It results partly from a want of sound economic teaching—a want which the yet indeterminate state of the science could not supply. It is due partly no doubt to a typically English unwillingness to push the arguments based upon natural rights to a logical conclusion. Later Socialist writers worked with better materials than Hall. They used the theoretical groundwork furnished by David Ricardo (1772–1823) and the practical experiments of Robert Owen (1771–1858).

The second decade of the nineteenth century saw an important advance in socialistic theory. The violent fluctuations in trade, the advance of factory production, the dismal conditions which followed the end of the great war, the panic-stricken measures of the Government to repress popular movement, and the increasing unrest of the manufacturing population, all seemed to attest the truth of Hall's most pessimistic prophecies. On the other hand, socialist thought received important reinforcements. In 1813 appeared Robert Owen's New View of Society, which came as a gospel of hope and happiness to many who desired the welfare of their fellows. It held out a promise of infallible success in the improvement of the lot of the poor and the oppressed. In 1817 appeared Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, the indirect source of nearly all socialist economics.

Owen, it is true, remained almost untouched by the development of economic theory. He was an empiric from first to last. His first work, the New View, contained the essence of all his teaching—that any character, from the best to the worst, may be given to any community by the application of the proper means, which means are generally under the control of those who have influence in human affairs. In itself this doctrine, that human character was the creation of environment, was by no means new. It had been almost a commonplace in pre-revolutionary France. But backed as it was by the evidence of the marvellous work accomplished at New Lanark by Owen himself, "by the application of suitable means," Owen's teaching at once acquired commanding authority. It at once became the theoretical and practical stand-by of the Factory Reformers. It taught others to see in a properly constituted government the means of social regeneration. It was therefore a chief source of Chartist theory. Many leading Chartists, Lovett, O'Brien, Hetherington, Watson, Dr. Wade, and others, began their public career under Owen's auspices. Owen himself was hostile to extensive political action and distrustful of popular control, so that he and his special followers, who took the name Socialists, kept steadfastly apart from all political movements and propagated their teachings in the form of Communism. Owen was neither a politician nor a demagogue. He appeared only once as a popular leader. That was during 1829 to 1834, when he inspired the Co-operative Labour Exchange and Syndicalist movements, which will be dealt with later.

It was Ricardo's fate, whilst writing what was intended to be at once an explanation and a defence of the capitalistic system of production, to furnish the enemies of capitalism with their most deadly weapons. Modern economists have felt it incumbent upon them to modify or reject the Ricardian premises which led to such astounding and subversive conclusions.[4] The discussion as to what Ricardo actually did mean, or what he took for granted, may safely be left to experts. It is sufficient to indicate those points upon which anti-capitalistic theory seized. These relate of course to the claims of Labour. Ricardo says, for instance, that "the comparative quantity of labour" is "the foundation of the exchangeable value of all things," and that this doctrine is "of the utmost importance in political economy," [5] Further, he speaks of the "relative quantity of labour as almost exclusively determining the relative values of commodities."[6] Though he introduces reservations allowing that labour applied to making of tools, implements, and buildings, that the elements of time, risk, rate of profits, and quality of labour also influence value, he keeps these reservations in water-tight compartments and permits the superficial reader to assume that they are of no importance in comparison with the great fact of Labour. The rough-and-ready conclusion was drawn—Labour is the source and measure of Value.[7] In the hands of an ingenious writer like Hodgskin the reservations are indeed noted, but only to be swept away. As tools, implements, and buildings are created by labour, their value too depends upon the labour expended upon them, and the claim of the capitalist to a reward for their use is without foundation. The quality of labour is of no account, as all labour is equally necessary.

The "natural price of labour is that price which is necessary to enable the labourers one with another to subsist and to perpetuate their race without either increase or diminution." "The market price for labour is the price which is really paid for it. … However much the market price may deviate from its natural price it has, like commodities, a tendency to conform to it." It is pretty clear that Ricardo did not mean the absolute and indispensable minimum of necessaries of life when he referred to "subsisting," but spoke of the "comforts which custom renders absolute necessaries." That is, not mere subsistence level, but the customary standard of life was the basis on which the natural price of labour was to be calculated. But such qualifications could hardly hold their own against such language as, "It is only after their privations have reduced their number, or the demand for labour has increased, that the market price of labour will rise to its natural price."[8]

The question naturally suggested itself, What proportion did the reward of labour bear to the value created by labour? This question was solved to the great satisfaction of Socialists by a reference to the statistics of Patrick Colquhoun. Colquhoun demonstrated, apparently on insufficient evidence, that the national income in 1812–13 was 430 millions. Of this the working classes, including the army, navy, and paupers, received somewhere about one quarter.[9] Clearly, therefore, the labourer, so far from receiving the value his labour created, received only one quarter, the remainder being distributed amongst capitalists, landlords, and Government in the shape of profits, rents, and taxes. This statement of the case was improved upon by later writers who assumed that the proportion received by the labourer was decreasing. Hodgskin speaks of the labourer's having to make six loaves before he can eat one.

Here, then, was capitalistic economy convicted out of the mouth of its greatest champion, and a host of writers seized upon the damning evidence and hammered it at white heat into a terrific indictment of the greed and rapacity of capitalists, landlords, and "tax-eaters." Socialists, like James O'Brien, and Radicals, like Cobbett, argued themselves into tempestuous incoherence, whilst lesser men, like certain of the Chartist leaders, decorated their speeches with phrases culled from the writings of their betters, and perorated in pæans of praise upon the virtues of the producers of all wealth, and in torrents of vituperation upon the robbers who stole it from them.

Thomas Hodgskin was the first of the popular writers to take advantage of Ricardo's work. Ricardian economics had been the stand-by of the employers in the Trade Union controversy of 1824–25. Their argument, put briefly, was: high wages, low profits; low profits, slow accumulation of capital; slower accumulation, less capital; less capital, diminished demand for labour; diminished demand for labour, collapse of wages; hence poverty, distress, privation at work to redress the balance upset by high wages and large families. Therefore all depended upon keeping up rate of profits. This constituted the claim of capital to a share of the produce of industry. It was this claim which Hodgskin proceeded to refute in his famous little pamphlet, called Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital, or the Unproductiveness of Capital Proved (1825).

The argument commences with a statement of Ricardo's definitions. Commodities are produced by the united application of Labour, Capital, and Land, and are divided between the owners of these. The share of the landlord is rent, but as rent is merely a surplus of the fertile over the less fertile land, it cannot keep the labourer poor. The share of the labourer is that quantity necessary to enable the labourers one with another to subsist and perpetuate their race without either increase or diminution. The share of capital is all that remains after the landlord's surplus and this bare subsistence of the labourer have been deducted. On what grounds does Capital claim this large share? McCulloch replies that Capital enables us to execute work that could not otherwise be performed: it saves labour and it enables us to produce things better and more expeditiously. Mill says that Capital supplies the labourer with tools and raw materials. For this the owner expects a reward. Capital is also an agent combining with labour to produce commodities. Further, the capitalist saves and accumulates more capital upon which Labour depends. For all this Capital deserves reward. Hodgskin proceeds to examine these ideas.

The goods which are given to the labourer to maintain him until his wares are brought to market are not the result of accumulation or saving but of concurrent production by other labourers. The labourer has indeed no stock of food and clothing, but neither has the capitalist. The capitalists do not possess one week's stock of food and clothing for the labourers they employ. These goods are being concurrently produced by other groups of labourers. Food at least cannot be stored up. In fact, the only thing which can safely be said to be stored up is the skill of the labourer. If this were not so, the various commodities could never be produced at all. Each set of labourers relies upon the due performance by the other sets of their stipulated social tasks. This is clearly true where industrial operations are not completed within the year and there can be no exchange of products. It is not capital which stores up this skilled labour, but wages and parental care. In fact, the reason why capital is able to support and employ labour is that capital implies already the command of some labour and not the accumulation of goods.

It is true that Fixed Capital does increase the productivity of labour to an immense degree. But obviously these instruments of production are themselves the produce of labour. The economists say that they are stored-up labour and as such entitled to payment. But they are not stored up but used. They derive their utility from present labour and not because they are the result of past labour. Everything depends upon the use made of these machines, and peculiar skill is required of the labourer in using them. In the creation of fixed capital three things are required: knowledge and inventive genius; manual dexterity to make the machines; skill to use them. The great services of fixed capital are due to these qualities and not to the dead machines. And when did an inventor receive the due reward of his genius?

Circulating capital does not, like fixed capital, add to the productivity of labour, but the capitalist claims the same rate of profit on both. In either case the profit is derived from the power capital gives over labour. This power is of old standing, and is derived in the first instance from the monopoly of land and the state of slavery which consequently ensued.

The position of the capitalist is as follows. One set of labourers is making food; another is making clothing. Between them steps in the capitalist and appropriates in the process of exchange the larger part of the produce of both. He separates the two groups so that both believe that they depend upon him for their subsistence. The result is that the labourer must give at least six times as much labour to acquire a particular commodity as that commodity would require to make. For one loaf the labourer must give the labour of six. The capitalist therefore imposes an infinitely worse tax upon labour than the Corn Laws, but he is sufficiently influential to make it appear that the latter alone are the cause of all the evils under which the labourer suffers.

Under the present system Mr. Ricardo is perfectly correct in stating that the labourer will only obtain from the capitalist as much as will enable him to maintain his kind without increase or decrease. The exactions of capital are the cause of poverty.

In the concluding part of his argument Hodgskin displays the characteristic moderation of the earlier writers. Capital being unproductive, it follows that the labourer ought to receive the whole produce of his labour. But how is this to be determined, seeing that no labourer produces any commodity independently? It can only be determined by the judgment of the labourers themselves as to the value of their labour. Hence the labourers ought to be free to bargain and, if necessary, to combine for the purpose.

Hodgskin allows that the capitalist who directs labour deserves a reward as a working man; but the idle capitalist has no claim at all upon the produce of labour. Trade union action will be good so far as it deprives the idle capitalist of his profits, and bad if it puts the industrious employer out of action.

Thus the whole of the elaborate argument ends in a justification of Trade Unionism. It has an atmosphere of artificiality and sophistry which would rob it of all value for a modern reader. It depends too much for its effect upon the exploitation of the false and verbal distinctions which marred contemporary economic theory. It is clever rather than convincing. It is weak at the one point where it ought to have been strong, namely, the explanation of capital as power over labour. He takes refuge in remote historical theory. Whilst he acknowledges the services which management of industry confers, he justifies a refusal to pay higher wages to the master than to the labourer on the ground that all labour is equally necessary in society—a manifestly false conception.

From the "wrong twist," which Ricardo unconsciously and Hodgskin consciously had given to economic theory, developed several divergent lines of radical and socialist doctrine. On the one hand there was the revolutionary pessimistic school, represented by James O'Brien, who pushed the apparent admissions of Ricardo (with whose views Malthus was associated) to a terrifying conclusion, and prophesied a revolutionary termination to the oppression of capital. The present system condemned the poor to eternal and undiminishing poverty, whilst the rich throve on the surplus value extracted from the labour of the poor. The right of the labourer to the whole produce of his labour became an axiom. But the gulf between the practical wrongs of labour and its theoretical rights would grow until it was filled with the debris of the shattered capitalistic system. Then would militant labour march across and take possession of its true and undiminished heritage.

The other school, represented by William Thompson and J. F. Bray,[10] was more scientific in its methods, more positive in its conclusions, and less militant in its language. Thompson and Bray devoted themselves to further analysis of the conception of surplus value—the five loaves which Hodgskin's labourer produces but does not receive; they also examined the mechanism of exchange, through which, as Hodgskin suggests, the extraction of surplus value is accomplished. In both respects they left very little for later thinkers to add to the results of their inquiry. Both writers were much under the influence of Robert Owen, and saw in Owen's co-operative communities the solution of the problem. The labourer could only obtain the full produce of his labour in communities in which co-operative production, voluntary exchange, and co-operative distribution were the basis of industrial organisation. They were therefore enthusiastic advocates of the Owenite schemes. They were not popular writers in the sense that Hodgskin was. Their works were excellently written, but they were without popular appeal. They wrote with the serene tranquillity of men who awaited with sure and certain hope the accomplishment of their highest desires. They wrote for a small circle, and their task was to give a scientific foundation to the purely empiric notions of Owen. But the mass of working people whom the teachings of Owen reached interpreted them in the light of bitter experience, and had little patience with the ideal schemes of Thompson and his friends.

Manifold was the influence of this body of doctrine upon the mind of the working class. Various truths had been established. The industrial system was flagrantly unjust. The power of capital was founded upon robbery perpetrated generations ago. It was exercised to rob the labourer of three-quarters, nay, five-sixths, of the wealth he created, and to keep him, his fellows, and his posterity, down to the uttermost minimum of subsistence, leaving him a prey to the competing demons of high wages with over-population, and low wages with privations. The monopoly of capital was the great social evil; the destruction of it was the basis of future happiness. The source of all the ills under which the labouring class suffered was revealed. Low wages, fluctuations, insecurity, bad houses, disease, poverty, pauperism, ignorance, and vice—all this was the work of the twin monopolies of land and capital.

The decade 1825–1835 was a very critical period in the history of the working classes of this country. A multitude of hopes and fears, of excitements both internal and external in origin, played upon the minds of the industrious masses. The Industrial Revolution was extending its sway; the improved power-loom of 1825 and the locomotives of 1830 represented its latest triumphs. The commercial crisis of 1826 was a threatening omen, whilst the emancipation acts of 1828 and 1829 inspired hopes of political freedom which rose sky-high with the death of George IV., the return of a reform ministry, and the news of the July Revolution in France. The agitation of 1830–32 for the Reform Bill was mainly political in character, and suspended temporarily agitations of a very different nature. Among these was the Trade Union movement which had taken a new lease of life since 1825, when it had been relieved from the worst of its legal restrictions.

The new Unionism derived its economics from Hodgskin, and its inspiration from Robert Owen. Owen's chief merit was that he filled the working classes with renewed hope at a time when the pessimism, both of orthodox economists and of their unorthodox opponents, had condemned labour to be an appendage of machinery, a mere commodity whose value, like that of all commodities, was determined by the bare cost of keeping up the necessary supply. Owen laid stress upon the human side of economics. The object of industry was to produce happier and more contented men and women. It had not done so hitherto because of the bad system of distribution and exchange. To cure this, Owen made two proposals. The first was a co-operative system of production and distribution which took form in the co-operative communities set up under his auspices. The other was the restoration of the natural standard of exchange, namely, the labour standard, which had been superseded by the introduction of money. Owen had that incomparable and serene self-confidence which made his Utopian proposals ring like a revelation in the minds of those who listened. They were led to believe that there was an infallible short-cut out of the Slough of Despond to the Celestial City. There was consequently a tremendous outburst of Owenite literature and a rapid growth of Owenite societies between 1825 and 1830. It was during this period that Hodgskin, Gray, and Thompson added their quota to the mass of criticism directed against existing society and its economic theory. Co-operative trading societies, societies for the spread of co-operative (that is, Owenite) education, exchange bazaars based upon labour value, and attempts to set up co-operative or communistic colonies, all flowed from the inspiration of Owen. But the greatest Owenite triumph of these years was the capture of the Trade Union movement in 1832–34.

Since the revival of 1825 Trade Unionism had developed in the direction of action upon a large scale. The constant defeat of local unions produced the belief that successful action was only possible when the whole of the workers in an industry were brought into line. This belief was applied first in Lancashire, which county, by reason of the greater concentration of workers and factories, offered the most favourable theatre for industrial warfare. A great general union or federation, in which all parts of the United Kingdom were represented, was attempted in the cotton industry in 1830. It was followed by a still larger union including other trades and calling itself "National." In 1832 this was followed by the Builders' Union, which in its turn was superseded by the largest scheme of all in 1834—the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. This last was a purely Owenite scheme. It included a vast variety of trades—agricultural workers, both skilled and unskilled, bonnet-makers, tailors, hosiers and framework knitters, gas-workers, builders, textile workers of all sorts, engineers, and cabinet-makers.

Owen's idea was that of a glorified Exchange Bazaar, with which he had been experimenting in London in 1832. The producers in each branch of industry were to be organised into National Companies. Production would be regulated by a central organisation, and exchange would be carried out on the basis, presumably, of labour value, or perhaps exchange would be dispensed with and the distribution of goods be performed by the central body on some equitable plan. To organise such a scheme would have taxed the resources of a modern state to the uttermost, and to control hundreds of thousands of harassed and oppressed workers, brimming with renewed hopes, burning with zeal and fired with indignation against their old enemy, Capital, was a task from which the boldest modern Labour leader would shrink. But the serene optimism of Owen saw only the promised land, the perils of the way being ignored. The members of the Union pressed recklessly on. The first step was to acquire the means of production, and to achieve this a series of strikes on a hitherto unheard-of scale was instituted. Weapons of terrorism were not eschewed. But the assault failed: the organisation was too weak, Government came to the aid of capital, the law was invoked, and the movement smashed.

There were clearly many aspects of the activity of Owen, and each was represented by a different group of disciples. There was first the little group which drank the pure water of Communism—Gray, Thompson, Bray, Pare, Lloyd Jones, and their followers, who took the name of Socialists. This was a select body and came comparatively little into the light of publicity. There were also groups of factory reformers, such as those who formed the Society for Social Regeneration—a typically Owenite designation. This was led by Fielden of Todmorden, and was connected with local societies throughout the North of England. Educationalists in plenty derived inspiration from Owen. They, however, concern us little. There were also the half-converted Trade Unionists whose movement collapsed in 1834. Not the least important of the Owenite converts, however, was the little group of London artisans whose story is related by William Lovett the Chartist, and to whose activities the Chartist Movement owes its origin.

Socially and politically London differed considerably from the manufacturing towns of the North and Midlands in 1830, and this difference was then greater than it is now, when the more general diffusion of wealth and learning has considerably lessened the supremacy of London in these respects. London was then probably the only English city in which there was a considerable body of highly skilled artisans, for there alone was there a large wealthy and leisured class whose wants could find employment for skilled handicraft. The manufacturers of the north, even when wealthy, did not always adopt a style of living commensurate with their earnings, for they often lacked the tastes which accompany hereditary riches. But London was alike the centre of society, fashion, politics, affairs, law, medicine and letters. It was the home, for part of the year at least, of an enormous proportion of the wealthy and leisured class. To meet their needs arose vast numbers of superior craftsmen, employed upon the better-class wares which found their best market in Westminster and the City. The political and commercial life of the metropolis furnished the most important of these artisans, from the political point of view. These were the compositors, employed upon the various newspapers and in the printing and publishing houses. These were necessarily men of fair education, keen intelligence, and of some acquaintance with the affairs of the world.

Apart from their superior rates of pay, these artisans of the capital had various other advantages over the mass of working people elsewhere. They had strong trade societies in which they were able to maintain apprenticeship regulations and high rates of wages, and as experts in trade union methods they were well acquainted with the problems of agitation and organisation.[11] Living as they did in the centre of affairs, these men enjoyed opportunities of education and of intercourse which were far beyond what the "provincial" centres could provide. The districts of London were not then so specialised nor the different social classes so segregated as they have since become, under the influence of improved communications. The central districts, Charing Cross, Soho, Seven Dials, Holborn, Fleet Street and the City, contained a very mixed population in which Francis Place the tailor kept shop a few doors away from the Duke of Northumberland's town house. Seven Dials and Spitalfields, and parts of Holborn contained festering rookeries in which pauperised silk-weavers, labourers, and criminals found a refuge. The excellent little group of men who founded the London Working Men's Association lived in the district between Tottenham Court Road, Gray's Inn Lane, Charing Cross, and Fleet Street. Here during the late 'twenties and the early 'thirties flourished political and social discussion of every description. Dr. Birkbeck had started the London Mechanics' Institution, which still exists as the Birkbeck College, where in 1827 Thomas Hodgskin was appointed lecturer in political economy. Place's shop at Charing Cross was the focus of middle-class radicalism. Richard Carlile's shop in Fleet Street, his sometime shopman James Watson's shop in Bunhill Fields, disseminated radical and anti-Christian literature and kept alive the radical traditions of 1816–1822, associated with the names of Wade, Wooler, Carlile himself, Henry Hunt, and William Benbow. Carlile ran the Rotunda, a building not far from the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge, in which working men radicals met frequently in eager and heated debate. John Gale Jones, a hero of the London Corresponding Society, was a favourite speaker there. Various coffee-houses, such as Lovett's, were equally well known centres of radical intercourse. The debates in the House of Commons, the latest scandal which threw light upon the degenerate character of the aristocracy, the astounding events in France, the latest Owenite idea, Cobbett's speeches, the vices of the Established Church, and the evil consequences of priestcraft, Hodgskin's economics, the reputation of Malthus and Ricardo, all these in their infinite variety were subjects of general discussion in these rendezvous of the London artisans. Ever since the days of Pitt and Fox, Westminster had been the scene of exciting political life. It was one of the largest constituencies, with ten thousand electors, and its franchise was wide. Westminster was, needless to say, therefore a radical constituency, and its radical vote had been organised on a system which anticipated Chamberlain's Birmingham caucus, by Francis Place, amongst whose followers many of the better-class artisans must be reckoned.

Amongst these London artisans the radical tradition had always been strong. The London Corresponding Society had risen from amongst London artisans, and two of its greatest members, Gale Jones and Francis Place, were still active in political affairs down to 1838, by which time the radical tide had mingled with the socialist torrent. The struggles of Carlile, Wade, and Wooler for freedom of press and conscience had preserved the radical idea in those days after 1819, when organised agitation was an offence punishable by transportation. After 1825, however, the younger generation of working men in London began to drift over to the new doctrines of social rights promulgated by Hall, Thompson, Hodgskin, Gray, and above all Robert Owen. Hodgskin lectured at the London Mechanics' Institution on political economy from 1827. Whilst Hodgskin provided the weapons for the attack upon the existing system, it was Owen who provided the ideal of the new.

Owen, however, never commanded the entire allegiance of the mass of London working men, owing to his dislike of political methods, and his condemnation of the radical reformers. They therefore took up his ideas in a form which, though acceptable to themselves, cut them away from the thoroughgoing disciples who believed in the communistic idea. Thus they formed in the spring of 1829, whilst Owen was away in America, the First London Co-operative Trading Association and a sister society, the British Association for Promoting Co-operative Knowledge. The first was an experiment in retail trading, which, it was hoped, would lead to the accumulation of capital in the hands of associations of working men, and ultimately to the capture of all national trade and industry by such associations. This was perhaps the first working-class experiment in Owenism, and illustrates the sanguine optimism which the Owenite teachings produced. The second was a propagandist body and was instrumental in setting up a number of other societies throughout London, which led to the conversion of very many working men to socialistic ideas. Although Owen, on his return, laughed in a benevolent fashion at these puny efforts, he did not hesitate to use the material thus provided to set up his Labour Exchange scheme in 1832. Its failure no doubt confirmed the leaders of the working men in their view that the regeneration of society could not be accomplished without the aid of political power, and that democracy was the necessary preliminary to social justice.

These views were specially represented by the National Union of the Working Classes and Others which grew out of the British Association for the Promotion of Co-operative Knowledge on the latter's decease early in 1831.[12] The hopes of political radicals ran high in these days, and the National Union took a great part in fomenting the general excitement. The members were bitterly opposed to the Reform Bill of 1832, which, was in truth but a very small instalment of democracy, and their conduct and language increased in violence as the prospects of a middle-class victory in the reform campaign became brighter. With the passing of the Bill the combination of political disappointment with anti-capitalist notions caused vague ideas of class war to take clearer shape and become as unquestioned truths in the minds of the working men. These views are already prevalent in the debates of the National Union as reported in the Poor Man's Guardian.

  1. Max Beer, Geschichte des Sozialismus in England (1913); A. Menger, Das Recht auf den vollen Arbeitsertrag (1891), translated as The Right to the whole Produce of Labour, by M. E. Tanner and H. S. Foxwell (1899); F. Podmore, Life of Robert Owen (1906).
  2. For O'Brien's plans for the nationalisation of the land see Niehuus, Englische Bodenreformtheorien, Leipzig (1910), pp. 99-108.
  3. Niehuus, as above, pp. 67-75, analyses Hall's work.
  4. E.g. Marshall, Principles, p. 561.
  5. Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 3rd ed. 1821, ch. i. sect. 1.
  6. Ibid. sect. 2.
  7. William Thompson, On the Distribution of Wealth (edition of 1850), sect. 1; "Wealth is produced by Labour: no other ingredient but Labour makes any object of desire an object of wealth. Labour is the sole universal measure as well as the characteristic distinction of wealth." "Wealth is any object of desire produced by labour." "Labour is the sole parent of wealth."
  8. Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, chap. v.
  9. Beer, p. 162. Colquhoun's book, published in 1814, was a Treatise on the Population, Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire in every Quarter of the World.
  10. Labour's Wrongs and Labour's Remedy, or the Age of Might and the Age of Right, Leeds, 1839.
  11. E.g. Lovett's difficulty with the Cabinetmakers' Union.
  12. There is apparently some confusion in the narrative given by Place and followed by Beer, p. 239 (Wallas, pp. 269, etc.) as to the origin of the National Union of the Working Classes. There are, in fact, two stories, which are probably duplicates. There is an account in Lovett's handwriting in Additional MSS. 27,822, pp. 17 et seq., in which the National Union, etc., is derived from the British Association for Promoting Co-operative Knowledge. On the close anticipation of the Chartist programme by this society see E. Dolléans, Le Chartisme, i. 26-29. Lovett, Watson, Hetherington and Cleave were its leading spirits.