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A New Book on Socialism (S501: 1894)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A review of Frederick W. Hayes's book The Great Revolution of 1905; Or the Story of the Phalanx printed in the July 1894 issue of Land and Labor. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S501.htm

     [[p. 52]] Although Land-nationalisers are not necessarily Socialists, all socialists are land-nationalisers; and even those among us who are opposed to socialism, or are doubtful of its practicability, should nevertheless look upon socialists as fellow workers, who are aiming at the same objects as ourselves--the radical reform of that terrible failure miscalled modern civilisation--and should therefore endeavor to work harmoniously with them. All who keep their eyes open to the movement of opinion among the more educated of the workers, must see that socialism is making enormous progress, and must therefore recognise the possibility--perhaps even the probability--that our special reform may not be carried out by itself, as the essential first step to a more rational organisation of Society, but may be effected pari passu with other reforms, leading on to a complete system of Socialism, which may, indeed, be much nearer to us than we have hitherto thought possible. As an indication of the spread of socialism may be mentioned the fact that Mr. Blatchford's "Merrie England"--one of the most admirable and popular expositions of the principles of socialism, and the most complete reply to all the usual objections--has had a sale of more than 20,000 copies; while the same writer's paper "The Clarion," Mr. Keir Hardie's "Labour Leader," and the publications of the Fabian Society, have all a wide circulation.

     It was Mr. Bellamy's "Looking Backward" that first convinced hundreds of educated persons of the possibility of a complete social organisation, and of the weakness of the usual arguments of Individualists and Conservatives. But that work was more especially adapted to American readers; it dealt almost exclusively with city life; and it did not sufficiently explain the steps by which modern English society could be transformed into the ideal socialistic state. Many readers, and even admirers, came regretfully to the conclusion that it was a beautiful but unrealisable dream.

     In the work we are now noticing Mr. Hayes has endeavored to fill up this gap, and to show the several steps by which a socialistic government might come into power and effect a mighty revolution of society in from ten to twenty years. He has wisely adopted Mr. Bellamy's plan, of writing as if looking back upon accomplished facts. The supposed author (in the year 1930) gives us a brief history of the Great Revolution of 1905 and the [[p. 53]] steps that led up to it; and, considering that all the startling incidents and romantic elements of Mr. Bellamy's charming story are absent, and that we have simply a narrative of social and political changes, Mr. Hayes has done his work remarkably well, and has produced a book which should stand by the side of "Looking Backward" in the library of every social reformer. It is equally realistic in its narrative: while, to the Englishman, it will be even more interesting, since it starts with political events now passing before our eyes, and leads us on, by not improbable steps, to that "Great Revolution" which our politicians no doubt believe to be only faintly looming many centuries in the future.

     The work opens with an "Introduction," of over forty pages, giving an account of Civilisation in Great Britain at the close of the Nineteenth Century. This is a compact and well written sketch of the rise, progress, and culmination of the factory and capitalistic systems, with all their horrible results, as we see them in our great cities and manufacturing districts to-day. It is supported by abundant references to reports and official statistics, is full of useful and startling facts, and is alone sufficient to give the book a permanent value.

     Coming to the work itself, the author describes the formation towards the end of this century, of a society called "The Phalanx League," whose object is to hasten the evolution of the Co-operative Commonwealth. This society, in co-operation with all other societies having similar or analogous objects, devotes itself to educating voters and political associations, to influencing and securing majorities on all local elective bodies, and finally to securing such a number of parliamentary representatives as to render it impossible for either party to carry any measures without their aid. By 1901 their power was so great in the constituencies that they destroyed the previous Liberal majority and the Conservatives came into power with the knowledge that the Socialists held the balance, and that their continuance in office depended upon their support. Accordingly they accepted and passed a Bill for Nationalising the Railways, which the Phalanx had prepared in advance; and the beneficial effects of this to the whole community were so great--while none of the predicted difficulties or failures occurred--that the socialists gained an immense accession of converts and a proportionally increased influence upon the Government. The various political events which still further increased this power are described in much detail and with great realistic force, resulting, in 1904, in the return of 386 Socialists to Parliament, giving them a majority of a clear hundred over all other parties combined.

     Then follows a most interesting account of the formation of a socialist ministry, with a preliminary programme, which had long been before the country, as follows:

     I.--State Agriculture--power to use any land required for cultivation under the State or Local Authorities.
     II.--Taxation and Transfer Duties--with a progressive scale of a penny in the pound on each successive hundred pounds, which took the whole of incomes above 24,000, and reduced those of that amount to about half, so that the maximum individual income would be 12,000.
     III.--Control of Coal and Iron Mines.
     IV.--Protection of National Heirlooms, Monuments and Art-treasures--to prevent their being sold out of the country.
     V.--Abolition of the Lords Veto (if necessary).

     The operations consequent on the passing of these measures are described at some length. The next stage is a vote of the whole of the Trade-Unions, resulting in an overwhelming majority for the Government scheme of complete nationalisation of the means of production.

     The compensation to be given to the owners of property taken over by the state was, in every case, to be left for future determination, a moderate income being in the mean time secured to those to whom it was necessary; and one of the best and most exciting parts of the book is the account of the debate on this point in the following year and its result. The compensation proposed by the Government was very moderate and was denounced by the landlords and capitalists as plunder and confiscation to which they would not submit. When the discussion came on, however, the extreme collectivists, represented mostly by working men who had themselves suffered as factory hands or agricultural laborers, presented a most terrible and eloquent indictment against landlords and capitalists alike, describing the system of plunder, tyranny and cruelty, by which their wealth had been acquired--and in glowing language, depicting the misery, want and starvation, which the speakers themselves and millions of their fellow-workers and their families, had suffered throughout their lives in order that these riches might be accumulated. They declared that justice demanded the return of all this wealth to the nation which had created it, and that those who by means of self-made laws had robbed the nation, had no right to any compensation whatever. The gallery was crowded with peers and millionaires who, probably for the first time in their lives, heard what the suffering people thought of them and of the means by which they had obtained their riches. The result was, that in fear of something worse, they accepted the government proposals, which were accordingly carried by an overwhelming majority, and received the sanction of the House of Lords.

     The question of compensation formed part of the "National Property Bill," which vested the whole land and property of the United Kingdom in the Crown, and thus completed the socialistic edifice. The details of how this was carried out and with what results must be read in the book itself. Everything is very clearly explained, and it will I think go far to show that, given the power through an overwhelming majority in parliament, the establishment of a complete socialistic system would offer no insuperable difficulties. Many of the details, as described by the author, are altogether excellent. The universal utilisation of sewage; the intensive cultivation of all the best land, by which ample food for the whole population would be produced, leaving all the parks and forests, wilds and mountains, and the banks of the clear flowing streams for the enjoyment of the people; free postage and free railway and tram communication everywhere; all unoccupied parks and mansions to be used as sanatoria, museums, and pleasure grounds--are a few of the advantages that accrued to the whole community. All the ugliest and most insanitary part of the towns and cities were cleared away and replaced by parks and gardens; while all new building was under the supervision of a committee of architects and artists, so as to ensure the greatest possible convenience, variety, and picturesqueness. This work, together with the extension and utilisation of the canal system, afforded the means of employing all the unskilled labor of the country, the younger portion of which, by means of technical schools, was rapidly converted into a body of skilled operatives; while the enormous economy in [[p. 54]] production and distribution after a few years organisation, led to the rise of the income of each working family, from the equivalent of about £700 at first, to about £1500 in 1930.

     It is here that the author might well have given fuller details, because, so ingrained is the idea that our modern competitive system is economical, that most readers will consider this estimate absurdly high. They forget, however, that about nine-tenths of those now employed in wasteful competitive distribution would become producers under collectivism; that the cost of a scientific system of distribution would be so small that the consumer would obtain every necessary at from one-half to one-fifth of what they now cost him; and that production of necessaries, comforts and real luxuries, would be further increased and cheapened by the diversion of millions of workers from utterly unprofitable work (wasteful luxuries, ever-changing fashion, tasteless trifles, advertising, speculation, finance, sport and gambling), to useful productive labor. These economics are so vast, that even the estimates of the most sanguine socialists may be under rather than over what might actually be realised.

     The only matter of importance as to which I decidedly differ from the author, is on the question of compulsion. The system of collective organised labor having been accepted by the Trades Unions, he proposes that idlers and men refusing to work shall, after due warning, be imprisoned, and that all private trading shall be declared illegal. This seems to be both injudicious, unnecessary, and contrary to the true principles of socialism. Unless it can be brought into action without physical compulsion it had better not be attempted, since we shall be proved not to be ready for it. If a considerable minority refuse to submit to the socialist regime it will be difficult, if not impossible, to compel them, while it would certainly be unjust and unsocial to do so. If, on the other hand, the recusants are very few, they can be safely ignored; and the operation of the good old law that those who do not work shall not eat, will sooner or later compel them to ask as a favor for the work they had before refused. With this one exception Mr. Hayes' book is an admirable one, and is well calculated to show the successive steps by which the transition from individualism to collectivism may possibly be effected. The actual steps will perhaps be very different; but the suggestion of the formation of a body like the Phalanx, whose members will devote themselves enthusiastically to the education of the voters, and at the same time prepare and publicly discuss a series of measures calculated to facilitate the transition to collectivism, is deserving of the most earnest consideration. An organisation that would secure unity of action among advanced land-reformers and socialists, might not improbably secure, in a very few years, the nationalisation of the railways, which would then constitute an object-lesson showing the advantages of public ownership and management in the interest of the community over private ownership and management in the interest of shareholders--of collectivism as against individualism. The economy of management would admit at once of lower fares and lower rates for goods, and especially of proportionally lower rates for long distances in the interest of the community, and the advantages of this to all traders and to every traveller and tourist would lead to a great change of opinion in favor of land-nationalisers and collectivists.

     I feel therefore that I can confidently recommend this book to the careful study of land nationalisers, and other social reformers. Events are moving rapidly, and it is well to consider carefully the various steps that must be taken when the workers become sufficiently united to make effective use of the power they already possess. On this point, Mr. Hayes' work offers valuable suggestions which, even when we differ from him, serve as much needed stimulants to thought. The time for mere generalisation is passing away, and we are bound to consider carefully the detailed measures by which our principles may be carried into effect. If we are not prepared with such measures when the time for action arrives, hasty and injudicious legislation may indefinitely retard the progress of true civilisation.

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