Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
The successful and most instructive experiment made at Ralahine in 1831-33 is very little appreciated except by a few advanced reformers; but it attracted great attention at the time, and deserves to be better known, because it affords a practical and conclusive answer to many of the objections now made to the possibility of successful co-operation, especially in agriculture. The adviser and organizer of this great experiment, Mr. E. T. Craig, exhibited a marvellous tact and knowledge of human nature, and has shown us how to avoid the rocks and pitfalls which have led to failure in many other cases, and this was especially remarkable in so young a man (then under thirty), and shows him to have been a born organizer and leader of men. Yet his great powers, which might have benefited the nation and the human race, were forbidden their full expansion through the influence of the money interests and religious prejudices of the ruling and landed classes. A brief sketch will now be given of the difficulties he overcame, the results he achieved, and the lessons to be learnt from his experience.
In 1830 the state of Ireland, especially in the south and west, was deplorable. The potato crop had failed and [[p. 456]] 200,000 people were starving. Agrarian outrages, murder, robbery, and intimidation were prevalent. Houses were broken open to obtain arms; midnight meetings were held; and neither the armed police nor the military could cope with the situation. County Clare, where Ralahine is situated, was in the very centre of the disturbed area. Many of the landlords left their houses in charge of the police, and went to Dublin or to England. Rents at this time were enormously high, often £10 or £12 an acre for small plots of land of average quality, so that all the produce, except potatoes enough to keep life in the cultivator's family, went into the landlords' pockets. The crisis had been aggravated by extensive evictions of the peasantry in order to form large grazing farms, the rents of which were more easy to collect and less likely to fail than those of small holdings. The excitement was intense, and hatred and suspicion of landlords and of all agents and stewards was at its height; and it was at this inopportune moment that Mr. Craig first came to Ralahine, on the invitation of its owner, Mr. Vandeleur, to see if he could establish a co-operative farm and thus restore peace to this one estate in a time of general anarchy.
The steward who managed the farm had just been murdered, and the owner's family had gone away for safety; and it was under these adverse circumstances, that a stranger from England, a Saxon who knew not a word of Irish, and a Protestant who, it was thought, would probably interfere with their religion, was brought over by the landlord, presumably in his own interest and to get all that was possible out of themselves, the labourers. The former steward had been a tyrant, a cruel and unfeeling one, and they naturally supposed that the new man from England would be as bad or even worse, and that the talk about their working for themselves was merely a pretence to get more work out of them and to rob them more completely than before. Within the first six weeks after Mr. Craig's arrival at Ralahine there were four murders in the immediate neighbourhood, and he himself received a letter with a sketch of a death's head and cross-bones and a coffin on which was written, "Death to [[p. 457]] the Saxon." He lodged in a poor cottage, which was sometimes in the middle of the night surrounded by a howling mob, which kept him in expectation of violence or death. Once he was warned to return home after dark by a different route from that he was following, and once a stone was thrown at him from behind and struck him on the head. In addition to his other troubles, the proprietor's family and most of the gentry around were entirely opposed to the new system he was preparing to introduce, and their servants made jests upon him to his face, and still further prejudiced the people against him.
Mr. Vandeleur, who had been struck by the example of co-operation he had seen at New Lanark under Robert Owen, had already made some preparations for the scheme by building several cottages, sheds, and a large building suitable for a dining hall, with a lecture or reading room above, as well as a store-room and some dormitories, and Mr. Craig was at first engaged in superintending the completion of these, getting in necessary stores, and making the acquaintance and endeavouring to gain the confidence of such of the mechanics and labourers as could speak English. He also arranged with Mr. Vandeleur the terms on which the farm, buildings, implements and stock should be taken, and drew up the rules and regulations which seemed to him most suitable for the success of the undertaking. The people who had been hitherto working on the farm lived scattered about the country, some of them three or four miles away, so that a long walk was added to their daily labour. But so wedded are the Irish peasantry to their homes that it was difficult to get them to come to live on the farm in the new houses, and still more difficult for them to agree to take their meals together. But when at length the more intelligent among them were satisfied that under the new plan they would have all surplus profits to divide among themselves, they saw that to live together and to have their meals in common would be a great saving, and would enable them to give more work to the farm; and as the benefit of all economies of this kind would not as heretofore go to the landlord but be really all their own, they soon persuaded [[p. 458]] the others to agree, and thus one great initial difficulty was overcome.
The farm of Ralahine contained 618 acres, only 268 of which were cultivated, the rest being pasture, some of it very stony or rough, and 63 acres of bog from which peat for fuel was obtained. There was also live stock and some farm implements, to the estimated value of £1,500, on which six per cent. interest was to be paid, the total of rent and interest being £900, which the landlord himself admitted was too high, but which was nevertheless punctually paid for the three years that the experiment lasted. Mr. Craig showed great judgment in stipulating that this rent should be paid entirely in produce, estimated at the average market prices at Limerick of the last two years, the grain to be delivered at Limerick, the stock at Dublin or Liverpool, a plan which saved all the inconvenience of fluctuations of price, as well as the loss due to forced sales to meet the rent at fixed dates. This arrangement was one of the causes of success, and it is of great importance to all peasant-cultivators and especially in barbarous or thinly populated districts. Yet so prejudiced are our rulers that they continue to insist on money rents in India and hut-taxes paid in money in our African possessions, entirely regardless of the wishes, habits, or convenience of the inhabitants. In Ralahine, unfortunately, this tenancy was a yearly one, and the experiment was thus dependent on the will or the life of the landlord. Had it been a secure permanent tenure, the whole subsequent history of Ireland might have been changed, while legislation would certainly have been beneficially influenced by it.
Mr. Craig also drew up a constitution and rules of the association under forty-four separate heads, dealing with the purpose of the society, the modes and hours of work and nominal rates of wages, the arrangements for food, [[p. 459]] clothing, &c., rules for education and conduct, methods of government, accounts, &c. A few of the more important of these may be given. Any member wishing to leave the society could do so at a week's notice. The landlord had power, during the first year, to discharge any member for misconduct. If more labour-power were required new members could be introduced on being proposed and seconded. They first came for a week on trial (afterwards changed to a month), and were then balloted for and chosen by a majority of votes. The landlord chose the secretary, treasurer, and store-keeper. All were to work, and to assist in agriculture when specially wanted. All youths, male and female, were to learn some useful trade, as well as farming and gardening. All work usually done by domestic servants was to be performed by the boys and girls under seventeen years of age. Meals could be taken in the public rooms or not as desired, but those cooking in their own houses must pay for fuel. No spirituous liquor of any kind was to be kept at the stores or be brought to the premises. Holidays were to be arranged so that each of the members could pay occasional visits to their friends.
The whole business of the society was managed by a committee of nine members, chosen half-yearly by ballot by all adult members male and female. This committee met every evening to decide upon the work of the following day and any other matters of importance; and here Mr. Craig introduced an ingenious arrangement to prevent friction between the committee and the rest of the members, which was strictly carried out and was found to work admirably. In all such societies every person must know what work he or she has to do the next day. Now, if the members of the committee who have decided this have to tell each one individually, all kinds of difficulties are sure to arise. Many persons cannot give instructions simply and clearly, but are so verbose and explanatory that their meaning may be easily mistaken, from which endless disputes would result. Others speak too abruptly, and when asked to explain refuse or make disparaging remarks, hence more quarrels. In fact the [[p. 460]] giving and receiving orders among persons who look upon each other, and who really are, equals, is one of the most fertile sources of discord. To avoid this the names of all the members were arranged alphabetically and consecutively numbered, so that every one knew his or her number, and every horse and implement had also a number. A series of slates were hung up in the dining room at the end of each committee meeting, with the numbers and names of all the members in their proper order and an exact statement of the work they were to do the next day. Every one looked at these slates either before going to bed or early in the morning, and went straight to their work without any need of instructions and without any possibility of mistake. The members of the committee were divided into sub-committees dealing with special departments, and any alterations needed during the day on account of changes in the weather or other causes were settled by one of them. If any of the arrangements or allotments of work were thought to be injudicious by any of the members, they could state their objections in a "suggestion book" which was always open for the purpose. The remarks in this book were read by Mr. Craig as secretary, at the evening meetings of the committee, and the decision upon each point was noted therein by him.
Even more important, for the harmonious working of the society, was the weekly meeting of the whole body, at which the various suggestions during the week, with the decisions of the committee upon them, were read and subjected to remarks and criticism. It was thus seen that attention was given to all these remarks, and that many of them had been acted upon; and Mr. Craig, tells us that--"sometimes very judicious suggestions would be made by men who, all their lives previously, had been treated as utterly unworthy of a moment's consideration." A healthy public opinion was thus formed, and every one gave his best thought as to how the affairs of the society could be improved, and the work carried on in the most economical and effective manner.
But although these admirable rules and methods were suggested by Mr. Craig it must not be thought that any of them were forced upon the people. At the very commencement each of them was put to the vote by ballot of the adult members, and were only adopted by them, after the purport and use of them had been explained by Mr. Craig and fully considered among themselves. Even the rule against drink and tobacco was accepted and strictly obeyed during the whole existence of the society, apparently because they believed that drinking would interfere with the general harmony, but no doubt chiefly because they knew that it would lead to neglect and bad work, and as all returns after paying the fixed rent were to be their own property, they all wanted to work as much and as effectively as possible.
Mr. Craig remarks on the change produced in the workers by this system of associated work and common benefit as compared with the old system, almost universal on large estates in Ireland, of badly paid uninterested labourers under the absolute rule of a tyrannical steward, who despised them and treated them as inferiors. The orders they received were often accompanied by oaths or personal insults, and they did as little work as they could without being discharged. They were then almost universally dissatisfied, and had the character of being lazy, untrustworthy and vicious. As the steward could not possibly be in all parts of the estate at once, and had often to be away a considerable part of the day, the loss to all parties must have been very great.
Many persons now came to see Ralahine, not being able to credit the accounts they heard of it. One of these, a large Irish farmer, found a single man repairing the masonry of a tunnel under a road, which had partly given way, and to do it he was standing up to his middle in water. The visitor was surprised, and the following conversation took place:--
Visitor.--"Are you working by yourself?"
[[p. 462]] Visitor.--"Where is your steward?"
Man.--"We have no steward."
Visitor.--"Then who sent you to do this work?"
Visitor.--"What Committee? Who are the Committee?"
Man.--"Some of the members, Sir."
Visitor.--"What members do you mean?"
Man.--"The members of the new system--the ploughmen and labourers."
This gentleman afterwards expressed his astonishment at finding a solitary workman so industrious and doing the work so well. Another visitor, Mr. John Finch of Liverpool, who remained three days at Ralahine and published the results of his inquiry in fourteen letters to a Liverpool newspaper, makes the following statement:
"A sensible labourer with whom I conversed, when at Ralahine, in contrasting their present with their former condition under a steward, said to me,--'We formerly had no interest, either in doing a great deal of work, doing it well, or in suggesting improvements, as all the advantages and all the praise were given to a tyrannical taskmaster, for his attention and watchfulness. We were looked upon as merely machines, and his business was to keep us in motion; for this reason it took the time of three or four of us to watch him, and when he was fairly out of sight, you may depend upon it we did not hurt ourselves by too much labour; but now that our interest and our duty are made to be the same we have no need of a steward at all.'"
The first members of the society were forty men and women who had before worked on the estate, and twelve children, but as there had been much difference of opinion and some quarrels among them, and as it was desired to start with a set of people who would work harmoniously together, it was decided that each one should be balloted for by the rest, and Mr. Craig insisted that he too, should be balloted for. Before the ballot, in each case, a personal criticism took place, and as a result none were rejected, nor were any expelled afterwards for idleness or bad conduct; and this was really a striking example either of the inherent goodness of the Irish peasant under reasonably fair conditions, or of the wonderful effect of associated [[p. 463]] labour for the common good in improving the character and conduct. For it must be remembered that these people were not selected at all, but were the very same who had before worked on the estate, many of them having been among what were considered the worst characters, while some of them were almost certainly the associates and abettors of the murderer of the former steward. Mr. Craig assures us that their characters seemed to be wholly changed; for whereas under the despotic rule of the steward they had been sullen, quarrelsome, and dissatisfied, when working under the men they had elected to manage the farm in which all had an equal interest, they became cheerful and contented.
Mr. Craig was a thorough educationist of the most advanced type. He was one of the first, if not the very first, to introduce the kinder-garten system, not only in the training of infants but throughout all education. He therefore at once established a school at Ralahine, in which this system was carried out under a trained teacher and his personal supervision. His own observation, after long experience, assures him, he tells us, that children can only attend with pleasure and profit to a purely intellectual lesson for a very limited period, which he puts at fifteen minutes for children of six to seven, increasing to thirty minutes for those of fifteen to sixteen. He therefore advocates a constant succession of subjects at each such interval, alternating with some mechanical, and, if possible, outdoor work, or with the experimental illustration of natural laws and phenomena. He was also a specialist in the general laws of health, and particularly as regards the need of pure air; and the result of his arrangements was visible when an epidemic of cholera and fever was raging all around the colony, attaining the proportions of a plague in many of the towns. Ralahine had not a single case, nor was there any illness during the three years in a population of eighty and upwards.
A striking illustration of the value of the prohibition [[p. 464]] of spirituous liquors occurred during a time when Mr. Craig was on a visit to Manchester. Three of the members attended a "wake," where there was, as usual, abundance of whisky, resulting in the not unusual faction-fight, during which stones were thrown and a man was killed. The Ralahine blacksmith was accused of throwing the stone which killed the man, was tried and sentenced to seven years' transportation, and as the two others were mixed up in the same affair they were dismissed from the society. Yet there was plenty of enjoyment without drink, for once or twice every week there was dancing in the evening, which both men and women seemed to enjoy, notwithstanding their ten or twelve hours work in the fields. On other evenings Mr. Craig gave simple lectures on natural phenomena or the laws of health, illustrated by such experiments as were adapted to the intelligence of his audience.
All the people, at Ralahine, with the exception of Mr. and Mrs. Craig had been accustomed to live almost entirely on potatoes, and often not enough of these. They did not therefore expect or want meat; but they had a variety of vegetables and as much new milk as they wished at every meal, with sometimes a little pork and bread and butter as a luxury. Mr. Craig considered that abundance of new milk with vegetables, constituted a perfectly healthy and sufficient diet, on which the hardest work could be and was done. There was also a large orchard, which yielded so abundantly that although every one of the eighty members had as much fruit as they wished, in one year two cartloads rotted for want of consumers. It was no doubt owing to this wholesome food, abundance of fresh air, and cleanliness in all the houses and surroundings, together with the contented cheerfulness resulting from their improved condition and prospects, that the perfect healthiness of the Ralahine community is to be attributed.
An interesting result of the experiment was the change it produced in the peasant's attitude towards machinery. Hitherto it had been impossible to use agricultural machinery in Ireland, because as it clearly reduced the [[p. 465]] demand for labour and thus tended to lower wages, it benefited only the landlord or farmer, while it injured the labourers. But so soon as these labourers were working for themselves and any surplus profits were their own, labour-saving machinery became a blessing instead of a curse. The Ralahine people, therefore, invested their first savings in a reaping machine, which, in the third year of their work, enabled them to harvest economically a splendid crop of wheat which they had grown on some poor rocky pasture by trenching it eighteen inches deep and getting out all the rock with crowbars.
This third harvest reaped by the society was an abundant one, and they celebrated it by a harvest-home which the landlord attended and in a congratulatory speech summarized the work and success of the Association. He expressed the great satisfaction he felt at the progress the Society had made during the short time it had been in existence; at the harmony which prevailed in the social arrangements of the members; their evident comfort, prosperity, and contentment; contrasting the present happy state of Ralahine and the quiet condition of the county with what it was when his family were compelled, from the dread of outrages and murders, to leave their home in the care of an armed police force. He congratulated them on the operation of the new system, which had accomplished a success greater than he had expected; and he hoped that other landlords would appreciate the advantages of giving those they employed a share in the profits realized by mutual co-operation, as might be seen in the evidence given by the large crops raised on hitherto waste land, made richly productive by deep cultivation, producing a heavy crop of potatoes the first year, followed by the splendid crop of wheat the last load of which they were now carrying home.
It seems almost incredible that this unexampled success, material, social, and moral, did not lead to any general adoption of a similar plan, which was so well calculated to banish famine from the country and to bring about that peace, contentment, and general happiness which from that day to this has been constantly absent [[p. 466]] from this fertile and beautiful but sadly misgoverned island. The landlords seem to have had no real wish to benefit the workers, even though at the same time they would benefit themselves. Many no doubt were influenced by their stewards and agents, who, if the new system prevailed, would lose their often profitable employment, and, more important still, their power and influence. Others would not trust the peasantry with so much independence, and others again would insist upon using the schools on their estates as a means of influencing the children against the religion of their parents. One landlord appears to have tried the experiment on a small farm of a hundred acres, and though this was fairly successful he did not carry it any further. In another case the law itself intervened adversely. Mr. William Thompson, a disciple of Bentham, had large estates in county Cork, and having visited Ralahine he determined to adopt a system so beneficial to all parties. He died unfortunately soon afterwards, but left his property to trustees to have his wishes carried into effect. The will, however, was disputed by his relatives, the nature of the bequest being held to be a proof of insanity! The suit was carried from the Irish Probate Court to the Court of Chancery, and finally settled in favour of the claimants, thus stopping for ever an extension of the principles and methods that had been so successful at Ralahine!
We now approach the sad ending of a social experiment which had been altogether successful and altogether beneficial, things that do not always go together. Not only had the admittedly too high rent been punctually paid for three years, but the estate itself had been greatly improved, by the bringing into cultivation of twenty acres of almost worthless land; by the erection of six additional cottages; by the purchase of a reaping machine and other tools, and by some increase in the stock. The men, women and children employed on the farm had increased [[p. 467]] in number from 52 to 81. All these entered upon it half-starved and in rags. At the end of the third year they were all strong and well fed, and had at least two suits of clothes each, and many of them had saved money in the form of labour-notes represented by the net increase in stock and crops above what was required for payment of the exorbitant rent. There had been no deaths, no illness, no quarrels, and no secessions from the little community. All were contented and happy, and were looking forward with confidence to a still greater prosperity in the coming year, and the certainty in a few years more of being able to pay off the value of the stock and implements and thus become the owners of everything but the land.
There was abundance of water-power on the property, and it was contemplated some day to utilize it for the purpose of establishing home-manufactures, which would give profitable employment to many of the members during bad weather, or at seasons of less pressure in agricultural work, and thus add still further to the productiveness and self-supporting character of the Association.
If the rent had been a fair one, that is at least £200 a year less than was actually paid, there is no reasonable doubt that there would have been a continuous increase of prosperity, and that ultimately double the number of persons could have been easily supported on the land. Never perhaps in the history of our country was there a more important social experiment tried, or one that was so completely successful and so thoroughly beneficial.
But suddenly a terrible misfortune fell upon them and shattered their prosperity and their hopes. The landlord and president of the Association, not long after the harvest-home suddenly disappeared. During the time that Mr. Craig and the other members of the Association had been working hard to ensure their own and his prosperity, he had spent much of his time from home, had been gambling in Dublin, and had got into such difficulties that he felt them to be overwhelming. He therefore escaped to America without a word of explanation to his family. A banker to whom he owed money [[p. 468]] obtained a decree of bankruptcy against the estate, and all the stock and movable property were appropriated and sold by auction. The Association was held to have no legal claim, the agreement was declared to be invalid, and the members were treated as mere labourers having no rights whatever beyond their weekly wages. Property which they had themselves bought, as well as the surplus stock and crops against which several of the members held labour-notes to the amount of £50, were all confiscated; and this oasis in the desert of Irish misery, this little "heaven upon earth" as the people around were accustomed to call it, became a thing of the past. Mr. Craig, however, determined that none but himself should lose their savings, and by selling his own personal effects and borrowing the balance from friends, succeeded in redeeming all the outstanding notes, and, so far as he was concerned, leaving no stain on the honour of Ralahine and the New System, which he had so judiciously inaugurated and so successfully supervised during the three years of its existence.
Having thus given a brief history of this notable experiment, from the various fragmentary indications in Mr. Craig's interesting but very excursive and rather confusing little volume; supplemented by the more connected account by Mr. W. Pare, I wish to call special attention to some of the lessons to be learnt from it, which are of very great importance at this time, when writers of authority assert positively, that any general system of co-operative industry must fail on account of certain deficiencies in the character of workers as a class.2
1. It is said, again and again, that the majority of men will not work without either the dread of starvation or [[p. 469]] the incitement of individual gain. The common good, the well-being of the community of which they form a part, and on the economical success of which their own well-being depends, it is said, is not sufficient. There will be numbers of men and women who are constitutionally lazy, and there will always be more or less of loafers, who will thus live upon the labour of their fellows.
The answer to this general proposition is, that such persons, who are perhaps not really numerous, do as little work as they can now, while great numbers do none at all but live by the plunder of society in various ways, some criminal, some quite respectable; whereas, in a co-operative or socialistic community of any kind, all these people would do some work, or they would be expelled from the community or treated in some way that would be far more disagreeable to them than working. It is further urged that the influences impelling them to work would be far stronger than now. At present the working classes of all grades, from the common labourer up to the engineer, architect, parson, or doctor, do not in any way look down upon the person who does no work whatever, and only lives to enjoy his life as best he can on inherited property. They do not for the most part see that such a person lives upon their labour just as much as the most thorough loafer among themselves, and with just as little real right or justice.3 But in a co-operative state of society the very reverse would be the case. The lazy man who shirked his work in any degree, who did not do that fair share of work which he had both strength and ability to do, would be despised as a mean and dishonest individual, and if he persisted in his idleness would be so treated that he would feel like a detected cheat, liar, or thief, in a society of gentlemen; and, it is alleged, that under this moral compulsion every man would do a fair share of work.
But both these arguments are purely academic, and they may continue to be urged by each side, to their own satisfaction but without convincing the other, till doomsday. An experimental test, on however small a scale, is [[p. 470]] therefore of value, and at Ralahine we had such a test. Mr. Craig was a very close observer, but he gives no hint that any of the members shirked their work, while he declares that all were industrious, and that without any supervision men would work hard and well for the benefit of the community and of themselves. There was no doubt some considerable inequality in the work done by individuals, because men's capacity for work differs; but there is no indication whatever that systematic idleness formed a difficulty at Ralahine. Yet under the old system of work under a steward for daily wages only, the Irish peasants were always alleged to be incorrigibly idle; and the same thing is said of the cotters who worked their own land, when every increase of productiveness and every appearance of improvement in the house, or the food or clothing of the family, was the sure precursor of an increase of rent. Mr. Finch, however, who made a personal study of Ralahine, and who gave evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons in 1834, deals especially with this subject in his letters to the Liverpool Chronicle in 1838; he says, as quoted in Mr. Pare's book (p. 61):--
"There were at first two or three fellows inclined to be idle, and they were cured in the way wild elephants are teamed. The committee who fixed the labour knew their characters, and appointed one of these idlers to work between two others who were industrious--at digging, for instance; he was obliged to keep up with them, or he became the subject of Laughter and ridicule to the whole society. This is what no man could stand. By these means they were soon cured: and when I was there, there was not an idle man, woman, or child in the whole society. Indeed, public opinion was found sufficient for the cure of every vice and folly."
And Mr. Craig tells us the result in the following passage:--
"At harvest-time the whole Society used voluntarily to work longer than the time specified, and I have seen the whole body occasionally, at these seasons, act with such energy, and accomplish such great results by their united exertions, that each and all seemed as if fired by a wild enthusiastic determination to achieve some glorious enterprise--and that too without any additional stimulus in the shape of extra pecuniary reward."
[[p. 471]] Here we have an indication of what will happen when labour is organized as we now organize our armies, and when all the ardour and enthusiasm now devoted to the destruction of life and property is excited in the interest of labour exerted for the preservation, well-being, and happiness of all.
2. It is said that working men will not submit to the orders of their equals even when chosen by themselves to be foremen of the work, and that quarrels will result, and the community be soon broken up. That this has sometimes happened is no doubt true, but that it will always happen or need happen is disproved by the example now before us. The Irish are perhaps rather more quarrelsome and more quick to take offence than many other races; yet with a few common-sense rules as to the management and the overpowering influence of self-interest, we find them at Ralahine living and working together for three years in the most perfect harmony. Of course there was the power of expulsion of any individual who could not or would not live at peace with the rest; but that power can be exerted by any community, and the dread of expulsion will probably be a sufficient deterrent in most other places, as it was at Ralahine.
3. One of the most serious allegations (if it were true) against socialism or any complete system of co-operative society is, that there would be no incentive to invention or improvement, and that civilization, instead of advancing, would either stand still or retrograde and ultimately fall back to barbarism. But all history shows that this supposed objection is utterly unfounded, and that the joy of the inventor, like that of the artist, arises first from the exercise of his special talent, next from the interest and admiration it excites in his fellows, and last of all and least of all, from any hope of exceptional money reward. The lives of such men as Kepler, Galileo, Palissy, Watt, Herschel, Faraday, and a hundred others, show the truth of this; and at Ralahine it was found that the most ignorant of the labourers were sometimes able to make suggestions of value to the community. Quite recently, Mr. Preece, in a lecture before the Liverpool Engineering [[p. 472]] Society, stated, that since the telegraphs had been worked by the Post Office four times as much work was done by the same length of wire as could be done at first, and that this was mainly due to improvements made by officers of the postal service. These improvements, he said, had never been patented, and the inventors of them received no money reward. The objection that invention would cease, may therefore be dismissed as purely imaginary, and quite unsupported by an appeal to facts.
4. An objection made much of by Mr. Mallock and others is, that the power of organization, or business capacity in its higher forms, is the almost exclusive possession of the capitalist class, and will only be exercised under the stimulus of a very high salary or great prospective gain. The associated workers must therefore necessarily fail for want of this capacity. It may be admitted that great organizing power is rare, and that, under our present social arrangements and struggle for wealth it commands a high price, and often brings wealth to its possessor. But the assumption that it exists in one class only, and the supposition that, under a different state of society, it will not be utilized because it is not so highly paid, is unproved as fact and unsound as reasoning. The exercise of this faculty is the exercise of power; and this is always enjoyed for its own sake, or for the sake of the benefits it confers on humanity, and is still further enjoyed on account of the admiration and esteem of his fellow men which it usually brings to its possessor. The idea that the man who has this great faculty, and is asked by his fellow citizens to use it for the common good, will refuse because he will not be exceptionally paid, is about as absurd, and as contrary to all experience, as to maintain that the great leader of armies or fleets will not lead till he is assured of higher pay than all other leaders. Two of the greatest organizers of modern times, Count von Moltke and General Booth, were certainly not incited to exertion by the hope of a money reward.
And the experience at Ralahine shows that a sufficient business capacity does exist among very humble men so soon as they have an opportunity of exercising it. It [[p. 473]] would certainly be deemed by most persons to require considerable business talent, in addition to agricultural knowledge, to manage successfully a farm of over six hundred acres, employing eighty people and subject to an exorbitant rent, so as to be in a much better position at the end of three years than at the beginning. And yet this was done wholly by a committee of common Irish ploughmen and labourers. It may be said that they had an organizer in Mr. Craig, and no doubt much of the social success was due to him; but he was not a farmer, and though he no doubt was largely responsible for the good health and general harmony of the little community, the farm, as a business concern, was wholly managed by the farm labourers themselves. Here again the imaginary objections of the critics are fully answered by facts.
5. Perhaps one of the commonest, and at the same time wildest and least grounded of these allegations is, that any kind of socialism is slavery--is a despotism so rigid and so cruel that people will not long submit to it; and that the system will necessarily break down and men will gladly return again to the old, wise, perfect and wholly-beneficial-to-everybody system of competition, starvation, and slums!
There is not a particle of evidence adduced for these statements, and experience is wholly against them. Whenever there have been associations for the common good, of people in a similar grade of education and of social advancement, they have usually succeeded. The Shakers and some other communistic societies have succeeded marvellously. Owen's mills at New Lanark were a perfect success as long as he was allowed to carry on the experiment; and the case of Ralahine is particularly striking. There we had the direct comparison of co-operation against individualism under exactly the same external conditions and surroundings, and we have the opinion expressed both by the members who experienced its benefits, and the surrounding population which looked on with a wondering surprise. And what was their unanimous judgment? Did they say that the New [[p. 474]] System was slavery, and that though it fed and clothed its members they would have none of it? Not one of the Irish workers left it voluntarily. Numbers applied for admittance for whom there was no room; and the only words they could find strong enough to express their approval were, that Ralahine had become "a little heaven upon earth" under the new system, while under the old one "it was a hell!" Now the Ralahine experiment was pure socialism. It was voluntary co-operation for the good of all. All benefited equally; all worked to the best of their ability; all fared alike. They lived together, worked together, and played together; and even those who would have been idlers and loafers if they could, did not go away, did not declare they could not stand the slavery, but remained, and worked on happily with the rest. The purely academic objection, the critic's idea of what he thinks would happen, is directly contradicted by the appeal to facts.
6. We come now to the last refuge of the individualist, an objection urged even by many who can find nothing but praise for the ideals of socialism. It is, that we are not good enough for such an ideal system; that we must alter human nature before a co-operative commonwealth (which is the brief definition of socialism) is possible. Here again we have bold assertion without any attempt, or the shadow of an attempt, at proof. All moralists, students of human nature, and social workers know well that a very large proportion of crime is not due to any exceptional badness of the criminals, but either to exceptional temptation or the character of the surroundings in childhood and youth. They know, and we all know, that the men and women who pass through life unstained by conspicuous vice or actual crime owe their immunity in a large number, perhaps in a majority of cases, to their happy surroundings and freedom from temptation, and not to any superiority of character to many of those who, after a first offence, are irresistibly driven by our vile systems of punishment and our still viler social environment to a life of crime. Look at the cases of what is termed kleptomania now and then occurring among men [[p. 475]] and women almost wholly removed from the temptation to theft. For each one of these cases that comes before the public there must be scores and hundreds of persons in whom the impulse exists in a less pronounced degree, but who gratify it in various harmless ways--becoming collectors, picking up bargains, &c., or by exerting all their energy in the practice of those various devices, concealments, or adulterations, which in manufacture or trade soon lead to honourable fortune. Had all the people with these dispositions been born and brought up in the slums, they would certainly have gone to swell the ranks of thieves or burglars, their "human nature" being exactly the same as that which, under more favourable conditions, caused them to remain respected members of society. Again, look at the most suggestive history of the Pitcairn Islanders, the descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty, men brutalized by subjection to the cruelty of superiors perhaps no better than themselves, but given absolute power over them. After years of riot and fighting which made a very pandemonium of this tropic isle, all were killed but one, John Adams, whose influence then brought peace and contentment among the population of half-breeds, the descendants of the original mutineers, and for many years they remained a model community. We cannot suppose there was any great change of character, always for the better, in the descendants of these rough men and savage women, but the better conditions brought about by the influence of the one survivor, appeared to effect a radical change in their nature.
And this view is strikingly supported by the case of Ralahine. The people there were considered to be among the worst of the Irish peasantry. They mostly belonged to the White Boys, Moonlighters, and other organizations for intimidating landlords and agents and carrying on the agrarian war then at its height. They were universally declared by their employers to be idle, wasteful, quarrelsome and vindictive. They had just connived at, perhaps helped in, the murder of the agent of the estate, and were universally considered to be about as bad a lot as could be found. They were, moreover, among the lowest and most [[p. 476]] ignorant class of Irish labourers. Apparently no more unpromising material could be found in the three kingdoms. Yet in a few months their whole natures appeared to be entirely changed. Their idleness became untiring industry; their wastefulness a most careful economy; their quarrelsomeness a cheerful good-temper and joyousness which lasted for three years! Here was a marvellous change of conduct under conditions of simple justice, sympathy, and self-interest; but there could have been no change whatever in the nature of these poor people. It was simply the result of a change from bad conditions to good conditions, from injustice, tyranny, contemptuous abuse and oppression by their immediate superiors and employers, to one of fairness, freedom, civility and mutual self-interest. And yet our would-be teachers, who claim to be of the "superior" classes, can find no remedy for the countless and terrible evils of our existing social system, but a vague appeal for a higher "human nature" in some distant future! May we not properly say to such people--"Physician! cure thyself." It may be true that some human natures need elevating; but it is quite as likely to be the nature of those who believe that the piling up of wealth for themselves and others of their class is the great object of life, as of those simple Irish ploughmen and labourers who only asked to be allowed to work hard under moderately fair conditions, and so long as they were permitted to do so lived joyous, contented, and blameless lives.
We are again and again told, that attempts at realizing socialism have all failed, and that they have failed in consequence of deficiencies in the character of the workers. History, however, tells a different story. The three experiments which in various degrees best illustrate the advantages of socialistic co-operation are those of Robert Owen at New Lanark, E. T. Craig at Ralahine, and more recently, of the Willimantic Thread Company of Connecticut under the management of Colonel Barrows.4 All of these succeeded perfectly, so far as the conduct, contentment and [[p. 477]] improvement of the workers were concerned. They were all alike broken up by the misconduct or greed of the capitalistic owners--the self-styled "superior classes." But we do not therefore jump to the conclusion that these classes are worse than the workers, and that it is their "human nature" that wants altering. On the contrary we believe, as does Herbert Spencer, that on the average, both classes are equal in moral worth as well as in intellectual power, and that, when the wealthy and educated classes are once freed from the debasing influence of cut-throat competition and the worship of wealth, they will be amenable to the influences of a more elevating environment, and will be quite as well able to make the co-operative commonwealth a success, as were the humble Irish labourers and the enthusiastic young Englishman at Ralahine.
2. Mr. Craig's book is called The Irish Land and Labour Question, illustrated in the History of Ralahine and Co-operative Farming, Trübner and Co. 1882. Another work, Co-operative Agriculture in Ireland, by William Pare, F.S.S., Longmans, 1870, gives a more connected account from personal observation of the same experiment, and of some others. [[on p. 468]]