Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
How Should It Begin? (S622: 1905)
Now, I quite agree with the writer that these questions should be answered, and that, if well done, it would greatly advance the cause of Socialism. He will, therefore, I am sure, be much surprised to hear that it has been thoroughly well done, in the clearest and most direct manner, in a book published eight years ago, and which ought to form part of every Socialist's library--Edward Bellamy's "Equality." It is to be found in Chapter XXXVII of that volume--"The Transition Period"--and especially from page 352 to the end of the chapter; but as no doubt the majority of the readers of the Clarion do not possess this book, and have no means of seeing it, I propose to give a sketch here of the method indicated, which is, in my opinion, by far the best and simplest method yet suggested, and only needs to be thoroughly understood by all Socialists who really study their subject, in order that it may be adopted when the good time comes, and we have a Socialist majority in the House of Commons and a Socialist Government in power.
A few preliminaries must first be entered into. It is obvious, for instance, that such a Socialist Government will not follow immediately after such a Government as we have now, or even the most advanced Liberal Government we have ever had. There will inevitably be a series of Parliaments in which Radical and Labour members will be present in ever-increasing numbers, with ever-increasing power over legislation, till at length they will be in a majority, and will form a Radical Government. In such a Parliament Socialists will have great power and influence, till they, in their turn, obtain the actual majority, and the time will have come when they will have the power to carry their principles into action.
Now, during this period of continuous progress many things will be done, many principles will be established, which will greatly facilitate the work of the future Socialist Government. First, all the local public services--water and gas supply, all forms of electrical supply, the liquor traffic, milk supply, etc.--will be municipalised, and such general services as railroads and canals, and the working of coal and other minerals, will have been nationalised. And if the land itself has not been actually taken over by the State to be administered by the municipalities, we shall certainly have adopted the principle of one valuation as a basis for taxation or purchase whenever the State or any local authority requires land for any purposes of public utility.
All these important measures will be greatly facilitated by the preliminary adoption of a great ethical principle--a principle which is, in my opinion, the most indisputable, the most far-reaching, and the most beneficial that has ever been proposed as the basis of economic legislation and social reform. This principle is founded on the axiom that the unborn have no exclusive rights to property, and its full development in the proposition that all inequality of inheritance is unjust. Observation and reason alike prove that all inheritance which enables a man to live idly without giving any adequate service in return for his wealth is an injury to him who receives it, that it renders him the centre of a vast circle of evil influence through his numerous parasites and dependents, and that to permit it is one of the greatest of crimes against society. So soon as this great principle is accepted as a rule of conduct--and I have as yet met with no independent thinker who rejects it--all inheritance will be strictly limited to the direct living heirs, at the period of legislation, of all who possess property. Hence, as numbers die every year without such direct heirs, as years pass away more and more such persons will die, and there will pour into the public treasury an ever-increasing stream of wealth, including land, houses, manufactories, etc., so as to gradually replace all forms of taxation, and also provide ample funds for carrying on the various public services above alluded to, and especially such as are required to absorb the whole of the unemployed in productive labour.
As the application of this great principle will not take one penny from any living individual, while by automatically replacing all other forms of taxation it will benefit all alike, not only by adding to their incomes, but by cheapening all articles which now pay duties, and by removing the periodical annoyance of the demands of the tax and rate collector, it must surely enlist the support of the whole body of those who in any way earn what they live upon; while even the various classes of property-owners will hardly oppose it with the same energy that they certainly would oppose any demand upon their own pockets. It is, therefore, pre-eminently a case of working on the line of least resistance. If it is asked, What will become of the children of property-owners born after the passing of such an Act? the reply is that they must be educated by their parents so as to be able to earn their own living, instead of becoming parasites upon society; while, in the case of those children whose parents die during their childhood, they will become wards of the State, will receive the very best training and nurture possible, with adequate provision to enable them to become useful members of the community--will, in fact, be far better off than the younger sons and daughters of many considerable land owners are now.
What the application of this great principle would really do would be to establish absolute "equality of opportunity," the inherent justice of which has been admitted by such opponents of Socialism as Herbert Spencer and Mr. Benjamin Kidd. It would not necessarily lead to Socialism, but rather to a perfect individualism under equal and fair conditions, and this would almost certainly, as I have urged elsewhere, bring about universal co-operation, which might or might not lead on to Socialism.
What I particularly wish to point out here is that the principle of non-inheritance would so quickly bring in an enormous revenue as to render it possible for the State to take over so vast a business as the railroads, and to reorganise them in the public interest; and also, whenever it was advisable, do the same with all the educational institutions of the country. In all such cases as the railroads, the minerals, etc., there would be no question of purchase--no need to raise a single pound of capital. The State would simply take over their management in the interest of the public, paying to the owners or the shareholders the same dividends or profits as they had received on an average of the last ten or fifteen years, to be continued to their living heirs. Just in the same way the vast National Debt would be automatically extinguished by the dying out of existing fundholders and their direct heirs, thus again furnishing ample funds for carrying on any undertakings which the general interest rendered necessary.
Having thus endeavoured to forecast what should be, and might probably be, the position of a Socialist Government when for the first time it came into power, I will proceed to point out how such a Government might begin its work so as to fulfil the conditions stated in the first paragraph of this article, and in doing so I shall follow the general lines of Mr. Bellamy's forecast.
As a result of the various undertakings already under Government control, there would now be a considerable army of civil servants, which with their families would probably amount to four or five million individuals, and the very first step of a Socialist Government would be to give to these the benefits of organised productive labour. For this purpose public service stores would be established for the supply of all the necessaries and comforts of life, of the best quality, and at cost price. At first these goods would be purchased wholesale; but this would be quickly followed by the establishment of Government or municipal farms and factories, in which all the more important necessaries would be produced. As the quantities annually required would soon be ascertained, there would be no loss from surplus stocks; the whole enormous expense of advertising would be saved; the cost of distribution would be greatly reduced; while the large profits now absorbed by the manufacturer, the middleman, and the retailer would all go to reduce prices to such an extent that the bulk of goods consumed would cost from 20 to 50 per cent. less than under the competitive and largely monopolistic system of production.
When these centres of production and distribution were in full working order, another useful class of services would be established in the form of cooking, laundry, and housework agencies, by means of which all the heavier and more troublesome kinds of household labour would be saved, and food of all kinds prepared in the best and most wholesome manner at far less cost than the majority of individuals had before paid for greatly inferior food and service. The meals would be supplied either at numerous central restaurants or at the home, as desired, in the latter case at fractionally higher rates.
It must be kept in mind that the various preliminary reforms I have alluded to as certain to precede the establishment of a Socialist Government would already have greatly raised the rate of wages of all kinds of labour through the acquisition of land by local authorities and the absorption of all the unemployed in self-supporting colonies. The result would be that when so much additional labour was absorbed by these various public undertakings, the supply of labour for private capitalists would be so much reduced that wages would rise still further, a rise which would, of course, regulate that of all who were employed in the public service, while the latter would enjoy the advantage of greatly reduced prices, which would gradually be extended to almost every article of general consumption.
Throughout the whole of this process there would have been a continuous approach to an equalisation of earnings by all Government and municipal employees, an equalisation which would first have arisen through the principle of "equality of opportunity" being applied to education, when it would be seen that--all labour being equally necessary in its proper place, and everyone being, so far as possible, employed in that kind of work for which he was best fitted--there was no justification whatever for any large difference in the payment of different classes of workers; and this principle would, of course, have been carried out still more completely by a Socialist Government. From this approach to equality in education, in speech and manners, and in general requirements, there would arise such a large demand for the better qualities of all goods as to reduce the useless and wasteful variety now made, thus tending still further to reduced cost.
On the other hand, the abolition of inheritance of wealth would gradually lead to the entire disappearance of millionaires and of the greater part of individual wealth, and with this disappearance the demand would cease for that enormous mass of toys, and jewels, and tasteless frippery now made chiefly to tempt the idle rich to expend their unearned money; hence a great mass of hitherto wasted labour would be available for the production of useful and enjoyable products for all.
Another important result of this non-competitive supply of goods to all public employees would be the gradual displacement of metallic currency, and the proof it would afford that any such currency was wholly unnecessary. As the Government and municipal stores would be strictly limited to public servants and to the amount of their wages and salaries, the ordinary currency would not be received in payment, although wages would for some time continue to be paid in money; but every public servant could obtain, in exchange for the whole or any part of his wages, Government coupons to the same nominal amount, which would be received in payment for all their purchases at the stores. By this simple arrangement it would be impossible for the outside public to obtain the advantages of the stores without entering the Government service. The result would be that gold would depreciate in value as compared with these coupons, and for the first time in the history of civilisation it would be seen that paper money representing productive work is the only true standard of value and the best instrument for exchange.
When non-competitive supply of goods to State and municipal employees had reached this stage its advantages would be so obvious that great numbers of those still working for private capitalists would also demand State employment, and this would lead to the continuous extension of public factories and workshops. As this went on the capitalist manufacturers would find it impossible to obtain workmen, and would be obliged to close their factories or hand them over to the Government, receiving in exchange an annuity in coupons based upon the actual selling value of their property; while they themselves could, if they wished it, enter the public service as managers.
It is needless here to enter into further details. It is quite evident that the process here described would go on continuously till, practically, the whole population would have entered the ranks of the Co-operative Commonwealth; and, coincidentally with this inflow, gold and silver currency would steadily diminish in value, till at last it would be absolutely worthless as money, retaining only its value as metal useful in the arts or for ornament--a value which would certainly dwindle to a mere fraction of what it is now. And during the whole of this gradual development of the new social organisation not a particle of compulsion would be needed. There would be a free and open trial of the comparative merits of the two systems side by side. No single step in the measures of the Government could be objected to by the anti-Socialist capitalists and workers, since it would be exactly the same kind of competition which they had always carried on with each other, by which the big capitalist had driven out the small one, and the trust or syndicate had swallowed up the individual manufacturer. The great difference would be that while the result of the competitive system had been to create a regiment of millionaires at the top and an army of unemployed at the bottom--mansions and palaces on the one hand, and the slums and cellars of a thousand cities on the other--the adoption of the Socialistic method of co-operation had abolished all these iniquities and horrors, had rendered it impossible for any human being to suffer want in the midst of wealth, or to be driven to suicide after a hopeless struggle for work.
One more word before I close. Some of my readers may make the objection that as soon as the Government began this system of wholesale production large numbers of capitalists and manufacturers would go abroad, and establish factories where they could obtain cheap labour, thus "impoverishing the country." But if they did so it would merely facilitate the measures of the Socialist Government. They could not carry away their factories, and their money as we have seen would not be wanted.
Numerous other details are discussed by Mr. Bellamy, and I strongly recommend such of my readers as are interested in the subject to study his book. I venture to think that I have, as I proposed to do, pointed out at least one very simple and thoroughly effectual method by which a Socialist Government, whenever it comes into power, could proceed at once to give effect to the fundamental principles of Socialism.