Indifference to the modern socialistic movement is fast becoming an impossible attitude of mind. Friendliness or hostility to it, in some degree, must come into the feeling of everybody who gives the slightest heed to the auguries of our time; for the movement has now gathered a momentum that will carry it surely to some vital and momentous outcome of change in the economic organization of society. If this is not to be calamitous, but is to realize in any measure the good equalities and satisfactions which Socialists expect, that happy result can arrive only in communities which have forethoughtfully safeguarded themselves, with all the wisdom they possess, against ruinous recklessness or perfidy in the working-out of so critical a change. It is nowhere too soon to take serious thought of what we need to be doing in such preparation.
Our first thought in that direction must be of the several forces which enter into the problem we deal with. These, in the main, are the forces of opinion which act on the propositions of Socialism are different dispositions of mind.
The possible attitudes of thought and feeling on the subject are six in number, to wit: —
1. That of the radical disciples of Karl Marx, — the organized ‘Social Democrats’ of many countries, — who represent most logically the doctrines of modern Socialism as formulated by Marx; who regard their undertaking as a class-revolt (of the wage-workers), and who contemplate the desired transfer of capital from individual to collective ownership and management as an achievement of revolution, which may be violent if violence is necessary, when adequate power shall have been secured.
2. That of others in the same wage-earning class who have not answered the socialistic call, nor openly assented to its dogmas, but whose circumstances must incline them to be wistful listeners to its promises and appeals.
3. That of people who approve on principle the social rearrangements contended for by Marx and his followers, regarding them as desirable because just; but who would seek to attain them by cautious and gradual processes, and would give no support to any programme of hasty revolution.
4. That of people who are or hope to be gainers personally from the existing economic system, with its limitless opportunities of profit to individuals of the capitalized class, and who see nothing but a wicked attack on their personal rights in the proposed limitation of private capital and its gains.
5. That of people who are not thus biased against the socialistic project by a personal interest in present economic arrangements, but who do not believe that productive industries and exchanges can be operated with success in the mode proposed, and who fear failure in the attempt, with serious wreckage of the social fabric and much demoralization of mankind.
6. That of people who have not yet given enough attention to the socialistic movement to have a thought or a feeling about it.
The first and fourth of these groups are the centres of the antagonism developed by the social-economic doctrines of Marx, and the outcome of the antagonism will depend on the action of forces from these two on the other four. At the two sources of opposed motive, the mainsprings of energy are nearly but not quite the same. Self-interest may be as dominant among the Socialist workingmen as among their capitalistic opponents; and it may be tempered on one side by solicitude for the general welfare as much as by sympathetic class-feeling on the other; but the self-interest of the capitalist, whose ample means of living are secure, has a very different spur from that of the workingman, whose daily wants are tethered by his daily wage. In the needs, the desires, the hopes, the fears, the uncertainties of the socialistic wage-worker, there is an animus which the mere appetite of capital for its own increment can never excite.
In their intensity, therefore, the opposing influences that work in this contention are unevenly matched; and there is still more disparity between them in the compass of their action. All of the wage-workers of the world are possible recruits to be won for Socialism, and they outnumber all other divisions of civilized mankind. They make up the first and second orders of the classification set forth above, and the second of these stands plainly in the relation of a waiting-list to the first. In Continental Europe its constituents are passing over in always swelling numbers to the party which claims and expects to secure them all. In Great Britain and America the draft into Socialism from the ranks of labor is slower; but, even as indicated in socialistic political organization and voting (which must be far short of a showing of the whole movement), it goes on with persistent increase.
On the other side of the issue, while the people who have a personal stake in the capitalistic system form a numerous body, it does not compare in numbers with the opposing host. It exercises powers, at present, which are fare beyond measurement by its numbers, but they are powers created by the economic conditions of to-day, and dependent on states of feeling which have no fortitude or staying quality in them, but which can be broken into cowardly panic by the most trifling alarm. For resistance to an undertaking of social revolution, nothing weaker than a capitalistic party could be made up. Its strength in the pending contest with Socialism is practically the strength of the alliances it can form. It may seem to have an assured body of important allies in the fifth group defined above; but how far is that assured? The people of the group I question are essentially disinterested and open-minded, and their judgment in this grave matter is subject to change. Their number appears to have been greater a few years ago than now. Many who belonged to it once have gone over into the company of the third group, persuaded that hopes from the justice of the socialist project are more to be considered than fears of its adventuresomeness, if the venture be carefully made. How these people will be moved hereafter is most likely to depend on the direction which the socialistic movement takes, — whether toward revolutionary rashness, under the control of the radical Marxians, or along the Fabian lines projected by prudent Socialists of our third group. At all events, there is no certainty of persistent opposition to Socialism from any large part of this fifth class; and obviously there is nothing to be counted on, for either side, from that remainder of thoughtless folk who know nothing, and care nothing as yet, about this momentous question of the day.
All considered, the appearances as I see them are distinctly favorable to the socialistic movement, thus far. It is a movement which moves continuously, with no reactionary signs. The influences in it are active on the greater masses of people, and, whether selfish or altruistic, they have the stronger motive force. It is a movement of such nature, in fact, as seems likely to break suddenly, some day, into avalanches and floods.
What then? Suppose the spread of socialistic opinion to be carried in this country to the point of readiness for taking control of government, and that we then find awaiting it the same political conditions that exist to-day! The Socialist party, in that case, would simply take the place of our Republican or our Democratic party, as ‘the party in power,’ and would exercise its power in the customary party modes. The keen-scented fortune-hunters and professional experts of politics would already have swarmed to it from the old parties; would have wormed themselves into its counsels and perfected its ‘organization,’ with a full equipment of the most approved ‘machines.’ Then the nationalizing and the municipalizing of productive industries, and the taking-over of capital from private to collective ownership, would begin. Some Croker or Murphy would be found to ‘boss’ the management of the operation in New York, some Quay in Pennsylvania, some Gorman in Maryland, and so on, throughout the land.
There is no wild fancy as to what must occur, if the projects of Socialism are to be carried out while political conditions—political habits in the country and the make and character of parties— remain as they now are. If the experiment of Socialism was to be undertaken to-day, it would have its trial under that sort of handling, and by no possibility could it have any other. Nor indeed can it ever have any other, unless the whole theory and practice of party politics in the United States are recast, with a new and strong injection into them of conscience and rationality.
In other words, if we are pushed, by the spread of socialistic opinion, into attempts at a governmental ownership and management of productive industries, without a previous reformation of our political system, we shall inevitably be carried to a disaster so great that imagination can hardly picture it to one’s mind. No sane Socialist, however firm his faith in the workability of the social-industrial scheme, can dream of its working otherwise than disastrously in the hands of party managers, as parties are now organized and managed with the consent and connivance of the people who make them up. Nor can he reasonably believe that a Socialist party can grow up side by side with the parties of our present politics, play the game of politics with them, win the prize of political power from them, and then use that power as the theory of Socialism requires it to be used, — without partisan spoliation or personal ‘graft.’
It comes, then, to this: if possibilities of good to society are in the socialistic scheme, they are obviously and absolutely dependent on the discretion, the honest, the social sincerity and good faith, with which it is carried into effect. A reckless and knavish corruption of the undertaking so to revolutionize the social economy could produce nothing else than the worst wreckage that civilized society has known. Hence the question between possibly beneficent and inevitably calamitous results from the undertaking is a question of character in the government to which it is trusted. The present character of government in our country, throughout its divisions, controlled as it is by self-seeking professional managers of political parties, is not to be thought of as one which could work the socialistic experiment to any other than the destructive result. The conditions that give this character to our political parties, and through them to the government which they control alternately, will surely give the same character to a socialistic party, if it grows up under their action, and approaches an attainment of power while they prevail.
But it is growing, and seems more than likely to arrive at power to control some, at least, of our divisions of government at no far distant day. Therefore, the most urgent of all reasons for a resolute, radical, and immediate reformation of parties and the politics they embody is found in the progress of socialistic belief.
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