Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review of Pictures of the Socialistic Future 1893

SOCIAL PENAL-SERVITUDE - Review of Pictures of the Socialistic Future 1893, article in The Spectator

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AS a rule, attempts to depict the moral and material configuration of the world after Socialism has been established, have come from the Socialists. Naturally enough, these pictures have been drawn throughout in the brightest colours, and we have heard little or nothing of the seamy side of the system under which man is to become the slave of the State. Herr Eugene Richter, of the Imperial German Parliament, has attempted to correct this defect, and to show what the world would really be like under a regime of State Socialism. In his "Pictures of the Socialistic Future—freely adapted from Bebel," of which Messrs. Swan Sonnenschein and Co. have this week published a very readable translation, Herr Richter tries to think-out what would be the necessary and logical results of the doctrines preached by those Socialists who have got far enough to have a regular programme. No doubt it will be alleged that he has not been fair to Socialism, just as it is urged that Mr. Bellamy and Mr. Morris have been unfair in the opposite direction. It must be pointed out, however, that Herr Richter has on his side the fact that he assumes human nature to be what we know it to be, and men to act as we see them acting, whereas the Socialist authors assume that human nature will undergo a complete change on the establishment of their Collectivist State. We can, at any rate, say that Herr Richter's work fairly states what would be the result of Socialism if men remain as they are now. It is, of course, open to his opponents to say that this is an altogether unwarrantable assumption; but if, and when it is made, the book must be pronounced as eminently reasonable.

Herr Richter's plan is to take a family group, and to trace the effect upon them of the nationalisation of all the sources of wealth, and the enactment of laws prescribing equal social and material conditions for the whole of the inhabitants of the German Empire. His family consists of a father, a bookbinder by trade, a mother (Paula), their grown-up son Franz, Franz's betrothed (Agnes), Ernst, a son of 12 or 14, Annie, a little girl of four or five, and, finally, a grandfather of advanced years,—all resident in Berlin. The story, which is told by the father, opens with the celebration of the establishment of Socialism, in which the whole family joyfully participates, for they start quite in favour of the new order of things. Soon, however, a heavy blow falls upon them. It is decreed that the money in the savings-banks must be forfeited to the State. All land, all mortgages, all the stock of the joint-stock companies, had already been acquired by the State, and it was obviously unfair that any exception should be made in the case of savings. Besides, what would the people want with the money. Everything they could need was to be provided for by the State in exchange for coupons earned by the worker, and therefore the deposits, even if withdrawn, would be useless, if not indeed destructive to the Socialistic idea. Agnes, however, who had been saving against her marriage-day, did not look at the matter in that light at all, and after the forfeiture of her little hoard, becomes bitterly opposed to Socialism. The next step is the choice of trades. Every one is, of course, compelled by law to do his fair share of labour; but the question is, at what trade? It is proposed, to begin with, that each person shall apply for employment in the trade he likes best, the impression being that in this way things will settle themselves. Unfortunately, however, certain not very necessary trades are found to be extremely popular, while many of the necessary ones are quite deserted. "A greater number of persons registered themselves as gamekeepers than there were hares within forty miles of Berlin; and from the number of entries made the Government would have bad no difficulty in posting a hall-porter at every single door in Berlin; every tree could have had its forester, every horse its groom. There were a great many more nurse-girls than kitchen-maids registered; more coachmen than ostlers." "The number of young women who have put their names down as waitresses and public singers," goes on the narrator, "is very considerable, but this superabundance is balanced by the paucity of those who desire to become sick-nurses. There is no lack of salesmen and saleswomen. The same remark applies to inspectors, managers, foremen, and similar positions; there is even no scarcity of acrobats. The entries for the more arduous labours of the pavior, the stoker, the smelter, are more sparse. Those who have manifested a desire to become cleansers of sewers are, numerically, not a strong body." What was the Government to do under these circumstances? Should they fix a lower rate of wages for the popular trades, and a higher rate for the unpopular? Clearly that would be impossible. It would be reintroducing the old system of individualism and competition. "Every kind of labour which is useful to the community (Bebel always taught) must appear of equal value in the eyes of the community. The receipt of unequal wages would soon tend to favour inequalities in the style of living; or it would enable the better-paid ones to effect savings. By this latter means, and indirectly, in the course of time the capitalist class would grow up, and thus the whole Socialistic system of production be thrown into disorder."

Other schemes were mooted; but in the end it was found that the only practical plan was a lottery. Where the applicants for a trade were too many, the surplus hands were cast out by lot, and these were again assigned by lot to the trades in which there were vacancies. This, and the fact that the State did not officially recognise marriage—it merely allowed marriage as a private arrangement—but regarded each man and woman of full age as a social unit, led to great confusion of families. In the case taken, the grown-up son Franz is sent off to Leipzig; and Agnes, instead of being allowed to work at home at her old trade of a milliner, is sent into a tailoring-shop; while the father becomes a Government checker or overseer, and the mother an attendant at the Government nursery. Meantime, the old grandfather, as past work, is sent to a State institution for the aged; Ernst, the boy, goes to a Government school; and little Annie, the baby, is sent to the public nursery. It was in order to follow her there that the mother applies for the post of attendant. When, however, it is discovered that she is Annie's mother, she is sent to another establishment, as it is feared that her maternal feelings might make her show favouritism to her own child. The break-up of the family is soon followed by the break-up of the home. It would obviously be most unfair under a Socialistic system for A to be better housed than his neighbour B. Accordingly, the dwellings are redistributed at about the rate of one room per head. The family find that for them the change is anything but a change for the better. They get smaller rooms, and it is only after considerable difficulty that they are able to effect exchanges which bring husband and wife together. The coupon system of currency is exceedingly well worked out by Herr Richter. The labourers are paid in "booklets" of coupons, and each day the porter of the house, or the attendant at the Government cook-shop, or the Government shopkeeper, detaches a coupon. Indeed, coupons can only be detached by an official,—a rule made to prevent the accumulation of coupons in private hands. Each book of coupons has the owner's photograph on the cover, and goods or services are only given in exchange for coupons after the person offering the coupons has been identified by means of the photograph. Even this, however, is not considered a sufficient safeguard against the accumulations which might take place owing to this or that man having a small appetite,or being naturally of a niggardly disposition. It had been arranged that those persons who, at the expiration of a fortnight, had not used up all their coupons, should get the remnant entered to their credit in the new booklet. "But, of course, even here it is necessary to draw the line somewhere, and to concert measures to prevent these successive remnants heaping themselves up to actual capital. A sum of sixty marks is regarded as being more than sufficient to enable its possessor to indulge himself in the gratification of all reasonable desires. Any more considerable savings than sixty marks are forfeited to the State." The various disagreeable effects of Socialism are well described. With individualism and competition disappear all desire to please on the part of the salesman. "It is, of course, a matter of the most perfect indiffereence to the salesman whether you buy anything or not. Some of these salesmen scowl as soon as the shop-door is opened, and they have to rise from some thrilling book, or they get interrupted in some other pleasant occupation. The greater the variety of goods you wish to look at, the more questions you ask as to their make and durability, the greater does the ire of the salesman become. Rather than fetch any article from another part of the magazine, he tells you at once they have not got it in stock."

Space will not allow us to follow to the final catastrophe the fortunes of the bookbinder and his family. We must note, however, the clever way in which Herr Richter brings out the shrinkage in all the necessaries as well as the conveniences of life, which would be certain to occur under Socialism. The harshness of the system is intensified as time goes on, and very soon the rations distributed by the State in the public eating-houses have to be cut down to starvation limits. These changes are described in a supposed speech made by the Chancellor to the Parliament. Socialism, he is obliged to admit, has turned out to be a very expensive luxury. The police have had to be doubled, and even the Army and Navy augmented, in order to support them. Another source of waste has been the abolition of labour for the old and for the young, and the limitation of the hours of labour and the abolition of piece-work. Accordingly, the Chancellor proposes that the maximum day's work is in future to be twelve hours:—"In addition to this, we propose—at least as a provisional measure, and until such time as a satisfactory balance shall have been restored—to extend the obligation to work to all persons between the ages of fourteen and seventyfive, instead of, as hitherto, to those between the ages of twenty-one and sixty-five." Next, the food is to be cut down, and, finally, the people are not to be allowed to be capricious in their tastes:—"One of the main sources, however, from which we calculate upon effecting economy, is the placing of narrower bounds to individual caprice as manifested in the purchase of articles. A measure of this nature is a necessary and logical step in the direction of social equality; and we hope, by its means, to put an end to the irrational rule of supply and demand which even nowadays to a great extent obtains, and which so much tends to place obstacles in the way of production, and to raise the price of things correspondingly. The Community produces, let us say, articles of consumption, furniture, clothes, and so on. But the demand for these articles is regulated by the merest freak or caprice— call it fashion, taste, or whatever you like...Just reflect how vastly all processes of manufacture would be cheapened if, in place of having any variety in goods which are destined to fulfil the same purpose, all such articles were limited to a few patterns, or, better still, if they were all made on one single pattern! All losses arising from goods being left on hand as unsaleable, would be avoided if it were, once for all, definitely understood that Mr. and Mrs. X Y Z had to dine, and attire themselves, and furnish their houses in that manner which had been prescribed by the State."

It will, of course, be said that Herr Richter has only given us a fancy picture, and that we have no right to assume that things would fall out as he prophesies. As a matter of fact, however, there could be no other end to Socialism than that which he sets forth. Socialism is all very well as long as it is not put into practice; but the moment it is applied and comes in contact with that dominant factor of human nature, the desire of each man to choose for himself how he shall spend his own labour, it must full to pieces. Man will not work without reward, unless he is a slave, and then only very inefficiently. His reward is the power of doing what he will with his own. Socialism, then, must either mean the complete break-down of organised human life, or else slavery. But man is not going to send himself to perpetual penal servitude for an idea. In a fit of madness he might conceivably do so for a month or two, but when he regained his sanity, his first impulse would be a relapse to freedom. We know this not only on abstract grounds, but also experimentally. Let any one read the history of the National Workshops of Paris in 1848, written by the man who directed them, M. Emile Thomas. He tells exactly the same tale as Herr Richter. The only difference is, that in the real story there was not even the temporary success supposed to have been achieved in Berlin. The great experiment in France failed from the very beginning,—and this in spite of the fact that it started with everything in its favour.

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