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One of the standard and strongest arguments against Socialism as now understood is that it is purely theoretical—that the system has never been tried. The most intellectual and authoritative advocates frankly concede that this objection is well taken, if the modern conception of Socialism be accepted; but they claim that there are examples of the Collectivist idea or of communal possession of property, dating from the most ancient times.
Socialist literature is full of references to Lycurgus, "the lawgiver of Sparta," and to his alleged division of land. The tradition is that Lycurgus brought over from Crete the institutions of the Dorians, and redivided property when he established a new civil constitution. It is said that he parceled out Laconia into 39,000 equal lots, 9,000 lots being assigned to Spartan citizens. In a very remarkable work by C. Osborne Ward (a government official at Washington, D. C), The Ancient Lowly, it is claimed that under a system established by Lycurgus, the Spartans practiced communal ownership from 825 to 371 B..C. Mr. Ward says that there was not only common property, common education, and common eating—but that commerce was interdicted, and that stealing was authorized!
But scholarly Socialists do not lay much stress upon the story of Lycurgus and his division of land. They recognize that it is but a tradition at the best, and even if true bears but little relation to the modern idea of Socialism, and cannot, therefore, be cited as a demonstration of its practicability.
Of the instances of ancient Socialism, so-called, of more or less authenticity, none is pointed to so confidently and with so much pride, as the case of classic Athens. But it should be kept in mind that the Socialism of Athens was only for the free citizens:—that it did not benefit the slaves, although historians agree that the Athenians treated their slaves better than the Romans did. There are a number of estimates of the number of slaves in proportion to the free citizens in Athens; it is generally put down as three slaves to one free man. It is claimed that Socialism was virtually tried in Athens, under Pericles, the greatest of all Grecian statesmen, who flourished in the fifth century before Christ. Dr. Bliss quotes authorities in his encyclopedia declaring that this was the period of Greece's greatest glory, and that it produced men of unequalled ability—and this the editor of the Encyclopedia of Social Reform attributes to Socialism. In view of the current discussion in regard to the Communism of Modern Socialism, and especially as to rewards of labor under the Collective Commonwealth, it is interesting a note that Dr. Bliss, in an article in The Outlook (New York), says that the Socialism of classic Athens practically asked from each citizen labor according to his ability, and of the product gave to each according to his need; and this is the pure Marxian conception of ideal Socialism. Two institutions in the main accomplished this: one was called the "liturgies," and took from the rich for the benefit of the poor; and the other was called the "dicasticon," which was payment in money, daily, for public service (assumedly), given to any citizen who wanted it, practically, and in an amount sufficient to enable him to live upon it in respectability and comfort. It was the latter institution, Dr. Bliss says, which, more than anything else, made Athens a Socialist State. There were a great many law courts in Athens, and citizens were paid daily amounts for performing jury service; and they also received pay for attending the popular assemblies, and for witnessing the elaborate religious ceremonies and rites, which were conducted and maintained by the State. The temples, baths, gymnasia, theatres, markets, etc., were built and managed by the State. The arts were cared for by the State, and the wonderful and incomparable Parthenon and Acropolis were the creation of State artists. Gold and silver mines, and the slaves who worked them, were owned by the State; and thus were supplied the official revenues, instead of by taxation. Commerce and trade were usually left to slaves, while the free-born citizens (Socialists!) "reaped the usufruct," and devoted themselves to "higher things." Notwithstanding the brilliant civilization of Athens, she fell—and deservedly so. Dr. Bliss admits that Socialist (!) Athens was immoral and corrupt, and that its family life was impure. The condition of Athens under so-called Socialism was even worse than Dr. Bliss admits. J. G. Frazier, in an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica, writes:
According to Plato, it was a common saying that Pericles, by the system of payments which he introduced, had corrupted the Athenians, rendering them idle, cowardly, talkative, and avaricious. It was Pericles who introduced the payment of jurymen, and as there were 6,000 of them told off annually for duty, of whom a great part sat daily, the disbursement from the treasury was great, while the poor and idle were encouraged to live at the public expense. . . . It was part of the policy of Pericles at once to educate and delight the people by numerous and splendid festivals, processions, and shows. But the good was mixed with seeds of evil, which took root and spread, till, in the days of Demosthenes, the money which should have been spent in fighting the enemies of Athens was squandered in spectacles and pageants. The spectacular fund or Theorikon has been called the cancer of Athens.
The "Solonic Law."
American Socialists quote extensively from the work by C. Osborne Ward, The Ancient Lowly, which sets forth the most remarkable alleged discoveries by the author as to the antiquity of Trade Unions and Socialism. Mr. Ward is an avowed Socialist, and his statements have all the animus of an extreme partisan. The evidence which he presents he says he unearthed from old manuscripts, tablets, chiselled records, and relics, in ancient cities and ruins in Italy and Greece, which he affirms were heretofore unknown or had been systematically smothered or ignored by other writers. Much space is given by Mr. Ward to what is called the "Solonic Law." Solon was a very wise man of Greece, and lived about 600 years before Christ. He had the confidence of his fellow-citizens, and they made him "Archon," or Chief Magistrate. The money lenders were eating up the substance of the land, and the small farms were plentifully sprinkled with "mortgage pillars;" and Solon's first act as "Archon" was to annul all mortgages, by having the pillars thrown down. This proceeding was deemed justifiable because the terms of the money lenders were unfair and oppressive; but there was no redistribution or confiscation of the land. Solon's next great reform was the reconstruction of the political system on the principle that every citizen was entitled to share in the government of the country. Solon is said to be the father of universal suffrage— that is, as regards free citizens. But he realized that the people were not ready for "pure" democracy; he made property the measure of political power, and he confined the higher offices of State to the wealthy citizens. From them he made a Council of Four Hundred; —and the origin of the term "Four Hundred" as applied to the wealthy, exclusive "set" of New York, is no doubt from this Solonic law. But Mr. Ward goes far beyond what the above would indicate as to the character of Solon and his historic decrees. He pictures Solon—almost to the exclusion of anything else—as being the organizer of the proletarians, not only of Greece, but of the world as it was then known, first as Trade Unionists, and then as members of organizations forming parts of an universal scheme of Socialism! Mr. Ward claims that the Solonic Law provided for a common table, and that the Trade Unions held property in common and followed a communal code. The system under Solon appears to have been very much "mixed," according to Mr. Ward. The free citizens owned private property, but the members of the Trade Unions were not citizens, and a large proportion of them were slaves. Their right of combination was given to them by Solon. While their plan of organization was economic rather than political, when originally organized, yet at the time of Christ it was political, and they endorsed Christianity. Says this most astounding author: "There are reasonable grounds for believing that the original founders of Christianity, including the Master Himself, were initiates into the secret penetralia of this vast order!" These Trade Unions, according to Mr. Ward, represented "pure, scientific Socialism"—and had the movement continued uninterruptedly, the millenium would long before this have arrived! It is asserted that the Syrians tried to break up this wonderful Socialist system, but were not able to do so, and the work of destruction was then undertaken by the Romans! And finally Solonic Socialism was killed by Diocletian, the Roman Emperor, in the third century after Christ. Some Socialists seriously quote this jumble of tradition and imagination as historic proof of the practicability of Socialism!
In Peru, Mexico and Elsewhere.
There was an enforced system of Communism among the original inhabitants of Peru, the Aztecs, in the days when they were lorded over by the Incas. The system of government was a pure despotic theocracy. The great mass of the Aztecs were serfs, and they were compelled to labor. In the hamlets and villages a man mounted a tower every evening and announced where and how the Aztecs serfs were to work the next day. Labor was in common, individual property among the Aztecs was abolished, and every detail in daily life was prescribed, according to fixed rules, the people being mere machines, governed by an immense staff of civil and religious officers. It is not to be wondered at that the Peruvians fell an easy prey to their Spanish invaders. And yet some Socialists say that the Peruvian experiment justifies the claim that Socialism is feasible!
In Mexico, centuries ago, there was a communism in land among the aborigines, the majority of whom were serfs, and were transferred with the soil which they worked. The peasants and the slaves of the nobles were allowed a certain portion of land, which they cultivated in common, for their subsistence; and the surplus of what they produced they had to turn over to their masters.
Alfred Stead, in Great Japan, says that there are now in existence several Socialist communities within the Empire of the East, and that in one of these divisions the "single tax" has been in existence for centuries. This community levies all taxes on land, but at certain periods—of eleven, thirteen, or seventeen years—the land is impartially apportioned among the people. Mr. Stead gives a detailed account of the system of Socialism which is said to have been in force for centuries— and is still in force—in the Prefecture of Okinawa, which is comprised of thirty-six islands, their combined size being 170 square miles, and their population being 170,000. In addition to the private allotments of land, made as above stated, the community own a large tract of common land, on which they plant banana trees; and the trees are carefully preserved so that the fruit can be used by all the people in case of a famine. There is not a landlord on the whole of the islands. Mr. Stead is of the opinion that in all probability Socialism of a modified form will soon be introduced by the national government of Japan; but he thinks that in that country it is likely to develop along lines vastly different from those followed elsewhere.
In many parts of the world there have been "common" lands, existing from the earliest dawn of civilization. Under the ancient laws of Ireland, tribes had common possession of "live" and "dead" chattels, as well as land; and Prof. Leslie, of Belfast, in his great work, Primitive Property, says that these ancient laws indicate that women were not only held as chattels but were held as such in common by clans and "septs" (joint families), and by smaller groups of kinsmen. There are ancient legal records of the original co-ownership and common cultivation of the soil of Denmark and Holstein by village communities. In England, groups of husbandmen cultivated the ground and fed their flocks and herds on a co-operative system which bears all the marks of descent from the primitive communal usages of the Teutonic race.
Alone among the countries of the world, Switzerland has maintained free political institutions and a system of communal possession of land contemporaneously, this system antedating feudalism:—the "Allmend," which is not extensive, and has hereditary features. "Allmend" means "the domain common to all." But the system is disintegrating under the influence of modern civilization; the communal land is now leased by public auction, and—contrary to ancient principles— strangers as well as citizens can now lease the land. There is a similar system in some of the mountainous districts of France.
The Russian institution of the "Mir" is frequently referred to as an example of the advantages of Collectivism, but the claim will not bear investigation. All land in Russia which is not owned by the Crown or the nobility is the common property of the community; and the aggregate of the inhabitants of a village possessing the land in common is known as a "Mir," which is ancient Russian for "commune." In theory, every male villager of legal age has an equal share in the "Mir." Formerly there was common cultivation in the "Mir," but that custom has long been abandoned, and now the common land is divided into small plots and is distributed among the villages by lot or otherwise. But the institution is very unsatisfactory, especially under modern conditions; and the "Mir" and the extensive system of "Municipal Socialism" in Russia have paralyzed individual initiative and enterprise. The villagers do not feel that they have any permanent interest in any one piece of land, and they therefore only cultivate it in "hand-to-mouth" style; they do not manure it properly, neither do they provide for rotation of crops; and they only make such improvements as immediate necessities compel. Not only has the system resulted in the impoverishment of the land, but of the tenants as well, they being almost universally and hopelessly in debt.
In ancient Germany the village "Marke" possessed features analogous to the Russian "Mir." With the exception of the houses and orchards, everything was held in common, the land being divided into plots, and after being cultivated for a year, was allowed to "lie fallow" for a number of years.
When the Dutch went to Java they found a system of collective ownership and cultivation practiced by the natives. The Dutch have continued the system with modifications, which include the relations of the laborers to the State; in the old days the labor was forced, and even at the present time its status is very low.
The apostle of Modern Socialism cannot find any satisfactory precedent for Collectivism in the ancient examples: they were all utterly incompatible with the spirit of modern times; in some instances they were based on slavery; and in the most conspicuous case, so-called Socialism was the direct cause of national ruin. Socialism has yet to justify its extravagant claims by a single successful experiment.