Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Origin and Character of Socialism By James Edward Le Rossignol 1921

The Origin and Character of Socialism By James Edward Le Rossignol 1921

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That the fundamental theories of socialism are far from scientific has often been shown, yet many intelligent people are not aware of the fact. Certainly, in these days of discontent, when many panaceas are offered for social ills, it should be worth while to examine their claims before they are tried on the patient, and it is found, by sad experience, that the remedy is worse than the disease.

As we consider the place of socialism in history and the development of socialistic thought from Plato to Lenin, we see that four, if not five, rather clearly marked types have successively appeared.

The first socialists were philosophers, like Plato and Sir Thomas More, who, deploring the evils of their day, had visions of ideal states, but never tried to create a working model.

In the second stage, which came with the industrial and political revolution of the eighteenth century, socialistic ideas took hold of earnest but visionary men, like Robert Owen in England and Francois Fourier in France, who believed that they could actually construct and operate ideal communities, and were not convinced, by repeated failure, that their plans were unworkable.

Origin of Modern Socialism.—In the middle of the nineteenth century, when it was evident that the twin revolutions had failed to bring perfect liberty, equality and fraternity to the world, and when modern science had well begun its great career, Karl Marx proclaimed the "scientific" discovery that a revolution was latent in the very constitution of capitalistic society, and that, because of exploitation, increasing misery, and the disaffection of the working class, the day of socialism was at hand.

About the beginning of the present century, when skepticism had undermined the faith of theoretical socialists, and the rank and file began to mutiny against the soft-handed "intellectuals," the direct actionists came to the fore, impatient, revolutionary evangelists, calling on the workers to arise and spare not.

Finally, after the World War, and the revolutions in Russia and Germany, we find in those countries the administrative socialists, the socialists in office, who, having assumed large responsibility, and with the lives of millions in their keeping, are forced to compromise with the old order, and, having driven capitalism out by the front door, let it come back by the cellar window.

Socialism was in the world long before the time of Marx, and will be, long after his theories have been discarded. "Scientific" socialism, then, is but a passing phase of the eternal protest against things as they are, which follows human society like a shadow, and would, like Satan in the Book of Job, play a leading part in the New Jerusalem.

Such being the case, it might seem futile to offer criticism of "scientific" socialism, but for the fact that socialism, in its scientific garb, goes about in borrowed prestige, authority and force which do not belong to mere visions, utopian schemes, and bitter rebellion against the inevitable evils of every social system. If socialism has a right to the cloak of science, it may wear it, but if not, it must appear in its proper shape and be judged according to its real character and intentions.

Socialism Is a Caricature.—Certainly, socialism, as a system of thought, is a remarkable structure, the parts of which seem at first sight to fit together so well as to prove that it must be a real picture of capitalistic society, and a true prophecy of coming change. And yet, a closer examination shows that fallacy and half-truth pervades every part and that the entire system, with all its plausibility and apparent consistency, is a mere caricature of the industrial world as it really is.

Much of this critical examination has been made by socialists themselves, the more scholarly intellectuals, who are often called "revisionists," because they wish to make the theories of Marx square with facts. To such an extent has this "higher criticism" undermined the faith, that the most fundamental theories stand disproved or discredited in the minds of many socialists.

These more enlightened leaders no longer believe as once they did, and if they still proclaim the orthodox creed, as some do, it is because the old words come readily to the tongue, the old gospel is preachable, and the old promises still have power to stir the soul. Of course, most of the agitation is done by the less intellectual, who still believe. As to the rank and file, they are disposed to believe and feel and do, without looking too closely into the rational basis of their faith.

Character of the Movement.—But if the rational basis is not there, it is surely well for all concerned to known where they stand. If socialism as a system of thought is unscientific and unsound, then it is still where it was in the days of Plato, More, Owen, Fourier, and the rest. And if the economic analysis and doctrines are false, upon what foundation of science or reason does the proposed new system of social reconstruction rest?

Socialism can still be, and is, a denunciation of capitalism, according to which most of the ills of life are attributable to private property.

It is still a highly imaginary scheme of social organization, which, socialists believe, would be a panacea for most, if not all, the ills that flesh is heir to.

It is still a murmur of discontent among the poor, a movement toward a social revolution, and a determination to carry out, on a national or international scale, the plans which they have seen [only] in their dreams.

It is still a promise of a Golden Age, that allures and blinds and disappoints, like the will-o-the-wisp, or the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow.

The Appeal of Socialism.—All this is left, and socialism still appeals, and will appeal, to people of a certain temperament—the sanguine, emotional, uncritical, visionary, credulous, impatient, intemperate, explosive—but surely not to sane, rational, well-balanced men of common sense, who are the only safe pilots in stormy and uncharted seas.

It is not a useless task, therefore, to expose the unscientific pretensions of "scientific" socialism, unless it be true that man is not a rational animal, but swayed to such an extent by emotion and passion that he will be ready to break up the present imperfect scheme of things industrial, on the chance of being able to fashion out of the wreck something nearer to the heart's desire.

Yet the experience of Russia makes one believe such childish folly possible, and there are people in every country who wish to follow that example. Also, there are those who are moving in that direction, though they do not see the end of the road. Professor Franklin H. Giddings, of Columbia University, recently wrote these significant words: "The whole world at present is intellectually muddled and morally bedeviled. It is trying to reconstruct society upon a hypothetical equality of all mankind. If it succeeds, it will destroy historic achievement from the beginning, and will send mankind to perdition."

Socialism may not stand for absolute equality, but there can be no doubt that its trend is strongly in that direction. It lays itself open to the charge of Plato, who said, in substance, that nothing is more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals. The exploitation of the many by the few is bad, no doubt; but the exploitation of the few by the many, the exceptional men by the sluggish horde, the torch-bearers of civilization by those who walk in darkness, means not only the abolition of private property, initiative and enterprise, but the destruction of our present civilization—and what will follow that, no man knows.

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