Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Socialism. The modern movement covered by this name mnst be looked at in two aspects. It expresses, with more or less consciousness, a religious or spiritual impulse, and it advocates practical measures for readjusting the forms of society, more especially (at this moment) industrial forms, so as to give fuller expression and satisfaction to the promptings of that impulse. In the spiritual direction it shows Hegel's definition of religion, as "the knowledge by the Finite Spirit of its essence as Absolute Spirit," reflected in the Christian doctrine of the brotherhood and equality of men without distinction of class or nation (on which the "Christian Socialist" school is based), and paraphrased in the revolutionary watchword, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," entering into the secular-Socialist analysis, which exhibits each individual as produced, and his abilities and powers as conditioned by, and therefore as due to, Society. Inasmuch, however, as this impulse seeks form in conscious life, and mere bodily sustenance is the first condition of life for the individual, the Socialist movement appears, over much of its recognised area, as concerned with a material aim, viz. the establishment of the primary basis of tolerable human existence. And, broadly, whereas the social theory of Individualism asserts free competition as the safest method for the establishment of this material basis, and encourages the belief that the market price of each man's abilities and the total wealth that the arrangements of society may enable him to amass, (no matter at what cost to his fellows) represent the true value of those abilities and are produced and justly earned by that man, the Socialist theory asserts that organised and intelligent combination is the more rational and effective means to this end, and that, as the very existence of any form of society implies a large measure of co-operation, whether deliberately or automatically established, it is impossible to attribute, as of right, any portion of the social product to any particular individual. It therefore prescribes as the canon of production and distribution the formula, "From everyone according to his abilities; to everyone according to his needs." The Socialist or concrete view of society as a living organism of which individuals are members, as leaves of a tree, produced by it and, in their turn, building it up, as opposed to the individualist or abstract view, underlies and is very clearly expounded in the political speculations of Plato (see especially Republic) and Aristotle (Politics). Mr. Ruskin has been, perhaps, its most vivid and stimulating exponent in this century. Mediaeval revolutionary movements, such as the English, and especially the German, peasant revolts, though provoked by economic oppression, very generally expressed their aspirations in the precise terms of modern Christian Socialism and their political demands in formulas still accepted by contemporary Social Democracy. Forms of Communism, especially in land, and revolts of the poor against rich oppressors, have been exemplified in most countries and ages. The name Socialism, however, and the practical activity of the contemporary Socialist movement, both in its industrial aims and in its speculative influence, date from the earliest quarter of the current century.

The movement first found notable expression in the doctrines and activities of Robert Owen in England and Saint-Simon and Fourier in France. It appeared as a revolt against the condition to which the majority of the peoples of those two countries had been, or were being, reduced by the revolution in industrial processes brought about by the inventions of machinery, steam-power and the factory-system of production. The fact that the private ownership of land gave to its possessors power and, practical ownership over those who cnltivated the land had been a cause of social trouble long familiar to all European nations. The evil had been mitigated, and its essential nature concealed, in England especially, by the substitution of money rents for personal service from tenants; but already economic writers had advocated the nationalisation of land as the only remedy for the power of private landowners to dictate to other citizens the terms on which they should be allowed to earn their living.

The Socialists pointed out that the substitution of the factory system of production, in which masses of men are employed with expensive machinery, for the system under which the craftsman had owned his own tools and produced his work independently, or as one of a small democratic group, and disposed of it himself in open market, had reduced the bulk of the workers, especially in England, where the manufacturing industry was most advanced, to a position in which they were necessarily dependent upon the owners of capital for leave to work for their living, and were compelled to sell their labour for a price, determined, not by the market value of its product, but by competition among themselves which tended (as the political economists insisted) to reduce wages to just such a level as would enable the workers to live and maintain their class. The surplus of the value of the product over the wages thus assigned to the worker, is retained under this system by the capitalist, as rent is retained by the landlord, without any intervention by either in the processes of production. For the owner of the capita1, such as a shareholder in a railway, is to be distinguished from a manager or organiser of labour, whose remuneration is of the nature of wages, and is determined by its value in competition. This system, whilst enormously increasing the power of man to satisfy his wants, had turned to the advantage chiefly of the owners and organisers of capital, leaving the mass of wage-earners poor, and with no control over their opportunities of livelihood, whilst the vicissitudes of blind competition continually disorganised production, ruined employers, and threw wage-earners out of employment.

This analysis, most completely elaborated by Karl Marx in his work on Capital, is the basis of the practical programme of Social-Democrats, generally described as Collectivism. It aims at placing the ownership and controi of capital, and the organisation and direction of industry, in the hands of the workers of all kinds, and eliminating the sleeping partner that draws profits on account of mere ownership whilst dictating the conditions of employment. The Co-operative movement in England, inspired by the Socialism preached by Robert Owen, set out with this Object in view. It has had much success in effecting organisation of distribution, but very little in the department of production. The German school of Socialists, of which F. Lassalle was the earliest conspicuous politician, has generally held that this transfer of ownership and control could only be effected through the instrumenta1ity of the State; pointing out that the failure of the Co-operative movement in productive industry was due to the inability of workers, without capital to compete successfully against the organised power of the capitalist employing class. Lassalle therefore argued that the State should give credit to groups of workmen to enable them to engage in production. This programme had but short vitality, and the Social Democratic movement of to-day aims nowhere at enabling sections of workmen in particular industries to become owners and controllers of capital, to be ueed for their benefit as a group, but always at effecting the transfer of such ownership or control to the national or local community through the forms of political democracy. The aim of the Collectivist movement is to effect in the industrial world what the democratic movement has aimed at in the political world; and, just as it is a matter of controversy and experience which branches of political administration should be regulated through the national Executive, and which through local and municipal authorities, so it is recognised that the administration of industry on Collectivist principles must necessarily exhibit various degrees of centralisation.

Whilst, therefore, Socialists habitually speak of the transfer of ownership to "the State," the form of their practical proposals varies greatly, according to drcumstances. The highly-centralised German system of government is reflected in the comparatively centralising tendency of the German Socialist party (which now numbers about one million electors and holds 36 seats in Parliament). In France and Italy the long-established and extensive autonomy of local communes inspires a more general inclination towards the advocacy of decentralisation. The recognition, however, of the fact that industrial and commercial class interests tend more and more to transcend not only local, but national, limits, that important industrial services are very generally most efficiently provided through combination of capital and concentration of control, and that the effect of the private ownersship of capital is continually to promote such combination, counterbalances the tendency to distrust that extension of bureaucracy which seems to be involved in centralisation, and the hesitation to attempt the difficult task of establishing democratic control over productive and distributive industries.

In England the Collectivist movement has made gradual but continuous progress, through the legal regulation of hours and conditions of work and the municipal acquisition and administration of property and industries. The Poor Law and, much more notably, the Education Law are embodiments of Socialist principle, whilst the principle of regulating wages by democratic consent, instead of by competition (one of the earliest projects of Socialists), has recently (1894) engaged much public attention (in the form of the plea for "a living wage") and has established itself in the national arsenals and dockyards and in the election of many local authorities under pledge to pay "Trade Union" rates of wages to their employees.

Social Democrats, who form the majority of Socialists, aim, therefore, at abolishing the subjection of labour to capital, and the recurrent over-production and lack of employment, which are features of the competitive system, together with the social inequality between workers and possessors, by means of constructive organisation under democratic control: and they aim more and more universally at acquiring and establishing this control, not by any sudden revolutionary stroke, but by altering the laws and institutions of each country through their existing political machinery. Anarchism, which must be regarded as a branch of the Socialist movement, would abolish the subjection of the wage-earners by simple destruction of all existing organisation and authority.