PART ONE: This is a long article and will be available for free download in pdf format when part three is posted in February.
Is the State the Enemy of the People?
History, gentlemen, is a struggle with Nature - the misery, the ignorance, the poverty, the weakness, and consequent slavery in which we were involved when the human race came upon the scene in the beginning of history. The progressive victory over this weakness - this is the development of freedom which history displays to us.
It is the State whose function it is to carry on THIS DEVELOPMENT OF FREEDOM, this development of the human race until its freedom is attained.
The State is this unity of individuals into a moral whole, a unity which increases a million-fold the strength of all the individuals who are comprehended in it, and multiplies a million times the power which would be at the disposal of them as individuals. - FERDINAND LASSALLE: The Working Man’s Programme.
Till all, recanting, own the State
Means nothing but the People.
Travellers report that Arab boatmen used to be incapable of pulling altogether with a ‘Yo, heave ho!’ (or its Arabic equivalent), but tugged separately and ineffectively; and an inability fully to co-operate is noted as a characteristic of primitive man, animals, and the insane. Most of our present-day troubles appear to be fundamentally due to the lack of organization, and of the efficiency, economy, and real freedom (from disabilities) that come with a proper adaptation of means to ends. Is there less freedom to all because of the rules of the road, the regulation of traffic, and the principle of the queue? The man who elbows, jostles, and spreads himself in car or carriage curtails the freedom of other people.
The demands for amalgamation, consolidation, and working agreements are simply reactions from the hindrances and losses due to licence and confusion. A hundred and twenty competing railways amalgamated into six groups, with a saving of expense which has enabled them to carry on despite the handicap of the heavy road traffic. But they amalgamated to suit their own interests. A still greater consolidation in the public interest could be effected by amalgamating the six groups into one State service. Coalmining companies ought long since to have followed the example set by the railways; but it seems they will do so only on State compulsion, and to this all Individualists think they are opposed. Socialism is, they pretend, ‘the end of all things.’
The objection to nationalization is the most palpable of all the prejudices. The State is our friend even if we have no other. It takes an interest in us almost as soon as we are born, and if there is no one else to bury us the State will do it. If a poor woman whom nobody would have looked at is knocked down in the street, the representative of the State will hold up the whole of the traffic till she is gathered into safety. She will be taken to hospital and have such skill and care as she never would have got from her friends. The organised community is her best friend.
We all fall back upon the State when in trouble. Even the malefactor is glad of police protection from private vengeance. The capitalist himself, much as he hates and professes to despise the State, is glad of a State subsidy, and is fain to appeal to the courts for justice as against birds of his own feather. I one day came upon a group of youths who were tormenting a blind man. When they saw me they ran away, and a policeman coming upon the scene almost at the same moment, he took hold of the bind man in kindness. The sightless face was strained with fear and anxiety, but when the bobby laid hands on him the man seemed to know the difference. He ran his sensitive fingers rapidly up and down the bobby’s buttons, and his face broke into a pleased smile. He knew it was the protective hand of the State rescuing him from private enterprise.
Private enterprise no longer builds houses, or plants trees, or lays down sewers, or carries out large electrical installations. These things all bring us back to the State. The traders of the United States clamour for railway rates the same as those of Canada, because, although Canada is much more sparsely peopled than the States, it can give lower rates, the service having been nationalised. There are no dividends to find.
The Post Office is the biggest and most efficient business in the country, and it gives the cheapest service. Although it does not exist for profit, but primarily for service, it netted £44,000,000 of profit during the thirteen years 1912-25, in spite, too, of all the gratuitous services (constantly being increased) which it performs. The Civil Services are turning over £223,000,000 worth of business a-year, and they do it on working expenses of £11,000,000, or about 5 per cent. No private business is managed upon so small a percentage.
The Social-Democratic State.
Since the time of Plato at least wise men have looked to the State and to the principle of Nationalization as affording the means of social redress. For eighty years the Socialist demand has been for the setting up of a Social-Democratic State, with national ownership of land and machinery. This did not mean that purely local industries were to be managed by a Government bureau at Whitehall, but merely that the communal authorities in localities possessing valuable natural resources such as coal or granite, or acquired skill in metallurgy or textiles, should own allegiance to a central authority that would prevent the setting up of local monopolies claiming monopoly privileges.
This ideal of mutually interdependent and co-ordinated communities of weavers and fishermen, of graziers and grain-raisers, is evidently too large for some minds; and we have had first the Syndicalist demand for the politically independent trade union, and now we have, apparently, a demand from some who regard themselves as Socialists for the political independence of the commune. This last conception is as old at least as the time of the Communards of 1871, who in several populous centres of France rose in armed revolt against the newly-formed Republic, and declared for ‘a free federation of independent communes.’
France and Britain are free federations of communes already; and as to the ‘independence,’ London and Leeds no more need or want to be independent of each other than the nose needs or wants to be independent of the eyes or ears. This idea of the State as an evil is the great bugbear which stands between the nation and the control of its essential services. Critics who turn a blind eye to the gross and palpable evils of Individualism - with its recurring holdups and its permanent waste and inefficiency - inveigh against the imaginary evil of the functions of the State being indefinitely increased, and the business of the nation being made to flow through the Post Office to a still greater extent than it is now doing; though be it said the Post Office has added Old Age Pensions and State Insurance business to its numerous other departments with the maximum of ease, efficiency, and economy. Still, the dislike of certain aspects of bureaucracy is wholesome enough. But the suspicion with respect to excessive centralization becomes itself an excess when the suspecters go on roundly to declare, as they do, that the State is in any case an evil.
Social Evils not State-Created.
We are NOT at war with the State. The evils of life have not been State-created. It was not the State that called slavery into existence; but it did something to protect the slave from his master. The slave was the captive of his owner, who had originally either taken him prisoner in war or captured him in a slave-raid. But while the State did not introduce slavery, and there was slavery before there was a State, it was the State that abolished it, finding twenty millions sterling for the compensation of the dispossessed ‘owners’ in British Dominions, while in America the North fought the South to abolish it.
Serfdom was a remnant of slavery. The basis was the strong hand and willpower of the dominant class. Where it was abolished the State either abolished it summarily, as in Russia, or connived at its abolition by declaring, as England did in the fourteenth century, that a year’s residence in a corporate town freed the serf.
In its inception landlordism is not State-created. The strong men who came to Britain with Hengist and Horsa found the land cultivated by free and half-free colonii, who had been left behind as a relic of the Roman occupation. The masterless man, living in a wild country, made haste to find himself a strong man for master. He was willing to abandon the wild places, the No-Man’s Land, and till another man’s land because of the protection that lay in numbers and the fighting capabilities of his chief. Up to the reign of Alfred, the Saxon tribesmen were freeholders, owing fealty to no overlord. They had got their land from the invading chiefs in freehold, on the ground of their strength, courage, and skill in battle, and it was because of the lack of public spirit on the part of these tribesmen that Alfred the Great and Archbishop Dunstan (the wisest and most public-spirited men of their time) called into existence the feudal system, which made the tribesmen only holders of the land of which they previously had been owners. They would not come out and stay out to repel the Danish pirates. They were individualists who would fight an invader if he appeared within their own hundred or shire, but they would not follow him up and drive him out of the country. The thought of the goodwife, the children, and the farmstead left behind drew them off the pursuit. And so the feudal system had to come as the punishment for the Saxon’s lack of public spirit.
The State thus created the feudal system, but it left millions of acres of folk land and Common land for the poor freemen and the serfs, and time and again it protected the commons from illegal landlordial encroachment. Even Charles the First, tyrant, torturer, and pledge-breaker as he was, did his best to preserve the commons. He learned that Rockingham Forest had dwindled from sixty miles in width to six miles, and in 1633 he appointed a Commission to inquire into these appropriations. The noble depredators, one of whom was the Earl of Essex, were forced to disgorge and were stiffly fined. Rockingham Forest, as public land, was protected by the State for the people.
Part Two next month...
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