Is the state the enemy? PART TWO
Nor was capitalism created by the State. It was created by individual cunning and the simple willingness and even anxiety of working men to attach themselves to a master, even if they must labour for his profit. Even to-day one sees many a man who is possessed of both the money to start in business and the skill to carry it on, continue to work for a master owing to sheer lack of initiative and self-confidence. Such men have been the creators and perpetuators of capitalism, small blame to them. The primitive craftsman employing a journeyman and an apprentice or two, who boarded with him, was the natural enough precursor of the joint stock company of to-day, with its shareholders drawing their dividends thousands of miles away. The public had to be served somehow. Certainly the State is not to blame for having allowed capitalism to grow. It had no mandate to prevent it or to organise production itself, which would alone have prevented capitalism from growing bloated.
It was not the State that caused long hours in factories; but it was the State that curtailed them. It was not the State that sent coffin ships to sea and pocketed the insurance money when they went down with all hands in mid-ocean, as it was intended they should do; but it was the State that introduced the load line, the Merchant Shipping Act, the Survey, and the Board of Trade Regulations. It was not the State that sent the climbing boys up the chimneys; but the State forbade it. It is not the State that causes railway and coal strikes; but the State often intervenes to stop them. The State did not cause parents to bring up their children in ignorance; it passed the Education Acts. It did not make fiery mines or ordain that machinery should be used in factories; but it insisted on the safety lamp, and ventilation, and pumping; and it ordered dangerous machinery to be fenced and sent inspectors to see that it was done.
The Strong shall bear Rule.
The State is the organ of whichever class has the courage, the ability, and the numbers to capture and run it. The upper class once controlled it; the middle class since 1832 has taken hold of it; the workers now have the power to capture it and wield it to their purposes, and if they use that power it will be THEIR State - the State will be the people incorporated.
The State is not merely a repressive Policeman or Tax-Gatherer. It is the servant of the comunity as well. The hundreds of thousands of postal employees were some years ago joined by 18,000 telephone workers. The Municipality is not a mere Night-Watchman. It sends you gas men, sanitary men, electricians. It will send you others if you will have it so.
The enemy is not the responsible Public Servant. The enemy is the irresponsible private adventurer. It is not the elected persons who are ‘audacious.’ The audacious person is the non-elected capitalist or landlord, strong in the mere fact of possession and in the ignorance and subserviency of the public.
Socialism is the bringing of the processes and services of life under the Reign of Law. It is the substitution of communal order for commercial chaos. The only alternatives to the State of to-day would be a congeries of warring communities, polluting each other’s drinking water, wrangling about each other’s sewage, refusing to join for common purposes as they often refuse at present, each taking its own way as to education, the protection of foreshores, the maintenance of roads, the running of through traffic. It is possible to have too much home rule.
The Natural State.
The people of Great Britain speak, write, read the same language. Their habits, local institutions, business methods, food, dress, traditions, music, domestic arrangements, literature, drama, ideas, tastes, are similar - sadly similar. Why should they not be a State, a united Nation? Why should Bradford seek to be independent of Manchester because they are in different counties? Why should they want to be independent? Race, language, the mountain chain, the broad river, the sounding sea constitute the natural divisions of nations. To say that these should count for nothing is to fly in the face of Nature. But Socialism is not a divider, but a uniter. They who pretend that Socialism is at war with the State are not Socialists, but Anarchists, who wish to set up a monopoly of the craftsmen for the monopoly of the capitalists. Socialism sets up the community as above both.
Obviously there can be no nationalization without a State, and without a State one can readily imagine the complications and bickerings that would arise between the not too wise men of the various Gothams, over postal facilities, sewering, rivers, railways, defence, education, and other matters as to which the State has the final word to-day. The strife of the Brugeois and the Ghentois, of the Italian states, of the early Saxon kings of counties might well be repeated in pitched battles between the men of Manchester and the men of Liverpool. Leeds and Bradford and Sheffield, no longer content with football victories, would march against each other with more than Ulsterian venom and with more deadly weapons than dummy muskets and wooden cannon. The hordes of Glasgow would overrun Scotia’s ancient capital inflamed with the animus of a jealousy nursed for generations, and Cardiff and Bristol would carry on a war of tariffs that might end in reciprocal bombardments.
As it is, the Government keeps the scattered townships knit together under the law. It lends them money at the lowest possible rate of interest, and it must have power to enforce the payments of the loans. It gives imperial taxation to be used for local purposes - as education and roads - and it insists upon a certain standard of efficiency in the teachers, a certain standard of suitability in the school buildings and equipment. It can enforce its demands by refusing to pay grants to the local bodies who want to conduct public services on the cheap.
The State a Blessing.
The Individualist or Anarchist critics attack the State as if it were and must remain a pure evil to be fought. It is, as a matter of fact, a blessing. It behaves better to the workers than they would behave to themselves. It educates them in spite of themselves. It has given them old-age pensions which they would never have devised for themselves. It inspects their food, their workplaces, and the ladders and scaffoldings upon which private enterprise compels them to risk their necks. It condemns rotten fruit, tuberculous beef, milk which is below the standard. It insists on dangerous machines being fenced, upon a certain amount of cubic air space being provided in factories and in the forecastles of ships. It stipulates for a certain food standard on board ship. It forbids excessive deck-loading. It insists on a load line. It makes regulations as to pumping, air fans, shot-firing, and props in the mines, and if accidents occur it is because of the cupidity of the owners or the carelessness of the men, which more inspectors might correct, but could never abolish. Of course Socialism would substitute public ownership of factories, ships, and mines; and a good deal of the inspection and regulation and registration would be quite unnecessary under Socialism; but the point is that the State in all these matters behaves, not as the enemy, but as the friend of the workers.
The State insists on many things for their good that they themselves often do their best to defeat or render nugatory. What is the good of pretending that anybody or anything is to blame except the stupidity and apathy of the workers themselves, who vote against the people who would confer benefits upon them? To look back upon all the silly causes for which the people have shed their blood is pitiful. To think of all the good causes they have neglected or deserted is tragic. The London apprentices turned out for Essex, as the Scotsmen did for the Old and the Young Pretenders later in the day. The farm labourers of Somersetshire mustered, scythe in hand, to fight for Monmouth, unworthy son of a king’s strumpet, and for this base cause they died in thousands on the rhine banks of Sedgmoor. But they deserted Wat Tyler and John Ball and John Cade at the first promise of redress from the authorities or the first sign of failure on the part of these honest and capable working-men leaders, as later in the day they melted away from Robert Owen, and Ernest Jones, and Joseph Arch in the early Socialist, the Chartist, and the trade union movements.
Who is to Blame?
How can Socialists pretend that the State is to blame? As clearly as anything can be, it is the workers who are to blame, possessed of political power as they are to make the State whatever they want it to be. They elect the slum-owner in preference to the slum-abolisher. They prefer the landlord to the land nationaliser. They elect the capitalist, and put the worker at the bottom of the poll. When they get a good servant who gives all his waking hours for little reward and no thanks they cast about for accusations to urge against him. The sincere man who hates rhodomontade and talks plain good sense is assailed with abuse and watched with suspicion, while the adventurer who is at best only an indifferent ‘variety turn,’ and will lecture on anything for fees - this man is taken to the heart of the gullible ones, and the more fierily impossible or the more jocularly useless he is the better they will like him. The stabs of the enemy, the boycott of the capitalist, the contumely of the rich and proud, are as nothing by comparison with the folly, the suspicion, the rudeness, the ungrateful desertion, and the political malingering of the workers.
The only practical question for to-day is: ‘Should the working class make use of its political power?’ Must the State CONTINUE to be the organ of the possessing classes? Of course I say No. I say the workers can capture the political machine and use it for their own purposes, and I want to see them do it. But when I say the State I do not mean merely or chiefly the Central Government. I am not specially enamoured of the legislative adjustments of the Wage System which are what we mostly get from Parliament. I attach (as I say with necessary iteration) more importance to capturing the machinery of local government. I hold that it would be absurd to nationalise local services like the milk or the coal supply or the running of the textile industries. All these must be municipalised. Yet without Socialist possession of the Central Government as well we should not be allowed to develop Socialism locally. More than that, a hostile Central Government could conceivably take away our local governing powers. So that I am all for getting Socialists elected to the local bodies first; though of course we could not do that without having enough power to enable us to return Socialist members of Parliament as well.
In a passage which Statophobists are fond of quoting, H. T. Buckle, the Individualist Victorian author of a ‘History of Civilisation,’ says
Every great reform which has been effected has consisted, not in doing something new, but in undoing something old. The most valuable additions made to legislation have been enactments destructive of preceding legislation; and the best laws which have been passed have been those by which some former laws were repealed.
This untenable view is based on such measures as the Catholic Emancipation Act, the Act removing the Disabilities of the Jews, with, above all, the Acts repealing the Corn Laws. It would be nearer the truth to say that the best legislation has been that which created rights and privileges to the whole common people as against classes and individuals holding power and enjoying possession, not so much by the help of the law as by means of superior force and cunning exercised often in defiance of the law. Magna Charta, ‘the foundation-stone of English liberty,’ gave rights which no previous law or charter either DENIED OR AFFIRMED. So did the Bill of Rights. So did the Factory Acts. The Reform Bills of ’32 and ’67 and ’85 did not so much abolish previous legislation as create new and additional civic rights and powers for the whole body of householders. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, the Merchant Shipping Acts, Mines Regulation Acts, Truck Act, Education and Free Libraries Acts did not abolish previous legislation, but called into existence new legal rights to remove old social wrongs, The evils from which civilised nations suffer to-day are not evils which have been created by law. They are evils which have arisen because there was no law and no practice to prevent them from arising. In the hour of need we call for the police, and as our servant the policeman comes at the call of the humblest. If the police were not the servants of the community, the rich could hire both their own police and their own soldiers, as they did in days gone by.
The True State.
The true Socialist view of the State is thus enunciated by Laurence Gronlund:
It is Society, organised society, the State, that gives us all the rights we have. To the State we owe our freedom. To it we owe our living and property, for outside of organised society man’s needs far surpass his means. The humble beggar owes much to the State, but the haughty millionaire far more; for outside of it they both would be worse off than the beggar now is. To it we owe all that we are and all that we have. To it we owe our civilization. It is by its help that we have reached such a condition as man individually never would have been able to attain. Progress is the struggle with Nature for mastery, is war with misery and inabilities of our ‘natural’ condition. The State is the organic union of us all to wage that war, to subdue Nature, to redress natural defects and inequalities. The State, therefore, so far from being a burden to the ‘good,’ a ‘necessary evil,’ is man’s greatest good.
This is simply a striking paraphrase and extension of the passage from Ferdinand Lassalle which we have prefixed as an epigraph to these pages.
So much by way of abstract principles; but what are the practical implications of this theory of the function of the State as head of the grouped communes of a nation? What has Socialism to say of the present?
The great cleavage between Socialists and all Individualist politicians is that in spite of the manifest failure of Individualism on every hand, all so-called practical politicians continue to believe in it, and in spite of the universal success of Socialism, continue to treat Socialism as utopian and unpractical.
Although State and Municipal service is everywhere better and cheaper than capitalistic service, although State and Municipal employees are better treated than the employees of private enterprise, although the most important jobs are everywhere done by the State and the Municipalities, and the State and the Municipalities are constantly having to come to the rescue of Private Enterprise, the amazing fact remains that this triumphant thing Socialism is still a nickname.
Daniel O’Connell enraged the Irish virago by calling her a Logarithm, and when a Tory wishes to be specially exasperating he calls a piece of legislation Socialistic, with the never-failing result that ministers rise and indignantly repudiate the opprobrious epithet, without having even the Irishwoman’s excuse, for she was angry because she did not know what a Logarithm was.
In social service no other principle save public control and public responsibility and public efficiency is now or ever was any good. All that has been of any service in legislation from the beginning of time has been where corporate control was extended over the means of life, where the State stepped in to preserve the peace, to protect life and property, to educate the ignorant, to provide legal aid to accused persons, to run the mails, to inspect mines, ships, ladders, scaffoldings, weights and measures, to develop telegraphs and railways, to help with great distance-saving canals, to encourage agriculture, fishing, and handicrafts.
Is a great estuary of the sea to be reclaimed from Father Neptune and made into good arable land? The Dutch Government does it once and again - first with the Polders and then with the Zuyder Zee. One third of the area of the country has been ‘made’ by the State in this way. Has a railway to be built through a desert inhabitated by hostile tribesmen? Again the undertaking is so large that only the State can do it. When the Manchester Ship Canal Company had spent all its money, Manchester City had to come to the rescue and finish the canal. Though armies of old were raised by private enterprise, the Great War could only have been waged by States and State armies. The very largest jobs always have to be done by the State or the Municipality. In resources, in command of credit, in command of the best talent, the State and the Municipality are easily first. This is so obvious that it would not be worth stating if it were not habitually forgotten in practice and theory alike.
The Concluding part - part three will be available in the February edition of Gateway.
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