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Title: Some Objections To Socialism - From "The Atheistic Platform", Twelve Lectures
Author: Bradlaugh, Charles, 1833-1891
Language: English
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From "The Atheistic Platform", Twelve Lectures

By Charles Bradlaugh.

London: Freethought Publishing Company

63, Fleet Street, E.C.



The great evils connected with and resulting from poverty--evils which
are so prominent and so terrible in old countries, and especially in
populous cities--have, in our own land compelled the attention, and
excited the sympathy, of persons in every rank of society. Many remedies
have been suggested and attempted, and from time to time, during the
present century, there have been men who, believing that the abolition
of individual private property would cure the misery abounding, have
advocated Socialism. Some pure-hearted and well-meaning men and women,
as Robert Owen, Abram Combe, and Frances Wright, have spent large
fortunes, and devoted much of their lives in the essay to test their
theories by experiments. As communities, none of these attempts have
been permanently successful, though they have doubtless, by encouraging
and suggesting co-operative effort in England, done something to modify
the fierceness of the life struggle, in which too often the strongest
and most unscrupulous succeeded by destroying his weaker brother. Some
Socialistic associations in the United States,* as the Shakers and
the Oneida community, have been held together in limited numbers as
religious societies, but only even apparently successful, while the
numbers of each community remained comparatively few. Some communities
have for many years bravely endured the burden of debt, penury, and
discomfort, to be loyal to the memory of their founder, as in the case
at Icaria of the followers of Cabet. But in none of these was the sense
of private property entirely lost; the numbers were relatively so small
that all increase of comfort was appreciable, and in nearly all the
communities there was option of the withdrawal of the individual, and
with him of a proportion of the property he had helped to create or

     * Particulars of all existing Socialistic communities in the
     United States are given in the works of Mr. Hinds and Mr.

During the past generation, Socialistic theory has been specially
urged in Germany, and the Socialist leaders there have acquired greater
influence because of the poverty of the people, and because too of the
cruel persecution to which Social Reformers, as well as Socialists, have
been subjected by Prince Bismarck's despotic government.

A difficulty arising from the repressive measures resorted to in
Germany has been that German emigrants to the United States and to
Great Britain, speak and write as if precisely the same wrongs had to be
assailed in the lands of their adoption as in the land of their birth.

Very recently in England--and largely at the instance of
foreigners--there has been a revival of Socialist propaganda, though
only on a small scale compared with fifty years ago, by persons claiming
to be "Scientific Socialists," who declare that such Socialists
as Robert Owen and his friends were Utopian in thinking that any
communities could be successfully founded while ordinary society exists.
These Scientific Socialists--mostly middle-class men--declare their
intense hatred of the _bourgeoisie_, and affirm that the Social State
they desire to create can only be established on the ruins of the
present society, by a revolution which they say must come in any event,
but which they strive to accelerate. These Scientific Socialists deny
that they ought to be required to propound any social scheme, and they
contemptuously refuse to discuss any of the details connected with the
future of the new Social State, to make way for which the present is
to be cleared away. Most of the points touched on in this lecture were
raised in the discussion on Socialism between myself and Mr. Hyndman
recently held in St. James's Hall. Others of the questions have been
raised in my articles in _Our Corner_, and in the reply there by Mr.

The Socialists of the Democratic Federation say that "Socialism is an
endeavor to substitute an organised co-operation for existence" for
the present strife, but they refuse to be precise as to the method
or character of the organisation, or the lines upon which it is to be
carried out. Their reason is, probably, that they have not even made the
slightest effort to frame any plan, but would be content to try first to
destroy all existing government. I suggest that this want and avoidance
of foresight is, in the honest, folly, and in the wise, criminality.
They mix up some desirable objects which are not all Socialistic
with others that are not necessarily Socialistic, and add to these
declarations which are either so vague as to be meaningless, or else in
the highest degree Socialistic and revolutionary.

Whilst Mr. Hyndman, one of the prominent members of the Democratic
Federation, thus speaks of Socialism as endeavoring "to substitute an
organised co-operation," Mr. E. Belfort Bax, another prominent member
and co-signatory of the manifesto, emphatically says, "no 'scientific'
socialist pretends to have any 'scheme' or detailed plan of
organisation." When organisation can be spoken of as possible without
any scheme or detailed plan, it shows that words are used without regard
to serious meaning.

These Socialists declare that there must be "organisation of
agricultural and industrial armies under State control," and that the
exchange of all production must be controlled by the workers; but they
decline to explain how this control is to be exercised, and on what
principles. We agree that there are often too many concerned in the
distribution of the necessaries of life, and that the cost to the
consumer is often outrageously augmented; but we suggest that this may
be reformed gradually and in detail by individual effort through local
societies, and that it ought not to be any part of the work of the
State. We point to the fact that there are now in Great Britain--all
established during the present reign--nearly one thousand distributive
co-operative societies, with more than half a million members, with over
seventeen and three-quarter millions of pounds of yearly sales, with two
and a half millions of stock-in-trade, with five and a quarter millions
of working capital, and dividing one and a half millions of annual
profit; and that these societies, each keeping its own property,
still further co-operate with one another to reduce loss in exchange by
havings a wholesale co-operative society in England, with sales in
1882 exceeding three and a half millions sterling, and another similar
wholesale society in Scotland, with transactions in the same year
to nearly one million sterling. We say the way to render the cost of
exchange of products less onerous to the laborer is by the extension and
perfection of this organisation of co-operative distribution, and that
this may be and is being done successfully and usefully, ameliorating
gradually the condition and developing the self-reliance of the
individual workers who take part in such co-operative stores, and thus
inciting and inducing other individuals to join the societies already
founded, or to establish others, and so educating individual after
individual to better habits of exchange. We say that this is more
useful than to denounce as idlers and robbers "the shopkeepers and their
hangers on," as is done by the present teachers of Socialism. We object
that the organisation of all industry under State control must paralyse
industrial energy and discourage and neutralise individual effort.

The Socialists claim that there shall be "collective ownership of land,
capital, machinery and credit by the complete ownership of the people,"
and yet they object that they are misrepresented when told that
they want to take the private economies of millions of industrious
wage-earners in this kingdom for the benefit of those who may have
neither been thrifty nor industrious. The truth is that, if language
is to have any meaning, the definitions must stand given by me and
unchallenged by my opponent in the St. James's Hall debate, viz.: (1)
"Socialism denies all individual private property, and affirms that
society, organised as the state, should own all wealth, direct all
labor, and compel the equal distribution of all produce." (2) "A
Socialistic State would be a State in which everything would be held
in common, in which the labor of each individual would be directed
and controlled by the State, to which would belong all results of such
labor." The realisation of a Socialistic State in this country would, as
I then urged, require (1) a physical force revolution, in which all the
present property owners unwilling to surrender their private properties
to the common fund would be forcibly dispossessed. This revolution would
be in the highest degree difficult, if not impossible, for property
holders are the enormous majority.

Mr. Joynes, in an article published in _Our Corner_, does challenge my
definition, and says that the immediate aim of Socialism "is not the
abolition of private property, but its establishment by means of the
emancipation of labor on the only sound basis. It is private capital
we attack, the power to hire laborers at starvation wages, and not
the independent enjoyment of the fruits of labor by the individual who
produces them." And he refers me to a paragraph previously dealt with
by me as an illustration of contradictory statement, in which he and his
cosignatories write: "Do any say we attack private property? We deny it.
We only attack that private property for a few thousand loiterers and
slave-drivers, which renders all property in the fruits of their own
labor impossible for millions. We challenge that private property which
renders poverty at once a necessity and a crime." But surely this
flatly contradicts the declaration by Mr. Hyndman in the debate, of
"the collective ownership of land, capital, machinery, and credit." I
am afraid that Mr. Joynes has in his mind some other unexplained meaning
for the words "capital" and "property." To me it seems impossible that
if everything be owned collectively, anything can be owned individually,
separately, and privately.

Mr. Joynes, however, apparently concedes that it is true that the
private property of "a few thousand loiterers and slave-drivers"
is attacked. Though he does not in his reply explain who these "few
thousand" are, I find in "The Summary of the Principles of Socialism,"
signed by Mr. Joynes, that they are "the capitalist class, the factory
owners, the farmers, the bankers, the brokers, the shopkeepers, and
their hangers-on, the landlords." But these make much more than a "few
thousand." The census returns for England and Wales alone show under the
headings professional classes, 647,075; commercial classes, 980,128 (and
these do not include the ordinary shopkeepers); farmers and graziers,
249,907; and unoccupied males over twenty, 182,282. Add to these
proportional figures for Scotland and Ireland, and it is at once seen
how misleading it is to speak of these as a "few thousand." Mr. Joynes
disapproves of my "small army of statistics." I object that he and his
friends never examine or verify the figures on which they found their
allegations. Mr. Joynes says that it is not private property, the fruits
of labor, that is attacked by the Socialists, but "private capital, the
power to hire laborers." Does that mean that £30 saved by an artisan
would not be attacked so long as he kept it useless, but that if he
deposited it with a banker who used it in industrial enterprise, or if
he invested it in railway shares, it would be forfeited? If an artisan
may, out of the fruits of his labor, buy for £3 and keep as his own
a silver watch, why is the £3 to be confiscated when it gets into the
hands of the Cheapside or Corn-hill watch dealer?

A property owner is not only a Rothschild, a Baring, or an Overstone, he
is that person who has anything whatever beyond that which is necessary
for actual existence at the moment. Thus, all savings however moderate;
all household furniture, books, indeed everything but the simplest
clothing are property, and the property owners belong to all classes.
The wage-earning classes, being largely property owners, viz., not only
by their household goods, but by their investments, building societies,
their small deposits in savings banks, their periodical payments to
their trade societies and friendly societies, they would naturally
and wisely defend these against confiscation. If the physical force
revolution were possible, because of the desperate energy of those
owning nothing, its success would be achieved with serious immediate
crime, and would be attended with consequent social mischief and
terrible demoralisation extending over a long period.

Mr. Hyndman has written that "force, or fear of force, is,
unfortunately, the only reasoning which can appeal to a dominant estate,
or will ever induce them to surrender any portion of their property." I
read these words to him in the debate, and he made no reply to them. I
object that a Socialistic State to be realised by force can only be so
realised after a period of civil war shocking to contemplate, and one in
which the wisest would go near madness.

But a Socialistic State, even if achieved, could not be maintained
without a second (mental) revolution, in which the present ideas and
forms of expression concerning property would have to be effaced,
and the habit of life (resulting from long-continued teachings and
long-enduring traditions) would have to be broken. The words "my house,"
"my coat," "my horse," "my watch," "my book," are all affirmations of
private property which would have to be unlearned. The whole current of
human thought would have to be changed.

In a Socialistic State there would be no inducement to thrift, no
encouragement to individual saving, no protection for individual
accumulation, no check upon, no discouragement to waste.

Nor, if such a Socialistic State be established, is it easy to conceive
how free expression of individual opinion, either by press or platform,
can be preserved and maintained. All means of publicity will belong
to, and be controlled by, the State. But what will this mean? Will a
Socialistic government furnish halls to its adversaries, print books for
its opponents, organise costly journals for those who are hostile to it?
If not, there must come utter stagnation of opinion.

And what could the organisation and controlling of all labor by the
State mean? In what could it end? By whom, and in what manner, would the
selection of each individual for the pursuit, profession, or handicraft
for which he was fittest be determined?

I object that the Socialistic advocates exaggerate and distort real
evils, and thus do mischief to those who are seeking to effect social
reforms. For example, they declare that the whole of the land of
the country is held by "a handful of marauders," who ought to be
dispossessed, and when told that there are 852,438 persons owning on
an average less than one fifth of an acre each, holding probably in
the neighborhood of towns, and that more than half a million of these
persons are members of building societies, paying for their small
properties out of their wage-earnings, they only say: "Do you suppose
those who hold building allotments will be dispossessed?" But if they
are not dispossessed, if their private property is left to them, then
"collective ownership" must have a new meaning. Pressed with the fact
that there are 205,358 owning on an average fifteen acres each, they
make no other answer. Yet this 1,037,896, representing with their
families more than four millions of human beings, are clearly not a
"handful," nor is there any evidence offered that they are "marauders."
My complaint is that the possibility of early Land Law Reform is injured
and retarded by such rashness. It is an undoubted evil that in this
crowded kingdom so few as 2,238 persons should own 39,924,232 acres of
land, and that the enormous holdings should be inadequately taxed, but
we need the influence of the one million small landowners to enable
us legally to reform and modify those obnoxious land laws which have
facilitated the accumulation of such vast estates in so few hands. In
the debate with myself, Mr. Hyndman spoke very contemptuously of the
"small ownerships" and "paltry building allotments," yet he ought to
know that the holders of these houses are law-abiding, peace-promoting
citizens, who are encouraged by these slight possessions, which give
promise of comfort in life, to strive so that the comfort shall be
extended and secured.

A sample of the wild and extraordinary exaggeration indulged in by
the Democratic Federation may be found on p. 48 of the "Summary of the
Principles of Socialism," where it is gravely declared that the "idlers
who eat enormously and produce not at all form the majority of the
population," and this may be fairly contrasted with another statement
by the same persons that the present conditions of labor have "brought
luxury for the few, misery and degradation for the many." If the latter
be accurate, the former must be a perversion.

The Socialists say that there are a few thousand persons who own the
National Debt, and they recommend its extinction; usually leaving it
in doubt as to whether this is to be by wholesale or by partial
repudiation. When reminded that there are an enormous number of small
depositors (at least 4,500,000 accounts in one year) owning through the
ordinary savings banks £45,403,569, and through the Post Office Sayings
Bank, £36,194,495, they neither explain the allegation as to the few
thousands, nor do they condescend to offer the slightest explanation as
to how any savings have been possible if all the wealth created by labor
has been "devoured only by the rich and their hangers-on." Repudiation
of the National Debt would ruin the whole of these. The Socialist leader
says that the small ownership of land and these small savings do not
really benefit the working classes, for that in times of depression the
savings are soon used up. That may often be true, but if there were no
savings then it must be starvation, pauperism, or crime; at least the
saving mitigates the suffering. When told that there are 2,300,000
members of friendly societies, who must represent at least 9,000,000
of the inhabitants of this country, and that these, amongst other
investments, have £1,397,730 in the National Debt, we are answered that
these are mere details. On this point I think Mr. Joynes a little fails
in candor. He takes one set of my figures, and says "the share of each
individual is on the average a little more than £3 3s., and the dividend
which annually accrues to each of these propertied persons is slightly
over 2s. It does not require a very high standard of intelligence to
enable a man to perceive that Socialists who intend to deprive him of
these 2s., and at the same time to secure him the full value of his
work, are proposing not to diminish his income, but to raise it in a
very high degree." Let me first say that the friendly society represents
to each artisan investor, not the 2s. per year, but his possible sick
money, gratuity on disablement, allowance whilst unemployed, etc.;
next, that here Mr. Joynes does in this actually admit an attack on
the private property of the laborer, and does propose to take away the
accumulated "fruits of labor" from the independent enjoyment of the
individual who earned it. And the working-man's house? and his savings
in the savings-bank, or in the co-operative store? Are these to be taken
too? If not, why not? and if yes, of how much of the fruits of his labor
is the laborer to be left by the Socialists in "independent
enjoyment"? When pressed that the confiscation of the railways "without
compensation," would bankrupt every life assurance company, and thus
destroy the provision made for hundreds of thousands of families,
because in addition to about' £5,262,000 in the Funds, and about
£75,000,000 invested on mortgages of houses and land, the life insurance
companies are extensive holders of railway securities--the advocates
of Socialism only condescend to say: "Who are the shareholders in the
railways? Do they ever do any good in the world? They are simply using
the labor of the dead in order to get the labor of the living." But
is this true? The shareholders originally found the means to plan,
legalise, and construct the railway, to buy the land, to pay the laborer
day by day his wage, whilst yet the railway could bring no profit, to
buy the materials for the permanent way, to purchase and maintain the
rolling stock. Many hundreds of shareholders in unsuccessful lines have
never received back one farthing of what they paid to the laborer. No
laborer worked on those unsuccessful lines without wage. Some railway
shareholders have got too much, but there are thousands of comparatively
poor shareholders who are to be ruined by the seizure of their shares
without compensation. It is not at all true that railway shareholders
use "the labor of the dead in order to get the labor of the living." On
the contrary, during the last few years the tendency on lines like the
Midland, has been to afford the widest facilities, and the greatest
possible comfort consistent with cheapness, to working-folk travelling
for need or pleasure. That all railway managers are not equally
far-seeing is true, that much more might be done in this direction is
certain, that some managing directors are over-greedy is clear, but that
the change has been for the better during the past twenty years
none would deny who had any regard for truth. That railway porters,
pointsmen, guards, firemen, and drivers are, as Mr. Joynes well urges,
often badly paid, and nearly always overworked, is true, but making the
railways State property would not necessarily improve this. The Post
Office is controlled by the State for the State, and the letter-carriers
and sorters are as a body disgracefully remunerated.

Mr. Joynes complains that I have not met the question of the "surplus
value" of labor, which he says "is the keystone of the Socialistic
argument." He does not explain upon what basis the alleged surplus
value is calculated, but shelters himself behind a vague, and I submit
incorrect, reference to a declaration by Mr. Hoyle, the well-known
earnest temperance advocate. Mr. Joynes says that in one and
a-half hours the laborer earns enough for subsistence. Mr. Hoyle's
often-repeated declaration is in substance to the effect, that if the
whole drink traffic of the country were abolished, and neither wines,
beers, nor spirits drunk by any of the industrial classes, then that the
working men could earn enough for comfort in very much less time than
they now do. Mr. Joynes here entirely overlooks the substance of Mr.
Hoyle's declaration, which is, in effect, that the working men do now
receive, and then spend wastefully, what would keep them. I have always
contended that in nearly every department of industry labor has been
insufficiently paid, in some cases horribly paid, and I have claimed
for the laborer higher wages, and tried to help to teach him, through
trades' unions and otherwise, how to get these higher wages; but if Mr.
Joynes and his friends mean anything, wages are to disappear altogether,
and the State is to apportion to each a sort of equal subsistence,
without regard to the skill or industry of the individual laborer,
so that the skilled engineer, the unskilled hod-carrier, the street
sweeper, the ploughman, and the physician, would each, in the
Socialistic State, have neither less nor more than the other.

The Socialists say "the laborers on the average replace the value of
their wages for the capitalist class in the first few hours of their
day's work; the exchange value of the goods produced in the remaining
hours of the day's work constitutes so much embodied labor which is
unpaid; and this unpaid labor so embodied in articles of utility, the
capitalist class, the factory owners, the farmers, the bankers, the
brokers, the shopkeepers, and their hangers-on, the landlords, divide
amongst themselves in the shape of profits, interests, discounts,
commissions, rent, etc." But without the capitalist where would be
the workshop, the plant, or the raw material? It would be better if
in co-operative production workmen would be their own capitalists, but
surely the owner of capital is entitled to some reward? If not how is he
to be persuaded to put it into fixed capital as factory and plant?
Why should he beforehand purchase raw material on which labor may be
employed, subsist labor while so employed, and take the risk of loss as
well as profit in exchanging the article produced? And why is not the
farmer to be sustained by the laborers if that farmer grows the food the
laborer requires? Why should not the shopkeeper be rewarded for bringing
ready to the laborer articles which would be otherwise in the highest
degree difficult to procure? If the laborer procured his own raw
material, fashioned it into an exchangeable commodity, and then went
and exchanged it, there are many to whom the raw material would be
inaccessible, and more who would lose much of the profits of their
labor in fruitless efforts to exchange. The vague declarations by the
Socialist that production and exchange are to be organised are
delusive without clear statement of the methods and principles of
the organisation. Robert Owen is called "Utopian" by these Democratic
Federation Socialists, but at least he did try to reduce to practice his
theories of production and exchange. The Democratic Federation say that
"surplus value" is produced by "labor applied to natural objects under
the control of the capitalist class." I object that but for capital,
fixed and circulating, there are many natural objects which would be
utterly inaccessible to labor; many more which could only be reached
and dealt with on a very limited scale. That but for capital the laborer
would often be unable to exist until the object had exchangeable
value, or until some one was found with an equivalent article ready to
exchange, and I submit that the banker, the shopkeeper, the broker may
and do facilitate the progress of labor, and would and could not do so
without the incentive of profit.

We agree that "wage" is often much too low, and we urge the workers in
each trade to join the unions already existing, and to form new unions,
so that the combined knowledge and protection of the general body of
workers as to the demand for, and value of, the labor, may be at
the service of the weakest and most ignorant. We would advocate the
establishment of labor bureaux, as in Massachusetts, so that careful and
reliable statistics of the value of labor and cost of life may be
easily accessible. We would urge the more thorough experiment on, and
establishment of, cooperative productive societies in every branch of
manufacture, so that the laborers furnishing their own capital and their
own industry, may not only increase the profit result of labor to the
laborer, but also afford at least a reasonable indication as to the
possible profit realised by capitalists engaged in the same industries.
We would increase wage (if not in amount, at any rate in its purchasing
power), by diminishing the national and local expenditure, and thus also
decreasing the cost of the necessaries of life. We would try to shift
the pressing burden of taxation more on to land, and to the very large
accumulation of wealth.

We contend that he or she who lives by the sale of labor should, with
the purchase money, be able to buy life, not only for the worker, but
for those for whom that worker is fairly bread-winner. And life means
not only healthy food, reasonable clothing, cleanly, healthy shelter,
education for the children until they are so sufficiently grown that
labor shall not mean the crippling of after life--but also leisure.
Leisure for some enjoyment, leisure for some stroll in the green fields,
leisure for some look into the galleries of paintings and sculpture,
leisure for some listening to the singer, the actor, the teacher;
leisure that the sunshine of beauty may now and then gild the dull round
of work-a-day life; and we assert that in any country where the price of
honest earnest industry will not buy this, then that if there are any in
that country who are very wealthy, there is social wrong to be reformed.
But this is the distinction between those with whom I stand and the

We want reform, gradual, sure, and helpful. They ask for revolution,
and know not its morrow. Revolution may be the only remedy in a country
where there is no free press, no free speech, no association of workers,
no representative institutions, and where the limits of despotic outrage
are only marked by the personal fear of the despot. But in a country
like our own, where the political power is gradually passing into the
hands of the whole people, where, if the press is not entirely free
it is in advance of almost every European country, and every shade of
opinion may find its exponent, here revolution which required physical
force to effect it would be a blunder as well as a crime. Here, where
our workmen can organise and meet, we can claim reforms and win them.
The wage-winners of Durham and Northumberland, under the guidance of
able and earnest leaders, have won many ameliorations during the past
twenty years. Each year the workers' Parliament meets in Trades Union
Congress, to discuss and plan more complete success, and to note the
gains of the year. Every twelve months, in the Co-operative Congresses,
working men and women delegates gather together to consult and advise.
Each annual period shows some progress, some advantage secured, and
though there is much sore evil yet, much misery yet, much crime yet,
much--far too much--poverty yet, to-day's progress from yesterday shows
day-gleam for the people's morrow.

Printed by Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, at 63, Fleet Street,
London, E.O.--1884.

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