Sunday, August 23, 2015

Views on Socialism, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson


Colonel T. W. Higginson Speaks with His Well Known Conciseness.

Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the venerable and eminent author, surprised many people, recently, by Signing the manifesto of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, says the New York World. That the wealthy biographer of Longfellow and Whittier, historian, essayist, member of many learned societies and life-long associate of the men of letters should openly advocate socialism astonished all but those who know him intimately. Colonel Higginson received the World's staff correspondent in Boston and expressed himself on socialism as follows, weighing his words with great care:

"The very word 'socialist' has become difficult to deal with, from the fact that it has been vaguely used to express the party of progress, and the progressive body in a community is, by its nature, subdivided, and is never so closely organized and united as the conservative body. This is more visible in America than even in England.

"I never call myself a socialist, because no two persons interpret the word in the same way. But I grew up in the Brook Farm and Fourierite period and have always been interested in all tendencies in that direction. More than this, I have studied more than half a century and observed a steady tendency through our whole society in that direction - that is, the substitution of vigorous social organization for the individualism which once prevailed.

"In my boyhood, for instance, public schools were in their infancy, and, in the vast majority of cases, offered only momentary instruction, public high schools only existing here and there, and, for many years following, there was a vigorous protest against, the introduction of higher branches into these schools. Against the plan of public provision of school books the same hostility was found, and, in more than one town, even after the books had been provided, the action was revoked and the free textbooks temporarily withdrawn; in the same way, free public libraries, now so universal, had an ordeal to go through. "When the great Boston Public Library was first established the prediction was made that it would amount to nothing beyond public documents and a few books bestowed on the institution by their authors.

"Water supplies were at first the property of private companies, not open to the public at large. Bridges were toll bridges, and the only good roads were turnpike roads. In all these cases it was only very gradually that the tolls were abolished and the public at large assumed ownership. In every instance, the movement for public ownership was fought against and regarded as a step toward socialism. The assertion was perfectly correct - the unconscious march of the community was in that direction, and the peculiarity of the case was that neither of these steps was ever taken back again. There was a time when even the post-office was so imperfectly established that an energetic private company in San Francisco competed with it, and, for a time, kept all the local business mainly in its own hands.

"The peculiarity is not so much that these successive changes have been made, but that they have all grown up in one direction and that no step backward has ever been taken. On the contrary, example tells. The individual freedom of municipal governments gives the opportunity to test side by side the profitableness and safety of the two methods. A near-by town in Massachusetts, for instance, has a public water system, while its neighbor, with about the same population, has a private company to supply it, and each family there pays twice as much for water as in the other town. These things tell rapidly, and thus the method of municipal ownership grows.

"Now, municipal ownership is a step toward socialism, as far as it goes, and the fact that all these steps tend one way shows that socialism advances, even if unconsciously, all the time. In 1800, there were sixteen public waterworks in the United States, all privately built and owned, except one in Winchester, Va. Fourteen of these private plants have since become public. Of the fifty largest cities in this country, twenty-one originally built and now own their waterworks, twenty have changed from a private to a public ownership and only nine depend on private capitalists.

"The peculiarity is not so much in these changes as in the fact that they are practically all one way. Those who have once tried the public system would no more consent to changing it than they would think of handing over the post-office to a private corporation. "So far as tendency goes, we are all Socialists in dally life, without knowing that fact. it is useless to deny that obstacles occur at every step, and it is very well to do everything with due deliberation. But that the movement of human history is toward the public ownership of monopolies is unquestionable and, if that be socialism, make the most of it.

"As for the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, it is simply an expression of opinion that a college should not ignore the study of this great movement of the age."

COLONEL T. W. HIGGINSON, Who Gives His Views on Socialism.

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