Prof. Walter Rauschenbusch of Rochester, New York, author of "Christianity and the Social Crisis," spoke before the City Club at luncheon, Saturday, April 13, on "The Trend Toward Collectivism in the Modern World," Mr. Harry F. Ward presided.
HARRY F. WARD: "We are to listen today to a discussion of one of the most significant movements in modern society, the movement toward the collective control of life. We have been driven into a social consciousness. We are developing a social conscience, and in the realm of government, of industry and of religion the very vital question is, how we are going to express this in social action. The man who is going to address us is qualified to speak on this topic, not simply as a student, but as one who has long and patiently observed the social movement at first hand. He has for years been intimate with the needs of the industrial group. He is the author of a book which is recognized in Europe as one of the few vital books which have been produced in this country and in our generation. Among his fellow ministers of all denominations he is not without that honor which is sometimes accorded to prophets. I have great pleasure in introducing to you Professor Walter Rauschenbusch, of Rochester, New York." (Applause.)
Prof. Walter Rauschenbusch
"My subject is to be the trend toward collectivism. I suppose most of you will regard 'collectivism' simply as a disguise for socialism. Socialism is traveling around the country in very many disguises. Many of the men who believe in it most heartily are afraid of using the word. One of the most prominent magazine writers and lecturers on the subject recently told me that he avoided using the word altogether, because as soon as he said 'socialism,' people regarded him as an atheist, a believer in free love, an enemy of the family, and a destroyer of the state. He used 'collectivism' or 'industrial democracy' or 'the new nationalism,' or any old thing, because it was bound to work out toward socialism anyhow.
"A friend of mine told me of a conversation with a man who visited him and was constantly using a certain objectionable and very emphatic monosyllable that some of you may be acquainted with by reputation. My friend, who is a Presbyterian elder, remonstrated with him for using that word so constantly. He replied that he was trying to rehabilitate it in polite society. I am afraid it is just about as hopeful to rehabilitate that word as it is to rehabilitate the word ‘socialism.’
"But I am really not trying to dodge the use of that word. I mean by 'collectivism' something larger than 'socialism' usually means. Socialism, in its organized form, seems to me to be only one section of a far larger movement, and that larger movement I want to designate today by the word 'collectivism,' not because that is the ordinary use of the word, but simply in order to have an algebraic symbol for something we want to express.
"I believe in the utility of organized socialism and of the socialist party. I am not a member of it, but I am glad that it is in existence, and if I were a devout Republican or Democrat - which I am not - I would wish, for the sake of my own party, that there might be a strong socialist minority party in every legislature, in congress and in all local boards of aldermen, etc. That would be a very powerful stimulus to the old parties to make for righteousness. They would suddenly sit up and take notice, I think, if they found even half a dozen good, vigorous, intelligent socialists to stand by and look on over their shoulders while they were doing business; and so far from desiring the failure of socialism, I think it is a good, thing that it is coming on. It will have a purifying influence in our national life. And yet I regard socialism much as the powerful midstream current of a large river. The river carries a far larger bulk of water and yet is swiftest in midstream. Socialism is the dogmatic, definite, clear, intelligent comprehension of this general trend, frequently in an exaggerated and dogmatic form, but the trend itself is far larger.
What Collectivism Is
"My proposition this afternoon is that we are all moving in the direction of what I would call 'collectivism.' By collectivism I mean emphasis on public welfare and public rights, rather than private welfare and private rights, and a desire to increase the amount of public property as against private property. All constructive proposals today are tending to increase the movement of public ownership and of public functions. All public-spirited movements are working in the same direction. There is a curious unanimity of instinct running through the entire civilized world making in that direction. It raises a kind of presumption of historical destiny.
"The oldest achievements of civilization have gradually passed into public ownership. For instance, public roads and streets and bridges were, to a large extent, at one time under private ownership. Many of us recollect the toll roads of early days in our own country. Toll bridges owned by private corporations were also common. They have now become generally publicly owned. The fire-fighting apparatus which is now everywhere part of the public equipment used to be a private affair. In ancient Rome private corporations used to extinguish fires. When a fire broke out in ancient Rome, the fire-fighters would offer to extinguish it at so much, and the owner of the place had a chance to make a dicker with them while the fire was making rapid progress. The bigger the fire got the higher their rates. I commend that to all who believe in capitalism as a lost chance for making profit. Something of the kind existed in England not long ago. The public organization for fighting fire is of comparatively recent origin. The courts likewise used to be under private control, to a large extent. The nobles of England and of France used to have the right of justification and it was a lucrative source of profit to them. Justice was a profit-making enterprise. Warfare, likewise, used to be a very lucrative source of income and a private appurtenance. Nobles of even comparatively low rank had the right to make war and plunder and keep all that they could get. You can see how desirable that would be. Warfare now has become a collective undertaking. It is reserved to the people at large. Government itself used to be a private concern. Private individuals did the governing and made what they could out of it. Today, through democracy, governing has come a public and collective undertaking.
Collective Basis of Education
"In recent times some other large enterprises have become of a collective nature; for instance, our public schools. Private educational undertakings have narrowed down and public education has become one of the great collective undertakings of modern society. Our public schools are constantly increasing their functions and the insistency with which they enter into public life. Our post-office system is fortunately a collective undertaking, thanks to the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin. We have to thank him for placing in the midst of our privately-owned institutions one great institution of collective ownership, the post-office. It is also partly a banking concern.
"Our museums and public libraries are also public and collective undertakings; parks and playgrounds likewise; hospitals and baths in many cases. Our water supply in most American cities, I think, is now publicly owned, and while there may be some dissatisfaction where there is public ownership of the water supply, usually the public has a ready means of redress. On the other hand where the water supply is in the hands of private corporations, there is usually a good deal of disregard for public health. Wherever any little nucleus of public ownership of that kind exists there is a desire to expand it; just as in the crystallizing of ice a small particle of ice will become the nucleus for further crystallizing.
"I would like to raise this question: Wherever public ownership has become well established, has secured a backing in the community and has habituated itself in the social life, is there any desire to go back of it ? There is today, for instance, some criticism of the post-office; but if there were a referendum of the whole people of the United States would they vote that the post-office should be turned over to any one of the express companies ? Wherever public functions are exercised by private corporations there is always chronic dissatisfaction running through the community. On the other hand, where public ownership has become well established the public always has a direct means of redress in case there is cause for complaint. That fact is, I think, a great historical verdict in favor of collectivism.
The European Movement
"Other countries have gone much further than we in the direction of expandng the area of collective ownership. In Europe, as many of you know, in many cities and countries, gas, electric light, electric power, the telegraph system, the telephone system, the parcels post, railways, theaters, opera houses, are all comprised within the area of collective ownership, and the people there would not think of going back of it. In those points where European civic life is superior to ours, as for instance in the well-ordered and beautiful German cities, it is usually due to the fact that there is a far larger area of collective undertaking and collective enterprise than there is with us.
"In our country additional undertakings have been forced upon us within recent years, through the very largeness that was necessary in them. For instance, irrigating the waste lands of the west necessarily had to be a public undertaking. The Panama Canal, likewise, had to be undertaken by public enterprise, and you all know what a nest of public functions has sprng up around that canal. The boarding houses and hotels and public pleasure resorts there are run by our government, and on the whole it is well done. The subways in some of our large cities are likewise constructed with public capital. When a thing is done collectively it can be planned long ahead and there will be no duplication of the undertaking. The canal system in Germany is a remarkable illustration of the efficiency of public planning. One canal will hitch in with the other. The canal system in Germany co-operates with the railway systems; both are publicly owned, both linked together. The heavier freights are carried on the canals by water and the lighter freights are carried by the railroads. In our own country the publicly owned canals are in competition with the privately owned railroads, and each tries to hold the other down. For instance, the Erie Canal in the State of New York exists largely as a safety valve for the people, as a means of keeping down freight rates, and we have to keep up that expensive canal in part for that purpose. The railroads, on the other hand, have succeeded in holding down the improvement of the Erie Canal, because if it were too efficient it would be too dangerous to them. So, instead of having co-operation between these two great systems of transportation, we have some degree of competition, which is hostile to the efficiency of either of them.
The Control of Public Health
The necessities of public health have also tended to increase the scope of public ownership. When we own our water supply we also have to look after the sanitary character of the watersheds connected with the water supply, and are compelled to lay some restriction upon the wide areas from which our large cities draw their water.
"In England they have come to the point, of laying a very vigorous hand on the tenement houses of the large cities in the interest of public health. A number of large English cities have torn out entire sections of the city, tearing down the unsanitary tenements and constructing new streets of a fine and sanitary character in the interest of the public health.
"The time is coming when our American municipalities, too, will have to go further in the direction of collective ownership in order to protect the health of our citizens, for instance, in caring for the sanitary character of milk and ice supply. Ice has become so necessary a part of life in our modern cities, under present conditions, that it ought not to be tolerated that the price of ice be fixed by a monopoly. Coal also. There is no competition in the coal prices in our cities, is there? Do you have competition between individual dealers so far as ice and coal are concerned? In Rochester the price of coal is fixed for the dealer. The individual dealer would go below it at his peril. His supply of coal would be withheld from him by the large concerns from which he has to buy. A situation of that kind is contrary to the public welfare. A cheap supply of coal, a cheap supply of ice, are necessary for the public health and public welfare under modern conditions.
"In Germany it is one of the demands of the Socialist party that drug stores shall be run on behalf of the public and drugs sold at cost price. There is a great deal to recommend that to the mind of any one who knows about the adulteration of drugs in America. Some of the most necessary drugs, like anti-toxin and vaccine, at present are furnished by municipalities.
"There are other directions in which collectivism is extending its scope which might, perhaps, conceal themselves from our eyes. For instance, as you all know, there is a strong movement, not only in our country but in England and in Germany, to put an increased taxation on land values. We are familiar with the program of the Single Taxers. That, too, is a collectivist movement. It is supposed to be the extreme of individualism, but really it is collectivism, because it tends to put the hand of the people on a great source of wealth which is produced by public improvements and which, at present goes to private persons. This movement proposes to take some share of that wealth, if not the whole of it, for public purposes, and so far it is a movement of collectivism. In fact, wherever there is an appropriation of unearned incomes or a larger taxation on large incomes, we have a tendency toward collectivism. Wherever there is a monopoly in Europe of liquor, of tobacco, of salt, of matches, for the purpose of raising public revenue, they have collectivism for public income.
Private and Public Insurance
"Our insurance system is a form of collectivism. Life insurance, fire insurance, is an arrangement for binding together a great number of people in a common interest in such a way that when one of them is smitten by disaster, by fire, by accident, by death, the rest of them will come to his relief. No matter if they are organized fraternally and privately, it is nevertheless a form of collectivism. But in recent years we have become aware of the fact that private insurance extends its advantages to but a limited number of people. It is practically unavailable to the large number of working people who need it most. Industrial insurance, so-called, seems to me a flat failure in our country. It is so fearfully expensive that it returns to the working man very little for what he puts into it. Our private insurance companies do not seem to have been capable of devising a satisfactory system for the poor man who needs insurance most. On that account, Germany, England and France are working in the direction of compulsory insurance, which is under- taken by the state and extends the system of insurance to a far larger number. Insurance can be made cheap when it is made universal for the entire working class. Compulsory nation-wide insurance represents a collective system of savings.
"The same thing, is true in regard to pensions. Wherever you have pensions you have collectivism. The pensions of our soldiers and public officers, like the police, are a collective system of having society care for individuals in the time of their need. As you know, the pension system is making rapid headway. In England, everybody over seventy, without adequate income, can draw $1.25 per week. In our own country it is coming not by government agency, but by the undertaking of large corporations, who are beginning to care for their employees in their old age; but that is Collectivism also.
Cooperative Enterprise in Europe
"The large extension of voluntary co-operative enterprises in modern life is well known to you. The extent of co-operation in European countries is astonishing to Americans. Co-operative stores are a great economic fact in England, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany. In our own country we have made little progress in voluntary co-operation. Perhaps one of the chief causes is that we have not yet learned to economize. We do not yet bother about small savings. We are prodigal. But I wonder whether the present era of high prices will not lead to an extension of co-operative buying in our own country. If I were a rich man and had leisure and capital and public spirit I think that is one of the lines of effort that I should go into. I should put my capacity for organization into the service of the people in order to organize and make effective and productive co-operative enterprises. That would immediately react on the entire community. Collective buying and selling would be one of the best means of keeping down artificially high prices.
"One line of collective influence which, perhaps, has escaped us is the influence of collective intelligence on the improvement of farming in our country. Within recent years there has been a very remarkable advance in the application of science to farming. That is not due to the enterprise of the individual farmer who has personally made chemical examination of soils or experimented on the production of better seeds. This stimulating influence in agriculture has been due to collective agencies. The granges have been organs of collective life. The government experimental stations, government distribution of literature, government supervision and distribution of seed, have been collective undertakings in which private profit was no element and this has been able to stimulate a great many individuals in the direction of greater intelligence and economy in their farming operations. Here, then, we have an interesting case where collectivism has, to some degree, invaded what is still the bulwark of private enterprise, firming. Farming has not yet advanced far in the direction of collective undertaking, as modem industry has. It is still left in the main to the individual farmer that has 160 acres. Yet collective intelligence has stimulated these many individuals.
Collectivism in Private Business
"In profit-making industries, too, there is an underground tendency toward collectivism in the aggregation of economic forces, in the increase of large undertakings in industry. Isn't that a form of collectivism, too ? Men no longer produce alone, by themselves, each in his own little shop. A tremendous number of people combine to produce and to finance enterprises. Our great corporations are collectively financed; they are collectively operated. About the only thing that seems to be private still is the dividends, and in them, too, there is now a tendency to make them more collective through methods of industrial co-operation, co-partnership, profit-sharing, and other enterprises of that kind, so that a larger number of men share in the income of the undertaking as well as in the work of it.
"We are learning how to run these larger enterprises. Collective labor has gradually become a social acquisition. What formerly was accomplished by the enterprise of a few great pioneers has now become the common possession of the great mass. You will remember the infancy of the department stores some thirty or forty years ago, how small and narrow they were; yet it took an able business man to run such a store. Now the running of a concern of that kind has become a social acquisition. Men of lower ability can do it. Just as in flying. A few years ago but a few people could fly ; now we see it becoming a social acquisition, like automobiling or bicycling. In time babies will be born with a knowledge of how to steer. So the running of great enterprises is becoming instinctive with Americans.
"Our great corporations and business houses are doing all that they can to cultivate the collective spirit among their employees. They are brought together at suppers and in other ways, and they learn to develop a spirit of fraternity and good will which makes them a part of the great industrial organization. The demand for the recognition of the trades unions is working in the same way. If the coal miners should now put the demand through of having their unions recognized, that would be a long extension of the conception of collective ownership. They would then enter into a kind of recognized partnership with the corporations that own the coal mines. It would, of course, be putting only one foot inside of the door, but the other foot would follow some time.
"In the degree in which our industry is being organized on a large scale competition is necessarily being shelved. Our great captains of industry are, all of them, heretics against the old principle of laissez-faire. They do not believe in it any more. They have all, with one accord, given their hearts to the idea of co-operation, though they do not all know it. Of course, when competition ceases, there is immediately a danger of monopoly, and the government, therefore, has to step in on behalf of the people in order to regulate it. The present inquisitiveness on the part of the government is simply one tendency in collectivism. It is an emphasis on the right of the common people in these great undertakings which have outgrown private ownership.
Where Will It Stop?
"Now, the question is will the government stop at that point ? Will it stop in simply investigating, inquiring, superintending, controlling, or will the tendency go further? Will it gradually come to the point of actually dominating and owning? I do not know, but it looks that way. Do you think that one hundred years from now we shall stand exactly where we now stand, with great corporations supervised and trimmed down a little by the government? Is not the present reaching out of the people toward direct legislation, toward a firmer clutch on the machinery of legislation, a kind of blind groping for collective power? Do the people intend merely to get hold of politics, or are they reaching out for something more than that? I think there is more behind. The people have an instinctive feeling that they must first get control of politics and then they will be able to control the business of the nation.
"About three years ago, when Mr. Roosevelt became contributing editor of the Outlook, Lyman Abbott published, in a very prominent position in the Outlook, the following sentences:
He is the most widely known representative of the present world-movement toward industrial democracy. Our object is to the industrial institutions of democracy into harmony with its political and educational institutions. Our resolve is that the money power in America, as its political and eduational power, shall come from the people, be exercised for the people and be controlled by the people.
"In other words, we ought to have as much democracy in our financial life as we now have in our educational and political life. Now I submit that that means collectivism.
The Trend of Thought
""In sizing up this whole movement we must also consider the trend of thought. You have, first of all, the great body of socialist conviction throughout the civilized nations, and any man would be a fool not to reckon with that. It is one of the great solid bodies of thought, unshakable. It is perfectly ridiculous, from the point of view of any student of history to suppose that that great movment will melt away again without accomplishing very large things in human society. How far it will go, how completely it will carry out its purposes, no man knows. I do not believe for a moment that it will accomplish all that it proposes to do. No great movement ever has done so, but this great body of opinion, of conviction, of almost religious enthusiasm, surely will do something for us before it gets through with us.
"Scientific economic thought is likewise away from private ownership and toward public control and public ownership. The idea of interference by the government seems to have lost some of its terrors since democracy has come in.
"The idealistic thinkers are almost with unanimity on the side of this movement toward collectivism. The artists, the great literary leaders of our time all have tended that way. Yesterday I was in one of your great public institutions, and in one room there were four remarkable pictures of great men. They were Carlyle, Ruskin, William Morris, Tolstoi. Now, these men represent very different tendencies in thought. Tolstoi was an anarchist, not a socialist, and yet all four of them stood for the tendency of collectivism.
"Of our magazine writers who deal with public questions very many are verging in this direction, though few of them have thrown in their lot definitely with socialism. It is only a question how far they go and where they stop. The same thing is true of newspaper writers. Mr. Marion Reedy of St. Louis said some time ago in talking about the suppression of freedom in the press that if all the newspaper writers of our country, for two weeks, said exactly what they think and how they view public conditions in this country, there would be such a revolution as the world has never seen, because most of them hold very radical opinions. He says that most of them are socialists, unless they are anarchists. I do not know. My acquaintance with them is not sufficient to substantiate that.
"Among college professors the question usually is how far they will go toward collectivism.
Where the Church Stands
"In the church likewise. The religious spirit has a strong affinity for the ideal of co-operation, more than for the idea of mere freedom, although that, too, is a religious ideal. The New York Evening Post, which, as you know, is a great organ of the old school of political thought, began to lament, away back in the nineties, that the church had gone over to socialism. That was exaggerated, and yet I think anyone who knows the run of thought among the leaders of the churches knows that in all the churches the trend is toward collectivism, thought not at all toward party socialism.
"Constructive statesmanship tends in the same direction. In England, in Germany, the really constructive statesmen have increased collective rights and property. Those public officers in our country who have taken their work seriously have usually been enthusiasts for some kind of public ownership. Haven’t you found in Chicago that some of your ablest and finest public officers have had at least some single hobby of public ownership and have tried to extend the scope of it?
"Look back over the men who have really made history in our own country, the men who have stood out as the bold champions of the people, the representatives of the higher and newer school of public service. They have usually been men who have fought for an increase of public activity, of public functions, of public property, as against the representatives of the interests that stand for the opposite principle.
"Beating Them to It
"When a movement is of such a nature that even its enemies have to aid it you can be sure it is a victorious movement. A clever man in Madison, Wis., said: The only way to beat socialism is to beat them to it.’ Those who are trying to beat socialism try to take the wind out of its sails by advancing its cause. Mr. Ray Stannard Baker told me an anecdote some time ago. The celebrated Russian writer, Ostrogorski, was in this country to study our American institutions. When he was about to finish his visit Mr. Baker interviewed him and asked him what he thought of the future of the socialists in this country. He thought they would not likely have much of a future. He thought our politicians were so acute, so clever, that they would not allow the socialist party to gain much headway; that, as fast as some issue had been advanced to victory by the socialists, the democrats or the republicans would appropriate that issue and carry it into effect themselves in order to take the wind out of the sails of the socialist party. That was Ostrogorski’s forecast. Mr. Baker told me that a few days later he had an interview with President Roosevelt, and told him this story about Ostrogorski, and Roosevelt slapped his knee and said. That’s exactly what I have been doing.’
"My proposition, then, is that we are in the midst of a great historical trend, which is carrying us forward, not merely the men of one party, but men of all parties. All public-spirited men, all idealistic men, all religious men feel the pull and push of this great tendency, and that creates the presumption that we are in the presence of a great historical necessity.
The Family Spirit in Society
"I do not know where that is going to carry us. I do not know how much of socialism the future will have to embody. It is foolish to attempt to forecast that. Let God and our grandchildren look out for that. We can't do it. But we are moving, and my proposition is that for the present we ought to move in that direction. We ought not to move backward in the direction of private ownership of the means of production, but we ought to move forward to an extension of public functions and public property. The family spirit always grows up around family property, doesn't it? When a family has no property and cannot do anything for its members, its members will not love it. On the other hand, where a family has well-established property and the family develops inside of that property, family traditions and pride trail up like a creeper on this trellis of family property.
"The same thing is true about the community spirit. When a city has no public property it will have little public spirit. Public property is essential for the growth of patriotism. In all those communities in past history which have been rich in public spirit and local patriotism there has also been a great deal of public property and many public functions. This is the direction in which destiny is pushing us onward, and the question is whether we will be willing pioneers and friends of that movement, or whether we shall be pushed on against our will and be mere slaves of destiny." (Applause.)