Friday, February 5, 2016

Henry George and the Beginnings of Revolutionary Socialism in the United States

Henry George And The Beginnings Of Revolutionary Socialism In The United States.

Part two of "Recent American Socialism", by Richard Theodore Ely

Henry George's work, "Progress and Poverty," was published in 1879. In 1885, not six years later, it is possible to affirm without hesitation that the appearance of that one book formed a noteworthy epoch in the history of economic thought both in England and America. It is not simply that the treatise itself was an eloquent, impassioned plea for the confiscation of rent for the public good as a means of abolishing economic social evils, but rather that the march of industrial forces had opened a way for the operation of ideas new and strange to the great masses. A wonderful epoch of discovery and invention had brought to the service of man the mighty powers of nature in such manner as to accomplish results surpassing the dreams of enthusiasts and the operations of the magician's wand in the fairy tale. This ushered in a period of unparalleled increase of wealth which was sufficient to transform the face of the earth in a single generation, and its beneficent fruits made optimists of men.

But all the products of the age were not beneficent. The new ways required a displacement and readjustment of labor and capital, under which many suffered grievously. Doubtless progress led to the common good "in the end," as people say, but many perished in the way before the end was reached. Much capital which could not be withdrawn from its old use was lost, to the impoverishment of its owners, and acquired skill was in not a few cases rendered superfluous. To take a single concrete example, let one think of the inns which fifty years ago flourished along the great mail and stage routes. How many were ruined in the improvements which George Stephenson and his locomotive have finally made a daily necessity? Again, advanced processes and labor-saving machinery frequently throw men entirely out of employment, though after a time the demand for laborers may increase immensely, as has occurred in the case of spinning and weaving.

But for the time being men suffer, and the time being is an important factor to men who live from hand to mouth, as is the case with a great part of mankind. Those who suffered, often complained bitterly, and at times uttered dire threats which were occasionally executed in part at least. All this has long been a familiar fact in Europe. From the termination of the Napoleonic wars till the discovery of gold in California and Australia was a period of distress in England, and what Sismondi saw in the crisis of 1819 when on a visit to that country, produced such an effect upon him that he felt compelled to throw overboard the political economy of Adam Smith, to which he had previously adhered, and to write his "Nouveaux Principes d'Economie Politique." The example of England is not an isolated one.

In the United States, however, there was abundance of fertile, unoccupied land on every side, and the undeveloped resources of the country were boundless, both in extent and in their potentialities for production of wealth. While some suffered doubtless, they were comparatively few, and the tremendous strides with which America was advancing in power and prosperity caused them generally to be overlooked. The bloom and fruitage of the age regarded from a materialistic, economic standpoint seemed almost wholly beneficent, and Americans as a rule were optimists. But a change was impending. A severe crisis in 1873, with all its train of varied disasters, checked economic progress and brought the crushing weight of poverty upon tens of thousands. This was not the first industrial crash in America, to be sure, but it is doubtful whether any other followed on an era of such prosperity.

Then the wealth of a few had increased enormously during the civil war, while luxury such as had scarce entered the day-dreams of our fathers, extended itself over the land. Never before had there been seen in America such contrasts between fabulous wealth and absolute penury. Population was denser and there was not exactly the same freedom, the same ease of movement. In short, from one cause and another, in many quarters bright visions gave place to gloomy forebodings, and six years later the ground was ripe for the seed sown by Henry George, till then an obscure journalist in the "Far West," and the harvest has already been abundant while the promises for the future are overwhelming.

Ten years ago English-speaking laborers were considered too practical to listen to dreamers of dreams and heralds of coining Utopias. The sturdy common sense of English and American workingmen was thought an all-sufficient shield against the speculations of continental philosophers, and the allurements of French and German agitators. Now all that is changed. The models of order threaten to form the vanguard of a rebellious army.

Henry George has rendered two distinct services to the cause of socialism. First, in the no-rent theory, or in other words, the confiscation of rent pro bono publico, he has furnished a rallying point for all discontented laborers; second, his book has served as an entering wedge for other still more radical and far-reaching measures. It is written in an easily understood, and even brilliant style, is published in cheap form, both in England and America, and in each country has attained a circulation, which for an economic work is without parallel. Tens of thousands of laborers have read "Progress and Poverty," who never before looked between the two covers of an economic book, and its conclusions are widely accepted articles in the workingman's creed.

Labor papers, otherwise not decidedly socialistic and not long since holding aloof from all radical social reforms, now accept the no-rent theory; and of this sufficient evidence may be found in the representative journals of organizations like the Knights of Labor. Two newspapers devoted to the interests of laborers, lie on the table before the writer. One of them, published in Baltimore, in commenting on the last Congress of the Socialistic Labor Party in that city, declares, "we do not agree with these socialists," and yet it makes propaganda for "Progress and Poverty," which it offers as a premium to all subscribers; while the editor of the other, a Buffalo sheet,(1) makes room in the same number for a long and favorable account of a speech by Henry George and a letter from a New York correspondent, bewailing the discredit brought upon "our movement" by " the ravings" of " advanced socialism." More marked still is the spread of the no-rent theory in England, where indeed Henry George first became famous. It was adopted by a large majority by the Trades Union Congress in that country in 1882, and has been accepted by the miners in the North of England. Even the English monthly "Christian Socialism" leads a crusade in behalf of "Progress and Poverty." Socialists very generally accept the "no-rent" theory as a chief article in their creed, and one of the first to he realized. If they often reject Henry George's statement of his propositions, it is to their form rather than to their substantial purport they object.

A New York organ of the Socialistic Labor Party published about two years ago a " Declaration of Principles," of which the first sentence read as follows: "The land of every country is the common inheritance of the people in that country, and hence all should have free and equal access to its settlement."

And a little later the San Francisco Truth, a rabid socialistic paper, published this "economic" law: "Warning! Landowners look out! There are breakers ahead! This is the new law governing the price of land in both city and country. The price of land is determined by the sale of Henry George's 'Progress and Poverty,' falling as it rise*, and rising as it falls. It is now past its hundredth edition, and it is going faster than ever. In ten years from now, town lots will not be worth more than the taxes! Private property and land is doomed!"

The fruit this book is bearing was seen in the parade of workingmen in New York on September 5, 1883, in which according to one account 10,000, according to another 15,000 laborers participated under the auspices of the Central Labor Union. Banners were carried on which such sentiments as these were inscribed: "Workers in tenement-houses—idlers in brown stone fronts;" "Jay Gould must go;" "Which shall it be, the ballot or Judge Lynch." A cartoon was also displayed, called "The Situation," which pictured "Capital" as flying a kite, entitled "Kent," while its tail bore aloft "meat, coal, flour, prices." Another motto was the characteristic one which implicitly represented the labor-crusade as a religion, and the coming government as a church: "Labor is the Rock on which the government of the future must be built."

This parade may be regarded as an epoch in the history of labor movements in this country. So far as the writer is aware it is the first time large bodies of American laborers have acted publicly with out-spoken socialists, and have marched under revolutionary banners. In this occurrence may be seen the two-fold character of Henry George's work. "No-rent" united all and opened the way in the minds of laborers for other features of advanced socialism.

It is then of interest to know the precise nature of this socialism which is being preached to our laborers.

Several questions naturally suggest themselves. What are the ultimate aims of American socialists? How do they expect or desire to attain their purposes? What is the precise character of their agitation? Is any danger to be apprehended from this agitation? If so, what is its extent, and what measures should he adopted to ward off these dangers? An attempt will be made to answer these questions in the course of the present monograph.

There are in the United States two distinct parties of socialists, which may be called revolutionary since they both aim at an overthrow of existing economic and social institutions, and the substitution therefor of radically different forms.

These two parties are known as the "Socialistic Labor Party" and the "International Workingmen's Association," or " International Working People's Association," designated usually by their respective initials S. L. P. and I. W. A., or I. W. P. A. The Internationalists are also called Anarchists and sometimes the "reds," while the members of the other party are occasionally dubbed the "blues." One sees these initials continually in their publications, and upon them incessant repetition seems to have conferred in the minds of socialists a peculiar cabalistic quality.

It may be well to devote a few words to their general characteristics and to a short account of their origin, before passing 6ver to a more detailed description of each.

These parties differ in most important particulars, although they agree upon certain fundamental propositions. Their divergence is first and foremost one of method. The Internationalists are a party of violence, believing in the use of dynamite and like weapons of warfare as a means of attaining their purpose, while the adherents of the Socialistic Labor Party condemn these tactics, and some of them have not renounced all hope of a peaceable revolution of society. The next difference which attracts the attention is the superior character of the men of the latter party as compared with those of the former. The Socialistic Labor Party is composed of more highly educated and more refined men. It is largely due to this diversity of method and of personal qualities that the members of the two parties have found it impossible to act harmoniously together, and are, indeed, at present at swords' points. There are also important differences of doctrine, but these, as more complicated, will be described in the detailed treatment of the parties.

The points of agreement are, as has been said, fundamental, and it is well at the start to clear away a misapprehension which exists in the minds of many by mentioning a negative particular, in which all socialists agree. It seems, indeed, to be necessary to begin every article, monograph or book on the theory of socialism by the statement that no one advocates, or even desires an equal division of productive property. What they wish is a concentration of all the means of production in the property of the people as a whole, and the distribution of the income, that is, of the products only, either equally or unequally, according to the views entertained of what is just and expedient.

The program of American socialism then includes primarily the substitution of some form of exclusive cooperation in production and exchange, for the present leadership of "captains of industry" in production and exchange, or capitalistic system, as it is termed, and the abolition of private property in land and capital to make room for common property. In other words both parties regarding the wage-receiver as practically a slave, desire the advent of a time when cooperators shall take the place, both of industrial master and industrial subordinate. Both wish to abolish the possibility of idleness, and to make of universal application the maxim: "He that will not work, neither shall he eat."

Both parties are materialists, though the materialism of the Socialistic Labor Party, is less gross than that of the Internationalists. Having abandoned hope of a happy hereafter in which the poor but honest and God-fearing laborer shall find rich reward for all toil and suffering patiently borne, they have determined to enjoy this life, and, as it is not light to believe that there is no blessedness in the universe, they imagine this earth designed to be a Paradise. They talk of its beauties and of the soul-satisfying delights of life, from all of which they are debarred by a conspiracy of the rich or at least by existing economic conditions. They accept the designation "Godless" and claim that the visible universe is the only God which they know, falling thus into a kind of materialistic pantheism.(2)

It is interesting to notice the general view all modern socialists take of society as a growth. Each social form is regarded as an era in the development of society; useful in its time but after awhile becoming antiquated, it must give way to an advanced organism. Slavery, serfdom and wages were not unjustifiable, they hold, but the Internationalists and moderates think that these institutions have all had their day, have fulfilled their purpose and are no longer needed among the nations of civilization, though there may still be regions where they are not yet antiquated. "We do not deny," says one of these socialists, "that there are countries that have not yet outlived the wage-system, but we have certainly outlived it in the United States, and cannot safely continue it."(3) Socialism is then coming just as the leaves are coming in spring, and just as these will be followed by bloom and fruitage. It is not of human willing, but as inevitable and necessary as the law of gravitation. All that the more sensible among them profess to be able to do is to guide and direct the mighty forces of nature, which manifest themselves in social revolutions and convulsions. Thus it was natural for the resolutions presented to the meeting of Anarchists held in Chicago on Thanksgiving day of last year to begin, "Whereas, we have outlived the usefulness of the wage and property system, that it now and must hereafter cramp, limit and punish(4) all increase of production, and can no longer gratify the necessities, rights and ambitions of man," etc.

It may be stated that in general the teachings of Carl Marx are accepted by both parties, and his work on capital (" Das Kapital") is still the Bible of the Socialists.(5) This work has not as yet been translated into English, although a translation is announced for the near future; but extracts from it have been turned into our tongue and published; and brochures, pamphlets, newspapers and verbal expositions have extended his doctrines, while H. M. Hyndman has expounded the views of the great teacher in his "Historical Basis of Socialism " in England.

In this country, a young enthusiast, Laurence Gronlund, a lawyer of Philadelphia, has written a recently published work, entitled "The Cooperative Commonwealth," designed to present the socialism of Marx, as it appears after it has been digested, to use the author's words, "by a mind Anglo-Saxon in its dislike of all extravagancies, and in its freedom from any vindictive feeling against persons who are from circumstances what they are."

It is difficult and perhaps impossible to trace out the first germs of revolutionary socialism in America, although it is certain that it is not descended from early American communism, to which it has little resemblance. The influence of the later movement on the earlier has, however, been more perceptible, but even that has been comparatively slight. It is not unlikely that something of the spirit of revolutionary socialism may have been brought to this country by the German emigrants of 1848, though it did not spread greatly under the unfavorable conditions which it encountered. In 1865 a ripple on the surface of the waters which Lassalle had troubled reached our shores, and a small band of his followers organized in New York. Their union was of short duration, and three years later another attempt at the formation of a socialistic association was made which likewise proved uneffectual.(6) In 1866 there had been formed a "National Labor Union," which was a consolidation of the members of a great part of the trades' unions and labor organizations in the United States. Its membership is said to have numbered six hundred and forty thousand in 1868, and in the following year it sent a delegate, by name Cameron, to the Congress of the International Workingmen's Association,(7) held in Basle, Switzerland. This led to a connection between American labor and European socialism, which has never since altogether ceased. In 1871 a new impulse was received from the French refugees who came to America after the suppression of the uprising of the commune of Paris, and brought with them a spirit of violence,(8) but the most important event of this early period was the order of the Congress of the International held in the Hague in 1872, which transferred to New York the "General Council" of the Association. Modern socialism had then undoubtedly begun to exist in America. The first proclamation of the council from their new headquarters was an appeal to workingmen "to emancipate labor and eradicate all international and national strife."(9) The following year witnessed the disasters in the industrial and commercial world to which reference has already ben made, and the distress consequent thereupon was an important aid to the socialists in their propaganda.

There have been several changes in party organization and name since then, and National Conventions or Congresses have met from time to time. Their dates and places of meeting have been Philadelphia, 1871, Pittsburg, 1876, Newark, 1877, Allegheny City, 1880, Baltimore, 1883, and Pittsburgh, 1883. The name Socialistic Labor Party was adopted in 1877 at the Newark Convention. In 1883 the split between the moderates and extremists had become definite, and the former held their Congress in Pittsburgh, and the latter in Baltimore.(10)

The separation between the two bodies of socialists is a matter of interest. A similar separation took place in the Congress of the International at the Hague in 1872, between the followers of Marx, who represented in many respects the spirit and methods of the present Socialistic Labor Party, and those of Bakounine, who Avere anarchists like the members of the existing International in the United States. It is altogether probable that the feeling of animosity between the adherents of the two directions was present in New York from the beginning of the operations of the " Council" transferred in the same year to that city. But for some time they succeeded in working together, and hopes of a permanent Union were certainly not abandoned until after the advent of John Most on our shores in December, 1882. Most has proved a firebrand among American socialists, and was early denounced by those who felt repelled by his mad expressions of violence, and saw that he was doing their cause much harm; but it was still impossible to pass a formal vote repudiating him in the Congress of the Socialistic Labor Party in Baltimore in 1883. During the following year the San Francisco Truth and others still thought it worth while to advocate a union of all discontented proletarians, but acrimony and bitterness between representatives of opposing views continued to increase, and when the terrible outrages in London, in January of the present year, were condemned in terms of severity by the Socialistic Labor Party and applauded by the Internationalists, all hopes of united action vanished, and the animosity between the two became so intense that they came to blows in a meeting called in New York by the moderates to protest against the recent use of dynamite. Shortly after that there was a disturbance between the Internationalists and the members of the Socialistic Labor Party in a public meeting in Baltimore, and the warfare between the two factions is as bitter as between them and the Capitalistic Society which they seek to overthrow. (1) Buffalo Truth, April 15, 1883. (2) V. Two articles entitled "die Gottlosen" in der Sozialist, d. 31 Januar, and d. 7 Februar, 1885. (3) V. The Alarm, Dec. 6, 1884. Article, Cooperation. (4) The writer gives his quotations verbatim et literatim, making no attempt to improve style or grammar. (5) Recently one of their papers, the New Yorker Volkszeitung, protested against this epithet as applied to the work of Marx, as it was not desired that any hook should he regarded in the light of an infallible guide. It was feared that this would hinder progress. Yet the term describes better than anything else the actual feeling towards "Das Kapital," and among the more ignorant of the socialists reverence for a great leader has ere this approached idolatry. (6) Henry A. James: Communism in America, New York, 1878, p. 24. (7) It is necessary for brevity's sake to assume that the reader is already familiar with the history of the old International. A description of it is given in Ely's" French and German Socialism," chapter X. (8) James, Ibid. (9) The authority for this statement is found in an interview which a New York Herald reporter held with Mr. Leopold Jonas, a leading New York member of the Socialistic Labor Party. V. "Our American Socialists," New York Herald, May 19, 1884. 1 New York Herald, Ibid. (10) New York Herald, Ibid.

No comments:

Post a Comment