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HISTORICAL CRITICISM OF SOCIALISM, AND A REVIEW OF ITS
LEADING REPRESENTATIVES FROM THE EARLIEST DAYS
TO THE PRESENT.
Importance of a just Historical View of Socialism.- Economic
Systems of Antiquity.-The Gracchi and Modern Agrarian Agitation.-A picture of Feudal Economic Systems as drawn by Lassalle.- His Criticism criticised.
We shall now endeavour to direct attention in a candid and impartial spirit to the leading points in the criticisms of socialists as directed against capitalism. We shall also delineate more at large the main theories of socialism itself, so as to present a correct and unprejudiced view of its various phases, both in its negative and positive bearings.
What strikes us as peculiar at first sight in these socialists is the wide range of view of their criticism. Ordinary political economists seldom go beyond the present state of economy in capitalism, and are ever anxious to show what vast strides we have been making on the march to civilized perfection in modern days. Socialists look beyond the horizon of the present, and take in the historical past, with its own peculiar economic systems. In doing so they, undoubtedly, are often prejudiced. They paint in too glowing colours the feudal systems and slavery of old, in contrast with the capitalistic forms of modern society. Still their retrospective views, one-sided
THE SOCIAL SYSTEM OF SPARTA AND ATHENS. 69
though they be, are highly interesting. Now the three bygone systems of society, Greek, Roman, and feudal, are called alike by socialists “systems of monopoly," where monopoly stands for privilege, i.e. systems in which inequality prevails, and where the liberty of some is curtailed by the power of others. Socialism, which calls itself the true system of“ panpolism," on the contrary contends for the equal rights of all, and of course blames the ancient and feudal states because of the encouragement afforded by their constitution to the injustice and extortion of the masters practised against the slaves and vassals.*
Still socialism is loud in its praises of the economic organizations of the community of full and free citizens, at Sparta and Athens. There it is affirmed all the necessary precautions were taken in forming a constitution which had for its object the preservation of compara, tive equality of fortune of all those who enjoyed full civic rights. This was done in Sparta by the division of the soil into inalienable family properties, by allowing free access of all to forest, meadow, and hunting grounds, by attaching a certain number of helots to every family estate, by a circumscribed use of money and discouragement of luxury, and in balancing family egotism by public meals, and common halls of education for all. In Athens indeed room was allowed at first for acquiring private property, but the law of inheritance was enacted for the purpose of preserving family property intact. The 20,000 citizens had their 400,000 slaves, who enjoyed humane treatment. The equalization of property was brought about by a wise policy, which had regard to population and colonization, and by voluntary and compulsory emigration, by providing subsistence to impoverished citizens, in paying them for attendance at legal and legislative procedures, and also by progressive taxation, introduced so far back as Solon.
* This inequality of rights, as Marlo justly remarks (see his Organisation der Arbeit,” or “System der Welteconomie,” Vol. I., 1, p. 35), is referred back by writers of all times to three reasons : 1. Divine arrangement. 2. Right of the stronger. 3. Diversity of natural capacities. The first, he says, is founded on fiction, the second is a contradiction in itself, and both survived the classic age although irreconcilable with the true spirit of Christianity. The third, embraced by Plato and Aristotle alike, rests on the notion that mankind are divisible into the noble and base. And although experience contradicts this assumption, still it was used as an argument in favour of slavery by the Stagyrite, and led to legislation which admitted class distinctions in various strata of society, with their rights and privileges. It is the notion to which our own aristocracy still clings, for similar well- or ill. founded reasons.
And accordingly, socialists maintain, these states prospered, and chiefly by excluding the capitalistic principle of competition from the economic process, or at least by counteracting its baneful tendencies. More over, Plato, they say, shows strong socialistic or communistic leanings, and his writings have ever since furnished modern utopias their leading ideas. Both he and Aristotle recognise nature as one of the factors of wealth along with labour, and seek to allot in their systems a sufficient portion of land to ensure a decent income for every citizen, and to prevent by careful legislation the accumulation of property in the hands of a few individuals. Multiplication of capital by itself, so frequent now, was not even thought of in the classic
age. Slavery such as it was then, it is affirmed, was preferable to the modern subjugation of proletarians, with whom hunger, the modern inciter to labour, is far more cruel than the whip of the ancient slaveowner.
The position of the slave was often more enviable than that of the poor free man of that day, according to
Xenophon, and facilities were afforded for his material advancement in trade and commerce. It is further asserted that with the gradual increase of capitalism in those ancient states, and the growing prevalence of the modern principle of competition, the bonds of society became loosened, and that as soon as the breath of capitalism poisoned the national life decay and dissolution followed. After the abolition of the ancient agrarian constitution, one hundred citizens became the sole occupiers of all the arable soil of Sparta, and out of the gulf between the over-rich money aristocracy of Athens and the proletarians rose the thirty tyrants and Macedonian rule.
In Rome, owing to the many wars of conquest, and the peculiar mode of governing the provinces, a powerful impulse was given to the accumulation of wealth and capitalistic speculation. With regard to the rapacious attitude of Rome towards the rest of the world, Juvenal could say, “we devour nations to the very sinews”; and with regard to participation in the gains of then existing mercantile companies, Cicero even says that it was not unworthy of a citizen to do so as long as large profits might be attained (sin vero magna et copiosa), since it helped in the acquisition of landed property. In fact, there as elsewhere, wealth gotten by mercantile speculation led to the absorption of all the land in the hands of a few. As formerly in Sparta and Athens; as later in the Italian towns capital succeeded in devouring the agricultural classes and devastating the Campagna; and as in more recent times the capital of the industrial towns transforms the land of the peasantry into latifundia of enormous extension : so in Rome the citizen was gradually deprived of his ownership of land by the few successful men in politics or commerce, who became eventually the chief possessors of the soil. The egotistical spirit of Rome, legalizing an unlimited acquisition, opened thus the sluicegates of capitalism, and vain was the reaction of the Gracchi, in their endeavours to fill up the chasm between a gloating plutocracy and impoverished proletarians.
It is true socialism proper was not yet in existence in those days, since, as Lassalle correctly states, trading capital or money lent out on interest did not form the bulk of the property of the rich then. It consisted mainly in landed or real property. Crassus, whose vast fortune has become proverbial, was not rich in money but in mines, in landed property, and the large number of his domestic slaves.
Instruments of production, means of consumption, etc., were known well enough as wealth then, but not capital nor the “productivity of capital.” Exchanges are effected, and the medium of exchange, money, is used, and commerce is gradually developed. But the wealth of the ancient world is only capital in embryo; the economic process under the leadership of capital is the peculiar growth of modern institutions. Consequently
Consequently a proletarian population, consisting of factory labourers and artisans, had no existence then. The proletarian of the classic ages was a citizen whose economic grievance was want of land, whose only demand was “bread and the games," and the obolus, and whose only complaint at a later period was the absorption of all the land in the hand of the rich.
There are, however, most striking points of contact in the forms and aims of ancient and modern agrarian socialism. The agitation of the Gracchi at Rome bears a close resemblance to the Fenian agitation in Ireland, and the language of the leaders of either movement is almost identical. Both are full of bitter complaints against the enormous enclosures of land for grazing and preserves