E. Belfort Bax & Charles Bradlaugh

Will Socialism Benefit the English People?

Note by E. Belfort Bax.

There are one or two points in the foregoing articles upon which I should like to add a remark or two by way of elucidation:

(1) With regard to the three great periods of modern industry referred to on p.5, it should be observed that simple co-operation (the assemblage of a number of workmen under one roof under the direction of a capitalist.) was the prevailing form of production from the middle of the sixteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century, wheat it began it be superseded by the manufacture or workshop system, with its organised division of labor, which continued in uninterrupted sway till it reached its highest perfection at the end of the eighteenth century, when it was in its turn superseded by the “great industry” of our own time.

(2) Another, and perhaps more fundamental, definition of the principle (see p.22) underlying civilised as against that underlying primitive or barbaric society, is that while the former is based on things, or property (in its initial stages chiefly on land) the latter is based on persons conceived as members of a related group (gens, tribe, or people) which owns property common for its collective uses. When once the principle of private or individual property has definitely superseded that of kinship-possession as the basis of society, you are bound before long to have a rich and exploiting class and a poor and exploited class in mutual opposition within the community. And this has been the characteristic of the whole history of civilisation.

(3) With reference to the Individualistic influence of Christianity (p.6), I may quote as illustrating one aspect of this influence a passage in Sir Henry Maine. “I am myself persuaded,” says that eminent scholar, “that the influence of the Christian Church on law has been very generally sought for in a wrong quarter, and that historians of law have too much overlooked its share in diffusing the conceptions of free contract, individual property, and testamentary succession, through the regions beyond the Roman Empire, which were peopled by communities held together by the primitive tie of consanguinity” (Early History of Institutions, p.104).

(4) A joint-stock company (see p.16) is an economic unit; it is a unit in the competitive system quite as much as the individual capitalist. The number or size of the shares which compose it does not affect the matter in the least. As an illustration of the effect of competition by such an “aggregate of small capitals”, let is suppose a man hitherto making a fair income out of a business finds his trade going or gone from him owing to the competition of a neighboring joint-stock store company. He is persuaded, after shutting up his shop to invest the couple of hundred pounds he has left in this mammoth concern, with the chance of receiving his 3, 4 or 5 per cent. He does so. He was a small capitalist. He is a small capitalist. There is only one slight difference in his position. Whereas before his small capital combined with his labor availed him for a decent independent livelihood, he is now thrown on the labor-market and subject to all its conditions, notwithstanding his £2000 invested in the joint-stock company. That little difference is just the fly in the amber of the small investor’s bliss.


Last updated on 14.3.2005