E. Belfort Bax & Charles Bradlaugh
Will Socialism Benefit the English People?
(1) Mr. Bax says that I have ignored the “basis” of Socialism; but, having again referred to the first paragraph of his first paper, I find that, though he speaks of “an economic basis”, he nowhere in that paragraph, or as far as I can see elsewhere, explains what he means by these words. He says his whole article is an endeavor to afford such an explanation. I, after a careful rereading, am unable to gather the supposed explanation from either of his papers, and therefore will ask him to kindly state briefly, and as clearly as he can, what it is that he holds to be the “new view of life (i.e., of human relations), having an economic basis”. As he puts these words as affording his definition of the Socialism which he affirms is to benefit the English people, it is absolutely necessary – especially as various schools of Socialists differently define the word – that I should know precisely what he means, if I am to discuss the probable effects of the Socialism intended by him, and the making clear our meaning will certainly be for the advantage of our readers.
(2) It is true that Mr. Bax says that “the condition of the civilised world as a whole is the immediate basis on which Socialism founds”. But here, again, I do not understand what he means. If he means that there is sameness of condition for the working classes in any two civilised peoples, I must traverse this. Type, temperament, climate, soil, general life conditions, political conditions, social conditions, transmitted predispositions, vary considerably in every nation, and you cannot usefully lump these into a whole in order to propound a political or social theory for the English people. The wants, the miseries, the comforts, the means in possession, the facilities for gaining a livelihood, the legal hindrances, the amount of liberty enjoyed, differ in almost every country. So also there is an enormous difference as to the available means of reform and amelioration at the disposal, or within the probable command, of various peoples.
(3) Nor am I quite sure how much of the world Mr. Bax intends by “the civilised world”, for he elsewhere explains “civilisation” to mean the existence in the same country “of a propertied dominating class and a propertyless dominated class”. This curious definition is wide enough to include nearly every country in the world so far as I have any information.
(4) It is the more necessary that I should press Mr. Bax for a clear and concise definition of what he means by Socialism because his objections to the definitions put forward by me in par.9 of my last paper hardly render his own view more clear. I gave two definitions, (1) “that organised society should own all wealth, direct all labor, and compel the equal distribution of all produce”. This, says Mr. Bax, is “much too vague”. While I can understand that it may not be the definition Mr. Bax thinks accurate, I avow it seems to me tolerably clear and explicit. He adds that “as it stands no modern Socialist would accept it”. But is this last declaration quite true? The definition is divided into three subheads: – That organised society should (a) own all wealth; (b) direct all labor; (c) compel the equal distribution of all produce. I shall be obliged if Mr. Bax will state as against each sub-head the respects in which he thinks it vague and inaccurate.
(5) As to my second statement of Socialism, i.e., “that organised society should take possession of land, capital, all means of production, distribution, and exchange, should control all labor, regulate all distribution, and conduct all exchange”, I understand Mr. Bax to accept these words with the qualification that “all labor means all social labor, not the labor an individual might perform for his own amusement”. I do not quite appreciate the qualification, and should be glad if Mr. Bax would state some instances of the labor a man or woman might perform, and the raw material on which he might work, in a Socialistic State, without being under the control which Mr. Bax says is to be applied to “all (other) labor”. The acceptance of the definition involves of course the advocacy of the possible dispossession by force, that is, after a civil war, in which those who at present have possession of land and capital and of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, would resist the dispossession.
(6) Though accepting the words just quoted, Mr. Bax objects to the “explanatory rider” that “everything would be common as to their user “, but I understand him to say that “personal possession” would be limited under Socialism “to objects of personal use”. Does he regard, say, an eight-roomed house, and a one acre garden attached, as an object of personal use? or would a four-wheeled cab and the horse and equipments be objects of personal use? Can Mr. Bax state any formula which he thinks may distinguish the objects of which the user would be common from those of which the user would be personal and private? If everything is not to be common as to its user, how can there possibly be the “equal participation by all in the necessaries, comforts, and enjoyments of life”? Does Mr. Bax think that a man wearing Lancashire wooden clogs can equally participate in the enjoyment of my long and supple leather fishing-boots?
(7) Mr. Bax frankly enough says that “the words Socialism, Communism, and Collectivism are interchangeable, and mean economically the communisation of the means necessary to production, distribution, and exchange”, and he concedes “that this would eventuate in the communisation of the product to a very large extent”. That is, to a large extent he agrees with me that Socialism would mean Communism as to the products, as well as to the means of production. I would ask him to explain how and why he thinks this communisation of products would operate to a large extent, and how and why the operation would be stopped at any point?
(8) To par.5 of my paper, Mr. Bax offers no real answer. In his first paper he affirmed that the “economic goal of modern or scientific Socialism, no less than that of the Utopian Socialism of Owen, Fourier, St. Simon”, “is the equal participation by all in the necessaries and comforts of life”. Questioned by me specifically as to this (par.5), he gives an answer which, if it means what it says, declares that the Socialism of Robert Owen, Fourier, and St. Simon, stands to the Socialism of Mr. Bax as astrology does to astronomy. If this he true, it is difficult to characterise Mr. Bax’s first statement without being rude.
(9) More than once Mr. Bax challenges me to deal with what he describes as the historical side of his opening paper. So far as his paper does not purport to state the history of the English people, I decline to do so, it being outside the question I have agreed to debate. For the rest, I am unable to find that Mr. Box has furnished any historical statement which I can identify with English history. He has presented a very ably-written romance, sometimes consonant with fact, sometimes utterly conflicting, the whole is put in language often exceedingly poetic, but I prefer to break up what he beautifully describes as “this rock of the ages, with its many-hued strata of economic formation” into plain and prosaic statements of fact which may be identified as to meaning, and which if material to the issue may be challenged or verified. Mr. Bax objects to “being waved aside with the epithet ‘inexact’, or with mere bald denials”, but I answer that the affirmer of a proposition is bound in such a debate as this to put forward at least some evidence in support of the statements challenged. To answer that what I consider his romances are “historical truisms” is scarcely convincing.
(10) In answer to paragraphs 7, 8, and 0 of my reply to Mr. Bax’s first paper, he states “that there is no possibility of the definite establishment of Socialism anywhere without a concurrent movement among the proletariat of the whole civilised world”. If those words really mean anything more than a vague expression of opinion, they would mean that “the definite establishment of Socialism” cannot be possible in England until there is a concurrent movement (whatever that may mean) amongst the peoples of all Europe, of the greater part of America, of some parts of Asia and of Africa, and of some parts of Australia. This makes the possibilities of the definite establishment of Socialism in England so extremely remote as to considerably diminish the usefulness of our discussion. I desire to discuss here the probable influences of Socialism on the happiness of the English people during the present and immediately succeeding generations. I do not desire to waste time in this debate in arguing as to remote possibilities of what may or may not happen some centuries hence.
(11) Mr. Bax says that by the “break-up of nationalities”, which he alleged in his opening paper “would be one of the first results of Socialism”, he means “that the centralised State of to-day will be eventually merged in a federation of all socialised communities”. He very fairly says that he cannot say when this is likely to happen. But as this is to be one of the “first results of Socialism”, it is surely a little unpractical to discuss the conjectural happiness of the English people, if it is admittedly contingent on the happening of an event in any case improbable – perhaps impossible – and as to the time of the happening of which Mr. Bax cannot even hazard a conjecture, except that it is to be “one of the first results” of the establishment of Socialism in this country. As the break-up of nationalities, which Mr. Bax affirms is to be one of the first results of the establishment of Socialism in England, is declared by him to be probably not a peaceful process, it seems to me therefore clear that in this respect, at any rate, whenever it happens, Socialism is not likely to benefit the English people. All violent changes result in great immediate misery to the poorer classes affected by and taking part in such changes. All violent changes have hitherto been followed by periods of reaction, and have often, in consequence of the demoralisation attending armed conflict, temporarily placed the masses under the control of a military dictator.
(12) Mr. Bax says that “assumption, etc.”, does mean the taking away from the present owners “of the means of production, etc.”, and that this taking away is to be “by any means, constitutional or otherwise, as circumstances may dictate”. This is so very large that it includes the violent taking, at the mere discretion of the takers, and Mr. Bax is requested to explain who is to judge what it is that circumstances are likely to dictate in relation to property in the hands of others to those who as yet have it not. I cannot conceive that the encouragement of assumption of property by violence is likely to improve the general happiness of those so taught to acquire. I can conceive that it may totally demoralise the public mind. Mr. Bax does not answer any of the other questions in paragraph 10, and yet a clear understanding on those points is most vital to the issue between us.
(13) Mr. Bax does say that “Socialism only proposes to confiscate wealth used for production on a large scale”. Does he really mean by this that Socialism will allow private wealth to be used for production on a small or on a moderate scale? Does he mean that under Socialism there may be small employers paying wage to those they employ? Unless he means this, his limitation of the confiscation proposal is absurd.
(14) Mr. Bax says that the only private enterprise Socialism sees reason for extinguishing is “the private enterprise which has material personal gain for its end”. Will he please give me some illustration of personal enterprise in labor upon raw material which does not come within this definition.
(15) Mr. Bax originally said that Christianity was through and through Individualistic. When I in par.16 showed him that as to property this was not all true, he does not attempt to in any way explain the positive words of Acts ii., 44: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common”; or of Acts iv., 32: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common”; except by the bold declaration that these words “do not affect in the least”. He says that the principles of Christianity were not communistic is proved by the fact stated in chap.v., verse 4, that Ananias might have kept his property if he had not joined the Christian community and had not professed to give up to that community all his possessions. I cannot see the force of this as a reply. Mr. Bax apparently forgets that he introduced into this debate the principles of Christianity as affecting the ownership of goods. My only course was to point out that his statement was inaccurate and misleading. It is no part of my duty in this discussion to express any opinion on the special historical value of any of the Christian books.
(16) Instead of expressing surprise that I challenge his statements as to the increase of the number of small employers and owners of small accumulations, Mr. Bax should remember that the onus is upon him to prove the whole of the statements he makes, and I especially wait for him to do this on the facts and figures alleged by him and challenged by me in paragraph 18. The vague reference to “the bootmaking industry” here clearly marks Mr. Box’s absolute unacquaintance with the subject. I ask him to take on this Kettering, Leicester, London, Northampton, including the country villages, Norwich, and Stafford, and compare these with their condition forty years ago.
(17) Mr. Bax admits that there is very possibly less pauperism in proportion to population than there was forty years ago, but he alleges that there is more poverty. I ask him to prove his allegation not by loose statements, but by giving precise and detailed facts relating to the counties, towns, and cities, with names of each, in 1847 and 1887. Mr. Bax asks me what it is that I have “to say about the perennial unemployed question”. Unless Mr. Bax can show that Socialism will provide employment in England for the unemployed of this country, the answer would not be relevant to this debate, and in any event should be given by Mr. Bax as part of his case. My general views on the unemployed population are fully stated in the volume containing the verbatim report of the defence of myself and co-defendant in the case of Reg. v. Bradlaugh and Besant. I do not see that they make in any way in favor of the proposition which Mr. Bax undertook to affirm and do not therefore burden the debate by repeating them.
This paper is already so long that I reserve until my next my rejoinder on surplus value.
Last updated on 14.3.2005