Socialists no more than other people believe that persons are naturally equal: there are amongst men all varieties of disposition, and desires, and degrees of capacity; nevertheless these differences are inequalities are very much increased by the circumstances amongst which a man lives and by those that surrounded the lives of his parents: and these circumstances are more or less under the control of society, that is of the ordered arrangement of persons among which we live. So I say first that granted that men are born with certain tendencies those tendencies can be developed for good and evil by the conditions of our lives, and those conditions are in our own hands to deal with, taking us nation by nation as a whole. If we are careful to be prudent and wise for ourselves and just towards other people those inequalities which are natural can be used for making life pleasanter and more varied: but if we act stupidly and unjustly they become a source of misery to many, and of degradation to all.
I have admitted that men are not naturally equal, yet all persons must admit that there are certain things which we all need; in that respect we are equal: we all need food, clothes, and shelter, and clearly if we need these things we need them in sufficiency, and of good quality, or else we have not really got them. Since then these needs are common to all, it follows that if anyone is not able to satisfy his needs in these respects there is something wrong somewhere, either with nature, or the man himself, or with the society of which he forms a part and which therefore dictates to him how he shall live.
But these things, food, clothes, and shelter, but these are our needs as animals only; as men and women we have other needs: however much we may vary we all of us need leisure and amusement and education of some sort or other for all men have the power of thinking, and that power may be repressed and may be developed, just as a plant may be starved or made fruitful by the quality of the soil it is planted in and cultivation it has. Again then I say that if a person has not leisure, pleasure, and education they fall short of human necessaries and there is something wrong somewhere.
So you see whatever inequality I admit among people, I claim this equality that everybody should have full enough food, clothes, and housing, and full enough leisure, pleasure, and education; and that everybody should have a certainty of these necessaries: in this case we should be equal as Socialists use the work: if we are not so equal, I assert that something is wrong either with nature, the individual man or the Society which tells him how to live.
Now does this reasonable equality exist amongst us? There can be but one answer to that: it does not: this is the richest country in the world; there are numbers of clever and capable people in it, and numbers of hard-working people: nevertheless every year there are persons who are starved to death in it, and there are vast numbers of persons who have not enough food and enough clothing or good enough housing and who have no hope of obtaining these things: still more who have no leisure, except the dreadful leisure which lack of employment, that is starvation, gives them, no pleasure worthy of a man, nay far less than the beasts have, no education in the true sense of the word, no chance of developing the innate power of thought that lies in them, in a word in this the richest country that ever has been there are many poor.
Now consider, what is a rich person and what is a poor one? It is worth while asking you to consider that, because people sometimes tell us that poverty is no evil and that a poor person can be as happy as a rich one, and so forth: whether they expect the poor to believe them I do not know: they want to make the best of things I suppose which as they are well-to-do they don't find a difficult matter. Well let us see what is a rich and what a poor person: a rich man is sure of all those necessities I spoke of bodily and mental, and other natural objects of desire he can reasonably hope to obtain: a poor man is scantily supplied with the bodily necessaries, has not got the mental ones, and risks losing even what he has, so that he lives in perpetual anxiety; as to the desire for superfluities, he has the desire indeed, but no hope of ever satisfying it: and I must say that all this seems to me as to all thoughtful persons a dreadful thing.
If therefore there are rich and poor in a rich country I am sure there must be something wrong: either with nature, or the individual persons, or with the system of Society under which such things happen.
Now I know that there are many people who say it is the fault of nature, and usually the same persons think it is also the fault of the poor people: in other words they think that certain persons are naturally incapable of earning their own livelihood, and that these people form the great mass whom we call the poor. I shall be able I hope to show you how greatly they are mistaken in this view.
There are others who think that it is the fault of the system of Society, and who try in various ways to alter that system, and all such people may fairly be called Socialists, though they don't all call themselves so, because they think it possible that a condition of things could be brought about in which these wrongs could be redressed and these gross inequalities made an end of: and it is cheering to think that the number of those who think this are increasing fast, and that many people are Socialists without knowing it; when they come to know it Socialism will be in a fair way to be realized.
Now then, let us look at that opinion which holds that it [is] necessary and natural that the poor should exist, that it is people's own fault that they are poor, and that nature has made them so.
It is a law of nature that mankind must labour in order to live, and men by means of their ever-increasing intelligence have striven to turn this law to their advantage by associating their labour and organizing it till in civilized countries they have brought it about that an ordinary average man can produce by his labour more than enough to keep himself (and his family) alive: that has been the case for a very long time; but in modern civilization the power of producing wealth has very much increased by the means of ever-improving organization of labour, and the invention of machinery: to give you an instance; it has been computed that in the great wheat-growing plains of Dakota the labour of one average man produces in a year 5500 bushels of wheat. However there is no need to go into elaborate figures and calculations on this point, because the very fact that there are rich and poor in the same community proves that the existence of the poor is not caused by natural laws but by artificial arrangements: for the poor do certainly labour, and by their labour produce the things on which men live and the luxuries which they enjoy, whereas on the other hand the rich either do not work at all, or if they do work do not produce wealth by their work: therefore the poor by their labour keep the rich: rich men are pensioners of poor ones, and if the poor were to withdraw their pensions the rich would either starve or have to work for their living. Do you doubt this by any chance? Then let us have an example. A man who owns a factory, and money which he does not need to spend on his own keep employs, say, a thousand men to work in that factory and by their labour they produce so much goods: why does he employ them? Clearly in order that he may get a certain advantage from them: what is that advantage? Well, he must pay these men something from out of that extra money he has, because if he didn't as they have nothing of their own except their bodies and minds and the power of labour in them they would starve to death; what does he pay them then? Does he let them have what they have produced by means of his factory after having made a fair deduction for the wear and tear of machinery, the expenses of bringing the goods to market, the risks incidental to manufacturer and trade and due payment for his superintendence, supposing him to be capable of superintendence? If he did so he would have an advantage in employing them because he would be able to help them in their work by means of it, and so he would earn his livelihood along with them. Now that I think would be a fair bargain the details of which could be easily arranged among honest and reasonable men, and which would gradually tend to the perfecting of fairness between the associated workers. A fair bargain but if any workman ventures to propose it to his employer, he had better have another situation in the background lest he should get the sack for being a Socialist. For this fair bargain is, so far as the faction in question is concerned, a Socialistic one. As a matter of fact the advantages he proposes to gain from so employing men is very different from that: what he does is to pay wages to his men, that is to give them as little as they will take without revolting or striking, and to keep for himself, and make the most of, all that they produce over and above those wages. And if [he] does not get by this means more than will cover the wear and tear of machinery, the risks of business, the expenses of marketing, and payment for his superintendence if he superintends, he has failed in his object: he says he has made no profit and sooner or later he withdraws his capital, i.e. his extra money from the concern and embarks it in another which will produce him a profit. It will make this matter clearer to you if you think of the employer not as one man, who might take a part in the work done in the factory, but as a joint-stock-company, the members of which could not do so: you will then see that the employers of labour are engaged in amusing themselves or in working or making a show of work elsewhere, while they are living on the labour of the men in the factory: from each one of those men they take a portion of what he produces and thereby make[s] his life the poorer: thus they are the pensioners of the workers and evade the law of nature which bids men work in order to thrive; but since it is a law of nature they can only do so at other people's expense: unless all help to produce some will not thrive; that is certain: what we Socialists say, is let those who will not work be the ones who do not thrive: can anybody say that is unfair? Yet many and many a man has suffered poverty, imprisonment, loss of friends, the reproach of the public, yes and death on the gallows-tree for persisting in preaching that simple piece of justice.
Now before I ask you to think if there is any good reason why all this should be, why strong, healthy, and capable people should be pensioners on others, let us try to see how it is; what the machinery is which enables such a joint-stock-company to live without producing: and let me say in passing that all that I have said about a factory and its machinery and capital applies equally to land: the land is also a factory, and its machinery is the fertility of it won by the labour of many generations of workers: the landlord is the pensioner of workmen past and present.
Now then this pension, this rent, this profit, which the landlord or the factory-owner live[s] on is clearly not paid to the pensioners voluntarily or indeed consciously by the workers: they are compelled to pay it, and so cunningly that they do not understand the compulsion, though they feel it, and in an unconscious manner struggle against it. What enables the pensioners to force unwilling people to pay them a pension? This, that they are the owners of the raw material and instruments of labour: they have a privilege to compel people to pay for the use of these things, a privilege which is supported by the whole power of the law; and indeed the maintenance [of this privilege] is the chief business of all law and government in this and all civilized countries.
Let me explain further: for the production of good two things are necessary, the labour of men on the one hand, raw material together with the tools of labour on the other: the best workman in the world is useless without the wherewithal to work on, and in these days of the elaborate organization of labour if [he] is not also furnished with the most improved machinery he will fall far short of the workmen that are so furnished; the workmen of any country therefore must be able to have the use of the land of it, of the factories, machinery, railways, and lastly of the capital, i.e. the stored-up labour-power of past generations: if they cannot have these things they cannot work at all. Now the privileged classes, men like the joint-stock-company I have been speaking of, are quite willing that the workmen should work, that is necessary for the exercise of their privilege, if the workmen did not work, the idlers could not live idle: therefore they are allowed to use the raw material and tools of labour that the privileged own, but only on their paying a price for the use of them: now as for this price it cannot be more than would enable the workman to live and breed, and it cannot be less than would enable the property-owner to live on the labour of the workman; it varies between those two extremes; but the great mass of the workmen have to pay a price to leave to work little less than the highest price, or in other words their wages are little above what is necessary for them to live, work and breed on: because they are what is called unskilled workmen, that is they do work which requires no special aptitude or long training, and of this kind of labour the supply exceeds the demand, there are more workmen that is than the employers can employ at a profit to themselves.
So you see this is the reason why the manufacturer is not satisfied with that fair bargain of working amongst his workmen: the law gives him the power to force them to pay him for leave to work if by any means not illegal he has managed to acquire more wealth than he needs for his own use. Money as you well know can buy immunity from labour, but once again this means nothing more nor less than that the owner of it can force other people to work for him gratis after they have fed, clothed, and housed themselves poorly. So you see unless a man is well enough off to have at his command land at least if not machinery and capital he cannot work wholly for himself; some part of his time at least he must pay as a poll-tax for leave to work that is for leave to live; and as the owners of land and capital are comparatively few it follows that the smaller part of the population forces the larger part to pay this poll-tax. And what is this tax? It is no slight money charge which one man might easily pay to another and feel little the worse for it; we have seen already what it is: the price which the workers pay to the idlers for leave to live is the renunciation of all the comforts of life: in order that he may live the working man has to consent to live as an inferior being to the non-worker, and this he is forced to agree to, because certain persons are allowed to live not by producing wealth as the worker does but by owning it: by owning what is necessary for the worker to use, but which they the non-workers can only use as an instrument of compulsion to force the workers to work without being paid for a portion of their working.
Now then we can see surely that it is nonsense saying that [it] is natural for the great mass of people to be poor; it is unnatural: if nature bids us to work in order to live, and refuses to yield her treasure to anyone who does not work, it ought to follow on that, that those who work most should have the most, and those who do not work at all should get nothing: whereas under our present system exactly the contrary is the case: the great landowner, the rich shareholder, men who do not even pretend to do anything are at the one end of the scale and are most wealthy; the unskilled workman, the field labourer working day-in day-out their lives long, and ending with the workhouse are at the other end of it; and betwixt and between are various groups of whom in the main it is true that the harder and the usefuller their work is the less they get.
Now I say that this is a lamentable flying in the face of Nature, and the result must be the impoverishment of the larger part of mankind. I have said that this is a rich country, and yet perhaps that is a misuse of words; can a country be called rich that has so many poor in it?
So we see it is absurd to put down the inequalities of modern Society to the nature or necessity of the case. But the defenders of our present system, say it is the fault of the poor themselves that they are poor: that is quite as absurd; we have seen that the greater part of the workers are poor: is it possible that it can be their faults: its being their faults would mean that they do not work, that they are idle; but they do all the work that is done at any rate, and they do so much of it that they are not only enabled to live to work but they also have the honour (I won't call it a pleasure) of keeping those who do not work: so that is preposterous nonsense saying of the whole of this working class that they are poor through their idleness.
No we must I feel sure come to the conclusion that it is the system under which we live that brings about those terrible inequalities which most thoughtful men lament: and we ought to be very glad that we are driven to that conclusion: because if it were the work of nature we could not seriously amend it: or if [it] could be true that all useful people were idle, i.e. useless, what could we do then? But since it is the fault of a system, which has grown up to what it is by the carelessness and thoughtlessness of men, it both can be altered, and it will be, since it is of the very nature of all human systems to change into something else and to change in the direction of men's desires: and men's desires do now, and have for a long time tended towards equality, towards the extinction of classes, in a word towards the general happiness of the whole population. Ah my friends, it is a mournful thing to consider how hard and cruel men are to one another, not from malice or ill-nature but from ignorance and thoughtlessness when with a little courage, a little forethought, a little wisdom we could make such a different world of it, that we could make all the poor, rich or wealthy rather, without really injuring the rich one iota. Is it not worth while trying to do that? Well that is what Socialists want to do. And I say again that can be done, and will be done; but if people delay too long trying to do it the natural break-up of the system will bring about much misery and probably war and violence before the times [get] better: which we might avoid by being wise in time, and thinking about what is to be done, trying our own selves to make the change from the bad old system to the better new come about with the consent of all thoughtful and well-wishing people: this is why I am speaking to you tonight trying to get you to agree with me that the position of working men can and should be altered and that altogether, not a little bettered merely; but quite changed; put on a new foundation.
I have shown you that the real reason for the poverty of the working-classes lay in the fact that some men wishing to live without working had managed to get into their hands those things which are necessary to the workmen to work with, and thus could compel them to keep them in idleness. Now this is the thing we Socialists want to alter: we say with St. Paul, that no one who can work has a right to live unless he works; and we also say as I began by telling you that since every ordinary healthy and capable man can produce more than he needs to keep himself every man who does a fair share of work ought to have a good livelihood.
I fear to some of you that may appear impossible; but you must remember what work now is, and what work should be: there is only a certain amount of labour-power in the country, and clearly if a great part of this labour-power in allowed to run to waste, the wealth of the country must be less than it should be. Now not only do a great many people refuse to work, but a great many others are set to do quite useless work by these idle rich men: if all the men who are doing nothing and all who are simply wasting their workers to work at making things which we want, which the whole community wants, and at distributing them in an unwasteful manner, we should as a community be abundantly wealthy: and if this wealth were shared justly we should be every one of us both healthy and wealthy: healthy I say without hesitation, because I am sure that all disease comes either from excess or from poverty.
Well then how are [we] to set to work about it? Perhaps you may have been told that the Socialists want to share up all wealth, and that the result of this would be that in the shorter or longer time things would come back to the old condition of inequality. Well of course they would if things remained otherwise as they are now. But then the Socialists do not want to share up all wealth: they want all persons to enjoy what they have fairly earned by their labour and what they can fairly use; and I don't think that on consideration you can think that wrong. What a man has and can use is his own; but what sense is there in his calling a thing his own which he cannot use? Suppose you give a child a sugar-plum and say that it is his but he mustn't eat it: what will he do? Why he will be coming to you every hour of the day and be saying "please may I eat that jumble now?" or else he will show you practically what he thinks about property by eating it without asking you. So you see you do not injure a man by taking away from him what he cannot use. But supposing he abuses this property of his which he cannot use for doing a wrong to someone else: are you injuring him by taking it away from him then? for instance - if you see a man levelling a gun at another man, are you injuring him by taking the gun away from him? Certainly not; you are preventing him from committing a crime. Well that is what we Socialists want to do: but further than that: we would take from people that part of their property which they cannot use and which they now abuse by wronging other people by means of it; but we would not take it away to do nothing with it, we would use it and by using it would benefit the very people from whom we had taken it as well as other people. We fully admit the right of people to use property, we deny their right to abuse it: and I must tell you plainly that in doing so we are in direct opposition to the present laws of Society, the laws that keep you poor: their maxim is that a man has a right to use and abuse the wealth which he has legally acquired. This abuse of property we would put an end to at once.
You will of course ask me what we propose in this matter, how we propose to destroy the abuse of property: I cannot give you the details of such an arrangement; no man can at this stage of the question: but I think I can make the principles clear on which those details would be founded. In order to do that let me go back to that owner of a factory that I have been speaking to you about before, and who would be content to be paid by the workmen who use if for the wear and tear and risk involved in working it, and just consideration for his own personal work in it: I think such a man would only wish to call such a factory his own because if he gave it up he would be thrown out of work. I think he would be perfectly willing to surrender it to a body of men whom he could trust to use it duly and ensure him work in it at a fair remuneration; I think he would be quite contented if he could say not this factory is mine, but this factory is ours: whose? Why the men's who work in it including himself. That is cooperation you will say: yes so it is: and it is also Socialism, if (and the if is a great one) that is the condition of all factories throughout the country. But it can only be the condition of all factories if those factories cease to be owned by private persons and are owned by the people in general in some way or other. Therefore you see the only body to which our factory owner could surrender the property which is useless to himself unless the people ensure the proper use of it is the people at large: they are the only body which can own it without wronging someone. Well, when the people, the nation if you please, owned this property what would they do with it? They would allow the workmen who could use it for producing goods to use it on condition that they paid to the whole people for the wear and tear of their property, that they paid in short what was necessary to keep it a going concern, and that they dealt fairly in dividing amongst themselves what they earned by their work. This is what is called the Nationalization of the means of production, and I have dealt with the case of the factory first because if you will agree to that you will the more readily agree to the opinion that the land should be nationalized; although for my part I can see no serious difference between the position of the land and the other means of production. The land should be owned by no private person but by the people at large to be used by those who can use it: they will indeed have to pay rent to the people, because if they did not, the man who got hold of a piece of extra-productive land would have an unfair advantage over his neighbour: but this rent would [be] so apportioned that it would not begin till the cultivator had made a fair living out of the soil; and he then would not be paying a tax on his labour, but would be handing over to the people what he had not worked for, a fertility which was the work of accident and the labour of past generations. And of this which he would pay to the people he would have his share again as one of the people. The capital of the country i.e. the stored-up wealth to be used for further production would also be owned by the people; no one would be allowed to take interest on money in order to live idly without labour; the people would lend to those that needed it on the security of the labour-power of the borrower under due regulations: the railways and other means of transit like all machinery would be owned by the people to be used by everybody according to his convenience. Of course we should between us have to pay for the maintenance and renewal of these things, but we should find it more convenient to pay for them in the lump, and everybody to use them freely just as we do for our bridges and highways and our postal service.
Now this would mean a very great change: it would put Society on a new basis: everyone would have to work and everyone would be able to work according to his capacity: there would be no need for overwork, since everyone was working: labour would be free; workmen would not need to beg to be employed by a master, because they would be able to employ themselves, and the results of their labour would be all their own. Moreover the people would see that education was the same for everyone according to their capacity, and that the old, the infirm, and all who for natural reasons could not work should be properly taken care of; and since the standard of life for the worker would have been raised so much the standard of comfort for such people would you may be sure be of the same kind: the people also would undertake great works for public utility and pleasure as they might well do in a country where no labour was wasted; and probably having satisfied their ordinary wants on a generous scale, it would be to these public advantages that people would turn for whatever of luxury or splendour they desired.
You may have noticed that I have [been] saying `the people' would take over such and such things, would do so and so: I have used this word as including all forms of administration bodies by which these changes would be carried out and the new Society maintained: I do not want to prejudice the question as to the exact form that such a Society would take. But in my opinion there would be far less centralization than there is at present, a board of officials, a parliament, or any such-like body should not attempt to administer the affairs of people living a long way off, whose conditions and surroundings they cannot thoroughly understand: surely it is always and everywhere good that people should do their own business, and in order that they may do it well, every citizen should have some share of it, and take on his own shoulders some part of the responsibility: true it is that this can only be done by free men, slaves can have no responsibility, and as long as the workers are the slaves of capital and have to work and live as it bids them, they must submit to what I should call professional officials, and have all public work ill-done at a huge cost.
Therefore to my mind in the new Society, we should form bodies like municipalities, county-boards and parishes, and almost all practical public work would be done by these bodies, the members of whom would be working at and living by their ordinary work, and, as aforesaid everybody who had any capacity for such work would have to do his share of it: and you must remember that this is no new idea after all, but is the ancient constitution of the land, which [was] gradually corrupted and overlaid by officialism of one sort or other: of course these bodies would have to federate for national or international purposes: but no set of delegates would venture to consider itself the master of the public, it would be its servant rather.
To recapitulate. In the Society which we Socialists wish to see realized labour will be free: no man will have to find a master before he sets to work to produce wealth, a master who will not employ him unless he can take from him a portion of what he has produced: every man will be able to keep himself by his labour, and the combination of all these workers will supply those things which can only be used by the public, such as baths, libraries, schools, great public buildings, railways, roads, bridges, and the like. There will be no political parties squabbling incessantly as to who shall govern the country and doing nothing else; for the country will govern itself, and the village, municipal, and county councils will send delegates to meetings for dealing with matters common to all. The trades also will have councils which will organize each the labour which they understand and these again will meet when necessary to discuss matters common to all the trades: in short life and labour [will be organized] in the least wasteful manner, and the ordinary citizen will learn to understand at least some part of this organization.
Thus we shall learn to live reasonably. My own belief is that when we are once bound together by ties of honesty and mutual self-respect all this will tend to get simpler and simpler, until our business becomes very easy to transact. For instance I have been speaking as if there would still be some social inequalities, as if one man would earn more money than another, though none would earn less than enough to keep him comfortably: but I do not think that this would last long: we should find that when we ceased to fight with each other for livelihood and to rob each other that all ordinary necessaries and comforts would be so abundant and so cheap that they would be free for everybody to take as he needed: of course we should pay for them, but in the lump: let me give you an illustration: when a family that is comfortably-off sit down to a leg of mutton how do they act? do they bring in a pair of scales and weigh out to each one his share of the victuals? No that is done in a prison, but not in a family: in a family everybody has what he needs and no one grudges it: Mary has one slice, Jack has two, and Bill has four: but Mary and Jack don't feel wronged, since they have had as much as they wanted: and the reason for this is that enough has been provided, and that the members of the family trust one another.
My friends it is for you to choose whether you will live in a prison or a family: we Socialists beg you to choose the latter. But in order that you may do so you must understand and make others understand that the world can only be happy if [it] is honest, and it can only be honest by not allowing persons to live by making other men poor: all rich people do now live in that way and consequently the world is dishonest. Now you may think it is too difficult a task to convince rich people of this, or to convince poor people that it is their duty to compel the rich to be honest - i.e. to be rich no longer. It is a difficult task; but we Socialists do not despair of it because on the one hand the rich are not over-happy in their riches, and many of them are beginning to learn one thing, viz. that they have nothing to fear from a system which will destroy poverty as well as riches. And on the other hand the poor are not so ignorant as they used to be, and they are beginning to learn that not only is it [in] their interest not to allow themselves to be robbed, but that it is a necessity for them, or else ruin will overtake their masters along with themselves: everywhere employers make less and less profits; the big men are swallowing the small, the bigger the big, and the biggest the bigger: employment becomes yearly harder to get and harder to give. The old system is tumbling to pieces, and the workers must now come forward and show the way to the new, by claiming to be allowed to work for themselves, and thus form a Society where all will be workers: if they do not do this, consciously and speedily too, there will be a terrible state of things before the new system is born: we now living may yet see people dying by the dozen of starvation in our streets before full shops and crowded warehouses: or indeed people in their agony of necessity breaking through all restraints and sacking such shops and warehouses and destroying everything right and left in mad and ignorant riot: because they will not understand and cannot unless they are taught that it is not the day's stock of bread and beef or the year's stock of cloth that they need, but the raw material and instruments for making the bread, beef, and cloth, and the organization for employing these matters. This lesson is what we have to teach them, I am sure that if we who have learned it will but do our duty they will not be long in learning it; and when they have learned it they will claim their rights; their right to live free, and to use what they can use though others may abuse it, the raw material and instruments of labour. That claim cannot be resisted if [it] is made by the combined workers of the country. The question is will they combine? I answer they must combine or starve.
But in order to combine in the best manner and to bring about the freedom of labour with least possible violence and misery, after they have learned what their position is and what it should be, they must cast aside all jealousy of one another, must understand thoroughly that they are not enemies to one another but all soldiers in one great army: they must be forebearing and slow to quarrel... [section deleted] and when they really feel this it will give them a courage which people can never have when they [are] acting in a selfish way each one for his own interests, a courage which will make them good men and true in all senses of the phrase: and then I repeat they will be irresistible: they will attract to them all that there is of intelligence in the working-classes, they will convince all those of the wealthy classes who are worthy and well-meaning, and the rest they will push aside to let them find out by experience that the life of a free man is better than that of either a slave or a slave-owner.
What Socialists Want