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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71

State Socialism

page 53

State Socialism.

"The State is the people, and should therefore labour for the advancement of the welfare of the people, precisely as an individual would strive for the advancemeat of himself."

WHen first men began in whispers to speak of the limitation of the hours of labour to eight per day, the nose of supercilious ness was turned up with a lofty scorn. It could never, never be, was the bold and confident affirmation. Some forty-five years ago there was, in England, a body of political reformers known as Chartists—an infamous, disreputable, low lot, of whom at the time nothing too bad could be said—but in Australasia to-day every one of the six points of the Chartists' charter is to be found incorporated in the law. The Chartists never dreamed of a State system of education, free, secular, and compulsory, and if any one amongst their number had breathed a suggestion in regard to extending the suffrage to woman-kind, he would probably have been gazed at as a madman. We in the colonies have contrived to get a long way beyond Chartist thought, and still "proputty" is safe, the law is respected, the world goes round. Going further back, it is not unpleasant to read of the epithets so copiously bestowed upon the fanatics who foolishly clamoured for Catholic emancipation; the ferocity evinced against the lunatics who demanded the repeal of the Corn Laws; nor the denunciations hurled with free tongue against those who were infected with the vile enthusiasm for the cause of Parliamentary Reform. This is not unpleasant reading, because it naturally suggests the thought that the Socialists who are denounced as infamous robbers ami disturbers—as a pernicious and wholly contemptible crew—to-day, may possibly find a most brilliant and triumphant justification and refutation a generation or so hence. However he may be regarded when twenty-five years shall have passed away, there can be no manner of doubt that the Socialist of to-day is most reprehensible, and only fit for use as a target to be shot and shied at as fancy may suggest to the humorous.

So far as knowledge at present extends, Socialists may be divided into three distinct classes: First, Socialists pure and simple; second, lobsided Socialists—a variety recently discovered in and understood to be exclusively indigenous to New Zealand; anr], third, State Socialists. All who have hitherto appeared either as protestants against abuse page 54 or promoters of reform in religion, society, or politics, have had [unclear: some] thing to condemn and sweep away, or—as in the instance of the [unclear: eight] hours movement—they have had a new departure to propose [unclear: as] struggle for. It has been otherwise with the State Socialists; [unclear: the] position is altogether unique. It one day dawned suddenly upon [unclear: the] comprehension of the people of these colonies that the [unclear: principle] State Socialism was in full operation throughout Australasia, [unclear: and] was at once pronounced to be a very good principle indeed. [unclear: Sates] Socialists are they who, recognising the value of the principle that [unclear: has] been brought into force without the least occasion for [unclear: struggle,] seek to carry that principle further. The singular feature of [unclear: the] position is that those who, constitutionally, are Conservatives, have [unclear: been] almost exclusively responsible for the introduction of State [unclear: Serials] into Australasia. Now they—the Conservatives—not only shrink [unclear: from] going further, but seek to brand with odium those who have [unclear: done] more than heap encomium on what they have taught, and [unclear: stamps] with approval all they have in this direction achieved. Surely [unclear: nothing] more funny than this is to be found in any page of history!

In early colonial days there were not wanting attempts to [unclear: carry] out railway enterprises by companies and associations tn the [unclear: old] fashioned way. There was the Melbourne and Geelong [unclear: Railway] Company, the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company, [unclear: and] the Melbourne and Suburban Railway Company; but—through [unclear: the] rapid accession of population which followed upon the discovery of [unclear: the] goldfields—it was speedily discovered that the slow, feeble, [unclear: almost] hopeless efforts of these companies were wholly inadequate to meet [unclear: the] pressing necessities of the situation, and so the Government of [unclear: Victoris] felt morally constrained to take up the work of railway construction themselves. The Government could raise the capital required for the carrying out of the works in large sums without any difficulty, whereas the companies had to struggle to obtain small amounts through the medium of dribbling calls; thus the State was led to become the rail way builder and the railway carrier for the people. In just the same way the Governments in Australia have been led to undertake the work of supplying the cities with water, and at a later period through the medium of trusts the carrying out of a general irrigation policy. Sir Julius Vogel—a Tory—was the author of the Public Works Policy of New Zealand, founded, as in the case of the Australian Colonies upon the borrowing of money from the Motherland. Sir Julius' scheme as originally submitted, embraced a principle, however, that never found expression in any other of the colonies, namely:—that the landowners who would be specially benefited by the railways should be called upon to recoup to the State any deficiency that might arise through the failure of the receipts to meet the amount required for the payment of interest. This sensible and most just provision, as every one knows, was struct out of the policy through the class legislation of the class who have been ever found most ready to denounce class legislation. Althougl page 55 it may be true, as there is good reason to believe, that some railways have been constructed and the course of others deviated in order to serve private interests—although there may have been gross extravagance ami waste—yet it is fair to remember that railway construe tion in the colonies would never have advanced so rapidly to the position in which it now stands, had the work been left to the enterprise of private individuals and the mediumship of companies; further, if companies had undertaken the work, it would have been imperative that the rates of carriage should have been so framed as to return not only payment of interest upon the capital invested, but profits from which dividends might have been declared. This would have resulted in a very different state of things from what now prevails. It is the fact that, in England, there is a Department of "Works and Buildings" over which a "First Commissioner" presides, who in not a member of the Cabinet; but, as the sum annually expended under this head amounts to very little more than £50,000, it is clear that in England the carrying out of public works by the State bears no such relation to the population and the general expenditure as is to be found in the Colonies. In New Zealand no less than £3,604,925 has been spent out of loans in the construction of roads and bridges, in addition to sums—probably amounting to £100,000—appropriated out of the Consolidated Fund. In Victoria, before the railway and borrowing policy was instituted, the Government expanded very large sums upon the construction of roads and bridges as they were constrained to do, and since then, out of loans, some two or three millions, if memory serves, in the erection of school buildings. In all the Colonies the Governments have had the carrying out of works of this nature forced upon them—they have necessarily been the creatures of expediency—and all of such works are based upon the principle of State Socialism.

Fifty years ago, political economists taught that the whole duty of a Government was confined to the maintenance of law and order at home, and the protection of the people from aggression from abroad. It is true that the entire conduct of the postal work in Great Britain has always been in the hands of the Government, and as that institution comprehends the performance of practical duty for the whole people, it is so far to be regarded as socialistic. Of late years the Council of Education has appeared, and to that institution also, comparatively limited as its powers are, the same observation must be applied. The Government in England also supports quite a number of institutions of a varied character, such as "Science and Art," National and other galleries, Museums (natural history and otherwise), Observatories, Gardens, &c., the votes for which reach a not wholly insignificant sum. Then there are Boards of Trade, Agriculture, Local Government, and Charity Commissioners, the duties performed by all of which can scarcely be said to fall strictly within the restriction of the political school of fifty years ago. Perhaps a tolerably clear comprehension of the present position of England in this respect may be gathered page 56 from the following table of sufficiently accurate figures:—
Board of Trade 73,576
Board of Trade Legal Branch 18,090
Register and Record, Shipping 16,410
Local Government Board 166,704
Local Government Ireland 133,912
Board of Agriculture 53,173
Council of Education 6,248,990
National Education, Ireland 907,329
Geological Surveys 14,811
Science, Art, Museums, Gardens, &c. 930,517
Record Office 21,462
Meteorological 15, 300
Post Office 5,923,682
Telegraphs 2,422,330
Works and Public Buildings 51,174
Public Works Loan Commission 9,749

From this statement have been omitted the items [unclear: Bankruptoy] £121,000, and Patents, £57,118, together with the office of the [unclear: Great] Lord Chamberlain, £4,646, Royal Parks and Gardens, £9404, [unclear: and] the various offices for the collection of revenue and administration, [unclear: upon] the ground that they are either necessary for purposes of order [unclear: and] protection, or cannot be claimed as designed for the service of [unclear: the] people generally. But, however these and other items of small [unclear: account] may be regarded, it is sufficient it has been shown that, out [unclear: of] revenue of ninety millions, derived from a population of [unclear: 37,740,00] soulsj, only some £17,800,000 (including everything of a [unclear: doubt] character)—of which more than one third is required for postal [unclear: service] alone—is annually appropriated for other purposes than those of [unclear: the] maintenance of order and protection through the medium of [unclear: Army] Navy, and Police, or the great offices of State which are held [unclear: i] dispensably necessary to give dignity and strength to the Empire.

From this brief review it will at once occur to intelligent [unclear: mind] that, whether through policy or from other reasons, the [unclear: Government] Great Britain is still limited in its operations to within the lines of [unclear: old] time economists. It has been far otherwise in the Colonies. A [unclear: Colonial] Government is railway-carrier, letter-carrier, telegraph [unclear: messenger] telephone-holder, school-master, labour-finder, water-provider, [unclear: bankes] and life-insurer for the people. These achievements in the [unclear: colonie] have resulted from the brilliant ideas of Tory statesmen carried [unclear: to] successful and happy fruition. In New Zealand, to Sir Julius [unclear: Vogel] and Sir Harry Atkinson may be ascribed the honour of the whole, [unclear: for] to the Liberal Minister, Mr. John Ballance, only remains due the [unclear: small] credit of converting the State into a money-lender through his [unclear: village] settlements scheme; which, to the despair of some people, has [unclear: perhaps] turned out as grand a success as anything that has been done befor [unclear: he] came into power.

page 57

Looked at in its true light therefore—having regard to the careful natures and constitutional characters of the statesmen who have so boldly and so successfully, entirely of their own motion, accomplished tins new departure in the face of old world authorities—it surely cannot be so terrible a thing to be a State Socialist! Everyone throughout the Colonies is well satisfied; not a voice has, up to this date, been raised in disparagement, and—beyond some foolish bubble that at fugitive times has been heard about selling the railways—not a soul has proposed to go back from the principle upon which so much has been achieved and which has worked so well. Some months ago, a telegram appeared in the New Zealand papers from Sydney, stating that the Daily Teleqraph, a Tory organ, "fears that the bargain proposed between New Zealand and the Cable Company, even if concluded on the fairest terms to the contracting colonies, will more firmly establish a system of State partnership in private enterprises, which is false in principle and mistaken in application." As it unfortunately happens that in other lands all telegraphs and the control of all caldes is in private hands, whilst throughout Australasia they are held hy the Government in trust for the people, when it is desired to unite in the bonds of injer-communication far apart shores—a truly beneficent work—there is no help for it, but that the Colonial Governments must enter into contracts with private companies. What would the Daily Telegraph have? Would this sapient authority propose that the proprietors of the cables should first dispose ol" their property to their Governments, or that the Colonial Governments should sell their telegraphs to private parties before a contract could be entered into? Where does the "false in principle and mistaken in application" really come in? Do not Governments every day enter into contracts with private companies and associations for the performance of things great and small? This characteristic shriek from a Tory journal—if it means anything at all—may fairly be accepted as an indication that for the future there will be resistance to any further progress in the direction of State Socialism. No more must the State be permitted to do work on behalf of the people which will necessitate its entering into contracts with private or any other parties. What is really intended to be conveyed is that the whole social position of Governments in tlu Colonics is 11 false in principle," and, if it is scarcely possible to withdraw from that position now, there must at all events be no more of it. There are not wanting indications that this is shortly to be the attitude to be taken up by Conservatives in all the Colonies. There is to he a harking back to the old time principle. To be a Socialist pure and simple, or a lobsided Socialist, or a State Socialist is much one and the same thing—all Socialists are one, and all to be condemned and crushed. This is what is foreshadowed, if not now actually the policy decided upon by Colonial Conservatives. Meanwhile the people, well pleased, know not in which way the principle which has so farsatisfactorily page 58 stood the test can be further extended. Certainly, it may be [unclear: assume] that if any one will show what institution would be more [unclear: profitable] conducted in their interests if it was controlled by the State, the [unclear: people] will agitate for the change. If any institution, now in the power of [unclear: the] State, could be enlarged and extended so as to confer grat [unclear: benefit] upon the whole people, the whole people certainly would have a [unclear: right]—and would exercise that right—to insist upon it. The people [unclear: kwon] that State Socialism has proved a good thing; but they know not [unclear: be] the principle can be further advanced. Here it has been [unclear: sought] show that in Banking, Education, and the profession of the [unclear: Law] principle of State Socialism may be advantageously further [unclear: extended] present limits will not allow of more being attempted.

Before, however, leaving this question, it may be well to call [unclear: attention] to one feature of modern social development which may [unclear: possibly] result in great future consequences. In London there is one [unclear: immea] establishment—it is stated it covers an area of five acres—where [unclear: any] thing can he purchased, from a needle to an anchor, from a beef [unclear: sta] to Valenciennes lace. In Sydney there is Horden's, a [unclear: similarly] establishment in which all sorts of miscellaneous businesses are [unclear: carried] on. In Melbourne, there are the Equitable Trading [unclear: Company]. Warehouses, and other co-operative establishments in winch the [unclear: sale] wearing apparel, boots and shoes, carpeting and furniture, [unclear: grocering] &c., is worked in combination. So in New Zealand there are to [unclear: be] found Farmers' Co-operative Stores and General Co-operative Store in which the business sought to be carried on is not limited to [unclear: anything]—they undertake to supply whatever their customers may [unclear: choose] to order. The adoption of this principle of co-operation in [unclear: the] establishment of large warehouses and the combination of [unclear: many] branches of business heretofore affording separate sources of [unclear: employment], is obviously spreading. It has been instituted by [unclear: capitalist] farmers, squatters and holders of big properties in country districts, [unclear: so] that they may not only obtain the stores, &c., which they require [unclear: at] cheap rates, but share in the profits accruing to the combination [unclear: from] their own purchases. It is extremely doubtful, however, whether [unclear: any] one of these enterprising and thrifty shareholders has ever sat [unclear: down] and quietly striven to think out what the adoption of such a [unclear: system] may ultimately lead to. It has been seen that in Australasia, [unclear: without] anyone having ever given a thought to State Socialism—the interference by the Government with classes of work which should, according [unclear: to] political authorities of the old school, properly be left to the individual—State Socialism gradually came to be adopted, and is now found [unclear: to] exist to a far greater extent than in any other country in the world; and it may very possibly happen that—without in any way intending [unclear: in]—the founders of these co-operative institutions are initiating the way to the adoption of Communism. This may appear a startling [unclear: or a] ridiculous statement—particularly to those who have led the way, [unclear: and] have been felicitating themselves upon the success of this new [unclear: departure] page 59 but it is to be remembered that sometimes great and most-unlooked-for results from little causes spring. It must bo evident to those who will bestow thought upon the subject, that the owners of those big conglomerate warehouses hold the trading existence of all the small shop-keepers in their hands. By combining business in this way, money is sand in management and other expenditure, and it is claimed that they are enabled to sell at current prices and pay dividends to their shareholders. A shareholder in such an institution does not directly save money in the prices he pays for his goods; but, as every half-year he gets a good dividend from the profits of the establishment, it practically comes to the same thing. Up to this time the desire to he enabled to declare dividends as large oa possible has animated the management, and, consequently, the prices of goods have not been lowered; but supposing some day it was decided, for the purpose of increasing the number of their patrons, that it was desirable to forego dividends for a time, and sell at prices just sufficient to pay working expenses, what would become of the small shopkeepers then? They have their family and other claims to provide for, and they could not, under the circumstances, sell at co-operative store prices and live, If it be true that the public will buy where what they want is sold cheapest, in such a case as is here indicated the business of the small traders would all be absorbed by the co-operative stores. They would be shut up. A city then would consist of the chambers of professional gentlemen, several other offices, there or four big warehouses, the workshops and factories, and the residences of the people. Presently, it would he pointed out that the operation of these big stores worked very unfairly in private hands, and that they ought to be conducted by the State, so that the whole people should reap the advantages, and not a few privileged shareholders, and thus by quite an easy process Communism, and such a state of things as has been represented to some extent in "Looking Backward," is established. It may be—probably will be—urged that this is no more than a confuration of the imagination—a fairy story—but to those who will calmly reflect it will be found that there is nothing at all unreasonable or improbable in such a forecast. It is a period of change in which we live, and one step is followed by another with remarkable facility, so that when a number of years have passed there is a looking backward with astonishment at the conditions from which we have emerged. A few more years, and women, headed by wild enthusiasts, will be discovered trooping to the polls in armies of 150 to 200 from their barracks and chapels, and, in this connection, this constitutes an important feature. Women are bound to feel a deep interest in such an eminently social question as this. As every student of human nature knows, the sex are likely to be much more prone to consider their own circumstances and desires, and what they may choose to hold as their absolute necessities, than any abstract principles of political economy or strict justice. The idea of the State buying up the few big storehouses left masters of the trading field in each city, page 60 and selling to the people everything at cost price, is almost [unclear: certain], exercise for them an irresistible fascination, and no Government [unclear: on] eve of a general election could bo blamed for giving a [unclear: prominent] to such a captivating item as this on their political programme. [unclear: The] more this subject forms matter of reflection, the more certain [unclear: opinion] will grow that capital, in this latest development of its [unclear: power,] struck the heaviest blow yet delivered against individualism, [unclear: and], the whole tendency of the movement which has just been [unclear: initiated] distinctly in the direction of Communism. Capital, of [unclear: corns,] repudiate—will start up with horror at the suggestion—but the [unclear: move] ment is its own, and the consequences, whatever they may [unclear: be,] have to be accepted by Capital as its responsibility.