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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Chapter XV. — The Beginning of the End

page 79

Chapter XV.

The Beginning of the End.

"Good riddance!" was echoed by a thousand voices outside, as the small band of capitalists left the hall, folding up their parchments. And, truth to tell, even I felt my spirits revive when relieved of the presence of this most objectionable class; people who, at their best, are but human magpies, and at their worst vultures and hyenas. Still greater was my delight when presently I saw a small band of earnest, intellectual-looking men enter the hall, headed by one whom I recognized as the chairman of that memorable meeting in Trafalgar Square, at which I was elected to the high office I now held.

"Why, it's Neighbor William," I exclaimed cheerily, stretching out my hand to greet him. "You are indeed a most welcome guest."

"I hope I may prove so," he said, not coldly nor unkindly, yet with a certain reserve. "But that will depend on how far we shall be able to agree on certain points."

"What!" I exclaimed, somewhat taken back at this rejoinder; surely you, of all men, have now come here as an opponent of the new order of things?"

"By no means. We come as friends to assist you to complete the good work you have so well begun. But whether our help will be welcome to you, is a question on which I have some misgivings."

"Will you then please tell me at once the points of possible disagreement?"

"Yes, certainly. You have purged the national hive of the drones, the national temple of the money-changers. The country now belongs to the nation in its fullest and truest sense. The people have plenty of all they desire. But man liveth not by bread alone. Our ideal of a model State does not consist of an assemblage of so many million human cattle with plenty of fodder and good shelter."

"Nor mine either, good neighbor. I know your ideal, and share it. I have read that charming book of yours, News from Nowhere, with its fascinating and beautiful picture of the England that is to be. And as I too set a greater value on the development of the spiritual, or purely human, as distinguished from the mere animal qualities of the race, I would fain see it realized."

"Then why in the name of duty did you not use the absolute power at your command to abolish a system that has reduced page 80 mankind below the beasts of the field? Why champion individualism and competition with all the force of a keen, could blooded logic? Is not individualism but a euphemism in egotism? Does it not involve a struggle between brother in individual advantages? Is it not, both in name and [unclear: esseasidentical] with selfishness?"

"It is, good neighbor," I replied. "I understand the cause of your indignation. I am anxious myself to see mankind [unclear: e] that beautiful land you have described to us. But I wish t[unclear: o] there by a safer and surer road. Even the delights of [unclear: Para] itself would be dearly purchased if we had to travel thither [unclear: o] the murdered bodies of our brother-men. That shootin[unclear: g] Trafalgar Square of which you dreamt was a terrible affair."

He looked serious, sad, almost in despair; his noble [unclear: coutenance] fell, and his eyes filled with tears. "Cruel evil[unclear: s] require cruel remedies," he replied. "Anything rather [unclear: the] the perpetuation of a system which continuously demands [unclear: fre] human sacrifice. Rather a sudden death for a few tha[unclear: n] perpetual damnation of the many. Besides, then I sa[unclear: w] other way out of the slough of despond. But to you there [unclear: ha] been another way opened. What we want to know is, why [unclear: y] have not used the power with which you have been intruste[unclear: d] abolish once and for all this degrading cut-throat syste[unclear: m] competition which sets brother against brother; this produc[unclear: t] incarnate selfishness."

"Incarnate selfishness. Yes, that's just it. You have practically answered your own question. If selfishness were a thing apart from man, and not incarnate in him, you might [unclear: dema] that it and its products should be destroyed. But selfishnes[unclear: s] inherent and natural to human beings. It springs from the instinct of self-preservation, and can be neither ignored nor eradicated. But still, the evils it produces can be remedied; an[unclear: d] is just on this very instinct that I confidently rely to right [unclear: there]

"What! on selfishness? Can selfishness ever be a facto[unclear: r] anything but evil?"

"There is no property or agency in man or Nature, which cannot be a factor for either good or evil; it all depends upon circumstances. This one fact is patent and immutable [unclear: sell] preservation is the strongest instinct both in man and animals. It is a law of Nature, which you cannot repeal at St. Stephen. It has always been, and forever will remain, the main-spring of all human actions. Where people are so conditioned, by their own artificial institutions and regulations, that the struggl[unclear: e] existence is everywhere between man and man, and not between man and Nature; where the profit of one necessarily involves the loss of another; where, in short, the interests of the member of a community are, in consequence of bad legislation, antagonistic, instead of being identical; there this principle of page 81 self-preservation will always produce just that kind of selfishness—or say rather merciless greed—we are all deploring."

"Again, we ask, and now rather more surprised than at first, seeing that you agree with us on the main point, why you have not put a summary stop to this policy of selfishness?"

"I will tell you, if you will but have a little patience with me, for my answer must necessarily be a long one. In the first place, let us be clear as to what are the points that need reforming. You continually harp on the one string—competitive system. But reflect for a moment, and you will find that what you have been aggrieved by was not the competitive system, but the inequalities in human society and the injustice done to the many. Why you fought against the competitive system was simply because, in your opinion, that was the cause of all the trouble. Why do not fight against it is because I do not share that opinion. But this only by the way, for I cannot say that I myself am enamored with the commercial competition of to-day. But why I would not meddle with it is because it is but a consequence of a general derangement, and will disappear with the disease, of which it is not the cause, but a mere symptom. The point at issue, then, is as to what should be the precise polity, which should regulate the conduct of the community. That point we would have to leave to be decided by the community; that is, each member for himself. You would have me coerce their social relations into some prescribed form; that is, prescribe to the people the habits and customs they should follow."

"You're talking nonsense when you talk of prescribing habits and customs."

"I am glad you see it in the same light as I do; it is just the point I wanted to bring home to you. People will behave, whether individually or collectively, according to their habits and customs. But habits and customs are not changed suddenly by Acts of Parliament, but are the result of old wont and usage. You desire that people should live together in love and harmony; I agree. But remember that such results can only be brought about gradually, and by providing the conditions necessary to their development. You cannot force people into such relations against their inclination; and that at the present moment they are not inclined to adopt your ideal, you know very well. After all it is but natural they should not; and it would be disastrous to the very ideal we are aiming at if we tried to force them."

"Why so?"

"Because the people are as yet unfit for such an ideal state. A running train is not brought to a sudden standstill by turning off the steam; and it would be most disastrous if you tried to bring about such a sudden stoppage by main force. Nor can page 82 human dispositions be changed at a moment's notice. Communism is a union of love; and love must be voluntary. You cannot force people into harmony against their inclination; you have tried that with single couples, and have framed all [unclear: man] of laws whereby to coerce husband and wife to live together [unclear: in] loving harmony and union. But wherever that love and harmony was naturally wanting, you have not succeeded; and where you have succeeded it was only because they would have loved each other even in the absence of your laws. Do your hope to be more successful in tying together thirty-five millions people against their inclinations by the same bond which was not strong enough to hold two people together? You are trying to force Nature; trying to conquer the will of thirty-five millions by your own."

"But it is for their own good."

"Then let them find that out for themselves, and you will [unclear: f] that that selfishness of theirs will be a far more powerful lever to bring about that ideal state than either truncheon bayonet, or any regulations scribbled on paper. [unclear: Communis] if it is to be a real thing and not a mere sham, can only exist where it is voluntary, and therefore can only be inaugurated by common consent. It means a union of love, where the [unclear: bo] of reciprocal attachment need not necessarily be personal, [unclear: b] some common interest. That given, and you will soon hav[unclear: e] communistic society; without it, never. Had you ever so many armed legions at your command, you could not make the people love each other, nor establish peace with drawn swords."

"But is the general welfare not sufficient common interest?"

"It would be, if the people were already alive to their true interests. But to most people the 'common interest' is [unclear: a] sentiment, and as such would not be sufficient for the people [unclear: a] they are. It might be sufficient for you, and such as you; and that not because you are, strictly speaking, less selfish, [unclear: but] because you are more enlightened; because you know that all would be happier for it; and your happiness consists in the consummation of that ideal. But the masses, the [unclear: ignorance] masses, trained through centuries under a system of 'eac[unclear: h] himself and the devil take the hindmost'; under a system of grabbing, legalized stealing, swindling, and gambling; in an atmosphere of hypocrisy and cant, where lying, under the name of diplomacy and business, was a much-esteemed art; [unclear: when] the dissemination of religion and morality became a business the post of the moralist, called by its occupant a 'living,' being bought and sold by auction, and considered as 'good' or 'bad,' according to the number of pieces of silver it brought in; to the masses to whom brotherly love is an empty phrase, and the fighting for their daily bread has for so long been the mas object of their solicitude: to them what you ask would [unclear: appea] page 83 as a great sacrifice, in the eyes of many of the best among them a dangerous experiment—or, in nineteenth century language, 'a bad spec.' They must first be educated into the new order; you have to approach them as you would a shy and hungry dog who, on so many previous occasions, when expecting a bone or a piece of bread, have received the whip instead. In short, these people, just as they are, with all their high talents for spinning, digging, weaving and—betting; and notwithstanding their undoubted good qualities—both actual and potential—are as yet unfit for forming a community such as you desire."

"But, then, why will you not help on its development?"

"I am helping it on, and that in the best way. For all we can do is to prepare the soil and rely on Nature to do the rest. You would have me stop competition by law, and tell each of the thirty-five millions of people what to do and how to do it. Do you not see how impossible it would be for one man, or a dozen of men, to devise a system that should have the approval of all? and if you were to exact their submission and obedience by force, would that be a Communistic State? Why, you would have resistance and friction without end. But leave them to themselves, your only interference being to prevent one individual obstructing another, and they will soon find what is best for them; they will soon discover the true meaning of the old saw, 'Union is strength,' and that the co-operation of several in an undertaking of whatever kind is to the best interest of all."

"We are agreed on that. But then your interference should also extend to where one man tries to take away the living of another by underselling him; where one soapmaker, for instance, tries to concentrate the whole industry into his own hands, and to push others out of the market. In short, if you are to protect the liberties of the individuals, you will have to stop competition."

"You are mistaken, and that because you are forgetting that man's actions are modified by altered circumstances."

"But have you not yourself said that people's dispositions are not changed at a moment's notice? And if they were greedy yesterday, will they not be so to-day?"

"Yes; but the conditions under which this greed can be satisfied are different. If Brown, for instance, strove to get the control of the soap market into his own hands, it was not out of consideration for the cleanliness or health of his fellows; nor because he could or would, by his own individual labor, supply them all with soap. He did it because he could make a profit on every man he employed. But this profit—or, 'surplus value'—is only possible while there is a surplus population; or, as learned economists and able editors expressed it, a free labor market. But when there are no longer any unemployed, excepting those who no longer require employment; when Dick, Tom, and Harry are no longer dependent for their existence on the page 84 favor of soapmaker Brown, or landlord Jones, such surplus profits are no longer possible. This is not mere theory; for you remember that an increase of wages was always fear[unclear: ed] capitalists, because it might cut profits so fine as to mak[unclear: e] unprofitable for them to continue their works. You remember how greedy Brown threatened to give up being a task master as soon as he found that his slaves no longer yielded hi[unclear: m] 2½per cent."

"And so you think that now he will shut up his factor[unclear: y] cease competing?"

"I don't know. What I do know for certain is, that he will cease to fleece his workers; and that because the latter won'[unclear: t] him; because, in short, the workers are as selfish and as greedy [unclear: as] the master. Now that they are independent they will [unclear: as] higher wages than they earn, and the employer will offer them less than they are worth. But they will soon find their level."

"And is this system of ultra-individualism and keen competition to be the be-all and end-all of everything?"

"No; it is but the beginning of everything. Selfish people will seek their own self-interests; and under such conditions can you doubt for a moment as to where they will find it?"

"In combination!"

"Yes, most assuredly. And it is not such a new discovery either. Men have found it out long ago. The natural tendency has always been toward united action. It was not man's natural depravity that made him fight his brother, but necessity, the instinct of self-preservation, drove him to it. There was not room for all in this world under the old forms of government. Only few could be accommodated in comfort. The large body of the people had to scramble for the means of life, and many had to succumb altogether. Under such circumstances each had to scramble for himself. But this was not because they did not see the benefits of united action, but because all could not be saved and nobody wished to be the one to be sacrificed. Once this fear done away with—"

"And you think they will act more in unison?"

"Of course they will; their self-interest will prompt them. One hundred men, each tilling a small plot of land, would soon find out the advantage of working together, which will make possible the employment of machinery and more permanence works at a lesser expense to each. Again, plenty of everything and no fear of poverty, will gradually heal them of the disease of insatiable greed. People never hoard things of which they are assured there will always be plenty. Water is treasured only in countries where it is scarce."

"And is that to establish Communism?"

"If Communism is good and natural, then it will. I myself think it is, and that it will be the ultimate form of social bond page 85 But it can only thrive under natural conditions. The seeds and germs of it we could behold sprouting everywhere, even under that old and pernicious system to which we have put an end. People entered into partnerships and worked together for each other's good through life, the only bond that kept them faithful to each other being their common interest. Joint-stock companies and co-operative societies, to say nothing of municipal and district councils and state undertakings: were not all of these evidence that the tendency of man is not to live in reciprocal fear and enmity, but to co-operate for mutual advantages? But the plant could not develop, for the soil was inimical to such fruits."

"It was indeed. And so you think that the natural tendency is toward Communism; and that in the midst of plenty men will cease to be greedy."

"What makes man greedy, but the fear of want? What makes man chary of helping another, but the fear of parting with what he might need for himself? In the past, to look after one's brother often meant the neglect of one's children. And yet men were kind to one another, still assisted each other, when they could do so without endangering their own existence or that of those dependent upon them. Greedy of material things! Why, of what can they be greedy, when they know that their labors will always command sufficient of everything and to spare?"

"To make man good, kind, and noble you must first satisfy his material needs. When one's whole time and energy are needed to tight for the bare necessaries of life, what opportunities can there be for cultivating those higher qualities which distinguish man from the brute? Poverty is not a genial soil for culture. Only the weeds of ignorance can thrive on it. There can be no moral considerations side by side with starvation and ignorance, nor intellectual needs while the material wants remain unsatisfied."

"True, very true. We find this exemplified all over the world. Poverty, ignorance, and crime always go together."

"That is so. Therefore let us banish poverty and the fear of poverty. This once accomplished, you may rely on human nature for the rest. You will not transform the ignorant and vulgar peasant into a cultured man all at once. Such miracles are possible on paper only. But you will rouse his ambition to be 'as good as his neighbor.' Thus you may turn another propensity of man, generally counted among his vices, to good account, by making use of his vanity to lead him on the path to knowledge and culture, which, in the end, are the death of vanity."

"Their vanity?"

"Yes, that propensity which impels men to those whom they page 86 regard as superior to themselves. You have seen this all your life. The costermonger who, by some lucky windfall, came suddenly into a fortune, dressed and lived as near as possibl[unclear: e] a 'gentleman.' True, it did not make a gentleman of him; [unclear: b] the ambition was there, and, having the money, he trie[unclear: d] secure to his children what he felt he lacked himself. He dressed them like guys, but gave them a good education; [unclear: infact,] would have gladly crammed whole universities down their throats if they could but have digested them. And although he himself died a vulgar rich man, he left more cultured children behind him to take his place. Every one of your cultured [unclear: men] of to-day, be he ever so refined, has risen to his position owing to the working of this self-same principle, straight from [unclear: his] savage ancestors. Now that people have their material wants satisfied, you will find them more ready to attend to the cultivation of their higher faculties. Do you doubt these conclusions?

"No; for while you have been engaged with deputations we have been busy outside, and have proved their truth. We were dissatisfied with your individualism, and thought to counteract it by awakening the people to the benefits of co-operatio[unclear: n], the beauties of art and science, and to the possibilities of a more perfect social life. You are right; we did find them more ready than of yore to listen to us, and even anxious to adopt [unclear: one] proposals. We have already done much, and should have sought your co-operation, but were afraid you would disapprove of our activities."

"I? Not I. My sole object was to clear away the rubbish, and to prepare the ground for your actions. Go on, and make as many cultured men as you can, and you will find that your have made just as many Communists. And having done so what more is there required to tell them to act in their own interests?"

"That being so, there is but one other point to complete the regeneration of society."

"And that is?"

"That there should be perfect equality among all citizens."

"Have you not got that already.?"

Not while you are Boss. Now that your work is done, of course you will resign. What! you hesitate?"

I did hesitate; and gladly would I suppress this part of my dream, were it not that duty compels me to record the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I hesitated, because I was thinking for excuses to urge why I should not be required to resign. Yes, I actually thought of excuses that would enable me to stick to the office to which I had all my life most objected. Perhaps it was Puck, who was sporting with me. Perhaps it was human nature, which, while reason was dormant, asserted itself. But I did object to resign, and made a strong stand page 87 against any such proposal. There is something alluring in being a ruler of men; to be able to say to this man "Come," and he cometh; and to that man "Go," and he goeth. And, therefore, perhaps, it is so dangerous to put such a mighty weapon in the hands of any single individual, be he ever so well-intentioned. Put not your trust in princes is a sound advice, but it did not occur to me in my dream, while in the full enjoyment of my absolute power. I refused to resign, and they threatened to expel me by main force, William foremost among them.

"Get up, get up!" he called to me. And somebody actually put his hands on my shoulders. I was speechless. I tried to resent the insolence, to shake off the rude hands, but could not move a muscle. "Get up," I heard a second time. And somebody hit me right in the face. For the moment I thought I had been shot at, and I made a quick motion with my hand toward my nose, when I felt a second assault and heard cheerful laughter, and as I opened my eyes and looked up, it was my child, who was just raising her rattle to repeat her assault, laughing cheerily; while her mother was calling out the third time, "Get up, my dear; get up. You must be quite stiff, sleeping all night on that hard chair."

. . . . . . .

I have told my dream, and everybody can put on it his own interpretation. To myself it was a revelation, a beacon light illuminating the road along which reformers will have to travel if they would speedily and safely reach the desired goal. It has shown me the many pitfalls in the way of the pilgrims, and the dangers of the many fair, but delusive, promises by which many of our earnest leaders are diverted from the one true path. To me the whole dream has but one meaning and but one moral. It is this: Let all the various sections in charge of the van of progress cease their internecine feuds, their petty differences and jealousies, and, instead of pulling in so many different directions, unite their efforts toward one common aim. Nor is there any doubt in my mind as to the direction in which they should proceed. They all wish to reform the institutions of the land. Then let them conquer the land first, and, if it be found necessary, quarrel about the methods of governing it after the enemy has been driven out. To do this they should make common cause against the common foe, and inscribe high on their banners the legend:

"The Land for the People,"

which can be obtained by taking Ground Rent for Public Revenue.