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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Competition to Co-Operation. — Preliminary Remarks

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Competition to Co-Operation.

Preliminary Remarks.

Under the banners of socialism and anti-socialism, political parties throughout the Australian States and in the Commonwealth Parliament have been resolving themselves into two distinct and antagonistic forces, the central idea of the socialists being that of a collectivity of interests under State ownership and administration, and that of the anti-socialists the free and unfettered play of individualism, without State aid or interference—otherwise, unlimited competition and "the survival of the fittest."

State socialism in Australia is the outcome of Labour politics, and its demands are felt to be so subversive of the prevailing order of things that democrats, who readily sympathise with Labour aspirations, shrink from supporting measures of a character so revolutionary as to involve, by the sudden dislocation of existing arrangements, sufferings upon society greater than those which lend inspiration to the socialistic movement.

An astute Commonwealth political leader seemed to perceive in this an opportunity for starting an anti-social agitation, calculated to unite voters and politicians, other than State socialists, against a common danger.

Whatever sympathy thoughtful democrats may have for the aims of the socialistic party they can have none for those of a party that does not recognise that there is a social problem to be solved, and that, to accomplish this, the warning words of Carlyle need as much attention to-day as they did at the time when they were uttered:—" Will not one revolution suffice, or must there be two? There will be two if page 2 needed; there will be twenty if needed; there will be just as many as needed." The thing cannot go on for much longer, kept in check as it is in the spirit of absolute denial, and opposed by false logic, without provoking serious social troubles, and it is manifest that the solution of the problem has to emerge from the practically unaided efforts of the masses who do the world's work, and the education which they empirically acquire in their struggles to emancipate themselves from social disadvantages and disabilities, never from opponents who start a counter-agitation based upon such sciolisms—as that the development and preservation of human individuality are essential to human progress and ultimate well-being; that socialism—any socialism, there is no discrimination—is destructive of this quality in human character, and, therefore, promotive of degeneracy and decay. In order to maintain the major premise of the ill-assorted propositions of this syllogism, recourse must be had to the advocacy of unlimited competition and laissez faire as a system of society, so imperative in its exactions that it cannot be relaxed without making concessions destructive of the theory, while its rigid adoption is fraught with consequences so revolting to humanity as to make it impossible in practice.

The serious error is to make "Unlimited Competition" and "Individualism" synonyms for one and the same thing-There is nothing in a doctrine of individualism that would prevent social combinations to be formed, in order to economise and co-ordinate forces for the better attainment of common objects without any State aid, and, in course of social development, it is as natural that combinations of this character should be entered into as that two persons should unite to overcome an obstacle beyond the power of any one of them to deal with singly. "Individualism" and "Collectivism" are by no means contradictory in character, and it may be asserted with confidence that it is under a system of scientific socialism that "Individualism" can be civilised and humanised, and redeemed from the brutish and demoralised attributes which belong to it under the régime of unlimited page 3 competition, and that conditions of social liberty can receive their fullest development. Even when combinations of individuals are formed to exploit the rest of the community in the interests of private capitalism, it seems more consonant with fundamental ideas of liberty to leave the disaffected to work out the remedy for themselves without recourse to State aid or interference, except—and it is essential that this should be noted—to repeal unjust laws which confer proprietary rights and privileges upon classes to the detriment of the rest of the community, and permit private capitalists to make monopolies of that which belongs by natural right to the people as a whole. The power of the combines, similar to that of trade unions, is the power of "Collective Bargaining," or collective anything else to which it can irreproachably be applied, and capable of abuse when permitted to tyrannise over the rights and liberties of others.

Anti-socialists are bound to admit views favourable to a theory of government constituted for the administration of equal laws, under which citizens are conceived to enjoy equal rights and opportunities for acting their individual parts in the struggle for existence, singly or by voluntary associations, without State-made limitations in favour of privileged persons or classes. They could not logically defend their hostile attitude towards State socialism without admitting this, and the profound meaning which lies in the demands of socialism, no matter how imperfectly formed or crudely presented, comes from the fact that these conditions never have been complied with. On the contrary, Governments have interfered with individual liberties and citizen rights by laws which have conferred upon classes, from generation to generation, powers to monopolise the means of subsistence at their very source, and circumstantially promoted the accumulation of industrial capital and other wealth in private hands, upon whom the rest of the community have been made slavishly dependent for the means of living.

There is nothing, therefore, by contrast to be marvelled at in the attitude of that socialism which demands that the page 4 State should repossess itself of the nation's land, and be itself the employer of the nation's workers in the interests of the whole community, instead of committing them, by direct and indirect means, to the tender mercies of practically State-aided monopolists and capitalistic trusts. To talk of "Individualism" under the conditions which have all along prevailed is sheer mockery. It is worse than a race between a person in shackles and an unfettered opponent, and anti-socialist epithets, and "Punch" cartoons representing Labour as the personification of tin-crowned brutality, are adding witless insults to generations of inherited wrongs. The demands of socialism are really demands for justice, for the redress of wrongs under which millions of human beings have suffered, and are suffering, unspeakable and heartless miseries:—

Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
Cries protest to the judges of the world,
A protest that is also a prophecy.

It would be difficult to contend, upon general principles, against the validity of the sentiment ascribed by Mr. Rae, in his work on "Eight Hours for Work," to the late Prof. Jevons, namely, that "the State is justified in passing any law, or even in doing any simple act which, without ulterior consequences, adds to the sum total of human happiness," and to demand the removal or amelioration of evils which have been the ulterior consequences of class-made laws is, in itself, both appropriate and natural. It is easy enough to foresee many "ulterior consequences" which would be bound to follow the adoption of a State socialism that would make little or no call upon individual initiative, but the trouble is that the masses may require a good deal of very inconvenient experiences to teach them the necessary lessons. Experience is clearly proving what Robert Owen is said to have foreseen, that the individualism which belongs to a state of society based upon unlimited competition was destined to be worked out in time, and give place to monopolies. The Trust is the apotheosis of private capitalism, and yet anti-socialists, in page 5 the name of "individualism," make a primary economic necessity of that which, by a process of capitalistic evolution, destroys it in the community as a whole. Compared with this the most uncompromising State socialism seems tolerable, notwithstanding its plain and manifest defects.

But the law of progress does not entrust its fulfilment to politicians of any class, whose sole policy seems to be that of a self-seeking opportunism. Amidst the contentions and recriminations of socialists and anti-socialists which distract the political atmosphere, and are productive of so much injury to public and private interests—a selfish political game played between candidates for Parliamentary honours and place and pay—there is hardly an allusion ever made to the social evolution which is taking place in Great Britain and Ireland, and on the European continent, by means of that marvellous and ever-expanding agency known as "The Cooperative Movement." Anti-socialists may be excused for not regarding it with favour, for it is inimical to the régime of private capitalism, but that Labour politicians should treat it with such absolute neglect and indifference is unaccountable, except on the ground that either they do not know better, or that a recognition of its supreme importance as a working-class movement should entail upon them too much social hard work, without the chance of winning such prizes as are to be secured by successful political agitation. Whatever the cause, politicians of every description are failures in the social field, and that is a state of things urgently requiring amendment. John Stuart Mill, with only the statistics before him which the first sixteen years of "The History of Co-operation in Rochdale" made available, meagre as they were and simple in character compared with the volume and complexity to which the movement has since attained, was inspired to perceive a new and transforming economic agency at work, with possibilities calculated to find a natural solution for many Labour and industrial problems which orthodox economists leave for settlement to the ruthless law of supply and demand operative under the régime of unlimited page 6 competition. Speculations founded upon such co-operative data as the time afforded, including those furnished by cooperative associations of artisans in France, makes the chapter on "The Probable Future of the Labouring Classes" one of the most interesting in Mill's "Principles of Political Economy." So impressed did Mill seem to be with the value of co-operation as a system of industrialism that he did not hesitate to urge upon the State, not only the advisability, but the necessity, of entering upon industrial operations in such a way as to be an education, and a lead for the people to be taken over and followed up under a system of "Voluntary Co-operation" on their own account. In the chapter on the "Limits of the Province of Government," Mill says:—"In many parts of the world the people can do nothing for themselves which requires large means and combined action; all such things are left undone unless done by the State. In these cases, the mode in which the Government can most surely demonstrate the sincerity with which it intends the greater good of its subjects is by doing the things which are made incumbent on it by the helplessness of the public in such a manner as shall tend not to increase and perpetuate, but to correct that helplessness. A good Government will give its aid in such a shape as to encourage and nurture any rudiments it may find of a spirit of individual exertion. It will be assiduous in removing obstacles and discouragements to voluntary enterprise, and giving whatever facilities and whatever directions and guidance may be necessary; its pecuniary means will be applied, when practicable, in aid of private efforts rather than in supercession of them, and it will call into play its machinery of rewards and honours to elicit such efforts. Government aid, when given merely in default of private enterprise, should be so given as to be as far as possible a course of education for the people in the art 1 of accomplishing great objects by individual energy and voluntary co-operation."

It may readily be conceived, even by many who may be opposed to all socialistic schemes which postulate the na- page 7 tionalisation of the industries, that, owing to the dependent and resourceless condition in which the masses have been, and still are, placed in consequence of the denial of social and political liberty in the past, many duties of a quasi-socialistic character may have to be cast upon the State which, in theory, may not strictly belong to it, but the great and rapid progress made by the co-operative movement since Mill wrote the paragraph above quoted, and the various purposes, at first unthought of, to which the principle has been successfully applied, proves to what an enormous extent the industries can be socialised by voluntary means without any aid from the State. Still, the State owes many duties to social reform, and, under pressure of circumstances connected with co-operative expansion, co-operators are compelled to give increasing attention to political means for obtaining such reforms of the land laws, and other laws, as will remove obstacles to social progress, but it forms no part of co-operative policy or principles to demand State aid in such wise as to lower the sense of responsibility, and need of initiative in the individual citizen, or to afford encouragement or justification to people's leaders to devote their energies to agitation only, and pay no regard whatsoever to the much more important and necessary work of developing into intelligent systematic activity the enormous power which rests with the masses to elevate themselves by means of "Voluntary Co-operation."