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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

V — Socialism in Practice

page 32


Socialism in Practice

Dear Mr.——,—I have no doubt that you, like most other people who inquire into the question of Socialism, and who set forth the arguments against it, are met with the objection: "We are tired of abstract reasoning. Have you got anything practical to show why Socialism should not be tried? Things are so bad that it is worth trying any experiment to set them right."

In the first place, I deny that things are so bad that they could not be worse, and that anything is better than going on as we are. God forbid that I should deny that there is a terrible amount of misery in the world, or that I should say a word against those who are consumed with a passionate longing to make things better. You, at any rate, know me well enough to believe me when I say that if I thought Socialism would cure the ills that make the world so dark, I should be a Socialist to-morrow.

I oppose Socialism, as you know, not because page 33 I think the present state of things perfect, or even satisfactory, but because I am convinced that Socialism would make things infinitely worse than they are at present, and increase, not relieve, the miseries of the poor. I am no more content than are the Socialists with things as they are, and I most earnestly desire that they should be made better, and would gladly consent to any and every pecuniary sacrifice demanded by the Socialists if I thought that such sacrifices would provide a remedy.

When a man is ill the doctor is often urged to try some quack medicine which he knows must make the patient's condition far worse. If he is an honourable and honest man, he will refuse to administer the remedy, however great the pressure put upon him, and however often he is told that the patient prefers to run the risk. Though he may have to admit that the cure he recommends will at the best be slow and painful, and that there is always the possibility that the patient, by refusing to follow his advice thoroughly, will repeatedly lose the ground he has gained and throw himself back into as bad a state as ever, he still refuses to agree to a remedy which must make matters worse. That is exactly the position which those who feel as I do must take up when we are urged to try Socialism as a last chance. Convinced that it is no chance at all, we should be eternally dishonoured if we did not protest page 34 against the proposals of those who desire to adopt it.

No doubt the temptation to shrug one's shoulders and let the nation receive the sharp lesson it would certainly receive if it plunged into Socialism is sometimes very great. Nevertheless it must be resisted. Thus, though I have little fear of Socialism hurting me individually, even though it must deeply wound the poorer part of the community, it is a duty to combat it with all the power at my command.

But perhaps it will be said that here again I am using abstract arguments, and not answering the appeal to practice. I can assure you that I do not dread this appeal. The schemes of the Socialists are not only not new in theory, but have already been tried and found wanting. I admit that the Socialists are entitled to say that never yet has the Socialistic system in its entirety been applied in any State, ancient or modern, with the possible exception of ancient Peru under the Incas. There everything from the land to the domestic animals was held by the State—that is, by the Incas—and the whole population were State slaves, owning no property, and depending upon the orders of officials for every act of life. But though State Socialism has not been established in its entirety under modern conditions, Socialistic legislation such as the Socialists now recommend has been adopted, and with the most page 35 disastrous results. Take, for example, the measures which the Socialists now demand for dealing with the unemployed. Their proposal is that the State should undertake to find work for all those who cannot find it for themselves, and to pay for such employment at a rate which will secure a decent living. We who are opposed to Socialism say that the result of such legislation, if persisted in, would be national ruin, and we have a right to say this because we can point to what happened when a similar method of dealing with the unemployed was tried in Paris during the Revolution of 1848, was tried for the same reasons which are now given, and, further, was tried on a large scale and by men who honestly believed in the experiment, and were anxious to make it a success. What the results of that experiment were I will describe in another letter.—Yours sincerely,

J. St. L. S.