Fabian Essays in Socialism

Edited by: Shaw, George Bernard
(1856-1950)
BIO
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
Editor/Trans.
H. G. Wilshire, American editor.
First Pub. Date
1889
Publisher/Edition
New York: The Humboldt Publishing Co.
Pub. Date
1891
Comments
Collected essays, various authors. Includes "Industry under Socialism," by Annie Besant.

Preface to the American Edition,
by H. G. Wilshire

AP.1

THE Fabian Society, which has already issued twenty-five thousand copies of this collection of essays, is an association of Socialists, including in their ranks some of the ablest of England's economic writers, and having their headquarters in London, with affiliated independent branches in most of the principal cities and large towns of Great Britain and Ireland.

AP.2

From the official statement of their principles, I quote as follows:

"The Fabian Society aims at the reorganization of Society by the emancipation of Land and industrial Capital from individual and class ownership, and the vesting of them in the community for the general benefit. In this way only can the natural and acquired advantages of the country be equitably shared by the whole people.

The Society accordingly works for the extinction of private property in land and of the consequent individual appropriation, in the form of Rent, of the price paid for permission to use the earth, as well as for the advantages of superior soils and sites.

The Society, further, works for the transfer to the community of the administration of such industrial Capital as can conveniently be managed socially. For, owing to the monopoly of the means of production in the past, industrial inventions and the transformation of surplus income into Capital have mainly enriched the proprietary class, the worker being now dependent on that class for leave to earn a living.

If these measures be carried out, without compensation (though not without such relief to expropriated individuals as may seem fit to the community), Rent and Interest will be added to the reward of labor, the idle class now living on the labor of others will necessarily disappear, and practical equality of opportunity will be maintained by the spontaneous action of economic forces with much less interference with personal liberty than the present system entails.

For the attainment of these ends the Fabian Society looks to the spread of Socialist opinions, and the social and political changes consequent thereon. It seeks to promote these by the general dissemination of knowledge as to the relation between the individual and Society in its economic, ethical, and political aspects.

The work of the Fabian Society takes, at present, the following forms:—

1. Meetings for the discussion of questions connected with Socialism.
2. Meetings of a more public character, for the promulgation of Socialist opinions.
3. The further investigation of economic problems, and the collection of facts contributing to their elucidation.
4. The publication of pamphlets containing information on social questions, or arguments relating to Socialism.
5. The promotion of Socialist lectures and debates in other Societies.
6. The representation of the Society in public conferences and discussions on social questions.
7. The organization of conferences of Social reformers, with a view to common action.

The purely political work of the Society is in the hands of its Political Committee.

The members, divided into local groups, are pledged to take part according to their abilities and opportunities in the general work of the Society, especially as regards their own localities, and although there is no compulsory subscription, are expected to contribute annually to the Society's funds. The amount of each member's subscription is known only to the Executive Committee.

The Society seeks recruits from all ranks, believing hat not only those who suffer from the present system, but also many who are themselves enriched by it, recognize its evils and would welcome a remedy.

The Society meets on the first and third Fridays in the month, at 8 p.m. Further information may be obtained from the Secretary, E. R. Pease, 276 Strand, W. C., London, England."

AP.3

To the American reader of these essays, it may prove a matter of surprise to learn that English Socialists find in the United States the most pronounced economic phenomena, which, to their eyes at least, seem to prognosticate the near approach of the coming social revolution. I refer to the "Trusts."

AP.4

It may be remarked, however, that while they consider the "Trust" as a symptom that the competitive system is in its last throes, they wait for the appearance of similar industrial combinations in England to stir Englishmen to a revolt; and that Americans, as if to square the account of '76, are to learn revolution from their trans-Atlantic cousins.

AP.5

By "revolution" is to be understood, of course, not violence, but a complete change of system; and by "revolutionists," those who advocate such a complete change. As Lassalle reminded us years ago, trifling reforms may be, and often have been, accompanied by excessive bloodshed, while revolutions have worked themselves out in the profoundest tranquillity.

AP.6

It seems to be typical of all social revolutionists that national pride always asserts itself, no matter how much patriotism may be decried as mere racial selfishness whenever discussion arises as to which nation is to be the first to throw off the shackles of capitalism.

AP.7

The Fabian essayists certainly make out a strong case in England's favor.

AP.8

The German points with pride to the million and a half votes polled by the Socialists at the last elections for the Reichstag.

AP.9

France, the mother of revolutions, sings the Marseillaise.

AP.10

The Belgian asks but for universal suffrage to show the world what he will do in the way of revolution.

AP.11

I, as an American Socialist, put forth my patriotic plea in favor of my own country's prospects of being the first to inaugurate the era of industrial emancipation.

AP.12

There is one point upon which I think all Socialists are agreed, namely, that it is one and the same golden chain that fetters the proletariat of all nations, and that the weakest link in that chain is the measure of the strength of the present social system. Snap but one link in any country, and at the same moment the proletariat of the world are free.

AP.13

The social revolution, when it does come, must soon be international, (though resting perhaps for a period upon national Socialism). I imagine, for instance, that on gaining universal suffrage, Belgium's proletariat should expropriate the capitalists and inaugurate a successful coöperative commonwealth. Is it possible to conceive that workingmen of all nations would not make a successful demand for the establishment of a like social system in their own respective countries? Moreover, the general industrial condition of the great nations is approximately the same. All complain of overproduction. All are vainly trying to solve the question of the unemployed; in all the tendency to great social change is a marked feature. In all the great capitalists, crushing out their smaller rivals and concentrating wealth into fewer and fewer hands, are the true progenitors of the revolution.

AP.14

The proletariat of the United States, the nation that certainly furnishes the best educational facilities for demonstrating the advantages of the concentration and crystallization of capital, should naturally and logically be the first to strike for economic freedom. To-day, in the United States, 50,000 people, out of a population of over sixty-three millions, own everything worth having in the whole country.

AP.15

Four men, viz.: Gould, Astor, Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, practically control, and, what is more important, are rapidly absorbing the wealth of this 50,000. The day is not so very far distant, and a sociologist can predict almost its exact appearance, just as an astronomer calculates the date of an eclipse of the sun, when, if no structural change in society takes place, these four men will be the sole owners of the United States. I think that, if such a state of affairs should come about, no one would differ with me when I say that it would force a reconstruction of society. In other words, the sixty odd millions of people in the United States may now rest undisturbed, and allow a plutocracy of 50,000 to own their country; but when it shall come to having only four own it, patience will cease to be a virtue.

AP.16

That the tendency of the wealth of the United States is to concentrate into larger and larger masses, held by a constantly diminishing number of capitalists, is not disputed by anyone at all familiar with the statistics of the case. This process continued and followed to its logical conclusion must lead inevitably to Socialism. If Jay Gould & Co. are not to own the railways and telegraphs, the land and machinery, there can be but one possible successor, viz.: the people, as represented by the National government. Hence, the only possible chance of retarding the approach of Socialism, is to stop the tendency of capital to congeal in a few hands. Some plan must be devised to prevent Gould and Vanderbilt gobbling up more railways; to keep Astor's hands off city lots, and to check Rockefeller's insatiable and omnivorous appetite for industrial plants. It requires but slight intelligence to comprehend that neither a high nor a low tariff, nor free trade, would appreciably affect Vanderbilt's income. Fiscal legislation, whether it takes the form of free coinage of silver, lending money on crops, or increasing paper money until the circulation is $50 or $5,000 per capita, will never divert the Pactolian stream which flows into Mr. Gould's golden reservoir.

AP.17

Even the nationalization of the railways and telegraphs, although proposed as a reactionary measure calculated to enable farmers, by obtaining lower freight rates, to increase their margin of profit sufficiently to enable them to hold their own as independent producers, would, if put into effect, but precipitate the very event which it is hoped to retard. Governmental ownership of railways would involve the payment of several thousand million dollars to the present owners of railway securities, all of which must seek reinvestment. Senator Carlisle's objection as to the difficulty of raising the money for such a purchase is trivial. The credit of the United States is good enough to float bonds for many times the amount required, although to purchase at their present fancy valuation of watered stocks would be utterly unwise and unnecessary. The great problem to be solved is, as stated, for the present owners to find a safe and profitable place to reinvest the thousands of millions of dollars received in exchange for their railways. The channels for profitable investment of such a large amount of money are certainly not visible. It could not be spent in building new oil refineries, as Mr. Rockefeller, of the Standard Oil Trust, is armed with statistics to prove that there are too many oil refineries already. The same blockade to the entrance of fresh capital into the building of more sugar refineries is also sure to be encountered, as Mr. Havemeyer, of that trust, says that he is compelled to shut down part of the refineries already in existence, to prevent the unprofitable overproduction which would otherwise ensue. That there is absolutely no chance at all to-day to invest any considerable amount of capital in building new machinery of production in the United States, is a palpable truism with financiers. The only chance for an individual to invest is to purchase existing plants, but that simply is shifting the solving of the investment problem from one capitalist to another, and usually from the large capitalist to the small one.

AP.18

Nationalization of the railways in the United States would mean the immediate expropriation of all small capitalists by the big ones. If Gould, Vanderbilt & Co. cannot own railways, they will invest their money, both principal and income, in flour mills, gas works, cotton mills, etc., and the pseudo-owners of those industries will soon be enlisted in the ranks of the proletariat under the banner of Socialism. Nationalization of the railways could not possibly be effected without causing the crystallization of all capital invested in the other industries of the United States in the hands of such a comparatively small number of owners that the advent of Socialism would certainly be almost instantaneous.

AP.19

The problem of giving work to the unemployed, although just at present not a threatening one in the United States, is, however, destined soon to become one of the utmost importance, and at any time liable to come to the front.

AP.20

There are, at present, according to Carroll D. Wright's governmental statistics, on an average, over one million able-bodied men in the United States willing to work, yet unable to find employment. The pressure of these upon the ranks of the employed effectually prevents wages rising above the point of mere subsistence. Hence the very fact that we in the United States have such a fertile soil, in such unlimited quantities, such ingenious labor-saving machinery, together with an industrious and intelligent population, tends to make the problem of the unemployed but the more threatening, since these very elements only conduce to an enormous product per capita, with no corresponding methods of distribution. The old-time argument, that our great farming population, with its members all owning their own homes, would always prove an inseparable barrier to Socialism in the United States, is completely out of date, now-a-days, seeing that the greater part of our farmers are already proletarians, while the few that still own their own farms are hopelessly in debt, and even they are demanding the most Socialistic measures, such as national warehouses for grain, and nationalization of railways. Considering how near at hand is the great social metamorphosis, I would earnestly advise the readers of these exceedingly clever and able essays to give them deepest thought. They express clearly the nature of the crisis through which we are now passing, a crisis in which none who well understand it can fail to be vitally interested. We are now swinging on the hinge of destiny, we are in the transition state of the greatest sociologic event that history has yet recorded. Let him who runs, read.

H. G. WILSHIRE.
New York,
May, 1891.

Preface to the English Edition,
by G. B. Shaw

EP.1

The essays in this volume were prepared last year as a course of lectures for delivery before mixed audiences in London and the provinces. They have been revised for publication, but not recast. The matter is put, not as an author would put it to a student, but as a speaker with only an hour at his disposal has to put it to an audience. Country readers may accept the book as a sample of the propaganda carried on by volunteer lecturers in the workmen's clubs and political associations of London.*1 Metropolitan readers will have the advantage of making themselves independent of the press critic by getting face to face with the writers, stripping the veil of print from their personality, cross-examining, criticising, calling them to account amid surroundings which inspire no awe, and before the most patient of audiences. For any Sunday paper which contains a lecture list will show where some, if not all, of the seven essayists may be heard for nothing; and on all such occasions questions and discussion form part of the procedure.

EP.2

The projection and coördination of these lectures is not the work of any individual. The nominal editor is only the member told off to arrange for the publication of the papers, and see them through the press with whatever editorial ceremony might be necessary. Everything that is usually implied by the authorship and editing of a book has in this case been done by the seven essayists, associated as the Executive Council of the Fabian Society; and not one of the essays could be what it is had the writer been a stranger to his six colleagues and to the Society. But there has been no sacrifice of individuality—no attempt to cut out every phrase and opinion the responsibility for which would not be accepted by every one of the seven. Had the sections been differently allotted, they would have been differently treated, though the net result would probably have been the same. The writers are all Social Democrats, with a common conviction of the necessity of vesting the organization of industry and the material of production in a State identified with the whole people by complete Democracy. But that conviction is peculiar to no individual bias: it is a Capitol to which all roads lead; and at least seven of them are represented in these Fabian Essays; so that the reader need not fear oppression here, any more than in the socialized State of the future, by the ascendancy of one particular cast of mind.

EP.3

There are at present no authoritative teachers of Socialism. The essayists make no claim to be more than communicative learners.

London,
December, 1889.


Notes for this chapter


1.
In the year ending April, 1889, the number of lectures delivered by members of the Fabian Society alone was upward of 700.

The Basis of Socialism, Historic, by Sidney Webb.

End of Notes


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