Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Intellectual and Moral Revolt, and its Political Outcome. - Fabian Essays in Socialism
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The Intellectual and Moral Revolt, and its Political Outcome. - George Bernard Shaw, Fabian Essays in Socialism 
Fabian Essays in Socialism, ed. G. Bernard Shaw, American Edition Ed. by H.G. Wilshire, (New York: The Homboldt Publishing Co., 1891).
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The Intellectual and Moral Revolt, and its Political Outcome.
The new creed of "Philosophic Radicalism" did not have matters all its own way. Its doctrines might suit millowners and merchant princes, and all who were able to enjoy the delight of their own strength in the battle of life. But it was essentially a creed of Murdstones and Gradgrinds; and the first revolt came from the artistic side. The "nest of singing birds" at the Lakes would have none of it, though De Quincey worked out its abstract economics in a manner still unsurpassed. Coleridge did his best to drown it in German Transcendentalism. Robert Owen and his following of enthusiastic communistic coöperators steadfastly held up a loftier ideal. The great mass of the wage earners never bowed the knee to the principles upon which the current "White Slavery" was maintained. But the first man who really made a dint in the individualist shield was Carlyle,21 who knew how to compel men to listen to him. Oftener wrong than right in his particular proposals, he managed to keep alive the faith in nobler ends than making a fortune in this world and saving one's soul in the next. Then came Maurice, Kingsley, Ruskin, and others who dared to impeach the current middle class cult; until finally, through Comte and John Stuart Mill, Darwin and Herbert Spencer, the conception of the Social Organism has at last penetrated to the minds, though not yet to the books, even of our professors of Political Economy.
Meanwhile, caring for none of these things, the practical man had been irresistibly driven in the same direction. In the teeth of the current Political Economy, and in spite of all the efforts of the mill-owning Liberals, England was compelled to put forth her hand to succor and protect her weaker members. Any number of Local Improvement Acts, Drainage Acts, Truck Acts, Mines Regulation Acts, Factory Acts, Public Health Acts, Adulteration Acts, were passing into law.22 The liberty of the property owner to oppress the propertyless by the levy of the economic tribute of rent and interest began to be circumscribed, pared away, obstructed and forbidden in various directions. Slice after slice has gradually been cut from the profits of capital, and therefore from its selling value, by socially beneficial restrictions on its user's liberty to do as he liked with it. Slice after slice has been cut off the incomes from rent and interest by the gradual shifting of taxation from consumers to persons enjoying incomes above the average of the kingdom.23 Step by step the political power and political organization of the country have been used for industrial ends, until to-day the largest employer of labor is one of the ministers of the Crown (the Postmaster-General); and almost every conceivable trade is, somewhere or other, carried on by parish, municipality, or the National Government itself without the intervention of any middleman or capitalist. The theorists who denounce the taking by the community into its own hands of the organization of its own labor as a thing economically unclean, repugnant to the sturdy individual independence of Englishmen, and as yet outside the sphere of practical politics, seldom have the least suspicion of the extent to which it has already been carried.24 Besides our international relations and the army, navy, police and the courts of justice, the community now carries on for itself, in some part or another of these islands, the post office, telegraphs, carriage of small commodities, coinage, surveys, the regulation of the currency and note issue, the provision of weights and measures, the making, sweeping, lighting, and repairing of streets, roads, and bridges, life insurance, the grant of annuities, shipbuilding, stockbroking, banking, farming, and money-lending. It provides for many thousands of us from birth to burial—midwifery, nursery, education, board and lodging, vaccination, medical attendance, medicine, public worship, amusements, and interment. It furnishes and maintains its own museums, parks, art galleries, libraries, concerthalls, roads, streets, bridges, markets, slaughter-houses, fire-engines, light-houses, pilots, ferries, surf-boats, steamtugs, life-boats, cemeteries, public baths, wash houses, pounds, harbors, piers, wharves, hospitals, dispensaries, gas-works, water-works, tramways, telegraph cables, allotments, cow meadows, artisans' dwellings, schools, churches, and reading-rooms. It carries on and publishes its own researches in geology, meteorology, statistics, zoology, geography, and even theology. In our Colonies the English Government further allows and encourages the communities to provide for themselves railways, canals, pawnbroking, theaters, forestry, cinchona farms, irrigation, leper villages, casinos, bathing establishments, and immigration, and to deal in ballast, guano, quinine, opium, salt, and what not. Every one of these functions, with those of the army, navy, police, and courts of justice, were at one time left to private enterprise, and were a source of legitimate individual investment of capital. Step by step the community has absorbed them, wholly or partially; and the area of private exploitation has been lessened. Parallel with this progressive nationalization or municipalization of industry, there has gone on the elimination of the purely personal element in business management. The older economists doubted whether anything but banking and insurance could be carried on by joint stock enterprise: now every conceavible industry, down to baking and milk-selling, is successfully managed by the salaried offiers of large corporations of idle shareholders. More than one-third of the whole business of England, measured by the capital employed, is now done by joint stock companies, whose shareholders could be expropriated by the community with no more dislocation of the industries carried on by them than is caused by the daily purchase of shares on the Stock Exchange.
Besides its direct supersession of private enterprise, the State now registers, inspects, and controls nearly all the industrial functions which it has not yet absorbed. In addition to births, marriages, deaths, and electors, the State registers all solicitors, barristers, notaries, patent agents, brokers, newspaper proprietors, playing-card makers, brewers, bankers, seamen, captains, mates, doctors, cabmen, hawkers, pawnbrokers, tobacconists, distillers, plate dealers, game dealers; all insurance companies, friendly societies, endowed schools and charities, limited companies, lands, houses, deeds, bills of sale, compositions, ships, arms, dogs, cabs, omnibuses, books, plays, pamphlets, newspapers, raw cotton movements, trademarks, and patents; lodging-houses, public-houses, refreshment-houses, theaters, music-halls, places of worship, elementary schools, and dancing rooms.
Nor is the registration a mere form. Most of the foregoing are also inspected and criticised, as are all railways, tramways, ships, mines, factories, canal-boats, public conveyances, fisheries, slaughter-houses, dairies, milkshops, bakeries, baby-farms, gas-meters, schools of anatomy, vivisection laboratories, explosive works, Scotch herrings, and common lodging-houses.
The inspection is often detailed and rigidly enforced. The State in most of the larger industrial operations prescribes the age of the worker, the hours of work, the amount of air, light, cubic space, heat, lavatory accommoda tion, holidays, and meal-times; where, when, and how wages shall be paid; how machinery, staircases, lift holes, mines, and quarries are to be fenced and guarded; how and when the plant shall be cleaned, repaired, and worked. Even the kind of package in which some articles shall be sold is duly prescribed, so that the individual capitalist shall take no advantage of his position. On every side he is being registered, inspected, controlled, and eventually superseded by the community; and in the meantime he is compelled to cede for public purposes an ever-increasing share of his rent and interest.
Even in the fields still abandoned to private enterprise, its operations are thus every day more closely limited, in order that the anarchic competition of private greed, which at the beginning of the century was set up as the only infallibly beneficent principle of social action, may not utterly destroy the State. All this has been done by "practical" men, ignorant, that is to say, of any scientific sociology, believing Socialism to be the most foolish of dreams, and absolutely ignoring, as they thought, all grandiloquent claims for social reconstruction. Such is the irresistible sweep of social tendencies, that in their every act they worked to bring about the very Socialism they despised; and to destroy the Individualist faith which they still professed. They builded better than they knew.
It must by no means be supposed that these beginnings of social reorganization have been effected, or the proposals for their extension brought to the front, without the conscious efforts of individual reformers. The "Zeitgeist" is potent; but it does not pass Acts of Parliament without legislators, or erect municipal libraries without town councilors. Though our decisions are molded by the circumstances of the time, and the environment at least roughhews our ends, shape them as we will; yet each generation decides for itself. It still rests with the individual to resist or promote the social evolution, consciously or unconsciously, according to his character and information. The importance of complete consciousness of the social tendencies of the age lies in the fact that its existence and comprehensiveness often determine the expediency of our particular action: we move with less resistance with the stream than against it.
The general failure to realize the extent to which our unconscious Socialism has already proceeded25 —a failure which causes much time and labor to be wasted in uttering and elaborating on paper the most ludicrously unpractical anti-socialist demonstrations of the impossibility of matters of daily occurrence—is due to the fact that few know anything of local administration outside their own town. It is the municipalities which have done most to "socialize" our industrial life; and the municipal history of the century is yet unwritten. A few particulars may here be given as to this progressive "municipalization" of industry. Most of us know that the local governments have assumed the care of the roads, streets and bridges, once entirely abandoned to individual enterprise, as well as the lighting and cleansing of all public thoroughfares, and the provision of sewers, drains and "storm-water courses." It is, perhaps, not so generally known that no less than £7,500,000 is annually expended on these services in England and Wales alone, being about 5 per cent. of the rent of the country. The provision of markets, fairs, harbors, piers, docks, hospitals, cemeteries and burial grounds, is still shared with private capitalists; but those in public hands absorb nearly £2,000,000 annually. Parks, pleasure grounds, libraries, museums, baths, and wash-houses cost the public funds over half a million sterling. All these are, however, comparatively unimportant services. It is in the provision of gas, water, and tramways that local authorities organize labor on a large scale. Practically half the gas consumers in the kingdom are supplied by public gas works, which exist in 168 separate localities, with an annual expenditure of over three millions.26 It need hardly be added that the advantage to the public is immense, in spite of the enormous price paid for the works in many instances; and that the further municipalization of the gas industry is proceeding with great rapidity, no fewer than twelve local authorities having obtained loans for the purpose (and one for electric lighting) in a single year (Local Government Board Report, 1887-8, c-5,526, pp. 319-367). With equal rapidity is the water supply becoming a matter of commercial organization, the public expenditure already reaching nearly a million sterling annually. Sixty-five local authorities borrowed money for water supply in 1887-8, rural and urban districts being equally represented (c-5,550, pp. 319-367). Tramways and ferries are undergoing the same development. About thirty-one towns, including nearly all the larger provincial centers, own some or all of their own tramways. Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham, Oldham, Sunderland, and Greenock lease their undertakings; but among the municipalities Huddersfield has the good sense to work its lines without any "middleman" intervention, with excellent public results. The tramway mileage belonging to local authorities has increased five-fold since 1878, and comprises more than a quarter of the whole (House of Commons Return, 1887-8, No. 347). The last important work completed by the Metropolitan Board of Works was the establishment of a "free steam ferry" on the Thames, charged upon the rates. This is, in some respects, the most significant development of all. The difference between a free steam ferry and a free railway is obviously only one of degree.
A few more cases are worth mentioning. Glasgow builds and maintains seven public "common lodging houses;" Liverpool provides science lectures; Manchester builds and stocks an art gallery; Birmingham runs schools of design; Leeds creates extensive cattle markets; and Bradford supplies water below cost price. There are nearly one hundred free libraries and reading rooms. The minor services now performed by public bodies are innumerable.27 This "Municipal Socialism" has been rendered possible by the creation of a local debt now reaching over £181,000,000.28 Nearly £10,000,000 is annually paid as interest and sinking fund on the debt; and to this extent the pecuniary benefit of municipalization is diminished. The full advantages29 of the public organization of labor remain, besides a considerable pecuniary profit; while the objective differentiation of the economic classes (by the separation of the idle rentier from the manager or entrepreneur) enormously facilitates popular comprehension of the nature of the economic tribute known as interest. To the extent, moreover, that additional charges are thrown upon the rates, the interest paid to the capitalist is levied mainly at the cost of the landlord, and we have a corresponding "nationalization" of so much of the economic rent. The increase in the local rates has been 36 per cent., or nearly £7,000,000, in eleven years, and is still growing. They now amount to over twenty-six millions sterling in England and Wales alone, or about 17 per cent. of the rental of the country (c-5,550, p. clxxiv.).
Nor is there any apparent prospect of a slackening of the pace of this unconscious abandonment of individualism. No member of Parliament has so much as introduced a Bill to give effect to the anarchist principles of Mr. Herbert Spencer's "Man versus the State." The not disinterested efforts of the Liberty and Property Defence League fail to hinder even Conservative Parliaments from further Socialist legislation. Mr. Gladstone remarked to a friend in 1886 that the Home Rule question would turn the Liberal party into a Radical party. He might have said that it would make both parties Socialist. Free elementary and public technical education is now practically accepted on both sides of the House, provided that the so-called "voluntary schools," themselves half maintained from public funds, are not extinguished. Mr. Chamberlain and the younger Conservatives openly advocate far-reaching projects of social reform through State and municipal agency, as a means of obtaining popular support. The National Liberal Federation adopts the special taxation of urban ground values as the main feature in its domestic program,30 notwithstanding that this proposal is characterized by old-fashioned Liberals as sheer confiscation of so much of the landlords' property. The London Liberal and Radical Union, which has Mr. John Morley for its president, even proposes that the County Council shall have power to rebuild the London slums at the sole charge of the ground landlord.31 It is, therefore, not surprising that the Trades Union Congress should now twice have declared in favor of "Land Nationalization" by large majorities, or that the bulk of the London County Council should be returned on an essentially Socialist platform. The whole of the immediately practicable demands of the most exacting Socialist are, indeed, now often embodied in the current Radical program; and the following exposition of it, from the pages of the Star newspaper, 8th August, 1888, may serve as a statement of the current Socialist demands for further legislation.32
[21.]See The Socialism and Unsocialism of Carlyle, vols. 3 and 4, of this series.
[22.]The beginning of factory legislation is to be found in the "Morals and Health Act," 42 Geo. III., c. 73 (1802). Others followed in 1819. 1825, and 1831; but their provisions were almost entirely evaded owing to the absence of inspectors. After the Reform Bill more stringent enactments in 1833, 1844, and 1847 secured some improvement. The Act of 1878 consolidated the law on the subject. The Radical and Socialist proposals for further development in this direction will be found at page 55. Nearly 400 Local Improvement Acts had been passed up to 1845. In the succeeding years various general Acts were passed, which were hence-forth incorporated by reference in all local Acts. The first "Public Health Act" was passed in 1848; and successive extensions were given to this restrictive legislation with sanitary ends in 1855, 1858, 1861, and 1866. Consolidating Acts in 1871, and finally in 1875, complete the present sanitary code, which now forms a thick volume of restrictions upon the free use of land and capital.
[23.]The minimum income chargeable to Income Tax (£150) closely corresponds with the average family income. See Fabian Tract. No. 5, Facts for Socialists.
[24.]See The Progress of Socialism. (London; The Modern Press, 13 Paternoster Row, E. C. Price One Penny.)
[25.]We have in the United States more Socialism than is usually recognized. Our public schools, postal service, state hospitals, asylums, colleges, our labor and agricultural bureaus, our fishery commissions, our municipal fire departments, water supplies, electric plants, gas works, every factory law, health regulation, and school requirement, these and a hundred other things are distinctly socialistic. The tendency is rapidly increasing. Those who doubt that these things are truly socialistic, should read the individualistic A Plea for Liberty, where all the above are denounced as tending to Socialism.—Am. Ed.
[26.]Government Return for 1887-8, see Board of Trade Journal, January, 1889, p. 76-8.
[27.]It is not generally known that the Corporation of London actually carried on the business of fire insurance from 1681 to 1683, but was compelled to abandon it through the opposition of those interested in private undertakings, who finally obtained a mandamus in the Court of King's Bench to restrain their civic competitor (Walford's Insurance Cyclopadia, vol. III., pp. 446-455).
[28.]C-5,550, p. 436. This, by the way, is just about one year's rental. We pay every year to the landlords for permission to live in England as much as the whole outstanding cost of the magnificent property of the local governing authorities.
[29.]See The Government Organization of Labor, Report by a Committee of the Fabian Society, 1886.
[30.]See Report of Annual Meeting at Birmingham, September, 1888.
[31.]See resolutions adopted by the Council, at the instance of the Executive and General Committees, February 8th, 1889. (Daily News, 9th February). Professor Stuart, M.P., has now introduced a Bill embodying these astonishing proposals.
[32.]It is interesting to compare this program, with its primary insistence on economic and social reform, with the bare political character of the "Five Points" of the Chartists, viz., Manhood Suffrage, Vote by Ballot, Annual Parliaments, Payment of Members relieved from the property qualification, and Equal Electoral Districts.