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WHY I AM A SOCIALIST. 

By ANNIE BESANT. 



**A Socialist! you don't mean to say you are a Socialist!" 
Such is the exclamation with which anyone who adopts the 
much-hated name of Socialist is sure to be greeted in *^ polite 
society". A Socialist is supposed to go about with his pocket 
full of bombs and his mind full of assassinations ; he is a kind 
of wild beast, to be hunted down with soldiers if he lives 
under Bismarck, with sneers, abuse, and petty persecutions if 
he lives under Victoria. The very wildness of the epithets 
launched at him, however, shows how much there is of fear in 
the hatred with which he is regarded; and his opponents, by 
confining themselves to mere abuse, confess that they find 
themselves unable to cope with him intellectually. Prejudice 
and passion, not reasoned arguments, are the weapons relied 
on for his destruction. Once let the working classes understand 
what Socialism really is, and the present system is doomed; 
it is therefore of vital necessity that they shall be prevented 
from calmly studying its proposals, and shall be so deafened 
with the clamor against it that they shall be unable to hear 
the ** still small voice" of reason. I do not challenge the 
effectiveness of the policy — for a time. It has been the policy 
of the governing classes against every movement that has been 
aimed against their privileges; Radicalism has been served in 
exactly similar fashion, and now that Radicalism has grown 
so strong that it can no longer be silenced by clamor, it is the 
turn of Socialism to pass through a like probation. There is 
always an ugly duckling in Society's brood; how else should be 
maintained the succession of swans ? 

With a not inconsiderable number of persons the prejudice 
against the name of Socialist is held to be a valid reason for 
not adopting it, and it is thought wiser to advocate the thm^ 



2 WHY I AM A SOCIALIST. 

without affronting the antagonism aroused against the name. 
With such a policy I have ever had no sympathy. It seems 
to me the wiser, as well as the franker course, to boldly wear 
any name which expresses an opinion held, and live down the 
prejudice it may awaken. The name Socialist is in itself a 
fine name, connoting as it does the social union ; it is the re- 
cognised label of the school which holds as its central doctrine 
that land and the means of production should be the property 
of the social union, and not of privileged individuals in it ; 
it is the one name which is recognised all the world over as the 
name of those who are opposed to political, religious, and 
social tyranny in every land ; of those who look with brotherly 
sympathy on the efforts of every nation which is struggling for 
its freedom ; of those who are on the side of the poor and 
the toiling everywhere ; of those who recognise no barriers of 
nationality, of class, or of creed, but who see a brother in every 
worker, a friend in every lover of the people. Every political 
name is of the country in which it is born ; but the name 
Socialist, like the name Atheist, is of no one land ; it is valid in 
every country ; it is whispered on Eussian steppe, in German 
field, in Erench city, in Italian vineyard ; and wherever it is 
heard the chains of the captive for a moment seem lighter, for 
Hope has lifted them, and the careworn faces of the toilers 
brighten, as a gleam from a sunnier day gilds the tools over 
which they bow. 

Pass we from the name to the thing, from *^ the outer and 
visible sign to the inward and spiritual grace ''. Within the 
compass of a brief paper it is not possible for me to give all the 
reasons which have made me a Socialist, but there are three 
main lines of thought along which I travelled towards Socialism, 
and along which I would fain persuade my readers to travel 
also, in the hope that they too may find that they lead to the 
same goal. 

I. I am a Socialist because I am a believer in Evolution, The 
great truths that organisms are not isolated creations, but that 
they are all linked together as parts of one great tree of life ; 
that the simple precedes the complex ; that progress is a process 
of continued integrations, and ever-increasing differentiations ; 
these truths applied to the physical animated world by Darwin, 
Huxley, Haeckel, Biichner, and their followers, have unravelled 
the tangles of existence, have illuminated the hidden recesses of 
Nature. But the service to be done to science by Evolution was 
not completed when natural history was made a coherent whole 
instead of a heterogeneous heap of irrelevant facts; its light 



WHY I AM A SOCIALIST. 6 

next fell on the universe of mind, and traced the growth of 
mentality from the lowest organism that responds to a stimulus 
up to the creative brain of man. And still it had work to do, 
and next it reduced to order the jarring elements of the sphere 
of morals, and analysed duty and conscience, right and wrong, 
obligation and responsibity, until it rendered intelligible and 
consequent all that seemed supernatural and incoherent. And 
both in mind and in morals Spencer was the great servant of 
Evolution, illuminating the previous darkness by lucid exposition 
and by pregnant suggestion. Bat having done so much in the 
ordering of thought in every realm of study save one, it was 
not possible that Evolution should leave Sociology untouched, a 
mere chaos of unrelated facts, of warring opinions. Hither also 
came the light, and out of the chaos slowly grew a cosmos. Society 
was seen evolving from lowliest savagery, from the embryonic 
state of barbarism, through nomad life to settled order, through 
tribes to nation, through feudalism to industrialism, through in- 
dustrialism to Nowhither ? Evolution complete? Further 

progress barred ? Not so. For science, which cannot prophesy 
details of the future, can grasp tendencies of the present, and 
recognising the conditions of the social growth of the past, can 
see how the present has been moulded, and along which lines its 
further development must inevitably pass. Now the progress of 
society has been from individualistic anarchy to associated order ; 
from universal unrestricted competition to competition regulated 
and restrained by law, and even to partial co-operation in lieu 
thereof. Production from being individualistic has become co- 
operative ; large bodies of workmen toiling together have re- 
placed the small groups of masters and apprentices ; factory 
production has pushed aside cottage production, and industrial 
armies are seen instead of industrial units. Laws for the 
regulation of industry — which failed when they were made by 
a few for their own advantage, and were used in the vain effort 
to keep down the majority — have been carried and applied suc- 
cessfully to some extent in defence of the liberty of the majority 
against the oppression of a privileged few. Since the partial 
admission of the workers to the exercise of political power, 
these laws for the regulation of industry have rapidly multiplied, 
and at the same time laws which hindered the free association 
of the workers have been repealed. The State has interfered 
with factories and workshops, to fix the hours of labor, to insist 
on sanitary arrangements, to control the employment of the 
young. Land Acts and Ground Game Acts, Education Acts and 
Shipping Acts, Employers' Liability Acts and Artisans' Dwellings 
Acts, crowd our Statute book. Everywhere the old ideas of free 
contract, of non-interference, are being outraged by modern 



4 \VHY I AM A SOCIALIST. 

legislation. And it is not only Socialists who point to these 
reiterated interferences as signs of the tendencies of society. 
John Morley, in his **Life of Cobden ", notes that England, 
where Socialism is supposed to have but small influence, has a 
body of Socialistic legislation greater than can found in any 
other country in the world. 

II. I am a Socialist because of the failure of our present civilisa- 
tion. In an article which appeared in the July number of the 
Westminster Review^ after alluding to Professor Huxley's decla- 
ration that he would rather have been born a savage in one of 
the Fiji islands than have been born in a London slum, I put 
the following question, which I will venture to quote here. '* Is 
it rational that the progress of society should be as lopsided as 
it is ? Is it necessary that, while civilisation brings to some art, 
beauty, refinement — all that makes life fair and gracious — it 
should bring to others drudgery, misery, degradation, such as no 
uncivilised people know ? and these emphasised and rendered the 
bitterer by the contrast of what life is to many, the dream of 
what it might be to all. For Professor Huxley is right. The 
savage has the forest and the open sea, the joy of physical 
strength, food easily won, leisure sweet after the excitement of 
the chase ; the civilised toiler has the monotonous drudgery of 
the stuffy workshop, the hell of the gin-palace for his pleasure- 
ground, the pandemonium of reeking court and stifling alley for 
his lullaby ; civilisation has robbed him of all natural beauty 
and physical joy, and has given him in exchange — the slum. 
It is little wonder that, under these circumstances, there are 
many who have but scant respect for our social fabric, and who 
are apt to think that any change cannot land them in a condition 
worse than that in which they already find themselves." 

Now if this view should spread widely among the inhabitants 
of the slums, it is obvious that the present civilisation would 
stand in very considerable peril, and it would be likely to sink, 
as feudalism sank in France, beneath the waves of a popular 
revolution. But such a revolution, sweeping from the slums 
over the happier parts of the towns, would not be a revolution 
set going by men of genius, directed by men of experience and 
of knowledge, as was the French Eevolution of 1789. It would 
be a mad outburst of misery, of starvation, of recklessness, 
which would for a brief space sweep everything before it, and 
behind it would leave a desolate wilderness. Walk at midnight 
through the streets near the Tower, along Shadwell High Street, 
or about ^^ Tiger Bay'', and imagine what would happen if 
those drunken men and women, singing, shouting, fighting, in 
the streets, were to burst the barriers that hem them in, and 
were to surge westwards over London, wrecking the civilisation 



WHY I AM A SOCIALIST. O 

which had left them to putrefy in their misery, and had remained 
callous to their degradation. Is it not the part of a good citizen 
to try to change a social system which bears such products as 
these in every great city ? 

The slum population, however, is not wholly composed of such 
persons as I have spoken of. Large numbers of honest, tempe- 
rate, industrious people are forced by poverty, and by the neces- 
sity of being near their work, into the dismal fate of living in 
the slums. And among them is spreading a discontent which is 
pregnant with change. Education is awakening in them desires 
and hopes which find no satisfaction in the slums. It is opening 
to them wider views of human life, and the penny newspaper 
tells them of enjoyments and luxuries of which they would have 
known nothing, pent in the dreary mill-round of their toiling 
lives, had ignorance kept them blind. Slowly is being formed 
that ** educated proletariat '' which shall work out its own salva- 
tion, and which shall refuse any longer to act as the basis on 
which is reared the pyramid of civilisation. The present civili- 
sation rests on the degradation of the workers ; in order that 
they may accept their lot they must be kept poor, ignorant, 
submissive ; the culture of their superiors is paid for with their 
ignorance ; the graceful leisure of the aristocrat is purchased 
by the rough toil of the plebeian ; his dainty fingers are kept 
soft and white by the hardening and reddening of the poor 
man's hands ; the workers are daily sacrificed that the idlers 
may enjoy. Such is modern civilisation. Brilliant and beautiful 
where it rises into the sunlight, its foundation is of human lives 
made rotten with suffering. Whited sepulchre in very truth, 
with its outer coating of princes and lords, of bankers and 
squires, and within filled with dead men's bones, the bones of 
the poor who builded it. 

Most hopeful sign, perhaps, for the future is the fact that dis- 
content with the present system is not confined to those who are 
in a special sense its victims. In every class of society are found 
men and women who look and work for a complete revolution 
in the method of the production and distribution of wealth. 
Among those who profit most by the present system are found 
the most eager workers against it, and many whose lot is cast 
among the ** comfortable classes " are striving to undermine the 
very constitution which gives them the privileges they enjoy. 
In them sympathy has triumphed over selfishness, and their own 
rich wine of life tastes sour when they see the bitter water of 
poverty pressed to their brothers' lips. They are indignant that 
their own hands should be so full while others' hands are 
empty ; and would fain lessen their own heap in order that the 
share of their neighbors may be made equal with their own. 



6 WHY I AM A SOCIALIST. 

At present the Socialist movement in England is far more a 
middle-class than a working-class one ; the creed of Socialism 
is held as an intellectual conviction by the thoughtful and the 
studious, and is preached by them to the workers, who have 
everything to gain by accepting it, and some of whom have 
already embraced and are teaching it. Instead of being a class 
movement, it is a movement of men and women of all classes 
for a common end, and the Socialist army is composed of persons 
of various social ranks, who have renounced for themselves the 
class distinctions they are banded together to destroy. 

III. I am a Socialist because the poverty of the workers is, and must 
continue to he, an integral part of the present method of wealth-pro- 
duction and wealth-distrihution. Under that method land, capital, 
and labor, the three factors in wealth-production, are divorced 
from each other, and landless, capitalless labor — which must sell 
itself to live — lies at the mercy of the privileged classes. The 
owner of the land demands a share of the produce raised on or 
from it, and this share is claimed by him not because he helps 
in gaining the produce, but because he owns the raw material of 
the soil, and can prevent anj^one from utilising it, if he so pleases. 
The land is his ; for him the rain softens and the sunshine warms 
the soil ; for him sweet Mother Nature bares her fragrant bosom, 
and pours out the treasures with which her arms are laden ; for 
him she has been working through the silent centuries, growing 
her forests, carbonising her buried vegetable treasures, storing 
her vast unseen realms with gem and ore of metal, building 
through myriads of ages by life and death, by creation and des- 
truction, by swift birth and slow decay. And all this toil of 
ages, wrought out by the mighty unseen forces, finds its end in 
my Lord Emptyhead, who stretches out his useless hands over 
the noble product, and cries to his countless brothers, ** This is 
mine! ". Then he bargains with them, and claims the right to 
tax their labor in exchange for permitting them to use what 
ought to be the common property, and to tax it, moreover, in 
proportion to its success. Thus Dukes of Westminster, of Bed- 
ford, and of Portland ; Marquises of Londonderry, of Anglesey, 
and of Bute ; Earls of Derby and of Dudley ; with many another 
beside ; all these grow ever and ever wealthier, not because they 
work, but becausTe their ancestors by force or fraud got grip of 
the soil, and in days when the people were unrepresented made 
laws which secured to them and their descendants the monstrous 
monopoly of natural agents. As the people multiply and press 
ever more and more on the means of subsistence, they have to 
pay more and more to the owners thereof ; and while private 
property in land is permitted to exist, so long will the landless 
lie at the landlord's mercy, and wealthy idler and poverty- 



WHY I AM A SOCIALIST. 7 

stricken worker will form integral parts of our social, or rather 
anti-social, system. 

Similarly is a share of the worker's product claimed by the 
class which holds as individual propert}^ the accumulated wealth 
made by generations of toilers, the present means of production; 
this wealth is obtained by forcing labor to accept as " wage " 
less than the value it creates ; unless it will accept these terms it 
is not permitted to create any value at all, so that it has the 
choice between starvation and exploitation. The share of its own 
produce which it receives as wage varies from time to time ; 
sometimes it is less, sometimes more ; but it is always less than 
the value made by it. Only when there is a '* profit " to be 
xnade — that is when the capitalist can get out of his '^hands'' 
more value than he returns to them as wage — will he employ 
them. The machines which have been invented by human 
genius, and which ought to lessen human labor, are used to 
make fortunes for a few. A skilful workman sees a possible 
improvement ; his master reaps the profit of the improved 
machine, patenting it for his own enrichment. Huge fortunes 
rapidly made date from the invention of machinery, because 
only by the possession of machinery can a man utilise the labor 
of many for such swift gain. Possessing this, he is in a position 
of advantage which enables him to say to his fellow-men : *' You 
shall use my machinery on condition that you are content with 
bare subsistence, and leave to me the wealth which flows from 
you and the machine ". Thus machinery, which is one of the 
advantages of civilisation, gives wealth to its individual owner, 
and bare subsistence to the toilers who work with it. And so 
long as the possession of all the mechanical advantages is in the 
hands of individuals, so long will they be able to enslave and 
exploit those who have only their natural tools, and the machine- 
owner may lie at his ease and watch the growing piles of his 
wealth, as his bondmen heap it together, and gratefully accept 
the fraction of it which his higher servants fling to them as wage. 
Poverty will last so long as one class depends on another for 
** employment " ; so long as one man must sell another man his 
labor at whatever rate the condition of the market may fix. 
Free men may associate their labor for a common end, and 
divide the common product ; slaves are obliged to let their labor 
be at the direction of their master, and to accept subsistence in 
exchange. 

Class distinctions will endure while men stand in the position 
of employer and employed ; the one who holds the means of 
subsistence feels himself superior to the one who craves them. 
And this is not all. The life-surroundings of the rich fashion 
an organism easily distinguishable from the organism produced 



8 WHY I AM A SOCIALIST. 

by the life- surroundings of the poor. Take two healthy week- 
old babies, one the child of a ploughman and the other the child 
of a duke ; place them side by side, and the keenest eye will not 
be able to separate the aristocrat and the plebeian. But give 
to one the best education and to the other none, and place them 
side by side when each is grown to manhood, and the easy 
polished manner and soft speech of the one will be contrasted 
with the clumsy roughness and stumbling articulation of the 
other. Education, training, culture, these make class distinc- 
tinctions, and nothing can efface them save common education 
and equally refined life-surroundings. Such education and life- 
surroundings cannot be shared so long as some enjoy wealth 
they do not earn, and others are deprived of the wealth they 
do earn. Land and capital must be made common property, 
and then no man will be in a position to enslave his brother by 
placing before him the alternative of starvation or servitude. 
And because no system save that of Socialism claims that there 
shall be no individual monopoly of that on which the whole 
nation must depend, of the soil on which it is born and must 
subsist, of the capital accumulated by the labor of its in- 
numerable children, living and dead ; because no system save 
that of Socialism claims for the whole community control of its 
land and its capital ; because no system save that of Socialism 
declares that wealth created by associated workers should be 
shared among those workers, and that no idlers should have a 
lien upon it ; because no system save that of Socialism makes 
industry really free and the worker really independent, by 
substituting co-operation among workers for employed and 
employing classes ; because of all this I am a Socialist. My 
Socialism is based on the recognition of economic facts, on the 
study of the results which flow inevitably from the present 
economic system. The pauper and the millionaire are alike its 
legitimate children ; the evil tree brings forth its evil fruits. 



PRICE OXE PENXY. 



Printed by Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, at 63, Fleet Street, 

London. E.G.— 1886.