Some Social Remedies
Socialism, Anarchy, Henry Georgism and the Land Question, Communism, etc.
On Socialism, State and Christian
(From the Private MS. Diary)
“Looking Backward” is excellent. One thing is bad, namely, the Socialist, Marxian idea that if one does wrong for a very long time, good will ensue of its own accord. “Capital is accumulated in the hands of a few; it will end by being held by one. All trades-unions will be also united into one. There are capital and labour,—divided. Authority or revolution will unite them, and all will be well.” The chief point is that nothing in our civilisation will diminish, nothing recede; there will be the same mansions, the same gastronomic dinners, sweets, wines, carriages, horses,—only everything will be accessible to all.
It is incomprehensible that they do not see this to be impossible. Take for instance the luxuries of the house of Yasnaia Poliana, and divide them among the peasants. It can’t be done. They would be of no use to them. Luxury must be given up. Nothing will do so long as violence, capital, and invention are directed towards that which is unnecessary. And in order to get at what is necessary for the masses, everything must be tested.
But the chief thing is that we must be ready to renounce all the improvements of our civilisation, rather than allow those cruel inequalities which constitute our scourge. If I really love my brother, then I shall not hesitate to deprive myself of a drawing-room, in order to shelter him when he is homeless. As it is, we say that we wish to shelter our brother, but only on condition that our drawing-rooms remain free for receptions. We must decide whom we will serve—God or mammon. To serve both is impossible. If we are to serve God, we must be prepared to give up luxury and civilisation; being ready to introduce them again tomorrow, but only for the common and equal use of all.
The most profitable social arrangement (economic and otherwise) is one in which each thinks of the good of all, and devotes himself unreservedly to the service of that welfare. If all were so disposed, each would derive the greatest possible amount of good.
The most unprofitable grouping of people (economically and otherwise) is that in which each works for himself only, depends and provides for himself only. If this were universally the case, if there were not at least family groups in which people work for one another, I do not think men could live.
However, people have not this yearning for the welfare of others; on the contrary, each is striving for his own welfare, to the detriment of others. But this state of things is so unprofitable that men speedily grow weak in the struggle. And now, by the very nature of things, it occurs that one man overpowers others and makes them serve him. And the result is a more profitable labour of men instead of the unprofitable individual one.
But in such associations of men there appear inequality and oppression. And therefore people are making attempts at equalisation (such as the attempts at cooperations, communes) and at the liberation of men (such as political rights). Equalisation always leads to disadvantage of the work done. In order to equalise the remuneration, the best workman is brought down to the level of the worst; things in use are divided in such a manner that no one may have more, or better, than another, as in the partition of land; and this is why the divisions of land are being made smaller and smaller, a practice disadvantageous to all. Liberation from oppression by political rights is leading to even greater excitement and ill-will. Thus attempts at equalisation and deliverance from oppression are made, though without success; while the unification, the subjugation of ever greater and greater numbers of men by one is always increasing. The greater the centralisation of labour the more profitable it is, but also the more striking and revolting is the inequality.
What, then, is to be done? Individual labour is unprofitable; centralised labour is more profitable, but the inequality and oppression are terrible.
Socialists wish to remove inequality and oppression by assigning all capital to the nation, to humanity, so that the centralised unit will become humanity itself. But, in the first place, not only humanity, but even nations do not as yet admit the necessity for this, and until they do, this system cannot be adopted by all humanity; secondly, among men striving each for his own welfare, it would be impossible to find men sufficiently disinterested to manage the capital of humanity without taking advantage of their power—men who would not again introduce into the world inequality and oppression.
And so humanity stands unavoidably face to face with this dilemma: either the forward movement attained by the centralisation of labour must be renounced,—there must even be retrogression rather than an infringement of equality or allowance of oppression,—or else it should be boldly admitted that inequality and oppression must exist, that “when wood is chopped, splinters will fly,” that there must be victims, and that struggle is the law of humanity. And this view is, in fact, adopted and supported by certain people. But, side by side with it, there resounds ever louder and louder the protests of the dispossessed, the moans of the oppressed and the voices of the indignant raised in the name of the ideal of Christ, of truth and good; which ideal is acknowledged by our society only officially.
But any child can see that the greatest advantage would result to all if everyone were to interest himself in the common cause, and therefore to be provided for as a member of the whole. As, however, this is not the practice, as it is impossible to enter into the soul of everyone and control it, and as to persuade everybody is also impossible, or would take infinitely long, there remains but one other course: to assist the centralisation of labour, resulting from the subjugation of the many by the few, and at the same time to conceal from the dispossessed their inequality with the fortunate, to ward off their attacks, and to help and afford charity to the oppressed. And this is being done; but the concentration of capital increases more and more, and the inequality and oppression grow ever more cruel. And side by side with this, enlightenment becomes more general and the inequality and the cruelty of oppression more evident both to oppressed and oppressors. Further movement in this direction is becoming impossible; so those who think little, who do not look to the logical conclusion, propose imaginary remedies, consisting in the education of men in the consciousness of the necessity of co-operation for the sake of greater advantage. This is absurd. If the aim be great advantage, then everyone will get this advantage for himself in the capitalistic organisations. And therefore nothing except talk results from these attempts.
The organisation most profitable for all will be attained not while everyone’s aim is profit, material welfare, but only when the aim of all is that welfare which is independent of earthly well-being—when everyone will say from his heart, “Blessed are the poor; blessed are those that weep, those who are persecuted. Only when everyone seeks, not material but spiritual welfare, which always coincides with sacrifice, is verified by sacrifice—only then will result the greatest welfare for all.
Take this simple illustration: People live together; if they tidy up regularly, clean up after themselves, everyone has to do very little in order to preserve the general cleanliness. But everyone is accustomed to have things tidied and cleaned up after him; what, then, has he to do who wishes to keep the place clean? He must work for all, must be immersed in dirt. And if he will not do this, will work only for himself, he will not attain his aim. Of course it would be easier to order all the others; but there is no one who can so order. There remains but one course—oneself to work for others.
And, indeed, in a world where all are living for themselves, to begin to live for others a little is impossible; one must give oneself up entirely. And it is just this that the conscience, enlightened by Christ, demands. * Why is it that the kingdom of God upon earth can be realised neither by means of the existing governmental violence nor by a revolution and State Socialism, nor yet by those means preached by Christian Socialists: propaganda and the gradually increasing consciousness of men that it will be advantageous?
So long as Man’s aim is the welfare of the personal life, no one can check himself in this strife for his welfare at the point where he gets his just share,—and at such demands from men which admit of the well-being of all. No one can do this, firstly, because it is impossible to find the point of perfect justice in these requests,—men will always exaggerate their demands; and secondly, because, even were it possible to find the measure of the just demands, man cannot put forward the demand for that which is only just, for he will never get it, but infinitely less. The demands of those around him being regulated, not by justice, but by personal profit, it is evident that as a matter of fact the possession of material welfare will be attained by every separate individual rather through competition and struggle (as indeed is at present the case) than by just demands.
In order to attain justice, while people are striving after personal welfare, it would be necessary to have people able to define the measure of worldly goods which should in justice fall to the share of each; and also people with power to prevent men profiting by more than their just share. There are, and always have been, men who have undertaken both these duties; they are our rulers. But up to the present time neither in monarchies nor in republics have there been found men who, in defining the measure of goods and distributing them amongst men, have not transgressed this measure for themselves and their assistants, and thus spoilt the work they were called to, and undertook to do. So that this means is already recognised by all to be unsatisfactory. And now some people say that it is necessary to abolish these governments and to establish governments of another kind, chiefly for the purpose of superintending economic affairs,—which governments, acknowledging that all capital and land are common property, will administer the labour of men and distribute earthly welfare, according to their labour,—or, as some say, according to their needs.
All attempts at this kind of organisation, hitherto made, have been unsuccessful. But even without such experiments, one can confidently assert that, with men striving after personal welfare, such an organisation cannot be realised, because those men—very many of them—who will superintend economic affairs, will be men with strivings after personal welfare, and will have to deal with similar men, and therefore in organising and maintaining the new economic order, they will inevitably prosecute their own personal advantage as much as the former administrators, and will thus destroy the meaning of the very work they are called to do.
Some will say, “Choose men who are wise and pure.” But none but the wise and pure can choose the wise and pure. And if all men were wise and pure, there would be no need of any organisation, consequently the impossibility of that which the revolutionary Socialists profess is felt by all, even by themselves; and that is why it is out of date and has no success.
And here we come to the third teaching—that of Christian Socialism, which has resource to propaganda aiming at influencing the consciousness of men. But the success of this teaching is evidently possible only when all men will have the same clear consciousness of the advantages of community of labour, and when this consciousness will have simultaneously developed in all. But as it is evident that neither the one nor the other can take place, the economic organisation founded, not on competition and struggle, but on community of interest cannot be realised.
Therefore there cannot be a better organisation than the present one, so long as the aim of man is personal welfare.
The error of those who preach Christian Socialism consists in this, that they draw from the Gospels only that practical conclusion of general welfare which is not the aim pointed out by the Gospels, but only the verification of the correctness of the means. The Gospels teach the way of life, and by advancing on this way it happens that material welfare is reached. It is indeed attained, but it is not the aim. If the aim of the gospel teaching were limited to the attainment of material welfare, then this material welfare would not be attained.
The aim is higher and more distant. The aim of this teaching is not dependent on material welfare; it is the salvation of the soul, i.e of that divine element which has been enclosed in man. This salvation is attained by renouncing personal life and therefore, also, material well-being, and by striving after the welfare of one’s neighbours—by love. And it is only by this endeavour that men will, incidentally, attain the greatest welfare of all—the kingdom of God upon earth.
By striving after personal welfare, neither personal nor general welfare is attained. By striving after self-forgetfulness, both personal and general Welfare are attained. * Theoretically, three organisations of human society are possible. The first is this: people—the best people, God’s—will give such a law to men as will ensure the greatest happiness to mankind, and the authorities will enforce the fulfilment of this law. This has been tried; but has resulted in the authorities, those who administered the law, abusing their power and infringing the law, not they only but also their co-operators, who are many. Then appeared a second scheme, “Laisser faire, laisser passer,” the idea being that there is no need of authorities, but that by all men striving each for his own welfare, justice will be realised. But this does not succeed for two reasons. Firstly, because authority is not abolished, and people think it cannot be abolished because oppression would still continue, for the government would refuse to use its authority to arrest the robber, whereas the robber would not desist. While there are authorities the condition of men fighting for welfare is unequal, not only because some are stronger than others, but also because men make use of authority to help them in the struggle. Secondly, because in the incessant struggle of all, each for his own welfare, the slightest advantage of one gives him a multiplied advantage, and inequality must inevitably result. There still remains a third theory, that men will come to understand that it is profitable to live for the welfare of others, and that all will strive after this. And it is just this that the Christian faith furnishes. In the first place, to the realisation of this theory there can be no external obstacles; whether or not there exist government, capital, etc., and the whole present order of things, the object would be attained in the event of such a development of men’s conception of life. Secondly, one need expect no special term for the commencement of the realisation, for every single individual who has attained this life conception, and gives himself up to the welfare of others, is already conducing to that welfare. And thirdly, this has been going on ever since we have known anything about the life of men. * Socialists say, “It is not necessary for us who enjoy the blessings of culture and civilisation to be deprived of these blessings, and to descend to the level of the rough crowd, but the men who are now deprived of material good must be raised to our level, and made participators in the blessings of culture and civilisation. The means for accomplishing this is science. Science teaches us to conquer nature; it is able infinitely to increase the productiveness of nature; it may by electricity avail itself of the power of the Niagara Falls, of rivers, of winds. The sun will work. And there will be plenty of everything for everybody. At present only a small fraction of mankind, the one in power, profits by the blessings of civilisation; whereas the rest is deprived of them. Increase the welfare, and then it will suffice for all.” But the fact is that those in power have long been consuming not what they need, but what they do not need; all they can get. Therefore, however much advantages may increase, those who are at the top will appropriate them for themselves.
One cannot consume more than a certain quantity of necessaries, but to luxury there is no limit. Thousands of bushels of bread may be used for horses and dogs; millions of acres of land turned into parks, and so on, as is now the case. So that no increase of productiveness and wealth will augment one little the welfare of the lower classes, so long as the upper classes have the power and the desire to spend the surplus wealth on luxury. On the contrary, the increase of productiveness, the greater mastery of the forces of nature, only gives greater power to the upper classes, to those in authority,—power to keep this authority over the lower working classes.
And every attempt on the part of the lower classes to make the rich divide with them,—revolutions, strikes,—cause strife, and the strife—a useless waste of wealth. “Better let no one have it, if I cannot,’ say the contending parties.
The conquest of nature and the increased production of material wealth in order that it may overflow the world, so that every one may have his share, is as unwise a proceeding as would be to increase the quantity of wood thrown into a stove, in order to increase the warmth of a house in which the stoves have no dampers. However much you may augment the fire, the cold air becoming heated will rise, and fresh cold air will at once take its place; and therefore no equal distribution of warmth in the house will be attained. This will continue as long as there is access for the cold air and an outlet for the hot.
Of the three remedies which have so far been invented, it is difficult to say which is the most foolish,—so foolish are they all.
The first remedy, that of the revolutionist, consists in the abolition of the upper classes, by whom all the wealth is consumed. This is the same as if a man were to break the chimney through which the heat is disappearing, supposing that when there is no chimney the heat will not pass away. But the heat will pass out through the hole left by the chimney, as it did through the chimney itself, if the current be the same. In the same way wealth will all go to the men in authority, as long as authority exists.
Another remedy, at present being put into practice by Wilhelm II., is, without changing the existing order, to take from the upper classes, who possess the wealth and power, a small portion of this wealth and throw it into the bottomless abyss of poverty; as if one were to arrange on the top of the chimney, through which the heat is passing, fans, and to fan the heat, trying to drive it down to the cold layers. An occupation obviously difficult and useless, because, while the heat ascends from below, however much one may drive it down (and one cannot drive down much), it will at once again rise up and all the exertion will be wasted.
The third, and last, remedy is at present preached especially in America. It consists in replacing the competitive and individualistic basis of life by a communistic principle, by a principle of associations, co-operations. This remedy, as stated in Dawn and the Nationalist, consists in preaching co-operation by word and deed, in inculcating and explaining to men that competition, individualism, and strife are destroying much strength and consequently wealth, and that far greater advantage is derived from the co-operative principle, i.e. every one working for the common good, and receiving afterwards his share of the common wealth,—that this will prove more advantageous for everybody. All this is excellent, but the worst of it is that, to begin with, no one knows what each man’s share will be when all is divided equally; and above all, whatever his share may be, it will appear insufficient for their welfare to men living as they do at present. “All will be well off, and you will enjoy the same as the others.”—“But I don’t want to live like all the rest, I want to live better. I have always lived better than others and am used to it.”—“And as for me I have long lived worse than all, and now want to live just as others have lived.” This remedy is the worst of all, because it supposes that during the existing upward current, i.e. the motive of striving after the best, it is possible to persuade the particles of air not to rise in proportion to the heat.
The one means is to reveal to men their true welfare, and to show them that wealth not only is not a blessing, but even diverts men from welfare, by hiding from them their true welfare.
There is only one means, and that is to stop up the hole of worldly desire. This alone would give equally distributed heat. And this is exactly the opposite of what the Socialists say and do,—trying to augment production, and therefore the general mass of wealth.
Gronlund is arguing with Spencer and all those who deny the need of government, or see its destination only in the security of the individual. Gronlund considers that the foundation of morality lies in association. As a model, or rather as an embryo, of a real socialistic government, he brings forward trades-unions, which, by coercing the individual, by inducing him to sacrifice his personal interests, subordinate him to the service of the common cause.
This, I think, is not true. He says that the government organises labour. That would be well; but he forgets that governments are always coercing and exploiting labour under the pretext of defence. How much more would it then exploit labour under the pretext of organising it? It would indeed be well if government were to organise labour, but to do that it must be disinterested, saintly. But where are they, these saints ?
It is true that individualism, as they call it, meaning by this the ideal of individual welfare for each separate man, is a most pernicious principle ; but the principle of the welfare of many people together is equally pernicious. Only its perniciousness is not at once evident.
The attainment of that co-operation—social communism,—in place of individualism, will not result from organisation. We shall never guess what will be the organisation of the future; we will discover it only by everyone following the unperverted impulse of heart, conscience, reason, faith; the law of life, call it what you will.
Bees and ants live socially, not because they know what organisation is most advantageous for them and follow it,—they have no idea of expediency, harmony, the wisdom of the hive or ant hill, as they appear to us, but because they give themselves up to what we call the instinct inherent in them, they submit, not philosophising cunningly, but straightforwardly to their law of life. I can imagine that if bees, in addition to their instinct, as we call it, in addition to the consciousness of their law, were able to invent the best organisation of their social life, they would invent such a life that they would perish.
In this tendency of the law of life there is something less and something more than reasoning. And it alone leads to that way of truth, which is the right one for man and for humanity.
(From the Private MS. Diary)
The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order, and in the assertion that, without authority, there could not be worse violence than that of authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that Anarchy can be instituted by a revolution. “To establish Anarchy.” “Anarchy will be instituted.” But it will be instituted only by there being more and more people who do not require protection from governmental power, and by there being more and more people who will be ashamed of applying this power.
“The capitalistic organisation will pass into the hands of workers, and then there will be no more oppression of these workers, and no unequal distribution of earnings.”
“But who will establish the works; who will administer them?”
“It will go on of its own accord; the workmen themselves will arrange everything.”
“But the capitalistic organisation was established just because, for every practical affair, there is need for administrators furnished with power. If there be work there will be leadership, administrators with power. And when there is power there will be abuse of it—the very thing against which you are now striving.”
To the question, how to be without a State, without courts, armies, so on, an answer cannot be given, because the question is badly formulated. The problem is not how to arrange a State after the pattern of to-day, or after a new pattern. Neither I, nor any of us, is appointed to settle that question.
But, though voluntarily, yet inevitably must we answer the question. How shall I act in face of the problem which ever arises before me? Am I to submit my conscience to the acts taking place around me, am I to proclaim myself in agreement with the government, which hangs erring men, sends soldiers to murder, demoralises nations with opium and spirits, and so on, or am I to submit my actions to conscience, i.e. not participate in government, the actions of which are contrary to my reason?
What will be the outcome of this, what kind of a government there will be,—of all this I know nothing; not that I don’t wish to know; but that I cannot. I only know that nothing evil can result from my following the higher guidance of wisdom and love, or wise love, which is implanted in me; just as nothing evil comes of the bee following the instinct implanted in her, and flying out of the hive with the swarm, we should say, to ruin. But, I repeat, I do not wish to and cannot judge about this.
In this precisely consists the power of Christ’s teaching and that not because, Christ is God or a great man, but because His teaching is irrefutable. The merit of His teaching consists in the fact that it transferred the matter from the domain of eternal doubt and conjecture on to the ground of certainty. “Thou art a man, a being rational and kind, and thou knowest that these qualities are the highest in thee; and, besides, thou knowest that to-day or to-morrow thou wilt die, disappear. If there be a God, then thou wilt go to Him, and He will ask of thee an account of thy actions, whether thou hast acted in accordance with His law, or, at least, with the higher qualities implanted in thee. If there be no God, thou regardest reason and love as the highest qualities, and must submit to them thy other inclinations, and not let them submit to thy animal nature—to the cares about the commodities of life, to the fear of annoyance, and material calamities.”
The question is not, I repeat, which community will be the more secure, the better,—the one which is defended by arms, cannons, gallows, or the one that is not so safeguarded. But there is only one question for a man, and one it is impossible to evade: “Wilt thou, a rational and good being, having for a moment appeared in this world, and at any moment liable to disappear,—wilt thou take part in the murder of erring men or men of a different race, wilt thou participate in the exterminating of whole nations of so-called savages, wilt thou participate in the artificial deterioration of generations of men by means of opium and spirits for the sake of profit, wilt thou participate in all these actions, or even be in agreement with those who permit them, or wilt thou not?”
And there can be but one answer to this question for those to whom it has presented itself. As to what the outcome will be of it I don’t know, because it is not given me to know. But what should be done I do unmistakably know.
And if you ask: “What will happen?” Then I reply that good will certainly happen; because, acting in the way indicated by reason and love, I am acting in accordance with the highest law known to me.
The situation of the majority of men, enlightened by true brotherly enlightenment, at present crushed by the deceit and cunning of usurpers, who are forcing them to ruin their own lives—this situation is terrible, and appears hopeless.
Only two issues present themselves, and both are closed. One is to destroy violence by violence, by terrorism, dynamite bombs, and daggers, as Nihilist and Anarchists have attempted to do, to destroy this conspiracy of governments against nations, from without; the other is to come to an agreement with the government, making concessions to it, participating in it, in order gradually to disentangle the net which is binding the people, and to set them free. Both these issues are closed.
Dynamite and the dagger, as experience has already shown, only cause reaction, and destroy the most valuable power, the only one at our command, that of opinion.
The other issue is closed, because governments have already learnt how far they may allow the participation of men wishing to reform them. They admit only that which does not infringe, which is non-essential; and they are very sensitive concerning things harmful to them,—sensitive because the matter concerns their own existence. They admit men who do not share their views, and who desire reform, not only in order to satisfy the demands of these men, but also in their own interest, in that of the government. These men are dangerous to the governments if they remain outside them and revolt against them,—opposing to the governments the only effective instrument the governments possess—public opinion; they must therefore render these men harmless, attracting them by means of concessions, in order to render them innocuous (like cultivated microbes), and then make them serve the aims of the governments, i.e. oppress and exploit the masses.
Both these issues being firmly closed and impregnable, what remains to be done?
To utilise violence is impossible; it would only cause reaction. To join the ranks of the government is also impossible—one would only become its instrument. One course, therefore, remains—to fight the government by means of thought, speech, actions, life, neither yielding to government nor joining its ranks and thereby increasing its power.
This alone is needed, will certainly be successful.
And this is the will of God, the teaching of Christ.
We have now reached a stage when a man merely good and rational cannot participate in a State, i.e. in England (not to speak of our Russia), cannot be in agreement with landlordism, exploitation by manufacturers, capitalists, with the system in India, flogging, the opium trade, with the extermination of whole races in Africa, with wars and preparations for wars.
The ground upon which man says, “I don’t know what the government is, nor why it exists, and I don’t want to know; but I do know that I cannot live contrary to my conscience,” this point of view is invincible, and to it the men of our time must adhere, in order to make life-progress. “I know what conscience dictates to me; as to you men, occupied with the State, organise the State as best you may, so that it correspond to the demands of the conscience of the men of our time.”
But men are abandoning this impregnable position, taking up the view of reforming, ameliorating the State functions; and, by so doing, they are losing their points of support, acknowledging the necessity for the State, and thus abandoning their unassailable position.
Three Methods of Reform
(From the Private MS. Diary)
There are three means of alleviating the condition of the labourers and of setting up brotherhood among men.
Not to make people work for you; neither directly nor indirectly to demand work of them; not to need such articles as demand extra labour,—all objects of luxury.
To do for oneself and, if possible, for others also that work which is tedious and unpleasant.
Not in reality a means, but the result and application of the second, to study the laws of nature and invent processes for the alleviation of labour—machinery, steam, electricity. One will invent what is really needed, and nothing superfluous, only when one invents in order to lighten one’s own labour, or at least labour which one has oneself experienced.
But at present men are engaged in applying only the third means, and even that incorrectly, for they keep aloof from the second, and not only are they unwilling to employ the first and second means, but they do not wish even to hear of them.
There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man.
How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.
People abolished slavery and the right of owning slaves, but they continued changing their linen unnecessarily, and living in ten rooms and having five courses at dinner, and carriages, etc. And yet all these things could not be if there were no slaves. This is perfectly clear, and yet nobody can see it.
Two Letters on Henry George and the Land Question.
(The first written to a German reformer, who had asked for an expression of opinion on Henry George; and the second, to a Russian peasant in Siberia, who had heard something of Henry George and wished to know more.)
In reply to your letter I send you the enclosed with special pleasure. I have been acquainted with Henry George since the appearance of his Social Problems. I read them, and was struck by the correctness of his main idea, and by the unique clearness and power of his argument, which is unlike anything in scientific literature, and especially by the Christian spirit, which also stands alone in the literature of science, which pervades the book. After reading it I turned to his previous work, Progress and Poverty, and with a heightened appreciation of its author’s activity. You ask my opinion of Henry George’s work, and of his single tax system. My opinion is the following:—
Humanity advances continually towards the enlightenment of its consciousness, and to the institution of modes of life corresponding to this consciousness. Hence in every period of life and humanity there is, on the one hand, a progressive enlightenment of consciousness, and on the other a realisation in life of what is enlightened. At the close of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, a progressive enlightenment of consciousness occurred in Christianised humanity with respect to the working classes, who were previously in various phases of slavery; and a progressive realisation of new forms of life—the abolition of slavery and the substitution of free-hired labour.
At the present day a progressive enlightenment of human consciousness is taking place with reference to the use of land, and soon, it seems to me, a progressive realisation of this must follow. And in this progressive enlightenment with reference to the use of land, and its realisation which constitutes one of the chief problems of our time, the fore-man, the leader of the movement, was and is Henry George. In this lies his immense and predominant importance. He contributed by his excellent books both to the enlightenment of the consciousness of mankind and to the placing of it upon a practical footing.
But with the abolition of the revolting right of ownership in land, the same thing is being repeated which took place, as we can still remember, when slavery was abolished. The governments and ruling classes, knowing that the advantages and authority of their position amongst men are bound up in the land question, while pretending that they are preoccupied with the welfare of the people, organising working-men’s banks, inspection of labour, income taxes, and even an eight hours’ day, studiously ignore the land question, and even, with the aid of an obliging and easily corrupted science, assert that the expropriation of land is useless, harmful, impossible.
The same thing is happening now as in the days of the slave trade. Mankind, at the beginning of the 18th and at the end of the 19th century, had long felt that slavery was an awful, soul-nauseating anachronism; but sham-religion and sham-science proved that there was nothing wrong in it; that it was indispensable, or, at least, that its abolition would be premature. To-day something similar is taking place with reference to property in land. In the same way sham-religion and sham-science are proving that there is nothing wrong in landed property, and that there is no need to abolish it. One might think it would be palpable to every educated man of our time that the exclusive control of land by people who do not work upon it, and who prevent hundreds and thousands of distressed families making use of it, is an action every whit as wicked and base as the possession of slaves; yet we see aristocrats, supposed to be educated and refined, English, Austrian, Prussian, Russian, who profit by this cruel and base right, and who are not only not ashamed, but proud of it.
Religion blesses such possession, and the science of political economy proves that it must exist for the greatest welfare of mankind. It is Henry Greorge’s merit that lie not only exploded all the sophism whereby religion and science justify landed property, and pressed the question to the farthest proof, which forced all who had not stopped their ears to acknowledge the unlawfulness of ownerships in land, but also that he was the first to indicate a possibility of solution for the question. He was the first to give a simple, straightforward answer to the usual excuses made by the enemies of all progress, which affirm that the demands of progress are illusions, impracticable, inapplicable.
The method of Henry George destroys this excuse by so putting the question that by to-morrow committees might be appointed to examine and deliberate on his scheme and its transformation into law. In Russia, for instance, the inquiry as to the means for the ransom of land, or its gratuitous confiscation for nationalisation, might be begun to-morrow, and solved, with certain restrictions, as thirty-three years ago the question of liberating the peasants was solved. To humanity the indispensableness of this reform is demonstrated, and its feasibleness is proved (emendations, alterations in the single tax system may be required, but the fundamental idea is a possibility); and therefore humanity cannot but do that which their reason demands. It is only necessary, in order that this idea may become public opinion, that it should be spread and explained precisely as you are doing, in which cause I sympathise with you with all my heart, and wish you success.
The scheme of Henry George is as follows:—The advantage and profit from the use of land is not everywhere the same, since the more fertile, convenient portions, adjoining populous districts, will always attract many who wish to possess them; and so much the more as these portions are hotter and more suitahle, they ought to he appraised according to their advantages; the better, dearer; the worse, cheaper; the worst, cheapest of all.
Whereas the land which attracts but few should not be appraised at all, but conceded without payment to those who are willing to cultivate it by their own manual labour. According to such a valuation, convenient plough land in the government of Toula, for example, would be valued at about five or six roubles the dessyatin (about two and three-quarter acres); market garden land near villages at ten roubles; the same, but liable to spring floods, fifteen roubles, and so on. In towns the valuation would be from one hundred to five hundred roubles the dessyatin; and in Moscow and Petersburg, in go-ahead places, and about the harbours of navigable rivers, several thousands or tens of thousands of roubles the dessyatin.
When all the land in the country has been thus appraised, Henry George proposes to pass a law declaring that all the land, from such a year and date, shall belong no longer to any separate individual, but to the whole country, to the whole nation; and that thereafter everyone who possesses land must gradually pay to the State, that is, to the whole nation, the price at which it has been appraised.
This payment must be expended on all the public needs of the State, so that it will take the place of every kind of monetary imposition, both local and national—the custom house, etc.
According to this scheme it would follow that a landowner, who was at present in possession of two thousand dessyatins, would continue to own them, but would have to pay for them into the treasury, here in Toula, between twelve and fifteen thousand roubles a year, because hereabouts the best land for agricultural and building purposes would be included; and no large landowner would be able to bear the strain of such a payment, and would be obliged to give up the land. Whereas our Toula peasant would have to pay about two roubles less for each dessyatin of the same ground than he does at present, would always have available land around him which he could hire for five or six roubles, and, in addition, would not only have no other taxes to pay, but would receive all Russian and foreign articles which he needs without imposts. In towns the owners of houses and manufactories can continue to possess their property, bnt will have to pay for the land they occupy, according to its valuation, into the common treasury.
The advantage of such a system will be—
That no one will be deprived of the possibility of using land.
That idle men, possessing land, and forcing others to work for them in return for the use of the land, will cease to exist.
That the land will be in the hands of those who work it and not of those who do not.
That the people being able to work on the land will cease to enslave themselves as labourers in mills and factories, and as servants in towns; and will disperse themselves about the country.
That there will be no longer any overseers and tax collectors in factories, mills, stores, and custom houses, but only collectors of payment for the land, which it is impossible to steal, and from which taxes may be most easily collected.
and chiefly. That those who do not labour will be freed from the sin of profiting by the labours of others (in doing which they are often not to blame, being from childhood educated in idleness, and not knowing how to work); and from the still greater sin of every kind of falsehood and excuse to shift the blame from themselves; and that those who do labour will be delivered from the temptation and sin of envy, condemnation of others, and exasperation against those who do not work; and thus will disappear one of the causes of dissension between man and man.
(First published in The New Age. Revised from original.)
On Communal Life
(From a Letter to a Friend)
It is quite true, as you say in your article, and H—— in his, that Christian life is quite impossible in the present unchristian organisation of society. The contradiction between his surroundings and his convictions is very painful for a man who is sincere in his Christian faith, and therefore the organisation of communities seems to such a man the only means of delivering himself from these contradictions.
But this is an illusion. Every community is a small island in the midst of an ocean of unchristian conditions of life, so that the Christian relations exist only between the members of the colony; while outside they must remain unchristian, otherwise the colony could not exist for one moment. And therefore to live in a community cannot save a Christian from the contradiction between his conscience and his life.
I do not mean to say that I do not approve of the organisation of communities such as your commonwealth, or that I do not think them good things. On the contrary, I approve of them with all my heart, and am very interested in your commonwealth, and wish it the greatest success.
I think that every man who can free himself from the conditions of worldly life without breaking the ties of love,—love, the main principle, in the name of which he is seelong new forms of life,—I think such a man not only must, but will naturally join people who have the same beliefs, and who try to live up to them. If I were free I would immediately, even at my age, join such a colony.
I only wished to say that the mere forming of communities is not a solution of the Christian problem, but is only one of the means for its solution. The revolution that is going on for the attainment of the Christian ideal is so enormous, our life is so different from what it ought to be, that for the perfect success of this revolution, for the concordance of conscience and life is needed the work of all men—men living in commimities, as well as men of the world living in the most different conditions. This ideal is not so quickly and so simply attained as we think and wish, and the ideal will be attained only when every man in the whole world will say: “Why should I sell my services and buy yours? If mine are greater than yours, I owe them to you.” For, if there be in the whole world one man who does not think and act by this principle, and who will appropriate and keep by violence what he can take from others, no man can live a true Christian life, whether it be in a community or outside it. We cannot be saved separately, we must be saved altogether. And this can be attained only through the modification of the conception of life, i.e. the faith of all men. And to this end we must work all together—men living in the world, as well as men living in communities.
We must all of us remember that we are messengers from the great King, the God of love, with the message of unity and love amongst all living beings. And, therefore, we must not for a minute forget our mission, and may do all that we think useful and agreeable for ourselves, only so long as it is not in opposition to our mission, which is to be accomplished not only by words, but by example, and especially by the infection of love.
Please give my respect and love to the colonists, and ask them not to be offended by my giving them advice which may be unnecessary.
I advise them to remember that all material questions, money, implements, even nourishment, the very existence of the colony itself, all these things are of little importance in comparison with the sole object of our life: to preserve love amongst all men with whom we come in contact. If, with the object of keeping the interests of the colony, or of protecting the thrift of it, you must quarrel with a friend or with a stranger, must excite ill-feeling in somebody, it is better to give up everything than to act against love.
And let your friends not dread that the strict following of this principle will destroy the practical work. Even the practical work will flourish, not as we expect it, but in its own way, only if we are strictly following the law of love; and will perish if we act in opposition to it.