There are hundred definitions of Socialism and a thousand sects of Socialists. Essentially Socialism is no more and no less than a repudiation of the idea of ownership in the light of the public good. We may review the history of that idea through the ages very briefly. That and the idea of internationalism are the two cardinal ideas upon which most of our political life today is turning.
The human society grew by a compromise between this one’s property and that. It was a compromise with instinct which was forced upon men by the necessity of driving some other tribe out of its visible universe. It the hills and forests and streams was not your land or my land, it was because they had to be our land. Each of us would have preferred to have it my land, but that would not work. In that case, the other fellows would have destroyed us. Society, therefore, is from its beginning mitigation of ownership. Ownership in the beast and in the primitive savage was far more intense a thing than it is in the civilized world today. It is rooted more strongly in our instincts than in our reason.
Finally, we find in the teaching of that great revolutionist, Jesus of Nazareth, such an attack upon the property that had never been before. Nineteen hundred years after Jesus of Nazareth we find all the world that has come under the Christian teaching persuaded that there could be no property at least in human beings.
But the world at the close of the eighteenth century was still only in the interrogative stage in this matter. It had got nothing clear enough, much less settled enough, to act upon. One of its primary impulses was to protect property against the greed and waste of kings and the exploitation of noble adventures. Aiming at the same end by another route, there were the primitive socialists or to be more exact, communists who wanted to ‘abolish’ private property altogether. The state (a democratic state was of course understood) was to own all property. But ownership is not one thing but a multitude of different things. On the other hand are the individualists who would protect and enlarge our present freedom with what we possess.
:: In practice, one will find every gradation between the extreme individualist, who will scarcely tolerate a tax of any sort to support a government and the communist, who would deny any possessions at all. In between is the ordinary socialist of today who is what is called a collectivist, he would allow a considerable amount of private property but put such affairs as education, transport, mines, landowning; most mass productions of staple articles, and the like, into the hands of a highly organized state. Nowadays, there does seem to be a gradual convergence of reasonable men towards a scientifically studied and planned socialism. It is realized more and more clearly that the untutored man does not co-operate easily and successfully in large undertakings, and that every step towards a more complex state and every function that the state takes over from private enterprise necessitates a corresponding education advance and the organization of a proper criticism and control. Because of lack of proper education today, both the press and the political methods of the contemporary state are far too crude for any large extension of collective activities.
Marx based his theories on a belief that men’s minds are limited by their economic necessities, and that there is a necessary “conflict of interests in our present civilization between the prosperous and employing classes of people and the employed mass.
With the advance in education, necessitated by the mechanical revolution, this great employed majority would become more and more class conscious and more solid in antagonism to the class conscious) ruling minority. In some way, the class conscious workers would seize power, he prophesied, and inaugurate a new social state.
From the days of that great English economist, Adam Smith, onward there has been an increasing realization that for worldwide prosperity free and unencumbered trade about the earth is needed. It is interesting to see two lines of thought, so diverse in spirit, so different in substance as this class-war socialism of the Marxists, and the individualistic free trading philosophy of the British businessmen of the Victorian age, heading at last, in spite of these primary differences, towards the same new world-wide treatment of human affairs outside the boundaries and limitations of any existing state.
The logic of reality triumphs over the logic of the theory. We begin to perceive that from widely divergent starting points, individualist theory and socialist theory are part of a common search, a search for more spacious social and political ideas and interpretations, upon which men may contrive to work together, a search that began again in Europe and has intensified as men’s confidence in the ideas of the Holy Roman Empire and in Christeñidom decayed, and as the age of discovery broadened their horizons from the world of the Mediterranean to the whole wide world.
It is becoming plainer and plainer that mankind is becoming one community, and that it is more and more necessary that in such matters there should be a common world-wide control. For example, the whole planet is now one economic community, and the proper exploitation of its natural resources demands one comprehensive direction. The great power and range that discovery has given human effort make the present fragmentary and contentious administration of such affairs more and more wasteful and dangerous. Financial and monetary expedients also become worldwide interests to be dealt with successfully only on a worldwide basis. Infectious diseases and the increase and migrations of populations are now plainly worldwide concerns. The greater power and range of human activities has madę war disproportionately destructive and disorganizing, and, even is a clumsy way of settling issues between government and people, defective. All these things clamor for controls and authorities of a greater range and greater comprehensiveness than any government that has hitherto existed.
But the analogy with existing instructions men have thought of the Parliament of Mankind, of a World Congress of a President or Emperor of the Earth. Along that line to world unity, the resistances are too great. The drift of thought seems now to be in the direction of a number of special committees or organizations, with world-wide powers, concerned, with the waste or development of natural wealth, with the equalization of labor conditions, with world peace, with currency, population and health, and so forth.
For a score of centuries or more the spirit of the great universal religions has been struggling to maintain and extend that idea of a universal human brotherhood, but to this day the spites, anger, and distrusts of tribal, national, religious and racial friction obstruct, and successfully obstruct the broader views and more generous impulses which would make every man the working partner of all mankind. The idea of human brotherhood struggles now to possess the human soul, just as their idea of Christendom struggled to possess it. The dissemination and triumph of such ideas must be the work of a multitude of devoted and undistinguished missionaries, and no contemporary writer can guess how far such work has already gone on or what harvest it may be preparing.
Social and economic questions seem to be inseparably mingled with international ones. The solution in each case lies in an appeal to that creative spirit which can enter and inspire the human heart. The distrust, intractability and egotism of nations reflect and are reflected by the distruśt, intractability and egotism of the individual owner and worker in the face of the common good. Exaggerations of possessiveness in the individual are parallel and of a piece with the clutching greed of nations and emperors. They are products of the same instinctive tendencies, and the same ignorances and traditions. Internationalism is the socialism of nations. No one who has wrestled with these problems can feel that there yet exists a sufficiently planned out educational method and organization for any real and final solution of these riddles of human intercourse and cooperation. We are as incapable of planning a really effective peace organization of the world to-day as were men in 1820 to plan an electric railway system, but for all we know, the thing is equally practicable and may be nearly at hand.