Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Gospel According To Marx

The Fourierist adventure was the last of those gaudy Utopian dreams to flourish in America. While the philosophers, professors, poets and other literati dallied with this nonsense, a much more formidable philosophy was being kindled in Europe. The machine age created a new landscape which was enticing hordes of peasants into the cities and their slums. Long hours, grimy mills, the hazards of cumbersome machinery and the intervals of depressions and booms all created a variety of human problems for a new school of social reformers. There was no place in this new machine age for these enclosed Utopian heavens. Socialism, which had been a dreamy cult, began to have a sharper relevance to the new age.

No one with a grain of the humanitarian spirit could support the thesis that all was well in Western Europe and, for that matter, in the new mill cities of America. The new socialist reformers began to talk about revolution, which would bring the workers into the streets of European cities in a bid for political and economic power. This new demand was for a transfer of the instruments of production and distribution—the economic apparatus of society—to the hands of the State.

Karl Marx became the great apostle of this faith. He said crisply his task was not the setting up of Utopias. And, in time, with his friend Engels, he produced what would become the gospel of socialism—the Communist Manifesto. This famous document contained a number of mere humanitarian and other reforms, such as bringing wasteland into production, improving the soil, free education, an end of child labor. But the heart of the Manifesto was not in these reforms but in its revolutionary demands. These called for (1) abolition of private property; (2) abolition of inheritance; (3) confiscation of the property of immigrants and rebels; (4) state ownership and operation of transportation and communications; (5) a heavy graduated income tax; (6) a gradual extension of the transfer of the instruments of production to the hands of the State.

This was the first concrete platform of the modern socialist revolution. Harold Laski has said correctly that Marx created the first positive philosophy of socialism, which had hitherto been a mere vague and angry protest against social abuses. Here was a doctrine, simple and appealing at once to the intellectual dreamers and the dispossessed poor. The doctrine had a powerful humanitarian appeal to minds disturbed by poverty, injustices and grave social inequalities. The older customers for Utopian heavens were quickly fascinated by the new dream. Horace Greeley, who had helped finance Brook Farm and had hired Brisbane to write about Fourierism, now engaged Marx to explain the new socialism to his readers. Later, of course, the Tribune would fall into very different hands and become the organ of reactionary Republicanism and the champion of big business. But, in recent years, it would seem that the disturbed ghosts of Karl Marx and Horace Greeley, revisiting the glimpses of the moon, rise to hover like troubled shadows over the sanctum of that obfuscated journal.

Marx had summoned the workers to unite—"You have nothing to lose but your chains.” He was talking about violent revolution. But just before this, another and more rational evangelist had launched his crusade for suffrage reform. John Stuart Mill, who had flirted with the socialist movement, declared the ballot had opened the way to rational reform. And many years later Engels, before he died, conceded that great revolutions could be effected more quickly by the ballot than by violence. Marx himself is said to have come to the same conclusion before his death. Socialism became a reform movement, its purpose being to kill capitalism one limb at a time. Even Karl Kautsky observed that capitalism can grow into socialism, which became the root idea of the gradualists, as they were known on the Continent, and of the British Fabian movement. Here it is labeled properly “creeping socialism”— that is, the piece-by-piece liquidation of the system of private enterprise, replaced by socialist enterprises until the private enterprise sector of the society crashes under the weight of its socialist partner.

It is a fact, of course, that socialism made little headway in the United States. From 1912 on, Socialist Party candidates polled several hundred thousand votes for the presidency, but never enough to constitute a real threat. Eugene V. Debs polled nearly a million (919,-799) votes in 1920, and Norman Thomas polled 728,-800 in 1932, the year of the depression crisis. After that, the Great Depression, instead of advancing the fortunes of the socialists, practically reduced their party to utter futility. The Party polled only 187,000 votes for President in 1936, and 20,189 in 1952. One might assume that the Depression actually marked the Socialist Party as one of its greatest victims. But we must never ignore the tremendous importance of the fact that while the depression wrecked the Socialist Party, it breathed new life into socialism. Strange as it may seem, the socialist movement got under way in America on an amazing scale as the Socialist Party faded out of effective life.

It is not possible to overestimate the significance of this curious twist of fate—the death of the Socialist Party and the rise of socialism as a movement in America. With the practical demise of the Socialist Party, the socialist philosophy has come to dominate the political and economic development of the United States on a scale so broad and at a gait so rapid as to give to it the dimensions and pace of an authentic revolution. The explanation is obvious. The word “socialism” conjured up before the mind of the American the total load of the socialist revolution. The socialist leaders were honest in the frank exposition of their whole purpose which was to enthrone the central State as the political ruler and economic employer of everyone. The American people, despite their loyalties to one party or another, had no illusions about the politicians who ran them—corrupt, selfish, wasteful, crude, incompetent. The havoc they had wrought upon city and state governments was a favorite theme with journalists of every school. The idea of installing them not only in our political activities but in all our vast economic agencies appalled the average informed American disgusted with the incompetence and rascality of the politicians. They had no taste for handing over to them all the great instruments of production and distribution of wealth.

A people who were deeply moved by the slogan “Throw the rascals out” in our city and state and federal governments, exhibited no hospitality for the suggestion that the rascals be invited into all the industrial and economic installations of the nation. Yet, today in America, with the demise of the Socialist Party, the socialist philosophy has come to dominate the society and government of the United States on a scale so broad as to become the foremost challenge to our whole philosophy of organized life and our liberties as well. Of course the professional politicians remain in power, corruptly armed as never before. The Socialist Party has practically disappeared, but the professional politician, interested in power, has become suddenly enthralled with the weapons put into his hands—the vast flood of government taxes and borrowed funds to be spent on jobs for the faithful. Thus this old-fashioned politician, with these socialist weapons in his artillery, is enabled to purchase the support of businessmen as well as workers, the growing legions of revolutionary teachers, writers and publishers and, of course, the numerous minority groups dedicated to the interests of various pet nations and the several types of one-worldism. And so while the old-fashioned socialist disappears, this new brand of socialism, under the false label of Social Planning, is taken over by the professional politicians of both parties.

In what has gone before, I have sought to clarify a group of factors and principles which are essential to a clear understanding of our present difficulties. I have set it down as a fact that the American Republic, after nearly a century and a half of its history, has been subjected to a profound and revolutionary change.

In expounding this thesis, I have attempted to make a clear picture of that thing we call the State—which is the corporate soul of the population in an actual political structure. The State uses a thing called government as the instrument of order and control. Government is an apparatus of power—power to make the rules and to enforce them. Government itself, therefore, throughout history has been a problem of the first order, for it is the institution which possesses the corporate authority to rule its citizens wisely and justly and freely or to exploit and oppress them. This danger arises from a thing called the Administration—the organized collection of human beings who at any given time has in its power the apparatus of government. The great problem of civilized man has been to erect a government over a society, in the hands of an Administration he can control—a government which will have the power to protect the citizens but without the power to exploit or oppress them.

The solution of this problem, we have seen, was attempted throughout history with varying forms of government, but never with any real or lasting success. The problem was settled in a very real sense only in America. And this was done, as we know, by breaking up the apparatus of government into a number of separate machines or instruments of power. To describe it as it was up to 1932, there were 48 separate state governments—48 small republics—absolutely independent and getting their sovereign power from a charter prepared by themselves. They were supreme in their own dominions. There was an overall republic, with highly limited power—the federal republic—which could do nothing save what the states specifically authorized in the Constitution. The vast power of sovereign authority over the lives of men was deposited in no one central government. No one group of administrators had in its hand anything more than a fraction of the sovereign authority of the republic. The purpose of this, as I have stated several times here, was to give the people all the government a free society required, but so disposed that no one powerful central administration could gather all powers into its hands and use them to oppress the people.

What is more, the greatest care was taken that no alteration in this great institution could be made, no powers taken from or given to either the states or the central government without a formal change in the great charter itself—the Constitution. And this continued to be the form of the American government until the year 1937, when Mr. Roosevelt began his second term. In the years since that time, this republic has been dismantled from top to bottom and a wholly new kind of government—a government of usurped powers—has been set over us. Finally, it was humanly impossible for any administration to set up a socialist government in the United States because of the Constitution. A socialist government could be established only by formally amending the Constitution and conferring vast powers upon a central government which it did not possess under the Constitution, and by liquidating those sovereign powers of the states.

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Decline of the American Republic

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