Pictures and Illustrations.
Distributive Co-operation. A Lecture.
That slaves your ordinance, that will not see
Because he doth not feel, feel your power quickly;
And each man have enough."
There are no words oftener quoted by Americans, nor are there any words quoted with a greater or a juster sentiment of pride, than these words from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Yet if it be a self-evident truth that all men have an unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is also a self-evident truth that all men have an unalienable right to be surrounded by those conditions of material comfort which can alone make a full and healthy life possible, liberty a reality, and happiness an attainable thing. It is, like the witches in Macbeth, to "palter with men in a double sense" — it is to
And break it to their hope" —
to tell men that they have a right to life, liberty and happiness, and then to maintain in triumphant action in society certain industrial and economic policies that make life, for the majority of those who labor with their hands, a long, lingering death of everything that gives to life its supremest value. I do not know what liberty the majority of our laborers have, except the liberty of balloting, now and then, for those candidates for office, whom the machine politicians have been previously good enough to nominate; the liberty of working through the majority of the hours God Almighty sends; and the further liberty of eating and sleeping through the odd hours that are left to them, that they may get sufficient physical energy into them to enable them to make every tomorrow of their life on earth a dull and dreary repetition of their every to-day, I do not know what real happiness is possible to them except that which may sometimes visit them in their dreams. The sum total of their existence is made up of three items, working, eating, sleeping; and if they add drinking they are hardly to be blamed. But
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure, He that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unue'd."
Without danger of being charged with overmuch of national egotism, an American may well believe that, in these United States, man has attained his present best, — that here humanity is presented, on the whole, in the best and most favorable light, in which, in any part of the world, it is possible to view it. And yet, even here, there is more than enough to appal us in the present, and to fill us with tears for the future. I look around on the industrial life of this nation, — I look on the most socially elevated of the laboring class, on him whose wages are highest, and whose method of spending them is the thriftiest, and I dare not consider that even he occupies a social position beyond which the great mass of men shall never be enabled to pass. But, when I know that millions of our laboring population, — of those who throng the busy hives of industry which has made this nation so wealthy and so great, — are overworked and under-fed, ill-educated and ill-paid, when I know that balefully repressive circumstance damns them to feel stirring within them but poor aspirations and but narrow desires, that their mental powers are stagnant and their artistic sense dead, I can regard as nothing less than atrocious the policy that would perpetuate amongst us a system that is responsible for the existence of such misery.
The problem facing modern society, and demanding a speedy solution, is just here: "How can we bring about an equitable distribution of the wealth produced among those who produce it?" The present system gives the lion's share of wealth not to the producer, but to the non-producer. An arrangement which is manifestly unfair. If the lion's share of wealth belongs to anybody it certainly belongs to the labor that produces it. Capital is, in itself, non-productive. It is a dead, inert thing until labor comes along and touches it to utilize it. In so far as capital is used in industrial enterprises capital has its legitimate claims. The nature of those claims is determined by the state of the money market. When the money market is tight the rate of interest is high. When that state of things is reversed the rate of interest is low. When the capitalist has received that rate of interest, for the use of his capital, to which the condition of the money market entities him, he has no further right, even to the fraction of a cent, to any of the profits made by labor. All the rest belongs to the laborer, and to the laborer alone. It belongs to the men who
3have contributed their brains and muscle to the task of making the industrial enterprise successful. In the natural order of things capital is the servant of labor, not, as our unnatural and unjust system makes it, the master of labor. Capital is the child of labor. There never would have been a particle of capital in the world, if labor had not previously existed and determined to create it. Labor, like a commanding God, said, "Let there be capital!" and there was capital. It is a monstrously wicked perversion of the divine order of things that capital, in any corner of the earth, should have the power of playing the tyrant over the meanest laborer endowed by God with the breath of life! It is a most pitiful thing to think of, that American labor, "with bated breath, and whispering humbleness," should be compelled to plead to capital, not for the refinements of life, not for books and leisure to read them, that man's divine intellectuality might be ministered unto, not for objects of art that man's home might become refined, but for just as much reward for its work as will enable it to buy grease to keep its mere animal machine going; and that, in a country made rich by nature's prodigal hand beyond the imagination of man to conceive, it should so often be doomed to plead in vain!
John Stuart Mill, speaking of the production and accumulation of wealth, says: "In themselves, they are of little importance, so long as either the increase of the population, or anything else, prevents the mass of the people from reaping any part of the benefits of them. * * It is only in the backward countries of the world that increased production is still an important object; in those most advanced what is economically needed is a better distribution. * * Levelling institutions, whether of a just or unjust kind, cannot alone accomplish it; they may lower the heights of society, but they cannot, of themselves, permanently raise the depths." In these notable words the problem now confronting society is clearly indicated. The question, "How to amass wealth?" has, in civilized countries, been sufficiently answered. We know quite well enough how to do it. Modern society creates more wealth than it can equitably distribute, or there would not exist so much grinding, biting, bitter poverty, in the very shadow, of such mountainous fortunes. The wealth a man succeeds in getting from society ought to be the exact measure of the honest service he gives to society. What service have the Vanderbilts, the Stewarts, and the Jay Goulds done for Society that they should deserve to be so abnormally wealthy? Say that the very poor deserve their poverty, can we say that the very rich deserve their wealth? A vulgar tramp, who steals a dollar that he may treat himself to a series of drinks, finds his reward in the penitentiary. A commercial gambler, who gets up "a corner" on pork, making a fortune for himself at one bold stroke, at the cost of impoverishing still more a million households that were sufficiently poor before, presents himself before society with honor unflawed and honesty untainted; and although the Christian Savior said, "It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," and although the Christian Apostle said, "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you," there is no Christian priest to curse that cruel thief, and there is no Christian Church to refuse him the solace of her communion.
We are adepts at creating wealth. That question need not trouble us. But here is the other question, infinitely more important, — "How are we equitably to distribute the wealth we have created, and continue to create?" America is a good producer of wealth, but a bad destributor. Even when times are not quite down to "hard pan" men are to be numbered by the thousand who labor from morning until night only that they may procure the means of laboring in like manner on the morrow, — their rewards are so poor, their enjoyments so narrow, their aspirations so limited. The evils which afflict the society of the old world are fast being reproduced, and in aggravated form, in this new world of America. In less than one hundred years there will be an American land question, as difficult of settlement, and of wise adjustment, as the English or Irish land question of to-day. Great, gigantic, irresponsible monopolies are gradually absorbing American industries. For the means of transit from city to city, for the power of conveying agricultural produce and manufactured commodities from point to point, we are at the mercy of a few wealthy corporations. For the opportunity of using Heaven's own electricity in the conveyance of messages of business or of affection, fifty millions of free Americans are utterly at the mercy of one wealthy corporation. Wealth is fast leaving the hands of the many and swiftly concentrating itself in the hands of the few. Forty years ago eighty per cent of the wealth of America was owned by the producing classes: to-day only about thirty-six per cent is owned by those classes. Let this process go on unchecked for another years, and the non-producing classes will own everything, and the producing classes nothing. Thus America is fast reaching
4that terrible point at which the few who possess the wealth will be confronted by the many who possess nothing at all, save a sense of wrong, and a determination that that wrong shall be avenged. The maintenance of free political institutions will then be impossible, for there never has been, and there never can be any security in any nation, except through the despotism of the sword, when the few are rich and the many poor!
From the fact that we have certain persons, few in number, possessing surperfluous wealth, — wealth that is corrupting and debasing because so much in excess of legitimate human needs, — and from the other fact that we have certain other persons, many in number, who possess no surperfluous wealth at all, — not enough, indeed, to ensure for them the full satisfaction of the very commonest human needs; from these two facts I deduce this conclusion, that we have not yet succeeded in achieving that condition of economic well being known as a fair distribution amongst the wealth creators of the wealth created. This other conclusion follows — that the relationships which are at present allowed to obtain between the producers of the wealth and the possesors thereof, — between the employer and the employed, the buyer and the seller, the rich and the poor, are economically unsound.
I dismiss as utterly heathenish the notion that God intended that the present relationships which obtain between the rich and the poor should be permanent in this world. That notion is no less heathenish than it would have been heathenish five hundred years ago, in England, to have argued that God intended English serfdom to be a permanent institution; or that it would have been heathenish a few years ago, in America, to have argued that God intended African slavery to be a permanent institution in these United States. I do not believe in the inevitability of any human misery; nor in the unimprovability of any human stupidity; nor in the impossibility of ever enlightening the densest human ignorance. I do not believe that any of the evils under which men now groan are grim necessities of this mortal life, and that it is our duty to bear with them in this world in the hope of getting rid of them when we reach another. I am not content to wait until that other world be reached. I want a little of my Heaven here and now; and I believe that only those who do realize something of Heaven here and now, for themselves and others, will find themselves fit to enter any Heaven that may exist beyond the grave. To suppose that this earth is incapable of supporting the human beings who lead toiling lives upon it, — to suppose it to be of absolute necessity that womanhood should wither, that manhood should shrivel, and that childhood should be dwarfed, under the cold touch of a ghastly poverty, — to suppose this is wickedly to arraign the justice of Almighty God and to accuse Him of gross venality! But, then, if poverty, so prolific everywhere of misery, be not a thing of God's ordaining; if God has not thundered out from some Sinai to a portion of His children the awful doom "Ye shall be poor, and accursed be all who would try to make you otherwise!" it follows that poverty is a thing which man himself, in his wickedness and foolishness, in his selfishness and stupidity, has created; and to tolerate its existence for one moment, — to uphold for one moment any policy that tends to make its existence possible, is to sin against the majesty of God because it is to do violence to the happiness of man!
If I am told — as many preachers are in the habit of telling us — that the existence of poverty is a necessity, — that because God ordained it, it must be, — well, then, before believing what I am thus told, and before coming, as in that case I must come, to give God up utterly as a stupendous failure and an infinite fraud, I must look on the universe around me a little. I look around, and I see evidence everywhere of an infinitely prodigal wealth. If I put a grain into the ground in return for the one grain I sacrifice I get a hundred grains back again. If I want a harvest I have only to tickle the face of mother earth with a spade, and, as Douglas Jerrold said, "she laughs with a harvest for me." I fill my platter and get food for my body, but that is not all I get. The grain in growing assumes no shape, goes through no changes, puts on no smile beneath the kisses of the sumbeams, that is not beautiful, and that does not inspire some poet to sing a song for me! Suppose I am an artist, and that I want, by means of pencil or of chisel, to mimic the beauty of the world of nature, and of the world of man; well, the kindly earth gives me bright colors for my pencil, and furnishes me with marble to leap into the mimicry of beautiful life at my creative touch! Life might have been made possible — contented, fat, full life — without poetry or song, painted pictures or sculptured marble. Has God given to humanity the power to make its life musical with song, and beautiful with all beauteous shapes; has He ministered so completly to intellect, to imagination and to soul, and yet ministered in so niggard a fashion to humanity's mere animal wants as to make it impossible for the sons of men to keep their bodies healthily going? I don't believe it.
I am no disciple of Malthus. Malthus laid down the doctrine that population tended to increase faster than the means of subsistence, and that, consequently, checks on the increase of population were necessary things in the economy of the world. Wars, pestilences, famines came now and again to sweep a few millions of the poor evils, for whom earth had no room, out of existence. I do not believe in the possibility of over population. There is an infinite fruitfulness in old mother earth, and she always liberally responds to the wise and intelligent demands humanity makes upon her. It is true that in despotic countries, — in countries where the millions are held in degrading and hopeless poverty, that the few may riot and revel in unbounded wealth, — population does outgrow the means of subsistence, because in those countries the conditions of economic well being do not obtain. Until the war, the famine, or the pestilence comes to do its cruel work, population goes on increasing without check; while the means of subsistence are in constant check. Because the best is not made of anything the worst always comes to pass. It is illogical to evolve a universal rule out of these exceptional, because barbaric, cases. There are no bounds to the productive force existing in man himself. The productive force existing in man has its type and symbol in the productive force existing in nature. Let man bring his ever greatening thought to the task of how to make mother earth more and more fruitful, and mother earth will respond with ever greatening harvests. There is no desert on this earth which may not be made to blossom, and which one way will not be made to blossom, as the rose. Wave the magic wand of labor over the barenest soil, and that soil will become fruitful. Let her children increase and multiply as they will, mother earth will still present to them a bounteous breast on which they may all hang, and, hanging, feed. Ireland has been reduced to a state of chronic beggardom, she has become, through bad and brutal legislation, the mendicant of the nations; and yet there's land enough in Ireland to feed all the Irishmen living on the earth if the people of Ireland had only got the land in their possession and would then till it well and wisely. There's land enough in England to feed England's teeming millions, if England had no laws of entail and primogeniture, no accursed game laws, that make numberless acres, that would otherwise be fruitful, barren for food producing purposes. The valley of the Mississippi alone is capable of producing grain enough to feed every man woman and child, every beast of burden, every household dog and cat, every rat of the sewers, every lean starveling church mouse, in all this world!
We have seen to what we are tending, — that we are rapidly tending to a state of things which will make the maintenance of our free institutions impossible. The rich are decreasing in numbers and daily growing richer, the poor are increasing in numbers and daily growing poorer. This process is constantly going on. It needs no prophet to tell us what the end of this process must be, if it cannot be arrested. How to arrest it? That's the great question. The one great pressing need of society is an equitable destribution of the wealth produced amongst those who produce it. We believe that co-operation is the only thing which supplies the true principle, the application of which to society, will bring about the desired result, But let us, for a moment or two, contrast the co-operative plan, with other plans which have not wanted earnest advocates, and which claim to be able to bring about that better destribution of wealth society so sorely needs. There is 1st, the benevolent scheme; 2d, the scheme of trades' unions; and 3d, the scheme of state socialism.
Many good people, touched to the quick at the sight of the grevious inequality of condition society presents, have sought to mitigate the evils of poverty by inciting the rich to a greater excercise of the virtue of charity. This remedy for poverty is much favored by the pulpits. But really this is no remedy at all. There is too much charity in the world of that sort, instead of being too little. It is an utterly noxious influence. It is customary for people to consider the number and magnitude of the charitable institutions a city possesses as a source of pride. It ought, on the contrary, to be a matter of humiliation. For what is the obvious deduction from the fact that side by side with an unprecedented means of relieving want, you always find an unprecedented amount of want needing relief? The obvious deduction is that the charitable system is a dead failure. Poverty, in no spot of this earth, ever grew less by means of abundant alms-giving. Co-operation enables men to help themselves, and it thus tends to bring about a state of things in which alms-giving becomes an utterly superfluous virtue. Mere charity — giving things away — always increases the evil it feebly tries to remove. Just in proportion as alms-giving exists in any nation do beggars swarm there, and does beggary entail no disgrace. The benefit conferred destroys itself by producing a greater want. To find a remedy for an evil, instead of enabling the
6individuals who suffer from the evil to deal with it themselves, always brings about a great augmentation of the mischief. Make subsistence possible at the hands of charity, and men will become so corrupted by beggary, that they will prefer living on charity to living on work. The more you feed beggars the more the hungry beggars will throng around you clamoring to be fed. Nothing for nothing! That is the divine plan of benevolent action toward us all. We get nothing absolutely free. The sunshine would be a curse — a disease would ride into our homes on its every ray — without labor. The strength of this arm would shrivel into impotence without labor. The light of intellect would go out in a gathering idiotic gloom without labor. The hands of labor — of free, hearty, cheery, labor — can clutch hold of this solid seeming earth, clothe its dry deserts with fair flowers, and enrich its barren hills with bread bearing sheaves.
I almost invariably notice that if anything remarkably foolish is ever said in this world, it is said either by a parson or a priest. There was a meeting held in Boston some few weeks ago in support of that city's Associated Charities. At that meeting a speech was made by the Roman Catholic Vicar-General Byrne. Amongst other foolish things, the reverend gentleman said: — "Poverty, properly speaking, is in itself no evil; nay, voluntary poverty is a virtue in the Christian code of morals, or rather one of the perfections of the Christian life, which, being a matter of counsel, and not of percept, few are called upon to attain to in exterior practice. Nevertheless the words of our Lord remain true for all, — ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ Poverty, therefore, has its uses. Every industrious hive supports some drones. Nor are the drones themselves entirely useless. Natural history teaches us that they discharge a most important function in the commonwealth of busy bees." If that be so the "busy bees" are bigger fools than I had imagined them as being. But the bees always turn the drones out of the hives, if they do not kill them outright, when the drones have ceased to be useful. Shakespeare says —
Delivers o'er to executors pale
The lazy yawning drone."
Co-operation does not propose to deliver over the drones of society to execution; it only proposes to turn them out of the industrial hive, and leave them to shift for themselves, now that they have ceased to be useful. But the reverend gentleman proceeds: "The spirit of poverty is one of the elements of true Christian perfection. ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go sell all thou hast, and give to the poor, and then come follow me.’ If the rich man could find no poor in regard to whom he could exercise the virtue of charity by way of alms-giving, I fear it would be utterly impossible for him to enter heaven. Remember, even as it is, he enters as a camel through the eye of a needle. Truly, charity for the rich man is the loophole, as it were, through which, with great difficulty, he climbs into heaven, the narrow way that leadeth to eternal life." Such teaching is unutterably selfish, cowardly, mean, and cruel. According to the doctrine of this reverend gentleman the poor must be kept poor, — must be hopelessly doomed to feel but the narrow desires and feeble aspirations that always accompany poverty, — must be surrounded by all those overpowering temptations to be mean and vicious, and criminal, which inevitably beset poverty, — in order that a few selfish rich men may selfishly win heaven, by giving away that which it is no sacrifice to part with! It is no profanity to say that if God be anything at all, He must be an infinitely perfect gentleman, and no gentleman, if he can prevent it, will ever permit one man to reap a benefit at the fearful cost of degrading another man. That poverty does degrade all who feel its touch, is a fact as well established as that of gravitation. It is bad enough to teach the poor that they ought to be content with their poverty; it is infinitely worse to tell them that they must not only be damned to poverty, but damned to the degradation of being beggars and paupers, that a few rich people may have a chance of being saved!
We dismiss, then, this benevolent scheme, as a thing not only utterly inadequate in meeting the necessities of the case, but as a thing which, the more it is put into action, aggravates those necessities, and makes them the harder to deal with.
Hardly anything better can be said of those benevolent schemes which the operatives, independent of any rich man's charity or patronage, themselves inaugurate, and by which they feebly try to provide for the advent of a rainy day. These are the benevolent clubs, the sick societies, the funeral societies, the Forester's Courts, and the like. All these societies have one common defect, — they never put any money into the poor man's pocket until they have previously taken some money out of it. And unless a member of those societies has the exceptional good luck to be sick very often, and to die very early, he pays into the funds of the society more than he succeeds in getting back. Co-operation, on the contrary, does not take a cent from anybody's pocket, — it
7puts dollars into the pocket instead of taking a cent out of it.
There is the Trades Union Scheme, This scheme has accomplished much. It is rightful to contemplate what the condition of the laborers would at this moment have been if they had not learned the art of combining for the purpose of projecting their interests against the encroachments of capital. But this is all that trades unionism does, or pretends to. It places one laborer in the most favorable condition for driving the wage bargain with the capitalist. It does not bridge over the gulf separating the two hostile parties. It leaves them at daggers drawn just as they were before. The industrial world is still divided off into two camps — the one camp composed of capitalists combined to resist the demands of labor; the other camp composed of laborers combined to resist the demands of capital. At any moment by one camp refusing to accede to the demands of the other camp, we may be plunged into the midst of an industrial conflict as disastrous to the interests of society as a civil war would be. We need a scheme which shall end this antagonism; we need a scheme which, instead of leaving capital to be represented by one class of persons, and labor to be represented by another class of persons, shall cause these two things, capital and labor, to be represented by one and the same class of persons. Co-operation, in its higher phase of productive co-operation, does this. It makes the laborer his own employer; it thus puts an end to the ruinous dispute between the employer and the employed, by leaving nobody to be employed. It makes every man his own employer.
But, while dismissing trades unionism as a thing utterly inadequate in solving the great industrial problem of this time, we have yet a word or two to say in its favor. Trades' unionism has been and is most useful in bearing testimony to the method which must be adopted if we would address ourselves to the task of lessening the gulf between wealth and poverty, the existence of which is the peculiar opprobrium of our civilization. The one clear and definite object which trades unionists have set before themselves is this: To surround labor with the possibilities of social advance. They have demanded higher wages, and most righteously demanded shorter hours of labor, that this might be done. They have been very clearly that the great mass of men must always live by the labor of their hands; and that it is as laborers and not as something else, that working men must be elevated and improved. Preachers who have been most in the habit of "lecturing" the working men from their pulpits, have been the slowest to see this great truth. The workingman, despite his inevitable defects, for the broadness and generosity of his views upon social duty, puts utterly to shame his would be improvers. He does not cowardly shirk the duty before him. He bends to daily toil, and cheerfully accepts it as his life's lot. All the movements he sets on foot are designed to protect his interests as a workman. We owe him a debt of gratitude for that very fact. Listen to the pulpiteers who undertake to "improve" him; read through the dreary, wishy-washy literature which religious and philanthropic societies publish for his especial behoof — the amount of mean folly his supposed "betters," and "spiritual pastors and masters" encourage him to perpetrate is otherwise inconceivable. He is constantly reminded of "self-made" men; he is implored to raise himself above his class, he is adjured to live a hard, screwing, cheese-pairing, candle-end-saving, flint-skinning, tobacco-renouncing, lager-beer eschewing sort of life, that he may taste the supreme felicity of becoming an employer of labor! Just as though Heaven was only open to capitalists, and the one great felicity of the angels of God consisted in paying somebody weekly wages! The late George Eliot did a noble service for humanity in all that she wrote, but she never did a nobler service than when she delineated her model workingman, Felix Holt, and made him say: "If there is anything our people want convincing of, it is that there is dignity and happiness for a man other than changing his station. That's one of the beliefs I choose to consecrate my life to…. Why should I want to get into the middle class because I have some learning? The most of the middle class are as ignorant as the working people about everything that does not belong to their own Brummagem life. That's how the workingmen are kept to their own foolish devices, and keep worsening themselves. The best heads among them forsake their born comrades, and go in for a house with a high door step and a brass knocker!" The workingman, by the mass of his pulpit and platform instructors, is incited to the mean ambition of forsaking his own class. He is told that he may become a Stewart, a Vanderbilt or a Jay Gould. The noblest utterance drummed into his weary ears is just this: "Hear, O working-man! The Lord thy God is named GETTING ON; and thou shalt love GETTING ON with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind! This is the first commandment, and the second is like namely this: Thou shalt not love thy neighbor as thyself; for thou shalt lift thyself above the struggling
8mass of humanity about thee, thou shalt make them minister to thy grandeur, and thou shalt be careless of what becomes of thy fellows, so that thou may'st get a high door-step and a brass knocker."
Professor Beesley has well said that to tell the workman his only chance of social elevation is for him to cease being a workman, and become a capitalist is as though Sir Humphrey Davy, "instead of inventing the safety lamp had persuaded a miner here and there to take to some occupation in the upper air." The one miner; here and there, would have been saved from peril, but what of the thousands working in darkness and in danger below? If we grant that the workman who does succeed by dint of energy and pluck, in becoming a golden-winged capitalist, is morally improved thereby, are not the great body of the workmen left just the same as before? But this would be granting too much, for it is a notorious fact that the capitalists who have themselves risen from the ranks of labor, are, as a rule, the keenest and hardest bargain-drivers in all the labor market. They know what it is to sweat for pennies, and they demand their full penny's worth of sweat for the penny they offer. In the old days of American slavery the negroes themselves furnished the hardest and cruelest plantation overseers. Douglas Jerrold said: "A tyrant is only a slave turned inside out. We have reason for being devoutly thankful that the workman turns a deaf ear to the mean and selfish advice that is so often tendered to him. He knows very well that if you succeed in elevating individuals you have still before you the miserable mass, whose drudgery has not become the less irksome, whose hopes of social amelioration have not become one whit brighter. The workman does not overlook the interests of society. Trades unionism teaches him to say: ‘Suppose one in a thousand of us may, by dint of energy and pluck, become a capitalist? What then? Does that help the nine hundred and ninety-nine who yet remain, and who must remain workmen? Does it solve the problem how to help them? How to fill their homes with the beneficent beauties and bounties with which the universe is stored? Let all become capitalists who can, and we have still the mass — the ill-fed, the ill-paid, ill-instructed, righteously discontented mass — as great a reproach to us, and as frightful a shame to us, as ever. If we do ascend the shining ladder of social regeneration, we will ascend it in company with our brethren, or we will remain where we are!’"
Then we have the scheme of STATE SOCIALISM, very confidently put forward as a means of solving the great industrial problem confronting us. Hardly is anything more common than to confound co-operation with socialism. Socialism happens to be a very malodorous word just now, and people who are too lazy to think for themselves, or too insincere to cultivate opinions of their own about anything, are very fond of pelting things about which they care to know nothing with a malodorous word. When they have called co-operation socialism they think they have settled everything, and left nothing more to be said, There is nothing more distinctly and emphatically unlike socialism, or communism, than co-operation. At the same time I have no stones to throw at the socialists. Some of the most revered names in literature and philanthropy have been those of men who have advocated some form of socialism — as Plato, Sir Thomas More, Robert Owen and Father Rapp. The Socialists of to-day are in the main, industrious, honest, conscientious, thoughtful, sincere men, who have the merit of knowing exactly what they mean, and the further merit of speaking it out with clearness and precision. They are not the whiskey soddened, long-haired, unwashed, needy and seedy adventurers they are so often described as being, — fellows who possess nothing themselves, who care to earn nothing themselves, and who want to put a greedy hand on the property of other people. They are not afraid of education; for, in all the socialistic platforms I have seen, universal and compulsory education is made a prominent plank. At the same time, I think, they are aiming at the impossible; and that if they could succeed in bringing about the impossible things they are aiming at, — the abolition of private property, and the bringing of all the industrial enterprises of a nation under the direct, absolute, and paternal control of the government, — they should inflict on humanity one of the greatest calamities humanity has yet had to face. Socialism does nothing for the poor. It makes no attempt to ameliorate their present condition. Socialists meet together, and fret, and fuss, and fume — they pass resolution after resolution in which every thing and everybody are sent to the "demnition bow-wows," — and, when they have done, the condition of the poor is just as degraded and just as hopeless as ever it was before. They regard society as a rotten old fabric, past all mending, and they will do nothing to improve it, but clamor for it to be knocked down, the foundation to be dug up, carted away somewhere, in order that an entirely new foundation may be laid, and an entirely new fabric built thereon. They forget, it seems to me, that
9the fabric of society is not to be got rid of in that summary fashion. Society is not a thing that can be manufactured, or made. It is a growth. Nothing of the new is ever useful unless it can by grafted on; and so made to grow out of, something of the old. Co-operation is much more modest than all this. It does not want to destroy anything or upset anything. It is content to graft its new principle of action on the old social fabric, and it believes that a renovation and reformation will gradually and inevitably follow. It takes men just as they are, and it begins at once to make them better off. Socialism would destroy the principle of private property: Co-operation would strengthen that principle by making every co-operator a property owner, and thus, because a possessor of property himself, a respecter of the property held by others. Socialism means stifle help, and state help means state control, so that the material prosperity Socialism tries to bring about must be purchased at the coat of individual freedom — a bad bargain for any people to strike with any government. Co-operation means self-help, and self-help means self control, so that that the material prosperity co-operation makes possible enhances and intensifies the grand principle of individual freedom. Socialism weakens, and hardly makes any appeal to, the important motive of self interest; for if the result of a man's energy, zeal, skill and industry is a thing belonging not to himself, but to the whole community of which he is a member, he will not be so energetic, zealous, skillful and industrious as though he were working for himself. Co-operation strengthens, and makes pointed appeal to, this most important motive; for it ensures that each laborer shall receive for himself the due reward for the best and most conscientious work he is capable of performing. In the words of George Jacob Holyoake — Socialism makes the state "the public pedagogue, the nation a great charity school, in, which the pursuits and rations are all to be regulated, and the ears of the refractory boxed by authority." Co-operation "is the organization of self-help, in which the industrious do every thing and the state nothing; in which the people themselves devise that state of things in which it shall be impossible for honest men to be idle or ignorant, depraved or poor; in which liberty shall be tutelage and self-help supercede patronage and political paternalism."
Co-operation has developed itself in England, France, Germany and America mainly under three aspects. These are Distributive Co-operation; Productive Co-operation; and Federative Co-operation.
I must confine myself in what I have yet to say to distributive co-operation. If you desire that I should do so, I can take up the other branches of the subject another time.
Distributive co-operation means simply co-operation for purchase and consumption.
The most successful effort the world has yet seen of distributive co-operation is that of the society known to fame as the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers. That society has quite a splendid history. In 1843 twenty-eight poor weavers of Rochdale, grown utterly weary of political agitation as a means of improving their social condition, and feeling almost hopeless of ever being able to achieve anything, met together for the purpose of very seriously considering what practical thing they could attempt in the way of permanently bettering their material circumstances. In addition to being the birth-place of the co-operative movement, Rochdale is distinguished as the birth-place and residence of John Brght and as having been represented in the British Parliament, by that celebrated free trader, warm friend to America, and ardent admirer of American institutions — Richard Cobden. Rochdale is in the county of Lancashire and the Lancashire people, while they have the reputation of being somewhat rough, rude, and ill-mannered, have also the reputation of being, by long odds, the keenest, shrewdest, and most wide awake folks in England. The twenty-eight poor weavers were keen, shrewd, and wide awake. They were hard-headed, level-headed, and long-headed fellows. They more than suspected that they were paying, out of their poor earnings, rather higher prices for adulterated tea and sugar, than in strict commercial justice they ought to pay. They deliberated long and anxiously; and the result of their deliberation was a determination to establish a common fund so that they might be able to purchase, of wholesale dealers at wholesale prices, tea, sugar coffee, soap, flour, and other household commodities. They were miserably poor, and the utmost amount they felt able to contribute weekly towards the creation of the proposed common fund was the modest sum of two-pence each person. It was not without a struggle — their poverty pinched them so sorely — that this weekly two-pence was eventually raised to a weekly three-pence. Twenty-eight weekly threepences would take nearly twelve months in mounting slowly up to twenty pounds. When the common fund amounted to that sum twenty pounds — they commenced their business operations. They purchased at wholesale prices, groceries from the neighboring city of Manchester; hired a little
10room for their reception: and commenced to sell their store of goods to themselves, each one paying, for the articles he purchased, the price current in the stores of the neighborhood. They kept their little store open two nights in each week, and two of their number, turn and turn about, officiated as salesmen, working cheerfully for the honor and good of the concern without any reward or salary. They were brave men, these two, for they had to stand the jeers and laughter of every passer by. When their first stock of goods was sold out, the proceeds of the sales were divided rateably amongst the twenty-eight, when it was discovered that they were in possession of a very handsome profit. The process was repeated again and again; and of course the oftener it was repeated the bigger their profits grew. The twenty-eight had become capitalists. The fact got noised abroad. People who had laughed and jeered began to think they had made a mistake — that they, and not the twenty-eight, were the fools deserving to be jeered and laughed at. Other weavers were attracted to the scheme; for the twenty-eight desired to keep nothing to themselves. The more people there were who joined the scheme, the greater was the amount of business done; the more the original capital increased; the larger became the profits that were to be rateably divided. In three years to their original grocery trade, they added a linen and woollen drapery business; to this again, in other three years, they added a butcher's shop and slaughter house; to these again, in less than other three years, they added shoe-making, Lancashire clog-making, and tailoring. In 1856, when their society was but twelve years old, they erected steam flour mills, and then, in addition to being their own grocers, dry goods merchants, butchers, shoemakers, clog-makers, tailors and hatters, they became their own millers and bakers!
Their weekly sales, when the society started in 1844, were as follows:
Twelve years later, in 1856, their weekly sales of these four commodities were as follows:
In 1845 the assets of the society, which had then been in existence nearly two years, amounted to a little under one thousand dollars. At the present moment the assets of the society are valued at nearly TWO MILLIONS OF DOLLARS! The original little mean room the twenty-eight used as a store for their goods has grown into a great central store, a commanding pile of buildings which it takes one an hour to walk through. This central store contains a vast library presided over by a permanent librarian. Thousands of dollars have to be expended whenever the increase of books makes the issue of a new library catalogue necessary. There are at the present time more than twelve hundred societies in England for promoting distributive co-operation. They do an aggregate trade of more than one hundred million dollars annually; and they realize an annual profit of more than ten million dollars for their members. Thus, as the Lord Bishop of Durham said at the last co-operative Congress, "co-operation has passed out of the land, of dreams, and been translated into the region of solid fact." Although co-operation has not yet achieved in America such wide spread, nor such brilliant success, as it has achieved in Europe, still quite enough has been done here, in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, amply sufficient to prove that co-operation is a plant of hardy growth that will boar transplanting, and that it is capable of yet doing for the people of America all that it has done for the people of the old world. Unprincipled firms in America have traded, according to the old competitive plan, under the co-operative name; and, when these firms have come to grief, people who do not care to be accurate — and I am afraid these are a majority of mankind — have called it a failure of co-operation.
It is intended to start here in Chicago a distributive co-operative society, and to conduct it on the same plan precisely as that adopted by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers. One thousand shareholders are required at twenty-five dollars each. Anybody may become a shareholder by paying fifty cents entrance fee, ten per cent on the amount of his share on the organization of the society, and one dollar per month thereafter until fully paid, — that is the price of two drinks and a half per week. The member has only to make his purchases at the store, and he will find himself a capitalist before he knows it. If he only expends five dollars a week he will turn his original capital over twelve times in the course of a year; and his capital constantly goes on increasing, to be constantly and with more and more profit, turned over. It is a scheme for saving money without putting anybody to the trouble of doing it.
The new principle which distributive co-operation introduces into business is just his — that the profits made by sales shall be possessed by those who make the
11purchases. The profits made in business are really made by the people who buy, for if there was nobody to buy there never could be made any profits at all. The old competitive system gives the profits to the seller; the new co-operative system gives the profits to the man who creates them — the buyer. Co-operation makes every man his own buyer and his own seller. He buys of himself, and he sells to himself. The more he eats, and the more clothes he wears out, the richer he gets.
It is very easy to understand why distributive co-operation should be so successful. There is nothing mysterious — nothing miraculous in it. The co-operative system has an immense advantage over the competitive system. When a co-operative store is opened, custom is at once created for it. Its own members are its customers. It has to expend nothing in advertising. It needs no expensive store fitting, no plate glass nor gilding, no bands of music parading the streets, with which to attract attention. Somebody has to pay for all these things, and, of course, that unfortunate somebody is the purchaser. Co-operation does not need to pay an abnormally high rent that it may be located on a corner lot. Landlordism is getting to be an awful tyrant in the cities of America. I have heard of cases of the rent of corner stores having been made to take, this last May, one jump from six to ten thousand dollars a year. Somebody has to pay these abnormally high rents, and, of course, that unfortunate somebody is again the purchaser. In fact landlordism and competition are the upper and nether millstones between which both buyer and seller are alike being ground to powder!
It is worthy of especial note that with the material prosperity that comes of co-operation, there always comes a corresponding moral and intellectual advancement. "The teetotalers of Rochdale," says George Jacob Holyoake, "acknowledge that the store has made more sober men since it commenced, than all their efforts have been able to make in the same time. Husbands who never knew what it was to be out of debt, and poor wives who for forty years had never had sixpence un-condemned in their pockets, now possess little stores of money, sufficient to build them cottages, and go every week into their own markets with money jingling in their pockets; and in that market there is no distrust and no deception; there is no adulteration and no second prices. The whole atmosphere is honest. They that serve neither hurry, finesse, nor flatter. They have but one duty to perform — that of giving fair measure, full weight, and a pure article. In other parts of Rochdale, where competition is the principle of trade, all the preaching in Rochdale cannot produce moral results to match."
Co-operation encourages habits of thrift. It does this of necessity. No credit is given at a co-operative store; so that those who belong to it are necessarily before hand with the world. There are thousands of the co-operative class in England who possess the homesteads in which they live; and these homesteads represent merely the accumulated profits of their own purchases. Co-operation does not seek to upset anything. It accepts society as it is and men as they are. As Holyoake says: "It disturbs no interests; attacks nobody's fortune; it attempts no confiscation of existing gains; but it stands apart, works apart, clears its own ground, gathers in its own harvest, distributes the golden grain equitably among all the husbandmen; and without needing favor or incurring obligations, it establishes the industrious classes among the possessors of the fruits of the earth." It seeks to bring about a fair distribution of wealth; but it seeks to do this without any upsetting of anything. It teaches that as individual energy produces the wealth, the same individual energy must win its right to share in the wealth. It teaches that thrift is the great industrial helper; and it supplements the teaching by placing men in those conditions where thrift becomes an inevitable virtue. It has no gospel for scamps, dead-beats, and industrial deadheads. It teaches that to the prince or peasant who lives within his means, figures are friends — kind, genial, helpful friends; but that to the prince or peasant who lives beyond his means, those same figures prove avenging furies, bringing disaster doom, and death!
In co-operative commerce there is no suspicion on one side, and no overreaching on the other. Competitive commerce has too often been a power creating heartburnings, falsities and frauds. The maxim really observed in competitive commerce is not "Do as you would be done by!" but "Do as you'll be done!" Great crimes that make their perpetrators famous in prison annals, are not now committed by vulgar thieves, who have been schooled into crime from childhood; but by sleek, respectable, church going. Sabbath-School teaching people, who rob you pretense that they are doing business with you. The chief of a gang is now called the head of a firm, or the chairman of a company. The ancient highwayman has been transformed into a modern bank director. The smaller fry engaged in competitive commerce, imitate the examples set by the great magnates. They are always selling
12under cost price. They thrive on "awful sacrifices" — the victims, of course, being the buyers. They find a horn of plenty in bankruptcy. They are always "going up" notwithstanding the commodities they deal in are always going down. They use long prayers, but uncommonly short weights!
The villany of adulteration would be an impossible crime in co-operative commerce. In competitive commerce it is the exception and not the rule to be able to purchase an unadulterated commodity. Not one man in a hundred who drinks coffee ever yet tasted pure coffee. You ask for mustard, and you get an unwholesome mixture of flower and turmeric. You ask for vinegar, and you get vitrol and water. You ask for tea, and you get leaves that never grew on the tea plant, colored by means of black lead and Prussian blue. You ask for milk, and you get milk and water; and you may esteem yourself fortunate if you get nothing worse. You ask for butter, and you get a lump of something which is not butter, — something which any cow with a conscience would indignantly reject as a thing that ever came from any milk she ever gave. You ask for wine, and instead of the pure juice of the grape that maketh glad the heart of man, you get a decoction of logwood chips, sweetened with adulterated sugar, and strengthened by means of poisonous spirit. You ask for bread and you get something worse than a stone — you get a poor ha'penny worth of bread to an intolerable quantity of mashed potatoes, bone dust, and alum! If such things should make you sick you can't rely even on the physic you are then compelled to swallow; the fiend of adulteration lurks even in the doctor's pill, or doctor's draft, that is to cure you! There will be no adulteration in co-operative commerce, simply because the motive for it will be absent. As each man will deal with himself, he would be a fool indeed if he sold to himself things that would slowly poison himself!
Co-operation call into excercise some of our best and manliest qualities; a careful thrift, that wisely gides lite; a courage to bear failure; discrimation in selecting a leader; loyalty and self-repression in following him: above all an ability to make one's'own earthly energy one's own earthly destiny!
Co-operation vindicates commerce. It teaches that there is nothing necessarily true, in the old dogma that selfishness must be at the bottom of all successful business enterprise. Competitive commerce has made the field of business enterprise a field of warfare and of fraud. It is as hungry as the sea; as callous as the blood reeking steal; as venomous as the serpent's tooth. It wields a tyranny more terrible than the tyranny of the strong arm under whice the men of the middle ages groaned. It has no worship except that of the golden calf. It believes in no inspiration except the bleatings the golden calf can utter. It has made business one huge abomination from its base to its apex.
It remains for co-operative commerce to drive the unclean spirit of warfare and of fraud from the field of our industrial enterprise, and to make labor a blessing to all, and no longer a curse to any.
I believe that the triumph of any scheme which tends to lessen the inequalities, inseparable in some degree from human condition, is a triumph for religion. If I did not believe that religion was opposed to all unjust inequalities — to all social separations which class interest and class prejudice tend to foster and create — I would say, "Let religion go!" In every movement which raises men anywhere in dignity and in worth, — in every progress of economic science which tends to make a state of degrading poverty a less inevitable condition — in every blow given to slaveries, whether credal, commercial, political or social, — I see a fresher manifestation of the Divine Energy which rules this universe, and which is ever freshly flowing, in affluent measure, upon humanity! Our social estrangements are great. The gulf separating class from class is broad and deep. There is a dearth of all that maks life rich and gracious among the majority of earth's children. But a cloud has arisen, — once no bigger than a man's hand in the industrial sky, it is now spreading over the whole industrial firmament. It will soon shiver into gracious rain drops that will give new courage to the heart, and new cheerfulness to the looks of all the sons of LABOR!
How is it with us now? We cannot, under our present system, make any improvement in the mode of production; we cannot invent any appliance for lessening labor, that does not bring want and sorrow to some home. Need it always be so? Co-operation affirms that it is possible so to improve our industrial relationships, that each man shall rejoice in what any other man shall be able to achieve, sure that it means the speedy advent of a fresher blessing for himself.
"Mine is thine, and thine is mine!
Such is love's most holy sign.
When the mother's bosom bare,
Giveth milk to baby fair;
When the ailing infant's cries
Draw tears from the mother's eyes;
Tear for tear and sigh for sigh;
Grief for grief and eye for eye;
Thus they show the law divine —
Mine is thine and thine is mine!
Mine is thine, and thine is mine!
Soch is love's most holy sign.
When the lover takes his bride,
Each shall share the same fireside,
Each the board and each the bed
Each the blue sky overhead;
Thus they show the law divine —
Mine is thine and thine is mine!
Mine is thine, and thine is mine!
Such is love's most holy sign.
When the members of a State
Children are of mother great:
When they each shall share as one,
Morning red and evening dun;
Each the spade, and each the lute;
Each the work, and each the fruit;
Each the common table spread;
Each the blue sky overhead;
Thus they show the law divine —
Mine is thine, and thine is mine!"
Are these things dreams? Then our best thoughts are dreams. Then the noblest inspirations of all the olden prophets were dreams, Then duty is a dream, virtue a dream, God a dream. Then nothing is real save selfishness and hate. Then the pillared firmament is rotteness, and earth's base is built on stubble!
On Sunday Evening, July 17, 1881, a Lecture on
will be given by James Kay Applebee, at Hershey Hall,
Chicago, and will afterward be published
in pamphlet form.