Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/600

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

easily suppose to be absent, common sense and prudence, if they tried to extort the highest prices in cases of necessaries supposed to be controlled by them, or, on the other hand, to reduce wages to the lowest point, on the ground that laborers had no alternative work; such would be dangerous policy for themselves, though no doubt there would be a temptation to it which might prove too great for some employers. Only in such a case of abuse would the state be called upon to interfere, and either strictly regulate or itself undertake the function abused.

But the result of these several considerations is to put off universal socialism indefinitely as a natural evolution, and points merely to the introduction of such partial applications of state socialism as peremptory public exigence may require, in those cases where a social function could not be intrusted to private enterprise, whether monopolistic or competitive.

There is also the tendency on the part of the laborers to cooperative effort, from which some people expect the elevation of the laborers and the composing of the quarrel between capital and labor by merging the two; and this tendency does certainly exist; it is, moreover, in the direction of socialism in the widest sense of the word; only it is a much slower tendency, and a smaller one, more especially in the field of production, as already stated. Of the two tendencies, one to co-operation on the part of labor, and one to the spread and consolidation of companies on the part of capital, the former will not develop fast enough. The company will develop much faster, and socialism might much sooner come as the term of that evolution unchecked than through cooperation. But the one might be restrained by the state, the other might be quickened; the state might become the workingman's bank, to some extent, as it has been the creditor of the farmer in Ireland; it might lend at market rate, three or three and a half per cent, to such associations of workers as had saved a moiety of capital, if they could show the likelihood of success in their projected enterprise. But as this point has already been considered, it is not necessary to enlarge on it here any further than to say that the working classes, now that they have got so much political power, may not improbably press for some state assistance to increase the numbers of owners of capital, especially as the results of unaided efforts must be extremely small and slow.

What political action to improve their economical position they may take can not be precisely stated. It is by no means likely that they will ever combine to demand a maximum working day in England. They will not ask the help of the state for the purpose; nor will they, with the socialists, ask it to fix a minimum of wages, which they can if they choose themselves fix through trades-unions. They may ask for the nationalization