Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review of Eugenio Rignano, "Un Socialisme en Harmonie avec la Doctrine l’économique libérale"

1. Un Socialisme en Harmonie avec la Doctrine l’économique libérale (Bibliothèque Sociologique Internationale). Par Eugenio Rignano. (Paris: Giard. 1903. Pp. vii, 390. 7fr.)
2. Christian Socialism in England. By Arthur V. Woodworth, Ph.D. (London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co. 1903. Pp. vi, 208. 2s. 6d.)

Signor Rignano's treatise is an interesting and in many ways a significant contribution to Socialist doctrine. As the title suggests, it is an attempt to combine the truth of Socialism with the truth of Individualism in the system of national economy. The author accepts the Socialist criticism of the economic system as it exists, but concentrates his attention upon the pivot on which it turns—the existing right of property. The "exploitation of labour" is due to the economic divorce between the labourer and the instruments of production, and this divorce is maintained by the existing right of property—more particularly, by the right of free bequest. The result is the creation of a proletarian class: a class, however, which is not only attaining to political power, but to a collective consciousness. The question, therefore, is whether the proletariate can attain its economic deliverance by the institution of a new right of property, and if so, what would be the form most adequate for its purposes. To Signor Rignano this is none other than the question of the right of bequest. After a review of different principles of restriction, Signor Rignano puts his own proposal in the form of a succession duty "progressive in time." The principle may be regarded as a generalisation of the particular schemes advocated by M. Huet (in Regne Social du Christianisme) and (in respect of Land Nationalisation) by A. R. Wallace among others; but the application of the principle is at once more thorough-going and more elaborate. The aim is "the speedy realisation of a vast nationalisation of the instruments of production and capital in general," with a view to "equalising the initial conditions of the economic struggle," but in such a way as to give free play to the "survival of the fittest," and to act as "a powerful stimulus" to industry, saving, and the continuous formation of fresh capital (p. 40). The general scheme of succession duties which, according to our author, would do justice to these various and difficult requirements, may be illustrated from the law of property as regards "patents ": his scheme may be in fact described as " a patent of capitalisation or of accumulation" for a limited instead of an unlimited period (un veritable brevet de capitalisation ou d’accumulation a duree temporaire)— combining, that is, the advantages of being at once a sufficient stimulus to the patentee, and an accumulating " gratuity" to the community. The idea is that the right of the testator over the property which he inherits (and by consequence his right of gift, inter vivos) would differ from his right over the disposition of the wealth acquired by his personal effort; the freedom of bequest which he should be allowed in respect of the latter would be considerably restricted in respect of inherited property, and would gradually be annulled after a certain number of transmissions. The author adds an example, in algebraical formulae, of the "progression" in the nationalisation of instruments of production and capital in general that might result. He attaches, however, more importance to the principle than to its particular application, though he takes an opportunity (in the French edition of his work) of meeting (or at least of attempting to meet) the objection that it might be difficult in practice to distinguish between what has been accumulated and what has been acquired. The point at any rate is that the author builds his whole hope for the future of the working classes upon some such modification of the right of property, or the law of inheritance, and he proceeds to sketch the "profound modifications" in the social and economic structure to which the "new" right of property would lead. The results to be expected form a gradual and continuous process of "nationalisation," so far as they affect the existing system of taxation, are such as have been depicted by other advocates of nationalisation, but it is in the application of the proceeds that Signor Rignano distinguishes himself from the general company of Socialists. The instruments of production acquired by the community are to be made available for the cooperative production of labour associations. The principle of "the nationalisation of the instruments of production and capital in general" once admitted, the economic harmonies of Bastiat then "come into their own": we shall have a regime of liberty and free competition in which none of the competitors will have an " initial artificial advantage." The actual industrial organisation contemplated by Signor Rignano would be in fact a system of competitive industry in every kind of production which does not lend itself naturally to state or municipal administration; a system, however, in which the power and opportunities of "private" capital would be gradually diminished, and the character of production would take a more strictly and genuinely productive form. The disadvantages of competition would be removed and its advantages would remain.
It is in this way that Signor Rignano endeavours to use Marx and Bastiat not as antitheses but as necessary complements to each other. Competition is the mainspring of industry; to endeavour directly to restrain its action is to arbitrarily arrest progress. The social consciousness can only act upon competition indirectly by a modification of the legal system of property in such a way as to "favour energetically" the development and co-ordination of associations, i.e. syndicates of production, on the one hand, and cooperative societies of consumption, on the other.
We have not space to follow the economic system sketched by Signor Rignano in further detail: it certainly does sufficient justice to the industrial virtues which usually figure as vices, or at least as vicious extremes, in the literature of socialism; and it is pervaded by the perception (in which Mr. Morley finds the key to the political growth of Mr. Gladstone) of the "value of liberty as an essential condition of excellence in human things." Whatever view we may take of the reasonableness or practicability of our author's ideas and proposals, we may certainly recognise the resoluteness and ability which he has put into his attempt to show how an economic system founded on "the nationalisation of the means of production" may combine at once "une plus grande preponderance des conditions favorables à la production sur les defavorables et une bien meilleure distribution des richesses."
It is also noticeable that he has restored the "moment" of Internationalism to the place it ought never to have lost in the consideration of the Socialist state. The second part of the book is devoted to three studies "distinct from and independent of" the subject already treated. They are certainly intimately connected, but Signor Rignano is anxious to give the studies un caractère d'objectivité absolve, so that they may be judged on their own merits and not as involving the conclusions reached in the first part.
The subjects are "The actual Distribution of Wealth," "Collectivism, other forms of Socialism, and Socialism in general," "The collective consciousness of the proletariate considered as a sociological factor." Of these the last is perhaps the most novel and interesting: the first is laid out on familiar lines, and for the criticism of Collectivism we have been already prepared. The main cause of the "impracticability" of collectivism (as sufficiently demonstrated for instance by Scbaffle, Leroy Beaulieu, and Leon Walras) is "the elimination of competition and of freedom of contract in the matter of production and exchange." Collectivists have too much subordinated " production to distribution ": the author points to a more excellent way of Socialism which would not associate with the advantages of a better distribution of wealth the disadvantage of a diminished production.
"L'inconvenient signale est d'autant plus grave qu'il suffirait pour obtenir une meilleure distribution des richesses sans toucher au principe vivifiant de la libre concurrence, du rapprochement economique du travailleur et de son instrument de production. L’assurance donnee a l'ouvrier de jouir entierement du produit de son travail constituerait le plus efficace des stimulants et elle resoudrait du meme coup les deux problemes oonnezes de l'accroissement de la richesse et de sa plus equitable distribution." P. 242.
Signor Rignano has no less difficulty in showing that "Social Reform," as represented by the Socialism of the "Chair " and by the many varieties of philanthropic and Christian Socialism, is destined to be ineffectual, so long as it leaves untouched the existing right of property; while the more obviously socialistic schemes of Louis Blane, Proudhon and Lassalle are equally discredited as attempts to "emancipate the proletariate" without removing the instruments of production from the ownership of private capital.
A detailed examination of Loria's theories (of " free land" and the "territorial salary") is of a searching, not to say, damaging character. The writer then proceeds to defend the general idea of Socialism from its enemies as well as from its friends. The supreme aim of the actual social movement is Vegalite des conditions initiales artificielles de la lutte economique. This means the formation of a Socialist party, but the Socialist programme must undergo profound revision.
"Au lieu d'etre collectivisto, de recourir a Impropriation dee biens tout en laissant ensuite intacte la constitution formelle actuelle de la propriete, et de remettre la production entiere aux mains de l'Etat, il se realisera en transformant le droit aotuel de propriete de maniere a permettre la socialisation graduelle de tous les capitaux et en accordant aux masses travailleuses—sur leur demande sans doute—la plus grande liberte possible dans la gestion et la mise en exercice des capitaux nationalises et dans la production et l'echange de tous les produits." Pp. 301, 302.
The last study really concerns the hypothesis upon which Signor Rignano has proceeded throughout—namely, the development of a class-consciousness among "the proletariate" sufficiently organised, coherent, and definite to pursue a consistent and practicable policy—what our author calls the "perfection" of its conscience collective. The treatment covers a variety of topics such as sociologists are accustomed to handle; as, for example, the "social function of religion"; here our author crosses swords with Mr. Kidd, and associates himself with "almost all sociologists," who ascribe to religion la fonction de maintenir des regimes contraires a l'equite en leur assurant Vassentiment de ceux-la memes qui en souffrent le plus. But the least questionable as well as the most relevant part of Signor Rignano's study relates to the historical materialism and fatalism of Marx and Loria. He shows that it is not easy to combine as two fundamental conceptions—the theory of the inevitableness of economic evolution and of the class-struggle as its instrument. If the class-struggle is "the basis and substratum of history," then it is unreasonable to depreciate the importance of the conscience sociale as a sociological factor of the first importance. Signor Rignano concludes by suggesting that this factor will be all the more effectual in proportion as it exercises a minimum of direct influence on economic phenomena and an "extreme influence" on legal phenomena, of which the most fundamental —the constitution of property—has "the most profound economic consequences." The existing right of property—in other words, the law of inheritance—is thus the pivot of the social question.
We have already exceeded perhaps the limitations of a review, and though Signor Rignano's book is deserving of rather more detailed consideration as well as of criticism, we must content ourselves with this general account of a notable and interesting attempt to conciliate the extreme demand of Socialism with the utmost rigour of la doctrine economique liberale.
Mr. Woodworth's account of Christian Socialism in England transports us into a very different atmosphere and a lower temperature of ideas. His monograph is rather slight and not very far-reaching; but it is painstaking and adequate so far as it goes, and he has had the advantage of first-hand information on the earlier as well as the later forms of Christian Socialism in England. He hardly adds anything to the familiar story of the early Christian Socialists: but he finds the movement easier to judge than the phase of Christian Socialism represented by the Christian Social Union of to-day. He admits that Maurice failed in "the two definite forms in which he tried to express the Christian Socialist principle": he did not succeed in the plan of the "self-governing, co-operative workshop," nor in the effort to "bring the working man into the Church" (which is perhaps not a particularly Maurician way of putting the matter), but urges at the same time that the failure was more apparent than real. He does full justice to the Working Men's College (which, he might have noted, has under its present President, Professor Dicey, taken on a new lease of life), as also to the influence of the early Christian Socialists upon the legal recognition both of Co-operative Societies and of Trade Unions. The account of the economic and religious changes which have given to the Christian Socialism of the present day a form and character of its own, while preserving its "logical union" with the earlier movement in "the demand for character," is interesting, but is rather too vague to be altogether sufficient or satisfactory. More interesting and more concrete is the sketch of the Guild of St. Matthew, but most interesting of all is the account of the Christian Social Union— partly because there must be many persons who are far from clear as to the precise method and work of that organisation. We do not think that Mr. Woodworth has succeeded in discovering what Signor Rignano would call a "perfect collective consciousness" in the present phase of Christian Socialism, which he describes as "an intensely active force in English thought and life to-day "; but he has brought out into relief the most characteristic forms of its practical activities. First, the educational, "in which the lending libraries, political manifestoes, and courses of public sermons train the members in the principles of the Union, and enlarge the membership "; secondly, the "more definitely practical," such as "the Cheltenham Society for the Improvement of the Houses of the Poor," the London Branch's social settlement (Maurice Hostel), and "the Research Committees into London trades which lack adequate protection"; thirdly, "the broader economic investigations carried on by the Rev. John Carter"—and here Mr. Woodworth analyses at some length the findings of these inquiries, which Mr. Carter has embodied in his pamphlets on "Commercial Morality" and "Preferential Dealing." Mr. Woodworth's account certainly justifies him in holding that the Christian Social Union "has ceased to be a mere students' club for the consideration of social questions," and perhaps also in recognising "the difficulty of estimating the value of a society whose practical activity is just beginning to take definite shape." He appears to be chary not only of criticism, but of anything more than a somewhat vague if edifying conclusion.
We think, perhaps, Mr. Woodworth would have added to the interest of his treatment, if he had noticed the development of the idea of co-operative production in the propaganda of the Labour Copartnership Association, more especially, if "by far the larger part of the members of the Christian Social Union" accept the definition of socialism given by the Bishop of Manchester in his report to the Lambeth Conference of 1888, viz. as "any scheme which aims at uniting labour and the instruments of labour (land and capital), whether by means of the State, or by the help of the rich, or of the voluntary cooperation of the poor." In this respect, at any rate, we are inclined to think that there is loss as well as gain in the "progress" Christian Socialism has made upon the ideas of the earlier movement, however inadequately they may have been conceived or applied. The modern movement may be more comprehensive, but it seems less fundamental. We also think that some reference might have been made with advantage to the form which Christian Socialism has taken on the Continent or in other than "Anglican" communities: it would at any rate have added to the materials for a judgment on the value and significance of the movement as a whole; but this might well form the subject of a further monograph.
Mr. Woodworth is, perhaps, not always quite felicitous or exact in his way of putting things; but he has produced a serviceable as well as a sympathetic book on a subject which is itself, perhaps, not very clear or precise; and we hope he will be able to extend his studies in the direction suggested.
Sidney Ball

Source: The Economic Journal: The Journal of the Royal Economic Society. XIV (1904): 88-95.

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