The Impossibility of Collectivism: Socialistic Fallacies, Part Five
“The object of all their aims…is to increase the powers of the State and to entrust it with the care of the national economic life.”
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
Book Seven turns from a general and broad critique of socialism–both utopian and “scientific”–to a programmatic disassembly of the entire system. First, Guyot notes what everyone in the Soviet Union witnessed first‐hand: social classes persist even after the abolition of private property. Someone must operate the State which owns all property, produces all goods, and distributes them throughout the population. Of course, those individuals composing “the State” will then be the true ruling class, with little or no need to consult the populace. The more power society grants to the state, the more this transition of power would be exacerbated. In a society as complex and highly developed as modern Europe, the division of society into politically warring parties (as opposed to economically cooperating parties) could spell complete destruction. Guyot presents readers with socialism as it works in practice: a partisan political elite usurps private property under the guise of socialization and redistributes it to win political support from favored segments of the population. The transfer of wealth provokes reaction from the unfavored segments of the population and the regime will either respond by eliminating political freedom completely or by clapping together a “reform” agenda that maintains the regime’s legitimacy. Either way, the political class is the most fundamental class of exploiters in human affairs and when Marxists failed to recognize that “the State” simply cannot be trusted with power, they threatened the persistence of western civilization. Our selection concludes with a list of reasons why collectivism fails produced from a reformed Marxist, chief among them: “Collectivist production is impossible upon a democratic basis. It could only be directed by a hierarchical administration devoid of a democratic character, without liberty, equality or any guarantee against abuses of power.”
Yves Guyot. New York: The MacMillan Company. 1910. 241–265 (Excerpts).
Book VII. Collectivist Organisation.
Chapter I. Collectivist Organisation and Its Economic Conditions.
Karl Marx, Engels, Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue carefully guarded themselves against reproducing the Utopias of More, Campanella, Morelly and Cabet. Bebel was once questioned by a deputy belonging to the centre party with regard to the organization of collectivist society. His answer was: “Do you think I am so indiscreet as to ask you for details of your Paradise?…”
Chapter II. The Class War and Political Conditions.
The class war, says the “Communist Manifesto,” must result in the abolition of classes, but it will establish “the proletariat as the ruling class.” Accordingly, if the proletariat be a ruling class, there will be a class which oppresses and a class which is oppressed. The classes will not have disappeared, they will merely have changed their positions. The “communist Manifesto” makes it a supreme consideration to “centralize the means of production in the hands of the State.”
There will be at least two classes, one consisting of officials to distribute the burdens and the results of labour, the other of the drudges to execute their commands. Such a dispensation would not bring with it social peace, for political would take the place of economic competition.
So far only three means of calling human activity into being have been recognized, those of coercion, allurement and remuneration. Coercion is servile labour–work, or strike. The allurement of high office, decorations, rank or a crown may complete the coercion; we see the two employed together in the schools, the Church and the Army. Their success implies two conditions, on the one hand the art to command, and on the other the spirit of discipline. But what are these? They are the conditions which underlie the military spirit, founded upon respect for a hierarchy. Order, in a Communist Society, requires the virtues of convents and of barracks. But establishments of this kind consume without producing, and have furthermore eliminated the question of women and children.
In a collectivist society will there be citizens with electoral rights? Presumably; but the ballot is but an instrument for classifying parties, so that there will be parties, majorities and minorities; parties which will attain to power and others which will be in opposition.
Karl Marx says that he makes no pretension to change human nature. But unless human nature be changed, competition will be the more fierce in proportion as the party in power, disposing of all the resources of life, succeeds in appropriating all the advantages to itself and imposing all the burdens upon its opponents. This means a policy of spoliation in its most aggravated form. The question will be to ascertain who is to work and who is to reap the benefit. There will be a servile class and a class which obtains the benefit of their labour. Economic will give place to political competition, and the best method of acquiring will be, not to produce and to exchange, but to dominate and to extort. Collective ownership will end in a retrogression of productive civilization towards civilization on a warlike basis. The party in power will distribute profits in such a manner that no one will work except on the requisition and for the profit of his opponents.
Schoeffle is justified in reproaching Socialists with being the enemies of the State. Since Karl Marx’ time they have substituted the term “Society” for “the State.” What difference does this make? The object of all their aims, and of all the articles in their programmes is to increase the powers of the State and to entrust it with the care of the national economic life. “When the unified organization of labour shall have become a reality,” says Schoeffle, “the organs of the Socialist State will be geared upon in the high degree which was characteristic of the Middle Ages.” Every centralization of powers is a supporter of Socialism, and a Socialist Society can only be confined within rigid limits.
A collectivist society could only work on the model of Peru under the domination of the Incas, or of Paraguay under that of the Jesuits. The struggle of humanity would be suppressed, except as between the leaders, and these would develop factions in their contentions for power. In this stage of civilization the existence of parties side by side would be impossible and the struggle could only terminate in the annihilation of the vanquished.
Chapter III. The Deflections of Administrative Organs.
Every organization established for the promotion of a particular purpose rapidly forgets the object for which it is designed and becomes an object in itself, unless restrained by the permanent menace of a heavy responsibility. This state of mind attains its maximum intensity in public administrative departments, in which officials and employees do not know whether they are made for the service or the service for them. It manifests itself in an army or a navy in which, the eventuality of war appearing far‐off or even improbable, too many officers forget that it is their business to prepare for it, and since they are not kept pre‐occupied by the fear of the sanction of the battlefield, their attention is principally directed to the minor advantages of their profession in time of peace.
For some, these consist of an existence undisturbed by anxiety, combined with a good and undisturbed administration of their commands; for others, the opportunity of employing only a moderate degree of application to the discharge of their professional duties; for a certain number the zeal and ability which will procure them promotion, while a very small number are pre‐occupied exclusively with military activities.
In industrial organisations the same spirit would rapidly gain the upper hand, were it not every day disturbed by competition.
Among political organisations, the German Social Democratic party has furnished a topical example. Charged with administration of a Budget derived from the subscriptions of 400,000 paying members, its managers have forgotten that the party is merely a means to an end; they have made the party an object in itself, since it secured them positions and remuneration, and have administered it in order to preserve it and not as an engine of war which runs the risk of self‐destruction in the performance of its work. Its leaders speak, but do not act, and their only fear is that some movement may put their beautiful arrangement out of order. This attitude of mind was well displayed at the Stuttgart Congress. The electoral defeat of 1906 says Bebel, has done us no harm. The party has increased its membership from 384,000 to 530,000, and our subscriptions in June amounted to 170,000 marks; and among the arguments put forward by them in opposition to Herve’s theories, they pointed to their personal security without any false shame. If this is their conception of their work when constituted as a revolutionary party, imagine how they would have conceived it had they been at the head of a Government. They would have approved themselves as model Conservatives, without either activity or energy, except in opposition to those who might have threatened their positions.
Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb have told us of the increasing number of Trade Union officials, and have shown us that the policy they carry out is influenced by their personal position rather than by the interests of the members of the Unions.
What collectivist is there who can imagine that, if the collectivist state became a reality, its leaders and officials would never act otherwise than with the object of attaining its true ideal?
Chapter IV. The Impossibility of Collectivism.
In his Gospel of Collectivism, as propagated by the collectivists, Schoeffle concludes by saying: “Socialism must be able and willing to modify, from foundation to coping‐stone, its fundamental thesis that value results exclusively from the total amount of labour necessary to production. We think that this is not impossible, but this notion, as it has been hitherto formulated, reduces the current economics of Socialism to a mere “Utopia.”
Ten years later, he published a pamphlet…in which he demonstrated the impossibility of the collectivist organization which he had himself expounded.
(1). Collectivist production is impossible upon a democratic basis. It could only be directed by a hierarchical administration devoid of a democratic character, without liberty, equality or any guarantee against abuses of power.
(2). It suppresses nature and property: all matters of the same class are concentrated in a great social workshop working upon the principle of equal remuneration for the same time spent in labour, but with a democratic organization individuals impregnated with perpetual flattery would not submit to the sacrifices requisite to effect the economics necessary for this development of the means of production. Those who possessed them would not be disposed to share their surplus with others.
(3). Supposing that it were possible to concentrate in one body all the branches of production on the basis of uniform labour and a uniform estimate of the time of labour and to set up complete local factories, that would be to act contrary to all experience in industrial matters.
(4). An increase of production could only take place subject to the following conditions: (1) strict administration, and (b) an increase in the activity of the workers. Now democracy cannot admit of compulsion and would have nothing with which to replace profits, risks and graduated wages, so that there would be no initiative, no responsibility, no interest and no motive for action.
(5). Social democracy has no discovered a method of apportioning to each individual the exact value of his social labour.
(6). If each individual be remunerated in proportion to the social value of his labour, inequality must reappear.
(7). But collectivists at the same time promise a distribution of products according to requirements. This is contradictory, but only one thing could be more impracticable, that is to declare all requirements to be equal.
(8). Democratic collectivism claims to abolish “the exploitation of man by man,” but the collectivist dispensation would involve the organization of the exploitation of labour as distributed by the agents of the party in power, without recourse to any remedy for its abuse than to overthrow it. In proceeding to the control of the hours of labour, in reducing complex to simple labour by a method of calculation, the triumphant parasites of Socialism would set about their work in a spirit so far removed from one of fraternity as to make Marx’ vampire capital assume a highly respectable appearance.
(9) Collectivism claims to abolish over‐production and want, but theorists will not explain how they propose to prevent good or bad harvests in the vineyards, the orchards, the corn‐fields, etc.
Schoeffle’s conclusion is: “Democratic collectivism is impossible and is unable to realise a single one of its economic promises.”