The Servile State Has Begun

The manifestation of the servile state in law or proposals of law will fall into two sorts⁠—(a) Laws or proposals of law compelling the proletariat to work⁠—(b) Financial operations riveting the grip of capitalists more strongly upon society⁠—As to (a), we find it already at work in measures such as the Insurance Act and proposals such as compulsory arbitration, the enforcement of trades union bargains and the erection of “labour colonies,” etc., for the “unemployable”⁠—As to the second, we find that so-called “municipal” or “socialist” experiments in acquiring the means of production have already increased and are continually increasing the dependence of society upon the capitalist.

In this last division of my book I deal with the actual appearance of the servile state in certain laws and proposals now familiar to the industrial society of modern England. These are the patent objects, “laws and projects of laws,” which lend stuff to my argument, and show that it is based not upon a mere deduction, but upon an observation of things.

Two forms of this proof are evident: first, the laws and proposals which subject the proletariat to servile conditions; next, the fact that the capitalist, so far from being expropriated by modern “socialist” experiments, is being confirmed in his power.

I take these in their order, and I begin by asking in what statutes or proposals the servile state first appeared among us.

A false conception of our subject might lead one to find the origins of the servile state in the restrictions imposed upon certain forms of manufacture, and the corresponding duties laid upon the capitalist in the interest of his workmen. The Factory Laws, as they are in this country, would seem to offer upon this superficial and erroneous view a starting point. They do nothing of the kind; and the view is superficial and erroneous because it neglects the fundamentals of the case. What distinguishes the servile state is not the interference of law with the action of any citizen even in connection with industrial matters. Such interference may or may not indicate the presence of a servile status. It in no way indicates the presence of that status when it forbids a particular kind of human action to be undertaken by the citizen as a citizen.

The legislator says, for instance, “You may pluck roses; but as I notice that you sometimes scratch yourself, I will put you in prison unless you cut them with scissors at least 122 millimetres long, and I will appoint one thousand inspectors to go round the country seeing whether the law is observed. My brother-in-law shall be at the head of the department at £2,000 a year.”

We are all familiar with that type of legislation. We are all familiar with the arguments for and against it in any particular case. We may regard it as onerous, futile, or beneficent, or in any other light, according to our various temperaments. But it does not fall within the category of servile legislation, because it establishes no distinction between two classes of citizens, marking off the one as legally distinct from the other by a criterion of manual labour or of income.

This is even true of such regulations as those which compel a cotton mill, for instance, to have no less than such and such an amount of cubic space for each operative, and such and such protection for dangerous machinery. These laws do not concern themselves with the nature, the amount, or even the existence of a contract for service. The object, for example, of the law which compels one to fence off certain types of machinery is simply to protect human life, regardless of whether the human being so protected is rich or poor, capitalist or proletarian. These laws may in effect work in our society so that the capitalist is made responsible for the proletarian, but he is not responsible qua capitalist, nor is the proletarian protected qua proletarian.

In the same way the law may compel me, if I am a riparian owner, to put up a fence of statutory strength wherever the water of my river is of more than a statutory depth. Now it cannot compel me to do this unless I am the owner of the land. In a sense, therefore, this might be called the recognition of my status, because, by the nature of the case, only landowners can be affected by the law, and landowners would be compelled by it to safeguard the lives of all, whether they were or were not owners of land.

But the category so established would be purely accidental. The object and method of the law do not concern themselves with a distinction between citizens.

A close observer might indeed discover certain points in the Factory Laws, details and phrases, which did distinctly connote the existence of a capitalist and of a proletarian class. But we must take the statutes as a whole and the order in which they were produced, above all, the general motive and expressions governing each main statute, in order to judge whether such examples of interference give us an origin or not.

The verdict will be that they do not. Such legislation may be oppressive in any degree or necessary in any degree, but it does not establish status in the place of contract, and it is not, therefore, servile.

Neither are those laws servile which in practice attach to the poor and not to the rich. Compulsory education is in legal theory required of every citizen for his children. The state of mind which goes with plutocracy exempts of course all above a certain standard of wealth from this law. But the law does apply to the universality of the commonwealth, and all families resident in Great Britain (not in Ireland) are subject to its provisions.

These are not origins. A true origin to servile and “status” legislation comes later. The first example of servile legislation to be discovered upon the statute book is that which establishes the present form of employer’s liability.

I am far from saying that that law was passed, as modern laws are beginning to be passed, with the direct object of establishing a new status; though it was passed with some consciousness on the part of the legislator that such a new status was in existence as a social fact. Its motive was merely humane, and the relief which it afforded seemed merely necessary at the time; but it is an instructive example of the way in which a small neglect of strict doctrine and a slight toleration of anomaly admit great changes into the state.

There had existed from all time in every community, and there was founded upon common sense, the legal doctrine that if one citizen was so placed with regard to another by contract that he must in the fulfilment of that contract perform certain services, and if those services accidentally involved damages to a third party, not the actual perpetrator of the damage, but he who designed the particular operation leading to it was responsible.

The point is subtle, but, as I say, fundamental. It involved no distinction of status between employer and employed.

Citizen A offered citizen B a sack of wheat down if citizen B would plough for him a piece of land which might or might not produce more than a sack of wheat.

Of course citizen A expected it would produce more, and was awaiting a surplus value, or he would not have made the contract with citizen B. But, at any rate, citizen B put his name to the agreement, and as a free man, capable of contracting, was correspondingly bound to fulfil it.

In fulfilling this contract the ploughshare B is driving destroys a pipe conveying water by agreement through A’s land to C. C suffers damage, and to recover the equivalent of that damage his action in justice and common sense can only be against A, for B was carrying out a plan and instruction of which A was the author. C is a third party who had nothing to do with such a contract and could not possibly have justice save by his chances of getting it from A, who was the true author of the unintentional loss inflicted, since he designed the course of work.

But when the damage is not done to C at all, but to B, who is concerned with a work the risks of which are known and willingly undertaken, it is quite another matter.

Citizen A contracts with citizen B that citizen B, in consideration of a sack of wheat, shall plough a bit of land. Certain known risks must attach to that operation. Citizen B, if he is a free man, undertakes those risks with his eyes open. For instance, he may sprain his wrist in turning the plough, or one of the horses may kick him while he is having his bread-and-cheese. If upon such an accident A is compelled to pay damages to B, a difference of status is at once recognised. B undertook to do work which, by all the theory of free contract, was, with its risks and its expense of energy, the equivalent in B’s own eyes of a sack of wheat; yet a law is passed to say that B can have more than that sack of wheat if he is hurt.

There is no converse right of A against B. If the employer suffers by such an accident to the employee, he is not allowed to dock that sack of wheat, though it was regarded in the contract as the equivalent to a certain amount of labour to be performed which, as a fact, has not been performed. A has no action unless B has been culpably negligent or remiss. In other words, the mere fact that one man is working and the other not is the fundamental consideration on which the law is built, and the law says: “You are not a free man making a free contract with all its consequences. You are a worker, and therefore an inferior: you are an employee; and that status gives you a special position which would not be recognised in the other party to the contract.”

The principle is pushed still further when an employer is made liable for an accident happening to one of his employees at the hands of another employee.

A gives a sack of wheat to B and D each if they will dig a well for him. All three parties are cognisant of the risks and accept them in the contract. B, holding the rope on which D is lowered, lets it slip. If they were all three men of exactly equal status, obviously D’s action would be against B. But they are not of equal status in England today. B and D are employees, and are therefore in a special and inferior position before the law compared with their employer A. D’s action is, by this novel principle, no longer against B, who accidentally injured him by a personal act, however involuntary, for which a free man would be responsible, but against A, who was innocent of the whole business.

Now in all this it is quite clear that A has peculiar duties not because he is a citizen, but because he is something more: an employer; and B and D have special claims on A, not because they are citizens, but because they are something less: viz. employees. They can claim protection from A, as inferiors of a superior in a state admitting such distinctions and patronage.

It will occur at once to the reader that in our existing social state the employee will be very grateful for such legislation. One workman cannot recover from another simply because the other will have no goods out of which to pay damages. Let the burden, therefore, fall upon the rich man!

Excellent. But that is not the point. To argue thus is to say that servile legislation is necessary if we are to solve the problems raised by capitalism. It remains servile legislation none the less. It is legislation that would not exist in a society where property was well divided and where a citizen could normally pay damages for the harm he had himself caused.10

This first trickle of the stream, however, though it is of considerable historical interest as a point of departure, is not of very definite moment to our subject compared with the great bulk of later proposals, some of which are already law, others upon the point of becoming law, and which definitely recognise the servile state, the reestablishment of status in the place of contract, and the universal division of citizens into two categories of employers and employed.

These last merit a very different consideration, for they will represent to history the conscious and designed entry of servile institutions into the old Christian state. They are not “origins,” small indications of coming change which the historian will painfully discover as a curiosity. They are the admitted foundations of a new order, deliberately planned by a few, confusedly accepted by the many, as the basis upon which a novel and stable society shall arise to replace the unstable and passing phase of capitalism.

They fall roughly into three categories:⁠—

  1. Measures by which the insecurity of the proletariat shall be relieved through the action of the employing class, or of the proletariat itself acting under compulsion.

  2. Measures by which the employer shall be compelled to give not less than a certain minimum for any labour he may purchase, and

  3. Measures which compel a man lacking the means of production to labour, though he may have made no contract to that effect.

The last two, as will be seen in a moment, are complementary one of another.

As to the first: Measures to palliate the insecurity of the proletariat.

We have of this an example in actual law at this moment. And that law⁠—the Insurance Act⁠—(whose political source and motive I am not here discussing) follows in every particular the lines of a servile state.

(a) Its fundamental criterion is employment. In other words, I am compelled to enter a scheme providing me against the mischances of illness and unemployment not because I am a citizen, but only if I am:

  1. Exchanging services for goods; and either

  2. Obtaining less than a certain amount of goods for those services, or

  3. A vulgar fellow working with his hands.

The law carefully excludes from its provisions those forms of labour to which the educated and therefore powerful classes are subject, and further excludes from compulsion the mass of those who are for the moment earning enough to make them a class to be reckoned with as economically free. I may be a writer of books who, should he fall ill, will leave in the greatest distress the family which he supports. If the legislator were concerned for the morals of citizens, I should most undoubtedly come under this law, under the form of a compulsory insurance added to my income tax. But the legislator is not concerned with people of my sort. He is concerned with a new status which he recognises in the state, to wit, the proletariat. He envisages the proletariat not quite accurately as men either poor, or, if they are not poor, at any rate vulgar people working with their hands, and he legislates accordingly.

(b) Still more striking, as an example of status taking the place of contract, is the fact that this law puts the duty of controlling the proletariat and of seeing that the law is obeyed not upon the proletariat itself, but upon the capitalist class.

Now this point is of an importance that cannot be exaggerated.

The future historian, whatever his interest in the first indications of that profound revolution through which we are so rapidly passing, will most certainly fix upon that one point as the cardinal landmark of our times. The legislator surveying the capitalist state proposes as a remedy for certain of its evils the establishment of two categories in the state, compels the lower man to registration, to a tax, and the rest of it, and further compels the upper man to be the instrument in enforcing that registration and in collecting that tax. No one acquainted with the way in which any one of the great changes of the past has taken place, the substitution of tenure for the Roman proprietary right in land, or the substitution of the medieval peasant for the serf of the Dark Ages, can possibly misunderstand the significance of such a turning point in our history.

Whether it will be completed or whether a reaction will destroy it is another matter. Its mere proposal is of the greatest possible moment in the inquiry we are here pursuing.

Of the next two groups, the fixing of a minimum wage and the compulsion to labour (which, as I have said, and will shortly show, are complementary one to the other), neither has yet appeared in actual legislation, but both are planned, both thought out, both possessed of powerful advocates, and both upon the threshold of positive law.

The fixing of a minimum wage, with a definite sum fixed by statute, has not yet11 entered our laws, but the first step towards such a consummation has been taken in the shape of giving legal sanction to some hypothetical minimum wage which shall be arrived at after discussion within a particular trade. That trade is, of course, the mining industry. The law does not say: “No capitalist shall pay a miner less than so many shillings for so many hours’ work.” But it does say: “Figures having been arrived at by local boards, any miner working within the area of each board can claim by force of law the minimum sum established by such boards.” It is evident that from this step to the next, which shall define some sliding scale of remuneration for labour according to prices and the profits of capital, is an easy and natural transition. It would give both parties what each immediately requires: to capital a guarantee against disturbance; to labour sufficiency and security. The whole thing is an excellent object lesson in little of that general movement from free contract to status, and from the capitalist to the servile state, which is the tide of our time.

The neglect of older principles as abstract and doctrinaire; the immediate need of both parties immediately satisfied; the unforeseen but necessary consequence of satisfying such needs in such a fashion⁠—all these, which are apparent in the settlement the mining industry has begun, are the typical forces producing the servile state.

Consider in its largest aspect the nature of such a settlement.

The proletarian accepts a position in which he produces for the capitalist a certain total of economic values, and retains out of that total a portion only, leaving to the capitalist all surplus value. The capitalist, on his side, is guaranteed in the secure and permanent expectation of that surplus value through all the perils of social envy; the proletarian is guaranteed in a sufficiency and a security for that sufficiency; but by the very action of such a guarantee there is withdrawn from him the power to refuse his labour and thus to aim at putting himself in possession of the means of production.

Such schemes definitely divide citizens into two classes, the capitalist and the proletarian. They make it impossible for the second to combat the privileged position of the first. They introduce into the positive laws of the community a recognition of social facts which already divide Englishmen into two groups of economically more free and economically less free, and they stamp with the authority of the state a new constitution of society. Society is recognised as no longer consisting of free men bargaining freely for their labour or any other commodity in their possession, but of two contrasting status, owners and non-owners. The first must not be allowed to leave the second without subsistence; the second must not be allowed to obtain that grip upon the means of production which is the privilege of the first. It is true that this first experiment is small in degree and tentative in quality; but to judge the movement as a general whole we must not only consider the expression it has actually received so far in positive law, but the mood of our time.

When this first experiment in a minimum wage was being debated in Parliament, what was the great issue of debate? Upon what did those who were the most ardent reformers particularly insist? Not that the miners should have an avenue open to them for obtaining possession of the mines; not even that the state should have an avenue open to it for obtaining such possession; but that the minimum wage should be fixed at a certain satisfactory level! That, as our recent experience testifies for all of us, was the crux of the quarrel. And that such a point should be the crux, not the socialisation of the mines, nor the admission of the proletariat to the means of production, but only a sufficiency and a security of wage, is amply significant of the perhaps irresistible forces which are making in the direction for which I argue in this book.

There was here no attempt of the capitalist to impose servile conditions nor of the proletarian to resist them. Both parties were agreed upon that fundamental change. The discussion turned upon the minimum limit of subsistence to be securely provided, a point which left aside, because it took for granted, the establishment of some minimum in any case.

Next, let it be noted (for it is of moment to a later part of my argument) that experiments of this sort promise to extend piecemeal. There is no likelihood, judging by men’s actions and speech, of some grand general scheme for the establishment of a minimum wage throughout the community. Such a scheme would, of course, be as truly an establishment of the servile state as piecemeal schemes. But, as we shall see in a moment, the extension of the principle piecemeal has a considerable effect upon the forms which compulsion may take.

The miners’ refusal to work, with the exaggerated panic it caused, bred this first tentative appearance of the minimum wage in our laws. Normally, capital prefers free labour with its margin of destitution; for such an anarchy, ephemeral though it is of its nature, while it lasts provides cheap labour; from the narrowest point of view it provides in the still competitive areas of capitalism a better chance for profits.

But as one group of workmen after another, concerned with trades immediately necessary to the life of the nation, and therefore tolerating but little interruption, learn the power which combination gives them, it is inevitable that the legislator (concentrated as he is upon momentary remedies for difficulties as they arise) should propose for one such trade after another the remedy of a minimum wage.

There can be little doubt that, trade by trade, the principle will extend. For instance, the two and a half millions now guaranteed against unemployment are guaranteed against it for a certain weekly sum. That weekly sum must bear some relation to their estimated earnings when they are in employment.

It is a short step from the calculation of unemployment benefit (its being fixed by statute at a certain level, and that level determined by something which is regarded as the just remuneration of labour in that trade); it is a short step, I say, from that to a statutory fixing of the sums paid during employment.

The state says to the serf: “I saw to it that you should have so much when you were unemployed. I find that in some rare cases my arrangement leads to your getting more when you are unemployed than when you are employed. I further find that in many cases, though you get more when you are employed, yet the difference is not sufficient to tempt a lazy man to work, or to make him take any particular trouble to get work. I must see to this.”

The provision of a fixed schedule during unemployment thus inevitably leads to the examination, the defining, and at last the imposition of a minimum wage during employment; and every compulsory provision for unemployed benefits is the seed of a minimum wage.

Of still greater effect is the mere presence of state regulation in such a matter. The fact that the state has begun to gather statistics of wages over these large areas of industry, and to do so not for a mere statistical object, but a practical one, and the fact that the state has begun to immix the action of positive law and constraint with the older system of free bargaining, mean that the whole weight of its influence is now in favour of regulation. It is no rash prophecy to assert that in the near future our industrial society will see a gradually extending area of industry in which from two sides the fixing of wages by statute shall appear. From the one side it will come in the form of the state examining the conditions of labour in connection with its own schemes for establishing sufficiency and security by insurance. From the other side it will come through the reasonable proposals to make contracts enforceable in the courts between groups of labour and groups of capital.

So much, then, for the principle of a minimum wage. It has already appeared in our laws. It is certain to spread. But how does the presence of this introduction of a minimum form part of the advance towards the servile state?

I have said that the principle of a minimum wage involves as its converse the principle of compulsory labour. Indeed, most of the importance which the principle of a minimum wage has for this inquiry lies in that converse necessity of compulsory labour which it involves.

But as the connection between the two may not be clear at first sight, we must do more than take it for granted. We must establish it by process of reason.

There are two distinct forms in which the whole policy of enforcing security and sufficiency by law for the proletariat produce a corresponding policy of compulsory labour.

The first of these forms is the compulsion which the courts will exercise upon either of the parties concerned in the giving and in the receiving of the minimum wage. The second form is the necessity under which society will find itself, when once the principle of the minimum wage is conceded, coupled with the principle of sufficiency and security, to control those whom the minimum wage excludes from the area of normal employment.

As to the first form:⁠—

A proletarian group has struck a bargain with a group of capitalists to the effect that it will produce for that capital ten measures of value in a year, will be content to receive six measures of value for itself, and will leave four measures as surplus value for the capitalists. The bargain is ratified; the courts have the power to enforce it. If the capitalists by some trick of fines or by bluntly breaking their word pay out in wages less than the six measures, the courts must have some power of constraining them. In other words, there must be some sanction to the action of the law. There must be some power of punishment, and, through punishment, of compulsion. Conversely, if the men, having struck this bargain, go back upon their word; if individuals among them or sections among them cease work with a new demand for seven measures instead of six, the courts must have the power of constraining and of punishing them. Where the bargain is ephemeral or at any rate extended over only reasonable limits of time, it would be straining language perhaps to say that each individual case of constraint exercised against the workmen would be a case of compulsory labour. But extend the system over a long period of years, make it normal to industry and accepted as a habit in men’s daily conception of the way in which their lives should be conducted, and the method is necessarily transformed into a system of compulsory labour. In trades where wages fluctuate little this will obviously be the case. “You, the agricultural labourers of this district, have taken fifteen shillings a week for a very long time. It has worked perfectly well. There seems no reason why you should have more. Nay, you put your hands to it through your officials in the year so-and-so that you regarded that sum as sufficient. Such and such of your members are now refusing to perform what this court regards as a contract. They must return within the limits of that contract or suffer the consequences.”

Remember what power analogy exercises over men’s minds, and how, when systems of the sort are common to many trades, they will tend to create a general point of view for all trades. Remember also how comparatively slight a threat is already sufficient to control men in our industrial society, the proletarian mass of which is accustomed to live from week to week under peril of discharge, and has grown readily amenable to the threat of any reduction in those wages upon which it can but just subsist.

Nor are the courts enforcing such contracts or quasi-contracts (as they will come to be regarded) the only inducement.

A man has been compelled by law to put aside sums from his wages as insurance against unemployment. But he is no longer the judge of how such sums shall be used. They are not in his possession; they are not even in the hands of some society which he can really control. They are in the hands of a government official. “Here is work offered you at twenty-five shillings a week. If you do not take it you certainly shall not have a right to the money you have been compelled to put aside. If you will take it the sum shall still stand to your credit, and when next in my judgment your unemployment is not due to your recalcitrance and refusal to labour, I will permit you to have some of your money: not otherwise.” Dovetailing in with this machinery of compulsion is all that mass of registration and docketing which is accumulating through the use of labour exchanges. Not only will the official have the power to enforce special contracts, or the power to coerce individual men to labour under the threat of a fine, but he will also have a series of dossiers by which the record of each workman can be established. No man, once so registered and known, can escape; and, of the nature of the system, the numbers caught in the net must steadily increase until the whole mass of labour is mapped out and controlled.

These are very powerful instruments of compulsion indeed. They already exist. They are already a part of our laws.

Lastly, there is the obvious bludgeon of “compulsory arbitration”: a bludgeon so obvious that it is revolting even to our proletariat. Indeed, I know of no civilised European state which has succumbed to so gross a suggestion. For it is a frank admission of servitude at one step, and for good and all, such as men of our culture are not yet prepared to swallow.12

So much, then, for the first argument and the first form in which compulsory labour is seen to be a direct and necessary consequence of establishing a minimum wage and of scheduling employment to a scale.

The second is equally clear. In the production of wheat the healthy and skilled man who can produce ten measures of wheat is compelled to work for six measures, and the capitalist is compelled to remain content with four measures for his share. The law will punish him if he tries to get out of his legal obligation and to pay his workmen less than six measures of wheat during the year. What of the man who is not sufficiently strong or skilled to produce even six measures? Will the capitalist be constrained to pay him more than the values he can produce? Most certainly not. The whole structure of production as it was erected during the capitalist phase of our industry has been left intact by the new laws and customs. Profit is still left a necessity. If it were destroyed, still more if a loss were imposed by law, that would be a contradiction of the whole spirit in which all these reforms are being undertaken. They are being undertaken with the object of establishing stability where there is now instability, and of “reconciling,” as the ironic phrase goes, “the interests of capital and labour.” It would be impossible, without a general ruin, to compel capital to lose upon the man who is not worth even the minimum wage. How shall that element of insecurity and instability be eliminated? To support the man gratuitously because he cannot earn a minimum wage, when all the rest of the commonwealth is working for its guaranteed wages, is to put a premium upon incapacity and sloth. The man must be made to work. He must be taught, if possible, to produce those economic values, which are regarded as the minimum of sufficiency. He must be kept at that work even if he cannot produce the minimum, lest his presence as a free labourer should imperil the whole scheme of the minimum wage, and introduce at the same time a continuous element of instability. Hence he is necessarily a subject for forced labour. We have not yet in this country, established by force of law, the right to this form of compulsion, but it is an inevitable consequence of those other reforms which have just been reviewed. The “labour colony” (a prison so called because euphemism is necessary to every transition) will be erected to absorb this surplus, and that last form of compulsion will crown the edifice of these reforms. They will then be complete so far as the subject classes are concerned, and even though this particular institution of the “labour colony” (logically the last of all) precede in time other forms of compulsion, it will make the advent of those other forms of compulsion more certain, facile, and rapid.

There remains one last remark to be made upon the concrete side of my subject. I have in this last section illustrated the tendency towards the servile state from actual laws and actual projects with which all are today familiar in English industrial society, and I have shown how these are certainly establishing the proletariat in a novel, but to them satisfactory, servile status.

It remains to point out in a very few lines the complementary truth that what should be the very essence of collectivist reform, to wit, the translation of the means of production from the hands of private owners to the hands of public officials, is nowhere being attempted. So far from its being attempted, all so-called “socialistic” experiments in municipalisation and nationalisation are merely increasing the dependence of the community upon the capitalist class. To prove this, we need only observe that every single one of these experiments is effected by a loan.

Now what is meant in economic reality by these municipal loans and national loans raised for the purpose of purchasing certain small sections of the means of production?

Certain capitalists own a number of rails, cars, etc. They put to work upon these certain proletarians, and the result is a certain total of economic values. Let the surplus values obtainable by the capitalists after the subsistence of the proletarians is provided for amount to £10,000 a year. We all know how a system of this sort is “municipalised.” A “loan” is raised. It bears “interest.” It is saddled with a “sinking fund.”

Now this loan is not really made in money, though the terms of it are in money. It is, at the end of a long string of exchanges, nothing more nor less than the loan of the cars, the rails, etc., by the capitalists to the municipality. And the capitalists require, before they will strike the bargain, a guarantee that the whole of their old profit shall be paid to them, together with a further yearly sum, which after a certain number of years shall represent the original value of the concern when they handed it over. These last additional sums are called the “sinking fund”; the continued payment of the old surplus values is called the “interest.”

In theory certain small sections of the means of production might be acquired in this way. That particular section would have been “socialised.” The “sinking fund” (that is, the paying of the capitalists for their plant by instalments) might be met out of the general taxation imposed on the community, considering how large that is compared with any one experiment of the kind. The “interest” may by good management be met out of the true profits of the tramways. At the end of a certain number of years the community will be in possession of the tramways, will no longer be exploited in this particular by capitalism, will have bought out capitalism from the general taxes, and, in so far as the purchase money paid has been consumed and not saved or invested by the capitalists, a small measure of “socialisation” will have been achieved.

As a fact things are never so favourable.

In practice three conditions militate against even these tiny experiments in expropriation: the fact that the implements are always sold at much more than their true value; the fact that the purchase includes nonproductive things; and the fact that the rate of borrowing is much faster than the rate of repayment. These three adverse conditions lead in practice to nothing but the riveting of capitalism more securely round the body of the state.

For what is it that is paid for when a tramway, for instance, is taken over? Is it the true capital alone, the actual plant, which is paid for, even at an exaggerated price? Far from it! Over and above the rails and the cars, there are all the commissions that have been made, all the champagne luncheons, all the lawyers’ fees, all the compensations to this man and to that man, all the bribes. Nor does this exhaust the argument. Tramways represent a productive investment. What about pleasure gardens, washhouses, baths, libraries, monuments, and the rest? The greater part of these things are the product of “loans.” When you put up a public institution you borrow the bricks and the mortar and the iron and the wood and the tiles from capitalists, and you pledge yourself to pay interest, and to produce a sinking fund precisely as though a town hall or a bath were a piece of reproductive machinery.

To this must be added the fact that a considerable proportion of the purchases are failures: purchases of things just before they are driven out by some new invention; while on the top of the whole business you have the fact that the borrowing goes on at a far greater rate than the repayment.

In a word, all these experiments up and down Europe during our generation, municipal and national, have resulted in an indebtedness to capital increasing rather more than twice, but not three times, as fast as the rate of repayment. The interest which capital demands with a complete indifference as to whether the loan is productive or nonproductive amounts to rather more than 1½ percent. excess over the produce of the various experiments, even though we count in the most lucrative and successful of these, such as the state railways of many countries, and the thoroughly successful municipal enterprises of many modern towns.

Capitalism has seen to it that it shall be a winner and not a loser by this form of sham socialism, as by every other. And the same forces which in practice forbid confiscation see to it that the attempt to mask confiscation by purchase shall not only fail, but shall turn against those who have not had the courage to make a frontal attack upon privilege.

With these concrete examples showing how collectivism, in attempting its practice, does but confirm the capitalist position, and showing how our laws have already begun to impose a servile status upon the proletariat, I end the argumentative thesis of this book.

I believe I have proved my case.

The future of industrial society, and in particular of English society, left to its own direction, is a future in which subsistence and security shall be guaranteed for the proletariat, but shall be guaranteed at the expense of the old political freedom and by the establishment of that proletariat in a status really, though not nominally, servile. At the same time, the owners will be guaranteed in their profits, the whole machinery of production in the smoothness of its working, and that stability which has been lost under the capitalist phase of society will be found once more.

The internal strains which have threatened society during its capitalist phase will be relaxed and eliminated, and the community will settle down upon that servile basis which was its foundation before the advent of the Christian faith, from which that faith slowly weaned it, and to which in the decay of that faith it naturally returns.