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Signs of Change by William Morris

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They are called "labour-saving" machines--a commonly used phrase
which implies what we expect of them; but we do not get what we
expect. What they really do is to reduce the skilled labourer to the
ranks of the unskilled, to increase the number of the "reserve army
of labour"--that is, to increase the precariousness of life among the
workers and to intensify the labour of those who serve the machines
(as slaves their masters). All this they do by the way, while they
pile up the profits of the employers of labour, or force them to
expend those profits in bitter commercial war with each other. In a
true society these miracles of ingenuity would be for the first time
used for minimizing the amount of time spent in unattractive labour,
which by their means might be so reduced as to be but a very light
burden on each individual. All the more as these machines would most
certainly be very much improved when it was no longer a question as
to whether their improvement would "pay" the individual, but rather
whether it would benefit the community.

So much for the ordinary use of machinery, which would probably,
after a time, be somewhat restricted when men found out that there
was no need for anxiety as to mere subsistence, and learned to take
an interest and pleasure in handiwork which, done deliberately and
thoughtfully, could be made more attractive than machine work.

Again, as people freed from the daily terror of starvation find out
what they really wanted, being no longer compelled by anything but
their own needs, they would refuse to produce the mere inanities
which are now called luxuries, or the poison and trash now called
cheap wares. No one would make plush breeches when there were no
flunkies to wear them, nor would anybody waste his time over making
oleomargarine when no one was COMPELLED to abstain from real butter.
Adulteration laws are only needed in a society of thieves--and in
such a society they are a dead letter.

Socialists are often asked how work of the rougher and more repulsive
kind could be carried out in the new condition of things. To attempt
to answer such questions fully or authoritatively would be attempting
the impossibility of constructing a scheme of a new society out of
the materials of the old, before we knew which of those materials
would disappear and which endure through the evolution which is
leading us to the great change. Yet it is not difficult to conceive
of some arrangement whereby those who did the roughest work should
work for the shortest spells. And again, what is said above of the
variety of work applies specially here. Once more I say, that for a
man to be the whole of his life hopelessly engaged in performing one
repulsive and never-ending task, is an arrangement fit enough for the
hell imagined by theologians, but scarcely fit for any other form of
society. Lastly, if this rougher work were of any special kind, we
may suppose that special volunteers would be called on to perform it,
who would surely be forthcoming, unless men in a state of freedom
should lose the sparks of manliness which they possessed as slaves.

And yet if there be any work which cannot be made other than
repulsive, either by the shortness of its duration or the
intermittency of its recurrence, or by the sense of special and
peculiar usefulness (and therefore honour) in the mind of the man who
performs it freely,--if there be any work which cannot be but a
torment to the worker, what then? Well, then, let us see if the
heavens will fall on us if we leave it undone, for it were better
that they should. The produce of such work cannot be worth the price
of it.

Now we have seen that the semi-theological dogma that all labour,
under any circumstances, is a blessing to the labourer, is
hypocritical and false; that, on the other hand, labour is good when
due hope of rest and pleasure accompanies it. We have weighed the
work of civilization in the balance and found it wanting, since hope
is mostly lacking to it, and therefore we see that civilization has
bred a dire curse for men. But we have seen also that the work of
the world might be carried on in hope and with pleasure if it were
not wasted by folly and tyranny, by the perpetual strife of opposing

It is Peace, therefore, which we need in order that we may live and
work in hope and with pleasure. Peace so much desired, if we may
trust men's words, but which has been so continually and steadily
rejected by them in deeds. But for us, let us set our hearts on it
and win it at whatever cost.

What the cost may be, who can tell? Will it be possible to win peace
peaceably? Alas, how can it be? We are so hemmed in by wrong and
folly, that in one way or other we must always be fighting against
them: our own lives may see no end to the struggle, perhaps no
obvious hope of the end. It may be that the best we can hope to see
is that struggle getting sharper and bitterer day by day, until it
breaks out openly at last into the slaughter of men by actual warfare
instead of by the slower and crueller methods of "peaceful" commerce.
If we live to see that, we shall live to see much; for it will mean
the rich classes grown conscious of their own wrong and robbery, and
consciously defending them by open violence; and then the end will be
drawing near.

But in any case, and whatever the nature of our strife for peace may
be, if we only aim at it steadily and with singleness of heart, and
ever keep it in view, a reflection from that peace of the future will
illumine the turmoil and trouble of our lives, whether the trouble be
seemingly petty, or obviously tragic; and we shall, in our hopes at
least, live the lives of men: nor can the present times give us any
reward greater than that.


Perhaps some of my readers may think that the above title is not a
correct one: it may be said, a new epoch is always dawning, change
is always going on, and it goes on so gradually that we do not know
when we are out of an old epoch and into a new one. There is truth
in that, at least to this extent, that no age can see itself: we
must stand some way off before the confused picture with its rugged
surface can resolve itself into its due order, and seem to be
something with a definite purpose carried through all its details.
Nevertheless, when we look back on history we do distinguish periods
in the lapse of time that are not merely arbitrary ones, we note the
early growth of the ideas which are to form the new order of things,
we note their development into the transitional period, and finally
the new epoch is revealed to us bearing in its full development,
unseen as yet, the seeds of the newer order still which shall
transform it in its turn into something else.

Moreover, there are periods in which even those alive in them become
more or less conscious of the change which is always going on; the
old ideas which were once so exciting to men's imaginations, now
cease to move them, though they may be accepted as dull and necessary
platitudes: the material circumstances of man's life which were once
only struggled with in detail, and only according to a kind of law
made manifest in their working, are in such times conscious of
change, and are only accepted under protest until some means can be
found to alter them. The old and dying order, once silent and all-
powerful, tries to express itself violently, and becomes at once
noisy and weak. The nascent order once too weak to be conscious of
need of expression, or capable of it if it were, becomes conscious
now and finds a voice. The silent sap of the years is being laid
aside for open assault; the men are gathering under arms in the
trenches, and the forlorn hope is ready, no longer trifling with
little solacements of the time of weary waiting, but looking forward
to mere death or the joy of victory.

Now I think, and some who read this will agree with me, that we are
now living in one of these times of conscious change; we not only
are, but we also feel ourselves to be living between the old and the
new; we are expecting something to happen, as the phrase goes: at
such times it behoves us to understand what is the old which is
dying, what is the new which is coming into existence? That is a
question practically important to us all, since these periods of
conscious change are also, in one way or other, times of serious
combat, and each of us, if he does not look to it and learn to
understand what is going on, may find himself fighting on the wrong
side, the side with which he really does not sympathize.

What is the combat we are now entering upon--who is it to be fought
between? Absolutism and Democracy, perhaps some will answer. Not
quite, I think; that contest was practically settled by the great
French Revolution; it is only its embers which are burning now: or
at least that is so in the countries which are not belated like
Russia, for instance. Democracy, or at least what used to be
considered Democracy, is now triumphant; and though it is true that
there are countries where freedom of speech is repressed besides
Russia, as e.g., Germany and Ireland, {6} that only happens when the
rulers of the triumphant Democracy are beginning to be afraid of the
new order of things, now becoming conscious of itself, and are being
driven into reaction in consequence. No, it is not Absolutism and
Democracy as the French Revolution understood those two words that
are the enemies now: the issue is deeper than it was; the two foes
are now Mastership and Fellowship. This is a far more serious
quarrel than the old one, and involves a much completer revolution.
The grounds of conflict are really quite different. Democracy said
and says, men shall not be the masters of others, because hereditary
privilege has made a race or a family so, and they happen to belong
to such race; they shall individually grow into being the masters of
others by the development of certain qualities under a system of
authority which ARTIFICIALLY protects the wealth of every man, if he
has acquired it in accordance with this artificial system, from the
interference of every other, or from all others combined.

The new order of things says, on the contrary, why have masters at
all? let us be FELLOWS working in the harmony of association for the
common good, that is, for the greatest happiness and completest
development of every human being in the community.

This ideal and hope of a new society founded on industrial peace and
forethought, bearing with it its own ethics, aiming at a new and
higher life for all men, has received the general name of Socialism,
and it is my firm belief that it is destined to supersede the old
order of things founded on industrial war, and to be the next step in
the progress of humanity.

Now, since I must explain further what are the aims of Socialism, the
ideal of the new epoch, I find that I must begin by explaining to you
what is the constitution of the old order which it is destined to
supplant. If I can make that clear to you, I shall have also made
clear to you the first aim of Socialism: for I have said that the
present and decaying order of things, like those which have gone
before it, has to be propped up by a system of artificial authority;
when that artificial authority has been swept away, harmonious
association will be felt by all men to be a necessity of their happy
and undegraded existence on the earth, and Socialism will become the
condition under which we shall all live, and it will develop
naturally, and probably with no violent conflict, whatever detailed
system may be necessary: I say the struggle will not be over these
details, which will surely vary according to the difference of
unchangeable natural surroundings, but over the question, shall it be
mastership or fellowship?

Let us see then what is the condition of society under the last
development of mastership, the commercial system, which has taken the
place of the Feudal system.

Like all other systems of society, it is founded on the necessity of
man conquering his subsistence from Nature by labour, and also, like
most other systems that we know of, it presupposes the unequal
distribution of labour among different classes of society, and the
unequal distribution of the results of that labour: it does not
differ in that respect from the system which it supplanted; it has
only altered the method whereby that unequal distribution should be
arranged. There are still rich people and poor people amongst us, as
there were in the Middle Ages; nay, there is no doubt that,
relatively at least to the sum of wealth existing, the rich are
richer and the poor are poorer now than they were then. However that
may be, in any case now as then there are people who have much work
and little wealth living beside other people who have much wealth and
little work. The richest are still the idlest, and those who work
hardest and perform the most painful tasks are the worst rewarded for
their labour.

To me, and I should hope to my readers, this seems grossly unfair;
and I may remind you here that the world has always had a sense of
its injustice. For century after century, while society has
strenuously bolstered up this injustice forcibly and artificially, it
has professed belief in philosophies, codes of ethics, and religions
which have inculcated justice and fair dealing between men: nay,
some of them have gone so far as to bid us bear one another's
burdens, and have put before men the duty, and in the long run the
pleasure, of the strong working for the weak, the wise for the
foolish, the helpful for the helpless; and yet these precepts of
morality have been set aside in practice as persistently as they have
been preached in theory; and naturally so, since they attack the very
basis of class society. I as a Socialist am bound to preach them to
you once more, assuring you that they are no mere foolish dreams
bidding us to do what we now must acknowledge to be impossible, but
reasonable rules of action, good for our defence against the tyranny
of Nature. Anyhow, honest men have the choice before them of either
putting these theories in practice or rejecting them altogether. If
they will but face that dilemma, I think we shall soon have a new
world of it; yet I fear they will find it hard to do so: the theory
is old, and we have got used to it and its form of words: the
practice is new, and would involve responsibilities we have not yet
thought much of.

Now the great difference between our present system and that of the
feudal period is that, as far as the conditions of life are
concerned, all distinction of classes is abolished except that
between rich and poor: society is thus simplified; the arbitrary
distinction is gone, the real one remains and is far more stringent
than the arbitrary one was. Once all society was rude, there was
little real difference between the gentleman and the non-gentleman,
and you had to dress them differently from one another in order to
distinguish them. But now a well-to-do man is a refined and
cultivated being, enjoying to the full his share of the conquest over
Nature which the modern world has achieved, while the poor man is
rude and degraded, and has no share in the wealth conquered by modern
science from Nature: he is certainly no better as to material
condition than the serf of the Middle Ages, perhaps he is worse: to
my mind he is at least worse than the savage living in a good

I do not think that any thoughtful man seriously denies this: let us
try to see what brings it about; let us see it as clearly as we all
see that the hereditary privilege of the noble caste, and the
consequent serf slavery of the workers of the Middle Ages, brought
about the peculiar conditions of that period.

Society is now divided between two classes, those who monopolize all
the means of the production of wealth save one; and those who possess
nothing except that one, the Power of Labour. That power of labour
is useless to its possessors, and cannot be exercised without the
help of the other means of production; but those who have nothing but
labour-power--i.e., who have no means of making others work for them,
must work for themselves in order to live; and they must therefore
apply to the owners of the means of fructifying labour--i.e., the
land, machinery, &c., for leave to work that they may live. The
possessing class (as for short we will call them) are quite prepared
to grant this leave, and indeed they must grant it if they are to use
the labour-power of the non-possessing class for their own advantage,
which is their special privilege. But that privilege enables them to
COMPEL the non-possessing class to sell them their labour-power on
terms which ensure the continuance of their monopoly. These terms
are at the outset very simple. The possessing class, or masters,
allow the men just so much of the wealth produced by their labour as
will give them such a livelihood as is considered necessary at the
time, and will permit them to breed and rear children to a working
age: that is the simple condition of the "bargain" which obtains
when the labour-power required is low in quality, what is called
unskilled labour, and when the workers are too weak or ignorant to
combine so as to threaten the masters with some form of rebellion.
When skilled labour is wanted, and the labourer has consequently cost
more to produce, and is rarer to be found, the price of the article
is higher: as also when the commodity labour takes to thinking and
remembers that after all it is also men, and as aforesaid holds out
threats to the masters; in that case they for their part generally
think it prudent to give way, when the competition of the market
allows them to do so, and so the standard of livelihood for the
workers rises.

But to speak plainly, the greater part of the workers, in spite of
strikes and Trades' Unions, do get little more than a bare
subsistence wage, and when they grow sick or old they would die
outright if it were not for the refuge afforded them by the
workhouse, which is purposely made as prison-like and wretched as
possible, in order to prevent the lower-paid workers from taking
refuge in it before the time of their INDUSTRIAL death.

Now comes the question as to how the masters are able to force the
men to sell their commodity labour-power so dirt-cheap without
treating them as the ancients treated their slaves--i.e., with the
whip. Well, of course you understand that the master having paid his
workmen what they can live upon, and having paid for the wear and
tear of machinery and other expenses of that kind, has for his share
whatever remains over and above, THE WHOLE OF WHICH HE GETS FROM THE
therefore to make the most of this privilege, and competes with his
fellow-manufacturers to the utmost in the market: so that the
distribution of wares is organized on a gambling basis, and as a
consequence many more hands are needed when trade is brisk than when
it is slack, or even in an ordinary condition: under the stimulus
also of the lust for acquiring this surplus value of labour, the
great machines of our epoch were invented and are yearly improved,
and they act on labour in a threefold way: first they get rid of
many hands; next they lower the quality of the labour required, so
that skilled work is wanted less and less; thirdly, the improvement
in them forces the workers to work harder while they are at work, as
notably in the cotton-spinning industry. Also in most trades women
and children are employed, to whom it is not even pretended that a
subsistence wage is given. Owing to all these causes, the reserve
army of labour necessary to our present system of manufactures for
the gambling market, the introduction of labour-saving machines
(labour saved for the master, mind you, not the man), and the
intensifying of the labour while it lasts, the employment of the
auxiliary labour of women and children: owing to all this there are
in ordinary years even, not merely in specially bad years like the
current one, {7} more workers than there is work for them to do. The
workers therefore undersell one another in disposing of their one
commodity, labour-power, and are forced to do so, or they would not
be allowed to work, and therefore would have to starve or go to the
prison called the workhouse. This is why the masters at the present
day are able to dispense with the exercise of obvious violence which
in bygone times they used towards their slaves.

This then is the first distinction between the two great classes of
modern Society: the upper class possesses wealth, the lower lacks
wealth; but there is another distinction to which I will now draw
your attention: the class which lacks wealth is the class that
produces it, the class that possesses it does not produce it, it
consumes it only. If by any chance the so-called lower class were to
perish or leave the community, production of wealth would come to a
standstill, until the wealth-owners had learned how to produce, until
they had descended from their position, and had taken the place of
their former slaves. If on the contrary, the wealth-owners were to
disappear, production of wealth would at the worst be only hindered
for awhile, and probably would go on pretty much as it does now.

But you may say, though it is certain that some of the wealth-owners,
as landlords, holders of funds, and the like do nothing, yet there
are many of them who work hard. Well, that is true, and perhaps
nothing so clearly shows the extreme folly of the present system than
this fact that there are so many able and industrious men employed by
it, in working hard at--nothing: nothing or worse. They work, but
they do not produce.

It is true that some useful occupations are in the hands of the
privileged classes, physic, education, and the fine arts, e.g. The
men who work at these occupations are certainly working usefully; and
all that we can say against them is that they are sometimes paid too
high in proportion to the pay of other useful persons, which high pay
is given them in recognition of their being the parasites of the
possessing classes. But even as to numbers these are not a very
large part of the possessors of wealth, and, as to the wealth they
hold, it is quite insignificant compared with that held by those who
do nothing useful.

Of these last, some, as we all agree, do not pretend to do anything
except amuse themselves, and probably these are the least harmful of
the useless classes. Then there are others who follow occupations
which would have no place in a reasonable condition of society, as,
e.g., lawyers, judges, jailers, and soldiers of the higher grades,
and most Government officials. Finally comes the much greater group
of those who are engaged in gambling or fighting for their individual
shares of the tribute which their class compels the working-class to
yield to it: these are the group that one calls broadly business
men, the conductors of our commerce, if you please to call them so.

To extract a good proportion of this tribute, and to keep as much as
possible of it when extracted for oneself, is the main business of
life for these men, that is, for most well-to-do and rich people; it
is called, quite inaccurately, "money-making;" and those who are most
successful in this occupation are, in spite of all hypocritical
pretences to the contrary, the persons most respected by the public.

A word or two as to the tribute extracted from the workers as
aforesaid. It is no trifle, but amounts to at least two-thirds of
all that the worker produces; but you must understand that it is not
all taken directly from the workman by his immediate employer, but by
the employing class. Besides the tribute or profit of the direct
employer, which is in all cases as much as he can get amidst his
competition or war with other employers, the worker has also to pay
taxes in various forms, and the greater part of the wealth so
extorted is at the best merely wasted: and remember, whoever SEEMS
to pay the taxes, labour in the long run is the only real taxpayer.
Then he has to pay house-rent, and very much heavier rent in
proportion to his earnings than well-to-do people have. He has also
to pay the commission of the middle-men who distribute the goods
which he has made, in a way so wasteful that now all thinking people
cry out against it, though they are quite helpless against it in our
present society. Finally, he has often to pay an extra tax in the
shape of a contribution to a benefit society or trades' union, which
is really a tax on the precariousness of his employment caused by the
gambling of his masters in the market. In short, besides the profit
or the result of unpaid labour which he yields to his immediate
master he has to give back a large part of his wages to the class of
which his master is a part.

The privilege of the possessing class therefore consists in their
living on this tribute, they themselves either not working or working
unproductively--i.e., living on the labour of others; no otherwise
than as the master of ancient days lived on the labour of his slave,
or as the baron lived on the labour of his serf. If the capital of
the rich man consists of land, he is able to force a tenant to
improve his land for him and pay him tribute in the form of rack-
rent; and at the end of the transaction has his land again, generally
improved, so that he can begin again and go on for ever, he and his
heirs, doing nothing, a mere burden on the community for ever, while
others are working for him. If he has houses on his land he has rent
for them also, often receiving the value of the building many times
over, and in the end house and land once more. Not seldom a piece of
barren ground or swamp, worth nothing in itself, becomes a source of
huge fortune to him from the development of a town or a district, and
he pockets the results of the labour of thousands upon thousands of
men, and calls it his property: or the earth beneath the surface is
found to be rich in coal or minerals, and again he must be paid vast
sums for allowing others to labour them into marketable wares, to
which labour he contributes nothing.

Or again, if his capital consists of cash, he goes into the labour
market and buys the labour-power of men, women and children, and uses
it for the production of wares which shall bring him in a profit,
buying it of course at the lowest price that he can, availing himself
of their necessities to keep their livelihood down to the lowest
point which they will bear: which indeed he MUST do, or he himself
will be overcome in the war with his fellow-capitalists. Neither in
this case does he do any useful work, and he need not do any
semblance of it, since he may buy the brain-power of managers at a
somewhat higher rate than he buys the hand-power of the ordinary
workman. But even when he does seem to be doing something, and
receives the pompous title of "organizer of labour," he is not really
organizing LABOUR, but the battle with his immediate enemies, the
other capitalists, who are in the same line of business with himself.

Furthermore, though it is true, as I have said, that the working-
class are the only producers, yet only a part of them are allowed to
produce usefully; for the men of the non-producing classes having
often much more wealth than they can USE are forced to WASTE it in
mere luxuries and follies, that on the one hand harm themselves, and
on the other withdraw a very large part of the workers from useful
work, thereby compelling those who do produce usefully to work the
harder and more grievously: in short, the essential accompaniment of
the system is waste.

How could it be otherwise, since it is a system of war? I have
mentioned incidentally that all the employers of labour are at war
with each other, and you will probably see that, according to my
account of the relations between the two great classes, they also are
at war. Each can only gain at the others' loss: the employing class
is forced to make the most of its privilege, the possession of the
means for the exercise of labour, and whatever it gets to itself can
only be got at the expense of the working-class; and that class in
its turn can only raise its standard of livelihood at the expense of
the possessing class; it is FORCED to yield as little tribute to it
as it can help; there is therefore constant war always going on
between these two classes, whether they are conscious of it or not.

To recapitulate: In our modern society there are two classes, a
useful and a useless class; the useless class is called the upper,
the useful the lower class. The useless or upper class, having the
monopoly of all the means of the production of wealth save the power
of labour, can and does compel the useful or lower class to work for
its own disadvantage, and for the advantage of the upper class; nor
will the latter allow the useful class to work on any other terms.
This arrangement necessarily means an increasing contest, first of
the classes one against the other, and next of the individuals of
each class among themselves.

Most thinking people admit the truth of what I have just stated, but
many of them believe that the system, though obviously unjust and
wasteful, is necessary (though perhaps they cannot give their reasons
for their belief), and so they can see nothing for it but palliating
the worst evils of the system: but, since the various palliatives in
fashion at one time or another have failed each in its turn, I call
upon them, firstly, to consider whether the system itself might not
be changed, and secondly, to look round and note the signs of
approaching change.

Let us remember first that even savages live, though they have poor
tools, no machinery, and no co-operation, in their work: but as soon
as a man begins to use good tools and work with some kind of co-
operation he becomes able to produce more than enough for his own
bare necessaries, All industrial society is founded on that fact,
even from the time when workmen were mere chattel slaves. What a
strange society then is this of ours, wherein while one set of people
cannot use their wealth, they have so much, but are obliged to waste
it, another set are scarcely if at all better than those hapless
savages who have neither tools nor co-operation! Surely if this
cannot be set right, civilized mankind must write itself down a
civilized fool.

Here is the workman now, thoroughly organized for production, working
for production with complete co-operation, and through marvellous
machines; surely if a slave in Aristotle's time could do more than
keep himself alive, the present workman can do much more--as we all
very well know that he can. Why therefore should he be otherwise
than in a comfortable condition? Simply because of the class system,
which with one hand plunders, and with the other wastes the wealth
won by the workman's labour. If the workman had the full results of
his labour he would in all cases be comfortably off, if he were
working in an unwasteful way. But in order to work unwastefully he
must work for his own livelihood, and not to enable another man to
live without producing: if he has to sustain another man in idleness
who is capable of working for himself, he is treated unfairly; and,
believe me, he will only do so as long he is compelled to submit by
ignorance and brute force. Well, then, he has a right to claim the
wealth produced by his labour, and in consequence to insist that all
shall produce who are able to do so; but also undoubtedly his labour
must be organized, or he will soon find himself relapsing into the
condition of the savage. But in order that his labour may be
organized properly he must have only one enemy to contend with--
Nature to wit, who as it were eggs him on to the conflict against
herself, and is grateful to him for overcoming her; a friend in the
guise of an enemy. There must be no contention of man with man, but
ASSOCIATION instead; so only can labour be really organized,
harmoniously organized. But harmony cannot co-exist with contention
for individual gain: men must work for the common gain if the world
is to be raised out of its present misery; therefore that claim of
the workman (that is of every able man) must be subject to the fact
that he is but a part of a harmonious whole: he is worthless without
the co-operation of his fellows, who help him according to their
capacities: he ought to feel, and will feel when he has his right
senses, that he is working for his own interest when he is working
for that of the community.

So working, his work must always be profitable, therefore no obstacle
must be thrown in the way of his work: the means whereby his labour-
power can be exercised must be free to him. The privilege of the
proprietary class must come to an end. Remember that at present the
custom is that a person so privileged is in the position of a man
(with a policeman or so to help) guarding the gate of a field which
will supply livelihood to whomsoever can work in it: crowds of
people who don't want to die come to that gate; but there stands law
and order, and says "pay me five shillings before you go in;" and he
or she that hasn't the five shillings has to stay outside, and die--
or live in the workhouse. Well, that must be done away with; the
field must be free to everybody that can use it. To throw aside even
this transparent metaphor, those means of the fructification of
labour, the land, machinery, capital, means of transit, &c., which
are now monopolized by those who cannot use them, but who abuse them
to force unpaid labour out of others, must be free to those who can
use them; that is to say, the workers properly organized for
production; but you must remember that this will wrong no man,
because as all will do some service to the community--i.e., as there
will be no non-producing class, the organized workers will be the
whole community, there will be no one left out.

Society will thus be recast, and labour will be free from all
compulsion except the compulsion of Nature, which gives us nothing
for nothing. It would be futile to attempt to give you details of
the way in which this would be carried out; since the very essence of
it is freedom and the abolition of all arbitrary or artificial
authority; but I will ask you to understand one thing: you will no
doubt want to know what is to become of private property under such a
system, which at first sight would not seem to forbid the
accumulation of wealth, and along with that accumulation the
formation of new classes of rich and poor.

Now private property as at present understood implies the holding of
wealth by an individual as against all others, whether the holder can
use it or not: he may, and not seldom he does, accumulate capital,
or the stored-up labour of past generations, and neither use it
himself nor allow others to use it: he may, and often he does,
engross the first necessity of labour, land, and neither use it
himself or allow any one else to use it; and though it is clear that
in each case he is injuring the community, the law is sternly on his
side. In any case a rich man accumulates property, not for his own
use, but in order that he may evade with impunity the law of Nature
which bids man labour for his livelihood, and also that he may enable
his children to do the same, that he and they may belong to the upper
or useless class: it is not wealth that he accumulates, well-being,
well-doing, bodily and mental; he soon comes to the end of his real
needs in that respect, even when they are most exacting: it is power
over others, what our forefathers called RICHES, that he collects;
power (as we have seen) to force other people to live for his
advantage poorer lives than they should live. Understand that that
MUST be the result of the possession of RICHES.

Now this power to compel others to live poorly Socialism would
abolish entirely, and in that sense would make an end of private
property: nor would it need to make laws to prevent accumulation
artificially when once people had found out that they could employ
themselves, and that thereby every man could enjoy the results of his
own labour: for Socialism bases the rights of the individual to
possess wealth on his being able to use that wealth for his own
personal needs, and, labour being properly organized, every person,
male or female, not in nonage or otherwise incapacitated from
working, would have full opportunity to produce wealth and thereby to
satisfy his own personal needs; if those needs went in any direction
beyond those of an average man, he would have to make personal
sacrifices in order to satisfy them; he would have, for instance, to
work longer hours, or to forego some luxury that he did not care for
in order to obtain something which he very much desired: so doing he
would at the worst injure no one: and you will clearly see that
there is no other choice for him between so doing and his forcing
some one else to forego HIS special desires; and this latter
proceeding by the way, when it is done without the sanction of the
most powerful part of society, is called THEFT; though on the big
scale and duly sanctioned by artificial laws, it is, as we have seen,
the groundwork of our present system. Once more, that system refuses
permission to people to produce unless under artificial restrictions;
under Socialism, every one who could produce would be free to
produce, so that the price of an article would be just the cost of
its production, and what we now call profit would no longer exist:
thus, for instance, if a person wanted chairs, he would accumulate
them till he had as many as he could use, and then he would stop,
since he would not have been able to buy them for less than their
cost of production and could not sell them for more: in other words,
they would be nothing else than chairs; under the present system they
may be means of compulsion and destruction as formidable as loaded

No one therefore would dispute with a man the possession of what he
had acquired without injury to others, and what he could use without
injuring them, and it would so remove temptations toward the abuse of
possession, that probably no laws would be necessary to prevent it.

A few words now as to the differentiation of reward of labour, as I
know my readers are sure to want an exposition of the Socialist views
here as to those who direct labour or who have specially excellent
faculties towards production. And, first, I will look on the super-
excellent workman as an article presumably needed by the community;
and then say that, as with other articles so with this, the community
must pay the cost of his production: for instance, it will have to
seek him out, to develop his special capacities, and satisfy any
needs he may have (if any) beyond those of an average man, so long as
the satisfaction of those needs is not hurtful to the community.

Furthermore, you cannot give him more than he can use so he will not
ask for more, and will not take it: it is true that his work may be
more special than another's, but it is not more necessary if you have
organized labour properly; the ploughman and the fisherman are as
necessary to society as the scientist or the artist, I will not say
more necessary: neither is the difficulty of producing the more
special and excellent work at all proportionate to its speciality or
excellence: the higher workman produces his work as easily perhaps
as the lower does his work; if he does not do so, you must give him
extra leisure, extra means for supplying the waste of power in him,
but you can give him nothing more. The only reward that you CAN give
the excellent workman is opportunity for developing and exercising
his excellent capacity. I repeat, you CAN give him nothing more
worth his having: all other rewards are either illusory or harmful.
I must say in passing, that our present system of dealing with what
is called a man of genius is utterly absurd: we cruelly starve him
and repress his capacity when he is young; we foolishly pamper and
flatter him and again repress his capacity when he is middle-aged or
old: we get the least out of him, not the most.

These last words concern mere rarities in the way of workmen; but in
this respect it is only a matter of degree; the point of the whole
thing is this, that the director of labour is in his place because he
is fit for it, not by a mere accident; being fit for it, he does it
easier than he would do other work, and needs no more compensation
for the wear and tear of life than another man does, and not needing
it will not claim it, since it would be no use to him; his special
reward for his special labour is, I repeat, that he can do it easily,
and so does not feel it a burden; nay, since he can do it WELL he
likes doing it, since indeed the main pleasure of life is the
exercise of energy in the development of our special capacities.
Again, as regards the workmen who are under his direction, he needs
no special dignity or authority; they know well enough that so long
as he fulfils his function and really does direct them, if they do
not heed him it will be at the cost of their labour being more
irksome and harder. All this, in short, is what is meant by the
organization of labour, which is, in other words, finding out what
work such and such people are fittest for and leaving them free to do
that: we won't take the trouble to do that now, with the result that
people's best faculties are wasted, and that work is a heavy burden
to them, which they naturally shirk as much as they can; it should be
rather a pleasure to them: and I say straight out that, unless we
find some means to make all work more or less pleasurable, we shall
never escape from the great tyranny of the modern world.

Having mentioned the difference between the competitive and
commercial ideas on the subject of the individual holding of wealth
and the relative position of different groups of workmen, I will very
briefly say something on what for want of a better word I must call
the political position which we take up, or at least what we look
forward to in the long run. The substitution of association for
competition is the foundation of Socialism, and will run through all
acts done under it, and this must act as between nations as well as
between individuals: when profits can no more be made, there will be
no necessity for holding together masses of men to draw together the
greatest proportion of profit to their locality, or to the real or
imaginary union of persons and corporations which is now called a
nation. What we now call a nation is a body whose function it is to
assert the special welfare of its incorporated members at the expense
of all other similar bodies: the death of competition will deprive
it of this function; since there will be no attack there need be no
defence, and it seems to me that this function being taken away from
the nation it can have no other, and therefore must cease to exist as
a political entity. On this side of the movement opinion is growing
steadily. It is clear that, quite apart from Socialism, the idea of
local administration is pushing out that of centralized government:
to take a remarkable case: in the French Revolution of 1793, the
most advanced party was centralizing: in the latest French
revolution, that of the Commune of 1871, it was federalist. Or take
Ireland, the success which is to-day attending the struggles of
Ireland for independence is, I am quite sure, owing to the spread of
this idea: it no longer seems a monstrous proposition to liberal-
minded Englishmen that a country should administer its own affairs:
the feeling that it is not only just, but also very convenient to all
parties for it to do so, is extinguishing the prejudices fostered by
centuries of oppressive and wasteful mastership. And I believe that
Ireland will show that her claim for self-government is not made on
behalf of national rivalry, but rather on behalf of genuine
independence; the consideration, on the one hand, of the needs of her
own population, and, on the other, goodwill towards that of other
localities. Well, the spread of this idea will make our political
work as Socialists the easier; men will at last come to see that the
only way to avoid the tyranny and waste of bureaucracy is by the
Federation of Independent Communities: their federation being for
definite purposes: for furthering the organization of labour, by
ascertaining the real demand for commodities, and so avoiding waste:
for organizing the distribution of goods, the migration of persons--
in short, the friendly intercommunication of people whose interests
are common, although the circumstances of their natural surroundings
made necessary differences of life and manners between them.

I have thus sketched something of the outline of Socialism, by
showing that its aim is first to get rid of the monopoly of the means
of fructifying labour, so that labour may be free to all, and its
resulting wealth may not be engrossed by a few, and so cause the
misery and degradation of the many: and, secondly, that it aims at
organizing labour so that none of it may be wasted, using as a means
thereto the free development of each man's capacity; and, thirdly,
that it aims at getting rid of national rivalry, which in point of
fact means a condition of perpetual war, sometimes of the money-bag,
sometimes of the bullet, and substituting for this worn-out
superstition a system of free communities living in harmonious
federation with each other, managing their own affairs by the free
consent of their members; yet acknowledging some kind of centre whose
function it would be to protect the principle whose practice the
communities should carry out; till at last those principles would be
recognized by every one always and intuitively, when the last
vestiges of centralization would die out.

I am well aware that this complete Socialism, which is sometimes
called Communism, cannot be realized all at once; society will be
changed from its basis when we make the form of robbery called profit
impossible by giving labour full and free access to the means of its
fructification--i.e., to raw material. The demand for this
emancipation of labour is the basis on which all Socialists may
unite. On more indefinite grounds they cannot meet other groups of
politicians; they can only rejoice at seeing the ground cleared of
controversies which are really dead, in order that the last
controversy may be settled that we can at present foresee, and the
question solved as to whether or no it is necessary, as some people
think it is, that society should be composed of two groups of
dishonest persons, slaves submitting to be slaves, yet for ever
trying to cheat their masters, and masters conscious of their having
no support for their dishonesty of eating the common stock without
adding to it save the mere organization of brute force, which they
have to assert for ever in all details of life against the natural
desire of man to be free.

It may be hoped that we of this generation may be able to prove that
it is unnecessary; but it will, doubt it not, take many generations
yet to prove that it is necessary for such degradation to last as
long as humanity does; and when that is finally proved we shall at
least have one hope left--that humanity will not last long.


{1} Falsely; because the privileged classes have at their back the
force of the Executive by means of which to compel the unprivileged
to accept their terms; if this is "free competition" there is no
meaning in words.

{2} Read at the Conference convened by the Fabian Society at South
Place Institute, June 11, 1886.

{3} They HAVE been "rather rough," you may say, and have done more
than merely hold their sentimental position. Well, I still say
(February 1888) that the present open tyranny which sends political
opponents to prison, both in England and Ireland, and breaks Radical
heads in the street for attempting to attend political meetings, is
not Tory, but Whig; not the old Tory "divine right of kings," but the
new Tory, i.e., Tory-tinted Whig, "divine right of property" made
Bloody Sunday possible. I admit that I did not expect in 1886 that
we should in 1887 and 1888 be having such a brilliant example of the
tyranny of a parliamentary majority; in fact, I did not reckon on the
force of the impenetrable stupidity of the Prigs in alliance with the
Whigs marching under the rather ragged banner of sham Toryism.

{4} As true now (February 1888) as then: the murder of the Chicago
Anarchists, to wit.

{5} I suppose he was speaking of the frame houses of Kent.

{6} And the brick and mortar country London, also, it seems (Feb.

{7} 1886, to wit.

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