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CHAPTER II

AN UNCONSCIOUS SOCIALISM MAKING ITS WAY

IN LAW AND CUSTOM

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The two fundamental purposes of socialism are: collective ownership of the instruments of production -- land, factories, utensils, machinery, lifting labor out of bondage to capital; and the abolition, or great restriction of, inheritance, so that every person may (except in so far as natural endowments differ) have approximately an equal chance in the world. These objects appear, to those who have candidly considered them, so eminently desirable, so imperatively demanded by simple fairness and decency, and — in view of the fact that the ones to be benefited are an overwhelming majority — so attainable withal, at least in a democracy, as to have encouraged the expectation that they are to be speedily realized. Brilliant writers have ventured to indicate quite definitely the period within which we might look for the fulfilment of our hopes, the coming of the social revolution. These calculations impress us, after having lived past one and another of the dates set without seeing anything of the kind taking place, much as do the determinations certain lugubrious people are always making of the last day and the end of the world. At present socialists generally are coming to doubt that the substitution of a new

social order for the old is to be brought about by a sudden overturning; to think rather that the end is to be reached by the gradual processes of evolution now going on under their eyes, – processes whose beginning is hidden in a far distant past, which have been accelerated in our day, but not so as to bring the consummation within sight.

If this is the method on which the social order is to be changed, the history of the changes that have already taken place, could it be laid before us, would be of the greatest value. From the direction and tendency of past modifications, especially those of recent date, we might be able reasonably to infer something

to what is to follow, might find ground to strengthen our hopes on long lines, however it might fare with our enthusiasms touching immediate results. Such a history is beyond the limits of this work, and we must content ourselves with a hurried glance over a most interesting field.

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PRIMITIVE COMMUNISM

Whatever has been done at any time by any people, or by their representatives, directly for the public benefit or for the relief of a dependent class, is in its nature socialistic. Never a highway constructed, or a path, for whatever human feet may need to take it, blazed through a forest, but is to be so characterized. Public improvements, that is, improvements made for the general good and for no ulterior private or political end, are socialistic improvements. The

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church, and the cathedrals which are its monuments, so far as they serve the whole people, and at any rate as regards those they do serve, have a socialistic quality; as do all brotherhoods and their temples where men meet on equal terms and pledge themselves to mutual services. The same is to be said of schools, from the first of them that ever was established. The family, where all are lodged in one house, eat at one table, draw upon a common store, material and spiritual, to which they severally contribute, is the very prototype of the communistic social order, - unless we prefer to give that distinc

– tion to the tribe in the early stages of its development. For the tribe in those stages was distinctly communistic. Not only was the territory occupied — principally serving for hunting and fishing - a common possession for all members of the tribe; it could not by any sale be alienated from them to cut them off from its use for those purposes, as the early settlers of Pennsylvania found.

The rudest savages lived in huts which were only nominally private property, belonging about equally to all other members of the tribe. The more developed tribes built them communal habitations of considerable size, capable often of sheltering several hundred persons. In some of the islands of the South Pacific, La Perouse came upon tribal houses three hundred and ten feet long by thirty feet in width and twenty feet high, having the appearance of an inverted boat. An entrance at each end opened into a passage-way, on either side of which were the lodgings of the community. In the Carolines these constructions were found of dimensions to house as many as seven hundred. The “ long houses” of the Iroquois described by Morgan were of similar form and belonged to the whole community of occupants. Similarly, though in more grandiose fashion, lived the cliff-dwellers of Mexico. All around the world the settlements of these various peoples antedating civilization had their provisions in common, lived, cooked, and ate as a single family. Lafargue cites * from Heraclites, a Greek writer of the fourth century B. C., a description of people then living on the island of Crete where archaic customs persisted remarkably, going to show that they had at that time a well elaborated communism. It seems to have been the universal form of society among primitive peoples, from whom a few tribes have brought it down to our time. If to the wild man anything approaches the nature of private property, it is naturally what he gets possession of by his own personal effort, his fish and game; but we are told by observers on the ground that even these things he does not regard as his own to the exclusion of other members of the gens; he

scrupulously puts his catch at the disposal of the whole community.

Only the strongest races and races most favorably located were able without grave disaster to renounce

* La Propriété, p. 327.

the obvious and great advantages coming from possession in common of whatever good the earth has to offer. As it is, even in countries where soil and climate are of the best, we are in a measure aware how close to starvation and extinction the workers at times have come under the system which sets every man grasping for what there is in sight, even to the food that feeds his neighbor's children. In regions greatly less favorable for maintaining an existence we find the primitive communism holding on because it could not be renounced without entailing the destruction of the tribe. The Esquimaux are a case in point. Commander Peary, who has lived among them and studied them intimately these eighteen years, says: “I hope no efforts will ever be made to civilize them. Such efforts, if successful, would destroy their primitive communism, which is necessary to preserve their existence. Once give them an idea of real-estate interest and personal-property rights in houses and food, and they would become as selfish as civilized beings; whereas now any game larger than a seal is the common property of the tribe, and no man starves while his neighbors are gorging themselves. If a man has two sets of hunting implements, he gives one of them to the man who has none. It is this feeling of good fellowship which alone preserves the

race.” *

Citation of facts of this kind is not made to support

*

Hampton's Magazine for February, 1910, p. 173.

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