Such being the situation, as the socialists accurately describe it, an eminent thinker arose who at last supplied what was wanting. He provided the unorganised aspirations, which by this time were known as socialism, with a formula which was at once definite, intelligible, and comprehensive, and had all the air of being rigidly scientific also. By this means thoughts and feelings, previously vague and fluid, like salts held in solution, were crystallised into a clear-cut theory which was absolutely the same for all; which all who accepted it could accept with the same intellectual confidence; and which thus became a moral and mental nucleus around which the efforts and hopes of a coherent party could group themselves.
Such was the feat accomplished by Karl Marx, through his celebrated treatise on Capital, which was published between fifty and sixty years ago, and which has, since then, throughout all Europe and America, been acclaimed as the Magna Charta, or the Bible, of “scientific socialism.”
Whatever may be the change which, as a theory, socialism has subsequently undergone—and changes there have been which will presently occupy our attention—it is with the theory of Marx, and the temper of mind resulting from it, that socialism, regarded as a practical force, begins; and among the majority of socialists this theory is predominant still. In view, therefore, of the requirements of logic, of history, and of contemporary facts, our own examination must begin with the theory of Marx likewise.
THE THEORY OF MARX AND THE EARLIER SOCIALISTS SUMMARISED
All radical revolutions which are advocated in the interests of the people are commended to the people, and the people are invited to accomplish them, on the ground that majorities are, if they would only realise it, capable of moulding society in any manner they please. As applied to matters of legislation and government, this theory is sufficiently familiar to everybody. It has been elaborated in endless detail, and has expressed itself in the constitutions of all modern democracies. What Karl Marx did, and did for the first time, was to invest this theory of the all-efficiency of the majority with a definiteness, in respect of distribution of wealth, similar to that with which it had been invested already in respect of the making of laws and the dictation of national policies.