A Critical Examination of Socialism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 284 pages of information about A Critical Examination of Socialism.

Let any one consider, for example, one of the great steel bridges which now throw their single spans over waters such as the Firth of Forth.  These structures are crystallised labour, doubtless, but they are, in their distinctive features, not crystallised labour as such.  They are crystallised mechanics, crystallised chemistry, crystallised mathematics—­in short, crystallised intellect, knowledge, imagination, and executive capacity, of kinds which hardly exist in a dozen minds out of a million; and labour conduces to the production of such astonishing structures only because it submits itself to the guidance of these intellectual leaders.  And the same is the case with modern production generally.  Though labour is essential to the production of wealth even in the smallest quantities, the distinguishing productivity of industry in the modern world depends not on the labour, but on the ability with which the labour is directed; and in the modern world the primary function of capital is that of providing ability with its necessary instrument of direction.

No unprejudiced person, who is capable of coherent thought, can, when the matter is thus plainly stated, possibly deny this.  That it cannot be denied will be shown in the two following chapters by recent admissions on the part of socialists themselves, the more thoughtful of whom have now virtually abandoned the earlier theoretical framework of socialism altogether, and are trying to substitute a new one, with which we will deal later, and which will indeed prove the main subject of our inquiry.


[1] When I insisted on this distinction between “labour” and “ability” in America, innumerable critics met me with two objections.  One of these, as stated by a writer who confessed himself otherwise in entire agreement with me, was this:  “It is impossible, as Mr. Mallock attempts to do, to draw a hard-and-fast line between mental effort and muscular.”  No such attempt is made.  As I pointed out in one of my speeches, many kinds of “labour” (e.g. that of the great painter) exhibit higher mentality than do many kinds of ability.  Further, I pointed out that, in a technical sense, the same effort may be either an effort of labour or ability, according to its application.  Thus, if a singer sings to an audience, his effort is technically “labour,” because it ends with the single task; but if he sings so as to produce a gramophone record, his effort is an act of “ability,” for he influences the products of other men, by whom the records are multiplied.  The second objection was expressed by one of my critics thus:  “I say that all productive effort is labour....  I dare you to tell any one of these genii that they are not labourers.”  Another critic said:  “Just as ‘land’ in economics means all the forces of nature, so does ‘labour’ mean all the forces of man.  Why, then, speak of ability?” These criticisms are purely verbal.  If we like to take “labour” as a collective name for all forms of human effort, we can of course do so; but in that case we must find other differential names for the different forces of effort individually.  To give them all the same name is not to explain them.  It is to tie them all up in a parcel.

Project Gutenberg
A Critical Examination of Socialism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook