THE LAW OF APPARENT RETROGRESSION AND COLLECTIVE OWNERSHIP.
Admitting, say our adversaries, that in demanding a social transformation socialism is in apparent accord with the evolutionist theory, it does not follow that its positive conclusions—notably the substitution of social ownership for individual ownership—are justified by that theory. Still further, they add, we maintain that those conclusions are in absolute contradiction with that very theory, and that they are therefore, to say the least, utopian and absurd.
The first alleged contradiction between socialism and evolutionism is that the return to collective ownership of the land would be, at the same time, a return to the primitive, savage state of mankind, and socialism would indeed be a transformation, but a transformation in a backward direction, that is to say, against the current of the social evolution which has led us from the primitive form of collective property in land to the present form of individual property in land—the form characteristic of advanced civilization. Socialism, then, would be a return to barbarism.
This objection contains an element of truth which can not be denied; it rightly points out that collective ownership should be a return—apparent—to the primitive social organization. But the conclusion drawn from this truth is absolutely false and anti-scientific because it altogether neglects a law—which is usually forgotten—but which is no less true, no less founded on scientific observation of the facts than is the law of social evolution.
This is a sociological law which an able French physician merely pointed out in his studies on the relations between Transmutation and Socialism, and the truth and full importance of which I showed in my Sociologie criminelle (1892)—before I became a militant socialist—and which I again emphasized in my recent controversy with Morselli on the subject of divorce.
This law of apparent retrogression proves that the reversion of social institutions to primitive forms and types is a fact of constant recurrence.
Before referring to some obvious illustrations of this law, I would recall to your notice the fact that M. Cognetti de Martiis, as far back as 1881, had a vague perception of this sociological law. His work, Forme primitive nell’ evoluzione economica, (Turin, 1881), so remarkable for the fullness, accuracy and reliability of its collation of relevant facts, made it possible to foresee the possibility of the reappearance in the future economic evolution of the primitive forms characteristic of the status which formed the starting-point of the social evolution.