The Growth of Socialism

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The Growth of Socialism

By Bolton Hall

We hear a great deal about the increasing drift towards Socialism as indicated by laws for State legislation of industry. This supposed tendency is a trouble to Mr. Herbert Spencer, Investigation will show, however, that in reality no such drift exists; the current seems rather to be setting the other way. What looks like a socialistic tendency in legislation is simply an attempt to meet new conditions by a partial application of old specifics. Space is not available to examine our own legislation in detail, but a few words on Spencer’s essays on “The New Toryism” and “The Coming Slavery” will illustrate this point. Spencer refers with grief to fifteen English acts passed from 1860 to 1864; being two extensions of the Factories Act to include certain trades; acts regulating prices of gas, truancy, two for vaccination, hire of public conveyances, drainage, employment of women, coal mines, authorized pharmacopoeia, two for local improvement, bake• houses, and inspection of food.

All these, except those for the hire of conveyances, employment of women, for coal mines, bake-houses, and inspection of food, are applicable to conditions ‘which were not dreamed of a hundred years ago, and even these five appear to have been intended to correct abuses which have become serious only on account of the nineteenth-century crowding of cities and growth of factory life.

From 1880 to 1883 Spencer finds eleven Socialist Acts of Parliament; they are for regulating advance notes on sailors’ wage for the safety of ships, compulsory education, excise, trade reports, electricity, public bath lodgings, cheap trains, payment of wages, and further inspection of bake-houses.

Now, compare theses one by one (to take our samples mostly from incidental mention in the same essays) with the pressgang law which, up to the middle of this century, enslaved the sailor; with the fifteenth-century law which prohibited captains from setting out in the winter; with the law favoring education by benefit of clergy; laws fixing the price and quality of beer; prohibiting the export of gold; with the saws which, up to 1824, forbade the building of factories more than ten miles from the Royal Exchange, regulated the minimum time for which a journeyman might be retained and the number of sheep a tenant might keep, and, finally, those fixing the maximum wages of laborers and size and price of the loaf. All these laws, of which the type is the fourteenth-century regime restricting diet as well as dress, aimed, like the present laws, to correct what seemed to be abuses. They have all passed away.

How unreasonable, then, to pick out a few from over eighteen thousand laws to which New York subjects its citizens, and, because under conditions a hundred times more complicated than those of our ancestors, they restrain personal liberty in various respects, or provide for State management, to say that they are advances in the path of Socialism!

The fact is that the growing pressure of misery, the growing perception that monopolies are infringements of the rights of the people, and that wealth is unnaturally distributed, lead those who see no better remedy hesitatingly to apply ancient expedients for the cure of evils either new in themselves or newly perceived. Let us look at the truth, although one can only regret that Socialism is not growing, because, if it were, it would be the first sign of that berserker rage which is sure to follow upon a universal appreciation of the deep evil of our present social conditions.

  • Bolton Hall, “The Growth of Socialism,” The Christian Union 47, no. 22 (June 3, 1893): 1067.