The Solidarists, Solidarist

The Causes Of The Development Of Solidarism

The word 'solidarity,' formerly a term of exclusively legal import, has during the twentieth century been employed to designate a doctrine which has aroused the greatest enthusiasm—at least in France. Every official speech pays homage to the ideal, every social conference ends with an expression of approval. Those who wish to narrow the scope of industrial warfare as well as those who wish to extend the bounds of commercial freedom base their demands upon 'a sense of social solidarity,' and it has become quite a common experience to find writers on ethics and education who have fallen under its spell. The result is that no history of French economic doctrines can pass it by.

The fundamental idea underlying the doctrine of solidarity, namely, that the human race, taken collectively, forms one single body, of which individuals are the members, is not by any means new. St Paul and Marcus Aurelius among the writers of antiquity, not to mention Menenius Agrippa's well-known apologue, gave expression to this very idea in terms almost identical with those used by the Solidarist school.

Nor was the importance of heredity wholly lost upon the ancients. The hereditary transmission of moral qualities was a doctrine taught with the express sanction of a revealed religion. This doctrine of original sin is perhaps the most terrible example of solidarism that history has to reveal. Turning to profane history, we are reminded of the line of Horace:

Delicta majorum immeritus lues!

We must also remember that it was always something more than a mere theory or dogma. It was a practical rule of conduct, and as such was enjoined by law, exhorted by religion, and enforced by custom, with the result that what was preached was also practised with a thoroughness that is quite unknown at the present day. We have an illustration of this in the collective responsibility of all the members of a family or tribe whenever one of their number was found guilty of some criminal offence. A survival of this pristine custom is the Corsican vendetta of to-day.

Finally, there is that other aspect of solidarity which is based upon division of labour and the consequent necessity of relying upon the co-operation of others for the satisfaction of our wants. The Greek writers had caught a glimpse of this interdependence many centuries before the brilliant exposition of Adam Smith was given to the world.
All the manifold aspects of the doctrine, whether biological, socio­logical, moral, religious, legal or economic, were obviously matters of common knowledge to the writers of antiquity. But each phase of the subject seemed isolated from the rest, and it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that it dawned upon thinkers that there was possibly something like unity underlying this apparent diversity. It has already been impressed upon us that Pierre Leroux and a few of the disciples of Fourier, as well as Bastiat, had realized something of the value of the doctrine of solidarity and of the appropriateness of the term. But it was reserved for Auguste Gomte to appreciate its full possibilities.

The new philosophy, viewed as a whole, emphasizes the intimacy that exists between the individual and the group in their different relations, so that the conception of social solidarity extending throughout time and embracing the whole of humanity has become a fairly familiar idea.

It is necessary, however, to inquire somewhat more closely into the success of the new doctrine in holding the attention both of the public and of economists. It is possible that the seed would have borne little fruit but for the presence of extraneous circumstances which helped to impress the public with a sense of the importance of these new theories.

Nothing has left a deeper impression upon the public or afforded a better illustration of the infinite possibilities of the new doctrine than the study of bacteriology. The prevalence of certain contagious mala­dies or epidemics had been too terribly prominent in the history of the human race to require any confirmation; but it was something to learn that the most serious diseases and maladies of all kinds were com­municated from man to man by means of invisible bacilli. It was now realized that men who were supposed to be dying a natural death were in reality being slowly murdered. It was with something like horror that men learned that the consumptive, the hero of a hundred sentimental tales, every day expectorated sufficient germs to depopu­late a whole town. Such 'pathological' solidarity is being more closely interwoven every day by the ever-increasing multiplicity and rapidity of the means of communication. The slow caravan journey across the desert was much more likely to destroy the vitality of the bacilli picked up at Mecca than the much more rapid railway journey of the future, which will speed the pilgrim across the sandy wastes in a few hours. The traveller of former days, who went either afoot or on horseback, ran less risk of infection than his descendant of to-day, who perhaps only spends a few hours in the metropolis.

Sociology has also brought its contingent of facts and theories.1 The sociologist stakes his reputation upon being able to prove that the fable of the body and its members is no fable at all, but a literal transcription of actual facts, and that the union existing between various members of the social body is as intimate as that which exists between the different parts of the same organism. Such is the fullness and minuteness with which the analogy has been pushed even into obscure points of anatomical detail that it is difficult not to smile at the naivete of its authors. It is pointed out that so close is the resem­blance between the respective functions in the two cases that the term 'circulation' does duty in both spheres, and a comparison is instituted between nutrition and production, reproduction and colonization, and accumulation of fat and capitalism. In Florence during the Middle Ages the bourgeois were spoken of as the fat people, the workers as the small people. The organs also are very similar. Arteries and veins have their counterpart in the railway system, with its network of' up' and 'down' lines. The nervous system of the one becomes the tele­graphic system of the other, with its rapid communication of news and sensations. The brain becomes the seat of government, the heart is the bank; and between the two, both in nature and in society, there is a most intimate connexion. Even the white corpuscles have a prototype in the police force, whose duty is to rush to the seat of disorder and to attempt to crush it immediately.

The sociological analogy, ingenious rather than scientific, did not have a very long vogue. But it has at least supplied a few conclusions which are thoroughly well established, and which serve as the basis of the solidarist doctrine. Among these we may mention the following:

(a) That solidarity in the sense of the mutual dependence of mem­bers of the same body is a characteristic of all life. Inorganic bodies are incomplete simply because they are mere aggregates. Death is nothing but the dissolution of the mysterious links which bind together the various parts of the living organism, with the result that it relapses into the state of a corpse, in which the various elements become in­different to the presence of one another and are dissipated through space, to enter into new combinations at the further call of nature.

(b) That solidarity becomes more perfect and intimate with every rise in the biological scale. Completely homogeneous organisms scarcely differ from simple aggregates. They may be cut into sections or have a member removed without suffering much damage. The section cut off will become the centre of independent existence, and the amputated limb will grow again. In the case of some organisms of this kind repro­duction takes the form of voluntary or spontaneous segmentation. But in the case of the higher animals the removal of a single organ some­times involves the death of the whole organism, and almost always imperils the existence of some others.
(c) That a growing differentiation of the parts makes for the greater solidarity of the whole. Where every organ is exactly alike each is generally complete in itself. But where they are different each is just the complement of the other, and none can move or exist independently of the rest.

One has only to think of the treatment meted out to the innovator by primitive tribes to realize the tremendous solidarity of savage society. The 'boycotting' familiar in civilized countries provides a similar example.

Political economy, in addition to an unrivalled exposition of division of labour (which, as we have seen, was not unknown in classical times), has adduced several other incidental proofs of solidarity, such as bank failures in London or Paris and short time in the diamond or auto­mobile industry as the result of a crisis in New York or an indifferent rice harvest in India. To take a simpler case, consider how easy it would be for the secretary of an electrical engineers' union to plunge whole cities into darkness. The general strike, the latest bugbear of the bourgeoisie, owes its very existence to the growing sense of soli­darity among working men. A sufficient number of workmen have only to make up their minds to remain idle and society has either to give way to their demands or perish.

Add to this the remarkable development which has taken place in the spreading of news and the perfecting of telegraphic communica­tion, by which daily and even hourly men of all nations are swayed with feelings of sorrow or joy at the mere recital of some startling incident which formerly would have influenced but a very small number of people. Such agencies are not unworthy of comparison with those subtle human sympathies which are known by the name of spiritualism or telepathy. Thus from every side, from the limbo of occultism as well as from the full daylight of everyday life, the presence of numberless facts goes to show that each for all and all for each is not a mere maxim or counsel of perfection, but a stern, practical fact. The good or bad fortune of others involves our own well-being or misfortune. The ego, as some one has said, is a social product. These are some of the founts from which the stream of solidarism takes its rise. But that is not all. The doctrine of solidarity had the good fortune to appear just when people were becoming suspicious of individualist Liberalism, though unwilling to commit themselves either to collec­tivism or to State Socialism.

In France especially a new political party in process of formation was on the look-out for a cry. The new creed which it desired must needs be of the nature of a via media between economic Liberalism on the one hand and socialism on the other. It must repudiate laissez-faire equally with the socialization of individual property; it must hold fast to the doctrine of the rights of man and the claims of the individual while recognizing the wisdom of imposing restrictions upon the exercise of those rights in the interests of the whole community. This was the party which called itself Radical then, but later preferred to be known as the Radical-Socialist party. German State Socialism as expounded about the same time was closely akin to it. But the Ger­man conception of the State as something entirely above party was an idea that was not so easily grasped in France as in Prussia. History in the two countries had not emphasized the same truths. Solidarism, so to speak, is State Socialism in a French garb, but possessed of somewhat better grace in that it does not necessarily imply the coer­cive intervention of the State, but shows considerable respect for individual liberties.

The new word performed one final service by usurping the functions of the term 'charity,' which no one was anxious to retain because of its religious connexion. The other term, 'fraternity,' which had done duty since the Revolution of 1848, was somewhat antiquated by this time, and charged with a false kind of sentimentalism. The word 'solidarity,' on the contrary, has an imposing, scientific appearance without a trace of ideology. Henceforth every sacrifice which is demanded in the interests of others, whether grants to friendly societies or workmen's associations, cheap dwellings, workmen's pensions, or even parish allowances, is claimed, not in the interests of charity, but of solidarity. And whenever such demand is made the approved formula is always used—it is not a work of charity, but of solidarity, for charity degradeth whereas solidarity lifteth up.