Revisionists or Opportunists

Revisionists or Opportunists

Since the active davs of Marx and Engels, other groups of Socialists have arisen, which may be called opportunist or revisionist. Such Socialists are not revolutionary, but "evolutionary." They are more inclined to await developments. Toward the doctrines of Marx, they are more or less critical. Thus, in Germany, Bernstein criticizes the theory of surplus value, and denies that the condition of the laborers is going from bad to worse, or that capitalism will necessarily collapse. And he is far less materialistic than Marx. Much the same may be said of Jaures in France. In England, Sidney Webb is one of the leading "Fabian" Social­ists. The tendency is to reject both the materialistic inter­pretation of history and the theory of surplus value, while accepting the doctrines of class struggle, internationalism, and the socialization of the instruments of production.

Brief Summary of the Main Developments in Socialism since Marx

One notes first that those who profess to be Marxian Socialists are still active, as such names as Kautsky in Germany, Hyndman in England, and Hillquit in the United States, attest.

The First International, formed in 1864, with the coopera­tion of Marx, was a militant organization. By the seventies, however, it became apparent that the contradictions in Marx's doctrines, the growing criticism of his philosophy and economic theory, and the failure of his prophecies concerning the growing misery of laborers and the downfall of capitalism, were weaken­ing the movement.

The Second International was formed in 1889. It was less militant, and embraced all sorts of Socialists. While maintaining the bulk of Marxian doctrines (with more or less exe­gesis), the Neo-Marxians are less revolutionary, make more con­cessions to mere "reform," and are more given to political action.

The Revisionists became prominent at about this time, notably in Germany where the Social Democratic Party repre­sents their general position. Their thought is related to Marx-ianism, but they are evolutionary, and rely upon universal suffrage and the processes of democracy to attain the socializa­tion of production. E. Bernstein is a typical Revisionist.

The Fabian Society was formed in England in 1884, its mem­bers being dubbed Fabians, signifying a cautious or even hesitant spirit. They include such persons as G. B. Shaw, Annie Besant, H. G. Wells, the Webbs, G. Wallas, and J. R. MacDonald. The Fabians reject Marx, and draw upon John Stuart Mill and Henry George. They stand for gradual reform. They are essentially idealists. Their chief reliance has been upon education as a means, and their most generally accepted immediate aim the government appropriation of "unearned income," both from land and from capital.

Meanwhile, Syndicalism has developed. This movement originated about 1875 in France, becoming fully developed in the nineties during the struggle of different Socialist groups to control French labor unions (syndicats). The best-known ex­ponents are Georges Sorel (1847-1922) and Ferdinand Pel-lontier (1856-1901). While the Syndicalists are extremely radical, they are non-Marxian, their beliefs being more in­fluenced by Proudhon's anarchism. They thus have a different idea of the part to be played by the state. While accepting the doctrine of class struggle, they seek as their goal the aboli­tion of the political state, and the substitution of a condition of self-government by the workers, who are to be organized in non-political "industrial" unions. The general strike is their great weapon.

Syndicalism has exercised a considerable influence in the United States, through the Socialist Labor Party (formed in 1877) and the I.WW. (Industrial Workers of the World, 1905).

Finally, the Guild Socialists are to be mentioned as repre­senting the latest variety of Socialist thought. This movement, which became effective shortly before the World War, has been chiefly English, and is represented by Tawney, Cole, and S. G. Hobson. It seeks to harmonize Socialism and Syndicalism, ad­vocating self-government by producers, but proposing a system of national gilds among producers and a national organization
of consumers.

Philosophy and Socialism

Being one of the most sharply defined lines of development in economic thought, Socialism furnishes an interesting field for testing the relationship be­tween metaphysics and economics, the general outlines of which have been sketched on pages 8 to 20.

It may be stated that not only was Socialism in its beginning idealistic, but that Socialism must be idealistic if it is to be logically consistent, and to build up a strong system. In the first place, as radicals, Socialists believe in the power of human judgment to cope with physical facts: by "taking thought" man can sweep away the sufferings and evils of the existing order. And along with this belief there is generally found the assumption of the perfectibility of man — avowed by Godwin and the early Utopists, and tacitly assumed by all true Socialists

Like true radicals they do not count the cost, — which is to say, they do not admit the reality or the importance of opposing views, — and this is manifest in the Socialists' schemes for directing industry according to political opinion of needs, or according to someone's estimate of total utility. In this, they do not count the costs involved in uncertainty and lapse of time, which are the grounds for profits and interest in the existing social order, to say nothing of physical depreciation. This manifests idealism, in the broad sense in which the term is here

In the second place, as a special kind of radical, the Socialist stands for collective action. In this connection we find the old ear-marks of idealism: the social-organism notion, and confidence in the power of the institution. From the Saint-Simoni-ans who wrote "Humanity is a collective being which develops; that being has grown from generation to generation as an indi­vidual grows," to the Fabians who write, "Though the social or­ganism has itself evolved from the union of individual men, the individual is now created by the social organism — and its per­sistence is accordingly his paramount end," — always the true Socialist thinks as though individuals are or should be fused into a collective unit that can act with singleness of purpose.

Likewise the Socialists not only blame existing institutions, such as private property, for all our social ills; but they believe that by fashioning new institutions we can remedy those ills. Such a belief, of course, indicates considerable optimism, — another indication of idealistic tendencies.

As illustrating both of the last two points, stands the Social­ists' teaching that the physical facts of natural scarcity and limited land supply can be negatived by collective ownership or by the abolition of all ownership. Of similar significance, is the fact that the Classical law of diminishing returns is scouted by the typical Socialist.

But, as is apt to be the case with those "systems" of thought that come to be recognized as being on the whole "unsound," we find discordant materialistic elements creeping into the So­cialistic Utopia, and remaining there without any synthesis. The earliest Socialist and Communist thinkers were generally pretty aristocratic and recognized the natural differences among men; but the later ones as generally assume, or reason as though they had assumed, the materialistic doctrine that men are naturally equal and that an equalized physical or institutional environment will establish real equality. In thus magnifying the potency of physical facts, however, the Socialists are cutting the ground from under the structure of their idealistic reforms, based upon the power of reason and of human institutions.

Of more immediate economic significance, however, is the Socialists' theory of value. Value as already shown, they have come to base upon cost, and more particularly the cost of labor. Under the influence of Marx they have refused to recognize utility as a determining element in the value problem. Now, cost is the measure of the resistance of nature to man, and it was in terms of cost that the materialistic Classical economist measured value. Surely if the Socialists are to regard human values as dictated by physical facts they must give up their idealistic reforms. Marx's materialistic interpretation of history is his half-conscious attempt to square Socialism with his theory of value and with the science of his day, by making the attainment of his ideals depend upon the operation of physical facts and forces. It is the attempt to make an idealistic body run upon materialistic legs — to proceed in a revolutionary way by evolu­tionary means.

Socialism would direct industrial activities according to some conception of total utility worked out either through the judg­ment of leaders having authority or through democratic vote. How can it base economic values upon cost, whether measured in units of pain or of time? To attempt to value goods on one basis and productive activities or industries on another, is fore­doomed.

As might be expected, the incompatible materialistic elements are now being rapidly cast out by the revisionists, though not until Socialism has all but lost its integrity as a body of thought.