Edward Bellamy 1891
THE “CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH”
Mr. Gronlund’s New Edition of this Important Work Reviewed
First Published: May 2, 1891
Source: The New Nation volume I, pages 224-5
Transcription: Cade Jameson
Copyleft: Edward Bellamy Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2002.Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
Mr. Laurence Gronlund has, to some extent, revised and annotated his excellent manual, the “Co-operative Commonwealth,” and Messrs. Lee & Shepard have gotten out a fresh edition of it. We recommend its perusal to our readers, not only on account of its general merits, which are high, but because, especially in its annotated form, it brings out clearly some of the radical differences between Mr. Gronlund’s theory of the coming order of industry and that of the nationalists.
Reference is here made to those differences not in any spirit of controversy, but because we fully agree with Mr. Gronlund that they should be clearly apprehended. They mainly arise out of wholly opposed theories as to the fundamental organization of the future industrial system. It is the proposition of nationalism that this should be a system of complete integral co-operation and equal industrial partnership of the people, based upon and conterminous with the national organism. It is Mr. Gronlund’s theory that the coming commonwealth will consist of a sort of confederation of trade unions, each wholly independent of the others as to its internal organization and with a central supervisory board or council of arbitration to keep the peace between them. The germ of this coming order Mr. Gronlund professes to see in the trade union, while the nationalist sees it in the nation. It will readily be seen how vital are the nature and consequences of the difference between regarding the nation and the trade union as the unit.
Each trade union, according to the “Co-operative Commonwealth,” will have complete control of some one branch of business or industry, such as cotton-working, or some department of agriculture, or whatever it may be. It will regulate the production, rate of wages and all the conditions of the members of that industry, except the price of its products, which will have to be submitted to the revision of the central administration. It seems to us, considering that each trade union will wish to get the highest price possible for the least work, and that it will act as a unit for this purpose, and that the various unions will be likely to make all sorts of log-rolling and political combinations for this purpose, that the central authority will have to be a very powerful as well as highly incorruptible body in order to perform its functions properly. In view, moreover, of the fact that each citizen would look to his union and not to the nation for his maintenance and welfare, he would naturally back his union at all times against the central authority. Trades-unionism would take the place of patriotism, and it is to be feared that such a state would hold together but a very short time.
Besides this, the natural resources of the country and its natural monopolies are the property of the people as a whole. To permit particular classes of workers to monopolize them, and work them for all they could make out of the rest of the country, would be no more just than it is now to permit groups of capitalists to do the same thing. The country and its resources belong equally to all the people, and may not be divided. The proposition of Mr. Gronlund, on page 137, that when the transition period arrives, every trade union should appropriate the plant of the industry it is employed in, and proceed to carry it on upon the above plan, seems to us radically unjust. The coal mines do not belong to the coal miners merely because they work in them. The street pavers might as well claim the streets, or the doctors their patients. It would be of small profit to expropriate the present individual owners of the means of production merely to put them in the hands of groups of individuals, who would be actuated by the same motive of making the most out of them which was permitted. It is only in the name of and for the benefit of the people as a whole that the present possessors of the country can be righteously expropriated. This common and integral ownership of the capital of the country by its people is the economic cornerstone of nationalism, just as the brotherhood of all men is the moral corner-stone. From each of these two fundamental principles equally, proceeds the deduction that the increase from this common estate must be equally enjoyed by all. To this principle of economical equality, which he oddly enough calls â€œequal wages,â€ Mr. Gronlund objects strenuously. He should direct his objection deeper, namely, at the postulates of human brotherhood and the common heirship of the earth by all, from which the principle of equality of maintenance necessarily results.
So far is this principle of equal maintenance for all and no “wages” for any, from being impracticable, that it will be found in effect the only rule by which any radical industrial reorganization can be made practicable. It is already the experience of trade unions that a uniform scale of wages, regardless of differences in personal efficiency, is the only way to keep the union together, and the larger the union should become, the more diillcult will it be found to secure voluntary agreement to inequalities of advantage. If Mr. Gronlund’s “co-operative commonwealthâ€ ever succeeds, it will only be by borrowing this idea from nationalism. With the adoption of this principle, the fatal diffilculty of settling on prices for the products of the unions, and also that of adjusting wages within each union, would disappear. Trade jealousies, otherwise certain to be fatal to the state, would be prevented, and true national unity made possible.
Moreover, without this equality of maintenance, women would always remain at the same relative disadvantage to men which they now suffer from. Mr. Gronlund talks very generously about women, but as he proposes that productive activity should, as now, solely determine wages, woman by her physical disadvantages, would always remain in the same comparative economical inferiority to man in which she now stands. Of course the economical equality of citizens is not expected to be realized except as a result of the complete establishment of Nationalism.
It is rather surprising that in this later edition Mr. Gronlund has not dwelt more upon the movement for the public conduct of industry by municipalizing and nationalizing of business, which has recently become so prominent, especially in America. He could scarcely have done so, however, without recognizing the fallacy of his contention that the trade union is the germ of the coming order, and that it will come through the extension of trade-union control over industries. Present tendencies seem to indicate quite the reverse. It seems to be along the line of nationalism, and increasing public control of industry for the common benefit, that the change is coming. The ballot, not the strike, seems likely to bring it about.
note: Laurence Gronlund and Edward Bellamy both introduced socialist ideas to late 19th century America. This review of a late edition of Gronlund’s Co-operative Commonwealth appeared in Bellamy’s newspaper The New Nation. It indicates great differences in how they each envisioned socialist relations of production and the transition to socialism.