List Of Contents | Contents of Utopia of Usurers and other Essays
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

to Prison, with a precisely similar patience.


If I were to prophesy that two hundred years hence a grocer would have the
right and habit of beating the grocer's assistant with a stick, or that
shop girls might be flogged, as they already can be fined, many would
regard it as rather a rash remark.  It would be a rash remark.  Prophecy
is always unreliable; unless we except the kind which is avowedly
irrational, mystical and supernatural prophecy.  But relatively to nearly
all the other prophecies that are being made around me to-day, I should
say my prediction stood an exceptionally good chance.  In short, I think
the grocer with the stick is a figure we are far more likely to see than
the Superman or the Samurai, or the True Model Employer, or the Perfect
Fabian Official, or the citizen of the Collectivist State.  And it is
best for us to see the full ugliness of the transformation which is
passing over our Society in some such abrupt and even grotesque image at
the end of it.  The beginnings of a decline, in every age of history, have
always had the appearance of being reforms.  Nero not only fiddled while
Rome was burning, but he probably really paid more attention to the fiddle
than to the fire.  The Roi Soleil, like many other soleils, was most
splendid to all appearance a little before sunset.  And if I ask myself
what will be the ultimate and final fruit of all our social reforms,
garden cities, model employers, insurances, exchanges, arbitration courts,
and so on, then, I say, quite seriously, "I think it will be labour under
the lash."

The Sultan and the Sack

Let us arrange in some order a number of converging considerations that
all point in this direction.  (1) It is broadly true, no doubt, that the
weapon of the employer has hitherto been the threat of dismissal, that is,
the threat of enforced starvation.  He is a Sultan who need not order the
bastinado, so long as he can order the sack.  But there are not a few
signs that this weapon is not quite so convenient and flexible a one as
his increasing rapacities require.  The fact of the introduction of fines,
secretly or openly, in many shops and factories, proves that it is
convenient for the capitalists to have some temporary and adjustable form
of punishment besides the final punishment of pure ruin.  Nor is it
difficult to see the commonsense of this from their wholly inhuman point
of view.  The act of sacking a man is attended with the same disadvantages
as the act of shooting a man: one of which is that you can get no more out
of him.  It is, I am told, distinctly annoying to blow a fellow creature's
brains out with a revolver and then suddenly remember that he was the only
person who knew where to get the best Russian cigarettes.  So our Sultan,
who is the orderer of the sack, is also the bearer of the bow-string.  A
school in which there was no punishment, except expulsion, would be a
school in which it would be very difficult to keep proper discipline; and
the sort of discipline on which the reformed capitalism will insist will
be all of the type which in free nations is imposed only on children.
Such a school would probably be in a chronic condition of breaking up for
the holidays.  And the reasons for the insufficiency of this extreme
instrument are also varied and evident.  The materialistic Sociologists,
who talk about the survival of the fittest and the weakest going to the
wall (and whose way of looking at the world is to put on the latest and
most powerful scientific spectacles, and then shut their eyes), frequently
talk as if a workman were simply efficient or non-efficient, as if a
criminal were reclaimable or irreclaimable.  The employers have sense
enough at least to know better than that.  They can see that a servant may
be useful in one way and exasperating in another; that he may be bad in
one part of his work and good in another; that he may be occasionally
drunk and yet generally indispensable.  Just as a practical school-master
would know that a schoolboy can be at once the plague and the pride of the
school.  Under these circumstances small and varying penalties are
obviously the most convenient things for the person keeping order; an
underling can be punished for coming late, and yet do useful work when he
comes.  It will be possible to give a rap over the knuckles without wholly
cutting off the right hand that has offended.  Under these circumstances
the employers have naturally resorted to fines.  But there is a further
ground for believing that the process will go beyond fines before it is

(2) The fine is based on the old European idea that everybody possesses
private property in some reasonable degree; but not only is this not true
to-day, but it is not being made any truer, even by those who honestly
believe that they are mending matters.  The great employers will often do
something towards improving what they call the "conditions" of their
workers; but a worker might have his conditions as carefully arranged as a
racehorse has, and still have no more personal property than a racehorse.
If you take an average poor seamstress or factory girl, you will find that
the power of chastising her through her property has very considerable
limits; it is almost as hard for the employer of labour to tax her for
punishment as it is for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tax her for
revenue.  The next most obvious thing to think of, of course, would be
imprisonment, and that might be effective enough under simpler conditions.
An old-fashioned shopkeeper might have locked up his apprentice in his
coal-cellar; but his coal-cellar would be a real, pitch dark coal-cellar,
and the rest of his house would be a real human house.  Everybody
(especially the apprentice) would see a most perceptible difference
between the two.  But, as I pointed out in the article before this, the
whole tendency of the capitalist legislation and experiment is to make
imprisonment much more general and automatic, while making it, or
professing to make it, more humane.  In other words, the hygienic prison
and the servile factory will become so uncommonly like each other that the
poor man will hardly know or care whether he is at the moment expiating an
offence or merely swelling a dividend.  In both places there will be the
same sort of shiny tiles.  In neither place will there be any cell so
unwholesome as a coal-cellar or so wholesome as a home.  The weapon of the
prison, therefore, like the weapon of the fine, will be found to have
considerable limitations to its effectiveness when employed against the
wretched reduced citizen of our day.  Whether it be property or liberty
you cannot take from him what he has not got.  You cannot imprison a slave,
because you cannot enslave a slave.

The Barbarous Revival

(3) Most people, on hearing the suggestion that it may come to corporal
punishment at last (as it did in every slave system I ever heard of,
including some that were generally kindly, and even successful), will
merely be struck with horror and incredulity, and feel that such a
barbarous revival is unthinkable in the modern atmosphere.  How far it
will be, or need be, a revival of the actual images and methods of ruder
times I will discuss in a moment.  But first, as another of the converging
lines tending to corporal punishment, consider this: that for some reason
or other the old full-blooded and masculine humanitarianism in this matter
has weakened and fallen silent; it has weakened and fallen silent in a
very curious manner, the precise reason for which I do not altogether
understand.  I knew the average Liberal, the average Nonconformist
minister, the average Labour Member, the average middle-class Socialist,
were, with all their good qualities, very deficient in what I consider a
respect for the human soul.  But I did imagine that they had the ordinary
modern respect for the human body.  The fact, however, is clear and
incontrovertible.  In spite of the horror of all humane people, in spite
of the hesitation even of our corrupt and panic-stricken Parliament,
measures can now be triumphantly passed for spreading or increasing the
use of physical torture, and for applying it to the newest and vaguest
categories of crime.  Thirty or forty years ago, nay, twenty years ago,
when Mr. F. Hugh O'Donnell and others forced a Liberal Government to drop
the cat-'o-nine-tails like a scorpion, we could have counted on a mass of
honest hatred of such things.  We cannot count on it now.

(4) But lastly, it is not necessary that in the factories of the future
the institution of physical punishment should actually remind people of
the jambok or the knout.  It could easily be developed out of the many
forms of physical discipline which are already used by employers on the
excuses of education or hygiene.  Already in some factories girls are
obliged to swim whether they like it or not, or do gymnastics whether they
like it or not.  By a simple extension of hours or complication of
exercises a pair of Swedish clubs could easily be so used as to leave
their victim as exhausted as one who had come off the rack.  I think it
extremely likely that they will be.


The chief aim of all honest Socialists just now is to prevent the coming
of Socialism.  I do not say it as a sneer, but, on the contrary, as a
compliment; a compliment to their political instinct and public spirit.  I
admit it may be called an exaggeration; but there really is a sort of sham
Socialism that the modrn politicians may quite possibly agree to set up;
if they do succeed in setting it up, the battle for the poor is lost.

We must note, first of all, a general truth about the curious time we live
in.  It will not be so difficult as some people may suppose to make the
Servile State look rather like Socialism, especially to the more pedantic
kind of Socialist.  The reason is this.  The old lucid and trenchant
expounder of Socialism, such as Blatchford or Fred Henderson, always
describes the economic power of the plutocrats as consisting in private
property.  Of course, in a sense, this is quite true; though they too
often miss the point that private property, as such, is not the same as
property confined to the few.  But the truth is that the situation has
grown much more subtle; perhaps too subtle, not to say too insane, for
straight-thinking theorists like Blatchford.  The rich man to-day does not
only rule by using private property; he also rules by treating public
property as if it were private property.  A man like Lord Murray pulled
the strings, especially the pursestrings; but the whole point of his
position was that all sorts of strings had got entangled.  The secret
strength of the money he held did not lie merely in the fact that it was
his money.  It lay precisely in the fact that nobody had any clear idea of
whether it was his money, or his successor's money, or his brother's money,
or the Marconi Company's money, or the Liberal Party's money, or the
English Nation's money.  It was buried treasure; but it was not private
property.  It was the acme of plutocracy because it was not private
property.  Now, by following this precedent, this unprincipled vagueness
about official and unofficial moneys by the cheerful habit of always
mixing up the money in the pocket with the money in the till, it would be
quite possible to keep the rich as rich as ever in practice, though they
might have suffered confiscation in theory.  Mr. Lloyd George has four
hundred a year as an M. P.; but he not only gets much more as a Minister,
but he might at any time get immeasurably more by speculating on State
secrets that are necessarily known to him.  Some say that he has even
attempted something of the kind.  Now, it would be quite possible to cut
Mr. George down, not to four hundred a year, but to fourpence a day; and
still leave him all these other and enormous financial superiorities.  It
must be remembered that a Socialist State, in any way resembling a modern
State, must, however egalitarian it may be, have the handling of huge sums,
and the enjoyment of large conveniences; it is not improbable that the
same men will handle and enjoy in much the same manner, though in theory
they are doing it as instruments, and not as individuals.  For instance,
the Prime Minister has a private house, which is also (I grieve to inform
that eminent Puritan) a public house.  It is supposed to be a sort of
Government office; though people do not generally give children's parties,
or go to bed in a Government office.  I do not know where Mr.  Herbert
Samuel lives; but I have no doubt he does himself well in the matter of
decoration and furniture.  On the existing official parallel there is no
need to move any of these things in order to Socialise them.  There is no
need to withdraw one diamond-headed nail from the carpet; or one golden
teaspoon from the tray.  It is only necessary to call it an official
residence, like 10 Downing-street.  I think it is not at all improbable
that this Plutocracy, pretending to be a Bureaucracy, will be attempted or
achieved.  Our wealthy rulers will be in the position which grumblers in
the world of sport sometimes attribute to some of the "gentlemen" players.
They assert that some of these are paid like any professional; only their
pay is called their expenses.  This system might run side by side with a
theory of equal wages, as absolute as that once laid down by Mr. Bernard
Shaw.  By the theory of the State, Mr.  Herbert Samuel and Mr. Lloyd
George might be humble citizens, drudging for their fourpence a day; and
no better off than porters and coal-heavers.  If there were presented to
our mere senses what appeared to be the form of Mr. Herbert Samuel in an
astrakhan coat and a motor-car, we should find the record of the
expenditure (if we could find it at all) under the heading of "Speed Limit
Extension Enquiry Commission."  If it fell to our lot to behold (with the
eye of flesh) what seemed to be Mr. Lloyd George lying in a hammock and
smoking a costly cigar, we should know that the expenditure would be
divided between the "Condition of Rope and Netting Investigation
Department," and the "State of Cuban Tobacco Trade: Imperial Inspector's

Such is the society I think they will build unless we can knock it down as
fast as they build it.  Everything in it, tolerable or intolerable, will
have but one use; and that use what our ancestors used to call usance or
usury.  Its art may be good or bad, but it will be an advertisement for
usurers; its literature may be good or bad, but it will appeal to the
patronage of usurers; its scientific selection will select according to
the needs of usurers; its religion will be just charitable enough to
pardon usurers; its penal system will be just cruel enough to crush all
the critics of usurers: the truth of it will be Slavery: and the title of
it may quite possibly be Socialism.


We watched you building, stone by stone,
The well-washed cells and well-washed graves
We shall inhabit but not own
When Britons ever shall be slaves;

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: