1. In our own day a large proportion of the so-called Socialists or social democrats aim at depriving their fellow-men of their private property by unjust means.
Social democracy, or the rule of the people (Demos) proposes to reconstruct human society. It is of recent origin, being first started in Germany in 1840, and propagated some ten years later by the notorious Jew, Marx. In 1862 another Jew named Lasalle was very successful in spreading socialistic doctrines, so much so that in 1878, a special law was passed for the suppression of Socialism. Associations and meetings were prohibited, publications advocating its principles were seized, and the leading agitators were banished from several of the large towns. From that time forward the work of propagation was carried on covertly, in the workshop and clubroom, meetings being held in the woods, and pamphlets circulated privately. In 1880 a Socialistic Congress was held in Zurich, attended by members from all the countries of Europe to arrange a general programme for the universal upheaval of society and subversion of the existing order of things. Since then the system has made steady progress, and assumed a revolutionary character. Those who resort to open acts of violence in order to accelerate the disintegration of society are called anarchists. Switzerland is a hot-bed of Socialism, and there the principal organs of the society are printed. Socialism has gained ground chiefly on the continent of Europe.
1. The object of Socialists is this: They want all private property to be confiscated by the State, and capital and labor equally distributed among the members of the State; moreover many of them would do away with religion, authority, social order, and family life.
The fundamental principle of Socialism is: All property has been unjustly acquired. Consequently in the new republic no one is to possess personal property, but is to be provided for out of the public funds. Every one must work, and with the proceeds of his labor purchase what he needs. In the new republic of the extreme Socialists there is to be ni Dieu ni maitre, neither the ordinances of religion nor the institutions of law. These men openly declare themselves to be atheists and republicans; they say religion concerns the individual alone. The intercourse of man and woman is to take the place of wedlock; the children are to belong, not to their parents, but to the State, to be educated at the public expense; a public kitchen is to supersede the domestic hearth. Prisons will not be needed, for there will be no criminals, since all crime comes from the possession of private property. These principles have spread chiefly among the irreligious, who care only for the gratification of their appetites, and the lower orders, the proletariate, who, in the division of property, have nothing to lose and all to gain. They are mostly held by certain ones of the laboring class who have been thrown by peculiar circumstances into the arms of Socialism.
2. The origin and development of Socialism is chiefly to be ascribed to the increasing poverty of the working classes, the greed of gain and immoderate craving for enjoyment among the rich, and finally, the decrease of religious feeling in all classes of society.
As in the human body disorders for the most part originate in the stomach, so discontent among the people generally arises from material want. The prevailing destitution among the lower orders is partly due to the employment of machinery. Machines can produce, in a few days, more than a hundred workmen can in a month, and goods can be manufactured at a far cheaper rate by machinery than when made by hand. Consequently hundreds are thrown out of employment. Through the introduction of machinery, wealth has accumulated in the hands of the manufacturers, and the number of the poor and discontented has increased, from day to day, swelling the ranks of Socialism. The employers, striving to make larger profits, in many cases do not treat their workpeople according to the maxims of the Gospel; they reduce their wages to a scanty pittance (the market value of labor being so low); they require them to work for a lengthened period; they heed not the bodily health of those they employ, and even destroy their sense of religion and morality. These and other evils naturally have the effect of rendering the workmen irreligious and discontented. Factory hands, employed constantly in working machinery, are apt to lose their mental vigor and independence, they perform their task mechanically, and are easily beguiled and misled. The exhaustion produced by long hours of labor disinclines them to raise their hearts to God, thus they neglect their prayers. The wretched state of their homes, where several families live crowded together on account of poverty caused by the low rate of wages, adds to their moral degradation. Moreover, the sight of the rich man’s greed of money on the one hand, and his extravagant expenditure and love of luxury on the other, excites the envy of the poor man, and arouses in him the desire to satisfy his idea of happiness at the cost of the capitalist. Thus God punishes the rich in the way that they have sinned; the Socialist is the scourge wherewith He chastises them. In the present day the Christian faith is more and more undermined by an irreligious press, by godless associations notably the Freemasons and in some lands by antichristian legislation; witness the exclusion of religious instruction from the schools. What wonder if the belief in God and a future life grows dim, the divine commandments are unheeded, and the people, craving for happiness in this life, seek to wrest his wealth from their richer neighbor!
3. If the dangers wherewith Socialism threatens us are to be averted, the condition of the laboring classes must be ameliorated; the rich must be liberal towards the poor, and religion must regain her place in the hearts of the people.
Coercive measures will do no more good to the Socialist than random blows will correct a naughty child. If anything is to be done for him, it must be done through kindness. Above all, the employer must deal with his workpeople according to the principles of Christianity and justice. Ketteler is right when he says: “If for one day we all acted in conformity with the teaching of the Gospel, all social evils would be at once swept away.” The employer must pay his men properly, that is, their wages must be sufficient to support a Christian family suitably to their station, provided they are thrifty, industrious, and virtuous. The position of the workman must be secured; he must not be treated as a chattel, only to be employed as long as a good profit is to be got out of him. As the workman pays taxes, he is entitled to the privilege of the franchise. Opportunities of improving his mind should be afforded to him by the institution of libraries, evening classes, and the formation of workingmen’s clubs, which the Holy Father strongly advocates. Legislation must also interfere to prevent the undue growth of the proletariate, through the absorption of lesser industries by the manufactories, and the accumulation of capital in the hands of a few plutocrats. The rich ought, as the Apostle says, “to give easily and communicate to others” (1 Tim. vi. 18). Now more than ever the rich are bound to give alms, other wise they will be rigorously judged. But religion affords the most effectual means of combating Socialism. Social democracy is too often nothing but the absence of religious belief. Its chief dogma is the non-existence of God and of a future life, its chief commandment the gratification of the senses. Moreover, religion alone can give the poor the spirit of contentment, so essential to their happiness.
4. Some of the socialistic theories could not possibly be realized; others might indeed be carried out, but they would be attended by fatal consequences.
The universal equality which Socialists propose to bring about, is an utterly impracticable idea, especially in regard to property. For if the State apportioned to every one the exact amount required for his livelihood, what more probable than that one would spend it all, and another put a part by. Thus an inequality would immediately arise; and to enforce the surrender of a man’s savings would be sheer tyranny. The same endless variety which we see in nature, exists among mankind. Differences of age, of sex, of health, of physical power and mental endowments, above all of character and of manners cannot be effaced, and from these, differences of position and of possessions are inseparable. Just as in an army all the soldiers cannot be officers nor all privates, so all members of society cannot stand on the same level. Some must manage the business of the State, or occupy themselves with military affairs, and they must naturally hold a higher rank than the other members of the State, because they work more exclusively for the commonweal. The happiness the Socialist dreams of is not attainable upon earth. What ever the exertions that may be made to ameliorate the lot of man here below, none can succeed in eliminating from it suffering, sickness, and death. Sorrow and suffering are the portions of mankind; a life of peace and enjoyment is not for this world. True happiness is not to be found in sensual pleasures, but in God. While the whole world lasts, crime, vice and poverty cannot be banished from it. Our Lord says: “The poor you have always with you” (John xii. 8). And in regard to the proposed absorption of individual property by the State, this could not be accomplished without serious disturbances, for who would be willing to surrender his property without a struggle? And were community of goods once introduced, tranquillity would not be attained; the oppressed minority would, out of revenge, commit fearful outrages. Besides, laborious and industrious individuals would not be content, as they would gain nothing by their industry; thus the working classes would lose instead of gaining. Socialistic theories could only be realized if men were like the lower animals, destitute of the love of liberty and the desire for improvement. Socialism would cast a blight upon culture and destroy all stimulus, all motive for the exercise of inventive genius. Few would exert themselves to make progress and aim at perfection if they knew their achievements would bring them no reward. In the socialistic republic all would be slaves. No man would exert himself to do better than another, if he knew all was provided for him; there would be a premium upon slothfulness and negligence. Experience has shown the evils brought upon mankind by the example of communities which have had their goods in common, and which have been noted for their crimes and have come to an ignominious end. But although the dreams of the Socialist are mere fantasies of the brain, yet, like much else that is undesirable, they are not without a certain use. As a hurricane tears down what is rotten and crazy, so Socialism points out the weak points in the social structure, and compels our rulers to institute the needful reforms. Attention has been drawn pre-eminently to the exploitation of the laborer by the capitalist, and the claims of the poor have been brought into notice. Yet the harm done by Socialism is far greater than any possible good it may in directly produce.
2. All who endeavor by unlawful means to deprive their neighbor of his personal property, live in a state of mortal sin.
The mere fact of coveting what belongs to another is a sin. We know that all sins bring others in their train, and this is no exception to the rule. St. Paul says that the inordinate desire of money is the root of all evils (1 Tim. vi. 10), arid the utterances of Socialists at their gatherings prove the truth of these words. Their speeches often abound with virulent attacks upon all in authority, on the Pope, on priests, and civil magistrates. Some go so far as to assert that perjury in a court of law is permissible, if it furthers their own interests. We know the crimes of which anarchists have been guilty, dynamite outrages and assassinations. Let it not be said in behalf of their principles that the early Christians had all things in common, for the voluntary sharing of goods is quite different to what the Socialists propose to enforce. The fundamental principle of Christian charity, which urges to almsgiving is this: “Brother, what is mine is thine;” whereas the Socialist says: “Brother, what is thine is mine.” Again, the Socialists point to the religious Orders, where all is the property of the community; they say what is possible for them is possible in the State of the future. There is, however, no analogy between the two; for voluntary poverty and obedience form the basis of the religious life, while in the State of the future sensual “ratifications are to be encouraged and enjoyed.
This article, 1. SOCIALISM is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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