Socialism vs. the Single Tax, Pt. 2
The Historical Clash Between Two Economic Ideals
[The passages following are edited down, ellipses are not shown. Please refer to the source text1.]
A Verbatim Report of a Debate held at Twelfth Street Turner Hall, Chicago, December 20th, 1903
The Chairman (Hon. Frank W. Jones, ex-Senator of Massachusetts):
“It is a healthy sign of the times that of a winter afternoon an audience of this size, some two thousand people, will gather to listen to dry economic questions. I have thought many times during the past few years that we were slowly drifting into the grasp of an oligarchy, but when I see an audience of this size and this intelligence leaving the comfort of their homes to listen to arguments, and arguments which appeal only to reason, I have hope.”
Resolution: "Resolved, That it is to the interest of the working class to take up the propaganda of Socialism rather than that of the Single Tax."
For Socialism #1: Ernest Untermann
(Ernest Untermann was a German-American seaman, socialist author, self declared "economic determinist". He was the first American translator of Marx's Das Kapital. Later he became a fossil hunter and natural history artist.)
“In 1880 a star appeared on the horizon with the once new idea of freeing the land by levying a single tax on it. That star was Henry George. (Applause.) His Single Tax scheme was magnified into a beautiful philosophy that would bring down justice and emancipation from the clouds. He entirely overlooked the fact that today the agricultural classes are no longer the essential element in production, but that the essential element today is the great capitalist class with its modern machine production and its great army of dependent wage workers. (Applause.) Capitalist exploitation exceeds the exploitation through land.
The Single Taxers have never said anything else, anything different, about land reform ever since Moses. If in spite of thousands of years of earnest effort to free the land, you still leave millions of the oppressed landless, there must be some fundamental mistake which all forms of land reform have overlooked.
Thirty-two years before Henry George's "Progress and Poverty" was written, a twin star had arisen in the proletarian firmament - Karl Marx and Frederick Engels found the key which opened all the secrets of capitalist production and history: The Economic Interpretation of History. In 1848 Marx and Engels expressed the greatest historical truth when they said that "The history of all societies based on private property is the history of class struggles."
Marx took politics, law, religion and ethics down from the clouds and placed them on a scientific foundation that has not been shaken since. All the leading economists of the world, capitalist and all, today use the Marxian method of investigation, although they very seldom give him credit for it. (Applause) Equipped with the Marxian philosophy of history, we are at once enabled to point out why former reforms were futile and failed, and why the Single Tax is inadequate to meet the present problem.
The victory of the working class will abolish all classes and all class antagonisms, because there is no lower class below the working class whom they might subjugate. The capitalist system will fall in obedience to the great economic and political laws to which it is subject, but above its ruins will tower the giant statue of labor, that true God of Liberty who will dethrone that lying prostitute of the dollar almighty, the capitalist Goddess of Liberty. (Applause.)”
For the Single Tax #1: Louis F. Post
(Louis Post was a prominent Georgist and had campaigned for Henry George since the 1880s. He went on to serve in the department of Labor under Woodrow Wilson, vigorously defending civil liberties during the post-war Red Scare.)
“The first really great labor contest at the ballot box is going to be between the principle of the Single Tax on one side and the principle of Socialism on the other. (Applause.) Socialism and the Single Tax touch at many points. But fundamentally they are apart. In principle they are hostile.
There is no man that works who gets the full product of his labor. I do not have to go to Washington for statistics to prove that. All I need to do is to point to the men who get a great deal without labor. They cannot get it from any other source than from the men and women who do labor. (Applause.)
You could probably sum [the labor problem] up in two things: Inadequate pay for work, and the army of the unemployed - more men than there are jobs. The men out of jobs compete with the men who have jobs, and so wages are kept down. There is the sore: There is the diagnosis of social conditions at present. (A voice, "How are you going to remedy it?")
My friend, I will come to that in time. We have to proceed in order. The Socialist remedy in substance comes down to this - organized society shall furnish employment to all and shall regulate the wages of all. That is what it comes down to, a great governmental workshop in which everybody shall be employed - (applause) - I am glad to recognize by the applause that I am stating it correctly. (Applause and a voice, "Three cheers for Socialism.")
[But] you do not begin to get any benefit whatever under Socialism until you have done all that. (Applause). Socialism is revolution, is it not? (A voice,"Yes.") The Single Tax is progressive. (A voice, "No.") Yes, it is progressive. The Single Tax will begin to yield its benefits step by step from the very start. The very moment that you abolish taxation of personal property you will begin to get some of its benefits.
The Single Taxers put land into a category alone and make capital another category. They say land is the natural source of labor products, and that man must have access to it. Having that, he can make and use capital. Not having that, he is under the control of men that you may call capitalists if you wish, but who are really landlords (Applause.) Now, we propose to abolish landlordism, for it is landlordism that is the base of industrial trouble.
The Single Taxers propose merely this - to remove the obstacles which prevent there being a natural demand for labor, that natural demand which will always keep the demand for labor in excess of the supply of men wanting work. (Applause.)
Under existing conditions, for every ten men who want to work there are only nine jobs. That is, in a rough way, our present condition - wages are bound to go down, for you have got one man out of work all the time, competing against the others. What the Single Tax men propose, is to reverse that and to open up opportunities so that there shall be ten jobs for every nine men: or more jobs than men. (Applause.) When you have that condition, you will have wages tending all the time upward toward the full earnings of the man.
One effect of taxing land value would be to remove all taxation from industry. What is the result? It makes men want to build houses. What does that mean? A greater demand for labor. But that is not all. The thing grows. As you take away land values you remove all incentive to hold land out of use.
If you get it completely done, if you bring it up to the ideal, then you have a condition in which no man will coerce labor, because labor cannot then be coerced.”
For Socialism #2: Seymour Stedman
(Seymour Stedman was a civil liberties lawyer and one time Georgist, one time Democrat who ran for Vice-President in 1920 for the Socialist party.)
“The Single Tax is simply the crowning of capitalism. (Applause.) It stands for shifting the taxes of a portion of the capitalist class upon the shoulders of another part of the capitalist class and it does not for one moment propose to abolish exploitation.
I ask the speaker who will follow me to answer, do you believe in profit? The moment you uphold profit you uphold a system of Carnegies and Rockefellers. Tell us, Mr. White, will the Single Tax abolish classes, will it abolish the economic antagonism of classes? Will it abolish on the one hand the workers searching for food and products to consume, and on the other hand the men who own and control the industries and run them for profit? Will it change the motive and the purpose which arrays these two great classes against each other?
What does the capitalist want? He wishes to pay lower wages and impose longer hours. He does not produce for utility; he does not produce for use. His interest is entirely different from that of the working class, arising from an entirely different motive in the production of wealth.
You tell us about government. Government is the police power and the force that is used by the dominant class to further its own material existence and perpetuate itself. Government will never fall until all class war disappears.
The Single Tax is not a philosophy. It is a proposed patch work for the purpose of remedying certain presumed abuses of the capitalist system. Socialism, on the contrary, is far different. We recognize certain changes which have taken place in the past and which show the evolution from savage to barbaric life, and from barbaric to civilization or capitalism, and an inevitable change into a new form of industrial existence. These changes and occurrences lead us to believe, with a great deal of certainty, that the next industrial era which will follow the present will be Socialism.”
For the Single Tax #2: Henry H. Hardinge
(Henry H. Hardinge was a precision machine tool manufacturer and inventor who had "the ability to dream-out and to work-out both fairy-like and gigantic mechanical implements".)
“Socialism is, to my mind, the unscientific protest of the dissatisfied. (Hisses.) You are taking up my valuable time by hissing. Not that I am opposed to dissatisfaction. All of the progress of the human race flows from intelligently directed dissatisfaction. But I am opposed to anything that is unscientific, because it will not work.
Mr. Stedman has said that there are very few of the great industrial combinations to-day which owe their existence to the ownership of land. Let us examine this statement.
About a year and a half ago, Mr. Schwab, who knows as much about steel as any man in this audience, went before the industrial committee at Washington. He was asked this question by the chairman: "Mr, Schwab, don't you think the steel trust is over-capitalized?" He said : "No, I don't." "Why?" "Because in the Connellsville coking region of Pennsylvania there are 60,000 acres of coal, the best coking coal in the world for steel making purposes. We have got it. We own it." You may not know what land values are, Mr. Stedman, but Mr. Schwab does. (Applause.)
In his testimony he did not say one word about steel mills, rail mills, plate mills, bloom and billet mills, blast furnaces or the various machinery and capital entering into the production of steel. What he did say was that the steel trust rested on land monopoly in the State of Pennsylvania, a monopoly given to them by the laws of Pennsylvania. (Applause.)
The Single Tax will be a tax in Pennsylvania exclusively upon land values, and the bulk of Pennsylvania land values lies in the coal beds of Pennsylvania, the cities and the oil region. The operation of the same laws that tax land values will force unused coal beds into the market, which will employ more labor, which will enormously increase the visible supply of coal, which will increase the demand for labor, which will increase wages (Applause.)
Now, as to classes and the class struggle and the class consciousness which Socialists everywhere insist upon so urgently. Classes are simply the result of institutions that make classes. Forty years ago we had chattel slavery in America. Two classes were involved, the slave owner and the slave. With the abolition of the institution of slavery both classes went by the board, and the only way to destroy present classes is to destroy the institution on which they are based - land monopoly. This the Single Tax will do.
When you destroy land monopoly and make opportunities free to all men, how much freer can opportunity be under Socialism or any other ism? Land is the basis of all production, and if you are the owner of the land you can control the people. Unless you solve this problem you cannot solve the social problem.
If you own the capital and I own the source of capital I will control. The Single Tax will destroy the private ownership of the earth in the only intelligible, practicable, simple, scientific and just way that it can be destroyed, and it will work, and that is why the landlords fear it.
You Socialists have got to deal with this question of taxation. You have to meet it. You cannot abolish it without abolishing all government. I am not opposed to government; I am not an anarchist, nor yet are you. What will you do with it? You have got to deal with it. There are only two things you can tax: one is labor and the other is land monopoly. If you tax labor as it is now taxed, by taxing personal property, and everything in sight produced by labor, you will do the very thing that brings about our present industrial problems, the very condition you wish to destroy.
We want co-operation; so do you, and we know how to get it. We want it to be voluntary and universal. We know that men co-operate because it is natural and necessary, and if you remove the trinity of burdens, prohibitive land values and taxes upon production and exchange, you will at once make production perfect, unlimited and universal; and the moment you do that you will have the free industrial system that the world today is looking forward to. (Applause.)”
For Socialism #3: A. M. Simons
(A. M. Simons was a journalist and believer in ‘scientific socialism’. He vehemently opposed Lenin's regime and eventually became a Republican.)
“We are not interested in the squabbles between these wings of the capitalist class. Today we find that the continued slavery of the working class rests upon the perpetuation of the quarrels between their masters, and it is for that reason that we antagonize the Single Tax, because we see in that an instrument to weld the chains firmer upon our wrists. We see that the struggle is pushing forward on a clear field between capital and labor.
I say that you have no right to define liberty for those who chance to belong to the working producing classes. Under Socialism there would be a different definition. The class that would do the defining, that would decide what was right and wrong and what was liberty, would be the great producing class of the world. (Applause.)
The Socialist shows you here that the interests of the working class are in everlasting war with all forms of exploitation, whether of the landlord or the capitalist. (Applause.) The working class of the world have shown that they care very little for the Single Tax. (Applause.) And today when you look over the entire capitalist world and you see the gathering hosts that are following the red flag of Socialism; when you see them lining up all over the world, when we see the mighty fight that is coming, it is at least a consolation to know where our enemies are.”
For the Single Tax #3: John Z. White
(John Z. White was a Single Taxer, author and speaker, estimated to have lectured ten thousand times.)
“’Historic changes in society flow from changes in the economic basis.’ Marx said so, Engels seconded the motion, the International Association voted unanimously, and that settles that. This sort of history is not good history. No man in this audience is determined wholly by his material surroundings.
Some men are largely determined by material affairs. Some men are determined almost entirely by emotions, and I am sorry to say that my experience has been that the Socialist groups in Chicago are a complete confirmation of the latter assertion. (Laughter.)
I notice that the appeal this afternoon is made to the emotions, made to the sentiments. (Laughter, and a voice, "Tell us something about the Single Tax," and hissing.) I am doing the talking now. (Applause.) I want to find out whether I am to be put behind bars metaphorically or not. This is my turn; and the minute you overstep that line, gentlemen, you furnish me with the chiefest argument against your system. (Applause.) This is not the first of this sort of interruption. I have met it before. I scorn a man who is not square. I despise a man who is not square.
I insist that governmental control, public control, of all industries will remove the force that is necessary to carry material civilization to its greatest height - that of individual initiative. Free competition is absolutely necessary to remove tyranny. I want to remove tyranny, but I insist that it is not necessary to destroy individual ambition in order to accomplish that result. (Applause.)
Capital does not last. Land does. All through history labor has been held in subjection. What held it? Something that lasted all through history, and something that still continues. What is it? What things have continued in all the history of humanity? Two things, man and the globe on which he lives. (Applause.) To hold man in subjection you will have to either enslave his body, or hold the land on which he must live.
There is the dividing line. The ancient landed aristocracy is now in control - (applause) - today, as in the ancient time, it is the landed interest, no matter in what guise, that dominates the economic situation everywhere.”
Originally published in The Single Tax Gestalt
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