The Library of Original Sources, Vol 10


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Social Movements

Probably the most important social movement of the present time springs from a conception of the state as a social organism in opposition to the Adam Smith conception of it as economically merely a conglomeration of individuals. On the latter theory each individual should be left to himself, competition should be uncontrolled, the government should keep out of economic affairs. On the former basis, the state is an organism which should control all its parts for the good of the whole.

Such attempts by government to control trade are not new, but the object would seldom be "for the good of the whole" except where was acknowledged the sovereignty of the people. It is interesting to glance back over such attempts to control industry made by governments, and at the same time compare the efforts made by individuals or classes to control it for their own benefit.

In Greece, Sparta by its peculiar laws made itself an agricultural aristocracy with the work done by serfs. Trade was practically annihilated. In Athens all were free to come and trade. The government, however, fixed a maximum price on olives, grain, barley meal, bread; saw that the food was kept pure, and the measures correct; and prevented a "corner" on grain by compelling two-thirds of that imported to be put on the market. Here, too, as in Sparta, the traders were foreigners and not a respected class. The manual work was done by slaves.

In Italy the land fell into the hands of large slave-holders, who used it for grazing purposes. The government sold imported grain for less than the small Italian farmers could raise it, and thus ruined thesmall farmer for the benefit of the population at Rome. The Roman senator was forbidden from entering into any speculative trade venture, e. g., commerce, or the farming of the revenue; but this law was often avoided by joining an association. Almost all large businesses at Rome were carried on by incorporated associations. A man was advised to send out fifty ships with forty-nine other merchants rather than to send out one on his own account. It gave him the benefit of the law of averages,—acted as now does insurance, which was unknown in those days.

Hand labor suffered in social status because of the proximity of slave labor. But this seems to have been lessened to some extent by the existence of trade corporations. Numa is fabled to have divided workmen into nine classes, each of which became a society. Such associations later became regular corporations, and exerted considerable influence on the economics of the time. The membership seems both in the time of the republic and empire to have been voluntary, but they seem to have included practically all free craftsmen in the large cities.

Taken altogether the system of the empire was decidedly paternal. Mines and roads of communication were owned by the government, and the emperor paid very close attention to affairs which we should now consider strictly municipal.

During the middle ages, practically all trades were under control of trade guilds. We read of a weavers’ and fullers’ guild in England as early as 1130. No one was permitted by the king to follow an occupation unless a member of the guild, and an apprenticeship, usually of seven years, was necessary before a man could be admitted to a guild. Merchant guilds also existed early, but liberty in buying and selling was in general given to all in England in 1335. From the twelfth to the eighteenth century the guilds practically regulated industry, subject to the control of the king. In the eighteenth century the guilds did not keep pace with the growth of the great industries, and were fiercely attacked by the laissez-faire school of economists. Their influence waned and the laws in their favor were left unenforced. The law compelling apprenticeship was abolished in 1814, and all trade privileges of the guilds taken away. But not long after this trade unions began to be developed to take their place.

Even before the time of the Tudors it was the custom of the king to give the monopoly of dealing in a certain article to some favorite as a reward. In the time of Elizabeth these monopolies included suchthings as salt, currants, iron, playing cards, carriage of leather, ashes, coals, bottles, vinegar, etc. The growth of the system roused great discontent, a fierce struggle was waged against it in Parliament in 1601, and Elizabeth promised to revoke the patents. The matter was again brought to a crisis under James I. by the extortion of the licensers of inns, and the whole power was taken from the Crown except in the case of patent rights. During the next century Parliament gave exclusive power to trade in some certain district to a particular company formed for exploitation or colonization, as, for example, the East India Company or the many American companies, but the economic ideas of Adam Smith at the end of the eighteenth century overthrew even this policy, and since then the government has confined exclusive privileges given to private individuals to patents or copyrights.

Nineteenth century socialism came in with the century. Fourier in 1808 published his theoretical pantheistic view of the world and maintained that all civilization had been but putting the world farther from its Creator. His phantasies passed without effect, but in 1817 Owen laid a scheme for a socialistic community before the House of Commons committee on the poor law. A number of such social communities sprang up, among them the famous Brook Farm in the United States, but practically all were short lived.

In 1831 the workingmen of Lyons, France, rose in revolt under a banner inscribed "Live working or die fighting." A like movement was the Chartist revolts by workingmen in the thirties, for although their demands were political, yet the ground of the discontent was primarily economic. All of these movements had their rise and fall leaving little permanent results except the establishment of trade unions, but showing an important undercurrent in society, when Karl Marx gave a scientific expression to the movement in Germany.

Karl Marx (1818–1883) was of Jewish descent. He was a lawyer, but gave up his profession for social studies. Between 1843 and 1845 he was in Paris, and published several articles on socialism. At this time, also, he met his lifelong friend, Friedrich Engels. In 1845 he was expelled from Paris and settled in Brussels. A society of socialists had been organized as the Communist League and at a congress held in 1847, Marx and Engels gave to the world the famous "Manifesto of the Communist Party" included below.

In 1867 Marx published the first volume of his great work "Das Kapital." The basis of his system is Locke’s idea that the source ofvalue and property is labor. Hence he argues that all surplus product over the necessary subsistence of the laborer belongs to the laborer, but he declares that as a fact this goes to the capitalist.

This theory found an important result in the formation of The International, a league of workmen of the continent which lasted from 1864 to 1872, and in the gradual growth of trade unions.

One of the first organizers of modern trade unions in Germany was Ferdinand Lassalle, but at his death in 1864 his general workingmen’s union numbered only 4,610 members.

In a great congress at Eisenach in 1869 representatives of the many outside unions founded the social democratic workingmen’s party and a combination was made with the Lassalle party in 1875. The two together by this time numbered 25,000 members. Since this time the socialists have been an important power in German politics.

In England from 1799 to 1824 there had grown up a mass of laws against restriction of trade, as a reaction against the mercantile theory of the eighteenth century. Until 1824 it was a crime to belong to a union. Such restrictions were partly removed in that year and more fully in 1871.

In the United States there were many local unions early in the century, but the first union including all the main trades of a city seems to have been in 1833 in New York. In 1861 a number of trades had a national organization. After the war organization was again begun and spread rapidly until the panic of ’73. From 1877 to 1893 the labor unions seem to have had a rapid growth and the decrease in the panic of ’93 was only about 12 per cent., not as great as during previous depressions. Today practically all general trades are well organized, especially in cities of some size.

The necessity of a city water supply, the general spread of lighting by gas, the invention of the railroad in 1814, of the telegraph in 1835, of the telephone in 1878, of the incandescent electric light in 1879, and the introduction of electric street railways all created a class of industries which have been called "natural monopolies." They are all public utilities, and only one is essential in a given field; that is, each plays an important part in present day civilization, has in fact, become a public necessity, and as each is practically unlimited in possible capacity, it is vastly more economical to have one industry than two or more of the same kind in the same field.

Since 1882 another class of partial monopolies has sprung up. In 1882 the Standard Oil Company was organized, which was able to control about 85 per cent. of the total output of refined oil in the United States. Since then a vast number of such combinations have been formed, all aiming to control the most of the output and the prices in their lines. Vast capital, enabling them to wait for returns, better freight rates, which their greater volume of business has enabled them to procure, the cutting off of routine expenses and the expense of competitive selling, have all given them an advantage over the small competitor.

These are real economic advantages. The evils result chiefly from an ability to charge too high where there is a virtual monopoly; special rates from public utilities such as railroads; and undue influence in city councils and other legislative bodies.

The question of the control of such monopolies is one that is sure to be of the greatest importance in the near future. It involves a direct opposition between the idea of government as made up of individuals with the consequent laissez-faire principles of economy, and the idea of it as a social organism where the whole should supervise all its parts. Most of our ideas of government ownership or control come, though bereft of its most radical features, from the socialism of Marx and Engels. This in a far less extreme form is also the basis of the socialist party of Germany—the strongest single party in numbers in the empire—and of the state socialism represented by the Fabian Society, for example, in England.


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Chicago: "Social Movements," The Library of Original Sources, Vol 10 in The Library of Original Sources, ed. Oliver J. Thatcher (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: University Research Extension Co., 1907), 6–10. Original Sources, accessed May 28, 2023,

MLA: . "Social Movements." The Library of Original Sources, Vol 10, in The Library of Original Sources, edited by Oliver J. Thatcher, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, University Research Extension Co., 1907, pp. 6–10. Original Sources. 28 May. 2023.

Harvard: , 'Social Movements' in The Library of Original Sources, Vol 10. cited in 1907, The Library of Original Sources, ed. , University Research Extension Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, pp.6–10. Original Sources, retrieved 28 May 2023, from