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Collectivism

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The term Collectivism is sometimes employed as a substitute for socialism. It is of later origin, and is somewhat more precise in use and content. Socialism, while sufficiently definite in the minds of those who have a right to class themselves as socialists, is frequently employed in a loose way by others. The single-tax theory government ownership of public utilities such as railways and telegraphs, stricter public regulation of industry, and even moderate measures of social reform, are sometimes called socialism by individuals and newspapers. Collectivism is scarcely ever used except to designate that system of industry in which the material agents of production may be earned and managed by the public, the collectivity. And it usually indicates merely the economic side of socialism, without reference to any philosophical, psychological, ethical, or historical assumptions. Socialism means primarily an ideal industrial order as just described, but it is also quite properly used to characterize the entire idealogical foundation upon which International or Marxian socialists build as well as the concrete movement that is actively striving the realization of this ideal order. Hence economic determinism, the class struggle and the catastrophic concentration of industry would be called socialist rather than collectivist theories. Notwithstanding these advantages of definiteness, the word collectivism has not been widely employed, even in France and Belgium; nor does it promise to supplant the older term in the future.

While collectivism implies the substitution of collective for private property in the means of production, it is susceptible of considerable diversity in its application throughout the realm of industry. One of the most thoroughgoing of the German socialists, Karl Kautsky, in his forecast of what might be expected to happen the day after the industrial revolution, suggests that when the State has taken a possession of the capitalistic industries it could sell a portion of them to the labourers who work them, another portion to co-operative associations, another to municipalities, and still another to provincial subdivisions of the nation (in America, the several States). All industries that had already become monopolized by the nation, and the national form of industry would probably be the predominant one ultimately. Land would be collectively owned, but not always collectively operated. According to Kautsky, the small non-capitalistic farms (embracing by far the greater part of all agricultural land) might well remain in the hands of individual farmers. While not owning the ground that he tilled, and while — in all probability — paying rent to the State in proportion to the value of the land, the small farmer would own and manage his agricultural business, the machinery, seeds, horses etc., that he used, and the product that he produced. Thus his position would approximate that of a farmer under the single-tax system. He would not be a wage-receiver in the employ of State. Finally there are certain non-agricultural small industries which could continue to be privately owned and managed. This is especially true of those in which hand labour predominates, and which produce for immediate consumption, for example, the work of barbers, artists, custom-tailors and dressmakers. Since the supreme aim of collectivism is the abolition of that capitalistic regime which enables one man or one corporation arbitrarily to exploit the labour and the necessities of many men, it obviously does not — in theory at least — imply equal compensation for all individuals, nor the destruction of individual initiative, nor the establishment of a bureaucratic despotism. Hence the theoretical possibility of different rates of pay, of many and diverse industrial units, of a considerable member of small industries, and of private property in the goods that minister to immediate enjoyment. As the American socialist John Spargo puts it, "we want social ownership only of those things which cannot be controlled by private owners except as means of exploiting the labour of others and making them bondsmen" (Capitalist and Labor. etc., 120). As in the matter of the ownership and operation of the means of production, so with regard to the ultimate directive power, the governmental functions, collectivism does not theoretically necessitate the despotic supremacy of a highly centralized State. Indeed, the Continental socialists, who detest the military governments under which they live, favour decentralization rather than the opposite; hence so many of them lay stress upon the development of the local political unit, and the inevitable increase of provincial and municipal functions in the collectivist State. Their ideal, and the ideal of collectivists generally, is a State organized on industrial lines, in which each industry whether local or national, and its workers will be substantially autonomous, and in which government of persons will be replaced by an administration of things.

From this outline of what may be regarded as the prevailing theory of collectivism, it appears that many of the arguments against collectivism have lost something of their former strength and pertinency. This is particularly true of those objections which assume a completely centralized management of industry, equal compensation for all workers, and the entire absence of individual initiative in production. On the other hand, the very diversity of industrial direction, the vast scope given to local and provincial autonomy, and the very small part assigned to coercive and repressive activity in the collectivist system would undoubtedly prove fatal to its efficiency and stability. To suppose that the local industrial unit, say, the municipal gas works, or the local branch of the national shoe manufacture, could be operated effectively on a basis of complete industrial democracy, requires a faith surpassing that of children. The workers would lack the incentive to hard work that comes from fear of discharge, would be under constant temptation to assume that they were more active and more efficient than their equally paid fellows in other workshops of the same class. Hence sufficient centralization to place the of industry outside of the local unit or branch would seem to be indispensable. This means a combination of industrial and political power that could easily put an end to freedom of action, speech, and writing. Since the form of authority would be democratic, the people could no doubt vote such a government out of power; but in the concrete the people means the majority, and a majority might continue for a long series of years to impose intolerable conditions on a minority almost equal in numbers. For collectivism there seems to be no middle ground between inefficiency and despotism. An industrial system which would increase rather than lessen social ills is obviously contrary to the interests of morality and religion. Furthermore, any collectivist regime which should seize private land or capital without compensation is condemned by Catholic doctrine concerning the lawfulness of private ownership and unlawfulness of theft. Setting aside these questions of feasibility and compensation are we obliged to say, or permitted to say, that collectivism as described in this article has formally been condemned by the Catholic Church? In the Encyclical "Rerum Novarum" (On the condition of labour), Pope Leo XIII clearly denounced those extreme forms of socialism and communism which aim at the abolition of all or practically all private property. Perhaps the nearest approach to an official pronouncement on the subject of essential and purely economic collectivism is Holy Father declares that man's welfare demands private ownership of "stable possessions" and of "lucrative property". (See SOCIALISM.)


About this page

APA citation. Ryan, J.A. (1908). Collectivism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04106a.htm

MLA citation. Ryan, John Augustine. "Collectivism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04106a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph P. Thomas.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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