Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital

A few months ago, you may recall, I serialised Oscar Wilde’s essay, “The Soul of Man under Socialism”, at the Virtual Stoa, republishing it in bite-sized chunks in order that the blog generation — shortened attention span and all — might enjoy a fresh encounter with something that is both a rather fine piece of writing and a significant and often under-appreciated contribution to the literature of the Left.

I’ve been pondering a sequel for a while now, and the text I keep coming back to is Thomas Hodgskin’s pamphlet, Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital, which was first published in London in 1825 and which went on to be considered one of the classics of the so-called Ricardian socialist economics.

For those who want to read ahead, the pamphlet is available elsewhere on the web, for example, here or here. I’ll be basing this blog edition on the text provided by the Avalon Project website at Yale Law School, checking it against the facsimile of the original edition in David Reisman’s recent Pickering edition.

I’ll supply some further background notes at the start of the second instalment, but – there being no time like the present – it’s time to kick off this new serial with the Notice that appears ahead of the main body of the text…

NOTICE

In all the debates on the law passed during the late session of Parliament, on account of the combinations of workmen, much stress is laid on the necessity of protecting capital. What capital performs is therefore a question of considerable importance, which the author was, on this account, induced to examine. As the result of that examination, it is his opinion that all the benefits attributed to capital arise from co-existing and skilled labour. He feels himself, on this account, called on to deny that capital has any just claim to the large share of the national produce now bestowed on it. This large share he has endeavored to show is the cause of the poverty of the labourer; and he ventures to assert that the condition of the labourer can never be permanently improved till he can refute the theory, and is determined to oppose the practice of giving nearly everything to capital.

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