Dead Socialist Watch, #285

Thomas Hodgskin, Ricardian socialist, and very possibly the major pre-Marxian socialist political economist. (I tend to read few chapters of Capital vol.1 as Marx’s attack on Hodgskin, but maybe that’s just me.) He went to sea when he was 12, and served with the Navy until he retired at 25, publishing An Essay on Naval Discipline in 1813. Having travelled in Germany and moved to Edinburgh, he returned impoverished to London in 1822 and started writing for the Morning Chronicle. His major works were published over the following years: Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital in 1825, a course of lectures for the mechanics’ institute published in 1827 as Popular Political Economy, and The Artificial and Natural Right of Property Contrasted in 1832. (He later wrote pamphlets for the Anti-Corn Law League, and wrote for The Economist, which I suppose helps to explain why his works appear at both the Online Library of Liberty and over at Born at Chatham, 12 December 1787; died Feltham, 21 August 1869.

A few snippets of Hodgskin over the fold…

From Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital:

“Betwixt him who produces food and him who produces clothing, betwixt him who makes instruments and him who uses them, in steps the capitalist, who neither makes nor uses them, and appropriates to himself the produce of both. With as niggard a hand as possible he transfers to each a part of the produce of the other, keeping to himself the large share. Gradually and successively has he insinuated himself betwixt them, expanding in bulk as he has been nourished by their increasingly productive labours, and separating them so widely from each other that neither can see whence that supply is drawn which each receives through the capitalist. While he despoils both, so completely does he exclude one from the view of the other that both believe they are indebted him for subsistence. He is the middleman of all labourers; and when we compare what the skilled labour of England produces, with the produce of the untutored labour of the Irish peasantry, the middlemen of England cannot be considered as inferior in their exactions to the middlemen of Ireland. They have been more fortunate, however, and while the latter are stigmatised as oppressors, the former are honoured as benefactors. Not only do they appropriate the produce of the labourer; but they have succeeded in persuading him that they are his benefactors and employers. At least such are the doctrines of political economy; and capitalist may well be pleased with a science which both justifies their claims and holds them up to our admiration, as the great means of civilising and improving the world.”


“Though the defective nature of the claims of capital may now be satisfactorily proved, the question as to the wages of labour is by no means decided. Political economists, indeed, who have insisted very strongly on the necessity of giving security to property, and have ably demonstrated how much that security promotes general happiness, will not hesitate to agree with me when I say that whatever labour produces ought to belong to it. They have always embraced the maxim of permitting those to “reap who sow,” and they have maintained that the labour of a man’s body and the work of his hands are to be considered as exclusively his own. I take it for granted, therefore, that they will henceforth maintain that the whole produce of labour ought to belong to the labourer. But though this, as a general proposition, is quite evident, and quite true, there is a difficulty, in its practical application, which no individual can surmount. There is no principle or rule, as far as I know, for dividing the produce of joint labour among the different individuals who concur in production, but the judgment of the individuals themselves; that judgment depending on the value men may set on different species of labour can never be known, nor can any rule be given for its application by any single person. As well might a man say what others shall hate or what they shall like.

“Whatever division of labour exists, and the further it is carried the more evident does this truth become, scarcely any individual completes of himself any species of produce. Almost any product of art and skill is the result of joint and combined labour. So dependent is man on man, and so much does this dependence increase as society advances, that hardly any labour of any single individual, however much it may contribute to the whole produce of society, is of the least value but as forming a part of the great social task. In the manufacture of a piece of cloth, the spinner, the weaver, the bleacher and the dyer are all different persons. All of them except the first is dependent for his supply of materials on him, and of what use would his thread be unless the others took it from him, and each performed that part of the task which is necessary to complete the cloth? Wherever the spinner purchases the cotton or wool, the price which he can obtain for his thread, over and above what he paid for the raw material, is the reward of his labour. But it is quite plain that the sum the weaver will be disposed to give for the thread will depend on his view of its utility. Wherever the division of labour is introduced, therefore, the judgment of other men intervenes before the labourer can realise his earnings, and there is no longer any thing which we can call the natural reward of individual labour. Each labourer produces only some part of a whole, and each part having no value or utility of itself, there is nothing on which the labourer can seize, and say: “This is my product, this will I keep to myself.” Between the commencement of any joint operation, such as that of making cloth, and the division of its product among the different persons whose combined exertions have produced it, the judgment of men must intervene several times, and the question is, how much of this joint product should go to each of the individuals whose united labourers produce it?

“I know no way of deciding this but by leaving it to be settled by the unfettered judgments of the labourers themselves.”


“In truth, also, however the matter may be disguised, the combinations among workmen to obtain higher wages, which are now so general and so much complained of, are practical attacks on the claims of capital. The weight of its chains are felt, though the hand may not yet be clearly seen which imposes them. Gradually as the resistance increases, as laws are multiplied for the protection of capital, as claims for higher wages shall be more strenuously and more violently repressed, the cause of this oppression will be more distinctly seen. The contest now appears to be between masters and journeymen, or between one species of labour and another, but it will soon be displayed in its proper characters; and will stand confessed a war of honest industry against the idle profligacy which has so long ruled the affairs of the political world with undisputed authority — which has, for its own security, added honour and political power to wealth, and has conjoined exclusion and disgrace with the poverty it has inflicted on the labourer. On the side of the labourers there is physical strength, for they are more numerous than their opponents. They are also fast losing that reverence for their opponents which was and is the source of their power, and they are daily acquiring a moral strength which results from a common interest and a close and intimate union.

“The capitalist and labourers form the great majority of the nation, so that there is not third power to intervene betwixt them. The must and will decide the dispute of themselves. Final success, I would fain hope, must be on the side of justice. I am certain, however, that till the triumph of labour be complete; till productive industry alone be opulent, and till idleness alone be poor, till the admirable maxim that “he who sows shall reap” be solidly established; till the right of property shall be founded on principles of justice, and not on those of slavery; till man shall be held more in honour than the clod be treads on, or the machine he guides–there cannot, and there ought not to be either peace on earth or goodwill amongst men.”

4 thoughts on “Dead Socialist Watch, #285”

  1. I realise the human brain tries to spot patterns where there are none, and doesn’t bother noticing the times when coincidences don’t happen. Still, I’m bothered by how many socialists died on my birthday. It’s like bearing in mind that me and my brother were both born on years when Thatcher won elections, my brother on the bitch’s birthday.

    Whatever happened to the heroes?

  2. My son could have shared a birthday with Tony Benn and Doris Day had he seen fit to emerge in time.

    As it was, he shares one with David Blaine and Robert Downey Jr.

    That’ll learn him.

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