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John Glasse was reverend of the Church of Old Greyfriars and a pioneer of socialism in Scotland.


"The ideal Socialist is as hard to find as the ideal Christian and the cause of the one is as much injured by its supporters as that of the other. If Socialism is ever to fulfill its mission to society, it must commend itself to the reason and morality of the community. There is trouble enough to get people at first to believe in the good fruit without adding to their perplexity by the introduction of bad fruit. Any faults the Socialist may have are not minimized by society. She looks at them with a magnifier and forgets the strong temptation there is for a man to make away altogether from morality and land on the opposite extremes. Socialists are comparatively a small body and to gain the great multitude we must all do our very utmost to enlist their sympathy. The movement will succeed in spite of all if we can command the wise men after the spirit, the mighty in works of usefulness and the noble in deeds of heroism. The worst form of robbery is carried on by the present system, the robbery of the poor by the rich; still, while this is so the Socialist is not at liberty to encourage the poor to plunder the rich. What has been and what may be is not always what ought to be; and the advocates of a higher order of ideas are bound to treat their opponents with a higher measure of consideration than ever has been meted out to themselves. It is true the classes in the community have set in this matter a very bad example to the masses, but the Socialist who would exhort them to follow it is false to his principles. Our aim is to stop the systematic robbery of the poor because they are poor. We want each man to be able to sit under his own fig tree and eat his own figs. We are Socialists because we are opposed to all kinds of expropriation; and it would be nothing short of an act of injustice to give the laborer and the landlord a spade each in order to earn a living at the same trade. Not only all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, but all the big wigs and all the little wigs thrown into the bargain can perpetuate a system where the poor crofters are overwhelmed with debt. It may no doubt have been wrong for the crofters to kill so many deer. It is difficult to come to the conclusion what is right and what is wrong with relation to food when you are in a state of starvation; but can we say it is right that a landlord in Ireland should be able, with the help of a hundred policemen, a battering ram, and a fire-engine, to evict a tenant because he may be one year in arrears, declared by the valuation court to be seven times the above value of his holding? Law and order used to defend such enormities cannot command the respect of the community. We insist that law does not constitute justice nor does authority furnish excuse for violence. The citizens may sometimes forget this fact but will never deny it, and will ultimately rally round us for the alteration of the one and the diminution of the other. At the same time, society cannot exist without order, and this necessity often induces many to submit to tyranny. Most, of us, with all our desire for settled government would rather have disorder than injustice, but while this is so nothing can ever excuse the wanton resort to it; its presence, indeed, is one of the saddest features of the time and it behooves the best people to do nothing to encourage it. To win the confidence of society the movement must be characteristic of more sobriety. The Capitalist is not conscious of the evil around him and that the evil is growing. He does not desire to forego his own advantage for the benefit of others, and believing that one must either be the hammer or the anvil, he prefers to be the hammer. The society in which one man’s gain must be another’s loss is spoken of as Christian and the one who takes such gain is also a Christian! Surely, anything is possible of brethren after that! Yes, business is business, and Christianity is Christianity, but the one is certainly not the other. Socialism would substitute justice for violence; it tries to prove that the poverty of the poor is produced by their economic plunder by the rich. Armed with a monopoly of land and machinery the Capitalist robs the laborer of a large part of the proceeds of his industry, and if he does not get all the profit to himself, it is simply because the others rob him in turn. It is in short a state of war, where if you do not destroy your neighbor he will destroy you. A truce, however, is proclaimed about Christmas time, and roast beef and plum pudding distributed to those who have been starving the most of the year. We intend to institute a system where every man must work for his dinner—loafers at the club as well as on the street. We do not think it is enough that because people are loafers and criminals that they should be starved. This is an age of science, but our conscience seems often stronger than our science. How can a man who is refused work display his individual energy and independence? To do this successfully you must first assist him where work can be had by all. Socialism believes in the sacredness of labor, but it would preach it to the rich as well as to the poor; and will do its best to destroy a system where many have to labor, and some cannot get work at all to save them from starvation in order that a few may revel in luxury. The ethics of Socialism recognize no classes. The system is a brotherhood founded on justice. Socialism has no special respect for patriotism, and believes no more in nationality than in class. Patriotism has, indeed, become identified with injustice. The advocates of it want their state to get some advantage at the expense of others. It is only the evils of our social system played on a nation scale."

—John Glasse, "The Ethics of Socialism," The Christian Socialist: A Journal for Those who Work and Think 6 (February 1888)


A Harvest Hymn

Onward, Friends of Freedom


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