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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Friday, June 16, 2006

William Greene: Individualist Anarchists in the First International

Shawn Wilbur has some new William Greene texts at In the Libertarian Labyrinth blog. I quote from two of my favorites. First:

TO THE REV. H. W. FOOTE, Minister of King's Chapel, Boston.

You say (p. 14), "The honest price of riches, ever since the beginning of human society, has been work, self-denial, intelligence," &c. You begin very far back; but can you think of any special instance in point? The patriarch Jacob became rich through the blessing of the Almighty, not by work. The methods employed by him to increase his flocks and herds, at the expense of his father-in-law, were not those you specify. To-day men get rich, not by work, but by interest on money, the accumulation of rents and dividends, and the like; or by the rise in the value of real estate, monopolizing to themselves the profits that belong, not to themselves, but to whole neighborhoods; and so on....

But it's the second, "Address of the Internationals," that I find especially interesting from an individualist anarchist perspective. The role of American individualist anarchists in the International Working Men's Association is a fascinating topic that's received far too little attention. It's touched on in James Martin's Men Against the State (chapters 5 and 6 are online here), and in somewhat greater depth in Timothy Messer-Kruse's The Yankee International: Marxism and the American Reform Tradition, 1848-1876. I quote at length, starting with Shawn Wilbur's preface:

[The Address of the Internationals also appeared in the Fragments, after separate pamphlet publication in 1873. Although this was apparently a work "by divers hands," much of the language and subject matter is very obviously Greene's. Note that this piece was issued after the IWA had largely self-destructed, and certainly after the American individualists had been cast out from among its numbers, so it is, perhaps, less a document of the "First International" than a statement of belief in an unceasing revolutionary struggle. Understood in this way, the connections of the International with the Knights Templar and some of the more bizarre elements of the piece are more understandable.]

Not to mention Greene's rather purple descriptions of the International, in terms reminiscent of the Church Militant. Or maybe it's just a New England Transcendentalist thing. Next comes an introduction later added by Greene:

NOTE.—The Boston Section, No. I (French-speaking), of The Working-People's International Association, detailed a committee, in the latter part of the year 1872, consisting of "citizens Gruber, Sandoz, Greene, Prand, Coquard, and Jotterand," to draw up an address, explaining and defending the distinctive principles of the society. The committee attended to their duty, drew up the address, sent it to the headquarters of the association, and, after an interval of many weeks, received it back again, but covered all over with notes and observations. The changes recommended by the chiefs of the society were incorporated into the text; and the address was read before the New England Labor Reform League, at its regular convention for the year 1873. It was afterwards published by the Co-operative Publishing Company. Although the address was the work of many hands, yet, as the present writer saw his way clear to sign it, and finally did sign it, and now deems it worthy of being preserved in some more permanent shape than that of a loose pamphlet, it is here given as a sequel to the foregoing articles.

W. B. G....

In the main body, Greene takes a critical view of the collectivist strain of socialism's visceral rejection of wage labor as such (not necessarily the same as the "wage system," by the way), and profit. His defense of wage labor in principle, so long as the wage is not driven down by privilege, prefigured Tucker's later debates with Johann Most. As Tucker said, it's understandable that communists don't want anything sold, but why labor in particular? The whole point of socialism, after all, is precisely that labor be paid its full product. The word "profit" Greene uses in the sense of an accounting surplus, rather than returns on accumulated wealth as such, and so probably exaggerates his differences with the socialists (including Tucker) who use it in the second sense.

Amelioration of the condition of the working people is not exactly the emancipation of the working-people. The amelioration of the condition of the poorer classes, through the exercise of alms-giving and charity, means a postponement of the emancipation of the working-classes, and a perpetuation of existing privileges. The privileged classes are, without doubt, disposed to alleviate individual cases of suffering; for it is not to be presumed that they have no natural sympathy for the human beings they employ: nevertheless, as a general thing, they are not in favor of the economic emancipation, at the expense of their own privilege, of the entire working-class. The reform called for by the International Association is organic, and naturally incapable of being brought about by mere acts of charity....

Many working-men maintain that there should be an immediate radical change in the constitution of the workshop, and that all production should take place, hereafter, under the principle of co-operation. According to them, the workmen of every shop ought to organize themselves into companies owning their own tools; ought to contribute to the common product by their labor; ought to be paid by receiving their fair share of the common product when it is created; and ought to direct and govern the business of the workshop democratically, and by the majority rule. Among the objections to this scheme, the following may be mentioned: The company would have to buy their raw material, and sell their product, in the market; and purchases and sales can seldom be conducted to good advantage by workmen in business meetings, and deciding matters by majority votes. Persons who know the least would talk the most; persons of very little capacity would make the greater number of the motions; and much, if not all, of the time, would be wasted in determining points of order. "Many men, many minds." The company would probably end by employing a competent merchant to do their buying and selling. This merchant, a man outside the solidarity of the co-operators, would be able to direct his purchases and sales to his own advantage, and would, almost inevitably, usurp a privileged position. Furthermore, since working-men differ in capacity and assiduity, and since combined production requires a central direction, a manager, or foreman, with authority to discriminate in the matter of wages, would be found necessary. This manager would be a privileged person; and the company would be in his power. If they should quarrel with him, he would move into the next street, set up a workshop for himself on the wages principle; and nearly all the best workmen would go with him. He and the merchant would hold the company in their hands. If the co-operative workshop should be under the patronage and charge of the State, the case of the workmen would be still worse; for privileged positions would be created in the company for the purpose of providing places for mere politicians, or for the exercise of nepotism.

The success of the co-operative principle in companies organized for consumption [protective-union stores], and in mutual insurance-companies, is conceded. The success of productive enterprises carried on under the principle of industrial partnership, which is a mixed wages-and-share system, with the important risks falling on the employers, is also conceded.

But the hitherto uniform failures of strictly co-operative companies for production render it necessary that the International Association should patiently wait, before it gives its approval to any scheme of cooperative production, until that scheme shall have been thoroughly thought out, and until a guaranty shall be given that it will not "tend to the constitution of new privileges."

"The General Statutes" state the third fundamental principle of the Association in the words following:—

"The subjection of the laborer to capital is a source of all political, moral, and material servitude."

Many labor-reformers affirm that the fact of WAGES is the special source of the political, moral, and material servitude of the working-men to their employers. These reformers say, "Wages is slavery; and the man who works at wages sells himself and his children for slaves."

The word "wages" is old, and was current among English-speaking people, with its present meaning, long before the existing wages-system came into being. According to the common popular sense of the word in New England at the present day, a man may say, I wage a dollar, I wage a horse, meaning, I bet a dollar, I bet a horse. The word "wages" implies an element of risk. If a competent person devise some important undertaking, provide himself with capital, hire working-people at wages, and begin to carry out his plans, the money he advances from day to day, or from week to week, to the working-people, in wages, is money wagered by him; for the undertaking may ultimately fail, and yield no return for the outlay. The workingman wagers his pay for the current day only, or for the current week; but the employer wagers all that he invests in the undertaking. If the undertaking be carried on according to a share-system, and not according to a wage-system, the workman will have to contribute his share of the capital in the beginning, and wait for his pay and his share of the profits, until the work is ended, and the product is transmuted into money; the workman risking the loss, in the case of failure, not only of the capital by him contributed, but also of all the labor he has expended. Perhaps every one is willing to hold shares in privileged joint stock companies, and to receive a percentage, without himself working, of the product of other people's labor; but for every one person who is willing to work upon a strictly equitable share-system, taking his own risks, and insuring himself, a hundred other persons will probably be found who prefer to work at stipulated wages. Working-men are not, as a general thing, of the opinion, that "the man who works at wages sells himself and his children for slaves." The phrase, "wages is slavery," first put forth in the neighborhood of Boston, some twenty-five years ago, by the Brook Farm Fourierists, has met with a temporary but undeserved success.

The wages of labor are determined, under the existing system, by competition in the labor market; the employers striving, through combinations among themselves, and the exercise of legal and political privileges, to lower the rate of the workman's remuneration, while the workmen strive, through counter-combinations, and other processes, to raise the rate of their own pay.

Properly-directed and successful labor always leaves a profit; and it is a mistake to suppose, with some of the extreme labor-reformers, that all profit is extortion and robbery. When Robinson Crusoe was alone in his island, he planted seed which he had providentially put away in his pocket; and, from the consequent harvest, he laid aside seed for the next year, and had enough left to supply him with food, and a little more. This little more was clear profit. Nature worked with Robinson, giving him an increased product, and making no charge for her aid....

"The General Statutes" of the Working-People's Association make little, if any, reference, either to profits, or to the fact of wages: they declare no vain war against poverty in the abstract; neither do they denounce capital or the capitalists. They simply denounce that "subjection of the workingman to capital" which necessitates the existing wage-system, which creates the sovereignty of the capitalists, which makes an iniquitous division of profits inevitable, which causes the poverty of the working-people, and which brings about the existing political, moral, and material servitude of laborers to their employers. Capital is innocent enough. What is capital? It is the surplus product of labor laid aside, and used in reproduction. It is wealth invested in trade, in manufactures, or in any business requiring expenditures with a view to profit.7 "The General Statutes" condemn, not capital at all, not the surplus product of labor, not profits saved up and used in reproduction, but "the subjugation of the laborer to capital, " which is something altogether different. Capital is created by the laborer; and the existing subjection of the laborer to capital is the result of an unnatural subjugation of a creator by its own creature. It is the abuse of capital, the unjust privilege of capital, its domination over the laborer, not capital itself, that is in fault....

The best part of the article, without a doubt, is Greene's analysis of privilege as a state construct:

"The subjugation of the working-man to capital" is not an ultimate fact: there are grounds and reasons for that "subjugation." Those grounds and reasons are to be found in positive and arbitrary legislation, which creates privileges. Protective tariff laws enhance the price of products, and so carry diminished consumption, and consequent privation, into every poor household in the land: they, moreover, strengthen and confirm the control of the labormarket by capital. Arbitrary privileges granted to chartered corporations translate themselves into outrages upon wage-laborers. Restrictions upon the use of a circulating medium based on products—whether those restrictions take the form of swindling banking-laws, or of laws (such as those borne on the Massachusetts Statute-book) prohibiting the circulation of bills-of-exchange, due-bills, checks and drafts, and the like, as currency—deprive the working-man of natural and just rights, and put him at disadvantage. It is not necessary to speak of railroad monopolies, of the giving-away of public lands to speculators, and of a thousand kindred iniquities. All laws creating privileges tend and work to defraud the working-man of his fair wages; and it is by the operation of tyrannical and wicked positive laws, and not, as is sometimes calumniously affirmed, by the improvidence of the laborer, that the working-man has been and is brought into "subjection" to capital. That subjection is, therefore, arbitrary, artificial, and not natural: it is contrary to the normal order of things. It is impossible to organize a privilege in favor of the working-man, as such; for, as soon as a working-man is privileged, he is a member of the favored classes, and must exercise his privilege, if at all, to the detriment of working-people. The International Association, in its Inaugural Address of 1864, defines its position as follows: "Landlords and money-lords will always make use of their political privileges to defend their economic privileges. Instead of helping on the emancipation of labor, they will continue to clog it with all possible obstacles. The achievement of political supremacy has, therefore, become THE FIRST DUTY of the working-class.

....The privilege of capital is guaranteed by the courts, and defended by the whole armed power of the State, military and naval. Saint James says, "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver are cankered, and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth." Woe to them that bring about iniquity by law! The prophet Micah says, " Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds !—when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand." The prophet Habakkuk says, "Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and etablisheth a city by iniquity!" The prophet Amos says, "Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor to fail from the land, that ye may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes!" The prophet Isaiah says, "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there is no more place, that they may be alone in the midst of the earth!" King Solomon says, "There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed of their filthiness; a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and how their eyelids are lifted up a generation whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw-teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men. The horse-leech hath two daughters" (land-monopoly and money-monopoly), "crying, Give, give!"

Economic laws creating privileges are usually enacted at the instance of persons intent upon private interest, and for temporary purposes, without foresight of the permanent privileges which those laws create. For example, the banking-laws were passed in the interests of the stockholders and officers of the banks, without any special intention, or even thought, of annoying the working-people in their exchanges of labor for labor. The giving-away of the public lands was, and is, for the purpose of enriching the persons who received them, and are receiving them, not for the purpose of leaving future generations of working-men without homes. The immediate purpose is to cheat and rob the people, not to enslave them. The whole thing is one of shortsighted avarice, rather than of concerted ambition; and the subjection of the laborer comes incidentally only, and "without observation." The servitude of the working-class is of indirect but efficacious LEGAL origin: the emancipation of the working-class must come, therefore, the nature of the State being what it now is, from political action, resulting, not in the making of new laws,—for very few new laws, perhaps none, are called for,—but in the repeal of all existing laws that breed and hatch out privileges It is for this reason that "the achievement of political supremacy by the working-class has become A DUTY."

The members of the International are no office-seekers. They are confident, that, with the abolition of privileges, nine-tenths of the existing political offices, since they are constituted as privileges, and with a view to the protection of privileges, will also be abolished. The abolition of privileges would also abolish the necessity for ninety-nine one-hundredths of the current legislation. Many members of the International maintain that office-holders should no longer be paid, as they are now, fancy salaries, but that they should be paid, like other working-men, simple working-men's wages. This plan succeeded well in the Commune of Paris, during the siege, and provided a superior class of public functionaries. Better men, and more competent men, taken directly from the working-class, were hired by the Commune, at a dollar and a half per day, than had been hired by the old governments at five times those wages. If special honor is attached to any position, that honor should be counted as a part of the wages; and the pay in money should be proportionably less. If there were no privileges to be protected, the necessities for political government would go on gradually diminishing; and the social autonomy of the people would gradually establish itself outside of the government. "The best government is the government which governs least." The public treasury ought to be kept at all times nearly empty, so that knaves and adventurers may not be tempted to thrust their fingers into it. The people should be rich, and the government should be very poor. The triumph of the International would throw an effectual wet blanket on the existing lust for public positions, and would cause a return to productive pursuits, and to day's wages, of many very brilliant, but now worse than useless, members of society....

What is required at the present time is not so much equality before the laws as equal laws: that is to say, laws that do not themselves bring forth and perpetuate inequality; for laws organizing privilege have not, of necessity, a respect for particular persons; since they may have the effect to render it inevitable that a privileged class shall exist, without themselves designating the persons who are to compose that class. The privileged man of the period may say, "I took the world as I found it; and by taking the world as I took it, since we both of us have to deal with the same world, you also may perhaps, if you show the same talent, diligence, and perseverance that I showed, attain to a position similar to the one I hold. There is equality after all; for every one of us faces the same chances." The college sophomore may say to the freshman, "I kick you in accordance with time-honored custom; but I, also, was kicked, in my time, by my predecessors; and, if you wait patiently, you may, in your turn, kick your successors. There is an equality in the matter; for, ultimately, all kick, and all are kicked." Would there not be a better equality, and at the same time more justice and more dignity, if no one should kick, and no one should be kicked? Justice—not equal chances in injustice, not the satisfaction of knowing that you may, if you have luck, bite as much as you are bitten, and eat as much as you are eaten—ought to govern the world....


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