The Economic Lie
Those circumstances of our civilization which affect the largest number of human beings, with the most painful and lasting results, are the grievous errors prevailing in the economic world. There are plenty of people who have never taken any interest in abstract questions, to whom God is a matter of as much indifference as primal causes; the encyclical as uninteresting as the theory of evolution, whose faith or knowledge is alike superficial. Many people also are totally indifferent to the political problems of the day, and the number is much larger than is usually supposed, who do not care in the least whether they are governed in the name of a personal king or of an impersonal republic, so long as the State remains visible in the shape of public officials, tax-collectors and drill-sergeants. But on the other hand, there is not a single man of our civilization who is not daily confronted by the question of supply and demand. The circumstances of the economic world force themselves upon the dullest observation and the most secluded intelligence. Every human being possessed of consciousness, experiences certain wants and grumbles at the difficulty or rebels against the impossibility of satisfying them. With bitterness does he see the disproportion between his labor and the enjoyments he is able to purchase as the results of it, and compare his own share of the gifts of nature and productions of art to those enjoyed by others. He grows hungry every few hours, he is fatigued and weary at the close of each working day, every time that he sees a beautiful or brilliant article he longs to possess it, in obedience to that natural instinct of human nature to attract notice and admiration to its personality by ornamental or distinguishing appendages. Thus he is led by the circumstances of his physical conditions to reflect upon his relation to the general movements of political economy, the production and distribution of wealth. There is consequently no subject in which the masses are more vitally interested than this. During the Middle Ages millions were aroused to action by the name and cause of Religion. In the latter part of the last century and up to the middle of this, the nations of the world were aflame for their abstract needs of enlightenment and political liberty. The cry for bread for the masses fills this latter part of the Nineteenth Century. This cry is the sole import of that European policy which tries to turn the people from this engrossing idea by side issues of all kinds, by persecution of some social class, by wars, colonization schemes, expositions, dynastic comedies, parliamentary twaddle and civil service reforms, but it is constantly brought back to it by the pressure of public opinion which demands a consideration of the great, worldwide problem of the day, the question of how to support one’s self. Crusades for the rescue of a Holy Sepulchre, for the conquest of a Golden Fleece, are no longer possible. The causes of modern revolutions are not constitutions on paper and democratic party cries, but the longings experienced by so many to toil less and live better.
At no period in the world’s history were the contrasts between rich and poor so decided, so prominent, as at present. Those writers on political economy who commence their scientific works with the axiom that pauperism is as old as humanity itself, betray either a lack of reflection or truth. There is an absolute and a relative poverty. Absolute poverty is that condition in which a man is partially or totally unable to satisfy his actual wants, that is, those which are the result of the organic act of living. Hence it is that condition in which he finds it impossible to procure sufficient food, or where to procure it, he is obliged to curtail the rest and sleep which his system requires and without which he pines and dies prematurely. Relative poverty, on the other hand, signifies a condition of lack of means to satisfy the wants which man has artificially acquired, not the indispensable requisites for the preservation of life and health, but those of which the individual usually becomes conscious by the comparison of his manner of living with that of others. The working man feels poor when he is not able to smoke and drink his whisky, the shop-keeper’s wife, when she can not dress in silk and fill her house with superfluous household goods, the professional man, when he can not accumulate capital sufficient to free him from the haunting anxiety in regard to the future of his children and the support of his declining years. This poverty is evidently not only relative—the shop-keeper’s wife appearing rich in the eyes of the working man, the professional man considering as the height of luxury, what would seem shabby to those brought up in the luxury of an aristocratic home,—it is also subjective, as it only exists in the imagination of the individual in question and is by no means an objective, appreciable lack of the indispensable conditions of existence, entailing suffering upon the organism. In short it is not physiological poverty, and old Diogenes proved that this is the boundary line of the subjective sensation of happiness, viz. that a man can be well and comfortable as long as his physical wants can be easily and abundantly gratified.
From the point of view of a man of this civilization of the Nineteenth Century, who is a slave to all the customs and wants of civilized life, the great majority of mankind appear to have been always relatively poor in the past, growing poorer and poorer as they are more and more removed from the present. The clothing was coarser and less frequently renewed, the dwelling places were less comfortable, the food more primitive, the utensils less in number, there was less money in circulation and less abundance of unnecessary articles. But the picture of relative poverty is not affecting. Only an empty-headed fool could find anything magic in the fact that an Esquimau woman protects herself from the cold by a sack-shaped garment made out of seal-skin instead of a complicated affair of velvet as expensive as it is ungraceful. In fact, I doubt whether the sentimental wish expressed by that good king, Henry IV. that every peasant might have a chicken in his kettle every Sunday, would have ever touched or inspired genuine peasants as long as they could eat their fill of pork. But absolute physiological poverty as a permanent condition, never has appeared except as a consequence of the highly developed and unhealthy state of civilization. It is actually inconceivable in the natural condition of mankind and even at a lower stage of social development. The procuring of sufficient nourishment is the chief and most important act in life of all organic beings, from the polyp to the elephant, from the bacteria to the oak-tree. If it fails, it dies. It never voluntarily submits to the permanent lack of nourishment. This is a biological law, governing man as well as all other living creatures. A primitive man does not accomodate himself to circumstances of want but struggles to overcome them. If he is a hunter, and the game leaves his usual hunting grounds, he starts in search of others. If he is a farmer on unproductive soil, he packs up and emigrates when he learns of more fertile fields that he can get. If other men stand between him and his food, he takes his weapon and kills them, or is killed by them. Abundance is then the reward of strength and courage. So the tide of emigration sets from unfruitful districts into those blessed by the sun; the heroism of a Genseric, of an Attila, a Ghengis Khan and a William of Normandy, has its origin in the stomach, and on the bloodiest and most glorious battle-fields, which the poets sing and history loves to dwell upon, the question of the midday meal was decided by the iron dice. In short, primitive man will not endure genuine poverty, that is, hunger. He takes up his arms against the encroaching wretchedness at once and wrests for himself the superabundance of the enemy or dies beneath his hatchet, before he perishes of privation. Absolute poverty is also incompatible with a civilization which has not yet passed beyond the standpoint of physiocracy. As long as a people are only familiar with agriculture, cattle-raising and domestic industries, although they may be poor in money and articles of luxury, yet the necessaries of life are within the reach of every individual. Only when man loses his direct dependence upon food-producing Mother Earth, only when he forsakes the furrow in the field and passes beyond the reach of Nature who offers him bread and fruits, milk and honey, game and fish, only when he shuts himself up behind the city walls and gives, up his share of forest and stream, procuring his food and drink no longer from the grand store-house of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, but by an exchange of the products of his labor for the gifts of nature monopolized by others, only at this period does the possibility arise for a small minority of persons to accumulate great wealth and for a large majority to sink into absolute poverty, physiological distress. A nation which consists of free tillers of the soil, is never poor. It can only become so by the subjection of the farmer into a slave, working for another, who deprives him of the results of his labor on his land, or else applies his labor in some other way so that he can no longer till the land, or else by the growth and increasing number of cities, absorbing and diminishing the agricultural public. A highly developed civilization thus condemns a group of individuals increasing daily in numbers and importance, to absolute poverty. The cities grow at the expense of the farming population. It favors the great manufacturing industries at the expense of animal and vegetable production, and produces a numerous wages-receiving class, whose members can not call a single inch of ground their own and live under abnormal conditions of existence, condemned to slow starvation the day that their factory, work-room or dock yard is closed. This is the point to which all the countries of western Europe have arrived, considered to be the wealthiest and most highly civilized in the world.
Their population is divided into a small minority, living in the midst of an aggressive and extreme luxury, partly attacked by a very frenzy of extravagance, and a great mass, consisting of persons who can only support life by the hardest exertions, or who in spite of all their efforts, find it impossible to attain to a normal human existence. The minority is daily growing richer, the contrast between its life and that of the millions is daily growing more decided, its importance and influence in the community is hourly increasing. When we are speaking of the unprecedented, foolish extravagance of certain millionaires and billionaires of our days, some self-conceited, would-be historian is sure to interrupt us and quote with a smile of compassion for our ignorance, the words of some musty old writer describing the extravagant goings-on in Rome under the Empire, or even in the Middle Ages. He will maintain that the disproportion between the very rich and the very poor was in former ages, far greater than at present. But it is all only a trumped-up, learned fraud. There never was a fortune in the Middle Ages like the hundred millions of a Vanderbilt, a Baron Hirsch, Rothschild, Krupp etc., as we know them today. In ancient times such an amount might have been accumulated by some favorite of a tyrant, or a satrap or pro-consul, by plundering a country or a continent, but the wealth thus amassed had no permanence. It was like the treasures in the fairy-tale. Today in his possession, tomorrow, lost. Its owner dreamed a few hours, and was then awakened by the dagger of an assassin, the persecution of his sovereign or by the brutal confiscation of his wealth. There is not a single example of the descendance of such a fortune from father to son for even three generations, or the calm and undisturbed enjoyment of it by the possessor, in the Roman Empire or in any Oriental state. And in former times, the number of these millionaires and billionaires was incomparably smaller than in these days, when, in England alone, there are from eight hundred to a thousand millionaires, and in Europe altogether,—not counting in any other continent—there are at least a hundred thousand persons with fortunes of a million and over. On the other hand, never before were there so many property-less individuals as at present, men who according to my definition above, do not know in the morning what they can get to eat during the day, nor where they can sleep at night. The slave in ancient Rome, the serf in Russia, were completely without property, as in fact they formed part of the property of their master, but their actual physical wants were supplied, they had always food and shelter. During the Middle Ages the outcasts, gypsies, robbers, strolling players and tramps of all kinds were the only persons without the pale of property holding. They could call nothing on earth their own, no table was ever set for them, the ruling-authorities even deprived them theoretically, of the right to look upon the gifts of nature as spread for them. They fought their way out of the wretchedness in which the social systems of their day sought to imprison them, by begging, robbery and poaching, and even if the gallows and the wheel were more frequently the causes of their death than old age, they had notwithstanding, a full and merry life up to the very steps of the scaffold. The modern proletariat or lowest wages-receiving class, has no precedent in history. It is the child of our times.
The modern day-laborer is more wretched than the slave of ancient times, for he is fed by no master nor anyone else, and if his position is one of more liberty than the slave, it is principally the liberty of dying of hunger. He is by no means as well off as the outlaw of the Middle Ages, for he has none of the gay independence of that freelance. He seldom rebels against society, and has neither means nor opportunities to take by violence or treachery what is denied him by the existing conditions of life. The rich is thus richer, the poor poorer, than ever before since the beginnings of history. The same thing is true of the extravagance of the rich. We are continually being bored by the anecdotes told by grubbers in history, as to the wonderful banquets spread by Lucullus. But it remains yet to be proved that ancient Rome ever saw a feast that cost $80.000, like the ball given by a New York Croesus, of which the newspapers have been giving us accounts recently. A private individual who set before his guests dishes made of nightingales’ tongues, or presented a hundred thousand sestertia to some Grecian hetera, made such a stir and commotion in Rome that all the satirists and chroniclers of those and afterdays repeated his name again and again. Nowadays no one speaks of the thousands upon thousands who pay $40.000 for a set of china, $100.000 for a race-horse or let some adventuress spend a million for them in a year. The extravagant luxury of the ancient world and of the Middle Ages, aroused attention and astonishment by its rarity. Besides it had the modesty to limit its display to a comparatively small circle. The masses saw nothing of it. Nowadays the insolent parade of the wealthy is not confined to the ball-rooms and banquet halls of their set, but flaunts along the streets. The places where their aggressive luxury is most prominently displayed are the promenades of the large cities, the theatres and concert halls, the watering places and the races. Their carriages drive along the streets splashing mud on the bare-footed, hungry crowd, their diamonds never seem to sparkle with such brilliancy as when they are dazzling the eyes of the poor. Their extravagance loves to have journalism as a spectator and delights to send descriptions of its luxury by the columns of the papers into circles which otherwise would have no opportunity to observe the life-long carnival of the rich. By these means an opportunity of comparison is given the modern wages-receiver which was wanting to the poor man of ancient times. The lavish squandering of wealth that he witnesses around him, gives him an exact measure by which to gauge his own wretchedness, in all its extent and depth, with mathematical precision. But as relative poverty is only an evil when it is recognized as such by comparison with others, the millionaires are exceedingly unwise to flaunt their luxury in the eyes of the poor, whose misery is sharpened by the contrast. The unconcealed spectacle of their existence of idleness and enjoyment, arouses necessarily the discontent and envy of the laboring classes and this moral poison corrodes their minds far more rapidly and deeply than their material deprivations.
But these material deprivations must not be underestimated. The great masses of the poor in civilized countries maintain their bare existence under conditions worse than those of any animal in the wilderness. The dwelling place of the day-laborer in a large city of the old world, is far more filthy and unhealthy than the den of a beast of prey in the forest. It is by far less perfectly protected against the cold than the latter. His food is barely sufficient to sustain life, and death from actual starvation is of daily occurrence in the capitals of the world. The writers on political economy have invented a phrase to quiet the uneasy conscience of the rich—the “iron law of wages.” According to this law the wages paid in any locality are at least what is actually necessary to support life there. In other words, the laborer is certain of earning sufficient to satisfy his actual necessities, even if he has no surplus. This would be very fine if it were only sustained by facts. If it were true, the rich man could say to himself, morning and evening, that everything is arranged for the best in this best of all possible worlds, and no one would have a right to disturb his digestion and his nightly rest by groans and curses But the misfortune is, that this famous iron law of wages is only a Jesuitical play upon words. At the best, it does not apply to those who can not procure work at all. And during the time when he has really work to do, it is impossible for the laboring man in western Europe, to earn enough so that he can have anything left over for days when he is out of work. He is thus reduced to beggary during part of the year, or to a gradual physical decline from lack of sufficient nourishment. But the iron wage-law does not apply even to the amount of daily wages earned by those actually employed. What is the minimum of income that will support an individual? Evidently it is that which will keep his system in a good condition, and allow him to develope fully and attain to the natural limit of his life. As soon as he attempts more than his system is capable of enduring, or gets less food, warmth and sleep than his system requires to remain at the summit of its type, then he falls into physiological distress. Overwork is as equally the cause of organic decline as insufficient food, but the latter is synonymous with slow starvation.
If the iron wage-law were actually what it pretends to be, then the wages-receiver would earn sufficient to bring his organism to and maintain it in that condition of development to which it is possible for it to attain, by the natural laws of its being. But experience shows us that the day-laborer finds this impossible anywhere in Europe. The optimistic political economist points with triumph to his iron wage-law, when he sees that the wages-receiver does not drop dead of hunger at the close of his day’s work, but fills his stomach with potatoes, smokes his pipe, drinks his whiskey and persuades himself that he is satisfied and comfortable. But then comes the science of statistics and shows us that the average length of life of the wages-receiving class is a third and in some cases a half, less than that of the well-to-do individuals of the same nation, living under the same conditions of climate and upon the same soil. What robs the wages-receiver of the years of life to which as son of a given race and inhabitant of a given country, he is entitled? Hunger, wretchedness, want of all kinds, these slowly undermine his health and weaken his constitution. The wages he receives are also, at best, merely sufficient to protect him from pressing hunger and cold, they do not avert the gradual wasting away of his whole being, from insufficient food, clothing and rest. The statistics of the records of disease and death among the laboring classes of Europe, brand the “iron law of wages” as an infamous lie.
The portrait of the economic organization of society would not be complete if I omitted to describe along with the recklessly extravagant millionaire and the laboring man, condemned inexorably to disease and an early death, another class of beings who play in our present conditions of social life, nearly as melancholy a role as the industrial slaves of the great city. These are the cultivated men without any regular income, who have to support themselves by intellectual labor. The supply exceeds the demand in this branch of labor, to a frightful degree. The so-called liberal professions are everywhere so over-crowded that those who seek in them a livelihood, trample upon each other until the struggle for existence assumes in them the gravest and most hideous phases. Those unfortunates whose efforts are directed to obtaining a public or private situation, a position to teach, or success in art, literature, the law, medicine, civil engineering, etc., are capable of appreciating their wretchedness in a greater degree, on account of their higher intellectual development. Their intimate intercourse with those more prosperous keeps the picture of wealth constantly before them, side by side with that of their own poverty, which is thus never forgotten. Social prejudices require them to gain their livelihood in a way which without being hygienically preferable, lays far greater burdens upon their shoulders than those borne by the day-laborer. The price paid for prosperity in their career is constant humiliations, suppression of then true character and denial of their own individuality, a yoke more galling to a nature of true nobility than material want. Owing to the fact that these persona are capable of suffering more intensely, they bear with even more impatience than the wages-receiving class, the burdens imposed upon them by the internal economy of society and property holding. Those among them whose efforts have not met with success, are looked down upon by the man of wealth, who calls them failures, and affects to despise them. But these “failures” are the intrepid vanguard of the army that is besieging the proud fortress of society and that sooner or later will raze it to the ground.
Let us analyze more closely the separate elements of the picture we have just been drawing. We have seen the rich man revelling in superabundance without labor, the factory-hand, day-laborer, condemned to physical decay and the intellectual laborer trampled to death in the deadly competition. Let us turn our light upon the minority, the wealth possessing class. What are the sources of the riches of the men who compose this minority? They have either made them for themselves, or increased what they received by inheritance, or else limit their efforts to retaining; what they have inherited. I will discuss this matter of inheritance at length farther on, only remarking here that man is the only living being who carries the natural care for his offspring—one of the manifestations of the instinct for the preservation of the race—to such an extreme, that he wishes to remove the necessity of providing for themselves not only from those of the next generation until their maturity, but from his most remote posterity, during their entire lives. The increase of inherited property usually takes place without the slightest interference on the part of the owner, and is certainly not the result of his labor. The large and ancient fortunes consist mostly of real estate. The value of the land and of the buildings rises every year and the income from them increases in proportion to the growth of civilization. The products of the manufacturing industries become cheaper, provisions dearer and the dwelling places in the constantly increasing cities more cramped and expensive. Some political economists deny that provisions are growing dearer. But they can only bring sophistical arguments to support their assertion. It is true that in days of more restricted commercial intercourse, famine and starvation were more frequent, and a failure of crops in certain places was succeeded by such an extortionate price for the cereals as would be today inconceivable. The rapidity and extent of the variations in the cost of provisions in the past, has ceased, but the average price of meat and farm produce is constantly rising, and this rise is only retarded not prevented, by the short-sighted policy of skinning the enormous tracts of virgin soil in America and Australia. The day is not far distant when this piratical cultivation of the soil in the new continents must come to an end; the plough will find no more unclaimed lands to conquer. Then the cost of provisions will rise beyond measure, while the continual improvements made in machinery, and the constantly increasing utilization of the forces of nature now and yet to be discovered, will cause the price of all manufactured goods to fall in proportion. This two-fold current in the economic world, the upward tendency of the prices of provisions and the downward tendency of the prices of manufactured products, continues to increase the wealth of the land-owner and the poverty of the factory employé. The latter is obliged to produce a constantly increasing number of manufactured goods to exchange for the agricultural products necessary to sustain life; the former receives in return for his farm produce a constantly increasing number of manufactured articles. The factory-employé finds it more and more difficult to satisfy his wants, the land-owner is able to enjoy more and more of the results of the former’s labor. The number of proletaires grows daily larger, toiling for the land-owner, who is thus practically their lord and master. The wealth of the inheritor of land and houses is not increased by his own efforts, but by the faulty organization of the conditions of land-ownership according to the present economy of society. According to these conditions, the land, the natural working-tool of mankind, is placed in the hands of a few, and as a consequence the lowest classes, robbed of their share of the soil, are obliged to crowd into the great cities.
New fortunes are accumulated by trade, speculation or manufactures. We will pass by the extremely rare cases in which a man with the cooperation of chance, attains to great wealth by discovering some gold and diamond mine or petroleum springs and is able to retain and work them for his exclusive benefit. At the same time, thanks to the existing ideas of property ownership, these exceptional cases have a certain theoretical value as confutations of another so-called scientific axiom of the doctrines of political economy, viz. that capital is in all cases, accumulated labor. What labor does a diamond of the size of the Koh-i-Noor represent, which some adventurer may find on the ground in South Africa and sell for a million? The economist is ready with his answer: the gem is certainly the result of labor, that is, of the labor performed by the finder in stooping and picking it up. The established science accepts this explanation with a satisfied acquiescence and proclaims the theory to be saved. A sound human intellect however, refuses to accept this would-be science, which is invented by blockheads, for blockheads, with the purpose of ornamenting and excusing in empty, flowery terms, the injustice of the present systems of political economy.
Legitimate trade, that is, the equitable exchange of the raw materials and the finished products between the producer and the consumer by means of a third person, the trader, who makes a profit on the goods he handles, giving them to the last buyer at a larger or smaller increase in the selling price over the cost, in these days rarely leads to the accumulation of great wealth. There are too many people who are satisfied if they have the wherewithall to support life, or can lay by a moderate amount, and the competition for the custom of the consumer is too great, for a tradesman to amass an especially large fortune except in isolated instances. The general tendency of the wholesale and retail trade is to suppress all unnecessary middle-men, to place the consumer in as direct intercourse with the producer as is possible, and to reduce the profits of the middle-men, to an amount only sufficient to cover their necessary expenses of handling the goods, and supply them with the necessaries of life. The merchants’ profits can of course become much greater, even extortionate, if he is able to limit or suppress free competition. If any one can obtain salable goods under difficult conditions or dangers, in Central Africa, or among the wild tribes of Asia, he can sell them at a very great profit, because the number of those who are ready to venture life and health for the sake of possible wealth, is comparatively small, and he has, for a while, a free field of operations. But the undisturbed possession of such a profitable trade does not last very long, as the dangers and difficulties decrease in proportion as the country becomes better known, and the opening of other countries, formerly inaccessible to foreign trade, brings them under the laws which govern general competition. In twenty or thirty years this source of great wealth would be sealed up. Central Africa, Asia and China will be reached as easily and safely as any European or American country; the merchants will be obliged to pay as dearly there and sell to consumers as cheaply as is possible without actual loss. The trade in Congo ivory and Chinese cotton will then realize profits no more abundant than those we are accustomed to at home.
Enormous profits can also be made by a single dealer, or close combination of dealers, if they are able to control some indispensable article, to monopolize its sale, so that the purchaser can only receive it from their hands. He must resign himself to the alternative of doing without it, or paying the price charged for it by the robber band. But this proceeding does not come within the limits of legitimate trade; it is an act of violence which the laws of certain countries (France, for instance), regard and punish as a crime. It brings us to the second source of enormous fortunes, speculation.
Speculation is one of the most intolerable and revolting manifestations of disease in the economic organism. Those profound sages who maintain that everything that exists, is superexcellent, have also attempted to defend speculation, to justify it, to assert its necessity even to enthusiasm. I will immediately prove to the panegyrists what the principle is, whose cause they are espousing. The speculator plays in the economic world the role of a parasite. He produces nothing, he does not even perform the questionable service of mediator, performed by the merchant. He confines himself to taking away from the real workers, by stealth or violence, the largest part of the proceeds of their labor. The speculator is a robber who robs the producers of the articles produced by forcing them to accept inadequate compensation for their toil, and the consumers, by forcing them to buy from him at an enormous advance. The weapon with which he falls upon producers and consumers like a highwayman, is double-barrelled, and is called elevation and depression of prices, or cornering the markets. He makes use of this murderous implement in the following manner. When his intention is to plunder the producer, he begins to sell certain goods that he does not possess, at a price lower than the current market rates, promising to deliver them to the purchasers a fortnight, a month or three months later than the date of sale. The purchaser of course, buys of the speculator because he asks lower prices. The producer now has only two courses open to him. If he is rich enough to carry his goods without selling until the day arrives when the speculator is obliged to deliver those he has guaranteed to the purchaser, then the speculator will not be able to get the goods at as low prices as he had hoped, and will be obliged to buy them at the producer’s price, and lose money upon them, thus being robbed instead of robbing. But if the producer can not do this, and this is by far the most frequent case, then he is forced to sell his goods immediately at such prices as the goods will bring in the market. He must underbid the speculator, who then becomes his purchaser, for the consumer has already ordered what he wants from the speculator. Thus when the time comes for him to deliver the goods, he is able to buy them of the producer at a lower price even than the one contracted for.
The producer may have become bankrupt by the operation, but the speculator has got his pound of flesh and is happy. If his aim is to plunder the consumer then he buys up all the available goods offered of a certain kind at the producer’s price. He can do this without trouble as the transaction does not cost him a single penny; he pays for his purchase, not in cash, but in promises. He need not settle his account for weeks or months, as the case may be. Thus without real possession, frequently without going to the expense of a single dollar, the speculator becomes owner of the goods, and if the consumer wishes to buy any of them he must apply to the speculator and pay the price he demands. The speculator receives into one hand the money given him by the consumer and after abstracting a portion as large as possible, which he puts into his own pocket, he hands over the remainder with the other hand to the producer. In this way the speculator, without labor, without benefiting the community, becomes wealthy and influential. Capital extends to him the highest favor, unlimited credit. When some poor fellow of a working man wants to start in business for himself, he meets with the utmost difficulty in borrowing the small sum he requires to purchase his tools and raw material, and to support himself until the sale of his first productions. But when some idler with sufficient audacity decides to live upon the labor of others and wants to carry on some speculative buying and selling on a large scale, both producers and consumers place themselves at his disposal, without waiting even to be entreated. They say that they run no risks; the credit demanded only exists in theory. The producer does not give up his goods; he only promises to deliver them on a certain day at a certain price, of course only upon the receipt of cash. The consumer on the other hand, does not pay down the purchase price, but only agrees to pay it on the day that the goods are delivered to him. This theoretical credit is sufficient however, for the speculator to create for himself, out of nothing, the most scandalous wealth.
Every working man, every one without exception, is tributary to the speculator. All our wants are foreseen, all the necessary articles of our consumption are bought up beforehand by speculators, on credit, and sold to us as dear as possible, for cash. We can not eat a bit of bread, nor lay down to rest beneath our roof, nor invest out savings in stocks, without paying to the speculators in bread-stuffs, in land and buildings and Stock Exchanges, their assessments. The taxes which we pay to the State are oppressive, but by no means so oppressive as those exacted from us by speculation. Certain persons have ventured to defend the Stock and Grain Exchanges as necessary and useful institutions. It is a miracle that they were not suffocated by the enormity of their assertions. What, the Exchanges of the world useful and necessary? Have they ever kept within the limits of their legitimate business? Are they ever simply the meeting place of the bona fide purchaser and the bona fide seller, where honest demand and honest supply can come together and transact their business. The simile comparing the Commercial Exchange to a poison tree, is incomplete, because it only symbolizes one phase of the transactions carried on /there, their effect upon the moral nature of the people. The Exchange is a den of robbers in which the modern successors of the robber knights of the Middle Ages, make their abode and cut the throats of all who pass that way. Like the robber knights they form a kind of aristocracy, which gets a handsome livelihood out of the people. Like the robber knights they claim the right to exact contributions from the merchants and artisans. But, more fortunate than the robber knights, they run no risk of being hung high and dry, if a stronger than they comes upon them in their high-handed course of purse-slashing.
We sometimes console ourselves with the reflection that speculators in times of panic are sure to lose at one stroke all that they have been accumulating in the years of unchecked robbery. But this is a pleasing delusion with which the pastor’s lambs try to comfort themselves, who like to see punishment follow crime as the finis. Even if a panic does force a speculator to disgorge his ill-gotten gains, it can not alter the fact that for many years perhaps, he has been living in the lap of luxury, at the expense of the laboring members of the community. He may lose his property at such a time, but no power on earth can deprive him of the champagne which has been flowing in streams for him, nor of the truffles he has eaten, the piles of gold he has gambled away on the green cloth, nor of the hours he has spent in all kinds of pleasures only possible to the rich. Besides, a panic is only disastrous to single, isolated speculators, not to speculation in general. On the contrary panics are the great harvest of speculation, the opportunities for the slaughter of the entire saving and producing classes in a nation or in a continent, en masse. Then the few great capitals, the enormous fortunes, open their jaws and swallow not only the whole property of the investment-seeking public, but also that of the small robber capitalists, whom they usually good-naturedly allow to play around them, looking on like the lion at the mouse’s gambols. Great depreciations of values are usually brought about and utilized by the financial giants. They then buy up everything that has value and a future, to sell it again when the storm has passed away and the skies are blue, at an enormous profit to the very same people who have just sold it at such ridiculous prices. They buy it up again during the next panic, at the same low rates, and play the cruel game as often as a few years of peaceful industry have refilled the emptied money drawers of the producing classes. Financial crises are simply the piston strokes with which the capitalists pump the savings of the Industrial classes into their own reservoirs.
The advocates of speculating say that the speculator plays an important and necessary role in the great drama of political economy; that his gains are the results of superior sagacity, deeper insight, prompter decision and more adventurous daring. This argument pleases me; let us seize and examine it. Therefore, because the speculator has means of information at his disposal which are inaccessible to the general public, because he has less dread of losses than the prudent and honest man, and takes advantage of all possibilities in a more underhanded way, he has a right to take away from the laboring classes the results of their labor, and allow it to accumulate for himself, while he takes his ease. This right is consequently based upon the fact that he has better weapons—his sources of information, greater courage—as he hazards only the money of others, and superior strength of judgment and intelligence. Now let us see if the poorer classes have not even better weapons—rifles and dynamite bombs, greater courage—as they are willing to risk their lives, and superior strength—of bone and sinew. If this is the case, and it is, the advocates of speculation must concede to the laboring classes the right of taking away from the speculators the results of their so-called labor. If they do not concede this right to the one class as well as to the other, then the theory upon which the justification of speculation is based, is a lie.
The third source of great wealth is manufacturing on a large scale. In this case the owner or borrower of capital plunders his employés who sell him their daily labor. The difference between the actual value of this daily labor, as expressed in the price of the articles it produces and the wages paid for it, forms the profit of the manufacturer, allowing of course, for raw material and other running expenses. In most cases this difference is out of all proportion and usuriously exorbitant compared with the wages. It is often spoken of as the reward of the manufacturer’s mental exertions. But the reply can be made to this assertion that the mental labor required to manage the technical and mercantile interests of a large factory, bears no comparison to that necessary in scientific investigations or literary productions and at the highest can only be ranked with that required in a public office or the executorship of an estate. And yet the results of the mental exertions of these latter are by no means so remunerative as the annual income of the great manufacture! The profits of manufacturers can not be looked upon as mere interest on the capital employed, because no manufacturer is content to sell his goods at a price which would bring him in a net income of four to six per cent, after all the expenses and the pay for his mental exertion had been deducted. This per cent is obtained by anyone on investments without risk, even by the man of leisure. The price at which the manufacturer sells his goods is regulated on the one hand by the amount of competition with other manufacturers with which he has to contend, and on the other hand, by the larger or smaller supply of labor. His first care is to pay his employés as little as possible, his next, to sell to the purchaser as dear as possible. When the supply of laborers allows him to hire labor at the lowest prices, and the absence of competition or other circumstances, make it possible for him to sell his manufactured articles at a very high price, he does not entertain the idea of limiting his income to six or ten per cent, but he bends all his energies to making a hundred or even more per cent on the capital employed. The advocates of this plundering of labor by Capital say that the division of this net income of the factory between the capitalist and the laborer would only keep the former poor, while raising the wages of the latter so slightly as to be immaterial, amounting to merely a few pennies a day, divided among so many. A noble, a modest argument forsooth! It is possible that the wages-receiver might receive only a few pennies more a day, if he were able to retain for himself all the fruits of his daily labor. But by what right is he obliged to present his employer with even the tiniest share of his daily earnings, when the employer has already the interest on his capital and a sufficient remuneration for his problematical mental labor? Let us imagine for a moment that every inhabitant of the German Empire were forced by law to pay a penny every year to some Smith or Meyer, not in return for any services performed, nor in gratitude for any benefit he might have rendered to the community, but as a simple present. The favored individual would thus be ensured a yearly income of about a hundred thousand dollars; but none of the contributors would feel the loss of their penny. One penny! that is such a small amount that it is not worth the trouble of speaking about it. And yet such a law would elicit from the entire nation a cry of indignation, and every citizen would revolt against its arbitrary injustice. But the economical law which obliges the poorest part of the nation, the factory employés, to present to this same Smith or Meyer, a contribution of not one cent, but of ten to fifteen dollars in the lowest cases, and often of from one to one hundred dollars, in the course of the year,—this law seems quite a matter of course to those who happen to be exempt from its jurisdiction. The injustice is about the same in both cases. But the world at large appreciates but slightly or not at all, the injustice perpetrated upon the proletaire, because it has continued for so many centuries, because mankind has become accustomed to it by habit, and also because it has not yet assumed that paradoxical form in which a truth must reveal itself before it can force an entrance into unreceptive minds.
We have thus seen that great wealth in almost all cases, is due to the appropriation of the results of others’ labor, not one’s own. By their own labor alone, men are only able to support life from day to day, occasionally to lay by sufficient for times of sickness and old age, rarely to attain to regular prosperity. Some physicians, lawyers, authors, painters and other artists, have been able to turn their personal efforts to such advantage as to obtain annual incomes of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and thus accumulate fortunes of millions, without resorting to speculation or illegitimate profits. But such persons are rare, numbering probably but two hundred or even one hundred, living at one time throughout the civilized world. And even their wealth, examined closer, has something of a parasitic character, with the sole exception of that amassed by the author. In his case, if he becomes a millionaire, it is owing to the fact that he has written a book of which one or two millions copies have been sold, showing that his wealth is the direct remuneration of his intellectual labor, paid him voluntarily and willingly by mankind in general. But when an artist sells a painting for a hundred thousand dollars, a surgeon performs an operation for which he receives $10,000, a lawyer receives the same sum as his retaining fee, or a prima donna is paid $5,000 for one evening’s performance, these amounts do not represent the price paid by the mass of people as the legitimate and voluntarily proffered reward for individual exertion. They are the mathematical demonstration of the fact that a small number of millionaires are living in the civilized world, with no means of judging of the real value of any work, because their riches are not the result of their own labor; they satisfy every one of their whims without regard to its cost, and fight among themselves for the possession of certain things, a painting for instance, or the song of a certain prima donna, the service of this physician or lawyer and of none other—willing to pay any price to satisfy their caprice. Aside from the rare instances of success in the pursuit of the liberal professions above described, the rule is without exception that a great fortune necessarily owes its origin and growth to the plundering of one’s fellow-men. When the real estate inherited by a certain man increases in value, it is not the result of his own exertions but of the fact that the number of working-men torn from the land and soil is constantly increasing, that all forms of industry are growing in extent, that the cities are becoming more and more populous, that the labor of civilized society is being confined more and more to manufacturing industries, thus causing the price of provisions to risk in the same proportion as the price of manufactured articles is falling—in short, because other men are working, not because the landed proprietor exerts himself. When the speculator amasses millions it is by the abuse of a superior strength, either of information, sagacity or of combination, with which he deprives the laboring and classes of their property, as the brigand relieves the wayfarer of his purse, first knocking him down with his club. When the manufacturer becomes a Crœsus, it is by systematic plundering of his workmen, who receive for their exertions in his behalf, nothing more than food and shelter, like so many domestic animals, and both the very scantiest possible. The entire results of their labors flow into the money bags of their master.
It is in this sense that we must construe Proudhon’s exaggerated and therefore false assertion that property is theft. We can only make it seem true by placing ourselves upon the sophistical standpoint that everything that exists is created for itself, and from the fact of its existence, deduces the right to belong to itself. According to this idea we are stealing when we pick a blade of grass, when we inhale the air, or catch a fish. The swallow is stealing when it eats a fly, the worm when it eats its way into the heart of the tree; all nature is peopled by arch thieves, everything that has life is constantly stealing, taking materials that do not belong to it, eating, inhaling and making them part of its organism in any and every way. The only instance of absolute freedom from stealing on this mundane sphere, according to this view, would be a bar of platinum, which takes nothing from other objects, not even oxygen from the air to form rust on its surface. No, property is not theft when it arises from trade, that is, from the exchange of a certain measure or labor for a corresponding measure of goods. But an enormous capital, that is the accumulation of vast amounts of property in the hands of one man, such as no individual would be able to amass as the results of his own labor, even at its very highest valuation, such fortunes are due to the robbery of the laboring classes.
This band of robbers, for whom the whole community toils, is powerfully organized. It has, in the first place, the making and administration of the laws in its own hands, as it has had for centuries. At every new law promulgated, we might exclaim with Molière: “Vous êtes orfèvre, Monsieur Josse!” “You are a capitalist, Mr. Lawmaker, or at least, you hope to become such, and declare everything to be a crime that might hinder you in the pursuit, enjoyment and possession of your capital.” Everything that a man can get hold of in any way except by open, hand to hand violence is and remains his own. And even when the genealogy of a property can be traced to literal robbery or theft (such as conquest, seizure of church property or political confiscation of others’ goods) this crime becomes an unimpeachable title to possession, if the owner has been able to hold the property for a certain number of years. The state law that calls out the police, is not sufficient for the millionaire. He makes superstition his ally and gets from Religion an extra padlock for his money chest, by smuggling into the catechism a sentence which asserts that property is sacred, and envy and covetousness for our neighbor’s property, a sin to be punished with the fires of hell. He distorts even the laws of morality and furthers his selfish aims by inculcating upon the vast majority of the people, toiling for him, that labor is virtue, and that man was only created to labor as much as possible. How comes it that the best and truest intellects have believed in the reality of this fiction for thousands of years? Labor a virtue? According to what law of nature? No living being in the whole organic world works for the pleasure of working, but only for the purpose of self and race preservation, and only so much as is necessary for this twofold purpose. People say that organs only remain sound and develope when exercised, and that they wither when they lie idle. The advocates of this system of capitalists’ morality who have found this argument in physiology, do not mention the fact that organs are much more rapidly destroyed by over work than by no work. Rest, comfortable leisure, is infinitely more natural, pleasant and desirable for man as well as for all other animals, than work and exertion. The latter is only a painful necessity, required for the preservation of life. The inventor of the story of the Garden of Eden in the Bible, showed that he appreciated this fact with honest naivetè, by placing his first human beings in a paradise where they could live without any necessity for exertion, and labor, the sweat of man’s brow, was the terrible punishment for their disobedience. Natural, zoological morality proclaims that rest is the highest reward of labor, and that only so much work is desirable and commendable as is indispensable to prolong life. But the robber band do not accept this idea of the case. Their interests demand that the masses should work more than is necessary for them to support life and should produce more than is required for their own consumption so that their masters can take possession of this overproduction for their own use. Consequently they have suppressed the morality of nature and invented another, which they set their philosophers to tabulating, their parsons to praising and their poets to singing. According to their system, idleness is the beginning of all crimes and labor a virtue, the most excellent of all virtues.
The robber band is however, constantly contradicting itself with the most short-sighted policy. The robbers carefully avoid even the pretense of submitting to their own code of morality, and thus betray the small amount of respect they have for it in reality. Idleness is only a crime in the poor man. In the rich man it is an attribute of a higher type of humanity, the token of his exalted rank. And labor, which his double-faced morality asserts to be a virtue for the poor man, is from his point of view, a disgrace and a sign of social inferiority. The millionaire pats the laboring man on the shoulder, but excludes him from his social intercourse. Society which has accepted and adopted the morality and views of the band of capitalists, glorifies labor in its most choice terms, but at the same time, assigns the laborer to the lowest rank. Society kisses the gloved hand and spits on the horny hand of the son of toil. It looks upon the millionaire as a demi-god, upon the day laborer as an outcast. Why? For two reasons. Firstly, because the prejudices and ideas imbibed in the Middle Ages have been perpetuated to the present time, and secondly because manual labor in our civilization is synonymous with lack of education.
During the Middle Ages idleness was the prerogative of the nobility, that is, of the higher race of conquerors, labor, the compulsory performance of tasks by the people, that is, by the lower race of conquered and subjugated beings. Consequently the man that labored betrayed the fact that he was a son of the race which had given proof on the field of battle that it had less virile manhood and strength, while the lord, the man of leisure, receiving his means of livelihood from his estate or by conquest, looked down upon the working-man with the contempt of a white man for a Bushman or Papuan, which is founded on the appreciation of his anthropological superiority. Today leisure and labor have ceased to be tokens of race. The millionaires are no longer the descendants of the conquering tribe, the proletaires are no longer the sons of the subjugated people. But in this as in so many other cases, the historical prejudice has survived the conditions under which it originated. The rich man still considers his employé, who works for him and supplies him with his luxury, merely as a kind of domestic animal, as the nobleman centuries ago, looked upon his vassal, neither of them recognizing in him a complete human being, their equal in any way.
Manual labor is also synonymous with a lack of education in our civilization. In fact the whole organization of society renders cultivation inaccessible to those without means. The son of a poor man can hardly go to the public school, much less to high school and college, being obliged to earn money as soon as any one can be found to employ his services. We can admire in this case another example of the conformity to the end in view of the present conditions of State and society. The expensive institutions of learning are supported by the State, that is, by the tax-payers, working-men as well as millionaires, but they only benefit those who at least possess sufficient income to live till their eighteenth or twenty third year without supporting themselves. The factory employé who can not let his own son enjoy the benefits of a higher education, because he is too poor to afford it, is yet constrained to have the son of the rich man study at his expense, when he pays the taxes which are applied to the maintenance of the intermediate and high schools. The English and Americans are still consistent up to a certain point. Their higher educational institutions, even if they are not accessible to rich and poor alike, are yet no burden upon the community, because they are either maintained by private enterprise or by endowments. But on the continent of Europe, in conformity to the prevailing policy of plundering the people for the purpose of benefiting a small minority, the institutions for higher education are supported from the Budget, that is, from the amount of taxes paid to the State by the nation, although their benefits are only enjoyed by a few, by no means even one per cent of the total population. And who are the chosen few for whom the State supports colleges and technical schools, requiring appropriations amounting to millions? Are they the most capable young men of their generation? Does the State take pains to admit to their lecture rooms only those persons in whose minds the instruction imparted by the professors will surely bring forth fruit? Does it refuse to allow blockheads to usurp the place and opportunities for learning intended for receptive and creative intelligent faculties? No. The State offers these higher branches of learning not to all but to a few, and these few are not chosen for their special intellectual endowments and capacity for assimilating this higher culture, but for their financial conditions. The most dense-headed simpleton can go through college and absorb the mental food spread before him by the professors, without its ever proving of the slightest benefit to the community, if he has money enough to support himself and pay his tuition fees. The most talented young man on the contrary, is excluded from the halls of learning because he lacks these necessary means—a matter of real detriment to the community which may lose by it some Goethe, Kant or Bacon.
Thus the pernicious conditions of society and political economy in our civilization, form a circulus vitiosus from which there is no escape; the laboring man is looked down upon because he has no cultivation; he can not educate himself because education and cultivation cost money, which he has not got. The rich retain for themselves to the exclusion of the poor, not only all the material enjoyments of life, but the intellectual as well. The noblest blessings that civilization has to offer us, culture, poetry and art, are, as a fact, only free to the rich, and cultivation in its most comprehensive sense, is the most important and most exclusive of all their privileges. When some young man of the lower classes succeeds in mastering the higher branches of education by means of almost superhuman exertions, by deprivations and humiliations, begging if need be, and receives a diploma in the university, he never returns to the position of his father. Free from the prejudices and ideas of society, which consider a man who obtains his livelihood by manual labor as a being of the lowest social status, he could take up the trade of his father and show the world one example of a day-laborer standing upon the same scale of culture as the ink-flourishing public functionary and the recluse professor. But he does not do this, he strengthens these prejudices by enrolling himself as a member of the privileged class, by affecting to look upon manual labor as degrading, and by getting his support, like the other members of the upper classes, from the laboring people. There are many kinds of manual labor by which a skilled mechanic or artisan, can earn without extra effort, a good living while preserving his independence; on the other hand, nine tenths of the situations in the business houses, railroads, and in the civil service, only pay very limited salaries. And yet the college graduate prefers one of the latter positions by far, even with its accompanying office slavery, to the better income with liberty. As a government employé he belongs to the privileged class in society, to the exclusive brotherhood of cultured Philistinism, but as a working-man, he would stand outside of the castes with whom society affiliates, and be looked upon as a barbarian who did not breath the same mental atmosphere as the cultivated set. These circumstances would all be changed if the college graduate would take his place at the lathe and the man with the leather apron be reading Horace at his nooning, and the blacksmith or shoemaker, with their diplomas in their pockets, after the day’s work is finished with the anvil and last, sit around an esthetic five o’clock tea table and discourse as learnedly as some young lawyer or clerk in chancery. For honest labor is honorable and dignified, whether it is applied to making overcoats or planning the construction of railroads, and their mental culture being equal, the civil engineer has no more claims to respect and consideration than the tailor. But the college graduate does nothing to bring about such a condition of affairs. He prefers to starve in his shabby-genteel overcoat rather than to live in comparative plenty, wearing a leather apron. This is the cause of one of the most threatening phases of the social problem: the over-supply of men in the liberal professions.
The college graduate thinks himself of too much account to descend into and be lost in the lowest class of society, by voluntarily assuming the trade of a manual-laborer, and according to the ideas prevalent in society he is correct. He demands of the world that he be supported as a master, not support himself, like a slave. But the world has only a limited demand for the kind of work which the college-bred man considers suitable for him. Hence, in the older civilized countries, at least one half of the graduates are condemned to spend their lives in hoping and envying, obtaining none of life’s blessings, fighting hard for the small amount of daily bread they require, and often going hungry, standing beside the overloaded, groaning table of the upper ten thousand, while suffering the pangs of semi-starvation. Certain friends of humanity, of that stamp who consider wars and pestilences as blessings for the human race, because they leave more room and better conditions of existence for those remaining alive, these people express their convictions that cultivation is an injury to mankind, that the increase in the number of intermediate and high schools, is an attempt to destroy the happiness of the masses, because in them more discontented professional failures future barricade fighters and dynamiters are being raised and let loose upon the community. As things are now these reasoners are in the right. As long as the college-bred young man considers himself disgraced by manual labor because the laborer is despised, as long as he sees in his diploma an instrument by which to compel society to rally to his support and as long as he considers himself entitled by his education to the parasitic life of the wealthy classes—as long as these conditions endure, his education will bring him far more unhappiness, in five cases out of ten, than he would ever experience if he were without it and leading the life of a handicraft man or even of a day-laborer.
This can only be remedied by giving back to education its natural role. It must be its own object. We must learn to consider that a cultivated mind is in itself, a sufficient reward for the efforts made to get the cultivation, that we have no right to expect any other reward for these efforts, and that its possession does not relieve us in any way from the duty of productive labor. A cultivated mind has a fuller and richer consciousness of its Ego it grasps better the phenomena of the world and of life, it can appreciate and enjoy the beauties of art and of literature, and its existence gives its possessor a far more liberal and intensive life in every respect than that led by the ignorant. We are ungrateful if, in addition to these priceless blessings for the inner life, we demand of education that it should also provide us with our daily bread: this should be the task of our hands. But if on one hand, the man of culture ought not to despise the immediate production of articles for the market, society on the other hand, should make education accessible to all those capable of receiving and profiting by it. Compulsory school attendance is only a weak beginning. How can poor men afford to send their children to school until they are ten or twelve years old, when they are unable to feed and clothe them during that time, and the little ones must labor for their own support. And is it justifiable, is it consistent, for the State to say: “You must learn to read and write; thus far shalt thou go and no farther?” Why does compulsory school attendance cease at the elementary grades? Why does it not extend to the higher branches? Ignorance is either an infirmity in the individual and consequently in the community, or else it is not. If it is no infirmity, why are the children compelled to attend the primary and elementary schools? If it is, why is it not cured completely by a complete and rounded education? Is not knowledge of the laws of nature as valuable as the multiplication table? The coming voters, in whose hands lie the destinies of their native land, do not they need any acquaintance with history, politics and national economy? Can they get the full benefit of the art of reading which they have mastered, if they are not instructed in nor even introduced to the masterpieces of prose and poetry in their national literature? The intermediate schools provide for this, at least. Why then is not attendance upon the intermediate schools made compulsory? The obstacle is a material one. The poor man who has already experienced great difficulty in supporting his child until he graduates from the primary school, would find it utterly impossible to carry the burden of his maintenance until he had reached an advanced age, until his eighteenth or twentieth year. He is compelled by sheer necessity to convert the laboring power of his child into money, at the earliest possible moment. In order to have the benefits of the intermediate schools shared by as many pupils as attend the primary schools, the labor of the scholars should be organized and utilized, as is the case in some educational institutions in the United States, where the pupils carry on a farm or work at some manual trade, in connection with their studies, with sufficient success and pecuniary returns, aided by outside benevolent contributions to a certain extent, to support themselves during their school life. A far better and more consistent plan would be for the community to supply not only instruction, but the entire material support of the scholars during their years of study. “That would be pure Communism!” exclaims some obstinate adherent of that organized egotism which we call the existing science of political economy.
I might flatter him by disclaiming the horrid word and saying: No, that would not be Communism, but the solidarity of the community. But I disdain to play hide-and-seek with thought, and thus I say frankly: yes, it would be a bit of Communism. But are we not living in A complete state of Communism? Is it not Communism for the State to provide compulsory education for the whole generation of children from their sixth to their twelfth year? Is not the mental food thus provided for them, one kind of food? Does it not cost money? Is it not the community which supplies this money? And the standing army? Is not this also founded upon pure Communism? Does not the community support in this way a whole generation of young men, between their twentieth and twenty-third year, and not with mental food alone, but with actual food and clothing, house and home? Why should it be more difficult or more unreasonable for the State to support a million children during their entire school life, as far as the university, than to support half million young men during their years of military service? The expense? It would be no greater than the expense of keeping up the army. And the maintenance and development of an army is of no greater importance to the safety and prosperity of the nation than the more complete education of the generation growing up around us. And besides: why can not the two aims be combined? Why can not the State feed and clothe the entire male generation until the seventeenth or eighteenth year, as it now feeds and clothes the regular army, and during this time, in connection with the primary and intermediate schooling given to them, let them be receiving their military instruction? The national labor would gain vastly by the substitution of the less costly arms of the scholar soldiers for those of the strong and trained young men of twenty to twenty three, of whose valuable labor the community is now deprived. The actual gain in this way to the nation would represent an amount of money sufficient to cover the entire extra expense of the scholar army over the present army, whose capability for labor is condemned to three years of unproductiveness, at the very blossoming time of its development.
Such a system to be complete, must be founded upon a certain other condition. Not every mind is capable of receiving and assimilating the higher and highest branches of learning. If the State is to take charge of the whole population of scholars throughout the country and thus make education possible to all, even to the son of the poorest man, then it must take care that its benefits are not wasted upon those who are unworthy or incapable of profiting by them. At the close of each school year a strict and exhaustive examination of the scholars should take place, and those only be allowed to enter the grade above, who were able to sustain the examination. In this way the talentless scholar would drop out of school after having acquired the elementary branches, which much of a mental load as he is capable of bearing; the mediocre intelligence would leave school after having acquired a part or the whole of the intermediate branch, while only the pupils possessing real talent would work their way into the highest educational institutes, the scientific, technical and art academies. By this system liberal education would become the property of the entire people, instead of being as it is now, a privilege only enjoyed by the wealthy classes. Manual labor would be no longer synonymous with lack of cultivation, and the educated young man would incur no disgrace if he earned his livelihood by the direct production of articles for the market. The overcrowding of the liberal professions by presuming and unauthorized mediocrities would be prevented. Genuine talent that had been obliged to display and prove its authenticity and its claim to the title in a dozen competitive examinations of constantly increasing severity, would find in its diploma, the absolute guarantee of an honorable livelihood; the problematic existences would disappear and shabby gentility cease to exist. This system would thus be found a complete cure for one of the most dangerous wounds in the body of society.
Our picture of the political economy of our civilization in the preceding pages, included the privileged class, the men of wealth and leisure, who live on the labor of others, the group of college-bred young men who consider that their possession of a diploma entitles them to live the life of a parasite on the working classes, the same as the millionaire’s wealth entitles him, and the proletaires, the lowest class in society, torn from the soil intended by nature to support man, without property of any kind, toiling for a mere subsistence. What a tragic figure in the midst of our civilisation! What a pregnant criticism of the world’s progress, this factory employé! The lines are often quoted in which La Bruyère describes the peasant vassal of his day: “a kind of gloomy, timid animal, emaciated, living in dens: eating grass on all fours, covered with rags, fleeing affrighted at the approach of other men, and yet bearing the semblance of a human being, and yet being a man.” This description will also apply to the day-laborer of Europe. Miserably fed, principally on potatoes and the refuse of the meat shops in the shape of sausages, poisoned with bad liquors, which give him the deceptive sensation of a satisfied appetite and renewed strength, badly dressed, in blouse and overalls which proclaim him from afar as the poor man, the degraded social being, condemned to physical uncleanliness by his lack of money, he hides his wretchedness in the darkest, filthiest corners of the great cities. He not only has no share in the finer provisions that the earth brings forth, but he is also partially or totally deprived of light and air which one would suppose were at the disposal of every living being in unlimited quantities. His insufficient nourishment and the excessive demands upon his laboring forces, exhaust his vital energies to such an extent that his children are predisposed to rachitis and he himself, succumbs to an early death, frequently preceded by some chronic disease. His unhealthy dwelling place fastens upon him and his offspring the curses of scrofula and consumption. He is a kind of forlorn post which every disease tries in turn to master. He is worse off than the slave of ancient times, oppressed the same, dependent in the same way upon master and overseer, he yet gets nothing in return for the loss of his freedom, not even the food and shelter given to a domestic animal. Another point in which his wretchedness is more acute than that of the ancient bond-slave, is the fact that he is conscious of it and also of his dignity and natural rights as a man. He is even worse off than the savage wandering through the primeval forests of America or camping on the grassy plains of Australia, for, like him, dependent solely upon himself, like him, living from hand to mouth, day by day, and suffering the pangs of hunger if he lays idle for a few hours, he is, unlike him, deprived of that keen delight which is produced by the complete expansion of all the physical and mental forces in the struggle to overcome natural obstacles, animals and men. He is moreover obliged to pay over a considerable share of his earnings, which are so far from being sufficient for his support, to the community, in exchange for chains and blows. Civilization, which promised him liberty and prosperity, has not only refused to keep its promise, but excludes him directly from its highest blessings. Modern sanitary science which has made the home of the rich so comfortable and healthy, has not paid any attention to his lurking place. He is far more uncomfortable in the fourth class coach when travelling by rail than when he used to trudge along on foot or ride behind some broken-down horse in his rude cart. He never hears or knows anything of the triumphs of scientific investigation. The production of the creative arts, the poetical master-works of his native tongue are sealed books to him, because he has never been trained to comprehend them. Even the labor-saving mechanical appliances which ought to prove such a blessing to him, have rather increased than diminished his slavery. It is certainly a great forward stride in the progress and happiness of mankind that the forces of nature can now be harnessed and employed in the performance of all brute labor. What distinguishes man above all other living beings is not his muscular system, but his brain. As a source of strength he is inferior to the mule and the ox, and if mechanical labor is all that is required of him, he is degraded to be a mere beast of burden. But machinery has not proved as yet the savior, the liberator and the ally of the workman as was first hoped, but on the contrary, has made him its slave. Now as much as ever before, does his value in the industrial arts depend directly upon his muscular strength, and he has thus become the weak, imperfect and abject competitor of machinery. Deprived of his share of the soil, he is not able to supply his wants by raising the products of nature; submission to the inevitable is his only recourse. He only becomes aware of his fellowship with mankind by the duties laid upon him, for which he receives no privileges in return. When he is not able to exchange his labor for money, or when disease or old age put an end to his work temporarily or permanently, the community looks after him, indeed. It gives him alms if he takes to begging, it lays him on the cot in the hospital if he has a fever, it puts him—sometimes—in a poor-house, if he is too old and feeble for anything else; but how impatiently, how grudgingly, does it fulfill these duties! It offers its unwelcome guest more humiliations than mouthfuls. While it is satisfying his hunger and covering his nakedness, it is declaring that it is a disgrace to accept these benefits from its hands, and affects the most profound contempt for the unfortunates who are suing for its bounty. The laboring classes find it impossible to lay by anything for days of no work or of sickness and old age. How can they have a surplus when even the necessaries of life are lacking? They can not think of demanding wages above what they need to satisfy their most pressing wants, because the number of these disinherited beings is too large and is constantly increasing, there are sure to be plenty who would accept their situations at any wages that would keep them from dying at once of starvation.
These circumstances are utterly beyond the control of the laboring man. He may toil with the utmost diligence, with the greatest exertion of his vital energies, he can never earn more than is sufficient to supply his most immediate wants—aside from the fact that the lowest wages now paid represent the expenditure of all the workman’s energies. On the contrary: the more he works, the more intolerable does his position become. This sounds paradoxical, but it is nevertheless true. The more that the operative produces, the lower goes the selling price of his productions, while his wages remain the same if they do not become less. Thus he spoils his own market by straining every nerve, and depreciates the value of his own labor. This phenomenon would not occur if the production of the great manufacturing industries was regulated by the demand. Then over-production would never occur, the price of the articles would never be depressed by an over-supply, and the producing laboring man would be paid higher wages for an increased amount of work. But Capital perverts this natural operation of the forces of political economy. A man builds a factory and commences the manufacture of goods, not because he has become convinced that a demand hitherto unsatisfied exists for the goods he is to produce, but because he has capital, for which he is seeking a profitable investment, and also because he has some neighbor who has accumulated wealth with his factory. Thus individual whims or want of judgment, instead of the laws of political economy, decide the investment of capital. The market is thus flooded with an over-supply of certain manufactured goods because some man has been following a false trail in his mad chase after the Almighty Dollar. The mistake brings its own punishment, it is true. The manufacturer offers his goods at lower and lower prices, until they no longer pay the expenses of production, and then he is financially wrecked. All the other manufacturers of that same article go down with him, and that branch of production is involved in a national or world-wide financial crisis. But the real victim is the factory employé. As the price of the manufactured article sinks lower and lower, his wages are decreased in proportion until the manufacturer has exhausted his capital. And when the unequal battle between supply and demand ends in the victory of the former and production ceases, then he is left entirely without bread, for a longer or shorter time as the case may be. These are the roles played by the manufacturer and the operative in the great manufacturing industries. The latter makes it possible for the former to accumulate a great capital. This capital seeks profits and believes they can be found in the opening of additional factories. This leads to over-production and increased competition, with their train of depression of prices and reduction of wages, closing with the crisis which deprives the operative of the opportunity of earning anything. Thus the industrial slave makes his master rich, while his own daily bread is reduced in quantity day by day and finally taken away from him entirely. Can there be a more beautiful illustration of the way in which the existing conditions of the economic world conform to truth, justice and propriety!
The first question which arises in our minds as we look upon this picture of the financial and social conditions of life, is: must they necessarily remain as they are? Are we confronting the operations of the able laws of nature, or the consequences of man’s folly and imbecility? Why does a small minority revel in the enjoyment of every good, in whose production it takes no part? Why is a certain class of human beings, consisting of millions, precondemned to hunger and wretchedness? This is the most important point of the problem that is to be solved. The question is: do the poor starve because the earth does not produce food in sufficient quantities for them to have their share, or because they can not obtain possession of what is produced in plenty? We can exclude the latter alternative from our discussion. If provisions were produced in ample abundance with a sufficiency for all, then the share which would fall to the poor man and which he can not afford to buy, would be left over, Experience proves that nothing of the kind takes place. As each year comes around, the entire harvest of bread-stuffs and other food products, is used up by the time the new harvest is gathered in. The annual supply of provisions is exhausted when the new supply pours into the markets, and yet not every individual of the whole human race has been able to eat his fill every day in the year; no bread-stuffs are thrown away from over-supply and meat never rots for lack of purchasers. To be sure the rich waste more goods than they actually require to satisfy the regular requirements of the body, but amongst these goods the most material, provisions, are in the smallest proportion to the rest. The millionaire squanders the results of man’s labor to gratify his whims, his love of luxury or his vanity. He throws aside clothing which is far from being no longer serviceable, He builds houses of unnecessary size and fills them with superfluous furniture. He takes men away from useful production and maintains them in criminal idleness as lackeys and companions, or in semi-occupation as coachmen, body servants, etc. But in regard to provisions, he consumes at the utmost hardly more than four times what he actually requires to satisfy his organic wants, even making allowance for the most wasteful housekeeping. Let us assume that there are a million of such extravagant beings in the civilized world; with their families we can estimate the number at five millions. These five millions would consume provisions sufficient for twenty millions, so that in addition to their own natural share they use up that of fifteen million other human beings. This would only explain the fact that fifteen millions are entirely deprived of their share of food, or that thirty millions merely receive one half of what they are naturally entitled to. But the number of those human beings in Europe alone, who suffer from hunger and want, can be estimated with certainty at twice that number, that is, sixty millions. Consequently we must accept the other alternative and decide that the earth does not produce sufficient food for all, and hence that a part of the human race is condemned without mercy to absolute, physiological want.
Is this the result of natural causes? Does the earth produce no more because it is incapable of producing more? No. It does not give food, because food is not asked of it. When the science of economy, created and upheld by Capital, was confronted by the problem of the disproportion between the hungry multitudes and the amount of food products destined to satisfy their hunger, it did not torment its thinking faculties very long, but soon came across an honest fellow named Malthus who proclaimed without prejudice or partiality: “The time has come when the earth is no longer able to support her children. Therefore we must diminish their number.” And he preached prudence in marrying and temperance after marriage—but only for the poor, A trifle more and he would have advocated the castration of every individual born without a regular income, and the reorganization of humanity upon the pattern of the societies of ants and bees which have but a few individuals possessing the power of propagating their species, while the majority is composed of sexless individuals who have only the right to labor for those more completely developed. Such a condition of affairs could not fail to complete the happiness of the millionaires. It never entered the heads of the pious Malthus and his disciples, to state their principle in a reversed form: “The provisions produced by the earth are not sufficient to support her children. Therefore we must increase the amount of provisions,” and yet it seems as if this would be the most natural remedy for the economic distress. There surely can not be any man in existence, in possession of his reasoning faculties, who would dare to assert that it is impossible to increase the amount of agricultural products. If there does exist such a fool, he can easily be silenced by a few figures. Europe supports 310 millions of inhabitants upon an area of 9.710.340 square kilometers; that is, it supports them aided by the contributions of provisions it receives from India, southern Africa, Algeria, North America and Australia. Enormous quantities of grain and meat are imported from these countries into Europe, which sends them nothing in return, except perhaps, wines. And yet with all this stream of food flowing into the country a considerable portion of the population suffers from actual want. Europe as a whole, thus confesses its incapability of supporting 32 human beings on one square kilometer. But Belgium supports 5.536.000 inhabitants on an area of 29.455 kilometers, consequently in this country one kilometer is amply sufficient to support 200 human beings, a number six times as large as that which we have found to be the average for Europe as a whole. If the soil throughout the whole of Europe were cultivated like that of Belgium, it could support a population of 1950 millions, much more completely and abundantly than the 316 millions it now supports so poorly. Or if the number of the population remained the same, each man would have six times as much food as he could consume. But we are reminded that Belgium imports provisions also, showing that its agricultural products are not sufficient to feed the nation. Very well, let us assume that Belgium buys one quarter of the provisions it requires in foreign lands. Even proceeding upon this assumption we find that it supports 150 inhabitants on each square kilometer, which figure applied to Europe gives us a population of 1458 millions which it could support, more than all mankind now numbers. Let us take another example. China, without its dependencies, has an area of 4.024.890 square kilometers, upon which are dwelling 405 millions of human beings. 1 The square kilometer supports 100 people and supports them completely, for China, far from importing provisions, exports large quantities of rice, preserves, tea, etc. According to the unanimous testimony of all travellers in China, hunger and want are only experienced there in years when the crops fail to come to maturity. And this famine is only the result of the undeveloped means of transportation, not of a deficit in the agricultural products of the whole Empire. Thus we see that if the soil of Europe were tilled and managed like that of China, it could support 1000 millions of human beings instead of its 316 millions who are so poorly fed that they are emigrating annually by hundreds of thousands to other parts of the world.
Why is not more exacted of the soil when experience shows that it responds so readily to all demands made upon it? Why does not mankind make the effort to raise agricultural products sufficient for every human being to have enough and to spare? Why? Owing to one single reason: the accumulation of capital has led to a one-sided and unnatural development of our civilization. Civilization is crowding towards manufactures and trade all the time, turning its back upon the production of food. Physiocracy which teaches us that the true wealth of a country lies solely in its agricultural products, has been held up to ridicule during the last hundred years, by the official science of political economy, which has condescended so far as to be the court jester of the present arrangement of the economic world, founded upon egotism and Capital.
The son of the soil forsakes his plough, the freedom of the country and nature and the pure, abundant sunshine and air, to force his way into that fatal prison, the factory, and take up his abode in some pestilential tenement house in the big city, in obedience to a kind of suicidal instinct. The same instinct seems to impel the human race as a whole, to abandon the food-producing soil and cast themselves into the slough of manufacturing industry where they suffocate and starve The whole genius of mankind, all its powers of invention, contrivance and investigation, all its enquiry and experiments, are applied exclusively to manufactures. We see the results: the machines grow more and more wonderful, the systems of labor more and more perfect, the production of goods more and more prolific. But hardly one inventive genius in a hundred busies himself with the production of food. If only one half as much study and ingenuity were applied to this production as to the industrial arts, physiological want would not only cease to exist on earth, but would become absolutely inconceivable. But this branch of human industry, the most important of all, is the very one that is neglected to such a degree that we wring our hands in despair. In the domain of manufactures we are highly civilized beings, but in regard to the cultivation of the soil, we are still in a barbarism as dark as midnight. We congratulate ourselves upon our marvelous ingenuity in employing and rendering valuable by means of our manufactures, the refuse and waste formerly considered absolutely worthless. But at the same time, we are allowing at least one half of the refuse from food-products, the contents of the city sewers, to escape us, without being utilized, and be emptied into the rivers, to pollute them. The sea, their final destination, does not return in its fishes and pearls a thousandth part of the value of what we pour into it. This waste of millions of tons of the most valuable waste products is positively atrocious and yet it is comical when we see the anxiety and care with which the tiniest drop of sulphuric acid is saved and utilized in the chemical laboratories, and the tearing haste with which an inventor secures a patent when he has succeeded in perfecting a process by which the refuse from some manufacture can be turned to a profitable account. We boast of having harnessed the powers of nature and yet we allow millions of acres of land to remain barren, although we know theoretically that there is not a single district that must of necessity remain a desert. We know that every kind of soil, even if it consists of iron shoe nails or crushed stones, can be made productive by heat and water, whose application is not beyond human power except—perhaps—at the poles. We point with pride to our coal and copper mines which are tunneled deep into the earth and under the ocean, and yet we are not ashamed of the bare mountain sides above them, from which man, the same being who has burrowed into their depths, is unable to produce anything. We can control the lightning from the skies and yet are not able to procure more than an atom of the inexhaustible treasures of food that are concealed in the oceans which deprive us of three fourths of the entire globe. How can we explain the fact that in a period which gives birth to such mechanical marvels as our labor-saving appliances and the more delicate tools and instruments capable of such astonishingly minute and accurate work, we allow swamps, rivers without fish, uncultivated tracts and waste land, to exist in the midst of Europe? How can it be that the generation after Gauss is so-weak in its mathematical faculties, that it does not reckon upon its fingers how much more expensive it is to supply the albumenous food needed by the body, by meat from cattle, which require so much productive land to be left waste for their pasturage, instead of by fish, with which the sea is teeming, while it can be used in no other way, or by poultry, which do not require large meadows to roam over, and can be abundantly fed from the refuse of the kitchen?
However I will not proceed any further into details. The fact seems to me sufficiently demonstrated that the cultivation of the soil is the step-child of our civilization. It hardly takes one forward stride where manufactures take a hundred. The only progress realized in the production of food for mankind during several centuries, is the introduction of the potato into Europe, which makes it possible for the operative, the proletaire, to imagine that his hunger is satisfied, when at the same time his body is slowly starving to death for want of proper nutriment, while it enables the capitalist to screw down the wages of his employés to the lowest possible point. Fruit and vegetable gardens, mushroom beds, show us what a wealth of provisions can be produced on the tiniest scrap of ground. Experience teaches us that man’s labor, as a general thing, can nowhere be employed more lucratively than in agriculture. If a man should work over his field with the shovel and spade instead of the summary plough he would find that a plot of ground of incredibly small size would be sufficient to support him., But mankind is suffering for want of food, provisions are growing more and more expensive, and the wages-receiver must work an increased number of hours each day to get enough to eat. Nature shows man that he can not live apart from her, without the soil, that he requires the field as the fish requires water. Man recognizes that he sinks lower and lower when he forsakes the soil, that the farmer is the only one who remains healthy and strong, while the city yaps the very marrow in the bones of its inhabitants, rendering them liable to disease and unfruitful, so that each family absolutely rots out in two or three generations. The city would become in a hundred years an enormous cemetery, without a single living being within its walls, if it were not for the fact that there is a constant influx of people from the country to fill up the ranks left vacant by death. In spite of their knowledge and appreciation of these facts men continue to abandon the fruitful fields and flock to the cities, to tear themselves away from life and throw themselves into the arms of death.
Now the professor of political economy steps up again and says with an air of bland confidence and intrepidity that the measure of development to which the manufacturing industries of a country have attained, is at the same time, the measure of its civilization, and that an advanced stage of manufactures is a blessing to the nation as it makes the goods produced so cheap as to be within the reach of the poorest. This is one of the most widely spread and most frequently repeated lies with which Capital seeks to deceive mankind. A plague upon such cheapness! It is a benefit to no one, except perhaps to the manufacturer and merchant. We have seen how this cheapness of the manufactured articles is brought about: by the competition between capitals, carried on at the expense of the operatives, and by the conscienceless, criminal exhaustion of the powers of human labor. The factory employé must be chained to his machine ten, twelve, perhaps fourteen hours a day, so that cotton cloth may be sold at this cheap rate. He finds no opportunity to enjoy even the mere privilege of living. He spends his life inside the dreary factory walls, making continually a succession of identical, automatic movements, as the machine requires it. He is the sole living being in the universe who spends the greater part of his life-time in work contrary to nature, merely to keep himself alive. Of course the goods decline in price as the result of such labor. At the same time they deteriorate in quality. The entire development of our manufactures tends constantly towards the substitution of lower grade raw material for higher grade, and to the employment of the smallest possible amount of it in the finished article. Why? Because the raw material, if of an organic nature, is derived from the animal or vegetable kingdoms, and can only be procured for its actual value in labor, hence it is expensive. The earth does not allow herself to be cheated; she gives cotton and flax, wood and wool, but only in proportion as she receives the equivalent in labor and nourishment. The cow and the sheep can not be screwed down to nothing; they will only produce their hides and wool, horns and hoofs, if they are properly supplied with food. Man alone is more stupid than the earth, more easily imposed on than the cow and the sheep. He gives up his nerve and muscular strength without demanding its full value in exchange. Hence the manufacturer has every reason to be saving of the expensive raw material, and lavish of the cheap human labor. He adulterates and diminishes the quantity of the former but gives the finished products a handsome appearance by laborious or complicated processes of labor, that is to say, by an unstinted use of human labor. In the finished piece of calico offered by the English manufacturer in the market, there is the smallest possible amount of cotton fibre and the largest possible amount of human labor. The calico is cheap because the manufacturer is not obliged to pay his human slaves for their toil as much as the earth requires for her cotton fibre. But it is far from necessary that these goods should be so cheap. Their low price leads to an extravagant use of them. Even the poor people in our present civilization, renew their clothing and household goods oftener than is strictly necessary, and throw aside articles that could still yield good service, that in reality to continue to yield service, as is shown by the great trade in secondhand clothing etc., between Europe and the colonies. At the close of the year the European has spent the same amount for clothing as he would have spent if the goods had been far higher in price, for in the latter case, he would certainly have worn them longer. Thus we see the practical results of this vaunted lowness of prices, the pride of the economic world. It does not bring any actual relief or saving to the consumer, because the tyrannical custom of lavish use of the goods keeps pace with it. It is a curse to the labor that produces the goods because it diminishes the amount of its earnings more and more, while compelling it to constantly increasing exertions. Every individual that does not belong to the minority of wealthy idlers, is a producer of some one article and a consumer of others. Hence the result of the whole vaunted development of the manufacturing industries in our civilization, is nothing more than a mad chase growing wilder and fiercer every day, in which each participant is at the same time hunter and hunted, driving the soul out of the body and ending in a sudden collapse with lolling tongue and breath entirely spent.
Longer, harder toil for the producer, frenzied, criminal extravagance in the consumer—these are the direct results of the development of manufacturing industries, which tends constantly towards increased production and lower prices. Let us assume that all finished products were four times as dear as they are now, while provisions remained the same—this is easily conceivable if the development of the agricultural industries should overtake or pass beyond that of the manufacturing industries. Where would be the harm? 1 see none, but on the contrary, enormous benefits to mankind. Each individual would renew his clothing once instead of four times a year, and his household goods once in twenty years, instead of once in five. The factory employé would receive four times the wages at present paid him; that is, if he is now obliged to toil twelve hours to earn sufficient to support life, he would obtain the same result with three hours’ labor. The expenses of the individual consumer would amount to the same sum total as before, at the close of the year. But one enormous result would be gained; the laboring-man would cease to be a galley-slave and become a man. That highest of all luxuries, of which he is now completely deprived: leisure, would conic within his reach. This means that he could have his share of the higher pleasures of civilized life, that he could visit museums and theatres, read, converse, meditate, that he would cease to be a machine and could assume the rank of a man among other men. We must call to the laboring classes: You are caught in a horrible whirlpool. Escape or you are lost! The more you toil the cheaper become your productions, the consumption of them grows more lavish, you must work still longer and harder tomorrow to get the means to support your sheer existence. Stop work for awhile! Loaf part of your time! Decrease your work by a half, by a quarter! Your earnings will remain the same if every one only consumes what he actually requires, and only labors as much as he is obliged to.
The professors of political economy are not of this opinion. They have a horror of leisure for mankind and believe that all good and happiness lie in the most extreme exertions of man’s laboring faculties. Their doctrine can be condensed into two commandments: Thou shalt consume as much as possible, no matter whether the consumption is justified by actual necessity or not; thou shalt produce as much as possible no matter whether the productions are needed or not. These wise men make no distinction between the fire-works destined to flare up for a minute or two, to astonish some idle blockheads, and the machine that turns out useful bedsteads and wardrobes, year after year. The fire-works cost $10.000; they represent, in addition to the materials, the labor of fifty men for one year, who were during that time in perpetual danger. The machine costs $2.000. But the professor of political economy continues his dissertation with gentle impartiality: The fire-works are worth five times as much as the machine; the workmen are equally usefully employed in producing them; the production of the fireworks added to the wealth of the country as much as if five bed-making machines had been produced; and, if it were possible to keep a million workmen employed in the manufacture of such fire-works, producing thus a billion dollars worth of them annually, and disposing of them, then the country could be congratulated upon the blossoming of such an interesting industry and the workmen upon their diligence and ability.
According to established theories, this train of thought is without a flaw. According to actual practice it is a scholastic sophistry of the worst kind. Certainly it is true that if a man can get as much money for a rocket as for a fowl, then the rocket is worth as much as the fowl, and he who makes a rocket adds as much to the wealth of the nation as he who raises a fowl. And yet it is a lie. No, it is not the same to humanity whether rockets or fowls are produced. No, the Alpine guide is not as valuable to the human race as the fireman of the steam thrashing machine, although it may pay him higher wages than the latter. I know that my distinctions are leading me to attack all articles of luxury. 1 do not hesitate then to declare that no human being has the right to demand the gratification of his whims, as long as the actual necessities of others are unsatisfied, to employ workmen in the production of fire-works, for example, as long as others are famishing, because this workman is withdrawn from the cultivation of the soil, or to condemn the factory operatives to fourteen hours a day of slavish toil, so that the price of velvet may be low enough for him to clothe himself in the material the most pleasing to his esthetic taste.
The great end and aim of humanity in the field of political economy, is not the production of commodities for which a price can be obtained, but to satisfy with its labor the actual organic wants of the body. There are but two kinds of organic wants: food and propagation. The former has for its purpose the preservation of the individual, the latter the preservation of the race. We might apparently trace these two wants to one single source and omit the necessity for the preservation of the race as not being actually necessary. But only apparently. The impulse for race preservation is as much stronger than the impulse for individual self-preservation, as the vital energies and strength of the race are more powerful than those of the individual. It has never yet happened that a considerable body of human beings, an entire tribe, were prevented for any considerable length of time from obeying their natural impulse to perpetuate the race. If such a case should ever happen, if there should ever arrive a general national sex-famine, the most horrible scenes of days of famine that the world has ever seen would fade into insignificance compared with the passions and acts of violence that would then be seen. The two great organic wants of mankind must hence be satisfied; every thing beyond these is of secondary importance. It is possible for an individual whose appetite is fully satisfied, who is protected from the cold, with a shelter against the wind and rain over his head and a companion of the opposite sex by his side, to be not only contented but absolutely happy and without further desires. A hungry individual can not be happy nor even contented, even if he were dressed in gold brocade and listening to a magnificent orchestral concert in the Vatican Museum. This is so self-evident that it is absurd to state it. It is the prosaic moral of the fable of the cock who found a pearl and complained because it was not a grain of corn. And yet this truism is beyond the mental grasp of the official political economy. It has never occurred to any of the professors of this sublime science to test their doctrines by the homely wisdom of Lafontaine’s book of fables. Applied to the development of our civilization in regard the matters of political or national economy, the fable of the cock and the pearl means simply this: “Less Manchester cotton goods and Sheffield knives, and more bread and meat!” What theory has neglected up to the present time practice will soon set about in earnest: viz. to demonstrate the preposterousness of the definitions and principles of the present science of political economy invented and maintained by and for Capital, and accepted without enquiry by the world. Already, the world over, man is laboring beyond all reason and producing beyond all demand. Almost every civilized country is trying to export manufactured articles and import provisions. The markets for the former are beginning to fail. We can say without fear of exaggeration, that the great manufacturing industries of the principal countries in Europe have found all the markets they ever will find. These conditions can only grow worse, never better. The countries which are not yet developed as regards manufactures are gradually becoming so. Processes of labor will be still more improved, machines still further increased and perfected, and then? Then each country will be able to supply its own demand for manufactured articles and have an abundance left over that it will try to dispose of to its neighbor, but in vain, for the latter will have no use for them. The very last naked negro on the upper Congo will have his fifty yards of cotton cloth and his gun, the very last Papuan his boots and his paper collars. The European will have then reached the point of buying a new suit of clothes every week, and having a machine to turn over the leaves of his magazine. This will be the Golden Age of the political economists who are so captivated by unrestricted production, unbounded consumption and an unlimited development of manufactures. And in this Golden Age, when the entire country will be set as thick with factory chimneys as it is now with trees, the people will live on chemical substitutes for food instead of bread and meat they will toil eighteen hours out of the twenty four and die without knowing that they have ever lived. Perhaps it will not be necessary to wait until this Golden Age arrives, for the fact to dawn upon certain enlightened minds or circles, that this excessive, one-sided industrialism is a wholesale suicide of the human race, and that everything which the science of political economy alleges in its favor is a lie and a fraud. We have already become convinced of the fact that a country which exports bread-stuffs, if it exhausts the soil and does not return to it in some way or other, the matter of which it is deprived by the growing grain, is gradually growing poorer, although untold millions may be pouring into it from other countries. We will become convinced of another fact sooner or later, that the exportation of labor, of muscle and nerve, in the shape of manufactured articles, will make a people grow poorer and poorer, no matter how much gold it receives in exchange for them. The European factory operative is even now, the slave of the negro on the Congo. He stills his hunger with potatoes and vile whisky, he spends his life in the machine-rooms and dies of tuberculosis, so that some barbarian may lead a more comfortable existence than has hitherto been the case. This feverish labor which is not applied to the production of food but to industrial over-production will finally produce a nation of hungry money-bags. The world may then behold the spectacle of a country where a piano of the very latest make stands in every cottage, the people rustling in brand-new clothing, but with rachitis in their bones, no blood in their veins and consumption in their lungs.
The sentiment in regard to the unendurable conditions of affairs in the economic world is universal. The wretched operative whose daily hunger keeps the subject always in his mind, knows that he produces wealth by the labor of his hands, and he is demanding his share of the riches he thus creates. But he commits the mistake of founding his demand upon all sorts of reasons that do not stand the test of criticism. There is only one single true and natural argument which he can call to his aid, and that is unanswerable: the argument that he has the power to take possession of the goods which he produces, that the rich are in the minority and unable to prevent this appropriation, consequently that he has the right to keep what he makes and to help himself to what he needs. The whole of the present structure of society is built upon this argument as its sole foundation. This argument makes the weaker individuals and peoples slaves of the stronger; it makes millionaires out of shrewd and unscrupulous men and sets up Capital as the absolute master of the whole world. The minority, the loafers and plunderers, make constantly use of this argument to silence the demands of the laboring and plundered classes. But the wages-receiver, whose mind in spite of all its Radicalism, is still entangled in the meshes of the ideas of right and morality inculcated by Capital, he hesitates to employ this unanswerable argument, based upon the laws and instincts of nature. He prefers to seek the justifiableness of his claims in all kinds of out of the way excuses and ideas, among which Communism is the most widely accepted and believed. Thus, in the most foolish manner, he enters upon territory in which he is sure to be defeated.
Capital has no difficulty at all in proving the absurdity of this theory. In fact Communism, as all socialistic schools comprehend and preach it, is the outgrowth of a preposterous chimera, evolved from the inflamed imagination of certain dreamers, deaf and blind to the realities of the world and human nature. Actual community in property or the negation of individual rights in property, has never existed since the world began. That condition of property holding which a superficial observer might consider to be Communism, and of which several examples have occurred in historic times, some even existing in a few isolated places at the present day, is founded upon the basis of individual ownership of property, separate from the mass of property existing in the world at large. When such a perfect cohesion and sense of fellowship exists among a small number of individuals owing to their common descent or to other causes, that a family, a village or a whole tribe, considers itself as one single being of a higher order of creation, then it is conceivable that this collective individual should possess an indivisible collective amount of property, which the single individual could not control and use for his own advantage and to the prejudice of others. This kind of collective property holding, which exists in several places in Europe at the present time, such as the Russian Mir and the united households of the Croatians and Slavonians, has nothing in common with Communism, that is, fundamental and universal community in property throughout the world, as can easily be demonstrated. Just let an outsider, an individual not accepted as a member of the circle of joint owners of the common property, let him attempt to get possession of the smallest fragment of it! The entire tribe, village, Mir, etc, will rise up in arms at once to repel the intruder. The joint possessors of the common capital are imbued so strongly with the sense of proprietorship in it, that they rebel against any appropriation of any part of it by outsiders, with as much liveliness of indignation as an individual proprietor would experience if an attack was made upon his purse. And even this collective proprietorship, which is by no means actual Communism, but only a more primitive form of personal ownership of property, can only exist as long as every member of the community experiences directly and profoundly his cohesion and fellowship to and with the rest. Its perpetuation depends also upon the similarity of the labor performed by the members, so that the efforts made by each can be compared easily and directly with those of the rest, and no doubts arise as to their relative value or importance. As soon as a division of labor takes place and different kinds of production are carried on in the collective community, the necessity will arise to compare the relative values of certain kinds of labor, each useful in its way, but differing completely in every other respect. It will be impossible to estimate justly and satisfactorily to each member, the utility and pecuniary value of his labor, as it differs in kind from that of those around him, consequently the collective proprietorship in the results of the efforts of all must necessarily come to an end, and the ownership of property individualize itself in a very short time. Thus we see that the solution of the economic problem is not to be looked for in Communism. It is a natural condition possible only in very low forms of collective associations, and could not exist in a form of animal life so highly developed as in our human society. Individual possession is the natural condition not only of men, but of most animals. The source of the impulse for individual proprietorship is the necessity for the gratification of individual wants. Every animal must supply itself with nourishment and many require also an artificially prepared shelter or natural hiding-place. The food and the nest or den which it has found or made for itself, is considered by the animal as its property. It feels that these things belong to it, and to no other being, and will not submit without resistance to being deprived of them by any other individual. A life that makes foresight and provision for the future a necessity, leads to the extension of this sentiment of proprietorship and to the development of the impulse for acquiring increased individual possessions. A beast of prey, which lives upon fresh meat, fixes the limits of his proprietorship in the total amount of fresh meat existing, at the quantity which he requires for one single meal. But an animal which lives upon a vegetable diet, if his home is in a region where there is a winter with a cessation of vegetation, helps himself from the common store-house of nature to far more than is necessary to supply his immediate wants. He accumulates more food than he can possibly require during the coming months, thus decreasing without any organic necessity, the amount of food at the disposal of other animals, he becomes a capitalist and an unscrupulous egotist. In this way squirrels, field mice, marmots, etc., heap up quantities of nuts and fruits of all kinds in their holes to provide for the coming winter, which is not all consumed at the return of spring, when they can find food again in the fields and forests. They not only realize the possibility of their personal proprietorship but they accumulate wealth, they become rich, in the sense of owning more than they require for their actual wants. Man belongs in the category of animals to whom provision for the future is necessary. The acquisition of individual property, to increase it beyond what is actually required for the moment, to defend it against the encroachments of others, these are natural vital actions and instincts in him to which he is impelled by the fundamental impulse of self-preservation, and which are impossible to eradicate. Even under the most violent compulsion of laws framed in opposition to them, they would assert themselves again and again with their elementary strength.
But if individual proprietorship is a natural instinct, and hence utterly refuses to be suppressed, there is one application of the right of personal possession against which reason absolutely revolts, and for whose existence no natural causes can be produced—this is inheritance. It is true that the impulse for the preservation of the species impels all living beings to care for their offspring and to provide the most favorable conditions of existence possible for them. But this care never extends beyond the moment when the young creatures are sufficiently developed to care for themselves without outside assistance, as the parents did before them. There is only sufficient stored up food in the seed of the plant or in the white of the egg, to supply the embryo with nourishment during its earliest stage of life—the time of absolute helplessness. The mammiferous animals give milk to their young only as long as they are unable to graze or hunt food for themselves, and the parent birds cease to bring worms to their little ones as soon as they have successfully accomplished their first independent flight.
Man alone wishes to provide his descendants with their stored up food, their albumen, their milk and their worms, to the third and fourth, to untold generations. Man alone is anxious to keep his children and great grand-children, into the most distant future, in the embryonic condition in which the young of all animals are provided for by the beings to whom they owe their existence; he will not abandon them to their own resources. When a man accumulates a fortune, he wishes to bequeath it to his family in such a way that its members will be, if possible, relieved for ever from the necessity of earning their own livelihood. This is contrary to all of nature’s laws. It is a violent disturbance of the regular arrangement of the world, according to which every living being is compelled to win for himself his place at the great table of nature, or else perish. This disturbance of nature’s regulations is the cause of all the evils of the economic world. And while it condemns enormous masses of individuals to wretchedness and want, it at the same time, takes its revenge upon its originators. It is in vain that the rich withdraw from the commonwealth their accumulated possessions with unconsciously criminal egotism, in order to ensure a life of luxury and leisure to their children and their children’s children forever, they never accomplish their design. Experience teaches us that no wealth lasts through several generations without some business efforts. Inherited fortunes never remain long in a family, and even Rothschild’s millions may not protect his descendants of the sixth or eighth generation from poverty, unless they possess those qualities which would have enabled them to win a high place for themselves in the world without any inherited millions. These facts show the operation of an implacable law, which is constantly striving to bring about an equilibrium in the economic life of society, so grievously disturbed by the unnatural conditions of inherited property. An individual who has never been confronted with the necessity of calling his most primitive organic instinct, the acquiring of food, into play, soon loses the ability to retain his possessions and to defend them against the greed of those without possessions, who encroach upon him on every side. Only when all the descendants of a family are absolutely mediocre natures, and live far from all public and private agitation, in complete obscurity, the world forgetting and by the world forgot, leading a regular vegetable existence, can they hope to retain undiminished the possessions that form their heritage. But as soon at this family produces an individual gifted with more imagination, who surpasses in any direction the standard of mediocrity prevalent in the family, with passions or ambition, eager to shine or at least to appreciate life’s possibilities, the family inheritance is doomed to decrease or ruin, because this off-shoot of the wealthy family is absolutely incapable of replacing even one penny of the sums he spends in the gratification of his whims. It is with wealth as it is with an organism. The latter must have vital activity to maintain life; as soon as the vital processes cease in its cells it falls a prey to corruption, and is consumed by the microscopic beings with whom nature is teeming, seeking whom they may devour. In the same way we can say that life becomes extinct in a fortune in which the vital processes of exchange and circulation are not carried on, so that it is preyed upon and soon devoured by the greedy companions of corruption, the parasites, swindlers, cheats and speculators. The body of a fortune can be artificially protected against decay and putrefaction as well as a human body; the latter by antiseptics, the former by a special law—which ensures the perpetuation of the property intact, that is, the law of entail. This law of entail is an invention which affords us an interesting proof of the fact that the rich egotists have always had a dim suspicion of the unnaturalness of the right of inheritance. The man of wealth feels that he is committing a crime against humanity and that nature will take her revenge upon his descendants for his contempt of her laws, consequently he erects a last barrier against her assault. He forsees that his children will not have arms strong enough to hold fast to their heritage, so he ties it to their bodies with ropes and cords that no one can unfasten. But even the law of entail, this carbolic acid bath for dead fortunes, loses its efficacy after a while and ceases to protect the inherited wealth against corruption and decay and the family against economic shipwreck.
The right of inheritance must be abolished. This is the only natural and hence the only possible cure for the ulcers in the body of society caused by the present conditions of political economy. Such a proposition seems extremely radical at the first glance, appearing to be practically the confiscation of all individual property. But examined loser, we find that it is only the consistent development 01 certain phenomena now existing, which cause no one uneasiness. The right of primogeniture is maintained in those countries which cling most tenaciously to the feudal organization of society. This right consists in the systematic disinheritance of all the children, all the descendants, with the exception of one, the first-born; so that it is identical with my proposition, with this one exception. Hence we see that the most conservative peer of England carries my proposition into action, although it may seem so revolutionary to some of my readers. If we see nothing wrong and certainly nothing impossible, in the exclusion of all the children and descendants of an English nobleman, except the first-born, from their share in the enjoyment of the fortune he leaves behind him at his death, why should we consider it wrong or impossible to treat all the children of the man of wealth in the same way? It is true that the peer who disinherits his younger children gives them other possessions, education and training, which enable them to take their places in society. But if all accumulations of property passed into the possession of the community upon the death of the accumulator, the State would be able to give all the youth of the land an education and training adapted to their capacity, and all the disinherited would have at least the same advantages as are enjoyed today by the disinherited younger son of the peer. But the peer provides for his younger children to whom he bequeaths none of his wealth, by employing his family and political connections to obtain situations for them in the service of the State, community or among his friends, which have more or less the character of a benefice or perpetual office. What is this more than an organized solidarity, which offers the individual even greater securities for a comfortable existence than an independent fortune? It is true this solidarity is narrow and selfish; it is confined to one caste and has for its sole purpose the plundering of thy majority for the benefit of a few parasites. Let us imagine the limits of this solidarity widened to include the whole community and its purpose, not to support parasites, but to perform necessary and useful work; let us imagine a state which provides instruction and if the parents are incapable of bearing the expense—food, clothing and shelter for all the children within its limits until they are old enough to enter upon their business career, and when this time arrives, supplies them with tools and materials for independent labor. In such a community of fellowship would not each individual be well provided for, and would the absorption of the father’s wealth at his decease, into the public treasury be an act of injustice against the children?
I can not deny for a moment that the practical realization of this scheme would at first meet with many and difficult obstacles. The parents would try to escape from the necessity of bequeathing their property to the State by presenting it to their children and others while they were still alive. This would result in the practical inheritance of a part of their patrimony by the children, and it could only be prevented by the State with difficulty. But this source of fraud is of very small importance to the system as a whole. The adoption of it would exert such an influence upon the views and opinions of humanity that they would soon be radically changed from what they are at present. The parents would learn to appreciate the fact that in the new, reorganized community, lack of fortune did not mean poverty and wretchedness for the child, consequently the impulse to ensure a regular income to it through life would become much weaker. The State would find little or no trouble in getting control of the notes, bonds, stocks, etc., which form the greater part of the floating capital of the world; all household goods, works of art and single objects of value might be exempted from confiscation and retained by the children as mementoes of their parents; there would be no possibility for evading the law in the matter of real estate. But the most important, indeed, the only essential point of the whole system is this: the land with all the houses, buildings, factories, trading establishments, etc., that on it are, must become the unalienable property of the community and come into its direct possession at the close of each generation. Any one desirous of owning land or factories, will receive a title to them for his life-time from the State, for which he must pay an annual rental, which will be a certain percentage of the total amount of capital represented.
This idea is no unprecedented revolutionary innovation, as some would suppose, but merely the further development of certain conditions existing at the present day in many countries, especially in England and Italy. In these countries there are many landed proprietors who do not cultivate their land with their own hands, but rent it to tenant farmers. There is nothing to prevent society from placing the manufacturer and the tillers of the soil upon the same footing as the English tenant farmer, with one great proprietor as the master of them all: the State. This arrangement of the economic world would make it possible for the single individual to accumulate personal property by his sagacity and industry as at present, although not to such an enormous extent as the fortunes of the pirates and parasites of our modern civilization. The talented, the industrious man would find in a more luxurious manner of living the reward for his greater ability or efforts, the man of mediocre capabilities and the indolent man, would be obliged to live more frugally, while the individuals who shirked or refused to work would be the only ones condemned to want. The accumulation of enormous quantities of land in the possession of one single tenant could not occur, as he would experience such difficulty in finding laborers to till his land, owing to the fact that as any one willing to work could rent land from the State, no one would have any inducement to drudge for another when he could be his own master and enjoy the blessings and fruits of independence. The development of the system leads necessarily to a condition in which each individual would require only so much land as he alone, or with the help of his family, could successfully cultivate. The unnatural development of manufacturing industries at the expense of the agricultural, would thus be prevented. For as the individual would have it in his power to become an independent farmer as easily as a, factory operative, he would not enter upon the latter career unless it offered him a pleasanter and more profitable existence than farming, and the multitudes now seeking work in such numbers in the factories, underbidding each other, and satisfied with the very smallest possible amount of life’s goods and enjoyments, such a class would be inconceivable in a society reorganized according to this system. Real difficulties in carrying it out would not arise until the country became too densely populated and the soil exhausted. When these conditions arrive and it is found impossible to supply all the demands for productive land and factories, then a part of the young people must decide upon emigration. However, an extremely intensive cultivation of the soil, such as I mentioned above, will postpone this necessity to a far distant future.
There is no doubt but what this system is a kind of Communism. But let him who shudders and turns pale at this word, remember that we are living now in the midst of a complete Communism, only it is a passive instead of an active Communism. We have no community in possessions, but we have a community in debts. No one is shocked at the fact that every citizen merely on account of his being a citizen of the State, is a debtor to an amount varying in different countries; in France for example, it is nearly $120 per capita. Why should any one be shocked at the idea of the citizen owning, instead of owing, in consequence of a complete revolution, a corresponding amount of property, if the State should possess common property as well as common debts? In such a case the State would not be always taking taxes from its citizens, but distributing benefits among them, as it now does to a small number of them, comprising the privileged class. Besides, the State already possesses property of all kinds in buildings, lands, forests, ships etc. The existence of this property, which is certainly not individual possessions but belongs collectively and indivisibly to all the citizens together, is certainly communism but it is not recognized as such by the people, because the forms of government and the public institutions inherited from the Middle Ages, favor the idea that this common property is an individual property belonging to the king or ruler of the state whoever he may be. The public debts, public property and taxation are not the only forms in which Communism exists in our civilization. Certain kinds of credits are nothing but the rankest Communism. When one man lends another money from his pocket or offers him a draft secured by a mortgage upon his private fortune, which is accepted by a third person like so much cash, then it is practically an exchange of individual property. But when a bank offers unsecured notes in circulation—and in many banks the amount of unsecured notes is a third or more of the entire number of notes in circulation—and gives a man in exchange for his signature on a note, a number of these unsecured notes with which he can go forth and buy anything he wishes, then the transaction is an act of the most complete Communism. The bank does not give its saved-up labor, that is gold, but a certificate for certain labor to be performed in the future. The fact that the community will give up goods, receiving these unsecured notes in exchange, is a proof of the respect in which mankind holds this principle of human solidarity, and a recognition of the concomitant fact that the individual member of the community has a right to a share in the goods existing in it, even when he can not offer in exchange for this share any personally produced equivalent.
The absorption of all goods into the public property after the death of the accumulator, would lead to an almost inexhaustible public fund, without interfering with individual possession. Each member of the community would have then his individual and general property as he has his baptismal and family name. The public property with which he is born, is like his family name; the private fortune which he accumulates during the course of his life and of which he is the sole, unmolested proprietor and usufructuary, is his baptismal name, and both taken together represent his economic personality as the names represent his personality as a citizen. While he is toiling for himself he is working for the community, which will some day fall heir to all the surplus remaining after his expenditures have ceased. The public fortune will be a vast reservoir, receiving the surplus of the rich and dealing out blessings to the poor, regaining its normal level once in every generation and thus equalizing the inequalities in the distribution of property, which inheritance on the contrary, fixes indelibly and increases in each generation.
To such a new arrangement of the politico-economical organization of society the world must come at last, because reason and the ideas of mankind in regard to man and the universe based upon natural science, demand it. One single fundamental principle must govern society, and this principle must be either individualism, that is, egotism or the solidarity, the cohesive fellowship of mankind, that is, altruism. At the present day neither fellowship nor egotism are ruling alone, but a combination of both, which is as unreasonable as it is inconsistent. Possession is organized upon a personal basis and egotism reaches in the laws governing inheritance the utmost limits to which it can attain, by not only seizing by stealth and violence everything that it can lay hands on, but by clinging to the plunder forever and ever and excluding the rest of mankind from ever sharing in its benefits. The man of property however, will not allow the man without property to call that principle to his aid to which the former owes his wealth. Fortunes are accumulated in the name of individualism; but they are defended in the name of human solidarity. The rich man enjoys his disproportionate share of life’s blessings of which he has made himself master by unblushing egotism; but when the poor man helps himself to them with some of the rich man’s egotism and selfishness, he is arrested. In the form of usury and speculation the unscrupulous furtherance of self-interest is allowable, but it is strictly forbidden when it takes the form of robbery and theft. The same principle applied in the former case is a merit, in the other a crime. Human reason revolts at such ideas. If egotism is to be preached let it be consistent and assert its right in all cases. If it is right for the rich man to luxuriate in a life of leisure because he has been able to get possession of landed estates or to take advantage of the labor of others, then it must also be conceded to be right for the poor man to strike him dead and take possession of his property as the spoils of victory, if he has the courage and strength to undertake and carry through such an undertaking. This is logical. It is true that such logic would soon bring society to destruction and our civilization to the dogs, and men would become like beasts of prey wandering alone through the land and tearing each other to pieces. But any one who is not pleased with this abstract aim of our social development, egotism, has no other alternative before him but to accept the other sole principle, fellowship. The motto will no longer be: Every one for himself, but: One for all and all for each. Society will then assume the responsibility of supporting and educating the youth of the country until they can earn their own livelihood, of supporting those too old and feeble to support themselves, of coming to the aid of infirmity, without allowing hunger and distress to exist except as the punishment of voluntary idleness. But these responsibilities can only be accepted and fulfilled upon one condition: the abolition of the right of inheritance.
Great catastrophes are looming up on the field of political economy and it will not be possible to ignore them much longer. As long as the masses were religious, they could be consoled for their wretchedness on earth by promises of unlimited bliss in the future. But today they are becoming more enlightened and the number of those patient sufferers is daily growing less who find in the Host a satisfactory substitute for their dinner and accept the priests’ order on the place waiting for them in paradise with as much pleasure as if it were some good terrestrial farm of which they could take immediate possession. The poor count their numbers and those of the rich and realize that they are constantly growing more numerous and stronger than the latter. They examine the sources of wealth and they find that speculating, plundering and inheriting have no more rational justification for existing than robbery and theft, and yet the latter are prosecuted by the laws. The increasing disinheritance of the masses by their deprivation of land and by the increasing accumulations of property in the hands of a few, will make the economic wrongs more and more intolerable. The moment that the millions acquire in addition to their hunger, a knowledge of the remote causes to which it is due, they will remove and overthrow all obstacles that stand between them and the right of satisfying their appetite. Hunger is one of the few elementary forces which neither threats nor persuasion can permanently control. Hence it is the power which will probably raze the present structure of society level with the ground, in spite of its foundations of superstition and selfishness—a task beyond the power of philosophy alone.