essays

This is part of a series

1897

After Nestor: True Communism is in the Grave

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

Tucker’s affinity for (stateless) socialism did not make the leap to property-less communism, a situation waiting for us all in death.

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

Part Six: Communism

 

Should Labor be Paid or Not? 

(published in Liberty on April 28, 1888)

In No. 121 of Liberty, criticising an attempt of Kropotkine to identify Communism and Individualism, I charged him with ignoring “the real question whether Communism will permit the individual to labor independently, own tools, sell his labor or his products, and buy the labor or products of others.” In Herr Most’s eyes this is so outrageous that, in reprinting it, he puts the words the “labor of others” in large black type. Most being a Communist, he must, to be consistent, object to the purchase and sale of anything whatever; but why he should particularly object to the purchase and sale of labor is more than I can understand. Really, in the last analysis, labor is the only thing that has any title to be bought or sold. Is there any just basis of price except cost? And is there anything that costs except labor or suffering (another name for labor)? Labor should be paid! Horrible, isn’t it? Why, I thought that the fact that it is not paid was the whole grievance. “Unpaid labor” has been the chief complaint of all Socialists, and that labor should get its reward has been their chief contention. Suppose I had said to Kropotkine that the real question is whether Communism will permit individuals to exchange their labor or products on their own terms. Would Herr Most have been so shocked? Would he have printed that in black type? Yet in another form I said precisely that.

If the men who oppose wages—that is, the purchase and sale of labor—were capable of analyzing their thought and feelings, they would see that what really excites their anger is not the fact that labor is bought and sold, but the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labor, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labor by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labor, and that, but for the privilege, would be enjoyed by all gratuitously. And to such a state of things I am as much opposed as any one. But the minute you remove privilege, the class that now enjoy it will be forced to sell their labor, and then, when there will be nothing but labor with which to buy labor, the distinction between wage-payers and wage-receivers will be wiped out, and every man will be a laborer exchanging with fellow-laborers. Not to abolish wages, but to make every man dependent upon wages and to secure to every man his whole wages is the aim of Anarchistic Socialism. What Anarchistic Socialism aims to abolish is usury. It does not want to deprive labor of its reward; it wants to deprive capital of its reward. It does not hold that labor should not be sold; it holds that capital should not be hired at usury.

But, says Herr Most, this idea of a free labor market from which privilege is eliminated is nothing but “consistent Manchesterism.” Well, what better can a man who professes Anarchism want than that? For the principle of Manchesterism is liberty, and consistent Manchesterism is consistent adherence to liberty. The only inconsistency of the Manchester men lies in their infidelity to liberty in some of its phases. And this infidelity to liberty in some of its phases is precisely the fatal inconsistency of the Freiheit school,—the only difference between its adherents and the Manchester men being that in many of the phases in which the latter are infidel the former are faithful, while in many of those in which the latter are faithful the former are infidel. Yes, genuine Anarchism is consistent Manchesterism, and Communistic or pseudo-Anarchism is inconsistent Manchesterism. “I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word.”

 

Does Competition Mean War? 

(published in Liberty on August 4, 1888)

To the Editor of Liberty:

Your thought-provoking controversy with Herr Most suggests this question: Whether is Individualism or Communism more consistent with a society resting upon credit and mutual confidence, or, to put it another way, whether is competition or co-operation the truest expression of that mutual trust and fraternal good-will which alone can replace present forms of authority, usages and customs as the social bond of union?

The answer seems obvious enough. Competition, if it means anything at all, means war, and, so far from tending to enhance the growth of mutual confidence, must generate division and hostility among men. If egoistic liberty demands competition as its necessary corollary, every man becomes a social Ishmael. The state of veiled warfare thus implied where underhand cunning takes the place of open force is doubtless not without its attractions to many minds, but to propose mutual confidence as its regulative principle has all the appearance of making a declaration of war in terms of peace. No, surely credit and mutual confidence, with everything thereby implied, rightly belong to an order of things where unity and good-fellowship characterize all human relations, and would flourish best where co-operation finds its complete expression,—viz., in Communism.

W.T. Horn

The supposition that competition means war rests upon old notions and false phrases that have been long current, but are rapidly passing into the limbo of exploded fallacies. Competition means war only when it is in some way restricted, either in scope or intensity,—that is, when it is not perfectly free competition; for then its benefits are won by one class at the expense of another, instead of by all at the expense of nature’s forces. When universal and unrestricted, competition means the most perfect peace and the truest co-operation; for then it becomes simply a test of forces resulting in their most advantageous utilization. As soon as the demand for labor begins to exceed the supply, making it an easy matter for every one to get work at wages equal to his product, it is for the interest of all (including his immediate competitors) that the best man should win; which is another way of saying that, where freedom prevails, competition and co-operation are identical. For further proof and elaboration of this proposition I refer Mr. Horn to Andrews’s Science of Society and Fowler’s pamphlets on Co-operation. The real problem, then, is to make the demand for labor greater than the supply, and this can only be done through competition in the supply of money or use of credit. This is abundantly shown in Greene’s Mutual Banking and the financial writings of Proudhon and Spooner. My correspondent seems filled with the sentiment of good-fellowship, but ignorant of the science thereof, and even of the fact that there is such a science. He will find this science expounded in the works already named. If, after studying and mastering these, he still should have any doubts, Liberty will then try to set them at rest.

 

Competition and Monopoly Confounded. 

(published in Liberty on September 1, 1888)

To the Editor of Liberty:

…Pardon me, Mr. Tucker, but are you quite sure that the supposition in question rests upon nothing more than “old notions and false phrases”? Go out into the highways and byeways of the work-a-day world, look around you, and then tell us candidly if what you see there is likely to inspire any lover of his kind with a wish to foster competition.

Ah! but you reply: “This is not free competition; this is monopoly and privilege.”

Exactly so, but what is monopoly but the very soul of competition? I venture to submit that it is not for wealth per se men strive, but for the mastership it confers; hence, if you deny the spoils of victory to the victor, you sheathe the sword forever. Monopolies and privileges of every kind are nothing more than resultants of a competition as free as nature could make it, for even the grand old Sphinx herself has not been able to evolve “equal liberty” from the free competition of unequal forces.

When the benefits of competition cease to “be won by one class at the expense of another,” and when they are shared “by all at the expense of nature’s forces,” competition loses its raison d’être and dies.

When lower and semi-barbarous economic forms are subjected to the strong solvent action of higher ethical concepts, they disappear; that is to say, when mutual confidence and good-fellowship prevail over hostility and love of mastership, competition must give place to co-operation; hence, to my mind, there is no escape from the conclusion that competition means war so long as it is the economic expression of hostility and mastership, and after that it will mean—nothing. “Equal liberty,” however, would still remain, for what is it at bottom but community of interest?

W.T. Horn

What the person who goes out into the work-a-day world will see there depends very much upon the power of his mental vision. If that is strong enough to enable him to see that the evils around him are caused by a prohibition of competition in certain directions, it is not unlikely that he will be filled with a “wish to foster competition.” Such, however, will not be the case with a man who so misapprehends competition as to suppose that monopoly is its soul. Instead of its soul, it is its antithesis.

Whatever the reason for which men strive for wealth, as a general thing they get it, not by competition, but by the application of force to the suppression of certain kinds of competition,—in other words, by governmental institution and protection of monopoly.

Inasmuch as the monopolist is the victor, it is true that to deny him the spoils of victory is to sheathe the sword of monopoly. But you do not thereby sheathe the sword of competition (if you insist on calling it a sword), because competition yields no spoils to the victor, but only wages to the laborer.

When my correspondent says that all monopolies are “resultants of a competition as free as nature could make it,” he makes competition inclusive of the struggle between invasive forces, whereas he ought to know that free competition, in the economic sense of the phrase, implies the suppression of invasive forces, leaving a free field for the exercise of those that are non-invasive.

If a man were to declare that, when the benefits of labor cease to be won by one class at the expense of another and when they are shared by all at the expense of nature’s forces, labor loses its raison d’être and dies, his sanity would not long remain unquestioned; but the folly of such an utterance is not lessened an iota by the substitution of the word competition for the word labor. As long as the gastric juice continues to insist upon its rights, I fancy that neither labor nor competition will lack a raison d’être, even though the laborer and competitor should find himself under the necessity of wresting his “spoils” from the bosom of his mother earth instead of from the pocket of his brother man.

In Mrs. Glass’s recipe for cooking a hare, the first thing was to catch the hare. So in Mr. Horn’s recipe for the solution of economic forms in ethical concepts, the first thing is to get the concepts. Now, the concepts of mutual confidence and good-fellowship are not to be obtained by preaching,—otherwise the church militant would long ago have become the church triumphant; or by force,—otherwise progress would have gone hand in hand with authority instead of with liberty; but only by unrestricted freedom,—that is, by competition, the necessary condition of confidence, fellowship, and co-operation, which can never come as long as monopoly, the “economic expression of hostility and mastership,” continues to exist.

 

On Picket Duty.

In a speech recently delivered in Paris, Kropotkine said: “As the idea of the inviolability of the individual’s home life has developed during the second half of our century, so the idea of collective right to everything that serves in the production of wealth has developed in the masses. This is a fact; and whoever wants to live, as we do, with the life of the people and follow its development will admit that this affirmation is but an accurate summary of popular aspirations.” Then Kropotkinian Anarchism means the liberty to eat, but not to cook; to drink, but not to brew; to wear, but not to spin; to dwell, but not to build; to give, but not to sell or buy; to think, but not to print; to speak, but not to hire a hall; to dance, but not to pay the fiddler. O Absurdity! is there any length to which thou wilt not go?—Liberty, July 3, 1886.

The Socialistic municipality of St. Etienne, France, has abolished the common grave to which heretofore have been consigned all bodies buried at the public expense. Why those whose dearest wish is to institute Communism in everything this side of the grave should object to it in the grave itself is incomprehensible to an Anarchist. One would suppose that, if Communism must be accepted at all, it would be found less intolerable than anywhere else in the common dust of earth, to which we all return. But it seems to be the aim of the Communists and State Socialists to destroy all individuality that exists and make a pretence of it after it has gone,—to murder men and worship their ghosts.—Liberty, July 7, 1888.

Kropotkine, arguing in favor of Communism, says that he has “always observed that workers with difficulty understand the possibility of a wage-system of labor-checks and like artificial inventions of Socialists,” but has been “struck on the contrary by the easiness with which they always accept Communist principles.” Was Kropotkine ever struck by the easiness with which simple-minded people accept the creation theory and the difficulty with which they understand the possibility of evolution? If so, did he ever use this fact as an argument in favor of the creation hypothesis? Just as it is easier to rest satisfied with the statement, “Male and female created he them,” than to trace in the geological strata the intricacies in the evolution of species, so it is easier to say that every man shall have whatever he wants than to find the economic law by which every man may get the equivalent of his product. The ways of Faith are direct and easy to follow, but their goal is a quagmire; whereas the ways of Science, however devious and difficult to tread, lead to solid ground at last. Communism belongs to the Age of Faith, Anarchistic Socialism to the Age of Science.—Liberty, September 15, 1888.

This is part of a series