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After Nestor: Karl Marx as Friend and Foe

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

Reflecting on the death of Karl Marx, Tucker proclaims his high regard for Marx-as-Egalitarian…and his disgust for Marx-as-Authoritarian.

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

Part Eight: Miscellaneous


Solutions of the Labor Problem

(published first in Liberty, September 12, 1891)

Apropos of Labor Day, the Boston Herald printed in its issue of September 6 a collection of proposed solutions of the labor problem, received in response to a question which it had invited certain students and labor leaders to answer. The question was this: “How is a just distribution of the products of labor to be obtained?” The answers were from two hundred to five hundred words in length; below I give the essence of each:

George E. McNeill, general organizer of the Federation of Labor: – By a reduction of the hours of labor.

Edward Atkinson, political economist: – If laborers think themselves inadequately rewarded, they should work for themselves. The “scabs” should have unions of their own.

Edward S. Huntington, secretary of the First Nationalist Club: – By the organization of an all-inclusive trust by the laborers.

Albert Ross (Lynn Boyd Porter), novelist: – No individuals can justly distribute the products of other men’s labor. Hence the State must do it.

Charles E. Bowers, Nationalist: – By national control and management of industries.

H. R. Legate, leader of the Third Party: – By public ownership of the means of production and distribution.

Henry Abrahams, secretary of the Boston Central Labor Union: – Organization of trades; reduction of the hours of labor; co-operation.

William H. Sayward, secretary of the National Association of Builders: – Absolute justice in distribution is unattainable. Improvement can be made by joint consideration and united action of laborers and employers.

M. J. Bishop, State worthy foreman, K. of L.: – By organizing and educating the people to demand control of the natural monopolies and the transportation of intelligence, passengers, and freight.

P. C. Kelly, secretary-treasurer of the State Assembly and D. A. 30, K. of L.: – By the nationalization of mines, railroads, telegraphs, telephones, and the levying of income taxes.

W. J. Shields, ex-president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners: – The producers should free themselves from private control of all natural monopolies, and substitute government control and management.

George D. Moulton, Socialist: – By Socialism, to be reached through reduction of the hours of labor and a gradual increase of wages.

Harry Lloyd, president of the Carpenters’ District Council: – By reduction of the hours of labor, destruction of the wage system, co-operation, profit-sharing, and government ownership of land, mines, and patents.

Some of the solutions proposed in the foregoing answers are as inadequate as Mrs. Partington’s broom, others were buried by their authors in a flow of sentimentalism, and still others were presented so unsystematically and unscientifically that they could not influence reasoning minds.

Besides these, however, there were two answers that were analytical, that showed a true conception of the problem, and that made a systematic attempt to meet them. I have no bump of modesty, and so am able to say unblushingly that one of these was written by Edward Bellamy and the other by myself. I give them in full:

Edward Bellamy, author of “Looking Backward” and founder of Nationalism:

“Workmen will not receive a just proportion of the product of their labor until they receive the whole product. In order to receive the whole product, they must receive the profits which now go to the employers, in addition to their wages. In order to receive the profits which now go to the employers, they must become their own employers. The only way by which they can become their own employers is to assume through their salaried agents the conduct of industry as they have already (in this country) assumed the conduct of political affairs. The president, governor, and mayor do not make a profit on the business of the nation, State, or city, as employers do upon the industries which they manage. These and all other public officials receive salaries only, as agents, the business being conducted for the benefit of the people as the principals.

“There is no more sense in permitting the industrial affairs of this country to be run for private profit than there would be in allowing their political affairs to be so exploited. Our industries are just as properly public business as our politics, and a great deal more important to us all.

“As soon as the people wake up to the realization of this fact, there will be no labor question left. There will be no ground left for a dispute between workmen and capitalists, for every one will be at one and the same time employer and employee.”

Benjamin R. Tucker, Anarchist:

“A just distribution of the products of labor is to be obtained by destroying all sources of income except labor. These sources may be summed up in one word, – usury: and the three principal forms of usury are interest, rent, and profit. These all rest upon legal privilege and monopoly, and the way to destroy them is to destroy legal privilege and monopoly. The worst monopoly of all is that of the power to issue money, which power is now restricted to the holders of a certain kind of property, – government bonds and gold and silver. If the holders of all kinds of property were equally privileged to issue money, not as legal tender, but acceptable only on its merits, competition would reduce the rate of discount, and therefore of interest on capital, to the mere cost of banking, which is much less than one per cent. And even this percentage would not be interest, properly speaking, but simply payment for the labor and expense of banking. When money could be had at such a rate and capital bought with it, of course no one would borrow capital at a higher rate. Free competition in banking would thus abolish interest, all rent except ground rent, and all profit on merchandise not enjoying the benefit of some special monopoly.

“In the absence of monopoly of any kind, whatever the merchant “makes” out of his business is not strictly profit, but the wages of mercantile labor, determined by competition. This wage is what will remain after the abolition of the money monopoly, of all tariffs and taxes on industry and trade, and of all patents and copyrights.

“That form of usury known as ground rent rests on land monopoly; that is, on government protection of land titles not based on personal occupancy and use. If this protection were withdrawn, landlordism would disappear, and ground rent would therefore exist no longer in its monopolistic form, but only in its economic form; in other words, the only existing rent would be the advantage accruing to the owner and occupier from superiority of soil or site.

“The growing diversity of industry, coupled with the greater mobility that will be enjoyed by labor as soon as greater mobility is given to capital by the abolition of the monopolies, will have a string and constant tendency to neutralize the existing inequalities of soil and site, and thus economic rent will gradually approach its vanishing point. Thus the whole ground is covered, and all forms of usury are abolished. All the drains upon labor being stopped, labor will be left in possession of its product, which is the solution of the problem. This solution is that which Anarchism offers.”

The contrast between the robust uprightness and straightforwardness of these two answers and the flaccid incoherence of most of the others emphasizes my constant contention that the labor problem is to be settled between extreme State Socialism and extreme Anarchism, and that the struggle will become clear and direct in proportion as all compromises disappear and leave an open field. When this struggle comes, the weak point in Mr. Bellamy’s position will be located. I point it out in advance. It lies in his enormous assumptions that laborers, in order to receive the profits which now go to the employers, must become their own employers, and that the only way by which they can do this is to assume through their salaried agents the conduct of industry. The Anarchistic solution shows that there is no such must and no such only. When interest, rent, and profit disappear under the influence of free money, free land, and free trade, it will make no difference whether men work for themselves, or are employed, or employ others. In any case they can get nothing but that wage for their labor which free competition determines. Therefore they need not become their own employers. Perhaps, however, they will prefer to do so. But in that case they need not assume the conduct of industry through their salaried agents. There is another way. Any of them that choose will be enabled through mutual banking to secure means of production whereby to conduct whatever industry they desire. This other way, being the way of liberty, is the better way, and is destined to triumph over Mr. Bellamy’s way, which is the way of authority and coercion.

I have reserved to the last the only remaining answer among those printed in the Herald, that of Frank K. Foster, editor of the Labor Leader. This, too, I give in full, because of its significance.

The prime factors making toward the unjust distribution of the products of labor are profits, rent, and interest. In his direct relation to the employer, or buyer of labor, – not necessarily a capitalist, – the laborer has a remedy in every agency that gives him greater equality of bargaining power. The scope of this remedy is limited by the margin of profit on the joint product of the laborer and the “captains of industry.” In this class of agencies are to be reckoned the trades unions, and their influences of agitation and education. Incidentally, the problems of immigration, of mobility of labor, and of the unwise and selfish competition (between the laborers themselves) for employment, are allied to this branch of the subject. Broadly speaking, in the field of adult labor, the principle of free association may be trusted to supply a remedy that shall adjust the supply of labor to meet the demand, and, by raising wages and regulating conditions, obtain for the laborer his just share of the profits of production. As wage earners, it is with this economic side of the question we have mainly to do.

The problems of rent and interest are not, in the same sense, class questions, for they affect the man who buys and the man who sells the commodity of labor. The wage earner, as a unit in the productive social system, is concerned, however, in the promotion of those reforms which will lessen the power of monopoly in land and money, and thus make a larger margin of profit upon production to be divided between himself and employer.

The taxation of land held for speculative purposes to its full market value, the abolition of special privileges granted by the State to bankers, and the repeal of tariff laws taxing the many for the enrichment of the few, are among the more important remedies of this class.

Absolutely just distribution of the products of labor and absolute freedom from oppression by the possessors of power and pelf is only to be looked for in an ideal social state made up of creatures vastly different from the race in whose veins circulate the blood of old Adam.

It is surely a reasonable hope that justice and liberty may develop with the increasing years, and to my mind this development may come, not by legislative enactment, but through the broader avenue of the education and upbuilding of the individuals composing our complex civilization.

This remarkable utterance, in everything except its sentimental remark about “unwise and selfish competition” and its inconsistent adherence to the single-tax fallacy, is thoroughly Anarchistic, and shows that its author, not long ago a stanch State Socialist, has already accepted the “better way” of liberty.


Karl Marx as Friend and Foe.

(published in Liberty on April 14, 1883)

By the death of Karl Marx the cause of labor has lost one of the most faithful friends it ever had. Liberty says thus much in hearty tribute to the sincerity and hearty steadfastness of the man who, perhaps to a greater extent than any other, represented, by nature and by doctrine, the principle of authority which we live to combat. Anarchism knew in him its bitterest enemy, and yet every Anarchist must hold his memory in respect. Strangely mingled feelings of admiration and abhorrence are simultaneously inspired in us by contemplation of this great man’s career. Toward the two fundamental principles of the revolution of to-day he occupied an exactly contradictory attitude. Intense as was his love of equality, no less so was his hatred of liberty. The former found expression in one of the most masterly expositions of the infamous nature and office of capital ever put into print; the latter in a sweeping scheme of State supremacy and absorption, involving a practical annihilation of the individual. The enormous service done by the one was well-nigh neutralized by the injurious effects resulting from his advocacy of the other. For Karl Marx, the égalitaire, we feel the profoundest respect; as for Karl Marx, the autoritaire, we must consider him an enemy. Liberty said as much in its first issue, and sees no reason to change its mind. He was an honest man, a strong man, a humanitarian, and the promulgator of much vitally important truth, but on the most vital question of politics and economy he was persistently and irretrievably mistaken.

We cannot, then, join in the thoughtless, indiscreet, and indiscriminate laudation of his memory indulged in so generally by the labor press and on the labor platform. Perhaps, however, we might pass it by without protest, did it not involve injustice and ingratitude to other and greater men. The extravagant claim of precedence as a radical political economist put forward for Karl Marx by his friends must not be allowed to overshadow the work of his superiors. We give an instance of this claim, taken from the resolutions passed unanimously by the great Cooper Union meeting held in honor of Marx: “In the field of economic social science he was the first to prove by statistical facts and by reasoning based upon universally recognized principles of political economy that capitalistic production must necessarily lead to the monopolizing and concentrating of all industry into the hands of a few, and thus, by robbing the working class of the fruits of their toil, reduce them to absolute slavery and degradation.” These words were read to the audience in English by Philip Van Patten and in German by our worthy comrade, Justus Schwab. Is it possible that these men are so utterly unacquainted with the literature of Socialism that they do not know this statement to be false, and that the tendency and consequence of capitalistic production referred to were demonstrated to the world time and again during the twenty years preceding the publication of Das Kapital, with a wealth of learning, a cogency and subtlety of reasoning, and an ardor of style to which Karl Marx could not so much as pretend? In the numerous works of P. J. Proudhon, published between 1840 and 1860, this notable truth was turned over and over and inside out until well-nigh every phase of it had been presented to the light.

What was the economic theory developed by Karl Marx? That we may not be accused of stating it unfairly, we give below an admirable outline of it drown by Benoit Malon, a prominent French Socialist, in sympathy with Marx’s thought. Aside from the special purpose which we have in quoting it, it is in itself well worth the space which it requires, being in the main a succinct and concise statement of the true principles of political economy:

All societies that have existed thus far in history have one common characteristic,—the struggle of classes. Revolutions have changed the conditions of this struggle, but have not suppressed it. Though the bourgeoisie has taken the place of feudalism, which was itself the successor of the old patrician order, and though slavery and serfdom have been succeeded by the prolétariat, the situation has retained these two distinctive characteristics,—“the merciless oppression and exploitation of the inferior class by the dominant class, and the struggle, either open or concealed, but deadly and constant, of the classes thus confronting each other.”

The bourgeoisie, to obtain power, had to invoke political and economic liberty. In the name of the latter, which it has falsified, and aided by scientific and industrial progress, it has revolutionized production and inaugurated the system of capitalistic production under which all wealth appears as an immense accumulation of merchandise formed elementarily upon an isolated quantity of that wealth.

Everything destined for the satisfaction of a human need has a value of utility; as merchandise it has a value of exchange. Value of exchange is the quantitative relation governing the equivalence and exchangeability of useful objects.

As the most eminent economists have shown, notably Ricardo, this quantitative relation, this measure of value, is time spent in labor. This, of course, can refer only to the amount of labor necessary upon an average and performed with average skill, mechanical facilities, and industry under the normal industrial conditions of the day.

It seems, therefore, that every one should be able to buy, in return for his labor, an amount of utilities and exchangeable values equivalent to those produced by him.

Nevertheless, such is not the case. “The accumulation of wealth at one of the poles of society keeps pace with the accumulation, at the other pole, of the misery, subjection, and moral degradation of the class from whose product capital is born.”

How happens this? Because, by a series of robberies which, though sometimes legal, are none the less real, the productive forces, as fast as they have come into play, have been appropriated by privileged persons who, thanks to this instrumentum regni, control labor and exploit laborers.

To-day he who is destined to become a capitalist goes into the market furnished with money. He first buys tools and raw materials, and then, in order to operate them, buys the workingman’s power of labor, the sole source of value. He sets them to work. The total product goes into the capitalist’s hands, who sells it for more than it cost him. Of the plus-value capital is born; it increases in proportion to the quantity of plus-value or labor not paid for. All capital, then, is an accumulation of the surplus labor of another, or labor not paid for in wages.

For this singular state of things individuals are not to be held responsible; it is the result of our capitalistic society, for all events, all individual acts are but the processus of inevitable forces slowly modifiable, since, “when a society has succeeded in discovering the path of the natural law which governs its moment, it can neither clear it at a leap nor abolish by decree the phases of its natural development. But it can shorten the period of gestation and lessen the pains of delivery.”

We cannot, then, go against the tendencies of a society, but only direct them toward the general good. So capitalistic society goes on irresistibly concentrating capital.

To attempt to stop this movement would be puerile; the necessary step is to pass from the inevitable monopolization of the forces of production and circulation to their nationalization, and that by a series of legal measures resulting from the capture of political power by the working classes.

In the meantime the evil will grow. By virtue of the law of wages the increase in the productivity of labor by the perfecting of machinery increases the frequency of dull seasons and makes poverty more general by diminishing the demand for and augmenting the supply of laborers.

That is easily understood.

For the natural production of values of utility determined and regulated by real or fancied needs, which was in vogue until the eighteenth century, is substituted the mercantile production of values of exchange,—a production without rule or measure, which runs after the buyer and stops in its headlong course only when the markets of the world are gorged to overflowing. Then millions out of the hundreds of millions of prolétaireswho have been engaged in this production are thrown out of work and their ranks are thinned by hunger, all in consequence of the superabundance created by an unregulated production.

The new economic forces which the bourgeoisie has appropriated have not completed their development, and even now the bourgeois envelope of capitalistic production can no longer contain them. Just as industry on a small scale was violently broken down because it obstructed production, so capitalistic privileges, beginning to obstruct the production which they developed, will be broken down in their turn; for the concentration of the means of production and the socialization of labor are reaching a point which renders them incompatible with their capitalistic envelope.

At this point the prolétariat, like the bourgeoisie, will seize political power for the purpose of abolishing classes and socializing the forces of production and circulation in the same order that they have been monopolized by capitalistic feudalism.

The foregoing is an admirable argument, and Liberty endorses the whole of it, excepting a few phrases concerning the nationalization of industry and the assumption of political power by the working people; but it contains literally nothing in substantiation of the claim made for Marx in the Cooper Institute resolutions. Proudhon was years before Marx with nearly every link in this logical chain. We stand ready to give volume, chapter, and page of his writings for the historical persistence of class struggles in successive manifestations, for the bourgeoisie’s appeal to liberty and its infidelity thereto, for the theory that labor is the source and measure of value, for the laborer’s inability to repurchase his product in consequence of the privileged capitalist’s practice of keeping back a part of it from his wages, and for the process of the monopolistic concentration of capital and its disastrous results. The vital difference between Proudhon and Marx is to be found in the respective remedies which they proposed. Marx would nationalize the productive and distributive forces; Proudhon would individualize and associate them. Marx would make the laborers political masters; Proudhon would abolish political mastership entirely. Marx would abolish usury by having the State lay violent hands on all industry and business and conduct it on the cost principle; Proudhon would abolish usury by disconnecting the State entirely from industry and business and forming a system of free banks which would furnish credit at cost to every industrious and deserving person, and thus place the means of production within the reach of all. Marx believed in compulsory majority rule; Proudhon believed in the voluntary principle. In short, Marx was an autoritaire; Proudhon was a champion of Liberty.

Call Marx, then, the father of State Socialism, if you will; but we dispute his paternity of the general principles of economy on which all schools of Socialism agree. To be sure, it is not of the greatest consequence who was the first with these doctrines. As Proudhon himself asks: “Do we eulogize the man who first perceives the dawn?” But if any discrimination is to be made, let it be a just one. There is much, very much that can be truly said in honor of Karl Marx. Let us be satisfied with that, then, and not attempt to magnify his grandeur by denying, belittling, or ignoring the services of men greater than he.

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