Still Avoiding the Issue

Still Avoiding the Issue

[Liberty, May 12, 1888.]

As I expected, Herr Most, in his controversy with me upon private property, Communism, and the State, is as reluctant as ever to come to close quarters in any attempt to destroy my main position, and, for sole response to my challenge to do so, crouches behind the name of Marx, not daring even to attempt upon his own account the use of the weapons with which Marx has assailed it. Herr Most had promised to accept private property if I would show him that it is compatible with production on the large scale without the exploitation of labor. He warned me, to be sure, against showing this by Proudhon’s banking system. But I answered that he is bound to accept my proposition on the strength of whatever proof I offer, or else demonstrate that the proof offered is no proof at all,—in other words, that he cannot reject my evidence without first refuting it. My proof, I then told him, consists precisely in that principle of freedom and organization of credit which is embodied in Proudhon’s banking system and other systems of a similar nature, and I referred him to a recent essay in which I have explained the process whereby freely organized credit would abolish usury—that is, the exploitation of labor—and make production on the large scale easier than ever without interfering with the institution of private property.(129 ¶ 1)

Now it would naturally be assumed that, in answer to this, some examination would be made of the process referred to and the flaw in it to be pointed out. But did Herr Most do anything of the kind? Not he. His only answer is that Marx disposed of Proudhon’s banking system long ago, that it is fifty years behind the times, and that it is not at all clear that there is any foundation for the claim that, with the prevailing inequalities of property, all could obtain credit. No, Herr Most, nor is it clear that any such claim was ever made by any sane champion of the organization of credit. The real claim is, not that all could straightway get credit if credit were not monopolized, but that, if all or half or a quarter of such credit as could be at once obtained under a free system should be utilized, a tremendous impetus would thereby be given to production and enterprise which would gradually increase the demand for labor and therefore the rate of wages and therefore the number of people able to get credit, until at last every laborer would be able to say to his employer, Here, boss, you are a good business manager, and I am willing to continue to work under your superintendence on a strictly equitable basis; but, unless you are willing to content yourself with a share of our joint product proportional to your share of the labor and give me the balance for my share of the labor, I will work for you no longer, but will set up in business for myself on the capital which I can now obtain on my credit. Herr Most’s misstatement of the claim made by the friends of free banking shows that he has no knowledge of their arguments or system, which probably explains his reluctance to discuss them otherwise than by reiteration of the magic name of Marx. Proudhon’s banking system may be fifty years behind the times, but it is evidently far in advance of the point which Herr Most has reached in the path of economic investigation.(129 ¶ 2)

Even more careful is the wary editor of Freiheit to avoid the following question, which I asked him à propos of his promise: If Communism is really, as Herr Most generally claims, no infringement of liberty, and if in itself it is such a good and perfect thing, why abandon it for private property simply because the possibility of the latter’s existence without the exploitation of labor has been demonstrated? To declare one’s willingness to do so is plainly to affirm that, exploitation aside, private property is superior to Communism, and that, exploitation admitted, Communism is chosen only as the lesser evil. Herr Most knew that it would never do to admit that Communism curtails liberty. Yet he could not answer this question without admitting it. So he prudently let it alone.(129 ¶ 3)

But what, then, does he say in his three-column article?(129 ¶ 4)

Well, for one thing, he tries to make his readers think that I offered my incidental remarks, rather suggestive than conclusive, regarding the likelihood that the Communists’ position, being based on a supposed necessity of great combinations in order to produce on the large scale, might soon be undermined by the tendency, of which symptoms are beginning to appear, towards the simplification and cheapening of machinery,—he tries to make his readers think, I say, that I offered these remarks as a necessary link in my argument. On such grounds, he says, we are expected to believe, etc., giving no hint of my express declaration that I offered this idea for what it was worth and not as essential to my position.(129 ¶ 5)

Nevertheless it is not easy to see why he should regard this thought as so utterly chimerical, when he finds it so easy, in order to show Communism to be practicable, to assume that the time is not far distant when wealth will be so abundant that individuals will not think of quarrelling over its possession, but will live as birds do in their hemp-seed. Of the two hypotheses the latter seems to me the more visionary. Certainly great strides are yet to be taken in labor-saving, and I do not doubt at all that a state of society will be attained in which every sound individual will be able to secure a comfortable existence by a very few hours of toil daily. But that there will ever be any such proportion between human labor and the objects of human consumption as now exists between bird labor and hemp-seed, or that land and other capital will ever be superabundant, is inadmissible. If, however, the means of life shall ever become so utterly divorced from human toil that all men look on all wealth as air is now looked upon, I will then admit that, so far as material enjoyment is concerned, Communism will be practicable (I do not say advisable) without violation of liberty. Until then, I must insist that a State will be necessary to its realization and maintenance.(129 ¶ 6)

But Herr Most asks me, if respect for private property is conceivable without a State, why is not Communism so conceivable? Simply because the only force ever necessary to secure respect for private property is the force of defence,—the force which protects the laborer in the possession of his product or in the free exchange thereof,—while the force required to secure Communism is the force of offence,—the force which compels the laborer to pool his product with the products of all and forbids him to sell his labor or his product. Now, force of offence is the principle of the State, while force of defence is one aspect of the principle of liberty. This is the reason why private property does not imply a State, while Communism does. Herr Most seems to be as ignorant of the real nature of the State as he is of Proudhon’s banking system. In opposing it he acts, not as an intelligent foe of Authority, but simply as a rebel against the powers that be.(129 ¶ 7)

What is the use, in fact, of discussing with him at all? Does he not confess at the very outset of the article I am now examining that, although he has racked his brains, they refuse to perceive my distinction between the laborer’s individual possession of his product and the sum total of legal privileges bestowed upon the holders of wealth? Is there any hope that such a mind will ever grasp an economic law? The reason he gives for his inability to recognize this distinction is his conviction that private possession and privilege are inseparable. The more one calls his own, he says, the less others will be able to possess. This is not true where all property rests on a labor title, and no other property do I favor. It is only true of the increase of property through usury. But usury, as has already been shown, rests on privilege. When the property of one increases through an advance in the productivity of his labor, the property of others, far from decreasing on that account, increases to an almost equal extent. This year A produces 100 in hats and B 100 in shoes. Each consumes 50 in his own product, and exchanges the remaining 50 for the other’s remaining 50. Suppose that next year A’s production remains the same, but that B’s, with no extra labor, rises to 200. In that case A’s remaining 50, instead of exchanging for B’s remaining 50 as this year, will exchange for 100 in B’s product. Under private possession, unaccompanied by usury, more for one man means, not less for another man, but more for all men. Where, then, is the privilege?(129 ¶ 8)

But, after all, it makes very little difference to Herr Most what a man believes in economics. The test of fellowship with him lies in acceptance of dynamite as a cure-all. Though I should prove that my economic views, if realized, would turn our social system inside out, he would not therefore regard me as a revolutionist. He declares outright that I am no revolutionist, because the thought of the coming revolution (by dynamite, he means) makes my flesh creep. Well, I frankly confess that I take no pleasure in the thought of bloodshed and mutilation and death. At these things my feelings revolt. And if delight in them is a requisite of a revolutionist, then indeed I am no revolutionist. When revolutionist and cannibal become synonyms, count me out, if you please. But, though my feelings revolt, I am not mastered by them or made a coward by them. More than from dynamite and blood do I shrink from the thought of a permanent system of society involving the slow starvation of the most industrious and deserving of its members. If I should ever become convinced that the policy of bloodshed is necessary to end our social system, the loudest of to-day’s shriekers for blood would not surpass me in the stoicism with which I would face the inevitable. Indeed, a plumb-liner to the last, I am confident that under such circumstances many who now think me chicken-hearted would condemn the stony-heartedness with which I should favor the utter sacrifice of every feeling of pity to the necessities of the terroristic policy. Neither fear nor sentimentalism, then, dictates my opposition to forcible methods. Such being the case, how stupid, how unfair, in Herr Most, to picture me as crossing myself at the mention of the word revolution simply because I steadfastly act on my well-known belief that force cannot substitute truth for a lie in political economy!(129 ¶ 9)