How Will a Free Society Come, and How Will It Operate?

How Will a Free Society Come, and How Will It Operate?.

The more I read of Anarchist writings, the more I am puzzled to know how they propose to abolish government and usher in free society. Ross Winn says he will not vote. He says, Science has destroyed the power of religious authority; and it will surely undermine the State. How was that destruction made manifest? If I am rightly informed the early colonies, now the United States, compelled people to pay taxes to support the Church until a majority voted not to do so. (1)

Individuals create wealth and individuals should enjoy it. In a sense individuals create wealth; but in another sense the amount of wealth created, or possible of creation, without the cooperation of many individuals is very small. Probably however I need not argue for cooperation as Ross Winn doubtless believes in it. He presents a most attractive consummation in the following paragraph:

I believe that liberty and equality will usher in a fraternity that will annihilate commercialism and the greed of gain. With the land and opportunity free, the laborer will no longer work for others, but supply his own needs with his labor. With the wonderful facilities for manufacturing, the immense aids inventive genius has placed at our disposal, but usurped by government agents, every man could be independent, and the fear of poverty would be unknown, the incentive to accumulate wealth for any other purpose than use would be gone.

That is exactly what the Socialists say, except, possibly, they would change the terms and say fraternity will usher in liberty and equality. But the Socialists say: We propose to educate a majority of the people to a belief in the cooperative commonwealth; take possession of the government and of the means of production and distribution; and let the people operate them collectively for the benefit of all. This has, at least, the merit of being brief, definite, and easily understood; (2) but I am sorry to say that thus far the Anarchists have not seemed to me to present any plan of action. (3) Do they believe in doing merely negative work? Destroy government and all good things will grow spontaneously? (4)

James F. Morton, Jr. writes in Discontent, January 1, What is required is to demonstrate the adaptability of Anarchism to social needs. Can that requirement be met? Mr. Morton seems to try to do this, but tho I read carefully his attempt in this direction, I failed to find the required demonstration. Like Ross Winn he prophesies pleasant results. He tells us no man would have either motive or opportunity for thriving at the expense of his fellows. In my present state of knowledge and progress I am unable to conceive of any means for bringing about this most desirable condition except that proposed by the Socialists. (5) To help me out of my confusion and ignorance, will somebody answer, directly and clearly, this question?—Under Anarchism who would own and operate the transcontinental railways and who would see that a letter I want to send from Denver to New York would get there? (6) I sincerely hope that nobody will point me to the Wells Fargo Express Co. in answering this question. I have seen too much of the operations of express, telegraph, and railroad companies to have any faith at all in private enterprise.

The foregoing is somewhat rambling. I always flounder and stumble when I attempt to write about Anarchy or Anarchism. There are many other questions I would like to have answered but a reply to the one may throw some light on the others.

Celia B. Whitehead

Comment.

1. We have no evidence that the majority ever voted upon this question. We do know, however, that the abolition of the religious tax in America was due to the efforts of a small minority, including such Freethinkers as Jefferson, Franklin, and Paine. It has always been the direct influence of the progressive minority that brought about changes, as for example, the abolition of chattel slavery.

2. The history of political parties shows that they never carry out their programs; and the German and French Socialist parties are especially cases in point, not to mention the various reform parties of America, like the Greenbackers and Populists. Had anything ever been accomplished by political action, the Anarchists might be less positive in rejecting the ballot.

3. Our plan of action is simply education. Before the people can be induced to act they must be informed and educated to a comprehension of the thing they are to achieve; and the work of education does not require participation in elections. Even the Socialist parties must go thru this educational process before they can gain the ballot. Anarchists believe that, when a sufficient number of people are educated to an understanding of the Anarchist philosophy, they will establish that philosophy by ignoring the government and living the Anarchist life.

4. Anarchists believe that government stands in the way of the spontaneous growth of man, and of better social conditions; but our work is not negative, nor do we regard the mere abolition of authority as the end of our efforts. Constructively, we point out that men in a free society would cooperate under the compulsion of self-interest, for the purpose of carrying on those public enterprises which involve large numbers and vast interests; in short, Anarchy would substitute cooperation for capitalism, voluntary action for coercive government.

5. Wherever Socialism has appealed to political action it has either split to pieces, as with the Socialist Labor Party, or has abandoned its principles and compromised with opportunism, as with the German Social Democracy and the Socialist party in France. Hence we dispute the assertion that political Socialism is practical. We can only judge a tree by its fruit.

6. In the absence of government, the private ownership of such vast public enterprises and utilities as the railroads, telegraphs, post office, etc., would be impossible, hence these would become the common possessions of the whole people, who will operate them. What is now successfully performed by private enterprise without governmental direction, would not be impossible for public action; and all that government could do with advantage for the people can be done by the people themselves without government. The present international postal system is carried on by voluntary agreement. It exists thru the cooperative action of the different nations, and all coercive authority is absent. Yet it is a success. Likewise the Red Cross Societies, which came into life by the voluntary efforts of humane individuals when governments had proven their inability to take care of those they maimed and mutilated in their murderous warfares. And wherever the Red Cross Societies have been able to keep aloof from governmental interference they have been the most efficient. Voluntary cooperation is our answer to the question, What will you put in place of authority—government?

This article is part of a debate: How Will A Free Society Operate?

  1. Celia B. Whitehead & Ross Winn, How Will a Free Society Come, and How Will It Operate? (February 9, 1902)
  2. A. LeRoy Loubal, How will a Free Society Operate (March 2, 1902)
  3. Albina L. Washburn, “How will a Free Society Come and How will it Operate?” (April 6, 1902)