Liberty, Labor, and the State.

Today occupies considerable space with an attempt to answer a recent Liberty paragraph in criticism of its characterizing members of labor organizations as slaves by nature. In the first place, the editor objects to the implication which excludes Today from all right to a place in the list of champions of labor. I might explain that no such implication was intended, and that the attack was directed against an error of judgment, not one of sympathy. But it is perhaps well to improve the opportunity created by the objection, and express a few thoughts on the general position and policy of Today and the journals akin to it, such as the Free Life and the Personal Rights Journal.

All these journals ably advocate individualism and vigorously combat State Socialism. In the main, they coincide with the teaching of the Anarchists. Yet I firmly believe that they will exert very little influence and gain next to no importance in the circle of agencies that shall arrest the present tendency of the people to look and walk backward and determine a healthy change in their dispositions and ideas. I believe that theirs will remain a voice crying in the wilderness, and that the promoters of the Socialistic plans have no cause to fear them. Why? Because they do not appreciate properly the exact position of the enemy and do not see where his peculiar strength lies and where his weakness. They fight to exhaustion without inflicting upon the enemy serious damage, and their most heroic efforts cannot, if these tactics continue, check his advance and triumph. State Socialism is strong and is growing stronger and stronger in consequence of the intolerable economic conditions which prevail and the poverty which oppresses the toiling masses. The toilers will not and ought not to submit to such an economic condition as the present with its starvation wages, involuntary idleness for thousands, insecurity and general wretchedness. They see no way out of this save that indicated by the State Socialists; they flock around that standard not because they thoroughly admire it, but because they see no other entitled to preference. To talk to them of liberty, independence, dignity, is to waste energy. Can they be expected to be impressed with the moral and philosophical argumentation of Today or of the Free Life, when even Mill, who certainly understood and felt the value of personal liberty and well knew all there is to be advanced on that side, declared that the Communistic system was preferable to the present, which unjustly condemns masses of honest and industrious laborers to misery and degrading want? Personally I dissent from Mill and, like Mr. Tucker, would rather choose (were it necessary to make this choice) to live in a society resembling our own than to be a member of a slave society organized on the Communistic basis; but I am perfectly sure that the majority of the people would not so choose: they would vote with Mill. Ultimately, after a sad experience, they would perhaps come to adopt our view, but they would insist on making the experiment.

The question which we who desire personal liberty and oppose State Socialism have to settle before we enter the arena is, whether we are prepared to affirm and to demonstrate that liberty can emancipate the laborer and give him the full fruit of his labor; that the present absurd and iniquitous economic condition is the result of State interference to be removed together with its cause; that liberty alone is essential to the development of a system which should satisfy our reason and moral nature. Anarchists claim to be able to support this affirmation, and therefore they hope for success with the intelligent protestants against the existing system. If Today and the Free Life do not feel warranted in seconding the Anarchists, they can accomplish very little by dwelling upon other aspects of the great social problem. And the Anarchists challenge them to refute their economic position, at the same time urging them to duly study it first.

Today recently criticised Dr. Wayland for saying that a country cannot be called free in which little boys work over ten hours. Yet Liberty is bold enough to come to the side of the doctor and emphatically protest that a country in which such things exist is not free. And Liberty's conception of a free country does not differ from Today's. In a country of which the citizens should be free, should enjoy equal opportunities and equal liberty, no necessity could exist for the laborers, speaking generally, to send their little boys to work long days for a trifling sum of money. But in countries in which government assiduously propagates inequality, creates monopolies, grants special privileges, and robs the many for the profit of a few, children have to be sent to work, and the legislation is the cause of it. That country is not free, in which, according to Thorold Rogers, the beggary of the working classes is the direct and deliberate work of politicians and law-makers. Today has never denied that the inequality which exists has resulted partly from the interference of government with industrial matters, but it does not admit that the interference has been the chief cause of the inequality. It is to be hoped that the journals mentioned will investigate the matter and form a decided opinion as to the real causes of the present beggary and slavery of the toiling masses. If the opinion turns out to be similar to ours, well and good; if antagonistic, we stand ready to defend our ground; but let there be an end to the vague and futile talk of ifs and perhapses. It is tiresome.

Coming now to the main question in dispute, I find that Today endeavors to make a two-fold answer to Liberty's criticism. Firstly, it says in effect that the aspect of trades-unionism to which it took exception was not the act of voluntary coöperation for defence against the encroachments of capital, but the tyranny exercised over non-members and members. To which I answer that this was not what the language used plainly conveyed. Not a syllable do I find in reference to the encroachments of those voluntarily associated upon the personal freedom of non-members. The piece in question lamented the readiness with which workingmen submit to the tyranny of the unions and the dictation of the walking-delegates, and described the workmen who thus barter their liberty for a mess of pottage as modern Esaus and slaves by nature. The implication clearly was that free men, those not slaves by nature, would not identify themselves with such unions. And to this I objected, averring that irresistible necessity drives men into unions, and that the very freest among mortals might belong to unions in obedience to the prime law of self-preservation. True, Today denies that in this country the lives of those who unite in trades-unions are usually at stake, but as long as those who so unite do not share its complimentary opinion of this country, they are not to be stigmatized as slaves by nature, however much we may deem them mistaken in their pessimistic view of their present condition and future prospects. It is to be added that, with pauperism, prostitution, enforced idleness, and slow starvation all around them, the laborers are after all not far wrong in thinking their life at stake.

Further, I pointed out that, if we brand tradesunionists as slaves by nature because they submit to (and practise) tyranny, we ought in consistency to apply the same indignity to all willing supporters of the State, who practise and submit to tyranny in their capacity of voters and tax-payers. Today assures us that it will not shrink from the assertion; which is well, but which takes all the force and all the bitterness out of the sting which was originally meant for trades-unionists only. If Today had said that all those who practise and submit to tyranny are slaves by nature, Liberty would not have raised this quarrel, although of course such an unqualified statement could not be accepted as a correct interpretation of the facts. Today, however, saw fit to condemn unionists alone for an offence of which multitudes of others are not less guilty, and this impelled me to intervene in their behalf.

But I am not really ready to admit that unionists are equally guilty with the supporters of the State. It is not true that there exists a deep and permanent necessity for the State, whereas it is true that there exists an irresistible necessity for workingmen to unite at the cost of independence to fight the capitalists. The State does not exist for the purpose of restraining criminals,—the only sense in which Today can declare a State necessary. This kind of work is merely incidental, and very badly performed,—perhaps at no small loss. Nine-tenths of the sum of State activity is pure invasion and rascality. The people, not realizing this, uphold the State, and we are endeavoring to open their eyes and secure their aid in stopping the pernicious business. On the other hand, labor unions are organized for the sole purpose of defence and necessitated by State action; and any sacrifice of liberty or exercise of tyranny they may be guilty of can be accounted for by the exigencies of war or lack of judgment. The wonder is what workingmen are not more aggressive and violent. They could not be blamed if they exhibited less respect for the liberty and property (more properly, license and plunder) of the rich. The more tyrannical, the less manly, labor becomes, the more we should feel the need of changing the economic conditions,—of abrogating the State-sustained monopolies and privileges. Of course, such a change would lead to the abolition of the State, but we do not shrink from the assertion. The prospect is rather a delightful one.

V. Y.