HENRI FARR (Freeland): So far as by capitalism is to be understood the conversion of any actual surplus production into working capital, we in Freeland are far from having broken with it. On the contrary, we have developed it to the utmost, for much more fully than in the exploiting capitalistic society are our savings at all times at the disposal of any demand for capital that may arise. But our method of accumulating and mobilising capital is a very different and much more perfect one: the solidarity of interest of the saver with that of the employer of capital takes the place of interest. This form of capitalism can never lead to over-production, for under it—as in the pre-capitalistic epoch—it is the demand for capital that gives the first impulse to the creation of capital. But that this kind of capitalisation is impracticable in an exploiting society needs no proof. For such a society there is no other means of making the spontaneously accumulating capital serviceable to production than that of interest; and as soon as the mobilisation of capital dissolves the immediate personal connection between saver and employer of capital, creditor and debtor, interest inevitably impels to over-production, from which there is no escape except in economic justice—or relapse into barbarism. [Loud and general applause.]
The PRESIDENT here asked if anyone else wished to speak upon point 1 of the Agenda; and, as no one rose, he declared the discussion upon this subject closed.
The Congress next proceeded to discuss point 2:—
Is not the success of the Freeland institutions to be attributed merely to the accidental and therefore probably transient co-operation of specially favourable circumstances; or do those institutions rest upon conditions universally present and inherent in human nature?
GEORGE DARE (Right) opened the debate: We have the splendid success of a first attempt to establish economic justice so tangibly before us in Freeland, that there is no need to ask whether such an attempt can succeed. It is another question whether it must succeed, and that everywhere, because it has succeeded in this one case. For the circumstances of Freeland are exceptional in more than one respect. Not to mention the pre-eminent abilities, the enthusiasm and the spirit of self-sacrifice which marked the men who founded this fortunate commonwealth, and some of whom still stand at its head, men such as it is certain will not everywhere be found ready at hand, it must not be overlooked that this country is more lavishly endowed by nature than most others, and that a broad band of desert and wilderness protected it—at least at first—from any disturbing foreign influence. If men of talent, enjoying the unqualified confidence of their colleagues, are able on a soil where every seed bears fruit a hundredfold to effect the miracle of conjuring inexhaustible wealth for millions out of nothing, of exterminating misery and vice, of developing the arts and sciences to the fullest extent,—all this is, in my opinion, no proof that ordinary men, given perhaps to squabbling with each other, and to being mutually distrustful, will achieve the like or even approximately similar results on poorer land and in the midst of the turmoil of the world's competitive struggle. My doubts upon this point will appear the more reasonable when it is remembered that in America we have witnessed hundreds upon hundreds of social experiments which have all either proved to be in a greater or less degree miserable fiascos, or at least have only assumed the proportion of isolated successful industrial enterprises. It is true that some of our efforts at revolutionising modern society have had remarkable pecuniary results; but that has been all: a new, practicable foundation of the social organisation they have not furnished, not even in germ. I wished to give expression to these doubts; and before allowing ourselves to be intoxicated by the example of Freeland, I wished to invite you to a sober consideration of the question whether that which is successful in Freeland must necessarily succeed in the rest of the world.
THOMAS JOHNSTON (Freeland): The previous speaker makes a mistake when he ascribes the success of the Freeland undertaking to exceptionally favourable conditions. That our soil is more fertile than that of most other parts of the world is, it is true, a permanent advantage, which, however, accrues to us merely in the item of cost of carriage; for, after allowing for this, the advantage of the fertility of our soil is equally shared by all of you everywhere, wherever railways and steam-vessels can be made use of. Isolation from the market of the world by broad deserts was at first an advantage; but it would now be a disadvantage if we had not made ourselves masters of those deserts. And as to the abilities of the Freeland government, I must—not out of modesty, but in the name of truth—decline the compliments paid us. We are not abler than others whom you might find by the dozen in any civilised country. Only in one point were we in advance of others, namely, in perceiving what was the true basis of human economics. But the advantage which this gave us was only a temporary one, for at present you have men in abundance in every part of the civilised world who have become as wise as we are even in this matter. The advantage we derived from being the first in this movement was that we have enjoyed for nearly a generation the happiness in which you are only now preparing to participate. Freeland's advantages are due simply to the date of its foundation, and have now lost their importance. Now that the establishment of a world-wide freedom is contemplated, there will no longer be any national advantages or disadvantages. What belongs to us belongs to you also, and what is wonderful is that we as well as you will become richer in proportion as each of us is obliged to allow all the others to share quickly, easily, and fully our own wealth. We have suffered from being compelled to enjoy our wealth alone, and we shall become richer as soon as you share that wealth; and in the same way will you become richer as others share in your wealth. For herein lies the solidarity of interest that is associated with true freedom, that every existing advantage in production—such as wealth is—can be the more fully utilised the wider the circle of those who enjoy its fruits.
That those attempts, of which the last speaker spoke, all miscarried is due to the fact that they were all based upon wrong principles. The only thing they have in common with what we have carried out in Freeland, and what you now wish to imitate, is the endeavour to find a remedy for the misery of the exploiting world; but the remedy which we seek is a different one from that which they sought, and in that—not in exceptional advantages which we may have had—lies the cause of our success and of their miscarriage.
For it was not by the aid of economic justice that they sought to attain their end; they sought deliverance from the dungeon of exploitation, whether by a way which did not lead out of it, or by a way which, though it led out of that dungeon, yet led into another and more dreadful one. In none of those American or other social experiments, from the Quaker colonies to the Icaria of Cabet, was the full and undiminished produce of labour ever assured to the worker; on the contrary, the produce belonged either to small capitalists who, while themselves taking part in the undertaking as workers, shared the produce according to the amount of capital they had invested, or it belonged to the whole as a body, who as such had a despotic right of disposal over both the labour and the produce of the labour of every individual. These reformers were, without exception, associated small capitalists or communists. They were able, if they had specially good fortune, or if they were under specially able direction, to achieve transient success; but a revolution of the current industrial system by them was not to be thought of.
(End of Second Day's Debate)
(Debate on Point 2 of the Agenda, continued)
JOHANN STORM (Right): I think that the lack of any analogy between the frequent attempts to save society undertaken by small capitalists or communists and the institutions of Freeland has been made sufficiently clear. I think also that we are convinced that the exceptional external advantages, which may have at any rate favoured and assisted the success of Freeland, are not of a kind to suggest a fear that our proposed work will fail for the want of such advantages. But we do not yet know whether the success of social reform is exposed to danger from any conditions inherent in human nature, and therefore universally to be met with. We have, in our discussion upon the first point of the agenda, established the fact that, thanks to the control which has been acquired over the forces of nature, exploitation has become an obstacle to civilisation, and its removal a necessity of civilisation. But severe criticism cannot be satisfied with this. For is everything which is necessary to the progress of civilisation consequently also possible? What if economic justice, though an extraordinary vehicle of civilisation, were for some reason unfortunately impracticable? What if that marvellous prosperity, which astonishes us so much in Freeland, were only a transient phenomenon, and carried in itself the germ of decay, despite, nay, because of, its fabulous magnitude? In a word, what if mankind could not permanently, and as a whole, participate in that progress the necessary condition of which is economic justice?
The evidence to the contrary, already advanced, culminates in the proposition that the exploitation of man by man was necessary only so long as the produce of human labour did not suffice to provide abundance and leisure for all. But what if other influences made exploitation and servitude necessary, influences the operation of which could not be stayed by the increased productiveness of labour, perhaps could never be stayed? The most powerful hindrance to the permanent establishment of a condition of economic justice, with its consequences of happiness and wealth, is recognised by the anxious student of the future in the danger of over-population. But as this is a special point in the agenda, I, like my colleagues who have already spoken, will postpone what occurs to my mind upon the subject. There are, however, other and not less important difficulties. Can a society, which lacks the stimulus of self-interest, permanently exist and make progress, and succeed in making public spirit and rational enlightenment take the place thoroughly, and with equal effectiveness, of self-interest? Does not the same apply to private property? Self-interest and private property are not altogether set aside by the institutions of Freeland. I readily admit this, but they are materially restricted. Even under the rule of economic justice the individual is himself responsible for the greater or less degree of his prosperity—the connection between what he himself does and what he gets is not altogether dissolved; but as the commonwealth unconditionally protects every man in all cases against want, therefore against the ultimate consequences of his own mistakes or omissions, the stimulating influence of self-responsibility is very materially diminished. Just so we see private property abolished, though not entirely, yet in its most important elements. The earth and all the natural forces inherent in it are declared ownerless; the means of production are common property; will that, can that, remain so everywhere, and for all time, without disastrous consequences? Will public spirit permanently fill the office of that affectionate far-seeking care which the owner bestows upon the property for which he alone is responsible? Will not the gladsome absence of care, which has certainly hitherto been brilliantly conspicuous in Freeland, eventually degenerate into frivolity and neglect of that for which no one in particular is responsible? The fact that this has not yet happened may perhaps be due—for it is not yet a generation since this commonwealth was founded—to the dominant enthusiasm that marked the beginning. New brooms, it is said, sweep clean. The Freelander sees the eyes of the whole world fixed upon him and his doings; he feels that he is still the pioneer of new institutions; he is proud of those institutions, every worker here to the last man holds himself responsible for the way and manner in which he fulfils the apostolate of universal freedom to which he is called. Will this continue permanently: in particular, will the whole human race feel and act thus? I doubt it; at least, I am not fully convinced that it must necessarily be so. And what if it is not so? What if, we will not say all, but many nations show themselves to be unable to dispense with the stimulus of want-inspired self-interest, the lure of unconditioned private property, without sinking into mental stagnation and physical indolence? These are questions to which we now require answers.
RICHARD HELD (Centre): The previous speaker finds that self-interest and private property are such powerful spurs to activity that, without their full and unrestricted influence, permanent human progress is scarcely conceivable, and that it is extremely uncertain whether public spirit would be an effective substitute for them. I go much farther. I assert that without these two means of activity no commonwealth can be expected to thrive, unless human nature is radically changed, or labour ceases to require effort. Every attempt in the domain of economics to substitute public spirit or any other ethical motive for self-interest must immediately, and not merely in its ultimate issue, prove an ignominious fiasco. I think it quite unnecessary to give special proof of this; but for the very reason that self-interest and its correlative, private property, are the best incitements to labour, and can be effectively replaced by no surrogate—for this very reason, I contend, are the institutions of economic justice immensely superior in this respect to those of the exploiting system of industry. For they alone really give full play to self-interest and the right of private ownership: the exploiting system only falsely pretends to do this.
For servitude is, in truth, the negation of self-interest. Self-interest assumes that the worker serves his 'own' interest by the trouble he takes; does this apply to the regime of exploitation: does the servant work for his own profit? With reference to the question of self-interest, anyone who would show that economic justice was less advantageous than servitude would have to assert that labour was the most productive and profitable when the worker produced, not for his own, but for some one else's profit. But it will perhaps be objected that the employer produces for his own profit. Right. But, apart from the fact that this, strictly speaking, has nothing to do with the stimulating effect of self-interest upon labour—for here it is not the profit of his own but of some one else's labour that comes in question—it is clear that a system which secures to only a minority the profit of work must be infinitely less influential than the one we are now considering, which secures the profit to every worker. In reality the exploiting world, with very few exceptions, knows only men who labour without getting the profit themselves, and men who do not labour themselves yet get profit from labour; in the exploiting world to labour for one's own profit is quite an accidental occurrence. With what right, then, does exploitation dare to plume itself upon making use of self-interest as a motive to labour? Some one else's interest is the right description of the motive to labour that comes into play under exploitation; and that this should prove itself to be more effective than the self-interest which economic justice has to introduce into the modern world as a novelty it would be somewhat difficult to demonstrate.
It is nearly the same with private property. What boundless presumption it is to claim for a system which robs ninety-nine per cent. of mankind of all and every certainty of possessing property, and leaves to them nothing that they can call their own but the air they breathe—what presumption it is to claim for such a system that it makes use of private property as a stimulus to human activity, and to urge this claim as against another system which converts all men without exception into owners of property, and in fact secures to them unconditionally, and without diminution, all that they are able in any way to produce! Or does, perhaps, the superiority of the 'private property' of the exploiting system lie in the fact that it extends to things which the owner has not himself produced? Unquestionably the adherents of the old system have no clear conception of what is mine and what is thine. What properly belongs to me? 'Everything you can take from anyone, 'would be their only answer, if they were but to speak honestly. Because this appropriation of the property of others has, in the course of thousands of years, been formulated into certain established rules, consecrated by cruel necessity, the adherents of the old system have completely lost the natural conception of private property, the conception which is inherent in the nature of things. It passes their comprehension that, though force can possess and make use of whom it pleases, yet the free and untrammelled use of one's own powers is the inalienable property of everyone, and that consequently any political or social system which overrides this inalienable personal right of every man is based, not upon property, but upon robbery. This robbery may be necessary, nay, useful—we have seen that for thousands of years it actually was useful—but 'property' it never will be, and whoever thinks it is has forgotten what property is.
After what has been said, it seems to me scarcely necessary to spend many words in dispelling the fear that frivolity or carelessness in the treatment of the means of production will result from a modified form of property. As to frivolity, it will suffice to ask whether hopeless misery has proved itself to be such a superior stimulus to economic prudence as to make it dangerous to supersede it by a personal responsibility which, though it lacks the spur of misery, is of a thoroughly comprehensive character. And as to the fear lest carelessness in the treatment of the means of production should prevail, this fear could have been justified only if in the former system the workers were owners of the means of production. Private property in these will, it is true, not be given to them by the new system, but instead of it the undiminished enjoyment of the produce of those means; and he whose admiration of the beauties of the existing system does not go so far as to consider the master's rod a more effective stimulus to foresight than the profit of the workers may rest satisfied that even in this respect things will be better and not worse.
CHARLES PHUD (Right): I do not at all understand how the previous speaker can dispute the fact that in the former system self-interest is that which conditions the quantity of work. No one denies that the workers must give up a part of the profit of their labour; but another part remains theirs, hence they labour for their own profit, though not exclusively so. At any rate they must labour if they do not wish to starve, and one would think that this stimulus is the most effectual one possible. So much as to the denial that self-interest is the moving spring of so-called exploited labour. As to the attack upon the conception of property advanced by those of us who defend, not exactly the existing evil condition of things, but a rational and consistent reform of it, I would with all modesty venture to remark that our sense of justice was satisfied because no one compelled the worker to share with the employer. He made a contract as a free man with the employer.... [General laughter.] You may laugh, but it is so. In countries that are politically free nothing prevents the worker from labouring on his own account alone; it is, therefore, at any rate incorrect to call the portion which he surrenders to the employer robbery.
BELA SZEKELY (Centre): It seems to me to be merely a dispute about a word which the previous speaker has attempted to settle. He calls wages a part of the profit of production. It may be that here and there the workers really receive a part of the profit as wages, or as an addition to the wages. With us, and, if I am rightly informed, in the country of the speaker also, this was not generally customary. We rather paid the workers, who were quite unconcerned about the profits of their work, an amount sufficient to maintain them; profits—and losses when there were any—fell exclusively to the lot of the production, the employers. He could have said with nearly as much justice that his oxen or his horses participated in the profits of production. When I say 'nearly,' I mean that this could as a rule be said more justly of oxen and horses, for, while those useful creatures are for the most part better fed when their labour has enriched their master, this happens very rarely in the case of our two-logged rational beasts of labour.
Then the previous speaker made hunger absolutely identical with self-interest. The masses must labour or starve. Certainly. But the slave must labour or be whipped: thus this strange logic would make it appear that the slave is also stimulated to labour by self-interest. Or will the arguer fall back upon the assertion that self-interest refers merely to the acquisition of material goods? That would be false; self-interest does not after all either more or less prompt men to avoid the whip than to appease hunger. But I will not argue about such trifles: we will drop the rod and the whip as symbols of activity stimulated by self-interest. But how does it stand with those slave-holders who—probably in the interest of the 'freedom of labour'—do not whip their lazy slaves, but allow them to starve? Is it not evident that the previous speaker would, under their regime, set self-interest upon the throne as the inciter to work? That hunger is a very effectual means of compulsion, a more effectual one than the whip, no one will deny; hence it has everywhere superseded the latter, and very much to the advantage of the employer. But self-interest? The very word itself implies that the profit of the labour is the worker's own. So much as to hunger.
And now as to the security against the injustice of exploitation; for my own part I do not understand this at all. The workers were 'free,' nothing compelled them to produce for other men's advantage? Yes, certainly, nothing but the trifle—hunger. They could leave it alone, if they wished to starve! Just the 'freedom' which the slave has. If he does not mind being whipped, there is nothing to compel him to work for his master. The bonds in which the 'free' masses of the exploiting society languish are tighter and more painful than the chains of the slave. The word 'robbery' does not please the previous speaker? It is, indeed, a hard and hateful word; but the 'robber' is not the individual exploiter, but the exploiting society, and this was formerly, in the bitter need of the struggle for existence, compelled to practise this robbery. Is the slaughter in battle any the less homicide because it is done at the command, not of the individual, but of the State, which is frequently acting under compulsion? It will be said that this kind of killing is not forbidden by the penal law, nay, that it is enjoined by our duty to our country, and that only forbidden kinds of killing can be called 'homicide.' Juridically that is quite correct; and if it occurred to anyone to bring a charge of killing in battle before a court of justice he would certainly be laughed at. But he would make himself quite as ludicrous who, because killing in war is allowed, would deny that such killing was homicide if the point under consideration was, not whether the act was juridically penal, but how to define homicide as a mode of violently putting a man to death. So exploitation is no robbery in the eye of the penal law; but if every appropriation to one's self of the property of another can be called robbery—and this is all that the present case is concerned with—then is robbery and nothing else the basis of every exploiting society, of the modern 'free' society no less than of the ancient or mediaeval slave-holding or serf-keeping societies. [Long-continued applause, in which Messrs. Johann Storm and Charles Prud both joined.]
JAMES BROWN (Right): Our colleague from Hungary has so pithily described the true characteristics of self-interest and property in the exploiting society, that nothing more is to be said upon that subject. But even if it is correct that these two motive springs of labour can be placed in their right position only by economic justice, it still remains to be asked whether the only way of doing this—namely, the organisation of free, self-controlling, unexploited labour—will prove to be everywhere and without exception practicable. Little would be gained by the solemn proclamation of the principle that every worker is his own master, and the complete concession to all workers of a right of disposal of the means of production, if those workers were to prove incapable of making an adequate use of such rights. The final and decisive question, therefore, is whether the workers of the future will always and everywhere exhibit that discipline, that moderation, that wisdom, which are indispensable to the organisation of truly profitable and progressive production? The exploiting industry has a routine which has taken many thousands of years for its development. The accumulated experience of untold generations teaches the employer under the old system how to proceed in order to control a crowd of servants compelled dumbly to obey. He, nevertheless, frequently fails, and only too often are his plans wrecked by the insubordination of those under him. The leaders of the workers' associations of the future have as good as no experience to guide them in the choice of modes of association; they will have as masters those whom they should command, and yet we are told that success is certain, nay, success must be certain if the associated free society is not to be convulsed to its very foundations. For whilst the exploiting society confines the responsibility for the fate of the separate undertakings to those undertakings themselves, the so-often-mentioned solidarity of interests in the free society most indissolubly connects the weal and the woe of the community with that of every separate undertaking. I shall be glad to be taught better; but until I am, I cannot help seeing in what has just been said grounds for fear which the experience of Freeland until now is by no means calculated to dissipate. The workers of Freeland have understood how to organise and discipline themselves: does it follow from this that the workers everywhere will be equally intelligent?
MIGUEL SPADA (Left): I will confine myself to a brief answer to the question with which the previous speaker closed. It certainly does not follow that the attempt to organise and discipline labour without capitalist employers must necessarily succeed among all nations simply because it has succeeded among the Freelanders, and will unquestionably succeed among numerous other peoples. It is possible, nay, probable, that some nations may show themselves incapable of making use of this highest kind of spontaneous activity; so much the worse for them. But I hope that no one will conclude from this that those peoples who are not thus incapable—even if they should find themselves in the minority—ought to refrain from such activity. The more capable will then become the instructors of the less capable. Should the latter, however, show themselves to be, not merely temporarily incapable, but permanently intractable, then will they disappear from the face of the earth, just as intractable cannibals must disappear when they come into contact with civilised nations. The delegate who proposed the question may rest assured that the nation to which he belongs will not be numbered among the incapable ones.
VLADIMUR TONOF (Freeland): The honourable member from England (Brown) has formed an erroneous conception of the difficulties of the organisation and discipline now under consideration, as well as of the importance of any miscarriage of individual enterprises in a free community. As to the former matter, I wish to show that in the organisation of associated capital, which is well known to have been carried out for centuries, there is an instructive and by no means to be despised foreshadowing of associated labour, so far as relates to the modes of management and superintendence to be adopted in such cases. Of course there are profound distinctions which have to be taken into consideration; but it has been proved, and it is in the nature of things, that the differences are all in favour of associated labour. In this latter, for instance, there will not be found the chief sins of associations of capitalists—namely, lack of technical knowledge and indifference to the objects of the undertaking on the part of the shareholders; and therefore it is possible completely to dispense with those useless and crippling kinds of control-apparatus with which the statutes of the companies of capitalists are ballasted. As a rule, the single shareholder understands nothing of the business of his company, and quite as seldom dreams of interfering in the affairs of the company otherwise than by receiving his dividends. Notwithstanding, he is the master of the undertaking, and in the last resort it is his vote that decides the fate of it; what provisions are therefore necessary in order to protect this shareholder from the possible consequences of his own ignorance, credulity, and negligence! The associated workers, on the contrary, are fully acquainted with the nature of their undertaking, the success of which is their chief material interest, and is, without exception, recognised as such by them. This is a decisive advantage. Or does anyone see a special difficulty in the fact that the workers are placed under the direction of persons whose appointment depends upon the votes of the men who are to be directed? On the same ground might the authority of all elective political and other posts be questioned. The directors have no means of compelling obedience? A mistake; they lack only the right of arbitrarily dismissing the insubordinate. But this right is not possessed by many other bodies dependent upon the discipline and the reasonable co-operation of their members; nevertheless, or rather on this very account, such bodies preserve better discipline than those confederations in which obedience is maintained by the severest forcible measures. It is true that where there is no forcible compulsion discipline cannot so easily pass over into tyranny; but this is, in truth, no evil. Moreover, the directors of free associations of workers can put into force a means of compulsion, the power of which is more unqualified and absolute than that of the most unmitigated tyranny: the all-embracing reciprocal control of the associates, whose influence even the most obstinate cannot permanently withstand. It is certainly indispensable that the workers as a whole, or a large majority of them, should be reasonable men whose intelligence is sufficient to enable them to understand their own interests. But this is the first and foremost conditio sine qua non of the establishment of economic justice. That economic justice—up to the present the highest outcome of the evolution of mankind—is suitable only to men who have raised themselves out of the lowest stage of brutality, is in no respect open to question. Hence it follows that nations and individuals who have not yet reached this stage of development must be educated up to it; and this educational work is not difficult if it be but undertaken with a will. We doubt that it could altogether fail anywhere, if undertaken seriously and in the right way.
And now let us look at the second side of the question which has been thrown out. Is it correct that, in consequence of the solidarity of interests which exists in the free community, the weal and woe of the whole are indissolubly bound up with the success of any individual undertaking? If it be meant by this that in such a community everyone is interested in the weal of everyone else, and consequently in the success of every undertaking, then it fully expresses what is the fact; but—and this was evidently the meaning of the speaker—if it is meant that the weal of such a community is dependent upon the success of every single undertaking of its members, then it is utterly groundless. If an undertaking does not thrive, its members leave it and turn to one that is more prosperous—that is all. On the other hand, this mobility of labour, bound up with the solidarity of interests, protects the free community from the worse consequences of actual miscarriage. If there should be an ill-advised choice of directors, the unqualified officials can do but relatively little mischief; they see themselves—that is, the undertaking under their control—promptly forsaken by the workers, and the losses are insignificant because confined within a small area. In fact, this mobility proves itself to be in the last resort the most effectual corrective of all kinds of mistakes, the agency by which all the defective forms of organisation and the less capable minds are thrust aside and automatically superseded by better. For the undertakings which, from any cause whatever, fail to thrive are always in a comparatively short time absorbed by better, without involving in ruin—as happens under the exploiting system of society—those who were engaged in the former undertakings. Hence it is not necessary that these free organisations should in all cases strike the highest note at the very beginning in order eventually to attain to perfect order and excellence; for in the friendly competition what is defective rapidly vanishes from sight, being merged in what is proved to be superior, which then alone holds the field.
JOHN KILMEAN (Right): Let us grant, then, that the associations of free labour are organised as well as, or better than, the capitalists' associations of the old exploiting world. Is there, nevertheless, no ground to fear that they will exhibit serious defects in comparison with undertakings conducted by individual employers? That self-interest, so far as concerns the workers themselves, can for the first time have full play in stimulating activity is true; but with respect to the management the reverse is the fact. At least one would think that the interest of the individual undertaker in the success of the business belonging to him alone must be a keener one than that of directors, who are nothing more than elected functionaries whose industrial existence is in no way indissolubly connected with the undertaking. The advantages which the private undertaking conducted by the individual proprietor has hitherto exhibited over the joint-stock company, it must, in the nature of things, also have over the free associations.
THEODOR YPSILANTI (Freeland): Let us assume, for the present, that this is so. But are the advantages of the individual undertaker over the joint-stock company really so great? It is not necessary to theorise for and against, since practice has long ago pronounced its verdict. And what is this? Simply that the joint-stock undertaking has gradually surpassed, nay, in the most important and the most extensive branches of business totally superseded, the much-lauded private undertaking. It can be confidently assorted that in every kind of undertaking which is large enough to support the—certainly somewhat costly—apparatus of a joint-stock company, the joint-stock company is undisputed master of the field, so that there remains to the private undertaking, as its domain, nothing more than the dwarf concerns with which our free society does not meddle. It cannot be said that this is due to the larger money power of the combined capital, for even relatively small undertakings, whose total capital is many times less than that of a great many private millionaires, prefer, I may say choose exclusively, the joint-stock form. It is quite as great a mistake to ascribe this fact to the reluctance of private capitalists to run the risk involved in certain undertakings, and to their consequent preference for joint-stock undertakings; for, in the first place, it is generally the least risky branches of business in which the joint-stock form most exclusively prevails; and in the second place, we see only too often that individual capitalists place enormous sums in single companies, and even found undertakings in a joint-stock form with their own capital. But a decisive proof of the superiority of the joint-stock company is the universal fact that the great capitalists are everywhere entrusting the control of their property to joint-stock companies. If the account-books of the wealthy in every civilised exploiting country were to be examined, it would unquestionably be found that at least nine-tenths of the capitalists had employed the greatest part of their capital which was not invested in land in the purchase of shares. This, however, simply shows that the rich prefer not to manage their wealth themselves, but to allow it to be managed by joint stock companies.
The orthodox theory, spun out of the flimsiest fictions, is not able to do anything with this fact; it therefore ignores it, or seeks to explain it by a number of fresh fictions, such as the fable of divided risk, or some other similar subterfuge. The truth is that the self-interest of the employer has very little to do with the real direction of the businesses belonging to him—so far as concerns great undertakings—for not the employer, but specially appointed wage-earners, are, as a rule, the actual directors; the alleged advantage of the private undertaking, therefore, does not exist at all. On the other hand, the undertaking of the private capitalist is at a very heavy disadvantage in competition with that of the joint-stock company, inasmuch as the latter almost always attracts by far the greater amount of intelligence. The capitalist, even the largest, is on the average no cleverer than other men—that is, generally speaking, he is not particularly clever. It may, perhaps, be objected that he would scarcely have attained to great wealth had he not possessed superior abilities; but apart from the fact that it has yet to be established whether in the modern exploiting society it is really special mental gifts, and not rather other things, that lead to the accumulation of great wealth, most large fortunes are no longer in the hands of the original acquirers, but in those of their heirs. Consequently, in private undertakings, if not the actual direction, yet certainly the highest authority, and particularly the final decision as to the choice of the actual directors, lies in the hands of men who, shall we say, half of them, possess less than the average, nine-tenths of the rest about the average, and only one-twentieth of them more than the average of human intelligence. Naturally nineteen-twentieths of the undertakings thought out and established by such men will be either indifferent or bad. It will be further objected that it is in the main the same men to whom a similar role falls in the creation and officering of joint-stock companies. Very true. But here it is usual for the few able men among the wealthy to take the role of leaders; the stupid or the moderately gifted are changed from autocratic despots into a herd of common docile cattle, who, led by the instinct of self-interest, blindly follow the abler men. And even when it is otherwise, when the incapable rich man stubbornly insists upon thrusting forward his empty pate, he finds himself compelled to give reasons for what he does, to engage in the game of question and answer with his fellow shareholders, and ordinarily he is thus preserved from the gross follies which he would be sure to commit if the whole responsibility rested upon himself. In a word, capitalists acting together as joint-stock companies as a rule exhibit more ability than capitalists acting independently. But even if it were not so, the selections which they make—as shareholders—in appointing the chief managers of their business are infinitely better than those made by private capitalists, because a whole category of intelligences, and that of the highest and best kind, stands at the disposal of the joint-stock company, but not of the private undertaker. Many persons who offer themselves as directors, members of council of administration, presidents, of joint-stock companies, would never condescend to enter into the service of an individual. The general effect of all this is, that joint-stock companies in the greater number of cases possess far abler, more intelligent managers than private undertakings—a circumstance which no one will overlook who is but even moderately well acquainted with the facts of the case.
The alleged superiority of the private undertaking, supposed to be due to the personal care and oversight of the owner, is therefore nothing more than one of the many fables in which the exploiting world believes in spite of the most obvious lack of truth. But even the trifling advantages which the private undertaking really has over the joint-stock company cannot be claimed as against freely associated labour. Colleague Tonof has already pointed out that ignorance and indifference, those most dangerous characteristics of most shareholders, are not to be feared in those who take part in labour associations. Here it can never happen that an unscrupulous minority will obtain control of the management and exploit the undertaking for the benefit of some private interest; here it is natural that the whole body of members, who are interested in the successful conduct of the business, should incessantly and attentively watch the behaviour of the officials they have elected; and in view of the perfect transparency of all the business transactions in the free community, secret practices and crooked ways—those inevitable expedients of dishonour—are not to be thought of. In a word, the form of labour organisation corresponding to the higher stage of civilisation proves itself to be infinitely superior in every respect to the form of organisation prevalent in the past—a fact which, strictly speaking, is a matter of course.
It does not follow that this form of organisation is the most suitable for every kind of labour; there are branches of production—I mention merely the artistic or the scientific—in which the individual must stand by himself; but we do not apply the principle of association to these branches. For no one would forcibly impose this principle, and the individual freedom that is nowhere interfered with is able of itself to take care that what is done is everywhere done in the way that has been found to be most consistent with nature, and best.
MIGUEL DIEGO (Right): We know now that the new system unites in itself all the natural requisites of success; it has been shown before that its introduction was demanded by the progress of civilisation. How comes it that, in spite of all, the new system enters the world, not as the product of the co-operation of elementary automatically occurring historical events, but rather as a kind of art-product, as an artificially produced outcome of the efforts of certain individuals? What if the International Free Society had not been formed, or if its appeal had been without response, its work crushed in the germ, or in some other way made to miscarry? It will be admitted that these are conceivable contingencies. What would have become of economic justice if any one of these possibilities had occurred? If social reform is in truth an inevitable necessity, it must ultimately be realised in spite of the opposition of the whole world; it must show itself to be indissolubly bound up with forces which will give it the victory over prejudice, ill-will, and adverse accident. Thus alone would proof be given that the work in which we are engaged is something more than the ephemeral fruit of fallible human ingenuity—that rather those men who gave it the initial impulse and watched over its development were acting simply as the instruments of the universal force which, if they had not done the work, would have found other instruments and other ways to attain the inevitable end.
HENRI NEY (Freeland): If the existence of economic justice as an established fact depended upon the action of the founders of Freeland, little could have been said, not merely as to its necessary character, but also as to the certainty of its continuance. For what individual men attempt, other men can frustrate. It is true that, as far as outward appearances go, all historical events are human work: but the great necessary events of history are distinguished from merely accidental occurrences by the fact that in them all the actors are clearly seen to be simply the instruments of destiny, instruments which the genius of mankind calls into being when it is in need of them. We do not know who invented language, the first tool, writing; but whoever it was, we know that he was a mere instrument of progress, in the sense that, with the same certainty with which we express any other natural law, we can venture to assert that language, the tool, writing, would have been invented even if their respective accidental inventors had never seen the light. The same holds good of economic freedom: it would have been realised, even if none of us who actually realised it for the first time had existed. Only in such a case the form of its entrance into the world of historical fact would probably have been a different, perhaps a more pacific, a more joyous one still than that of which we are the witnesses; but perhaps it might have been a violent and horrible one.
In order to show this in a manner that excludes all doubt, it must first be demonstrated that the continuance of modern society as it has been evolved in the course of the last century is in the very nature of things an impossibility. For this purpose you must allow me to carry you back some distance.
In the original society of barbarism, when the productiveness of labour was so small that the weaker could not be exploited by the stronger, and one's own prosperity depended upon the suppression and annihilation of competitors, a thirst for blood, cruelty, cunning, were not merely necessary to the self-preservation of the individual, but they were obviously serviceable to the society to which the individual belonged. They were, therefore, not only universally prevalent, but were reckoned as virtues. The most successful and most merciless slayer of men was the most honourable member of his tribe, and was lauded in speech and song as an example worthy of imitation.
When the productiveness of labour increased, these 'virtues' lost much of their original importance; but they were not converted into vices until slavery was invented, and it became possible to utilise the labour instead of the flesh of the conquered. Then bloodthirsty cruelty, which hitherto had been profitable, became injurious, since, for the sake of a transient enjoyment—that of eating human flesh—it deprived the victorious individual, as well as the society to which he belonged, of the permanent advantage of augmented prosperity and increased power. Consequently, the bestial thirst for blood gradually disappeared in the new form of the struggle for existence, and from a cherished virtue it passed into a characteristic which met with increasing disapproval—that is, it became a vice. It necessarily became a vice, for only those tribes which were the subjects of this process of moral transformation could enjoy all the advantages of the new forms of labour and of the new social institution, slavery, and could therefore increase in civilisation and power, and make use of their augmented power to extirpate or to bring into subjection the tribes that persisted in their old cannibal customs. In this way, in the course of thousands of years, there grew up among men a new ethics which, in its essential features, has been preserved until our days—the ethics of exploitation.
But to call this ethics 'philanthropy' is the strangest of mistakes. It is true that the savage bloodthirsty hatred between man and man had given place to milder sentiments; but it is a long way from those sentiments to genuine philanthropy, by which we understand the recognition of our fellow-man as our equal, and not merely that chilly benevolence which we entertain towards even dumb animals. Real philanthropy is as inconsistent with exploitation as with cannibalism. For though the new form of the struggle for existence abhors the death of the vanquished, it substitutes for it the oppression and subjugation of man by man as an imperative requirement of social prosperity. And it should be clearly understood that real and unselfish philanthropy is not merely not demanded by the kind of struggle for existence which is carried on by the exploiting society, but is known to be distinctly injurious, and is quite impracticable as a universally operative race-instinct. Individuals may love their fellow-men as themselves; but as long as exploitation is in force, such men must remain rare, and by no means generally esteemed, exceptions. Only hypocrisy or gross self-deception will question this. Certainly the so-called civilised nations of the West have for more than a thousand years written upon their banners the words 'Love thy neighbour as thyself,' and have not shrunk from asserting that they lived up to those words, or that at least they endeavoured to do so. But in truth they loved their fellow-man, in the best of cases, as a useful domestic animal, have without the slightest scruple profited by his painful toil, by his torture, and have not been prevented by any sentiment of horror from slaughtering him in cold blood when such a course was or seemed to be profitable to them. And such were not the sentiments and feelings of a few particularly hard-hearted individuals, but of the whole body of society; they were not condemned but imperatively demanded by public opinion, lauded as virtues under all sorts of high-sounding names, and, so far as deeds and not empty phrases were in question, their antithesis, the genuine philanthropy, passed at best as pitiable folly, or more generally as a crime worthy of death. He who uttered the words quoted above, and to Whom prayers were offered in the churches, would have been repeatedly crucified, burnt, broken on the wheel, hanged by them all, in the most recent past perhaps imprisoned, had He again ventured, as He did nineteen centuries ago, to preach in the market-place, in burning living words that could not be misunderstood, that which men's purblind eyes and their minds clouded by a thousand years of ancient self-deception read, but did not understand, in the writings of His disciples.
But the decisive point is, that in the epoch of exploitation mankind could not have thought or felt, not to say acted, otherwise. They were compelled to practise exploitation so long as this was a necessity of civilisation; they were therefore unable either to feel or exercise philanthropy, for that was as little in harmony with exploitation as repugnance to homicide was with cannibalism. Just as in the first barbaric epoch of mankind that which the exploiting period called 'humanity' would have been detrimental to success in the struggle for existence, so, later, that which we call humanity, the genuine philanthropy, would have placed any nation that had practised it at a disadvantage. To eat or to be eaten—that was the alternative in the epoch of cannibalism; to oppress or to be oppressed, in the epoch of exploitation.
A change in the form and productiveness of labour has recently been effected; neither social institutions nor moral sensibilities can escape the influence of that change. But—and here I come to the last decisive point—there are certainly several alternatives conceivable. The first is that with which we have hitherto been exclusively occupied: the social institutions accommodate themselves to the change in the form of labour, and the modification of the struggle for existence thus brought about leads to a corresponding revolution in moral sentiments; friendly competition and perfect solidarity of interests supersede the reciprocal struggle for advantage, and the highest philanthropy supersedes the exploitation of man.
If we would once for all remove the last doubt as to the unqualified necessity of this phase of evolution, let us suppose that the contrary has happened, that the adaptation of the social institutions to the modified form of labour is not effected. At any rate the mind can imagine such a possibility; and I hold it to be superfluous, at this point in the demonstration, to discuss the probability or the improbability of such a supposition—we simply assume the case. But it would be absurd likewise to assume that this persistence of the old form of the social institutions could occur without being necessarily accompanied by very material reactions both upon the forms of labour and upon the moral instincts of mankind. Those over-orthodox but not less thoughtless social politicians who accept the above assumption, hold it to be possible for a cause of such enormous and far-reaching importance as is an increased productiveness of labour, that makes it possible for all men to enjoy abundance and leisure, to remain without the slightest influence upon the course of human evolution. They overlook the fact that the struggle for existence in human society must in any case be changed under the influence of this factor, whether the social institutions undergo a corresponding adaptation or not, and that consequently the inquiry must in any case be made what reaction this changed form of the struggle for existence can or must exercise upon the totality of human institutions?
And in what consists the change in the struggle for existence, in such a case as that indicated above? Simply in a partial reversion to the form of struggle of the first, the cannibal, epoch of mankind!
We have seen that exploitation transformed the earlier struggle, that aimed at annihilating the competitor, into one directed towards his subjugation. But now, when the productiveness of labour is so great that the consumption, kept down by exploitation, is no longer able to follow it, the suppression, the—if not the physical, yet the industrial—annihilation of the competitor is once more a necessary condition of everyone's prosperity, and the struggle for existence assumes at once the forms of subjugation and annihilation. In the domain of industry it now profits little to have arbitrary authority over any number of human subjects of exploitation; if the exploiter is not able to drive his co-exploiter from the market, he must succumb in the struggle for existence. And the exploited now have not merely to defend themselves from the harsh treatment of their masters: they must, if they would ward off hunger, fight with tooth and claw for the only too few places at the food-crib in the 'labour market.' Is it conceivable that such a terrible alteration in the fundamental conditions of the struggle for existence can remain without influence upon human ethics? Cause and effect must correspond—the ethics of the cannibal epoch must triumphantly return. In consequence of the altered character of the conflict of annihilation, the former cruel and malicious instincts will undergo a modification, but the fundamental sentiment, the unqualified animosity against one's fellow-man, must return. During the thousands of years when the struggle was directed towards the making use of one's neighbour, and especially when the exploited had become accustomed to reverence in the exploiter a higher being, there was possible between master and servant at least that degree of attachment which exists between a man and his beast. Neither masters nor servants had any necessary occasion to hate each other. Mutual consideration, magnanimity, kindness, gratitude, could in such a condition become—certainly very sparingly—substitutes for philanthropy. But now, when exploitation and suppression are at one and the same time the watchwords of the struggle, the above-mentioned virtues must more and more assume the character of obstacles to a successful struggle for existence, and must consequently disappear in order to make room for mercilessness, cunning, cruelty, malice. And all these disgraceful characteristics must not merely become universally prevalent: they must also become universally esteemed, and be raised from the category of the most shameful kinds of baseness to that of 'virtues.' As little as it is possible to conceive of a 'humane' cannibal or of an exploiter under the influence of real philanthropy, so little is it possible to think of a magnanimous and—in the former sense—virtuous exploiter permanently under the colossal burden of over-production; and as certainly as the cannibal society was compelled to recognise the thirst for murder as the most praiseworthy of all virtues, so certainly must the exploiting society, cursed by over-production, learn to reverence the most cunning deceiver as its ideal of virtue. But it will be objected that, logically unassailable as this position may be, it is contradicted by facts. Over-production, the disproportion between the productivity of labour and the capacity for consumption as conditioned by the existing social institutions, has practically existed for generations; and yet it would be a gross exaggeration to assert that the moral sensibilities of civilised humanity had undergone such a terrible degeneration as is indicated above. It is certainly true that, in consequence of the increasingly reckless industrial competitive struggle, many kinds of valueless articles are produced in larger and larger quantities—nay, that there is beginning to prevail a certain confusion in public opinion, which is no longer able clearly to distinguish between honest services and successful roguery; but it is equally true, on the other hand, that never before was humanity in all its forms so highly esteemed and so widely diffused as it is in the present. These undeniable facts, however, do not show that over-production can ultimately lead to any other than the above-indicated results—which would be logical nonsense; they only show, on the one hand, that this dreadful morbid phenomenon in the industrial domain of mankind has not yet been long enough in existence to have fully matured its fruit, and that, on the other hand, the moral instinct of mankind felt a presentiment of the right way out of the economic dilemma long before that right way had become practicable. It is only a few generations since the disproportion between productivity and consumption became unmistakably evident: and what are a few generations in the life of mankind? The ethics of exploitation needed many centuries in order to subvert that of cannibalism: why should the relapse into the ethics of cannibalism proceed so much more rapidly? But the instinctive presentiment that growing civilisation will be connected, not with social stagnation and moral retrogression, but with both social and moral progress—this yearning for liberty, equality, and fraternity ineradicably implanted in the Western mind, despite all the follies and the horrors to which it for a time gave rise—it was just this 'drop of foreign blood in the European family of nations,' this Semitic-Christian leaven, which, when the time of servitude was past, preserved that Western mind from falling even temporarily into a servile and barbarous decay. Things will not follow the last indicated course of evolution—exploitation will not persist alongside of increased productivity; and that is the reason why the indicated moral consequences will not ensue. If, however, it be assumed that material progress and exploitation combined are the future lot of mankind, this cannot logically be conceived otherwise than as accompanied by a complete moral relapse. Yet a third form of evolution may be assumed as conceivable: in the antagonism between the productivity of labour and the current social rights, the former—the new form of labour—might succumb; in the face of the impossibility of making full use of the acquired industrial capacity, mankind might lose this capacity again. In such a case, the concord between productivity and consumption, labour and right, would have recovered the old basis, and as a consequence the ethics of mankind might also remain in the same track. Progress towards genuine philanthropy would necessarily be suspended, for the struggle for existence would, as before, be based upon the subjugation of one's fellow-men, but the necessity for the struggle of annihilation would be avoided. The presentiment of the possibility of such a development was not foreign to the Western mind; there have not been wanting, particularly during the last generations, attempts, partly conscious and partly unconscious, to load men's minds in this direction. Alarmed and driven nearly to distraction by the strangling embrace of over-production, whole nations have at times attacked the fundamental sources of production, sought to choke the springs of the fruitfulness of labour, and persecuted with violent hatred the progress of civilisation, whose fruits were for the time so bitter. These attacks upon popular culture, upon the different kinds of division of labour, upon machinery, cannot be understood except in connection with the occasional attempts to end the discord between production and distribution by diminishing the former. It is impossible not to see that in this way morality also would be preserved from a degeneracy the real cause of which this sort of reformers certainly did not understand, but which hovered before their mind's eye as an indistinct presentiment. And now, having noticed seriatim the three conceivable forms of evolution—namely, (1) the adaptation of social rights to the new and higher forms of labour and the corresponding evolution of a new and higher morality; (2) the permanent antagonism between the form of labour and social rights, and the corresponding degeneracy of morality; (3) the adaptation of the form of labour to the hitherto existing social rights by the sacrifice of the higher productivity, and the corresponding permanence of the hitherto existing morality—we now ask ourselves whether in the struggle between these three tendencies any but the first can come off as conqueror. They all three are conceivable; but is it conceivable that material or moral decay can assert itself by the side of both moral and material progress, or will ultimately triumph over these? It is possible, we will say even probable, that but for our successful undertaking begun twenty-five years ago, mankind would for the most part still longer have continued to traverse the path of moral degeneracy on the one hand, and of antagonism to progress on the other; yet there would never therefore have been altogether wanting attempts in the direction of social deliverance, and the ultimate triumph of such attempts could be only a question of time. No; mankind owes us nothing which it would not have obtained without us: if we claim to have rendered any service, it is merely that of having brought about more speedily, and perhaps with less bloodshed, that which must have come. [Vehement and long-continued applause and enthusiastic cheers from all sides. The leaders of the opposition one after another shook the hands of the speaker and assured him of their support.]
(End of Third Day's Debate)
The PRESIDENT (Dr. Strahl): We have reached the third point in the agenda: Are not want and misery necessary conditions of existence; and would not over-population inevitably ensue were misery for a time to disappear from the earth? I call upon Mr. Robert Murchison.
ROBERT MURCHISON (Right): I must first of all, in the name of myself and of those of my colleagues who entertained doubts of the practicability of the work of social reform, formally declare that we are now thoroughly convinced, not only of the practicability, but also of the inevitable accomplishment of that reform. Moreover, what has already been advanced has matured our hope that the other side will succeed in removing as completely the doubts that still cling to our minds. In the meantime I hold it to be my duty, in the interest of all, to seek explanations by strongly stating the grounds of such doubts as I am not yet able to free myself from. By far the most important of these doubts, one which has not yet been touched upon, is the subject now before us for discussion. It refers not to the practicability, but to the durability of the work of universal freedom and prosperity. Economic justice must and will become an accomplished fact: that we know. But have we a right to infer that it will permanently assert itself? Economic justice will be followed by wealth for all living. Want and misery, with their retinue of destructive vices, will disappear from the surface of the earth. But together with these will disappear those restraints which have hitherto kept in check the numerical growth of the human race. The population will increase more and more, until at last—though that day may be far off—the earth will not be able to support its inhabitants. I will not trouble you with a detailed repetition and justification of the well-known principle of my renowned countryman, Malthus. Much has been urged against that principle, but hitherto nothing of a convincing character. That the increase in a geometric ratio of the number of living individuals has no other natural check than that of a deficiency of food is a natural law to which not merely man but every living being is inexorably subject. Just as herrings, if they could freely multiply, would ultimately fill the whole of the ocean, so would man, if the increase of his numbers were not checked by the lack of food, inevitably leave no space unoccupied upon the surface of the globe. This cruel truth is confirmed by the experience of all ages and of all nations; everywhere we see that it is lack of food, want with its consequences, that keeps the number of the living within certain limits; and it will remain so in all future times. Economic justice can very largely extend the area included in these sad limits, but can never altogether abolish the limits. Under its regime the food-supply can be increased tenfold, a hundredfold, but it cannot be increased indefinitely. And when the inevitable limit is reached, what then? Wealth will then gradually give place to privation and ultimately to extreme want; a want that is the more dreadful and hopeless because there will be no escape from its all-embracing curse—not even that partial escape which exploitation had formerly offered to a few. Will, then, mankind, after having passed from cannibalism to exploitation and from that to economic justice, revert to exploitation, perhaps even to cannibalism? Who can say? It seems evident that economic justice is not a phase of evolution which our race could enjoy for any great length of time. It is true that Malthus and others after him have proposed to substitute for the repressive law of misery certain preventives of over-population. But these preventives are all based upon artificial and systematic suppression of the increase of population. If they could be effectively employed at all, such an employment of them is conceivable only in a poor population groaning under the worst consequences of misery; I cannot imagine that men enjoying abundance and leisure, and in possession of the most perfect freedom, will subject themselves to sexual privations. In my opinion, this kind of prevention could not under the most favourable circumstances, come into play in a free society until the pressure of over-population had become very great, and the former prosperity, and with that perhaps the sense of individual liberty also, had been materially diminished. This is not a pleasant prospect, quite apart from the moral repulsiveness of all such violent interference with the relations of the sexes—relations which would be specially delicate under the regime of economic justice. The perspective shows us in the background a picture which contrasts sadly with the luxuriant promise of the beginning. Do the men of Freeland think that they are able to defend their creation from these dangers?
FRANZISKO ESPERO (Left): Man differs from other living beings in having to prepare food for himself, and, in fact, in being able, with increasing civilisation, to prepare it the more easily the denser the population becomes. Carey, an eminent American economist, has pointed this out, and has thereby shown that the otherwise indisputably operative natural law, according to which a species has an inevitable tendency to outgrow its means of sustenance, does not apply to man. The fact that want and misery have, notwithstanding, hitherto always operated as checks upon the growth of the population is not the result of a natural law but of exploitation. The earth would have produced enough for all if everyone had but been able to make free use of his powers. But, as we have seen, exploitation is an institution of men, not of nature. Get rid of that, and you have driven away the spectre of hunger for ever.
STEFAN VALO (Freeland): I think it will be well at once to state what is the Freeland attitude towards the subject now under discussion. The honourable member from Brazil (Espero) is correct in connecting the actual misery of mankind—in the epoch of exploitation—with human institutions instead of with the operation of natural forces. The masses suffered want because they were kept in servitude, not because the earth was incapable of yielding more copious supplies. I will add that this actual misery never prevented the masses from multiplying up to the point at which the further increase of population was checked by other factors—nay, that as a rule misery acted as a stimulus to the increase of the population. Our friend from Brazil is in error, however, when, relying upon the empty rhetoric of Carey, he denies that the growth of the population, if it could go on indefinitely, would necessarily at last lead to a lack of food. The first of the speakers of to-day has rightly remarked that in such a case the time must come when there would no longer be space enough on the earth for the men who were born. But can we conceive the condition possible in which our race should cover the surface of the earth like a plague of locusts? Nay, a really unlimited and continuous increase in the number of human beings would not merely ultimately cover the whole surface of the earth, but would exhaust the material necessary for the crowded masses of human bodies. The growth of the population must, therefore, have some limit, and so far are Malthus and his followers correct. Whether this limit is to be found exactly in the supply of food is another question—a question which cannot be satisfactorily answered in the affirmative until it has been positively shown, or at any rate rendered plausible, that other factors do not come into play long before a lack of food is felt—factors whose operation is such that the limit of necessary food-supply is never, except in very rare cases, even approximately reached, to say nothing of its being crossed.
ARTHUR FRENCH (Right): What I have just heard fills me with astonishment. The member of the Freeland government admits—what certainly cannot reasonably be denied—that unlimited growth of population is an impossibility; and yet he denies that a lack of food is the sought-for check of over-population. It may be at once admitted that Malthus was in error in supposing that this natural check had already been operative in human society. Men have suffered hunger because they were prevented from supplying themselves with food, not because the earth was incapable of copiously—or, at least, more copiously—nourishing them all. Exploitation has therefore proved to be a check upon over-population operating before the limit of necessary food has been reached; it has been a kind of hunger-cure which man has applied to himself before nature had condemned him to suffer hunger. I am less able to understand what the speaker means when he says the misery artificially produced by exploitation has sometimes proved to be, not a check, but rather a stimulus to the growth of population. But I should particularly like to hear more about those other factors which are alleged to have acted as effective checks, and which the speaker evidently anticipates will in future regulate the growth of the population. These factors are to produce the wonderful effect of preventing the population from ever getting even approximately near to the limit of the necessary food-supply. They cannot be artificial and arbitrarily applied means, otherwise a member of the Freeland government, of this commonwealth based upon absolute freedom, would not speak of them so confidently. But apart from all this, how can there be any doubt of the operation of such an elementary factor of restriction as the lack of food in human society, whilst it is to be seen so conspicuously throughout the whole of organic nature? Is man alone among living beings exempt from the operation of this law of nature; or do the Freelanders perhaps know of some means that would compel, say, the herrings so to control their number as not to approach the limit of their food-supplies, or, rather, induce them to preserve such a reasonable rate of increase as would be most conducive to the prosperous continuance of their species?
This cutting apostrophe produced a great sensation. The tension of expectancy was still further increased when several members of the Freeland government—including Stefan Valo, who had already spoken—urgently begged the President to take part in the debate. The whole assembly seemed conscious that the discussion—not merely the special one of the day, but the general discussion of the congress—had reached its decisive point. If the advocates of economic justice were able successfully to meet the objections now urged by their opponents, and to show that those objections were groundless, then the great argumentative battle was won. What would follow would not concern the question whether, but merely the question how, the new social order could be well and lastingly established. But if the Freeland evidence failed upon this point—if the structure of Opposition argumentation could not in this case be blown down like a house of cards—then all the previous successes of the advocates of economic justice would count for nothing. To remove the misery of the present merely to prepare the way for a more hopeless misery in the future, was not that which had aroused men's enthusiasm. If there remained only a shadow of such a danger, the death-knell of economic justice had been sounded.
Amid breathless silence, Dr. STRAHL rose to speak, after he had given up the chair to his colleague Ney, of the Freeland government.
Our friend of the Right (he began) ended his appeal to us with the question whether we in Freeland knew of any means which would compel the herrings to confine the increase in their numbers within such bounds as would best conduce to the prosperous continuance of their species. My answer is brief and to the point: Yes, we know of such a means. [Sensation.] You are astonished? You need not be, dear friends, for you know of it as well as we do; and what leads you to think you do not know of it is merely that peculiar mental shortsightedness which prevents men from perceiving the application of well-known facts to any subject upon which the prejudices they have drunk in with their mother's milk prevent them making a right use of their senses and their judgment. So I assert that you all know of the means in question as well as we do. But I do not say, as you seem to assume, that either you or we were in a position to teach this prudence to the herrings—a task, in fact, which would be scarcely practicable. I assert, rather, that our common knowledge of the means in question is derived not from our gift of invention, but from our gift of observation—in other words, that the herrings have always acted in the way in which, according to the opinion of the propounder of the question, they need to be taught how to act by our wisdom; and that, therefore, in order to attain to a knowledge of the mode of action in question, we need merely first, open our eyes and see what goes on in nature, and secondly, make some use of our understanding in order that we may find out the how of this natural procedure.
Let us, then, first open our eyes—that is, let us remove the bandages with which inherited economic prejudices have blinded us. To make this the easier, my friends, I ask you to fix your mind upon any living thing—the herring, for example—without thinking of any possible reference which it may have to the question of population in human society. Do not seek among the herrings for any explanation of human misery, but regard them simply as one of the many kinds of boarders at the table of nature. It will then be impossible for you not to perceive that, though this species of animal is represented by very many individuals, yet those individuals are not too numerous to find places at nature's table. Nay, I assert that—always supposing you keep merely the herring in mind, and are not at the same time looking at human misery in the background—you would think it absurd to suppose for a moment that the herrings, if they were more numerous than they are, would not find food enough in the ocean—that there were just as many of them as could be fully fed at the table of nature. Or let us take another species of animal, the relations between which and its food-supply we are not obliged to arrive at by reflection, but, if necessary, could easily discover by actual observation—namely, the elephant. Malthus calculated how long it would take for a pair of elephants to fill the world with their descendants, and concluded that it would be lack of food which would ultimately check their indefinite increase. Does not the most superficial glance show you that nowhere on the earth are there nearly so many elephants as would find nourishment in abundance? Would you not think anyone a dotard who would try to convince you of the contrary? Thus you all know—and I wish first of all to make sure of this—that every kind of animal, whether rare or common, more or less fruitful, regularly keeps within such limits as to its numerical increase as are far, infinitely far, removed from a deficiency in the supply of food. I go further: you not merely know that this is so—you know also that it must be so, and why it must be so. Careful observation of natural events teaches you that a species which regularly increased to the very limit of the food-supply, and was, therefore, regularly exposed to hunger and privations, must necessarily degenerate—nay, you cannot fail to see that to many kinds of animals such an increase to the limit of the food-supply would mean sudden destruction. For the animals sow not, neither do they reap; they do not store up provisions for the satisfaction of future needs: and if at any time they were obliged to consume all the food that nature had produced for them, they would thereby, as a rule, destroy the source of their future food-supply, and would not merely suffer hunger, but would all starve. You know, therefore, that that inexhaustible abundance which, in contrast to the misery of human society, everywhere prevails in nature, and which, because of this contrast, the thinkers and poets of all ages have spoken and sung about, is not due to accident, but to necessity; and it only remains now to discover that natural process, that causal connection, by virtue of which this state of things necessarily exists. Upon this point men were treated to nothing but vague phrases when Malthus lived. The veil which hid the history of the evolution of the organic world had not then been lifted; men were therefore obliged to content themselves with explaining all that took place in the kingdoms of animals and plants as the work of Providence or of the so-called vital force—which naturally even then prevented no one from seeing and understanding the fact as well as the necessity of this formerly inexplicable natural phenomenon. But you, living in the century of Darwin, cannot for a moment entertain any doubt upon this last point. You know that it is through the struggle for existence that the living beings have developed into what they are—that properties which prove to be useful and essential to the well-being of a species are called forth, perfected, and fixed by this struggle; and, on the other hand, properties which prove to be detrimental to the well-being of a species are suppressed and removed. Now, since the property of never increasing to the limit of the food-supply is not only advantageous but absolutely necessary to the well-being—nay, to the existence—of every species, it must have been called forth, perfected, and fixed as a permanent specific character by the struggle for existence. You knew all this, my friends, before I said it; but this knowledge was so consciously present to your mind as to be of use in the process of thinking only when purely botanical or zoological questions were under consideration: as soon as in your organ of thought the strings of social or economic problems were struck, there fell a thick, opaque veil over this knowledge which was so clear before. The world no longer appeared to you as it is, but as it looks through the said veil of acquired prejudices and false notions; and your judgment no longer obeyed those universal laws which, under the name of 'logic,' in other cases compelled your respect, but indulged in singular capers which—if the said veil had not fallen over your senses—could not have failed to make you laugh. Indeed, so accustomed have you become to mistake the pictures which this veil shows to you for the actual world that you are not able to free yourselves from them even after you have roused yourselves to tear the veil in pieces. The false notions and erroneous conclusions of the Malthusian theory arose from the fact that its author was not able to discover the true source of the misery of mankind. He asked himself why did the Irish peasant and the Egyptian fellah suffer hunger? He was prevented by the above-mentioned veil from seeing that they suffered hunger because the produce of their labour was taken away from them—because, in fact, they were not permitted to labour. But he perceived that the masses everywhere and always suffered hunger—in some places and at some times less severely than in other places and at other times: yet, in spite of all their painful toil and industry, they perpetually suffered hunger, and had done so from time immemorial. Hence he at last came to the conclusion that this universal hungering was a consequence of a natural law. He further concluded that the fellah and the Irish peasant and the peoples of all parts of the world and of all times had suffered and still suffer hunger because there are too many of them; and there are too many of them because it is only hunger that prevents them from becoming still more numerous. That the world, perplexed by the enigma of misery, should believe this becomes intelligible when one reflects that misery must have a cause, and erroneous explanations must obtain credence when right ones are wanting. But it is remarkable, my friends, that you, who have recognised in exploitation and servitude the causes of misery, should still believe in that strange natural law which Malthus invented for the purpose of constructing out of it the above-mentioned makeshift. This means that, though you have torn the veil in pieces, your mind and your senses are still enveloped in its tatters. You have released yourselves sufficiently to see why the fellah and the Irish peasant suffer hunger to-day, but you tremble in fear that our posterity will have to endure the horrors of over-population. You still see the herring threatened with starvation, and the elephant wandering with an empty stomach over the bare-eaten forest-lands of Hindostan and Africa; and you pass in thought from the herring and the elephant to our poor over-populated posterity.