I look at the history of the United States from the perspective of a person who is forced, in one way or another, to work for a living, as contrasted, for example, to an American Indian who could go anywhere and do anything he wanted. As Rousseau put it: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Why is this so?
I see myself as a wage-slave. Because some may think I am exaggerating, let me explain. There is a broad sense of the term “slave” such that anyone who is forced to do anything by anyone else is a slave to that person. In this broad sense, children are normally slaves of their parents; wives are often slaves of their husbands; soldier are slaves to their superiors; worker are slaves to their employers; prostitutes are slaves to their pimps.
Slavery, in a narrow or technical sense, applies to the condition of people who are, in some sense, the property of some other person — with or without the possibility of gaining freedom. The severest form of this condition is chattel slavery in which the master is free to kill the slave.
Slavery is, then, a continuum of conditions, with degrees of restrictions, degrees of penalties, and degrees of freedoms.
In general, as I view it, slavery consists of being forced to do work for someone else. This forcing can be direct or indirect. In civilized societies, all forms of slavery are the results of laws.
Direct slavery occurs where the law stipulates that a particular person is the slave, serf, servant, laborer, or apprentice of another. Some laws allowed people to sell themselves into bondage. An example of this is the American Colonial practice of indentured servitude, whereby for the price of passage to America an immigrant sold himself into servitude for a period ranging from 2 to 7 years.
Indirect slavery occurs when the penalty for not working for someone else is a deprivation of the means for existence — a deprivation of access to subsistence land.
In the American colonies, it was unlawful to be a vagabond, i.e., a homeless person. Such people were arrested and made into laborers for someone or other. If no one could be found to take them, they were whipped and branded through the right ear. For a third offence, they were executed. As remnants of this policy, the United States still has vagrancy laws.
Direct slavery still exists in the United States in the form of military induction (when invoked). In such an event, a civilian is being forced to become a soldier. If he refuses, he will be imprisoned or, under some circumstances, executed. On the other hand, enlistment into the military is like indentured servitude — one makes an agreement with the government to serve a number of years (technically it is eight years), and the punishment for breaking such an agreement (with exceptions) is normally imprisonment.
Indirect slavery is the result of a deprivation of access to free subsistence land. The United States does not provide for free access to subsistence land, and in this manner forces everyone to get money for subsistence. Even if one manages to buy some land (or even get it for a nominal fee as was provided by the Homestead Act of 1862), one cannot simply subsist on it, because there are always state property taxes to be paid. And if these taxes are not paid, the land is confiscated by the state.
For this reason alone, it is proper to call the present economic and government system of the United States one of wage-slavery. The ultimate land owner is the government which collects property, sales, income, and other taxes as it sees fit.
In addition, because the government does have an enormous amount of money, it is also the largest employer and buyer. The bulk of its budget — about half a trillion dollars — is spent on military agents and tools of enforcement — airplanes, warships, tanks, bombs, missiles, bullets, and such. Often, the youth who are lured into the military are those who cannot afford to pay for education or job training. This is an “economic draft” which ensures that the United States government will have a steady supply of enforcers and canon fodder, drawn largely from the poor.
Capitalism, as I understand it, is the economic system which makes all land into a sellable and taxable commodity. It is a system which does not recognize an unalienable (unsellable) right to free land — though such a right is implict in the Declaration of Independence as the unalienable (unsellable) right to the pursuit of happiness. Happiness, in this instance, is nothing more than subsistence, and one cannot subsist in an independent and self-sufficient manner without access to land.
All major peasant uprisings and peasant revolutions have recognized the connection between liberty and free land. And this sentiment was expressed by peasants; not by landlords or merchants (bourgeoise). Landlords simply wanted to maintain possession of their lands, while merchants wanted to purchase land. It was to the advantage of peasants only to have access to free land.
The English, the American, and the French Revolutions were not peasant revolutions — they were revolutions of the aristocracy against a monarchy. Though there were many peasant and slave revolts throughout history, the first successful revolution of slaves was the Haitian Revolution of 1804. In the 20th century, the Mexican, the Russian, and the Spanish Revolutions are examples of three major peasant revolutions — and it is not surprising that their slogans were “Tierra y Libertad,” “Zemlya y Volya,” Land and Liberty.
The purpose of Political Liberty is to foster Economic Liberty. Political liberty is needed to get agreement for economic policies. And although the United States allows more political freedom than any other country, because of media control by corporations, it is extremely hard to get a political consensus about better economic policies. Right now, both domestically and internationally, the United States is against any policy which would give away land for free to anyone, without also making it a sellable commodity. Consequently, the following may be a true generalization of U.S. foreign policy: it is a suffecient reason for U.S. intervention in another country, if that country adopts an agrarian policy of giving away land for free. The underlying reason is that a country of self-sufficient and independent land owners will not yield a pool of cheap wage-slaves, including soldiers, for capitalists.
|“In former times the marauding minority of mankind, by means of physical violence, compelled the working majority to render feudal services, or reduced them to a state of slavery or serfdom, or at least made them pay a tribute. Nowadays the dependence of the working classes is secured in a less direct but equally efficacious manner, viz. by means of the superior power of capital; the labourer being forced, in order to get his subsistence, to place his labour power entirely at the disposal of the capitalist. So there is a semblance of liberty; but in reality the labourer is exploited and subjected, because, all the land having been appropriated, he cannot procure his subsistence directly from nature, and, goods being produced for the market and not for the producer’s own use, he cannot subsist without capital. Wages will rise above what is wanted for the necessaries of life, where the labourer is able to earn his subsistence on free land, which has not yet become private property. But wherever, in an old and totally occupied country, a body of labouring poor is employed in manufactures, the same law, which we see at work in the struggle for life throughout the organized world, will keep wages at the absolute minimum”
F. A. Lange, Die Arbeiterfrage. Ihre Bedeutung fur Gegenwart und Zukunft. Vierte Auflage. 1861, pp. 12, 13. Quoted by H. J. Nieboer, Slavery: As an Industrial System (Ethnological Researches), 2d edition, 1909, p. 421.
Solution to the Unemployment Problem
A Free Land Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
Each person has a right to free and non-taxable subsistence land.
“. . . every man has, by the law of nature, a right to such a waste portion of the earth as is necessary for his subsistence.” Thomas More, Utopia
“Not the constitution, but free land, and its abundance of natural resources open to a fit people, made the democratic type of society in America for three centuries.” Frederick Turner, Chapter XI, The West and American Ideals, Frontier in American History.
|If a person has no access to land, then that person
If a person is unemployed and does not want to starve and does not want charity, then that person must live by criminal activity.
“. . . overpopulation is critical today and may well make the distribution question moot tomorrow.” Paul and Anne Ehrlich, The Population Explosion (1990), p. 21.
Definitions of capitalism stress freedom of trade. But trade has always existed. Well, trade is a necessary condition of capitalism, as is industrialization (mass production), but the other necessary condition — which is much too often omitted — is the existence of workers, who are drawn from the proletariat class. Proletarians are people who do not have a free access to land on which to subsist.
I don’t know any writer, other than Shaw, who understood and emphasized this existence of proletarians, and wanted to substitute for the term “capitalism,” the more appropriate term “proletarianism.”
In chapter 28 of his book, he makes his reasoning quite clear. (I have taken the liberty to emphasize some words.)
Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, 1928
Nobody who does not understand Capitalism can change it into Socialism, or have clear notions of how Socialism will work. Therefore we shall have to study Capitalism as carefully as Socialism. To begin with, the word Capitalism is misleading. The proper name of our system is Proletarianism. When practically every disinterested person who understands our system wants to put an end to it because it wastes capital so monstrously that most of us are as poor as church mice, it darkens counsel to call it Capitalism. It sets people thinking that Socialists want to destroy capital, and believe that they could do without it: in short, that they are worse fools than their neighbors.
Unfortunately that is exactly what the owners of the newspapers want you to think about Socialists, whilst at the same time they would persuade you that the British people are a free and independent race who would scorn to be proletarians (except a few drunken rascals and Russians and professional agitators): therefore they carefully avoid the obnoxious word Proletarianism and stick to the flattering title of Capitalism, which suggests that the capitalists are defending that necessary thing, Capital.
However, I must take names as I find them; and so must you. Let it be understood between us, then, that when we say Capitalism we mean the system by which the land of the country is in the hands, not of the nation, but of private persons called landlords, who can prevent anyone from living on it or using it except, on their own terms. Lawyers tell you that there is no such thing as private property in land because all the land belongs to the King, and can legally be “resumed” by him at any moment. But as the King never resumes it nowadays, and the freeholder can keep you off it, private property in land is a fact in spite of the law.
The main advantage claimed for this arrangement is that it makes the landholders rich enough to accumulate a fund of spare money called capital. This fund is also private property. Consequently the entire industry of the country, which could not exist without land and capital, is private property. But as industry cannot exist without labor, the owners must for their own sakes give employment to those who are not owners (called proletarians), and must pay them enough wages to keep them alive and enable them to marry and reproduce themselves, though enough to enable them ever to stop working regularly.
In this way, provided the owners make it their duty to be selfish, and always hire labor at the lowest possible wage, the industry of the country will be kept going, and the people provided with a continuous livelihood, yet kept under a continuous necessity to go on working until they are worn out and fit only for the workhouse. It is fully admitted, by those who understand this system, that it produces enormous inequality of income, and that the cheapening of labor which comes from increase of population must end in an appalling spread of discontent, misery, crime, and disease, culminating in violent rebellion, unless the population is checked at the point up to which the owners can find employment for it; but the argument is that this must be faced because human nature is so essentially selfish, and so inaccessible to any motive except pecuniary gain, that no other practicable way of building up a great modern civilization stands open to us.
This doctrine used to be called the doctrine of The Manchester School. But as the name became unpopular, it is now described generally as Capitalism. Capitalism therefore means that the only duty of the Government is to maintain private property in land and capital, and to keep on foot an efficient police force; and magistracy to enforce all private contracts made by individuals in pursuance of their own interests, besides, of course, keeping civil order and providing for naval and military defense or adventure.
In opposition to Capitalism, Socialism insists that the first duty of the Government is to maintain equality of income, and absolutely denies any private right of property whatever. It would treat every contract as one to which the nation is a party, with the nation’s welfare as the predominant consideration, and would not for a moment tolerate any contract the effect of which would be that one woman should work herself to death prematurely in degrading poverty in order that another should live idly and extravagantly on her labor. Thus it is quite true that Socialism will abolish private property and freedom of contract: indeed it has done so already to a much greater extent than people realize; for the political struggle between Capitalism and Socialism has been going on for a century past, during which Capitalism has been yielding bit by bit to the public indignation roused by its worst results, and accepting installments of Socialism to palliate them.
Do not, by the way, let yourself be confused by the common use of the term private property to denote personal possession. The law distinguished between Real Property (lordship) and Personal Property until the effort to make a distinction between property in land and property in capital produced such a muddle that it was dropped in 1926. Socialism, far from absurdly objecting to personal possessions, knows them to be indispensable, and looks forward to a great increase of them. But it is incompatible with real property.
To make the distinction clear let me illustrate. You call your umbrella your private property, and your dinner your private property. But they are not so: you hold them on public conditions. You may not do as you please with them. You may not hit me on the head with your umbrella; and you may not put rat poison into your dinner and kill me with it, or even kill yourself; for suicide is a crime in British law. Your right to the use and enjoyment of your umbrella and dinner is a personal right, rigidly limited by public considerations. But if you own an English or Scottish county you may drive the inhabitants off it into the sea if they have nowhere else to go. You may drag a sick woman with a newly born baby in her arms out of her house and dump her in the snow on the public road for no better reason than that you can make more money out of sheep and deer than out of women and men. You may prevent a waterside village from building a steamboat pier for the convenience of its trade because you think the pier would spoil the view from your bedroom window, even though you never spend more than a fortnight a year in that bedroom, and often do not come there for years together. These are not fancy examples: they are things that have been done again and again. They are much worse crimes than hitting me over the head with your umbrella. And if you ask why landowners are allowed to do with their land what you are not allowed to do with your umbrella, the reply is that the land is private property, or, as the lawyers used to say, real property, whilst the umbrella is only personal property. So you will not be surprised to hear Socialists say that the sooner private property is done away with the better.
Both Capitalism and Socialism claim that their object is the attainment of the utmost possible welfare for mankind. It is in their practical postulates for good government, their commandments if you like to call them so, that they differ. These are, for Capitalism, the upholding of private property in land and capital, the enforcement of private contracts, and no other State in interference with industry or business except to keep civil order; and for Socialism, the equalization of income, which involves the complete substitution of personal for private property and of publicly regulated contract for private contract, with police interference whenever equality is threatened, and complete regulation and control of industry and its products by the State.
As far as political theory is concerned you could hardly have a flatter contradiction and opposition than this; and when you look at our Parliament you do in fact see two opposed parties, the Conservative and the Labor, representing roughly Capitalism Socialism. But as members of Parliament are not required to have had any political education, or indeed any education at all, only a very few of them, who happen to have made a special study, such as you are making, of social and political questions, understand the principles their parties represent. Many of the Labor members are not Socialists. Many of the Conservatives are feudal aristocrats, called Tories, who are as keen on State interference with everything and everybody as the Socialists. All of them are muddling along from one difficulty to another, settling as best they can when they can put it off no longer, rather than on any principle or system. The most you can say is that, as far as the Conservative Party has a policy at all, it is a Capitalistic policy, and as far as the Labor Party has a policy at all it is a Socialist policy; so that if you wish to vote against Socialism you should vote Conservative; and if you wish to vote against Capitalism you should vote Labor. I put it in this way because it is not easy to induce people to take the trouble to vote. We go to the polling station mostly to vote against something instead of for anything.
We can now settle down to our examination of Capitalism as it comes to our own doors. And, as we proceed, you must excuse the disadvantage I am at in not knowing your private affairs. You may be a capitalist. You may be a proletarian. You may be betwixt-and-between in the sense of having an independent income sufficient to keep you, but not sufficient to enable you to save any more capital. I shall have to treat you sometimes as if you were so poor that the difference of a few shillings a ton in the price of coal is a matter of serious importance in your housekeeping, and sometimes as if you were so rich that your chief anxiety is how to invest the thousands you have not been able to spend.
There is no need for you to remain equally in the dark about me; and you had better know whom you are dealing with. I am a landlord and capitalist, rich enough to be super-taxed; and in addition I have a special sort of property called literary property, for the use of which I charge people exactly as a landlord charges rent for his land. I object to inequality of income not as a man with a small income, but as one with a middling big one. But I know what it is to be a proletarian, and a poor one at that. I have worked in an office; and I have pulled through years of professional unemployment, some of the hardest of them at the expense of my mother. I have known the extremes of failure and of success. The class in which I was born was that most unlucky of all classes: the class that claims gentility and is expected to keep up its appearances without more than the barest scrap and remnant of property to do it on. I intrude these confidences on you because it is as well that you be able to allow for my personal bias. The rich often write about the poor, and the poor about the rich, without really knowing what they are writing about. I know the whole gamut from personal experience, short of actual hunger and homelessness, which should never be experienced by anybody. If I cry sour grapes, you need not suspect that they are only out of my reach: they are all in my hand at their ripest and best.
So now let us come down to tin tacks.
Chris Hedges interviews Sheldon Wolin.
Cameron Watt clearly explains the difference between authoritarian and libertarian socialists, and argues in favor of libertarian socialism (=anarchism).
The difference between democratic socialism and revolutionary socialism
Socialism in all forms strives to improve the economic life of the downtrodden people — the homeless, the poor. And this can be done only by political means. Democratic socialists hope to do this through parliaments, through congresses of representatives or deputies. Revolutionary socialists, by contrast, think this can be done only by changing the political institutions.
Authoritarian socialists think this can be done by their party taking control of the central government. The assumption is that a central government (i.e. the State) is necessary to do this. In the Soviet Union there was no socialism; there was State capitalism. The government took over the factories and farms and hired wage-workers. And these products entered into the international market.
Libertarian socialists, by contrast, want to get rid of a central government altogether, i.e., the State, and replace it with a federation of small communities governed by democratically elected councils.
David Graeber, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant“
Here is the video of the debate. My commentary is below.
G. A. Cohen: Criticism of Capitalism
The Legend of the Shmoo
Al Capp Documentary