Charles Hall: A Quintessential Socialist

Commentary on Charles Hall, “The Effects of Civilisation on the People in European States,” 1805.

Let me start by saying that socialism is concerned with providing people with food, shelter, clothing (i.e., their economic needs). It is not concerned with the way this is done. It seeks an end; and is silent about the means. Anarchism, by contrast, is focused on the means, which it proposed to be by democratic decisions by small communities. Combining anarchism with socialism, we get anarcho-socialism. And the model for anarcho-socialism are hunter/gatherer tribes. Their economy is based on a free access to land.

Charles Hall was a physician and his ultimate concern was with the physical and mental health of people. Writing in 1805, he did not challenge the existence of the State, and by this token he was not an anarchist. [Reminder: The French Revolution had occurred in 1789. Napoleon made himself emperor in 1804.]

While focusing on the health of people, he used the American Indians as examples of healthy people and a healthy society. [He was, thus, a precursor to Marshall Sahlins’ idea that hunter-gatherers had an “affluent society.”]
His diagnosis was that the main cause of suffering by the poor in England was due to lack of nurishment (malnutrition). So the main problem was the lack of food. This, he thought, could be solved by giving people free access to land.

He goes into detail about horticulture, giving prescriptions of how and what to grow.

He contrasted the demographics of England with that of the United States. Even though the fertility of both was substantially the same, the mortality rate of children was much higher in England than in the United States. The main difference was, he concluded, in nutrition.

He also noted that work in manufactures was unhealthy because of the conditions of work, such as exposure to noxious chemicals, and the type of bodily movements required in manufacture.

He made a distinction between crude and fine manufactures. Crude manufactures which aided the acquisition of food and diminishing necessary work were welcomed. On the other hand, he was against fine manufactures, i.e., the manufacture of luxuries.

Also too much time spent at work, did not allow time for leisurely activities, such as reading.

He was also quite aware that the State was the result of conquest. But he did not propose a change in government, he merely proposed that the State take particular measures to alleviate the condition of the poor, namely giving them access to free land. In this sense, he was a State-socialist.

Anarchism, Socialism, and Communism

In a previous blog, I wrote:

“There are three characteristics which such primitive or “savage” societies have. The first is that everyone has a free access to subsistence land (socialism). The second is that they form small egalitarian democratic groups (anarchism). The third is that they share freely, and are prone to gift giving (communism).”

The primitive societies which I have in mind are hunter-gatherers, subsistence gardeners, and subsistence herders. Since all three have a source of subsistence on free land, they satisfy the socialist criterion as expressed by Anton Menger [see Anton Menger, The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, 1899] which is the right to subsistence. Anarchism, on the other hand, is a political ideal which requires a bottom-up democracy — either by consensus or by majority rule — of small groups of about 100 persons. Primitive societies thus satisfy this anarchist requirement.

Whereas socialism and anarchism can be understood as a form of rule following, communism is different in requiring an attitude or disposition to sharing and gift giving as occurs most commonly in families. It cannot occur by simply bringing together different people with different backgrounds.

First, let me say that what occurred in the Soviet Union was not communism. Yes, the Bolshevik Party rechristened itself as the Communist Party. And the rest of the world acquiesced in calling their system “communistic.” But it wasn’t even socialistic since there was no free access to subsistence, unless you want to call a prison a socialist system because the inmates are provided with subsistence (having deprived them of free meandering, and forcing them to work). The Soviet Union had state-run factories and state-run agricultural collectives. The products of these factories and collectives were sold in the domestic and international markets, just like private enterprises do in other countries. The proper name for such a system is “state-capitalism.”

Socialism on a small scale would occur if these enterprises were owned and run by the workers themselves; thus determining their rate of pay by themselves. But how this is to occur has been a subject of controversy.

As I see it, communism is possible only on a small scale where everyone knows everyone else (about 150 persons) and where there prevails mutual trust and respect. It cannot occur by bringing together a bunch of 900 strangers as happened in the experiment of Robert Owen at New Harmony, Indiana, in 1824.

When discussing this experiment, what is always skipped is the fact that the town of New Harmony was successfully built by a flourishing colony of communist Rappites. This was a group of German immigrants who fled from religious persecution in Germany. They were devout Christian celibates, as are the Catholic nuns and monks who live in monasteries. They had the communistic disposition of sharing and gift giving.

If we are to examine whether communism is possible, we have to look for examples in religious communities such as the Mennonites, the Amish, the Dukhobors, as well as other denominations.

The Owen experiment was to bring together strangers into a secular environment and have communism be practiced by decree. This is impossible. If we look at the example of primitive tribes — they form an extended family by birth and custom. Strangers have nothing in common except an external bond of agreement (a social contract), which they may not be inclined to honor.

The closest a colony or a village of strangers can flourish together is when the land is owned in common but used separately. The Russian “mir” (a village) has been used as an example of a workable socialism. It is called “communism” only in the respect that the land is communal property which is shared. But it is not a sharing of work or the products of labor. The Russian mir did not have the Amish trait of, for example, communal barn raising. Individual families coped on their own.

I found the histories of American group settlements to be enlightening, especially the following three books (available on the internet):

John Humphrey Noyes, History of American Socialisms, 1870;
Charles Nordhoff, The Communistic Societies of the United States, 1875;
William Alfred Hinds, American Communities, 1878, revised 1902

Nordhoff concluded his research thus:

The societies which may thus be properly used as illustrations of successful communism in this country are the SHAKERS, established in the Eastern States in 1794, and in the West about 1808; the RAPPISTS, established in 1805; the BÄUMELERS, or ZOARITES, established in 1817; the EBEN-EZERs, or AMANA Communists, established in 1844; the BETHEL Commune, established in 1844; the ONEIDA PERFECTIONISTS, established in 1848; the ICARIANS, who date from 1849; and the AURORA Commune, from 1852.

Though in name there are thus but eight societies, these consist in fact of not less than seventy-two communes: the Shakers having fifty-eight of these; the Amana Society seven; and the Perfectionists two. The remaining societies consist of but a single commune for each.

Critical commentary on an article on socialism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The article is: Pablo Gilabert and Martin O’Neill, “Socialism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2019.

This article is an example of how scholarship obfuscates the subject matter.

The subject of the article is “socialism.” After pointing out that the word is ambiguous and vague, there should be an attempt at a prescriptive definition, which they do give. They begin correctly with the statement: “Socialism is best defined in contrast with capitalism, as socialism has arisen both as a critical challenge to capitalism, and as a proposal for overcoming and replacing it.”

So, if socialism contrasts with capitalism, then the problem is to give a definition of capitalism, which they also give by listing, what they call, “constitutive features.”

“(i) The bulk of the means of production is privately owned and controlled.

(ii) People legally own their labor power. (Here capitalism differs from slavery and feudalism, under which systems some individuals are entitled to control, whether completely or partially, the labor power of others).

(iii) Markets are the main mechanism allocating inputs and outputs of production and determining how societies’ productive surplus is used, including whether and how it is consumed or invested.

An additional feature that is typically present wherever (i)–(iii) hold, is that:

(iv) There is a class division between capitalists and workers, involving specific relations (e.g., whether of bargaining, conflict, or subordination) between those classes, and shaping the labor market, the firm, and the broader political process.”

Although these points do describe features of capitalism, I would not call them all “constitutive.” A necessary condition for capitalism is the presence of, what Marx called, “free laborers” or “proletarians.” This is why Bernard Shaw wrote: “To begin with, the word Capitalism is misleading. The proper name of our system is Proletarianism.” Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, 1928

It is (i) and (ii) which — properly formulated — is a necessary and sufficient condition for capitalism. However, as they have formulated it, it is misleading. The formulation has two phrases which are not accurate. The first is the word “bulk” meaning “most”, and the second phrase “means of production,” which comes from Karl Marx, and suggests something like “mass production.” The phrase “means of production” in Marx includes territory of land. But if we think of indigenous people (who are not capitalists), they use material found on the land for making tools, shelters, and they use the land for hunting, for fishing, and for gathering food for consumption, and they may also use the land for herding and cultivation — in short, for subsistence. It is misleading to talk here of “production.”

It is not that the “bulk” or “most” of the land (which is what we should be talking about) is privately owned; rather, all of it is controlled by the government — where there is a government — as a sellable commodity. For example, in the United States all land was owned by the government and originally sold for a minimum of $1 an acre.

Capitalism is best described as a political system which bars people from a free access to subsistence land; thus creating proletarians.

And then, socialism, as an antithesis to capitalism, is a political system which grants everyone a right of free access to subsistence land, or something approximating this.

Socialism =/= Anarchism

I call myself an anarcho-socialist for a reason. I favor both socialism and anarchism. Socialism is concerned primarily with subsistence; whereas anarchism with freedom of agreements. The model for anarcho-socialism is a typical indigenous tribe of hunter/gatherers. But remember a model is used to depict things in given respects only; other respects are irrelevant or even unsavory. The respects in which a tribe serves as a model for socialism is that it satisfies all three criteria as given, for example, by Anton Menger. He listed these as: 1. the right to the full product of labor, 2. right to subsistence, 3. the right to labor. Of these, the primary is the right to subsistence, i.e., all the things which are necessary to preserve animal life: water, food, shelter, clothing, fire (energy).

An indigenous tribe also serves as a model for anarchism inasmuch as the tribe makes decisions through direct democracy on a small scale, i.e., the scale of a Dunbar number of not more than 150 persons. This presumably is the amount of people that one can get to know intimately.

There are, however, features of primitive tribes which are inimical to free thought. And it is in this respect which Karl Popper condemns “tribalism” as a closed society. Primitive tribes are closed to metaphysical and ritualistic disagreements. This unsavory aspect is continued in modern societies by religions and patriotic rituals.

If the essence of socialism is the right to subsistence, then socialism is carried out by the States in the form of prisons, and in the case of the United States in the form of Indian reservations, and to a lesser extent by welfare programs. Let us call these Prison Socialism, Reservation Socialism, and Welfare Socialism. There are also various non-governmental charitable organizations serving, for example, the homeless. Call these Charitable Socialisms.

Talking about Prison Socialism, have you seen Michael Moore’s video “Where to Invade Next“? Watch the whole film about how socialism works, and especially the clip from the film about Norwegian prisons:

Critical remarks on Anton Menger’s approach to Socialism

In a former blog, I claimed that Alexander Gray [The Socialist Tradition], though citing Anton Menger’s book, The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, as the source of his knowledge about the English Socialists — he called them “pre-Marxians — learned nothing from him, i.e., from the thoughts of Menger himself.

First, concerning the definition of “socialism,” Gray is all over the place talking about individualism, communism, justice, efficiency, equality — finally settling for an unsystematic classification of socialisms rather than for a definition. And even the classification is done on the basis of secondary matters.

Anton Menger, by contrast, at the very beginning of his book, sets up as his desiderata (criteria) for socialism three disjunctive conditions. By “disjunctive” I mean that any one of them singly is sufficient for socialism. And it is left as an open question whether the three are jointly compatible. The three are:

  1. Right to the whole produce of labor
  2. Right to subsistence
  3. Right to labor

He quickly notes that the third is a species of the second. In other words, that labor is a way of getting subsistence.

In chapters 2-12 he goes over the literature on how these desiderata were treated, mostly the first. He spends much time considering how communities or associations were to be organized. This applies to colonies, as well as to domestic organizations. And in the last chapter 13, he offers possible solutions through a consideration of land ownership, which he lists as three possibilities:

  1. Private ownership and private use
  2. Common ownership and private use
  3. Common ownership and common use

Let me point out that this classification assumes that land is a sellable commodity, and that it can be owned either by individuals or groups. It does not include the possibility that land is not owned.

All three alternatives can exist in present States. It is simply which is preferable. The first alternative is what prevails in the world, dominated by private corporations. The existing laws allow private ownership, and the hiring of people for private production and private profit (or for whatever the owners wish).

He cites the Russian village (Mir) as an example of common ownership, and private use (the second alternative). Actually the Russian village did not “own” the land; it collectively managed the land, and through periodic democratic assemblies divided the arable land in some agreed to plots.

Proposals to nationalize the land are variations on this second alternative.

The third alternative was realized by the various communal colonies — either religious or non-sectarian — which, for example, were set up in the United States. He cites the reporting of William Hinds [American Communities] for these communitarian experiments.

His conclusion is that the socialist ideal is satisfied by these last two alternatives, but not having a clear proposal for how subsistence relates to labor, he simply notes that the right to subsistence prevails in these communitarian societies; thus, satisfying one socialist desideratum.

Critical commentary:

Although I disapprove of ad hominem arguments, here I offer an ad hominem circumstancial which should guide our critical consideration of Menger’s proposals. He, as a salaried professor of jurisprudence at the University of Vienna (and wanting to keep his job), should have kept away from a criticism of the State, and he did; simply mentioning that anarchists wish to eliminate the State. He himself was interested in how to lawfully realize socialism, i.e., in and by a State. And he did have Bismark’s social legislation as a model.

My first observation is this. All primitive tribes and stateless communities satisfy all three desiderata. But this is anarchism, which is not under Menger’s purview.

My second observation is this. The Russian Mir was owned by a landlord, and all of Russia was owned by a Czar, and both required taxes from the village. The village only determined land usage and how the taxes were to be distributed among the villagers.

My third observation is that all the communitarian colonies in the United States had to purchase the land either from the State or from individuals. In some cases, these colonies did so by borrowing money, which they had to pay back with interest. And let us not forget property taxes exacted by the individual states. Thus, although all colonies became self-sufficient concerning subsistence, they were forced to enter an outside market economy to repay their debts.

Strictly speaking, the first — and main — ideal of socialism cannot be fully realized by any of these alternative property holdings, as long as there is a State which takes taxes.

The other consideration, pointed out by Menger, is that the communitarian colonies — taken as individuals — were in competition with other corporations and individuals for a market. And success was not guaranteed. [This criticism applies to Richard Wolff’s proposal for worker-owned enterprises. And it does not solve the problem of unemployment and homelessness.]

Although I am interested in what these communitarians believed and how they managed their affairs, I am more focused on the fact that they had to purchase their land holdings, and that they had to pay property taxes.

I think there is a preconception in people’s mind about the vast amount of land which was open to settlement in “the frontier.” Well, let’s be clear, in areas where either a British colony, or eventually a State made a survey and gained control, i.e., jurisdiction, no land was available for free. Yes, those who ventured into the frontier beyond government control could eke out a living by hunting and gathering, and even by building a homestead, i.e., by squatting. But beside the danger of encroaching on Indian territory, as soon as the government reached their territory, these squatters had to pay for the land through what were called “preemption laws.” This means that they had the first right to buy the land. If they could not, they were evicted.

I found the book by Roy M. Robbins, Our Landed Heritage: The Public Domain 1776-1936, an eye opener. This book should be read in conjunction with Richard Morris, Government and Labor in Early America.

All land was the property of the State, and in May 20, 1785 (modified in 1787) a law was established that land was to be surveyed into Townships, an area of 6 x 6 miles, divided into 36 “sections” of 1 x 1 mile (640 acres). [As an aside. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, pioneers were granted 1/4 section (160 acres) (for a small processing fee and a condition that the land be “improved” within 5 years), and in 1865 General Sherman proposed to give 40 acres to former slaves — a proposal which was rescinded by President Johnson]

Land was to be sold at auction with a minimum of $1 per acre, and a $36 fee for the surveyed Township. (I have not determined what was the minimal acres which were sold, but apparently speculators gobbled up the land in huge chunks, which they then sold at retail inflated prices. And there were shady acquisitions galore.

My point is that prior to 1862 there never was land to be taken legally for free.

Next, let me make some other observations. Menger says that the first desideratum has implications of a negative sort. He claims that it implies that no one is allowed to rent out land, and that there is to be no interest taken on loans. I am not sure how universal he means to make these prescriptions. Given that farmers and manufacturers had to purchase land and machinery, there were various proposed schemes to set up Banks and Credit Unions which would take only a minimal interest to offset the cost of processing a loan.

I want to end with the following observation as found in Franz Oppenheimer’s book, The State:

“For as long as man has ample opportunity to take up unoccupied land, “no one,” says Turgot, “would think of entering the service of another;” we may add, “at least for wages, which are not apt to be higher than the earnings of an independent peasant working an unmortgaged and sufficiently large property;” while mortgaging is not possible as long as land is yet free for the working or taking, as free as air and water.” p. 9-10

Alexander Gray’s classification of socialisms

This is a further commentary on Alexander Gray’s The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin, 1946.

At the outset of the book, Gray expresses skepticism about a neat definition of “socialism.” He is, of course, correct in his skepticism. Most words suffer from ambiguity and vagueness; much more so abstract words which end in “-ism.”

He is probably right to begin with a survey of individuals who were called socialists, and reserve any attempt at classification and definition to the end of the book — as he does.

Although explicitly he classifies socialists into four categories, he actually uses five. The fifth category is whether the socialist was a Revolutionary Socialist or an Evolutionary (or Reformist, or Revisionary) Socialist. In this broad sense, socialism is simply a dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs. That is a necessary condition; it is not sufficient. It has to do with the nature of this dissatisfaction.

Well what can you do with the State? Incidentally, asking this question without saying anything about the nature of a particular State, is totally unproductive. When people talk about a “State” they are really talking about a particularly constituted government. It is entirely misleading to equate the State with government. The genus here is “government” and “State” is a species. Government exists when rules exist. And without rules, we have a Hobbesian brute state of nature.

As to the dissatisfaction with the status quo, from a historical perspective society is divided between masters and slaves, lords and serfs, and presently employers and employees. This is the perspective of Karl Marx, and constitutes what Marx called a “class struggle.” Well, certainly such a classifications can be made. But, as Gray asks, do these classes actually struggle? Well, there were various rebellions — but were they between classes? They were local and limited. And currently, when there are strikes, it is for improving wages of a narrow sector of this working class; and not for the improvement of workers in general, and certainly not to get rid of wages as such.

Gray is right to point out that there is no “solidarity” among workers in even one factory, or one country; no less than a solidarity between workers of different countries. And the solidarity which does exist is usually not greater than the strike of one trade union. We cannot ignore the fact that many workers are, indeed, satisfied with their wages, and do not want any radical changes.

And those that are unemployed or underemployed seem to place their hope in an opportunity to vote. This was the case with women and now this is the case with blacks. They think they can elect a candidate who will represent their interests, but the more likely scenario is that they will elect a candidate who will seek his own interests. Even if a true representative is elected, he or she will be in a minority.

But I stray from Gray.

In the concluding chapter 18 of his book, Gray classifies socialists into four types. I have tried to place his classification into a chart below. In order for the category of Anarchism to fit as I have placed it, people must be granted a free access to subsistence land. Although Gray discusses the Agrarians in chapter 11, who advocated a free access to subsistence land, he seems to forget them when discussing anarchism in general. Well, I put them on the chart where they seem to belong.

Alexander Gray’s classification of socialisms