This 1931 text by the Dutch anarchosyndicalist Christiaan Cornelissen, who in 1916 was a signatory of the pro-war Manifesto of the Sixteen, argues against the possibility of the direct implementation of communist policies after the revolution and for the persistence of money, “government”, police and prisons during a transitional period that will only gradually overcome the baneful legacy of capitalism, and calls upon the trade unions to cultivate a technocratic leadership cadre to direct high level strategic planning by financial-industrial socialist trusts, and thus prepare humanity and the economy for communism. We do not agree with this article but reproduce for reference.
Libertarian Communism and the Transitional Regime – Christiaan Cornelissen
Before outlining the basic features of a libertarian communist economy in the pages that follow, it is important to bring to the reader’s attention all the difficulties that will confront anyone who attempts such a labor.
Human society is now and always will be a mosaic of a wide range of forms of existences, habits and customs. Everything is in Everything, as an old Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tse, said, and you cannot understand the extremely complex composition of a civilization, unless you take into account the necessary coexistence of a wide variety of mutually interwoven forms which, taken as a whole, constitute the human mosaic.
A form of society that has made progress in the communist sense will differ, first of all, depending on the country and even the various regions of each country. It cannot be identical in Spain and in Russia; it will also vary among the diverse countries of western Europe, such as Spain and France, not to mention England; it will likewise manifest profound variations once it is established in a country like Spain, if you were to study how Spain’s features change from the coasts to its interior, or from the plains to the mountains, or even from countryside to the big cities.
Production in communist society will also differ from industry to industry, and consumption will vary in accordance with the nature of the consumer goods involved. No form of civilization can allow the personnel of the electric power industry or the railroads to have the same freedom of action as farmers, because wherever human life is subject to mortal danger, a more rigorous discipline is necessary.
In any event, a communist civilization is an organism that evolves like everything else in Nature, and thus we cannot forget that, since it is born from the form of capitalist civilization that preceded it, it will everywhere exhibit the traces of its origin for centuries. Therefore we cannot describe the fundamental principles of a libertarian communist civilization without admitting the need for the existence of a transitional period, during which the habits and customs of the old capitalist civilization will still exercise a powerful influence in all communist institutions.
Likewise, if we want to assess the present chances of realizing the libertarian communist ideal, or of coming closer to that ideal, we have to face the facts and above all avoid any underestimation of the power of our principle adversaries: the capitalist organizers of industry, transportation and commerce; and the landowners, the clergy that support them and the contemporary State, which is their tool.
The working class masses have an emotional advantage, of course, in the power of their numbers. But the classes of the capitalists and the landlords have the advantage of extensive experience—which sometimes takes the form of a routine—in the highest level of management of industrial, commercial and agricultural enterprises; as well as in transport, communications and public administration.
As long as the readers of the pages that follow take all the preceding observations into account, it will be clear that, in our study, we have only traced the broad outlines of the development of a libertarian communist economy, making necessary allowances for the influence of all kinds of special factors of a historical, ethnic, national or local nature.
It is not just because we are convinced that the events of the future will decide what parts of our ideal we can realize, but also because we are very well aware of all the complexity of life in society, that we forbear from going into all the details of an exhaustive portrayal.
We are not prophets and we must restrict ourselves to tracing, in only the broadest outlines, the picture of a libertarian communist society.
Some General Comments
The ideal of a libertarian communist society is the realization of a social life, which is characterized by the formula: To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities.
We can see the proof that Humanity can approach closer to this idea, and increasingly more so as the years pass, over the course of the future centuries, by looking at the currently existing institution of the Family. A happy family, a model family of our time—whether rich or poor—is strictly communist in the meaning of the formula we quoted above. The regime under which it lives and works is as follows: one for all and all for one. The strongest and the most intelligent support the children and the elderly, and they will in turn be supported when they become ill or when they grow old.
Nonetheless, we can only accept the principle we quoted above for a very distant future, if we want to apply it to society as a whole.
We say to a sincere Christian—there are some—that the strict application of the principle of the Gospel: If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn your left cheek to him as well, would be absurd and would also lead, with men the way they are, to results that are diametrically opposed to the desired effect. The true believer will respond—if he is intelligent—I know that quite well, but I think of my principle as a distant ideal of perfect love, an ideal that is certainly impossible to attain for the vast majority of the men of our time, but towards which we must try to advance, however, as much as possible and in the process improve ourselves.
We understand the ideal of strict communism in a similar way. We know quite well that, at the present time, a social regime that would not require that the labor of every man of sound mind and good health should counterbalance the expansion of their consumption, would encounter insuperable practical difficulties. And this is also because human nature has not been profoundly transformed in an altruistic sense.
It is precisely among the working class milieus of various countries that we find the most passionate and even fanatical supporters of the regimen: He who will not work, will not eat.
This can be explained by the fact that the workers know better than anyone else that life is hard, that Nature does not give up anything unless they make an effort, and that the lazy person who lets others work for him commits an outrage.
We shall offer just one instance from our long experience: During the first Russian revolution, in 1904-1906, we were the (nominal) owners of a steamer that was transporting guns and ammunition to the Russian revolutionaries. While the ship was returning to the port of Amsterdam, the owner of the guns and I intended to give a tip of 50 florins to all the men on the crew and a greater sum to the four officers. But because some crewmen had disembarked in Italy—in order to return to Holland more quickly by train—the captain had to hire five Arabs on the north coast of Africa. Now, in Amsterdam, the skipper, speaking in the name of the crew, thanked us for the promised tip, but added that he and his comrades would refuse to accept the 50 florins if the Arabs were paid the same amount. For these men had let their comrades do all the work almost without helping them at all, even in the midst of a storm, when the small boat had to seek shelter on the English coast. This is an instance of workers refusing to accept a gratuity, and one that moreover well deserved, and harming their own interests, rather than see this same gratuity given to people who did not deserve it.
After more than thirty years of special economic studies and more than forty years of practical experience in the international workers movement, we do not personally see any chance for strict communism in the near future except in some very special spheres of production and consumption and for the most vital necessities: bread, work clothes and the simplest housing.
These vital necessities can always be produced in a sufficient quantity by the community of the workers, so that they can be made available even to those who do not want to work.
Isn’t the water from the public fountains and access to the public parks freely available today to everyone?
As for what exceeds the strictly necessary, we will have to be satisfied—in the near future, just like at present—with making sure that the community, through a spirit of solidarity, takes care of the sick and the lame, the children and the elderly. This spirit of solidarity does not rule out philanthropy, but is the expression of a social duty of the collectivity with respect to individuals.
In brief, we think that the gradual realization of the communist regime will be the work of a long-term education of men that will take generations. Just like men in general, the vast majority of the workers—except for a few rare exceptions—will also have to learn how to work for each other’s benefit, just as they must also learn to gradually replace the individual capitalists in the management of production.
All of these observations pertain to communism. But we are not only communists, but libertarians as well. That is, we seek the greatest possible freedom for every individual and for every group of individuals; the greatest possible autonomy for each commune and for each region within a nation, as well as the independence of every people, whether numerous or not, of any nation that can claim to represent a civilization with a particular character, to the greatest extent possible that is consonant with international interests.
If we knew that a tyrannical government, a dictatorship similar to the one that currently rules in Soviet Russia were to be prepared to create, over the course of half a century, a highly developed form of communism, but on the condition that individual freedom would be totally sacrificed, we would prefer the currently existing bad social regime that at least guarantees a few liberties, to a barracks regime and forced labor, like the one that currently exists in Russia—a regime that is unacceptable in principle and even dangerous as a temporary phenomenon, since there is a risk that it may provoke in the masses subjected to the experience an enduring hatred of communism and cause them to join the ranks of the reactionaries.
It would be preferable, for everyone’s happiness, for Humanity to slowly evolve in both directions at once—towards communism and freedom—than to realize, by means of the violence of a dictatorship, a social order of slavery, even if this slavery was supposed to bring us closer to communism.
In the definition of the word libertarian provided above, we twice explicitly emphasized the term possible. It is because we recognize all the difficulties that stand in the way, in everyday practical life, of the realization of freedom and autonomy, that we recognize all the practical difficulties that stand in the way of the realization of communism in the strict sense of the word.
In one aspect after another, a developmental process of several generations, give or take a few, will be necessary before our noblest social dreams can come true; that is, before Men as a whole have learned to tolerate one another, to love each other sufficiently and to work for the common interest instead of for their own individual personal interests.
We must also more clearly explain some of the principle terms we are using here:
We acknowledge, as a definition of the principle of freedom, the one provided by Spinoza: he can be called free whose existence is only determined by his nature and whose labor is self-initiated; he can be called compelled or oppressed whose existence and whose production of some effect in a certain particular condition is determined by an external factor (Ethics, First Part, Definition VII).
According to this definition, Man is free in his actions when he is the sole initiator of them; he is, on the other hand, unfree or dependent when other persons decide for him the way he must work, so that he is only partially the initiator of his own actions.
However, modern ethics acknowledges that every individual must remain free and be in a position to develop his entire personality, to the point where he begins to interfere with the freedom of others: this goes for the liberty of other individuals and for that of a collectivity.
This was the principle formulated in August of 1789 by the Constituent Assembly (of the French Revolution), in Article 4 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen: liberty consists in being able to do anything that does not harm others. Thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no other limits than those that assure that the other members of society may enjoy the same rights….
That every individual may sleep or wake, eat and drink, play games or participate in sports, take a walk, go to concerts or on a voyage, as it seems fitting to him—as long as his sleep or his waking, his food, his games or sports, walks, concerts or voyages do not infringe on the interests of his neighbors and fellow citizens, since it is the nature of things that he who wants his liberty to be respected must also respect the liberty of other people.
From the very moment when the realization of the personal desires and the development of individual liberty begin to infringe on the liberty and the interests of others, it becomes necessary to understand: there are necessary mutual concessions, between the individual who infringes and the collectivities or individuals who are infringed upon.
Concessions agreed to directly and amiably between the parties, as far as possible; the intervention of a competent authority, as arbiter, if necessary.
The man who has joined his life with that of a woman, living as man and wife, has in fact already abandoned part of his own liberty in every circumstance and in all events that pertain to their shared life.
It is necessary that the same spirit of tolerance, liberty and equal rights should reign among the groups of libertarian communists, as we would demand outside these groups in everyday social life. Our groups must not be led by an individualist dictator who does not abide by the decisions of the majority of his comrades and who appropriates the fruits of the labor of others. Our groups must operate on the basis of the principles of democracy and must have a directive staff in which the secretaries, the presidents, etc., of the groups merely carry out the mandates of all of their comrades. They must at least represent the majority where there is a divergence of opinions and when they face the practical dilemma: when a door must be open or closed.
Against all individualist dictatorship, just as against all centralized government, the libertarian communists must defend the principles of individual liberty of all and local and regional autonomy.
The principle of autonomy must be defended by us as a future form of current society with respect to all organizations and social institutions: cooperatives, trade unions, associations of producers or consumers, tenants or heads of families, youth groups, etc.
We understand autonomy to encompass the freedom and the right of organizations and institutions of the towns, regions and nations to manage their internal affairs according to their own principles, and remaining obedient to the general prescriptions that apply to all the citizens or regulate the relations between organizations, communes, regions or nations.
With respect to the economic life of society, we must insist that it is based increasingly on the commune as the basic cell form.
As we see it, the communes must, in the future, supply goods and provide tools for the regions, provinces, departments or nations. The latter must constitute a true League of Nations, of which the one in Geneva is nothing but a caricature or, more properly speaking, a very modest and hypocritical beginning.
The society of the future must be organized from the bottom up instead of being governed, as it is today, from the top down.
Will big industry still exist in a communist society or can we return to artisanal production?
We are often obliged to debate the questions that arise with respect to the first sentence in this chapter, with anarchists of the old school, when they try to explain to us that in the communist society of the future the free associations of the producers will manage production among themselves.
Even quite recently, an old comrade educated in the anarchist theories of Bakunin and Kropotkin that were current forty or sixty years ago, set forth for us the following positions:
“All these modern industries and all this complicated machinery will disappear. When the social revolution takes place and a free socialist society is established, each one of us will join with a few comrades for the purpose of producing in common: the carpenters and the cabinetmakers will produce doors and windows, tables and cabinets; the blacksmiths, steel and iron tools; the tailors, clothing. All will deliver their products to the central warehouses, where they will be entirely free to obtain the agricultural products they need….”
But this famous taking from the pile in the warehouses cannot last more than a few days and after this, general poverty will prevail—so we responded. After a few weeks not even a utopian will follow us, and there will be a harsh and implacable reactionary backlash.
And we tried to convince our old comrade with the facts from everyday life, with real life.
Look, we live in a poor neighborhood where the young people of both sexes go out to dance on Saturday and Sunday. We will never be able to prevent them from dancing after a week of hard work.
“So they will dance.”
Yes, my friend, but the young people who go out to dance want to wear silk stockings. If these silk stockings have to be manufactured by your groups of producers, their production will cost at least 125 francs, maybe 200 francs per pair, while the young people buy them now for 12.5 francs per pair. Then these young people want clothes for dancing which, of course, are not made of real silk, but at least look and feel like silk, like the stockings. However, artificial silk can only be manufactured in large industrial plants, and you, my friend, want to return to artisanal production. You will be completely alone, and happy, separated from the rest of the population.
“No”—my old friend retorts—“I will not be completely alone, since the big industrial plants are very expensive and wasteful.”
We responded: But you will admit that it is, to the contrary, among the artisanal workshops where we must seek the greatest waste with regard to the production of articles for daily use. Look, every day we see trucks go by loaded with doors and windows for houses on the hill, under the trees. These doors and windows are manufactured in factories on an assembly line, as it is called. They cost a twentieth part of the labor and a fifth part of the price of doors and windows built by your free groups of carpenters or cabinetmakers, who, charging above market price, will make half of what their comrades in the factory will make, working with superior machinery. What carpenter or what cabinetmaker would want to follow your recommendations?
And you must not forget—we added—that if you want to apply to the industry of large-scale transport the same principles that you want to apply to industry in general, there will be no buses, or railroads, or steamships. The stockings will have to brought from Lyon, as in the era of our ancestors, in carts, and your free groups of carpenters will probably have to go to the forests to cut down and trim the oak trees before they can make any doors or windows.
Is this waste?
I was not able to convince my old friend. But I have reproduced our conversation because, in every country, one still finds numerous comrades like him who fulminate against big industry, without reflecting for even one minute on the fact that today we all have so many pressing needs compared to the life of poverty that our ancestors knew, that we can no longer exist without this industry.
Artisanal production, however, can still play a role, in communist society, in a few industries, primarily in the production of luxury goods: engraving, sculpture in wood, binding rare books, etc., and, above all, in the industries of auto repair, shoes and clothing of all kinds, furniture, etc. In this remnant artisanate, the free groups can still discover, in various fields, useful work. They can also engage in some areas in agriculture, primarily in the cultivation of orchards and gardens.
But they will be incapable of making any contribution at all in any one of the numerous basic industries that supply the primary and intermediate materials that we need for modern daily life: coal, iron and steel, pavement for our streets, oil, naphtha and benzene, rubber, glass, leather and construction materials, etc. All these industries are the domain of factories and large workshops supplied with all the best machines and interconnected by supply contracts. The same thing is true of the various industries that produce finished goods: cloth and thread of cotton and wool, the machine tool industry, the automobile industry, steel bridges, shipyards, etc.
My old friend told us that he was too inspired by the spirit of freedom and independence to ever be able to work in one of these factories, in one of these workshops or modern shipyards.
Personally, we are just as incapable of it as he is. But we would nonetheless also be averse to working in one of those anarchist groups of three, five or ten persons, which, in general, do not really function well except when an energetic man takes leadership of the group, a man who, so to speak, is tacitly followed and obeyed by his comrades.
Persons like our old friend and us would be better advised to devote ourselves, in a free communist society, to some isolated occupation, like editor, doctor or dentist, or artistic labors.
But do such sentimental and personal considerations give us the right to deny the needs of modern life or to try to revive artisanal production in industries in which such production no longer has any future or any use?
For the vast majority of the working class masses, there will be no question, in a communist society, of a renascence of the Middle Ages, but, to the contrary, communist society will imply the takeover of the factories and workshops and carrying on production with the most modern machines and tools under the management of the workers.
Our communism must represent a modern ideal and progress from the technological point of view in comparison with the capitalist regime. Otherwise, it will not have any future at all.
Our anarchist comrades who, from a love of freedom and personal independence, overlook this fundamental truth, will in the future suffer the fate of the Russian anarchists during the Russian Revolution: they will have no effective influence, but they will be good for helping the Marxist social democrats and the statists come to power. They will probably be shot or imprisoned after having given, somewhat vainly, their best efforts to the social revolution.
Instead of fighting against big modern industry, the anarchist-communists and the revolutionary syndicalists should, to the contrary, study the high level management of these industries and adapt them to social consumption.
The working class masses are now in a position to produce food, clothing, housing and luxury goods of all kinds, etc., in enormous quantities, quantities that our grandparents and great-grandparents could hardly even imagine.
Individualism, however, has all the less reason to exist the easier it becomes to acquire such goods. Just as it was so instinctive to ferociously defend goods that had cost a great deal of labor to obtain, goods that were furthermore inadequate with regard to the satisfaction of all one’s needs, so it is just as instinctive to be liberal and generous with goods that exist in excessive quantities and when all goods are so easy to obtain. Abundant production, in this sense, works in favor of communism and will facilitate its introduction and generalization.
But all these products cannot at present reach their end users, the working class populations of the various countries, because an insignificant minority of each population, the capitalist class and the big agricultural interests, control production at the highest levels, in their sole interest, in order to obtain personal profit without regard to the real needs for all kinds of products, needs that remain unsatisfied for the vast majority of the world’s people.
The Organization of Industry under Trade Union Administration
In order to be convinced that the capitalist regime as a whole is currently undergoing a formidable crisis and that it is in the process of gradually collapsing, one only needs to study the current economic situation: while in Canada wheat for which there are no buyers is being burned, and in Brazil they are stoking the locomotives with briquettes of unsellable coffee, there are, in the so-called civilized world, twenty-five million locked out workers and an intense degree of poverty that the world has not seen for many years.
Human society has created a constantly increasing quantity of means of production and masses of products, wealth of all kinds, but wealth whose circulation has been obstructed and misappropriated by the current capitalist regime. And, thanks to this same regime, the working class masses have no right to consume what they have produced. To a large extent, the working class populations are short of everything.
The capitalist class has been unable to adapt production to consumption and, by only enriching itself, it was unable to sufficiently enrich the masses of the population in such a way as to enable the latter to obtain the commodities they produced.
The capitalist class will perish as a result of its egoism and its greed for profits.
To whom does the future belong, then?
The trusts and the cartels, the consortia of individual business owners, have proven incapable of injecting the necessary degree of order into the chaos of production. On the occasions of previous crises during this century—those of 1901-1902 and 1907-1909—it was already evident that the crisis had wreaked havoc especially in the United States and Germany, that is, precisely in the countries where the trusts were strongest.
And the long and cruel crisis currently in progress has made it even more obvious that these trusts are in no position to adapt, in their various industrial sectors, production to social consumption or to prevent terrible conflicts.
However—whatever the social democratic Marxists may say—the State, too, is incapable of providing Humanity with the services that the latter requires and which could give a little more well-being and a little more freedom to everyone. The State is powerless to intervene in production, except perhaps in certain special public utilities like the Post Office, Telegraph and Telephone, railroads and municipal communications and transportation services, or electricity, water and gas, etc.
Today’s State is an institution that is too political and is little concerned with the economic life of the people. It is a very superficial observer of real life and, above all, it is managed by the capitalist and landowning classes: bankers, industrialists, big trading companies and landowners.
Just as incapable as the capitalist trusts and cartels, or as the State, are the political parties or the anarchist groups, when it comes to a felicitous management of social production.
You can have any political views you want, you can be a conservative, radical, republican, socialist or anarchist, but you have to admit that your views have precious little to do with the technical side of production. Every political party, and every affinity group that stands outside real production, must fail when it tries to manage economic life. If the politicians, or the anarchist groups as they currently exist, were to actually intervene in the productive process, this would only lead to a dictatorship and social tyranny, unfortunate examples of which are provided by the Bolshevik regime in Russia and the Fascist regime in Italy.
The only organizations that will be capable, in the future, of managing, from the bottom up, social production, are the trade unions of manual and intellectual workers. Only they are in direct and immediate contact with the labor process in industrial and commercial establishments, with the big transport and communication networks, with the administrative offices and the agricultural enterprises. In coordination with the cooperatives and other consumer organizations and with the users of the transport systems, the trade unions will be able to definitively organize the economic life of the future.
The acceptance of these facts implies for the working class masses and for all the proletarian currents, the need to create powerful organizations, on the local, national and international scale. This is a necessity for the trade unions with respect to the seizure of the factories and workshops and the management of production at the highest levels; but it is also a necessity for the libertarian communists and anarchists with respect to all the problems of a general nature that do not involve the technical aspects of social production.
If the anarchists do not free themselves from their aversion, that many of us share, to any form of serious organization, they will not be able to acquire any detectible influence in the future formation of Society, when in just a short time—so we hope—the capitalist regime will have sufficiently demonstrated its powerlessness to control modern social life.
On the other hand, from the moment when the libertarian communists and anarchists understand the full importance of a strong organization, and when they make common cause everywhere with the revolutionary trade unions—without attempting, however, to dominate the trade unions—from the moment when they learn how to work together with the trade unions, on the basis of a joint program of international tendencies, from that moment forward the situation will change and they will see the first conditions for their future success realized.
With regard to the particular activity of the trade unions on the occasion of a social revolution, it was decided forty years ago by the international workers movement that in such circumstances the trade unions will be transformed from combat organizations for the improvement or the preservation of working conditions into production organizations that will assume the initiative for the high-level management of the enterprises.
In order to worthily dispatch their social mission in this respect, the trade unions of manual and intellectual workers, will have to very quickly—and in our view starting right now—organize by industries and only in very exceptional cases by professions or trades.
The Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W.) of the United States has provided the first example of such an organization by industries.
The heart of all big production, the economic cell form of all modern life, is the factory rather than the trade. In a large or medium size modern factory, however, the workers and employees of five, ten or twenty professions or specialized trades may work together: laborers, metal workers, carpenters, upholsterers, painters, bookkeepers, stenographers, engineers and chemists, etc., etc.
Taken as a whole, the various workers in a factory can know their factory, and the federations can know all the similar factories of the country in order to prepare the local, national or international organization of all the factories in each industrial sector.
Manual and intellectual workers, working together, are capable of organizing social production in the interests of all.
What would happen now if, within a short time, a social revolution breaks out, a social revolution that has every likelihood of being an international revolution?
In posing this question, we are not thinking of a purely political revolution, like those which in Spain, Germany and other countries replaced the monarchy with the republican regime. We are speaking of a revolution that attacks the foundations of the social order: individual property.
If a social revolution breaks out within a few months or years, we must hope that the young generation of industrial workers and a considerable number of technicians-engineers, architects, chemists, etc., will join the workers movement, and will prefer to help us to organize production for the benefit of all rather than work for a few dozen, a few hundred or a few thousand rentiers-stockholders who, to speak truly, hardly have any interest in such things as the details of the productive process.
We must hope to obtain this help since we have to admit that nowhere, neither in the United States, or England, or Germany—not to speak of the rest of Europe—do we find the workers to be sufficiently prepared for the immediate seizure, on the part of their organizations, of the high level technical management of the industries, factories, workshops and the rest of economic life as a whole. The experience of Italy, with the occupation of the factories by the workers, was a harsh lesson and its failure paved the way for the fascist reaction.
Our general opinion on this issue is based on extensive practical and economic study. And, so that we are not misunderstood, we must clearly frame the problem from the technical point of view.
For every one hundred engineers, all graduates of the best technical institutes (the Central School in Paris, for example), no more than twenty would be capable—even after several years of practical training—of managing a factory with 200 workers and employees without ruining it within a short period of time.
Everyone knows, after all, that it is easier to ruin a flourishing industrial plant or commercial business in a few months, than to lead a newly created plant to prosperity in the space of ten years.
Furthermore: for every twenty engineers capable of managing an industrial or commercial enterprise of medium size, no more than three would for their part be capable, even after years of training, of managing a big industrial plant with ten or twenty thousand workers.
And, in conclusion, you might not find even one among them who could manage a cartel or a trust that incorporates twenty or a hundred factories.
Nonetheless, we have to count on the necessity of having a certain number of technicians of the first order, of this last category, because in the future and in a communist society, production, distribution and transportation will have even more of a national and international character, requiring great talent and real genius among its organizers and administrators, than they do now.
The responsibility for the current situation and for the absolute shortage of technical organizers of talent, falls to a great extent on the shoulders of the directors of industry and capitalist commerce, as well as their managerial staff, who have systematically kept the manual and intellectual workers separate from any influence over the management of the enterprises.
If a revolution were to break out in the near future, all the small and large industrialists will only have themselves to blame if the proletarian organizations decide to subject all the current managerial staffs of industry to military discipline—keeping all of them at their posts under the vigilance of the factories’ personnel—and make them appear before a special tribunal in case of sabotage or negligence in the execution of their duties.
In such a case, individual freedom must yield to the general interest.
However, if the social and international revolution fails to break out soon, despite the severe world economic crisis currently in progress, the libertarian communists must help the revolutionary syndicalists to formulate the demand, in every country, for the establishment of an institution of delegates of the workplace personnel—manual and intellectual workers together—to participate in the management of all industrial, commercial, financial or agricultural enterprises (all the workshops, factories, etc., that employ a wage labor force of more than five persons).
In this case, the delegates of the various sections of a big enterprise, having taken advantage of the occasion to gradually acquaint themselves with the general procedures of running an industrial, commercial, etc., enterprise, will perhaps be able to form, at the moment when their intervention is necessary, a sufficiently effective nucleus of experts to make possible the running of social production through the sole power of the workers.
As long as the working class masses—manual and intellectual wage workers taken together—do not succeed in generating, by their own means, the necessary technical skills, they will infallibly remain under the rule of a special caste of individual capitalists or State officials. The difference between these two regimes of rule (individual or statist) would not be significant.
How will the workers organizations organize the production and distribution of all social wealth in a communist society?
With respect to this question, it will be necessary to repeat the words of our preface: the preconditions for carrying out this task will certainly vary according to region, habits and customs, and, above all, according to the intellectual development of the populations in question and also the degree of industrial development.
But one thing seems certain, based on our familiarity with the situation in western Europe and the other modern democratic countries overseas, and that is that one of the first measures that a victorious social revolution will implement will be that of seizing all the banks and financial institutions, which will all be nationalized. The Bank of Spain, those of France, England, Germany, etc., will be combined with all these institutions and will constitute the centers of all local and national production.
Instead of having, on a major boulevard in Paris, an office of Crédit Lyonnais or of the Bank of France across the street from a branch of the General Society of Territorial Credit, we will prevent so much waste and duplication by keeping only one National Bank, whose branches would soon be established next to every Postal and Telegraph office and even in the smallest communes.
Another interesting point: each commune will own all the land and all the houses that exist or will be constructed within its territory, and it will be the commune’s duty to preserve them in good condition and to ensure that all the new houses the population needs are built.
We do not have to examine how a social revolution will be capable of carrying out the profound transformation of the social order or the question of whether or not the former owners will be indemnified, in the form of an annuity or some other way. For all of these questions strictly depend on the way events unfold and on various local, regional, national and international factors.
The smallest commune, under a communist social order, will be a millionaire many times over and will obtain large sums from the rentals of houses and land. The big cities will be multi-millionaires, even wealthier than the villages and small cities. We must note in this connection that, when the Boulevard Haussmann was opened in Paris in the fall of 1926, the lots on this boulevard were sold for 23,000 francs per square meter, at a time when the Pound Sterling was valued at 172 francs. What fantastic wealth would just one big city, like Paris, Madrid, Valencia or Barcelona thus possess? This wealth, however, is the wealth of all the inhabitants, since it was not the labor of the landlords that made the price of a square meter of land on the Boulevard Haussmann rise to 23,000 francs.
Let us now return to the organization of production: in a communist society, local industries will be founded and approved by the local branches of the National Bank, just as regional industry will depend on the regional branches and national industries of the National Central Bank. For international industrial projects, information will be shared by the various National Banks.
Only those industrial enterprises and transport concerns, etc., will be maintained that have been certified as sound by the community’s financial experts. Once certified as sound, the local, regional or national representatives of the National Bank will conduct a kind of surveillance over all the enterprises, a financial surveillance comparable to the one currently exercised by factory inspectors, with regard to hygiene and over all working conditions.
Every important industrial, financial, transport and communications enterprise, as well as all administrative services, will be managed by an Administrative Council composed of delegates of each enterprise’s personnel, and each Council will have at least as many members as there are departments in each enterprise: general administration, various technical departments of manufacture, supply, shipping, etc.
The Management Committee, which is accountable to the Administrative Council, will be selected by the Council, and the appointment of its director general will have to be approved by the Community’s financial authorities.
We take it for granted that, during a long transitional period, remuneration for all kinds of labor will assume a form similar to the form it assumes today, with the sole difference that the wages and emoluments will correspond more accurately than they do today to the actual results of the labor supplied. But extensive measures will be implemented in the interest of equity and fairness on behalf of the elderly and those who are injured on the job, so that they will receive more than the minimum of existence to which every individual will have a right in the libertarian communist society.
The trade union organizations of the manual and intellectual workers will assume responsibility for the elaboration and enforcement of wage rates on a local and national scale.
Clearing Houses, as the Anglo-Saxons call them, will control the flow of labor from one region to another and from one country to another, because all customs barriers will have been abolished in the countries that join the new League of Nations.
For the defense of the interests of local, regional, national and global consumers, there will be institutions similar to those that already exist in the domains of production and the distribution of wealth: Clearing Houses established in the Town Hall of every commune or in the vicinity of every big city; provincial and central Clearing Houses for the various regions and countries. The staffs of all these institutions will be periodically re-elected by the consumers.
The communist institutions of production and consumption will regulate among themselves all the necessary exchanges of wealth through the intermediary of the National Bank, either directly or through the latter’s branch offices.
Will There Be Money in a Libertarian Communist Society?
The question we are posing here refers to the matter of knowing whether, under any form of society, and even in a situation where social production will be as faithfully adapted to consumption as possible, there will still be a need for a measurement of values, of a good that will serve as a universal equivalent, one that will represent all the other goods.
By addressing this problem, we must first of all note that we are not speaking here of real money, of a good that duly possesses, in itself, the value that is attributed to it. This is the case, in today’s society, with gold and sometimes also with silver.
We are not speaking, therefore, of fiduciary money or paper money or any of those supplementary forms of money like copper, bronze or nickel, etc., which are necessarily circulated, but which do not represent, beyond their immediate environment, anything but a minute part of the value that we are compelled to grant them where they circulate. As for paper money, we know that it has no value unless and because this paper is guaranteed by a sufficient quantity of gold or silver.
The necessary part of the reserve funds for paper money is determined mathematically, and it is almost one third of the nominal value of the paper money. It has been calculated that it would be impossible for more than one third of the publicly circulating paper money to be redeemed for gold. With this restriction of approximately one third, the above rule is not, however, strictly enforced. And even before the maximum limit of the metallic reserve has been reached, it can be observed, in today’s social order, that the public is subject to a certain level of anxiety which sometimes is transformed into panic, and there is a rush on the banks. It is speculation which accelerates the decline of the fiduciary money in such cases.
We shall remind the reader of the precipitous decline of the franc, and, worse yet, of the mark. Only recently, in 1931, Germany and England have demonstrated that a government cannot arbitrarily reduce the gold backing of a nation’s currency unless it wants to trigger panic. Not even the English Pound Sterling, which seemed so solidly established, has been able to avoid decline ever since its gold backing began to appreciably decline and approach the prescribed limit.
On the other hand, as was demonstrated in the United States, during the last few months of the war and the beginning of the postwar era, the paper dollar sometimes was worth more than the gold dollar (one or two cents), because the country’s paper money was so solidly backed, and banknotes began to have real advantages over gold money: the United States had become considerably enriched in terms of gold during the course of the war and, knowing quite well that the world could at any time exchange any quantity of paper money for gold, then expressed a preference for banknotes because they were more convenient than metallic money for the payment of large sums.
We shall now, before we really examine our problem in depth, dispense with a secondary question, but one that is not without importance: let us assume for a moment that a general means of measurement of value is necessary in any form of society. Will it have to be, in our case, gold or silver or even both at once (bi-metalism), metals that will be preferred over every other kind of good?
In modern countries, one thing is certain: we cannot choose for our general equivalent commodity coconuts, which serve as circulating money in certain regions along the coast of Africa.
No more appropriate candidates for such an object are cattle, salt, tobacco or dates, etc., which are used even today by semi-civilized populations in other parts of the world.
Among the economists, it was occasionally proposed that wheat should be chosen instead of gold or silver as circulating money. Wheat is recognized in all civilized countries as a form of wealth. But it possesses, in common with all other agricultural products, the enormous disadvantage of being perishable. Wheat begins to diminish in volume, it dries out, shortly after the harvest. Then, its value changes very rapidly from one distribution point to another, depending on its quantity as well as its quality.
We cannot use wheat as the universal equivalent, any more than any other agricultural product.
We are thus always forced to turn to metal. But iron rusts easily and is not valuable enough for its weight; to pay with iron for a few heads of cattle at the stockyards, a butcher would have to bring a whole wagonload of iron or steel, and the costs of storing such money would be prohibitive. Forced to resort to one of the precious metals, men will hardly have any other alternatives than gold or silver, with platinum, perhaps in the future, as a supplement.
But could we not choose labor as the measure of value instead of a palpable commodity? This was the idea propagated by some economist-metaphysicians of the past era, primarily by Karl Marx and Rodbertus. The value and price of every good would then be expressed in days, hours and minutes of human labor.
However, there is labor and there is labor and they are not same, and Karl Marx, in his desire to express the value of all commodities in labor, was led to invent an abstraction that is also a chimera: he wanted to reduce all labor to abstract human labor (abstract menschliche Arbeit), or to simple social average labor (einfache gesellschaftliche Durchschnittsarbeit), labor in which nothing is taken into account except whether it is socially necessary. Nonetheless, such labor has never existed except in Karl Marx’s imagination: this labor is not concrete measurable labor, and its application as a unit of value would always be very arbitrary.
It is absolutely impossible to express one hour of labor of an educated person, a chemist or an artist in terms of hours of labor performed by a mechanic or a laborer. Not only is it impossible to apply a more or less exact measurement in such cases, but we must conclude that these things are incommensurable and incomparable.
A comrade brought the fact to my attention, during the course of a discussion concerning the nature of money as a measure of value, that this objection is not very serious, since today, he said, it has been solved by the capitalist entrepreneurs. They reckon their costs of hours of labor worked by their laboratory technicians as overhead expenses.
But is this really a solution to the problem? A logical solution to the problem at hand? And these costs of hours of labor of the technicians; is the real value of their labor expressed in money? Or must we to the contrary view these arbitrary procedures applied by capitalist entrepreneurs a proof of the fact that the problem is really insoluble?
We shall only point out that the capitalist employers everywhere continue to pay different rates of pay for the same work, for the same length of thread produced, for example, depending on whether the work is performed by a man or a woman because women have not been able to defend themselves as well as men. And if the solutions discovered by the capitalist employers were to really establish such an exact measure of value for human labor, why have the workers had to organize in trade unions and wage their struggle, for more than a century, with the employers in order to teach them, by means of strikes, to change their way of measuring value and the price of labor and to increase wages?
Worse still, even if you could compare and measure the intellectual effort of a chemist and the muscular effort of a blacksmith, you would have no other basis on which to judge than the value of production of the articles that each worker offers to Humanity. However, under any form of society, the producers must always take account of the judgment of the consumers, and the latter are not always as indulgent towards the producers as Karl Marx was in his time. For Marx only accounted for the value of production by creating an abstraction, at the beginning of his first volume on capital, of the use value of goods.
In brief, there is only one special case in which human labor could serve as the measure of value: this would be the case of a dictatorial government, such as that exercised by the Russian Soviets, which could arbitrarily declare that one hour of a professional’s work is worth three quarters of an hour, or nine tenths of an hour, of the work of a common laborer, etc. If such a government were to have at its disposal sufficient military and police forces to arrest, imprison or shoot the non-compliant, it might perhaps manage to maintain its arbitrary regime for some time and force those who feel cheated to work. In our case, however, we can only attempt to discover a measure of real values whose measurement allows for the necessary accuracy.
Now we come to the crux of the problem: do men in all forms of society need a measure of value, a good that expresses the value of all the other goods? We have had to devote as much attention to this question as to that of the organization of production, primarily in the socialist, revolutionary syndicalist and anarchist milieus.
This is what numerous comrades have said: The value of goods is a capitalist concept. Once the social revolution has taken place, once production is definitively and harmoniously adapted to consumption, the central warehouses will supply all the agricultural and industrial products that humanity needs. They see no reason for any concept of value.
And we have often responded: We do not know what men will do in a thousand or two thousand years from now. It is possible that our descendants will produce as much as possible without, however, taking from the piles located at the communal, regional or national warehouses any more than is fair in order to satisfy their needs, happy to have worked so much for others. But one thing we do know is that this taking from the pile will be impossible for several centuries, with men the way they are and taking into account their possible development. And if within twenty five years or a century strict communism will perhaps be possible with regard to consumption, at least for certain basic needs; nonetheless, even for these products, taking from the pile would be unfair and impossible to implement.
To the contrary: it is precisely with regard to food, clothing, etc., which could be distributed freely, that it will be necessary to exercise the strictest control and the most rigorous measurement of values in order to avoid ruining society to the detriment of the good, sober and modest workers.
We therefore believe, personally, that in a communist society it will always be necessary, even more than it is in today’s capitalist society, to control what each person produces and what each person takes to satisfy his needs. And a standard of measurement for all goods, in the form of a universal equivalent, will be imposed on the social order that will make accounting possible in the future, however distant we may think this future is.
And we are not speaking in this context only of the transitional period in which a social revolution will have definitely overthrown the capitalist powers, but in which the traditions of capitalist civilization still continue to survive for a long time in the habits and customs of the countryside and the small towns and, in certain environments, also in the heartlands of industry and communications.
We are also speaking of a firmly established socialist-communist social order, a society, for example, in which there are functioning central, local, regional or national warehouses that supply all the food, clothing, etc., to the consumers, which are also provided for free by the various communes.
In this case, we shall take the example of three communes that have approximately the same number of inhabitants and which possess about the same wealth. Let us assume that one commune, of a primarily agricultural character, annually supplies its central warehouse with an average of 1,000 sacks of wheat; the second commune, in which the dominant economic activity is cattle raising, sends 300 head of cattle which is the surplus of its production over and above the consumption needs of its own inhabitants; and that the third commune, an industrial commune, sends 30 buses or locomotives and trolley cars.
Can we believe that such a situation would be fair if 30 buses or cars were to be valued as equal to 10,000 sacks of wheat rather than to 1,000 sacks, or to 3,000 heads of cattle rather than 300?
The comparative figures are only used here, naturally, to express this truth: that the diverse communes will demand very rigorous measurements so that the burdens of production and the labor of storage and transport are shared as equitably as possible. The industrial workers, for example, do not want to toil excessively, from morning until night, in the mines and the factories, so that the peasants can amuse themselves at the fair. And vice-versa.
However, how can we know what 1,000 sacks of wheat, 300 head of cattle, or 30 buses or cars, etc., represent, if there is no universal equivalent of values, one that takes into account not just the value of production and the hours of labor represented by various forms of wealth, but also their quality and the degree to which society needs them, that is, the use value of this wealth?
Let us take another example: In a city there are twelve tanneries. But in one of them an incompetent and poorly trained individual has been appointed director. Under his direction, the workers slow down the pace of their work so much that the workers’ pay, the expenses of repair, the amortization of the machinery, etc., surpass as a whole the value of what the factory produces in leather in a year. Would not such an establishment have to be closed in a communist society or at least transfer its direction to more capable hands? But how can we acquire an accurate knowledge of the state of affairs at this enterprise if there is no universal equivalent that would allow us to express the cost of manufacture—including every element—as well as the value of the leather produced weekly, monthly or annually? How can we determine if an industrial establishment is viable when we do not possess a universal equivalent of value?
One of our comrades brought to our attention the fact that such examples, of which we could provide many more, are too closely related to the period of transition from capitalist society to socialist-communist society. In a highly developed and firmly established communist society, he said, objects will no longer be exchanged. Gold or silver would then be a fictitious aid, since the products will be directly delivered.
We respond that, even in capitalist society, money, whether gold or silver, only serves, for the most part, a fictitious role. Between the financial Clearing Houses, where the various managerial staffs perform daily account balances of each establishment with regard to what they owe each other, it is only in exceptional cases that large payments between particular enterprises are made even nowadays in cash or gold shipments. There are checks, letters of exchange, and all kinds of commercial instruments that obviate as much as possible the need for a real exchange of commodities.
We shall, however, allow that in a highly developed and firmly established communist society, the shipping and receiving of provisions, clothing, etc., will be dispatched immediately and without any real exchange of a universal equivalent. Nonetheless, this universal equivalent will still be used, despite everything, as a counting device. While deliveries and receipts will no longer require the direct intermediary of the commodity form of the universal equivalent (gold or silver, for example), the commodity in question, transformed into a fictitious enumerator, will still express, in a clear and concise form, the relative values of all the other goods. We also think that a solidly established socialist-communist society, if it wants to continue to exist, would need a special statistical assessment of the values of the various forms of wealth that would be much more rigorous than is required by life in capitalist society.
We base our view in that regard on the following fact: the individual capitalist soon perceives that his expenses surpass his income and also what is the cause of this discrepancy. But the enormous complexity of social life in a socialist-communist system requires a very precise accounting system, and this accounting system is not possible unless it can clearly express the respective values of goods in the form of one good.
But if money, in the form of gold or silver, will still exist in a socialist-communist society, what is the difference, for us, between that society and capitalist society?
To answer this question, one we have been asked more than once, we must first of all ask just what problems we have now with gold and silver as universal equivalents that we would not have with wheat, cattle, iron or any other commodity.
We must declare that gold and silver are commodities like the others. This is not the place to go into the question of how, in the encounter between the producers and the consumers—whether in capitalist society or communist society—the value and price of the various forms of wealth is established.
We must nonetheless take into account the fact that today, in the international gold market, in London, they rigorously account for all the factors that enter into the price of the cost of the manufacture of gold, even the cost of its shipment from South Africa to London. It is true that the big, powerfully organized gold producers, only voluntarily produce just enough gold to keep it at a particular price. But the trusts, cartels and consortia apply this same procedure to many other commodities, so that gold is no different, from this point of view—that is, with regard to its monopoly price—from the products of all the main industries.
But, as the universal equivalent commodity, gold is distinct, in today’s capitalist society, from all the other forms of wealth insofar as the person who possesses it, or the person who possesses its equivalent in paper money, can loan his commodity to another person and demand an annual interest rate of 5 or 6%, for example, in addition to the principle. For every 100 dollars so loaned, its original possessor gets 5 or 6 dollars without having to work to get them. This does not happen, or only happens very infrequently, with cattle or wheat, because these commodities are not universal equivalents, that is, one cannot use cattle or wheat directly to acquire all the commodities one wants. One who wishes to build a house cannot go shopping for construction materials by bringing cows to the brick works or the cement factory.
Let us now imagine that the socialist-communist society has been firmly established and that the various communes of the country regularly stock the local, regional and national warehouses the same way that the peasant members of cooperatives presently ship the necessary amount of milk on a daily basis to their dairies.
The banks will all be nationalized. Each commune will be vested with the ownership of all land and all houses situated in its territory.
Let us now suppose that we, Cornelissen, are visited by a descendant of a former capitalist who tells us: Mister Cornelissen, I heard that you intend to found a journal of economics and want to start to publish books. You need money for your press. My family managed to save a few hundred thousand francs from the chaos of the social revolution. I am prepared to loan you one or two hundred thousand francs at 5% interest. Does this sound like a good deal?
It is obvious that we would respond that, in order to build a printing plant, we have no need whatsoever of his money.
Why do you ask me, my good sir—we would respond—to look after your money, and instead of paying me for this service (since it would be me who would be responsible for his money), you propose that I should be the one who pays? I do not need your service. In the small commune where I live, my reputation is known. The commune is very wealthy. If I need one or two hundred thousand francs, I can get them for free. Naturally my press would then be subject to auditing by the communal Bank, which would constantly be reviewing my accounts. But this auditing is a strictly financial inspection, against which I would have no objection whatsoever, since it is obvious that I do not have the right to embezzle or squander the commune’s funds. Go somewhere else, then, with your two hundred thousand francs if you want to get that 5 percent.
But where will he go? The poor devil cannot invest his funds in houses or buy land with his money. There is only one solution left for him: spend his money on traveling, food, etc., or hoard it up in his safe and wait for the reestablishment of capitalist society….
What objections can be raised against the use of money under such a social order?
To summarize, we conclude that under any social order, the ability to measure the relative values of various goods will always be useful and necessary for us, and these values will be expressed in the value of one of them chosen to perform the role of the universal equivalent. But this fact does not imply, by any means, that this commodity that serves as the universal equivalent, the money—gold or silver, for example—will necessarily still retain the exceptional and abusive power it now possesses, which consists in allowing its possessor to enrich himself without having to work and that the mere fact of investing or renting the use of his money can produce interest for him.
The Organization of Agriculture
The most difficult problems that communist society will face will certainly be those relating to agriculture and landed property.
It is in principle completely unacceptable, of course, for the earth upon which we all live to belong to individuals in the form of private property.
The right of the strongest and the right of the first occupant cannot be recognized as rights by a libertarian communist society.
But there is no sphere of production or way of life in which old habits and customs are maintained with so much tenacity as in agriculture and rural life.
Especially in the regions where the population is sparsely scattered, no form of society can prevent the isolated peasant from talking about his land, because he is the only person who cultivates it, along with his family, and of his house, because it is directly bound to his person and what is familiar to him. When, even in a modern country like England, an expression like A man’s home is his castle is common usage, we can only foresee all the difficulties that will be faced by a communist society that has abolished private property in land and houses. We shall point out in passing that it will be impossible in the long run to separate these two categories of wealth—land and houses—because the arable lands and the lands that are suitable for building houses largely coincide, and the communal ownership of houses will be the inevitable corollary of communal ownership of the land.
The difficulties posed in this domain will require numerous concessions, of such a kind that, even in a highly developed communist society, the real situation will vary from one country to another and from one region to another.
Such difficulties will be negligible, of course, with regard to large properties: castles, game preserves, forests and prairies, etc., which have been monopolized for centuries by a handful of families of the privileged classes. These properties will return to the collectivity and will be nationalized and submitted to the guardianship of the communes where they are located, which will exploit them for the benefit of the population. The communes will dispose of all the parts of the properties thus acquired: houses, stables, meadows, forests, farms, etc., in the most suitable way, according to circumstances.
Much more delicacy will be required with regard to applying communist principles when it is a matter of discovering a solution for the practical difficulties involved with the occupation and cultivation of the land currently possessed by the working population.
If communist society is to really live up to its reputation as a society run from the bottom up, it will have to confer upon the peasants of the various agricultural communes the responsibility for deciding for themselves, in assemblies or by means of delegates, how the communes’ lands will be cultivated.
This principle, which can also be applied to the big nationalized properties, will normally tend to lead to the result that the farmers who are satisfied with the produce of their lands will want to stay where they are while the less privileged individuals will attempt to increase the size of their holdings or else move to unoccupied lands, in certain parts of the big nationalized properties, for example.
In every case, communist society will have to enforce a strict separation between the common ownership of land and its possession by those who work it.
It is necessary for the land worker to have full access to what he produces without harming the interests of his fellow citizens. The commune must guarantee him the peaceful possession of the land that he works and the house he inhabits, but must not concede him the right to either sell land or houses or to bequeath them or to abandon them to other persons. The farmer in communist society will be the possessor, the holder, the occupant, but not the legal owner of his lands and his house.
The Roman jurists characterized the right of ownership by way of an expression that allowed for the use of the possessed good even if this use resulted in extreme consequences, even its destruction. The formula was: Jus utendi et abutendi. Communist society must subject this historic right to scrutiny and modernize it by transforming it into a jus utendi, a right restricted to use. It is the responsibility of society and the modern institutions of each country to determine where use ends and abuse begins with regard to possession.
If a social revolution unexpectedly breaks out, the simplest measure—a provisional measure—would also be to transfer, by general decree, all the lands and all the houses to the communes, and to require that the former owners will provisionally continue to pay their taxes as in the past, but the taxes will be paid to the commune and they will no longer need to pay any rent. Instead, the tenants of lands or houses will have to continue to pay their rent to the commune instead of to their former landlords.
After this provisional measure, the population of the various regions will be able to continue, in complete independence, to occupy their houses and cultivate their lands, but they will have to strictly comply with the basic principle: personal possession of whatever one desires; but common ownership.
The factors that underpin land rent as a whole in capitalist society can be divided into three categories:
1. The factors that determine the differential land rent, which is based on the differences of fertility or other qualities of the land;
2. Those factors that determine the absolute rent, which can have an impact on the most fertile lands or those that are least advantageously situated. These factors are based on the legal monopoly exercised by the landowners, regardless of their other qualities; and,
3. The factors represented, taken as a whole, by the element of pure financial speculation, an element that is so powerful in both new nations and countries with very old civilizations that it always has a significant influence on rents and prices of land, especially during periods of social turmoil or distress. As an example we shall mention the war of 1914-1918 as well as the postwar rental crisis that swept so many countries.
However, let us now suppose that the economic power of the urban and rural landlords has been completely abolished, and has been replaced by the community of the inhabitants of each region.
The factors of the last two categories mentioned above will have disappeared as a result: for the communes will not engage in speculation and, if it actually possessed a monopoly over all the lands in its territory, an absolute rent levied against all lands without exception could not antagonize the population, since it is the inhabitants themselves who have the last word in how the lands are cultivated or what is built on them.
The factors of the first category, however, will continue in effect, since as long as lands that are fertile and have similar advantages in other respects compete with each other in the production of the same agricultural goods, the absence of a differential rural rent and the fact that every cultivator is entitled to the full product of his labor and the labor of his family, will result in the producers will all prefer to work lands that have the greatest yields.
Similarly, the inhabitants of a city all want to live in houses in good locations and that are clean and well built.
Once the resistance of the landlords has been overcome, the rivalry between the cultivators of every crop and between the inhabitants of all the communes cannot be suppressed unless another economic power intervenes in their disputes over the productiveness of the land, and can also demand compensation for the differences in regard to the comparative advantages of houses of all descriptions. The extra income thus collected will be remitted annually to the community.
The land worker will then be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, without having to pay tribute to a person who has contributed nothing because of his status or his position.
Having taken the place of the current landlords, the representatives of the entire urban or agrarian population will be able to decide whether or not the rural differential rent will continue to exist. However, instead of serving privileged individuals, the extra income will be remitted annually to the community.
The rents and leases paid to the commune will replace, in communist society, the rents and leases that are now paid to individual landlords.
It can be expected that in communist society, in many regions measures will be implemented that are similar to those that have already been utilized, in today’s capitalist society, in some new countries, particularly Australia. These measures have the goal of reserving for the community the surplus value derived from exploiting the land that was created by population growth, that is, as a result of the activities of the whole population.
In the new countries, the old customs with regard to the production and distribution of goods are less deeply rooted than in the countries with old civilizations.
Even in our time, one can say that the greater part of the Australian continent belongs to the nation. Queensland has a clause in its constitution that prohibits the sale of national land.
How are things done in these countries?
We shall mention, as an example, the system applied for the valorization of the rural properties in the territory of the new federal capital of Australia, Canberra, which is south of Sydney.
All these properties belong to the Australian Commonwealth and cannot be bought or sold.
The right to settle on one or several lots of the territory or the city of Canberra is sold at public auction, and the highest bidder gets the right of settlement for an annual rent that represents 5% of the value of the lot, which the bidder has himself established. The Federal Capital Commission receives the taxes.
The value of the soil—disregarding any improvements—must be estimated again at public auction, first after twenty years and then every ten years. Construction must be initiated within two years of the ruling and be completed one year later, unless a deferment is granted.
The lands not devoted to construction, cultivated lands for the most part, are subject to the payment of rent for a period not exceeding twenty five years (see: Official Yearbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, No. 19, (1926), pp. 161-162).
In a communist society, a Commune applying similar measures must require, naturally, in case of change of possessors of land, that the new occupant reimburse his predecessor for the value of all the improvements that the latter contributed personally to the lands in question. This is what is currently being done in Australia.
It is obviously impossible for us to describe or to foresee the diverse systems by which the communes will be able to apply, according to the culture of the region and the habits and customs of its people, the general principles of libertarian communism.
But one thing seems clear enough to us: as long as the first stage of the transition from capitalist society to communist society lasts, the industrial populations will continue to be subject to the regime of payment by the results of their work, the rural populations will be subject to a similar regime: the farmer will demand the enjoyment of the fruit of his own labor and will insist on being reimbursed for all the improvements he personally contributed in the event that he yields the lands he possesses to another person regardless of the reason for this transfer.
It is also obvious that, in the agrarian as well as the industrial regions and the cities, the measures of a higher stage of communism can complete the general regime.
For the Commune can assume responsibility for the collective purchase of all kinds of farm equipment: plows, harvesters, threshing machines, etc., and rent them to the farmers in the surrounding area. It could also take charge of the supply of seed and fertilizer, fuel, etc., as it will also control the delivery of the agricultural products to the central warehouses of the cities and receiving in exchange, from the industrial centers, the household and kitchen goods, the tools, etc., that the rural population needs.
Finally, the rural communes, for the same reason as the big cities, will have to create schools, orphanages, rest homes for the elderly, meeting halls and all kinds of institutions that will be provided at no cost to all the inhabitants.
If the communist ideal inspires the civilized populations of the future, there will be a kind of noble rivalry between the various communes, each one of which will strive to respond in the best way to the great principles of mutual aid and assistance.
Justice and Police in a Libertarian Communist Society: The Libertarian Communist Legal System
Few issues cause so much confusion and so many disputes in the communist and anarchist milieus as that of law, justice and the preservation of public order by some kind of police force.
We have often heard an individualist comrade explain that the existence of all justice and all police is immoral and unacceptable because it constitutes an abuse of power that one individual exercises over another and for which reason it will be impossible to improve or to perfect this or that institution and to make the various currently existing means of protecting civilization more humane:
Therefore all justice and all police must be abolished in a new society. Instead of improving the penal system, all we need to do is to demolish all the prisons or transform them into hospitals.
No individual has the right to employ violence against other individuals.
And if there are individuals who exercise violence against other individuals—we have often replied—what will we do if our daughters or our wives are attacked on the street by vagabonds, not just after sunset, but maybe even in the full light of day, if the streets and byways are not safe?
Our individualist will try to argue as follows: ninety-five percent of crimes in today’s society are committed against property.
There are anarchist comrades with whom it is impossible to discuss such problems. But they have to admit that, if the crimes against property will diminish and disappear in a communist society, other crimes may exist, those of a sexual nature, for example, that could double or triple in incidence. When every worker and every peasant has more material well being and more time for rest and enjoyment, when men and women are no longer prematurely old by the time they reach 40 years of age as a result of hard work, it is natural that the cases should multiply where two or three men desire to possess the same women, and where young people are especially at risk because of their beauty and youth.
Why deny the difficulties that could and must arise instead of trying to resolve them?
We will always remember that young individualist comrade—who expressed his desire that the difficulties that would arise with respect to these issues would be resolved spontaneously.
We only have to take turns on night patrol—he suggested—when the streets are a little unsafe. We only have to carry out a spontaneous justice, but not in the form of a police force and a professional justice system.
We were bold enough to respond that this new spontaneous regime is called lynch law in America and that, compared to this solution, we would much prefer the existing society where the accused has at least the right to defend himself before a court, instead of being spontaneously hanged by people who have usurped the role of judges.
And to prove that Law and Justice, as well as the Police, are perfectly capable of being improved and perfected, and that, in these domains as well, it is basically just a matter of depriving these institutions of their capitalist, partial and arbitrary character, we have often set forth questions such as those below, taken from everyday life:
Do we have any objections to the presence of guards in public museums? Guards who watch to make sure that the paintings are not mutilated or destroyed by insane people or mischievous children?
That would not happen in a good society.
So, you not only refuse to admit that sexual crimes will be committed, but also crimes of jealousy or hate? You deny the possibility that a jealous artist might have every opportunity, in the absence of guards, to destroy the work of one of his more fortunate colleagues?
You are nitpicking!
And maybe you will also deny that there could be people who will get intoxicated in the future society? Will they have the right to commit acts of vandalism against Art objects in the libertarian communist society?
We have also asked the question whether or not it is possible to have any objection to having guards in our public parks or to traffic police who regulate the flow of automobiles at intersections in order to prevent accidents.
As for the first question, we have been able to observe that no individualist comrade denies the possibility of the existence of children in a libertarian communist society; but, unfortunately, there are still comrades who assume that all the rascals and ragamuffins of the future will be well behaved and as prudent as little angels and will not need guards.
In order to clarify the problems under consideration here and to explain why the libertarian communist society will have its own Law, its own Justice System, as well as its own penal institutions and its own Police, let us proceed to a brief examination of the origin of all Law and all Justice:
The instinct for sociability leads man to live a regular life in the company of his kind. In order to sustain this life, he has to work in accordance with certain general rules which, little by little, have formed the historical origin of a customary body of Law.
If one considers this customary Law among the most primitive peoples or studies the written Law of the most advanced modern peoples, one always and everywhere sees that the existing egoist and altruistic tendencies in human nature reach a certain balance, which is called Justice, because it is the expression of everything that is considered to be just in a particular epoch and at a certain stage of civilization.
It is this balance, this Justice, which allows for the coexistence of the most distinct individuals in the same conglomeration of men, and it is thus the foundation of all life in society.
The Law always reflects the natural development of a certain form of society, and there is no absolute Law. The Law changes along with the form of society, the Law is the sum of the rules that a particular community prescribes for itself, as well as for each one of its members in particular, so that its social equilibrium can be preserved.
At the foundation of all Law—whether written or oral—one discovers basic factors of an economic order. It is the form in which men are obliged to provide for their material existence that presides over their Morality and which rules, in the final instance, their habits and customs, as well as their ideas of Justice and Law that are derived from it.
If, therefore, modern populations manage to fundamentally transform, by means of a Social Revolution, the economic structure of human society, if they succeed in abolishing private property and replacing it with the common ownership of at least the major forms of property: land, houses, means of production and communications, etc., etc.; this economic change will necessarily lead to a corresponding change in public Law and Justice.
In a communist future, we will have to defend the principles of common ownership just as today’s society defends private property.
In the libertarian communist society, an infraction against the general rule of common ownership, or the exploitation of a man for the particular benefit of another man, would constitute a social crime for the same reason that robbery or enslavement constitutes a crime in today’s society.
We will be obliged to defend, in a communist society, the principles of common ownership and the abolition of wage labor, because, without this defense, the new social order could not survive.
Just as a religion that was born from a particular economic and ethnic organization can have an effect on that organization, so that the Effect reacts on the Cause, so will Law and Justice, once established and developed in a certain form, react on the habits and customs and on the economic organization of the society whose expression they constitute.
The rules of Law in its modern developed forms, can be distinguished as either rules of a negative order, that is, rules of a repressive or defensive nature, or rules of a positive order, that is, rules of a preventive or rehabilitative nature.
We can rely on the progress of civilization up to this point, of course, to assuage our worst fears on at least this one point: the repressive acts on the part of the community will be progressively less severe and cruel in a libertarian communist society, as least after the end of the initial period of disturbances.
In Western Europe, the masses have developed to such an extent that they will not tolerate, after a social revolution, the prison cell of capitalist society, or forced labor, or the cruelties committed against the revolutionaries in Soviet Russia, where State Capitalism reigns.
A combination of individuals grouped into a caste, a social class or a political party can possess the material and economic power to impose their will by force on the rest of society. Whether this power is baptized under the name of capitalist Justice or Dictatorship of the Proletariat, makes no difference at all with regard to the real outcome: the oppression of the masses by a minority of the population.
This minority can then modify the social equilibrium in the sense that what is in the interests of the ruling minority of the population will henceforth be called Justice, and what is contrary to the interests of this minority will be called Injustice.
The majority of the population can react, in such cases, against the rule exercised by the minority and attempt to reestablish a state of social equilibrium better adapted to respect the rights of all. Such attempts are called a revolution.
The History of Humanity is full of such examples of the existence of a dual Law: one Law for the winners and one Law for the losers; innumerable privileges for the ruling caste, class or political party, or for the victorious people as a whole, and burdensome duties for the subject masses to bear.
The progress of Humanity can only proceed with continuous efforts to bring about a uniform Law and to obtain an equal Justice for all.
But let us be fair: let us admit that in a communist society we can transform the prisons into hospitals, in accordance with the requirements of a civilization that has made great strides forward towards progress. It will still be true, however, that criminals that will have to be dealt with in such a society will not have the right to leave the hospital except under severe restrictions, just as, in today’s society, the insane do not leave their asylums except on special occasions and under strict surveillance.
In the Middle Ages, it was customary to treat the insane the same way we treat criminals today, that is, they put them in cages or cells without any concern for their future or their rehabilitation.
Congenital criminals, who inherited the physical and psychological defects of their ancestors, are basically ill, like the insane; and punishment has as little influence on the one as the other. Modern Morality therefore demands that criminals be treated by criminologists and specialized psychologists, and not exclusively by more or less merciless prison guards.
But all of this does not obviate the fact that the community must always defend the individuals who are healthy in body and in mind, against the criminals as well as the insane. And here we come to the conclusion that, if a libertarian communist society is to seek to completely reform, in the future, the entire existing penal system of our time, and to attempt, much more effectively than the current capitalist ruling class, to save all the potentially useful individuals for Humanity, this future society will be forced, nonetheless, to render both the criminals and the insane incapable of causing any harm to the other men and women.
The improvement and humanization of the current penal system is just as possible, in a libertarian communist society, as is the improvement of the police.
The greatest progress, in both of these directions, will probably be obtained by means of an increase in the use of preventive measures and the restriction of repressive measures.
The complete reform of training and education, which will have to be more relevant to life than they are now; a strict vigilance exercised over abandoned children, which the commune of the future will adopt as public wards; progress in medical science and public health, all these reforms and progressive measures will be likely, as a whole, to significantly diminish the number of criminals and—so we hope—also the number of the insane.
The teacher-educator and the doctor will ensure the health of bodies and minds, and the material security of the masses of the population will take care of the rest.
If the penal system of our time needs to be tempered and if the police have to be civilized and modernized, the same is true of the legal institutions.
In a libertarian communist society a new judicial system must be created, a system based primarily on the jury principle.
Despite all their current defects, juries more faithfully represent public opinion and the new morality, both of which are constantly evolving, than professional judges.
In the libertarian communist future all serious or capital crimes will be tried before criminal juries. Special juries will arbitrate everyday conflicts between citizens and within families, divorce, violations of the rights of minors, etc.
International Law will also undergo extensive development and expansion in a communist society, so that conflicts between peoples can be consistently resolved by means of arbitration and without resort to war, without the domination of the big nations over the small ones.
Communist society will be more internationalist than the bourgeois and capitalist society has ever been anywhere, in which the particular interests of the ruling classes have impressed all social life with a strictly nationalist character that is hardly humanitarian in the fullest sense of the word.
The Arts and Sciences: The Duties of Libertarian Communism towards Art and Science
Alone in nature, man possesses neither the instinctive love for beauty nor the desire for knowledge.
One of Darwin’s merits consists in having highlighted with a great deal of precision, in his book The Descent of Man (Chapter 3), the fact that numerous animals, particularly birds, possess a very highly developed sense of beauty.
But civilized man, the educated man of modern times, has, in every domain where he is extending his knowledge, and this is also true of the arts, enormous advantages over the higher animals. The constant development of his feelings has uniquely facilitated this advantage.
The origins of the arts and sciences—as Darwin had accurately surmised—are to be found in the immense power of man’s imagination, in his admiration for what is new to him, in his curiosity and his indefatigable spirit of imitation; in brief, they lie in the most profound sentiments of the human soul.
The progress attained by civilization, over the course of the centuries, in all the domains of the arts and sciences, is of the greatest importance for human life.
But the preservation and the extension of this progress demand enormous sacrifices, and humanity and the communist society of the future must take this into account.
The training that every animal needs to prepare its lair or nest is nothing compared to what man needs to know to build houses and monuments. The innumerable variations in human architecture over the course of the centuries are the results of admirable efforts undertaken by beings superior to all other beings in nature. The same is true of every other human art and science.
In every domain, always and everywhere, by means of the constant interaction between minds and a long educational process for man that lasts from his earliest youth to his middle age, the aesthetic sense and the love of scientific inquiry slowly developed.
If you completely isolate a child who shows evidence of possessing the greatest natural gifts, once he reaches maturity, he will be a scatterbrained fool, slow on the uptake and mentally sluggish like a semi-civilized tribesman. Young children undergo a terribly rapid process of mental stultification when they are isolated, or when their education is neglected or abandoned.
In the various domains of the arts and sciences, more than in any other domain, the most compelling proof is provided that every individual is ultimately the product of his environment and his time, and that the individual most well endowed with natural gifts is indebted for most of them to those upon whose shoulders he was raised so that he could display his talent and his genius.
For all these reasons, the communist society of the future will have the right to claim, just like the societies that preceded it, that the talents and the genius that have arisen in its midst are its own creatures and that it can exercise rights over them. But it will also have duties to them and must treat them better than they were treated by previous generations.
The real artists and great thinkers are ordinarily indolent and a large number of them are very impractical people. Only life moves them to work, and the condition of enthusiasm, euphoria or day-dreaming to which they are so often prone and which they reckon among the most sublime moments of their existence, is hardly likely to teach them to look after their material interests. It is therefore necessary for Society and the Community to devote special attention to them.
The real artist and the real thinker produce their works the same way a plant grows or a bird sings, in accordance with the nature of their being, their aptitudes and their abilities.
Talent and genius are imposed on Man the same way as the moral development of the soul. They make him the servant and the slave of their qualities and his abilities to create and to realize aesthetic dreams or technical and scientific inventions.
Talent and Genius are often harsh friends and hard to satisfy, veritable torturers.
Previous civilizations, right down to our days, have often allowed the real talents and geniuses of Art and Science to live in the deepest poverty, appropriating their precious works after their deaths.
Or they were condemned to live as servants of a secular or ecclesiastical magnate; in the service of a monastery, a bishop, a pope, a duke or king. And they were condemned to engage, in their works, in eulogies of those who provided for them and for whom they served as courtiers and minions.
Today’s capitalist society is particularly hard on those who work in the Arts or Sciences and are motivated solely by the zeal of their enthusiasm and their natural gifts. Industrialists, businessmen and bankers hardly possess the taste and the delicacy of spirit of the old aristocracy. All of them look at such artistic or scientific work almost exclusively from the point of view of money and their own material interests, so that they cannot play the role of Maecenas.
In our time, when there is more than enough money to organize boxing matches, there is not enough money for the construction and maintenance of laboratories.
Communist society will therefore have to carry out a thorough transformation of the conditions in which artists and scientists currently find themselves.
It will have to require, above all, from artists and scientists, sincerity and the break with all the self-interested ends that do not lead to Beauty and Truth.
History is severe: the artists and thinkers who have survived until our era and who still stimulate our interest are those who have known how to give Humanity the depth of their souls. In the sciences, these are the thinkers who have known how to serve truth despite the hatred of the priests, the despotism of the kings or the incomprehension of their contemporaries.
The libertarian communists pay all these geniuses the tribute of their admiration and their gratitude for everything they have achieved and suffered for the benefit of Civilization and the advancement of ideas.
But this posthumous tribute and this belated admiration for the great figures of the past is not enough. The libertarian communists are convinced that the future has to be different, that social life will have to be profoundly transformed, in such a way that the artists and the thinkers of all categories will henceforth find existence easier than did their colleagues of the past.
First of all: all talented individuals and geniuses hidden in the depth of the peoples, must have an opportunity to show themselves and to display the fullness of their natural gifts.
The man who feels that he has special talents in Art or Science, but who is condemned to long hours of work every day at the same job in order to get the daily bread for him and his dependents, feels the bitterness of a wasted life, and his existence is for society a real waste.
The talented individual and the genius have the need to display their talents, and if they do not have the opportunity to do so, if their natural gifts remain embryonic in the human soul, their moral suffering is incurable.
The libertarian communists, for all these reasons, advocate the principle of financial support for the Arts and Sciences by all municipalities, departments or provinces and nations.
They will above all implement free education at all levels, special education for the Arts and Trades and the diverse branches of Science. It will also make sure that scholarships are awarded, including the room and board of the student, to all those who are clearly distinguished by their natural gifts.
Every work of Art or Science worthy of interest must be supported in the same way by communal, provincial or national initiative.
The libertarian communists are convinced of the essential importance of the Arts and the Sciences in the various forms of past civilizations, an importance that they will continue to have, to an even higher degree, in the future.
Ever since religion lost more and more of its real influence over the behavior of men in all modern countries, art and science were all that was left that could show the people of various professions and different characters and tastes the road that should be followed in everyday life; to purge and elevate their feelings and their aspirations; and to inculcate in them an ideal worthy of a new society.
The everyday grind of hard work is even less capable of satisfying the tastes and aspirations of men in communist society than it is in capitalist society. Once he is done with his daily work, the simple soul must find in the cinema, the dancehall, play or sports, the necessary pleasure in life, just as the most refined people find it in symphony orchestras, art museums, the theatre or the opera and even in reading.
Young people who have a taste for knowledge take pleasure in burying themselves in the study of an article in a journal or a textbook.
The libertarian communist society will have to take into account all tastes and all tendencies.
Will There Be a Government in a Libertarian Communist Society?
When he posed the question of what kind of government is best, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had already observed that this question is a question that is as insoluble as it is vague—or, if you like, it has as many good answers as there are possible combinations in the absolute and relative positions of the peoples.
For the general and supreme controlling organ—the government of a nation or what is called the State in modern society—is established by a long process of development, and will continue to undergo constant development.
Every people has the government it deserves, is a well-known saying. An individualist anarchist once said to me, when I referred to myself as a syndicalist: “The presidents and secretaries of your trade unions, whether you call them revolutionaries or reformists, will be your future masters. There is no difference between them and the high officials of the State.”
And I had to respond: “If they have to be your future masters, it will be because you deserve them, because you were unable to make them submit to your will.”
Likewise, we are fully convinced that the State in Soviet Russia is more despotic and more anti-democratic than the State in England, France, Holland or Switzerland; but, considering the character of the Russian people, we are just as convinced that the Government of the Soviets could not have done otherwise than it did.
If a Government proves to be too backward for the economic and social conditions of the country, it will be dragged along by events and overthrown or forced to conform to the general developmental trend; if, instead, it by chance proves to be more advanced than those conditions either as a result of a recent revolution or due to highly developed legislative reforms, it will inevitably be subject to a reactionary counterrevolution or else the premature reforms will remain a dead letter and will either not be applied or will be applied in small measure.
The libertarian communists will have to take this general law of the development of the State into account; thus, if they only pay attention to theory and not to the possibilities of its practical application, their work will be sterile.
There are comrades among the anarchists who demand the pure and simple abolition of the State.
If by the term State, they mean the entire ensemble of the administrative apparatus and the means of coercion that represent the interests of the ruling classes and upon the basis of which all Governments currently exercise their power in modern countries, these comrades are of course correct. The current State that claims to be the representative of the collectivity, while it is only the representative of a caste, must disappear. It must develop like Humanity in general and it must be fundamentally reorganized so that it becomes more human, more civilized and capable of really representing the collectivity.
But if there are individualist comrades who deny the need for the various social collectivities to exercise rights as collectivities, if they condemn all representation of the collectivity, these comrades are wrong and are spreading pernicious theories.
They make no effort to acknowledge the difficulties presented by real life, when forty million inhabitants must learn how to live together in a territory like France or England, or when the four million citizens of New York or the seven million citizens of London find themselves united in one massive urban concentration.
The more dense the population is, the more strictly must the rights and the duties of the collectivity be upheld, with regard to the population as a whole and with regard to the individuals who compose it and their liberties.
The libertarian communist society will, of course, have its own Government, like any other society.
What is really essential consists only in knowing what form this Government will assume.
We should always recall, with regard to this question, that the diverse forms of Government only possess any importance because they respond to the economic, ethnic and psychological conditions of a population in a particular era.
Today, in the highly advanced countries, the tendencies towards popular sovereignty, and towards the democratization of the State and civilization, prevail over all the other tendencies.
Even the dictatorship that currently rules in some of the more backward countries in Europe—in Italy, Hungary, Russia, the Balkans, Turkey and Poland—must be understood as a transitional measure of fate, destined to rapidly drive the peoples in these countries down the path of the general development of the European civilizations.
Only gradually, over the course of centuries and by way of the most diverse forms of Government on behalf of a caste, of an aristocracy (the latter also represented by a king or an emperor), and then of the absolute monarchy and the constitutional monarchy, did an irresistible movement towards the democratization of the Government and social life begin to take shape since the end of the 18th century in North America and since the middle of the 19th century in Europe.
Democratic life and its impact on the general trend of public affairs have increased to a great extent over the last few decades thanks to the various workers and peasants organizations: trade unions, cooperatives, women’s groups, local sections of political parties and associations of all classes, etc.
The development of civilization as a whole allows us to foresee a future when the Government will be based on Labor, with an always increasing degree of freedom for the masses of the working population, in the same way that the management of today’s society is based on the privileges granted by the possession of Money or medieval society was based on the acquired rights of noble birth or membership in patrician families.
In other times, the State served the interests of an aristocracy or ruling class, and the masses of individuals were its subjects. In the future, the State will only exist to serve the interests of these masses and its character will have been completely transformed. From a mechanism of organized repression, it will be transformed gradually into an institution for the conduct of affairs, responsible for carrying out the collective will of a nation and administering its interests. Managed in the past from the top down, it will in the future be increasingly managed from the bottom up.
The democratization of the State and the realization of real popular sovereignty will also transform the Justice system and Jurisprudence, the Police, Vocational Training and Education of the youth and all aspects of social life.
The anarchist comrades who do not appreciate these perspectives, only have one solution to offer to us: the institution of a dictatorship of a clique. But the experiences gained in Russia, as well as in Italy and other countries, show us that such a remedy would be worse than the disease, worse than the disadvantages of popular sovereignty.
The accentuated democratization of social life and Governments will in the future enable the founding of an economic and political Federation of the European States and will thus create a real League of Nations.
Modern capitalism has replaced the religious wars and wars of dynastic succession with commercial wars, whose goals were the possession and exploitation, by nationally and internationally organized bankers and industrialists, of cotton, sugar and rubber plantations, or oil fields or coal deposits, etc.
Although we cannot say that all wars will be definitively ruled out among the numerous nations and peoples of the world, we can say, however, that wars, no longer serving the egotistical interests of individual banking interests and industrialists, will have thereby lost an important factor of discord between men.
The working masses: men and women, peasants, fishermen and sailors, do not have the same interest in throwing themselves by the thousands and millions upon the workers of other countries that the industrial financiers and big corporations have, who want to see the peoples fight among themselves so that the financiers and corporations can reap commercial and industrial profits.
The future under a libertarian communist order, locally, nationally and internationally organized, is rich in promises for peace and social well-being. The motto of the enlightened despots of the 18th century, Everything for the people, but nothing by the people, has failed, and it is this failure that has completely transformed the meaning of this motto so that it should now be: Everything for the people and by the people.
It is of course true that the working masses also feel the weight of the obstacles that arise before the realization of a real popular sovereignty and a really democratic State. They do not have certain advantages that go along with the concentration of all political power in just one person: a Dictatorship could work much more quickly.
The masses must rely, on every occasion, on the good will of representatives who, quite often, think more of their own interests than of the welfare of their constituents. These representatives are, however, the only persons who can assess the importance of a situation and who have the ability to grasp all the political and social dangers and all eventual difficulties.
The power of the people, however, always resides in the primordial and fundamental force that is rooted in the mass movements, a force that arises from the depths of social life and, with an irresistible power, leads towards progress.
The modern peoples will learn to replace those individuals who deceive them with others and will progressively learn how to choose, respect and honor individuals of worth. They will therefore have in their front ranks the noblest spirits of their time, men much more worthy than kings or emperors or than any millionaire’s son or politician who inherited his authority from his father.
The libertarian communists insist on the need for as much decentralization as possible in the future State, as opposed to the tendencies towards centralization which the Governments of today’s States display.
The decentralization of power must be complemented, wherever the nature of mutual relations requires this, by the free federation of interested groups, associations, communes, regions, or States.
The libertarian communists base their preferences on the principles of decentralization; and on free federation and autonomy, over the following motives of an economic, psychological and moral order:
The rights to independence and freedom of autonomous movement are based, like the right of individual freedom, on Nature and Reason, which demand that the social organizations and institutions, just like individuals, can run their own affairs as long as they do not infringe on the freedom of others.
Men and groups of men generally know better than others what their own interests are and display more zeal in attending to them independently than if they have to obey the orders of some central Power (which does not exclude, of course, directives and suggestions intended to coordinate local efforts for the purpose of ensuring a more rational outcome).
Individual Freedom, Autonomy and Free Federation create strong minds and favor self-initiative; while extreme centralization and the domination of a central Power intervening everywhere, make minds servile and drown out personal, local and regional initiative: the masses soon become accustomed to having others think for them … like shepherds for the sheep.
Freedom, Autonomy and Free Federation stimulate men to make individual and collective sacrifices; the Centralization of Power, on the other hand, makes men indifferent and does not arouse their enthusiasm except among big businessmen and careerists of central Power.
Even the most conscientious State officials cannot take an interest in affairs that do not concern them for their entire life.
Autonomy, Free Federation and the Decentralization of Power lead men to understand, and to unite for the satisfaction of, their multifarious needs. Centralization, however, severs the direct bonds between men, dissolves the rich variations of social life and tends to generate an excessive standardization of the masses.
Autonomy, Free Federation and the Decentralization of Power connect the responsibilities of numerous fields, each in its own domain. The Centralization of Power, on the other hand, always overwhelms a small number of people—whether or not they are competent in all fields in question—with excessive responsibilities.
Autonomy, Free Federation and the Decentralization of Power favor the development of harmony between the men of all backgrounds, between the countryside and the big cities. The excessive Centralization of Power, however, of the sort that we are familiar with in our century, causes the countryside to harbor ill will towards the cities, the small communes to resent the bigger population units, and the less populous peoples and colonies to mistrust the more powerful nations.
In this way, the application of the principles of free association favor social and world Peace; while extreme Centralization of Power incites to civil war and wars of conquest, and to ferocious resistance to intervention by neighbors who would not hesitate to be tyrants if they get a chance to make a bid for power.
For all of these reasons, it is necessary for the local and regional affairs that are of direct interest to the provinces of Valencia or Catalonia, of Brittany or Alsace, the canton of Vaux, Saxony or Lancashire, to be addressed locally rather than resolved by higher authorities, in Madrid, Paris, Berne, Berlin or London. Georgia (in the Caucasus) must be freely governed from Tiflis, by freely elected Georgians, and not from Moscow by Russian conquerors.
This is how modern Ethics understands the social and moral difficulties that have to be resolved, when it is based on natural law; and this is how the chosen men of our times understand them, in practical life.
The general principles developed in these pages are sufficient for the purpose of delimiting the rights and duties of social groups, and the inspection they have to undergo, conducted by the central Power.
The collective enterprises can serve as examples.
The construction and operation of a network of urban streetcars, a manufactured gas plant, a local water line, a slaughterhouse, a swimming pool or a public park, are communal enterprises. The autonomy of the Municipality must be respected, and the central Power has no right to interfere with it, except in cases of abuse and when the general interest is harmed or to make suggestions or to facilitate the work by coordinating the efforts of various communes (wholesale purchases, standardization of supplies, etc.).
A local railroad, a canal or a road between two communes, a power plant that supplies electricity to an entire region and, in general, all the installations and institutions that serve a regional purpose, must be operated, reasonably, in the name of the whole population of the various communities involved. This is where regional autonomy has its place.
A national rail network, a communications grid that connects all the localities in a region, or an exceptionally well endowed museum, are enterprises and institutions that are intended to serve an entire nation and must be built and operated under the control of the relevant national authorities.
Finally, let us consider the example of an international rail network, a shipping or aviation enterprise of continental or intercontinental scope, a lighthouse on a coast that serves all ships or a transoceanic telephone cable, which all serve international commerce. All of these institutions, even in cases where they can be created and operated directly by one particular country, must be subject, however, to international inspection and regulation.
International treaties must also administer and control: the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone services of all countries; the emigration of men of various races to the countries that need their labor, and the working conditions of the foreign workers who reside in the various countries; the problem of passports and visas; the quarantine measures applied to passenger ships in case of an outbreak of contagious disease, and, furthermore, other diverse problems whose number will increase constantly due to the extension of international communications.
Free trade, exempt from all duties and tariffs, will be imposed as an urgent necessity from the moment when the nations agree to cease their mutual strangulation with rigid regimes of attempted national protectionism.
International problems affect millions of individuals. But, for that same reason and due to their very nature, their solution must be sought beyond the individual, and in disregard of interests that are too exclusively local, provincial or even national, by means of international arbitration where there are conflicts of interest.
After thorough reflection concerning all the social problems that will or might be posed, we must warn the reader that it will be much easier to resolve these questions of a national and international nature by way of lawsuits rather than by always scrupulously respecting, wherever the nature of the matter and human Reason demand it, individual freedom and regional and national autonomy.
The further we proceed down the road of popular sovereignty, the more energetically will all the human races and all men and women demand to take their place at the festival of life, and the more will the general regulation of their problems in lawsuits threaten to stifle individual freedom and local and regional autonomy.
On the transit centers and highways, on the national arterials, pedestrians are today threatened with being crushed at any moment by the turbulent life that surrounds them. Unfortunate wretches!
Similarly, we will see our personal qualities and our newly acquired freedoms come under threat, when all the customs, all the rights and all the privileges are gradually leveled out into international customs and a uniform and single law.
The libertarian communists and all the elite of modern men, will have an arduous task ahead of them that will consist in watching over individual freedoms to make sure that they are not lost in the general struggle for happiness.
The leveling of customs must be used, in the final accounting, to awaken a relative but general freedom, and a perhaps modest degree of well being for a long time to come, but one that is universal and generalized.
Strong and generous individuals, all those who do not aspire to rule, but who do not want to be ruled by others either, will accept the equality of the rights and duties and the equal opportunity to live a happy life. But they will not allow this to undermine their own personalities.
Within the framework of what political forms will we have to realize the social order in a libertarian communist society?
While we shall not attempt to deny that the parliamentary regime and universal suffrage are manifestations of a certain degree of historical progress, we consider them, in their current forms, to be transitional institutions in the historical development of the peoples.
Their relative powerlessness, regarding which complaints are heard in all modern countries, can be explained primarily by two factors:
First: Parliament is the instrument of the rule of the bourgeoisie, which, strong with regard to industrial, commercial and financial business deals, understands little of politics and diplomacy, so that their representatives in Parliament have become the constant butt of jokes and are mistreated by the technicians of central Power and administration. Since the bourgeoisie have to face more and more demands from the proletarian masses and their representatives, Parliament is therefore paralyzed and its efforts are sterile.
Second: Parliament must occupy itself exclusively with legal regulations. It is at its best in dealing with legislative power and only exceptionally addresses material and intellectual life, or the productive life of the masses. It only sees real life and its needs through legal texts, court procedures and administrative proceedings.
This objection is much less applicable with regard to municipal and departmental councils, which are much more deeply rooted in the economic and intellectual life of the people. This is why we think that the social life of the future will be based essentially on the economic and political organization of the commune and the region.
Likewise, Parliament will necessarily be transformed from a body of professional politicians, affiliated with one or another party or clique, blind supporters of this or that dogmatic doctrine, to an institution of technicians with special competence in the various managerial tasks relating to social life.
The Senate, the Higher Legislative Chamber, is nowadays very much the object of popular scorn. If the career politicians are the whips of the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate is the representative in every country of the ancient prejudices and traditions, of old age and impotence.
In centuries past, when life only slowly evolved, the experience of men and women who were of advanced age could very well be considered, much more so than today, as a useful factor for the good conduct of public affairs. In our time, the elders hold us back. Life has become so intense, new discoveries and inventions succeed one another with such rapidity, the masses are so galvanized, individualism and the personal dignity of each man and women are so highly developed that modern people will not be able, in a relatively short period of time, to overthrow all the barriers of class and caste and rid themselves of all the prejudices and all the traditions that only have the antiquity of their existence in their favor. We are increasingly prone to refuse to preserve a bad social habit, or a ridiculous superstition, for the sole reason that our predecessors practiced the same habit and cultivated the same superstition.
The orientation given by American democracy, since the end of the 18th century, to the countries of Europe and the entire world, has been completed, during the last few years, by the example of the Great Russian Revolution. Two institutions of this revolution appear to be particularly predestined to continue and to have an enormous repercussion: that of the Soviets and that of the factory committees.
After the coup d’état of November 1917, the Bolshevik-dictatorial Government of Lenin and Stalin abolished the second of these two institutions and reduced the first to the status of a political caricature. Even so, the great idea of the soviets as the basis of a National Assembly composed of organized producers, from factory managers, engineers and architects to the most humble factory laborers, and to the peasants and domestic workers, appears to have a future in all modern countries where libertarian communism has a chance of success.
The workers will achieve this by developing in all industries the second of the two institutions cited above, that is, by organizing, in each workshop or factory, in each section of a big industrial plant, a body of technicians capable of joint control of their workplaces. This model will be followed to create distinct institutions of technicians in each controlling summit of economic and intellectual life: industry, commerce, public works, agriculture, the arts and sciences, justice, public health, sanitation, public administration and education.
A Senate of consumers, elected by all men and women, either native residents of a country or else resident aliens, will constitute the crowning edifice of a vast institution built from the bottom up, and will constitute a counterweight to the producers organized in the National Assembly.
If the masses of the people want to realize their collective will and work for the satisfaction of their interests in the future, it is necessary for them to always adopt a more stable form of existence, one that is more rigid than that of a multitude that is accidentally brought together or which is commonly known as the public, which is held together simply by mental attitudes of the most variable kind which are quite susceptible to external influence. Their unity must acquire the form of what is called association or organization. The libertarian communist society must be founded on the basis of the creation of an unlimited number of associations or organizations of producers and consumers.
The masses, once gathered in the streets, are capable of carrying out a negative action, of overthrowing antiquated institutions of domination and exploitation; but they are incapable of carrying out a positive action, of spontaneously creating new things, reconstituting social life on new foundations, replacing the condemned institutions with others better adapted to the needs of modern populations. In order to construct new social institutions, it is not enough for the masses to be animated by collective or even unanimous desires. The masses must be differentiated, and specialized, so that each individual has his role. And, for the execution of their eventual projects, the masses must generate technicians, duly authorized and responsible specialists, to lead their associations.
Libertarian communists will ultimately have to confront a thorny and delicate problem from the point of view of general civilization.
The organizations of intellectual and manual workers upon which the society of the future will rest in the future society: Will they leave in their wake those masses of impoverished proletarians who would perhaps be confused with less civilized workers of color who in that case would everywhere constitute a kind of Fifth Estate? Will they do what the bourgeoisie—the Third Estate—did in the past, which raised itself up on the shoulders of the revolutionary, but unorganized, workers, only to reject their allies after their victory? The Fourth Estate that is now proceeding towards the conquest of the leading position in modern society: will it be as egotistical and as cruel with regard to the most impoverished and backward men of our time as the Third Estate was with regard to them in the past?
Or will we witness the creation of a form of libertarian communism in which the care of the weak, the crippled, the sick, the elderly, and the men and women of a lower level of civilization, will be one of the first duties of the collectivity of the strong, the healthy and the powerful?
In a society based on the power of Labor, in which the hardest work will be done by the youth enlisted in a kind of social service, from the moment when armies no longer demand the best forces of Humanity for military service; in a society where machine production will be raised to the highest level of development, where the engineer, the chemist and the manual worker will join forces to wrest all its treasures from Nature with the minimum amount of effort; in short, in a well organized modern society, the organized workers can and must demonstrate more generosity and more nobility of spirit than the aristocracy, the clergy and the bourgeoisie did before them.
This problem is all the more troubling the more that modern peoples are still surrounded, on every continent, with human races of a lower level of civilization, whose education will be long and arduous, and who, nonetheless, cannot continue to be exploited with the same absence of scruples shown by the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie.
During the time of the fall of the Roman Empire it was not the barbarians, but rather the elite of the countries with a higher level of civilization, who had to outline the leading principles for the creation of a new world. Likewise, in the ever more frequent and intimate contacts between the eastern and African worlds and western Europe or America, it will not be the black tribes or the Moslem peoples barely awakened from their age-old lethargy who will have to draw up the plans for a new world civilization. This task will fall to the intellectual and manual workers of the most civilized and developed countries. But the latter will have to work, without exception, for the well being of all.
Translated from the Spanish translation available at:
Originally written in French in 1931, translated by Eloy Muñiz into Spanish and published in 1933 by Biblioteca Orto in Valencia, Spain.