Social and Economic Iniquity

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 22, 2010

WHAT do we observe in the structure of society under the direction of capitalism? A formidable apparatus developed to a degree of undreamed of possibilities by technique and science, unable to function due to the inherent contradiction in a system of speculation, whose productive power depends on markets rather than consumption.

Every labourer in the U.S.A. has at his disposal 3,000 slaves of energy in the form of 300 mechanical horsepower. Could a magnate of Greek, Roman or Egyptian times have dreamed of so much power at his disposal? In other countries the technical development is less but, nevertheless, all modern producers can utilise a great amount of mechanical power, which can still be increased enormously.

We ask ourselves, has human welfare benefited by these possibilities? Is there a justification for the way we live as compared with how we might live? The steel production of the United States in 1930 was 509 less than the maximum attained previously. The same occurred in England and Germany, and in France the reduction was 33%. The descent has not been stopped and the world trade shows an equally enormous drop. In some industries as much as 70% and 80%o of the personnel finds itself in unemployment.

Agricultural countries must see their grain rot in the fields or stocked up in warehouses for the lack of buyers; while industrial centres are choked with merchandise which is unsaleable as unemployment steadily increases. In the industrial countries of Europe and America there are over 50,000,000 workers without a job, and no matter what public projects are initiated on ever rising government loans, the situation of these jobless men cannot improve under the present regime.

Our present society which allows for a maximum capacity of production alongside of an equally extraordinary poverty, can have no defenders. There is security only for the few and if we do not find more militants against an organization which degrades and ruins us, the reason is to be found in the lethargy of the masses.

Let us examine the case of Germany. Out of 65 million inhabitants, 32.5% are considered as productive; of this number, 29 million earn less than 200 marks a month. F. Fried, in his book "The End of Capitalism," tells us further "that out of 29 and a half million workers 16 million earn less than 100 marks; 6 million earn between 100 and 125, and 7 and a half million between 125 and 200 marks. This signifies that half of the productive population of Germany do not receive even the minimum salary recognised officially as indispensable. Going on with our figures, we find that three and a half million earn 450 marks a month and 30,000 men between 12 and thirteen thousand marks. Totally, about 100,000 men in Germany are living in complete economic security."

Is there any justification for so many sacrifices of the people to preserve a capitalist regime which liberates only an insignificant number of inhabitants from economic insecurity? Hitlerism, one of the most horrible manifestations of the return to barbarism, has surged to the surface and exists only in defense of these 100,000 privileged rich. What is true for Germany is, on general lines, equally so for any other country.

We will, however, not lose any more time in criticising the capitalist system which has arrived at the point of its own complete breakdown. The moment has come to offer solutions and we offer ours, without party lines, without preconceived notions. Facing objectively the situation, we will try to find the most direct approach towards human salvation, the assurance of the right to life and work.

Property should pass out of private hands to collective ownership. We should not get confused with State ownership, which is nothing more than State capitalism. A communist economy is neither a heresy nor an impossibility. The Catholic Church itself, at a time when it was still influenced by Christian motives, that is, before its submission to the Caesars of Rome, defended communism with ardour and enthusiasm. Its greatest apostles have continued defending communism throughout the centuries.

St. Crisostomo said, "Crime, war and lawsuits originated at the time when the frozen words, 'Thine' and 'Mine' arose. Even though you have inherited your wealth from your father, who in turn inherited it from his grandfathers, no matter how far back you will go through your ancestors, you will trip up infallibly on the criminal, that is, the origin of all property is in robbery."

St. Ambrose sustained that land is the common property of all (like the air) and that private property has its origin in usurpation. We take the following phrase from St. Basilio, "A perfect society is that which excludes all private property. This was the primitive good which was overturned by the sin of our first fathers." St. Ambrose the Great affirmed that land, from which we all are born, belongs to all. Private property is, according to the Fathers of the Church, a sin, and according to St. Jeronimo, a rich man is an iniquity or the heir of an iniquity.

But not only is private property immoral but an insurmountable obstacle in the way of economic readjustment of the world. Around it flourishes the monstrous commercial, bureaucratic political and social parasites. Around it arises unemployment, the slavery of man before man.

Fermin Galan, the hero of Jaca, had for a moment the balance of the history of Spain in his hand. If he had been as good a strategist as a revolutionist, he would have triumphed and have realised his project of a new creation. Inspired by the forces of our organised movement of the workers and by libertarian ideas, the passionately creative spirit of Galan made the mistake of recognising property as a usufruct. He considered the biological and historical instinct of individual egoism too strongly opposed to the suppression of property, and believed that over an initial period, private property, untransferable and unaccumulative, should prevail -- until a better solution be found. He sustained that an equal part of social wealth to all satisfies the social and not the individual instinct, and rejected, in consequence, the two formulas of socialism; "To every one according to his capacity" and "From every one according to his ability and to every one according to his needs." Galan proposes, "To all and to everyone according to his ability and his physical effort."

We cannot ignore the part of truth which is to be found in the position of Galan, and it is very likely that the revolution will have to give in, in part, to individual instinct of peasant ownership. This will involve the coexistence of totally socialised property and private property, in simple usufruct.

On the other hand, we must not forget the precedents of communal property, deeply instituted in Spain, of which Joaquin Costa, in his "Agrarian Collectivism" and Rafael Altamira, in his history of "Communal Property" gives so many examples. The latter, referring to communalising of property, tells us, "Our peninsula abounds in small valleys, mountains, and places where large agricultural developments are impossible; also places where the climatic and geological conditions do not favour either extensive or intensive cultivation." I believe that these localities of communal property bear the aspects of the tradition of communism which frightens no one. They show the need of proceeding in unison towards the new economic and social order, and at the same time, demonstrate practically that this is not a panacea but a reality already established and with a psychological background in a good part of Spain.

Besides, the Spanish peasants live so miserably, even with their property, that nothing would be lost by giving it over to society in exchange for a better exploitation of the land and a more adequate distribution of labor and goods. Out of 13,530 taxpayers in the Province of Avila, 11,452 are subsisting with an income less than 1 peseta per day; 1,758 with an income less than five pesetas per day; and 155 with incomes between five and eight pesetas. These figures hold as an average for the whole country, and it can be said safely that 90% of landowners in Spain earn less than industrial workers without property. Out of a total of 1,026,412 landowners, 847,548 earn less than 1 peseta per day, which gives us "A class of proletarian landowners who differ in no way from peasant proletarians or workers of the land in their absolute dependency on the markets of wages." 1

These peasants, in some parts, might demand the retention of their land ownership in the conditions proposed by Fermin Galan and thus obtain a concession from the liberating revolution, but would not take long in learning their lesson by experience and see their error, and the injustice for themselves by their egoism.

The torment of Tantalus is no phantasy. We have it as a symbol of capitalist society; man is thirsty and cannot drink because the rule of privilege prevents him, he is hungry and must succumb before elevators full of grain and bursting warehouses. Can anyone imagine a greater contradiction than that abundance should be the principal source of misery? Such is the reality of the world. Tantalus is the unprivileged citizen of any modern country.

In the new society if we have raw material, land, tools and brawn in great quantity, or at least in necessary proportion to assure a superior standard of life for all, we must break the artificial barriers which prevent the use of all these resources. Later, if we obtain abundance in some goods, nobody will go without them; if there is scarcity in others at first, an equitable division will be made of what there is, among the population. It is no problem of differential calculus but a simple operation of common sense.

It is not only just, but it is also more practical and beneficial that abundance should signify enjoyment by all and not penury for the great majority. To arrive at this simple result, it is necessary to socialise property, put the land in the hands of those who work it, the machines under the control of the workers, the laboratories under the direction of scientists, etc. Some late prophets of individualist economy, Manchesterian night owls, such as F. S. Nitti, are irritated by the very idea of a communist economy. However, an equilibrium can be found only in a communist form of economy or, at least, with a definite tendency to communism through the means of regulating and coordinating plans of all productive and distributive forces of a country or of a group of countries.

The modern projects of planned economy, whatever they may be, always presuppose improvements on individualist economy. But we would shorten the road if the new planned economy would emanate from the productive masses directly and not from the bureaucracy of a State converted into supreme judge.

We have already had experience of totalitarian communism. We know the structure of communism under the empire of the Incas and of Egyptian communism. In Egypt there existed common forced labor. Revillout, the explorer of Egyptian lore, described conditions there as a species of "State Socialism." It is the kind of Pharaohism which might have come to be Russian communism; but this modality does not correspond to contemporary conscience, regardless of what the diplomacy of state, supposedly proletarian, might do.

The capitalist machine of production has developed so fantastically that not even the capitalists themselves understand it, and those who say they do are impotent to dominate and direct it. That is the origin of all the contradictions and difficulties. The capitalists themselves in their hunger for speculation and profit, have unchained the spirits of rebellion and now do not know how to silence them. They have forgotten the magic word and they themselves have become the playthings of their own creation.

Something similar has occurred with the modern State; it has grown so much, it has become so complicated, and its machinery so strong, that the statesman who in old times was master of things, today is the slave of the machine. That is why we do not want to occupy, in our fighting positions, the places of the present supposed leaders. We could not do more than they, nor differently from them, being perforce docile instruments of the entire mechanism, the persistence of which is incompatible with the right to live.

From our deductions of the study of modern economy, the evolution of feasible developments for all is to be found in the sphere of coordination and unity. Work is an obligation, more or less conscious, something which would be avoided if it were possible. However, if we have to work to live, it is preferable to do so with the least effort possible, not with the greatest effort. The individual like of the producer has less weight in modern economy than of the artisan; we might say that it does not carry any weight, since the producer performs generally a single motion in an endless conglomeration of functions towards a final result. He may not even know what his particular function leads to in the end. This is not good but that is what happens in modern industry.

To revindicate a modality of work which would return us a little to the artisan, would be like preaching in the air and make us appear eccentric. Economic life tends to scientific coordination not only because it is the most economic method of production but because the population has increased out of proportion as against the times of the artisan.

William Morris has executed precious works of ebony, but his system could not supply humanity with the furniture needed and his products would not enter under social necessity. Anyone desiring such work would have to confine it outside of the hours necessary to satisfy the general needs. The interest of the moment would be t o assure all human beings with a minimum for existence indispensable in feeding, clothing, housing, and so forth. Once this minimum is assured, new horizons will open, when other principles less unified will be applied, at least outside of the general economic mechanism. Also after the working hours socially established for every industry there would remain a sufficient margin for individual labor for the gratification and satisfaction of personal likes.

Just as it is impossible to return to transportation by ox carts, so in all things, in all spheres of economy, it is necessary to adopt the most progressive ideas and then adopt all possible innovations towards a greater perfection of production (the greatest utility with the least effort). We say this even though we would prefer personally a little more work at the expense of less production but more in harmony with the multiformity of methods. However, the multiplicity of methods will be reduced daily in the interest of greater results and the least effort. Secondly, because the populations, already so numerous in all countries and their necessities at times superfluous, but nevertheless there, have increased by hundredfold in relation to populations of fifty, one hundred or two hundred years ago. Today, we demand a thousand things which our ancestors centuries ago did not dream of as even possible. We are much more numerous and it is necessary that the production of one man of today be superior 10, 20 and 50 times to that of l the ancient Greek or Roman citizen. For this reason, at least during the first part of the revolution, we see no other way, than the precept of modern economy; unified coordination in everything possible.

  • 1S. Madariaga; "Spain," 1930, Page 14.