On Buying Out the Capitalist

[From “The Concentration of Wealth” by Henry Laurence Call, a paper read before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Columbia College, New York, Dec. 1906.]

The purchase of public utilities from the corporations is, indeed, now generally advocated ; and we presume the same alternative will be proposed with regard to the trusts, when the people shall have become thoroughly aroused as to what they mean, as also to the futility, as well as the inadequacy, of all attempts to curb or smash them. But this acknowledges the right in these corporations to insist upon such terms as they please, or even absolutely to refuse to sell until their franchises and privileges shall have expired ; thus postponing indefinitely, and rendering practically null, any attempt at a real remedy. The proposition is, moreover, in any just estimate, deliciously ludicrous. The simplicity of the countryman who “locked the stable door after the horse was stolen,” was sage wisdom by comparison. It is as though that countryman, with the thief parading his stolen horse in his plain sight, should have hypnotised himself into the belief that the possession of that thief was evidence of property, and sacred ; and while still in that hypnotic state, should have proposed to mortgage his farm and future labour in order to purchase back his stolen property.

If, through the misconduct of their public servants, the people have been defrauded of the possession of their public highways, as also of industry itself, then their right to repossess themselves of these properties and franchises is the same as that of the individual to repossess himself of his property, whether lost or stolen. The deprivations and wrongs of the past can never be remedied ; and all the wealth that has thus far gone to supply the lavish and sinful waste of these arch plunderers of the industrial world may not be restored to the people ; but all the plundered wealth that yet remains, including the franchises and properties, is theirs to recover and possess.

To attempt such purchase would, indeed, entail upon industrial society an impossible burden.

It is stated that the income of John D. Rockerfeller is 72,000,000 dollars per year. If this is true, then the wealth of that individual alone, judged by its earning power, is to-day not far from 2,500,000,000 dollars; and before any reform can be effected will undoubtedly be 3,000,000,000 dollars. Now, inasmuch as the net earnings of the whole (American) people are only 3,000,000,000 dollars per annum, it would require all the earnings of all the people of the nation for a whole year, to satisfy the demands of this one individual alone, in the event of such purchase. But he is only one of thousands of the enormously rich ; and tbe class, of which he is representative, possess practically ninety per cent, of the 106,000,000,000 dollars given as our national wealth. Not all the labour of all the people would, then, suffice ; . . . as well might a slave, all whose toil belongs to an absolute master, hope to purchase its freedom, as industrial society to undertake such purchase, and then hope even to lighten its debt burden.

Aside from the contradiction it implies, and the hardship it must entail, the purchase by society of these possessions would perpetuate an aristocracy of wealth, having no occupation but the search for pleasure and power, and quite as formidable then as now. It would take all the profits from production and industry, leaving the whole of industrial society in the future, as at present, but “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for these lords of the industrial world. It would convert this into an immense corruption fund, in the hands of an idle class trained to ambition and power. Many might be content with this perpetual mortgage upon the labour of the whole nation, and spend their incomes upon pleasure ; but who can doubt that the great lords of finance who now dominate the industrial world, would still thirst for power, and, conversant with all the corrupt methods of our politics, would use the same criminal methods to build up a newer power, as those employed to build up their present possessions and power ?

Besides, such half-way action, or compromise, would be as wrong and unjust as it would be impolitic. All these possessions have been created alone by the labour of industrial society ; and to it, and it alone, they justly belong.

If, therefore, these possessions have found their way into the hands of the present possessors through unjust laws, through bribery, corruption, fraud, and other criminal misconduct, which the people could not see or prevent, then the people cannot do less than demand a full return both of the properties and all the accumulated wealth therefrom. Their right to this wealth is exactly commensurate with their right to take possession of the properties themselves. The return of the goods of which they have been despoiled is quite as important and altogether as just, as the prevention of further spoliation. It is enough that they have been so long defrauded of their just possessions, and compelled to toil in the service, and at the dictation, of the wrongful appropriators ; without assuming this voluntary and dangerous additional burden of perpetual toil, in order to come into possession of their own again, or rather into what would be but a hollow mockery of that possession. This wealth, thus plundered from a nation’s toil, either belongs to these plunderers or to the society from which they have plundered it; and to one or the other it must go in th« end. Industrial society must make its choice between the two horns of the dilemma ; it must be the judge of its own rights, as also the enforcer of its own decrees ; and from its decision there is no appeal, as no recourse from its action.

The corporation, then, in all its ramifications, industrial, financial, and public service, should be taken from under the control of private interests, and made co-operative in the workers, by them to be administered for the common good; it should be, in fact, a social, not a selfish institution.

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