Self-made !

A correspondent signing himself A Listener writes :

“Having participated as a humble listener in many discussions on Socialism, I have frequently heard your speakers say that no man can make his own fortune by himself alone. Would you kindly answer through the columns of your paper, the undermentioned questions ?
“Now I know a man (a friend of mine) who went abroad, took a piece of land, his object being to discover gold, and fortunately it proved a success. Now this land was worked up by himself alone.
“Do you not consider him to be a man that has made his own fortune by himself alone ?”

No, good “Listener,” your friend did not make his fortune “by himself alone.” By a fortune we understand such an accumulation of wealth as, through the control of other men’s labour that it gives, enables its owner to live without labouring himself.

In the first place there is the outstanding fact, that apart from property-founded society, wherein wealth monopoly gives some men control and mastery over the labour of other men, there can exist no fortune. Its main characteristic, the power of dominion that it imparts, is obviously conditional upon the existence of other men (and producers at that). Without these there can be no fortune.

In the second place, your friend had to be carried to the gold-bearing land, and so required the help of the steamship and railway workers and all the craftsmen and labourers who contribute to the construction of the means of transportation. He needed tools to work the land and, not less, the knowledge of where and how to get out the gold.

Thirdly, so soon as your gold-mining fortune-hunter had won a surplus over and above the amount required to purchase his means of subsistence, he doubtless, being wise in his generation, banked or otherwise invested it. That is to say, he put it to such use as entailed the exploitation of the wage workers. In the normal course of commerce, then, his property would grow by the accumulation of rent, interest or dividends, regardless of any exertion upon his part.

And so it stands demonstrated, that even in the exceptional case of your friend, the acquiring of his fortune was assisted and alone made possible, not only by the very existence and labour of countless other men, but by the accumulations of knowledge and implements made by the numberless generations of men who have preceded us. In other words, wealth accumulates to-day as a result of social activity without which the individual is utterly impotent. This is more easily seen than ever in modern industrial society, with which the Socialist is more particularly concerned when he says that no man makes (creates) his own fortune.

J. H. H.

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