The secret of prosperity

While comedians accurately reflect the prevailing ethics when they sing “Get money honestly, if you can, but get it,” Mr. James Allen, in his book “The Eight Pillars of Prosperity,” refuses to dissociate worldly prosperity from the practice of moral virtues. In his preface he says :

“The moral virtues are the foundation and support of prosperity as they are the soul of greatness. They endure for ever, and all the works of man that endure are built upon them. Without them there is neither strength, stability, nor substantial reality, but only ephemeral dreams. To find moral prin­ciples is to have found prosperity, greatness, truth, and is therefore to be strong, valiant, joyful and free.”

The “foundation and support of prosperity” are not the moral virtues, but man’s knowledge of nature and his capacity to discover and utilise its secrets for the satisfaction of his needs. Morals do not endure for ever. They change with every important social change. They differ according to the stage of development ; the morals of cannibals, Esquimaux, Chinese, and Europeans differ. The morals of Feudal England, with the general contempt for usury, for instance, have changed so much that the greatest usurers are among the most prosperous and respected members of society.

Morals have no connection with the attainment of prosperity ; on the other hand, the prosperous are enabled, by means of their control of wealth and power, to dictate within certain limits, the morals of the community. We find upon examination, too, that the morals strongly insisted upon and legally endorsed, are those affecting the ownership of property ; thus class morals become class laws, imposed by the ruling class upon the subject class.

Mr. Allen, like many a capitalist, would like to believe that prosperity is an outward sign of all the virtues. This belief is grounded in the idea that the affluent are above the necessity of being mean and petty. It ignores the possibility of affluence itself being the result of wholesale robbery.

Mr. Allen’s eight pillars of prosperity are : energy, economy, integrity, system, sympathy, sincerity, impartiality, and self-reliance. These principles have much to do with the prosperity of the ruling class, but not necessarily by their practice of them. Mr. Allen has not taken into account the possibility of one class practising all his virtues and another class prospering as a result.

Let us consider how far the average capitalist practices the eight principles. We leave the petty capitalist out of the question for the moment, because he is insignificant both in the amount of wealth he controls and in influence. The capitalist proper has his money invested in one or more concerns and knows little or nothing about any of them beyond the dividends they pay. If he does expend “energy”—over and above the normal activities of the ordinary pleasure-seeker—it is by the doctor’s orders, and is mild and pleasant. He never practices “economy” except in the feeding of his servants. His “integrity” should be unquestioned seeing that he is well provided for; but the sequel will show that he dare not face the truth as to the source of his wealth. He leaves “system” to the managers of the different concerns in which his capital is invested. “Sympathy” is of little value to anyone of itself, but the capitalist may possibly feel some pity for the wretched toilers who are responsible for his dividends, until they strike for improved conditions—a situation which calls into play the next two principles, “sincerity” and “impartiality.” He can be desperately sincere when calling on the Government to administer clubs and bullets, and quite impartial as to the actual recipients. But the last quality, “self-reliance,” is plainly absent in this instance ; indeed, self-reliance is unnecessary at any time to the capitalist, who can place his capital in the hands of a broker or a solicitor and pay commission according to the success of his investments. Failing these, any bank will pay interest and take all responsibility of investment off his hands, while ensuring him a regular income.

So much for the capitalist’s dependence on the “eight pillars.” But what of the workers ? “Energy” they must have, must sell, and must expend. “Economy” they are compelled to practice : with a weekly wage that represenis the bare cost of living (especially to-day) there is no alternative. The “integrity” of the average worker is proverbial: he seldom has the chance to be dishonest—the overseers and police take care of that. The workers of both hand and brain are responsible for the systematic organisation of every concern : unless they have “system” they are not wanted. “Sympathy” they must needs develop because they are in constant touch with the suffering victims of capitalism. “Sincerity” is theirs, too: their conditions are too tragic to cultivate flippancy. “Impartiality” belongs to the worker because he cannot do otherwise than serve any capitalist with impartial thoroughness: managers and foremen are chosen for their capacity to pump the energy from him. “Self-reliance” is also well developed in the workers ; whatever their task they must perform it themselves ; there are no chivalrous and benevolent capitalists on hand to relieve them when it is particularly strenuous or dangerous.

After a close examination, therefore, we find that these eight principles or pillars are compulsory attributes of the workers, constantly practised by them, but quite unnecessary to and seldom possessed by capitalists. Yet Mr. Allen claims that only on these pillars can prosperity be built, and that no individual or nation can be prosperous without them. This, his main thesis, is therefore in actual opposition to the facts. The working class, who continually practise his principles, remain poor, while the capitalist class, whose very existence as a separate class depends on exploitation, become more prosperous daily. Says our author :

“Prosperity, to be stable and enduring, must rest on a solid foundation of moral principles and be supported by the adamantine pillars of sterling character and moral worth. In the attempt to run a business in defiance of moral principles, disaster of one kind or another is inevitable. The perman­ently prosperous men in any community are not the tricksters and deceivers, but its reliable and upright men.”

The old saying, that there is honour even among thieves, is here called to mind. All wealth is produced by the working class but owned by the capitalist class. As they do not obtain it by their own labour, nor by gift or begging, they must get possession by fraud. They may plead that they live and act within the system as it exists—the only system they know. But the system itself being based on the robbery of the working class, the class who live by such robbery can lay no claim to moral principles other than those formulated by themselves as expedients to facilitate the partition of the wealth robbed from the actual producers. Such expedients are far from being the “ultimate moral truths” by which Mr. Allen sets such store. The payment of a living wage for labour-power is not in reality an exchange of equivalents, but only the feeding, clothing, etc., of slaves while they produce, not only the value of their own keep, but all the surplus value appropriated by the master class. Labour-power, it is true, is paid for at its cost of production, as other commodities are, but in the consumption of labour-power which results in the transformation of the nature-given material into commodities, a new value is added which is not paid for. In different industries and countries this surplus-value may vary, but in its totality it corresponds approximately to the income of the non-producing class. Consequently Mr. Allen unconsciously impeaches the whole capitalist class when he says :

“There is no striking a cheap bargain with prosperity. It must be purchased, not only with intelligent labour, but with moral force. As the bubble cannot endure, so the fraud cannot prosper. . . . But fraud is not confined to the unscrupulous swindler. All who are getting, or trying to get, money without giving an equivalent are practising fraud, whether they know it or not. Men who are trying to get money without working for it are frauds, and mentally they are closely allied to the thief and swindler under whose influence they come sooner or later and who deprives them of their capital.”

Just as there are possibly more crimes undiscovered than discovered, so there are more capitalists who retain and enjoy the fruits of working-class exploitation than there are who lose them ; only a very small proportion fall a prey to the swindler—a robber of the robbers—and even those are not necessarily the ones who have violated the capitalist code of honour.

All those who obtain wealth without working for it or giving an equivalent for it are, according to Mr. Allen, frauds. This has been demonstrated by the Socialist, in scientific chapter and verse for over half a century. He has proved the capitalist system of society to be a system of slavery imposed upon the working class, who are robbed of the wealth they alone produce. Therein lies the sequel to the boasted integrity of the prosperous. They dare not face the indictment, dare not enter into scientific discussion as to the source of their prosperity. They shirk the issue, and Mr. Allen seems quite unconscious of the fact that there is one. He evidently thinks, with them, that exploitation is a blessing conferred on the workers.

In his preface Mr. Allen says :

“It is popularly supposed that a greater prosperity for individuals or nations can only come through a political and social reconstruction. This cannot be true apart from the practice of the moral virtues in the individuals that comprise a nation.”

Here, as in his main thesis, our author is in contradiction with actual facts. History and anthropology distinctly show that the economic conditions prevailing in a given period determine the morals or laws of that period. Social and political relations are built up on economic means and methods. As the instruments and methods of production change, a change in the political and social relations becomes necessary; but while the economic change goes on gradually as an evolutionary process, social and political change can only come by the subversion of the ruling class in society and the establishment of relations more in accordance with the interests of the hitherto servile class. Such a change is a revolution, of which history furnishes many examples that go to prove that society develops by the alternating method described. With the inception of each new order the status of the individual is changed. Chattel slave, feudal serf, and wage slave represent three different forms under which the wealth producers have been exploited. As each order develops toward the point of revolution, conditions become more chaotic and wretched for the workers ; the struggle for existence becomes so severe that the morals easily practised at its inception have to be rigorously enforced by law. Social relations—the moral principles that govern the relations between man and man—have not kept pace with economic development and fail to harmonise with it. Social relations must conse­quently be brought into line. Before man can be, in Mr. Allen’s words, “strong, valiant, joyful, and free,” he must have access to the means of wealth production without the degra­dation and disabilities that characterise wage slavery. He must control production and distribution collectively and democratically. Only then will his relations with his fellow man be in harmony with economic conditions, and all his actions, even when based on self-interest, harmonise with the interests of the community.

On page 104 Mr. Allen says that mayors, J.P.’s. and the like are chosen for their integrity and moral worth. The fact that they are, for the most part, prosperous in business proves, to his mind, the truth of his assumption that prosperity can only be attained by the practice of virtue. If that is all the proof he needs, them he occupies the proud position of the man who built up his business on the eight pillars of prosperity :

“His spirit inhales joy as his lungs inhale air. There are no longer any fears of his fellow men—of competition, hard times, enemies, and the like. These grovelling illusions have disappeared, and there has opened up before his awakened vision a realm of greatness and grandeur.”

In other words he has climbed out of the ranks of the proletariat, his needs are assured, his life is serene and placid, away from the sordid struggle for existence that continues and inten­sifies daily : his forgetting makes no difference. The poverty and anarchy that characterise capitalist society have become a “grovelling illusion” to him because, ostrich like, he buries his head in the sand to hide from his sight the pursuing truth.

F. F.

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