1920s >> 1927 >> no-272-april-1927

An Anarchist defence of private property

The following letter has been received from an anarchist reader of the S.S. We append our reply.

There are two Socialisms, one based upon individual subordination and the absolute denial of private property (Marxian and Kropotkin Socialism), the other based upon individual sovereignty and the insistence upon private property (Proudhonian Socialism). Marx attacks liberty—Proudhon attacks privilege. Marx attacks capital— Proudhon attacks monopoly. Marx thought capital was one thing and labour product another. He would abolish wages by confiscating all capital to the State, that is the conscription of all wages and workers— Militarism, Bureaucracy ! Marx said value could not be determined, yet he says that the worker produces four and receives one. How did he find that out? Marx ignored the money question ; like Kropotkin, he was an absolute dud in finance. Marx thought profits, or that part of the product kept back by the employers, was the only means of exploitation worth mentioning, yet profit is simply the difference between what a man buys goods at and what he sells them at. I contend that competition in the supply of a currency divorced from its metallic or specie basis would abolish that difference ! Why, to-day the four hundred millions interest on the National Debt will admit of eighty thousand to live at the rate of five thousand a year, who need not own any means of production or engage in any enterprise, and who can look with philosophic calm on all your strikes and riots as long as the State remains intact ! Why, even Lord Rothermere, through his Daily Mail, has been clamouring for the Government to tax the Channel Islands because Mr. Houston and other millionaires were flying there to dodge Karl Marx, the old Tory tax collector. I shall insist that every trader shall, like the proprietors of theatres, state the amount of tax on each article, including beer, spirits, and tobacco. This will educate the workers and expose the cowardice, hypocrisy, and criminality of your Labour champions and all politicians and invaders. I will conclude with a few questions. (1) Are not the working classes deprived of their earnings by usury in its three forms—interest, rent, and profit? (2) Is not such deprivation the principal cause of poverty? (3) Is not poverty the principal cause of illegal crime? (4) Is not usury dependent upon monopoly, and principally the land and money monopolies? (5) Could these monopolies exist without the State at their back or the sanction of the Government?
Ground rent exists because the State stands by to collect it and to protect land titles rooted in force and fraud, otherwise the land would be free to all and no individual could control more than he could use. Interest and house rent exist because the State grants to their bankers the sole right to monetise the capital and securities produced by the workers, and to issue credits thereon to finance war and to create parasites by endowing churches, colleges, and hospitals, inspectors innumerable, presidents, chairmen and staffs for boards of trade commissions of enquiry, censors for cinemas to see that you get plenty of military and religious dope; staffs for wireless and for ratifying district agreements, with the Labour Party supporting Army and Navy officers as Parliamentary candidates whose interest is, like the lawyers, to increase taxation, and thus ensuring the slavery of the workers by pawning the future products of the workers and their children to the State ! So we have discovered our enemies—the financiers, the State bankers, the currency jugglers are the vipers sucking at the vitals of industry, and the State, the Government, the public trustees are their protectors and co-operators, which only free labour can detach and kill.
Give the workmen their economic independence by giving them free access to the means of life which come without labour, and they will produce and exchange their wealth. As for the usurers and their protectors, stripped of their power to steal, they will have to join the ranks of labour or starve. This is where I stand, and I invite any and all to meet me here and whip me if you can. I should close here, but I must tell you that the Labour Party is the last refuge for bankrupt aristocracies and broken down thrones ; hence the riddle of their titled and military members !

T. H. MAHONY.

OUR REPLY.

This is the third letter we have printed from Anarchist individualists, and it betrays the same vagueness and misconception as those from previous correspondents. There is no attempt made to deal with the economic development and tendencies of our time, and no effort is made to show how private property in the great means of production can exist without a rich owning class on the one side and a vast working and non-owning class on the other. The first accusation to be noted is that “Marx attacks Liberty” ! Where does not occur. The only Liberty Marx attacks is the Liberty to rob ! The sheer nonsense of our critic talking of “Kropotkin Socialism” is an example of the general confusion in his letter. Kropotkin opposed Socialism and stood for “absolute individual liberty”—whatever that might mean. Our critic is referred to the complete answer to Proudhon given by Marx in his work, “Poverty of Philosophy.” Monopoly is a direct result of competition and is inevitable under capitalism. The statements made about Marx in the above letter clearly show that Mr. Mahony has never read Marx. Marx shows in “Capital” that the product of labour becomes capital because the product of the labourer is the property of the capitalist and only a portion in the shape of wages is returned to the worker.

Marx did not propose putting capital in the hands of the State, but that the producers should own the means of wealth production in common, and with the abolition of private or class ownership the State would die out.

In the same sentence our critic accuses Marx of advocating the abolition of wages, and then says Marx advocated the conscription of wages !

Marx advocated neither. The gem in the above letter is the statement that Marx says that Value could not be determined ! Actually all Marx’s economic writings— “Value, Price and Profit,” “Wage Labour and Capital,” “Capital,” “The Critique of Political Economy,” and others—all state that value is measured by the amount of labour socially necessary to produce an article.

The joke of claiming that Marx ignored the money question is evident to the merest tyro in Marxian study, for, apart from the “Poverty of Philosophy,” the great three volumes of “Capital” and the “Critique” deal specifically and completely with the money question. Marx alone was able to demonstrate the secret of money and showed the actual part played by money in capitalist economy.

If there is any other source of exploitation but that occurring in withholding the product of labour from the producers, it would be interesting to have it stated.

The crude notion that a metal or specie currency is the cause of exploitation is completely answered by the facts of modern life wherever there is a paper currency. No tinkering with currency or allowing any per¬son to issue it would touch the simple cause of slavery and poverty—the ownership of wealth by a section of the population, and the dependence of the rest upon that section for permission to work and live. If the National Debt was abolished, the workers would be no better off, because they do not pay for the debt, but interest and principal is paid for by the employing class out of the surplus values taken by them in production.

The fact of the Daily Mail clamouring for the taxation of millionaires who try to evade taxation by moving to the Channel Islands shows the truth of our position. The capitalists, having to bear the general expenses of government (out of the proceeds of exploiting the workers), are anxious to make all capitalists contribute.

Taxation does not concern the workers. If there were no indirect taxes at all, the causes of working-class poverty would still remain. The questions asked by our correspondent are easily answered.

(1) Rent, interest and profit are three parts into which the surplus taken by the industrial capitalist is divided. These three forms result from private ownership and can only be abolished when the producers own the means of production.

(2) The cause of poverty is stated in answer to Question 1. Rent, interest and profit are not the fundamental causes, but these three forms of stolen wealth are effects of capitalist ownership of the means of production.

(3) Modern crime is due to the material conditions resulting from class ownership.

(4) Interest is a result of private ownership and is legalised by all capitalist Governments as a useful means of carrying on trade and commerce for them.

(5) The State is not at the back of the Capitalists. The State is the Central Committee of the capitalist class and carries on the executive affairs on their own behalf. All private property society needs a State to rule the subject class and to conduct and regulate the affairs of government in the interest of the ruling class.

Economic independence for the worker depends upon their free access to the land, factories, workshops, machinery, etc., and all other means of production.

But as the modern methods of producing involve large-scale production and associated labour, the means of wealth cannot be owned individually by each worker. They are too vast and beyond the means of any producer. As they must be co-operatively worked, so they must be commonly owned. There is no other solution. Individual ownership by the few rich non-producers, with the result¬ing poverty of the many—or common ownership by the producers themselves for their own comfort and enjoyment. That is the position our critic has to face.

The evading of this important fact of economic evolution by our Anarchist critics, and the calm assumption that we are living back in the days when means of production were small enough to be owned individually by the producers—these two points make all attempts at much discussion with them futile.

A. Kohn

(Socialist Standard, April 927)

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