Capital and Association

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Joshua King Ingalls

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A System of associated and co-operative labor must be the result of growth and harmonious combination, not of arbitrary arrangement after any given formula. And in considering the question of the relation of wealth to labor it may be well to remark, that where the principle of awarding to capital, a portion of the products of labor, is recognised, it will ever be impossible to place the laborer above the power which money exerts over him, ostensibly one of the objects for which they combine. For it can make no particular difference, whether society is organized after the system of some master, or whether it perpetuates the same chaotic misrule which now exists, if the wealth of the country is allowed to tax the labor of the country, some two or three times its amount each generation, increasing in its exactions as itself increases, the laborer must continue to be oppressed and crushed morn and more.

Now the fact that in an association, wealth could not be produced with greater facility, would only prove that in it labor must be more degraded; for what is a vast manufacturing establishment, but an association for this object, to produce wealth? The objection is that the capitalist, and not the laborer owns the products of the toil. But how then is the association to remedy this? Certainly not by perpetuating the very evil complained of, not by increasing the facilities for producing wealth, for that would only subject labor to greater contributions; and besides, labor is already organized physically, the great difficulty being in the unjust method by which its products are distributed.

None but a most sordid reason can be given why capital should be allowed to divide, with the active agent, the products of toil or skill. We know of no grounds of justice on which past labor should be paid more than present. To assume it, is to lay all future generations of laborers under an onerous tax, which shall increase yearly and daily to the end of time. It is urged that to remunerate the owner of capital is necessary for the present, but that it will not be allowed in the perfected association. But upon what basis does this assertion rest? Will it not greatly increase the possessions of the rich, and as they will be allowed a monopoly of the passive agent, may they not make their, own terms with the active? As the possession of the soil, especially, is controlled by the few, the association will not be able to carry out its plans for the protection of labor, however great the desire. It will have to give capital its market value of compensation, and it can give labor no more. Embracing, therefore, the great evil which oppresses labor out of the association, it cannot save it from like oppression within. Because the monopolist without, will be able to produce wealth as fast as the association possibly can, and the capitalist will invest his money where it will bring the greatest premium, or in other words, where it will be allowed to extort the greatest amount from the laborer.

Suppose an association, where a number of persons represent the capital, owning the soil and most of the improvements. At present rates, this capital will increase in a duplicate ratio in each period of ten years. Either such, then, must be the increase of the property in market value, or else the class, which will constantly diminish in numbers, will be enabled to extend their possessions, and thus lay a greater amount of labor under contribution, in thus rendering it impossible that the laborers as a class, should ever become owners of the soil and, a consequence, of their own labor. It may be admitted that as property accumulates, the rates will diminish; but this will not benefit the laborer, because, although the per-centage is less, the aggregate amount will become greater and greater, as the principal will increase much faster than the rates diminish. If the association pay six per cent on the amount of stock, the first term of years, and only five the second, the labor will be more severely taxed the second term than the first, because the amount of stock, upon which usury must be paid, will be doubled. No one will deny that the condition of labor is more dc pressed in England, where the rate is three per cent, than in our western states where it is four or five times as much; the reason being, that the capital is so enormous that ut so low a rate, it absorbs almost the whole product of labor. Indeed there is no other way in which labor can be oppressed, than this system of paying dead capital a portion of its products. You may propose to pay it wages, which shall give it at least, a minimum supply of its own productions; but this does not depend upon your bye-laws, but upon the condition you will be able to make with capital; so that after all, the boasted systems of organization, amounts to nothing more nor less, than a machine for facilitating the transfer of the rewards of industry from the hands of the toiling, to the pocket of the Landlord and Usurer.

A civil reform must precede, then, any general system of association, unless men of wealth can be induced to put in their capital and labor on the same footing with others. If monopoly of the soil were not allowed, such a thing as usance would be unknown. The land and labor being freed, there would be no lack of the necessary means to carry on the business of the organization, and a system of association, would grow up sponta-* neously, from the new relations and conditions. That it would immediately realize the prophetic conceptions of Fourier or Davis may well be questioned: that it would be organized on equitable and harmonious principles cannot be doubted. But we have no faith in the success of any experiment, which shall involve the wrong and injustice growing out of the divorcement of the race from the bosom of the earth, their common mother. This relation is ordained of Nature, and cannot be violated without disastrous results. To think of securing harmony, while sanctioning this horrible discord, is the grossest impiety. To suppose that we may rescue labor from oppression, by involving in our system the only evil under which it suffers, is equally absurd. There is no other way by which man can be protected in the enjoyment of the products of his toil, than by establishing his right to labor for himself. Think not then to benefit the worker by conciliating the oppressions of capital. " Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."

J. K. I.

  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Capital and Association,” Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosopher 2, no. 23 (November 4, 1848): 362.