Rational Communism

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"Rational Communism."<ref>By a Capitalist. Published by the Truth Seeker Company, 33 Clinton Place, New York.</ref>

The work before us—crude in thought, but passable in style, not irrational in its aspirations, but, as usual with State Socialists, without grasp of natural principles and begging the question of an ideal government—covers too much ground to be fairly reviewed in the column allotted by Procrustes Auarchicus. I will, however, take up a point or two.

With Herbert Spencer the author has a little tilt, which is more creditable to him as a popular writer than as a deep thinker. He evades the sad necessity for social progress to eliminate weakness and depravity, by ad captandum appeals to the cheap philanthropy of charity and mercy, ignoring their utter and long proved incompetence. He not only denies the survival of the fittest, but would provide for the survival of the unfit.

But he finds himself in full accord with Spencer in what we regard as the signal flaw in Spencer's social logic, and in which Spencer falls far below the vigorous judgment of Proudhon. This is in the nationalization of the soil. In affecting a logical consistency Spencer falls into a practical absurdity, failing to note that the abuses of landlordry are most effectively precluded by the simple limitation of property in land to the uses and needs of its cultivator. What a silly non sequitur, to argue against the proprietorship of a garden or farm, from the inconvenience of subjecting thousands of gardens and farms to the unrestricted proprietorship of one owner! As private property happens to be the bee in our "capitalist's" bonnet, of course he must deny it in the soil, where it becomes, through labor, the necessary basis and continent of all other property, but for Spencer, who holds with us to private individual property in other things, to renounce it with regard to the soil is inexcusable. The author triumphs by this inconsistency, and fortifies himself by alliance with Spencer's error. In fact, to renounce private property in the soil is logically to renounce it everywhere. The true question is simply of limiting personal rights by consideration of the neighbor's rights. Land superabounds for all cultivators; speculation in it, as a market value, is what not only all socialists, hut every one who lives by labor on the soil, wants to prevent. Government can prevent it only by arbitrary measures, whether the form of robbery called taxation, or interfering with the natural right of individuals to transfer their property, the result of their labor inseparable from the soil. But for government, and the superstitious respect accorded to its titles, no one could monopolize land without maintaining a standing army of defence against the landless, as in the feudal system, which was less oppressive than our mercantile.

Spencer's doctrine of collective property in land: "Equity does not permit property in land. For if one portion of the earth's surface may justly become the possession of an individual and may be held by him for his sole use and benefit, then other portions of the earth's surface may be so held, and our planet may lapse altogether into private hands. All who are not landholders could then exist upon the earth by sufferance only. Should the others think fit to deny them a resting place, these landless men might equitably be expelled from the earth altogether."

Our author chuckles over this concession. His intelligence meets Spencer in an accord of tom-foolery. Why not apply the same logic to property in anything else as in the soil? You must not own anything because the principle of ownership is exclusive, and, if applicable to any part, is applicable to the whole. Specific limitation in legal contracts confirms the right which it defines. Why not so of the natural contract formed by labor and occupation with the earth, and which is limited by physical necessity to a few acres? It would be just as rational to argue that I had no right to hire a man for a day, because a day was a part of his life, and the man a member of the human race; therefore my control of this man's labor for a day implied the right to control that of the whole human species through all time or as long as we lived. I felicitate our " capitalist" on the stable he has found for his hobby horse on Mr. Spencer's premises. And he is perfectly logical in his application, for to concede that the soil is not by specific limitation of labor title a proper subject of personal appropriation, and that the title conferred by occupation with labor is exclusive at discretion of the owner, is to concede that all private property is wrong; for what is there worth mentioning, of which a place to stand upon is not a necessary condition of possession and enjoyment?

One needs but the site of a house for his business, another will add a garden, a third a field, a fourth pasture ground; all need some woods or access to coal, and the largest of these needs and uses for a family is confined within a few hundred acres, while they may be restricted to five. To fill the earth up to such an allotment war, pestilence, and other blessings of civilization or barbarism must have ceased, and science will be able to subsist a family well upon one acre.

The original title to land may be either individual or corporate, or even national, according as it derives from pioneer occupation and culture, from tribal occupancy, or from conquest, but labor alone confers titles in equity. Such labor must be free and localized, not that of slave or hireling or under military compulsion. The author, with Henry George and other sophists, assumes the soil to be a gift of Nature to mankind, a twaddle of pompous phrases that will not bear analysis. Nature is everything, man and the soil included. Nothing is given to anybody. Each may take and improve according to his capacity. The collectivist land doctrine is marked in the corner with the arbitrary and connives at the "divine right of governments," and hence of all usurpations and oppressions, whence analytic individuation supplies the sole clew to enfranchisement.

For the land or other property title of a species, a race, or a society, to supersede the individual title of its occupant, utilizer, and enjoyer, the collective being should, it would seem, have preceded the individual, the latter being only a phenomenon of the former. But is this conceivable on any other hypothesis than that of species, races, nations, and their governmental organs having sprung all at once into existence, as Chateaubriand poetically imagines for the advantage of picturesque scenery, of fruits all ready mingled with flowers and leaves, and especially of parents provided for the young of all kinds. While we are fiatizing, let us do it liberally. Thus the species or society would have preexisted to its individuals, in the creative concept.

Evoluted species, races, and societies are rather inclined on the other hand to beg of individuals the question of their existence.

Collectivists exalt the imagination -about social destinies attainable only by cooperative synthesis of forces. In puerile admiration before a pyramid of stones, trivial fact beside the least of natural mountains, they ignore the individual lives of their crushed serf-builders. Anarchy, or, as our Irish friend happily puts it, Autoarchy, also desires cooperation, but such only as results from the free development of sympathies, of passional affinities, grouped in autonomies, where affections become facultative. Any other order is an incubus. The smallest living plant is a greater fact than the pyramid of Gizeh. Life is spontaneous. Social spontaneities play within the organic limitations of autonomy, but States impose constraint.

The nation is but a phrase of parade, behind which government lies in ambush to seize on individual rights. The rights and properties of governments are simply the spoils which certain individuals, conspiring, have wrested from others, or which have been conceded to them by contract for functions of protection and convenience which governments, that of the United States in particular, have neither fulfilled nor even endeavored to fulfil, but have conspired with the despoilers of labor.



  • Marx Edgeworth Lazarus, “Rational Communism,” Liberty 4, no. 6 (July 17, 1886): 5.