Monday, April 2, 2007

Reply to Mr. Ingalls [on wages]

Editor, "Reply To Mr. Ingalls," The American Socialist, Sep 20, 1877; 2, 38; 300.

REPLY TO MR. INGALLS.

WE publish this week a letter from Mr. J. K. Ingalls, in which he criticizes the attitude of the Communities on the Labor Question, a set forth in our issue of August 30th. He entirely ignores the first part of our argument, in which it was shown that within the Communities themselves, which comprise an average slice of the general population, there is no distinction of classes into rich and poor, but all share equally in the benefits of wealth. We argued that if this fact could be made universal the whole question would be setttled; but as the Communities can not compel the rest of the world to communize as they do, the next best thing for theta to do, pending that consummation, is to hire people who are benefited by a chance to earn wages. Mr. Ingalls takes the position that on principle there is “no shadow of defense” for the employment of hireling labor by the Communities, although he says that “as a means of protection to themselves against the destructive competition of the business world, or as a means to hasten the adoption of Communism, it is, perhaps, excusable.” He afterward speaks of the relation of the hireling to his employer as a “false and immoral relation.” His idea evidently is that in a perfect state of society the hiring of one man by another will be regarded as immoral, and in this we quite agree with him. We do not believe that in Heaven one part of the people hire the other part to work for them, any more than they do within the Communities. But the society of this world is unhappily, far from having attained that perfection. Here the results of labor are exchanged by means of a system of buying and selling, of which the hiring of labor is only a part. So long as the present system holds there can be no distinction between buying labor and buying any thing else. When a person buys a hat or a pair of shoes he buys the material of which they are composed plus the labor of making them. The firm who manufacture the shoes buy the leather and the labor separately at different prices, and sell them together in the finished shoe at one price. But it is no worse, in a moral point of view, to buy labor and material separately than to buy them together, as every one must do who buys any thing whatever.

Evidently the whole system of buying and selling must be done away before the hiring of labor can be avoided. And this doing away with buying and selling is just what the Communities are preaching to the world and practicing within their own circles. On the same principle that the labor reformers condemn the buying of labor, the Communists condemn the buying of any thing. They would like to ea all property owned in common, each person equally enjoying the benefit of it, each laboring in the occupation he is best fitted for, and none laboring more than four or five hours per day. But on the ground of unavoidable accommodation, they buy of those who will go on with the buying system, and in so doing are just as free to buy labor as any thing else. It s evident enough that the rich can and do, in many cases, oppress the poor terribly under the present system of private ownership and competism; but we think the only way for the poor to escape from the oppression is to throw up selfish ownerships entirely and work together in some form of Cooperation or Communism.

We content ourselves with this general answer to Mr. Ingalls, not caring to enter into a great scattering controversy on all the points which turn up in his letter, or to go into a minute defense of our own position. We agree with nearly all that he says, it we are allowed to put our own construction upon it. For instance, the point he makes in regard to the relation of labor to production is all right to us, with the understanding that labor with the brain is as valuable and has as good rights as labor with the hands. “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat,” is a good rule; but the author of it expressly and repeatedly declared that spiritual labor entitles a man to eat, as well as manual labor. Such rules must not be taken in the narrow sense which is given to the word labor in the popular controversy between “Labor and Capital,” because it is quite likely that there is as much real labor on the side of Capital as on the other side.

Indeed, there seems to have been no need of our answering Mr. Ingalls at all; for he justifies himself, and of course justifies us, on the practical point of doing the best one can with a difficult case of conscience in the present state of things.

We are perfectly aware that the Labor Question is one on which it is very difficult to bring all classes of people to an agreement, and that consequently the discussion of it on abstract theories would never terminate, if left to run its course. What is wanted is the best practical suggestion for relieving the poor from their troubles. We have made and are making our suggestion. It is a peaceable and feasible one. Let those who criticise it, also suggest a better plan—if they can. We trust this answer will require no further debate.

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