Sunday, April 1, 2007

Van Ornum, Co-operation, XVIII

Twentieth Century, September 13, 1894, 6-8.

CO-OPERATION—THE CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH.—XVIII.

By W. H. VAN ORNUM.

Thus it will be seen that through the breaking down of the unnatural, arbitrary and cumbersome system of capitalism, which is based upon a theory of human dependence out of which springs every species of slavery, of injustice and misery in this world, and the substitution for it of a natural system of human co-operation, which appeals constantly to every man’s reason, self-interest and the promptings of his higher nature, those social evils which we complain of will be completely eliminated from society. The multiplication and extension of co-operative associations and communities will naturally go on, slowly at first, but when their utility is fully demonstrated, with great rapidity until they embrace within their memberships the entire population; and until are brought within their scope all social activities, all the wealth of the people and all the means and sources of wealth production. That wealth will no longer constitute individual hoards which are withdrawn from all possibility of ministering to human wants, but will exist wholly for the satisfaction of human needs. It will be the property of all; and consequently, none can convey it by will and testament to favored individuals. The dead will have no power over the living. It ceases any longer to be a basis of caste or a means of human oppression. Debt will be unheard of, and financial disaster impossible. Consequently it will do away with the necessity for every species of insurance. It property is destroyed by fire, the loss will be borne by the community as a whole, without any of the cumbersome machinery which now attempts to distribute the burden. None need fear that loved ones will be brought to want by an untimely taking off of their bread-winner. Want and the fear of want will be banished. If the need arises for public expenditures those expenditures will be drawn from the commonwealth directly, without any of the machinery for the assessment and collection of tax s which the present system involves, with its accompanying inequalities, oppressions and corruptions. This is the only way in which those public expenditures can be made to fall with absolute fairness upon all.

As I stated in a previous chapter, the foundation of the Co-operative Commonwealth is laid when men first begin to pay into these associations and communities their membership fees, which constitute a common fund which is to be used for common purposes. As the fund grows through productive accretions it will, in time, absorb all. Factories, tools, machinery, land, houses, food, clothing, everything which is suited for human use, or from which useful things can be made become parts of that common wealth, to be held in common and used by each according to individual needs or desires.

The restrictions on memberships in the associations will gradually disappear as the standard of individual excellence rises through the general improvement in material conditions. The barriers of rank and caste will be broken down. The possession of wealth will no longer confer distinction. But, in order to enjoy any sort of distinction men must needs do something, or be something to win that distinction, rather than, as now, to have something. With the barriers of caste broken down human association must become more and more perfect; and civilization will rise correspondingly. It is then but a short step to the removal of all limitations upon the memberships in the communities and associations. There will be no necessity for acquiring a stipulated fee of admission; and the general improvement will raise the average of individual excellence until no bar remains at that point. People will become members by virtue of their existence and residence, membership will become a birth-right, and humanity a common brotherhood. It is obvious that under such a state of society, with a system of wealth production and distribution of this kind there could be no such thing as wages, as we now know wages; no competition except that to excel; and no poverty. There would be universal wealth. The causes too which produce crime would be gone. The vice and crime, which are bred of poverty, will vanish when poverty is no more. Theft will be impossible; for, at the worst, men can only steal from themselves; and there can be no object in theft; for, if any one wants more than he has, he will have but to take it from the common store, and there will be abundance for all.

When this has been accomplished there cannot then exist the slightest excuse for the continuance of human government. In fact, the reason for its existence now is to sustain capitalism; and just as that disappears and is supplanted by co operation, government will disappear. Under the Co operative Commonwealth the only laws or regulations necessary will be those ordinary rules which pertain to the conduct of business. They will be commonly observed just as long as they are recognized as necessary and proper, and no longer. Their observance will depend upon consent. Compulsion, as an element in human society, will be abolished: so that appeals must be made to reason and conscience. In all matters pertaining to individual conduct the individual will be supreme—a law unto himself. He will be unhindered, in his own development, by the interference of his fellows.

As to the several occupations, there will be no need to make special provision for apportionment of individuals among them. That may safely be left to take care of itself. The diversities of tastes among the people will be sufficient to meet all requirements. The application of machinery, the increased subdivision of labor and the application of labor-saving devices will continue; and constantly tend to increase the sum total of human enjoyment, reduce the hours of toil, and give opportunity for intellectual growth. But, unlike the present, these benefits will accrue to all equally. If there are disagreeable occupations, inventive skill will be applied to overcome those disagreeable features. With a free, prosperous and enlightened people, as any people must be enlightened when free and prosperous, there will be such an era of human progress as will make the progress of the past appear like the darkness of barbarism in comparison.

The public enterprises, which at first, like the private ones, will be operated by separate associations, will gradually become merged into the commonwealth, and be operated, like all other functions, for the general welfare. Men will travel or stay at home; ride on the railroad or patronize the steamboats; attend lectures, theatres, exhibitions, or do anything else which suits their fancy without ever a thought as to expense, or of stopping to give an equivalent for any particular benefit enjoyed. The equivalent will be in the good which each individual can and will bring, by his labor with head or hand, for the welfare of all. And in the working out of that good he will be but expressing his own individuality according to the bent of his own mind.
Land tenure will be, within certain limits, under the control of the community as a whole. Allotments will be made for general purposes, such as for streets, roads, parks, public buildings, dwellings, gardens, grazing, fruit-growing, field culture, etc.; but, whatever forms those dwellings will take, there will be land enough for all, and each will be enabled to suit his or her own tastes in the style, arrangement or extent of their homes. Their tenure will be during occupancy and use; but when that ceases, that dwelling will be open to the next one who wants it.

I am not able to say exactly what will be the relations of the sexes; but one thing is certain. With the conditions abolished which compel women to marry for support, then sordid considerations will not enter into their calculations. Love alone will determine those relations. And, with the laws abolished which compel people to continue relations after love has ceased between them, they will certainly not maintain those relationships. This alone will remove a world of unhappiness and misery from society. When all artificial regulations of sex relations have been removed those relations must needs be natural, and therefore right, because all hindrances to nature will be gone.

While schools of every kind will be provided freely by the community, yet, I apprehend, that private tutorship will be revived and extended beyond anything ever known before. Those who love wisdom for wisdom’s sake will be able to pursue their researches without anxiety as to their support; and they will naturally find their greatest delight in the companionship of the young who will join in those researches; assist in their experiments, and take their instruction from nature as expounded by their tutors. Children will learn to interrogate nature instead of looking to see what has been written down in a book. They will learn things instead of empty words and formulas.

Such is the state of society toward which all human progress tends, and which is destined, sooner or later, to supersede our present barbaric system, or want of system. I say, toward which all human progress tends, because progress is toward the breaking down of capitalism and the substitution for it of cooperation. Just as there are only two forms of production and distribution of wealth possible, one capitalism and the other co-operation, so there are only two general types of human society possible, the one a slavery, such as we have now, the outgrowth of capitalism, and the other Communism, or the Co-operative Commonwealth, which is the necessary outgrowth of co-operation. Of course, society varies in detail according to the variations of the prevailing capitalism. For instance, before the late civil war there was a wide difference between the social conditions in the South and those prevailing in the North; but they were differences in degree and not in kind. Capitalism prevailed both North and South. In one there existed industrial or wage slavery, and the other was a chattel slavery. The difference was one of detail only. The vast body of unoccupied land in the West, which was open to settlement, prevented the industrial slavery of the North from bearing very heavily upon the people for the time; but when capitalism had time to stretch out its monopolies over that unoccupied territory, the pressure upon the workers began to be intensified. That has gone on, and will continue to go on, until their very sufferings will compel the people to abolish capitalism, which is only another name for slavery.

But co-operators must not be too impatient of results. They must remember that the present system is rooted deep in human experience. Men have been trained up in it. Their methods of doing business and habits of thought have been adapted to it. It runs all through their literature. Their moralities, their economics and their social institutions are founded upon it. It is woven into the very warp and woof of their daily lives. This is the reason why social systems are never changed by revolutions. Revolutions never go deeper than outward forms. The most they can do is to break up the outside crust, so as to permit the new to take root and grow. As soon as co-operation shall assume threatening proportions towards capitalism as a principle, every one prominent in the propaganda will be subjected to every possible misrepresentation. All the resources of ignorance and prejudice will be invoked to throw obloquy upon those who champion the new social order. There is an old rhyme, which had its origin during the time of the corn law agitation in England, which fitly describes the popular conception of those who seek to bring about a better state of society.

What is a Communist? One who hath yearnings
For equal division of unequal earnings.
Idler or bungler, or both, he is willing
To fork out his penny and pocket your shilling.

And yet the history of Communism shows that its most conspicuous advocates in all ages have been those who have spent fortunes without hope of remuneration in trying to further the cause.

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