Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Benjamin R. Tucker, The Lesson of Homestead

Benjamin R. Tucker, “The Lesson of Homestead,” Liberty, 8, 48 (Jul 23, 1892), 2.
The Lesson of Homestead.
Regarding method, one of the truths that has been most steadily inculcated by this journal has been that social questions cannot be settled by force. Recent events have only confirmed this view. But when force comes, it sometimes leads incidentally to the teaching of other lessons than that of its own uselessness and becomes thereby to that extent useful. The appeal to force at Homestead affords a signal example of such incidental beneficence, for it has forced the capitalistic papers of the country, and notably the New York “Sun,” to take up a bold defence of liberty in order to protect property. Now, all that Anarchism asks is liberty, whether it protects property or lot; and when the enemies of liberty can find no way of saving their own interests except by an appeal to liberty, Liberty means to make a note of it and hold them to it.

Listen, therefore, to the New York “Sun” preaching the gospel of liberty. The passages here quoted are fair samples of its editorial column for the last fortnight.

If a man has labor to sell, he must find some one with money to buy it, or it is of no more use to him than unused capital is to Mr. Carnegie. If the man does not like the price offered, he can reject it. If the buyer does not like the price asked, lie has the same liberty. Neither is obliged to accept, the bargain, though both are under the same law which forces men to take what they can get. If the laborer does not want the work longer than he contracted to give it, he can throw it up, and the employer has the same right to dispense with the laborer. The workman can choose his employer, and the employer can choose his workman. No law can take away that right from either. The workman can refuse to work and the employer to hire. Such is liberty.
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There are a good many fools and there are not a few scoundrels in the United States: but, even if the scoundrels could persuade the fools that violence is a friend of the workmen, the great majority of the American people, heartily despising the scoundrels and pitying the fools, would stand up for the right of every citizen to enjoy his own property and select his own employees, for the right of every citizen to work for whom he chooses, and to belong or not to belong to a labor organization, as he chooses. By whatever folly or violence these rights are attacked, they are invincible while the present idea of civilization lasts.

Truth, every word! Golden truth! Anarchistic truth! But the bearing of this truth, as Cap’n Cuttle would say, lies in the application of it. Applied to the conduct of the Homestead strikers, this principle of equal liberty, of which the “Sun’s” words are an expression, instead of condemning it as the “Sun” pretends, palliates and even excuses it; for, before these strikers violated the equal liberty of other, their own right to equality of liberty had been wantonly and continuously violated. But, applied to the conduct of capitalists generally, it condemns it utterly, for the original violation of liberty in this matter is traceable directly to them.

This is no wild assertion, but a sober statement of fact, as I will explain. It is not enough, however true, to say that, “if a man has labor to sell, he must find some one with money to buy it”; it is necessary to add the much more important truth that, if a man has labor to sell, he has a right to a free market in which to sell it, a market in which no one shall be prevented by restrictive laws from honestly obtaining the money to buy it. If the man with labor to sell has not this free market, then his liberty is violated and his property virtually taken front him. Now, such a market has constantly been denied, not only to the laborers at Homestead, but to the laborers of the entire civilized world. And the men who have denied it are the Andrew Carnegies. Capitalists of whom this Pittsburg forge-master is a typical representative have placed and kept upon the statute-books all sorts of prohibitions and taxes (of which the customs tariff is among the least harmful) designed to limit and effective in limiting the number of bidders for the labor of those who have labor to sell. If there were no tariffs on imported goods; if titles to unoccupied land were not recognized by the State; above all, if the right to issue money were not vested in monopoly,—bidders for the labor of Carnegie’s employees would become so numerous that the offer would soon equal the laborer’s product. Now, to solemnly tell these men who are thus prevented by law from getting the wages which their labor would command in a free market that they have a right to reject any price that may be offered for their labor is undoubtedly to speak a formal truth, but it is also to titter a rotten commonplace and a cruel impertinence. Rather tell the capitalists that the laborer is entitled to a free market, and that they, in denying it to him, are guilty of criminal invasion. This would be not only a formal truth, but an opportune application of a vital principle.

Perhaps it will be claimed in answer to this that the laborers, being voters, are responsible for any legal monopolies that exist, and are thereby debarred from pleading them as an excuse for violating the liberty of their employers. This is only true to the extent to which we may consider these laborers as the “fools” persuaded by the capitalists who are the “scoundrels” that “violence (in the form of enforced monopoly) is a friend of the workmen”; which does not make it less unbecoming in the scoundrels to rebuke and punish the fools for any disastrous consequences that may arise out of this appalling combination of scoundrelism and folly.

Conspicuous among the scoundrels who have upheld these monopolies is the editor of the New York “Sun.” If he tells truth today, he tells it as the devil quotes scripture,—to suit his purpose. He will never consent to an application of equal liberty in the interest of labor, for he belongs to the brotherhood of thieves who prey upon labor. If he only would, we Anarchists would meet him with cheerful acquiescence in it fullest application in the interest of cap ital. Let Carnegie, Dana & Co. first see to it that every law in violation of equal liberty is removed from the statute-books. If, after that, any laborers shall interfere with the rights of their employer, or shall use force upon inoffensive “scabs,” or shall attack their employers’ watchmen, whether these be Pinkerton detectives, sheriff’s deputies, or the State militia, I pledge myself that, as an Anarchist and in consequence of my Anarchistic faith, I will be among the first to volunteer as a member of a force to repress these disturbers of order and, if necessary, sweep them from the earth. But while these invasive laws remain, I must view every forcible conflict that arises as the consequence of an original violation of liberty on the part of the employing classes, and, if any sweeping is done, may the laborers hold the broom! Still, while my sympathies thus go with the under dog, I shall never cease to proclaim my conviction that the annihilation of neither party can secure justice, and that the only effective sweeping will be that which clears from the statute-book every restriction of the freedom of the market.

T.

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