Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fools rush in

As some of you know, I've been playing with an alternate-history project for awhile. The Distributive Passions is "Fourierist speculative fiction, with a mutualist message," or something like that. I'm treating it as a place to make speculations about the implications and possibilities of the socialist and libertarian histories which occupy so much of my scholarly time, and to make some broader, less scholarly statements about people, how they interact, and what happens when they try to change the world. Having worked on various outlines and character descriptions, and having found it hard to keep it all straight in my mind, I turned to photo collages as a means of constructing more concrete images of the characters and events in the narratives. Gabriel Solly, the main character in the work, has had his own Myspace page for some time, and I've been sharing some of these collage-sketches with friends there. I've decided to take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge, in order to crank out a big, rough chunk of the narrative, and have set up a gallery for the artwork. Have a look, and let me know what you think.

The storyline is a little complicated, and the deviations in history considerably moreso, but I thought maybe I could write a psuedo-"jacket blurb" to at least introduce Gabe.

Gabriel Solly leads a quiet life in the tiny community New Earth, Oregon Territories (Universal Code Union, Owenite-Orthodox), laboring in the Archives of the New Earth Institute, marking time through the last of his council-service years. His mother, Elizabeth Barchester-Solly, of the rifle family, would like him to assume the role, his by hereditary right, of directing intelligence and prophet of the Radical Babelite sect. The church elders would probably prefer that he disappear, much as his father did shortly after Gabe’s birth. His grandfather, the original Prophet, has bequeathed to him a legacy that might well spell the end of Radical Babelism.

Gabe is a child of Socialist America, a true Territorial, educated in a full tour of the Cibola System. But the clock may be ticking on the Territories. The New Federalists seem to be gaining ground in the East, and there are indications that when next the Federal Expeditionary Command turns its attention to the territorial republics they may have something more than the usual “flower wars” in mind.

With his forty-fifth birthday staring him in the face, Gabe knows it’s high time he did something with his life, beyond puttering in the archive and constructing elaborate collages in his studio/study. Or maybe it’s past time. Some years back, the love of Gabe’s life left him to be the female messiah and spokes-model of the revived Saint-Simonian cult, and his current “girlfriend” is quite literally damaged goods—roughly decommissioned military materiel, in the form of a “minor military Madonna,” the cybernetic product of an experiment the Federals would dearly love to forget. She roams the abandoned military reserve that stretches from New Earth west nearly to the ocean. So does the “Man-Bear of the Saint Mary’s,” if the tabloids can be trusted, and everyone knows the woods are teeming with insect-machines. Things have arguably always been strange in New Earth, but the strangeness seems to be growing—all over the world, really.

Enter the Council of Councils (Universal Code Union, Owenite-Orthodox), who call on Gabe to attend an “Intergalactic Encounter” in the Marianas, where, in accordance with Fourierist prophecy, the ocean is turning into something very much like lemonade, and the first stirrings of the Era of Harmony seem to be repairing environmental damage that decades of anti-radiation remediation has hardly dented. Ill-prepared and armed with the most uncertain of mandates, Gabe flies off to give Radical Babelism and the Universal Code Communities a voice in what promises to be something of a replay of the Babelites favorite story.

Landing at Enewetak atoll, Gabe arrives in time to witness in person what most of us watched on tv—the terrorist attacks, the U. N. intervention, the Battle of the Lagoons—and those events send him off on a new journey, in the islands of the Free Fourierists and on the floating platforms of the Pyrate Archipelago, and there he begins his initiation in the mysteries of the Distributive Passions.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Should labor be paid or not? part 1

I've been involved in a number of discussions recently on the issue of wages, as it was understood by the mutualists and their successors among the Liberty group. There seems to be a widespread sense, among social anarchists, but also among some who consider themselves of the mutualist-individualist school, that wages per se are a Bad Thing. Very few anarchists of any stripe would disagree that waged labor, under present conditions and under any conditions where large accumulations of capital, what we used to call "monopoly power," and state-backed privilege exist, is unlikely to return to labor its fair share of its production. (There are some rather "vulgar" libertarians who seem to believe that markets are currently free for labor, but somehow not for capital, when the neoliberal norm seems to be rather the opposite, but it's hard to take them too seriously.)

"Should labor be paid or not?" Benjamin Tucker asked the question in Liberty (April 28, 1888), and answered in the affirmative. Here is the article:

Should Labor Be Paid Or Not?
from 'Instead of a Book'
By Benjamin R. Tucker
In No. 121 of Liberty, criticizing an attempt of Kropotkine to identify Communism and Individualism, I charged him with ignoring "the real question whether Communism will permit the individual to labor independently, own tools, sell his labor or his products, and buy the labor and products of others." In Herr Most's eyes this is so outrageous that, in reprinting it, he puts the words "the labor of others" in large black type. Most being a Communist, he must, to be consistent, object to the sale and purchase of anything whatever; but why he should particularly object to the purchase and sale of labor is more than I can understand. Really, in the last analysis, labor is the only thing that has any title to be bought or sold. Is there any just basis of price except cost? And is there anything that costs except labor or suffering (another name for labor)? Labor should be paid! Horrible, isn't it. Why, I thought that the fact that it is not paid was the whole grievance. "Unpaid labor" has been the chief complaint of all Socialists, and, and that labor should get its reward has been their chief contention. Suppose I had said to Kropotkine that the real question is whether Communism will permit individuals to exchange their labor or products on their own terms. Would Herr Most have been so shocked? Would he have printed that in black type? Yet in another form I said precisely that.
If the men who oppose wages—that is, the purchase and sale of labor—were capable of analyzing their thought and feelings, they would see that what really excites their anger is not the fact that labor is bought and sold, but that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labor while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labor by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labor, and that, but for the privilege, would be enjoyed by all gratuitously. And to such a state of things I am much opposed as anyone. But the minute you remove privilege, the class that now enjoy it will be forced to sell their labor, and then, when there will be nothing but labor with which to buy labor, the distinction between wage-payers and wage-receivers will be wiped out, and every man will be a laborer exchanging with fellow laborers. Not to abolish wages, but to make every man dependent upon wages and secure to every man his whole wages is the aim of Anarchistic Socialism. What Anarchistic Socialism aims to abolish is usuary. It does not want to deprive labor of its reward; it wants to deprive capital of its reward. It does not hold that labor should not be sold; it holds that capital should not be hired at usuary.
But, says Herr Most, this idea of a free labor market from which privilege is eliminated is nothing but "consistent Manchesterism." Well, what better can a man who professes Anarchism want then that? For the principle of Manchesterism is liberty, and is consistent adherence to liberty. The only inconsistency of the Manchester men lies in their infidelity to liberty in some of its phases. And this infidelity to liberty in some of its phases is precisely the fatal inconsistency of the Freiheit school- the only difference between its adherence and the Manchester men being that in many of the phases in which the latter are infidel the former are faithful, while in many those in which the latter are faithful the former are infidel. Yes, genuine Anarchism is consistant Manchesterism, and Communistic or psuedo-Anarchism is inconsistent Manchesterism. "I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word." [text from Listen Liberty!]

Tucker says some startling things. The notion of making "every man dependent upon wages" doesn't sound all that libertarian at first listen. Neither, of course, does it sound like a situation with much room for monopoly power or privilege. What does this generalized dependence mean? It means mutual dependence, labor exchange, complex barter of sweat and skills on the cost principle, according to the principle of the division of labor.

There is obviously a conceptual transformation at work here, but we would hardly expect anything else from the mutualist-individualist tradition. Unsuprisingly, there is no lexical orthodoxy among the mutualists. Ingalls strongly opposed wage labor, calling the wage relation "false and immoral." (See "The Wage Question," 1877, as well as his contributions to The Spirit of the Age.) But he became a great advocate of the labor exchange concept. For Ingalls, as for some contemporary critics, "wages" seems to imply something "false and immoral," closely connected to privilege or to the old enemies "force and fraud." Tucker clearly does not.

William B. Greene addressed the question in The Word, in letters to Rev. Jesse H. Jones.

BOSTON, MASS., Sept. 29, 1874.
REV. JESSE H. JONES. Dear Sir,—Your letter of yesterday, to me, has been duly received. Contents noted. Please find enclosed a check for the money called for. You say, "As to banking, is not what men want, the willingness to work together, instead of to lend to each other?" I reply, that, so far as my experience goes, the willingness of John to help Thomas and Peter in their work usually takes the form of a willingness to lend money to them to help them along. The application to me for help in any work, almost always, perhaps always, assumes the shape of a request for a loan, or, perhaps, a gift, of money. So long as services are estimated in money values, the man who lends money lends aid and service. Money honestly acquired is the representative of services performed, for which the community is still in debt; and the transfer of money from Peter to John is the transfer of claim for wages due, and not yet paid in kind. I don't believe in the Christian communism you advocate. I repudiate it. I believe in work and wages. The apostles tried Christian communism, and failed. We to-day are no better, to say the least, than the apostles were, and no more competent to command success.

Greene, like Tucker, was differentiating himself from communists, insisting on the need for markets and exchange, credit and currency.

What is at state here, really? Greene and Tucker were advocating specific, individual compensation for the "cost" (calculated subjectively by the laborer, following Warren's model of "cooperation without combination") of specific labors, as opposed to any scheme which lumps or otherwise collectivises labor or remuneration. The mutualist labor market, like the mutualist commodity market, was to be a matter of complex barter, free from usury, with "profit" appearing only as a general effect of the community's cooperative efforts.

[to be continued...]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A few new William B. Greene citations

Thanks to Brady Campbell, who did a little research legwork at the American Antiquarian Society, we have a better idea about William B. Greene's contributions the Worcester Palladium. Here are his notes:
  • Equality - - No.1 by OMEGA. - Wednesday 18 July 1849
    Deals with Moses, and equality among Christian brotherhood
  • Equality - - No.2 by OMEGA. - Wednesday 25 July 1849
    Deals with the banking system
  • Equality - - No.3 by OMEGA. - Wednesday 1 August 1849
    Deals the repeal of usury laws
  • Capital and Labor - - No. 1 by OMEGA. Wednesday 12 September 1849
    Deals with Transcendentalism
  • Capital and Labor - - No. 2 by OMEGA. Wednesday 19 September 1849
    Deals with pantheism and is subtitled "Socialism in Massachusetts"
  • Plutocracy by OMEGA. Wednesday 7 November 1849
    Deals with government by the wealthy - Mammonocracy
I have not yet seen the articles, but the notes suggest that there is probably at least one of these articles that was not incorporated into Equality or the 1850 Mutual Banking. Greene's own note about the sources of the first book is a bit cryptic, so a real collation will be necessary.

One other reference also surfaced recently:
  • GREENE. WILLIAM B. The Great Pyramid of Ghizeh, and the Ritual of Blue Masonry. Paper in Proceedings of Council of Deliberation, State of Massachusetts, June, 1874. 12. Boston, 1874.

"The Spirit of the Age" at Google Books!

It's a very, very good day for those interested in the earliest manifestations of mutualism in the United States. William Henry Channing's The Spirit of the Age (1849-1850) is now available, in its entirety, with minimal scanning defects, from Google Books. I had previously had the chance to read through an original bound volume, and transcribe some contributions. Now I can finally sit down to read through the entire run. 150 or so pages in, my sense of the importance of this early journal just keeps increasing. Go check it out!