For the political and economic emancipation of the workers to be accomplished, it is now clear to all intelligent people that the old sterotyped methods must be discarded, and their place superseded by more rational methods of action, based upon the practical experience gained from the past.
It is utterly hopeless to look to the political machinery for the bettering of the workers' condition; the privileges which surround it are inevitable to its existence, and those privileges are at the expense of labor, and inimical to labor's interest; if it does not corrupt the best individuals who strive to employ its agency, it will crush them. Legal advantage is the exclusive luxury of the wealthy; for the ultimate object of all law is to protect wealth and those who hold it; the poor can rarely employ it, and if they can it almost invariably ruins them.
Trades unions (as now understood) are established on a basis which is economically unsound; being on a profit-making basis, they create a class of profit-mongers, who, by continually absorbing the fruits of labor, accumulate immense capital, to the detriment of the workers themselves, who thus become eternally dependent upon them. Besides, which, the leaders who control trades-unions are as open to bribery and corruption as their political prototypes, and can no more be trusted than they can. The same holds true of all public leaders who are not of the labor ranks themselves, but who trade upon the hopes of the oppressed proletariat, and are necessarily interested in the perpetuation of their oppression.
Agrarian reform is a hopeless thing to expect from the political institutions which make possible agrarian monopoly, and necessitate the institution of landlordism.
Nor can any advance be made by imposing new regulations upon the holders and loaners of the currency, for, the system of usury itself continuing to exist, the laborers who bear the whole burden will be dependent as long as this drain upon their resources continues.
All change to better the conditions of labor must come from the laborers themselves, must be effected by those in the ranks of labor, and must soley consider the interests of labor. All measures which consider the claims of privilege, the sacredness of property, or the reward of abstinence, are opposed to the interests of labor, and must be uncompromisingly rejected, if not at once, at all event by degrees.
Education must precede practice - for the only successful physical revolution is that which follows a mental revolution - and the laborers who desire to free themselves must forego a few luxuries, and regularly contribute a small portion of their earnings, to the issue of a representative newspaper, a plentiful distribution of leaflets, the publication of books and pamphlets, formation of clubs for propaganda (these could be held in the private house of anyone who has five or six like-minded acquaintances, and would then cost nothing for rent or advertising; or they might rent a public room, and have a permanent office, as soon as their numbers and influence justified the undertaking). Much can also be done by speaking at public debate meetings, or addressing meetings in the open air - though the former of these are generally guarded with restrictions to prevent the full ventilation of any ideas other than those of the promoters, and the latter are mostly patronized by the unthinking, the fickle-minded, and the mischievous; the greatest reforms are those which emanate from small gatherings of earnest thinkers, and it is from them that advancement must be primarily expected, though the secondary value of the "scout" is too important to be ignored. When a few persons in any community are sufficiently educated in social principles, there need be no delay in carrying into practice the plan of campaign.
Profit-making is the first form of exploitation that the laborer must undermine. To guard against any possible violation of this principle, it should be a fixed understanding introduced into the constitution of the cooperation at its inception, and only alterable by the unanimous consent of the members. This would prevent its being swamped by intriguing schemers, who might secure a majority to introduce the profit system, and thus entirely wreck the scheme.
Cooperate to effect mutual purchases of commodities. Form a cooperation of six, twelve, twenty, or as many more members as possible; and purchase your groceries &c. in bulk.
Draw up a Constitution somewhat like the following, to which each member shall sign adherence:-
MELBOURNE CO-OPERATION, No. 1
Appoint one of the most trustworthy of the number (especially if he understands the nature of the cost principle of exchange and the evil of profit-making) to execute your orders, to purchase from the wholesale store, to distribute the articles as you require them for your consumption, and to keep record of all transactions - such accounts being duly open to the inspection and regular auditing of the members. Pay him a moderate sum to recompense him for his loss of time and incidental expense incurred, reckoning it as a percentage (say 2½%), and perhaps fixing the salary at a maximum of £3 per week, until the perfection and adoption of the labor note system, when he will be paid by time measure, irrespective of all legal coinage and prevailing rates of remuneration. As his labors become too severe, others may be employed to assist him on exactly the same terms - always dividing the wages equally, and never allowing monetary distinctions to be proportioned to the nature of the services rendered. Thus privilege cannot grow up, for each is remunerated equally; and idlers cannot reap advantage of others' toil, for only those who gave satisfaction would be employed by the Cooperation.
For storing the articles puchased, a spare room could be found at the outset in the dwelling place of one of the cooperators (that of the distributor, if possible); this would avoid the payment of rent.
As the commerce of the store increases, a cottage may be rented for the purpose in some accessible and cheap neighbourhood, and a horse and cart purchased; these expenses would of course be included in the cost of the commodities, and they would be charged proportionately - thus the extra amount charged, instead of going to profit, as under the present system, would go towards the accumulation of the mutual capital, and would cease to be levied when the capital had sufficiently accumulated to allow the transactions to be conveniently made.
All the time, the store could supply the public at the same price as members, thus enabling them to purchase in larger quantities, to extend their custom, and to draw the public from patronizing those who continued to adhere to profit-mongering.
Now a new departure can be made. Instead of purchasing shoes from the factories, a shoemaker can be engaged at the store's rate of remuneration (the same as that paid to the officiating distributor), and he can supply the wants of the store in that particular. Workers in other industries - tailors, hatters, bakers, &c. - can be engaged on equal terms.
Many of the merchants and storekeepers who sell for profits, will probably try to ruin the cooperative stores by underselling them and offering their commodities at a loss and at a lower rate than the cooperators can produce them for; this contingency the cooperators can readily overcome by ceasing to manufacture (their temporary lack of employment not injuriously affecting them under the new conditions) and buying the reduced articles of the merchant, until his losses have reduced his capital, so that he can continue those tactics no longer, and has either ruined himself or become a cooperator.
Even already, the advantages of the new economic system will be felt: workers are purchasing their articles of consumption cheaper, and the vendors thus extorting less profit from them; men, who might otherwise be vainly competing for employment in an overstocked labor market, are engaged at a high rate of remuneration (no huge profit being deducted from their products by their employers); and the workers are at their labors only so long as it is necessary in order to satisfy the demand - working three or four hours a day instead of agitating for legal compulsion to work eight, and ceasing to work when enough has been done instead of "over-producing" six months of the year, and then being thrown out of employment the other six months.
The factory will now have developed considerably, and it will be necessary to separate it from the store. This will be no difficult matter, for the store being located in a neighborhood where rents are low, the building can be added to, at the cost of little extra for ground rental. And if the ground has been purchased - the purchase extending over a term of years - and sufficient ground secured in the first instance, the enlargement of premises will merely cost the expense of material and the wages of the builders reckoned by the prevailing time-rate of the co-operation.
The purchase of land may be effected by cash purchase if sufficient funds be available, or by time purchase through a building society, although the latter charges a heavy interest for the loan of the money. A method somewhat like the following would be better: Several members (say 10) combine together and purchase (through one of their number, with whom they hold a written agreement) say 4 acres of land, in some healthy accessible suburb at a cost of say £3,000, and upon it they erect 10 com- fortable cottages. One of the cottages may be used for the co-operative store; another may be used as a cooperative home or mutual lodging house, possessed and conducted on the same principle as the cooperation itself; and the others may be occupied by separate familes. The members borrow the money necessary for the purpose from a private individual, for 10 years, and agree to pay him a certain percentage upon the loan. They each deposit about 15/- (or half that amount if there be 20 buyers) weekly into the bank at the current rate of interest. At the end of the first year, they draw out the amount due for one year's interest on the loan and pay it to the loaner; and they deposit the balance at interest, for one or more years, at the highest rate of interest they can command. This practice they repeat each year. If any member fails in his payments, he ceases to be a shareholder and either forfeits what he has deposited, or has it refunded to him by a new purchaser, or makes such other arrangements with the members as shall have been previously agreed upon. All the time the deposits will be bringing in interest, with which to pay the interest on the loan; and if proper precautions have been taken, and the rates of interest are at all favorable, the members will, at the end of the 10 years, have paid scarcely- any interest (if any) and have purchased the property upon what is practically a non-interest-boaring loan, for the interest will have paid itself - or, to express it correctly, the interest will not have been paid by the members but by the bank's borrowers.
But here arises a legal difficulty, springing up out of the unjust political conditions under which we are living: Who are the owners of the cooperative store, its machinery and other contents, and the land upon which it is situated? This must be largely determined by the nature of the statute laws of the country in which the cooperation is being conducted. Of course, the principle to be realized is that each cooperator shall hold an equal share in all possessions of the cooperation. But the laws of most (if not all) countries have guarded against such a contingency, by making it imperative that any such large organization shall be registered under statute law - become "incorporated" - and so amenable to, and tied down by the regulations and restrictions of, the very laws and legal institutions which we are striving to abolish. The only practicable way of overcoming this difficulty appears to be that of vesting it entirely in the hands of one (or as many more as possible) members of the cooperation, and giving each a bill of sale, or other security, over him ( or them) for such portion as falls to each one's share. Of course, if the laws existing allowed the cooperators to jointly hold their possessions without requiring any registration, there would be no such difficulty; but I know of no place where there exist such favorable conditions for the laborer.
But another factor must be introduced into the operations of the cooperation. Concurrently with the abolition of profit making, means must be employed for the abolition of usury.1 A labor currency bearing no interest, resting on no fixed basis, redeemable by either labor or product, and issued on the joint security of the cooperation, must be inaugurated at an early stage of the factory's career. Labor notes must be issued, artistically printed on good bank-note paper, duly numbered, signed and chronicled by those authorized by the members to do so. The notes might somewhat resemble the follow: -
2 Hours No.1 MELBOURNE CO-OPERATION, No. 1 MUTUAL BANK. Melbourne, April 20,1888 Pay to Bearer, on demand, in labor or commodity, the sum of Two Hours, value received at this bank. John Brown, Manager Official Signed Henry Smith Stamp Thos. Jones Auditors
On the back of each note, should be a clear, concise exposition of the nature of equity and usury, profit-making and the cost principle, and the general economic objects of the cooperation, as for instance. -
Mankind live by the exertion of their labor upon the natural materials of the earth, and the exchange of their products with each other. The freer that exchange, the greater their prosperity.
Profit-making is that scheme by which the laborer yields up for ever a portion of his product, for the privilege of being permitted to work in order to exist, and by which he can never repurchase his product, but always remains in slavery.
Usury is the reward of idleness and the power of increase given to monopoly, by which the holders of the medium of exchange eternally rob the laborers in their exchanges. The world's coinage is limited in quantity and incapable of increase, but its owners demand increase in the form of interest, and the borrowers are constantly becoming further involved in debt to them from which they can never extricate themselves. It is the legal monopolized currency which hold men in slavery. It is that which makes industrial depressions. Everything is subservient to money. The owners of money swallow up the proceeds of labor, rob the moneyless of the lands which they have been compelled to mortgage to them, control the public morals, the press, the judiciary, make the laws, and control all the destinies of the nation. A few people - less every year - are accumulating all the world's money.
This will continue while money is monopolized.
The Labor Note, on the other hand, is not monopolized, but its issue keeps pace with the demand; it does not reward idleness, but simply measures exchange without any of its disadvantages. The merchants of the world, in their largest transactions, themselves trade without coinage and without the payment of interest, through clearing-houses: the laborers do the same thing by the adoption of the labor note.
The Labor Note is the memento of service rendered and a promise to fulfil a contract. It is based on personal security, which is the only sound basis in existence.
By the adoption of the labor note, the people can free themselves; by continuing to trade with a monopolised, interest-bearing medium of exchange, they will remain in slavery.
These labor notes could vary in amount, and would be tendered to all who deposited any commodity for sale at the store, or who labored at the factory. They could be exchanged for legal coinage (which would merely represent an ordinary marketable commodity), though that should be non-obligatory.
The ordinary transactions with profit-making firms, and all outside the cooperation who did not care to accept the labor notes, could be paid in the legal coinage received by the sale of the various articles to the general public. Taxation and other legal robberies could be met in the same manner. Moreover, if the Mutual Bank should have occasion to require more legal coinage than it possesses, the members of the cooperation who do not work at the factory, but merely purchase through the store, could readily change some of the money earned elsewhere for the labor notes of the mutual bank - or in other words, the Bank could purchase legal coinage with the labor notes; besides which, the resources of the stores having become so extensive, and the evil nature of usury becoming generally understood, the public themselves will have no hesitation in "cashing" the labor notes.
There will be no occasion to interfere with the privileged bankers, who may continue to extort usury (interest) as long as the public are foolish enough to pay for it; if they beseech the legislators to prohibit the circulation of the labor note, they must be checkmated. Of course, if there be a method of observing the law in form, while defeating it in spirit, it may be practised; otherwise it must continue to be circulated, and the bankers and legislators will find themselves in conflict with a growing public opinion which will refuse to tolerate their mutual monopoly.
As the capitalistic press will not likely deal honorably with the new cooperative movement, but will no doubt either misrepresent or ignore it, a complete printing plant must be added to the factory, and a journal and general literature issued and sold at cost to educate the public concerning the principles and methods adopted, besides printing the labor notes and all such work required by the cooperation or its individual members.
Stores, conducted on the cost principle, will now be springing up everywhere, the laborers in other districts and other countries having imitated our example; and (by mutual agreement) the notes may be made acceptable at any store, and without being made subject to discount on the exchanges.
Establishments conducted on a profit-making basis will experience a "falling off in business," for the consumers will go for their commodities to the cooperations, they being the cheapest markets; and many capitalists will find it to their interest to form their businesses into cooperations also, by making all their employees joint owners with themselves, and ceasing to bring profits, usury, and rent (if they own the property upon which their warehouses are situated) into their computations; those who stand out for profits will lose patronage, and fail.
The cooperators, having overthrown the major systems of exploitation, and retaining the surplus of their products for themselves, will have acquired the means for the purchase of property, and most of them will soon be in possession of their own homesteads (constructed by builders who have this new field of employment opened up to them), others have taken up their abode in the cooperative homes, and most are directly settled upon the land. The result is that the large landed estates are an incubus to their owners - "white elephants" upon their hands; they cannot employ labor to work them, for the laborers are no longer expropriated slaves, competing on a capitalistic labor market for employment; but free men, possessing their own property and capital, and employing themselves. The large estates will become broken up and forsaken; the land monopolises who had stood out for the old order of things having expropriated themselves! The lands being forsaken, future corners will "jump" them as they require them, paying no one whatever for their use; and rent will be abolished. The construction of roads, railways, tramways, and canals, will keep pace with the necessity for them, there being no land monopoly and rent extortions to hinder them; and they will be constructed and worked by the collective capital and skill of the laborers themselves, who will be free to retain their own products and work them for their own mutual benefit, instead of for the advantage of a privileged body of idle capitalists.
The economic fetters being removed, and woman becoming the equal of man, her wretched dependence upon him will have vanished, and she will be sovereign over her own body, her own mind, and her own passions, instead of being the property of a husband and subject to all the rights or wrongs that he may choose to inflict upon her. Woman freed from her present economic slavery (for the marital slavery is in reality economic slavery, nothing more nor less) will be stronger, healthier, and happier than in matrimonial bondage. Being healthier herself, her children will be healthier, happier, and freer; and the miserable, puny, vicious, licentious generation of the present will make way for a higher and nobler humanity than the world has yet seen.
The avenues of honest employment being open to all, and economic independence being accomplished, political independence will inevitably follow. Free men require no rulers, nor will they tolerate them. Voluntary cooperation will have accomplished for them what compulsion had ever failed to do; and the practice of equity in their dealings with their fellow men will have taught them the fallacy of reliance on political plunder to secure freedom and happiness. Being free, they will yearn to make others free; and the spirit of Fraternity, which for centuries they had striven by statute laws to destroy, will develop as with freedom it only can develop. Crime will have vanished, being no longer necessary to the conditions of existence - in fact, it will be impossible for it to thrive where liberty exists. And the toiling millions who, for countless centuries, have groaned in misery under the yoke of law, authority, plunder, and crime, will feel a new life within them as they step out into the full light of liberty.