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'The Social Question Not a 'Class' Question'
J.A. Andrews, 'Reason', March, 1896.

There are persons who see in the social problem, only that presented by a war of classes; there are malcontents and reformers who perceive nothing as a false principle in society except class domination and class servitude.

But the class domination and class servitude of today are not independent facts - nor primary elements of the social constitution; they are evolved phenomena, produced from one fundamental error, namely the desertion of individualism, the substitution of rule for the free action of individual reason, in short the abnegation of freedom, and particularly in the economic field by that particular rule called Ownership, which, first substituting a cataloge of things sacred to this or that person, for the rational principle of respect for one's fellow-man's purposes, (whereby it implies that, contrary even to the possibility of itself being in good faith socially recognised, the normal relation of human beings to each other is one of the grossest avarice and rapacity) arrives at imposing a jealous and haggled exchange upon the distribution of natural resources, of products, of services, of the entire social wealth. This system has naturally created all the evils which it took for granted. In a Society cramped down upon lines of rigid mistrust and mutual hostile isolation, the efforts of individuals to secure their own position could only result in developing from the casual inequalities of advantage for the enforced struggle, a condition in which some were placed by rule at the mercy of others more favorably situated.

Hence the antipathy of Socialists to individualism; which should be against the conditions in which a, by these, mutilated remnant of individualism is restricted to operate.

If there were any real body with a distinct and positive interest in maintaining this state of things, there would be nothing for it but war, having for its object, on the one side the thorough and permanent subjection of herds of human cattle, on the other the slaughter and extermination of a race of vampires. Happily, the case is very different.

In the first place, there is nothing permanently identifying individuals, let alone families, with any class. Every day, someone previously wealthy sinks into commercial insignificance, into actual poverty. As continually do we not see wage workers, stimulated by ambition or more often by the lack of wage employment, become the founders of small establishments which, especially in times of depression, nibble like swarms of rabbits at the custom of the larger houses? In vain that these latter seek to defend themselves by making prices less than cost; they may crush individual puny competitors by the dozen, but those who perish are replaced by more. Sooner or later, the giants fall, exhausted; and it will be found after a few years, that some of the small establishments have taken rank among large capitalistic concerns, while of the old houses that have been able to retain their importance the owners are new men, and the former owners either serving where they used to be masters, or conducting a powerless rivalry, on a diminutive scale. The children of the worker at a trade, or of the "unskilled" laborer, become clerks, his grandchildren merchants; and the offspring of the well-to-do stream down by thousands into the ranks of the sterility of poverty, the hereditary degeneration of exhausted vitality, among the masses who have lacked power or opportunity to rise.

The landlord, the employer, the merchant, the financier, in following these avocations, occupy an immoral position; but the immorality is not, at the foundation, their own. The victims share in it - it is that of Society; of the System which everyone feels compelled to adhere to because every one else adheres to it. The exploiters themselves are driven slaves of the system. And, instead of plundering and oppressing the rest of society for their benefit, the System, having plundered and oppressed at large, turns upon them with all the fury of an appetite only whetted by devouring. Even the landlord, commonly regarded as of all exploiters the one who robs in most cowardly perfection of security, knows not but next year, next week! the closing of a factory, the extension of a railway, the reconstruction of a bank, the introduction of new machinery into a trade, will put a sudden end to his rents, and reduce him to poverty, it may be to beggary.

When we look at the immense productivity which science and invention have rendered possible with a minimum of labor, and, on the other hand, at the enormous amount of toil actually consumed, not in production, not in distribution, not in the organisation of demand and supply, but in the mere struggle for Ownership, in the task of struggling along each for himself on the lines imposed by social superstition and its resulting system - we cannot possibly escape the conclusion that the members of the "privileged classes" would, as simple producers intelligently associated for mutual supply, be able to procure all the real means of enjoynicent which they can at present, and with no more exertion and less anxiety than they must now expend to secure them at the cost of their socially subjected brethren.

Actually, in the civilised world the families that live by performing the muscular or mental work of production, preservation and distribution as such, do not exceed one half of the population. The other portion, half or more consists of families dependent in some way on the mere traffic in ownership. (By making allowance for the dual character of some occupations connected with commerce and management, anyone practically versed therein, and knowing how far they really subserve effective ministration to the needs of the consumer, and how far they are concerned with restricting it to subserve the exigencies of a rigid property-system and the profit of a proprietor, will readily perceive how small a proportion of commercial labor termed distributive, for example, is so in reality.) Even of those classed as productive laborers, great numbers merely furnish the material implements of this traffic. Look, for instance at the formidable army of workers of all grades, from miners and ragpickers to engineers, type founders, paper makers, carriers, chemists, artists, engravers, literary specialists, printers, whose labors are absorbed in the production of this only sum total, this marvellous addition to the world's wealth and happiness - endlessly varied in repetition, infinitely monotonous and inane in essence : behold!

           DON'T BUY FROM                    DON'T BUY FROM
              SMITH:                            JONES:
           Buy from JONES                    Buy from SMITH
              And you will be happy for ever afterwards!

And this vast army is only a small fraction of the horde who have their food, clothing, and comforts as members of the gigantic Establishment that the Ownership-System must keep up to nourish its activity and continue its existence.

Adding to these the producers of luxuries consumed only by the wealthy - producers who consume the products of the residuum of producers, but whose own products do not reciprocate to these latter - and taking into account the periods of enforced idleness endured by producers, who have to prepare all the supplies for themselves and their devourers for a whole year in much less than a full working year per head, we cannot be rash in computing that every family of social producers, besides its own maintenance for the time during which it is at work, is saddled with the maintenance of three families more for an equal period out of that same labor. In fact, an intelligent analysis of official statistics will go to show that this estimate is much below the reality.

Thus on the average each family has, at most, a fourth of what it could have away from the System. But if the wealth available weekly per family throughout a community is raised, say from that now represented by £2 10/- to that now represented by £10, the increase in comfort to any one of them will be many times greater than what would be represented by the present addition of £7 10/- to its own resources alone. For when means of enjoyment become plentiful, although at first this enables the private possession of what only a limited partial resort to could be had before, the smaller economy of utilisation is not only set off by the greater convenience, but there arise new economics in the process of production; and when they become still more plentiful, there is no inconvenience in their being used in common instead of further quantities being produced; so that ample energy is set free for attending to new gratifications, and each person is enabled to satisfy more needs than if the increase to him had not been accompanied by the increase to others. Be- sides, their prosperity benefits him by enabling him to find so many the more people possessed of the leisure, the means, and I the culture to become his congenial associates. And it is then easy to obtain many gratifications by the cooperation of those intent on them, that an enormous fortune (i.e., an enormous command of other people's task-labor) alone could procure for a man isolated in a community of the overworked, the poor, and the ignorant.

Hence, the alteration of the social constitution is requisite in the interest not of a class, but of all people.

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Last modified: May 1, 1999

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