As it’s currently organised Capitalism is failing humanity…
It does not have to be like that…
I was on a train the other day reading an old book published in 1913 (@ 1/- net—a shilling in proper money—5p to younger UK readers—1/5th of a dollar exchange in 1950) that’s been in my library waiting to be read for a good few years. Its pages are very roughly cut and sometimes they were not cut at all so that I had to rummage in my bag to find a pencil with which to slice the pages open which I did flamboyantly for the sake of the chap opposite who was reading something on an e-gismo; his must have been a funny text because he chortled from time to time as he flicked it up the screen to disappear in some unimaginable space. So much in the e-prison of his e-thing was he that the extreme contrast of reading methodologies was totally lost on him—myself ripping open pages uncut for nearly a hundred years, he scrolling up the screen in the modern way that is supposed to render proper books superfluous.
I dare say that the content of my book would have startled him too: it was Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State in which he attacks the ‘evil of Capitalism’ not from a political standpoint but simply to point out that it is a system productive of slaves. We live in a state of slavery. I’ve always said that I escaped ‘wage-slavery’ when I achieved early retirement in 1992 and began to live in real freedom as defined by Gurdjieff’s follower, Maurice Nicoll: ‘freedom is when you do what you want to do when you want to do it…’ Add in Godwin’s sole ethical principle: ‘…so long as you hurt nobody by doing it…’ Anything else is slavery.
Either somebody gets you to comply with their diktat, “I want this done in such and such a way by midday tomorrow, or else you’re out on your ear…” or you suit yourself whether you do something because you consider it to be worthwhile at a time and in a place convenient to you.
The distinction between slavery and freedom is blurred by conditions we have come to accept as the norm. Thus, under the Global Capitalist Conspiracy, we are being brain-washed into thinking that the extension of ‘working life’ to 67, 70, 75 (who knows where it will stop?) is necessary in order to combat the invented Deficit Dragon. What is actually being proposed for the majority is the infinite extension of slavery, the indefinite postponement of a time when one is able to reclaim ‘life’ from ’work’.
It’s worth asking from time to time what human life is for. You might give different answers on different occasions but it would surely never be, “So I can spend more time at the office/on the factory floor/making business telephone calls/clearing up after other people…”
Do we not know the difference between freedom and slavery? Have our senses become so dulled that we do not realise that catching the 8 o’clock train every morning for forty years or getting stuck in the same old traffic jam on the way to work and on the way home is a violation of our humanity?
None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free… (Goethe)
ARBEIT MACHT FREI (‘Work makes you free’) was written above the gates of Auschwitz—that such a sentiment should have been written there ought to give us pause for thought…
Wrote Hilaire Belloc:-
We know what is meant by torture when it exists in a code of laws and when it is forbidden. No imaginary difficulties of degree between pulling a man’s hair and scalping him, between warming him and burning him alive, will disturb a reformer whose business it is to expunge torture from some penal code.
How come then we fail to recognise the difference between ‘life’ and ‘work’?
In fact, we do know the difference—we just choose not to acknowledge it—between ‘…what is and what is not compulsory labour, what is and what is not the Servile Condition. Its test is… the withdrawal from a person of their free choice to labour or not to labour, here or there, for such and such an object; and the compulsion by positive law to labour for the advantage of others who do not fall under the same compulsion. Where you have that, you have slavery: with all the manifold spiritual and political results of that ancient institution.
‘Where you have slavery affecting a class of such considerable size as to mark and determine the character of the State, there you have the Servile State…’
For Belloc …the Servile State is that in which we find so considerable a body of families and individuals distinguished from free citizens by the mark of compulsory labour…; the institution of slavery will be found permeating such a State, whether the slaves be directly and personally attached to their masters, only indirectly attached through the medium of the State, or attached in a third manner through their subservience to corporations or to particular industries. The slave so compelled to labour will be one dispossessed of the means of production, and compelled by law to labour for the advantage of all or any who are possessed thereof. And the distinguishing mark of the slave proceeds from the special action upon him of a positive law which separates within the general body of the community one body of men, the less-free, from another, the more-free, in the function of contract…
Of course, any suggestion of ‘compulsion to work’ is carefully avoided by the system, but it is certainly the case that under capitalism as it at present constituted some are free enough, have enough power & possessions, to be able to set things up for the majority who are so much less free etc that they are virtual slaves, that they exist under conditions of servility. It’s as simple as that.
Of course it’s not as crude as being ‘compelled by law’; slavery is imposed by sleight of mouth, by general brain-washing, by our being taught to accept what we are born into: we are beguiled by concepts like ‘the dignity of work’, the notion of education as ‘preparation for work’ which gradually slides into ‘vocational training’. There used to be a clear distinction between ‘working life’ and what could be called ‘real life’ which includes leisure; this is being systematically blurred under slavery by the increase of the ‘age of retirement’. How on earth have we slaves meekly accepted the idea of ‘working for a living’, of having to ‘earn a living’. Living is all there is, once round only—we have it temporarily, for ‘three score years and ten’; it does not have to be ‘worked for’ or ‘earned’.
Nobody on their death bed ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office…”
‘Master & Slave’ is the normal condition of all human society under the institution of Capitalism as it is at the moment. Sometimes it is overtly so; in our society it is buried under a heap of namby-pamby liberal traditions—‘democracy’, a state that (at least used to) take care of us, the lie of the supposed ‘trickle-down’ effect, the need for a wealthy class whose benevolence will cascade our way—which, of course, it doesn’t.
Hilaire Belloc makes the strong point that it has not always been thus. At the end of the 14th Century in England a quite different set-up was the norm. Back then…
…the State, as the minds of men envisaged it, was an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number were owners of the means of production. It was an agglomeration in which the stability of this distributive system (as I have called it) was guaranteed by the existence of co-operative bodies, binding men of the same craft or of the same village together; guaranteeing the small proprietor against loss of his economic independence, while at the same time it guaranteed society against the growth of a proletariat. If liberty of purchase and of sale, of mortgage and of inheritance was restricted, it was restricted with the social object of preventing the growth of an economic oligarchy which could exploit the rest of the community. The restraints upon liberty were restraints designed for the preservation of liberty; and every action of Mediaeval Society, from the flower of the Middle Ages to the approach of their catastrophe, was directed towards the establishment of a State in which men should be economically free through the possession of capital and of land.
…common land… was common land jealously guarded by men who were also personal proprietors of other land. Common property in the village was but one of the forms of property, and was used rather as the fly-wheel to preserve the regularity of the co-operative machine than as a type of holding in any way peculiarly sacred. The Guilds had property in common, but that property was the property necessary to their co-operative life: their Halls, their Funds for Relief, their Religious Endowments. As for the instruments of their trades, those instruments were owned by the individual members, not by the guild, save where they were of so expensive a kind as to necessitate a corporate control. Such was the transformation which had come over European society in the course of ten Christian centuries. Slavery had gone, and in its place had come that establishment of free possession which seemed so normal to men, and so consonant to a happy human life. No particular name was then found for it To-day, and now that it has disappeared, we must construct an awkward one, and say that the Middle Ages had instinctively conceived and brought into existence the Distributive State.
That excellent consummation of human society passed, as we know, and was in certain Provinces of Europe, but more particularly in Britain, destroyed. For a society in which the determinant mass of families were owners of capital and of land; for one in which production was regulated by self-governing corporations of small owners; and for one in which the misery and insecurity of a proletariat was unknown, there came to be substituted the dreadful
moral anarchy against which all moral effort is now turned, and which goes by the name of Capitalism. How did such a catastrophe come about ? Why was it permitted, and upon what historical process did the evil batten? What turned an England economically free into the England which we know to day, of which at least one-third is indigent, of which nineteen-twentieths are dispossessed of capital and of land, and of which the whole industry and national life is controlled upon its economic side by a few chance directors of millions, a few masters of unsocial and irresponsible monopolies…
Belloc points out that the usual answer is that the Industrial Revolution, its concentration of industry and investment in costly machinery, changed things irrevocably. He says:-
The explanation is wholly false. No such material cause determined the degradation from which we suffer.
It was the deliberate action of men, evil will in a few and apathy of will among the many, which produced a catastrophe as human in its causes and inception as in its vile effect.
Capitalism was not the growth of the industrial movement, nor of chance material discoveries. A little acquaintance with history and a little straight forwardness in the teaching of it would be enough to prove that The Industrial System was a growth proceeding from Capitalism, not its cause. Capitalism was here in England before the Industrial System came into being—before the use of coal and of the new expensive machinery, and of the concentration of the implements of production in the great towns. Had Capitalism not been present before the Industrial Revolution, that revolution might have proved as beneficent to Englishmen as it has proved maleficent. But Capitalism—that is, the ownership by a few of the springs of life—was present long before the great discoveries came. It warped the effect of these discoveries and new inventions, and it turned them from a good into an evil thing. It was not machinery that lost us our freedom; it was the loss of a free mind.
The very same thing is happening all over again right now: it is not e-technology that imprisons us or even offers some kind of freedom; it is the abandonment of a ‘free mind’. The idea that e-technology ought to be able to be harnessed to save millions from a life of drudgery, to reduce the working life to the age of fifty has been abandoned. It is now used to throw people out of work and to line the pockets of the few.
We choose to give up our thinking machines to others who we imagine are more intelligent, more powerful, more knowledgeable, more canny than we are.
The abandonment of thinking for yourself probably came about with the Fear of Freedom that Eric Fromm attributes to the rise of Capitalism and authoritarianism:-
Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually simply conformed with the expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, [what we perceive as] freedom and comfort… People are mistaken in taking as ‘their’ decision what in effect is submission to convention, duty or simple pressure. …original decision-making [even thinking…] is a comparatively rare phenomenon in a society which supposedly makes individual decision the cornerstone of its existence.
It started, says Belloc, in the 16th Century when ‘the lands and accumulated wealth of the monasteries were taken out of the hands of their old possessors with the intention of vesting them in the Crown—but they passed not into the hands of the Crown, but into the hands of an already wealthy section of the community who, after the change was complete, became in the succeeding hundred years the governing power of England…’
It did not have to be like that…
The church had owned 30% of agriculture. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries he could have held on to their power and influence and stood up against the wealthy. But already wealthy landowners became even richer & more powerful.
It was originally intended to retain the great mass of the means of production; the state and its government would have been very powerful and not under the domination of insidious vested interest groups as it is now when government is at the mercy of big business and the military.
The already rich landowners insisted on monastic land coming to them ‘sometimes freely, sometimes for ridiculously small sums’, twisting parliament and local councils round their little fingers They began to fill the universities and the judiciary, building on the ruins of religion. They did what they liked with government; the whole face of England was changed.’
And nothing’s changed now! It does not have to be like this…
The Civil War was a scrap between Crown and Wealth. When it ended the Crown became a mere salaried puppet. The proletariat came into being and by 1700 England was already a Capitalist enclave.
If the Industrial Revolution had manifested itself early in the 17th Century while ordinary people were still economically free, ‘it would have taken a cooperative form. Coming as it did upon a people which had already lost its economic freedom, it took at its very origin a Capitalist form… which it has retained, expanded and perfected throughout two hundred years… with the mass of the English a poverty-stricken proletariat, cutting off the rich from the rest of the nation and developing to the full all the evils associated with the Capitalist state…’
It is just not true that this has been an inevitable process or that is a direct corollary of the Industrial Revolution. It is the result of faulty human thinking; our minds have been stolen from us. We could reclaim our minds and our world from the bloated plutocrats in their Park Lane penthouses. So far it’s just the world-wide Occupiers who are seeking to do the reclaiming on our behalf. We should honour them.
What happens to the rest of us is that we are beguiled by all the organised diversions (A Influences, as they are described in The Fourth Way) into thinking that the way things are is the way they have always been and always will be. The majority of ordinary folk with their ordinary salt of the earth concerns are easily diverted into all the trivial things with which our manipulators choose to fill our air-waves and which we choose to fill our lives with: parades for the variously dead, World Cups, weekly skirmishes on the football field, Xmas shopping, Olympic Games, idiot celebrity exploits, ‘Deficit Reduction’ plans, Eurovision Song Contests, Arab springs, inane chat shows, military adventures costing billions… These are all diversions from the activity of the enemy within—Capitalism as it is at present constituted on the lie that ‘a few should own the means of production and the mass should be proletarian…’
Gurdjieff in Beelzebub’s Tales: The members of the ruling class invent ways of calming the mind [=rendering it impotent] —vodka in Russia, sport in England, fairs in France where everything is cheap, everything is marvelous—with various new American and non-American inventions designed for producing stupour…
And this has been going on for two thousand years, this diversion of human attention into triviality. In 100AD, Juvenal refers to the diversionary tactics of the rich as offering panem et circenses, bread and circuses: throw the proletariat some scraps of food and give them some entertainment and they won’t interfere with our plans; now it’s bread and circuitry—throw them some cake and curry and provide a lot of seemingly miraculous e-gadgetry and they’ll be happy playing; even more sinister is the lie that we must work longer for less in order to keep our noses to the grindstone so there’s no time for revolt.
It does not have to be like this…
At the time of the Industrial Revolution
…had property been well distributed, protected by co-operative guilds, fenced round and supported by custom and by the autonomy of great artisan corporations, those accumulations of wealth, necessary for the launching of each new method of production and for each new perfection of it, would have been discovered in the mass of small owners. Their corporations, their little parcels of wealth combined would have furnished the capitalisation required for the new processes, and men already owners would, as one invention succeeded another, have increased the total wealth of the community without disturbing the balance of distribution. There is no conceivable link in reason or in experience which binds the capitalisation of a new process with the idea of a few employing owners and a mass of employed non-owners working at a wage…
But this is what we have been brain-washed by the history books into thinking of as the norm, the only way to do things, and of course it suits the Global Capitalist Conspiracy to leave us to rot in our habitual ways of thinking…
It does not have to be like this…
…Such great discoveries coming in a society like that of the 13th Century would have blest and enriched mankind. Coming upon the diseased conditions of the 18th Century in this country they proved a curse… Capitalism triumphant wielded all the mechanisms of legislation and of information. It still holds them [in 1913]… In 2011 it is a key part of the Global Capitalist Conspiracy in the UK to vandalise the Welfare State and turn civilisation, such as it is, back several notches.
Just think about it! It does not have to be like this…
We appear to be politically free to act; we have the dubious privilege of a vote; but we are economically impotent. The contradiction between the reality and the assumed moral base of laws, traditions & institutions is leading now towards instability in the Capitalist system as it is at present. Add in the ‘insecurity to which Capitalism condemns the great mass of society’ while it persists in the crass dogma of its benefits and you have a potent mix which will lead to more and more protest and laying down of tools. Politicians, the supporters of the rich and their status quo, ignore this at their peril.
Belloc pointed out that far from being of benefit to the economy as is trumpeted by the Right, competition ‘…is restricted to an increasing extent by an understanding between competitors accompanied… by the ruin of the smaller competitor through secret conspiracies entered into by the larger men, supported by the secret political forces of the state…’
Because Capitalism is regarded as the norm, because there is such a huge investment in its operation, because so many people have been brain-washed into thinking that its existence is inevitable, because there is so much unthinking commitment to the idea of making it work better, there seems little chance of change short of global darkness brought about by the predicted massive geo-explosion in the Nevada desert.
Belloc accepted that there was little immediate chance of change but simply pointed out that there are three alternatives: Slavery, Socialism and Property.
Capitalism is the ownership of the means of production by the few and slavery for the rest of us; socialism is state capitalism; the solution is a proper re-distribution of property which, as things stand, would lead to civil war unless the Boss-class undergo some fundamental spiritual transformation.
Of course the word ‘slavery’ is not openly applied to the way things are at the moment; perhaps we just do not like to think of ourselves as slaves. Listen again!
None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free… (Goethe)
However, when I was lucky enough to achieve early retirement twenty years ago I referred to myself as ‘escaping from wage slavery’. People laughed but I meant it. Whenever I ‘worked’ thereafter it was on my own terms: I worked by invitation or when I decided I would work for money which was to satisfy immediate need and not otherwise. I decided to remember that Freedom is when you do what you want to do when you decide to do it and not otherwise. Either you have that power of decision-making or you are a slave.
A very simple test: do you decide when you want to work and for how long you are going to stick at it? If the answer is no then you choose to be a slave to capitalism.
It need not be like that.
Belloc’s intention in The Servile State is not to produce a practical programme for over-throwing Capitalism but simply to point out that, as at present constituted, it is not a necessary way of running things… But if things were to change suddenly ‘…we should all suffer an enormous revolution. We should marvel at the insolence of the poor, at the laziness of the contented, at the strange diversities of task, at the rebellious vigorous personalities discernible upon every side…’
The only thing that stops us from ridding ourselves of the obvious stupidities of Capitalism is, as Belloc says, ‘…one simple and deplorable form of impotence, the inability to THINK…’ beyond the prison walls. Oscar Wilde pointed out that a map of things which does not include the place called Utopia is not a map worth having. We desperately need to start thinking about a new map.
The Capitalist state is not stable. It has been exposed in this great New Millennium as leading to insecurity and uncertainty; the solutions proposed are a mere tinkering at the edges and are stated in ways which not even supporters seem to be able to comprehend.
Any attempt to ameliorate the conditions of the proletariat is likewise a tinkering at the edges of the state of slavery: benefits are a sop, a throwing of bread to the chickens, to shut them up. Now even benefits and bread are being taken away and the slaves are being made to work longer for less. This is a state of slavery. Think about it!
Belloc noted the way the proletariat had grown to accept the status quo between 1873 and 1913:-
The present instinct, use, and meaning of property is lost to it: and this has had two very powerful effects, each strongly inclining our modern wage-earners to ignore the old barriers which lay between a condition of servitude and a condition of freedom. The first effect is this: that property is no longer what they seek, nor what they think obtainable for themselves. The second effect is that they regard the possessors of property as a class apart, whom they always must ultimately obey, often envy, and sometimes hate; whose moral right to so singular a position most of them would hesitate to concede, and many of them would now strongly deny, but whose position they, at any rate, accept as a known and permanent social fact, the origins of which they have forgotten, and the foundations of which they believe to be immemorial.
That is it! We have forgotten the historical origins of the capitalist system and have come to believe that the way things are is the way they have always been. Without proper historical consciousness there’s no question of putting up resistance to how we find things; we choose to be programmed to be slaves. We have given up before we’ve even defined the fight properly.
It does not have to be like that.
The attitude of the proletariat in England to-day (the attitude of the overwhelming majority, that is, of English families) towards property and towards that freedom which is alone obtainable through property is no longer an attitude of experience or of expectation. They think of themselves as wage-earners. To increase the weekly stipend of the wage-earner is an object which they vividly appreciate and pursue. To cease to be a wage-earner [to become a property-owner] is an object that would seem to them entirely outside the realities of life.
The Capitalist class dangles the carrot of working hard at school in order to ‘do well’ and progress up the metaphorical ladder. It’s a gamble—something the workers of the Stock Exchange are expert at—and we all have to accept the whim of the market. It does not have to be like that either.
But Capitalism has begun to unravel in a way that tinkering with it will not stop although the Global Capitalist Conspiracy thinks it can sustain its grossness.
The State says to the Serf: “I saw to it that you should have so much when you were unemployed. I find that in some rare cases my arrangement leads to your getting more when you are unemployed than when you are employed. I further find that in many cases, though you get more when you are employed, yet the difference is not sufficient to tempt a lazy man to work, or to make him take any particular trouble to get work. I must see to this…”
This was written in 1913—it could have been written 100 years later!
Wage restraint, wage decreases, loss of pension rights, volunteerism… on and on.
Oh, the UK lie of the Big Society! The obscenity of a millionaire Prime Minister saying that ‘we’re all in it together’…
The man on the train with his e-gadget keeps on scrolling obliviously. Bread and Circuitry…