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PART V DESTRUCTIONISM
1 The "Interest" as an Obstacle to Destructionism
According to Marx the political faith of the individual depends upon the class to
which he belongs; the political faith of his class depends upon its interests as
a class. The bourgeoisie is bound to support Capitalism. On the other hand the proletariat
can only achieve its purpose, can only free itself from capitalist exploitation,
by preparing the way for Socialism. Thus the respective positions of the bourgeoisie
and the proletariat in the political arena are defined in advance. Perhaps no doctrine
of Marx has made a deeper or more lasting impression on political theory than this.
It has found acceptance far beyond the immediate range of Marxism. Liberalism has
come to be regarded as the doctrine in which the class interests of the bourgeoisie
and of big business find expression. Whoever professes liberal opinions is considered
to be a more or less well-meaning representative of the special interests which
stand in opposition to the general good. Economists who reject the Marxian doctrine
are characterized as the "spiritual bodyguard of the profits of capital—and sometimes
also of ground-rents"—a remarkably convenient theory which saves the Marxian
the trouble of arguing with them.
Nothing indicates more clearly the widespread recognition which has been accorded
to this doctrine of Marx than its acceptance even by the opponents of Socialism.
When people suggest that the defeat of socialist effort is a task chiefly or even
exclusively for the propertied classes, when they attempt to form a "united front"
of all the bourgeois parties in order to oppose Socialism, they then admit that
the maintenance of private property in the means of production is the special interest
of a certain class, and that it is antagonistic to the public welfare. These strangely
short-sighted adversaries of Socialism do not realize that any attempt on the part
of a class, which is comparatively small when contrasted with the masses, to defend
its particular interests must be futile; they do not recognize that private property
is doomed when it is regarded as the privilege of its owners. Still less are they
able to perceive that their assumption is radically contradicted by the experience
of the formation of actual political parties.
Liberalism is not a doctrine which serves the class interests of those in possession
of property. Whoever conceives it as such has already admitted one of the leading
contentions of Socialism; he is no liberal. Liberalism upholds private property
not in the interests of the owners, but in the general interest; it believes that
the maintenance of the capitalist system is to the advantage not only of the capitalists
but of every member of society. It admits that in the socialist community there
will, in all probability, be little or no inequality of income. But it urges that
owing to the smaller yield of socialist production, the total amount to be shared
will be considerably smaller, so that each individual will receive less than the
poorest receives today. Whether this thesis is accepted or rejected is another question.
This is precisely the point upon which Socialism and Liberalism are in conflict.
Whoever rejects it out of hand, rejects Liberalism. Yet it would be unreasonable
to do this without careful consideration of the problem and of the arguments of
In fact nothing is further from the particular interests of the entrepreneurs, whether
as individuals or as a class, than to defend the principle of private property or
to resist the principle of Socialism. That the introduction of Socialism must necessarily
injure the entrepreneurs and capitalists, or at least their children, cannot be
disputed. by those who believe that Socialism implies want and distress for all.
To this extent, therefore, the propertied classes are admittedly concerned in resisting
Socialism. But their interest is no greater than that of any other member of society
and is quite independent of their privileged position. If it were possible to imagine
that Socialism would be introduced lock stock and barrel overnight, then it might
be said that the entrepreneurs and capitalists had special reasons for wishing to
maintain the capitalist system. They would have more to lose. Even if the distress
which resulted from the reorganization were the same for all, those would suffer
more whose fall had been the greater. But it is not possible to imagine that Socialism
will be introduced so rapidly; and if it were, it may be assumed that the entrepreneurs,
by reason of their expert knowledge and ability to take responsibility, would occupy,
at any rate for a time, privileged positions within the socialist organization.
The entrepreneur is unable to provide for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren,
for it is characteristic of private property in the means of production under the
capitalist system that it creates no permanent source of income. Every fortune must
be renewed by effort. When the feudal lord supported the feudal system he was defending
not only his own property but that of his descendants. But the entrepreneur in the
capitalist system knows that his children and grandchildren will only survive in
the face of new competition if they can hold their ground as directors of productive
enterprise. If he is concerned for the fate of his successors and wants to consolidate
his property for them in a way contrary to the interests of the community, he will
have to become an enemy of the capitalist social order and demand every kind of
restriction on competition. Even the way to Socialism may strike him as the best
means for this, provided the transition does not take place too suddenly, for he
may expect compensation against expropriation so that, for a longer or shorter time,
the expropriated will enjoy a secure income in place of the uncertainty and insecurity
that is the lot of owners of an enterprise. Consideration for his own property and
for the property of his successors may, therefore, urge the entrepreneurs rather
to support than to oppose Socialism. He must welcome all efforts which aim at suppressing
newly created and newly developed fortunes, especially all measures intended to
limit anything in the nature of economic freedom, because they make secure the income
which otherwise must be earned by daily struggle as long as competition is not restricted—because
they exclude new competitors.
Entrepreneurs have an interest in combining to proceed uniformly in wage negotiations
with the workers organized in trade unions. And they have an interest in combining
to carry through tariff and other restrictions which conflict with the essence and
principle of Liberalism or to resist government interference which may injure them.
But they have absolutely no special interest in fighting Socialism and socialization
as such. They have no special interest in fighting destructionism. The whole purpose
of the entrepreneur is to adjust himself to the economic contingencies of any moment.
His aim is not to fight Socialism, but to adjust himself to conditions created by
a policy directed towards socialization. It is not to be expected that entrepreneurs
or any other particular group in the community should, out of self-interest, necessarily
make the general principles of well-being the maxim of their own procedure. The
necessities of life compel them to make the best of any given circumstances. It
is not the business of the entrepreneurs to lead the political fight against Socialism;
all that concerns them is to adjust themselves and their enterprises to the situations
created by the measures directed towards socialization, so that they will make the
greatest profit possible under the conditions prevailing.
It follows, therefore, that neither associations of entrepreneurs, nor those organizations
in which the entrepreneurs' support counts, are inclined to fight on principle against
Socialism. The entrepreneur, the man who seizes the opportunity of the moment, has
little interest in the issue of a secular struggle of indefinite duration. His interest
is to adjust himself to the circumstances in which he finds himself at the moment.
An entrepreneurs' organization aims solely at repulsing some individual encroachment
of the trade unions; or it may oppose acts of legislation, such as special forms
of taxation. It carries out the tasks assigned to it by parliaments and governments
in cases where it is desired that the organized body of entrepreneurs should co-operate
with the organized working class in order to give the destructionist element its
say in the national economy. To fight on principle for the maintenance of an economy
based on private property in the means of production is no part of the programme
of organized entrepreneurs. Its attitude towards Liberalism is one of indifference
or even, as in the case of tariff policy, of antagonism.
Organized interests, as the socialist doctrine depicts them, correspond not to the
entrepreneurs' associations but to the farmers' unions, which advocate tariff duties
on agricultural products, or those associations of small producers, which—above
all in Austria—press for the exclusion of competition. These clearly are not efforts
on behalf of Liberalism.
Thus there are no individuals and no classes whose particular interests would lead
them to support Capitalism as such. The policy of Liberalism is the policy of the
common good, the policy of subjecting particular interests to the public welfare—a
process that demands from the individual not so much a renunciation of his own interests
as a perception of the harmony of all individual interests. There are, therefore,
no individuals and no groups whose interests would ultimately be better guarded
by Socialism than by a society based on private ownership in the means of production.
But although ultimately no one's interests would actually be better served by Socialism,
there are plenty of people whose particular interests of the moment are better guarded
by a policy directed towards socialization than by the maintenance of Liberalism.
Liberalism has opposed everything in the nature of a sinecure and has sought to
reduce to a minimum the number of public officials. The interventionist policy provides
thousands and thousands of people with safe, placid, and not too strenuous jobs
at the expense of the rest of society. All nationalization or setting up of a municipal
or public enterprise links private interests with the movement against private property.
Today Socialism and destructionism find their strongest supporters in the millions
for whom a return to a freer economy would be at first and in the short run detrimental
to their particular interests.
2 Violence and Authority
The attitude of mind which sees in private property a privilege of the owners is
an echo from former periods in the history of property. All property ownership began
with appropriation of ownerless things. The history of property passed through a
period in which forcible dispossession of the owners was the rule. It is safe to
say that the ownership of any piece of ground property can be traced back to seizure
by violence. This has of course no application to the social order of Capitalism,
as property here is constantly being acquired in the process of market competition.
But as the liberal principles have nowhere—in Europe at least—been put into practice
in their entirety, and as everywhere, especially in landed property, very much of
the old taint of violence survives, the tradition of the feudal owners is still
upheld: "Ich lieg und besitze" (I occupy and possess). Criticism of property rights
is met with violent abuse. This is the policy the German Junkers adopted against
Social Democracy—with what success is well known.
Partisans of this order can say nothing in justification of private ownership in
the means of production but that it is upheld by force. The fight of the strong
is the only fight they can enforce. They boast of their physical force, rely on
their armed equipment, and consider themselves entitled to despise any other argument.
Only when the ground begins to tremble under their feet, do they produce another
argument by taking their stand upon acquired rights. Violation of their property
becomes an illegality which must be avoided. We need waste no words in exposing
the weakness of this point of view in the struggle against a movement that wants
to found new rights. It is quite powerless to change public opinion if that opinion
has condemned property. Its beneficiaries recognize this with horror and turn in
their distress to the Church, with the odd request that the Church shall keep the
misera plebs (wretched masses) modest and humble, fight covetousness and turn the
eyes of the propertyless from earthly goods to heavenly things. Christianity
is to be kept alive so that the people shall not become covetous. But the demand
thus made to the Church is monstrous. It is asked to serve the interests, generally
assumed to be harmful to the community, of a number of privileged persons. It is
obvious that the true servants of the Church have revolted against this presumptuous
demand, while enemies of the Church have found it an effective weapon in their war
of liberation against religion. What is surprising is that ecclesiastical enemies
of Socialism, in their efforts to represent Socialism as a child of Liberalism,
of the free school, and of atheism, have taken up just the same attitude towards
the work which the Church performs in maintaining existing property relations. Thus
the Jesuit Cathrein says: "If one assumes that with this life all is finished, that
to man is given no greater destiny than to any other mammal that wallows in the
mire, who then will ask of the poor and oppressed, whose life is a constant struggle
for existence, that they should bear their hard fate with patience and resignation,
and look on while others clothe themselves in silk and purple and have regular and
ample meals? Does not the worker too carry in his heart the indestructible impulse
towards perfect happiness? If he is robbed of every hope of a better world beyond,
by what right is he prevented from seeking his happiness as far as possible on earth
and so demanding imperatively, his share of the earth's riches? Is he not just as
much man as his employer? Why should some just manage to exist in want and poverty
while others live on the fat of the land, when from their point of view there is
no reason why the good things of this world should belong to some rather than to
others? If the atheistic-naturalistic standpoint is justified, so also is the Socialist
demand: that worldly goods and happiness should be distributed to all as equally
as possible, that it is wrong for some to live a life of idle enjoyment in palaces
while others live in miserable cellars and attics, barely able in spite of the most
strenuous efforts to earn their daily bread." Assuming matters to be just as
Cathrein imagines them—that private property is a privilege of the owners, that
the others are poorer in proportion as these are rich, that some starve because
others carouse, that some live in miserable little rooms because others live in
lordly places—does he really believe that it could possibly be a work of the Church
to maintain such conditions? Whatever one may read into the Church's social teaching,
one cannot suppose that its founder or his supporters would have approved of its
being used to bolster up unjust social institutions that are obviously disadvantageous
to the greater part of humanity. Christianity would long since have vanished from
the earth, were it that for which, in common with many of its bitterest enemies,
Bismarck and Cathrein mistook it: a bodyguard for a social institution injurious
to the masses.
The socialist idea can be suppressed neither by force nor by authority, for both
are on the side of Socialism and not of its opponents. If guns and machine-guns
are brought into action today they will be in the ranks of Socialism and Syndicalism,
and not opposed to them. For the great mass of our contemporaries are imbued with
the spirit of Socialism or of Syndicalism. Whatever system is set in authority at
the present time, it can certainly not be Capitalism, for the masses do not believe
3 The Battle of Ideas
It is a mistake to think that the lack of success of experiments in Socialism that
have been made can help to overcome Socialism. Facts per se can neither prove nor
refute anything. Everything is decided by the interpretation and explanation of
the facts, by the ideas and the theories.
The man who clings to Socialism will continue to ascribe all the world's evil to
private property and to expect salvation from Socialism. Socialists ascribe the
failures of Russian Bolshevism to every circumstance except the inadequacy of the
system. From the socialist point of view, Capitalism alone is responsible for all
the misery the world has had to endure in recent years. Socialists see only what
they want to see and are blind to anything that might contradict their theory.
Only ideas can overcome ideas and it is only the ideas of Capitalism and of Liberalism
that can overcome Socialism. Only by a battle of ideas can a decision be reached.
Liberalism and Capitalism address themselves to the cool, well-balanced mind. They
proceed by strict logic, eliminating any appeal to the emotions. Socialism, on the
contrary, works on the emotions, tries to violate logical considerations by rousing
a sense of personal interest and to stifle the voice of reason by awakening primitive
Even with those of intellectually higher standing, with the few capable of independent
reflection, this seems to give Socialism an advantage. With the others, the great
masses who are unable to think, the Socialist position is considered unshakable.
A speaker who inflames the passions of the masses is supposed to have a better chance
of success than one who appeals to their reason. Thus the prospects of Liberalism
in the fight with Socialism are accounted very poor.
This pessimistic point of view is completely mistaken in its estimate of the influence
which rational and quiet reflection can exercise on the masses. It also exaggerates
enormously the importance of the part played by the masses, and consequently mass-psychological
elements, in creating and forming the predominant ideas of an epoch.
It is true that the masses do not think. But just for this reason they follow those
who do think. The intellectual guidance of humanity belongs to the very few who
think for themselves. At first they influence the circle of those capable of grasping
and understanding what others have thought; through these intermediaries their ideas
reach the masses and there condense themselves into the public opinion of the time.
Socialism has not become the ruling idea of our period because the masses first
thought out the idea of the socialization of the means of production and then transmitted
it to the intellectually higher classes. Even the materialistic conception of history,
haunted as it is by "the psyche of the people" as conceived by Romanticism and the
historical school of jurisprudence does not risk such an assertion. Of itself the
mass psyche has never produced anything but mass crime, devastation, and destruction.
Admittedly the idea of Socialism is also in its effects nothing more than destruction,
but it is nevertheless an idea. It had to be thought out, and this could only be
the work of individual thinkers. Like every other great thought, it has penetrated
to the masses only through the intellectual middle class. Neither the people nor
the masses were the first socialists. Even today they are agrarian socialist and
syndicalist rather than socialist. The first socialists were the intellectuals;
they and not the masses are the backbone of Socialism. The power of Socialism
too, is like any other power ultimately spiritual; and it finds its support in ideas
proceeding from the intellectual leaders, who give them to the people. If the intelligentsia
abandoned Socialism its power would end. In the long run the masses cannot withstand
the ideas of the leaders. True, individual demagogues may be ready, for the sake
of a career and against their better knowledge, to instil into the people ideas
which flatter their baser instincts and which are therefore sure to be well received.
But in the end, prophets who in their heart know themselves to be false cannot prevail
against those filled with the power of sincere conviction. Nothing can corrupt ideas.
Neither by money nor by other rewards can one hire men for the fight against ideas.
Human society is an issue of the mind. Social co-operation must first be conceived,
then willed, then realized in action. It is ideas that make history, not the "material
productive forces," those nebulous and mystical schemata of the materialist conception
of history. If we could overcome the idea of Socialism, if humanity could be brought
to recognize the social necessity of private ownership in the means of production,
then Socialism would have to leave the stage. That is the only thing that counts.
The victory of the socialist idea over the Liberal idea has only come about through
the displacement of the social attitude, which has regard to the social function
of the single institution and the total effect of the whole social apparatus, by
an anti-social attitude, which considers the individual parts of the social mechanism
as detached units. Socialism sees the individuals--the hungry, the unemployed, and
the rich—and finds fault on that account; Liberalism never forgets the whole and
the interdependence of every phenomenon. It knows well enough that private ownership
in the means of production is not able to transform the world into a paradise; it
has never tried to establish anything beyond the simple fact that the socialist
order of society is unrealizable, and therefore less able than Capitalism to promote
the well-being of all.
No one has understood Liberalism less than those who have joined its ranks during
the recent decades. They have felt themselves obliged to fight excrescences" of
Capitalism, thereby taking over without a qualm the characteristic anti-social attitude
of the socialists. A social order has no excrescences which can be cut off at will.
If a phenomenon results inevitably from a social system based on private ownership
in the means of production, no ethical or aesthetic caprice can condemn it. Speculation,
for example, which is inherent in all economic action, in a socialistic society
as well as any other, cannot be condemned for the form it takes under Capitalism
merely because the censor of morals mistakes its social function. Nor have these
disciples of Liberalism been any more fortunate in their criticisms of Socialism.
They have constantly declared that Socialism is a beautiful and noble ideal towards
which one ought to strive were it realizable, but that, alas, it could not be so,
because it presupposed human beings more perfect morally than those with whom we
have to deal. It is difficult to see how people can decide that Socialism is in
any way better than Capitalism unless they can maintain that it functions better
as a social system. With the same justification it might be said that a machine
constructed on the basis of perpetual motion would be better than one worked according
to the given laws of mechanics—if only it could be made to function reliably. If
the concept of Socialism contains an error which prevents that system from doing
what it is supposed to do, then Socialism cannot be compared with the Capitalist
system, for this has proved itself workable. Neither can it be called nobler, more
beautiful or more just.
It is true, Socialism cannot be realized, but it is not because it calls for sublime
and altruistic beings. One of the things this book set out to prove was that the
socialist commonwealth lacks above all one quality which is indispensable for every
economic system which does not live from hand to mouth but works with indirect and
roundabout methods of production: that is the ability to calculate, and therefore
to proceed rationally. Once this has been generally recognized, all socialist ideas
must vanish from the minds of reasonable human beings.
How untenable is the opinion that Socialism must come because social evolution necessarily
leads to it, has been shown in earlier sections of this book. The world inclines
to Socialism because the great majority of people want it. They want it because
they believe that Socialism will guarantee a higher standard of welfare. The loss
of this conviction would signify the end of Socialism.
Thus by Kautsky, quoted by Georg Adler,
Grundlagen der Karl Marxschen Kritik der bestehenden Volkswirtschaft (Tübingen, 1887), p. 511
"Beaucoup d'ouvriers, et non les meilleurs,
préférent le travail payé à la journée au travail à tache. Beaucoup d'entrepreneurs,
et non les meilleurs, préféraient les conditions qu'ils espèrent pouvoir obtenir d'u,i
État socialiste à celles que leur fait un régime de libre concurrence. Sous ce régime les
entrepreneurs sont des 'fonctionnaires' payés a la tâche; avec une organisation socialiste
ils déviendraient des 'fonctionnaires' payés à la journée." (Many workers, and not the best,
prefer to be paid by the day and not by the work completed. Many entrepreneurs, and not
the best, prefer what they can hope to obtain from a socialist state to that which a free
competitive system would award them. Under such a competitive system, entrepreneurs are the
"officials" paid for the work completed; under a socialist organization, they would become
"officials" paid by the day.) Pareto, Cours d'Economie Politique, Vol. II, p. 97n.
Hutt, The Theory of Collective Bargaining, pp. 25 ff.
The Junker is not concerned with the maintenance
of private property as disposal over the means of production, but rather with maintaining
it as title to a special source of income. Therefore State Socialism has easily won him
over. It is to secure him his privileged income.
This, for example, was Bismarck's view. See his
speech in the Landtag of June 15th, 1847 in Fürst Bismarcks Reden, edited by Stein,
Vol. I, p. 24.
Cathrein, Der Sozialismus, 12th and 13th eds.
(Freiburg, 1920), pp. 347 ff.
MacIver, Community, London, 1924, pp. 79 ff.
This, of course, is true also of the German nation.
Almost the whole intelligentsia of Germany is socialistic: in national circles it is State
or, as one usually says today, National Socialism, in Catholic circles, Church Socialism,
in other circles, Social-Democracy or Bolshevism.
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