The manhood and future of Socialism

No, this is nothing to do with the Labour party’s leadership race, which could hardly be described as having anything to do with “socialism” let alone “manhood”.

No, it’s been a while since I did any audiobook recordings, and I thought I’d ease myself gently back into doing them by recording the first speech/essay of Benjamin Tucker‘s volume “Instead of a Book: by a man too busy to write one” which is a collection of essays, letters and speeches of his that he brought together and published, for the edition I have used anyway, in 1897.

He introduces the volume with an essay that has long been a favourite of mine, called “State Socialism and Anarchism: how far they agree and wherein they differ”.  It is a rallying call for anyone who thinks they are a “socialist” to make their minds up about which of the two socialisms they want to pursue.

Earlier in the nineteenth century, he writes, three men, at roughly the same time, but in three different countries and three different languages, took the initial central insight of Adam Smith, his explanation of the “Labour Theory of Value”, and developed it, with the help of the likes of David Ricardo, into the central doctrine of “Socialism” – that labour should receive the full value of its production.

The third, in terms of time at least, of these men, Karl Marx, went on to conclude that the only way of achieving this aim was to abolish private capital, to subsume the means of production into a central authority, the state.  This is the socialism of totalitarianism.  The other two, Josiah Warren writing in the United States (and a co-conspirator with Robert Owen incidentally in one of his utopian community ideas, New Harmony) and Pierre Joseph Proudhon (yes, he of the “proper tea is theft” joke) in France both saw that the reason why labour can be exploited is down to the fact that the state already protects capital by monopoly privilege and that the only way to eradicate that ability was to do away with those monopolies and therefore the state.

Thus the two socialisms are “State Socialism”, the way of “Authority”, which will inevitably lead to totalitarianism in all aspects of life and “Anarchism”, the way of “Liberty” which will make us more free in the process.  There is no middle way – anything in between tends toward the one, statism, or the other, voluntarism.  The call is as urgent and apposite today as it was a century ago – that those who call themselves “socialists” must make a choice – either they profess the way of totalitarianism and are honest about that, so we all know they want to enslave us, or they recognise that freedom is the way to set labour free and bring about its just rewards in a free and just society.

Right now, we have someone who goes by the name of a liberal in one of the most crucial government positions for the pursuit of these freedoms.  The “money monopoly” was and remains the most evil mechanism the state uses to grant special privilege first to the bankers and then to crony-capitalists.  Vince Cable can for the first time in a hundred years, begin to make an impact that would be felt for hundreds more in the emancipation of labour and the destruction of privilege.

Attached is an audio book recording of the essay in MP3 format, or you can read the whole book at

Tucker concludes the essay by quoting a series of statements contrasting how each version of socialism would achieve its aims, some of which are very redolent of Churchill’s assessment of why “Liberalism is not Socialism and never will be” from his speech at Dundee during his by-election campaign there in May 1908:

Socialism seeks to pull down wealth; Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely, by reconciling them with public right. Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference. Socialism assails the pre-eminence of the individual; Liberalism seeks, and shall seek more in the future, to build up a minimum standard for the mass. Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly.

…while Tucker quotes the French writer Ernest Lesigne:

Both desire equality.

One by lowering heads that are too high.
The other by raising heads that are too low.

One sees equality under a common yoke.
The other will secure equality in complete liberty.

One is intolerant, the other tolerant.

One frightens, the other reassures.

The first wishes to instruct everybody.
The second wishes to enable everybody to instruct himself.

The first wishes to support everybody.
The second wishes to enable everybody to support himself.

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