The following essay was written and published as a pamphlet by Josiah Warren in Boston in 1865. The author participated in a number of anarchist communities in the nineteenth century, and wrote and lectured extensively, advocating non-statist solutions to social problems and economic rather than political methods of social change. He also strongly influenced writers such as Stephen Pearl Andrews and Benjamin Tucker, who perhaps did more than anyone else to disseminate the ideas of the anarchist individualists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
I have corrected apparent typos and changed some of the archaic spelling found in the original, but have left the punctuation, italicization, and capitalization as the author intended them to be.
A direct exchange of Labor for labor between the laboring or useful classes, measured by the time employed and according to the disagreeableness or Costs of the labors performed, would convert Time into capital; and all would have an abundance [of] “capital.” Money would represent Labor or its products as bank notes now represent metals; and, instead of being the blind, stupid, unintellectual accident that it now is, the holder of Labor Notes would know what he could get for them from day to day and from year to year. Estimates of the labor in different products once obtained by investigation, might remain unchanged for many years, unless new and better modes of production should reduce their Costs. Consequently, all ruinous fluctuations in prices would be at an end, and all speculations upon them would be knocked in the head; and “profits in trade” being abolished, ruinous competition and the principal cause of modern wars would cease to be.
The burthen of necessary labor would be reduced to from one to perhaps three hours a day (according to the style of living,) for each person. All anxiety about future sustenance would be dispelled—with this security of condition, the motive for large accumulations would die away, and the degrading scramble for “money making” would come to an end.
The hardest worker would be the richest person, without reference to sex, color, or nation, and in the common, vulgar estimation, would be the most “respectable”: then there will be as great a rush into the useful pursuits as there has been to shun them and force them upon the weak and defenseless. We now see the origin of all forms of slavery and the legitimate remedy for them.
It is folly to expect that men will prefer starved, ragged, insulted labor, however useful it may be, rather than an easy situation with a sufficient income and the respect of their fellow men; nor is it surprising that the ranks of respected professions are crowded till they are forced to live by fraud, that we are over run with speculators, thieves, defaulters, counterfeiters, burglars, robbers, incendiaries, rapacious officials and other vagabonds, or that the bible is tortured into the defense of slavery and poverty by those who are revelling in idleness and luxury; or, that when the opportunities for speculation and office holding opened by one war are all filled, the nest step is to get up another war. This pandemonium miscalled “society” will continue as long as men are tempted to live by profitable crimes, rather than starve in useful pursuits.
Let not this word Cost be misunderstood: it has no reference to the money that has been given for any thing, but it refers to the trouble it has cost; whether it be painful exertion of body or mind—anxiety, sacrifice of any kind; in short, the endurance of any thing that is disagreeable is here called Cost.
This idea or principle would probably give the highest salary to the scavenger; because he is least respected and because his labor is otherwise, perhaps, the most disagreeable; while it would give comparatively nothing to ignorant officials because they get compensated in glorification.
All will be workers or live upon benevolence. The whole burthens being thus distributed, the share of each will be so light and so “fashionable” people will prefer to do that little, rather than take the trouble of encroaching upon their neighbors; then the great excuse for aggressive governments will not exist, and their very costly if not very valuable services can be dispensed with.
Labor for labor, is not labor for land nor for any of the metals found in it, nor for wood or coal nor for any other of nature’s spontaneous products except so far as labor has been bestowed upon them, or in transferring them; but it opens the prospect of homes and comforts to those who have been deprived of them by the want of a principle for the regulation of prices. In short, a direct, equitable exchange of labor between the useful classes, just in proportion as it progresses, will cheapen common money and finally render it worthless, and invest Labor with all its products, and all the power and “respectability” that material wealth can confer; and all that constitutes good or successful society will be within its reach. None need be excluded—those who have no useful business can learn one when opportunities are opened and this principle opens the opportunities.
The greatest of all considerations is, that by making the cost of labor the limit of price, every one becomes interested in co-operating to reduce the cost and consequently, the price of every thing; and thus men will be employed in lightening each others’ burthens through mere self interest, which is now so destructive. Thus does this simple but sublime justice out strip the sagacity of legislators and solve for humanity the greatest of all human problems—turning every man’s hand to work For, instead of against his fellow man!
Harmonizing the material interests of men will harmonize the feelings and action of individuals and nations; and the reign of permanent peace, plenty and successful society will have found their root in simple, scientific Justice to Labor!
It is this harmonization of interests that has always been aimed at by the profoundest statesmen, and it is the great central ideal of Communism; but it has been mistakenly sought in Combining or Uniting those interests! But, where interests are United, all have a right to a voice in the management of them; but the natural and inevitable diversity of minds growing out of the Individuality of each, immediately develops itself and inaugurates conflict and confusion that have only two possible terminations—Despotism or Disintegration. If despotism is adopted, its first act is to make war on this natural Individuality and to demand unhesitating obedience, loyalty or conformity; the governed must have neither eyes, tongues, brains nor life; they must all suddenly become of one pattern according to the master’s orders, like so many dried herrings upon a stick, and those who decline the prescription are gentiles, schismatics, heretics, outsiders, outcasts, rebels, traitors, outlaws; to be expelled, crucified, excommunicated, imprisoned, shot or hung; and whom any may plunder or murder with impunity, or perhaps “make money” by taking them alive to be murdered or tortured according to the will of the master! Government by a “majority” is worse than that of some despotisms, because it annihilates Individual responsibility; which, is the only reliable regulator of human intercourse. All these evils are the natural consequences of the first blunder or “original sin” of Uniting instead of harmonizing the interests of men!
If the planets were all united or bound together by artificial means, it would result in collisions, darkness, destruction and death, corresponding to what are now seen and always have existed in all artificial organizations of men, from that of the smallest partnership to that of a nation, just in proportion to the number and magnitude of the interests at stake and the mental diversities of the persons involved. War has been waged against this diversity from first to last, for thousands of years and every means to enforce conformity have been exhausted; and now, there is more individuality than ever, and it is more clearly seen than ever that it is the very germ of all improvement, order and peace among men–that this is the stone so long rejected by the builders that is to become the head of the corner—that it is the very “key to the age”; that to persecute it is to deny the persecutor’s right to differ from the persecuted and it is making war upon humanity’s instinctive struggle to correct its own most fatal blunder. But personal individuality being adverse to artificial organizations, they must be abandoned before much progress can be made. They originated in the purposes of attack or defense; but the principle of equivalents neutralizing all motives for attack, would render defense unnecessary.
What we want is Co-operation or coincident action between all the human race without “entangling” our materials interests or our responsibilities, and thereby subordinating man to the ignorance and cruelty of man. The principle of equivalents enables us to attain these long sought and unspeakably important ends. It lifts us up out of the chaos of political systems, into a clear, bright atmosphere that enables us to discern the direct road to true order and repose.
The subject is inexhaustible, but a very few words must suffice here. What has been said against organizations was thought necessary as caution against the continuance of a dangerous and costly mode of defeating the ends in view.
Coincidence of thought, feeling or purpose, makes us society for each other; but there is no power on earth that can make us so beyond this limit. The principle of Equivalents producing this coincidence in our material interests, abolishes the principal elements of repulsion and contest and gives us a reliable basis of calculation which will continue for a long time to surprise the student of human problems with solutions too beautiful and too sublime for expression here.
It is believed that this idea of labor for labor originated in England. Its practical development in this country has been an unwavering life purpose during the last thirty eight years, in a series of noiseless experiments, as the chemist conducts his analyses in his laboratory or as the mechanic tests his machine in his own sanctum before he presents it broadly to the public. There is scarcely any kind of business between men, to which the principle has not been successfully applied. The conclusion from these experiments is, that as this principle, together with others necessary to its operation, require to be studied like any other exact science, in connexion with practical illustrations in the business of life, the best way to inaugurate the movement is by establishing Industrial Colleges for young and old, right among the people in any or every town and neighborhood, upon Individual responsibilties and with Individual means, with such aid as may be voluntarily offered free from all defeating conditions. Not attempting to form or organise societies any more than we would organize or form the fruit upon a tree: but inviting all people to look into the movement and co-operate with it so far as they may find it for their moral or material internal interest to do so, but no farther: trusting to the Coincidence of these interests to change, by degrees, the character of what is now called civilization.