“We must assume the people good and the state evil.”(1) Obviously the state, as an inherently violent institution, is a necessary evil both in our bourgeois society, and in the society which will be born of the triumph of labor under capital, it will be necessary until that day when bourgeois right ceases to be.
We say that the people are of good nature. What do we mean? Anyone who goes to a place where the poor are numerous and paupers beg for change will find abnormally high rates of crime. Everywhere the mentality will be ‘every man for himself’. The poor, who are deprived of the means of subsistence, of the means of production, are found to be in a constant state of stress and disorientation. Their concern is for themselves and their immediate relatives, for their immediate needs.
Then we go to those who own the means of subsistence, who grow extremely wealthy for owning the means of production with which the poor toil day and night without ever making a penny more than the capitalist allows. We find here an extremely wealthy fellow, whose “wealth springs quite literally from the poverty of the poor”(2). He lives off the labor of others, off the poor who have nothing to sell but their labor power as the precious commodity that it is, while he does no real work himself. We find a man who, unlike the pauper, has secured the means of maintaining his immediate survival and happiness. But even among him, selfishness runs rampant. It is a selfishness far worse than that which is forced onto the poor. He is in a state of constant struggle not only against the poor who, lacking class consciousness, want only better wages and better working conditions, but also against his fellow capitalist, both within his enterprise and in those enterprises competing against him.
If he grows concerned for the well being of his workers, for their humanity, he will certainly find himself going down a slippery slope. If he goes so far as to forfeit the means of production to the working class, then he will be forced to work like they do, under explorative conditions, with nothing to sell but his labor power. If he runs his business like the good Christian he claims to be, he will soon go out of business and become a laughingstock among the whole capitalist class.(3)
His own survival is based on his greed, on the ceaseless accumulation of capital. We see for both rich and poor alike that self-interest is compelled to become selfishness. “We see that the worker is compelled to work under feudal conditions, or die of hunger”(2), to look after only his own hide, or risk going hungry. We see that the selfishness of the ruling class becomes the ruling ideas of our age, for rich and poor alike.
So what madness is it to assume the people good? Everywhere we look around we see that greed and selfishness are the sole motivating factors of our society. But we also know that “the ruling ideas of each age have only ever been the ruling ideas of each ages ruling class.”(4) If we imagine instead, “a free association of producers with the means of production held in common”(5), where the means of production are democratically controlled by society at large, then we see that greed ceases to be the sole motivator, the sole ruling idea of society. We see that the pursuit of meeting actual human needs instead of profits exorcizes the hold that greed has over our society.
Only in such a society can the natural virtue of the people by embodied, only in such a society can today’s rich and poor alike live free from constant want and worry, for the states of rich and poor alike will cease to be. Only in such a society can equality be real, and not “the formal inequality in spite of rich and poor, ‘equality’ in spite of inequality.”(6) Only in such a society can democracy embody the true will of all of society, and not only that of the ruling class. When man is free from manmade poverty, and from being compelled to live off of the conditions that create poverty, we will find a society in which the natural virtue of man is truly embodied. As James Connolly once said, “The.. people will only be free when they own everything from the plough to the stars”.(7)
1: Robespierre, Speech/ Rousseau
2: Kropotkin, Conquest of Bread
3: Connolly, Socialism Made Easy
4: Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto
5: Marx, Capital
6: Engels, Marx Engels Collected Works Volume 6
7: James Connolly