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On Class Conflict in General

By Gustav Schmoller

First published in Grundriss der allgemeinen Volkswirtschaftslehre (6th ed., 1904), II, 542 ff. Also appearing in American Journal of Sociology, volume 20 (1914-15) pp. 504-531.

Critique by Punkerslut

From RadicalGraphics.org
Image: From "Anarchy" Gallery from RadicalGraphics.org

Start Date: December 27, 2003
Finish Date: December 28, 2003


     I came across this essay by Gustav Schmoller in my search for works that would help me better understand the crisis that Capitalism places on the shoulders of the laborer. Since we are currently living in a world and a society where there are vast conflicts between the classes, with the suppression of the working class protestors by massive paramilitary police regimes, the usurping of civil rights by elected officials, I find that only few people can avoid interest in this topic. Those who are completely apathetic to the issues in the world they live in may find no interest in these facts. The deaths of those protesting for Democracy, the imperialism of the United States investors cloaked under Free Trade agreements, the lives destroyed and the chaos wrought on foreign soil -- all of this will have no emotional effect on those who have no care for their fellow earthlings. Whether it was the intellectually draining effect of television and the mass media downgrading all their standards to the lowest common denominator, the common person can find himself disenchanted with society and culture. Whatever the cause for apathy and nihilism in the common people, or even their vigilance to defend their oppressors, there seems to still exist the idea in the people that government is necessary towards freedom, liberty, and order. It is this idea which Schmoller defends in this particular piece, and this idea that I shall attack.

An Objection: Anarchism and Democracy

This power can never rest merely upon individual persons, and no more can it be exercised directly by the totality of thousands and millions of citizens. In order to be capable of decision and action it needs an organization of functionaries, of rulers and subjects, controllers and controlled. There must be groups of fighters, of priests, of noble families, of officials. The compact organization of these under a central head is the secret of the existence of the power of the state. With a chief or king supported by an aristocracy, a senate, we have the beginnings of all the higher civic constitutions of ancient times. The mass of the folk, originally participating in the national assemblies, sink more and more, even while retaining certain rights, to the condition of mostly passive members of the civic body. Slaves and serfs, moreover, have no voice at all. The kings, whose excesses and abuses 'were much more in evidence than their salutary functions, were, as we have seen, set aside by the aristocracy in Greece and Rome. The aristocracy, freed from control by a superior authority, easily fell eventually into the same abuses, and class dominance in the strict sense began.


Government, even the most arbitrary, is better than perpetual anarchy.


Direct legislation by the whole folk (obligatory referendum), the imperative mandate in case of members of the lower house, which compels them to vote, not in accordance with their inside knowledge and conviction, but as their constituents direct, the uni-cameral system, annual elections, the one-man-one-vote system in all elections the decision about peace and war by the whole folk - there are extreme democratic demands, which rest upon the idea of popular, sovereignty, and which would transfer great dealsions from government to folk. They start from the false conception that the lower classes are conspicuous for wisdom and virtue, that the aggregate of their votes would represent all the insight there is. This entirely ignores the fact that all decisions are the resultant more of emotion than of intelligence, that the arithmetical summations of all the votes of a society consisting of different cultural strata always reduces the result to the vulgar needs, judgments, and ideas which are common to all, that even in the case of the people of culture and character, understanding declines in the degree which they give their votes under the excitement of mass meetings. It is for this reason that for hundreds of years in all the great civilized states the final decisions upon important matters have been intrusted to a single man or to a small body of men, or to senates and lower houses of from 200 to 600 members. The ancient republics perished in the attempt at government by the whole folk. The greatest political progress meanwhile -- government by means of ministers and parliaments -- would be nullified by the above mentioned democratic demands.

     When it comes to the matter of political decision-making, one must fully understand the nature of it before making a judgment as to the best method of it. When it comes to political decision-making, the results of such decision-making most often effect the whole mass. By this, I mean that it is the common men, of all classes, that is effected. In some cases, if there is a ruler, it is the ruler who has been effected. For instance, in those situations where an increase of royal pay has been requested -- of course, one must understand that while the king benefits, it is only pushing the common people to a lower level. Some political theorists have argued that it ought to be an absolute ruler (king, dictator, despot) whose role is to lead the common people (Thomas Hobbes professed this). Others have shifted towards elected officials, and even elected councils, attempting to spread power out, understanding its true potential for destructive ability. Then there are those who believe that power should be spread out, equally, and that each person should have their own voice in the government. Such an ideal has always be strived for by the people, though it has only been defined as Anarchism or Democracy in the ninteenth century.

     One must ask, though: to whom does the power of political decision-making belong, or to whom should it belong? Since it is the laws that are enforced upon the people, since it is the people whom are subject to the restrictions or limitations of a governing force, it is undoubtedly true then that it should be the people who choose political decision-making. It is only through this method that a genuine justice, peace, and happiness can be realized. How, then, is the will of the people to be expressed? Some may argue that it is through representatives and elected officials. However, when the will of the people is transferred through another body, it becomes corrupted. Government officials are subject to bribes, special interest, political parties. Their one goal is to maintain political power. If this means abandoning some issues so that they appeal to a larger margin of the population, then they will most likely do this. The power structure of a government alienates the citizen, as it dispossesses him of the ability to govern his own life. I believe that the people deserve the right to govern themselves, and I believe this on this one firm ideal I hold: that each person can only know what is right for themselves and nobody else. One may argue that this may entail a person agreeing with their desires for rapine, murder, and bloodshed -- but that would involve imposing a will upon another person, which is a violation of this statement. One law, one person, one vote. Democracy means the public deciding the laws for themselves, and not having the laws chosen for them. That is what I believe.

     There can be little doubt as to the horrors that governments are responsible for spreading. Wars of massive scale have destroyed homes, taken children from the earth, and decimated the lives of hundreds of millions. The soldiers who were drafted, forced by the bayonet and the prison to march to war, they were not allowed by government officials to vote on laws. It was their lives that ended, as they died for the so-called noble, honorable cause of preserving government. If even a small portion of their minds could survive the propaganda of compulsory schooling and government sponsored newspapers, then they must see and feel the injustice in their heart. For while it is their duty to destroy another army, another nation's children and families, they must understand that they do this for conquest rather than fairness -- they are mercenaries, not defenders, rapists, not liberators. So it has been that Anarchists have sided strongly with the anti-war movement. Why so? Because it is not the will of the common people to exploit another nation's resources, only after destroying its economy, bringing its living conditions to mere poverty, and ending the lives of two million people.

From RadicalGraphics.org
Image: From "Stencils" Gallery from RadicalGraphics.org

The Psychology of Revolutionaries

The policy and the tactics, not of all the laborers, but of the extreme radicals, rest, as has always been the case throughout history, upon the psychological fact that their thinking and action were governed more by emotion than by understanding, more by rationalism than by real knowledge of the world. All the extreme radical parties have certain tracts of juvenility...

     It may be true, I admit it, that revolutionaries of all positions have a very emotional attachment to their political positions, and this can be found in their culture and society. However, this does not mean that revolutionaries are without reason, that their conviction is founded on nothing more than angst.

     In the June '96 issue of Life Magazine, Sydney Schanberg (author of The Killing Fields) documented child labor being used in Pakistan in the production of Nike soccer balls -- for 60 cents a day.

     The March 16 edition of the New York Times carried a story on union busting by Nike shoe contractors in Indonesia. One worker was "locked in a room at the plant and interrogated for seven days by the military, which demanded to know more about his labor activities."

     The October 17 edition of the CBS program 48 Hours had a segment on Nike's labor rights abuses in Vietnam, including: beatings, sexual harassment and forcing workers to kneel for extended periods with their arms held in the air.

     On November 3, an article by Australian labor scholar Anita Chan was published in the Washington Post. She described Chinese shoe factories -- producing for Nike and other companies -- where supervisors submit workers to a military boot camp style of control.

     On March 14 1997, Reuters had a report on a Nike factory, Pouchen in Dong Nai, forced 56 Vietnamese women workers to run around the factory’s premise, 12 fainted and were taken to the hospital emergency room.

     When reading these situations, these moments where the hand of tyranny triumphs over the spirit of liberty, they will fill anyone with a passion, with emotional fire. They are but facts, and facts alone. But as one realizes what these conditions must feel like, how these people feel about their current dispossession, the philosophy of the mind and the sympathy of the heart are enough to move anyone to "emotionalism." It does not mean, in any manner or method, that they are devoid of reasoning abilities. On the contrary, those who understand and oppose the injustices around the world have the greatest reasoning abilities -- for it is their eyes, and not those of the indifferent and apathetic, that can see, truly see, the brutality of the current system. Those who are blind to these cruel conditions, the demands of the merciless system, are without the ability to feel or see. Those who can see and do react to it have something more than the rest.


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