Following is an excerpt from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. But allow me to briefly introduce the scenario before you begin reading the excerpt. Owen is a painter and decorator working with a team of painters for a building firm in early 20th century Britain. The majority of the book follows this group of painters (most of whom are struggling for wages and basic survival) who come together everyday to work at a building and during breakfast, lunch and dinner would sit by the fireplace and discuss anything ranging from women, money, their employers to politics and religion. Owen, a socialist and an atheist, has very strong opinions about politics and religion and his colleagues tend to frown at him for his radical views. They would roll their eyes or laugh at him for opposing the clearly "reasonable present system." In one scene he attempts to explain one of the causes of poverty (property) while struggling through the distrust and mockery of his fellow workers. Owen explains that people, as land animals, cannot live in the sea nor in the air, we need land to live on. The problem is, most land is owned by a few thousand people, a lot of whom inherited the land and have never done a day's work. Furthermore, for the majority of the population to survive, they have to rent this land from the minority and this rent takes most of their income keeping the working population in a state of poverty. After clamouring and arguing, Owen's colleagues begin to agree that rent and land ownership might indeed be a problem, but what can you do about it? You can't alter the situation, surely! To which Own responds:
'Whether it can be altered or not, whether it's right or wrong, landlordism is one of the causes of poverty,' Owen repeated. 'Poverty is not caused by men and women getting married; it's not caused by machinery; it's not caused by "over-production"; it's not caused by drink or laziness; and it's not caused by "over-population". It's caused by Private Monopoly. That is the present system. They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe. And if that seemingly impossible thing were accomplished tomorrow, you would see thousands of people dying for want of air--or of the money to buy it--even as now thousands are dying for want of the other necessities of life. You would see people going about gasping for breath, and telling each other that the likes of them could not expect to have air to breathe unless they had the money to pay for it. Most of you here, for instance, would think and say so. Even as you think at present that it's right for so few people to own the Earth, the Minerals and the Water, which are all just as necessary as is the air. In exactly the same spirit as you now say: "It's Their Land," "It's Their Water," "It's Their Coal," "It's Their Iron," so you would say "It's Their Air," "These are their gasometers, and what right have the likes of us to expect them to allow us to breathe for nothing?" And even while he is doing this the air monopolist will be preaching sermons on the Brotherhood of Man; he will be dispensing advice on "Christian Duty" in the Sunday magazines; he will give utterance to numerous more or less moral maxims for the guidance of the young. And meantime, all around, people will be dying for want of some of the air that he will have bottled up in his gasometers. And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order, and after doing your best to tear him limb from limb, you'll drag him, covered with blood, in triumph to the nearest Police Station and deliver him up to "justice" in the hope of being given a few half-pounds of air for your trouble.'
|Proudhon was the first to coin the phrase|
"property is theft"
Religion, the dominion of the human mind; Property, the dominion of human needs; and Government, the dominion of human conduct, represent the stronghold of man's enslavement and all the horrors it entails.
Religion! How it dominates man's mind, how it humiliates and degrades his soul. God is everything, man is nothing, says religion. But out of that nothing God has created a kingdom so despotic, so tyrannical, so cruel, so terribly exacting that naught but gloom and tears and blood have ruled the world since gods began. Anarchism rouses man to rebellion against this black monster. Break your mental fetters, says Anarchism to man, for not until you think and judge for yourself will you get rid of the dominion of darkness, the greatest obstacle to all progress.
Property, the dominion of man's needs, the denial of the right to satisfy his needs. Time was when property claimed a divine right, when it came to man with the same refrain, even as religion, "Sacrifice! Abnegate! Submit!" The spirit of Anarchism has lifted man from his prostrate position. He now stands erect, with his face toward the light. He has learned to see the insatiable, devouring, devastating nature of property, and he is preparing to strike the monster dead.