EDITOR: —I would like to respond to the criticism of my letter in the March issue leveled by R. Yves Breton in the May issue.
First, I did NOT state, nor even imply, that under ALL circumstances “…ownership of what one uses and produces can only be realized by collective ownership of the factory by THE WORKER OF THAT FACTORY, no more nor less.” I prefaced that remark with: (which R. Yves did NOT quote) “…it seems that, for the worker (note the context) the individualist goal of personal property can only be realized by some sort of active struggle with the system. Given that industrial production is necessarily a collective venture….” (again, note the context, R. Yves). How, in a factory geared to a minute division of labor, assembly lines, and massive machines, a worker can INDIVIDUALLY own his or her own tools, as E. Armand suggested, is beyond my comprehension (do the workers dismantle the machines in the evening and take the pieces with them to their separate homes?). Of course there is much individualistic argument in favor of dismantling, permanently, the stupefying factory system, and restoring (perhaps with more sophisticated individual tools) craft production. Given an Anarchistic society this would be possible, but at present we are prisoners of production systems we do not own nor control. Either we control the workshops or abandon them and recreate an entire productive system outside the present one. Certainly for most workers who cannot afford to quit their jobs, the first is the only alternative at this time. Should workers succeed in such a take-over, I would still not maintain that a free society is necessarily reached. Significantly, R. Yves Breton did not go on to quote my conclusion: “But no one should be forced to participate in the collective, nor be banned from individual enterprise.”
I may be guilty of identifying workers’ control of the workplace with syndicalism, as the latter term implies FEDERATION of industries as well as factory autonomy. Still there have been individualists who saw in syndicalism “A valid form of regaining one’s property”—not the ONLY valid form, as R. Yves seems to imply as my meaning.
In this context, I would mention Malfew Seklew: “…I am an iconoclastic, atheistic, anarchistic, hedonistic individualist, with the social instinct well developed, and with syndicalistic solutions for the problem of poverty.” (“Minus One” #34). Oscar Wilde and Guy Aldred advocated forms of collective ownership in order to lift the burden of material concerns from the stifled individualities of the working and exploiting classes. An ideal, perhaps, but an individualism that cannot include social cooperation is an undeveloped individualism in my opinion. Even the most extreme individualist, Max Stirner, advocated collective take-overs of The means of production, even communistic arrangements within the context of voluntary associations to better satisfy our HUMAN needs and give us time to realize our UNIQUE desires. In America, Emma Goldman and John Beverly Robinson, both influenced by Stirner, were able to believe that, economically, the interests of working people were similar enough to justify voluntary, collective, and federated running of all industries. Besides, even the skills and tools needed to survive alone, outside of society, were given to us by society itself. The benefits of human association and cooperation appeal to my interests as an individual. There is much egoistic reason to favor collective arrangements to satisfy common needs, rather than reliance upon often wasteful or exploitive competition.
“Finally, as regards competition once more, it has a continued existence by this very means, that all do not attend to their affair and come to an understanding with each other about it. Bread is a need of all the inhabitants of a city; therefore they might easily agree on setting up a public bakery. Instead of this, they leave the furnishing of the needful to the competitive. Just so meat to the butchers, wine to the wine-dealers, etc.”
Peter Kropotkin? No, Max Stirner! Individualism IS the basis of true cooperation; as this primal Anarchist par excellence goes on to say:
“If I do not trouble myself about MY affair, I must be CONTENT with what it pleases others to vouchsafe me.” (The Ego and His Own, page 275).
—MARK SULLIVAN. (NEW YORK)