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Excerpt from A Language Older Than Words

Needs of Production vs Needs of Community (p. 260)

From chapter "A Turning Over"

While all of these are clearly contributing factors to the inevitable failures of revolutions, and also failures to revolt, I recently came across some analysis that finally makes clear the reason for the lack of success. It’s not good news. Just as the problems with our schooling are not psychological—only requiring we find better teachers—so too do we not simply need to find better revolutionaries. The problems inhere in the structure and functioning of our society.

The analysis came from a book entitled Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation, by Karl Kautsky. One of the groups Kautsky describes is the Taborites, a group of communists who were never conquered externally, but whose experiment devolved nonetheless into a pseudo-community as selfish, militaristic, and intolerant as surrounding city-states. This selfishness, militarism, and intolerance extended, to provide one example among many, to the extermination of the Adamites, a sect more communistic than they (“Those whom the sword had spared, the fire consumed,” comments Kautsky). “The fate of Tabor is of the greatest interest,” Kautsky writes, “for it shows what would have been the outcome of the Münzer movement . . . and of the Anabaptist movement . . . if they had remained unconquered.” He follows this with a few sentences I disagree with, and then says, “While the needs of the poor engendered the struggle for communism, those of production demanded the existence of private proprietorship.”

There you have it. The needs of mass production—a funneling of resources toward producers—is in opposition to the needs of the community—a siphoning of resources toward the poor. In one sentence the failure of egalitarian dreams. So long as we value production over relationship, and in fact over life, so long shall we follow our current path of ever-increasing immiseration for the ever-increasing majority.

Recall that the primary feature Ruth Benedict observed as leading to a “good” culture, one that is peaceful, and one in which the members are almost invariably “nice,” is that members of these cultures have set up a “siphon system” to shuttle wealth from rich to poor. This “siphon system” is antithetical to the primacy of private (from the same root as deprive, remember) property. Even those revolutions claiming to dispose of private property—Marxist revolutions, for example, which in any case do not even purport to dispose of rigid hierarchy—continue in this insoluble contradiction between the needs of mass production and the needs of human beings.

It really is very simple. What you value is what you create. This is true whether we speak of motorcycles, interstate highways, nuclear power plants, napalm and indoor sports arenas, or harmonious familial and communal relationships and harmonious relationships between ourselves and our nonhuman neighbors. The inverse is true as well: by looking at what we or anyone else creates, we can determine much more accurately than with words alone what is deemed valuable.

By not questioning the primacy of production, and therefore the valuing of private property over (human and nonhuman) relationships, most revolutionaries guarantee their revolutions won’t change fundamental power structures. For it doesn’t matter whether capitalists, the Supreme Soviet, proletariats, the Church, or intellectuals control the means of production, the truth is that this group—fill in the blank—then controls the means of production. The property is just as private whether the owners claim to be capitalists, communists, “horny- handed workers,” or anarchists. Wealth funnels toward the producers and away from the community as a whole. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

If we wish to do away with bosses, we need to do away with the primacy of production. We need to learn from egalitarian religious and especially extant indigenous groups that the emphasis of our society must be on process: not on the creation of things and the accumulation of monetary or political power, but on the acknowledgment and maintenance of relationships, on both personal and grand scales.

How a group that has as its foundation the maintenance of relationships can stand up in direct conflict to a group based on production is a question to which I don’t yet have an answer. It is, however, a question that needs to be asked, and answered, and soon.

It should be apparent that what plays out in intrahuman relationships plays out more broadly in our relationships with the rest of the world. A culture that values production over life values the wrong thing, because it will produce things at the expense of living beings, human or otherwise. And it will destroy its ecosystemic base. To argue over whether the Trilateral Commission, Weyerhaeuser, Bill Gates and Microsoft, the Bolsheviks, or a small band of Maoists should control production as the world burns seems a wee bit absurd, and more than a little pathetic.