Saturday, August 18, 2007

Vintage Distributism

On Pilgrimage-February 1949

An Excerpt b
Dorothy Day

"We talked of President Truman's suggestion to build Federal Steel plants, a first step to nationalize the industry, everyone foretells. The CIO men thought such a step in the right direction but according to the Popes and Eric Gill respectively, such steps are only taken when (1) the industry is too great for private management or (2) should be only a step towards turning over the means of production to much smaller groups representing the workers themselves. The latter certainly must be educated towards it, and must think in terms of the responsibility which goes with ownership.

First of all they must be taught to want it and as far as I can see, the drift of the clerical advisers of the workers is all in the other direction. Ownership of tools or factories is not all a necessary development of the life of man; the proletarian state is perfectly compatible with sanctity, the belt, the assembly line, must be accepted, "it is here to stay," "you can't turn the clock back."

Even "my friend who ate sweet meats with me," as the Palmist said, those of the Catholic Rural Life Conference, in a public statement at their last conference in December have come out against us of the Catholic Worker movement in the recent Commonweal controversy in endorsing our present industrial system and advocating a "moderate decentralization." All they want, what they will settle for, is a share of the profits, instead of a share in the ownership, and the decentralization of the physical business of factories and production, and not a decentralization of control by widespread ownership. As far as I can see the Catholic is far behind the pagan even in fighting trusts or corporations. What distinguishes most social planners is their desire to keep the Status Quo.

Their best dig around us here is a dig at our poverty, part of which is holy in that we voluntarily accept what we cannot help. We use it as a means of sharing what we have with others, and is something we will accept as inevitable if we want to get on the land, or out into the village atmosphere, away from the "occasions of sin" which both the Holy Father and Fr. Vincent McNabb have termed our gigantic cities. God knows nobody is helping the family towards these aims. There are no trust funds on which they can draw, no credit unions to advance money to young couples to buy on the land, little help from brother Catholics (although the letter from Farmer Hinks of the Eastern Shore of Maryland is an exception). Certainly what hurts most of all, there is no teaching in that direction, so that those who are caught in the economic machine are positively discouraged from hoping to lead their children to another way of life.

In their anxiety not to appear "crackpot," or "fuzzy idealist" or "romantic agrarian" they bend over backward to boost what is at best a short range program and lose sight completely of the long range view of another social order. They not only disregard the lessons of history--why else did the Russian revolution come about except in desire of the people for land and work and responsibility, a sense of their dignity as workers? They are secularists in thinking that by bettering conditions on the belt, man the remainder of his time can be a whole man. As though one can "sin a little" or be just "a little bit pregnant," as one controversialist said.

To have any vision of "ownership by the workers of the means of production," a distributist economy, personal responsibility, a regional economy, is to them "visionary." They delight in pointing to the failure of the "vision" of the leaders of the Socialist Soviet Republics and they fail the people by expecting nothing more from them than the irresponsibility they now show as a result of the evil system under which they have so long lived.

The Dangerous State

In fact, our critics in their exaltation of the state, in their acceptance of the state, are guilty of the Marxism they condemn, as they little by little let the State encroach on one field after another. For instance if they endorse socialized medicine now (as the editor of America has done) they may find themselves in the situation of Cardinal Mindzcenty tomorrow, because they will be forced sooner or later to protest the encroachment of the State, the little by little encroaching State which the Bishops of the United States warned against in their most recent statement.

Yes, the workers must be brought to want communal ownership so far have they strayed from the "responsible man." Now they want the security of government ownership. They want the government rather than the corporations to take over, so that they can all become civil or federal employees. Many a time in talking to young people at schools, I have noticed that their idea of security is to work towards a city job."

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