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The Renewal of the Social Organism
GA 24

Twenty Articles from the Newspaper The Threefold Social Order

8. Socialist Stumbling-Blocks

Ideas which take account of the realities that gave rise to the demands now agitating humanity, and are in harmony with the conditions under which it is possible for men to live together culturally, politically and economically — such ideas are drowned out by the clamor of others that are remote from life in both regards. People who long for something other than the traditional forms of life, or who have in fact already been torn out of these older forms by events, are people who until now have stood at such a remove from the forces that brought these circumstances to the surface of history that they lack any insight whatever into how they act and what they signify. Within the mass of the working classes, there is a dull consciousness that demands a change in their form of life, which they see as a result of capitalist forces dominating the economy. Yet the manner of their participation in economic life hitherto has not made them aware of the way these forces operate. Thus they are unable to conceive any fruitful way of transforming these forces. The intellectual leaders and agitators of the proletarian masses are blinded by utopian ideas and theories which derive from a social science still based on the old economic concepts that so urgently need changing. These agitators have not even the faintest idea that their notions about politics, economics and cultural life are in no way different from the “bourgeois notions” they are fighting, and that at bot-tom all they are striving for is to see the old notions realized by a new group. However, nothing really new ever comes about when different people do the same old thing in a slightly different way.

One of these “old ideas” is the attempt to control economics by political and legal means. It is an “old idea” because it has brought a large part of humanity into an untenable position, as the catastrophe of World War I has shown. The new idea that must replace this old one is to liberate the administration of the economy from any kind of interference by political or national power, and to conduct the management of the economy along lines that are based entirely on economic principles and economic interests.

But surely it is impossible to imagine a form of economic life that is not managed by businessmen using political and legal means! Such is the objection raised by those who believe the proponents of the threefold social order have no insight into what is socially self-evident. But actually those who make this objection refuse to see what a far-reaching transformation it would bring about in economic life if the political and legal views and institutions at work within the economy were not ruled from within the economic system itself according to its interests, but rather guided by something external to the economy, and subject only to considerations that lie within the competence of every adult. Why do so many people, even those of a socialist turn of mind, refuse to see this? The reason is that through their participation in political life they have learned to think about the way a political state governs, but not about the peculiar nature of the forces inherent in economic life. Thus they are able to conceive an economic process managed according to the principles on which a political state is governed; but they are unable to conceive of one structured according to its own economic principles and needs, one that takes its legal regulations from a different quarter altogether. This is true for most of the agitators and leaders of the proletariat. If the mass of workers themselves, from the circumstances previously dis-cussed, have insufficient insight into ways that economic life might possibly be transformed, their leaders are no better off. They exclude themselves from all such insight by confining their thinking wholly within the political arena.

A consequence of this one-sided confinement to politics are the attempts being made in various quarters to establish Workers' Councils [Betriebsräte]. The current attempt to create such institutions must be consistent with the afore-mentioned “new idea,” if all labor expended on it is not to be wasted. This “new idea” requires, however, that Workers' Councils should be the first institutions with which the state has no concern, but which are free to form according to the purely economic considerations of those engaged in economic life. It should be left to the emerging corporation to promote associations that will create through economic cooperation what has been brought about hitherto by the egotistical competition of individuals. It is a question of free social coordination between the various complexes of production and consumption, and not one of centralized control according to political policies. The point is to promote the economic initiatives of the workers through such an association, not to submit them to the tutelage of a bureaucratic hierarchy. Whether economic life has a political ad-ministration imposed on it by state law, or whether a “system of industrial council boards” [Rätesystem] is planned by people who are able to think and organize only along political lines, the outcome is the same. Among these people there may perhaps be some who, in theory, demand a certain independence of the economic life; in practice, however, their demands can only result in an economy straight-jacketed by a political system because their scheme is the result of political thinking. Before one can conceive such institutions in a way required by the actual conditions of present-day life, one must have a clear idea of the way in which both the governmental and legal system and the spiritual-cultural sphere of the threefold social order should develop in their own manner apart from the economic system. It is possible to form a clear picture of an independent economic life only when one sees other things in their proper place within the whole structure of the social organism—those things that should not fall within the orbit of the economy. If one does not see clearly the proper place for the unfolding of cultural and legal impulses, one will always be tempted to fuse them somehow with economics.