Art & Science in a Libertarian Society

By Pedrini Belgrado
Black Flag VOL III No. 17 (Jan/Feb 1975 & No. 19 (April 1975)

This article was originally published in the Italian magazine ”Umanita Nova” of 14th December 1974, in conjunction with an appeal for support for the campaign to free Pedrini Belgrado. Send letters and parcels to PEDRINI BELGRADO, CASA PENALE, 43100 PARMA, ITALY. Letters of protest to the Italian Ambassador and Italian Consuls and Vice-Consuls in England and also to Mario Zagari, Ministro di Grazia e Giustizia, Rome; Il Presidente della Camera dei Deputati, Sandro Pertini, Montecitorio, Rome, Italy.

Art, science and philosophy – so Hegel and Descartes tell us – are the highest expression of the human spirit. But they define ”spirit” from their own philosophy’s view of it, which has nothing in common with the religious interpretation. Indeed, they differ themselves: for one the spirit is ”the thinking I”, ”the rational mind”, whereas for the other it is the ”intellectual activity of the selfconscious subject”. Art, science and philosophy are certainly the highest product of the human intellect. But whilst philosophy spreads its light into the dark mazes of the knowable and is, by that token, a purely intellectual activity, art, on the contrary, makes its ideas known by means of a double, physical and mental, activity. Whilst, for example, the human greatness of Kant can by completely contained in his intellect, the greatness of Raphael is completed by the mastery of technique that he had in his hands: the artist conceives and executes his own artistic ideas. It is not, however, a matter of a double labour, but of two activities, mental and manual, taken together as inherent in his art. Because of this, artists must be considered both mental and physical workers.

In the bourgeois states, and in the socialist ones, scientists, artists, and scholars are considered special categories of workers, to whom very high salaries are due. Almost always, however, it is these very people who, working for themselves, fix the prices of their products. But even if their activities come to depend financially on the State or private employers, their salaries are still very high when compared with those of the average worker. In the socialist states, despite the so-called Marxist equalisation of incomes, the salaries of artists, scientists and intellectuals in general, as well as those of the high functionaries of the Party and the State, are large enough, when compared with those of the workers, to show, by themselves, that socialism has never been realised in these countries.

In short, those who have to make what little they can, where and whenever they can, are the manual workers who produce all the really necessary goods of life.

Nobody is saying that artists and scientists are not necessary to all societies but why is it that the workers, who are just as necessary, have to pick up the crumbs from society’s table. What is the valid criterion on which such a disparity of salaries is based? You only have to touch on this question for a crowd of idiots to get up and shout that artists and scientists, all the people who ”know”, have to be treated differently, that, in other words, their tables must of necessity groan with the weight of food, because these specialised workers have spent many years studying, have sacrificed themselves for the advantage of everybody else, etc.

These explanations would hold water if the working class were getting at least a third of their living from the efforts of those who work with their minds, but since every worker produces much more than he gets paid for, this reasoning in favour of ”privileged workers” fails to find any support in the logic of just rewards.

Defeated on the grounds of distributive justice, the defenders of economic inequality switch their position to that of the bourgeois axiom which says that: ”If we had to give the same economic sufficiency to everybody, even to roadsweepers, nobody would be interested in studying so as to climb the ladder of success and to distinguish themselves from the amorphous masses.” Equal economic treatment – they add – would destroy the mainspring of social progress.

Unfortunately, these bourgeois concepts can also be found in the minds of many of the ordinary people, who thinking themselves erudite, imagine that they too can clamber up the walls of the social edifice, like honeysuckle, to its heights.

Economic differentiation is one consequence of the system of salaries and private initiative which can also be found in the socialist societies, in which not only equality but also the equalisation of incomes are concepts which have been relegated to a future utopia. On the other hand, we are not advocating equality of wages, which is an idea held by some Marxists who misunderstand socialist theory.

In fact, equality of wages is an unwise economic concept because it would end up as a cause of unhappiness, perhaps of revolt. The reason for this is that whenever work is paid for with money there are always too many people who think more of themselves than of others, and want a larger amount of it. It is exactly from this desire for more that economic inequality arises.

But is there a remedy for this social system which generates every form of inequality, gives rise to rich and poor? Or are we in the clutch of an inescapable destiny, as some bourgeois writers have it? There is a remedy, and the problem is not that of squaring the circle. But to bring it about means convincing the mass of people that society has to be remade from the beginning, after the remains of present-day societies have been cleared away.

We anarchists are well aware of how to resolve the problems of economic and social inequality. We are not magicians, but we have very clear and precise ideas on these problems, as well as an inflexible desire to reach our goal. However we know that not all the evil existing in capitalist societies will be dissolved with the abolition of the wage system and the installation of the principle which gives to everybody as much as they need to live comfortably. It will indeed be necessary to destroy the economic structures created by the bourgeoisie, but the gradual and systematic destruction of its political, moral and philosophical consciousness mus follow. In other words, the whole of bourgeois culture will have to be wiped off the slate.

But to return to the theme of art and science in an anarchist society, which, as is well known, is one free from the State and from political government.

How will scientists and artists live in this society in which self-government of the people replaces historical government, where social conscience replaces constituted authority, and where economic freedom, in the sense of everybody taking from himself as much as he actually needs, replaces money as the method of acquisition.

The reply to this question is implicit in the theoretical principles ennunciated above, but it is necessary to give an answer to our many opponents, to the incredulous, with whom I’ve often had occasion to argue, sometimes convincing them, sometimes not.

The opponents of Anarchism, for the most part, attack the libertarian principle of the abscence of constituted authority, without which, according to them, an Anarchist society wouldn’t survive for more than twenty-four hours; others say that without profit, that is without exploiters, society would become sterile and die.

The masters of Anarchism have already effectively answered these hoary arguments. Errico Malatesta was particularly good at it.

But hitherto nobody had asked me this question: ”What will be the purpose of art and science in your society? How will the scientists and artists be able to feel themselves equal to the tailor, the shoemaker, when a painter, for instance, can earn a sic-figure sum by the sale of a single canvas?” Six-figure sums are the product of theft, not of gainful employment, I reply. These grotesque profits can be arrived at today because the value of things is based on absurd capitalist criteria: the same criteria which allow industrialists to thieve enormous sums.

”Well, then, what, according to you is the basis of the value of woorks of art? An artist who executes a Pieta”, insists our opponent, ”perhaps deserves more than a roadsweeper who, in the same amount of time, might have cleaned a few streets?”

But haven’t I already said that in an anarchist society nobody gets rewardes on the basis of the work they carry out, but that everybody gives what they can and takes as much as they need? As for the Pieta, dear sir, I don’t see how it can be more useful to mankind than clean streets, which is precisely what the roadsweeper provides.

To decide on the real value of things it is necessary to detach oneself from the conventional, pre-established ideas of capitalism. Let me give you an example which will show that value is not in the things themselves, but in their usefulness at a given moment.. Ask someone who was in Russia during the retreat from Moscow, whether, at that moment he would have preferred Michelangelo’s Pieta, or a good overcoat made by a poor pailor? I think I would have preferred a small bag of polenta to the Pieta. Do you see then, how the value of things changes with the changes in circumstances.

Let us not forget that the things most useful to man are produced by workers and peasants. The spiritual needs for figurative art and science take a second place to their products.

To a guy who asked me vehemently whether we would have had space flights without scientists, I asked whether he would have eaten his Christmas capon without the poultryman.

Anyone who really thinks about these social problems realises that all categories of workers, whether physical or mental, are of equal value, and that the economic principle which is fair to everybody is that of being able to select, without extravagance, the things necessary for the satisfaction of one’s own material and spiritual needs, without having one’s pockets bulging with money.

Contrary to the declarations of the impenitent detractors of human nature, it is not self-interest which stimulates the intelligence and produces great men, who have cultivated their minds only for what they could make out of it. If that were true, the world would consist only of geniuses. Apart from what Nature gives to exceptional minds (character, will, memory, attention), men aspire to achieve exceptional works because of a psychological stimulus of a good kind which can be defined as the desire or passion for human greatness, from which social distinction also derives. Self-interest of the frenzy of getting rich comes a very poor second in the genesis of outstanding men. One proof that man is driven to excel without any hint of material profit can be derived from certain improvised displays of athletic prowess. You can bet that if two young men race each other in public, they will both use up all their energy to win without even thinking of material reward.

This shows that men are instinctively moved by noble motives rather than by personal self-interest. Indeed they are often content with public esteem and admiration for works or commendable acts carried out by them. We can assert, then, that when private interest is no more than a bad memory of an ignoble historical epoch, and the social virtues practiced will be equality, collective interest, the healthy and prosperous life of everybody, society will then see the emergence of more artists, more scientists, more famous men in every field of knowledge than ever emerged from this society based on private interest.

The libertarian theory of equality of rights, both economic and cultural, will also allow a greater development of arts and sciences placed at the service of the human family.

We anarchists place scientists and artists at the summit of social esteem, where, however they will not pick golden apples but the laurels which are the due of all who, with the gifts of hand and mind, willingly contribute to the cultural, moral and material good of the People.

Indefatigable research and practice of the greatest good of the People constitute the ideal of anarchists.

PARMA 22-10-74.

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