Manifesto by Josiah Warren

Manifesto Exhibition Series (8)


This piece,
Manifesto, by Josiah Warren, is a 'typical' anarchist manifesto.* Now, when I say, "typical anarchist manifesto", no doubt certain things come to mind. For starters, it seems as if "anarchist" is tied to "manifesto" in much the same way that it is still linked to "bomb-thrower" in the cultural consciousness. This linkage is a dismissive gesture, one that ignores the content by way of the form by labeling the entire thing as irrational or crazy. An "Anarchist", by cultural definition, is an angry young man with far-out political notions that are no doubt due to the same mental unbalances that give him a predilection for violence and terror. Of course, this is really not the case. Most absurdly violent persons (to the point of which they might be called "a terror") are of any political persuasion, and most likely the one that most conveniently justifies the absurd violence itself. Anarchists, on the other hand, are often factory workers, farmers, or just separatists who wish to "live and let live". On occasion they are actively political, but when so, more often than not it is in a heady, transcendental form, more akin to Thoreau than Ted Kaczynski.

It is in this vein that I call this document a typical anarchist manifesto. It is sensible, well-written and thought-out, and as such, it seems that it was largely ignored. There are a few aspects of its writing to which I wish to draw attention.

The piece is decidedly in the first person. There is a voice of individual authority in the document, which is a feature that would stand as a symbol of the "irrational" to most engaged in the firm tradition of "reasoning", in which thoughts are supposed to be objective, and therefore decidedly impersonal.

In addition to the power that this voice gives to the argument, the particular specifics of which I won't touch at this time, the first person gives a more direct element to the argument by placing it in the context not only of a political tradition, but also in the immediate context of the author, being himself a human being, not just words on a page. Written in 1841, the essay has been given the sub-title, "A Rare and Interesting Document". This sets the tone almost immediately, because a political manifesto in this time is hardly a rare document, and to call it such is a bit of subtle irony that also highlights the "interesting" nature of the piece. In the first line, Warren presents this document as a personal refutation of what others might think of him. Is a personal apologia really a rare and interesting document, in any time or place? But in the same sense that he is inscribing just one more, "typical anarchist manifesto", Warren is also writing his heart onto the page, for he is an anarchist, and places the values and personal mind of the Individual most highly, in fact, above any other system of rule or reasoning. In the same way that we have a profusion of very "personal" blogs in this day and age, to the point where the number diminishes the raw power of that first person voice by burying the individual in the horde, perhaps Warren felt the same, a publisher of political tracts gaining no traction for himself whatsoever. But this does not stop the bloggers, nor did it stop Warren. Perhaps it is this irony of authoring a personal document in the face of impersonal mass of political representations or other narratives that gives such a form its distinct, immediate presence. If Warren's manifesto was not decidedly common and indistiguishiable, perhaps it would not be so rare and interesting.

His arugment is rational, cool, and measured. In good anarchist fashion, he says at the close: "
I decline all noisy, wordy, confused, and personal controversies. This subject is presented for calm study and honest enquiry; and, after having placed it (as I intend to do) fairly before the public, shall leave it to be estimated by each individual according to the particular measure of understanding, and shall offer no violence to his individuality by any attempt to restrain, or to urge him beyond it." But the personal element of his first person authorship in carried into the argument, not only by the aspect that the Individual plays in his theory, but in the literal production of the manifesto. This is not just the concept of "Equitible Commerce" that Warren expounds, leading one to the rising theories of Marx during the time period on the subject of the abstraction of the individual via production. It is far simpler than that.

At the end of this reproduction of his manifesto, there is a note saying that the original was published on Warren's own press, and furthermore, one that he built himself. And then there is this:

"Public influence is the real government of the world. Printing makes this governing power; therefore, among the preparations for the general introduction of these subjects are a simplification of printing and printing apparatus which brings this mighty power to the fireside and within the capacities of almost any one of either sex who may choose to use it; thus is this and every other subject of real reformation rendered independent of the common press whose conductors are generally too much absorbed or too much interested in things as they are, too much under public influence or too superficial in their habits of thinking to do this subject justice in its commencement."

I don't want to extrapolate too much about what was in a man's mind over one-hundred and forty years ago. However, I think we can see a clear motivation here to practice what one preaches by publishing what and how one preaches. To include both these items in a "rare and interesting" manifesto seems to say that what is rare and interesting about it is not that it is a manifesto, or that it argues for a particular political point. It is that the individuality that leads Warren to Anarchism is the same that leads him to composing and publishing his manifesto--and this is rare and interesting. In a situation of Equitible Commerce, perhaps it would not be so rare. But for Warren and for us, the interesting part is that the fiery passion of his manifesto is not in the language and its ideas, but in the very will to write and publish despite the fact that he might have no readers or nothing new to say.

This, as I see it, is the fundamental characteristic of manifestos. Apart from what is said, when, or by whom, someone felt the need to write and publish it. Today we are in a new day of publishing, in which the productive power necessary to put one's thoughts out to a readership is almost nil. Despite the anonymity that digital publishing may necessarily include, there is no shortage of manifestos being written and published every day. We still have many rare and interesting things to say, and this is more important than who might read them.

*It is perhaps in some ways inaccurate to label it as a typical manifesto, because Josiah Warren was one of the first anarchists, and as such, there are no manifestos preceding his by which his would be labeled as proceeding according to the type. However, it is prototypical and archetypal in its argument, which now is a most defined type. So, other than its primacy, its status as first in a long line of anarchist statements does not really distinguish its form, in and of itself.

Manifesto [A Rare And Interesting Document]

An impression has gone abroad that I am engaged in forming societies. This is a very great mistake, which I feel bound to correct.

Those who have heard or read anything from me on the subject, know that one of the principal points insisted on is, the forming of societies or any other artificial combinations IS the first, greatest, and most fatal mistake ever committed by legislators and by reformers. That all these combinations require the surrender of the natural sovereignty of the INDIVIDUAL over her or his person, time, property and responsibilities, to the government of the combination. That this tends to prostrate the individual-To reduce him to a mere piece of a machine; involving others in responsibility for his acts, and being involved in responsibilities for the acts and sentiments of his associates; he lives & acts, without proper control over his own affairs, without certainty as to the results of his actions, and almost without brains that he dares to use on his own account; and consequently never realizes the great objects for which society is professedly formed.

Some portion, at least, of those who have attended the public meetings, know that EQUITABLE COMMERCE is founded on a principle exactly opposite to combination; this principle may be called that of Individuality. It leaves every one in undisturbed possession of his or her natural and proper sovereignty over its own person, time, property and responsibilities; & no one is acquired or expected to surrender any "portion" of his natural liberty by joining any society whatever; nor to become in any way responsible for the acts or sentiments of any one but himself; nor is there any arrangement by which even the whole body can exercise any government over the person, time property or responsibility of a single individual.

Combinations and all the institutions built upon them are the inventions of Man; and consequently, partake of more or less of man's shortsightedness and other imperfections; while EQUITABLE COMMERCE is a simple development of principles, which, although new to the public, are as old as the creation, and will be as durable.

This understanding is very natural; because, all attempts at radical reformation known to have been founded on combinations; the failure of all these has destroyed confidence, and the public, not being aware of any other principle, conclude that this is another proposal of the same kind and must fail like the rest. I respect their judgment and believe with them, that every attempt to improve their social condition by the formation of societies or any artificial combination (however ingeniously devised, however purely intended or honestly conducted,) must and will defeat their own objects and disappoint all who are engaged in them.

The failure of the experiments on the community system in New Harmony during the two years trial from 1825 to 1827, sufficiently proved this to my mind, & led to the conviction that the process of combination is not capable of working out the great objects of society; but, the opposite principle, that of Individuality and the process of DISCONNECTION,* after much close and severe investigation *The great principle of human elevation was perceived to be the SOVEREIGNTY OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL over his or her Person and Time and Property and Responsibilities. That this was impracticable where these were connected. DISCONNECTION, or Individualisation of these, therefore, appeared to be the process required. A habitual respect to this Individual Sovereignty, it was perceived, would constitute EQUITABLE moral commerce. The question then arose, how could this complete sovereignty of the individual over its own time and property be preserved through the process of exchanging them in the pecuniary commerce of society? This great point was settled by the idea of time for time, or Labor were found to possess or to lead to all the redeeming and regenerating powers necessary for the complete solution of the great social problem.-Indeed they appeared to promise too much to believe, too much hope; so much, that the discoverer (if we must so call him) dare not communicate his thoughts to his intimate acquaintances for fear of being accounted insane. His only course, therefore, was to prove everything in PRACTICE previously to bringing it before the public.

A whole new course of investigations and experiments were then commenced; the first of which was the "Time Store" in Cincinnati which was opened in May, 1827. This was conducted three years, when it was wound up for the purpose of carrying the principles into all the commerce of life; and the interval between that time and the present has been employed (as far as private circumstances would permit) either in further developments or in preparation for them.
for Labor-DISCONNECTING all natural wealth from labor each pricing his own by what it Costs him; but not overstepping the natural bounds of his individuality by setting a price on the Value of his article or labor to the receiver of it. The DISCONNECTION of Cost from Value laid the foundation of Equitable pecuniary Commerce. This new commerce required a circulating medium DISCONNECTED from money of all kinds, and representing Labor only; and thus the laborer becomes EMANCIPATED from money and tyranny.

The principles have been applied to the management and education of children, which go to show the radical mistake and the great cause of defeat on this important subject.

The principles have also been applied to the purchase and sale of land & almost all other kinds of property, and to the interchange of almost all kinds of labor including that of merchants, lawyers, physicians, teachers, the conductor of a boarding house, etc., through every step of which, the sovereignty of the individual was strictly preserved and invariably respected. No legislation of any description assumed control over the individual in any case whatsoever; and such was the complete individuality of action that hundreds dealt at the Time Store without understanding much of its principles or its objects; but they perceived that it was their interest to do so, thus demonstrating that the business of the community can be brought into this condition by a natural and irresistible process; without combination, without organisation, without laws, without government, without the surrender of any "portion" of the natural liberty of the individual; demonstrating also that reformation need not wait till the world becomes learned: but the practical operation constitutes a process of re-education which no one can estimate without experience, and which the learned are most backward in acquiring.

Such, too has been the complete individuality of action throughout all the experiments that although hundreds have taken some part in them, they are in no way distinguished as a sect, a party or a society; the public in general do not and will not know them; excepting so far as each individual chooses to identify himself or herself with these principles.

Public influence is the real government of the world. Printing makes this governing power; therefore, among the preparations for the general introduction of these subjects are a simplification of printing and printing apparatus which brings this mighty power to the fireside and within the capacities of almost any one of either sex who may choose to use it; thus is this and every other subject of real reformation rendered independent of the common press whose conductors are generally too much absorbed or too much interested in things as they are, too much under public influence or too superficial in their habits of thinking to do this subject justice in its commencement.

The experiments and preparations are now concluded, and the results are on record or in the possession of living witnesses, and are now becoming the groundwork of practical operations in this neighborhood. Those who wish to become acquainted with the subject can obtain the particulars at the public meetings or by reading THE EQUITABLE COMMERCE GAZETTE which is to be published for this purpose; but the following are some of the most prominent features of EQUITABLE COMMERCE.

It goes to establish a just and permanent principle of trade which puts an end to all serious fluctuations in prices and consequently, to all the insecurity and ruin which these fluctuations produce; and to build up those who are already ruined.

It tends to put a stop to all kinds of speculation.

It has a sound and rational circulating medium, a real and definite representative of wealth. It is based exclusively on labor as the only legitimate capital. This circulating medium has a natural tendency to lessen by degrees the value and the use of money, and finally to render it powerless; and consequently to sweep away all the crushing masses of fraud, iniquity, cruelty, corruption and imposition that are built upon it.

The circulating medium being issued only by those who labor, they would suddenly become invested with all the wealth and all the power; and those who did not labor, be they ever so rich now, would as suddenly become poor and powerless.

It opens the way to employment for those who want it, by simple arrangement which has a natural tendency to keep the supply in rational proportion to the demand.

It solves the great and difficult problem of machinery against labor. On this principle, in proportion as machinery throws workmen out of employment, it works for them; and the way is always open to a new employment, as equitable commerce abolishes profit on mystery, disregards the customary apprenticeships and brings all kinds of knowledge within the reach of those who want it.

The necessity of every one paying in his own labor for what he consumes, affords the only legitimate and effectual check to excessive luxury, which has so often ruined individuals, states and empires; and which has now brought almost universal bankruptcy upon us.

Equitable commerce furnishes no offices to be filled by the ambitious and aspiring, no possible chance for the elevation of some over the persons or property of others; there is, therefore, no temptation here for such persons; and they will not be found among the first to adopt EQUITABLE COMMERCE. It appeals, first, to the most oppressed, the humble, the down-trodden, & will first be adopted by them and by those who have no wish to live upon others, and by those whether among the rich or poor whose superior moral or intellectual qualities enable them to appreciate some of the unspeakable blessings that would result from such a state of human existence.

These are some of the most prominent features of EQUITABLE COMMERCE; and will be perceived that they are precisely the features which a great, redeeming revolution ought to possess: but they are so extraordinary, so out of the common course and current of things that they will be denounced by some as visionary and impracticable. I am prepared for all this, and I am also prepared to prove that all the most important applications of the principles HAVE BEEN made; and have proved themselves sound beyond all successful contradictions; and to show that upon these principles, it is perfectly practicable for almost any person to begin at once to enjoy some of the advantages herein set forth; and by degrees to emancipate himself or herself from the crushing iniquity and suffering of (what is called) civilized society; and this without joining any society or in any other way surrendering any "portion" of his or her natural and "inalienable" sovereignty over their person, time or property, and without becoming in any way responsible for the act or sentiments of others who may be transacting business on these principles. JOSIAH WARREN New Harmony, Nov. 27, 1841.

It has now become a very common sentiment, that there is some deep and radical wrong somewhere, and that legislators have proved themselves incapable of discovering, or, of remedying it.

With all due deference to other judgments, I have undertaken to point out what seems to constitute this wrong and its natural, legitimate and efficient remedies; and shall continue to do so wherever and whenever the subject receives that attention and respect to which its unspeakable importance appears to entitle it; and it is hoped that some, who are capable of correct reasoning will undertake to investigate, and, (if, they can find a motive,) to oppose EQUITABLE COMMERCE; and thereby discover and expose the utter imbecility-the surprising weakness of any opposition that can be brought against it. Opposition, in order to be noticed must be confined to this subject, and its natural tendencies: DISCONNECTED with all others, and all merely personal considerations.

I decline all noisy, wordy, confused, and personal controversies. This subject is presented for calm study and honest enquiry; and, after having placed it (as I intend to do) fairly before the public, shall leave it to be estimated by each individual according to the particular measure of understanding, and shall offer no violence to his individuality by any attempt to restrain, or to urge him beyond it.


Here on Welcome to the Interdome, we're trying something new: a curated blog exhibition. There are many blogs that treat themselves as an ongoing exhibition of any number of topics. Welcome to the Interdome largely follows the interests of its author, wherever that may lead. But, for the next series of twenty-or-so posts (in hopefully quick succession) we're going to showcase some various manifestos found around the Internet. They are not comprehensive, not even representative of the full-breath of material that exists. But, they each represent something interesting about the form, and will be accompanied by curated comments. None of the manifestos posted are posted with explicit permission. They are all found published on the web, free for any to read, and links will be provided to the original location. I am showing them out of the original context here, to first analyze the content. Then, one may proceed to the original site to look at other interesting things like host site, format, font, pictures, and other available materials. We invite you to read, and to comment if you like. If you want to or have written your own manifesto, send it along! If it's interesting/funny/different we'll through it up there. If at any time you want to see the full exhibit, click the tag "Manifestos Exhibition", below. That should take you to all the relevant exhibits, that all have the same tag. The preamble to the exhibition can be found here. Enjoy!

No comments: