JANUARY 01, 1977 by HARRY LEE SMITH
Mr. Smith is a businessman in California.
No epithet seems more satisfying to socialists than the word "reactionary." It is applied without restraint to those who espouse capitalism, free enterprise, or "rugged" individualism.
The dictionary defines a reactionary as one who advocates:
1. An opposing action, force, or influence, and
2. A movement back in time to a former or less advanced condition.
In this century we are experiencing a reaction against the world’s first successful private property system. This capitalistic private property order is in contrast to the old public property order in which all land or real estate was owned by ruling classes. Since land and its products provide the sustenance for survival, control over property means control over men. The public ownership of land and the public control of property has been essential to the maintenance of ruling classes. These tiny but powerful elites produced nothing and lived by taxing their vassals. They bound their subjects to the soil in order to keep them from challenging the wealth, political power, and social prestige of the nobility.
Only during the past two hundred years has a private property order found wide acceptance. The convention under this system allows individuals to acquire property non-coercively and dispose of it in peaceful trade. Governments supposedly have been instituted to protect this right.
In the United States during the nineteenth century it was national policy to transfer as much land as possible to the private sector. Today, about sixty per cent of the land is privately held. But the process is reversing and there are powerful forces at work trying to establish a public property order once again. This reaction is gaining strength despite the incredible success of the private property system in emancipating the peasants. During the past two hundred years the process has transformed a third of the world into developed or rich nations in which most of the population live better than the former ruling classes. Under former regimes the civilized world remained in virtual economic stagnation for 10,000 years.
The public property system is a primitive institution commencing with tribalism and persisting through medieval feudalism. The American Indian, for instance, had no concept of private land ownership.
The twentieth century reaction against capitalism has been the most violent upheaval in history. We live in the bloodiest century the world has ever known.
World War I was a last ditch stand of the old public property order in which four leading dynasties lost their power and lands—the Hapsburgs, the Hohenzollerns, the Romanovs, and the Osmanlis. World War II saw the reaction against economic individualism of both old and new public property orders—the old represented by Japanese warlords, and the new by fascists. Fascism is a form of socialism which permits a private property system to exist under state control. It is a first step back toward a public property order. This accounts for the close alliance between Stalin and Hitler in the early days of World War II. Strictly speaking, the United States has become increasingly fascist since the New Deal.
Finally the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts represent reactions against emerging capitalism by the new public property order composed of communists and socialists. Probably the most devastating reaction against private property has taken the form of internal persecutions in the Soviet Union and in The People’s Republic of China.
In China and in Russia the archaic public property order persists. The populace is bound to the soil of their homeland. They may not leave under penalty of death. Communist regimes perpetuate themselves after usurping power coercively. In communist countries tiny ruling elites, which produce nothing, live by taxing the peasants. The ardor with which they claim their actions benefit the populace is only met by similar claims of former monarchs. So what has changed? The old and the new public property orders have only changed faces and names. The kings and the commissars are hard to tell apart.
By dictionary definition the true reactionaries of this century are the socialists and communists. It is the socialists who advocate an opposing action to the capitalism which has emancipated the peasants for the first time in history. It is the socialists who advocate a return in time to a less advanced public property system such as that which held the masses in egalitarian squalor and serfdom for thousands of years. The huge slave states of China and Russia have all the basic coercive institutions of discredited ruling elites of the past. The socialists are the reactionaries who have inherited archaic elitist attitudes. It’s time we set the record straight.