Saturday, 11 December 2021

Small and Local is Better

According to an article in The Tablet this week, small, independent local shops are doing well . Former daily commuters, finding themselves with more time on their hands, have started to explore high streets and local farm shops. As more return to their offices, it seems they are continuing to favour local shops.

"It might be a bit of a faff to queue to place an order for a goose or turkey at the local butcher, then to stroll to the greengrocer for the sprouts, turnips and potatoes, but the food will generally be better" and the whole experience is better than using the supermarket. There would seem to be signs of an intriguing new normal, more in line with that envisaged by the guild socialists a century ago. Then, as now, small businesses run by local people to give service to local customers seemed infinitely preferable to dead end jobs in factories and offices (the 'bullshit jobs' of today).

As people were picking up the pieces following the shocks of World War I and the Spanish 'flu, many turned to the works of 19th and early 20th century Guild Socialist thinkers, including John Ruskin, William Morris, Thortsien Veblen, Arthur Penty, distributists such as GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc, and the Arts and Crafts movement as a whole. When Dorothy Day (of the Catholic Worker movement) writes disparagingly of the desire to obtain a weekly wage (see Blog for 10 December 21 on Security), she is referring to Peter Maurin's teachings on the works of these writers. The blend of theory and practice offered by guild socialist thinkers has been put into practice in some places, but the dead hand of corporate world finance has been allowed to dominate all three spheres of the social order, providing an illusion of security as it destroys the natural and human world upon which it remains dependent.

The guild socialists coined the term 'wage slavery' to denote the sale of one's time to an employer in return for the money to house, clothe and feed oneself, and raise children to be workers in their turn. For guild socialists, the better option was a network of small business, especially farms, run by and for the local communities, operated by all and run for the benefit of all. Subsequent experiments in 'worker control' such as Mondragon, have floundered because they were merely operating within the corporate capitalist financial system, the workers having good pay and working conditions, and receiving a financial share of the profits, but operating under the moral premises of capitalism. This is an area very much in need of research, study and in-depth discussion - at local level, by local people - with a view to establishing practical alternatives to building up poverty amidst plenty and wrecking the natural world as we do it.

The work of Rudolf Steiner presents some clues. His fundamental social law begins to make sense within the Guild Socialist context.

"Now, the main social law set forth by the science of spirit, is the following: 'The well-being of a total community of human beings working together becomes greater the less the individual demands the products of his achievements for himself, that is, the more of these products he passes on to his fellow workers and the more his own needs are not satisfied out of his own achievements, but out of the achievements of others.' All the conditions within a total community of people which contradict this law must sooner or later produce misery and distress somewhere. This law holds good for social life with absolute necessity and without any exceptions, just as a natural law holds good for a particular sphere of natural processes. But it should not be thought that it is sufficient for this law to be held as a universal moral law, or that it should be translated into the attitude that everyone should work in the service of his fellow men. No, in actual fact the law will be able to exist as it should only if a total community of people succeeds in creating conditions where no one ever can claim the fruits of his own work for himself, but where, if at all possible, these go entirely to the benefit of the community. And he in turn must be maintained by means of the work of his fellow human beings. The important thing is to see that working for one’s fellow human beings and aiming at a particular income are two quite separate things." (See Ilya Zilberberg "The Genesis and Understanding of the Threefold Social Order", New View, Issue 73, Autumn 2014.)

As Zilbergerg explains, every individual has a series of basic needs that must be satisfied. Hence we have to examine more closely both the needs themselves and the body social from which their satisfaction comes. Basically, the numerous and diverse individual human needs fall, by their very nature, into three distinct categories. Now the satisfaction of these three categories of needs comes, respectively, from three different sources, which constitute three distinct spheres of the body social – the economic sphere (the production, distribution and consumption of commodities), the cultural sphere (education, science, art, religion, etc.) and the legal-judicial sphere (the province of legislature, government and politics).

Every single human being living on the planet remains utterly dependent upon everybody else. Hence we are obliged, of necessity, to play a responsible part in all three aspects of the threefold social order. And that means moving beyond the child-like dependence upon the technological, increasingly transhumanist Brave New World that is being imposed upon us. It is now necessary to consciously train ourselves, as adults, to draw upon our common birthright of the universal cultural heritage of humanity. And the only place for that to be done is locally, on a small scale, following the logic and the model of the Catholic Worker movement.


  1. I am surprised that " Subsequent experiments in 'worker control' such as Mondragon, have floundered ". What is meant exactly by that, given that it has survived 2020 and that policies around worker control have not changed. Or have they?

    1. Yes, Mondragon has been highly successful, operating as it does within the terms and conditions of capitalism. But it has not succeeded in replacing capitalism, as Robert Owen and Rudolf Steiner envisaged. Much to discuss here!