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Distributism in Eastern Europe

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de Ovidiu Hurduzeu

The newly-formed Romanian Distributist League “Ion Mihalache” marks a first victory for Distributism in Romania. It should come as no surprise that Distributism is being touted as the best vehicle for radical change in this post-communist country.

In the post-World I period, Distributism found concrete success in Central and Eastern Europe. When the peasant parties came to power, they embarked on the implementation of a radical, distributist-oriented program which drew high praise from G.K. Chesterton. In his “Introduction” to Helen Douglas-Irvine’s book, The Making of Rural Europe (1923), G.K. Chesterton writes:

“[Throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans] in a sort of awful silence the peasantries have fought one vast and voiceless pitched battle with Bolshevism and its twin brother, which is Big Business, and the peasantries have won… It is a huge historical hinge and turning point, like the conversion of Constantine or the French Revolution… What has happened in Europe since the war was a vast victory for the peasant, and therefore a vast defeat for the communists and the capitalists.”

After the World War, Eastern European countries, except Hungary, adopted democratic institutions and enfranchised the peasant both politically (by the universal vote) and economically (by the land reform). “Peasant parties,” writes George D. Jackson, Jr., “having been suddenly thrust to the pinnacle of power by the new electoral laws professed their devotion to democracy, anti-Bolshevism, and significant social and economic reforms.” It was a period of hope and enthusiasm. The “vast victory for the peasant” came at a time when new national states in Eastern Europe were created. After 1918, Romania also rejoiced national statehood as she came to include all provinces with an ethnic Romanian majority. Peasants had no accumulated grievances against their governments and stayed immune to the Bolshevik internationalist propaganda (In Romania, for instance, the National Peasant Party vehemently rejected a Comintern-inspired “single great union of workers’ and peasants’ republic in the Balkans”).

“The vast victory for the peasant” was short-lived; by the end of the thirties, the agrarian regimes were ended by dictatorship. “The hue and cry was ever against the Bolshevik wolves,” writes David Mitrany, ”but it was the peasant shepherds who got murdered, like Stamboliski and Radic, or imprisoned and ostracized, like Witos and Maniu and a host of their followers. In one country after another, the peasant groups were in this way cheated out of their legitimate claim to power.” Alone, the Czechoslovak Agrarian Party stayed in power, in coalition with others, until 1938. And yet “the peasantist movements remained the highest and most authentic expression of both popular and intelligentsia aspirations in the interwar period.”

In the United States, most analyses of Eastern European agrarianism were made during the Cold War era within East European or Soviet studies. They tend to regard it as a reactionary ideology based on a peasant mystique, anti-industrialism and anti-modernity and placed it in a secondary position to the rise and development of communism in Eastern Europe. Only lately, a connection has been made between Distributism and the Eastern Europe’s agrarianism. Credit must be given to social historian Allan C. Carlson and the Distributist economist John Médaille for challenging the old views and firmly connecting the agrarian project in Eastern Europe to the aims and principles of Distributism.

The central agrarian concept, directly related to Distributism, refers to the family as the most basic unit of production and consumption in society. The agrarian economists and ideologues drew heavily on Alexander Vasilevich Chayanov’s theory of natural family economy. A victim of Stalin’s goulag, the Soviet economist exposed how both neoclassical and Marxist theory largely ignored the non-wage “family labor farm” and the peasant mode of production. In the peasant “natural economy”, argues Chayanov, the unit of production is also the unit of consumption; wages play no role, profits are not maximized, nor is “marginal utility” recognized. The peasant is interested in the use-value of a product (fulfillment of the family consumption needs) which takes over profit and market value. It is the size of its capital base and of its land area that dictates the economic development of the capitalist farm; it is the age and numbers of family members, the drudgery of labor (the degree of self-exploitation ), the tools, the weather and market conditions that are the main limiting conditions of the economic activity  on a peasant farm.

Like the distributists, the Eastern European agrarians viewed their doctrine and practice as aThird Way, neither capitalist nor socialist. They shared the Distributist antagonism to Big Business, Big Finance, trusts, cartels and the unlimited accumulation of wealth. They were ahead of their time when they  advocated sustainable industrialization–industries to be scattered widely in smaller units across the land—and rejected large-scale heavy industries, depending on the interests of foreign investors and the mercantilist national state. Virgil Madgearu, a Romanian economist and the main theorist of  the Peasant Party, explained that the peasant parties in Eastern Europe were not opposed to industrial development as such: “If there is not in peasantism an inherent tendency against industrial development, it is on the other hand against protectionism, the breeder of hothouses industries, of trusts and cartels.”

In line with the Distributist view, the agrarians in Eastern Europe believed that humans became free and independent through well-distributed productive property, that is, through ownership and work. Concentration of property and power in the hands of a few was considered degrading to human dignity and disruptive to the social order; it ran against the peasant’s democratic nature–agrarians considered the peasant a “democrat by nature”–and against the peasants’ compelling desire for a sane and stable social order. The keen desire for social stability made the agrarians resist violent changes and revolutionary trends and turned them, in most cases, into pacifists.

Eastern European agrarians were not much less anti-statist than the distributists. They placed emphasis on decentralization, local-self government and the idea of building a state from the bottom up. The agrarians viewed occupational organizations and cooperatives as ideal vehicles, both in securing social stability and organizing the economy of peasant farming. They believed cooperative principles, private property, responsibility towards the community and cooperation in voluntary associations, were valid for all of society. Most  programs of the peasant parties demanded that workers should share in the ownership of factories and own their homes.

The prospects of a Distributist order in Central and Eastern Europe were brutally destroyed by communism. Communist rule embodied what the agrarians hated most: giantism, dictatorship, slavery, violence, no God. In Romania, the members of the National Peasant Party were persecuted, murdered or condemned to many years in prison. In 1990, after the fall of communism, The National Peasant Party rose from the ashes and, under the name of Christian-Democratic National Peasant’s Party, it was again in power between 1996-2000. Unfortunately, the new Party was a shadow of its former self. Infiltrated by opportunists and agents of a revamped “Securitate” (the Communist secret police), poorly run by unworthy leaders, the CDNP embarked on a  self-destructive path. Today it is a minor party, split in several quarreling factions; it has no future whatsoever in Romanian politics.

And yet, the longing for the Distributist order envisaged by the agrarians in the inter-war period is more alive than ever among the Romanians. John Médaille’s visit to Romania and the publication, in that country, of an anthology of Distributist texts, edited by John Médaille and myself, made a breach in the wall of false beliefs and justifications. Many Romanians now realize there is life beyond neo-liberalism, globalism, consumerism, and other delusional “isms” recklessly imported to their country after 1990. Distributism opened their eyes to alternatives they did not even dare to imagine.

Today, if Distributism is to be successful in Romania, and hopefully in other Eastern Orthodox countries, it has to take a somewhat different path from both today’s neo-distributism in the West and the agrarianism of the past. First of all, it has to be rooted in the Orthodox tradition and envisage the world, neither in individualistic nor collectivistic, but personalist terms. Only grounded in the anthropological model of a dialogical personalism can Distributism become an active force in reforming Eastern European societies.

In Eastern Christianity, the unity of Christ with Church follows the model of personal unity of the Holy Trinity. Dumitru Stăniloae, a most distinguished Orthodox theologian, calls the Church a ‘pluripersonal symphony’: a multitude of instruments with particular patterns of notes combined to create a unity which is ever so much richer for its multiplicity. Each person plays his notes, but all is conducted, coordinated, unified under the direction of Christ. Being made in the image of God, the Trinity, each person realizes his true nature through mutual life; each person is autonomous and unique and yet he is not able to have life except in community with others.

“The community of persons” is spelt out in terms of “sobornicity”: Sobornicity  (from the Slavic sobornaya, which means both “universal” and “conciliar”), writes Dumitru Stăniloae, “is not unity pure and simple: it is a certain kind of unity. There is the unity of a whole in which the constitutive parts are not distinct, or the unity of a group which is kept together by an exterior command, or formed into a union of uniform entities existing side by side. Sobornicity is none of these. It is distinguished from an undifferentiated unity by being of a special kind, the unity of communion. The unity of communion is the sole unity which does not subordinate one person to another, or in which the institution is not conceived as something external to or superior to or repressive of the persons involved.”

Cititi articolul integral pe The Distributist Review.

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G. K. Chesterton – Citate (despre capitalism, big business, democrație, credință)

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“Prea mult capitalism nu înseamnă prea mulţi capitalişti, ci prea puţini capitalişti.”

“Există mai puţine diferenţe decât se crede între sistemul socialist ideal, în care marile întreprinderi sunt controlate de stat, şi sistemul capitalist actual, în care statul este controlat de marile corporaţii. Cele două sisteme sunt mult mai apropiate unul de celălalt decât de modelul distributist – însemnând spargerea marilor companii într-o multitudine de afaceri mici, independente.”

„Odată ce a fost înlăturat Dumnezeu, guvernul devine dumnezeu”.

“Big Business şi socialismul de stat sunt două sisteme foarte smilare.”

“Prețul este capricios şi fluctuant, în timp ce valoarea este intrinsecă şi indestructibilă.”

“Un distributism ideal este doar improbabil. Chiar şi un comunsm ideal este doar imposibil. Dar un capitalism ideal este de neconceput.”

„Societatea noastră este atât de nefiresc alcătuită încât un om normal nici nu se poate gândi la cât de firească este preocuparea de a avea grijă de proprietatea sa. Când alege o meserie, alege una dintre miile de meserii care presupun a se îngriji de proprietatea altor oameni.”

“Marea corporație nu se remarcă deloc prin eficiență. Este doar prea mare pentru a fi criticată pentru ineficiența ei.”

“Orice om care nu are o inimă de piatră trebuie să fie copleşit de milă față de dilema chinuitoare în care se află omul bogat, care trebuie să-l menţină pe cel sărac suficient de rezistent ca să poată munci şi destul de slab că să fie nevoit să muncească pentru el.”

„Capitalismul devine contradictoriu de îndată ce ajunge la o dezvoltare completă. Aceasta, deoarece îi sunt proprii două moduri simultan opuse de a se raporta la masa de oameni. Când cei mai mulţi oameni sunt salariaţi, este din ce în ce mai dificil pentru ei să fie şi cumpărători. Capitalistul încearcă să limiteze mereu cererile sclavilor lui şi, astfel, să diminueze capacitatea acestora de a cheltui. Îşi doreşte ca acelaşi om să fie bogat şi sărac în acelaşi timp.“

“Capitalismul poate fi definit în general astfel: «Acea situație economică în care o clasă destul de restrânsă de capitaliști, relativ ușor de recunoscut, ajung să concentreze în mâinile lor o cantitate suficient de mare de capital pentru a forța o majoritate cât mai largă de cetățeni să își vândă munca pentru un salariu oferit de capitaliști.”

“Capitalismul modern este o năpastă – nu fiindcă anumiți oameni dețin capital, ci pentru că o mare parte dintre ei nu îl dețin. Un oraș modern poate deveni un loc al disperării – nu pentru că locuințele lui aparțin celor care stau în ele, ci pentru că oamenii nu sunt, în realitate, proprietarii caselor în care trăiesc. Acesta este argumentul real împotriva capitalismului modern; dar și împotriva colectivismului moden sau a socialismului, care s-a născut din acesta.”

“Cămătăria a existat într-o formă restrânsă (în Evul Mediu) și a fost pretutindeni denunțată și interzisă. Acum această îndeletnicire nu mai are limite și e pretutindeni lăudată și acceptată.”

“Creștinătatea nu a pus doar bazele dreptul cutumiar, în folosul nostru ca oameni liberi; ea a întemeiat și o ordine bazată pe folosirea pământurilor obștești, care acum nu mai există; ea a stabilit legile care sancționau cămătăria și monopolul, care nu permiteau subcotarea prețurilor [practicată de către marile companii monopoliste] și care împiedicau formarea conspirațiilor comerciale, legi care au fost de atunci eliminate; de asemenea, a înființat breslele care îi protejau pe micii comercianți, însă acestea au disparut.”

Să facem o analiză lucidă a situației noastre, ca și cum ne-am afla înaintea unei spovedanii, pentru a vedea dacă poate fi numită cu adevărat «democrație» neorânduiala pe care au produs-o războiul dintre sărăcie și bogăție, sclavia salarială, influența mondială de care se bucură deținătorii marelui capital, care ajung, în aceste vremuri, să impună curentul dominant și să formeze opinia publică.”

“Aș acorda unei femei nu mai multe drepturi, ci mai multe privilegii. Astfel, în loc de a o trimite să caute acel tip de a «libertate» pe care-l oferă munca în bănci şi în fabrici, aş proiecta special pentru ea o casă în care să poată fi liberă.”

„Întreaga lume modernă s-a împărţit în două categorii: conservatorii şi progresiştii. Treaba progresiştilor este de a persista în a comite erori. Ocupaţia conservatorilor este de a nu lăsa ca aceste erori să fie corectate.”

“Corporația, mai ales marea corporaţie, este astăzi organizată asemeni unei armate. Este, cum ar spune unii, un fel de militarism moderat fără vărsare de sânge; cum aş spune eu, un militarism căruia îi lipsesc virtuţile militare.”

“Ceea ce e mort se lasă dus de curent, doar ceea ce este viu poate merge împotriva curentului.”

“Minciunile nu încetează sa fie minciuni doar pentru că ajung o modă.”

“A avea dreptul să faci ceva nu este totuna cu a avea dreptate să faci acel lucru”.

“Daca nu ar există Dumnezeu, nu ar există nici atei.”

“Există un tip de oameni care dispreţuiesc creştinismul şi îşi maschează dispreţul sub masca unei iubiri care îmbrăţişează toate religiile.”

Traducere: Irina Bazon

Surse: Gilbert Magazine, November-December 2010, volume 14 / number 2-3, revista publicata de American Chesterton Society;

Quotations of G. K. Chesterton

Linkuri similare: Hilaire Belloc: despre statul servil, comunism și statul proprietarilor

Quotations of G. K. Chesterton

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Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God.”

“Big Business and State Socialism are very much alike, especially Big Business.”  “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.

“Price is a crazy and incalculable thing, while Value is an intrinsic and indestructible thing.”

“Business, especially big business, is now organized like an army. It is, as some would say, a sort of mild militarism without bloodshed; as I say, a militarism without the military virtues.”

“All but the hard hearted man must be torn with pity for this pathetic dilemma of the rich man, who has to keep the poor man just stout enough to do the work and just thin enough to have to do it.”

Our society is so abnormal that the normal man never dreams of having the normal occupation of looking after his own property. When he chooses a trade, he chooses one of the ten thousand trades that involve looking after other people’s property.

“I would give a woman not more rights, but more privileges. Instead of sending her to seek such freedom as notoriously prevails in banks and factories, I would design specially a house in which she can be free.”

“It is hard to make government representative when it is also remote.”

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”

“Without authority there is no liberty. Freedom is doomed to destruction at every turn, unless there is a recognized right to freedom. And if there are rights, there is an authority to which we appeal for them.”

“Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.”

“The modern city is ugly not because it is a city but because it is not enough of a city, because it is a jungle, because it is confused and anarchic, and surging with selfish and materialistic energies.”
“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” – Where All Roads Lead, 1922

“There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.”
“Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.”

“Women have a thirst for order and beauty as for something physical; there is a strange female power of hating ugliness and waste as good men can only hate sin and bad men virtue.”
“The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice.”

“Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.”

All the exaggerations are right, if they exaggerate the right thing.

Quotations of G. K. Chesterton

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