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THE DISTRIBUTIST CASE

TOM ACTON

IN ISSUE 17 Vanguard started a debate on political structures and industrial control with an article 'The Corporate State' by Michael Crahart.

In this issue the case for Distributism is examined and compared with Corporatism.

(The article 'The Corporate State' is also available on this website.)

TWO ALTERNATIVE socio-economic systems that have proved attractive to many Nationalists throughout much of this century have been Corporatism and Distributism, the latter system popularise in the writings of Chesterton and Belloc.

Although in this article I hope to show why I believe that a Nationalist society would be best founded on the principles of Distributism I have no doubt that it will be useful to compare Distributism with other systems, so that any shortcomings within it it can be realised, and hopefully eliminated.

Before comparing Corporatism and Distributism we must first agree on the criteria by which they are to be judged, beyond those relating simply to economic performance.

Firstly a socio-economic system should be inherently nationalistic reinforcing the maintenance of national identity and independence. This point can best be illustrated by considering an opposing creed: Capitalism. There the inherent dynamic of the system – profit maximisation – has inevitably and inexorably led to the development of the global multi-national, which in order to maximise its world-wide profits seeks the progressive elimination of national frontiers and identities as barriers to trade.

Secondly we seek a system which eliminates where possible harmful internal divisions. The divisions of social class, between employer and employee, between 'middle' and working' class in particular should be eliminated.

Thirdly we seek a system which harmonises as much as possible individual self-advancement with the well-being of society as a whole. This is simply an honest facing of the fact that virtually everyone is to some extent motivated to advance their own, and their families, well-being. Essentially what is desirable is an economic system where an individual best helps himself by helping others.

Forthly we must consider the effect a socio-economic system will have on the population. Will it increase the sense of initiative, self-reliance and responsibility amongst the mass of the populace? Something that Capitalism, by reducing most people to wage-slaves doing as they are told in return for a wage packet, singularly fails to do.

Lastly we seek a system which maximises individual liberty, subject to the points above; something that Communism, by its rigid state control over peoples' lives singularly fails to do.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION

In the last Vanguard Michael Crahart gave a clear and succinct description of the Corporate state. As Distributism has been more widely described in National Front publications I shall confine myself to a very brief description of its most salient features.

Firstly, as the name implies, Distributism seeks the widest possible distribution among the population of ownership of property and the means of production. Thus the benefits and responsibilities which, under capitalism accrue to a few are spread among many under Distributism.

Secondly Distributism stands for the principle 'Small is Beautiful'. It seeks the breaking down of large faceless business entities into the smallest possible size consistent with economic viability.

The means by which these goals would be achieved would be by co-operative ownership of industry becoming the norm in a Nationalist economy. The essential feature of this is that it abolishes the distinction between employer and employee – the workers in the firm are its owners and vice versa.

Although Distributism is a form of private enterprise it differs greatly from Capitalism. In Capitalism it is, of course, Capital which owns, controls and takes the profits, 'hiring' labour in return for a wage. In Distributism it is labour that owns, controls and takes the profits, 'hiring' capital in return for interest.

COMPARE SYSTEMS

So let us compare the two systems in the light of the above criteria. Both systems are substantially more nationalistic than any we have at present. For reasons of space and since this point has been covered already in Nationalist literature, I won't attempt to argue this point, or elaborate further on it.

Regarding the elimination of damaging divisions in society, Distributism, I believe, shows itself to be far more radical and advanced in its solutions. As Michael Crahart put it, under Distributism "workers co-operatives make the difference between capital and labour disappear". However there will still be a division between firms competing for markets and profits.

In the Corporate State competition between firms is eliminated by central planning – a National Council determines production and distribution. The division between capital and labour, employee and employer remains, with representatives of both sides meeting in the National Council.

To my mind the biggest single flaw in the Corporate State 'system is that it does not attempt to remove the distinction between employer and employee; instead it effectively constitutionalises the differences, carrying them directly into government itself.

Let's assume that the Corporate State does eliminate inter-firm competition: is this more valuable than the elimination of the distinction between capital and labour that occurs under Distributism?

Surely the deepest scar within British society is that of class conflict, the differences between employer and employee, between capital and labour. In the divisions between shop floor and management real bitterness and animosity have been all too common.

Picket line violence has only been one of the more spectacular manifestations of the damaging depth of class divisions; Distributism would be a major advance; by eliminating the difference between capital and labour one of the major causes of one of the deepest and most damaging divisions in society would be eliminated.

But what harm is done by inter-firm competition? Such competition may be called 'cut-throat' but that's hardly literally true. Does it really hurt society if a manufacturer of ball-bearings in Leeds competes with one in Glasgow, or if a greengrocer at one end of the high street competes with one at the other? Any social damage that may occur is surely less than that caused by class differences.

THIRD CRITERION

The third criterion for assesment is whether or not self-interest and national interest are harmonised. In the Corporate State they simply are not: any manifestation of self interest would be disastrous in a Corporate State. This fact is recognised by advocates of such a system, hence the attacks on 'individualism'.

An assumption on which theories of a Corporate State depend – absolutely crucial to its success but equally unproven – are that when the representatives of bosses and workers meet together they will all act in the best interests of themselves and the section of society they represent.

As Mr Crahart puts it "greed and selfishness" drive capitalists to compete in a free market now: will those self-same be any less greedy in a system of managed capitalism? Competition may simply take other forms – political lobbying and behind-the-scenes wire pulling.

But what of Distributism? The answer would appear to be that an individual's material self-interest is best advanced by his working to increase the profitability of the co-operative he is apart of. Distributism effectively assumes that, subject to a number of specifically Nationalist regulations such as import controls, market pressures will ensure that this can best be done by serving the community at large, by producing the goods it wants to buy.

MARKET ECONOMICS

At this point in an already over-long essay I fear I must make a digression, on the subject of market economics. In the early 1980s the NF first started to distinguish between private enterprise and capitalism. It did not make the distinction between capitalism and free market economics, which are consequently also thought to be identical.

In fact they are not. Take the Soviet Union for example. In the wake of perestroika factories are to be allowed greater freedom to obtain their supplies and to sell their products where they can to their best advantage in competition with other factories.

The factories are owned by the state, which can still hire and fire managers, but the centralised regulation of production and distribution is being lessened. What is arising is that unlikely paradox; free market state socialism, for the essence of a free market system is not private, capitalist ownership but that businesses can buy and sell to their best advantage in competition with other similar enterprises.

The converse is also true. In the corporate state industry may be capitalist owned, but production and distribution may be controlled centrally by the state.

This distinction seems to have been lost on many Nationalists. I have heard some Nationalists fulminating against the 'anarchy of laissez-faire capitalism' which is seen as an equal evil to traditional Soviet-style centralised state planning, without realising that independently trading workers-co-operatives would also form a fundamentally laissez-faire system, since it has never been proposed that those co-operatives should be subjected to centralised state control. The comparison with Corporatism is thus useful in highlighting this effect of Distributism, where Distributists haven't as yet considered all the implications of their own principles.

INCREASE INITIATIVE

The Corporate system is a form of representative industrial democracy: the elected representatives of workers and bosses meet to determine who shall produce what, and where and when.

The Distributive system is a form of participative industrial democracy: the members of the firm themselves must decide how to run itand what to do. They will sink or swim by their own decisions.

For this reason I believe that Distributism better meets our fourth criteria: in terms of its effect on the population I believe it is far more likely to create a sense of self-reliance, initiative and personal responsibility.

LIBERTY

Finally, I believe that Distributism gives the greatest possible degree of individual liberty. In addition to the points already made above it should be remembered that Distributism seeks the elimination of the sectional interests and wealthy power blocs which dominate national life, thereby restoring more real power to an elected parliament - an institution which ought to be the guarantor of every citizen's liberty.

Since individual self-interest represents a major threat to the Corporate State it has, inevitably, looked upon individual freedom as a potential threat - this is surely a weakness. There are good and bad elements in every system, and Corporatism and Distributism incorporate some of both aspects of Capitalism and Socialism.

The worst aspect of Socialism is centralised state planning of production and distribution, which has proven singularly inefficient whenever it has been tried.

The worst aspect of Capitalism is that it maintains a division between employer and employee, which leads to division and bitterness in society.

The Corporate State, I fear, incorporates both these elements within it.

The best aspect of Socialism is that workers do not feel exploited and at the mercy of their employers.

The best aspect of capitalism is that decision-making is decentralised to individual enterprises, prompting innovation and rapid change to altering economic circumstances.

The Distributist State, I hope, incorporates both these elements within it.