- William B. Greene (1819-1878) [main page]
The subjection of women has been a prominent topic in the debates of the Labor Reform League from the outset, opinion among its members seeming to be pretty nearly unanimous that it is bot unjust and impolitic to deny them a voice in framing laws they are compelled to obey. One of our most efficient co-adjutors, however, Col. Wm. B. Greene, objects strongly to the way in which the woman suffrage agitation is conducted, and we take the liberty to extract from a private letter the following explanation of his position:
1st. It goes on the ground that the majority has a right to govern the minority, that sovereignty naturally and rightfully inheres in the majority, which I deny. The woman suffrage talk sounds to me like black republicanism run into the ground. Mrs. Livermore tells me, from the platform, that she wants the ballot so that she may be able to stop my wine and tobacco, by legislation, and force me to be virtuous according to her pattern—which is not encouraging to me. I find the majority of the American legal voters too much for me as it is, and am not willing to increase its numbers, power or prestige.
2d. I go for the minority representation and for checks whereby the minority may offer successful resistance to the majority. The Democrats of Massachusetts ought to have one-third of the State representation in Congress, instead of having none at all, for they throw one-third of the votes. The present unjust legislation in Washington would be impossible if the Democratic and other minorities had their full and just proportional representation. As soon as we have proportional representation in the federal, State and municipal governments, that is, as soon as the ballot becomes of a weapon of defense in the hand of minorities, instead of being as it is now, a weapon of injustice and tyranny in the hand of the majority, I am willing that women should also have it; for women need protection as much as men do. When the women vote, I would have both men and women vote in sealed envelopes, with signed votes, so that cheating would be impossible, and would have the voting done through the post office. I think that if some women, say you wife for example, would get out a new programme for the woman-suffrage agitation, connecting it with minority representation, should would make a ten stroke. I think there are many men who, like me, are unwilling to surrender their sovereignty to Mrs. Livermore, would like to see the women vote.
Col. Greene was the originator of the Working Women’s Convention, held in Boston, in April, 1869, the revelations of which produced a profound impression throughout the nation, awakening discussion and inspiring other movements still in progress. We think the Boston school of woman-suffrage advocates deserve the contempt he feels for them, on account of the indifference, not to say patronizing insolence, with which they have treated the righteous claims of the working women.
“Woman’s Suffrage,” The Word 1 no. 1 (May, 1872): 2.
The Blazing Star. We shall print an explanatory communication from the author of this Book, Col. Wm. B. Greene, in our next. Also the translation of a passage from Proudhon which he has kindly furnished us.
The Word 1 no. 3 (July, 1872): 2.
Col. Wm. B. Greene. Jamaica Plain, Mass.
[who will see, by our prospectus, that we are not to be taken as indorsing anybody’s opinions unless we say so.]
“I read ‘The Word’, with great satisfaction, but regretted to see that one writer attributes to you a purpose to dethrone the christian’s God. I was not aware that the Labour Reform League intends to dethrone anybody’s God. When a man sees clearly that the religious prejudices in which he was educated, are mere prejudices and nothing mores some allowance must be made for his virtuous and indignant intolerance of error. But a slight accession of further light ought to make him tolerant of ignorance and prejudice, for he will have to.accept the universe as it is, and the universe contains many things distasteful to most of us. In my opinion infidel bigotry and sectarianism is just as bad as any other bigotry and sectarianism. I hope ‘The Word’ will argue against religious fallacies in a temperate way, and in a spirit of charity and candor, abstaining from contemptuous flings, insulting language and unprovoked slurs.
I am not willing to enter upon a crusade against anybody’s God. I do not think, as Labor Reformers, that we can afford to refuse the support which the cause finds in the proper interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. It has been my lot to attend divine service in the Jewish Synagogue, the Catholic churches and the Mahometan Mosque; and I have never’ found any. difficulty in joining sincerely in the worship. I confess that I entertain an instinctive prejudice against the form, and spirit of the worship of our protestant churches; but I also trust that grace will be given me to effectually conquer that repugnance.”
In regard to the recent strike, in Cincinnati, for 25 per cent increase of wages of the German Tailors Union composed of 132 boss tailors who employ about 1300 women and girls and take work from large clothing houses, Col. Greene pertinently asks, “Is it in the interest of the 1300 tailoresses, or in the interest of the 132 piece-masters?. The ideal dream of many jer-tailors is this: to have fall prices for themselves and to employ -girls at reduced prices, the jer-tailor presenting the product of the women’s labor as his own, and getting full prices for it. A well organized jer-tailor’s shop, with a plenty of girls in it, realises to the jer-tailor the aspiration of “more time”, and enables him to pass leisure moments in drinking lager beer and in playing billiards. Not that I have anything to say against lager beer and billiards; but, if the jer-tailor is to have “more time” he ought to have it as the result of his own exertions, not that of the girls. Is the strike a strike of workingmen against employers, or is it a strike of the employers, flying workingmen’s colours against workingwomen, or is it a true and just movement of workingmen in defence of workingwomen?
William B. Greene, “Correspondence,” The Word 1 no. 3 (July, 1872): 3.
Translated from Proudhon by William B. Greene
Louis Blanc asks himself, What Is the State?
And he answers himself thus:
“The State, under monarchical rule, is the power of one person only, the tyranny of a single man.
“The State, under oligarchical rule, is the power of a few men, the tyranny of certain ones.
“The State, under aristocratic rule, is the power of a class, the tyranny of several persons.
“The State, under anarchical rule is the power of the first comer who happens to be the stronger and more intelligent; it is tyranny in chaos.
“The State, under democratic rule, is the power of the whole people, served by elect delegates: it is the reign of liberty.”
Among Louis Blanc’s twenty-five thousand, or thirty thousand, readers, perhaps there are not ten to whom this definition does not appear to be rigorously demonstrative, and who do not repeat, after the master:—the State is the power of one, of several, of many, of all or of the first comer, according to the qualification of the word State by the adjectives monarchial, oligarchical, aristocratic, democratic, or anarchical.
Louis Blanc’s readers were never, we presume, taught Greek. Otherwise they would know that their friend and leader, Louis Blanc, simply translates the Greek words monos, one; aligoi, certain ones; aristoï, the upper crust; demos, the people; and a, which simply means no. Now mark the artifice! Louis Blanc finds it sufficient, in his translation to employ the word tyranny four times, tyranny of a single person, tyranny of several, etc. and to suppress it once, power of the people served by its elect delegates, to obtain universal applause. Every State that is not democratic is according to Louis Blanc, tyranny. But anarchy is singled out to be treated with special severity; it is the power of the first-comer who happens to be the stronger and more intelligent: it is tyranny in chaos. What an intolerable beast that first-comer must be, who first-comer as he is finds himself to be the strongest and most intelligent, and who exercises his tyranny in chaos! Who, after this, will prefer anarchy to the amiable government of the people, served so well (as we know by painful experience) by its elected delegates? This is triumphant! Here we are, all of us, knocked flat at the first lick! * * * What is the State? The question must be answered.
The State is the exterior constitution of the social power. By this external constitution of its power and sovereignty, the people never governs itself. Sometimes an individual, sometimes several individuals, either by elective or by hereditary title, govern the people, and with such responsibility to the people as we are perfectly aware from our experience. The Greeks called this exterior constitution of the people arche, principality, authority, government. The existence of this arche is logically grounded on the hypothesis that the people—the collective entity that is called society—can neither govern itself, or thing, act, or express itself, from its own spontaneity; that is requires, in order that it may do either of these things, to be represented by one or more individuals, clothed with elective or hereditary authority, who may act as depositories of the power of the people, or as its agents. According to this theory, the collective society is an abstract entity only, without power to manifest itself directly, and which must, in order to render itself efficacious, incarnate itself in a monarchy, in an aristocratic usurpation, or in a democratic mandate.
Now, it is precisely this notion of a collective entity of its life, of its activity, of its unity, of its individuality, of its personality,—do you hear that,—which cause us to repudiate the State, to repudiate the government, to repudiate all incarnation of the popular power, outside the mass, whether hereditary royalties, feudal institutions, or democratic delegations.
We affirm, on the contrary, that the people, that society, that the mass, can and ought to govern itself, and to think, act, rise up, and stand, like a single man, without the instrumentality of any of those appliances which formerly were despotic, which now are aristocratic, and which, from time to time, have been pretended delegates, or representatives, tools or servants of the Crown. These last we simply characterize as agitators of the people, or demagogues,.
In two words:
We repudiate both the government and the State, because we affirm (what no Statesman ever yet believed or affirmed) the spontaneity and self-action of the masses.
We go therefore, for anarchy, which expresses, as it is evident from what has already been said, the highest limit of liberty and order to which humanity can attain. Anarchy the government of the people by itself, without the intervention of kings, aristocrats, or demagogues; self-government is the true formula of the Republic.”—Voix du Peuple, Dec. 3, 1849
P.-J. Proudhon, “The State,” The Word 1 no. 4 (August, 1872): 1-2.
Wm. B. Greene, Jamaica Plain, Mass. “The Blazing Star, the Jewish Kabbala, etc.” has been, so far as I can learn, generally misinterpreted. Let me explain— I wrote a book, which ou republished, in favor of Mutual Money. Now Money is the concrete embodiment, in the region of industrial exchange, of the solidarity. Interpreting: th, principle of solidarity as you and Mr, Warren, and the socialists generally interpret it, I concluded that the. circulating media, as it now exists, is a murderous instrument, by which the few fatally and inevitably (whatever their intentions may be) slaughter the many, by reducing them to poverty, and by condemning them to a straightened mode of life which induces despondency of mind with famine and disease of body. Of course, I wrote my book from the practical, not from the metaphysical point of view. I demonstrated my points by facts taken from the ordinary routine of business, and the demonstration Stands. My book has been now about twenty-five years before the public, four separate editions of it having been printed, and no business man has as yet, to my knowledge, been able to show any fallacy or flaw in the demonstration.
Now for ‘the Blazing Star, etc.’ My attention was called about two years ago, to the so named ‘new philosophy’ of Mr. Herbert Spencer, Mr. Huxley, Mr. John Fiske, and their associates. I saw at once on reading their books, that their ‘philosophy’ is the philosophy of what Josiah Warren calls. ‘civilized: cannibalism.’ What is the ‘Darwinian’ theory,’ as applied to the relations of human society, if it be not the philosophy of cannibalism? If Spencer, Darwin, Mr. Huxley, and the rest, are right we labor reformers are all wrong; our currency doctrine of mutual money is all wrong, and the position of the malthusian plutocracy is unattackable.
I seem to see clearly that Mr-Spencer, Mr. Darwin and the rest, hold absolutely erroneous theories of the human soul. and consequently, absolutely erroneous theories of human solidarity. I therefore, in ‘the Blazing Star etc.,’ go up with them into the seventh heaven of pure metaphysics, and there fight the battle of labor reform, in the thin ether, on the question of the human soul and the question of human solidarity. If Mr. Spencer is right, human society, as it stands, is rightly organized, and requires reform in its details only. If I am right, the existing organization of society is radically wrong. and requires gradual and peaceable evolutionizing and I am happy to say that I have the New Testament clearly on my side. Until my arguments are refuted, I shall continue to believe, as I believe now, that I have inflicted on Spencer and his associates, a Waterloo defeat.
The Boston “Daily Globe” of May 16th, 1872, acknowledges in along and courteous notice of the book, that I have defeated Spencer, but complains of my eccentricities, and says nothing at all of the ‘socialism’ that is embodied in every page of my book. If my intention had been to refute Spencer on the ground that he is innovator, and to vindicate the position of the conservative religious sects, the criticism would be to the point; but as it happens that I attack Spencer, not because he is an innovator, which he is not, but because he is, in my opinion, the most dangerous extant champion of the existing social cannibalism; it also happens that the drift of my purpose is to be found in what the critic calls my eccentricities. “The Golden Age” of May 25 1872, says Mr. G. has written ‘a little book which is also great,’ which I take to be a compliment. He says that the book is ‘able, trenchant and brilliant, but full of the author’s caprices.’ which is, at once, complimentary and the contrary. He says, ‘Though an old stager, the author continually kicks out of the traces like an untamed colt.’ All that I say in defence of the profound metaphysics which underlie the labor reform movement and which are also the metaphysics of John’s Gospel, is obviously regarded as a simple ‘kicking out of the traces.’ The critic concludes by saying, ‘The chairman of the philosophical congress will doubtless decide that Mr. Greene is out of order in every motion he rises to make.’ A malthusian chairman would certainly so decide, but a socialist chairman would give me the floor; and as our side is coming up, the chairman will probably be a social On the whole, I am perfectly contented with the criticisms the book has received; for they are evidently kindly and well-intended. You know as well as I do—perhaps better—that when a man launches a socialistic hook upon a sea of Malthusianism, he ought to be thankful if his book is not immediately swamped, and has no right to complain of-unintentional misinterpretations.”
William B. Greene, “Correspondence,” The Word 1 no. 4 (August, 1872): 3.
Wm. B. Greene, Boston, Mass.: “Please tell me what you mean by ‘the abolition of death;’ what method you propose to take to accomplish your purpose; what persons have taken (or are now taking) stock in the enterprise. I may be able—if made to understand what you are after—to put you on the track of some information of value to your project. How do you propose to go to work to “abolish death?” Are you sure it would be a good thing to have death abolished? I have my doubts.”
William B. Greene, “Correspondence,” The Word 5 no. 1 (May, 1876): 3.