Labor is the unavoidable condition of life; to toil for existence an unchangeable law of nature. From the smallest microscopic insect to the largest globe that is forever rushing through boundless space, every atom is active; every creature struggling, toiling, battling for life; millions upon millions of individuals bound together, forming one great whole, and mutually dependent on each other.
Whether life is worth living or not, makes no difference; the ever-dominant power that we call instinct, impels us to strive; repels us from extinction; we blindly obey. We are weary in mind and body, we suffer only: nevertheless we employ the proper means to go on existing. "Would that I were dead!" exclaims some unhappy wretch; but propose to send him forth into the great unknown, and see how he shrinks back from the dark abyss when the actual minute of yielding up his existence arrives Happy or miserable, we cling to life.
Suicides do not disprove this, for they take their lives—except in very rare cases—while suffering from temporary insanity.
Work, we must; and we become more and more the slaves of labor as civilization increases and fictitious wants are created.
The unequal distribution of wealth, that causes such bitterness of spirit and fierce struggles between capital and labor, is the natural result of a complicated social system; nor is it easy to suggest an effective, lasting remedy; for we are inclined to think that even the most earnest socialist would be unwilling to renounce his right to amass property. Furthermore, if the goods of the earth were equally divided to-day, within a year matters would be about as they are now; for some would hoard, others squander, and the more venturesome would speculate, thus largely increasing their wealth, or losing it all.
Beyond a question it is piteous to see a thinly clad woman, barefooted, blue with cold, clasping a famished babe to the breast that quivers with suppressed sobs—with grief for the hapless little one who can find there no warmth or nourishment: while a luxurious carriage rolls by, the gouty epicure within too ill-humored to take the trouble of throwing a penny to his starving fellow-creature, who, with beseeching eyes, implores his aid, as the snow-flakes flutter down upon her ragged garments.
But look! in the snow, at that woman's feet, hopping hither and thither on the whitened ground, some poor little sparrows eagerly seek a crumb. They too are cold and hungry; their tiny limbs are almost stiff. Now, one more lucky than the rest, finds a piece of bread; the others approach, but number one hotly defends his own; will share the morsel only with his mate.
On the other side of the street a fat dog has just found a bone. A wretched half-starved cur ventures near to plead for a share. Does he get it?
Alas! we are but human animals.
Centuries ago, the people of America had a system of communism that we to-day would not tolerate—no! not even those who declaim against capitalists, while in their heart of hearts they hope to one day have a capital of their own.
The Peruvians in South, the Mayas in Central America, were then the two most civilized nations on this continent; both were communists, though the difference between them was great; for while under the rule of the Incas the system was compulsory, the Mayas adopted this mode of life from inclination, being as absolutely free from greed of wealth as are their unfortunate and degraded descendants.
The Incas ordained that one-third of the land should be dedicated to the sun; that is to say, to the maintainance of the temples and priesthood. One-third was for all government expenses, public works, etc.; including the support of the royal family, of the army, and to fill the public granaries kept for cases of emergency. The remaining third of the land was divided among the people in equal shares: none could by any means whatsoever augment his property. A topo of land was granted to every male child, half a topo to every female, one topo and a half being considered sufficient for the support of a man and wife. Marriage was obligatory at a certain age; and as a topo or half topo was added to the property at the birth of each child, an increase of family did not make parents dread poverty for their offspring. Once every year additional land was bestowed upon those having a right to it. At the death of any individual, child or adult, the property reverted to the commonwealth. There were no capitalists, no monopolies; consequently no great enterprises except those undertaken by the government—and they were many—the costs being defrayed by the public treasury. Nor was any one ever distressed by want.
The cultivation of the soil was likewise regulated. Agriculture was held in high esteem by the Peruvians. The Inca himself, at a festival held in the month of November, publicly tilled the ground with a golden plow to set a good example, and the labors of the husbandman were always facilitated in every possible way.
The first land to be tilled and planted was that of the sun, or, in other words, that of the church; all took part in the labor. After that they prepared the soil and sowed the seed on such ground as belonged to the aged, infirm, widows, young orphans and soldiers in service; their wives being considered as needing the same assistance as widows: women did not work in the fields; perhaps for this reason the women's allotment of land was less than that of the man.
No one had a right to attend to his own interests until the land of all the helpless people was sown with seed. The Inca Huayna ordered a man to be hanged because he dared to till the land of one of his relations, who was well and strong, while the work for the infirm was yet unfinished; the gallows was erected on the very spot where the man had been found working. Charity was not merely regarded as a virtue to be honored but as a paramount duty.
This service having been performed for the helpless, each prepared the land assigned to himself, his wife and children; if a large family made the work too much for one man, it was obligatory for his neighbors to aid him. The lands belonging to the government were attended to last.
Thus we see that beyond a limited extent individual liberty did not exist. Nevertheless, those people were very happy; no wretched beggars dragged their loathsome rags and filth through the streets, disfiguring the highway, filling every sympathetic heart with sorrow.
That system extended throughout a population of millions, every matter being regulated with the greatest nicety. For each ten men there was one who had to look after their conduct and interests; these officers reported to others who overlooked one hundred individuals. They in turn gave a full account of everything to higher officials; and so on up to the Inca, the child of the sun, the father of the people.
The Mayas were no less charitable than the Peruvians. Not content with giving assistance when requested, they searched their towns and villages to find the maimed and infirm; providing them with all the necessaries of life. At the time of the Spanish conquest the land was common property; all worked together to cultivate it, dividing the product equally, after presenting a part to their caciques. They never thought of cheating each other.
They had netted purses, and in the markets treated of everything that was in the land. They gave credit, lent and paid without interest. Written bonds were not in use among them, for none dreamed of breaking their word.
Fifty or a hundred would go hunting or fishing; instead of each appropriating his own game it was equally divided among all at the end of the day. There was such a universal brotherhood among those people that when one went traveling he was welcome in every house, sheltered and fed as a matter of course, nobody thinking of asking or accepting payment. To-day, their descendants, though very poor, are some of the most hospitable people on the face of the earth. Even yet, although entirely in the power of the white man, constantly laboring for exacting masters, they help each other and share equally as far as it lies in their power. If fire destroys an Indian's hut, his home, dear to his heart and as great a loss as a palace can be to a prince, all his neighbors make time to help him get together the necessary materials to build a new home; gladly sheltering him and his family meanwhile; with never a thought of reward. They love to hunt, and, when they have a chance, go to the woods in large parties for that purpose, always sharing the game equally.
In our civilized communities such an unselfish, disinterested condition of life is quite out of the question. Our race is in a stage of development that makes a similar state of things impossible. Ego is now the all-absorbing subject; the foremost in every thought and deed. Until we succeed in moderating our selfishness there will always be millionaires and beggars; with periodical uprisings of the enraged masses, who, in their assault on capital, do about as much harm to the rich man as a butterfly's delicate wings could inflict upon a stone wall: the wings are bruised and weakened; the wall is unaltered. Only when men cease to love money will mankind be well off, and that time is not near at hand.
- Published in "Home Journal."