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in HiStory and in Modern Times

By
DR. WALTER JOHANNES STEIN
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY
G. S. FRANCIS
1932
ANTHROPOSOPHICAL PUBLISHING CO.,
LONDON
LABOUR
in Hisrory and in Modern Times
W
ITHIN the framework of any general solution of the
social problem as it is to-day, the solution of the labour
question is of particular urgency. It is a question of
finding the way to make it possible for every human being to
obtain the work that is best suited to his or her personal faculties.
Work is fundamentally a holy thing inasmuch as it is intimately
bound up with the innermost core of the nature and being of
man. Whether we feel ourselves occupied within the social
order in a manner worthy of human dignity and respect or not,
depends upon whether we are engaged in work that is suited
to us. The will to work is fundamentally rooted in the innermost
kernel of human nature. Those who believe that human beings
must be compelled or forced to work, completely misunderstand
the nature of man. It is true that in many tongues the meaning
of the word ' work ' is synonymous with that of ' toil.' In middle
high German, for example, 'work' (arebeit) is classed with
such words as 'necessity,' 'affiiction,' 'toil,' but in a certain
South German dialect it is quite different, for in the Swabian
dialect they say 'schaffen' (to create) for ' arbeiten' (to work).
This expression, in which the creative aspect of work is
emphasised, conveys a sense of the joy of work. There is no
doubt at all that the cultural consciousness of a people comes
to expression in their attitude to work. Furthermore there is
always something noble about work when the creative urge in
the individual can be poured into it.
Karl Bucher, the author of the interesting book, Rhythmus
und Arbeit, shows very clearly that once upon a time merry
rhythms and songs were fundamentally associated with work.
The survival of working songs from older and freer times and
the use of sea chanties in the old sailing ships are familiar examples
of this. Singing and working are intimately associated with
each other. The whole being of a man ought to vibrate in unison
with his work.
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But still more must be taken into consideration. The
cosmos itself is expressed in work. The cosmos is at work
in the pulsation of the blood and in the rhythm of breathing,
for the rhythm of breathing and the regular beat of the pulse
are but expressions, in miniature, of mighty cosmic rhythms.
There is a balance between all work, all activity of the limbs
and breathing, while the very functioning of the senses and the
spiritual activity of . thinking are but a subtler, more delicate
form of breathing. Anyone who desires to understand the
physiological basis of work must begin by studying the rhythms
of breathing and pulsation of the blood.
In the normal way we breathe 18 times a minute, during
which period the pulse registers 72 beats; that is to say, our
pulse beats four times during each breath we take. This
relationship of I to 4 is, however, a cosmic relationship.. We
draw our breath 25,920 times in a day and this number
multiplied by 4, giving the number 103,680, represents the daily
number of heart beats. These are cosmic numbers. The
rhythm of the precession of the equinox and the rhythms of the
apogee and perigee correspond to these numbers. The spring
equinox, i.e., the point at which the sun rises on the 21st of
March, travels backwards around the entire Zodiac in a period
of 25,920 years. At a pace four times more slowly, this point
completes the movement which determines the apogee and
perigee and thus regulates the course of the cosmic year-
whose winter we recognise in the Glacial Period or Ice Age.
The latter movement regulates the rhythm of the great geological
periods ; the former regulates the course of the successive
civilisations or culture-epochs, for one-twelfth of 25,920 is 2,160
and each culture-epoch lasts for 2,160 years. The period during
which the vernal equinox fell in one and the same sign of the
Zodiac was always regarded by the ancient world as marking
the duration of an era. According to this calculation, the
Founding of Rome in 747 B.C. by Fabius Pictor was fixed, and,
in general, all the chronology of the ancient world. The error
in taking the year 753 B.C. as the date for the Founding of Rome
led scholars of the Middle Ages to place the date of the birth of
Christ in the year 6 B.C.
Our pulse and our breathing work in a cosmic rhythm,
in respect to which one day represents, in the one case, the
evolution of a geological period and, in the other, of a culture-
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LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
epoch. Because it derives its own rhythm from this lofty source,
we must learn to realise that there i'> something holy in work,
something divinely ordained. Work is the rhythmic balancing
of spiritual and material processes.
In olden days song was the perfectly natural accompaniment
of work-song founded on the rhythm of metrical speech. But
verse itself has its origin, as Rudolf Steiner has shown, in the
relationship of the rhythms of blood and breathing. Thus, for
example, the Greek hexameter is based on the rhythm of 1 to 4.
The hexameter has one pause in the middle of the line and
another at the end. If we count these pauses which are equal
to one foot in duration, also as feet, then it is clear that the
hexameter consists, not of six feet, but of eight ; twice four feet
gives a hexameter. This corresponds to two indrawn breaths
and 2 x 4 pulse-beats. Therefore we see that this ancient
measure of verse is derived from the harmonic relationship of
blood and breath.
It is not the same with German or English verse, both of
which are based on the inter-activity of head and limbs. German
and English verse are constructed on the basis of the literal
meaning of words and the rhythm of the marching step. The
placing of the accent is quite different from that of ancient
verse. The ancients shaped their verse and performed their
work out of the qualities of the middle or rhythmic system, out
of the rhythms of blood and breathing. The man of to-day,
torn asunder, as it were, into the polarities of intellect and will,
has to strive for the harmonious mean which was perfectly
natural to ancient humanity. He shapes his poetry and performs
his work out of the polar opposites of head and limbs.
Thus in every age and among every people the nature of
work is different, for each time-period develops some element
quite specific to itself, something which is definitely directed
either to the cosmos or to the earth. Each nati.on has also its
own characteristic mode of song and consequently its own
rhythm of work. A fine example of this is provided by the
Finnish people in their national epic, the Kalevala, which
contains the following passage :
" Dearest friend and much loved brother,
Best beloved of companions,
Come and let us sing together,
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LABOUR IN IDSTORY AND IN . MODERN TUfES
Let us now begin our converse
Since at length we meet together
From two widely sundered regions
Let us clasp our hands together
Let us our fingers, '
Let us smg a cheerful measure
And recall our songs and legends
Of the belt of Vainamoinen
(He the singer of Kalewa).
These my father sang aforetime
As he carved his hatchet's handle,
And my mother taught me likewise
As she turned around her spindle ;
When upon the floor, an infant
At her knees she saw me tumbling
As a helpless child, milk bearded
As a babe with mouth all milky."
(English translation by W. F. Kirby in Everyman's Library.)
In these words there is a clear consciousness of the fact that
the soul of the people and their rhythm of work are one. And
so it is with all peoples, in all ages.
. . Work springs from a sacred origin but its destiny has been
s4!;illar to that of .gold.- too, was originally something
sacred, as I have tned to show m my pamphlet Gold in History
and in Modern Ti"!es. * These. are only because,
fundamentally speaking, everything connected with social life
was at one time holy. So long as men were aware of the connec-
tion between things in the world and the cosmos everything
was sacred. The universal symbol of work was the Master's
hammer-Thor's hammer. All work was carried out according
to the rhythm of its beat. But where is Thor's hammer ? It
beats as the heart in the human breast! The old Germanic
peoples knew that this hammer is present in the microcosm no
less the Within the breast of man, the heart
beats m trme Wlth a rhythm whose archetype is cosmic.
in the cosmos is a double rhythm of circling
opposttes. to rotation the vernal equinox circles
the Zodiac, according to another rotation the points
marking the apogee and the perigee revolve. This hammer is
* Anthroposophical Publishing Company, London, 1931.
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LABOUR IN IDSTORY AND IN MODERN ' TIMES
formed of two intersecting axes, operating across one another
and by this means regulating all rhythms of physical as well as
of spiritual processes. We find it vvithout, in the macrocosm;
we find it within, in the human breast, where the macrocosm
becomes the microcosm. Older peoples, in their instinctive
experience of the relationship between breathing and work,
perceived these connections of which we, in our age, can only
become aware by means of complicated calculations.
In our times work is no longer a reflection of the cosmos.
It is our task to learn once again how to make work really worthy
of human existence, for the standard of our age is Man. Work
must again be sanctified by becoming united with the innermost
being of man, as in olden times it was united with the cosmos.
We will therefore now proceed to consider, in the light of history,
the connection of work with the human being.
Consider for a moment the masses of men working at the
building of an ancient Egyptian pyramid. Let us try to picture
how this work was actually carried out. Take, for example,
the Cheops Pyramid. This Pyramid has a cubic content of
2,593,000 cubic metres of limestone, corresponding to a weight
of 6,223,200 tons ; 622,320 railway waggons would be needed
to transport this load. The waggons themselves would extend
for a distance of 3,ill mi1es and if we add to this the space that
would be taken up by the necessary locomotives we have a train
that would span one eighth of the circumference of the earth.
The limestone used in the building had to be brought from a
distance of nine to ten miles, while the granite blocks came all
the way from Assouan, a distance of 625 miles. According to
Herodotus the work of construction took 20 years; every day,
therefore, some 360 cubic metres were added to the structure.
This is an astounding achievement. Blocks of 800 tons in
weight were raised hundreds of feet high. From the Encyclopedia
Britannica we learn that the labourers worked in relays of 100,000;
each individual worker must, therefore, have possessed many
times as much strength as the most hefty worker of to-day.
With regard to the practical technique, we can obtain
information from illustrations of this work of building. But
whence came this tremendous capacity for work?
On this point Rudolf Steiner said that the Egyptians
hypnotised their working slaves and were thereby able to get
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a far greater amount of work out of them. To-day, of course,
such a proceeding would be utterly reprehensible. Interference
of this kind with the freedom of the personality of the workers
is absolutely impermissible. At that time, however, said
Rudolf Steiner, it was permissible, for the Ego-consciousness was
still quite undeveloped. We can see from this example that in
order to understand the labour problem aright, much considera-
tion must be given to the stage and condition of culture or
civilisation, and also to the level of consciousness of the workers
themselves, in order to decide what is and what is not humanly
permissible.
Such conditions of labour as have just been described were
not only customary among the Egyptians. Something very
similar is indicated in the building of the old Druidic circles.
In the neighbourhood of the Druidic circle at Stonehenge, the
British Government recently conducted experiments in the
cultivation of corn. In order to observe the conditions of the
growing crops, an aviator took aerial photos of the district at
regular intervals. When one set of plates was developed, a
track appeared in the photo which was imperceptible on the
ground itself. At first it was thought to be due to a fault in
the plates, but subsequent exposures gave the same result.
Measurements showed that this track was of the same width as
the stone blocks used in the erection of the Druidic circle. Thus
it appears that along the track where, centuries ago, stone blocks
were hauled, corn to-day grows quite differently from the way
in which it grows on the land adjoining this track. This is an
indication of the route by which these huge stone blocks were
brought to Stonehenge. They were transported from consider-
able distances, some even from Ireland, having to cross the sea
before they arrived at Stonehenge.
And so we see that ancient architecture entailed enormous
labour. In those days workers were expected to undertake
toil which nobody to-day would endure. Yet we hear nothing
in those chapters of ancient history of slave risings or revolts.
The social consciousness was quite different from what it is
to-day, and any attempt to explain the ancient world in terms .
of the modern constitution of soul or attitude of mind must
necessarily be misleading.
Either there was a knowledge of repeated earthly lives as,
for example, in India, or some other religious conception gave
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its adherents the certainty that sooner or later their lot would
change for the better. It was not until the conception of future
compensation for social suffering yvas lost that rebellions and
revolutions became possible. This is the reason why we hear
nothing in ancient history of insurrections among the oppressed.
The kind of work allotted to each human being in olden
times was determined by the conditions into which he was born.-
(In India there were the ' castes,' in other nations of antiquity,
different divisions). Even in the Middle Ages handicraft was
a matter of heredity. To-day this is only rarely the case. I
once met a master-joiner who can trace his origin back for
generations and who knows that his joinery craft has steadily
descended from father to son. This, however, is very rare.
The ideal of the modern man is free choice .of an occupation
which must be in line with his individual impulses and not
determined by his family history.
The social divisions into middle class, aristocrat and
proletarian or worker still show traces of this distinction of birth.
The middle class citizen is more of a ' head ' man ; the aristocrat
is governed more by the blood-he is therefore more of a rhythmic
or ' heart ' man ; the proletarian, as his name indicates (prates-
progeny), is organised more by the forces working in the
metabolic-limb system. This is an illustration of the basic
conception given by Rudolf Steiner, namely, that man is a
threefold being: nerves-and-senses man, rhythmic man
and circulation of the blood) and finally, metabolic-limb man.
Thus the division into classes still reflects social institutions
which are connected with ancient principles and express the
influence of heredity. The very last remnants of the old caste
distinctions are there before us in the present division between
middle class and worker, between the bourgeoisie and the
proletariat.
In the new form of civilisation that is even now corning into
existence these distinctions will soon be unknown. \Ve ourselves
are living at a time when they are beginning to disappear.
The student at an Industrial College already provides an example
of the intermixture of proletariat and university graduate,
while a true insight into the essentials of education reveals the
fact that human nature itself demands an all-round development
-skill of hand united with power and clarity of thought. But
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LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
if this end is to be achieved by modern education, then the form
of the social order must be so constituted as to correspond
with this ideal.
In the art of education inaugurated by Rudolf Steiner,, a
method of teaching is employed which takes this human ideal
of to-day into practical consideration. The school must be so
arranged that every child, whether rich or poor, of middle class
or working class origin, receives the same education up to the
eighteenth year, no matter whether he is to become a handworker
or a university professor. The Free Waldorf School at Stuttgart
was established on this basis. This school was inaugurated
by Rudolf Steiner himself as the first of its kind and a number
of other schools with similar aims have since been founded.*
It is essential to the character of such schools that their finance
shall be so adjusted that the children of parents who are too
poor to pay school fees or of those who are unable to pay full
fees, may receive exactly the same education as those whose
parents are better off. The basic principle of education must
be the principle of the human-universal.
We often hear it said: ''Yes, but nobody who has received
a full education will take to handwork ; he will invariably choose
a 'better' calling." Now these objections do not take evolution
into account at all. The general economic condition of the
world tends to compel radical shortening of working hours
and this on a world-wide scale. There are indications that within
a comparatively short period of time few people will have to
work for more than four hours a day. This diminution of
the time required for physical work will, however, ensure
for everyone more time for spiritual activity.
In other words : the difference between purely spiritual and
purely physical activity will be less emphatic than it is to-day.
We shall understand, however, as human beings engaged in
physical work, that in certain circumstances it will be better
for everybody if certain individuals are relieved of all necessity
for physical work, because they are natural leaders in the realm
of spiritual life. But this will no longer give rise to the class
hatred that is so great a factor to-day. The necessity of the age
itself demands that the workers too shall receive an adequate
education.
The New School, 98 Leigham Court Road, Streatham, London, S,W.
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LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
Conditions to-day are such that the greater number of
those who are destined for a proletarian calling, receive education
only up to about the fourteenth B?t is
insufficient. The purpose of the edncatlon gtven m school ts
not merely to instil a certain amount of knowledge into the
pupils. Schools have another and a nobler task than this.
The soul of the growing human being permeates the body only
gradually and by degrees ; this does not happen once and for
all at birth. To begin with, the soul permeates the senses.
The tiny child lives with its sympathies and antipathies chiefly
in the senses. This is the reason why the imitative faculty is
so strong in early childhood. The senses are imitators par
excellence. and because the tiny child is practically one great
sense-organ, it is pre-eminently an imitative being.
condition lasts until about the seventh year. From the ttme
of the change of teeth which occurs at about this age, the soul
of the child begins to permeate the ' middle,' or rhythmic system,
i.e., the breathing. The ensouling of the head (sense-organs)
is completed by the time of the change of teeth. From now on,
the breathing process too becomes permeated with soul. The
child begins to control its breathing, for instance, in the act of
listening attentively, for the soul is now working in the breathing
process. From this age onwards the child re-acts much more
strongly to the word, to what the teacher is saying, because the
breathing that is now permeated with soul make? it aware _of the
qualities of soul in the words of another, for mstance, m the
words of the teacher. From the seventh to the fourteenth year
the child is passing through the 'age when the principle of
authority ful:fils an essential function.
In the fourteenth year the metabolic system of the child
becomes ensouled. This process is known as the onset of pgberty.
Just as the ensouling of the breathing passes ove.r into the
ensouling of the blood-stream, so does the of
metabolic system become also that of the limbs. But this
descent of the soul and Spirit from the head to the limbs does
not take place without difficulties. In the fourteenth year
of life the movements of the child become angular and clumsy.
We speak of this period as the' awkward age:' The so?I meets
with resistance from the skeleton and constderable bme and
help are needed before the body and are . effectively
harmonised. The development of a certam capactty for the
forming of ideas must be brought about if this condition of
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LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
harmony is to ensue. All the spiritual powers of the human
being work, to begin with, upon the body ; they complete their
work there and only then do they turn away from the body to
manifest as purely spiritual forces. It also happens thus with
the faculty of the free intellect. To begin with, the force living
in the intellect meets with resistance from the limb-system of
the fourteen-year-old child, and only when it becomes free of the
body is it capable of forming independent judgments. It is
because of this clear connection between bodily and spiritual
forces that it is so essential to base education upon clear insight
into these things. And Rudolf Steiner's art of education has
for the first time made this a practical possibility.
We see, then, that up to the fourteenth year, the soul-nature
of the human being unites more and more intensely with the
bodily nature. If, therefore, we allow a child to go out into the
world at about the fourteenth year, as is done among the working
class, we are sending out a fettered Prometheus. The soul
remains fettered to the skeleton for the whole of life, and for
such a human being the limbs become the sole arbiters of destiny.
What ought to be fought out as an inner struggle for development
in the individual, is outwardly expressed as the Class War.
And against whom is the battle waged ? Against those who
have been able to pass through a second phase of education and
of development to which all human beings have a natural right.
But in what does this second phase consist? In this second
phase of development, by means of a true method of education,
the human being is led out of the body, just as in the first phase
he was led into the body.
After the fourteenth year, the powers of soul and spirit
must be freed from the body, stage by stage. If release from the
metabolic system is not properly effected, the erotic element
will inevitably become too strong. If the human being were
to remain a prisoner within his limb-system, brutality would
be the result. Soul-forces that remain fettered within the
blood-stream would mean that the human being cannot be
master of his emotions, whereas if they are imprisoned within
the breathing, his actions will be determined purely by his
sympathies and antipathies. Few indeed have passed beyond
this stage. Nevertheless the ideal is that the human being shall
become master of his nerves-and-senses system. Supersensible
and intuitive thinking lead to real freedom and he l o n ~
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is free who acts from knowledge. Education should lead to
this freedom and only when this ideal can find acceptance in
social life will it be possible to bring the world a stage forward.
In the Middle Ages some measure of this freedom was
within the reach of artisans and craftsmen. In our age we shall
have to make it a reality on a new and different basis.
To the craftsman of the Middle Ages, towns and cities were
sanctuaries of freedom. Handicraft owed its origin to a striving
for freedom. The craftsman fled from the oppression of the
landed aristocracy to the towns in order, by dint of his handiwork,
to live in freedom and in accordance with a standard which he
felt to be consistent with human dignity. On the basis of this
kind of work, literary authorship became possible, as in the
case of the shoemaker Jacob Boehme, or a master of song comes
to the fore, like Hans Sachs. Indeed there is a kind of knighthood
of the Grail in handicraft.
In the neighbourhood of Biarritz lies the mouth of a river
called the Gave de Pau. This river has, as a tributary flowing
from the Pyrenees, a river running down from the Pass of Som-
port. Beyond this pass lies the Spanish town of J aca and not
far off is the monastery of St. Juan. de la Pena. My book on
World-History in the Light of the Holy Grail gives information
about the connection of this monastery with the history of the
Grail. Rudolf Steiner drew attention to the fact that those
who served the Grail often came down from the heights of the
Pyrenees at this point. When they were thus descending the
wooded slopes of the mountains, beings akin to our ' mountain
sprites' associated with them. The local people gave the name
of ' Gave ' to these beings. . Accordingly the rivers of this region
were called Gave de Pau, Gave d'Aspe, etc. A society of French
craftsmen which sprang up in this region around the Spanish-
French frontier, called its members 'Gavots.' These ' Gavots'
formed a kind of artisan knighthood of the Grail. In the year
1823 Georges Sand described them in her novelLe Compagnon
du Tour de Franee. They trace their origin from Hiram, the
architect of King Solomon's 'femple and in this way they have
a link with the same origin as the Templar Knights. And just
as the Arthurian Knights-who were more inclined to Pagan
influences- are distinct from the Knights of the Grail who
were a purely Christian Knighthood, in like manner the wandering
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LABOUR IN HIS'0RY AND IN MODERN TIMES
bands of more or less pagan artisans who, bec.ause of their
coarse and brutal customs were known as the' wolves,' are to be
distinguished from the union of handicraftsmen known as the
Gavots. All these things, however, only go to show that the
true craftsman of the Middle Ages was engaged in activity which
he felt to be worthy of human dignity. Among the people of
the Middle Ages the labour problem was much more generally
solved than is the case to-day, but for us, of course, the solution
of the Middle Ages has merelv an historical value. Craftsman-
ship too has its spiritual histozy but to-day this spiritual tradition
has practically died out. Since the Middle Ages everything
has fundamentally changed.
Shortly before the French Revolution the peasants
languished in conditions of serfdom. A condition of life infinitely
more tolerable than the slavery of ancient times was felt by the
expanding consciousness of the age to be utterly unworthy of
human dignity. But it was a long time before social relation-
ships adjusted themselves to this change of feeling. A prime
cause of social discontent lies in the fact that laws which determine
human rights change much more slowly than the feelings of
human beings as to what is right and just. A tremendous
advance, however, was made when, in the Declaration of
Independence of the United States of America in the year 1776,
it was proclaimed that : " vVhen a form of government, no
_ matter what, proves itself to be unfitted for the purpose for
which it had been established, the people have the right to change
or abolish it." Serfdom had long been abolished before any
real betterment was achieved in the conditions of the working
population, for the mere alteration of laws does not help at all
unless it is accompanied by a change of conviction or
consciousness.
In his book on the French Revolution, Kropotkin describes
the sufferings of the French peasantry immediately after the
abolition of serfdom. They were obliged to pay taxes to the
lords of their estates for the use of the wine-presses, the mill,
the baking-ovens and the wash-houses, for the right to keep
pigeons and even for the right to marry, to be baptised or to
be buried. The peasant was therefore kept in a state ~ pove:r:ty
and although it was he who produced the bread, his family
often lacked enough of the necessities of life to appease actuaf
hunger.
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LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
To this condition of poverty certain menial tasks were
added, such as ' pond-beating.' At night the peasants were
made to beat the frog ponds with long rods in order that the
nobility might not be disturbed by the croaking of the frogs.
Nobody troubled to ask when the peasants were to get their
sleep. I mention these things for the purpose of showing how,
at a certain point in history, human feeling suddenly came to
regard a form of work that had been endured for centuries
without complaint, as quite incompatible '\\rith human dignity.
It may, of course, have been that the beating of ponds was
originally performed freely and out of good-will, but later on
it degenerated into custom, then into a demand, and finally
was felt to be intolerable.
The State, however, has been ordained to be the protector
and administrator of human rights. Its task is to provide
itself, through the conscious activity of the human beings who
compose it, with a form of organisation which shall be in accord
with the current conception of human rights and social justice.
But the feeling for what is worthy of human existence and what
is not, is continually changing and must therefore be secured
by laws that are mobile enough to undergo constant adjustment
and adaptation.
And here we come to a question that is of such vital impor-
tance in our age. \\That is that element which until recently
was regarded as humanly right and proper but is to-day beginning
to be felt as humanly intolerable ? If we can discover this and
reckon with it, we shall, by timely insight, avert at least one
fragment of social revolution.
Rudolf Steiner was the first to disclose it, when he said:-
)
"Labour power must not be a commodity." Why does modern
human1ty feel that labour power ought not to be a commodity ?
It is for the simple reason that muscle-power is itself a part of
the human being and if one part of the human being is sold,
the whole of the man is sold with it, because he himself must
go wherever his muscle-power is bartered. In a certain sense
, he sells his own being.
Karl Marx, with clear perception of this position of the
worker, said in his book on Capital: " The possessor of labour
power (the worker) only sells his labour power for definite periods
of time (hour, day, week, etc.) for if he sold it in its entirety,
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once and for all, he would be selling himself ; he would be
transforming himself from a free man into a slave, from a
possessor of goods into a mere commodity."
Even although the final consequences to the social organism
have not been completely thought out, this, rightly perceived,
is the kernel of the question :
"Labour power mu.st not be a commodity."
And it should not be, even for a single moment.
But what will be the nature of a social organism in which
labour power is divested of its commodity character? Rudolf
Steiner has given the answer to this question in his book The
Threefold Comnwnwealth which describes the three functions of
the social organism.
The governance of purely human affairs, hence also, the
administration of labour power and conditions of work, is
the duty of the political arm (the organisation of Rights). Rights,
however, may only be established in accordance with the feeling
for social and human equity prevailing at any given time. The
administration of labour must be completely removed from the
economic sphere. Hours of work, kind of work, right to work
and conditions of work suited to the dignity of existence as a
human being- these must be safeguarded by the Equity State
(the political arm) whose sacred duty is the protection of huma?Z
values. Economic activity is concerned with goods, theu
production, distribution and consumption. The man engaged
in physical labour must not be paid f o ~ his ~ o r k i ~ the_ sense
that his labour power is bought from him ; his pos1t1on m the
whole social order must be arranged on quite 9- different basis.
Work-givers and work-receivers, or better, the 'br<l;in-worke:s'
and the physical workers, produce goods by theu collective
activity ; they must therefore sell these commodities as a conjoint
organisation and then decide, on a basis ?f. free contract, the
manner in which the proceeds should be d1V1ded. It must not
be said that to speak in this way is merely to call wages by another
name whereas in reality the old conditions remain unaltered.
It is not so. This solution removes the payment or reward for
work completely beyond the range of purely economic fluctua-
tions. Wages must not, like commodities-that is to say,
something that is separable from the human being-fluctuate
up or down merely because of the operation of supply and
16
LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
demand. Although it is true that work, at all events physical
work, flows into goods, changing their values in the process,
nevertheless the work itself must be treated not as a mere
commodity.
Now it may be said: This is all very beautiful in the human
sense but such ideas are not practical and do not touch
reality. Only a very few business undertakings could afford
to pay wages on that level. Who could possibly make a begin-
ning without being ruined ?-All these objections (in themselves
perfectly justifiable) only go to show that single, isolated measures
are quite useless. It is only by a thorough transformation of
the whole economic structure that these necessary conditions
in regard to wages can be made possible. But it is not merely
the economic structure that must be changed.-The whole
social structure is -in dire need of transformation.
The economic system must be placed upon its own feet and
administered by those whose practical knowledge and experience
have made them capable of really sound economic judgment.
Directors of business undertakings, united in appropriate
associations, would decide the general policy to be adopted in
the economic sphere. In other words, economic activity as
such would be entirely removed from the sphere of political
life.
Against this it will be objected that all the developments
of recent years are opposed to any such proposal. It is true
that industry and commerce have become increasingly interlocked
with politics but this runs counter to the provision of conditions
of Rights which the progressive sense of equity in human beings
demands. Nor can these demands be resisted for ever. If
they are persistently ignored, they find expression in revolutions.
It is, of course, possible to reject any thoughts that point to the
future on the ground that they are' utopian,' but we only delude
a certain portion of our contemporaries by these methods.
Evolution itself 'Pe cannot check.
Social evolution has many driving forces. Over and above
the more slowly changing sense for right and equity there is
the very rapid development of technical processes of which
modern commerce and modern methods of production are the
fruit. This has led to an interlacing of all the separate national
economies and world-economy has made its appearance. And
17
LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
because world-economy comprises more than one nation, so
must economic activity, in the age of world-economy, emerge
' from and extend beyond the old national economies. The
national economies which were at one time the basis of economic
activity have now simply become disturbers of the peace within
the new world-economic structure. And because of this, the
detachment of industry and commerce from the influence of
politics becomes one of the vital needs of our In.
sphere of national economy too, the release of econormc achVIty
from political influence is essential, and as labour rightly falls
under the jurisdiction of the political arm of the social organism,
this implies that the administration of labour (which is national)
and the direction of industry (which has world-connections)
must be separated. The life of (politi.cal) the
economic life must develop and unfold s1de by stde. Spmtual
life however must he a matter of the free activity of productive
individuals. ' Evolution itself needs the threefold social organism
in the form characterised by Rudolf Steiner.
The labour problem can only be solved within a social order
that is administered on this threefold basis.
"A democratic, popularly elected national Parliament can
deal only with purely political affairs, the military and the
police. These can only exist on the foundation of developments
that have arisen in the course of history. Represented in a
democratic Parliament, as in their proper sphere, and
administered by a Civil Service responsible to Parliament, they
will necessarily develop in a conservative way."
" All economic affairs, however, should be dealt with by a
special economic council. If snch a body were absolved from
the necessity of attending to political and military affairs,
it would then be able to unfold its activities in the only suitable
fashion, namely, according to expediency." "All juristic,
educational and other affairs of the spiritual life become a matter
of the free spiritual activity of the individual. In this domain
the Political State should have only magisterial powers, not
the initiative." " A kind of Senate, chosen from representatives
of these three bo<lies, i.e., those responsible for the administration
of politiCal, economic and juristic-edueational affairs, will
attend to matters that are common to all three, for example,
the direction of their common finance." (Compare Rudolf
18
LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
Steiner's Memorandum to Emperor Carl of Austria, printed in
Count Polzer-Hoditz's book: Kaiser Karl: A us der Geheimmappe
eines Kabinettchefs. Amalthea Verlag, Zurich-Leipzig-Vienna,
1929).
The necessities of the time demand this threefold social
structure and only in a social system so arranged can the right
solution for the labour problem be found. For in our age human
beings are striving more and more to escape from the compulsion
to labour in order that they may work with free will.
" There are people to-day who no longer want to be brought
to their work by economic compulsion. They want to work
out of inner impulses whiCh are more in keeping with the dignity
of man." (Compare Rudolf Steiner on the capacity for work
and the will to work: In Ausfiihrung der Dreigliederung des
sozialen Organismus, Stuttgart, Kommender Tag Verlag, 1920.)
And Rudolf Steiner adds: "Doubtless this demand is in many
human beings more or less unconscious, instinctive. But these
unconscious, instinctive impulses are a real factor in social life."
\Ve are living at a time when human consciousness is in the
throes of fundamental changes and these changes are demanding
attention with an elemental force. Economic life must serve
the needs of man. Man must not be overpowered by a social
system that is his own creation. Hence the demand for an
economic system removed from the sphere of political life,
acting in the service of mankind.
But on the other side there-is a second stream of evolution,
also evoked by the changing consdousness of the time. It is
the nationalistic impulse. This appears to contradict the
international trend of economic development. But if we
clearly perceive the inner driving forces, this apparent contra-
diction is not final. In order to perceive the underlying reality
we must understand that at the present time two spiritual
currents, springing from different spiritual sources, are actually
at work, influencing human affairs. What is it that really lies
underneath this nationalistic movement ?
Let us realise, to begin with, that in a fully developed system
of world-economy, embracing the whole earth, its universal
character would make possible such a -division of labour among
all the peoples that each of them would be able to produce
19
LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
precisely those things which they are best fitted to produce and
to adapt the methods and tempo of production to their particular
national temperament. I have spoken of this more fully in
my pamphlet on Gold. But what is the hidden driving force
behind the nationalistic movement of our time ? In so far as
the impulse is justifiable and not the outcome of blind,
unbalanced chauvinism, there is working, as an inner driving
force, a kind of 'Youth Movement impulse.' And this is in
keeping with impulses proper to our age.
But let us for a moment glance at the past. In olden times
there was no such things as a 'Youth Movement'; in Greece,
for example, there was a council of Elders, the' Gerusia.' Whv
is it that in recent times the centre of gravity in mankind is
being more and more transferred to the youth ?
Rudolf Steiner has given the answer to this question.
He has described how the men of olden times differed from
modern humanity inasmuch as they became riper in soul and
spirit as their bodies grew older. In those days men were
inwardly ripened by the ageing process itself. Faculties and
talents were much more closely connect with heredity than
is the case to-day and were handed down from father to son.
Because in the outward course of evolution the factor of
individuality rather than that of heredity assumed primary
importance, Ego-consciousness came more and more into its
own. The further we move from the ancient world and the
nearer we come to the modern age, the earlier in life does
self-consciousness assert itself. The Greek reached self-
consciousness at an earlier point in life than the man of the older,
oriental races. Rudolf Steiner called this: 'The law of becoming
yq__unger.' In each of the epochs of civilisation there has been
one particular age in life at which Ego-consciousness awakens
in the human being. But the earlier age at which Ego-con-
sciousness awakens in the modern man creates certain difficulties.
From the moment the Ego (the 'I') is awake, the development
that is dependent upon the body and upon heredity comes to
a standstill. If at this point the human being himself does
not intervene and by dint of self-education or spiritual training
evoke from his own self-conscious Ego the powers that were
bestowed upon the man of old as a gift of qature, his development
remains stationary. The young human being to-day is in
danger of remaining at a standstill if he does not find the point
20
LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
at which he can place himself as an individual, with his work,
within the whole field of social life and thus bring himself, and
thereby his own nation, a stage further.
Increasing maturity is needed for the effective shaping of
the social order, but in our day individual development comes to a
standstill before the attainment of the maturity demanded by
the conditions of the times. This happens because the body
no longer supplies the instincts that are required in ~ o c i l life
and the development of the majority of individuals has not
yet reached the point at which the Ego itself is capable of provid-
ing the powers which nature now withholds from us. And
into the breach thus formed there now pours the ambition of
individual nations to conquer for themselves a place in the sun
which they believe to be necessary in order to protect and unfold
those values-which are values for mankind as a whole-that
would otherwise be lost. Some of the best forces are active
in this field, hut through their own driving impulse and working
along the inner path of self-development they must acquire the
capacity of creating a new social structure. And so we can only
cherish the hope that more and more individuals will recognise
the real elements upon which the solution of the labour problem
depends.
We individual huinan beings must learn to know ourselves,
and we nations must learn to understand each other, in order
that space and opportunity may be provided for the unfolding
of those powers whereby the young and growing human being
may receive an education which enables him to grow on to
maturity in the right way. But this can only be accomplished
by a free spiritual life. Within this spiritual life, everything
that the young generation, that children as they grow on to
maturity bring to humanity, a new message from the spiritual
world, must be able to unfold. For a child born to-day has
come down from the spiritual world to the earth later than the
older generation and brings new impulses to the earth. If
the spiritual life of the community is so ordered that the new
qualities of the younger generation are able slowly to mature,
then this new force will stream into the spiritual life where it
really belongs, expressing itself as a peaceful impulse of evolution
within the spiritual life and not as an impulse to revolution
within the State. In such conditions the Political State which
has to regulate the customs of the people and conserve the
21
LABOUR IN HISTORY AND IN MODERN TIMES
national genius, will be able to conduct its affairs with true
conse:t;Vative dignity. The new impulses come from the spiritual
life. And then economic life can form itself in accordance with
its own needs. The individual and the people as a whole will
find work to do because the spirit will reveal to them their
rightful goal. Must humanity starve in the age when there ' is
too much of everything ? This cannot be. The earth has
enough for all. We ourselves are called to the task. Let us
follow the call !
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