THIRD WAYS: Family-centred economies and why they disappeared
by Allan C. Carlson
(Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books).
Hardcover: 225 pages
Rec. price: AUD$49.95
One can always be sure that when reading Allan C. Carlson’s works you’ll thereafter be able to see the wood for the trees.
Carlson, an independent American scholar, is president of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society and international secretary of the World Congress of Families.
His latest work, Third Ways: Family-centred economies and why they disappeared, canvasses a long-ignored and largely forgotten public policy tradition that was shoved aside, at times forcibly, by what Carlson calls “freewheeling capitalism and collective communism”.
Third Ways surveys an array of thinkers who promoted economic systems that were neither capitalistic nor communistic but ardently democratic, and who valued tradition.
It therefore focuses upon a number of proposed politico-economic orders that were unlike any that prevailed across the Western world and Soviet bloc over the seven decades from the conclusion of World War I to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“The 20th century witnessed a great contest between rival social, economic, and political systems: liberal capitalism versus communism,” says Carlson.
“From the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, this conflict was especially intense. Capitalism’s elevation of the individual, private property, and free markets contrasted with communism’s emphasis on collective identity, state ownership of property, and central planning.
“Circumstances pushed individuals, and nations, to declare for one side or the other, especially during the Cold War era of 1946-91.”
Carlson points out that the alternatives he examines were based on notions of protecting and renewing “the ‘natural’ communities of family, village, neighbourhood and parish”.
“They treasured the rural culture and family farming and defended traditional sex roles and vital home economies,” he writes.
He considers Nova Scotia’s Antigonish distributist movement that, by 1939, saw 342 marketing ventures plus 162 co-operatives involving 20,000 members, flourishing. He then briefly focuses upon Australia, which from the 1930s to 1950s was threatened by local Soviet puppets (the Communist Party) that gained control of many strategic unions as a precursor to establishing an antipodean Bolshevised nation.
Although Australia’s communist threat was thwarted – primarily due to the work of the National Civic Council’s predecessor, the Movement, and the ALP Industrial Groups – the democratic and more humane alternative of distributism (which promotes decentralisation and widespread economic ownership) never emerged.
Carlson looks back to 1931, during the Depression Years, when the Campion Society in Melbourne was formed to discuss the works of English Catholics, G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.
He writes: “Among other effects, the society launched the career of B.A. Santamaria as an active distributist … first as a rural organiser for the Catholic Social Movement, then as leader of the ‘Movement’ which successfully countered communist influence in the labour unions, followed by his role as an inspiration for the formation of the crucial Democratic Labor Party and its ‘model distributist program’, and finally as founder of the Australian Family Association.”
Distributism seeks to ensure that ownership of the means of production is spread far and wide across the general populace, rather than being centrally controlled by a government bureaucratic elite, as occurs under socialism, or by a small stratum of wealthy private individuals, as can so easily occur under capitalism.
Its greatest promoters were Chesterton and Belloc whose political ideas Carlson concisely analyses in a single chapter.
Its implementation was to be via broadly-based land and property ownership, worker and consumer co-operatives, friendly societies and mutual trusts.
If such paths had won out by, say, the 1950s, today’s Australia would have seen its retail, service and manufacturing sectors largely dominated by such entities.
Why, we may ask, are not all Australians direct stakeholders – owners! – of say Qantas, Medibank, Telstra and other public enterprises, such as the state-based water and power authorities?
Simple. Because socialism had largely won out at both state and federal levels even before World War II and, with the rise of the Hawke Labor Government in 1983, freewheeling capitalist thinking was enthusiastically embraced by Treasurer Paul Keating.
Dubbed privatisation, this meant Australians wishing to become stakeholders in ventures like the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, Qantas (which included the former domestic airline, TAA) and the Commonwealth Bank, to name three, had to buy shares in what they and their parents’ taxes had earlier financed.
However, other Australians who never bought a stake, that is, shares, were never compensated, since the proceeds of these so-called privatisations went directly to the Treasury in Canberra for politicians and bureaucrats to spend as they decided.
Carlson recognises that such reversals for the distributist tradition were not witnessed only in Australia; in other countries the outcome was harsher.
For instance, his study considers one of the few detailed assessments of the ideas of the forgotten Russian agrarianist, Alexander Vasiliev Chayanov (1888-1937), who envisaged a non-communist future, based on family and efficient production, for 135 million Russian and Ukrainian peasants.
Chayanov held a doctorate from Moscow Agrarian Institute and in the 1920s was a deputy minister of agriculture.
In his 1920 novella, The Journal of My Brother Alexei to the Land of Peasant Utopia, Chayanov portrayed a political and economic order markedly different from that created by Joseph Stalin who imposed collectivisation upon the peasantry, which resulted in millions starving to death, especially during the 1930s.
“Chayanov shows that collective farms would not be more efficient than peasant farms, and that the ‘horizontal cooperation’ of collectivisation would destroy local rural leadership and lead to bureaucratic inertia,” writes Carlson.
Stalinists called their murderous drive de-Kulakisation (i.e., stripping moderately prosperous peasants of their livelihoods in order to pursue the communist ideal), which so tragically confirmed Chayanov’s contentions.
Carlson quotes historian Daniel Thorner who said: “Chayanov’s whole approach – his selection of the pure family farm as the typical Russian unit [and] his insistence on the survival of such family farms … was diametrically opposed to [Marx and] Lenin.”
For this Chayanov was arrested in the “Case of the Labour Peasant Party”, a name taken from his 1920 novella.
Although the case against him failed, he was re-arrested in 1932, sentenced to five years in a Kazakhstan labour camp, and re-arrested in 1937, after which he was tried and shot the same day.
However, 50 years on, Chayanov was rehabilitated.
How different Russian and Ukrainian, and thus European, history would have been had Chayanov’s ideas, rather than Stalin’s, won out.
Carlson also surveys what he calls the Green Rising, that is, policies and programs of agrarian-controlled governments of non-communist East-Central Europe – Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria – and successor states of the post-1918 Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In these the peasantry had “inherited difficult political and economic circumstances”.
“Real democracy was altogether unknown in these places; the fair competition of political parties was untested,” he writes.
Even so, an array of peasant-initiated programs emerged, stressing the need for rational and moderate industrialisation and development of agrarian economies in which co-operatives rather than big business would prevail.
Perhaps the Romanian theorist Constantin Stere put it best:
“A free peasantry, master of its land; the development of crafts and small industries, with the aid of an intense co-operative movement in the villages and towns; state monopoly of large industry (with the exception of special cases which are able to develop on their own without prejudice to the economy): this is the formula for our economic and social progress.”
Similar if not identical programs were promoted across most of pre-World War II east-central Europe.
As well as highlighting such failed movements Carlson’s work offers assessments of a range of scholars and theorists who sought to comprehend and explain the economic orders that had begun to emerge before the 1920s.
Amongst these are Swedes such as Ellen Key and Alva Myrdal, who focused upon the role of women in economies; Hungarian economic historian, Karl Polanyi; and his long-time colleague, the management theorist Peter Drucker.
Of Polanyi, who drew inspiration from Christian social thought, Carlson writes: “Unlike Drucker, he elevates family, friendship, community bonds and a healthy landscape to superior positions.
“Markets should and will exist, he holds, but they should not be left free to damage or subvert at will these primal relationships.”
Carlson concludes that almost all the cultural devices, laws and regulations devised by architects of the diverse Third Ways then being promoted ultimately had two purposes:
• to protect the altruism rooted in self-denial that defines the healthy bonds of wife to husband, parent to child, neighbour to neighbour, and generation to generations; and
• to prevent family-oriented altruism from being supplanted by Nanny State intrusions, since this will inevitably lead to Belloc’s Servile State.
“In terms of political economy, there now seems to be only one big player, not two,” says Carlson, referring to the spread of global capitalism.
“By the 1990s, the search for a Third Way economy was over.
“One reason was that the ‘Second Way’ of communism had dissolved around the globe.
“The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the spread of economic liberalism into the People’s Republic of China seemed to bring an end to the great contest between capitalism and communism.”