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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Education as a Social Problem
GA 296

III. Commodity, Labor, and Capital

11 August 1919, Dornach

What I have to say today will be a kind of interlude. I should like to speak briefly about three concepts which, if they are fully understood, can bring about an understanding of outer social life. I say expressly outer social life because these three concepts originate from people's cooperation in outer affairs. I refer to the concepts commodity, labor, capital. I have already told you that modern political economy in all its shadings endeavors in vain to arrive at complete clarity about these concepts. That was not possible after men began to think consciously in a political-economic fashion. Prior to the middle of the fifteenth century there can be no question of people consciously comprehending their mutual social relationships. Life took its course more or less unconsciously, instinctively, in regard to the social forces playing between man and man. Since then, however, in the age when the consciousness-soul is being developed, people have had to think more and more consciously about social relationships. And so, every kind of idea and direction in the life of human society has arisen. This begins with the school of the Mercantilists, then the school of the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, the various Utopian streams, Proudhon, Fourrier, and so on, right up to modern social-democracy on one side and modern academic political economy on the other.

It is interesting to compare the modern social-democratic theory based on Marx and Engels, with modern academic political economy, which is completely unproductive. It produces no concepts capable of permeating the social will. Nothing results from the confused, chaotic concepts of modern academic political economy if we pose the question of what is to happen in social life, because this academic economy is infected by the concepts of modern science. You know that in spite of the great and admirable progress of natural science, which is not denied by spiritual science, this modern science in the schools and universities completely rejects all that springs from the spirit. As a result, political economy wants only to observe what happens in economic life. But this has become almost impossible in recent times because the more people have evolved in the modern age the less have they had thoughts that could cope with economic facts. Economic facts took their own course mechanically, as if by themselves; they were not accompanied by human thinking. Therefore, observing these thought-bereft facts of the world market cannot lead to laws, and has not done so, because our political economy is practice without theory, without ideas, and our social-democratic endeavors are theory without practice. The socialistic theory can never be put into practice, for it is a theory without insight into practical life. We suffer in modern times from the fact that we have an economic life that is practice without ideas, and with it the mere theory of the social democrats without the possibility of introducing this theory into economic life. Thus, we have reached a turning point in the historical evolution of mankind.

Since social life has to be founded upon the relation of man to man it will be easy for you to realize that a certain attitude has to underlie all human endeavor to found a socially just life. That is what is so important in the threefold membering of the social organism, namely, that this certain attitude, this feeling, be generated in the interrelated spheres of social action. Without this mood of soul among men social life cannot flourish. This soul quality will definitely be taken into account by the threefold social organism. I should therefore like to point today to certain aspects of this matter.

If you think of social life as an organism you will have to imagine that something of a soul-spiritual nature streams through it. Just as in the human and animal organism the blood is the bearer of the air that is inhaled and exhaled, so something must breathe through, must circulate through the entire social organism.

Here we come to a chapter that is hard for modern man to comprehend because he is so little prepared for it; but it must be comprehended if there is to be any question at all of a social reformation. The fact that in the social life of the future the content of human conversation will be of special significance, is something that must be understood. Results will depend upon what people take seriously when they exchange their ideas, their sensations, their feelings. The views that hold sway among men are not insignificant if they wish to become social beings. It is necessary for the future that general education be governed not merely by concepts derived from science or industry, but by concepts that can be the basis for imaginations. Improbable as it may seem to modern man, nevertheless it will not be possible to develop a social life if people are not given imaginative concepts; that is to say, concepts which shape the human mind quite differently from the merely abstract concepts of cause and effect, energy and matter, and so forth, that are derived from natural science. These concepts derived from science which govern everything today, even art, will be of no avail in the social life of the future. For that we must make it possible again to comprehend the world in pictures.

What is meant by that I have repeatedly indicated, also in regard to the question of education. I have said: If we intimately occupy ourselves with children it is easy to impart to them, let us say, the idea of immortality by showing them the chrysalis of a butterfly, how it opens and the butterfly emerges and flies away. We then can make clear to the child, “Your body is like the chrysalis, and in it there lives something like the butterfly, but it is invisible. When you come to die, with you too the butterfly emerges and flies into the spiritual world.” Through such comparisons we bring about an imaginative effect. But we must not merely think out such a comparison; this would only be acting in the manner of the scientific view. What is the attitude of people with present-day education as they hear such a comparison? Modern men, even when they are barely grown up, are very clever, exceedingly clever. They do not consider at all that one might be clever differently from the way they, in their abstract concepts, deem themselves clever. Men are very peculiar in regard to their modern cleverness!

A few weeks ago, I gave a lecture in a certain city. It was followed by a meeting of a political science association in which a university professor—a clever man of our time, of course—spoke about my lecture and what was connected with it. He was of the opinion that not only the views I had advanced but also those to be found in my books, are infantile. Well, I understand such a judgment. I understand it especially well when the man is a university professor. I understand it for the reason that science, which he represents, has quite lost all imaginative life and considers infantile what it does not comprehend. It is characteristic of modern men in their cleverness that they say: If we are to employ such an image, which compares the immortal soul with the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, we, the clever ones, know that it is an image we have made; we have passed beyond the content of such an image. But the child is childlike, so we compare what we know in our concepts with this image, yet we ourselves do not believe in it. The secret of the matter is, however, that in that case the child does not believe in it either. The child is only taken hold of by the picture if we ourselves believe in it. The genuine spiritual-scientific attitude is to restore in us the faculty of seeing in nature not the ghost-like things of which science speaks, but the pictorial, the imaginative. What emerges from the chrysalis and is present in the butterfly is really an image for the immortality of the soul placed into the order of nature by the divine world order. If there were no immortal soul there would be no butterfly emerging from the chrysalis. There can be no real image if truth is not the basis for it. So it is with all of nature. What natural science offers is a ghost. We can comprehend nature only if we know that it is an image for something else.

Likewise, people must accustom themselves to considering the human head as an image of a heavenly body. The human head is not round in order to resemble a head of cabbage, but rather to resemble the form of a celestial body. The whole of nature is pictorial and we must find our way into this imagery. Then there will radiate into the hearts, the souls and minds, even into the heads—and this is most difficult—what can permeate man if he takes in pictures. In the social organism we will have to speak with each other about things that are expressed in pictures. And people will have to believe in these pictures. Then there will come from scientific circles persons able to speak about the real place of commodities in life, because the commodity produced corresponds to a human need. No abstract concepts can grasp this human need in its social value. Only that person can know something about it whose soul has been permeated by the discernment that springs from imaginative thinking. Otherwise there will be no socialization. You may employ in the social organism those who rightly ascertain what is needed, but if at the same time imaginative thinking is not incorporated in the social organism through education it is impossible to arrive at an organic social structure. That means, we must speak in images. However strange it may sound to the socialistic thinker of today, it is necessary that in order to arrive at a true socializing we must speak from man to man in pictures, which induce imaginations. This indeed is how it must happen. What is a commodity will be feelingly understood by a science that gains understanding through pictures, and by no other science.

In the society of the future a proper understanding of labor will have to be a dominating element. What men say today about labor is sheer nonsense, for human labor is not primarily concerned with the production of goods. Karl Marx calls commodities crystallized labor power. This is nonsense, nothing else; because what takes place when a man works is that he uses himself up in a certain sense. You can bring about this self-consumption in one way or another. If you happen to have enough money in the bank or in your purse you can exert yourself in sports and use your working power in this way. You also might chop wood or do some other chore. The work may be the same whether you chop wood or engage in a sport. The important thing is not how much work-power you exert, but for what purpose you use it in social life. Labor as such has nothing to do with social life insofar as this social life is to produce goods or commodities. In the threefold social organism, therefore, an incitement to labor will be needed which is completely different from the one that produces goods. Goods will be produced by labor because labor has to be used for something. But that which must be the basis for a man's work is the joy and love for work itself. We shall only achieve a social structure for society if we find the methods for inducing men to want to work, so that it becomes natural for them, a matter of course, that they work.

This can only happen in a society in which one speaks of inspired concepts. In future, men will never be warmed through by joy and love for work—as was the case in the past when things were instinctive and atavistic—if society is not permeated by such ideas and feelings as enter the world through the inspiration of initiates. These ideas must carry people along in such a way that they know: We have the social organism before us and we must devote ourselves to it. That is to say, work itself takes hold of their souls because they have an understanding for the social organism. Only those people will have such understanding who have heard and taken in those inspired concepts; that is to say, those imparted by spiritual science. In order that a love for work be re-born throughout mankind we cannot use those hollow concepts proclaimed today. We need spiritualized sciences which can permeate hearts and souls; permeate them in such a way that men will have joy and love for work. Labor will be placed alongside commodities in a society that not only hears about pictures through the educators of society, but also hears of inspirations and such concepts as are necessary to provide the means of production in our complicated society, and the necessary foundation upon which men can exist.

For this we further need to circulate intuitive concepts in society. The concepts about capital that you find in my book, The Threefold Social Order, will only flourish in a society which is receptive to intuitive concepts. That means: Capital will find its rightful place when men will acknowledge that intuition must live in them; commodity will find its rightful place when the necessity for imagination is acknowledged; and labor will find its rightful place when the necessity of inspiration is acknowledged.

Figure 1

If you take the above diagram and do not write the three concepts one below the other but in the way I have done here, then you can learn a lot from it if you permeate it with all the concepts to be found in my book about the threefold membering of the social organism. There are connections, back and forth, between labor and commodities; between commodities and capital, inasmuch as capital buys commodities; connections between labor and capital, and so on. Only, these three concepts must be arranged as shown.

Above everything, we must understand it is correct to say that in future the social order must become humanized. But it is necessary also to understand that the social order must be brought into being by men themselves; that they be willing to make up their minds to listen to the science of the initiates about imaginations, inspirations, and intuitions. This is a serious matter, for I am herewith stating nothing less than the fact that without the science of the spirit there will not take place in future any social transformation. That is the truth. It will never be possible to arouse in men the understanding necessary for matters like intuition, inspiration, imagination, if you abandon the schools to the State. For what does the State make out of schools?

Just think of something which has eminently to do with both the school and the State. I must confess I think it is something terrible, but people do not notice it. Think of civil rights, for example.1Translators' note: It must be emphasized that in Rudolf Steiner's social thinking these rights are only those which apply to everyone equally. It rules out the special connotations the expression has acquired in recent years, particularly in the United States of America. These rights are supposed to arise in the sense of those practices people today consider the proper thing. Parliaments decide about civil rights (I am speaking of democracy, not at all of monarchy). Civil rights are established through the representatives of everyone who has come of age. They are then incorporated in the body of law. Then the professor comes along and studies the law. Then he lectures on what he finds there as the declared civil rights. That is to say, the State at this point takes science in tow in the most decided way. The professor of civil rights may not lecture on anything but what is declared as rights in the State. Actually, the professor is not even needed, because one could record the State's laws for a phonograph and place this on the speaker's desk and let it run. This then is science.

I am citing an extreme case. You will scarcely assert that the majority decisions of parliaments today are inspired. The situation will have to be reversed. In spiritual life, in the universities, civil rights must come into existence as a science purely out of man's spiritual comprehension. The State can only attain its proper function if this is given to it by people. Some believe that the threefold membering of the social organism wants to turn the world upside down. Oh, no! The world is already upside down; the threefold order wishes to put it right-side up. This is what is important.

We have to find our way into such concepts or we move toward mechanizing the spirit, falling asleep and vegetizing the soul, and animalizing the body.

It is very important that we permeate ourselves with the conviction that we have to think thus radically if there is to be hope for the future. Above everything it is necessary for people to realize that they will have to build the social organism upon its three healthy members. They will only learn the significance of imagination in connection with commodities if economic life is developed in its pure form, and men are dependent upon conducting it out of brotherliness. The significance of inspiration for labor, producing joy and love for work, will only be realized if one person joins another as equals in parliaments, if real equality governs; that is, if every individual be permitted to contribute whatever of value lives in him. This will be different with each person. Then the life of rights will be governed by equality and will have to be inspired, not decided upon by the narrow-minded philistines as has been more and more the trend in ordinary democracy.

Capital can only be properly employed in the social organism if intuition will rise to freedom, and freedom will blossom from out the independently developing life of the spirit. Then there will stream out of spiritual life into labor what has to stream into it. I shall indicate the streams by arrows (Figure 2). When so organized these three spheres will permeate one another in the right way.

Figure 2

One of the first objections I met with in Germany was that people said: “Now he even wants to `three-member' the social organism! But the social organism must be a unity!” Men are simply hypnotized by this idea of unity, because they have always considered the State as something uniform. They are accustomed to this concept. A man who speaks of this unity appears to me like a man who says, “Now he even wants to have a horse that stands on four legs; a horse must be a unity, it cannot be membered into four legs.” Nobody will demand such a thing, of course, nor do I wish to put the “horse” State, the social organism, on one leg but upon its healthy three legs. Just as the horse-unit does not lose its unity by standing on four legs, likewise the social organism does not lose its unity by placing it upon its healthy three members. On the contrary, it acquires its unity just by placing it upon its healthy three members. Men today are entirely unable to free themselves from their accustomed concepts. But it is most important that we do not merely believe that single external establishments have to be transformed, but that it is our ideas, our concepts, our feelings that have to be transformed. Indeed, we may say that we need different heads on our shoulders if we wish to approach the future in a beneficial way. This is what is necessary and what is so hard for men to get accustomed to, because our old heads are so dear to us, these old heads that are only accustomed to thinking what they have thought for ages. Today we have consciously to transform what lives in our souls.

Now do not think this is an easy task. Many people believe today that they have already transformed their thoughts; they do not notice that they have remained the same old ones, especially in the field of education. Here you can have strange experiences. We tell people of the concepts spiritual science produces in the field of education. You may talk today to very advanced teachers, directors, and superintendents of schools; they listen to you and say, “Well, I thought that a long time ago; indeed, I am of exactly the same opinion.” In reality, however, they hold the very opposite opinion to what you tell them. They express the opposite opinion with the same words. In this way people pass each other by today. Words have lost connection with spirituality. It has to be found again or we cannot progress.

Social tasks, therefore, lie much more in the sphere of the soul than we ordinarily realize.