The extract is from the opening of Thompson's last book before his untimely death, "Practical Directions for the Speedy and Economical Establishment of Communities, on the Principles of Mutual Co-operation, United Possessions and Equality" of 1830. In the main was a practical "build your own community" manual and the bulk of it was taken up with practical matters. However the necessity of squeezing in a summary of the political and economic bases of the projected community, means that this "Explanation of Leading Terms" at the beginning of the work remains the most abbreviated version of his analysis available

From "Practical Directions For The Speedy and Economical Establishment of Communities, on the Principles of Mutual Co-operation, United Possessions and Equality", 1830, William Thompson

Explanation of Leading Terms

In all inquiries, particularly those termed practical, it is essential in order to be understood and to enable those who read to judge of the utility of the measures recommended, to define our leading terms, and above all to define a set of terms which are in general use and to which attaches an arbitrary meaning according to his situation in life, knowledge and feelings. If we could not be understood in mechanics by calling a piston a cylinder, neither can we be understood in moral and economical arrangements if we do not always employ the same terms, to express the same combinations of ideas or of the things which those ideas represent. Amongst the most vague and arbitrary of our terms, and to which it is therefore necessary, at the outset, to attach a definite meaning, are the following.

LABOR; is that species of exertion, whether of mind or body, which produces any object of desire, which is also of exchangeable value. This separates that species of exertion which we call labor, from those exertions which are universally deemed pernicious or useless on the one hand, and on the other from mere sports or amusements. Knowledge and strength are procured by exertion, but are not articles of wealth, not being capable of exchange, nor produced by labor as here defined; though the communication of knowledge or the training to strength, may procure value in exchange.Useful labor is that which affords more pleasure in the use of its products than pain in their production. Productive labor is that which replaces in exchangeable value, as much as, or rather more than, it consumes. Productive labor, in a mere economical wealth-producing sense, may therefore be utterly useless as the term useful is here applied.

WEALTH, consists of all those objects of desire which are produced by labor.

NECESSARIES:* those articles of food, clothing, shelter, &c. which, under existing circumstances, are wanting to preserve permanent health thro' the longest life. Change of circumstances, as of latitude or elevation, increase of knowledge, or new habits, may vary these articles. Necessaries are always worth the trouble of production, be that trouble ever so great.

COMFORTS, CONVENIENCES: those articles which tho' not wanting to preserve permanent health thro' the longest life, give so much pleasure in the use as more than to counterbalance the trouble of producing them.

SUPERFLUITIES, EXTRAVAGANCIES: those articles which do not afford pleasure enough in the use to counterbalance the trouble of producing them.

All the above articles should be used by the same persons, or equally by the same association of persons, that produce them: though the definitions will apply be the used by whom they may.

The term luxuries, is so vague, sometimes used as equivalent to superfluities, or extravagances, sometimes to comforts or conveniences, sometimes to mere embelishments and elegancies whether worth the trouble of production or not, that we shall pass it by. What are called embelishments or elegancies, when tried by the touchstone of utility, will be found sometimes to fall under the head of mere superfluities, frequently under the head of comforts or conveniences, and even sometimes perhaps under the head of necessaries. These embelishments or elegancies, therefore will be sought after and produced by rational beings, like all other articles, in the exact ratio of the enjoyments they are capable of affording - all their consequences considered - compared with the trouble of producing them. Luxuries may perhaps be fairly defined as "those more costly articles of wealth, of which any person, from any motive, moral or economical, disapproves of the use."

COMMUNITY: and association of persons, in sufficient numbers, and living on a space of land of sufficient extent to supply by their own exertions all of each other's wants. All necessaries are by a wise community, made and consumed at home, as well as for economy as for still higher objects; particularly until the community becomes the unincumbered proprietor of its own establishment, and until other communities are in communication with it; conveniences and comforts are either made at home, or procured in exchange for other articles made at home, as local and other circumstances may render most economical: while superfluities are entirely dispensed with for home use, or if made at all, only for the purpose of exchanging for useful articles with those members of society at large, who may demand such superfluities. Community denotes common exertion and common benefit, common exertion according to the capabilities of each individual directed in the way most condusive to the common good, and common benefit according to the varying states and wants of each individual so as to produce as nearly as our best directed efforts can accomplish, equal happiness to all.

To explain the meaning we attach to the word Community we add to it the words "mutual co-operation" and "equal distribution", or instead of these, and somewhat varying our explanation, we use the words common or "united property", or "common or united possessions", "equal enjoyments", for brevity, or more correctly "equal means of enjoyment".

MUTUAL CO-OPERATION. The words "Mutual Co-operation", imply that every individual entering a community is willing to direct his or her labor, mental or physical, or as is most frequently the case, both combined, to whatever objects may be deemed by the general voice, most conducive to the general good, and that any new mode of labor deemed useful will be cheerfully applied to and if necessary, learned by every individual. The strength of women is quite adequate to perform more than half of the employments, now pursued exclusively by men, as well as men perform the same operations; the utility of mere strength, being now to so great an extent superseded by mechanical, and other scientific means. If women produce less than men, they also consume less than men. Nine-tenths of the time of women, are now lost to their own, and the general happiness, the toils imposed on them being almost solely unproductive and repulsive drudgery; and their personal independence is bartered for this mockery of idleness and uselessness. It being our object to obtain the greatest sum of happiness out of the smallest expense of labor, we shall of course avail ourselves to the utmost extent of all the means, which the present state of human knowledge affords, of abridging labor, and removing from it everything repulsive.

EQUAL DISTRIBUTION: that which affords to every individual equally exerting, or equally willing to exert, his or her faculties for the common good, equal means of physical, intellectual, and social enjoyments. As no species of labor (that for immediate individual amusement, or preparing the materials for it excepted) will be undertaken by the members of a rational community, which does not tend to the increase of the general happiness, as all species of labor, mental or corporeal, and every variety of each will, (under the given circumstances, with the amount of labor at command,) be equally necessary for the common good; as mental labor is perhaps necessarily attended in its exercise with more pleasure than physical or muscular labor; as superior strength or skill certainly make lighter and pleasanter the labor about which they are employed; as all are equally liable from birth and during the course of life to organic defects, misdirection of culture, or accidents; we hold that justice, which is only a modification of benevolence, or one of the means of carrying its wishes into effect, and having happiness in view as its ultimate object, requires, that all the different species of producers, laborers, or co-operators to the common good, exercising equally, or equally willing to exercise, their various powers, should be rendered to the utmost of our ability equally happy; particularly when we find that such a mode of equal distribution tends to a much more abundant reproduction, than any mode of unequal distribution, directly or indirectly brought about, ever effected or desired; inasmuch as equal distribution alone not only permits, but renders it the interest of all that the faculties of all should be to the utmost improved and rendered productive, that the shares of each may be thereby increased. Equal distribution of the articles of wealth produced by the common or united efforts of all, and of the means of of social and intellectual pleasures, we deem indispensible to the chance of attaining this equal share of happiness; experience having every where and unequivocally proved that an equal distribution of any quantity of the means of happiness, produces more enjoyment when shared in such portions and amongst so many as are capable of experiencing individual enjoyment from them, than any mode of unequal distribution of the same quantity of the means of happiness.

But by equal distribution, we do not mean that the same quantity of cloth or food should be measured out daily, monthly or quarterly, to every individual, but proportioned to the physical necessities of each, which necessities must be mostly measured by individual feelings, stature, &c. As to articles produced by labor, not necessary to perfect and continued health, called comforts or conveniences, the supply of such non-essentials being limited, it may be necessary to observe, particularly in the commencement, a rigid equality of distribution of such articles to all, those not valuing such articles giving their superfluity to those who are fonder of them, or getting substitutes more agreeable to their tastes. If however the quantity, like that of essentials, be sufficient for the rational desires of all, the check of weight or measurement would cease to be requisite.

Consumption for the mere purpose of ostentation being out of the question, where all can, if they please, procure by labor, what they desire, where no wealth can be procured without labor, and where comforts or conveniences are equally shared by all, the worth of consumption (supposing always that the articles are worth the trouble of production) will soon come to be estimated by its utility, or by the tendency of the articles used to produce a preponderance of good over evil to all who may be affected by the use. Rational desires will soon under such arrangements, where the trouble of production is the efficient check to waste of consumption, supplant artificial desires or those of antipathy, valued for the mere contrast which they afford to the wretchedness or comparative destitution of others, or pursued by the idle and ignorant for the mere purpose of inducing temporary excitement as a refuge from the habitual languor of mind and body or of both. Thus, air and generally water, being in sufficient abundance for all, no crimes or vices arise from contests to possess them. So it would be were the comforts and conveniences of life produced by easy labor in sufficient abundance for the rational desires of all, meaning by rational those desires which, besides being attended with preponderant good, are also worth gratification at the expense of the trouble of producing the articles necessary to gratify them.

As the essential basis, however, of equal distribution, or equal renumeration, it is indispensible that every community should have, at every stage of its progress, the means, consisting of land, machines, implements, raw materials &c. of affording equally useful employment to all the varied faculties and capabilities of all the members of both sexes, and of all ages, strength and temperament, all setting out in good health. Equal utility, or the equally useful efforts or dispositions to exertion, (which can only be induced by such arrangements,) are essential to equal remuneration. Not only the inclination to be useful must exist, or be called forth, in the members, but the means of rendering that inclination available, must be afforded by co-operative arrangements. Those whom organization or unfortunate habits will not permit to acquire skill, will do what they can, that is to say, will, in order to share equal remuneration, undertake employments which would be repulsive to others of happier organization or more fortunate habits, while those whom superior organization or more fortunate habits have rendered capable of practising or learning more ingenious operations, whether of muscle or mind, yielding more ease and pleasure to themselves in the exercise, will also be satisfied with equal remuneration. They will be both equally accommodated and satisfied in doing what they respectively excel in, and can do with most effect: neither will envy nor depreciate the exertions of the other, each being interested in the success of the other; the common voice or interest directing the operations of all to the general happiness of all.

COMMUNITY OF PROPERTY OR POSSESSIONS. By community of property or possessions, we do not mean, that no person shall possess any thing, but that every adult person shall possess everything, that is to say, all the lands, houses, machinery, implements and other stock of the Community, in as ample a manner as they are possessed by any other member whatever, the pleasure of such possession not being lessened by the self-tormenting feelings of antipathy rejoicing in the exclusion of others, but being enhanced by the pleasures of sympathy with numerous friends deriving similar pleasures from the same objects; and such proprietorship being essential to personal independence. This community, or union, of possession, is only limited by the individual use of such articles of food, clothing, &c. as are appropriated from the common stock, and are in the course of individual consumption by each member. Where every individual can be supplied with such articles from the common stock, none can feel a wish of abstracting them from others. Neither do we mean by community of property, that every person shall take or waste or dispose of whatever portions he pleases of the common stock: the use will be of course regulated by the general voice, so as to produce the greatest sum of happiness to all.

This species of possession is very different from the falsely boasted community of family possessions and interests, in which one is in truth the owner and master of all, and permits merely or restrains the use, at his wisdom or caprice, to all the other members. As soon as the younger members of the family arrive, by observation, and the exercise of their reason, at a real knowledge of facts and consequences, they perceive the deception of pretended united interests, and look forward to the time when all will belong to one of themselves, or when a division more or less capricious will take place, at the death of the head of the family. Alienation proceeding from a contrariety of favors, expectations, and interests, for the most part continually increases amongst the members of a family, (some few peculiarly fortunate cases excepted) till adult age breaks the flimsy web of constrained union, kept together for a time by mere authority over weakness, ignorance and dependance, and by the still greater pressure of the external opposing interests of all around out of the family on its peculiar concerns.

Community of property or possessions, cannot be maintained if unaccompanied with community of production, and also with community of enjoyment or distribution. The failure of all past schemes of common or rather of united, and equal possessions, has arisen (as well as from want of other species of social knowledge) from ignorance of this fact now proved by ample social experience, viz. that equal effort to promote the common good must go hand in hand with equal proprietorship, use, and enjoyment. Where some do nothing towards the common production, or are favored at the expense of the rest in the distribution of the produce, how can the minds of those who are rational as well as industrious be satisfied? How can they continue cheerfully to produce or dispense their exclusive productions amongst the idlers or the avaricious? How long can they be deluded into the maintenance of such a pretended system of common or united property? Community or union of property, is a mere juggle where the use, the permanent use or proprietorship, as well as the temporary use, is not equal to all; nor will it long exist where means are not taken that all capable of contributing shall contribute alike, i.e. at the expense of equal voluntary effort - which effort however may itself be rendered delightful to all.

United possessions or common property have fallen into disesteem amongst writers on national wealth from a supposed experience of their inaptitude to encourage production, as supposed to be evinced in the earlier stages of human associations; production and not the happiness of the producers, being the paramount object of such writers. It may be safely said that in every stage of society and knowledge, more production has always taken place amongst associations of persons, particularly if the associators were equal, than amongst an equal number of isolated laborers. Where co-operative efforts and equal distribution, have failed to increase production, the failure has arisen from the occasional inroads of force, or the fraud of leaders, on such efforts, and from ignorance of the arts of production. Compared with isolated efforts, and individual possessions, in the same state of society, and with the same degree of knowledge, union of effort, possession, and enjoyment has uniformly increased production in a very considerable ratio, and in a still indefinitely greater ratio, increased happiness.

It has been well observed that the exertions of competition or those of isolated owners of capital, have been one of the chief obstacles to the division of labor in manufactures; which division frequently so much increases the powers of production. Still, though co-operative industry may afford superior facilities for the division of labor, that division and even labor itself will, under that scheme of industry, be kept always subordinate to superior objects.

By individual exertion and possession and its attendant competition, it is observed that almost all the wealth of industrious nations has in point of fact, been produced, and that the mass is infinitely greater than has ever been obtained by forced labor from the same number of individuals. But our system of united possessions as well as of equal effort, is altogether voluntary. Forced or slave labor, it must however be observed, is but a modification, though perhaps the worst modification, of the system of individual possessions and unequal distribution. Whenever competition, more or less restrained has succeeded to force, production has certainly increased, because so much freedom of exertion and voluntariness have crept in; and very generally, if not universally, the happiness of the producers has been advanced beyond the slave average of happiness arising from the compulsory system of labor. It is however a fact equally well ascertained by repeated experience that wherever, on isolated spots, and amongst a comparitively few individuals, the system of joint possession, equal enjoyment, and mutual co-operation in production, has been voluntarily introduced, production has increased in more than a double ratio, and the happiness of the producers has increased in more than a tenfold ratio, over the production and the happiness of the best conducted systems of labor under individual possessions. United possession is as much superior to the individual possession of competition, as the individual possession of competition is superior to individual possession and slave labor. These beneficial effects of co-operative labor have been obtained notwithstanding the defects of principle and consequent arrangement under which such communities have been hitherto instituted. These defects have been the chief causes of their not spreading when once introduced. The general principle of the moving power of the steam-engine, the elastic force of steam, was discovered long before the discovery of those subordinate but essential mechanical principles and contrivances which were necessary to render that chemical power extensively useful. If physical discoveries, where comparitively little of sinister interest of prejudice has been opposed to their development, have been of such slow growth, how can we wonder that social and moral improvements, more difficult of development, and always encompassed with hostile prejudices, should be of still slower growth and establishment? The Jesuits at Paraguay, and Mr. Rapp in the N.A. United States, equally allured by the system of feelings and of individual appropriations around them, monopolized the government, and the whole possession of what they were pleased to call the common property, keeping the mass of the people in superstitious ignorance, and dispensing the temporary use of the annual products as they thought fit, always reserving to themselves the prophet's share. How could such hypocritical systems last?

UNITED POSSESSIONS. We do not mean that those having now larger possessions should be called upon to unite them with those having smaller or having none, but that the same quantum of value, whether in money or in articles the produce of previous labor, or in articles to be produced by future labor, should be contributed by all entering a Community. The generosity of the rich we should be delighted to witness, but it forms no essential feature of our plan. The stock requisite to render the labor of each person productive is not large, varying from twenty to one hundred pounds. The extra labor of a few years would accumulate this stock for every individual, or would repay the amount if borrowed, or would partly accumulate and partly repay. Our object is that within a few years from the commencement of a community, the possessions of all, within the community, should be united and equal, because all would have contributed equally, whether in money or labor, to the common stock. The union of possessions or capital, is necessary to conduct any operation on a large scale so as to admit of economical production by the division of labor and the use of machinery. This union of capital or possessions, is now effected by individual accumulation of the few and abject poverty and dependence of the mass. How much more wise to let it be the result of the voluntary union, for the benefit of all, of inefficient individual capitals or possessions!

EQUALITY OF EXERTIONS. These are comprehended in the explanation of the terms as we understand them, of "Mutual Co-operation", in page 3. Equality of exertion muscular or mental, of all, if not physically incapacitated, is the only just and rational basis of equality of enjoyments. As all standards of estimating the supposed merits of different species of exertion, are arbitrary and irrational, except those of utility, which a community will necessarily adopt, and as all inclination to be useful according to the faculties of the individual, is in fact equally meritorious, we deem the exertions equal when they are voluntarily applied in the direction the community may deem most useful according to individual attainments and capabilities. The time employed must be the measure of exertion.

EQUALITY OF ENJOYMENTS. In the strict sense of the words, equality of enjoyment amongst a large number of people is an unattainable, and therefore a vain object of pursuit. What we mean is that equal happiness shall be secured to all, as far as may be in the power of the community to effect it, by the equal exertions of each, for the benefit of all; and with this view that all the means of enjoyment derived from articles of wealth, and all the means of improvement and of social pleasures, shall be afforded equally to all. Differences of organization, of previous culture amongst the first members, of age and accident, will inevitably cause equal means of happiness to fail in producing to all an equal result of enjoyment. But instead of aggravating, as is now done under the existing system of individual accumulation and contending interests, these natural and unavoidable sources of inequality of physical and mental power and enjoyment, it will be our object to alleviate these natural evils, and even as far as possible to compensate for them.


* Necessaries have been lately described by an original and bold inquirer, as "those articles which in every stage of human existence above the 40th degree of latitude have been esteemed necessary to existence;" thus excluding the promotion of permanent health and long life. - Practical, Moral, and Political Economy, by T.R. Edmonds, 1828, E. Wilson, Royal Exchange, London.


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