Henry George and the Communist Manifesto
10 planks of the Communist Manifesto and how Henry George would have likely responded.
February 3, 2019
Rick DiMare

The Soviet experiment with Marxism was a disaster. Might it have been different if the Soviets had fully understood Henry George, and amended the Communist Manifesto accordingly?

Here, I’m just going to list the 10 planks of the Communist Manifesto and give my opinion as to how Henry George would likely have responded, given his entire history of thought from when Progress and Poverty (1879) was published, until he died in 1897, and including the Georgist national period (1890-1895).

In a nutshell, although there was some agreement between Marx and George, Marx’s abolishment of private property was too extreme for George, who essentially accused Marx of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Plank #1: Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.

Henry George would not have allowed state ownership of land. The state was to act as trustee for the people, and would only have taxation powers over the unearned gains derived from land, gains that we today call “capital gains” or “net rental income.” But aside from allowing government rights over land gains and net income, George would support a sort of conditional private ownership where the state enforces our right to “exclusive possession” of land. This conflict surrounding Plank #1 is perhaps the most serious and substantive difference between Marx and George.

Plank #2: A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

George would not support any income tax which included wages in the tax base, even if the wage was rather high. As long as the wage was really earned, and not unearned income in disguise, wages were to be considered the personal property of the wage earner, and not taxable as “wage income.” But aside from allowing a property right in wages, if the “heavy progressive” income tax was only levied on unearned income, or on the issuance of private bank notes, he would support a heavy progressive income tax. This relates to an important topic today because, unlike we’re told, corporate profits and dividends are not “earned by the corporation,” but instead are unearned income. The corporation is simply a legal fiction, so any attempt to label corporate profits as “earned” is an attempt by human stock-holders to dupe the public.  

Plank #3: Abolition of all rights of inheritance.

George would likely make an allowance for smaller estates where, for example, the deceased may have left dependents behind, or the estate may consist of unpaid labor that belonged to heirs, but otherwise would agree that a heavy progressive estate tax is an acceptable way to get at unearned income, that the tax acts as a backstop to the entire tax system’s attempt to get at unearned income, and also that the estate tax does not get passed on to consumers, so could be allowed under George’s “single tax” umbrella.

Plank #4: Confiscation of the property of emigrants and rebels.

I don’t believe George ever addressed the emigration issue, but I believe he would’ve treated people who left the United States as though they had died, and heavily taxed their estates, especially if the estate was comprised of unearned income and the taxpayer had been successful at avoiding or evading taxes while living in the United States.

Plank #5: Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.

The key words here are “state capital.” Federal Reserve notes (FRNs) are not state capital because they’re not issued directly by Congress, but instead are issued by many private corporations licensed or chartered by Congress. In addition, FRNs represent debt that the holder of the notes owes to the banks, so cannot be used as financial “capital” under George’s definition. However, George would probably agree that “a national bank” like the Fed is necessary, but that the bank’s primary purpose is to help Congress distribute its own U.S. Notes, not to issue its own private notes.

Plank #6: Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.

George would agree that all communication and transportation networks should be fully controlled and managed by government, and this is because they are “natural monopolies” where free market competition is impossible or impractical. George directly recommended the socialization of natural monopolies in Paragraph 11 of his 1890 Platform of the Single Tax League of the United States.

Plank #7: Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

George would likely only exert state control over companies which were associated with national defense, health care, communication and transportation services, infrastructure maintenance, and other natural monopolies. Due to his respect for land, George would also likely support government measures to protect land, ocean, space, etc. from waste or pollution. But again, I think Marx’s complete government takeover of private industry was generally too extreme for George. Where free market competition of goods and services exists and thrives, let the free market operate.  

Plank #8: Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

Again, too extreme for George. He’d likely support a job guarantee program where anyone who wanted a job could get one, but wouldn’t force people to work. Also, “industrial armies” presently exist in some U.S. industries, like road and infrastructure building, waste collection, etc. but I doubt George would want a industrial armies creating all our food (though many large-scale U.S. corporate food producers are approaching this Marxist ideal).

Plank #9: Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

Here Marx seems to saying we should begin seeing ourselves as world citizens first, with subordinating loyalties to our nation, state, city or town, and George would probably agree. George stated in the 1890 Platform that he wanted everyone in the world to trade as freely with each other, like the several states of the United States were trading and associating with each other in the late 19th century.

Plank #10: Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.

I don’t see any disagreement from George here, except that he would extend free education and training to everyone who wanted it, not just children.

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Rick DiMare

Rick is a self employed attorney from Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston College and studied law at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. He also administers the Facebook group called Common Wealth Tax, which seeks to explore the (currently obscure) link between modern income tax laws and the Land Value Tax (LVT) advocated by political economist and “Greenbacker” Henry George (1839-1897).