Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Aesop's Socialist Fable of the Belly and the Members
Six hundred years before Christ, Aesop exposed the folly of the antagonism between labor and capital in the fable of
The Belly and the Members:
It once happened that the members of the human body, taking some exception at the conduct of the Belly, resolved no longer to grant him the usual supplies (food). The Tongue first, in a seditious speech, aggravated their grievances; and after highly extolling the activity and diligence of the Hands and Feet, set forth how hard and unreasonable it was, that the fruits of their labor should be squandered away upon the insatiable cravings of a fat and indolent paunch, which was entirely useless, and unable to do anything towards helping himself. This speech was received with unanimous applause by all the members. Immediately the Hands declared they would work no more; the Feet determined to carry no farther the load with which they had hitherto been oppressed; nay, the very Teeth refused to prepare a single morsel more for his use. In this distress the Belly besought them to consider maturely, and not foment so senseless a rebellion. There is none of you, says he, but may be sensible that whatsoever you bestow upon me is immediately converted to your use, and dispersed by me for the good of you all into every limb. But he remonstrated in vain; for during the clamors of passion the voice of reason is always unregarded. It being therefore impossible for him to quiet the tumult, he was starved for want of their assistance, and the body wasted away to a skeleton. The Limbs, grown weak and languid, were sensible at last of their error, and would fain have returned to their respective duty, but it was now too late; death had taken possession of the whole, and they all perished together.
Sir Guilford Lindsey Molesworth condensed this story thusly:
The members (labour)—the hands, the legs, arms, etc.—being indignant that the belly (capital) should remain idle whilst absorbing the fruit of their labour, stopped the supplies, with the result that they themselves began to suffer and pine away; and then the fools discovered that the belly was essential to their very existence, and that, far from being idle, it was working in their interest by digesting the food which they had supplied and distributing it to the members.
It was by the recital of this fable that Menenius Agrippa, the Roman Consul, quelled that which was practically a Socialist insurrection directed by labour against capital.
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