The Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happinessor Let the Productive Power of the Collective Run Riot!

‘An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness,’ by William Thompson. The Row venue, Coventry Biennial, UK
4 Oct – 24 November 2019

‘The Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness’ is a Partisan Social Club (PSC) project for the Coventry Biennial, 2019. The project involves working with existing PSC members and calling forth new participants to explore ideas of labour, economy and the distribution of wealth as first expressed in the writing of Irish philosopher William Thompson (1775–1833). The results of the first workshop session by PSC members are pasted on the walls of a room in The Row building (2nd Floor) this same space was the venue for eight subsequent workshops that PSC members ran throughout the biennial exhibition. The workshop participants discussed and at times translated Thompson’s ideas into statements, texts and artworks, corresponding to their own experiences and viewpoints on working life, equality and happiness. The outcomes of their activities were displayed in the space and participants of the workshops are considered members of the club. The idea is to enable the development of an interest group, as is common to civil society, albeit in a move towards a radical, democratic and partisan conception of civil society.

William Thompson’s An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness; applied to the Newly Proposed System of Voluntary Equality of Wealth, was first published in 1824. It was Thompson’s first major work in political economy, and it contains his most comprehensive critique of capitalism as well as his proposals for a co-operative society as an alternative to the existing state of affairs, which saw acute poverty amongst the lower classes in Ireland and the UK. He condemned the narrow mechanical approach taken by political economists but also the naïvely utopian and moralist approach of philosophers and attempted to combine a scientific and ethical critique of the system, concentrating on how wealth is created and also how it is distributed. To this end he introduced the term ‘social science’ as a name for his approach. It is said that this is the first time the phrase was published in the English Language; Thompson takes it from French enlightenment philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet (Socialist Voice, April 2013). The term ‘Social Sciences’ now has come to denote a number of academic disciplines related to the study of society; including anthropology, sociology, human geography, political science and psychology.

In An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth. Thompson identified many of the themes and analysis Marx and Engels would tackle half a century later and elucidated these in a number of central principles: 

1. Wealth is produced by labour. 
2. The aim of production should be to distribute its product to create the greatest possible happiness
3. This will be achieved by distributing wealth equally to the greatest number. 
4. The greatest incentive to work is to receive the entire use of the value you created. 
5. Exchange should be voluntary to the producers of the articles. 

Marx read and was influenced by Thompson. Common to them both is the use of the labour theory of value and of exploitation in understanding the creation of surplus value, wealth, and consequently inequality and mass unhappiness. It is claimed that Thompson popularised the word ‘competitive’ as a description of capitalism and also the word ‘socialism’ in debates in London with such notable political economists as John Stuart Mill. 

Thompson’s critique of capitalism, his scathing attacks on political power and privilege, his views on religion and on women are all still valid. For example, in his book, Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain Them in Political, and Thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, the first text on Feminism written by a man, he acknowledges the unequal treatment that women have had to endure and calls for change. He says,

“Women of England! Women in whatever country ye breathe - wherever ye breathe, degraded - awake! Awake to the contemplation of the happiness that awaits you when all your faculties of mind and body shall be fully cultivated and developed; when every path in which ye can exercise those improved faculties shall be laid open and rendered delightful to you, even as to them who now ignorantly enslave and degrade you.” (Thompson, 1825: 188).

The Partisan Social Club at Coventry Biennale were: Tim Cape, Laura Dee Milnes, Sadie Edington, Chang Gao, Alison Gill, Andy Hewitt, Benji Jeffery, Hanxuan Jiang, Mel Jordan, Khaver Idrees, Liz Murray, Ceyda Oskay, Allan Struthers, Yukako Tanaka, Toby Tobias, Adam J B Walker, Kai Wang.

PSC Workshopping Study Manual

A series of eight workshops took place during the exhibition. Outcomes of the workshops were left in the space.

Friday 1 November 2019
Plat Cap Vocoder
With Adam J B Walker

Have you worked for Uber, Deliveroo or other 'platform capitalist' businesses? Have you made use of the them? Come to this workshop, open the app on your phone, and recite your data trail back into a collective sonic maelstrom of unsurveillability.

Saturday 2 November 2019
Musicalise Your Slogan
Tim Cape & Allan Struthers, Toby Tobias

This Workshop looks at the history of political slogans and their effectiveness. We then write our own slogans before voting on one which we put to music and sing.

Wednesday 13 November 2019
Make all capitalists labourers
Andy Hewitt & Mel Jordan

An introduction to the history and writing of slogans. Each participant will create a slogan to go on one of the ceiling tiles in the PSC base room in The Row venue.

Friday 15 November 2019
Is This T-shirt Working Hard Enough? 
Sadie Edginton & Khaver Idrees Yukako Tanaka

In this workshop the artists will be exploring the use of t-shirts in displaying printed political text. The artists have devised a set of shapes out of their languages of English and Arabic that people can play with to create text and patterns. We invite you to join us to create printed words. T-shirts will be available, also feel free to bring your own!

Saturday 16 November 2019
Reflection of Oversea Studies as Chinese identity 
Chang Gao, Hanxuan Jiang & Kai Wang

The workshop is based on a game called “Telling truth and Big Adventure”. As talking about political issues is a quite sensitive in China, so we use a framework of a popular game among Chinese young people to make the participants less worried/feeling friendly.

Thursday 21 November 2019
Working Podclasst LIVE!
Benji Jeffery & Laura Dee Milnes

Working Podclasst LIVE!  a structured discussion, bringing in audience and recording the event to incorporate into a special podcast later in the series. A 2-hour event is plenty with a bit of pre-amble and getting comfy before 1-1.5 hr of discussion. 

Saturday 23 November 2019
Twin Advisory Service (TAS)
Alison Gill and Liz Murray

Twice the Advice: A problem shared is a problem spared!

Thompson, W., An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness; applied to the Newly Proposed System of Voluntary Equality of Wealth, Longman, Hurst Rees, Orme, Brown & Green: London, 1825

Extracts from, Appeal of one-half of the human race, Women”, Andrew Roberts, Middlesex University
Accessed 15 August 2019

Social Science, no named author,
Accessed 18 August 2019

Socialist Voice, April 2013, no named author,
Accessed 1 August 2019

Workers Solidarity Movement, no named author, dated 24 March 2010,
Accessed 1 August 2019

Other useful websites for reference