The proletariat has reached the point where it knows exactly what road it should follow in the immense social transformation that is coming. It recognises now distinctly enough the chief aspects of the new régime that it wishes and ought to institute. It knows that the power of organised labour will be substituted for the power of capital, that all tribute to capital from labour will be abolished, and that the disorder of capitalist and mercantile production will give place to an order of production regulated by science itself according to the needs of every one. The proletariat knows that it is necessary, in order that the organisation of freed and sovereign labour may become possible, for the collective body—the community—to substitute its right for the existing right of private property. It is clear that just as long as individuals and classes control the means of production so long will the authority over a large number of individuals be retained and exploited by the few. The intervention of the community itself in regard to property is necessary in order that the rights of all individuals may be respected. From this truth comes the grand collectivist or communist idea of social property which is the leading light of the Socialist proletariat in its many-sided and laborious effort.
But this general idea, however clear and well defined it be, is not sufficient to decide the method to be employed or the innumerable combinations by means of which Socialism will be instituted. It is certain that the direction of economic evolution will itself determine the infinitely complex relations according to which the new society will be organised. A few general formulæ will not suffice to transform society. It will be necessary to observe constantly the trend of affairs, to grasp the points at which the society of to-day touches the new idea. Our effort would be sterile and our action would hinder the march of events instead of aiding it, if we did not determine the direction which facts, minds, inclinations, and customs are taking.
I come back to the same concrete example. I have shown the blind evolution that is taking place in the holdings of the peasantry, a change unconscious and hidden, by which, if I may say so, the spirit of ownership is being renewed. There is a period of almost a month and a half during the year, a particularly active period too, when the peasant proprietors associate themselves in groups over quite an extended area and work with one another and for one another. Hardly has the harvesting-machine (which has not everywhere the adjunct of a binding-machine) laid down the grain in small parcels on the fertile earth, before the neighbouring proprietors rush to help in tying the grain into sheaves, forming bundles of the sheaves, loading these bundles into great carts, and building the stacks. Between the métayers and the small peasant proprietors, the same exchange of service takes place, and there is not merely a mutual lending of manual labour but of work animals also.
When the harvesting machine has cut down the grain, it is necessary, for fear of storms, to tie it up quickly and to heap it in stacks. In order to hasten this urgent work the peasants lend each other carts and oxen, and, I repeat it, there is no account kept. It would be impossible to value the services of one as against those of another. It is a free and friendly exchange. Thus, a little bit of the communist soul penetrates into the peasant labour and into the peasant conscience, and this lasts until the threshing-machine has done away with the last stack of the row into which the groups have spontaneously formed themselves.
The Socialists indeed have never expected to force peasant property into communistic form. Our predecessors and our leaders have always said that the example of agricultural production on a great scale would suffice to make the peasant proprietors abandon small field cultivation and divided properties. But even this statement of the case is inaccurate and represents the evolution of rural life in too dry, too mechanical a manner. It is not merely that, by no stroke of authority, nor even by attraction, the peasant property will enter into the communistic movement. It will do this, in part at least, by its own internal evolution.
One of the essential tasks of Socialism will be to give to the peasant proprietors a lively sense and a true understanding of the change that is obscurely taking place among them. When one makes them notice it they are astonished for a moment, then they recognise the extent of the change that is coming about little by little in their habits and thoughts. It is in prolonging and systematising these new tendencies that Socialism will come into contact with life and will borrow its strength. This co-operation, still superficial and limited, will have to be extended and organised and made adaptable. It would be necessary in many regions to inaugurate great works for the perfecting of agricultural processes: ditches must be dug, marshes drained, hills flattened, fertiliser carted, earth must be added and irrigation managed. It is possible that the nation will be called upon to encourage and subsidise these works, for it is irrational that there should be public works of communication and not public works of production. However, it is very clear that the active and intelligent collaboration of the producers themselves will be necessary. Moreover, this collaboration is beginning to seem possible since communistic habits have got a foothold in the peasant labour.
I could cite many characteristics, slight indeed but which outline the future forms which life will take. I spoke of the vineyards around Gaillac. There, for several years, since the simple agricultural wage earners have regained the hope of acquiring some small share of the reconstituted vineyards, they have little by little established a curious custom. The working day, which commences it is true at a very early hour, almost at daybreak, ends at four o'clock in the afternoon. The reason is that it is necessary for many of these proletarians, of these wage earners who possess a small vineyard and who wish to work in it after their day's labour at the bourgeois proprietor's, to be free at four o'clock. Thus, these men are accustomed to two kinds of work, to the collective work which they perform on a great estate in company with numerous wage earners, and to the individual labour that they perform on their own minute property. I hardly need say that the work they do for themselves is, even after the fatigue of the paid labour, a pleasure and a joy. But I am convinced that this duality of soul will continue in them after the great social transformation. I suppose that the great vineyards will become the property of the commune. I suppose that the workers who yesterday were the paid labourers of the noble or bourgeois proprietors will be formed into an association and will receive from the commune the large estates to exploit. It is evident that they will be in a much happier situation than that in which they find themselves to-day. Whatever part of the product is retained by the commune and by the nation for the benefit of large undertakings of use to society as a whole, the remuneration of the associated workers will be larger than now, as it will no longer be subject to the deductions of the proprietor. And the workers will have the guaranties which they lack to-day. Without being proprietors in the strict and narrow sense of the term, they will not be salaried workers. They will choose their employers; they will take part in the management of undertakings; they will have a definite right by reason of the contracts; they will be protected by the higher forms of the contracts which in the Communist society will guarantee all individual rights, even against arbitrary action of the association of which they will form a part. They will then be attached to the great vineyards cultivated by their hands, by a bond more living and strong, by a sensation more joyous and more full than the wage earner of to-day enjoys. And nevertheless it is extremely probable that they would feel a vital loss if they should no longer find, in seeing the grapes grow golden on certain vines which were theirs, no one's but theirs, that keen joy which has more intimacy than egotism in it. And why should a communist society, skilful in cultivating all varieties of joys, abolish this one? Let our conscious effort direct more and more the vast social movement towards the Communism to which it already so strongly inclines, but once started in this direction the varied forces of life will themselves freely and finally determine their own advance and equilibrium.