Studies in Socialism/Socialism and Life

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The domination of one class is an attempt to degrade humanity. Socialism, which will abolish all primacy of class and indeed all class, elevates humanity to its highest level. It is therefore a duty for all men to be Socialists.

Let no one object, as do some Socialists and Positivists, that it is useless and childish to invoke justice, that justice is a metaphysical conception, susceptible of being twisted in any direction, and that all tyrannies have fashioned a cloak for themselves from this same worn-out purple. No, in modern society the word "justice" is taking on an ever larger and more definite meaning. It has come to signify that in every man, in every individual, humanity ought to be fully respected and exalted to its complete stature. Now true humanity can only exist where there is independence, active exercise of the will, free and joyous adaptation of the individual to the whole. Where men are dependent on the favour of others, where individual wills do not co-operate freely in the work of society, where the individual submits to the law of the whole under compulsion or by force of habit, and not from reason alone, there human nature is degraded and mutilated. It is therefore only by the abolition of the reign of capital and the establishment of Socialism that humanity can come into the fulness of its heritage.

I am perfectly aware that the bourgeoisie managed to infuse an oligarchical tone and the spirit of a single class into the Declaration of the Rights of Man. I am aware that it tried to embody in that Declaration, and so consecrate for ever, the bourgeois forms of property holding, and that even in the political world it began by refusing the right of suffrage to millions of poor, who would thus have become passive citizens. But I know also that the democrats immediately made use of the theory of the Rights of Man, of all men, to demand and to conquer the right of universal suffrage. I know that they immediately based even their economic demands on that same theory. I know that the working class, although in 1789 its existence as a self-conscious class was only rudimentary, did not hesitate to apply, and to enlarge, the Rights of Man in a proletarian direction. After 1792 it proclaimed that the ownership of our own lives is our greatest possession and that the right over this sovereign form of property should have precedence of all the others. Now let this word "life" be boldly expanded; let its meaning comprise not bare subsistence only, but all life, all the development of human faculties, and it will appear that Communism itself was grafted by the proletariat on to the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Thus the human rights proclaimed by the Revolution instantly took on a vaster and deeper meaning than that intended by the revolutionary bourgeoisie. That class was the upholder of rights still too oligarchical and restricted to cover the whole sphere of human rights: the bed of the river was larger than the river, and a new stream, the great proletarian and human flood, had to join it before the ideal of justice could be fulfilled at last.

Socialism alone can give its true meaning to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and realise the whole idea of human justice. The justice of the revolutionary bourgeoisie has freed humanity from many personal fetters: but in forcing each new generation to pay a tax to the capital accumulated by the generations that have preceded it, and in leaving to the minority the privilege of collecting this tax, it has in a sense mortgaged the personality of every living human being for the benefit of the past and of a single class.

We, on the contrary, maintain that human activity in all its forms should have free access to the means of production and of wealth accumulated by humanity, so that humanity as a whole may gain freedom as well as riches through the efforts of the past. According to us, every member of society has henceforth a legal right to the means of development that society has created. It is not then a human being in all his weakness and nakedness, that is born into the world, a prey to every form of oppression and exploitation. It is a person with certain vested rights, who can claim for his perfect development the free use of the means of labour that have been accumulated by human effort.

Every human being has the right to his full physical and moral growth. He has then the right to exact from humanity everything needed to supplement his own effort. He has the right to work, to produce, and to create, and no category of mankind should be able to exact usury from the fruit of his work, and bring it under their yoke. And as the community can only ensure the rights of the individual by putting the means of production at his disposal, the community itself must have the sovereign right of ownership over all the means of production.

Marx and Engels have given in the Communist Manifesto a splendid instance of that respect for all life which is the very essence of Communism. "In bourgeois society living labour is only a means of adding to labour which has been accumulated in the form of capital. In Communist society the accumulated labour of the past will be only a means of enlarging, enriching, and stimulating the life of the labourers.

"In bourgeois society the past dominates the present. In the Communist society, the present will dominate the past."

The Declaration of the Rights of Man had also been an affirmation of the dignity of life, a call to life. The Revolution proclaimed the rights of the living man. It did not recognise the right of a humanity that was past and gone to bind the humanity that was present and active. It did not recognise in the past services of kings and nobles the right to bear heavily on the present living humanity, depriving it of its full freedom of action. On the contrary, the living humanity seized hold of and appropriated to its own use all that was vital and strong in the legacy of the past.

The unity of France, which had been the work of royalty, became the decisive instrument of revolution against royalty itself. In the same way the great forces of production amassed by the bourgeoisie will become the decisive instrument of human liberation from the power of privileged capital.

Life does not destroy the past, it subdues it to its own ends. The Revolution is not a rupture, it is a conquest. And when the proletariat has conquered, and Communism has been instituted, all the stored-up human effort of centuries will become a sort of supplementary nature, rich and beneficent, which will welcome all human beings from the hour of their birth, and assure to them their full and perfect development.


The roots of Communism strike far back, then, even to the bourgeois conception of justice, to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the right to life. But this internal logic of the idea of right and humanity would have remained dormant and powerless without the external vigorous action of the proletariat. The proletariat intervened from the very first days of the Revolution. It did not listen to the absurd advice of those who, like Marat, animated by the spirit of class, said: "What are you doing? Why are you going to seize the Bastille, whose walls never imprisoned a working man?" It marched to the attack, determined the success of great victories, rushed to the frontier, saved the Revolution at home and abroad, became an indispensable power, and gathered as it went the fruits of its incessant activity. In three years, from 1789 to 1792, it transformed a semi-democratic and semi-middle-class system to a pure democracy in which proletarian action was sometimes even the dominant factor. Having shown the strength of which it was capable it gained self-confidence, and ended by telling itself, with Babeuf, that the new power it had created, the national power that was the common possession of all, ought to be made the instrument by whose means happiness for all could be established.

Thus, by the action of the proletariat, Communism ceased to be a vague philosophic speculation and became a party, a living force. Thus, Socialism arose from the French Revolution under the combined action of two forces, the force of the idea of right, and the force of the new-born activity of the proletariat. It is therefore no longer a Utopian abstraction. It gushes forth from the most turbulent and effervescent of the hot springs of modern life.

But now, after many tests, half-victories, and repulses, through the diversities of various political régimes, the new middle-class order developed. Now, under the Empire and the Restoration, the economic system of the bourgeoisie based on unlimited competition began to bear its fruit: undoubted increase of wealth, but with it immorality, trickery, perpetual warfare, disorder, and oppression. Fourier's stroke of genius was to conceive that it was possible to remedy the confusion, to purge the social system without hampering the production of wealth, but on the contrary increasing it. His was no ascetic ideal. He wished for free play for all faculties and all instincts. The same association that would abolish crises would multiply riches by regulating and combining all efforts. Thus the slight cloud of asceticism that may have overshadowed Socialism was dispelled. Thus, Socialism, having taken part with the proletarians of the Revolution and with Babeuf in all the revolutionary life, came finally into the great current of modern wealth and production. As represented by Fourier and Saint-Simon it appears at last as a power able not only to overcome capitalism, but to surpass it in its own field.

In the new order foreseen by these great geniuses, justice will not be obtained at the price of the joys of life. On the contrary, the just organisation of the forces at the disposition of humanity will add to their productive power. The splendour of wealth will be a manifestation of the triumph of right, and happiness will be the halo of justice. Babeufism was not the negation of the Revolution but, on the contrary, its hardiest pulsation. So Fourierism and Saint-Simonism are not the negation or the restriction of modern life, but its passionate fulfilment. Everywhere, then, Socialism is a vital force moving in the direction of life itself and in its fiercest current.

But the reply of the bourgeoisie under Louis Philippe to the great visions of harmony and wealth for all, the vast constructive conception of Fourier and Saint-Simon, was a redoubled fury of class exploitation by the exhausting intensive use made of the labour element in production, and an orgy of State concessions, monopolies, dividends, and premiums. It would have been naïve, to say the least, to continue to oppose idyllic dreams to this shameless exploitation. The retort of Proudhou was a biting criticism of property, interest, rent of farms, and profit: and here again the word which ought to have been spoken was uttered under the very dictation, the sharp inspiration, of life itself.

But how was the work of criticism to be completed by the work of organisation? How were all the social elements that were threatened or oppressed by the power of capital, the banks, and industrial monopolies to be united in one fighting whole? Proudhou quickly discovered that the army of social democracy was composed of very various elements, that it was a mixture of factory-workers, still weak in numbers and power, of a lower middle-class composed of petty manufacturers and small tradespeople, and of an artisan class which the absorbing power of capital was eying greedily but had not yet done away with.

From this analysis comes all that is hazy and contradictory in the positive constructive part of Proudhou's work, that singular mixture of reaction and revolution which makes him endeavour on the one hand to save the credit of the lower middle-class by means of artificial combinations, and on the other urge the creation of a solid working class, the revolutionary power. He seems to have wished to suspend the action of events and to put off the revolutionary crisis of 1848, in order to give economic evolution time to draw its line of action more clearly, and better to direct the minds of men. But here again, in these hesitations, these scruples, even in the contradictory nature of these efforts, we can trace the influence of the intimate contact of sincere Socialist thought with the complex and still uncertain reality. It is the very life of modern times that again and again finds its echo here.

And now at last, after 1848, the prime effective force back of the whole movement has become organised, now every one can understand and realise it. Now the growth of modern industry has brought forth a working proletariat increasingly numerous, coherent, and self-conscious. Those who with Marx hailed the advent of this decisive power, those who have understood that the world was to be transformed by its means, have perhaps shown a tendency to exaggerate the rapidity of economic evolution. Less prudent than Proudhou, and not allowing as he did for the power of resistance and resources of self-transformation in the class of small producers, they have perhaps over-simplified the problem and magnified the absorbing faculty of concentrated capital.

But even after we have made all the reservations and restrictions which result from the study of the complicated and many-sided reality, the truth remains that the proletariat is increasing in numbers, that it represents an ever-growing fraction of human societies, and that it is gathered together in always vaster centres of production; the truth remains that wholesale production has made this proletariat ready to conceive of wholesale ownership of property, which, carried to its logical conclusion, is social ownership of property.

Thus Socialism, which in Babeuf may be called the most acute manifestation of the democratic Revolution; which in Fourier and Saint-Simon was the most splendid enlargement of the bold promises of wealth and power poured forth by capital; which in Proudhou was the sharpest warning given to the societies in process of extinction by the encroachments of bourgeois oligarchy,—Socialism is now in the proletariat and by its means the strongest of all the social forces, the one that is continually growing, and that will end by overturning the equilibrium of society for its own advantage, that is for the advantage of humanity, of which it is now the highest expression.

No, Socialism is not an academic and Utopian conception, it is ripening and developing in closest touch with reality. It is a great vital force, mingled with all phases of life, and will soon be able to take command of the life of society. To the incomplete application of justice and human rights made by the democratic bourgeois Revolution, it has opposed a full and decisive interpretation of the Rights of Man. To the incomplete, narrow, and chaotic organisation of wealth attempted by capital, it has opposed a magnificent conception of harmonised wealth, where the effort of each would be supplemented by the co-ordinated effort of all. To the hard pride and selfishness of the middle class, narrowed by its legalised exploitation and monopoly, it has opposed a revolutionary bitterness, an irritating and vengeful irony; a deadly implacable analysis that dispels lies and sophistries. And finally, to the social supremacy of capital it has opposed the class organisation of the ever-growing and strengthening proletariat.

How can the régime of class persist when the oppressed and exploited class grows daily in numbers, in cohesion, and in self-consciousness, and when it has determined with daily increasing firmness to have done for ever with class ownership of property?

Now at the same time that the real substantial forces back of Socialism are growing and developing, the technical means of turning Socialism from a theory to a practical fact are also defining themselves. If we look at the national organisation we see that it is constantly becoming more unified, and more clearly sovereign, and that it has been forced to take on more and more economic functions, which we must hail as a sort of rude prelude to the social property of the future. In the great urban and industrial centres we see that the questions of hygiene, housing, lighting, education, and food are bringing the democracy into ever closer touch with the whole problem of property and into the administration of that part of property which is already collective. Most important again is the growing co-operative movement, including as it does co-operatives for both production and distribution. And finally, we have the labour and professional organisations, that are growing, changing, and becoming more complicated and elastic all the time: trade-unions, federations of unions, central trade committees, federations of trades, and federations of labour.

We have, then, reached a point where it can be safely asserted that the substitute for the privileges of capital is not to be the depressing monotony of a centralised bureaucracy. No, the nation, in which is vested the sovereign social right of property, will have numberless agents—local government units, co-operative societies, and trade-unions—which will give the freest and supplest movement to social property, in harmony with the mobility and variety of individual forces. There is then a practical technical preparation for Socialism just as there is an intellectual and social preparation. They are children who, carried away by the magnitude of the work already accomplished, think that all that is now necessary is a decree, a Fiat lux, of the proletariat to make the Socialist world rise up forthwith. But on the other hand they are senseless who do not see the irresistible power of evolution which condemns the unjust ascendency of the middle class and the whole class system to extinction.

It will be the intellectual shame of the Radical party not to have answered the great problem that weighs on us all in any other way than by enunciating the equivocal electioneering formula, "Maintenance of private property." The formula will undoubtedly serve for some time longer to rouse ignorance, terror, and selfishness in opposition to Socialism. But it will kill the party that is driven to make use of it.

Either it signifies nothing, or it is the expression of the narrowest social conservatism. It cannot long hold out either against science or against democracy.