Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK II: SOCIALISTIC THEORIES - Socialistic Fallacies
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BOOK II: SOCIALISTIC THEORIES - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
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French socialistic formulæ—Spiritual power according to Saint Simon—The National and anti-National parties—The parable—Productive society—Political error—Producers versus consumers—Industrial liberty—“The caravan.” The exploitation of man by man—Saint Simon's theocracy—Sacerdotalism and Secularism—Enfantin as Pope; Industrial feudalism—Declaration of Count Jaubert—Slaves of industry—Genesis of Socialistic conceptions from 1830 to 1848.
Let us pass from these monotonous Utopias, condemned as they are by experiences which are as constant as they are cruel. There now appear the Socialists with scientific pretensions, of whom France presents a lavish supply. Why then should we scorn them? Are they not French formulæ which we find at the root of all these recent foreign conceptions? “The land belongs to no one and its fruits to all,” says Rousseau in 1753. Are the rules of Morelly's “Code de la Nature” so far removed from actual schemes.
The works of Saint Simon from 1808 to 1825 disclose a strange medley of religious survivals, scientific aspirations, and profound insight into the future. He adopts the old conception of Gregory VII. by proposing to organise two powers, the one spiritual, composed of the philosophers and artists, the other temporal, but this temporal power must be devoted to industry, so that when Le Play at a later date proposes to constitute the industrial chiefs the “authorities of society,” he is adopting Saint Simon's idea in another form.
Saint Simon divided the nation into two parts, a national and an anti-national. The former is composed of those who perform useful labour, direct this labour or employ their capital in it. The anti-national party is composed of those who consume but do not produce, of those whose labour is not useful, and of those who profess political principles which are inimical to production. It follows that the anti-national part must be eliminated from the performance of the public functions of government, and that part of the nation must be placed at its head which produces its wealth and its greatness.
He set forth this conception in 1819, in the famous parable which involved him in a prosecution and an acquittal at the assizes. He says, “We assume that France suddenly loses her fifty best physicists, her fifty best chemists, etc., her fifty best engineers, her fifty best physicians, her fifty best bankers, her two hundred best merchants, her fifty best iron masters, etc., her fifty best masons, her fifty best carpenters, etc. Let us admit that France retains all the men of genius whom she possesses, but that she has the misfortune to lose Monsieur, the brother of His Majesty and the Duc d'Angoulême, and that she also loses all the great officers of the Crown, all the ministers of State, all the councillors of State, all the prefects, judges, etc.”
Saint Simon made no account of the intangible results ensured by a good minister, a good administrator, and a good magistrate. Were they to disappear we should find ourselves in a condition of anarchy which would compromise or destroy the action and the labours of the fifty men of genius whom Saint Simon has enumerated.
The essential element which it is necessary to recognise in this conception is the protest against the preponderant part played by noblemen, soldiers, and prelates in public affairs. He knew that the further we advanced, the more the centre of gravity of power would shift, but by a strange lack of political perception he aims at creating a parliament, representative in its character, composed of industrial chiefs, and despite the experience of the past, he imagines that these industrial chiefs will refrain from making their respective interests prevail to the detriment of the general interest. There is a true as well as a false side to his motto of “Everything for industry,” true because he foresaw that a civilisation on a competitive basis would become increasingly productive, false because he made of industry an end in itself. He only saw the producer and forgot that without the consumer the producer has no raison d'être. In his political conception he had no doubt that if he invested the producers with all the powers of government, they would abuse them. How then did he fail to perceive that he was constituting a new caste, a privileged order, to the particular detriment of the most numerous and the most needy?
He defined politics as the “science of production,” but at the same time he said “Government is always injurious to industry when it interferes with the progress of events, even when it attempts to encourage it; whence it follows that Governments should limit their efforts to the preservation of industry from every kind of trouble and interference.”1 Why then found the industrial parliament, the scheme of which he has set out in “l'Organisateur.”
It is true that in Saint Simon's conception the sole function of government is to execute the decrees of a consciously formed opinion. He recites the following parable: The caravan says lead us where we shall be happiest, or it says lead us to Mecca. In the former case it relies on its leader, in the latter it clearly indicates its wishes to him, and thereby acquires the right to control the directions which he gives. It is clear that opinion can have no effective and useful action upon public affairs, unless it has a definite object.
Saint Simon merely followed after the philosophers of the eighteenth century, and repeated Condorcet's words, when he said that the golden age is before and not behind us. But he overburdened his economic forecasts with religious aspirations. In his “Nouveau Christianisme” (1825) he repeated the precept of Christ, “Love one another; love thy neighbour as thyself.” But the tradition of the Church is otherwise. He substitutes the declaration that “the best theologian is he who makes the most general applications of the fundamental principle of divine morality, to the effect that he is the true Pope and speaks in the name of God.” Thus inspired he asserts, “that it is the duty of religion to direct society to the great end of ameliorating as rapidly as possible the lot of the poorest class. Except for the word “religion” and for the substitution of “the poorest class” for “the greatest number,” this formula is that which Priestley and Bentham borrowed from the materialist Helvetius.
Saint Simon denounces the exploitation of man by man. “The way to grow rich is to make others work for one.” The State is to be the sole recipient of the instruments of labour, of land, and of capital, and is to apportion them so that they may be utilised in common and distributed in accordance with his hierarchical system; to each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to its works. The “Globe,” which became the organ of Saint Simon's disciples, bore among its mottoes, “All privileges of birth are abolished.” A central bank is to regulate production and to prevent over-production and want. We arrive, therefore, at a condition of complete nationalisation as well as of complete sacerdotalism.
Saint Simon's disciples tried to christianise industry. Enfantin believed that he had power to fascinate the judges by his look, and considered himself an incarnation. “I am the departed Saint Simon, living and being, past, present, and future, that Saint Simon who, eternally progressive, is now manifest by the name of Enfantin. It is by me and in me, that Saint Simon asserts himself a God.” Saint Simonism ends in the priestly couple, man and woman, the confused conception of whom lends itself to all kinds of interpretations. With the establishment of Ménilmontant it was to bury itself in ridicule. Nevertheless, the majority of its inmates approved themselves as practical men in after life and achieved brilliant careers in industry and finance.
Saint Simon had applied to Napoleon and afterwards to Louis XVIII. Enfantin and Bayard asked Lafayette to take the dictatorship. After the Coup d'Etat of December 2nd, they nearly all became ardent Bonapartists; they never had any conception of political liberty, and were always full of the retrograde notion of class distinctions. After the insurrection of Lyons, the “Globe” said, “The lower orders cannot raise themselves except so far as the upper classes give them a hand; it is from the latter that the initiative must come.” And they adopted State socialism by talking of assuring pensions for the workers and procuring capital for them through the State bank. The fundamental fallacy of Saint Simon lies in these class politics, which elevate the industrial chiefs into a dominant class, a conception which Count Jaubert adopted in 1836, when he said: “No society can do without an aristocracy; shall I tell you what is the aristocracy of the Government of July? It is that of the great industrial chiefs and manufacturers. These are the feudatories of the new dynasty.” Strange! The object of the Revolution of 1789 was to destroy feudalism, and here is a new feudalism proclaiming itself and withholding all political rights through the franchise. These barons of industry exploit the serfs of industry who are the true producers. Such is the simple genesis of the democratic and revolutionary conceptions of socialism from 1830 to 1848.
Pierre Leroux and the “Circulus“
Pierre Leroux—The religion of humanity—Mutual solidarity—The word “socialism”—Dissensions—The Triad—Theory of the “Circulus”—How Leroux practised it.
Pierre Leroux is also a disciple of Saint Simon. He claims to supplement Christianity by the religion of humanity.1 According to him man is based upon the family; nationality and property are in complete communion with all their equals throughout the universe, and by confining his communion to a more or less limited portion by means of the family, the city, or by property, their results are imperfection and an evil. It was he who introduced the word solidarity into the sociological vocabulary, to replace the word charity. “Temporal” society was based on the principle of egoism. With the principle of charity as we understand it, that is to say, with the principle of mutual solidarity, the temporal society is entrusted with the care of organising charity.
I congratulate Pierre Leroux on having supplemented the word “solidarity” with the epithet of “mutual,” for the system which is actually presented to us under the name of solidarity is a solidarity which is unilateral and obligatory on a certain number of persons, but no explanation is vouchsafed of how a reciprocal solidarity might be exercised.
Pierre Leroux disputes with Owen the honour of having invented the word “Socialism.” He had a hatred of eclectic philosophers and of economists, to whom he applied the supreme insult of “Malthusians.” He claimed that, the annual produce of labour in France being nine thousand millions of francs, two hundred thousand families of landowners, capitalists, and financiers appropriated five milliards by the rent of land, interest on capital and taxes.
He worshipped one thing—the Triad or Number Three. Man is at the same time triple and single, exhibiting sensation, feeling and knowledge. Hence the division of the human race into three great classes, philosophers or men of knowledge; artists or warriors, or men of feeling, and industrial chiefs, or men of sensation. Hence also the castes of India and Egypt and of the Republic of Plato, except that these castes were not equal as they ought to be. Every human being has a right to a dwelling, sustenance, and clothing. The formula for the remuneration of all officials (and all citizens are such) is triple and single, to each according to his capacity, to each according to his labour, and to each according to his necessities. “Capacity remunerates itself by duties, and imposes duties. Labour completed remunerates itself by leisure. Necessity is satisfied by production, natural or artificial, artistic or scientific.”
Pierre Leroux discovered the principle by virtue of which nature has established a constant relation between population and the means of subsistence. This is the Circulus. The digestion of each individual yields more than the equivalent of the amount of his nourishment. “A man who were to refuse to labour, would still have the right to live by placing himself under cover of the Circulus.” Pierre Leroux put this agricultural theory into practice in Jersey, where he had taken refuge. Paul Meurice once told me that one day Mme. Victor Hugo and he paid Leroux a visit, when he entertained them with his hobby and, in order to add an experimental demonstration to what he was saying, he opened a cupboard in which were some bacon and other provisions. From this he took an enormous dish, in which a monumental element of the Circulus was taking its ease. Mme. Hugo put her handkerchief to her nostrils, and Paul Meurice, who was short-sighted, after having sufficiently ascertained the nature of the object presented to them, said quietly, “I thought you were waiting for its transformation to put it into the cupboard.” Pierre Leroux replied with a fine gesture which was meant to embrace a whole Triad, but Mme. Victor Hugo and Paul Meurice made their escape without waiting for an explanation.
Louis Blanc and the Organization of Labour
Louis Blanc and the organisation of Labour—“To live working or to die fighting”—The instrument of Labour and the weaver of Lyons—“The State as banker of the poor”—Social workshops—Solidarity in the workshops and of the workshops—Suppression of credit and of trade—Down with competition—The ruin of England—“You lose the right to speak of God”—The family and heredity—Labour as a point of honour.
Saint Simon had abandoned the principle of equal rights for all, proclaimed by the Revolution of 1789, and had returned to the policy of privilege by wishing to make of the industrials an order which paid taxes, but should have a monopoly of power. The Socialists initiated class politics by opposing the workmen to the industrial chiefs.
Louis BlanC's “Organisation du Travail” was published in 1839. He conjured up the motto of the insurgents of Lyons: “To live working or to die fighting.” This antithesis, if it proved the bravado of these wretches, also proved their ignorance, for insurrection has never yet provided workmen with work. Louis Blanc added: “What is wanting to the workmen is the instruments of their labour,” thus proving that he did not know that the weavers of Lyons were the owners of their frames. He considered that the State ought to supply the workman with his instruments of labour and called it the “banker of the poor.” He coolly demanded that the State should constitute “Social workshops, destined gradually and without shock, to supersede the workshops of individuals; they were to be regulated by rules which realised the principle of association and had the force, form and power of law. Once founded and set in motion, the social workshop would be self-sufficing and would be dependent solely on its own principles. The associated workers would freely choose directors and managers after the first year, they would effect the division of profits among themselves, and would devote themselves to the means of increasing the enterprise they had commenced.” “From the solidarity of all the workers in the same workshop,” he concludes, “to the solidarity of the workshops in the same industries. By killing competition we should stifle the evils which it engenders.” “Who says machinery says monopoly.” In Louis BlanC's system there are to be no more patents for inventions; the inventor is to be rewarded by the State, and his discovery placed at the service of all. There is to be no more trade, and credit is to be nothing more than a means of supplying workmen with the instruments of labour.
He enters into few details of this organisation, for the excellent reason that he only conceives it in an extremely vague manner, but he is angry because it provokes criticism. He fails to understand why it should be thought unnatural that the State should employ a portion of its revenue in creating competition with private industry, and innocently thinks that this is a fair system and does not involve the slightest degree of spoliation. He declaims against the use of machinery as causing the lowering of wages. “Out of individualism there issues competition, out of competition the instability and inadequacy of wages.” Under the empire of competition, labour produces a generation which is decrepit, atrophied, gangrened, and rotten. Not only does it produce these effects upon the workmen but it ruins small industries for the benefit of greater ones, and is a cause of the ruin of the middle-class. It encourages over production and is condemned by the example of England. “England's atonement,” he cries, “is now complete. Where to day is her power? The empire of the sea is slipping from her,” etc., etc.
In a reply to his critics, Louis Blanc shows the method which he employs. “Capitalists and workmen are not equally necessary. If the latter are worse treated than the former, this follows from the fact that all the ideas of justice and of truth have been inverted, and that civilisation has travelled the wrong way. If you say that things could not have fallen out otherwise, you lose the right to speak of God.” He did not stop to enquire how it was that God allowed “all the ideas of justice and of truth to be inverted.” He also said “the family is derived from God, heredity from man.” As he would have found great difficulty in explaining this conception, he confined himself to stating it. If asked what was the motive power of the workers he would answer “the point of honour of labour,” and would declare that a post should be set up in every workshop, bearing the inscription: “He who does not work is a thief.” This would suffice to suppress idleness.
The Labour Conferences at the Luxembourg and the National Workshops
The Revolution of February 24th broke out on the evening of that day, the Government was completed in the offices of “La Réforme” by the addition of the names of Louis Blanc, Flocon, and Albert, who were originally appointed secretaries. On the 25th, in reply to a grand manifesto, in which Lamartine defends the tricolor, the Government announces that “National workshops are open for workmen without wages.”
By the creation of twenty-four battalions of the National Guard, with a pay of a franc and a half a day, the Government proposed to employ the unemployed workmen. But it went too far. The Provisional Government undertook by a decree to guarantee the support of the workmen by work, and to guarantee work to all the citizens. This was the proclamation of the right to work.1 Louis Blanc had commenced by requiring a ministry of progress, he ended by accepting a “government commission for workmen,” of which he was to be the president, and Albert the vice-president. It was established on March 1st, and consisted of one hundred and fifty to two hundred workmen, more or less delegated by themselves. Louis Blanc, who lost his head from the very beginning, indulged in phrases of the most prodigious inconsequence, such as the following: “We have assumed the formidable responsibility of regulating the happiness of all the families of France.” At the same time the Provisional Government gave effect to the decree published in the “Moniteur Officiel” of March 9th. “Article 1. The working day is cut short by one hour; consequently in Paris, where it consisted of eleven hours, it is reduced to ten, and in the provinces, where it has hitherto consisted of twelve, it is reduced to eleven. Article 2. The exploitation of workmen by sub-contracting and piece-work is abolished.”
A decree of March 8th directed the establishment in each mayoralty of a free enquiry office for situations. This remained a paper measure, and could hardly be otherwise. The other decrees provoked recriminations and disputes, but they could not be of use to workmen whose need was work and not leisure. The deputations to the Luxembourg became more numerous, all of them formulating more or less real grievances and proposing chimerical remedies.
A second general meeting took place on the 10th of March. This was to be composed, so far as possible, of three professional delegates. Louis Blanc said: “I was going to find myself in the midst of those workers whose lot had been the object of my preoccupation. I was going to be able to work in their midst… Yes, I admit I experienced a moment of immense pride. If this is wrong, forgive me; it is the happiness of my life.” This sentimental clap-trap called forth an ovation. The delegates selected by lot the members who were to form a permanent committee. The industrial chiefs were invited to form another, but the mere presence of Louis Blanc inspired them with justifiable mistrust. He had announced the suppression of labour in the prisons and convents, but nothing followed. On March 28th, the bakers went out on strike. Louis Blanc drew up a scale of wages which the prefecture of police published in the form of an order. The different trades applied to the Luxembourg, Louis Blanc intervened, and the terrified industrial chiefs gave way. He was acclaimed and carried in triumph as though to the works of Derosne and Cail. But the paper-makers' and hatters' hands went on strike a fortnight after accepting a scale of wages and betook themselves to the national workshops.
Louis Blanc dreamed of organising the workmen's associations, of which he had boasted, and did organise three of them, the tailors, the saddlers, and the trimmers of lace for military requisites. On March 20th, Louis Blanc published his plan. These societies were to be based upon labour as a point of honour. All wages were to be the same, and since the proprietors declared themselves ruined, they were to hasten to sell their undertakings to the State, which was to give them in return “bonds carrying interest, and mortgages upon the value of the surrendered undertakings.” This is how he placed the instruments of labour in the hands of the workmen. In the plenary assembly of April 3rd, he abandoned the equality of wages which had been severely criticised by the workmen themselves. The plan subsequently drawn up by Vidal and Pecqueur, admitted of agricultural phalansteries, and substituted public magazines for ordinary trading. Nevertheless its authors “did not desire to ask for a monopoly for the profit of the State.” But inasmuch as the maga zines were only to take five per cent., they would not be long in ruining private enterprise.
The State was not to supply the initial capital, but was to be responsible for all discounts and to issue a paper currency at a forced rate for the payment of duties and wages in these establishments. It was to be the universal insurer and banker of the people. Louis Blanc, invoking memories of the House of Peers, set up the Luxembourg in opposition to the future National Assembly. “The people has arrived, the people must remain. I shall be very strong when I can say treat with it, and now repel it if you dare.” The Luxembourg Conference took part in the Revolutionary manifestations of March 16th and April 17th, and put forward an electoral list in opposition to the Provisional Government. At the elections, while Lamartine was successful with 259,800 votes, Louis Blanc only obtained 121,000, and one workman alone out of the Luxembourg list was elected. Louis Blanc was furious, and on April 27th repeated Hannibal's speech against the “Social Order.” This was the last formal sitting. The National Assembly expelled Louis Blanc and Albert from the executive committee. The Conference of the Luxembourg met again on May 13th, and the insurrection of May 15th took place amid shouts of “Vive Louis Blanc, the minister of labour.”
The Luxembourg programmes failed to alleviate the industrial, financial, and commercial crisis. The hours of labour were restricted, but work itself was not forthcoming. The decree of February 24th had promised the organisation of national workshops. Several yards were opened, and one franc fifty was given to those who came to claim work or bread. M. Emile Thomas, a former pupil of the “Ecole Centrale,” proposed to organise the national workshops with his companions. From March 9th to March 12th he enrolled 9,000 men, on the 31st he numbered 30,000, and on April 30th 100,000. On June 16th the committee of labour received a return of 103,000 men enrolled; the figure was raised to 119,000, the leaders were accused of exaggerating the effectives for the purpose of taking advantage of the difference.
Eleven men composed a “squad;” five squads a brigade; four brigades a lieutenancy; and four lieutenancies a company. Each principal overseer commanded three companies, and was himself subordinate to the fourteen divisional chiefs. An army was thus organised, which was not only unsuited to labour, but incapable of receiving it. Not only were the workmen bad navvies, but there were no works ready for them. Those who were enrolled were at times employed, and at times unattached, and drew 2 francs a day and 1 franc 50 accordingly. The staff was constantly swelled by an influx from the provinces.
The workmen who might have had employment with individuals, put forward impossible claims, and the national workshops were nurseries for strikes. Their inmates led a life of idleness, and after March 26th the members of the squads had their wages raised and received assistance in the form of food and medicines. A number of them enrolled themselves in more than one brigade and drew double and treble wages, while some of the brigade leaders made lists of their effectives and appropriated the wages of fictitious employées.
Emile Thomas prided himself upon instituting a club in the Parc Monceau, composed of the delegates of the brigades from the national workshops as a counterpoise to the committee of the Luxembourg. In effect he organised an army of insurrection, which proposed to dictate to the National Assembly, which thereupon urged the dissolution of the club, and Trélat, the minister of public works, caused Thomas to be arrested at night and transported to Bordeaux.
It has been said that the insurrection of June was due to the dissolution of the national workshops; nevertheless the National Assembly had on June 19th voted a credit of three millions in their favour, but the vote was preceded by an unfavourable report by M. de Falloux proposing various modifications in the organisation of labour. An enquiry gave great dissatisfaction to the brigade leaders by exposing the defalcations. On June 22nd a decree enjoined all the young men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five to enlist in the army. In the morning a number of workmen went to the Committee of the Luxembourg to threaten them and to demand the organisation of workshops for every calling. The insurrection broke out on June 23rd, and on the same day the National Assembly decreed the suppression of the national workshops.
The Right to Work
Scheme of the committee of the constitution—Before the days of June—Amendment of Mathieu (of la Drôme)—Lamartine's argument—Ledru-Rollin's—Observation of Pelletier (of Lyons)—Rejection.
The organisation of the national workshops and the discussions and promises of the Luxembourg had demonstrated the imprudence committed by the Provisional Government in affirming, in their proclamation of February 25th, the right to work, and of promising to give effect to it. Nevertheless the draft constitution published on June 20th, contained an article (7) in the following terms:—
“The right to work is the right possessed by every man to live by working.
“It is the duty of Society, by the means of production and of the general resources of which it disposes, and which will eventually be organised, to supply work to able-bodied men who are unable otherwise to procure it.”
Not one of the members of the committee which drafted this article had remarked upon its character. Nevertheless the right to work completely disappears in the second draft constitution which was read on August 29th, article viii. containing merely the following provision: “It is the duty of the Republic to provide the means of subsistence to necessitous citizens, to wit by providing them with work within the limits of its resources….”
But Mathieu (of la Drôme), attempted to reintroduce the right to work by modifying the article in the following manner:—“The Republic recognises the right of all citizens to instruction, work, and assistance.” To those who objected on the ground of the net cost of this right he replied, “If work is a right, it matters little what may be the burden which it imposes upon society.” On the same day, September 8th, less than three months after the events of June, Lamartine supported it by arguments such as the following:—‘In truth it appears that you might delete those three magnificent words which you propose to inscribe on the title page of your constitution, liberty, equality, and fraternity,’ and substitute for them the convenient words ‘buy and sell.’” (Prolonged applause).
Ledru-Rollin used an argument which shows the heartless coolness with which men of his stamp thought to guide opinion:—“When you register the right to work, you are under no obligation to have it organised on the very next day.”1 But he enclosed his argument in this formula: “The right to work is the Republic in its practical application.” Politicians like Billault also supported the right to work by saying: “This country is passionately attached to words; you must reckon with this predisposition.” Pelletier, a labour deputy from Lyons, said, “if you do not know what to do in order to consecrate the right to work and to make the people happy, the people will say, ‘retire and make room for others.’” Mathieu's amendment, as re-amended by Glais Bizoin, was rejected by 596 votes to 187. No one in France nowadays talks of the right to work; it has gone to join the other socialistic antiquities.
Scholastic methods—“Property is theft”—“The proprietary right of the worker to his produce”—“The worker cannot purchase his produce”—Production of utility and diminution of value—Solution of the problem—Freedom of credit—The party of labour and the party of capital—“The government of man by man and the exploitation of man by man”—Anarchy—Opposition of the ancient guild to the State — The federal pact — Family resemblance between the Utopians and Socialists of 1848.
Proudhon was born at Besancon, his father being a brewer's cooper. He became a working compositor, and as such he read the “Fathers of the Church,” and was initiated into Hegel's dialectics, by M. Chas. Grun, “a German professor of philosophy, who understood nothing of what he taught,” according to Karl Marx. Becoming acquainted later in life with the science of economics, he brought to it the methods of scholasticism, and attempted by running his head against words to cause the lightning to burst forth. He was incapable of giving clear expression to his thoughts, and sought to astonish the Philistines by his answer to the question propounded in the title of his work, published in 1840, “What is property? Property is theft.” This had not even the merit of originality. Brissot de Warville in his “Recherches philosophiques sur le droit de propriété et le vol” (1780), had said “private property is a theft as against nature. Its owner is a thief.” On this point Proudhon's doctrine is summarised in these two propositions: (1) The right to possess is the same for all; (2) Man can only work with the help of the instruments of labour. It follows that, all men having the right to work, they have an equal right to the instruments of work. Therefore (3) these instruments cannot become the object of private property. But in “La Theorie de la Propriété” (published after his death in 1866) he says: “Property, if one appreciates its origin, is a principle inherently vicious and anti-social, but destined to become by its own general distribution and the joint action of other institutions, the pivot and mainspring of the social system.”
In “Qu'est ce que la propriété?” (1840) he put forward this further idea, which is in singular contradiction with the other. “The worker preserves a natural right of property over the thing which he has produced, even after the receipt of his wages.” That is to say that the tradesman who has sold an apple to a purchaser preserves his right to his goods even after they have been consumed. Nevertheless, it is clear that the workman receives wages in exchange for a product or a service, and once the product has been delivered, the service rendered, and the wages received, the contract has been fully executed, and all obligations thereunder fulfilled.
Proudhon, possibly under the influence of Rodbertus, denounces property as rendering impossible the redemption of his produce by the workman. If twenty millions of workmen have provided products of a value of twenty millions of francs they are obliged to buy them for twenty-five millions. The workers who ought to have bought these products in order to live, are obliged to pay five francs for what they have bought for four. “They have to fast one day in five.” Workmen who are members of co-operative societies have learned the lesson that they cannot redeem what they have themselves produced at the price which was paid for it. There has to be added so much per cent. upon the original article, necessary to cover general expenses and profit, to compensate unfavourable purchases by the profit derived from purchases effected under favourable conditions, interest and depreciation of capital, commission paid to salesmen, discounts to retail merchants, interest upon capital from the time of manufacture to the time of sale, insurance, etc. Nevertheless, recent writers, such as Gronlund, Hertzka and Hobson, have sought to show that this system is the cause of universal over-production.1
Proudhon's “Contradictions Economiques” are a mere congeries of digressions, in which he discusses everything under the pretence of applying Hegel's antinomies. In fact, he bases his book entirely upon the conflict set up by J. B. Say between useful and exchangeable value.2 Necessary as they are to one another, they stand to one another in an inverse ratio. In proportion as the production of utility increases, its value diminishes. Proudhon added that this contradiction is necessary. Accordingly, the more the nations work, the poorer they become. And he added the words, “The philosophy of misery” as the subtitle of his work. I have explained in my book “La Science Economique”3 how this problem is stated and have given the following solution:— The criterion of economic progress is the absolute and relative increase in the value of fixed capital, the decrease in the value of the units of circulating capital, and the increase in their total value.
Proudhon concludes his book by pointing out the existing confusion between his conceptions when he says that the object of economic science is “justice.” In order to establish this he is obliged to include in a “general equation” all his economic contradictions.4 “My philosopher's stone,” he says, “is gratuitous credit and the abolition of money.” As against various parties, he sets up two, the party of labour and the party of capital. This is the struggle of classes, the conception of which he develops in his book “De la capacité des classes ouvrieres” (1863).
Proudhon adopts the assertion of Helvetius, that the capacity of all human beings is equal and is differentiated merely by the circumstances of education and environment. The value of each man's labour at the same time is, therefore, the same, and the proper amount of wages should be the amount of the total produce divided by the number of workers.
He proclaims the end of the “government of man by man” and of the “exploitation of man by man.” Does he desire that man should be governed by apes? He is often, in fact, governed by women, by children, and by his own passions. He is not exploited only by man; he is exploited by all the forces of nature over which it is his duty to triumph, by microbes and insects against which he has so much difficulty in defending himself, and, above all, by his prejudices and by the charlatans who know how to use them to their own advantage. Proudhon behaves like a man who beats a big drum in order to attract children, when he employs the antithesis of which he has already made use as regards property, and exclaims that “anarchy is the true form of government.” And he is careful, in order to complete the confusion of the thoughtless, to explain the etymology of the word “anarchy” as meaning the absence or negation of government. He then develops his theme by repeating an idea of St. Simon's. “The science of government rightly pertains to a section of the Academy of Sciences, and inasmuch as every citizen may send a thesis to the Academy, every citizen is a legislator. The people constitutes the guardian of the law, the people constitutes the executive power.”1 In another work he adds to this quibble the declaration that “the workshop will cause government to disappear.”
There reappears in this declaration a conception of the ancient guild or corporation as an autonomous, exclusive body, opposed to everything which is not itself and to all general interests. He concludes with his romance of the “federative pact,” and imagines that he can, by unrehearsed effect, transform France by subdividing it into thirty-six sovereignties of a mean extent of 6,000 square kilometres, each with a million of inhabitants.2 He did not condescend to observe that a federation is a grouping of independent states; when a centralised state is subdivided, the operation is the exact opposite of federation; the proper name for it is dismemberment and its consequence dissolution.
He virulently attacked Louis BlanC's childish ideas on “labour as a point of honour,” Fourier's on the phalanstery and Cabet's on fraternity, yet he employs their vocabulary against the exploitation of man by man, he demands the confiscation of the instruments of labour and their delivery to the workers; he desires the abolition of competition and, while proclaiming himself as an anarchist, he appeals to the State to realise his conceptions. However hostile they may be to one another, all the Utopians of 1848 present a family resemblance, they are all obscure and declamatory, pin their faith to empty and sonorous phrases, and disregard actual facts.
Proudhon's Proposed Decrees and the Bank of Exchange
Dissatisfied with the Revolution of 1848—Proposed decrees—The Banque du Peuple—Influence upon the Commune of 1871, and upon the General Confederation of Labour—Colonel Langlois.
Proudhon was frank enough to express his dissatisfaction with the Revolution of 1848, which disquieted more than it pleased the various Socialists who were called upon the put their ideas into practice. Proudhon called upon the State to publish the following decrees.
The Government is to decree that “direct exchange, without specie or interest, is derived from natural law and public utility; the Bank shall add to its functions that of a Bank of Exchange, and fix the rate of discount at one per cent.”
A second decree was to provide that “whereas the law ought to be the same for all, funded stocks paid by the State shall be converted into one per cent. stock until they are finally redeemed.”
By a third decree the interest on mortgages is reduced to one per cent. “The execution of the present decree is entrusted to those citizens who are burdened with mortgages.”
A fifth decree reduces the interest and dividend of limited companies to one per cent. A sixth fixes house rent at the same figure. A seventh reduces rents by twenty-five per cent. calculated upon the average of the twenty last preceding years; the value of the properties assessed to be calculated by taking the rent allowed at x per cent. of the capital; when by the accumulation of annual payments the owner has recovered the value of his estate with a premium of twenty per cent. by way of an indemnity, the property is to revert to the central agricultural society which is charged with the organisation of agriculture. “All land not under cultivation is to revert to the State.” Other decrees effect the reduction of salaries and wages, according to the scale suggested for Government salaries. By the twelfth decree, “After determining the debit of each citizen by the assessment of salaries and wages, his credit is to be determined by an assessment of the price of commodities.”
On January 31st, 1849, Proudhon founded the Banque du Peuple upon the following principles: All raw material is supplied to man gratuitously by nature; in the economic system all production is derived from labour, and correspondingly all capital is unproductive; inasmuch as every combination of credit resolves itself into an exchange, the productiveness of capital and the discount of values cannot and ought not to give rise to any interest. The object of the Bank was to organise credit on a democratic basis: (1) by obtaining for all, at the lowest price and under the best possible conditions, the use of the land, of houses, machinery, instruments of labour, capital, produce and services of every kind; (2) by providing for all an outlet for their production and the application of their labour under the most advantageous conditions. The capital of the Bank was five millions of francs, divided into a million shares of five francs each, but liable to pay interest.1 Unlike ordinary drafts payable to order and in cash, the circulating medium of the Banque du Peuple was a delivery order clothed with a socialistic character and payable at sight by every member or customer in the products or services of his industry or calling. Settlement for purchases and sales between the different customers was to be by the reciprocal exchange of their products and services and was to be effected by means of paper issued by the Bank, styled “Circulation tickets.” (Bon de circulation).
The Bank never commenced business. Proudhon having been prosecuted for two articles published in the “Peuple,” and sentenced to a term of three years' imprisonment, fled to Belgium. He was able to say that, as his Bank was not put into operation, its principle remained valid, but he made no attempt to realise it later, which was disappointing from the experimental point of view. He would then have discovered that the abolition of money would not have contributed to facilitate exchange, and that by refusing to remunerate the giving of credit he would have failed to obtain it. Attempts to establish exchanges of this kind were made for fifteen years, and failed miserably.
Proudhon's inspiration exercised some influence upon the Paris Commune. The manifesto of April 19th, 1871, was composed of more or less heterogeneous extracts from his works. According to M. Bourguin1 there are still some of his disciples among the French Socialists, and something of his ideas is to be found in the working programme of the General Confederation of Labour, which sets up the trade union in opposition to the State, and expects to effect the triumph of the pretensions of each group at the expense of the general interest.
In 1848 Proudhon made a violent attack upon universal suffrage to which the supporters of trade unions plainly oppose the struggle between various organisations, but without losing themselves, as Proudhon did, in digressions for the purpose of justifying their right to adopt this attitude. Proudhon's schemes were caprices rather than ideas. These he tried to co-ordinate, and when he failed he sought to throw the responsibility for his failure upon the intelligence of his fellow citizens.
I once had some conversations with Colonel Langlois, who claimed to be the true disciple of Proudhon, and I have several times heard him say with pride, when speaking of one or other of Proudhon's works., “No one but myself has understood him.”
De I'Industrie (1816).
See “L'Humanité” and “L'Encyclopédie nouvelle.”
See, in addition to works dealing specially with these matters, “L'Histoire des classes ouvrières,” by Levasseur, vol. ii., p. 343, and G. Cohen, “Annales de I'Ecole libre des sciences politiques.” 1897.
“Le Droit au Travail,” Recueil des discours par J. Garnier.
Bourguin, “Les Systèmes socialistes,” p. 318.
“Qu'est ce que la propriété,” p. 94.
3rd ed. Book vi., ch. i., p. 233.
“Contradictions économiques,” ch. ii.
“Qu'est ce que la propriété?” p. 242.
“Du principe fédératif,” 1863.
Desjardins, “Proudhon,” i., p. 134.
Bourguin, “Proudhon,” 1901.