CONDITION OF THE WORK PEOPLE
We have, in a preceding article, endeavoured to fix the attention of civilians, on what appears to us the most important of all questions in Political Economy, on the share of happiness which wealth ought to diffuse among those who contribute by their labour to its creation. With us it is a fixed principle that social order ought never to sacrifice one class of men to another, and that, whilst admitting divers conditions, poor as well as rich, these differences are only protected for the common welfare of all, this inequality is only legitimate, because it secures, even to the humblest, a portion of comfort, which he could not find in savage life. The gifts of a just and beneficent community may be unequal; but this community becomes iniquitous and oppressive, if it takes from some to give to others; if it demands from the poorest, labour which the savage is not acquainted with, and does not secure to him in return that comfort, content, and security as to the future, which he could not find in the woods.
The progress of civilization and industry has multiplied all the products of human labour applicable to the uses and habits of man: the poor man, in exchange for his labour, ought to obtain his share of these products; and this share ought to comprehend food, lodging, and clothing, sufficient for the preservation of health. Civilization has developed in man the love of society; the poor man, who labours, has a right to a share of social pleasures; he has a right to those relaxations and enjoyments without which life is a burden. The application of science to the arts, and the invention of machines of continually increasing power, have multiplied indefinitely the results of the employment of human strength for the common advantage; the poor have a right to their share in this advantage; they have a right that the development of mechanical power should procure them more rest. Civilization has developed cultivation and power of mind; it has raised the intelligence of man; it has placed him likewise on the way to obtain a higher moral state. The poor man has a right also to his share of the enjoyments and virtues acquired by intelligence; he has a right to education for his children; to a share of instruction in his riper age, that the progress of thought may not increase the distance which separates him from his fellow-men. Sensibility, also, is developed with civilization; by it are increased the importance and the charms of domestic life; the poor man has also a right to have his share in the happiness of domestic ties; he has a right that his wife and children should multiply his chances of happiness, rather than those of suffering. Social order considers it of the first importance that stability, security, that tie which cements the present with the past and the future, should be guaranteed to the citizen. The poor man who labours has a right that his future also should be secured to him; that his condition may place within his reach also, those two feelings equally essential to happiness, confidence in the advantages he possesses, aud the hope to ameliorate them still more. We repeat it, it is this participation of the poor in the advantages of progressive civilization, which appears to us to be the object towards which all political economy should tend; an object completely neglected, completely wanting in the school which we have called chresmatistic; an object from which social order in modern times is every day receding more and more, instead of advancing towards it.
In the eyes of the moralist, in the eyes of the true legislator, the fundamental idea of civil society is the right of every man to improve his condition, resulting from this simple fact, that each man forms a part of this civil society. Men have associated together, only from the hope of improvement and happiness: to purchase these, they submit to the authority of one another; on this condition only is social power legitimate. But to give some value to their inferiors in the eyes of the powerful, of those who profit by the present state of social order, it is perhaps necessary to direct the attention to another consideration— their own safety; we must tell them that if sovereign power is not efficaciously employed for the happiness of all, their own happiness, their wealth, their llfe, run the most imminent risk. They must perceive that there exist in society an already numerous class, and which has a tendency to become more so every day, to whom the present order of society does not give the enjoyment of any of the fruits of the association; these are men, who, creating wealth by the labour of their hands, never participate in it. Not only have they no property, they have no certainty of a livelihood; habitually reduced to the commonest food, to the most miserable lodging and clothing; if sometimes an unexpected demand for labour, (which seems to be the case at this present time,) an unexpected rise in wages should procure them a fleeting abundance, on the other side they know that any day all demand for labour, all wages may cease, and then the wretchedness into which they fall is frightful; and if they are fathers of families, the despair of their wives and children redoubles their own.
That class of working men to whom has been given in our time the name used by the Romans, proletarii, comprises the most numerous and energetic class of the population of large towns. It comprehends all those who work in manufactories, in the country as well as in towns; it continually encroaches on those kinds of business formerly known as master trades, whenever a manufactory can be established, when all together, in one place, under one head, but by many hundred hands, those common utensils and tools can he made, which used to be made in the places where they were wanted; lastly, it encroaches on agriculture when the system of great farms cultivated by day-labourers is introduced, and which has, in England, almost entirely superseded the formerly independent and happy class of yeomen, or labouring small landowners. The proletarii are cut off from all the benefits of civilization; their food, their dwellings, their clothes are insalubrious: no relaxation, no pleasures except occasional excesses, interrupt their monotonous labours; the introduction of the wonders of mechanics into the arts, far from abridging their hours of labour, has prolonged them: no time is left them for their own instruction or for the education of their children; no enjoyment is secured to them in those family ties which reflect their sufferings: it is almost wise in them to degrade and brutalize themselves, to escape from the feeling of their misery; and that social order which threatens them with a worse condition for the future, is regarded by them as an enemy to combat and destroy. This is not all; whilst their own distress is increasing, they see society overcome, as it were, by the weight of its material opulence: they are in want of everyflfing, and on all sides their eyes are struck with what is everywhere super-abounding. At the same time, the information which is not given to them, comes, however, to great assemblies of men; higher principles as to the destiny of the human race are spread abroad; feelings of liberty and equality ferment in their hearts; they know that they have rights which are violated, which are invaded, and even their ignorance of the nature and limits of these rights increases their resentment, and the danger with which their victory would threaten every other order of society; in short, in the course of late years, they have acquired courage, a powerful sentiment of honour, and a confidence in themselves, which was not formerly found in the inferior ranks of society— what motives for the rich to think of the poor, from a regard for themselves, and care for their own safety, if they will not do so from virtue, from justice, from charity.! The rich and the powerful know, that notwithstanding the disproportion of numbers, they can maintain a contest with the poor, because those who have money can always find soldiers; because science opens her resources to destroy men, as well as to create wealth, but they ought not the less to tremble at the idea of a servile war—a war now preached by eloquent tongues, pointing out to the vengeance of the oppressed, “him whose name is only known in hell.”; Victory. might be theirs, but their wealth might he annihilated, and floods of their own blood might flow during the contest.
The events of the month of April of this year have given a frightful degree of reality to these forewamings. People wished to look upon the crisis at Lyons only as the efforts, and perhaps last agony, of the Republican party. Although those who took arms assembled in the name of the republic, it was much more a question of property than of a political constitution which inflamed them. Republics, as well as monarchies, admit not only of the distinctions of wealth, but of those of rank, and those who, calling themselves republicans, recollect the history of the world, do not found their ideal republic on an equality which has nowhere existed. A party, however, which calls itself republican, irritated against the present disorder, instead of reforming, would destroy the edifice from top to bottom. As far as their theories can be understood, they attack the distinction of fortune as well as that of rank; and there can be no doubt that this party looks upon the proletarii as their forces, and that their strength consists in this numerous mass of men, who suffer, to whom the furore looks threatening. who feel themselves unjustly deprived of their rights, and who demand vengeance. If war, declared against established order by the proletarii, must inspire us with well-founded alarm; it must be said that the way in which the defenders of order have triumphed over them, is not calculated to inspire less terror. The historian, whose studies have led him to compare the explosion of popular fury at different periods, is able most strongly to express his reprobation of that character of ferocity with which anger and fear have impressed this contest. From the first shock, there has been no wish to appease, to conciliate, but only to destroy; to be sure of reaching the guilty, the innocent have been sacrificed, the stranger who passed through the streets, those whom the most urgent need of bread, of water, of help, forced to come down into them: houses and warehouses were battered down; though it was well known that the proletarii had neither houses nor shops. In short, the Rhone from its confluence with the Saône, as far as Arles, carried down eight hundred dead bodies of Frenchmen, killed by Frenchmen; the same number with which it was clogged on the day of St. Bartholomew; but then these civil wars had already divided France into two camps, which had terrible reprisals to make against one another; besides, religious fanaticism, formidable as it is, is a nobler passion than fear and the love of money.
At the same time, other events took place in England of a totally opposite character, which, however, taught almost the same lesson to both nations at the same time. The workmen of all the manufactories who employ a great number of hands under one head, formed themselves into a kind of mutual insurance society, which they called a trades union: it extended from one end of England to the other, and was said to consist of a million of members: all, whilst in work,- were to pay a weekly subscription into the common purse, and from this fund allowances were granted to maintain the workmen, when, after a consultation among themselves, they decided that their wages were insufficient, and therefore refused to work—what they called a strike—in order to oblige their masters to increase them. The procession of the trades' union in London, about the same period as the contest at Lyons, struck terror into the capital. It only manifested, however, the power of one idea, when it brings union, the order and discipline which it maintained, its respect for peace and law; and on the other side, the admirable mixture of moderation and firmness which the government displayed. The assemblage separated without being satisfied on any point, and without having committed the least disorder.
The state of social order is, in fact, exposed to risk throughout Europe; the juncture is serious; the multiplying of proletarii threatens the most civilized countries with a war which the English have first called servile, and which may, in fact, present all the frightful characteristics of that, which, under the direction of Spartacus, placed the Roman republic in the most imminent danger. The position is serious, no doubt, but by no means desperate. If, instead of uniting our efforts to accelerate our movement down the rapid slope along which we are rolling, we would contemplate the precipice at its foot, and have the strong determination to stop, we should soon become masters of the impulse which hurries us on.
We have established in the first place, in our article on landed property, that the great mass of working men who labour in the fields are not customarily driven into the class of proletarii; in most countries they are in some manner attached to property; they are the allies of the rich instead of contending against them; they enjoy a certain degree of comfort, they may obtain more; they have a security not only for the fature, but almost for perpetuity. Those countries which are so unfortunate as to have converted their agriculturists into day-labourers, ought to lose no time in returning to a better system in the cultivation of their estates: even their existence depends on this. As to France, it is calculated that four-fifths of the population are devoted to agriculture; there is no necessity to change their condition; only to ameliorate it. It is easy then to give a prospect of future welfare to four-fifths of the nation, and to make them attain it in time.
There is no reason to expect that this proportion, which appears to be general throughout Europe, should change. It is much more difficult to apply the great discoveries of science to agriculture than to the industrial arts. If in the most barbarous ages one man in five was sufficient to clothe and lodge all the five, whilst four were required to till the ground to feed themselves and the fifth, this fifth assisted by all the powers of mechanics, and all the powers of nature which man has learned to command, must be able to accomplish the same task, and henceforth to do it with more perfection and more taste. This primitive exchange is the basis of the prosperity of all nations, for their own consumption ought to equal their production; they may work for foreign markets that they may produce by exchange what they want, but if they reckon on doing the work of foreigners, on labouring that foreigners may consume their productions and pay their wages, they make a false calculation, by which, as we shall show further on, they will inevitably be disappointed.
By an approximating calculation, four-fifths then of the nation belong to the country and to agriculture, and the fifth to towns and other occupations. There would be danger to the state, the balance of productions would be overthrown if this fifth became a quarter or a third, but it does not follow that this fifth should go to increase the ranks of the pro-letarii. One part of the products of industry is prepared by trades, another part by manufacturers. Now the life of men who exercise trades is in general happy, and affords all those securities which we have demanded for the poor who work. A trade always requires an apprenticeship; and even where the ancient regulations which fixed the duration of this apprenticeship are abolished, it is not possible at the same time to abolish the necessity of a preparatory education to make carpenters, masons, locksmiths, farriers, cartwrights, shoemakers, tailors, bakers, or butchers. This apprenticeship, which requires a sacrifice of time and of money, and which does not begin till after childhood, necessarily limits competition; it does not offer the dangerous temptation to tradesmen which it does to manufacturers, to bring children into the world to employ them in gaining something, even at six or eight years old, to the great injury of their health and of their moral development.
The master tradesmen do not willingly take apprentices when their trade does not flourish in their locality, a second obstacle to imprudent competition, to a creation of products beyond the demand. The apprentice enters his master's family according to a contract which often binds him for many years; if he is not always sheltered from the effects of the rude manners and want of education of his master, he can, however, only be subjected to moderate labour, with hours and days of relaxation; and almost always time is allowed for moral instruction, because there is equality of condition and sympathy between him and his master. After his apprenticeship he becomes a journeyman, and engages with a master for a salary; he travels from town to town; his mind becomes enlarged; be is accustomed to independence; he learns the proportion between population and the demand for work; he finds out the place where he can establish himself with advantage, secure of sufficient work. It is then only that he settles; becomes a master; employs the little capital which he has been accumulating, in purchasing tools and furnishing a workshop; engages a journeyman and an apprentice; then lastly, he marries, for his means of living are now secured; he is in port. Before this time, even if he should have had the imprudence to seek a wife, it is probable that he would not have been able to find one, for he had nothing to offer; but thenceforward his life is independent and happy; he knows exactly how much employment there is a demand for in the district, and how much of it he can do. His wife does not assist him in his work; she has the care of the housekeeping, of keeping their house clean, and of the education of the children. The entrance of life may have been difficult, but from that time every step which he has taken has brought him nearer to a better condition.
If among those who began life with him some have not eucccedsd, they do not marry, and do not transmit their poverty. If some discovery in mechanics can be useful in his trade, he profits by it; he does not run the risk of being superseded by a machine, or of his work being stopped by the prohibitive laws of a foreign country with which he has no quarrel.
It is in the midst of these trades, exercised by the freemen of towns, which formerly did all the industrial work in all nations, that manufactories have arisen. The masters of manufactories in towns hold the same place in the industry of towns that great landowners do in the country. Like them, to make their own great fortunes, they must cause the disappearance of one or two hundred small independent properties: like them, they afterwards, by agreeing together, reduce all the men who work under them to a state approaching to servitude; like them, by the great means at their disposal, the employment of scientific assistance, the more complete division of labour, the economy of time and of inspection, whilst they make an advance they cause the condition of men to recede; like them, in short, they experience a reaction when those they employ begin to suffer, for after all, those who have must feed those who have not, and they are themselves mined by the false system of labour which they have adopted, with the object of enriching themselves.
One has great reason to be astonished that a system which tends to destroy small properties in mechanical arts, as well as in agriculture, and to substitute for them, indigence on one side and opulence on the other—a system which creates for some, power unbounded, and for others absolute dspendence —a system whose tendency is in opposition to the governing idea and passion of the age, equality—should exactly in such an age, have been received with so much favour. Nevertheless, it is a fact; and industrialism has been proclaimed as being the tendency, as well as the glory of our age, by persons who would equally have paid homage to the feudalism of the twelfth century. Still more, the Saint Simonians have almost made a religion of it. The prodigies of the mind of man Imbduing the elements have made them forget that the character of true prodigies, of those which come from God, is to be useful to man. Industrialism, or the substitution of one great workshop for many small ones in the common arts, has been considered to be one of the benefits of civilization, in consequence of many illusions. It was natural that at the movement of the establishment of a great and scientific manufactory, the eye should have been struck with admiration at the power of man, and at his triumph over nature, at the multiplicity of productions heaped up in a few hours, remembering the few processes by which they had formerly been obtained. Had it been possible, however, to see with a glance, the hundred or thousand families who had been deprived of their livelihood, or whose independence had been destroyed, it is probable that what society gained by the change might have been calculated more scrupulously. Thus, when a Scotch nobleman sends a whole clan to the other side of the Atlantic, in order to subject to a more scientific cultivation the estates from which he has expelled his former vassals, it is not sufficient for him to show his harvests or his flocks to prevent its being asked what he has done with the men. But manufactories are scarcely ever established in places, where the trades which they have replaced, were disseminated. These trades were established as near as they could be to the consumers; this was the true means of knowing the demand, and of proportioning their labour to the quantity of productions which they could dispose of. Thus nearly each village had its miller, its potter, its shoemaker, its locksmith; but if capitalists, profiting by the progress of science, propose to grind corn, and to make earthenware by steam, to make locks, to cut out shoes by complicated machines, in large quantifies, and supply the whole country at a time, they will leave their consumers that they may go where fuel is abundant, or the raw material of the best quality, or where wages are low. In the place where they establish themselves, they will do only good; they will disperse a great deal of money; they will give a value to raw materials and to provisions, which before it was difficult to dispose of; they will be surrounded by people to whom they give a livelihood; to whom they give wages for work; to perform which even an apprenticeship is not requisite. It will be said that these capitalists carry prosperity with them, and no one will go into unknown villages to count the master millers. potters, shoemakers, and locksmiths, whose means of living have been destroyed by the new manufactories. But it is for the statesman to count them, and to have always present to his miml the sum of evil by which any advantage is purchased.
The struggle between old trades and new manufaotories has nearly terminated in the victory of the last, as respects all those articles in the production of which the two methods can enter into competition. The only way in which we can form an idea of the independence of the master tradesmen and of the prosperity to which the workman formerly attained at the end of his eateer, is to look at those trades where the business, varying according to circumstances, cannot be transported and must be in direct demand; such are those of the earpenter and mason But a new struggle has arisen between the manufacturers who possess the most capital and those who have least, and a new illusion has hidden from the eyes both of those engaged, whether in business or legislation, how much there is that is odious and creel in the nature of this struggle; this illusion bears on the extent of the market.
The eoonomists mean by these words, extent of the market, not only the distance to which the producer can carry his products with the hope of selling them, but the power and the will to purchase of those comprehended within this circle. In order to ocomion no remorse to those who might fear that they were raising thenmselves on the ruin of their rivals, the prometers of industrialism pretend that the extent of the market is nnllmlted. Produce boldly, say they, for the more abundance there is, the more people will enjoy and consume; and a Seoteh eeonomist, who likes to clothe his reasoning in several abstract forms, has said, exchanges will necessarily increase with the increase of abundance: thus the field A has produced one year a hundred sacks of corn, and the workshop B, the same year, a hundred yards of cloth. The following year the same field has produced a thousand sacks of corn, the same workshop a thousand yards of cloth; why should they not also exchange one against the other? Why should not the same exchange be made if it were ten thousand or a hundred thousand? As usual, the Scotch philosopher has forgotten man in this reckoning; if instead of a field and workshop he had recollected that two men, one a farmer and the other an artizans, must exchange that surplus of their products which they did not use themselves, he would have perceived that he was saying an absurdity. One of these two men, after having purchased as much corn as he wants for food, is no longer hungry—wants no more—whatever may be the quantity produced on his neighbour's field; the other having bought cloth enough to clothe himself, is no longer cold—wants no more— whatever may be the activity of the manufacturer.
The extent of the market is, in effect, always limited by two things very independent of one another, the need or convenience of the buyers and their means of payment. It is not sufficient to be hungry in order to buy bread, unless there is wherewithal to pay for it; thus, however, the population may increase, its consumption will not increase unless its income increases also. Again, for a man to buy bread it is not enough to have an income, he must also be able to eat it; now not only is the quantity which the rich eat limited; the quantity of all manufactured productions which they can use is limited also. The luxury of opulence can never affect manufactured articles; but the productions of the artist only, from the embroiderer or lacemaker to the sculptor. It results from this important and too much forgotten rule, that to increase the sale of the produce of the industry and labour of man, it is not the income of the rich but the income of the poor that must be increased. It is their wages that must be increased, for the poor are the only purchasers who can add greatly to the extent of the market.
But the extent of the market for a new manufacture is composed not only of all the new purchasers, who, feeling new wants, and having acquired more income, present themselves to consume the new production which is offered to them. Unfortunately it also reckons much on the old purchasers, who may be drawn away from rival manufactures; it also calculates the power of underselling, a word which I must be permitted to borrow from a nation where it is made the basis of mercantile policy. It is assumed, that the market for any manufacture extends to every purchaser to whom the articles it has produced can be offered at a lower price than can be done by rival manufactures. All those which can be undersold are driven from the market, and then the one which has been able to do this prospers, and makes no account of the loss of those over which it has triumphed; circulating capital is dissipated, fixed capital remains unemployed and soon falls to ruin; workmen are dismissed; they suffer in indigence or perish from want. The manufacture which has been undersold makes every effort to recover the market. It defends its very existence, and the combat is to the death. The master is content with less profit; often he goes on, even at a loss, to maintain his credit; he gives up making a rent on his buildings and machines; he engages his famishing workmen to be satisfied with the lowest wages, rather than be dismissed and lose everything; after having worked in the day, they work also in the night. If however their rivals owe the advantage of selling at lower prices to the discovery of a new machine, of which they retain the monopoly, ingenious men torture their minds to discover the secret; if the producers belong to two different nations, learned bodies will occupy themselves with it, government will second them; national vanity would be wounded to be, as is said, tributary to foreigners, or more properly, to pay wages to foreign workmen whilst their own are perishing with hunger; the secret will be at last discovered; patriotism will collect the necessary capital; the two rival manufactures will strive against one another in order to gain purchasers, who are only sufficient for the consumption of what is produced by one of them; the market is glutted to the ruin of industry, and in the midst of this contest, the manufacturers proclaim the disastrous principle, that the basis of all manufacturing prosperity is the low rate of hand labour.
The low rate of hand labour is, however, the way in which they designate the contract which gives to the workman in exchange for his labour the least enjoyment possible. Whilst the master manufacturers are aiming at taking away one another's customers, by continually lowering the prices of their fabrics, they drive their workmen into still erueUer poverty. First they deprive them of even the humblest comforts and pleasures, then of their hours of repose; the workman must work for the strictest, most absolute necessaries; he must give every hour of the day for reduced wages; but it is discovered that by greatly exciting his interest it is possible to obtain from him more employment of muscular strength; he has the offer of working by the piece; soon, however, competition reduces the price of labour, and he gets no more by working by the piece than he formerly did by working by the day. Then, in order to live, he must call upon his wife to assist in the manufactory. The business of the wife in the poor man's household ought to be the preparation of food, domestic arrangements, keeping the clothes in order, but especially the education of the children, whom she should inspire with the virtues of their condition, and with the affection which binds them to their parents. But at this point of the workman's degradation there is no housekeeping for the poor man, no domestic arrangements requiring neatness and care; public kitchens prepare food for all, cheaper and cheaper; infant schools receive children just weaned till they are six or eight years old, when they are required to contribute to get bread for the family by labour, which destroys their health and brutalizes their minds. Such is the frightful progress of wretchedness produced by the competition to obtain hand labour at the lowest price. It has taken fxom the poor all enjoyment, all family ties, and the virtues of which they are the source, all gratitude from children to their parents. It does not, however, stop here; the poor man cannot live for less than his master gives him, but he can die; a new machine is invented which can, henceforth, do with a hundred hands what formerly required a thousand, and all these supernumerary hands are then dismissed. Such is the fatal course of every manufacture, founded, not to satisfy new wants, but to create a market for itself by underselling the old producers. The reaction against the workmen is equally cruel, whether the new manufacture endeavours to undersell natives or foreigners; neither will consent to give up all work, all income, all wages; they will not do something else; first, because neither their tools nor the skill which they have acquired prepares them for something else; then because the ruin of their own employment is no reason why some other thing should be in demand, and because all labour, which is not in demand, produces the same glut, the same ruin. The reaction is equally cruel, whether the competition be between productions of the same kind or between those which may be substituted for one another, as when cotton fabrics took the place of those of wool or silk,
It is as unjust as it is dangerous to the public peace to accuse the master manufacturers of wishing to reduce the poor to this distress. No doubt they committed a serious error when they undertook to manufacture anything which the public did not demand; for the first rule of prudence, as well as the first duty of the manufacturer, is to study the state of the market, and never to contribute to glut it; it is to proportion their products to the means of the purchasers, to live by serving them, not by hurting their fellow manufacturers. But this lesson, so loudly enforced by reason, so long well understood in commerce, and which has been the basis of its prosperity till the end of the last century, every one now strives to forget. The cry of monopoly is raised against all those who endeavour to keep up prices; those are violently applauded who, by a fortunate competition with their fellow producers, procure for the consumers unexpected low prices; universal competition is preached; we are to believe that the interest of the consumer is above that of the community, forgetting that the consumer must have an income before productions can be offered to him, even at the lowest price. Can we be astonished if the manufacturer has fallen into an error accredited by all writers, common to all the world, and now the reigning idea? Once entered on this fatal course, the manufacturers have been drawn on by an irresistible fatality. Their whole capital is quickly engaged in their manufactory; then, to pay their workmen, they must sell; to sell they must lower their prices; to lower their prices they must offer their workmen insufficient wages, whatever may be their humanity, their generosity; they submit to the law before imposing it on others. Undersold by their fellow manufacturers, they have only the choice of offering to their workmen a miserable pittance or nothing at all, and closing their workrooms.
This fatality, which governs the manufacturers, renders vain all efforts that the workmen can make against them in order to ameliorate their condition. The chresmatisties had announced that the power of the masters who desired to lower wages, and that of the workmen who wished to raise them, was equal, so that their opposition would fix the rate of wages at a just medium. This equilibrium was a primary error; in a contest of this kind, he who can wait the longest is sure of victory; the capitalists do not suffer much from suspending works for six months—for the workmen it is death. But when once a glut in the market has begun, the contest is no longer between the workmen and the masters; it is between the workmen and inflexible necessity. The great association, known in England by the name of Trades' Unions, has been a melancholy experiment of this kind. With a remarkable agreement in their design, the men were able, by refusing to work, to force their masters to close their workrooms, but not to raise their wages, for they could not procure them a single customer; still more, it is impossible to think without deep sorrow of these poor men, obedient to the law in their distress, dissipating in a vain but just struggle the savings of their labour, and obliged at last to yield.
If the legal resistance of the English Unionists was not efficacious, the armed resistance of the French could not be more successful. It is not the point to inquire whether the sufferings of the proletaries in France, the famine which threatened their wives and children, gave them the right to take arms, but whether resistance or even victory could ameliorate their condition. Now, conqueror or conquered, the master of a manufactory can only get interest on his capital by selling its products; he can only pay his workmen's wages with the money which he receives from his customers; burning his warehouses and his machines—robbing him, killing him—far from raising wages will entirely dry up their source. The suspension of work does not even cause a void in the shops which require to be filled up; the suspension of one manufactory only makes another flourish the more rapidly, which, secure of a temporary sale, will hasten to increase its machines; the convulsions of Lyons only redoubled the activity of manufactories in Switzerland, Germany, and England. It is not therefore in the name of morality and law, it is in the name of their own interests that we should unceasingly call upon the workmen to refrain from coalitions—to refrain from risings.
At the moment when these coalitions and these risings spread so much alarm, we heard it repeated that the workmen were unpardonable, for that their wages were sufficient; and in fact we know that, at this moment of excitement, many workmen made unreasonable demands; many others, intoxicated by false theories, thought less of their subsistence than of the sovereignty of the people, and demanded, under the name of a republic, not that form of government which in Greece, in Italy, in Switzerland, in Holland, and in America, has been signalized by wisdom, steadiness, and virtue, but that turbulent democracy whose short existence has always been marked by blind fury. But if we reflect on the state of ignorance, distress, and dauger to which the workmen in manufactories are reduced, we shall not be surprised either at their bad conduct, or at their hatred of established order; we shall not reproach them for not having waited for the extreme of penury before engaging in the contest to which they attached their last hopes of safety; for when the extreme of hunger is felt, resistance becomes impossible; it enervates body and mind, and death alone remains for him who suffers it. Very few workmen experienced this extreme of suffering, but the example of those who did was sufficient to alarm the others; all felt that their lives, and those of their families, were subject to all the chances of a lottery; that, without enjoyment for the present, they were without security for the future; and that the hardest work, joined to the most enlightened foresight, was insufficient to secure them from the torment of being surrounded by the objects dearest to their hearts asking in vain for bread.
Is this then the condition to which civilization should reduce the most active, the most energetic part of a nation? Should the triumph which science and art have obtained over nature, have for its result to reduce the producers of all our wealth, and of all our enjoyments, to a state in which they know neither enjoyment nor repose? No: this great wound of the social body, if it cannot be cured by the sole efforts of those who suffer most immediately, is not, however, incurable, if the government, if the whole of society would endeavour to close it. No doubt the chronic maladies of the social body, those whose origin is very distant, are not susceptible of a rapid cure; retrograde steps will be as slow as the progress of the disorder. But we must, at least, begin to change the system; governments and nations must be addressed in the words spoken by St. Reunz to Clovis, at the moment of his baptism, “Mitis depone colla, Sicamber; incende quod adorasti, adora quod incendisti.”;
If our eyes were not fascinated by the mystical words which certain economists have pronounced over us, the first thing we should acknowledge would be the glut of all the markets, and the sufferings which all producers experience from the difficulty of selling. Is it not evident, that instead of making a virtue of industrialism, that is, of the effort which all are making to glut the markets still more, society and government should endeavour to give another direction to human activity, so that, as machines will henceforth do the work of men, men should no longer do the work of machines? When man first became in some degree civilized, every thing was wanting to satisfy his necessities; whatever interfered with profitable labour must have been regretted; feasts, political employments, gymnastic and military exercises;—now, on the contrary, every thing should be encouraged which forces upon men employments not industrial; there will be time enough left to produce more than there is the means of consuming; and the hours which the community will require to take them from labour, their masters will still be obliged to pay them for. Formerly it might be regretted that prejudice kept out of industrial occupations those who held the highest rank in the state, and who had most capital to dispose of. Now, on the contrary, we may regret that this prejudice no longer exists: it would temper, at least, the feverish activity which torments the whole of society.
It is neither the increase of population, nor the increase of labour performed by that population, which constitutes the we|l-being of society, but the proportion between population and property, and the equable distribution of that income whose source is labour. Society is happy when each one, according to his condition, can enjoy content and ease; it is happy when wages are high, because wages are the income of the poor; it is happy when wages are high, because the poor, not being obliged to work every hour of tile day in order to exist, abstain from mutual competition by not producing more than can be sold.
It is exactly this end which we propose to ourselves, have long said the promoters of industry; we have encouraged the invention and construction of machines more and more ingenious, that while blind ibrce was executing the work of man, man might rest; we have thus encouraged the erecdon of manufactories, more and more numerous, that by offering more work, and outhidding one another ibr workmen, wages might rise. Some contradiction might be discovered between these two objects: however, the reason appears logical, and might have been held as conclusive, if experience bad not fully contradicted it. We have already shown how these two simultaneous efforts, tending to produce continually more articles without any proportion to the demand of the market, have lowered the price of every thing; consequently wages, consequently also, the consumption of the poor; but another effect of industrialism has been to increase unlimitcdly a necessitous population. The first establishment of a in manufactory does, in effect, raise wages. The manufacturers arrive with great capitals, great hopes, and a determination to collect workmen at any rate; these give themselves up to the same delusions which deceive their patrons; they live in plenty, and they think that this plenty will last. Young men and young women work most frequently in the same manufactory; temptations multiply; restraint and modesty do not long resist example and intimate contact; in the course of their lives they have no progress to expect, they will never be better off than they are; the birth of children does not frighten them, for from the age of six or eight years the manufactory offers them wages; they many, but scareely do their family and their wants begin to increase, than that reaction which affects every manufacture in turn, is felt by this, and wages fall.
For the rest, though the manufacturers expect to gain credit for spreading money in a country, and giving bread to the poor, this is rarely the determining motive of their undertakings; they hoped to be able to establish themselves, and to undersell their rivals, because they had discovered some new application of the powers of nature of a kind to spare human labour, and could, at the same time, dispose of sufficient capital to put it in action. Formerly, rich men, gifted with sufficient activity to run such risks, were not numerous; at the same time, the church and the preiudices against usury, made lending on interest very rare: now, there is not a crown, in whatever hands it may be, that does not find its way towards the most profitable employment. To the rich, who wish to be exempt from care, is offered the temptation of shares in anonymous companies; often the directors of these companies care little for their final success. With the command of a vast capital which does not belong to themselves, they make expensive machines, they throw sand in the eyes of the public; they sell their shares advantageously; soon, however, the company cannot pay the interest of the shares, the machines bring no profit: no matter; they are worked, and compete fatally with the workmen; and this losing undertaking contributes as much to lower wages as if it had been well conceived.
Still more in England and in America another cause is perceived to tempt projectors to engage in undertakings which prove disastrous to them, or towards what the English call overtrading. It is the invention of banks, always eager to furnish capital. Banks, in fact, make a profit in proportion to the circulation of their notes; thus they are as desirous of lending their fictitious capital as in other countries borrowers are desirous of obtaining advances. The mechanism of a bank consists in borrowing the value of the circulating coin of a country. and giving notes in exchange, on which it gets interest. It adds, no doubt, to the income of all a sum equal to this interest, but for this slight advantage it deprives the country of the security given to all value by the circulation of coin. At the same time, it deprives it of that vigilance with which a true capitalist would be on his guard against hazardous investments and foolish manufacturing undertakings. Thus many seductive interests combine to urge capitalists, men who are making discoveries, and projectors, towards a feverish industrialism, not proportionate to the wants of the country; on every side they are eager to produce, without ascertaining whether what they produce can be consumed. Is it not fit that the country should secure itself against an inconsiderate spirit of speculation, the fatal effects of which are felt on every side? All the products which labour annually creates, and brings into the market of a civilized community, ought to be purchased by the collective income of that community. This sum of the income of the community is no doubt very difficult to calculate, but it is not on that account less precise and determinate. It results from this, that whenever the income of the community does not increase, and the product of the labour of the community does increase, it is at the expense of the producers; they give more labour in exchange for the same quantity of the income of the consumer. It is true, that neither the interest of the producer nor that of the consumer are necessarily identical with that of the whole community. If the producer gives too little labour, or too little of the fruits of labour in exchange for income, those consumers who do not labour enjoy too little for their money;—with respect to those who do labour, their gains as producers will perhaps compensate for their loss as consumers. If the producer gives too much labour in exchange for income, the consumer who does not labour obtains what he enjoys cheaper, but this cheapness is not a compensation to him who labours, for his consumption diminishes. Instead of saying to the government, let things alone, the recommendation ought to be to hold the balance even between these two interests, and its attention should be always awakened when it sees the producers and the operatives suffering. For a considerable part of the last century the legislature, in industrial countries, gave all the advantage to the producers. It made the entrance into industrial arts difficult by the statutes of apprenticeship; it organized the heads of different trades into corporations, and gave to the corporation a jurisdiction over all its members; it authorized manufacturers to forbid the establishment of rival manufactories; to protect trades against manufactories, it did not permit several kinds of trades to unite together; in many towns it did not allow a master to hire for wages more than one or two compagnons or journeymen, to keep more than one or two apprentices.
It was not justice which dictated these regulations: they were all directed against the consumer, and for the interest of the producer. The rich had a double cause for complaint, as making them pay dearer for every thing, and preventing them making the most of their money by manufacturing; but it is the poor who have complained, and their clamours are still so great, that it is scarcely possible to think of re-establishing such regulations. Nevertheless, they exist in some towns of Germany and Switzerland, who ho|d to their ancient prejudices; and it is remarkable that exactly in these towns are to be found at this day accumulated capitals which would purchase all the provincial towns in France; st the same time that the citizens of the middle class, elsewhere destroyed, have preserved an honest independence; no proletaries are to be seen there, and yet the conveniences of life are not dearer than in other placess. Without returning to the municipal institutions of our forefathers, we may at least conceive that the authority which they exercised for the advantage of monopoly alone, might be put into hands more impartial and more just, who would exercise it for the benefit of the whole community. Let the principle only be agreed upon, and the means of applying it will not be wanting, particularly now that we are enlightened by the double experience of monopoly and of universal competition. Even before having recourse to such direct means of restraining industrialism, instead of continually exciting it, the aspect of society would change, if the government were persuaded that it was not advantageous, either to itself or to the nation it governs, to direct its efforts towards extending manufactures, to favour great manufactories at the expense of small trades, or the agglomeration of fortunes preferably to their division. The cessation of the indirect but daily encouragement which society gives to that system, whose dangers it is now experiencing, would perhaps suffice to restore the equilibrium, especially if, whenever a crisis occurred, an enlightened government should labour to diminish the glut instead of increasing it.
Already governments have frequently been called upon to support a manufacture which was threatened with ruin; and the more gluts in the market increase, the more the embarrassment of the manufacturer increases, the more frequently will this assistance be called for. Now, the suspension or the absolute cessation of work in a manufacture for which there is no longer any sale, is a first step towards the diminution of general suffering; the government ought, in fact, to come to the assistance of men, and not of industry; it ought to save its citizens, and not business. Far from making advances to the master manufacturer, to encourage him to manufacture to a loss, it ought largely to contribute funds to take the operatives from an employment which increases the embarrassment of all their fellow citizens. It ought to employ them in those public works whose products do not bear upon the markets, and do not increase the general glut. Public edifices, town-halls, markets, public walks, are native wealth, though not of a kind that can be bought and sold. Immense quantities of land may be recovered from water, on the sea-shore, along rivers, and by draining marsbes; the fertility of whole provinces may be doubled, quadrupled, by works of irrigation, which by means of canals circulate over the plains water borrowed from rivers; and to make these improvements throughout the whole extent of France, and which would cover it with a network of running water, might well employ, not only her industrial classes, but a quarter of her inhabitants for a long time to come.
But in assisting the workmen in any depressed industrial business by publio works, government must adhere principally to the following rules:—not to compete with an existing business and thus bring fresh disturbance into the markets; not to make of those works which it orders and pays for a permanent occupation, to which will be attached a new class of day-labourers—proletarii, —but to make them perceive how long it will last, and where it will end, that they may not marry in this precarious state, but may keep up the wish to disperse, and to establish themselves; in short, never to forget that these public works ought to be a preparation and an apprenticeship for a new situation, particularly as agriculturists, either in the new land which these works will have made fertile, or in some colony. A workman detached from a great manufactory, where, thanks to the division of labour, he filled, perhaps with superior skill, one single function, is like one of the wheels beside which he worked, of no value detached from the machine. An English workman, employed by his parish in breaking stones on the highway, is degraded even below a machine; hut a man who has been made to work intelligently at works of irrigation or clearing, and who has again become a peasant, a tradesman, a weaver, mason, carpenter, or blacksmith, is become a complete being; he may go to Algiers, become useful to his country wherever there is a demand for his labour, and regain complete independence. It will be said, no doubt, that these immense works require treasure, and that the abandoning of industrialism will dry up the sources of the public revenue. We might ask in our turn what sacrifices of the national fortune has not industrialism already cost; what ruinous laws, both for the revenue and those who contribute to it, have not been made to secure to our manufacturers, sometimes the monopoly of the home market, sometimes a preference over foreign markets; we might say that this new sacrifice is also imposed by industrialism, for it is this, which having created proletarii, has reduced them to die of hunger. Now the fundamental condition of society is, that no one shall die of hunger; it is only on this condition that property is acknowledged and guaranteed. But we do not know on what grounds industrialism pretends to be a source of the public revenue. Since nations, instead of working each for itself to provide the things it wants, have desired, each one striving against the others, to become sole providers of the whole world, we have seen all those old fortunes overthrown which in manufacturing countries had been transmitted from generation to generation as part of the glory of the country. It is, in some sort, a necessary consequence of the system, that every new discovery in the arts should enrich the first who made use of it, by ruining his predecessors: his opulence lasts ten or twenty years, while he can preserve his secret, or till another comes, who, more skilful than he, ruins him in his turn to rise in his place. It may be said that by these rapid vicissitudes, art, considered abstractedly, flourishes and becomes continually more perfect; but the fortune of manufacturers has lost all stability; they must themselves give up all trust in the future, which is more than half our happiness. The violence with which all capitalists in these times engage in gambling in the funds is, in fact, the consequence of old and honest industry having become as hazardous as gaming.
Even had manufacturers remained much richer than they are, it has never been easy to tax any considerable part of their profits. The two great sources of revenue to the state are taxes on land, and taxes on consumption. These last never produce abundantly, except when they reach the enjoyments of the poor, and when the poor have no enjoyments they produce almost nothing. All efforts of financiers to obtain a product at all considerable by taxes on the luxuries of the rich, have been vain. Thus, fiscal science, as well as all other branches of political economy, requires that the poor should be liberally paid for their labour, that they may contribute largely to public expenses.
On whatever side we look, the same lesson meets us everywhere, protect the poor, and ought to be the most important study of the legislator and of the government. Protect the poor; for, in consequence of their precarious condition, they cannot contend with the rich without losing every day some of their advantages; protect the poor, that they may keep by law, by custom, by a perpetual contract, rather than by competition— the source of rivalry and hatred—that share of the income of the community which their labour ought to secure to them; protect the poor, for they want support, that they may have some leisure, some intellectual development, in order to advance in virtue; protect the poor, for the greatest danger to law, public peace and stability, is the belief of the poor that they are oppressed, and their hatred of government; protect the poor, if you wish industry to flourish, for the poor are the most important of consumers; protect the poor, if your revenue requires to be increased, for after you have carefully guarded the enjoyments of the poor, you will find them the most important of contributors.