Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: SOCIAL RETROGRESSION. - The Tyranny of Socialism
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER I.: SOCIAL RETROGRESSION. - Yves Guyot, The Tyranny of Socialism 
The Tyranny of Socialism, ed. J.H. Levy (London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co., 1894).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
What is a Socialist?—Origin of the word Socialism—Proudhon’s Definition—The Socialists as they are—Agreement and Disagreement—The Fourth Estate—Socialist Programmes—German Ideas—Socialist and Negro—Social Atavism—Evolution—Social Retrogression.
Recently a disciple of Lamarck and of Darwin, a physiological Determinist of the school of Claude Bernard, met a Delegate of the Bourse du Travail. Said the Delegate of the Labour Bureau, his eyes aflame with anger, his mouth full of imprecations and oaths, and his fist clenched, “You are retrograde; for you are not a Socialist!”
TheDeterminist.—Let us see. What do you understand by that word—Socialist?
TheDelegate.—What! What do I understand by it? That is simple enough. A man is either a Socialist, or he is not; but you are not one.
Determinist.—And why do you pronounce me unworthy of the title? By what right do you appropriate to yourself the word “Socialism,” before we even know to whom—to Robert Owen, Pierre Leroux, or Louis Reybaud—is due the honour, of having enriched our vocabulary with the term? Pray, what is the meaning you attach to it? Proudhon replied to the President of the tribunal before which he was cited to appear shortly after June, 1848:—Socialism is every aspiration towards the amelioration of society.”
“But then we are all Socialists,” replied the President.
“That is just what I think,” answered Proudhon.
You evidently do not agree with Proudhon.
Delegate.—No! The only true Socialists are those who keep step with us.
Determinist.—And who are those who keep step with you, or with one another? I noticed that, at the cemetery of Père Lachaise, on May 28th, Socialists, Broussists, Marxists, Allemanists, and Blanquists, instead of uniting to do homage to the champions of the Commune, whom they looked upon as their leaders and models, fought desperately among themselves—which surely proves that the brotherhood which they wish to impose upon the world, by revolutionary measures if need be, does not actually exist among themselves. What is their common programme? It cannot be divined from their respective names, because these independent folk take the names of individuals as rallying-words, just as the monks were the docile disciples of St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Francis, or St. Augustine. By what sign may the true Socialist, according to your gospel, be distinguished from the false? Do not revolutionary Socialists entertain a profound contempt for the Possibilists?1
Delegate.—That is so. The revolutionists consider that the Possibilists are too much taken up with their personal success and with the elections. But the Possibilists are revolutionary too. They gave good proof of this, when through their organ, Le Prolétaire, Messieurs Lavy (the Deputy), Paul Brousse, Caumeau, Reties, and Prudent-Dervillers called upon their friends to celebrate the fall of the Commune, “which represents Authority, and whose protagonists are the heroes that should serve as our models.” At bottom, amongst Socialists who are true Socialists, the only question which divides them is that of leaders. Some prefer this one, others that; but we are agreed.
Delegate.—First, upon the question of the Fourth Estate.
Determinist.—And What is the Fourth Estate?
Delegate.—In 1789, a Third Estate was recognised. A century later, it is only right that there should be a Fourth. That is progress.
Determinist.—And of whom is it composed?
Delegate.—Of those who are not bourgeois.
Determinist.—And by what do you distinguish a bourgeois?
Delegate.—A Bourgeois! He is a man of standing, who makes others labour. Wage-earners alone form the Fourth Estate.
Determinist.—But how about the mason who comes to Paris during the summer to follow his trade, and who returns for the winter to La Creuse or La Haute-Vienne, where he is a freeholder—does he form part of the Fourth Estate?
Delegate (after a moment’s hesitation).—At Paris, yes! In his own country he is a bourgeois. Here, we would have him with us. Down there we don’t want him.
Determinist.—That distinction would go to prove that the boundaries of the Fourth Estate are not very clearly defined.
Delegate.—Not exactly that. Those are Socialists who wish to “repeal” the law of supply and demand, the iron law of wages, and so are those who wish to annex the means of production, at present in the hands of the exploiters of labour, for the benefit of the workers.
Determinist.—I recognise those formulæ and those phrases. Our Socialists and Communists of 1848—from Louis Blanc to Cabet—would hail them as grand-children of their own ideas, but deformed, cramped, swollen, overweighted. They form the groundwork of the programmes of the Congresses held at Gotha in 1875, and at Erfurt in 1891. At any rate, so far as their general conception goes, they are only resuscitated from 1848; and yet you pretend you have advanced.
Delegate.—Yes; and you, you bourgeois economist, you tool of capital, stipendiary of La Haute Banque, hateful landowner, you are nothing but a reactionary and a renegade!
Determinist.—To be a renegade from your Socialism one must have taken part with it. Now, as I was never weak enough to do that, I cannot be what you say: I am merely a determinist. Unfortunately you have got into the way of fuddling your brains with a certain number of words which you do not understand, and which you repeat and throw about at random. Well, I invite you, who are so fond of calling others reactionaries and retrogressists, to remember two definitions. Do you know what atavism is?
Delegate.—It is not in our programme.
Determinist.—Unfortunately it is. If not there totidem litteris, atavism still dominates it completely.
Delegate.—I do not understand.
Determinist.—You may perhaps have heard of colour-prejudice, although in France it very seldom has occasion to show itself. This is the source of it. A charming quadroon is introduced to you. If her hair is black, her skin is white. Were it not for an almost imperceptible shade of bistre in her nails, it would be impossible to suppose that she had negro blood in her veins; and, as a matter of fact, generations and generations have passed by since a negress was numbered amongst her ancestresses. Nevertheless, a fair, blue-eyed young man would hesitate to marry her; because one of her children, instead of being under the hereditary influence of an immediate ancestor, might possibly bear the characteristics of that particular ancestress whom a slave-dealer, boasting of her ebony complexion, had sold one hundred and fifty years ago in the Antilles. This phenomenon is called atavism. Do you know what you are doing when you seek to blend the social organisation, born of the French Revolution, with a parcel of survivals which have come down to us from primitive civilisation? By the union of your Collectivism and your Socialism, with the Declaration of the Rights of Man, you are trying to give birth to a contemporary of our ancestors of the age of unhewn stone. The work which, in your ignorance, you seek to accomplish is to carry back our civilisation to an ancestral form. You are creating a social atavism.
Delegate.—Then you accuse us of wishing to create negroes. That’s a plain case of bourgeois bad faith. I defy you to find that in our programme.
Determinist.—Do you know what Evolution is?
Delegate.—No, indeed; that is not in our programme.
Determinist.—Evolution is the sum total of the qualities acquired by humanity since its first appearance, and transmitted as they have accumulated from one generation to another. And now do you know what Retrogression is?
Delegate.—That is not in our programme either. You must not introduce things into it that are not there.
Determinist.—Unfortunately it is there.
Delegate.—I assure you I have never heard it asked for at the Bourse du Travail.
Determinist.—They do nothing else there.
Delegate.—That is putting it too strongly.
Determinist.—I will prove it to you, if you will only recall Littré’s definition: Retrogression—Physiological and pathological term. He who, after having shown phenomena of development, withers, becomes reabsorbed, decomposed. Retrograde work. Retrograde transformation. From the Latin regressionem from regressum, supine of regredi and gradi, progress. You who claim to march in the vanguard really march in the rear. Your social ideal, which you believe lies before you, lies behind. Poor Janus, blind in front, you gaze only upon the horizon of the past. Whither you seek to go, by great effort, and through perilous ways and cataclysms, is towards effete and barbarous civilisations. Far from you and yours seeking to develop yourselves by participating in the human evolution, revealed to us in improvements already obtained, the goal at which you and your friends are aiming is Social Retrogression.
The Fabians of France. They are opportunists who seek Socialistic ends by parliamentary methods.—Ed.