Socialistic Letters

Socialistic Letters.

[Le Radical]

In his journal, Le Peuple, Proudhon summed up as follows that which was the ideal of the pure Communists of his time, and that which is the ideal of the pure Communists of ours:

Organization of labor by the State;
Organization of banks by the State;
Administration of railways by the State;
Administration of canals by the State;
Administration of mines by the State;
Administration of insurance by the State;
Colonization by the State;
Apprenticeship by the State;
Etc., etc., etc., by the State;
Nothing by the citizen, everything by the State.

A summary which might itself be summarized in a line:

Despotism of the State, slavery of the citizen.

In vain, continues Proudhon, does Socialism [for even then there were Socialists who were not Communists] cry out to them that what they want is pure monarchy; they do not hear. The State, by itself, is unproductive; it does not labor. No matter; it shall be made organizer. The State is involved in debt; it shall give credit. Labors entrusted to the State cost fifty per cent. more than they are worth; the State shall be charged with the most difficult tasks.

This life-like and sagacious portraiture of the incapacities of the State, thus contrasted with the inconceivable confidence placed in the State by the Communists, was brought to my mind the other day during the unveiling of a statue to Louis Blanc.

And I remembered that that honest man, that gentle dreamer, that harmonious artist who, having suffered a thousand privations, had uttered the most eloquent cries of anguish in the name of all the suffering,—I remembered that Louis Blanc had believed more than all others in the providence of the State, perhaps because he believed in the other Providences; I remembered that, of all the Communistic chiefs, he had been the most popular, the most cheered, the most powerful; that at certain times he had had the support of a whole people, and that he had held in his hand the helm of the State; that he had been able to command a government, he who professed that government can make a people’s happiness and accomplish the social revolution, and that he had failed; that, having reformed nothing, transformed nothing, improved nothing, there was nothing left for him but to go sadly into exile to reflect upon the powerlessness of statesmen who experiment upon millions of individuals with the most seductive systems constructed by the most generous imaginations.

And—a thing to be noted, though not at all strange—it was not the Socialistic people who had given him such loud acclaim, who reared a statue to him. The Communists, on the contrary, hissed, not at bottom because of his hours of weakness in the days of June and the Week of May, but because those who still believe in the governmental panacea could not forgive the failure of the Communist who had been the government.

Thus the ancient believers broke their idol when it had not given them victory; thus certain populations of the South throw their saint into the river when they are weary of parading it through the fields to get rain, and it has not succeeded in making it rain.

What is left of the system of Louis Blanc, who nevertheless filled a whole generation with enthusiasm by the words Organization of Labor?

Not even an illusion to lose, not even the possibility of preserving the hopes which men like Benoit Malon have not quite abandoned.

For, if the system of Louis Blanc has not been tried by its author and the secular state, it has been by that competitor of the State, that model, that mould of the State, that other State, the Church.

Louis Blanc asked the State to make itself a manufacturer,—to establish in the principal branches of industry a certain number of workshops which it should control and in which it should employ workmen offering guarantees of morality.

The State should draw up regulations having the force of laws, and should fix the hierarchy in the workshop. By reason of the life which was to end in Communism, products would be created more cheaply; private industry would thus be led very gently to surrender, and the State would gradually become master of industry; or at least it would oblige other manufacturers and laborers to imitate its regulations, its hierarchy, its Communism in short, which would be, in its view, great good fortune for the laborers in the State workshops and the laborers in the other workshops thus led to surrender.

Now, the ecclesiastical State has established shops,—work-rooms, monasteries.

The Church has drawn up regulations for these shops, and selected from the laboring people those which suited it best.

The Church, by reason of the life which it has regulated in common, has found a way of producing at prices before unheard-of; and, if things continued long in this way, it would gradually make itself mistress of every industry.

But the Church has by no means led the other workshops to surrender, nor has it caused them to taste the advantages of labor in common and life in common.

It has simply ruined some of the less shrewd manufacturers.

The others have reasoned as follows:

The Church produces more cheaply than we do; this is because it gets its labor more cheaply. By this competition it leaves us no alternative but to diminish our profits, which is out of the question, or to reduce the wages of our workmen, which we will proceed to do at once.

Consequence: The unfortunates who do work for the Church are, perforce of regulations, statutes, and the hierarchy, in the position of weary and ill-fed slaves, and, through the fact of this competition on the part of the ecclesiastical State, the poor workers in private industries see their meagre pittance and that of their children curtailed every day.

Was this what Louis Blanc wanted?

No, for he was good, kind, and really desirous of more comfort for all.

He was deceived, as all the Stateists are deceived and mistaken. The best thing that the State can do is to do no harm, and I have not yet noted that it has ever succeeded in this, so harmful and oppressive is it in its essence.

To ask it to operate the social transformation, or even to coöperate in it, is to ask a régime of honesty of a Louis Philippe, clear sight of the Provisional Government of ’48, honor of Napoléon, fairness of the Government of National Defence, humanity of Thiers, intelligence of Mac-Mahon, sincerity of Jules Ferry, liberty of Bismarck.

And in the lifetime of Louis Blanc the State was all these by turns, and Louis Blanc saw them at their sickening work as statesmen.

That is why we must conclude with Proudhon:

Let our young recruits fix it in their minds that Socialism is the opposite of governmentalism.

Ernest Lesigne