Some ten years ago I wrote an essay which led to the somewhat unexpected conclusion that every error, as well as every truth, is the product of experience.
In the case of error the experience is incomplete, that is all; but as those who are mistaken have seen, or have done what passes for seeing, there is no occasion for astonishment at finding that so many of them get angry when told that they are mistaken.
To the collectivists I say simply this:
You have drawn conclusions before having seen enough.
It is a repetition of the story of the Englishment who, landing on one of our shores, met a woman; the woman was red-haired; the Englishment again boarded his vessel, having written in his diary:
In France the women are all red-haired.
The intellectual fathers of so-called scientific collectivism—Karl Marx, for instance, to cite only one name—belonged to that generation which was adult in 1830, and their conclusions date from an earlier period than 1848.
The revival of the memories of the Revolution was just at its height; historians were singing the praises of the great epoch, the suppression of servitude and privilege, the proclamation of liberty for all, of equal rights for all, the disappearance of aristocracy.
To be sure, they had just seen this nobility of the past aped by an aristocracy of military braggarts; to be sure, they had seen it coming back, short-winded, in the enemy’s vans; but that was only a nightmare, and, thanks to the glorious three, though there were still a king, at least there were no more lords.
They were marching at a rapid pace towards complete equality.
Suddenly there arose an unknown thing, a sort of elevated tower, such as the old manors had, with a high panache. And walls rose all around it, bare, as cold as those of a fortress. The walls opened and closed at fixed hours, and under the arches passed multitudes, emaciated, debilitated, bent, and one could not tell whether it was fear or fatigue that prevented them from straightening up their bodies. In these modern castles the lord. A new servitude was born.
The high chimneys multiplied, and also the number of masters. A new aristocracy had arisen, brutal, monopolizing, coarse, plundering, arrogant, without bowels, inhuman, devoted to figures, devoted to gain, a predatory race, which thought less of man than of a beast of burden, for beasts had to be bought while man could be had for nothing; irresponsible, for, shrewder than its predecessors who had to feed the slave and protect the serf, it had found a way of avoiding every kind of obligation towards the proletaire.
And yet the proletaires disputed with each other for the favor of peopling these modern dungeons, of rowing in these galleys; they rushed, jostled one another, and fought at the doors to get in.
This was because the growth of all these high chimneys had carried hunger into many laborer’s homes; the connecting rod of the great engine had replaced human arms. There remained but one resource,—to make themselves wheels in the factory, instruments, valets of the monster machine, servants of the master of this monster.
Those eager for equality, the sons of the revolutionists, reflected; and those who were to become communists and then collectivists were made dizzy by the noise which issued from these modern dungeons that rose in black spots, like prisons on a soil green only the day before. They had no care, no anxiety save on account of this plague of an aristocracy which every day accumulated more, and this other plague of an enslaved proletariat.
That was the fact of the time; what would the future be, if the matter should not be ordered in some way?
And straightway they concluded:
Since the aristocracy amasses more and more capital, means of production, and wealth, the time will soon come when it will have taken everything and when the nation will form two nations,—one a mistress minority possessing everything, the other a servant having nothing and living at the mercy of the first. This matter will have to be arranged, then; and since machinery is the cause of this cursed aristocracy, its strength, its creator, its sustainer, and since machines nevertheless are indispensable, we will keep the machines, but we will abolish the aristocracy. How? By handing over to the State, to the government, all the means of production.
Whence a multitude of systems, solidly built, very fine on paper, but which would be also very dangerous in practice, since for the tyranny of the aristocracy, so much to be dreaded, they substitute the tyranny of political power, no less dreadful, no less iniquitous, odious, degrading, no less detestable.
Ah! let us beware of deductions!
Now, while the bloated aristocracy took from the belly after the fashion of the Esquimaux, and the system-makers systematized, a multitude of good people of a practical turn, handlers of tools, men of education, small mechanics, engineers, who had not the remotest intention of allowing themselves to be devoured by the capitalistic ogre or enslaved by the communistic despot, set to work as soon as the first moment of stupor was over.
At all times there have been these temperaments of free men wishing to remain free; they conquered the aristocracy of the Middle Ages and the despotism of the monarchical State; they will conquer the aristocracy of the nineteenth century, and will keep the dreams of communistic despotism in the cloudy realm of the imagination.
Big machines are menacing, embarrassing, and monopolizing, say to themselves these free and intelligent beings. Modern lords, you have in them a very fine armament. They are to you what high walls, breast-plates, and shields were to your predecessors. The villein could make no impression on them.
Precisely, but gunpowder was invented, and the castles were deserted by the serfs, abandoned by the masters themselves, who could no longer live in them. There remained but a few miserable ruins, to serve as examples to lords to come.
During the last thirty years or more, but since Karl Marx constructoed his conclusions, they have been inventing little motors, little tools which will deliver the victims of the mechanical monster; the little industry of the artisan, for a moment thrown into confusion, is being reorganized; the machine is becoming democratic, portable, convenient, cheap, accessible, and shows its superiority over the monsters of the great factory in that it can wait without suffering at times when there is no work; it no longer holds the laborer at its disposition, it is becoming at the disposition of man.
In a near future all laborers, even the proletaires of today, each one by himself or in small groups of associates, will have their own machines, their own tools, and the desert will be in the industrial fortresses of today, around the high chimneys extinct, between the walls become lamentable. The sons of the aristocracy of iron and silver will work for a living,—which will not be a great calamity,—and historians will relate how the industrious people recovered their liberty, compromised for an instant by the infancy of machinery and the first spread of industrialism.
Such are the facts of science which the communists of the time of Louis Philippe should have been able to foresee, and which the so-called scientific collectivism of today has forgotten to see.