Eleanor Marx 1884
Source: Today, July 1884, pp. 92-99;
CopyLeft: this text is free of copyright restrictions;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The fact that although Socialists obtained a seventh of the votes at the late Municipal Elections in Paris, only two Socialist candidates were returned, has strongly impressed our Parisian friends with the necessity for a better organisation of their forces and especially for greater union among the different groups that compose the party. The Communist, or as it is called in France, the “Marxist,” Party has taken the initiative in trying to bring about an understanding between the groups, and convened a conference composed of delegates from all those Socialist sections and trades unions whose only aim is the political and economic expropriation of the bourgeoisie. At a large meeting held at Menilmontant (one of the working men’s quarters of Paris), this proposition for union in the Socialist Party was discussed and adopted. That English readers may see how important the movement for union is, I translate some passages from a letter describing the different parties within the Party:
“There are four different fractions among the Socialists. The French Working Men’s Party was founded at the Congress of Marseilles, where 160 delegates of the French working classes voted the nationalisation of the instruments of labour, (land, mines, machinery, railways, &c). So great was the enthusiasm called forth by this Congress that for a time it paralysed the action of the party in favour of co-operation. From 1880 to 1881, there was but one Socialist Party in France. The organs of the party ware the weekly journal L'Egalité, and the Socialist review, edited by Guesde, Devine, Lafargue, &c. It is these two papers, together with Engel’s pamphlet Utopian and Scientific Socialism, that propagated the Socialist theories of Marx in France. Since the Marseilles Congress many other Congresses, national and local (regional), have upheld these theories, and established the Parti Ouvrier” which has sections in almost every town in France. All the sections of a town unite to form a local council. All the local councils of a region (France is divided into five regions) unite to form a federal council for the region, and the five regional councils are connected by a national council, that consists of five members who are elected at the Annual National Congress. The seat of the present national council is Rheims. After a short period of depression the co-operative party took heart again, and started a new Socialist Party. But not daring to come out with their co-operative theories, which have no chance of success with the French working class, they disguise them as ‘service publique.’ They do not speak of politically and economically expropriating the bourgeoisie, but of competing with them by means of co-operation which would take a municipal form. Thus at Paris instead of demanding, like the communist party the legal reduction of rents, they wish the town to spend some millions annually in constructing workmen’s lodging houses on the Peabody plan. They thus wish the town to construct railways, &c., etc. The “Possibilistes,” of whom the co-operative party consists, are practically what the Lassalle party was in Germany — only they have no Lassalle. Indeed there is not a man of talent among them. These two parties, Communist and Possibilist, have long been at daggers drawn. The personalities indulged in by them have had a most disastrous effect on the movement. It must be said that the Communists were forced to become “personal” in self-defence, and they have for a long time now closed this kind of warfare, which the Possibilists however are pursuing with unabated vigour, for it is here that they shine.”
“By the side of these two parties there are yet two others — the Blanquist and Anarchist. The Blanquists, although there are many Communists in their ranks, are a merely revolutionary party. The end of all their efforts is to organise a part of the working class, to agitate the population about general political questions, to wait for a propitious moment in order to possess themselves of political power. The question that they are agitating at the present time is that of the abolition of the standing army; large meetings have been held by them on this subject in Paris and the provinces. What distinguishes the Blanquists is that they have never quarrelled with the other groups. Thus during the last election in the 20th arrondissement the Marxists and Blanquists made common cause in order to support Vaillant, one of the most remarkable members of the Blanquist Party. And Vaillant in the very first sitting of the Municipal Council, emphasized the two-fold character of his election. As Blanquist he demanded an amnesty for all political prisoners now in gaol, and as Communist he proposed the creation of a labour-bureau to examine all questions of especial interest to working men.”
“As to the Anarchists, they themselves do not know what they want; they are everything and nothing. About eight months ago there was a discussion between various Anarchists, on the subject of their economical theories, which by its absurdity convulsed all Paris with laughter. Individualism pushed to its last consequences seems the theory advocated by the greater number of Anarchists, and there are some who do not hesitate to tell you that one will have to go and heat his own steam-engine if he wants to make a journey. During the well-known Lyons process, where the Anarchists were so unjustly condemned, they drew up a manifesto in which while they called themselves communist anarchists (an impossible combination), they state that the end and aim of anarchism is the establishment of a right of free contract perpetually revisable and revocable. This manifesto was written by Krapotkine and Gauthier. Anarchists, for the most part, have a profound contempt for knowledge and for logic, and do not understand that the only result of their system would be an augmentation of profits for the lawyers. For a little time French Anarchists spoke a great deal about propaganda “par le fait,” i.e., by dynamite and the revolver, but since the terrible Lyons sentences they have talked less of this kind of action. To-day Anarchists differ from the other groups in their refusal to make use of elections and in their attacks on universal suffrage.”
“These are the four principal Socialist groups in France. Beyond them there are a few others that belong to none of the existing parties, but which are loudly demanding ‘union,’ and will shortly no doubt join one or the other faction.
“It is almost certain that only the Blanquist and Marxist groups will unite. The other two — really mere transition parties — will probably dissolve with time, a certain number of the Possibilists going over to the bourgeois camp (their true place), while others, more especially working-men, being deserted by the rest, will throw in their lot with the Communists.”
All Socialists must heartily wish to see this union of the Blanquists and Communists, and that we shall hear no more of all the small personal questions that have already done enough harm. Like my correspondent, Guesde has pointed out in the Cri du Peuple that the Communists only for a time, when absolutely forced to it, condescended to these personalities, and that in the true Socialist party there can only be differences on questions of principle.
It will be remembered that last winter Guesde and Lafargue were in prison for six months for Socialist propaganda in central France. They are now to be prosecuted by the treasury to recover the fine they were also condemned to, and the costs of the process. They will have to pay or go to prison for another four months.
All the bourgeois Liberal-Radical papers are bemoaning the defeat of the Liberals at the late election. Socialists know that not even an Ultramontane government can commit greater infamies than this “Liberal” one. They remember how these Liberals for the last six years fawned and cringed to the Czar and to Bismarck, and at their behest persecuted the unhappy victims of German and Russian tyranny who had taken refuge in Belgium. Socialists remember the delivering up of Cyvoct to France — an act so shameful that some of the bourgeois press, not lost to all sense of honour, protested; they remember how bayonet and sabre have again and again been placed at the disposal of capitalist exploiters who wanted to use “energetic measures” with their work-people on strike; they remember how only last year when the workingmen asked for their political rights the Liberal government answered by raising new taxes that are crushing the people. “The late election,” writes our Socialist contemporary of Gand, the Toekomst, “was no political struggle, but a struggle of material interests.”
It is characteristic also that a Belgian friend writing to tue, says: “I hope the International Congress will be held at Anvers instead of London, for now the Liberals are gone we should probably be allowed to hold it!”
From Gand — where our party is strong — another friend writes me that the misery among the weavers and spinners is terrible, and threatens to become worse. Several of the largest mills are closed. Others are trying to introduce new machines, which they are to some extent already working in villages near Gand. At one of these villages “the peasants work,” my correspondent says, “for a ludicrous salary, 9 to 11 francs for 72 hours of labour.” Under such conditions it is at least some comfort to think that Socialism is making immense progress, especially in Flanders. The men and women who work 72 hours for 9 to 11 francs find the present slavery harder to bear than anything Mr. Spencer could foreshadow in the future.
The Dutch Party Organ, “Recht Voor Allen,” of which I have already spoken, has now so good a circulation that the paper is beginning to be a paying one. For years our friend Domela Nieuwenhuis who was its founder, published it at his own expense, not only giving his money but his whole time to it. Now that (thanks to his energy) the paper is a success, Citizen Nieuwenhuis has made a present of it to the party, which has thus become possessed of a property that will be of great help in the fight. How many bourgeois radicals, I wonder, would be capable of such an act of generosity as this Socialist? Citizen Nieuwenhuis sends me a report on the condition of the party in Holland, which I am sure readers of To-Day will like to see. He says: “We have had a fight with the official freethinkers here, and when at the beginning of last year Socialist-baiting began, we withdrew from their party. With this split the Freethought Party has lost its most thorough (tüchtigen) members, and is doomed to drag on a miserable existence. All this bears a strong resemblance to your own position in England, where the best people among the Freethinkers are becoming Socialists. From the Freethinkers as a party we expect nothing. Too lazy to think, they believe that under the cloak of “Free-thought” they may be free from thinking. It is a convenient game for tenth-rate people, who do not understand the a.b.c. of philosophy.
“We have also had our debate. A bourgeois, a lawyer, Mr. Cohen Stuart challenged me to meet him, which of course I did. We took care to have a verbatim report, from which everyone may see that here as with you, the bourgeois speaker was absolutely ignorant of the subject. The debate has brought us many new friends, and has made hundreds think on this great question.”
“The Socialist movement has made giant strides here. The fear of the Government, the pamphlets and daily attacks in the press give us proof of it. Many understand the question so little, that they actually look upon it as a personal fancy of my own. To these I am the devil incarnate, who has for a time been let loose on society.”
“The Government makes one blunder after another, and is our greatest helper. Last year at the opening of Parliament the gallery for the public had been filled with young girls from the Orphan Asylum, for fear that a demonstration might be made in favour of universal suffrage. The military was kept in readiness in the barracks ! We have been agitating about the waste of public money. For instance £120 on the through-journey of the Queen of England. Even these small questions are useful in stirring up the people.”
“The crisis is also very much felt here in all branches of trade; thousands are without work — i.e. without bread. We are in fear of famine-riot, which could do no good, and would be a great danger.”
“Our fellow-workers in the Lower Netherlands are making enormous progress. Lately a large fete was held by them to celebrate the opening of a new hall, which went off admirably, and it was decided that we Dutch Socialists should publish fly-sheets, pamphlets, etc., together with them.”
“Everything here is very promising, and though we are not at the head of the movement, when the great time comes I hope we shall not be far behind.”
“The English movement interests us extremely, and we read TO-DAY with the utmost pleasure and interest. It is one of the best organs the Socialists have.”
The newest panacea for saving Germany suggested by the intelligent German bourgeois — is colonisation. Meantime while Bismarck is playing with that two-edged tool the “right to labour,” and the bourgeois press is proving that over-production and over-population must, in a well-ordered society, go together and can only be cured by emigration, the Socialists are quietly going on with the great work in spite of all difficulties.
The following report, re-printed by the Sozial-Democrat, of a sitting of the Agricultural Society of Riesengebirg, illustrates very sufficiently the condition of the German agricultural labourers. Regret was expressed that the railways and industry drew so many agricultural labourers away. “As especially bad,” says the report, “the fixed wages and hours of labour on the railroads, etc., were pointed out, as these had a depressing effect on the agricultural labourers. If the workmen on the railways and railroads, with higher wages were free in the evening just when the agricultural labourer began to sweat hardest (recht zu schwitzen anfange) this must cause discontent. The society will therefore petition the railway-directors to make some changes in this respect, so that the agricultural labourers may no longer have reason to envy the working men on the railways.” What must the position of the people be, who envy the worst-paid and hardest-worked of workmen?
1. It must be remembered that the Belgian working class has, so to say, no political power whatever, since only those who pay 20 gulden direct taxes are entitled to a vote.