Studies in Socialism by Jean Jaurès 1906
I do not need to warn my readers that these articles do not pretend to exhaust the subjects of which they treat. They are obviously only a fragment, or rather the beginning of a larger, more dogmatic and scientific work, in which I hope to define exactly the conception, the policy, and the programme of Socialism at the dawn of the twentieth century.
The studies here gathered together, however, touch with a certain amount of precision and breadth of treatment on problems of the highest importance to our party. This Socialist party is split into factions at the present time, and I might be accused of dreaming of the “mystic units,” if I were to say that these divisions were really only superficial. I do not think that they are irreconcilable, but that they come from serious differences of opinion, or rather from serious misconceptions, in regard to the method to be pursued. It is the very development of our party, the growing power of our idea, — I must be forgiven this lapse into optimism, — that have created these differences of opinion by forcing us all to offer some solution of the question of method. How shall Socialism be realized? That is a problem we cannot evade; and to make vague and uncertain answers is to evade it. Or, on the other hand, if we bring forward in 1901 the answers of our predecessors and our masters of 50 years ago, we deceive ourselves.
There is one undoubted fact which transcends all others. It is that the proletariat is growing, in numbers, in solidarity, and in self-consciousness. The wage-earning and the salaried classes, having increased in numbers and, being organised into groups, have now an ideal. They no longer limit their hopes to the abolition of the worst faults of the present society; they now wish to create a social order founded on a different principle. For private and capitalistic ownership of property, under which one part of mankind dominates the other part, they wish to substitute communion in production, a system of universal social co-operation which shall make of every man a legal partner. Their thought has broken away from bourgeois thought, their action from bourgeois action. They have their own organisation which they put at the service of their Communist ideal. This is a class organisation based on the growing power of the trade-unions and the workmen’s co-operative societies, and the increasing share of strictly political power that they have obtained in the State or over the State. All Socialists agree upon this primary conception of the situation. They may assign different reasons for the growth of the proletariat, or at least they may lay different stress on the same reasons. They may magnify either the power of economic organisation or of political activity. But they all realize that by the necessary evolution of capital developed by modern industry, and by the corresponding action of the proletariat, this class has gained an indefinitely increasing power which is called upon to transform the very system of ownership itself. Socialists differ also about the scope and form that the class action of the proletariat should take. Some think that it ought to be involved as little as possible in the conflicts of the social organisation it is to destroy, and that all its energy should be reserved for the final and liberating act. Others hold that it ought to exercise its great human function from now on. At the Socialist Congress held recently at Vienna, Kautsky brought up the famous saving of Lassalle: “The Proletariat is the rock on which the Church of the future shall be built.” And he added: “The Proletariat is not only that. It is also the rock against which from now on, the reactionary forces will bruise themselves.” And for my part I say that it is not only a rock, in other words, a compact and motionless force of resistance; it is a vast coherent, but active, force, which mingles in all great movements without being dispersed, and which grows in strength by its contact with the life of the whole. But all of us, no matter what scope or importance we assign to the class-activity of the proletariat, regard it as an autonomous power, which can co-operate with other powers, but is never absorbed by them, and always keeps its own special character for its separate and superior task.
To Marx belongs the merit, perhaps the only one of all attributed to him that has fully withstood the trying tests of criticism and of time, of having drawn together and unified the labour movement and the Socialist idea. In the first third of the nineteenth century labour struggled and fought against the crushing power of capital, but it was not conscious toward what end it was straining; it did not know that the true objective of its effort and the fulfilment of its tendency were the common ownership of property. And on the other hand, Socialism did not know that the labour movement was its living realisation and its concrete and historical force. The glory of Marx is to have been the clearest and the most powerful of those who put an end to what there was of Empiricism in the labour movement and to what there was of Utopianism in Socialist thought. By a sovereign application of the Hegelian method, he united Idea and Fact, thought and history. He enriched the practical movement by the Idea, and to theory he added practice: he brought the Socialist thought into proletarian life, and proletarian life into Socialist thought. From that time on, Socialism and the proletariat became inseparable. Socialism will only realize its ideal through the victory of the proletariat, and the proletariat will only complete its being through the victory of Socialism.
To the ever more pressing question, “How shall Socialism be realized?” we must then give the preliminary answer: “By the growth of the proletariat to which it is inseparably joined.” This is the first and essential answer; and whoever does not accept it wholly and in its true sense necessarily places himself outside of Socialist life and thought. And this answer, vague though it is, is not empty of meaning, because it implies the obligation of each one of us to be diligent in helping forward to our utmost the thought, the organization, the activity and the life of the labouring classes. Indeed, in a certain sense, this answer is the only sure one. For it is impossible for us to know with any certainty by exactly what means, in what manner, and at what moment, our political and social evolution will fulfil itself in Communism. But what is certain is that the evolution is hastened, the forward movement vivified, enlarged and deepened by everything that increases the intellectual, economic and political power of the proletariat.
But this first answer, important and valid as it is, is not a sufficient one. Because the proletariat has already grown, and because it has begun to make its power felt in the machinery of economics and politics, the question arises, “What shall be the mechanism by which the victory shall be obtained?” In proportion as the proletarian power realises itself it becomes embodied in definite forms: in universal suffrage, in trade unions, co-operative societies and the various branches of the public service in the democratic state. And we cannot consider the power of the proletariat apart from the forms in which it has already organized itself, the machinery that it has already partially adapted to its own uses. We have, then, reached the time when it is no longer Utopian to try and find out with a certain amount of precision what method Socialism will adopt to realise and fulfil itself. To ask this is not to return to Utopianism or to separate ourselves from the life of the proletariat. It is, on the contrary, to bind ourselves more closely to that life, to grow with it, to shape ourselves by it. For that life is no longer “the spirit moving over the face of the waters”; it is already incorporated in institutions, both economic and political (universal suffrage, democracy, trade unions, co-operative societies) that have reached a definite stage of development and acquired a power and a policy; and it behoves us to know whether the Communism of the proletariat can be realised and accomplished by these means, or whether, on the other hand, it will only be brought about by a decisive rupture.
To tell the truth, Socialists have always tried to foresee and determine the form and the historical setting of the ultimate triumph of the proletariat. And if we are suffering to-day, if there is uncertainty and uneasiness in our Party, it is because the needs of a new era, imperfectly formulated as yet, are still mingled in one confused mass with the partly outgrown theories of action bequeathed to us by our masters.
Marx and Blanqui both believed that the proletariat would seize power by means of a revolution. But Marx’s thought is much the more complex. His revolutionary method was many-sided, and it is therefore his conception that I wish particularly to discuss. In whatever sense one may take it this is superannuated. It proceeds either from worn-out historical hypotheses, or from inexact economic hypotheses.
In the first place Marx’s mind was full of memories of the French Revolution, and of the other revolutions in France and Europe that were a prolongation of the first. The trait that all the revolutionary movements, from 1789 to 1796, and from 1830 to 1848 had in common was that they were revolutionary movements of bourgeois origin in which the working-class joined in order to carry them further. In all that long period the working-class was not strong enough to attempt a revolution for its own benefit; neither was it strong enough to take the leadership of the revolution little by little according to the new legal means at its disposal. Two things, however, it could and did do. First, it tried its strength and increased it, by joining in all the revolutionary bourgeois movements; it took advantage of the dangers that the new order had to face, threatened as it was by all the reactionary elements, to become a power necessary to that order. In the second place, when it had grown in power, when hope and ambition were stirring in the hearts of the proletariat, when the different revolutionary fractions of the bourgeoisie were exhausted or discredited by their internal dissensions, the working class tried to take possession of the revolution and turn it to its own uses, by a sort of sudden blow. Thus, in the French Revolution, in 1793, the Parisian proletariat, by means of the Commune, made itself felt in the Convention and sometimes even exercised a sort of dictatorship. Thus, a little later, Babeuf and his friends tried to seize the revolutionary power by a sudden and unexpected move for the benefit of the working class. Thus, again, after 1830, the French proletariat, after having played in the. July Revolution the great part noted by Armand Carrel, tried to urge on the victorious bourgeoisie, and by and by to outstrip it.
It was this rhythm of revolution that at first captured the imagination of Marx. Certainly he knew very well, when in November, 1847, he wrote the Communist Manifesto with Engels, that the proletariat had grown; he looked upon it as the true revolutionary power; and it was against the bourgeoisie that the Revolution was to be undertaken.
He writes: “The development of industry of which the bourgeoisie, without either pre-meditation or resistance, has become the agent, instead of keeping the workers isolated by competition, has brought about their revolutionary solidarity by association. Thus the growth of Modern Industry cuts at the very foundations of that system of production and appropriation of the products on which the bourgeoisie depends. The bourgeoisie is manufacturing as its chief product its own grave-diggers. Its ruin and the triumph of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
“The immediate object of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties: the organization of the proletariat as a class, the overthrow of bourgeois supremacy and the conquest of political power by the proletariat.” And here again is a very definite statement: “We have followed the more or less veiled civil war raging within our present society to the point where that war will break out into open revolution, and where by the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat will establish its dominion.” It is, then, by a violent Revolution against the middle-class that the working-class is to grasp power and realize Communism. But at the same time it seems to Marx that the signal for the struggle is to come from the bourgeoisie itself, which has still to complete its own Revolution. The bourgeoisie will strike at absolutism, or what there is left of it, at feudalism or its remnants; and when it has given the preliminary impetus by setting free the forces that bring about crises, the proletariat, more powerful to-day than the Levellers of Lilburne were in the English Revolution of 1648, or the proletarians of Chaumette in 1793, will take possession in a revolutionary manner of the bourgeois Revolution. It will begin by fighting side by side with the bourgeoisie, but as soon as the latter becomes victorious, it will expropriate it of the fruits of victory.
“In Germany,” Marx and Engels wrote in 1847, “the Communist party will fight along with the bourgeoisie whenever it takes up its revolutionary role again; it will join with it in combating absolute monarchy, feudal ownership of land and the lower middle-class. But it will never forget for a single instant to rouse among the workers the clearest possible consciousness of the antagonism that exists between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and makes them enemies. The social and political conditions that will accompany the triumph of the bourgeoisie are so many weapons which the German workman will know how to turn against the bourgeoisie itself. After the downfall of the reactionary classes in Germany, the fight against the bourgeoisie must be begun without delay.
“On Germany especially the eyes of all Communists will be fixed. Germany is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution. this revolution will be carried out under conditions of general European civilization and of proletarian development unknown either in the England of the 17th Century or the France of the 18th. The bourgeois revolution, then, will be necessarily the immediate prelude to a proletarian revolution.”
Thus we see that the proletarian revolution is to be grafted on to a victorious bourgeois revolution. Marx’s mind, delicately ironical and even sarcastic in tone, amused itself with these tricks of thought. The idea that History was to make sport of the middle-class by snatching the spoils of victory still warm from their hands, gave him a bitter sort of joy. But it was a scheme of proletarian revolution too complicated and contradictory. In the first place, if the proletariat is not strong enough to give the signal for the Revolution itself, if it is obliged to depend on the fortunate chances of the bourgeois Revolution, how are we to he certain that it will have more strength to oppose the victorious bourgeoisie than it had before the movement began? Either the bourgeoisie will be defeated in its attempt at revolt against the old world of feudalism and absolute power, and the proletariat will be overwhelmed long before it has had a chance to fight for its own hand; or else the bourgeoisie will succeed, it will abolish the arbitrary power of kings, of nobles and of priests, do away with feudal property, break the shackles of the guild system, and will then throw itself with so much new life and enthusiasm into the new opportunities it has conquered for itself, that the proletariat will be utterly incapable of creating suddenly another and opposing movement. Even if it acts by violence and surprise, even if it tries to organize a “dictatorship” and to “conquer the democracy” by force, its real power cannot be artificially raised above the level where it was before the bourgeois Revolution.
Miguel was clear-sighted when he wrote to Marx in his famous letter of 1850, foreseeing a continuation of the Revolution: “The labour-party may succeed against the upper-middle-class and what remains of the feudal element, but it will be attacked in the flank by the democrats. We can perhaps give an anti-bourgeois direction to the Revolution for a little while, we can destroy the essential conditions of bourgeois production; but we cannot possibly beat down the small trades-people and shop-keeping class. My motto is to secure all we can get. We ought to prevent the lower and middle-class from forming any organization for as long a time as possible after the first victory, and especially to oppose ourselves in serried ranks to every constitutional assembly. Partial terrorism, local anarchy, must replace for us what we lack in bulk.”
But a lack of bulk is not replaced in this fashion. It is certain that when a class is not yet historically ready, when it cannot act till those whom it aspires to replace have given the signal, and when its Revolution, borrowing power from the movement of its enemy, cannot be called anything but a parasite Revolution, it must continue the revolutionary movements permanently, and keep all the elements of society in continual agitation if it is to attain even a partial success. But this policy only results in giving time and opportunity to the reactionary element that will overwhelm proletariat and bourgeoisie together. These are the tactics to which the working-class is condemned while it is still in the period of insufficient preparation. And if one of the characteristics of Utopian Socialism is that it has not depended on the power of the working-class itself, the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels is still to be counted as a production of that Utopian period. Robert Owen and Fourier counted on the good will of the upper classes; Marx and Engels awaited the fortune of a middle-class Revolution for the proletariat. The propositions laid down in the Manifesto are not those of a class sure of itself, whose hour has struck at last; they are the Revolutionary expedients of an impatient and feeble class, that wishes to force forward by strategy the progress of events.
And even after this paradoxical effort, this proletarian distortion of the bourgeois revolution, Marx does not foresee a complete victory of the proletariat and Communism: he looks for an extraordinary combination of capitalist and communist ownership, of violence to property and organization of credit. Here is a singular fact: after having maintained that it is the evolution of industry and the growth of the industrial proletariat that create a revolutionary force, the Manifesto only foresees as the first move of the victorious Communist Revolution, expropriation of the income from land ! In this, Marx is less advanced than Babeuf, whose glory it is to have brought industrial, as well as agricultural production, within the Communist scheme. His position is almost that of St. Just, who seems to have foreseen the possibility of the nation’s absorbing the rent of farms. “We have seen above,” said Marx, “that the first measure of the working-class will be to constitute the proletariat as the ruling-class, to win the democratic regime.”
The proletariat will make use of its political supremacy to wrest by degrees all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all the means of production in the hands of the State, (viz: the proletariat organised into a ruling class) and to increase as quickly as possible the total of productive forces of which use can be made.
It goes without saying that this policy implies at the outset despotic inroads on the rights of private property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production. Measures must be taken which without doubt will appear insufficient, and which cannot be regarded as permanent, but which, once the movement is under way, will lead to new measures and be indispensable as a means of revolutionizing the whole system of production. These measures, obviously, will be different in the different countries. Nevertheless the following will be generally applicable, at least in the most advanced countries. 1) Abolition of property in land: application of all rents of land to State expenses. (2) A very progressive income tax. (3) Abolition of all right of inheritance. (4) Confiscation of the goods of all rebels and those who have left the country. (5) Centralization of credit in the hands of the State by means of a National Bank founded on State capital and with an exclusive monopoly. (6) Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State. (7) Increase in the number of factories and means of production owned by the State: the bringing into cultivation of fertile lands generally in accordance with a common plan. (8) Obligatory labor for all; organisation of industrial armies, especially for agricultural purposes. (9) The co-ordination of agricultural and manufacturing industries, preparation of all measures for the progressive disappearance of the distinction between town and country. (10) Free public education of all children. Abolition of the present system of child-labor in factories. Co-ordination of education with material production, etc.
A strange programme, in which are united the agrarian communism of the 18th century and some of the elements of what we call to-day the programme of St. Mandé. In the industrial order, Marx and Engels content themselves at first with the nationalization of the railroads; they do not even suggest the nationalization of the mines, which is accepted to-day by the Radical-socialist party. But what strikes me is not the chaos of the programme, and its mixture of agricultural communism and industrial capitalism. It is not the contradiction between the article that abolishes inheritance, and thus deprives the new generations of industrial capital, and all the articles that allow private property to exist. History shows that different and even contradictory forms have often co-existed; for example, production according to the old guild system and capitalistic production functioned side by side for a long time: all the 17th and all the 18th centuries are made up of a mixture of the tav o, and free farm labour and serfdom also co-existed for a long time. And I am convinced that in the revolutionary evolution which is to lead us to Communism, we will for a long time be in the juxtaposition of collectivist property and individualist property, of Communism and Capitalism. This is the fundamental law of great transformations. Marx and Engels had a perfect right, without turning round upon themselves, to say in 1872 that they set no great store by their 1847 programme, and this confession was by no means a recantation. “This passage now requires modifications in several directions. The immense industrial progress of the last twenty-five years, the parallel advance of the working class organized as a party, make more than one passage of this programme seem superannuated.” At the most, one must be astonished that they did not, in 1847, assign a more important role to industrial communism.
But the really amazing thing is that they should have thought the proletariat able to confiscate for its own advantage the bourgeois revolutions, and to “conquer the democracy” by a sudden stroke, and at the same time have supposed it incapable of fully establishing industrial communism, even in the first flush of victory, and in the most advanced countries. The most striking thing in the Manifesto is not the chaos of the programme (which might be unravelled), but the chaos of the method. By a stroke of force the proletariat will have established itself in power at the beginning: by a stroke of force it will have wrenched power from the revolutionary bourgeoisie.
But what does all this amount to? Supposing that the democracy is not ready for the Communist movement, will it not annul, instead of extend the effects of the first dictatorial acts of the proletariat instead of carrying them out and extending their scope? But if, on the contrary, the democracy is prepared, if the proletariat can, by legal measure alone, induce it to develop the first revolutionary institutions in a communistic direction, we have in the legal conquest of the democracy the sovereign method of Revolution. Every other method, I repeat, is nothing but the expedient, possibly necessary for a moment, of a weak and ill-prepared class. And those modern Socialists who are still talking about “ the impersonal dictatorship of the proletariat,” or who expect a sudden seizure of power and the violation of democratic methods, are reverting to the time when the proletariat was still a feeble element, when it was reduced to adopt artificial means of obtaining a victory.
The tactics of the Manifesto consist in altering for the benefit of the proletariat the course of those movements that it lacked the strength to originate. These are the tactics of a bold force, increasing in strength but still subordinate, and, as a matter of fact, they have been instinctively employed by the working class in all the crises of democratic and bourgeois society. Marx had taken up the idea of the French Revolution and Babeuf. After 1830 the working-class movements of Paris and Lyons prolonged the middle-class Revolution in a confused proletarian affirmation. In 1848 the proletariat of Paris, Vienna and Berlin tried, for a few audacious days, to divert the Revolution in the direction of Socialism. The famous saying of Blanqui: “We do not create a movement, we divert it,” is the very expression of this policy. It is the working formula of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, the watchword of a class that knows itself to be still in a minority, but called to high destinies. In 1870, the 31st of October succeeding the 4th of September we have another example of the method of Marx and Blanqui. In the Commune itself, the growing activity of the Socialist proletariat substituting itself for the lower-middle-class democracy, is again an application of the tactics of the Manifesto: to graft the proletarian revolution on to the democratic and bourgeois revolution.
Thus, in a hundred and twenty years, the method of working-class revolution which Babeuf was the first to apply, which was given a formula by Marx and Blanqui, and which consisted in taking advantage of bourgeois revolutions to introduce proletarian Communism, has been tried or proposed many times and under many forms. It has certainly given great results. By this method the working-class at several great historical crises has become conscious of its power and its destiny. By it, indirectly and obliquely as yet, the proletariat has tested itself in power. By it, the problem of property and Communism has been constantly a question of the day in Europe, according to the advice of the Manifesto: “In all these movements, the question that the Communists bring to the front, as the essential point, is that of property, even if the discussion of this question has not been fully developed at the time.”
By following this policy, finally, the proletariat has taken an active part in affairs long before it had power enough to control them. But it was chimerical to hope that a proletariat Communism could be grafted on to the bourgeois revolution. It was chimerical to think that the revolutionary agitation of the bourgeois would give the proletariat the opportunity for a fortunate stroke. As a matter of fact these tactics have never been successful. Sometimes the revolutionary bourgeoisie has failed, dragging the proletariat down with it. Sometimes the successful revolutionary bourgeoisie has had the strength to restrain and overpower the proletarian movement. And besides, even supposing that a proletarian movement had been suddenly imposed by surprise on agitations of another nature and another origin, what would have been the final result? The strictly proletarian movement would have quickly degenerated by a series of compromises into a purely democratic movement. The very utmost outcome of a victorious Commune would have been a Radical Republic.
To-day, the definite form under which Marx, Engels and Blanqui conceived the proletarian revolution has been eliminated by history. In the first place the proletariat in its increased strength has ceased to count on the favourable chance of a bourgeoise revolution. By its own strength and in the name of its own ideas, it wishes to influence the democracy. It is not lying in wait for a bourgeois revolution in order to throw the bourgeoisie down from its revolution as one might throw a rider down so as to get possession of his horse. It has its own organisation, and its own power. It has a growing economic power, through its trade unions and co operative societies. It has an indefinitely elastic legal power through universal suffrage and democratic institutions. It is not reduced to being an adventurous and violent parasite on bourgeois revolutions. It is methodically preparing, or better, it is methodically beginning, its own Revolution, by the gradual and legal conquest of the power of production and of the power of the State. And indeed, it would wait in vain for the opportunity of a middle-class revolution in order to strike its coup de force and institute a class-dictatorship. The revolutionary period of the bourgeoisie is over. It is possible that, in order to safeguard its economic interests, and under the pressure of the working-class, the middle-class in Italy, Germany and Belgium, may be induced to extend the constitutional rights of the people, to claim full universal suffrage, real parliamentary government, and the responsibility of ministers to Parliament. It is possible that the combined action of the democratic middle-class and the working-class will everywhere curtail the royal prerogative or the imperial autocracy to the point where monarchy has only a nominal existence. It is certain that the struggle for a complete democracy is not over in Europe, but in this struggle, the bourgeoisie will have an insignificant part to play, such a part for example, as it is now playing in Belgium.
Moreover, in all the constitutions of Central and Western Europe, there are already enough democratic elements for the transition to real democracy to be made without a revolutionary crisis. So that the proletarian revolution cannot, as Marx and Blanqui thought, take shelter behind bourgeois revolutions; it can no longer seize and twist to its advantage the revolutionary agitations of the middle-class, because these are over and done with. On open ground, on the large field of democratic legality and universal suffrage, the Socialist proletariat is now preparing, enlarging and organising its Revolution. To this methodical, direct and legal revolutionary action, Engels, during the last part of his life summoned the European proletariat in famous words which in fact, relegated the Communist Manifesto to the past. Henceforward, middle-class revolutionary action being over, all violent means employed by the proletariat would result only in uniting against it all non-proletarian forces. And that is why I have always interpreted a general strike not as a method of violence, but as one of the most gigantic means of legal pressure that the educated and organised proletariat could bring to bear for great and definite ends.
But if the historical hypothesis from which the revolutionary conception of the Communist Manifesto proceeds, is, as a matter of fact, superannuated; if the proletariat can no longer count on the revolutionary movements of the bourgeoisie as a means of displaying its own revolutionary power, if it can no longer erect its class dictatorship after a period of chaotic and violent democracy, can it at least expect its sudden installation in power as the result of an economic crash, a cataclysm of the capitalistic system, that has come at last face to face with the impossibility of living, and has suspended payment? That again was a revolutionary perspective opened by Marx. To establish the class dictatorship of the proletariat, he depended both on the revolutionary political ascendancy of the bourgeoisie and on its economic downfall. Capitalism was one day to succumb of its own accord, under the increasingly intense and frequent action of the crisis for which it was responsible, and by the exhaustion of misery to which it would have reduced the exploited. It cannot be seriously doubted that this was the thought of Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto:
“Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressed and oppressing classes. But that a class may be oppressed, certain conditions must be assured under which it can at least continue to drag on its life of slavery. Under the feudal yoke, the serf, in spite of his serfdom, did manage to raise himself to membership in the commune (or village organisation), and the member of the lower middle-class managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of bettering himself with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. The workman becomes a pauper, and pauperism increases even more rapidly than population and wealth. It is therefore, perfectly clear that the bourgeoisie is unfit to be any longer the ruling class in society and to impose the conditions of its class circumstances on society as a ruling law. It has become unfit to govern because it can no longer assure to its slaves the subsistence which allows them to continue their slave existence. It cannot help letting them sink to the condition where it has to feed them, instead of being fed by them. Society can no longer live under the rule of this bourgeoisie: that is, the existence of this bourgeoisie is no longer compatible with Social life.
“When matters have got to this pass, when bourgeois and capitalistic exploitation have reached, if one may use the expression, the limit of the human tolerance of the exploited classes, an inevitable revolt, an irresistible rising of the people, breaks out, and the civil war that is latent between the classes is finally put an end to by the “violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie.”
This is a true statement of the thought of Marx and Engels at that date. I know that attempts are now made to throw a veil over the brutality of these statements. I am aware that subtle Marxist interpreters say that Marx and Engels only meant to speak about a relative pauperisation. In the same way, when theologians want to harmonize texts in the Bible with proved scientific truth, they say that the word “day” in Genesis means a geological period of several million years. I do not contradict them. Those are exegetical elegances and charities that make it possible to pass without pain from a dogma long professed to a better known truth. And since the “revolutionary” spirits have need of these manipulations, who would dream of thwarting them? Nevertheless, if Marx had only meant to talk of a relative pauperisation, how would he have been able to conclude that capitalism would force its slaves down below the living minimum, and thus, by a series of irresistible reflexes that make it inevitable, the working-class would bring on the destruction of the bourgeoisie?
It has been said, too, that Marx and Engels had only wished to define the abstract tendency of capitalism, to give a picture of what bourgeois society would become by its own law, if the organisation of labour did not, by an inverse effort, counteract the tendency of oppression and depression. And how, indeed, could Marx, who made the proletariat the essence and vital embodiment of Socialism, have failed to recognise and give value to proletarian action? But it seems as if, in the thought of Marx, this action, although in fact ensuring certain partial economic advantages to the proletariat, were chiefly important as a means of increasing its class-consciousness, by developing its sense of injury and of its own strength: “But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number, it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The different interests and varying conditions of life of the different grades of labour within the ranks of the proletariat itself, are more and more equalised, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labour, and reduces wages nearly everywhere to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers constantly more fluctuating. The unceasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious: the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take on more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon the workers begin to form combinations (trade unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provisions before hand for eventual revolts. Here and there the contest breaks out into riots.
“Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not only, in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle. And that union, for the attainment of which the burghers of the Middle-ages, with their local roads, required centuries, the modern proletarians, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years.
“This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it always rises up again, stronger, firmer, and mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers, by taking advantage of the internal dissensions in the bourgeoisie. Thus the ten hours’ bill in England was carried."
If I have reproduced this pleasant picture of the modern labour movement, it is not with the object of discussing it in detail. It would be necessary to make many reservations on several points, especially that of the levelling of wages. But I wished the reader to put to himself to some purpose the question I ask myself now: “How far did Marx admit that the economic and political organisation of the proletarians would check the tendency to pauperisation which is, according to him, the very law of capitalism.” I think the answer may fairly be: “In a very feeble measure.” Undoubtedly the workmen grouped as a class and a party are able to gain certain partial advantages, thanks especially to the divisions in the owning class; but it appears that their union for the bight is the only important gain that they obtain from the fight itself. A general revolt is, then, the ultimate aim that is furthered by the gain in solidarity and the power of protest of the workmen. Their chances of conducting a revolutionary movement efficiently and of hastening the downfall of the bourgeoisie are thereby increased. But in fact, in the main conditions of their actual life, they suffer under the law of proletarian pauperisation, opposing to it a too feeble counterweight. Undoubtedly this very contradiction between the increasing misery endured by the proletariat, and the increasing power of claiming its rights and of decisive action that organisation was bringing about, seemed to Marx the special motive power of the approaching insurrection, the immediate force of revolution. The concrete ameliorations obtained by working class effort compensate imperfectly for the concrete depreciation of the labourer’s standard of life under the law of bourgeois production. In the conflict of tendencies acting upon the proletariat, the depressing tendency has the upper hand at present. It is this more than any other that controls the real situation of the working-class.
And, since we are talking of tendencies, we may note that all the thought of Marx and Engels visibly tended in this direction. I might almost say that Marx needed for his dialectic conception of modern history a proletariat infinitely impoverished and denuded. The proletariat, to fulfil its role of the “human factor” in the Hegelian dialectic of Marx, to represent truly the idea of humanity, ought to be so utterly despoiled of all social rights that humanity, infinite both in distress and right, alone persisted. How can one pretend to understand Marx without penetrating to the dialectic origin, the deep source, of this thought? His “Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Rights,” which appeared in 1844 in the “Franco-German Annals,” is a conclusive document in this connection. “Where,” he asks, “does the practical possibility of German emancipation lie? The answer is: it lies in the formation of a class bound by Radical chains; of a class of bourgeois society, that shall not be a class of bourgeois society; of a State that shall be the dissolution of all states; of a sphere that shall have a character of universality, by the universality of its suffering, and that lays claim to no one special right because it is not one special injustice, but injustice as a whole that is being wreaked upon it; that can appeal to no historic title to consideration, but only to the title of humanity; that is not in special opposition to this or that result, but in general opposition to all the principles of the German State; it consists finally in the formation of a sphere that can emancipate itself only by emancipating at the same time all the other spheres of society; that, in a word, is the total degradation of Man and that can, in consequence, realise itself again only by the complete restoration of Man.”
I am of course aware that Marx is speaking here of Germany and of the special conditions of her enfranchisement. I know that he recognised in the social classes in France a higher historic idealism; that according to him they have the habit of regarding themselves as the guardians of the general good, so that for entire emancipation to be effected in France, it would be enough that this idealist action should pass from the bourgeoisie, whose humanitarian mission is limited and counteracted by the cares of property, to the French proletariat, in whom the humanitarian mission can develop to its full and universal significance without any obstacle.
Yes, he is dealing with Germany and the German proletariat. But who does not realise that, in spite of ethnic and historical differences, the German proletariat is, in Marx’s mind, the representative, and because of the completeness of its destitution, the typical proletariat?
It is by a Hegelian transposition of Christianity that Marx pictures the modern movement of emancipation. Just as the Christian God humbled himself to the lowest depth of suffering humanity in order to redeem humanity as a whole; just as the Saviour, to save mankind, had to lower himself to a degree of destitution bordering on animality, a situation beneath which no man could fall; just as this infinite abasement of God was the condition of the infinite elevation of man, so, in the dialectic of Marx, the proletariat, the modern Saviour, had to be stripped of all guarantees, deprived of every right, degraded to the depth of social and historic annihilation, in order that by raising itself it might raise all humanity. And just as the Man-God, to continue his mission, had to remain poor, suffering and humiliated until the triumphal day of the resurrection, that single victory over death which has freed all humanity from death, so the proletariat is only able to continue its mission in this logical scheme by bearing, until the final day of revolt, the revolutionary resurrection of humanity — a cross whose weight is ever increasing, the essential capitalistic law of oppression and depression. Hence comes the evident difficulty that Marx experiences in accepting the idea of a partial raising of the proletariat. Hence a sort of joy he feels mixed with an element of dialectic mysticism, in summing up the crushing forces that weigh down the proletarians.
Marx was mistaken. It was not from absolute destitution that absolute liberation could come. Poor as the German proletariat was, it was not supremely poor. In the first place, the modern workman embodies henceforward all that part of humanity conquered by the abolition of primitive savagery and barbarism, by the abolition of slavery and serfdom. Then, however feeble at that moment were the claims of the German proletariat to a place of historic importance, they were not entirely lacking. The history of this proletariat since the French Revolution had not been an utter blank. And especially by its sympathy for the emancipatory action of the French proletariat, the workmen of the Parisian sections on the 14th of July, the 5th and 6th of October and the 10th of August, it shared in the title to historical consideration won by the French proletariat; a title that had heroine universal in character, just as the Declaration of the Rights of Man had been a universal symbol and as the fall of the Bastille had been a universal deliverance. At the very moment when Marx was writing for the Gentian proletariat these words of mystic abasement and mystic resurrection, the German working classes, and Marx himself among them, were turning their eyes towards France, the great country where the working-class first realized an honourable position. But is there anything strange in the fact that Marx, with his logical and dialectical conception of history, should have given precedence to the tendency toward depression in capitalist evolution? Is it astonishing that he should have written again in his “Capital” that “oppression, slavery, exploitation and misery were increasing,” and yet also have used the phrase “the resistance of the labouring classes, continually growing in numbers and discipline, united and organised by the very mechanism of capitalist production” — here again balancing a force of depression that acts immediately and a force of resistance and of organisation that seems specially destined to prepare the future?
Engels, for his part, had so strict and rigid a conception of the inflexibility of the capitalist system, of its impotence to adapt itself to the least reform, that he made the gravest and most decided mistakes in his interpretation of social movements. It is difficult to imagine grosser blunders than those that he commits at every step in his celebrated book on The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. He saw everywhere inconsistencies, impossibilities, insoluble contradictions, which could only be done away with by revolution. In 1845 he announced, as imminent and absolutely inevitable in England, a labour and Communist revolution, which was to be the bloodiest in history. The poor would butcher the rich and burn their castles. No doubt was possible on that score. “It is nowhere easier to prophesy than in England, because here all social developments are extremely well-defined and acute. The revolution must come, and it is already too late to propose a pacific solution.” Strange conception of that England, always so expert in compromise and evolutionary changes! He carried his dogmatism in social questions to such a pitch that he ended by adopting toward the specific problems of the time the language of the most obstinate conservatives. All social and political progress under the present system seemed to him impossible just as it did to them. According to him the Chartists had got England into a corner, whence the only issues were either destruction or the complete Communist Revolution. They demanded universal suffrage, but this was irreconcilable with monarchy; they demanded a ten-hours day, but this was irreconcilable with the emergencies of production under the capitalist system, and its effect, excellent indeed, would be to force England to adopt the new methods under the penalty of ruin.
“The political economy arguments of the manufacturers,” wrote Engels, “that the ten-hours bill will raise the cost of production, that English industry will not be able to struggle against foreign competition, and that wages will necessarily fall, are half true: but they prove only one thing, and that is, that the industrial greatness of England can be maintained only by the barbarous treatment inflicted on the labourers, by the destruction of health, and the social, physical and intellectual degradation of whole generations. Naturally, if the ten-hours bill were to become a legal measure, England would be immediately ruined, but because this law would necessarily lead to other measures that would force her into a course of action diametrically opposed to that which she has pursued hitherto, the law would be a step in advance.”
What a spirit of mistrust he shows toward all partial reforms, what narrow limits he assigns to the powers of transformation of the industrial system! And when fifty years afterwards, in 1892, Engels republished this book, he never dreamed for a moment of asking himself by what corruption of thought, by what systematic error, he had been led to such false ideas on the political and social movement in England. He preferred to view with complacency a work to which history had given the lie in almost every particular. It is, then, perfectly natural to suppose that Engels, with this fundamental conception of things, should have always inclined, as Marx did, to give precedence to the forces that in the capitalist system tend to lower the status of the workmen, over those forces that tend to raise it.
But it is not very important what interpretation we give to the obscure and uncertain thought of Marx and Engels on this subject. The essential thing is that no Socialist now-a-days accepts the theory of the absolute pauperisation of the proletariat. All Socialists, indeed, some openly, others with infinite precautions, some with a mischievous Viennese good nature, declare it to be untrue that, taken as a whole, the economic material condition of the proletariat is getting worse and worse. It must be conceded, after taking account of the tendency to sink and the tendency to rise, that in the immediate reality of life, the tendency to sink is not the stronger. Once this has been granted it is no longer possible to repeat, after Marx and Engels, that the capitalist system will perish because it does not ensure to those whom it exploits more than the minimum necessities of life. It follows from the same admission that it has also become puerile to expect that an economic cataclysm menacing the proletariat in its very existence will bring about, by the revolt of the instinct of self preservation, the “violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie."
Thus, the two hypotheses, one historic and the other economic, from which, according to the ideas of the Communist Manifesto, the sudden proletarian Revolution, the Revolution of working-class dictatorship, would inevitably result, are proved to be equally untenable.
In the political order there will be no bourgeois revolution on which the revolutionary proletariat can mount and ride to victory, nor will there be in the economic order any cataclysm, any catastrophe, which on the ruins of overthrown capitalism will set up in a single day the class domination of the Communist proletariat, and a new system of production. These hypotheses have not, however, been altogether vain. If the proletariat has been unable to seize the control of a single one of the bourgeois revolutions, it has nevertheless, in a hundred and twenty years, forced its way into all the agitations of the revolutionary bourgeoisie; and it will continue to profit under the new forms that democracy is developing by the inevitable internal conflicts of the bourgeoisie. If there has not been a complete and revolutionary reaction of the instinct of self-preservation of the proletariat under the pressure of a complete capitalist catastrophe, there have, nevertheless, been innumerable crises, that, showing as they do the essential disorder of capitalist production, have naturally incited the proletariat to prepare a new order. But the error lies in looking for the sudden downfall of capitalism, and the sudden accession of the proletariat to power as the result either of a great political collapse of bourgeois society, or a great economic collapse of bourgeois production.
It is not by an unexpected counterstroke of political agitation that the proletariat will gain supreme power, but by the methodical and legal organisation of its own forces under the law of the democracy and universal suffrage. It is not by the collapse of the capitalistic bourgeoisie, but by the growth of the proletariat, that the Communist order will gradually install itself in our society. Whoever accepts these truths, which have now become necessary, will soon understand the precise and certain methods of social transformation and progressive organisation. Those who do not completely accept them and those who do not take the decisive result of the proletarian movements of a century really seriously; those who revert to the “Communist Manifesto” so obviously superannuated by the course of events, or who mix remnants of old thought that no longer contain any truth, with the direct and true thoughts suggested by present reality, all such condemn themselves to live in chaos.
1. Kautsky is one of the leading Marxists, and is editor of “Die Neue Zeit,” the official review of the German party. [Translator.]
2. The Republic of Gambetta was proclaimed on the 4th of September, the day after the news of the Emperor’s defeat at Sedan reached Paris. On the 31st of October an attempt at a proletarian revolution was made, but the insurrectionists had control of the Hotel de Ville for a few hours only.
3. I have used the English Translation of the Communist Manifesto authorised by Engels and published as a tract by the Social Democratic Federation. In a few minor instances I have altered the phraseology when clearness seemed to demand it. [Translator.]
4. The 14th of July, 1739, is the date of the fall of the Bastille: on the 5th and 6th of October, 1739, the people of Paris, led by the hungry women, forced the King to return from Versailles; on the 10th of August, 1792, the Tuileries were taken. [Translator.]
5. It may be convenient for readers if I reproduce here Bebel’s remarks on this subject at the Lübeck Congress in 1901. He was answering the attack of Dr. David, whose arguments were practically those of Jaurès.
“The Communist Manifesto has been appealed to. I affirm that already in 1872, Engels, in concert with Karl Marx, declared that they wished to republish it only as a historical document. Whoever has studied the works of Marx and Engels in detail can have no doubt that they never set up the Theory of Increasing Misery in the sense explained by David. If anything is characteristic and refutes large passages in Bernstein’s ‘Presuppositions of Socialism,’ it is the passage from Capital,’ prefixed as a motto to Bernstein’s book, in which Karl Marx describes the Ten Hours Bill as the victory of a principle. Marx took the view that by organization the working class can counteract the depressing tendencies of capital, and if by the strength of their organisation they succeeded in inciting the State to take such steps, then it was not merely a great moral advance, but the victory of a new principle. Even a man like Lassalle, who took so decidedly the standpoint of the Iron Law of Wages, — even he gives no occasion for his being invoked as a witness on behalf of a false conception of the Theory of increasing Misery. In his ‘Open Letter in Reply’ he says: ‘People tell you, workers, you are to-day in quite a different position from that of three or four hundred years ago. No doubt you are better off than the Botokudians or than cannibal savages.’ ‘Every human satisfaction,’ he says further on, ‘depends always on the relation of the means of satisfaction to what the custom of the period demands already as bare necessaries for existence, or, which is the same thing, upon the excess of the means of satisfaction over the lowest limit of what the custom of the period demands as bare necessaries for existence.’ ‘If you compare,’ he suggests further, ‘ what the rich class has to-day with what the working class has to-day, then the gap between the working class and the rich class to-day is greater than ever before."’ — [Translator.]