E. Belfort Bax

French Socialism

(10 May 1884)

From Justice, 10th May 1884, pp. 4-5
Transcription and markup by Graham Seaman for the Marxists Internet Archive

In considering the question of Socialism in France, it is of the utmost importance for English Socialists to bear in mind one fact, namely, that the French working-classes, unlike the English, are as a body awake to the social question. A Socialist meeting may be called in any town possessing an industrial population with a tolerable certainty of a surplus after all expenses are paid, for where Englishmen would not be induced so much as to leave their pot of beer, the French working-men do not grudge their half-francs.

There are three main sections in the French Socialist party at the present time, the Collectivist, the Possibilist, and the Anarchist. The first occupies the platform filled in this country by the Democratic Federation, both as regards doctrine and policy. Its principles are those of Scientific Socialism, its immediate economic aims the assumption by the people of the means of production, its methods education, agitation and organisation with a view to action when the time shall be ripe. This party is most prominently represented by MM. Paul Lafargue and Jules Guesde, two gentlemen whose services and zeal in the cause of Scientific Socialism in France can hardly be over-estimated. The success of the party in the provinces has, in spite of all drawbacks, been very great within the last twelve months. In addition to its daily organ, the Paris Cri du People, it already possesses three provincial weekly papers, while arrangements have just been concluded for the simultaneous appearance of five or six more in different centres within the next month.

The second or Possibilist party, which counts among its leaders MM. Brousse and Joffrin, differs from the Collectivist party proper in economical theory inasmuch as it recognises certain Proudhonnist, Fourrierist, and other principles side by side with those of Marx and the German school. We should mention, however, that the divergences of theory do not appear to tell materially on the question of practical reconstruction, inasmuch as on this the Possibilists claim to accept the Collectivist programme, at least in its main outlines. They too describe themselves as the "French Revolutionary Socialist Workmen's party." The most serious error of the Possibilists lies in their policy of organisation, which is absolutely and exclusively on a trade-society footing. Membership of the party is not a question of principle, but simply of belonging to a syndical body of some kind. The disastrous effect of this want of any real basis is not so apparent in France as it would be in this country, owing to the fact already alluded to that the French working classes as a body being so permeated with Socialism the majority in any trade-group are tolerably certain to be Socialists. A party made up, however, of mere groups of trade-societies which happen to be Socialistic now, but under certain circumstances might easily change (just as the English trades unions have changed since the Chartist days) is obviously in imminent danger either of collapse or what is still worse of absorption into the tail of Bourgeois Radicalism. The vicious nature of such a system of organisation is seen at once, when an attempt is made to apply it outside France. This was the case last autumn, when we had the edifying spectacle of Mr. Broadhurst holding forth in a strain of mild Whiggery as a delegate at a would-be Socialist Congress. Thus bad begins but worse remains behind. The Socialists, who were in a majority of three to one against the English Whig individualists on that occasion, were sufficiently magnanimous to abstain from expressing their public disapproval of the views expressed by the English delegates. Now politeness is doubtless an excellent thing, but when professing Socialists carry it to the extent of swallowing whole, in respectful silence, the balderdash of a Broadhurst, we venture to think its quality is a little strained. But this is perhaps only the inevitable consequence of the initial error of organisation.

Of the third party mentioned, the Anarchist, it may be said that though they make much noise they are but a small body, numbering in all probably not more than a few hundreds. But, as with a stage army, the same individuals cross and recross the political arena, being alike assiduous in their attendance at public meetings and in manifesting their presence when there.

In addition to these three main divisions, we must not forget to mention the small but interesting group composed of the followers of Blanqui. It is gratifying however to know that this earnest and intelligent body of men have lately, in spite of differences, seen their way towards allying themselves with the main Collectivist body.

A fact especially noticeable in France as in other European countries just now, is the interest felt for, and lively sympathy with, the English movement. The great Socialist groups of the continent expect much of the English movement. The unanimous resolution of the French body to accept the offer of the Democratic Federation to hold the projected International Conference of 1885 in London, under its auspices, and the subsequent adhesion of the German, Dutch, Italian, &c., parties to this resolution is an earnest of the confidence placed in us.


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