Victor Considerant 1847
Ancient societies had as their basic principle, Might makes right; their politics was War; their goal was Conquest; and their economic system was Slavery, which is the most total, inhumane, and barbarous form of man’s exploitation by man. Free men, rich or poor, made war and consumed: the slave was the producer. SLAVERY was the base of society; its summit was WAR. Human compassion didn’t extend any further than a Nation’s borders. Foreign policy consisted of one Nation’s merciless domination over others; domestic policy was slavery and the spirit of caste. Such was the nature of the ancient social order.
The feudal order, derived from conquest, was merely conquest legitimated. Its major feature was still war, and, above all, the permanent institutional sanction it gave to the de facto privileges of conquest.
Its economic system was a slightly less harsh and brutal form of man’s exploitation by man, Serfdom. Human compassion, unfolding in the radiant warmth of early Christianity, was reaching beyond the narrow boundaries of the Nation. The principle of fraternity began to bind together diverse peoples and nations, but the bonds corresponded to the feudal hierarchy. In all Europe the progeny of the conquerors, the Nobility, recognized each other as equals, trampling underfoot the peasant and commoners who in their view weren’t even men of the same species. But these people, everywhere subjugated, were treating each other as brothers and were even prefiguring the advent of God’s Kingdom and its justice. They already understood that their oppressors were merely their elder brothers in the great human family.
The spirit and the rights of feudal times were the aristocratic spirit and the rights of nobles. Both, however much changed or weakened by the great social progress of the last few centuries, still prevailed in France until the revolution of 1789 ended the Ancien Régime and inaugurated the new Order.
The New ORDER arose out of the Feudal Order through developments in industry, science, and labor, and by the slow but irresistible gains of intelligence over brute force, the creative genius over the military genius. Right is universal in modern Societies, and their basic principle is the Christian concept joining all members of the human species. From this comes the political principle of equal rights for all citizens. The spirit of these Societies is democratic.
The epoch of 1789 thus marks the great division in humanity’s history between the old Order and the new Order, between right based on might and right based on work, between the aristocratic right, the right of conquest perpetuated by birth, and universal right, the right of All to All, THE DEMOCRATIC RIGHT.
The new democratic right has since 1789 been sanctioned by the first article of all our constitutions: “All Frenchmen are equal before the law, and in public offices and duties.”
Because this new democratic right came into the world by a revolution, was proclaimed, established and defended by a revolution, and owed its success to the success of a revolution, it isn’t surprising that the democratic principle has long been associated with the revolutionary principle.
The democratic right could have been incorporated into Society through progressive organizational reforms that would have completed peacefully, across the board, the gradual transformation of the old feudal Society that was already well underway.
But the natural movement of synthesis and inclusion that could have provided an orderly transformation of the old Society hadn’t been promoted and directed intelligently by the successors of Henry IV, Richelieu, and Louis XIV; as the new spirit hadn’t been wisely and closely monitored during its powerful expansion, the result was an explosion. The ancien régime was violently overthrown, and on its fragments the two principles of right clashed in the most hostile confrontation, creating an explosion long reverberating on European soil, and starting a war whose outcome was already decided by the eternal laws governing the world. When it is time for the past to be transformed, if the past resists the inevitable it will perish in violence.
The course of events thus drove the modernizing movement onto the path of violent Protest, of Revolution, and War. Consequently, War, Revolution, and violent Protest have long been the leading manifestations of the new spirit. Instead of implanting its principles of liberty and justice into social organization, the new spirit is almost entirely preoccupied with the struggle against the past. In this regard, the generations that ended the 18th century and those that began the 19th believed fervently that since the Revolution had ended, the War had ceased, the privileges of birth had been abolished, and the principle of equality had been victoriously inscribed in the law, the new structure would be achieved in actuality and the new Order founded and established.
It was a serious mistake.
All the work of organizing the New Order remains to be done.
This work is the problem and task of our era; it is the puzzle that Destiny’s spirit charges us to resolve.
Revolution, from 1789 to 1830, has shown only the negative and abstract side of the new democratic right. It has overthrown the last vestiges of the Feudal Order based on war and the privileges of a hereditary nobility; it has inscribed the democratic principle of citizen equality at the head of the law. It has even, we must recognize, created a representative system in the political order, which, insofar as it is based on elections without regard to inherited status is the defining political institution of modern Society. It has also tried to make elementary education more accessible through a new primary school system. But it has left the entire economic order without organization, direction, or any regulation. It has abolished the guild wardens, privileges, and traditional corporations that represented illiberal economic organization, but it hasn’t replaced them with a better organization. It has abandoned the whole social and economic arena, the entire domain of Production and the Distribution of wealth, to the most unbridled laissez-faire, the most anarchic competition, the blindest war of all against all, and consequently, to Monopoly by the largest enterprises.
Now a person’s status in the economic, social, and political orders is based only on money, education, or connections. Education and connections presuppose leisure or wealth. Without a fair organization of work, wealth is generally transmitted only by birth and alliances. The result is that, despite the philosophical liberalism of democratic rights, the legal destruction of former aristocratic rights, the constitutional equality of citizens before the law and in official capacities, and the abolition of royal franchises, the current social Order remains an aristocratic Order, no longer, it is true, in theory and law, but in fact.
Also, despite individual exceptions that don’t disprove the general rule, in today’s society those who are born into penury, poverty, or misery live out their lives in penury, poverty, or misery, and they transmit this fatal inheritance to their descendants, who, destined to remain like them in penury, poverty, or misery, indeed remain there.
It is also true that the wealthy and comfortable classes reproduce the wealthy and comfortable social strata of the following generations. Except that, thanks to bad luck in the current anarchic economy, to the miserable struggles resulting from free competition without limits or rules, and to the increasing domination of big Capitalists, unfortunately a large number of individuals and families in the comfortable class, sometimes even those of the wealthy class, are at risk of falling and do fall into poverty.
Thus, although the new democratic right no longer recognizes any natural disqualifications of persons or classes – on the contrary, it proclaims very democratically the equal social and political capacity of everyone to everything – nevertheless, top and middling positions in politics, industry, finance, and commerce, and nearly all public offices and liberal professions are monopolized in fact by upper and middle class families that hold onto them and transmit them among themselves, while the menial jobs, the hard work, and the painful, thankless, repugnant, risky, and miserably paid tasks, remain the permanent lot of lower class families.
It is therefore correct to argue that except for very few individuals who make their way out of the lower classes by means of quite exceptional circumstances or aptitudes enabling them to ascend the social ladder, and except for a rather larger number from the comfortable or wealthy classes who are thrown into poverty or misery by social and economic crises, the upper and lower classes are perpetuated by birth.
If that is really true, it is obvious that our social condition, which is democratic in theory and in law, is still, as we are saying, aristocratic in fact. Constitutionally, legally, and abstractly, there are no longer castes in the nation. Practically, precisely, and realistically, we still live in a regime of castes. Only it is no longer law, rights, or political principle that create barriers between the major divisions of the French people, but our economic and social organization.
Today the gravest phenomenon is becoming clearly evident, even to those who are least observant. This phenomenon is the rapid and powerful development of a NEW FEUDALISM, an industrial and financial Feudalism, which is steadily replacing the noble and military Aristocracy of the ancien Régime by annihilating or impoverishing the middle classes.
After the great explosion of 1789, the destruction of the former political Order, and the annihilation of feudal property and the guild system, economic liberty was proclaimed, and Society believed it was forever rid of any exclusive ruling Aristocracy.
In assuming this, they have reckoned badly. The evidence is plain, and the reason, furthermore, is easy to grasp – here it is:
Once the great agitation subsided, the new situation assumed, and society returned to normalcy, in the social and economic arenas there remained only individuals confronting each other, left in complete freedom for themselves and their own resources. But some were equipped with capital, talents, and education, and occupied powerful, high positions; others, the members of the most numerous classes, had neither capital, education, nor prior training to develop their talents. They stagnated, relegated to the lowest rungs of the social ladder.
What can result in such a state of things, from this economic freedom on which so much is staked, from this famous principle of free competition that is so fervently believed to be the defining characteristic of democratic organization? Nothing can come of it except general servitude to the wealthy, well-armed class, a collective feudal subjugation for the masses deprived of capital, instruments of production, education, and economic strongholds.
“The lists are open; all individuals are called to the tournament; the conditions are the same for all combatants.” Indeed! Only one thing is forgotten: on this great battlefield, some are educated, combat-trained, equipped, and armed to the teeth; they have a huge supply of provisions, supplies, ammunition, and weapons; and they hold the high ground. Others, deprived, stripped, uneducated, and starved, must beg from their very adversaries for any available work at a meager wage just to live from day to day and support their wives and children.
Absolute liberty, without organization, is then nothing but the absolute abandonment of the disarmed and deprived masses to the mercy of the armed and equipped forces.
Civilization, which began with the FEUDALISM OF NOBLES, gradually freed the industrious from personal or direct servitude. Today it has evolved into INDUSTRIAL FEUDALISM, which imposes on workers collective or indirect servitude.
The relationship between the classes, the wealthy class that possesses capital and the instruments of production and the proletarian class that is stripped of everything, also holds true between the strong and weak of each class.
Thus, there is free competition among proletarians. Survival needs that force them each day under the most difficult conditions to find work and an employer, compel them to sell their labor at the lowest price. The result is that when workers are plentiful, and that is generally the case, free competition among these unfortunates forces them to offer their labor at the lowest possible price, and the day’s wage falls everywhere to the cost of the barest necessities for survival, which is especially hard on those proletarians supporting a family. The competition among employers forces each of them, despite benevolent intentions, to pay only the most pitiful wages, because a capitalist knows that he risks failure by paying his workers wages higher than those of his competitors. Thus, the odious Engine of free competition without safeguards breaks all the laws of justice and humanity. When workers’ wages fall in one job within an industrial division, employers are soon forced to impose the same cut on all the other jobs in that division. Wages and prices decrease in a downward spiral, and the employers quickly find themselves in the same reciprocating situation, without doing any better than formerly. Only the situation of the masses has become worse.
Free competition, that is, anarchic, unregulated competition, has this inhumane, reprehensible nature: it always lowers wages everywhere . After having plunged the working classes into the gulf of misery, it keeps them there under an increasingly heavy weight! In Ireland, England, Belgium, France, wherever free competition reigns, nothing halts the mounting disorder of unchecked industrialism. The situation of the working classes necessarily becomes more miserable and abject. Furthermore, it isn’t only against each other that these classes must struggle, but also against machines that provide manpower for only a few pennies!
That isn’t all: analogous phenomena occur in the class possessing capital and the instruments of production. There as well the strong inevitably dominate all, and with no regrets ruin the weak. And if the first consequence of this struggle on monstrously unequal terms is the sudden reduction of the proletarian masses into collective Serfdom, the second consequence, just as inevitable as the first, is the progressive crushing of small and middle-sized property, industry, and business under the weight of the wealthy owners, under the colossal wheels of big business and industry.
In every branch of the economy, the big capitals and large enterprises make the law for the small. Steam engines, machinery, and large factories have always easily predominated wherever they have confronted small and middle-size workshops. At their approach, the old trades and artisans disappeared, leaving only factories and proletarians. Furthermore, again and again some unexpected invention appears, which renovates an entire branch of production, and sends fear through the entire industry. After having broken the workers’ arms and thrown into the gutter all those men suddenly replaced by machines, it crushes the employers in their turn. In addition, from one end of France to the other, small and middle-sized farms, burdened with ruinous mortgages and consumed by usury, groan under the oppression of Capital. Exploitative loans and excessive rents suck up the well-deserved returns that the hard work of 25 million workers draws annually from the soil.
Finally, who survives the crises, profits from them, and buys up for practically nothing businesses created with many years of hard work? Who gains from scarcity as well as from abundance? Who benefits magnificently from the greatest disasters? Who seizes all the favorable positions, strategic posts, and bases of operation in commerce and industry? Who invades all and becomes master of all, but the big speculators and banks, and, in every industry, the big Capitals?
Yes, it is time for the middle classes, already seriously encroached upon, to watch out. Money invades all; the power of the big Capitals relentlessly increases. They attract and absorb, in all domains, the small capitals and the middle-sized fortunes.
Thus, despite the theoretically democratic principle of economic freedom, or rather, because of this freedom, which is false and illusory like all simple and unorganized freedoms, capitals press on other capitals without counterweight and in proportion to their mass, becoming concentrated in the hands of the largest holders. Society tends to be divided more and more sharply into two major classes: an elite owning all or nearly all, absolute master in the realms of landed property, commerce, and industry; and the masses owning nothing, living in total collective dependence on the owners of capital and instruments of production, and who, for a precarious and always decreasing wage, are forced to rent their arms, talents, and strength to the Feudal Lords of modern Society.
This picture of the current social situation, this description of developments quickly bringing us towards a veritable constitution of the new Feudalism; it is no longer prophetic. It is current history. One may quibble over the terminology of this general and necessarily brief exposition. It remains nevertheless true that Society is moving rapidly towards instituting an overbearing and vile Aristocracy. We are there; we have arrived at it. It ties and binds us; it weighs on the people; and it subjugates, grinds down, and enslaves, person by person, and business by business, the middle classes themselves.
And this phenomenon isn’t unique to France. It is a social phenomenon characteristic of modern Civilization. It develops most forcefully in those Nations where industrialism has made the greatest advances. It follows step by step the progress of commerce, manufacturing, and the invasion of machinery. Our free competition economy is a colossal Machine of enormous power, which incessantly sucks up the national wealth to concentrate it in the great reservoirs of the new Aristocracy, and which fabricates starving legions of the poor and the proletariat. Great Britain exhibits this phenomenon to the greatest degree: the concentration of capital in the hands of a small Aristocracy, the shrinking of the middle classes, the nearly total political and social annihilation of the Bourgeoisie, and an increasing Proletariat and Pauperism. France and Belgium, the two countries that most closely follow England in this path of illusory industrialism, are also the countries where the new Feudalism is most rapidly emerging.
Finally, Germany, deeply frightened by the spectacle that England and France are presenting, now hesitates to stimulate its own material progress, which threatens such dire social consequences.
DO YOU WANT to know to what extent this disastrous Feudalism is already rooted in the soil and dominant in political and social development? Let us put to one side the fact that a great monopolistic scheme was responsible for the Empire’s fall, by causing a fatal six-week delay to the Russian campaign. Haven’t we seen this very year the Government submitting to the dictates of the feudal canal Companies that facilitate the commerce of our richest provinces, setting and collecting at will the tolls on our lines of communication like the Lords of fortified manors in the counties and baronies during the Middle Ages, and all the while laughing at the useless protests of the central Government? Haven’t we seen this same Government, while deploring this domination by the feudal Companies, shamefully agree that it was itself incapable of developing and directing railroads, to the profit of the great all-powerful Vassals of the Bank? Meanwhile, the small Belgian Government has in a few years covered its land with railroads, which we can see it administers very well and very democratically. Finally, to top it off, when the French King had a great idea and tried to create a Franco-Belgian union, didn’t we see the two Governments, the two Nations, the two Kings, stopped by the insolent resistance of a few large industrial property owners? The two Governments, the two Nations, the two Kings, didn’t they bend to the will of these all-powerful Vassals? Has it required more than a week to impose the paramount will of these new Lords on the presumed holders of national Sovereignty? With this example, isn’t it evident that no longer do the King, the Ministers, and the Nation govern, but rather industrial and financial Feudalism?
Don’t be mistaken. Such a situation, if it continues and progresses, is full of danger. The French people will not let themselves be driven into the same corner where the urban and rural working people of Ireland and England have been dumped. The French Bourgeoisie will not allow themselves be fleeced and stripped of their property, deprived of their political influence, and tossed into the Proletariat. Universal Monopoly cannot, in our century, gravitate into the hands of an elite class without arousing furious hatred against that class. Already, among the Chartists of England, where for obvious reasons feudalism is more advanced than here, these social hatreds, the precursors of revolutions in which property rights are at stake, have reached a frightful intensity. There would have been ten revolutions here before our working classes reached this stage of reaction and hate.
What will become of Civilization, what will become of Government, and what will become of the upper classes, if industrial Feudalism, extending itself through all of Europe, provokes the great cry of social war, “To live working or to die fighting,” and rouses the immense legions of Modern Slavery?
Well, if the wise ones in Government, the intelligent, liberal Bourgeoisie, and Scientists don’t reflect on this, it is certain that the movement igniting European Societies will lead straight to social revolution, and that we will be on the road to a European-wide Jacquerie. 
On this matter some stubborn conservatives, fearful ex-liberal pigs, don’t want to hear any discussion or prediction. They are angry that we haven’t delicately spared them from the truths that might disturb the moronic slumber of these egoistic consumers. These former revolutionaries, now fat and satisfied, think it better to avoid mentioning the people’s unhappiness, the miseries of slavery, the proletariat’s hatred, and the parallel incursions of industrial Feudalism and Pauperism. This avoidance is supposed to spirit away any future trouble and sustain the illusion that all is for the best in the world where these gentlemen are prospering. “Preach to the workers,” say these shortsighted, heartless men – all atheists, “the consolation of religion. It is true that they aren’t as wealthy as we are, but it is impossible to improve their situation.”
Well! With good reason, the working classes don’t believe that they must forever be commodities with their prices rising or falling as if they were merely proletarian raw material in the marketplace. They want Society to guarantee them life and work; they are beginning to understand that the right to Work is a right no less sacred than the right to Property. Unfortunately, the great injustice victimizing them makes them unjust in turn, so that in the three most developed Nations – England, France, and Germany – they are beginning to question the right to Property and to reject it!
Who are today the true conservatives: the intelligent and foresighted ones, those who demand that the political and social Powers inform themselves about the current situation in order to remedy it by providing legitimate redress for unrecognized rights and interests, and thus permit Society to develop safely, or those who, satiated, content with their own lot, and lacking courage to probe the deep misery of society, believe that we mustn’t think of such things, and consequently let a storm gather that could overthrow everything?
Since when does one cure serious illnesses by keeping them secret? Since when does one heal wounds and ulcers by covering them up, turning one’s head, and refusing to examine or probe them?
We are arguing here that our system of free competition, lauded by foolish political Economy and instituted to abolish monopolies, results only in the universal organization of large monopolies in every industry; that everywhere free competition depresses wages, that it accomplishes nothing but a permanent war of labor, machinery, and capital – all against all – a war where the weak are destined to perish; that it makes failures, bankruptcies, stoppages, and crises endemic in the economic system; that it unceasingly deposits debris and ruins throughout the land; and finally, that for their hard labor the lower and middle classes obtain only a troubled, miserable existence, always precarious, and full of anxiety and unhappiness.
We learn from the most authoritative documents that while a small number of the wealthy become even richer, the situation of the industrious middle classes continually worsens. Our industrial system is therefore a veritable Hell; it enacts on an enormous scale the most brutal concepts of ancient myths. Our masses, naked and poor, are tossed into the waves of enormous luxury in great cities, where they see overflowing coffers in the currency and gold dealers’ offices and shops filled with rich food and fine clothes of elegant fabrics. They then are splashed by the fancy carriages, and aroused by the sounds and songs coming from the theaters. Thus tormented by viewing all the pleasures denied to them, isn’t this a gigantic human enactment of the anguish of Tantalus, tortured by eternal hunger and thirst in the midst of illusory fruits and water that forever evaded his desiccated mouth? Do you think that the agony of Sisyphus, fated to push a heavy rock to a mountain-top, which endlessly rolled right down again, is worse than that of unfortunate breadwinners who work steadily their whole lives to acquire a little wealth for their old age and their children, and who can hardly make ends meet, or of those who have painfully labored to create businesses only to lose them in the fire of raging competition or suddenly sink due to bankruptcy and the periodic crises of our economy? Finally, don’t the fifty Danaides, forced to pour water ceaselessly into a bottomless vessel, accurately symbolize the abominable situation of the lower and middle classes, condemned to draw new torrents of wealth from the heart of the earth and the factories by relentless labor, which always flows through their hands and inevitably accumulates in the vast reservoirs of the moneyed Aristocracy?
Our economic system, based on competition with no guarantees or regulation, is thus nothing but a social Hell, a vast enactment of all the torments and miseries of ancient Tonarus. There is however one difference: the victims of Tonarus were the guilty, and in the mythological hell there were judges. ...
And it is a similar state of things that is supposed to be accepted by contemporary intellectuals and the masses as normal organization, as the nec plus ultra of social institutions, as the best and fairest way to run industry and manage property! It is impossible! and we will not stop saying so until everybody recognizes this: attempting to immobilize Society in this system, trying to force Humanity to dead-end in this social Hell, will inevitably provoke frightful revolutions. Join us, therefore, intelligent and far-sighted Conservatives! Join us, enlightened men of the upper and middle classes, the men with heart in any class! Our Society, already scarred by fifty years of revolutions and heading quickly toward complete Feudalism, is in a crisis stage that calls for serious studies and prompt remedies if we wish to avoid an explosion!
It is obvious that our politicians, who don’t bother themselves with organizational problems, as well as the entire antiquated political press, which is concerned only with parliamentary intrigues, ignore the major issue of our time and continue talking drivel. The problem of our time is above all social, economic, and industrial; and it is on the social terrain, where the great development of facts and ideas impassions our minds, that we must today direct our studies and produce knowledge and enlightenment.
Faced with this state of affairs, this difficult social question, two solutions, two ideas, two approaches can be and are being proposed.
One of these approaches is violent, destructive, revolutionary, and furthermore, illusory. It consists of attacking the very principle of private Property; denying that it is a right; despoiling, by force and law, the wealthy for the benefit of the poor and owners for the benefit of the proletarians; and finally, legislating the equality of conditions and the Community of goods.
Sparked by the rapid development of the Proletariat, Pauperism, and the new Feudalism, this idea ignited from the depths of a Society still smoldering with revolutionary fire. For some years it has been spreading among the working people, especially in the great industrial centers of France and England, and even in Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany. It seduces and encourages the masses. It has on its side the huge advantage of great simplicity. “No more property, no more owners! No more exploitation of man by man! No more inheritance! The earth for all!” These formula are very simple and understandable for the starving and oppressed masses, to whom they seem perfectly just so long as Society denies them the Right to Work, which is even more sacred than the Right to Property derived from it.
This essentially negative and revolutionary solution is but a limited, violent reaction (as are all the great reactions) against the social incursion and tyrannical domination of Capital. Communism will never arise where wealth and property are enjoying their legitimate rights and not exercising exclusive preponderance. These doctrines advocating the abolition of property are therefore protests against industrial Feudalism, protests tied to its progression, and will only increase in intensity until there is an explosion as capital’s social – or rather its anti-social – pressure increases on the masses.
These phenomena are not simply philosophical speculations that can be lightly tossed aside or denied by the uninformed. They are facts about what is already happening.
Chartism, Communism, and Saint-Simonian doctrines on the illegitimacy of inheritance are rapidly spreading throughout Europe.
Towards the end of the Ancien Régime the Bourgeoisie was carried away by a great current of roiling philosophical and political ideas, quite incompatible with that regime and its privileges. The Nobility took little notice or laughed at them; bourgeois political and social ideas weren’t serious matters. They were still dancing merrily at Louis XVI’s court the night before the taking of the Bastille. Today, the doctrinaire Aristocracy that governs us, more self – satisfied and self-righteous, more disdainful of the people, their ideas, and their rights than was the old French Nobility, is unaware of the dangerous ideas and doctrines developing in the proletarian strata lying beneath its gaze.  This serious movement remains a complete stranger to our Aristocracy. As for our four hundred deputies, there are probably not more than twenty who know that today the People read more than the financial Aristocracy, and what they read by the hundreds of thousands, are books, leaflets, and pamphlets in which all aspects of the most serious and shocking social questions are discussed.
There is perfect parity between the two situations and the two epochs: the same disdain for the most urgent questions, ignorance of the powerful agitation going on below, and blindness! Happily, there are many in the ranks of the Bourgeoisie, and the intellectuals are beginning to wake up. The idea that we must find a remedy for the working class’s material and spiritual miseries has seen the light of day. The bourgeois classes are revealing warm charitable impulses, and also are beginning to see that they, as well as the proletariat, have an interest in introducing guarantees into the economic order and resisting the financial Aristocracy’s incursions. The opposition now appearing on the Chamber of Deputies’ benches to this Aristocracy’s high and mighty canal and railroad Companies indicates a salutary awakening among the representatives of the French Bourgeoisie. Will enlightenment arrive soon enough?
We have said that there are only two possible ways of escaping from this new Feudal constitution. The first is equal distribution or the community of goods, a method completely negative and revolutionary, inherently anti-social, and also illusory. Such ideas we will challenge wherever and whenever they occur. Happily, this isn’t the only option.
We have shown that Capital and Labor are in open war. The system of production, distribution, and division of wealth is nothing but an eternal battlefield. Controlling the instruments of Production, Capital consequently dictates the law to Labor. Furthermore, capitals struggle among each other; the big ones crush and absorb the small. The big capitals, concentrated in aristocratic families and multiplying their power through the system of huge joint stock Companies, are becoming more and more dominant. This preponderance keeps increasing, while the masses in a free enterprise system are unable to resist it, and thus it will inevitably sooner or later provoke a social revolutionary struggle. The classes that are always totally defeated in the economic arena will sooner or later appeal from a mock liberty and equality to a brutally effective equality – a redistribution of wealth. And when a revolution for redistribution is launched, the victors don’t share the wealth; they blow off the defeated and take all. That is what the Bourgeosie has done to the old Nobility and the Clergy.
Now, since the consequences of the war between Labor and Capital on the battleground of free competition inevitably results in either the crushing of labor and the small and middle sized capitals by the feudal capitals, or the crushing of property and capital by the workers’ insurrection, there is only one way to dispel these two inevitable consequences of the struggle: IT IS TO END THE STRUGGLE. And if as is generally the case, peace is much more favorable to the respective interests of the belligerent parties than the war’s prolonging would be even to the victors, it is evident that we must quickly find those conditions of peace that might obtain the conflicting parties’ common consent.
There is a principle that has the power to convert economic competition into accord, divergence into convergence, and struggle into cooperation. It is ASSOCIATION.
When two rival enterprises create a single one with a partnership agreement, or when rival capitals unite in a great joint stock Company, these are hostile interests signing a peace treaty and henceforth developing cooperatively. But why stop at the Association of capitals? Why not ask that this principle of accord, unity, and harmony extend to the accord, unity, and harmony of Capital and Labor? Why not research and ascertain the practical conditions for agreement between Capital and Labor throughout the entire economy?
Capital, Labor, and Talent are the three elements of production, the three sources of wealth, the three wheels of the industrial machine, and the three great basic resources of social development. Imagine the social system organized on the basis of Association, the three elements of production wisely combined in industry and the three wheels of the machine harmoniously in gear. Then the anarchic struggle of blind competition, the war of capitals against capitals, of labor against capital, of industries against each other, the general disorder, the collision of all productive forces, and the waste of resources invested in thousands of conflicting projects are replaced by the most powerful productive institution, and all resources efficiently managed! Wealth flowing copiously from the expanded Productive resources, distributed to the people on the basis of proportionality, waters and fertilizes the entire national soil. Labor receives its legitimate part in the increase of wealth proportionate to its cooperation; the destitute and starving classes become well-off; and the proletarians become consumers, creating a huge internal market for products, for which demand endlessly increases.
Industrial nations frantically search for foreign outlets for their products. England, glutted with overproduction, makes superhuman efforts to dump its surplus manufactures onto every shore. With cannon shot, it opens the gates of the old Chinese empire. Heavily armed, it endlessly cruises the globe, seeking consumers everywhere. . . and yet, next door in Ireland, in the heart of its own country from Cornwall to Sutherland, and in its enormous possessions in the old and new worlds, uncountable masses of workers waste away and die, or they revolt because in this absurd free competition system they can’t afford to consume even the basics for survival!
What! the most developed nations are sinking under the deadly weight of overproduction, while in their midst legions of workers are wasting away because their low wages prevent them from consuming this overwhelming production! Isn’t it as absurd as it is inhumane, this economic system that may very well fail for want of consumers, and which pays Labor so poorly that it shuts out of its markets the largest group of potential consumers?
Extend this cruel, stupid system to the extreme toward which it is heading. Suppose that industrialism succeeds in replacing every type of human labor by machines, and to push the argument to its limit, wages decline to zero! You then achieve the economist’s ideal, production at the lowest possible cost, and at the same time, the absolute triumph of Capital over Labor. But what will happen to your huge output of products? Where will they go? Who will consume them? If the people go willingly, peacefully, and legally to die of hunger, remaining respectful to your notions of order and the sacred right of property, won’t you see your production system collapse on itself and crush you in the ruins?
What if, instead, you posit a rational, equitable, Christian industrial organization that rewards work with charity, justice, and liberality; holds Labor’s rights to be at least as sacred as those of Property; and gives to Labor and Talent, as to Capital, their legitimate shares of the returns from wealth Production. Don’t you see comfort and well-being spreading though all classes, your great, stopped-up, national markets expanding, your shrinking outlets growing, the legitimate rewards of Capital increasing incessantly, and those of Labor and Talent rising in corresponding proportion?
There isn’t, we are arguing, any radical antinomy in the nature of things; there is no necessary contradiction or war between the principles and the elements of Production. The desperate struggles of capitals against capitals, of capital against labor and talent, of industries among themselves, of bosses against workers, of workers against bosses, of each against all and of all against each, are not inevitable conditions of human existence. They hold only for the current economic Apparatus, the system of anarchic, unregulated competition, and this freedom devoid of organization that has been so highly recommended to us, unfortunately successfully, by the English economic school. It is certainly possible to enlarge public wealth considerably by organizing the social system intelligently and applying the principle of Association progressively, and to reward the labor of the masses generously without taking anything from the propertied.
Let’s not speak any more about free enterprise as it has been understood in our time, except to condemn it and curse it! Let’s stop talking about the fundamental antagonism between labor and talent, except to argue that this antagonism results from a system that is disastrous from every point of view: disastrous to the development of production by its restriction of consumption, disastrous to the upper classes because of repeated crises and the violent reactions that it will undoubtedly provoke, and disastrous, finally, to the lower classes, because of the increasing miseries it imposes on them, which will force them into the path of bloody insurrection! Let’s talk no longer about abolishing property, equal distribution or the community of goods, smashing machinery, and rowdyism! Rather let us speak of organizing for workers’ interests and rights; introducing order, justice, and true liberty into the economy in production, distribution, and the division of wealth; and joining the interests of propertied and proletariat, soldiers and leaders. Let’s talk of making machines work FOR the capitalists and FOR the people and no longer FOR the capitalists AGAINST the people! Finally, let us speak of organizing the Association of classes into national Unity, and the Association of nations into Humanity! Those are the sane paths of modern States and Societies. Those are the problems now worth the attention of all serious intellectuals, all minds open to enlightenment, and all those souls who still hold to the great principles – the noble sentiments of country, liberty, and Christian fraternity that impassioned our fathers.
LET US SUMMARIZE what we have established:
Right gradually replaces Force, Industry dethrones War, and contemporary minds already completely recognize in the abstract the principle of equality and the universality of rights: the democratic principle.
The new democratic right, the Christian right of human equality and unity announced to the world by the French Revolution and victoriously upheld by France against the feudal, barbaric, aristocratic right, is written at the summit of the law. It is a permanent victory.
Since the democratic right, the Christian right, the right of all, has been conceived and applied merely by proclaiming liberty and equality, it is completely illusory, and the economic war has replaced the military one.
The economic war, like the military one, has victors and vanquished. Industrial Feudalism has established itself, like military Feudalism, by the disastrous triumph and permanent supremacy of the strong over the weak. The Proletariat is the modern Serfdom. A new Aristocracy whose titles are banknotes and stocks weighs more and more heavily on the Bourgeoisie itself and already dominates the government.
Such a state of things opposed to all the rights of humanity, to all the principles of the contemporary social temper, cannot continue without inciting new revolutions, revolutions no longer political but now social and directed against property itself, with their cries: “Live working or die fighting! The world to the workers!”
There is only one way to forestall these new Revolutions: it is the serious recognition of the right to Work, and an economic Organization based on the triple Association of capital, labor, and talent.
That organization is the task of modern Democracy.