Jules Guesde 1899

Speech to the General Congress of French Socialist Organizations

Paris, December 3-8, 1899

Source: http://www.marxists.org/francais/guesde/works/1899/12/guesde-18991203.htm;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2005.

Wherever the proletariat, organized in a class party- which is to say a party of revolution — can penetrate an elective assembly; wherever it can penetrate an enemy citadel, it has not only the right, but the obligation to make a breach and set up a socialist garrison in the capitalist fortress!

But in those places where it penetrates not by the will of the workers, not by socialist force; there where it penetrates only with the consent, on the invitation, and consequently in the interests of the capitalist class, socialism should not enter.

In thought I go back twenty years, beyond our too-long struggles and the animosities that have survived the efforts we expended against each other, to a time when we were unanimous in pushing the workers to organize in a class party, saying to them: “ Leave the bourgeois leadership that has divided you up till now. Don’t worry about their political colors or their metaphysical or religious divergences. Victims of today’s society, you can only count on yourselves to have done with the old world of exploitation. Form yourselves on your class field into a distinct political party, and assert yourselves against the idle bourgeoisie, as a class representing all of labor, and wanting tomorrow to constitute all of society.”

If, when each of us had spoken in such terms someone had come up to us and said: “This necessary separation that you preach to the proletarian, this new party, this new politics to which you call him at the risk of his job, his bread, the bread of his wife and children; all of this will necessarily — Viviani said, “naturally” — lead to a portfolio given to one of ours in a bourgeois government,” all of you would have risen up as one to denounce this as calumny, to denounce the insult, and to affirm that one could never meet among us a man capable of confusing the class struggle with the hunt for a portfolio.

So I protested in all of your names, comrades; and in protesting I had an obligation to fulfill: that was to forget all that had separated us in the past in order to keep only that which united us at our starting point at the Marseille Congress. And I repeat that none of us then would have admitted the possibility of a sharing of central government between the two necessarily enemy classes, and I challenge any militant of the last twenty years to prove me wrong.

You know the theoretical reasons for the impossibility of a governmental collaboration of the two classes — you've been told them again and again, and I won’t impose upon the socialists who listen to me a repetition that is at the very least useless. On the other hand, I will allow myself to ask that they draw their attention to the experimental side of the question. And I ask you to believe that I'm not bringing to this any personal animosity. I am the first to recognize — and I have declared this everywhere in France that I have brought the word of the party during the last four months — that I do not put, that I have never put in doubt the good will or the reforming intentions of the socialist who accepted a portfolio in a bourgeois ministry. Reduced to a personal question, the matter would have no raison d'etre, and we can even more depersonalize the question in that we find ourselves before a man who, far from accusing, I take to be a victim of the new method.

But the more I depersonalize the method, the more I have the right to ask him what it brings, what new strength it claims to bring to the Socialist Party. Well, what leaps out in the first place in the few months of experience, and what no one can contest, is the absolute powerlessness of a Socialist lost in a bourgeois ministerial majority. In all that constitutes the goal of the party and the class it represents, he is cancelled out — he, the man of social transformation — by the majority of his colleagues who are, necessarily and obligatorily, men of social conservatism. The few reforms that he can approach, the only ones he can realize by decree, are not even crumbs of reform.

This powerlessness at the top is matched by hopes at the base, and this is what is most serious. Yes, when it was learned that a socialist had arrived in power there was a clamor of joy from one end of the workers’ world to the other. Wasn’t this the dawn of a better day? Yes, confidence was regained, and the workers rose up, they left their sepulchres in Creusot, in the east they broke the cordon sanitaire that closed them in, not allowing either the socialist or the syndicalist idea to reach them. Their turn had come, since one of their own was in the government, and to the cry of Forward march! they had started to advance. But how can that which followed these hopes without a future be viewed without horror?

Confident in the new order of things, the masses told themselves that they would be able to pass, they and their demands, yet they found on their route the same gendarmerie, the same police, the same magistrates, the same infantry and the same cavalry. They were dispersed, and they saw themselves struck down with the same rigor as before by what is called bourgeois justice. And someone could be found who'd admit that such a state of things, should it continue, wouldn’t be the failure, not provisional, but definitive of socialism!

But what, then is socialism? What has it everywhere and always said to the proletariat? It said: “ Organize, transport your class antagonisms from the economic sphere, where they are perpetrated against you, where they alone can succeed. Take power, become the master of the state. Then, instead of being subject to capitalist law you will make socialist law. Then the bosses’ property — which only exists because it has in place to maintain it all the repressive force of the state — that capitalist property that crushes you can and must disappear. You can transform it into social property, just as feudal property was able to be changed into bourgeois property in the revolution of the last century. The day that power will be yours, you will be free; the day when power will be yours your misery, your servitude will end. The workshops, the work instruments, the means of production will be yours. Instead of being the class of another class, instead of being the slave of the machine you will be, along with the social property of the machine, the master of its product. You will dominate production, of which you are today but the plaything and the victim, and you will organize it for your use. It’s a new world of freedom and equality that will arise the day that the battle for power, instead of being a defeat for the proletariat — as it has been up till now — will end in defeat for the capitalist class.

And when, after you allowed him to believe that by a portfolio granted to one of his own socialism has truly conquered power — when it’s really power that conquered him — he rises up to ask you for the promised realizations and says to you: the time has come to pay, so pay up! And you can only pay him in charges of the gendarmerie, in months of prison and fines as generously distributed under a ministry where the individual socialist’s will is cancelled out, just as it was under those ministries where capitalism ruled all! I state that such a state of affairs, if we don’t quickly put an end to it, would bring on the irremediable bankruptcy of socialism. The organized workers considering themselves duped, some will lend an ear to propaganda by the deed. They'll say to themselves: since my own class party is like other political parties, and since we're doomed to hoist up some who use our shoulders to climb into power, let’s address ourselves to things, having found nothing among men. Men having fooled them, they will only have confidence in elements, in revolutionary chemistry, and you would have done recruiting work for anarchy! And the others, no longer having any hope in anything, not even in revolutionary chemistry, they'll return to their homes, having decided to show interest in nothing and to just let things go on as they are, since for them the more things change, the more they remain the same.