Paul Lafargue 1887

The Morrow of the Revolution

Source: Commonweal, July 9, 1887 and July 16, 1887;
Transcribed: by Graham Seaman

July 9, 1887


[Our friend, Citizen Paul Lafargue, has communicated the following interest ing article to us, which is surely well worth our attention; it is probable that his view of the question will be nearer to that taken by most of us in the League than that of our comrade Bax. - Ed.]

Our friend Bax has treated this question, which we are very full of in France, the country of revolutions above all others; where, since the beginning of the century, with the regularity of a sidereal movement a revolution breaks out every eighteen or twenty years. Permit me to put before you our way of looking at this question.

In 1871, the power fell into the hands of the people when they were not prepared to receive it. In a revolutionary period to take the power is a thing relatively easy; to keep it, and above all to make use of it, is a thing far more difficult. The Commune when master of Paris was not able to take any really Socialist measures; there are numerous causes which explain this helplessness towards Socialism, but which it is not worth while going into at present. However, the bourgeois may be sure, that if ever events should bring the Socialists into power again, the immediate measures which they will take will strike so much at the root of things, that even if the reaction should triumph, it would not be able to bring back matters to the state in which they were before the revolution.

The morrow of the revolution the Socialists will have, 1st., To organise the revolutionary power and provide for its defence; 2nd., To satisfy the immediate needs of the people; and 3rd., To upset the capitalist order of things, and to lay the foundation of the Socialist order.

In France the revolutionary party will find itself face to face with three classes, having different, and even opposing interests; the workman class belonging to the great industries; the peasant class, and the capitalist class with its hangers-on, the little bourgeoisie, industrial and commercial.

In the industrial towns the working-class will be master; they will become so many revolutionary centres, which will have to federate in order to gain the country for the revolution, and to overcome the resistance which may spring up in the commercial and maritime towns.

In the industrial towns the Socialists will have to get hold of the local governments, to arm and give military organisation to the workmen (said Blanqui, "He who has gunshot has bread!"), to open the prisons to let out the petty thieves, and put under lock and key the big ones, such as bankers, financiers, big manufacturers, land-owners etc. Not that one would do them any harm, but to treat them as hostages responsible for the good behaviour of their class.

The revolutionary government would constitute itself by simply taking possession, and it would not be till it was master of the situation that it would think of ratifying its acts by so-called universal suffrage. The bourgeois have so long kept the non-possessing classes out of the suffrage, thmt they must not be over astonished if all ex-capitalists are disenfranchised until the revolutionary party is absolutely victorious.

Up till now in France it has been Paris which has given the word of command, and has made the revolution for all France. This concentration of the revolutionary movement has only been possible because the revolutions of the epoch have not been real revolutions but ministerial crises accompanied by barricades and musket-shot, and pompous declamations on the great principles of liberty and justice, and other twaddle.

The French are fond of melo-dramatic stage-plays, and the new politicians give them their fill of these to their heart's content. But while the drama is being played out in the streets, these politicians slip into the yet warm places of their forerunners, and economic matters go on their usual road. But since the next revolution must be an economic one, and not a mere change of governors, it will not have just merely to spring up in Paris, but must break out in all the industrial centres, which as soon as the local revolutionary government is constituted, must organise by means of delegations or otherwise the central government charged with the function of taking general measures in the interest of the revolution, and of preventing the formation of a reactionary party.

But in order that the revolutionary government may be supported by the mass of the working class, and in order that even if conquered it may leave behind it a work which no reaction can destroy, it is necessary that it should immediately satisfy the needs of the workers in town and country, and that it should begin the transformation of capitalist property.

It would have to return to the primitive idea of society, and consider all its members as members of an immense family, which would have to provide for the first needs of their lives, until a redistribution of all products could be made on a basis of equality. The revolutionary government would in each city have to house, clothe, and feed all its inhabitants. To that end it would decree all house-property national and would undertake the arrangement of lodging. It would drive the idle rich from their mansions to install the workers in them, reserving those best situated for families having many children. In Paris, while it would lodge women with child on the first floor, it would relegate to the fifth and sixth floors the big-bellied capitalists, so as to thin them down by staircase exercise. The unwholesome hutches of the poor would be demolished and their sites cleansed by fire.

The revolutionary government would nationalise the big shops of the Peter Robinson and Moses kind, and would treat their proprietors as thieves if they dared to embezzle so much as a single reel of cotton Commissions would be organised by streets and quarters to distribute the contents amongst the workers, who for the first time in their lives would be clad in the good and handsome stuffs which they themselves, have made.

But before lodging and clothing the working population it would be necessary to think about their food. The revolutionary government would set up great common restaurants in the various quarters, where a minimum of substantial nourishment would be given to the inhabitants every day. The cooking would be done in common, and those who wished to eat their meals at home could take away their food: but it would be good to encourage meals in common, so as to develope fraternity and equality. During the revolution of the last century, the Commune of Paris organised fraternal meals; tables were spread in the middle of the streets, and each inhabitant brought his own food there, which was eaten in common.

In order to feed the population, the revolutionary government would take over the provision-stores, wine-vaults, breweries, etc., and would at once organise a municipal catering service, which would put itself into communication with the market-gardeners and small peasants of the suburban country. This service, which would suppress the middlemen between the buyer and the consumer, would allow the peasant to obtain a better price for his products. To gain the peasant over to the revolutionary cause is one of the first duties of the Socialist party, and for that purpose, besides general measures (such as abolition of interest, of debts of all kinds, of taxes and the conscription, etc.) we must not hesitate to increase his gains, and make his labour easier by advancing to him seed and manure of the best quality and the most improved agricultural machines.

The workers of 1848, to allow Louis Blanc, Gamier Pag^, Lamartine, and the other bourgeois of the Provisional Government, to found their Republic, "put three months of poverty at their disposal." When at the dissolution of June the people came to claim the fulfilment of their promise, the bourgeois reaction answered them with grape-shot. The Socialist revolution will begin the foundation of the social-republic by putting three months of comfort at the disposal of the workers.

The party which will take these measures on the morrow of the revolution will be invincible; it will be supported by the mass of the workers, full both of enthusiasm and astonishment at finding a government which is occupying itself with their needs.

Paul Lafargue.

{To be continued,)

July 16, 1887.


(Concluded from p. 220.)

One great idea which dominates all others has taken firm hold of the brains of all Socialists, the suppression of individual property. The Anarchists themselves, who are, without knowing it, the representatives of the "laisser faire, laisser passer" of property, are drawn into its current. The idea of the suppression of individual property is not one which has sprung up spontaneously in the human skull; it is the intellectual reflexion of the economical phenomenon which is evolving in the capitalist world.

What is the true characteristic of individual property. It is that the owner should work on his own property: this is so true that the peasant, the propertied animal above all others, when he grows too old to cultivate his land, rather than see it worked by hirelings divides it between his children, although this surrender of his land, his only love, is as torturing to him as the tearing out of his entrails. The old French proverb, " Property is the fruit of labour," expresses this fact. Consequently the only true property-owner in the old sense of the word is the peasant who cultivates his own land, the landlord who inhabits and repairs his own cottage, the shopkeeper who buys and sells merchandise in his own shop, the carpenter who himself uses his own saw and plane. All that these property-owners possess belongs to them in all justice, it is the fruit of their labour and not of that of others, for no wage-earner has worked,on "their property."

But is it the case that capitalist property presents this character? Are the owners of mines, of railways, of great warehouses, the landlords who own hundreds and thousands of acres, and whole quarters of towns, really property owners? Have they ever worked on their "property"? They only know it by the rent it brings them in; it is the wage-earners and not the owners who work on their property. In the capitalist world we must correct the ancient proverb, and say. "Property is the fruit of labour, and the reward of idleness."

The capitalists by not working on their property, but by using it to lay hold of the fruit of the labour of others, have destroyed the essential character of individual property.

The capitalist property-owner is a being absolutely useless in the scheme of property; all the shareholders and bondholders of the railways might be drowned in the Channel, and yet the railways of Europe would go on carrying passengers and merchandise. The capitalist property-owner is a useless mouth which consumes a terrible quantity.

Everything that is eaten by a rich man, and the domestics and other folk who serve and satisfy his tastes and needs, is consumed in pure loss. It is as if instead of burning coal in a machine to transform its heat into force, one were to burn it in the open. The capitalist being useless therefore ought to be suppressed to lessen the expense of social production. The Socialist revolution will be bound to accomplish this economical operation; it will not destroy property, it will free it from its parasites.

The very day of the revolution the first decree of the revolutionary government will be the confiscation of capitalist property (mines, spinning-mills, foundries, railways, etc.), and its transformation into social property.

Bax and the English Socialists think that the State will take the place of the capitalist property-owners, and continue the exploitation of the great instruments of labour as in the past, but at the same time bringing in certain ameliorations in the lot of the worker, such as shorter hours and higher wages, etc. Their ideal is the capitalist public service (post-office, telegraphs, police, etc.), brought to perfection.[1] But for us, we believe that as a consequence of the very fact of the establishment of the revolutionary government, the State with its public offices (post-office, national debt, police, magistracy, army, etc.), will disappear. The State is a machine cunningly organised to serve the interests of the capitalists, and to keep the proletarian mass in slavery. The revolutionary government which will temporarily replace it, will have to disorganise the bourgeois machine and to draw all its power from the proletarian mass, and so to lay the foundations of the new order.

Instead of its being the State which will be the manager of the post-office, and telegraphs, the minter of money, and director of the railways, as it is now in nearly all capitalist countries, instead of its being the State which will be the manager of spinning, and weaving, and director of the mines, etc., as Lassalle wished, and as the English Socialists now wish, the revolutionary government will have to act in such a way that it will be the workers themselves who will become their own employers and their own directors.

The revolutionary government will not have to impose on the workmen, their directors, the rules of their labour, or rate of wages on the workmen, the telegraphists, the employes of the railways, or the miners, foundrymen, etc. On the contrary, the workmen will come to an understanding among themselves as to choosing their engineers and foremen, and on the sharing of the gains of their business. The nation will put at their service the instruments of labour; special commissions will be charged with drawing up a table of charges; that is to say, a rate of wages which can be claimed for services rendered, the sum which it will be necessary to set aside for the repairing and improving of the machinery, and the sum to be paid into the public treasury to assure to each member of society victuals, lodging, and clothing.

On the morrow of the revolution, the work to be done will be so colossal, that it must not be increased still more by turning the revolutionary government into a director of spinning mills, or a shoe manufacturer; on the contrary, it must hasten in the masses themselves, the development of all the organisers and directors of social labour. Capacities towards direction exist, since it is the wage-earners only who direct all production, and it is only a matter of grouping them to find those commissions which will be charged with regulating scientifically the production and equitable distribution of products.

For the end of the social revolution is to work as little as possible, and to enjoy as much as possible, and that can only be attained by a continous improvement of machinery and a scientific division of labour amongst all the members of Society, and by ensuring a just proportion of production to the needs of Society.

But before arriving at this Communist Society, in which labour and pleasure will be free and in common, we must pass through a transitional period, in which it will be necessary to maintain wages and to keep the due proportion between them and the service rendered and the effort given. For our part we believe that the workers themselves have more qualities to enable them to distribute the hours of labour and the gains, than the functionaries of any State would have.

For the rest we only formulate here the desiderata; events will force us on the road to be followed; and it is more than probable that the two systems will be combined in various proportions.

The Morrow of the Revolution the revolutionists will have to arm the wage-earners and organise them as soldiers; to lodge, feed, and clothe them gratuitously; and to confiscate and nationalise capitalist property. The nation which has once tasted this Socialist regime, even if it were but for a month, will be gained for ever for the Social Revolution.

Paul Lafargue.


1. Comrade Bax must speak for himself, but I cannot think he would endorse this statement of his views; and there are other "English Socialists," among them the editor of the Commomveal, who would not walk across the street for the realisation of such an - ideal. The fact that a French Socialist who knows so much of England as Citizen Lafargue does, can have such an impression of the views of "English Socialists," shows the danger of coquetting with palliative measures.


This article was written as a reply to the article of the same name by Belfort Bax published in Commonweal on May 28th.