Paul Lafargue September 1897
Source: Paul Lafargue, (trans. Aveling) “Socialism in France 1874-1896,” Nineteenth Century, Sept 1897, pp. 445-458;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Scientific Socialism in France dates from the war of 1870-71. That war, which involved defeat and the ravaging and pillaging of one-third of the country by the Prussian troops, the loss of the two provinces in which industry had been most highly developed, the loss of their two million inhabitants and of the milliards swallowed up by the defence and the war indemnity, so far from ruining France, gave her a commercial activity until then unknown. Hence, only a year or so after the fall of the Commune, a renewal of agitation amongst the working classes made itself felt. Paris, however, had just lost a revolutionary battle, which had drained her of her lifeblood. Those who had taken part in the insurrection and had not fallen fighting, were in exile or in prison. A great mass of workers had fled from the capital to escape the mad fury of the victorious reactionaries. A few months after the fall of the Commune it was estimated that Paris had lost more than 100,000 workers of all trades. But, although the massacres of June, 1848, had been succeeded by eighteen years of benumbed silence, within five years of the butcheries, transportations, and emigration en masse of 1871, socialism began to show signs of life.
A political movement which has been in a state of suspended animation never begins again exactly where it stopped. The men who take it up afresh are like children repeating their lessons: they must go back to the beginning and run rapidly through the stages already traversed. Instead of carrying on the movement initiated by the International, the Paris workers went back to co-operation; the first congress held in Paris, 1876, was exclusively a congress of co-operators. In spite of its reactionary character, this congress must be regarded as the point of departure of the present socialistic movement in France, although there was, in Paris, a certain amount of working-class agitation at the time of the election of delegates to the Vienna Exhibition of 1876.
This reawakening of the labour movement was fomented by the republican bourgeoisie, who were afraid that a Republic proclaimed amidst the turmoil of defeat might be overturned by a monarchical conspiracy, for the elections of 1871 had filled the Chamber of Deputies with ghosts of royalists long since dead and buried. The bourgeois republicans, knowing that in the workers lay their only hope of defending the Republic against the ever-advancing royalist reaction, helped and encouraged them in their first attempts at organization. The Workers’ Congress of 1876 was the work of the bourgeois republicans; the Reformé, a radical journal, started the idea of a congress, and Cremieux, the ex-colleague of Gambetta in the Government of National Defence, found the money for the expenses of the provincial delegates to Paris.
M. Thiers’ Government had not yet finished its work, and was still engaged in shooting the defenders of the Commune at Satory, when the Congress of 1876 opened its sittings. All such workers as had concerned themselves with politics under the Empire, or had born arms under the Commune, were dead or exiled or in hiding, and anxious not to attract the attention of the police. Under these circumstances the delegates to the congress could only be quite young people, people who knew nothing of socialism or of the International. Hence they proposed to avoid the rocks of socialism by advocating such methods of ameliorating the lot of the workers as co-operative production, mutual credit, and people’s banks. They trotted out again all those small shopkeepers’ Utopias which Proudhon had advocated before 1848. The institutions that the Congress of 1876 wished establish were the equitable labour exchanges, which had been started at Bray’s instigation in the year 1840, in London, Sheffield, Leeds and other towns, and which, after absorbing vast capital, had gone bankrupt under scandalous circumstances. But Bray, in his remarkable work, “Labour’s Wrongs, and Labour’s Remedy” (Leeds, 1839), had at least refrained from calling these exchanges a solution of the social problem. They might be that to Proudhon; to Bray they were only a means of smoothing over the transition from the capitalist to the communist régime.
This Iabour movement, begun so modestly, was soon to come under the influence of a man destined to turn it out of the beaten track, and to abandon the Utopian ways of philanthropy for the path revolutionary socialism. That man was Jules Guesde. He had just returned to France after an absence of five years, rendered necessary by his desire to escape a sentence of five years’ imprisonment for taking the side of the Commune in the journal Le Droit de l’Homme, which he was editing at Montpellier. He had been in exile in Switzerland and Italy, where he came into contact with the men of International, who inspired him with his first socialist ideas. Guesde, gifted with literary and oratorical talents of the highest order, became at once the leader of the reviving socialist movement, and may be called the founder of the French socialist party.
He soon gathered around him some of the young folk and certain foreign refugees. With their help he started the Egalité, the first socialist journal published in France since 1849. The ideas that the Egalité, propagated were novel and ran counter to the philanthropic phrase-making which constituted the whole socialist stock-in-trade the bourgeois radicals and of the workers under their influence. They frightened the good co-operators of the Congress of Paris, who did not, however, dare to come to an open rupture with Guesde and his friends. Nevertheless they began an underhand campaign against them, treating them as ambitious “carpet-baggers,” whom the men with blouses and horny hands ought to distrust, whilst they themselves were bonâ fide working men, manual labourers, true representatives of their comrades of the workshop, the practical men who demanded only such reforms as could be carried out without attacking any one’s interest and without any disturbance of society. The anarchists, who have not even the merit of having invented their own stupidities, have dug up out of the vocabulary of the co-operators many of the imbecile slanders that they cast in the teeth of the socialists.
The propaganda of the Egalité bore fruit. A party was founded whose influence made itself immediately felt, as is proved by the following quotation from the Berlin Correspondance, one of Bismarck’s organs, January, 1878.
“Out of the chaos of news from France one fact stands out more and more clearly; viz., that the socialist democracy of France has already become a power. ... Undoubtedly the chiefs of the socialist movement in France, who are displaying so much zeal in their correspondence with the German socialist organs, may have exaggerated the facts a little, hut there is no denying the existence of the movement, and it cannot be killed by silence .... This movement, when it was checked in Paris by the failure of the Commune, and was under the rigid surveillance of the police, had to shift its sails and tack, but for six months back the socialists have been openly at work again .... It is interesting to see that ill France, as in Prussia, the socialist chiefs use every means to get their people returned upon all kinds of elective bodies.”
The socialist movement, which had been developing in the shade, blossomed out freely at the Lyons Congress (February, 1878), summoned by the organizations that had attended the Congress of Paris. At first this congress threatened to be a mere replica of the Congress of Paris. During its earlier sittings the praises of Liberty were chanted in every possible false key. All that was necessary was to give the workers freedom to form trade unions, co-operative societies, credit banks, and the like, and then all misery would vanish into thin air. But the apparition of collectivist delegates, with Guesde at their head, threw the apple of discord into this amiable conclave of the gods of liberty, and, to the huge scandal of the cooperators, there was actually a minority vote of twenty for the following resolution proposed by two delegates from Paris:-
“Seeing that the economic emancipation of the workers can only be brought about when the workers enjoy all that is produced by their labour, the workers in order to gain this end, must themselves become owners of the elements of production – raw materials and the instruments of labour. Therefore the Congress invites all workers’ associations to study the methods of putting into practice the principle of collective ownership of the soil and the instruments of labour.”
This appearance of collectivism was the event of the Congress. Gambetta’s organ, the République Française was filled with rage and fury, and declared that –
“The partisans of the reactionary régime of collective property, preached for some time past by certain will-o’-the-wisps as a sort of social panacea, met, at the Worker’s Congress of Lyons, opponents thoroughly imbued with sound French common sense.”
In like manner we were assured that the sound common sense of the English workers would guard them against the follies of socialism, which at most could only appeal to Continental workers. But sound French common sense appeared insufficient for the defence of the sacrosanct doctrine of capitalist property, the Government commenced prosecutions against the will-o’-the-wisps of the Egalité. They were persecuted in every possible way; but when the Government saw that it could not intimidate them or force them to stop their propaganda, it resolved to suppress the journal by inflicting fines and terms of imprisonment impartially on the contributors.
Before the Egalité ceased to exist it raised its battle-cry in the concluding issue--
“We shall re-appear very soon, not more earnest, but more powerful, in the work we have undertaken – a work, let no man mistake us, which is the constitution or the reconstitution of the French revolutionary party. And that is the reason why we say to our readers, ‘au revoir et à bientôt’”
The movement had begun and nothing could stop it. The collectivist propaganda went on with renewed vigour in spite of the imprisonment of Guesde, Deville, and many of their friends. And it bore fruit. At the Congress of Lyons only a minority of twenty delegates voted for a resolution asking that the collectivist solution of the social riddle should be studied. The Marseilles Congress, held the. following year (October, 1879), carried by an immense majority and with acclamation a resolution in favour of the collectivist theory.
The Marseilles Congress is the most important of all the congresses which were held in France prior to 1889; both on account of the number of its delegates, and on account of the resolutions passed, as well as the effect produced by them upon the constitution of the socialist party.
The French people have a harmless mania for trying to find a solution once and for all for all kinds of questions, in order to formulate a sort of creed which may serve as a guide to their conduct in every-day life. Thus the agenda paper of the Marseilles Congress was crammed with innumerable questions bearing more or less upon the social problem, which would have required months for discussion and study. They were settled in a week. Nevertheless some of the resolutions, summary as they were, wrapped up in the antiquated phraseology of Proudhon, and encumbered with Liberty, Equality, Justice, and the like entities of political metaphysics, breathed a new spirit that had never before appeared in France.
Collectivism, for instance, is asserted in no measured terms in the resolution on property.
“Property is the one social question. Seeing that the present system of property is opposed to those equal rights that will condition the society of the future; that it is unjust and inhuman that some should produce everything and others nothing, and that it is precisely the latter who have all the wealth, all the enjoyment, and all the privilege; seeing that this state of affairs will not be put an end to by the good-will of those whose whole interest lies in its continuance; the Congress adopts as its end and aim the collective ownership of the soil, the subsoil, the instruments of labour, raw materials, and would render them for ever inalienable from that society to which they ought to return.”
This resolution, the most characteristic one passed by the Marseilles Congress, drawn up by Guesde, then in prison, moved by Parisian delegates, and opposed by a certain number of the other delegates, was carried by a large majority, and its adoption greeted with prolonged applause. It was the first time that the nationalisation of property had been inscribed upon the flag of the French proletariat. When we remember that at the congresses of the International the majority of the French delegates had always declared for individual ownership of the land, when we call to mind the timidity of the revolutionaries of the Commune in the matter of economic reforms, it is really surprising that, within eight years of their defeat in Paris and the massacres of the Bloody Week, there should have been a majority vote at the Congress of Marseilles for the nationalisation of the instruments of production.
The socialist movement had started with the co-operators. These were soon joined by the anarchists, for co-operators and anarchists, although they appear to be as far asunder as the poles, are really as a matter of fact only representatives of different capitalist ideas. The co-operators represent the benevolent notions of the philanthropists, who attempt to lull the awakening spirit of the working class by measures not of a very compromising nature. The anarchists, when they are neither wittingly nor unwittingly police agents, represent the ideas of the laissez-faire economists and push these ideas to their ultimate logical conclusion. The Marseilles Congress declared itself openly opposed both to co-operation and to anarchy. Hence it rejected co-operation as a means of emancipation, and, on the other hand, declared plainly for political action, for the entrance of socialists into elective bodies, and for the moral obligation of, at any rate, running socialist candidates at all elections where this was possible. But before beginning its struggle in the political arena, the congress recommended as a preliminary step, that the proletariat should absolutely sever itself from all bourgeois political parties, and form a separate party under the name of the Socialist Workers’ Party of France. The Marseilles Congress, in a word, revived the tradition of the International, which had advised the proletariat to form a distinct political party in order to seize political power, and to bring about the transformation capitalism into nationalism. The International Socialist Congress held last year in London, was a proof that everyone of the twenty countries represented had of its own accord, under the compulsion the daily and hourly struggle, put into practice the advice of the International. And the London Congress, whose business was neither to discuss theories nor formulate doctrines, but to bring face to face and to unite in fraternal and international bonds the socialistic parties of the Old World and the New, defining the theories and practices held in common, that congress, I say, in the name of the socialist parties thus gathered together from the Eastern and Western hemispheres, reaffirmed the resolutions of the International.
Although the collectivist resolutions had been carried by a large majority, they had also been most vigorously opposed at the Marseilles Congress. The vote on property produced an uproar. Th minority protested noisily against having a resolution which seemed to them madness forced upon the congress by a few delegates from Paris. The republican press, which up to that time had patted the workers’ congresses on the back, suddenly changed its tone. It had been friendly and even patronising. Now it became hostile. The necessity of an organ to answer the bourgeois press and to maintain the victory won at Marseilles was evident, and the Egalité came out again with a staff reinforced by certain Communist refugees. This, Egalité No. 2 played a very considerable part in the spreading of the economic and historical theories of Marx and Engels, and in the formation of the French Workers’ Party.
But socialism in France could not develop as long as no amnesty had been granted to the Communists. “No holidays or fêtes until the amnesty is granted,” was the refrain of a popular song sung everywhere and at every opportunity. The writers on the Egalité, whilst they never ceased to propagate their socialistic theories, devoted themselves especially to the task of bringing about this amnesty. Deville was amongst the promoters of the candidature of Blanqui, who had been in prison without having been tried ever since the 18th of March, 1871, and his election at Bordeaux threw open the gates of France to the men condemned. . They came back again in triumph. The reception given by the populace to the first batch of criminals who landed from New Caledonia was a scene of delirious enthusiasm.
As soon as the emotion and commotion caused by the amnesty and the return to France of the combatants of March 18th had subsided, the socialist propaganda could be resumed. The Marseilles Congress had clearly marked out the goal towards which all the efforts of the proletariat should tend; it only remained to draw up a definite programme for use at electoral contests. At the house of Frederick Engels, where Marx, Guesde, and Lafargue met together, this programme was drawn up – a programme which afterwards gave rise to so many quarrels and divisions. Marx himself dictated the various, “preambles,” so notable for their clearness and conciseness.
They were followed by a series of immediate political and economic reforms, such as – liberty of the press and of public meetings, doing away with the national debt, abolition of standing armies, a general arming of the people, the reduction by law of the working day to eight hours, and the like.
The preamble presented socialism in quite a new light. We saw above that in the resolution about property the delegates to the Marseilles Congress took as their basis, “The injustice and inhumanity of the régime of property as it exists to-day,” in order to demand collective property in the name “of those equal rights which will be the expression of the society of the future”; that is to say, in the name of rights which as yet only existed in the minds of those present at the congress. The preamble took quite a different point of view. It said, in so many words, that capitalist society, which by its industrial progress eliminates more and more completely small individual holders of property, bears in its own bosom a new collectivist society. The elements of this society, whether material (factories, mines, railways, banks, & c.) or intellectual (the manual and intellectual proletariat dispossessed of all property), are brought into being by the very development of capitalist society. Socialism must therefore seek to drive capitalism on to its doom, and to give birth to the collectivist society as yet imprisoned within the womb of capitalist society.
This manner of regarding history and the historical problem of our time could only be understood and accepted by minds that had broken away from subjective and idealist methods of thought. So when this programme appeared in the Egalité of June 30th, 1880, it caused. much outpouring of vials of wrath on the part of those whose interests were adversely affected by it, and also of those whose ideas were upset by it. Reactionaries, radicals, co-operators, anarchists, all attacked it ad libitum. This scientific socialism, formulated by “the London programme,” as its adversaries called it, in order to show that it could not possibly be of French but was of foreign extraction was, as a matter of fact, a great novelty. The men who had fought in the Commune and returned to France after the amnesty, and looked upon themselves as the real representatives of the holy French revolutionary tradition, declared .against collectivism. Its programme was violently attacked by the Commune, edited by Felix Pyat, ex-member of the Commune, in which Emil Gauthier wrote.
Gauthier was then the orator and leader of the anarchist party; to-day he is a journalist of all work for the opportunist press. It not infrequently happens that ferocious anarchists end by becoming quite model reactionaries. The attitude of the Communists is quite intelligible. The insurrection of March 18th was far from being a socialist movement. Patriotism, humiliated by defeat and anger at the treason of Jules Favre, Jules Ferry, and other members of the Government of National Defence, had stirred up the mass of the Parisian population against M. Thiers and his Government. But when the Commune had been vanquished by M. Thiers, and insulted and calumniated by all the capitalist newspapers, it was defended by the General Council of the International, in which Marx and Engels were the leading spirits. The manifesto of the civil war drawn up by Marx for the General Council invested the Commune with a socialist character that it had certainly not possessed during its ephemeral existence. The Communist refugees thereafter took themselves quite seriously as representing a socialism of which they did not know a single letter. When they came back to France, after the amnesty, they founded the Socialist Republican Alliance, under the direction of two members of the Commune, Longuet and Jourde, in opposition to the working-class party, then in course of formation. After some years of an obscure and chequered existence, the Alliance vanished, leaving behind it nothing but its name.
The working-class party, therefore, was born and grew up in the very midst of difficulties. Whilst it was assailed by adversaries from without, it was torn by quarrels from within. But gifted with a vitality capable of triumphing over all obstacles, it developed like an organic cell, by a double process of assimilation and excretion. The collectivist ideas of its programme drew to it adherents from every point of the political compass, and, on the other hand, repelled all those who were attracted to it by mere enthusiasm or by ambitious hopes. The Workers’ Congress of Havre (November 1880) voted the programme of the party by a great majority. The minority, made up of trades union delegates, under the patronage of Gambetta and the Opportunist party, withdrew with much declamation and noise, in order mark their horror of the absurd and criminal theories of collectivism. Two years later, at the Congress of St. Etienne (September, 1882), there was a much more important schism. Some of the co-operators of the Paris trade unions and of the revolutionists, with Brousse and Allemand at their head, rose in rebellion against the programme which they said had been forced upon them. They ranged altar against altar, and drew up a new programme more radical than socialist. The men who gathered themselves together round this hybrid programme fluctuated, “driven by the wind and tossed” now upon this current now upon that, sometimes allying themselves with opportunists, as at the time of the Boulangist crisis, sometimes making common cause with the anarchists, just as their successors did recently at the International Congress of London. After having tried to found a party they split up into groups, which only had an existence in Paris, and whose influence never extended beyond the narrow limits of their own circle of action.
Now that socialism had drawn up its programme and mapped out its tactics, the next work to be done was to enrol the socialist army, to teach it to march and countermarch on the political battlefield, and to train it so to use universal suffrage so as to get hold of political power. The propagandists of the earlier movement, reinforced by many valuable recruits, set themselves bravely to work, publishing weekly newspapers and pamphlets in Paris and in the provinces and delivering lectures. The spoken word is par excellence the special weapon of socialist propaganda. For years and years the “commercial travellers of disorder,” as the reactionaries called them, were ploughing the fields all over France, preaching to the multitude the new gospel, and challenging the defenders of the faith to meet them in discussion. These meetings for debate quite won the hearts of the French people, who, as all the world knows, are lovers of the duello.
Active propaganda began first in the industrial centres, and for many reasons. Industrial progress has despoiled the producers of the instruments of their labour, in order to centralise them in the workshops or the capitalist, where the producers work hand-in-wheel with the machines which belong to their employer. In the workshops all those instincts of the small proprietor which the producers retained as a memory of the individual property or their forefathers are swept away from them. Living in the very presence of the colossal machinery which employs them, they understand instinctively that they can never possess it as individuals – that its collective possession is the only thing possible.
Mechanical production has cleared completely out of the proletarian head all idea of individual property, and has fixed firmly there the idea of collective property. This cerebral transformation has been effected quite independently of the work of collectivists; it is the result of mechanical production organized under the direction of the capitalist class.
When the working-class party had obtained a certain power in the towns, it began to bethink itself of attacking the country districts which the reactionaries declared were impervious to socialism. It had been said that the common sense of the French workers would never accept the erroneous theories of collectivism. It was repeated again and again that the common sense of the peasants would make them reject any proposal of communal or national property, which could only appeal at most to the proletarians of modern industry, and that the peasants would receive with pitchforks any apostles of socialism who might venture into the villages. Socialism has no message for landowners. Now, in France there are, in the country districts, more than seven million owners of land. It is true that twenty-nine thousand of these own themselves thirty million acres, i.e., about one fourth of all the cultivable land, whilst, on the other hand, five million peasants only possess about six million acres, an average of a little more than an acre apiece. Since this scrap of land is not sufficient for them and their families to live upon, they are obliged to go to work upon the land of the large proprietors, who only leave them this microscopic piece of property in order to keep them in the country and to have at all seasons day-labourers on hand. Thirty million acres are owned by 3,180,000 proprietors, whose holdings range from two and a-half to a hundred and twenty-two acres. These men are so burdened with debts and mortgages that they are only nominal owners. Their land is really in pawn to the banker and the usurer.
This financial situation, although it differs from the situation of industrial property, is, nevertheless, favourable to socialist propaganda, which, as soon as it begins, makes rapid progress wherever propagandists can be found who know how to talk to the peasants about the way in which all their interests are sacrificed, and about the evils they undergo when they try to contend against the large landowners. The French Parti Ouvrier drew up an agricultural programme which was received with joy by those peasants who came across it; and this programme, at the municipal elections of May, 1896, was adopted by municipal councillors who were elected even in the smallest villages. Dr. Delon, who lives, at Nîmes, in the Department of the Gard, represented at the London International Congress the municipal council of a small commune in the Gard, consisting of 97 inhabitants who, although they are all small proprietors, are all socialists, “and who,” says Dr. Delon, “understand that peasant proprietorship is doomed, and must vanish because the means of production in agriculture becoming more and more expensive, and necessitate the possession larger and larger capital.”
The socialists have been helped in their propagandist work by the French Government, which was simple-minded enough to think that it could stop the progress of socialism by persecuting its apostles, It distributed amongst them terms of imprisonment with a free hand, with the sole result of kindling their ardour, which, perhaps, without this persecution, might have cooled down, and indicating them to the workers as men in whom they might place confidence. Carrette and Dormoy, at the present moment the mayors of Roubaix and Montluçon became the leaders of the socialists in their respective towns from the hour that the Government thought fit to send them to prison. Lafargue was in prison for a year – this was the third time that the Republican Government was good enough to provide him with lodging gratis – when the workers of Lille chose him as their representative in the Chamber of Deputies. The masters, on their side, did what they could in the way of persecution. Every working man known as a socialist was dismissed from the workshop and black-listed to all the other masters of the locality, which sooner or later he had to leave, as he was unable to get any work. These persecutions, more dangerous than those of the Government in that they deprived the whole of the worker’s family of bread, were no more effective than the Government persecutions in taking the linch-pin out of the wheels of socialism. The socialists, obliged to quit their own town, carried socialist ideas away with them, and spread them abroad in the places where they went to seek for work. It was Bismarck who sent socialism to the United States, for every socialist whom he expelled from Germany carried socialism to America. The brewers of the northern district of France, although capitalists and reactionaries of the extremist type, took the working men under their wing when they were driven out of the workshops on account of their socialism. And for the following reason: In anyone can, without any licence, set up as a seller of beer and liquors. The brewers, who own numberless small cabarets, placed the socialist victims in them as managers. Solambier, mayor of Calais, Delory, mayor of Lille, and many others, were set up in this way by brewers anxious to get a good sale for their beer. The number of socialist cabaretiers in the north was so great, that the Temps christened the socialist party the party of cabaretiers. The Catholic clergy also lent indirect aid to the propagandists of collectivist theories. When the priests saw the success of the socialists among the working classes, they thought that they had only to imitate them to reconquer for the Church the ancient influence she possessed over the people of the Middle Ages. It was at this time that Pope Leo XIII. sent out his Encyclical upon the condition of the workers, and upon his the priests ventured into public meetings in order to contend with the socialists for the workers who were becoming converts to collectivism. They manufactured a sort of Christian socialism with variations corresponding to the particular surroundings in which it developed. When the Christian socialist found himself in a working-class meeting, face to face with socialist opponents, he talked like them, and railed against the rich with as much fury as St John or Chrysostom and other holy demagogues of the early Church who courted the favour of the plebeians of Constantinople and Alexandria. But when, on the other hand, he laid down his doctrines in a meeting of masters, he became gentle as a lamb, and confined himself to giving the rich such wise and philanthropic advice as not to excite the envious desires of the poor; he only asked them to give to the worker a necessary wage, which in the industrial district of the north the learned doctors of Christian socialism actually raised to the fabulous a amount of 16s. 10d. for a family of five. As the priests called themselves socialists, the word socialism became quite respectable – a word which to many had hitherto signified robbery, arson, murder. And by being present at the meetings and willing to discuss and debate the real merits and demerits of Christianity and socialism in getting rid of the evils of society, it almost always happened that they were beaten compelled to admit that, after eighteen centuries of the Gospel, Christianity had culminated in a capitalist society, which they themselves admitted was intolerable for the workers. The Christian socialists arrived at a result so opposite to that which they were aiming at, that the bishops and archbishops had to stay this crusade, and to forbid the priests to attend these discussions. But by the time they retired from the contest the mischief was done.
Boulangism; which failed to compromise the existence of the Republic, did for one moment put a spoke in the wheel of socialism. Boulangism was the trade union of the discontented. The discontented workers, seeing their lot grow worse and worse with the progress of industry, the radicals discontented at the failure to realise the reforms promised, the business men and the artisans discontented with the stagnation of business, the small capitalists and the thrifty folk discontented at having lost their beloved money in Panamas, Portuguese Loans, & c., the Bonapartists and Monarchists discontented at seeing the Ragbag, as they called the Republic, hold on, turned pell-mell towards General Boulanger and his black horse, as if the rider were in very truth Messiah. Since general discontent is the vivifying force of socialism (if everybody was contented with their lot, there would be no need either of socialism or a Messiah), and Boulangism enlisted all the discontented, it was a terrible rival to socialism. But when the brave General took to his heels at the first threat which Constans made of throwing him into prison, the workers and the radicals, seeing that his competition had been of a disloyal nature, and that he was not the hero they had fancied him, turned again towards socialism, which, not being embodied in a god or a miraculous man, could never disappoint them in like fashion.
Then followed the Panama and other financial scandals, which decapitated all political parties by compromising their leaders to a greater or less extent, and so threw the workers and the small shopkeepers again into the socialist ranks. The masses of the town and country populace, deeply stirred by these events, bore witness to their discontent by voting for the socialists at the election of 1893. Some forty socialist candidates were elected, and even those who did not obtain an actual majority of votes were in a minority so large that it foretold a victory in the near future. At this moment collectivism made two invaluable recruits, Jaurès and Millerand, whose social position and oratorical talents were sure to make collectivism penetrate into circles which had not yet been touched by the militant socialists. The socialist group in the Chamber of Deputies, with its extremely clever parliamentary tactics, became a dangerous party to be reckoned with, a party which overturned certain Ministries and at least one President of the Republic, and which, by its benevolent neutrality alone, gave the Bourgeois Ministry a chance of continuing to hold office; indeed it would have been still in office despite the Senate and the President Felix Faure, but for the cowardice or Bourgeois, who turned tail at the very moment when his adversaries were about to lay down their arms.
The immense success of these parliamentary tactics more than counterbalanced the horror and terror caused by the anarchist outrages, which were more imbecile than criminal, and gave an extraordinary impetus to socialism, since it could now no longer be confounded with anarchism.
The elections of May, 1896, revealed the immense progress that socialism had made in all lands since the year 1893. Towns as important as Lille, Roubaix, Calais, Montluçon, Narbonne, re-elected socialist majorities to administer their affairs; and even where there was only a socialist minority, a socialist mayor was elected, as in the case of Dr. Flaissières at Marseilles, and Cousteau at Bordeaux. But in the small towns and the villages our victories have been especially remarkable. The Parti Ouvrier alone can reckon more than eighteen hundred municipal councillors elected upon its collectivist programme; and at the Lille Congress, which was held a few days before the International Congress in London, thirty-eight socialist municipal councils and twenty-one socialist minorities of municipal councils were represented by their mayors or by delegates chosen by party.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this municipal victory, which the ostrich-like policy of M. Meline has tried to minimise by certain fantastic statistics. He has proved that, as clearly as two and two make four, socialism has lost ground since the municipal elections of 1892. This is a form of ophthalmia not confined the French. Those municipal councils which have been conquered by the socialists have given them valuable lessons in administration. By learning to manage the material interests of a single town, they are preparing themselves for the administration and direction of the affairs of the whole of France. The administrative capacity of the socialists has astonished their foes as much as it has delighted their friends. Workers like Dormoy, a metal-worker, and Carrette, a weaver, who in the whole of their lives had never been masters of £20, between 1892 and 1896 were at the head of the administration of towns whose yearly budget ranged from £80,000 to £200,000, and who have managed to effect economies and to bring about reforms. For example, at Roubaix all the children of the communal schools, some eleven thousand in number, are in part given free food and clothing by the socialist municipality. They receive their dinner at the school, which consists of soup, as much bread as they want, a dish of vegetables, an ounce of meat, boiled or roast, and a glass of beer; and they are given a complete suit of clothes at the beginning of winter and summer. Carrette and his municipal councillors have found means to meet the expense of these “cantines scolaires” without at all increasing the taxes that weigh upon the workers.
Ten or fifteen years ago the Government thought that it must teach people to trust the socialists, then only known for the countless number of crimes of which they were accused, by sentencing them to terms of imprisonment. That day is over. The socialists, whom their most courteous adversaries treat as Utopians quite incapable of any practical action, no longer need this benevolent intervention on the part of the Government. They are even now showing their true value in the municipal councils, are enlisting the sympathies of the workers and of the small shopkeepers, and are even winning the respect of those capitalists who are not absolutely blinded by their own interests. The confidence that the socialist mayors and councillors have inspired in the men they direct will play a great part in the elections of May, 1898. In the small commune it often happens that the vote of the mayor, or even of one councillor, carries in its train the votes of the majority of the electorate.
In my opinion the elections of 1898 will be a victory for socialism; and will prepare its final triumph.
PAUL LAFARGUE, (Translated by Edward Aveling)
1. Among these was the present writer, who was a regular contributor, and who wrote almost all the theoretical articles. Malon, at the same time, brought out the Revue Socialiste, in which Engels published his wonderful “Socialisme utopique et socialisme scientifique,” translated into English by the translator of this article, and published by Messrs. Sonnenschein.