Articles for The New Moral World by Frederick Engels

Progress of Social Reform On the Continent

Written: October 23 1843;
First published: in The New Moral World, 3rd Series, Nos. 19, Nov. 4, 1843;
Signed: F. Engels;
Printed: according to the newspaper. English original;
Transcribed: in 2000 for by Andy Blunden.

The New Moral World No. 19, November 4, 1843

It has always been in some degree surprising to me, ever since I met with English Socialists, to find that most of them are very little acquainted with the social movement going on in different parts of the continent. And yet there are more than half a million of Communists in France, not taking into account the Fourierists, and other less radical Social reformers; there are Communist associations in every part of Switzerland, sending forth missionaries to Italy, Germany, and even Hungary; and German philosophy, after a long and troublesome circuit, has at last settled upon Communism.

Thus, the three great and civilised countries of Europe — England, France, and Germany, have all come to the conclusion, that a thorough revolution of social arrangements, based on community of property, has now become an urgent and unavoidable necessity. This result is the more striking, as it was arrived at by each of the above nations independently of the others; a fact, than which there can be no stronger proof, that Communism is not the consequence of the particular position of the English, or any other nation, but that it is a necessary conclusion, which cannot he avoided to be drawn from the premises given in the general facts of modern civilisation.

It must, therefore, appear desirable, that the three nations should understand each other, should know how far they agree, and how far they disagree; because there must be disagreement also, owing to the different origin of the doctrine of Community in each of the three countries. The English came to the conclusion practically, by the rapid increase of misery, demoralisation, and pauperism in their own country: the French politically, by first asking for political liberty and equality; and, finding this insufficient, joining social liberty, and social equality to their political claims: the Germans became Communists philosophically, by reasoning upon first principles. This being the origin of Socialism in the three countries, there must exist differences upon minor points; but I think I shall be able to show that these differences are very insignificant, and quite consistent with the best feeling on the part of the Social reformers of each country towards those of the other. The thing wanted is, that they should know each other; this being obtained, I am certain, they all will have the best wishes for the success of their foreign brother Communists.


France is, since the Revolution, the exclusively political country of Europe. No improvement, no doctrine can obtain national importance in France, unless embodied in some political shape. It seems to be the part the French nation have to perform in the present stage of the history of mankind, to go through all the forms of political development, and to arrive, from a merely political beginning, at the point where all nations, all different paths, must meet at Communism. The development of the public mind in France shows this clearly, and shows at the same time, what the future history of the English Chartists must be.

The French Revolution was the rise of democracy in Europe. Democracy is, as I take all forms of government to be, a contradiction in itself, an untruth, nothing but hypocrisy (theology, as we Germans call it), at the bottom. Political liberty is sham-liberty, the worst possible slavery; the appearance of liberty, and therefore the reality of servitude. Political equality is the same; therefore democracy, as well as every other form of government, must ultimately break to pieces: hypocrisy cannot subsist, the contradiction hidden in it must come out; we must have either a regular slavery — that is, an undisguised despotism, or real liberty, and real equality — that is, Communism. Both these consequences were brought out in the French Revolution; Napoleon established the first, and Babeuf the second. I think I may be short upon the subject of Babouvism, as the history of his conspiracy, by Buonarroti, has been translated into the English language. The Communist plot did not succeed, because the then Communism itself was of a very rough and superficial kind; and because, on the other hand, the public mind was not yet far enough advanced.

The next French Social reformer was Count de Saint-Simon. He succeeded in getting up a sect, and even some establishments; none of which succeeded. The general spirit of the Saint-Simonian doctrines is very much like that of the Ham-Common Socialists, in England; although, in the detail of the arrangements and ideas, there is a great difference. The singularities and eccentricities of the Saint-Simonians very soon became the victims of French wit and satire; and everything once made ridiculous is inevitably lost in France. But, besides this, there were other causes for the failure of the Saint-Simonian establishments; all the doctrines of this party were enveloped in the clouds of an unintelligible mysticism, which, perhaps, in the beginning, attract the attention of the people; but, at last, must leave their expectations disappointed. Their economical principles, too, were not unexceptionable; the share of each of the members of their communities in the distribution of produce was to be regulated, firstly, by the amount of work he had done; and, secondly, the amount of talent he displayed. A German Republican, Boerne, justly replied to this principle, that talent, instead of being rewarded, ought rather to be considered as a natural preference; and, therefore, a deduction ought to be made from the share of the talented, in order to restore equality.

Saint-Simonism, after having excited, like a brilliant meteor, the attention of the thinking, disappeared from the Social horizon. Nobody now thinks of it, or speaks of it; its time is past.

Nearly at the same time with Saint-Simon, another man directed the activity of his mighty intellect to the social state of mankind — Fourier. Although Fourier’s writings do not display those bright sparks of genius which we find in Saint-Simon’s and some of his disciples; although his style is hard, and shows, to a considerable extent, the toil with which the author is always labouring to bring out his ideas, and to speak out things for which no words are provided in the French language — nevertheless, we read his works with greater pleasure; and find more real value in them, than in those of the preceding school. There is mysticism, too, and as extravagant as any, but this you may cut off and throw it aside, and there will remain something not to be found among the Saint-Simonians — scientific research, cool, unbiased, systematic thought; in short, social philosophy; whilst Saint-Simonism can only be called social poetry. It was Fourier, who, for the first time, established the great axiom of social philosophy, that every individual having an inclination or predilection for some particular kind of work, the sum of all these inclinations of all individuals must be, upon the whole, an adequate power for providing for the wants of all. From this principle, it follows, that if every individual is left to his own inclination, to do and to leave what he pleases, the wants of all will be provided for, without the forcible means used by the present system of society. This assertion looks bold, and yet, after Fourier’s mode of establishing it, is quite unassailable, almost self-evident — the egg of Columbus. Fourier proves, that every one is born with an inclination for some kind of work, that absolute idleness is nonsense, a thing which never existed, and cannot exist: that the essence of the human mind is to be active itself, and to bring the body into activity; and that, therefore, there is no necessity for making the people active by force, as in the now existing state of society, but only to give their natural activity the right direction. He goes on proving the identity of labour and enjoyment, and shows the irrationality of the present social system, which separates them, making labour a toil, and placing enjoyment above the reach of the majority of the labourers; he shows further, how, under rational arrangements, labour may be made, what it is intended to be, an enjoyment, leaving every one to follow his own inclinations. I cannot, of course, follow Fourier through the whole of his theory of free labour, and I think this will be sufficient to show the English Socialists that Fourierism is a subject well worthy of their attention.

Another of the merits of Fourier is to have shown the advantages — nay, the necessity of association. It will be sufficient only to mention this subject, as I know the English to be fully aware of its importance.

There is one inconsistency, however, in Fourierism, and a very important one too, and that is, his nonabolition of private property. In his Phalanstères or associative establishments, there are rich and poor, capitalists and working men. The property of all members is placed into a joint stock, the establishment carries on commerce, agricultural and manufacturing industry, and the proceeds are divided among the members; one part as wages of labour, another as reward for skill and talent, and a third as profits of capital. Thus, after all the beautiful theories of association and free labour; after a good deal of indignant declamation against commerce, selfishness, and competition, we have in practice the old competitive system upon an improved plan, a poor-law bastile on more liberal principles! Certainly, here we cannot stop; and the French, too, have not stopped here.

The progress of Fourierism in France was slow, but regular. There are not a great many Fourierists, but they count among their numbers a considerable portion of the intellect now active in France. Victor Considérant is one of their cleverest writers. They have a newspaper, too, the Phalange, published formerly three times a week, now daily.

As the Fourierists are now represented in England also by Mr. Doherty, I think I may have said enough concerning them, and now pass to the most important and most radical party in France, the Communists.

I said before, that everything claiming national importance in France must be of a political nature, or it will not succeed. Saint-Simon and Fourier did not touch politics at all, and their schemes, therefore, became not the common property of the nation, but only subjects of private discussion. We have seen how Babeuf’s Communism arose out of the democracy of the first revolution. The second revolution, of 1830, gave rise to another and more powerful Communism. The “great week” of 1830 was accomplished by the union of the middle and working classes, the liberals and the republicans. After the work was done, the working classes were dismissed, and the fruits of the revolution were taken possession of by the middle classes only. The working men got up several insurrections, for the abolition of political monopoly, and the establishment of a republic, but were always defeated; the middle class having not only the army on their side, but forming themselves the national guard besides. During this time (1834 or 1835) a new doctrine sprang up among the republican working men. They saw that even after having succeeded in their democratic plans, they would continue the dupes of their more gifted and better educated leaders, and that their social condition, the cause of their political discontent, would not be bettered by any political change whatsoever. They referred to the history of the great revolution, and eagerly seized upon Babeuf’s Communism. This is all that can, with safety, be asserted concerning the origin of modern Communism in France; the subject was first discussed in the dark lanes and crowded alleys of the Parisian suburb, Saint-Antoine, and soon after in the secret assemblies of conspirators. Those who know more about its origin are very careful to keep their knowledge to themselves, in order to avoid the “strong arm of the law”. However, Communism spread rapidly over Paris, Lyons, Toulouse, and the other large and manufacturing towns of the realm; various secret associations followed each other, among which the “Travailleurs Egalitaires”, or Equalitarian Working Men, and the Humanitarians,"” were the most considerable. The Equalitarians were rather a “rough set”, like the Babouvists of the great revolution; they purposed making the world a working-man’s community, putting down every refinement of civilisation, science, the fine arts, etc., as useless, dangerous, and aristocratic luxuries, a prejudice necessarily arising from their total ignorance of history and political economy. The Humanitarians, were known particularly for their attacks on marriage, family, and other similar institutions. Both these, as well as two or three other parties, were very short-lived, and the great bulk of the French working classes adopted, very soon, the tenets propounded by M. Cabet, “Père Cabet” (Father C.), as he is called, and which are known on the continent under the name of Icarian Communism.

This sketch of the History of Communism in France shows, in some measure, what the difference of French and English Communism must be. The origin of Social reform, in France, is a political one; it is found, that democracy cannot give real equality, and therefore the Community scheme is called to its aid. The bulk of the French Communists are, therefore, republicans besides; they want a community state of society, under a republican form of government. Now, I do not think that the English Socialists would have serious objections to this; because, though they are more favourable to an elective monarchy, I know them to be too enlightened to force their kind of government upon a people totally opposed to it. It is evident, that to try this would involve this people in far greater disorders and difficulties than would arise from their own democratic mode of government, even supposing this to be bad.

But there are other objections that could be made to the French Communists. They intend overthrowing the present government of their country by force, and have shown this by their continual policy of secret associations. This is true. Even the Icarians, though they declare in their publications that they abhor physical revolutions and secret societies, even they are associated in this manner, and would gladly seize upon any opportunity to establish a republic by force. This will be objected to, I dare say, and rightly, because, at any rate, secret associations are always contrary to common prudence, inasmuch as they make the parties liable to unnecessary legal persecutions. I am not inclined to defend such a line of policy, but it has to be explained, to be accounted for; and it is fully done so by the difference of the French and English national character and government. The English constitution has now been, for about one hundred and fifty years, uninterruptedly, the law of the land; every change has been made by legal means, by constitutional forms; therefore the English must have a strong respect for their laws. But, in France, during the last fifty years, one forced alteration has followed the other; all constitutions, from radical democracy to open despotism, all kinds of laws were, after a short existence, thrown away and replaced by others; how can the people then respect their laws? And the result of all these convulsions, as now established in the French constitution and laws, is the oppression of the poor by the rich, an oppression kept up by force — how can it be expected that the oppressed should love their public institutions, that they should not resort to the old tricks of 1792? They know that, if they are anything, they are it by meeting force by force, and having, at present, no other means, why should they hesitate a moment to apply this? It will be said further: why do not the French Communists establish communities, as the English have done? My reply is, because they dare not. If they did, the first experiment would be put down by soldiers. And if they were suffered to do so, it would be of no use to them. I always understood the Harmony Establishment to be only an experiment, to show the possibility of Mr. Owen’s plans, if put into practice, to force public opinion to a more favourable idea of the Socialist schemes for relieving public distress. Well, if that be the case, such an experiment would be of no avail in France. Show the French, not that your plans are practical, because that would leave them cool and indifferent. Show them that your communities will not place mankind under an “ironbound despotism”, as Mr. Bairstow the Chartist said, in his late discussion with Mr. Watts. Show them that real liberty and real equality will be only possible under Community arrangements, show them that justice demands such arrangements, and then you will have them all on your side.

But to return to the social doctrines of the Icarian Communists. Their “holy book” is the Voyage en Icarie (Travels in Icaria) of Father Cabet, who, by-the-by, was formerly Attorney-General, and Member of the Chamber of Deputies. The general arrangements for their Communities are very little different to those of Mr. Owen. They have embodied in their plans everything rational they found in Saint-Simon and Fourier; and, therefore, are very much superior to the old French Communists. As to marriage, they perfectly agree with the English. Everything possible is done to secure the liberty of the individual. Punishments are to be abolished, and to be replaced by education of the young, and rational mental treatment of the old.

It is, however, curious, that whilst the English Socialists are generally opposed to Christianity, and have to suffer all the religious prejudices of a really Christian people, the French Communists, being a part of a nation celebrated for its infidelity, are themselves Christians. One of their favourite axioms is, that Christianity is Communism, “le Christianisme c'est le Communisme”. This they try to prove by the bible, the state of community in which the first Christians are said to have lived, etc. But all this shows only, that these good people are not the best Christians, although they style themselves so; because if they were, they would know the bible better, and find that, if some few passages of the bible may be favourable to Communism, the general spirit of its doctrines is, nevertheless, totally opposed to it, as well as to every rational measure.

The rise of Communism has been hailed by most of the eminent minds in France; Pierre Leroux, the metaphysician; George Sand, the courageous defender of the rights of her sex; Abbé de Lamennais, author of the Words of a Believer and a great many others, are, more or less, inclined towards the Communist doctrines. The most important writer, however, in this line is Proudhon, a young man, who published two or three years ago his work: What is Property? (Qu'est ce que la Propriété?) where he gave the answer: “La propriété c'est le vol”, Property is robbery. This is the most philosophical work, on the part of the Communists, in the French language; and, if I wish to see any French book translated into the English language, it is this. The right of private property, the consequences of this institution, competition, immorality, misery, are here developed with a power of intellect, and real scientific research, which I never since found united in a single volume. Besides this, he gives very important remarks on government, and having proved that every kind of government is alike objectionable, no matter whether it be democracy, aristocracy, or monarchy, that all govern by force; and that, in the best of all possible cases, the force of the majority oppresses the weakness of the minority, he comes, at last, to the conclusion: “Nous voulons l'anarchie!” What we want is anarchy; the rule of nobody, the responsibility of every one to nobody but himself.

Upon this subject I shall have to speak more, when I come to the German Communists. I have now only to add, that the French Icarian Communists are estimated at about half a million in number, women and children not taken into account. A pretty respectable phalanx, isn’t it? They have a monthly paper, the Populaire, edited by Father Cabet; and, besides this, P. Leroux publishes a periodical, the Independent Review, in which the tenets of Communism are philosophically advocated.

F. Engels
Manchester, Oct. 23, 1843