Originally published in French in Le Socialiste, No.135, 23 April 1893. 
This version from G. Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Vol.1, Moscow n.d., pp.539-541.
Translated by R. Dixon.
Transcribed by Omar Pie & Robert Cymbala.
Corrected & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
“The almost universal unhappiness of men and of peoples depends on the imperfection of their laws and the too unequal distribution of their wealth. In the majority of kingdoms there are only two classes of citizens: one which has not the necessary and the other which has the superfluous in abundance. The former can provide for its needs only by excessive labour. This labour is a physical evil for all and a torture for some.
“The second class lives in abundance but also in miserable boredom. And boredom is an evil almost as fearful as indigence. Most of the empires must therefore be populated only by unhappy people. What must be done to restore happiness? Diminish the wealth of some, increase that of others; place the poor man in such a state of ease that he may provide abundantly for his needs and those of his family by working seven or eight hours. It is then that he will be about as happy as he can be.” 
This was the way Helvetius reasoned more than a hundred years ago, convinced that “if in general labour is regarded as an evil, it is because in most states the means necessary for subsistence are acquired only by unbearable labour, because as a result the idea of labour is always connected with the idea of suffering”.  “Moderate labour”, he added, “is in general the happiest use that we can make of time if we do not surrender to any other feelings of delight, which, without doubt and notwithstanding all their brilliance, are less lasting.” 
Helvetius was undeniably a convinced bourgeois. For him the right of property was the “first and most sacred of all rights”. But the bourgeois of his time were not like those of today. The bourgeoisie were then capable of noble strivings. Fighting the clergy and the nobility, the “powers that be”, the “lords” and the “ privileged”, they were fighting for the cause of entire humanity. The ideal of their educated representatives was not a society in which a few thousand capitalists live by the sweat of millions of workers. On the contrary, the philosophers of the eighteenth century dreamed of a society consisting of property-owners unequal in wealth but all independent and every one working for himself. This was an impracticable dream. It contradicted all the laws of capitalist production.
But as long as the philosophers cherished this dream they could not become defenders of the exploiters. And often enough they said fairly unpleasant things to the latter.
So Helvetius already understood that the interests of employers are contradictory to the interests of the entire “nation” as a whole. “In a certain respect”, he said, “nothing contradicts the national interest so much as the presence of a too large number of people who have no property. At the same time, nothing corresponds better to the interests of the merchants. The bigger the number of propertyless, the less the merchants pay for their labour ... And in a trading country the merchants are often the effective force.”  (Helvetius meant in a country with capitalist production.)
Holbach, another philosopher of the revolutionary bourgeoisie, was indignant at a system under which “whole nations must work and sweat, and water the land with their tears merely to feed the whims, luxury, fantasy and perverted tastes of a handful of madmen, a few useless people who cannot be happy because their disorderly imagination no longer knows any bounds”.
Helvetius already foresaw what would be the moral consequences of the struggle for existence going on in bourgeois society.
He said that in all countries where “money circulation exists” there arises the striving to become rich at any cost. But the “passion for enrichment cannot extend to all classes of citizens without giving rise at the same time among the ruling classes to a propensity to theft and abuse”.
Then they start avidly on “building ports, producing armaments, establishing trading companies, and waging wars for the honour of the nation, according to the favourite expression—in a word on any pretext for plunder. In the state there appear at the same time all vices, those offshoots of cupidity; they infect all its members and finally lead the state to ruin.” 
Thus, the Tunisian and Panama scandals were prophesied more than a century ago.
Circumstances have undergone a great change since the time of Helvetius. In our days every self-respecting bourgeois considers it his sacred duty to oppose the eight-hour working day and all other demands of the exploited. Whereas the productive forces of modern societies are developing on a scale so far unheard of, Messrs. The exploiters will not even listen to anything about easing the labour of the workers. And while, because of the “passion for enrichment”, the perversion of the bourgeoisie exceeds everything their enemies can imagine, they try to convince us that the bourgeois world is the best of all.
Will we swallow the bait of the sycophants of the bourgeoisie?
The working day that Helvetius once dreamed of and which the working class of the whole world is now demanding will not make the worker “about as happy as he can be”. But it will give him a new weapon in the struggle for his complete and final emancipation.
Circumstances have undergone a great change since the time of Helvetius. In nour days every bourgeois who respects himself considers it his sacred duty to oppose the eight-hour working dayand all other demands of teh exploited. Whereas the productive forces of modern societies are developing on scale so far unheard of, Messrs. the exploiters will not even listen to anything about easing the labour of the workers. And while, because of the “passion for enrickment”, the perversion of the bourgeoisie exceeds everything their enemies can imagine, they try to convince us that the bourgeois world is the best of all.
The working day that Helvetius once dreamed of and which the working class of teh whole world is now demanding will not make the worker “as happy as he can be”. But it will give him a new weapon in the struggle for his complegte and final emancipation.
Helvetius did not know the “medicine” for the “evil” which he foresaw. But we know it, and it is a reliable medicine. It is the dictatorship of the proletariat as a means to attain the end which is the socialist organisation of production.
1. Plekhanov wrote Bourgeois of Days Gone By in connection with the international proletarian holiday of May 1 for the French journal Le Socialiste. It was published in No.135 of that journal, April 23, 1893, under the title Les bourgeois d’autrefois. In Russian it was first published in Plekhanov’s Works after his death.
In the present edition it is given according to the text of the Works (1923-1927) checked with the French edition of the article in Le Socialiste.
2. See Claude-Adrien Helvetius, De l’homme, de ses facultés intellectuelles et de son éducation.
Last updated on 17.10.2006