Marxism, Freedom and the State
The doctrinaire school
of Socialists, or rather of German Authoritarian Communists, was
founded a little before 1848, and has rendered, it must be recognized,
eminent services to the cause of the proletariat not only in Germany,
but in Europe. It is to them that belongs principally the great
idea of an "International Workingmen's Association"
and also the initiative for its first realization To-day, they
are to be found at the head of the Social Democratic Labor Party
in Germany, having as its organ the "Volksstaat" ["People's
It is therefore a perfectly respectable school which does not prevent it from displaying a very bad disposition sometimes, and above all from taking for the bases of its theories, a principal which is profoundly true when one considers it in its true light, that is say, from the relative point of view, but which when envisaged and set down in an absolute manner as the only foundation and first source of all other principles, as is done by this school, becomes completely false.
This principle, which constitutes besides the essential basis of scientific Socialism, was for the first time scientifically formulated and developed by Karl Marx, the principal leader of the German Communist school. It forms the dominating thought of the celebrated "Communist Manifesto" which an international Committee of French, English, Belgian and German Communists assembled in London issued in 1848 under the slogan: "Proletarians of all lands, unite !" This manifesto, drafted as everyone knows, by Messrs. Marx and Engels, became the basis of all the further scientific works of the school and of the popular agitation later started by Ferdinand Lassalle in Germany.
This principle is the absolute opposite to that recognized by the Idealists of all schools. Whilst these latter derive all historical facts, including the development of material interests and of the different phases of the economic organization of society, from the development of Ideas, the German Communists, On the contrary, want to see in all human history, in the most idealistic manifestations of the collective well as the individual life of humanity, in all the intellectual, moral, religious, metaphysical, scientific, artistic, political, juridical, and social developments which have been produced in the past and continue to be produced in the present, nothing but the reflections or the necessary after-effects of the development of economic facts. Whilst the Idealists maintain that ideas dominate and produce facts, the Communists, in agreement besides with scientific Materialism say, on the contrary, that facts give birth to ideas and that these latter are never anything else but the ideal expression of accomplished facts and that among all the facts, economic and material facts, the pre-eminent facts, constitute the essential basis, the principal foundation of which all the other facts, intellectual and moral, political and social, are nothing more than the inevitable derivatives.
We, who are Materialists and Determinists, just as much as Marx himself, we also recognize the inevitable linking of economic and political facts in history. We recognize, indeed, the necessity, the inevitable character of all events that happen, but we do not bow before them indifferently and above all we are very careful about praising them when, by their nature, they show themselves in flagrant opposition to the supreme end of history to the thoroughly human ideal that is to be found under more or less obvious forms, in the instincts, the aspirations of the people and under all the religious symbols of all epochs, because it is inherent in the human race, the most social of all the races of animals on earth. Thus this ideal, to-day better understood than ever, can be summed up in the words: It is the triumph of humanity, it is the conquest and accomplishment of the full freedom and full development, material, intellectual and moral, of every individual, by the absolutely free and spontaneous organization of economic and social solidarity as completely as possible between all human beings living on the earth.
Everything in history that shows itself conformable to that end, from the human point of view–and we can have no other–is good; all that is contrary to it is bad. We know very well, in any case, that what we call good and bad are always, one and the other, the natural results of natural causes, and that consequently one is as inevitable the other. But as in what is properly called Nature we recognize many necessities that we are little disposed to bless, for example the necessity of dying of hydrophobia when bitten by a mad dog, in the same way, in that immediate continuation of the life of Nature, called History, we encounter many necessities which we find much more worthy of opprobrium than of benediction and which we believe we should stigmatize with all the energy of which we are capable, in the interest of our social and individual morality, although we recognize that from the moment they have been accomplished, even the most detestable historic facts have that character of inevitability which is found in all the phenomena of Nature as well as those of history.
To make my idea clearer, I shall illustrate it by some examples. When I study the respective social and political conditions in which the Romans and the Greeks came into contact towards the decline of Antiquity, I arrive at the conclusion that the conquest and destruction by the military and civic barbarism of the Romans, of the comparatively high standard of human liberty of Greece was a logical, natural, absolutely inevitable fact. But that does not prevent me at all from taking retrospectively and very firmly, the side of Greece against Rome in that struggle, and I find that the human race gained absolutely nothing by the triumph of the Romans.
In the same way, I consider as perfectly natural, logical, and consequently inevitable fact, that Christians should have destroyed with a holy fury all the libraries of the Pagans, all the treasures of Art, and of ancient philosophy and science. But it is absolutely impossible for me to grasp what advantages have resulted from it for our political and social development. I am even very much disposed to think that apart from that inevitable process of economic facts in which, if one were to believe Marx, there must be sought to the exclusion of all other considerations, the only cause of all the intellectual and moral facts which are produced in history–I say I am strongly disposed to think that this act of holy barbarity, or rather that long series of barbarous acts and crimes which the first Christians, divinely inspired, committed against the human spirit, was one of the principal causes of the intellectual and moral degradation and consequently also of the political and social enslavement which filled that long series of baneful centuries called the Middle Ages. Be sure of this, that if the first Christians had not destroyed the libraries, Museums, and Temples of antiquity, we should not have been condemned to-day to fight the mass of horrible and shameful absurdities, which still obstruct men's brains to such a degree as to make us doubt sometimes the possibility of a more human future.
Following on with the same order of protests against facts which have happened in history and of which consequently I myself recognize the inevitable character, I pause before the splendor of the Italian Republics and before the magnificent awakening of human genius in the epoch of the Renaissance. Then I see approaching the two evil geniuses, as ancient as history itself, the two boa-constrictors which up till now have devoured everything human and beautiful that history has produced. They are called the Church and the State the Papacy and the Empire. Eternal evils and inseparable allies, I see them become reconciled, embrace each other and together devour and stifle and crush that unfortunate and too beautiful Italy, condemn her to three centuries of death. Well, again I find all that very natural, logical, inevitable, but nevertheless abominable, and I curse both Pope and Emperor at the same time.
Let us pass on to France. After a struggle which lasted a century Catholicism, supported by the State, finally triumphed there over Protestantism. Well, do I not still find in France to-day some politicians or historians of the fatalist school and who, calling themselves Revolutionaries, consider this victory of Catholicism–a bloody and inhuman victory if ever there was one–-as a veritable triumph for the Revolution? Catholicism, they maintain, was then the State, democracy, whilst Protestantism represented the revolt of the aristocracy again the State and consequently against democracy. It is with sophisms like that-completely identical besides with the Marxian sophisms, which, also, consider the triumphs of the State as those of Social Democracy–it is with these absurdities, as disgusting as revolting, that the mind and moral sense of the masses is perverted, habituating them to consider their blood-thirsty exploiters, their age-long enemies, their tyrants, the masters and the servants of the State, as the organs, representatives, heroes, devoted servants of their emancipation.
It is a thousand times right to say that Protestantism then, not as Calvinist theology, but as an energetic and armed protest, represented revolt, liberty, humanity, the destruction of the State; whilst Catholicism was public order, authority, divine law, the salvation of the State by the Church and the Church by the State, the condemnation of human society to a boundless and endless slavery.
Whilst recognizing the inevitability of the accomplished fact, I do not hesitate to say that the triumph of Catholicism in France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a great misfortune for the whole human race, and that the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, as well as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, were facts as disastrous for France herself as were lately the defeat and massacre of the people of Paris in the Commune. I have actually heard very intelligent and very estimable Frenchmen explain this defeat of Protestantism in France by the essentially revolutionary nature of the French people. "Protestantism," they said, "was only a semi-revolution; we needed a complete revolution; it is for that reason that the French nation did not wish, and was not able to stop at the Reformation. It preferred to remain Catholic till the moment when it could proclaim Atheism; and it is because of that that it bore with such a perfect and Christian resignation both the horrors of Saint Bartholomew and those not less abominable of the executors of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes."
These estimable patriots do not seem to want to consider one thing It is that a people, who under whatsoever pretext it may be, suffers tyranny, necessarily loses at length the salutory habit of revolt and even the very instinct of revolt. It loses the feeling for liberty, and once a people has lost all that, it necessarily becomes not only by its outer conditions, but in itself, in the very essence of its being, a people of slaves. It was because Protestantism was defeated in France that the French people lost, or rather, never acquired, the custom of liberty. It is because this tradition and this custom are lacking in it that it has not to-day what we call political consciousness, and it is because it is lacking in this consciousness that all the revolutions it has made up to now have not been able to give it or secure it political liberty. With the exception of its great revolutionary days, which are its festival days, the French people remain to-day as yesterday, a people of slaves.
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