Étienne Cabet 1842
Written: September 25, 1842;
Translated: from the original for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2005.
Yet another serious writing that combats communism by twisting it.
Already in September 1841 the Revue des Deux Mondes attacked communism and the National of September 2, 1841 repeated these attacks.
We answered the Revue and the Journal in the Populaire of September 5...Here is a new attack, more lively still on the part of the same Revue, but our previous refutations authorize us to respond briefly.
Revue des Deux Mondes – In the issue of July 1842 M. Louis Reybaud examines “Communist Ideas and Sects.” But this examination appears to have nothing serious about it, nothing truly philosophical; for the writer misrepresents true communism, avoids the real question, and does nothing that is necessary to understand and appreciate a doctrine, a system adopted by too many eminent men for it to be permitted to not seriously examine it. A few quotations will suffice to justify what I have just written:
As is common, after having treated communism as a dream the author adds:
“They don’t content themselves with feeding these illusions; they try to impose them by force. They want to make the universe an accomplice in their delirium. It is perhaps on this level that the history of these vertigos is not without interest.”
No. We Icarian communists, as the author calls us, want to impose nothing, and we have said this too often for a critic to be permitted to ignore it.
“It is true that Plato said two thousand years ago, when speaking of his imaginary republic: ‘wherever it is realized or is to be realized it is necessary that wealth be held in common among citizens, and that the greatest care must be taken in cutting the very word ‘property’ off from the business of life. But Plato created an ideal and cast it out beyond the confines of the possible. He abandoned the real world to enter the world of fables.”
But doesn’t the quotation from Plato prove exactly the contrary, since he says:
“Wherever it is realized or is to be realized?”
“Plato opposed to the vices of a civilization existing in time the fiction of the marvels of a chimerical society. He used a plan for a society in order to end in a lesson in morality.”
Well, then! Even if our communism were nothing but a lesson in morality against the unquestionable vices of current civilization, would it not then deserve even more consideration?
“It can’t be said that the Community has never been attempted. It was several times. The Therapeutics and the Essenes left traces in history and imitators over the course of the centuries.”
In all good conscience, is this an argument worthy of a serious writer? Have there not been things vainly attempted a thousand times that were then attempted with success? It would be necessary to renounce representative government, the republic, universal peace, etc., so often and fruitlessly attempted. Today’s community and the present circumstances, are they the same as the community and the circumstances of old? Can our industrial and productive might be ignored? Our machines? Our railroads, etc, etc.?
“It seems to us that the spectacle of aborted efforts should have sufficed to turn contemporary minds, even the sickest ones, away from a pursuit so often recognized as vain. But such is not the case: man willingly plays the role of the insect who eternally burns himself on the same flame.”
So Galileo and Christopher Columbus, and Fulton and so many thousand others were nothing but insects! They eternally burned their wings by persevering in ideas that the world rejected as madness and that the world ended by adopting as benefits!
“Until now this equality, source of all happiness, has hardly ever shown itself except by sacrifices. It disposed of the individual like an automaton, abolished family relations by taking away children, suppressed arts and letters in the interest of the common ignorance.”
But this is precisely the contrary of what is seen in Icaria!
“We remember the incident of a communist trial where the editor-in-chief of an accused paper (l'Humanitaire) declared with naiveté that he didn’t know how to either read or write.”
But this is completely false! The defendant in question was not the editor in chief. And this is how philosophical criticism is done!
After having said that one of the communist sects prohibits the discussion of the principle of Community he gratuitously generalizes this fact and reasons as if all communists prohibit this discussion!
And he reasons, according to this supposition, that the communists want neither labor nor the development of human activity, culture or intelligence. But things are precisely the contrary in Icaria! How can one discuss with a critic who misrepresents all facts and speaks contrary to the truth?
M. Louis Reybaud, forgetting the mass of sects, journals, revues and systems that divide each party, mocks Communism for the diversity of its ideas.
“It would be difficult to say in what consist the nuances that divide the communists. Perhaps one should see there naught but a difference in names. Nevertheless, the Egalitaires, the Fraternitaires, the Humanitaires, the Unitaires, the Communitaires or Icariens, the Communists, the Comunionnistes, the Communautistes, and the Rationalistes are all cited.
But almost all of this is erroneous, imaginary, invented by the critic in an effort to ridicule (which is hardly philosophical). M. Louis Reybaud knows communism less well than M. Bastard de l'Estang who, in his Quenisset Report, divides the communists into two categories, the Icarians who adopt the family, and the editors of l'Humanitaire, who reject the family.
“Among the writings of our day that have presented themselves as the interpreters of Communist principles there are few that merit the honors of a refutation...Among the avowed Communists there figures the author of ‘A Voyage in Icaria'”
M. Louis Reybaud only speaks of this work, without citing any other, while M. Thore only uses others without speaking of it! Thus, M. Louis Reybaud, like M. Bastard de l'Estang consider “The Voyage in Icaria” as the principal interpreter of Communism!
But when M. Reybaud wants to give an idea of Icaria, he twists almost all the facts in order to have a pretext for mockery (as if it meant something that a writer obtained the facile merit of mocking something by twisting it!)
Nevertheless, despite the haughty tone he affects, if M. Louis Reybaud wants to seriously, honestly, and philosophically discuss the Icarian system, we would dare to push our temerity so far as to respond to all his arguments, and we are presumptuous enough to believe that we would answer in such a way as to convince him that he is ignorant of many things, and that in this case he is entirely wrong.
“In absolutely no Communist charter is there room for intellectual labor. Brute production and its physical needs despotically reign. Delicate creations, refined satisfactions only figure there in a subaltern position: they are not formally recognized. At the very best they are tolerated. Is this a situation which writers can recognize without failing their very dignity? Communism excludes letters, yet it finds in letters defenders and apologists.”
But this, too, is an error, a materially false affirmation! There is no system, NONE, which so cultivates and develops intelligence and thought as the Icarian system! And what kind of portrait has the author just drawn of WRITERS, of MEN OF LETTERS? Doesn’t he fear painting them as the very type of egoists and materialists?
He reasons as if the Community constitutes the despotism and enslavement of the individual. But it is precisely the contrary in Icaria, for we there see the sovereignty of the people, the most perfect democracy, universal suffrage for citizens who are completely free and whose existence is assured by their labor, and finally the participation of all in the making of laws, i.e., the most real of freedoms. To suppose the contrary about the community is to create at will a phantom in order to have the pleasure of more easily combating it!
The author says that M. Pierre Leroux is a Communist. All the better! We would be happy to see him at the head of the Communists!
He reproaches him for his denial, and addresses these remarkable words to him:
“In truth, it is difficult to understand why M. Pierre Leroux thus retreats before his own ideas. The theoretical discussion of the Community offers no dangers. The principle can be openly confessed, and every day this is freely done. The conscience is not enchained by this point, and it doesn’t seem that persecution has attached itself to purely speculative doctrines. If this right, maintained in almost all times, were to be seriously threatened, there is not a single independent pen that wouldn’t be ready to defend it.”
We make note of this important avowal on the part of a governmental writer.
September 25, 1842