Socialistic Letters

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These ten letters, by Ernest Lesigne, first appeared in Le Radical as "Lettres Socialistes." Six were translated by Benjamin R. Tucker and published in Liberty.



Le Radical, February 13, 1887, 1-2.

Socialistic Letters.

[Le Radical.]

I have already told you, my dear friend, that the socialization of the means of production is a dogma; that a dogma is proclaimed, taught, imposed; that it has its faithful, its apostles its sectarians, its priests, its martyrs, and its visionaries; but that it is not opened, justified, demonstrated.

The dogma is by nature mysterious and obscure, and you ask me to throw some light upon it, on the ground that I have taken as my motto, "Whatsoever is not clear is not true."

Has any one ever thrown light on the dogmas of transubstantiation, incarnation, and the trinity? And yet millions and millions of men have believed in them. For them men have disputed with each other, beaten each other, tortured each other; for them generations, entire nations have been annihilated; and they have cost the wars of the Albigenses, the massacres of the sixteenth century, Saint Bartholomew, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the Inquisition.

The socialization of the means of production is the religion of the day; it has its adepts from the North to the South, from the Orient to the Occident; it is confessed in journals, magazines, meetings, congresses; it commands armies; and you, profane man, ask it to bring you proofs!

Have its adherents asked for proofs? And they are almost as numerous as the stars of heaven—visible to the naked eye. Have its apostles, its leaders themselves asked for proofs? They have believed, believe! They have followed, follow! They have given the word of commend, obey!

You make objection that you, being a libertarian, are not obedient; that to follow under such conditions is to take one's place among Panurge's sheep; and you send me the triumphant argument that you cannot believe without knowing.

Alas! no more can I.

Let us learn, then; and since one is never so well informed as by himself, let us inform ourselves and run for a little while, over mountains and through valleys, to lay hold of the said dogma and find out for ourselves whether it is so refractory to analysis.

It forms a part of the Christian baggage. Christianity is a championship of the exploited, the wretched, the poor, against the exploiters, the powerful, the rich.

Against the iniquity of distribution it has protested by the instinctive as well as unconscious cry of every social revolution in its infancy: Communism,

Listen to the fathers of the Church

Saint Basil says: "The rich man is a thief."

Saint John Chrysostom: "The rich man is a brigand."

Saint Jerome: "Opulence is always the result of robbery."

Saint Clement: "It was iniquity that gave rise to private property."


No more private property, everything in common, and then no more thieves, no more brigands, no more opulence, and no more iniquity.

You see, the solution is simple, direct convenient, and easily dispenses with knowledge and even with thought. It may be subject to some illusions and disenchantments.

Application (Acts, 4. 34 and following):

"Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,"—today they would add tools, and the distribution indicated in the next verse would be made in kind,— "And laid them down at the apostles' feet, and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need,"

That is the pure Communistic doctrine, as simple as the child just born, and not yet adulterated in view of the resistance of those people who, under the pretext of liberty, are disinclined to go to lay no matter what at the feet of no matter whom, and to go to beg, from the hands of no matter whom, no matter what.


"But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,

"And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.

"But Peter said: Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?" the auditor of the time, "and to keep back part of the price of the land?"

"And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things"

Christian Communism inaugurated the tradition of all Communisms, past and future, which have always included in their methods of action a salutary terrorism.

"And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him,"

To add to the terror:

"And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.

"And Peter answered unto her: 'Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much?' And she said: 'Yea, for so much.'

"Then Peter said unto her, 'How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the auditing committee? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out,'

"Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.

"And great fear came upon all the church."

And this is the way they establish good communities.

This fear aiding, they continued, in the course of the centuries, to bring the prices of things, then the things themselves, actual property real and personal, and place them in the hands of the Christian collectivity, as it is called today.

You understand, of course, that the "hands of the collectivity" is a metaphorical expression, and that these hands practically resolve themselves into a certain number of individuals appointed to receive private property and to distribute it afterwards, "according to needs."

Now, hands, though made to receive and even to distribute, are also excellently fitted to retain. You know the proverb: "What is good to take is good to keep."

And besides, hands are attached to arms, and, arms to bodies endowed with strong appetites, passions, and other qualities, which do not abandon individuals, even in collectivity.

The delegated administrators, the executive committees of the Christian collectivity,—vicars, priests, bishops, popes,—quickly discovered that the best Communism is that which begins at home.

To each according to his needs, said the constitution.

These chiefs of the Christian community, for delegates, even though elected in the most democratic fashion in the World, always become chiefs in communities,—popes, bishops, priests, and vicars had need of good food, fine clothes, splendid residences, and they distributed them to themselves, their appetites coming as they ate, they also had need of vast domains, numerous servants, and even immense collections of serfs, and they satisfied these needs according to the formula.

The needs of the shepherds being thus appeased, there doubtless was not much left for the sheep, nevertheless, when they were too bare, having been too closely shorn, and when they were too hungry, and if they bowed very, very low and even begged upon their knees, a few bits were thrown them from the social warehouse. . . . by way of charity.

The people, who had risen against exploitation, again became subject to exploitation. Their hatred of the rich had created rich, their cry for freedom died out in a slave's prayer, and the most horrible, the most stupefying, the most debilitating, the most degrading, the most humiliating of systems marked the logical development and end of an attempt at Communism undertaken by reformers of conviction, who were courageous, energetic, sincere, honest, devoted to the point of sacrifice, to the point of persecution, to the point of martyrdom, to the point of death.

Through having abandoned their goods, men had lost their liberty, their dignity, their security.

Ernest Lesigne


Le Radical, March 5, 1887, 1-2.

[text and translation coming soon]


Le Radical, March 18, 1887, 1-2.

Socialistic Letters.

[Le Radical.]

In his journal, "La Peuple," Proudhon summed up as follows that which was the ideal of the pure Communists of his time, and that which is the ideal of the pure Communists of ours:

Organization of labor by the State;
Organization of banks by the State;
Administration of railways by the State;
Administration of canals by the State;
Administration of mines by the State;
Administration of insurance by the State;
Colonization by the State;
Apprenticeship by the State
Etc., etc., etc. by the State
Nothing by the citizen, everything by the State.

A summary which might itself be summarized in a line: Despotism of the State, slavery of the citizen.

"In vain," continues Proudhon, "does Socialism [for even then there were Socialists who were not Communists] cry out to them that what they want is pure monarchy; they do not hear. The State, by itself, is unproductive; it does not labor. No matter; it shall be made organizer. The State is involved in debt; it shall give credit, Labors entrusted to the State cost fifty per cent. more than they are worth; the State shall be charged with the most difficult tasks."

This life-like and sagacious portraiture of the incapacities of the State, thus contrasted with the inconceivable confidence placed in the State by the Communists, was brought to my mind the other day during the unveiling of a statue to Louis Blanc

And I remembered that that honest man, that gentle dreamer, that harmonious artist who, having suffered a thousand privations, had uttered the most eloquent cries of anguish in the name of all the suffering,—I remembered that Louis Blanc had believed more than all others in the providence of the State, perhaps because he believed in the other Providence, I remembered that, of all the Communistic chiefs, he had been the most popular, the most cheered, the most powerful; that at certain times he had had the support of a whole people, and that he had held in his hand the helm of the State; that be had been able to command a government, he who professed that government can make a people's happiness and accomplish the social revolution and that he had failed; that, having reformed nothing, transformed nothing, improved nothing, there was nothing left for him but to go sadly into exile to reflect upon the powerlessness of statesmen who experiment upon millions of individuals with the most seductive systems constructed by the most generous imaginations.

And—a thing to be noted, though not at all strange—it was not the Socialistic people who had given him such loud acclaim who reared a statue to him. The Communists, on the contrary, hissed, not at bottom because of his hours of weakness in the days of June and the Week of May, but because those who still believe in the governmental panacea could not forgive the failure of the Communist who had been the government.

Thus the ancient believers broke their idol when it had not given them victory; thus certain populations of the South throw their saint into the river when they are weary of parading it through the fields to get rain, and it has not succeeded in making it rain.

What is left of the system of Louis Blanc, who nevertheless filled a whole generation with enthusiasm by the words Organization of Labor?

Not oven an illusion to lose, not even the possibility of preserving the hopes which men like Benoît Malon have not quite abandoned.

For, if the system of Louis Blanc has not been tried by its author and the secular State, it has been by that competitor of the State, that model, that mould of the State, that other State, the Church.

Louis Blanc asked the State to make itself a manufacturer,—to establish in the principal branches of industry a certain number of workshops which it should control and in which it should employ workmen "offering guarantees of morality."

The State should draw up regulations having the force of laws, and should fix the hierarchy in the workshop. By reason of the life which was to end in Communism, products would be created more cheaply, private industry would thus be led very gently to surrender, and the State would gradually become master of industry, or at least it would oblige other manufacturers and laborers to Imitate its regulations, its hierarchy, its Communism in short, which would be, in its view, great good fortune for the laborers in the State workshops and the laborers in the other workshops thus "led to surrender."

Now, the ecclesiastical State has established shops, — work rooms, monasteries.

The Church has drawn up regulations for these shops, and selected from the laboring people those which suited it best.

The Church, by reason of the life which it has regulated in common, has found a way of producing at prices before unheard-of, and, if things continued long in this way it would gradually make itself mistress of every industry.

But the Church has by no means led the other workshops to surrender, nor has it caused them to taste the advantages of labor in common and of life in common

It has simply ruined some of the less shrewd manufacturers.

The others have reasoned as follows:

The Church produces more cheaply than we do; this is because it gets its labor more cheaply. By this competition it leaves us no alternative but to diminish our profits, which is out of the question, or to reduce the wages of our workmen, which we will proceed to do at once.

Consequence: The unfortunates who work for the Church are, perforce of regulations, statutes, and the hierarchy, in the position of weary and ill-fed slaves, and, through the fact of this competition on the part of the ecclesiastical State, the poor workers in private industries see their meagre pittance and that of their children curtailed every day.

Was this what Louis Blanc wanted?

No, for he was good, kind, and really desirous of more comfort for all.

He was deceived, as all the Stateists are deceived and mistaken. The best thing that the State can do is to do no harm, and I have not yet noted that it has ever succeeded in this, so harmful and oppressive is it in its essence.

To ask it to operate the social transformation, or even to coöperate in it, is to ask a régime of honesty of a Louis Philippe, clear sign of the Provisional Government of '48, honor of Napoléon, fairness of the Government of National Defence, humanity of Thiers, intelligence of Mac-Mahon, sincerity of Jules Ferry, liberty of Bismarck.

And in the lifetime of Louis Blanc the State was all these by turns, and Louis Blanc saw them at their sickening work as statesmen.

That is why we must conclude with Proudhon:

Let one young recruits fix it in their minds that Socialism is the opposite of governmentalism.

Ernest Lesigne


Le Radical, April 13, 1887, 2.

Socialistic Letter.

[Le Radical]

There are two Socialisms.

One is communistic, the other solidaritarian.

One is dictatorial, the other libertarian.

One is metaphysical, the other positive.

One is dogmatic, the other scientific.

One is emotional, the other reflective.

One is destructive, the other constructive.

Both are in pursuit of the greatest possible welfare for all.

One aims to establish happiness for all, the other to enable each to be happy in his own way.

The first regards the State as a society sui generis, of an especial essence, the product of a sort of divine right outside of and above all society, with special rights and able to exact special obediences; the second considers the State as an association like any other, generally managed worse than others.

The first proclaims the sovereignty of the State, the second recognizes no sort of sovereign.

One wishes all monopolies to be held by the State; the other wishes the abolition of all monopolies.

One wishes the governed class to become the governing class; the other wishes the disappearance of classes.

Both declare that the existing state of things cannot last.

The first considers revolutions as the indispensable agent of evolutions; the second teaches that repression alone turns evolutions into revolution.

The first has faith in a cataclysm.

The second knows that social progress will result from the free play of individual efforts.

Both understand that we are entering upon a new historic phase.

One wishes that there should be none but proletaires.

The other wishes that there should be no more proletaires.

The first wishes to take everything away from everybody.

The second wishes to leave each in possession of its own.

The one wishes to expropriate everybody.

The other wishes everybody to be a proprietor.

The first says: ‘Do as the government wishes.’

The second says: ‘Do as you wish yourself.’

The former threatens with despotism.

The latter promises liberty.

The former makes the citizen the subject of the State.

The latter makes the State the employee of the citizen.

One proclaims that labor pains will be necessary to the birth of a new world.

The other declares that real progress will not cause suffering to any one.

The first has confidence in social war.

The other believes only in the works of peace.

One aspires to command, to regulate, to legislate.

The other wishes to attain the minimum of command, of regulation, of legislation.

One would be followed by the most atrocious of reactions.

The other opens unlimited horizons to progress.

The first will fail; the other will succeed.

Both desire equality.

One by lowering heads that are too high.

The other by raising heads that are too low.

One sees equality under a common yoke.

The other will secure equality in complete liberty.

One is intolerant, the other tolerant.

One frightens, the other reassures.

The first wishes to instruct everybody.

The second wishes to enable everybody to instruct himself.

The first wishes to support everybody.

The second wishes to enable everybody to support himself.

One says:

The land to the State.

The mine to the State.

The tool to the State.

The product to the State.

The other says:

The land to the cultivator.

The mine to the miner.

The tool to the laborer.

The product to the producer.

There are only these two Socialisms.

One is the infancy of Socialism; the other is its manhood.

One is already the past; the other is the future.

One will give place to the other.

Today each of us must choose for the one or the other of these two Socialisms, or else confess that he is not a Socialist.”

Ernest Lesigne

(Liberty V, 10 (December 17, 1887), No. 114, p. 5.)


Le Radical, May 12, 1887, 2.

[text and translation coming soon]


Le Radical, June 9, 1887, 2.

[text and translation coming soon]


Le Radical, July 12, 1887, 2.

Socialistic Letters.

[Le Radical.]

Property is liberty.

To have provisions, garments, and a house of one's own is to have the liberty, power, and certainty of eating, dressing, and lodging.

To have raw material of one's own, a tool of one's own to transform the raw material into consumable product, and, if the raw material be stock and the tool a machine, workshop, or factory, to hold as property one's share of this stock, of these implements, of this factory, workshop, or machine, is to have the liberty, power, and certainty of laboring, of disposing of the fruit of one's labor, of consuming or buying one's product.

Property,—that is a firm, solid, palpable, concrete basis for abstract rights.

Do you possess the workable material and the tool? You are in complete possession of the right to labor, and, what is more, of the right of labor,—of the right to produce and the right to enjoy your product in its entirety.

Do you possess only your arms, your knowledge, your intelligence? You have but one right, that of choosing between dying of hunger and taking a master; between utter want and sacrificing your dignity, extending your hand for a little bread after having done a great deal of work, between not being clothed and wearing the livery of another.

Not to have a share in property, that has been slavery, that has been servitude, that is the proletariat.

For, if property for all means comfort for all, on the other band monopoly of all available property by a certain number, even majority, means misery and oppression for the excluded; if the accession of each to property means liberty of labor and security of product, on the other hand proprietary monopoly means the power of the monopolist to be the master of another, to make another labor, and to dispose of the fruit of another's labor.

The historic evolution is as follows:

Humanity, on becoming conscious, saw that the means of existence is property, and the struggle for existence then became blended with the struggle for property.

Appropriation, which in the future will have no other source than the effort of the industrial laborer, was originally an act of conquest, the monopoly realized by that savage labor, war. A race of prey founded itself upon another race, a barbarous people upon an industrious people. Hurrah! the German warriors cut up the Roman Empire into lots and shared it between them, the French of the North became lords over all the lands and fruits of the South, the Norman pillagers distributed England among themselves, and the English allotted themselves each a bit of Ireland.

There began the modern history of property, Violence, robbery by open force, massacre, having presided over this original distribution, oppression followed for the conquered, the pillaged, the sons of the massacred.

What is worth taking is worth keeping. The highway robbers having become landlords—and after them their descendants—conceived the idea of fortifying themselves in their conquered positions, of surrounding their estates with barriers, ditches, walls, and, what is better, laws.

The peoples of our day still suffer from the yoke imposed by the conquerors of those days. Lords have succeeded each other, aristocrats have replaced each other, jostling each other, taking by strategy what had been acquired by violence, robbing the old robbers by usury, speculation, and corruption, but always protected by the bulwark of laws erected to deny labor access to property.

The entire Code is the book of guarantees imposed to prevent property, the means of production, the instrument of liberty, dignity, equality, from passing out of the hands of the primitive monopolist into those of the contemporary producer; the Code is the isolation of servants confronted with the coalition of masters; it is the prohibition of real contract between employer and employee; it is the constraint of the latter to accept from the former exactly the minimum of wages indispensable to subsistence; and in any case where all these guarantees may have been vain, where a few laborers, by a fortunate stroke, may have succeeded in accumulating little capital, the Code is a trap set to catch these little savings, the canalization ingeniously organized so that all that has temporarily left the bands of the monopolist may return to them by an adroit system of drainage, so that the water, as the saying is in the villages, may always go to the river.

Nevertheless violence, which is trouble in historic evolution, can institute no lasting work. In vain does the cyclone raise prodigiously the sea, lilt all the water high and leave nothing below, the tempest passes,—for every tempest is ephemeral,—and, after a series of eddies, the movement of the waves ends, as every movement in a mass ends, in stable equilibrium, a level.

After wars, after violences, alter conquests of centuries of tempests, in spite of barriers and fortresses, in spite of laws, every continuous movement in the social mass tends toward stable equilibrium.

All the means of production on one side; no property, no means of production, on the other, that is the opposite of equilibrium: but every mass tends to separate; monopolies are condemned to dissemination, every mountain will fill a valley, and the mountains of wealth accumulated under one and the same domination will fill the empty pockets of the people, powerless as they will be to resist the toil of these termites of millions and millions of laborers arrived at a consciousness of their own value and their own strength, and who will bend themselves untiringly to the conquest in their turn of their place in the sunshine, of their corner of their own, of their tools, of their means of labor, of their property, of their liberty.

And when this effort shall be accomplished, social equilibrium will be established, and with it that universal comfort which seems, even in our day, to be but a generous dream.

Ernest Lesigne


Le Radical, July 19, 1887, 2.

These socialistic letters have earned me, as it should be, some unfriendly observations, with which I find nothing wrong, strong partisan that I am of the freedom of the press.

Before such a touching agreement to criticize both content and form, to declare that writing in French, I must know nothing of what I say, and that it is very bold of me to dare address social questions without first being awarded a diploma by the regular doctors, there is nothing to do but make a strong mea culpa for the great liberty and recognize that there are some very astounding geniuses in the world, these days.

But where I have failed to be moved, is when I have seen that the accord extended to completely refusing me the title of socialist.

Oh, illustrious colleague, you are very difficult!

Not communist, certainly; but not socialist, come on then!

Is he a socialist, who urges all the groups, associations, and syndicates, all the free assemblies of individual forces, as the sole means of providing prevention and remedy against the hazards of life, accidents, disasters, miseries, maladies, lay-offs, and disabilities that can affect one today, and strike another tomorrow?

Is he a socialist, who would like to see the poor portion given to the child by nature supplemented by a well-stuffed and wide-open fund, which would make itself creditor of every individual born, with the simple responsibility of reimbursing it in their adult years and, giving them full liberty, free initiative, complete choice of teachers and of profession, would furnish them all the pecuniary means proper to insuring their complete development?

Is he a socialist, who wants for all the complete expansion and free functioning of all their faculties of production and consumption, the maximum of liberty and the maximum of well-being, the complete satisfaction of activities and needs, the right to labor and the rights of labor; the harvest after the sowing, enjoyment after labor?

Is he a socialist, who produces the elimination of all the parasitism, the end of all monopolies?

Is he a socialist, who proclaims men, women and children equal in rights, who asks the communal power to safeguard the rights of children against men and women; to safeguard against men, the rights of women, who asks the national power to safeguard the right of the individual against the oppressive commune, and who asks popular suffrage to protect the individual and every association, communal or otherwise, against the oppression of the state?

Is he a socialist, who encourages the means of transforming sterile France into a true garden of abundance, capable of meeting the needs not of thirty-eight, but of a hundred millions inhabitants?

Is he a socialist, who advises the use of the current political tools, as detestable as it is, to destroy the whole odious arsenal of laws, decrees, orders, ordinances, veritable war measures dictated by the monopolists of goods against the accession of the workers to property, to the possibility of living in liberty?

Is he a socialist, who wants to see undertaken seen through in our generation that immense labor, wonderful source of prosperity, which shall distribute the fertilizing waters over fifty million hectares of cultivable land, to make sure that no drop descending from the hills and mountains could be lost in the sea; who declares it possible to go, by fast roads, from one end of France to the other for ten sous, to talk from one end of France to the other for a few centimes, to traverse by railroads all the corners of the country, even to the villages most deprived today, which tomorrow would become prosperous if we would apply the socialism of these Socialistic Letters?

Is he a socialist, who says: “The must no longer be servants among us; there must be no more poor among us; and, to accomplish that, all the workers must be possessors and sharers of their instruments of labor; that the cultivators have their lands, the industrial workers their tools, their workshops, their factories, their mines; that the postal workers have their offices, the professors their colleges, their schools, the telephone operators, the telegraphers, their telephones and telegraphs, all being able to receive orders, credits, commissions or profit sharing from individuals, communes or the state concerned?

Is he a socialist, who report, with profound joy, the coming of a next economic revolution, as beneficial as decisive, the advent of the little mechanization, which will make liberty where the large machine had made slavery; the reappearance of art, of individual skills in labor, the disappearance of the proletariat, and consequently the conquest, by the laborer, of dignity, liberty, and security?

You see very well that he is a socialist.


Le Radical, August 9, 1887, 2.

Socialistic Letters.

[Le Radical.]

Some ten years ago I wrote an essay which led to the somewhat unexpected conclusion that every error, as well as every truth, is the product of experience.

In the case of error the experience is incomplete, that is all, but as those who are mistaken have seen, or have done what passes for seeing, there is no occasion for astonishment at finding that so many of them get angry when told that they are mistaken.

To the collectivists I say simply this:

You have drawn conclusions before having seen enough.

It is a repetition of the story of the Englishman who, landing on one of our shores, met a woman; the woman was red-haired; the Englishman again boarded his vessel, having written in his diary: "In France the women are all red-haired."

The intellectual fathers of so-called scientific collectivism—Karl Marx, for instance, to cite only one name—belonged to that generation which was adult in 1830, and their conclusions date from an earlier period than 1848.

The revival of the memories of the Revolution was just at its height; historians were singing the praises of the great epoch, the suppression of servitude and privilege, the proclamation of liberty for all, of equal rights for all, the disappearance of aristocracy.

To be sure, they had just seen the nobility of the past aped by an aristocracy of military braggarts; to be sure they had seen it coming back, short-winded in the enemy's vans; but that was only a nightmare and thanks to the glorious three, though there were still a king, at least there were no more lords.

They were marching at a rapid pace towards complete equality.

Suddenly there arose an unknown thing, a sort of elevated Tower, such as the old manors had, with a high panache. And walls rose all around it, bare, cold as those of a fortress. The walls opened and closed at fixed hours, and under the arches passed multitudes emaciated, debilitated, bent, and one could not tell whether it was fear or fatigue that prevented them from straightening up their bodies. In these modern castles the lord. A new servitude was born.

The high chimneys multiplied, and also the number of Masters. A new aristocracy had arisen, brutal, monopolizing, coarse, plundering, arrogant, without bowels, inhuman, devoted to figures, devoted to gain, a predatory race, which thought less of man than of a beast of burden, for beasts had to be bought while man could be had for nothing; irresponsible, for, shrewder than its predecessors who had to feed the slave and protect the serf, it had found a way of avoiding every kind of obligation towards the proletaire.

And yet the proletaires disputed with each other for the favor of peopling the modern dungeon, of rowing in these galleys; they rushed, jostled one another, and fought at the doors to get in.

This was because the growth of all these high chimneys had carried hunger into many laborer's homes the; connecting rod of the great engine had replaced human arms. There remained but one resource,—to make themselves wheels in the factory instrument, valets of the monster machine, servants of the master of this monster.

Those eager for equality, the sons of the revolutionists, reflected and those who were to become communists and then collectivists were made dizzy by the noise which issued from the modern dungeons that rose in black spots, like prisons on a soil green only the day before. They had no care, no anxiety save on account of this plague of an aristocracy which every day accumulated more, and this other plague of a enslaved proletariat.

That was the fact of the time; what would the future be, if the matter should not be ordered in some way?

And straightway they concluded:

"Since the aristocracy amasses more and more capital, means of production and wealth, the time will soon come When it will have taken everything and when the nation will form two nations,—one a mistress minority possessing everything, the other a servant having nothing and living at the mercy of the first. This matter will have to be arranged, then, and since machinery is the cause of this cursed aristocracy, its strength, it creator, its sustainer, and since machines nevertheless are indispensable, we will keep the machines but we will abolish the aristocracy How? By handing over to the State, to the government, all the means of production."

Whence a multitude of systems, solidly built, very fine on paper but which would be also very dangerous in practice, since for the tyranny of the aristocracy, so much to be dreaded, they substitute the tyranny of political power, no less dreadful, no less iniquitous, odious, degrading, no less Detestable.

Ah! let us beware of deductions!

Now, while the bloated aristocracy took from the belly after the fashion of the Esquimaux and the system-makers systematized, a multitude of good people of a practical turn, handlers of tools, men of education, small mechanics, engineers, who had not the remotest intention of allowing themselves to be devoured by the capitalistic ogre or enslaved by the communistic despot, set to work as soon as the first moment of stupor was over,

At all times there have been these temperaments of free men wishing to remain free; they conquered the aristocracy of the Middle Ages and the despotism of the monarchical State; they will conquer the aristocracy of the nineteenth century, and will keep the dreams of communist despotism in the cloudy realm of the imagination.

Big machines are menacing, embarrassing, and monopolizing, say to themselves these free and intelligent beings. Modern lords, you have in them a very fine armament. They are to you what high walls, breast-plates and shields were to your predecessors. The villein could make no impression on them.

Precisely, but gunpowder was invented, and the castles were deserted by the serfs, abandoned by the masters themselves, who could longer live in them. There remained but a few miserable ruins, to serve as examples to lords to come.

During the last thirty years or more, but since Karl Marx constructed his conclusions, they have been inventing little motors, little tools which will deliver the victims of the mechanical monster; the little industry of the artisan, for a moment thrown into confusion is being reorganized; the machine is becoming democratic, portable, convenient, cheap, accessible, and shows its superiority over the monsters of the great factory in that it can wait without suffering at times when there is no work; it no longer holds the laborer at its disposition, it is becoming at the disposition of man.

In a near future all laborers, even the proletaires of today, each one by himself or in small groups of associates, will have their own machines, their own tools and the desert will be in the industrial fortresses of today, around the high chimneys extinct, between the walls become lamentable. The sons of the aristocracy of iron and silver will work for a living,—which will not be a great calamity,—and historians will relate how the industrious people recovered their liberty, compromised for an instant by the infancy of machinery and the first spread of industrialism.

Such are the facts of science which the communists of the time of Louis Philippe should have been able to foresee and which the so-called scientific collectivism of today has forgotten to see.

Ernest Lesigne


Le Radical, September 22, 1887, 1-2.

Socialistic Letters.

[Le Radical.]

Coöperation a panacea?

Sharpers have said so, greenhorns have believed them. In reality, coöperation might be, and if it is desired, will be, a potent peaceful agent of social transformation.

But on this condition,—that the greenhorn shall not let the sharpers put the tool in their pocket.

Juggling is so quickly done. A turn of the hand; presto! and there you are!

Friends of the Coöperative Congress at Tours, this letter is addressed to you. Beware of jugglery!

Ten years ago the wind blew the direction of coöperation, and it was a good wind. But under the influence of metaphysical clouds from over the Rhine, part of the French Socialists have suddenly lost their footing, put on the air of a cyclone, and have begun to blow collectivism.

That the faithful friends of cooperation should have been thrown into a little confusion thereby was not astonishing; but that, the battalion once rallied, they should have so lost their way that now they seem no longer to know why they started, whence they came, or whither they would go, is a matter that requires a word of explanation. To fall into the beaten path of political economy would be the height of confusion for coöperation. Never again would they get out of that rut. Danger! coöperating friends.

Do you remember the early days when the roll-call of coöperation was beaten and you grouped yourselves in enthusiastic choruses, ringing the captivating hymn of solidarity?

You were to replace from top to bottom the old, heavy, burdensome commercial edifice, to renew the worn-out, rusty, dirty tool of exchange which returned scarcely twenty-five per cent of the force expended and rendered useless millions of intelligent heads, excellent hearts, and skilful hands, occupied in the parasitic labor of a decrepit commerce.

The industry of transportation, which is all of commerce, was so badly organized that the product delivered to it for twenty five-francs was sold for a hundred, though nothing had been added to it save a little dust from the warehouse.

This could not last, and the following reform was proposed.

The consumers should form groups. They know almost surely that they will want boots and shoes, overcoats, food. They should combine to the number of one hundred, two hundred, five hundred, and assure houses established for the purpose that they will regularly buy food, shoes, and coats of them.

On the other hand, these houses should turn to the laboring people in the different productive regions and say to them:

What need is there of a mass of middlemen, monopolists, devourers, adulterators, who thrust themselves between you, creators of products, and us, final distributors of products? Group yourselves, then, for coöperative production as those who need to consume group themselves to coöperate in consumption and we, the houses of distribution, will guarantee to purchase of you as we are guaranteed a sale by our consumer-customers. You, producers, will receive the value of your product, of your effort, without having to deal with a mass of hucksters and exploiters, who profit by your crises, by your accidents, and who hold the knife at your throats in order to pay no more for your sweat than they would for clear water. You, consumers, will find on our shelves every thing that you need, at cost, cost of sale included, without having to pour your hard-earned money into the hands of the multitude of middlemen allowed by the present system of exchanging products.

And again, all the activities uselessly devoted to operating the disastrous machinery of exchange would be restored to useful labor, and such labor would never be lacking.

Thus understood, coöperation is a solution of the great problem of social economy,—the delivery of products to the consumer at cost.

Now, this hope from coöperation would be destroyed and coöperation would be compromised, if the vote passed by the Lyons Congress in 1886 should be persisted in. That Congress, in fact, adopted the following principle as one of its formal objects.:

To sell at retail prices and capitalize the profits.

The ambush was prepared. The economistic serpent, to tempt the coöperators and make them abandon their promised land, has said to them, not "Ye shall be as gods," which is stale, but "Ye shall be capitalists!"

"What! buy at cost! A vulgar instinct, showing lack of foresight. And then, would you not grievously annoy the parasite next you who, added to the parasites who supply him with merchandise, succeeds in extracting from your pocket a fourth or a third of its content? Leave this commonplace of gross immediate gain; do not annoy parasitism; do not restore to useful labor those who are wearing themselves out in the absurd gearing of the commercial machine; renounce all ideas of emancipation; and follow simply the movement of the day, make profits."

? ? ?

"Yes, make profits. You shall establish a coöperative store. When you need a pound of candles, you will go to your store, which will have received this pound of candles with all charges paid and all risks covered, and you will lay down fifteen sous. If you profess Socialistic doctrines you will give your store the fifteen sous and take away your candles. But that is an inferior way of doing things, and if you are imbued with the healthy doctrines of political economy, you will hasten to pay the price fixed by the old-time parasitism; you will give twenty-five sous. Then you can say that you have made a profit,—that you have gained the ten sous paid by you in excess."

! ! !

"Why, yes! since at the parasite's you never would have seen them again, while by coöperation thus practised you have chances of getting them once more."

"But would it not be better to keep my ten sous paid in excess and use them in buying shoes for my baby, who just now needs a pair?"

"What low instincts you have! Is it not a virtue to become a capitalist? When you have pinched the bellies of your entire family for a whole year by paying too high price for everything, for a virtuous object and not to annoy those who sell everything for twice as much as it is worth, you will be in control of a small capital"

"And this capital?"

"Ah! be careful not to touch it; leave it religiously in the treasury. It will be invested in bonds paying a handsome income, which you will receive later if you are not dead, or else in real estate the rents from which you will likewise receive in the future provided you are alive."

This is how the coöperative idea can be turned from its path. If the famous pioneers of Rochdale had understood coöperation in consumption to mean the supply of product at actual cost, perhaps English commerce would have been revolutionized They applied on the contrary this principle: Sale of goods at city retail prices and accumulation of the profits as savings, and thus they have simply ended by having a large sum of money in the society's coffer, by means of which they have increased by several thousands the number of individuals who, by lending money at the highest possible interest, withdraw from other laborers a part of the product of their labor without any effort of their own.

One who had not lost his bearings, however, might say to the tempter at the outset:

"Villainous serpent, wicked serpent, lying serpent, why do you advise me thus? I have seen scandalous profits realized, and I have undertaken the task of putting an end to this scandal; have blushed to think that I live in a time when a gentleman, because he has possessed a hundred francs once, can receive, without ever doing anything more, a hundred sous a year and that indefinitely, continually, for himself or his heirs forever; and I have become a coöperator, because that seemed to m the first remedy for such a state of things. And, serpent, you come to induce me, by insinuation, not to enter into competition with the old machinery of exchange; and worse yet, to me who feel the rebellious blood boiling in my veins against all the Vantours and all the Gobsecks, you come to tempt me with the promise that—what?—that I shall be M. Vantour, that I shall be Father Gobseck!"

The economist would shrug his shoulders, as much as to say:

"You understand nothing of political economy."

Ernest Lesigne

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