Laurence Gronlund.

Ça ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study online

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intervals in revolutionary times, when the masses had


power. For Paris this impost amounts to seventy francs
($14) per head yearly. Every workingman who has a wife
and two chiklren to support, and who, I shall assume, has
an annual income of two thousand francs ($400), pays in
indirect taxes {exclusive of his share of the custom duties)
four hundred francs ($80) a year, or hventy per cent of his
income. A bourgeois, on the other hand, who from some
light work has the same income, and lives on that, and in
addition enjoys a similar revenue from land, without any
toil at all, pays, on this second revenue, taxes amounting
only to ninety francs ($18), ox four and a lialf per cent.

Yet the plutocrats have hugely deceived themselves, for
this "octroi" tax is the principal reason why the Parisian
workingmen are paid comparatively high wages. W'ere
the tax abolished, undoubtedly their wages would, under our
present system, go down corres})ondingly.

It is well to again observe that there never has been a
pooj'-iaza in France. Louise Michel, the anarchist woman,
some years ago went to London to agitate among the work-
ing classes. Her stay was ver}- short, probably because she
could not speak a word of English. But the story went,
that she left precipitately as soon as she was told that they
had a poor-law in England, such as it is.

It can be said of the plutocrats of all countries, that they
have been weighed in the balance and everywhere found
wanting. Nowhere have they paid the least attention to
their duties as rulers, but everywhere they have used the
opportunities which their rule gave them to farther their
])rivate interests exclusively. That is so well shown by that
eminently middle-class, or plutocrat, institution, the public
debts. During the Middle Ages, when the State was

in extraordinary need of funds, the rulers — the nobles and
clergy — often put their hands into their own pockets, and
gave the needful amount to the State is a present. Now the

1886.] FOUND WANTING. 223

public dol)t of I'"rance is immense ; indeed, threatening tlie
State with bankruptcy. This debt is all due to French citi-
zens, to persons of the middle classes. Whenever the State
needs more funds, either for a war or public works, these
middle classes are ever ready, ay, anxious, to put their
hands in their pockets, and loan their money to the State.
The ruling middle classes have so arranged matters that they
can make these loans at highly usurious rates ; for instance,
in 1 87 1 they handed over to the State eighty francs, and
received in return a bond for a hundred francs. Thus they
live luxuriously, and hope to go on living forever, on incomes
found for them by their poor fellow-citizens.

But it will not last forever. There is the handwriting on
the wall, — a handwriting people now commence to de-
cipher. The very forces that have brought this capitalist
system to its height are now seen at work tiudcrniiniug it.

The plutocrats were raised to supreme power because
they had a specific mission to fulfil. They have fulfilled it :
they have increased production and productivity immensely.
Though their motives have been the meanest and most
selfish, yet they have really raised society up on a higher
plane. It is by the wage- system and eouipetition that they
have been able to do this. But now, when society no longer
needs their activity, when productivity is increased suffi-
ciently for all social wants, precisely now tliis wage-system
and competition are becoming more harmful than useful.

And it comes about in this way : The plutocrats are our
capitalist classes, an industrial, commercial, and moneyed
aristocracy, which possesses all means of production ; the
work-people, on the other hand, — the great bulk of the com-
munity, — possess, as a rule, nothing but their naked labor,
their labor-power. In order to live, the latter are therefore
under the necessity of offering this labor-power to the
possessing classes on such terms as the state of the labor-


market may allow them to ask, and of accepting employ-
ment on such terms as these classes consent to grant them.
These terms — in other words, the wages they receive — arc,
as statistics assure us, on an average about one-half of the
value which their labor really creates. The wage-system,
then, really means that the capitalist classes allow work-
l)cople to labor, say, five hours daily for themselves, on con-
dition that they will labor other five hours daily fo'r their
masters gratis. This, be it understood, does not

mean that the other half goes all into the pockets of tlie
employers — far from it ; it is distributed among land-own-
ers, capitalists, commission-merchants, and others, as well.
But this gratuitous, unpaid labor constitutes what properly
is called pi-ofits, — those profits on account of which exclu-
sively manufacturers and the other " gentlemen at large "
consent to produce and do business at all. It is this profit-
grinding element wliich is the economic foundation of our
present society, and of society in France since the Revolution.

So far, the wage-system is an injury solely to the work-

But it is evident, that since the bulk of the community,
the work-people, receive in wages but half of what they
produce, they cannot, with tlieir best will, buy back what
they produce ; and the land-owners, employers, and capital-
ists, on the other hand, who pocket the other half, cannot,
with their best will, consume it all : hence that curious i)]ie-
nomenon called '■'■ over-pi-odiiction^' — a phenomenon which
the world has never witnessed until our days. It means, a.;
is well known, that there are large amounts of goods ac-
cumulated which they who have money do not want, and
which they who do want them cannot buy, for lack of
means. The above explains it all : it fiilly explains

why there are, on the one hand, vast amounts of goods
heaped up in the warehouses for which there is no effective

1886.1 foUaXd wanting. 225

demand, and vast amounts of capital lying idle, on the
other hand, — capital that should be used in buying up these
accumulated goods, but is not so used.

Then, in order to get rid of this " over-production " some-
how, it is, that the plutocrats of all countries are crying for
and hunting after foi'cign markets. Therefore it is, that
France has taken possession, first of Algiers, then of Tunis,
then of Madagascar and Tonkin. This cry and this chase
are in themselves signs that the present system is tottering.
These foreign markets, however, must, in the nature of
things, soon dry up, — are, in fact, drying up. Then this
capitalist system must fall.

Tills changes the wage-system from a workingman^ s ques-
tion into a social question. The wage-syston is, in other
words, becoming a social curse.

That is why people of all classes are beginning to con-
demn it. To cite but one instance : M. Ch. Gide, professor
of political economy at the University of Montpellier, opened
a Congress of French Co-operators at Lyons in 1886 with
an address on the theme : The wage-system is an inferior
condition of labor and sliould be abolished.

It would be equally easy to show that free competition,
private enterprise, which has done so much for the upbuild-
ing of this capitalist system, is now also hurrying it on to its
doom. By that miserable secrecy with which it surrounds
all production and enterprises, when success precisely de-
pends on what others produce and do, competition is, in
fact, the principal cause of the crises that periodically over-
whelm us.

It is therefore as clear as any thing in the future well can
be, that this capitalist system, introduced in France by the
Revolution, will before long, unless forestalled, end in a
catastrophe and a crash.

But it ib certainly not our ruling classes, the plutocrats,


who will prevent the crash. Yet that is what is fondly

hoped by the Positivists, the disciples of Auguste Comte.
They see clearly enough that the present system is but a
transitional system, and that a new social order is inevitable ;
but they imagine, as has been said, that the plutocrats —
the great bankers, merchants, and manufacturers — will also,
under that new order, be the " chiefs of industry : " that
they will, indeed, have much more power and muclv more
wealth than now ; but they also fancy that these chiefs will
be sufficiently moralized by that time to apply their wealth
to social uses, to become truly fathers of their people, and
extirpate all misery and pauperism.

Our plutocrats be " moralized " ! There is absolutely not
a particle of evidence for any such change, not merely of
heart, but of their very nature. There was a time when this
might have been hoped for : that was when their itXiow -bour-
geois, the Jacobins, were exemplifying Fraternity. But now
quite another sentimenWias for a century petrified not merely
their hearts, but their heads, — the sentiment of Imiividiial-
ism. It has filled them with the delusion that they are born
into this world each for the sake of himself; twisted their
brains so that they verily think that a man is a kind of
monad, governed by independent laws inherent in himself,
and that therefore it is the only proper thing for the cheeky
to elbow aside the really able man, who, because able, is
modest. That sentiment has made them eminently success-
ful in working for their own benefit ; but just for that reason
they have become unfit, and every year renders them more
and more unfit, to work for the benefit of society.

The French bourgeoisie has practically proven this by the
way they have received certain proposals by Godin, of the
Familistcre of Guise. M. Godin is purely a capitalist by sen-
timent, but he resembles the Jacobins. He reasons exactly
as if he lived in 1 793, and was a member of tlie Moun-


tain ; but, in addition, he sees clearly enough that a catas-
trophe is approaching, and is anxious that his fcllow-caijital-
ists should forestall it. He therefore proposes that the State
shall, on the death of proprietors, confiscate part of their
fortunes, — a small part of small fortunes, but an ever-in-
creasing proportion as they are larger, until it be one-half of
the large fortunes. In that way the ruling class might, un-
doubtedly, stave off the crash. If the State used these im-
mense sums that it in that way would become possessed of,
in abolishing pauperism and improving the lot of the poor,
it might do away with the worst effects of the wage-system
and competition, for these Godin does not dream of abol-
ishing. But he preaches in the wilderness. These fellow-
bourgeois of his think only of clutchi ig all they can, and
"after us the deluge ! "

* * *

But it is probable Evolution may forestall the catastrophe.
So it was, it will be remembered, in tlie French Revolution.
The middle classes were in supreme power before the crash,
— that is, before the fall of the feudal system occurred ; and
now, after having explained the French Revolution l)y an
hypothesis, this explanation, if it be the true one, ought in
its turn to help us to unravel the plot of the drama of the

The outcome of the present transition state (brought about
in France by the Revolution) is, then, to be a new social
order, corresponding to, but on a far higher plane than, the
Middle Ages. It will be a social order of system, iniify, and
with co-operation in a mucli higher form than before. Are
things around us drifting towards such a social order?

We may, it seems to me, easily enough discern two lines
of unconscious tendencies in society around us, — tendencies
which, being the workings of evolution, are not voluntary, not
by choice, but thoroughly spontaneous, both of them.


One is a movement by individuals of all classes, by wage-
earners as well as by capitalists.

The other is manifested by an increased activity on the
part of society in its organized form ; by the State, in other

Of the movements by individuals, the most significant
is that towards production on. a large scale. By " produc-
tion " should also be understood transportation and com-
merce, for they add value to the product, just as well as does
the labor of the operatives on raw materials. All that is
necessary here is to note this tendency, for all admit that
production everywhere — the most trivial as well as the most
important — is being concentrated in the hands of richer and
richer employers, of larger and larger corporations.

But there is one feature of this concentration that deserves
special mention because it is novel, and as yet, it seems, con-
fined to the United States, where the capitalist system is
more unfettered than anywhere else. It is what is called
the Trust. This is monopoly in its most concentrated form.
Suppose the presidents of all the incorporated companies in
a given branch of industry in the whole country assembled,
and one of their number in whom they all have perfect trust
— hence the name — selected to perform the function of
absolute manager, with power to determine, autocratically,
h(jw much each company is to produce, and consequently
its share in the proceeds, and you have the " trust." It
differs from a " pool " in this, that none of the parties can
withdraw. The individuality which the law confers on each
company by the Act of Incorporation is merged in the
" trust," over which the State has not the least control ; in-
deed, the whole arrangement is kept as perfect a secret, as
far as the public is concerned, as possible. Such a

secret " trust " has been in existence in the United States for
several years, and the public has been made to feel its


tremendous power ; to wit, the Standard Oil Company. This
institution is exactly such an absolute union of innumerable
smaller incorporated oil companies. But lately, it is said,
the rubber industries of the country came together a short
time ago in New- York City and formed a similar " trust." It
is further said that the pork- packing industries and the cattle-
ranches out West are contemplating to do likewise. It is
easy to see, that, when these " trusts " become general, — and
that is only a question of very short time, — they will revolu-
tionize our present system, for they mean the destruction of
competition, which then will be utilized simply to crush their
weaker rivals, what precisely the Standard Oil Company has
been doing. Some of our newspapers, on getting wind of
these " trusts," have become alarmed, seeing in them terrible
future dangers to the State. And that, indeed, they would
be ; they would institute a new slavery, the most formidable
slavery that ever existed, — if evolution would stop there.
But it will not. That is why this movement is at bottom an
unconscious one : the capitalists engaged in it are, uncon-
sciously, the greatest revolutionists in the world.

Now, this concentration shows us what is going to be one
important feature of the new social order, — shows us tliat
pi-odiiction on the largest possible scale will be the only
practical mode of production in the future.

Next, we have in the English co-operative stores the most
successful efforts in the same direction on the part of work-
people. They are very suggestive experiments in voluntary
co-operation, resulting directly from this concentration of
production just spoken of, necessitating, as it does, huge
camps of operatives. These co-operative distributive soci-
eties have from eight to nine hundred thousand members,
and their annual sales already amount to nearly a hun-
dred and fifty million dollars. The noble founders of this
sort of co-oi)eratiou have, undoubtedly, wholly failed in


their original object, in the real object they aimed at, which
was to entirely revolutionize society by putting an end to
the wage-system ; for they have wholly failed in making
their followers interested in co-operative production, — the?
principal part of their scheme. One of these founders,
the venerable Lloyd Jones, died a short time ago of a broken
heart, from having to admit that nearly all tlie nine hundred
thousand " co-operators " entirely lack the co-operative
spirit, and are anxious only for becoming small capitalists.
The wonderful success of co-operative distribution is, never-
theless, exceedingly important as a phase of the general
movement, and points to

Distribution on the largest possible scale as the only
natural mode of distribution for the future.

Again : we should note the various attempts that have of
late been made, mainly in England, in co-operative farming
by agricultural laborers, and., on the other hand, the immense
" Bonanza " farms in our newer States and Territories. They
show us that agriculture is subject to the same development as
other industries : the latter, that machinery can be as much
utilized here as elsewhere ; and the former, that agriculturists,
though the most individualistic of all classes, are as fit to
co-operate as other workers. The English " Association
P\armers," as they call themselves, though generally work-
ing under abnormally unpromising conditions, seem to be
satisfied with their success so far, and their successful ex-
ample can hardly fail to have a great effect on their brethren
in other countries.

Our insurance companies may be looked upon as instinc-
tive attempts by the possessing classes in a chaotic, anarchic
state of society, such as is tlie one in which we are living, to
realize interdependence, with all its beneficent consequences.
Especially are our prosperous life-insurance companies most
significant and suggestive concerns, as showing how, even


in such an intlividualistic society as ours, robust, prudent,
and temperate middle-class men can be made to contribute,
of their own accord, to support the offspring and the de-
pendants of the weak, reckless, and dissolute, — for that is
what they virtually are made to do.

As such insurance companies for work-people the trades-
unions of Great Britain can be considered. They have
undoubtedly done labor a great service. It is they to whom
it is due that the working-hours have been reduced. So far
as it is true, what is alleged, that the worker's condition is
improved as to amount of wages compared with his condi-
tion fifty years ago (what is only true in regard to the elite
of the workingmen), it is also these trades-unions who have
effected that increase. But, having accomplished this, the
trades-unions have certainly got into a rut, and seem per-
fectly self-satisfied, — satisfied with what they have achieved,
and, what is worse, satisfied with their position as wage-serfs.
They seem to have lost vitality, and to only want to leave
things as they are. Yet, however selfish and narrow they
may be, they cannot help all the time being of service by
the very fact of being so closely associated ; they naturally
drill their members in association and co-operation. I have
a deep conviction that the trades-unions of Great Britain
and the United States ' will play an important part in the
social evolution, as already the " Syndical Chambers " of the
workers are doing in P>ance. In the latter country the Ma-
chinists' Unions are, with the aid of a loan by the Govern-
ment of $1,200,000, about to form a vast co-operative society
for producing machinery, used in the textile manufactures.

This, then, to sum up, is the outcome of the spontaneous,
unconscious activity of individuals in association or corpora-
tion : that they gather together the working-classes in huge

■ It is noteworthy that the trades-unions pf the United States have, of late, taken
a very active part in radical politics,


armies, and teach them interdependence, and especially
that they more and more absorb and make impossible all
inilustrial activity by isolated individuals.

I call these movements " unconscious " as well as spon-
taneous ; for, while the individuals in association and corpo-
ration are conscious enough as far as their immediate private,
personal interest is concerned, yet they are perfectly uncon-
scious all the time of their associated corporate actions and
their consequences.

Now we pass over to the other line of spontaneous, un-
conscious tendencies, — the activities of the State.

The State itself is a j^rofound fact of our spontaneous,
unconscious association. The State is the organized soci-
ety, the as yet imperfectly organized society. The tendencies
of which we now are going to speak are really efforts towards
organizing society more and more closely ; that is, towards
making the State more and more perfect.

There was a time when it was doubtful wliether the State
or the Church was going to be the form in which the spon-
taneous association of men was to be embodied. The
Power behind Evolution long ago decided in favor of the
State, and relegated the Church to the condition of a merely
voluntary association everywhere, practically speaking.

The first of these tendencies manifests itself in the

Post-office Department, with its important branched of
banking and expressing. This is, in all civilized countries,
the first industrial function the State has taken upon itself;
and it has performed that function so well, that none could Ije
found fool enough to vote it back to the hands of private
corporations. If two or tlirec companies performed the
service in the United States, does any one believe that he
could send a postal-card from New York to San Francisco
(juickly and safely for one cent?


We may note, in passing, that the side functions above
mentioned are suggestive germs of future important activities.

Next look at the National Telegraph Service. Is it not
suggestive that the country of Herbert Spencer, the home
of the "let-alone " doctrine, has been so vigorously pursuing
the contrary course in practice as to nationalize the tele-
graph system? The advantages thereby gained are easily
seen by comparing Great Britain with the United States,
where the telegraph is yet a private monopoly. E^ven before
the sixpenny telegrams were introduced, the former country
sent annually four times as many despatches at half the

Consider now Public Education. There the United
States is undoubtedly yet ahead of England. Her common-
school system, spanning the whole course from primary
schools to the universities, is justly famous ; and the public
spirit, branding the rich families who keep their children
away from them as unpatriotic, is admirable. But as the
system, unfortunately, is not yet national, only a section of
the country enjoys its blessings. England, however, has
undoubtedly since 1870 made giant progress in this direction,
and will, it seems, soon surpass the United States by insti-
tuting National Board schools rivalling the latter's connnon
schools, and where children will get one meal a day at least.
Ah ! Spencer is right in looking on the institution of these
Board schools as the greatest blow to his individualistic phi-
losophy, for it means adopting the true principle, the corner-
stone of public responsibility, that the education of children
is of more concern to the community than to parents ; or, as
Danton said, that '' Children belong to the nation rather
than to parents."

The English Factory Acts denote another most interesting
step in social evolution. The joint emi)ire of the aristocracy
and plutocracy there ceased by tlie Reform Act of 1832,


whcn the latter acquired undivided, sui)reme power. They
could act pretty much as they pleased, and were not \ery
favorably disposed toward the working-classes, as the new
poor-law showed ; but when a real nobleman, Lord Shaftes-
bury, introduced his Factory Bills, though the plutocrats,
with the Quaker John Bright at their head, for a long time
fought successfully against them, yet they had at last to
give in, had to thwart their onm most cherished ideals, and
pass them, as well as the laws against overloading of ships.

Here our splendid Bureaus for the Statistics of Labor,
with which no other country has any thing to compare,
constitute a giant step toward the future organization of

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 18 of 21)