Laurence Gronlund.

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

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As to the British Railioay System, it is noteworthy that Sir
Bernhard Samuelson, in a recent report of his to the Asso-
ciation of Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom,
concludes in favor of State monopoly of the railway traffic.

And our Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 goes a long
way toward actually bringing that about here in the United
States. I wonder if it was by a mere oversight that steam-
ships were not brought within the control of the Union, as
well as railroads.

The Municipalization of Land — that is to say, the com-
pulsory sale of land by landlords to municipalities — has been
for some years a pet idea with English Radicals, and will, un-
doubtedly, be one of the first measures to be passed as soon
as Irish home-rule has been granted ; and, when' accom-
plished, it very likely may be the greatest step, so far taken,
in social evolution. But I also hope, to be sure, that by that
time the private experiments in co-operative farming, which
has been spoken of, will have attained such importance, that,
upon the municipalization (or nationalization) of the land,
it will be handed over to large bodies of agricultural laborers,
to be by them cultivated co-operatively on a large scale.


I have also called these activities " unconscious ; " for,
though "practical" politicians are conscious enough when
they concern themselves with the expediency of any of such
measures, yet they are absolutely ignorant, or at least care-
less, of the fact (with which Spencer also never tires of re-
proaching them) that, in every one of such measures they
pass, they are establishing principles, — principles -which, by
their irresistib'le momentum, are sure to lead to new types of
social organization.

Now, is it not easy to perceive that these activities of the
State tend very strongly to more and more curtail, contract,
abridge, the proprietary sphere of individuals, and develop
and strengthen the collective will? Certainly they do;
and that is what Spencer, in his pamphlet The Man vs.
The State, so much bewails. But that is just what, as we
saw in Chap. I., has been the constant tendency of our
civilization, that in which our civilization may be said to
consist. At first a given individual was exceedingly power-
ful, comparatively almighty ; by and by that power has been
taken from him and devolved on the State, ^^'hat, however,
is most important and suggestive is, that this tendency should
manifest itself so strongly and decidedly now, in the transi-
tion era in which we are living, when a permanent new social
order is upon us.

In the evolution of which the above are simply prominent
features (to which the reader can add such others as strike
him) everyone is a partaker ; every active individual, wit-
tingly or unwittingly, whether he likes it or no, contributes to
it, either as the member of some association or other, or, at
all events, as a contributor to the public opinion which directs
the State. These unconscious, spontaneous movements from
all parts of the social circumference, which collectively we
may call the "logic of events," will irresistibly lead us on,


first to a certain point in the line of progress, — the Coiniug
Revolution, — and thereupon to the Neiu Social Order.

But this — that the affairs of men have once for all got an
impetus in this direction — is not all there is of evolution, or
even the most prominent feature of it, as Herbert Spencer
seems to think. He virtually says to his readers, " Let us
fold our hands : we cannot hurry society forward. It will of
itself come out all right in the distant future."

The point is, that human society does not develop quite
the same as, for instance, a plant. The evolution of man
needs the co-operation of men, takes place by the conscious
efforts of men. And it so happens that the Power

behind Evolution is now at work on certain minds among us.
As the French Revolution was made in the minds of Danton
and his contemporaries before 1 7S9, so the Coming Revolu-
tion is now being prepared among us.

This is a movement just as spontaneous as the others we
have spoken of. These minds are twisted in a certain direc-
tion, without any choice, any merit, on their part ; but, in
contradistinction to the others, they are conscious actors.
So soon as they are aware of the change that has occurred
in them, they consciously push on the car of ])rogress, often
under "great sufferings, often sick at heart from lack of

This conscious evolution does not comprise all active per-
sons, like the former movements. There are some
stui)id men in the world. They contribute nothing con-
sciously to the solution of the social problem, and it is wasted
labor to try to win them over. As Goethe says : Mit der
Dummhcit kdnip/en Gottcr selbst vergebens ("With stupidity
even the gods contend in vain").

Then, there are the selfish ones, — those wlio find their
advantage in the present anarchy, and olliers, like j)Oor
clerks, who hoije, some time or other, by some lucky chance,


to become tlieuiselves rich, so that they in turn may lord it
over others ; that latter class is especially numerous in the
United States.

Lastly, there is the vast indolent multitude of all classes
who never have taken the initiative, and never want to ; the
multitude that have blocked the way for so many noble re-
formers who, contemplating that heavy, inert mass before
them, and despairing how to move it, have finally died of
broken hearts. Let us never reckon on their co?isdous assist-
ance. Danton knew this. That is the reason why revolu-
tions are legitimate.

For the Power behind Evolution has a method of its own
in dealing with man's affairs. It irresistibly pushes us all, —
the stupid, the selfish, the indolent rauldtude, — unwittingly
and unwillingly, onward ; or, if you please, lifts us all up-
wards. At the same time, it raises up a comparatively few
to co-operate with itself, and througli whom it acts. These,
then, are the conscious actors in the evolution, a very small
class ; for while that Power needs men, absolutely cannot
get along without men, it requires but a very few.

Discontent is the means it makes use of to raise up and
educate its co-laborers ; an unselfish discontent, and there-
fore by no means synonymous with unhappiness. These feel
discontented with this age in which they and we are living,
as about the meanest age of all, with its organized inclem-
ency of man to man ; and yet they may feel very happy in
enjoying consciousness in flesh and blood just now when we
stand on the threshold of the most glorious of ages. This
discontent is to evolution what steam is to the engineer ; it
is the precursor of a structural change ; it is what the but-
terfly may be supposed to feel when it is going out of the
chrysalis state. It convinces us that we have arrived at the.

It is the lack of this discontent. that is the great defect in


Spenccr ; // is the laani of this discontent that makes him
an iiuiolent optimist, with nothing specific to suggest /or men
to do. Our philanthropists, on the other hand, may

be said to have a surfeit of that feehng ; that is why they
always impatiently want to know, " What shall we do from
this didi^ forthtvith to change things?" They are right as to
heart, but wrong in their heads.

Those only who are filled with both discontent and right
convictions are fit to be true co-workers of the Power
behind Evolution ; they are Victor Hugo's " sagacious,
serene, and profound minds," who at length have truly de-
ciphered "God's mysterious text." They have in these
days the same important function to perform that Mon-
tesquieu, Diderot, and Rousseau had a century ago, — that
of putting ideas into the minds of the people; of accom-
plishing the intellectual, the mental revolution, /// the
drains of the active part of nations. But just in propor-
tion as the mental revolution is complete, will all danger
of a sanguinary crisis be averted, — that is one of the
lessons the French Revolution should have taught us.

Again : just like the mental revolution of last century
will the one now to be accomplished be brought about by
books ; they will play even a greater role now, because now
everybody reads.

Who, then, are the men with discontent and right con-
victions? and which are these books?

My readers who have followed me so far will have guessed
that I refer to the Collectivists ; not Anarchists, please ob-
serve, nor, if a distinction be made. Communists, but Col-
lectivists, — the thinkers who inspire themselves from the
French Collectivism of Saint-Simon and the Ccrnian Collec-
tivism of Karl Marx, and who, 1 think, will work out a third,
complete doctrine, Angh-Sjxon in its characteristics.


That which distinguishes the above writers from all other
social innovators is, that they emphasize, not that the new
social order ought to be and therefore will be, but that it
will be and therefore ought to be, realized.

Saint-Simonisni, as developed by Bazard and Enfantin,
who seem to me almost greater than the master they
acknowledge, owes its start directly to the impulse of the
French Revolution. I have already, in Chap. I., set out
Saint-Simon's fruitful conception of organic and critical
periods of history. Saint-Simonism, furthermore, insists on
the fact, that in the march of humanity the circle of asso-
ciation goes on enlarging unceasingly, until it will end in
universal association. That is to say, it insists that the
State will develop into an association exclusively of workers,
of useful members ; that as such it will assume the owner-
ship, the office of a trustee, of all capital, instead of, as now,
that capital being the private property of individual families ;
that then naturally all privileges founded on birth or wealth
will disappear, and that capacity will be the only quality
that will entitle persons to dispose of and use this capital.
And the principal merit of Saint-Simonism is, that it teaches
that this development, this change, will not be brought about
because human intelligence approves of it and resolves on it,
but that its raison d'etre is the Supreme Will, and that, as
it is being accomplished, so to say, of itself, the human
conscience will, little by little, conform itself to it, and bring
itself into harmony with it. Again : Saint-Simonism drew
attention (as I have done in the preceding pages) to the
instinctive tendencies of its time, which pointed to order and
a new organization, particularly to the office of the bankers,
these intermediaries between workers needing instruments
of labor, and the possessors of such instruments not know-
ing how to use them or caring to do so.

But Samt-Simon and his disciples made the very natural


mistake of assuming that their time was the commencement
of the new social order. It is the great merit — and this
has been the great mission — of German Colkciivism, that it
has made clear and emphasized that this is a transition period.
For it is Karl Marx, the most prominent exponent of Ger-
man Socialism, who has shown us the workings of the wage-
system and competition, and how these, after having brouglit
the capitalist system to its present height, are now undermin-
ing it, and will before long lead it to a catastrophe and a
crash. After proving this to us, and especially to the

working-classes, Marx in effect continues, " Prepare your-
selves ; organize yourselves. The fruit is soon ripe ; capi-
talism must soon fall. Then at length you can secure to
yourselves the full reward of your labor." Marx, as

well as German Collectivism, is thus, like the German mind,
essentially critical. He has concerned himself almost ex-
clusively with the evolution toward destruction ; it is his
great achievement that he has proven this scientifically
and conclusively. He has never been successfully refuted,
and never can be. It is true that this capitalist system is
evolving toward a catastrophe and a crash, unless fore-

But this is not the last word, — a critical philosophy never
can be, — and Marx never assumed it was. Tlie last word
must relate to the nature and outlines of tlie new social
order, and to that Marx devotes only a few lines in the
closing part of his Capital. Moreover, he assumes tlie
crash, and then suggests the new system, but as an empiri-
cal expedient that should be adopted, as a personal conceit
that may or may not come true. This gives rise to

the complaints, not so very unreasonable, by imiuirers, that
Collectivism lacks positive formulas, and fully accounts for
the fact that many Socialists, when they are pressed, often
do not know whether they are Communists or Collectivists,


and also e\[)laiiis the ro(]uetry of some with Anarchism, with
w'hich our agreement is really but superficial.

Well, it is not always in the nations that give rise to new
ideas that they reach their highest development. It seems
to me that Morley's "sacred torch which shifts from bearer
to bearer," after passing from France to Germany, is now
about to return to Anglo-Saxons ; that it is they, these prac-
tical folk who dislike to tear down before they know what
to build up, who will develop these positive formulas of
Collectivism in its larger outlines, though, of course, not in
its details, and supplement Marx by working out the more
important and wider circle of constructive evolution. This
will then constitute Anglo-Saxon Collectivism, and will finish
the mental preparation for the Coming Revolution,

The evolution of this capitahst system towards a catas-
trophe is a truth, but // is not the taliole truth. For, fortu-
nately, side by side with these destructive tendencies there
are everywhere around us constructive tendencies at work —
this is the other half of the truth. It is well to know that
a flower is decaying, but it is at least equally important to
note that at the same time the fruit is ripening. The capi-
talist system is being sapped in its foundations, true ; but
evolution is also, under our very eyes, laying the foundation,
shaping the outlines, of the social oj'der that is to replace it.
Verily, we may be said to be witnessing a race hetiueen
destructive and constructive tendencies, the result of which
may very well be, that the new system may forestall and
anticipate the catastrophe and the crash. Instead of

our new social order being an empirical expedient, Anglo-
Saxon Collectivism will thus show and emphasize that it is
being moulded and sha])ed no7o, and by the present society.

Let us return to and contrast our two lines of spontaneous,
unconscious activities, — constructive tendencies.


That on tlie jiart of individuals, we saw, was a constantly
growing concentration, more and more absorbing the eniuts
of isolated individuals ; making, in fact, the efforts of isolated
individuals impossible. The movement on the part

of the collectivity — that is, the nation — is also a constantly
growing centralization, more and more absorbing the sphere
of individuals.

Is it not easy to see that the time will surely come, when
these two opposing tendencies, forces, will come in contact?
Is it not already the fact, that, in all civilized countries, tlic
collectivity IS face to face with overgrown corporations,
whose interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of
the community at large ?

Can any one doubt the issue ?

Of course, private control will have to give ivay to public
control along the whole line." The function hitherto per-
formed by capitalists, that of being social paymasters, will
devolve on the State.

This will sufficiently indicate the general character of the
third organic Social Order awaiting us.

Capitalists will give way to society, organized society, — the
NATION. Evolution will end in the supremacy of the collective
7vill, and that will be embodied, not in the commune, the
county, as some maintain, Init in the nation, if United Italy,
United Germany, and our own Union have a meaning.^ The
State, the Nation, the Fatherland, is an indispensable step
of evolution toward Humanity. Ownership of the

means of i)roduction by individuals will be replaced by
ownership and supreme control oi the means of jjroduction
by the collectivity. Then social functions will, for the first
time, be properly, adequately performed, which they cannot

' The expropriation of but one capitalist class, — as that of the land-owners, —
except as a first step, would not coiislitiitc a social revolution, but downright robbery.

2 The movement for Irish home-rule is no exception, for it will effect a rcy true democracy ;


that is to say, the competent, skilful, and wise will inevitably
gravitate toward the leadership of affairs when they are
selected from below by free citizens, independent of all indi-
viduals, and that is the only way of securing them.

How otherwise we imagine the New Social Order, can be
learned, by those who are interested, from the former work
by me, already mentioned, The Co-operative Covimonwealth,
which may be said to treat of the statics of Collectivism, as
this volume has concerned itself with its dynamics.
* * *

Which nation will, first of all, realize Collectivism ?

It has lately made giant progress in all European countries,
as well as in Great Britain and the United States, both as
to number and character of disciples, and, especially, by all
accepting the doctrine of Marx. There can be no doul)t
that before long serious attempts will be made on the Con-
tinent to bring it in by force. I am in this not thinking of
Russia, for her coming crisis will be her " French Revolu-
tion," in which connection it is interesting to note that the
Russian plutocracy have, during the last thirty years, remark-
ably increased in wealth, compared with the rest of the nation.
No ; the first country to suggest itself is, of course, France.

The Paris Commune of 1871 was a perfectly spontaneous
movement, coming absolutely unexpected on the leaders of
the working-classes. The bourgeoisie, in their usual hatred
of the masses, determined, at the fall of the Comiximie, to
tear out this revolutionary spirit by the roots, and went to
work, in the words of the clerical writer of The yews of
France, " with a disregartl of human life never before wit-
nessed." They murdered in cold blood thirty-five thousand
of the flower of Parisian manhood, and deported as many
more. For five years the work-people gave no sign of
political life. At last, in 1876, by the generosity of the Jew
Cremieux, tiie trades-unions of France were enabled to hold

i886.| GROU'TII OF COLLECT/ l7SHr. 245

a congress in Lyons, at which they declared that they had
nothing to do with Sociahsni in any form.

But in that year two men returned from exile, who, almost
in the twinkling of an eye, were entirely to change the aspect
of things. They were Benoit Malon and Jules Guesdc.
Thanks to their agitation, at the second congress of the
trades-unions at Paris, in 1877, there were eight votes in
favor of a Collectivist resolution ; and in 1879, at the third
(very largely attended) congress of trades-unions and work-
ingmen's "circles " at Marseilles, a purely Collectivist reso-
lution, in the spirit of Marx, was passed by a two-thirds
majority. Since that time no large gathering of French
workmen has ever taken place that has not resolved in fi.ivor
of Collectivism. Even the last Trades-Union Congress, held
in 1 886 in Paris, under the auspices of the government, which
granted railroad passes and five thousand francs, closed by
declaring itself, to the great scandal of the bourgeois press,
CoUectivists. Everywhere in the industrial centres the elite
of the workmen are CoUectivists. They have in many cities,
Paris included, Collectivist aldermen, and seven working-
men members of the Chamber of Deputies. In Paris in
1886, on the resignation of Rochefort, the Collectivist can-
didate received a hundred thousand votes ; while his oppo-
nent, representing the whole opposition, clerical, monarchist,
and republican, received but a hundred and thirty-five thou-
sand votes. But it is only work-people that adopt
Collectivism in France. The educated classes and trades-
people hold aloof, and will have nothing to do with it.

Nothing, therefore, more likely than to hear of a revolu-
tionary movement in France during either of the approaching
centennial years of the great Revolution. In spite of the
crushing opposition to overcome, it is far from unlikely to
succeed at first, especially at Paris. Tiie Parisian />oi/rgcoisic
is notoriously, since the Commune, more cowardly than ever,


and may be reckoned on to give up their city without a blow
to the revolutionary element. But the danger of a success-
ful counter-revolution is there so great that there is but little
hope of lasting success ; for there is no doubt that the
French bourgeoisie will prove itself just as unpatriotic as tlie
nobility of a century ago, and call on Germany to interfere.
And if, on the other hand, the revolution commences in Ger-
many, there is the double danger of interference from France
and Russia. And then, the terribly bitter and revengeful
sentiments we have noted in the French working-classes, how-
ever excusable, constitute but a poor foundation on which
to erect a new social order. We can therefore rely,

for the first realization of Collectivism, only on Great Britain
and tlic United States. In both countries there is no crush-
ing opposition to overcome, in the first place, — only public
opinion, — and there is no foreign interference to fear. Great
Britain, moreover, as we have seen, has been the leader in tlie
great changes ever since the Reformation. Noblesse oblige !
It becomes her or us to lead in the Coming Revolution.

That Collectivism has made wonderful progress in Great
Britain during the last ten years, is evident to all. Poets,
artists, fellows of colleges, ministers both of the Church of
England and the Church of Scotland, besides a great num-
ber of educated men, openly work for the cause, and many
more secretly. In Great Britain, then, in contradistinction

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundÇa ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study → online text (page 19 of 21)