The Confessions of a Revolutionist (London Weekly Tribune)

From The Libertarian Labyrinth
Jump to: navigation, search

This partial translation originally appeared in the London Weekly Tribune.


  1. The Spirit of the Age. II, 2 (January 12, 1850) 23.



From the London Weekly Tribune.


This remarkable and original production of the boldest writer of the French Socialist school, displays on its very title page a motto which is completely characteristic of the man; it is taken from the song of Moses, in Deuteronomy 32 and 40, "For I lift my hand to heaven and say; I live for ever," that is, in M. Proudhon's translation my idea is immortal; a very modest reply to the question asked in his work on property, "who is he that says property is plunder?"

In the first chapter entitled Confiteor, I Confess, after declaring that the Democratic and Socialist party is everywhere crushed under the superior physical force of the pretended friends of order and family, and that Europe is now governed by a praetorian guard, he maintains that even now the fate of these charlatans is sealed, and that the republicans have the game in theft own hands, if they will only refrain from attempting revolutions; and, leaving their cause in the hands of Providence, with the confidence of certain victory, employ the present period of inactivity in educating and strengthening themselves in their faith. France has ever been the great examplar of nations, whether in her shame or in her glory : if she rises, the nations arise ; if she sinks, the nations succumb ; therefore, it is important to all people to trace the causes that have led the French nation to taste only the bitters of democracy, without experiencing its promised advantages, lie proposes, by an examination of the various steps of the revolution and by a statement of his own proceedings, projects, and errors, to show who are the real anarchists, atheists and plunderers. He will compare the faith of the Democratic Socialists with that of these men of God, who, the enemies of every society that will not reward their vices, of every religion which condemns their licentiousness, and, laden with the spoil of the fatherless and the widow, cry out with hypocritical indignation against us as robbers and irreligious rebels. In exposing the motive of his own actions, and thus publicly confessing his faults, he expresses a hope that it may lead the Democrats to discover the secret of their miseries and to indulge the hope of a happier future.

In the 2nd Chapter, entitled "Profession of Faith: Nature and Destination of Parties," M. Proudhon first declares his abhorrence of the priestly doctrine that the views of Providence are inscrutable to human wisdom, that fallen man has no more right to inquire of God what are the reasons of his dealings towards us than the vessel has to ask the potter why he has made it; and adds, that by the help of philosophy, he will endeavor to make the ways of Providence intelligible to all; that although we must bow before the indisputable decrees of the Deity, we may, and ought to investigate every thing to the bottom, and above all examine the causes of our differences; for had we always occupied ourselves in this way, man would long ago have been the master of the earth, and the Democratic Socialist would not from February 24th, 1848, to June 13th, 18-19, have forsaken the substance for the shadow.

He then goes on to examine the causes of the differences of opinion amongst men on social and political subjects. Society, like time, consists of two dimensions, Past and Future—the Present is the imaginary line which divides them. Past and future are the two poles of humanity; the first the parent of the second—the latter the necessary and logical complement of the former; these two dimensions of history, viewed in their totality, form a complete social system, without interruption (solution de continuite, a medical term, signifying the separation of parts caused by a wound,) identical with itself in all its parts, in which the anomalous and accidental circumstances serve to bring out more plainly the order that reigns through the whole course of history. Hence no one can possibly understand the social system in its integrality until it be completed at the end of time: the last man will alone be able to comprehend the truth, beauty, and uniformity of the whole social system; we can only approximate to it by crude conjectures, and our business, therefore, is, from a comprehensive knowledge of the past, to aid the development of the future. Our fathers handed down to us a certain form of society—we, in our turn, shall transmit another to our descendants. Since humanity is progressive, acting upon the memory of the past, or the foresight of the future, it is necessarily divided into two great classes; the one, admiring the experience of former ages, hesitates to trust itself to the dangers of an untried path; the other, impatient of present evil, is eager for reform. It would be contrary to the imperfection of human reason to hold an even course of progress by deciding impartially between the merits of tradition and theory: hence discord is the first condition of our education. Having thus discovered the cause of our disputes, we may reasonably hope to banish them from human society without the aid of magic or mysticism.




To come to facts : the admirers of the past, according as we view them in a religious, political, or economical light, are comprised in the term Catholicism, Legitimism, and Property ; and the general term for these three is Absolutism.

Our present condition, powers, and wishes, are derived from the past; that is, from property, royalty, and Catholicism, either as flowing directly from them, or by opposition of principles, and we are no longer to-day what we were yesterday, precisely because we were so then. The manner of this evolution is threefold. Catholicism by its very attempts to rationalise itself becomes corrupted, and, through various phases, arrives at the tolerance, or rather legal and constitutional indifference of the 19th century.

So royalty, which, mathematically speaking, may be termed the interment of paternal authority, by its very attempts at organization, the division of labor applied to politics, leads inevitably to democracy ; for the various changes that have been introduced from the time of Louis XI. to the constitution of 1848 are but so many manifestations of the revolutionary principle. Lastly, property, by the various influences it has continually been submitted to, from the feudal times to the latest attempt to equalize taxation, is ever tending towards a radical change in its nature and form. Пенсе we see these three parallel movements are but the expressions of one and the same thing, namely, the gradual conversion of the absolutist into the democratic and social idea. Philosophically considered, royalty is but an emanation of Catholicism, by the separation of the spiritual and temporal power ; property is an emanation of royalty through the feudal system ; in like manner Socialism, the final result of Catholicism, is but the last form of royalty and property. Socialism the necessary result, and, at the same time, the adversary of Catholicism. Catholicism, royalty, and property, these three are one, and under the name of absolutism, express the past of history and society, of which social democracy expresses the future. As long as these two parties do not understand each other, they will be at open war ; but the moment they discover that both are tending towards the same result they will hasten to combine and amalgamate, to the annihilation o; all social and political differences. Catholicism has enunciated the problem, Socialism will give the solution ; such is the inevitable necessity of events. But these revolutions are not brought about with the calmness and regularity o1 philosophy, for men receive new truths with reluctance, and human reason is naturally free ; hence at every progressive step, a tempest of oppositions and contradictions arises, which, instead of being settled in an amicable rational manner, results in some terrible catastrophe. From these disturbing causes, human nature does not move on to its destiny in a straight and regular path, but is subject to a variety of transverse oscillations, which, combined with the attacks of Socialism and the resistance of Absolutism, produce that apparently discordant and varied drama of society which is ever passing before our eyes.

These secondary oscillations produce two other parties, equally opposed to each other and to the former two ; the first is known in history, as; the party of the juste-milieu doctrine, or moderatism; the second that of demagogic jacobinism, or radicalism. The juste-milieu is the hypocrisy, as radicalism is the fanaticism of progress.

The former addresses itself peculiarly to the middle class, hates the inactivity and privileges of the aristocracy, and fears the radical tendencies of progress. The latter is the favorite of the people, for the more a man feels he is disinherited the more ready he is to destroy everything, and reconstruct society by violence.

These four parties may be considered as the four cardinal points of history, and are met with under some name or other in all ages of the world, are all equally necessary and useful in the evolution of man's destiny, and impersonate the necessary conditions of social life.

The characteristic of Absolutism is its vis inertia: the truth it contains is its spirit of preservation, hence its other name of conservative. The juste-milieu, moderate, or whig party is distinguished by its sophistry and love of the arbitrary. Its true idea is the right to self-government. Law, according to this party, proceeds directly from the government, and is, therefore, preeminently subjective.

Radicalism is known by its violence against conservatism and arbitrary rule.

Socialism considers that society would be the result of. a positive, an objective science ; but is apt to look upon its theories as realities, and mistake its utopias for actual institutions.

There are, moreover, many different political parties, just as there are various systems of philosophy, the one arising out of the other, to which it serves as the extreme or opposite pole ; hence the multitudes of shades of opinion. Sure every man who thinks must class himself with one or the other; and the man who never thinks is alone of no party, philosophy or religion. This last is the normal condition of the masses which, however, is not altogether unproductive ; for it is the people who, in the long run, by their spontaneous creations, modify, reform and absorb, the plans of politicians and the doctrines of philosophers, and by continually creating a new existence are ever changing the basis of politics and philosophy. Of all the various parties and principles that have lately disturbed our country, what remains now under the flag of the republic but a combination of half-ruined bourgeois against a coalition of half-starved proletarians. Already political parties have ceased to exist, and universal misery will soon bring to pass what human reason has failed to accomplish; by destroying wealth it will have destroyed antagonism.

What has been said of the parties that have from the beginning divided society is simply a definition; and yet it comprehends all history, it is the philosophy of progress, the death blow of social mysticism, finis theologies, the end of theology. It is true, because it is necessary and universal, common to all ages and people ; it its true because it cannot be that it should not be true.

Society, that living and perfectible existence, which develops itself through time, the opposite of the Deity who remains motionless in eternity, has necessarily two poles; the one directed to the past, the other to the future ; the Absolutist who would preserve the past, the Socialist who would produce the future. But society, in accordance with the laws of human nature, continually oscillating and deviating to the right or left of the direct line of progress, comprises two secondary parties; in parliamentary language, a right centre and a left centre, a Girondist and a Mountain, which are ever turning aside the Revolution from its proper course.





The Scriptures declare that "there must be divisions (i. e. parties) among men," and the priest exclaims, " terrible necessity," arising from the original sin ! But a little reflection has shown us the origin and signification of parties ; we have now to learn their object and final destiny.

All men are born free and equal ;—society is therefore by nature self-governing, i. e. ungovernable ; and he who lays his hand on me to govern me в a usurper and tyrant ; my declared enemy. But this idea of equality did not appear in the earliest phases of society. When men met together the first thing they agreed to do was to appoint a ruler, Constituamus super nos regem ! some one in Authority. Such then was the first idea of human society, and the next was immediately to overthrow this society, each wishing to use it for his own liberty, against that of others. All parties have been eager for the possession of power, to work their own ends ; hence the aphorism of the radicals, to which the absolutists would willingly subscribe. Social revolution is the end, political revolution (i. e. the transference of authority) is the means ; which simply means;— give us power of life and death over your peinons and property and we will make you free ! what kings and priests have repeateed for six thousand years.

So that government and party are reciprocally to each other cause, end and means, beginning middle and end ; and, thou shall not do this, thou shall not do that, has been the eole education of man by governments from the time of Adam and Eve ; but when mankind shall have arrived at years of discretion, parties and governments will disappear ; thus liberty will grow out of authority, as we have seen Socialism result from absolutism. Philosophy therefore shows us that the establishment of authority over a people can be but a transition state, and must continually dimmish until it is swallowed up in industrial organization; the aphorism, therefore, must be read inversely Political revolution, that is, the abolition of authority among men is the end, social revolution is the means. There can be no liberty for citizens, order for society, or union among producers, until there be

No more parties;

No more authority;

Absolute liberty of the individual and the citizen.

In these three sentences I have made my profession of faith, political and social. M. de Girardin says, he is a revolutionist par en haut (from above) and never will be a revolutionist, par en bos (from below.) Now he thinks he has said something very original and profound in these expressions par en haut, par en bas, which are nothing more than the old idea of the demagogues. By the fomer he means evidently the government, and calls it revolutionizing by instruction, intelligence, progress and the extension of ideas ; by the latter he means the people, and terms it revolutionizing by insurrection and despair : but the contrary is the truth. For let us examine which of the two is the most intelligent, progressive and peaceful, that by the government or that by the people. The former is manifestly revolutionizing according to the pleasure of the prince, the impulses of an assembly, the violence of a club, the whim of a dictator or a despot, Louis XIV., Napoleon, Charles X., and practiced it after this manner ; and Guizot, Louis Blanc, Leon Faucher, wish to try the same mode.

The other way, however, by the people is revolutionizing by the common consent of all citizens, by the experience of the laborer, by the progress and diffusion of knowledge; it is the freedom of revolution, such as Condorcet, Turgot, and Robespierre desired.

The greatest revolutionist in France was St. Louis, when he was only the register of the public will.

The socialists have fallen into the same error as the radicals; "St. Simon, Fourier, Owen, Cäbet, Louis Blanc, are all for an organization of labor by means of the state, or by capital, or by some other form of authority Í instead of teaching the people to organize themselves, and to appeal to their own reason and experience ; they say " give us power." They are Utopians,-like the despots.

Governments from their very nature never can be revolutionary. Society, the whole mass of the people elevated in intelligence, can alone revolutionize itself. Governments are the scourges of God to discipline the world ; for them to create liberty would be to destroy themselves. Every revolution in the world, from the crowning of the first king down to the declaration of the rights of man, has been accomplished by the spontaneous will of the people. Did government possess the science of revolution and social progress they could not apply it ; they must first transfer it to the people, and then gain their consent; which would be a contradiction, in terms, and a complete misconception of the meaning of power and authority.

Look at the countries that are the freest, are they not those where the power of the government is the most restricted—where the people generally take the initative; the United States of America for instance ? England, Switzerland, Holland; and those are the most enslaved—where the governing power is the best organized and the strongest ; ourselves for example ? and yet we are always complaining of not being governed, and asking for a stronger arm at the helm of state.

The Church, like an affectionate mother, came first; and said "everything for the people, but alley the prince."

Then came the monarchy, " every thing for the people, but all by the prince."

Next the doctrinaires or liberals, " everything for the people, but all by the middle class."

The radicals, though changing the formula, have retained the principle, "everything for the people, but all by the government."

Always the same communism, the same governmentalism.

Who then will say? everything for the people, and everything by the people, even the government!

According to M. Lamartine, the government has to issue its commands, and the country only to yield its consent. Whereas all history tells us that that government is the best which comes nearest to making itself useless. Do we want parasites to labor or priests to speak to God ? neither do we want representatives to govern us. It has been said by some one, that for man to speculate in his fellow-man is open robbery. And the government of man by man is slavery ; so every religion founded upon any form whatever of papal infallibility is sheer idolatry, the worship of man by man.

And yet after all these fruits of the absolutist principle we have still,

The judgment of man by man.

The condemnation of man by man.

And to crown the list, the punishment of man by man.

All these, however, we must submit to, until in the progress of time they grow old, perish, and fall off like ripe fruits in their due season ; they are the instruments of our apprenticeship. Philosophy repudiates these symbols of a barbarous age, and yet admits not the rights of any one to compel a people to be free, who wish to be governed.

It has no confidence in any social reforms that do not arise spontaneously from the people, and acknowledges no revolutions that do not receive the initiative from the masses.

I have made my profession of faith. You know the personages who are to play the principal parts in this drama of my political life ; you know the subject of tho piece, listen attentively to what I now relate.




Chapter XVIII

21st March : Law Concerning The Clubs.

Reaction made another step, from the republicans of the morrow to the doctrinaires ; but one more false move of the democrats, and we fell into the hands of the Jesuits. Step by step we advanced towards the completion of the revolution, the annihilation of authority. It was necessary first that government should show itself incapable of ex isting either with the constitution, with free institutions, with principles or classes ; the first was attacked by Odil- lon Barrot, the second by Leon Faucher, in his bill against the clubs, the others would come afterwards, under the government of Louis Bonaparte, who was destined to lead governmental authority to the final act of its suicidal course ; and this was done with a consistency and strictness that belong to no other country ; for the French are the most logical people in the world.

The attack upon the clubs was an attack upon all the institutions established and confirmed by the revolution ; it was, as M. Cremieux loudly declared on the 21st March, a direct violation of the constitution. Henceforth there were two classes in the country ; a majority and a minority, the oppressors and the oppressed ; for everywhere the socialists were hunted down, and those who were only suspected of opinions then looked upon as aggravating circumstances, were treated as common malefactors,

The right of insurrection can only exist under an absolute government, where the people have no voice in the constitution ; but in the present case, universal suffrage remaining to us, our only legitimate mode of defeating our adversaries was by legal resistance ; and the plan proposed by Le Peuple, namely, an organized refusal to pay the taxes all over the country, would have been a most effectual instrument. Since the 13th June, however, this is no longer practicable or necessary ; my proposition was received with distrust by the radicals : if the people refuse to pay taxes once, said these slavish advocates of government, they wiU refuse them altogether, and then government will be impossible : and my reward was a fine of 10,000 francs and ten years' imprisonment.

But to my shame, I must confess, wo were all blind to our own real interest, and the event has proved that radicalism was better served by its own incapacity than it could have been by the means I proposed. Since the 13th June, we have done with parties and governments ; and that is much better than to have established the mountain in the room of the doctrinaires and Jesuits. The revolution has left us nothing further to do. II mondo va da se! The world moves of itself.

CHAPTER XIX. 16тн Apiiil : Expedition то Rome.

The coincidence of the revolutionary dates in 1848 and 1849 almost to the very day, is rendered still more remarkable by the similarity of the events at each date ; those in 1849 being in each case the counterparts of the same date in 1848. This analogy must lead us to the conclusion that the collective human thought has a greater influence in the government of the world than those two powers that have hitherto shared the worship of man—Providence and Chance. The war against the Roman republic was the death-blow given to the principle of authority by the hand of Louis Bonaparte. Wonderful coincidence! At the beginning of the century a Bonaparte is the mightiest personification of authority ; fifty years afterwards the most powerful instrument of its destruction is a Bonaparte. Is this chance or mystery ?

We have already shown how the constitution established the separation of powers as the necessary condition ol government, and the deductions to be drawn from this principle—we shall now put these in a logical formula ; for as in physical science, so in history, all the grand phenomena may be translated by a simple algebraical or logical formula.

The events following the revolution of February completed the experiments necessary to establish the following syllogism respecting government :—

Major.—Government must be either a despotism or dualism.

Minor—Now despotism is impossible, and dualism к abo impossible.

Conclusion—Therefore government is impossible.

The Râteau proposition was the practical representation of this syllogism.

The next step was to show that free institutions were incompatible with government; this was done on the 21st March, by the mouth of Leon Faucher, who, by his law against the clubs, declared republican institutions, the liberty of the press, the right of association and meeting, inconsistent with power and authority. The dilemma now becomes more contracted, the formula more expressive.

No liberty,

Or no government.

The Government now plainly said to Liberty—" Slay me, or I slay thee."

The next step was the final blow, it was directed a«ttins1 the church, the sole legitimate source of authority. From the beginning the temporal had endeavored to render itself independent of the spiritual. When royalty first took up the sword to free itself from the thraldom of the church it set the example of insurrection to its own slaves. Royalty, in rising against the pope, made the first step toward its own ruin. From this schism of the temporal and

spiritual, the people continued to derive fresh strength. In ,he 16th century the company of Jesus was established for the purpose of reducing the temporal once more under the spiritual power. The puritanic school of Jansen ex]«-« j ;heir secret intentions, and royalty overthrew the Jesuits and confirmed the separation of the Galilean church Then came the charter of 1830, which, by declaring catkJ- icism only the religion of a majority, humiliated the church. and thus destroyed the principle of authority in its very source ; power was now but a shadow, and the state a fiction. The people could now say to the government— Who are you that we should obey you ? The European powers must now abjure themselves or restore Jesuitism. The last hour has struck ; the tempest that is destined to sweep away the throne and the holy see is already heard in the distance. The dilemma is contracted to its narrowest bounds, the formula appears in its inexorable conciseness.

No papacy,

Or no liberty,

The vote of the 10th April, sanctioning the expedition to Rome, was an inevitable event ; but after the taking of Rome by the French army, the fall of the papacy waj no longer doubtful.

The doctrinaires wished to form a sort of constitutional papacy, and wrote a book called, Reason in harmony ttith Faith, which only tended to show that the two were incompatible ; just as the revolution had for the last fifty years shown that the co-existence of liberty and authority were impossible, and are both very similar to perpetual motion and the quadrature of the circle.

What eclecticism attempts to discover in philosophy, the iuste-milieu attempts in poHtics.

Ask the eclectic—Are you a materialist ?

He replies—No.

A spiritualist?—Certainly not.

What then ? a realist ?—God forbid !

An idealist ?—I differ from him.

A pantheist ?—I know not what it is.

An atheist ?—I know not the meaning of it.

A sceptic ?—That is impossible.

Out of my sight then ; you're a humbug or a stupid !

We shall see that the doctrinaire's politics are the counterpart of this.

What do you think of the republic ?—A great fact.

The monarchy ?—I stick to legality.

The president?—He is elected by six millions of votes.

The constitution!—The sum total of our political ideas.

Socialism ?—A beautiful utopia.

Property ?—a necessary evil.

Do you believe in religion \—I respect it.

Do you believe in equality?—I wish for it.

Do you believe in progress?—I do not oppose it

The eclectic and the doctrinaire, (the utilitarian, or Benthamite,) and above them both, the Jesuit, such are the three elements that now govern France, I had almost said that have ever governed the world.

At present, the Jesuit seems to reign unopposed in Europe ; and yet the attack on Rome was the commencement of their ruin. For whether successful or not, the ruin of the papacy must be the result ; for, either it must disappear under the reforms of Mazzini, by which the Pop?, simply Bishop of Rome, having no authority in the church, his power as Pope would be gone ; or, restored by foreign bayonets, established in the blood of its revolted subjects, the papacy must become an object of horror to the Christian world, and perish by its own victory : a Pope the ??? of Christ, reigning by the sword, is a blasphemy of the tiara: it is Antichrist.

The alliance of the doctrinaires with the Jesuits has overthrown every obstacle—religion, papacy, monarchy, am government Bishops of France take care! The war against the Roman Republic, rousing the people agains the Church, and disgracing Catholicism, corrupts the revolution, disturbs men's consciences, and compromises the peace of Europe. Socialism, whose mission was to convert you, is your destroyer. Take care ! Separate your selves from the Jesuits while there is yet time, warn your chief, Pius IX., or you are ruined.

[To be Continued.]