The Socialist Soirées of New York
The social liquidation
is the order of the day.
PRACTICAL SOLUTION OF SOCIALISM
and of the
FEDERATIONS CALLED TO FORM
THE REPUBLIC OF PEOPLES
Workers, this little book contains your freedom. Read it. You will find there ideas completely apart from received opinions. If they appear to you unenforceable and intolerable at first view, suspend your judgment. Close the book and say to yourself: that which appears to me the most impracticable is perhaps easier to apply than I first believe: for often the extremes touch. Then, take up the book again; and this second time read it with the intention of finding their something practical and easy to apply; I am certain that you will grasp the relations of the details of the organization of a society based on the equality and solidarity of conditions, with its ensemble.
This done, I would have you commit yourself cause that I serve; for if you are just and seek only truth, as I suppose, moved by the decline of the artisans, you will be on my opinion.
I have called my little book ATERCRACY, from the two Greek works ATER (without) and CRATOS (government), instead of AN-ARCHY which is taken in bad part and signifies disorder to almost everyone. I have given it this new name which means without government, without power, because I have wanted it to be well established in the mind of my reader, that I hold all the CRACIES, whether they be demo, aristo, auto, pluto, ochlo, theo or others, as traps, where by turns the simple have been taken, then put to work for the clever ones who have always said to them that it was for the better.
All the cracies are oppressive; for none, on pain of suicide, can permit man to be his own sovereign; what socialism wishes.
I have taken much care in making this little book. I fear that it will be still more difficult to read. I often repeat myself in order to be clear and better understood. I would have liked to be more concise and more complete; but each of its forces matched. Accept it as it is, since I have not been able to do otherwise or better.
The eternal honor of France in the eyes of future generations will be to have first, at Lyon, in 1831 and in 1834, at Paris in 1839, proclaimed the right to live by laboring; then at Paris in 1848, to have offered the national tribune to the modern socialist schools.
By this fact, the speculative socialism that has existed before then has become positive and even despite itself a political party. In the journals, on the balcony of the city hall, as in the French tribune, it has been able to speak to the world with authority, to proclaim their its origin and its future, to glorify its thinkers and its commanders; and, faithful to the revolutionary tradition, to declare that it has only one mission to accomplish: that of occupying it with the happiness of the human race.
If its avowed aim of giving instruction to all and of dividing social wealth more equitably has alarmed the silly party of the bourgeoisie and terrified the despots; in return its doctrines have carried hope and consolation in the heart of every man who thinks and cares about his dignity.
It is indeed that socialism not only brings justice in social relations; but it reverses the relations of labor and capital, so that capital will be only the servitor of labor.
It created a new social order where labor is more in demand that in supply; where credit is mutual and, consequently, gratuitous; where free exchange, far from offering any danger, naturally creates more well-being; where the division of labor which today makes man decline returns him to study and liberty; where the public expenses are no longer paid by the taxed citizens; where, finally, public wealth is equilibrated with population.
Its social laws harmonize with the nature of man. Alone it constitute the family; alone it allows man to labor when and how he wants, under his own responsibility; in a word, it is the economic science of the future, the only true, greeted with goodwill and respect by all people of merit and intelligence and misunderstood by all the mediocrities jealous of everything that they have not foolishly dreamed up, and hatched.
If the Stuarts, instead of seeking to again take absolute power and impose papism on England, had made concessions to the revolution which had dethroned their father; if they had taken some economic measures which would lead gradually, and even after a certain lapse of time, to the emancipation of the working classes, one of their descendants would not have died, without employment, in a house of beggars. He would have been able to gain his life by his table and perhaps to become useful to his country. I speak of one of the descendants of Charles I of England and of Henri IV king of France; but if I look around me, how often do I not see rich families today, whose descendants, within thirty years from now, will put the riffraff to shame.
The rich and powerful of the day should consider this subject well. They have certainly earned the grief.
— Thus, according to you, socialism alone can make men free and resolve the economic problem of the production and distribution of wealth for the general satisfaction. A difficult question that the economists still have not been able to resolve and which appears to me, indeed, much tangled.
— Yes, only socialism can do it, because, contrary to the political economy which only note, analyze and describe the economic facts of the present society, without occupying itself, if adapted to another milieu, their results will not be completely different, socialism has a complete doctrine; it created a new order of things, where by the substitution of a social capital to private, individual credit, which despoils the masses for the profit of some oligarchs production is done by participation, in social centers transformed or by the simple law of attraction regulated by supply and demand, all can naturally rank in all the functions, and where all are remunerated, without possible discussion, in the mathematically determined proportion of the labors they have done, of the services that they have rendered.
— This demands to be clarified: for it is the key to the problem. First, are these economic facts of which you speak practicable? Then, in admitting them possible, do they conform to justice?
— Doubtless. Where will be our strength, if in order to victoriously combat the prejudices and abuses of the old world, we would not have justice on our side.
— Let us specify the facts. It is to socialism that I address myself or rather to one of its adepts. What is your aim?
— I have told you: That of progress, which is to say, to better satisfy each day, more needs, with the least possible effort.
— How can this happen?
— By industry.
What is industry?
— It is the application of all the faculties of man to produce; it is matter exploited, dominated by human intelligence.
— Is it only that?
— It is man made free by labor, creating utilities, values, new forces which centuple his power. Properly speaking, there is only one industry; but to better understand its evolutions in the world, to better analyze its phenomena and results, we divide it into extractive, agricultural, manufacturing, exchanging, circulating, and immaterial Industries.
— My friend, the economists have said the same thing. They have classified industry, as you did it; and if it is not the replacement of private credit by a social capital which after all will not be will not be held in a basket without a bottom, and the functioning of which I still do not understand; I do not see in what you differ.
— How, to produce for men all that is necessary for their existence, to put capital and instruments of production at their disposition, so that land, workshops, machines, tools, raw material, etc., without the direct or indirect aid of the private fortune of some men, is it to want what the economists call for?
— Hasn’t one of them said: “In order for man to be free, he must be able, not only to develop, but also that he knows how to exercise his physical, intellectual and moral faculties in the manner most advantageous for himself and his fellows.”
— Charles Dunoyer spoke that day as a socialist: that is all.
— Another has also said: “That without tomorrow provided for, there is not for man home, family, or good mores.”
— Michel Chevalier said it; but he had hardly said it when he hastened to add: “economics is the science of material interests, it does not pose social questions; that is politics. Now, if we consult politics, it responds to us that the great business of our times: is the birth of liberty by civilization.” As if Michel Chevalier, a man of real merit, did not known better than anyone, that liberty is only the result of an organized social milieu, and consequently in the domain of political economy.
— Nonetheless, you do not deny that the economists start from the same point as the socialists, in order to arrive at the same end; but that their means differ.
— The economists don’t start from any point, in order to arrive at any end. I do not deny that several of them know many things; but their knowledge consists purely and simply in feeling the pulse of a sick society and to say to the government which often pays it for this, what it thinks of the dying oldster.
The great thinkers who have dared to go deep into the questions of wealth, like Adam Smith; of value and rent, like Ricardo; of property, like Jean-Baptiste Say, of wages and farm-rent, like Rossi; of machines and de routes, like Chevalier; of liberty, like Dunoyer; of production, revenues and population, like Sismondi, are more than economists; they are the fathers of social science. As for the guilleminets writers, their compilers who are called their colleagues,—the Dupins, Garniers, Sudres, Thiers, Reybauds and other Paturôts of the same caliber,—as it is their daily work to insult the socialists and to speak of what they do not know, we will leave these gentlemen to tranquilly direct their marking up of the budget. Let us take up our question again.
— Well! my friend, the question for me is this: can men, without living under the regime of the community or of the property caste, in order to produce what is necessary for their existence and his refinement, have at their disposition capital, such as land, workshops, tools, machines, raw materials, etc., etc., without the direct or indirect aid of private credit, of the individual fortunes of a few men? The socialists affirm it. The economists deny it. Which is right?
— If you mean society as it has been in the past and as it is still, the economists are not wrong; but if you admit that what has not yet been may perhaps be tomorrow, the socialists are right.
— In order to admit that what does not exist today is possible tomorrow, it is necessary to be convinced of it. Have you only persuaded the economists of the excellence of your means?
— To persuade people who do not want to hear or to read; that would be far too naive. Isn’t their opposition set, and are we not still for them the proud, wild, ignorant, ambitious, rascals, what have you?
— Their vanity has rendered them unjust and blind towards you, I admit; but you have not been any more careful with them. You have treated them as like imbeciles and rascals.
— We have been wrong; the big words prove nothing. However, how should we describe them if they do not understand us at all or act like they don’t understand us, after they have written so much against us?
— They can understand you very well and believe that you are mistaken, without being imbeciles or rascals.
— Then why don’t they prove it?
— There are always things which are not proven.
— In a matter of opinion, that is possible; but, one of two things must be true, either economics is a science or it is a matter of opinion; if it is a science, as its adepts say emphatically, it must prove what it asserts; if, on the contrary, it is only a matter of opinion, the socialists need not take any account of it.
— Does socialism prove all that it asserts?
— Without doubt. Where would be its power, if it was otherwise? It does not have at its service, like political economy, the fait accompli, the established order of things, to say to its readers: look. It must prove the truth of the economic fact that it asserts and that the proof that it gives of it is so much more clear, that the man who hears it can convince himself by seeing it applied before his eyes.
— Socialism has declared that it is of public utility to guarantee to all men their right to live and work; how will it prove it?
— In the most triumphant fashion. What is labor, it is asked? It is, in the opinion of everyone, the application of the physical and intellectual faculties of man to fashion some object or render a service.
The stronger and more intelligent a man is, the better his labor is; the larger is its quantity.
The more work that is done and the better the quality of it, the more the general wealth is augmented.
The greater the general wealth; the more easily men must live and their well-being increases.
— It is incontestable, and, I add, uncontested.
— If it is uncontested: let us conclude.
It order to augment the general well-being, it is necessary to augment social wealth.
It order to augment the general wealth, men must labor quickly and well.
In order for labor to be good, productive and abundant, man must have his physical and intellectual faculties well developed.
In order that man be strong and intelligent, he must then be well-housed, well-clothed, well-nourished and especially well-instructed.
The conclusion of all this is thus that instruction, food, clothing and shelter should be, pour cause public utility, guaranteed to all men who want to work. Is this clear?
It is very easy to say that it must guarantee to every man his right to live and work; but how; by what means?
In 1848 the government of the Republic wanted to do it, and tried it; the Constituent Assembly composed of the most honest and wisest political men of France and I would say even the best intentioned in favor of the Republic, has voted millions in order to form workers’ associations; and what was the result? The most complete failure; a fall from which Socialism has not picked itself up.
— My friend, if I did not know you to be a man of heart and intelligence, loving truth for its own sake, and incapable of sacrificing it to an opinion made in advance, or to any political party, what you say to me, would make me class you in the category of those who have never had any opinion but that of the newspaper that they read. How could you think that Socialism has had something in common with the associations founded in 1848 by the government of Cavaignac who abhorred them, or with the national workshops invented by the rector Marie who despised the workers; when we have made nothing of what Socialism has taught for forty years; when the associations had no link of solidarity between them; when instead of compensating the producers in proportion to their efforts, when instead of compensating the producers in proportion to their efforts, it used them, even a greater number of them than it employed..
Now, what is an association composed of ten, of a hundred, of a thousand persons or more gathered in a society in order to make clothes, shoes, hats or other objects, if its number is arbitrarily limited; if it employs some workers having no part in production; but which it pays by the day; if it does not establish a link of solidarity between all laborers and all industries?
That association will only be a house of industry like those which exist today, which will have ten, a hundred, a thousand masters, instead of one. If it succeeded and prospered, it would make some awful small proprietors devoted body and soul to the reaction, for fear of losing their four sous; and if it succumbed, instead of leaving a man on the tiles, it would leave hundreds, without resources, in a desperate situation, who would be discouraged and not for the advancement of the idea.
— Who has prevented the Socialists who have formed associations from establishing the solidarity of which you speak?
— Who? But Cavaignac; first: by the obstacles and the direction, that one must give to the associations, according to a rule made by the denigrators of socialism; then by Louis Bonaparte; when he caused to be arrested, at Paris, Rue Jean-Robert, the delegates of the associations founded freely, without the patronage of the government, which yielded at the appeal of Pauline Roland in order to insure among them and to render solidary all the free associations which had begun to develop and prosper.
After have prevented the associations from accomplishing an act of mutuality which favored their development and established equality and solidarity of conditions, between all the workers; it is perhaps in good taste to accuse Socialism of powerlessness, as it was in good taste, in the last century, to insult philosophy, in the person of Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau. But all of that is injustice.
My friend, here is an anecdote which will explain my point better. One day the economists Ch. Dupin, Louis Reybaud and Joseph Garnier promenaded along the Seine. They met an eminent socialist who was fishing—it was Victor Considérant, I am told. This fisherman who had just taken a gudgeon, after having taken it off his hook, forgot to put it in his pannier and tranquilly cast his line back into the Seine; when, two minutes later, he heard a dispute behind him.
The wise Ch. Dupin cried: you cannot maintain the contrary; every time that a fish wiggles its tail, it dies: the experiment has been made in front of me. I will make a report on it to the Academy of Sciences.
The spiritual Louis Reybaud said: when a fish opens its gills, it is lost. I am convinced of it now: I have seen it, with my eyes—behold, Malvina Paturôt would write to her husband.
The profound Joseph Garnier said, with a satisfied air: no, gentlemen! You are mistaken! It is when a fish moves its fins three times in a row that it dies. I have noted it, gentlemen, better than you. It is now a known fact of science. One can draw immense results from it for the instruction of well-thinking youth. I will speak of it, when I re-redo my manual.
But what have you then to dispute thus, the socialist said to them? Each, immediately recounted to him the magnificent remark that he had come to make and asked him what he thought of his perspicacity.
“Where was the fish?” the socialist asked them. “Right there, on the sand,” responded the three savants.
Ah! Ah! Ah! and he went back to fishing.
— Which means that the three wise men are old imbeciles, and that socialism was on the sand in 1848.
— And their associations placed in a milieu fatal to their success and development.
— Then, according to you, socialism has still not been able to manifest itself in a normal manner, to conform to its aspirations?
— Not only have we not permitted it, but three quarters of its detractors have not even taken the time to question it, to examine it. Socialism is a fact; it has a cause; what is it? Where does it come from? Where is it going? Why? What does it want? Is it that its adversaries occupy themselves with it? Why would they? They are well fed; and socialism is occupied with abolishing poverty.
When a man has common sense, and the idea of his adversaries appears unreasonable to him; the first thing that he must do is to examine if he has understood it well; and determine if it is not his intelligence which is at fault. But to do this will be to lack pride; that would be to suppose good sense on the part of his adversaries. To admit that the idea, such as one has understood it is too crazy to interpret as one has done, and that it is necessary to seek a different and reasonable interpretation of it: that would be to recognize a bit of good sense among those that one attacks. Is it that these people in positions who pretend to be wise cannot understand? Fie then!
In ten years, if they still live, they will be considered as stupid; and if they are dead, who will dare to remind posterity that they have lived? They will have in their lifetime drawn their living from the budget. That is enough!
— Socialism, you have said, is a fact; it has a cause. What is it? From whence does it come? Where is it going? What does it want? That is the interesting thing. That is what I ask, and I pray you respond most simply.
— Socialism is a fact; one cannot deny it since one attacks it, not only with insults, but with cannons and assassination. It has a cause like all other facts. What is it? The ingratitude of the bourgeoisie towards the people who helped it make the revolution, and who, instead of doing its part, suppressed it and dragged it down, by making wage workers of its artisans, and, of their masters, subordinates to the caprices of the capitalists who employ them. It comes from Liberty, from the Heresies, from the Waldensians, and, since the revolution, from the three spokesmen of the committee of public safety, Billaud-Varennes, St.-Just and Robespierre, being altered by St-Simon, Fourier, Pierre Leroux, Proudhon, and others.
Where is it going? To equality and the solidarity of conditions.
What does it want? To create, I repeat it, a new order of things, where men will have the same rights;
Where credit will be mutual and free;
Where taxes will be abolished and the revenues of society supplied by that which is given freely by nature, and by which some rich capitalists alone profit today;
Where currency will be a sign representing the exchangeable wealth of the country, but not a wealth by itself;
Where free trade will be natural and advantageous to the working classes;
Where the balance of commerce will have no reason to be;
Where the division of labor and the perfection of machines will lead to the equality of the laborers before production;
Where the circulation of values will be substituted for commerce in things;
Where the markets will be disciplined and know where their outlets and places of resupply are located;
Where property will only be the remuneration of the personal efforts of the individual;
Where the increase of the population will be in relation with the increase of wealth and its equitable division;
Where, finally, men will be free, in that which concerns their person, to do as they wish.
— That is a superb program; but programs often prove nothing. Let us enter, if you please, more deeply into the question and explain to me the particulars.
— That is my intention. I’ll continue.
The aim of man living in society, we have said, being to satisfy the most of his needs with the least possible efforts, he must at all times study, labor and consult with his fellows, in order to produce, exchange and consume; manifestation which, depending on whether the laws of production and of distribution of wealth have been applied more or less unjustly, have given birth to all the political and social systems known until now.
Humanity, directed by a sentiment of justice that each of us carries within, has been gradually led to recognize that anything that costs the least effort to a man must be remunerated to him, and that labor being individual, the remuneration of the efforts of a man creates property; just as all that is given by nature is gratuitous and by right common to all.
Consequently let neither PROPERTY nor COMMUNITY, be, the one or the other, the pivot on which a society could reasonably move, but the two extremes, between which the society oscillates.
And in fact, if property is the right to apply oneself, to oneself, to one’s own works, or to yield them up only in return for equivalent efforts; in order for it to disappear, it would be necessary that every human effort necessary to the satisfaction of our needs should disappear, just as, in order for community to disappear, it would be necessary that nature cease to manifest itself.
Moreover these two extremes,—one of which, property, is what defines itself; and the, community, that which is not defined,—not only touch, but cannot advance without one another; since it is noted that a mechanical invention, the discovery of an economic process can never be worth to their author a profit equal to those that they bring to society; and that the more things reduce in price, because they have been carried out by the forces that the intelligence has been able to apply to industry, the closer they come to community.
Now why are these two necessary extremes of civilization, indispensable to the development of society, fatal, excluding and destroying one another, instead of harmonizing and strengthening one another, while society has the misfortune to make of one or the other, its principle of construction, its basis of evolution.
Because the first, property, renders men selfish and indifferent to everything that does not increase their personal enjoyments; and the second, community, buries them under narrow and tiresome regulations and completely annihilates their individuality.
Thus, their development must take another direction in politics, if men want to free themselves from that capitalist, bourgeois and authoritarian feudalism which ruins them and makes them decline.
Between individualism and le communism, these two extremes, some men have thought that there must be a middle term, a social synthesis. They have sought it and found it; they have called it by the name of Socialism; and Socialism has made its way.
Now what it prepares for in its upward political march is the organization of a society where men will all be free and provided with all that is useful to them; a society where there would be, remember this well, neither kinds, nor government, nor priests, nor the privileged, nor merchants, nor bankers, nor servants, nor bosses, nor wage-workers, nor nobles, nor bourgeois, nor proletariat; no men, finally, living, enriching themselves at the cost of others’ labor.
— But, my dear friend, you would make a blank slate of present society; you would leave nothing standing.
— You believe that I would leave nothing standing, because I proceed by elimination; I would, however, only abolish privileges.
— That is what remains for you to demonstrate.
— I am about to do so. Suppose a country where society is developed according to common sense, and ask me each fact that you want to know; I will tell you how everything will happen, or must happen there; and I am convinced that the social organization of which I speak will appear to you more just, plus sensible, more complete and more practical than you have supposed at first.
— You embarrass me considerably. In order to question you, I must suppose a utopia, and I am nothing less than I am a utopian. Nevertheless, I am going to try to do it. Thus, do not be surprised if the questions that I am going to ask sometimes relate to society, and sometimes to the individual: I will make them up as our conversation suggests them to me.
Before entering into the details of any social organization, I believe that it is good to have an idea of its ensemble. Can’t you give me a glimpse which would aid me in following you into the economic labyrinth where you are going to lead me?
— Yes, but I can only do it in a concrete manner, if I want to be brief and not bore you.
— Let us see.
— The society of which I am going to teach you has JUSTICE for its fundamental organizing principle, and the REPUBLIC for its natural social form.
Under that Republic, services are mutual and reciprocal between the producers and the consumers, in the production, exchange and distribution of wealth.
No one commands; no one obeys, each is his own pope, his own monarch, his own master, his own servant: for there is neither first nor last; and none has the right to impose himself on others, nor to govern them.
We follow there only one line: that of science, of truth.
— This is the new law that you proclaim.
— Well! It is the negation of everything that is accepted, and it appears so far outside of the received ideas, that nobody will follow it; or, I would ever dare say, understand it.
— That is what we will see, if you do not decide to stop on the way.
— Go, then, I am with you.
— Today the problem to be resolved being that of a new organization of production and a more equitable division of wealth, we pose it thus:
What comes together to produce and consumer wealth? Five elements: Land, Labor, Capital, Exchange and Security,
What do each of these five elements produce? What do they consume? Does the portion that each draws for its efforts or its services conform to equity? This is what we must know, for everything is there.
As labor has too small a portion, and Capital one that is too large, the more Exchange and Security do not return to it; and the more that those values that Earth gives free to all, are taken by a few privileged only; this lack of justice in distribution; must it not give rise to murmurs, recriminations, and finally struggles of every sort.
— Without a doubt, where justice is lacking, demands appear.
— Who makes the division, today, to these five elements? Is it an economic law? No! It is caprice, force, ruse, arbitrariness, iniquity. One produces an object; one offers it to the consumer; one demands for it a certain price; he accepts or refuses. If he needs it and on one perceives it, the elastic conscience of the seller says to him: raise your price; it is scarce; sell dear. If, on the contrary, it is the seller who needs to sell and the buyer has divined it, he says to himself: the article has little market; he wants to be rid of it; let us offer a lesser price; let us attempt to gain a better deal. The prize goes to the sharpest, the slyest. And each exclaims that he must be clever to succeed in business, and that one really owes his fortune only to his own genius. The word merit is too weak in the eyes of the dealers.
— Are you going to claim now that there is no merit in conducting a business well?
— I will be very careful not to do so; I would only observe to you that it is from genius badly employed, that the majority of all the subtleties and deviousness in transactions would be completely useless, if, instead of commerce of things which demands so much skill and cunning, the exchange of values was organized honestly and accomplished without lies. Now in order that the exchange of values is done naturally and that it returns to each of the elements of production that which is legitimately due to it; it is no longer necessary to bring it back to the conscience of each; but to find the economic law which equitably rules these relations.
There is a fact obvious to everyone; it is that with the present social order, that is a complete impossibility, and that in order to bring about equity in the relations of interests between the producers and the consumers, it is necessary to organize production, exchange and consumption on another basis.
— You always return to that.
— But is it possible?
— If it is possible; how will we arrive there? How will it begin?
— But if the government wanted to occupy itself with it, it would only have an embarrassment of choice. Production, exchange and consumption are the three principle modes of forming, accumulating and preserving wealth. Let one begin by organizing a first one of them, no matter which, the other two will immediately follow.
— Pardon me, but that will not suffice: for that has been tried without success. [John Francis] Bray in 1839 sought to resolve the problem of labor, beginning by organizing production. Before establishing his system of operation, he wrote an extremely remarkable book titled: Labour's Wrongs and Labour's Remedy, where he proved that by producing with harmony and selling products at cost-price, the proletariat was going to disappear. He created some bazaars and shops at Leeds and Sheffield, where all the products were stored. Well! even if he offered them at a price well below what they had sold for elsewhere, they were not bought. His attempt has failed with a loss for all those who had promoted it of six hundred thousand pounds sterling.
— The error of Bray was to believe that he could free individual exchange of its antagonistic elements. He hoped to find an egalitarian relation between production and consumption; but as that egalitarian relation foreseen by Bray can be found only on the condition:
1 of abandoning individual exchanges to a center of consumption which pays to the producer only the value of the labor made on an object and not the substratum of the object;
2 of paying it only still with bills of exchange or circulation: currency which carries with it no intrinsic value; but the certainty that the value that it represents is available and at the service of its holder; he has not succeeded.
— Then, according to you, then thing is not bad; it has only been badly begun?
— And badly maintained by those who had an interest in it. It is unfortunate. But as everything requires an apprenticeship; this has served as a lesson.
— Proudhon, ten years later, taking up again the ideas of Bray, founded his Bank of the People. He wanted to begin with exchange. How did it work out? No better than the others, however strong it was in social economy; it is not knowledge that it lacked.
— If the bank of Proudhon failed, it is because the French government imprisoned Proudhon; when it had seen that his bank had begun to have adherents who took the thing seriously. One had understood why Bray had not succeeded. Jules Lechevalier, in joining with Proudhon, had demonstrated the practical means to make his bank serve the associations of production; no one can thus claim that it would not have succeeded, if the government had not come to destroy it, because all of its adherents were socialists. Supposing even that one would have to modify several of it statutes and change on several points the manner in which it had first commenced its operations, Proudhon was a good enough financier to see, at the first obstacle which presented itself, what would have had to be done to surmount it. Except that here as everywhere, the idea has been crushed in the egg; then one has said: it is wrong.
— I do not speak to you of consumption. You have said that the Socialists were in 1848 like a fish out of water. However, nothing restricted those who had opened social stores. Many made themselves grocers, merchants of all sorts of things. What remains?
— The centers of consumption were not hindered in their sales? they were only closed for political reasons; but if they had been left perfectly tranquil, they would not have succeeded better than the bazaars of Bray. They were based on the same principle and, as I have already said to you, left at the mercy of individual exchanges, with all their elements of antagonism, and under the responsibility of a few guys managing who were not able to do better. Also it is the mode of resolving the problem which has still really not been tried, consequently that by which, in my opinion, it would be necessary to begin.
— Do you think that it offers more chance than the others?
— More ease.
— A center of consumption established and functioning with a certain success, how would it come to make arise the two other means to produce and exchange?
— It would only have to obey necessity, which would reveal each day what it has to do. If a center of consumption sold each day, I suppose, enough garments, enough hats, enough shoes, enough of whatever object in order to occupy a dozen laborers, in whatever industry; one would immediately establish small centers of production, where the laborers would have at their disposition and under their own responsibility, some instruments of labor and material to fashion, to transform. As soon as one of these social workshops was created; it would be necessary to debit the workers for what one furnished to them and credit them for the labor they had done; then to pay and to settle on both sides. These transfers of account, these payments for work done, these settlements for raw materials supplied would give rise quite naturally to the Bank of Exchange of which so many people have spoken and that so few have understood.
— I begin to see your utopia a bit more clearly. You would make of the world an immense hive where all men are producers, and equals. They would all have more than is necessary; must it is all over for the great fortunes and their magnificent dispensers., We would all be in a modest affluence; but none would be so rich as to things on a grand scale. As it is to the rich, after all, that we owe the great things that develop the intelligence and taste of the people; I fear that instead of progressing, we would return to barbarism.
— Your fear, or rather your objection is the same as that of the old Romans to whom one spoke of freeing their slave; that of the lords and clergy who did not want to allow Communes to be established on their lands; that of the nobles and emigrants that the Revolution reduced to their just value; they all said that the changes called for would surely make the people decline. Every reform, according to them, was a deplorable invention; every change a misfortune. Everything must collapse. One raced towards poverty, misery. It is the opposite that has always occurred.
But let us suppose, by extraordinary chance, that men will produce only in order to consumer soberly; well! we will have a sober people, frugal even; but it will be dignified and free. We would have no more speculators piling up millions; but no one would die of cold, nor of poverty.
As for making those great things, such as palaces, theaters, museums, gardens, parks, libraries, etc., etc., that the rich alone can build in our times by whittle away the portion of labor, society will be able to do it better than the richest of its children; and it will establish them, no longer for a few, as they are presently, but for instruction and pleasure of all.