Victor Considerant (W. H. Channing)
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In last week's paper will be found extracts from this distinguished man's "Simple Explanations." The document is translated at length in the Weekly Tribune for July 28th. It was due to Mr. Considerant and to those who acted with him on June 13th, thus to set before all Socialists the motives and plans of the leaders in that "Peaceful Demonstration."
The dignity, decision, truthfulness, honor, which characterize this "Explanation," confirm the high respect awakened by what had been previously written, said and done, by the Chief of the French Phalansterians. But careful study of this paper authorizes a renewed expression of regret, that Socialists have so imperfectly comprehended the scope of their own principles. The movement of Reorganization—the grandest by far of the age—has been compromised by its friends. The position of Mediatorship offered by Heaven to the heralds of Harmony and the teachers of Transitions has been carelessly cast away. The mistake is grave, though not irreparable. Repentance should be instant and thorough.
I, The Duty of Socialists. Transition.
If a Christian Socialist could gain the ear of Victor Considerant and other Socialist leaders in France and Europe, this is somewhat the tone in which he should speak:
Brethren! You say, "at the same time that we are Phalansterians, we are men, members of the European Democracy, Citizens, Representatives of the People; and without losing sight of our highest aim, the inauguration of the Kingdom of God upon earth, we have yet duties to do as Representatives, Citizens, Democrats!"
Doubtless, we live in the nineteenth century and not in the twentieth, and the very means for introducing triumphantly that glorious future, is fidelity amidst the trying fortunes of the present. We have duties to do not tomorrow, but to day. But what is duty, for one who has caught a glimpse of human destiny, and has learned the law of human development, in an era of Revolution?
It is summed up in one word, Transition. Practical measures for reconciling Property-holders and Producers—there is the whole range of policy committed to our wise efficiency.
What call was there for wasting one precious hour on paper constitutions, when you knew that a tangible, positive reconstruction of the relations between Industry and Capital, was the great need of the time? There were thousands who were fit for nothing better than to tread the beaten road of old fashioned diplomacy and red-tape politics. But for you a new, unexplored, fertile prairie land lay open, of invention, expedients, sagacious plans, a strictly business-like statesmanship, free from all mysterious intrigue.
But 'The Legitimists, Absolutists, Reactionists, would not give you time or chance to set about this Transition-Policy.'
Let us look at this matter thoroughly.
1. What is the strength of the Reactionists? The spirit of Industrial Feudalism, ruling the hearts and hands of the whole Middle Class as well as the Privileged Classes. This you will grant.
2. How unloose that fatal coil, which strangles the productive energy of society? By force? Be logical then, and follow out the principle to its results. Forcible overthrow of Industrial Feudalism involves universal spoliation of the Wealthy by the Poor. This you will grant.
3. Have you the power, even if you should wish it, to dispossess the wealthy in order to make the proletaires possessors?Point to a successful revolt in any age, which has been limited to the working-class. In an age, so prosperous on the whole, as this, it is insanity to dream of overturning Capital and Capitalists by violent disturbance of existing relations Make that issue, wage that battle; and the producers will find themselves a scanty, disorganized, disheartened mob against a numerous, organized, determined army. Defeat is sure. This too, you will probably grant; and if not, it is reasserted as indisputably true.
4. But you had no wish for such spoliation. You know perfectly well, that the problem is, how to multiply wealth, four-fold, ten-fold; and introduce a just system of graduated distribution. This certainly you will grant.
Now then let us return. Supposing the Reactionists did, and do, purpose to thwart you in your schemes of transitional policy, what was, what is, your true course? Revolution or Patience? Plainly the latter. The whole argument proves that patience is your manifest duty. It is the least of evils open to your choice. Nay! it will be soon transmuted into a glorious good.
But again, the Reactionists can not, by any possibility, long or greatly embarrass you in any well matured plan for elevating the condition of the depressed producers. The whole tendencies of the times, Humanity, Providence, work for you, as the procession of the seasons causes germs to put forth root and stem.
Finally, you have no right to doubt that among the Reactionists, are thousands of wise, good hearted, generous, energetic men, quite ready, nay! anxious to co-operate in their own way, in this great work, allotted to the whole generation, of doing justice to long abused Labor.
II. The Position of Socialists.
Yet more, oh Brethren! You have lost sight of, or practically abjured, that grand law of classification which Fourier demonstrated to be God's universal Method.
By quitting your Central Position, you confused both Wings.
This course was as unwise and unjust, as it was undignified; and makes it necessary to do over again, irregularly and out of time, what if it had been done regularly and in time would have conferred unmingled benefits on all classes.
Thus stood parties twelve months ago. On the extreme right were the Absolutists, Bourbonists, Phillippists, Bonapartiste; on the extreme left the Red-Republicans of the Baboeuf and Robespierrean type. Between them were the moderate Republicans.
Now the very center, harmonizing all elements, were naturally, normally, providentially, the Socialists; and the central band of Socialists were the Phalansterians.
Their work was to justify and explain, limit and criticise, suggest and illustrate,—temperately soothing jealousies, cordially recognizing all due claims, holding up an absolute standard, presenting practical measures, biding their time. They should have been at once heart and lungs of the Reorganisation Movement.
Victor Considerant! when you refused your adhesion to Robespierre, amidst a tumultuous Republican club, then did you nobly prove your right to be a leader of Socialists. So when you exposed the madness of Proudhon's destructive schemes. But when you pledged yourself to head the people in the street in defense of the Constitution—call the demonstration peaceful or not—still more when you locked arms with that hot head Rollin, the Socialist Chief was lost amid a crowd of demagogues. Let your name be your guiding talisman. So long as you were Considerant you were Victor. So let it be again and always.
"But the People thought you Utopians, impracticables, visionaries, cowards."
The People were partly right. In dwelling so much on the coming age of Harmony, the Phalansterians have comparatively slighted Transitions. But that was an error easily corrected. And Jules Lechevalier set a fine example in his masterly plan for a three-fold people's exchange. So did Coignet in his instructive essays. It was but necessary to concentrate the talent and energy of the Phalansterian School upon a System of Guarantees, and you would have rapidly become not only the most popular, but what is far better the most trusted, because most trustworthy body in Europe. Is it too late? Heaven forbid. But the People wore wrong, madly wrong, in asking at your hands, or at the hands of any persons a miraculous turning of "five loaves and two small fish" into food for the famishing multitude. Just what they needed was, your calm, clear protest against the folly of their despair. Then the barricades of June 1848, would never have spouted fiery death; then the gutters of the faubourgs would not have run red with the blood of butchery.
III. Good Omens.
But we accept with joy unspeakable your closing words:
"The People of Paris demonstrated on June 13th, that they had finally renounced powder and lead.
"Tomorrow they will understand that Ideas are the irresistible artillery of the modern world."
God grant this great light to the People not only of Paris, but of Christendom.—w. h. c.
- William Henry Channing, “Victor Considerant,” The Spirit of the Age 1, no. 6 (August 11, 1949): 89-90.