Auguste Vermorel: Communal Freedom (April 1871)

Auguste Vermorel

Auguste Vermorel (1841-1871) was a radical French journalist and critic of Napoleon III’s Empire. He was also an advocate of “mutualism,” the conception of socialism developed by Proudhon, which sought to replace capitalist exploitation with a form of workers’ self-management. He was imprisoned several times for his political views and participated in the first attempt to establish a Paris Commune on October 31, 1870, after which he was again arrested. He was elected during the March 26, 1871 elections for the newly formed Paris Commune, and published a newspaper, L’Ami du Peuple. With Varlin and several other Internationalists, he was part of the minority opposed to the creation of a Committee of Public Safety, and disapproved of the execution of hostages. He was seriously wounded during the fighting and taken prisoner to Versaille, where he died on June 20, 1871. In the following article, written at the beginning of April 1871, Vermorel emphasizes some Proudhonian mutualist themes, including the view that control of the economy should pass from the capitalists to the workers’ own organizations, rather than to a “socialist” state.

Citizens:

If you are able to make the Revolution’s victory of March 18th definitive, it will remain one of the greatest moments in the history of humanity.

This date marks the achievement of political power by the proletariat just as the Revolution of ‘89 marked the acquisition of political power by the bourgeoisie.

It is the people, and only the people, who have achieved this revolution—and spontaneously like all great popular movements, rather than by some parliamentary intrigue. Demonstrating their ability and their strength, the people have been able to maintain their leadership of this revolution.

The Central Committee, which took power after March 18th, was composed solely of workers, of proletarians.

And by far the majority of the Commune is composed of workers, of proletarians, even though it also contains some bourgeois devoted to the people’s cause, just as there were some nobles in the Constituent Assembly of 1789 devoted to bourgeois emancipation.

However, while they [the workers] continue to fight, they must lay the foundations for a stable government that will be the measure of what the future will hold, and that will demonstrate the superiority of their aspirations over those of the bourgeoisie.

The error of preceding governments must not be continued, that is to say there must not be a simple substitution of workers in the places occupied previously by bourgeois.

The entire governmental structure must be overthrown with the aim of reconstructing another one according to a new plan based upon the principles of justice and science.

All political measures taken from now on—even when exceptional and provisional—should embody this new character.

Pure and simple confiscation of wealth by the State is an expedient of questionable value, and in normal times this would, it must be said, be a deplorable act since it would necessarily revive State despotism and would run counter to the spirit of our revolution—which is to destroy despotism by means of communal freedom.

What is needed are restorative measures that conform to the principles of justice by transferring to worker-ownership the wealth that has hitherto been left idle or used wastefully, instead of being employed for the improvement of the general welfare of the population.

In a well-organized state, all labour ought to be remunerated equitably. Only labour would be remunerated since it is the sole source of wealth. No worker should be in poverty and those who do not work have no right to participate in the social benefits of production.

The above principles could seem quite general and vague at first glance but we should not stray from them if we wish to remain rooted in revolutionary justice—the true source of our strength.

These principles, moreover, govern the very existence of the Commune.

On the Barricades

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