Trade Unions and the Society of the Future (Brussels Section of the International, 1868)

Recently I posted Iain McKay’s translation of Eugène Varlin’s 1870 article on workers’ societies, in which Varlin expressed views that had become widespread among the libertarian federalists in the International Workingmen’s Association regarding the role of trade unions in combatting capitalism and achieving socialism. This position was first clearly articulated within the International by the Brussels section in its report to the September 1868 Congress of the International. Here I reproduce excerpts from Iain McKay’s translation of the report from the Brussels section, which will be included in his forthcoming Libertarian Reader, a collection of libertarian socialist writings from the 1850s to the present day. I included several selections from anarchist members of the International in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, which covers a time span from 300 CE to 1939. Previously I posted Shawn Wilbur’s translation of the widely circulated 1869 statement from the Belgian Internationalists on the role of the International in creating the social institutions of a libertarian socialist society.

Report of the Brussels Section of the International

We must first declare that in our eyes the strike is not a solution, even partial, for the great problem of the extinction of poverty, but we believe that it is an instrument of struggle whose use will definitely lead towards the solution of this problem. This is why we believe we must respond to exclusive co-operators who see no serious movement amongst workers other than consumer, credit and producer societies and who in particular regard the strike as useless, or even as disastrous to the interests of the workers. We believe that it is necessary here to distinguish between types of strikes, both from the point of view of the organisation of the strike and from the point of view of the goal it pursues. […]

We believe we have sufficiently demonstrated that the strike can therefore offer unquestionable advantages. But, in our opinion, strikes must be subject to certain conditions, not only of justice and legitimacy, but also of opportunity and organisation. Hence, for the question of opportunity, it is easy to understand that such and such a season, for example, may be more favourable to the success of the strike than another. As for the question of organisation, we believe that the strike must be conducted by resistance societies […]

[…] [D]espite our desire and the certainty that we cherish of one day seeing the social order completely transformed, that is to say the abolition of the exploitation of man by man, replaced by the equal exchange of products and reciprocity between producers, we maintain that it is necessary to establish resistance societies, as long as there are categories of workers whose complete liberation is currently impossible. Example: miners, whose instrument of work or raw material can hardly be acquired; navvies, who would require enormous capital to perform their transformations, etc. We again support this necessity, because while founding production associations, it will take, with the current organisation of credit, some time for each of the different professions to acquire the instruments of labour that could require the use of many arms, and because, during the time required to create the necessary capital, the exploiters could reduce wages in such a way that the worker, instead of being able to save enough for his down payment, would fall into the situation of a man who does not know how to meet his commitments.

The resistance society is again necessary because it inspires a certain fear in the exploiter. The latter, when he is not quite sure of success, will be careful not to violate conventions, knowing that he would lose his authority in the case of the failure of his arbitrary attempt. This remark is so true that it can be applied to the exploited. In fact, workers who are forced to return to work which they initially refused because the wage had been reduced, feel the authority exerted over them by the disdainful exploiter much more when need forces them to return, crestfallen, into this prison, which should be a place of happiness and satisfaction for the hard-working man since that is where life, wealth and well-being come from.

The resistance society is of indisputable necessity, as long as the exploitation of man by man remains, as long as the idlers take anything from the work of others. It is necessary not only in view of what we have said, but also because it is only through it that the bosses and the workers will know who they are dealing with in the person of those who come to ask for work. The Association gives each of its members a certificate of morality and honesty. The employer and the worker will know that the Association keeps in its midst only workers free from all taint.

One of the causes of the steady decline of the price of labour, we may also mention, is that unemployed workers go from house to house offering their arms, and thus give the exploiter the idea that there is a greater abundance of unemployed men than there really are. Through association, demands for workers should be made directly to the committees which could still send workers only where the need arises.

Finally, apart from its usefulness for strikes, the placement of workers, etc., the society for maintaining prices is also useful through one of its complementary institutions, namely the insurance fund against unemployment, an essential complement to the resistance fund itself. Indeed, if it is necessary that the association raises funds to provide for the existence of its members in the case of strikes, that is to say, unemployment as a result of a dispute with the bosses, it is at least as useful for it to do the same for unforeseen cases of unemployment due to more or less temporary industrial crises.

If strikes, in order to be successful, need to be made and directed by resistance societies, in turn the resistance societies will be serious only when they are all federated, not only in a trade and in a country, but between countries and between trades; hence the need for an international federation. […]

Lastly, we shall conclude this subject by saying that if we are such great supporters of societies for maintaining prices, as we say in Belgium; resistance societies, as they say in France; trade unions, as they say in England; it is not only with regard to the necessities of the present, but also with regard to the social order of the future. Let us explain. We do not consider these societies merely a necessary palliative (note that we do not say cure); no, our sights are much higher. From the depths of the chaos of the conflict and misery in which we are agitating, we raise our eyes towards a more harmonic and happier society. Therefore, we see in these resistance societies the embryos of these great workers companies which will one day replace the companies of capitalists having under their orders legions of employees, at least in all industries where collective force is involved and where there is no middle ground between wage-labour and association. Already in the major strikes that have broken out in recent years a new tendency is quite clearly beginning to emerge: the strike must lead to the production society. That has already been said during the strike of the association of joiners and carpenters in Ghent, as during the strike of tailors in Paris. And that will happen, because it is in the logic of ideas and the force of events. It is inevitable that the workers will to come this little argument: “But while we are on strike because the bosses refuse to accede to our demands, consumers are still clamouring for the products of our industry; since our inactivity does not come from lack of demand but only from the obstinacy of our bosses, why should we not work directly for the public; the money that our fund spends to maintain inactive workers because of the strike could be spent on the purchase of raw materials and tools.”

Once this idea is understood, it will soon be realised. Only, it is important to note (and this is an important point) that these production associations that will result from the transformation of the societies for maintaining prices, will not be these petty associations like most of those existing currently; these latter, excellent as examples and as education which we wish well, do not seem to us to have any great social future, no role to play in the renewal of society because, composed of only a few individualities, they can only succeed, as Dr. Buchner says, in creating, alongside of the bourgeoisie or third-estate, a fourth-estate having beneath it a fifth more miserable than ever. Contrariwise, the production associations derived from the unions encompass entire trades, invade large industry and thereby form the NEW CORPORATION; a corporation that bourgeois economists will gladly confuse (we know) with the old guilds, although the latter was organised hierarchically, based on monopoly and privilege, and limited to a certain number of members (just like our current small production associations), while the former will be organised on the basis of equality, founded on mutuality and justice, and open to all.

Here appears to us the real and positive future of the trade unions, because the strike, we admit, is only useful as an interim measure; perpetual strikes would be the perpetuation of wage-labour, and we want the abolition of wage-labour; perpetual strikes would be the fight without truce nor end between capital and labour, and we want, not precisely what has been called today the association of labour and capital (a hybrid combination, under which the capitalist, provider of finance, has an agreement with the workers to eliminate the boss, while still collecting interest and dividends from labour), rather we want the absorption of work by labour; since capital is accumulated labour, which must have only a simple exchange value equal to the value of the labour it has cost, it cannot be taken into account in the division of the products; product of labour, capital can only be the property of the worker, he cannot be associated with it.

So, this transformation of resistance societies taking place not just in one country but in all, or at least those which are at the head of civilisation; in a word, all these associations of all lands, federated, will intervene initially for the struggle, benefiting from this federation to apply the reciprocal exchange of products at cost price, and international mutual exchange will replace the protectionism and free trade of the bourgeois economists. And this universal organisation of labour and exchange, of production and circulation, coinciding with an inevitable and necessary transformation in the organisation of land ownership at the same time as with an intellectual transformation, having for a starting point integral education given to all, social regeneration will be carried out in both the material and mental domain. And humanity, henceforth based on science and labour instead of being based on ignorance and the domination of capital as today, marching from progress to progress in all branches of the arts, sciences and industry, will peacefully fulfil its destiny.

The Brussels Section of the International, September 1868

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Kropotkin: Merry Effing Xmas!

Peter Kropotkin’s birthday on the modern calendar falls on the Winter Solstice, December 21, 1842 (Wikipedia, as with many things, does not acknowledge that December 9th is Kropotkin’s birthday on the old Russian calendar). Every year around this time I like to post something by Kropotkin, sometimes with a Christmas theme. So this year I am presenting two excerpts. The first is from Kropotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist, where he describes reading Charles Dickens’ Christmas stories while imprisoned in Russia in 1874. The second is from his Conquest of Bread, where Kropotkin argues for anarchist communism, in what Christian anarchists might describe as the true spirit of Christmas. I included several excerpts from Kropotkin’s writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Christmas in Prison

When he learned about my arrest, [my brother] Alexander immediately left everything, — the work of his life, the life itself of freedom which was as necessary for him as free air is necessary for a bird, — and returned to St. Petersburg, which he disliked, only to help me through my imprisonment.

We were both very much affected at this interview. My brother was extremely excited. He hated the very sight of the blue uniforms of the gendarmes, those executioners of all independent thought in Russia, and expressed his feeling frankly in their presence. As for me, the sight of him at St. Petersburg filled me with the most dismal apprehensions. I was happy to see his honest face, his eyes full of love, and to hear that I should see them once a month; and yet I wished him hundreds of miles away from that place to which be came free that day, but to which he would inevitably be brought some night under an escort of gendarmes. “Why did you come into the lion’s den? Go back at once!” my whole inner self cried; and yet I knew that he would remain as long as I was in prison.

He understood better than any one else that inactivity would kill me, and had already made application to obtain for me permission to resume work. The Geographical Society wanted me to finish my book on the glacial period, and my brother turned the whole scientific world in St. Petersburg upside down to move it to support his application. The Academy of Sciences was interested in the matter; and finally, two or three months after my imprisonment, the governor entered my cell and announced to me that I was permitted by the Emperor to complete my report to the Geographical Society, and that I should be allowed pen and ink for that purpose. “Till sunset only,” he added. Sunset, at St. Petersburg, is at three in the afternoon, in winter time; but that could not be helped. “Till sunset” were the words used by Alexander II when he granted the permission.

So I could work!

I could hardly express now the immensity of relief I then felt at being enabled to resume writing. I would have consented to live on nothing but bread and water, in the dampest of cellars, if only permitted to work.

I was, however, the only prisoner to whom writing materials were allowed. Several of my comrades spent three years and more in confinement before the famous trial of “the hundred and ninety-three” took place, and all they had was a slate. Of course, even the slate was welcome in that dreary loneliness, and they used it to write exercises in the languages they were learning, or to work out mathematical problems; but what was jotted down on the slate could last only a few hours.

My prison life now took on a more regular character. There was something immediate to live for. At nine in the morning I had already made the first three hundred pacings across my cell, and was waiting for my pencils and pens to be delivered to me. The work which I had prepared for the Geographical Society contained, beside a report of my explorations in Finland, a discussion of the bases upon which the glacial hypothesis ought to rest. Now, knowing that I had plenty of time before me, I decided to rewrite and enlarge that part of my work. The Academy of Sciences put its admirable library at my service, and a corner of my cell soon filled up with books and maps, including the whole of the Swedish Geological Survey publications, a nearly complete collection of reports of all arctic travels, and whole sets of the Quarterly Journal of the London Geological Society. My book grew in the fortress to the size of two large volumes. The first of them was printed by my brother and Polakóff (in the Geographical Society’s Memoirs); while the second, not quite finished, remained in the hands of the Third Section when I ran away. The manuscript was found only in 1895, and given to the Russian Geographical Society, by whom it was forwarded to me in London.

At five in the afternoon, — at three in the winter, — as soon as the tiny lamp was brought in, my pencils and pens were taken away, and I had to stop work. Then I used to read, mostly books of history. Quite a library had been formed in the fortress by the generations of political prisoners who had been confined there. I was allowed to add to the library a number of staple works on Russian history, and with the books which were brought to me by my relatives I was enabled to read almost every work and collection of acts and documents bearing on the Moscow period of the history of Russia. I relished, in reading, not only the Russian annals, especially the admirable annals of the democratic mediæval republic of Pskov, — the best, perhaps, in Europe for the history of that type of mediæval cities, — but all sorts of dry documents, and even the Lives of the Saints, which occasionally contain facts of the real life of the masses which cannot be found elsewhere. I also read during this time a great number of novels, and even arranged for myself a treat on Christmas Eve. My relatives managed to send me then the Christmas stories of Dickens, and I spent the festival laughing and crying over those beautiful creations of the great novelist.

The Conquest of Bread – Ways and Means

If a society, a city, or a territory, were to guarantee the necessaries of life to its inhabitants (and we shall see how the conception of the necessaries of life can be so extended as to include luxuries), it would be compelled to take possession of what is absolutely needed for production; that is to say — land, machinery, factories, means of transport, etc. Capital in the hands of private owners would be expropriated and returned to the community.

The great harm done by bourgeois society, as we have already mentioned, is not only that capitalists seize a large share of the profits of each industrial and commercial enterprise, thus enabling them to live without working, but that all production has taken a wrong direction, as it is not carried on with a view to securing well-being to all. For this reason we condemn it.

Moreover, it is impossible to carry on mercantile production in everybody’s interest. To wish it would be to expect the capitalist to go beyond his province and to fulfill duties that he cannot fulfill without ceasing to be what he is — a private manufacturer seeking his own enrichment. Capitalist organization, based on the personal interest of each individual trader, has given all that could be expected of it to society — it has increased the productive force of work. The capitalist, profiting by the revolution effected in industry by steam, by the sudden development of chemistry and machinery, and by other inventions of our century, has endeavoured in his own interest to increase the yield of work, and in a great measure he has succeeded. But to attribute other duties to him would be unreasonable. For example, to expect that he should use this superior yield of work in the interest of society as a whole, would be to ask philanthropy and charity of him, and a capitalist enterprise cannot be based on charity.

It now remains for society to extend this greater productivity, which is limited to certain industries, and to apply it to the general good. But it is evident that to guarantee well-being to all, society must take back possession of all means of production.

Economists, as is their wont, will not fail to remind us of the comparative well-being of a certain category of young robust workmen, skilled in certain special branches of industry. It is always this minority that is pointed out to us with pride. But is this well-being, which is the exclusive right of a few, secure? Tomorrow, maybe, negligence, improvidence, or the greed of their employers, will deprive these privileged men of their work, and they will pay for the period of comfort they have enjoyed with months and years of poverty or destitution. How many important industries — woven goods, iron, sugar, etc. — without mentioning short-lived trades, have we not seen decline or come to a standstill alternately on account of speculations, or in consequence of natural displacement of work, and lastly from the effects of competition due to capitalists themselves! If the chief weaving and mechanical industries had to pass through such a crisis as they have passed through in 1886, we hardly need mention the small trades, all of which come periodically to a standstill.

What, too, shall we say to the price which is paid for the relative well-being of certain categories of workmen? Unfortunately, it is paid for by the ruin of agriculture, the shameless exploitation of the peasants, the misery of the masses. In comparison with the feeble minority of workers who enjoy a certain comfort, how many millions of human beings live from hand to mouth, without a secure wage, ready to go wherever they are wanted; how many peasants work fourteen hours a day for a poor pittance! Capital depopulates the country, exploits the colonies and the countries where industries are but little developed, dooms the immense majority of workmen to remain without technical education, to remain mediocre even in their own trade.

This is not merely accidental, it is a necessity of the capitalist system. In order to remunerate certain classes of workmen, peasants must become the beasts of burden of society; the country must be deserted for the town; small trades must agglomerate in the foul suburbs of large cities, and manufacture a thousand things of little value for next to nothing, so as to bring the goods of the greater industries within reach of buyers with small salaries. That bad cloth may sell, garments are made for ill-paid workers by tailors who are satisfied with a starvation wage! Eastern lands in a backward state are exploited by the West, in order that, under the capitalist system, workers in a few privileged industries may obtain certain limited comforts of life.

The evil of the present system is therefore not that the “surplus-value” of production goes to the capitalist, as Rodbertus and Marx said, thus narrowing the Socialist conception and the general view of the capitalist system; the surplus-value itself is but a consequence of deeper causes. The evil lies in the possibility of a surplus-value existing, instead of a simple surplus not consumed by each generation; for, that a surplus-value should exist, means that men, women, and children are compelled by hunger to sell their labour for a small part of what this labour produces, and, above all, of what their labour is capable of producing. But this evil will last as long as the instruments of production belong to a few. As long as men are compelled to pay tribute to property holders for the right of cultivating land or putting machinery into action, and the property holder is free to produce what bids fair to bring him in the greatest profits, rather than the greatest amount of useful commodities — well-being can only be temporarily guaranteed to a very few, and is only to be bought by the poverty of a section of society. It is not sufficient to distribute the profits realized by a trade in equal parts, if at the same time thousands of other workers are exploited. It is a case of PRODUCING THE GREATEST AMOUNT OF GOODS NECESSARY TO THE WELL-BEING OF ALL, WITH THE LEAST POSSIBLE WASTE OF HUMAN ENERGY.

This cannot be the aim of a private owner; and this is why society as a whole, taking this view of production as its ideal, will be compelled to expropriate all that enhances well-being while producing wealth. It will have to take possession of land, factories, mines, means of communication, etc., and besides, it will have to study what products will promote general well-being, as well as the ways and means of production.

Peter Kropotkin

Eugène Varlin: Workers’ Societies (1870)

Workers defending the Paris Commune

Eugène Varlin was one of the most active and dedicated working class revolutionary socialists in France in the 1860s. He was involved in founding the Paris section of the International Workingmen’s Association, in organizing trade unions (workers’ resistance societies), and workers’ cooperatives, such as La Marmite, a cooperative restaurant that provided inexpensive meals to Parisian workers. He advocated what he described as a kind of “anti-authoritarian communism,” and was in contact with Bakunin and the latter’s associate, James Guillaume, with whom he shared what can be described as a proto-anarcho-syndicalist approach. In March 1870 he helped found the Rhone federation of the International, acting as the honourary chairman at its founding meeting. Bakunin sent his regrets. The delegates called for “revolutionary socialist action.” In this article on workers’ societies, published around the time of the Rhone federation’s founding meeting, Varlin explains in more detail the revolutionary role of workers’ societies in implementing the International’s Basle Congress resolution on the role of trade union’s in the revolutionary struggle. The translation is by Iain McKay. Varlin was one of the many summarily executed during the fall of the Paris Commune. I review Varlin’s role in the International and the Paris Commune in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

Eugène Varlin

Workers’ Societies

While our statesmen try to substitute a parliamentary and liberal government (Orleans style) for the regime of personal government, and so hope to divert the advancing Revolution threatening their privileges; we socialists, who by experience know that all the old political forms are powerless to satisfy popular demands, must, while taking advantage of the mistakes and blunders of our adversaries, hasten the hour of deliverance. We must actively work to prepare the organisational elements of the future society in order to make the work of social transformation that is imposed on the Revolution easier and more certain.

So far political states have been, so to speak, only the continuation of the regime of conquest, which presided over the establishment of authority and the enslavement of the masses: Republican Governments, as in Switzerland or the United State; constitutional and oligarchic, as in Belgium or England; autocratic, as in Russia, or personal, as in France since the Empire; it is always authority charged with keeping working people in respect of the law established for the benefit of a few. This authority may be more or less rigid, more or less arbitrary, but this does not change the basis of economic relations, and workers are always at the mercy of the holders of capital.

To be permanent, the next revolution must not stop at a simple change of government etiquette, and some superficial reforms; it must completely liberate the worker from all forms of exploitation, capitalist or political, and establish justice in social relations.

Society can no longer leave the disposition of public wealth to the arbitrariness of the privileges of birth or success: the product of collective labour, it can be used only for the benefit of the collectivity; all members of human society have an equal right to the benefits derived from them.

But this social wealth can ensure the well-being of humanity only on the condition of being put into operation by labour.

If, then, the industrial or commercial capitalist should no longer arbitrarily dispose of collective capital, who then will make them productive for the benefit of all? Who, in a word, will organise the production and distribution of products?

Unless you want to reduce everything to a centralising and authoritarian state, which would appoint the directors of mills, factories, distribution outlets, whose directors would in turn appoint deputy directors, supervisors, foremen, etc. and thus arrive at a top-down hierarchical organisation of labour, in which the worker would be nothing but an unconscious cog, without freedom or initiative; unless we do, we are forced to admit that the workers themselves must have the free disposal of their instruments of labour, under the condition of exchanging their products at cost price, so that there is reciprocity of service between the different specialities of workers.

It is to this last idea that most workers who in recent years have been energetically pursuing the emancipation of their class tend to rally. It is this which has prevailed in the various congresses of the International Workers Association.

But it should not be believed that such an organisation can be easily improvised in every respect! For this a few intelligent, devoted, energetic men are not enough! Above all, it is necessity that workers, thus called to work together freely and on the basis of equality, should already be prepared for social life.

One of the greatest difficulties that the founders of all kinds of [workers] societies tried for the last few years have encountered is the spirit of individualism, excessively developed in most men and even amongst those who understand that only by association can workers improve living standards, and hope for their liberation.

Well! Workers societies, in whatever form they exist at present, already have this immense advantage of accustoming men to social life, and so preparing them for a wider social organisation. They accustom them not only to reach an agreement and understanding, but also to take care of their affairs, to organise, to discuss, to think about their material and moral interests, and always from the collective point of view since their personal, individual, direct interest disappears as soon as they become part of a collectivity.

Together with the advantages that each of these societies can provide to its members, there is, by this fact, the development of sociability, enough to make them recommended to all citizens who aspire to the advent of socialism.

But trade societies (resistance, solidarity, union) deserve out encouragement and sympathy, for they are the natural elements of the social construction of the future; it is they who can easily become producer associations; it is they who will be able to operate social tools and organise production.

Many of their members are often unconscious at first of the role that these societies are called upon to play in the future; at first they think of only resisting the exploitation of capital or of obtaining some superficial improvements; but soon the hard efforts they have to make to achieve insufficient palliatives or even, sometimes, negative results, easily lead them to seek radical reforms that can free them from capitalist oppression. Then they study social questions and get represented at workers congresses.

The congress of the international association held in Basle last September recommended that all workers should group themselves into resistance societies by trade in order to secure the present and prepare for the future. I propose to make a study of the various forms of corporative workers’ societies, and their progressive development, in order to make known to workers who are not yet associated the present advantages which they can gather from their organisation, and to make them benefit from the experience bitterly acquired in these past years by other trade associations.

It is necessary that the new groups get in step with the old ones, for it is only through solidarity, widely understood, by world-wide union of workers of all professions and all countries that we will surely arrive at the suppression of privileges and equality for all.

Eugène Varlin

(La Marseillaise, 11th March 1870)

Félix Frenay: The Law (1864)

Félix Frenay was a Belgian worker who may have been involved in the Belgian section of the International Workingmen’s Association (the “First International”). In addition to writing political pieces like this one, Frenay was a poet. An English review of his book of poetry about working class life described his views as being radical communist-Internationalist. His comments regarding the law are reminiscent of Proudhon’s statement in his 1851 work, General Idea of the Revolution: “Laws: We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of government” (included in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). The translation is by Shawn Wilbur.

The Law

It is truly interesting to observe that over the course of the centuries that history allows us to survey, the human mind, in its slow, but continual march, while undermining institutions, beliefs and prejudices, while attacking all the abominations, has always made one exception. Indeed, when all the religions have fallen or totter on their foundations, one alone will remain upright and solid… and that is the law.

We have polished manners and softened legislations, ridding them of the most shocking asperities, but who has ever attacked the law in its very essence? Who? We could almost respond: no one. And, yet, isn’t it an injustice!

A few men gather and devise constitutions, codes and rules, to which they give the name of laws and which they then impose on others under penalty of death or prison. How is this not tyranny?!

The least idea of justice and injustice is enough to make us understand that, if we can sacrifice our own interests, we are not allowed to dispose of those of others, and that, according to this principle, a law could only be legitimate if, against all odds, an entire nation, since there is a nation, could gather, hear one another out and reach agreement to draw it up; still, it would only be legitimate for a generation. So make as many laws as you like, but obviously only for yourself; give up your own liberty, but respect ours.

What is the law? A dictate emanating from sovereign authority, says the dictionary. But dictated by what right and by what authority?

Law implies justice, harmony, and yet whoever says law says violence and oppression.

The most precise definition of the word law is imposed justice. But justice imposed by force ceases, by that very fact, to be justice. Besides, justice imposes itself, and has no need, like law, to rely on bayonets, to have an escort of gendarmes. True law is written in the consciousness of free people, where it illuminates much better than in codes produced by minds that are sick or clouded by prejudices.

Thus, what we are accustomed to call the law cannot be justice, car justice is one, and the liberal subtleties of the relative can in no way be applied to it, for what is just is just everywhere, as much in Belgium as in France, as in Prussia, Turkey or Japan, unlike the law, which condemns in one country what it permits in some other.

On the other hand, and in modern scientific language, law has a more rational definition and means: necessity, inevitable; thus all bodies obey the laws that govern matter and non can escape from them.

Can we make a body raided in the air and then left to itself not fall toward the earth, which is its center of attraction? Can we make a light that is not transmitted in a straight line and a shadow that would be on the side of a body facing the source of light? No, the laws of nature oppose it. It is impossible that is should not be thus and, consequently, it is not necessary that someone makes sure that the law is observed, for the law is the thing itself… The law is harmony and does not resemble in any way the human absurdities that we manage to impose and enforce a bit only by means of a large cohort of police, and which demand a frightening abundance of courts and condemnations.

We know full well that man, reading this, will cry “abomination,” because we attack the conventional ideas, which are those of the majority, and that the majority must always be right and true. And yet, when the minority becomes the majority, as we almost always see, does it follow that what has just and true yesterday can be unjust and false tomorrow?… How are we to reconcile all that with the universally accepted axiom that justice and truth are immutable?

“When a system of morals and politics is established over a people,” say Paul de Jouvencel, “that system may be true or false, just or unjust, but if it has soldiers, magistrates and executioners, it is necessary to obey. Vainly the conscience of man makes a just rebellion against the absurd iniquity; they insist to the man that it is his conscience that is criminal, and they prove it by reading the article of the code that declares it criminal; and, in order that the proof be most efficacious, they throw him in a dungeon, hang him, burn him, they have him drawn by 4 horse or they cut off his head, according to the customs of the country and the prescriptions of the code that watches over the system of morals.

“There is little hope that this will end. On the contrary, in time one becomes accustomed to it: one accepts what the code says as just and for what it forbids as unjust. Finally, in order to have peace, one tries to do as they are ordered and not to do what is forbidden. And then the time that this obedience has lasted forms a kind of prescription, and serves, if need be, as roof and support for the system of morals and politics. “

The child is born. The law takes note of it, hovers over his cradle, like a threat, to the great despair of the mother; it guards him, observes him, lies in wait, waiting with an implacable patience until he is big and strong enough. Then when the young man emerges from adolescence, when he becomes useful to his fellows, when he begins to help his family or create a new one, that is when all at once the law appears, and he is torn from his affections, from his future. They put in his hands a weapon, which they teach him to maneuver absolutely like an automaton. They read him regulations, from which, they tell him, he cannot free himself without dishonor. It is forbidden for him to think, to speak, to love and to move. He must disregard all the faculties that make him a man. He must abdicate his individuality, become a machine, and, like the machine, obey blindly. Such is the military law: obedience, passive… and stupid.

And there is a man who becomes, despite himself, a member of the soulless body that we can the Army.

There is a being, living an individual life, a man who only asks to develop his own faculties, suddenly reduced to the ranks of the zoophytes, for what is the regiment, if not a collective being like the coral, which has [un]intelligence instead of immobility? Yes, there is an individual who can no longer walk like everyone, nor greet others like you and me; an individual whose hair must be cut in a certain manner and whose beard must be trimmed according to a certain fashion, who eats, drinks, sleeps and, as needed, kills—all according to the rules. In short, there was a man… there is a beast.

Is the law equal for all? No, it tolerates compromises; it has, above all, a weakness for money. It is only inexorable for the poor. For them society has nothing, neither instruction, nor science, nor food, nor clothing, nor shelter, nothing but scorn and harshness. It pushes the wretch to the brink of the abyss, then strikes him with all the rigor of its laws. In this it resembles the imbecile who plunges his dog in the water and then beats it because it is wet.

In a particular society there exist a rule, most often absurd, it is true, but one made known to you before you are admitted, to which you submit willingly. From then on, humiliations and fines can rain down without anyone being about to find fault with it. Didn’t we make an informed commitment? But what would say of a society where we found ourselves inserted despite ourselves and subject to all the humiliations of a regulation that is that much heavier as we cannot avoid it? We would laugh, as that clearly far surpasses the mark of injustice and absurdity, and we would break both the rules and the society. Yet this is how we are in the great society, where individual sovereignty has pride of place. We find ourselves ruled over by an arsenal of codes and regulations that, far from having been made by us, we never even manage to known, although we most certainly feel their effects.

Can we take a step without bumping up against the law? Make a move without feeling its aggravations? Doesn’t it weigh on us in every act of life, from the cradle to the grave? Assuredly. Consequently, the law is a yoke, a straightjacket and cannot be reconciled with liberty, any more than darkness can be reconciled with light. — That is our conclusion.

It might not be superfluous to seek the causes of this obsession with following a rule, from which even the most independent minds have so much difficulty freeing themselves. But as that is a study that goes beyond the scope of this article, we will set it aside for later, promising however to address, along with that other question comes after it: Can or must the law be eliminated abruptly or gradually? We will limit ourselves, for the moment, to protesting against all the laws, oppressive or protective, no matter what one wishes to call them, against all codes, regulations and prescriptions, as being incompatibles with liberty, and declare that above the principle of the sovereignty of the people we put that of the sovereignty of the individual.

Brussels, December 1864.

Félix FRENAY

Le Prolétaire 10 no. 1 (January 8, 1868): 2–3

Kropotkin: The Conquest of Bread

 

I recently came across a website promoting Kropotkin’s classic defence of anarchist communism, The Conquest of Bread. I really don’t know who is behind the website, which is called the Bread Book, but I think it’s great that people are still interested in Kropotkin’s ideas, that they see how relevant they remain today, and recognize the value of spreading Kropotkin’s message. When someone posted the Bread Book link on Facebook a Marxist troll dismissed reading Kropotkin as a waste of time, recommending Marx of course, who wrote almost nothing about how a communist society would function, and why communism was something worth striving for rather than just being the next stage of the historical development of the means of production. So here are some excerpts from what remains the best extended argument for anarchist communism, Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread. I included excerpts from The Conquest of Bread in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

 

From Chapter One – Our Riches

It has come about, however, in the course of the ages traversed by the human race, that all that enables man to produce and to increase his power of production has been seized by the few. Some time, perhaps, we will relate how this came to pass. For the present let it suffice to state the fact and analyze its consequences.

Today the soil, which actually owes its value to the needs of an ever-increasing population, belongs to a minority who prevent the people from cultivating it—or do not allow them to cultivate it according to modern methods.

The mines, though they represent the labour of several generations, and derive their sole value from the requirements of the industry of a nation and the density of the population—the mines also belong to the few; and these few restrict the output of coal, or prevent it entirely, if they find more profitable investments for their capital. Machinery, too, has become the exclusive property of the few, and even when a machine incontestably represents the improvements added to the original rough invention by three or four generations of workers, it none the less belongs to a few owners. And if the descendants of the very inventor who constructed the first machine for lace-making, a century ago, were to present themselves to-day in a lace factory at Bâle or Nottingham, and claim their rights, they would be told: “Hands off! this machine is not yours,” and they would be shot down if they attempted to take possession of it.

The railways, which would be useless as so much old iron without the teeming population of Europe, its industry, its commerce, and its marts, belong to a few shareholders, ignorant perhaps of the whereabouts of the lines of rails which yield them revenues greater than those of medieval kings. And if the children of those who perished by thousands while excavating the railway cuttings and tunnels were to assemble one day, crowding in their rags and hunger, to demand bread from the shareholders, they would be met with bayonets and grapeshot, to disperse them and safeguard “vested interests.”

In virtue of this monstrous system, the son of the worker, on entering life, finds no field which he may till, no machine which he may tend, no mine in which he may dig, without accepting to leave a great part of what he will produce to a master. He must sell his labour for a scant and uncertain wage. His father and his grandfather have toiled to drain this field, to build this mill, to perfect this machine. They gave to the work the full measure of their strength, and what more could they give? But their heir comes into the world poorer than the lowest savage. If he obtains leave to till the fields, it is on condition of surrendering a quarter of the produce to his master, and another quarter to the government and the middlemen. And this tax, levied upon him by the State, the capitalist, the lord of the manor, and the middleman, is always increasing; it rarely leaves him the power to improve his system of culture. If he turns to industry, he is allowed to work—though not always even that—only on condition that he yield a half or two-thirds of the product to him whom the land recognizes as the owner of the machine.

We cry shame on the feudal baron who forbade the peasant to turn a clod of earth unless he surrendered to his lord a fourth of his crop. We called those the barbarous times. But if the forms have changed, the relations have remained the same, and the worker is forced, under the name of free contract, to accept feudal obligations. For, turn where he will, he can find no better conditions. Everything has become private property, and he must accept, or die of hunger.

The result of this state of things is that all our production tends in a wrong direction. Enterprise takes no thought for the needs of the community. Its only aim is to increase the gains of the speculator. Hence the constant fluctuations of trade, the periodical industrial crises, each of which throws scores of thousands of workers on the streets.

The working people cannot purchase with their wages the wealth which they have produced, and industry seeks foreign markets among the monied classes of other nations. In the East, in Africa, everywhere, in Egypt, Tonkin or the Congo, the European is thus bound to promote the growth of serfdom. And so he does. But soon he finds that everywhere there are similar competitors. All the nations evolve on the same lines, and wars, perpetual wars, break out for the right of precedence in the market. Wars for the possession of the East, wars for the empire of the sea, wars to impose duties on imports and to dictate conditions to neighbouring states; wars against those “blacks” who revolt! The roar of the cannon never ceases in the world, whole races are massacred, the states of Europe spend a third of their budgets in armaments; and we know how heavily these taxes fall on the workers.

Education still remains the privilege of a small minority, for it is idle to talk of education when the workman’s child is forced, at the age of thirteen, to go down into the mine or to help his father on the farm. It is idle to talk of studying to the worker, who comes home in the evening wearied by excessive toil, and its brutalizing atmosphere. Society is thus bound to remain divided into two hostile camps, and in such conditions freedom is a vain word. The Radical begins by demanding a greater extension of political rights, but he soon sees that the breath of liberty leads to the uplifting of the proletariat, and then he turns round, changes his opinions, and reverts to repressive legislation and government by the sword.

A vast array of courts, judges, executioners, policemen, and gaolers is needed to uphold these privileges; and this array gives rise in its turn to a whole system of espionage, of false witness, of spies, of threats and corruption.

The system under which we live checks in its turn the growth of the social sentiment. We all know that without uprightness, without self-respect, without sympathy and mutual aid, human kind must perish, as perish the few races of animals living by rapine, or the slave-keeping ants. But such ideas are not to the taste of the ruling classes, and they have elaborated a whole system of pseudo-science to teach the contrary.

Fine sermons have been preached on the text that those who have should share with those who have not, but he who would carry out this principle would be speedily informed that these beautiful sentiments are all very well in poetry, but not in practice. “To lie is to degrade and besmirch oneself,” we say, and yet all civilized life becomes one huge lie. We accustom ourselves and our children to hypocrisy, to the practice of a double-faced morality. And since the brain is ill at ease among lies, we cheat ourselves with sophistry. Hypocrisy and sophistry become the second nature of the civilized man.

But a society cannot live thus; it must return to truth, or cease to exist.

Thus the consequences which spring from the original act of monopoly spread through the whole of social life. Under pain of death, human societies are forced to return to first principles: the means of production being the collective work of humanity, the product should be the collective property of the race. Individual appropriation is neither just nor serviceable. All belongs to all. All things are for all men, since all men have need of them, since all men have worked in the measure of their strength to produce them, and since it is not possible to evaluate every one’s part in the production of the world’s wealth.

All things for all. Here is an immense stock of tools and implements; here are all those iron slaves which we call machines, which saw and plane, spin and weave for us, unmaking and remaking, working up raw matter to produce the marvels of our time. But nobody has the right to seize a single one of these machines and say: “This is mine; if you want to use it you must pay me a tax on each of your products,” any more than the feudal lord of medieval times had the right to say to the peasant: “This hill, this meadow belong to me, and you must pay me a tax on every sheaf of corn you reap, on every brick you build.”

All is for all! If the man and the woman bear their fair share of work, they have a right to their fair share of all that is produced by all, and that share is enough to secure them well-being. No more of such vague formulas as “The right to work,” or “To each the whole result of his labour.” What we proclaim is The Right to Well-Being: Well-Being for All!

Peter Kropotkin

 

Elisée Reclus on Anarchy

Elisée Reclus

Elisée Reclus (1830-1905) was one of the leading 19th century exponents of anarchy and anarchism. Like Kropotkin, he was a geographer. He advocated anarchy from an early age, but only in the 1870s did he begin to play a prominent role in the emerging anarchist movement, as the anarchists in the First International reconstituted the International along anti-authoritarian lines immediately after the expulsion of Bakunin and James Guillaume from the International by Marx and his allies at the 1872 Hague Congress. The anti-authoritarians represented the majority of the International’s sections. Reclus took an active role in the “anti-authoritarian” International, and was instrumental in convincing many involved in the International to adopt anarchist communism as their goal. The following excerpts are taken from Reclus’ well known essay, “An Anarchist on Anarchy,” which was first published in the Contemporary Review, and then republished by Benjamin Tucker as a pamphlet in 1884.

An Anarchist on Anarchy

We are not among those whom the practice of social hypocrisies, the long weariness of a crooked life, and the uncertainty of the future have reduced to necessity of asking ourselves — without daring to answer it — the sad question: “Is life worth living?” Yes, to us life does seem worth living, but on condition that it has an end — not personal happiness, not a paradise, either in this world or the next — but the realization of a cherished wish, an ideal that belongs to us and springs from our innermost conscience. We are striving to draw nearer to that ideal equality which, century after century, has hovered before subject peoples like a heavenly dream. The little that each of us can do offers an ample recompense for the perils of the combat. On these terms life is good, even a life of suffering and sacrifice — even though it may be cut short by premature death.

The first condition of equality, without which any other progress is merest mockery — the object of all socialists without exception — is that every human being shall have bread. To talk of duty, of renunciation, of eternal virtues to the famishing, is nothing less than cowardice. Dives has no right to preach morality to the beggar at his gates. If it were true that civilized lands did not produce food enough for all, it might be said that, by virtue of vital competition, bread should be reserved for the strong, and that the weak must content themselves with the crumbs that fall from the feasters’ tables. In a family where love prevails things are not ordered in this way; on the contrary, the small and the ailing receive the fullest measure; yet it is evident that dearth may strengthen the hands of the violent and make the powerful monopolizers of bread. But are our modern societies really reduced to these straits? On the contrary, whatever may be the value of Malthus’s forecast as to the distant future, it is an actual, incontestable fact that in the civilized countries of Europe and America the sum total of provisions produced, or received in exchange for manufacturers, is more than enough for the sustenance of the people. Even in times of partial dearth the granaries and warehouses have but to open their doors that every one may have a sufficient share. Notwithstanding waste and prodigality, despite the enormous losses arising from moving about and handling in warehouses and shops, there is always enough to feed generously all the world. And yet there are some who die of hunger! And yet there are fathers who kill their children because when the little ones cry for bread they have none to give them.

Others may turn their eyes from these horrors; we socialists look them full in the face, and seek out their cause. That cause is the monopoly of the soil, the appropriation by a few of the land which belongs to all. We Anarchists are not the only ones to say it: the cry for nationalization of the land is rising so high that all may hear it who do not willfully close their ears. The idea spreads fast, for private property, in its present form, has had its day, and historians are everywhere testifying that the old Roman law is not synonymous with ethanol justice. Without doubt it were vain to hope that holders of the soil, saturated, so to speak, with ideas of caste, of privilege, and of inheritance, will voluntarily give back to all the bread-yielding furrows; the glory will not be theirs of joining as equals their fellow-citizens; but when public opinion is ripe — and day by day it grows — individuals will oppose in vain the general concourse of wills, and the axe will be applied to the upas tree’s roots. Arable land will be held once more in common; but instead of being ploughed and sown almost at hazard by ignorant hands, as it has hitherto been, science will aid us in the choice of climate, of soils, of methods of culture, of fertilizers, and of machinery. Husbandry will be guided by the same prescience as mechanical combinations and chemical operations; but the fruits of their toil will not be lost to the labourer. Many so-called savage societies hold their land in common, and humble though in our eyes they may seem, they are our betters in this: want among them is unknown. Are we, then, too ambitious in desiring to attain a social state which shall add to the conquests of civilization the privileges of these primitive tribes? Through the education of our children we may to some extent fashion the future.

After we have bread for all, we shall require something more — equality of rights; but this point will soon be realized, for an individual who needs not incline themselves before their fellows to crave pittance is already their equal. Equality of conditions, which is in no way incompatible with the infinite diversity of human character, we already desire and look upon as indispensable, for it offers us the only means whereby a true public morality can be developed. An individual can be truly moral only when they are their own master. From the moment when they awaken to a comprehension of that which is equitable and good it is for them to direct their own movements, to seek in the their conscience reasons for their actions, and to perform them simply, without either fearing punishment or looking for reward. Nevertheless their will cannot fail to be strengthened when they see others, guided like themselves by their own volition, following the same line of conduct. Mutual example will soon constitute a collective code of ethics to which all may conform without effort; but the moment that orders, enforced by legal penalties, replace the personal impulses of the conscience, there is an end to morality. Hence the saying of the Apostle of the Gentiles, “the law makes sin.” Even more, it is sin itself, because, instead of appealing to humanity’s better part, to it’s bold initiative, it appeals to it’s worst — it rules by fear. It thus behooves every one to resist the laws that they have not made, and to defend their personal rights, which are also the rights of others. People often speak of the antagonism between rights and duties. It is an empty phrase; there is no such antagonism. Whoso vindicates their own rights fulfills at the same time their duty towards their fellows. Privilege, not right, is the converse of duty.

Besides the possession of an individual’s own person, sound morality involves yet another condition — mutual goodwill, which is likewise the outcome of equality. The time-honoured words of Mahabarata are as true as ever: “The ignorant are not the friends of the wise; the man who has no cart is not the friend of him who has a cart. Friendship is the daughter of equality; it is never born of inequality.” Without doubt it is given to some people, great by their thoughts, by sympathy, or by strength of will, to win the multitude; but if the attachment of their followers and admirers comes otherwise than an enthusiastic affinity of idea to idea, or of heart to heart, it is speedily transformed either into fanaticism or servility. Those who are hailed lord by the acclamations of the crowd must almost of necessity attribute to themselves exceptional virtues, or a “Grace of God,” that makes them in their own estimation as a predestined being, and they usurp without hesitation or remorse privileges which they transmit as a heritage of their children. But, while in rank exalted, they are morally degraded, and their partisans and sycophants are more degraded still: they wait for the words of command which fall from the master’s lips; when they hear in the depths of their conscience some faint note of dissent, it is stifled; they become practiced liars, they stoop to flattery, and lose the power of looking honest individuals in the face. Between those who command and those who obey, and whose degradation deepens from generation to generation, there is no possibility of friendship. The virtues are transformed; brotherly frankness is destroyed; independence becomes a crime; above is either pitying condescension or haughty contempt, below either envious admiration or hidden hate. Let each of us recall the past and ask ourselves in all sincerity the question: “Who are the individuals in whose society we have experienced the most pleasure?” Are they the personages who have “honoured” us with their conversation, or the humble with whom we have “deigned” to associate? Are they not rather our equals, those whose looks neither implore nor command, and whom we may love with open hearts without afterthought or reserve.

It is to live in conditions of equality and escape from the falsehoods and hypocrisies of a society of superiors and inferiors, that so many men and women have formed themselves into close corporations and little worlds apart. America abounds in communities of this sort. But these societies, few of which prosper while many perish, are all ruled more or less by force; they carry within themselves the seed of their own dissolution, and are reabsorbed by Nature’s law of gravitation into the world which they have left. Yet even were they perfection, if humans enjoyed in them the highest happiness of which their nature is capable, they would be none the less obnoxious to the charge of selfish isolation, of raising a wall between themselves and the rest of their race; their pleasures are egotistical, and devotion to the cause of humanity would draw back the best of them into the great struggle.

As for the Anarchists, never will we separate ourselves from the world to build a little church, hidden in some vast wilderness. Here is the fighting ground, and we remain in the ranks, ready to give our help wherever it may be most needed. We do not cherish premature hopes, but we know that our efforts will not be lost. Many of the ignorant, who either out of love of routine or simplicity of soul now anathematize us, will end by associating themselves with our cause. For every individual whom circumstances permit to join us freely, hundreds are hindered by the hard necessities of life from openly avowing our opinions, but they listen from afar and cherish our words in the treasury of their hearts. We know that we are defending the cause of the poor, the disinherited, the suffering; we are seeking to restore to them the earth, personal rights, confidence in the future; and is it not natural that they should encourage us by look and gesture, even when they dare not come to us? In times of trouble, when the iron hand of might loosens its hold, and paralyzed rulers reel under the weight of their own power; when the “groups,” freed for an instant from the pressure above, reform themselves according to their natural affinities, on which side will be the many? Though making no pretension to prophetic insight, may we not venture without temerity to say that the great multitude would join our ranks? Albeit they never weary of repeating that Anarchism is merely the dream of a few visionaries, do not even our enemies, by the insults they heap upon us and the projects and machinations they impute to us, make an incessant propaganda in our favour? It is said that, when the magicians of the Middle Ages wanted to raise the devil, they began their incantations by painting his image on a wall. For a long time past, modern exorcists have adopted a similar method for conjuring Anarchists.

Pending the great work of the coming time, and to the end that this work may be accomplished, it behooves us to utilize every opportunity for rede and deed. Meanwhile, although our object is to live without government and without law, we are obliged in many things to submit. On the other hand, how often are we enabled to disregard their behest and act on our own free will? Ours be it to let slip none of these occasions, and to accept tranquility whatever personal consequences may result from doing that which we believe to be our duty. In no case will we strengthen authority by appeals or petitions, neither shall we sanction the law by demanding justice from the courts nor, by giving our votes and influence to any candidate whatsoever, become the authors of our own ill-fortune? It is easy for us to accept nothing from power, to call no one “master,” neither to be called “master” ourselves, to remain in the ranks as simple citizens and to maintain resolutely, and in every circumstance, our quality of equal among citizens. Let our friends judge us by our deeds, and reject from among them those of us who falter.

There are unquestionably many kind-hearted individuals that, as yet. hold themselves aloof from us, and even view our efforts with a certain apprehension, who would nevertheless gladly lend us their help were they not repelled by fear of the violence which almost invariably accompanies revolution. And yet a close study of the present state of things would show them that the supposed period of tranquility in which we live is really an age of cruelty and violence. Not to speak of war and its crimes, from the guilt of which no civilized State is free, can it be denied that chief among the consequences of the existing social system are murder, maladies, and death. Accustomed order is maintained by rude deeds and brute force, yet things that happen every day and every hour pass unperceived; we see in them a series of ordinary events no more phenomenal than times and seasons. It seems less than impious to rebel against the cycle of violence and repression which comes to us hallowed by the sanction of ages. Far from desiring to replace an era of happiness and peace by an age of disorder and warfare, our sole aim is to put an end to the endless series of calamities which has hitherto been called by common consent “The Progress of Civilization.” On the other hand, vengeances are the inevitable incidents of a period of violent changes. It is the nature of things that they should be. Albeit deeds of violence, prompted by a spirit of hatred, bespeak a feeble moral development, these deeds become fatal and necessary whenever the relations between people are not the relations of perfect equity. The original form of justice as understood by primitive peoples was that of retaliation, and by thousands of rude tribes this system is still observed. Nothing seemed more just than to offset one wrong by a like wrong. Eye for an eye! Tooth for a tooth! If the blood of one person has been shed, another must die! This was the barbarous form of justice. In our civilized societies it is forbidden to individuals to take the law into their own hands. Governments, in their quality of social delegates, are charged on behalf of the community with the enforcement of justice, a sort of retaliation somewhat more enlightened than that of the savage. It is on this condition that the individual renounces the right of personal vengeance; but if they be deceived by the mandatories to whom they entrust the vindication of their rights, if they perceive that their agents betray their cause and league themselves with the oppressors, that official justice aggravates their wrongs; in a word, if whole classes and populations are unfairly used, and have no hope of finding in the society to which they belong a redresser of abuses, is it not certain that they will resume their inherent right of vengeance and execute it without pity? Is not this indeed an ordinance of Nature, a consequence of the physical law of shock and counter-shock? It were unphilosophic to be surprised by its existence. Oppression has always been answered by violence.

Nevertheless, if great human evolutions are always followed by sad outbreaks of personal hatreds, it is not to these bad passions that well-wishers of their kind appeal when they wish to rouse the motive virtues of enthusiasm, devotion, and generosity. If changes had no other result than to punish oppressors, to make them suffer in their turn, to repay evil with evil, the transformation would be only in seeming. What boots it to those who truly love humanity and desire the happiness of all that the slave becomes master, that the master is reduced to servitude, that the whip changes hands, and that money passes from one pocket to another? It is not the rich and the powerful whom we devote to destruction, but the institutions which have favoured the birth and growth of these malevolent beings. It is the medium which it behooves us to alter, and for this great work we must reserve all our strength; to waste it in personal vindications were merest puerility. “Vengeance is the pleasure of the gods,” said the ancients; but it is not the pleasure of self-respecting mortals; for they know that to become their own avengers would be to lower themselves to the level of their former oppressors. If we would rise superior to our adversary, we must, after vanquishing them, make them bless their defeat. The revolutionary device, “For our liberty and for yours,” must not be an empty word.

The people in all times have felt this; and after every temporary triumph the generosity of the victor has obliterated the menaces of the past. It is a constant fact that in all serious popular movements, made for an idea, hope of a better time, and above all, the sense of a new dignity, fills the soul with high and magnanimous sentiments. So soon as the police, both political and civil, cease their functions and the masses become masters of the streets, the moral atmosphere changes, each feels themselves responsible for the prosperity and contentment of all; molestation of individuals is almost unheard of; even professional criminals pause in their sad career, for they too, feel that something great is passing through the air. Ah! if revolutionaries, instead of obeying a vague idea as they have almost always done, had formed a definite aim, a well-considered scheme of social conduct, if they had firmly willed the establishment of a new order of things in which every citizen might be assured bread, work, instruction, and the free development of their being, there would have been no danger in opening all prison gates to their full width, and saying to the unfortunates whom they shut in, “Go, brothers and sisters, and sin no more.”

It is always to the nobler part of humanity that we should address ourselves when we want to do great deeds. A general fighting for a bad cause stimulates their soldiers with promises of booty; a benevolent individual who cherishes a noble object encourages their companions by the example of their own devotion and self-sacrifice. For them, faith in their idea is enough. As says the proverb of the Danish peasants: “His will is his paradise.” What matters is that he is treated like a visionary! Even though his undertakings were only a chimera, he knows nothing more beautiful and sweet than the desire to act rightly and do good; in comparison with this vulgar realities are for him but shadows, the apparitions of an instant.

But our ideal is not a chimera. This, public opinion well knows; for no question more preoccupies it than that of social transformation. Events are casting their shadows before. Among individuals who think is there one who in some fashion or another is not a socialist — that is to say, who has not their own little scheme for changes in economic relations? Even the orator who noisily denies that there is a social question affirms the contrary by a thousand propositions. And those who will lead us back to the Middle Ages, are they not also socialists? They think they have found in a past, restored after modern ideas, conditions of social justice which will establish for ever the brotherhood of man. All are awaiting the birth of a new order of things; all ask themselves, some with misgiving, others with hope, what the morrow will bring forth. It will not come with empty hands. The century which has witnessed so many grand discoveries in the world of science cannot pass away without giving us still greater conquests. Industrial appliances, that by a single electric impulse make the same thought vibrate through five continents, have distanced by far our social morals, which are yet in many regards the outcome of reciprocally hostile interests. The axis is displaced; the world must crack that its equilibrium may be restored. In spirit revolution is ready; it is already thought — it is already willed; it only remains to realize it, and this is not the most difficult part of the work. The Governments of Europe will soon have reached the limits to the expansion of their power and find themselves face to face with their increasing populations. The super-abundant activity which wastes itself in distant wars must then find employment at home — unless in their folly the shepherds of the people should try to exhaust their energies by setting the Europeans against Europeans, as they have done before. It is true that in this way they may retard the solution of the social problem, but it will rise again after each postponement, more formidable than before.

Let economists and rulers invent political constitutions or salaried organizations, whereby the worker may be the friend of their master, the subject the brother of the potentate, we, “frightful Anarchists” as we are, know only one way of establishing peace and goodwill among women and men — the suppression of privilege and the recognition of right. Our ideal, as we have said, is that of the fraternal equity for which all yearn, but almost always as a dream; with us it takes form and becomes a concrete reality. It pleases us not to live if the enjoyments of life are to be for us alone; we protest against our good fortune if we may not share it with others; it is sweeter for us to wander with the wretched and the outcasts than to sit, crowned with roses, at the banquets of the rich. We are weary of these inequalities which make us the enemies of each other; we would put an end to the furies which are ever bringing people into hostile collision, and all of which arise from the bondage of the weak to the strong under the form of slavery, serfage, and service. After so much hatred we long to love each other, and for this reason are we enemies of private property and despisers of the law.

Elisée Reclus, 1884

Elisée Reclus: Kropotkin’s Words of a Rebel

In October 1885, the anarchist revolutionary, Peter Kropotkin, was in a French prison, having been condemned in 1882 for being a member of the by then defunct International Workingmen’s Association. Of course, the real reason for his imprisonment was that he was directly involved in reviving the French anarchist movement after ten years of state repression following the defeat of the Paris Commune. Kropotkin was the major contributor to the manifesto that he and his co-defendants issued during their trial. While in prison, his friend, the anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus, put together a collection of Kropotkin’s essays under the title, Words of a Rebel. Here I reproduce Nicolas Walter’s translation of Reclus’ introduction. I previously posted some of Walter’s translations of Kropotkin’s preface to the 1904 Italian edition and the post-script to the 1921 Russian edition.

Preface to Words of a Rebel

FOR TWO AND A HALF YEARS Peter Kropotkin has been in prison, cut off from the society of his fellow-men. His punishment is hard, but the silence imposed on him concerning the things he cares about most is much harder: his imprisonment would be less oppressive if he were not gagged. Months and years may perhaps pass before the use of speech is restored to him and he can resume interrupted conversations with his comrades.

The period of forced seclusion which our friend has to undergo will certainly not be wasted, but it seems very long to us! Life quickly goes by, and we sadly watch the weeks and months running out when this voice-so proud and honest among the rest–cannot be heard at all. In its place, how many common places will be repeated to us, how many lying words will afflict us, how many biased half-truths will ring about our ears! We long to hear one of those sincere and forthright tongues which boldly proclaim the truth.

But if the prisoner of Clairvaux no longer has the freedom to speak to his comrades from the depths of his cell, they can at least remember their friend and recall the words he spoke before. This is a task which I am able to perform, and I have devoted myself to it with pleasure. The articles which Kropotkin wrote from 1879 to 1882 in the ‘anarchist’ paper Le Révolté seemed to me ideal for publication in book form, especially because they did not run after chance events but followed a logical order. The vigour of the thought gave them the necessary unity.

Faithful to the scientific method, the author first explains the general situation of society, with its scandals and defects, its elements of discord and war; he studies the evidence of collapse shown by states, and shows us the cracks opening in their ruins. Then he pushes the experience offered by contemporary history in the direction of anarchic evolution, indicates its exact significance, and draws the lessons which it teaches. Finally, in the chapter ‘Expropriation’, he sums up his ideas, which derive from both observation and experience, and appeals to men of good will who want not just to know, but also to act.

I do not wish to sing the author’s praises here. He is my friend, and if I said all the nice things I think about him I might be suspected of blindness or accused of partiality. It would be enough for me to report the opinion of his judges, even his jailers. Among those who have observed his life, from far or near, there is no one who does not respect him, who does not bear witness to his high intelligence and to his heart which overflows with kindness, no one who does not acknowledge him to be truly noble and pure. Anyway, is it not because of these very qualities that he has known exile and imprisonment?

His crime is to love the poor and weak; his offence is to have pleaded their cause. Public opinion is unanimous in respecting this man, and yet it is not at all surprised to see the prison gates closing remorselessly on him, so that it seems natural that superiority has to be paid for and devotion has to be accompanied by suffering. It is impossible to see Kropotkin in the prison yard and to exchange greetings with him without wondering: ‘And what about me, why am I free? Could, it be perhaps because I am not good enough?’

However, the readers of this book should pay less attention to the personality of the author than to the value of the ideas he expresses. These ideas I recommend with confidence to honest people who do not make up their minds about a work before opening it, or about an opinion before hearing it. Clear away all your prejudices, try to stand aside temporarily from your interests, and read the pages simply looking for the truth without bothering for the time being about its application. The author asks only one thing of you – to share for a moment his ideal, the happiness of all, not just of a few privileged people.

If this desire, however fleeting it may be, is really sincere, and not a mere whim of your fancy, an image passing before your eyes, it is probable that you will soon agree with the writer. If you share his yearnings you will understand his words. But you know in advance that these ideas will bring you no honour; they will never be rewarded with a well-paid position; they may well bring you instead the distrust of your former friends or some cruel blow from your superiors. If you seek justice, you can expect to suffer injustice.

At the time when this work is being published, France is in the middle of an election crisis. I am not so naive as to recommend the candidates to read this book – they have other ‘duties’ to perform – but I do invite the electors to take a look at Words of a Rebel, and I would particularly draw their attention to the chapter called ‘Representative Government’. There they will see how far their confidence will be justified in these men who are springing up on all sides to solicit the honour of representing their fellow-citizens in Parliament.

At the moment all is well. The candidates are omniscient and infallible – but what about the deputies? When they at last receive their share of the kingdom, will they not be fatally afflicted by the dizziness of power and, like kings, be deprived of all wisdom and all virtue? If they decided to keep all those promises which they made so lavishly, how would they maintain their dignity in the midst of a crowd of petitioners and advisers? Even supposing that they went into Parliament with good intentions, how could they emerge without being corrupted? Under the influence of that atmosphere of intrigue, they can be seen turning from left to right, as if they were impelled by an automatic mechanism-clockwork figures who come out looking proud and strike noisily in front of the clock face, then soon afterwards go round and disappear ‘pathetically into the works.

Choosing new masters is no solution at all. It is we anarchists, enemies of Christianity, who have to remind a whole society which claims to be Christian of these words of the man whom they have made a God: ‘Call no man Master, Master! Let each man remain his own master.’ Do not go to the offices of bureaucrats, or the noisy chambers of parliaments, in the vain hope for the words of freedom. Listen rather to the voices which come from below, even if they come through the bars of the prison cell.

Elisée Reclus

Clarens (Switzerland), October 1, 1885

The First International and the September 1871 London Conference

Marx v. Bakunin

Chapter 8 of my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, begins with a section on the September 1871 London Conference of the International, where Marx and Engels manipulated both the composition of delegates to the Conference and the agenda to ensure the adoption of their favoured political strategy for the working class, which was to form political parties that were to achieve state power through participation in electoral politics. Such a policy was in direct contradiction to the resolution at the 1869 Basle Congress of the International which called for the federated trade unions to abolish “the present wage system” and to create “the free federation of free producers,” an essentially anarcho-syndicalist program. Unfortunately, a number of typographical errors that crept into my manuscript during the copy editing process rendered my analysis of the composition of delegates to the London Conference a bit confusing. Accordingly, here I present a corrected version that I hope makes this clear: before the Conference began, Marx and Engels could count on the support of at least 12 of the 22 voting delegates (including themselves), while the federalists and anarchists who continued to support the Basle Congress resolution could count on the support of no more than 8 voting delegates, ensuring that Marx and Engel’s resolution, committing the International to a program of electoral participation through political parties with the aim of achieving state power, would be accepted.

The September 1871 London Conference of the International

By September 1871, when Marx and Engels convened the London Conference of the International, the political orientation of the majority of Internationalists in Italy, Spain and the Swiss Jura, was anarcho-syndicalist in all but name. Among the surviving French Internationalists, most of them were federalists and collectivists, and some were outright anarchists, such as Bastélica, Bakunin’s associate from Marseilles. The Belgians also favoured federalist collectivism, and can be considered revolutionary syndicalists. Nevertheless, Marx and Engels carefully orchestrated the adoption at the London Conference of a policy requiring the creation of workers’ political parties and their participation in national politics.

The London Conference was not a proper Congress of the International. It was a “private” conference organized by Marx and Engels. They were concerned that if a congress or conference were held on the continent, the federalists and anarchists associated with Bakunin would be too well represented. Marx and Engels took steps to ensure that Bakunin’s supporters would be held to a minimum, and that their supporters would be well represented.

The majority faction of the Romande Federation was not advised of the conference, despite having asked the General Council to resolve which group was entitled to call itself the Romande Federation. Being unable to send any delegates to the conference, the majority group sent a letter to the conference to be read by Robin, who was to attend the conference as a non-voting member of the General Council. The majority group asked that no decision be made at the conference regarding which section was the legitimate Romande Federation because the majority group was unable to present its case. The majority group took the position that the issue should be left for the next general congress of the International, but that in the meantime the General Council could investigate and prepare a report.[i] This proposal fell on deaf ears, as the General Council had already decided that the Utin/Perret group was the legitimate representative of the Romande Federation. That is why Utin and Perret were invited to the conference, and given full voice and vote.[ii]

In addition to ensuring Utin and Perret’s attendance at the conference, upon whose support Marx and Engels could rely, Marx easily persuaded the General Council to determine itself how many and which members of the General Council would be able to vote at the conference, against the objections of Bastélica, who argued that the issue should be decided at the conference itself.[iii] The General Council decided that all of its members could attend and speak at the Conference, but only seven of the Council’s corresponding secretaries and six other members of the Council would have the right to vote, with those six other members being chosen by a vote of the members of the General Council present at its pre-conference meeting.[iv]

The seven corresponding secretaries, which included Marx (for Germany), Engels (for Italy), Eccarius (for the U.S.), Hales (for England, as the English still lacked their own federal council), MacDonnell (for Ireland) and Dupont (for France), were appointed on the basis that they would represent “those countries not appointing” their own delegates, as Engels put it.[v] Marx and Engels were thus assured of at least six votes (the seventh corresponding secretary was Cohn, for Denmark, but he did not participate in the conference).[vi]

Bastélica again objected, saying that he had the confidence of the Marseilles branch, and argued that the French refugees in London ought to be able to elect three delegates, as the Council itself had previously decided, rather than Dupont, one of Marx’s supporters, being designated to represent France.[vii] In fact, Dupont was not even the corresponding secretary for France and had let his membership on the General Council lapse.[viii] Robin also argued that the French were entitled to their own delegates. Despite the presence of several French refugees, some of whom were on the General Council, Marx successfully argued that the French were not entitled to any delegates of their own, no more than were “Italy, Germany and America,” ignoring the fact that no one from any of those countries was at the conference, other than the German exiles on the General Council, such as Marx and Engels themselves.[ix]

It is not clear if the Italians were even invited to the conference. In any event, Engels hardly represented their views, as most of them supported Bakunin. As for the U.S., an irrevocable split was already developing there between the German immigrants, loyal to Marx, and the English speaking Americans, such that Eccarius’ ability to represent their views was also highly suspect.[x] None of the General Council members who so generously gave themselves a vote at the conference had any mandate or instructions from any of the national councils, branches or sections and cannot be said to have acted either as their representatives or as their delegates.

Of the six members at large elected by the General Council to act as its own representatives at the conference, only one could be expected to support Bakunin and the Swiss federalists, Bastélica. The rest, with the possible exception of Thomas Mottershead, could be counted on to support Marx (Seraillier, Frankel, Jung and the French Blanquist, Vaillant).[xi] With respect to the issue of making participation in bourgeois politics mandatory policy, Mottershead was clearly a supporter of political action, belonging to several groups committed to working within the English parliamentary system, such as the Labour Representation League and the Land and Labour League.[xii]

The problem with having members of the General Council making important and mandatory policy changes for the International’s members was that, as Hales himself admitted, a majority of them had never been elected by the delegates at a general congress of the International.[xiii] Now here they were determining who would make up 13 of the 22 delegates at the London Conference.

There were six delegates from Belgium, including De Paepe, and one delegate from Spain, Anselmo Lorenzo. De Paepe did not play an effective role at the conference, where he proved “indecisive and easily succumbed to pressure.”[xiv]

Lorenzo was unfamiliar with the conflicts within the International but then witnessed first-hand Marx’s attacks on Bakunin and the Alliance at the conference. There he saw Marx “descending from the pedestal where my admiration and my respect placed him to the most vulgar level. Some of his partisans had fallen to even greater depths by practising adulation, as if they were vile courtiers facing their master.”[xv]

Just before the London Conference, the Spanish Internationalists had held a conference in Valencia at which they declared themselves in favour of “collective property, anarchy and economic federation,” by which they meant “the free universal federation of free agricultural and industrial workers’ associations.”[xvi] According to Lorenzo, the only matter to be discussed at the London Conference that had an authentically working class and emancipatory nature was the “Memoir on Organization” from the Valencia conference that he was to present, but the General Council and the majority of delegates were not interested in dealing with how to constitute a revolutionary force and to give it a form of organization adopting a line of conduct that would accomplish its goals. Instead, they were preoccupied with “the question of command” and of giving the International, this “great union of men,” a “chief.”[xvii]

Even before the conference began, Marx could count on the support of at least 10 of the General Council’s voting members, including himself and Engels, plus Utin and Perret, giving him a majority. At most, Bakunin could count on Bastélica, and as things turned out, he proved no match for Marx. Without anyone to advocate effectively on behalf of Bakunin, the Alliance, Guillaume or the majority Swiss federation, it was difficult for them to garner the support of the seven remaining delegates, the six Belgians and Lorenzo. Even if Bastélica had more effectively defended Bakunin and the Swiss federalists, at most he could have put together a block of about eight votes (himself, Lorenzo and the Belgian delegates), far short of the number needed to prevent the Marxist majority from having their way. Needless to say, the agenda for the conference was prepared by Marx and Engels.[xviii] As Carr comments, “it was clear that the dice had been well and truly loaded.”[xix]

With Marx’s support, the Blanquist, Édouard Vaillant, put forward a resolution on the inseparability of the political and economic struggles. The target of Vaillant’s resolution was the surviving group of French Internationalists who advocated federalism, abstention from participation in bourgeois politics, and opposition to the revolutionary dictatorship advocated by Blanqui. It must be remembered that within the International, as opposed to the Commune, the majority of French Internationalists had been federalists, and the Blanquists were in the minority, the opposite of the situation within the Commune itself, where the Blanquists and Jacobins had constituted the majority. Even more significant is that in his campaign against Bakunin, the Proudhonists and the federalists within the International, Marx allied himself with the authoritarian Blanquists to stamp out these anarchist heresies. Despite his qualified support of the Commune’s challenge to the French state, Marx was neither in favour of free federation within the International nor as a model for a revolutionary government.

Lorenzo and Bastélica opposed Vaillant’s motion on the ground that such a significant policy position could only be adopted after an open debate at a properly convened congress of the International with full representation from the various sections. Furthermore, the Conference was not supposed to deal with matters of principle, but only organizational matters.[xx] Marx brushed aside these criticisms, claiming that the General Council had the power to present “a programme for discussion at the [general] congresses” of the International.[xxi] He supported Utin’s motion that the resolution be given to the General Council “to draw up the final text of the resolution.”[xxii]

This enabled Marx to refine the wording of the resolution, which was then published to the various sections of the International at the beginning of October 1871 as the official policy of the International.[xxiii] The final version of the resolution provided that, against the “collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party;” consequently, the “constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the Social Revolution and its ultimate end—the abolition of classes.”[xxiv]

The Marxist majority effectively overturned the resolution from the Basel Congress that the General Council was “to provide for the alliance of the trade unions of all countries” for the purpose of replacing “the present wage system” with “the free federation of free producers.”[xxv] One of the non-voting delegates at the London Conference, Pierre Louis (or Victor) Delahaye (1838-1897), a member of the Paris Federation and a refugee from the Paris Commune, proposed, in opposition to the resolution directing the formation of working class political parties, that the Basel resolution be implemented, as it ought to have been, by the organization of an international trade union federation, based on “administrative decentralisation,” that would eventually lead to the creation of the “real commune of the future,” based on workers’ self-management.[xxvi]

Marx opposed this resolution by initially denying that any resolution to this effect had been passed at the Basel Congress. After he was corrected, he then dismissed the proposal as “a pious wish” that could never be achieved because trade unions could only represent “an aristocratic minority” of workers, not the vast majority of poor workers and peasants. He therefore argued that trade unions “can do nothing by themselves,” remaining a “minority” without any “power over the mass of proletarians—whereas the International works directly on these men.” The International did not need trade unions “to carry along the workers,” as the International was “the only society to inspire complete confidence in the workers.”[xxvii] Marx’s statements make clear that either he did not read or he chose to ignore the Spanish Internationalists’ “Memoir on Organization,” which showed how revolutionary unions can be organized that are not limited to skilled trades, but can include poor workers and peasants.

Marx’s position clearly foreshadowed that of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, with the “Communist Party” standing in the place of the International, that “only the political party of the working class, i.e., the Communist Party, is capable of uniting, training and organising a vanguard of the proletariat and of the whole mass of the working people.”[xxviii] Marx’s choice of words is very telling: trade unions “have no power over the mass of proletarians,” in contrast to the International, which presumably did. And there was no doubt in Marx’s mind that the General Council was “a governing body, as distinct from its constituents,” not simply an administrative body.[xxix]

Marx and the other delegates understood that endorsement of Delahaye’s proposition would be inconsistent with the resolution mandating political action by the proletariat. Consequently, Delahaye’s proposal was voted down. In its place the majority of delegates passed a resolution inviting the General Council “to assist” trade unions in entering “into relations with the Unions of the same trade in all other countries,” with the General Council acting merely as an “international agent of communication between the national Trades’ Societies.”[xxx] This fell far short of providing “for the alliance of the trade unions of all countries” for the purpose of replacing “the present wage system” with “the free federation of free producers.” Yet again a small group of largely self-appointed “delegates” were changing policies agreed to by the delegates at a general congress who, unlike the delegates at the London Congress, had genuine mandates from their respective councils, branches and sections.

The London Conference also purported to ban secret organizations, sects and “separatist bodies under the name of sections of propaganda,” reaffirmed the alleged power of the General Council “to refuse the admittance of any new group or section,” and threatened to “publicly denounce and disavow all organs of the International” which had the temerity to deal with “questions exclusively reserved for the local or Federal Committees and the General Council.”[xxxi] The targets of these resolutions were not just Bakunin, the Alliance and the French speaking Swiss Internationalists who opposed the reformist Geneva section, but a new section of the International that former members of the Alliance, such as Zhukovsky, and Communard refugees, including Gustave Lefrançais, had tried to form in Geneva in September 1871, the “Section of Revolutionary Propaganda and Action.”[xxxii] The Geneva Alliance had been dissolved in August 1871, so Marx took the opportunity to ensure that neither it nor any similar organization would be able to join the International again, despite the original statutes containing no prohibitions regarding the names that sections of the International could use to identify themselves.[xxxiii]

Marx’s other targets included Robin and the Swiss federalist papers, Solidarité and Progrès. Utin had by now told Marx that it was actually Robin and not Bakunin who had written the (relatively innocuous) articles in L’Égalité in the fall of 1869 that had so infuriated Marx that he had denounced them in his “confidential” communications to the various national councils in 1870, ascribing them to Bakunin.[xxxiv] The London Conference specifically denounced Progrès and Solidarité for publicly discussing issues that the Council claimed should be kept secret (presumably the same sort of issues the discussion of which had earned Marx’s previous condemnation, such as whether federal councils, national branches and their respective sections and members of the International should be required to participate in bourgeois politics).[xxxv]

The federalist majority of the French speaking Swiss Internationalists protested through Robin against the General Council’s recognition of Utin’s minority group as the Romande Federation, and asked that the dispute between the two groups be left for resolution by a full Congress of the International.[xxxvi] Utin personally attacked Guillaume, Bakunin and the Alliance, with the support of Marx and Engels.[xxxvii] Unsurprisingly, the General Council continued to side with Utin’s group. Guillaume’s majority faction would either have to join the Utin group, or reconstitute themselves as a separate section, under the name of the Jura Federation, which is what they ultimately did.[xxxviii] For standing up to the Marxists on behalf of the majority of the French-speaking Swiss Internationalists, Robin was expelled from the General Council soon after the London Conference, with Bastélica then resigning in solidarity.[xxxix]

Utin accused Bakunin of being an “aristocratic pleasure seeker… totally ignorant of Russian affairs,” in the pay of the Russian secret police and responsible not only for writing Nechaev’s notorious Catechism of a Revolutionary, but for Nechaev’s murder of the Russian student, Ivanov.[xl] Marx, who had been collecting this misinformation from Utin since 1870, disingenuously agreed with De Paepe that Bakunin “could not be condemned without hearing his defense,” but then persuaded the General Council to authorize Utin to prepare a full report on the so-called Nechaev affair.[xli] Marx then used Utin’s handiwork as the basis for expelling Bakunin from the International at the Hague Congress in September 1872.

Marx and Engels had published accusations that Bakunin was an agent of the Russian secret police as far back as 1848, and various allies of theirs had attempted to revive these false charges to discredit Bakunin prior to the 1869 Basel Congress, including Wilhelm Liebknecht, who was forced to admit there was no basis to them.[xlii] The charges were then repeated in German language, pro-Marxist, papers in Leipzig and New York in 1870.[xliii] Marx and Engels’ Spanish operatives again “tried to revive the rumour that Bakunin was a police spy” in 1872, around the time of the Hague Congress.[xliv] At the beginning of the Hague Congress in September 1872, the German social democrats actually republished the story from Marx and Engels’ 1848 Neue Rheinische Zeitung that had accused Bakunin of being a Russian agent provocateur.[xlv]

One of the “administrative” measures adopted at the London Conference gave the General Council the power to send its own delegates to attend the meetings of all federal councils, branches and sections.[xlvi] However, the Conference made clear that the federal councils, branches and sections had no right to elect delegates to represent them at meetings of the General Council. The General Council retained the power to determine who could be on the General Council. To allow the councils, branches and sections to choose who represented them on the General Council would be to substitute “the influence of local groups… for that of the whole International,” as if the General Council was somehow more representative of the membership as a whole.[xlvii]

The “Federalist French Section of 1871,” in exile in London, was subsequently denied admission into the International because it had, among other things, included in its statutes a requirement that it be able to send its own delegates to the General Council. As its name implies, the “Federalist Section” was committed to the principles of working class democracy and federalist organization. Its members included surviving members of long standing in the International, such as Camélinat.[xlviii]

Marx also used the London Conference to change the wording of the French version of the International’s Statutes, despite the fact that the original French version of the Statutes had been adopted by the French delegates to the Geneva Congress in 1866.[xlix] He had added to the provision regarding “the economical emancipation of the working classes” being “the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate” the concluding words contained in the English version of the Statutes, “as a means.”[l]

Marx of course had known of the differences in wording between the French and English versions of the Statutes for years, but had never raised the issue at any congress of the International, either the 1867 Lausanne Congress, the 1868 Brussels Congress, or the 1869 Basel Congress. Instead of putting the issue to a democratic vote of the delegates to a general congress, he waited until the London Conference where he had virtually guaranteed himself a majority of the so-called delegates, none of whom had a mandate from the French speaking members of the International to make such a change.

After Marx had the change in the wording of the French statutes confirmed at the September 1872 Hague Congress, Émile Aubry (1829-1900), the moderate Proudhonist from Rouen, pointed out that the original French sections of the International had joined the International on the basis of the version approved at the 1866 Geneva Congress. And yet the French sections were not consulted regarding the change to the statutes upon which their original affiliation to the International had been based.[li]

Robert Graham

[i] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 188-190.

[ii] General Council, 1870-1871: 448; Stekloff: 208.

[iii] General Council, 1870-1871: 269.

[iv] General Council, 1870-1871: 276.

[v] General Council, 1870-1871: 276.

[vi] Katz: 89.

[vii] General Council, 1870-1871: 271 & 275.

[viii] Katz: 89.

[ix] General Council, 1870-1871: 276.

[x] Messer-Kruse: 158-166.

[xi] General Council, 1870-1871: 276.

[xii] Collins and Abramsky: 95 & 165.

[xiii] General Council, 1870-1871: 269-270.

[xiv] Katz: 94.

[xv] Katz: 92.

[xvi] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 199.

[xvii] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 201.

[xviii] General Council, 1870-1871: 268 & 315-316.

[xix] Carr: 442.

[xx] Katz: 90-91.

[xxi] Marx, Vol. 22: 616.

[xxii] Marx, Vol. 22: 618 & 706, fn. 415.

[xxiii] Katz: 94.

[xxiv] Bakunin, 1974: 283, fn. 20.

[xxv] Rocker: 72.

[xxvi] Marx, Vol. 22: 688, fn. 271.

[xxvii] Marx, Vol. 22: 614.

[xxviii] Lenin, in Marx, 1972: 327.

[xxix] General Council, 1870-1871: 270.

[xxx] General Council, 1870-1871: 443.

[xxxi] Leier: 263.

[xxxii] Vincent: 46-47.

[xxxiii] General Council, 1870-1871: 447-448.

[xxxiv] General Council, 1868-1870: 399-407.

[xxxv] General Council, 1870-1871: 449.

[xxxvi] Katz: 91.

[xxxvii] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 195-196 & 201.

[xxxviii] Katz: 92.

[xxxix] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 195-198.

[xl] Katz: 92-93.

[xli] Katz: 93.

[xlii]Guillaume, in Bakunin, 1980: 28 & 38.

[xliii] Bakunin, 1974: 283, fn. 18.

[xliv] Bookchin: 74.

[xlv] Bakunin, 1974: 248.

[xlvi] General Council, 1870-1871: 441.

[xlvii] General Council, 1870-1871: 490-491.

[xlviii] Lehning, 1965: 442-446.

[xlix] General Council, 1870-1871: 463.

[l] General Council, 1870-1871: 451.

[li] Aubry, in Freymond, Vol. 3: 137.

Bakunin’s Speech at the League of Peace and Freedom

 

Bakunin

The League of Peace and Freedom was created by various European intellectuals, radicals, socialists and reformists in 1867 in order to prevent war in Europe. Some of the founding figures included the English philosopher of liberty and utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill, the future anarchist, Elisée Reclus, and his brother Elie, the French writer and opponent of Napoleon III, Victor Hugo, the Italian revolutionary, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the French socialist, Louis Blanc, the Russian socialist, Alexander Herzen, and Herzen’s old friend, Michael Bakunin. Bakunin thought the League would be a useful place to promote his developing conception of a revolutionary, federalist socialism, as he was firmly convinced that lasting peace could only be created by abolishing the state and national rivalries, and through the creation of an international, federalist socialism. He was disappointed in his hopes, as the League was much too ideologically heterogeneous for any consensus to be reached regarding any political program, much less a revolutionary socialist one. But he was particularly disappointed by the opposition to his ideas that he received from Proudhon’s self-styled followers at the League’s September 1868 Congress, where they accused Bakunin of being a Communist (in a Marxist, not anarchist, sense). On the 150th anniversary of the League’s 1868 Congress, I reproduce excerpts from Bakunin’s second and final address at the Congress (translated by Shawn Wilbur), in which he defends himself against these accusations. At the end of the Congress, Bakunin and his colleagues resigned from the League, with Bakunin then focusing his attention on the International Workingmen’s Association, which he had (re)joined in July 1868.

Bakunin’s Second Address to the 1868 Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom

Gentlemen, I do not want to respond to all the pleasantries that have been hurled at me from the height of this rostrum. I would have too much to do if I wanted to unravel the truth through the mass of confused ideas and contradictory sentiments that have been raised against me. Several orators have employed, in order to combat me, some arguments so far from serious I would well have the right to put their good faith in doubt.–I would not do it, Gentlemen. I have only asked to speak a second time in order to place again on its true terrain a question that some have had an obvious interest in shifting…

Do not believe, Gentlemen, that I recoil before the frank explanation of my socialist ideas. I could ask nothing better than to defend them here. But I do not think that the regulatory fifteen minutes would suffice for this debate. However there is one point, one accusation hurled against me that I cannot leave without a response.

Because I demand the economic and social equalization of classes and individuals, because with the Congress of laborers at Brussels [the International], I have declared myself a partisan of collective property, I have been reproached for being a communist. What difference, they have said to me, do you intend between communism and collectivity? I am astonished, truly, that Mr. Chaudey does not understand that difference, he, the testamentary executor of Proudhon! I detest communism, because it is the negation of liberty and because I can conceive nothing human without liberty. I am not a communist because communism concentrates and causes all the power of society to be concentrated in the State, because it leads necessarily to the centralization of property in the hands of the State, while I want the abolition of the State,—the radical extirpation of that principle of authority and of the guardianship of the State, which under the pretext of moralizing and civilizing men, have thus far enslaved, oppressed, exploited and depraved them, I want the organization of society and of collective or social property from bottom to top, by the way of free association, and not from top to bottom by means of any sort of authority. Wishing the abolition of the State, I want the abolition of individually hereditary property, which is only an institution of the State, nothing but a consequence of the very principle of the State. That is the sense in which, Gentlemen, I am collectivist and not at all communist.

I have asked, I ask for the economic and social equalization of classes and individuals. I want to say what I mean by these words.

I want the suppression of classes as much in economic and social relations as political. Let Mr. Chaudey and Mr. Fribourg, who seem today to be united by the same feeling of aversion for that poor equality, allow me to say to them that equality, proclaimed in 1793, has been one of the greatest conquests of the French Revolution. Despite all the reactions which have arrived since, that great principle has triumphed in the political economy of Europe. In the most advanced countries, it is called the equality of politic rights; in the other countries, civil equality—equality before the law. No country in Europe would dare to openly proclaim today the principle of political inequality.

But the history of the revolution itself and that of the seventy-five years that have passed since, we prove that political equality without economic equality is a lie. You would proclaim in vain the equality of political rights, as long as society remains split by its economic organization into socially different layers—that equality will be nothing but a fiction. For it to become a reality, the economic causes of that class difference would have to disappear—it would require the abolition of the right of inheritance, which is the permanent source of all social inequalities. It would be necessary that society, no longer being divided into different classes, presents a homogeneous whole—an organization created by liberty according to justice, and in which there would no longer be the shadow of that fatal separation of men into two principal classes: that which is called the intelligent class and the class of workers;—the one representing domination and the right of command, and the other eternal submission. All men must be at the same time intelligent and hard-working, so that no one can live any longer on the labor of another and that all can and must also live as much from the labor of their heads as from that of their arms. Then, Gentlemen, but only then, equality and political liberty will become a truth.

Here then is what we understand by these words: “the equalization of the classes.” It would perhaps have been better to say suppression of classes, the unification of society by the abolition of economic and social inequality. But we have also demanded the equalization of individuals, and it is there especially that we attract all the thunderbolts of outraged eloquence from our adversaries. One has made use of that part of our proposition to prove in a conclusive manner that we are nothing but communists. And in order to prove the absurdity of our system, one has had recourse to arguments as witty as new. One orator, doubtless carried away by the energy of his indignation, has even wanted to compare his stature to mine.

Allow me, Gentlemen, to pose this question in a more serious manner. Do I need to tell you that it is not a question at first of the natural, physiological, ethnographic difference that exists between individuals, but of the social difference, that is produced by the economic organization of society? Give to all the children, from their birth, the same means of maintenance, education, and instruction; give then to all the men thus raised the same social milieu, the same means of earning their living by their own labor, and you will see then that many of these differences, that we believe to be natural differences, will disappear because they are nothing but the effect of an unequal division of the conditions of intellectual and physical development—of the conditions of life

Man, Gentlemen, like everything that lives and breathes in the world, is not a creation of his own will, good or bad, for that same will, as well as his intelligence, is nothing but products—a result created by the cooperation of many natural and social causes. Correct nature by society, equalize as much as possible the conditions of development and labor for all, and you would have destroyed much nonsense, many crimes, many evils. When all have received roughly the same education and the same instruction, when all will be obliged by the very of things to associate in order to work and to work in order to live; when labor, recognized as the true foundation of all social organization, will become the object of public respect, the men of ill will, the parasites, and the fools diminish noticeably and will end by being considered and treated as sick. It is not just me, monsieur Chaudey, it is your master Proudhon who has said it.

Finally, Gentlemen, I repeat it once more: it is not a question at this moment of debating the very basis of the social question, we must only decided if we want equality, yes or no? That is what I had to point out to you.

Michael Bakunin, September 23, 1868

César De Paepe: From Mutualism to Collectivism

Man of the Day

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Brussels Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association (the so-called First International). It was one of the most important congresses of the International. The majority of the Belgian members hosting the Congress had been developing a libertarian socialist approach that presaged anarcho-syndicalism. One of their more eloquent speakers was César De Paepe, who had been influenced by Belgian and French socialists, including Proudhon, whose “anarchy” De Paepe had extolled in 1863 (see Shawn Wilbur’s full translation here). At the International’s Laussane Congress in 1867, De Paepe had used Proudhon’s own arguments about property to convince Proudhon’s “mutualist” followers in the International to support the collectivization of land in addition to the collectivization of larger enterprises like mines and railways. The issue remained undecided until the Brussels Congress the following year, when a majority of delegates voted in favour of the collectivization of land as well as of industry. This position became known as “collectivism,” which was contrasted with mutualism and, later, libertarian or anarchist communism. Here I present Shawn Wilbur’s translation of an article published by De Paepe in 1869 after the Basle Congress setting forth the arguments for collectivism that he made in the International. I review these debates in more detail in my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

TO THE ANTI-COLLECTIVISTS

Thanks to a dialectics put in the service of a method more often metaphysical than scientific (which it is necessary to avoid confusing with the historical and objective method of Karl Marx), Proudhon has discovered in the social world some laws that observation confirms more from day to day; it is, however, incontestable that hypothesis still plays an infinitely more considerable role in the works of that thinker and that often he has concluded a priori or from insufficient observations: witness the conclusions of his last works relative to the social role of strikes and trades-unions, and those relative to the tendencies of modern production towards association and thus towards the collective appropriation of land and the large instruments of labor, two phenomena of which Proudhon has misunderstood the immense scope from the point of view of the organization of the future, and that he condemned even in the name of reason and logic, while Marx, already well before 1848, in the name of observation and history, considers them the two principal elements of the solution of the social problem. The majority of the writers of Liberté have made the defects of Proudhon their own by sacrificing, so to speak absolutely, his scientific side.

The article of Liberté of September 26, titled Conclusion, is a striking example of these “conclusions [that are] a priori or based on insufficient observations.” Liberté has been informed, by us, as well as by l’Egalité of Geneva, that the account of the Congress of Basel that it published from the Réveil, contained many errors, and that in particular the arguments of the collectivists were presented in a more or less false light; its observation of what is called the “Basel Congress” can thus only be insufficient, since it ignores in large part the reasons which have pushed the majority of the Congress to vote in favor of collective property. Well, despite that insufficiency of observations, Liberté nonetheless presents its “conclusion” which thus can only be a conclusion a priori. That “conclusion” is a work of high fantasy, where shines a disdain for the observation of reality, which is equaled only by the puerile pretention of imposing on humanity purely subjective laws, such as the antinomic laws of Capital and Property, born in the brain of their author and destined to never extend their real existence outside of that small, fantastic and imaginary world.

All the reasoning of the anti-collectivists has for point of departure a hypothesis! The very social necessities which have formerly demanded the constitution of individual property, still demand and will doubtless always demand the support of individual property. That support is fatal; the force of things demands it; divisions or successions parcel out the soil, it is true; but the drawbacks of parceling will not lead to association, to the putting-in-common of the parcels, etc.; that is to say: the soil tends to be divided more and more, and we conclude from it that there may be a natural limit to this division. Why do you conclude that? By what right, on what basis, do you claim that individual property in land is alone practical? Do you know another means of remedying the division, to the parceling out of the soil, but the reunification of the parcels, whether that reunification is made for the profit of a single proprietor who makes the other proprietors of parcels his waged workers (a system that we all recognize as contrary to the aspirations of our era), or for the profit of several by means of co-proprietorship, that is a sort of collective property, however large or narrow this co-property may be? Is there in agriculture itself, that is to say, independent of the effects produced in France and in some adjacent countries by the sale of national properties and the law regarding successions,—two political, extra-economic facts.—Is there in agricultural industry the least tendency to purely individual labor? Is that this industry like the others, does not demand the application of the collective force, the division of functions, the use of machines, production on a grand scale and with unity? Are not the harvest, haymaking, and grape-picking the types par excellence of collective labor?

You want the contrary, and that is why, taking your wish for a positive tendency of society, you misread the facts, and believe that the natural evolution is diametrically opposed to what it is in reality; and that idea well-fixed in your brain, that the natural evolution conforms to your desires, you go so far as to reject revolution which is the thoughtful and intelligent intervention of men to hasten the dénouement of a natural evolution, even, if need be, putting force in the service of the new ideas and not, as you describe it, the violent intervention of a higher and foreign will in society.

And you call yourself revolutionaries! Alas! Your maxims and your method are borrowed from the code of the bourgeois economists, who have also not wanted the intervention of men in the blind play of economic laws, and laugh at the spontaneous and collective efforts of the workers to hasten the period of necessary modifications; laissez faire, laissez passer.

You think that Society has the right to maintain individual property of the soil and to oppose itself to its return to collective property.

In the name of what society do you speak? And if it has the right to do it, does it have the power? If at a given moment it can intervene in a revolutionary manner to regulate its own affairs and make all at once a great step forward towards its natural destinies, can it overturn the natural order of things? Society has only one right, which is to conform to its own laws, to the laws of its historic development; to hasten or slow the natural tendencies that follow the facts, by modifying in one sense or another certain institutions, such is the power of the body of individuals who make up society at a given moment, a power in which each participates to a certain degree according to their greater or lesser influence on their contemporaries. When the anti-collectivist Proudhonians have proved to us that their individual property without rent either to the profit of individuals, or to the profit of society as a whole, that their leveling of the land-rent, is an observable phenomenon; when they have studied and classified the relations of that force that we have thus far encountered among the proprietarian phenomena; when they have classified and generalized these relations in order to draw some laws from them, we will bow before these laws, unless we can neutralize them by contrary laws; until then were are right to say that the rent is a natural fact resulting from the unequal fertility of the soil, an inequality that one can, certainly, diminish by means of certain agronomical procedures, irrigation, rotations, enrichments, etc., but that one can never level because they result from forces placed beyond the power of man, such as the exposure of a plot of land to the south or north, the vicinity of mountains, waters, forests, etc.; until then we will be right to say that their system is only an abstraction and that they are themselves only abstractors of quintessence.

It is otherwise with collective property, that is an observable phenomenon. Mr. Bakunin has cited the example of the Russian commune, and Mr. Cowel-Stepney a tribe of Indians. Certainly, the Russian commune is not observable in France, Belgium, Italy or England; nor are we Indians, and we do not live in the United States. But what does that prove? If collective property is not an observable fact among us today, does that demonstrate that it does not conform to the most imperious social necessities, those most generally felt, and that consequently it will not be observable tomorrow. — In England, is there the least tendency towards our system of small farmer-proprietors; is there not actually, in fact, a tendency to the greatest concentration of property in land between an always more restricted number of landlords; and doesn’t that very present tendency already produce today a contrary tendency in minds that demand the return of the soil to collective property, a demand which tomorrow some minds will transform into deeds, because it alone conforms to the social necessities that, on the one hand, want large-scale agricultural production and, on the other, demand equality between men. It is certain that the English people, on the day when they have worn out the system of large individual property, can only choose between collective property with large-scale agricultural production, or small-scale property with small-scale production, and that this last alternative is hardly probable in a country where they are accustomed to all the advantages of large-scale agriculture. And if in Belgium and France, the division still continue in many places, don’t we already see certain facts that indicate that the period of division nears its end and that those of association and collectivism will commence? These facts are, on one hand, cooperative association, the pooling of the parcels recognized as useful by the élite among our cultivators, and on the other the application of the public company to agricultural industry. For the first case, let us cite this passage from the January 17, 1869 issue of the Journal de la Société agricole du Brabant the editors of which are certainly not complicit with the laborers of the Basel Congress!

“The possible situation of the agricultural populations has awakened the concern of the governments and the economists in recent years. But the remedies that they have proposed, if they tend to attenuate the evils, cannot always make them disappear entirely. It is in freely formed association that must be found the most effective means of combating the drawbacks that we have highlighted. The association would aim to pool capital as well as land, which by their situation are particularly suitable to make up a single operation. Then it could carry out a division of labors that would be set out again between the different chiefs of the operation, in conformity with the special aptitudes of each of them.

“Let us arrange ourselves; and since it is impossible to make a suitable division of the lands that we use, the good lands being found on your side, the poor ones on mine, let us work them all in common. In this way we will avoid competition, we could distribute the rotation in a manner to gather in a single bloc all the homogeneous crops. It would be possible for us to employ those machines of recent invention that function with so much speed and economy; the transportation of fertilizer and return of the harvest would be must easier; and we would no longer be forced to race constantly from one parcel to another, from one end of the commune to the opposite extremity.”

For the second case, we will content ourselves with citing the public companies of the vineyards in France, and notably the one that spent 12 million on small properties in the Gironde and transformed them into one great rural operation (see the Rive Gauche for June 3, 1866).

Just as in manufacturing industry we see the small boss or artisan who labors alone and directly for their clientele, give way to cooperative associations of laborers or associations of capitalists, public or joint-stock companies, we can expect to see the small farming boss and the small proprietor, cultivating their own land, give way to the cooperative association of the rural laborers or to the public agricultural company. That is to say that here again, although by other means than in England, the new tendencies that we can already see here and there push towards a system of collective property and agriculture, rather than the system of the individual possessing proprietor, dreamed of by Liberté. Certainly, these forms of collective property are not those of the collectivism of the Basel Congress, — the earth belonging to the whole of humanity — but they can be a movement towards the collective appropriation of the soil by society, while certainly they are not a movement towards individual property. All this only proves that, although everywhere the earth must be the collective property of society, the solution does not seem as simple to the collectivists as one might say, and that the means of transition between that collective property and present property seem to them to differ necessarily according to the particular constitution of property in land in the different regions.

Whatever the case, a little earlier or a little later, depending on the country, the phenomena of agricultural industry and property in land unfold before our eyes according to the same law as those of manufacturing industry and capital, and form with those two series of analogous, if not completely identical facts. That analogy is one of extreme importance, and Liberté has not even glimpsed it; if it had done so, perhaps it would not have so lightly, with the stroke of a pen, abolished an economic phenomenon.

First series of phenomena. The profits collected by capital in the form of dividends, interest, profits, bribes, etc. increase more and more; labor’s portion decreases, for if the nominal wage has increased for certain workers, the real wage has diminished. Capital tends to centralize, manufacturing work to become collective.

Second series of phenomena. The revenue of the agricultural proprietor increases; the wage of the agricultural workers decreases, although their nominal wage has generally increased. Agricultural property, which tends to centralize in certain countries, also tends to parcel out in others; but even in these latter countries a new tendency begins to show itself beside the other: agricultural property, in order to meet new needs, will centralize, and agricultural labor, by the use of machines, the division of functions, the application of the theory of crop rotation, tends to become collective in all its parts, labor, sowing, reaping, hoeing, clearing, etc., as it has always been, more or less, in some of its essential parts, harvest, haymaking, etc.

Thus, we are in presence of two orders of facts which may seem contradictory at first, but which, after a little deeper analysis, appear to follow the same course.

We do not claim to have resolved here, in a few lines, the problem of the collectivity of the soil; we have simply shown:

l° That the observation of actual facts, of present tendencies, as well as the observation of social necessities that these facts create, alone can lead to solutions.

2° That contrary to the opinions of Liberté, agricultural property, like all capital (machines, workshops, factories, mines, teamsters, etc.) tends to become collective.

3° That a rational comparison of laws, contradictory in appearance, but analogous at base, such as the laws of agricultural property and capital, is often enough to lead to the solution of social problems.

4° That not only is the system of individual property without rent, by the equalization of land, an impossible solution, but that, if it was possible, it would not be not a plausible solution.

The inequality of the land-rent of the individuals brought to the same level by the attribution of all the rent to the social collectivity, the application of scientific processes to agriculture, the transformation of the landlord and tenant, agricultural employers, cowhands, and all the small proprietors—the transformation of everyone into co-proprietors of the soil and into co-workers accomplished, the mutualists can reassure themselves, man will no longer be exploited by man, no more by the individual than by the human collectivity, given that society will deduct nothing from the labor of the farmers, but will be content to use the soil in conformity with the general interests and to allocate the rent, which is not the fruit of the individual labor of the cultivators, but rather the combined result of the forces of nature and of society.

César De Paepe

From mutualism to ?