Title: Property is Theft!
Subtitle: A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology
Date: 2011
Source: Retrieved on 26th April 2021 from libgen.rs















        Individualist Anarchism

        Revolutionary Anarchism































      VOLUME I


















































        PART ONE

        CHAPTER I. The Bank of the People


































        1. CREDIT

        2. PROPERTY

























        INSTRUCTION I — Of the Social Power, Considered in Itself

        INSTRUCTION II — Of the Appropriation of the Collective Forces, and the Corruption of the Social Power

        INSTRUCTION III — Of the Forms of Government and Their Evolution During the Pagan-Christian Period

        INSTRUCTION IV — Constitution of Social Power by the Revolution

        INSTRUCTION V — Question of the Agenda




        CHAPTER VI. Posing Of The Political Problem: Principle Of The Solution

        CHAPTER VII. Extrication Of The Idea Of Federation

        CHAPTER VIII. Progressive Constitution

        CHAPTER X. Political Idealism: Efficiency Of The Federal Guarantee

        CHAPTER XI. Economic Ratification: Agricultural-Industrial Federation






        CHAPTER IV — 2. The Mutualist System, Or, On the Manifesto—Spontaneity of the Idea of Mutuality in the Modern Masses—Definition

        CHAPTER VIII — Application of the Principle of Mutuality to Labour and to Wages—Of True Commerce and Agiotage

        CHAPTER XIII — On Association, Within Mutuality

        CHAPTER XV — Objections Against Mutualist Policy. Answer. Primary Cause Of The Fall Of States—Relation Of The Political And Economic Functions In The New Democracy


        CHAPTER IV — On Municipal Liberty: That This Liberty, Essentially Federalist and Incompatible with the Unitary System, Can Neither Be Demanded By the Opposition Nor Granted By the Imperial Government













I dedicate this book to my daughters.

May it show the importance of being bilingual!


But then came Proudhon: the son of a peasant, and, by his works and instinct, a hundred times more revolutionary than all the doctrinaire and bourgeois Socialists, he equipped himself with a critical point of view, as ruthless as it was profound and penetrating, in order to destroy all their systems. Opposing liberty to authority, he boldly proclaimed himself an Anarchist by way of setting forth his ideas in contradistinction to those of the State Socialists.

—Michael Bakunin[1]

IN 1840, TWO SHORT EXPRESSIONS, A MERE SEVEN WORDS, TRANSFORMED socialist politics forever. One, only four words long, put a name to a tendency within the working class movement: “I am an Anarchist.” The other, only three words long, presented a critique and a protest against inequality which still rings: “Property is Theft!”

Their author, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), was a self-educated son of a peasant family and his work, What Is Property?, ensured he became one of the leading socialist thinkers of the nineteenth century. From his works and activity, the libertarian[2] movement was born: that form of socialism based on “the denial of Government and of Property.”[3] It would be no exaggeration to state that if you do not consider property as “theft” and “despotism” and oppose it along with the state then you are not a libertarian. As George Woodcock summarised:

What is Property? embraces the core of nineteenth century anarchism... all the rest of later anarchism is there, spoken or implied: the conception of a free society united by association, of workers controlling the means of production. Later Proudhon was to elaborate other aspects: the working class political struggle as a thing of its own, federalism and decentralism as a means of re-shaping society, the commune and the industrial association as the important units of human intercourse, the end of frontiers and nations. But What is Property?... remains the foundation on which the whole edifice of nineteenth century anarchist theory was to be constructed.”[4]

Michael Bakunin, who considered the “illustrious and heroic socialist”[5] as a friend, proclaimed that “Proudhon is the master of us all.”[6] For Peter Kropotkin, the leading theoretician of communist-anarchism of his day, Proudhon laid “the foundations of Anarchism”[7] and became a socialist after reading his work. Benjamin Tucker, America’s foremost individualist anarchist thinker, considered Proudhon as both “the father of the Anarchistic school of socialism” and “the Anarchist par excellence.[8] Alexander Herzen, leading populist thinker and father of Russian socialism, praised Proudhon’s “powerful and vigorous thought” and stated his “works constitute a revolution in the history not only of socialism but also French logic.”[9] Leo Tolstoy greatly admired and was heavily influenced by Proudhon, considering his “property is theft” as “an absolute truth” which would “survive as long as humanity.”[10] For leading anarcho-syndicalist thinker Rudolf Rocker, Proudhon was “one of the most intellectually gifted and certainly the most many-sided writer of whom modern socialism can boast.”[11]

Historian Robert Tomes notes that Proudhon was “the greatest intellectual influence on French socialism” whose “ideas had durable influence on the working-class elite”[12] while Julian P. W. Archer considered him “the pre-eminent socialist of mid-nineteenth century France.”[13] Sharif Gemie recounts that for many workers in France “Proudhon was the living symbol of working class self-emancipation.”[14] His ideas “anticipated all those later movements in France which, like the revolutionary syndicalists during the late nineteenth century and the students of 1968, demanded l’autogestion ouvrière. Their joint demand was that the economy be controlled neither by private enterprise nor by the state (whether democratic or totalitarian), but by the producers.”[15] Even Friedrich Engels had to admit that Proudhon had “a preponderating place among the French Socialists of his epoch.”[16]

The aim of this anthology is to show why Proudhon influenced so many radicals and revolutionaries, and why Proudhon should be read today. His work marks the beginning of anarchism as a named socio-economic theory and the libertarian ideas Proudhon championed (such as anti-statism, anti-capitalism, self-management, possession, socialisation, communal-economic federalism, decentralisation, and so forth) are as important today as they were in the 19th century.


ANARCHISM DID NOT spring ready-made from Proudhon’s head in 1840. Nor, for that matter, did Proudhon’s own ideas! This is to be expected: he was breaking new ground in terms of theory, creating the foundations upon which other anarchists would build.

His ideas developed and evolved as he thought through the implications of his previous insights. Certain ideas mentioned in passing in earlier works (such as workers’ self-management) come to the fore later, while others (such as federalism) are discussed years after What Is Property?. His ideas also reflected, developed and changed with the social and political context (most notably, the 1848 revolution and its aftermath). However, “contrary to persistent legend, Proudhon was not the egregious eccentric who continually contradicted himself... Proudhon had a consistent vision of society and its need... which revolves around his desire to instil a federal arrangement of workers’ associations and to instil a public regard for republican virtue.”[17]

Regardless of the attempts by both the propertarian right and the authoritarian left to reduce it simply to opposition to the state, anarchism has always presented a critique of state and property as well as other forms of oppression.[18] All are interrelated and cannot be separated without making a mockery of libertarian analysis and history:

Capital... in the political field is analogous to government... The economic idea of capitalism, the politics of government or of authority, and the theological idea of the Church are three identical ideas, linked in various ways. To attack one of them is equivalent to attacking all of them... What capital does to labour, and the State to liberty, the Church does to the spirit. This trinity of absolutism is as baneful in practice as it is in philosophy. The most effective means for oppressing the people would be simultaneously to enslave its body, its will and its reason.[19]

Proudhon’s two key economic ideas are free credit and workers’ associations. To quote economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s excellent summary:

Scholars have regularly assigned Proudhon a position of importance in the history of socialism, syndicalism and anarchism but not in the history of economic theory. It is a distinction without merit. Two ideas of influence can be found in the modern residue of Proudhon’s theories. One is the belief, perhaps the instinct, that there is a certain moral superiority in the institution of the co-operative. Or the worker-owned plant. When farmers unite to supply themselves with fertilisers, oil or other farm supplies, and consumers to provide themselves with groceries, the ideas of Proudhon are heard in praise. So also when steel workers come together to take over and run a senescent mill... And Proudhon is one among many parents of the continuing faith in monetary magic—of the belief that great reforms can be accomplished by hitherto undiscovered designs for financial or monetary innovation or manipulation.[20]

In terms of politics, his vision was one of federations of self-governing communities. He repeatedly stressed the importance of decentralisation and autonomy to ensure effective liberty for the people. “Among these liberties,” Proudhon argued, “one of the most important is that of the commune.” A country “by its federations, by municipal and provincial independence... attested its local liberties, corollary and complement of the liberty of the citizen. Without the liberty of the commune, the individual is only half free, the feudal yoke is only half broken, public right is equivocal, public integrity is comprised.”[21]

He called this socio-economic vision “mutualism,” a term Proudhon did not invent.[22] The workers’ organisations in Lyon, where Proudhon stayed in 1843, were described as mutuellisme and mutuelliste in the 1830s. There is “close similarity between the associational ideal of Proudhon... and the program of the Lyon Mutualists” and it is “likely that Proudhon was able to articulate his positive program more coherently because of the example of the silk workers of Lyon. The socialist ideal that he championed was already being realised, to a certain extent, by such workers.”[23]

In short, Proudhon “was working actively to replace capitalist statism with an anti-state socialism in which workers manage their own affairs without exploitation or subordination by a ‘revolution from below.’”[24]


Proudhon’s analysis of property was seminal. The distinction he made between use rights and property rights, possession and property, laid the ground for both libertarian and Marxist communist perspectives. It also underlay his analysis of exploitation and his vision of a libertarian society. Even Marx admitted its power:

Proudhon makes a critical investigation—the first resolute, ruthless, and at the same time scientific investigation—of the basis of political economy, private property. This is the great scientific advance he made, an advance which revolutionises political economy and for the first time makes a real science of political economy possible.[25]

Proudhon’s critique rested on two key concepts. Firstly, property allowed the owner to exploit its user (“property is theft”[26] ). Secondly, that property created authoritarian and oppressive social relationships between the two (“property is despotism”). These are interrelated, as it is the relations of oppression that property creates which allows exploitation to happen and the appropriation of our common heritage by the few gives the rest little alternative but to agree to such domination and let the owner appropriate the fruits of their labour.

Proudhon’s genius and the power of his critique was that he took all the defences of, and apologies for, property and showed that, logically, they could be used to attack that institution. By treating them as absolute and universal as its apologists treated property itself, he showed that they undermined property rather than supported it.[27]

To claims that property was a natural right, he explained that the essence of such rights was their universality and that private property ensured that this right could not be extended to all. To those who argued that property was required to secure liberty, Proudhon rightly objected that “if the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals; that, if it needs property for its objective action, that is, for its life, the appropriation of material is equally necessary for all.”[28] To claims that labour created property, he noted that most people have no property to labour on and the product of such labour was owned by capitalists and landlords rather than the workers who created it. As for occupancy, he argued that most owners do not occupy all the property they own while those who do use and occupy it do not own it.

Proudhon showed that the defenders of property had to choose between self-interest and principle, between hypocrisy and logic. If it is right for the initial appropriation of resources to be made (by whatever preferred rationale) then, by that very same reason, it is right for others in the same and subsequent generations to abolish private property in favour of a system which respects the liberty of all rather than a few (“If the right of life is equal, the right of labour is equal, and so is the right of occupancy.”) This means that “those who do not possess today are proprietors by the same title as those who do possess; but instead of inferring therefrom that property should be shared by all, I demand, in the name of general security, its entire abolition.”[29]

For Proudhon, the notion that workers are free when capitalism forces them to seek employment was demonstrably false. He was well aware that in such circumstances property “violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism.” It has “perfect identity with robbery” and the worker “has sold and surrendered his liberty” to the proprietor. Anarchy was “the absence of a master, of a sovereign” while proprietor was “synonymous” with “sovereign” for he “imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control.” Thus “property is despotism” as “each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property”[30] and so freedom and property were incompatible:

The civilised labourer who bakes a loaf that he may eat a slice of bread, who builds a palace that he may sleep in a stable, who weaves rich fabrics that he may dress in rags, who produces every thing that he may dispense with every thing,—is not free. His employer, not becoming his associate in the exchange of salaries or services which takes place between them, is his enemy.[31]

Hence the pressing need, if we really seek liberty for all, to abolish property and the authoritarian social relationships it generates. With wage-workers and tenants, property is “the right to use [something] by his neighbour’s labour” and so resulted in “the exploitation of man by man” for to “live as a proprietor, or to consume without producing, it is necessary, then, to live upon the labour of another.”[32]


Proudhon’s aim “was to rescue the working masses from capitalist exploitation.”[33] However, his analysis of exploitation has been misunderstood and, in the case of Marxists, distorted. J.E. King’s summary is sadly typical:

Marx’s main priority was to confront those ‘utopian’ socialists (especially... Proudhon in France) who saw inequality of exchange as the only source of exploitation, and believed that the establishment of equal exchange in isolation from changes in production relations was sufficient in itself to eliminate all sources of income other than the performance of labour... [Marx proved that] exploitation in production was sufficient to explain the existence of non-wage incomes.[34]

Yet anyone familiar with Proudhon’s ideas would know that he was well aware that exploitation occurred at the point of production. Like Marx, but long before him, Proudhon argued that workers produced more value than they received in wages:

Whoever labours becomes a proprietor... And when I say proprietor, I do not mean simply (as do our hypocritical economists) proprietor of his allowance, his salary, his wages,—I mean proprietor of the value he creates, and by which the master alone profits... The labourer retains, even after he has received his wages, a natural right in the thing he has produced.[35]

Property meant “another shall perform the labour while [the proprietor] receives the product.” Thus the “free worker produces ten; for me, thinks the proprietor, he will produce twelve” and thus to “satisfy property, the labourer must first produce beyond his needs.”[36] This is why “property is theft!”[37] Proudhon linked rising inequality to the hierarchical relationship of the capitalist workplace:

I have shown the contractor, at the birth of industry, negotiating on equal terms with his comrades, who have since become his workmen. It is plain, in fact, that this original equality was bound to disappear through the advantageous position of the master and the dependence of the wage-workers.[38]

Thus unequal exchange did not explain exploitation, rather the hierarchical relationship produced by wage-labour does. This can be seen from another key aspect of Proudhon’s analysis, what he termed “collective force.” This was “[o]ne of the reasons Proudhon gave for rejecting ‘property’ [and] was to become an important motif of subsequent socialist thought,” namely that “collective endeavours produced an additional value” which was “unjustly appropriated by the proprietaire.”[39] To quote Proudhon:

It is an economic power of which I was, I believe, the first to accentuate the importance, in my first memoir upon Property [in 1840]. A hundred men, uniting or combining their forces, produce, in certain cases, not a hundred times, but two hundred, three hundred, a thousand times as much. This is what I have called collective force. I even drew from this an argument... that it is not sufficient to pay merely the wages of a given number of workmen, in order to acquire their product legitimately; that they must be paid twice, thrice or ten times their wages, or an equivalent service rendered to each one of them.[40]

Proudhon’s “position that property is theft locates a fundamental antagonism between producers and owners at the heart of modern society. If the direct producers are the sole source of social value which the owners of capital are expropriating, then exploitation must be the root cause of... inequality.” He “located the ‘power to produce without working’ at the heart of the system’s exploitation and difficulties very early, anticipating what Marx and Engels were later to call the appropriation of surplus value.”[41]

So even a basic awareness of Proudhon’s ideas would be sufficient to recognise as nonsense Marxist claims that he thought exploitation “did not occur in the labour process” and so “must come from outside of the commercial or capitalist relations, through force and fraud” or that Marx “had a very different analysis which located exploitation at the very heart of the capitalist production process.”[42] Proudhon thought exploitation was inherent in wage-labour and occurred at the point of production.[43] Unsurprisingly, he sought a solution there.


Given an analysis of property that showed that it produced exploitation (“theft”) and oppression (“despotism”), the question of how to end it arises. There are two options: Either abolish collective labour and return to smallscale production or find a new form of economic organisation which ensures that collective labour is neither exploited nor oppressed.

The notion that Proudhon advocated the first solution, a return to precapitalist forms of economy, is sadly all too common. Beginning with Marx, this notion has been vigorously propagated by Marxists with Engels in 1891 proclaiming Proudhon “the socialist of the small peasant or master craftsman.”[44] The reality is different:

On this issue, it is necessary to emphasise that, contrary to the general image given in the secondary literature, Proudhon was not hostile to large industry. Clearly, he objected to many aspects of what these large enterprises had introduced into society... But he was not opposed in principle to large-scale production. What he desired was to humanise such production, to socialise it so that the worker would not be the mere appendage to a machine. Such a humanisation of large industries would result, according to Proudhon, from the introduction of strong workers’ associations. These associations would enable the workers to determine jointly by election how the enterprise was to be directed and operated on a day-today basis.[45]

To quote Proudhon: “Large industry and high culture come to us by big monopoly and big property: it is necessary in the future to make them rise from the association.”[46] He did not ignore the economic conditions around him, including industrialisation, and noted in 1851, of a population of 36 million, 24 million were peasants and 6 million were artisans. The remaining 6 million included wage-workers for whom “workmen’s associations” would be essential as “a protest against the wage system,” the “denial of the rule of capitalists” and for “the management of large instruments of labour.”[47] Rather than seeking to turn back the clock, Proudhon was simply reflecting and incorporating the aspirations of all workers in his society—an extremely sensible position to take.[48]

This support for workers’ self-management of production was raised in 1840 at the same time Proudhon proclaimed himself an anarchist. As “every industry needs... leaders, instructors, superintendents” they “must be chosen from the labourers by the labourers themselves, and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility” for “all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor.”[49]

In subsequent works Proudhon expanded upon this core libertarian position of “the complete emancipation of the workers... the abolition of the wage worker”[50] by self-management (“In democratising us,” he argued, “revolution has launched us on the path of industrial democracy”[51] ). Co-operatives [52] ended the exploitation and oppression of wage-labour as “every individual employed in the association” has “an undivided share in the property of the company,” “all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to the approval of the members” and “the collective force, which is a product of the community, ceases to be a source of profit to a small number of managers and speculators: It becomes the property of all the workers.”[53]

“Mutuality, reciprocity exists,” Proudhon stressed, “when all the workers in an industry, instead of working for an entrepreneur who pays them and keeps their products, work for one another and thus collaborate in the making of a common product whose profits they share amongst themselves. Extend the principle of reciprocity as uniting the work of every group, to the Workers’ Societies as units, and you have created a form of civilisation which from all points of view—political, economic and aesthetic—is radically different from all earlier civilisations.” In short: “All associated and all free.”[54]

Thus “the means of production should be publicly owned, production itself should be organised by workers companies.”[55] As Daniel Guérin summarised:

Proudhon and Bakunin were ‘collectivists,’ which is to say they declared themselves without equivocation in favour of the common exploitation, not by the State but by associated workers of the large-scale means of production and of the public services. Proudhon has been quite wrongly presented as an exclusive enthusiast of private property.[56]

It is important to stress that Proudhon’s ideas on association as part of the solution of the social question were not invented by him. Rather, he generalised and developed what working class people were already doing.[57] As Proudhon put it in 1848, “the proof” of his mutualist ideas lay in the “current practice, revolutionary practice” of “those labour associations... which have spontaneously... been formed in Paris and Lyon.”[58] These hopes were well justified as the “evidence is strong that both worker participation in management and profit sharing tend to enhance productivity and that worker-run enterprises often are more productive than their capitalist counterparts.”[59]

Finally, a few words on why this fundamental position of Proudhon is not better known, indeed (at best) ignored or (at worse) denied by some commentators on his ideas. This is because state socialists like Louis Blanc advocated forms of association which Proudhon rejected as just as oppressive and exploitative as capitalism: what Proudhon termed “the principle of Association.” Blanc came “under attack by Proudhon for eliminating all competition, and for fostering state centralisation of initiative and direction at the expense of local and corporative powers and intermediate associations. But the term association could also refer to the mutualist associations that Proudhon favoured, that is, those initiated and controlled from below.”[60] If Blanc advocated Association, Proudhon supported associations. This is an important distinction lost on some.


While Proudhon’s views of workers’ associations are often overlooked, the same cannot be said of his views on credit. For some reform of credit was all he advocated! However, for Proudhon, the socialisation and democratisation of credit was seen as one of the key means of reforming capitalism out of existence and of producing a self-employed society of artisans, farmers and co-operatives.

The Bank of the People “embodies the financial and economic aspects of modern democracy, that is, the sovereignty of the People, and of the republican motto, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” Like the desired workplace associations, it also had a democratic nature with a “committee of thirty representatives” seeing “to the management of the Bank” and “chosen by the General Meeting” made up of “nominees of the general body of associates” (“elected according to industrial categories and in proportion to the number... there are in each category.”)[61]

Proudhon rightly mocked the notion that interest was a payment for abstinence[62] noting, in his exchange with the laissez-faire economist Frédéric Bastiat, that the capitalist lends “because he has no use for it himself, being sufficiently provided with capital without it.” There is no sacrifice and so “it is society’s duty to procure Gratuitous Credit for all; that, failing to do this, it will not be a society, but a conspiracy of Capitalists against Workers, a compact for purposes of robbery and murder.”[63] The obvious correctness of this analysis is reflected in Keynes’ admission that interest “rewards no genuine sacrifice, any more than does the rent of land. The owner of capital can obtain interest because capital is scarce, just as the owner of land can obtain rent because land is scarce. But whilst there may be intrinsic reasons for the scarcity of land, there are no intrinsic reasons for the scarcity of capital.”[64]

As is clear from his exchange with Bastiat, Proudhon took care to base his arguments not on abstract ideology but on the actual practices he saw around him. He was well aware that banks issued credit and so increased the money supply in response to market demand. As such, he was an early exponent of the endogenous theory of the money supply.[65] His argument against metallic money was rooted in the fact that this legacy of the past ensured that interest remained as the supply of money, though dynamic due to credit creation, was ultimately limited by the available gold and silver deposits monopolised by capitalist banks.

In other words, Proudhon was pointing out that a money economy, one with an extensive banking and credit system, operates in a fundamentally different way than the barter economy assumed by most economics (then and now). He recognised that income from property violated the axiom that products exchanged for products. As interest rates within capitalism did not reflect any real cost and credit creation by banks violated any notion that they reflected savings, these facts suggested that interest could be eliminated as it was already an arbitrary value.

The availability of cheap credit would, Proudhon hoped, lead to the end of landlordism and capitalism. Artisans would not be crushed by interest payments and so be able to survive on the market, proletarians would be able to buy their own workplaces and peasants would be able buy their land. To aid this process he also recommended that the state decree that all rent should be turned into part-payment for the property used and for public works run by workers’ associations.

While these notions are generally dismissed as utopian, the reality is somewhat different. As Proudhon’s ideas were shaped by the society he lived in, one where the bulk of the working class were artisans and peasants, the notion of free credit provided by mutual banks as the means of securing working class people access to the means of production was perfectly feasible. Today, economies world-wide manage to work without having money tied to specie. Proudhon’s desire “to abolish the royalty of gold”[66] was no mere utopian dream—capitalism itself has done so.

Perhaps this correspondence between Proudhon’s ideas on money and modern practice is not so surprising. Keynes’s desire for “the euthanasia of the rentier, and, consequently, the euthanasia of the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist to exploit the scarcity-value of capital”[67] has distinctly Proudhonian elements to it while he praised Proudhon’s follower Silvio Gesell.[68] Sadly, only the economist Dudley Dillard’s essay “Keynes and Proudhon”[69] addresses any overlap between the two thinkers and even this is incomplete (it fails to discuss Proudhon’s ideas on co-operatives and falsely suggests that his critique of capitalism was limited to finance capital[70] ). Another area of overlap was their shared concern over reducing uncertainty in the market and stabilising the economy (by the state, in the case of Keynes, by mutualist associations for Proudhon). Both, needless to say, under-estimated the power of rentier interests as well as their willingness to wither away.

This abolition of gold-backed money has not lead to the other reforms Proudhon had hoped for. This is unsurprising, as this policy has been implemented to keep capitalism going and not as a wider reform strategy as expounded by the Frenchman.[71] So while the banks may issue credit and central banks accommodate it with non-specie money, they are still capitalist enterprises working within a capitalist environment—they have not been turned into a Bank of the People. Interest was not abolished nor was there a social movement, as in the 19th century, aiming to create workers’ associations. Nationalisation, not socialisation, was the preferred social reform of the post-World War II years.

The notion that a mutual bank should fund investment is also hardly utopian. The stock market is not the means by which capital is actually raised within capitalism and is largely of symbolic value (the overwhelming bulk of transactions are in shares of existing firms). Small and medium sized firms are hardly inefficient because they lack equity shares. Moreover, there is good reason to think that the stock market hinders economic efficiency by generating a perverse set of incentives and “the signals emitted by the stock market are either irrelevant or harmful to real economic activity.” As “the stock market itself counts little or nothing as a source of finance,” shareholders “have no useful role.” Moreover, if the experience of capitalism is anything to go by, mutual banks will also reduce the business cycle for those countries in which banks provide more outside finance than markets have “greater growth in and stability of investment over time than the market-centred ones.”[72]

All of which confirms Proudhon’s arguments for mutual credit and attacks on rentiers. There is no need for capital markets in a system based on mutual banks and networks of co-operatives. New investments would be financed partly from internal funds (i.e., retained income) and partly from external loans from mutual banks.

The standard argument against mutual credit is that it would simply generate inflation. This misunderstands the nature of money and inflation in a capitalist economy. The notion that inflation is caused simply by there being too much money chasing too few goods and that the state simply needs to stop printing money to control it was proven completely false by the Monetarist experiments of Thatcher and Reagan. Not only could the state not control the money supply, changes in it were not reflected in subsequent changes in inflation.[73]

In a real capitalist economy credit is offered based on an analysis of whether the bank thinks it will get it back.[74] In a mutualist economy, credit will likewise be extended to those whom the bank thinks will increase the amount of goods and services available.[75] The Bank of the People would not just print money and hand it out in the streets,[76] it would ration credit and aim to fund investment in the real economy. This would create money and lead to debt but it adds to the goods and services in the economy as well as the capacity to service that debt. Moreover, the reduction of interest to zero would ensure more people repaid their loans as servicing debt would be easier.[77]

Finally, John Ehrenberg’s assertion that 1848 saw a “subtle and important shift” in Proudhon’s ideas is simply untenable. He asserts that whereas Proudhon “formerly placed primary importance on the organisation of work, he was now thinking of the organisation of credit and exchange; where he had previously made an attempt to articulate the needs of the proletariat, he was now demanding help for the petty bourgeois.”[78] Yet “the organisation of credit” in Proudhon’s eyes did not exclude “the organisation of labour.” If anything, Proudhon’s arguments for workers’ associations and against wage-labour became more, not less, pronounced! Proudhon started to discuss “the organisation of credit” more because it reflected a shift from goals to means, from critique to practical attempts to solve the social question in the revolution of 1848.

Proudhon’s letter to Louis Blanc in April 1848 suggested that “the Exchange Bank is the organisation of labour’s greatest asset” and allowed “the new form of society to be defined and created among the workers.”[79] Another, written two days later, reiterated this point: “To organise credit and circulation is to increase production, to determine the new shapes of industrial society.”[80] His second election manifesto of 1848 argued that workers “have organised credit among themselves” and “labour associations” have grasped “spontaneously” that the “organisation of credit and organisation of labour amount to one and the same.” By organising both, the workers “would soon have wrested alienated capital back again, through their organisation and competition.”[81] This was reiterated in a letter to socialist Pierre Leroux in December 1849, with credit being seen as the means to form workers’ associations.[82]

Moreover, the necessity to differentiate his ideas from other socialists who advocated “the organisation of labour” (such as Louis Blanc) must also have played its part in Proudhon’s use of “the organisation of credit.” Given his opposition to centralised state-based systems of labour organisation it made little sense to use the same expression to describe his vision of a self-managed and decentralised socialism.


Proudhon subjected the state to withering criticism. For some, this has become the defining aspect of his theories (not to mention anarchism in general). This is false. This opposition to the state flowed naturally from the critique of property and so anarchist anti-statism cannot be abstracted from its anti-capitalism. While recognising that the state and its bureaucracy had exploitative and oppressive interests of its own, he analysed its role as an instrument of class rule:

In a society based on the principle of inequality of conditions, government, whatever it is, feudal, theocratic, bourgeois, imperial, is reduced, in last analysis, to a system of insurance for the class which exploits and owns against that which is exploited and owns nothing.[83]

He repeatedly pointed to its function of “protecting the nobility and upper class against the lower classes.”[84] This analysis was consistent throughout his political career. In 1846 he had argued that the state “finds itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat.”[85]

So what was the state? For Proudhon, the state was a body above society, it was “the EXTERNAL constitution of the social power” by which the people delegate “its power and sovereignty” and so “does not govern itself; now one individual, now several, by a title either elective or hereditary, are charged with governing it, with managing its affairs, with negotiating and compromising in its name.” Anarchists “deny government and the State, because we affirm that which the founders of States have never believed in, the personality and autonomy of the masses.” Ultimately, “the only way to organise democratic government is to abolish government.”[86]

His attacks on “Direct Legislation” and “Direct Government” in General Idea of the Revolution refer to using elections and referenda in a centralised state on a national scale rather than decentralised communal self-government. For Proudhon democracy could not be limited to a nation as one unit periodically picking its rulers (“nothing resembles a monarchy more than a république unitaire[87] ). Its real meaning was much deeper: “politicians, whatever their colours, are insurmountably repelled by anarchy which they construe as disorder: as if democracy could be achieved other than by distribution of authority and as if the true meaning of the word ‘democracy’ was not dismissal of government.”[88]

Given this analysis, it becomes unsurprising that Proudhon did not seek political power to reform society. This was confirmed when, for a period, he was elected to the National Assembly in 1848: “As soon as I set foot in the parliamentary Sinai, I ceased to be in touch with the masses; because I was absorbed by my legislative work, I entirely lost sight of the current events... One must have lived in that isolator which is called a National Assembly to realise how the men who are most completely ignorant of the state of the country are almost always those who represent it.” There was “ignorance of daily facts” and “fear of the people” (“the sickness of all those who belong to authority”) for “the people, for those in power, are the enemy.”[89]

Real change must come from “outside the sphere of parliamentarism, as sterile as it is absorbing.”[90] Unsurprisingly, then, the “social revolution is seriously compromised if it comes through a political revolution”[91] and “to be in politics was to wash one’s hands in shit.”[92]

Thus, rather than having some idealistic opposition to the state,[93] Proudhon viewed it as an instrument of class rule which could not be captured for social reform. As David Berry suggests, “repeated evidence of the willingness of supposedly progressive republican bourgeoisie to resort to violent repression of the working classes had led Proudhon, like many of his class and generation, to lose faith in politics and the state and to put the emphasis on working-class autonomy and on the question of socio-economic organisation. For Proudhon and the mutualists, the lessons of the workers’ uprising of 1830 and 1848 were that the powers of the state were merely another aspect of the powers of capital, and both were to be resisted equally strongly.”[94]


Like other libertarians, Proudhon was extremely critical of state socialist schemes which he opposed just as much as he did capitalism: “The entire animus of his opposition to what he termed ‘community’ was to avoid the central ownership of property and the central control of economic and social decision-making.”[95]

He particularly attacked the ideas of Jacobin socialist Louis Blanc whose Organisation of Work argued that social ills resulted from competition and they could be solved by eliminating it. “The Government,” argued Blanc, “should be regarded as the supreme director of production, and invested with great strength to accomplish its task.” The government would “raise a loan” to create social workplaces, “provide” them “with Statues” which “would have the force and form of laws” and “regulate the hierarchy of workers” (after the first year “the hierarchy would be appointed on the elective principle” by the workers in the associations). Capitalists would “receive interest for their capital” while workers would keep the remaining income. They would “destroy competition” by “availing itself of competition” as their higher efficiency would force capitalist firms to become social workplaces.[96]

Proudhon objected to this scheme on many levels. Blanc appealed “to the state for its silent partnership; that is, he gets down on his knees before the capitalists and recognises the sovereignty of monopoly.” As it was run by the state, the system of workshops would hardly be libertarian as “hierarchy would result from the elective principle... as in constitutional politics... Who will make the law? The government.”[97] This was because of the perspective of state socialists:

As you cannot conceive of society without hierarchy, you have made yourselves the apostles of authority; worshippers of power, you think only of strengthening it and muzzling liberty; your favourite maxim is that the welfare of the people must be achieved in spite of the people; instead of proceeding to social reform by the extermination of power and politics, you insist on a reconstruction of power and politics.[98]

Proudhon questioned whether any regime based on “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” could avoid conflict due to individuals and society disagreeing over what these were. This would result in either oppression (“What difference is there then between fraternity and the wage system?) or the society’s “end from lack of associates.”[99] He was also doubtful that state monopolies could efficiently allocate resources.[100] Ultimately, the problem was that reform by means of the state violated basic socialist principles:

M. Blanc is never tired of appealing to authority, and socialism loudly declares itself anarchistic; M. Blanc places power above society, and socialism tends to subordinate it to society; M. Blanc makes social life descend from above, and socialism maintains that it springs up and grows from below; M. Blanc runs after politics, and socialism is in quest of science.

No more hypocrisy, let me say to M. Blanc: you desire neither Catholicism nor monarchy nor nobility, but you must have a God, a religion, a dictatorship, a censorship, a hierarchy, distinctions, and ranks. For my part, I deny your God, your authority, your sovereignty, your judicial State, and all your representative mystifications.[101]

Proudhon continually stressed that state control of the means of production was a danger to the liberty of the worker and simply the continuation of capitalism with the state as the new boss. He rejected the call of “certain utopians” that “the Government seize trade, industry and agriculture, to add them to its attributes and to make the French nation a nation of wage-workers.”[102] Nationalisation would simply be “more wage slavery.”[103]

The net result of state socialism would be “a compact democracy, seemingly rooted in dictatorship of the masses, but wherein the masses merely have the opportunity to consolidate universal slavery in accordance with formulas and guide-lines borrowed from the former absolutism”: “Indivisibility of power”; “Voracious centralisation”; “Systematic demolition of all individual, corporative and local thought, these being deemed sources of discord”; and “Inquisitorial policing.”[104]

Proudhon’s fears on the inefficiency of state socialism and that it would be little more than state capitalist tyranny became all too real under Leninism. His prediction that reformist socialism would simply postpone the abolition of exploitation indefinitely while paying capitalists interest and dividends was also proven all too correct (as can be seen with the British Labour Party’s post-war nationalisations).

Proudhon’s polemics against state socialists have often been taken to suggest that he considered his mutualism as non-socialist (this is often generalised into anarchism as well, with a contrast often being made between it and the wider socialist movement). Occasionally (most notably in System of Economic Contradictions) Proudhon used the term “socialism” to solely describe the state socialist schemes he opposed.[105] Usually, however, he described himself as a socialist[106] and publicly embraced the Red Flag at the start of the 1848 revolution,[107] considering it “the federal standard of humanity, the symbol of universal fraternity” signifying the “Abolition of the proletariat and of servitude” and “Equality of political rights: universal suffrage.”[108]

Socialism, for Proudhon, was “the final term, the complete expression of the Republic.”[109] So although he criticised both centralised democracy and state socialism, he still considered himself a democrat and socialist: “We are also democracy and socialism; we may at times laugh at both the names and the personnel, but what those words cover and what those people stand for belong to us also; we must be careful of them!”[110] Proudhon stated the obvious: “Modern Socialism was not founded as a sect or church; it has seen a number of different schools.”[111] Like Bakunin and Kropotkin, he argued against state socialism and called for a decentralised, self-managed, federal, bottom-up socialism: anarchism.


While Proudhon repeatedly called himself a revolutionary and urged a “revolution from below,” he also rejected violence and insurrection. While later anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin embraced the class struggle, including strikes, unions and revolts, Proudhon opposed such means and preferred peaceful reform: “through Political Economy we must turn the theory of Property against Property in such a way as to create... liberty.”[112]

Unsurprisingly, as he considered the state as being dominated by capital, the “problem before the labouring classes... consists not in capturing, but in subduing both power and monopoly,—that is, in generating from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labour, a greater authority, a more potent fact, which shall envelop capital and the state and subjugate them.” For, “to combat and reduce power, to put it in its proper place in society, it is of no use to change the holders of power or introduce some variation into its workings: an agricultural and industrial combination must be found by means of which power, today the ruler of society, shall become its slave.”[113]

The 1848 revolution gave Proudhon the chance to implement this strategy. On May 4th he “propose[d] that a provisional committee be set up to orchestrate exchange, credit and commerce amongst the workers” and this would “liaise with similar committees” elsewhere in France. This would be “a body representative of the proletariat..., a state within the state, in opposition to the bourgeois representatives.” He urged that “a new society be founded in the centre of the old society” by the working class for “the government can do nothing for you. But you can do everything for yourselves.”[114]

Proudhon also pointed to the clubs, directly democratic neighbourhood associations grouped around political tendencies, seeing them “as the beginning for a true popular democracy, sensitive to the needs of the people.”[115] As Peter Henry Aman describes it, a “newspaper close to the club movement, Proudhon’s Le Représentant du Peuple, suggested a division of labour between clubs and National Assembly... By shedding light on social questions, the daily club discussions would prepare the National Assembly’s legislative debates as ‘the indispensable corollary.’ This flattering vision of a dual power, with clubs representing ‘the poorest and most numerous parts of the population,’ apparently proved seductive.”[116] In 1849 Proudhon argued that clubs “had to be organised. The organisation of popular societies was the fulcrum of democracy, the corner-stone of the republican order.” These were “the one institution that democratic authorities should have respected, and not just respected but also fostered and organised.”[117] As Daniel Guérin summarised, “in the midst of the 1848 Revolution,” Proudhon “sketched out a minimum libertarian program: progressive reduction in the power of the State, parallel development of the power of the people from below, through what he called clubs” which today we “would call councils.”[118]

These organisations would be the means of exercising popular pressure and influence onto the state to force it into implementing appropriate reforms for government “can only turn into something and do the work of the revolution insofar as it will be so invited, provoked or compelled by some power outside of itself that seizes the initiative and sets things rolling.”[119] This would be combined with the creation of organisations for mutual credit and production in order to create the framework by which capitalism and the state would disappear. Proudhon “believed fervently... in the salvation of working men, by their own efforts, through economic and social action alone” and “advocated, and to a considerable extent inspired, the undercutting of this terrain [of the state] from without by means of autonomous working-class associations.”[120] He hoped that the “proletariat, gradually dejacobinised” would seek “its share not only of direct suffrage in the affairs of society but of direct action.” [121]

Over a decade later Proudhon noted that in 1848 he had “called upon the state to intervene in establishing” various “major public utilities” but “once the state had completed its task of creation” then these should not be left in its hands.[122] Rather than “fatten certain contractors,” the state should create “a new kind of property” by “granting the privilege of running” public utilities “to responsible companies, not of capitalists, but of workmen.” Municipalities and their federations would take the initiative in setting up public works but actual control would rest with workers’ co-operatives for “it becomes necessary for the workers to form themselves into democratic societies, with equal conditions for all members, on pain of a relapse into feudalism.”[123] As he summarised in his notebooks:

the abolition of the State is the last term of a series, which consists of an incessant diminution, by political and administrative simplification the number of public functionaries and to put into the care of responsible workers’ societies the works and services confided to the state.[124]

Thus “the most decisive result of the Revolution is, after having organised labour and property, to do away with political centralisation, in a word, with the State.”[125]

This may, for some, appear as a contradiction in Proudhon’s ideas for, as an anarchist, he was against the state. This would be a superficial analysis as it confuses short-term reforms and long-term social transformation. Moreover, anarchism is not purely anti-state. It is also anti-capitalist and so advocating capitalist banking or the privatisation of utilities and industries would be antianarchist. Proudhon was not advocating nationalisation (or state socialism). He simply considered limited state action to create the correct environment to allow co-operatives to flourish and to run public services and utilities as being more consistent with libertarian goals than supporting wage-labour by turning more parts of the economy over to the capitalist class.

In the grim days of the Second Empire, when the hopes and self-activity of 1848 appeared to be crushed, Proudhon suggested encouraging investors to fund co-operatives rather than capitalist companies, seeking to encourage the industrial democracy he wished to replace the industrial feudalism of capitalism by means of the institutions of capitalism itself. In return for funds, the capitalists would receive dividends until such time as the initial loan was repaid and then the company would revert into a proper co-operative (i.e., one owned as well as operated by its workers).[126] So the optimism produced by the February Revolution that drove his more obviously anarchist works that climaxed in 1851’s General Idea of the Revolution gave way to more cautious reforms. Significantly, in the 1860s, “Proudhon’s renewed interest in socialism was precipitated... by the renewed activity of workers themselves.”[127]

So, in general, Proudhon placed his hopes for introducing socialism in alternative institutions created by working class people themselves and “insisted that the revolution could only come from below, through the action of the workers themselves.”[128] Joining the government to achieve that goal was, for Proudhon, contradictory and unlikely to work. The state was a centralised, top-down structure and so unable to take into account the real needs of society:

experience testifies and philosophy demonstrates... that any revolution, to be effective, must be spontaneous and emanate, not from the heads of the authorities but from the bowels of the people: that government is reactionary rather than revolutionary: that it could not have any expertise in revolutions, given that society, to which that secret is alone revealed, does not show itself through legislative decree but rather through the spontaneity of its manifestations: that, ultimately, the only connection between government and labour is that labour, in organising itself, has the abrogation of government as its mission.[129]

This suggested a bottom-up approach, socialism from below rather than a socialism imposed by the state:

The Revolution from above is the intervention of power in everything; it is the absolutist initiative of the State, the pure governmentalism of... Louis Blanc. The Revolution from above is the negation of collective activity, of popular spontaneity... What serious and lasting Revolution was not made from below, by the people? How did the Revolution of 1789 come about? How was that of February made? The Revolution from above has never been other than the oppression of the wills of those below.[130]

Ultimately: “No authority is compatible with the principle of mutuality, but no authority can help bring about reform. For all authority is antithetical to equality and justice.”[131]

Proudhon’s overarching perspective was to avoid violence and so as well as encouraging working class self-activity he also sought to persuade the capitalist class that social reform, as well as benefiting the working class, would also benefit them in terms of a general improved standard of living and freedom and so they had no reason to oppose it.[132] The bourgeoisie were not convinced and after the experience of the Second Republic his calls upon them ceased. Instead, he completely directed his hopes for reform towards the activities of working class people themselves, in their ability to act for themselves and build just and free associations and federations. This perspective was hardly new, though. As he put it in 1842’s Warning to Proprietors:

Workers, labourers, men of the people, whoever you may be, the initiative of reform is yours. It is you who will accomplish that synthesis of social composition which will be the masterpiece of creation, and you alone can accomplish it.[133]

For “revolutionary power... is no longer in the government or the National Assembly, it is in you. Only the people, acting directly, without intermediaries, can bring about the economic revolution.”[134] It was Proudhon “who first drew to the attention of the wider public of Europe the fact that socialism would henceforward become identified, not with the plans of utopian dreamers, but with the concrete and daily struggles of the working class.”[135] It is this vision which was taken up and expanded upon by subsequent generations of libertarians.

As he refused to suggest that socialists should take state power themselves but, instead, organise outside political structures to create a socialist society Proudhon’s various schemes of social change, while reformist, were ultimately anarchistic in nature. This became clear in his final work, The Political Capacity of the Working Classes, where he advocated a radical separation of the working class from bourgeois institutions, urging that they should organise themselves autonomously and reject all participation in bourgeois politics.[136] Such an alliance between the proletariat, artisans and peasantry (the plural working classes of the title[137] ) would replace the bourgeois regime with a mutualist one as the workers became increasingly conscious of themselves as a class and of their growing political capacity. This perspective “is nothing less than the dispute which would later split Marxists from anarchists, and... socialists from syndicalists.”[138]


In place of capitalism and the state, Proudhon suggested a socio-economic federal system, a decentralised federation of self-managed associations.[139]

This federation’s delegates would be mandated and subject to recall by their electors: “we can follow [our deputies] step by step in their legislative acts and their votes; we shall make them transmit our arguments and our documents; we shall indicate our will to them, and when we are discontented, we will revoke them... the imperative mandate [mandat imperatif], permanent revocability, are the most immediate, undeniable, consequences of the electoral principle. It is the inevitable program of all democracy.”[140] Moreover, the “legislative power is not distinguished from the executive power.”[141]

This system would be based on free association and would reject the “unity that tends to absorb the sovereignty of the villages, cantons, and provinces, into a central authority. Leave to each its sentiments, its affections, its beliefs, its languages and its customs.” “The first effect of centralisation,” Proudhon stressed, “is to bring about the disappearance, in the diverse localities of the country, of all types of indigenous character; while one imagines that by this means to exalt the political life among the masses, one in fact destroys it... The fusion that is to say the annihilation, of particular nationalities where citizens live and distinguish themselves, into an abstract nationality where one can neither breathe nor recognise oneself: there is unity.”[142]

He based his federalism on functional groups, in both society and economy. As his discussion of “collective force” in “Petit Catéchisme Politique” shows,[143] Proudhon was no individualist. He was well aware that groups were greater than the sum of their parts and viewed federalism as the best means of allowing this potential to be generated and expressed. Only that could ensure a meaningful democracy (what anarchists call self-management) rather than the current system of centralised, statist, democracy in which people elect their rulers every four years. Thus “universal suffrage provides us,… in an embryonic state, with the complete system of future society. If it is reduced to the people nominating a few hundred deputies who have no initiative... social sovereignty becomes a mere fiction and the Revolution is strangled at birth.”[144] By contrast, his mutualist society was fundamentally democratic:

We have, then, not an abstract sovereignty of the people, as in the Constitution of 1793 and subsequent constitutions, or as in Rousseau’s Social Contract, but an effective sovereignty of the working, reigning, governing masses... how could it be otherwise if they are in charge of the whole economic system including labour, capital, credit, property and wealth?[145]

Initially, Proudhon focused on economic federalism. In his Programme révolutionnaire of early 1848 he “had spoken of organising society into democratically controlled groups of workers and professionals. These would form a congress which would determine how to deal with those issues of a national scope beyond the competency of any one category.”[146] However, three years later, in General Idea of the Revolution, he placed communes at the heart of his agricultural reforms as well as for public works. After 1852 he became more explicit, adding a geographical federalism to economic federalism. The two cannot be considered in isolation:

Proudhon placed socioeconomic relations on as high a level (or higher) than political ones. Proudhon’s... federalism... was to apply to all public dimensions of society. A just society required the autonomy of workshops and of communes: advancement on one level alone had little chance of success. Without political federalism, he warned, economic federalism would be politically impotent... Workers’ associations would be ineffective in a political environment which encouraged meddling by the central administration. Conversely, without economic mutualism, political federalism would remain impotent and precarious... and would degenerate back into centralism. In short, it was necessary that federalism be both professional and regional, both social and political.[147]

There were three alternatives: capitalism (“monopoly and what follows”), state socialism (“exploitation by the State”) or “a solution based on equality, —in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.”[148] Rejecting the first two, Proudhon favoured socialisation,[149] genuine common-ownership and free access of the means of production and land.[150] The “land is indispensable to our existence, consequently a common thing, consequently insusceptible of appropriation” and “all capital, whether material or mental, being the result of collective labour, is, in consequence, collective property.”[151] Self-managed workers’ associations would run industry. In short:

Under the law of association, transmission of wealth does not apply to the instruments of labour, so cannot become a cause of inequality... We are socialists... under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership... We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations... We want these associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies, joined together in the common bond of the democratic and social Republic.[152]

Against property, Proudhon argued for possession. This meant free access to the resources required to live and the inability to bar access to resources you claimed to own but did not use. Those who used a resource (land, tools, dwelling, workplace) should control both it and the product of their labour. Such possession allowed people to live and prosper and was the cornerstone of liberty. Whether on the land or in industry, Proudhon’s aim was to create a society of “possessors without masters.”[153]

Only self-governing producers’ associations could be the basis for a society in which concentration of political, economic and social power can be avoided and individual freedom protected: “Because the right to live and to develop oneself fully is equal for all, inequality of conditions is an obstacle to the exercise of this right.”[154]

So “political right had to be buttressed by economic right” for if society became “divided into two classes, one of landlords, capitalists, and entrepreneurs, the other of wage-earning proletarians” then “the political order will still be unstable.” To avoid this outcome an “agro-industrial federation” was required which would “provide reciprocal security in commerce and industry” and “protect the citizens... from capitalist and financial exploitation.” In this way, the agro-industrial federation “will tend to foster increasing equality... through mutualism in credit and insurance... guaranteeing the right to work and to education, and an organisation of work which allows each labourer to become a skilled worker and an artist, each wage-earner to become his own master.” Mutualism recognises that “industries are sisters” and so “should therefore federate, not in order to be absorbed and confused together, but in order to guarantee mutually the conditions of common prosperity, upon which no one has exclusive claim.”[155]

The empirical evidence for economic federalism is supportive of it. In negative terms, it is clear that isolated co-operatives dependent on funding from capitalist banks find it hard to survive and grow. In positive terms, it is no coincidence that the Mondragon co-operative complex in the Basque region of Spain has a credit union and mutual support networks between its co-operatives and is by far the most successful co-operative system in the world. Other successful clusters of co-operation within capitalism also have support networks.[156] Clear evidence for Proudhon’s argument that all industries are related and need to support each other.

Proudhon was an early advocate of what is now termed market socialism—an economy of competing co-operatives and self-employed workers. Some incorrectly argue that market socialism is not socialist.[157] Donny Gluckstein, for instance, suggests with casual abandon that Proudhon’s ideas are “easily recognisable as the precursor of neo-liberal economics today” but “were located in a different context and so took a far more radical form when adopted by the male artisan class.”[158]

Such claims are premised on a basic misunderstanding, namely that markets equate to capitalism. Yet this hides the key defining feature of capitalism: wage-labour.[159] Thus capitalism is uniquely marked by wage-labour, not markets (which pre-date it by centuries) and so it is possible to support markets while being a socialist. In a mutualist society, based on workers’ self-management and socialisation, wage-labour would not exist. Rather workers would be seeking out democratic associations to join and, once a member, have the same rights and duties as others within it.[160] In short, as K. Steven Vincent argues, “Proudhon consistently advanced a program of industrial democracy which would return control and direction of the economy to the workers. And he envisaged such a socialist program to be possible only within the framework of a society which encouraged just social relationships and which structured itself on federal lines.”[161]

It is also fair to ponder when an advocate of neo-liberal economics has ever argued that the idol of laissez-faire capitalism, the law of supply and demand, was a “deceitful law... suitable only for assuring the victory of the strong over the weak, of those who own property over those who own nothing”?[162] Or denounced capitalist firms because they result in the worker being “subordinated, exploited: his permanent condition is one of obedience” and so people are related as “subordinates and superiors” with “two... castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society” and urged co-operatives to replace them?[163] Or suggested that we “shall never have real workingmen’s associations until the government learns that public services should neither be operated by itself or handed over to private stock companies; but should be leased on contract to organised and responsible companies of workers”?[164] Nor would an ideologue of laissez-faire capitalism be happy with an agro-industrial federation nor would they advocate regulation of markets:

The advocates of mutualism are as familiar as anyone with the laws of supply and demand and they will be careful not to infringe them. Detailed and frequently reviewed statistics, precise information about needs and living standards, an honest breakdown of cost prices... the fixing after amicable discussion of a maximum and minimum profit margin, taking into account the risks involved, the organising of regulating societies; these things, roughly speaking, constitute all the measures by which they hope to regulate the market.[165]

Finally, what neo-liberal would proclaim: “What is the capitalist? Everything! What should he be? Nothing!”?[166] Or that “I belong to the Party of Work against the party of Capital”?[167]

In fact, Proudhon had nothing but contempt for the neo-liberals of his time and they for him.[168] He recognised the class basis of mainstream economic ideology: “Political economy, as taught by MM. Say, Rossi, Blanqui, Wolovski, Chevalier, etc., is only the economy of the property-owners, and its application to society inevitably and organically gives birth to misery.”[169] In short: “The enemies of society are Economists.”[170] Claims that Proudhon was a propertarian or a supporter of neo-liberalism simply misunderstand both capitalism and Proudhon’s ideas.

Unsurprisingly, then, Bakunin wrote of Proudhon’s “socialism, based on individual and collective liberty and upon the spontaneous action of free associations.”[171] Proudhon is placed firmly into the socialist tradition due to his support for workers’ associations and his belief that “socialism is... the elimination of misery, the abolition of capitalism and of wage-labour, the transformation of property, the decentralisation of government, the organisation of universal suffrage, the effective and direct sovereignty of the workers, the equilibrium of economic forces, the substitution of the contractual regime for the legal regime, etc.”[172] In opposition to various schemes of state socialism and communism, Proudhon argued for a decentralised and federal market socialism based on workers’ self-management of production and community self-government.


AS WOULD BE expected of the leading French socialist of his time, Proudhon’s impact continued long after his death in 1865. Most immediately was the growth of the International Workingmen’s Association founded by his followers and the application of many of his ideas by the Paris Commune.[173] His most important contribution to politics was laying the foundations for all the subsequent schools of anarchism.

Another key legacy is his consistent vision of socialism as being rooted in workers’ self-management. Dorothy W. Douglas correctly notes that “the co-operative movement... syndicalism... guild socialism... all bear traces of the kind of self-governing industrial life to which Proudhon looked forward.”[174] This vision was expressed within the First International by both the mutualists and the collectivists around Bakunin. While later eclipsed by schemes of nationalisation, the bankruptcy of such “state capitalism” (to use Kropotkin’s term) has re-enforced the validity of Proudhon’s arguments. Indeed, as Daniel Guérin suggested, when Marxists advocate self-management they “have been reverting... unwittingly and in an unspoken way to the Proudhon school” for “anarchism, ever since Proudhon, has acted as the advocate of... self-management.”[175] No other socialist thinker of his time so consistently advocated workers’ self-management of production or placed it at the core of his socialism.

This is not to say that Proudhon was without flaws, for he had many. He was not consistently libertarian in his ideas, tactics and language. His personal bigotries are disgusting and few modern anarchists would tolerate them.[176] He made some bad decisions and occasionally ranted in his private notebooks (where the worst of his anti-Semitism was expressed). We could go on but to concentrate on these aspects of Proudhon’s thought would be to paint a selective, and so false, picture of his ideas and influence. Anarchists seek Proudhon’s legacy in those aspects of his ideas that are consistent with the goal of human liberation, not those when he did not rise to the ideals he so eloquently advocated. This is what we discuss here, the positive impact of a lifetime fighting for justice, equality and liberty.


The International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA) is usually associated with Marx. In fact, it was created by British trade unionists and “French mutualist workingmen, who in turn were direct followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon” (“Contrary to stubborn legend, Karl Marx was not one of its actual founders”).[177] The negotiations that lead to its founding began in 1862 when the mutualists (including Henri-Louis Tolain and Eugene Varlin[178] ) visited the London International Exhibition.[179]

Like Proudhon, his followers in the IWMA thought workers “should be striving for the abolition of salaried labour and capitalist enterprise” by means of co-operatives for the “manager/employer (patron) was a superfluous element in the production process who was able to deny the worker just compensation for his labour merely by possessing the capital that paid for the workshop, tools, and materials.”[180] The French Internationalists were “strongly hostile to centralisation. They were federalists, intent on building up working-class organisations on a local basis and then federating the local federations. The free France they looked forward to was to be a country made up of locally autonomous communes, freely federated for common purposes which required action over larger areas... In this sense they were Anarchists.”[181] Thus in 1866 the International officially adopted the Red Flag as its symbol, confirming Proudhon’s declaration that “the red flag represents the final revolution... The red flag is the federal standard of humanity!” [182]

Given their role in setting up the International, the mutualists dominated the agenda in its first years. According to the standard, and usually Marxist or Marxist-influenced, accounts of the International this initial domination by the mutualists was eclipsed by the rise of a collectivist current (usually identified with Marxism). This is not entirely true. Yes, the Basel Congress of 1869 saw the success of a collectivist motion which was opposed by Tolain and some of his fellow French Internationalists, but this was a debate on the specific issue of agricultural collectivisation rather than a rejection of mutualism as such:

The endorsement of collectivism by the International at the Basel Congress might appear to be a rejection of the French position on co-operatives. Actually, it was not, for collectivism as it was defined by its proponents meant simply the end of private ownership of agricultural land. Lumped together with this was usually the demand for common ownership of mines and railways.[183]

Thus it was “not a debate over co-operative production in favour of some other model” but rather concerned its extension to agriculture. At the Geneva Congress of 1866 the French mutualists “persuaded the Congress to agree by unanimous vote that there was a higher goal—the suppression of ‘salaried status’—which... could be done only through co-operatives.” At the Lausanne Congress of 1867, the mutualists around Tolain “acknowledged the necessity of public ownership of canals, roads, and mines” and there was “unanimous accord” on public ownership of “the means of transportation and exchange of goods.” This was Proudhon’s position as well. The proponents of collectivisation at the Lausanne Congress wanted to “extend Tolain’s ideas to all property.”[184]

While the resolution on collectivisation “represents the final decisive defeat of the strict Proudhonist element which, centred in Paris, had dominated in France and had drawn the parameters of the debates at the International’s congresses in the beginning,”[185] this did not automatically mean the end of Proudhonian influences in the International. After all, the main leader of the “collectivist” position was César De Paepe, a self-proclaimed Mutualist and follower of Proudhon. As such, the debate was fundamentally one between followers of Proudhon, not between mutualists and Marxists, and the 1869 resolution was consistent with Proudhon’s ideas. This can be seen from the fact that resolution itself was remarkably Proudhonian in nature, with it urging the collectivisation of roads, canals, railways, mines, quarries, collieries and forests, and these to be “ceded to ‘workers’ companies’ which would guarantee the ‘mutual rights’ of workers and would sell their goods or services at cost.” The land would “be turned over to ‘agricultural companies’ (i.e., agricultural workers) with the same guarantees as those required of the ‘workers’ companies’”[186] De Paepe himself clarified the issue: “Collective property would belong to society as a whole, but would be conceded to associations of workers. The State would be no more than a federation of various groups of workers.”[187]

Given that Proudhon had advocated workers’ companies to run publicly owned industries as well as arguing the land was common property and be transferred to communes, the resolution was not the rejection of Proudhon’s ideas that many assume. In fact, it can be considered a logical fusion of his arguments on land ownership and workers’ associations. As Daniel Guérin notes, “in the congresses of the First International the libertarian idea of self-management prevailed over the statist concept.”[188] Moreover, at the Basel Congress of 1869 “Bakunin emerged as the main champion of collectivism.”[189] As Kropotkin suggested:

As to his economical conceptions, Bakunin described himself, in common with his Federalist comrades of the International (César De Paepe, James Guillaume, Schwitzguébel), a ‘collectivist anarchist’... a state of things in which all necessaries for production are owned in common by the labour groups and the free communes, while the ways of retribution of labour, communist or otherwise, would be settled by each group for itself.[190]

So the rise of the collectivists in the IWMA does not represent a defeat for Proudhon’s ideas. Rather, it reflected their development by debates between socialists heavily influenced by the anarchist. This is obscured by the fact that Proudhon’s ideas on workers’ associations are not well known today. Once this is understood, it is easy to see that it was in the IWMA that Proudhon’s mutualist ideas evolved into collectivist and then communist anarchism.

The main areas of change centred on means (reform versus revolution) and the need for strikes, unions and other forms of collective working class direct action and organisation rather than the goal of a federated, associated, self-managed socialist society. As G.D.H. Cole perceptively writes, Varlin “had at bottom a great deal more in common with Proudhon than with Marx” and had a “Syndicalist outlook.”[191] Like Bakunin, Varlin argued that unions have “the enormous advantage of making people accustomed to group life and thus preparing them for a more extended social organisation. They accustom people not only to get along with one another and to understand one another, but also to organise themselves, to discuss, and to reason from a collective perspective.” Again, like Bakunin, Varlin argued that unions also “form the natural elements of the social edifice of the future; it is they who can be easily transformed into producers associations; it is they who can make the social ingredients and the organisation of production work.”[192]

Thus, by 1868 “a transition from mutualism to ‘antistatist’ or ‘antiauthoritarian collectivism’ had began.”[193] This is to be expected. Just as Proudhon developed his ideas in the face of changing circumstances and working class self-activity, so working class people influenced by his ideas developed and changed what they took from Proudhon in light of their own circumstances. However, the core ideas of anti-statism and anti-capitalism remained and so these changes must be viewed as a development of Proudhon’s ideas rather than something completely new or alien to them. Thus the revolutionary anarchism which grew within the IWMA had distinct similarities to that of Proudhon’s reformist kind, even if it diverges on some issues.


By 1871, the transition from reformist mutualism to revolutionary collectivism as the predominant tendency within anarchism was near complete. Then came the Paris Commune. With its ideas on decentralised federations of communes and workers’ associations, the Commune applied Proudhon’s ideas on a grand scale and, in the process, inspired generations of socialists. Sadly, this revolt, Proudhon’s greatest legacy, has been appropriated by Marxism thanks to Marx’s passionate defence of the revolt and his and Engels’s systematic downplaying of its obvious Proudhonian themes.

In reality, while many perspectives were raised in the revolt, what positive themes it expressed were taken from Proudhon as many Communards “were influenced by Proudhon’s advocacy of autonomous economic organisation and decentralised self-government.” Thus the Commune reflected “a distinctly French variant of socialism, strongly influenced by Proudhon and to a lesser extent by the Russian anarchist Bakunin, which advocated destroying oppressive state structures by devolving power to local democratic communities (federalism) and abolishing exploitation by decentralising economic control to workers’ co-operative associations—‘Its apostles are workers, its Christ was Proudhon,’ proclaimed Courbet.”[194]

So it is that we find the Paris section of the IWMA in 1870 arguing along very Proudhonian lines that “we must accomplish the Democratic and Social Revolution.” The aim was “the establishment of a new social order; the elimination of classes, the abolition of employers and of the proletariat, the establishment of universal co-operation based upon equality and justice.” Thus “it is necessary, citizens, to eliminate wage labour, the last form of servitude,” “implement the principles of justice in social relationships” and ensure the “distribution of what is produced by labour, based upon the principles of the value of the work and a mutualist organisation of services.” “Has it not always been evident,” they asked, “that the art of governing peoples has been the art of exploiting them?”[195]

As Paul Avrich suggested, the “influence of Proudhon—unquestionably greater than that of Marx—was reflected in the title of ‘Federals’ by which the Communards were known.” The Commune’s “social composition... was a mixture of workers and professionals, of tradesmen and artisans... its thrust was overwhelmingly decentralist and libertarian,” its ideal society was “a direct democracy of councils, clubs, and communes, an anti-authoritarian commonwealth in which workers, artisans, and peasants might live in peace and contentment, with full economic and political liberty organised from below.”[196] “[I]n reality,” Thomas concedes, “the Commune owed precious little to Marxism and a great deal more, ironically enough, to the Proudhonists, who had proved themselves thorns in Marx’s side during the first four years of the International’s existence.”[197]

This Proudhonian influence on the Paris Commune was expressed in two main ways: politically in the vision of a France of federated communes; economically in the vision of a socialist society based on workers’ associations.

Politically, Proudhon “had stressed the commune as the fundamental unit of democratic sovereignty”[198] as well as their federation. All this was reflected in the Commune. Indeed, the “rough sketch of national organisation which the Commune had no time to develop”[199] which Marx praised but did not quote was written by a follower of Proudhon and was “strongly federalist in tone, and it has a marked proudhonian flavour.”[200]

Marx also praised the Communal Council being composed of delegates who would be “at any time revocable and bound by the mandat imperatif (formal instructions) of his constituents” and the fact that it was a “working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time” This, he averred, was “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.”[201] Yet this was not a novel “discovery” as Proudhon had consistently raised these ideas since the 1848 revolution:

It is up to the National Assembly, through organisation of its committees, to exercise executive power, just the way it exercises legislative power... Besides universal suffrage and as a consequence of universal suffrage, we want implementation of the binding mandate. Politicians balk at it! Which means that in their eyes, the people, in electing representatives, do not appoint mandatories but rather abjure their sovereignty! That is assuredly not socialism: it is not even democracy.[202]

During the Commune anarchist James Guillaume pointed out the obvious: “the Paris Revolution is federalist... in the sense given it years ago by the great socialist, Proudhon.” It is “above all the negation of the nation and the State.”[203] It is hard not to concur with K.J. Kenafick:

the programme [the Commune] set out is... the system of Federalism, which Bakunin had been advocating for years, and which had first been enunciated by Proudhon. The Proudhonists... exercised considerable influence in the Commune. This ‘political form’ was therefore not ‘at last’ discovered; it had been discovered years ago; and now it was proven to be correct by the very fact that in the crisis the Paris workers adopted it... as being the form most suitable to express working class aspirations.[204]

Economically, the same can be said. Echoing Proudhon’s calls for workers’ companies, the Communards considered that “the worker-directed workshop... very soon would become the universal mode of production.”[205] A meeting of the Mechanics Union and the Association of Metal Workers argued that “our economic emancipation... can only be obtained through the formation of workers’ associations, which alone can transform our position from that of wage earners to that of associates.” They instructed their delegates to the Commune’s Commission on Labour Organisation to aim for the “abolition of the exploitation of man by man, the last vestige of slavery” by means of the “organisation of labour in mutual associations with collective and inalienable capital.” A group of foundry workers wrote that it was “exploitation that we seek to abolish through the right of workers to their work and to form federated producer co-operatives. Their formation would be a great step forward... towards... the federation of peoples.”[206]

Marx praised the efforts made within the Paris Commune to create co-operatives, so “transforming the means of production, land and capital... into mere instruments of free and associated labour.” He argued “what else... would it be but... Communism?”[207] Well, it could be mutualism and Proudhon’s vision of an agro-industrial federation. Had not Varlin, in March 1870, argued that co-operatives were “actively preparing the bases for the future society”? Had he not, like Proudhon, warned that “placing everything in the hands of a highly centralised, authoritarian state... would set up a hierarchic structure from top to bottom of the labour process”? Had he not, like Proudhon, suggested that “the only alternative is for workers themselves to have the free disposition and possession of the tools of production... through co-operative association”?[208]

Engels in 1891 painted a picture of Proudhon being opposed to association (except for large-scale industry) and stated that “to combine all these associations in one great union” was “the direct opposite of the Proudhon doctrine” and so the Commune was its “grave.”[209] Yet, as he most certainly was aware, Proudhon had publicly called for economic federation. In 1863, he termed it the “agro-industrial federation” and fifteen years earlier he had demanded an economy based on a “vast federation” of “democratically organised workers’ associations”[210] so making true his 1846 statement that “to unfold the system of economical contradictions is to lay the foundations of universal association.”[211]

Elsewhere, Engels argued that the “economic measures” of the Commune were driven not by “principles” but by “simple, practical needs.” This meant that “the confiscation of shut-down factories and workshops and handing them over to workers’ associations” had been “not at all in accordance with the spirit of Proudhonism but certainly in accordance with the spirit of German scientific socialism.”[212] This seems unlikely, given Proudhon’s well known and long-standing advocacy of co-operatives as well as Marx’s comment in 1866 that in France the workers (“especially those in Paris”) “are, without realising it[!], strongly implicated in the garbage of the past” and that the “Parisian gentlemen had their heads stuffed full of the most vacuous Proudhonist clichés.”[213] Given that the Communist Manifesto stressed state ownership and failed to mention co-operatives, the claim that the Commune had acted in its spirit seems a tad optimistic particularly as this decision “bore the mark of the French socialist tradition, which envisaged workers’ co-operative association, not state ownership, as the solution to ‘the social question.’”[214]

The obvious influence of Proudhon in the Commune’s socio-economic vision has been obscured by Marxist revisionism. These links with Proudhon are hardly surprising as “men sympathetic to Proudhon’s ideas were conspicuously present” in the revolt.[215] This is not to suggest that the Paris Commune unfolded precisely as Proudhon would have wished (Bakunin and Kropotkin analysed it and drew conclusions from its failings[216] ). However, it is clear that the Commune’s vision of a federated, self-managed society and economy owes much to Proudhon’s tireless advocacy of such ideas. As Bakunin suggested, Marx and Engels “proclaim[ing] that [the Commune’s] programme and purpose were their own” flew “in face of the simplest logic” and was “a truly farcical change of costume.”[217]


Proudhon’s lasting legacy is his contribution to anarchism. It is little wonder that he has been termed “the father of anarchism” for while anarchism has evolved since Proudhon’s time it still bases itself on the themes first expounded in a systematic way by the Frenchman. Indeed, it is hard to imagine anarchism without Proudhon.

While Proudhon may not have been the first thinker to suggest a stateless and classless society, he was the first to call himself an anarchist and to influence a movement of that name. This is not to suggest that libertarian ideas and movements had not existed before Proudhon[218] nor that anarchistic ideas did not develop spontaneously after 1840 but these were not a coherent, named, articulate theory. While anarchism does not have to be identical to Proudhon’s specific ideas and proposals, it does have to be consistent with the main thrust of his ideas—in other words, anti-state and anti-capitalism. Thus collectivist anarchism built on Proudhon, as did communist-anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism and individualist anarchism. While none of these later developments were identical to Proudhon’s mutualism—each stressed different aspects of his ideas, developing some, changing others—the links and evolution remain clear.

Proudhon straddles both wings of the anarchist movement, social and individualist although the former took more of his vision of libertarian socialism. [219] Perhaps this division was inevitable considering Proudhon’s ideas. He was, after all, an advocate of both competition and association, against both capitalism and communism, a reformist who talked constantly of revolution. Suffice to say, though, both wings considered themselves, as did Proudhon, part of the wider socialist movement and hoped to see the end of capitalism while disagreeing on how to do so and the exact nature of a free society. Whether Proudhon would have agreed with Tucker or Kropotkin is a moot point (probably not!) but he would have recognised elements of his ideas in both.

Individualist Anarchism

Proudhon’s ideas found a welcome home in North America where “his impact was greater than has been commonly supposed,” with his “views given wide publicity” in “the years preceding the Civil War.”[220] This makes sense, given that (like France) the USA was going through the process of industrialisation and proletarianisation with the state intervening in the economy (as it always has) to foster capitalist property rights and social relationships. Radicals in America, facing the same transformation as Proudhon’s France, took up his ideas and propagated them.

While Josiah Warren had independently advocated certain ideas usually associated with Proudhon, the first study of Proudhon’s work was Charles A. Dana’s Proudhon and His “Bank of the People” in 1849 followed by William B. Greene’s translations from Proudhon’s Organisation du Crédit et de la Circulation et Solution du Problème Social in his 1850 Mutual Banking. Greene was president of the Massachusetts Labour Union and was active in the French-speaking section of the IWMA in Boston although, unlike Proudhon, he “championed the cause of women’s rights.”[221]

For Greene there was “no device of the political economists so infernal as the one which ranks labour as a commodity, varying in value according to supply and demand... To speak of labour as merchandise is treason; for such speech denies the true dignity of man... Where labour is merchandise in fact... there man is merchandise also, whether in England or South Carolina.” The alternative was the “triple formula of practical mutualism”: “the associated workshop” for production, the “protective union store” for consumption and “the Mutual Bank” for exchange. All three were required, for “the Associated Workshop cannot exist for a single day without the Mutual Bank and the Protective Union Store.” The “Associated Workshop ought to be an organisation of personal credit. For what is its aim and purpose? Is it not the emancipation of the labourer from all dependence upon capital and capitalists?”[222]

Benjamin Tucker took up Greene’s work and translated substantial material by Proudhon into English including numerous articles, What is Property? and volume one of System of Economic Contradictions. In 1881, he proclaimed that his new journal, Liberty, was “brought into existence as a direct consequence of the teachings of Proudhon” and “lives principally to emphasise and spread them.”[223] Proudhon’s maxim from the 1848 revolution that “Liberty, Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order” adorned its masthead. Like Proudhon, his aim was the “emancipation of the workingman from his present slavery to capital.”[224]

To achieve this, Tucker looked to Proudhon as well as the radical ideas and movements of his own country. He took Proudhon’s reformism, his “occupancy and use” critique of land-ownership, elimination of interest by mutual banking, opposition to the state and defence of competition and markets. Somewhat ironically, while Tucker is often portrayed as being Proudhon’s disciple he ignored many of the French anarchist’s key ideas. Workers’ associations and co-operative production, the agro-industrial federation, communes and their federation find no echo in Tucker, nor did Proudhon’s opposition to wage-labour. Somewhat ironically it was Tucker’s arch-foe in the movement, the communist-anarchist Johann Most, who echoed the French anarchist on most issues.

Other individualist anarchists were closer to Proudhon’s concerns. Dyer Lum “drew from the French anarchist Proudhon... a radical critique of classical political economy and... a set of positive reforms in land tenure and banking... Proudhon paralleled the native labour reform tradition in several ways. Besides suggesting reforms in land and money, Proudhon urged producer cooperation.” As with Proudhon’s, a key element of “Lum’s anarchism was his mutualist economics, an analysis of ‘wage slavery’ and a set of reforms that would ‘abolish the wage system.’”[225] Other individualist anarchists joined Lum in opposing wage-labour.[226]

While individualist anarchism dominated the movement in America before and immediately after the Civil War, by the 1880s the displacement of reformist by revolutionary forms of anarchism which had occurred in Europe was repeated in America. While the repression after the Haymarket police riot in 1886 hindered this, “[b]y the turn of the century, the anarchist movement in America had become predominantly communist in orientation.”[227] While individualist anarchism never totally disappeared, to this day it remains very much the minority trend in American anarchism.

Revolutionary Anarchism

Even a cursory glance at revolutionary anarchism shows the debt it has to Proudhon. Bakunin, unsurprisingly, considered his own ideas as “Proudhonism widely developed and pushed right to these, its final consequences.”[228] Proudhon’s critique of property, state and capitalism, his analysis of exploitation being rooted in wage-labour, his advocacy of a decentralised and federal system of communes and workers’ associations, his support for workers’ self-management of production, his call for working class autonomy and self-activity as the means of transforming society from below, all these (and more) were taken up and developed by collectivist, communist and syndicalist anarchists.

Just as Proudhon had pointed to the directly democratic clubs of the 1848 Revolution and co-operatives as key institutions of a free society, so Bakunin viewed communes and unions in the same light while, in addition to these, Kropotkin pointed to the directly democratic “sections” of the Great French Revolution. As with Proudhon, the revolutionary anarchists argued that political and social change must occur at the same time. Like Proudhon, they saw the future free society as a dual federation of social and economic organisations. For Kropotkin “the form that the Social Revolution must take” was “the independent Commune” and their federations along with “a parallel triumph of the people in the economic field” based on “associations of men and women who would work on the land, in the factories, in the mines, and so on” and so become “themselves the managers of production.”[229] For Bakunin, “socialism is federalist” and “true federalism, the political organisation of socialism, will be attained only” when “popular grass-roots institutions” like “communes, industrial and agricultural associations” are “organised in progressive stages from the bottom up.”[230] The links with Proudhon’s ideas, particularly the agro-industrial federation, are all too clear.

Revolutionary anarchism bases itself on Proudhon’s distinction between property and possession.[231] It shares his vision of an economy based on socialisation of the means of production, use rights and workers’ association. Kropotkin’s co-founder of the newspaper Freedom, Charlotte M. Wilson, made the link clear:

Proudhon’s famous dictum, ‘Property is theft’, is the key to the equally famous enigma... ‘From each according to his capacities, to each according to his needs’... as long as land and capital are un-appropriated, the workers are free, and that, when these have a master, the workers also are slaves... Anarchism proposes, therefore,—1. That usufruct of instruments of production—land included—should be free to all workers, or groups of workers. 2. That the workers should group themselves, and arrange their work as their reason and inclination prompt... 3. That the necessary connections between the various industries and branches of trade should be managed on the same voluntary principle.[232]

Revolutionary anarchism nevertheless differed from that of Proudhon in three areas.

First, its proponents rejected Proudhon’s support for patriarchy in the family as being inconsistent with the libertarian principles he advocated against capitalism and the state.[233] This was an obvious self-contradiction, which anarchists have critiqued by means of the very principles Proudhon himself used to criticise the state and capitalism. Joseph Déjacque, for example, wrote a critique of Proudhon’s sexist views in 1857, urging him to renounce “this gender aristocracy that would bind us to the old regime.”[234] André Léo, a feminist libertarian and future Communard, pointed out the obvious contradiction in 1869: “These so-called lovers of liberty, if they are unable to take part in the direction of the state, at least they will be able to have a little monarchy for their personal use, each in his own home... Order in the family without hierarchy seems impossible to them—well then, what about in the state?”[235]

Second, they rejected Proudhon’s reformism and transformed his call for a “revolution from below” into a literal support for a social revolution (insurrections, general strikes and other activities which reflect the popular understanding of “revolution”). Bakunin, while “convinced that the co-operative will be the preponderant form of social organisation in the future” and could “hardly oppose” their creation under capitalism, argued that Proudhon’s hope for gradual change by means of mutual banking and the higher efficiency of workers’ co-operatives was unlikely to be realised as it did “not take into account the vast advantage that the bourgeoisie enjoys against the proletariat through its monopoly on wealth, science, and secular custom, as well as through the approval—overt or covert but always active—of States and through the whole organisation of modern society. The fight is too unequal for success reasonably to be expected.”[236] Thus capitalism “does not fear the competition of workers’ associations—neither consumers’, producers’, nor mutual credit associations—for the simple reason that workers’ organisations, left to their own resources, will never be able to accumulate sufficiently strong aggregations of capital capable of waging an effective struggle against bourgeois capital.”[237]

Having found reformism insufficient, the revolutionary anarchists stressed the need for what would now be termed a syndicalist approach to social change.[238] Rather than seeing workers co-operatives and mutual banks as the focus for social transformation, unions came to be seen as the means of both fighting capitalism and replacing it. They took Proudhon’s dual-power strategy from 1848 and applied it in the labour movement with the long term aim of smashing the state and replacing it with these organs of popular power.[239]

Third, they rejected Proudhon’s anti-communism and advocated distribution according to need rather than deed. That is, the extension of the critique of wage-labour into opposition to the wages-system.[240]

The rationale behind this change was straightforward. As Kropotkin explained, “this system of remuneration for work done” was contradictory and unjust. Not only do deeds not correlate with needs (most obviously, children, the ill and elderly cannot be expected to work as much as others) it was also “evident that a society cannot be based on two absolutely opposed principles, two principles that contradict one another continually.” How can labour-money be advocated “when we admit that houses, fields, and factories will no longer be private property, and that they will belong to the commune or the nation?” Abolition of property in the means of production cannot co-exist with property in the products of labour created by their use. This suggested that, to be consistent, anarchists must pass from mutualism and collectivism to communism, distribution according to need rather than deed.[241] Most anarchists then, and now, concurred.

Ultimately, though, Proudhon and the likes of Bakunin and Kropotkin had more in common than differences. His ideas were the foundation upon which revolutionary anarchism was built. Bakunin “reaped the harvest sown by Proudhon—the father of anarchism—filtering, enriching and surpassing it”[242] and “Proudhon’s thought found a strong echo in revolutionary syndicalism.”[243]

Finally, it should be noted that revolutionary anarchism developed independently from Proudhon’s mutualism in at least three cases. Joseph Déjacque drew libertarian communist conclusions from Proudhon’s work in the 1850s. Bakunin developed Proudhon’s ideas in a similar direction after 1864 while Eugene Varlin “seems to have moved independently towards his collectivist position.”[244] So while Bakunin’s ideas were quickly adopted by working class militants familiar with Proudhon across Europe, even without him Proudhon’s legacy was evolving in the direction of revolutionary collectivism in the 1860s. Indeed, it could be argued that Bakunin and his ideas became so influential in the IWMA because he was part of a general development within Internationalist circles which he simply helped.


PROUDHON’S INFLUENCE WAS significant during the nineteenth century. Sadly, his ideas are not acknowledged as much as they should be given their impact and how they laid the basis for modern anarchism.

Anarchists, though, are not Proudhonists, Bakuninists, Kropotkinites, or whoever-ists. We reject the idea of calling ourselves after individuals. However, we can and do acknowledge the contributions of outstanding thinkers and activists, people who contribute to the commonwealth of ideas which is anarchism. Seen in this light, Proudhon (for all his faults) should be remembered as the person who laid the foundations of anarchism. His libertarian socialism, his critique of capitalism and the state, his federalism, advocacy of self-management and change from below, defined what anarchism is.

In terms of his critique of capitalism, most of it holds up well. Workers are still exploited at the point of production and this can only be stopped by abolishing wage-labour. Landlords are still parasites, interest still bleeds dry those subject to it. Capitalism has proven itself to be the efficient machine for increasing inequality by exploiting the many that Proudhon analysed. As far as his anti-statism goes, his analysis of the state as an instrument of minority class rule still rings true as does his insights that centralised structures result in rule by the few and are simply not reflexive of, nor accountable to, the public in any meaningful way. His denunciations of executive power and the unitaire State as a new form of royalty have been confirmed time and time again. His critique of State socialism, his prediction that it would be just another form of wage-labour with the state replacing the boss, has been more than confirmed, not to mention his fear that it would become little more than a dictatorship by a party rather than a genuine worker democracy.

While we should not slavishly copy Proudhon’s ideas, we can take what is useful and, like Bakunin, Kropotkin and others, develop them further in order to inspire social change in the 21st century. His vision of a decentralised, self-managed, federal socialist society and economy has obvious relevance today. Centralised political and economic systems have been tried and failed. His continued emphasis on working class autonomy and self-emancipation, of building the new world in the heart of the old, are core libertarian principles.

Proudhon wrote that “the twentieth century will open the age of federations, or else humanity will undergo another purgatory of a thousand years.”[245] The 20th century, with its centralised states, neo-liberalism and nationalistic irrationalities, reached depths of destruction and misery suggested by purgatory. We can only hope that it is the 21st century that inaugurates the libertarian age Proudhon hoped for.

Iain McKay


PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON WAS BORN ON 15TH OF JANUARY 1809 IN THE town of Besançon in Franche-Comté, a province in the east of France bordering the Jura region of Switzerland. Almost unique for his time, he was a major socialist thinker who was working class and he declared that his aim was to work “for the complete liberation of [his] brothers and comrades.”[246] He lived in a period of massive social and economic change. The industrialisation of France was beginning (its full flowering came in the 1860s), he grew up surrounded by those who had taken part in the Revolution of 1789, experienced the July Revolution of 1830 and saw the birth of the French labour and socialist movements in the 1830s. All these influenced his ideas.

After a brief period at the college in Besançon he was forced to leave school before completing his baccalaureate in order to support his family. In 1828 he became a working compositor; later he rose to be a corrector for the press. The following year he met utopian socialist Charles Fourier when supervising the printing of his Le Nouveau Monde Industriel et Sociétaire. Having several discussions with Fourier, he later recounted that for “six whole weeks” he was “the captive of this bizarre genius.”[247] While rejecting Fourier’s utopian visions of perfect and regulated communities in favour of a “scientific socialism,”[248] he had a lasting influence as can be seen in many of Proudhon’s works.

The turning point in Proudhon’s life came when, in 1838, he was awarded a scholarship to study in Paris by the Besançon Academy. The following year saw him write the treatise On The Utility of Sunday Observance from the Viewpoints of Public Hygiene, Morality and Civic and Family Relations. However, 1840 saw him produce the work that ensured his lasting fame: What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government. This work was to encapsulate the core themes of his life’s work—liberty, social justice, the iniquities of capitalist property rights, the epochal importance of socialism and his theory of anarchism. It caused a sensation and Proudhon was soon recognised as a leading light of the French, indeed international, socialist movement. It also resulted in the public prosecutor sending a recommendation to the Minister of Justice that a case be launched against him. Fortunately for Proudhon, leading economist Jérome-Adolphe Blanqui was approached by the Minister over the book’s seditious nature. Blanqui had been assigned the book to review and while disagreeing with it, declared it was a philosophical work which would appeal only to “high intelligences and cultivated minds.”[249] This verdict was accepted and Proudhon was spared prosecution.

What is Property? was quickly followed by two more works. In 1841 he wrote his Second Memoir on property (Letter to M. Blanqui) were he developed his ideas in a reply to comments made by Blanqui. His Third Memoir (Warning to Proprietors) was published in 1842 and answered criticisms by a follower of Fourier. This work was seized by the Besançon public prosecutor and Proudhon was charged with “1, Attacking Property; 2, Troubling the public peace by exciting mistrust or hatred of the citizens against one or more persons; 3, Exciting hatred and mistrust of the King’s Government; 4, Outrage to the Catholic religion.”[250] Proclaiming his work too hard to follow and not wishing to imprison someone due to misunderstanding their ideas, the jury refused to convict Proudhon.

His next major work was published in the following year. On the Creation of Order in Humanity adapted Fourier’s “serial method” and was an attempt to develop a comprehensive social science premised on Fourier’s antirationalist social theory and Auguste Comte’s philosophy of history. He later admitted that this work was not successful, but it discussed a set of themes he was to return to again and again. Proudhon also moved to Lyons, serving for several years as an office manager for a water transport firm. This allowed him to travel and he frequently stayed in Paris, where Marx, Bakunin, and Herzen visited him to discuss ideas. In Lyons, he became part of the flourishing radical scene and met with its revolutionary silk-weavers who called themselves Mutualists and argued for a form of associational socialism based on producer co-operatives and credit unions. They had a significant influence on Proudhon, reflected by “his preoccupation at this period with the idea of an association of workers.”[251] These influences and thoughts were publicly expressed in 1846 with the publication of the two volume System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Misery in which he proclaimed his own ideas mutualism.

In October 1847 Proudhon settled in Paris again, hoping to start a newspaper. When the 1848 Revolution broke out, he helped build barricades and set the type for the first republican proclamation. A group of workers, fresh from the barricades and still armed with muskets, visited Proudhon and asked that he resume his plan to publish a newspaper. He agreed and Le Répresentant du Peuple (The Representative of the People) was born, its masthead proclaiming “What is the producer? Nothing! What should he be? Everything!”[252] This was the first of four newspapers Proudhon edited during the revolution, all with “People” in their name and all suppressed by the state.[253]

Fearing, rightly, that the Republicans had “made a revolution without an idea”[254] Proudhon used his articles to comment on events, criticise the policies of the government and stress the need to go beyond mere political reform as this could never solve problems whose roots were primarily economic. Socioeconomic change was essential.[255] His first major works after the revolution included an analysis of its causes and meaning and a critique of (statist) democracy, subsequently published as Solution of the Social Problem. These were quickly followed by the Organisation of Credit and Circulation in which he argued that a Bank of Exchange was required to both solve the economic problems facing France and secure the end of capitalism.

However, it was the various incarnations of his newspapers that Proudhon made his greatest impact on the public and by the end of 1848 he was being read by 40,000 mostly working-class readers.[256] These articles present a libertarian, albeit reformist,[257] analysis of the revolution and how to solve its problems. This clarified his own ideas, as it forced him to present positive ideas to change society for the better, as well as enriching anarchist theory for later libertarians to build upon.

In April 1848 he stood as a candidate in the elections for the Constituent Assembly with his name appearing on the ballots in Paris, Lyon, Besançon, and Lille. He proclaimed in his election manifesto that he regarded “Property is theft!” as “the greatest truth of the century” and that “the negation of property is necessary for the abolition of misery, for the emancipation of the proletariat.”[258] Unsuccessful, he was not deterred and ran in the complementary elections held on June 4th and was duly elected.[259] He later recalled:

When I think of everything that I have said, written and published over these past ten years regarding the State’s role in society, bringing the authorities to heel and government’s disqualification from revolution, I am tempted to believe that my election in June 1848 was the result of some incomprehension on the part of the people… I may have appeared momentarily to the society which I take for my judge and the authorities with whom I want no truck, as a formidable agitator.[260]

Following the June Days, Proudhon’s paper was temporarily suppressed when he demanded immediate economic relief for the working class and appealed directly to the National Guard for support. Viewed by conservatives as a leading member of the left, his proposals for reform were condemned on the floor of the assembly by Adolphe Thiers. Proudhon responded on July 31st with a three-and-a-half-hour speech that stressed “social liquidation” was needed and that the end of property was the real meaning of the revolution. He was defiant in the face of hecklers: “When I say WE, I identify myself with the proletariat; when I say YOU, I identify you with the bourgeois class.”[261] Only one representative, a socialist worker from Lyons, supported Proudhon and a motion of censure was passed (with socialists like Louis Blanc and Pierre Leroux voting for it). Even Marx had to (grudgingly) admit that “his attitude in the National Assembly merits nothing but praise.”[262]

When La Représentant du Peuple was allowed to reappear in August and “What is the capitalist? Everything! What should he be? Nothing!” was added to its masthead.[263] The repression did not dull its social criticism, with Proudhon on fine ironic form with the searing The Malthusians attacking bourgeois hypocrisy and laissez-faire capitalism. It was soon, however, completely suppressed, but Proudhon himself could not be prosecuted because he enjoyed parliamentary immunity.

In October 1848, Proudhon gave a Toast to the Revolution at a banquet in Paris. He spoke on the successive manifestation of justice in human life (what he termed a “permanent revolution”) before concluding that revolutionary power lay not with the government, but in the people. Only the people, acting themselves, could achieve social transformation. That month also saw the launch of Le Peuple (The People) in which Proudhon argued that the creation of a strong executive elected directly by the people was monarchical and reactionary. Initially, he advocated abstaining in the Presidential election but then supported the candidacy of socialist François-Vincent Raspail. Proudhon’s election manifesto was serialised in Le Peuple and is a succinct summation of his socio-economic ideas. Very successful, the newspaper turned from a weekly to a daily at the end of November.[264]

A few days later, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte won the Presidential election in a surprise landslide. Proudhon had strenuously opposed Louis-Napoléon before the election and redoubled his criticism afterwards. He accurately predicted on the 22nd of December 1848 that Louis-Napoléon would produce a “monarchical restoration” and “organise the crusade of the exploiters against the exploited.”[265] As well as continued journalism, Proudhon tried to create a bank of exchange, now called the Bank of the People. Organised in early 1849 with the participation of workers previously associated with the Luxembourg Commission, it soon had over ten thousand adherents (mostly workers) but its assets were meagre and so was essentially stillborn.

Faced with Proudhon’s attacks and attempts at socialist reform, the conservative government responded by getting the assembly to lift Proudhon’s immunity from prosecution. Charged with sedition, he was sentenced in March 1849 to three years in prison and fined 3,000 Francs. Proudhon liquidated his Bank of the People, ostensibly to prevent it from falling into the hands of the authorities, and went into hiding (although he still wrote articles for Le Peuple). On June 5th he was finally caught and imprisoned in Sainte-Pélagie.

During his three years in prison he founded and wrote for two newspapers (with the assistance of Alexander Herzen), wrote four books, married Euphrasie Piégard and fathered a child.[266] Two of the books written in prison became classic works of libertarian thought while his polemics with leading representatives of the statist left and laissez-faire right showed the weaknesses of both. Clearly, he spent his time as a political prisoner well.

The first book to appear was Confessions of a Revolutionary (1849), Proudhon’s personal account of the 1848 revolution and its lessons. It argued that social revolution could not be achieved by means of the state, a structure incapable of being revolutionised or utilised for social transformation. He stressed how his own experiences as a politician confirmed his previous arguments on the impossibility of implementing social reform from above by means of the state. Only a revolution “from below” could achieve change. Then, during the winter of 1849, Proudhon participated in two polemics in La Voix du Peuple (The Voice of the People). The first was an exchange of letters with laissez-faire economist Frédéric Bastiat on the justice of usury. It was subsequently published as a pamphlet entitled Interest and Principal (1850). The second was with Blanc and Leroux over the nature of socialism, revolution and the state, clarifying the differences between the two schools of socialism—libertarian and state.

The next book written in prison was General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (1851). This summarised Proudhon’s ideas on social, economic and political transformation and was his solution to the problems and contradictions of capitalism he had raised in the 1840s, “the scientific and positive conclusion which System of [Economic] Contradictions was only the preamble.”[267] Broken into seven studies, with a striking epilogue, it sketched his ideas both on the nature of a free socio-economic order, how to create it and the need for anarchy—self-managed social and economic associations bound by free agreements.

Just as Proudhon had warned, Louis-Napoléon seized power in a coup d’état on 2nd December 1851 to remain head of state. As Proudhon was already a prisoner, he avoided the repression inflicted upon the left by the new regime. He was outraged by the brutality of the army, but the lack of popular resistance to the coup and its subsequent approval by an overwhelming majority in a referendum profoundly disillusioned Proudhon.

The third book was published shortly after Proudhon’s release from prison in July 1852. Pointing to the regime’s popular support, The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d’État of Second of December 1851 tried to make the best of a bad situation. Calling the coup “the act of a highway robber,” he stressed that he was “opposed to dictatorship and any type of coup d’État” and was “repelled by dictatorship,” considering it “a theocratic and barbarous institution, in every case a menace to liberty.” Having “defended universal suffrage,” he did “not ask that it be repressed” but rather “that it be organised, and that it lives.” Although recognising Louis-Napoléon’s support in the bourgeoisie, Proudhon urged him to use the mandate of the referendum to implement economic and political reforms. The choice was either “anarchy or Caesarism… there is no middle course… you are caught between the Emperor and the Social Republic!”[268] Perhaps unsurprisingly, Louis-Napoléon chose not to abolish his own power and, after another referendum, proclaimed himself Emperor on 2nd December 1852.

The fourth book, Philosophy of Progress (1853), was more theoretical in nature and comprised of the two lengthy letters sent from prison in 1851. While having little to do with the Revolutions of 1848 or even politics in general, it proved too much for the Imperial Censors. While not banned, the police declared that allowing publication did not guarantee that Proudhon would not be prosecuted. Finally published in Belgium, the police did ban its import into France.

French publishers consistently refused to handle his new works. His next major book, initially published anonymously, was the Stock Exchange Speculator’s Manual (1853). Its title hid a subversive message—the abolition of wage-labour, the end of the capitalist company and the advocacy of producer and consumer associations. Originally written as a source of much needed income for his family, it took until the enlarged 3rd edition of 1856 before Proudhon put his name on it.

Then came the publication of his magnum opus, the massive Justice in the Revolution and in the Church (1858). This work is divided into twelve studies, on a host of subjects, each relating to the social origin of justice in that area. Arguing against religious claims of revelatory justice and philosophical ideas about rationalism, Proudhon argued that justice in areas of philosophy, work, the state, education, and so on, can be determined by the correspondence of social utility, conscience and historical “immanence.” His conclusions range from the radical (“The land to those who cultivate it”; “Capital to those who use it”; “The product to the producer”[269] ) to the conservative (patriarchy, marriage and women). The book sold exceptionally well considering it was nearly 2000 pages, but hopes for a second edition were foiled when the police seized the remaining copies and Proudhon was charged by the authorities two days after publication for attacking religion, law, morality and (ironically) the family.

To avoid jail, Proudhon and his family left in July 1858 for indefinite exile in Belgium. There, his focus turned almost exclusively to foreign affairs and in 1861 War and Peace[270] was published. A much misrepresented book, this work continued themes developed in Justice and sought to discover how war as a historical process shaped norms of social justice as well as to understand the nature and causes of war in order to end it. In the first volume Proudhon extolled the virtues of war in pre-industrial society before denouncing it as barbaric and antiquated in an age where indiscriminate killing was becoming the norm as war was increasingly industrialised. Proudhon argued that war could now be ended because “the Revolution made the public conscience the only interpreter of right, the only judge of the material world and the only sovereign, which constitutes true democracy and marked the end of priesthood and militarism.” Moreover, war was rooted in inequality and “whatever the officially declared reasons” it existed only “for exploitation and property” and “until the constitution of economic right, between nations as well as between individuals, war does not have any other function on earth.” Given this, radical economic reform was required and “[o]nly the toiling masses are able to put an end to war, by creating economic equilibrium, which presupposes a radical revolution in ideas and morals.” It concluded: “HUMANITY DOES NOT WANT ANY MORE WAR.”[271]

Proudhon returned to Paris in September 1862, taking advantage of a general amnesty. This marked a renewed involvement in French politics and in 1863 he began a campaign urging the casting of blank ballots as a protest against the Second Empire. That year also saw the publication of The Federative Principle in which he discussed the necessity of a federal social structure as the best alternative to centralised states as well as the required economic reforms needed to maintain a just social order. An “agricultural-industrial federation” would complement and support the federation of communes and stop the degeneration of both the economic and political systems into inequality and tyranny.

In 1864, Henri Tolain published what was to become known as the Manifesto of the Sixty. It demanded social reforms and urged standing working class candidates in elections to achieve them. A group of workers wrote to Proudhon, asking his thoughts on this development and in a lengthy Letter to Workers he replied that while overjoyed by these public stirrings of the workers’ movement, he was critical of their electoral stand. With his health deteriorating,[272] he composed his last work The Political Capacity of the Working Class to address the issues raised. His political testament, it summarised his views after 25 years of fighting for socialism. He presented a mutualist analysis of economics, federalism, association, and a host of other issues and urged workers and peasants to reject all participation in bourgeois politics in favour of creating their own self-managed organisations. By so doing, they would become conscious of themselves as a class and their ability to replace the bourgeois regime with a mutualist one based on his three great loves—freedom, equality and justice.

Proudhon died in his wife’s arms on January 19th 1865 and is buried in Montparnasse cemetery, Paris.[273] Thousands followed the casket and thronged the cemetery, saying a final goodbye to one of the greatest socialist thinkers the world has ever seen.



IN TERMS OF THE LANGUAGE HE USED, PROUDHON WAS BY NO MEANS CONSISTENT. Thus we have the strange sight of the first self-proclaimed anarchist often using “anarchy” in the sense of chaos. Then there is the use of the terms property and the state, both of which Proudhon used to describe aspects of the current system which he opposed and the desired future he hoped for.

After 1850, Proudhon started to increasingly use the term “property” to describe the possession he desired. This climaxed in the posthumously published Theory of Property[274] in which he apparently proclaimed his wholehearted support for “property.” Proudhon’s enemies seized on this but a close reading, as Woodcock demonstrates, finds no such thing:

Much has been made of this essay in an attempt to show that it represents a retreat from Proudhon’s original radicalism. Fundamentally, it does not... What Proudhon does is to change his definition of property... he is thinking, not of the usurial property he condemned in his earlier works, but of the property that guarantees the independence of the peasant and artisan... Because of his changes in definition, Proudhon appears more conservative, but the alterations are not radical, since he continues to uphold the basic right of the producer to control his land or his workshop.[275]

This can easily been seen when Proudhon re-iterated his opposition to ownership of land:

I quite agree that the man who first ploughed up the land should receive compensation for his labour. What I cannot accept, regarding land, is that the work put in gives a right to ownership of what has been worked on.[276]

Workers’ associations continued to play a key role in his theory (with workplaces becoming “little republics of workingmen”[277] ). The only difference, as Stewart Edwards notes, was that “Proudhon came to consider that liberty could be guaranteed only if property ownership was not subject to any limitation save that of size.”[278] Proudhon stressed that property “must be spread and consolidated... more equally.” This was because he was still aware of its oppressive nature, arguing that it was “an absolutism within an absolutism,” and “by nature autocratic.” Its “politics could be summed up in a single word,” namely “exploitation.” “Simple justice,” he stressed, “requires that equal division of land shall not only operate at the outset. If there is to be no abuse, it must be maintained from generation to generation.”[279]

Resources were seen as being divided equally throughout a free society, which would be without concentrations and inequalities of wealth and the economic power, exploitation and oppression that they produced. The Proudhon of the 1860s was not so different from the firebrand radical of 1840. This can be seen when he wrote that his works of the 1840s contained “the mutualist and federative theory of property” in his last book, The Political Capacity of the Working Classes.[280]

Then there is his use of the term “state” and “government” to describe both the current centralised and top-down regime he opposed as well as the decentralised, bottom-up federation of the social organisation of the future. While these terms were used as synonyms for “social organisation” their use can only bred confusion so raising the possibility that he moved from libertarian to liberal socialism.

Thus we find him discussing States within a confederation while maintaining that “the federal system is the contrary of hierarchy or administrative and governmental centralisation” and that “a confederation is not exactly a state... What is called federal authority, finally, is no longer a government; it is an agency created... for the joint execution of certain functions.”[281] His aim was “to found an order of things wherein the principle of the sovereignty of the people, of man and of the citizen, would be implemented to the letter” and “where every member” of a society, “retaining his independence and continuing to act as sovereign, would be self-governing.” Social organisation “would concern itself solely with collective matters; where as a consequence, there would be certain common matters but no centralisation.” He suggests that “under the democratic constitution... the political and the economic are... one and the same system... based upon a single principle, mutuality... and form this vast humanitarian organism of which nothing previously could give the idea”: “is this not the system of the old society turned upside down… ?” he asks.[282] If so, then why suggest that this new “humanitarian organism” is made up of states as well as communes and confederations?

The confusions that this would provoke are obvious and, unsurprisingly, later anarchists have been more consistent in what they described as a state. Not all forms of social organisation can be equated to the State and more appropriate words are needed to describe a fundamentally new form of sociopolitical institution.[283]

Moreover, Proudhon saw anarchy as a long term goal and advocated appropriate means to achieve it.[284] If we remember that Proudhon sometimes referred to anarchy as a form of government[285] we should not construe his extensive discussion of governments and governmental forms as a rejection of anarchist ideas. Even during his most anarchistic phase in 1849 he suggested that “as the negation of property implies that of authority, I immediately deduced from my definition this no less paradoxical corollary: that the authentic form of government is anarchy.”[286] It should also be remembered that in the 1850s and 1860s Proudhon was, bar a period of exile in Belgium, writing under the watchful eyes of the censors of the Second Empire and so, perhaps, toned down some of his language as a result. Similarly, the reactionary atmosphere of the period and lack of social protest may have played their part (as can be seen from the return to radicalism shown by The Political Capacity of the Working Classes written in response to the stirrings of the labour movement in the early 1860s).

Then there is “democracy,” a concept Proudhon eviscerated in his seminal 1848 article of the same name but later he was more than happy to proclaim that the “federative, mutualist republican sentiment” will “bring about the victory of Worker Democracy right around the world.”[287] A close reading shows that his main opposition to democracy in 1848 was that it was, paradoxically, not democratic enough as it referred to the Jacobin notion that the whole nation as one body should elect a government. However, within a decentralised system it was a case of providing “a little philosophy of universal suffrage, in which I show that this great principle of democracy is a corollary of the federal principle or nothing.”[288]

This changing terminology and ambiguous use of terms like government, state, property and so forth can cause problems when interpreting Proudhon. This is not to suggest that he is inconsistent or self-contradictory. In spite of changing from “possession” to “property” between 1840 and 1860 what Proudhon actually advocated was remarkably consistent.[289] This caveat should be borne in mind when reading Proudhon and these ambiguities in terminology should be taken into consideration when evaluating his ideas.


NO DISCUSSION OF Proudhon would be complete without mentioning Marx particularly as Marx’s discussions of Proudhon’s ideas “span almost the entirety of his career.”[290] The first public work on Marxism, The Poverty of Philosophy, was directed against Proudhon while jabs at him surface in Capital, Theories of Surplus Value and throughout his correspondence. For most Marxists (and even some anarchists) all they know of Proudhon has been gathered from Marx and Engels.

Suffice to say, the accounts of Marx and Engels are highly distorted and almost always charged with scorn.[291] This is unsurprising given that they considered Proudhon as their main theoretical competitor within the socialist movement. Indeed, at the start of the Franco-Prussian war Marx wrote that the French needed “a good hiding” and that a German victory would “shift the centre of gravity of West European labour movements from France to Germany” which would “mean the predominance of our theory over Proudhon’s.[292]

Be that as it may, and regardless of the misrepresentations that Marx inflicted on Proudhon, it is also fair to say that he developed many of the themes he appropriated from Proudhon. (“One of Marx’s most important teachers and the one who laid the foundations for his subsequent development.”[293] ) As Marx suggested:

Proudhon’s treatise Qu’est-ce que la propriété? is the criticism of political economy from the standpoint of political economy... Proudhon’s treatise will therefore be scientifically superseded by a criticism of political economy, including Proudhon’s conception of political economy. This work became possible only owing to the work of Proudhon himself.[294]

Marx may well have done this, but in so doing he distorted Proudhon’s ideas and claimed many of his insights as his own. To set the record straight is not a call for Marx to be rejected in favour of Proudhon, it is a call for an honest appraisal of both.

The awkward fact is that many key aspects of Marxism were first suggested by Proudhon. For Benjamin Tucker “the tendency and consequences of capitalistic production... were demonstrated to the world time and time again during the twenty years preceding the publication of ‘Das Kapital’” by Proudhon, as were “the historical persistence of class struggles in successive manifestations.” “Call Marx, then, the father of State socialism, if you will,” Tucker argued, “but we dispute his paternity of the general principles of economy on which all schools of socialism agree.”[295] Moreover “Proudhon propounded and proved [the theory of surplus value] long before Marx advanced it.”[296]

Tucker had a point. It was Proudhon, not Marx, who first proclaimed the need for a “scientific socialism.”[297] It was Proudhon who first located surplus value production within the workplace, recognising that the worker was hired by a capitalist who then appropriates their product in return for a less than equivalent amount of wages. Marx, a mere twenty-seven years later, agreed that “property turns out to be the right, on the part of the capitalist, to appropriate the unpaid labour of others or its product, and the impossibility, on the part of the worker, of appropriating his own product” as “the product belongs to the capitalist and not to the worker.”[298] He also repeated Proudhon’s analysis of “collective force,” again without acknowledgement.[299] In The Holy Family he was more forthcoming:

Proudhon was the first to draw attention to the fact that the sum of the wages of the individual workers, even if each individual labour be paid for completely, does not pay for the collective power objectified in its product, that therefore the worker is not paid as a part of the collective labour power.[300]

Marx mocked that Proudhon “might perhaps have discovered that this right [of free competition] (with capital R) exists only in the Economic Manuals written by the Brothers Ignoramus of bourgeois political economy, in which manuals are contained such pearls as this: ‘Property is the fruit of labour’ (‘of the labour’, they neglect to add, ‘of others’).”[301] This would be the same Proudhon who proclaimed, three decades before, that “Property is the right to enjoy and dispose of another’s goods,—the fruit of another’s labour”?[302] He also ridiculed Proudhon for the axiom that “all labour must leave a surplus” by stating he “attempts to explain this fact” in capitalist production “by reference to some mysterious natural attribute of labour.” Yet Marx points to the “peculiar property” of labour that results in “the value of the labour-power” being “less than the value created by its use during that time”[303] which sounds remarkably like Proudhon’s axiom.

Little wonder Rudolf Rocker argued that we find “the theory of surplus value, that grand ‘scientific discovery’ of which our Marxists are so proud of, in the writings of Proudhon.”[304]

Comparing Proudhon’s critique of property with Marx’s we discover that “Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation.”[305] Which echoes Proudhon’s argument that possession does not allow the appropriation of the means of life (land and workplaces) as these should be held in common.

Much the same can be said of the co-operative movement. For Marx it was “one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonism. Its great merit is to practically show, that the present pauperising, and despotic system of the subordination of labour to capital can be superseded by the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers.”[306] In the 1880s, Engels suggested as a reform the putting of public works and state-owned land into the hands of workers’ co-operatives rather than capitalists. Neither he nor Marx “ever doubted that, in the course of transition to a wholly communist economy, widespread use would have to be made of co-operative management as an intermediate stage” although “initially” the State “retains ownership of the means of production.”[307] That these echoed earlier comments by Proudhon goes without saying.

Marx argued that credit system presents “the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale” and so the “development of credit” has “the latent abolition of capital ownership contained within it.” It “constitutes the form of transition to a new mode of production” and “there can be no doubt that the credit system will serve as a powerful lever in the course of transition from the capitalist mode of production to the mode of production of associated labour.”[308] Proudhon would hardly have disagreed. For Marx, abolishing interest and interest-bearing capital “means the abolition of capital and of capitalist production itself.”[309] For Proudhon, “reduction of interest rates to vanishing point is itself a revolutionary act, because it is destructive of capitalism.”[310]

Marx asserted that “Proudhon has failed to understand” that “economic forms” and “the social relations corresponding to them” are “transitory and historical,” thinking that “the bourgeois form of production” and “bourgeois relations” were “eternal.”[311] Yet Proudhon explicitly argued that the “present form” of organising labour “is inadequate and transitory.”[312] Hence the need to “organise industry, associate labourers and their functions.” Association “is the annihilation of property” and this “non-appropriation of the instruments of production” would be based on “the equality of associates.”[313]

Marx ignored this. He commented upon Proudhon’s exchange with Bastiat many times and in all of them overlooked that Proudhon was discussing a post-capitalist economy. Proudhon was well aware that under capitalism “a worker, without property, without capital, without work, is hired by [the capitalist], who gives him employment and takes his product” and his wages fail to equal the price of the commodities he creates. “In mutualist society,” however, “the two functions” of worker and capitalist “become equal and inseparable in the person of every worker” and so he “alone profits by his products” (and the “surplus” he creates).[314] So much for Marx’s assertion that this exchange showed Proudhon “want[ed] to preserve wage-labour and thus the basis of capital.”[315] As he acknowledged elsewhere, when “the direct producer” is “the possessor of his own means of production” then he is “a non-capitalist producer.” This is “a form of production that does not correspond to the capitalist mode of production” even if “he produces his product as a commodity.”[316]

Marx usually argued that Proudhon was “the scientific exponent of the French petty bourgeoisie, which is a real merit since the petty bourgeoisie will be an integral part of all impeding social revolutions”[317] and wrote The Philosophy of Poverty accordingly. Yet when it comes to Proudhon, Marx never expressed Capital’s clear distinction between commodity production and capitalism and presents him as advocating wage-labour. Proudhon explicitly did not and argued that while interest was justified in previous societies, it was not in a mutualist one and lambasted Bastiat for refusing to envision anything other than capitalism—a refusal Marx shared in this instance. So when Marx interpreted Proudhon as defending “the productive capitalist in contrast to the lending capitalist” and argued that ending interest “in no way affects the value of the hats, but simply the distribution of the surplus-value already contained in the hats among different people”[318] he utterly missed the point. Marx did, once, vaguely recognise this:

In order that it should be impossible for commodities and money to become capital and therefore be lent as capital in posse [in potential but not in actuality], they must not confront wage-labour. If they are... not to confront it as commodities and money... labour itself is not to become a commodity... this is only possible where the workers are the owners of their means of production... Mr. Proudhon’s hatters do not appear to be capitalists but journeymen.[319]

Precisely, Herr Marx, precisely…

So Marx, like Proudhon before him, differentiated between possession and private property and argued that co-operatives should replace capitalist firms. Both recognised that capitalism was but a transitory form of economy due to be replaced (as it replaced feudalism) with a new one based on associated rather than wage labour. While their specific solutions may have differed (with Proudhon aiming for a market economy consisting of artisans, farmers and co-operatives while Marx aimed, after a lengthy transition period, for centrally planned communism) their analysis of capitalism and private property were identical. Understandably, given the parallels, Marx was keen to hide them.

In terms of politics, Marx also repeated Proudhon. When Marx placed “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”[320] in the statues of the IWMA, the mutualist delegates must have remembered Proudhon’s exhortation from 1848 that “the proletariat must emancipate itself without the help of the government.”[321]

Both argued that the state was an instrument of class rule, Proudhon in 1846 and Marx a year later in reply to that work.[322] Then there is Proudhon’s call for a dual-power within the state in early 1848 and support for the clubs which Marx subsequently echoed in 1850 in an address to the Communist League.[323] With the Paris Commune of 1871, this appropriation became wholesale. Marx eulogised the political vision of the Communards without once mentioning that their decentralised, bottom-up system based on federations of mandated and recallable delegates who combined executive and legislative powers had been publicly urged by Proudhon since 1848.

Not bad for someone dismissed as an advocate of “Conservative, or bourgeois, socialism”![324] Of course, all this could be just a coincidence and just a case of great minds thinking alike—with one coming to the same conclusions a few years after the other expressed them in print.


Given all this, we can see the point of Proudhon’s comment, scribbled as a marginal note in his copy of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, that “what Marx’s book really means is that he is sorry that everywhere I have thought the way he does, and said so before he did. Any determined reader can see that it is Marx who, having read me, regrets thinking like me. What a man!” And it is to that book which we need to turn, as no account of Proudhon’s ideas would be complete without a discussion of what the Frenchman proclaimed “a tissue of vulgarity, of calumny, of falsification and of plagiarism” written by “the tapeworm of socialism.”[325]

The Poverty of Philosophy[326] was written in reply to Proudhon’s System of Economic Contradictions. What to make of it?

First, it must be remembered that this work is not really about Proudhon but Marx. Proudhon’s fame is used to get people to read the work of an unknown radical thinker and for that thinker to expound his ideas on various subjects. Second, it is a hatchet-job of epic proportions—although as few Marxists bother to read Proudhon as Marx has pronounced judgment on him, they would not know that and so they contribute to “the perpetuation of a spiteful distortion of his thought” produced by Marx’s “desire to denigrate” his “strongest competitors.” [327]

While, undoubtedly, Marx makes some valid criticisms of Proudhon, the book is full of distortions. His aim was to dismiss Proudhon as being the ideologist of the petit-bourgeois[328] and he obviously thought all means were applicable to achieve that goal. So we find Marx arbitrarily arranging quotations from Proudhon’s book, often out of context and even tampered with, to confirm his own views. This allows him to impute to Proudhon ideas the Frenchman did not hold (often explicitly rejects!) in order to attack him. Marx even suggests that his own opinion is the opposite of Proudhon’s when, in fact, he is simply repeating the Frenchman’s thoughts. He takes the Frenchman’s sarcastic comments at face value, his metaphors and abstractions literally.[329] And, above all else, Marx seeks to ridicule him.[330]

Here we address a few of the many distortions Marx inflicted on Proudhon and see how his criticism has faired.[331]

Marx quotes Proudhon as stating that the economists “have very well explained the double character of value; but what they have not set out with equal clearness is its contradictory nature” and then goes on to state that, for Proudhon, the economists “have neither seen nor known, either the opposition or the contradiction” between use-value and exchange-value. (37–8) Marx then quotes three economists expounding on this contradiction. Except Proudhon had not suggested that economists had “neither seen nor known” this, but that they had “not set out with equal clearness” this contradiction. Presumably Marx hoped that readers would be too distracted by his witticism to notice that he had lambasted Proudhon for something he had not actually said. Nor did Proudhon “say that J-B Say was the first to recognise ‘that in the division of labour the same cause which produces good engenders evil.’” (140) Rather Proudhon wrote that “Say goes so far as to recognise that in the division of labour the same cause which produces the good engenders the evil.”[332] Which makes the subsequent quoting of economists showing that Say was not the first to recognise this fact misleading.

Marx repeatedly accused Proudhon of advocating ideas which he rejected in his book. We find Proudhon discussing the suggestion of an economist, M. Blanqui, who argued for “an increase of wages resulting from the co-partnership, or at least from the interest in the business, which he confers upon the labourers.” Proudhon then asked: “What, then, is the value to the labourer of a participation in the profits?” He replied by providing an example of a mill, whose profit amounts to “annual dividend of twenty thousand francs.” If this were divided by the number of employees and “by three hundred, the number of working days, I find an increase... of eighteen centimes, just a morsel of bread.” He concluded that this would be “a poor prospect to offer the working class.”[333] All of which makes this comment by Marx incredulous and misleading:

If then, in theory, it suffices to interpret, as M. Proudhon does, the formula of the surplus of labour in the sense of equality without taking account of the actual relations of production, it must suffice, in practice, to make among the workers an equal distribution of wealth without changing anything in the actual conditions of production. This distribution would not assure a great degree of comfort to each of the participants. (109–10)

Moreover Proudhon was well aware of the actual relations of production. He indicated that with “machinery and the workshop, divine right—that is, the principle of authority—makes its entrance into political economy. Capital... Property... are, in economic language, the various names of... Power, Authority.” Thus, under capitalism, the workplace has a “hierarchical organisation.”[334] He was well aware of the oppressive nature of wage labour. As Proudhon argued in volume 2 of System of Economic Contradictions:

Do you know what it is to be a wage-worker? It is to labour under a master, watchful for his prejudices even more than for his orders... It is to have no mind of your own... to know no stimulus save your daily bread and the fear of losing your job.

The wage-worker is a man to whom the property owner who hires him says: What you have to make is none of your business; you do not control it.[335]

Which raises the question of what Marx had in mind if not those relations within the workplace? Proudhon was well aware that exploitation occurred there as workers had “parted with their liberty” and “have sold their arms” to a boss who appropriated their product and “collective force.”[336] To suggest that Proudhon was blind to what happened in production under capitalism is false.

Then there is the perennial Marxist assertion that Proudhon wished to return to pre-industrial forms of economy.[337] Marx suggests “[t]hose who, like Sismondi, would return to the just proportion of production, while conserving the existing bases of society, are reactionary, since, to be consistent, they must also desire to re-establish all the other conditions of past times” (73). Yet Proudhon explicitly rejected such an option, using almost the same words as Marx did.[338] Unsurprisingly, given that Proudhon argued that workers’ co-operatives were essential to ensure the application of large-scale technology.

Marx then goes on to argue that either you have “just proportions of past centuries, with the means of production of our epoch, in which case you are at once a reactionary and a utopian” or “you have progress without anarchy: In which case, in order to conserve productive forces, you must abandon individual exchanges” (73). This comes from the extreme technological determinism Marx expounds:

The social relations are intimately attached to the productive forces. In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, their manner of gaining a living, they change all their social relations. The windmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist. (119)

This is nonsense, with Marx himself subsequently acknowledging that co-operatives show “[b]y deed instead of by argument” that “production on a large scale... may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands.”[339] In them “the opposition between capital and labour is abolished,” they are “a new mode of production” which “develops and is formed naturally out of the old.”[340] So the steam-mill can be run without the industrial capitalist, by a workers association. Which was precisely what Proudhon did advocate:

it is necessary to destroy or modify the predominance of capital over labour, to change the relations between employer and worker, to solve, in a word, the antinomy of division and that of machinery; it is necessary to ORGANISE LABOUR.[341]

Marx’s comments were related to his dismissal of Proudhon’s “constituted value” which he asserted was incompatible with an advanced economy. Commodities “produced in such proportions that they can be sold at an honest price” was “only possible in the epoch in which the means of production were limited, and in which exchange only took place within very narrow limits” (72–3). Yet Proudhon has had the last laugh for, as capitalism has developed, the market price of goods has been replaced to a large degree with administered prices. Empirical research has concluded that a significant proportion of goods have prices based on mark-up, normal cost and target rate of return pricing procedures and “the existence of stable, administered market prices implies that the markets in which they exist are not organised like auction markets or like the early retail markets and oriental bazaars” as imagined in mainstream economic ideology.[342] Proudhon’s notion of an economy based on the “just price,” one which reflects costs, has become more possible over time rather than less as Marx had asserted.

Another area where Marx’s critique has proven to be lacking was his argument in favour of central planning. Given the actual experience of planned economies, it is amusing to read him suggest that “[i]f the division of labour in a modern factory, were taken as a model to be applied to an entire society, the society best organised for the production of wealth would be incontestably that which had but one single master distributing the work, according to a regulation arranged beforehand, to the various members of the community” (147). In reality, such a centralised system would be, and was, swamped by the task of gathering and processing the information required to plan well. Proudhon’s decentralised system would be the best organised simply because it can access and communicate the necessary information to make informed decisions on what, when and how to produce goods.[343]

The core of Marx’s critique rested on a massive confusion of commodity production (the market) and capitalism. Yet in 1867 he was clear that wage-labour was the necessary pre-condition for capitalism, not commodity production, as “the means of production and subsistence, while they remain the property of the immediate producer, are not capital. They only become capital under circumstances in which they serve at the same time as means of exploitation of, and domination over, the worker.” When the producer owns his “conditions of labour” and “employs that labour to enrich himself instead of the capitalist” then it is an economic system “diametrically opposed” to capitalism.[344]

While Proudhon was in favour of commodity production, he was against wage-labour, that is labour as a commodity. Yet this did not stop Marx asserting that in Proudhon’s system labour was “itself a commodity” (55). Marx did let that awkward fact slip into his diatribe:

[Proudhon] has a misgiving that it is to make of the minimum wage the natural and normal price of direct labour, that it is to accept the existing state of society. So, to escape from this fatal consequence he performs a volte-face and pretends that labour is not a commodity, that it could not have a value... He forgets that his whole system rests on the labour commodity, on labour which is trafficked, bought and sold, exchanged for products... He forgets all. (62–3)

Or, conversely, Marx remembers that Proudhon’s whole system rests on abolishing labour as a commodity.

In short, the future Marx, with his comments on artisan production and co-operative workplaces, shows how wrong he was in 1847 to assert against Proudhon that the “mode of exchange of products depends upon the mode of production... Individual exchange also corresponds to a determined method production, which itself corresponds to the antagonism of classes. Thus there is no individual exchange without the antagonism of classes” (84).

This is not the only area in which the Marx of 1847 is in direct contradiction to his more mature future self. Marx proclaims against Proudhon that “relative value, measured by labour-time, is fatally the formula of the modern slavery of the worker. Instead of being, as M. Proudhon would have it, the ‘revolutionary theory’ of the emancipation of the proletariat” (55). Come 1875, Marx-the-older proclaims in his Critique of the Gotha Programme the use of labour-notes in the period of transition to communism.[345]

Key aspects of Marx’s later analysis of capitalism can be found in Proudhon’s work. Marx mocks the suggestion that labour “is said to have value, not as merchandise itself, but in view of the values supposed to be contained in it potentially. The value of labour is a figurative expression, an anticipation of effect from cause” which “becomes a reality through its product.”[346] Marx argues:

All the reasonings of M. Proudhon confine themselves to this: We do not purchase labour as an instrument of immediate consumption. No, we buy it as an instrument of production... Merely as a commodity labour is worth nothing and produces nothing. M. Proudhon might as well have said that there are no commodities in existence at all, seeing that every commodity is only acquired for some use and never merely as a commodity. (62)

Marx-the-older, however, argued that the “purchaser of labour-power consumes it by setting the seller of it to work” and so “becomes in actuality what previously he only was potentially,” a worker who produces “a specific article.”[347] Thus Proudhon “anticipated an idea that Marx was to develop as one of the key elements in the concept of labour power, viz. that as a commodity , labour produces nothing and it exists independently of and prior to the exercise of its potential to produce value as active labour.”[348] Marx-the-older used this insight to argue that labour-power “is purchased for the production of commodities which contain more labour than [is] paid for” and so “surplus-value is nothing but objectified surplus labour.”[349] In this he repeated Proudhon who argued that non-labour incomes are “but the materialisation of the aphorism, All labour should leave an excess.” As “all value is born of labour” it meant “that no wealth has its origin in privilege” and so “labour alone is the source of revenue among men.”[350] Thus profit, interest and rent came from the capitalist appropriating the surplus-labour and collective force of workers:

the worker... create[s], on top of his subsistence, a capital always greater. Under the regime of property, the surplus of labour, essentially collective, passes entirely, like the revenue, to the proprietor: now, between that disguised appropriation and the fraudulent usurpation of a communal good, where is the difference?

The consequence of that usurpation is that the labourer, whose share of the collective product is constantly confiscated by the entrepreneur, is always on his uppers, while the capitalist is always in profit... and that political economy, that upholds and advocates that regime, is the theory of theft.[351]

This analysis of exploitation occurring in production feeds into Proudhon’s few tantalising glimpses of his vision of a free society.[352] Thus we discover that as “all labour must leave a surplus, all wages [must] be equal to product.” To achieve this, the workplace must be democratic for “[b]y virtue of the principle of collective force, workers are the equals and associates of their leaders” and to ensure “that association may be real, he who participates in it must do so” as “an active factor” with “a deliberative voice in the council” with everything “regulated in accordance with equality.” These “conditions are precisely those of the organisation of labour.” This requires free access and so all workers “straightway enjoy the rights and prerogatives of associates and even managers” when they join a workplace. This would ensure “equality of fortunes, voluntary and free association, universal solidarity, material comfort and luxury, and public order without prisons, courts, police, or hangmen.”[353]

Needless to say, Marx ignores all this. Once acknowledged, it is incredulous to assert that Proudhon “borrows from the economists the necessity of eternal relations” and to end its troubles society has “only to eliminate all the ill-sounding terms. Let it change the language” and that such “activities form an essential part of the argument of M. Proudhon” (137, 61). In reality, Proudhon denounced “the radical vice of political economy” of “affirming as a definitive state a transitory condition—namely, the division of society into patricians and proletaires.” He noted that the “period through which we are now passing” is “distinguished by a special characteristic: WAGE-LABOUR.”[354] His arguments for socialisation and self-management prove that he sought to end bourgeois relations within production. As Marx-the-older admitted, capital’s “existence” is “by no means given with the mere circulation of money and commodities.” This “new epoch” in social production requires the proprietor finding “in the market” the worker “as seller of his own labour-power. ”[355] So “if one eliminates the capitalists, the means of production cease to be capital[356] and when “the workers are themselves in possession of their respective means of production and exchange their commodities with one another” then these commodities “would not be products of capital.”[357]

This is not to suggest that Marx’s diatribe did not make some valid points. Far from it. Revolutionary anarchists would agree with Marx on unions being “a rampart for the workers in their struggle with the capitalists” and that “the determination of value by labour time, that is to say the formula which M. Proudhon has given us as the regenerating formula of the future, is... only the scientific expression of the economic relations of existing society” (187, 74). Such valid points should not blind us to the distortions that work contains, distortions which ultimately undermine Marx’s case.

Significantly, while Marx’s 1847 work has become considered by Marxists as a key document in the development of his ideas, at the time its impact was null. Proudhon remained one of Europe’s foremost socialist thinkers and Marx’s attack “sank into obscurity” and “by 1864 his name meant nothing to the new generation of working-class leaders” in France.[358] It is only after the eclipse of Proudhon by social democracy that it became better known. It undoubtedly helped that, unlike when it was written, few would have read Proudhon’s two volumes.

Proudhon carefully read and annotated his copy of The Poverty of Philosophy . Sadly a family crisis followed swiftly by the outbreak of the February Revolution of 1848 stopped a reply being written. Proudhon, rightly, thought social transformation more pressing than bothering with an obscure German communist. That he never did so is one of the great lost opportunities of socialism as it would have clarified some of the issues raised by Marx and allowed Proudhon to extend his critique of state socialism to Marxism.

Finally, given how many people think Marx was extremely witty in reversing the sub-title of Proudhon’s book, it should be pointed out that even in this he was plagiarising Proudhon:

Modern philosophers, after collecting and classifying their annals, have been led by the nature of their labours to deal also with history: then it was that they saw, not without surprise, that the history of philosophy was the same thing at bottom as the philosophy of history.[359]

All in all, it is hard not to disagree with Edward Hyams’ summation: “since [The Poverty of Philosophy] no good Marxists have had to think about Proudhon. They have what is mother’s milk to them, an ex cathedra judgement.”[360]


SADLY, VERY LITTLE of Proudhon’s voluminous writings has been translated into English. Benjamin Tucker translated the First and Second Memoirs of What is Property? and volume 1 of System of Economic Contradictions and both are available on-line. He also translated numerous other shorter pieces. The First Memoir of What is Property? in a new translation is also available from Cambridge University Press. General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century was translated in 1923 by John Beverley Robinson (available on-line). The First Part and chapter one of the Second Part of Du Principe Fédératif was translated by Richard Vernon under the title The Principle of Federation. Other selections (mostly related to his Bank of Exchange, extracts from his exchange with Bastiat and a few parts of volume 2 of System of Economic Contradictions) have appeared in Clarence L. Swartz’s Proudhon’s Solution to the Social Question. Selected Writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon edited by Stewart Edwards has a comprehensive selection of short extracts on various subjects.

Most anthologies of anarchism have selections from Proudhon’s works. George Woodcock’s The Anarchist Reader has a few short extracts, while Daniel Guérin’s essential No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism has a comprehensive section on Proudhon. Robert Graham’s excellent anthology Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume 1: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE–1939) has selections from Proudhon’s major works.

The best introduction to Proudhon’s ideas is K. Steven Vincent’s Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism, which places his ideas within the context of the wider working class and socialist movements.[361] George Woodcock’s Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography is the best available and is essential reading. Other studies include Robert L. Hoffman’s Revolutionary Justice: The Social and Political Theory of P-J Proudhon, Alan Ritter’s The Political Thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: His Revolution Life, Mind and Works by Edward Hyman. J. Hampden Jackson’s Marx, Proudhon and European Socialism is a good short overview of the Proudhon’s life, ideas and influence. Henri de Lubac’s The Un-Marxian Socialist: A Study of Proudhon is more concerned about Proudhon’s relationship with Christianity. Political Economy From Below: Economic Thought in Communitarian Anarchism, 1840–1914 by Rob Knowles presents a useful extended discussion of Proudhon’s economic ideas.

Shorter accounts of Proudhon and his ideas include Robert Graham’s excellent introduction to the 1989 Pluto Press edition of General Idea. Jack Hayward has a comprehensive chapter entitled “Proudhon and Libertarian Socialism” in his After the French Revolution: Six Critics of Democracy and Nationalism. Martin Buber’s Paths in Utopia contains a useful account of Proudhon’s ideas. Other useful short pieces on Proudhon include George Woodcock’s “Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; An Appreciation” (in the anthology Anarchism and Anarchists) and “On Proudhon’s ‘What is Property?’” (The Raven 31). Daniel Guérin’s “From Proudhon to Bakunin” (The Radical Papers , Dimitrios I. Roussopoulos, ed.) is a good introduction to the links between the French Anarchist and revolutionary anarchism. Charles A. Dana’s Proudhon and his “Bank of the People” is a contemporary (1849) account of his economic ideas.

George Woodcock’s Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements and Peter Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, both have chapters on Proudhon’s life and ideas. Daniel Guérin’s Anarchism: From Theory to Practice is an excellent short introduction to anarchism which places Proudhon, with Bakunin, at its centre. Max Nettlau’s A Short History of Anarchism should also be consulted.

For those Marxists keen to read a generally accurate and sympathetic account of Proudhon, albeit one still rooted in Marxist dogmas and dubious assumptions, then John Ehrenberg’s Proudhon and His Age would be of interest.[362]


I WOULD LIKE to thank Shawn Wilbur, Paul Sharkey, Ian Harvey, Martin Walker, James Bar Bowen, Nathalie Colibert, Jesse Cohn, John Duda and Barry Marshall for their kindness in translating so much. Without their work, this anthology would be impoverished. I must also thank Shawn for his suggestions and toleration in replying to a constant stream of emails asking questions, clarifications and opinions on a whole host of issues for this work. Lastly, I would like to thank Nicholas Evans and Alex Prichard for their useful comments on my introduction.

A special note of thanks for Jesse Cohn who not only helped me work out two particularly puzzling translation issues but also did a wonderful job in proof-editing the manuscript. Many of the footnotes, for example, are his work.

In addition, I would like to thank Robert Graham for providing me with the full version of Chapter XV of The Political Capacity of the Working Classes which had previously appeared in an edited form in volume 1 of his anthology Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Finally, I would like to thank my partner for her knowledge, experience and patience in answering my numerous questions on issues related to translating from French.


THE TEXTS ARE presented in chronological order, so that readers can get a feel for how Proudhon’s ideas and ways of expressing himself changed over time. We have aimed to present newly translated material in full and have edited those which are available in English already. Any edits are indicated by bracketed ellipses and any additions are surrounded by brackets. We have tried to reproduce Proudhon’s own stresses and capitalisations.

For those interested in reading the full versions of the material we present here, then please visit Shawn Wilbur’s New Proudhon Library (www.proudhonlibrary.org. ). A complete translation of The Philosophy of Progress is there, along with other material.

This is but a small part of Proudhon’s works and there are many key works, such as Confessions of a Revolutionary and The Political Capacity of the Working Classes, which should be made available to the English-speaking world in full. This anthology should hopefully show why such a task would be worthwhile. For those interested in such a project, please visit the translation project at Collective Reason (www.collectivereason.org).

Lastly, the material in this book will be available on-line at www.property-is-theft.org. We plan to add new translations as and when they become available as well as supplementary material on Proudhon. In addition, the site will have links to complete versions of works we have provided extracts from.


ALL THE TEXTS have been translated in British English rather than American English.

In addition, certain parts of previous translations have been corrected to bring their meaning more in line with the original French (as such consistently translating salariat as “wage-labour” or “wage-worker,” “entrepreneur” rather than “contractor”, etc.), popular usage (such as replacing Tucker’s “property is robbery” with “property is theft”), or to bring them up-to-date (such as “worker” rather than “labourer”). “Workman,” “working men,” etc., have been changed to “worker,” “workers,” etc. This is because they sound antiquated, are unnecessarily gendered in English and using “workman” simply reflects the unthinking cultural sexism of translators from previous generations. In addition, it reads better and fits in with the new translations which render it as “worker.” We have used the original “Commune” in the translation of General Idea of the Revolution, while words Tucker did not translate, like proletaire, have been translated.

Finally, I have revised and edited all the translations and, as a consequence, I take full responsibility for any errors that may occur in the texts.


Workers, labourers, men of the people,
whoever you may be, the initiative of
reform is yours. It is you who will accomplish
that synthesis of social composition
which will be the masterpiece of creation,
and you alone can accomplish it.

—Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
What Is Property? Third Memoir


Translation by Benjamin R. Tucker


IF I WERE ASKED TO ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why, then, to this other question: What is property? may I not likewise answer, It is theft, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?

I undertake to discuss the vital principle of our government and our institutions, property: I am in my right. I may be mistaken in the conclusion which shall result from my investigations: I am in my right. I think best to place the last thought of my book first: still am I in my right.

Such an author teaches that property is a civil right, born of occupation and sanctioned by law; another maintains that it is a natural right, originating in labour,—and both of these doctrines, totally opposed as they may seem, are encouraged and applauded. I contend that neither labour, nor occupation, nor law, can create property; that it is an effect without a cause: am I censurable?

But murmurs arise!

Property is theft! That is the war-cry of’93! That is the signal of revolutions!

Reader, calm yourself: I am no agent of discord, no firebrand of sedition. I anticipate history by a few days; I disclose a truth whose development we may try in vain to arrest; I write the preamble of our future constitution. This proposition which seems to you blasphemous—Property is theft—would, if our prejudices allowed us to consider it, be recognised as the lightning-rod to shield us from the coming thunderbolt; but too many interests stand in the way!... Alas! philosophy will not change the course of events: destiny will fulfil itself regardless of prophecy. Besides, must not justice be done and our education be finished?


We must ascertain whether the ideas of despotism, civil inequality and property, are in harmony with the primitive notion of justice, and necessarily follow from it,—assuming various forms according to the condition, position, and relation of persons; or whether they are not rather the illegitimate result of a confusion of different things, a fatal association of ideas. And since justice deals especially with the questions of government, the condition of persons, and the possession of things, we must ascertain under what conditions, judging by universal opinion and the progress of the human mind, government is just, the condition of citizens is just, and the possession of things is just; then, striking out every thing which fails to meet these conditions, the result will at once tell us what legitimate government is, what the legitimate condition of citizens is, and what the legitimate possession of things is; and finally, as the last result of the analysis, what justice is.

Is the authority of man over man just?

Everybody answers, “No; the authority of man is only the authority of the law, which ought to be justice and truth.” The private will counts for nothing in government, which consists, first, in discovering truth and justice in order to make the law; and, second, in superintending the execution of this law. I do not now inquire whether our constitutional form of government satisfies these conditions; whether, for example, the will of the ministry never influences the declaration and interpretation of the law; or whether our deputies, in their debates, are more intent on conquering by argument than by force of numbers: it is enough for me that my definition of a good government is allowed to be correct. This idea is exact. Yet we see that nothing seems more just to the Oriental nations than the despotism of their sovereigns; that, with the ancients and in the opinion of the philosophers themselves, slavery was just; that in the middle ages the nobles, the priests, and the bishops felt justified in holding slaves; that Louis XIV thought that he was right when he said, “The State! I am the State”; and that Napoléon deemed it a crime for the State to oppose his will. The idea of justice, then, applied to sovereignty and government, has not always been what it is today; it has gone on developing and shaping itself by degrees, until it has arrived at its present state. But has it reached its last phase? I think not: only, as the last obstacle to be overcome arises from the institution of property which we have kept intact, in order to finish the reform in government and consummate the revolution, this very institution we must attack.

Is political and civil inequality just?

Some say yes; others no. To the first I would reply that, when the people abolished all privileges of birth and caste, they did it, in all probability, because it was for their advantage; why then do they favour the privileges of fortune more than those of rank and race? Because, say they, political inequality is a result of property and without property society is impossible: thus the question just raised becomes a question of property. To the second I content myself with this remark: If you wish to enjoy political equality, abolish property; otherwise, why do you complain?

Is property just?

Everybody answers without hesitation, “Yes, property is just.” I say everybody, for up to the present time no one who thoroughly understood the meaning of his words has answered no. For it is no easy thing to reply understandingly to such a question; only time and experience can furnish an answer. Now, this answer is given; it is for us to understand it. I undertake to prove it.

We are to proceed with the demonstration in the following order:

I. We dispute not at all, we refute nobody, we deny nothing; we accept as sound all the arguments alleged in favour of property, and confine ourselves to a search for its principle, in order that we may then ascertain whether this principle is faithfully expressed by property. In fact, property being defensible on no ground save that of justice, the idea, or at least the intention, of justice must of necessity underlie all the arguments that have been made in defence of property; and, as on the other hand the right of property is only exercised over those things which can be appreciated by the senses, justice, secretly objectifying itself, so to speak, must take the shape of an algebraic formula.

By this method of investigation, we soon see that every argument which has been invented in behalf of property, whatever it may be, always and of necessity leads to equality; that is, to the negation of property.

The first part covers two chapters: one treating of occupation, the foundation of our right; the other, of labour and talent, considered as causes of property and social inequality.

The first of these chapters will prove that the right of occupation obstructs property; the second that the right of labour destroys it.

II. Property, then, being of necessity conceived as existing only in connection with equality, it remains to find out why, in spite of this necessity of logic, equality does not exist. This new investigation also covers two chapters: in the first, considering the fact of property in itself, we inquire whether this fact is real, whether it exists, whether it is possible; for it would imply a contradiction, were these two opposite forms of society, equality and inequality, both possible. Then we discover, singularly enough, that property may indeed manifest itself accidentally; but that, as an institution and principle, it is mathematically impossible. So that the axiom of the school—ab actu ad posse valet consecutio: from the actual to the possible the inference is good—is given the lie as far as property is concerned.

Finally, in the last chapter, calling psychology to our aid, and probing man’s nature to the bottom, we shall disclose the principle of justice—its formula and character; we shall state with precision the organic law of society; we shall explain the origin of property, the causes of its establishment, its long life, and its approaching death; we shall definitively establish its identity with theft. And, after having shown that these three prejudices—the sovereignty of man, the inequality of conditions, and property—are one and the same; that they may be taken for each other, and are reciprocally convertible, —we shall have no trouble in inferring therefrom, by the principle of contradiction, the basis of government and right. There our investigations will end, reserving the right to continue them in future works.




THE ROMAN LAW defined property as the right to use and abuse one’s own within the limits of the law—jus utendi et abutendi re sua, guatenus juris ratio patitur. A justification of the word abuse has been attempted, on the ground that it signifies, not senseless and immoral abuse, but only absolute domain. Vain distinction! invented as an excuse for property, and powerless against the frenzy of possession, which it neither prevents nor represses. The proprietor may, if he chooses, allow his crops to rot under foot, sow his field with salt, milk his cows on the sand, change his vineyard into a desert, and use his vegetable-garden as a park: do these things constitute abuse, or not? In the matter of property, use and abuse are necessarily indistinguishable.

According to the Declaration of Rights, published as a preface to the Constitution of ’93, property is “the right to enjoy and dispose at will of one’s goods, one’s income, and the fruit of one’s labour and industry.”

Code Napoléon, article 544: “Property is the right to enjoy and dispose of things in the most absolute manner, provided we do not overstep the limits prescribed by the laws and regulations.”

These two definitions do not differ from that of the Roman law: all give the proprietor an absolute right over a thing; and as for the restriction imposed by the code—provided we do not overstep the limits prescribed by the laws and regulations—its object is not to limit property, but to prevent the domain of one proprietor from interfering with that of another. That is a confirmation of the principle, not a limitation of it.

There are different kinds of property: 1. Property pure and simple, the dominant and seigniorial power over a thing; or, as they term it, naked property . 2. Possession. “Possession,” says Duranton, “is a matter of fact, not of right.” Toullier: “Property is a right, a legal power; possession is a fact.” The tenant, the farmer, the commandité, the usufructuary, are possessors; the owner who lets and lends for use, the heir who is to come into possession on the death of a usufructuary, are proprietors. If I may venture the comparison: a lover is a possessor, a husband is a proprietor.[363]

This double definition of property—domain and possession—is of the highest importance; and it must be clearly understood, in order to comprehend what is to follow.

From the distinction between possession and property arise two sorts of rights: the jus in re, the right in a thing, the right by which I may reclaim the property which I have acquired, in whatever hands I find it; and the jus ad rem, the right to a thing, which gives me a claim to become a proprietor. Thus the right of the partners to a marriage over each other’s person is the jus in re; that of two who are betrothed is only the jus ad rem. In the first, possession and property are united; the second includes only naked property. With me who, as a worker, have a right to the possession of the products of Nature and my own industry,—and who, as a proletarian, enjoy none of them,—it is by virtue of the jus ad rem that I demand admittance to the jus in re.

This distinction between the jus in re and the jus ad rem is the basis of the famous distinction between possessoire and pétitoire,—actual categories of jurisprudence, the whole of which is included within their vast boundaries. Pétitoire refers to every thing relating to property; possessoire to that relating to possession. In writing this memoir against property, I bring against universal society an action pétitoire: I prove that those who do not possess today are proprietors by the same title as those who do possess; but, instead of inferring therefrom that property should be shared by all, I demand, in the name of general security, its entire abolition. If I fail to win my case, there is nothing left for us (the proletarian class and myself) but to cut our throats: we can ask nothing more from the justice of nations; for, as the code of procedure (art. 26) tells us in its energetic style, the plaintiff who has been non-suited in an action pétitoire, is debarred thereby from bringing an action possessoire. If, on the contrary, I gain the case, we must then commence an action possessoire, that we may be reinstated in the enjoyment of the wealth of which we are deprived by property. I hope that we shall not be forced to that extremity; but these two actions cannot be prosecuted at once, such a course being prohibited by the same code of procedure.

Before going to the heart of the question, it will not be useless to offer a few preliminary remarks.


The Declaration of Rights has placed property in its list of the natural and inalienable rights of man, four in all: liberty, equality, property, security. What rule did the legislators of ’93 follow in compiling this list? None. They laid down principles, just as they discussed sovereignty and the laws; from a general point of view, and according to their own opinion. They did every thing in their own blind way.

If we can believe Toullier: “The absolute rights can be reduced to three: security, liberty, property.” Equality is eliminated by the Rennes professor; why? Is it because liberty implies it, or because property prohibits it? On this point the author of Droit Civil Expliqué is silent: it has not even occurred to him that the matter is under discussion.

Nevertheless, if we compare these three or four rights with each other, we find that property bears no resemblance whatever to the others; that for the majority of citizens it exists only potentially, and as a dormant faculty without exercise; that for the others, who do enjoy it, it is susceptible of certain transactions and modifications which do not harmonise with the idea of a natural right; that, in practice, governments, tribunals, and laws do not respect it; and finally that everybody, spontaneously and with one voice, regards it as chimerical.

Liberty is inviolable. I can neither sell nor alienate my liberty; every contract, every condition of a contract, which has in view the alienation or suspension of liberty, is null: the slave, when he plants his foot upon the soil of liberty, at that moment becomes a free man. When society seizes a malefactor and deprives him of his liberty, it is a case of legitimate defence: whoever violates the social compact by the commission of a crime declares himself a public enemy; in attacking the liberty of others, he compels them to take away his own. Liberty is the original condition of man; to renounce liberty is to renounce the nature of man: after that, how could we perform the acts of man?


To sum up: liberty is an absolute right, because it is to man what impenetrability is to matter,—a sine qua non of existence; equality is an absolute right, because without equality there is no society; security is an absolute right, because in the eyes of every man his own liberty and life are as precious as another’s. These three rights are absolute; that is, susceptible of neither increase nor diminution; because in society each associate receives as much as he gives,—liberty for liberty, equality for equality, security for security, body for body, soul for soul, in life and in death.

But property, in its derivative sense, and by the definitions of law, is a right outside of society; for it is clear that, if the wealth of each was social wealth, the conditions would be equal for all, and it would be a contradiction to say: property is a man’s right to dispose at will of social property. Then if we are associated for the sake of liberty, equality, and security, we are not associated for the sake of property; then if property is a natural right, this natural right is not social, but anti-social. Property and society are utterly irreconcilable institutions. It is as impossible to associate two proprietors as to join two magnets by their opposite poles. Either society must perish, or it must destroy property.

If property is a natural, absolute, imprescriptible, and inalienable right, why, in all ages, has there been so much speculation as to its origin?—for this is one of its distinguishing characteristics. The origin of a natural right! Good God! who ever inquired into the origin of the rights of liberty, security, or equality? They exist by the same right that we exist; they are born with us, they live and die with us. With property it is very different, indeed. By law, property can exist without a proprietor, like a quality without a subject. It exists for the human being who as yet is not, and for the octogenarian who is no more. And yet, in spite of these wonderful prerogatives which savour of the eternal and the infinite, they have never found the origin of property; the doctors still disagree. On one point only are they in harmony: namely, that the validity of the right of property depends upon the authenticity of its origin. But this harmony is their condemnation. Why have they acknowledged the right before settling the question of origin?




The right of occupation, or of the first occupant, is that which results from the actual, physical, real possession of a thing. I occupy a piece of land; the presumption is, that I am the proprietor, until the contrary is proved. We know that originally such a right cannot be legitimate unless it is reciprocal; the jurists say as much.

Cicero compares the earth to a vast theatre: Quemadmodum theatrum cum commune sit, recte tamen dici potest ejus esse eum locum quem quisque occuparit.

This passage is all that ancient philosophy has to say about the origin of property.

The theatre, says Cicero, is common to all; nevertheless, the place that each one occupies is called his own; that is, it is a place possessed, not a place appropriated. This comparison annihilates property; moreover, it implies equality. Can I, in a theatre, occupy at the same time one place in the pit, another in the boxes, and a third in the gallery? Not unless I have three bodies, like Geryon, or can exist in different places at the same time, as is related of the magician Apollonius.

According to Cicero, no one has a right to more than he needs: such is the true interpretation of his famous axiom—suum quidque cujusque sit, to each one that which belongs to him—an axiom that has been strangely applied. That which belongs to each is not that which each may possess, but that which each has a right to possess. Now, what have we a right to possess? That which is required for our labour and consumption; Cicero’s comparison of the earth to a theatre proves it. According to that, each one may take what place he will, may beautify and adorn it, if he can; it is allowable: but he must never allow himself to overstep the limit which separates him from another. The doctrine of Cicero leads directly to equality; for, occupation being pure toleration, if the toleration is mutual (and it cannot be otherwise) the possessions are equal.


[Thomas] Reid writes as follows:

“The right of property is not innate, but acquired. It is not grounded upon the constitution of man, but upon his actions. Writers on jurisprudence have explained its origin in a manner that may satisfy every man of common understanding.

“The earth is given to men in common for the purposes of life, by the bounty of Heaven. But to divide it, and appropriate one part of its produce to one, another part to another, must be the work of men who have power and understanding given them, by which every man may accommodate himself, without hurt to any other.

“This common right of every man to what the earth produces, before it be occupied and appropriated by others, was, by ancient moralists, very properly compared to the right which every citizen had to the public theatre, where every man that came might occupy an empty seat, and thereby acquire a right to it while the entertainment lasted; but no man had a right to dispossess another.

“The earth is a great theatre, furnished by the Almighty, with perfect wisdom and goodness, for the entertainment and employment of all mankind. Here every man has a right to accommodate himself as a spectator, and to perform his part as an actor; but without hurt to others.”

Consequences of Reid’s doctrine.

  1. That the portion which each one appropriates may wrong no one, it must be equal to the quotient of the total amount of property to be shared, divided by the number of those who are to share it;

  2. The number of places being of necessity equal at all times to that of the spectators, no spectator can occupy two places, nor can any actor play several parts;

  3. Whenever a spectator comes in or goes out, the places of all contract or enlarge correspondingly: for, says Reid, “the right of property is not innate, but acquired;” consequently, it is not absolute; consequently, the occupancy on which it is based, being a conditional fact, cannot endow this right with a stability which it does not possess itself. This seems to have been the thought of the Edinburgh professor when he added:

“A right to life implies a right to the necessary means of life; and that justice, which forbids the taking away the life of an innocent man, forbids no less the taking from him the necessary means of life. He has the same right to defend the one as the other. To hinder another man’s innocent labour, or to deprive him of the fruit of it, is an injustice of the same kind, and has the same effect as to put him in fetters or in prison, and is equally a just object of resentment.”

Thus the chief of the Scottish school, without considering at all the inequality of skill or labour, posits a priori the equality of the means of labour, abandoning thereafter to each worker the care of his own person, after the eternal axiom: whoso does well, shall fare well.

The philosopher Reid is lacking, not in knowledge of the principle, but in courage to pursue it to its ultimate. If the right of life is equal, the right of labour is equal, and so is the right of occupancy. Would it not be criminal, were some islanders to repulse, in the name of property, the unfortunate victims of a shipwreck struggling to reach the shore? The very idea of such cruelty sickens the imagination. The proprietor, like Robinson Crusoe on his island, wards off with pike and musket the proletarian washed overboard by the wave of civilisation, and seeking to gain a foothold upon the rocks of property. “Give me work!” cries he with all his might to the proprietor: “don’t drive me away, I will work for you at any price.” “I do not need your services,” replies the proprietor, showing the end of his pike or the barrel of his gun. “Lower my rent at least.” “I need my income to live upon.” “How can I pay you, when I can get no work?” “That is your business.” Then the unfortunate proletarian abandons himself to the waves; or, if he attempts to land upon the shore of property, the proprietor takes aim, and kills him.


Shameful equivocation, not justified by the necessity for generalisation! The word property has two meanings: 1. It designates the quality which makes a thing what it is; the attribute which is peculiar to it, and especially distinguishes it. We use it in this sense when we say the properties of the triangle or of numbers; the property of the magnet, etc. 2. It expresses the right of absolute control over a thing by a free and intelligent being. It is used in this sense by writers on jurisprudence. Thus, in the phrase, iron acquires the property of a magnet, the word property does not convey the same idea that it does in this one: I have acquired this magnet as my property. To tell a poor man that he has property because he has arms and legs,—that the hunger from which he suffers, and his power to sleep in the open air are his property,—is to play upon words, and to add insult to injury.


In fact, to become a proprietor, in M. Cousin’s opinion, one must take possession by occupation and labour. I maintain that the element of time must be considered also; for if the first occupants have occupied every thing, what are the new comers to do? What will become of them, having an instrument with which to work, but no material to work upon? Must they devour each other? A terrible extremity, unforeseen by philosophical prudence; for the reason that great geniuses neglect little things.

Notice also that M. Cousin says that neither occupation nor labour, taken separately, can legitimate the right of property; and that it is born only from the union of the two. This is one of M. Cousin’s eclectic turns, which he, more than any one else, should take pains to avoid. Instead of proceeding by the method of analysis, comparison, elimination, and reduction (the only means of discovering the truth amid the various forms of thought and whimsical opinions), he jumbles all systems together, and then, declaring each both right and wrong, exclaims: “There you have the truth.”

But, adhering to my promise, I will not refute him. I will only prove, by all the arguments with which he justifies the right of property, the principle of equality which kills it. As I have already said, my sole intent is this: to show at the bottom of all these positions that inevitable major, equality; hoping hereafter to show that the principle of property vitiates the very elements of economical, moral, and governmental science, thus leading it in the wrong direction.

Well, is it not true, from M. Cousin’s point of view, that, if the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals; that, if it needs property for its objective action, that is, for its life, the appropriation of material is equally necessary for all; that, if I wish to be respected in my right of appropriation, I must respect others in theirs; and, consequently, that though, in the sphere of the infinite, a person’s power of appropriation is limited only by himself, in the sphere of the finite this same power is limited by the mathematical relation between the number of persons and the space which they occupy? Does it not follow that if one individual cannot prevent another—his fellow-man—from appropriating an amount of material equal to his own, no more can he prevent individuals yet to come; because, while individuality passes away, universality persists, and eternal laws cannot be determined by a partial view of their manifestations? Must we not conclude, therefore, that whenever a person is born, the others must crowd closer together; and, by reciprocity of obligation, that if the new comer is afterwards to become an heir, the right of succession does not give him the right of accumulation, but only the right of choice?

I have followed M. Cousin so far as to imitate his style, and I am ashamed of it. Do we need such high-sounding terms, such sonorous phrases, to say such simple things? Man needs to labour in order to live; consequently, he needs tools to work with and materials to work upon. His need to produce constitutes his right to produce. Now, this right is guaranteed him by his fellows, with whom he makes an agreement to that effect. One hundred thousand men settle in a large country like France with no inhabitants: each man has a right to 1/100,000 of the land. If the number of possessors increases, each one’s portion diminishes in consequence; so that, if the number of inhabitants rises to thirty-four million, each one will have a right only to 1/34,000,000. Now, so regulate the police system and the government, labour, exchange, inheritance, etc., that the means of labour shall be shared by all equally, and that each individual shall be free; and then society will be perfect.



Pothier seems to think that property, like royalty, exists by divine right. He traces back its origin to God himself—ab Jove principium. He begins in this way:

“God is the absolute ruler of the universe and all that it contains: Domini est terra et plenitudo ejus, orbis et universi qui habitant in eo. For the human race he has created the earth and all its creatures, and has given it a control over them subordinate only to his own. ‘Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet,’ says the Psalmist. God accompanied this gift with these words, addressed to our first parents after the creation: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth,’ etc.”

After this magnificent introduction, who would refuse to believe the human race to be an immense family living in brotherly union, and under the protection of a venerable father? But, heavens! are brothers enemies? Are fathers unnatural, and children prodigal?

God gave the earth to the human race: why then have I received none? He has put all things under my feet,—and I have nowhere to lay my head! Multiply , he tells us through his interpreter, Pothier. Ah, learned Pothier! that is as easy to do as to say; but you must give moss to the bird for its nest.

“The human race having multiplied, men divided among themselves the earth and most of the things upon it; that which fell to each, from that time exclusively belonged to him. That was the origin of the right of property.”

Say, rather, the right of possession. Men lived in a state of communism; whether positive or negative it matters little. Then there was no property, not even private possession. The genesis and growth of possession gradually forcing people to labour for their support, they agreed either formally or tacitly,—it makes no difference which,—that the worker should be sole proprietor of the fruit of his labour; that is, they simply declared the fact that thereafter none could live without working. It necessarily followed that, to obtain equality of products, there must be equality of labour; and that, to obtain equality of labour, there must be equality of facilities for labour. Whoever without labour got possession, by force or by strategy, of another’s means of subsistence, destroyed equality, and placed himself above or outside of the law. Whoever monopolised the means of production on the ground of greater industry, also destroyed equality. Equality being then the expression of right, whoever violated it was unjust.

Thus, labour gives birth to private possession; the right in a thing—jus in re. But in what thing? Evidently in the product, not in the soil. So the Arabs have always understood it; and so, according to Caesar and Tacitus, the Germans formerly held. “The Arabs,” says M. de Sismondi, “who admit a man’s property in the flocks which he has raised, do not refuse the crop to him who planted the seed; but they do not see why another, his equal, should not have a right to plant in his turn. The inequality which results from the pretended right of the first occupant seems to them to be based on no principle of justice; and when all the land falls into the hands of a certain number of inhabitants, there results a monopoly in their favour against the rest of the nation, to which they do not wish to submit.”

Well, they have shared the land. I admit that therefrom results a more powerful organisation of labour; and that this method of distribution, fixed and durable, is advantageous to production: but how could this division give to each a transferable right of property in a thing to which all had an inalienable right of possession? In the terms of jurisprudence, this metamorphosis from possessor to proprietor is legally impossible; it implies in the jurisdiction of the courts the union of possessoire and pétitoire; and the mutual concessions of those who share the land are nothing less than traffic in natural rights. The original cultivators of the land, who were also the original makers of the law, were not as learned as our legislators, I admit; and had they been, they could not have done worse: they did not foresee the consequences of the transformation of the right of private possession into the right of absolute property. But why have not those, who in later times have established the distinction between jus in re and jus ad rem, applied it to the principle of property itself?

Let me call the attention of the writers on jurisprudence to their own maxims.

The right of property, provided it can have a cause, can have but one—Dominium non potest nisi ex una causa contingere. I can possess by several titles; I can become proprietor by only one—Non ut ex pluribus causis idem nobis deberi potest, ita ex pluribus causis idem potest nostrum esse.[364] The field which I have cleared, which I cultivate, on which I have built my house, which supports myself, my family, and my livestock, I can possess: 1st As the original occupant; 2nd As a worker; 3rd By virtue of the social contract which assigns it to me as my share. But none of these titles confer upon me the right of property. For, if I attempt to base it upon occupancy, society can reply, “I am the original occupant.” If I appeal to my labour, it will say, “It is only on that condition that you possess.” If I speak of agreements, it will respond, “These agreements establish only your right of use.” Such, however, are the only titles which proprietors advance. They never have been able to discover any others. Indeed, every right—it is Pothier who says it—supposes a producing cause in the person who enjoys it; but in man who lives and dies, in this son of earth who passes away like a shadow, there exists, with respect to external things, only titles of possession, not one title of property. Why, then, has society recognised a right injurious to itself, where there is no producing cause? Why, in according possession, has it also conceded property? Why has the law sanctioned this abuse of power?


To satisfy the husbandman, it was sufficient to guarantee him possession of his crop; admit even that he should have been protected in his right of occupation of land, as long as he remained its cultivator. That was all that he had a right to expect; that was all that the advance of civilisation demanded. But property, property! the right of escheat [droit d’aubaine] over lands which one neither occupies nor cultivates,—who had authority to grant it? who pretended to have it?


The authority of the human race is of no effect as evidence in favour of the right of property, because this right, resting of necessity upon equality, contradicts its principle; the decision of the religions which have sanctioned it is of no effect, because in all ages the priest has submitted to the prince, and the gods have always spoken as the politicians desired; the social advantages, attributed to property, cannot be cited in its behalf, because they all spring from the principle of equality of possession.

What means, then, this dithyramb upon property?

“The right of property is the most important of human institutions.”...

Yes; as monarchy is the most glorious.

“The original cause of man’s prosperity upon earth.”

Because justice was supposed to be its principle.

“Property became the legitimate end of his ambition, the hope of his existence, the shelter of his family; in a word, the corner-stone of the domestic dwelling, of communities, and of the political State.”

Possession alone produced all that.

“Eternal principle—”

Property is eternal, like every negation,—

“Of all social and civil institutions.”

For that reason, every institution and every law based on property will perish.

“It is a boon as precious as liberty.”

For the rich proprietor.

“In fact, the cause of the cultivation of the habitable earth.”

If the cultivator ceased to be a tenant, would the land be worse cared for?

“The guarantee and the morality of labour.”

Under the regime of property, labour is not a condition, but a privilege.

“The application of justice.”

What is justice without equality of fortunes? A balance with false weights.

“All morality,—”

A famished stomach knows no morality,—

“All public order,—”

Certainly, the preservation of property,—

“Rest on the right of property.”[365]

Corner-stone of all which is, stumbling-block of all which ought to be,—such is property.

To sum up and conclude:

Not only does occupation lead to equality, it prevents property. For, since every man, from the fact of his existence, has the right of occupation, and, in order to live, must have material for cultivation on which he may labour; and since, on the other hand, the number of occupants varies continually with the births and deaths,—it follows that the quantity of material which each worker may claim varies with the number of occupants; consequently, that occupation is always subordinate to population. Finally, that, inasmuch as possession, in right, can never remain fixed, it is impossible, in fact, that it can ever become property.

Every occupant is, then, necessarily a possessor or usufructuary,—a function which excludes proprietorship. Now, this is the right of the usufructuary: he is responsible for the thing entrusted to him; he must use it in conformity with general utility, with a view to its preservation and development; he has no power to transform it, to diminish it, or to change its nature; he cannot so divide the usufruct that another shall perform the labour while he receives the product. In a word, the usufructuary is under the supervision of society, submitted to the condition of labour and the law of equality.

Thus is annihilated the Roman definition of property—the right of use and abuse—an immorality born of violence, the most monstrous pretension that the civil laws ever sanctioned. Man receives his usufruct from the hands of society, which alone is the permanent possessor. The individual passes away, society is deathless.

What a profound disgust fills my soul while discussing such simple truths! Do we doubt these things today? Will it be necessary to again take arms for their triumph? And can force, in default of reason, alone introduce them into our laws?

All have an equal right of occupancy.

The amount occupied being measured, not by the will, but by the variable conditions of space and number, property cannot exist.

This no code has ever expressed; this no constitution can admit! These are axioms which the civil law and the law of nations deny!...

But I hear the exclamations of the partisans of another system: “Labour, labour! that is the basis of property!”

Reader, do not be deceived. This new basis of property is worse than the first, and I shall soon have to ask your pardon for having demonstrated things clearer, and refuted pretensions more unjust, than any which we have yet considered.


NEARLY ALL THE modern writers on jurisprudence, taking their cue from the economists, have abandoned the theory of first occupancy as a too dangerous one, and have adopted that which regards property as born of labour. In this they are deluded; they reason in a circle. To labour it is necessary to occupy, says M. Cousin.


I have asserted that the system which bases property upon labour implies, no less than that which bases it upon occupation, the equality of fortunes; and the reader must be impatient to learn how I propose to deduce this law of equality from the inequality of skill and faculties: directly his curiosity shall be satisfied. But it is proper that I should call his attention for a moment to this remarkable feature of the process; to wit, the substitution of labour for occupation as the principle of property; and that I should pass rapidly in review some of the prejudices to which proprietors are accustomed to appeal, which legislation has sanctioned, and which the system of labour completely overthrows.

Reader, were you ever present at the examination of a criminal? Have you watched his tricks, his turns, his evasions, his distinctions, his equivocations? Beaten, all his assertions overthrown, pursued like a fallow deer by the inexorable judge, tracked from hypothesis to hypothesis,—he makes a statement, he corrects it, retracts it, contradicts it, he exhausts all the tricks of dialectics, more subtle, more ingenious a thousand times than he who invented the seventy-two forms of the syllogism. So acts the proprietor when called upon to defend his right. At first he refuses to reply, he exclaims, he threatens, he defies; then, forced to accept the discussion, he arms himself with chicanery, he surrounds himself with formidable artillery,—crossing his fire, opposing one by one and all together occupation, possession, limitation, covenants, immemorial custom, and universal consent. Conquered on this ground, the proprietor, like a wounded boar, turns on his pursuers. “I have done more than occupy,” he cries with terrible emotion; “I have laboured, produced, improved, transformed, created. This house, these fields, these trees are the work of my hands; I changed these brambles into a vineyard, and this bush into a fig-tree; and today I reap the harvest of my labours. I have enriched the soil with my sweat; I have paid those men who, had they not had the work which I gave them, would have died of hunger. No one shared with me the trouble and expense; no one shall share with me the benefits.”

You have laboured, proprietor! why then do you speak of original occupancy? What, were you not sure of your right, or did you hope to deceive men, and make justice an illusion? Make haste, then, to acquaint us with your mode of defence, for the judgement will be final; and you know it to be a question of restitution.

You have laboured! but what is there in common between the labour which duty compels you to perform, and the appropriation of things in which there is a common interest? Do you not know that domain over the soil, like that over air and light, cannot be lost by prescription?

You have laboured! have you never made others labour? Why, then, have they lost in labouring for you what you have gained in not labouring for them?

You have laboured! very well; but let us see the results of your labour. We will count, weigh, and measure them. It will be the judgement of Balthasar; for I swear by balance, level, and square, that if you have appropriated another’s labour in any way whatsoever, you shall restore it every stroke.

Thus, the principle of occupation is abandoned; no longer is it said, “The land belongs to him who first gets possession of it.” Property, forced into its first entrenchment, repudiates its old adage; justice, ashamed, retracts her maxims, and sorrow lowers her bandage over her blushing cheeks. And it was but yesterday that this progress in social philosophy began: fifty centuries required for the extirpation of a lie! During this lamentable period, how many usurpations have been sanctioned, how many invasions glorified, how many conquests celebrated! The absent dispossessed, the poor banished, the hungry excluded by wealth, which is so ready and bold in action! Jealousies and wars, incendiarism and bloodshed, among the nations! But henceforth, thanks to the age and its spirit, it is to be admitted that the earth is not a prize to be won in a race; in the absence of any other obstacle, there is a place for everybody under the sun. Each one may harness his goat to the barn, drive his cattle to pasture, sow a corner of a field, and bake his bread by his own fireside.

But, no; each one cannot do these things. I hear it proclaimed on all sides, “Glory to labour and industry! to each according to his capacity; to each capacity according to its results!” And I see three-fourths of the human race again despoiled, the labour of a few being a scourge to the labour of the rest.

“The problem is solved,” exclaims M. Hennequin. “Property, the daughter of labour, can be enjoyed at present and in the future only under the protection of the laws. It has its origin in natural law; it derives its power from civil law; and from the union of these two ideas, labour and protection, positive legislation results.”...

Ah! The problem is solved! Property is the daughter of labour! What, then, is the right of accession, and the right of succession, and the right of donation, etc., if not the right to become a proprietor by simple occupancy? What are your laws concerning the age of majority, emancipation, guardianship, and interdiction, if not the various conditions by which he who is already a worker gains or loses the right of occupancy; that is, property?

Being unable, at this time, to enter upon a detailed discussion of the Code, I shall content myself with examining the three arguments oftenest resorted to in support of property. 1. Appropriation, or the formation of property by possession; 2. The consent of mankind; 3. Prescription. I shall then inquire into the effects of labour upon the relative condition of the workers and upon property.


“It would seem that lands capable of cultivation ought to be regarded as natural wealth, since they are not of human creation, but Nature’s gratuitous gift to man; but inasmuch as this wealth is not fugitive, like the air and water,—inasmuch as a field is a fixed and limited space which certain men have been able to appropriate, to the exclusion of all others who in their turn have consented to this appropriation,—the land, which was a natural and gratuitous gift, has become social wealth, for the use of which we ought to pay.”—Say: Political Economy.

Was I wrong in saying, at the beginning of this chapter, that the economists are the very worst authorities in matters of legislation and philosophy? It is the father of this class of men who clearly states the question, How can the supplies of Nature, the wealth created by Providence, become private property? and who replies by so gross an equivocation that we scarcely know which the author lacks, sense or honesty. What, I ask, has the fixed and solid nature of the earth to do with the right of appropriation? I can understand that a thing limited and stationary, like the land, offers greater chances for appropriation than the water or the sunshine; that it is easier to exercise the right of domain over the soil than over the atmosphere: but we are not dealing with the difficulty of the thing, and Say confounds the right with the possibility. We do not ask why the earth has been appropriated to a greater extent than the sea and the air; we want to know by what right man has appropriated wealth which he did not create, and which nature gave to him gratuitously.

Say, then, did not solve the question which he asked. But if he had solved it, if the explanation which he has given us were as satisfactory as it is illogical, we should know no better than before who has a right to exact payment for the use of the soil, of this wealth which is not man’s handiwork. Who is entitled to the rent of the land? The producer of the land, without doubt. Who made the land? God. Then, proprietor, retire!

But the creator of the land does not sell it: he gives it; and, in giving it, he is no respecter of persons. Why, then, are some of his children regarded as legitimate, while others are treated as bastards? If the equality of shares was an original right, why is the inequality of conditions a posthumous right?

Say gives us to understand that if the air and the water were not of a FUGITIVE nature, they would have been appropriated. Let me observe in passing that this is more than an hypothesis; it is a reality. Men have appropriated the air and the water, I will not say as often as they could, but as often as they have been allowed to.

The Portuguese, having discovered the route to India by the Cape of Good Hope, pretended to have the sole right to that route; and Grotius, consulted in regard to this matter by the Dutch who refused to recognise this right, wrote expressly for this occasion his treatise on the “Freedom of the Seas,” to prove that the sea is not liable to appropriation.

The right to hunt and fish used always to be confined to lords and proprietors; today it is leased by the government and communes to whoever can pay the license-fee and the rent. To regulate hunting and fishing is an excellent idea, but to make it a subject of sale is to create a monopoly of air and water.

What is a passport? A universal recommendation of the traveller’s person; a certificate of security for himself and his property. The treasury, whose nature it is to spoil the best things, has made the passport a means of espionage and a tax. Is not this a sale of the right to travel?

Finally, it is permissible neither to draw water from a spring situated in another’s grounds without the permission of the proprietor, because by the right of accession the spring belongs to the possessor of the soil, if there is no other claim; nor to pass a day on his premises without paying a tax; nor to look at a court, a garden, or an orchard, without the consent of the proprietor; nor to stroll in a park or an enclosure against the owner’s will: every one is allowed to shut himself up and to fence himself in. All these prohibitions are so many positive interdictions, not only of the land, but of the air and water. We who belong to the proletarian class: property excommunicates us! Terra, et aqua, et aere, et igne interdicti sumus.

Men could not appropriate the most fixed of all the elements without appropriating the three others; since, by French and Roman law, property in the surface carries with it property from zenith to nadir—Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad caelum. Now, if the use of water, air, and fire excludes property, so does the use of the soil. This chain of reasoning seems to have been presented by M. Ch. Comte, in his Treatise on Property, chap. 5.

“If a man should be deprived of air for a few moments only, he would cease to exist, and a partial deprivation would cause him severe suffering; a partial or complete deprivation of food would produce like effects upon him though less suddenly; it would be the same, at least in certain climates! were he deprived of all clothing and shelter... To sustain life, then, man needs continually to appropriate many different things. But these things do not exist in like proportions. Some, such as the light of the stars, the atmosphere of the earth, the water composing the seas and oceans, exist in such large quantities that men cannot perceive any sensible increase or diminution; each one can appropriate as much as his needs require without detracting from the enjoyment of others, without causing them the least harm. Things of this sort are, so to speak, the common property of the human race; the only duty imposed upon each individual in this regard is that of infringing not at all upon the rights of others.”

Let us complete the argument of M. Ch. Comte. A man who should be prohibited from walking in the highways, from resting in the fields, from taking shelter in caves, from lighting fires, from picking berries, from gathering herbs and boiling them in a bit of baked clay,—such a man could not live. Consequently the earth—like water, air, and light—is a primary object of necessity which each has a right to use freely, without infringing another’s right. Why, then, is the earth appropriated? M. Ch. Comte’s reply is a curious one. Say pretends that it is because it is not fugitive; M. Ch. Comte assures us that it is because it is not infinite. The land is limited in amount. Then, according to M. Ch. Comte, it ought to be appropriated. It would seem, on the contrary, that he ought to say, Then it ought not to be appropriated. For, no matter how large a quantity of air or light anyone appropriates, no one is damaged thereby; there always remains enough for all. With the soil, it is very different. Lay hold who will, or who can, of the sun’s rays, the passing breeze, or the sea’s billows; he has my consent, and my pardon for his bad intentions. But let any living man dare to change his right of territorial possession into the right of property, and I will declare war upon him, and wage it to the death!

M.Ch. Comte’s argument disproves his position. “Among the things necessary to the preservation of life,” he says, “there are some which exist in such large quantities that they are inexhaustible; others which exist in lesser quantities, and can satisfy the wants of only a certain number of persons. The former are called common, the latter private.”

This reasoning is not strictly logical. Water, air, and light are common things, not because they are inexhaustible, but because they are indispensable; and so indispensable that for that very reason Nature has created them in quantities almost infinite, in order that their plentifulness might prevent their appropriation. Likewise the land is indispensable to our existence,—consequently a common thing, consequently unsusceptible of appropriation; but land is much scarcer than the other elements, therefore its use must be regulated, not for the profit of a few, but in the interest and for the security of all.

In a word, equality of rights is proved by equality of needs. Now, equality of rights, in the case of a commodity which is limited in amount, can be realised only by equality of possession. An agrarian law underlies M. Ch. Comte’s arguments.

From whatever point we view this question of property—provided we go to the bottom of it—we reach equality. I will not insist farther on the distinction between things which can, and things which cannot, be appropriated. On this point, economists and legists talk worse than nonsense. The Civil Code, after having defined property, says nothing about susceptibility of appropriation; and if it speaks of things which are in the market, it always does so without enumerating or describing them. However, light is not wanting. There are some few maxims such as these: Ad reges potestas omnium pertinet, ad singulos proprietas; Omnia rex imperio possidet, singula dominio. Social sovereignty opposed to private property!—might not that be called a prophecy of equality, a republican oracle? Examples crowd upon us: once the possessions of the church, the estates of the crown, the fiefs of the nobility were inalienable and imprescriptible. If, instead of abolishing this privilege, the Constituent had extended it to every individual; if it had declared that the right of labour, like liberty, can never be forfeited,—at that moment the revolution would have been consummated, and we could now devote ourselves to improvement in other directions.


In the extract from Say, quoted above, it is not clear whether the author means to base the right of property on the stationary character of the soil, or on the consent which he thinks all men have granted to this appropriation. His language is such that it may mean either of these things, or both at once; which entitles us to assume that the author intended to say, “The right of property resulting originally from the exercise of the will, the stability of the soil permitted it to be applied to the land, and universal consent has since sanctioned this application.”

However that may be, can men legitimate property by mutual consent? I say, no. Such a contract, though drafted by Grotius, Montesquieu, and J.-J. Rousseau, though signed by the whole human race, would be null in the eyes of justice, and an act to enforce it would be illegal. Man can no more give up labour than liberty. Now, to recognise the right of territorial property is to give up labour, since it is to relinquish the means of labour; it is to traffic in a natural right, and divest ourselves of manhood.

But I wish that this consent, of which so much is made, had been given, either tacitly or formally. What would have been the result? Evidently, the surrenders would have been reciprocal; no right would have been abandoned without the receipt of an equivalent in exchange. We thus come back to equality again,—the sine qua non of appropriation; so that, after having justified property by universal consent, that is, by equality, we are obliged to justify the inequality of conditions by property. Never shall we extricate ourselves from this dilemma. Indeed, if, in the terms of the social compact, property has equality for its condition, at the moment when equality ceases to exist, the compact is broken and all property becomes usurpation. We gain nothing, then, by this pretended consent of mankind.


The right of property was the origin of evil on the earth, the first link in the long chain of crimes and misfortunes which the human race has endured since its birth. The delusion of prescription is the fatal charm thrown over the intellect, the death sentence breathed into the conscience, to arrest man’s progress towards truth, and bolster up the worship of error.

The Code defines prescription thus: “The process of gaining and losing through the lapse of time.” In applying this definition to ideas and beliefs, we may use the word prescription to denote the everlasting prejudice in favour of old superstitions, whatever be their object; the opposition, often furious and bloody, with which new light has always been received, and which makes the sage a martyr. Not a principle, not a discovery, not a generous thought but has met, at its entrance into the world, with a formidable barrier of preconceived opinions, seeming like a conspiracy of all old prejudices. Prescriptions against reason, prescriptions against facts, prescriptions against every truth hitherto unknown,—that is the sum and substance of the statu quo philosophy, the watchword of conservatives throughout the centuries.

When the evangelical reform was broached to the world, there was prescription in favour of violence, debauchery, and selfishness; when Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, and their disciples reconstructed philosophy and the sciences, there was prescription in favour of the Aristotelian philosophy; when our fathers of ’89 demanded liberty and equality, there was prescription in favour of tyranny and privilege. “There always have been proprietors and there always will be”: it is with this profound utterance, the final effort of selfishness dying in its last ditch, that the friends of social inequality hope to repel the attacks of their adversaries; thinking undoubtedly that ideas, like property, can be lost by prescription.


In order to confine myself to the civil prescription of which the Code speaks, I shall refrain from beginning a discussion upon this worn-out objection brought forward by proprietors; it would be too tiresome and declamatory. Everybody knows that there are rights which cannot be prescribed; and, as for those things which can be gained through the lapse of time, no one is ignorant of the fact that prescription requires certain conditions, the omission of one of which renders it null. If it is true, for example, that the proprietor’s possession has been civil, public, peaceable, and uninterrupted, it is none the less true that it is not based on a just title; since the only titles which it can show—occupation and labour—prove as much for the proletarian who demands, as for the proprietor who defends. Further, this possession is dishonest, since it is founded on a violation of right, which prevents prescription, according to the saying of St. Paul—Nunquam in usucapionibus juris error possessori prodest. The violation of right lies either in the fact that the holder possesses as proprietor, while he should possess only as usufructuary; or in the fact that he has purchased a thing which no one had a right to transfer or sell.

Another reason why prescription cannot be adduced in favour of property (a reason borrowed from jurisprudence) is that the right to possess real estate is a part of a universal right which has never been totally destroyed even at the most critical periods; and the proletarian, in order to regain the power to exercise it fully, has only to prove that he has always exercised it in part.

He, for example, who has the universal right to possess, give, exchange, loan, let, sell, transform, or destroy a thing, preserves the integrity of this right by the sole act of loaning, though he has never shown his authority in any other manner. Likewise we shall see that equality of possessions, equality of rights, liberty, will, personality, are so many identical expressions of one and the same idea,—the right of preservation and development; in a word, the right of life, against which there can be no prescription until the human race has vanished from the face of the earth.

Finally, as to the time required for prescription, it would be superfluous to show that the right of property in general cannot be acquired by simple possession for ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand, or one hundred thousand years; and that, so long as there exists a human head capable of understanding and combating the right of property, this right will never be prescribed. For principles of jurisprudence and axioms of reason are different from accidental and contingent facts. One man’s possession can prescribe against another man’s possession; but just as the possessor cannot prescribe against himself, so reason has always the faculty of change and reformation. Past error is not binding on the future. Reason is always the same eternal force. The institution of property, the work of ignorant reason, may be abrogated by a more enlightened reason. Consequently, property cannot be established by prescription. This is so certain and so true, that on it rests the maxim that in the matter of prescription a violation of right goes for nothing.


I ask, then, in the first place, how possession can become property by the lapse of time? Continue possession as long as you wish, continue it for years and for centuries, you never can give duration—which of itself creates nothing, changes nothing, modifies nothing—the power to change the usufructuary into a proprietor. Let the civil law secure against chance-comers the honest possessor who has held his position for many years,—that only confirms a right already respected; and prescription, applied in this way, simply means that possession which has continued for twenty, thirty, or a hundred years shall be retained by the occupant. But when the law declares that the lapse of time changes possessor into proprietor, it supposes that a right can be created without a producing cause; it unwarrantably alters the character of the subject; it legislates on a matter not open to legislation; it exceeds its own powers. Public order and private security ask only that possession shall be protected. Why has the law created property? Prescription was simply security for the future; why has the law made it a matter of privilege?


“Where is the man,” [Grotius] says, “with so unchristian a soul that, for a trifle, he would perpetuate the trespass of a possessor, which would inevitably be the result if he did not consent to abandon his right?” By the Eternal! I am that man. Though a million proprietors should burn for it in hell, I lay the blame on them for depriving me of my portion of this world’s goods. To this powerful consideration Grotius rejoins, that it is better to abandon a disputed right than to go to law, disturb the peace of nations, and stir up the flames of civil war. I accept, if you wish it, this argument, provided you indemnify me. But if this indemnity is refused me, what do I, a proletarian, care for the tranquillity and security of the rich? I care as little for public order as for the proprietor’s safety. I ask to live a worker; otherwise I will die a warrior.

Whichever way we turn, we shall come to the conclusion that prescription is a contradiction of property; or rather that prescription and property are two forms of the same principle, but two forms which serve to correct each other; and ancient and modern jurisprudence did not make the least of its blunders in pretending to reconcile them. Indeed, if we see in the institution of property only a desire to secure to each individual his share of the soil and his right to labour; in the distinction between naked property and possession only an asylum for absentees, orphans, and all who do not know, or cannot maintain, their rights; in prescription only a means, either of defence against unjust pretensions and encroachments, or of settlement of the differences caused by the removal of possessors,—we shall recognise in these various forms of human justice the spontaneous efforts of the mind to come to the aid of the social instinct; we shall see in this protection of all rights the sentiment of equality, a constant levelling tendency. And, looking deeper, we shall find in the very exaggeration of these principles the confirmation of our doctrine; because, if equality of conditions and universal association are not soon realised, it will be owing to the obstacle thrown for the time in the way of the common sense of the people by the stupidity of legislators and judges; and also to the fact that, while society in its original state was illuminated with a flash of truth, the early speculations of its leaders could bring forth nothing but darkness.



We shall show by the maxims of political economy and law, that is, by the authorities recognised by property,—

  1. That labour has no inherent power to appropriate natural wealth.

  2. That, if we admit that labour has this power, we are led directly to equality of property,—whatever the kind of labour, however scarce the product, or unequal the ability of the workers.

  3. That, in the order of justice, labour destroys property.

Following the example of our opponents, and that we may leave no obstacles in the path, let us examine the question in the strongest possible light.

M.Ch. Comte says, in his Treatise on Property:—

“France, considered as a nation, has a territory which is her own.”

France, as an individuality, possesses a territory which she cultivates; it is not her property. Nations are related to each other as individuals are: they are commoners and workers; it is an abuse of language to call them proprietors. The right of use and abuse belongs no more to nations than to men; and the time will come when a war waged for the purpose of checking a nation in its abuse of the soil will be regarded as a holy war.

Thus, M. Ch. Comte—who undertakes to explain how property comes into existence, and who starts with the supposition that a nation is a proprietor—falls into that error known as begging the question; a mistake which vitiates his whole argument.

If the reader thinks it is pushing logic too far to question a nation’s right of property in the territory which it possesses, I will simply remind him of the fact that at all ages the results of the fictitious right of national property have been pretensions to suzerainty, tributes, monarchical privileges, statute-labour, quotas of men and money, supplies of merchandise, etc.; ending finally in refusals to pay taxes, insurrections, wars, and depopulations.

“Scattered through this territory are extended tracts of land, which have not been converted into individual property. These lands, which consist mainly of forests, belong to the whole population, and the government, which receives the revenues, uses or ought to use them in the interest of all.”

Ought to use is well said: a lie is avoided thereby.

“Let them be offered for sale....”

Why offered for sale? Who has a right to sell them? Even were the nation proprietor, can the generation of today dispossess the generation of tomorrow? The nation, in its function of usufructuary, possesses them; the government rules, superintends, and protects them. If it also granted lands, it could grant only their use; it has no right to sell them or transfer them in any way whatever. Not being a proprietor, how can it transmit property?

“Suppose some industrious man buys a portion, a large swamp for example. This would be no usurpation, since the public would receive the exact value through the hands of the government, and would be as rich after the sale as before.”

How ridiculous! What! Because a prodigal, imprudent, incompetent official sells the State’s possessions, while I, a ward of the State,—I who have neither an advisory nor a deliberative voice in the State councils,—while I am allowed to make no opposition to the sale, this sale is right and legal! The guardians of the nation waste its substance, and it has no redress! I have received, you tell me, through the hands of the government my share of the proceeds of the sale: but, in the first place, I did not wish to sell; and, had I wished to, I could not have sold. I had not the right. And then I do not see that I am benefited by the sale. My guardians have dressed up some soldiers, repaired an old fortress, erected in their pride some costly but worthless monument,—then they have exploded some fireworks and set up a greased pole! What does all that amount to in comparison with my loss?

The purchaser draws boundaries, fences himself in, and says, “This is mine; each one by himself, each one for himself.” Here, then, is a piece of land upon which, henceforth, no one has a right to step, save the proprietor and his friends; which can benefit nobody, save the proprietor and his servants. Let these sales multiply, and soon the people—who have been neither able nor willing to sell, and who have received none of the proceeds of the sale—will have nowhere to rest, no place of shelter, no ground to till. They will die of hunger at the proprietor’s door, on the edge of that property which was their birthright; and the proprietor, watching them die, will exclaim, “So perish idlers and vagrants!”

To reconcile us to the proprietor’s usurpation, M. Ch. Comte assumes the lands to be of little value at the time of sale.

“The importance of these usurpations should not be exaggerated: they should be measured by the number of men which the occupied land would support, and by the means which it would furnish them.

“It is evident, for instance, that if a piece of land which is worth today one thousand francs was worth only five centimes when it was usurped, we really lose only the value of five centimes. A square league of earth would be hardly sufficient to support a savage in distress; today it supplies one thousand persons with the means of existence. Nine hundred and ninety-nine parts of this land is the legitimate property of the possessors; only one-thousandth of the value has been usurped.”

A peasant admitted one day, at confession, that he had destroyed a document which declared him a debtor to the amount of three hundred francs. Said the father confessor,—“You must return these three hundred francs.” “No,” replied the peasant, “I will return a penny to pay for the paper.”

M. Ch. Comte’s logic resembles this peasant’s honesty. The soil has not only an integrant and actual value, it has also a potential value,—a value of the future,—which depends on our ability to make it valuable, and to employ it in our work. Destroy a bill of exchange, a promissory note, an annuity deed,—as a paper you destroy almost no value at all; but with this paper you destroy your title, and, in losing your title, you deprive yourself of your goods. Destroy the land, or, what is the same thing, sell it,—you not only transfer one, two, or several crops, but you annihilate all the products that you could derive from it; you and your children and your children’s children.

When M. Ch. Comte, the apostle of property and the eulogist of labour, supposes an alienation of the soil on the part of the government, we must not think that he does so without reason and for no purpose; it is a necessary part of his position. As he rejected the theory of occupancy, and as he knew, moreover, that labour could not constitute the right in the absence of a previous permission to occupy, he was obliged to connect this permission with the authority of the government, which means that property is based upon the sovereignty of the people; in other words, upon universal consent. This theory we have already considered.

To say that property is the daughter of labour, and then to give labour material on which to exercise itself, is, if I am not mistaken, to reason in a circle. Contradictions will result from it.

“A piece of land of a certain size produces food enough to supply a man for one day. If the possessor, through his labour, discovers some method of making it produce enough for two days, he doubles its value. This new value is his work, his creation: it is taken from nobody; it is his property.”

I maintain that the possessor is paid for his trouble and industry in his doubled crop, but that he acquires no right to the land.—“Let the worker have the fruits of his labour.”—Very good; but I do not understand that property in products carries with it property in raw material. Does the skill of the fisherman, who on the same coast can catch more fish than his fellows, make him proprietor of the fishing-grounds? Can the expertness of a hunter ever be regarded as a property-title to a game-forest? The analogy is perfect,—the industrious cultivator finds the reward of his industry in the abundancy and superiority of his crop. If he has made improvements in the soil, he has the possessor’s right of preference. Never, under any circumstances, can he be allowed to claim a property-title to the soil which he cultivates, on the ground of his skill as a cultivator.


“If men succeed in fertilising land hitherto unproductive, or even deathproducing, like certain swamps, they create thereby property in all its completeness.”

What good does it do to magnify an expression, and play with equivocations, as if we expected to change the reality thereby? They create property in all its completeness. You mean that they create a productive capacity which formerly did not exist; but this capacity cannot be created without material to support it. The substance of the soil remains the same; only its qualities and modifications are changed. Man has created every thing—every thing save the material itself. Now, I maintain that this material he can only possess and use, on condition of permanent labour,—granting, for the time being, his right of property in things which he has produced.

This, then, is the first point settled: property in product, if we grant so much, does not carry with it property in the means of production; that seems to me to need no further demonstration. There is no difference between the soldier who possesses his arms, the mason who possesses the materials committed to his care, the fisherman who possesses the water, the hunter who possesses the fields and forests, and the cultivator who possesses the lands: all, if you say so, are proprietors of their products—not one is proprietor of the means of production. The right to product is exclusive—jus in re; the right to means is common—jus ad rem.


[Let us] Admit, however, that labour gives a right of property in material.

Why is not this principle universal? Why is the benefit of this pretended law confined to a few and denied to the mass of workers? A philosopher, arguing that all animals sprang up formerly out of the earth warmed by the rays of the sun, almost like mushrooms, on being asked why the earth no longer yielded crops of that nature, replied: “Because it is old, and has lost its fertility.” Has labour, once so fecund, likewise become sterile? Why does the tenant no longer acquire through his labour the land which was formerly acquired by the labour of the proprietor?

“Because,” they say, “it is already appropriated.” That is no answer. A farm yields fifty bushels per hectare; the skill and labour of the tenant double this product: the increase is created by the tenant. Suppose the owner, in a spirit of moderation rarely met with, does not go to the extent of absorbing this product by raising the rent, but allows the cultivator to enjoy the results of his labour; even then justice is not satisfied. The tenant, by improving the land, has imparted a new value to the property; he, therefore, has a right to a part of the property. If the farm was originally worth one hundred thousand francs, and if by the labour of the tenant its value has risen to one hundred and fifty thousand francs, the tenant, who produced this extra value, is the legitimate proprietor of one-third of the farm. M. Ch. Comte could not have pronounced this doctrine false, for it was he who said:

“Men who increase the fertility of the earth are no less useful to their fellow-men, than if they should create new land.”

Why, then, is not this rule applicable to the man who improves the land, as well as to him who clears it? The labour of the former makes the land worth one; that of the latter makes it worth two: both create equal values. Why not accord to both equal property? I defy anyone to refute this argument, without again falling back on the right of first occupancy.

“But,” it will be said, “even if your wish should be granted, property would not be distributed much more evenly than now. Land does not go on increasing in value for ever; after two or three seasons it attains its maximum fertility. That which is added by the agricultural art results rather from the progress of science and the diffusion of knowledge, than from the skill of the cultivator. Consequently, the addition of a few workers to the mass of proprietors would be no argument against property.”

This discussion would, indeed, prove a well-nigh useless one, if our labours culminated in simply extending land-privilege and industrial monopoly; in emancipating only a few hundred workers out of the millions of proletarians. But this also is a misconception of our real thought, and does but prove the general lack of intelligence and logic.

If the worker, who adds to the value of a thing, has a right of property in it, he who maintains this value acquires the same right. For what is maintenance? It is incessant addition,—continuous creation. What is it to cultivate? It is to give the soil its value every year; it is, by annually renewed creation, to prevent the diminution or destruction of the value of a piece of land. Admitting, then, that property is rational and legitimate,—admitting that rent is equitable and just,—I say that he who cultivates acquires property by as good a title as he who clears, or he who improves; and that every time a tenant pays his rent, he obtains a fraction of property in the land entrusted to his care, the denominator of which is equal to the proportion of rent paid. Unless you admit this, you fall into absolutism and tyranny; you recognise class privileges; you sanction slavery.

Whoever labours becomes a proprietor—this is an inevitable deduction from the acknowledged principles of political economy and jurisprudence. And when I say proprietor, I do not mean simply (as do our hypocritical economists) proprietor of his allowance, his salary, his wages,—I mean proprietor of the value which he creates, and by which the master alone profits.

As all this relates to the theory of wages and of the distribution of products, —and as this matter never has been even partially cleared up,—I ask permission to insist on it: this discussion will not be useless to the work in hand. Many persons talk of admitting working-people to a share in the products and profits; but in their minds this participation is pure benevolence: they have never shown—perhaps never suspected—that it was a natural, necessary right, inherent in labour, and inseparable from the function of producer, even in the lowest forms of his work.

This is my proposition: the worker retains, even after he has received his wages, a natural right of property in the thing which he has produced.

I again quote M. Ch. Comte:

“Some workers are employed in draining marshes, in cutting down trees and brushwood,—in a word, in cleaning up the soil. They increase the value, they make the amount of property larger; they are paid for the value which they add in the form of food and daily wages: it then becomes the property of the capitalist.”

The price is not sufficient: the labour of the workers has created a value; now this value is their property. But they have neither sold nor exchanged it; and you, capitalist, you have not earned it. That you should have a partial right to the whole, in return for the materials that you have furnished and the provisions that you have supplied, is perfectly just. You contributed to the production, you ought to share in the enjoyment. But your right does not annihilate that of the workers, who, in spite of you, have been your colleagues in the work of production. Why do you talk of wages? The money with which you pay the wages of the workers remunerates them for only a few years of the perpetual possession which they have abandoned to you. Wages is the cost of the daily maintenance and refreshment of the worker. You are wrong in calling it the price of a sale. The worker has sold nothing; he knows neither his right, nor the extent of the concession which he has made to you, nor the meaning of the contract which you pretend to have made with him. On his side, utter ignorance; on yours, error and surprise, not to say deceit and fraud.

Let us make this clearer by another and more striking example.

No one is ignorant of the difficulties that are met with in the conversion of untilled land into arable and productive land. These difficulties are so great, that usually an isolated man would perish before he could put the soil in a condition to yield him even the most meagre living. To that end are needed the united and combined efforts of society, and all the resources of industry. M. Ch. Comte quotes on this subject numerous and well-authenticated facts, little thinking that he is amassing testimony against his own system.

Let us suppose that a colony of twenty or thirty families establishes itself in a wild district, covered with underbrush and forests; and from which, by agreement, the natives consent to withdraw. Each one of these families possesses a moderate but sufficient amount of capital, of such a nature as a colonist would be apt to choose,—animals, seeds, tools, and a little money and food. The land having been divided, each one settles himself as comfortably as possible, and begins to clear away the portion allotted to him. But after a few weeks of fatigue, such as they never before have known, of inconceivable suffering, of ruinous and almost useless labour, our colonists begin to complain of their trade; their condition seems hard to them; they curse their sad existence.

Suddenly, one of the shrewdest among them kills a pig, cures a part of the meat; and, resolved to sacrifice the rest of his provisions, goes to find his companions in misery. “Friends,” he begins in a very benevolent tone, “how much trouble it costs you to do a little work and live uncomfortably! A fortnight of labour has reduced you to your last extremity!... Let us make an arrangement by which you shall all profit. I offer you provisions and wine: you shall get so much every day; we will work together, and, zounds! my friends, we will be happy and contented!”

Would it be possible for empty stomachs to resist such an invitation? The hungriest of them follow the treacherous tempter. They go to work; the charm of society, emulation, joy, and mutual assistance double their strength; the work can be seen to advance. Singing and laughing, they subdue Nature. In a short time, the soil is thoroughly changed; the mellowed earth waits only for the seed. That done, the proprietor pays his workers, who, on going away, return him their thanks, and grieve that the happy days which they have spent with him are over.

Others follow this example, always with the same success. Then, these installed, the rest disperse,—each one returns to his grubbing. But, while grubbing, it is necessary to live. While they have been clearing away for their neighbour, they have done no clearing for themselves. One year’s seed-time and harvest is already gone. They had calculated that in lending their labour they could not but gain, since they would save their own provisions; and, while living better, would get still more money. False calculation! they have created for another the means wherewith to produce, and have created nothing for themselves. The difficulties of clearing remain the same; their clothing wears out, their provisions give out; soon their purse becomes empty for the profit of the individual for whom they have worked, and who alone can furnish the provisions which they need, since he alone is in a position to produce them. Then, when the poor grubber has exhausted his resources, the man with the provisions (like the wolf in the fable, who scents his victim from afar) again comes forward. One he offers to employ again by the day; from another he offers to buy at a favourable price a piece of his bad land, which is not, and never can be, of any use to him: that is, he uses the labour of one man to cultivate the field of another for his own benefit. So that at the end of twenty years, of thirty individuals originally equal in point of wealth, five or six have become proprietors of the whole district, while the rest have been philanthropically dispossessed!

In this century of bourgeoisie morality, in which I have had the honour to be born, the moral sense is so debased that I should not be at all surprised if I were asked, by many a worthy proprietor, what I see in this that is unjust and illegitimate? Debased creature! galvanised corpse! how can I expect to convince you, if you cannot tell theft when I show it to you? A man, by soft and insinuating words, discovers the secret of taxing others that he may establish himself; then, once enriched by their united efforts, he refuses, on the very conditions which he himself dictated, to advance the well-being of those who made his fortune for him: and you ask how such conduct is fraudulent! Under the pretext that he has paid his workers, that he owes them nothing more, that he has nothing to gain by putting himself at the service of others, while his own occupations claim his attention,—he refuses, I say, to aid others in getting a foothold, as he was aided in getting his own; and when, in the impotence of their isolation, these poor workers are compelled to sell their birthright, he—this ungrateful proprietor, this knavish upstart—stands ready to put the finishing touch to their deprivation and their ruin. And you think that just? Take care!

I read in your startled countenance the reproach of a guilty conscience, much more clearly than the innocent astonishment of involuntary ignorance.

“The capitalist,” they say, “has paid the workers their daily wages.” To be accurate, it must be said that the capitalist has paid as many times one day’s wage as he has employed workers each day,—which is not at all the same thing. For he has paid nothing for that immense power which results from the union and harmony of workers, and the convergence and simultaneousness of their efforts. Two hundred grenadiers stood the obelisk of Luxor upon its base in a few hours; do you suppose that one man could have accomplished the same task in two hundred days? Nevertheless, on the books of the capitalist, the amount of wages paid would have been the same. Well, a desert to prepare for cultivation, a house to build, a factory to run,—all these are obelisks to erect, mountains to move. The smallest fortune, the most insignificant establishment, the setting in motion of the lowest industry, demand the concurrence of so many different kinds of labour and skill, that one man could not possibly execute the whole of them. It is astonishing that the economists never have called attention to this fact. Strike a balance, then, between the capitalist’s receipts and his payments.


Consequently, when M. Ch. Comte—following out his hypothesis—shows us his capitalist acquiring one after another the products of his employees’ labour, he sinks deeper and deeper into the mire; and, as his argument does not change, our reply of course remains the same.

“Other workers are employed in building: some quarry the stone, others transport it, others cut it, and still others put it in place. Each of them adds a certain value to the material which passes through his hands; and this value, the product of his labour, is his property. He sells it, as fast as he creates it, to the proprietor of the building, who pays him for it in food and wages.”

Divide et impera—divide, and you shall command; divide, and you shall grow rich; divide, and you shall deceive men, you shall daze their minds, you shall mock at justice! Separate workers from each other, perhaps each one’s daily wage exceeds the value of each individual’s product; but that is not the question under consideration. A force of one thousand men working twenty days has been paid the same wages that one would be paid for working fifty-five years; but this force of one thousand has done in twenty days what a single man could not have accomplished, though he had laboured for a million centuries. Is the exchange an equitable one? Once more, no; when you have paid all the individual forces, the collective force still remains to be paid.

Consequently, there remains always a right of collective property which you have not acquired, and which you enjoy unjustly.

Admit that twenty days’ wages suffice to feed, lodge, and clothe this multitude for twenty days: thrown out of employment at the end of that time, what will become of them, if, as fast as they create, they abandon their creations to the proprietors who will soon discharge them? While the proprietor, firm in his position (thanks to the aid of all the workers), dwells in security, and fears no lack of labour or bread, the worker’s only dependence is upon the benevolence of this same proprietor, to whom he has sold and surrendered his liberty. If, then, the proprietor, shielding himself behind his comfort and his rights, refuses to employ the worker, how can the worker live? He has ploughed an excellent field, and cannot sow it; he has built an elegant and commodious house, and cannot live in it; he has produced all, and can enjoy nothing.

Labour leads us to equality. Every step that we take brings us nearer to it; and if workers had equal strength, diligence, and industry, clearly their fortunes would be equal also. Indeed, if, as is pretended,—and as we have admitted,—the worker is proprietor of the value which he creates, it follows:

  1. That the worker should acquire at the expense of the idle proprietor;

  2. That all production being necessarily collective, the worker is entitled to a share of the products and profits commensurate with his labour;

  3. That all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor.

These inferences are unavoidable; these alone would suffice to revolutionise our whole economic system, and change our institutions and our laws. Why do the very persons, who laid down this principle, now refuse to be guided by it? Why do the Says, the Comtes, the Hennequins, and others—after having said that property is born of labour—seek to fix it by occupation and prescription?

But let us leave these sophists to their contradictions and blindness. The good sense of the people will do justice to their equivocations. Let us make haste to enlighten it, and show it the true path. Equality approaches; already between it and us but a short distance intervenes: tomorrow even this distance will have been traversed.


When the St. Simonians, the Fourierists, and, in general, all who in our day are connected with social economy and reform, inscribe upon their banner,—

“To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to its results” (St. Simon);

“To each according to his capital, his labour, and his skill” (Fourier),—they mean—although they do not say so in so many words—that the products of Nature procured by labour and industry are a reward, a palm, a crown offered to all kinds of pre-eminence and superiority. They regard the land as an immense arena in which prizes are contended for,—no longer, it is true, with lances and swords, by force and by treachery; but by acquired wealth, by knowledge, talent, and by virtue itself. In a word, they mean—and everybody agrees with them—that the greatest capacity is entitled to the greatest reward; and, to use the mercantile phraseology,—which has, at least, the merit of being straightforward,—that salaries must be governed by capacity and its results.


This proposition, taken, as they say, in sensu obvio—in the sense usually attributed to it—is false, absurd, unjust, contradictory, hostile to liberty, friendly to tyranny, anti-social, and was unluckily framed under the express influence of the property idea.

And, first, capital must be crossed off the list of elements which are entitled to a reward. The Fourierists—as far as I have been able to learn from a few of their pamphlets—deny the right of occupancy, and recognise no basis of property save labour. Starting with a like premise, they would have seen—had they reasoned upon the matter—that capital is a source of production to its proprietor only by virtue of the right of occupancy, and that this production is therefore illegitimate. Indeed, if labour is the sole basis of property, I cease to be proprietor of my field as soon as I receive rent for it from another. This we have shown beyond all cavil. It is the same with all capital; so that to put capital in an enterprise, is, by the law’s decision, to exchange it for an equivalent sum in products. […]

Thus, capital can be exchanged, but cannot be a source of income.


In labour, two things must be noticed and distinguished: association and available material.

In so far as workers are associated, they are equal; and it involves a contradiction to say that one should be paid more than another. […]


But every industry needs—they will add—leaders, instructors, superintendents, etc. Will these be engaged in the general task? No; since their task is to lead, instruct, and superintend. But they must be chosen from the workers by the workers themselves, and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility. It is the same with all public functions, whether of administration or instruction.

Then, article first of the universal constitution will be:

“The limited quantity of available material proves the necessity of dividing the labour among the whole number of workers. The capacity, given to all, of accomplishing a social task,—that is, an equal task,—and the impossibility of paying one worker save in the products of another, justify the equality of wages.”



THE LAST RESORT of proprietors,—the overwhelming argument whose invincible potency reassures them,—is that, in their opinion, equality of conditions is impossible. “Equality of conditions is a chimera,” they cry with a knowing air; “distribute wealth equally today—tomorrow this equality will have vanished.”

To this hackneyed objection, which they repeat everywhere with the most marvellous assurance, they never fail to add the following comment, as a sort Of Glory be to the Father: “If all men were equal, nobody would work.” This anthem is sung with variations.

“If all were masters, nobody would obey.”

“If nobody were rich, who would employ the poor?”

And, “If nobody were poor, who would labour for the rich?”

But let us have done with invective—we have better arguments at our command.

If I show that property itself is impossible—that it is property which is a contradiction, a chimera, a utopia; and if I show it no longer by metaphysics and jurisprudence, but by figures, equations, and calculations,—imagine the fright of the astounded proprietor! And you, reader; what do you think of the retort?


AXIOM: Property is the Right of Increase [droit d’aubaine] claimed by the Proprietor over any thing which he has stamped as his own.


Observations: Increase [aubaine] receives different names according to the thing by which it is yielded: if by land, farm-rent; if by houses and furniture, rent; if by life-investments, revenue; if by money, interest; if by exchange, advantage gain, profit (three things which must not be confounded with the wages or legitimate price of labour).


Property is impossible, because it demands Something for Nothing.

The discussion of this proposition covers the same ground as that of the origin of farm-rent, which is so much debated by the economists. When I read the writings of the greater part of these men, I cannot avoid a feeling of contempt mingled with anger, in view of this mass of nonsense, in which the detestable vies with the absurd. It would be a repetition of the story of the elephant in the moon, were it not for the atrocity of the consequences. To seek a rational and legitimate origin of that which is, and ever must be, only theft, extortion, and plunder—that must be the height of the proprietor’s folly; the last degree of bedevilment into which minds, otherwise judicious, can be thrown by the perversity of selfishness.

“A farmer,” says Say, “is a wheat manufacturer who, among other tools which serve him in modifying the material from which he makes the wheat, employs one large tool, which we call a field. If he is not the proprietor of the field, if he is only a tenant, he pays the proprietor for the productive service of this tool. The tenant is reimbursed by the purchaser, the latter by another, until the product reaches the consumer; who redeems the first payment, plus all the others, by means of which the product has at last come into his hands.”

Let us lay aside the subsequent payments by which the product reaches the consumer, and, for the present, pay attention only to the first one of all,—the rent paid to the proprietor by the tenant. On what ground, we ask, is the proprietor entitled to this rent?


[David] Buchanan—a commentator on Smith—regarded farm-rent as the result of a monopoly, and maintained that labour alone is productive. Consequently, he thought that, without this monopoly, products would rise in price; and he found no basis for farm-rent save in the civil law. This opinion is a corollary of that which makes the civil law the basis of property. But why has the civil law—which ought to be the written expression of justice—authorised this monopoly? Whoever says monopoly, necessarily excludes justice. Now, to say that farm-rent is a monopoly sanctioned by the law, is to say that injustice is based on justice,—a contradiction in terms.

Say answers Buchanan, that the proprietor is not a monopolist, because a monopolist “is one who does not increase the utility of the merchandise which passes through his hands.”

How much does the proprietor increase the utility of his tenant’s products? Has he ploughed, sowed, reaped, mowed, winnowed, weeded? These are the processes by which the tenant and his employees increase the utility of the material which they consume for the purpose of reproduction.

“The landed proprietor increases the utility of products by means of his implement, the land. This implement receives in one state, and returns in another the materials of which wheat is composed. The action of the land is a chemical process, which so modifies the material that it multiplies it by destroying it. The soil is then a producer of utility; and when it asks its pay in the form of profit, or farm rent, for its proprietor, it at the same time gives something to the consumer in exchange for the amount which the consumer pays it. It gives him a produced utility; and it is the production of this utility which warrants us in calling land productive, as well as labour.”

Let us clear up this matter.

The blacksmith who manufactures for the farmer implements of husbandry, the wheelwright who makes him a cart, the mason who builds his barn, the carpenter, the basket-maker, etc.,—all of whom contribute to agricultural production by the tools which they provide,—are producers of utility; consequently, they are entitled to a part of the products.

“Undoubtedly,” says Say; “but the land also is an implement whose service must be paid for, then...”

I admit that the land is an implement; but who made it? Did the proprietor? Did he—by the efficacious virtue of the right of property, by this moral quality infused into the soil—endow it with vigour and fertility? Exactly there lies the monopoly of the proprietor; in the fact that, though he did not make the implement, he asks pay for its use. When the Creator shall present himself and claim farm-rent, we will consider the matter with him; or even when the proprietor—his pretended representative—shall exhibit his power-of-attorney.

“The proprietor’s service,” adds Say, “is easy, I admit.”

It is a frank confession.

“But we cannot disregard it. Without property, one farmer would contend with another for the possession of a field without a proprietor, and the field would remain uncultivated...”

Then the proprietor’s business is to reconcile farmers by robbing them. O logic! O justice! O the marvellous wisdom of economists! The proprietor, if they are right, is like Perrin-Dandin[366] who, when summoned by two travellers to settle a dispute about an oyster, opened it, gobbled it, and said to them:

“The Court awards you each a shell.”

Could anything worse be said of property?

Will Say tell us why the same farmers, who, if there were no proprietors, would contend with each other for possession of the soil, do not contend today with the proprietors for this possession? Obviously, because they think them legitimate possessors, and because their respect for even an imaginary right exceeds their avarice. I proved, in Chapter II, that possession is sufficient, without property, to maintain social order. Would it be more difficult, then, to reconcile possessors without masters than tenants controlled by proprietors? Would labouring men, who respect—much to their own detriment—the pretended rights of the idler, violate the natural rights of the producer and the manufacturer? What! if the husbandman forfeited his right to the land as soon as he ceased to occupy it, would he become more covetous? And would the impossibility of demanding increase [aubaine], of taxing another’s labour, be a source of quarrels and law-suits? The economists use singular logic. But we are not yet through. Admit that the proprietor is the legitimate master of the land.

“The land is an instrument of production,” they say. That is true. But when, changing the noun into an adjective, they alter the phrase, thus, “The land is a productive instrument,” they make a wicked blunder.

According to Quesnay and the early economists, all production comes from the land. Smith, Ricardo, and de Tracy, on the contrary, say that labour is the sole agent of production. Say, and most of his successors, teach that BOTH land AND labour AND capital are productive. The latter constitute the eclectic school of political economy. The truth is, that NEITHER land NOR labour NOR capital is productive. Production results from the cooperation of these three equally necessary elements, which, taken separately, are equally sterile.

Political economy, indeed, treats of the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth or values. But of what values? Of the values produced by human industry; that is, of the changes made in matter by man, that he may appropriate it to his own use, and not at all of Nature’s spontaneous productions. Man’s labour consists in a simple laying on of hands. When he has taken that trouble, he has produced a value. Until then, the salt of the sea, the water of the springs, the grass of the fields, and the trees of the forests are to him as if they were not. The sea, without the fisherman and his line, supplies no fish. The forest, without the wood-cutter and his axe, furnishes neither fuel nor timber. The meadow, without the mower, yields neither hay nor aftermath. Nature is a vast mass of material to be cultivated and converted into products; but Nature produces nothing for herself: in the economical sense, her products, in their relation to man, are not yet products.

Capital, tools, and machinery are likewise unproductive. The hammer and the anvil, without the blacksmith and the iron, do not forge. The mill, without the miller and the grain, does not grind, etc. Bring tools and raw material together; place a plough and some seed on fertile soil; enter a smithy, light the fire, and shut up the shop,—you will produce nothing. The following remark was made by an economist who possessed more good sense than most of his fellows: “Say credits capital with an active part unwarranted by its nature; left to itself, it is an idle tool” (J. Droz: Political Economy).

Finally, labour and capital together, when unfortunately combined, produce nothing. Plough a sandy desert, beat the water of the rivers, pass type through a sieve,—you will get neither wheat, nor fish, nor books. Your trouble will be as fruitless as was the immense labour of the army of Xerxes; who, as Herodotus says, with his three million soldiers, scourged the Hellespont for twenty-four hours, as a punishment for having broken and scattered the pontoon bridge which the great king had thrown across it.

Tools and capital, land and labour, considered individually and abstractly, are not, literally speaking, productive. The proprietor who asks to be rewarded for the use of a tool, or the productive power of his land, takes for granted, then, that which is radically false; namely, that capital produces by its own effort,—and, in taking pay for this imaginary product, he literally receives something for nothing.

Objection—But if the blacksmith, the wheelwright, all manufacturers in short, have a right to the products in return for the implements which they furnish; and if land is an implement of production,—why does not this implement entitle its proprietor, be his claim real or imaginary, to a portion of the products; as in the case of the manufacturers of ploughs and wagons?

Reply—Here we touch the heart of the question, the mystery of property; which we must clear up, if we would understand anything of the strange effects of the right of increase [droit d’aubaine].

He who manufactures or repairs the farmer’s tools receives the price once, either at the time of delivery, or in several payments; and when this price is once paid to the manufacturer, the tools which he has delivered belong to him no more. Never does he claim double payment for the same tool, or the same job of repairs. If he annually shares in the products of the farmer, it is owing to the fact that he annually makes something for the farmer.

The proprietor, on the contrary, does not yield his implement; eternally he is paid for it, eternally he keeps it.

In fact, the rent received by the proprietor is not intended to defray the expense of maintaining and repairing the implement; this expense is charged to the borrower, and does not concern the proprietor except as he is interested in the preservation of the article. If he takes it upon himself to attend to the repairs, he takes care that the money which he expends for this purpose is repaid.

This rent does not represent the product of the implement, since of itself the implement produces nothing; we have just proved this, and we shall prove it more clearly still by its consequences.

Finally, this rent does not represent the participation of the proprietor in the production; since this participation could consist, like that of the blacksmith and the wheelwright, only in the surrender of the whole or a part of his implement, in which case he would cease to be its proprietor, which would involve a contradiction of the idea of property.

Then, between the proprietor and his tenant there is no exchange either of values or services; then, as our axiom says, farm-rent is real increase,—an extortion based solely upon fraud and violence on the one hand, and weakness and ignorance upon the other. Products, say the economists, are bought only by products. This maxim is property’s condemnation. The proprietor, producing neither by his own labour nor by his implement, and receiving products in exchange for nothing, is either a parasite or a thief. Then, if property can exist only as a right, property is impossible.

Corollaries—1. The republican constitution of 1793, which defined property as “the right to enjoy the fruit of one’s labour,” was grossly mistaken. It should have said, “Property is the right to enjoy and dispose at will of another’s goods,—the fruit of another’s industry and labour.”

  1. Every possessor of lands, houses, furniture, machinery, tools, money, etc., who lends a thing for a price exceeding the cost of repairs (the repairs being charged to the lender, and representing products which he exchanges for other products), is guilty of swindling and extortion. In short, all rent received (nominally as damages, but really as payment for a loan) is an act of property,—of theft.

Historical comment—The tax which a victorious nation levies upon a conquered nation is genuine farm-rent. The seigniorial rights abolished by the Revolution of 1789,—tithes, mortmain, statute-labour, etc.,—were different forms of the rights of property; and they who under the titles of nobles, seigneurs, prebendaries, etc. enjoyed these rights, were neither more nor less than proprietors. To defend property today is to condemn the Revolution.


When the ass is too heavily loaded, he lies down; man always moves on. Upon this indomitable courage, the proprietor—well knowing that it exists—bases his hopes of speculation. The free worker produces ten; for me, thinks the proprietor, he will produce twelve.

Indeed,—before consenting to the confiscation of his fields, before bidding farewell to the paternal roof,—the peasant, whose story we have just told, makes a desperate effort; he leases new land; he will sow one-third more; and, taking half of this new product for himself, he will harvest an additional sixth, and thereby pay his rent. What an evil! To add one-sixth to his production, the farmer must add, not one-sixth, but two-sixths to his labour. At such a price, he pays a farm-rent which in God’s eyes he does not owe.

The landlord’s example is followed by the industrialist. The former tills more land, and dispossesses his neighbours; the latter lowers the price of his merchandise, and endeavours to monopolise its manufacture and sale, and to crush out his competitors. To satisfy property, the worker must first produce beyond his needs. Then, he must produce beyond his strength […].


If the worker receives for his labour an average of three francs per day, his employer (in order to gain anything beyond his own salary, if only interest on his capital) must sell the day’s labour of his employee, in the form of merchandise, for more than three francs. The worker cannot, then, repurchase that which he has produced for his master. It is thus with all trades whatsoever. The tailor, the hatter, the cabinet-maker, the blacksmith, the tanner, the mason, the jeweller, the printer, the clerk, etc., even to the farmer and wine-grower, cannot repurchase their products; since, producing for a master who in one form or another makes a profit, they are obliged to pay more for their own labour than they get for it.

The labouring people can buy neither the cloth which they weave, nor the furniture which they manufacture, nor the metal which they forge, nor the jewels which they cut, nor the prints which they engrave. They can procure neither the wheat which they plant, nor the wine which they grow, nor the flesh of the animals which they raise. They are allowed neither to dwell in the houses which they build, nor to attend the plays which their labour supports, nor to enjoy the rest which their body requires. And why? Because the right of increase [droit d’aubaine] does not permit these things to be sold at the cost-price, which is all that workers can afford to pay. On the signs of those magnificent warehouses which he in his poverty admires, the worker reads in large letters: “This is thy work, and thou shalt not have it.” Sic vos non vobis!


If the factory stops running, the manufacturer has to pay interest on his capital the same as before. He naturally tries, then, to continue production by lessening expenses. Then comes the lowering of wages; the introduction of machinery; the employment of women and children to do the work of men; bad workmen, and wretched work. They still produce, because the decreased cost creates a larger market; but they do not produce long, because, the cheapness being due to the quantity and rapidity of production, the productive power tends more than ever to outstrip consumption. It is when workers, whose wages are scarcely sufficient to support them from one day to another, are thrown out of work, that the consequences of the principle of property become most frightful. They have not been able to economise, they have made no savings, they have accumulated no capital whatever to support them even one day more. Today the factory is closed. To-morrow the people starve in the streets. Day after tomorrow they will either die in the hospital, or eat in the jail.

And still new misfortunes come to complicate this terrible situation. In consequence of the cessation of business, and the extreme cheapness of merchandise, the manufacturer finds it impossible to pay the interest on his borrowed capital; whereupon his frightened creditors hasten to withdraw their funds. Production is suspended, and labour comes to a standstill. Then people are astonished to see capital desert commerce, and throw itself upon the Stock Exchange; and I once heard M. Blanqui bitterly lamenting the blind ignorance of capitalists. The cause of this movement of capital is very simple; but for that very reason an economist could not understand it, or rather must not explain it. The cause lies solely in competition.

I mean by competition, not only the rivalry between two parties engaged in the same business, but the general and simultaneous effort of all kinds of business to get ahead of each other. This effort is today so strong, that the price of merchandise scarcely covers the cost of production and distribution; so that, the wages of all workers being lessened, nothing remains, not even interest for the capitalists.

The primary cause of commercial and industrial stagnations is, then, interest on capital,—that interest which the ancients with one accord branded with the name of usury, whenever it was paid for the use of money, but which they did not dare to condemn in the forms of house-rent, farm-rent, or profit: as if the nature of the thing lent could ever warrant a charge for the lending; that is, theft.

In proportion to the increase received by the capitalist will be the frequency and intensity of commercial crises,—the first being given, we always can determine the two others; and vice versa. Do you wish to know the regulator of a society? Ascertain the amount of active capital; that is, the capital bearing interest, and the legal rate of this interest. The course of events will be a series of overturns, whose number and violence will be proportional to the activity of capital.


Property is impossible, because it is powerless against Property.

I. By the third corollary of our axiom, interest tells against the proprietor as well as the stranger. This economic principle is universally admitted. Nothing simpler at first blush; yet, nothing more absurd, more contradictory in terms, or more absolutely impossible.

The manufacturer, it is said, pays himself the rent on his house and capital . He pays himself; that is, he gets paid by the public who buy his products. For, suppose the manufacturer, who seems to make this profit on his property, wishes also to make it on his merchandise, can he then pay himself one franc for that which cost him ninety centimes, and make money by the operation? No: such a transaction would transfer the merchant’s money from his right hand to his left, but without any profit whatever.

Now, that which is true of a single individual trading with himself is true also of the whole business world. Form a chain of ten, fifteen, twenty producers; as many as you wish. If the producer A makes a profit out of the producer B, B’s loss must, according to economic principles, be made up by C, C’s by D; and so on through to Z.

But by whom will Z be paid for the loss caused him by the profit charged by A in the beginning? By the consumer, replies Say. Contemptible equivocation! Is this consumer any other, then, than A, B. C, D, etc., or Z? By whom will Z be paid? If he is paid by A, no one makes a profit; consequently, there is no property. If, on the contrary, Z bears the burden himself, he ceases to be a member of society; since it refuses him the right of property and profit, which it grants to the other associates.

Since, then, a nation, like universal humanity, is a vast industrial association which cannot act outside of itself, it is clear that no man can enrich himself without impoverishing another. For, in order that the right of property, the right of increase [droit d’aubaine], may be respected in the case of A, it must be denied to Z; thus we see how equality of rights, separated from equality of conditions, may be a truth. The iniquity of political economy in this respect is flagrant. “When I, a manufacturer, purchase the labour of a worker, I do not include his wages in the net product of my business; on the contrary, I deduct them. But the worker includes them in his net product...” (Say: Political Economy).

That means that all which the worker gains is net product; but that only that part of the manufacturer’s gains is net product, which remains after deducting his wages. But why is the right of profit confined to the manufacturer? Why is this right, which is at bottom the right of property itself, denied to the worker? In the terms of economic science, the worker is capital. Now, all capital, beyond the cost of its maintenance and repair, must bear interest. This the proprietor takes care to get, both for his capital and for himself. Why is the worker prohibited from charging a like interest for his capital, which is himself?

Property, then, is inequality of rights; for, if it were not inequality of rights, it would be equality of goods,—in other words, it would not exist. Now, the charter guarantees to all equality of rights. Then, by the charter, property is impossible.

II. Is A, the proprietor of an estate, entitled by the fact of his proprietorship to take possession of the field belonging to B. his neighbour? “No,” reply the proprietors; “but what has that to do with the right of property?” That I shall show you by a series of similar propositions.

Has C, a hatter, the right to force D, his neighbour and also a hatter, to close his shop, and cease his business? Not the least in the world.

But C wishes to make a profit of one franc on every hat, while D is content with fifty centimes. It is evident that D’s moderation is injurious to C’s extravagant claims. Has the latter a right to prevent D from selling? Certainly not.

Since D is at liberty to sell his hats fifty centimes cheaper than C if he chooses, C in his turn is free to reduce his price one franc. Now, D is poor, while C is rich; so that at the end of two or three years D is ruined by this intolerable competition, and C has complete control of the market. Can the proprietor D get any redress from the proprietor C? Can he bring a suit against him to recover his business and property? No; for D could have done the same thing, had he been the richer of the two.

On the same ground, the large proprietor A may say to the small proprietor B: “Sell me your field, otherwise you shall not sell your wheat,”—and that without doing him the least wrong, or giving him ground for complaint. So that A can devour B if he likes, for the very reason that A is stronger than B. Consequently, it is not the right of property which enables A and C to rob B and D, but the right of might. By the right of property, neither the two neighbours A and B, nor the two merchants C and D, could harm each other. They could neither dispossess nor destroy one another, nor gain at one another’s expense. The power of invasion lies in superior strength.

But it is superior strength also which enables the manufacturer to reduce the wages of his employees, and the rich merchant and well-stocked proprietor to sell their products for what they please. The manufacturer says to the worker, “You are as free to go elsewhere with your services as I am to receive them. I offer you so much.” The merchant says to the customer, “Take it or leave it; you are master of your money, as I am of my goods. I want so much.” Who will yield? The weaker.

Therefore, without force, property is powerless against property, since without force it has no power to increase [s’accroître par aubaine]; therefore, without force, property is null and void.



PROPERTY IS IMPOSSIBLE; equality does not exist. We hate the former, and yet wish to possess it; the latter rules all our thoughts, yet we know not how to reach it. Who will explain this profound antagonism between our conscience and our will? Who will point out the causes of this pernicious error, which has become the most sacred principle of justice and society?

I am bold enough to undertake the task, and I hope to succeed.


When two or more individuals have regularly organised a society,—when the contracts have been agreed upon, drafted, and signed,—there is no difficulty about the future. Everybody knows that when two men associate—for instance—in order to fish, if one of them catches no fish, he is none the less entitled to those caught by his associate. If two merchants form a partnership, while the partnership lasts, the profits and losses are divided between them; since each produces, not for himself, but for the society: when the time of distribution arrives, it is not the producer who is considered, but the associate. That is why the slave, to whom the planter gives straw and rice; and the civilised worker, to whom the capitalist pays a salary which is always too small,—not being associated with their employers, although producing with them,—are disregarded when the product is divided. Thus, the horse who draws our coaches, and the ox who draws our carts produce with us, but are not associated with us; we take their product, but do not share it with them. The animals and workers whom we employ hold the same relation to us. Whatever we do for them, we do, not from a sense of justice, but out of pure benevolence.[367]

But is it possible that we are not all associated? Let us call to mind what was said in the last two chapters, That even though we do not want to be associated, the force of things, the necessity of consumption, the laws of production, and the mathematical principle of exchange combine to associate us. There is but a single exception to this rule,—that of the proprietor, who, producing by his right of increase [droit d’aubaine], is not associated with any one, and consequently is not obliged to share his product with any one; just as no one else is bound to share with him. With the exception of the proprietor, we labour for each other; we can do nothing by ourselves unaided by others, and we continually exchange products and services with each other. If these are not social acts, what are they?

Now, neither a commercial, nor an industrial, nor an agricultural association can be conceived of in the absence of equality; equality is its sine qua non. So that, in all matters which concern this association, to violate society is to violate justice and equality. Apply this principle to humanity at large.

After what has been said, I assume that the reader has sufficient insight to enable him to dispense with any aid of mine.

By this principle, the man who takes possession of a field, and says, “This field is mine,” will not be unjust so long as every one else has an equal right of possession; nor will he be unjust, if, wishing to change his location, he exchanges this field for an equivalent. But if, putting another in his place, he says to him, “Work for me while I rest,” he then becomes unjust, unassociated, unequal. He is a proprietor.

Reciprocally, the sluggard, or the rake, who, without performing any social task, enjoys like others—and often more than others—the products of society, should be proceeded against as a thief and a parasite. We owe it to ourselves to give him nothing; but, since he must live, to put him under supervision, and compel him to labour.

Sociability is the attraction felt by sentient beings for each other. Justice is this same attraction, accompanied by thought and knowledge. But under what general concept, in what category of the understanding, is justice placed? In the category of equal quantities. Hence, the ancient definition of justice—Justum aequale est, injustum inaequale. What is it, then, to practise justice? It is to give equal wealth to each, on condition of equal labour. It is to act socially. Our selfishness may complain; there is no escape from evidence and necessity.

What is the right of occupancy? It is a natural method of dividing the earth, by reducing each worker’s share as fast as new workers present themselves. This right disappears if the public interest requires it; which, being the social interest, is also that of the occupant.

What is the right of labour? It is the right to obtain one’s share of wealth by fulfilling the required conditions. It is the right of society, the right of equality.

Justice, which is the product of the combination of an idea and an instinct, manifests itself in man as soon as he is capable of feeling, and of forming ideas. Consequently, it has been regarded as an innate and original sentiment; but this opinion is logically and chronologically false. But justice, by its composition hybrid—if I may use the term,—justice, born of emotion and intellect combined, seems to me one of the strongest proofs of the unity and simplicity of the ego; the organism being no more capable of producing such a mixture by itself, than are the combined senses of hearing and sight of forming a binary sense, half auditory and half visual.


When property is abolished, what will be the form of society? Will it be communism?


Communism—the first expression of the social nature—is the first term of social development,—the thesis; property, the reverse of communism, is the second term,—the antithesis. When we have discovered the third term, the synthesis, we shall have the required solution. Now, this synthesis necessarily results from the correction of the thesis by the antithesis. Therefore it is necessary, by a final examination of their characteristics, to eliminate those features which are hostile to sociability. The union of the two remainders will give us the true form of human association.


I. I ought not to conceal the fact that property and communism have been considered always the only possible forms of society. This deplorable error has been the life of property. The disadvantages of communism are so obvious that its critics never have needed to employ much eloquence to thoroughly disgust men with it. The irreparability of the injustice which it causes, the violence which it does to attractions and repulsions, the yoke of iron which it fastens upon the will, the moral torture to which it subjects the conscience, the debilitating effect which it has upon society; and, to sum it all up, the pious and stupid uniformity which it enforces upon the free, active, reasoning, unsubmissive personality of man, have shocked common sense, and condemned communism by an irrevocable decree.

The authorities and examples cited in its favour disprove it. The communistic republic of Plato involved slavery; that of Lycurgus employed Helots, whose duty it was to produce for their masters, thus enabling the latter to devote themselves exclusively to athletic sports and to war. Even J. J. Rousseau—confounding communism and equality—has said somewhere that, without slavery, he did not think equality of conditions possible. The communities of the early Church did not last the first century out, and soon degenerated into monasteries. In those of the Jesuits of Paraguay, the condition of the blacks is said by all travellers to be as miserable as that of slaves; and it is a fact that the good Fathers were obliged to surround themselves with ditches and walls to prevent their new converts from escaping. The followers of Babeuf—guided by a lofty horror of property rather than by any definite belief—were ruined by exaggeration of their principles; the St. Simonians, lumping communism and inequality, passed away like a masquerade. The greatest danger to which society is exposed today is that of another shipwreck on this rock.

Singularly enough, systematic communism [communauté]—the deliberate negation of property—is conceived under the direct influence of the proprietary prejudice; and property is the basis of all communistic theories.

The members of a community, it is true, have no private property; but the community is proprietor, and proprietor not only of the goods, but of the persons and wills. In consequence of this principle of absolute property, labour, which should be only a condition imposed upon man by Nature, becomes in all communities a human commandment, and therefore odious. Passive obedience, irreconcilable with a reflecting will, is strictly enforced. Fidelity to regulations, which are always defective, however wise they may be thought, allows of no complaint. Life, talent, and all the human faculties are the property of the State, which has the right to use them as it pleases for the common good. Private associations are sternly prohibited, in spite of the likes and dislikes of different natures, because to tolerate them would be to introduce small communities within the large one, and consequently private property; the strong work for the weak, although this ought to be left to benevolence, and not enforced, advised, or enjoined; the industrious work for the lazy, although this is unjust; the clever work for the foolish, although this is absurd; and, finally, man—casting aside his personality, his spontaneity, his genius, and his affections—humbly annihilates himself at the feet of the majestic and inflexible Commune!

Communism is inequality, but not as property is. Property is the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In property, inequality of conditions is the result of force, under whatever name it be disguised: physical and mental force; force of events, chance, fortune; force of accumulated property, etc. In communism, inequality springs from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence. This damaging equation is repellent to the conscience, and causes merit to complain; for, although it may be the duty of the strong to aid the weak, they prefer to do it out of generosity,—they never will endure a comparison. Give them equal opportunities of labour, and equal wages, but never allow their jealousy to be awakened by mutual suspicion of unfaithfulness in the performance of the common task.

Communism is oppression and slavery. Man is very willing to obey the law of duty, serve his country, and oblige his friends; but he wishes to labour when he pleases, where he pleases, and as much as he pleases. He wishes to dispose of his own time, to be governed only by necessity, to choose his friendships, his recreation, and his discipline; to act from judgement, not by command; to sacrifice himself through selfishness, not through servile obligation. Communism is essentially opposed to the free exercise of our faculties, to our noblest desires, to our deepest feelings. Any plan which could be devised for reconciling it with the demands of the individual reason and will would end only in changing the thing while preserving the name. Now, if we are honest truth-seekers, we shall avoid disputes about words.

Thus, communism violates the sovereignty of the conscience, and equality: the first, by restricting spontaneity of mind and heart, and freedom of thought and action; the second, by placing labour and laziness, skill and stupidity, and even vice and virtue on an equality in point of comfort. For the rest, if property is impossible on account of the desire to accumulate, communism would soon become so through the desire to shirk.

II. Property, in its turn, violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism. The former effect of property having been sufficiently developed in the last three chapters, I will content myself here with establishing by a final comparison, its perfect identity with theft.


In those forms of theft which are prohibited by law, force and artifice are employed alone and undisguised; in the authorised forms, they conceal themselves within a useful product, which they use as a tool to plunder their victim.

The direct use of violence and stratagem was early and universally condemned; but no nation has yet got rid of that kind of theft which acts through talent, labour, and possession, and which is the source of all the dilemmas of casuistry and the innumerable contradictions of jurisprudence.


The second effect of property is despotism. Now, since despotism is inseparably connected with the idea of legitimate authority, in explaining the natural causes of the first, the principle of the second will appear.

What is to be the form of government in the future? I hear some of my younger readers reply: “Why, how can you ask such a question? You are a republican.” “A republican! Yes; but that word specifies nothing. Res publica; that is, the public thing. Now, whoever is interested in public affairs—no matter under what form of government—may call himself a republican. Even kings are republicans.”—

“Well! you are a democrat?”—“No.”—“What! you would have a monarchy.”—“No.”—“A constitutionalist?”—“God forbid!”—“You are then an aristocrat?”—“Not at all.”—“You want a mixed government?”—“Still less.”—“What are you, then?”—“I am an anarchist.”

“Oh! I understand you; you speak satirically. This is a hit at the government.”—“By no means. I have just given you my serious and wellconsidered profession of faith. Although a firm friend of order, I am (in the full force of the term) an anarchist. Listen to me.”


By means of self-instruction and the acquisition of ideas, man finally acquires the idea of science,—that is, of a system of knowledge in harmony with the reality of things, and inferred from observation. He searches for the science, or the system, of inanimate bodies,—the system of organic bodies, the system of the human mind, and the system of the universe: why should he not also search for the system of society? But, having reached this height, he comprehends that political truth, or the science of politics, exists quite independently of the will of sovereigns, the opinion of majorities, and popular beliefs,—that kings, ministers, magistrates, and nations, as wills, have no connection with the science, and are worthy of no consideration. He comprehends, at the same time, that, if man is born a sociable being, the authority of his father over him ceases on the day when, his mind being formed and his education finished, he becomes the associate of his father; that his true chief and his king is the demonstrated truth; that politics is a science, not a stratagem; and that the function of the legislator is reduced, in the last analysis, to the methodical search for truth.

Thus, in a given society, the authority of man over man is inversely proportional to the stage of intellectual development which that society has reached; and the probable duration of that authority can be calculated from the more or less general desire for a true government,—that is, for a scientific government. And just as the right of force and the right of artifice retreat before the steady advance of justice, and must finally be extinguished in equality, so the sovereignty of the will yields to the sovereignty of the reason, and must at last be lost in scientific socialism. Property and royalty have been crumbling to pieces ever since the world began. As man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy.

Anarchy,—the absence of a master, of a sovereign,[368] —such is the form of government to which we are every day approximating, and which our accustomed habit of taking man for our rule, and his will for law, leads us to regard as the height of disorder and the expression of chaos. The story is told, that a citizen of Paris in the seventeenth century having heard it said that in Venice there was no king, the good man could not recover from his astonishment, and nearly died from laughter at the mere mention of so ridiculous a thing. So strong is our prejudice. As long as we live, we want a chief or chiefs; and at this very moment I hold in my hand a brochure, whose author—a zealous communist—dreams, like a second Marat, of the dictatorship. The most advanced among us are those who wish the greatest possible number of sovereigns,—their most ardent wish is for the royalty of the National Guard. Soon, undoubtedly, some one, jealous of the citizen militia, will say, “Everybody is king.” But, when he has spoken, I will say, in my turn, “Nobody is king; we are, whether we will or no, associated.” Every question of domestic politics must be decided by departmental statistics; every question of foreign politics is an affair of international statistics. The science of government rightly belongs to one of the sections of the Academy of Sciences, whose permanent secretary is necessarily prime minister; and, since every citizen may address a memoir to the Academy, every citizen is a legislator. But, as the opinion of no one is of any value until its truth has been proven, no one can substitute his will for reason,—nobody is king.

All questions of legislation and politics are matters of science, not of opinion. The legislative power belongs only to the reason, methodically recognised and demonstrated. To attribute to any power whatever the right of veto or of sanction, is the last degree of tyranny. Justice and legality are two things as independent of our approval as is mathematical truth. To compel, they need only to be known; to be known, they need only to be considered and studied. What, then, is the nation, if it is not the sovereign,—if it is not the source of the legislative power?

The nation is the guardian of the law—the nation is the executive power. Every citizen may assert: “This is true; that is just;” but his opinion controls no one but himself. That the truth which he proclaims may become a law, it must be recognised. Now, what is it to recognise a law? It is to verify a mathematical or a metaphysical calculation; it is to repeat an experiment, to observe a phenomenon, to establish a fact. Only the nation has the right to say, “Be it known and decreed.”

I confess that this is an overturning of received ideas, and that I seem to be attempting to revolutionise our political system; but I beg the reader to consider that, having begun with a paradox, I must, if I reason correctly, meet with paradoxes at every step, and must end with paradoxes. For the rest, I do not see how the liberty of citizens would be endangered by entrusting to their hands, instead of the pen of the legislator, the sword of the law. The executive power, belonging properly to the will, cannot be confided to too many proxies. That is the true sovereignty of the nation.[369]

The proprietor, the robber, the hero, the sovereign—for all these titles are synonymous—imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control; that is, he pretends to be the legislative and the executive power at once. Accordingly, the substitution of the scientific and true law for the royal will is accomplished only by a terrible struggle; and this constant substitution is, after property, the most potent element in history, the most prolific source of political disturbances. Examples are too numerous and too striking to require enumeration.

Now, property necessarily engenders despotism,—the government of caprice, the reign of libidinous pleasure. That is so clearly the essence of property that, to be convinced of it, one need but remember what it is, and observe what happens around him. Property is the right to use and abuse. If, then, government is economy,—if its object is production and consumption, and the distribution of labour and products,—how is government possible while property exists? And if goods are property, why should not the proprietors be kings, and despotic kings—kings in proportion to their facultes bonitaires? And if each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property, absolute king throughout his own domain, how could a government of proprietors be anything but chaos and confusion?


Then, no government, no public economy, no administration, is possible, which is based upon property.

Communism seeks equality and law. Property, born of the sovereignty of the reason, and the sense of personal merit, wishes above all things independence and proportionality.

But communism, mistaking uniformity for law, and levelism for equality, becomes tyrannical and unjust. Property, by its despotism and encroachments, soon proves itself oppressive and anti-social.

The objects of communism and property are good—their results are bad. And why? Because both are exclusive, and each disregards two elements of society. Communism rejects independence and proportionality; property does not satisfy equality and law.

Now, if we imagine a society based upon these four principles,—equality, law, independence, and proportionality,—we find:

  1. That equality, consisting only in equality of conditions, that is, of means, and not in equality of comfort,—which it is the business of the workers to achieve for themselves, when provided with equal means,—in no way violates justice and equity.

  2. That law, resulting from the knowledge of facts, and consequently based upon necessity itself, never clashes with independence.

  3. That individual independence, or the autonomy of the private reason, originating in the difference in talents and capacities, can exist without danger within the limits of the law.

  4. That proportionality, being admitted only in the sphere of intelligence and sentiment, and not as regards material objects, may be observed without violating justice or social equality.

This third form of society, the synthesis of communism and property, we will call liberty.[370]

In determining the nature of liberty, we do not unite communism and property indiscriminately; such a process would be absurd eclecticism. We search by analysis for those elements in each which are true, and in harmony with the laws of Nature and society, disregarding the rest altogether; and the result gives us an adequate expression of the natural form of human society,—in one word, liberty.

Liberty is equality, because liberty exists only in society; and in the absence of equality there is no society.

Liberty is anarchy, because it does not admit the government of the will, but only the authority of the law; that is, of necessity.

Liberty is infinite variety, because it respects all wills within the limits of the law.

Liberty is proportionality, because it allows the utmost latitude to the ambition for merit, and the emulation of glory.


I have accomplished my task; property is conquered, never again to arise. Wherever this work is read and discussed, there will be deposited the germ of death to property; there, sooner or later, privilege and servitude will disappear, and the despotism of will will give place to the reign of reason. What sophisms, indeed, what prejudices (however obstinate) can stand before the simplicity of the following propositions:

I. Individual possession[371] is the condition of social life; five thousand years of property demonstrate it. Property is the suicide of society. Possession is a right; property is against right. Suppress property while maintaining possession, and, by this simple modification of the principle, you will revolutionise law, government, economy, and institutions; you will drive evil from the face of the earth.

II. All having an equal right of occupancy, possession varies with the number of possessors; property cannot establish itself.

III. The effect of labour being the same for all, property is lost in the common prosperity.

IV. All human labour being the result of collective force, all property becomes, by the same reason, collective and undivided. To speak more exactly, labour destroys property.

V. Every capacity for labour being, like every instrument of labour, an accumulated capital, and a collective property, inequality of wages and fortunes (on the ground of inequality of capacities) is, therefore, injustice and theft.

VI. The necessary conditions of commerce are the liberty of the contracting parties and the equivalence of the products exchanged. Now, value being expressed by the amount of time and outlay which each product costs, and liberty being inviolable, the wages of workers (like their rights and duties) should be equal.

VII. Products are bought only by products. Now, the condition of all exchange being equivalence of products, profit is impossible and unjust. Observe this elementary principle of economy, and pauperism, luxury, oppression, vice, crime, and hunger will disappear from our midst.

VIII. Men are associated by the physical and mathematical law of production, before they are voluntarily associated by choice. Therefore, equality of conditions is demanded by justice; that is, by strict social law: esteem, friendship, gratitude, admiration, all fall within the domain of equitable or proportional law only.

IX. Free association, liberty—whose sole function is to maintain equality in the means of production and equivalence in exchanges—is the only possible, the only just, the only true form of society.

X. Politics is the science of liberty. The government of man by man (under whatever name it be disguised) is oppression. Society finds its highest perfection in the union of order with anarchy.

The old civilisation has run its race; a new sun is rising, and will soon renew the face of the earth. Let the present generation perish, let the old prevaricators die in the desert! the holy earth shall not cover their bones. Young man, exasperated by the corruption of the age, and absorbed in your zeal for justice!—if your country is dear to you, and if you have the interests of humanity at heart, have the courage to espouse the cause of liberty! Cast off your old selfishness, and plunge into the rising flood of popular equality! There your regenerate soul will acquire new life and vigour; your enervated genius will recover unconquerable energy; and your heart, perhaps already withered, will be rejuvenated! Every thing will wear a different look to your illuminated vision; new sentiments will engender new ideas within you; religion, morality, poetry, art, language will appear before you in nobler and fairer forms; and thenceforth, sure of your faith, and thoughtfully enthusiastic, you will hail the dawn of universal regeneration!

And you, sad victims of an odious law!—you, whom a jesting world despoils and outrages!—you, whose labour has always been fruitless, and whose rest has been without hope,—take courage! your tears are numbered! The fathers have sown in affliction, the children shall reap in rejoicings!

O God of liberty! God of equality! Thou who didst place in my heart the sentiment of justice, before my reason could comprehend it, hear my ardent prayer! Thou hast dictated all that I have written; Thou hast shaped my thought; Thou hast directed my studies; Thou hast weaned my mind from curiosity and my heart from attachment, that I might publish Thy truth to the master and the slave. I have spoken with what force and talent Thou hast given me: it is Thine to finish the work. Thou knowest whether I seek my welfare or Thy glory, O God of liberty! Ah! perish my memory, and let humanity be free! Let me see from my obscurity the people at last instructed; let noble teachers enlighten them; let generous spirits guide them! Abridge, if possible, the time of our trial; stifle pride and avarice in equality; annihilate this love of glory which enslaves us; teach these poor children that in the bosom of liberty there are neither heroes nor great men! Inspire the powerful man, the rich man, him whose name my lips shall never pronounce in Thy presence, with a horror of his crimes; let him be the first to apply for admission to the redeemed society; let the promptness of his repentance be the ground of his forgiveness! Then, great and small, wise and foolish, rich and poor, will unite in an ineffable fraternity; and, singing in unison a new hymn, will rebuild Thy altar, O God of liberty and equality!



Paris, April 1st, 1841
Translation by Benjamin R. Tucker



IN ORDER TO LIVE AS A PROPRIETOR, OR TO CONSUME WITHOUT PRODUCING, IT is necessary, then, to live upon the labour of another; in other words, it is necessary to kill the worker. It is upon this principle that proprietors of those varieties of capital which are of primary necessity increase their farm-rents as fast as industry develops, much more careful of their privileges in that respect, than those economists who, in order to strengthen property, advocate a reduction of interest. But the crime is unavailing: labour and production increase; soon the proprietor will be forced to labour, and then property is lost.

The proprietor is a man who, having absolute control of an instrument of production, claims the right to enjoy the product of the instrument without using it himself. To this end he lends it; and we have just seen that from this loan the worker derives a power of exchange, which sooner or later will destroy the right of increase [droit d’aubaine]. In the first place, the proprietor is obliged to allow the worker a portion of the product, for without it the worker could not live. Soon the latter, through the development of his industry, finds a means of regaining the greater portion of that which he gives to the proprietor; so that at last, the objects of enjoyment increasing continually, while the income of the idler remains the same, the proprietor, having exhausted his resources, begins to think of going to work himself. Then the victory of the producer is certain. Labour commences to tip the balance towards its own side, and commerce leads to equilibrium.

Man’s instinct cannot err; as, in liberty, exchange of functions leads inevitably to equality among men, so commerce—or exchange of products, which is identical with exchange of functions—is a new cause of equality. As long as the proprietor does not labour, however small his income, he enjoys a privilege; the worker’s welfare may be equal to his, but equality of conditions does not exist. But as soon as the proprietor becomes a producer—since he can exchange his special product only with his tenant or his commandité[372] —sooner or later this tenant, this exploited man, if violence is not done him, will make a profit out of the proprietor, and will oblige him to restore—in the exchange of their respective products—the interest on his capital. So that, balancing one injustice by another, the contracting parties will be equal. Labour and exchange, when liberty prevails, lead, then, to equality of fortunes; mutuality of services neutralises privilege. That is why despots in all ages and countries have assumed control of commerce; they wished to prevent the labour of their subjects from becoming an obstacle to the rapacity of tyrants.

Up to this point, all takes place in the natural order; there is no premeditation, no artifice. The whole proceeding is governed by the laws of necessity alone. Proprietors and workers act only in obedience to their wants. Thus, the exercise of the right of increase [droit d’aubaine], the art of robbing the producer, depends—during this first period of civilisation—upon physical violence, murder, and war.


[…] In ’89 and ’93, the possessions of the nobility and the clergy were confiscated, the clever proletarians were enriched; and today the latter, having become aristocrats, are making us pay dearly for our fathers’ robbery. What, therefore, is to be done now? It is not for us to violate right, but to restore it. Now, it would be a violation of justice to dispossess some and endow others, and then stop there. We must gradually lower the rate of interest, organise industry, associate workers and their functions, and take a census of the large fortunes, not for the purpose of granting privileges, but that we may effect their redemption by settling a life-annuity upon their proprietors. We must apply on a large scale the principle of collective production, give the State eminent domain over all capital! make each producer responsible, abolish the custom-house, and transform every profession and trade into a public function. Thereby large fortunes will vanish without confiscation or violence; individual possession will establish itself, without communism, under the inspection of the republic; and equality of conditions will no longer depend simply on the will of citizens.


How many small proprietors and manufacturers have not been ruined by large ones through chicanery, law-suits, and competition? Strategy, violence, and usury,—such are the proprietor’s methods of plundering the worker.

Thus we see property, at all ages and in all its forms, oscillating by virtue of its principle between two opposite terms—extreme division and extreme accumulation.

Property, at its first term, is almost null. Reduced to personal exploitation, it is property only potentially. At its second term, it exists in its perfection; then it is truly property.

When property is widely distributed, society thrives, progresses, grows, and rises quickly to the zenith of its power. Thus, the Jews, after leaving Babylon with Esdras and Nehemiah, soon became richer and more powerful than they had been under their kings. Sparta was in a strong and prosperous condition during the two or three centuries which followed the death of Lycurgus. The best days of Athens were those of the Persian war; Rome, whose inhabitants were divided from the beginning into two classes, the exploiters and the exploited, knew no such thing as peace.

When property is concentrated, society, abusing itself, polluted, so to speak, grows corrupt, wears itself out—how shall I express this horrible idea?—plunges into long-continued and fatal luxury.


The most exact idea of property is given us by the Roman law, faithfully followed in this particular by the ancient legists. It is the absolute, exclusive, autocratic domain of a man over a thing, a domain which begins by usucaption , is maintained by possession, and finally, by the aid of prescription, finds its sanction in the civil law; a domain which so identifies the man with the thing, that the proprietor can say, “He who uses my field, virtually compels me to labour for him; therefore he owes me compensation.”

I pass in silence the secondary modes by which property can be acquired—tradition, sale, exchange, inheritance, etc.—which have nothing in common with the origin of property.

Accordingly, Pothier said the domain of property, and not simply property. And the most learned writers on jurisprudence—in imitation of the Roman praetor who recognised a right of property and a right of possession—have carefully distinguished between the domain and the right of usufruct, use, and habitation, which, reduced to its natural limits, is the very expression of justice; and which is, in my opinion, to supplant domanial property, and finally form the basis of all jurisprudence.

But, sir, admire the clumsiness of systems, or rather the fatality of logic! While the Roman law and all the savants inspired by it teach that property in its origin is the right of first occupancy sanctioned by law, the modern legists, dissatisfied with this brutal definition, claim that property is based upon labour. Immediately they infer that he who no longer labours, but makes another labour in his stead, loses his right to the earnings of the latter. It is by virtue of this principle that the serfs of the middle ages claimed a legal right to property, and consequently to the enjoyment of political rights; that the clergy were despoiled in ’89 of their immense estates, and were granted a pension in exchange; that at the restoration the liberal deputies opposed the indemnity of one billion francs. “The nation,” said they, “has acquired by twenty-five years of labour and possession the property which the emigrants forfeited by abandonment and long idleness: why should the nobles be treated with more favour than the priests?”[373]

All usurpations, not born of war, have been caused and supported by labour. All modern history proves this, from the end of the Roman empire down to the present day. And as if to give a sort of legal sanction to these usurpations, the doctrine of labour, subversive of property, is professed at great length in the Roman law under the name of prescription.

The man who cultivates, it has been said, makes the land his own; consequently, no more property. This was clearly seen by the old jurists, who have not failed to denounce this novelty; while on the other hand the young school hoots at the absurdity of the first-occupant theory. Others have presented themselves, pretending to reconcile the two opinions by uniting them. They have failed, like all the juste-milieux of the world, and are laughed at for their eclecticism. At present, the alarm is in the camp of the old doctrine; from all sides pour in defences of property, studies regarding property, theories of property, each one of which, giving the lie to the rest, inflicts a fresh wound upon property.

Consider, indeed, the inextricable embarrassments, the contradictions, the absurdities, the incredible nonsense, in which the bold defenders of property so lightly involve themselves. I choose the eclectics, because, those killed, the others cannot survive.

M. Troplong, jurist, passes for a philosopher in the eyes of the editors of Le Droit. I tell the gentlemen of Le Droit that, in the judgement of philosophers, M. Troplong is only a lawyer; and I prove my assertion.

M. Troplong is a defender of progress. “The words of the code,” says he, “are fruitful sap with which the classic works of the eighteenth century overflow. To wish to suppress them... is to violate the law of progress, and to forget that a science which moves is a science which grows.”[374]

Now, the only mutable and progressive portion of law, as we have already seen, is that which concerns property. If, then, you ask what reforms are to be introduced into the right of property? M. Troplong makes no reply; what progress is to be hoped for? no reply; what is to be the destiny of property in case of universal association? no reply; what is the absolute and what the contingent, what the true and what the false, in property? no reply. M. Troplong favours quiescence and in statu quo in regard to property. What could be more unphilosophical in a progressive philosopher?

Nevertheless, M. Troplong has thought about these things. “There are,” he says, “many weak points and antiquated ideas in the doctrines of modern authors concerning property: witness the works of MM. Toullier and Duranton.” The doctrine of M. Troplong promises, then, strong points, advanced and progressive ideas. Let us see; let us examine:

“Man, placed in the presence of matter, is conscious of a power over it, which has been given to him to satisfy the needs of his being. King of inanimate or unintelligent nature, he feels that he has a right to modify it, govern it, and fit it for his use. There it is, the subject of property, which is legitimate only when exercised over things, never when over persons.”

M. Troplong is so little of a philosopher, that he does not even know the import of the philosophical terms which he makes a show of using. He says of matter that it is the subject of property; he should have said the object. M. Troplong uses the language of the anatomists, who apply the term subject to the human matter used in their experiments.

This error of our author is repeated farther on: “Liberty, which overcomes matter, the subject of property, etc.” The subject of property is man; its object is matter. But even this is but a slight mortification; directly we shall have some crucifixions.

Thus, according to the passage just quoted, it is in the conscience and personality of man that the principle of property must be sought. Is there anything new in this doctrine? Apparently it never has occurred to those who, since the days of Cicero and Aristotle, and earlier, have maintained that things belong to the first occupant, that occupation may be exercised by beings devoid of conscience and personality. The human personality, though it may be the principle or the subject of property, as matter is the object, is not the condition. Now, it is this condition which we most need to know. So far, M. Troplong tells us no more than his masters, and the figures with which he adorns his style add nothing to the old idea.

Property, then, implies three terms: The subject, the object, and the condition. There is no difficulty in regard to the first two terms. As to the third, the condition of property down to this day, for the Greek as for the Barbarian, has been that of first occupancy. What now would you have it, progressive doctor?

“When man lays hands for the first time upon an object without a master, he performs an act which, among individuals, is of the greatest importance. The thing thus seized and occupied participates, so to speak, in the personality of him who holds it. It becomes sacred, like himself. It is impossible to take it without doing violence to his liberty, or to remove it without rashly invading his person. Diogenes did but express this truth of intuition, when he said: ‘Stand out of my light!’”

Very good! but would the prince of cynics, the very personal and very haughty Diogenes, have had the right to charge another cynic, as rent for this same place in the sunshine, a bone for twenty-four hours of possession? It is that which constitutes the proprietor; it is that which you fail to justify. In reasoning from the human personality and individuality to the right of property, you unconsciously construct a syllogism in which the conclusion includes more than the premises, contrary to the rules laid down by Aristotle. The individuality of the human person proves individual possession, originally called proprietas, in opposition to collective possession, communio.

It gives birth to the distinction between thine and mine, true signs of equality, not, by any means, of subordination. “From equivocation to equivocation,” says M. Michelet,[375] “property would crawl to the end of the world; man could not limit it, were not he himself its limit. Where they clash, there will be its frontier.” In short, individuality of being destroys the hypothesis of communism, but it does not for that reason give birth to domain, that domain by virtue of which the holder of a thing exercises over the person who takes his place a right of prestation and suzerainty, that has always been identified with property itself.

Further, that he whose legitimately acquired possession injures nobody cannot be nonsuited without flagrant injustice, is a truth, not of intuition, as M. Troplong says, but of inward sensation,[376] which has nothing to do with property.

M. Troplong admits, then, occupancy as a condition of property. In that, he is in accord with the Roman law, in accord with MM. Toullier and Duranton; but in his opinion this condition is not the only one, and it is in this particular that his doctrine goes beyond theirs.

“But, however exclusive the right arising from sole occupancy, does it not become still more so, when man has moulded matter by his labour; when he has deposited in it a portion of himself, re-creating it by his industry, and setting upon it the seal of his intelligence and activity? Of all conquests, that is the most legitimate, for it is the price of labour.

“He who should deprive a man of the thing thus remodelled, thus humanised, would invade the man himself, and would inflict the deepest wounds upon his liberty.”

I pass over the very beautiful explanations in which M. Troplong, discussing labour and industry, displays the whole wealth of his eloquence. M. Troplong is not only a philosopher, he is an orator, an artist. He abounds with appeals to the conscience and the passions. I might make sad work of his rhetoric, should I undertake to dissect it; but I confine myself for the present to his philosophy.

If M. Troplong had only known how to think and reflect, before abandoning the original fact of occupancy and plunging into the theory of labour, he would have asked himself: “What is it to occupy?” And he would have discovered that occupancy is only a generic term by which all modes of possession are expressed, seizure, station, immanence, habitation, cultivation, use, consumption, etc.; that labour, consequently, is but one of a thousand forms of occupancy. He would have understood, finally, that the right of possession which is born of labour is governed by the same general laws as that which results from the simple seizure of things. What kind of a legist is he who declaims when he ought to reason, who continually mistakes his metaphors for legal axioms, and who does not so much as know how to obtain a universal by induction, and form a category?

If labour is identical with occupancy, the only benefit which it secures to the worker is the right of individual possession of the object of his labour; if it differs from occupancy, it gives birth to a right equal only to itself, that is, a right which begins, continues, and ends, with the labour of the occupant. It is for this reason, in the words of the law, that one cannot acquire a just title to a thing by labour alone. He must also hold it for a year and a day, in order to be regarded as its possessor; and possess it twenty or thirty years, in order to become its proprietor.

These preliminaries established, M. Troplong’s whole structure falls of its own weight, and the inferences, which he attempts to draw, vanish.

“Property once acquired by occupation and labour, it naturally preserves itself, not only by the same means, but also by the refusal of the holder to abdicate; for from the very fact that it has risen to the height of a right, it is its nature to perpetuate itself and to last for an indefinite period... Rights, considered from an ideal point of view, are imperishable and eternal; and time, which affects only the contingent, can no more disturb them than it can injure God himself.” It is astonishing that our author, in speaking of the ideal, time, and eternity, did not work into his sentence the divine wings of Plato—so fashionable today in philosophical works.

With the exception of falsehood, I hate nonsense more than anything else in the world. Property once acquired! Good, if it is acquired; but, as it is not acquired, it cannot be preserved. Rights are eternal! Yes, in the sight of God, like the archetypal ideas of the Platonists. But, on the earth, rights exist only in the presence of a subject, an object, and a condition. Take away one of these three things, and rights no longer exist. Thus, individual possession ceases at the death of the subject, upon the destruction of the object, or in case of exchange or abandonment.


I had resolved to submit to a systematic criticism the semi-official defence of the right of property recently put forth by M. Wolowski, your colleague at the Conservatory. With this view, I had commenced to collect the documents necessary for each of his lectures, but, soon perceiving that the ideas of the professor were incoherent, that his arguments contradicted each other, that one affirmation was sure to be overthrown by another, and that in M. Wolowski’s lucubrations the good was always mingled with the bad, and being by nature a little suspicious, it suddenly occurred to me that M. Wolowski was an advocate of equality in disguise, thrown in spite of himself into the position in which the patriarch Jacob pictures one of his sons—inter duas clitellas, between two stools, as the proverb says. In more parliamentary language, I saw clearly that M. Wolowski was placed between his profound convictions on the one hand and his official duties on the other, and that, in order to maintain his position, he had to assume a certain slant. Then I experienced great pain at seeing the reserve, the circumlocution, the figures, and the irony to which a professor of legislation, whose duty it is to teach dogmas with clearness and precision, was forced to resort; and I fell to cursing the society in which an honest man is not allowed to say frankly what he thinks. Never, sir, have you conceived of such torture: I seemed to be witnessing the martyrdom of a mind. I am going to give you an idea of these astonishing meetings, or rather of these scenes of sorrow.

Monday, November 20th, 1840. The professor declares, in brief, 1. That the right of property is not founded upon occupation, but upon the impress of man; 2. That every man has a natural and inalienable right to the use of matter.

Now, if matter can be appropriated, and if, notwithstanding, all men retain an inalienable right to the use of this matter, what is property?—and if matter can be appropriated only by labour, how long is this appropriation to continue?—questions that will confuse and confound all jurists whatsoever.

Then M. Wolowski cites his authorities. Great God! what witnesses he brings forward! First, M. Troplong, the great metaphysician, whom we have discussed; then, M. Louis Blanc, editor of the Revue du Progres, who came near being tried by jury for publishing his Organisation of Labour, and who escaped from the clutches of the public prosecutor only by a juggler’s trick;[377] Corinne,—I mean Madame de Staël,—who, in an ode, making a poetical comparison of the land with the waves, of the furrow of a plough with the wake of a vessel, says “that property exists only where man has left his trace,” which makes property dependent upon the solidity of the elements; Rousseau, the apostle of liberty and equality, but who, according to M. Wolowski, attacked property only as a joke, and in order to point a paradox; Robespierre, who prohibited a division of the land, because he regarded such a measure as a rejuvenescence of property, and who, while awaiting the definitive organisation of the republic, placed all property in the care of the people, that is, transferred the right of eminent domain from the individual to society; Babeuf, who wanted property for the nation, and communism for the citizens; M. Considérant, who favours a division of landed property into shares, that is, who wishes to render property nominal and fictitious: the whole being intermingled with jokes and witticisms (intended undoubtedly to lead people away from the hornets’ nests) at the expense of the adversaries of the right of property!

November 26th. M. Wolowski supposes this objection: Land, like water, air, and light, is necessary to life, therefore it cannot be appropriated; and he replies: The importance of landed property diminishes as the power of industry increases.

Good! this importance diminishes, but it does not disappear; and this, of itself, shows landed property to be illegitimate. Here M. Wolowski pretends to think that the opponents of property refer only to property in land, while they merely take it as a term of comparison; and, in showing with wonderful clearness the absurdity of the position in which he places them, he finds a way of drawing the attention of his hearers to another subject without being false to the truth which it is his office to contradict.

“Property,” says M. Wolowski, “is that which distinguishes man from the animals.” That may be; but are we to regard this as a compliment or a satire?

“Mahomet,” says M. Wolowski, “decreed property.” And so did Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane, and all the ravagers of nations. What sort of legislators were they?

“Property has been in existence ever since the origin of the human race.” Yes, and so has slavery, and despotism also; and likewise polygamy and idolatry. But what does this antiquity show?

The members of the Council of the State—M. Portalis at their head—did not raise, in their discussion of the Code, the question of the legitimacy of property. “Their silence,” says M. Wolowski, “is a precedent in favour of this right.” I may regard this reply as personally addressed to me, since the observation belongs to me. I reply, “As long as an opinion is universally admitted, the universality of belief serves of itself as argument and proof. When this same opinion is attacked, the former faith proves nothing; we must resort to reason. Ignorance, however old and pardonable it may be, never outweighs reason.”

Property has its abuses, M. Wolowski confesses. “But,” he says, “these abuses gradually disappear. To-day their cause is known. They all arise from a false theory of property. In principle, property is inviolable, but it can and must be checked and disciplined.” Such are the conclusions of the professor.

When one thus remains in the clouds, he need not fear to equivocate. Nevertheless, I would like him to define these abuses of property, to show their cause, to explain this true theory from which no abuse is to spring; in short, to tell me how, without destroying property, it can be governed for the greatest good of all. “Our civil code,” says M. Wolowski, in speaking of this subject, “leaves much to be desired.” I think it leaves everything undone.

Finally, M. Wolowski opposes, on the one hand, the concentration of capital, and the absorption which results therefrom; and, on the other, he objects to the extreme division of the land. Now I think that I have demonstrated in my First Memoir, that large accumulation and minute division are the first two terms of an economic trinity—a thesis and an antithesis. But, while M. Wolowski says nothing of the third term, the synthesis, and thus leaves the inference in suspense, I have shown that this third term is association, which is the annihilation of property.


The ordinary resources of the law no longer sufficing, philosophy, political economy, and the framers of systems have been consulted. All the oracles appealed to have been discouraging.

The philosophers are no clearer today than at the time of the eclectic efflorescence; nevertheless, through their mystical apothems, we can distinguish the words progress, unity, association, solidarity, fraternity, which are certainly not reassuring to proprietors. One of these philosophers, M. Pierre Leroux, has written two large books, in which he claims to show by all religious, legislative, and philosophical systems that, since men are responsible to each other, equality of conditions is the final law of society. It is true that this philosopher admits a kind of property; but as he leaves us to imagine what property would become in presence of equality, we may boldly class him with the opponents of the right of increase [droit d’aubaine].


In his work on Humanity,[378] M. Leroux commences by positing the necessity of property: “You wish to abolish property; but do you not see that thereby you would annihilate man and even the name of man?... You wish to abolish property; but could you live without a body? I will not tell you that it is necessary to support this body;... I will tell you that this body is itself a species of property.”

In order clearly to understand the doctrine of M. Leroux, it must be borne in mind that there are three necessary and primitive forms of society—communism, property, and that which today we properly call association. M. Leroux rejects in the first place communism, and combats it with all his might. Man is a personal and free being, and therefore needs a sphere of independence and individual activity. M. Leroux emphasises this in adding: “You wish neither family, nor country, nor property; therefore no more fathers, no more sons, no more brothers. Here you are, related to no being in time, and therefore without a name; here you are, alone in the midst of a billion of men who today inhabit the earth. How do you expect me to distinguish you in space in the midst of this multitude?”

If man is indistinguishable, he is nothing. Now, he can be distinguished, individualised, only through a devotion of certain things to his use—such as his body, his faculties, and the tools which he uses. “Hence,” says M. Leroux, “the necessity of appropriation”; in short, property.

But property on what condition? Here M. Leroux, after having condemned communism, denounces in its turn the right of domain. His whole doctrine can be summed up in this single proposition—Man may be made by property a slave or a despot by turns.

That posited, if we ask M. Leroux to tell us under what system of property man will be neither a slave nor a despot, but free, just, and a citizen, M. Leroux replies in the third volume of his work on Humanity:

“There are three ways of destroying man’s communion with his fellows and with the universe:... 1. By separating man in time; 2. by separating him in space; 3. by dividing the land, or, in general terms, the instruments of production; by attaching men to things, by subordinating man to property, by making man a proprietor.”

This language, it must be confessed, savours a little too strongly of the metaphysical heights which the author frequents, and of the school of M. Cousin. Nevertheless, it can be seen, clearly enough it seems to me, that M. Leroux opposes the exclusive appropriation of the instruments of production; only he calls this non-appropriation of the instruments of production a new method of establishing property, while I, in accordance with all precedent, call it a destruction of property. In fact, without the appropriation of instruments, property is nothing.

“Hitherto, we have confined ourselves to pointing out and combating the despotic features of property, by considering property alone. We have failed to see that the despotism of property is a correlative of the division of the human race;... that property, instead of being organised in such a way as to facilitate the unlimited communion of man with his fellows and with the universe, has been, on the contrary, turned against this communion.”

Let us translate this into commercial phraseology. In order to destroy despotism and the inequality of conditions, men must cease from competition and must associate their interests. Let master and worker, now enemies and rivals, become associates.

Now, ask any manufacturer, merchant, or capitalist, whether he would consider himself a proprietor if he were to share his revenue and profits with this mass of wage-workers whom it is proposed to make his associates.


“All the evils which afflict the human race arise from caste. The family is a blessing; the family caste (the nobility) is an evil. Country is a blessing; the country caste (supreme, domineering, conquering) is an evil; property (individual possession) is a blessing; the property caste (the domain of property of Pothier, Toullier, Troplong, etc.) is an evil.”

Thus, according to M. Leroux, there is property and property,—the one good, the other bad. Now, as it is proper to call different things by different names, if we keep the name “property” for the former, we must call the latter theft, rapine, brigandage. If, on the contrary, we reserve the name “property” for the latter, we must designate the former by the term possession, or some other equivalent; otherwise we should be troubled with an unpleasant synonymy.

What a blessing it would be if philosophers, daring for once to say all that they think, would speak the language of ordinary mortals! Nations and rulers would derive much greater profit from their lectures, and, applying the same names to the same ideas, would come, perhaps, to understand each other. I boldly declare that, in regard to property, I hold no other opinion than that of M. Leroux; but, if I should adopt the style of the philosopher, and repeat after him, “Property is a blessing, but the property caste—the statu quo of property—is an evil,” I should be extolled as a genius by all the bachelors who write for the reviews.[379] If, on the contrary, I prefer the classic language of Rome and the civil code, and say accordingly, “Possession is a blessing, but property is theft,” immediately the aforesaid bachelors raise a hue and cry against the monster, and the judge threatens me. Oh, the power of language!


The economists, questioned in their turn, propose to associate capital and labour. You know, sir, what that means. If we follow out the doctrine, we soon find that it ends in an absorption of property, not by the community [communauté], but by a general and indissoluble commandite, so that the condition of the proprietor would differ from that of the worker only in receiving larger wages. This system, with some peculiar additions and embellishments, is the idea of the phalanstery. But it is clear that, if inequality of conditions is one of the attributes of property, it is not the whole of property. That which makes property a delightful thing, as some philosopher (I know not who) has said, is the power to dispose at will, not only of one’s own goods, but of their specific nature; to use them at pleasure; to confine and enclose them; to excommunicate mankind, as M. Pierre Leroux says; in short, to make such use of them as passion, interest, or even caprice, may suggest. What is the possession of money, a share in an agricultural or industrial enterprise, or a government-bond coupon, in comparison with the infinite charm of being master of one’s house and grounds, under one’s vine and fig-tree? “Beati possidentes!” says an author quoted by M. Troplong. Seriously, can that be applied to a man of income, who has no other possession under the sun than the market, and in his pocket his money? As well maintain that a trough is a coward. A nice method of reform! They never cease to condemn the thirst for gold, and the growing individualism of the century; and yet, most inconceivable of contradictions, they prepare to turn all kinds of property into one—property in coin.

I must say something further of a theory of property lately put forth with some ado: I mean the theory of M. Considérant.

The Fourierists are not men who examine a doctrine in order to ascertain whether it conflicts with their system. On the contrary, it is their custom to exult and sing songs of triumph whenever an adversary passes without perceiving or noticing them.

These gentlemen want direct refutations, in order that, if they are beaten, they may have, at least, the selfish consolation of having been spoken of. Well, let their wish be gratified.

M. Considérant makes the most lofty pretensions to logic. His method of procedure is always that of major, minor, and conclusion. He would willingly write upon his hat, “Argumentator in barbara.” But M. Considérant is too intelligent and quick-witted to be a good logician, as is proved by the fact that he appears to have taken the syllogism for logic.

The syllogism, as everybody knows who is interested in philosophical curiosities, is the first and perpetual sophism of the human mind,—the favourite tool of falsehood, the stumbling-block of science, the advocate of crime. The syllogism has produced all the evils which the fabulist so eloquently condemned, and has done nothing good or useful: it is as devoid of truth as of justice. We might apply to it these words of Scripture: “Celui qui met en lui sa confiance, perira.” Consequently, the best philosophers long since condemned it; so that now none but the enemies of reason wish to make the syllogism its weapon.

M. Considérant, then, has built his theory of property upon a syllogism. Would he be disposed to stake the system of Fourier upon his arguments, as I am ready to risk the whole doctrine of equality upon my refutation of that system? Such a duel would be quite in keeping with the warlike and chivalric tastes of M. Considérant, and the public would profit by it; for, one of the two adversaries falling, no more would be said about him, and there would be one grumbler less in the world.

The theory of M. Considérant has this remarkable feature, that, in attempting to satisfy at the same time the claims of both workers and proprietors, it infringes alike upon the rights of the former and the privileges of the latter. In the first place, the author lays it down as a principle: “1. That the use of the land belongs to each member of the race; that it is a natural and imprescriptible right, similar in all respects to the right to the air and the sunshine. 2. That the right to labour is equally fundamental, natural, and imprescriptible.” I have shown that the recognition of this double right would be the death of property. I denounce M. Considérant to the proprietors!

But M. Considérant maintains that the right to labour creates the right of property, and this is the way he reasons:

Major Premise: “Every man legitimately possesses the thing which his labour, his skill—or, in more general terms, his action—has created.”

To which M. Considérant adds, by way of comment: “Indeed, the land not having been created by man, it follows from the fundamental principle of property, that the land, being given to the race in common, can in no wise be the exclusive and legitimate property of such and such individuals, who were not the creators of this value.”

If I am not mistaken, there is no one to whom this proposition, at first sight and in its entirety, does not seem utterly irrefutable. Reader, distrust the syllogism.

First, I observe that the words legitimately possesses signify to the author’s mind is legitimate proprietor; otherwise the argument, being intended to prove the legitimacy of property, would have no meaning. I might here raise the question of the difference between property and possession, and call upon M. Considérant, before going further, to define the one and the other; but I pass on.

This first proposition is doubly false. 1. In that it asserts the act of creation to be the only basis of property. 2. In that it regards this act as sufficient in all cases to authorise the right of property.

And, in the first place, if man may be proprietor of the game which he does not create, but which he kills; of the fruits which he does not create, but which he gathers; of the vegetables which he does not create, but which he plants; of the animals which he does not create, but which he rears,—it is conceivable that men may in like manner become proprietors of the land which they do not create, but which they clear and fertilise. The act of creation, then, is not necessary to the acquisition of the right of property. I say further, that this act alone is not always sufficient, and I prove it by the second premise of M. Considérant:

Minor Premise: “Suppose that on an isolated island, on the soil of a nation, or over the whole face of the earth (the extent of the scene of action does not affect our judgement of the facts), a generation of human beings devotes itself for the first time to industry, agriculture, manufactures, etc. This generation, by its labour, intelligence, and activity, creates products, develops values which did not exist on the uncultivated land. Is it not perfectly clear that the property of this industrious generation will stand on a basis of right, if the value or wealth produced by the activity of all be distributed among the producers, according to each one’s assistance in the creation of the general wealth? That is unquestionable.”

That is quite questionable. For this value or wealth, produced by the activity of all, is by the very fact of its creation collective wealth, the use of which, like that of the land, may be divided, but which as property remains undivided . And why this undivided ownership? Because the society which creates is itself indivisible—a permanent unit, incapable of reduction to fractions. And it is this unity of society which makes the land common property, and which, as M. Considérant says, renders its use imprescriptible in the case of every individual. Suppose, indeed, that at a given time the soil should be equally divided; the very next moment this division, if it allowed the right of property, would become illegitimate. Should there be the slightest irregularity in the method of transfer, men, members of society, imprescriptible possessors of the land, might be deprived at one blow of property, possession, and the means of production. In short, property in capital is indivisible, and consequently inalienable, not necessarily when the capital is uncreated, but when it is common or collective.

I confirm this theory against M. Considérant, by the third term of his syllogism:

Conclusion: “The results of the labour performed by this generation are divisible into two classes, between which it is important clearly to distinguish. The first class includes the products of the soil which belong to this first generation in its usufructuary capacity, augmented, improved and refined by its labour and industry. These products consist either of objects of consumption or instruments of labour. It is clear that these products are the legitimate property of those who have created them by their activity... Second class.—Not only has this generation created the products just mentioned (objects of consumption and instruments of labour), but it has also added to the original value of the soil by cultivation, by the erection of buildings, by all the labour producing permanent results, which it has performed. This additional value evidently constitutes a product—a value created by the activity of the first generation; and if, by any means whatever, the ownership of this value be distributed among the members of society equitably,—that is, in proportion to the labour which each has performed,—each will legitimately possess the portion which he receives. He may then dispose of this legitimate and private property as he sees fit—exchange it, give it away, or transfer it; and no other individual, or collection of other individuals—that is, society—can lay any claim to these values.”

Thus, by the distribution of collective capital, to the use of which each associate, either in his own right or in right of his authors, has an imprescriptible and undivided title, there will be in the phalanstery, as in the France of 1841, the poor and the rich; some men who, to live in luxury, have only, as Figaro says, to take the trouble to be born, and others for whom the fortune of life is but an opportunity for long-continued poverty; idlers with large incomes, and workers whose fortune is always in the future; some privileged by birth and caste, and others pariahs whose sole civil and political rights are the right to labour, and the right to land. For we must not be deceived; in the phalanstery every thing will be as it is today, an object of property—machines, inventions, thought, books, the products of art, of agriculture, and of industry; animals, houses, fences, vineyards, pastures, forests, fields—everything, in short, except the uncultivated land. Now, would you like to know what uncultivated land is worth, according to the advocates of property? “A square league hardly suffices for the support of a savage,” says M. Charles Comte. Estimating the wretched subsistence of this savage at three hundred francs per year, we find that the square league necessary to his life is, relatively to him, faithfully represented by a rent of fifteen francs. In France there are twenty-eight thousand square leagues, the total rent of which, by this estimate, would be four hundred and twenty thousand francs, which, when divided among nearly thirty-four million people, would give each an income of a centime and a quarter. That is the new right which the great genius of Fourier has invented in behalf of the French people, and with which his first disciple hopes to reform the world. I denounce M. Considérant to the proletariat!

If the theory of M. Considérant would at least really guarantee this property which he cherishes so jealously, I might pardon him the flaws in his syllogism, certainly the best one he ever made in his life. But, no: that which M. Considérant takes for property is only a privilege of extra pay. In Fourier’s system, neither the created capital nor the increased value of the soil are divided and appropriated in any effective manner: the instruments of labour, whether created or not, remain in the hands of the phalanx; the pretended proprietor can touch only the income. He is permitted neither to realise his share of the stock, nor to possess it exclusively, nor to administer it, whatever it be. The cashier throws him his dividend; and then, proprietor, eat the whole if you can!

The system of Fourier would not suit the proprietors, since it takes away the most delightful feature of property,—the free disposition of one’s goods. It would please the communists no better, since it involves unequal conditions. It is repugnant to the friends of free association and equality, in consequence of its tendency to wipe out human character and individuality by suppressing possession, family, and country—the threefold expression of the human personality.


These considerations alone oblige me to reply to the strange and superficial conclusions of the Journal du Peuple (issue of October 11th, 1840), on the question of property. I leave, therefore, the journalist to address myself only to his readers. I hope that the self-love of the writer will not be offended, if, in the presence of the masses, I ignore an individual.

You say, proletarians of the Peuple, “For the very reason that men and things exist, there always will be men who will possess things; nothing, therefore, can destroy property.”

In speaking thus, you unconsciously argue exactly after the manner of M. Cousin, who always reasons from possession to property. This coincidence, however, does not surprise me. M. Cousin is a philosopher of much mind, and you, proletarians, have still more. Certainly it is honourable, even for a philosopher, to be your companion in error.

Originally, the word property was synonymous with proper or individual possession. It designated each individual’s special right to the use of a thing. But when this right of use, inert (if I may say so) as it was with regard to the other usufructuaries, became active and paramount—that is, when the usufructuary converted his right to personally use the thing into the right to use it by his neighbour’s labour—then property changed its nature, and its idea became complex. The legists knew this very well, but instead of opposing, as they ought, this accumulation of profits, they accepted and sanctioned the whole. And as the right of farm-rent necessarily implies the right of use—in other words, as the right to cultivate land by the labour of a slave supposes one’s power to cultivate it himself, according to the principle that the greater includes the less—the name property was reserved to designate this double right, and that of possession was adopted to designate the right of use.

Whence property came to be called the perfect right, the right of domain, eminent right, the heroic or quiritary right—in Latin, jus perfectum, jus optimum, jus quiritarium, jus dominii—while possession became assimilated to farm-rent.[380]

Now, that individual possession exists of right, or, better, from natural necessity, all philosophers admit, and can easily be demonstrated; but when, in imitation of M. Cousin, we assume it to be the basis of the domain of property, we fall into the sophism called sophisma amphiboliae vel ambiguitatis , which consists in changing the meaning by a verbal equivocation.

People often think themselves very profound, because, by the aid of expressions of extreme generality, they appear to rise to the height of absolute ideas, and thus deceive inexperienced minds; and, what is worse, this is commonly called examining abstractions. But the abstraction formed by the comparison of identical facts is one thing, while that which is deduced from different acceptations of the same term is quite another. The first gives the universal idea, the axiom, the law; the second indicates the order of generation of ideas. All our errors arise from the constant confusion of these two kinds of abstractions. In this particular, languages and philosophies are alike deficient. The less common an idiom is, and the more obscure its terms, the more prolific is it as a source of error: a philosopher is sophistical in proportion to his ignorance of any method of neutralising this imperfection in language. If the art of correcting the errors of speech by scientific methods is ever discovered, then philosophy will have found its criterion of certainty.

Now, then, the difference between property and possession being well established, and it being settled that the former, for the reasons which I have just given, must necessarily disappear, is it best, for the slight advantage of restoring an etymology, to retain the word property? My opinion is that it would be very unwise to do so, and I will tell why. I quote from the Journal du Peuple:

“To the legislative power belongs the right to regulate property, to prescribe the conditions of acquiring, possessing, and transmitting it... It cannot be denied that inheritance, assessment, commerce, industry, labour, and wages require the most important modifications.”

You wish, proletarians, to regulate property; that is, you wish to destroy it and reduce it to the right of possession. For to regulate property without the consent of the proprietors is to deny the right of domain; to associate employees with proprietors is to destroy the eminent right; to suppress or even reduce farm-rent, house-rent, revenue, and increase generally, is to annihilate perfect property. Why, then, while labouring with such laudable enthusiasm for the establishment of equality, should you retain an expression whose equivocal meaning will always be an obstacle in the way of your success?

There you have the first reason—a wholly philosophical one—for rejecting not only the thing, but the name, property. Here now is the political, the highest reason.

Every social revolution—M. Cousin will tell you—is effected only by the realisation of an idea, either political, moral, or religious. When Alexander conquered Asia, his idea was to avenge Greek liberty against the insults of Oriental despotism; when Marius and Caesar overthrew the Roman patricians, their idea was to give bread to the people; when Christianity revolutionised the world, its idea was to emancipate mankind, and to substitute the worship of one God for the deities of Epicurus and Homer; when France rose in ’89, her idea was liberty and equality before the law. There has been no true revolution, says M. Cousin, without its idea; so that where an idea does not exist, or even fails of a formal expression, revolution is impossible. There are mobs, conspirators, rioters, regicides. There are no revolutionists. Society, devoid of ideas, twists and tosses about, and dies in the midst of its fruitless labour.

Nevertheless, you all feel that a revolution is to come, and that you alone can accomplish it. What, then, is the idea which governs you, proletarians of the nineteenth century?—for really I cannot call you revolutionists. What do you think?—what do you believe?—what do you want? Be guarded in your reply. I have read faithfully your favourite journals, your most esteemed authors. I find everywhere only vain and puerile entites; nowhere do I discover an idea.


Forever promises! Forever oaths! Why should the people trust in tribunes, when kings perjure themselves? Alas! truth and honesty are no longer, as in the days of King John, in the mouth of princes. A whole senate has been convicted of felony, and, the interest of the governors always being, for some mysterious reason, opposed to the interest of the governed, parliaments follow each other while the nation dies of hunger. No, no! No more protectors, no more emperors, no more consuls. Better manage our affairs ourselves than through agents. Better associate our industries than beg from monopolies; and, since the republic cannot dispense with virtues, we should labour for our reform.

This, therefore, is my line of conduct. I preach emancipation to the proletarians; association to the workers; equality to the wealthy. I push forward the revolution by all means in my power—the tongue, the pen, the press, by action, and example. My life is a continual apostleship.



Paris, 2nd May 1841
Translation by James Bar Bowen

My dear old friend,[381]

YOUR CRITICISMS OF ME ARE WELL DESERVED, AS I REALLY OUGHT TO KNOW what the process of printing a book entails; but a writer always thinks he has done all that is required when he finishes writing and that the printing presses should be able to work as quickly as his thoughts. Gutenberg’s art has yet to reach that point. The printing of my little Mémoire took five weeks or more which was long enough to annoy me in the first place. At last it is completed, and now I am at the mercy of the critics. On all sides, they declare that I am immoderate: the wind blows and the sky turns black; bad times are on the way. Whatever happens, I must add that I have nothing to fear from the Authorities, which is the most important thing; as for the dogs of the Court and others, I have known them for years and I am ready for them. I am reckless and foolhardy as much as any man of the world; but when it comes to printing, you assume that I have enough good sense not to publish anything which is not well considered, even in my crazier moments. The radical reformers fulminate against me because of a few bad jokes that I have addressed to them; what do you think they’ll say next year, for God’s sake, when I have killed off their pet obsession! But let the storm come and let us consider, O gentle observer, the hurricane’s progress. I have always thought that this will blow over; a wise man always takes a second look before attacking a man who is well equipped to fight back, particularly if he has already hit hard and hit true. You can be the judge of that.

However, my dear friend, my oldest comrade, if the fuss of factions, if a conspiracy of scribbling journalists manages to demonise me in the eyes of this enormous beast that we call the public, have I not already been compensated by being held up in the estimation of those honest, independent men whose opinions are not easily swayed, and in the affections of my friends? This is one thing about which I take the greatest pleasure: perhaps no man has quite as many true friends as I, and I count among them such essentially upright, moral, remarkable men of talent and ability. Given my natural ways and my slightly rustic tastes, you know how easy it is for me to console myself with the troubles of literature and of the writer’s craft. When I put my pen down, it is as if I become someone else: I become once more a lazy, fun-loving fellow, a wanderer of the streets, frequenting the café and tavern, looking for a good time. Was I not created specifically to whip into shape that pack of curs who only know how to savage their own sheep while merely howling at the wolves? Invulnerable with regard to self-love, since I have no time for their flattery, and beyond reproach in my private life, what have I to fear from them? I am still only on my second act, and I didn’t start writing just to take it all back later. This play will be a long one, and there are many who have yet to feel the lash of my goad.

It is always a great pleasure for me to correspond with you because I rarely receive letters quite so frank, quite so lively, quite so piquant as yours. As I read them, I recognise that healthy Franche-Comté regional style that our academics, in their ignorance and stupidity, work so hard to eliminate and corrupt. In fact, you are very similar to me. Like you, I first felt my indignation rising when I saw the hypocrisy, the baseness, the lies, the ignorance and the charlatanism of this world; and I wanted this bilious anger to feature in my writing style. I wanted, above all, to be rooted in my place of birth: loyal and honest, reasonable, biting, caustic, able to laugh and mock, lacking any sympathy for the minus habentes[382] who are so easily taken in by what we say. I know that I am often criticised for indulging in too much posturing and polemicising but, with a bit of reflection, one can see that it is just a tactic, a means, like any other, of making my ideas known. And what is more, there is such a preponderance of half-baked thinking, of laziness, of style over substance among the current batch of critics that it is necessary to have a chef who is willing to throw a dash of vinegar or lemon juice into the mix. As for the rest, I would expect them to do to me as I do to them: I expect nothing less. For every blow that I have struck, I haven’t even been scratched back. I find that boring.

You ask me to explain my method of reconstituting society. With just a few words in reply, I will try to give you a few accurate ideas on the subject.

Since you have read my book, you must understand that it is not just a matter of imagining, of combining in our heads a system which we can subsequently present to the world; this is not how one changes the world. Only society can ameliorate itself; that is to say, it is necessary to study human nature in all its forms—in laws, in religion, dress, political economy—and then, by means of metaphysical operations, to extract from this mass of information that which is true; to eliminate that which is corrupt, false or incomplete; and then, from the elements which remain, to form general guiding principles which can serve as rules. This work will take centuries to complete.

This probably looks to be a hopeless task to you: but rest assured! In every reform there are two distinct features, which are often confused the one with the other: the transition and the perfection or completion.

The first is the only thing that today’s society can be expected to set in motion. And then what? How are we to carry out this transition? You will find the answer to this by combining a few passages of my second Mémoire: pp.10–11 deals with all forms of income and, in general, lowers the level of all revenues; p.16 deals with bank reforms; pp.28–29 looks at the issue of low-interest capital and reform of the bankers; pp.33–37, progressive abolition of customs duty; pp.179 attacks property by means of interest; pp.184 ditto, etc.

You understand that a system of progressive abolition of what I call increase [aubaine] (i.e. private incomes from property or renting, inflated salaries, competitive profiteering, etc.) would render the ownership of property effectively worthless since its harmfulness lies above all in the profits gleaned from interest.

At all times, this progressive abolition will only be a negation of harm, or perhaps, rather, a positive reorganisation. Nevertheless, my dear old friend, for this to be the case, I can propose the principles and the general laws, but I cannot fill in all the details on my own. That is a task which would occupy fifty Montesquieus. For my part, I will supply the axioms, I will give examples and I will supply a methodology; I will set the process in motion. It is up to everyone else to do the rest.

What I am saying is that no person on Earth is capable (as they do say of Saint-Simon and Fourier) of proposing a system which has all its pieces and details in place, meaning that all the rest of us have to do is implement it. That is the most damnable lie that can be put forward amongst men, and that is why I am so vehemently opposed to Fourierism. Social science is infinite; no single human can ever understand it all, in the same way that no one person can understand medicine, physics or mathematics. However, we can discover its principles, followed by its elements, then just one part of it, and it will grow from there on. In any case, what I am doing at the moment is determining the elements of political and legislative science.

For example, I wish to preserve the right of inheritance and I want equality. How is that going to work? This is where the question of organisation enters. This problem will be resolved in the third Mémoire along with many others. I am unable to recount all my ideas here, as I would need another twenty pages to do so.

Anyway, if politics and the law are science, you understand that the principles are likely to be extremely simple, comprehensible to the least intelligent; but that, in order to reach solutions to certain questions of detail or of a higher level of complexity, a series of reasoning processes and inductions will be necessary which are completely analogous to the calculations by which one determines the movement of the stars. In actual fact, the description of the process of resolving the problems of social science will be one of the more interesting aspects of my third Mémoire, and it will serve to better prove my own good faith and the emptiness of most political inventions.

In brief: abolish to the point of extinction all forms of private income, which will be the TRANSITION. The ORGANISATION will result from the principles of the division of labour and from the collective force, combined with the maintenance of the individuality of man and citizen.

This might all look like hieroglyphics to you now, but this is where the enigma becomes explained; this is where the mystery resides. You will watch me begin the process and you may well say to yourself: To achieve this goal, all that is required is men and the means of study.

You have forced me to be pedantic in an informal letter answering one simple question. When I correspond with you, am I putting myself in the role of teacher? One can never fully explain oneself regarding something complicated in just a page or two because there are always details requiring clarification in order to resolve issues. The most important thing today is to look closely at Property, reconsidering domestic policy regarding abolition and foreign policy regarding customs duties. It is all there; the rest will slot into place accordingly…

Yesterday I received a charming and flattering letter from M. [Jérôme-Adolphe] Blanqui which actually makes me feel quite proud. You understand that this teacher does not accept my doctrine in the terms that I have outlined it; but, aside from the words and the humility which is his natural demeanour, he is a man of considerable learning—indeed, he’s a wise man, well-loved by everybody, and the most able organiser that we have. From time to time I receive testimonies of good faith from eminent people who, without agreeing with me, say: “Keep up the good work!”

When I began this letter, I wanted to chat and banter with you; but my writer’s instincts always take over. And you’re partly to blame too! Why do you ask me such questions?

Farewell, then, my oldest fellow student, my comrade of the Rosa. I have no more time to write, but I see from your letter that the oldest ones are still the best.

Yours truly,



Lyons, May 17th, 1846
Translation by Barry Marshall

My Dear Monsieur Marx,

I WILL GLADLY AGREE TO BE ONE OF THE RECIPIENTS OF YOUR CORRESPONDENCE, the aim and organisation of which seems very useful to me.

However, I cannot promise to write to you all that much or all that often. All of my interests, combined with a natural laziness, leave me little time for engagement in epistolary efforts. I do want to take the liberty of making some criticisms, suggested to me by different parts of your letter.

First of all, although when it comes to ideas of organisation and achievement my thoughts are at this point in time more or less established, at least as far as principles go, I believe it is my duty, as it is the duty of all socialists, to keep a critical and sceptical frame of mind. In short, I am making a public profession of an almost absolute economic anti-dogmatism.

Let us seek together, if you will, for the laws of society, the manner in which these laws are manifested, the progress of our efforts to discover them. But for God’s sake, after having demolished all a priori dogmatisms, let us not in turn dream of making our own, of indoctrinating the people. Let us not fall into the same contradiction of your countryman Martin Luther, who, having overturned Catholic theology, immediately set about founding a Protestant theology with excommunications and anathemas. For the last three centuries, Germany has been largely engaged in tearing down all that Luther built. We should not leave humanity with a similar mess as a result of our own efforts. With all my heart, I applaud your idea of bringing all opinions to light; let us show the world an example of learned and insightful tolerance, but since we are in the lead, let us not set ourselves up as leaders of a new intolerance; let us not be the apostles of a new religion, one that makes itself a religion of reason, a religion of logic. We should welcome and encourage all protestations. Let us get rid of all divisiveness, all mysticism. Let us never consider a question exhausted, and when we do get down to our last argument, let’s start again if need be with wit and irony! I will join your organisation on that condition—or else not.

I also want to make a few observations on this phrase in your letter: “At the moment of action.” Perhaps you are still of the mind that no reform is possible with a coup de main, without what we used to call a revolution, and what is in reality nothing but a jolt. That opinion—which I understand, which I excuse, which I would willingly discuss having myself held it for a long time—I must admit to you that my latest studies have made me completely abandon it. We do not need it to succeed, and as a result we do not have to promote revolutionary action as a means to achieve social reform, because that pretended method is only simply a call for force, for arbitrariness—in short, a contradiction. I have set out the problem like this: to bring back to society through an economic combination the wealth that has left society by means of a different economic combination. In other words, via political economy, to turn the theory of property against property in such a way as to bring about what you German socialists call community [communauté ] but which I prefer to call freedom or equality. But I believe in a little while I will have the means of solving this problem. I would therefore prefer to burn property slowly with a small fire than to give it new strength by carrying out a Saint Bartholomew’s Night of the Proprietors.[383]

My next book, which is at the printers, will have more to say to you.[384]

There you have it, my dear philosopher: that is where I stand right now. Except for me deceiving myself—and should that happen getting a rap on the knuckles from you—this is what I submit to in good faith while awaiting my revenge [en attendant ma revanche]. I should tell you in passing that this also seems to be the mood of the French working class. Our proletariat has a great thirst for science, which would be very poorly served if you only brought them blood to drink. In short, to my mind it would be terrible politics to talk like killers [exterminateurs]. The usual methods will suffice; the people do not need any exhortation for that.

I am very sorry for these petty divisions which, it seems, still exist in German socialism and which your complaints to me about M. Grun prove.[385] I am afraid that you have seen this author in a poor light. My dear Marx, I want to set things straight. Grun has found himself exiled with no money, a wife and two children, and no means of making a living except by his pen. How else do you want him to make a living if not by modern ideas? I understand your philosophical ire and I admit that the quest for the ultimate truth [sainte parole] of humankind should not be underhand, but I see here only misfortune and extreme necessity and I excuse the man. Oh! If we were all millionaires, things would be easier. We would be saints and angels. It is simple, we have to live. You know that that word does not yet express the idea of a pure society—far from it. Living means buying your bread, wood, meat, paying the landlord, and, by Jove!, he who sells social ideas is no more unworthy than he who sells a sermon. I am completely unaware that Grun had made himself out to be my tutor: tutor of what? I stick to political economy, things he knows nothing about. I look on literature as a little girl’s toy, and as for philosophy, I know enough to have the right to be poked fun at myself on occasion. Grun has said nothing about it to me at all. If he did say that, he was being impertinent and I am sure he apologises.

What I do know and what I do value more than what I blame for a bit of conceit is that I owe to M. Grun and his friend Ewerbeck the acquaintance I have with your own writings, my dear M. Marx, those of M. Engels and that very important book by Feuerbach. They have kindly undertaken some analysis for me in French (I unfortunately cannot read German) of the most important socialist publications, and it is because of a suggestion of theirs that I include (besides what I had done by myself) in my next book mention of the works of MM. Marx, Engels, Feuerbach, etc. Finally Grun and Ewerbeck are working to keep the sacred fire [feu sacré] going in the German émigrés who live in Paris, and the respect that they have for the workers they are talking to assures me of the honesty of their intentions.

I hope to see you, my dear Marx, come back from a hasty judgement made in a moment of irritation, just because you were angry when you wrote to me. Grun has indicated to me his desire to translate my latest book. He can only do this with some help. I would be obliged to you and your friends if you lent your assistance on this occasion, by contributing towards the sale of a book, which would be a great benefit to me.

If you wanted to give me assurance of your help, my dear M. Marx, I would very shortly send my proofs to M. Grun, and I think that, in spite of your personal grievances, which I do not want to judge, this conduct would honour us all.

Yours very devotedly,

Pierre-Joseph PROUDHON



Translation by Benjamin R. Tucker

Destruam et dificabo[386]

—Deuteronomy: c. 32





But I hasten to say that I do not regard as a science the incoherent ensemble of theories to which the name political economy has been officially given for almost a hundred years, and which, in spite of the etymology of the name, is after all but the code, or immemorial routine, of property. These theories offer us only the rudiments, or first section, of economic science; and that is why, like property, they are all contradictory of each other, and half the time inapplicable. The proof of this assertion, which is, in one sense, a denial of political economy as handed down to us by Adam Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, and J-B Say, and as we have known it for half a century, will be especially developed in this treatise.

The inadequacy of political economy has at all times impressed thoughtful minds, who, too fond of their dreams for practical investigation, and confining themselves to the estimation of apparent results, have constituted from the beginning a party of opposition to the statu quo, and have devoted themselves to a persevering and systematic ridicule of civilisation and its customs. Property, on the other hand, the basis of all social institutions, has never lacked zealous defenders, who, proud to be called practical, have exchanged blow for blow with the traducers of political economy, and have laboured with a courageous and often skilful hand to strengthen the edifice which general prejudice and individual liberty have erected in concert. The controversy between conservatives and reformers, still pending, finds its counterpart, in the history of philosophy, in the quarrel between realists and nominalists;[387] it is almost useless to add that, on both sides, right and wrong are equal, and that the rivalry, narrowness, and intolerance of opinions have been the sole cause of the misunderstanding.

Thus two powers are contending for the government of the world, and cursing each other with the fervour of two hostile religions: political economy, or tradition; and socialism, or utopia.


Political economy tends toward the glorification of selfishness; socialism favours the exaltation of communism.

The economists, saving a few violations of their principles, for which they deem it their duty to blame governments, are optimists with regard to accomplished facts; the socialists, with regard to facts to be accomplished.

The first affirm that that which ought to be is; the second, that that which ought to be is not. Consequently, while the first are defenders of religion, authority, and the other principles contemporary with, and conservative of, property,—although their criticism, based solely on reason, deals frequent blows at their own prejudices,—the second reject authority and faith, and appeal exclusively to science,—although a certain religiosity, utterly illiberal, and an unscientific disdain for facts, are always the most obvious characteristics of their doctrines.

For the rest, neither party ever ceases to accuse the other of incapacity and sterility.

The socialists ask their opponents to account for the inequality of conditions, for those commercial debaucheries in which monopoly and competition, in monstrous union, perpetually give birth to luxury and misery; they reproach economic theories, always modelled after the past, with leaving the future hopeless; in short, they point to the regime of property as a horrible hallucination, against which humanity has protested and struggled for four thousand years.

The economists, on their side, defy socialists to produce a system in which property, competition, and political organisation can be dispensed with; they prove, with documents in hand, that all reformatory projects have ever been nothing but rhapsodies of fragments borrowed from the very system that socialism sneers at,—plagiarisms, in a word, of political economy, outside of which socialism is incapable of conceiving and formulating an idea.


Thus society finds itself, at its origin, divided into two great parties: the one traditional and essentially hierarchical, which, according to the object it is considering, calls itself by turns royalty or democracy, philosophy or religion, in short, property; the other socialism, which, coming to life at every crisis of civilisation, proclaims itself pre-eminently anarchical and atheistic; that is, rebellious against all authority, human and divine.


What is there, then, in political economy that is necessary and true; whither does it tend; what are its powers; what are its wishes? It is this which I propose to determine in this work. What is the value of socialism? The same investigation will answer this question also.


The question now most disputed is unquestionably that of the organisation of labour.

As John the Baptist preached in the desert, Repent ye so the socialists go about proclaiming everywhere this novelty old as the world, Organise labour, though never able to tell what, in their opinion, this organisation should be. However that may be, the economists have seen that this socialistic clamour was damaging their theories: it was, indeed, a rebuke to them for ignoring that which they ought first to recognise,—labour. They have replied, therefore, to the attack of their adversaries, first by maintaining that labour is organised, that there is no other organisation of labour than liberty to produce and exchange, either on one’s own personal account, or in association with others,—in which case the course to be pursued has been prescribed by the civil and commercial codes. Then, as this argument served only to make them the laughing-stock of their antagonists, they assumed the offensive; and, showing that the socialists understood nothing at all themselves of this organisation that they held up as a scarecrow, they ended by saying that it was but a new socialistic chimera, a word without sense,—an absurdity. The latest writings of the economists are full of these pitiless conclusions.

Nevertheless, it is certain that the phrase organisation of labour contains as clear and rational a meaning as these that follow: organisation of the workshop, organisation of the army, organisation of police, organisation of charity, organisation of war. In this respect, the argument of the economists is deplorably irrational. No less certain is it that the organisation of labour cannot be a utopia and chimera; for at the moment that labour, the supreme condition of civilisation, begins to exist, it follows that it is already submitted to an organisation, such as it is, which satisfies the economists, but which the socialists think detestable.

There remains, then, relative to the proposal to organise labour formulated by socialism, this objection,—that labour is organised. Now, this is utterly untenable, since it is notorious that in labour, supply, demand, division, quantity, proportion, price, and security, nothing, absolutely nothing is regulated; on the contrary, everything is given up to the caprices of free-will; that is, to chance.

As for us, guided by the idea that we have formed of social science, we shall affirm, against the socialists and against the economists, not that labour must be organised, nor that it is organised but that it is being organised.

Labour, we say, is being organised: that is, the process of organisation has been going on from the beginning of the world, and will continue till the end. Political economy teaches us the primary elements of this organisation; but socialism is right in asserting that, in its present form, the organisation is inadequate and transitory; and the whole mission of science is continually to ascertain, in view of the results obtained and the phenomena in course of development, what innovations can be immediately effected.

Socialism and political economy, then, while waging a burlesque war, pursue in reality the same idea,—the organisation of labour.

But both are guilty of disloyalty to science and of mutual calumny, when on the one hand political economy, mistaking for science its scraps of theory, denies the possibility of further progress; and when socialism, abandoning tradition, aims at re-establishing society on undiscoverable bases.


Another question, no less disputed than the preceding one, is that of usury, or lending at interest.

Usury, or in other words the price of use, is the emolument, of whatever nature, which the proprietor derives from the loan of his property. Quidquid sorti accrescit usura est, say the theologians. Usury, the foundation of credit, was one of the first of the means which social spontaneity employed in its work of organisation, and whose analysis discloses the profound laws of civilisation. The ancient philosophers and the Fathers of the Church, who must be regarded here as the representatives of socialism in the early centuries of the Christian era, by a singular fallacy,—which arose however from the paucity of economic knowledge in their day,—allowed farm-rent and condemned interest on money, because, as they believed, money was unproductive. They distinguished consequently between the loan of things which are consumed by use—among which they included money—and the loan of things which, without being consumed, yield a product to the user.

The economists had no difficulty in showing, by generalising the idea of rent, that in the economy of society the action of capital, or its productivity, was the same whether it was consumed in wages or retained the character of an instrument; that, consequently, it was necessary either to prohibit the rent of land or to allow interest on money, since both were by the same title payment for privilege, indemnity for loan. It required more than fifteen centuries to get this idea accepted, and to reassure the consciences that had been terrified by the anathemas pronounced by Catholicism against usury. But finally the weight of evidence and the general desire favoured the usurers: they won the battle against socialism; and from this legitimation of usury society gained some immense and unquestionable advantages. Under these circumstances socialism, which had tried to generalise the law enacted by Moses for the Israelites alone, Non foeneraberis proximo tuo, sed alieno, was beaten by an idea which it had accepted from the economic routine,—namely, farm-rent, —elevated into the theory of the productivity of capital.

But the economists in their turn were less fortunate, when they were afterwards called upon to justify farm-rent in itself, and to establish this theory of the product of capital. It may be said that, on this point, they have lost all the advantage they had at first gained against socialism.

Undoubtedly—and I am the first to recognise it—the rent of land, like that of money and all personal and real property, is a spontaneous and universal fact, which has its source in the depths of our nature, and which soon becomes, by its natural development, one of the most potent means of organisation. I shall prove even that interest on capital is but the materialisation of the aphorism, All labour should leave a surplus. But in the face of this theory, or rather this fiction, of the productivity of capital, arises another thesis no less certain, which in these latter days has struck the ablest economists: it is that all value is born of labour, and is composed essentially of wages; in other words, that no wealth has its origin in privilege, or acquires any value except through work; and that, consequently, labour alone is the source of revenue among men. How, then, reconcile the theory of farm-rent or productivity of capital—a theory confirmed by universal custom, which conservative political economy is forced to accept but cannot justify—with this other theory which shows that value is normally composed of wages, and which inevitably ends, as we shall demonstrate, in an equality in society between net product and raw product?


In such a situation what is the mandate of science?

Certainly not to halt in an arbitrary, inconceivable, and impossible juste milieu; it is to generalise further, and discover a third principle, a fact, a superior law, which shall explain the fiction of capital and the myth of property, and reconcile them with the theory which makes labour the origin of all wealth. This is what socialism, if it wishes to proceed logically, must undertake. […]


For example, what is profit? That which remains for the manager after he has paid all the expenses. Now, the expenses consist of the labour performed and the materials consumed; or, in fine, wages. What, then, is the wages of a worker? The least that can be given him; that is, we do not know. What should be the price of the merchandise put upon the market by the manager? The highest that he can obtain; that is, again, we do not know. Political economy prohibits the supposition that the prices of merchandise and labour can be fixed, although it admits that they can be estimated; and that for the reason, say the economists, that estimation is essentially an arbitrary operation, which never can lead to sure and certain conclusions. How, then, shall we find the relation between two unknowns which, according to political economy, cannot be determined? Thus political economy proposes insolvable problems; and yet we shall soon see that it must propose them, and that our century must solve them. That is why I said that the Academy of Moral Sciences, in offering for competition the question of the relation of profits and wages, spoke unconsciously, spoke prophetically.

But it will be said, is it not true that, if labour is in great demand and workers are scarce, wages will rise, while profits on the other hand will decrease; that if, in the press of competition, there is an excess of production, there will be a stoppage and forced sales, consequently no profit for the manager and a danger of idleness for the worker; that then the latter will offer his labour at a reduced price; that, if a machine is invented, it will first extinguish the fires of its rivals; then, a monopoly established, and the worker made dependent on the employer, profits and wages will be inversely proportional? Cannot all these causes, and others besides, be studied, ascertained, counterbalanced, etc.?

Oh, monographs, histories!—we have been saturated with them since the days of Adam Smith and J-B Say, and they are scarcely more than variations of these authors’ words. But it is not thus that the question should be understood, although the Academy has given it no other meaning. The relation of profits and wages should be considered in an absolute sense, and not from the inconclusive point of view of the accidents of commerce and the division of interests: two things which must ultimately receive their interpretation. Let me explain myself.

Considering producer and consumer as a single individual, whose recompense is naturally equal to his product; then dividing this product into two parts, one which rewards the producer for his outlay, another which represents his profit, according to the axiom that all labour should leave a surplus, we have to determine the relation of one of these parts to the other. This done, it will be easy to deduce the ratio of the fortunes of these two classes of men, employers and employees, as well as account for all commercial oscillations. This will be a series of corollaries to add to the demonstration.

Now, that such a relation may exist and be estimated, there must necessarily be a law, internal or external, which governs wages and prices; and since, in the present state of things, wages and prices vary and oscillate continually, we must ask what are the general facts, the causes, which make value vary and oscillate, and within what limits this oscillation takes place.

But this very question is contrary to the accepted principles; for whoever says oscillation necessarily supposes a mean direction toward which value’s centre of gravity continually tends; and when the Academy asks that we determine the oscillations of profit and wages, it asks thereby that we determine value. Now that is precisely what the gentlemen of the Academy deny: they are unwilling to admit that, if value is variable, it is for that very reason determinable; that variability is the sign and condition of determinability. They pretend that value, ever varying, can never be determined. This is like maintaining that, given the number of oscillations of a pendulum per second, their amplitude, and the latitude and elevation of the spot where the experiment is performed, the length of the pendulum cannot be determined because the pendulum is in motion. Such is political economy’s first article of faith.

As for socialism, it does not appear to have understood the question, or to be concerned about it. Among its many organs, some simply and merely put aside the problem by substituting division for distribution,—that is, by banishing number and measure from the social organism: others relieve themselves of the embarrassment by applying universal suffrage to the wages question. It is needless to say that these platitudes find dupes by thousands and hundreds of thousands.

The condemnation of political economy has been formulated by Malthus in this famous passage:

“A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders…”[388]

This then is the necessary, the fatal, conclusion of political economy,—a conclusion which I shall demonstrate by evidence hitherto unknown in this field of inquiry,—Death to him who does not possess!

In order better to grasp the thought of Malthus, let us translate it into philosophical propositions by stripping it of its rhetorical gloss:

“Individual liberty, and property, which is its expression, are economical data; equality and solidarity are not.

“Under this system, each one by himself, each one for himself: labour, like all merchandise, is subject to fluctuation: hence the risks of the proletariat.

“Whoever has neither income nor wages has no right to demand anything of others: his misfortune falls on his own head; in the game of fortune, luck has been against him.”

From the point of view of political economy these propositions are irrefutable; and Malthus, who has formulated them with such alarming exactness, is secure against all reproach. From the point of view of the conditions of social science, these same propositions are radically false, and even contradictory.

The error of Malthus, or rather of political economy, does not consist in saying that a man who has nothing to eat must die; or in maintaining that, under the system of individual appropriation, there is no course for him who has neither labour nor income but to withdraw from life by suicide, unless he prefers to be driven from it by starvation: such is, on the one hand, the law of our existence; such is, on the other, the consequence of property; and M. Rossi has taken altogether too much trouble to justify the good sense of Malthus on this point. I suspect, indeed, that M. Rossi, in making so lengthy and loving an apology for Malthus, intended to recommend political economy in the same way that his fellow-countryman Machiavelli, in his book entitled The Prince, recommended despotism to the admiration of the world. In pointing out misery as the necessary condition of industrial and commercial absolutism, M. Rossi seems to say to us: There is your law, your justice, your political economy; there is property.

But Gallic simplicity does not understand artifice; and it would have been better to have said to France, in her immaculate tongue: The error of Malthus, the radical vice of political economy, consists, in general terms, in affirming as a definitive state a transitory condition,[389] —namely, the division of society into patricians and proletarians;[390] and, particularly, in saying that in an organised, and consequently interdependent [solidaire], society, there may be some who possess, labour, and consume, while others have neither possession, nor labour, nor bread. Finally Malthus, or political economy, reasons erroneously when seeing in the faculty of indefinite reproduction—which the human race enjoys in neither greater nor less degree than all animal and vegetable species—a permanent danger of famine; whereas it is only necessary to show the necessity, and consequently the existence, of a law of equilibrium between population and production.

In short, the theory of Malthus—and herein lies the great merit of this writer, a merit which none of his colleagues has dreamed of attributing to him—is a reductio ad absurdum of all political economy.




VALUE IS THE corner-stone of the economic edifice. The divine artist who has entrusted us with the continuation of his work has explained himself on this point to no one; but the few indications given may serve as a basis of conjecture. Value, in fact, presents two faces: one, which the economists call value in use, or intrinsic value; another, value in exchange, or of opinion. The effects which are produced by value under this double aspect, and which are very irregular so long as it is not established,—or, to use a more philosophical expression, so long as it is not constituted, are changed totally by this constitution.


The economists have very clearly shown the double character of value, but what they have not made equally plain is its contradictory nature. Here begins our criticism.

Utility is the necessary condition of exchange; but take away exchange, and utility vanishes: these two things are indissolubly connected. Where, then, is the contradiction?

Since all of us live only by labour and exchange, and grow richer as production and exchange increase, each of us produces as much useful value as possible, in order to increase by that amount his exchanges, and consequently his enjoyments. Well, the first effect, the inevitable effect, of the multiplication of values is to LOWER them: the more abundant is an article of merchandise, the more it loses in exchange and depreciates commercially. Is it not true that there is a contradiction between the necessity of labour and its results?

I adjure the reader, before rushing ahead for the explanation, to arrest his attention upon the fact.

A peasant who has harvested twenty sacks of wheat, which he with his family proposes to consume, deems himself twice as rich as if he had harvested only ten; likewise a housewife who has spun fifty yards of linen believes that she is twice as rich as if she had spun but twenty-five. Relatively to the household, both are right; looked at in their external relations, they may be utterly mistaken. If the crop of wheat is double throughout the whole country, twenty sacks will sell for less than ten would have sold for if it had been but half as great; so, under similar circumstances, fifty yards of linen will be worth less than twenty-five: so that value decreases as the production of utility increases, and a producer may arrive at poverty by continually enriching himself. And this seems unalterable, inasmuch as there is no way of escape except all the products of industry become infinite in quantity, like air and light, which is absurd. God of my reason! Jean-Jacques [Rousseau] would have said: it is not the economists who are irrational; it is political economy itself which is false to its definitions. Mentita est iniquitas sibi.

In the preceding examples the useful value exceeds the exchangeable value: in other cases it is less. Then the same phenomenon is produced, but in the opposite direction: the balance is in favour of the producer, while the consumer suffers. This is notably the case in seasons of scarcity, when the high price of provisions is always more or less factitious. There are also professions whose whole art consists in giving to an article of minor usefulness, which could easily be dispensed with, an exaggerated value of opinion: such, in general, are the arts of luxury. Man, through his aesthetic passion, is eager for the trifles the possession of which would highly satisfy his vanity, his innate desire for luxury, and his more noble and more respectable love of the beautiful: upon this the dealers in this class of articles speculate. To tax fancy and elegance is no less odious or absurd than to tax circulation: but such a tax is collected by a few fashionable merchants, whom general infatuation protects, and whose whole merit generally consists in warping taste and generating fickleness. Hence no one complains; and all the maledictions of opinion are reserved for the monopolists who, through genius, succeed in raising by a few cents the price of linen and bread.

It is little to have pointed out this astonishing contrast between useful value and exchangeable value, which the economists have been in the habit of regarding as very simple: it must be shown that this pretended simplicity conceals a profound mystery, which it is our duty to fathom.


Say and the economists who have succeeded him have observed that, labour being itself an object of valuation, a species of merchandise indeed like any other, to take it as the principal and efficient cause of value is to reason in a vicious circle. Therefore, they conclude, it is necessary to fall back on scarcity and opinion.

These economists, if they will allow me to say it, herein have shown themselves wonderfully careless. Labour is said to have value, not as merchandise itself, but in view of the values supposed to be contained in it potentially. The value of labour is a figurative expression, an anticipation of effect from cause.

It is a fiction by the same title as the productivity of capital. Labour produces, capital has value: and when, by a sort of ellipsis, we say the value of labour, we make an enjambment which is not at all contrary to the rules of language, but which theorists ought to guard against mistaking for a reality. Labour, like liberty, love, ambition, genius, is a thing vague and indeterminate in its nature, but qualitatively defined by its object,—that is, it becomes a reality through its product.[391] When, therefore, we say: This man’s labour is worth five francs per day, it is as if we should say: The daily product of this man’s labour is worth five francs.

Now, the effect of labour is continually to eliminate scarcity and opinion as constitutive elements of value, and, by necessary consequence, to transform natural or indefinite utilities (appropriated or not) into measurable or social utilities: whence it follows that labour is at once a war declared upon the parsimony of Nature and a permanent conspiracy against property.


It is an axiom generally admitted by the economists that all labour should leave a surplus.

I regard this proposition as universally and absolutely true; it is a corollary of the law of proportionality, which may be regarded as an epitome of the whole science of economy. But—I beg pardon of the economists—the principle that all labour should leave a surplus has no meaning in their theory, and is not susceptible of demonstration. If supply and demand alone determine value, how can we tell what is a surplus and what is a sufficiency? If neither cost, nor market price, nor wages can be mathematically determined, how is it possible to conceive of a surplus, a profit? Commercial routine has given us the idea of profit as well as the word; and, since we are equal politically, we infer that every citizen has an equal right to realise profits in his personal industry. But commercial operations are essentially irregular, and it has been proved beyond question that the profits of commerce are but an arbitrary discount forced from the consumer by the producer,—in short, a displacement, to say the least. This we should soon see, if it was possible to compare the total amount of annual losses with the amount of profits. In the thought of political economy, the principle that all labour should leave a surplus is simply the consecration of the constitutional right which all of us gained by the revolution,—the right of robbing one’s neighbour.

The law of proportionality of values alone can solve this problem. I will approach the question a little farther back: its gravity warrants me in treating it with the consideration that it merits.


I have demonstrated theoretically and by facts the principle that all labour should leave a surplus; but this principle, as certain as any proposition in arithmetic, is very far from universal realisation. While, by the progress of collective industry, each individual day’s labour yields a greater and greater product, and while, by necessary consequence, the worker, receiving the same wages, must grow ever richer, there exist in society classes which thrive and classes which perish; workers paid twice, thrice, a hundred times over, and workers continually out of pocket; everywhere, finally, people who enjoy and people who suffer, and, by a monstrous division of the means of industry, individuals who consume and do not produce. The distribution of well-being follows all the movements of value, and reproduces them in misery and luxury on a frightful scale and with terrible energy. But everywhere, too, the progress of wealth—that is, the proportionality of values—is the dominant law; and when the economists combat the complaints of the socialists with the progressive increase of public wealth and the alleviations of the condition of even the most unfortunate classes, they proclaim, without suspecting it, a truth which is the condemnation of their theories.

For I entreat the economists to question themselves for a moment in the silence of their hearts, far from the prejudices which disturb them, and regardless of the employments which occupy them or which they wait for, of the interests which they serve, of the votes which they covet, of the distinctions which tickle their vanity: let them tell me whether, hitherto, they have viewed the principle that all labour should leave a surplus in connection with this series of premises and conclusions which we have elaborated, and whether they ever have understood these words to mean anything more than the right to speculate in values by manipulating supply and demand; whether it is not true that they affirm at once, on the one hand the progress of wealth and well-being, and consequently the measure of values, and on the other the arbitrariness of commercial transactions and the incommensurability of values,—the flattest of contradictions? Is it not because of this contradiction that we continually hear repeated in lectures, and read in the works on political economy, this absurd hypothesis: If the price of ALL things was doubled…? As if the price of all things was not the proportion of things, and as if we could double a proportion, a relation, a law! Finally, is it not because of the proprietary and abnormal routine upheld by political economy that every one, in commerce, industry, the arts, and the State, on the pretended ground of services rendered to society, tends continually to exaggerate his importance, and solicits rewards, subsidies, large pensions, exorbitant fees: as if the reward of every service was not determined necessarily by the sum of its expenses? Why do not the economists, if they believe, as they appear to, that the labour of each should leave a surplus, use all their influence in spreading this truth, so simple and so luminous: Each man’s labour can buy only the value which it contains, and this value is proportional to the services of all other workers?[392]



THE FUNDAMENTAL IDEA, the dominant category, of political economy is VALUE.

Value reaches its positive determination by a series of oscillations between supply and demand.


In society, on the contrary, as well as in the mind, so far from the idea reaching its complete realisation at a single bound, a sort of abyss separates, so to speak, the two antinomical positions, and even when these are recognised at last, we still do not see what the synthesis will be. The primitive concepts must be fertilised, so to speak, by burning controversy and passionate struggle; bloody battles will be the preliminaries of peace. At the present moment, Europe, weary of war and discussion, awaits a reconciling principle; and it is the vague perception of this situation which induces the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences to ask, “What are the general facts which govern the relations of profits to wages and determine their oscillations?” in other words, what are the most salient episodes and the most remarkable phases of the war between labour and capital?[393]

If, then, I demonstrate that political economy, with all its contradictory hypotheses and equivocal conclusions, is nothing but an organisation of privilege and misery, I shall have proved thereby that it contains by implication the promise of an organisation of labour and equality, since, as has been said, every systematic contradiction is the announcement of a composition; further, I shall have fixed the bases of this composition. Then, indeed, to unfold the system of economic contradictions is to lay the foundations of universal association; to show how the products of collective labour come out of society is to explain how it will be possible to make them return to it; to exhibit the genesis of the problems of production and distribution is to prepare the way for their solution. All these propositions are identical and equally evident.


Considered in its essence, the division of labour is the way in which equality of condition and intelligence is realised. Through diversity of function, it gives rise to proportionality of products and equilibrium in exchange, and consequently opens for us the road to wealth; as also, in showing us infinity everywhere in art and Nature, it leads us to idealise our acts, and makes the creative mind—that is, divinity itself, mentem diviniorem—immanent and perceptible in all workers.

Division of labour, then, is the first phase of economic evolution as well as of intellectual development: our point of departure is true as regards both man and things, and the progress of our exposition is in no wise arbitrary.

But, at this solemn hour of the division of labour, tempestuous winds begin to blow upon humanity. Progress does not improve the condition of all equally and uniformly, although in the end it must include and transfigure every intelligent and industrious being. It commences by taking possession of a small number of privileged persons, who thus compose the elite of nations, while the mass continues, or even buries itself deeper, in barbarism. It is this exception of persons on the part of progress which has perpetuated the belief in the natural and providential inequality of conditions, engendered caste, and given an hierarchical form to all societies. It has not been understood that all inequality, never being more than a negation, carries in itself the proof of its illegitimacy and the announcement of its downfall: much less still has it been imagined that this same inequality proceeds accidentally from a cause the ulterior effect of which must be its entire disappearance.

Thus, the antinomy of value reappearing in the law of division, it is found that the first and most potent instrument of knowledge and wealth which Providence has placed in our hands has become for us an instrument of misery and imbecility. Here is the formula of this new law of antagonism, to which we owe the two oldest maladies of civilisation, aristocracy and the proletariat: Labour, in dividing itself according to the law which is peculiar to it, and which is the primary condition of its productivity, ends in the frustration of its own objects, and destroys itself, in other words: Division, in the absence of which there is no progress, no wealth, no equality, subordinates the worker, and renders intelligence useless, wealth harmful, and equality impossible.

All the economists, since Adam Smith, have pointed out the advantages and the inconveniences of the law of division, but at the same time insisting much more strenuously upon the first than the second, because such a course was more in harmony with their optimistic views, and not one of them ever asking how a law can have inconveniences. This is the way in which J-B Say summed up the question:

“A man who during his whole life performs but one operation, certainly acquires the power to execute it better and more readily than another; but at the same time he becomes less capable of any other occupation, whether physical or moral; his other faculties become extinct, and there results a degeneracy in the individual man. That one has made only the eighteenth part of a pin is a sad account to give of one’s self: but let no one imagine that it is the worker who spends his life in handling a file or a hammer that alone degenerates in this way from the dignity of his nature; it is the same with the man whose position leads him to exercise the most subtle faculties of his mind... On the whole, it may be said that the separation of tasks is an advantageous use of human forces; that it increases enormously the products of society; but that it takes something from the capacity of each man taken individually.”[394]

What, then, after labour, is the primary cause of the multiplication of wealth and the skill of workers? Division.

What is the primary cause of intellectual degeneracy and, as we shall show continually, civilised misery? Division.

How does the same principle, rigorously followed to its conclusions, lead to effects diametrically opposite? There is not an economist, either before or since Adam Smith, who has even perceived that here is a problem to be solved. Say goes so far as to recognise that in the division of labour the same cause which produces the good engenders the evil;[395] then, after a few words of pity for the victims of the separation of industries, content with having given an impartial and faithful exhibition of the facts, he leaves the matter there. “You know,” he seems to say, “that the more we divide the workers’ tasks, the more we increase the productive power of labour; but at the same time the more does labour, gradually reducing itself to a mechanical operation, stupefy intelligence.”

In vain do we express our indignation against a theory which, creating by labour itself an aristocracy of capacities, leads inevitably to political inequality; in vain do we protest in the name of democracy and progress that in the future there will be no nobility, no bourgeoisie, no pariahs. The economist replies, with the impassability of destiny: You are condemned to produce much, and to produce cheaply; otherwise your industry will be always insignificant, your commerce will amount to nothing, and you will drag in the rear of civilisation instead of taking the lead.—What! among us, generous men, there are some predestined to brutishness; and the more perfect our industry becomes, the larger will grow the number of our accursed brothers!..... —Alas!..... That is the last word of the economist.

We cannot fail to recognise in the division of labour, as a general fact and as a cause, all the characteristics of a LAW; but as this law governs two orders of phenomena radically opposite and destructive of each other, it must be confessed also that this law is of a sort unknown in the exact sciences,—that it is, strange to say, a contradictory law, a counter-law, an antinomy. Let us add, in anticipation, that such appears to be the identifying feature of social economy, and consequently of philosophy.

Now, without a RECOMPOSITION of labour which shall obviate the inconveniences of division while preserving its useful effects, the contradiction inherent in the principle is irremediable. It is necessary,—following the style of the Jewish priests plotting the death of Christ,—it is necessary that the poor should perish to secure the proprietor his fortune, expedit unum hominem pro populo mori. I am going to demonstrate the necessity of this decree; after which, if the parcellaire worker[396] still retains a glimmer of intelligence, he will console himself with the thought that he dies according to the rules of political economy.

Labour, which ought to give scope to the conscience and render it more and more worthy of happiness, leading through parcellaire division to prostration of mind, dwarfs man in his noblest part, minorat capitis, and throws him back into animality. Thenceforth the fallen man labours as a brute, and consequently must be treated as a brute. This sentence of Nature and necessity society will execute.


Everywhere, then, in public service as well as free industry, things are so ordered that nine-tenths of the workers serve as beasts of burden for the other tenth: such is the inevitable effect of industrial progress and the indispensable condition of all wealth. It is important to look well at this elementary truth before talking to the people of equality, liberty, democratic institutions, and other utopias, the realisation of which involves a previous complete revolution in the relations of workers.



“I HAVE WITNESSED with profound regret the CONTINUANCE OF DISTRESS in the manufacturing districts of the country.”

Words of Queen Victoria on the reassembling of parliament.

If there is anything of a nature to cause sovereigns to reflect, it is that, more or less impassable spectators of human calamities, they are, by the very constitution of society and the nature of their power, absolutely powerless to cure the sufferings of their subjects; they are even prohibited from paying any attention to them. Every question of labour and wages, say with one accord the economic and representative theorists, must remain outside of the attributes of power. From the height of the glorious sphere where religion has placed them, thrones, dominations, principalities, powers, and all the heavenly host view the torment of society, beyond the reach of its stress; but their power does not extend over the winds and floods. Kings can do nothing for the salvation of mortals. And, in truth, these theorists are right: the prince is established to maintain, not to revolutionise; to protect reality, not to bring about utopia. He represents one of the antagonistic principles: hence, if he were to establish harmony, he would eliminate himself, which on his part would be sovereignly unconstitutional and absurd.

But as, in spite of theories, the progress of ideas is incessantly changing the external form of institutions in such a way as to render continually necessary exactly that which the legislator neither desires nor foresees,—so that, for instance, questions of taxation become questions of distribution; those of public utility, questions of national labour and industrial organisation; those of finance, operations of credit; and those of international law, questions of customs duties and markets,—it stands as demonstrated that the prince, who, according to theory, should never interfere with things which nevertheless, without theory’s foreknowledge, are daily and irresistibly becoming matters of government, is and can be henceforth, like Divinity from which he emanates, whatever may be said, only an hypothesis, a fiction.

And finally, as it is impossible that the prince and the interests which it is his mission to defend should consent to diminish and disappear before emergent principles and new rights posited, it follows that progress, after being accomplished in the mind insensibly, is realised in society by leaps, and that force, in spite of the calumny of which it is the object, is the necessary condition of reforms. Every society in which the power of insurrection is suppressed is a society dead to progress: there is no truth of history better proven.

And what I say of constitutional monarchies is equally true of representative democracies: everywhere the social compact has united power and conspired against life, it being impossible for the legislator either to see that he was working against his own ends or to proceed otherwise.

Monarchs and representatives, pitiable actors in parliamentary comedies, this in the last analysis is what you are: talismans against the future! Every year brings you the grievances of the people; and when you are asked for the remedy, your wisdom covers its face! Is it necessary to support privilege, —that is, that consecration of the right of the strongest which created you and which is changing every day? Promptly, at the slightest nod of your head, a numerous army starts up, runs to arms, and forms in line of battle. And when the people complain that, in spite of their labour and precisely because of their labour, misery devours them, when society asks you for life, you recite acts of mercy! All your energy is expended for conservatism, all your virtue vanishes in aspirations! Like the Pharisee, instead of feeding your father, you pray for him! Ah! I tell you, we possess the secret of your mission: you exist only to prevent us from living. Nolite ergo imperare, get you gone!

As for us, who view the mission of power from quite another standpoint, and who wish the special work of government to be precisely that of exploring the future, searching for progress, and securing for all liberty, equality, health, and wealth, we continue our task of criticism courageously, entirely sure that, when we have laid bare the cause of the evils of society, the principle of its fevers, the motive of its disturbances, we shall not lack the power to apply the remedy.


The introduction of machinery into industry is accomplished in opposition to the law of division, and as if to re-establish the equilibrium profoundly compromised by that law. To truly appreciate the significance of this movement and grasp its spirit, a few general considerations become necessary.


At the end of the preceding chapter we left the worker at loggerheads with the law of division: how will this indefatigable Oedipus manage to solve this enigma?

In society the incessant appearance of machinery is the antithesis, the inverse formula, of the division of labour; it is the protest of the industrial genius against parcellaire and homicidal labour. What is a machine, in fact? A method of reuniting diverse particles of labour which division had separated. Every machine may be defined as a summary of several operations, a simplification of powers, a condensation of labour, a reduction of costs. In all these respects machinery is the counterpart of division. Therefore through machinery will come a restoration of the parcellaire worker, a decrease of toil for the worker, a fall in the price of his product, a movement in the relation of values, progress towards new discoveries, advancement of the general welfare.[397]

As the discovery of a formula gives a new power to the geometer, so the invention of a machine is an abridgement of manual labour which multiplies the power of the producer, from which it may be inferred that the antinomy of the division of labour, if not entirely destroyed, will be balanced and neutralised. No one should fail to read the lectures of M. Chevalier setting forth the innumerable advantages resulting to society from the intervention of machinery; they make a striking picture to which I take pleasure in referring my reader.

Machinery, positing itself in political economy in opposition to the division of labour, represents synthesis opposing itself in the human mind to analysis; and just as in the division of labour and in machinery, as we shall soon see, political economy entire is contained, so with analysis and synthesis goes the possession of logic entire, of philosophy. The man who labours proceeds necessarily and by turns by division and the aid of tools; likewise, he who reasons performs necessarily and by turns the operations of synthesis and analysis, nothing more, absolutely nothing. And labour and reason will never get beyond this: Prometheus, like Neptune, attains in three strides the confines of the world.


Labour, then, after having distinguished capacities and arranged their equilibrium by the division of industries, completes the armament of intelligence, if I may venture to say so, by machinery. According to the testimony of history as well as according to analysis, and notwithstanding the anomalies caused by the antagonism of economic principles, intelligence differs in men, not by power, clearness, or reach, but, in the first place, by speciality, or, in the language of the schools, by qualitative determination, and, in the second place, by exercise and education. Hence, in the individual as in the collective man, intelligence is much more a faculty which comes, forms, and develops, quae fit, than an entity or entelechy which exists, wholly formed, prior to apprenticeship. Reason, by whatever name we call it,—genius, talent, industry,—is at the start a naked and inert potentiality, which gradually grows in size and strength, takes on colour and form, and shades itself in an infinite variety of ways. By the importance of its acquirements, by its capital, in a word, the intelligence of one individual differs and will always differ from that of another; but, being a power equal in all at the beginning, social progress must consist in rendering it, by an ever increasing perfection of methods, again equal in all at the end. Otherwise labour would remain a privilege for some and a punishment for others.



From the very fact that machinery diminishes the worker’s toil, it abridges and diminishes labour, the supply of which thus grows greater from day to day and the demand less. Little by little, it is true, the reduction in prices causing an increase in consumption, the proportion is restored and the worker set at work again: but as industrial improvements steadily succeed each other and continually tend to substitute mechanical operations for the labour of man, it follows that there is a constant tendency to cut off a portion of the service and consequently to eliminate workers from production. Now, it is with the economic order as with the spiritual order: outside of the church there is no salvation; outside of labour there is no subsistence. Society and nature, equally pitiless, are in accord in the execution of this new decree.

“When a new machine, or, in general, any process whatever that expedites matters,” says J-B Say, “replaces any human labour already employed, some of the industrious arms, whose services are usefully supplanted, are left without work. A new machine, therefore, replaces the labour of a portion of the workers, but does not diminish the amount of production, for, if it did, it would not be adopted; it displaces revenue. But the ultimate advantage is wholly on the side of machinery, for, if abundance of product and lessening of cost lower the venal value, the consumer—that is, everybody—will benefit thereby.”

Say’s optimism is infidelity to logic and to facts. The question here is not simply one of a small number of accidents which have happened during thirty centuries through the introduction of one, two, or three machines; it is a question of a regular, constant, and general phenomenon. After revenue has been displaced as Say says, by one machine, it is then displaced by another, and again by another, and always by another, as long as any labour remains to be done and any exchanges remain to be effected. That is the light in which the phenomenon must be presented and considered: but thus, it must be admitted, its aspect changes singularly. The displacement of revenue, the suppression of labour and wages, is a chronic, permanent, indelible plague, a sort of cholera which now appears wearing the features of Gutenberg, now assumes those of Arkwright; here is called Jacquard, there James Watt or Marquis de Jouffroy. After carrying on its ravages for a longer or shorter time under one form, the monster takes another, and the economists, who think that he has gone, cry out: “It was nothing!” Tranquil and satisfied, provided they insist with all the weight of their dialectics on the positive side of the question, they close their eyes to its subversive side, notwithstanding which, when they are spoken to of poverty, they again begin their sermons upon the improvidence and drunkenness of workers.

In 1750,—M. Dunoyer makes the observation, and it may serve as a measure of all lucubrations of the same sort,—“in 1750 the population of the duchy of Lancaster was 300,000 souls. In 1801, thanks to the development of spinning machines, this population was 672,000 souls. In 1831 it was 1,336,000 souls. Instead of the 40,000 workers whom the cotton industry formerly employed, it now employs, since the invention of machinery, 1,500,000.”

M. Dunoyer adds that at the time when the number of workers employed in this industry increased in so remarkable a manner, the price of labour rose one hundred and fifty percent. Population, then, having simply followed industrial progress, its increase has been a normal and irreproachable fact,—what do I say?—a happy fact, since it is cited to the honour and glory of the development of machinery. But suddenly M. Dunoyer executes an about-face: this multitude of spinning-machines soon being out of work, wages necessarily declined; the population which the machines had called forth found itself abandoned by the machines, at which M. Dunoyer declares: Abuse of marriage is the cause of poverty.

English commerce, in obedience to the demand of the immense body of its patrons, summons workers from all directions, and encourages marriage; as long as labour is abundant, marriage is an excellent thing, the effects of which they are fond of quoting in the interest of machinery; but, the patronage fluctuating, as soon as work and wages are not to be had, they denounce the abuse of marriage, and accuse workers of improvidence. Political economy—that is, proprietary despotism—can never be in the wrong: it must be the proletariat.

The example of printing has been cited many a time, always to sustain the optimistic view. The number of persons supported today by the manufacture of books is perhaps a thousand times larger than was that of the copyists and illuminators prior to Gutenberg’s time; therefore, they conclude with a satisfied air, printing has injured nobody. An infinite number of similar facts might be cited, all of them indisputable, but not one of which would advance the question a step. Once more, no one denies that machines have contributed to the general welfare; but I affirm, in regard to this incontestable fact, that the economists fall short of the truth when they advance the absolute statement that the simplification of processes has nowhere resulted in a diminution of the number of hands employed in any industry whatever. What the economists ought to say is that machinery, like the division of labour, in the present system of social economy is at once a source of wealth and a permanent and fatal cause of misery.[398]

In 1836, in a Manchester mill, nine frames, each having three hundred and twenty-four spindles, were tended by four spinners. Afterwards the mules were doubled in length, which gave each of the nine six hundred and eighty spindles and enabled two men to tend them.

There we have the naked fact of the elimination of the worker by the machine. By a simple device three workers out of four are evicted; what matters it that fifty years later, the population of the globe having doubled and the trade of England having quadrupled, new machines will be constructed and the English manufacturers will reemploy their workers? Do the economists mean to point to the increase of population as one of the benefits of machinery? Let them renounce, then, the theory of Malthus, and stop declaiming against the excessive fecundity of marriage.

They did not stop there: soon a new mechanical improvement enabled a single worker to do the work that formerly occupied four.

A new three-fourths reduction of manual work: in all, a reduction of human labour by fifteen-sixteenths.

A Bolton manufacturer writes: “The elongation of the mules of our frames permits us to employ but twenty-six spinners where we employed thirty-five in 1837.”

Another decimation of workers: one out of four is a victim.

These facts are taken from the Revue Economique of 1842; and there is nobody who cannot point to similar ones. I have witnessed the introduction of printing machines, and I can say that I have seen with my own eyes the evil which printers have suffered thereby. During the fifteen or twenty years that the machines have been in use a portion of the workers have gone back to composition, others have abandoned their trade, and some have died of misery: thus workers are continually crowded back in consequence of industrial innovations. Twenty years ago eighty canal-boats furnished the navigation service between Beaucaire and Lyons; a score of steam-packets has displaced them all. Certainly commerce is the gainer; but what has become of the boating-population? Has it been transferred from the boats to the packets? No: it has gone where all superseded industries go,—it has vanished.

For the rest, the following documents, which I take from the same source, will give a more positive idea of the influence of industrial improvements upon the condition of the workers.

The average weekly wages, at Manchester, is ten shillings. Out of four hundred and fifty workers there are not forty who earn twenty shillings.

The author of the article is careful to remark that an Englishman consumes five times as much as a Frenchman; this, then, is as if a French worker had to live on two francs and a half a week.

Edinburgh Review, 1835: “To a combination of workers (who did not want to see their wages reduced) we owe the mule of Sharpe and Roberts of Manchester; and this invention has severely punished the imprudent unionists.”

Punished should merit punishment. The invention of Sharpe and Roberts of Manchester was bound to result from the situation; the refusal of the workers to submit to the reduction asked of them was only its determining occasion.[399] Might not one infer, from the air of vengeance affected by the Edinburgh Review, that machines have a retroactive effect?

An English manufacturer: “The insubordination of our workers has given us the idea of dispensing with them. We have made and stimulated every imaginable effort of the mind to replace the service of men by tools more docile, and we have achieved our object. Machinery has delivered capital from the oppression of labour. Wherever we still employ a man, we do so only temporarily, pending the invention for us of some means of accomplishing his work without him.”

What a system is that which leads a business man to think with delight that society will soon be able to dispense with men! Machinery has delivered capital from the oppression of labour![400] That is exactly as if the cabinet should undertake to deliver the treasury from the oppression of the taxpayers. Fool! though the workers cost you something, they are your customers: what will you do with your products, when, driven away by you, they shall consume them no longer? Thus machinery, after crushing the workers, is not slow in dealing employers a counter-blow; for, if production excludes consumption, it is soon obliged to stop itself.

During the fourth quarter of 1841 four great failures, happening in an English manufacturing city, threw seventeen hundred and twenty people on the street.

These failures were caused by over-production,—that is, by an inadequate market, or the distress of the people. What a pity that machinery cannot also deliver capital from the oppression of consumers! What a misfortune that machines do not buy the fabrics which they weave! The ideal society will be reached when commerce, agriculture, and manufactures can proceed without a man upon earth!

In a Yorkshire parish for nine months the operatives have been working but two days a week.


At Geston two factories valued at sixty thousand pounds sterling have been sold for twenty-six thousand. They produced more than they could sell.


In 1841 the number of children under thirteen years of age engaged in manufactures diminishes, because children over thirteen take their place.

Machines! The adult worker becomes an apprentice, a child, again: this result was foreseen from the phase of the division of labour, during which we saw the quality of the worker degenerate in the ratio in which industry was perfected.

In his conclusion the journalist makes this reflection: “Since 1836 there has been a retrograde movement in the cotton industry”;—that is, it no longer keeps up its relation with other industries: another result foreseen from the theory of the proportionality of values.

Today workers’ coalitions and strikes seem to have stopped throughout England, and the economists rightly rejoice over this return to order,—let us say even to common sense. But because workers henceforth—at least I cherish the hope—will not add the misery of their voluntary periods of idleness to the misery which machines force upon them, does it follow that the situation is changed? And if there is no change in the situation, will not the future always be a deplorable copy of the past?

The economists love to rest their minds on pictures of public felicity: it is by this sign principally that they are to be recognised, and that they estimate each other. Nevertheless there are not lacking among them, on the other hand, moody and sickly imaginations, ever ready to offset accounts of growing prosperity with proofs of persistent poverty.


But it is necessary to penetrate still farther into the antinomy. Machines promised us an increase of wealth; they have kept their word, but at the same time endowing us with an increase of poverty. [401] They promised us liberty; I am going to prove that they have brought us slavery.

I have stated that the determination of value, and with it the tribulations of society, began with the division of industries, without which there could be no exchange, or wealth, or progress. The period through which we are now passing—that of machinery—is distinguished by a special characteristic: WAGE-LABOUR.

Wage-labour stems from the use of machinery,—that is, to give my thought the entire generality of expression which it calls for, from the economic fiction by which capital becomes an agent of production. Wage-labour, in short, coming after the division of labour and exchange,[402] is the necessary correlative of the theory of the reduction of costs, in whatever way this reduction may be accomplished. This genealogy is too interesting to be passed by without a few words of explanation.

The first, the simplest, the most powerful of machines is the workshop.

Division simply separates the various parts of labour, leaving each to devote himself to the speciality best suited to his tastes: the workshop groups the workers according to the relation of each part to the whole. It is the most elementary form of the balance of values, undiscoverable though the economists suppose this to be. Now, through the workshop, production is going to increase, and at the same time the deficit.

Somebody discovered that, by dividing production into its various parts and causing each to be executed by a separate worker, he would obtain a multiplication of power, the product of which would be far superior to the amount of labour given by the same number of workers when labour is not divided.

Grasping the thread of this idea, he said to himself that, by forming a permanent group of workers assorted with a view to his special purpose, he would produce more steadily, more abundantly, and at less cost. It is not indispensable, however, that the workers should be gathered into one place: the existence of the workshop does not depend essentially upon such contact. It results from the relation and proportion of the different tasks and from the common thought directing them. In a word, concentration at one point may offer its advantages, which are not to be neglected; but that is not what constitutes the workshop

This, then, is the proposition which the speculator makes to those whose collaboration he desires: I guarantee you a perpetual market for your products, if you will accept me as purchaser or middle-man. The bargain is so clearly advantageous that the proposition cannot fail of acceptance. The worker finds in it steady work, a fixed price, and security; the employer, on the other hand, will find a readier sale for his goods, since, producing more advantageously, he can lower the price; in short, his profits will be larger because of the mass of his investments. All, even to the public and the magistrate, will congratulate the employer on having added to the social wealth by his combinations, and will vote him a reward.

But, in the first place, whoever says reduction of expenses says reduction of services, not, it is true, in the new shop, but for the workers at the same trade who are left outside, as well as for many others whose accessory services will be less needed in future. Therefore every establishment of a workshop corresponds to an eviction of workers: this assertion, utterly contradictory though it may appear, is as true of the workshop as of a machine.

The economists admit it: but here they repeat their eternal refrain that, after a lapse of time, the demand for the product having increased in proportion to the reduction of price, labour in turn will come finally to be in greater demand than ever. Undoubtedly, WITH TIME, the equilibrium will be restored; but, I must add again, the equilibrium will be no sooner restored at this point than it will be disturbed at another, because the spirit of invention never stops, any more than labour. Now, what theory could justify these perpetual hecatombs? “When we have reduced the number of toilers,” wrote Sismondi, “to a fourth or a fifth of what it is at present, we shall need only a fourth or a fifth as many priests, physicians, etc. When we have cut them off altogether, we shall be in a position to dispense with the human race.” And that is what really would happen if, in order to put the labour of each machine in proportion to the needs of consumption,—that is, to restore the balance of values continually destroyed,—it were not necessary to continually create new machines, open other markets, and consequently multiply services and displace other arms. So that on the one hand industry and wealth, on the other population and misery, advance, so to speak, in procession, one always dragging the other after it.

I have shown the entrepreneur, at the birth of industry, negotiating on equal terms with his comrades, who have since become his workers. It is plain, in fact, that this original equality was bound to disappear through the advantageous position of the master and the dependence of the wage-workers. In vain does the law assure to each the right of enterprise, as well as the faculty to labour alone and sell one’s products directly. According to the hypothesis, this last resource is impracticable, since it was the object of the workshop to annihilate isolated labour. And as for the right to take the plough, as they say, and go at speed, it is the same in manufactures as in agriculture; to know how to work is nothing, it is necessary to arrive at the right time; the shop, as well as the land, is to the first comer. When an establishment has had the leisure to develop itself, enlarge its foundations, ballast itself with capital, and assure itself a body of patrons, what can the worker who has only his arms do against a power so superior? Hence it was not by an arbitrary act of sovereign power or by fortuitous and brutal usurpation that the guilds and masterships were established in the Middle Ages: the force of events had created them long before the edicts of kings could have given them legal consecration; and, in spite of the reform of ’89, we see them re-establishing themselves under our eyes with an energy a hundred times more formidable. Abandon labour to its own tendencies, and the subjection of three-fourths of the human race is assured.

But this is not all. The machine, or the workshop, after having degraded the worker by giving him a master, completes his degeneracy by reducing him from the rank of artisan to that of unskilled labourer.


If not misery, then degradation: such is the last alternative which machinery offers to the worker. For it is with a machine as with a piece of artillery: the captain excepted, those whom it occupies are servants, slaves.

Since the establishment of large factories, a multitude of little industries have disappeared from the domestic hearth: does anyone believe that the girls who work for ten and fifteen cents have as much intelligence as their ancestors?

“After the establishment of the railway from Paris to Saint Germain,” M. Dunoyer tells us, “there were established between Pecq and a multitude of places in the more or less immediate vicinity such a number of omnibus and stage lines that this establishment, contrary to all expectation, has considerably increased the employment of horses.”

Contrary to all expectation! It takes an economist not to expect these things. Multiply machinery, and you increase the amount of arduous and disagreeable labour to be done: this apothegm is as certain as any of those which date from the deluge. Accuse me, if you choose, of ill-will towards the most precious invention of our century,—nothing shall prevent me from saying that the principal result of railways, after the subjection of petty industry, will be the creation of a population of degraded workers,—signalmen, sweepers, loaders, lumpers, draymen, watchmen, porters, weighers, greasers, cleaners, stokers, firemen, etc. Two thousand miles of railway will give France an additional fifty thousand serfs: it is not for such people, certainly, that M. Chevalier asks professional schools.

Perhaps it will be said that, the mass of transportation having increased in much greater proportion than the number of day-workers, the difference is to the advantage of the railway, and that, all things considered, there is progress. The observation may even be generalised and the same argument applied to all industries.

But it is precisely out of this generality of the phenomenon that springs the subjection of workers. Machinery plays the leading role in industry, man is secondary: all the genius displayed by labour tends to the degradation of the proletariat. What a glorious nation will be ours when, among forty million inhabitants, it shall count thirty-five million drudges, paper-scratchers, and flunkies!

With machinery and the workshop, divine right—that is, the principle of authority—makes its entrance into political economy. Capital, Mastership, Privilege, Monopoly, Loaning, Credit, Property, etc.,—such are, in economic language, the various names of I know not what, but which is otherwise called Power, Authority, Sovereignty, Written Law, Revelation, Religion, God in short, cause and principle of all our miseries and all our crimes, and who, the more we try to define him, the more eludes us.

Is it, then, impossible that, in the present condition of society, the workshop with its hierarchical organisation, and machinery, instead of serving exclusively the interests of the least numerous, the least industrious, and the wealthiest class, should be employed for the benefit of all?

That is what we are going to examine.


Reduction of manual labour is synonymous with lowering of price, and, consequently, with increase of exchange, since, if the consumer pays less, he will buy more.

But reduction of manual labour is synonymous also with restriction of market, since, if the producer earns less, he will buy less. And this is the course that things actually take. The concentration of forces in the workshop and the intervention of capital in production, under the name of machinery, engender at the same time overproduction and destitution; and everybody has witnessed these two scourges, more to be feared than incendiarism and plague, develop in our day on the vastest scale and with devouring intensity. Nevertheless it is impossible for us to retreat:[403] it is necessary to produce, produce always, produce cheaply; otherwise, the existence of society is compromised. The worker, who, to escape the degradation with which the principle of division threatened him, had created so many marvellous machines, now finds himself either prohibited or subjugated by his own works. Against this alternative what means are proposed?

M. de Sismondi, like all men of patriarchal ideas, would like the division of labour, with machinery and manufactures, to be abandoned, and each family to return to the system of primitive indivision,—that is, to each one by himself, each one for himself, in the most literal meaning of the words. That would be to retrograde; it is impossible.[404]

M. Blanqui returns to the charge with his plan of participation by the worker, and of consolidation of all industries in a joint-stock company for the benefit of the collective worker. I have shown that this plan would impair public welfare without appreciably improving the condition of the workers; and M. Blanqui himself seems to share this sentiment. How reconcile, in fact, this participation of the worker in the profits with the rights of inventors, entrepreneurs, and capitalists, of whom the first have to reimburse themselves for large outlays, as well as for their long and patient efforts; the second continually endanger the wealth they have acquired, and take upon themselves alone the chances of their enterprises, which are often very hazardous; and the third could sustain no reduction of their dividends without in some way losing their savings? How harmonise, in a word, the equality desirable to establish between workers and employers with the preponderance which cannot be taken from heads of establishments, from loaners of capital, and from inventors, and which involves so clearly their exclusive appropriation of the profits? To decree by a law the admission of all workers to a share of the profits would be to pronounce the dissolution of the company: all the economists have seen this so clearly that they have finally changed into an exhortation to employers what had first occurred to them as a project. Now, as long as the wage-worker gets no profit save what may be allowed him by the entrepreneur, it is perfectly safe to assume that eternal poverty will be his lot: it is not in the power of the holders of labour to make it otherwise.


Whatever the pace of mechanical progress; though machines should be invented a hundred times more marvellous than the mule-jenny, the knitting-machine, or the cylinder press; though forces should be discovered a hundred times more powerful than steam,—very far from freeing humanity, securing its leisure, and making the production of everything gratuitous, these things would have no other effect than to multiply labour, induce an increase of population, make the chains of serfdom heavier, render life more and more expensive, and deepen the abyss which separates the class that commands and enjoys from the class that obeys and suffers.[405]



BETWEEN THE HUNDRED-HEADED hydra, division of labour, and the unconquered dragon, machinery, what will become of humanity? A prophet has said it more than two thousand years ago: Satan looks on his victim, and the fires of war are kindled, Aspexit gentes, et dissolvit. To save us from two scourges, famine and pestilence, Providence sends us discord.

Competition represents that philosophical era in which, a semi-understanding of the antinomies of reason having given birth to the art of sophistry, the characteristics of the false and the true were confounded, and in which, instead of doctrines, they had nothing but deceptive mental tilts. Thus the industrial movement faithfully reproduces the metaphysical movement; the history of social economy is to be found entire in the writings of the philosophers. Let us study this interesting phase, whose most striking characteristic is to take away the judgement of those who believe as well as those who protest.



Is it not immediately and intuitively evident that COMPETITION DESTROYS COMPETITION? Is there a theorem in geometry more certain, more peremptory, than that? How then, upon what conditions, in what sense, can a principle which is its own denial enter into science? How can it become an organic law of society? If competition is necessary; if, as the school says, it is a postulate of production,—how does it become so devastating in its effects? And if its most certain effect is to ruin those whom it incites, how does it become useful? For the inconveniences which follow in its train, like the good which it procures, are not accidents arising from the work of man: both follow logically from the principle, and subsist by the same title and face to face.

And, in the first place, competition is as essential to labour as division, since it is division itself returning in another form, or rather, raised to its second power; division, I say, no longer, as in the first period of economic evolution, adequate to collective force, and consequently absorbing the personality of the worker in the workshop, but giving birth to liberty by making each subdivision of labour a sort of sovereignty in which man stands in all his power and independence. Competition, in a word, is liberty in division and in all the divided parts: beginning with the most comprehensive functions, it tends toward its realisation even in the inferior operations of parcellaire labour.


Competition is necessary to the constitution of value,—that is, to the very principle of distribution, and consequently to the advent of equality. As long as a product is supplied only by a single manufacturer, its real value remains a mystery, either through the producer’s misrepresentation or through his neglect or inability to reduce the cost of production to its extreme limit. Thus the privilege of production is a real loss to society, and publicity of industry, like competition between workers, a necessity. All the utopias ever imagined or imaginable cannot escape this law.[406]

Certainly I do not care to deny that labour and wages can and should be guaranteed; I even entertain the hope that the time of such guarantee is not far off: but I maintain that a guarantee of wages is impossible without an exact knowledge of value, and that this value can be discovered only by competition, not at all by communistic institutions or by popular decree. For in this there is something more powerful than the will of the legislator and of citizens,—namely, the absolute impossibility that man should do his duty after finding himself relieved of all responsibility to himself: now, responsibility to self, in the matter of labour, necessarily implies competition with others. Ordain that, beginning January 1st, 1847, labour and wages are guaranteed to all: immediately an immense relaxation will succeed the extreme tension to which industry is now subjected; real value will fall rapidly below nominal value; metallic money, in spite of its effigy and stamp, will experience the fate of the assignats; the merchant will ask more and give less; and we shall find ourselves in a still lower circle in the hell of misery in which competition is only the third turn.

Even were I to admit, with some socialists, that the attractiveness of labour may some day serve as food for emulation without any hidden thought of profit, of what utility could this utopia be in the phase which we are studying? We are yet only in the third period of economic evolution, in the third age of the constitution of labour,—that is, in a period when it is impossible for labour to be attractive. For the attractiveness of labour can result only from a high degree of physical, moral, and intellectual development of the worker. Now, this development itself, this education of humanity by industry, is precisely the object of which we are in pursuit through the contradictions of social economy. How, then, could the attractiveness of labour serve us as a principle and lever, when it is still our object and our end?


In proof of the industrial capacity of the State, and consequently of the possibility of abolishing competition altogether, they cite the administration of the tobacco industry. There, they [the communists] say, is no adulteration, no litigation, no bankruptcy, no misery. The condition of the workers, adequately paid, instructed, sermonised, moralised, and assured of a retiring pension accumulated by their savings, is incomparably superior to that of the immense majority of workers engaged in free industry.

All this may be true: for my part, I am ignorant on the subject. I know nothing of what goes on in the administration of the tobacco factories; I have procured no information either from the directors or the workers, and I have no need of any. How much does the tobacco sold by the administration cost? How much is it worth? You can answer the first of these questions: you only need to call at the first tobacco shop you see. But you can tell me nothing about the second, because you have no standard of comparison and are forbidden to verify by experiment the items of cost of administration, which it is consequently impossible to accept. Therefore the tobacco business, made into a monopoly, necessarily costs society more than it brings in; it is an industry which, instead of subsisting by its own product, lives by subsidies, and which consequently, far from furnishing us a model, is one of the first abuses which reform should strike down.

And when I speak of the reform to be introduced in the production of tobacco, I do not refer simply to the enormous tax which triples or quadruples the value of this product; neither do I refer to the hierarchical organisation of its employees, some of whom by their salaries are made aristocrats as expensive as they are useless, while others, hopeless receivers of petty wages, are kept forever in the situation of subalterns. I do not even speak of the privilege of the tobacco shops and the whole world of parasites which they support: I have particularly in view the useful labour, the labour of the workers. From the very fact that the administration’s worker has no competitors and is interested neither in profit nor loss, from the fact that he is not free, in a word, his product is necessarily less, and his service too expensive. This being so, let them say that the government treats its employees well and looks out for their comfort: what wonder? Why do not people see that liberty bears the burdens of privilege, and that, if, by some impossibility, all industries were to be treated like the tobacco industry, the source of subsidies failing, the nation could no longer balance its receipts and its expenses, and the State would become a bankrupt?


Therefore competition, analysed in its principle, is an inspiration of justice; and yet we shall see that competition, in its results, is unjust.


The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, says the Gospel, and the violent take it by force. These words are the allegory of society. In society regulated by labour, dignity, wealth, and glory are objects of competition; they are the reward of the strong, and competition may be defined as the regime of force. The old economists did not at first perceive this contradiction: the moderns have been forced to recognise it.

“To elevate a State from the lowest degree of barbarism to the highest degree of opulence,” wrote A. Smith, “but three things are necessary,—peace, moderate taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice. All the rest is brought about by the natural course of things.”

On which the last translator of Smith, M. Blanqui, lets fall this gloomy comment:

“We have seen the natural course of things produce disastrous effects, and create anarchy in production, war for markets, and piracy in competition. The division of labour and the perfecting of machinery, which should realise for the great working family of the human race the conquest of a certain amount of leisure to the advantage of its dignity, have produced at many points nothing but degradation and misery..... When A. Smith wrote, liberty had not yet come with its embarrassments and its abuses, and the Glasgow professor foresaw only its blessings... Smith would have written like M. de Sismondi, if he had been a witness of the sad condition of Ireland and the manufacturing districts of England in the times in which we live.”

Now then, litterateurs, statesmen, daily publicists, believers and half-believers, all you who have taken upon yourselves the mission of indoctrinating men, do you hear these words which one would take for a translation from Jeremiah? Will you tell us at last to what end you pretend to be conducting civilisation? What advice do you offer to society, to the country, in alarm?

But to whom do I speak? Ministers, journalists, sextons, and pedants! Do such people trouble themselves about the problems of social economy? Have they ever heard of competition?


Competition, with its homicidal instinct, takes away the bread of a whole class of workers, and sees in it only an improvement, a saving; it steals a secret in a cowardly manner, and glories in it as a discovery; it changes the natural zones of production to the detriment of an entire people, and pretends to have done nothing but utilise the advantages of its climate. Competition overturns all notions of equity and justice; it increases the real cost of production by needlessly multiplying the capital invested, causes by turns the dearness of products and their depreciation, corrupts the public conscience by putting chance in the place of right, and maintains terror and distrust everywhere.

But what! Without this atrocious characteristic, competition would lose its happiest effects; without the arbitrary element in exchange and the panics of the market, labour would not continually build factory against factory, and, not being maintained in such good working order, production would realise none of its marvels. After having caused evil to arise from the very utility of its principle, competition again finds a way to extract good from evil; destruction engenders utility, equilibrium is realised by agitation, and it may be said of competition, as Samson said of the lion which he had slain: De comedente cibus exiit, et de forti dulcedo. Is there anything, in all the spheres of human knowledge, more surprising than political economy?

Let us take care, nevertheless, not to yield to an impulse of irony, which would be on our part only unjust invective. It is characteristic of economic science to find its certainty in its contradictions, and the whole error of the economists consists in not having understood this. Nothing poorer than their criticism, nothing more saddening than their mental confusion, as soon as they touch this question of competition: one would say that they were witnesses forced by torture to confess what their conscience would like to conceal. The reader will take it kindly if I put before his eyes the arguments for laissez-passer, introducing him, so to speak, into the presence of a secret meeting of economists.

M. Dunoyer opens the discussion.

Of all the economists M. Dunoyer has most energetically embraced the positive side of competition, and consequently, as might have been expected, most ineffectually grasped the negative side. M. Dunoyer, with whom nothing can be done when what he calls principles are under discussion, is very far from believing that in matters of political economy yes and no may be true at the same moment and to the same extent; let it be said even to his credit, such a conception is the more repugnant to him because of the frankness and honesty with which he holds his doctrines. What would I not give to gain an entrance into this pure but so obstinate soul for this truth as certain to me as the existence of the sun,—that all the categories of political economy are contradictions! Instead of uselessly exhausting himself in reconciling practice and theory; instead of contenting himself with the ridiculous excuse that everything here below has its advantages and its inconveniences,—M. Dunoyer would seek the synthetic idea which solves all the antinomies, and, instead of the paradoxical conservative which he now is, he would become with us an inexorable and logical revolutionist.

“If competition is a false principle,” says M. Dunoyer, “it follows that for two thousand years humanity has been pursuing the wrong road.”

No, what you say does not follow, and your prejudicial remark is refuted by the very theory of progress. Humanity posits its principles by turns, and sometimes at long intervals: never does it give them up in substance, although it destroys successively their expressions and formulas. This destruction is called negation; because the general reason, ever progressive, continually denies the completeness and sufficiency of its prior ideas. Thus it is that, competition being one of the periods in the constitution of value, one of the elements of the social synthesis, it is true to say at the same time that it is indestructible in its principle, and that nevertheless in its present form it should be abolished, denied.[407] If, then, there is anyone here who is in opposition to history, it is you.

“I have several remarks to make upon the accusations of which competition has been the object. The first is that this regime, good or bad, ruinous or fruitful, does not really exist as yet; that it is established nowhere except in a partial and most incomplete manner.”

This first observation has no sense. Competition kills competition, as we said at the outset; this aphorism may be taken for a definition. How, then, could competition ever be complete? Moreover, though it should be admitted that competition does not yet exist in its integrity, that would simply prove that competition does not act with all the power of elimination that there is in it; but that will not change at all its contradictory nature. What need have we to wait thirty centuries longer to find out that, the more competition develops, the more it tends to reduce the number of competitors?

“The second is that the picture drawn of it is unfaithful; and that sufficient heed is not paid to the extension which the general welfare has undergone, including even that of the labouring classes.”

If some socialists fail to recognise the useful side of competition, you on your side make no mention of its pernicious effects. The testimony of your opponents coming to complete your own, competition is shown in the fullest light, and from a double falsehood we get the truth as a result. As for the gravity of the evil, we shall see directly what to think about that.

“The third is that the evil experienced by the labouring classes is not referred to its real causes.”

If there are other causes of poverty than competition, does that prevent it from contributing its share? Though only one manufacturer a year were ruined by competition, if it were admitted that this ruin is the necessary effect of the principle, competition, as a principle, would have to be rejected.

“The fourth is that the principal means proposed for obviating it would be inexpedient in the extreme.”

Possibly: but from this I conclude that the inadequacy of the remedies proposed imposes a new duty upon you,—precisely that of seeking the most expedient means of preventing the evil of competition.

“The fifth, finally, is that the real remedies, in so far as it is possible to remedy the evil by legislation, would be found precisely in the regime which is accused of having produced it,—that is, in a more and more real regime of liberty and competition.”

Well! I am willing. The remedy for competition, in your opinion, is to make competition universal. But, in order that competition may be universal, it is necessary to procure for all the means of competing; it is necessary to destroy or modify the predominance of capital over labour, to change the relations between employer and worker, to solve, in a word, the antinomy of division and that of machinery; it is necessary to ORGANISE LABOUR: can you give this solution?[408]


In theory we have demonstrated that competition, on its useful side, should be universal and carried to its maximum of intensity; but that, viewed on its negative side, it must be everywhere stifled, even to the last vestige. Are the economists in a position to effect this elimination? Have they foreseen the consequences, calculated the difficulties? If the answer should be affirmative, I should have the boldness to propose the following case to them for solution.

A treaty of coalition, or rather of association,—for the courts would be greatly embarrassed to define either term,—has just united in one company all the coal mines in the basin of the Loire. On complaint of the municipalities of Lyons and Saint Etienne, the ministry has appointed a commission charged with examining the character and tendencies of this frightful society. Well, I ask, what can the intervention of power, with the assistance of civil law and political economy, accomplish here?

They cry out against coalition. But can the proprietors of mines be prevented from associating, from reducing their general expenses and costs of exploitation, and from working their mines to better advantage by a more perfect understanding with each other? Shall they be ordered to begin their old war over again, and ruin themselves by increased expenses, waste, overproduction, disorder, and decreased prices? All that is absurd.

Shall they be prevented from increasing their prices so as to recover the interest on their capital? Then let them be protected themselves against any demands for increased wages on the part of the workers; let the law concerning joint-stock companies be re-enacted; let the sale of shares be prohibited; and when all these measures shall have been taken, as the capitalist-proprietors of the basin cannot justly be forced to lose capital invested under a different condition of things, let them be indemnified.

Shall a tariff be imposed upon them? That would be a law of maximum. The State would then have to put itself in the place of the exploiters; keep the accounts of their capital, interest, and office expenses; regulate the wages of the miners, the salaries of the engineers and directors, the price of the wood employed in the extraction of the coal, the expenditure for material; and, finally, determine the normal and legitimate rate of profit. All this cannot be done by ministerial decree: a law is necessary. Will the legislator dare, for the sake of a special industry, to change the public law of the French, and put power in the place of property? Then of two things one: either commerce in coals will fall into the hands of the State, or else the State must find some means of reconciling liberty and order in carrying on the mining industry, in which case the socialists will ask that what has been executed at one point be imitated at all points.

The coalition of the Loire mines has posited the social question in terms which permit no more evasion. Either competition,—that is, monopoly and what follows; or exploitation by the State,—that is, dearness of labour and continuous impoverishment; or else, in short, a solution based upon equality, —in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.



Can competition in labour be abolished?

It would be as well worth while to ask if personality, liberty, individual responsibility can be suppressed.

Competition, in fact, is the expression of collective activity; just as wages, considered in its highest acceptation, is the expression of the merit and demerit, in a word, the responsibility, of the worker. It is vain to declaim and revolt against these two essential forms of liberty and discipline in labour. Without a theory of wages there is no distribution, no justice; without an organisation of competition there is no social guarantee, consequently no solidarity.

The socialists have confounded two essentially distinct things when, contrasting the union of the domestic hearth with industrial competition, they have asked themselves if society could not be constituted precisely like a great family all of whose members would be bound by ties of blood, and not as a sort of coalition in which each is held back by the law of his own interests.

The family is not, if I may venture to so speak, the type, the organic molecule, of society. In the family, as M. de Bonald has very well observed, there exists but one moral being, one mind, one soul, I had almost said, with the Bible, one flesh. The family is the type and the cradle of monarchy and the patriciate: in it resides and is preserved the idea of authority and sovereignty, which is being obliterated more and more in the State. It was on the model of the family that all the ancient and feudal societies were organised, and it is precisely against this old patriarchal constitution that modern democracy protests and revolts.

The constitutive unit of society is the workshop.

Now, the workshop necessarily implies an interest as a body and private interests, a collective person and individuals. Hence a system of relations unknown in the family, among which the opposition of the collective will, represented by the employer, and individual wills, represented by the wage-workers , figures in the front rank. Then come the relations from shop to shop, from capital to capital,—in other words, competition and association. For competition and association are supported by each other; they do not exist independently; very far from excluding each other, they are not even divergent. Whoever says competition already supposes a common object; competition, then, is not egoism, and the most deplorable error of socialism consists in having regarded it as the subversion of society.

Therefore there can be no question here of destroying competition, as impossible as to destroy liberty; the problem is to find its equilibrium, I would willingly say its police. For every force, every form of spontaneity, whether individual or collective, must receive its determination: in this respect it is the same with competition as with intelligence and liberty. How, then, will competition be harmoniously determined in society?

We have heard the reply of M. Dunoyer, speaking for political economy: Competition must be determined by itself. In other words, according to M. Dunoyer and all the economists, the remedy for the inconveniences of competition is more competition; and, since political economy is the theory of property, of the absolute right of use and abuse, it is clear that political economy has no other answer to make. Now, this is as if it should be pretended that the education of liberty is effected by liberty, the instruction of the mind by the mind, the determination of value by value, all of which propositions are evidently tautological and absurd.

And, in fact, to confine ourselves to the subject under discussion, it is obvious that competition, practised for itself and with no other object than to maintain a vague and discordant independence, can end in nothing, and that its oscillations are eternal. In competition the struggling elements are capital, machinery, processes, talent, and experience,—that is, capital again; victory is assured to the heaviest battalions. If, then, competition is practised only to the advantage of private interests, and if its social effects have been neither determined by science nor reserved by the State, there will be in competition, as in democracy, a continual tendency from civil war to oligarchy, from oligarchy to despotism, and then dissolution and return to civil war, without end and without rest. That is why competition, abandoned to itself, can never arrive at its own constitution: like value, it needs a superior principle to socialise and define it. These facts are henceforth well enough established to warrant us in considering them above criticism, and to excuse us from returning to them. Political economy, so far as the police of competition is concerned, having no means but competition itself, and unable to have any other, is shown to be powerless.

It remains now to inquire what solution socialism contemplates. A single example will give the measure of its means, and will permit us to come to general conclusions regarding it.

Of all modern socialists M. Louis Blanc, perhaps, by his remarkable talent, has been most successful in calling public attention to his writings. In his Organisation of Labour, after having traced back the problem of association to a single point, competition, he unhesitatingly pronounces in favour of its abolition. From this we may judge to what an extent this writer, generally so cautious, is deceived as to the value of political economy and the range of socialism. On the one hand, M. Blanc, receiving his ideas ready made from I know not what source, giving everything to his century and nothing to history, rejects absolutely, in substance and in form, political economy, and deprives himself of the very materials of organisation; on the other, he attributes to tendencies revived from all past epochs, which he takes for new, a reality which they do not possess, and misconceives the nature of socialism, which is exclusively critical. M. Blanc, therefore, has given us the spectacle of a vivid imagination ready to confront an impossibility; he has believed in the divination of genius; but he must have perceived that science does not improvise itself, and that, be one’s name Adolphe Boyer, Louis Blanc, or J.-J. Rousseau, provided there is nothing in experience, there is nothing in the mind.

M. Blanc begins with this declaration:

“We cannot understand those who have imagined I know not what mysterious coupling of two opposite principles. To graft association upon competition is a poor idea: it is to substitute hermaphrodites for eunuchs.”

These three lines M. Blanc will always have reason to regret. They prove that, when he published the fourth edition of his book, he was as little advanced in logic as in political economy, and that he reasoned about both as a blind man would reason about colours. Hermaphrodism, in politics, consists precisely in exclusion, because exclusion always restores, in some form or other and in the same degree, the idea excluded; and M. Blanc would be greatly surprised were he to be shown, by his continual mixture in his book of the most contrary principles,—authority and right, property and communism, aristocracy and equality, labour and capital, reward and sacrifice, liberty and dictatorship, free inquiry and religious faith,—that the real hermaphrodite, the double-sexed publicist, is himself. M. Blanc, placed on the borders of democracy and socialism, one degree lower than the Republic, two degrees beneath M. Barrot, three beneath M. Thiers, is also, whatever he may say and whatever he may do, a descendant through four generations from M. Guizot, a doctrinaire.

“Certainly,” cries M. Blanc, “we are not of those who anathematise the principle of authority. This principle we have a thousand times had occasion to defend against attacks as dangerous as absurd. We know that, when organised force exists nowhere in a society, despotism exists everywhere.”

Thus, according to M. Blanc, the remedy for competition, or rather, the means of abolishing it, consists in the intervention of authority, in the substitution of the State for individual liberty: it is the inverse of the system of the economists.

I should dislike to have M. Blanc, whose social tendencies are well known, accuse me of making impolitic war upon him in refuting him. I do justice to M. Blanc’s generous intentions; I love and I read his works, and I am especially thankful to him for the service he has rendered in revealing, in his History of Ten Years, the hopeless poverty of his party. But no one can consent to seem a dupe or an imbecile: now, putting personality entirely aside, what can there be in common between socialism, that universal protest, and the hotchpotch of old prejudices which make up M. Blanc’s republic? M. Blanc is never tired of appealing to authority, and socialism loudly declares itself anarchistic; M. Blanc places power above society, and socialism tends to subordinate it to society; M. Blanc makes social life descend from above, and socialism maintains that it springs up and grows from below; M. Blanc runs after politics, and socialism is in quest of science. No more hypocrisy, let me say to M. Blanc: you desire neither Catholicism nor monarchy nor nobility, but you must have a God, a religion, a dictatorship, a censorship, a hierarchy, distinctions, and ranks. For my part, I deny your God, your authority, your sovereignty, your judicial State, and all your representative mystifications; I want neither Robespierre’s censer nor Marat’s rod; and, rather than submit to your androgynous democracy, I would support the status quo. For sixteen years your party has resisted progress and blocked opinion; for sixteen years it has shown its despotic origin by following in the wake of power at the extremity of the left centre: it is time for it to abdicate or undergo a metamorphosis. Implacable theorists of authority, what then do you propose which the government upon which you make war cannot accomplish in a fashion more tolerable than yours?

M. Blanc’s SYSTEM may be summarised in three points:

  1. To give power a great force of initiative,—that is, in plain English, to make absolutism omnipotent in order to realise a utopia.

  2. To establish public workshops, and supply them with capital, at the State’s expense.

  3. To extinguish private industry by the competition of national industry.

And that is all.

Has M. Blanc touched the problem of value, which involves in itself alone all others? He does not even suspect its existence. Has he given a theory of distribution? No. Has he solved the antinomy of the division of labour, perpetual cause of the worker’s ignorance, immorality, and poverty? No. Has he caused the contradiction of machinery and wage-labour to disappear, and reconciled the rights of association with those of liberty? On the contrary, M. Blanc consecrates this contradiction. Under the despotic protection of the State, he admits in principle the inequality of ranks and wages, adding thereto, as compensation, the ballot. Are not workers who vote their regulations and elect their leaders free? It may very likely happen that these voting workers will admit no command or difference of pay among them: then, as nothing will have been provided for the satisfaction of industrial capacities, while maintaining political equality, dissolution will penetrate into the workshop, and, in the absence of police intervention, each will return to his own affairs. These fears seem to M. Blanc neither serious nor well-founded: he awaits the test calmly, very sure that society will not go out of his way to contradict him.


To sum up:

Competition, as an economic position or phase, considered in its origin, is the necessary result of the intervention of machinery, of the establishment of the workshop, and of the theory of reduction of general costs; considered in its own significance and in its tendency, it is the mode by which collective activity manifests and exercises itself, the expression of social spontaneity, the emblem of democracy and equality, the most energetic instrument for the constitution of value, the support of association. As the essay of individual forces, it is the guarantee of their liberty, the first moment of their harmony, the form of responsibility which unites them all and makes them interdependent [solidaires].

But competition abandoned to itself and deprived of the direction of a superior and efficacious principle is only a vague movement, an endless oscillation of industrial power, eternally tossed about between those two equally disastrous extremes,—on the one hand, corporations and patronage, to which we have seen the workshop give birth, and, on the other, monopoly, which will be discussed in the following chapter.

Socialism, while protesting, and with reason, against this anarchical competition, has as yet proposed nothing satisfactory for its regulation, as is proved by the fact that we meet everywhere, in the utopias which have seen the light, the determination or socialisation of value abandoned to arbitrary control, and all reforms ending, now in hierarchical corporation, now in State monopoly, or the tyranny of community [communauté].


Monopoly, THE EXCLUSIVE commerce, exploitation, or enjoyment of a thing.

Monopoly is the natural opposite of competition. This simple observation suffices, as we have remarked, to overthrow the utopias based upon the idea of abolishing competition, as if its contrary were association and fraternity. Competition is the vital force which animates the collective being: to destroy it, if such a supposition were possible, would be to kill society.

But, the moment we admit competition as a necessity, it implies the idea of monopoly, since monopoly is, as it were, the seat of each competing individuality. Accordingly the economists have demonstrated—and M. Rossi has formally admitted it—that monopoly is the form of social possession, outside of which there is no labour, no product, no exchange, no wealth. Every landed possession is a monopoly; every industrial utopia tends to establish itself as a monopoly; and the same must be said of other functions not included in these two categories.

Monopoly in itself, then, does not carry the idea of injustice; in fact, there is something in it which, pertaining to society as well as to man, legitimates it: that is the positive side of the principle which we are about to examine.

But monopoly, like competition, becomes anti-social and disastrous: how does this happen? By abuse, reply the economists. And it is to defining and repressing the abuses of monopoly that the magistrates apply themselves; it is in denouncing them that the new school of economists glories.

We shall show that the so-called abuses of monopoly are only the effects of the development, in a negative sense, of legal monopoly; that they cannot be separated from their principle without ruining this principle; consequently, that they are inaccessible to the law, and that all repression in this direction is arbitrary and unjust. So that monopoly, the constitutive principle of society and the condition of wealth, is at the same time and in the same degree a principle of spoliation and pauperism; that, the more good it is made to produce, the more evil is received from it; that without it progress comes to a standstill, and that with it labour becomes stationary and civilisation disappears.


Thus monopoly is the inevitable end of competition, which engenders it by a continual denial of itself: this generation of monopoly is already its justification. For, since competition is inherent in society as motion is in living beings, monopoly which comes in its train, which is its object and its end, and without which competition would not have been accepted,—monopoly is and will remain legitimate as long as competition, as long as mechanical processes and industrial combinations, as long, in fact, as the division of labour and the constitution of values shall be necessities and laws.

Therefore by the single fact of its logical generation monopoly is justified. Nevertheless this justification would seem of little force and would end only in a more energetic rejection of competition than ever, if monopoly could not in turn posit itself by itself and as a principle.

In the preceding chapters we have seen that division of labour is the specification of the worker considered especially as intelligence; that the creation of machinery and the organisation of the workshop express his liberty; and that, by competition, man, or intelligent liberty, enters into action. Now, monopoly is the expression of victorious liberty, the prize of the struggle, the glorification of genius; it is the strongest stimulant of all the steps in progress taken since the beginning of the world: so true is this that, as we said just now, society, which cannot exist with it, would not have been formed without it.

Where, then, does monopoly get this singular virtue, which the etymology of the word and the vulgar aspect of the thing would never lead us to suspect?

Monopoly is at bottom simply the autocracy of man over himself: it is the dictatorial right accorded by nature to every producer of using his faculties as he pleases, of giving free play to his thought in whatever direction it prefers, of speculating, in such speciality as he may please to choose, with all the power of his resources, of disposing sovereignly of the instruments which he has created and of the capital accumulated by his economy for any enterprise the risks of which he may see fit to accept on the express condition of enjoying alone the fruits of his discovery and the profits of his venture.

This right belongs so thoroughly to the essence of liberty that to deny it is to mutilate man in his body, in his soul, and in the exercise of his faculties, and society, which progresses only by the free initiative of individuals, soon lacking explorers, finds itself arrested in its onward march.


What, then, is this reality, known to all peoples, and nevertheless still so badly defined, which is called interest or the price of a loan, and which gives rise to the fiction of the productivity of capital?

Everybody knows that an entrepreneur, when he calculates his costs of production, generally divides them into three classes: 1, the values consumed and services paid for; 2, his personal salary; 3, recovery of his capital with interest. From this last class of costs is born the distinction between entrepreneur and capitalist, although these two titles always express but one faculty, monopoly.

Thus an industrial enterprise which yields only interest on capital and nothing for net product, is an insignificant enterprise, which results only in a transformation of values without adding anything to wealth,—an enterprise, in short, which has no further reason for existence and is immediately abandoned. Why is it, then, that this interest on capital is not regarded as a sufficient supplement of net product? Why is it not itself the net product?

Here again the philosophy of the economists is wanting. To defend usury they have pretended that capital was productive, and they have changed a metaphor into a reality. The anti-proprietary socialists have had no difficulty in overturning their sophistry; and through this controversy the theory of capital has fallen into such disfavour that today, in the minds of the people, capitalist and idler are synonymous terms. Certainly it is not my intention to retract what I myself have maintained after so many others, or to rehabilitate a class of citizens which so strangely misconceives its duties: but the interests of science and of the proletariat itself oblige me to complete my first assertions and maintain true principles.


If an entrepreneur is his own capitalist, it may happen that he will content himself with a profit equal to the interest on his investment: but in that case it is certain that his industry is no longer making progress and consequently is suffering. This we see when the capitalist is distinct from the entrepreneur: for then, after the interest is paid, the manufacturer’s profit is absolutely nothing; his industry becomes a perpetual peril to him, from which it is important that he should free himself as soon as possible. For as society’s comfort must develop in an indefinite progression, so the law of the producer is that he should continually realise a surplus: otherwise his existence is precarious, monotonous, fatiguing. The interest due to the capitalist by the producer therefore is like the lash of the planter cracking over the head of the sleeping slave; it is the voice of progress crying: “On, on! Toil, toil!” Man’s destiny pushes him to happiness: that is why it denies him rest.


I have proved, and better, I imagine, than it has ever been proved before:

That monopoly is necessary, since it is the antagonism of competition;

That it is essential to society, since without it society would never have emerged from the primeval forests and without it would rapidly go backwards;

Finally, that it is the crown of the producer, when, whether by net product or by interest on the capital which he devotes to production, it brings to the monopolist that increase of comfort which his foresight and his efforts deserve.

Shall we, then, with the economists, glorify monopoly, and consecrate it to the benefit of well-secured conservatives? I am willing, provided they in turn will admit my claims in what is to follow, as I have admitted theirs in what has preceded.


Like competition, monopoly implies a contradiction in its name and its definition. In fact, since consumption and production are identical things in society, and since selling is synonymous with buying, whoever says privilege of sale or exploitation necessarily says privilege of consumption and purchase: which ends in the denial of both. Hence a prohibition of consumption as well as of production laid by monopoly upon the wage-workers. Competition was civil war, monopoly is the massacre of the prisoners.


But the distressing feature in the spectacle of monopoly’s effects is the sight of the unfortunate workers blaming each other for their misery and imagining that by uniting and supporting each other they will prevent the reduction of wages. “The Irish,” says an observer, “have given a disastrous lesson to the working classes of Great Britain... They have taught our workers the fatal secret of confining their needs to the maintenance of animal life alone, and of contenting themselves, like savages, with the minimum of the means of subsistence sufficient to prolong life... Instructed by this fatal example, yielding partly to necessity, the working classes have lost that laudable pride which led them to furnish their houses properly and to multiply about them the decent conveniences which contribute to happiness.”

I have never read anything more afflicting and more stupid. And what would you have these workers do? The Irish came: should they have been massacred? Wages were reduced: should death have been accepted in their stead? Necessity commanded, as you say yourselves. Then followed the interminable hours, disease, deformity, degradation, debasement, and all the signs of industrial slavery: all these calamities are born of monopoly and its sad predecessors,—competition, machinery, and the division of labour: and you blame the Irish!

At other times the workers blame their luck, and exhort themselves to patience: this is the counterpart of the thanks which they address to Providence, when labour is abundant and wages are sufficient.

I find in an article published by M. Leon Faucher, in the Journal des Economistes (September, 1845), that the English workers lost some time ago the habit of combining, which is surely a progressive step on which they are only to be congratulated, but that this improvement in the morale of the workers is due especially to their economic instruction. “It is not upon the manufacturers, cried a spinner at the meeting in Bolton, that wages depend. In periods of depression the employers, so to speak, are only the lash with which necessity is armed; and whether they will or no, they have to strike. The regulative principle is the relation of supply to demand; and the employers have not this power.... Let us act prudently, then; let us learn to be resigned to bad luck and to make the most of good luck: by seconding the progress of our industry, we shall be useful not only to ourselves, but to the entire country.” (Applause.)

Very good: well-trained, model workers, these! What men these spinners must be that they should submit without complaint to the lash of necessity, because the regulative principle of wages is supply and demand! M. Leon Faucher adds with a charming simplicity: “English workers are fearless reasoners. Give them a false principle, and they will push it mathematically to absurdity, without stopping or getting frightened, as if they were marching to the triumph of the truth.” For my part, I hope that, in spite of all the efforts of economic propagandism, French workers will never become reasoners of such power. [The notions of] Supply and demand, as well as [of] the lash of necessity, no longer have any hold on their minds. England lacked this poverty [of reasoning power]: it will not cross the channel.[409]


Monopoly, which just now seemed to us so well founded in justice, is the more unjust because it not only makes wages illusory, but deceives the worker in the very valuation of his wages by assuming in relation to him a false title, a false capacity.

M. de Sismondi, in his Studies of Social Economy, observes somewhere that, when a banker delivers to a merchant bank-notes in exchange for his values, far from giving credit to the merchant, he receives it, on the contrary, from him.

“This credit,” adds M. de Sismondi, “is in truth so short that the merchant scarcely takes the trouble to inquire whether the banker is worthy, especially as the former asks credit instead of granting it.”

So, according to M. de Sismondi, in the issue of bank paper, the functions of the merchant and the banker are inverted: the first is the creditor, and the second is the credited.

Something similar takes place between the monopolist and wage-worker. In fact, the workers, like the merchant at the bank, ask to have their labour discounted; in right, the entrepreneur ought to furnish them bonds and security. I will explain myself.

In any exploitation, no matter of what sort, the entrepreneur cannot legitimately claim, in addition to his own personal labour, anything but the IDEA: as for the EXECUTION, the result of the co-operation of numerous workers, that is an effect of collective power, with which the authors, as free in their action as the chief, can produce nothing which should go to him gratuitously. Now, the question is to ascertain whether the amount of individual wages paid by the entrepreneur is equivalent to the collective effect of which I speak: for, were it otherwise, Say’s axiom, Every product is worth what it costs, would be violated.

“‘The capitalist,’ they say, ‘has paid the workers their daily wages at a rate agreed upon; consequently he owes them nothing.’ To be accurate, it must be said that he has paid as many times one day’s wage as he has employed workers,—which is not at all the same thing. For he has paid nothing for that immense power which results from the union of workers and the convergence and harmony of their efforts; that saving of expense, secured by their formation into a workshop; that multiplication of product, foreseen, it is true, by the capitalist, but realised by free forces. Two hundred grenadiers, working under the direction of an engineer, stood the obelisk upon its base in a few hours; do you think that one man could have accomplished the same task in two hundred days? Nevertheless, on the books of the capitalist, the amount of wages is the same in both cases, because he allots to himself the benefit of the collective power. Now, of two things one: either this is usurpation on his part, or it is error” (What is Property?: Chapter III)

To properly exploit the mule-jenny, engineers, builders, clerks, brigades of workingmen and workingwomen of all sorts, have been needed. In the name of their liberty, of their security, of their future, and of the future of their children, these workers, on engaging to work in the mill, had to make reserves; where are the letters of credit which they have delivered to the employers? Where are the guarantees which they have received? What! Millions of men have sold their arms and parted with their liberty without knowing the import of the contract; they have engaged themselves upon the promise of continuous work and adequate reward; they have executed with their hands what the thought of the employers had conceived; they have become, by this collaboration, associates in the enterprise: and when monopoly, unable or unwilling to make further exchanges, suspends its manufacture and leaves these millions of workers without bread, they are told to be resigned! By the new processes they have lost nine days of their labour out of ten; and for reward they are pointed to the lash of necessity flourished over them! Then, if they refuse to work for lower wages, they are shown that they punish themselves. If they accept the rate offered them, they lose that noble pride, that taste for decent conveniences which constitute the happiness and dignity of the worker and entitle him to the sympathies of the rich. If they combine to secure an increase of wages, they are thrown into prison! Whereas they ought to prosecute their exploiters in the courts, on them the courts will avenge the violations of liberty of commerce! Victims of monopoly, they will suffer the penalty due to the monopolists! O justice of men, stupid courtesan, how long, under your goddess’s tinsel, will you drink the blood of the slaughtered proletarian?

Monopoly has invaded everything,—land, labour, and the instruments of labour, products and the distribution of products. Political economy itself has not been able to avoid admitting it.


Finally, monopoly, by a sort of instinct of self-preservation, has perverted even the idea of association, as something that might infringe upon it, or, to speak more accurately, has not permitted its birth.

Who could hope today to define what association among men should be? The law distinguishes two species and four varieties of civil societies, and as many commercial societies, from the simple partnership to the joint-stock company. I have read the most respectable commentaries that have been written upon all these forms of association, and I declare that I have found in them but one application of the routine practices of monopoly between two or more partners who unite their capital and their efforts against everything that produces and consumes, that invents and exchanges, that lives and dies. The sine qua non of all these companies is capital, whose presence alone constitutes them and gives them a basis; their object is monopoly,—that is, the exclusion of all other workers and capitalists, and consequently the negation of social universality so far as persons are concerned.

Thus, according to the definition of the statute, a commercial society which should lay down as a principle the right of any stranger to become a member upon his simple request, and to straightway enjoy the rights and prerogatives of associates and even managers, would no longer be a company; the courts would officially pronounce its dissolution, its non-existence. So, again, articles of association[410] in which the contracting parties should stipulate no contribution of capital, but, while reserving to each the express right to compete with all, should confine themselves to a reciprocal guarantee of labour and wages, saying nothing of the branch of exploitation, or of capital, or of interest, or of profit and loss,—such articles would seem contradictory in their tenor, as destitute of purpose as of reason, and would be annulled by the judge on the complaint of the first rebellious associate. Agreements thus drawn up could give rise to no judicial action; people calling themselves the associates of everybody would be considered associates of nobody; treatises contemplating guarantee and competition between associates at the same time, without any mention of social capital and without any designation of purpose, would pass for a work of transcendental charlatanism, whose author could readily be sent to a madhouse, provided the magistrates would consent to regard him as only a lunatic.

And yet it is proved, by the most authentic testimony which history and social economy furnish, that humanity has been thrown naked and without capital upon the earth which it cultivates; consequently that it has created and is daily creating all the wealth that exists; that monopoly is only a relative view serving to designate the grade of the worker, with certain conditions of enjoyment; and that all progress consists, while indefinitely multiplying products, in determining their proportionality,—that is, in organising labour and comfort by division, machinery, the workshop, education, and competition. On the other hand, it is evident that all the tendencies of humanity, both in its politics and in its civil laws, are towards universalisation,—that is, towards a complete transformation of the idea of the company as determined by our statutes.

Whence I conclude that articles of association which should regulate, no longer the contribution of the associates,—since each associate, according to economic theory, is supposed to possess absolutely nothing upon his entrance into the company,—but the conditions of labour and exchange, and which should allow access to all who might present themselves,—I conclude, I say, that such articles of association would contain nothing that was not rational and scientific, since they would be the very expression of progress, the organic formula of labour, and since they would reveal, so to speak, humanity to itself by giving it the rudiment of its constitution.[411]


As for the personal composition of the [joint-stock] company, it naturally divides itself into two categories,—the managers and the stockholders. The managers, very few in number, are chosen from the promoters, organisers, and patrons of the enterprise: in truth, they are the only associates. The stockholders, compared with this little government, which administers the society with full power, are a people of taxpayers who, strangers to each other, without influence and without responsibility, have nothing to do with the affair beyond their investments. They are lenders at a premium, not associates.

One can see from this how all the industries of the kingdom could be carried on by such companies, and each citizen, thanks to the facility for multiplying his shares, be interested in all or most of these companies without thereby improving his condition: it might happen even that it would be more and more compromised. For, once more, the stockholder is the beast of burden, the exploitable material of the company: not for him is this company formed. In order that association may be real, he who participates in it must do so, not as a gambler, but as an active factor; he must have a deliberative voice in the council; his name must be expressed or implied in the title of the society; everything regarding him, in short, should be regulated in accordance with equality. But these conditions are precisely those of the organisation of labour, which is not taken into consideration by the code; they form the ULTERIOR object of political economy, and consequently are not to be taken for granted, but to be created, and, as such, are radically incompatible with monopoly.[412]

Socialism, in spite of its high-sounding name, has so far been no more fortunate than monopoly in the definition of the company: we may even assert that, in all its plans of organisation, it has steadily shown itself in this respect a plagiarist of political economy. M. Blanc, whom I have already quoted in discussing competition, and whom we have seen by turns as a partisan of the hierarchical principle, an officious defender of inequality, preaching communism, denying with a stroke of the pen the law of contradiction because he cannot conceive it, aiming above all at power as the final sanction of his system,—M. Blanc offers us again the curious example of a socialist copying political economy without suspecting it, and turning continually in the vicious circle of proprietary routine. M. Blanc really denies the sway of capital; he even denies that capital is equal to labour in production, in which he is in accord with healthy economic theories. But he can not or does not know how to dispense with capital; he takes capital for his point of departure; he appeals to the State for its silent partnership: that is, he gets down on his knees before the capitalists and recognises the sovereignty of monopoly. Hence the singular contortions of his dialectics. I beg the reader’s pardon for these eternal personalities: but since socialism, as well as political economy, is personified in a certain number of writers, I cannot do otherwise than quote its authors.

“Has or has not capital,” said La Phalange, “in so far as it is a faculty in production, the legitimacy of the other productive faculties? If it is illegitimate, its pretensions to a share of the product are illegitimate; it must be excluded; it has no interest to receive: if, on the contrary, it is legitimate, it cannot be legitimately excluded from participation in the profits, in the increase which it has helped to create.”

The question could not be stated more clearly. M. Blanc holds, on the contrary, that it is stated in a very confused manner, which means that it embarrasses him greatly, and that he is much worried to find its meaning.

In the first place, he supposes that he is asked “whether it is equitable to allow the capitalist a share of the profits of production equal to the worker’s?” To which M. Blanc answers unhesitatingly that that would be unjust. Then follows an outburst of eloquence to establish this injustice.

Now, the phalansterian does not ask whether the share of the capitalist should or should not be equal to the worker’s; he wishes to know simply whether he is to have a share. And to this M. Blanc makes no reply.

Is it meant, continues M. Blanc, that capital is indispensable to production, like labour itself? Here M. Blanc distinguishes: he grants that capital is indispensable, as labour is, but not to the extent that labour is.

Once again, the phalansterian does not dispute as to quantity, but as to right.

Is it meant—it is still M. Blanc who interrogates—that all capitalists are not idlers? M. Blanc, generous to capitalists who work, asks why so large a share should be given to those who do not work? A flow of eloquence as to the impersonal services of the capitalist and the personal services of the worker, terminated by an appeal to Providence.

For the third time, you are asked whether the participation of capital in profits is legitimate, since you admit that it is indispensable in production.

At last M. Blanc, who has understood all the time, decides to reply that, if he allows interest to capital, he does so only as a transitional measure and to ease the descent of the capitalists. For the rest, his project leading inevitably to the absorption of private capital in association, it would be folly and an abandonment of principle to do more. M. Blanc, if he had studied his subject, would have needed to say but a single phrase: I deny capital.

Thus M. Blanc,—and under his name I include the whole of socialism,—after having, by a first contradiction of the title of his book, ORGANISATION OF LABOUR, declared that capital was indispensable in production, and consequently that it should be organised and participate in profits like labour, by a second contradiction rejects capital from organisation and refuses to recognise it: by a third contradiction he who laughs at decorations and titles of nobility distributes civic crowns, rewards, and distinctions to such litterateurs inventors, and artists as shall have deserved well of the country; he allows them salaries according to their grades and dignities; all of which is the restoration of capital as really, though not with the same mathematical precision, as interest and net product: by a fourth contradiction M. Blanc establishes this new aristocracy on the principle of equality,—that is, he pretends to vote masterships to equal and free associates, privileges of idleness to workers, spoliation in short to the despoiled: by a fifth contradiction he rests this equalitarian aristocracy on the basis of a power endowed with great force,—that is, on despotism, another form of monopoly: by a sixth contradiction, after having, by his encouragements to labour and the arts, tried to proportion reward to service, like monopoly, and wages to capacity, like monopoly, he sets himself to eulogise life in common, labour and consumption in common, which does not prevent him from wishing to withdraw from the effects of common indifference, by means of national encouragements taken out of the common product, the grave and serious writers whom common readers do not care for: by a seventh contradiction.... but let us stop at seven, for we should not have finished at seventy-seven.


Thus M. Blanc asks for State aid and the establishment of national workshops; thus Fourier asked for six million francs, and his followers are still engaged today in collecting that sum; thus the communists place their hope in a revolution which shall give them authority and the treasury, and exhaust themselves in waiting for useless subscriptions. Capital and power, secondary organs in society, are always the gods whom socialism adores: if capital and power did not exist, it would invent them. Through its anxieties about power and capital, socialism has completely overlooked the meaning of its own protests: much more, it has not seen that, in involving itself, as it has done, in the economic routine, it has deprived itself of the very right to protest. It accuses society of antagonism, and through the same antagonism it goes in pursuit of reform. It asks capital for the poor workers, as if the misery of workers did not come from the competition of capitalists as well as from the factitious opposition of labour and capital; as if the question were not today precisely what it was before the creation of capital,—that is, still and always a question of equilibrium; as if, in short,—let us repeat it incessantly, let us repeat it to satiety,—the question were henceforth of something other than a synthesis of all the principles brought to light by civilisation, and as if, provided this synthesis, the idea which leads the world, were known, there would be any need of the intervention of capital and the State to make them evident.



IN POSITING ITS principles humanity, as if in obedience to a sovereign order, never goes backward. Like the traveller who by oblique windings rises from the depth of the valley to the mountain-top, it follows intrepidly its zigzag road, and marches to its goal with confident step, without repentance and without pause. Arriving at the angle of monopoly, the social genius casts backward a melancholy glance, and, in a moment of profound reflection, says to itself:

“Monopoly has stripped the poor hireling of everything,—bread, clothing, home, education, liberty, and security. I will lay a tax upon the monopolist; at this price I will save him his privilege.

“Land and mines, woods and waters, the original domain of man, are forbidden to the proletarian. I will intervene in their exploitation, I will have my share of the products, and land monopoly shall be respected.

“Industry has fallen into feudalism, but I am the suzerain. The lords shall pay me tribute, and they shall keep the profit of their capital.

“Commerce levies usurious profits on the consumer. I will strew its road with toll-gates, I will stamp its checks and endorse its invoices, and it shall pass.

“Capital has overcome labour by intelligence. I will open schools, and the worker, made intelligent himself, shall become a capitalist in his turn.

“Products lack circulation, and social life is cramped. I will build roads, bridges, canals, marts, theatres, and temples, and thus furnish at one stroke work, wealth, and a market.

“The rich man lives in plenty, while the worker weeps in famine. I will establish taxes on bread, wine, meat, salt, and honey, on articles of necessity and on objects of value, and these shall supply alms for my poor.

“And I will set guards over the waters, the woods, the fields, the mines, and the roads; I will send collectors to gather the taxes and teachers to instruct the children; I will have an army to put down refractory subjects, courts to judge them, prisons to punish them, and priests to curse them. All these offices shall be given to the proletariat and paid by the monopolists.

“Such is my certain and efficacious will.”[413]

We have to prove that society could neither think better nor act worse: this will be the subject of a review which, I hope, will throw new light upon the social problem.[414]

Every measure of general police, every administrative and commercial regulation, like every law of taxation, is at bottom but one of the innumerable articles of this ancient bargain, ever violated and ever renewed, between the patriciate and the proletariat. That the parties or their representatives knew nothing of it, or even that they frequently viewed their political constitutions from another standpoint, is of little consequence to us: not to the man, legislator, or prince do we look for the meaning of his acts, but to the acts themselves.


In short, the practical and avowed object of the tax is to effect upon the rich, for the benefit of the people, a proportional resumption of their capital.

Now, analysis and the facts demonstrate:

That the distributive tax [l’impôt de répartition], the tax upon monopoly, instead of being paid by those who possess, is paid almost entirely by those who do not possess;

That the proportional tax [l’impôt de quotité], separating the producer from the consumer, falls solely upon the latter, thereby taking from the capitalist no more than he would have to pay if fortunes were absolutely equal;[415]

Finally, that the army, the courts, the police, the schools, the hospitals, the almshouses, the houses of refuge and correction, public functions, religion itself, all that society creates for the protection, emancipation, and relief of the proletarian, paid for in the first place and sustained by the proletarian, is then turned against the proletarian or wasted as far as he is concerned; so that the proletariat, which at first laboured only for the class that devours it,—that of the capitalists,—must labour also for the class that flogs it,—that of the non-producers.[416]

These facts are henceforth so well known, and the economists—I owe them this justice—have shown them so clearly, that I shall abstain from correcting their demonstrations, which, for the rest, are no longer contradicted by anybody. What I propose to bring to light, and what the economists do not seem to have sufficiently understood, is that the condition in which the worker is placed by this new phase of social economy is susceptible of no amelioration; that, unless industrial organisation, and therefore political reform, should bring about an equality of fortunes, evil is inherent in police institutions as in the idea of charity which gave them birth; in short, that the STATE, whatever form it affects, aristocratic or theocratic, monarchical or republican, until it shall have become the obedient and submissive organ of a society of equals, will be for the people an inevitable hell,—I had almost said a deserved damnation.


The democrats, who reproach us with sacrificing the revolutionary interest (what is the revolutionary interest?) to the socialistic interest, ought really to tell us how, without making the State the sole proprietor and without decreeing the community [communauté] of goods and gains, they mean, by any system of taxation whatever, to relieve the people and restore to labour what capital takes from it. In vain do I rack my brains; on all questions I see power placed in the falsest situation, and the opinion of journals straying into limitless absurdity.


In 1844, at the time of the troubles in Rive-de-Gier, M. Anselme Petetin published in the Revue Independante two articles, full of reason and sincerity, concerning the anarchy prevailing in the conduct of the coal mines in the basin of the Loire. M. Petetin pointed out the necessity of uniting the mines and centralising their administration. The facts which he laid before the public were not unknown to power; has power troubled itself about the union of the mines and the organisation of that industry? Not at all. Power has followed the principle of free competition; it has let alone and looked on.

Since that time the mining companies have combined, not without causing some anxiety to consumers, who have seen in this combination a plot to raise the price of fuel. Will power, which has received numerous complaints upon this subject, intervene to restore competition and prevent monopoly? It cannot do it; the right of combination is identical in law with the right of association; monopoly is the basis of our society, as competition is its conquest; and, provided there is no riot, power will let alone and look on. What other course could it pursue? Can it prohibit a legally established commercial association? Can it oblige neighbours to destroy each other? Can it forbid them to reduce their expenses? Can it establish a maximum? If power should do any one of these things, it would overturn the established order. Power, therefore, can take no initiative: it is instituted to defend and protect monopoly and competition at once, within the limitations of patents, licenses, land taxes, and other bonds which it has placed upon property. Apart from these limitations power has no sort of right to act in the name of society. The social right is not defined; moreover, it would be a denial of monopoly and competition. How, then, could power take up the defence of that which the law did not foresee or define, of that which is the opposite of the rights recognised by the legislator?

Consequently, when the miner, whom we must consider in the events of Rive-de-Gier as the real representative of society against the mine-owners, saw fit to resist the scheme of the monopolists by defending his wages and opposing combination to combination, power shot the miner down. And the political brawlers accused authority, saying it was partial, ferocious, sold to monopoly, etc. For my part, I declare that this way of viewing the acts of authority seems to me scarcely philosophical, and I reject it with all my energies. It is possible that they might have killed fewer people, possible also that they might have killed more: the fact to be noticed here is not the number of dead and wounded, but the repression of the workers. Those who have criticised authority would have done as it did, barring perhaps the impatience of its bayonets and the accuracy of its aim: they would have repressed, I say; they would not have been able to do anything else. And the reason, which it would be vain to try to brush aside, is that competition is legal, joint-stock association is legal, supply and demand are legal, and all the consequences which flow directly from competition, joint-stock association, and free commerce are legal, whereas workers’ strikes are ILLEGAL. And it is not only the penal code which says this, but the economic system, the necessity of the established order. As long as labour is not sovereign, it must be a slave; society is possible only on this condition. That each worker individually should have the free disposition of his person and his arms may be tolerated;[417] but that the workers should undertake, by combinations, to do violence to monopoly society cannot permit.[418] Crush monopoly, and you abolish competition, and you disorganise the workshop, and you sow dissolution everywhere. Authority, in shooting down the miners, found itself in the position of Brutus placed between his paternal love and his consular duties: he had to sacrifice either his children or the republic. The alternative was horrible, I admit; but such is the spirit and letter of the social compact, such is the tenor of the charter, such is the order of Providence.

Thus the police function, instituted for the defence of the proletariat, is directed entirely against the proletariat. The proletarian is driven from the forests, from the rivers, from the mountains; even the cross-roads are forbidden him; soon he will know no road save that which leads to prison.

The advance in agriculture has made the advantage of artificial meadows and the necessity of abolishing common land generally felt. Everywhere communal lands are being cleared, let, enclosed; new advances, new wealth. But the poor day-worker, whose only patrimony is the communal land and who supports a cow and several sheep in summer by letting them feed along the roads, through the underbrush, and over the stripped fields, will lose his sole and last resource. The landed proprietor, the purchaser or farmer of the communal lands, will alone thereafter sell, with his wheat and vegetables, milk and cheese. Instead of weakening an old monopoly, they create a new one. Even the road-workers reserve for themselves the edges of the roads as a meadow belonging to them, and drive off all non-administrative cattle. What follows? That the day-worker, before abandoning his cow, lets it feed in contravention of the law, becomes a marauder, commits a thousand depredations, and is punished by fine and imprisonment: of what use to him are police and agricultural progress? Last year the mayor of Mulhouse, to prevent grape-stealing, forbade every individual not an owner of vines to travel by day or night over roads running by or through vineyards,—a charitable precaution, since it prevented even desires and regrets. But if the public highway is nothing but an accessory of private property; if the communal lands are converted into private property; if the public domain, in short, assimilated to private property, is guarded, exploited, leased, and sold like private property,—what remains for the proletarian? Of what advantage is it to him that society has left the state of war to enter the regime of police?


The farther we delve into this system of illusory compromises between monopoly and society,—that is […] between capital and labour, between the patriciate and the proletariat,—the more we discover that it is all foreseen, regulated, and executed in accordance with this infernal maxim, with which Hobbes and Machiavelli, those theorists of despotism, were unacquainted: EVERYTHING BY THE PEOPLE AND AGAINST THE PEOPLE. While labour produces, capital, under the mask of a false fecundity, enjoys and abuses; the legislator, in offering his mediation, thought to recall the privileged class to fraternal feelings and surround the worker with guarantees; and now he finds, by the fatal contradiction of interests, that each of these guarantees is an instrument of torture. It would require a hundred volumes, the life of ten men, and a heart of iron, to relate from this standpoint the crimes of the State towards the poor and the infinite variety of its tortures. A summary glance at the principal classes of police will be enough to enable us to estimate its spirit and economy.


To conduct this offensive and defensive war against the proletariat a public force was indispensable: the executive power grew out of the necessities of civil legislation, administration, and justice. And there again the most beautiful hopes have changed into bitter disappointments.

As legislator, as burgomaster, and as judge, the prince has set himself up as a representative of divine authority. A defender of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, he has promised to cause liberty and equality to prevail around the throne, to come to the aid of labour, and to listen to the voice of the people. And the people have thrown themselves lovingly into the arms of power; and, when experience has made them feel that power was against them, instead of blaming the institution, they have fallen to accusing the prince, ever unwilling to understand that, the prince being by nature and purpose the chief of non-producers and greatest of monopolists, it was impossible for him, in spite of himself, to take up the cause of the people.

All criticism, whether of the form or the acts of government, ends in this essential contradiction. And when the self-styled theorists of the sovereignty of the people pretend that the remedy for the tyranny of power consists in causing it to emanate from popular suffrage, they simply turn, like the squirrel, in their cage. For, from the moment that the essential conditions of power—that is, authority, property, hierarchy—are preserved, the suffrage of the people is nothing but the consent of the people to their oppression,—which is the silliest charlatanism.

In the system of authority, whatever its origin, monarchical or democratic, power is the noble organ of society; by it society lives and moves; all initiative emanates from it; order and perfection are wholly its work. According to the definitions of economic science, on the contrary,—definitions which harmonise with the reality of things,—power is the series of non-producers which social organisation must tend to indefinitely reduce. How, then, with the principle of authority so dear to democrats, shall the aspiration of political economy, an aspiration which is also that of the people, be realised? How shall the government, which by the hypothesis is everything, become an obedient servant, a subordinate organ? Why should the prince have received power simply to weaken it, and why should he labour, with a view to order, for his own elimination? Why should he not try rather to fortify himself, to add to his courtiers, to continually obtain new subsidies, and finally to free himself from dependence on the people, the inevitable goal of all power originating in the people?

It is said that the people, naming its legislators and through them making its will known to power, will always be in a position to arrest its invasions; that thus the people will fill at once the role of prince and that of sovereign. Such, in a word, is the utopia of democrats, the eternal mystification with which they abuse the proletariat.

But will the people make laws against power; against the principle of authority and hierarchy, which is the principle upon which society is based; against liberty and property? According to our hypothesis, this is more than impossible, it is contradictory. Then property, monopoly, competition, industrial privileges, the inequality of fortunes, the preponderance of capital, hierarchical and crushing centralisation, administrative oppression, legal absolutism, will be preserved; and, as it is impossible for a government not to act in the direction of its principle, capital will remain as before the god of society, and the people, still exploited, still degraded, will have gained by their attempt at sovereignty only a demonstration of their powerlessness.


At least, the partisans of governmental initiative will say, you will admit that, in the accomplishment of the revolution promised by the development of antinomies, power would be a potent auxiliary. Why, then, do you oppose a reform which, putting power in the hands of the people, would second your views so well? Social reform is the object; political reform is the instrument: why, if you wish the end, do you reject the means?

Such is today the reasoning of the entire democratic press, which I forgive with all my heart for having at last, by this quasi-socialistic confession of faith, itself proclaimed the emptiness of its theories. It is in the name of science, then, that democracy calls for a political reform as a preliminary to social reform. But science protests against this subterfuge as an insult; science repudiates any alliance with politics, and, very far from expecting from it the slightest aid, must begin with politics its work of exclusion.

How little affinity there is between the human mind and truth! When I see the democracy, socialistic but yesterday, continually asking for capital in order to combat capital’s influence; for wealth, in order to cure poverty; for the abandonment of liberty, in order to organise liberty; for the reformation of government, in order to reform society,—when I see it, I say, taking upon itself the responsibility of society, provided social questions be set aside or solved, it seems to me as if I were listening to a fortune-teller who, before answering the questions of those who consult her, begins by inquiring into their age, their condition, their family, and all the accidents of their life. Eh! miserable sorceress, if you know the future, you know who I am and what I want; why do you ask me to tell you?

Likewise I will answer the democrats: If you know the use that you should make of power, and if you know how power should be organised, you possess economic science. Now, if you possess economic science, if you have the key of its contradictions, if you are in a position to organise labour, if you have studied the laws of exchange, you have no need of the capital of the nation or of public force. From this day forth you are more potent than money, stronger than power. For, since the workers are with you, you are by that fact alone masters of production; you hold commerce, manufactures, and agriculture enchained; you have the entire social capital at your disposition; you have full control of taxation; you block the wheels of power, and you trample monopoly under foot. What other initiative, what greater authority, do you ask? What prevents you from applying your theories?

Surely not political economy, although generally followed and accredited: for, everything in political economy having a true side and a false side, your only problem is to combine the economic elements in such a way that their total shall no longer present a contradiction.

Nor is it the civil law: for that law, sanctioning economic routine solely because of its advantages and in spite of its disadvantages, is susceptible, like political economy itself, of being bent to all the exigencies of an exact synthesis, and consequently is as favourable to you as possible.

Finally, it is not power, which, the last expression of antagonism and created only to defend the law, could stand in your way only by forswearing itself.

Once more, then, what stops you?

If you possess social science, you know that the problem of association consists in organising, not only the non-producers,—in that direction, thank heaven! little remains to be done,—but also the producers, and by this organisation subjecting capital and subordinating power. Such is the war that you have to sustain: a war of labour against capital; a war of liberty against authority; a war of the producer against the non-producer; a war of equality against privilege. What you ask, to conduct the war to a successful conclusion, is precisely that which you must combat. Now, to combat and reduce power, to put it in its proper place in society, it is of no use to change the holders of power or introduce some variation into its workings: an agricultural and industrial combination must be found by means of which power, today the ruler of society, shall become its slave. Have you the secret of that combination?

But what do I say? That is precisely the thing to which you do not consent. As you cannot conceive of society without hierarchy, you have made yourselves the apostles of authority; worshippers of power, you think only of strengthening it and muzzling liberty; your favourite maxim is that the welfare of the people must be achieved in spite of the people; instead of proceeding to social reform by the extermination of power and politics, you insist on a reconstruction of power and politics. Then, by a series of contradictions which prove your sincerity, but the illusory character of which is well known to the real friends of power, the aristocrats and monarchists, your competitors, you promise us, in the name of power, economy in expenditures, an equitable assessment of taxes, protection to labour, gratuitous education, universal suffrage, and all the utopias repugnant to authority and property. Consequently power in your hands has never been anything but ruinous, and that is why you have never been able to retain it; that is why, on the Eighteenth of Brumaire, four men were sufficient to take it away from you, and why today the bourgeoisie, which is as fond of power as you are and which wants a strong power, will not restore it to you.

Thus power, the instrument of collective might, created in society to serve as a mediator between labour and privilege, finds itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat. No political reform can solve this contradiction, since, by the confession of the politicians themselves, such a reform would end only in increasing the energy and extending the sphere of power, and since power would know no way of touching the prerogatives of monopoly without overturning the hierarchy and dissolving society. The problem before the labouring classes, then, consists, not in capturing, but in subduing both power and monopoly,—that is, in generating from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labour, a greater authority, a more potent fact, which shall envelop capital and the State and subjugate them. [419] Every proposition of reform which does not satisfy this condition is simply one scourge more, a rod doing sentry duty, virgem vigilantem, as a prophet said, which threatens the proletariat.


O toiling people! disinherited, harassed, proscribed people! people whom they imprison, judge, and kill! despised people, branded people! Do you not know that there is an end, even to patience, even to devotion? Will you not cease to lend an ear to those orators of mysticism who tell you to pray and to wait, preaching salvation now through religion, now through power, and whose vehement and sonorous words captivate you? Your destiny is an enigma which neither physical force, nor courage of soul, nor the illuminations of enthusiasm, nor the exaltation of any sentiment, can solve. Those who tell you to the contrary deceive you, and all their discourses serve only to postpone the hour of your deliverance, now ready to strike. What are enthusiasm and sentiment, what is vain poesy, when confronted with necessity? To overcome necessity there is nothing but necessity itself, the last reason of nature, the pure essence of matter and spirit.

Thus the contradiction of value, born of the necessity of free will, must be overcome by the proportionality of value, another necessity produced by the union of liberty and intelligence. But, in order that this victory of intelligent and free labour might produce all its consequences, it was necessary that society should pass through a long succession of torments.

It was a necessity that labour, in order to increase its power, should be divided; and a necessity, in consequence of this division, that the worker should be degraded and impoverished.

It was a necessity that this original division should be reconstructed by scientific instruments and combinations; and a necessity, in consequence of this reconstruction, that the subordinated worker should lose, together with his legitimate wages, even the exercise of the industry which supported him.

It was a necessity that competition then should step in to emancipate liberty on the point of perishing; and a necessity that this deliverance should end in a vast elimination of workers.

It was a necessity that the producer, ennobled by his art, as formerly the warrior was by arms, should bear aloft his banner, in order that the valour of man might be honoured in labour as in war; and a necessity that of privilege should straightway be born the proletariat.

It was a necessity that society should then take under its protection the conquered plebeian, a beggar without a roof; and a necessity that this protection should be converted into a new series of tortures.

We shall meet on our way still other necessities, all of which will disappear, like the others, before greater necessities, until shall come at last the general equation, the supreme necessity, the triumphant fact, which must establish the kingdom of labour forever.

But this solution cannot result either from surprise or from a vain compromise. It is as impossible to associate labour and capital as to produce without labour and without capital; as impossible to establish equality by power as to suppress power and equality and make a society without people and without police.

There is a necessity, I repeat, of a MAJOR FORCE to invert the actual formulas of society; a necessity that the LABOUR of the people, not their valour nor their votes, should, by a scientific, legitimate, immortal, insurmountable combination, subject capital to the people and deliver to them power.


Translators: Clarence L. Swartz (Chapters X and XIV) and Shawn P.
Wilbur (Chapter XI)





We have seen in chapter II how by a combination of happy circumstances, the value of gold and silver having been the first to be constituted, money became the symbol of all dubious and fluctuating values; that is to say, those not socially constituted or not officially established. It was there demonstrated how, if the value of all products were once determined and rendered highly exchangeable, acceptable, in a word, like money, in all payments, society would by that single fact arrive at the highest degree of economic development of which it is capable from the commercial point of view. Social economy would no longer be then, as it is today, in relation to exchange, in a state of simple formation; it would be in a state of perfection. Production would not be definitely organised, but exchange and circulation would, and it would suffice for the worker to produce, to produce incessantly, either in reducing his costs or in dividing his labour and discovering better processes, inventing new objects of consumption, opposing his rivals or resisting their attacks, for acquiring wealth and assuring his well being.

In the same chapter, we have pointed out the lack of intelligence of socialists in regard to money; and we have shown in going back, to the origin of this contrivance, that what we had to repress in the precious metals is not the use, but the privilege.

Indeed, in all possible societies, even communistic, there is need for a measure of exchange, otherwise either the right of the producer, or that of the consumer, is affected. Until values are generally constituted by some method of association, there is need that one certain product, selected from among all others, whose value seems to be the most authentic, the best defined, the least alterable, and which combines with this advantage durability and portability, be taken for the symbol, that is to say, both for the instrument of circulation and the standard of other values.

It is, then, inevitable that this truly privileged product should become the object of all the ambitions, the paradise in perspective of the worker, the palladium of monopoly; that, notwithstanding all warnings, this precious talisman should circulate from hand to hand, concealed from a jealous authority; that the greater part of the precious metals, serving as specie, should be thus diverted from their real use and become, in the form of money, idle capital, wealth outside of consumption; that, in this capacity as instrument of exchange, gold should be taken in its turn for an object of speculation and serve as the basis of a great commerce; that, finally, protected by public opinion, loaded with public favour, it should obtain power, and by the same stroke destroy the social fabric! The means of destroying this formidable force does not lie in the destruction of the medium—I almost said the depository; it is in generalising its principle. All these propositions are admitted as well demonstrated, and as strictly linked together, as the theorems of geometry.

Gold and silver, that is to say, the merchandise whose value was first constituted, being therefore taken as the standard of other values and as universal instruments of exchange, all commerce, all consumption, all production are dependent on them. Gold and silver, precisely because they have acquired in the highest degree the character of sociality and of justice, have become synonyms of power, of royalty, almost of divinity.

Gold and silver represent commercial life, intelligence and virtue. A chest full of specie is an arch saint, a magic urn that brings wealth, pleasure and glory to those who have the power to draw those things from it. If all the products of labour had the same exchange value as money, all the workers would enjoy the same advantages as the holders of money: everyone would have, in his ability to produce, an inexhaustible source of wealth. But the religion of money cannot be abolished, or, to better express it, the general constitution of values cannot function except by an effort of reason and of justice; until then it is inevitable that, as in polite society, the possession of money is a sure sign of wealth, the absence of money is an almost certain sign of poverty. Money being, then, the only value that bears the stamp of society, the only merchandise standard that is current in commerce, money is, according to the general view, the idol of the human species. The imagination attributing to the metal that which is the effect of the collective thought toward the metal, every one, instead of seeking well being at its true source,—that is to say, in the socialisation of all values, in the continuous creation of new monetary figures—busies himself exclusively in acquiring money, money, always money.

It was to respond to this universal demand for money, which was really but a demand for subsistence, a demand for exchange and for output, that, instead of aiming directly at the mark, a stop was made at the first term of the series, and, instead of making successively of each product a new money, the one thought was to multiply metallic money as much as possible, first by perfecting the process of its manufacture, then, by the facility of its emission, and finally by fictions. Obviously it was to mistake the principle of wealth, the character of money, the object of labour and the condition of exchange; it was a retrogression in civilisation to reconstitute value in the monarchical regime that was already beginning to change. Such is the mother idea which gave birth to the institutions of credit; and such is the fundamental prejudice, which error we need no longer demonstrate, which antagonises in their very conceptions all these institutions.

But, as we have often said, humanity, even when it yields to an imperfect idea, is not mistaken in its views. However, one sees, strange to say, that, in proceeding to the organisation of wealth by a retreat, it has operated as well, as usefully, as infallibly as possible, considering the condition of its evolutionary existence. The retrogressive organisation of credit as well as previous manifestations of economics, at the same time that it gave to industry new scope, had caused, it is true, an aggravation of poverty; but finally the social question appeared in a new light and the contradictions, better known today, give the hope of an immediate and complete solution.

Thus the ulterior object, hitherto unperceived, of credit is to constitute, with the aid and on the prototype of money, all the values still fluctuating whose immediate and avowed end is to furnish to that combination the supreme condition of order in society and of well being among the workers, by a still greater diffusion of metallic value. Money, the promoters of this new idea tell us, money is wealth; if then we can provide everybody with money, plenty of money, all will be rich: and it is by virtue of this syllogism that institutions of credit have developed everywhere.

But it is clear that, to the extent that the ulterior object of credit presents a logical, luminous and fruitful idea, conforms, in a word, to the law of progressive organisation, its immediate end, alone sought, alone desired, is full of illusion and, by its tendency toward the status quo, of perils. Since money as well as other merchandise is subject to the law of proportionality, if its quantity increases and if at the same time other products do not increase in proportion, money loses it value, and nothing, in the last analysis, is added to the social wealth; if, on the contrary, with specie production increasing everywhere, population following at the same rate, there is still no change in the respective position of the producers, in both cases, the solution required does not advance a single step. A priori, then, it is not true that the organisation of credit, in the terms in which it is proposed, contains the solution of the social problem.

After having related the development of and the reason for the existence of credit, we have to justify its appearance, that is to say, the rank to which it should be assigned in the category of science. It is here above all that we have to point out the lack of profundity and the incoherence of political economy.

Credit is at once the result and the contradiction of the theory of markets, since the last word, as we have seen, is the absolute freedom of trade.

I have said from the first that credit is the consequence of the theory of markets, and as such already contradictory.

At this point in this history of society, both real and fanciful, we have seen all the processes of organisation and the means of equilibrium tumble one upon the other and reproduce constantly, more arrogantly and more murderously than before, the antinomy of value. Arriving at the sixth phase of its evolution, social genius, obedient to the movement of expansion that pushes it, seeks abroad, in foreign commerce, the market, that is to say, the counterpoise which it lacks. Presently we shall see it, deceived in its hope, seek this counterpoise, this output, this guarantee of exchange that it must have at any price in domestic commerce, at home. By credit, society falls back in a manner on itself: it seems to have understood that production and consumption are for it identical and inadequate things; it is in itself, and not by indefinite ejaculations, that it ought to find the equilibrium.


Credit is the canonisation of money, the declaration of its royalty over all products whatsoever. In consequence, credit is the most formal denial of free trade, a flagrant justification on the part of the economists, of the balance of trade. Let the economists learn, then, to generalise their ideas, and let them tell us why, if it is immaterial for one nation to pay for the goods which it buys with money or with its own products, it always has need of money? How can it be that a nation which works, exhausts itself? Why is there always a demand from it for the only product that it does not consume, that is to say, money? How all the subtleties conceived up to this day for supplying the lack of money, such as bills of exchange, bank paper, paper money, do nothing but interpret and make this need more evident?

In truth, the free trade fanaticism, which today distinguishes the sect of economists, is not understandable, aside from the extraordinary efforts by which it tries to propagate the commerce of money and to multiply credit institutions.

What then, once more, is credit? It is, answers the theory, a release of engaged value, which permits the making of this same value, which before was sluggish, circulable; or, to speak a language more simple: credit is the advance made by a capitalist, against a deposit of values of difficult exchange, of the merchandise the most susceptible of being exchanged, in consequence the most precious of all money, money which holds in suspense all exchangeable values, and without which they would themselves be struck down by the interdiction; money which measures, dominates and subordinates all other products; money with which alone one discharges one’s debts and frees oneself from one’s obligations; money which assures nations, as well as individuals, well being and independence; money, finally, that not only is power, but liberty, equality, property, everything.

This is what the human species, by an unanimous consent, has understood; that which the economists know better than anyone, but what they never have ceased combating with a comical stubbornness, to sustain I know not what fantasy of liberalism in contradiction to their most loudly confessed principles. Credit was invented to assist labour, to bring into the hands of the worker the instrument that destroys him, money: and they proceed from there to maintain that, among manufacturing nations, the advantage of money in exchange is nothing; but that it is insignificant in balancing their accounts in merchandise or specie: that it is low prices alone that they have to consider!

But if it is true that, in international commerce, the precious metals have lost their preponderance, this means that, in international commerce, all values have reached the same degree of determination, and like money, are equally acceptable; in other words, that the law of exchange is found, and labour is organised, among the various nations. Then, let them formulate this law; let them explain that organisation, and, instead of talking of credit and forging new chains for the labouring class, let them teach, by an application of the principle of international equilibrium, all the manufacturers who ruin themselves because they are not exchanging, teach those workers, who die of hunger because they have no work, how their products, how the work of their hands are values which they can use for their consumption, as well as if they were bank-bills or money. What! this principle which, following the economists, rules the trade of nations, is inapplicable to private industry! How is this? Why? Some reasons, some proofs, in the name of God.



PROPERTY OCCUPIES THE eighth place in the chain of economic contradictions; this point is the first one that we have to establish.

It is proven that the origin of property cannot be related to first-occupancy nor to labour. The first of these opinions is nothing more than a vicious cycle, in which the phenomenon is given as an explanation of the very phenomenon; the second is eminently subversive concerning property, because considering labour as supreme condition, it is impossible for property to establish itself. As for the theory that makes property go back to an act of collective will, it has the defect of remaining silent about the motivations of this will: well, these are the very motivations that we needed to know.

However, although all these theories, considered separately, always end in contradiction, it is certain that each of them possess a parcel of truth and it can be supposed that if, instead of isolating them, all three were studied in connection and synthetically, the real theory would be discovered in them, that is, the reason for the existence of property.

Yes, then, property begins, or to put it better it manifests itself by a sovereign, effective occupation, which excludes every idea of participation and community [communauté]; yes, again, that occupation, in its legitimate and authentic form, is nothing other than work: otherwise, how could society have consented to concede and to respect property? Yes, finally, society has desired property, and all the legislations in the world have only been made for it.

Property has been established by occupation, which is to say by labour: it is necessary to recall it often, not for the preservation of property, but for the instruction of the workers. Labour seated in power, it must produce, by the evolution of its laws, property; just as it has given rise to the separation of industries, then the hierarchy of workers, then competition, monopoly, police, etc. All these antinomies are also successive positions of labour, mileposts planted by it on the eternal route, and destined to formulate, by their synthetic joining, the true right of men. But fact is not right: property, the natural product of occupation and labour, was a principle of anticipation and invasion; thus it needed to be recognised and legitimated by society: these two elements, occupation by labour and legislative sanction, that the jurists have mistakenly separated in their commentaries, are joined together to constitute property. Now, it is a question for us of knowing the providential motives of that concession, what role it enjoys in the economic system: such will be the object of this section.

Let us prove first that in order to establish property, social consent was necessary.

As long as property is not recognised and legitimated by the State, it remains an extra-social fact; it is in the same position as the child, who is only supposed to become a member of the family, the city and the Church, by the recognition of the father, the inscription in the register of the civil state, and the ceremony of baptism. In the absence of these formalities, the child is as we believe the animals to be: it is a useless member, a base and servile soul, unworthy of consideration; it is a bastard. Thus the social recognition was necessary to property, and all property implies a primitive community. Without that recognition, property remains simple occupation, and can be contested by the first comer.

“The right to a thing,” said Kant, “is the right of private use of a thing with regard to which I am in common possession (primitive or subsequent) with all other men: for that common possession is the unique condition under which I could forbid to any other possessor the private use of the thing; because without the supposition of that possession, it would be impossible to conceive how I, though not presently possessor of the thing, can be wronged by those who possess it and who use it.—My individual or unilateral will cannot oblige anyone else to forbid themselves the use of a thing, if they were not so obliged before. Thus, the use can only be forbidden by wills joined in a common possession. If it was not thus, one would need to conceive a right in a thing, as if it was an obligation towards me, and from which would be derived in the last analysis the right against every possessor of that thing: a truly absurd idea.”[420]

Thus, according to Kant, the right of property, that is the legitimacy of occupation, proceeds from the consent of the State, which originally implies common possession. It cannot, said Kant, be otherwise. Thus, every time that the proprietor dares to oppose his right to the State, the State, reminding the proprietor of the convention, can always end the dispute with this ultimatum: Either recognise my sovereignty, and submit that which the public interest demands, or I will declare that your property has ceased to be placed under the safeguard of the laws, and withdraw from you my protection.

It follows from this that in the mind of the legislator the institution of property, like those of credit, commerce and monopoly, has been made with an aim of equilibrium, which first places property among the elements of organisation, and the first among the general means of constituting values. “The right to a thing...” said Kant, “is the right to private use of a thing with regard to which I am in common possession (primitive or subsequent) with all other men”: by virtue of that principle, every man deprived of property can and must appeal for it to the community, guardian of the rights of all; from which it results, as one has said, that in the sight of Providence, conditions must be equal.

This is what Kant, as well as [Thomas] Reid, clearly understood and expressed in the following passage: “One asks now how far does the faculty to take possession of a resource [fonds] extend?—As far as the faculty to have it in its power, which is as far the one who appropriates it can defend it. As if the resource said: If you cannot defend me, no more can you command me.”[421]

I am not however sure whether or not this passage must be understood as applying to possession prior to property. For, Kant adds, the acquisition is only peremptory in society; in the state of nature, it is only provisory. One could then conclude from this that, in the thought of Kant, acquisition, once become peremptory by social consent, can increase indefinitely under social protection: something which could not take place in the state of nature, where the individual alone defends his property.

Whichever it is, it at least follows from the principle of Kant, that in the state of nature, acquisition extends for each family to all that which it can defend, which is to say all that it can cultivate; or better, it is equal to a fraction of the cultivatable surface divided by the number of families: since, if acquisition surpasses this quotient, it immediately encounters more enemies than defenders. Now, as in the state of nature that acquisition, thus limited, is only provisory, the State, by putting an end to the provision, has wanted to put an end to the reciprocal hostility of the acquirers, by rendering their acquisitions peremptory. Equality has thus been the secret thought, the key object of the legislator, in the constitution of property. In this system, the only reasonable thing, the only one admissible, is the property of my neighbour which is the guarantee of my property. I no longer say with the moneylender, possideo quia possideo; I say with the philosopher, possideo quia possides.[422]

We will see by what follows that equality by property is every bit as chimerical as equality by credit, monopoly, competition, or any other economic category; and that in this regard the providential genius, while gathering from property the most precious fruits and the most unexpected, has not been less deceived in his hope, and is bound to the impossible. Property contains neither more nor less truth than all the moments which preceded it in the economic evolution; like them, it contributes, in equal proportion, to the development of well-being and to the increase of misery; it is not the form of order, it must change and disappear with order. Thus the systems of the philosophers on certainty, after having enriched logic with their glimpses, resolve themselves and disappear in the conclusions of common sense.

But in the end the thought which has presided at the establishment of property has been good: thus we have to seek what justifies that establishment, how property serves wealth, and what are the positive and determinant reasons that have caused it.

First, let us recall the general character of the economic movement.

The first period aimed to inaugurate labour on the earth by the separation of industries, to bring an end to the inhospitable character of nature, to pull man out of his original poverty, and to convert his inert faculties into positive and active faculties, which will be for him so many instruments of happiness. As in the creation of the universe the infinite force was divided, so, in order to create society, the providential genius divided labour. By that division, equality beginning to manifest itself, no longer as identity in plurality, but as equivalence in variety, the social organism is constituted in principle, the germ has received the vivifying principle, and the collective man comes into existence.

But the division of labour supposes some generalised functions and some divided functions: from the inequality of conditions among the workers, raising some up and bringing others low; and from the first period, industrial antagonism replaces primitive community.

All the subsequent evolutions tend at once, on the one hand to bring about the equilibrium of the faculties, and on the other always to develop industry and goodwill. We have seen how, on the contrary, the providential effort led always to an equal and divergent progress of poverty and wealth, of incapacity and science. In the second period, appears the selfish and injurious division, capital and wage-labour; in the third, the evil is increased by commercial war; in the fourth, it is concentrated and generalised by monopoly; in the fifth, it receives the consecration of the State. International commerce and credit come in their turn to give a new development to the antagonism. Later, the fiction of the productivity of capital becoming, by the power of opinion, nearly a reality, a new peril threatens society, the negation of labour itself by the overflow of capital. It is in this moment, and from this extreme situation, that property rises theoretically: and such is the transition that we must understand well.

Up to the present, if one set aside the ulterior aim of economic evolution, and were to consider it only in itself, all that society does, it does alternately for and against monopoly. Monopoly has been the pivot around which the various economic elements move and circulate. However, despite the necessity of its existence, despite the efforts without number that it has made for its development, despite the authority of the universal consent that admits it, monopoly is still only provisional; it is supposed, as Kant said, to endure only as long as the occupant is able to use and defend it. This is why sometimes it ends by right at death, as in the permanent, but non-venal duties [fonctions]; sometimes it is reduced to a limited time, as in patents; sometimes it is lost by non-exercise, which has given rise to the theories of prescription, such as annual possession, still in use among the Arabs. At other times, monopoly is revocable at the will of the sovereign, as in the permission to build on a military field, etc. Thus monopoly is only a form without reality; the monopoly pertains to the man, but it does not include the materials: it is properly the exclusive privilege to produce and sell; it is still not the alienation of the instruments of labour, the alienation of the land. Monopoly is a type of tenant farming which only interests the man through the consideration of profit. The monopolist holds to no industry, to no instrument of labour, to no residence: he is cosmopolitan and omni-functional; it matters little to him, provided that he gains; his soul is not chained to a point on the horizon, to a particle of matter. His existence remains vague, as long as society, which has conferred on him the monopoly as a means of fortune, does not make that monopoly a necessity for his life.

Now, monopoly, so precarious by itself, exposed to all the incursions, all the trials of competition, tormented by the State, pressured by credit, not sticking at all in the heart of the monopolist; monopoly tends incessantly, under the action of agiotage, to objectify itself; so that humanity, delivered constantly to the financial storm by the general disengagement of capital, is at risk of detaching itself from even labour and to retrogress in its march.

Indeed, what was monopoly before the establishment of credit, before the reign of the bank? A privilege of gain, not a right of sovereignty; a privilege on the product, much more than a privilege on the instrument. The monopolist remained a foreigner on the land that he inhabited, but that he did not really possess; he could very well multiply his exploitations, enlarge his manufactures, join lands together: he was always a steward, rather than a master; he did not imprint his character on these things; they were not made in his image; he did not love them for themselves, but only for the values that it should render to him; in a word, he did not want monopoly as an end, but as a means.

After the development of institutions of credit, the condition of monopoly is still worse.

The producers, that it is a question of associating, have become totally incapable of association; they have lost the taste and the spirit of labour: they are gamblers. To the fanaticism for competition, they have joined the frenzies of roulette. The bankocracy has changed their character and their ideas. Once they lived together as masters and waged workers, vassals and suzerains: now they are no longer known as anything but borrowers and usurers, winners and losers. Labour has given way before credit; real value vanishes before fictitious value, production before speculation [agiotage]. Earth, capital, talent, labour even, if we somewhere still encounter labour, serves as a stake. One no longer concerns oneself with privileges, monopolies, public functions, industry; one no longer asks labour for wealth, one awaits a roll of the dice. Credit, the theory said, needs a fixed basis; and this is exactly what credit has put in motion. It rests, it added, only on some mortgages, and it makes those mortgages run. It seeks guarantees; and despite the theory that wants to see guarantees only in realities, the pledge of credit is always the man, since it is the man who puts the pledge to work, and without the man the pledge would be absolutely ineffective and null, it happens that the man no longer holds to the realities, with the guarantee of the man the pledge disappears, and credit remains that which it had vainly boasted not to be, a fiction.

Credit, in a word, by dint of releasing capital, has finishing by releasing man himself from society and from nature. In that universal idealism, man no longer keeps to the soil; he is suspended in the air by an invisible power. The land is covered with people, some basking in opulence, the others hideous from poverty, and it is possessed by no one. It no longer has anything but masters who despise it, and some serfs who hate it: for they do not cultivate it for themselves, but for a holder of coupons[423] that no one knows, that they never see, who will perhaps pass on that land without having laid eyes on it, without doubting that it is his. The holder of the land, that is the owner of the registered annuity, resembles the merchant of bric-a-brac: he has in his portfolio some smallholdings, some pastures, some rich harvests, some excellent vineyards; what does it matter to him! He is ready to give it all up for ten centimes of increase: in the evening he will part with his goods, as in the morning he had received them, without love and without regret.

Thus, by way of the fiction of the productivity of capital, credit has arrived at the fiction of wealth. The land is no longer the workshop of the human race; it is a bank, and if it were possible that this bank would not ceaselessly make new victims, forced to ask again from labour the income that it has lost gambling, and by that to sustain the reality of capital; if it were possible that bankruptcy would not come now and again to interrupt that infernal orgy, the value of the security decreasing always while the fiction would multiply its paper, real wealth would become null, and registered wealth would increase to infinity.

But society cannot retreat: it must thus redeem monopoly or risk perishing, to save the human individuality that is ready to ruin itself for the sake of a merely ideal ownership; it must, in a word, consolidate, establish monopoly. Monopoly was, so to speak, a bachelor: We desire, says society, that it be married. It was the sycophant of the land,[424] the exploiter of capital: I want it to become its lord and spouse. Monopoly stopped at the individual, from now on it will extend to the race. By it the human race only had some heroes and barons; in the future, it will have dynasties. Monopoly familised [familisé], man will become attached to his land, to his industry, as he is to his wife and to his children, and man and nature will be united in an eternal affection.

Credit had put society in a condition that was indeed the most detestable that one could imagine, where man could abuse the most and have the least. Now, in the view of Providence, in the destinies of humanity and of the globe, man should be animated by a spirit of conservation and love for the instrument of his works, an instrument represented in general by the land. For man it is not only a question of exploiting the land, but of cultivating it, improving and loving it: now, how could society fulfil this aim other than by changing monopoly into property, cohabitation into marriage, propriamque dicabo, opposing to the fiction that exhausts and soils, the reality which fortifies and ennobles?[425]

The revolution that is prepared in monopoly therefore has above all in mind the monopoly of the land: for it is to this example, it is on the model of property in land that all properties are constituted. From the conditional, temporary and lifelong, appropriation would thus become perpetual, transmissible and absolute. And in order to better defend the inviolability of property, goods would in the future be distinguished as moveable and immoveable, and laws would be made to regulate the transmission, alienation and expropriation of both.



By means of property, society has realised a thought that is useful, laudable, and even inevitable: I am going to prove that by obeying an invincible necessity, it has cast itself into an impossible hypothesis. I believe that I have not forgotten or diminished any of the motives which have presided over the establishment of property; I even dare say that I have given these motives a unity and an obviousness unknown until this moment. Let the reader fill in, moreover, what I may have accidentally omitted: I accept in advance all his reasons, and propose nothing to contradict him. But let him then tell me, with hand on conscience, what he finds to reply to the counterproof that I am going to make.

Doubtless the collective reason, obeying the order of destiny that prescribed it, by a series of providential institutions, to consolidate monopoly, has done its duty: its conduct is irreproachable, and I do not blame it. It is the triumph of humanity to know how to recognise what is inevitable, as the greatest effort of its virtue is to know how to submit to it. If then the collective reason, in instituting property, has followed its orders, it has earned no blame: its responsibility is covered. But that property, which society, forced and constrained, if I thus do dare to say, has unearthed, who guarantees that it will last? Not society, which has conceived it from on high, and has not been able to add to it, subtract from it, or modify it in any way. In conferring property on man, it has left to it its qualities and its defects; it has taken no precaution against its constitutive vices, or against the superior forces which could destroy it. If property in itself is corruptible, society knows nothing of it, and can do nothing about it. If property is exposed to the attacks of a more powerful principle, society can do nothing more. How, indeed, will society cure the vice proper to property, since property is the daughter of destiny? And how will it protect it against a higher idea, when it only subsists by means of property, and conceives of nothing above property?

Here then is the proprietary theory.

Property is of necessity providential; the collective reason has received it from God and given it to man. But if not property is corruptible by nature, or assailable by force majeure, society is irresponsible; and whoever, armed with that force, will present themselves to combat property, society owes them submission and obeisance.

Thus it is a question of knowing, first, if property is in itself a corruptible thing, which gives rise to destruction; in second place, if there exists somewhere, in the economic arsenal, an instrument which can defeat it.

I will treat the first question in this section; we will seek later to discover what the enemy is which threatens to devour property.

Property is the right to use and abuse, in a word, despotism. Not that the despot is presumed ever to have the intention of destroying the thing: that is not what must be understood by the right to use and abuse. Destruction for its own sake is not assumed on the part of the proprietor; one always supposes some use that he will make of his goods, and that there is for him a motive of suitability and utility. By abuse, the legislator has meant that the proprietor has the right to be mistaken in the use of his goods, without ever being subject to investigation for that poor use, without being responsible to anyone for his error. The proprietor is always supposed to act in his own best interest; and it is in order to allow him more liberty in the pursuit of that interest, that society has conferred on him the right of use and abuse of his monopoly. Up to this point, then, the domain of property is irreprehensible.

But let us recall that this domain has not been conceded solely in respect for the individual: there exist, in the account of the motives for the concession, some entirely social considerations; the contract is synallagmatic between society and man. That is so true, so admitted even by the proprietors, that every time someone comes to attack their privilege, it is in the name, and only in the name, of society that they defend it.

Now, does proprietary despotism give satisfaction to society? For if it were otherwise, reciprocity being illusory, the pact would be null, and sooner or later either property or society will perish. I reiterate then my question. Does proprietary despotism fulfil its obligation toward society? Is proprietary despotism a prudent administrator? Is it, in its essence, just, social, humane? There is the question.

And this is what I respond without fear of refutation:

If it is indubitable, from the point of view of individual liberty, that the concession of property had been necessary; from the juridical point of view, the concession of property is radically null, because it implies on the part of the concessionaire certain obligations that it is optional for him to fulfil or not fulfil. Now, by virtue of the principle that every convention founded on the accomplishment of a non-obligatory condition does not compel, the tacit contract of property, passed between the privileged and the State, to the ends that we have previously established, is clearly illusory; it is annulled by the non-reciprocity, by the injury of one of the parties. And as, with regard to property, the accomplishment of the obligation cannot be due unless the concession itself is by that alone revoked, it follows that there is a contradiction in the definition and incoherence in the pact. Let the contracting parties, after that, persist in maintaining their treaty, the force of things is charged with proving to them that they do useless work: despite the fact that they have it, the inevitability of their antagonism restores discord between them.

All the economists indicate the disadvantages for agricultural production of the parcelling of the territory. In agreement on this with the socialists, they would see with joy a joint exploitation which, operating on a large scale, applying the powerful processes of the art and making important economies on the material, would double, perhaps quadruple product. But the proprietor says, Veto, I do not want it. And as he is within his rights, as no one in the world knows the means of changing these rights other than by expropriation, and since expropriation is nothingness, the legislator, the economist and the proletarian recoil in fright before the unknown, and content themselves to expect nowhere near the harvests promised. The proprietor is, by character, envious of the public good: he could purge himself of this vice only by losing property.

Thus, property becomes an obstacle to labour and wealth, an obstacle to the social economy: these days, there is hardly anyone but the economists and the men of law that this astonishes. I seek a way to make it enter into their minds all at once, without commentary...


Let us suppose that the proprietor, by a chivalrous liberality, yields to the invitation of science, allows labour to improve and multiply its products. An immense good will result for the day-workers and peasants, whose fatigues, reduced by half, will still find themselves, by the lowering of the price of goods, paid double.

But the proprietor: I would be pretty silly, he says, to abandon a profit so clear! Instead of a hundred days of labour, I would not have to pay more than fifty: it is not the proletarian who would profit, but me.—But then, observe, the proletarian will be still more miserable than before, since he will be idle once more.—That does not matter to me, replies the proprietor. I exercise my right. Let the others buy well, if they can, or let them go to other parts to seek their fortune, there are thousands and millions!

Every proprietor nourishes, in his heart of hearts, this homicidal thought. And as by competition, monopoly and credit, the invasion always grows, the workers find themselves incessantly eliminated from the soil: property is the depopulation of the earth.

Thus then the revenue of the proprietor, combined with the progress of industry, changes into an abyss the pit dug beneath the feet of the worker by monopoly; the evil is aggravated by privilege. The revenue of the proprietor is no longer the patrimony of the poor,—I mean that portion of the agricultural product which remains after the costs of farming have been paid off, and which must always serve as a new material for the use of labour, according to that fine theory which shows us accumulated capital as a land unceasingly offered to production, and which, the more one works it, the more it seems to extend. The revenue has become for the proprietor the token of his lechery, the instrument of his solitary pleasures. And note that the proprietor who abuses, guilty before charity and morality, remains blameless before the law, unassailable in political economy. To eat up his income! What could be more beautiful, more noble, more legitimate? In the opinion of the common people as in that of the great, unproductive consumption is the virtue par excellence of the proprietor. Every trouble in society comes from this indelible selfishness.

In order to facilitate the exploitation of the soil, and put the different localities in relation, a route, a canal is necessary. Already the plan is made; one will sacrifice an edge on that side, a strip on the other; some hectares of poor terrain, and the way is open. But the proprietor cries out with his booming voice: I do not want it! And before this formidable veto, the would-be lender dares not go through with it. Still, in the end, the State has dared to reply: I want it! But what hesitations, what frights, what trouble, before taking that heroic resolution! What trade-offs! What trials! The people have paid dearly for this act of authority, by which the promoters were still more stunned than the proprietors. For it came to establish a precedent the consequences of which appeared incalculable!... One promised themselves that after having passed this Rubicon, the bridges were broken, and they would stay that way. To do violence to property, what could this portend! The shadow of Spartacus would have appeared less terrible.

In the depths of a naturally poor soil, chance, and then science, born of chance, discovers some treasure troves of fuel. It is a free gift of nature, deposited under the soil of the common habitation, of which each has a right to claim his share. But the proprietor arrives, the proprietor to whom the concession of the soil has been made solely with a view to cultivation. You shall not pass, he says; you will not violate my property! At this unexpected summons, great debate arises among the learned. Some say that the mine is not the same thing as the arable land, and must belong to the State; others maintain that the proprietor owns the property above and below, cujus est soluw, ejus est usque ad inferos. For if the proprietor, a new Cerberus posted as the guard of dark kingdoms, can put a ban on entry, the right of the State is only a fiction. It would be necessary to return to expropriation, and where would that lead? The State gives in: “Let us affirm it boldly,” it says through the mouth of M. Dunoyer, supported by M. Troplong; “it is no more just and reasonable to say that the mines are the property of the nation, than it once was to claim that it was the property of the king. The mines are essentially part of the soil. It is with a perfect good sense that the common law has said that the property in what is above implies property in what is below. Where, indeed, would we make the separation?”

M. Dunoyer is troubled by very little. Who hesitates to separate the mine from the surface, just as we sometimes separate, in a succession, the ground floor from the first floor? That is what is done very well by the proprietors of the coal-mining fields in the department of the Loire, where the property in the depths has been nearly everywhere separated from the surface property, and transformed into a sort of circulating value like the actions of a public limited company. Who still hesitates to regard the mine as a new land for which one needs a way of clearing?... But what! Napoléon, the inventor of the juste-milieu, the prince of the Doctrinaires, had wanted it otherwise; the counsel of State, M. Troplong and M. Dunoyer applaud: there is nothing more to consider. A transaction has taken place under who-knows-what insignificant reservations; the proprietors have been rewarded by the imperial munificence: how have they acknowledged that favour?

I have already had more than one occasion to speak of the coalition of the mines of the Loire. I return to it for the last time. In that department, the richest in the kingdom in coal deposits, the exploitation was first conducted in the most expensive and most absurd manner. The interest of the mines, that of the consumers and of the proprietors, demanded that the extraction was made jointly: We do not want it, the proprietors have repeated for who knows how many years, and they have engaged in a horrible competition, of which the devastation of the mines has paid the first costs. Were they within their rights? So much so, that one will see the State finding it bad that they left there.

Finally the proprietors, at least the majority, managed to get along: they associated. Doubtless they have given in to reason, to motives of conservation, of good order, of general as much as private interest. From then on, the consumers would have fuel at a good price, the miners a regular labour and guaranteed wages. What thunder of acclamations in the public! What praise in the academies! What decorations for that fine devotion! We will not inquire whether the gathering is consistent with the text and to the spirit of the law, which forbids the joining of the concessions; we will only see the advantage of the union, and we will have proven that the legislator has neither wanted, nor been able to want, anything but the well-being of the people: Salus populi suprema lex esta.

Deception! First, it is not reason that the proprietors followed in coming together: they submitted only to force. To the extent that competition ruins them, they range themselves on the side of the victor, and accelerate by their growing mass the rout of the dissidents. Then, the association constitutes itself in a collective monopoly: the price of the merchandise increases, so much for consumption; wages are reduced, so much for labour. Then, the public complains; the legislature thinks of intervening; the heavens threaten with a bolt of lightning; the prosecution invokes article 419 of the Penal Code which forbids coalitions, but which permits every monopolist to combine, and stipulates no measure for the price of the merchandise; the administration appeals to the law of 1810 which, wishing to encourage exploitation, while dividing the concessions, is rather more favourable than opposed to unity; and the advocates prove by dissertations, writs and arguments, these that the coalition is within its rights, those that it is not. Meanwhile the consumer says: Is it just that I pay the costs of speculation [agiotage] and of competition? Is it just that what has been given for nothing to the proprietor in my greatest interest comes back to me at such an expense? Let one establish a tariff! We do not want it, respond the proprietors. And I defy the State to defeat their resistance other than by an act of authority, which resolves nothing; or else by an indemnity, which is to abandon all.

Property is unsocial, not only in possession, but also in production. Absolute mistress of the instruments of labour, she renders only imperfect, fraudulent, detestable products. The consumer is no longer served, he is robbed of his money.—Shouldn’t you have known, one said to the rural proprietor, to wait some days to gather these fruits, to reap this wheat, dry this hay; do not put water in this milk, rinse your barrels, care more for your harvests, bite off less and do better. You are overloaded: put back a part of your inheritance.—A fool! responds the proprietor with a mocking air. Twenty badly worked acres always render more than ten which take us so much time, and will double the costs. With your system, the earth will feed more men: but what is it to me if there are more men? It is a question of my profit. As to the quality of my products, they will always be good enough for those who lack. You believe yourself skilled, my dear counsellor, and you are only a child. What’s the use of being a proprietor, if one only sells what is worth carrying to market, and at a just price, at that?... I do not want it.

Well, you say, let the police do their duty!... The police! You forget that its action only begins when the evil has already been done. The police, instead of watching over production, inspects the product: after having allowed the proprietor to cultivate, harvest, manufacture without conscience, it appears to lay hands on the green fruit, spill the terrines of watered milk, the casks of adulterated beer and wine, to throw the prohibited meats into the road: all to the applause of the economists and the populace, who want property to be respected, but will not put up with trade being free. Heh! Barbarians! It is the poverty of the consumer which provokes the flow of these impurities. Why, if you cannot stop the proprietor from acting badly, do you stop the poor from living badly? Isn’t it better if they have colic than if they die of hunger?

Say to that industrialist that it is a cowardly, immoral thing, to speculate on the distress of the poor, on the inexperience of children and of young girls: he simply will not understand you. Prove to him that by a reckless overproduction, by badly calculated enterprises, he compromises, along with his own fortune, the existence of his workers; that if his interests are not touched, those of so many families, grouped around him, merit consideration; that by the arbitrariness of his favours he creates around him discouragement, servility, hatred. The proprietor takes offence: Am I not the master? says he in parody of the legend; and because I am good to a few, do you claim to make of my kindness a right for all? Must I render account to those who should obey me? That home is mine; what I should do regarding the direction of my affairs, I alone am the judge of it. Are my workers my slaves? If my conditions offend them, and they find better, let them go! I will be the first to compliment them. Very excellent philanthropists, who then prevents you from labouring in the workshops? Act, give the example; instead of that delightful life that you lead by preaching virtue, set up a factory, put yourself to work. Let us see finally through you association on the earth! As for me, I reject with all my strength such a servitude. Associates! Rather bankruptcy, rather death!


A poor worker having his wife in childbirth, the midwife, in despair, must ask assistance of a physician.—I must have 200 francs, says the doctor, I won’t budge.—My God! replies the worker, my household is not worth 200 francs; it will be necessary that my wife die, or else we will all go naked, the child, her and me!

That obstetrician, let God rejoice! was yet a worthy man, benevolent, melancholic and mild, member of several scientific and charitable societies: on his mantle, a bronze of Hippocrates, refusing the presents of Artaxerxes.[426] He was incapable of saddening a child, and would have sacrificed himself for his cat. His refusal did not come from hardness; that was tactical. For a physician who understands business, devotion has only a season: the clientele acquired, the reputation once made, he reserves himself for the wealthy, and, save for ceremonial occasions, he rejects the indiscreet. Where would we be, if it were necessary to heal the sick indiscriminately? Talent and reputation are precious properties, that one must make the most of, not squander.

The trait that I have just cited is one of the most benign; what horrors, if I should penetrate to the bottom of this medical matter! Let no one tell me that these are exceptions: I except everyone. I criticise property, not men. Property, in Vincent de Paul[427] as in Harpagon[428] , is always monstrous; and until the service of medicine is organised, it will be for the physician as for the scientist, for the advocate as for the artist: he will be a being degraded by his own title, by the title of proprietor.

This is what this judge did not understand, too good a man for his time, who, yielding to the indignation of his conscience, decided one day to express public criticism of the corporation of lawyers. It was something immoral, according to him, scandalous, that the ease with which these gentlemen welcome all sorts of causes. If this blame, starting so high, had been supported and commented on by the press, it was made perhaps for the legal profession. But the honourable company could not perish by the censure, any more than property can die from a diatribe, any more than the press can die of its own venom. Besides, isn’t the judiciary interdependent with the corporation of lawyers? Isn’t the one, like the other, established by and for property? What would Perrin Dandin[429] become, if he were forbidden to judge? And what would we argue about, without property? The order of lawyers therefore rises; journalism, the chicanery of the pen, came to the rescue of the chicanery of words: the riot went rumbling and swelling until that imprudent magistrate, involuntary organ of the public conscience, had made an apology to sophistry, and retracted the truth that had arisen spontaneously through him.


Thus property becomes more antisocial to the extent that it is distributed on a greater number of heads. What seems necessary to soften, and to humanise property, collective privilege, is precisely what shows property in its hideousness: property divided, impersonal property, is the worst of properties. Who does not realise today that France is covered with great companies, more formidable, more eager for booty, than the famous bands with which the brave du Guesclin[430] delivered France!...

Be careful not to take community of property for association. The individual proprietor can still show himself accessible to mercy, justice, and shame; the proprietor-corporation is heartless, without remorse. It is a fantastic, inflexible being, freed from every passion and all love, which moves in the circle of its ideas as the millstone in its revolutions crushes grain. It is not by becoming common that property can become social: one does not relieve rabies by biting everyone. Property will end by the transformation of its principle, not by an indefinite co-participation. And that is why democracy, or system of universal property, that some men, as hard-nosed as they are blind, insist on preaching to the people, is powerless to create society.


Work, the economists repeat ceaselessly to the people; work, save, capitalise, become proprietors in your turn. As they said: Workers, you are the recruits of property. Each of you carries in your own sack[431] the rod that serves to correct you, and that may one day serve you to correct others.[432] Raise yourself up to property by labour; and when you have the taste for human flesh, you will no longer want any other meat, and you will make up for your long abstinences.

To fall from the proletariat into property! From slavery into tyranny, which is to say, following Plato, always into slavery! What a perspective! And though it is inevitable, the condition of the slave is no more tenable. In order to advance, to free yourself from wage-labour, it is necessary to become a capitalist, to become a tyrant! It is necessary; do you understand, proletarians? Property is not a matter of choice for humanity, it is the absolute order of destiny. You will only be free after you have redeemed yourself, by subjugation to your masters, from the servitude that they have pressed upon you.[433]

One beautiful Sunday in summer, the people of the great cities leave their sombre and damp residences, and go to seek the vigorous and pure air of the country. But what has happened! There is no more countryside! The land, divided in a thousand closed cells, traversed by long galleries, the land is no longer found; the sight of the fields exists for the people of the towns only in the theatre and the museum: the birds alone contemplate the real landscape from high in the air. The proprietor, who pays very dearly for a lodge on this hacked-up earth, enjoys, selfish and solitary, some strip of turf that he calls his country: except for this corner, he is exiled from the soil like the poor. Some people can boast of never having seen the land of their birth! It is necessary to go far, into the wilderness, in order to find again that poor nature, that we violate in a brutal manner, instead of enjoying, as chaste spouses, its heavenly embraces.

Thus, property, which should make us free, makes us prisoners. What am I saying? It degrades us, by making us servants and tyrants to one another.

Do you know what it is to be a wage-worker? To work under a master, watchful [jaloux] of his prejudices even more than of his orders; whose dignity consists above all in demanding, sic volo, sic jubeo,[434] and never explaining; often you have a low opinion of him, and you mock him! Not to have any thought of your own, to study without ceasing the thought of others, to know no stimulus except your daily bread, and the fear of losing your job!

The wage-worker is a man to whom the proprietor who hires his services gives this speech: What you have to do does not concern you at all: you do not control it, you do not answer for it. Every observation is forbidden to you; there is no profit for you to hope for except from your wage, no risk to run, no blame to fear.

Thus one says to the journalist: Lend us your columns, and even, if that suits you, your administration. Here is what you have to say, and here is what you have to do. Whatever you think of our ideas, of our ends and of our means, always defend our party, emphasise our opinions. That cannot compromise you, and must not disturb you: the character of the journalist, it is anonymous. Here is, for your fee, ten thousand francs and a hundred subscriptions. What are you going to do? And the journalist, like the Jesuit, responds by sighing: I must live!

One says to the lawyer: This matter presents some pros and cons; there is a party whose luck I have decided to try, and for this I have need of a man of your profession. If it is not you, it will be your colleague, your rival; and there are a thousand crowns for the lawyer if I win my case, and five hundred francs if I lose it. And the lawyer bows with respect, saying to his conscience, which murmurs: I must live!

One says to the priest: Here is some money for three hundred masses. You don’t have to worry yourself about the morality of the deceased: it is probable that he will never see God, being dead in hypocrisy, his hands full of the goods of other, and laden with the curses of the people. These are not your affairs: we pay, fire away! And the priest, raising his eyes to heaven, says: Amen, I must live.

One says to the purveyor of arms: We need thirty thousand rifles, ten thousand swords, a thousand quintals of shot, and a hundred barrels of powder. What we can do with it is not your concern; it is possible that all will pass to the enemy: but there will be two thousand francs of profit. That’s good, responds the purveyor: each to his craft, everyone must live!... Make the tour of society; and after having noticed the universal absolutism, you will have recognised the universal indignity. What immorality in this system of servility [valetage]! What stigma in this mechanisation!


Abuse! Cry the jurists, perversity of man. It is not property that makes us envious and greedy, which makes our passions spring up, and arms with its sophisms our bad faith. It is our passions, our vices, on the contrary, which sully and corrupt property.

I would like it as well if one says to me that it is not concubinage that sullies man, but that it is man who, by his passions and vices, sullies and corrupts concubinage. But, doctors, the facts that I denounce, are they, or are they not, of the essence of property? Are they not, from the legal point of view, irreprehensible, placed in the shelter of every judiciary action? Can I remand to the judge, summon to appear before the tribunals this journalist who prostitutes his pen for money? That lawyer, that priest, who sells to iniquity, one his speech, the other his prayers? This doctor who allows the poor man to perish, if he does not submit in advance the fee demanded? This old satyr who deprives his children for a courtesan? Can I prevent a licitation[435] that will abolish the memory of my forefathers, and render their posterity without ancestors, as if it were of incestuous or adulterous stock? Can I restrain the proprietor, without compensating him beyond what he possesses, that is without wrecking society, for heeding the needs of society?...

Property, you say, is innocent of the crime of the proprietor; property is good and useful in itself: it is our passions and our vices which deprave it.

Thus, in order to save property, you distinguish it from morals! Why not distinguish it right away from society? That was precisely the reasoning of the economists. Political economy, said M. Rossi, is in itself good and useful; but it is not moral: it proceeds, setting aside all morality; it is for us not to abuse its theories, to profit from its teachings, according to the higher laws of morality. As if he said: Political economy, the economy of society is not society; the economy of society proceeds without regard to any society; it is up to us not to abuse its theories, to profit from its teachings, according to the higher laws of society! What chaos!

I not only maintain with the economists that property is neither morals nor society; but more that it is by its principle directly contrary to morals and to society, just as political economy is anti-social, because its theories are diametrically opposed to the social interest.

According to the definition, property is the right of use and abuse, which is to say the absolute, irresponsible domain of man over his person and his goods. If property ceased to be the right of abuse, it would cease to be property. I have taken my examples from the category of abusive acts permitted to the proprietor: what happens here that is not of an unimpeachable legality and propriety? Hasn’t the proprietor the right to give his goods to whomever seems good to him, to leave his neighbour to burn without crying fire, to oppose himself to the public good, to squander his patrimony, to exploit and fleece the worker, to produce badly and sell badly? Can the proprietor be judicially constrained to use his property well? Can he be disturbed in the abuse? What am I saying? Isn’t property, precisely because it is abusive, that which is most sacred for the legislator? Can one conceive of a property for which police would determine the use, and suppress the abuse? And is it not evident, finally, that if one wanted to introduce justice into property, one would destroy property; as the law, by introducing honesty into concubinage, has destroyed concubinage?

Thus, property, in principle and in essence, is immoral: that proposition is soon reached by critique. Consequently the Code, which, in determining the right of the proprietor, has not reserved those of morals, is a code of immorality; jurisprudence, that alleged science of right, which is nothing other than the collection of the proprietary rubrics, is immoral, and justice, is instituted in order protect the free and peaceful abuse of property; justice, which orders us to come to the aid against those who would oppose themselves to that abuse; which afflicts and marks with infamy whoever is so daring as to claim to mend the outrages of property, justice is infamous. If a son, supplanted in the paternal affection by an unworthy mistress, should destroy the document which disinherits and dishonours him, he would answer in front of justice. Accused, convicted, condemned, he would go to the penal colony to make honourable amends to property, while the prostitute will be sent off in possession. Where then is the immorality here? Where is the infamy? Is it not on the side of justice? Let us continue to unwind this chain, and we will soon know the whole truth that we seek. Not only is justice, instituted to protect property, itself abusive, itself immoral, infamous; but the penal sanction is infamous, the police are infamous, the executioner and the gallows, infamous, and property, which embraces that whole series, property, from which this odious lineage come, property is infamous.

Judges armed to defend it, magistrates whose zeal is a permanent threat to those accused by it, I question you. What have you seen in property which has been able in this way to subjugate your conscience and corrupt your judgement? What principle, superior without doubt to property, more worthy of your respect than property, makes it so precious to you? When its works declare it infamous, how do you proclaim it holy and sacred? What consideration, what prejudice affects you?

Is it the majestic order of human societies that you do not understand, but of which you suppose that property is the unshakeable foundation?—No, since property, as it is, is for you order itself; since first it is proven that property is by nature abusive, that is to say disorderly and anti-social.

Is it Necessity or Providence, the laws of which we do not understand, but the designs of which we adore?—No, since, according to the analysis, property being contradictory and corruptible, it is for that very reason a negation of Necessity, an injury to Providence.

Is it a superior philosophy considering human miseries from on high, and seeking by evil to obtain the good?—No, since philosophy is the agreement of reason and experience, and in the judgement of reason as in that of experience, property is condemned.



If God did not exist, there would be no proprietors: that is the conclusion of political economy.

And the conclusion of social science is this: Property is the crime of the Supreme Being. There is for man only one duty, only one religion, it is to renounce God. Hoc est primum et maximum mandatum.[436]

It is proven that the establishment of property among men has not been a matter of choice and philosophy: its origin, like that of royalty, like that of languages and forms of worship, is entirely spontaneous, mystical, in a word, divine. Property belongs to the great family of instinctive beliefs, which, under the mantle of religion and authority, still reigns everywhere over our overproud species. Property, in a word, is itself a religion: it has its theology, political economy; its casuistics, jurisprudence; its mythology and its symbols, in the external forms of justice and of contracts. The historical origin of property, like that of every religion, is hidden in the shadows. Asked about itself, it responds with the fact of its existence; it explains itself with legends, and gives allegories for truths. Finally, property, like every religion once more, is subject to the law of development. Thus one sees it by turns as simple right of use and habitation, as among the Germans and the Arabs; patrimonial possession, inalienable in perpetuity, as among the Jews; feudal and emphyteutic[437] as in the Middle Ages; absolute and circulable at the will of the proprietor, pretty much as the Romans knew it, and as we have it today. But already property, come to its apogee, turns towards its decline: attacked by limited partnership, by the new laws of mortgage, by expropriation for reasons of public utility, by the innovations of the crédit agricole, by the new theories on rent,[438] etc., the moment approaches when it will no longer be anything but the shadow of itself.


So property, once we cease to defend it in its original brutality, and once we speak of disciplining it, of subjecting it to morals, of subordinating it to the state, that is, of socialising it, property collapses, it perishes. It perishes, I say, because it is progressive; because its idea is incomplete and its nature is not at all final; because it is the principal moment of a series of which only the ensemble can give a true idea, in a word because it is a religion. What one looks to preserve, and what one pursues in reality under the name of property, is no longer property; it is a new form of possession, without example in the past, and that one strives to deduce from the principles or presumed motives of property, in continuation of that illusion of logic which always makes us suppose at the origin or the end a thing that must be sought in the thing itself, namely, its meanings and its scope.

But if property is a religion, and if, like every religion, it is progressive, it has, like every religion as well, its own specific object. Christianity and Buddhism are religions of penance, or of the education of humanity; Mohammedanism is the religion of fate; monarchy and democracy are one and the same religion, the religion of authority; philosophy itself is the religion of reason. What is this particular religion, the most persistent of the religions, which must lead all the others in its fall and yet only perishes the last, whose devotees no longer believe in it,—property?

Since property manifests itself by occupation and use, since it aims to strengthen and extend monopoly by domain and inheritance, since by means of the revenue that it accumulates without labour, and mortgages committed to without guarantees, since it is resistant to society, since its rule is sheer whim, and since it must perish by justice, property is the religion of FORCE.


Thus, according to grammar, as well as to fable and analysis, property, the religion of force, is at the same time the religion of servitude. Depending on whether it takes over at gunpoint, or whether it proceeds by exclusion and monopoly, it engenders two sorts of servitudes: the one, the ancient proletariat, result of the primitive fact of conquest or from the violent division of Adam, humanity, into Cain and Abel, patricians and plebeians; the other, the modern proletariat, the working class of the economists, caused by the development of the economic phases, which are all summed up, as one has seen, in the mortal deed of the consecration of monopoly by domain, inheritance, and revenue.


In my discussion of value, I have shown that every labour must leave a surplus; so that, supposing the consumption of the worker to remain constant, his labour should create, on top of his subsistence, an ever greater capital. Under the regime of property, the surplus of labour, essentially collective, passes entirely, like the revenue, to the proprietor: now, where is the difference between that disguised appropriation and the fraudulent usurpation of a communal good?

The consequence of that usurpation is that the worker, whose share of the collective product is constantly confiscated by the entrepreneur, is always on his uppers, while the capitalist is always in profit; that commerce, the exchange of essentially equal values, is no more than the art of buying for 3 fr. what is worth 6, and of selling of 6 fr. that which is worth 3; and that political economy, which upholds and advocates that regime, is the theory of theft, as property, the respect for which maintains a similar state of things, is the religion of force. It is just, M. Blanqui said recently to the Academy of Moral Sciences in a speech on coalitions, that labour should participate in the wealth that it produces. If then it does not participate, it is unjust; and if it is unjust, it is robbery, and the proprietors are robbers. Speak plainly then, economists!...


But if property, spontaneous and progressive, is a religion, it is, like monarchy and priesthood, of divine right. Similarly, the inequality of conditions and fortunes, poverty, is of divine right; perjury and robbery are of divine institution; the exploitation of man by man is the affirmation, I almost said the manifestation of God. The true theists are the proprietors; the defenders of property are all God-fearing men; the death sentences and torments that they call upon one another as a result of their misunderstandings of property are human sacrifices offered to the god of force. Those, on the contrary, who proclaim the imminent end of property, who, with Jesus Christ and Saint Paul, call for the abolition of property; who think about the production, consumption and distribution of wealth, are the anarchists and the atheists; and society, which advances visibly toward equality and knowledge, society is the incessant negation of God.




IF I AM not mistaken, the reader ought to be convinced at least of one thing, that social truth cannot be found either in utopia or in routine: that political economy is not the science of society, but contains, in itself, the materials of that science, in the same way that chaos before the creation contained the elements of the universe. The fact is that, to arrive at a definite organisation, which appears to be the destiny of the race on this planet, there is nothing left but to make a general equation of our contradictions.

But what will be the formula of this equation?

We already foresee that there should be a law of exchange, a theory of MUTUALITY, a system of guarantees which determines the old forms of our civil and commercial societies, and gives satisfaction to all the conditions of efficiency, progress and justice which the critics have pointed out; a society no longer merely conventional, but real, which makes of the subdivision of real estate a scientific instrument; that will abolish the servitude of the machines, and may prevent the coming of crises; that makes of competition a benefit, and of monopoly a pledge of security for all; which by the strength of its principles, instead of making credit of capital and protection of the State, puts capital and the State to work; which by the sincerity of exchange, creates a real solidarity among the nations; which without forbidding individual initiative, without prohibiting domestic economy, continuously restores to society the wealth which is diverted by appropriation; which by the ebb and flow of capital, assures political and industrial equality of the citizenry, and, through a vast system of public education, secures the equality of functions and the equivalence of aptitudes, by continuously raising their level; which through justice, well being and virtue, revives the human conscience, assures the harmony and the equality of the people; a society, in a word, which, being at the same time organisation and transition, escapes what has taken place, guarantees everything and compels nothing…

The theory of mutuality, or of mutuum, that is to say, the natural form of exchange, of which the most simple form is loan for consumption, is, from the point of view of the collective existence, the synthesis of the two ideas of property and of communism [communauté], a synthesis as old as the elements of which it is constituted, since it is nothing more than the return of society to its primitive custom, through the maze of inventions and of systems, the result of a meditation of six thousand years on the fundamental proposition that A equals A.

Everything today is making ready for this solemn restoration; everything proclaims that the reign of fiction has passed, and that society will return to the sincerity of its nature. Monopoly is inflated to world-wide proportions, but a monopoly which encompasses the world cannot remain exclusive; it must republicanise itself or be destroyed. Hypocrisy, venality, prostitution, theft, form the foundation of the public conscience; but, unless humanity learns to live upon what kills it, we must believe that justice and expiation approach....

Already socialism, feeling the error in its utopias, turns to realities and to facts, it laughs at itself in Paris, it discusses in Berlin, in Cologne, in Leipzig, in Breslau; it murmurs in England, it thunders on the other side of the ocean; it commits suicide in Poland, it tries to govern in Berne and in Lausanne. Socialism, in pervading the masses, has become entirely different: the people will not bother about the honour of schools; they ask for work, education, well being, equality; the system does not matter so much, provided that the result is obtained. But when the people want something and it is only a question of finding out how to obtain it, the discovery does not wait; prepare yourself to see the coming of the grand masquerade.



Paris, 22nd (Chapter I) and 26th (Chapter II) March 1848
Translation by Nathalie Colibert (Chapter I) and Ian Harvey (Chapter II)


  1. The Revolution of 24th of February is legitimate, although it was illegal.

  2. The Provisional Government did not understand the revolution.


THE REVOLUTION, ONE CANNOT DENY IT, HAS BEEN MADE BY THE RED FLAG:[439] the provisional Government, however, has decided to keep the tricolour. To explain this repudiation M. de Lamartine made speeches, Le National made dissertations. Red, they say, in the old days was the colour of royalty; red is the colour of the atrocious Bourbon, tyrant of the Deux-Siciles.[440] Red cannot be the colour of France.

One is not saying red is the colour of justice, [or] the colour of sovereignty. And since all men like red, would it not mean that red is the symbol of human fraternity? To deny the red flag, the crimson!—but it is the social question you are getting rid of. Every time the People, defeated by suffering, wanted to express its wishes and its complaints outside the law that kills it, it has walked under a red banner. It is true that the red flag has not gone around the world like its happy rival the tricolour. Justice, as M. de Lamartine clearly stated, did not go any further than the Champ-de-Mars.[441] It is so terrible, justice, that one would not know how to hide it enough. Poor red flag. Everyone is abandoning you! Me, I embrace you; I clutch you to my breast. Long live fraternity!

Let us keep, if you wish, the tricolour, symbol of our nationality. But remember that the red flag is the sign of a revolution that will be the last. The red flag! It is the federal standard of humanity.



  1. Problem of the people’s sovereignty; conditions for the solution.

  2. Whether universal suffrage expresses the people’s sovereignty.

  3. Whether social reform must come out of political reform or political reform out of social reform; the difference between democracy and republic.

Listen, heavens! Earth, lend an ear! The Lord has spoken!

Thus cried the prophets when, with sparkling eyes and foaming mouths, they announced to the liars and apostates the punishment for their crimes. Thus spoke the Church of the Middle Ages, and Earth, bowing in fear, crossed herself at the voice of the pontiff, at the pastorals of his bishops. Thus came Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Mohammed and Luther in turn, all the founders and reformers of religions, each new modification of the dogma proclaimed as emanating from divine authority. And still we see the human masses bowing down in the name of the Most High and submissively receiving the revealers’ discipline.

But after all, as a philosopher once said, if God has spoken, why have I not heard anything?

These words are enough to shake up the Church, cancel the Scriptures, wipe out faith and hasten the reign of the Antichrist!

I do not want, following [David] Hume’s example, to prejudge the reality or possibility of a revelation: how could we make an a priori argument about a supernatural fact, a manifestation of the Supreme Being? For me, the question is entirely one of experiencing revelations, and I reduce the religious controversy to that one point—the authenticity of the divine word. Prove that authenticity, and I will be a Christian. Who would then dare to argue with God if he were sure that it was God who was speaking to him?

It is the same with the People as it is with divinity: vox populi, vox Dei.[442]

Since the world began, since human tribes started forming monarchies and republics, vacillating from one idea to another like wandering planets, mixing and combining the most diverse elements to organise themselves into societies, overturning courts and thrones as children do to a house of cards, we have seen, at each political shake-up, the leaders of the movement invoking, with varying degrees of explicitness, the sovereignty of the People.

Brutus and Caesar, Cicero and Catalina all availed themselves of popular suffrage in turn. If we must believe the partisans of the deposed system, the Charter of 1830 was the expression of national sovereignty at least as much as the Constitution of Year III, and Louis-Philippe, like Charles X, Napoléon and the Directorate, was the elected representative of the nation. Why not, if the Charter of 1830 was only an amendment to the Constitutions of Year III, Year IV and 1814?

The most advanced organ of the legitimist party would still tell us, if it dared, that the law results from the People’s consent and the king’s decree: Lex fit consensu populi et constitutione regis. The sovereignty of the nation is the first principle of both monarchists and democrats. Listen to the echo that reaches us from the North: on the one hand, there is a despotic king who invokes national traditions, that is, the will of the People expressed and confirmed over the centuries. On the other hand, there are subjects in revolt who maintain that the People no longer think what they formerly did and who ask that the People be consulted. Who then shows here a better understanding of the People? The monarchs who believe that their thinking is immutable, or the citizens who suppose them to be versatile? And when you say the contradiction is resolved by progress, meaning that the People go through various phases before arriving at the same idea, you only avoid the problem: who will decide what is progress and what is regression?

Therefore, I ask as Rousseau did: if the People have spoken, why have I heard nothing?

You point out this astonishing revolution to me, a revolution in which I, too, have participated, the legitimacy of which I alone have proven, the idea I have raised. And you say to me: there is the People!

But in the first place, I have seen only a tumultuous crowd without awareness of the thought that made it act, without any comprehension of the revolution it brought about with its own hands. Then what I have called the logic of the People might well be nothing but the reason of events, all the more so because, once they are over and everyone agrees on their significance, opinions are divided again on the consequences. Now the revolution has been carried out, the People say nothing [La révolution faite, le Peuple se tait]! What then? Does popular sovereignty exist only for things in the past, which no longer interest us, and not at all for those in the future, which alone can be the objects of the People’s decrees?

Oh, all you enemies of despotism and its corruption, anarchy and its thievery, who never cease invoking the People, you who speak frankly of the People’s sovereign reason, irresistible strength and formidable voice, I command you to tell me: where and when have you heard the People? Through what mouths, in what language, do they express themselves? How is this astonishing revelation accomplished? What authentic, conclusive examples do you cite? What guarantee do you have of the sincerity of these laws you say issue from the People? What sanction of them? By what claims, by what signs, will I distinguish those whom the People have elected from the apostates who take advantage of its trust and usurp its authority? In short, how do you establish the legitimacy of the popular Word?

I believe in the existence of the People as I do in the existence of God.

I bow before their holy will; I submit to all their orders; the People’s word is my law, my strength and my hope. But, following St. Paul’s precept, to be worthy, my obedience must be rational, and what a misfortune for me, what ignominy, if, while believing myself to be submitting only to the People’s authority, I am a despicable charlatan’s plaything! How then, I beg of you, among so many rival apostles, contradictory opinions and obstinate partisans, am I to recognise the voice, the true voice, of the People?

The problem of the People’s sovereignty is the fundamental problem of liberty, equality and fraternity, the first principle of social organisation. Governments and peoples have had no other goal, through all the storms of revolutions and diversions of politics, than to constitute this sovereignty. Each time they have been diverted from this goal, they have fallen into servitude and shame. With that in mind, the provisional government has convened a National Assembly named by all citizens, without distinction of wealth and capacity: universal suffrage seems to them to be the closest approach to expressing the People’s sovereignty.

Thus, it is supposed first that the People can be consulted, second, that it can respond, third, that its will can be truly observed and finally, that government founded upon the manifest will of the People is the only legitimate government.

In particular, such is the pretension of DEMOCRACY, which presents itself as the form of government that best expresses the People’s sovereignty.

However, if I prove that democracy is, as is the case with monarchy, only a symbol of sovereignty, that it does not answer any of the questions raised by that idea, that it cannot, for example, either establish the authenticity of the actions attributed to the People or state what society’s purpose and destination are: if I prove that democracy, far from being the most perfect government, is the negation of the People’s sovereignty and the origin of its ruin, it will be demonstrated, in fact and in right, that democracy is nothing more than one constitutional arbitrariness succeeding another, that it does not possess any scientific value and that it must be seen solely as a preparation for the one and indivisible republic.

It is important to clarify opinion on this point immediately and to eliminate all illusion.


The People, a collective being—I almost said rational being—does not speak in the material sense of the word at all. Like God, the People also has no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no mouth to speak. How do I know if the People is endowed with some sort of soul, a divinity inherent to the masses, the universal soul some philosophers suppose that sometimes moves and urges the masses on, or whether the People’s reason is merely the pure idea of the most abstract, comprehensive and freest of all individual forms, as other philosophers claim: that God is merely order in the universe, an abstraction? I am not getting involved in the investigations of esoteric psychology: as a practical man, I wonder how this soul, reason, will or what have you occurs outside itself, so to speak, and makes itself known. Who can serve as its representative? Who has the right to tell others that the People speaks through him? How will I believe that he who harangues five hundred applauding individuals from atop a stepladder is the People’s spokesman? How does election by the citizens, even by their unanimous vote, have the virtue of conferring that kind of privilege of serving as the People’s medium? And when you show me a coterie of nine hundred dignitaries thus chosen by their fellow citizens, why should I believe that those nine hundred delegates, who do not all agree with each other, are inspired by the People’s spirit? And when all is said and done, how could the laws they make obligate me?

Here is a president or a directorate, personification, symbol or fiction of national sovereignty: the first power of the state.

Here are two chambers or agencies: one in the interests of conservation and the other with the instinct for development, the second power of the state.

Here is the press, the third power of the state—eloquent, seasoned and tireless—pouring out millions of ideas in torrents each morning to swirl in millions of citizens’ brains.

The executive power is action, the chambers, deliberation, and the press, opinion.

Which of these powers represents the People? Or indeed, if you say that it is all of them that represent the People, how is it that they do not all agree? Put royalty in place of the presidency, and it is the same thing: my criticisms apply equally to both monarchy and democracy.

In France there are 500 or 600 newspapers, fountains of opinion, the titles of which greatly attest to the owners’ pretence that they are the interpreters of popular thought: Le Siècle, La Réforme, La Liberté, Le Progrès, La Presse, Le Temps, L’Opinion, La Démocratie, L’Atelier, Les Ecoles, La Vérité, La France, Le Monde, Le Constitutionnel, Le National, Le Commerce, Les Débats, Le Courrier, Le Populaire, Le Peuple, La Voix du Peuple, Le Peuple Constituent, Le Représentant du Peuple, etc., etc., etc.

With such publicity, when we are so well stocked with writers not lacking in erudition, ideas or style, I am certainly astonished that we still need representation in the form of a national assembly.

But, how can it be that, with all this, I know positively nothing about what interests the People even though it is the press’s duty and mission to teach me; how can it be that, instead of shedding any light, the flood of publications increases the darkness?

I ask what is the best political constitution, the law of progress, the march of the century, the thought of the epoch, the value of opinion and the future of France and the world? Will the republic arise from the workshop, the school or the guardhouse? Is democracy at peace or war? What truth, what reform, must arise from all these revelations of the People? What is liberty?

Journalism speaks on all those questions, but it does not answer them; it knows nothing. What if I asked, for example, if the organisation of society has a definite form and what that form is? If we are finished with revolutions, or if the revolutionary movement is eternal? How, in the latter case, is that perpetual agitation reconciled with liberty, security and well-being? If all men must be equal despite their nature, or treated according to their worth, despite the motto of the republic? What must be the worker’s wage, the entrepreneur’s profit, the contribution to be paid to the state, the credit to be granted to citizens? How will we escape the catastrophe of poverty when the population grows faster than its livelihood? Etc., etc.

I could infinitely extend this questioning and make my questions increasingly pressing and difficult. If the press is the People’s means of speaking, why does it digress instead of answering? The press is so far from possessing a positive spirit that it seems to have been expressly invented for diverting reason and killing contemplation. Ideas fall into the newspapers but do not take root: the newspapers are the cemeteries of ideas.

And what do we hear from the rostrum? And what does the government know? Not so long ago it was escaping its responsibilities by denying its own authority to make decisions. It did not exist, it claimed, to organise work and give bread to the People. For a month it has received the proletariat’s demands; for a month it has been at work, and every day for a month it has had Le Moniteur publish the great news that it knows nothing, that it discovers nothing! The Government divides the People and arouses hatred among the classes that compose it. Organising the People and creating that sovereignty that is both liberty and harmony exceeds the Government’s ability, as formerly it exceeded its jurisdiction. However, in a Government describing itself as instituted by the People’s will, such remarkable ignorance is a contradiction: it is already clear that the People are no longer sovereign.

Does the People, who are sometimes said to have risen as a single man, also think, reflect, reason and form conclusions like a man? Does the People have a memory, imagination and ideas? If, in reality, the People is sovereign, it must think; if it thinks, surely it has its own way of thinking and formulating thoughts. How then does the People think? What are the forms of the popular reason? Does it categorise, use syllogisms, induction, analysis, antinomy, or analogy? It is Aristotelian or Hegelian? You must explain all that; otherwise, your respect for the People’s sovereignty is only an absurd fetishism, and you might as well worship a stone.

Does the People use its experience in its meditations? Does it consider its memories, or does it endlessly produce new ideas? How does it reconcile respect for its traditions with its needs for development? How does it dispense with a worn-out hypothesis and go on to try another? What is the law of its transitions and enjambments? What motivates it, and what defines the path of its progress? Why this capriciousness, this instability? I need to know this, or the law you impose on me in the name of the People is no longer authentic, no longer law, but violence.

Does the People always think? And if not, how do you account for the intermittent character of its thoughts? If we suppose that the People can be represented, what will its representatives do during those interruptions? Do the People sometimes sleep like Jupiter in the arms of Juno? When do they dream? When are they awake? You must teach me about all these things; otherwise, because the power you exercise by delegation from the People is only interim, and the length of the interim is unknown, that power has been usurped, and you are inclined toward tyranny.

If the People think, reflect, reason (sometimes a priori, according to the rules of pure reason, and sometimes a posteriori, based on the data of experience), they run the risk of deceiving themselves. The demonstrated authenticity of the People’s thought is no longer enough for me to accept that thought as law: it must also be legitimate. Who will choose among the People’s ideas and fantasies? To whom will we appeal its possibly erroneous, and therefore despotic, will?

Here I present this dilemma:

If the People can err, then there are two alternatives. On the one hand, the error may seem as respectable as the truth, and the People has the right to be completely obeyed despite its error. In this case the People is a supremely immoral being because it can simultaneously think of, desire to do, and carry out evil.

On the other hand, must the People be reproached for its errors? There would then be, in certain cases, a duty for a government to resist the People! Who will tell it that it is deceiving itself? Who could set it straight and restrain it?

But what am I saying? If the People are liable to err, what becomes of its sovereignty? Isn’t it obvious that the People’s will must be considered no less seriously than its dreaded consequences, and isn’t it the true principle of all politics, the guarantee of the security of nations, to consult the People only in order to distrust it, that all inspiration from it could hide enormous peril or success, and its will could be only suicidal thoughts?

Doubtless, you will say, the People has only a mystical existence. It only appears rarely in predestined epochs! Despite that, the People is not a phantom, and when it rises, no one can fail to recognise it. The People appeared on July 14th, 1789, and on August 10th, 1830. It was at Jemmapes and fought at Mayence and Valmy.

Why are you stopping? Why choose? Was the People absent during the 9th of Thermidor or the 18th Brumaire? Was it hiding on January 21st and December 5th? Were they not the emperor as he defeated the king? Did it not, by turns, adore and strike at Christ and Reason? Do you want to go further back? It was the People who, with its blood and guts, produced Gregory the Seventh on one day and Luther on another, who made Marius and Caesar arise after having chased off the Tarquins in a series of revolutions, who overturned the Decemviri, created the galleries to balance the consuls and, through the first example of a political shake-up, gave us the doctrinaire system. It was the People who worshiped the Caesars after it let them assassinate the Greeks!

Would you rather remain in the present? So tell me what the People are thinking today, March 25th, 1848, or rather, what it is not thinking.

Is the People thinking, with Abbé Lacordaire,[443] about making penance in sackcloth and ashes? Is it thinking that it was born out of the dust and will return to the dust, that its destiny here below is not pleasure but work and mortification? Or might it be thinking, like Saint-Simon and Fourier, that the fate of a human being is like that of a horse and that everything on earth is futile besides living well and making love?

Is the People thinking about the abolition of grants, progressive tax, national workshops, agricultural banks or paper money? Or is it not thinking instead that, amazingly, imposing unduly upon wealth kills wealth, that instead of expanding the state’s jurisdiction, it should be restricted, that the organisation of labour is only the organisation of competition and that the greatest service to be rendered to agriculture, instead of creating a special bank for it, is to sever all its relations with the bank?

Is the People for direct or [indirect] election? Is it for a representation of 900 or 450?

Is the People communist, phalansterian, neo-Christian, or utilitarian, or is not it? For, in fact, all of these are to be found within the People. Is it for Pythagoras, Morelly, Campanella or the good Icarus? For the Trinity or the Triad?[444] Isn’t it the People who speaks in those rantings that say nothing, in those contradictory posters and those governmental acts conceived in a sense that goes against February 24th? Is it asking for bread and circuses or for liberty? Did it have the revolution only to renounce it soon afterwards, or does it intend to continue it?

However, if the People has, in all historical epochs, thought, expressed, wanted and done a multitude of contradictory things, if, even today, among so many opinions dividing it, it is impossible for it to choose one without repudiating another and consequently contradicting itself: what do you want me to think of the reason, morality and justice of its acts? What can I expect from its representatives? What proof of authenticity will you give me in favour of an opinion that I cannot immediately claim for an opposing one?

What astonishes me in the midst of the confusion of ideas is that faith in the People’s sovereignty, far from dwindling, seems by this very confusion to reach its own climax. In this obstinate belief of the multitude in the intelligence that exists within it I already see a manifestation of the People affirming itself, like Jehovah, saying, “I AM.” I cannot then deny—on the contrary—I am forced to affirm the People’s sovereignty. But beyond this initial affirmation, and when it is a question of going from the subject of the thought to its object, when, in other words, it is a question of applying the criterion to the government’s acts, someone tell me: where are the People?

In principle then, I admit that the People exist, that it is sovereign, that it asserts itself in the popular consciousness, but nothing yet has proven to me that it can perform an overt act of sovereignty and that an explicit revelation of the People is possible. For in view of the dominance of prejudices, contradictory ideas and interests, variable opinions, and the multitude’s impulsiveness, I still wonder what establishes the authenticity and legitimacy of such a revelation, and this is what democracy cannot answer.


But, the democrats observe, not without reason, that the People has never been suitably called to action. It has only been able to demonstrate its will in momentary flashes: the role it has played in history up to now has been completely subordinate. For the People to be able to express its thoughts, it must be democratically consulted: that is, all citizens, on a non-discriminatory basis, must participate, directly or indirectly, in creating the law. However, this mode of democratic consultation has never been exercised in a sustained manner: the perpetual conspiracy of the privileged has not allowed it. Princes, nobles and priests, military men, magistrates, teachers, scholars, artists, industrialists, merchants, financiers and landowners have always succeeded in breaking up the democratic whole by changing the People’s voice into the voice of a monopoly. Now that we possess the only true way of having the People speak, we will also know what constitutes the authenticity and legitimacy of its word, and all your preceding objections will vanish. The sincerity of the democratic regime will guarantee the solution for us.

I acknowledge that the crux of the problem is the People speaking and acting as one. In my opinion, the REPUBLIC is nothing else, and that is also the entire social problem. Democracy claims to resolve this problem through universal suffrage applied on the broadest scale, replacing royal authority with the authority of the multitude. That is why Democracy is called the government of the multitude.

Therefore, it is the theory of universal suffrage that we have to judge, or, to be more precise, it is democracy that we have to demolish as we demolished the monarchy: that transition will be the last one before attaining the Republic.

1. Democracy is a disguised aristocracy

According to the theory of universal suffrage, experience has proven that the middle class, which alone has exercised political rights recently, does not represent the People—far from it—along with the monarchy, it has been in constant reaction against the People.

We conclude that it belongs to the entire nation to name its representatives.

But if it is one class of men that is singled out as the natural elite of the People by the free development of society, the spontaneous development of the sciences, arts, industry and commerce, the necessity of institutions, the tacit consent or the well-known incapacity of the lower classes, and, finally, its own talent and wealth, what is to be expected from a representation which, having been arrived at by means of assemblies, the inclusivity, enlightenment, and freedom of which may vary, acting under the influence of local passions, class prejudices, and hatred of persons or principles, can only constitute, in the last analysis, a simulated representation, the product of the electoral mob’s arbitrary will?

If we are to have an aristocracy of our own choosing, I would greatly prefer it to a natural aristocracy, but aristocracy for aristocracy, I prefer, with M. Guizot, that of fatality to that of arbitrary will: at least fatality does not obligate me.

Or, rather, we will only restore, by another route, the same aristocrats because for whom do you want named to represent these journeymen, these day workers, these toilers, if not their bourgeoisie? Unless you only want them to kill them!

One way or another, preponderant strength in government belongs to those with the preponderance of talent and wealth. From the very start, it has been clear that social reform will never come from political reform; on the contrary, political reform must come from social reform.

The illusion of democracy springs from the example of constitutional monarchy: attempting to organise government by representative means. Neither the revolution of July [1830] nor that of February [1848] has sufficed to illuminate this. What they always want is inequality of wealth, delegation of sovereignty and government by influential people. Instead of saying, as M. Thiers did, that the King reigns and does not govern, democracy says that the People reigns and does not govern, which is to deny the Revolution.

It was not because he was opposed to electoral reform that M. Guizot fell, taking the monarchy and throne with him, but because, in the public awareness, the constitution was worn out and not wanted any more. All of the reforms the opposition demanded prove, and I have demonstrated this, that they were attacking the Charter even more than the minister; it was something even higher than the Charter: the very constitution of the society.

Therefore, when they talk today about substituting a representative democracy for a representative monarchy, they are not doing anything besides changing the phrase “Fair Marquise, your lovely eyes make me die of love” to “Your lovely eyes, fair Marquise, dying of love make me,”[445] and we can say, as L’Atelier put it, that the Revolution has vanished.

But, patience! Although it may seem difficult right now to escape this governmental alternative, the discomfort will not last long. Representation has fallen at the barricades and will never get up. Constitutional democracy has gone the way of constitutional monarchy. According to Latin etymology, February is the month of burials. Social reform will lead to political reform, the intelligence of the first involving the intelligence of the second. We will have a government of the People by the People but not through a representation of the People, and we will have the Republic, I say, or we will perish a second time with democracy.

2. Democracy is exclusive and doctrinaire

Since, according to the democrats’ ideology, the People cannot govern itself and is forced to hand itself over to representatives who govern by delegation with the right of review, it is assumed that at least the People is quite capable of being represented at least, that it can be represented faithfully. Well! This hypothesis is utterly false; there is not and never can be legitimate representation of the People. All electoral systems are mechanisms for deceit: to know but one is enough to condemn them all.

Take the example of the provisional government.

When a theory is produced in the People’s name, that theory and its expression must demonstrate complete irreproachability with regard to logic, justice, traditions and trends. I do not recognise the People’s voice in Fourier’s books any more than in Le Père Duchêne.[446]

The provisional government’s system pretends to be universal.

But whatever we do, in any electoral system, there will always be exclusions, absences and invalidated, erroneous and unfree votes.

The hardiest innovators have not yet dared to demand suffrage for women, children, domestic servants or those with criminal records. About fourfifths of the People are not represented and are cut off from the communion with the People. Why?

You set electoral capacity at 21 years of age, but why not 20? Why not 19, 18, 17? What! One year, one day makes the elector rational? A Barra or Viala is incapable of voting discerningly while the Fouchés and Héberts vote for them![447]

You eliminate women. You have thus resolved the major problem of the inferiority of the sex. What! No exception for a Lucretia, a Cornelia, a Joan of Arc or a Charlotte Corday! A Madame Roland, a de Staël or a George Sand will find no favour before your manliness! The Jacobins welcomed women garment workers at their meetings; no one has ever said that the presence of women weakened the men’s courage!

You reject the domestic servant. You say that there is no generous soul behind this sign of servitude, that no idea capable of saving the republic beats in the valet’s heart! Is the race of Figaro lost? It is that man’s fault, you will say: why, with so many means, is he a servant? And why are there servants?

I want to see and hear the People in their variety and multitude, all ages, sexes, conditions, virtues and miseries because all that is the People.

You claim that there would be serious trouble in keeping good discipline, the peace of the state and the tranquillity of families if women, children and domestic servants obtained the same rights as husbands, fathers and masters, that, in addition, the former are adequately represented by the latter through their solidarity of interests and the familial bond.

I acknowledge that the objection is a serious one, and I do not attempt to refute it. But take care: you must, by the same reasoning, exclude the proletarians and all workers.[448] Seven-tenths of this category receive the aid of public charity: they will then vote in government jobs, salary increases and labour reductions for themselves, and they will not fail in this, I assure you, if their delegates represent them ever so little. In the National Assembly, the proletariat will be like the officials in M. Guizot’s chamber, judging its own case, having power over the budget and putting nothing into it, creating a dictatorship with its appointments until, with capital exhausted by taxation and property producing nothing any longer, general bankruptcy will break apart this parliamentary begging.

And all these citizens who, because of work, sickness, travel or lack of money to go to the polls, are forced to abstain from voting: how do you count them? Will it be according to the proverb, “Who says nothing, consents”? But, consents to what? To the opinion of the majority, or indeed to that of the minority?

And those who vote only on impulse, through good nature or interest, faith in their republican committee or parish priest: what do you make of them? It is an old maxim that in all deliberations it is necessary not only to count the votes but also to weigh them. In your committees,[449] on the contrary, the vote of an Arago or Lamartine counts no more than that of a beggar. [450] Will you say that the consideration due men for their merit is acquired by the influence they exert on the electors? Then the voting is not free. It is the voice of abilities that we hear, not the People’s. We might as well keep the 200–franc system.[451]

We have given the army the right to vote, which means that soldiers who do not vote as their captain votes will go to the stockade, the captain who does not vote as the colonel votes will be put under arrest and the colonel who does not vote as the government does will be destitute.

I will not discuss the material and moral impossibilities abounding in the mode of election the provisional government has adopted. It is completely devoted to the opinion that, by doubling the national representation and having the People vote by election-by-list, the provisional government wanted the citizens to choose concerning principles rather than persons precisely in the manner of the former government, which also made voters vote on the system, not on the candidates. How do we discuss the choice of 10, 20 or 25 deputies? If each citizen votes freely and is knowledgeable of his cause, how are the votes of such elections-by-list counted? How are such elections brought to a conclusion if they are serious? Evidently, it is impossible.

I repeat that I am not talking the purely material side of the issue: I keep to issues of rights. What they once obtained through venality they now tear away from impotence. They tell the electors, “Here are our friends, the friends of the republic, and there are our adversaries, who also are the adversaries of the republic—choose.” The electors, who cannot appraise the candidates’ abilities, vote on trust!

Instead of naming deputies for each ward, as under the fallen regime, they are now elected by department. They wanted, with this measure, to destroy the spirit of localism. How wonderful it is that the democrats are so sure of their principles!

They say that if deputies were named by ward, it would not be France that was represented but the wards. The National Assembly would no longer represent the country but would be a congress of 459 representatives.

Why then, I reply, don’t you have each elector name the deputies for all of France?

It would be desirable, you answer, but impossible.

First of all, I note that any system that can be true only under impossible conditions seems to me a poor system. But, to me, the democrats here appear singularly inconsistent and perplexed by small matters. If the representatives should only represent FRANCE and not the departments, wards, cities, countryside, industry, commerce, agriculture or interests, why have they decided that there will be one deputy per 40,000 residents? Why not one for each 100,000 or 200,000? Ninety instead of nine hundred: was that not enough? In Paris, could you not end your list when the legitimists, conservatives and royalists ended theirs? Was it more difficult to vote on a list of 90 names than on a list of 15?

But who does not see that deputies thus elected apart from all special interests and groups, all considerations of place and person, supposedly representing France, represent absolutely nothing, that they are no longer representatives, but senators, and that instead of a representative democracy, we have an elective oligarchy, the middle ground between democracy and royalty?

There, citizen reader, is where I wanted to take you. From whatever perspective you consider democracy, you will always see it between two extremes, each of which is as contrary as the other to its principles, condemned to vacillating between absurdity and impossibility without ever being able to establish itself. Among a million equally arbitrary intermediate terms, the provisional government has done like M. Guizot: he preferred what appeared to him to best agree with his democratic prejudices, that is, the provisional government did not consider the representative truth, such as a government of the People by the People. I do not reproach him for it. Minds are not at the top of the republic; we have to go through democracy once again. However, transition for transition, I like the system of the provisional government as much as M. Duvergier de Hauranne’s.[452] I do not believe that the choice merits a minute of examination.

3. Democracy is ostracism

In order for deputies to represent their constituents, they must represent all the competing ideas from the election.

But with the electoral system, deputies, so-called legislators sent by the citizens to reconcile all ideas and interests in the name of the People, only ever represent one idea and one interest; the rest are mercilessly excluded. For who makes the law in elections? Who decides the choice of deputies? The majority, one half plus one of the voices. Therefore, it follows that the half-minus-one of the voters is not represented or is represented against his own will, and that of all the opinions dividing the citizens, one alone, as long as it is an opinion held by a deputy, makes it to the legislature and therefore enters into the law, which should be the expression of the People’s will but is only the expression of half of the People.

Therefore, in the theory of democracies, the problem of government is to eliminate, through the mechanism of a supposedly universal suffrage, all, minus one, of the ideas finding favour in public opinion, and to declare the majority’s opinion to be sovereign.

But perhaps one might say that an idea that fails in one such electoral college might triumph in another and that therefore all ideas may be represented in the National Assembly.

Even in that case, the difficulty would merely be postponed, since the question is to know how all those divergent and antagonistic ideas will be combined and reconciled in the law.

Therefore, according to some ideas, revolution is only an accident that should not change anything in the general social order. According to some other ideas, revolution is even more social than political. How are such clearly incompatible claims satisfied? How do we give security to the bourgeoisie and guarantees to the proletariat at the same time? How will these contrary wishes, these opposing trends, be merged into a common result [résultante] under a single universal law?

Far from democracy being capable of deciding this question, all of its art and science consists in cutting it off. It uses the ballot, which is simultaneously democracy’s standard, balance, and criterion, to eliminate men with the popular vote and ideas with the legislative vote.

It has barely been a month since everyone was shouting about the 200 francs poll tax: What? It is one franc, one centime, that qualifies a voter?

It is always the same thing. What? One vote elects the representative, and one vote decides the law! Concerning a question on which the honour and health of the republic depend, the citizens are divided into two equal factions. Both sides bring to bear the most serious reasoning, weightiest authorities and most positive facts; the nation is in doubt, and the National Assembly is suspended. If one representative, without a substantial reason, passes from right to left and tips the balance, it is he who makes the law.

And this law, the expression of some bizarre will, is deemed the People’s will! I will have to submit to it, defend it and die for it! On a parliamentary whim, I lose my most precious right; I lose my liberty! And my most sacred duty, the duty to resist tyranny by force, falls before an imbecile’s sovereign vote!

Democracy is nothing but the tyranny of majorities, the most execrable tyranny of all because it is not based on the authority of a religion, nobility of blood or the prerogatives of talent and wealth: its foundation is numbers, and its mask is the People’s name. Under Louis-Philippe’s reign, M. de Genoude refused to pay taxes, saying that they had not been voted upon by a true national representation. It was decent of M. de Genoude to stop so short. When it chances that a more democratic majority votes in a budget, should the minority also believe that it has voted it in, too, and that it is therefore obliged to pay even though it voted against that very budget?

In the first volume of this work, I proved the legitimacy of the Revolution and the moral necessity of the Republic by demonstrating that, on February 22nd, all opinions, all parties, whatever their disagreements, agreed on a group of reforms for which the general formula was invariably THE REPUBLIC. Democracy, with universal suffrage, destroys that justification, the only one, however, that it can provide for its arrival. It tries to make the masses and departments say that they belong to the Republic, and if they do not, democracy will resist with force! Intimidation: here is the democrats’ strongest argument on the Republic! Is it now clear that neither universal suffrage nor democracy expresses the People’s sovereignty?

I hope that the force of things, the inflexible reason of facts, will inspire our future National Assembly, but I would not be surprised if, formed by a government that has so little understood the revolution, the National Assembly ends up damaging the Revolution, and we will once again see the People disavow their representatives’ politics through an act analogous with that of February.

4. Democracy is a form of absolutism

If universal suffrage, the most complete manifestation of democracy, has won so many partisans, especially among the working classes, it is because it has always been presented as an appeal to the masses’ talents, abilities, good sense and morality. How often have they avoided the harmful contrasts of the speculator who becomes politically influential through plunder and the man of genius whom poverty has kept far away from the stage! What sarcasm about 200 franc capacities and the incapacities of those such as Béranger, Chateaubriand and Lamennais![453]

In the end, we are all voters; we can choose the most worthy.

We can do more; we can follow them step-by-step in their legislative acts and their votes; we will make them transmit our arguments and our documents; we will suggest our will to them, and when we are discontented, we will recall and dismiss them.

The choice of talents, the imperative mandate [mandat impertif], and permanent revocability are the most immediate and incontestable consequences of the electoral principle. It is the inevitable program of all democracy.

No more than constitutional monarchy, however, does democracy agree to such a deduction from its principle.

What democracy demands, like monarchy, is silent representatives who do not discuss but vote; who, when they receive their orders from the government, crush the opposition with their heavy battalions. They are passive creatures (I almost said satellites), whom the danger of a revolution does not intimidate, whose reason is not too rebellious and whose consciences do not recoil before any arbitrariness or proscription.

You will say that this is pushing the paradox to the point of slander, so we will prove the paradox then in fact and in law: it will not take too long.

Everyone has read the bulletin of the Minister of Public Education to teachers about the elections and noted this passage:

“The greatest error of our country residents is to believe that it is necessary to have an EDUCATION or wealth to be a representative.

“Most of the assembly plays the role of jury, judging with a yes or no if what the ELITE members propose is good or bad. They only need to be honest and have good sense. They do not CREATE.—Here is the fundamental principle of republican law.”

The Minister then expresses the desire that primary school teachers become candidates for the National Assembly, not because they are sufficiently enlightened but because they are not: “The lower they start, the higher they will go,” which, geometrically speaking, is indisputable.

If the Minister, convinced of the well-known ability of many respectable teachers, were content to point them out as hidden lights that democracy’s arrival must reveal, I would applaud the bulletin, but who does not see that, in the Minister’s thinking, the primary school teacher is an envious mediocrity that has not created and will not create anything and is destined to serve the war for the rich and democratic arbitrariness with his silent votes? In that regard, I protest that candidacy, or to be more specific, that prostitution of teachers.

Furthermore, the constitutional monarchy, seeking to surround itself with a talented and wealthy aristocracy, turns to dignitaries in the same way as democracy, which is the drunkenness of that system, comprises its patrician class of those of little distinction. This is not, as one might believe, an opinion specific to the Minister; I will soon prove that it is the pure essence of democracy.

I shall cite another fact.

All the authors of public law, specifically the democrats, speak out against the imperative mandate; I say that all of them unanimously consider it impolitic, abusive, leading to the oppression of the government by the populace, offending against the dignity of the deputies, etc. The imperative mandate has been roundly declared anathema. In civil law, it would be a monstrous thing if the mandate had less authority than the representative; in politics, it is just the opposite. Here, the representatives become judges and referees of their constituents’ interests. What is orthodox in a legal context is considered heretical in the field of constitutional ideas: it is one of the thousand inconsistencies of the human mind.

The length of the mandate, revocable at will under civil law, is, in policy, independent of the will of the electors. In all our constitutions, the length of the mandate has varied from one to seven years following the agreement, not of the governed citizens, but of the governing citizens.

In fact, it is indeed understood in and proven by the authors’ doctrine and the ministers’ bulletins that, in any type of government, the representatives belong to power, not to the populace; that is why monarchies require representatives to be capable or rich, and democracy requires them to be incapable or indigent. Both monarchy and democracy require that representatives are masters of their own votes, that is, of trafficking in and selling them, and that the mandate has a definite length of at least a year, during which the government, in agreement with the representatives, does what it pleases and gives the force of law to whatever acts it likes.

Could it be otherwise? No, and the discussion of the point of law does not require a long speech.

The fallen system could define itself as the society’s government by the bourgeoisie, that is, by the aristocracy of talent and wealth. The system that they are working right now to establish—democracy—may be defined by its opposite—the society’s government by the vast majority of its citizens, who have little talent and no wealth. The exceptions that may be encountered in either of those systems do nothing to this principle, neither changing nor modifying the trend. Under a representative monarchy, it is inevitable that the People will be exploited by the bourgeoisie, and under a democratic government, it is inevitable that they will be exploited by the proletariat.

But whoever wills the end wills the means.

If monarchic representation were formed of representatives with an imperative mandate revocable upon the will of the electors, the bourgeoisie would soon lose its privileges, and royalty, which personifies that monarchic representation, would be reduced to zero. At the same time, if the democratic assembly were comprised of bourgeois individuals, powerful due to their talent and the wealth devoted to their principles and instantly replaceable if they betrayed those principles, the dictatorship of the masses would fall quickly, and the proletarians would return to their proletariat.

Therefore, it is necessary for each form of government to surround itself with the stability conditions best for its particular nature: hence, M. Guizot’s resistance to electoral reform, universal suffrage and [Minister of Public Education] M. Carnot’s bulletin.

But because nothing that creates a division in the People can last, it is also inevitable that those forms of tyranny will perish one after the other and, remarkably, always for the same reason: the bourgeoisie’s tyranny by the proletariat’s misery and the proletariat’s tyranny by the bourgeoisie’s ruin, which is universal misery.

This was not the trend of thought on February 22nd, 23rd and 24th.

The bourgeoisie, tired of its own government’s shamefulness, marched alone with cries of “Long live reform!” to the republic, and the working masses, enthusiastically repeating the cry of reform, caressing the bourgeoisie with their eyes and voices, also marched alone to the republic. The fusion of ideas and hearts was complete. The goal was the same although no one knew the route to which they were committed.

Since February 25th, the revolution, misunderstood, has become deformed. The social that was in everyone’s thoughts was made political because it is always the political that is occupied with labour in the state (under the pretext of organisation), and the demarcation line between the bourgeoisie and the People, momentarily erased, reappeared deeper and wider. Incapable of understanding the republican ideal, handed over to demagogic and mercenary routine, the provisional government is working to organise civil war and horrible misery instead of labour.

If the National Assembly does not end this despicable policy, France will soon learn through the most painful experience how much distance there is between a republic and democracy.

5. Democracy is materialistic and atheistic

If monarchy is the hammer that crushes the People, democracy is the axe that divides them: they concur on the death of liberty.

Universal suffrage is a kind of atomism through which legislators, who cannot make the People speak as a unit about their essence, invite citizens to express their opinions one-by-one, viritim, absolutely like the Epicurean philosopher explains thought, will and intelligence as combinations of atoms. It is political atheism in the worst meaning of the word. As if adding up some quantity of votes could ever produce unified thought!

“It’s from the clash of ideas that sparks of intelligence fly,” say the elders. It is both true and false, like all proverbs. Between the clash and the spark, a thousand years may pass. History has only begun to reveal itself to us for half a century; the ideas that once agitated Rome, Athens, Jerusalem and Memphis are only just enlightening us today. The People has spoken, no doubt, but no one has understood its words because it has been diffused in individual voices. The light of ancient ideas had been concealed from modern society. It shone for the first time in the eyes of the Vicos, Montesquieus, Lessings, Guizots and Thierrys and their emulators. Will we have to cut our own throats for posterity, too?

The most certain way of making the People lie is to establish universal suffrage. The individual vote, with regard to government, as a means of observing the national will, is exactly the same thing as a new division of land would be in the political economy. It is the agrarian law transported from the soil to authority.

Because the authors, the first of whom were concerned with the origin of governments, have taught that the source of all power is national sovereignty, it has been boldly concluded that it is best to have all citizens vote verbally, by rump or ballot and that the majority of votes thus expressed was equal to the People’s will. They have taken us back to the practices of barbarians who, lacking rationality, proceeded by acclamation and election. They have taken a material symbol for the true formula of sovereignty and have told the proletarians that when they vote, they will be free and rich, that they will rule capital, profit and wages, that they will, as other versions of Moses have, make thrushes and manna fall from heaven, that they will become like gods because they will not have to work anymore or will work so little that it will be nothing.

Whatever they do and say, universal suffrage, evidence of discord, can only produce discord. I am ashamed for my homeland that for seventeen years they have agitated the poor people with this miserable idea! It is why the bourgeoisie and workers have sung the Marseillaise in chorus at seventy political banquets and, after a revolution as glorious as it was legitimate, why they have given in to a sect of doctrinaires! For six months, the deputies of the opposition, like actors on holiday, travelled through the provinces, and what did they bring back to us as the result of their benefit performances upon the stage of political privilege? Agrarian politics! It is under this divisive banner that we have claimed to preserve the initiative of progress, to march at the forefront of nations in the conquest of liberty, to usher in harmony around the world! Yesterday, we had pity for the Peoples who did not know as we do how to raise themselves up to constitutional sublimity. Today, fallen a hundred times lower, we still pity them, but we will go with a 100,000 bayonets to make them share the benefits of democratic absolutism with us. And we are the great nation! Oh, be silent! If you do not know how to do great things, or express great ideas, at least let’s preserve common sense.

With 8 million or 8,000 electors, your representation with some different qualities will be worth the same.

The law, whether 900 or 90 deputies create it, sometimes more plebeian, sometimes more bourgeois, will be no better or no worse.

If I place any hope in the National Assembly, it is indeed due less to its origin and the number of its members than to events that can only advise it and the work of public reason, which will be to the National Assembly as light is to the daguerreotype.[454]

6. Democracy is retrograde and contradictory

In monarchy, the government’s acts are the deployment of authority; in democracy, they constitute authority. The authority in monarchy that is the principle of governmental action is the goal of government in democracy. The result is that democracy is inevitably retrograde and contradictory.

Let us place ourselves at the point of departure for democracy, at the moment of universal suffrage.

All citizens are equal and independent. Their egalitarian combination is power’s point of departure: it is power itself, in its highest form, in its fullness.

According to democratic principle, all citizens must participate in the formation of the law, the government of the state, the exercise of public functions, the discussion of the budget and the appointment of officials. Everyone must be consulted and give their opinions on peace and war, treaties of commerce and alliance, colonial undertakings, works of public utility, the award of compensation and the infliction of punishments. Finally, they all must pay their debt to their homeland as taxpayers, jurors, judges and soldiers.

If things could happen in this way, the democratic ideal would be attained. It would have a normal existence, developing directly in line with its principle, as do all things that live and develop. That is how the acorn becomes an oak and the embryo an animal; that is how geometry, astronomy and chemistry are the infinite development of a small number of items.

It is completely different in democracy, which, according to the authors, exists fully only at the moment of elections and in the formation of legislative power. Once that moment has passed, democracy retreats; it withdraws into itself again and begins its anti-democratic work. It becomes AUTHORITY. Authority was M. Guizot’s idol as it is that of the democrats.

It is not true, in fact, that in any democracy all citizens participate in the formation of the law: that prerogative is reserved for the representatives.

It is not true that they deliberate on all public affairs, domestic and foreign: that is no longer even the representatives’ privilege, but the ministers’. Citizens discuss affairs, but ministers alone deliberate on them.

It is not true that each citizen has public functions: those functions that do not produce marketable goods must be reduced as much as possible. By their nature, public functions exclude the vast majority of citizens. In ancient Greek society, each citizen held a position paid by the state treasury: in that context, the democratic ideal was achieved in Athens and Sparta. But the Greeks lived off slave labour, and war filled their treasuries: the abolition of slavery and the increasing difficulty of war have made democracy impossible in the modern nations.

It is not true that citizens participate in the nomination of officials; moreover, that participation is as impossible as the preceding one, since it would result in creating anarchy in the bad sense of the word. Power names its own subordinates, sometimes according to its own arbitrary will, sometimes according to certain conditions for appointment or promotion, the order and discipline of officials and centralisation requiring that it be thus. Article 13 of the Charter of 1830, which assigned the king the appointment of all positions in public administration, is customary in both democracy and monarchy. In the revolution that has just been achieved, everyone understood this to such a degree that we could believe that it was the dynasty of Le National that succeeded the Orléans dynasty.

Finally, it is not true that all citizens participate in justice and in war: as judges and officers, most are eliminated; as jurors and simple soldiers, all abstain as much as they can. In short, because hierarchy is government’s primary condition, democracy is a chimera.

The reason that all the authors give for this merits our study. They say that the People is unable to govern itself because it does not know how, and when it does know how, it will not be able to do it. EVERYBODY CANNOT COMMAND AND GOVERN AT THE SAME TIME; authority must belong solely to some who exercise it in the name of and through the delegation of all.

According to democratic theory, due to ignorance or impotence, the People cannot govern themselves: after declaring the principle of the People’s sovereignty, democracy, like monarchy, ends up declaring the incapacity of the People!

This is what is our democrats mean: once they are in the government, they dream only of consolidating and strengthening the authority in their hands. This is what the multitude understood when they threw themselves upon the doors of the Hôtel de Ville, demanding government employment, money, work, credit, bread! And there indeed is our nation, monarchist to its very marrow, idolising power, devoid of individual energy and republican initiative, accustomed to expecting everything from authority and doing nothing except through authority! When monarchy does not come to us from on high, as it did formerly, or on battlefield, as in 1800, or in the folds of a charter, as in 1814 or 1830, we proclaim it in the public square, between two barricades, in the electoral assembly or at a patriotic banquet. Drink to the People’s health, and the multitude will crown you! What then? Is monarchy the end and democracy the means?

The authors can think whatever they like, but the republic is as opposed to democracy as it is to monarchy. In the republic, everyone reigns and governs; the People think and act as one person. Representatives are plenipotentiaries with the imperative mandate and are recallable at will. The law is the expression of the unanimous will: there is no other hierarchy besides the solidarity of functions, no other aristocracy besides labour’s, no other initiative besides the citizens’.

Here is the republic! Here is the People’s sovereignty!



But democracy is the idea of the endless extension of the State; it is the combining of all agricultural operations into one agricultural operation, all industrial companies into one such company, all mercantile establishments into one such establishment and all partnerships into one. However, it is not the endless decrease of general costs, as it must be under the Republic, but the endless increase of those costs.

Thirty days of dictatorship have exposed democracy’s powerlessness and uselessness. All its old memories, philanthropic prejudices, communist instincts, conflicting passions, sentimental phrases and anti-liberal tendencies have been expended in one month. It went through utopia and routine, consulted quacks and charlatans, welcomed skilful speculators, listened to the preaching of the lawyers and received the Monsignor’s holy water. Yet, in everything that democracy proposed, decreed, sermonised and blustered for a month, who would dare to say that the People were recognised even once?

I will conclude by repeating my question: the People’s sovereignty is the starting point of the social sciences, so how is that sovereignty established and expressed? We cannot take one step forward until we solve that problem.

Of course, I repeat it so that I am not misunderstood. I do not in any way want to deny the workers, the proletarians, the exercise of their political rights: I only maintain that the manner in which they aspire to exercise them is only a mystification. Universal suffrage is the Republic’s symbol but not its reality.

Furthermore, look at the indifference with which the working masses greet that suffrage! The most that can be gotten from them is their registration to vote. While the philosophers praise universal suffrage, popular common sense mocks it!

The Republic is the organisation through which all opinions and activities remain free, the People, through the very divergence of opinions and wills, thinking and acting as a single man. In the Republic, all citizens, by doing what they want and nothing more, directly participate in the legislation and the government as they participate in the production and circulation of wealth. Therefore, all citizens are kings because they all have complete power; they reign and govern. The Republic is a positive anarchy. It is neither liberty subject to order, as in the constitutional monarchy, nor liberty imprisoned in order, as the provisional government understands it, but liberty delivered from all its obstacles, superstition, prejudice, sophistry, speculation and authority; it is a reciprocal, not limited, liberty; it is the liberty that is the MOTHER, not the daughter, of order.

This is the program of modern societies. May democracy be forgiven for having, so to speak, formulated it through the very spectacle of its contradictions.


31st March 1848
Translators: Clarence L. Swartz and Jesse Cohn


IT HAS BEEN PROVED THAT SOCIALIST DOCTRINES ARE POWERLESS TO RELIEVE the People in the present crisis.[455] Utopia needs for its realisation capital accumulated, credit opened, circulation established and a prosperous state. It has need of everything we now lack; and these it is powerless to create.

It has been proved that political economy, both descriptive and routinière, is as impotent as Socialism in the present situation. The school which is based wholly upon the principle of supply and demand would be without means or power on the day when everybody would demand and nobody would want to supply.

It has been proved, finally, that dictatorships, seizure of power, and all revolutionary expedients, are powerless against the universal economic paralysis, as moxa is without action on a corpse.

At present the field is open to other ideas, public opinion calls for them, their sway is assured. I no longer hesitate to propose that which speculative study of social economy shows me is most applicable to the situation in which we find ourselves; it rests with you, citizen reader, to see in my proposition a goal for our future.

Work is at a standstill—it must be resumed. Credit is dead—it must be resuscitated.

Circulation is stopped—it must be re-established. The market is closed—it must be reopened.

Taxes never suffice—they must be abolished. Money hides itself—we must dispense with it.

Or better still, since we should express ourselves in an absolute manner, for what we are going to do today must serve for all time:

Double, triple, augment labour indefinitely, and in consequence the products of labour; Give credit so broad a base that no demand will exhaust it;

Create a market that no amount of production can supply;

Organise a full, regular circulation, which no accident can disturb.

Instead of taxes, always increasing and always insufficient, abolish all taxes; Let all merchandise become current money, and abolish the royalty of gold.

But I must point out in advance some of the prejudices which, as the result of long habit, prevent us, at this time from seeing the true cause of the evil, and from discerning the remedy. To be on the look-out for error is to be half the way along the road which leads to truth.

The first of these prejudices consists in the desire to reform everything in detail, instead of attacking the whole; in taking up difficulties one after another, and resolving them in turn in the way common sense seems to indicate: whereas economic questions, essentially contradictory in themselves and among themselves, must be solved all at once, through some dominant principle which respects all rights, ameliorates all conditions, and conciliates all interests.

Another prejudice is the one which, attributing the cause of poverty to the imperfect organisation of labour, concludes that labour should be regimented; that it is in that part of the social organism—labour—that the remedy should be applied. People will not understand that human labour and individual liberty are synonymous; that, except for fairness in exchange, the liberty of labour must be absolute; that governments exist only to protect free labour, not to regulate and to restrain it. When you speak in this way of organising labour, it is as if you propose to put a straitjacket on liberty.

A third prejudice, resulting from the preceding one, is that which, suppressing individual initiative, would seek to obtain everything through authority. One can say that this prejudice is the leprosy of the French spirit. We ask the State for everything, we want everything from the State; we understand only one thing, that the State is the master and we are the servants. The analogy to this prejudice, in the field of economics, is that which makes gold the universal motivating force. Gold is for us the principle of production, the sinew of commerce, the substance itself of credit, the king of labour. That is why we all worship gold even as we worship authority.

It is the business of the State, I repeat, only to pronounce on the justice of economic relationships, not to determine the manifestations of liberty. Also in the matter of justice, the state has only the right to enforce the general will. A fourth prejudice, finally, and the most deplorable of all, is that which, under the pretext of harmony and fraternity, tends to destroy in society the divergence of opinion, the opposition of interests, the battle of passions, the antagonism of ideas, the competition of workers. It is nothing less than the motion and life that would be thus cut off from the social body. Therein lies the fatal error of communism.

A great effort of reflection is, however, not necessary to understand that justice, union, accord, harmony, fraternity itself, necessarily presupposes two opposites; and that, unless one falls into the absurd notion of absolute identity, that is to say, absolute nothingness, contradiction is the fundamental law, not only of society, but of the universe.

That is also the first law which I proclaim, in agreement with religion and philosophy: that is Contradiction—the universal Antagonism.

But, just as life implies contradiction, contradiction in its turn calls for justice; which leads to the second law of creation and humanity: the mutual interaction of antagonistic elements, or Reciprocity.

Reciprocity, in creation, is the principle of existence. In the social order, reciprocity is the principle of social reality, the formula of justice. It has for its basis the eternal antagonism of ideas, of opinions, passions, capacities, temperaments, interests. It is the condition of love itself.

Reciprocity can be expressed in the precept: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you: a precept which political economy has translated into this celebrated formula: Products exchange for products.

It is therefore not the organisation of labour which we need at this moment. The organisation of labour is the proper object of individual liberty. He who works hard, gains much. The State has nothing further to say, in this respect, to the workers. What we need, that which I call for in the name of all workers, is reciprocity, equity in exchange, the organisation of credit.



PUBLIC CREDIT ORGANISED, labour restored and value decreed, nothing is left but to organise circulation, in the absence of which production is impossible.

This point is the summit of the revolution.

We have driven out the last of our kings, we have cried: Down with monarchy! Long live the Republic! But you can believe me, if the doubt has come to you, there are in France, there are in all Europe only a few lesser princes. Royalty is always in existence. Royalty will subsist as long as we will not have abolished it in its most material and most abstract form—the royalty of gold.

Gold is the talisman which congeals life in society, which binds circulation, kills labour and credit, and makes slavery mutual.

We must destroy the royalty of gold; we must republicanise specie, by making every product of labour ready money.

Let no one be frightened beforehand. I by no means propose to reproduce, under a rejuvenated form, the old ideas of paper money, money of paper, assignats, bank-bills, etc., etc.; for all these palliatives have been known, tried and rejected long ago. These representatives on paper, by which men have believed themselves able to replace the absent god, are, all of them, nothing but a homage paid to metal—an adoration of metal, which has been always present to men’s minds, and which has always been taken by them as the measure or evaluator of products.


Everybody knows what a bill of exchange is. The creditor requests the debtor to pay to him, or to his order, at such a place, at such a date, such a sum of money.

The promissory note is the bill of exchange inverted; the debtor promises the creditor that he will pay, etc.

“The bill of exchange,” says the statute, “is drawn from one place on another. It is dated. It announces the sum to be paid; the time and place where the payment is to be made; the value to be furnished in specie, in merchandise, in account, or in other form. It is to the order of a third person, or to the order of the drawer himself. If it is by 1st, 2nd, 3d, 4th, etc., it must be so stated.”

The bill of exchange supposes, therefore, exchange, provision and acceptance ; that is to say, a value created and delivered by the drawer; the existence, in the hands of the drawee, of the funds destined to acquit the bill, and the promise on the part of the drawee, to acquit it. When the bill of exchange is clothed with all these formalities; when it represents a real service actually rendered, or merchandise delivered; when the drawer and drawee are known and solvent; when, in a word, it is clothed with all the conditions necessary to guarantee the accomplishment of the obligation, the bill of exchange is considered good; it circulates in the mercantile world like bank-paper, like specie. No one objects to receiving it under pretext that a bill of exchange is nothing but a piece of paper. Only—since at the end of its circulation, the bill of exchange, before being destroyed, must be changed for specie—it pays to specie a sort of seigniorial duty, called discount.

That which, in general, renders the bill of exchange insecure is precisely this promise of final conversion into specie; and thus the idea of metal, like a corrupting royalty, infects even the bill of exchange and takes from it its certainty.

Now, the whole problem of the circulation consists in generalising the bill of exchange; that is to say, in making of it an anonymous title, exchangeable forever, and redeemable at sight, but only in merchandise and services.

Or, to speak a language more comprehensible to financial adepts, the problem of the circulation consists in basing bank paper, not upon specie, nor bullion, nor immovable property, which can never produce anything but a miserable oscillation between usury and bankruptcy, between the five-franc piece and the assignat; but by basing it upon products.

I conceive this generalisation of the bill of exchange as follows:

A hundred thousand manufacturers, miners, merchants, commissioners, public carriers, agriculturists, etc., throughout France, unite with each other in obedience to the summons of the government and by simple authentic declaration, inserted in Le Moniteur, bind themselves respectively and reciprocally to adhere to the statutes of the Bank of Exchange; which shall be no other than the Bank of France itself, with its constitution and attributes modified on the following basis:

1st The Bank of France, become the Bank of Exchange, is an institution of public interest. It is placed under the guardianship of the state and is directed by delegates from all the branches of industry.

2nd Every subscriber shall have an account open at the Bank of Exchange for the discount of his business paper; and he shall be served to the same extent as he would have been under the conditions of discount in specie; that is, in the known measure of his faculties, the business he does, the positive guarantees he offers, the real credit he might reasonably have enjoyed under the old system.

3rd The discount of ordinary commercial paper, whether of drafts, orders, bills of exchange, notes on demand, will be made in bills of the Bank of Exchange, of denominations of 25, 50, 100 and 1,000 francs. Specie will be used in making change only.

4th The rate of discount will be fixed at—percent, commission included, no matter how long the paper has to run. With the Bank of Exchange all business will be finished on the spot.

5th Every subscriber binds himself to receive in all payments, from whomsoever it may be and at par, the paper of the Bank of Exchange.

6th Provisionally and by way of transition, gold and silver coin will be received in exchange for the paper of the bank, and at their nominal value.

Is this a paper currency?

I answer unhesitatingly, No! It is neither paper money, nor money of paper; it is neither government checks, nor even bank-bills; it is not of the nature of anything that has been hitherto invented to make up for the scarcity of specie. It is the bill of exchange generalised.

The essence of the bill of exchange is constituted—first, by its being drawn from one place on another; second, by its representing a real value equal to the sum it expresses; third, by the promise or obligation on the part of the drawee to pay it when it falls due.

In three words, that which constitutes the bill of exchange is exchange, provision, acceptance.


In the combination I propose, the paper (at once sign of credit and instrument of circulation) grows out of the best business-paper, which itself represents products delivered, and by no means merchandise unsold. This paper, I affirm, can never be refused in payment, since it is subscribed beforehand by the mass of producers.

This paper offers so much the more security and convenience, inasmuch as it may be tried on a small scale, and with as few persons as you see fit, and that without the least violence, without the least peril.


We have said before that all economic negations overlap one another and generalise themselves, especially in the negation of money considered as an emblem of value and instrument of exchange. There are few economists today who, upon reflection, do not admit the possibility of such a reform; but it is no less true that in the theory of the old political economy—the highly praised English political economy, which they strive to implant among us as they already have implanted constitutional monarchy—the idea of abolishing specie is supremely absurd, as absurd as the thought of abolishing property.



Products exchange for products: This aphorism of political economy is no longer contradicted. Socialists and economists are in accord with the fact and the law, it is common ground where theories are reconciled, and opinions unite on the same doctrine.

Exchange is direct or indirect: What must we do to make possible direct exchange, not only among three, four, six, ten or one hundred traders, but among one hundred thousand, between all producers and all consumers; simply this: centralise all the operations of commerce by means of a bank in which all the bills of exchange, drafts and sight-bills representing the bills and the invoices of merchants, will be received. Then generalise or convert these obligations into paper of equivalent value, which, in consequence, will itself be a pledge of the products or real values that these obligations represent.

Bank paper so issued would have all the qualities of first class paper.

It would not be subject to depreciation since it would be delivered only against actual values and acceptable bills of exchange, and would be based, not on manufactured products, but on products sold and delivered, for which payment would be required. There would be no danger of excessive emission, since they would be delivered only against first class commercial paper—that is to say, against promises of certain repayment.

No one would refuse it, since, by the fact of the centralisation of exchanges, all citizens would become members of the bank. The most remarkable fact to be noted in this constitution of the bank is not so much the idea in itself, an idea more simple perhaps than the one which gave birth to money, but the coincidence of the employment of specie with the regime of feudal property and with the monarchical organisation of society.

We have pointed out several times and we cannot repeat it too often: as long as the family had to live, by its own activity and like a little world in itself, on property, property has been the principle and the cornerstone of the social order.

During that period, the infrequency of exchanges, the scarcity of transactions, called exclusively for the employment of specie. The agent of circulation had to carry in itself its guarantee so as to be accepted. That was the age of gold, even as it was the age of royalty.

But when, by the multiplicity of labour, by the division of industries, by the frequency of exchanges, circulation became the principal factor in the economy of nations, individual property became, as we have said, an obstacle to collective life, and the employment of specie became nothing but the sign of privilege and of despotism, the same as the royal prerogative was the sign of corruption and of tyranny.

Therefore, society, in its development, destroys or transforms its former work. It is when we have acquired full knowledge of this law that revolutions can come peacefully.

Royalty, property, specie: this is the monarchical trinity which we have to demolish, the triple negation that sums up for us entirely the revolutionary movement begun in February.

For as we shall prove, all negation—that is to say, all reform in religion, philosophy, rights, literature, art—brings us to the negation of property, and, property abolished, we shall see what we want to put in place of property, in place of authority, in place of God.

All this having been posited, so that what follows will be better understood, we place before our readers the project, as we had planned it, of a Bank of Exchange.


The object of the Association is:

First, particularly and immediately, by the institution of the Bank of Exchange, to procure for every member of the Association, without the aid of specie, all products, whether commodities, merchandise, services or labour.

Second, ultimately, to reorganise agricultural and industrial labour by changing the condition of the producer.

The association is universal. All citizens, without exception, are invited to join. No funds are required; for membership it will suffice to sign the present by-laws, and to agree to accept, for all payments, the paper of the Bank of Exchange.

The association has no capital. Its existence is perpetual.

The Bank of Exchange is an essentially republican institution; it is a paradigmatic example of government of the People by the People. It is an active protest against any re-establishment of hierarchical and feudal principles: it is the concrete abrogation of all civil and political inequality. The privilege of gold having been abolished, all privileges disappear. Equality in exchange, necessarily resulting from the mutuality of exchange, becomes in its turn the basis of the equality of labour, of real solidarity, of personal responsibility, and of absolute liberty. The Bank of Exchange, finally, is the principle, the means and the measure of wealth, of universal and perpetual peace.


Through its influence, its knowledge, and its credit, the Bank of Exchange promotes, inspires, encourages, supports, and sponsors all agricultural, manufacturing, commercial and scientific enterprises, etc., that workers’ associations may attempt, when these present sufficient guarantees of competency, morality, and success.


The Bank of Exchange is an institution of public interest; as such, it is under the State’s supervision but is independent of it.

The State is a member of the same standing as all citizens. It takes no part in the management, and does not interfere directly or indirectly with its administration.


The administration of the Bank is in the hands of a Board of Directors under the supervision of a Council of Oversight.


The members of the Board are elected for five years by the General Assembly and are eligible for re-election.


Any member of the Board of Directors can be suspended from his office by the Council of Oversight and can only be reinstated by a two-third vote of the General Assembly.


The Council of Oversight shall be elected annually by the General Assembly.

It is composed, like the General Assembly itself, of delegates chosen by all branches of production and of the public service. The number of these delegates shall not at any time exceed thirty.

The State shall be represented by the Minister of Justice, who shall be chairman of the Committee by virtue of his office in the Government.

The Council of Oversight shall have the absolute right of control.


It has the right to convoke the General Assembly in extraordinary session, and to request the resignation of any or all of the members of the Board.


The General Assembly is composed of the entire membership, who shall have a right to be present and take part.

They may delegate their powers and may be represented by proxy.

When, by the adherence of all producers to the Bank of Exchange, the General Assembly will become equal and identical with the totality of citizens, it will be composed of none but the representatives of production, named by each industry, the number of which shall be in proportion to its importance.

The General Assembly, thus composed, representing the general welfare and no longer the selfish interests, will be the true representative of the people.


In our preceding articles, we proved that all methods of philosophic—and, we may add, mathematical—investigation proceed necessarily by elimination or negation that such is the revolutionary method by which society progresses, incessantly abolishing its own institutions, and securing the unlimited establishment of liberty.

According to this conception of progress, the ultimate goal of civilisation would be the one in which society exists without government, without police, and without law, the collective activity exercising itself by a kind of immanent reflection; the exploitation of the earth would take place unitedly and in perfect harmony, and the individual, following only his own inclination, would attain the maximum of wealth, of science and of virtue.



Man, by this proposition, becomes equal to God. Like God, he creates things out of nothing. Thrown naked upon the earth, among briers and thorns, among tigers and serpents, finding hardly enough sustenance for one person on each square league; without tools, without patterns, without supplies, without previous experience, he has had to clear, lay out, eradicate, cultivate his domain; he has embellished nature itself; he is surrounded by the unknown marvels of the ancient author of things, and has given birth to luxury where nature had given nothing but profusion. At the origin of society there was only raw material, there was no capital. It is labour that has created capital; it is the worker who is the real capitalist. Because to work means to produce something out of nothing, to consume without producing is not to exploit capital, it is to destroy capital.

Such, then, is the first principle of the new economy, a principle full of hope and of consolation for the worker without capital, but a principle full of terror for the parasite and for the tools of parasitism, who see reduced to naught their celebrated formula: Capital, labour, talent!

Producing something out of nothing is the first term of a marvellous equation, which in these fundamental propositions we shall see unfold and yield, as a result and conclusion—wealth.


This axiom is, like the first, the overturning and the overthrowing of all economic and phalansterian ideas.[456]

In the system of interest-bearing property, where capital, by a purely grammatical fiction, passes from the hands of the worker to those of a parasite who is for that reason called a capitalist, credit is unilateral, proceeding from the parasite, who possesses without producing, to the worker, who produces without possessing. Thus established, credit demands a tribute from the debtor, in exchange for the permission—which the parasite grants him—to make use of his own capital.

In the system of the Bank of Exchange, on the contrary, credit is bilateral: it flows from each worker and is directed to all the others in such a manner that, instead of borrowing capital bearing interest, the workers mutually pledge each other their respective products, on the sole condition of equality in exchange.

Thus, in this system of credit, every creditor or mortgagee becomes a debtor in his turn; one thing is exchanged for another. In the other system, which is that of La Démocratie Pacifique,[457] there is only one creditor and one debtor, and something is given in exchange for nothing. The one of the two contracting parties who gives without receiving is the worker, the one who receives without giving is the capitalist. To give and not to receive; to receive, and not to give: what could be more unreasonable or unjust? Yet this takes us back further than the Code; it goes back further than Justinian, Numa, even Moses: it is the old iniquity of Cain, the first proprietor and the first murderer. This is also why La Démocratie Pacifique, which according to Fourier’s precepts, must make reform proceed by a great leap [grand écart], is attached to the capitalist law, to the tradition of Cain. Mutuality of credit, for shame! is egoism. But non-reciprocity of credit, good!—that is fraternity.


In the old political economy, this has no meaning. In the mutualist system, nothing is more rational.

In fact, if, as we have just shown, giving credit is the same thing as exchanging; if nothing should be given for nothing; if products can be delivered only for equivalent products, and not for an authorisation to produce: the moment that direct exchange no longer encounters any obstacles, it is evident that the means for each individual worker to obtain wealth is for him to acquire the greatest possible amount of different products, in exchange for his one unvarying product.

The contrary happens when exchanges can be made only by the intervention of money, and subject to the discount profit [bénéfice d’escompte] of the holder of coin, like the profit [bénéfice d’aubaine] accruing to the holder of the tools of production. In this instance, it is clear that exchanges are infrequent and costly, because they are hampered. Conversion of the product is difficult, sales always restricted, demand always timid; capitalisation takes place only in the form of money, consequently instead of having consumption active it has frugality for its only principle, and, like frugality, it is poor and indigent.

Whether one views it from one or the other standpoint, the savings bank is a philanthropic institution, or an economic absurdity.


This axiom is a consequence of the third paragraph—To exchange is to capitalise , as the latter is the consequence of the second, Credit is exchange. In reality, where, by the direct exchange of products, all producers are considered as creditors, the consumer becomes the sleeping partner of those who, not having any products to offer for exchange, ask either for work or for instruments of labour. “What can you offer us?” one says to the idle worker. “Some cloth, shawls, jewellery, etc.,” he answers. “Very well; here are our orders: Take them to the Bank, and, on the guaranty of our signatures, you will get an advance, you will receive the means to work, to live, to cover your credit; in short, that which will enrich you.”

Such is the very nature of credit.

Between the producer and the consumer, the current view places the capitalist; between product and product, it places money; between the worker and the employer, that is to say, between labour and talent, it places capital, property. What a splendid trinity! What a perfect triad! And how much does this synthesis of the three degrees outweigh the dualism of reciprocity!


The mutualist association is like nature, which is wealthy, beautiful, and luxuriant because she draws her wealth and her beauty from the creative force that is within her; in a word, because she produces everything from nothing. Nature in producing does not profit thereby.

At whose expense, upon what, would nature make a profit? On itself? To profit, for nature, would thus be synonymous with resting, ceasing to produce; profit would be the same thing as impoverishment.

Likewise, in the association, profit is synonymous with poverty, since to profit can signify nothing for her, but to take from herself, as in trade profit is synonymous with taking from others. Profit is therefore here synonymous with theft, and what is true of society is true of the individual, who is always less wealthy and less happy in proportion to the poverty of his fellows.

Thus, production without capital, exchange without profit—these are the two terms between which social economy oscillates, the result of which is WEALTH.

The two negations balance each other. The first shows the debit of the worker, the second his credit.

This is the principle of mutualist accounting.

How does the Bank of Exchange begin its bookkeeping? It is not with an account of capital, since it has no capital; nor with an account of stock, since it possesses nothing as yet, not even bills; nor with cash, since it has nothing in its till; nor with general merchandise, or profits and loss, since it has produced nothing, and before any operations it cannot lose or gain.

The Bank opens accounts by the process of drafts and remittances; that is to say, as soon as it begins to function, as soon as it operates, as soon as it has availed itself through the universal partnership of the special work done by circulation, receiving from some and supplying to others, the Bank retains from each transaction the price of its service, its own wage, capital and profit, three terms from now on synonymous. The greater the number of transactions it performs, the greater the number of emoluments it realises, or, in other words, profits; and since working productively is synonymous with working as cheaply as possible, the greater the reduction the Bank of Exchange makes in its discount, the more other associations, who in their own lines follow the same movement of reduction, will thrive…

Thus, by the sole fact of the inauguration of the mutualist principle and the abolition of specie, the relations of labour and capital are inverted; the principles of commerce are overthrown; the forms of society, both civil and commercial, are reversed; the rights and the duties of the members are changed, property revolutionised, accounting reformed; equity, hitherto hobbled, is reconstituted on a stable basis.


The Bank of Exchange loans on mortgages, WITHOUT INTEREST, accepting repayments in annual instalments. This signifies that through the Bank of Exchange the whole of the producers voluntarily loan to the farmer, on a mortgage of his property, the amount he needs for supplies and help and other purposes in carrying on his affairs.

In exchange for this credit, the borrower each year repays the Bank—which means all the producer-lenders—the instalment promised, so that the repayment to the creditor is as real as the credit. No longer will there be any parasitic middleman, usurping, like the State, the rights of the worker, and absorbing, like the capitalist, a part of his product.

The State, as well as specie, being excluded from this regime, credit reduces itself to a simple exchange in which one of the parties delivers his product at one time, the other remits his in various instalments, all without interest, without any other costs than those of accounting.

In this system, let the operations multiply themselves as much as they will, for, far from showing an increase of charges for the producer, like those which take place in the mortgage bank, this acceleration of business will be a sign of an increase of wealth, since credit is here nothing but exchange and since products call for products.



Paris, 8th April 1848
Translation by Paul Sharkey


I am taking the liberty of sending you a copy of the first print run of my Solution au problème social, as well as of the accompanying Spécimen relating to circulation and credit.

To be blunt with you, these two pamphlets contain things vexatious to the provisional government and to yourself. I regret those things; and I have come unsolicited, citizen, to offer you an explanation and do amends. It is for you to determine how you must act should my declarations strike you as heartfelt. Given the unanticipated nature of the position in which it found itself, the provisional government made mistakes; that goes without saying. Like everyone else, I am within my rights to point them out; but maybe it was out of place for me to be flagging them up with quite the vehemence I put into all my discourse. It is my misfortune that my passions are at odds with my ideas; the light which illuminates other men burns me. Should I happen to devise a critique of a theory, on foot of the unwitting assumption that the author is a man after my own heart, I reason as if determination and judgement were one and the same. And when I go astray, I get confused and blame myself as if over some crime. No matter what I may do, there is no way for me to alter this unfortunate frame of mind.

If I have weighed you up correctly, citizen Blanc, the very opposite has been the case with you. You are a man of sentiment, love and enthusiasm. Whereas with me passions spring from the head, in your case all your ideas seem to well up from the heart. Maybe, between the pair of us, we would make one complete person: but until such time as we swap our respective qualities, it is inevitable that we should not see eye to eye: and almost certain that we are going to be enemies. Deep down, that with which I reproach you is precisely the thing in which I am found wanting and what I envy you: in the light of which you will overlook a number of attacks which cannot add to or subtract from your success, I am weary of warfare; I should rather have something to defend; besides, the common foe is not the government. Give me yours and I shall let you have mine. Which is the only way we can earn self-respect and render good service to the Republic. Such reciprocity sums up my entire secret formula for a solution to the social question.

Your plan to organise national workshops contains an authentic idea, one that I endorse, for all my criticisms.

Of that thought you yourself are aware: but it seems that you regard it as merely secondary, whereas, in my view, it is everything: I mean to say that by national workshops you mean core workshops, main works, so to speak, for all the workshops are owned by the nation, even though they remain and must always remain free.

Your preoccupation, therefore, is with the need to make a reality of a principle: to invest the new institution with flesh and face and then to let it develop unaided on the basis of the virtues of the idea and vigour of the principle.

Would you, citizen, make it your business to have my scheme for the organisation of loans looked at and, if appropriate, welcomed by the provisional government? In return I will make it my business to organise your workshops.

My scheme for an Exchange Bank, which lies at the heart of my Spécimen, is an idea that is as much yours as it is mine. It is what you were looking for and may well have had in mind in your studies of [John] Law’s system; and what every economist has been questing for. By virtue of its over-arching mandate, the Exchange Bank is the organisation of labour’s greatest asset.

If, after reading, your considered opinion is that I am mistaken, it only remains for me to drop my gaze, cease all publication and cease all further engagement with economic issues.

Conversely, afford my idea your protection and hand yours over to me; forgive me for saying so, citizen, but the organising of workshops is a venture beyond your remit, not because of any lack of ability on your part but because you are precluded from it by your office.

You are a member of the government; you no longer stand for a faction but represent the general interests of society. No longer are you the man of La Réforme nor the man of L’Organisation du Travail; and any initiative that seems to conflict with the interests of any class within society is off limits to you. You belong as much to the bourgeoisie as you do to the proletariat. Sponsor and encourage the emancipation of the labouring classes: teach the workers what it is they should be doing; but keep out of it yourself and do not compromise your responsibility. You are a statesman; you stand for the past as well as the future.

With this thought in mind, citizen, whilst asking your support for an idea that falls entirely within the remit of government, I place myself at your disposal for another idea which is not at all within its competence. If my services were to be accepted by you, citizen, I should ask that the items and documents already amassed by the commission be passed on to me; it should then be my honour to put before you a project relating both to the course to be followed and to the new form of society to be defined and created among the workers.

I write to you, citizen, at a time when, sensitivity having gained the upper hand in me, it restores my soul to an even keel. My overtures to you are all devotion and I hope that you will appreciate them as such. Yet, no matter my wish to be agreeable to you, allow me to add that I am above all prompted by the overriding interests of the Republic.

I am relying, citizen, upon the honour of a response. The second run of my book is ready: given the difficulties of the situation, I propose to suspend publication. To which end I need to know if, instead of writing, I might be able to make a more effective contribution to the consolidation of the Republic.

My cordial greetings, citizen



Paris, 14th April 1848
Translation by Paul Sharkey



In your third letter on the organisation of labour, as published in yesterday’s edition of [Journal des] Débats, you mention me in the same breath as Monsieur Pecqueur as head of a strange sect of communists whom you dub egalitarian communists and heirs to Babeuf: Thereby dismissing me as you do Monsieur Louis Blanc, the official labour organisation entrepreneur, and you curtly pronounce my system as being every bit as powerless as Monsieur Louis Blanc’s in the eradication of pauperism, which is the great issue of our times.

So that I, who have so rebutted communism as to spare us the need ever again to concern ourselves with it in the future, find myself lumped in with your sweeping condemnation of the communists.

I, whose thinking bears no relation to that of Monsieur Louis Blanc and who has not once put in an appearance at the Luxembourg [Commission], find myself entombed by you in the very same grave as Monsieur Louis Blanc.

And, finally, I, who have thus far published naught but criticisms: criticisms of political economy, criticisms of socialism, communism, Fourierism, Saint-Simonianism; criticism of monarchy, democracy, property, etc., etc., must now listen to a damning verdict passed upon my system, when no such system has ever seen the light of day!

The day before yesterday Le Constitutionnel was labelling me a communist; recently the Revue des Deux Mondes was also depicting me as a communist; everybody—except those who read me—has me marked as a communist, on which basis, no opportunity is ever missed to denounce my system as false and unfeasible and inimical to freedom, subversive of society and of the family, and a number of other more or less displeasing characterisations.

I have allowed such ugliness to have the run of it out of the straightforward fear that my corrections might be construed as complaints, and if I have now determined to address myself to you, it is because I hold that it serves the general interest that I should break my silence. It would be too convenient to respond to the criticisms that have been levelled at society’s institutions these past twenty years by tossing the label communist around, and the enemies of the February Revolution would all too soon have done with the proletariat.

So, if you please, let us drop Monsieur Louis Blanc and his utopia. Monsieur Louis Blanc is by no means the incarnation of a new social system. This, if I am not mistaken, is how the matter ought to be tackled by every well-meaning writer.

The people, and it was they that made the February Revolution, are neither Saint-Simonian, Fourierist, communist, nor Babouvist: nor even Jacobin or Girondin.

But the people has a perfect grasp on these two things: on the one hand, that politics is nothing; on the other, that political economy, as taught by Messieurs Say, Rossi, Blanqui, Wolowski, Chevalier, etc., is merely the economics of the propertied, the application of which to society inevitably and organically engenders misery.

I reckon that I have done more than anybody to establish this view. What holds economically true for the ordinary individual become false the moment one tries to extend it to society; that proposition encapsulates all my criticisms. This, for instance, is why net product and gross product, which in private industry are different things, are one and the same when it comes to the nation; why a fall in pay that spells impoverishment for the worker who suffers it becomes an increase in wealth when it applies to everyone;[458] how, from the collective point of view, the same holds true for all of the theorems of the old political economy which, let me say it again, is nothing more than household economics. Now what is that the people asks for today? The people asks, and this is the issue raised by 24 February, that, whilst respecting the freedom of the individual, in whatever guise it may show itself, we should reshape a political economy (public or social, whatever takes your fancy) that is not a lie; for attempting to explain the practices of selfishness to society is tantamount to lying to the people and to justice. The facts are there to prove that.

And what do the socialists do to satisfy this craving of the people?

Due to an error of the same sort as the economist’s, they would extend to the whole of society the principle of fraternity which exists within the family, plus the principle of solidarity, which lies at the root of the civil and commercial companies defined by the Code. Hence the phalansterian utopia and the many others with which you are as conversant as I am.

Now, fraternity and solidarity within the body of society have no more in common with the domestic fraternity and solidarity of so-called collective societies than, in the people’s view, the laws governing loans, production and commerce have in common with the rules of private credit, private production and private consumption.

In a work that appeared more than eighteen months ago, I have expanded upon this underlying opposition. Had the economists seen fit to register my observations, they would have been able to prevent the events of February and the social revolution might have been carried through without disaster. And had socialism, and Monsieur Louis Blanc in particular, been capable of taking the good advice offered which ran counter to their dreams, we would not, today, have the depressing spectacle the Luxembourg [Commission] offers us. But, in critiquing every opinion, I should have expected that no one would heed me; so I ask but one thing: spare me the calumny. As I see it, therefore, economists and socialists alike are chasing after an unattainable goal: the former by applying the rules of private economics to society; the latter by applying private fraternity to it. And still we have individualism, still subjectivity and contradiction.

This is something that I have been repeating without cease for the past eight years. Moreover, I have been measured in my assertions: I have not published any system, and nobody can say whether I am or am not capable of curing poverty.

However, desirous to give some notion of what the solution to the social question ought to be, as I see things, I have just published a draft for the organisation of labour and credit and so I take the liberty of addressing myself to you.

Either I am sorely mistaken or you will not discover within it any trace of communism or of Babouvism and you will see there a political economy built on different foundations than those of J-B Say and Ricardo.

Since, and it was you yourself, Monsieur who said this, since the day has come when all systems are up for discussion, you force my hand and it would be only fair of you to scrutinise this little morsel of mine. The people has gone too far to back down; it is absolutely necessary to establish one of new principles: the right of the capitalist and the workers; in short, the social question is in need of sorting out. Otherwise, expect all the horrors of civil war and all the wretchedness of agrarian law.

Sir, I genuinely regret the destitution by which you have been stricken and which has, I fear, found you unduly sensitive for a man of such lofty intellect. I might not have recommended this act of pointless rigour, especially as, being primarily an economist, you are a sceptic in matters of government. Had you candidly thrown in your lot with the Revolution, you, with those talents of yours, might have been of service to the people even whilst setting your face against innovation.

I deplore the fact that petty resentments have propelled you into the enemy camp.

I am relying upon your being accommodating enough to have this present text inserted in the most imminent edition of Débats and would ask you to accept assurances of my perfect esteem.



20th April 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Paul Sharkey


The revolution is bound for doctrinaire, bourgeois democracy; the provisional government, a motley crew, has just carried out a sort of a purge of itself. The personnel remain; the principles had been struck out. Serious failings have accelerated this outcome which was in any case inevitable. Let us recount them in a few lines; by way of a preamble to our profession of faith.

Victory on 24 February had hoisted three different parties into power and refreshed our ancient strifes; the Girondin or Thermidorean camp represented by Le National; the Montagnard camp represented by La Réforme; and the socialist-communist party represented by Louis Blanc.

Discounting the monarchy, those three parties covered the full spectrum of views.

So it looked as if the provisional government, precisely because of its motley composition, should have, in the eyes of France, been an expression of the reconciliation of all the ideas, all the interests. With the bourgeoisie and the proletariat linking hands over L’Organisation du Travail as if it were the gospel of the future, there was some credibility to the notion that the poverty problem, side-stepped by the outgoing government, was on the point of being resolved in an amiable, peaceable fashion by the incoming one.

We have just seen, and for the thousandth time, what such reconciliations, built on vague fellow feeling and not underpinned by any principle, are worth.

Yet the policy the provisional government should have followed was quite straightforward and self-evident. The problem of the proletariat posed with determination and vigour; the workers employed and fed; the bourgeois class revived; then, pending the National Assembly, the building of a republican status quo; this was what common sense, as well as high politics, required of the provisional government.

In such a situation, conserving everything amounted to advancing. Well now, no one grasped what was so straightforward and wise, what not only had the advantage of common sense but also had the merit of profundity.

Scarcely had it received its brand new mandate to represent the Republic than the bourgeois party within the provisional government, relapsing into its old concerns, started to sound the retreat.—For its part, the revolutionary faction, carried away by the enthusiasm of its memories, and deluding itself utterly about the power of its resources and aiming, as it says, to engage the future, has begun to display vigour and exclusivity. Finally, not content with having laid out its principle, socialism has sought to move on to implementation, looking exclusively to itself for the implementation of its handiwork.

And we know what the upshot of these tensions has been. Everything that the provisional government has done has, in the view of the former bourgeoisie, proven a backward step—everything that it has undertaken in a revolutionary sense has been counter-revolutionary;—everything that it has decreed in the interests of the proletariat has run counter to the proletariat’s interests.

When, thus, in sticking to the conventions of bourgeois economics, the provisional government took out a loan of 100 million; when, in order to prove the soundness of its credit, it handed 50 million over to the rentiers; when it raised the interest on monies deposited with the savings funds; when it put off the insurance companies, etc., etc., and I would say when faced with the socialist principle, which should have informed the law but did not inform it, the government acted contrary to its rights and its duties.

Likewise, when the provisional government set about writing the dictatorial circulars that in 1848 frightened hardly anyone except old ladies; when, without a penny or a person other than what the pleasure of the departments afforded it, it spoke to the departments as if it were an authority; when, in the middle of a France that was republican in mind and heart—albeit in defiance of the Republic—it conjured up the reaction and the counter-revolution just as it would shortly conjure up coalition; in all of these circumstances, the provisional government was acting like a sleep-walker. It has presented us with the spectacle—the only one history has to show—of statesmen acting out an old tragedy with laughable seriousness. Through its backward-looking radicalism, it has compromised future reforms: the electoral law is sufficient proof of that for me.

If we move on from the revolutionary element to the socialist element, we find a similar series of mistakes and miscalculations.

How come there was no one to tell Monsieur Blanc: You are banned from the organisation of labour, such as you understand it, not that you are lacking in ability but because our position forbids it. You see the workshop, namely individualism, as the way to tackle the problem; whereas it is only from the side of society that you can provide the solution, to wit, credit. But even in that light, there is nothing you can do: as a member of this government, you no longer represent one class within society, but the general interests of society, and are precluded from every initiative that might serve the interests of one fraction rather than another. You belong to the bourgeoisie rather than the proletariat. Sponsor and give encouragement to the emancipation of the labouring classes: do not take a hand in it yourself, do not compromise your responsibility, the responsibility of the government. Wait for some higher authority to bestow both credit and power upon you.

Across the board, the actions of the provisional government have not met with success. So protesting voices were not long in making themselves heard. The demonstrations on 16th and 17th March; multiple commissioners driven out of the departments; latterly, the 16th April revolt; all of these, mounted to the accompaniment of cries of Long live the Republic! Long live the provisional government!, were proof even to the least clear-sighted that France is sincerely republican, but that she would not countenance a dictatorship; that by revolution, she means reconciliation; that she rejects doctrinairism, Jacobinism and utopianism equally; but that while she has protested against each of the factions making up the revolutionary government, she retains that government as it stands, it is because she is no longer willing to endure personality issues and looks upon those who govern her as ministering to her will.

That, as we see it, is how things actually stand; the position of the provisional government is admirable and its strength beyond measure; but the difficulties to be overcome are infinite too. They can all be summed up in this formula which encapsulates its role and its rule alike: reconciling diverging interests through the generality of measures.

But just as the tree always falls in the direction in which it leans, the provisional government’s tendency is presently inclining towards the antisocialist protest of 16 April. There is plenty of encouragement along those lines and formal advice. Many people imagine, the social question having been bungled at the Luxembourg [Commission], that the social question has been dealt with; that from now on capital is spared the need to reckon with labour. Bedazzled by that notion, there is an inevitability to the provisional government’s marching towards bourgeois restoration, at the price of a few gestures made to the ardour of social ideas.

That much is being hinted at already, both by the hypocritical reflections in reactionary newspapers on the difficulty, uncertainty and impossibility of a solution, and the decrees whereby the provisional government simultaneously cuts or abolishes the levies on salt, beef and beverages and introduces other taxes on servants, dogs, quality wines, rents over 800 francs, etc., etc.

The removal of the tax on salt, beef and beverages, in the current economic circumstances, is only a philanthropic exaggeration that will cost the State dearly without bettering the lot of the workers.

The introduction of extravagant taxes is a socialist fantasy that will cost the workers dearly without filling the State’s coffers.

The provisional government’s decrees shift poverty the way bankruptcy shifts capital; they solve nothing. Blind and ignorant, the clamour for revolution is satisfied by these decrees; but the people is bamboozled by those same decrees. In return for an apparent sacrifice, we have an actual restoration: People, you will find that out soon enough.

As for ourselves, even though we may also be as dissatisfied with 16 April as we had been by 17th March, we bow to the fait accompli. We like clear cut stances. The threefold essence of the provisional government was an encumbrance to us. We now know to whom we must speak. Doctrinaire democracy now rules and governs. We had always thought that the proletariat must emancipate itself without the help of the government: the government, since April 16th, thinks the same way.

We are in agreement with the government!...


29th April 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Paul Sharkey

THE SOCIAL QUESTION HAS BEEN PUT ON THE LONG FINGER. APRIL 16TH HAS consigned the socialist candidates to oblivion. The cause of the proletariat, denounced with such venom on the barricades in February, has just fallen at the first hurdle in the April elections. The people’s enthusiasm has given way to consternation: as before, it is the bourgeoisie that is to determine the conditions of the workers. The root of all evil, and let us spell it out one last time, has been the inadequacy of the Luxembourg [Commission] and the weakness of the Interior Ministry. Let Messieurs Blanc and Ledru-Rollin forgive themselves as we have forgiven them! They have allowed France to go to ruin and sold out the proletariat. But they are low-born: and consequently they are ours. In the wake of the battle for Cannes when Varron lost the Republic’s last remaining army, the Senate passed a vote of thanks to him for not having given up hope in the country. Let Messieurs Blanc and Ledru-Rollin but tell us that they have not lost hope in the emancipation of the proletariat and we stand ready to send them our congratulations. What matters now is sizing up the situation correctly.

For some time now, in the newspapers of the provisional government, doubts have existed as to the February Revolution’s having thus far been, as far as its representatives are concerned, only some sort of a retrospective revisitation of the first revolution. The two parties sharing power attack and threaten each other, under the labels Girondin and Montagnard. First and foremost, they accuse each other of restoration and counter-revolution. Little by little our makeshift monitors are wakening up to their retrograde delusions. [There is] Nothing more enlightening, nothing more telling than their mutual recriminations. Should the reaction raise its head, it will be in the ranks of the government. If plots are being hatched against the government spawned by the barricades, it is in the ministerial ante-rooms. If the authorities, pulled this way and that, should, with its communist manifestos and doctrinairian inclinations, trigger a flight of capital, murder credit, unsettle the workers, desolate property; should the organisation of labour lead to the whole of France’s downing tools, the blame lies with this two-faced democracy which rules and governs. All of the ground that we have covered in retreat over the past two months was covered under the aegis of memories contrary to the old republic. It is by ’93 and all of its discord that we are being ruled; and as for 1848, that is still the seven-times-sealed book. What we have here is a phenomenon of social psychology that is deserving of further exploration. That phenomenon has come to pass in every revolutionary age and it is this that has raised every peril and determined catastrophes.

The democrats of’93, conjuring up a republic with their highschool memories, after devouring one another, set the revolution back by half a century. True, Robespierre could scarcely be held to blame for the ambition and venality of Mirabeau, the hesitancy of La Fayette, the weakness of Péthion, the nonchalance of Vergniaud, the vices of Danton or the fanaticism of Marat. But Robespierre was a Spartan; it was he that triggered the counter-revolution. The democrats of 1848, building the republic on their parliamentary memories, have also set the revolution back by half a century. I am not pointing the finger at their patriotism, their good intentions, their disinterestedness. The sum total of their fault is that they are only imitators; they thought themselves statesmen because they were following the old models!

So what is this queer preoccupation which, in time of revolution, bedazzles the most steadfast minds, and, when their burning aspirations carry them forward into the future, has them constantly harking back to the past? How does it come about that the People, just when it is making the break with established institutions, takes another plunge and gets further immersed in tradition? Society does not repeat itself: but one would have thought it was walking backwards, like the rope-maker playing out his rope. Could it not turn its gaze in the direction in which it is going?

This is not the place for a comprehensive exploration of this difficult problem which strikes at the very depths of our nature and relates directly to the most abstract principles of metaphysics. We shall restrict ourselves to stating, in accordance to the recent works of philosophy, that the phenomenon involved has its roots in the make-up of our understanding and can be explained by the law of the sameness of opposites, a law that lies at the bottom of creation, as well as of logic. That said, let us turn back to the issue at hand.

In order to organise the future, a general rule confirmed by experience, the reformers always start out with their gaze fixed upon the past. Hence the contradiction forever discovered in their actions: hence also the immeasurable danger of revolutions.

So, on the day when the People overthrow the monarchy, they promptly replace it with a dictatorship. In which we have nothing but remembrance, a memory that goes back further than the overthrown monarchy; and a contradiction, in that absolutism is invoked as a safeguard against absolutism.

The rest was implicit. The Convention had its pro-consuls, Napoléon his prefects. The provisional government has its commissioners. In substance nothing has changed: all we have had is a change of personnel. Everyone can see today what this re-enacted comedy has cost us. The commissioners of the provisional government, precisely because they were merely memories, have flagged up the reaction; they had had their instructions from their masters.

The February Revolution was made to the strains of the Marseillaise and old republican anthems. More memories and yet more contradiction.

Contradiction, I say, and note this: the 1848 revolution inspired no poet. The social idea, anti-lyrical it would appear, has been obliged to unfold itself to the rhythms of the political idea. No matter what may have been said, as far as we are concerned, the epic is no more: and, trivial though it might seem, we are doomed to perform the labours, not of heroes, but of shop assistants. The princes of the new Republic will not be sword-wielders but pen-pushers. The 1848 Revolution, an economic revolution, is as bourgeois as could be. It is the workshop, the shop counter, the household, the cashdrawer, the most prosaic things in the world, the things least suited to revolutionary energy and high-flown words. How could one set down in verse or to music the worker’s sharing in the profits, the partnership between labour and capital, the balance of imports against exports? Organising trade and credit, boosting production, widening markets, determining the new shapes of industrial companies—none of this involves the temperament of 1793: like it or not, we have to resign ourselves to being mere civilians.

The Marseillaise is suited to the idea for which it stands: it offends our most heartfelt inclinations: instead of enlightening the citizenry, it stuns them. This nonsense costs the Republic huge sums, not to mention its security. Singing of the Marseillaise amounts to playing into the hands of the reaction and is tantamount to a provocation.

Among the factors that accelerated the downfall of the constitutional monarchy, pride of place has to go to weariness with, and revulsion against parliamentary proceedings. Well! scarcely had disaster struck and the bodyguard of the Palais-Royal was still smouldering than France was overrun with clubs. Instead of burning itself out, the parliamentary fever spread. Instead of one tribune, we now had ten thousand of them and what tribunes! Never has such a confusion of the gift of speech been witnessed. Cobblestones from the barricades, like the stones cast by Deucalion, became orators. Everybody was talking like a Demosthenes: albeit reasoning like a [General] La Palisse. At a gathering of five hundred citizens, I witnessed the most redoubtable issues of political economy—matters of which I am certain no one in that venerable gathering understood a word—settled in five minutes, to thunderous applause. I saw the most hare-brained motions greeted by enthusiasm and puerile proposals carried unanimously. The provisional government could scarcely fail to legislate them into existence. Several received the sanction of its decrees.

Contradiction and reminiscence! Folk played at mini-parliaments, as well as at mini-workshops and mini-wars. But, workers! The clubs are not the place to do battle with property: that would be your workshops and in the marketplace. We will shortly be looking into this new strategy with you. Leave the politicking and the eloquence to the bourgeois. The rhetoric of the clubs has nothing to teach you. All this palaver is an affront to practical reason, to labour’s gravitas, to the seriousness of matters, to the silence of study, to dignity of spirit. Remember that under Napoléon, a fellow who made war the symbol of labour, there was no speechifying. And clubs belong neither to our times nor to our outlook nor to our mores. This sham agitation will die away itself of boredom and desertion: if it were otherwise, the woes that it would bring you would be incalculable.

One of the first moves of the provisional government, one of its most widely applauded moves, was the implementation of universal suffrage. On the very day when that decree was issued, we wrote these same words which might well seem a paradox: “Universal suffrage is counter-revolution.”

After the event, judge for yourself if we were wrong. The 1848 elections have been carried, overwhelmingly, by the priests, by the Legitimists, by the Dynastics, by the most conservative and most backward-looking elements in France. It could not have been otherwise.

So how hard could it have been to understand that within man there are two instincts, one the conservative and the other the forward-looking: that each of these two instincts only ever serves the purposes of the other, that each individual, gauging matters from the vantage point of self-interest, takes progress to be the furtherance of that interest; that such interest being at odds with the collective interest, the sum total of votes, rather than signifying general progress, is indicative of a general retreat?

We have said and we say it again: the Republic is the form of government wherein, every will retaining it freedom, the nation thinks, speaks and acts as a single man. But in order to achieve this ideal, all private interests, rather than pulling in the opposite direction to society, must work to the same end as society, which is not a possibility under universal suffrage. Universal suffrage is the materialism of the Republic. The more this arrangement is used and until such time as the economic revolution becomes an accomplished fact, the greater the retreat towards royalty, despotism and barbarism, all the more certainly if the votes are greater in number, more considered and more free. You would point the finger at the proletarian’s lack of expertise and its indifference? But that is the very thing that makes a nonsense of your theory. What would you say of a father of a family who would leave it to his children freely to dispose of his belongings and then, ruined by them, would blame the inexperience of their youth? And what an argument against you the proletariat’s indifference constitutes!

Because in the entire provisional government not a grain of common sense has been found, because we deluded ourselves that the dream of revolution might be sustained by strength of numbers, here we find ourselves in the middle of the bourgeois backlash! And the emancipation of the proletariat has to be put back by fifty years! We are paying a heavy price for our bedazzlement by novelists and blatherers. And, if the chief blame did not lie with ourselves, I would say that the ministers who have, in an unprincipled way and with no basis in law, misusing a temporary dictatorship, exposed the salvation of the people to the vagaries of this monstrous reckoning, should be stripped of their civic rights.

With one hand, the provisional government imposes taxes on luxuries; with the other, it puts on a show for the people, free of charge. Remembrance and contradiction. The tax on luxury reduces the work of the poor by whatever it reduces the consumption of the rich, and it reduces the State’s revenue by whatever reduction it makes in the labour of the former and in the pleasures of the latter. Threefold deficit, threefold impoverishment: such is the upshot of the tax on luxury.

Free entertainments, precisely because they are free, are a trespass against labour and the people’s morals: furthermore, they are a trap set for its good faith since the money which the spectator does not pay at the box-office, will be paid over to the tax collector who will pay the performers! Ruination, ruination everywhere.

One day an order issued by the prefecture of police commanded that the names of the streets and monuments be changed. The following day, a petition signed by the clubs asked that the remains of Armand Carrel and Godefroi Cavaignac be laid to rest in the Panthéon. Contradiction and plagiary!

Historic names are replaced by other historic names and men by other men: idols by other idols. But there is still the same old idolatry, the same vandalism. So who does have the right to tear down national monuments? You Père Loriquets[459] of Jacobinism, teach your voters how to fill in their ballot papers and let the Palais-Royal be called the Palais-Royal!

It has rightly been said that the backward-looking farces played out by the provisional government have cost us more in two months than the invasions back in 1814 and 1815.

So what is going to happen when we shift from farce to tragedy? The bourgeoisie is going to get irritated and will resolve to put paid to socialism. The handiwork of reaction, begun by the radical party, will be carried on in the opposite direction and with the same vigour by the bourgeois party. We have had our 21st January, our 31st May, our 9th Thermidor and we shall have our 2nd Prairial. The proletarian masses are ready to budge: and the National Guard, abetted by the army, to offer resistance. All of the actors are in their positions, all well versed in their parts. The Rommes, the Goujons, the Duquesnois, the Soubranys are ready for the sacrifice. Messieurs Ledru-Rollin, Flocon, Albert, Louis Blanc are in position. We have found our Monsieur Boissy d’Anglas[460] is standing by: he is M. de Lamartine. M. de Lamartine, his head filled with history, was initially on the side of the Mountain and, ever faithful to his tales of drama is now going over to the side of the Girondins.

The vague notion of some fresh, inevitable terror is in the air and has souls in turmoil. The workers tell themselves that the revolution needs a fresh beginning: and who can foresee how the restarted revolution will end up? The provisional government, demolishing property, with no benefit to the proletariat, through its financial laws, which the National Assembly cannot allow to stand without the country’s being exposed to danger but which cannot be rescinded without provoking an uprising, looks as if it has decided to make terror inevitable.

In ’93, the only cause of the terror was the resistance from an infinitesimal aristocratic minority. The existence of society, guaranteed in any case by the rich gains of the revolution and by the overall lack of solidarity, had nothing to fear from the Terror. In 1848, the supposed cause of terror would be the antagonism between two classes of citizens, one numerically stronger and the more formidable on account of its poverty, the other superior in terms of its wealth and intelligence. With both surviving thanks only to the commerce in goods and reciprocal relations, it is inevitable that in such a clash society will perish.

Let the first moves by the National Assembly expose the plans of the reaction; let a careless vote ignite the people’s wrath; let there be a general recourse to arms; let the national representation be breached and then, under pressure from some other dictatorship, let movement grind to a standstill, and France will go up like a hive wreathed in flames with the choking, singed bees stinging one another to death.

So, once the government runs out of resources:

Once the nation’s progress is spent;

Once the country’s production and trade have petered out;

Once a famished Paris, blockaded by departments declining to send any more shipments, any more payments, finds itself cut off;

Once the workers demoralised by the politics of the clubs and by the idleness of the national workshops turn to soldiering just to survive;

Once the State has commandeered the citizenry’s silver and jewellery for forwarding to the Mint;

Once a million proletarians have turned against property;

Once house searches become the only means of tax-collection;

Once the peasant, for want of hard cash, takes to paying his taxes in kind;

Once commodities have become so rare that barriers are swept away and a final blow dealt to national industry;

Once famished gangs take to roaming the land and organising raids;

Once vagabondage has become the staple condition;

Once the peasant, standing guard with loaded rifle over his harvest, gives up on farming;

Once working women, broken by hunger, have all cut loose;

Once prostitution, grief, poverty have driven them to distraction;

Once troupes of women, following the flying columns of National Guards, take to marking the Republic’s feast days with ghastly bacchanalia;

Once the first blood has been spilt, once the first head has fallen;

Once the abomination of disappointment has spread throughout France:

Oh, then you will know what revolution is when it is instigated by lawyers, carried out by artists and steered by novelists and poets! Once upon a time Nero was an artist, a lyric artist and playwright, an enthusiastic lover of the ideal, a worshipper of antiquity, a medal-collector, tourist, poet, orator, swashbuckler, sophist, a Don Juan, a Lovelace, a spirited, imaginative, likeable fellow brimful of life and sensual appetites. Which is what made him Nero!

Wake from your slumbers, ye Montagnards, Girondins, Feuillants, Cordeliers, Muscadins, Jansenists and Babouvists! You are but six weeks away from the events I herald. Cry: Long live the Republic! Off with the masks!—Then about-face and march!


30th April 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Paul Sharkey

HOW COME THE VERY PEOPLE WHO THREE MONTHS AGO WERE CALLING whole-heartedly for universal suffrage now want no part of it?

And how come those who could not have been more apoplectic about universal suffrage three months ago dare today to take the credit for it?

The very same lack of principle and the same bad faith explain this double paradox. Some bemoan a lottery in which they have lost power; others marvel at a mechanism to which they are indebted for their privileges. What a truly splendid, moral and grand thing politics is!…

Those of us who were taking exception to this tired foolishness, universal suffrage, long before the Cormenin Law are within our rights to complain about it and take it down a peg.

Universal suffrage, we used to say, is a sort of atom theory whereby the law-maker, powerless to have the people speak in its essential unity, invites citizens to have their individual says, viritim,[461] just the same way as Epicurean philosophy explains thought, will and intelligence away in terms of combinations of atoms. As if the overall mind, the People’s mind could ever be construed from the sum of a given number of votes!

The most reliable way of getting the People to lie is to introduce universal suffrage. Voting by head count in matters of governance as a way of gauging the will of the nation, is the precise equivalent, in terms of political economy, of a redistribution of the land. It is agrarian law transplanted onto the terrain of authority.

Because those writers who first concerned themselves with the origins of governments have taught us that all power derives from the sovereignty of the nation, the bold conclusion has been drawn that the best course was to have all the citizenry vote, by word of mouth, by presence or by piece of paper and that an absolute or relative majority of the wishes so expressed was equivalent to the will of the people. We have been dragged back to the practices of the barbarians who, eschewing reasoned argument, operated in terms of acclamation and election. A material symbol has been misconstrued as the actual formula for sovereignty. The dust-cloud of votes has been construed as the very essence of the people’s will! ...

And then there is the miscount of votes. I take the Paris elections by way of an example.

Upwards of 400,000 citizens were entitled to vote in the Seine department, but scarcely 300,000 cast their votes.

To whom are we to ascribe the 100,000 abstainers?

Regarding them as if they did not exist, on that very basis you chalk them up to the elected candidates whereas you might with equal justification wager that, had they voted, they would have tilted the balance to the other side, or at least that they would have altered the outcome of the poll considerably.

And another paradox:

Of the 300,000 votes cast, a mere thirteen candidates claimed more than half; the twnty-one others have been returned only by relative majorities of between 104,000 and 144,000 votes.

How can those returned by a minority of the electorate purport to be the people’s choice? What! There are 200,000 voters who take exception to M. Lamennais’s candidacy,[462] but because they could not agree on who they wanted instead of him, M. Lamennais wins in spite of them. In the same way—and the law has anticipated this eventuality—a candidate with 298,000 votes cast against him and 2,000 for him was returned! And that deputy would claim to have been returned by universal suffrage! What a cheek!

Furthermore, if only those who framed this wonderful law known, when looking to popular suffrage expressed on a person-by-person basis, had dealt with the issue appropriately! If they had told the citizenry:

The labouring class means to have its share of all of the advantages enjoyed by the bourgeois class. Being the more numerous and poorer and thus the stronger class, that class is the master of power. Bourgeois or workers, the point is that, by common consent, they carry through a comprehensive overhaul of the economy. So you should be choosing the men best equipped in terms of their speciality, moderation and commitment to govern the interests of all.

It is beyond doubt that, had it been posed in those terms, the question put to the electors would have produced a quite different outcome.

Instead of which, what has the government done?

For a start, through its declarations, its example, its decrees and its commissioners, it has raised the basis for warfare between the two castes designed to keep the people divided, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

In view of which the vast majority of citizens has begun to adopt a defensive stance before the redundancy of the bankrupted banker, the jobless artisan and incomeless property-owner. Everybody has become bourgeois and nobody wants to be counted as proletarian. From which point on, the ends to which the elections would be held were foreseeable.

And there’s more.

All of a sudden, on April 16th, the provisional government with its lamentable pendulum swings between communist and conservative notions provoked turmoil right across the spectrum of views and once again the issue in the election was between property and community [communauté].

For social reform, it was a lost cause. The mass of the citizenry, who would readily have embraced it, has just pretty much rejected it under the name of communism.

Communism shunned, that is the real meaning of the 1848 elections. We no more want community of labour than we do community of women or community of children! The 260,000 votes cast for M. de Lamartine cannot have any other meaning. Or are they an embracing of the illustrious poet’s theories or some epigram? Then along comes the new National Assembly with its equivocal mandate. As for ourselves, we shall see to it that our citizen representatives are reminded of the issue.

France, we shall tell them, wants no part of community: who can question that? We do not want it any more than you do.

But has that any bearing on the social question? Is railing against community enough to stamp out poverty?

Has the privilege of property been abolished?

Have the bourgeois turned into workers?

Have the workers turned into bourgeois?

Has our public debt of six billion, a budget of two billion, for it is going to be two billion, plus another twelve billion in mortgaged funds, been reduced?

Is the crisis drawing to an end?[463]

Has commerce been re-established?

Has labour been so organised that bread is assured within and without?

Are we free?

Are we equals?

Are we brothers?

Good folk who fear the dissolution of your marriage bonds, have a second look before you retreat into your shared insignificancy. If you so much as dream that you are here only to lend your backing to a negation, you have not understood your mandate. It only remains for us to act as your guiding lights. Get on with it!


4th May 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Paul Sharkey


How do the elected members from the departments come to us?

What sort of a reception will the representatives from around France get from the people of Paris?

The only answers are with distrust and scorn. I search for brothers but all I come across are plotters! Civil war is no longer in prospect: it is upon us. No longer is it feared as the ghastliest of evils: it is accepted as a necessity. In countryside and city alike, people are manufacturing powder, casting bullets and readying weapons. The leaders send out their watchwords and issue their manifestos. No matter where you go all you hear is this deadly message: We must finish it!

The bourgeois has his mind made up to have done with the proletarian, who, for his part, has his mind made up to have done with the bourgeois. The worker wants to see an end of the capitalist, the wage-earner [an end] of the entrepreneur, the departments with Paris, the peasants with the workers. In every heart anger and hatred reign; in every mouth a threat. And what is the cause of such discord? The elections.

Universal suffrage has lied to the People.

The February Revolution was made through every party opposing the outgoing government, through the general disgust with a monarchy crowned by infamy, every mind making its contribution to the idea of a reform both political and social. The February Revolution, the outcome of eighteen months of parliamentary wrangling, reformist protests, economic criticisms, inevitably resulted in a republican organisation, in a closer amalgamation of the different classes in society. People were relying, and were entitled so to do, on the new representatives being an expression of the idea of revolution: instead we have the pandemonium of all counter-revolutionary notions. The whims of an electoral majority would have events reversed: men who under a Republic would never have had the right to vote are calling for a king in the name of the Republic and by virtue of their right of suffrage!…

The signal for this backsliding came from the provisional government. The files of Le National are there to show that.

Such was their grasp of revolution, such their fear of the people, these amateur republicans, these gentlemen democrats, that scarcely had they arrived in power than they sent out an appeal to every mediocrity in the land. The country then sent its mediocrities. They have succeeded beyond their hopes and already they are consumed with unease. They sense that their part has been played out. Which faction does not hold them in contempt? They are so small. So tiny, so wrong-headed that even the sharpest eye cannot distinguish between despotism and the Republican. I do not even think anybody hates them; yet they have bound France’s fate in chains!…

It is to you honest patriots who since February have stayed what you were even before February, it is to you that I address myself. The lives and deaths of ten million men may well hang on whatever determination you make.

Your anger is righteous, your outrage legitimate. Like you, I have wept with rage at the sight of the perfidious reaction under way, which adds cravenness to massacre. But, citizens, you will not avenge the memory of your brothers by means of bloody reprisals; passion has no place in the decisionmaking of a statesman. For amid the universal anarchy in which we find ourselves, in the absence of regulated authority and acknowledged principle, I can tell you this, citizens, EVERYBODY should think like a statesman.

But first reflect upon the situation in the land.

For the past seventy days, France has not worked. Do you know what it means, for a nation not to work! Imagine a man who no longer eats, no longer drinks, no longer digests: in whom the blood has stopped coursing, the heart beating, the lungs inflating, the heat throbbing; a man in whom the vital spark has petered out. That man lives no more; he is dead!

Behold the portrait of our nation!—No more work, no more production, no more commerce, no more consumption for us. Collective life goes un-renewed; taxes are not returned; the powers that be are no longer heeded; the public forces become demoralised; the bonds of society are loosened; just a few more days in this dire condition and all movement will cease and the body of the people will lapse into dissolution.

The Poland and Italy that we pledged to defend. Poland and Italy, those two sisters of France, now broken by the arms of their tormentors, in vain do they stretch out a desolated hand to us. We shall ride to the rescue neither of Italy nor of Poland.

Do you know why? We would need a hundred thousand soldiers, a hundred million francs, and we haven’t a hundred thousand centimes with which to equip and provision an army. We couldn’t even defend our own selves if a coalition of kings was to swoop upon us just as they did sixty years ago. And do you know the reason why? Because we no longer produce through toil that on which we might subsist until such time as we might have to go down fighting.

Patriots, irked by the reaction, would you murder your motherland! Would you drive a dagger into your mother?… Yet that’s what you’ll be doing if you revert to barricades. Another seventy years of stagnation and the game is up for the Revolution, the game is up for the people.

Have pity on France, pity on the proletariat, pity on the bourgeoisie itself, whose tortures you cannot even begin to imagine. Can you not see that it is its ruination that has it infuriated? Ruination, bankruptcy, hideous bankruptcy, followed by shame, and then impoverishment: this is what the exasperated bourgeoisie seeks by spilling the blood of the proletariat.

So are you willing, to avenge 150 of your brothers,[464] to let the angel of death roam through the entire country? The death knell of the motherland! Is this the compensation you have in mind for the relatives of the victims?...

Your policy should be no such thing, citizens. Killing men is the worst way to combat principles. The only way to score a victory over an idea is with another idea. Now, that idea is something you already carry within yourselves, just as you have it within you to make it a reality.

What! You know how to be self-reliant, you know how to get yourselves organised for a fight and you do not know how to organise yourselves for the purposes of work?

What? A hundred thousand of you would join forces for an attack on the government and you couldn’t find it within yourselves, a hundred thousand of you, to join forces for an attack on privilege?

Destruction is the only thing that holds any charms for you: you lose all enthusiasm the moment creation is at stake!…

Citizens, the motherland is in danger!

I propose a provisional committee be set up to orchestrate exchange, credit and commerce between workers;

That said committee liaise with similar committees set up in the main cities of France;

That, under the aegis of these committees, a body representative of the proletariat be formed in Paris, imperium in imperio,[465] in opposition to the bourgeoisie’s representation.

That a new society be founded in the heart of the old society;

That a labour charter be written into the agenda forthwith and its main articles set out with minimal delay;

That the groundwork for republican government be laid down and special powers delegated to the workers’ representatives.

Citizens, the republic has its back to the wall: the government can do nothing for you. But you can do everything for yourselves; this I swear in the presence of God and men!

Until such time as we have exhausted economic means, I will speak out against the use of violence. Let the needless bloodshed be upon the heads of the agitators!


5th May 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Paul Sharkey

THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY HAS BEEN FORGED AGAINST A BACKDROP OF CANNON fire, drums and fanfares, wrapped up in all of war’s pomp and circumstance.

In these ties when the imagination is seduced by the senses and the heart swept along by the imagination and reason overwhelmed by sentiment; when the mind believes itself infinite because it is empty, the soul’s only weakness is for the blandishments of sensibility and the mirages of hope. Considered thought seems to have lost its status and judgement set aside its authority. These are the days of Lamourette kisses,[466] the times of treacherous reconciliations.

But enthusiasm soon abates; sentiment evaporates like a caress; and in place of empathetic feelings, reason returns to pose here formidable questions.

Well then, what is this National Assembly, so laboriously nurtured and so impatiently awaited and upon which so many contradictory hopes are staked going to do? Are our deputies out-and-out republicans? Are they socialists? Are they firmly resolved to overhaul the old edifice of society from top to toe? And the provisional government which has just handed its powers back to them, has it the credibility to transform these in the light of revolution?

Why not have them take an oath?

Would you like to know what the National Assembly is going to do?

For a start, it will verify its powers, appoint its speaker, fill its offices, answer a speech by the crown with an address, lay blame, endorse, upbraid and recriminate! Being unable to rescind across the board, at a stroke and without exception, every one of the acts of the provisional government and turn things back to where they were on February 25th! That would be the surest, simplest, most expeditious, most rational course of action and the only useful one. But the censure coming from the National Assembly will not be so forceful.

And then the National Assembly will turn its attention to the Constitution.

It will talk about presidency, veto, accountability, separation of powers, centralisation, municipalities, etc. It may even be disposed to vote, after a reading, without debate or amendment, as one man, resoundingly and enthusiastically for the first constitution put before it. If such a constitution is to last and if it is to be good value for the money the National Assembly could not proceed too quickly. These representatives cost twenty-five francs a day and the people are not working!

After that, the National Assembly will talk business.

That is to say, in the name of political economy, it will deal with domestic economics, the application of huckster economics to the State, the way they have been doing in England, in France and everywhere else for the past forty years. It will distribute the land in Algeria and elsewhere: it will set up agricultural banks; it will legislate about manufacturers’ labels; it will overhaul taxation, insurance, the mines, etc., etc: it will deliver itself up to all manner of dark, entangled, scabrous and squalid speculations.—May the Republic’s representatives skip over these discussions as they would over a fire! Matters of business have a deadly impact on the conscience of the deputy: think back to the railways![467]

And finally the National Assembly will turn its mind to philanthropy. Crèches, towers, asylums, hospitals, people’s convalescent homes, poor relief, savings funds, rewards for virtue, sponsorship for artists, model farms, prison systems, lending banks for workers, industrial, trade, business and agricultural schools will come in for the most respectable attentions. And to prove its entire goodwill to the people, it will even advance Monsieur Considérant four million and a plot of land for an experimental phalanstery. How happy it would be if only the Republic could rid itself of socialism at that price!

But the social question!—you will say—The real social question! Might it be in the minds of the revolution’s representatives to dodge the issue? What have a phalanstery and the social question got to do with each other?

The social question!

My advice to you is to write if off from the outset. The social question is not going to make it on to the agenda of the National Assembly.

And is that assembly likely to stare privilege in the face?

Has it the strength and the calibre to lay hands on that sacred cow?

Has it the gumption to do away with the last remnant of royalty, the mere abolition of which will make dynasties impossible, namely, the royalty of gold?

Is the National Assembly likely to pronounce a death sentence upon the old society?

Might it, in the wake of its immense political, economic and philanthropic undertakings, grasp that social reform spells the abolition of politics? That political economy is the very opposite of domestic economics? That philanthropy is a corollary of poverty?

No, the National Assembly can do nothing, seeks nothing and knows nothing!

It can only turn into something and do the work of the revolution insofar as it will be so invited, provoked or compelled by some power outside of itself that seizes the initiative and sets things rolling.

A legislative assembly lays down statutes about things: it does not bring them about. In other words, the organisation of labour must not emanate from the powers that be; it ought to be SPONTANEOUS. Which is why we are repeating here the proposal that we put yesterday:

“That a provisional committee be set up to orchestrate exchange, credit and commerce between workers;

“That said committee liaise with similar committees set up in the main cities of France.

“That, under the aegis of these committees, a body representative of the proletariat be formed in Paris, imperium in imperio, in opposition to the bourgeoisie’s representation.

“That a new society be founded in the heart of the old society.

“That a labour charter be written into the agenda forthwith and its main articles set out with minimal delay.

“That the groundwork for republican government be laid down and special powers delegated to the workers’ representatives.”

That is the only way that we are going to be able to stand firm against the reaction: and to ensure the wellbeing of the Republic and the emancipation of the proletariat.


9th May 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Barry Marshall

PRIVILEGE PROTECTS ITSELF TO THE DEATH. IT THREATENS US FROM THE north and south, east and west. It demands revenge on us from the four points of the compass. We cried like prophets that there is a time for mercy and there will be a time for punishment.

It is marvellous, Messieurs: having looked for war, we are going to have it tough and decisive. Let privilege defend itself if it can; it is the only way it has of beating our resolve. We will be the first to congratulate it. But it cannot hope to intimidate us: to us its bayonets are no more deadly than its words. Let it be fully understood: we are going to go after privilege, no matter what it calls itself, whether respectable, traditional or holy, until it has been wiped out. While the National Assembly meets, we without ideas, without a plan, like a well without water, are going to lose time to politicking. We shall organise draining and mining underneath the citadel of property. Work will go fast; success is assured.

Long ago, gladiators who went to fight in the Colosseum, paused before the emperor’s box and said to him with a poignant and terrible heroism, “Caesar, those who are about to die, salute you, Morituri te salutant!” Times have changed: the roles are now reversed. Labour has beaten capital. As the victorious gladiator, we can say today, while raising the sword before the Queen of the World:[468] morituram saluto: Property, I salute you! You will die by my hands!

But what am I saying? What use are threats from now on? We should change our language. It makes no sense to frighten the man of property. The day when the abolition of property begins, the day when individual right is supplanted by social right, this will be the day when everyone salutes, bourgeois and proletarian. What the worker gains in revolution because of the poverty he shakes off, the bourgeois gains in proportion to the property he abandons. In exchange for liberty, equality, security and wealth, the first gives up his poverty, the second his despotism. Thus, after a universal negation, when we agree to an increase in the freedom, guarantees and well-being of everyone, it would be absurd to sow terror. The privileged, instead of loading their guns, will back down, and we should listen peacefully. If we keep to our principles, they will immediately find that our aims are peaceable. We are going to talk to them in terms of facts and figures. But we must first of all talk to them about values.


14th May 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Paul Sharkey

OUR DIPLOMACY IS MINDLESS, OUR FOREIGN POLICY UNPRINCIPLED, AIMLESS and bereft of resources. Our statesmen supposedly as incapable of arriving at a decision as they are of prompting one. Amid the host of international law issues thrown up, they supposedly could not tell where France’s interests lie nor of what those interests consist: what the latest revolution contributed to and imposed upon the European system. Even as they cannot understand the people, they have nothing to say to the people. And saddest of all, even if they were in a position to define the new righteousness, they are devoid of the wherewithal to defend it. France’s word counts for nothing in the counsels of Europe and her broken sword is feared by none.

What, I ask, do either the cant of enthusiasm or flights of eloquence count for, faced with the material gravity of events! What matter to us the talent of a Lamartine when what we need is—let me dare state it—the positivism of a Talleyrand? And that great slogan Liberty, Equality, Fraternity… please, I beseech you, wring a diplomatic solution out of that!

Are you or are you not within your rights to insist of Austria that she withdraw her troops from Italy and give up on her claims to suzerainty there? What case, what arguments can you come up with!… It is not enough to say: We are fond of Italy; Italy is France’s sister; Italy must be free even as we are free. All of that, if I may say so, is mysticism and mysticism of the worst sort, for it is revolutionary mysticism, just as the corruption of the finest things is the foulest of corruptions.—Let me ask in respect of the Italian question, what is your principle, your entitlement, your interest—in short, your motives? And once you have spelled out your motives, let me ask: what are your means? No longwindedness: facts, reasons, names. The former government was unwilling to intervene in Italy: how come what was tolerable yesterday is no longer such today? And if you cannot countenance it, are you in any position to prevent it?…

I know, I know, the February Revolution has altered every policy: civil law, public law, international law now rest upon brand new principles. In order to intervene in Italy, it tickles you to say that Italy is our ally: how so? What makes an alliance? How, in what way, in relation to what actual, short-term, specific purpose has the fact of an insurrection turned us into the allies of a people?

And, returning to the question posed earlier, what, in political terms, is the rule governing alliances?

According to some, our natural ally is England: according to others, Germany. Why not Russia? Why not Spain, Piedmont, Switzerland, Belgium who revolve around us like a crown of satellites? Ultimately, who are our natural allies? What is a natural ally? And as for those peoples who are no natural allies of ours, what are they to us? Foreigners! Which is tantamount to saying enemies! So our natural enemies are all those peoples who are not our natural allies! What confusion! What discord! Back in 1840 M. de Lamartine foretold that only the East could provide us with the key to the European problem: well! What does the mysterious and fabled East reveal to M. de Lamartine today?

The matter of international alliances has never departed from the norm. Princely whims, dynastic agreements, the ambition and vanity of government heads, the fanaticism of opinion, the obsessions of the masses, these are what govern the policies of nations. Diplomacy is one of the forms of anarchic commerce, thieving and counterfeit: questions of style aside, it is the same charlatanism, the same narrow-mindedness, the same hypocrisy, the same bad faith.

Imagine a grocer from the Rue Saint-Martin writing to his counterpart in Marseilles:

“The shipment of your crates of soap is running twenty four hours behind schedule (they were to have been delivered by an agreed date). I have withheld a third of the load (amounting to 300 francs).

“I am leaving you your rice, coffee and sugar on account, having noted a shortfall in terms of quantities (and having no further use for them).

“I will not fill your order because my custom is to ask for a 4 percent discount on all my orders, which you have failed to afford me with this shipment (which was not the issue).

“I will take receipt of your oil, but under 10 percent subsidy (particularly as, since I placed the order, this commodity has fallen by 10 percent).”

That just about sums up the entire spirit behind our diplomacy. Translate that into the poetic prose of M. de Lamartine or into M. Guizot’s philosophical style and you will have yourself a master-piece of a diplomat.

Are we to have peace? Are we to have war?—That question is unanswerable, being unfathomable and shrouded in mystery as far as our statesmen are concerned.

Peace? Peace is impossible for it lacks roots and guarantees. Peace is like credit: if it is to last, it needs mortgages [hypothèques], not hypotheses [hypothèses ]; it cries out for commitments not castles in Spain. Peace is not a matter of convenience and temperament: of all human affairs, it is the most substantial and as a result is absolutely insistent upon de facto and de jure reasoning, actual and positive factors.

So where are our commitments to peace with Europe? By what shared ideas, inclinations and interests are we bound to her? What over-riding obligation between the powers of Europe has taken the place of the 1815 pact?[469] Our peace is more fragile than a spider’s web. I would like to believe that the outgoing government had a large hand in this destruction of the factors for peace. It was the old king’s policy to exploit confusion and disorder. But Monsieur Guizot’s handiwork must be repaired: so what are his successors’ ideas on that score? Do they reckon they have greatly advanced alliance with Prussia, Germany and Italy, just because they have pointed them out to us—in a painting—shaking hands?

War? As unfeasible for us as peace.

Making war is not only a matter of being able to marshal the manpower, horses, munitions and money—which we do not have: war, like peace, cries out for principles, motives, some idea, some interest. Otherwise, war is immoral and before long turns into defeat through a loss of morale. Back in’93, our forefathers knew why they were making war and they won: but could we say why we would be making war? The idea, the motive, the interest may well be there: the deed and the righteousness may well be there: but what are they? Let them be spelled out, let them be made public. I scour opinion and leaf through the government records, but instead of motives and instead of a serious, real interest, all I find is our troubled thoughts and despair at the situation.

In my view, similarities between our revolutions, comparable governments and appetites, or national points of honour upon are not grounds enough for declaring a people our ally and embarking upon a propaganda war for its benefit. These are matters of opinion to be taken into account: but they are not grounds. Why, in terms of our interest, the French interest, present, positive and short-term, should we back Italy against Austria or Poland against Russia? What business is it of ours? What is our interest in these conflicts between foreign peoples? What have we to gain from it? What have we to lose by it? For think on this: if our only interest is empathy; if the only ground we can devise for our intervention is the hollow sentiment of equality and human brotherhood, we have no genuine interest at stake and our intervention is unjust. For my own part, I believe, and I make no bones about this, that the ruination of Polish nationhood and the curtailment of freedom in Italy jeopardise France’s most positive interest. But before making a move, that interest needs to be highlighted, brought into full view and made the subject matter of all your manifestos. Now there is nothing in the government’s record to make that interest known, the interest without which any armed intervention by us in the affairs of Europe would be labelled in advance as immoral and inevitably followed by a shameful defeat. Are we, then, gratuitously going to act out the part of civilisation’s Don Quixotes for the satisfaction of a few humanitarian utopians?

So, in the complete absence of principles, in our present utter ignorance of our own interests, further peace and war are equally unfeasible and pose an equal danger to us.

In this truly absurd peace, bereft of principles, ideas, likelihood of survival, prospect of durability, a nonsense in all respects; in this pained wait for what events may bring, France, unsure of herself, melts into her inertia like an icicle in the July sunshine. WE are dying of a slow fever; no longer productive; no longer exchanging; frittering away our capital on contraband; another few months of this lethargy and we will be at each other’s throats. Are we to throw ourselves at the foreigner as a means of escape from starvation?

As for war, until such time as a principle married to a great interest comes along to invest it with the morality it lacks, it can only culminate—no matter how its battalions may fare—in a dismal outcome. If we win, it resurrects military government as a solution to the social question: if we lose, it draws restoration down upon us along with the foreigner. Will we prove to have erected our barricades for the benefit of some Napoléon II or Henri V?…

Meanwhile, Poland sacrificed screams for vengeance: Italy is ridden over roughshod by her torturers; the king of Piedmont falters, the Pope shies away, the emperor of Austria schemes, the king of Prussia strikes bargains, England casts the net of her merchandise across Europe and France looks on! America and Great Britain make off with what is left of our produce at knock-down prices and stock up for years to come: unemployment and the obligatory imports that follow from it deliver the coup de grace to our industry. On every front, freedom goes under, there thanks to war and here to strike!

In order to put paid to this lamentable situation, the old revolutionary routine has decided to do... what? ... hold a demonstration in favour of Poland!

A demonstration! And what is that demonstration going to prove? What are its programme, its idea, its methodology, its formula, its solution going to be? What is it going to teach representatives? What firm conviction, what belief will it inject into their souls?

Patriots, let me tell it to you a second time: circumstances have turned every last one of you into a statesman. You are forbidden to talk like mindless humanitarians or to behave like brainless clubmen.

But back to principles.

To make war, as well as to preserve the peace, one must have reasons.

The reasons you shall know from their means.

What are the means of war? What are the means of peace?

Wealth, capital.

Now, capital is forged through labour:

Labour, divided and compartmentalised as it is in the economy of modern societies is built upon commerce.

Commerce requires mutual lending.

Organise commerce by means of mutual lending and you will have your labour and your capital: you will have the instruments of peace and war.

You will be invincible in peace; you will have nothing to fear from external competition or from stagnation at home, for competition organised on the principle of reciprocity opens in yourselves an infinite market; thus your production becomes infinite, your capitalisation infinite.

You will be invincible in war: 1st in terms of resources, because your capital; being formed through collective commerce rather than individual savings as at present, and commerce being forever expanding, there will be no end to your wealth. And 2nd in terms of principles, because by organising commerce at home by means of mutual lending and equality of exchange, you are thereby resolving the matter of international trade and, through that solution, conjuring up a positive interest in foreign affairs, just as you are conjuring up a positive interest abroad in your own.

And once all States, caught up by your example and impelled by necessity which is mightier than artillery and protocols have organised commerce at home and thereby followed your example and conjured up freedom and equality between their citizens: when, through such organising, they will, as you have, become unassailable at home, invincible in peace and in war, then the ALLIANCE will be world-wide and peace will be incorruptible and war impossible.


6th July 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Martin Walker

M. Editor,

IN YESTERDAY’S EDITION OF YOUR PAPER, AMONG MANY EXCELLENT THINGS, I read some unfortunate words with which it is impossible for me to agree.

In response to the Journal des Débats, you say:

“And do not make believe that we are trying to excuse the insurrection; on the contrary, we declare that insurrection guilty because it did not have legitimate motives, because, etc. Therefore, the government did its duty in suppressing the insurrection immediately and roughly. But, while condemning the insurgents, we do not want to be unjust, etc.”

Such words, M. Editor, exceed the amount of blame that I believe it is possible to attribute to the events of June 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th.

Insurrections are like homicides in that, depending on the circumstances, they can be legitimate or criminal, but they also may be neither, that is, they may be excusable, legally speaking.

Homicide committed in war for the defence of the homeland is a legitimate act that even honours the perpetrator.

Homicide committed for the purpose of personal revenge or greed is a crime that the law punishes with death.

Homicide that results following a provocation, in the case of legitimate defence, etc., is excusable. Neither the law nor morality approves it; they do not prosecute it but pardon it.

It is thus that I judge the recent events.

Was the cause of the insurrection, in which so many citizens were victims in some way, a flagrant violation of the republican principle on the part of the government or the National Assembly? No. Therefore, that insurrection, without a sufficient reason to justify it, was not legitimate. Here is a first point.

Was it the result of foreign instigations conducted with a monarchic purpose and directed against the republic? In that case, the insurrection would have been a crime, an attack against which it would have been necessary to appeal to legal prosecution. However, we do not know yet that such was the true character of this regrettable collision.

But, if the revolt of June 23rd—26th suddenly arose like an accident out of misery; if the struggle, sustained for four unfortunate days, was merely an explosion of desperation; if the prosecution proves that, despite widespread gold, despite monarchic hiring, the vast majority of the insurgents was comprised of workers demoralised by unemployment, wild with hunger, their hopes crushed, frustrated, wrongly or rightly, against power; if it were true, finally, that the government, the National Assembly itself, at first mistaken about the real meaning of the riot, had brought to a head with a fateful policy the exasperation of these people whose rallying cry was “Bread or lead!” Oh, then it would have been acknowledged that the civil war that had just bloodied the cradle of the republic had been a dreadful misfortune, but that, thank heavens, no one was guilty, and there were only victims.

Four months of unemployment suddenly became a casus belli,[470] into an insurrection against the government of the republic: here, in a few words, is the whole truth about those dismal days. Nonetheless, whatever was said, whatever self-seeking and merciless aspersion are still spread every day, the working class’s generosity and high morals did not perish in the fratricide. The insurgents’ destitution, the prisoners’ misery and the respect for property, which, if we should believe numerous reports, was not always as great on the side of the repression as on that of the rioters, are there to attest to it.

The English proletariat lives nobly on the poor tax. German labourers, loaded with money and old clothes, are not embarrassed to beg, from workshop to workshop, for viaticum,[471] passing fancies. The Spanish do more, like Lazarillo[472] they ask for charity at the point of their guns. The French worker asks for work, and if instead of work, you offer him alms, he rises up and shoots at you. I like the French worker best, and I boast that I belong to this proud race impervious to dishonour.

Please, M. Editor, do not spread salt and vinegar on open wounds; do not convey hopelessness into those gloomy consciences, the madness of which has been regrettable, but that are not criminal, after all. Let us have pity on these poor wounded people who hide and die in the straw in the throes of gangrene, cared for by hungry children and wives crazy with misery. Tomorrow, Thursday, will be a day of public mourning dedicated to the funerals of the insurrection’s VICTIMS. Let us not hesitate to include in our regrets, under this common name of the victims, those who died for the defence of order and those who fell while battling misery. If the law was on one side of the barricades, it was also on the other side. The horrible carnage that we witnessed resembled those ancient tragedies in which duty and the law are opposed and which the gods share. Let us cry for our brothers from the national guard. Let us cry for our insurgent brothers and condemn no one. Let us hope that justice, once enlightened about the facts that preceded, accompanied and followed the insurrection, will relax the severity of the law and that the deportation decree, from then on without object or morality, will be revoked.

With my fraternal greetings,



8th July 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Martin Walker


For five months now we have been doing nothing: we have received nothing, delivered nothing, sold nothing! Industry has bottomed out! Commerce bottomed out! Credit bottomed out! Labour bottomed out!...

No more work, no more money, no more resources! The rental payment is due; the pawnbrokers’ stockrooms are all stuffed full; the family silver, the wives’ jewels, the husband’s watch, the finest linen, it’s all been pawned off! How else could we pay our rent?! How shall we manage to live!...

May the authors of pitiless decrees; may the great politicians who have resumed the execrable tradition of Saint-Merri and Transnonain;[474] may those who said that it was better instead of coming to a peaceful agreement to massacre ten thousand citizens for the sake of the National Assembly’s dignity;[475] may these decent republicans, as they call themselves, who came to the Republic as perjurers, who serve it as perjurers, and who will leave it as perjurers: may all of them respond to the despairing lament of the bourgeoisie, if they can!

Go ahead, now, you errant national guards, go and ask your would-be conservatives for work, credit, bread! What they have to offer you, yourselves, your wives and your children, is blood and corpses!...

And what does it mean to them? Won’t they be ministers in a fortnight?...

It’s no longer a matter of saving the proletariat: the proletariat no longer exists, it’s been thrown to the dogs. But the bourgeoisie must be saved: the petite bourgeoisie from hunger, the middle-bourgeoisie from ruin, the haute bourgeoisie from its own infernal selfishness. Today the bourgeoisie faces the same question as did the proletariat on the June 23rd.

We shall not fail our principles. The force of destiny, the greatest of ancient divinities, inflexible Nemesis, has made out of these principles an absolute order for the good of the people.

When the State, surprised by a revolution whose true character it neglected to recognise at once, found itself incapable of paying off the floating debt and redeeming the Treasury bonds and savings books, what did it do? It took recourse to a consolidation: it converted into annuities the treasury bonds and savings accounts that it could not pay out. The national Assembly is discussing the two decrees concerning this operation this very day. That is to say that the State, as an insolvent debtor, demands release from a part of the debt and credit for the surplus. Nobody found this wrong; necessity made it into a law.

When the Bank of France found itself unable to meet all the claims for repayment of its notes and for one moment saw itself teetering over the abyss of bankruptcy, what did it do then? It obtained a decree that gave its papers forced currency, which is to say that instead of giving credit to the citizens it demanded credit from them. Nobody complained of the decree which saved the bank: the public good and necessity made it into a law.

It is no longer only the State or the Bank of France that are incapable of honouring their engagements: it is the whole class of tenants all over France.

Would it be unjust for the tenants to receive the following from their landlords: 1st a postponement of payment; 2nd a reduction of the rent to be paid?

I will dare to maintain that it is not only not unjust but a matter of public necessity.

The cessation of commerce and industry, being caused by an event equivalent to force majeure, has placed us all, tenants and proprietors, in exceptional circumstances, which are by the way provided for and explained in treatises of jurisprudence.

We have produced nothing, we owe nothing.

For the 400,000 tenants with their domicile in the Department of the Seine there are fewer than 20,000 proprietors, one to twenty.

When the State reduces its debt and suspends payments; when the Bank ceases to redeem its notes; when the merchant, the factory-owner and the industrialist no longer dispose of their products and find no takers for their services, would the owners of houses be right to demand payment of rent as in ordinary times? Should not the Revolution and its consequences be borne equally by all? And if the general stagnation of business joins the universal depreciation of assets, is it not evident that the tenants have a right to a reduction of the amount of the rent and not merely a postponement of payment?...

Is that communism or simply just and equitable?

And if the proprietor dared to complain that he was being bankrupted, would we not be right to reply to him that it is not us, the tenants, who bankrupt him but the force of circumstances? ...Well, what is true for the tenant is by the same reckoning true for the farmer. The farmer can’t sell his foodstuffs any more, or only at a throwaway price. Wheat is at 10 francs per hectolitre and wine at 3 centimes a litre. The costs of producing the wheat and the wine are not covered by the price of sale. How then could the farmer pay the landlord and discharge his debt? Is it his fault if the Revolution has come to interrupt all transactions?...

If, finally, the landlords cannot in all fairness refuse first of all a postponement of payment and secondly a reduction of the leases in favour of the tenants and farmers; if the State by stabilising the floating debt, giving forced currency to the notes of the Bank of France, slapping a tax on debts secured by mortgages and raising the rate for rights of transfer for large inheritances has given the first signal of this universal reduction—or, to put it better, of this reciprocity of credit—then why should lenders to the state,[476] who have hitherto received their money most promptly, remain the only ones to be thus privileged? Would they be hard done by to be asked in their turn for the credit of a fraction of their income in the name of the taxpayers, tenants, farmers and proprietors?

But if all the citizens mutually give one another credit of some kind: the house proprietor giving a part of the due rent, the landowner a part of the annual farm rent, the mortgage creditor a part of his interest, the lender to the State a fraction of his income; then isn’t it obvious that this mutuality is equivalent to a kind of credit organisation, and that if this road were taken quite resolutely it would result in an immediate resumption of both labour and business?...

Let the national guard that has devoted itself to public order in these miserable times reflect upon this: what we are proposing to it in these few lines is for its own benefit.

We therefore summon all the tenants and farmers to come to an agreement and present a strongly reasoned petition to the national Assembly, a petition which is not a supplication but a command.

The substance of this petition, phrased in the form of a decree so that the national Assembly would merely have to give it its sanction, would be the following:

“In view of the urgency and imminent danger,

“Considering that the public good is the supreme law;

“Considering that land rent is a free privilege that society can revoke;

“Considering it is a right of the State to regulate the rates of interest and the revenues of capital investments;

“Considering that the interests of the State, the farmers, tenants and borrowers on securities or mortgages are identical and interdependent;

“Considering that the only way of escaping the present danger, of reviving labour, of saving the family and property is by means of a vast operation of reciprocal credit,

“The national Assembly decrees:

“1st Article—To be applicable from July 15th, 1848 until July 15th, 1851: all the proprietors of houses will reduce the rent due on their properties by a third, whereof a sixth will accrue to the tenant and a sixth to the State.

“2nd Article—To be applicable from the same date for the same period of time: all the landowners will reduce the rent due on their properties by a third, whereof a sixth will accrue to the farmer and a sixth to the State.

“3rd Article—To be applicable for the same period of time: all mortgagees will reduce the interest due to them by a third, whereof a sixth will accrue to the debtor and a sixth to the State.

“4th Article—The farmers, tenants and debtors who desire to take advantage of the reduction offered by the decree on the price of housing and farm rents will be obliged to make the amount of their leases known to the tax collectors of their cantons, who will be charged with establishing the extent of the reductions.

“The deduction of one third of their obligations and contractual rents will be made by the farmers, tenants and debtors at the end of each rental period and the sixth due to the State will be paid in by them at their local tax office.

“5th Article—Independently of the above-mentioned reduction the payment of rents or obligations falling due at any time from July 15th to October 15th, 1848 is postponed for three months and will then be paid off in four instalments on the due dates following January 15th,1849.

“6th Article—The rent payments for farm leases and house tenancy, as well as mortgage payments subject to the reduction stipulated above, are deferred until 15th July 1851.

“7th Article—The lenders to the state will have their payments reduced by a third every quarter from July 15th, 1848 until 15th July, 1851.

“8th Article—The land tax of 45 centimes and the tax on mortgage loans are abolished.

“The tax payable on drinks will be reduced by three quarters and standardised in a single form.

“9th Article—The State, by means of the sums accruing to it during the three years from July 15th, 1848 to July 15th, 1851 as a result of the reductions made in the rents and interest deriving from farms, house-letting, mortgage loans and public funds, sums which will amount to several hundred thousand francs, will be assigned the task of reorganising the public credit system, insurance, circulation, transport and mines.”

Nothing is easier, national guards, than for you to save your fortune, to put your business affairs back on their feet and to ensure the well-being of your families and the emancipation of the workers: it is only necessary to establish a tax on the revenue immediately by getting all the farmers, tenants and debtors interested in it. So you national guards must make these proposals to the national Assembly in order to find out very quickly who are your friends and your enemies.


31st July 1848
Translation by Paul Sharkey

CITIZEN PROUDHON: CITIZEN REPRESENTATIVES, YOU ARE IMPATIENT, not so much to give me a hearing, as to have done with it. For the past twenty years socialism has been exciting the people. Socialism made the February Revolution: your parliamentary squabbles would not have stirred the masses. Socialism featured in every act of the revolution: in March 17th, April 16th, and May 15th. Socialism held court at the Luxembourg [Palace] whilst politicking was going on at the Hôtel de Ville. The National Workshops have been a caricature of socialism: but, having been none of its making, they have brought no dishonour upon it. It was socialism that served as the rallying flag of the recent uprising; those who laid the groundwork for it and those who exploit it needed that great cause if they were to draw in the worker. It is socialism that you would have done with, by forcing it to give an account of itself in this forum. I would like to have done with it myself. And since you have guaranteed me freedom of speech, it will be no job of mine or of anybody else to put paid to socialism or anything else. (Prolonged mumbling)

With all due attention I have listened to the comments of the Finance Committee regarding the motion I had the honour of putting to you; then, with all the diligence I could muster, I pored over the report that you heard on Wednesday last and I declare that, having read it, I reckon I have more justification than ever for pressing for my motion to be passed […]

The intention was, in riding roughshod over me, to ride roughshod over socialism at a stroke, which is to say, ride roughshod over the protests coming from the proletariat and, in so doing, to take another stride down the path of reaction. (Go for it!—Hear! Hear!—Let loose!)

Understand this: socialism’s strength does not lie in the success of a single individual. But since a financial motion has been turned into a partisan issue, I am not about to shy away from the wider debate. It will be proven today that there are financial bigwigs who, through their ineptitude over the past twenty years, have been the cause of our ruination. Thanks to the Finance Committee, the argument is not between Citizen Thiers and me; it is between labour and privilege […]

Citizen Representatives, the motion put before you is nothing less—and bear this in mind—than the February Revolution: and what you are about to do for one you will be doing for the other. You know nothing of my proposal, any more than you do of the Revolution (Objections), whether it be its principle, its purpose or its means. The Finance Committee which, given its brief, should have familiarised you with these, has not told you a single thing about them. Its entire suspicion about my motion was that it was a touch revolutionary. Does the Finance Committee welcome revolutionary thinking? Does it see the February Revolution as anything other than a surprise, a lamentable mishap? As for myself, I am one of those who do take that revolution seriously and who have pledged to see it through. So you will forgive me, citizens, if, in order to explain my motion, I take a rather loftier view of matters. Besides, in my prefatory remarks I will be extremely brief. In’93, if memory serves, just when the Republic was facing the direst threats, a tax of one third was slapped on income. I am not about to tell you how that tax was arrived at, how it was greeted or how it worked out. What I would like to point out to you, and this is the only thing that matters right now, is that in ’93 property paid its dues to the revolution. Back then, when it was a life-or-death issue, property—and this was a rare event—made a sacrifice to public safety; and this has gone down in memory as one of the most horrific sacrifices since time began. Since then, in the fifty six intervening years, property, by which I mean net income, has made nil contribution to public affairs. (Denials and laughter) Save your laughter for later.

Tax established on the basis of proportionality, the only possible basis for it, has been a burden entirely borne by labour. Labour alone—let me say it again deliberately by way of an invitation to any who might contradict me—labour alone has paid tax just as it alone produces wealth. Along came the 1848 Revolution. Its dangers, its anguish, albeit of a different nature, have not been any less than those back in ’93. So the point is to find out whether property, whether net income, insofar as it is special and separate from gross product, is willing to do ANYTHING for the Revolution! In ’93, the revolution was fighting against despotism and against the foreigner. In 1848, the revolution’s enemies are poverty, the division of the people into two sorts, the haves and the have-nots. The purpose of the February Revolution has, at different times, been variously described, as the eradication of poverty, the organisation of labour, the reconciliation of labour and capital, the emancipation of the proletariat, and, most recently, as the right to work or the guarantee of work. This formula of the right to work or guarantee of work is the one you embraced in your draft Constitution, Articles 2, 7 and 132 and which, I have no doubt, you will uphold. (Noises off)

So, accepting this encapsulation of the crux of the revolution as the right to work, I come directly to my motion and I wonder: of what does this right to work consist and how can it possibly be achieved? […]

Work could be guaranteed if the market for production were without limits: that was my first argument. I do not think that that anyone will contradict me on that score. If labour, collectively speaking, was continually in greater demand than supply, then plainly there would be a guarantee of work; it would not require promises from the State; it would not compromise freedom, nor order. Thus far, no difficulty. So what is it that stops us from ensuring such an outcome? The power to consume, in society and in the individual alike, is infinite; and if the greatest of fortunes is never enough for a man who knows how to live, how might consumption stand in a country where love of comfort, an appetite for luxury and refinement of manners are taken to the lengths they have been among ourselves and if the ability to consume was bestowed upon this land in proportion with its needs? Is it not a plain fact that if, instead of a meagre product of 10 billion, which brings each of us a mere 75 centimes a day, we had the wherewithal to spend 100 billion, or 7.50 francs per day per head, we would do so? (Shuffling) I am not saying that we are in a position so to do right now; but I am saying that we have it in us to spend them. (Laughter)

So, at bottom, what is lacking is not the will to consume and thus the market; it is merely that consumption is ill served. There is something thwarting it, something vetoing it. The shops are bulging with goods yet the people go naked; trade is stagnant and the people’s life is all deprivation! We being as we are, we all want comfort first and then luxury; we produce, insofar as we have it in us to do, whatsoever we have to in order to satisfy our desires; the wealth is out there waiting for us, yet we stay poor! How to explain this mystery? What thwarts consumption and which, as a necessary consequence, vetoes work, is the fact that the circulation of products is hobbled. And the circulation of products is hobbled:

  1. By the exclusive use of gold and silver as instruments of exchange.

  2. By the interest rate or levy that must be paid for access to them.

  3. By the analogy that has been drawn between all capital and instruments of production, notably the land, and the instrument of circulation, cash, in the sense that, on every side, levies have been imposed upon the instruments of labour as upon money, rendering them, as far as their idle holders are concerned, essentially inert bodies that generate interest.

  4. Finally, by the fascination with gold and the ravages of monopoly, the impact of which is that instead of producing for the purposes of enjoyment and thus consuming in proportion with his labours, the individual produces for the purpose of amassing either gold, or capital and, by means of such accumulation, claiming exemption from toil, the right to live without producing and to exploit the toilers […]

The people, stealing a march on the economists on this score, is beginning to grasp this: the working class has analysed the secret power stymieing circulation, closing markets and inevitably leading to stagnation and strikes. In the proletariat’s eyes, savings and retirement funds are modern society’s equivalent of devil-take-the-hindmost. The financiers know nothing of this, or, if they know, feign ignorance; their privilege being at stake here. So, as I see it, the issue does not boil down to establishing some impossible community [communauté] or decreeing an illiberal and premature equality; it consists of doing away with the charges of all sorts by which production, circulation and consumption are burdened, an abolition which I sum up by the more technical and more financial formula of Free Credit. (Sundry interjections)

Free credit is the translation into the language of economics of those two words enshrined in the draft Constitution, guaranteed work. Now, the interest on money being the cornerstone of privilege and the regulator of all usury, by which I mean all income from capital, so it is by means of progressively whittling away the interest upon money that we must arrive at free credit and abolition of the taxes that hobble circulation and which artificially generate poverty. Which is what we will shortly be achieving by setting up a National Bank whose capital might be raised, and here I am following the usual reckonings of finance, to 1 or 2 billion, and which might ensure discount and commission in the desired conditions, but without interest, since there is an implicit contradiction in a society’s profiteering from itself. So let us have our National Bank, let us organise public loans and, unless we want to cling to and forever perpetuate privilege and poverty, it is plain that with that bank we will have, setting administration and office costs aside, discount for nothing, loans for nothing and, finally, housing and land usage for nothing. (General and prolonged hilarity)

And once we reach that point (further laughter) the principle activating the businessman and the industrialist having changed, love of comfort and effective enjoyment having replaced ambition and greed as the spurs to toil and the fetishisation of gold having been overtaken by the realities of life, savings giving way to mutuality and with capital formation achieved by means of capital exchange per se, consumption will be relieved of all burdens, as will the faculty of enjoyment. (Lengthy interruption. Laughter and sundry exclamations)

So I concede and I have not the slightest difficulty in making this declaration: I concede and affirm that the guarantee of work is incompatible with retention of the established levies and charges on circulation and the instruments of labour and with property’s seigneurial rights. (Exclamations)

Those who claim otherwise may describe themselves as phalansterians, Girondins or Montagnards; they may be very honest folk and excellent citizens—but they are certainly not socialists; I will go further, they are no republicans. (Further exclamations)

In the same way that political equality is incompatible with monarchy or aristocracy, so equilibrium in circulation and exchange, and parity between production and consumption—in other words, guaranteed work—cannot be reconciled with the royalty of cash or the aristocracy of capital. And since these two sets of ideas are essentially interdependent, we are forced to conclude again that property or net income which owes its existence entirely to servitude, is an impossibility in a Republic; and that only one of two things can happen: either property will overrule the Republic or the Republic will overrule property. (Laughter. Ripples of agitation)

It is a matter of regret to me, Citizens, that what I am saying should cause you to laugh so, because what I am saying here will be the death of you. (Oh! Oh!—Fresh laughter)


Let me say it again: the February Revolution has no other meaning. (Whispering) Progressively doing away with all these seigneurial rights which are a burden upon labour, a hindrance to circulation and a block to outlay and doing so in the quickest possible order; then, and as a necessary follow-up, whipping up an insatiable demand, opening up a bottomless market and basing the guarantee of work on indestructible foundations; that, without delving too deeply into the new forms of a society thus constructed, is how I see the chances of immediately and practically resolving the social question. That is what I call, improperly maybe, abolishing property. For, and bear this in mind, here we have no expropriation, no bankruptcies, no agrarian law, no community, no State meddling and no trespass against inheritance or family (Gales of laughter); only the annihilation of net income by means of the competition from the National Bank which is to say, freedom, naught but freedom. (Interruptions) […]

Citizen Representatives, you have just heard my declaration of faith. It was needed in order to have you grasp the sense of my motion and the report that has been read to you made that all the more indispensable. I have been accused of disguising my intentions, or not daring to state here what I have set down in print in pamphlet and newspaper over the past ten years. You are my witnesses here today as to whether I am dissembling, whether I am afraid to spell out my beliefs and wishes in the presence of France. Yes, I seek the abolition of property in the sense of which I have just been speaking; and that is why, in an article denounced in this forum, I penned this phrase: Property income is an unearned privilege, and one that it behooves society to revoke.[477] But as I have pointed out to you, the repeal of that privilege might be abrupt and violent, in short, effected in such a way as a reasonable person might say was a tribute to anger, but it might equally be phased in and peaceably done. As a representative of the people and therefore mindful of my obligation to husband every interest, I call upon you here today to order such repeal to be carried out with whatever slowness of pace and arrangements the vested interests might wish for and with all of the assurances of security that the propertied might insist upon. (Sniggering)

And it is for the purpose of tending to the ways and means of such repeal and not at all with an eye to immediate effect that I move that a special tax be temporarily introduced, a tax upon income, by means of which the nation would weather the crisis and toilers and masters revert to the position they occupied prior to the revolution; depreciated property would recover its value; and public loans would be introduced upon a fresh footing.

Here then is […] the meaning behind my motion:

  1. To spell out the import and purpose of the February Revolution to property and to the bourgeois class.

  2. To serve notice upon property of the intention to proceed with the remaking of society and, in the interim, to invite it to contribute towards the revolutionary endeavour; the propertied to be held answerable for the consequences of their refusal, with nothing excluded. (Loud interruption)

SEVERAL MEMBERS: What! With nothing excluded? Explain yourself!

CITIZEN DUPIN (representing the Nièvre): How plain can he be? Your money or your life!

NUMEROUS VOICES: Mister Speaker, have the member explain himself!

CITIZEN SPEAKER: The member has heard the question; I invite him to explain himself.

CITIZEN PROUDHON: Reserves go hand in glove with responsibility. The meaning is ..

SEVERAL MEMBERS: We got your meaning!

CITIZEN PROUDHON: The meaning is that, in the event of a refusal, we would ourselves proceed with the liquidation without you. (Angry rumblings)

NUMEROUS VOICES: Who, you? And who might you be? (Excitement)

CITIZEN ERNEST DE GIRARDIN: Are you talking about the guillotine? (Murmurs.—Several challenges are made to the speaker from several quarters)

CITIZEN SPEAKER: I call upon all present to be silent. The speaker has the floor so that he may explain his thinking.

CITIZEN PROUDHON: When I used those pronouns you and we, it was self-evident that at that point I was identifying myself with the proletariat and identifying you with the bourgeois class. (Further eruptions)

CITIZEN SAINT-PRIEST: But that is social warfare!

A MEMBER: June 23rd holds the floor!

SEVERAL VOICES: Let him speak! Listen! Listen!

CITIZEN PROUDHON (resuming): My purpose in setting out the means I have was to show you that my motion also conserves the interests of property, which is so crucial to the very object of the revolution. The most irksome part of my motion is that, in terms of outcome, it can never fail; nothing like it has ever been seen in the world of finance; and, above all, it is not a translation nor a borrowing from the English. No one has dared to retort that a levy on income is unfair; they would be contradicted by the masters of the science, the secret vow of taxation and the example of England; they would have public opinion lined up against them […]

This is the first time since a vote on taxation became a parliamentary prerogative that a levy has been accused of being an act of piracy! A levy on income piracy? What are we then to call a levy on labour? Murder? […]

One has only to spell the thing out to prove to any person of good faith that such property which has so laughably been turned into the cornerstone of family and civilisation, hangs by a single thread which will not take long to snap, even though some might still wish to uphold it. The appointment of a National Bank is tantamount to killing off property at a single stroke, without argument or bandying words.

A VOICE: There you have it, death without further ado!

ANOTHER VOICE: Publish this speech in Le Moniteur! Haul its author away to Charenton![478]


10th August 1848
Le Représentant du Peuple
Translation by Benjamin Tucker


“A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders…”[479]

As a consequence of this great principle, Malthus recommends, with the most terrible threats, every man who has neither labour nor income upon which to live to take himself away, or at any rate to have no more children. A family,—that is, love,—like bread, is forbidden such a man by Malthus.

Dr. Malthus was, while living, a minister of the Holy Gospel, a mildmannered philanthropist, a good husband, a good father, a good citizen, believing in God as firmly as any man in France. He died (heaven grant him peace) in 1834. It may be said that he was the first, without doubt, to reduce to absurdity all political economy, and state the great revolutionary question, the question between labour and capital. With us, whose faith in Providence still lives, in spite of the century’s indifference, it is proverbial—and herein consists the difference between the English and ourselves—that “everybody must live.” And our people, in saying this, think themselves as truly Christian, as conservative of good morals and the family, as the late Malthus.

Now, what the people say in France, the economists deny; the lawyers and the litterateurs deny; the Church, which pretends to be Christian, and also Gallican, denies; the press denies; the large proprietors deny; the government which endeavours to represent them, denies.

The press, the government, the Church, literature, economy, wealth—everything in France has become English; everything is Malthusian. It is in the name of God and his holy providence, in the name of morality, in the name of the sacred interests of the family, that they maintain that there is not room in the country for all the children of the country, and that they warn our women to be less prolific. In France, in spite of the desire of the people, in spite of the national belief, eating and drinking are regarded as privileges, labour a privilege, family a privilege, country a privilege.

M. Antony Thouret said recently that property, without which there is neither country, nor family, nor labour, nor morality, would be irreproachable as soon as it should cease to be a privilege; a clear statement of the fact that, to abolish all the privileges which, so to speak, exclude a portion of the people from the law, from humanity, we must abolish, first of all, the fundamental privilege, and change the constitution of property.

M. A. Thouret, in saying that, agreed with us and with the people. The State, the press, political economy, do not view the matter in that light; they agree in the hope that property, without which, as M. Thouret says, there is no labour, no family, no Republic, may remain what it always has been—a privilege.

All that has been done, said, and printed today and for the last twenty years, has been done, said, and printed in consequence of the theory of Malthus.

The theory of Malthus is the theory of political murder; of murder from motives of philanthropy and for love of God. There are too many people in the world; that is the first article of faith of all those who, at present, in the name of the people, reign and govern. It is for this reason that they use their best efforts to diminish the population. Those who best acquit themselves of this duty, who practice with piety, courage, and fraternity the maxims of Malthus, are good citizens, religious men, those who protest against such conduct are anarchists, socialists, atheists.

That the February Revolution was the result of this protest constitutes its inexpiable crime. Consequently, it shall be taught its business, this Revolution which promised that all should live. The original, indelible stain on this Republic is that the people have pronounced it anti-Malthusian. That is why the Republic is so especially obnoxious to those who were, and would become again, the toadies and accomplices of kings—grand eaters of men, as Cato called them. They would make monarchy of your Republic; they would devour its children.

There lies the whole secret of the sufferings, the agitations, and the contradictions of our country.

The economists are the first among us, by an inconceivable blasphemy, to establish as a providential dogma the theory of Malthus. I do not reproach them; neither do I abuse them. On this point the economists act in good faith and from the best intentions in the world. They would like nothing better than to make the human race happy; but they cannot conceive how, without some sort of an organisation of homicide, a balance between population and production can exist.

Ask the Academy of Moral Sciences. One of its most honourable members, whose name I will not call—though he is proud of his opinions, as every honest man should be—being the prefect of I know not which department, saw fit one day, in a proclamation, to advise those within his province to have thenceforth fewer children by their wives. Great was the scandal among the priests and gossips, who looked upon this academic morality as the morality of swine! The savant of whom I speak was none the less, like all his fellows, a zealous defender of the family and of morality; but, he observed with Malthus, at the banquet of Nature there is not room for all.

M. Thiers, also a member of the Academy of Moral Sciences, lately told the committee on finance that, if he were minister, he would confine himself to courageously and stoically passing through the crisis, devoting himself to the expenses of his budget, enforcing a respect for order, and carefully guarding against every financial innovation, every socialistic idea—especially such as the right to labour—as well as every revolutionary expedient. And the whole committee applauded him.

In giving this declaration of the celebrated historian and statesman, I have no desire to accuse his intentions. In the present state of the public mind, I should succeed only in serving the ambition of M. Thiers, if he has any left. What I wish to call attention to is that M. Thiers, in expressing himself in this wise, testified, perhaps unconsciously, to his faith in Malthus.

Mark this well, I pray you. There are two million, four million men who will die of misery and hunger, if some means be not found of giving them work. This is a great misfortune, surely, and we are the first to lament it, the Malthusians tell you; but what is to be done? It is better that four million men should die than that privilege should be compromised; it is not the fault of capital, if labour is idle; at the banquet of credit there is not room for all.

They are courageous, they are stoical, these statesmen of the school of Malthus, when it is a matter of sacrificing workers by the millions. Thou hast killed the poor man, said the prophet Elias to the king of Israel, and then thou hast taken away his inheritance. Occidisti et possedisti.[480] To-day we must reverse the phrase, and say to those who possess and govern: You have the privilege of labour, the privilege of credit, the privilege of property, as M. Thouret says; and it is because you do not wish to be deprived of these privileges, that you shed the blood of the poor like water: Possedisti et occidisti!

And the people, under the pressure of bayonets, are being eaten slowly; they die without a sigh or a murmur; the sacrifice is effected in silence. Courage, workers! sustain each other: Providence will finally conquer fate. Courage! the condition of your fathers, the soldiers of the republic, at the sieges of Genes and Mayence, was even worse than yours.

M. Leon Faucher, in contending that journals should be forced to furnish securities and in favouring the maintenance of taxes on the press, reasoned also after the manner of Malthus. The serious journal, said he, the journal that deserves consideration and esteem, is that which is established on a capital of from four to five hundred thousand francs. The journalist who has only his pen is like the worker who has only his arms. If he can find no market for his services or get no credit with which to carry on his enterprise, it is a sign that public opinion is against him; he has not the least right to address the country: at the banquet of public life there is not room for all.

Listen to Lacordaire, that light of the Church, that chosen vessel of Catholicism. [481] He will tell you that socialism is antichrist. And why is socialism antichrist? Because socialism is the enemy of Malthus, whereas Catholicism, by a final transformation, has become Malthusian.

The gospel tells us, cries the priest, that there will always be poor people, Pauperes semper habebitis vobsicum,[482] and that property, consequently in so far as it is a privilege and makes poor people, is sacred. Poverty is necessary to the exercise of evangelical charity; at the banquet of this world here below there cannot be room for all.

He feigns ignorance, the infidel, of the fact that poverty, in Biblical language, signified every sort of affliction and pain, not hard times and the condition of the proletarian. And how could he who went up and down Judea crying, Woe to the rich! be understood differently? In the thought of Jesus Christ, woe to the rich means woe to the Malthusians.

If Christ were living today, he would say to Lacordaire and his companions: “You are of the race of those who, in all ages, have shed the blood of the just, from Abel unto Zacharias. Your law is not my law; your God is not my God!…” And the Lacordaires would crucify Christ as a seditious person and an atheist

Almost the whole of journalism is infected with the same ideas. Let Le National, for example, tell us whether it has not always believed, whether it does not still believe, that pauperism is a permanent element of civilisation; that the enslavement of one portion of humanity is necessary to the glory of another; that those who maintain the contrary are dangerous dreamers who deserve to be shot; that such is the basis of the State. For, if this be not the secret thought of Le National, if Le National sincerely and resolutely desires the emancipation of workers, why these anathemas against, why this anger with, the genuine socialists—those who, for ten and twenty years, have demanded this emancipation?

Further, let the Bohemian of literature, today the myrmidons of Journalism, paid slanderers, courtiers of the privileged classes, eulogists of all the vices, parasites living upon other parasites, who prate so much of God only to dissemble their materialism, of the family only to conceal their adulteries, and whom we shall see, out of disgust for marriage, caressing monkeys when Malthusian women fail—let these, I say, publish their economic creed, in order that the people may know them.

Faites des filles, nous les aimons—beget girls, we love them—sing these wretches, parodying the poet. But abstain from begetting boys; at the banquet of sensualism there is not room for all.

The government was inspired by Malthus when, having a hundred thousand workers at its disposal, to whom it gave gratuitous support, it refused to employ them at useful labour, and when, after the civil war, it asked that a law be passed for their transportation. With the expenses of the pretended national workshops, with the costs of war, lawsuits, imprisonment, and transportation, it might have given the insurgents six months income, and thus changed our whole economic system. But labour is a monopoly; the government does not wish revolutionary industry to compete with privileged industry; at the workbench of the nation there is not room for all.

Large industrial establishments ruin small ones; that is the law of capital, that is Malthus.

Wholesale trade gradually swallows the retail; again Malthus.

Large estates encroach upon and consolidate the smallest possessions: still Malthus.

Soon one half of the people will say to the other:

The earth and its products are my property.

Industry and its products are my property.

Commerce and transportation are my property.

The State is my property.

You who possess nether reserve nor property, who hold no public offices and whose labour is useless to us, TAKE YOURSELVES AWAY! You have really no business on the earth; beneath the sunshine of the Republic there is not room for all.

Who will tell me that the right to labour and to live is not the whole of the Revolution?

Who will tell me that the principle of Malthus is not the whole of the Counter-Revolution?

And it is for having published such things as these—for having exposed the evil boldly and sought the remedy in good faith, that speech has been forbidden me by the government, the government that represents the Revolution!

That is why I have been deluged with the slanders, treacheries, cowardice, hypocrisy, outrages, desertions, and failings of all those who hate or love the people! That is why I have been given over; for a whole month, to the mercy of the jackals of the press and the screech-owls of the platform! Never was a man, either in the past or in the present, the object of so much execration as I have become, for the simple reason that I wage war upon cannibals.

To slander one who could not reply was to shoot a prisoner. Malthusian carnivora, I discover you there! Go on, then; we have more than one account to settle yet. And, if calumny is not sufficient for you, use iron and lead. You may kill me; no one can avoid his fate, and I am at your discretion. But you shall not conquer me; you shall never persuade the people, while I live and hold a pen, that, with the exception of yourselves, there is one too many on the earth. I swear it before the people and in the name of the Republic!


17th October 1848
Le Peuple
Translation by Shawn P. Wilbur


WHEN OUR FRIENDS OF THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC, APPREHENSIVE OF OUR ideas and our inclinations, cry out against the descriptive term socialist which we add to that of democrat, of what do they reproach us?—They reproach us for not being revolutionaries.

Let us see then if they or we are in the tradition; whether they or we have the true revolutionary practice.

And when our adversaries of the middle class, concerned for their privileges, pour upon us calumny and insult, what is the pretext of their charges? It is that we want to totally destroy property, the family, and civilisation.

Let us see then again whether we or our adversaries better deserve the title of conservatives.

Revolutions are the successive manifestation of justice in human history. —It is for this reason that all revolutions have their origins in a previous revolution.

Whoever talks about revolution necessarily talks about progress, but just as necessarily about conservation. From this it follows that revolution is always in history and that, strictly speaking, there are not several revolutions, but only one permanent revolution.

The revolution, eighteen centuries ago, called itself the gospel, the Good News. Its fundamental dogma was the Unity of God; its motto, the equality of all men before God. Ancient slavery rested on the antagonism and inequality of gods, which represented the relative inferiority of races, in the state of war. Christianity created the rights of peoples, the brotherhood of nations; it abolished simultaneously idolatry and slavery.

Certainly no one denies today that the Christians, revolutionaries who fought by testimony and by martyrdom, were men of progress. They were also conservatives.

The polytheist initiation, after civilising the first humans, after converting these men of the woods, sylvestres homine, as the poet says, into men of the towns, became itself, through sensualism and privilege, a principle of corruption and enslavement. Humanity was lost, when it was saved by the Christ, who received for that glorious mission the double title of Saviour and Redeemer, or as we put it in our political language, conservative and revolutionary.

That was the character of the first and greatest of revolutions. It renewed the world, and in renewing it conserved it.

But, supernatural and spiritual as it was, that revolution nevertheless only expressed the more material side of justice, the enfranchisement of bodies and the abolition of slavery. Established on faith, it left thought enslaved; it was not sufficient for the emancipation of man, who is body and spirit, matter and intelligence. It called for another revolution. A thousand years after the coming of Christ, a new upheaval began, within the religion the first revolution founded, a prelude to new progress. Scholasticism carried within it, along with the authority of the Church and the scripture, the authority of reason! In about the 16th century, the revolution burst out.

The revolution, in that epoch, without abandoning its first given, took another name, which was already celebrated. It called itself philosophy. Its dogma was the liberty of reason, and its motto, which follows from that, was the equality of all before reason.

Here then is man declared inviolable and free in his double essence, as soul and as body. Was this progress? Who but a tyrant could deny it? Was it an act of conservation? The question does not even merit a response.

The destiny of man, a wise man once said, is to contemplate the works of God. Having known God in his heart, by faith, the time had come for man to know Him with his reason. The Gospel had been for man like a primary education; now grown to adulthood, he needed a higher teaching, lest he stagnate in idiocy and the servitude that follows it.

In this way, the likes of Galileo, Arnaud de Bresce, Giordano Bruno, Descartes, Luther—all that elite of thinkers, wise men and artists, who shone in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries as great revolutionaries—were at the same time the conservatives of society, the heralds of civilisation. They continued, in opposition to the representatives of Christ, the movement started by Christ, and for it suffered no lack of persecution and martyrdom!

Here was the second great revolution, the second great manifestation of justice. It too renewed the world—and saved it.

But philosophy, adding its conquests to those of the Gospel, did not fulfil the program of that eternal justice. Liberty, called forth from the heart of God by Christ, was still only individual: it had to be established in the tribunal. Conscience was needed to make it pass into law.

About the middle of the last century then a new development commenced and, as the first revolution had been religious and the second philosophical, the third revolution was political. It called itself the social contract.

It took for its dogma the sovereignty of the people: it was the counterpart of the Christian dogma of the unity of god.

Its motto was equality before the law, the corollary of those which it had previously inscribed on its flag: equality before God and equality before reason.

Thus, with each revolution, liberty appeared to us always as the instrument of justice, with equality as its criterion. The third term—the aim of justice, the goal it always pursues, the end it approaches—is brotherhood.

Never let us lose sight of this order of revolutionary development. History testifies that brotherhood, supreme end of revolutions, does not impose itself. It has as conditions first liberty, then equality. It is as if it just said to us all: Men, be free; citizens, become equal; brothers, embrace one another.

Who dares deny that the revolution undertaken sixty years ago by our fathers, and of which the heroic memory makes our hearts beat with such force that we almost forget our own sense of duty—who denies, I ask, that that revolution was a progress? Nobody. Very well, then. But was it not both progressive and conservative? Could society have survived with its time-worn despotism, its degraded nobility, its corrupt clergy, with its egotistical and undisciplined parliament, so given to intrigue, with a people in rags, a race which can be exploited at will?

Is it necessary to blot out the sun, in order to make the case? The revolution of ’89 was the salvation of humanity; it is for that reason that it deserves the title of revolution.

But, citizens, if our fathers have done much for liberty and fraternity, and have even more profoundly opened up the road of brotherhood, they have left it to us to do even more.

Justice did not speak its last word in ’89, and who knows when it will speak it?

Are we not witnesses, our generation of 1848, to a corruption worse than that of the worst days of history, to a misery comparable to that of feudal times, an oppression of spirit and of conscience, and a degradation of all human faculties, which exceeds all that was seen in the epochs of most dreadful cruelty? Of what use are the conquests of the past, of religion and philosophy, and the constitutions and codes, when in virtue of the same rights that are guaranteed to us by those constitutions and codes, we find ourselves dispossessed of nature, excommunicated from the human species? What is politics, when we lack bread, when even the work which might give bread is taken from us? What to us is the freedom to go or to become, the liberty to think or not to think, the guarantees of the law, and the spectacles of the marvels of civilisation? What is the meagre education which is given to us, when by the withdrawal of all those objects on which we might practice human activity, we are ourselves plunged into an absolute void; when to the appeal of our senses, our hearts, and our reason, the universe and civilisation reply: Néant! Nothing!

Citizens, I swear it by Christ and by our fathers! Justice has sounded its fourth hour, and misfortune to those who have not heard the call!

—Revolution of 1848, what do you call yourself?

—I am the right to work!

—What is your flag?


—And your motto?

Equality before fortune!

—Where are you taking us?

To Brotherhood!

—A Toast to you, Revolution! I will serve you as I have served God, as I have served Philosophy and Liberty, with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my intelligence and my courage, and will have no other sovereign and ruler than you!

Thus the revolution, having been by turns religious, philosophical and political, has become economic. And like all its predecessors it brings us nothing less than a contradiction of the past, a sort of reversal of the established order! Without this complete reversal of principles and beliefs, there is no revolution; there is only mystification. Let us continue to interrogate history, citizens.

Within the empire of polytheism, slavery had established and perpetuated itself in the name of what principle? In the name of religion.—Christ appeared, and slavery was abolished, precisely in the name of religion.

Christianity, in its turn, made reason subject to faith; philosophy reversed that order, and subordinated faith to reason.

Feudalism, in the name of politics, controlled everything, subjecting the worker to the bourgeois, the bourgeois to the noble, the noble to the king, the king to the priest, and the priest to a dead letter.—In the name of politics again,’89 subjected everyone to the law, and recognised among men only citizens.

Today labour is at the discretion of capital. Well, then! The revolution tells you to change that order. It is time for capital to recognise the predominance of labour, for the tool to put itself at the disposition of the worker.

Such is this revolution, which has suffered sarcasm, calumny and persecution, just like any other. But, like the others, the Revolution of 1848 becomes more fertile by the blood of its martyrs. Sanguis martyrun, semen christianorum! exclaimed one of the greatest revolutionaries of times past, the indomitable Tertullien. Blood of republicans, seed of republicans.

Who does not dare to acknowledge this faith, sealed with the blood of our brothers, is not a revolutionary. The failure is an infidelity. He who dissembles regarding it is a renegade. To separate the Republic from socialism is to wilfully confuse the freedom of mind and spirit with the slavery of the senses, the exercise of political rights with the deprivation of civil rights. It is contradictory, absurd.

Here, citizens, is the genealogy of social ideas: are we, or are we not, in the revolutionary tradition? It is a question of knowing if at present we are also engaged in revolutionary practice, if, like our fathers, we will be at once men of conservation and of progress, because it is only by this double title that we will be men of revolution.

We have the revolutionary principle, the revolutionary dogma, the revolutionary motto. What is it that we lack in order to accomplish the work entrusted to our hands by Providence? One thing only: revolutionary practice!

But what is that practice which distinguishes the epochs of revolution from ordinary times?

What constitutes revolutionary practice is that it no longer proceeds by technicality and diversity, or by imprescriptible transitions, but by simplifications and enjambments. It passes over, in broad equations, those middle terms which suggest the spirit of routine, whose application should normally have been made during the former time, but that the selfishness of the privilege or the inertia of the governments pushed back.

These great equitations of principles, these enormous shifts in mores, they also have their laws, not at all arbitrary, no more left to chance than the practice of revolutions.

But what, in the end, is that practice?

Suppose that the statesmen we have seen in power since February 24th, these short-sighted politicians of small means, of narrow and meticulous routines, had been in the place of the apostles. I ask you, citizens, what would they have done?

They would have fallen into agreement with the innovators of the individual conferences, in secret consultations, that the plurality of gods was an absurdity. They would have said, like Cicero, that it is inconceivable that two augurs could look at one another without laughter; they would have condemned slavery very philosophically, and in a deep voice.

But they would have cried out against the bold propaganda which, denying the gods and all that society has sanctified, raised against it superstition and all the interests; they would have trusted in good policy, rather than tackling the old beliefs, and interpreting them; they would have knelt before Mercury the thief, before impudent Venus and incestuous Jupiter. They would have talked with respect and esteem of the Floralia and the Bacchanalia. They would have made a philosophy of polytheism, retold the history of the gods, renewed the personnel of the temples, published the prices of sacrifices and public ceremonies, according, as far as it was in them, reason and morality to the impure traditions of their fathers, by dint of attention, kindness and human respect; instead of saving the world, they would have caused it to perish.

There was, in the first centuries of the Christian era, a sect, a party powerful in genius and eloquence, which, in the face of the Christian revolution, undertook to continue the idolatry in the form of a moderate and progressive republic; they were the Neo-Platonists, to whom Apollonius of Tyana and the Emperor Julian attached themselves. It is in this fashion that we have seen with our own eyes certain preachers attempt the renovation of Catholicism, by interpreting its symbols from the point of view of modern ideas.

A vain attempt! Christian preaching, which is to say revolutionary practice, swept away all the gods and their hypocritical admirers; and Julian, the greatest politician and most beautiful spirit of his time, bears in the histories the name of apostate, for having been madly opposed to evangelical justice.

Let us cite one more example.

Let us suppose that in ’89, the prudent counsellors of despotism, the well-advised spirits of the nobility, the tolerant clergy, the wise men of the middle class, the most patient of the people—let us suppose, I say, that this elite of citizens, with the most upright vision and the most philanthropic views, but convinced of the dangers of abrupt innovations, had agreed to manage, following the rules of high policy, the transition from despotism to liberty. What would they have done?

They would have passed, after long discussion and mature deliberation, letting at least ten years elapse between each article, the promised charter; they would have negotiated with the pope, and with all manner of submissiveness, the civil constitution of the clergy; they would have negotiated with the convents, by amicable agreement, the repurchase of their goods; they would have opened an investigation into the value of feudal rights, and on the compensation to be accorded to the lords; they would have sought compensation to the privileged for the rights accorded to the people. They would have made the work of a thousand years what revolutionary practice might accomplish overnight.

All of this is not just empty talk: there was no lack of men in ’89 willing to connect themselves to this false wisdom of revolution. The first of all was Louis XVI, who was as revolutionary at heart and in theory as anyone, but who did not understand that the revolution must also be practised. Louis XVI set himself to haggle and quibble over everything, so much and so well, that the revolution, growing impatient, swept him away!

Here then is what I mean, today, by revolutionary practice.

The February Revolution proclaimed the right to work, the predominance of labour over capital.

On the basis of that principle, I say that before overriding all reforms, we have to occupy ourselves with a generalising institution, which expresses, on all the points of social economy, the subordination of capital to labour; which, in lieu of making, as it has been, the capitalist the sponsor of the worker, makes the worker the arbiter and commander of the capitalist, an institution which changes the relation between the two great economic powers, labour and property, and from which follows, consequently, all other reforms.

Will it then be revolutionary to propose an agricultural bank serving, as always, the monopolisers of money; there to create a certified loan office, monument to stagnation and unemployment; elsewhere, to found an asylum, a pawn-shop, a hospital, a nursery, a penitentiary, or a prison, to increase pauperism by multiplying its sources?

Will it be a work of Revolution to finance a few million, sometimes a company of tailors, sometimes of masons; to reduce the tax on drink and increase it on properties; to convert obligations into losses; to vote seeds and pick-axes for twelve thousand colonists leaving for Algeria, or to subsidise a trial phalanstery?

Will it be the word or deed of a revolutionary to argue for four months whether the people will work or will not, if capital hides or if it flees the country, if it awaits confidence or if it is confidence that awaits it, if there will be separation of powers or only of functions, if the president will be the superior, the subordinate or the equal of the national assembly, if the first who will fill this role will be the nephew of the emperor or the son of the king, or if it would not be better, for that plum job, to have a soldier or a poet; if the new sovereign will be named by the people or by the representatives, if the outgoing ministry of reaction merits more confidence than the ministry of conciliation now coming in, if the Republic will be blue, white, red, or tricolour?

Will it be revolutionary, when it is a question of returning to labour the fictive production of capital, to declare the net revenue inviolable, rather than to seize it by a progressive tax; when it is necessary to organise equality in the acquisition of goods, to lay the blame on the mode of transmission; when 25,000 tradesmen implore a legal settlement, to answer them by bankruptcy; when property no longer receives rent or farm rent, to refuse it further credit; when the country demands the centralisation of the banks, to deliver that credit to a financial oligarchy which only knows how to make a void in circulation and to maintain the crisis, while waiting for the discouragement of the people to bring back confidence?

Citizens, I accuse no one.

I know that to all except for us social democrats, who have envisioned and prepared for it, the February Revolution has been a surprise; and if it is difficult for the old constitutionals to pass in so short a time from the monarchical faith to republican conviction, it is still more so for the politicians of the other century to comprehend anything of the practice of the new Revolution. Other times have other ideas. The great manoeuvres of ’93, good for the time, do not suit us now any more than the parliamentary tactics of the last thirty years; and if we want to abort the revolution, you have no surer means than to take up again these errors.

Citizens, you are still only a minority in this country. But already the revolutionary flood grows with the speed of the idea, with the majesty of the ocean. Again, some of that patience that made your success, and the triumph of the Revolution is assured. You have proven, since June, by your discipline, that you are politicians. From now on you will prove, by your acts, that you are organisers. The government will be enough, I hope, with the National Assembly, to maintain the republican form: such at least is my conviction. But the revolutionary power, the power of conservation and of progress, is no longer today in the hands of the government; it is not in the National Assembly: it is in you. The people alone, acting upon themselves without intermediary, can achieve the economic Revolution begun in February. The people alone can save civilisation and advance humanity!


no date (No 2)
Le Peuple
Translation by Barry Marshall

SINCE Le Représentant du Peuple CEASED TO APPEAR 70 DAYS AGO,[483] ONLY two facts have been accomplished: one in the social world and another in the political world. It will not take long to recount, just a few lines will suffice for us to relate the chain of events from August 21st to October 31st.

The first of these facts is the invasion of social ideas across all points of the civilised world. The idea of economic revolution is gaining ground throughout the land, [including] into our least advanced departments. In the more despotic states abroad, it spreads with the speed of a forest fire. All the ideas of the day before [the revolution], alleged political, are forced to bow in front of the social idea and borrow its flag to still be something.

The social revolution, inaugurated in Paris on the 25th of February, baptised in blood in the funeral days of June, the revolution of labour and capital is unstoppable from now on—in both France and the rest of Europe. The revolution had been slanderously portrayed to the population as a ruination of liberty and the destruction of the family, but now, enlightened by discussion, by the slander itself, they welcome the social revolution as the guarantor of freedom and the saviour of the family. Seeing the triumphant march of this idea, we can predict that it will not need armed struggle [to succeed]; social revolution will soon only have to present itself, along with the mass of its partisans, in order to command respect and establish itself officially in all its authority.

Only a few more weeks of suffering, workers, and you will have changed the face of the Earth more quickly than the Christian religion.

The second thing to discuss is the vote on the constitution.

On October 23rd, the National Assembly ended its consultation, the least of which concerned the new constitutional act. This act will re-establish, in four articles:

  1. The right to work.

  2. Universal suffrage.

  3. Separation of powers.

  4. The option to amend the constitution itself.

The right to work, rejected after long debates while discussing Article 8, has been reproduced in more or less explicit terms in Article 13.

Indeed, what is this but the right to assistance, recognised by the constitution in all cases where work is found to be lacking, but unemployment benefit? And what else is the promise of job creation by credit institutions, by the organisation of public workshops, if not the guarantee of work within the scope of human capability, of social capabilities?

As for universal suffrage, it does not say much other than declare it. It organises nothing. Universal suffrage, applied as one has just done, and we have seen and know from experience, is an excellent institution to talk down to the people, not to know what they think but what one wants of them. With universal suffrage, defined as it is in the constitution, the people will vote by turns for monarchy and republics, religion and atheism, freedom and servitude, equality and privilege. This is how the patriotic mean to run everything!

The separation of powers is a hangover from what we call POLITICS, something that is only the eternal deception of liberty. It is the division of what is, moreover, more radically indivisible, of that whose division implies contradiction, the will of the sovereign. In society, as in man, functions are diverse but the will is essentially one: the National Assembly is not arranged in this way. The fear of despotism has thrown it into antagonism, into chaos.

But after having sown division into the state and confusion into universal suffrage, the National Assembly had to make the best of all this by reserving for itself the right to amend the constitution. Thanks to this ability, we are from now on able to realise all social, political and legislative reforms, without conflict or catastrophe.

The constitution voted upon, what remained was to determine the time of its implementation. This is what has made the National Assembly fix the election of the President for the 10th of December. Such is what pre-occupies all opinions and weighs on all minds right now, what is the cause of all intrigue, what seems to keep alive the breathlessness of the Revolution: the PRESIDENCY!

Official candidates are posing in front of the nation and in open parliament. The others more modestly in the narrow shadows of the bourgeoisie, leading families and the people.

The names doing the rounds right now are those of citizens: Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, son of Louis Bonaparte and nephew of the emperor; Napoléon Bonaparte, son of Jerome Bonaparte, nephew of the emperor. And why not Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte, son of Lucien Bonaparte and nephew of the emperor?

General Cavaignac: head of the executive.

General Bugeaud: conqueror of Isly.

De Lamartine: member of the provisional government.

Ledru-Rollin: member of the provisional government.

Dufaure: Minister of the Interior.

Molé: president of the council under Louis-Phillipe.

Thiers: president of the council under Louis-Phillipe.

We do not need to speak of Messrs. the Duke of Chambord and the Prince Joinville, as their candidatures are declared unconstitutional by law.

Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte presents, as his qualification for his candidacy, HIS NAME. We would have preferred that he presented something else; but since his NAME is enough for him, we declare, as for us, that logically and politically there is no reason to occupy oneself with this candidate. Reason and the Constitution both oppose that the heritage of a name could ever become, in France, an hereditary entitlement to a function in the Republic.

The second of the Bonapartes offers an even more remote resemblance to his uncle. Nevertheless of all the qualities to recommend him to the electorate, the greater is still his name, the name of NAPOLÉON.

When it comes to Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte, we can say of him that, just as the son of Louis is the ambitious one in the family, and the son of Jérome is the diplomat, so Pierre is their Hercules. Thus it is all back to the imperial heritage. Is this what makes a president?

General Cavaignac cannot count on the support of the working class. To be sure one does not accuse him, but the June Days Uprising inspired hatred for him, being to him what the massacre of the Champs de Mars was to Bailly and Lafayette. Let the bourgeoisie unite to elect Cavaignac: they owe him a debt of gratitude.

Marshal Bugeaud is in the same position as Cavaignac regarding the people. To the laurels of the Battle of Isly in Morocco, he adds the cypress of Transnonain.[484] His candidacy is only of interest to the bourgeoisie, to whom, in its intemperance of language, the Marshal promised long ago, if he is elected, he will be the rue of the socialists.

M. de Lamartine is like the daughter of Rhampsinith,[485] who used her father’s stone-built treasure store to lure each of her lovers. M. de Lamartine, if one renders justice to his innumerable contradictions, will be elected unanimously.

M. Ledru-Rollin must by his progressive spirit always be at the head of the most advanced opinions. He is the candidate designated for the extreme left and for the party of socialism.

M. Dufaure is the man of the decent people, who, making cheap parties and systems, requires above all a man of the State who works and who is honest. It was said of M. Dufaure that he was a minister of transition; he will be an irremovable minister when it is understood that history is a perpetual transition. We are still not revolutionary enough for that.

M. Molé is not canvassing for himself. He is canvassing for M. de Joinville, in other words, really for M. Thiers! We have lost the right to speak of him. We leave it for our readers to make up their own minds about this character.

And now, democratic republicans and socialists, who shall we choose from all these candidates? Do we even have a candidate? Must we vote? Should we abstain? On the one hand, the country has been keen to move on from this stop-gap; on the other hand, the parties are itching to be counted. Everyone wants to move forward. The status quo merely aggravates the nation. What should be our attitude?

This is for us the key question. We do not hesitate to reply and prove that:

The Presidency is the violation of revolutionary principles.

The Presidency is royalty.

The Presidency is the subordination of labour to capital.

The Presidency is the hood winking of the people.

The Presidency is the counter-revolution.

The Presidency is financial feudalism.

The Presidency is the conflict of power.

The Presidency is civil war.

We conclude that people should abstain, so that the National Assembly itself will be forced to name the president. Because if the presidency is named by the Assembly he is merely the organ of the Assembly, the head of the ministry formed by it. This will return us to the concept of the indivisibility of power.

And as it is to be supposed that the majority of the people, carried along by monarchical intrigues and reactionaries, will not abstain, it is necessary that the minority, using the right given to them under Article 109 of the Constitution, petition the National Assembly, demanding the Constitution be immediately revised and the part relating to the presidency removed.

This is how we think the people should respond to the question posed by the National Assembly.

In a future issue, we will further examine this imposing question.


8th—15th November 1848
Le Peuple
Translation by Paul Sharkey

THE CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMITTEE, COMPRISING DELEGATES FROM THE fourteen Seine arrondissements and designed to make preparation for the election of the president of the Republic, has just concluded its operations.

Citizen Raspail, the people’s representative, has been selected unanimously as the candidate of the democratic and social republican party.[486]

The central committee is to publish its circular to electors without delay. As for ourselves, who have associated ourselves intellectually and emotionally with that candidature, who, in that context, have seen fit, in defence of the dignity of our views, to stand apart from other, less advanced factions of the democracy, we consider it our duty here to recall what our principles are: that being the best way of justifying our conduct.

Our principles!

Throughout history, men who have sought popular endorsement in order to succeed to power have abused the masses with alleged declarations of principle which, in essence, have never been anything other than declarations of PROMISES!

Throughout history, the ambitious and scheming have, in more or less pompous language, promised the people:

Liberty, equality, fraternity;

Work, family, property and progress;

Credit, education, association, order and peace;

Participation in government, equitable distribution of taxes, honest and inexpensive administration, fair courts, movement towards equality of income, liberation of the proletariat and eradication of poverty!

So much have they promised that, coming after them, it has to be confessed, there is nothing left to be promised.

But then again, what have they delivered? It is for the people to answer: Nothing!…

The true friends of the people must henceforth adopt a different tack. What the people expects of its candidates, what it asks of them, is not promises now, but PRACTICALITIES.

It is upon these practicalities that they suggest men should be judged: and it is upon such that we ask that we be judged.

As socialist-democrats, we belong, in truth, to no sect, no school. Or, rather, if we were obliged to come up with a description of ourselves, we should say that we are of the critical school. For us, socialism is not a system: it is, quite simply, a protest. We believe, though, that from socialist works is dedicated a series of principles and ideas at odds with economic convention, and which have been absorbed into popular belief: which is why we call ourselves socialists. Professing socialism while embracing nothing of socialism, as the more artful do, would be tantamount to mocking the people and abusing its credulousness… Being a republican is not the last word: it is not the last word to acknowledge that the Republic ought to be surrounded by social institutions: it is not enough to inscribe upon one’s banner, Democratic and social Republic: one must plainly point out the difference between the old society and the new: one has to spell out the positive product of socialism: and wherein and why the February Revolution, which is the expression thereof, is a social revolution.

For a start, let us recall socialism’s underlying dogma, its pure dogma.

The objective of socialism is liberation of the proletariat and eradication of poverty, which is to say, effective equality of circumstances between men. In the absence of equality, there will always be poverty, always be a proletariat.

Socialism, which is egalitarian above all else, is thus the democratic formula par excellence. Should less honest politicians be mealy-mouthed about admitting it, we respect their reservations: but they ought to know that, in our view, they are no democrats.

Now, what can be the origin of this inequality?

As we see it, that origin has been brought to light by a whole series of socialist criticisms, particularly since Jean-Jacques [Rousseau]: that origin is the realisation within society of this triple abstraction: capital, labour, talent.

It is because society has divided itself into three categories of citizen corresponding to the three terms in that formula—that is, because of the formation of a class of capitalists or proprietors, another class of workers, and a third of talents—that caste distinctions have always been arrived at, and one half of the human race enslaved to the other.

Wheresoever an attempt has been made to separate these three things—capital, labour and talent—effectively and organically, the worker has wound up enslaved: he has been described, in turn as slave, serf, pariah, plebeian and proletarian: and the capitalist has proved the exploiter: he may go variously by the name of patrician or noble, proprietor or bourgeois: the man of talent has been a parasite, an agent of corruption and servitude: at first he was the priest, then he was the cleric, and today the public functionary, all manner of competence and monopoly.

The underlying dogma of socialism thus consists of reducing the aristocratic formula of capital-labour-talent into the simpler formula of LABOUR!... in order to make every citizen simultaneously, equally and to the same extent capitalist, worker, and expert or artist.

In reality as in economic science, producer and consumer are always one and the same person, merely considered from two different viewpoints. Why should the same not be true of capitalist and worker? of worker and artist? Separate these qualities in the organisation of society and inexorably you create castes, inequality and misery: amalgamate them, on the other hand, and in every individual you have equality, you have the Republic. And that is how in the political order, all these distinctions between governors and governed, administrators and administered, public functionaries and tax-payers, etc., must some day be erased. Each citizen must, through the spread of the social idea, become all: for, if he be not all, he is not free: he suffers oppression and exploitation somewhere.

So, by what MEANS is this great amalgamation to be brought to pass?

The means is indicated by the affliction itself. And, first of all, let us try to define that affliction better, if possible.

Since the organic origin of the proletariat and of poverty is located in the division of society into two classes: one that works and does not own; the other that owns but does not work; and, consequently, consumes without producing; it follows that the affliction by which society is beset consists of this singular fiction according to which capital is, of itself, productive: whereas labour, of itself, is not. In fact, for all things to be equal in this hypothesis of the separation of labour and capital, then, because the capitalist profits by his capital without working, so the worker should profit from his labour, in the absence of capital. Now, that is not the case. So, in the current system, equality, liberty and fraternity are impossible: and thus, poverty and proletariat are the inevitable consequence of property as presently constituted.

Anyone knowing this but not confessing it is lying equally to bourgeoisie and to proletariat. Anyone courting the people’s votes but keeping this from it is neither a socialist nor a democrat.

We say again:

The productivity of capital, which Christianity has condemned under the name of USURY, is the true cause of poverty, the true origin of the proletariat, the eternal obstacle to establishment of the Republic. No equivocation, no mumbo-jumbo, no sleight of hand! Let those who profess to be socialist democrats join us in signing this profession of faith: let them join our company: then, and then only, will we acknowledge them as brothers, as true friends of the people, and will we associate ourselves with their every act.

And now, what is the means whereby this affliction can be eradicated, this usury terminated? Is it to be an attack upon net product, seizure of revenue? Is it to be, while professing utmost regard for property, the ravishing of property by means of taxation, as it is acquired through work and enshrined by law?

It is on this count above all that the true friends of the people stand apart from those whose only wish is to command the people: it is on this count that true socialists part company with their treacherous imitators.

The means of destroying usury, is not, let us repeat, the confiscation of usury: it is by countering principle with principle, in short, by organising credit.

As far as socialism is concerned, the organisation of credit does not mean lending at interest, since that would still be an acknowledgement of capital’s suzerainty: it is, rather, organising the workers’ mutual solidarity, introducing their mutual guarantees, in accordance with that common economic principle that anything that has an exchange value is susceptible to becoming an article of exchange and can, in consequence, furnish the basis for credit.

Just as the banker lends money to the businessman who pays him interest upon the loan:

Or the estate-owner lends his land to the peasant who pays him a rent for it:

Or the house-owner lets his tenant have lodgings in return for payment of rent:

Or the merchant lets his goods go to the customer who pays on the instalment plan:

So the worker lends his labour to the employer who pays him by the week or by the month. Every one of us vouchsafes something on credit: do we not speak of selling on credit, working on credit; drinking, eating on credit?

Thus labour can make an advance of itself, and can be as much the creditor as capital can.

Furthermore, two or more workers can advance one another their respective products, and, if they were to come to an arrangement regarding permanent transactions of this sort, they would have organised credit among themselves.

This is what those labour associations are to be admired for having grasped which have spontaneously, without prompting and without capital been formed in Paris and in Lyon, and which, merely by liaising with one another and making loans to one another, have organised labour as we said. So that, organisation of credit and organisation of labour amount to one and the same. It is no school and no theoretician that is saying this: the proof of it, rather, lies in current practice, revolutionary practice. Thus application of one principle leads the people towards discovery of another, and one solution arrived at always opens doors to another.

If it were to come about that the workers were to come to some arrangement throughout the Republic and organise themselves along similar lines, it is obvious that, as masters of labour, constantly generating fresh capital through work, they would soon have wrested alienated capital back again, through their organisation and competition: they would attract to their side, to start with, small property, small traders and small industries: then largescale property and large industries: then the very biggest ventures, mines, canals and railways: they would become the masters of it all, through the successive affiliation of producers and the liquidation of property without the proprietors’ being despoiled or indemnified.

Organising labour and credit along these lines would build an alliance between agriculture and industry which, at the present time, are instantly at loggerheads with each other. For who is there but industry to extend loans to the farmer? And what market is agriculture going to have but industry?

Such is the undertaking upon which the people has spontaneously embarked before our very eyes, an undertaking that it prosecutes with admirable vigour, weathering all difficulties and the most frightful privations. And we ought not to weary of saying that this movement was initiated, not by the leaders of schools, and that the primary instigation came not from the State but from the people. We are merely its spokesmen here. Our creed, the democratic and social creed, is not a utopia any more: it is a fact. This is not our doctrine that we are preaching: these are the people’s ideas that we have taken up as themes for our explorations. Those who sneer at them, who prattle to us of association and Republic and yet do not dare to acknowledge the true socialists, the true republicans as their brothers are not of our ilk.

Committed to this idea these ten years past, we have not waited for the people to triumph before lining up on its side; it didn’t take Christ’s resurrection to persuade us of the divinity of his mission.

Should the government, the National Assembly, the bourgeoisie itself sponsor and assist us in the accomplishment of our undertaking, we will be grateful for that. But let none try to distract us from what we regard as the people’s true interests: let none try to deceive us with the empty sham of reforms. We are too clear-sighted to fall for that again, and we know more of the workings of the world than the politicians who regale us with their admonitions.

We should be delighted if the State were to contribute through its budgetary provisions to the emancipation of the workers: We would look only with mistrust upon what is termed State organisation of credit, which is, as we see it, merely the latest form of man’s exploitation of his fellow-man. We repudiate State credit, because the State, in debt to the tune of eight billion, does not possess a centime that it could advance by way of a loan: because its finances rest solely upon fiat money [papier à cours forcé[487] ]: because fiat money necessarily entails depreciation, and depreciation always hits the worker rather than the proprietor: because as associated workers or workers in the process of association, we need neither the State nor fiat money to organise of our exchanges: because, in the end, credit from the State is always credit from capital, not credit from labour, and still monarchy rather than democracy.

Under the arrangement suggested to us and which we reject with all of the vigour of our convictions, the State, in the awarding of credit, first has to secure capital. For such capital, it must look to property, by way of taxation. So we still have this reversion to principle when the point is to destroy it: we have displacement of wealth, when we ought to have its creation: we have withdrawal of property, after it has been declared by the constitution to be inviolable. Let others of less advanced and less suspect ideas, meticulous in their morals, support such ideas, and we will not question their tactics. But we, who wage war, not upon the rich but upon principles: