Second Study: Is there Sufficient Reason for Revolution in the Nineteenth Century?

Second Study: Is there Sufficient Reason for Revolution in the Nineteenth Century?

 

1. Law of Tendency in Society – The Revolution of 1789 has done only half its work

A revolution is an act of sovereign justice, in the order of moral facts, springing out of the necessity of things, and in consequence carrying with it its own justification; and which it is a crime for the statesman to oppose it. That is the proposition which we have established in our first study.

 

Now the question is to discover whether the idea which stands out as the formula of the revolution is not chimerical; whether its object is real; whether a fancy or popular exaggeration is not mistaken for a serious and just protest. The second proposition therefore which we have to examine is the following:

Is there today sufficient reason in society for revolution?

For if this reason does not exist, if we are fighting for an imaginary cause, if the people are complaining because, as they say, they are too well off, the duty of the magistrate would be simply to undeceive the multitude, whom we have often seen aroused without cause, as the echo responds to one who calls.

In a word, is the occasion for revolution presented at the moment, by the nature of things, by the connection of facts, by the working of institutions, by the advance in needs, by the order of Providence?

[...]

The question which we have taken for the text of this study — Is there sufficient reason for a revolution in the nineteenth century? — Resolves itself into the following: What is the tendency of society in our day?

Hence, but a few pages will suffice to support the answer which I do not hesitate to point out now. Society, as far as it has been able to develop freely for half a century, under the distractions of ’89-93, the paternalism of the Empire and the guaranties of 1814, 1830, and 1848, is on a road radically and increasingly wrong.

[...]

 

2. Chaos of economic forces. Tendency of society toward poverty

 

I call certain principles of action economic forces, such as the Division of Labour, Competition, Collective Force, Exchange, Credit, Property, &c., which are to Labour and to Wealth what the distinction of classes, the representative system, monarchical heredity, administrative centralisation, the judicial hierarchy, &c., are to the State.

If these forces are held in equilibrium, subject to the laws which are proper to them, and which do not depend in any way upon the arbitrary will of man, Labour can be organised, and comfort for all guaranteed. If, on the other hand, they are left without direction and without counterpoise, Labour is in a condition of chaos; the useful effects of the economic forces is mingled with an equal quantity of injurious effects; the deficit balances the profit; Society, in so far as it is the theatre, the agent, or the subject of production, circulation, and consumption, is in a condition of increasing suffering.

Up to now, it does not appear that order in a society can be conceived except under one of these two forms, the political and the industrial; between which, moreover, there is fundamental contradiction.

The chaos of industrial forces, the struggle which they maintain with the government system, which is the only obstacle to their organisation, and which they cannot reconcile themselves with nor merge themselves in, is the real, profound cause of the unrest which disturbs French society, and which was aggravated during the second half of the reign of Louis Philippe.

[...]

I shall limit myself to recalling very briefly some of the most general facts, in order to give the reader a glimpse of this order of forces and phenomena, which has been hidden from all eyes until now, and which alone can put an end to the governmental drama.

Everybody has heard of the division of labour.

It consists of the distribution of the hand work of a given industry in such a manner that each person performs always the same operation, or a small number of operations, so that the product, instead of being the integral product of one worker, is the joint product of a large number.

According to Adam Smith, who first demonstrated this law scientifically, and all the other economists, the division of labour is the most powerful lever of modern industry. To it principally must be attributed the superiority of civilised peoples to savage peoples. Without division of labour, the use of machines would not have gone beyond the most ancient and most common utensils: the miracles of machinery and of steam would never have been revealed to us; progress would have been closed to society; the French Revolution itself, lacking an outlet, would have been but a sterile revolt; it could have accomplished nothing. But, on the other hand, by division of labour, the product of labour mounts to tenfold, a hundredfold, political economy rises to the height of a philosophy, the intellectual level of nations is continually raised. The first thing that should attract the attention of the legislator is the separation of industrial functions — the division of labour — in a society founded upon hatred of the feudal and warlike order, and destined in consequence to organise itself for work and peace.

It was not done thus. This economic force was left to all the overturns caused by chance and by interest. The division of labour, becoming always more minute, and remaining without counterpoise, the worker has been given over to a more and more degrading subjection to machinery. That is the effect of the division of labour when it is applied as practised in our days, not only to make industry incomparably more productive, but at the same time to deprive the worker, in mind and body, of all the wealth which it creates for the capitalist and the speculator. Here is how an observer, who is not suspected of sympathy with labour, M. de Tocqueville, sums up on this grave subject:

“In proportion to the more complete application of the principle of the division of labour, the worker becomes weaker, more limited and more dependent.”

J.-B. Say has already said:

“A man, whose whole life is devoted to the execution of a single operation, will most assuredly acquire the faculty of executing it better and quicker than others; but he will, at the same time, be rendered less fit for every other occupation, corporeal or intellectual; his other faculties will be gradually blunted or extinguished; and the man, as an individual, will degenerate in consequence. To have never done anything but make the eighteenth part of a pin, is a sorry account for a human being to give of his existence … On the whole, we may conclude, that division of labour is a skilful mode of employing human agency, that it consequently multiplies the productions of society; in other words, the powers and the enjoyments of mankind; but that it in some degree degrades the faculties of man in his individual capacity.”[2]

All the economists are in accord as to this fact, one of the most serious which the science has to announce; and, if they do not insist upon it with the vehemence which they habitually use in their polemics, it must be said, to the shame of the human mind, that it is because they cannot believe that this perversion of the greatest of economic forces can be avoided.

So the greater the division of labour and the power of machines, the less the intelligence and skill of hand of the worker. But the more the value of the worker falls and the demand for labour diminishes, the lower are wages and the greater is poverty. And it is not a few hundreds of men but millions, who are the victims of this economic perturbation.

[...]

Philanthropic conservatives, admirers of ancient customs, charge the industrial system with this anomaly. They want to go back to the feudal-farming period. I say that it is not industry that is at fault, but economic chaos: I maintain that the principle has been distorted, that there is disorganisation of forces, and that to this we must attribute the fatal tendency with which society is carried away.

Another example.

Competition, next to the division of labour, is one of the most powerful factors of industry; and at the same time one of the most valuable guaranties. Partly for the sake of it, the first revolution was brought about. The workers’ associations, established at Paris some years since, have recently given it a new sanction by establishing among themselves piece work, and abandoning, after their experience of it, the absurd idea of the equality of wages. Competition is moreover the law of the market, the spice of the trade, the salt of labour. To suppress competition is to suppress liberty itself; it is to begin the restoration of the old order from below, in replacing labour by the rule of favouritism and abuse, of which ’89 rid us.

Yet competition, lacking legal forms and superior regulating intelligence, has been perverted in turn, like the division of labour. In it, as in the latter, there is perversion of principle, chaos and a tendency toward evil. This will appear beyond doubt if we remember that of the thirty-six million souls who compose the French nation, at least ten millions are wage workers, to whom competition is forbidden, for whom there is nothing but to struggle among themselves for their meagre stipend.

Thus that competition, which, as thought in ’89, should be a general right, is today a matter of exceptional privilege: only they whose capital permits them to become heads of business concerns may exercise their competitive rights.

The result is that competition, as Rossi, Blanqui, and a host of others have recognised, instead of democratising industry, aiding the worker, guaranteeing the honesty of trade, has ended in building up a mercantile and land aristocracy, a thousand times more rapacious than the old aristocracy of the nobility. Through competition all the profits of production go to capital; the consumer, without suspecting the frauds of commerce, is fleeced by the speculator, and the condition of the workers is made more and more precarious. Speaking of this, Eugene Buret says: “I assert that the working class is turned over, body and soul, to the sweet will of industry.” And elsewhere he says: “The most trifling speculation may change the price of bread one cent a pound, which means $124,100,000 for thirty-six million people.”

It was recently seen how little free competition could do for the people, and how illusory it is as a guaranty with us at present, when the Prefect of Police, yielding to the general demand, authorised the sale of meat at auction. Nothing less than all the energy the people could muster, aided by governmental power, could overcome the monopoly of the butchers.

Accuse human nature, say the economists, do not accuse competition. Very well, I will not accuse competition: I will only remark that human nature does not remedy one evil by another, and ask how it has mistaken its path. What? Competition ought to make us more and more equal and free; and instead it subordinates us one to the other, and makes the worker more and more a slave! This is a perversion of the principle, a forgetfulness of the law. These are not mere accidents; they are a whole system of misfortunes.

[...]

It is not only that our present society, though having forsaken its principles, tends continually to impoverish the producer, to subordinate labour to capital — contradiction in itself — but that it tends also to make of workers a race of helots, inferior to the caste of free men as of old; and it tends to erect into a political and social dogma the enslavement of the working class and the necessity of its poverty.

[...]

 

3. Anomaly of Government. Tendency toward Tyranny and Corruption

 

I call certain principles of action economic forces, such as the Division of Labour, Competition, Collective Force, Exchange, Credit, Property, &c., which are to Labour and to Wealth what the distinction of classes, the representative system, monarchical heredity, administrative centralisation, the judicial hierarchy, &c., are to the State.

If these forces are held in equilibrium, subject to the laws which are proper to them, and which do not depend in any way upon the arbitrary will of man, Labour can be organised, and comfort for all guaranteed. If, on the other hand, they are left without direction and without counterpoise, Labour is in a condition of chaos; the useful effects of the economic forces is mingled with an equal quantity of injurious effects; the deficit balances the profit; Society, in so far as it is the theatre, the agent, or the subject of production, circulation, and consumption, is in a condition of increasing suffering.

Up to now, it does not appear that order in a society can be conceived except under one of these two forms, the political and the industrial; between which, moreover, there is fundamental contradiction.

The chaos of industrial forces, the struggle which they maintain with the government system, which is the only obstacle to their organisation, and which they cannot reconcile themselves with nor merge themselves in, is the real, profound cause of the unrest which disturbs French society, and which was aggravated during the second half of the reign of Louis Philippe.

[...]

I shall limit myself to recalling very briefly some of the most general facts, in order to give the reader a glimpse of this order of forces and phenomena, which has been hidden from all eyes until now, and which alone can put an end to the governmental drama.

Everybody has heard of the division of labour.

It consists of the distribution of the hand work of a given industry in such a manner that each person performs always the same operation, or a small number of operations, so that the product, instead of being the integral product of one worker, is the joint product of a large number.

According to Adam Smith, who first demonstrated this law scientifically, and all the other economists, the division of labour is the most powerful lever of modern industry. To it principally must be attributed the superiority of civilised peoples to savage peoples. Without division of labour, the use of machines would not have gone beyond the most ancient and most common utensils: the miracles of machinery and of steam would never have been revealed to us; progress would have been closed to society; the French Revolution itself, lacking an outlet, would have been but a sterile revolt; it could have accomplished nothing. But, on the other hand, by division of labour, the product of labour mounts to tenfold, a hundredfold, political economy rises to the height of a philosophy, the intellectual level of nations is continually raised. The first thing that should attract the attention of the legislator is the separation of industrial functions — the division of labour — in a society founded upon hatred of the feudal and warlike order, and destined in consequence to organise itself for work and peace.

It was not done thus. This economic force was left to all the overturns caused by chance and by interest. The division of labour, becoming always more minute, and remaining without counterpoise, the worker has been given over to a more and more degrading subjection to machinery. That is the effect of the division of labour when it is applied as practised in our days, not only to make industry incomparably more productive, but at the same time to deprive the worker, in mind and body, of all the wealth which it creates for the capitalist and the speculator. Here is how an observer, who is not suspected of sympathy with labour, M. de Tocqueville, sums up on this grave subject:

“In proportion to the more complete application of the principle of the division of labour, the worker becomes weaker, more limited and more dependent.”

J.-B. Say has already said:

“A man, whose whole life is devoted to the execution of a single operation, will most assuredly acquire the faculty of executing it better and quicker than others; but he will, at the same time, be rendered less fit for every other occupation, corporeal or intellectual; his other faculties will be gradually blunted or extinguished; and the man, as an individual, will degenerate in consequence. To have never done anything but make the eighteenth part of a pin, is a sorry account for a human being to give of his existence … On the whole, we may conclude, that division of labour is a skilful mode of employing human agency, that it consequently multiplies the productions of society; in other words, the powers and the enjoyments of mankind; but that it in some degree degrades the faculties of man in his individual capacity.”[2]

All the economists are in accord as to this fact, one of the most serious which the science has to announce; and, if they do not insist upon it with the vehemence which they habitually use in their polemics, it must be said, to the shame of the human mind, that it is because they cannot believe that this perversion of the greatest of economic forces can be avoided.

So the greater the division of labour and the power of machines, the less the intelligence and skill of hand of the worker. But the more the value of the worker falls and the demand for labour diminishes, the lower are wages and the greater is poverty. And it is not a few hundreds of men but millions, who are the victims of this economic perturbation.

[...]

Philanthropic conservatives, admirers of ancient customs, charge the industrial system with this anomaly. They want to go back to the feudal-farming period. I say that it is not industry that is at fault, but economic chaos: I maintain that the principle has been distorted, that there is disorganisation of forces, and that to this we must attribute the fatal tendency with which society is carried away.

Another example.

Competition, next to the division of labour, is one of the most powerful factors of industry; and at the same time one of the most valuable guaranties. Partly for the sake of it, the first revolution was brought about. The workers’ associations, established at Paris some years since, have recently given it a new sanction by establishing among themselves piece work, and abandoning, after their experience of it, the absurd idea of the equality of wages. Competition is moreover the law of the market, the spice of the trade, the salt of labour. To suppress competition is to suppress liberty itself; it is to begin the restoration of the old order from below, in replacing labour by the rule of favouritism and abuse, of which ’89 rid us.

Yet competition, lacking legal forms and superior regulating intelligence, has been perverted in turn, like the division of labour. In it, as in the latter, there is perversion of principle, chaos and a tendency toward evil. This will appear beyond doubt if we remember that of the thirty-six million souls who compose the French nation, at least ten millions are wage workers, to whom competition is forbidden, for whom there is nothing but to struggle among themselves for their meagre stipend.

Thus that competition, which, as thought in ’89, should be a general right, is today a matter of exceptional privilege: only they whose capital permits them to become heads of business concerns may exercise their competitive rights.

The result is that competition, as Rossi, Blanqui, and a host of others have recognised, instead of democratising industry, aiding the worker, guaranteeing the honesty of trade, has ended in building up a mercantile and land aristocracy, a thousand times more rapacious than the old aristocracy of the nobility. Through competition all the profits of production go to capital; the consumer, without suspecting the frauds of commerce, is fleeced by the speculator, and the condition of the workers is made more and more precarious. Speaking of this, Eugene Buret says: “I assert that the working class is turned over, body and soul, to the sweet will of industry.” And elsewhere he says: “The most trifling speculation may change the price of bread one cent a pound, which means $124,100,000 for thirty-six million people.”

It was recently seen how little free competition could do for the people, and how illusory it is as a guaranty with us at present, when the Prefect of Police, yielding to the general demand, authorised the sale of meat at auction. Nothing less than all the energy the people could muster, aided by governmental power, could overcome the monopoly of the butchers.

Accuse human nature, say the economists, do not accuse competition. Very well, I will not accuse competition: I will only remark that human nature does not remedy one evil by another, and ask how it has mistaken its path. What? Competition ought to make us more and more equal and free; and instead it subordinates us one to the other, and makes the worker more and more a slave! This is a perversion of the principle, a forgetfulness of the law. These are not mere accidents; they are a whole system of misfortunes.

[...]

It is not only that our present society, though having forsaken its principles, tends continually to impoverish the producer, to subordinate labour to capital — contradiction in itself — but that it tends also to make of workers a race of helots, inferior to the caste of free men as of old; and it tends to erect into a political and social dogma the enslavement of the working class and the necessity of its poverty.

[...]

End Notes

[2] This is C. R. Prinsep’s translation of J.-B. Say’s Treatise on Political Economy, 6th ed. (Editor)

  


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