Editor of The Voice of the People, and senior editor of The People.
The Voice of the People, October 29, 1849
Translator: Shawn Wilbur
Editor: Iain McKay
QUESTION. What is Socialism?
ANSWER. It is the doctrine of universal conciliation.
Q. What does it come to reconcile?
A. All that rights and interests that are today in incessant war.
Q. By what means will it reconcile all rights?
A. By giving them the fullness of their exercise and of their complete satisfaction.
Q. What is the first of these rights and the one that encloses all the others?
A. It is the right to live.
Q. What is that right?
A. The life of man being at once moral, intellectual and physical, the right to live is the right to sustain and develop all the faculties of his soul, of his mind and of his personality, as that of nourishing and preserving his body.
Q. How is the right to live to be realised?
A. By the right to labour.
Q. Of what does that consist?
A. It consists of the right to the triple labour — moral, intellectual and physical —destined to satisfy all the needs of these three aspects of human life.
Q. In what manner is the right to labour to be applied?
A. By the right to the instruments of labour, that is, to free credit or the use of all the things necessary for exercise and development of the moral, intellectual and physical life of each man.
Q. How is that free use possible?
A. By EQUAL EXCHANGE, that is by the abolition of rent, of profit or of interest on capital in all its forms.
Q. By what means does Socialism come to reconcile all interests?
A. By association.
Q. Is that association compelled and forced?
A. No, it remains, and must remain always fully free and voluntary.
Q. What are the principles on which it rests?
A. They are three in number: absolute Liberty, complete Equality of duties and of rights, universal Fraternity.
Q. Does association imply the abandonment of individual property?
A. Quite the contrary, it excludes it; for that abandonment would be the abandonment of the very liberty which must always remain unlimited.
Q. What should the mode of division be in association?
A. It has this principle for a rule: To each according to his works; and each associate must be remunerating in proportion to his labour.
Q. What, then, sums up Socialism?
A. In these two things: EQUAL EXCHANGE, the abolition of all interest on capital, and ASSOCIATION, which means solidarity, reciprocity, and mutualism between all men for production, consumption and exchange.
Q. What is the principle with the aid of which Socialism means to realise this double reform?
A. It is the principle of the sovereignty of the People.
Q. What is the sovereignty of the People?
A. It is the simultaneous sovereignty of each of the citizens who make up that People. It has for principle, for means and for end, the sovereignty of man.
Q. What is the sovereignty of man?
A. It is the sovereign, free exercise of all the moral, intellectual and physical faculties that God has given to each of us.
Q. What are the outcomes that result from it?
A. That sovereignty constitutes all the rights and all the Liberties which can be summed up in these:
Right to moral, intellectual and physical life by the right to labour;
Liberty of conscience;
Liberty of the press, of speech, of art, science and thought;
The right of assembly and association in all its forms;
Liberty of education;
Liberty of labour, of equal exchange, of commerce and of industry;
Individual Liberty, of home and of property.
Q. What is the nature of these rights?
A. All these rights, all these Liberties are in their essence inalienable, imprescriptible, untransferrable [inadmissibles], sovereign; their exercise is unlimited; no preventive law can restrain them, by suspending, by hindering their manifestation; and the sovereignty of the People has for aim only to guarantee them and to achieve their free exercise and their complete development.
Q. Isn’t the right of majorities over minorities a consequence of the sovereignty of the People?
A. Quite the contrary; it is its formal negation, for it implies the action of sovereignty against itself, the oppression of one party of the citizens by another party, and the flagrant violation of the sovereignty of man, principle, means and end of all sovereignty.
Q. What then is the sovereignty of all?
A. It is nothing other than mutual consent, the reciprocal and simultaneous agreement of the free sovereignty of each.
Q. How is that agreement possible?
A. By a national representation which groups and harmonically connects all those whose interests are the same.
Q. What is the basis of that representation?
A. Election according to specialities of labour-functions or of interest. Farmers, industrial workers, traders, mariners, savants, artists, all are convened in each of the branches of their speciality in order to choose, among those who make them up, those most proper to represent their common interests.
Q. What will be the consequences of this mode of election?
A. Only then will the election be serious and real, because it will work by men known to those who appoint them, and will have one distinct, precise and determined aim: the representation of a common interest. Then the representation will be national and complete, because there will not be a single interest that will not be directly represented. Then the Assembly will be truly competent, because it will be composed of the most competent men of all the specialities without exception. Then will begin the free organisation of labour by that of its common representation.
Q. What is the fundamental condition of all elective representation?
A. It is the imperative mandate.
Q. What is the outcome of every imperative mandate?
A. The permanent right of revocation of the elected by the electors.
Q. Can sovereignty exist without imperative mandate and without permanent right of revocation?
A. Never; for then it is the sovereign who obeys his delegates, the leader his agents, the electors their representatives, the master his employees; and sovereignty is no more than the puerile and derisory faculty of writing, every three or four years, some names on a bit of paper, and cast it in a box.
Q. What sums up the sovereignty of the People?
A. In the common, reciprocal and simultaneous exercise of the sovereignty of each of the citizens; the abolition of the right of the majorities over minorities; the reconciliation of social interests by means of the election by labour specialities; the imperative mandate and the permanent right of revocation.
Q. On what does this principle of sovereignty rest?
A. On the right of property inherent in every man.
Q. What is property?
A. It is the exercise of the life proper to each individual.
Q. What do you mean by that?
A. The origin and basis of all property is the personality itself. Man has property in his being, his sentiments, his thoughts, his will, and thus in all the moral, intellectual and physical works, products of his free activity or his labour.
Q. The right of property is thus inviolable and sacred?
A. Like the personality itself, since it is only its dilatation, its external manifestation.
Q. It would be a crime to attack it?
A. A crime like assassination, since it is an attack against the human personality, a real homicide of the moral, intellectual or physique life of one of our fellows.
Q. What then do the socialists attack in contemporary property?
A. It is precisely this crime, this homicide, this assassination.
A. The right of property is today outrageously misunderstood and violated in two manner: by TAXATION, the plundering for the profit of the State, and by USURY, interest on capital or rent, plundering for the profit of individuals. It is this double attack, this double theft that Socialism comes to abolish.
Q. What is taxation?
A. It is the negation and spoliation of property, the source of pauperism, the glorification of immorality and the sanction of slavery.
Q. How is it the negation of property?
A. As soon as someone can dispose, without you and despite you, of a part of your goods, it is no longer you, but the one who can so dispose, who is the only true proprietor. Now, that is precisely what taxation does.
Q. But it is the representatives appointed by all the citizens who vote for that taxation?
A. What does it matter! If property is really inviolable and sacred, 36 millions men do not have more right than one to despoil you of what belongs to you.
Q. How is taxation the spoliation of property?
A. Landed property is around 50 billions. Now, that property pays taxes, either directly or indirectly, close to 750 million per year, which, with its mortgages and unsecured debt, absorbs the sum total of its value, and consequently devours it entirely, in less than 15 or 20 years.
Q. In what manner is taxation the source of pauperism?
A. All the indirect contributions, justly the object of public execration, are in reality only a means of starving the People, by making them buy meat at a quarter above its value, by doubling the price of sugar, tripling that of beverages, quintupling that of tobacco, multiplying by twenty that of salt. The consumer, forced to buy all the things necessary to life at prices three, five or twenty times more expensive than their real values, fall into indigence and consume three, five or twenty times less; from this comes unemployment, which reduces consumption anew and thus produces an always increasing pauperism.
Q. How is taxation the glorification of immorality?
A. The profit from the manufacture of money is at base only an official falsification of the currency; rent on the State the legalisation of usury; patents only a means of selling the right to labour; the monopoly on tobacco, powder, etc., only a monstrous application of communism; finally, every fiscal measure, only a fraudulent auction block where the citizens are made to pay, at the highest possible price, for the yoke imposed on them, so that those citizens accomplish at great cost, thanks to a myriad of autocratic rents, what they could do themselves, freely and more cheaply.
Q. How is taxation the sanction of slavery?
A. In that it obliges you to give what you would not give voluntarily, if you were not constrained to do so. In that it serves to pay armies of soldiers, employees, customs officers, grant-sellers, administrators, controllers, in spectres, police agents, gendarmes and functionaries of all sorts who impose on you, at each instant, things which do not come from your own will and your own Liberty.
Q. What must be concluded from this?
A. That unless we deny the right of property and desire pauperism, immorality, and slavery, we must abolish taxation.
Q. What would you substitute for it?
A. Mutual and free insurance.
A. Just as we insure against hail, flood, fire, diseases of the flock, shipwreck, so will we insure against the social risks which necessitate the action of the law, of justice and public force for the security of all, each paying according to the value of what he possesses and the nature of the risks to be courted, this mutual insurance being specialised, localised or universalised in complete Liberty, in all the possible forms.
Q. What will be the result of that transformation?
R. A third of the current expenditures for which we levy tax have no other aim than to sanction usury and privilege, like the payment of public rents, the monopoly on tobacco, duties, etc.: those would disappear completely with the abolition of all monopolies and the repayment of the creditors of the State. — Another third of these expenditures only concern one special class of individuals or only result from the monstrous confiscation of local or private Liberties, like the budgets for the religious sects and for public instruction, the subsidies to the fine arts, agriculture, and industry, the majority of the departmental allocations of the minister of the interior, etc.: those should be made freely by the categories of citizens concerned with them.—There remains hardly a third of the budget that, alone truly common or national, could still be considerably reduced, like the legal system, communications, provisions for public security: these are the objects of mutual insurance between the citizens who adopt and administer them as they wish, but who can enjoy their profits only by voluntarily bearing the charges.
Q. What will property and liberty gain from this?
A. Property and labour bring in each year the two billions of which they are plundered by taxation, and the citizens in the fullness of the sovereignty and the Liberty of which they are today despoiled by the State.
Q. What is the State?
A. It is the negation of the sovereignty of the People, of Liberty and of democracy.
A. Because it places the sovereign People under the authority of its delegates, because it imposes on all the will of a few and renders the delegates of the nation masters of those who delegate to them.
Q. Must not society be governed?
A. No; but it must, on the contrary, govern itself.
Q. Do you reject then all authority, and every power?
A. Yes; for every authority, every power, which is not the action of Liberty itself, is only despotism and tyranny.
Q. What if the power should be favourable to the cause of progress?
A. Progress consisting of the realisation of unlimited Liberty, the only power favourable to the cause of progress would be that which abdicated and committed suicide, ceasing to exist.
Q. What would you put in the place of the State?
A. Society itself.
Q. And in the place of authority or power?
A. Association, which is to say the mutual and voluntary convergence of all Liberties, the real and spontaneous centralisation of all wills in one common will by consent and reciprocal accord, effective, integral, universal solidarity of rights and interests, organising themselves by the simultaneous initiative of all citizens.
Q. What then would become of what we today call government?
A. It would transform itself into a simple bookkeeping operation, double-entry accounting for a mutual insurance company of which the National Statistics are the balance sheet, the Assembly the responsible and revocable manager, the whole of society the underwriter, and each of the citizens the insured.
Q. What would be the consequence of that reform?
A. The coming of popular Sovereignty and Democracy, which has thus far existed in name only. Indeed, to overthrow the state is to overthrow the monarchy, not only in its form, but in that which forms its source and essence, in the presidential, ministerial, bureaucratic and functionary power that is only a royalty in disguise; to overthrow the state is to render to each of the citizens all the attributions of sovereignty, it is to establish the Republic and the Democracy, not just nominally, but in practical reality, in fact and in customs.
Q. What is the indispensable condition of that transformation?
A. It is that, in each major function or speciality of labour, voluntary association comes to spontaneously replace, organise and regulate, by the free concourse and initiative of each of its members, all the public services that have fallen from the domain of the State into that of the citizens.
Q. Doesn’t this reform demand another more urgent still?
A. Without doubt. The monopoly of power is itself based on capitalist monopoly, and we can effect the first only by destroying the second. In order to abolish, by the suppression of the State and of Taxation, the plundering of property for the profit of power, we must first abolish, by the suppression of rent and interest on capital, the plunder of property for the profit of individual, in a word, usury.
Q. What is usury?
R. It is the negation of property by itself.
D. How is that?
A. Property is the right to possess the fruit of one’s own labour; usury or rent is the right to appropriate the product of the labour of others. To attribute to property the right of usury, is then to condemn it to deny itself and to slit its throat with its own hands.
Q. What is, for the wealthy, the result of interest or usury?
A. It is to live eternally, without any labour, living on the poor. It is to constantly regain, at the end of the year, without producing anything, the quantity of all the expenditures that he has made, and to always possess the same wealth by always spending it anew, and without ever working. More than that, it is to constantly and indefinitely increase his fortune, without doing a thing.
Q. What is the result of interest or usury for the poor?
A. It is to live eternally in misery, by labouring constantly. It is to find oneself at the end of the year short all the sums deducted from him for property-income [la rente], and, as a result of this growing deficit, to always possess less by always labouring more. It is to descend constantly and indefinitely to a deeper degree of penury and indigence because of the impossibility, caused by property-income [la rente], of ever being about to repurchase his products with the wages of his labour.
Q. Isn’t that the only source of inequality?
A. Certainly; and of an inequality so monstrous that the labourer, who alone produces all, is the pauper who dies of hunger on his pallet in the faubourgs, and this idler, who has never done the least bit of productive work, is the Rothschild, a millionaire five times over, who swims in an incalculable opulence. To the first, the hospital and a common grave; to the second, palaces of gold and armies of lackeys: There is the manner in which usury divides wealth according to labour.
Q. How can interest or property-income [la rente] produce such results?
A. Nothing is easier to understand. By farm rent, rent, lease or loan, each possessor of capital receives, in less than fifteen year, the value of the thing rented, leased or loaned, and always remains its master; so that one pays him its price a hundred, a thousand, a million, a billion times and so on indefinitely, without him ceasing to be its proprietor. More, [because] each of these sums [are] multiplying constantly by themselves in a growing geometric progression, it is only a simple matter of time before one man absorbs the entire product of all labourers, past, present and future, and without the perturbations and catastrophes that follow from that regime itself, this would have long since been accomplished.
Q. What is the origin of this monstrous iniquity?
A. It is nothing other than the last form of slavery and servitude. In the past the slave, then the serf, worked for his master and lord, who appropriated the greater part of the fruit of his labour; today, now that man is recognised as free by right, he is, nominally, no longer held to produce for the capitalist, this modern lord, but, by a fiction which leads to the same result, it is the capital that is alleged to labour for its idle proprietor. Now, this capital being an inert thing, it is always the one to whom it is lent, the labourer, who in reality labours as before for his master. Only his lot has become still more cruel, because the master no longer has any interest in feeding and preserving this slave, grown old, infirm, or unable to work. Property-income [la rente] is then, even in its very form, only the continuation feudal fee or tithe.
Q. Doesn’t this iniquitous regime weigh on the labourers?
A. No, it weighs on everyone. It crushes and ruins the proprietors themselves who, for interest on mortgages, unsecured loans and the other forms of rent, have to pay each year close to 2 billions, nearly the total amount of their revenue. It devours the fortunes of the shopkeepers from which it annually takes half of their profits. Each year it plunders from all the citizens some 400 millions, as taxpayers; close to 3 billions, as farmers and tenants; 5 billions, as labourers. It arrests production which, without it, would soon double wealth or increase it tenfold. Finally, it fleeces all the consumers who, without property-income [la rente], would get everything that they buy two-thirds cheaper.
Q. What is the only remedy for all these evils?
A. It is to abolish rent, profit or interest on capital in all its forms, to establish equal exchange or free credit.
Q. How will that be achieved?
A. In two ways. — Socially, by a law prohibiting all interest on capital, decree [ordonne] that all debts, public or private, will be acquitted by the repayment of the funds alone, without interest or revenue; that every rent, farm rent, loan and lease, can never be anything but a simple exchange, a sale, without any interest or property-income [rente]; and, finally, give to every labourer the rights of an associated partner, for an equal part of the products of his labour, in every work in which he takes part.—Transitorily and freely, we can still arrive there by an institution of free credit that furnished to the workers, without any interest, property or the use of all the things for which they pay property-income [la rente] today. Declaring, for example, the Bank of France a social Bank, belonging, neither to a Company nor to the State, but to all of society, and lending at zero percent interest, or the simple recovery of its administrative costs. Universalising this credit for all the workers who, constantly exchanging their money for its notes and their notes for its money, would in reality give credit mutually to themselves.
Q. Has the first of these means already been employed?
A. It has been at all times, and almost without interruption for four thousand years. Usury and the loan at interest, always prohibited among the Hebrews by the law of Moses, and among the Christians by the constant tradition of the Church and the innumerable decrees of the councils and popes, was equally forbidden by the primitive legislation of Rome and by that of France for ten consecutive centuries, from Charlemagne to 1777. Thus usury, still proscribed today by religious law, has been recognised by civil law, and with limiting measures, for only around seventy years. It is then quite simply a matter of re-establishing, by generalising, a law whose principle is as old as the world.
Q. Isn’t the second the one by which we must begin?
A. This is obvious, since, unlike the first, we can apply it today, and all that is required is the initiative, the co-operation and voluntary membership of the citizens, while a law demands first that the majority of France be converted to the principle. Already, a mortgage-bank, to which one hundred fifty associations have joined themselves, functions with this aim, and nothing more is required than the spontaneous effort of the citizens in order than in a short time usury be abolished completely and in all its forms.
 The term “la rente” can be translated as annuity – i.e., income from a capital investment paid in a series of regular payments. As the author, like Proudhon, opposed all forms of non-labour income (rent, profit, interest, etc.) and so this refers to all forms of revenue generated by ownership. (Editor)