Translator: Ian Harvey
The agricultural and industrial order, that primary and profound foundation on which rests the social structure, is in full revolution.
Is it a declining nation, disappearing society or superior civilisation that is beginning? The reader will decide. What is certain at least is that a transformation, which I am not examining here, for freedom or servitude, the supremacy of work or the superiority of privilege, is on the agenda. It is the decisive general fact standing out at the top of our industrial inventory.
The prediction has now been borne out. Industrial anarchy has produced its just consequences; faith in old ideas has also been shaken, and public honesty has disappeared. I challenge anyone to say that he believes otherwise. Therefore, industrial feudalism exists, uniting all the vices of anarchy and subordination, all the corruptions of hypocrisy and scepticism:
A system of anarchic competition and legal coalition;
A system government concessions and State monopolies;
A system of corporations, partnerships, masters and guild-masters;
A system of national debts and popular loans;
A system of capital exploiting labour;
A system of commercial seesawing and stock market banditry;
A system of sublimation of securities and mobilisation of property;
A system in which an increasingly impoverished present consumes the future.
Then, what the prophets of the social transformation themselves did not expect: industrial feudalism is no more solid than industrial anarchy was; like the latter, the former is only another crisis that must pass:
“Sic erat instabilis tellus, innabilis unda”
In fact, history has demonstrated that anarchy or feudalism is always due to a lack of balance, to antagonism and social war, for which, in the current state of mind, only a remedy through a more powerful concentration can be imagined, a third period that we will name without any malignant purpose: the industrial empire.
In closing, toward and against us, the revolution began in 1789, based on economic and social balance, that is, law, freedom, equality, honour, peace, progress, internal joy and all civil and domestic virtues. I am not referring to the government or politics but the industrial republic.
However, the revolutionary spirit is always there keeping watch: ancient feudalism, as well, although it crushed the rights of many, was called a revolution in the sense of equality; the same with the new feudalism, subordinating labour and deciding on capitalist exploitation for the benefit of a cast of parasites, is called in its turn a revolution in the sense of sharing, which we have named “liquidation.”
In short, according to the law of historic antinomies, an industrial democracy must follow industrial feudalism: that arises from the opposition of terms, as the day follows the night.
Such is the problem to be resolved in favour of the middle class: we can guess through this discussion that the problem is the same one for which the lower class in turn has claimed the solution.
By lower class, we mean the one that it is not only distinguished by labour, which also distinguishes, even to a greater degree, the middle class, but the wage-workers. Under good conditions, the condition of wage-workers may be considered as more advantageous with regard to freedom of the heart and mind and, up to a certain point, to the well-being of the individual and the family, but under the general conditions of the workers due to the insecurity of commerce and businesses, the progress of machinery, the depreciation of the labour force and the stupefaction of fragmented work, wage-worker has become synonymous with servitude and poverty. For the wage-earning class, the poorest and most numerous, as poor as it is numerous, reform is always reduced to these three terms:
Guarantee of labour;
Low cost of living;
Higher education in the industrial order as in the scientific and literary orders, therefore a growing participation of workers in the advantages and prerogatives of employers, which means a merging of the classes through the equality of aptitudes and methods.
Except for the temperament of outlaws of the Mountain, whose temperament had been hardened by exile to such a degree that it could no longer be shaken, the Empire’s strength was based on the fact that neither dynasty, fusion, Church or Republic dared step forward as its successor.
The first thing that the successor would have to do would be to declare all payments suspended and then call, in lieu of parliament, a creditors’ assembly in order to obtain a liquidation arrangement. Such a job could not be assigned to a Bourbon, an Orléans or even a Lamartine or General Cavaignac. Who among them would want to return at that price? It would be worse than returning, like Louis XVIII, for whom it was the only way to return, in foreign wagons. Only a Union of Public Safety would be strong enough to undertake such a financial redistribution: where are the Carnots, Cambons, Prieurs and Barrères who would comprise it? Those of us for whom that type of solution would not be satisfactory because it guarantees nothing, who moreover do not believe ourselves genius enough to solve problems posed in contradictory terms, we will confine ourselves, after noting the progress of the new revolution, to presenting its definitive formula according to the most significant symptoms at the present time.
The thought that first inspired them was naïve and unfortunately illusory. Freeing labour from its employers, workers were to form associations among themselves in order to enjoy the supposedly enormous profits and prerogatives reserved up until then for the heads of companies. They ignored the fact that in most if not all of the industries the workers’ groups occupied — those in which, above all, spontaneous association seemed to be immediately practical — the profits, when they existed, were enough for one person but nothing when divided among multitudes. In a large factory, the redistribution of the owner’s profits to the wage-workers he employs would not increase wages varying from 0.5 to 1.5 francs by 10%, and so would only bring slight relief to the workers’ destitution. Thus it is in all occupations considered together: the owner’s net income, which we must usually consider as the fruit of his specific business deals and compensation for his risks, is not what causes the workers’ misery; therefore, the demand for that net profit will not relieve it. Of the 4 billion that labour must pay each year to maintain the feudal regime, the net income, received in the form of dividends and interest, does not reach 100 million, so the assumed cause-and-effect relationship between net income and pauperism is not there.
Workers’ associations, founded on hatred of the employers, on a notion of substitution, were all too quick to make such an assumption. Other miscalculations, the result of inexperience and prejudice, of carrying out ideas of centralisation, community [communauté], hierarchy, supremacy and parliamentary politics, quickly sowed division and discouragement. All the abuses of corporations, owned by anonymous stockholders, were repeated on a larger scale in those so-called fraternal companies. They had dreamed of cornering every industry, rendering “free” companies void and dead, replacing the bourgeoisie with the proletariat once and for all. The better to emancipate the people, they intended to exclude from the circle of workers’ communities those who had until then been the representatives of freedom! That error was long in yielding consequences. Of the several hundred workers’ associations that existed in Paris in 1850-1851, there are barely 20 left. They owe their salvation solely to the abandonment of the utopian ideas of 1848 and the recognition of the true principles of social economy. In this regard, those associations merit study all the more because the phenomenon of their existence reveals a positive element of financial and industrial speculation.
The problem for the workers’ associations, outside of which they fall back fatally into the limbo of religious brotherhoods, is divided into two related questions:
1. In the competition of forces and in their combination, is there a productive potentiality that could produce financially substantial results so that workers could use it to amass the capital they are lacking and to transform themselves from wage-workers to participants?
In other words, can labour, like capital, finance businesses by itself?
2. Can the ownership and management of companies, instead of remaining individual as it has always usually been, perhaps gradually become collective to the point of providing the working classes, on the one hand, with a decisive guarantee of emancipation, and on the other hand, providing civilised nations with a revolution in the relationship between labour and capital, definitively replacing the interests of the State with justice in the political order?
The workers’ entire future depends on the answer to these questions. If the answers are affirmative, a new world opens up to humanity; if they are negative, the proletariat will know it. As God and the Church advise, there is no hope for them in this base world: Lasciate ogni speranza!
First, we understand that the solution to the problem will not come from an enthusiastic multitude only obeying its instincts and in whom a long oppression has killed intelligence. Immediate initiators are necessary here from the working masses, people from among their midst who have received from the civilisation of which they bear the burden a sum of knowledge and have learned enough in the exploiters’ schools to now do without the exploiters. There are only a few such initiators with one foot in civilisation and the other in barbarism, even in the most industrially advanced nations, such as France and England. What is worse is that those elite workers, precisely due to their ambiguous nature, are generally, with regard to their less-educated co-workers, the least welcome, if not the most averse of all people. With barbarism on the one side and pride on the other, it seems that the working class, with all its categories, conspires against its own freedom.
“When,” says an English economist, “the uneducated English workmen are released from the bonds of iron discipline in which they have been restrained by their employers in England, and are treated with the urbanity and friendly feeling which the more educated workmen on the Continent expect and receive from their employers, they, the English workmen, completely lose their balance: they do not understand their position, and after a certain time become totally unmanageable and useless. This result of observation is borne out by experience in England itself. As soon as any idea of equality enters the mind of an uneducated English workingman, his head is turned by it. When he ceases to be servile, he becomes insolent.” (J. Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy, I.7.5)
This weakness, which is no longer rare among French workers and is worsened even further by an excessive mobility of character, constitutes in the present state of society, in which the proletariat can expect nothing except from itself, the greatest obstacle to its liberation.
It is a question then, and that is where all the difficulty lies, of forming a union of workers with a certain dose of morality and intelligence, able to conceive of socio-economic laws and firmly desiring to follow them to the exclusion of all the fantasies and hallucinations of the time: in short, with regard to the question we have just asked, it is a matter of amassing not financial capital [un masse de capitaux] but human capital [un fonds d’hommes].
Once those initiators are found, a number of workers, or, to put it better, collaborators, must be gathered around each of them, destined to become, in each category of work, a model society, a true embryonic rebirth.
We ask if this group possesses in itself a particular productive force.
Labour, as we said in our INTRODUCTION, is a productive force, the first of all and the most powerful; Capital is another one, Commerce another and Speculation one more. We can add Property, Credit, Competition, etc. to that list. In Economy, everything that is an action or principle of action is a productive force. That said, apart from the labour of each individual worker and the Capital that they serve and are exploited by, is the Group of workers, like Division of Labour, also a force? Can this force stand in place of Capital and do without its protection?
The facts, more eloquent in their spontaneity than theories, are going to respond.
We have visited workers’ associations. We have followed their situation since their origin up until December 31st, 1853, and from 1853 until 1856; we have studied their internal discipline and principles, more or less clearly expressed in their articles, which govern everything. We believe we have pleased the public by publishing the details you are about to read on the transformation gathering steam in the industrial economy beyond the formulas of the Code and legal predictions.
All these associations are founded on the following bases:
1. Unlimited ability to ceaselessly admit new partners or members; consequently, there is a perpetuity and infinite multitude of companies, the constitution of which is universalist in nature.
2. Labour’s progressive formation of capital; in other words, labour’s partnership with labour, so that the workers themselves manufacture for each other, according to their specialities, the tools and furnishings they respectively need, or by means of levies on the price of sales and services or monthly deductions from wages.
3. Participation of all partners in the management of the company and its profits within the limits and proportions determined by the company’s constitution.
4. Piecework and proportional wages.
5. Constant company recruitment among workers to be employed as auxiliaries.
6. Retirement and relief fund based on a wage and profit levy.
To these fundamental conditions, which we can view as the common law of the associations, it would be suitable to soon add the following, which, as we have remarked several times, are the necessary complement to the system:
7. Progressive education of apprentices.
8. Mutual guarantee of work, that is, supply, consumption and adequate market among the various associations.
9. Publication of writings.
Such is, in its essence, the fundamental law of Workers’ Companies: we leave aside the details of practices specific to each of them. Furthermore, of course, the principles we have just described are not written in the duly authenticated articles of the associations. Our commercial legislation and the courts in charge of interpreting that legislation would not tolerate the perpetuity, universality, declaration of the absence of capital, participation of worker-partners in the administration and profits or mutualism of the associations. The new business members had to comply with received legal practices, but they understood the implications of what is impermissible to say and acted accordingly. We see what these workers, without advice and resources, have drawn from that and what they can continue to acquire.
It is impossible for us to go into the details here of the operations and inventories of each association as we did in the second edition of this >Manual.
It is enough for us to recall and state that the corporate funds in all of these companies started at zero, as did civilisation’s; in a few years, they increased, depending on the importance of the industry and the number of partners, to 20,000, 30,000, 50,000 and 60,000 francs. Since 1853, this progress has been sustained, and the company funds of the Companies today also have a reserve and relief fund formed with a levy on profits. Any idea of communism has now been abandoned, and equal well-being has been subject to equality or equivalence of services with the equality of guarantees as the fulcrum.
As a corollary, workers are persuaded that the fortune of the Associations is much less in their extension than in their mutuality: experience has taught them that the association, if it is a liberal one free from any personal dependency, domestic solidarity or administrative exploitation one can imagine, still requires some education on the part of its subjects. We are not born associates, one of them told us; We become them. Is that not a translation of the famous expression: Homo homini aut deus aut lupus?
Moreover, all of them [the workers’ companies] were riddled with adversity, lack of work and poverty, plagued by parliamentary politics, discord, rivalries, defections and treasons. They paid the price for inexperience, charlatanism, infatuation and bad faith. The human mind needs time to define its principles, and as long as they are undefined, the conscience is open to problems and iniquity. Some companies’ managers, once they were introduced to the business world, withdrew from the associations to establish themselves as employers and bourgeoisie; furthermore, there are the associates who, from the moment of the first inventory, claimed and left with their rightful share of the proceeds. It is true that long reflection is as repugnant to the modern proletariat as it was to the ancient slave and that the most difficult task of the associations is not to form themselves and survive but to civilise their associates. Similar details, interesting above all from a psychological perspective, on the history of the workers’ associations, could not be included in this pamphlet, in which there is only room for the issue of the financial results and the economic power of those associations at the very most.
We now continue and conclude.
Workers’ Associations are the locus of a new principle and model of production that must replace present-day corporations, in which we do not know who is the more shamefully exploited, the workers or the shareholders.
The principle that prevailed there, in place of that of employers and employees, after a trial entry into communism, is participation, that is, the MUTUALITY of services supplementing the force of division and the force of collectivity.
There is mutuality, in fact, when in an industry, all the workers, instead of working for an owner who pays them and keeps their product, work for one another and thereby contribute to a common product from which they share the profit.
However, extend the principle of mutuality that unites the workers of each group to all the Workers’ Associations as a unit, and you will have created a form of civilisation that, from all points of view — political, economic, aesthetic — differs completely from previous civilisations, that can no longer return to feudalism or imperialism, with all possible guarantees of freedom, fair advertising, an impenetrable system of insurance against theft, fraud, misappropriation, parasitism, nepotism, monopoly, speculation, exorbitant rent, living expenses, transportation and credit; against overproduction, stagnation, gluts, unemployment, disease, and poverty, with no need for charity because it will provide us instead, everywhere and always, with our RIGHT.
Then, no more anticipated achievements, the bounty hunt, subsidies to be shared among ministers, procurers, lawyers and administrators; no more hush money paid by suppliers and disloyal managers; no more stock market killings, feats of accumulation and latifundia. The inequality of conditions and fortunes will have disappeared, returned to its basic expression that lies in the differences blind Nature creates among workers, which education and the division of labour, etc., must continually decrease.
Probity, honour and morals have fled the bourgeois world as they fled the feudal world before the revolution. They will only be encountered there.
Certainly, there is a great leap between a few hundred workers forming companies and the economic reconstitution of a nation of 36 million. Furthermore, we do not expect such a reform solely from the expansion of those associations. What is important is that the idea works, that it has been demonstrated by experience; law arises in practice as in theory.
We already know that our French example is bearing fruit abroad: corporations of workers in England have decided that, in the future, instead of spending their funds on useless strikes, they will use them to create companies based on the Parisian model. The final shock, that aforementioned inevitable liquidation, has been coming for more than eight years: it will be easier to organise work throughout the country than it has been, since 1848, to form the first 20 workers’ groups in Paris.
The goal of these associations, such as the Ménagère, is to resolve the special problem of industry-industry relations and therefore Association-Association relations. They are primarily due to bourgeois initiative. Their existence proves that if, in 1848 as always, popular instinct understands ideas in their synthesis, the average intellect, with some training, will address itself first of all and with remarkable nimbleness of intelligence to the heart of the question.
Although the internal administration of these purely commercial Companies did not present the same problems as those of the Workers’ Associations, they had the valuable merit, in an era of revolutionary agitation, of appearing as a conciliation of interests. It was a step toward that fusion of employers and employees that the utopians denounced as treason toward the people and the radicals as an instant banishment of democracy.
The combination in question was less, in fact, a Company than a coalition through which a certain number of consumers guarantee a business establishment a steady clientele and constant market in return for a reduction on the current prices of products. The businesses’ profits, which, due to random luck, were higher than those of the industry in general, permitted a significant reduction of prices and corresponding improvement in the position of consumers. The consequence, more or less rapid, for such establishments has been to gradually guarantee to each consumer, based on his consumption, the labour he needs in the same manner as that consumer guarantees a market to the merchant. All consumption presupposes production: those two terms are correlative and adequate to one another.
We believe that there was reason for optimistic speculation: unfortunately, this exceeds the ordinary reach of workers, whose unmanageability is so difficult to overcome, and who do not provide the bourgeoisie with immediate enough advantages for them to resign themselves to the effort, advances, and possible sacrifices required at the beginning. However, Consumers’ Associations have started to multiply in the county seats of the departments thanks to the sponsorship of some bourgeois who have thus given their fellow citizens co-operative bakeries, butcher shops and grocery stores. The police closed several of them following December 2nd: we cannot report on the status of this movement today.
 From Ovid’s description of primordial chaos in Metamorphoses, Book I: “Thus air was void of light, and earth unstable.” (Translator)
 Proudhon at this time divided French society into three classes: bourgeoisie, middle class and wage-workers, or lower class. The petit-bourgeoisie was middle class, not middle-income wage-workers (as the term is usually applied today). In other words, artisans and peasants who worked the tools and land they owned. The bourgeoisie, in contrast, lived off their property by getting others to work or use it in return for profits, interest and rent. While this is a somewhat different terminology than used before hand, Proudhon’s position had not changed. He still desired co-operation between the middle class (la petit-bourgeoisie) and the working class (le salariat) to transform the latter into the former by abolishing the landlords and capitalists (la bourgeoisie). (Editor)
 “Fusion” refers to an alliance between the rival Orléanist and Legitimist political factions. See the Glossary entry for “July Revolution.” (Editor)
 Lazare Carnot (1753-1823), Pierre Joseph Cambon (1756-1820), Pierre-Louis Prieur (1756-1827), and Bertrand Barère (1755-1841), members of the Committee of Public Safety that oversaw the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution (1793-1795). (Editor)
 From the words marking the entrance to Hell in Dante’s Inferno: “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate” (“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”). (Translator)
 Erasmus: “Man is to man either a god or a wolf” (Translator)