‘Address delivered at Paris, March 23, 1900, at a meeting called by the group of collectivist students attached to the Parti ouvrier français.’
‘Socialism and the Intellectuals’ by Paul Paul Lafargue, Translated by Charles H. Kerr. Charles H. Kerr Publishers, Chicago. 1900.
Ladies and Gentlemen: – I am happy to deliver this address under the presidency of Vaillant, because it is a pledge of the close and lasting union between our two organizations, and because Vaillant is one of the intellectuals of the socialist party; he is acknowledged to be the most learned of French socialists and perhaps of European socialists, now that Marx, Engels and Lavroff are no longer with us.
The group of collectivist students which has organized this conference, has been led to choose this subject, because French socialism has just passed through a crisis which is not exactly one of growth, though such it has been called, but which has been caused by the arrival of a certain number of bourgeois intellectuals within the ranks of the party. It is therefore interesting to examine the situation of the intellectuals in capitalist society, their historic role since the revolution of 1789, and the manner in which the bourgeoisie has kept the promises it made them when it was struggling against the aristocracy.
The eighteenth century was the century of reason – everything, religion, philosophy, science, politics, privileges of classes, of the state, of municipalities, was submitted to its pitiless criticism. Never in history has there been such a fermentation of ideas and such a revolutionary preparation of men’s minds. Mirabeau, who himself played a great role in the ideological agitation, might well say in the national assembly: “We have no time to think, but happily, we have a supply of ideas.” All that was needed was to realize them. Capitalism, to reward the intellectuals who had labored with so much enthusiasm for the coming of its revolution, promised them honors and favors; intelligence and wisdom, as well as virtue, should be the sole privileges of the society it was founding upon the ruins of the old order. Promises cost it little; it announced to all men that it brought them joy and happiness, with liberty, equality and fraternity, which, although eternal principles, were now born for the first time. Its social world was to be so new that even before the Republic was proclaimed, Camille Desmoulins demanded that they begin a new era which should date from the taking of the Bastile.
I need not teach you what application capitalism has made of these eternal principles which by way of cynical raillery, the Republic carves on the lintels of her prisons, her penitentiaries, her barracks and her halls of state. I will only remind you that savage and barbarous tribes, uncorrupted by civilization, living under the regime of common property, without inscribing anywhere these eternal principles, without even formulating them, practice them in a manner more perfect than ever was dreamed of by the capitalists who discovered them in 1789.
It did not take long to determine the value of the promises of capitalism; the very day it opened its political shop, it commenced proceedings in bankruptcy. The constituent assembly, which formulated the Rights of man and of the citizen and proclaimed equality before the law, discussed and voted, in 1790, an electoral act which established inequality before the law, no one was to be a voter but the “active citizen,” paying in money a direct tax equal to three days’ labor, and no one was to be eligible to office but the citizen paying a direct tax of a “silver mark,” about 55 francs. “But under the law of the silver mark,” clamored Loustalot, Desmoulins and the intellectualists without real estate, “Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose Social Contract is the bible of the revolution, would be capable neither of voting nor of holding office.” The electoral law deprived so many citizens of political rights, that in the municipal elections of 1790, at Paris, a city which counted about half a million inhabitants, there were but 12,000 voters, Bailly was chosen mayor by 10,000 votes.
If the eternal principles were not new, it is also true that the flattering promises made by the intellectuals had already begun to be realized before the advent of capitalism to power. The church, which is a theocratic democracy, opens her bosom to all. That they may enter, all lay aside their titles and privileges, and all can aspire to the highest positions; popes have risen from the lower ranks of society. Sixtus Fifth had in his youth tended swine. The church of the middle ages jealously attracted to herself the thinkers and men of learning, although she respected the preference of those who wished to remain laymen, but extended over them her protection and her favors; she allowed them all boldness of thought, on the single condition of keeping up the appearance of faith, and never leaving her enclosure to lavish themselves upon the vulgar. Thus Copernicus might write and dedicate to the pope his “treatise on the revolutions of the celestial bodies,” in which, contrary to the teaching of the Bible, he proves that the earth turns around the sun. But Copernicus was a canon at Frauenburg and he wrote in Latin. When a century later Galileo, who was not identified with the clergy and who on the contrary sought the protection of the secular authorities, professed publicly, at Venice and Florence, the theories of Copernicus, the Vatican stretched out its terrible hand over him and forced the illustrious old man to deny his scientific belief. Even after the crisis of Protestantism, the church preserved its liberality toward the scientists who belonged to it. Mersenne, a monk of the order of the Minimes, one of the great geometers of the seventeenth century, a precursor and friend of Descartes, corresponded freely with Hobbes, the father of modern materialism; the notes of the French edition of De Cive contain fragments of this correspondence.
The church, in keeping up this liberal conduct, may have been animated by a disinterested love of pure science, but what chiefly concerned her was the interest of her dominancy; she wished to monopolize the intellectuals and science, just as in the old theocratic Egypt the priests had done to whom the Greek thinkers resorted in search of the first elements of science and philosophy.
It would be insulting capitalism to attribute to it a disinterested love of science, which from its point of view has but one reason for existence, that of utilizing natural forces to the enhancement of its wealth. It cares nothing for pure speculation and it is by way of self-defence that it allows its scientists to devote their mental energy to theoretic researches instead of exhausting it on practical applications. This contempt for pure speculation is shown under a philosophic form in the positivism of Auguste Comte, who embodies so well the narrowness of the groveling spirit of capitalism.
But if science apart from its industrial applications does not interest the bourgeoisie their solicitude for the intellectuals takes on none of the forms which we saw in that of the church, and nowhere is their indifference to them better shown than in the relative position of material property and of intellectual property before the law.
Material property, whatever its origin, is by capitalist law a thing eternal; it is forever assured to its possessor; it is handed down from father to son to the end of the centuries, and no civil or political power may lay upon it a sacrilegious hand. We have lately seen a characteristic example of this inviolability of material property.
The keeper of the signal station at Durban transmitted to the Boers heliographic dispatches informing them regarding the ships which entered the harbor, the men, the horses and the munitions of war which they transported. His treason brought him 125,000 francs, which, like an intelligent capitalist, he deposited in the bank. The English military authorities seized the traitor, condemned him and shot him, but they respected his property so honorably acquired, and his widow and son are now its legitimate possessors. The law, apart from certain variations, being the same in all capitalist countries, things go on in France as in England. No authority could lap hand on the property of Bazaine, nor make De Lesseps, Cottu and their families disgorge the millions artfully extracted from the “lambs” on Panama canal stock.
This legal sanctity of property is a new thing, in France it dates from the revolution of 1789. The old regime, which had small respect for this sort of property, authorized the confiscation of the property of those legally condemned, and the abolition of confiscation is one of the first reforms demanded in the petitions of Paris and several provincial cities to the states general. Capitalism, by forbidding the confiscation of property obtained by fraudulent and infamous means, proclaims that the source of its fortune is quite as fraudulent and infamous as that of criminals and traitors.
Capitalist law has none of these amenities for intellectual property. Literary and artistic property such as the law protects at all has but a precarious life, limited to the life of the author and a certain time after his death – fifty years according to the latest legislation; that time passed, it lapses into common property; for example, beginning with March of this year, any publisher has the right to bring out for his own profit the works of Balzac, the genius of romantic literature.
Literary property, though a matter of interest to publishers, who are certainly few in number, brings no benefit to the mass of the capitalist class, but not so with property in inventions, which is of prime importance to all the manufacturing and mercantile capitalists. Consequently over it the law extends no protection. The inventor, if he wishes to defend his intellectual property against capitalist pirates, must begin by buying that right, taking out a patent, which he must renew every year; on the day he misses a payment, his intellectual property becomes the lawful prey of the robbers of capitalism. Even if he pays, he can secure that right only for a time: in France, fourteen years. And during these few years, not long enough generally to get his invention fully introduced into practical industry, it is he, the inventor, who at his own expense has to set in motion the machinery of the law against the capitalist pirates who rob him.
The trade-mark, which is a capitalistic property that never required ally intellectual effort, is on the contrary indefinitely protected by law like material property.
It is with reluctance that the capitalist class has granted the inventor the right of defending his intellectual property, for by virtue of its position as the ruling class it regards itself as entitled to the fruits of intellectual labor as well as of manual labor; just as the feudal lord asserted his right of possession over the property of his serfs. The history of the inventors of our century is the monstrous story of their spoliation by the capitalists; it is a long and melancholy roll of martyrs. The inventor, by the very fact of his genius, is condemned with his family to ruin and suffering.
It is not only inventions requiring long and laborious study, heavy outlay for their completion and long time for their introduction, that plunge the inventor into the inferno of poverty; this is equally true of inventions that are most simple, most immediately applicable and most fertile in rich results. I will mention but one example: there lately died at Paris in extreme poverty a man whose invention saves millions of francs a year to the railroads and mining companies; he had discovered a way to utilize the mountains of coal dust that encumbered the neighborhood of wharfs and mines by converting it into “briquettes,” such as are today in common use for fuel.
The capitalist bourgeoisie, the most revolutionary class that ever oppressed human societies, cannot increase its wealth without continuously revolutionizing the means of production, continuously incorporating into its industrial equipment new applications of mechanics, chemistry and physics. Its thirst for inventions is so insatiable that it creates factories for inventions. Certain American capitalists united in constructing for Edison at Menlo Park the most wonderful laboratory in the world, and in putting at his disposal trained scientists, chosen workmen, and the ordinary materials necessary to make and keep on making inventions which the capitalists patent, exploit or sell. Edison, who is himself a shrewd business man, has taken care to secure for himself a part of the benefits brought by the Menlo Park inventions.
But not all inventors are able like Edison to dictate terms to the capitalists who equip invention factories. The Thompson-Houston Company at Paris and Siemens at London and Berlin, in connection with their plants for turning out electrical machinery, have laboratories where ingenious men are kept busy searching out new applications of electricity. At Frankfort the manufactory of aniline dyes, the largest in the world, where anti-pyrine, that mineral quinine, was discovered, keeps on its payroll more than a hundred chemists to discover new products of coal-tar. Each discovery is at once patented by the house, which, by way of encouragement, gives a reward to the inventor.
We may up to a certain point regard all factories and workshops as laboratories for inventions, since a considerable number of improvements in machinery have been devised by workmen in the course of their work. The inventor having no money to patent and apply his discovery, the employer takes out the patent in his own name, and in accordance with the spirit of capitalist justice, it is he who reaps all the benefit. When the government takes it into its head to rewards talent, it is the employer who receives the decoration; the inventive workman, who is not an intellectual, continues to revolve like the other machines under the black and greasy number which distinguishes him, and as in this capitalist world he must be content with little, he consoles himself for his poverty by the reflection that his invention is bringing wealth and honor to his employer.
The capitalist class, which to increase its wealth is in pressing treed of inventions, is in even more imperative need of intellectuals to supervise their application and to direct its industrial machinery. The capitalists, before they equipped invention factories, had organized factories to turn out intellectuals. Dollfus, Scherer-Kestner and other employees of Alsace, the most intelligent, most philanthropic and consequently the heaviest exploiters in France before the war, had founded with their spare pennies at Mulhouse, schools of design, of chemistry and of physics, where the brightest children of their workmen were instructed gratis, in order that they might always have at hand and at reasonable figure the intellectual capacities required for carrying on their industries. Twenty years ago the directors of the Mulhouse school persuaded the municipal council of Paris to establish the city school of chemistry and physics. At the beginning, whether it is still the case I do not know, the pupils were recruited in the common schools, they received a higher education, gratis, a dinner at noon at the school, and fifty francs a month to indemnify the parents for the loss from the fact that their sons were not in the work-shop.
On the platform of the constituent assembly of 1790 the Marquis of Foucault could declare that to be a laborer it was not necessary to know how to read and write. The necessities of industrial production compel the capitalist of today to speak in language altogether different: his economic interests and not his love of humanity and of science force him to encourage and to develop both elementary and higher education.
But the slave merchants of ancient Rome were, by the same title, patrons of education. To the more intelligent of their human merchandise they gave instruction in medicine, philosophy, Greek literature, music, science, etc. The education of the slave enhanced his market value. The slave who was an expert cook brought a better figure than the slave doctor, philosopher or literator. In our days it is still so; the big capitalists pay their chief cooks better than the state pays the professors of liberal arts, even though they be members of the Institute. But contrary to the practice of the Roman slave merchants, our capitalist class lavishes instruction only in order to depress the selling price of intellectual capacity.
Greek mythology tells how Midas had the gift of turning everything into gold; the capitalist class has a similar property, it transforms everything that it touches into merchandise; it has done this for intellectual capacities; chemists, engineers and Latin scholars are bought like sheasses and guano.
A voice: “And they buy deputies, too!”
People who have no tallow nor veal nor socks to sell have their conscience and their votes; when they are deputies, they are bought.
When intellectual capacities become merchandise they have to be treated like other merchandise, and they are. When there are many oysters in the market the price of oysters goes down, but when the arrivals are scarce the price goes up. When chemists and engineers are plenty on the labor market, the price of inventors and of chemists goes down. Now that the Central School and the School of Physics and Chemistry turn out yearly upon the pavements of Paris chemists by the dozen, their price has considerably gone down. Twenty years ago the capitalist paid a chemist reasonably, he gave him $100 to $120 a month and engaged him by the year. The employers whose regard for an employee is measured by what they have to pay him, were full of politeness and consideration for their chemists who cost so dear. But since they have been abundant, their price has fallen to $40 and $30 a month; in the north they are not engaged by the year but for the sugar season, which lasts three or four months, at the end of which they are discharged with the workmen. Go and shift for yourself, says the employer. Next fall when the beets come I know I shall find chemists to superintend making them into sugar.
The chemists are not exceptional: you know only too well that in all branches there is an overproduction of intellectuals, and that when a place is vacant, tens and hundreds offer themselves to fill it; and it is this pressure which permits the capitalists to lower the price of the intellectuals and to put it even below the wage of the manual laborer.
Poverty is harder for the intellectual than for the workingman; it bruises him morally and physically. The workingman, enduring hard ships from childhood and knocking about the street and the shops, is accustomed to enduring the troubles of life; the intellectual, brought up in a hot-house, has the life bleached out of him by the shadow of the college walls, his nervous system is over-developed and takes on an unhealthy impressionability. What the workingman endures thoughtlessly is to him a painful shock. The intellectual is wounded to the depths of his moral being by the exigencies of a wageworker’s life. With the same or even a higher wage the intellectual is in a worse economic condition than the laborer, for the latter may dress as cheaply as he likes, but the former, if only not to offend the eye of his employer and his chiefs with whom he is brought in contact is obliged to dress expensively and even elegantly. He must save on his food what he has to spend on his clothing.
The capitalists have degraded the intellectuals below the economic level of the manual laborers. This is their reward for having so magnificently prepared the way for the bourgeois revolution of the eighteenth century.
Jaures in his preface to the Socialist History of France says that “the intellectual bourgeoisie, offended by a brutal and commercial society and disenchanted with the bourgeois power, is rallying to the support of socialism.” Unfortunately nothing could be less exact. This transformation of the intellectual faculties into merchandise, which ought to have filled the intellectuals with wrath and indignation, leaves them indifferent. Never would the free citizen of the ancient republics of Athens and Rome have submitted to such degradation The free man who sells his work, says Cicero, lowers himself to the rank of the slaves. Socrates and Plato were indignant against the Sophists who required pay for their philosophic teaching, for to Socrates and Plato thought was too noble a thing to be bought and sold like carrots and shoes. Even the French clergy of 1789 resented as a mortal insult the proposition to pay a salary for worship. But our intellectuals are accustoming themselves to such degradation.
Spurred on by the mercantile passion, they are never better satisfied with themselves or with society than when they succeed in selling their intellectual merchandise at a good price; they have even come to the point of making its selling price the measure of its value. Zola, who is one of the most distinguished representatives of literary intellectualism, estimates the artistic value of a novel by the number of editions sold. To sell their intellectual merchandise has become in them such an all-absorbing principle that if one speaks to them of socialism, before they inquire into its theories, they ask whether in the socialistic society intellectual labor will be paid for and whether it will be rewarded equally with manual labor.
Imbeciles! they have eyes but they see not that it is the capitalist bourgeoisie which establishes that degrading equality; and to increase its wealth degrades intellectual labor to the point of paying it at a lower rate than manual labor.
We should have to put off the triumph of socialism not to the year 2,000 but to the end of the world if we had to wait upon the delicate, shrinking and impressionable hesitancy of the intellectuals. The history of the century is at hand to teach us just how much we have a right to expect from these gentlemen.
Since 1789 governments of the most diverse and opposed character have succeeded each other in France; and always, without hesitation, the intellectuals have hastened to offer their devoted services. I am not merely speakings of those two-for-a-cent intellectuals who litter up the newspapers, the parliaments and the economic associations: but I mean the scientists, the university professors, the members of the Institute; the higher they raise their heads, the lower they bow the knee.
Princes of science, who ought to have conversed on equal terms with kings and emperors, have marketed their glory to buy offices and favors from ephemeral ministers. Cuvier, one of the mightiest geniuses of the modern era, whom the revolution took from the household of a nobleman to make of him at twenty-five years one of the Museum professors, Cuvier took the oath of allegiance and served with fidelity the Republic. Napoleon. Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis Philippe, the last of whom created him a peer of France to reward him for his career of servility.
To devote one’s self to all governments without distinction is not enough. Pasteur placed his glorious name at the service of the financiers, who placed him in the administrative council of the Credit Foncier, side by side with Jules Simon, with dukes and counts, with senators, deputies and ex-ministers, in order to entrap the “lambs,” When De Lesseps was equipping his colossal swindle of the Panama canal, he enrolled the intellectuals of the Institute, of the French Academy, of literature, of the clergy, of all the circles of higher life.
It is not in the circle of the intellectuals, degraded by centuries of capitalist oppression, that we must seek examples of civic courage and moral dignity. They have not even the sense of professional class-consciousness, At the time of the Dreyfus affair, a certain minister discharged, as if he had been a mere prison guard, one of the professors of chemistry in the Poly technic school who had had the rare courage to give public expression to his opinion. When in a factory the employer dismisses a workman in too arbitrary a fashion, his comrades grumble, and sometimes quit work, even though misery and hunger await them in the street.
All his colleagues in the Polytechnic school bowed their heads in silence; each one crouched in self-regarding fear, and what is still more characteristic, not a single partisan of Dreyfus in the society of the Rights of Man or in the ranks of the press raised a voice to remind them of the idea of professional solidarity. The intellectuals, who on all occasions display their transcendental ethics, have still a long road to travel before they reach the moral plane of the working class and of the socialist party.
The scientists have not only sold themselves to the governments and the financiers, they have also sold science itself to, the capitalist-bourgeoisie. When in the eighteenth century there was need to prepare the minds of men for the revolution, by sapping the ideologic foundations of aristocratic society, then science fulfilled its sublime mission of freedom; it was revolutionary; it furiously attacked Christianity and the intuitional philosophy. But when the victorious bourgeoisie decided to base its new power on religion, it commanded its scientists, its philosophers and its men of letters to raise up what they had overthrown; they responded to the need with enthusiasm. They reconstructed what they had demolished: they proved by scientific, sentimental and romantic argument the existence of God the father, of Jesus the son and of Mary the virgin mother. I do not believe history offers a spectacle equal to that presented in the first years of the nineteenth century by the philosophers, the scientists and the literary men, who from revolutionaries and materialists suddenly transformed themselves into reactionaries, intuitionalists and Catholics.
This backward movement still continues; when Darwin published his Origin of Species, which took away from God his role of creator in the organic world, as Franklin had despoiled him of his thunderbolt, we saw the scientists, big and little, university professors and members of the Institute, enrolling themselves under the orders of Flourens, who for his own part had at least his eighty years for an excuse, that they might demolish the Darwinian theory, which was displeasing to the government and hurtful to religious beliefs. The intellectuals exhibited that painful spectacle in the fatherland of Lamark and of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, the creators of the evolution theory, which Darwin completed and made proof against criticism.
Today, now that the clerical anxiety is somewhat appeased, the scientists venture to profess the evolution theory, which they never opposed without a protest from their scientific conscience, but they turn it against socialism so as to keep in the good graces of the capitalists. Herbert Spencer, Haeckel and the greatest men in the school of Darwinism demonstrate that the classification of individuals into rich and poor, idlers and laborers, capitalists anti wage-earners, is the necessary result of the inevitable laws of nature, instead of being the fulfillment of the will and the justice of God. Natural selection, they say, which has differentiated the organs of the human body, has forever fixed the ranks and the functions of the social body. They have, through servility, even lost the logical spirit. They are indignant against Aristotle because he, being unable to conceive of the abolition of slavery, declared that the slave was marked off by nature; but they fail to see that they are saving something equally monstrous when they affirm that natural selection assigns to each one his place in society.
Thus it is no longer God or religion which condemn the workers to wretchedness – it is science. Never was there all intellectual bankruptcy more fraudulent.
M. Brunetieres, one of those intellectuals who do not feel their degradation and who joyfully fulfill their servile task, was right when he proclaimed the failure of science. He does not suspect how colossal this bankruptcy is.
Science, the great emancipator, that has tamed the powers of nature, and might in so doing have freed man from toil to allow him to develop freely his faculties of mind and body; science, become the slave of capital, has done nothing but supply means for capitalists to increase their wealth, and to intensify their exploitation of the working class. Its most wonderful applications to industrial technique have brought to the children, the women and the men of the working class nothing but overwork and misery! The middle-class revolutionary party of 1789 cried out in horror and indignation against the lords, who through the longs summer nights compelled their serfs to beat the ponds near their castles in order to keep the frogs from croaking. What would they say if they saw what we see? Improvements in lighting date from the capitalist period. At the end of the last century Argant and Carcel invented the lamp with a double current of air, at the beginning of this Chevreul invented the stearic candle, then gas was discovered, then petroleum, then the electric light, turning night into day. What benefits have these scientific improvements in lighting brought to the workers? They have enabled employers to impose night work upon millions of proletarians, not in the midsummer nights and in the balmy air of the fields, but through nights of summer and winter in the poisonous air of the workshops and factories. The industrial applications of mechanics and chemistry have transformed the happy and stimulating work of the artisan into a torture which exhausts and kills the proletarian.
When science subdued the forces of nature to the service of man, ought she not to have given leisure to the workers that they might develop themselves physically and intellectually; ought she not to have changed the “vale of tears” into a dwelling place of peace and joy? I ask you, has not science failed in her mission of emancipation?
The obtuse capitalist himself is conscious of this failure; so he directs his economists and his other intellectual domestics to prove to the working class that it has never been so happy and that its lot goes on improving.
The economists, considering that to deserve the good graces of the capitalists it was not enough to falsify economic facts, are suppressing economic science, which is becoming dangerous for the domination of capital. Ever since Adam Smith and Ricardo they go on repeating the same errors regarding value, regarding the productivity of the predatory and idle capitalist, compiling facts and arranging statistics which guide the capitalists in their speculations: but they dare not draw conclusions and build systems with the materials that they have accumulated. When Ricardo wrote, the phenomena of modern production were beginnings their evolution, their communist tendencies could not be perceived, one could then study them without taking sides and could build up a science without fear of wounding the interests of capital. But now that they have arrived at their full development and show clearly their communal tendencies, the economists shut their eyes that they may not see, and they wage war against the principles established by Ricardo. Which after having served as a basis for the old bourgeois economy, have become the points of departure of the Marxian economy. To take a whack at the socialist theories and put themselves at the service of the financiers, like barkers and fakirs of their bogus goods, are the intellectual functions of the economists. Latterly the owners of silver mines have enlisted them to sing the praises of bimetallism, while Cecil Rhodes, Barnato, Beit, Robbers & Company called them in to boom the Transvaal gold mines.
The intellectuals of art and literature, like the jesters of the old feudal courts, are the entertainers of the class which pays them. To satisfy the tastes of the capitalists and beguile their leisure – this is their sole artistic aim. The men of letters are so well broken to this servile duty that they do not understand the spirit of Moliere, their great ancestor, all the while that they adore the letter of his works. Moliere is the writer most written about in France; learned men have devoted themselves to gathering up the scattered fragments of his erratic and careless youth, to fixing the date and the hour of the representations of his comedies; if they had unearthed an authentic piece of excrement from him they would have set it in gold and would kiss it devotedly, but the spirit of Moliere escapes them. You have read, as I have, many critical analyses of his dramas. Did you ever find one of them which brought out in clear light the role of this militant playright, who more than a century before Beaumarchais and before revolution, at Versailles, in the very court of the great monarch, thrust at the nobility of the court and of the provinces, attacked the church before which Descartes and the rest trembled, hurled his jests at Aristotle, the unquestioned authority of La Sorbonne, that secular church; who ridiculed the Pyrrhonism which the neo-Kantians of our own days oppose to the materialist philosophy of Marxian socialism, but which then was the weapon of the Catholics, of Pascal, of Huet, the bishop of Avranches, to strike and to overthrow human reason, with its impudent desire or reaching knowledge by its own strength. Pitiful, wretched reason, clamored these Kantians before Kant, you can know nothing without the aid of faith! Moliere is unique in European literature, you must go back to the epoch of glorious Athens to find his counterpart in Aristophanes.
If the bourgeois critics timidly and unintelligently mention this side of Moliere, there is an other of which their ignorance is complete. Moliere was the man of his class, the champion of the bourgeois class. Like the socialists who say to the workers, “Break with the liberal bourgeoisie, which deceives you when it does not slaughter you:” he cried to the Georges Dandins and to the “bourgeois noblemen.” “Avoid the nobles like pests; they deceive you, mock you and rob you.”
The great capitalist bourgeoisie does not choose to work, either with its hands or its brain; it chooses merely to drink, to eat, to practice lewdness and to look dignified in its beastly and cumbersome luxury; it does not even deign to occupy itself with politics; men like Rothschild, De Lesseps, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller, do not run for office; they find it more economical to buy the deputies than the voters, and more convenient to put their clerks into the ministries than to take part in parliamentary struggles. The big capitalists interest themselves only in the operations of the stock exchange, which afford the delights of gambling; they dignify these by the pompous name of “speculations,” – a word formerly reserved for the highest processes of philosophical or mathematical thought. The capitalists are getting themselves replaced in the supervision and management of the great industrial and commercial enterprises by intellectuals, who carry them on, and usually are well paid for doing so. These intellectuals of industry and politics, the privileged portion of the wage class, imagine that they are an integral part of the capitalist class, while they are only its servants; on every occasion they take up its defense against the working class, which finds in them its worst enemies.
Intellectuals of this description can never be led into socialism; their interests are too closely bound by with those of the capitalist class for them to detach themselves and turn against it. But below these favored few there is a swarming and famishing throng of intellectuals whose lot grows worse in proportion to the increase of their numbers. These intellectuals belong to socialism. They ought to be already in our ranks.
Their education ought to have given them the necessary intelligence to deal with social problems, but it is this very education which obstructs their hearing and keeps them away from socialism. They think their education confers on them a social privilege, that it will permit them to get through the world by themselves, each making his own way in life by crowding out his neighbor or standing on the shoulders of everyone else. They imagine that their poverty is transitory and that they only need a stroke of good luck to transform them into capitalists. Education, they think, is the lucky number in the social lottery, and it will bring them the grand prize. They do not perceive that this ticket given them by the capitalist class is a fraud, that labor, whether manual or intellectual, has no other chance than to earn its daily pittance, that it has nothing to hope for but to be exploited, and that the more capitalism goes on developing, the more do the chances of an individual raising himself out of his class go on diminishing.
And while they build castles in Spain, capital crushes them, as it has crushed the small merchants and the small manufacturers, who thought they, too, with free credit and a little luck, might become first-class capitalists, whose names should be written in the Great Book of the Public Debt.
The intellectuals, in all that has to do with the understanding of the social movement, do not rise above the intellectual level of those little bourgeois who scoffed so fiercely at the bunglers of 1830 and who, after being ruined and merged in the proletariat, none the less continue to detest socialism; to such a degree were their heads perverted by the religion of property. The intellectuals, whose brains are stuffed with all the prejudices of the bourgeois class, are inferior to those little bourgeois of 1830 and 1848 who at least were not afraid of gunpowder; they have not their spirit of combativeness, they are true imbeciles, – if we restore to this word its original Latin meaning of unsuited for war. Without resistance they endure rebuffs and wrongs and they do not think of uniting, of organizing themselves to defend their interests and give battle to capital on the economic field.
The intellectual proletariat as we know it is a recent growth, it has especially developed in the last forty years. When after the amnesty of the condemned of the Commune, we began again the socialist propaganda, believing that it would be easy to draw the intellectuals into the movement we took up our dwelling in their cultured Latin quarter, Guesde taking up his residence in the Rue de la Pitie, Vaillant in the Rue Monge and I in the Boulevard de Port Royal. We became acquainted with hundreds of young men, students of law, of medicines, of the sciences, but you can count on your fingers those whom we brought into the socialist camp. Our ideas attracted them one day, but the next day the wind blew from another quarter and turned their heads.
An honorable merchant of Bordeaux, a prominent member of the municipal council, said in the time of the empire to my father, who was disturbed over my socialism: “Friend Lafargue, you must let youth take its course; I was a socialist when I studied at Paris, I was connected with the secret societies and I took part in the movement for demanding of Louis Philippe the pardon of Barbes.” The young men of our age turn quickly, let them get back to their homes and they develop prominent abdomens and become reactionaries.
We welcomed joyfully the entrance of Jaurès into socialism; we thought that the new form which he brought to our propaganda would make it penetrate into circles that we had not been able to touch. He has in fact made a decided impression on the university circle, and we owe it in part to him that the nurslings of the Ecole Normale have ideas regarding the social movement which are a little less absurd and formless than those with which their learning and intelligence have hitherto been contented. Lately, joining forces with the radical politicians who had lost their working-class following, they have invaded the socialist party. Their souls overflow with the purest intentions: if their peaceful habits prevent them from throwing themselves into the conflict, and if their lofty culture forbids them to take their place in the ranks of the comrades, they nevertheless condescend to instruct us in ethics, to polish off our ignorance, to teach us how to think, to offer us such crumbs of science as we may be able to digest, and to direct us. they modestly offer themselves to us as leaders and schoolmasters.
These intellectuals who have spent their youth in the university that they might become experts on exercises, polishers of phrases, philosophers or doctors, imagine one can improvise himself into a master of the socialist theory by attending a single lecture or by the careless reading of a single pamphlet. Naturalists who had felt the need of painful research to learn the habits of mollusks or of the polyps who live in a community on the coral banks, think that they know enough to regulate human societies, and that by keeping their stand on the first steps of the ascending ladder of animal life they can the better discern the human ideal. The philosophers, the moralists, the historians and the politicians have aims equally lofty; they bring an abundant supply of ideas and a new method of action to replace the imperfect theory and tactics which in all capitalist countries have served to build up socialist parties strong in numbers, unity and discipline.
The class struggle is out of fashion, declare these professors of socialism. Can a line of demarcation be drawn between classes? Do not the working people have savings bank accounts of $20, $30 and $100?, bringing them 50 cents, $1.50 and $3.00 of interest yearly? Is it not true that the directors and managers of mines, railroads and financial houses are wage-workers, having their functions and duties in the enterprises which they manage for the account of capitalists? The argument is unanswerable, but by the same token there is no vegetable kingdom nor animal kingdom because we can not separate them “with an ax,” as it were, for the reason that at their points of contact, vegetables and animals merge into each other. There is no longer any day or any night because the sun does not appear on the horizon at the same moment all over the earth, and because it is day at the andpodes while it is night here.
The concentration of capital? A worn-out tune of 1850. The corporations by their stocks and bonds parcel out property, and distribute it among all the citizens. How blinded we were by our sectarianism when we thought that this new form of property, essentially capitalistic, was enabling the financiers to plunge their thieving hands into the smallest purses, to extract the last pieces of silver.
The poverty of the working class! But it is diminishing and soon will disappear through the constant increase of wages, while interest on money is constantly diminishing; some fine day it will descend to zero and the bourgeois will be overjoyed to offer their beloved capital on the altar of socialism. That to-morrow or the day after the capitalist will be forced to work, is the prediction of Mr. Waldeck-Rousseau. And there are intellectuals whose condition grows worse in proportion as capitalism develops, who are stultified by the utterances of the employers to a point where they affirm that the position of wage-workers is improving, and there are intellectuals who assume to possess some knowledge of political economy, who affirm that interest on money is rapidly diminishing. Could these reformers of socialism perchance be ignorant that Adam Smith calculated at the end of the eighteenth century that 3 per cent was the normal interest of capital running no risk, and that the financiers of our own epoch consider that it is still around 3 per cent that the interest rate must fluctuate. If a few years ago this rate seemed to fall below 2½ per cent, it has risen today above 3 per cent. Capital is merchandise, like intellectual capacities and carrots; as such it is subject to the fluctuations of supply and demand. It was then more offered than demanded, whereas since the development of the industrial plant of Russia, since the opening of China to European exploitation etc., the over-supply of capital has been absorbed and its price rises with its scarcity. But the intellectuals have too many trifles to think of and too many harmonious phrases to construct for giving any thought to economic phenomena. They take for sterling truths all the lies of the capitalists, and repeat with pious conviction the old litanies of the orthodox economic church: “There are no classes, wealth is coming to be distributed more and more equitably, the workers are growing richer and those living on incomes are growing poorer, and the capitalist society is the best of all possible societies; these truths shine forth like suns and none but partisans and mystics can deny them.”
These intellectuals propose to modify the tactics as well as the theories of the socialist party; they wish to impose upon it a new method of action. It must no longer strive to conquer the public powers by a great struggle, legal or revolutionary as need may be, but let itself be conquered by every minister of a republican coalition; it is no longer to oppose the socialist party to all the bourgeois parties: what is needed is to put it at the service of the liberal party; we must no longer organize it for the class struggle, but keep it ready for all the compromises of politicians. And to further the triumph of the new method of action, they propose to disorganize the socialist party, to break up its old systems and to demolish the organizations which for twenty years have labored to give the workers a sense of their class interests and to group them in a party of economic and political struggle.
But the intellectuals will lose their labors; thus far they have only succeeded in drawing closer the ties uniting the socialists of the different organizations, and in making themselves ridiculous.
The intellectuals ought to have been the first of all the various groups to revolt against capitalist society, in which they occupy a subordinate position so little in keeping with their hopes and their talents, but they do not even understand it; they must have such a confused idea of it that August Comte, Renan, and others more or less distinguished have cherished the dream of reviving for their benefit an aristocracy copied after the model of the Chinese mandarin system. Such an idea is a reflection of past ages in their heads, for nothing is in more absolute opposition with the modern social movement than such pretensions. The intellectuals in previous states of society formed a world outside and above that of production, having charge only of education, of the direction of religious worship, and of the political administration.
The mechanic industry of these societies combine in the same producer, manual labor and intellectual labor; it was for example the same cabinetmaker who designed and executed the piece of furniture, who bought its first material and who even undertook its sale. Capitalist production has divorced two functions which once were indissolubly united; on the one side it puts the manual workers, who become more and more servants of the machine, and on the other the intellectual workers, engineers, chemists, managers, etc: But these two categories of workers, however different and contrary they may be in their education and habits, are welded together, to the point that a capitalist industry can not be carried on without manual laborers and more than without intellectual wage-workers.
United in production, united under the yoke of capitalist exploitation, united they should be also in revolt against the common enemy. The intellectuals, if they understood their own real interests would come in crowds to socialism, not through philanthropy, not through pity for the miseries of the workers, not through affectation and snobbery but to save themselves, to assure the future welfare of their wives and children, to fulfill their duty to their class. They ought to be ashamed of being left behind in the social battle by their comrades in the manual category. They have many things to teach them, but they have still much to learn from them: the workingmen have a practical sense superior to theirs, and have given proof of an instinctive intuition of the communist tendencies of modern capitalism which is lacking to the intellectuals, who have only been able by a conscious mental effort to arrive at this conception. If only they had understood their own interests, they would long since have turned against the capitalist class the education which it has generously distributed in order better to exploit them; they would have utilized their intellectual capacities, which are enriching their masters, as so many improved weapons to fight capitalism and to conquer the freedom of their class, the wage-working class.
Capitalist production, which has overthrown the old conditions of life and of work, has elaborated new forms, which already can be discerned without supernatural vision, but which to the intellectuals remain sealed under seven seals. One of the leading lights of intellectualism, M. Durkheim, in his book, The Division of Labor, which made some noise in university circles, can not conceive of society except on the social pattern of ancient Egypt, each laborer remaining, his life through, penned up in one single trade. However, unless one is so unfortunate as to be affected by the hopeless near-sightedness of the Ecole Normale, one can not help seeing that the machine is suppressing trades, one after the other, in a way to let only one survive, that of the machinist, and that when it has finished its revolutionary work which the socialists will complete by revolutionizing capitalist society, the producer of the communist society will plow and sow with the machine today, will spin, will turn wood or polish steel to-morrow, and will exercise in turn all the trades to the greater profit of his health and his intelligence.
The industrial applications of mechanics, chemistry and physics, which, monopolized by capital, oppress the worker, will, when they shall be common property, emancipate man from toil and give him leisure and liberty.
Mechanical production, which under capitalist direction call only buffet the worker back and forth from periods of over-work to periods of enforced idleness, will when developed and regulated by a communist administration, require from the producer, to provide for the normal needs of society, only a maximum day of two or three hours in the workshop, and when this time of necessary social labor is fulfilled he will be able to enjoy freely the physical and intellectual pleasures of life.
The artist then will paint, will sing, will dance, the writer will write, the musician will compose operas, the philosopher will build systems, the chemist will analyze substances not to gain money, to receive a salary, not to deserve applause, to win laurel wreaths, like the conquerors at the Olympic games, but to satisfy their artistic and scientific passion; for one does not drink a glass of champagne or kiss the woman he loves for the benefit of the gallery. The artist and the scientist may then repeat the enthusiastic words of Kepler, that hero of science: “The elector of Saxony with all his wealth can not equal the pleasure I have felt in composing the Mysterium Cosmographicum.”
Will not the intellectuals end by hearing the voice of the socialist calling them to the rescue, to emancipate science and art from the capitalist yoke, to liberate thought from the slavery of commercialism?
Socialism and the Intellectuals by Paul Paul Lafargue, Translated by Charles H. Kerr. Charles H. Kerr Publishers, Chicago. 1900.
The Charles H Kerr publishing house was responsible for some of the earliest translations and editions of Marx, Engels, and other leaders of the socialist movement in the United States. Publisher of the Socialist Party aligned International Socialist Review, the Charles H Kerr Co. was an exponent of the Party’s left wing and the most important left publisher of the pre-Communist US workers movement. It remains a left wing publisher today.
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