‘Zola the Socialist’ by Jean Longuet, translated by Meta L. Stern from The Comrade. Vol. 2 No. 3. December, 1902.

With children Denise and Jacques, 1900.
‘Zola the Socialist’ by Jean Longuet, translated by Meta L. Stern from The Comrade. Vol. 2 No. 3. December, 1902.

A VERY characteristic sign of the decomposition of the capitalistic world and of the wonderful progress made by our ideas in every sphere, is the fact that the greatest among our artists and writers give more or less thorough evidence of their sympathy with the leading ideas of the modem Socialistic movement. In France our two greatest contemporary writers, whose works have for thirty years most gloriously represented French literary genius throughout the world, Anatole France and Emile Zola, have undoubtedly in all their later works shown themselves to be in full harmony with the essential principle of organized labor. In some future issue I will tell the readers of THE COMRADE how Anatole France, the disciple of Renan, with his calm skepticism and elegant humanism, came to accept even the final aims of the workingmen’s movement. He whose Socialistic tendencies I wish to describe briefly now, is the great novelist, the noble citizen, whom the entire civilized world has just lost, and for whom a hundred thousand Parisian Socialists created a magnificent funeral. A great many people, both in France and abroad, think that Zola’s relations with the Socialists, relations of thought and of struggle, date only from the Dreyfus affair, as the Socialist Party was the only one to support him in his heroic struggle for the cause of justice. But this is a decided mistake. Zola’s entire literary work, his general views of life, and his temperament, have for a long time brought him into contact with the Socialistic movement, and from the commencement of his masterly Rougon Maquart series, “the mental and social history of a family during the Second Empire,” the writer followed an analysis of facts which could only terminate in the general conclusions of our great theorists.


Evidently Zola was dominated during a great part of his life by Darwinian ideas, or, rather, by the erroneous conclusions derived from Darwinism by those who seek to justify capitalistic rule. Under the pretext of the “struggle for existence,” the system of capitalistic competition was justified and declared to be the result, not of divine destiny, as during the first half of the century, but of the laws of nature. The influence of natural conditions is proclaimed above all, but the by far more important influence of economical conditions is entirely neglected. In his “Philosophy of Art” Taine judges the great masters of painting of the Dutch and Flemish schools of the seventeenth century, as also those of the Italian school of the sixteenth century, only by the physical and geological conditions of the Netherlands and of Italy.

In the same way Zola is very careful to explain the psychology of his heroes and their entire lives by the laws of atavism and heredity, which one can follow carefully traced throughout his entire “Rougon Maquart” series, from the “Fortune of the Rougens,” one of the most remarkable, though the keast known, to “Doctor Pascal,” the last of this series. His scientific mind, his desire to systematize, displays itself in this well grouped monument. “It is wonderful,” writes Abel Hermant, “that one person should have been able to write these nineteen consecutive volumes in twenty-two years just as he had pictured them from the start, without a pause, without a single change of the original plan, without once altering the genealogical tree or the determined place of the various characters.”

One finds, nevertheless. already in the first volumes of the series, a wonderful perception of social phenomena, and it is this exact analysis of economical conditions which presents itself in “The Booty,” the second volume of the series. It was a picture admirably well drawn, of the furious speculations of which Paris was the scene at the beginning of the Second Empire as a result of the great works which the perfect Haussman had initiated. “Pot-Bouille” brought a description that seemed brutal, but in reality it was only the faithful image of the customs of the bourgeois, showing the low morals, the absence of culture, and their want of all ideals. In “The Ladies’ Paradise” Zola gave an exact and complete description of capitalistic concentration. He was the first writer who showed in the fatal crushing of the small merchant by the large concern, the dominating feature of modem commercial life. He condemns money, “the corrupter and destroyer,” throughout this work. He denounces the detestable vices of capitalistic society in “Nana,” a faithful portrayal of prostitution in general, and of the theatrical world in particular: and in “The Murderer” he gives a terrible description of the passions set free by alcoholism, among the paupers degraded by misery.

But a dreary pessimism and a complete hopelessness made up the philosophy of Emile Zola. That is also the time of his life when the great writer became rich. when he seemed to have arrived at the honors of “bourgeois” society, when he was decorated with the “legion d’honeur,” was induced to present himself at the “Academie Francaise,” that conservative body of literary men, and is considered as a candidate of one of the bourgeois parties for the assemblage which holds its sessions in the “Palais du Luxemburg.” But, as Abel Hermant said in the splendid oration which he delivered at Zola’s tomb, ”he was no less fortified against wealth than against poverty, for in the midst of luxury which would have enervated others, he maintained the noble pride of a good worker.” And truly, Zola never ceased working. This ardent love of work, “work the benefactor and pacifier.” he shows in the strong conclusion of his novel “The Work,” where beside the grave of the hero, a talented but unrecognized artist having addressed some words of comfort and hope to the few assembled friends, terminates in this exclamation: “Let us work!” Moreover the independence of Zola’s character, refusing to grant the concessions and compromises which society demanded from him, the artless awkwardness with which he confessed to his advanced views in the most inappropriately chosen moments, prevented him from becoming a “regular,” and made his being admitted into the Academie Francaise impossible. He remained a “bear,” as he chose to call himself, a revolutionist.

With “Germinal,” the great novelist reveals himself as a wonderful portrayer of the masses. This chapter of proletarian life of the miners, to which the great battles actually fought on both sides of the Atlantic, give a historic foundation, this struggle of the workers, “whose dreary thoughts seem to rise up from the bowels of the earth toward a light of hope and justice,” has all the grandeur and beauty and power of an epic poem. In his preceding works one perceives them already, the anonymous masses. Although they do not appear in the foremost ranks one can hear their distant murmur. But in “Germinal” they hold the first place, they are really “the hero” of the novel. Together with “The Weavers,” by Gerhart Hauptmann, in which, as the “Vorwrerts” of Berlin remarks, the influence of Zola is quite evident, “Germinal” gives to the proletarians the strongest and most beautiful creation that their struggles and hopes could inspire.

With a powerful pen, but perhaps with a slightly exaggerated pessimism, the great realist describes in “The Country” the baseness and suffering of rural proletarian life, bowed to the soil, stupefied by centuries of misery and oppression; while in “The Dream” he attempts a purely idealistic novel, wishing to prove to his critics that he was capable of rising into the ethereal heights of the ideal, as well as following the trail of the realities and sufferings of human life.

“Money” then gives us another powerful study of economic conditions, which, as Marx says, are the only foundation from which the political and intellectual history of every period can be explained. The stock-jobbing, the furious war waged by money, the duel engaged in by the Catholic band of Saccard (who is no other than the famous leader of the “Union Generate,” M. Bontaux) and the Jewish bank represented by Gundermann (Rothschild) the entire delicate and complicated mechanism of the money market, is splendidly and accurately described. At the end of the story Zola shows us capitalistic concentration working with the irresistible power and exactness of natural phenomena. It scatters misery and ruin, but at the same time prepares the necessary conditions for the realization of a new society, which one of the heroes of the novel, Sigismond Busch, a generous and noble minded thinker, points out as the superior one, and predicts as an event of the near future.

In the latter part of his life, even before the Dreyfus affair, Zola accentuated his social apprehensions in the two serials: “The Three Cities,” and “The Four Gospels.” The fourth, “Justice,” was, alas, interrupted by the tragic death of the great writer. First, in “Lourdes,” he gives a study of the quaint religious madness; in “Rome” he describes the separation of the young hero, the abbot Pierre Froment, from the Catholic church; in “Paris” he shows us, besides the useless attempts of dynamite throwing Anarchy, the power of science, which, in his opinion, even without the efforts of man, must free society from the evils of capitalism. Here we come to the only deficiency in Zola’s social conceptions, a deficiency which is mainly perceptible where he attempted a constructive effort as in “Labor,” his Utopian novel which appeared last year. Zola, who has wonderfully described the existing economical conditions, like some ancient Utopian Socialists, does not seem to understand the necessity of the proletarians assuming the point of view of class combat, in order to dissolve the inequality existing in the capitalistic organization between the production and distribution of social wealth. That the proletarians are obliged to organize themselves as a class to liberate humanity, seems to escape him. In “Paris” he points out the development of science as the only remedy; in “Labor” the growth of cooperative production, which by its own superiority, wins over the minds of men to recognize the new order of things, and causes the capitalists to abandon their own growing interests to the collectivistic organization which gradually encircles all humanity. Our American comrades will here recognize the same spirit which led to the formation of those quaint Western and Texas Communistic colonies, especially that of the followers of Bellamy. Here we find ourselves very close to the “New Arcadia” of Cabet, but rather far from the modern Socialism of Marx and Engels.

But it is above all the descriptive part of his writings, the faithful depicting of social conditions, which makes Zola a Socialist; as also his hatred of money, “money which does not even give pleasure to those who possess it,” and his hatred of all the crimes committed by a society which is based upon money. It is also because his naturalistic philosophy has contributed to the modem views of life a healthful optimism, in spite of the pessimism which seems to dominate a great part of his writings. It is moreover because he incessantly proclaims the elevation and ennobling of mankind by the moral force of labor and by the love of labor, of labor which he glorifies in glowing language, and in which he sees the ideal of the modem, laboring classes. “The century belongs to labor,” he writes in one of his recent novels, “for does one not already see in the growth of Socialism the social order of the future, of labor for all, “labor, the benefactor and pacifier?”


“What a great and healthy society will it be, where every member shall contribute his logical share of work I No more money, and, accordingly, no more speculation, no more theft, no more dishonorable dealings, no more crimes, incited by the craving for wealth. No young girls will be married for their dowry, nor old relatives assassinated for their heritage; no passersby will be murdered for their purse. No more hostile classes of employer and employed, of proletarians and bourgeois, and, accordingly, no more laws and courts and armed forces to guard the unjust accumulations of one class against the hunger of the other. No more idlers of any kind, and therefore no more property owners nourished by their rent; no more people living idly on their income granted by chance; in one word, no more luxury and no more misery! Thanks to the many new hands employed in labor, thanks above all to the machines, we will not work more than four, perhaps but three hours a day, and oh I how much time there will be for enjoying life! For it will not be a barrack, but a city full of freedom and gaiety, where everyone remains free to choose his pleasures, with enough time to satisfy his just desires, the joy of loving, of being strong, being beautiful, being intelligent, of taking his share from inexhaustible nature!

“Then it will be a man in a higher type of development, rejoicing in the fulfillment of his natural wants, who will have become the real master. The schools and work shops are open. Every child chooses its profession according to its inclination. As the years pass by, careful selection is made by rigorous examinations. It no longer suffices to be able to pay for your instruction; it is necessary to profit thereby. Thus everyone will find himself halted and put to use at the just degree of his ability, as indicated by nature. Each for all, according to his capability!

“O joyous, active community, ideal community of reasonable and humane selection, where the old prejudice against manual labor no longer exists, where one can behold a great poet being a carpenter, and a locksmith being a great sage! Ah I blessed city, triumphant city, toward which mankind has been marching for so many centuries- city whose white walls glitter yonder in the light of happiness, in the radiant light of the sun!” (“Paris.”)

This dazzling description of the grandeur and beauty of a communistic world, alone, made Zola one of us. His noble, courageous intervention in an embittered combat for justice, in which he rose against an insolent and brutal militarism, and against all the forces of oppression and falsehood of a bourgeois society, was one of the great battles which brought nearer the decisive hour of victory for the laboring class.

The Comrade began in 1901 with the launch of the Socialist Party, and was published monthly until 1905 in New York City and edited by John Spargo, Otto Wegener, and Algernon Lee amongst others. Along with Socialist politics, it featured radical art and literature. The Comrade was known for publishing Utopian Socialist literature and included a serialization of ‘News from Nowhere’ by William Morris along work from with Heinrich Heine, Thomas Nast, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Edward Markham, Jack London, Maxim Gorky, Clarence Darrow, Upton Sinclair, Eugene Debs, and Mother Jones. It would be absorbed into the International Socialist Review in 1905.

PDF of full issue: https://books.google.com/books/download/The_Comrade.pdf?id=-ygrAAAAYAAJ&output=pdf

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