Ernest Lesigne, Socialistic Letters — IX (1887)

Ten years ago, I wrote a study from which emerged the somewhat unexpected conclusion that every error is, as well as every truth, the product of experiment.
In the case of error, the experiment is incomplete. That is all. But as those who are mistaken have seen, or what is called seeing, we mustn’t be surprised to see so many of them become hot and bothered when one assures them that they are mistaken.
So I simply say this to the collectivists:
You have concluded without having seen enough.
It is always the story of that Englishman who, reaching one of our shores, encountered a woman; the woman was a redhead; the Englishman reembarked, having written in his notebook: In France, the women are all redheads.
The intellectual fathers of the collectivism that is called scientific, Karl Marx, for example, can only cite one name, belonging to that generation that was adult in 1330, and their conclusions date from before 1848.
We were lost in the revival of the memories of the Revolution; the historians sang the great epic, the abolition of serfdom and privilege, the proclamation of liberty for all, of equal rights for all, the disappearance of the aristocracy.
Doubtless we just saw it aped, that nobility of days gone by, by an aristocracy of the leather breeches; doubtless we had seen it returning, listless, in the wagons of the enemy; but it had been a bad dream, and, thanks to the Three Glorious Days, if there was still a king, at least there were no more seigneurs.
It was the brisk march toward complete equality.
Suddenly an unknown thing loomed up, a sort of raised tower like in the old manors, with a high plume of smoke. And some walls are erected all around, bare and straight like those of a fortress. The walls open and close at fixed hours, and under the arch pass multitudes of the gaunt, the exhausted, and the stooped, and one does not know if it is fear or fatigue that prevents them from straightening their torsos. In these modern castle-keeps, [we find] the lords. A new servitude is born.
The tall chimneys multiply, and also the number of masters. A new aristocracy is born, brutal, grasping, uncouth, plundering, arrogant, heartless, inhuman, obsessed with numbers and gain, a predatory race, for whom the man counts less than the beast of burden, for the beast is purchased and it has the man for nothing; irresponsible; for, more skillful than its predecessors who had to feed the slave and protect the serf, it has been able to rid itself, with regard to the proletarian, from any sort of obligation.
And yet the proletarians compete for the honor of filling these modern donjons, to row in these galleys; they rush, jostle, and beat on the doors to enter.
It is because the growth of all these tall chimneys has created hunger in the homes of all the laborers; the connecting rod of the great machine has replaced human arms.
There remains only one recourse, to make oneself a cog in the factory, vehicle, lackey of the monstrous machine, servant of the master of this monster.
Those eager for equality, the sons of the revolutionaries would dream; and those who were to become the communists and thenthe collectivists were struck to the point of dizziness by the noise that came out of these modern keeps, which rose in blackish stains, like prisons on a soil that was verdant the day before.
They would have attention, concern only for that calamity of an aristocracy that accumulated more each day, and that other calamity of a proletariat enslaved.
That was the fact of the moment. What would the future be, if someone did not set it right?
They concluded immediately:
Since the aristocracy gathers more and more capital, means of production, and wealth, a time will soon come when it will have taken everything and when the nation will form two nations, one, a ruling minority, possessing all; the other, servants, having nothing, living at the mercy of the first. So things must be put in order, and since it is machinery that is the reason for that accursed aristocracy, which is its strength, which has created and maintains it; since the machine is, however, indispensable, we will keep the machine, but abolish the aristocracy. How? By giving back to the State, to the government, all the means of production.
From which arises a pile of systems, solidly constructed, very fine on paper, but which would be rather dangerous in practice; for, to the tyranny of the aristocracy, which is so dreaded, the substitute the tyranny of the political powers, no less dreadful, no less iniquitous, odious, and degrading, not less detestable.
Ah! Let us be wary of deductions!
Now, while the pot-bellied aristocracy ate the fat in the manner of the Eskimos, and while the system-makers systematized, a mass of good people of practical natures, manipulators of tools, learned men, small artisans, and engineers, who had no intention of letting themselves be devoured by the capitalist ogre, nor enslaved by the communist despot, set themselves to the work, once the first moment of stupor had passed.
At all times there have been these temperaments of free men wanting to remain free. They vanquished the aristocracy of the Middle Ages and the despotism of the monarchic State. They will overcome the aristocracy of the nineteenth century and maintain the dreams of communist despotism in the cloudy realm of the imagination.
Here, says this free, intelligent people to itself, are some big machines, very threatening, cumbersome and monopolizing. Modern lords, you have there a very fine armament. They are for you what high walls, armor and shields were to your predecessors in olden days. No peasant could penetrate them.
Perfect, but gunpowder was invented and the castle-forts were deserted by the serfs, abandoned by the masters themselves, who could no longer live there. There remain some miserable ruins, to serve as an example to the lords to come.
For more than thirty years, but after Karl Marx had built up his conclusions, we have invented small engines, small tools that will deliver us from the mechanical monsters; we reorganize the small industry of the artisan, which has been momentarily disoriented; the machine is democratized, made portative, commode, cheap, accessible, and, what makes it superior to the monsters of the large factory, it can wait without harm in the moments of unemployment; it no longer holds the worker at its service, and becomes at the service of the individual.
In a near future, all the laborers, even the proletarians of today, each by themselves or in association with others, will have their own machine, their tool, and the industrial fortresses of today will be deserted wastelands, around high, smokeless chimneys, between dilapidated walls. The sons of the aristocracy of iron and money will work for their livelihood, which will not be a great calamity, and the historians recount how the industrious people have regained their liberty, compromised for a moment by the beginning of mechanization, and by the first expansion of industrialism.
Such are the scientific facts that the communists of the time of Louis-Philippe could have foreseen, and that the contemporary collectivism, called scientific, neglects to see.
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