Manifesto of the Sixty Workers of the Seine (1864)

I was looking at how much of Proudhon’s Political Capacity of the Working Classes I had translated at various times into English, with some thought about taking it up as the next logical bit of his work to tackle, when The Theory of Property finally gets finished, here in the next month or two. It’s a work that I started reading through enough years ago that my French was at that time very, very rusty. So I had to search around on some old thumb drives to find some of my earliest work on it, and in the process found that I had taken the time, not knowing the history surrounding the work very well, to translate, in very rough form, the “Manifesto of the Sixty Workers of the Seine,” signed by Henri Tolain and a group of other workingmen. It’s been long enough ago that I”m not sure how much of what I found was the result of my most clueless initial gropings back towards a reading knowledge of French, and how much was the result of early online translation. There was at least on telltale translation of “essence” as “gasoline,” so some of it was clearly the latter. But I decided to wade right in and see if I couldn’t turn it into something useable. Here, as part of the background for Proudhon’s last completed work, is the result:

Manifesto of the Sixty Workers of the Seine
(February 17, 1864)
On May 31, 1863, the workers of Paris, more concerned about the triumph of the opposition than of their particular interest, would vote the list published by the newspapers. Without hesitating, without haggling over their support, inspired by their devotion to liberty, they gave a new, brilliant, and irrefutable proof of it. And the victory of the opposition was complete, such as one wished it ardently, but certainly more imposing than many dared to hope.
A worker candidacy was posted, it is true, but defended with a moderation that everyone was forced to recognize. It was put forward to support only some secondary, partisan considerations, in the face of an exceptional situation which gave to the general elections a particular character; its defenders abstained from posing the vast problem of the pauperism. It was with a great reserve of propaganda and arguments that the proletariat attempted to manifest itself: the proletariat, that wound of modern society, as slavery and serfdom were wounds of antiquity and the Middle Ages. Those who acted thus had foreseen their defeat, but they believed it was good to set a first milepost. Such a candidacy seemed necessary to them to affirm the profoundly democratic spirit of the great city.
In the next elections the situation will not be the same. By the election of nine deputies, the liberal opposition obtained in Paris a broad satisfaction. Whoever they were, selected under the same conditions, the newly elected officials would not add anything to the significance of the vote of May 31: whatever their eloquence, it would hardly add to the glare thrown today by the skilful and brilliant speakers of the opposition. There is not a point of the democratic program of which we would not wish, like it, its realization. And let us say it once and for all, we employ this word Democracy in its most radical and honest sense.
But if we agree on policy, do we agree on social economy? Are the reforms that we desire, the institutions that we demand the liberty to found, accepted by all those which represent the liberal party in the legislature? That is the question, the Gordian knot of the situation.
One fact demonstrates in a peremptory and painful way, the difficulties of the position of the workmen.
In a country whose Constitution rests on universal suffrage, in a country where everyone invokes and extols the principles of 89, we are obliged to justify some worker candidacies, to tell thoroughly, at length, the how and the why, and that in order to avoid, not only the unjust accusations of the timid and excessively conservative, but also the fears and the loathings of our friends.
Universal suffrage has made us adults politically, but it still remains to us to emancipate ourselves socially. The freedom which the Third Estate was able to win with so much strength and perseverance must be extended in France, a democratic country, to all the citizens. Equal political right necessarily implies an equal social right. We repeat it until we’re blue in the face: there are no more classes; since 1789, all the French are equal before the law.
But we who have no another property than our arms, we who undergo every day the legitimate or arbitrary conditions of capital; we who live under exceptional laws, such as the law on the coalitions and article 1781, which harmed our interests at the same time as our dignity, it is quite difficult for us to believe in that assertion.
We who, in a country where we have the right to name the deputies, have not always the means of learning how to read; we who, for want of the power to gather, to associate freely, are powerless to organize professional instruction, and who see this precious instrument of industrial progress becoming the privilege of capital, we cannot delude ourselves in that way.
We whose children often spend their younger years in the demoralizing and unhealthy environment of the factories, or in apprenticeship, which is hardly still today anything but a state close to domestic servitude; we, whose wives inevitably desert the hearth for an excessive labor, contrary to their nature and destructive of the family; we who do not have the right to agree to defend our wages peacefully, to insure ourselves against unemployment, we affirm that the equality written in the law is not in the customs, and that it has yet to be realized in the facts. Those who, deprived of education and capital, cannot resist selfish and oppressive demands through liberty and solidarity, these are inevitably subject to the domination of the capital: their interests remain subordinates to other interests.
We know it, the interests do not regulate themselves; they escape the law; they can be reconciled only by particular conventions, mobile and changing like those interests themselves. Without liberty being given to all that reconciliation is impossible. We will march to the conquest of our rights, peacefully and legally, but with energy and persistence. Our liberation will soon show the progress realized in the spirit of the working classes, of the immense multitude that vegetates as what is called the proletariat, and that, in order to use a fairer expression, we will call the salariat.
To those which wish to see resistance organized, the strike, as soon as we claim liberty, we say: you do not know the worker; they work towards an end large in other ways, fertile in different ways than the one which exhausts their strength in daily battles where, from two sides, the adversaries would ultimately find only ruin for some and poverty for the others.
The Third Estate said: What the Third Estate? Nothing! What must it be? Everything! We will not say: What is the worker? Nothing! What must he be? Everything! But we will say: the bourgeoisie, our elder brother in emancipation, knew how, in 89, to absorb the nobility and to destroy unjust privileges; it is a question for us, not to destroy the rights which the middle classes rightly enjoy, but to win the same liberty of action. In France, the democratic country par excellence, all political right, any social reform, every instrument of progress cannot remain the privilege of some. By the force of the things, the nation which possesses the innate spirit of equality, irresistibly tends to make the inheritance of all.
Any means of progress which cannot be extended, popularized, so as to contribute to the general well-being, by descending to the last layers of society, is not completely democratic, for it constitutes a privilege. The law must be broad enough to allow to each, separately or collectively, the development of their faculties, the use of their strengths, savings and intelligence, without anyone being able to establish any limits on them but the liberty of others, and not their interests.
Let no one accuse us of dreaming of agrarian laws, chimerical equality, which would put each on a Procrustean bed, division, maximum, forced taxation, etc, etc. No! It is high time to be done with these slanders propagated by our enemies and adopted by the ignorant. Liberty to work, credit, and solidarity, there are our dreams. The day when they are realized, for the glory and the prosperity of a country that is dear to us, there will be no more bourgeois nor proletarians, no bosses nor workers. All the citizens will be equal in rights.
But, we are told, all these reforms that you need, the elected deputies can demand them like you, and better than you; they are the representatives of all and named by all.
Well! we will respond: No! We are not represented, and that is why we pose this question of the worker candidacies. We know that one does not say industrial, commercial, military, journalistic candidacies, etc; but the thing is there if the word is not. Isn’t the great majority of the legislature made up of large landowners, industrialists, tradesmen, generals, journalists, etc, etc, etc, which vote silently or which speak only in the offices, and only on questions in which they have the special interest?
A very small number speak on the general questions. Certainly we think that the elected workers should and could defend the general interests of the democracy, but even when they limit themselves to defending the particular interests of the most numerous class, what a specialty! They would fill a gap with the legislature where manual labor is not represented. We who do not have at our service any of these means, fortune, relations, public office, we are forced to give to our candidacies a clear and significant denomination and to call things by their name as much as we can.
We are not represented, for, in a recent meeting of the legislature, there was a unanimous demonstration of sympathy in favor of the working class, but no voice was raised to formulate, with moderation but with firmness, our aspirations, our desires and our rights as we understand them.
We are not represented, we who refuse to believe that poverty is a divine institution. Charity, a Christian institution, has radically proven and has recognized itself its powerlessness as a social institution.
Undoubtedly, in the good old days, in the times of divine right, when, imposed by God, the kings and the nobles believed themselves the fathers and elders of the people, when happiness and the equality were relegated to heaven, charity should be a social institution.
In the times of the sovereignty of the people, of universal suffrage, it is no more, can no longer be more than a private virtue. Alas! the defects and the infirmities of human nature will always leave to fraternity a vast field on which to exert itself; but the unmerited poverty that, in the form of disease, insufficient wages, and unemployment, encloses the immense majority of the workingmen, of goodwill, in a fatal circle where they struggle in vain: this poverty, we attest to it vigorously, can disappear and it will disappear. Why has no one made this distinction? We do not want to be clients or to be assisted; we want to become equals; we reject alms; we want justice.
No, we are not represented, because no one has said that the spirit of antagonism weakened every day in the popular classes. Enlightened by experience, we do not hate men, but we want to change things. Nobody said that the law on the coalitions was no longer anything but a scarecrow and that instead of putting an end to the evil, it perpetuated it by closing any exit to those who believed themselves oppressed.
No, we are not represented, because in the question of the trade-union organizations, a strange confusion was established in the mind of those who recommended them: according to them, the trade-union organizations would be made up bosses and workmen, as a sort of professional labor court, arbiters responsible for ruling from day to day on the questions which emerge. However what we ask for is an association made up exclusively of workers, elected by universal suffrage, a Chamber of Labor, we could say by analogy with the Chamber of Commerce, and they respond to us with a court.
No, we are not represented because nobody spoken of the considerable movement which appears in the working classes to organize the credit. Who knows today that thirty-five mutual credit associations function in obscurity in Paris. They contain fertile seeds, but for their complete blossoming they would need the sun of freedom.
In principle, few intelligent democrats dispute the legitimacy of our demands, and none deny us the right to put them forward ourselves.
Opportunity, the ability of the candidates, the likely obscurity of their names, since they would be selected from among the workers exercising their trade at the time of the choice (and that in order to specify the sense of their candidacy), these are the questions which are raised to conclude that our project is unrealizable, and that moreover publicity would be lacking.
First, we maintain that, after twelve years of patience, the opportune moment has come: we could not accept that we must await the next general elections, that is to wait six more years. It would take on this account eighteen years for the election of workers to be opportune—twenty and one years since 1848! What a better districts could they choose than the 1st and the 5th! There, more than everywhere else, the elements of success must be found.
The vote of May 31 judged in an undeniable way the great question of freedom in Paris. The country is calm: isn’t it wise, politic, to test today the power of the free institutions which must facilitate the transition between the old society, founded on the salariat and the future society that will be founded on the common right? Is not there danger in waiting for moments of crisis, where passions are over-excited by the general distress?
Wouldn’t the success of the working candidacies be an immense moral effect? It would prove that our ideas are understood, that longer feelings of conciliation are appreciated; and that finally we do not refuse any more to pass into practice, what we recognize as just in theory.
Would it be true that the workmen candidates must necessarily have these eminent qualities of speaker and publicist, who announce a man to the admiration of his fellow-citizens? We do not think so. It would be enough that they could appeal to justice while putting forward with uprightness and clarity the reforms for which we ask. Wouldn’t the vote of their voters give, moreover, give to their word an authority larger than is possessed by the most famous orator? Come from the heart of the popular masses, the significance of these elections would be all the more striking as the elected officials would have been the day before more obscure and unknown. In the end, have the gifts of eloquence and universal knowledge, been required as necessary conditions for the deputies named thus far?
In 1848, the election of workmen sanctified political equality by an act; in 1864 this election would consecrate social equality.
Unless you are denying the obviousness, you must recognize that there is a special class of citizens needing a direct representation, since the enclosure of the legislature is the only place where the workmen could express their wishes freely an with dignity and to claim for themselves the share of rights that the other citizens enjoy.
Let us examine the current situation without bitterness and prevention. What does the bourgeois democracy, that we do not want with the same ardor? Universal suffrage rid of any obstacle? We want it. The freedom of press, meeting ruled by the common right? We want them. The complete separation of the Church and the State, the balance of the budget, municipal franchises? We want all that.
Well! Without our cooperation, the middle-class will have difficulty obtaining or preserving these rights, these liberties, which are the essence of a democratic society.
What do we want more especially than it, or at least more vigorously, because we are more interested in it? Primary education, free and obligatory, and freedom to work.
Education develops and strengthens the feeling of the dignity in man, i.e. the consciousness of his rights and duties. The one who is enlightened appeals to reason and not force to realize his desires.
If the freedom to work does not come to be used as counterweight to commercial freedom, we will see a financial autocracy established. The petit bourgeois, like the workers, will soon only be its servants. Today isn’t it obvious that credit, far from spreading, tends on the contrary to concentrate in a few hands? And doesn’t the Bank of France give an example of the flagrant contradiction of every economic principle? It enjoys at once the monopoly to emit paper money and freedom to raise the interest rate without limits.
Without us, we repeat, the bourgeois can establish nothing solid; without its cooperation our emancipation can be still delayed a long time.
Let us then unite with a common aim: the triumph of true democracy.
Propagated by us, supported by the it, the working candidacies would be the living proof of the serious, durable union of the democrats without distinction of class or of position. Will we be abandoned? Will we be forced to pursue separately the triumph of our ideas? Let us hope not, in the interest of all.
Let us summarize, to avoid any misunderstanding: The primarily political significance of the working candidacies would be this one:
To strengthen, by supplementing it, the action of the liberal opposition. It asked in the most modest terms for the essential liberties. The worker deputies would demand the necessary economic reforms.
Such is the frank summary of the general ideas put forward by the workmen during the electoral which preceded May 31. At that time the working candidacy had numerous difficulties in overcome in order to take place. So you could accuse it, not without reason, of being late-flowering. Today the terrain is free and as in our opinion the need for the working candidacies is demonstrated even by what has occurred since that time, we do not hesitate to take the lead to avoid the reproach which had been made to us in the last elections.
We put the question to the public so that on the first day of the electoral period, agreement is easier and more rapid between those who share our opinion. We frankly say what we are and what we want.
We desire the bright light of publicity, and we call upon the newspapers which suffer the monopoly created by the fact of prior authorization; but we are convinced that they will hold to honor and show us hospitality, to testify thus in favor of true freedom; by facilitating our means of expressing our thought, even when they do not share it.
We call of all our wishes the moment for discussion, the electoral period, the day when the professions of faith of the worker candidates will be in all hands, when they will be ready to answer all questions. We count on the support of those who will be convinced then that our cause is that of equality, indissolubly linked to liberty, in a word the cause of JUSTICE.
Signed by the workmen whose names follow:
Aubert (Jean), Baraguet, Bouyer, Cohadon, Coutant, Carrat, Dujardin, Kin (Arsène), Ripert, Moret, Tolain (H.), Murat, Lagarde, Royanez, Garnier (Jean), Rampillon, Barbier, Revenu, CuÉnot, Ch. Limousin, Aubert (Louis), Audoint, Beaumont, Hallereau, Perrachon, Pi’prel, Rouxel, Rainot, Vallier, Vanhamme, Vespierre, Blanc (J.-J.), Samson, CamÉlinat, Michel (Charles), Voirin, Langreni, Secretand, Thiercelin, Chevrier, Loy, Vilhem, Messerer, Faillot, Flament, Halhen, Barra, Adinet, Camille, Murat Père, Cheron, Bibal, Oudin, Chalon, Morel, Delahaye, Capet, Arblas, Cochu, Mauzon.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.