The Social Problem and Its Solution: Part 2 By Jules Guesde

Continued from January 1905 article.


The solution of the social problem is to be found in the problem itself, such as I have just given in a short exposition. The greatest socio-economic evil of today consists in the ever more complete divorce of the two factors in production, labour and property or capital, and consequently the remedy can be found only in their unification.

Under what form ought this unification to be effected?

It cannot be carried out by making the individual worker proprietor of his tool since this would exclude production on a large scale, and the system of labour having become collective consequent upon the introduction of steam and electricity, there can be but collective ownership to go hand in hand with collective labour.

Outside a Count de Mun, hypnotised by the arts and crafts of the middle ages and counting on a miracle for their re-establishment, there are only the anarchists, dreaming of natural rights and an ideal State of nature, who would retrogressively push their Utopia to such an extent as to establish a system of sharing out, of dismemberment and individualisation of modern machinery:

The engine to the driver,

And the dome to the builder,

as they sing in what is for them their “Marseillaise”.

The only possible form, I repeat, is that which is imposed by the modern conditions of production and exchange, not even communal or guild, but social. The mines whose dark caverns are hollowed out beneath the crust of many counties, the railways that stretch their iron tentacles over entire continents, commercial establishments like the Louvre and Bon Marché disposing of the lives of thousands of workers, do not, not one of them, lend themselves to communalisation, no more than the other machinery of production, distribution, or transport. Consequent upon the transmission of force by means of electricity, the waterfalls to-day and the tides tomorrow can be converted into motive powers. With this fact in mind, how is it possible to consider seriously, for one moment, the notion of the monopolisationI had nearly said confiscationof these natural powers, now become the condition of all industry, by some localities to the detriment of others?

The guild form is likewise brought into collision with other impossibilities of a similar nature. In fact, both forms, by the competition which would be kept up between the various productive groups, here guild, there communal, would bring in their train the same murderous anarchy as exists to-day under capitalist society.

It is only collectively that the workers, comprising the entire nation, can and ought to possess the means of wealth (mines, railways, canals, factories, etc.) socially operated. Capitalist evolution itself supplies the necessary elements, material and intellectual, of this appropriation and of this production by and for society now become a vast co-operative commonwealth.

Material elements: The concentration of capital that is effected every day in the spheres of industry, commerce and agriculture¾the great manufactories just as the no less great commerce and agriculture of to-day being impelled to swallow up the middle capitalists in the same way as the smaller ones have been already swallowed. From 1870 to 1880, when in the United States the number of spindles increased from 7,131,818 to 10,678,526 and the number of spinners from 157,310 to 227,156 with an increased value of from 562,825,164 francs to 831,127,472 francs, the cotton manufactories fell from 959 to 751. It is the function of finance, by continually absorbing the surplus incomes, to hurry on this accumulation under the pretext of democratising capital.

Intellectual elements: The concentration of all physical and mental activities in the non-possessing class or proletariat from the fireman and greaser of the wheels to the scientist such as Claude Bernard, including chemists, engineers, managers, etc. The organisation of labour: the entire army of labour, officers and men, comprising all outside the capitalist class, is already encamped in complete order on the patrimony of mankind which alone is to be exploitedin the technical sense of the wordand it is now only a question of the complete restitution to society by the very same process which has served for its dispossession, namely: by expropriation.

It is well to understand that we Socialists have by no means invented the classes and their destructive class-war than we have invented the process of expropriation, which is the law of all human progress.

It was by the expropriation of the artisan from his tools at first, from this technical skill after, then from his domestic hearth, despoiled of wife and child, that private or capitalist property was established, to say nothing about the expropriation of the product of his toil which is accomplished daily by the operation of the law of wages. The expropriators will themselves in their turn be expropriatedit is as Gambetta would say, “immanent justice”and they will all the more easily be expropriated under the company and share-holding system of to-day, they having become so completely estranged from all direct interference in production that their total severance might take place tomorrow without a perceptible check to industry.

This economic expropriation which would allow to the expropriated full participation in the benefits accruing from social appropriation – must be preceded by a political expropriation, the establishment of the Socialist Republic being only realisable by a proletariat master of the State and acting in conformity with the law, since it itself will be and make the law.

It now only remains for me to point out the principal consequences which will result from this transformation of capitalist property into social property.

(1) There will be an end to all class distinction and consequently an end to the class-war. The workers are for the future their own capitalists, or to put it better, all the members of society are at once and with equal title co-proprietors and co-producers. The State, in the oppressive sense of the word, will cease to exist, it being nothing more than a means of maintaining artificially, by force, order that a system of society, founded on the antagonism of interests would naturally give birth to. The government of men gives place to the administration of things. It is the reign of social peace, daughter of universal harmony.

(2) Commercial production of exchange-values with an end to realising profit will disappear, and be replaced by the co-operative production of use-values for consumption with a view to satisfying social wants. In place of robbing and exploiting one another, we will all help one another. Homo homini Deus, “Man is a god to man”.

(3) Liberty, which until now has been but a word for the great majority of mankind, is henceforth a great and living reality, this liberty of which Socialism, according to our enemies, was to have been the tomb, will, on the contrary, blossom forth into the fullest perfection when reared in the uncontaminated atmosphere of the Socialist State. Liberty provides the means of accomplishing our will and therefore of satisfying our wants. These means will from now forward exist for all, multiplied by social labour, which, in point of productivity, stands in the same relation to modern capitalist industry as this does to small primitive industry. At the same time the effort to be made by each member will be reduced to a minimum.

The socially necessary labour-time to be furnished by each capable member of the Socialist State will likewise be reduced:

(a) By the suppression of slack seasons, which are the rule to-day in some many trades during periods from three to six months per year, as well as stoppages which doom to enforced idleness hundreds of thousands of workers, men and women, giving them over to the bitter pangs of starvation. These slack seasons and stoppages are the result, as Prof. Durkheim of Bordeaux very well puts it, of “this too great diffusion of the economic functions which under Socialism will be transferred to the organised community”.

(b) By the disappearance of the parasitical class, and not only of that alone but also of the sub-parasites who live on this class. In France there are more than two million persons of both sexes employed in domestic pursuits, without counting the numbers of prostitutes and parsons, police, magistrates, and soldiers;

(c) By the employment in work of a socially necessary character of all the human and technical forces now used in works of a destructive nature (cannon, guns, torpedoes, etc.) or socially useless (in superfluous display, or even of simple journeying of capital from the pocket of Peter into that of Paul);

(d) By the utilisation of all the energy at present wasted, lost, or reduced to nothing in the midst of unbridled competition;

(e) By perfecting “automatising”, the machine which each one will be interested in developing as far as he can, since it will be so much the more leisure or well-being realised both for himself and the community in general.

Even to-day when no one of these conditions is either fulfilled or capable of being so, an English statistician, quoted by Domela Niewenhuis in his pamphlet on the First of May, has calculated that with the machine at its actual stage of development and taking into consideration the point we have reached in technical skill, one hour and twenty minutes of daily labour would suffice to provide for the material wants of all.

One more fruit of Socialist society and I have done: that is the end of religious or supernatural idea current amongst men. The religious idea, far from vanishing before the forward development of modern science, has taken a new flight. Thus it is that in the age which has seen the prolific genius of Lavoisier, Laplace, Darwin, and Edison, we have witnessed the birth of new religions. Why? Because other and still more complex phenomena have arisen in the place of natural phenomena already explained and controlled once and for all by man. The phenomena of which I speak belong to the economic order which in the individualist atmosphere of to-day escape from man’s control and dominate him. God, chased out by one door, the door of nature, has re-entered by another, the social door. Therefore, as long as the productive forces which crush us individually will not have been mastered in the only way that they can be: by bringing them within the administration of society, man, a prey to misery, the plaything of chance, will bow low before the “unknown”and will deify it.

It is only when the economic elements have been tamed as have been the natural elements, when society has become a providence for each one of its members, then and then alone will men cease to search for a providence beyond the skies, because thencontrary to the christian legend of God becoming manman will have become God.

Translated from the French of JULES GUESDE by P.J.T.

(Socialist Standard, February 1905)