A vast series of means of help might be bestowed by the Government upon the people, by which the social problem might be solved without spoliation, violent measures or interference with the wealth previously acquired by any of its citizens, and without exciting that immoral and unjust antagonism between class and class, fatal to the national welfare, which visibly retards the progress of France at the present day.
The following would be important and powerful modes of assistance:
The exercise of a moral influence in favour of the association of workingmen by the publicly manifested approval of the Government agents, by a frequent discussion of their fundamentary principles in the House of Representatives, and by legalizing all the voluntary associations constituted on the basis indicated above.
[Page 138] Improved methods of communication, and the abolition of the obstacles now impeding the free conveyance of produce.
The establishment of public magazines and depots in which the approximate value of the goods or merchandise consigned having been ascertained, the Associations should receive a document or receipt negotiable in the manner of a bank-bill, by which means the Associations would be enabled to carry on their affairs without the ruinous necessity of an immediate sale without regard to prices.
The concession of the execution of necessary public works to Workingmen's Associations upon equal terms to those granted to individual contractors.
The simplification of judicial forms, justice being at present ruinously costly, and too often inaccessible to the poor.
Legal facilities given for the sale and transfer of landed property.
A radical transformation of the system of taxation, by the substitution of one sole tax upon income for the present complex and expensive system of direct and indirect taxation. This would give public and practical sanction to the principle of the sacredness of human life, for as neither labour, progress, nor the fulfillment of duty are possible without life, a given amount of money, the amount judged necessary to the maintenance of life, should be exempt from all taxation.
But there are further means:
The secularization or appropriation of ecclesiastical property by the State - a thing not at present to be thought of, yet, nevertheless, inevitable in the future, [Page 139] when the State shall assume its true educational mission - will place a vast sum of wealth in the hands of the nation. To this may be added the value of hitherto unreclaimed land, and the profits of railways and other public enterprises, the administration of which should be in the hands of the State; the value of the landed property belonging to the communes, the value of property now descending by collateral succession beyond the fourth degree, and which should revert to the State, and many other sources of wealth which it is unnecessary here to enumerate.
Suppose all this mass of wealth and resources accumulated in the formation of a National Fund, to be consecrated to the intellectual and economic progress of the whole country. Why should not a considerable portion of such a fund be employed (proper provision being made to guard against its wasteful use or dissipation) as a Fund of Credit, bearing interest at one and a half or two per cent., to be distributed to the Voluntary Workingmen's Associations, constituted according to the bases indicated above, and giving evidence of morality and capacity? This sum of capital to be held sacred, not merely to the promotion of labour in the present generation, but in futurity; its operation being upon so vast a scale as to ensure compensation for the occasional inevitable losses it would have to sustain.
[Page 140] The distribution of the Fund of Credit ought not to be in the hands either of the Government or of a National Central Bank, but of local Banks, administered by elective Municipal Councils, under the supervision of the Central Government.
Without subtracting anything from the actual wealth of any existing class, and without enriching any single class through the medium of that taxation which, being contributed by all citizens, should be employed for the advantage and benefit of all; such a series of measures as are here suggested, by diffusing credit, increasing and improving production, compelling a diminution of the rate of interest, and intrusting the progress and continuity of labour to the zeal and interest of the producers, would replace the limited and ill-directed sum of wealth at present concentrated in a few hands, by a wealthy nation, directress of its own production and consumption.
Such, Workingmen, is your future. You may hasten this future. Conquer for yourselves your country, and a truly popular Government, the representative of your collective life and mission. Organize yourselves in a vast league of the people, so that your voice shall be the voice of the million, not merely of a few individuals. Truth and justice will be on your side, and the Nation will listen to you.
But, be warned! and believe the words of a man who has been earnestly studying the course of events in Europe during the last thirty years, and who has seen the holiest enterprises fail in the hour of promised success through the errors or immorality of their supporters. You will never succeed unless through [Page 141] your own improvement. You can only obtain the exercise of your rights by deserving them through your own activity and your own spirit of love and sacrifice. If you seek your rights in the name of duties fulfilled or to fulfill, you will obtain them. If you seek them in the name of selfishness, or any theory of happiness and well-being propounded by the teachers of materialism, you will never achieve other than a momentary triumph, to be followed by utter delusion.
They who appeal to you in the name of well-being and happiness, will deceive and betray you. They seek only their own well-being and happiness, and merely desire to unite with you as an element of strength wherewith to overcome the obstacles in their own path. When once they have obtained their own rights through your help, they will abandon the effort to obtain yours in order to enjoy their own.
Such is the history of the last half-century, and the name of this last half-century is, Materialism.
Sad story of blood and sorrow! I have seen them in my own land - these men who denied God, religion, virtue, and sacrifice, and spoke only in the name of the right to happiness and enjoyment--I have seen them advance boldly to the struggle with the words People and Liberty on their lips, and unite with us men of a better faith, who imprudently admitted them in our ranks. As soon as a first victory, or the opportunity of some cowardly compromise, opened the path of enjoyment to them, they forsook the cause of the people, and became our bitterest enemies the day after. A few years of danger and persecution were sufficient to weary and discourage them.
And wherefore should they, men without any conscientious [Page 142] belief in a Law of Duty, without faith in a mission imposed upon man by a Supreme Power, have persisted in sacrifice even to the last years of life?
And I have seen, with deep sadness, the sons of the people, educated in materialism by those men, turn false to their mission and their future, false to their country and themselves, betrayed by some foolish, immoral hope of obtaining material happiness, through furthering the caprice or interest of a despotism.
I have seen the workingmen of France stand by, indifferent spectators of the coup d'etat of the second of December, because all the great social questions had dwindled in their minds into a question of material prosperity; and they foolishly believed that the promises, artfully made to them by him who had destroyed the liberty of their country, would be kept.
Now they mourn over their lost liberty, without having acquired even the promised material well-being.
No; without God, without the sense of a moral law, without morality, without a spirit of sacrifice, and by merely following after men who have neither faith, nor reverence for truth, nor holiness of life, nor aught to guide them but the vanity of their own systems - I repeat it with deep conviction - you will never succeed. You may achieve émeutes, but you will never realize the true Great Revolution you and I alike desire - a revolution, not the offspring and illusion of irritated selfishness, but of religious conviction.
Your own improvement and that of others; this must [Page 143] be the supreme hope and aim of every social transformation.
You cannot change the fate of man by merely embellishing his material dwelling. You will never induce the society to which you belong to substitute a system of Association for a system of salary and wages, unless you convince them that your association will result in improved production and collective prosperity. And you can only prove this by showing yourselves capable of founding and maintaining associations through your own honesty, mutual good-will, love of labour, and capacity of self-sacrifice.
In order to progress, you must show yourselves capable of progress.
Tradition, Progress, Association. These three things are sacred. Twenty years ago I wrote:
"I believe in the grand voice of God which the Ages transmit to us through the universal tradition of Humanity, and it teaches me that the Family, the Nation, and Humanity, are the three spheres in which the human individual is destined to labour for the common good towards the moral perfection of himself and others.
"It teaches me that property is destined to be the manifestation of the material activity of the individual, of his share in the transformation of the physical world; as the franchise is the manifestation of his share in the administration of the political world.
"It teaches me that the merit or demerit of the individual, before God and man, depends upon his use of these rights; and it teaches me that all these things, being elements of human nature, are perennially [Page 144] modified and transformed as they gradually approach more closely to that ideal of which our souls have prevision - but that they can never be cancelled nor destroyed.
"It teaches me that the dreams of Communism, of the annihilation or absorption of the individual in the social whole, have never been more than fleeting incidents in the life of the human race, reappearing momentarily in every intellectual and moral crisis, but incapable of realization except upon a trifling scale, as in the Christian Monasteries and Convents.
"I believe in the eternal progressive life of God's creature; in the progress of Thought and Action, not only in the man of the past, but in the man of the future. I believe that it is of little comparative import to determine the form and method of the future progress, but that it is of great import to open up all the paths of progress by bestowing upon mankind a truly religious education which will enable them to complete it.
"I believe that we can never make man worthier, more loving, nobler, or more divine - which is in fact our end and aim on earth - by merely heaping upon him the means of enjoyment, and setting before him as the aim of life that irony which is named happiness.
"I believe in Association as the sole means we possess of realizing progress, not merely because it multiplies the action of the productive forces, but because it tends to unite all the various manifestations of the human mind, and to bring the life of the individual into communion with the collective life of the whole, and I know that Association will never be fruitful of [Page 145] good except among free men and free peoples, conscious and capable of their mission.
"I believe that man should be able to eat and live without having every hour of his existence absorbed by material labour, so that he may be able to cultivate the superior faculties of his nature; but I listen with dread to those who tell you that enjoyment is your right, and material well-being your aim, because I know that such teachings can only produce egoists, and that these doctrines have been in France, and threaten to be in Italy, the destruction of every noble idea, of every sacrifice, and of every pledge of future greatness.
"The life-destroying evil of Humanity at the present day is the want of a common faith, a common thought, accepted and admitted by all men, and which shall relink earth to Heaven, the Universe with God. Deprived of this common faith, man has bowed down before lifeless matter and become a worshipper of the idol Self-Interest. And the first priests of that fatal worship were Kings, Princes, and evil Governments. They invented the horrible formula of each for himself, for they knew that it would increase selfishness, and that there is but one step between the egoist and the slave."
Workingmen, brothers! avoid that step! Your future depends upon this.
Yours is the solemn mission to prove that we are all the sons of God, and brethren in Him. You can only prove this by improving yourselves, and fulfilling your duty.
I have pointed out to you, to the best of my power, what your duties are, the most important being those [Page 146] owed to your country. The amelioration of your present condition can only result from your participation in the political life of the Nation. Until you can obtain the franchise, your wants and aspirations will never be truly represented.
On the day in which you should follow the example of too many French Socialists, and separate the social from the political question, saying: "We will work out our own emancipation, whatever be the form of Institution by which our country is governed" - that day you would have yourselves decreed the perpetuity of your own social servitude.
And in bidding you farewell, I will remind you of another duty not less solemn than that which binds you to achieve and preserve the freedom and unity of your Country.
Your complete emancipation can only be founded and secured upon the triumph of a Principle - the principle of the Unity of the Human Family.
At the present day one half of the Human Family - that half from which we seek both inspiration and consolation, that half to which the first education of childhood is entrusted - is, by a singular contradiction, declared civilly, politically, and socially unequal and excluded from the great Unity.
To you who are seeking your own enfranchisement and emancipation in the name of a Religious Truth, to you it belongs to protest on every occasion and by every means against this negation of Unity.
The Emancipation of Woman, then, must be regarded by you as necessarily linked with the emancipation of the workingman. This will give to your endeavours the consecration of a Universal Truth.