destinies. Yet 1848 and 1871 were only insurrections. Before a popular revolution the masters of "the old order" disappear with a surprising rapidity. Its upholders fly the country, to plot in safety elsewhere and to devise measures for their return.
The former Government having disappeared, the army, hesitating before the tide of popular opinion, no longer obeys its commanders, who have also prudently decamped. The troops stand by without interfering, or join the rebels. The police, standing at ease, are uncertain whether to belabour the crowd, or to cry: "Long live the Commune!" while some retire to their quarters to "await the pleasure of the new Government." Wealthy citizens pack their trunks and betake themselves to places of safety. The people remain. This is how a revolution is ushered in.
In several large towns the Commune is proclaimed. In the streets wander scores of thousands of men, and in the evening they crowd into improvised clubs, asking: "What shall we do?" and ardently discuss public affairs. All take an interest in them; those who yesterday were quite indifferent are perhaps the most zealous. Everywhere there is plenty of good-will and a keen desire to make victory certain. It is a time when acts of supreme devotion are occurring. The masses of the people are full of the desire of going forward.
All this is splendid, sublime; but still, it is not a revolution. Nay, it is only now that the work of the revolutionist begins.
Doubtless there will be acts of vengeance. The Watrins and the Thomases will pay the penalty of their unpopularity; but these are mere incidents of the struggle—not the revolution.
Socialist politicians, radicals, neglected geniuses of journalism, stump orators—both middle-class people and workmen—will hurry to the Town Hall, to the Government offices, to take possession of the vacant seats. Some will decorate themselves with gold and silver lace to their hearts' content, admire themselves in ministerial mirrors, and study to give orders with an air of importance appropriate to their new position. How could they impress their comrades of the office or the workshop without having a red sash, an embroidered cap, and magisterial gestures! Others will bury themselves in official papers, trying, with the best of wills, to make head or tail of them. They will indite laws and issue high-flown worded decrees that nobody will take the trouble to carry out—because revolution has come.
To give themselves an authority which they have not they will seek the sanction of old forms of Government. They will take the names of "Provisional Government," "Committee of Public Safety," "Mayor," "Governor of the Town Hall," "Commissioner of Public Safety," and what not. Elected or acclaimed, they will assemble in Boards or in Communal Councils, where men of ten or twenty different schools will come together, representing—not as many "private chapels," as it is often said, but as many different conceptions regarding the scope, the bearing, and the goal of the revolution. Possibilists, Collectivists, Radicals, Jacobins, Blanquists, will be thrust together, and waste time in wordy warfare. Honest men will be huddled together with the ambitious ones, whose only dream is power and who spurn the crowd whence they are sprung. All coming together with diametrically opposed views, all—forced to enter into ephemeral alliances, in order to create majorities that can but last a day. Wrangling, calling each other reactionaries, authoritarians, and rascals, incapable of coming to an understanding on any serious measure, dragged into discussions about trifles, producing nothing better than bombastic proclamations; all giving themselves an awful importance while the real strength of the movement is in the streets.
All this may please those who like the stage, but it is not revolution. Nothing has been accomplished as yet.
And meanwhile the people suffer. The factories are idle, the workshops closed; trade is at a standstill. The worker does not even earn the meagre wage which was his before. Food goes up in price. With that heroic devotion which has always characterized them, and which in great crises reaches the sublime, the people will wait patiently. "We place these three months of want at the service of the Republic," they said in 1848, while "their representatives" and the gentlemen of the new Government, down to the meanest Jack-in-office received their salary regularly.
The people suffer. With the childlike faith, with the good humour of the masses who believe in their leaders, they think that "yonder," in the House, in the Town Hall, in the Committee of Public Safety, their welfare is being considered. But "yonder" they are discussing everything under the sun except the welfare of the people. In 1793, while famine ravaged France and crippled the Revolution; whilst the people were reduced to the depths of misery, although the Champs Elysées were lined with luxurious carriages where women displayed their jewels and splendour, Robespierre was urging the Jacobins to discuss his treatise on the English Constitution. While the worker was suffering in 1848 from the general stoppage of trade, the Provisional Government and the National Assembly were wrangling over military pensions and prison labour, without troubling how the people managed to live during the terrible crisis. And could one cast a reproach at the Paris Commune, which was born beneath the Prussian cannon, and lasted only seventy days, it would be for this same error—this failure to understand that the Revolution could not triumph unless those who fought on its side were fed: that on fifteen pence a day a man cannot fight on the ramparts and at the same time support a family.
The people will suffer and say: "How is a way out of these difficulties to be found?"
It seems to us that there is only one answer to this question: We must recognize, and loudly proclaim, that every one, whatever his grade in the old society, whether strong or weak, capable or incapable, has, before everything, THE RIGHT TO LIVE, and that society is bound to share amongst all, without exception, the means of existence it has at its disposal. We must acknowledge this, and proclaim it aloud, and act up to it.
Affairs must be managed in such a way that from the first day of the revolution the worker shall know that a new era is opening before him; that henceforward none need crouch under the bridges, while palaces are hard by, none need fast in the midst of plenty, none need perish with cold near shops full of furs; that all is for all, in practice as well as in theory, and that at last, for the first time in history, a revolution has been accomplished which considers the NEEDS of the people before schooling them in their DUTIES.
This cannot be brought about by Acts of Parliament, but only by taking immediate and effective possession of all that is necessary to ensure the well-being of all; this is the only really scientific way of going to work, the only way which can be understood and desired by the mass of the people. We must take possession, in the name of the people, of the granaries, the shops full of clothing and the dwelling houses. Nothing must be wasted. We must organize without delay a way to feed the hungry, to satisfy all wants, to meet all needs, to produce not for the special benefit of this one or that one, but so as to ensure to society as a whole its life and further development.
Enough of ambiguous words like "the right to work," with which the people were misled in 1848, and which are still resorted to with the hope of misleading them. Let us have the courage to recognise that Well-being for all, henceforward