Part 6: Western Europe, Section 17

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Part 6: Western Europe, Section 17

This text was taken from the 1st edition of Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1899.

Part Six

Section XVII

I TOOK a lively part in this movement, and with a few English comrades I started, in addition to the three socialist papers already in existence, an anarchist-communist monthly, "Freedom," which continues to live up to tile present hour. At the same time I resumed my work on anarchism where I had had to interrupt it at the time of my arrest. The critical part of it was published by Elisée Recius, during my Clairvaux imprisonment, under the title, "Paroles d'un Révolte." Now I began to work out the constructive part of an anarchist-communist society,so far as it could be forecast,-in a series of articles published at Paris in "La Révolte." "Our boy," prosecuted for anti-militarist propaganda, had been compelled to change its title-page, and now appeared under a feminine name. Later on these articles were published in a more elaborate form in a book, " La Conquête du Pain."

These researches caused nie to study more thoroughly certain points in the economic life of the civilized nations of to-day. Most socialists had hitherto said that in our present civilized societies we actually produce much more than is necessary for guaranteeing full well-being to all; that it was only the distribution which was defective; and, if a social revolution took place, all that was required would be for every one to return to his factory or workshop,-society taking possession for itself of the "surplus value," or benefits' which now went to the capitalist. I thought, on the contrary, that under the present conditions of private ownership production itself had taken a wrong turn, and was entirely inadequate even as regards the very necessaries of life. None of these necessaries are produced in greater quantities than would be required to secure well-being for all; and the over-production, so often spoken of, means nothing but that the masses are too poor to buy even what is now considered as necessary for a decent existence. But in all civilized countries the production, both agricultural and industrial, ought to and easily might be immensely increased, so as to secure a reign of plenty for all. This brought me to consider the possibilities of modern agriculture, as well as those of an education which would give to every one the possibility of carrying on at the same time both enjoyable manual work and brain work. I developed these ideas in a series of articles in the "Nineteenth Century," which are now published as a book under the title of "Fields Factories, and Workshops."

Another great question also engrossed my attention. It is known to what conclusions Darwin s formula, the "struggle for existence," had been developed by his followers generally, even the most intelligent of them, such as Huxley. There is no infamy in civilized society, or in the relations of the whites towards the so-called lower races, or of the strong towards the weak, which would not have found its excuse in this formula.

Even during my stay at Clairvaux I saw the necessity of completely revising the formula itself and its applications to human affairs. The attempts which had been made by a few socialists in this direction did not satisfy me, but I found in a lecture by a Russian zoölogist, Professor Kessler a true expression of the law of struggle for life. "Mutual aid," he said in that lecture, "is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle; but for the proeressive evolution of the species the former is far, more important than the latter." These few words-confirmed unfortunately by only a couple of illustrations (to which Syévertsoff, the zoölogist of whom I have spoken in an earlier chapter, added one or two more)-contained for me the key of the whole problem. When Huxley published in 1888 his atrocious article, "The Struggle for Existence; a Program," I decided to put in a readable form my objections to his way of understanding the struggle for life, among animals as well as among men, the materials for which I had been accumulating for two years. I spoke of it to my friends. However, I found that the interpretration of "struggle for life" in the sense of a war-cry of "Woe to the Weak," raised to the height of a commandment of nature revealed by science, was so deeply rooted in this country that it had become almost a matter of religion. Two persons only supported me in my revolt against this misinterpretation of the facts of nature. The editor of the "Nineteenth Century," Mr. James Knowles, with his admirable perspicacity, at once seized the gist of the matter, and with a truly youthful energy encouraged me to take it in hand. The other supporter was the regretted H. W. Bates, whom Darwin, in his "Autobiogrraphy," described as one of the most intelligent men he ever met. He was secretary of the Geographical Society, and I knew him; so I spoke to him of my intention. He was delighted with it. "Yes, most assuredly write it," he said. "That is true Darwinism. It is a shame to think of what they have made of Darwin's ideas. Write it, and when you have published it, I will write you a letter of commendation which you may publish." I could not have had better encouragement, and I began the work, which was published in the "Nineteenth Century" under the titles of "Mutual Aid among Animals," "Among Savages," "Among Barbarians," "In the Mediæval City," and "Among Ourselves." Unfortunately I neglected to submit to Bates the first two articles of this series, dealing with animals, which were published during his lifetime; I hoped to be soon ready with the second part of the work, "Mutual Aid among Men;" but it took me several years to complete it, and in the meantime Bates passed from among us.

The researches which I had to make during these studies, in order to acquaint myself with the institutions of the barbarian period and with those of the mediæva1 free cities, led me to another important research: the part played in history by the state during its latest manifestation in Europe, in the last three centuries. And on the other hand, the study of the mutual support institutions at different stages of civilization led me to examine the evolutionist bases of the senses of justice and morality in man.

Within the last ten years the growth of socialism in England has taken on a new aspect. Those who judge only by the numbers of socialist and anarchist meetings held in the country, and the audiences attracted by these meetings are prone to conclude that socialist propaganda is now on the decline. And those who judge the progress of it by the numbers of votes that are given to those who claim to represent socialism in Parliament jump to the conclusion that there is now hardly any socialist work going on in England. But the depth and the penetration of the socialist ideas can nowhere be judged by the numbers of votes given in favor of those who bring more or less socialism into their electoral programs. Especially is this the case in England. The fact is, that of the three systems of socialism which were formulated by Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Robert Owen, it is the last-named which prevails in England and Scotland. Consequently it is not so much by the number of meetings or of socialist votes that the intensity of the movement must be judged, but by the infiltration of the socialist point of view into the trade-unionist, the cooperative, and the so-called municipal socialist movements, as well as the general infiltration of socialist ideas all over the country. Under this aspect, the extent to which the socialist views have penetrated is immense in comparison with what it was in 1886; and I do not hesitate to say that it is simply colossal in comparison with what it was in the years 1876-82. And I may also add that the persevering endeavors of the small anarchist groups have contributed, to an extent which makes us feel that we have not wasted our time, to spread the ideas of no-government, of the rights of the individual, of local action and free agreement, as against those of state supremacy, centralization, and discipline, which were dominant twenty years ago.

All Europe is now going through a very bad phase of the development of the military spirit. This was an unavoidable consequence of the victory obtained by the German military empire, with its universal military service system, over France in 1871, and it was already then foreseen, and foretold by many, in an especially impressive form by Bakúnin. But the counter-current already begins to make itself felt in modern life.

Communist ideas, divested of their monastic form, have penetrated in Europe and America to an immense extent during the twenty-seven years in which I have taken an active part in the socialist movement and could observe their growth. When I think of the vague, confused, timid ideas which were expressed by the workers at the first congresses of the International Workingmen's Association, or which were current at Paris during tho Commune insurrection, even among the most thoughtful of the leaders, and compare them with those which have been arrived at to-day by a vast number of workers, I must say that they seem to me to belong to two entirely different worlds.

There is no period in history-with the exception, perhaps, of the period of the insurrections in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which led to the birth of the mediæval Communes-during which a similarly deep change has taken place in the current conceptions of society. And now, in my fifty-seventh year, I am even more deeply convinced than I was twenty-five years ago that a chance combination of accidental circumstances may bring about in Europe a revolution as wide-spread as that of 1848, and far more important; not in the sense of mere fighting between different parties, but in the sense of a profound and rapid social reconstruction; and I am convinced that whatever character such a movement may take in different countries, there will be displayed everywhere a far deeper comprehension of the required changes than has ever been displayed within the last six centuries; while the resistance which the movement will meet in the privileged classes will hardly have the character of obtuse obstinacy which made the revolutions of times past so violent.

To obtain this great result is well worth the efforts which so many thousands of men and women of all nations and all classes have made within the last thirty years.

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