System of Economical Contradictions: or, the Philosophy of Misery : Chapter 5, Section 5.3 : Remedies against competition

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Chapter 5, Section 5.3

3. -- Remedies against competition.

   Can competition in labor be abolished?

   It would be as well worth while to ask if personality, liberty, individual responsibility can be suppressed.

   Competition, in fact, is the expression of collective activity; just as wages, considered in its highest acceptation, is the expression of the merit and demerit, in a word, the responsibility, of the laborer. It is vain to declaim and revolt against these two essential forms of liberty and discipline in labor. Without a theory of wages there is no distribution, no justice; without an organization of competition there is no social guarantee, consequently no solidarity.

   The socialists have confounded two essentially distinct things when, contrasting the union of the domestic hearth with industrial competition, they have asked themselves if society could not be constituted precisely like a great family all of whose members would be bound by ties of blood, and not as a sort of coalition in which each is held back by the law of his own interests.

   The family is not, if I may venture to so speak, the type, the organic molecule, of society. In the family, as M. de Bonald has very well observed, there exists but one moral being, one mind, one soul, I had almost said, with the Bible, one flesh. The family is the type and the cradle of monarchy and the patriciate: in it resides and is preserved the idea of authority and sovereignty, which is being obliterated more and more in the State. It was on the model of the family that all the ancient and feudal societies were organized, and it is precisely against this old patriarchal constitution that modern democracy protests and revolts.

   The constitutive unit of society is the workshop.

   Now, the workshop necessarily implies an interest as a body and private interests, a collective person and individuals. Hence a system of relations unknown in the family, among which the opposition of the collective will, represented by the employer, and individual wills, represented by the wage-receivers, figures in the front rank. Then come the relations from shop to shop, from capital to capital, -- in other words, competition and association. For competition and association are supported by each other; they do not exist independently; very far from excluding each other, they are not even divergent. Whoever says competition already supposes a common object; competition, then, is not egoism, and the most deplorable error of socialism consists in having regarded it as the subversion of society.

   Therefore there can be no question here of destroying competition, as impossible as to destroy liberty; the problem is to find its equilibrium, I would willingly say its police. For every force, every form of spontaneity, whether individual or collective, must receive its determination: in this respect it is the same with competition as with intelligence and liberty. How, then, will competition be harmoniously determined in society?

   We have heard the reply of M. Dunoyer, speaking for political economy: Competition must be determined by itself. In other words, according to M. Dunoyer and all the economists, the remedy for the inconveniences of competition is more competition; and, since political economy is the theory of property, of the absolute right of use and abuse, it is clear that political economy has no other answer to make. Now, this is as if it should be pretended that the education of liberty is effected by liberty, the instruction of the mind by the mind, the determination of value by value, all of which propositions are evidently tautological and absurd.

   And, in fact, to confine ourselves to the subject under dis-cussion, it is obvious that competition, practiced for itself and with no other object than to maintain a vague and discordant independence, can end in nothing, and that its oscillations are eternal. In competition the struggling elements are capital, machinery, processes, talent, and experience, -- that is, capital again; victory is assured to the heaviest battalions. If, then, competition is practiced only to the advantage of private interests, and if its social effects have been neither determined by science nor reserved by the State, there will be in competition, as in democracy, a continual tendency from civil war to oligarchy, from oligarchy to despotism, and then dissolution and return to civil war, without end and without rest. That is why competition, abandoned to itself, can never arrive at its own constitution: like value, it needs a superior principle to socialize and define it. These facts are henceforth well enough established to warrant us in considering them above criticism, and to excuse us from returning to them. Political economy, so far as the police of competition is concerned, having no means but competition itself, and unable to have any other, is shown to be powerless.

   It remains now to inquire what solution socialism contem-plates. A single example will give the measure of its means, and will permit us to come to general conclusions regarding it.

   Of all modern socialists M. Louis Blanc, perhaps, by his remarkable talent, has been most successful in calling public attention to his writings. In his "Organization of Labor," after having traced back the problem of association to a single point, competition, he unhesitatingly pronounces in favor of its abolition. From this we may judge to what an extent this writer, generally so cautious, is deceived as to the value of political economy and the range of socialism. On the one hand, M. Blanc, receiving his ideas ready made from I know not what source, giving everything to his century and nothing to history, rejects absolutely, in substance and in form, political economy, and deprives himself of the very materials of organization; on the other, he attributes to tendencies revived from all past epochs, which he takes for new, a reality which they do not possess, and misconceives the nature of socialism, which is exclusively critical. M. Blanc, therefore, has given us the spectacle of a vivid imagination ready to confront an impossibility; he has believed in the divination of genius; but he must have perceived that science does not improvise itself, and that, be one's name Adolphe Boyer, Louis Blanc, or J. J. Rousseau, provided there is nothing in experience, there is nothing in the mind.

   M. Blanc begins with this declaration:

   We cannot understand those who have imagined I know not what mysterious coupling of two opposite principles. To graft association upon competition is a poor idea: it is to substitute hermaphrodites for eunuchs.

   These three lines M. Blanc will always have reason to re-gret. They prove that, when he published the fourth edition of his book, he was as little advanced in logic as in political economy, and that he reasoned about both as a blind man would reason about colors. Hermaphrodism, in politics, consists precisely in exclusion, because exclusion always restores, in some form or other and in the same degree, the idea excluded; and M. Blanc would be greatly surprised were he to be shown, by his continual mixture in his book of the most contrary principles, -- authority and right, property and communism, aristocracy and equality, labor and capital, reward and sacrifice, liberty and dictatorship, free inquiry and religious faith, -- that the real hermaphrodite, the double-sexed publicist, is himself. M. Blanc, placed on the borders of democracy and socialism, one degree lower than the Republic, two degrees beneath M. Barrot, three beneath M. Thiers, is also, whatever he may say and whatever he may do, a descendant through four generations from M. Guizot, a doctrinaire.

   "Certainly," cries M. Blanc, "we are not of those who anathematize the principle of authority. This principle we have a thousand times had occasion to defend against attacks as dangerous as absurd. We know that, when organized force exists nowhere in a society, despotism exists everywhere."

   Thus, according to M. Blanc, the remedy for competition, or rather, the means of abolishing it, consists in the intervention of authority, in the substitution of the State for individual liberty: it is the inverse of the system of the economists.

   I should dislike to have M. Blanc, whose social tendencies are well known, accuse me of making impolitic war upon him in refuting him. I do justice to M. Blanc's generous intentions; I love and I read his works, and I am especially thankful to him for the service he has rendered in revealing, in his "History of Ten Years," the hopeless poverty of his party. But no one can consent to seem a dupe or an imbe-cile: now, putting personality entirely aside, what can there be in common between socialism, that universal protest, and the hotch-potch of old prejudices which make up M. Blanc's republic? M. Blanc is never tired of appealing to authority, and socialism loudly declares itself anarchistic; M. Blanc places power above society, and socialism tends to subordinate it to society; M. Blanc makes social life descend from above, and socialism maintains that it springs up and grows from below; M. Blanc runs after politics, and socialism is in quest of science. No more hypocrisy, let me say to M. Blanc: you desire neither Catholicism nor monarchy nor nobility, but you must have a God, a religion, a dictatorship, a censorship, a hierarchy, distinctions, and ranks. For my part, I deny your God, your authority, your sovereignty, your judicial State, and all your representative mystifications; I want neither Robespierre's censer nor Marat's rod; and, rather than submit to your androgynous democracy, I would support the status quo. For sixteen years your party has resisted progress and blocked opinion; for sixteen years it has shown its despotic origin by following in the wake of power at the extremity of the left center: it is time for it to abdicate or undergo a metamorphosis. Implacable theorists of authority, what then do you propose which the government upon which you make war cannot accomplish in a fashion more tolerable than yours?

   M. Blanc's SYSTEM may be summarized in three points:

   1. To give power a great force of initiative, -- that is, in plain English, to make absolutism omnipotent in order to realize a utopia.

   2. To establish public workshops, and supply them with capital, at the State's expense.

   3. To extinguish private industry by the competition of national industry.

   And that is all.

   Has M. Blanc touched the problem of value, which involves in itself alone all others? He does not even suspect its existence. Has he given a theory of distribution? No. Has he solved the antinomy of the division of labor, perpetual cause of the workingman's ignorance, immorality, and poverty? No. Has he caused the contradiction of machinery and wages to disappear, and reconciled the rights of asso-ciation with those of liberty? On the contrary, M. Blanc consecrates this contradiction. Under the despotic protection of the State, he admits in principle the inequality of ranks and wages, adding thereto, as compensation, the ballot. Are not workingmen who vote their regulations and elect their leaders free? It may very likely happen that these voting workingmen will admit no command or difference of pay among them: then, as nothing will have been provided for the satisfaction of industrial capacities, while maintaining political equality, dissolution will penetrate into the workshop, and, in the absence of police intervention, each will return to his own affairs. These fears seem to M. Blanc neither serious nor well-founded: he awaits the test calmly, very sure that society will not go out of his way to contradict him.

   And such complex and intricate questions as those of tax-ation, credit, international trade, property, heredity, -- has M. Blanc fathomed them? Has he solved the problem of population? No, no, no, a thousand times no: when M. Blanc cannot solve a difficulty, he eliminates it. Regarding population, he says:

   As only poverty is prolific, and as the social workshop will cause poverty to disappear, there is no reason for giving it any thought.

   In vain does M. de Sismondi, supported by universal ex-perience, cry out to him:

   We have no confidence in those who exercise delegated powers. We believe that any corporation will do its business worse than those who are animated by individual interest; that on the part of the directors there will be negligence, display, waste, favoritism, fear of compromise, all the faults, in short, to be noticed in the administration of the public wealth as contrasted with private wealth. We believe, further, that in an assembly of stockholders will be found only carelessness, caprice, negligence, and that a mercantile enterprise would be constantly compromised and soon ruined, if it were dependent upon a deliberative commercial assembly.

   M. Blanc hears nothing; he drowns all other sounds with his own sonorous phrases; private interest he replaces by devotion to the public welfare; for competition he substitutes emulation and rewards. After having posited industrial hierarchy as a principle, it being a necessary consequence of his faith in God, authority, and genius, he abandons himself to mystic powers, idols of his heart and his imagination.

   Thus M. Blanc begins by a coup d' Etat, or rather, according to his original expression, by an application of the force of initiative which he gives to power; and he levies an extraordinary tax upon the rich in order to supply the proletariat with capital. M. Blanc's logic is very simple, -- it is that of the Republic: power can accomplish what the people want, and what the people want is right. A singular fashion of reforming society, this of repressing its most spontaneous tendencies, denying its most authentic manifestations, and, instead of generalizing comfort by the regular development of traditions, displacing labor and income! But, in truth, what is the good of these disguises? Why so much beating about the bush? Was it not simpler to adopt the agrarian law straightway? Could not power, by virtue of its force of initiative, at once declare all capital and tools the property of the State, save an indemnity to be granted to the present holders as a transitional measure? By means of this peremptory, but frank and sincere, policy, the economic field would have been cleared away; it would not have cost utopia more, and M. Blanc could then have proceeded at his ease, and without any hindrance, to the organization of society.

   But what do I say? organize! The whole organic work of M. Blanc consists in this great act of expropriation, or substitution, if you prefer: industry once displaced and republicanized and the great monopoly established, M. Blanc does not doubt that production will go on exactly as one would wish; he does not conceive it possible that any one can raise even a single difficulty in the way of what he calls his system. And, in fact, what objection can be offered to a conception so radically null, so intangible as that of M. Blanc? The most curious part of his book is in the select collection which he has made of objections proposed by certain incredulous persons, which he answers, as may be imagined, triumph-antly. These critics had not seen that, in discussing M. Blanc's system, they were arguing about the dimensions, weight, and form of a mathematical point. Now, as it has happened, the controversy maintained by M. Blanc has taught him more than his own meditations had done; and one can see that, if the objections had continued, he would have ended by discovering what he thought he had invented, -- the organization of labor.

   But, in fine, has the aim, however narrow, which M. Blanc pursued, -- namely, the abolition of competition and the guarantee of success to an enterprise patronized and backed by the State, -- been attained? On this subject I will quote the reflections of a talented economist, M. Joseph Garnier, to whose words I will permit myself to add a few comments.

   The government, according to M. Blanc, would choose moral workmen, and would give them good wages.

   So M. Blanc must have men made expressly for him: he does not flatter himself that he can act on any sort of temperaments. As for wages, M. Blanc promises that they shall be good; that is easier than to define their measure.

   M. Blanc admits by his hypothesis that these workshops would yield a net product, and, further, would compete so successfully with private industry that the latter would change into national workshops.

   How could that be, if the cost of the national workshops is higher than that of the free workshops? I have shown in the third chapter that three hundred workmen in a mill do not produce for their employer, among them all, a regular net income of twenty thousand francs, and that these twenty thousand francs, distributed among the three hundred laborers, would add but eighteen centimes a day to their income. Now, this is true of all industries. How will the national workshop, which owes its workmen good wages, make up this deficit? By emulation, says M. Blanc.

   M. Blanc points with extreme complacency to the Leclaire establishment, a society of house-painters doing a very successful business, which he regards as a living demonstration of his system. M. Blanc might have added to this example a multitude of similar societies, which would prove quite as much as the Leclaire establishment, -- that is, no more. The Leclaire establishment is a collective monopoly, supported by the great society which envelops it. Now, the question is whether entire society can become a monopoly, in M. Blanc's sense and patterned after the Leclaire establishment: I deny it positively. But a fact touching more closely the question before us, and which M. Blanc has not taken into consideration, is that it follows from the distribution accounts furnished by the Leclaire establishment that, the wages paid being much above the general average, the first thing to do in a reorganization of society would be to start up competition with the Leclaire establishment, either among its own workmen or outside.

   Wages would be regulated by the government. The members of the social workshop would dispose of them as they liked, and the indisputable excellence of life in common would not be long in causing association in labor to give birth to voluntary association in pleasure.

   Is M. Blanc a communist, yes or no? Let him declare himself once for all, instead of holding off; and if communism does not make him more intelligible, we shall at least know what he wants.

   In reading the supplement in which M. Blanc has seen fit to combat the objections which some journals have raised, we see more clearly the incompleteness of his conception, daughter of at least three fathers, -- Saint-Simonism, Fourierism, and communism, -- with the aid of politics and a little, a very little, political economy.

   According to his explanations, the State would be only the regulator, legislator, protector of industry, not the universal manufacturer or producer. But as he exclusively protects the social workshops to destroy private industry, he necessarily brings up in monopoly and falls back into the Saint-Simonian theory in spite of himself, at least so far as production is concerned.

   M. Blanc cannot deny it: his system is directed against private industry; and with him power, by its force of initiative, tends to extinguish all individual initiative, to proscribe free labor. The coupling of contraries is odious to M. Blanc: accordingly we see that, after having sacrificed competition to association, he sacrifices to it liberty also. I am waiting for him to abolish the family.

   Nevertheless hierarchy would result from the elective principle, as in Fourierism, as in constitutional politics. But these social workshops again, regulated by law, -- will they be anything but corporations? What is the bond of corporations? The law. Who will make the law? The government. You suppose that it will be good? Well, experience has shown that it has never been a success in regulating the innumerable accidents of industry. You tell us that it will fix the rate of profits, the rate of wages; you hope that it will do it in such a way that laborers and capital will take refuge in the social workshop. But you do not tell us how equilibrium will be established between these workshops which will have a tendency to life in common, to the phalanstery; you do not tell us how these workshops will avoid competition within and without; how they will provide for the excess of population in relation to capital; how the manufacturing social workshops will differ from those of the fields; and many other things besides. I know well that you will answer: By the specific virtue of the law! And if your government, your State, knows not how to make it? Do you not see that you are sliding down a declivity, and that you are obliged to grasp at something similar to the existing law? It is easy to see by reading you that you are especially devoted to the invention of a power susceptible of application to your system; but I declare, after reading you carefully, that in my opinion you have as yet no clear and precise idea of what you need. What you lack, as well as all of us, is the true conception of liberty and equality, which you would not like to disown, and which you are obliged to sacrifice, whatever precautions you may take.

   Unacquainted with the nature and functions of power, you have not dared to stop for a single explanation; you have not given the slightest example.

   Suppose we admit that the workshops succeed as producers; there will also be commercial workshops to put products in circulation and effect exchanges. And who then will regulate the price? Again the law? In truth, I tell you, you will need a new appearance on Mount Sinai; otherwise you will never get out of your difficulties, you, your Council of State, your chamber of representatives, or your areopagus of senators.

   The correctness of these reflections cannot be questioned. M. Blanc, with his organization by the State, is obliged always to end where he should have begun (so beginning, he would have been saved the trouble of writing his book), -- that is, in the study of economic science. As his critic very well says: "M. Blanc has made the grave mistake of using political strategy in dealing with questions which are not amenable to such treatment"; he has tried to summon the government to a fulfillment of its obligations, and he has succeeded only in demonstrating more clearly than ever the incompatibility of socialism with haranguing and parliamentary democracy. His pamphlet, all enameled with eloquent pages, does honor to his literary capacity: as for the philosophical value of the book, it would be absolutely the same if the author had confined himself to writing on each page, in large letters, this single phrase: I PROTEST.

   To sum up:

   Competition, as an economic position or phase, considered in its origin, is the necessary result of the intervention of machinery, of the establishment of the workshop, and of the theory of reduction of general costs; considered in its own significance and in its tendency, it is the mode by which collective activity manifests and exercises itself, the expression of social spontaneity, the emblem of democracy and equality, the most energetic instrument for the constitution of value, the support of association. As the essay of individual forces, it is the guarantee of their liberty, the first moment of their harmony, the form of responsibility which unites them all and makes them solidary.

   But competition abandoned to itself and deprived of the direction of a superior and efficacious principle is only a vague movement, an endless oscillation of industrial power, eternally tossed about between those two equally disastrous extremes, -- on the one hand, corporations and patronage, to which we have seen the workshop give birth, and, on the other, monopoly, which will be discussed in the following chapter.

   Socialism, while protesting, and with reason, against this anarchical competition, has as yet proposed nothing satisfactory for its regulation, as is proved by the fact that we meet everywhere, in the utopias which have seen the light, the determination or socialization of value abandoned to arbitrary control, and all reforms ending, now in hierarchical corporation, now in State monopoly, or the tyranny of communism.

From : University of Virginia Library


November 30, 1845 :
Chapter 5, Section 5.3 -- Publication.

January 30, 2017 19:18:47 :
Chapter 5, Section 5.3 -- Added to

September 24, 2017 17:47:34 :
Chapter 5, Section 5.3 -- Last Updated on


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