Friday, 7 February 2014

THE FRENCH NATIONAL WORKSHOPS

A Lesson in State Capitalism and Political Control.   

Extracts from an Article by FERDINAND LASSALLE.   

THE extension of the economic functions of the capitalist State and Municipality is regarded by a number of people, no doubt, well-meaning and honest enough in their desire for a change in the existing (dis)order of social arrangements, as a step towards Socialism, in fact, as Socialism realised. This conception, false though it is, in turn reflects itself from the economic to the political side of social life that material expression may be given to these concepts per force of the legal instrument — politics. Professional politicians and opportunists, whose watchword is expediency, foster and encourage these false notions and propagate them with a view of perpetuating the present system, and in a large number of cases in the knowledge that their practical operation is limited and where possible would result only in benefitting a class or a caste. Capitalist State Collectivism is based on a profit-and-wage system, dominated by a political administrative body through an official bureaucracy appointed to power by an administration manipulating and directing the affairs of the capitalist state. In Australia, its political character is most obvious, evidenced in the undeniable fact that the person with the greatest amount of parliamentary personal influence at his or her back carries a much stronger "rightful claim" to employment under the paternal state or government than he or she who has none ; moreover, the act of seeking this passport to security of economic tenure produces in such person servile traits as a "servant" of the bureaucracy, as an official of it, a petty tyrant. This economic phase of collective activity, then, instead of breeding human material for a true Socialist State of Industrial Democracy and economic freedom, creates a force well fitted for a condition of politico officio bureaucratic enslavement. Is not this patent in the government controlled activities of our day and generation ? Extend its functions and its evils are extended, and the day of the "Coming Slavery" conjured in the imagination of the late Herbert Spencer close at hand. What is true of the French National Workshops of 1848, is also true of the capitalist-owned State controlled concerns of to-day, and would likely be in connection with the prospective National Tobacco Works of Australia, — institutions to be used as instruments for the repression of working class advance and for the furtherance of political schemes — engines for diplomatic politicians to manipulate to impede Socialist progress. Socialism, of course, has not the slightest affinity with a capitalist wage-slave system as represented in the State-owned concerns under politico-officio administration, as such, time has proved them to be hot-beds of servility, caddishness, petty tyranny, cowardly meanness, pimpdom and crawldom, the development of which is not conducive to a healthy social body.
It is generally understood by a large number of people who devote a portion of their time in attention to questions of social and economic importance, that the French National Workshops of 1848 were of Socialist origin, given birth to as the first step towards achieving the hazy though enthusiastic socialist conception of the working class in that stirring period. That this was not so is amplified in the following extracts from an article by Ferdinand Lassale in the "Deutche Allgemeine Zeitung," entitled "A Historical Retrospect," in which the extension of the State as an employer was encouraged as a means of counteracting Socialist influence and stemming its in-flow of thought :
In giving evidence before a Commission of Enquiry, a witness named Arago, a political opponent of Louis Blanc (who is alleged to have fathered the National Workshop "socialist" scheme) said :

"It is M. Marie (known as a most bitter opponent of Louis Blanc and of the Socialist minority in the Provisional Government in general) who has occupied himself with the organisation of the National Workshops."

" The director of the National Workshops appointed by M. Marie was M. Emile Thomas, a tool entirely devoted to M. Marie, and, as we shall hear now, decidedly hostile to Louis Blanc. This director of the National Workshops gives evidence on oath before the Commission of Enquiry. July 28, 1848 : 'I have never in my life spoke to Louis Blanc ; I do do not know him. Whilst I was at the workshops I have seen M. Marie every day, sometimes twice a day ; Messrs. Recurt, Buchez, and Marrast (all anti-socialists) almost every day. I have seen M. de Lamartine once ; never M. Louis Ledru-Rolin : never M. Louis Blanc : never M. Flocon ; never M. Albert (the last three named formed the Socialist minority of the Government'; Ledru-Rolin stood between the two parties.'

" In his further evidence on June 28, 1848, this same director of the National Workshops, says : 'I have always worked along with the Marie against the influence of Ledru-Rolin, Flocon, and others. I was in open hostility with the Luxembourg (meaning Louis Blanc). I have openly worked against the influence of Louis Blanc.'

" The decrees of February 27 and March 6, 1848, by which the National Workshops were organised, bear the signature of only one man, M. Marie.

" The director of the National Workshops, M. Emile Thomas, has written a   book, "The History of the National Workshops," in which he makes the following confession : ' M. Marie had me called to the Hotel de Ville. After the sitting of the Government, I went there, and received the news that a credit of five million francs had been voted for the National Workshops, and that the financial arrangements would now work with the greatest ease. M. Marie then took me aside and asked me very quietly whether I could count upon the workmen. 'I think so.' I replied ; 'nevertheless, their number increases so much, that it becomes very difficult for me to exercise such a direct influence on them as I should like.'  'Don't worry about the number,' said the Minister, "If you have a firm hold on them, their number will never be too great ; but you should find some means of attaching them sincerely to yourself. Don't spare the money ; if necessary we might grant you secret funds.'  'I don't think I shall need them ; that might later on be a source of serious trouble. But for what other purpose than that of public tranquillity do you make these recommendations?' 'For the purpose of public safety. Do you think you will be able to rely entirely on your men? The day may not be distant when it may be necessary to call them out in the street.'

" Now let us listen to M. de Lamartine, an opponent of the Socialists, who, in his "Histoire de la Revolution de Fevrier," part II, writes as follows about the National Workshops:—

"Some Socialists, then moderate and politicians, but since become extreme partisans, demanded in this respect the initiative of the Government. A great campaign at home, with tools instead of arms, like the campaigns of the Romans and the Egyptians for cutting canals and for draining the Ponlinian swamps, seemed to them the most appropriate remedy for a republic, which intended to maintain peace, and while protecting and lifting up the proletarian, would also safeguard property. A great Ministry of Public Works would have opened the era of a policy adequate to the situation. It was one of the greatest mistakes of the Government to have deferred too long the realisation of these ideas. While it waited, the National Workshops, swollen by misery and idleness, became, day by day, slacker, more fruitless and menacing to the public peace. At that moment they were not so. They were only an expedient adopted in the interests of public order, and a first attempt of public assistance called into existence the day after the Revolution by the necessity of feeding the people, and not keeping it in idleness, so as to avoid the disorders which idleness brings about. M. Marie organised them with great insight, but without ability for productive work. He divided them into brigades, gave them leaders, and inspired them with the ideas of discipline and order. During the four months he turned them from the Socialists and given to riots, into a Pretorian army, but an idle one, into the hands of the Government. Commanded, directed and maintained by chiefs, who were privy to the secret thoughts of the anti-Socialist wing of the Government, these National Work shops formed, till the National Assembly arrived, a counterpoise to the schismatic workmen of the Luxembourg (Louis Blanc's following) and to the disorderly workmen of the clubs. They scandalised by their number, and by the uselessness of their work the eyes of Paris, but they saved it several times without its knowledge. Far from being in the pay of Louis Blanc, as has been said, they were inspired by the spirit of his opponent.'

" Do you wish to know exactly the purposes that the National Workshops were intended to serve? Their director, M. Emile Thomas, is quite frank about the matter:

" 'M. Marie told me that it had been the firm resolve of the Government to let this experiment, the Government Commission for the workmen, run its course, that in itself, it could only have beneficial results, by showing the work men the utter hollowness and falsity of these unrealisable theories, and by making them feel their doleful consequences for themselves. Then disillusionised in the future, their idolatry of Louis Blanc would disappear, and he would lose all his authority and power, and would cease for good and all to be a danger.

"Such were the intentions which they had in view in the establishment of 'Louis Blanc's National Workshops.' And so the purpose was more surely attained, and that this "experiment " should be more certainly accomplished, the workmen were employed on unproductive works only. The works which were carried on are specified in a letter of the director to the Minister Marie :

" ' Repairs of the military roads for patrols, and of the unpaved roads of Paris. Earthworks (levelling) on the Jena slopes, on the lawns of the Champs Elysees, and the slaughterhouse of Montmartre. Extracting stones in the communes of Clichy and Gennevilliers. Making the tow-path of Neuilly.'

" As these works were only undertaken because they did not want to let the men for whom it was intended to feed, loaf about altogether, they were put to work turn and turn about, two or three days a week.'

This so-called "experiment" of the reactionary anti-Socialist section of the French Government was an expedient for a double purpose, on the one hand, a method by which the unemployed workmen could be pacified, on the other, a means by which the failure of the theories advanced by Louis Blanc was to be illustrated. It succeeded in both objects, being nothing more or less than a petty soup-kitchen arrangement, and is even to-day presented as one of the many "Socialist failures" that time and experiment has proved. Though one may as well point to the sand shifting expedient of the Reid Government as a "socialist failure" as to quote the French National Workshops.

The significant deduction to be drawn from the picture presented by Lasselle, and the fact to be borne in mind, is the uses that government-controlled concerns are put to during economic and political crises, a striking object of which is, at the moment of writing, to be seen in the cable announcing that the Government of Germany has notified the official departments of its intention to increase the pay of Imperial and Prussian Civil servants. This on the eve of a political contest has a special significance, clearly showing the purpose of the Government to be the repulsion of Socialism. To what extent will the working class of Germany benefit by the increase in wages given to the civil servants? To no extent. All the nationalisation proposals advanced by the Restrictivist Party now called the Labor Party, are merely political expedients, and if ever materialised may be used in the same manner and for similar purposes as were the French National Workshops, and it is certain that these State-controlled institutions would be used by the political governments of the hour for political individual and sectional ends, which under official bureaucratic rule and a "pull" on the Treasury, besides having the disposing of jobs, would be a lever that might successfully work to such advantage. And from our experience of politicians if they are angels— they are very black ones.

Neither the historic French National Workshops, nor the prospective extension of the economic functions of the capitalist state, do not approximate even to the skirting of Socialism, and can not be said to be steps leading toward that ideal, in fact, if the experiences of France, Germany, and other countries prove anything at all, they go to show that the establishment of petty State industries has been a step from Socialism by arresting Socialist thought and building up an entrenched economic force in opposition to it represented in State officials and the servile slaves of a semi-paternal capitalist Government. This is the ideal of the Parliamentary Labor Party, this the kernel of its political harangue; this what its adherents term steps to Socialism (steps to hell). Socialism unfolds a social and individual life grander and nobler than the regimental routine of an official bureaucracy, it opens in the full freedom of economic equality based on an equitable exchange of necessary social services, the portals of opportunity to that life, the steps towards which is capitalist development, education and organisation of the working class both industrially and politically with the view of utilising both forces to press on and reach the final chapter in the capitalist volume, entering the new era untrammelled with musty capitalist dogma, and unweighted with its lumber of class and caste distinctions. Carry those qualities of slave-age production into the new social state and it is doomed. Beware then, and do not mistake State Bureaucracy for Socialism.

 People 19 January 1907,

No comments: