The Federative Principle and the Necessity of Reconstituting the Party of the Revolution


Translator: Iain McKay

Second Part: Unitarist Policy [Politique unitaire]

Chapter III: Democratic Monogram, Unity

The democracy is liberal, republican, socialist even, in the good and true sense of the word, of course, as M. de Lamartine said.

The democracy imposes this on itself. It never understood that revolutionary triad, Liberty-Equality-Fraternity, that in 1848, as in 1793, it always had in its mouth, and of which it has made such beautiful emblems. Its motto, definitively adopted, is a single term, UNITY.

It takes an entire philosophy, an entire jurisprudence, an entire science of man and things, of society and its economy, indeed, to understand Liberty, especially Equality, to feel Fraternity as a free man. How many resign themselves to such studies?... Whereas with UNITY, a physical, mathematical thing, which can be seen, touched and counted, we know everything in an instant. We are even exempted, in difficult cases, from reason. With UNITY, politics is reduced to a mere mechanism, wherein the only thing left to do is to turn the steering wheel. Too bad for anyone who gets caught up in the gears: he was not really a politician; he was an interloper, justly punished for his ambitious vanity.

Whoever says liberty, in the language of public right, says guarantee: guarantee of the inviolability of the person and of the home; guarantee of municipal, trade [corporatives[1]] and industrial freedoms; guarantee of due progress, presumption of innocence [protectrices de l’innocence] and free defence. How can all this be reconciled with governmental majesty, so so dear to the democracy, with Unity? It was the democracy, it was its leaders and its organs which, in 1848, instituted war councils, organised house searches, decreed the state of siege, enforced the deportation without trial of white workers,[2] as Mr. Lincoln decrees today the deportation without trial of black workers.[3] The democracy has little regard for individual freedom and respect for laws, incapable of governing on other terms than that of Unity, which is nothing but despotism.

Whoever says republic or equality of political rights, says administrative independence of the political groups which compose the State, says above all separation of powers. However, the democracy is above all centralising and unitary; it abhors federalism; under Louis-Philippe, it hunted at all cost parochialism [l’esprit de clocher]; it regards the indivision of power as the government’s mainspring, its anchor of mercy:[4] its ideal would be a dictatorship coupled with an inquisition. In 1848, when the uprising roared in the street, it quickly hastened to gather all powers in the hands of General Cavaignac. Why, it thought, change the governmental mechanism? What absolute monarchy did against us, let us do against it and its partisans: for that we do not have to change the cannons; it is enough to turn its own guns against the enemy. The Revolution is nothing else.

Whoever says socialism, in the good and true sense of the word, naturally says freedom of commerce and of industry, the mutuality of insurance, the reciprocity of credit, the equalisation of taxes, the balancing and security of wealth, the participation of the worker in the firm’s fortunes, the inviolability of the family in inheritance. However, the democracy strongly inclines towards communism, the economic formula of unity: it is only through communism that it understands equality. What it needs are maximums [in prices], forced loans, progressive and extravagant taxes, accompanied by philanthropic institutions, hospices, asylums, nurseries, tontines,[5] national workshops, savings and relief funds, all the paraphernalia of pauperism, all the livery of misery. It does not like piece work; its treats free credit as madness; it would tremble before a people [composed] of learned workers, knowing equally how to think, write, handle a pickaxe and a plane, and whose wives know how to do without servants in their households. It welcomes the inheritance tax, which, demolishing the family, tends to place property in the hands of the State.[6]

In short, whoever says freedom says federation, or says nothing;

Whoever says republic, says federation, or says nothing;

Whoever says socialism, says federation, or yet again says nothing.

But the democracy, as it has demonstrated for four years, is nothing, neither capable of nor wanting anything Federation produces, which Contract requires, which Right and Liberty require. The Democracy has as a principle unity; its goal is unity; its means, unity; its law, always unity. Unity is its alpha and omega, its supreme formula, its final reason. It is all unity and nothing but unity, as its speeches and actions demonstrate; that is to say, it does not leave the absolute, the indefinite, the void.

This is why the Democracy, which senses its emptiness and is afraid of its weakness, which took a revolutionary accident for the very idea of the Revolution, and made a dogma of a transient form of dictatorship, this old democracy of 1830 renewed from 93, is above all for strong power, hostile to all autonomy, envious of the Empire which it accuses of having stolen its policy, but it promises to sing the aria again, as M. Thiers said of M. Guizot, with variations and without false notes.

No principles, no organisation, no guarantees; only unity and arbitrariness, all decorated with the names Revolution and Public Safety: here is the profession of faith of the democracy today. Since 1848 I have asked it several times to produce its programme, and did not obtain a word. A programme! It is compromising, not sure. From which front will this democracy, empty of ideas, which the day after the stroke of luck which would bring it to power would be, like all its predecessor governments, conservative, from which front, I say, would it today decline the responsibility of activities with which I recognise it was not involved but that it would have performed in the same fashion and that it has covered with its approval?

End Notes

[1] It should be noted that corporatives was the medieval French equivalent for guilds and that, when Proudhon was writing, a common term within working class circles for the self-managed trade associations which would replace wage-labour within capitalist firms. (Editor)

[2] A reference to the crushing of the working class revolt – “the June Days” – in response to plans to close the National Workshops, created by the Second Republic in order to provide work for the unemployed. Between 23 to 26 June 1848, troops led by General Louis Eugène Cavaignac killed around three thousand and wounded many thousand more. Afterwards, four thousand insurgents were deported to Algeria. This marked the end of the hopes of a “Democratic and Social Republic” (République démocratique et sociale) and the victory of the liberals over the left. (Editor)

[3] A reference to President Lincoln’s long standing support for the removal of freed slaves from the United States. At his urging, the Confiscation Act of 1862 included a clause “for the transportation, colonization, and settlement, in some tropical country beyond the limits of the United States, of such persons of the African race, made free by the provisions of this act, as may be willing to emigrate.” The Bureau of Emigration was subsequently created to direct his colonisation projects. See Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page, Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011). (Editor)

[4] The anchor of mercy (l’ancre de miséricorde) is the strongest anchor of a boat and is used only in severe circumstances. (Editor)

[5]An investment plan which combines features of a group annuity and a lottery. Each subscriber pays an agreed sum into the fund, and thereafter receives an annuity. As members die, their shares devolve to the other participants, and so the value of each annuity increases. On the death of the last member, the scheme is wound up. (Editor)

[6] In terms of inheritance, Proudhon’s views should be seen in terms of his wider economic reforms: “I see what shocks you in heredity: heredity, according to you, is only good for maintaining inequality. But inequality does not come from heredity; it results from economic conflicts. Heredity takes things as it finds them: create equality, and heredity will render equality to you.” (Système des contradictions économiques ou Philosophie de la misère [Paris: Guillaumin, 1846], 258)