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Studies in Socialism/The Necessity for a Majority

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I have shown, and indeed the statement is self-evident, that the Revolution of 1789 would have come to nothing if it had not had the will of the immense majority of the nation back of it, and I have said that the same truth holds good in the case of the Socialist Revolution; more than all others it must be the work of an immense majority of the nation. In bringing out clearly the magnitude of the effort that must be made I hope that I am not discouraging but spurring on the energy and conscience of those to whom I speak. At all events, if the work to be accomplished is vast and entails the co-operation of innumerable wills, I shall also show that the resources and forces at our command are likewise vast, and that it only depends on us to march forward to an end both certain and victorious. But I maintain that the vehement effort of a Socialist minority will not suffice, and that we must rally round us almost the whole body of citizens. These are the reasons:

In the first place, the Socialist minority is not opposed to an inert and passive mass. In the hundred and twenty years that have passed since the Revolution, human energy, already excited by the Reformation and the Renaissance, has developed a prodigious animation. In all classes and in all conditions of life we find active wills, forces in motion. Everywhere the individual has become self-conscious. Everywhere greater and greater efforts are being made. The working class has shaken off its drowsiness and passivity. But the lower middle-class is also active. In spite of the often crushing weight of the present economic system, it is not altogether subdued; it is constantly making an effort to better itself. And if it often seeks its deliverance by the most reactionary ideas, the most detestable politics, and the most sterile and degrading jingo patriotism, it is none the less an active and passionate power. It forms leagues, and in Paris it holds the Republican and Socialist democracy in check. That is to say, it will oppose a resistance that may be effective, to any social movement to which it has not been gradually converted, at least to a certain degree. In the same way the small peasant-proprietors have played a great rôle ever since the Revolution, sometimes on the side of reaction, sometimes on that of liberty. Save for some glorious and fairly numerous exceptions, they took fright at the idea of the Red Terror in 1851, and contributed to the success of the coup d'état and the Empire. Since then they have been gradually won over by the Republic and have become one of the living forces back of it. They are perfectly conscious of their political power. They have begun to hold municipal office, they know that they make the deputies, the members of the provincial legislatures, and the senators, and they would have no tolerance for a great social movement in which they took no part.

I think it extremely short-sighted to say that if the peasants are neutral, that will be enough, that all Socialism asks of them is to stand aside passively. No social force can remain neutral when a great movement is on foot. If they are not with us, they will be against us.

And, anyway, since the Collectivist system presupposes the co-operation of the peasants (for example, they must be willing to sell their produce at the common shop) their passive resistance would be enough to starve and defeat the Revolution. They know their power and they are not going to let it drop from their hands. Even the economic initiative they have shown for several years, the spirit of progress that animates them, everything, points to the fact that they would not allow their share in great social events to be a purely passive one, when those events will have an immediate reaction on their own lives. Either they will help them, or they will defeat them.

And yet another element must be considered. The privileged classes have to-day infinitely more authority, and therefore more power, than the privileged classes before 1789. The industrial middle-class has retained a vital force. It has followed the laws of scientific progress. It is constantly adopting new methods of production and renewing and improving its machinery. And even from the standpoint of the social struggle, the battle between the classes, it has readjusted its method of warfare; the invention of trade-unions of which the employer is also a member and to which he grants special privileges[1] is a proof of the audacity and suppleness of its resources. What a contrast between the activity of a great prelate under the ancien régime, and a great modern capitalist! Some of these, like certain American millionaires, seem to have inherited the activity of Napoleon. And even in France, in a more modest degree, the capitalist class is ever on the alert. It is not from indifferent and drowsy classes, but from active, foresighted, and bold classes that the proletariat must wring its privileges. How can it do this if it has not the nation on its side? If the mass of the nation is hostile, it will be crushed. And if it is only distrustful, the manœuvres of the capitalist class will soon change that distrust to hostility.

Thus we see that the universal motion and vitality of modern life and the universal activity of energy no longer admit of successful action by minorities. There are no longer dormant masses that a vigorous push can shake into life. There are everywhere centres of force which would quickly become centres of resistance and points of reaction, if they were not moving gradually in the direction of the new society of their own accord.


In the second place, the transformation of property that Socialism wishes and ought to accomplish is much vaster, more far-reaching, and much more subtle than that accomplished one hundred and ten years ago by the revolutionary middle class.

In 1789 the Revolution struck at a form of property marked out by narrow limits. When the possessions of the Church were nationalised it was a corporate property very clearly defined that was being absorbed. Outside of the Church and of the regular and secular clergy, not a single person who owned property had to fear that the law of expropriation which had been decreed against the Church would react on him. The Abbé Maury tried in vain to spread a panic: the bourgeois and peasant-proprietors knew too well that the property of the Church was clearly defined, and that expropriation would not go beyond those limits.

In the same way, when the Revolution abolished feudal rights, that too was a definite measure, with results known beforehand and limited in scope. There were undoubtedly some cases of feudal rights in connection with non-feudal property, but, on the whole, the nobles were the only ones affected. The very nature of feudal dues, which presupposed a bond of personal dependence, reserved the benefits accruing therefrom to a single class of persons.

It is quite otherwise with capital, whose very essence it is to be diffused. It has no certain and known limits. It is not concentrated in the hands of a corporation like the Church, or a caste like the nobility. It is of course true that the titles that represent it are very far from being as widely dispersed as the made-to-order optimism of bourgeois political-economists would have us believe. But it is true that they are not reserved to any given category of titular proprietors and that they are fairly generally distributed. There are small property-owners even in the villages. And if a coup-de-force of the minority were suddenly to abolish capitalist property, unexpected centres of resistance would spring into being everywhere. Only by definite and nicely graded steps, by which their interests are fully protected, can the medium and small owners be brought to consent to the transformation of capitalist property to social property. And it is perfectly certain that these legal adjustments can only be conducted and these guaranties established by the calm deliberation and legalised will of the majority of the nation.

In the same way the transformation of agrarian property and its evolution toward a system broadly Communistic will be impossible as long as the peasant proprietors are not fully reassured. The adhesion of the peasant proprietors is the more necessary because in comparison with them the number of large rural proprietors is constantly decreasing. But their adhesion is not to be won by a sudden movement, whose effects they have not been able to calculate. They will only support a movement that has been fully discussed with them, and one that, by constantly raising their productive power and standard of life, will reassure them completely as to the end and object of Socialist action.

And this is not all. In 1789 the Revolution had only a negative work to perform in the domain of property, that is to say it abolished, it did not create. It did away with Church property, but the confiscated estates of the Church were put up for sale. It converted them directly into a known form of private property. And when feudal rights were abolished, what happened was that the property of the peasant was freed of a certain burden, but the fundamental characteristics were not altered. The peasant was simply more fully possessed of that which was already his in some degree. But the Revolution did not bring into being any new form of property. It did not imagine any new social type. Its work of liberty was limited to the breaking of fetters. It did not have to create, it did not have to organise. All society asked of it was destruction; once this destruction had been accomplished society itself went confidently forward along the route already partly traversed.

The Socialist Revolution, on the contrary, must not rest content after it has abolished capitalism; it must create the new type under which production is to be carried on and the relations of property are to be regulated.

Imagine that all capitalistic claims on production cease, that the ledger of the public debt is destroyed, that tenants pay no more rent, that tenant-farmers pay no land-rent, that farmers who hold land as métayers are no longer required to hand over half their produce to the bourgeois proprietor, that all ground-rent, all commercial profit, all dividends and industrial profits are abolished; if this destruction of capitalism were not instantly supplemented by a Socialistic organisation, if society did not know at once how labour was to be carried on, what was to be the function of the State, of local government, and of the trade-union, and according to what principles the producers were to be remunerated; if, in a word, society were not able to ensure the proper working of a new social system, it would fall into an abyss of disorder and misery, and the Revolution would be lost in one day.

But this new social system cannot be created and inspired by a minority. It can only function with the approval of an immense majority of the citizens. And it is the majority of the citizens that will multiply little by little the germs and tentative undertakings from which the new social order will arise. It is this majority that will gradually create, from capitalistic chaos, the various types of social property, co-operative, communal, and trade-union; and it will only demolish the last remains of the capitalist edifice when it has firmly established the foundations of the Socialist order and when the new building is ready to give shelter, to mankind. In this immense task of social construction, the immense majority of the citizens must co-operate.

We must never forget the new and grandiose character of the Socialist Revolution. The common good will be its object. For the first time since the beginning of human history, a great social upheaval will have for its aim, not the substitution of one class for another, but the destruction of class and the inauguration of a universal humanity.

In the Socialist order, discipline and the smooth co-operation of individual wills will not be maintained by the authority of one class over another, but will come as the result of the free will of associated guardians of the peace.

How, then, can a system based on the free collaboration of all be instituted against the will, or even without the aiding will, of the greater number? All the social forces that were either refractory or inert would be such a drag on Socialist production, and would use up so much energy and elasticity in numberless jars and frictions, that the whole system would end in disaster. It can only succeed by the general and almost unanimous desire of the community.

Destined for the benefit of all, it must be prepared and accepted by almost all, practically indeed by all; because the hour inevitably arrives when the power behind an immense majority discourages the last efforts to resist its will. The noblest thing about Socialism is precisely that it is not the regime of a minority. It cannot, therefore, and ought not to be imposed by a minority.


I must add, further, that the long exercise of universal suffrage has made it more and more difficult, if not impossible, for the minority alone to carry through any enterprise successfully. Universal suffrage, indeed, is constantly throwing light on the respective strength of the different parties. It is perpetually and publicly taking their measure. For a minority to attempt any independent movement when all the country knows, and it knows itself, that it is in the minority, is, then, extremely difficult.

In 1830 and 1848 the revolutionary minority which rose up could say, and could make others believe, that it represented the thought of the majority. Because this majority, under a system of limited suffrage, was voiceless. I do not speak of the fall of the Empire, whose collapse was due in greater measure to its defeat by Germany than to the Revolution. But undoubtedly the great weakness of the Commune was to have to deal with an Assembly which, reactionary though it was, was the outcome of universal suffrage and of the general will of the nation.

A minority that, having taken part in the elections and having accepted them as a gauge, should then attempt to go against the will of the majority by violence, would be in an utterly false position. And it would be opposed by a majority that, armed with the consciousness of its own force which the authentic figures of the ballot would give, would not only not yield but in all probability would rally to its standard many elements from the revolting minority.

Further, the Socialist party does not limit its demand to the establishment of universal suffrage in all countries. It wishes universal suffrage with proportional representation. Liebknecht, in the fragment published by Vorzvärts, demands proportional representation. The Socialists in Belgium have seconded him. Citizen Vaillant, in a recent article, adheres in principle to the scrutin de liste,[2] under the absolute condition that proportional representation should be instituted. This is also the opinion of Citizen Guesde. But to ask for minority representation is to ask that each force, each tendency in the country should constantly make public its exact numerical strength. It is to wish that the share of electoral and parliamentary influence of each party should be exactly calculated on its actual strength in the country. It is, then, to proclaim all legislation arbitrary that does not emanate from the true majority.


According to the admission of every section of the party, then, the Socialist Revolution will be brought about by the will of all, the power of a majority. The partisans of a general strike are the only ones to maintain that the action of the industrial proletariat, or even the most active and self-conscious part of that proletariat, unsupported by other sections of the community, would be enough to determine the advent of Communism, the Social Revolution.

  1. They are called "yellow unions" in distinction to the "red" Socialist unions.
  2. According to the system of the scrutin de liste, the voter, instead of casting his ballot for a single representative of a small election district, votes for a list of representatives, the whole number to which his county or state is entitled. The system of proportional representation is based on the scrutin de liste, with certain modifications tions which ensure the representation of minorities in proportion to their voting strength. See La Représentation Proportionelle: La Chesnais.