Woman must work, by Madeleine Pelletier

Woman must Work
Dr. Madeleine Pelletier
1921
Le Libertaire

The Woman’s Voice published the summary of an article from the Rote Fahne (The Red Flag) from Vienna on women’s labour.

It offers the old Socialist idea of the situation of women; an idea which is primarily antifeminist since, by advocating to keep women at home, it perpetuates their slavery. However, we can see some progress. The Austrian Socialist understands that by closing the factory gates to women, he turns her into an enemy of socialism, and he concludes in favour of women’s labour.

It is annoying to see that, in matters of women’s rights, it is the working class who proves most reactionary. Workers might want to free themselves from the bourgeoisie, but they intend to remain masters of their wives, maintain her in her economic dependency, in such a way that she is forced to submit to sexual slavery in order not to starve. It is in progressive groups that we can most often hear the old clichés on women’s intellectual inferiority, her “special nature” which would ban her from work, etc.

Women are weaker than men but this is of no concern for society. Far from protecting women’s weakness, as it hypocritically pretends, society only increases this hypocrisy, by taking away from the female sex the means to live.

Weak or strong, women are individuals who have the right to live as they wish.

During the massacre which just ended, we saw that only age-old prejudice banned women from some professions. By opening these jobs to them, we saw that they are able to do them. Their average ability did not equal those of men, but it does not matter. It was still far from null, since capitalists kept working women and even paid them wages as they had never had before.

We always remain focused on the issue of equality or inequality which, actually, does not have to be raised. Equality does not exist among men in intelligence or strength; there are strong people, weak people and average people in either domain.

Women will do what they can, and as long as the current society exists, working women must fight to make bosses pay her labour as dearly as possible.

Financial emancipation of women is not only justice, it is the real interest of men. If most men do not think so, it is because they are traditionalists. They want to live like their fathers and grandfathers. Revolutionary as far as society is concerned, they do not want revolution to enter their homes, but it must.

Housewives are the worst enemies of the revolution. Limited to their kitchens, they do not know anything about the outside world, and she has an instinctive fear of everything which threatens its peace and quiet. To have a man who brings back good weekly and monthly pays, but who doesn’t drink too much, who doesn’t hit her when the soup is not good, that is her ideal.

In politics, she is reactionary because she is attached to her “home”, just like the bourgeoisie is attached to their capitals. She hates strikes and hates the unions who prepare them; she hates the groups which incite her husband to forge what she considers wild dreams. To her, an “honest man” is a quiet man, who doesn’t go out, who likes to stay at home.

Superficial minds concluded from this very real psychology of the housewife that women are incorrigible reactionaries. Housewives only have the mentality of their state. She is like the artisan of the old days who, confined at home where they worked on their own, had no idea about social change.

It is the factory which made Socialists and Anarchists. Factories and workshops will do to women what they did to men. And we will then see that women don’t lag behind. The evolution which we indicate has already started actually. The industrialisation of women will bring about the revolution.

Discussions with Women on Strike, by Ito Noe

Discussions with Women on Strike
Ito Noe
1920

1.
Twelve days after the start of the strike and eight days after the first meeting with the capitalists, I looked up the women who work at the Sanshûsha company in Matsumoto Hall in Kanda.

“Many of you must must be face with different and particular issues than men are, but the fact that you have proven your solidarity for so long…”, I said, straight after the salutations

“But no, although we are all appointed to different positions to the best of our ability, a few of us have gone back to work yesterday. There is no excuse for this.” “Oh yes, I have also already heard of this. Since the strike has lasted for over two weeks now, we can well understand this. A shame they didn’t haves more perseverance, isn’t it? How many women went to work?” “It must be three. If they had waited until today, the terms for today’s meeting might have been more favourable. Our whole effort has not paid at all yet! They have way too little steadfastness.”

The resolution of the printers of the morning paper had confirmed me that, because of the treason of these people, the capitalists had suddenly become inflexible. I could already imagine the result of today’s meeting. Now I found no words supporting this in the discussions with these women which seemed not to know anything about this.
Although the willingness existed at first for this strike to endure the hardships a month or more, it happened that a few didn’t last more than two weeks and went back to work without condition. An honest conversation between two colleagues developed about why these few didn’t say it openly, if they were in a day or two in unbearable distress, although people could have helped them somehow – even if all also suffered – if these things were only expressed. They also talked about the fact that the influence from one or two traitors could be altogether immensely great on this great strike.

I picked up, along with all the others, two big rice dumplings covered in bamboo leaves and ate. While I felt a familiarity which moved me to tears, I took part in the circle of discussion until the evening.

2.
Naturally, the stories were not completely surprising for me. Some of it I had already read and already heard. Part of it I could also imagine from my own experiences.

But although I had long known this, it moved me very deeply to have these discussions with people who had experienced it in reality and felt it so bitterly. While I listen to the tales of these women about their normal work conditions and other things, the feeling overwhelmed me that the demands of the strike for shorter work hours and a pay increase did not simply constitute a way to make production more effective1, which part of the capitalists find to their taste, or that they come from the men’s side who join for education and leisure time, but rather that the requirements attack especially strongly the truly insoluble needs of these women. It emerges from the comments of these women that, although the factory law2 thankfully give women and children special attention as protected workers, it guaranteed them no protection, that the capitalists mainly used it at the time of wage increases not to raise the wages of single female workers.

They let the women work the long time of twelve hours between dirty, cracked planks. They cannot sit down but must stand up the whole time. They don’t pay any mind to the particular body characteristics of women. They let them carry heavy loads and climb up stairs, exactly in te same way if they are pregnant or if they have another condition; no consideration will be taken if she suffers injuries because of it.

Although the work alone seems horrible because of the dust-filled air in the factory, it sent shivers down my spine, as I discovered in these discussions that they let them work so hard and destroys their health so in cold blood as well.

3.
The women also told the following:
“Early it would be seen as usual to be working from seven in the morning till over eleven at night. We hardly came back home before midnight. If we imagine how things were then we are happy about the twelve hour day today. At that time, we had never thought in dreams about a day of rest every Sunday. It seemed inevitable that the wages would not be raised for two or three years by one sen (1/100 of a yen). We were truly urged to work, and treated as badly as they wished. But we accepted this in silence. When we think about it, it seems incredible that our bodies could withstand this. We can’t imagine something as beautiful as an eight-hour day or a six-hour day, but if it became reality, the twelve-hour days for which we are now so thankful would seem most awful.”
This is the truth. Most of these women must work double: at home and in the factory.

Young unmarried women too, who must carry out next to no housework, work twelve hours at the factory and need around two hours for commute. From the ten hours at home, they are left with, after you take out two hours for the meal or for getting dressed, only eight hours; if they come back at night and after the meal talk to their family members and have a bath, that’s another two or three hours gone. Because they are so tired, they can do nothing very tiring outside, for example, learn something. If a competent young woman does only one hour of needlework, she reduces her sleeping time to something like four or five hours. Can she recuperate thus completely from her tiredness after a day of work? But now the women who are charged with responsibilities as wives or mothers, in this so tightly allocated time, look after their husbands or children. The preparation of meals, the care for all the utensils, the reflection on the household’s money, the washing of clothes in cold or hot water and other plans – all of this she must deal with, on top of the daily wash of the dirty children’s stuff. All of these worries they can’t in any way give to someone else, even if someone helps them. In order to perform adequately, their limited sleep is reduced and they must give up their rare days off.

Understandably, civilisation offers us different methods and facilities to shorten usual housework. The working class is however too poor to make use of them. Thanks to this civilisation, the strange phenomenon is produced that the most idle women have more time at their disposal, while the women who have the most things to do are driven to terrible overtime.

4.
“Work in the factory is a real poison for our health. I am still quite strong, but when I get a bit sick and the doctor examines me, he recognises straight away, without me saying anything, that I am working in the factory. If we are just a bit unreasonable, something happens immediately. This is horrible! Sometimes I notice that I no longer have news from a woman with whom I have been working; then when I hear about them, they are ether sick or dead. We don’t know how many people have lost their health in the factory. It was also the case for our older sisters,” says a woman, who was sitting next to me, in a serious tone, while she pointed at a friend next to her.
5.
I stayed that day and the following days a while with the workers. Although these women found themselves in the sad situation where their urgent demands were dismissed by the capitalists with a hard hand, they didn’t see the future as gloomy. How brave is their common resolve to reach for themselves, with their own hands, without a doubt, a reform of their work conditions all around! I would like here to express the cheerful anticipation that surely in the near future the day will come when the tremendous self-confidence of these women, who rely on almost nothing and educate themselves, will cast a new bright light on working women.

Workers’ Unions and the Social Revolution, by Marie isidine

Workers’ Unions and the Social Revolution
Marie Isidine
Plus Loin
1931

This book, which, according to its author, is the result of a long preparatory work, answers the most pressing need of our time: to know which spirit must animate the great social change which everyone awaits, and which way must everyone follow in their action who wishes to avoid the next attempt of such change to be a failure or a disillusion. This is a serious personal contribution to setting up a programme of action for today’s struggles, and for the constructive work of the “day after” the revolution.

Here is the general plan of this book.

First, the analysis of the current situation and the existing social forces, examining two opposite tendencies: class collaboration and class struggle; a detailed critique of the collaboration policy drives the author to reject it in all the forms and at any scale it may be practised. Then, the fighting methods employed by modern capitalism (collaboration with the opposite class being one of the most dangerous of those) leads to the idea that the working class must, also, modernise and “rationalise” its action.

Contrary to a certain tendency which wishes to make the theory and practice of revolutionary syndicalism as obsolete, in order to replace it with the dictatorship of the party (actually a much older tactic and obsolete in many more ways), Besnard shows the inability of political parties to become actor of social change and the fateful character of a dictatorship, even if it were not exerted by a party but by unions. “In order to be the proletariat’s, a dictatorship would have to be exerted through the channels of the class organisations of the proletariat: the unions… Revolutionary syndicalists reject however this kind of dictatorship. They do not see any more need for an economic dictatorship – which would also be political – than for an exclusively political dictatorship.” (page 104-105) Actually, the idea of the constitution of a new state, whatever it might be, is rejected for both current and historical reasons, in which we can strongly sense the influence from Kropotkin’s ideas. In his whole work, Besnard draws on Bakunin, Kropotkin, and J. Guillaume; his ideal is free communism, or anarchy, which is the “great human demand”; the mode of organisation which he considers possible after a successful revolution is some sort of very loose federalist system, intended to open the way to such an ideal. This system is however not presented as a minimum programme for a transition period, since the author thinks that “it is criminal and, to tell the truth, counter-revolutionary, arbitrarily to set the limit to reach, when this or that stage could easily be reached without obstacles.” (page 332)
What he calls a “transition period” is actually not characterised by this or that preset political and economic regime: it is “the period of time between the destruction of the old regime and the stabilisation of the new regime” (page 268).

It is a state which is no longer the capitalist regime and which is not yet libertarian communism; the evolution toward the latter must be allowed to happen, during this period, naturally, without violent struggle. The “stabilisation” of the revolution happens when “the degree of understanding of individuals and the capacity of realisation of existing organisations do not allow to go any further” (page 273).

On this issue, about the way in which this stabilisation can happen, Comrade Besnard seems to be making a terrible mistake in our opinion, unless he did not express his view clearly enough. The stop in the ascending march of the revolution is a natural and unavoidable phenomenon; can it be the result of a decision made beforehand? Yes, if the revolution is seen as a succession of revolutionary measures taken by some dictatorial power which can, , at any given moment, stop or backtrack. No, if we see the revolution as the spontaneous action of all the people. Yet, Besnard supposes that we can stop “having observed unanimously or with a huge majority… that we cannot go beyond the limits reached without danger” (page 273). This is therefore a decision taken by some organisation for the whole society, which presupposes the existence of such an organisation, which has the right (and the power, as it can meet with some opposition) to pull the brake on the movement. Of the men who would endorse this responsibility, Besnard makes superhuman demands: they “will have to be deep psychologists. They will have to measure, as precisely as possible, the efforts to be made during the hole revolutionary process, during the length of the whole transition period. They will have to know its limits, reach it without crossing it” (page 335).

Are there such men with infailible judgement? And the common mortals who would inherit this task, wouldn’t they risk to act instead according to their own particular doctrinal and practical beliefs, which they would then impose as a minimum programme to everyone else? The illusion which Besnard seems to have on this issue might be linked to an idea which he expressed several times throughout his book. Not to condemn the revolution to failure, the workers’ movement, he says, must direct itself entirely and immediately following a few great lines; if it does, society will be able to be organised in a loose enough fashion for majority decisions always to be enforced willingly, without violence or resistance, for imposed duties always to be fulfilled, etc. We can however emit some doubts about this issue, because during a revolution, ideas move fast and soon burst out of pre-established frames. And then, which means would the leading organisation have to be obeyed in a stateless society? This point remains unclear, and it is lacking in Besnard’s exposé.

Two main ideas – both extremely far-reaching – dominate this book. First of all, a very wide definition of unions and syndicalism. Under the term union, the author really includes any free association created to defend collectively the material and moral interests of its members, from the most primitive human groupings to the different organisations of today. According to him, “federalist syndicalism is a movement of an essentially natural kind, such as packs of wild animals, forests of oak trees, or coal deposits” (page 113); it is the result of the social sentiment which characterises humans.

Current syndicalism is defined as “a movement which groups… the workers from the same town, from the same region, trade, industry, country, from all countries” (page 112). And by “workers”, Besnard does not only mean manual labourers, but also technicians, scientists, and peasants; he insists at length (and rightly so in our opinion) on the need fur unity among all these elements, which he calls class synthesis (see the chapter with this title, from page 257 on).

“Any individual which receives wages or payment, any man who does not exploit anyone, belong, in fact, whatever their situation, to the working class” (page 260). Collaboration between manual and intellectual workers must start right now; during the revolution, it will be a sine qua non condition for the success of its constructive work.

The second leading idea, is the need to give the syndicalist movement such organisational forms as to make them able to give, immediately after the revolution, the framework for the new society, in order to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable period of stoppage and prevent the stranglehold of any new form of power.

We are unable to explain here the proposed mode of organisation (which is the one adopted by the C.G.T.S.R. in its constitutive congress) based at the same time along industrial lines and according to locality; one of the most important tasks for these organisations must be the precise knowledge of the functioning and the situation of the industry, and of the economy in general. That is why such an important place must be given among workers’ demands to the demand for workers’ control. After the revolution, on top of all these economic organisations, from the workshop group of the C.G.T. to the Economic Council of Labour “must be added another symmetrical ensemble, from the town council to the Great Council of Workers” which constitutes the political bone structure of the new society. To both of these are added a series of “social” offices, dealing with exchanges, housing, statistics, hygiene, etc.

Besnard’s book, which attempts to encompass all the issues surrounding the fate of workers’ struggles and the revolution, still has many more interesting chapters, among which we will highlight the programme of immediate workers’ demands (envisioned from the viewpoint of the future) and the analysis of the different possibilities of how the revolution may arise (general strike, political movement from right-wing or left-wing parties).
When we compare Besnard’s exposé to the writings from syndicalist propaganda from the early stages of the movement, the distance crossed is striking: despite contrary appearances, we can feel in it the wind of near-future achievements.

The Need for Women’s Unions, by Milly Witkop-Rocker

The Need for Women’s Unions
Milly Witkop-Rocker
Der Frauen-Bund
1925

That the support of several male comrades for the dissolution of the women’s unions had to cause a storm of protests among our female comrades is natural. The women have come to realise that such organisations are necessary, and there she deals seriously with her issues, so we must not be surprised that she defends her point with energy. It would be very unfortunate if it weren’t the case, it would only prove that women had less interest for their issues. Despite everything, it would be an injustice if those comrades, who are committed to the union of both men and women in the same united organisation, wanted to presume an evil intent. Without a doubt their motives stem from thinking and are perfectly honest in order to help the movement. However, not everything that is done meaning well is also good in practice and desirable, especially not in this case.

Before we called the women’s unions into existence, we had well considered the question, and if we have decided in favour of the unions, it happened mainly because we wanted to reach out first and foremost to housewives and female relatives who are not considered directly as producers. It would be in my opinion a complete waste of time if we brought in these women in the general organisation, where they would have little opportunity to develop their own initiatives and they would end up most of the time playing the role of silent observers. In this way they would not be able to bring anything useful neither to the general movement, nor to themselves.

Some might object that so far women’s unions have only achieved little result and have not brought many advantages to women. On its own, this reproach is not conclusive. Despite the decisions of the Düsseldorf and Erfurt congresses1 which completely recognised the need for these unions and for supporting them, precious little has been done on this issue in the past five years. It would therefore be foolish to want to expect greater results. I do not wish to make a reproach against anyone when I say this, my words are conceived much more as a reminder that in this respect a lot more must be done.

But even so the little that was done did not remain without success. If today we have quite a number of women in the country who are able to represent effectively their own issues as well as the interests of the movement, this is a direct result from the women’s unions that we would hardly have achieved without the existence of the unions. And that women have understood their duty, this comes out of the fact that in quite a few of the groups mutual aid has been practised in a way which could serve as a very good example also for male comrades. This however does not mean that we are content and that we reject any critique. On the contrary, it must be emphasised over and over again that far too little has been done so far and that we must direct all of our power to create new groups and always better to build up and develop the existing ones. It would be however completely wrong if people wanted to reproach the women for not having done their duty, after the comrades have done theirs in their congress and taken resolutions in favour of women’s unions. Could anyone not make the same reproach to the men? Most of them believed that after they put down the need for unions in a particular resolution, the thing would just happen by itself. The means, they took this issue a bit too lightly. Without a doubt it would be desirable the women had shown up in higher numbers, but the same can also be said of the male comrades. From those who are organised as syndicalists we could have expected with full justification that they would have stood by the women who were completely inexperienced in those areas.

Unfortunately, things are not going the way we wished and that’s why we must be patient and not throw in the towel. The fact that something does not make as much progress as we we wish does not say anything at all about its necessity. If that were the case, we should also assess all the work of the pioneers of the syndicalist movement in Germany as very modest, since they also did not get the success which they maybe had expected. And no-one will contest that men, who go every day to their workplaces, are much easier to reach than women who, withdrawn in their families, are much to difficult to influence with new ideas.

If someone talks about the little success of the women’s unions, there is one circumstance they must not fail to mention: it is unfortunately an indisputable fact that a whole number of our comrades are anyway against their wives taking part in the movement. For a long time, especially in Germany, a deeply-ingrained prejudice played the lead role. The fear of having to warm up their evening bread themselves for once, if their wives attended a meeting, or just the dread that she could run away from them if she heard people speak about freedom or – God forbid – free love, often lead to really strange results. How laughable and petty as these objections should be, they nonetheless exist and are making the fight of women for their issues naturally all the harder. If we take all of this into consideration, we must not be surprised if the women’s unions have not managed to reach any major results so far.

That women are realising they need to do something is unquestionable. It is the duty of our comrades to support this inclination and to develop it, instead of nipping it in the bud.

Let’s treat women’s unions not as something trivial, but as a part of the general movement. It would be ridiculous to think that a movement with such goals as the syndicalist movement’s could ever reach those without the practical help of the women. Even the most conservative of men no longer dare to suggest this today. In the area of parliamentary politics, women have today become an important factor, and assuredly a scary reactionary factor, which doesn’t surprise us in the least, as we could predict it. An element which for centuries has been kept in blindness and ignorance, and which is then given full representation to take decisions, even if only in appearance, in public affairs, must logically help to reinforce the ranks of the reaction.

We, on the other hand, who know that the duties of women just as those of men lie in an entirely different area, must use all means of propaganda to lead women onto a new path. We must get the message across to them that their field of action does not lie in the parliamentary area, but that her effectiveness lies first and foremost in cultural affairs and in the economic field, where she comes into consideration especially as a consumer and can serve the good of all through her influence.

Luckily people have also already undertaken other steps in this task elsewhere. Thus the English comrades are now strongly concerned with the issue of organising consumers into women’s guilds, where they are trained and taught in all the issues of economic life.

The best experts are selected for this explanatory work which has shown remarkable results. We always come to the same conclusion that the economy is the most important factor of social life and that, especially in this matter, the involvement of women as consumers is of vital importance. We are therefore following the right path.

It would now be desirable if people also stood by us and not just in theory, but always determined themselves to go over to the work of cultural and economic education, in order to develop a larger work field for the women’s unions, which could make them financially independent.

How would it be if we created, everywhere where there are women’s unions, small consumers’ leagues, which would then acquire bulk buy for their members, and use the profit which would thus be taken from the middleman for the spreading of our propaganda? In this way, the women’s unions need not be a financial burden on the general movement and can at the same time do their propaganda and launch their initiative in these modest beginnings. Such experiments can lead to many consequences, about which I will not go into more details. The main point is that it is a start. To implement this suggestion, our women comrades must above all assemble where the women’s groups are, to be clear on the details of the beginning, and to discover means and ways.
Above all else, we must have the will to do something. Everything else will then fall into place.

The Issues of Tomorrow, Marie Isidine

The Issues of Tomorrow

Marie Isidine
Les Temps Nouveaux

Part 1: The reasons for our “maximalism” (July 1919)

The old issue of maximalism and minimalism takes on nowadays a completely different aspect than the one it had a few years ago. Partly because of a lack of faith in the realisation of the socialist ideal in a conceivable future, partly for tactical reasons, the socialist parties had then elaborated minimum programmes, and had finally made them the only real content of their everyday action. The anarchists rose up against this reformism and this possibilism, convinced that nothing could replace action towards the whole ideal and that any breaking down of this action could only be harmful. And the conflict between those two views filled the whole history of the socialist movement, from the International to our time.

But now the situation has dramatically changed, because of the revolutions which have broken out in European countries which, only a few years ago, were the most backward. The distinctly social character of these revolutions indicates that the fall of bourgeois domination is no longer a subject of theoretical propaganda or historical predictions: it it tomorrow’s reality. In Russia, Austria, and Germany, the movement drags the great masses; it already makes the bourgeoisie shiver in countries which have not yet been contaminated. Once again, the issue of maximalism and minimalism is raised. Among the militants of the socialist and syndicalist movements, some welcome with joy any attempts at economic emancipation and work to make them spread; others stop, hesitatingly, in front of the hugeness of the task at hand and wonder whether they will be equal to the task; they would like to avoid this responsibility, or even choose a favourable time for the mass movement. They think the masses are not ready, and they would like to gain time, if only a couple of years more, to prepare them, and in order to do so, they need to give the movement a quieter course, to give it as an objective some perfecting of workers’ rights or simple corporatist demands.

In order to choose between these two opposite views, it is not enough to let ourselves be guided by our revolutionary sentiment, or even by our devotion to our ideal. We must look for the teachings from history, we must rein in our feelings by critique, we must reach back to the fundamental principles of our doctrine.

As we start publishing Les Temps Nouveaux again, in these completely new conditions, we must, from the start, from our first issue, give a clear answer to this vital question. On this answer depends our attitude towards future events.

Let’s remind ourselves of our conception of the march of great social movements, a conception which is entirely different from the one which inspires the parties which divide their objectives between a final goal and immediate goals.

How did the great emancipatory movement unfurl in the past? The fight against the existing class order first only starts among a small minority whose circumstances made them feel both their oppression and the hope to put an end to it – more than among the great masses. Among the masses, oppression is too heavy for the number of them who manage to free themselves mentally to be, at first, consequent. But the revolutionary minority fights at its own risks, without wondering about whether others are following. Little by little, it starts to grow; it can be seen, if not in facts, at least in spirit. The brave struggle of some diminishes the fear of others; the spirit of revolt grows. We don’t always understand clearly what is the goal of people in revolt, but we understand against what they are fighting, and this elicits sympathy for them. Then the moment arrives at last when an event, sometimes insignificant in itself, a flagrant act of violence or arbitrary power, sparks the revolutionary explosion. Events are precipitated, new experience is had every day, among the intense agitation of minds, ideas develop in leaps and bounds among the masses. The gap between the mass and the revolutionary minority shrinks.

After the revolutionary period – whether the revolution be victorious or crushed – the general mentality has reached such a level which had never been reached by long years of patient propaganda efforts. The revolutionary minority’s ideal is not fully realised, but what is realised (either in facts or in people’s minds) is getting closer, the more conviction and the less compromise this minority had expressed in its action. What has been realised is part of its programme; what is left will be the inheritance of the new generation, the watchword of the new era opened by the revolution. Because a revolution is not only the conclusion of a preceding evolution, it is also the starting point of the following evolution which will precisely be concerned with the realisation of the ideas which, during the revolution, have not found a wide enough resonance.

Even when a revolution is vanquished, the principles it has put forward never die. Every revolution in the 19th century has been defeated, but each one of them has been a step closer to victory. The 1848 revolution, which betrayed workers’ hopes, definitely dug, in the Days of June, an abyss between workers and the republican bourgeoisie; it also took away the mystical and religious character of socialism and linked it to the actual social movement. The Paris Commune, drowned in blood, blew away the cult of state centralisation and proclaimed the principles of autonomy and federalism. What about the Russian revolution? Whatever the future holds, it will have proclaimed the fall of capitalist domination and the rights of labour; in a country where the oppression on the masses was more revolting than anywhere else, it proclaimed that it is those masses who must now be master of their lives. And whatever the future, nothing will take away this idea from future struggles: the reign of the owning classes has virtually ended.

These general considerations will dictate the answer to the question: do we meet the conditions for social revolution? Every discussion about knowing whether the mass is “ready” or “not yet ready” is always misguided, whether it is pessimistic or optimistic. We have no way to evaluate every factor which determines that a social group is ready. What do we call “being ready”? Would we wait for most people to have become socialists? But we fully know that is impossible in our present condition. If we could create a radical transformation of concepts, feelings and of the whole mentality among the masses by propaganda and education alone, why want a violent revolution, with all its suffering? At any given time, the mass is never “ready” for the future and will never be: a revolutionary uprising will have happened sooner. Revolutionaries don’t have the power to choose their time, to prepare everything and spark the revolution at will, like lighting fireworks.

People who always consider large movements premature usually use the grid of the realisation of some “objective historical conditions”: the degree of capitalist development, state of the industry, development of the productive forces, etc. But they do not see these dogmas crumble before their eyes – just like their minimum programmes crumbled – under the pressure of life. The most confident Marxists have to admit that the social revolution started not in a country where capitalism was advanced, but in a mostly agrarian country where it was poorly developed, and that, consequently, there are other factors at stake than the development of productive forces. And if they had wished to study this issue further, they could have drawn this conclusion from Marxism itself, turning it into its opposite: into a theory of active progress, realised by the efforts of individuals. There is, in Marx, a precious quote: “Mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve”1 In other words, if an ideal is conceived among a community, it is that the necessary conditions to its realisation are there. Following this idea, we will say that from that moment on, from the moment an ideal is formulated by the vanguard minority, its realisation is only a question of a balance of strength between present forces: the past, which has had its time, and an inescapable future. Gradually, at the cost of hard struggle and innumerable sacrifices, the balance tilts towards the future. At present, after a century-old struggle for economic equality, after a century of socialist propaganda, we are witnessing a large-scale attempt at its realisation. It will still know some setbacks, backtracking, both in its fight against is enemies and in its internal development, and we shouldn’t believe that we will find ourselves tomorrow in the anarchist society we wish for. But we can only reach a better life if we try to get it; experiment is the only way which leads to it, and there is no other. Instead of asking: are the conditions ripe? Are the masses ready? We should ask: are we ready? What can we offer as concrete, practical measures “the day after our victory, in order to achieve our socialism, communism, by organising outside and against any state? What are the measures to elaborate, the conditions to study beforehand?” This is where our main preoccupation must lie; what we must do is not be overwhelmed by events, but actively prepare ourselves now, always remembering that an ideal is realisable only insofar as people believe in its realisation and put their energy to it.

Part 2: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

The realisation of socialism has left the realm of dreams and theoretical propaganda; it has approached, and has even become an urgent matter. And if it is important to answer the question of what methods lead to this realisation, and are the most likely to gain victory, it is even more important to get a clear picture of what we need to do after the victory for the revolution to bring the greatest increase in happiness, with the least suffering possible.

The “dictatorship of the proletariat” seems attractive to many people these days. It seems to mean that workers would now be masters of social life, masters of their own destiny, without exploiters, nor oppressors above them. It seems to be the direct and immediate realisation of socialism. In France, especially, where the workers’ movement has not been penetrated by Marxist theory and terminology, this phrase is the cause of misunderstandings. It holds in itself a contradiction: a dictatorship “is always the unlimited power” of one or of a small group; what could be the dictatorship of a whole class? It is obvious that a class can only hold power through its representatives, by someone who it delegated or who, more simply, believes they can act in its name. In the end, a new power is being established, the power of the socialist party or of its most influential faction, and this power takes charge of managing the fate of the working class. And this is not an abuse or a sophistication of the idea of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, it is its essence itself. It follows from Marxist theory, from the way this theory conceives the evolution of societies. Let’s remind ourselves how it goes.

By definition, political power is in every period in the hands of the economically dominant class. The bourgeoisie, after it replaced feudal powers in the economy, also replaced them politically, at least in the most advanced countries in Europe and America. Since then the entire political activity of the bourgeois class aims to safeguard its interests and strengthen its domination. But then during the economic development, proletariat takes the place of the bourgeoisie as the class most apt to develop productive forces; therefore, political power must also be its. The new state, the proletarian state, will then only be preoccupied with the interests of that class, which becomes the dominant class. That is the dictatorship of the proletariat. A natural objection appears: a dominant class supposes a dominated class; however, economic exploitation being abolished by the crowning of the most exploited class, the existence of classes itself becomes impossible. This contradiction is resolved thanks to the Marxist concept of how a transformation towards socialism can be operated. It starts with the socialist party seizing power; what can the socialist government do then?

Marxist literature is not plentiful when it comes to projections into the future: social-democrats have too much of a phobia of utopia for these. But the few things we know about it are enough to let us know that socialism will have to be realised gradually, over a whole historical period. During this period, classes will not have ceased to exist, and capitalist exploitation will not have ended: it will only have been softened, attenuated in favour of the proletariat. It is now the class which is protected by the state, while the situation for the bourgeoisie is made harder and harder. This is how, at the dawn of Marxism, Marx, in the Communist manifesto, listed the gradual measures that the socialist government should adopt: (…)

Putting this programme into effect will be done peacefully or violently, according to the circumstances, and, in any case, thanks to a strong political power. As it defines political power as “the organised power of a class towards the oppression of another”, Marxism therefore envisions, as an ultimate goal, a society which is only a “human association”, without power. It is a path to anarchy cutting through its opposite: an all-powerful state.

50 years later, Kautzky2, in the “Social Revolution”, claims that “the conquest of political power by a class oppressed until then, that is, a political revolution, constitutes the essential aspect of the social revolution.”; he then indicates as series of legislative measures aimed at operating gradually, with or without compensation, the “expropriation of expropriators”: progressive taxes on income and property, anti-unemployment measures, nationalisation of transport and of large estates, etc. What is the possible regime of this “dictatorship of the proletariat”? A stronger state than ever, since it holds in its hands the entire economy of the country; it is master of food distribution and can literally take away bread from any citizen any time it wants. As a way to stifle any opposition, it is very efficient. Workers are employees of this state; it is by the state that they must have their rights recognized. The fight against this gigantic boss becomes very difficult; strikes become political crimes. Maybe some workers’ control can be put in place, but it will only work insofar as the boss-state accepts it. It is possible that workers enjoy, in exchange, other advantages, political ones, such as exclusive voting rights, for example, or privileges in product distribution. But, if we think about it, these advantages are hardly progress, since they bring in their social life no justice, and only serve to feed some hatreds. Instead of abolishing the bourgeoisie as a class and placing each bourgeois in a situation where they could work usefully, they are allowed (be it ‘temporarily’) to live off of others’ work, but they are punished for it by taking away some things they have a right to as human beings.

The bourgeoisie must be put in a situation where they are unable to hurt anyone; it must be deprived of its armed forces and everything which constitutes its economic domination. Repressive measures against individual bourgeois are unnecessary vengeance. It is also a slippery slope: you believe you are doing revolutionary work, while you’re not bringing anything to building a new life. More than that: this civil war against the interior enemy, as an evil which had been removed, leaving the root, makes the prestige of the military grow, of the military group leaders of any kind who are fighting on any side. The fight become solely an issue of military force. Very naturally, the building of tomorrow’s society is pushed back to quieter days. But the moment is gone, the people are tired and the danger of the reaction grows…

That is why, to the method of decrees, we oppose, in order to make socialism a reality, a different method.

The opposition between these two views dates back once again from the International, from the battle between Marx and Bakunin. It is Bakunin who, first, proclaimed in his “Policy of the International” that real socialism differs from “bourgeois socialism” since the first claims that the revolution must be “a direct and immediate application of full social liquidation”, while the latter claims that “political transformation most precede economic transformation”. The faction which followed the tradition of the federalist International – our faction – developed and detailed in the following years this idea of direct economic revolution. In Le Révolté first, then in La Révolte, Kropotkin showed through historical examples that human progress is achieved through the spontaneous action of the people and not through the action of the state; at the same time, he developed a programme for a free communism, since the principle of “to each according to their needs” was alone compatible with a society managing itself without a state. He also showed that the economic revolution cannot be realised little by little and partially, that this only leads to disorganising the economy without allowing it to be rebuilt on a new basis; that communist distribution must be, in the interest of the revolution, started straight after victory. He opposed the “conquest of bread” to the “conquest of power” and showed the necessity, for socialists, to find new ways outside of the old forms.

The whole anarchist movement was inspired by these fundamental ideas. Their field of action mostly spread from the moment when the workers’ movement in France, which had slowed down after the fall of the Commune, started getting a revolutionary spirit. Under the influence of F. Pelloutier first, then of many anarchists who had joined unions, this great revolutionary syndicalist movement was born which, in the early 20th century, carried within it all the hopes of workers’ emancipation. Syndicalism appropriated the idea of immediately taking control of production, and it developed it: the organs which are called to implement it already exist: the trade unions. The general strike, prelude to expropriation, became the final goal of the CGT. Let’s remind ourselves that its preparation seemed at some point such an important and urgent task that La Voix du Peuple opened (around 1902, if I am not mistaken) a column in which unions were invited to write what each one would do after the victory in order to ensure continuous production in their domain, how they would link up with other unions and consumers etc. This initiative, which didn’t get enough feedback, was of great importance; it would be even more important to pick it up again now that we are closer to practical achievements.

That was, from that time until the war, the fundamental character of revolutionary syndicalism. From France, it reached other countries, other workers’ movements. Anarcho-syndicalist ideas reached to the writings of sociologists, lawyers, economists; scientists outside the workers’ movement started to realise that the renewal of economic life based on a free association of producers was maybe not simply a utopia, that it could be the way to overthrow capitalism and inaugurate a new form of political existence, without the state.

The war put an end to this evolution, and changed the course of events. The state was suddenly strengthened, its reach extended; workers’ organisations, on the other hand, were slowed in their action or directed it, because of practical difficulties, towards more immediate achievements. The reformist element became most important.

The revolutionary spirit reappeared throughout the world with the Russian revolution, but under a different form: the form of statist socialism.

The time has not yet come to draw definitive conclusions from the experiment attempted in Russia; there are many things we don’t know and it would be hard to evaluate the role of different factors in successes and failures. But we can say this: what we do know cannot change our fundamental ideas. We do not intend to develop here all the arguments which make us think that the government apparatus is inapt to realise a social revolution, which can only be done by workers’ groups, once they have become producers’ groups. This demonstration has often been made in our literature. However, we deem it useful to repeat their general conclusions.

We believe, as we have always believed, that peasants’ and workers’ organisations taking control of the land and means of production and managing economic life is more likely to ensure the material well-being of society than decrees from the government.

We believe that this mode of transformation is better equipped to disarm conflicts and avoid civil war (because it allows for more freedom and more variety in forms of organisation) than introducing by authority one reform across the board.

We believe that the direct participation of the people in building the new economic forms makes the victories of the revolution more stable and ensures better their defence.

We believe, finally, that this allows us to prepare, on top of economic and political victories, a higher stage of civilisation, both intellectually and morally.

French workers’ communities have inherited enough ideas and experience of struggles to follow the path which leads more directly to complete emancipation. To proclaim the fall of capitalism and the reign of socialism is a great thing, and for that we can thank the Russian socialist government. But we also wish for socialism to be put in practice, for a new era for humankind to dawn and for no weapon to be offered the reaction by the socialists’ faults. For that, we who work on French soil, we must use effectively the time we have to study what workers’ organisations can and should do directly after the revolution.

We consider as something of the greatest importance to have the most serious and most complete discussion possible about the issues of the economy once the workers have conquered it. This is not a debate, or propaganda, but a study. We can no longer just say that something is desirable, nor even try to prove it: we must show practical measures which can be immediately put into practice with the means we have at our disposal.

This is the task we call for our comrades to accomplish.

Part 3: Some milestones in economy

The forms which production and distribution will take are at the front of all our visions of the future: on them will depend the entire character of the society which replaces the capitalist regime. The question is not new, but the answer becomes urgent; also, the experience of the Russian revolution gives us precious information confirming or contradicting concepts formulated previously in a purely theoretical fashion.

To resolve these issues concretely, that is, to organise an economic organisation plan for “the day after”, to indicate the frameworks and the institutions which must be created to put it into practise, is a task which goes way beyond the abilities not only of the author of this article, but in general of such a publication as Les Temps Nouveaux. It is the work of specialists: workers, technicians of all trades, directly preoccupied by production; only their professional organisations and groups can discuss what measures to take, now and in the future, intelligently. But any socialist, any group of propagandists can and should establish for themselves and their comrades a general view, to think about the experience happening in front of their eyes, and to draw some general lines along which they would want to see the more competent thoughts of specialists work. Such considerations make up this article.

Among current ideas on the mode of production and organisation of a socialist society, nationalisation is the most common and accessible. The society’s take-over of the means of production is conceived in the programmes of all the state socialist parties as the state taking over, since society is, by definition, represented by the state. Whatever forms the state takes, be it parliamentarian, soviet, or other: it is always the organisation holding political power which is also the owner of natural resources, means of production and organs of product distribution.

We can see how much the state is strengthened. As well as political power, it holds every source of life. The dependence of its subjects reaches its maximum. The boss-state is a very authoritarian boss, as they all are. He wants to be master in his own business and does not tolerate workers’ meddling if he can avoid it. Where the economy is concerned, the state does not even want to be a constitutional monarch: it always tends to be an autocrat. Jaurès’s3 idea: gradual democratisation, through the state, of the economy, comparable to the political democratisation operated in the past, appears to be only a utopia now more than ever. Under capitalism, state employees and workers are the most dependent of all, and at the other end of the spectrum of social organisation, in the bolsheviks’ collectivist regime, it is still the case: workers gradually lose both their rights of control and their factory committees, even their best means of struggle: their right to strike. And, on top of all that, they are submitted to mobilisation at work, to workers’ “armies” ruled with military discipline. And this is a fatal flaw: no power restricts itself if nothing forces it to, and when people in power follow an idea, when they are convinced it can only be realised through coercion, they will behave even more unflinchingly, even more absolutely in their right to dispose of the citizens’ lives.

It is generally through the need to increase production that suppressing all workers’ individual and collective rights is justified. This is how the bolshevik power explains the compulsory work armies. However, outside any judgement on principle, the issue of the expediture, in labour and in money, demanded by a large bureaucracy – a necessary condition for the extension of state power – shows that this calculation is misguided. In Russia, bureaucratic management of the factories absorbs most of their revenue, not counting the number of people it keeps away from useful work. And the results they wished for is far from being obtained. The boss-state is ill equipped to fight this decrease in productivity in labour which necessarily follows great catastrophes such as war, starvation, lack of resources, etc. Also, the socialist government of the bolsheviks has not found any other solutions to fight these problems than well-known measures, which have long been fought by socialists and workers of all countries: piecework, bonus pay system, Taylorism, etc. This is how across the board, hourly wages become piecework, 12-hour days replace 8-hour days, the age of compulsory work has decreased from 16 to 14. And, lastly, this mobilisation of labour (a measure which, a few years ago, we would have thought any socialist party incapable of) which reminds us of the time of serfdom.

If socialists, who certainly do not aim to degrade workers and only take such measures with a heavy heart, find themselves forced to go so far against all their ideas, it is because in their field of action, which is exclusively framed by the state and can only use the state, there are no other solutions. And yet here is a fact, a small fact in itself, but meaningful. During the harsh struggle led by the soviet government against disorder in the industry, only one measure was taken which was efficient. It was voluntary work on Saturdays.

“The Communist Party made it compulsory for its members to join the Saturday voluntary work scheme… Every Saturday, in different regions of the Soviet republic, barks and carriages of fuel are unloaded, rail tracks repaired, wheat, fuel and other commodities destined to the people and to the front are loaded, carriages and locomotives are repaired, etc. Slowly the great mass of workers starts to join the “Saturday workers”, to help the Soviet government, to contribute through voluntary work to fight the cold, hunger and general economic disorder.”4 From other sources we learnt that productivity in voluntary work far exceeds the productivity of paid work in factories. There is no need to point out how instructive this example is. Among all the measures by which workers where either attracted by high wages, according to the principles of classic capitalism, or submitted to military discipline, only one proved efficient: the call for free and conscious work of people who know they are doing something useful. This is a striking example of the truth that the most “utopian” solutions are also the most practical, and that if we want to obtain “results” nowadays, the surest way is still to start from the final goal.

But these considerations proceed from a state of mind foreign to the idea of the state and of compulsory work in its service.

Here is another formula, at first sight more attractive. It is the companies being taken over by their workers or their corresponding industrial organisations. It is the system which, in France, is expressed by the phrase “the mine to the miners”. During the first year of the Russian revolution, before even the bolsheviks gained power, there were a number of examples of this take-over of factories by workers. It was easy, since the bosses, at that time, wanted nothing better than leave their companies. Later, bolsheviks introduced “workers’ control” in every factory, but this control was only a half measure without practical effect: where the workers were weak and badly organised, it didn’t have any effect; where they were conscious of their rights, they claimed – very logically – that they had no need to leave them to their former owners. And they took them over, claiming them as property of the people working there. But it was still the ownership of a group of people replacing the ownership of a single bourgeois person. This could lead, at most, to a cooperative of production. The collective owner was only preoccupied – like the bourgeois owner used to be – about their own interests; like the other, they tried to get orders from the state, etc. Selfishness and greed, although they were now shared among a group, were still no less strong.

Another consideration, a practical one this time, makes impossible the extension of such a system to the entire society. There are some companies which make a lot of profit: those which produce widely consumed goods, or transport companies; the workers there who become owners are, in this sense, privileged. But there are many others which make no profit at all, although they demand continuous spending: schools, hospitals, road repairs, street cleaning, etc. What would be the situation of people employed in those branches? What would they live off if those companies became their property? What means would they use to keep them working and who would pay their wages? Obviously, the principle of workers’ ownership must be modified for them. We can imagine, it’s true, that consumers would pay; but this would be a step back instead of progress, since one of the best results of economic development is the fact that some conquests of civilisation are free: hospitals, schools, bridges, water pipes, wells, and a few other things. Making them a paid-for service would be adding a few new privileges to the owners and taking away from the non-owners ways to fulfil most essential needs.

All the considerations – and a few others – make such a system not very desirable. In the Russian practice – to which we must always look as the only socialist experiment made at present – the disadvantages of this system, introduced from the start of the bolshevik era, pushed the soviet government to adopt, as the only solution, nationalisation.

A third way should have been sought, by going along a very different path; but bolsheviks were too infused with social-democratic and statist ideas for that, which only pointed to the well-known system of nationalisation. And this is what they chose.

Let’s try, for our part, to look for this third way: a regime which would give the workers the management of economic life, but without the disadvantages of industrial ownership. And, first of all, let’s get back to our fundamental principle: our communism, real communism and not this 1848 communism, already outdated, which bolsheviks recently rediscovered and which they adopted as a name for their party to dispose of the name “social-democrat”, which was too dishonoured by compromises. Let’s try, in the light of this principle, to examine a bit more clearly the issues at hand.

If we do not recognise the nationalisation in the hands of the state nor the formula “the mine to the miners”, what form can this take-over of the means of production by the workers’ organisations (unions, soviets, factory committees or others) take?

First of all, the means of production cannot become the property of these organisations: they must only have the use of them. The wind or the water which make the blades or the wheel of a mill turn are no-one’s property; they are only used for work. In the same way, land must be no-one’s property; the people who cultivate it use it, but it belongs to the collectivity, that is, no-one in particular. In the same way, work instruments built by human hands: they are common property, or collective wealth, used by those who use them at some given time. How, this being accepted, can we envision first the organisation of production, then the organisation of distribution?

Obviously, only the sum of concerned industrial organisations can manage a branch of production; these professional organisations will group indiscriminately the workers themselves and more knowledgeable specialists – engineers, scientists, etc. Each branch of production is closely linked on the one hand with the branches which give it raw materials, and on the other with the organisations or the public who consume its products. And, since, in these relationships, the most important role is to know the needs and possibilities, there must be some groups, committees who will concentrate the necessary statistical teachings. Their role must be strictly limited to that of purveyors of statistical data; the use which will then be made of this data does not concern them. They cannot emit any decree; the decisions belong solely to the professional organisations. The advice of these statistical committees is no more coercive than the information given by an architect, the advice of a dietician, a teacher, etc. As for the different branches of production, the modes of organisation can be very varied depending on the technical peculiarities of each one: some can admit a complete autonomy of particular groups, others can demand a perfectly coordinated action of all. All that is desired is that there is, in each speciality, not just one central organisation managing everything, but a large number of specialised organisations, with clearly delimited tasks. We cannot, obviously, predict the different modalities that this organisation of work might offer. Adapting it to current needs might not be an exceedingly difficult task.

But there are more difficult questions, which demand continuous innovation, since nothing similar has ever been attempted. Who would be the owner of these means of production, which will be managed by the workers’ organisations, and of the objects produced, that is, of all collective wealth? If it is neither the state nor the industrial branches, then who? What does the sentence “the means of production belong to the collectivity” represent concretely? Who will represent this collectivity? Who will dispose of the products and on what ground? Who will gain profit from their sale? Who will pay wages?

This is when we must have our communist idea in mind, our great principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”, and draw all the conclusions from it.

“Who will dispose of the produce of labour?” These products must constitute collective wealth offered for everyone to consume, if they are immediately consumable goods, or offered for the workers’ organisation to use (if they are raw materials or tools). Individuals or organisations will draw from these stocks as they need them, and, in case of insufficient quantities, after an agreement with other consumers and interested organisations. No-one truly owns these products, except the workers in distribution who will try to satisfy orders.

In the same way, the question “who would get the profit from the sale?” is answered. There will be no profit, because there would be no sale, because products are not commodities, but only consumable goods, equally accessible to all. Communism does not recognise the distinction between consumable goods – private property – and the means of production – collective property. It doesn’t even recognise between those any difference in nature; coal, for example, which is it? It is an indispensable element in production, and it also is one of the most needed objects of individual consumption. The aim in communism is to make everything free. Everyone will recognize that housing, food, necessary clothes, heating, etc. must be available to all in the same way as medical care or street lighting, which are even offered in capitalist society. Any human being is entitled to these first necessity objects by the mere fact of their existence, and no-one can deprive them of those. The individual part in social consumption can be determined by many individual and social factors: first, by the needs of each person for everything that is abundant; alas! in modern Europe, instead of an abundance of products, there are shortages, and this will have to be noted. A necessary minimum (calculated as much as possible on average consumption in normal times) will have to be established and rationing put in place, of a common accord. Rations can and must be different according to categories of people. These categories should be based in the difference in needs; age would have to be taken into account, as well as health, endurance, etc. Many considerations will have to be envisioned, also, in the distribution of products: the needs of the community, the need to make reserves for the future and to keep some for exchanges with other communities, etc. There is only one factor we refuse to take into account in these calculations: it is the amount of work expended by each individual.

We can hear some protests. The spectacle of today’s society, where those who produce less consume more, revolts our sense of justice and makes us say first of all: everything to labour and to each proportionally to the work done.

But, despite this natural tendency, we think that it is not along this principle – as legitimate as it appears compared to the obvious injustice of our time – that must be founded the future society. Vengeance exercised by the people against their oppressors at the time of the revolution is fair, too, but it is not on this vengeance that the reign of the people can be based after the victory, but on human solidarity. The same goes for issues of distribution. And let no-one tell us that we first need to repress the bourgeoisie and that the victory of the working class must first lead to a mode of distribution which puts labour in the place it deserves. The class struggle ends with the workers’ victory and the distinction between workers and parasites no longer exists. The possibility of free work in a free society is given to all, and the number of people who refuse it will be so small that it will not be sufficient to create a new class of parasites under the form of a large caste of bureaucrats, and in the next generation the traces of the old parasitism will have disappeared.

To give to each proportionally to their work is, if you wish, a fair principle; but it is a lower type of justice, like the idea of rewarding merit or punishing vice. We won’t go into details about all the philosophical reasons which make us reject this. What would we be adding to the arguments which P. Kropotkin gave when he laid the foundation of anarchist communism? Let’s just say that – for the comrades you wouldn’t know this – at the other end of socialist thought, Marx accepted the same views when he said that only when retribution for work will have been replaced by distribution according to everyone’s needs “can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety”5. We precisely want to go beyond bourgeois rights and bourgeois-inspired justice. Every one is entitled to their existence simply in virtue of being human. Then, and also because they are human, a living being living in a society, they will apply themselves to do their share of work for the common good. This is the only possible guarantee against a new form of exploitation and endless conflicts.

We reject therefore the idea itself of a wage; we dissociate the two issues of production and of consumption, leaving between them only the link which results from the fact that the total quantity of produced goods must be indexed on the consumption needs. This is the only order of things compatible with a regime in which workers’ organisations manage production without being the owners of the means of production. It is also the only one compatible with a free society, freed from the coercive power of a state.

We do not hope, obviously, that, as soon as the next day after the revolution, everything will fall into place nicely without conflict, without a mixture of bourgeois elements from the past. We know that it is very unlikely that this communism, complete and pure, could be realised in one fell swoop. But we also know that it is to the extent that the builders of the future will be inspired by it that their work will be fruitful. That is why it appears so important, so infinitely desirable, that this is the spirit in which the milestones of the future are laid.

Feminism and the Working Class, by Madeleine Pelletier

Feminism and the working class
Madeleine Pelletier
July 1912
La Suffragiste

The working-class will be last to come round to feminism. It is natural: ignorant people only respect brute force and it is a waste of time to try to interest them by showing them female genius crushes by man’s rule.

If I am a Socialist, it is because I passionately love justice. I cannot stand that, as soon as they are born, we draw distinctions between individuals, raising one to lead, and the other to obey. I am in favour of everything: enlightenment, power, well-being being accessible to everyone and of the most worthy being given the highest rank.

But liking the working class as it currently is, no! A thousand times no!

I declare these principles to the readers of “La Suffragiste” because I have just read an article by Pouget1 which I am sure will they won’t like any more than I did. Comrade Pouget, one of the leaders of the CGT, writes about the milliners’ union which was just created. Naturally, he happy about this union victory, but he fears for the future. Female unions, he observes, do not last, they are a short-lived flash in the pan. They are formed around some industrial event or other: a strike, some obviously unfair treatment which managed at some point to raise some indignation. Then, straightaway, they fall. At first, it is the main part of the troops which stops showing up, then it is the militants themselves, discouraged by the absence of members.

Why is that? Pouget observes: it is because of housework. Once the working day over, the male worker is free, while the female worker is not: she must on top of everything do her housewqork, and therefore she has no time to attend union meetings. However, Mr. Pouget would like her to attend union meetings. It is through unions that male workers have gained wages which, although low, allow them to live. If female workers do not earn enough to live independently, it is because they are not organised. So what can we do?

I assure you I would have found the answer straightaway. I would have told male workers: my dear comrades, when you are alone to work to fund your household, it is fair that your wife who does not work takes care of the housework. But when she works all day just like you do, it is your strict duty to help her. She is not your servant, but your equal, just like you, she needs to inform herself, get to know the causes of her poverty, learn to organise to defend herself against the ruling class. She must therefore have time to do so, and therefore you need to do your share of household chores.

That is how I would have solved the problem, and I assure you I take no glory in such a discovery: to reach it, no need for a transcendental intellect, a simple sense of justice is enough.

However, such a simple solution is not mentioned by Mr. Pouget. You don’t say, tell male workers to help their wives with housework, but that would be a crime of lèse-masculinité! And for women to be able to attend union meetings, he demands, guess what… the five-and-a-half-day week. I am not against this reform, mind you. And day and a half of rest a week, Saturday afternoons and Sundays off, is not too much for people who work 10 or even 12 hours a day. But waiting for this fair reform to be granted, Mr. Pouget should have given male workers the advice I indirectly give them.

On top of this, a reduced working week would not be enough to get the result for which Mr. Pouget wishes that is, female union attendance. In half a day, you can wash your floor, do the dishes, clean, you still have the mending of socks, cooking which needs to be done every day; female workers would benefit from the extra half a day, but it won’t give them enough free time to become militants.

My advice, if it was put into effect, would allow them to become militants, since on top of the material reduction of work, women would understand that they are also human beings and social individuals. If they saw their husbands do their share of housework, they would see him no longer as a master, but as an equal. They would then, understanding that they are sincerely invited, do the work of militants of their class. Then, female unions would bloom and we would see, among the mass of female workers, energetic militants appear who would be able to rouse their comrades.

The male worker who denounces injustice within society wants to keep acting unjustly within his own family. Slave to his boss, he wishes to be a master to his wife. Fortunately, the fairness of things punishes him. Women, in their ignorance, soon desert the union which they joined with enthusiasm the day before. And, workers or housewives, they remain, although their hostility is unvoiced, the worst adversaries of the workers’ movement. They are the real strike-breakers. They do more with discouraging words to their husband on strike than socially reactionary ministers can do with the guns of their regiments.

It is only fair, the proletariat only gets the women it deserves.

Idealist Duties of Women in the Workers’ Movement

Idealist Duties of Women in the Workers’ Movement

L’Exploitée

1908

We must demand of ourselves more than we demand from others. Others, if they are somewhat decent people, cannot and dare not preach us our most sacred, and hardest to fulfil, duties; so we need to remind them ourselves; we will fulfil them with as much less pain.

It goes without saying that men and women who work form a common movement to make human labour free; they both have a common interest not to betray each other but to help each other in every struggle. If men go on strike in a factory, it would be silly for women to stay and make a movement fail when it could have been useful to them as well if it had won – we are beyond this; have we not seen this summer, in Switzerland and Austria, men remain at work while we fought in the streets? It would be silly as well if we didn’t care about preparing for a strike, if we didn’t ensure we had a bit of bread for the times of struggle, and if we left all this task to men; also, in Switzerland, for the past few years, thousands of us have joined trade unions and in those unions we have fulfilled our duties just like our male comrades.

When we are only housewives, duties appear less equal than they are. It is true that there are some housewives who, when their husbands are on strike, only lament and put their crying children in front of the house when their father comes back. But these discouraging wives who, making their partners falter, support the work of the bosses are increasingly rarer. In most cases, housewives, during a strike, put on their aprons resolutely and work all day so that their children will have something to eat and so that the family can support the father’s strike. I know some women who, on their own, have cared for their families during months of struggle and who, through atrocious work, have remedied the father’s imprudence who had never been a member of the union, who preferred to buy a couple of pints rather than pay his dues which would have given them a bit of bread during the struggle.

On the other hand, since we are always told that there are some stupid women and that no-one speaks of the sacrifices of brave women, we wish to remind people that there are some stupid men too, who have beaten and abused their wives because they went on strike.

There are stupid people of both sexes, but, fortunately, he number of conscious and intelligent people grows daily, people who fight together and help each other are always more numerous.

And now it is not of the duties we have commonly with men, but of the extra duties we have as women that we wish to talk.

With young workers and child workers, women form the lowest social class.

Despised by the state, exploited by bosses, treated as a cruel woman by our family, tormented by children, we live the most painful lives we can imagine. And, what’s more, women – especially older women – have no hope to leave this misery. The years during which we are flattered are too soon over. Nappies and other duties soon make us yellow and ugly; then no-one looks at us any more; in order for people to listen to us, we change our sweet voices into shrilling voices and the result is that our relations cover their ears or flee to the pub.

Well, after this bite of sad and bitter realism, we are going to talk about our particular idealist duties.

The lower classes are carrying the weight of those above them. People from higher social strata therefore have an interest to negotiate with each other since their situation is not so bad as to lose all hope. And because it is not impossible for them to find an agreement – always at the detriment of the classes below them. This is how highly qualified workers manage to make deals with bosses in the following way: you pay us a salary of 8 to 10 francs a day; we help you raise the price of the product (of the watch, for example)by voting a protectionist right; but you promise not to hire our female competitors; however, we promise not to allow auxiliary workers (women especially) in our unions, not to give them the strong support of our comfortable funds.

This happened not long ago in our Switzerland, that enlightened democratic country, whose history tells us that women dressed up as men to chase the foreign lords, commonly with their husbands, their fathers and their sons.

Well, us, women, who are the lowest class and who have no real hope to gain a truly happy life through contracts with all the social classes who dominate us, we have the duty to prevent the union movement to become a movement of more or less well-fed men, blindly following their own economic interests.

We must, as women, as auxiliary workers most of the time, explain to these men that it is an abomination for a worker to procure himself some economic advantages at the detriment of his comrade the auxiliary, who, for a lack of time and money, didn’t have the chance to learn a trade.

We must, as female workers, moving from one trade to the other, hired yesterday in a watch-making workshop, tomorrow in a food-related branch, we must explain to comrades that we cannot just safeguard the interests of our own trade, but that the proletariat needs inter-professional solidarity and that, given the change from human labour to machine labour, from skilled work to auxiliary work, this inter-professional solidarity becomes more and more indispensable every day.

As female industrial workers, we have to remind our unionised comrades constantly that a union movement pursuing purely economical improvements, and pursuing them without caring about comrades who are not “of their trade” becomes a pointless movement which will end up turning against the proletariat itself by oppressing the lower social classes, and dividing the proletariat into, on the one hand, a proletarian aristocracy, and, on the other, the outcast.

We must, as women who buy all kinds of things, that we explain to our husbands disgruntled with our spending that it is a betrayal if the workers of a trade agree with their bosses on raising the price of a product, that workers of every trade mutually annihilate their success in this way, and that only the bosses benefit from proletarian blindness.

We must, as housewives, explain to our comrades that in order to endure and win a fight of principles against all our common bosses, we must have bread and milk during the struggle so that the cries of the children do not drown the fires of enthusiasm. We must push them to create food banks, cooperative bakeries and dairy farms, to take back our consumers’ societies from private capital so that one day, during a strike, our shops will be able to give credit to the families on strike.

As citizens, we must remind our comrades, who are often so proud of “our democracy”, that political freedom without economic freedom is an illusion.

Let’s remind them that we do not have democratic rights, us women, and that yet our situation as political pariahs hardly differs from their own. If they are proud of their fatherland, of the colours they wear, let’s reply with what a Parisian woman – I can’t recall her name – told when she was sent the red ribbon of the Légion d’Honneur: “Us women wear the ribbons we please, and we choose colours which match our tone.”

Whatever the idol that our male comrade venerates because he is closer to the ruling classes than we are, let’s critique these idols, and help men to destroy them – like he helped us destroy those which intimidated us.