Wealth is born of intelligence and labor. But these two forces can only act with the aid of a passive element – the land, which they put to work by their combined efforts. It thus seems that this indispensable instrument should belong to all men. Such is not the case.
Individuals have taken over common land by ruse or violence, declaring themselves its owners; they have established by law that it will always be theirs, and that the right to property will become the foundation of the social constitution; which is to say that it will come before and, if need be, absorb all human rights, even that to life, if it has the ill fortune to find itself in conflict with the privilege of a small number.
The right to property has extended itself by logical deduction from the land to other instruments: the accumulated products of labor, designated by the generic name of capital. Since capital, sterile in and of itself can only fructify through labor, and , on the other hand, since it is the primary matter worked on by social forces, the majority, excluded from its possession, finds itself condemned to forced labor, to the profit of the possessing minority. Neither the instruments nor the fruits of labor belong to the workers, but to the idlers. The gluttonous branches absorb the tree’s sap, to the detriment of the fertile boughs. The hornets devour the honey created by the bees.
Such is our social order, founded on conquest, which has divided populations into victors and vanquished. The logical consequence of such an organization is slavery. And we didn’t have to wait long for its arrival. In fact, with land acquiring value only from cultivation, the privileged have drawn the conclusion that, thanks to the right to own land, they also have that to own the human livestock that makes it fertile. In the first place they have considered it as a complement to their domain but, in the final analysis, they see it as personal property, independent of the land.
Nevertheless, the principle of equality, engraved in the depths of the heart, and which conspires, with the centuries, to destroy the exploitation of man by man in all its forms, delivered the first blow to the sacrilegious right to property by smashing slavery. Privilege was forced to reduce itself to the possession of men not as furniture, but as real estate auxiliary to, and inseparable from, real estate in the form of land.
In the 16th century a deadly rebirth of oppression brought about the enslavement of blacks; and even today the inhabitants of a land reputed to be French own men in the same way as clothing and horses. There is, in fact, less of a difference than meets the eye between our state and that of the colonies. After eighteen centuries of war between privilege and equality the homeland, theatre and principal champion of this struggle, could not put up with slavery in its naked brutality. But the fact exists in name, and the right to property, while more hypocritical in Paris than in Martinique, is neither less inflexible nor less oppressive.
In fact, servitude does not consist solely in being a man’s thing, or a lord’s serf. He is not free who, deprived of the instruments of labor, remains at the mercy of the privileged who are their owners. This is the state that feeds revolt. In order to exorcise this peril they try to reconcile Cain with Abel. From the necessity of capital as an instrument of labor they go on to conclude in the community of interests, and then to that of solidarity between the capitalist and the worker. How many artistically embroidered phrases there are on this canvas! Aesculapius became the symbol of the healer in ancient Greek society and, later, throughout the Roman Empire. For centuries physicians were referred to as followers of Aesculapius. Hippocrates referred to himself as such and appealed to Aesculapius in the first line of the Hippocratic oath which is known for a phrase it does not precisely contain First, do no harm. The lamb is shorn for his own health. It owes thanks. Our Aesculapiuses know how to sugar-coat the pill.
There are still some who are fooled by these homilies, but they are few. Each day the light shines brighter on this so-called association of the parasite and its victim. But the facts are eloquent; they prove the duel, the duel to the death, between revenue and salary. It’s a question of justice and good sense. Let’s examine the situation.
There is no society without labor! What’s more, there exist no idlers who do not have need of workers. But what need do workers have of idlers? Is capital only productive in the workers’ hands on condition that it not belong to them? I imagine the proletariat, deserting en masse, taking its tools and its labor to some distant land. Would it by chance die due to the absence of its masters? Can the new society only come about by creating lords of the land and of capital, in handing over to a caste of idlers the ownership of all the instruments of labor? Is there no other social mechanism possible but this division of owners and the salaried?
On the other hand, how curious it would be to see the expression on the faces of our proud lords abandoned by their slaves. What would be done with their palaces, their workshops, their deserted fields? Would they die of hunger in the midst of their riches, or would they put on work clothes, take up the pick and, in their turn, humbly sweat on some plot of land? How much would all of them cultivate?
But a people of 32 million souls doesn’t retire to Mount Aventine. Let us then take the opposite and more realizable hypothesis. One fine day the idlers evacuate the soil of France, which remains in the workers’ hands. A day of happiness and triumph! What an immense relief for so many chests, relieved of the weight that crushes them! How freely this multitude breathes. Citizens – sing in chorus the song of deliverance!
Axiom: the nation is impoverished by the death of a worker. She is enriched by that of an idler. The death of a wealthy man is a benefit.
Yes! The right of property is in decline. Generous spirits prophesy and call for its fall. The Essenian principle of reality has slowly sapped it over the course of eighteen centuries through the successive abolition of the various servitudes which served as the basis for its power. It will disappear one day, along with the last privileges that serve as its refuge and nook. The past and the present guarantee us this resolution. For humanity is never stationary. It either advances or goes back. Its progressive march led it to equality. Its backward march climbs, by all of privilege’s steps, to personal slavery, the final word in the right of property. To be sure, before returning there, European civilization would have perished. But through what catastrophe? A Russian invasion? To the contrary, it is the north that will itself be invaded by the principle of equality that the French bring in the conquest of nations. The future is not in doubt.
Let us immediately say that equality doesn’t consist in the partitioning of land. The splitting up of land will really change nothing concerning the right of property. With wealth growing from the ownership of the instruments of labor, rather than through labor itself, the spirit of exploitation left standing would soon know, through the reconstruction of large fortunes, how to restore social inequality.
Association alone, in place of private property, will serve as the basis for the reign of justice through equality. This is the foundation of the growing ardor of men of the future to make clear and highlight the elements of association. We, too, will perhaps bring our contingent to the common task.