FROM REVOLUTION TO REVOLUTION
AN ADDRESS IN MEMORY OF THE PARIS COMMUNE OF 1871
By GEORGE D. HERRON
I DO not think that I need to tell the story of the Paris Commune, as it is called, to an audience of Socialists. You know the story of how the people of Paris arose in revolt, in the autumn of 1870, against the surrender of the city by the government of France to the German conquerers; how the popular uprising against the Germans without the walls soon developed into the armed protest of the city against the centralized and corrupt authority of the French State; how, as the alarmed propertied, classes withdrew from the struggle, and as its burden and tendency depended more and more upon the working class, it became proletarian in character and economic in its purpose. The word "commune" really meant "community;" it was the term by which the townships or groups of townships in the city were known in France. The revolt of the Commune of Paris against the Germans, and against the usurping government of France, was a community seeking to restore something like the ancient privileges of an independent free city of the Middle Ages. As is ever the case, the real labor and fighting devolved upon the wage-workers, from whom was drawn the best of what was known as the French National Guard. The frightened "defenders of order and property" made terms with the government of the miserable Thiers at Versailles, and abandoned the real defenders of Paris to their fateful struggle. Then came the betrayals, the misleading of the leaders, the final failure, and the governmental murder of men, women and children to the number of thirty thousand. By the time the spring of 1871 [add text here] the revolt had appropriated all its fruits.
It is a strange story, this lucent epoch of the Paris Commune; and it is history's supreme tragedy. There is no martyrdom s. splendid; no sacrifice of a people so great. There is not any protest of the common life against oppression so disinterested and so truly noble, so worthy of being sung in epic and toId in story, as this mighty martyrdom of the working class of Paris in the spring of 1871. It marks the high tides of human feeling action. It is a spectacle that surpasses in significance almost every other martyrdom of history--the spectacle of the whole people going not only to death but to accepted oblivion, to foreknown obloquy and disgrace; a whole people dying in an ecstasy of devotion to a betrayed and lost cause--girls and children leading in this sublimest abnegation.
And in what kind of a light do the Communards still appear to the world? The novelist and the historian, the politician the priest and the king, and all the retainers of the ruling class, have stamped the Communards with infamy. The Paris "Commune," in the popular mind, was a time of red and meaningless terror; a time when the sheer lust of and stealing and burning took possession the people. It is supposed that the ruffians and thugs, the assassins and the offscourings, of the nations gathered together in Paris in order to glut themselves with crime, with the blood and goods of [add text here]
And yet, as any sane or scientific study of the period shows, the time when the working class was in actual control affairs of Paris, free of its own leaders and getting along without government, administering society through simple law of association for the common good, was a time of unequaled human order, elemental law and real liberty. At no other time or place has life been so free and safe, with so small an average of human misery, with so large a fund of secure fellowship, and with so hopeful and common a well-being. Even capitalist properties were more sacredly protected by the Commune than by the capitalist administration itself. Indeed, that brief time when the working class was triumphant in Paris, when it arose above traitors within the walls and the foreign foe without, when it dismissed or ignored the government and became its own law and order, is a sort of oasis in the long desert of human exploitation and tyranny; a sort of glad and beatific moment, a momentary and prophetic springtime, in the long procession of the changing forms of parasitism and hypocrisy and brute force which we know as law and government.
In the glad day when truth can stand on its feet and face the world unafraid, naked and unashamed, and when the poet comes who shall sing the true epic of the time which we to-day celebrate, those few days of the working class administration of Paris will be seen as the forerunner, the John the Baptist, of the better days that will come under the co-operative commonwealth, when these evil days of capitalist mis-government, with its prostitution of the common life, shall have passed away forever.
But it is not to retell the story of the Paris Commune that, I am in Fanueil Hall to-night. It is to see if we can together consider some of the lessons of the Commune and its failures in their relation or application to the Socialist movement today. When I use the word "failure" in this connection, I am speaking, of course, of the defeat of the Commune in the attainment of its immediate object, not of its pregnant [add text here] revolutionary effort. Speaking after the manner of men, it was a failure; it died in the trenches; it went out in such a governmental orgy of murder as had not taken place since the great religious wars. What are the lessons of this failure to the Socialist movement of this time? This is the question and the theme which I bring to you.
One thing of which I have spoken is inadequate leadership. The working class of Paris depended-upon leaders outside of its own experience. The men, both military and political, who first led the communist revolt were men without knowledge of the real mission of the working class in human evolution, and without any sense or aim or goal of economic and social justice. They were, for the most part, discredited military leaders, or politicians who had lost their games in the old political parties. They really had no, interest whatever in the emancipation of the working class; nor had they any understanding of its needs, its rights, or its future; they were only interested in using the working class to place and perpetuate themselves. And, of course, the moment the revolt became manifestly proletaire, and consequently abandoned and betrayed by propertied interests, these leaders could do nothing but botch and mangle, and deliver the people as sheep to the slaughter. And the lesson is this--that no set of leaders from without the experience of the working class can lead it into the achievement of its freedom. It is from within, from its own labor and struggle and growth, from its own human clay and fashioning, from the bone of its bone and the flesh of its flesh and the blood of its blood, that the working class must beget the leadership that is to set it free. It must be its own Moses and achieve its own liberty; and those whom it accepts in any sense, whatever as teachers or leaders most not be men who have tried and failed to make positions for themselves in the capitalist order of things, but men who have willingly taken their places in the struggle and the loss of rejected humanity, asking nothing for themselves but the privilege of serving unnoticed with the rest. It, is only two or three days ago that a very eminent politician admitted to me, frankly that, he was waiting to see which order to decide whether he should join the Socialist movement. Such as he have been the bane of the people in all ages--I mean of the people who do the world's work, who bear its burdens, who support its life, and on whose backs the world's civilization builds; I mean the world's disinherited producers, forever led from one form of bondage to another, from one charnel house of death to another, from one method of exploitation to another, by leaders who use the people to gain power for themselves.
The working class does not need leadership so much as it needs comradeship. The world has really had enough of leaders. The hero and the leader, even the teacher and the prophet, will in time go the way of the king, the baron, the capitalist and the priest. In the last analysis, it is the friend and companion that the people need; it is the co-operation and fellowship of all people working together for the exaltation of the common life. It is not out of place to quote Browning at a Socialist meeting, is it?--
Man if not Man as yet.
Nor shall I deem his object served, his end
Attained, his genuine strength put fairly forth,
While only here and there a stir dispels
The darkness, here and there a towering mind
O'erlooks its prostrate fellows; when the host
Is out at once to the despair of night,
When all mankind alike is perfected,
Equal in full--bloom powers-then, not till then,
I say, begins man's general infancy."
All this is pertinent and urgent; for the chief menace to the Socialist movement in America in the near future is the sort of man I quoted a moment ago--the politician waiting to move whichever way the people move. The moment the movement becomes clearly inevitable, the moment it begins to conquer something of political power, that moment the politicians will come, and the priests and the grafters, and all the losing parasites of menaced parties and institutions. And why? Not because they are interested in the emancipation of the working class, or in the procuring of a free and decent society, but just because they are interested in place and position for themselves, and would exploit the Socialist movement to that end.
Again, there was not yet at the time of the Paris Commune a real consciousness of itself as a class on the part of the working people. I know that the term "class consciousness" is offensive to many, both without and within the socialist movement. I know that it is often used in a'way that makes it seem like a tiresome and commonplace cant. Those who do not understand the history of the term mistake class consciousness for class hatred. None the less, it remains true that until the working class becomes more vividly and intensely conscious of itself than it now is, until it realizes, is the disinherited owner of the world that it has built on its own back, until it understands that there can be no possible identity of interest or reconciliation between itself and the employing or ruling class, its struggle toward emancipation will be blind and unintelligent, betrayed and baffled and compromised, and without that nobility and comprehension which should mark the greatest cause to which man has ever been summoned. In meeting the issues of life and society, we must begin with fact and not with sentiment. The class question is not as to whether we like to have classes or not; the question is: Are there classes in society as it is now constituted? And is the present constitution of society founded upon the division of the people into classes? And do class antagonisms and social destruction inhere in the nature of a class society? No one disputes the affirmative answer to ths question. Not even the most horrified and sophistical opponent of the idea of the class struggle can deny the fact of the class structure of existing society. And if am to do anything whatever, even as a social coral-builder, toward making the world equally good and resourceful and lovely for all men, I must begin with the fact that all that we know of as civilization, up to the present time, has been the institutionalized expression and defense of one class of peole living off another class. There are no words that can make this fact hideous and ghastly enough, or vivid and revolutionary enough--the fact that society and its institutions are organized for the purpose of enabling some people to live off of other people, the few to live off the many. There is no language realistic enough, or possessed of sufficient integrity, to lay bare the chasm between the possessing and producing classes; between the class that works and the class that reaps the fruit of that work; between the class that is grist for the great world-mill of economic might and the class that harvests that grist. And until the working class becomes conscious of itself as the only class that has a right to be, until the worker understands that he is exploited, and bound by the power which his own unpaid labor places in the hands that exploit and bind him, until we all clearly see that what we call civilization is but the organized and legalized robbery of the common labor, until we have a revolutionized comprehension of the fact that our churches and governments, our arts and literatures, our educations and philosophies, our morals and manners, are all more or less, the expressions and deformities of this universal robbery, drawing their life and motives out of the vitals of the man who is down and unprivileged, out of his unpaid labor and exhausted life--until then, I say, our dreams and schemes of a common good or better society are but philistine utopias, our social and industrial reforms but self-deceit, and our weapons but the shadows of stupidity or hypocrisy. A civilization that is fundamentally parasitical, that has its birth and breath and being in the power of one class to take what another class produces, cannot be so reformed or added to as to bring forth economic justice or any kind of emancipation; or so ordered as to procure equality of opportunity and free individuality.
It is not a question of individuals that we are discussing--not the distinction which our vulgar and brutal moralities make between the so-called good and the so-called bad; it is a question of the quality of civilization. I am defining or characterizing the civilization we now have as an impersonal yet universal beast of prey, expressing the power of the ruling and possessing class to absorb, and to convert into, ever-increasing power to absorb, the whole output of the life and labor of humanity. There have never existed other than predatory civilizations. And our institutions, morals and creeds have but served to keep the people submissive to the depredations of the ruling class. To this end have the powers invested happen to be at any given time always been invested with the hypocrisy and threat of a divine origin.
Yet strip possessing class institutions of their vestures of fraud and force and you behold the stolid or cunning para [pages 10-13 need to be re-copied] would still be hope of setting back the triumph of the revolution. But the Socialist leaders of Germany know that every day of delay adds to the certainty of the revolution's triumph, and the secure establishment of the co-operative commonwealth.
Again, we now understand better than the comrades whose sacrifice we commemorate to-day the economic motive of our human evolution. Whatever terms the struggle may appear in, it is none the less true that the history of, the world has pivoted itself upon the struggle for bread. Up to the present time, economic conditions have been the compelling motives of great historic changes, or of the lack of changes. All real revolts, in their last analysis, have been motived by intolerable economic conditions; and wars of conquest, however disguised that, been wars of theft, the predatory expeditions of economic might.
History has been the struggle on the part of those who made bread but did not have it against those who had bread, but did not make it--the word "bread" here symbolizing all the things that go to make up opportunity and privilege. Bread to eat means opportunity to live, and means power in one's hand. To be certain of one's bread is to have the ground of liberty beneath one's feet. And to have power, over another's bread, power to give it or take it away as may serve one's interest, is to have the power of life and death over another. And this is the one and only blasphemy the supreme and desecrating sacrilege, from which all blasphemies and sacrileges and human wrongs spring, that some people should control the lives of other people, their thoughts and deeds and aspirations, their judgments of right and wrong, the labor of their hands, the uplifting or the prostrating of their souls. And the basis of this ancient and universal wrong-doing, making history seem but a flood for the destroying of the human spawn, is the, ownership of bread. This is why history is the struggle of those who produce bread against those who possess it--the struggle of the breadmakers against the bread-owners for increasing scraps of power which the ownership of bread puts into the hands of the worlds masters. The struggle for bread is the struggle for life in all its expression--the struggle for equality of power and opportunity to be and to blossom. Until bread and all that bread means are communized and equalized and made as certain and free as the air we breathe, liberty cannot be said to have begun its real work. This is not to say that man lives by bread alone; it is to say, as I have elsewhere and often said, that until all men have free and equal bread, no man may freely and completely live.
This economic motive lies deep in religion and politics, even where it is least apparent. Both Buddha and Jesus were seeking escape for their followers from spiritually destructive economic conditions, and both were insistent in their communism. The final overthrow of Christianity by Constantine, "the great Christian Emperor," compared with whom Napoleon was, a bright and shining saint, was essentially a police measure for preserving their properties to the possessing class of the Roman Empire; preserving them from the menace of early Christian communism. Constantine's vision of the cross in the sky, by which sign he was to conquer, was a capitalist vision; for the capitalist religious and military, police are prolific in visions and revelations which make for the protection and increase of the properties of their masters. The wars of the Crusades were on the one side an escape from intolerable economic conditions in Europe, and on the other side vast and deadly expeditions of loot and murder. The great religious wars were always at bottom economic--a struggle between the possessing class and the class that had been dispossessed.
Nothing illustrates this better than the development and outcome of the French Revolution. It was essentially a middle class overthrow of the feudal class. But it was the peasant who did the fighting and won the victories; and it was Rousseau, whose heart and motive were with the peasant, who furnished the revolution's philosophy and dynamic. Upon the victories of the long-starved peasants capitalism laid its secure foundations. After reaping the fruits of the great revolution, it used Napoleon until it had used him to its full; and then combined with the English Pitt, and his limitless power of gold to bribe, to overthrow Napoleon by cornering and withholding the supplies of his army until it should be delayed for the winter to overtake it on the march to Moscow. Great and forceful as was Napoleon, he was never great or mighty enough to escape being an unconscious, or unwilling puppet in the hands of the, possessing class, as he at times dimly knew.
The clear seeing of this economic motive of history will alone save us from the tragedies and follies of compromise. For there is a sense in which most of the world 's great battles have been sham battles, fought by the orders and for -the interests of the possessing class, with the real human battle forever unfought among the shadows. Already is past history overflowing into the present through all sorts of efforts to confuse use the real issue and struggle before us. On every side are propositions, political and industrial, based upon an assumed identity of interest between the possessing and working classes. There are boards of artibration, municipal ownerships, direct legistlation, tenement house committees, social reform league's and plans for betterment, and innumerable large and small schemes for exploiting the revolution while seeking to blind it. Now, as ever, the owning class is preparing to give the people a few more crumbs of what is theirs, in order to prevent them demanding that which they must in the end demand, if there is ever to be freedom and right in this world--namely the, whole produce of their labor, and the common ownership of its materials and machinery. Compromise and apathy, servility and mediocrity , are now having their day in every walk and work of life; and these are ready to poison a nd drain the Socialist movement. Great initiatives and revolutions have always been robbed of definition and issue when adopted by the class against which the revolt was directed. Constantine destroyed Christianity by adopting it; the pope did the same for St. Francis and his Christian renaissance; the nobles and princes did the same with the Reformation in Germany and England. The capitalist class reaped the harvest of the French Revolution, and of the matchless martyrdom of the Commune of 1870-71. By the time the American Revolution had come to its final issue and government, by the time the fruits of the Declaration of Independence and of Valley of Forge were ready to be reaped, it was not the ideals of Rosseau or Jefferson or Paine that prevailed, but the American Contitution--that monumental and comprehensive deceit, deliberately devised for, the purpose of preventing the people from governing themselves, and of keeping the affairs and issues of government in the hands of the possessing class. It is only a few years ago that Wendell Phillips was mobbed on this platform, and that William Lloyd Garrison was dragged through your streets with a rope around his neck by the thugs and ruffians of the commercial classes who were enraged and murderous because of the interference of agitators with their trade in the South, and who represented all that was respected or respectable in Boston. Yet these same commercial classes reaped much of their wealth from what Garrison and Phillips sowed, and through the processes of the Civil War. And it would probably be impossible to find in Boston to-day a son or grandson of the commercial classes that set hired assassins and ruffians upon the heels of the early abolitionists who is not socially accredited as a descendant of one of the old abolition families. I The so-called higher life of Boston is to-day practically a parasite upon the glory of the men whom its fathers outraged, imprisoned, reviled, mobbed and hired shot.
Let Socialists take knowledge and warning. The possessing class is getting ready to give the people a few more crumbs of what is theirs in order to prevent them from taking the whole. If it comes to that, they are ready to give some things in the name of Socialism in order to avert the Socialist reality. The old political parties will be adopting what they are pleased to call Socialistic planks in their platforms; and the churches will be coming with their insipid "Christian Socialism," and their hypocrisy and brotherly love. We shall soon see Mr. Hanna and Bishop Potter, Mr. Hearst and Dr. Lyman Abbott, and even Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Bryan, posing as reasonable kinds of Socialists. You will find the name of Socialism repeatedly taken in vain, and perhaps successfully. You may see the Socialist movement bridled and saddled by capitalism, in the hope of riding it to a new lease of capitalist power. Yea, many and full of guile will be, the Socialist propositions emanating from capitalist sources, all having for their sole purpose the defeat of Socialism through the improvement of conditions under capitalism, and through the so-called ownership of certain items of capitalist production and transportation.
But Socialism, like liberty or truth, is something you cannot have a part of; you must have the whole or you will have nothing; you can only gain or lose the whole, you cannot gain or lose a part. You may have municipal ownerships, nationalized transportation, initiative and referendum, civil service reform, and many other capitalist concessions, and be all the farther away from Social Democracy. So long as the foundation of society remains capitalistic, so long as there remains a single stronghold of the capitalist mode of production, so long as the people are able to own or control the bread and things upon which all people depend, just so long will we have the myriad horrors of the capitalist state--the sorrow and blight of poverty, and the idiocies and brutalities of wealth; the tyrannies of the capitalist state and the shamelessness of capitalist religion; the constant baffling of the hopes of reformers and the reactions of spent revolutions and enthusiasms. Industry must be socialistically born again, in its whole being and motive and action, before society can see the co-operative commonwealth.
It is all one to the capitalist, in the last analysis, what names or terms you have, so long as you leave with him the sources of industrial control. It is all one to the capitalist whether you have a Republican or a Democratic Party, whether you have a Protestant or a Catholic faith, whether you are a Jew or a Mohammedan or a Buddhist or an Agnostic, whether you have a republican or a monarchial form of government, whether you have public or private schools, whether you have educated or illiterate ignorance, he will use them all for his own power and increase. Just so long as you have a capitalist class employing a working class, just that long will capitalism reap not only the fruits of the world's labor, but the fruits of its ideals and aspirations as well, and shape its arts and literatures, and give voice to its pulpits and universities. You may have any kind and number of re-forms you please, any kind and number of revolutions or re-vivals you please, any kind and number of new ways of doing good you please, it will not matter to capitalism, so long as it remains at the root of things; the result of all your plans and pains will be gathered into the capitalist granary. There is nothing growing out of the human soil, nothing growing out of the human soul, nothing springing from the human heart, nothing coming from the human hand, not a prayer of sorrow row or hope, not a joy that leaps in the blood, not a noble renunciation of an uplifted martyrdom, not a comunion of mighty lovers, not a tear of the sweatshop mother over the coffin of her child, that will not add to the capitalist grist, long as labor is so directed as to drive the capitalist mill. There is no way of preventing or averting the fact that the whole output of the world's thought, the totality of its line and action, the fruit and fragrance of its blossoming, will but add to the power of the few to despoil the many, so long as the private ownership of the tools and sources of the common labor continues; so long as the toil of humanity is but for the profit of the capitalist instead of for humanity's common good and beauty; so long as life remains what, it now is for the bulk of mankind--a bitter and uncertain struggle for existence, an exhausting and deadening game of chance, a pitched battle from childhood to the grave for the chance to earn or keep one's bread. So long as the sources and means of the people's bread are privately owned, just that long will the minds and bodies of the people be owned. There can never be such a thing as self-ownership of the individual, with the freedom and fellowship that inhere in self-ownership, until there is a common ownership of the world's bread supply. It is upon this socialized economic ownership that the spiritual blossoming of man depends.
It ought to be a sufficient indictment of our present kind of civilization that it can stand only upon the degradation of labor, the servility of the intellect, the prostitution of the State, and the hypocrisy of religion. Our present kind of civilization stands only because the people upon whose backs it builds are not yet wise and strong enough to get up. The moment this blind and bound giant of labor begins to feel his rightful power, the moment he begins to see even dimly for himself, the moment he begins to shake from himself the centuries of enslavement and superstition and exploitation, that moment will man come to himself, and shed out our civilization as an evil and monstrous disease.
Finally, we are to learn from the failure of the Commune of human solidarity, and especially, the solidarity of labor. It is only when the working class understands that by its own solidarity, by its universal co-operation for its own emancipation, it becomes physically resistless spiritually omnipotent--it is only then that the co-operative dawn will break. The working class of all nations must support and enforce the working class of each nation. The working class of the world must be the right arm of every worker. So long as there remains a single spot upon the earth where a master can have a hireling, so long as from a single, man is withheld the equivalent of the whole product his labor, just so long will liberty be impossible for any man for any part of the world. There is no extrication or emancipation for the individual except through universal emancipation and extrication. No man can be free until all men are free.
We have talked much of the brotherhood to come; but brotherhood has always been the fact of our life, long before it became a modern and insipid sentiment. Only we have been brothers in slavery and torment, brothers in ignorance and its perdition brothers in disease and war and want, brothers in prostituion and hypocrisy; what happens to one of us sooner or later happens to all; we have always been unescapably involved in . common destiny. We are brothers in the soil from which we spring; brothers in earthquakes, floods and famines; brothers in la grippe, cholera, smallpox and priestcraft. It is to the interests of the whole of mankind to stamp out the disease that may be starting to-night in some wretched Siberian hamlet; to rescue the children of Egypt and India from the British cotton mills; to escape the craze and blight of some new superstition springing up in Africa or India or Boston. The tuberculosis of the East Side sweatshops is infecting the whole of the city of New York, and spreading therefrom to the Pacific and back across the Atlantic. The world constantly tends to the level of the downmost man in it; and that downmost man is the world's real ruler, hugging it close to his bosom, dragging it down, to his death. You do not think so, but it is true, and it ought to be true. For if there were some way by which some of us could get free apart from others, if there were some way by which some of us could have heaven while others had hell, if there were some way by which part of the world could some form of the blight and peril and misery of disinherited labor, then would our world indeed be lost and damned; but since men have never been able to separate themselves from one another's woes and wrongs, since history is fairly stricken with the lesson that we cannot escape brotherhood of some kind, since the whole of life is teaching us that we are hourly choosing between brotherhood in suffering and brotherhood in good, it remains for us to choose the brotherhood of a co-operative world, with all its fruits thereof--the fruits of love and liberty.
Or shall we wait for our rampant imperialism to teach us? For teach us it certainly will, by manifesting anew the solidarity and fate of labor. Imperialism, or the conquest of weaker peoples by the strong, is simply intensified capitalist exploitation. Masquerading under the guise of Christianity and civilization, preceded by the rumseller and, the missionary, the vulgar and cowardly modern conqueror is merely the advance agent of the capitalist. And the capitalist has turned imperialist because the people who make the things he has to sell are too poor to buy the things they make, their buying power having been exhausted by capitalist profit making. The greed of capitalism having thus destroyed its own markets, it must send the soldier and the missionary to conquer new markets and cheaper labor. And the new markets and the cheaper labor tend, to bring all labor into greater impoverishment and subservience. For, mark you, every American mine opened in the Philippine Islands, every American smokestack that goes up in Cuba, every American cotton factory built in China, every one of the thousands of children working eighteen and twenty hours in Egypt for seven and eight cents a day, means, under capi [missing page]