The Third Revolution Vol 2: Britain’s Socialist Trajectory




Economic factors alone, to be sure, cannot account for the differences in the socialist movements that emerged in Britain and France: political traditions, the flexibility of existing institutions, and the cultural élan of the laboring classes had significant effects as well. But the role of economic factors should not be underrated. Reaching unprecedented peaks early in the century, British land enclosures produced a labor force that was inchoate and demoralized, one that eventually fell prey to ruthless exploitation on the part of fiercely competitive factory owners. In England itself, between 1800 and 1820, about 300,000 acres of open land, on which many villagers depended for wood and pasturage, were enclosed, leaving incalculable numbers of rural folk at the mercy of industrial capitalists. The labor force that entered the new English factories was thus made up of broken people, disheartened by the loss not only of their homes but of the traditional protections that had once been supplied by the landed nobility and by guilds. Like the independent artisanal handworkers who were faced with extinction by power-driven machinery, the new industrial proletariat was caught in the harsh tension between a rationalized factory system and the more organic lifeways, however miserable they had been materially, of preindustrial village society.

This volume, the second of The Third Revolution, deals primarily with the major nineteenth-century uprisings of the French working class, from the Revolution of 1830 through the Revolution of 1848 to the Paris Commune of 1871. It also necessarily examines the origins and history of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA) or First International and the Second International, primarily a Marxist social democratic association heavily influenced by the German Social Democratic Party. The increasingly ideological nature of nineteenth-century workers’ movements and the emergence of a modern proletariat and an industrial capitalist class made it necessary for me to explore in some detail the transition from Jacobinism, a radical republican ideology and movement, to various socialisms oriented toward the working class. During the first half of the century a modern class conflict really appeared in both England and France and, with it, various socialist and anarchist ideologies that were already sprouting in the immediate aftermath of the Great French Revolution. Hence, in addition to covering the revolutions themselves, I provide summary accounts of the ideological transition from left-wing Jacobinism to outright socialism.

In a sense, this volume is not only an account of one of the stormiest periods of popular insurrections in modern history but also an account of nineteenth-century France, as seen through the lens of its great revolutionary movements and ideologies. The revolutions of 1830, 1848, and 1871 in Paris were, in great part, extensions of the Revolution of 1789 to 1794, which is also how many of their participants regarded them. In contrast to most conventional historians, I share Roger V. Gould’s view that the June 1848 insurrection of the Parisian workers was the most class-conscious of all nineteenth-century French revolutions, even more than the dramatic Paris Commune of 1871, which was by no means socialist or exclusively working class in character — it was actually less a class revolution than a municipal, political, and patriotic phenomenon, precipitated by the Prussian siege of Paris. But the June insurrection of 1848 can be seen, as many of its participants saw it, as the “third revolution” that the sans-culottes had hoped to make in 1793.

This volume is also an account of the transition from artisanal socialism to proletarian socialism. The two forms of socialism, while overlapping in many respects, were fundamentally different in their goals and methods. Indeed, the book’s narrative pivots on this transition, as well as on the shift from the small handicraft workshop to the modern capital-intensive factory, with all the differences in sensibility and politics that the transformation produced. In 1789 and 1830, the militants were primarily artisans, especially journeymen, and by trade were often carpenters, masons, furniture makers (particularly in the Saint-Antoine district of Paris), and printers, rather than factory workers. In later decades the leading militant members of the French working classes were the metalworkers, who retained the independent spirit of skilled artisans while simultaneously forming an integral part of the factory environment. Among the thousands of semiskilled or unskilled and poorly educated proletarians in factories, it was these “artisan-proletarians,” so to speak, who were the most educated, forceful, and independent and to whom the others turned for leadership. They begin to appear as early as June 1848, and as the reader of Volume 3 will find, they played a prominent role in the great revolutionary wave that swept over Russia and Germany between 1917 and 1921.

It has been my hope to encompass this history of the popular movements in the revolutionary era within two volumes. But as my preparation of the second volume continued, it became clear that a third volume would be required. To have limited The Third Revolution to only two volumes, I discovered, would have obliged me to omit crucial events, ideas, and developments within the revolutionary tradition. I can only hope that the reader finds that this three-volume book has been worth his or her attention and that it evokes a sense of the great events that are fading from memory today — and the lessons they have to teach present and future generations.

The writing of this volume was very often burdened by the formidable problem of factual discrepancies among the various histories upon which I drew. Many accounts, I found, differed on everything from names to dates to sequences of events, as well as omitting important details of the revolutions at the grassroots level. Not even contemporary eyewitnesses and participants agreed on all the basic facts: Lamartine’s and Blanc’s histories of the February 1848 revolution, for example, diverged even on simple details regarding major events. These discrepancies, which recurred again and again, obliged me to consult many memoirs, contemporary documents, and other histories before I felt I could make reasonable judgments and present a responsible picture of these nineteenth-century insurrections. Under such circumstances, errors are difficult to avoid, and I can only hope that any that may persist in the pages that follow are minimal and inconsequential.

From the Opening Chapter

Britain’s Socialist Trajectory

Economic factors alone, to be sure, cannot account for the differences in the socialist movements that emerged in Britain and France: political traditions, the flexibility of existing institutions, and the cultural élan of the laboring classes had significant effects as well. But the role of economic factors should not be underrated.

Reaching unprecedented peaks early in the century, British land enclosures produced a labor force that was inchoate and demoralized, one that eventually fell prey to ruthless exploitation on the part of fiercely competitive factory owners. In England itself, between 1800 and 1820, about 300,000 acres of open land, on which many villagers depended for wood and pasturage, were enclosed, leaving incalculable numbers of rural folk at the mercy of industrial capitalists. The labor force that entered the new English factories was thus made up of broken people, disheartened by the loss not only of their homes but of the traditional protections that had once been supplied by the landed nobility and by guilds. Like the independent artisanal handworkers who were faced with extinction by power-driven machinery, the new industrial proletariat was caught in the harsh tension between a rationalized factory system and the more organic lifeways, however miserable they had been materially, of preindustrial village society.

Cannily, British industrial capitalists exploited the weaknesses of this proletariat by playing its religious and gender differences against each other. About twenty percent of the new English proletariat was composed of Irish peasants who had fled devastating economic conditions in their own country. Acrimony flared up easily between Irish Catholics and English Protestants, despite the misery that both groups shared in factories and slums. Such differences kept proletarians sufficiently divided among themselves that their potential to unite in opposition to their employers was, for a time, diverted into mutual hatred — until class consciousness began to dilute the malice English workers harbored toward “foreigners” and “papists.”

Moreover, an estimated three-quarters of the factory labor force was made up of women and children. Socially vulnerable and relatively docile, these groups could be reduced to submission to factory owners with relative ease. No section of the working population, during the entire Industrial Revolution, was more ruthlessly exploited and more effectively controlled by the industrial bourgeoisie. Female workers, generally intimidated by their employers, could be hired instead of militant males inclined to trade union organizing. Children, for similar reasons, were worked to exhaustion, growing up into an adult generation physically weak and deformed by rickets. So warped were their bodies that they unnerved even the ruling classes, who required a supply of physically able recruits, not only for England’s factories but for its military forces as well.

The more independent artisans, still rooted in the cultural lifeways of the preindustrial past, were far less accepting of their deteriorating social condition than these industrial workers. Riots and near-insurrections over food shortages and social abuses were their typical forms of protest. Even strikes began to occur, although they were to become more characteristic of industrial than artisanal workers. The skilled keelmen of Newcastle went on strike as early as 1750, as did London tailors a year later, both actions lasting several weeks. In 1753 in Manchester, carpenters, joiners, and bricklayers — that is to say, artisans — as well as construction laborers engaged in a work stoppage for higher wages, even raising money to defend their imprisoned leaders. Above all, great hunger riots swept over Britain in 1795-96, marked by virtual insurrections and attacks on the person of the king in London, led by craftspeople whose belligerency was redolent of the waning noncapitalistic world.

Other artisan revolts were more organized. The stormy Luddite movement, which tried to preserve old artisanal lifeways by damaging new labor-saving machines, was initiated mainly by cottage lace and hosiery workers in the midlands, spreading to croppers and cotton weavers in 1811-12. These artisans and cottagers were hardly a riotous crowd but were made up a number of well-organized groups who secretly directed their activities against carefully selected industrial targets. During the summer of 1812 the government had to station more than twelve thousand troops in places where machine-breaking disturbances and riots had occurred. After a brief hiatus late in 1813, the movement resumed, panicking industrial capitalists into fears of a well-organized insurrection. Not until a major trial in York Castle was their movement effectively put down, resulting in the hanging of twenty of their leaders and the penal transportation of seven to Australia.

Such behavior and values, as Gwyn A. Williams so perceptively concludes, were

essentially pre-industrial in a deeper sense than the merely technical. “Long have we been endeavoring to find ourselves men,” said the sailors of the British fleet in 1797. “We now find ourselves so. We will be treated as such.” They learned this tone from others. The first political statement of this instinct was made by men who, however poor, could not conceive of themselves as [factory] “hands” or a “labour force,” men with the dignity of a skill and the mystery of a craft, men who polished tools and knew the “fine points,” men whose wage was a “selling price” and whose property was labour, men whose values, even in adversity, were fixed by an earned independence. The statement, once made, was universal — since, to quote another of them — “a man’s a man for a’ that” — but its origin should not be overlooked. This is the central truth. . . . The ideology of democracy was pre-industrial and its first serious practitioners were artisans.7

Which is not to say that the new industrial proletariat was completely passive in the face of the terrible abuses inflicted upon it. The first “modern” industrial strike seems to have occurred in 1810, when Manchester cotton spinners left their factories by the thousands — disbursing among themselves, for their subsistence, £1,500 a week in strike funds that they had accumulated. It was a harbinger of later strikes that were to sweep up industrial proletarians in great movements for higher wages, shorter hours, and improved working conditions. Yet at the beginning of the century the English industrial proletariat was already making itself felt, opening expectations that would make it the focus of socialist ideology for several generations.

Nevertheless, neither the industrial proletariat nor the artisan craftworkers in England challenged the existing structure of society as such, despite the attempts of many radical theorists to impute such aims to them. In the wake of Cromwell’s rule, the ruling classes in Britain had developed a sufficient degree of institutional flexibility to keep mass movements under control, their willingness to use force against rebels notwithstanding. The great movements of the English working classes, including Luddism, were effectively contained within the parliamentary system — to an extent that comparable movements in France were not. Unlike monarchical government in France, parliamentary government in England always held out the prospect that it could be reformed to benefit the poor and disenfranchised, with the result that any social or political upheaval, far from intensifying into a revolutionary situation, could ultimately be settled by compromise. In the 1790s the landed classes, in an attempt to keep the rural poor from migrating to the cities, agreed at Speenhamland to provide a basic, albeit meager income to the most underprivileged residents of the countryside. This measure, which remained in effect for decades, did not prevent all hungry and dispossessed villagers from migrating to the new industrial towns. But by providing a semblance of patronal concern and by giving traditional rural society an extended lease on life, it helped keep revolt in abeyance.

The Chartist movement and its outcome exemplify this containment of popular opposition. Adopted in 1838 by the London Workingmen’s Association, the People’s Charter raised basic demands for reforms like universal manhood suffrage, payment for members of Parliament, a secret ballot, fairly divided electoral districts, the abolition of property qualifications for membership in the House, and annual parliaments — demands that more or less had already been granted in the United States.

Support for the Chartist movement came from almost every sector of the English working class — factory workers as well as artisans, laborers as well as intellectuals, clerks as well as alehouse proprietors. The movement had a certain volatility, and some of its actions took threatening forms: in July 1839, after the House of Commons rejected the Charter despite the million and a quarter signatures attached to it, the ensuing popular anger generated riots, strikes, and even local uprisings. Talk of outright civil war was rife but not frightening enough to prevent the House from rejecting a second Chartist petition in 1842. In April 1848 — itself a year of armed insurrection on the continent — a plan to present Chartist demands to Parliament in yet another great petition, accompanied by a mass demonstration, generated a veritable panic among the ruling classes. Expecting hundreds of thousands of Chartists to all but invade London, they proceeded to turn the capital into an armed camp. A large civilian constabulary was recruited from the middle classes; the aged Duke of Wellington was entrusted with the command of an army to defend the city; and even the queen was spirited off to the Isle of Wight for protection against the anticipated insurrection.

But the panic, as it turned out, was unfounded. Since its high point in the early 1840s, the Chartist movement had actually been waning. In advance of the 1848 effort, its leaders were sharply divided over strategy, and the relatively small crowd that massed to present the petition was patently intimidated by the government’s enormous show of force. The middle-class elements who had formerly supported the Chartists had by now turned their attention to other pressing issues, especially an effort to abolish the Corn Laws, which had been enacted in 1815 to restrict the importation of corn in the interests of the landed classes, but which were keeping domestic food prices and wages inordinately high. Industrial workers, for their part, had shifted from Charter agitation to the formation of trade unions (which the repeal of the Combination Acts had permitted) as the most promising means for achieving their material goals. Finally, the artisans, newly harnessed by the industrial system, were turning to peaceful forms of action to preserve their waning status and lifeways.

In fact, a strong prima facie case can be made for correlating the rise of Chartism with worsening economic conditions, and its ebb with material improvements. It was when the price of corn increased enormously in 1838 and when a severe depression developed in 1842 that Chartism became a major force, as working-class fury reached near-insurrectionary proportions — only to wane during the intervening years and virtually fade away after 1846, when bread-and-butter trade unionism began to supplant Chartist influence among the proletariat.

Moreover, even as Parliament was using a firm stick to intimidate the Chartist movement, it was also offering the working classes a carrot in the form of ameliorative labor legislation. In 1844 a Tory parliament passed a law reducing the working time of children between the ages of eight and thirteen to six and a half hours daily. Young people between thirteen and eighteen could not work more than eleven hours, and child and female labor was prohibited completely in mines. Three years later a ten-hour working day for everyone was enacted, making English labor legislation among the most advanced in the world. Factory inspectors were appointed to oversee working conditions, issuing reports that would gain a reputation for an unprecedented critical frankness. In the years that followed, the middle classes and ever larger sectors of the working class gained the franchise. Apart from a few flare-ups — which themselves never seriously threatened the social order — the English proletariat was ultimately domesticated.

The trajectory of English socialist movements was no more revolutionary than Chartism. Socialist proletarians and artisans put their efforts into the formation of cooperatives, benefit and educational societies, and conventional trade unions rather than the fomenting of insurrections. Later generations of socialists pinned their hopes on the formation of the Labor Party, which professed to seek a socialistic society by electoral means. Nonetheless, before English socialism was entirely tamed, many early English socialists and their anarchist affines were committed to less parliamentary approaches. In October 1833 delegates to a Cooperative Congress in London, called by Robert Owen to unite the cooperative and trade union movements, flirted with the formation of a “Grand National Moral Union of the Productive Classes” (the presence of the word “Moral” is worth noting) and with waging a general strike as a means to achieve a cooperative society. In the same month a meeting of Glasgow workers endorsed a resolution for a general strike in terms that Harry W. Laidler calls “like a modern syndicalist manifesto.”8

But the strike plan they discussed was not general in any syndicalist sense; on the contrary, it was intermittent and fragmentary. Workers would set aside some of their income, and when they had accumulated sufficient funds to cover their living expenses for an extra week or month, they would remain at home for that period of time. Afterward they would return to work, repeating the same alternating sequence of work and idleness. This “direct action” was intended to eventually reduce capitalism to a shambles. Laidler’s opinion of its militancy notwithstanding, the notion was naive and never carried out. Later, a more resolute notion of a “Grand National Holiday” of one month’s duration would capture the imagination of many Chartists, who actually managed to bring out workers for several days on the “holiday.” But the strike had no staying power, nor did it assume national dimensions. Following harsh persecution by the authorities and a lack of conventional trade union support, the effort — and the idea of a general strike — fizzled out.

For all his single-mindedness and idealism, the great “utopian socialist” Robert Owen was by no means a firebrand. He resolutely opposed the notions of class conflict that were percolating through the English working class. Initially a textile manufacturer, he had introduced sweeping reforms in his factory at New Lanark to show that capitalism could be managed beneficently and humanely, while still making a profit — and New Lanark quickly became a showplace for a visiting statesmen and industrialists. In his later endeavors he hoped to create a new society structured around “villages of cooperation.” As Owen envisioned it, these self-sufficient “villages,” initially peopled by the unemployed, would combine agriculture with industry to produce for members’ needs and then exchange their surpluses with one another in a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. In time, he hoped, the “villages” would peacefully replace capitalism and its industrial installations, opening an era of harmony and brotherly love. Owen even tried to gain governmental assistance to realize his plan, which, needless to say, was not forthcoming.

Although he devoted the rest of his life to realizing this essentially preindustrial vision of a new society, none of his practical schemes succeeded — least of all his attempt to finance, establish, and maintain a utopian community in the United States. Yet his tireless efforts to improve the condition of the working class made him, for a time, the indubitable leader of early English trade unionism, while his propaganda in behalf of cooperatives helped inspire various communitarian movements that which flourished well into the next century, both at home and abroad. (In the late twentieth century Owen’s cooperative vision continues to be recycled by communitarians who appear to know nothing of the “villages of cooperation” or the lessons to be drawn from their failure.)

For the rest of the nineteenth century, British socialism proliferated into a variety of tendencies: guild socialism, with its emphasis on localism; Fabian socialism, with its emphasis on gradualism and education; and even a small Marxian socialist tendency and a fairly respectable anarchist scene. But all of them culminated in the creation of a parliamentarian labor movement of sizable proportions. As for the laborist ideas of David Ricardo and the socialists who had drawn out their radical implications, they were absorbed into the synthesis produced by Marx, whose economics were far more Ricardian than many of his supporters acknowledged.

Ironically, the greatest single achievement of English socialism — or at least the English radical milieu — was the work of an exiled German who, ensconced in the British Museum, produced a masterpiece, Capital, that profoundly shaped socialism in most of the world — except, perhaps, in Britain. The passing of the artisans — and with them their strong sense of independence, their sometimes benign traditional lifeways, and their commitment to a moral economy — had done much to devitalize the British working classes and steer them toward parliamentary solutions for social problems. Idealistic social goals were consistently replaced with pragmatic reforms to limit working hours in factories, expand the franchise, and allow for trade unions and a social democratic labor party. In England it was ultimately in parliamentary legislation that social changes were registered.

The French Socialist Trajectory

In France, by contrast, social changes were ultimately registered in armed insurrections that, even as failures, left a legacy of radical idealism with enormous international influence.

From an ideological and emotional standpoint, the foremost fact about French socialism was the drama of the Great Revolution itself. Haunting every aspect of Gallic political life — reactionary as well as revolutionary — it was fought and refought in the very writing of history. Historians of various revolutionary sympathies wrote accounts of the Revolution as Dantonists, Robespierrists, Hébertists, and even (albeit rarely) as enragés. On the other side of the debate were historians who admired the Bourbons, the Girondins, and even the contemptible Directory, not to speak of Bonapartists who claimed the revolutionary mantle for their Emperor, and moderate republicans who were ecumenically inspired by the monumental events of 1789 and afterward.

Indeed, until the 1860s, when Baron Haussmann began to destroy the city’s revolutionary character and its many landmarks by building broad avenues — so useful for providing a clear line of fire for artillery to rout demonstrators — the Revolution was inscribed on the city of Paris itself. The Tuileries, in whose magnificent gardens fighting had broken out in July 1789 and whose palace Louis XVI and his family had occupied after the women’s march on Versailles in 1789, was still the official center of the national government. The Hôtel de Ville still stood as a testament to the revolutionary Commune, where Hébertists, enragés, and sectionnaires had debated furiously and where Robespierre had briefly taken refuge after his fall. Inasmuch as the Parisian city hall became the traditional site for the sanctification of revolutionary governments, radical insurrectionaries would repeatedly try to occupy it in the name of popular sovereignty, recapitulating its importance in the Great Revolution.

The quartiers, houses, and streets that would form settings for nineteenth-century barricades — and the paving stones that would be their building material — bore testimony to Paris as the world center of revolution, but especially for the people of France. To live in Paris in the early nineteenth century was to drink at the very fountain of revolution, to feel its presence in every street, alley, cul-de-sac, and avenue. There one could encounter the sons and daughters of the sans-culottes who had driven forward the Great Revolution — and even elderly men and women who themselves had played a role in its events. Physically, despite Napoleon’s self-celebratory monuments, Paris remained an oversize medieval city with narrow alleys, cul-de-sacs, and twisting streets, shaded by overhanging tenements as many as seven stories high — the ideal urban landscape for barricade fighters as well as for snipers. However poorly armed, civilians could defend themselves in this city with telling effect even against trained professional troops.

Paris, too, was the center of the most vigorous café life in Europe. During the Empire and the Bourbon Restoration, despite repeated attempts to suppress their political and oratorical ebullience, radical Parisians took every opportunity to express their caustic views of the current regime. Centered in the cafés where they dined, drank wine, played chess, and read periodicals, ardent young intellectuals mixed with literate artisans — although seldom with ordinary workers — to create a highly spirited public forum. As wine loosened both tongues and passions, they transported one another to visions of a France that would once again uphold the torch of an enlightened Europe against the Holy Alliance, the union of powers that Metternich of Austria, after the Napoleonic wars, had fashioned with the complicity of Prussia and Russia.

Particularly after the Bourbon Charles X was dislodged from the throne in July 1830, Paris became a fertile ground for republican and later socialist clubs. Attracting especially intellectuals, these political clubs proliferated with a new vitality in the temporarily freer atmosphere of the Orleanist monarchy. Young Parisians gave avid support to Poland’s efforts to emancipate herself from Russian tyranny, to Greek struggles against the grip of Turkish rule, and to Italian attempts to forge a nation out of the many territories that fractured the peninsula. Poring over the pamphlets that passed from hand to eagerly waiting hand in the radical demimonde, their ferment did not go unnoticed by police agents.

Broad conceptions of a socialist society were to come slowly, generally from intellectuals and journalists. Apart from Babeuf, whose Conspiracy of Equals was resurrected by Buonarotti in 1828, the earliest important socialistic visionary in France was the Comte de Saint-Simon, who, despite his title and claim to direct descent from Charlemagne, had managed to survive the full fury of the French Revolution. Saint-Simon remained throughout his life dedicated to the interests of la classe la plus nombreuse et la plus pauvre, as he put it — the downtrodden French working class, which was indeed the “most numerous and the poorest.”

His intentions and his fantasies of a perfect harmonious society aside, Saint-Simon was the most conspicuous of the utopians to make a hardheaded assessment of the Industrial Revolution and to extol its economic promise. Welcoming advances in technology, he viewed les industriels as the elite of the future who would, in a world guided by reason, reorder society to alleviate the material misery of the masses. Les industriels included not only the workers but practical scientists, managers of industry, engineers, factory owners, and especially bankers, who Saint-Simon believed could be persuaded to channel their financial resources into socially benign enterprises. Any conflicts between these groups, he contended, were needless, the results of a socially distorted society that his utopia would remedy.

The changing emphases of Saint-Simon’s ideas belongs to a history of socialist ideology rather than to the present book, as does their evolution over a span of some thirty years into a justification for a technocratic oligarchy (Saint-Simon held no brief for democracy) and a planned economy. Here it is necessary only to note that, in certain superficial respects, he anticipated Marx’s economistic views; further, he was the earliest thinker to advance the basic propositions of a state-guided socialism, which were not to be taken up and put into practice for generations. In the early 1820s Saint-Simon’s disciples remained ideologically entirely within his essentially technocratic framework. But after their master’s death in 1825, they set out on a course of their own, expanding his call for the moral regeneration of society and even for a “New Christianity” into the establishment of a full-fledged Saint-Simonian Church, replete with rituals, hymns, costumes, a quasi-religious hierarchy, sermons, and scriptural compilations of his writings, supplemented by additions of their own. Although Saint-Simonianism sank no lasting roots in the French working classes, it exercised a certain fascination on some of the industriels to whom its founder appealed — notably the banker Jacques Laffitte; the Périer brothers, financiers who founded the Crédit Mobilier; a number of big manufacturers; and the gifted journalist Pierre Leroux, whose Saint-Simonian journal Le Globe “coined” the word socialisme (whether independently of the British or not) in November 1832.

Of lesser importance in their day but nonetheless of considerable long-range influence, particularly among radical bohemians, were the Fourierists, whose maître, Charles Fourier, devoted most of his life to formulating a science of human nature based on “universal” laws of attraction and repulsion, and a corresponding plan for social reconstruction. A brilliant pamphleteer and a biting critic of bourgeois pretensions, Fourier remained a loner in the often arid fields of utopian socialism. His spare time — he worked as a traveling salesman — was devoted to creating extraordinarily innovative schemes for social regeneration. Wilder fantasies that he harbored, such as “anti-lions” that were to replace existing carnivores, seas to be filled with lemonade, and stages of human advancement that sometimes resembled science fiction, are easily derided. Yet Fourier, who gauged the progress of humanity by the status of women in society, drew up serious plans for self-sufficient cooperative communities, which he called phalansteries, composed of individuals whose natures would complement each other in exact mathematical ratios. Instead of boring toil, work, in Fourier’s utopia, would be an enjoyable and varied activity, with an almost hourly rotation of tasks in horticultural as well as artisanal work. His originality in this respect surpassed that of socialistic theorists who followed him — indeed, many ideas that he nourished about the social organization of creative work are relevant to this day.

Fourier’s utopia was by no means an egalitarian one: members of a phalanstery were to be rewarded, not on the basis of their labor or their needs, but according to the financial investment they had made in the community. In this respect it is difficult to call Fourier a socialist. Yet he was vigorously opposed to capitalism, whose abuses he never ceased to chronicle and attack. Moreover, his phalansteries very closely resembled Owen’s “villages of cooperation” (so much so that copious ink was spilled, among Owenites and Fourierists, over the tiresome issue of who had “plagiarized” from whom). Significantly, and in stark contrast to Saint-Simon, Fourier eschewed all notions of a centralized, state-managed economy, a feature of his work that endeared him to anarchists later in the century.

Although only a small number of Fourierists clustered around the lonely man in the 1820s, during the years following the Revolution of 1830 Fourier’s ideas gained a respectable following among craftspeople as well as intellectuals. Like the Saint-Simonians, the Fourierists after the master’s death propagated his ideas in a socialistic form. Nor did Fourierism lack for distinguished admirers in the English-speaking world. In varying degrees American journalists and authors such as Albert Brisbane, Horace Greeley, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson disseminated his ideas among their readers as well as their peers in the progressive New England elite. Some of his followers created phalansteries in the United States, of which Brook Farm, outside Boston, is the most famous.

Prior to the 1830 Revolution in France, the leading utopian socialists, including Saint-Simon and Fourier, vigorously opposed insurrections and eschewed a class analysis that focused on conflict between the working class and the bourgeoisie. To be sure, they despised the exploiters of their day. Saint-Simon, for example, detested the idle and reactionary landed aristocracy that, during the Restoration, was the preeminent social class (which may account for the support he earned from financiers and manufacturers). Fourier, for his part, feared the impact of competition upon preindustrial society, and the very nature of his phalansteries reflected his disposition to favor rural life organized along communal lines. That later socialists turned their attention away from these ideas and toward the working class is due less to their utopian nature than to the great upheavals, early in the century, that occurred in France — notably the insurrections of the early 1830s and the Revolution of 1848. These events and the stirring demands of the working classes for more freedom could not be ignored, least of all because they were backed up with barricades and muskets.

To French artisans, most of whom worked in small shops and who often aspired to independent enterprises, the institutionalized trade unionism that would soon gain a stronghold among English factory workers was irrelevant. Nor did the French parliamentary tradition, in contrast to the British, open avenues for the expression of working-class discontent. As a result, French workers, like radical intellectuals, tended to view direct, even armed confrontation with an oppressive regime as the principal means for resolving social injustices. French socialist movements, in effect, differed profoundly from their British counterparts, not only because they appeared later but because, the pacifism of early socialist theorists notwithstanding, they were much more insurrectionary.

The counterrevolutionary backlash against the French Revolution, especially under the Bourbon monarchs Louis XVIII and Charles X, also brought the repression of republican and socialist movements. Young radicals were obliged to form secret conspiratorial groups, many of which favored as their ideal a “democratic and social republic.” This slogan, which was to resound through much of French revolutionary history during the century, fused radical political Jacobinism with vaguely socialistic ends, pointing to a change not only in the governing regime but in the social order itself. A “democratic and social republic” would be one that provided for the poor, the underprivileged, and the helpless, and one that protected craft workers from the depredations of the privileged and powerful, and from the inroads of industrial capitalism. For many ordinary Parisians, prior to middle of the century, it was thus essentially a defensive concept, in which government would rectify gross economic inequities and protect artisans in their traditional vocations. Nonetheless, so intense was the reactionary backlash during the Restoration that even this moderate idea could be advanced only in secret conspiratorial societies.

How widespread republican conspiratorial groups were in this period, and how many were socialistic, is hard to judge, given the demimonde they inhabited. But the underground world clearly became a training ground for the formation of expressly insurrectionary secret societies. Although the Italian name for these societies, carbonari, is the more familiar one in present-day accounts, the French name, charbonnerie may be more appropriate because the societies probably originated in French-speaking areas of the Jura Mountains among militant charcoal burners. Their name comes from the carbon they produced, not from any use of carbine weapons. And their rituals and hierarchical structures were redolent of the Masons, albeit without any quasi-metaphysical language.

The affinity between their names notwithstanding, the two movements were of a considerably different nature in the two countries. Where the Italian carbonari were primarily nationalists, the French charbonnerie brought together red republicans, embittered Bonapartists, and socialists like Buonarotti (who actually played a major role in both the Italian and French groups). “At its height [the charbonnerie] had about 60,000 members in sixty departments [of France], the majority in the east,” observes Pamela Pilbeam. “Its aims were vaguely subversive, stressing the brotherhood and equality of man, and it attracted young idealists as well as republicans and Bonapartists unreconciled to the new regime.”9 To circumvent the Restoration penal code that required any organization of more than twenty people to be officially approved, the charbonnerie limited each component group, or vente, to twenty or fewer members. Again like the Masons, their network was structured hierarchically, culminating in a commanding vente suprême in Paris.

Although the charbonnerie had been formed by Jura workmen, the movement in Restoration France became essentially an elite phenomenon. Its red republican and other members tended to be not artisans but students, former Napoleonic officers, romantic writers and poets, and even liberals who preferred an Orleanist throne to a Bourbon one. Artisans, who constituted the great majority of French workers at the time, created their own societies based on fellowship and mutual aid, quite apart from intellectuals and professionals. Despite legislation that had been passed during the Revolution banning the traditional guild system and all kinds of trade unions, master craftsmen and journeymen established benefit and mutual aid groups to advance their own interests. Here concepts of mutuellisme were nourished into a specifically artisanal socialism well in advance of Proudhon’s writings on mutualism in the 1840s.

The most conspicuous and rambunctious mutual benefit societies at this time were the compagnonnages, which were formed by journeymen artisans. Compagnons, or bachelor journeymen, wandered around France seeking work and gaining skills, finding temporary housing in hostels. Although their societies were formed for their mutual benefit, compagnons, organized according to their trades and housed together in close quarters, were imbued with a strong sense of craft exclusivity and arrogance. Compagnons from different trades frequently clashed with one another, often violently and riotously expressing their trade parochialism as well as their social discontents. In the cafés and streets of small towns and cities they were a perennial source of working-class divisiveness — although in times of social crisis, they might unite to fight the authorities as well. Nonetheless, as their infighting illustrates, craft distinctions still divided French workers. Indeed, it should noted that the slogan on which the Communist Manifesto ended — “Workingmen of all countries, unite!” — was a plea not only for international class solidarity but also for internal class unity.

By the 1830s, however, a new mood was in the air. There was a growing feeling among workers that the term citizen, so commonly used as a mode of address during the Great Revolution, had a dual meaning; it meant one thing for those who worked and another for those who idly enjoyed the fruits of the workers’ labor. If economists and utopian socialists still puzzled over the sources of profits and preached class conciliation, ordinary workers instinctively knew that they were being exploited, in effect robbed of their labor time. A realization was growing, ever more clearly, that Jacobinism, with its message of political freedom, was inadequate to address the needs of workers, skilled and unskilled alike. Workers in England and France were coming to understand that freedom was incomplete if they were insecure, ill-fed, ill-housed, short-lived, and denied the simplest amenities of life. This understanding did not, in itself, render workers, least of all artisans, receptive to such a general idea as socialism, which was still a motley of schemes in any case. But it opened their minds to socialistic demands, spelling an end to Jacobinism as the dominant ideology of social rebellion.

As the nineteenth century approached its midpoint, it was evident to the clearest minds of the time, be they communists such as Marx or astute conservatives such as Alexis de Tocqueville, that the future would be shaped by class conflicts, in which the propertyless masses would be aligned against their propertied opponents. In France, the transition from Jacobinism to socialism, while painfully slow, was to be completed in the fourth decade of the century, when the red flag was pitted in open insurrection against the tricolor of 1789.


  1. Gwyn A. Williams, Artisans and Sans-Culottes (London: Edward A. Arnold, 1968), p. 114.
  2. Harry W. Laidler, History of Socialism (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1968), p. 97.
  3. Pamela Pilbeam, The 1830 Revolution in France (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), p. 21.