Words of a Rebel
Chapter 2: The Breakdown of the State
If the economic situation of Europe can be summed up in these words-industrial and commercial chaos and the failure of capitalist production-the situation in politics can be defined as the rapid breakdown of the State and its entire failure, which will take place very soon.
Consider all the various States, from the police autocracy of Russia to the bourgeois oligarchy of Switzerland, and you will not find a single example today (with the possible exception of Sweden and Norway)(3) of a State that is not set on an accelerating course towards disintegration and eventually, revolution.
Like wornout old men, their skin shrivelled and their feet stumbling, gnawed at by mortal sicknesses, incapable of embarking on the tide of new ideas, the States of Europe squander what strength remains to them, and while living on credit of their past, they merely hasten their ends by squabbling like aged gossips.
Having reached a high point in the eighteenth century, the old States of Europe have now entered into their decline; they are falling into decrepitude. The peoples-and especially those of Latin race-are already looking forward to the destruction of that power which merely hinders their free development. They desire autonomy for provinces, for communes, for groups of workers drawn together, no longer by a power imposed on them, but by the links of mutual agreement, by free consent.
This is the phase of history on which we are entering, and nothing can hinder its realization. If the ruling classes could understand the situation they would hasten to put themselves in the van of such a movement and its aspirations. But, having grown old in their traditions and having no other object of worship than their money bags, they oppose the new current of ideas with all their strength. And, inevitably, they are leading us towards a violent outburst. The hopes of men and women will see the light of day-but the dawn will be accompanied by the rumbling of cannon and the rattle of machine-gun fire and it will be illuminated by conflagrations.
After the decline of the institutional life of the Middle Ages, the nascent States made their appearance in Europe, consolidating themselves and growing by conquest, by intrigue, by assassination, but as yet they interfered only in a small sphere of human affairs.
Today the State takes upon itself to meddle in all the areas of our lives. From the cradle to the grave, it hugs us in its arms. Sometimes as the central government, sometimes as the provincial or cantonal government, and sometimes even as the communal or municipal government, it follows our every step, it appears at every turning of the road, it taxes, harasses and restrains us.
It legislates on all our actions. It accumulates mountains of laws and ordinances among which even the shrewdest of lawyers can no longer find his way. Every day it devises new cogwheels to be fitted into the wornout old engine, and it ends up having created a machine so complicated, so misbegotten and so obstructive that it repels even those who attempt to keep it going.
The State creates an army of employees like light-fingered spiders, who know the world only through the murky windows of their offices or through their documents written in absurd jargons; it is a black band with only one religion, that of money, only one care, that of attaching oneself to any party, black, purple, or white, so long as it guarantees a maximum of appointments with a minimum of work.
The results we know only too well. Is there a single branch of the State's activity that does not arouse revolution in those unfortunate enough to have dealings with it? Is there a single direction in which the State, after centuries of existence and of patchy renovation, has not shown its complete incompetence?
The vast and ever growing sums of money which the States appropriate from the people are never sufficient.. The State always exists at the expense of future generations; it accumulates debt and everywhere it approaches bankruptcy. The public debts of the European States have already reached the vast, almost incredible figure of more than five milliards, i.e. five hundred million francs!(4) If all the receipts of the various States were employed to the last penny just to pay off these debts, it could hardly be done in fifteen years. But, far from diminishing, the debts grow from day to day, for it is in the nature of things that the needs of States are always in excess of their means. Inevitably the State seeks to extend its jurisdiction; every party in power is obliged to create new employment for its supporters. It is an irrevocable process.
Thus the deficits and public debts continue and will continue, always growing, even in times of peace. But as soon as a war begins, however small, the debts of the States increase at an alarming rate. There is no ending; it is impossible to find our way out of this labyrinth.
The States of the world are heading full steam for ruin and bankruptcy; and the day is not distant when the people, tired of paying four milliards of interest each year to the bankers, will declare the failure of State governments and send the bankers to dig the soil if they are hungry.
Say "State" and you say "war." The State strives and must strive to be strong, and stronger than its neighbours; if it is not so, it will become a plaything in their hands. Of necessity it seeks to weaken and impoverish other States so that it can impose on them its laws, its policies, its commercial treaties, and grow rich at their expense. The struggle for preponderance, which is the basis of economic bourgeois organization, is also the basis of political organization. This is why war has now become the normal condition of Europe. Prusso-Danish, Prusso-Austrian, FrancoPrussian wars, war in the East, war in Afghanistan follow each other without a pause. New wars are in preparation; Russia, Prussia, England, Denmark, all are ready to unleash their armies. And at any moment they will be at each other's throats. There are enough excuses for wars to keep the world busy for another thirty years.
But war means unemployment, economic crisis, growing taxes, accumulating debts. More than that, war deals a mortal blow to the State itself. After each war, the peoples realize that the States involved have shown their incompetence, even in the tasks by which they justify their existence; they are hardly capable of organizing the defence of their own territory, and even victory threatens their survival. Only look at the fermentation of ideas that emerged from the war of 1871, as much in Germany as in France; only observe the discontent aroused in Russia by the war in the Far East.
Wars and armaments are the death of the State; they accelerate its moral and economic failure. Just one or two great waft will give the final blow to these decrepit machines.
But parallel to war outside is war within.
Accepted originally by the people as a means of defending all men and women, and above all of protecting the weak against the strong, the State today has become the fortress of the rich against the exploited, of the employer against the proletarian.
Of what use in fact is this great machine that we call the State? Is it to hinder the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist, of the peasant by the landlord? Is it to assure us work? To protect us from the loan-shark? To give us sustenance when the woman has only water to pacify the child who weeps at her dried-out breast?
No, a thousand times no! The State is there to protect exploitation, speculation and private property; it is itself the by-product of the-rapine of the people. The proletarian must rely on his own hands; he can expect nothing of the State. It is nothing more than an organization devised to hinder emancipation at all costs.
Everything in the State is loaded in favour of the idle proprietor, everything against the working proletarian: bourgeois education, which from an early age corrupts the child by inculcating anti-egalitarian principles; the Church which disturbs women's minds; the law which hinders the exchange of ideas of solidarity and equality; money, which can be used when needed to corrupt whoever seeks to be an apostle of the solidarity of the workers; prison-and grapeshot as a last resort-to shut the mouths of those who will not be corrupted. Such is the State.
Can it last? Will it last? Obviously not. A whole class of humanity, the class that produces everything, cannot sustain for ever an organization that has been created specifically in opposition to its interests. Everywhere, under Russian brutality as much as under the hypocrisy of the followers of Gambettas, the discontented people are in revolt. The history of our times is the history of the struggle of the privileged rulers against the egalitarian aspiration of the peoples. This struggle has become the principal occupation of the ruling class; it dominates their actions. Today it is neither principles nor considerations of the public good that determine the appearance of such-and-such a law or administrative decree; it is only the demands of the struggle against the people for the preservation of privilege.
This struggle alone would be enough to shake the strongest of political organizations. But when it takes place within States that for historical reasons are declining; when these States are rolling at full speed towards catastrophe and are harming each other on the way; when, in the end, the all-powerful State becomes repugnant even to those it protects: then all these causes can only unite in a single effort: and the outcome of the struggle cannot remain in doubt. The people, who have the strength, will prevail over their oppressors; the collapse of the States will become no more than a question of time, and the most peaceful of philosophers will see in the distance the dawning light by which the great revolution manifests itself.