The Intellectuals and Working Class Socialism by Hubert Lagardelle

The translator's introduction to this text:
It is well in reading this exceedingly clever presentation of one phase of the "syndicalist" movement, that is now playing so great a part in Europe to remember that "intellectuals" may juggle phrases in support of "syndicalism" as well as of capitalism or socialism, that assertion of the functionless character of these "intellectuals" does not alter the fact that they are still playing an important role in just that scientific and mechanical develop ment from which socialism proceeds, and finally that the mere fact that Lagardelle, Arturo Labrioda, and indeed practically all the "syndicalist" writers, spokesmen and leaders are members of this same despised class of "intellectuals," and this to an even greater extent than the "parliamentarians" at whom they hurl such fine scorn, should not prejudice us too strongly against giving ear to what they have to say.

Submitted by Darville on June 21, 2022

* First published: Lagardelle, H., 1907. The Intellectuals and Working Class Socialism. The International Socialist Review, VII(12), pp. 721-730.

THE struggle now in progress between the trade union socialism of the laborers and the democratic socialism of the intellectuals might be likened to an actual class strug gle if it were not an abuse of terms to give the name of class to the group of professional thinkers. But this analogy, false in itself, would at least have the merit of indicating the opposition of interests and ideas which lines up on one side, the socialism of political parties, and on the other, the socialism of working- class institutions.

It would be difficult to think of a more distinct antithesis, on the one side the working-class arrived at self-consciousness resolves to emancipate itself by its own creations : its efforts are thus necessarily directed against the modern hierarchy embodied in the state and its disputing parties. On the other, the mass of the intellectuals from whom are drawn the officials of all fac tions who carry on the state have a tendency on the contrary to increase the part played by government, to enlarge the scope of state institutions and to extend the directing function of parties.
These are thus two movements which go on in opposite direc tions in proportion as the conquest of public powers stands op posed to the dismantling of the state and the automom of the labor movement to the preponderance of parties under socialism. We are thus in the presence of two categories of interests and of contradictory ideas.

This separation stands out clearly only in countries where democracy is fully realized. Classes do not clash brutally until the day when their antagonisms cease to be veiled by a common struggle for political rights, but where- ever democracy is still to be won, intellectuals and laborers find themselves more or less confounded in the common struggle for liberty. The democratic thesis precedes the working-class anti thesis.
As France is of all countries the one which presents most clearly the classic type of democracy, it is in France more than anywhere else that we can trace the relations of the intellect uals and the proletariat in socialism. Of course, the knowledge of the experience of France will not give mechanically the key to what is passing in other countries.

It is evident that conclu sions which are good for a given environment cannot be carried over just as they are to a different environment but it is none the less true that every social experiment contains the sum-total of lessons which can be utilized when it is reproduced under con ditions slightly dissimilar. Again the examination of the problem admits a sum-total of general considerations: of these what is especially happening in France is merely the most concrete illustration.


The problem has to start out with a precise notion of socialism. Our explanations can have no bearing unless we con fess socialism as summed up entirely in the struggle of the work ing-class. From this point of view we need not insist at length on the fact that the labor movement is the backbone of the mod ern historical movement. Marxian criticism has sufficiently estab lished that it is the proletariat which makes history. Placed at the heart of production, that is to say, at the center of society, it sustains on its shoulders the capitalist world and the least of its movements imparts repeated vibrations to the whole social body. Itself the product of industrial evolution, it precedes all others classes on the road of the future and impresses its rhythm on the march of history. The proletariat is truly the only revolutionary class as much from the negative point of view as the positive. It destroys and builds while fighting; while it ruins the bourgeois institutions and ideology. And it is this double activity, the negation of capital ism and the elaboration of socialism which constitutes its mis sion. It is easy to see how the proletariat is in the first place the one force to destroy the bourgeois order. Of all classes this alone is irreconcilably opposed in its interests to capitalist soci ety. All other suffering classes like the peasants or the small capitalists can to a greater or less extent enter into treaty with a social system founded on individual property in the means of production. But the working-class could find there no stable footing nor convenient place. The proletariat considered as a whole, is by its very make-up condemned in the schedules of the capitalist world to keep to its double role of producing class and exploited class without hope of deliverance. Some few of its members may free themselves separately, the mass is clamped to its chain.

This is another way of saying that the maintenance of capitalist society is incompatible with the freeing of the prole tariat.Every attempt at the liberation of the working-class whose aim is not to overthrow capitalism from summit to foundation is therefore destined to be but a vain labor of Sisyphus.

The producing class will be delivered from opression only by a com plete social transformation which shall substitute common prop erty for individual property in the means of labor. That is what is meant by the "class struggle." Remember Marx's phrase, "It is the bad side of history which makes history." It is only the classes that are oppressed by a certain system which can destroy it and replace it by a new system and thus it is that in present society the proletariat is really the only class in a position to be permanently revolutionary. But it is also the only organic force that is capable of shap ing the new order.
If the class of producers pursues as its final aim the common appropriation of the means of production, it centers all its efforts on the practical activity which constitutes its movement. Not only does it struggle to modify to its advant age the existing economic, legal and political relations but above all it organizes itself into groups of a very definite character and it creates institutions and ideas which are suited to it. Upon its unions, its federations of unions, its labor exchanges, its organi zations of every kind the proletariat centers itself more and more, borrowing nothing but from itself and hoping nothing but from its strength alone. Thus from day to day it withdraws more and more from the capitalist system and forms little by little a labor State with in the capitalist State. And it is because it thus develops with in itself a new organization and new ideas independent of the traditional organization and ideas, and opposed to them ; it is be cause within itself different forms of life, independent economic institutions with their appropriate legal and moral systems are progressively shaping themselves, — it -is because of all this that it can make possible the formation of a socialist society. It may thus fairly be said that the working-class carries within it self the new economic man and moral man. This explains why socialism blends with the labor move ment in the class struggle.

None but the intellectuals of democ racy regard socialism as the product of philosophical or ideo logical conceptions or again as the progressive development of state institutions.- Working-class socialism is a philosophy of producers. It conceives itself as related only to the world of production. It is born in the workshop, in the strike, in the union, in the labor exchange. It springs from the revolt and organization of the proletariat struggling for the new law which shall regulate a so ciety without masters and zvithout parasites. But precisely because it is the beginning and end of social ism the labor movement of the class struggle must secure itself against the influx of any corrupting elements.

Now the greatest danger which threatens it is that the ditch which it is digging more and more between capitalism and itself may be filled up by those very persons who outside its ranks are setting forth the claims of socialism. And the mass of the intellectuals sated with political power, sinecures and official positions stand in the front rank of these dangerous "recruits."

What are we to understand by intellectuals?

It is a vague expression the content of which is difficult to define be cause it applies to widely different categories of individuals who cannot be brought under a common definition. But what we actually include under this term is all the people who make a profession of thinking and derive profit from it. They come from strata where some little culture is developed; where, for example, a high school or college education is the usual thing and from which (this is important) the liberal professions are re cruited : —the lawyers, judges, doctors, engineers, professors, of ficials, journalists, writers, etc. With these may also be included certain employees, the teachers, etc., in a word all those whose practical and paid a jtivity is of an order distinctly cerebral : it is in this sense that the term intellectual is opposed to the term manual. We are perfectly well aware that this distinction be tween intellectual and manual labor has no physiological nor experimental basis. In manual labor every intellectual effort does not disappear and many labors which are called intellectual are not so at all, but this distinction has been historically given us by the development of modern production.

Marx has pointed out this process. The great mechanical industry, he says, works a separation between manual labor and the intellectual forces of production which it transforms into the power of capital over labor. This separation of laborers into intellectual and manual is thus at the base of the current social hierarchy. It is the support of the division into superiors and inferiors, into governors and gov erned.It is understood that this division of brain activity and physical activity has made the exercise of both alike into a trade. Whether we consider the trade of an intellectual to be inferior or superior to the trades of practical life, it is none the less an industry, the industry of thought. Intellectual does not mean intelligent and mental zvorker does not necessarily mean thinker. The ruling characteristic of the intellectuals is the het erogeneity of the groupings within which they are subdivided. The lawyer and the inventor, the doctor and professor, the chem ist and the journalist have professional interests and not class interests. In a study which appeared in 1895 on "Socialism and the Intellectuals," Kautsky pointed out this very hing. The in tellectuals are divided into very different categories, into very exclusive coteries, and they are not united within each of these subdivisions by any bond except one analogous to that of the old time guild and even in each category the professional in terests of the individuals composing it are far from being alike. The situation of a poor devil of a journalist with 150 or 200 francs a month has nothing in common with the situation of an editor-in-chief with a monthly salary of 1,000 or 2,000 francs. It will thus be seen how inaccurate it is to speak of a class of intellectuals. A class is a category of men placed on the same economic plane and united by homogeneous material and moral interests. The thing that defines a class is the inner solidarity which welds its members one to another on a permanent basis at once economic and moral.

We may say the class of landed pro prietors, the class of capitalists, the class of proletarians because these social categories rest on definite economic phenomena and common material and moral interests. Rent and the growth of rent; profit and the increase of profit; wages and the raising of wages. There is nothing like this with the intellectuals. They do not form a group and they have no struggles strictly in common. They do not constitute a class for themselves. They exist- only for the other classes. Having neither homogeneous life nor ideology of their own, the intellectuals defend the interests and ideas of the classes or the parties to which they adhere. They thus play merely the part of auxiliaries. They are what Marx calls the ideological representatives of the classes into which they are incorporated. * Scattered through the different social strata putting themselves at their service ; borrowing their conceptions ; working up ideas for them ; how could they be united by any tffective bond of solidarity. Thai is why there exists among them more furiously than within any other social category a jealous competition, a fierce rivalry, a spirit of exasperated intrigue. They must sell at any price their intellectual ability, their only commodity, tbeir only security. And the market for ideas is so glutted ! So it is only by an abuse of terms that we sometimes say the class of intellectuals. Sub-class would be more suitable or better still oiit-of-class. . Historically the intellectuals have played a foremost part in the development of political society. We do not mean to speak especially of the historical influence exerted by ideology.
It is undeniable that while interpreting reality the work of the mind reacts upon the reality itself. Engels in his famous letters on historical materialism was himself obliged to insist at some length upon this fact and it is from this point of view that the action of ideology and ideologists is found everywhere in history. Who could question the influence of the legal and moral systems which were successively the work of the monks of the Church in the middle ages; the civilians of royalty; the jurists of the French Revolution. But that is not the question. It is of the political role of the intellectuals that we wish to speak. M. Ferrero, in one of the best pages of his history of Rome, in which he pictures the eminent role of Cicero, has well defined the place held in po litical history by professional thinkers. He (Cicero) was, M. Ferrero says, the first statesman belonging to the class of intel lectuals and consequently the head of a dynasty as corrupt, vici ous and mischievous as you please, but which the historian though he detests it must recognize as having lasted longer than that of the Caesars ; for from Cicero's time to ours it has never ceased through twenty centuries to dominate Europe. Cicero was the first of those knights of the pen who all through the history of our civilization have been sometime the props of the state and sometimes the artisans of the revolution : orators, juriscon sults, polygraphs in the Pagan Empire ; afterwards defenders and fathers of the church ; monks, civilians, theologians, doctors and lecturers in the middle ages; humanists in the time of the Renaissance ; encyclopedists in France in the eighteenth century and in our days lawyers, journalists, public men and professors. In the course of time it is only the condition of the intel lectuals which is changed, formerly artistic and privileged the lettered class has seen its independence diminish in proportion as the capitalist mode of production has developed.

This evolution is easy to follow. It is no exaggeration to say that the church preceding de mocracy on this route had created one of the most perfect gov ernments of intellectuals. Its clergy had organized the most methodical domination that could be imagined of a body of let tered men over the mass of the people. But it was also the pro fessionals of thought who, constituting a new clergy, the lay clergy, emancipated the civil society from religious society and arrayed against the latter a rival government. The bourgeoisie effected its revolution with the aid of these intellectuals ; men of law and letters, advocates, magistrates, professors, journalists who arose from the third estate and interpreted its class aspira tions. At such times when the capitalist class is engaged in ruining the old social forms and preparing its political future, the intellectuals are not attached to society by virtue of a -special function but are bound up with its general development. Hav ing no positive economic interests, finding themselves above and outside social conflicts, separated from the bourgeois class by a throng of intermediaries, they defend the general interest of so ciety. In the struggle waged against the ruling forces they rep resent the critical spirit. Their chief function is to destroy the authority which is at the base of the old regime. They over throw tradition and thus favor especially the triumph of the bour geoisie. But once the bourgeoisie has become master of the situation antagonisms arise between the newly triumphant class and the intellectuals; the intermediaries which separated them (that is to say the adverse forces to be fought) having been eliminated by historical evolution, the bourgeoisie and intellectuals come to face each other. Their relations change rapidly and in propor tion as the oppositions between capital and labor become accen tuated the category of the intellectuals become more and more dependent upon the capitalist class. Relieved of its other cares, the bourgeoisie turns its whole attention to these class oppo sitions and endeavors to solve them to its profit. The intellect uals become its men of all work. It had required literary men to establish its rule. It still requires them to maintain it. More and more it shifts all its responsibility for thinking and govern ing upon the category of the intellectuals and develops this type to a prodigious extent. Special capacities of every sort, engi neers, chemists, agricultural experts, etc., are created in a con tinuous stream according to the multiplied exigencies of indus trial evolution. Meanwhile the state grows fat, the public and private administrations enlarge, the bureaucracy grows, public instruction is organized, journalism is extended ; all so many causes of a prodigious awakening of intellectual forces. But along with all this overproduction of capacities the cap italist system degrades thought, reduces it to the state of mer chandise subject to the law of supply and demand. The intel lectuals are no longer anything more than Phrasemongers in the exact sense of the word. Disinterested research, the independent productions of literature, art and science, for these the bourgeoisie care. It requires from its domestics of the pen the fabri cation of the intellectual product which suits its taste and is on its level and it is well known what this taste and this level are.

The inferior scientific, artistic and literary products which flood the market are an accurate gauge of the intellectual aspirations of the ruling classes. The overproduction of these literary men whom the capitalist system supports in this fashion leads to a lowering of their sala ries. The number of those unemployed or crowded out is constantly increasing and the competition among them is becoming disastrous. Then begins the formation of what is very improp erly called the intellectual proletariat. Surely the distinctive mark of the proletarian is to be inevitably bound by the very conditions of production to his precarious and inevitably misera ble state without the possibility of emerging from it to establish himself permanently in bourgeois society. We may perhaps say that the unemployed or exploited members of the category of in tellectuals are in a situation which suggests that of the laborers but this is only at times when they are unemployed or exploited and this characteristic is shared with them by many other strata of society none of which has any greater resemblance to the proletariat. Moreover the intellectuals are or may be only mo mentarily in unfortunate circumstances. At the worst they have the hope of emerging from them. The objection is raised that the uninterrupted formation of intellectual capacities tends to maintain an always increasing portion of them in this miserable situation borderung on that of the proletariat. Their salaries are falling to such a level of wretchedness that it is no longer merely when they are not work ing that the poor intellectuals are unfortunate. It is also when they are working. No doubt; yet however pitiable may be the lot of the poor intellectual, and it is often lamentable, these exterior similari ties do not go deep enough. There is an essential and irreducible difference which prevails over all the analogies which may be suggested by their state of insecurity.
It turns on the quality of producers which is characteristic of the laborers, and the quality of non-producers, which is the specific mark of the intel lectuals. The former are the active agents of society. The lat ter are only its parasites. But whence come these intellectuals whom the economic, po litical and administrative exigencies of social life call forth in constantly increasing number. Apart from their natural increase they come especially from the little capitalists and from rural neighborhoods. It is a phenomenon which Kautsky clearly pointed out in the article we have mentioned and to which he often returned in his book against Bernstein. "There is form ing," he wrote, "a new and very numerous class constantly in creasing and whose increase may under certain circumstances make up for the losses which the decadence of small industry and trade are causing the middle class to suffer." The movement is so general that it may be said that there is no country where the small capitalists and peasants do not push their sons into in tellectual positions mediocre but permanent and apparently bril liant. If then we try to locate the group of intellectuals in the sys tem of capitalist production we discover that it is not linked di rectly to the division of society into classes but rather to the sys tem itself considered as a whole. It is only in indirect fashion that these intermediaries tend to take a position in the general schedule of classes.

This situation has given them a peculiar psychology and it is this psychology common to most of the intellectuals which enable us to unite them into one and the same category. The literary caste, the thinking caste, by the mere fact that it receives a privileged education and higher instruction easily imagines that it is independent of social conflicts, that it represents the general interests of society, that it constitutes an intellectual aristocracy. The professional thinker assumes to solve every thing by the light of Reason (his reason) and of the Idea (his idea).
He reduces everything to questions of reasoning in which, he is past master. The self-sufficiency and intolerance of the new college graduate are proverbial. He regards himself the trustee of the wisdom of_the world. Experience goes to show that most of the intellectuals have more or less contempt for man ual laborers and easily believe themselves the quickest to under stand everything, the most capable to govern everything, the worthiest to direct everything,

"Work to the laborers,
Power to the cultivated people."

This is their understanding of the social hierarchy. Is it not a French publicist, Henry Beranger, who in a characteristic and pretentious book Intellectual Aristocracy set forth the claims of the intellectuals to the dictatorship of the world? They have tradition on their side ; the state has long been in the hands of professional politicians ; it is the instrument of their industry ; it permits them either to impose their ideas by force or to serve their own interests or do both at once. The ruling classes absorbed in production and exchange take these clerks in to their pay to rule to their advantage. The intellectual is arro gant only when it is a question of how his merits should be esti mated; in the presence of his masters he has no back bone and he carries out the policy which they direct. Sorel arrived at an exact definition of the state as "A group of personages exploit ing the privileged classes and giving them in exchange the power to exploit the laboring classes." It is certain that the talents thus employed cost the bourgeoisie dearly and that political para sitism is a heavy load on capitalism. Jaures in a recent eulogy on democracy said that it was a "dear government." He meant that we should not regret this continued increase of governmental expenses necessitated by the increasing extension of function. It is plain that the "capacities" in charge of the operation of the state and its public administra tions will never consider that they are paid in proportion to their value. "Talents" can never appraise themselves high enough.

Politics which is simply the exploitation of the state by those in charge, is thus the vocation of the intellectuals. In this sense they indeed form a distant caste which is separated from society in order better to exercise its brigandage at society's expense. However much political factions may fight each other they have a strong resemblance. The intellectuals constitute at once their general staff and their constituency and their universal aim is to conquer the state in order to pillage it. It is very essential that the governors live off the governed.

Hubert Lagardelle, Paris
(Translated by Charles H. Kerr.)

(To be continued.)

* "What makes democrats of the representatives of the little capitalists is the fact that their brains cannot outgrow the limits which the little capitalist himself cannot transcend in his living. The former are thus brought theoretically to the same problems and the same solutions which their material interest and social situation impose upon the lat ter. Such is moreover in general the bond which unites political and literary representatives of a class to the class which they represent." Karl Marx. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.