Socialism, Cooperative and Republican: Bernard Moss

At the time of the 1848 Revolution in France the dominant form of Socialism was a loose coalition connected with French Republicanism and the Cooperative movement. This article covers there role within the French 19th century workers movement.

Submitted by Reddebrek on October 23, 2016

Socialism, Cooperative and Republican The specter haunting France and Europe in 1848 was not communism and certainly not Marxism, but rather cooperative and republican socialism. Known variously as social democracy, democratic socialism (démoc.-soc), or simply radicalism, republican socialism was the main popular movement for social reforms in 1848. Led by middle-class professionals and intellectuals, it brought together an alliance of peasants and shopkeepers around the emerging working class composed of wage-earners, piece-workers and nominally independent artisans. Assimilating Saint Simonian class analysis to Robespierrist notions of equality, radicals supported the democratic republic as a means of freeing workers from the wage system by financing producer cooperatives in each trade.

Radicals could be distinguished from sectarian groups such as the Saint Simonians, Fourierist, Icarians and materialist communists as well as from the more moderate middle-class republicans of Le National, but all were united by the belief in the "practical socialism" of producer cooperatives. Based primarily in the working class, radicalism was a congerie of deputies, newspapers, clubs, trade and secret societies, not yet a structured political party. Beginning with the Society of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen formed in 1832 and the newspaper La Tribune, its main incarnations were the newspaper La Réforme, Louis Blanc and the Luxembourg Commission in 1848, and Alexandre Ledru-Rollin and the Mountain of 1849. It had ramifications in other countries, notably the German League of the Just, predecessor to Marx's Communist League, and Stephen Born's Brotherhoods in 1848-49. Propelled by Parisian workers, it virtually came to power in February 1848 and despite setbacks experienced a second spring-tide in 1849. Eliminated by Louis Napoleon's coup d'état of December 1851, it would reappear under the Liberal Empire to find final expression under the Paris Commune. Only in the 1880s with the formation of a separate working-class party did socialism and middle-class republicanism part company.

Republican socialism originated among a generation of students and intellectuals who fought against the Bourbon monarchy in the carbonari and other conspiracies. Seeking to complete the work of the French Revolution in the context of an emerging industrial society, intellectuals like Godefroy Cavaignac, François-Vincent Raspail, and Philippe Buchez drew upon the Conspiration de l'égalité dite de Babeuf by Filippo Buonarroti and the Doctrine de Saint-Simon, Exposition for elements of a new republican synthesis. The first book provided the myth of an egalitarian revolution that under the leadership of Robespierre had challenged rights to private property, the second an analysis of capitalist exploitation and the remedy of association.

This generation formed a vanguard that fought with workers in the streets in July 1830, stirred up rebellion against the Orleanist regime, and instructed workers in Robespierrist ideals and Saint Simonian social analysis. Buchez was the first to propose the formation of producer cooperatives with the aid of the state to free workers in each trade from the wage system. Republican socialism was transmitted to workers primarily through the Society of the Rights of Man which was formed after the abortive uprising of June 5, 1832. Recruiting workers from highly skilled trades, the society with its neighborhood and trade sections was designed for political education and revolutionary action. Robespierre's Declaration of Rights was taken as its credo because it contained a Rousseauist definition of property as a social convention, justifying expropriations and the re-distribution of wealth for the sake of equality. The doctrine appealed to workers suffering low wages and unemployment in revolt against capitalist privilege. In Autumn 1833 the society supported strikes of Parisian trades, urging formation of producer cooperatives as the solution to the social problem. With perhaps three thousand members in Paris and three hundred affiliates in the provinces, the society virtually created a working-class vanguard imbued with a socialist class-consciousness.

Dissolved after the Lyons uprising of April 1834, the movement continued underground in the secret societies of Auguste Blanqui and others, some of which drew communist conclusions. The cooperative program was reasserted during the electoral reform campaign of 1840 in the parliamentary speech of François Arago, the working-class banquet campaign, and especially the publication of Blanc's Organization of Labor, which became the touchstone of republican socialism. In 1841 the movement found a parliamentary spokesman in Ledru-Rollin and in 1843 an organ in La Réforme, edited by Ferdinand Flocon.

The entry of Flocon, Blanc and Ledru-Rollin into the banquet campaign of 1847 and the calling of an outdoor banquet in Paris stirred workers and precipitated the outbreak of the February revolution. Under pressure of the crowds Blanc, Ledru-Rollin, Flocon and the worker Albert were added to the Provisional Government dominated by the men of La National. Led by members of secret societies, crowds also imposed official recognition of the right to work and of the necessity for producer cooperatives as well as the convening of a workers' parliament at the Luxembourg palace to draft plans for the re-organization of industry; thus they consecrated socialism as the aim of the revolution.

More than 250 delegates were elected by their trades to the Luxembourg Commission where alongside employer delegates they discussed social reforms and the re-organization of industry. Out of the Luxembourg came decrees on the reduction of working hours, an end to subcontracting, prison and convent workshops and the abolition of private employment agencies. The commission also mediated disputes between workers and employers, set up trade cooperatives, notably the tailors' cooperative at Clichy, and approved Blanc's program for the nationalization of large-scale industry and commerce and for public financing of egalitarian producer cooperatives.

Working-class reforms, however, were accompanied by orthodox monetary and fiscal policies, notably the tax surcharge, which alienated the peasantry from the revolution. While radicals disposed of the often quarrelsome support of working-class clubs and trade societies in Paris and other cities, they were not well organized in the countryside. The efforts of Ledru-Rollin, minister of interior, to appoint radicals as regional commissioners and to promote the socialist program were to little avail. In the elections of April 23 for the constituent assembly, radicals lacked a single list and program that would distinguish them from the moderates and monarchists who triumphed.

The new assembly, containing barely eighty radicals, was determined to end socialist experiments. It rejected Blanc's proposal for a ministry of progress and disbanded the Luxembourg Commission. The decision to close down the National Workshops, a massive public work project for the unemployed, which was being influenced by the Luxembourg, sparked off the bloody June Days. A spontaneous uprising against hunger and unemployment, it was also a protest against the betrayal of the socialist hopes of February.

Though restricted under martial law, radicals marshalled their forces in the fall, reconvening clubs and Luxembourg delegates. Proudhon's Le Peuple became the organ for the trade and cooperative movement in Paris. The fifty-six deputies of the Mountain led by Ledru-Rollin organized a national network of clubs, societies and newspapers known as Solidarité républicaine. Two radicals ran for president in December 1848 with a cooperative socialist program, Ledru-Rollin, who was sponsored by the Mountain, and Raspail, who was selected by workers' organizations in Paris. After the triumph of Louis Napoleon greater efforts were made to reach the peasantry; demo-socs promised tax reductions, freer credit, and marketing cooperatives with their propaganda taking religious forms.

These efforts bore fruit in the first parliamentary elections in May 1849; radicals offered a socialist program which garnered one-third of the vote, including a large majority of the working class and almost one third of the peasantry--particularly the small commercial peasantry in the South and Center; most alarming to the government, they received a majority of votes from military conscripts. This political momentum was dissipated however in the affair of June 13, 1849; the Mountain urged on by Parisian clubs and societies declared a forfeiture of power and called the people to arms after the government ordered an attack on the Roman Republic in violations of pledges and the constitution. The condemnation of leading radical deputies, including Ledru-Rollin, for conspiracy and new restrictions placed on public meetings and press destroyed most of organizations in the cities; to survive the demo-socs formed secret societies in the "red" countryside. Despite electoral victories in the by-elections of 1850, radicals were too demoralized to respond effectively to the disenfranchisement of May 1850 and to the coup d'etat of 1851, which sought to extirpate socialism from French society.

The repression of radicalism did not prevent the emergence of a strong cooperative movement. The efforts of Luxembourg delegates to establish a central bank and coordinating body for producer cooperatives were realized first in the People's Bank; despite a quarrel with Proudhon and the feminist Jeanne Deroin.

Altogether more than three hundred producer cooperatives with fity thousand workers from one hundred twenty trades were founded in Paris with perhaps another eight hundred in the provinces. Following the principles of Buchez and Blanc, they were endowed with funds of inalienable collective capital designed for the emancipation of entire trades. Displaying the carpenters level as the sign of equality, they found their best customers in other associations with which some exchanged through the medium of labor bonds. Lacking credit facilities and beset with internal dissensions and government harassment, most cooperatives led a precarious existence; however, they provided employment to workers. The coup d'état destroyed most of them along with radicalism, forcing the few that remained under the empire conform to commercial practices.
Bernard Moss


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