The ideas outlined in the following pages can be effectively achieved only by means of a revolutionary movement. It takes more than a day for the great flood to break the dyke; the floodwaters mount slowly, imperceptibly. But once the crest of the flood is reached, the collapse is sudden, the dyke is washed away in the winking of an eye. We can distinguish, then, two successive acts, the second being the necessary consequence of the first. At first there is the slow transformation of ideas, of needs, of the motives for action germinating in the womb of society; the second begins when this transformation is sufficiently advanced to pass into action. Then there is a brusque and decisive turning point — the revolution — which is the culmination of a long process of evolution, the sudden manifestation of a change long prepared for and therefore inevitable.
No serious-minded man would venture to predict exactly how the Revolution, the indispensable condition for social renovation, will come about. Revolution is a natural fact, and not the act of a few persons; it does not take place according to a preconceived plan but is produced by uncontrollable circumstances which no individual can command. We do not, therefore, intend to draw up a blueprint for the future revolutionary campaign; we leave this childish task to those who; believe in the possibility and the efficacy of achieving the emancipation of humanity through personal dictatorship. We will confine ourselves, on the contrary, to describing the kind of revolution most attractive to us and the ways it can be freed from past errors.
The character of the revolution must at first be negative, destructive. Instead of modifying certain institutions of the past, or adapting them to a new order, it will do away with them altogether. Therefore, the government will be uprooted, along with the Church, the army, the courts, the schools, the banks, and all their subservient institutions. At the same time the Revolution has a positive goal, that the workers take possession of all capital and the tools of production. Let us explain what is meant by the phrase “taking possession.”
Let us begin with the peasants and problems concerning the land. In many countries, particularly in France, the priests and the bourgeoisie try to frighten the peasants by telling them that the Revolution will take their land away from them. This is an outrageous lie concocted by the enemies of the people. The Revolution would take an exactly opposite course: it would take the land from the bourgeoisie, the nobles, and the priests and give it to the landless peasants. If a piece of land belongs to a peasant who cultivates it himself, the Revolution would not touch it. On the contrary, it would guarantee free possession and liquidate all debts arising from the land. This land which once enriched the treasury and was overburdened with taxes and weighed down by mortgages would, like the peasant, be emancipated. No more taxes, no more mortgages; the land becomes free, just like the man!
As to the land owned by the bourgeoisie, the clergy, and the nobles — land hitherto cultivated by landless laborers for the benefit of their masters — the Revolution will return this stolen land to the rightful owners, the agricultural workers.
How will the Revolution take the land from the exploiters and give it to the peasants? Formerly, when the bourgeois made a political revolution, when they staged one of those movements which resulted only in a change of masters dominating the people, they usually printed decrees, proclaiming to the people the will of the new government. These decrees were posted in the communes and the courts, and the mayor, the gendarmes, and the prosecutors enforced them. The real people’s revolution will not follow this model; it will not rule by decrees, it will not depend on the services of the police or the machinery of government. It is not with decrees, with words written on paper, that the Revolution will emancipate the people but with deeds.