The dangers to which the Revolution is exposed when it allows itself to be controlled by an elected government, are so evident that a whole school of Revolutionists renounce entirely the idea of it. They understand that it is impossible for a people in insurrection to give themselves, by means of elections, any government but one that represents the past, and which must be like leaden shoes on the feet of the people, above all when it is necessary to accomplish that immense regeneration, economic, political and moral which we understand by the Social Revolution. They renounce then the idea of “legal” government at least during that period which is a revolt against legality, and they advocate a “revolutionary dictature.”
“The party” they say “which will have overturned the government will take the place of it of course. It will seize upon power and proceed in a revolutionary manner. It will take the measures necessary to secure the success of the insurrection; it will demolish the old institutions; it will organize the defense of the country. As for those who will not recognize its authority, why the guillotine will settle them, whether they belong to the people or the middle-class, if they refuse to obey the orders necessary for the advance of the Revolution — The guillotine still in action! See how these budding Robespierres argue, who know nothing of the grand epic of the century but its period of decline, men who have never learned anything about it except from speeches of the hangers-on of the republic.
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For us Anarchists the dictature of an individual or of a party (at bottom the very same thing) has been finally condemned. We know that Revolution and Government are incompatible; one must destroy the other, no matter what name is given to government, whether dictature, royalty, or parliament. We know that what makes the strength and the truth of our party is contained in this fundamental formula — “Nothing good or durable can be done except by the free initiative of the people, and every government tends to destroy it;” and so the very best among us, if their ideas had not to pass through the crucible of the popular mind, before being put into execution, and if they should become masters of that formidable machine — the government — and could thus act as they chose, would become in a week fit only for the gallows. We know whither every dictature leads, even the best intentioned,—namely to the death of all revolutionary movement. We know also in fine, that this idea of dictature is never anything more than a sickly product of governmental fetish-worship, which like religious fetish worship has always served to perpetuate slavery.
But we do not now address ourselves to Anarchists. We speak to those governmental Revolutionists, who, led astray by the prejudices of their education, honestly deceive themselves, and ask nothing better than to discuss the question. We therefore speak to them from their own point of view.
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And to being with one general observation; those who preach dictature do not in general perceive that in sustaining this prejudice they only prepare the way for those who later on will cut their throats. There is however one word of Robespierre’s which his admirers would do well to remember. He did not deny the dictature in principle; but “have good care about it” he answered abruptly to Mandar when he spoke to him of it, “Brissot would be the Dictator!” Yes, Brissot, the crafty girondin, deadly enemy of the leveling tendencies of the people, furious defender of property (though he once called it theft) Brissot, who would coolly have consigned to the Abbaye Prison Hebert, Marat, and all the moderate Jacobins!
Now this was said in 1792! And this time France had already been three years in Revolution! In fact Royalty no longer existed, it only awaited its death stroke; the feudal regime was actually abolished. And yet even at this time, when the Revolution rolled its waves untrammeled, it was still the counter-revolutionist Brissot who had the best chance to be made dictator! And who would it have been previously, in 1789? Mirabeau is the man would have been acknowledged as the head of the government! The man who made a bargain with the king to sell to him his eloquence — this is the man who would have been thrust into power at this time, if the insurgent people ad not imposed its sovereignty sustained by its pikes, and if it had not proceeded by the accomplished facts of the Jacquerie, in making illusory every government constituted at Paris or in the departments.
But governmental prejudice blinds so thoroughly those who speak of dictature, that they prefer the dictature of a new Brissot or a Napoleon to abandoning the idea of giving another master to men who are breaking the chains of their slavery!
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The secret societies of the time of the Restoration and o Louis-Philippe contributed powerfully to maintain this prejudice of dictature. The middle-class Republicans of the time aided by the workers made a long series of conspiracies, with the object of overturning Royalty and proclaiming the Republic. Not understanding the profound change that would have to be effected in France before even a republican regime could be established, they imagined that by means of a vast conspiracy, they would some day overturn Royalty, take possession of power and proclaim the Republic. For more than thirty years these secret societies never ceased to work with a devotion unlimited, and a heroic courage and perseverance. If the Republic resulted from the insurrection of 1848, it was thanks to these societies, and thanks to the propaganda by deed made by them for thirty years.
Without their noble efforts the Republic would, up the present, have been impossible.
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The end they had in view was to get possession of power themselves and to install a republican dictature. But of course they never succeeded. As ever, from the very nature of things, a conspiracy could not overturn Royalty. The conspirators had indeed prepared the way for its fall. They had spread widely the republican idea; their martyrs had made it the ideal of the people. But the final effort which definitely overturned the king of the bourgeoisie was much greater and stronger than any that could come from a secret society; it came from the mass of the people.
The result is known. The party which had prepared the way for the fall of royalty found itself thrust aside from the steps of the Government House. Others, too prudent to run the risks of conspiracy, but better known, more moderate also, lying in wait for the opportunity of grasping power, took the place which the conspirators hoped to conquer at the point of they bayonet. Journalists, lawyers, good talkers who worked hard to make a name for themselves while the true republicans forged weapons or expired in jail, took permission of power. Some of them, already well-known were acclaimed by the people; others pushed themselves forward and were accepted because their name represented nothing more than a programme of agreement with everybody.
It is useless to tell us that this happened because of a want or practical spirit in the party action, and that other will be able to do better in future — No, a thousand times no! It is a law as immutable as that which governs the movement of the stars, that the party of action must be thrown aside, and the intriguers and talkers seize upon power. They are always better known to the great mass that makes the final effort. They get more votes, because with of without voting papers, by acclamation or by the ballot-box, at the bottom it is always a kind of tacit election which is made in such cases by acclamation. They are acclaimed by everybody and above all by the enemies of the Revolution, who prefer to put forward nobodies, and thus by acclamation those men are accepted as rulers who are really either enemies of the movement or indifferent toward it.
The man who more than any other was the incarnation of this system of conspiracy, the man who by a life spent in prison for his devotion to this system, on the eve of his death uttered these words, which of themselves make an entire programme — “Neither God nor Master!”