Fifth Study: Social Liquidation

The preceding studies, as much upon contemporaneous society as upon the reforms which it suggests, have taught us several things which it is well to recount here summarily.

The fall of the July monarchy and the proclamation of the Republic were the signal for a social revolution.

This Revolution, at first not understood, little by little became defined, determined and settled, under the influence of the very same Reaction which was displayed against it, from the first days of the Provisional Government.

This Revolution consists in substituting the economic, or industrial, system, for the governmental, feudal and military system, in the same way that the present system was substituted, by a previous revolution, for a theocratic or sacerdotal system.

By an industrial system, we understand, not a form of government, in which men devoted to agriculture and industry, entrepreneurs, proprietors, workers, become in their turn a dominant caste, as were formerly the nobility and clergy, but a constitution of society having for its basis the organisation of economic forces, in place of the hierarchy of political powers.

And to explain that this organisation must result from the nature of things, that there is nothing arbitrary about it, that it finds its law in established practice, we have said that, in order to bring it about, the question was of one thing only: To change the course of things, the tendency of society.

Passing then to the examination of the chief ideas that offer themselves as principles for guidance, and that serve as banners to parties, we have recognised:

That the principle of association, invoked by most Schools, is an essentially sterile principle; that it is neither an industrial force nor an economic law; that it would involve both government and obedience, two words which the Revolution bars.

That the political principle revived recently, under the names of direct legislation, direct government, etc., is but a false application of the principle of authority, whereof the sphere is in the family, but which cannot legitimately be extended to the commune or the nation.

At the same time we have established:

That in place of the idea of association, there was a tendency to substitute in the workers’ societies a new idea, reciprocity, in which we have seen both an economic force and a law.

That to the idea of government there was opposed, even in the political tradition itself, the idea of contract, the only moral bond which free and equal beings can accept.

Thus we come to recognise the essential factors of the Revolution.

Its cause: the economic chaos which the Revolution of 1789 left after it.

Its occasion: a progressive, systematic poverty, of which the government finds itself, willy-nilly, the promoter and supporter.

Its organic principle: reciprocity; in law terms, contract.

Its aim: the guaranty of work and wages, and thence the indefinite increase of wealth and of liberty.

Its parties, which we divide into two groups: the Socialist schools, which invoke the principle of Association; and the democratic factions, which are still devoted to the principles of centralisation and of the State.

Finally, its adversaries, the capitalistic, theological usurious, governmental, partisans of the status quo, all those indeed who live less by labour than by prejudice and privilege.

To deduce the organising principle of the Revolution, the idea at once economic and legal of reciprocity and of contract, taking account of the difficulties and opposition which this deduction must encounter, whether on the part of revolutionary sects, parties or societies, or from the reactionaries and defenders of the status quo; to expound the totality of these reforms and new institutions, wherein labour finds its guaranty, property its limit, commerce its balance, and government its farewell; that is to tell, from the intellectual point of view, the story of the Revolution.


After these preliminaries, we have now three things to do:

1st. To cut short the disorganising tendency which the old revolution bequeathed to us, and to proceed, with the aid of the new principle, to the dissolution of established interests. — Thus the Constituent Assembly proceeded on the night of the 4th of August 1789.

2nd. To organise, always with the aid of the new principle, the economic forces, and to lay down the law of property.

3rd. To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system, by reducing, simplifying, decentralising and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State.


Suppose, I say, that the People, once enlightened as to their true interests, declare their will, not to reform government, but to revolutionise society: in that case, without prejudice to a better plan, without pretending that the steps herein pointed out are at all absolute, or incapable of all sorts of modifications, this is how I conceive the Representatives of the People might carry out their mandate.


Let us take up this great question of property, the source of such intolerable pretensions, and of such ridiculous fears. The Revolution has two things to accomplish about property, its dissolution and its reconstitution. I shall address myself first to its dissolution, and begin with buildings.


This understood, let us suppose that the City of Paris resuming the abandoned project of Workers’ Settlements, should reopen the campaign against the cost of dwellings; should buy houses that were for sale at the lowest price, contract with building workers companies for repairing them and keeping them in repair, then lease them, according to the rules of competition and equal exchange. After a while the City of Paris would own most of the houses of which it is composed, and would have all its citizens for tenants.

In this as always, the tendency is noticeable and significant: the right is incontestable. If after the taking of the Bastille, the City of Paris had set aside for such acquisition the sums which it has spent on public festivals, royal coronations, and celebrations of the births of princes, it would already have paid for several hundred millions worth of property. Let the Country be the judge: let it decide in how many years it intends to revolutionise this first class of properties: what it resolves, I shall hold to be wisely resolved and I accept in advance.

While waiting, permit me to formulate a scheme.

The right of property, so honourable in its origin, when that origin is none other than labour, has become in Paris, and in most cities, an improper and immoral instrument of speculation in the dwelling places of citizens. Speculation in bread and food of prime necessity is punished as a misdemeanour, sometimes as a crime: is it more permissible to speculate in the habitations of the people? Our consciences, selfish, lazy, blind, most of all in matters that touch our pockets, have not yet noticed this similarity: all the more reason that the Revolution should denounce it. If the trumpet of the last judgement should resound in our ears, which of us at that moment would refuse to make this confession? Let us make it then, for I vow the last hour is approaching for the ancient abuse. It is too late to talk of purgatory, of gradual penitence, of progressive reform. Eternity awaits you. There is no middle ground between heaven and hell. We must take the leap.

I propose to manage the dissolution of rentals in the same manner as that of the Bank, of the public debt, and of private debts and obligations:

“From the date of the decree which shall be passed by future representatives, all payments made as rental shall be carried over to the account of the purchase of the property, at a price estimated at twenty times the annual rental.

“Every such payment shall purchase for the tenant a proportional undivided share in the house he lives in, and in all buildings erected for rental, and serving as a habitation for citizens.

“The property thus paid for shall pass under the control of the communal administration, which shall take a first mortgage upon it, in the name of all the tenants, and shall guarantee them all a domicile, in perpetuity, at the cost price of the building.

“Communes may bargain with owners for the purchase and immediate payment for rented buildings.

“In such case, in order that the present generation may enjoy the benefit of reduction in rental, the said communes may arrange for an immediate diminution of the rental of the houses for which they have negotiated, in such manner that complete payment may be made within thirty years.

“For repairs, management, and upkeep of buildings, as well as for new constructions, the communes shall deal with bricklayers companies or building workers associations, according to the rules and principles of the new social contract.

“Proprietors who occupy their own houses shall retain property therein, as long as suits their interests.”

Let the Country enter upon this course, and the safety of the people is assured. A guaranty stronger than all laws, all electoral combinations, all popular sanctions, will assure lodging to the workers forever, and render a return to speculation of rents impossible. Neither government, nor legislation, nor code is needed, a simple agreement among citizens suffices, with the execution of it confided to the commune: the producer is housed by a simple business transaction; something which neither kings nor dictator will ever accomplish.


Through the land the plundering of man began, and in the land it has rooted its foundations. The land is the fortress of the modern capitalist, as it was the citadel of feudalism, and of the ancient patriciate. Finally, it is the land which gives authority to the governmental principle, an ever-renewed strength, whenever the popular Hercules overthrows the giant.

To-day the stronghold, attacked upon all the secret points of its bastions, is about to fall before us, as fell, at the sound of Joshua’s trumpets, the walls of Jericho. The machine which is able to overthrow the ramparts has been found; it is not my invention; it has been invented by property itself.

Everybody has heard of the land banks that have been in use for a long time among the land owners of Poland, Scotland, and Prussia, of which French proprietors and farm owners are demanding so insistently the introduction into our own country. In a previous article, speaking of the liquidation of mortgage secured debts, I had occasion to recall the attempts made by several honourable conservatives in the National Assembly to endow France with this beneficent institution. I showed, in connection therewith, how the land bank might become an instrument of revolution with regard to debts and interest. I am about to show how it may be the same with regard to landed property.

The special characteristic of the land bank, after the low price and the facility of its credit, is the reimbursement for annuities.

Suppose that the proprietors, no longer waiting for the Government to act, but taking their affairs into their own hands, follow the example of the workers’ associations, and get together to found a Bank by subscription, or mutual guaranty.


The farmer or peasant can then pay for the land that he cultivates in twenty-five, thirty, thirty-four or forty years, if the owner will agree to it: he can pay for it in twenty, eighteen, or fifteen years, if he can buy it by the system of annuities. What then prevents the peasant from becoming everywhere the owner of the soil, and freeing himself from farm rent?

What prevents him is that the owner demands to be paid in cash; and that if cash is not forthcoming, he lets the land; that is to say, he requires payment in perpetuity.

In that case, you will say, why does not the tenant borrow?

Ah! that is because the loan of money on mortgage agrees exactly with farm rent. The interest required for this kind of loan serves not in the least to extinguish the debt, and is even higher than the farm rent. The peasant therefore finds himself enclosed in a circle: he must cultivate to eternity, but never possess. If he borrows, he gives himself a second master, double interest, double slavery. There is no way of escape without the aid of a fairy.

Well, the fairy exists: it remains only for us to test the virtue of her wand: the fairy is the land bank.


This will be as if the cultivator had to pay rent for 15, 20 or 30 years, in order to become the owner of property worth $2,000. Thus the farm rent is not perpetual: it is annually charged off the price: it gives a title to the property. And as the price of real estate cannot be raised indefinitely, since it is only the capitalisation of twenty, thirty or forty fold of the part of the product which is in excess of the cost of working the land, it is evident that the peasant cannot fail to obtain the property. With the Land Bank the farmer is released; it is the proprietor who is caught. Do you understand now why the conservatives of the Constituent Assembly were unwilling to permit a Land Bank?

Thus what we call farm rent, left to us by Roman tyranny and feudal usurpation, hangs only by a thread, the organisation of a bank, demanded even by property itself. It has been demonstrated that the land tends to return to the hands that cultivate it, and that farm rent, like house rent, like the interest of mortgages, is but an improper speculation, which shows the disorder and anomaly of the present economic system.

Whatever may be the conditions of this Bank, which will come into existence on the day when those who need it desire it; whatever be the rate of charge for its services, however small its issues, it can be calculated in how many years the soil will be delivered from the parasitism which sucks it dry, while strangling the cultivator.

And when once the revolutionary machine shall have released the soil, and agriculture shall have become free, feudal exploitation can never re-establish itself. Property may then be sold, bought, circulated, divided or united, anything; the ball and chain of the old serfdom will never be dragged again; property will have lost its fundamental vices, it will be transfigured. It will no longer be the same thing. Still, let us continue to call it by its ancient name, so dear to the heart of man, so agreeable to the ear of the peasant, property.


I propose to decree:

“Every payment of rent for the use of real estate shall give title to the farmer for a share of the real estate, and shall be a lien upon it.

“When the property has been entirely paid for, it shall revert immediately to the commune, which shall take the place of the former proprietor, and shall share the fee-simple and the economic rent with the farmer.

“Communes may bargain directly with owners who wish to do so for the repurchase of rentals and the immediate purchase of the properties.

“In that case, provision shall be made for the supervision of the communes, for the installation of cultivators, and for the fixing of the boundaries of possessions, taking care to make up by an increase in quantity for any deficiency in the quality of the land, and to proportion the rent to the product.

“As soon as all landed property shall have been completely paid for, all the communes of the Republic shall come to an understanding for equalising among them the quality of tracts of land, as well as accidents of culture. The part of the rent to which they are entitled upon their respective territories shall serve for compensation and for general insurance.

“Beginning with the same date, the former proprietors who have held their title by working their properties themselves, shall be placed on the same footing as the new, subjected to the same rights; in such a manner that the chance of locality or of succession may favour no one, and that the conditions of culture shall be equal for all.

“The tax on land shall be abolished.

“The rural police are placed under the control of the municipal councils.”


A general liquidation is the obligatory preliminary of every revolution. After sixty years of mercantile and economic chaos, a second night of the 4th of August is indispensable. We are still masters of the situation, and free to proceed with all the prudence, all the moderation, that we may think advisable: later, our fate may not depend upon our free choice.

I have proved at length that in the aspirations of the Country, in the ideas that are current among capitalists and proprietors, as well as among peasants and workers, everything tends toward this liquidation: co-operative associations, accumulation of coin at the Bank, discount houses, credit notes, land banks, workers’ villages, right to value of improvements, &c., &c. I have analysed and deduced these ideas, and I have found at the bottom of them always the principle of reciprocity and contract, never that of government. Finally, I have shown how liquidation could, on each point, be made to work as rapidly as might be desired; and if I have pronounced myself in favour of the easiest and quickest way, it was not, as might be supposed, because I held extreme opinions, but because I was convinced that this method is the wisest, the most just, the most conservative, the most advantageous to all interested, debtors, creditors, house owners, tenants, land proprietors and tenant farmers.