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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Appendix B

page 125

Appendix B

A Correspondent of the Spectator having declared that the failure of the national workshops in Paris in 1848 proved nothing, because those who directed them meant them to fail, the following note was added to his letter:—

In the "Letter to a Working Man" dealing with the national workshops of 1848 "J. St. L. S." specifically anticipated our correspondent's objection that the workshops were set up in order to ruin the influence of Louis Blanc and the Socialists with the French people, and to prove that Socialism was impossible. Though not admitting this reading of history, "J. St. L. S." went on to point out that even if the national workshops were to be put aside on this ground, it was impossible to get rid in the same way of Louis Blanc's special experiment at the Hôtel Clichy, where he was allowed to organise the tailors of Paris on his own lines. The tailors who worked in the Hôtel Clichy were certainly producers, and according to Bagehot's account, quoted by "J. St. L. S.," they were also enthusiastic and patriotic Socialists, and therefore not likely to have been objected to by Louis Blanc on the ground of character. That our correspondent, the courtesy and good feeling of whose letter we gladly acknowledge, does not make any allusion to the fact that "J. St. L. S.'s "letter dealt in detail with the Clichy experiment, and laid more stress upon that than upon the disputed ateliers nationaux, seems to indicate that he had not seen the "Letter to a Working Man," and was only writing on hearsay as to its contents. As to the allegation that Louis Blanc was betrayed by the Provisional Government, the point is one very difficult to disprove; but we are bound to say that the fact that Louis Blanc asserted this when the experiment was obviously proving a failure, and after it had proved a failure, by no means establishes its accuracy. Though page 126 very honest and very well-meaning, Louis Blanc was just the kind of man who was sure to think that he must have been betrayed by some one when things went wrong. We note that M. Pierre de la Gorcc in his History of the Second Republic (Plon-Nourrit et Cie., 1904), the latest authority on the subject, does not, as far as we can see, give any sanction to our correspondent's view. We would refer him to Le Droit au Travail a l'Assemblée Nationale (Guillauman et Cie., 1848), a work which contains the whole of the heated debates in the Assembly, important official documents, and large extracts from the pamphlet, Socialisms, Droit au Travail (1848), in which Louis Blanc, after the event, repudiated the workshops as not carried out according to his theory. M. Joseph Garnier, the editor of the work in question, makes the following significant comment on Louis Blanc's declaration that the Socialists had no responsibility for the national workshops because of the manner in which they were organised and worked:—

"C'est-à-dire que M. Louis Blanc aurait voulu des ateliers nationaux autrement organisés. Reste à savoir comment il serait parvenu à classer les 115 ou 120 mille hommes que nous avons vus errer autour de la capitale. Nous ne pensons pas que M. Louis Blanc puisse se soustraire à une grande part de responsabilité, pour le fait des ateliers nationaux. Si ses collégues sont entrés dans cette voie, c'était en vertu de théories générates à la vulgarisation desquelles il a contribué plus que tout autre."

The above passage shows what Louis Blanc's contemporaries thought of the excuse when it was first raised—i.e. at a time when all the facts were fresh in men's minds.

In a word, we do not believe the treason and betrayal story. That it was found impossible to organise workshops according to Louis Blanc's abstract theories is, we have little doubt, quite true. Those theories were in effect absolutely impracticable and could not be carried out. But that is the case of the antiSocialists against Socialism, and cannot be used as an argument in favour of Socialism. That the Provisional Government tried to make the ateliers nationaux succeed is, we think, certain. They were too much afraid of the mob to do anything else. But if the Socialists reject all responsibility for their failure, then we say again that they cannot possibly reject Louis Blanc's failure at the Hôtel Clichy.

Prtnted by R. & R. Clarr, Limited, Edinburgh.