Reprint from: W. Dzieduszycki, Listy ze wsi, Series II, Lwow 1890
Jezupol, 15 March 1890
The congress convened by Emperor Wilhelm II to reach an international consensus on, or at the very least alleviate, the social issue is about to begin. He who has viewed that issue from a broader perspective and through the prism of universal history will surely be sceptical of the noble intentions of the German ruler. No regulation of workers’ wages would solve that problem even if international talks led to the adoption of provisions that, after all, would constitute an encroachment on the internal autonomy of European states. It may very well be that the way in which the social issue is perceived will give rise to a new European system and that both the powers and the nations will group themselves differently than they have been for a hundred years. Cracks that have shown recently may broaden significantly and turn into precipices, whereas an eternal hatred can even give way to a sincere friendship. But it is unquestionable that the official bringing of the social issue to the forefront will neither calm down or satisfy the leaders of militant socialism, but will only give them courage. A somewhat better pay and a slightly shorter working time of factory workers are not their goal: they have their sights set on immeasurably greater things.
The origins of today’s struggle date back to such a distant past that it is difficult to pinpoint them. This particular chapter in history, which has not yet ended, was opened in the Renaissance (although it already was not a novelty at that time) when Boccaccio wrote his book in which he attacked, with unprecedented boldness, all the foundations of human society: the faith in the primordial revelation, which the mankind must never be allowed to abandon under the most severe historical penalty, a respect for women, the moral faith, freedom and responsibility of man and the faith in human virtue. That insolent opponent of Christianity claimed that the sensual impulses of man were the sole determinants of his actions, which was not far from concluding that mankind would be happy if those sensual impulses were satisfied and all the moral considerations that hitherto prevented that from happening were abolished. And this thought has since persisted among mankind and the struggle against Christianity has continued, often fuelled by the errors of the official Christian representatives.
Soon another factor arose that would often be allied with sensuality, whose first apostle was Boccaccio. It was a faith in the inexhaustible and unlimited power of individual human reason. This faith was propagated by humanism (which, by and by, was a movement of great merit in many respects) and it was expressed, perhaps rather timidly, by Protestantism, which recognised the infallible authority of sacred books yet called into question any other worldly authority, claiming that every human being was endowed with the sufficient powers of reason to understand the meaning of teachings in sacred books and decide which books were truly revealed. The natural consequence of the announcement of those principles was the immeasurable variety of individual opinions on the most important subjects, the extreme sharpening of the sense of criticism and dispute, and, last but not least, the thorough rejection of all sacred books and the conviction – originally expressed by Voltaire – that human reason alone was the judge of human and divine matters.
The Protestant position alone prompted violent shocks in the particular countries and then the European revolution of 1648. The Voltairean position brought about the great French revolution and the year 1848. These developments were further spurred by the thoughts of Adam Smith and his disciples, the so-called liberal economists. This otherwise serious school of thought operated on the assumption that selfishness was the only motive of human activity and that material well-being was the sole purpose of that selfishness. At the same time, some peculiar optimism fuelled the claim that the universal sensual happiness and universal well-being would prevail in the best possible world as a result of that selfishness.
Obviously, that optimism proved to be unfounded. Having been given a scientific absolution for their selfish intentions, deft and ruthless people made fabulous fortunes in the world in which all former social organisations had been destroyed, or at the very least undermined, and many wealthy or extremely wealthy people believed eagerly that their riches should serve only to satisfy their sensual or mental impulses and that wealth did not impose any social duty on them. Needless to say, these very influential people were the eager patrons of the science of liberal economists and gladly contributed to its victory. Similarly, governments supported the science that claimed that the human reason was a measure of all things and that there was not a single subject that the human mind would be incapable of exploring. That science necessarily contributed to the omnipotence of the state, which can only be held in check by traditions in which the whole society believes unwaveringly. The individual beliefs of the subjects – already suppressed in the bud by the common critical sense – had to naturally give way to the beliefs of the rulers who substituted the nations’ time-honoured traditions by creations of their own mind and strove to make all minds similar to their own by means of mandatory learning, which purported to serve the purpose of universal education but in fact the aim was to promote the ideas of each individual government.
A world has arisen in which the past is cursed as obsolete and immoral; in which religion is ridiculed as an outdated superstition and a spiritual infant; in which the individual is not only free to liberate himself from all family, corporate and community ties but it is actually difficult, impossible even, to hold on to those ties. There are more and more selfish individuals who, without a wife and children, without a status and a profession, live solely for themselves. The individualistic selfishness can be restrained by two things only: the national or state patriotism, which even governments are interested in encouraging, and the laws of the church, namely the Catholic Church, which require that, once established, the family ties be maintained permanently.
Other ties that used to bind people have been disrupted like in the times of the Roman Empire. A certain sense of decadence, defined by the French and the English as the national decadence and by the Germans as the decadence of all mankind and the imminent end of the world, has thus evolved among the most profound and independent minds, irrespective of their religious and political beliefs. The former earning relationships have changed thoroughly. In the past, people used to live with their regular employers, whereas nowadays employers with modest means and their employees have become workers in the cities of the West: in England, northern Germany, Lombardy and southern Italy, and also in the countryside. Often well-paid, they nevertheless live in the most immoral relationships. They are not members of their employers’ households; they have become natural enemies, knowing that their gain will be their employer’s loss. There is no human contact between the employer and the employee. They are receiving their high wages for the price of renouncing all family relations and the dignity of a Christian. They work long hours on weekdays and holidays, and on Sundays too, doing mechanical chores that are mindless and stupefyingly repetitive.
The ideas of the mental individualism and absolute criticality, as well as the doctrine of sensual selfishness, have penetrated their dark and uneducated minds, because the ability to read and write that has become almost universal is used by them only to read some idiocy that stirs in them desires that can never be satisfied. Many of them have not resisted the constant temptations to which they are exposed and they spend their free time drinking and enjoying other pleasures. They do not bother to think about starting a family.
Busy with day-to-day work, women often work in much worse conditions than men and get a pittance for their effort, unless they are young and nice, in which case they can find employment in prostitution, which pays well, just as every indecency will. The old age means to women often terrible poverty and children are born without families and grow up a in moral and material misery, from which official schools do not bring any relief at all. And these relations are becoming ever more frequent and therefore more dangerous.
It was unlikely, therefore, that mankind would content itself with the doctrines of the French Revolution and the related economic liberalism. It had to go further. Revolutionary socialism has thus emerged, already counting millions of followers in Germany. This socialism seeks to realise the inherently impossible postulate of earthly paradise, in which everyone will be able to satisfy their sensual selfishness, called the only God of mankind. All without exception, according to the socialist doctrine, will be forced to work but this work will be so short and so varied that it will be rather a pleasure than a toil. The fruits of that work will be distributed equally among the workers, regardless of the value of their work. The capitalist and the landowner will cease to exist and the entrepreneur will be replaced by the work organiser who will be chosen by, and accountable to, workers. The sacred and unbreakable institution of family will cease to exist as a burden involving tough obligations. It will be replaced by free love, giving only a short-lived but immeasurable pleasure. Children will no longer be a burden to parents, but will be raised at the cost of society. They will be educated to acquire the greatest amount of critical knowledge and taught to rely on their individual judgment in all matters, whereas religion will be absent from their education so as not to distract them from their purpose. The adult will be free to embrace any religion he chooses.
Apart from the utopians of the Renaissance, similar reforms were anticipated in our age by Fichte, Saint Simon and Comte. Perhaps, according to Comte’s idea, there will still be scholars in the society who will form a kind of a priestly class. Their research will provide guidance for the work organisers but it may only concern natural sciences, as history and philosophy are only playthings and fantasies that are of no use to the society. The supreme power will again rest in the hands of elected officials, whose task will be to ensure that no branch of production develops beyond what is necessary, and probably also that the population does not grow to such an extent that individuals could no longer enjoy earthly pleasures. As early as the sixteenth century, the Italian Campanella attempted to persuade the dreadful Spanish king, Philip II, to become a universal monarch and a regulator of labour and population. Today’s socialist leaders, however, keep this role for themselves and do not want to give it back to the hereditary kings, and even less so to the pope, the guardian of the religion that opposes individual criticism and does not believe that the rule of universal sensual pleasure will bring paradise to the earth. Moreover, they will not be familiar with the difficulties of operating a single organisation for the whole human race and they will want to replace it with local organisations that will be based on the nationality understood as a natural rather than historical construct. Each nation will then separate itself from its neighbours and will form a separate world.
A question, therefore, arises whether people will actually be happy in such a society. The German and English thinkers long ago replied in a negative and common sense would also suggest such a reply. A human being pursuing only his own interests would before long realise the emptiness of his endeavours. The old Plato already said that a man who seeks pleasure is like a gutter from which water flows away as soon as it flows in, leaving only a residue of impurity and disgust; every desired joy will become a disappointment as soon as it is realised and the happiest man on the earth will be rescued from despair only by virtue of his care for his family, nation, his love of the ideal and his belief in the existence of a world better than the earthly one. Of these concerns, the humanity will be left with only one: that for the good of society. Alas, only the noblest exceptions will be capable of such concern. But let me ask: will a critical man be able to sustain a belief for a long time that his neighbour can be made happy by the same means that bring him no satisfaction? He will laugh off the false philanthropy as the embodiment of superstition and he will necessarily become a pessimist. The world that will continue to do what the society tells it to do will seem to him to be the temple of monotonous boredom and not the best but the worst possible world. A villain will seek oblivion in madness and a noble man will come to the conclusion predicted by Hartman and will seek a universal annihilation as the only remedy to the universal suffering.
But there is another question. Will the world which the utopians and socialists dream of be indeed the world in which everyone will share equally in earthly goods? And will such a world last long? The power of the work organisers will be immense and they will be exposed to extraordinary temptations, which will not be held in check by any religious authority, any conviction rooted in the universal conscience. The whole history stands witness to the fact that he who has a great power will hold on to it despite all the elections and the accountability to the electorate, and that the more he will abuse it, the more he will hold on to it. He will make people constantly elect him and will slowly turn into a mighty tyrant who will be a hundred times worse than today’s wealthy men and bureaucrats, even those who exploit their position to the very limit. And then it is not clear what would persuade a woman to bear the unbearable burden of motherhood when it would be devoid of all its comforts? And why would humanity continue to breed in a society devoid of a family? Evil could only be prevented by universal abstinence and universal sacrifice based on the religious belief that allows no doubts. But how could such a religion be formed among the nations that have been raised from childhood to cherish individual criticism and believe that all religions are just superstitions?
Today we are not yet on the eve of the emergence of a socialist state, but the socialists can shake the foundations of Western societies because they have at their call socialist militias consisting of millions of disciplined and well-organised adepts. I got yesterday the issue of ‘Labourer’, in which Polish workers, too, are urged to join in the universal celebrations of workers’ day on May the first, on which all of them will refrain from work to demonstrate their power to the propertied classes. And this movement will reach us, too, especially in the Kingdom. However, we may watch calmly this global spectacle. Vacuus coram latrone cantabit viator. The scare and helplessness of the factory owners and all those whom the socialists call the bourgeoisie, as well as the irritation which the propertied classes cannot hide, will only reinforce the position of the socialists. Countless political events that can pour water on the mill of international agitators are now simmering in Germany. The upper classes lack a conviction that they are right and there are no rules on which to rely. Instead, a widespread sense of dissatisfaction has arisen in the society, partly due to the omnipotence of the state, and even more so due to the sense of void created by moral and intellectual individualism. The army of socialists may, therefore, seize power in some country and cause a terrible confusion across Europe. Yet they will be a minority everywhere because most of the nations will not agree with their programme. People of means are incomparably more numerous than the proletarians, and the vast majority of them feel that they have accumulated their, often considerable, wealth through relentless sacrifice and hard toil and that the destruction of their property for the sake of a social reform would be an outrageous act of injustice. What is more, the breaking up of a family and the denial of religion will provoke everywhere a fanatic resistance.
Perhaps – for some time and in some country – the leaders of socialism will be able to consolidate their rule by means of unprecedented terrorism, armed with dynamite. But terrorism can be countered with terrorism and the victory may drive a wedge between those who are now marching arm in arm. All selfish human passions will raise to the hence unknown power. Some of the revolutionaries will toy with an idea of replacing the impossible communality of property with the equal distribution of property, which will appeal to the far greater masses yet will also intensify the struggle of all with all. The ensuing chaos will most likely give rise to some monstrous Caesarism, devoid of lawful foundations and condemned to a new collapse among the increasingly disillusioned societies. The inventions we are so proud of may then turn to be the most terrifying weapons for the new barbarism. It will turn out that they do not stand for progress in themselves and just as they may be used by noble men to multiply the happiness of mankind, so they may be applied by ruthless egoists to unleash hell on the earth.
I am not saying that a terrible turmoil will erupt in Europe tomorrow. We may still enjoy years of peace because governments are vigilant and strongly organised and only great mistakes could bring forward a disaster. But who can vouch that no such mistakes will be made? And the disaster will happen sooner or later unless a thorough moral reform is undertaken. There are examples in the European literature that we are coming to our senses but these are only theoretical reflections that do not translate into actions. It is commonly concluded that people know that what they are doing is wrong but they are not capable of acting otherwise. A terrible storm must, therefore, be expected in the nearer or more distant future.
And what will we do then? Our tasks are clear and so grand that they will satisfy the wildest imagination of a young man and fulfil the bravest intentions of a statesman. It is not so much social storms that threaten us but the unrighteousness of governments that want to exterminate us and poison our souls. Yet social storms, too, can shake our society. In my ‘Letters’ I have already identified the paths we should follow: we have to gather around hearth and home and guard the virtue, simplicity and faith; we must not allow ourselves to be seduced by any foreign temptations; and we must organise those hearths for the purpose of social work. The wealth we will accumulate must not serve a selfish fun and vanity but the good of the motherland and humanity. The wealth acquired will be intended primarily to generate new affluence and unite the millions of working hands by a single sublime purpose. The family must be regarded sacred and its original significance must be restored. The concept of family must be extended to cover not only relatives but also the increasing number of servants working in various positions. Only then will we survive the political pressure of our enemies and the imminent social storm. We will survive – but not to repeat our or others’ mistakes. The wealth accumulated for the good of our homeland will serve that good again, and we will keep in mind that a society will only be healthy if everyone is fully a man, everyone has a family and means to maintain it, and everyone’s status depends on his merits rather than luxuries that incite hatred among those around him. It was already in the Antiquity, in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance that the rich man sought glory in the service rendered to God and humanity and not in debauchery and vain riches; the temples and churches stand witnesses to those times. We will restore them to make them even more grand and they will emanate with the light and power that have accumulated throughout the course of history. By doing so, we will no longer lag behind other nations but will proudly take a place at the forefront.