Supremacy By Labor
As in a time of war, supremacy is attained by superiority in arms, can,
in a time of peace, supremacy be secured by superiority in labor?
This question is of the greatest interest at a time when no one seems to
doubt that in the field of industry, as on that of battle, the stronger
crushes the weaker.
This must result from the discovery of some sad and discouraging analogy
between labor, whi
h exercises itself on things, and violence, which
exercises itself on men; for how could these two things be identical in
their effects, if they were opposed in their nature?
And if it is true that in manufacturing as in war, supremacy is the
necessary result of superiority, why need we occupy ourselves with
progress or social economy, since we are in a world where all has been
so arranged by Providence that one and the same result, oppression,
necessarily flows from the most antagonistic principles?
Referring to the new policy toward which commercial freedom is drawing
England, many persons make this objection, which, I admit, occupies the
sincerest minds. Is England doing anything more than pursuing the same
end by different means? Does she not constantly aspire to universal
supremacy? Sure of the superiority of her capital and labor, does she
not call in free competition to stifle the industry of the continent,
reign as a sovereign, and conquer the privilege of feeding and clothing
the ruined peoples?
It would be easy for me to demonstrate that these alarms are chimerical;
that our pretended inferiority is greatly exaggerated; that all our
great branches of industry not only resist foreign competition, but
develop themselves under its influence, and that its infallible effect
is to bring about an increase in general consumption capable of
absorbing both foreign and domestic products.
To-day I desire to attack this objection directly, leaving it all its
power and the advantage of the ground it has chosen. Putting English and
French on one side, I will try to find out in a general way, if, even
though by superiority in one branch of industry, one nation has crushed
out similar industrial pursuits in another one, this nation has made a
step toward supremacy, and that one toward dependence; in other words,
if both do not gain by the operation, and if the conquered do not gain
the most by it.
If we see in any product but a cause of labor, it is certain that the
alarm of the protectionists is well founded. If we consider iron, for
instance, only in connection with the masters of forges, it might be
feared that the competition of a country where iron was a gratuitous
gift of nature, would extinguish the furnaces of another country, where
ore and fuel were scarce.
But is this a complete view of the subject? Are there relations only
between iron and those who make it? Has it none with those who use it?
Is its definite and only destination to be produced? And if it is
useful, not on account of the labor which it causes, but on account of
the qualities which it possesses, and the numerous services for which
its hardness and malleability fit it, does it not follow that
foreigners cannot reduce its price, even so far as to prevent its
production among us, without doing us more good, under the last
statement of the case, than it injures us, under the first?
Please consider well that there are many things which foreigners, owing
to the natural advantages which surround them, hinder us from producing
directly, and in regard to which we are placed, in reality, in the
hypothetical position which we examined relative to iron. We produce at
home neither tea, coffee, gold nor silver. Does it follow that our
labor, as a whole, is thereby diminished? No; only to create the
equivalent of these things, to acquire them by way of exchange, we
detach from our general labor a smaller portion than we would require
to produce them ourselves. More remains to us to use for other things.
We are so much the richer and stronger. All that external rivalry can
do, even in cases where it absolutely keeps us from any certain form of
labor, is to encourage our labor, and increase our productive power. Is
that the road to supremacy, for foreigners?
If a mine of gold were to be discovered in France, it does not follow
that it would be for our interests to work it. It is even certain that
the enterprise ought to be neglected, if each ounce of gold absorbed
more of our labor than an ounce of gold bought in Mexico with cloth. In
this case, it would be better to keep on seeing our mines in our
manufactories. What is true of gold is true of iron.
The illusion comes from the fact that one thing is not seen. That is,
that foreign superiority prevents national labor, only under some
certain form, and makes it superfluous under this form, but by putting
at our disposal the very result of the labor thus annihilated. If men
lived in diving-bells, under the water, and had to provide themselves
with air by the use of pumps, there would be an immense source of labor.
To destroy this labor, leaving men in this condition, would be to do
them a terrible injury. But if labor ceases, because the necessity for
it has gone; because men are placed in another position, where air
reaches their lungs without an effort, then the loss of this labor is
not to be regretted, except in the eyes of those who appreciate in
labor, only the labor itself.
It is exactly this sort of labor which machines, commercial freedom, and
progress of all sorts, gradually annihilate; not useful labor, but labor
which has become superfluous, supernumerary, objectless, and without
result. On the other hand, protection restores it to activity; it
replaces us under the water, so as to give us an opportunity of pumping;
it forces us to ask for gold from the inaccessible national mine, rather
than from our national manufactories. All its effect is summed up in
this phrase--loss of power.
It must be understood that I speak here of general effects, and not of
the temporary disturbances occasioned by the transition from a bad to a
good system. A momentary disarrangement necessarily accompanies all
progress. This may be a reason for making the transition a gentle one,
but not for systematically interdicting all progress, and still less for
They represent industry to us as a conflict. This is not true; or is
true only when you confine yourself to considering each branch of
industry in its effects on some similar branch--in isolating both, in
the mind, from the rest of humanity. But there is something else; there
are its effects on consumption, and the general well-being.
This is the reason why it is not allowable to assimilate labor to war as
In war, the strongest overwhelms the weakest.
In labor, the strongest gives strength to the weakest. This radically
destroys the analogy.
Though the English are strong and skilled; possess immense invested
capital, and have at their disposal the two great powers of production,
iron and fire, all this is converted into the cheapness of the
product; and who gains by the cheapness of the product?--he who buys it.
It is not in their power to absolutely annihilate any portion of our
labor. All that they can do is to make it superfluous through some
result acquired--to give air at the same time that they suppress the
pump; to increase thus the force at our disposal, and, which is a
remarkable thing, to render their pretended supremacy more impossible,
as their superiority becomes more undeniable.
Thus, by a rigorous and consoling demonstration, we reach this
conclusion: That labor and violence, so opposed in their nature,
are, whatever socialists and protectionists may say, no less so in their
All we required, to do that, was to distinguish between annihilated
labor and economized labor.
Having less iron because one works less, or having more iron
although one works less, are things which are more than
different,--they are opposites. The protectionists confound them; we do
not. That is all.
Be convinced of one thing. If the English bring into play much activity,
labor, capital, intelligence, and natural force, it is not for the love
of us. It is to give themselves many comforts in exchange for their
products. They certainly desire to receive at least as much as they
give, and they make at home the payment for that which they buy
elsewhere. If then, they inundate us with their products, it is because
they expect to be inundated with ours. In this case, the best way to
have much for ourselves is to be free to choose between these two
methods of production: direct production or indirect production. All
the British Machiavelism cannot lead us to make a bad choice.
Let us then stop assimilating industrial competition with war; a false
assimilation, which is specious only when two rival branches of industry
are isolated, in order to judge of the effects of competition. As soon
as the effect produced on the general well-being is taken into
consideration, the analogy disappears.
In a battle, he who is killed is thoroughly killed, and the army is
weakened just that much. In manufactures, one manufactory succumbs only
so far as the total of national labor replaces what it produced, with
an excess. Imagine a state of affairs where for one man, stretched on
the plain, two spring up full of force and vigor. If there is a planet
where such things happen, it must be admitted that war is carried on
there under conditions so different from those which obtain here below,
that it does not even deserve that name.
Now, this is the distinguishing character of what they have so
inappropriately called an industrial war.
Let the Belgians and English reduce the price of their iron, if they
can, and keep on reducing it, until they bring it down to nothing. They
may thereby put out one of our furnaces--kill one of our soldiers; but I
defy them to hinder a thousand other industries, more profitable than
the disabled one, immediately, and, as a necessary consequence of this
very cheapness, resuscitating and developing themselves.
Let us decide that supremacy by labor is impossible and contradictory,
since all superiority which manifests itself among a people is converted
into cheapness, and results only in giving force to all others. Let us,
then, banish from political economy all these expressions borrowed from
the vocabulary of battles: to struggle with equal arms, to conquer, to
crush out, to stifle, to be beaten, invasion, tribute. What do these
words mean? Squeeze them, and nothing comes out of them. We are
mistaken; there come from them absurd errors and fatal prejudices. These
are the words which stop the blending of peoples, their peaceful,
universal, indissoluble alliance, and the progress of humanity.