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

misunderstanding it.

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

they do.

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.