The Psychology of Revolution

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Author: Gustave Le Bon

2. the Evolution of the Working-Classes and the Syndicalist Movement.

The most important democratic problem of the day will perhaps result from the recent development of the working-class engendered by the Syndicalist or Trades Union movement.

The aggregation of similar interests known as Syndicalism has rapidly assumed such enormous developments in all countries that it may be called world-wide. Certain corporations have budgets comparable to those of small States. Some German leagues have been cited as having saved over three millions sterling in subscriptions.

The extension of the labour movement in all countries shows that it is not, like Socialism, a dream of Utopian theorists, but the result of economic necessities. In its aim, its means of action, and its tendencies, Syndicalism presents no kinship with Socialism. Having sufficiently explained it in my Political Psychology, it will suffice here to recall in a few words the difference between the two doctrines.

Socialism would obtain possession of all industries, and have them managed by the State, which would distribute the products equally between the citizens. Syndicalism, on the other hand, would entirely eliminate the action of the State, and divide society into small professional groups which would be self-governing.

Although despised by the Syndicalists and violently attacked by them, the Socialists are trying to ignore the conflict, but it is rapidly becoming too obvious to be concealed. The political influence which the Socialists still possess will soon escape them.

If Syndicalism is everywhere increasing at the expense of Socialism, it is, I repeat, because this corporative movement, although a renewal of the past, synthetises certain needs born of the specialisation of modern industry.

We see its manifestations under a great variety of circumstances. In France its success has not as yet been as great as elsewhere. Having taken the revolutionary form already mentioned, it has fallen, at least for the time being, into the hands of the anarchists, who care as little for Syndicalism as for any sort of organisation, and are simply using the new doctrine in an attempt to destroy modern society. Socialists, Syndicalists, and anarchists, although directed by entirely different conceptions, are thus collaborating in the same eventual aim—the violent suppression of the ruling classes and the pillage of their wealth.

The Syndicalist doctrine does not in any way derive from the principles of Revolution. On many points it is entirely in contradiction with the Revolution. Syndicalism represents rather a return to certain forms of collective organisation similar to the guilds or corporations proscribed by the Revolution. It thus constitutes one of those federations which the Revolution condemned. It entirely rejects the State centralisation which the Revolution established.

Syndicalism cares nothing for the democratic principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The Syndicalists demand of their members an absolute discipline which eliminates all liberty.

Not being as yet strong enough to exercise mutual tyranny, the syndicates so far profess sentiments in respect of one another which might by a stretch be called fraternal. But as soon as they are sufficiently powerful, when their contrary interests will necessarily enter into conflict, as during the Syndicalist period of the old Italian republics—Florence and Siena, for example—the present fraternity will speedily be forgotten, and equality will be replaced by the despotism of the most powerful.

Such a future seems near at hand. The new power is increasing very rapidly, and finds the Governments powerless before it, able to defend themselves only by yielding to every demand—an odious policy, which may serve for the moment, but which heavily compromises the future.

It was, however, to this poor recourse that the English Government recently resorted in its struggle against the Miners’ Union, which threatened to suspend the industrial life of England. The Union demanded a minimum wage for its members, but they were not bound to furnish a minimum of work.

Although such a demand was inadmissible, the Government agreed to propose to Parliament a law to sanction such a measure. We may profitably read the weighty words pronounced by Mr. Balfour before the House of Commons:—

"The country has never in its so long and varied history had to face a danger of this nature and this importance.

"We are confronted with the strange and sinister spectacle of a mere organisation threatening to paralyse—and paralysing in a large measure—the commerce and manufactures of a community which lives by commerce and manufacture.

"The power possessed by the miners is in the present state of the law almost unlimited. Have we ever seen the like of it? Did ever feudal baron exert a comparable tyranny? Was there ever an American trust which served the rights which it holds from the law with such contempt of the general interest? The very degree of perfection to which we have brought our laws, our social organisation, the mutual relation between the various professions and industries, exposes us more than our predecessors in ruder ages to the grave peril which at present threatens society. . . . We are witnesses at the present moment of the first manifestation of the power of elements which, if we are not heedful, will submerge the whole of society. . . . The attitude of the Government in yielding to the injunction of the miners gives some appearance of reality to the victory of those who are pitting themselves against society."

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Chicago: Gustave Le Bon, "2. The Evolution of the Working-Classes and the Syndicalist Movement.," The Psychology of Revolution, trans. Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859 in The Psychology of Revolution (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831), Original Sources, accessed March 25, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LKPGC9MCHSEAEUM.

MLA: Bon, Gustave Le. "2. The Evolution of the Working-Classes and the Syndicalist Movement." The Psychology of Revolution, translted by Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859, in The Psychology of Revolution, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831, Original Sources. 25 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LKPGC9MCHSEAEUM.

Harvard: Bon, GL, '2. The Evolution of the Working-Classes and the Syndicalist Movement.' in The Psychology of Revolution, trans. . cited in 1831, The Psychology of Revolution, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 25 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LKPGC9MCHSEAEUM.