Lamartine and Communism

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 24 December 1847


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 6, p. 404;
First published: in Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, December 26, 1847.
Keywords : Communism, France

Brussels, December 24. Once again the French papers carry a letter from M. de Lamartine. This time it is communism on which this poetic socialist at last gives his candid opinion having been challenged to do so by Cabet.[1] At the same time Lamartine promises to set forth his views in detail on this “important subject” in the near future. For the present he contents himself with a few brief, oracular utterances:

“My opinion of communism,” he says, “may be summarised in a feeling (!), namely the following: were God to entrust me with a society of savages to civilise them and make into well-mannered people, the first institution I should give them would be that of property.”

“The fact,” continues M. Lamartine, “that man appropriates the elements to himself is a law of nature and a precondition of life. Man appropriates the air by breathing, space by striding through it, the land by cultivating it, and even time, by perpetuating himself through his children; property is the organisation of the life principle in the universe; communism would be the death of labour and of the whole of humanity.”

“Your dream,” M. Lamartine finally consoles M. Cabet, “is too beautiful for this earth.”

M. Lamartine is thus an opponent of communism, and what is more not merely of a communist system; in fact, he enters the lists on behalf of the “perpetuity of private property”. For his “feeling” tells him three things: 1. that property civilises people, 2. that it is the organisation of the life principle in the world, and 3. that its opposite, communism, is too beautiful a dream for this bad world.

No doubt M. Lamartine “feels” a better world, in which the “life principle” is differently “organised”. In this bad world, however, it just so happens that “appropriation” is a precondition of life.

It is not necessary to analyse M. Lamartine’s confused feeling in order to resolve it into its contradictions. We wish only to make one single observation. M. Lamartine believes he has proved the perpetuity of bourgeois property by pointing out that property in general forms the transition from the state of savagery to that of civilisation, and by giving us to understand that the process of breathing and the making of children presuppose the right of property just as much as does social private property.

M. Lamartine sees no distinction between the epoch of transition from savagery to civilisation and our own epoch, any more than between the “appropriation” of air and the “appropriation” of the products of society; for both of these are “appropriations”, forsooth, just as both epochs are “epochs of transition"!

In his “detailed” polemic against communism M. Lamartine will no doubt find an opportunity to deduce “logically” from these general platitudes arising from his “feeling” a whole series of other, still more general platitudes. — Perhaps then we shall likewise find the opportunity to shed light upon his platitudes “in greater detail”. — For the present we shall content ourselves with passing on to our readers the “feelings” which a monarchist-Catholic newspaper opposes to those of M. Lamartine. The Union monarchique namely, in yesterday’s issue, speaks out against Lamartine’s feelings as follows:

“Here we see how these enlighteners of humanity leave it leaderless. The wretches! ... They have robbed the poor man of the God who comforted him;... they have taken Heaven from him;... they have left man alone with his want and his wretchedness. And then they come and say: ‘You wish to possess the earth — it is not yours. You wish to enjoy the good things of life — they belong to others. You wish to share in wealth — that is out of the question. Stay poor, stay naked, stay abandoned — die!"'

The Union monarchique comforts the proletarians with God. The Bien Public, M. Lamartine’s paper, comforts them with the “life principle”.

  1. Lamartine’s letter was published in a number of other papers besides Le Bien Public, in particular in La Presse, L'Union monarchique, and as a leaflet entitled Opinion du citoyen Lamartine sur le communisme. It was a reply to Etienne Cabet who through the newspaper Populaire requested Lamartine to give his opinion of Cabet’s communist views