The Importance Of Saint-Simonism

The Importance Of Saint Simonism in The History Of Doctrines

The doctrine of the Saint-Simonians consists of a curious mixture of realism and Utopianism. Their socialism, which makes its appeal to the cultured classes rather than to the masses, is inspired, not by a knowledge of working-class life, but by close observation and remark­able intuition concerning the great economic currents of their time.

The dispersion of the school gave the leaders an opportunity of taking an active part in the economic administration of their own country, and we find them throwing themselves whole-heartedly into various schemes of a financial or industrial character. In 1863 the brothers Pereire founded a credit association which became the proto­type of the financial institutions of to-day. Enfantin took a part in the founding of the P.L.M. Railway, which involved an amalgamation of the Paris-Lyons, Lyons-Avignon, and Avignon-Marseilles lines. Enfantin was also the first to float a company for the purpose of making a canal across the isthmus of Suez. At the College de France Michel Chevalier defended the action of the State in undertaking certain works of a public character. It was he also who negotiated the treaty of 1860 with England, which was the means of inaugurating the era of commercial liberty for France. Other examples might be cited to show the important part which the Saint-Simonians played in nine­teenth-century economic history.

More especially did they realize the enormous place which banks and institutions of a similar nature were bound to have in modern industrial organization. And whatever views we may hold as to the rights of property, we are bound to recognize how these deposit banks have already become great reservoirs of capital from which credit is distributed in a thousand ways throughout the whole realm of industry. Some writers, all of them by no means of the socialist way of thinking, would reproach the banks, especially in France, with their lack of courage in regulating and stimulating industry, which, as the Saint-Simonians foresaw, is a legitimate part of their duty. The important part which they saw international financiers playing in the domestic affairs of almost every European nation during the Restoration period, coupled with their personal knowledge of bankers, helped the Saint-Simonians in anticipating the all-important role which credit was to play in modern industry.

Equally remarkable was the foresight they displayed in demanding a more rigorous control of production, and in emphasizing the need for some better method of adapting that production to meet the exigencies of demand than is possible under a competitive system. The State obviously has neither the ability nor the inclination to dis­charge such functions, but so great are the inconveniences of competition that manufacturers are forced to enter into agreements with one another in order to exercise some such control. This is nothing less than a partial application of the doctrine of Saint-Simon.

In addition to the considerable personal influence which they were able to exercise over economic development, we have to recognize that in their writings we have the beginnings both of the critical and of the constructive contribution made by socialists to nineteenth-century economics. Their doctrine is, as it were, little more than an index to later socialist literature.
In the first place one must be struck by the number of formulae to be met with in their work which have since become the commonplaces of socialism. "The exploitation of man by man" was a phrase that was exceedingly popular up to 1848. The term 'class war,' which has taken its place since the time of Marx, expresses the same idea. They spoke of "the organization of labour" even before Louis Blanc, and employed the term ' instrument of labour' as a synonym for land and movable capital long before it was so used by Marx. Although we have not considered it necessary to group them with the Associationists, they have been as assiduous as any in proclaiming the superior merits of producers' associations. Moreover, they anticipated the use which the socialists would make of the theory of rent. In a curious passage written long before the time of Henry George they refer to the possi­bility of applying the doctrines of Ricardo and Malthus to justify the devotion of the surplus produce of good land to the general needs of society, thus anticipating the theory of another prominent socialist thinker. Other ideas might be mentioned, though not of a specifically socialist character. Thus the theory of profit-sharing, as far as our knowledge goes, was first developed in an article in Le Producteur.

The more one examines the doctrines of the Saint-Simonians the more conscious does one become of the remarkable character of these anticipations and of the injustice of the oblivion which has since befallen them. Marx's friend Engels called attention to the "genial perspicacity of Saint-Simon, which enabled him to anticipate all the doctrines of subsequent socialists other than those of a specifically economic character." The specifically economic idea of which Engels speaks and which Saint-Simon, in his opinion, did wrong to neglect was the Marxian theory of surplus value. We are inclined to the opinion that it was more of a merit than a fault to place socialism on its real foundation, which must necessarily be a social one, rather than to found it upon an erroneous theory of value.

But new formulae are not their only contribution. Due note was taken of that fundamental opposition which exists between economists and socialists and which has caused all the conflicts and misunder­standings that disfigure the history of the century and resulted in their speaking an entirely different language. We shall try to define the nature of the conflict, in order, if possible, to help the reader over the difficulties that arise just where the bifurcation of economic thought takes place.

No attempt was made either by Adam Smith, Ricardo, or J. B. Say to make clear the distinction between the science of political economy and the fact of social organization. Property, as we have already had occasion to remark, was a social fact that was accepted by them without the slightest demur. The methods of dividing property and of inheriting it, the causes that determined its rise and the consequences that resulted from its existence, were questions that remained outside the scope of their discussions. By division or distribution of wealth they meant simply the distribution of the annual revenue between the various factors of production. Their interest centres round problems concerning the rate of interest or the rate of wages or the amount of rent. Their theory of distribution is simply a theory concerning the price of services. No attention was paid to individuals, the social product being supposed to be divided between impersonal factors— land, capital, and labour—according to certain necessary laws. For convenience of discussion the impersonal occasionally becomes per­sonal, as when they speak of proprietors, capitalists, and workers, but that is not allowed to affect the general trend of the argument.
For the Saint-Simonians, on the other hand, and for socialists in general the problem of distribution consists especially in knowing how property is distributed. The question is to determine why some people have property while others have none; why the instruments of produc­tion, land, and capital should be so unevenly distributed, and why the revenues resulting from this distribution should be unequal. For a consideration of the abstract factors of production the socialists are anxious to substitute the study of actual living individuals or social classes and the legal ties which bind them together. These differing conceptions of distribution have given rise to two different problems, the one primarily economic, the other social, and sufficient care has not always been taken to distinguish between these two currents, which have managed to coexist, much to the confusion of social thinking in the nineteenth century.

Another essential difference between their respective points of view consists of the different manner in which economists and socialists conceive of the opposition that exists between the general interest and the interests of individuals.
Classical writers envisaged it as a conflict between the interests oi consumers—i.e., everybody—and the interests of producers, which are more or less the interests of a particular class.

The Saint-Simonians, on the other hand—and in this matter their distinction has met with the hearty approval of every socialist—think it better to regard it as between workers on the one hand and idlers on the other, or between workers and capitalists, to adopt the cramped formula of a later period. The worker's is the general interest; the particular interest is that of the idler who lives at the former's expense. 'We have on several occasions," writes Enfantin, pointed out some of the errors in the classification adopted by most present-day economists. The antithesis between producer and con­sumer pives a very inadequate idea of the magnitude of the gap that lies between the various members of society, and a better differentia­tion would be that which would treat them as workers and idlers.

The difference in the point of view naturally results in an entirely different conception of social organization. Economists think that society ought to be organized from the point of view of the consumer and that the general interest is fully realized when the consumer is satisfied. Socialists, on the contrary, believe that society should be organized from the standpoint of the worker, and that the general interest is only fully achieved when the workers draw their full share of the social product, which is as great as it possibly can be.

There is one last element of difference which is very important.

Classical writers made an attempt to reduce the apparent disorder of individual action within the compass of a few scientific laws. By the time the task was completed so struck were they with the profound har­mony which they thought they had discovered that they renounced all attempts at amelioration. They were so satisfied with the demonstra­tion which they had given of the way in which a spontaneous social force, such as competition, for example, tended to limit individual egoism and to complete the triumph of the general interest that they never thought of inquiring whether the action of these forces might not be rendered a little less harmful or whether the mechanism might not with advantage be lubricated and made to run somewhat more smoothly.

The Saint-Simonians, on the other hand—and in this matter it is necessary to couple with theirs the name of Sismondi—are convinced of the slowness, the awkwardness, and the cruelty with which spon­taneous economic forces often go to work. Consequently they are con­cerned with the possibility of substituting a more conscious, carefully thought-out effort on the part of society. Instead of a spontaneous reconciliation of conflicting interests they suggest an artificial recon­ciliation, which they strive with all their might to realize. Hence the innumerable attempts to set up a new mechanism which might take the place of the spontaneous mechanism, and the childish efforts to co-ordinate or combine economic forces. These attempts, most of them of necessity unsuccessful, furnished the adversaries of socialism with their best weapons of attack. All of them, however, did not prove quite fruitless, and some of them were destined to exercise a notable influence upon social development.

It is in the Saint-Simonian doctrine that we find these contrasts between political economy and socialism definitely marked and in full detail. It matters little to us to-day that the school was ridiculed or that the eccentricities of Enfantin destroyed his propaganda work just when Fourier was pursuing his campaign with great success. Ideas are the things that stand out in a history of doctrines. To us, at any rate, Saint-Simonism appears as the first and most eloquent as well as the most penetrating expression of the sentiments and ideals that inspire nineteenth-century socialism. This accounts for the influence it exerted on some of the most active minds of that period. We need name only Lamennais and Sainte-Beuve, for instance, to show its attraction for thinkers of the greatest diversity, even when they were disinclined to adhere wholly to its 'doctrine.'