The Wounded

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Ceremony-2:81890-Le Monde Illustré

The Wounded[1]

A dark, narrow road, monotonously sad like almost all of them in this melancholic land. A tall, wide door topped by an iron cross is built into the wall: it is the hospital. Even though the ancient building looks gloomy and the façade appears forbidding, the impression is completely different when the heavy doors turn on their hinges.

The ceiling is a grill to make it easier for the caretakers to watch.   Except that beyond this grill is a huge vista of light and space, trees and grass, a ranging park that is not kept up, which means that it is very beautiful. It does not look very much like the courtyards of our hospitals in Paris where chestnut trees shrivel up in the courtyards, huddled together under their hoods of gray planks, and anemic buds vegetate under their white cotton nightcaps. This park here is full of people right now. On the huge stone benches the sick—or rather the convalescents—welcome their visitors.

The gentle sunbeams cast the rose of recovery in their cheeks. But to the left, near a door on the ground floor, a crowd is huddled together, convulsed by waves of weeping. They do not see the joyful sky or the flourishing nature. Their eyes, like their thoughts, are desperately focused on that opening that they take turns going through in groups of three or four, no more.

They are the families of the victims. A mass of women of all ages; children looking dazed and instinctively serious; the elderly who lean against the walls to relieve their rusty knees. Not a word of anger but a humble and almost fatalistic resignation. Tears roll, heavy and slow, down their wrinkled faces, but their staring eyes do not turn away from that doorway whose access is so desired. He is or they are in there!

Through the open windows, almost at ground level, I am amazed that the relatives cannot recognize their men, make a sign to him, a tender gesture, giving some precious although distant comfort. I will find out why soon enough…

Monsieur Cenas, one of the young doctors from town, who has treated the victims with so much sill and urgency, and the director of the hospital come to meet me: the first to welcome me and the second to guide me. A little behind them stood an old nun. On her naïvely honest face I can read her mind like an open book. Her passionate sympathy has brought her here, but how should she welcome this terrible “red” who was the editor of Le Cri du Peuple, who will remain socialist to the end, how should she welcome her passion?

I go up to her and hold out my hand? “My dear mother, I thank you with all my heart for your devotion to the poor and unfortunate.”

Her eyes fill with tears (mine, too) and she leads me gently to the room where the wounded lie.

#

Once through the door, I stop, choked by a cry of horror!

Men! These are men—these monsters, this slag, these nameless beings! They have no noses, no eyes, no ears! Nothing but a black scab leaking puss and streaked with blood.

They are lined up in two not very long but seemingly endless rows, their Harlequin masks made darker still by the white sheets and the white curtains. This is the first room; three more are full.

They look like tortured negroes with their hair frizzled by the firedamp on their charred leather skin and their huge, swollen lips oozing purple. Their cottony stumps shake feebly like the limbs of a crushed animal. You would think that they had just been snatched from a commander’s whip, from a master’s cruelty or from the tortures of hell!

They endure them!

Under the veil of gauze that protects the gnawed away faces of the most injured from the annoying flies, sudden twitches belie their unspeakable suffering. Others shake from head to toe with tetanic contractions—the pain twists their faces into hideous grimaces like Japanese scarecrows.

One of them is laughing silently, a stranger whom no one has identified. Death is playing with him… With the tip of its invisible finger Death is tickling his chin like happy mothers tease a child to make it smile—the child whom they raise here so that when he is around twenty years old the scourge can make of him what it has made of this one! And he twists and turns while the poison he breathed in eats away at his guts and he slowly decays…

It is an incomparable horror! I go to make the rounds of the beds, stopping at each one, talking with the relatives who are here and giving them what the generosity of the readers of Le Gaulois have given me because the semi-corpses are no longer able to see or hear.

But I am wrong! In this darksome pillory two tiny lights emerge, two luminous dots, alive, intelligent and staring at me. The tumid mouth cracks open and voice—what a voice! Oh mercy! As feeble as the breath and formed out of muffled sighs—says dimly, “Thank you.”

They have all their wits about them. They hear, they see, they savor the pain in its most subtle refinements. And even those who are about to die have their souls galvanized by hope…

I do the best I can to give them some.

These beings, so strong less than a week ago, as fragile today as newborn babies, listen avidly to the words of comfort that I whisper in their ears.

Tears of hope filter through the slits of their eyes; their flesh shivers and warms up under the pressure of my hand. I gently squeeze their wrists since their poor fists are wrapped in oiled cotton.

And some of them make me feel terribly sorrowful because while their entire soul vibrates with the desire to live, the gangrene is slowly, relentlessly gnawing away at their bodies.

Sometimes I lean over the graves. One man—the board says forty years old, although they all look the same age with the same face—tall, strong, hardy, seems to drink in my words. His lips are less hindered than the others. He stammers, pleading and energetic at the same time, “I’m going to die, aren’t I? I don’t want to die. I have seven children. The Good Lord wouldn’t want me to die… it would be unfair. He wouldn’t want that, would he?”

And I answer him, respectful of this faith nonetheless, with the supreme consolation for a dying man, “No, my friend, he wouldn’t want that.”

Right next to him is a young man eighteen years old, of all the least burned on the outside, but the most burned of all, perhaps, on the inside, sobbing and weeping. Standing next to him, with a grave and constant motion of her hand to ward off the tormenting flies stands his mother, a tall, old craftswoman, haughty and stiff under her white hair. “Oh, mama, I’m going to die. What will become of all you in the house when I’m not around? There’s eight more, my God, who are going to die because I’m going to die.”

“Don’t cry, my boy,” she replies, as stoic as a biblical matriarch, “you’re not going to get better if you keep worrying yourself like that.”

I look at her. She is not crying, no, but she is clenching her jaws, her cheeks are trembling and her eyes have dark rings around them from the effort of her will not to break down in despair.

A pregnant woman sits at the head of the bed, staring at the floor with her arms hanging down. There are six children around her. The oldest girl, who must be ten, is holding the youngest in her arms, who is still almost in swaddling clothes. They have not moved, the poor children, as a flash of madness passes over the face of their mother, still not moving…

In the three other rooms I face the same spectacle, the same ghastly wounds, the same panicked families, the same stinking, unbreathable atmosphere of phenol and putrefaction.

There are forty wounded.

“How many of them did you save?” I asked the doctor.

“Half… maybe!”

#

Now I go to the night shelter run by Léon Portier, the distinguished and eloquent attorney, the pride of the Saint Etienne bar.

In spite of his efforts the Charity Hospitality House in Saint Etienne, which has just started, is hardly rich. It is a poor house that the poor find asylum in.

There are five wounded men set up as best as possible at the last minute on the bunks of the needy.   I will not describe them to you; I cannot find the words. One has his thumb free, saved by a miracle. He is the only one that can take the donation. A glimmer of joy blooms on his hideous face, making the scabs of coal and blood that are covering it crack in places. He wants to thank me and those on behalf of whom I give: “You’re very kind and they’re very good.” They are you, readers of Le Gaulois, and it is true, to relieve these miseries, to comfort these unfortunates.

I thank you more than I can say! According to my calculation, I think that we can give one louis [20 F] per child. But I am also counting as children the elderly parents whose breadwinner is lying in the mine; the poor older folks who are so frail that their son or grandson took the responsibility and became in turn the real head of the family. I am right, aren’t I?

#

P.S. I will give you daily updates about my rounds of assistance because I am going in person to the house of every victim.

Fraternity with the poor, when you are amidst their suffering, is not made of money alone.

 

[1] Le Gaulois, August 3 1890.

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Descent Into Hell

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Le Grisou1

 

Descent Into Hell[1]

It is seven o’clock and the hotel awakener beats a reverberating drum roll on my door. It sounds like a warning.

“Madame, you have to get up! It’s time!”

It is time, in fact, because at exactly nine o’clock I am supposed to be over at Villeboeuf to descend into the mine. I will be the first Parisienne, the fourth woman since the mine opened—a good while ago now—to take the journey. Two English women and one from Saint Etienne went before me, but when it was calm; whereas right now the earth is being cruel, treacherous, unappeased… in spite of its one hundred and fifty murders!

I am thinking about all this while getting dressed as best I can. Not at all my best because they already told me that before stepping into the “cage” I would have to put on miner’s clothes. And, well, my nerves are really on edge! Not because of the danger, but because of the fear of the dark that always kept me from visiting the Catacombs and stopped me in my tracks at the entrance to the lava tunnels of Herculaneum.

My ancestors’ blood runs strong in me—it loves sun and air; it is brave when the light laughs in the leaves; it is much less grandiose when the night snuffs off the moon, its big lamp, and blows out the stars, its lanterns. And insofar as there is darkness down in the burial, in the horrible suffocation that the depression of the atmosphere and the smell of mold cause, I am really scared—I only have courage in the free air full of free light.

But when you have my name and you are defending the poor, you do not have the right to be a coward, even out of nervousness.

I hurry into my duster like Decius[2] throwing himself into the gulf. I clap my hat on my head with the same heroic gesture as Jason donning his helmet before boarding the Argo. I am setting off a little like him in search of the golden fleece. If the readers of Le Gaulois find my story interesting, they will give more[3]… Onward, then!

#

Here we are at Villeboeuf. The troops have left the site. Only a pile of stretchers in the courtyard recalls the dreadful ceremony of the day before. But the disaster is here in the slightest details.

The ground is littered with wisps of straw and flakes of cotton, some filthy, others all oily.   There are bits of human skin and lumps of clotted blood stuck together with field grass. The snowy cotton is the puss from the wounds and the fat they put on them that rolled into big, glistening balls. Moreover, everything is sullied with the ashen mud. The phenol [or carbolic acid] spread out in waves with its mix of the coal from the mine and the carbon from the miner.

I enter a small room to wait for the management. A small room cluttered with buckets and bars of Marseille soap, towels and rags. My future costume sits on a chair: blue canvas pants and smock, a gray and white man’s shirt made of Vichy cotton, a small, purplish headband and a low felt hat with the brim folded up like the “capello” of the Calabrian bandits. On my feet I wear a pair of old, flat shoes thanks to the lady who runs the hotel. My “Parisian” ankle boots would have left me high and dry on the rugged, rocky ground in the tunnels.

In no time at all the transformation is complete. Now I just look like a little scamp, a bit chubby but tough enough to make a serious rat-a-tat-tat there on my left side under the man’s shirt.

The courtyard is full of women with eyes ringed red from weeping. They shake my hand without knowing me and without saying a word. Those who have an almost religious fear of the mine—this mine that makes them orphans and widows, that takes from them their brothers, sons and husbands—(and in this region they have never gone down into it) have a superhuman idea of my act. They imagine, almost, that I am going down to conquer the Dragon, to kill the evil spirit of the firedamp[4] that is eating their men… their mute tenderness is tinged with worry.

We wait behind the “screening”[5] for the cage to come up. In the shadows there are still four open coffins on trestles. They contain their cargo: three poor men not yet identified, without any relatives in the convoy, awaiting the anonymity of the tomb. The other was in such a sorry state that they almost had to bring him up in the cage with shovels. His brother could say, “That’s my brother!” only because the big toe on his right foot was missing, having been cut off six months before in a previous accident—and he hugged and kissed this rotting mess that stuck to his sleeves.

It is in this same cage that we are going to descend. Here it is. We get in: Monsieur Flamin, one of the young and most distinguished engineers of the Company, who very much wanted to be my guide, along with one of his colleagues and me. In the lower compartment crouch Dr. Alvin, the very eminent doctor of Saint-Etienne, and Michel Rondet, the Secretary General of the Federation of Miners of France.

“Goodbye!” the women say, making a big sign of the cross in tribute to the dead.

And the cage dives down. Or rather drops with dizzying speed.

#

Black and black and black. Barely penetrated by the flickering light from the lamps that we are all holding.

The frightful din is deafening. An icy rain drenches our shoulders. The descent is ghastly. It last six eternal minutes—one minute for every hundred meters.

A violent jolt. Two other little glimmers of light move in front of us in the darkness. We have arrived.

The timbering of this tunnel, called English timbering, is very beautiful. Imagine the trunks of three-foot tall trees locked together like the walls of certain negro huts. Supported by these two walls and joining together like the roof of a chalet, the ceiling is made in the same way. Because of the construction you can walk standing up in the middle of the tunnel, but on the sides you have to hunch over a little so as not to bang your head.

A stop: it is the point to check the lamps. An old miner sitting here examines them meticulously one by one. On the left lies a huge, battered door, four fingers thick. The explosion had torn it off its hinges and thrown it here like a broken toy.

The atmosphere grows heavy. The ceiling, squared off from here on in, gets lower and lower.

“Watch your heads!” the engineer calls out. And a minute later, “Watch your legs!”

The ground, in fact, is littered with all kinds of debris: pieces of wood, beams, tools. And I feel it turn softer. With all this they roll on the rails and you have to squeeze into the crevices every minute to let the wagons pass by, loaded, or so it seems in this murky darkness, with diamonds.

A slip: it is me who stumbles, thinking I was stepping on solid ground but I am up to my ankles in water. It is the mirage of the mine, an optical illusion caused by the swamp. We have to go back up the slope because the mud is up to our knees.

Men, however, are slaving away down there, their legs stiff and numb, wet up to their waists, saving up infirmities for the day when the mine will want no more of them and they will have to die of hunger!

Their faces, black like the wall, blends in with it—and it seems like these walls, which have seen so many ghastly things, have eyes, very gentle eyes, full of resignation and despair…

#

We leave the “below” and climb to the upper tunnel.

“This is going to be hard, Madame,” Monsieur Laporte warns gently, the experienced engineer who met us at the landing and really wanted to go along with our little convoy.

I know very well that it will be hard! But seeing that I “wanted” to come down, I “want” to see everything.

A cliff of coal shot which we have to climb up by crawling on our stomachs because the ceiling is so low to the ground. A mole’s path where you lose your breath, sight and hearing because so much fine dust enters your lungs, eyes and ears… It is horribly agonizing. Sweat runs down your forehead and your clothes stick to your skin like they are soaked in boiling water. And all of a sudden the temperature becomes intense, unbearable: 40° minimum[6].

“Get up here… Sit down!”

If only I could sit down! But under my hands the coal is warm, as if it just finished being burned up.

The men work bare-chested, undaunted, with their slow and broad movements, a nobility of attitude that is almost Islamic.

None of them, when they recognize me as a woman, give a welcome smile, radiating all white from their black face, but they let off working for a minute before toiling away again directly.

“How much do these men earn?”
“Five to six francs a day.”

Five to six francs a day! For which they accept this life underground, this awful labor, this ever-present danger and atrocious death! But the mutilations are worse!

“This is the place where we found the most corpses,” one of the engineers tells me.

I can smell it! The noxious air full of putrefaction empoisons the atmosphere and mingles with a pungent odor of roasted hair, horn and leather.

“It’s the horses,” they answer me. They only pulled them out yesterday.

And in this heat, in this stench, in this darkness, all of a sudden a song strikes up, sweet and shrill… It is the only animal that accompanies man into these final depths, the one and only companion of the miner: the cricket of the mines. To the first call, a second one responds, then a third. Now they give us a real concert. They are so tiny, so puny that the firedamp that slaughters man spares the insect.

After that deep silence that follows disasters, the chatter of the crickets is the first sound that the wounded hear. Their little comrades in the walls ask them if they are still among the living and if they are suffering much! As help arrives, the sunless cicadas sing to them of the sun and the joy of surviving, promising them health and safety…

#

I am exhausted. Now Rondet takes my hand and pulls me along behind him. Being so tall, with his terrible aquiline nose, his eyes like burning embers and his huge black beard, he looks like one of those Italian chimney sweep bosses who buy small boys from the poor families in Piedmont and drag them far from their homes.

We go back the way we came and arrive at the entrance tunnel. The air is freezing. We lean back against the wall while the two miners with big copper hats and leather cassocks who are in charge of the cage call it down by banging.

They put us up above; we get ourselves squeezed in; and the ascension begins.

This time the rain becomes a torrent. A relentless, violent swill pours on my shoulders. Oh, daylight! Daylight! The beautiful, delightful light! The dazzling, warming star!

We arrive, at last!

I spent three hours in the mine… three hours! The good women have been waiting for me. I say “hello” to them, hurrying past, rushing (that is the word) into the improvised restroom. A quick glance in the mirror and a cry of horror. It’s me, this little negro, this “ramona”—little chimney-sweep girl—this abominable little fellow stunned at how nasty he looks…

Fifteen minutes later, changed back into a woman, I am carrying the lamp that I had used and that they were kind enough to offer me. I will keep it with me always!

Before getting back into the carriage, I turn around and take one last look. I just spent three of the worst hours of my life—and there are men whose entire lives are spent in these worst hours! So they can earn a hundred sous, six francs, and they all have between three and seven children. When they are dead, their widows get twelve sous a day, each child five sous…

Well, the thunderbolt lies dormant up on high?

#

P.S. I received from Monsieur Hervé, the editor of Le Soleil, the following telegram with 500 F:

Madame, I have just read your appeal in Le Gaulois on behalf of the victims of the disaster at Saint Etienne. I see that the resources put at your disposal have almost run dry. I am sending you by telegraph my modest contribution. I know that in your hands they will be distributed without any political involvement. Please accept, Madame, the homage of my respect.

Monsieur Hervé can be sure that it will be done as he desires, which is why I distribute the donations personally, without any administrative interference or any organization, receiving information from whoever wants to give it, but basing myself solely on one criteria: a man’s suffering and not his opinions.

 

[1] Le Gaulois, August 2 1890.

[2] Trajan Decius, Roman Emperor from 249 to 251, who died in battle in the swamps of Abrittus.

[3] By way of donations.

[4] Extremely explosive flammable gas found in coal mines.

[5] Where the coal is sorted.

[6] 105° F.

 

6-Martyr of the Mines

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Séverine-by Renoir-1885

 

Séverine was first and foremost a journalist. And she loved it. She was thirty-three years old now and beautiful, all dressed up for the social revolution armed with a pen that was sharper than a sword and ready to be put to use on behalf of all combats for tolerance, peace and justice. And she had already sacrificed everything for it. For, journalism was more than just a job or a business to her, it was a mission. The power of the press is that no one, no matter how highly placed they may think they are, is untouchable. The reporter is there to give information, reveal the news and tell the truth. Moreover, the press has the responsibility of being the voice of the voiceless, the weak and oppressed, the condemned and exploited, who otherwise would not be heard.

Séverine was always swimming against the current and kicking against the pricks—she refused to conform. She wrote and thought as a free woman. What she wrote was often provocative, sometimes shocking because she said not just what she thought, but also what she saw. And what she saw was not the same as most of her male counterparts. Being an intruder into that world of men that was journalism and politics, she often found herself the only woman tolerated at certain gatherings. The men might be courteous to her, but they certainly could not resist the cutting word or nasty remark that could make or break careers and her vitriol of anger and insubordination was fuel for their fire. But she thrived.

Since most places were still off limits to women, like the debates in the Chamber of Deputies, electoral reunions, etc. she had to sneak in or pretend not to be a journalist and then stand with other people, mix with the lay people as it were. This along with her woman’s point of view gave a special flavor to her reporting. But even this was not enough for her.

Although being a journalist for Séverine meant mixing with the crowd, everywhere, in the streets and factories and courtrooms, in their sweat and blood and distress, to be a consummate journalist it was still necessary for her to go farther, to break as many barriers as possible. The Miners offered her an early opportunity.

Grand industry, big business, with its capitalist dynasties tried to regulate the lives of workers and their families in every place and in every way possible, in and out of work, from birth to death. Bosses were slave drivers ready to defend the despotism of profit. Workers were defenseless in a capitalist system that was made even more aggressive and oppressive by the economic crisis. Poverty wages, arbitrary firings and excessive hours were normal currency. In the mines the misery was aggravated by the frequent disasters that injured or killed the miners, leaving their families without resources.

The bowels of the earth begat the energy that made the industrial revolution possible, tirelessly producing the substance of progress and hence the profits of the modern social and economic system. But there was a price—it was the miners who paid it. The owners of the mines were fully aware of the occupational hazards as well as the danger of revolt by the workers, so they instituted appropriate measures to stifle any trouble. They had spies and the workers had to accept them. Just like they had to accept lower wages when coal was selling for less or sanctions if they were late, absent or acted up against the bosses. The threat of being fired for any or no reason at all constantly loomed over the miners who could barely afford to live on the wages they received for their work so they could not risk losing their job. Sometimes, however, the line was crossed.

In the spring of 1886 the miners of Decazeville in southern France went on strike. In Le Cri du Peuple Séverine launched a call for donations to support the striking miners with more than just words because they needed real help to feed their families while they were being deprived of their salaries. Duc-Quercy was also writing scathing articles in her paper and he went to jail for it, perhaps because he was targeting Léon Say, the Chairman of the Decazeville Mining and Foundry Company and a typical representative of the hated capitalist system. In June the strike came to an end with some concessions made to the miners, but by then other workers throughout the region, glass workers, iron workers and fellow coal miners, had joined in. By the fall the strike had moved on to Vierzon in the center of France and Séverine continued her campaign. Her calls did not go unheeded. Donations were given to the miners and people rallied around her to fight the organized repression by the government at the behest of the companies. It was a never-ending battle.

Four years later in the summer of 1890 an explosion in the mine of Villeboeuf at Saint Etienne in east central France killed 113 men and wounded 40 others. Just like she had in Le Cri she opened a call for donations to the support the affected families, but this time she wanted to go down to Saint Etienne and write a serious of articles on the conditions of life and work of the miners. Even more than this, she got it in mind to descend into the mine where the explosion occurred. The Company made it difficult for her to get authorization, but her ardor and stubbornness won out.

Three other women had gone down into a mine before her, but without any risk. She was the first woman to go down into a mine after an explosion when the combustible gas was still in the air ready to explode again, which it did, twice, three days later, killing seventeen more men. But she was proud to be a pioneer. In Le Gaulois she simply told what she saw in all sincerity, but at the same time denounced the daily dangers that these crumbling coalmines presented to the workers. The next day she visited the wounded in the hospital and afterwards lay sick in bed for two days. She was turned into a heroine. But it was a bittersweet accomplishment for her since she was fully aware that she earned more money with one article than a miner earned in a month. Nevertheless, her sensational exploit and articles had the effect she was hoping for. People, even the rich, found her graphic descriptions exotic and picturesque. Donations came pouring in.

She spent almost a month in Saint Etienne with the miners, distributing the charity to the widows and victims, writing about their lives, their toil, their desperate, violent struggle—“Poverty kills more people than the machine gun ever will”—appealing to all people to place humanity above party politics. She was a militant of living humanism. However, despite some minor improvements and the trivial fines taxed upon the companies, she continued to find the same suffering and distress. It was a cause she fought for her entire life and earned her the nickname “The Little Mother of the Miners.”

 

The Satisfied

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Hermann Paul-La Danse Macabre-1919-L'Argent

The Satisfied[1]

I have spoken about the poor, a lot; about their ever increasing number; about their distress mounting at every chime of the clock; about the rumble of weeping that still seems a long way off to hardened ears, but is sweeping in like a whirlwind; about the tide of tears that long ago passed the low level mark and is rising and rising like a tidal wave.

I have said that the great historical invasions from Asia and Africa pouring into Europe, just like the legions of rats and the swarms of locust, that the slave and serf revolts preceding the terror with torch in hand, followed by the devastation with scythe in hand, razing the ground, like the Helots, the Bagaudae or the Jacques[2], that the Revolution whose shabby dress they show us without giving us its soul—I have said that all this will look like and will be child’s play after the Hunger Rebellion!

This is not a threat. Threats are useless, prove nothing and serve no purpose. This is the bleak observation of a social state whose only possible remedy is for the bourgeoisie, after a hundred years of pleasure, to agree to abdicate, imitating those from whom it had taken it before, and when the time comes to have the same vigor as its lords had on the night of August 4[3].

Will they consent?   It is very unlikely. In spite of the heights they have reached, they keep their original blemish, the stamp of mediocrity of the intermediate castes—ignorant of the manners that acted as virtue, once in a while, among the nobles, and incapable of the instinct that leaps from the heart of simple people.

They snatched up the goods of the nobility, but could not acquire any of its daring, elegance or impartiality. They are just as unfit at dressing well as they are at dying well or at ruining themselves gracefully. They are hostile to every new art and every fine fiction, only the banality of success is acceptable to them. They are crushing under their black heels the fleur-de-lis of France and the red poppies of Freedom!

For a whole half century they have let us die for them, let a beggar’s son die so that a banker’s son, far from the fighting, could keep his mistress perfumed and pampered. Thus the bourgeoisie was unconsciously preparing its decline—in this country where courage makes leaders, after having made kings! When they felt completely despised, they agreed to be subjected to common law, but fifty years ago they evaded the blood tribute—and the legend of “prudence” was established.

It is not that there are no brave men among them and heaven forbid that I take the majority to represent all! If in the course of civil wars there have been no heroes in its ranks—the idea alone makes heroes and not the interest—there have at least been determined men who defend their situation risking their lives.

In June ’48 especially, against that troubling riot that did not come from politics but from famine: mother of what we will see tomorrow. In December ’51 also a few brave boys in top hats and frock coats were proud to kill for the pretty eyes of Marianne[4] who had mowed down the workers and then the workers saw them get butchered in turn, hands in their pocket, looking smug.

In March ’71, as long as they believed that it was not serious, the bourgeoisie stayed put. But on the night of the 23rd, after the shootout in Place Vendôme, all the rich neighborhoods echoed with the sound of panicky galloping. Before every door, five or six carriages were waiting, soon rolling, loaded with baggage, carrying away the valuables… and the men. The 24th, in the morning, at the homes of those who should have been defending against the gunfire like their fathers in ’48, there was nobody but women, children, servants, the elderly and the invalid!

It is true that the others came back—behind the army of Versailles!—after a two-month vacation, more relentless than the soldiers (after a ten-months campaign) in the work of repression!

#

Ah no! You know, it has nothing to excite that queen of yesterday who spent 300,000 francs for her last grand ball although in bread and meat vouchers and in back-rent this huge amount could have relieved a lot of misery, assuaged a lot of anger and dried a lot of tears.

Now the winter has come with its train of suffering, all the surplus of torture that adds to the miseries of the poor. Do you think that the old spirits of the Valmy[5] victors , with holes in their shoes and without lunchboxes, who saved the Republic, cannot be better honored than by giving their descendants (who got nothing from their effort), in memory of the ancestral heroism, should get a few days of warm soup, a wool-wrapped patriotic song and a pair of shoes?

But let’s go and ask the bourgeoisie about this inspiration! It cannot have any: it hates the plebes. Toward them it feels all the resentment of Harpagon[6] toward his heirs but abominably worse because they will inherit while its still living. They worry it, bother it, they are the guests waiting who will take the chairs and silverware while its feeling so hungry, while it prefers, in any case, to die of indigestion and throw the wine in the Seine and the food in the sewers rather than give them even a whiff!

But for a good man it will be a good man!

Its present socialism is made from its fear, as well as from its love of the army. The one will make it patient enough (or so the present generation of wealthy hope) for it to get out while the going’s good. The other is its security, its support, its guard. They want it strong “against the enemy”, they say with a wink toward the Rhine. But their eyes turn away, look down, come back to the interior: against those wanting to share…

Except that since our masters are stingy they do not even know how to make Praetorians, those elite Roman bodyguards. The people in uniform are not much better treated back in their barracks than the others back in their workshops. While weaponry is important, the individual well-being of the soldier is an illusion. He can die of typhoid fever in the dirty barracks, drinking water the city council would not give to a dog. He goes to die on foreign expeditions, tortured and decapitated, for the grand glory of such or such politician—without even being sure that his mother will grieve or that his beloved will not be informed of a false death!

Caesar loved the throng of weapons but Caesar was generous, Caesar worried about the health and morale of his men and wanted them, after risking their lives, to enjoy their lives…

#

There remains God, who, it seems, is the enemy! He was used for a long time to divert the attention of the multitudes: whoever looked at Notre Dame turned their backs on the Bank.

Today the method seems old and tired. And when we learn that the government allocated 20,000 francs for the removal of the cross from the Panthéon (which isn’t bothering anyone!) the least devout wonder whether this 20,000 francs would not have been better spent on relief for the poor.

No one was the wiser.

But what, then, is left for this ruling class if it has no pity or heroism or faith?

What does it love?

Our bourgeoisie, in general, love Money… And it is strange to see how fiercely its selfishness and cruelty is provoked when it believes, when it feels its goods are targeted—or if the poor, tired of picking the crumbs out of the dust and off the soles of its shoes, stretch out their thin hands toward the coveted bread.

Listen instead:

Here in Le Figaro is the interview with Alphonse de Rothschild by Jules Huret. I do not want to dwell on this since after 48 hours the interested party has retracted some points. Still, it contains some statements about an extremely questionable philanthropy:

“The workers are very satisfied with their lot. They do not complain at all… If the share is not fair, if the workers are not paid enough, they have the right to strike. Let them use it! Isn’t it natural that the one who provides the capital be better remunerated and have more pleasure than the crude, savage worker who gives nothing to the work but the clever use of his arms?”

After the great financier, we have the fat bourgeois, the subscriber to Le Temps, who calmly explains that Bonsans, the worker who died of starvation in Corbeil, had received in 15 days from the local relief committee, for him and his family, 6 kilos of bread and 500 grams of pot-au-feu, beef stew. Dr. Vigne’s medical certificate said “Death by extreme need” which is very different, you will agree, from “Death by hunger.” The Temps subscriber hesitated for a long time to make the correction. He opened his hand, full of truths, only because Bonsans, stuffed with all these benefits from his native town, had showed, by dying on the territory, his lack of tact and gratitude.

#

But these men are only snobs who do not care. There are harsher people out there. Witness this letter I received from a gentleman whom I will not name, since I know a few touchy, edgy people in his region of Mans.

After a few personal niceties, and therefore without interest, and based on this: that I defend “the rabble”, my kind correspondence got straight to the point.

“You support the workers, that gang who want money only to get drunk. How many of them won’t go drink it all up in the nightclubs? The same with your strikes. The strikers are really interesting people! Calvignac[7], among others, a dirty bum! When you want to be mayor, you have to have the means to be one or give it up. They’re all scoundrels and bandits!

“You say they have one, three or six children. And why do they do it? Always for the same reason, because they’re drunk, they go home, go to bed and…” (here is phrase forbidden to transcribe). “Too bad for them. They shouldn’t do it! If they want to, let them suffer the consequences.

“Ah! If I could, do you know what I would do about it? An iron hand throughout France; suppress the freedom of the press over and over again; in case of strikes send in the army that would surround the country; and no more unions!

“As for all those who raise their voice in protest or organize meetings and keep the good workers from working—send in the firing squad and shoot them immediately without trial, that’s what they deserve/

“Remember this well: we’re heading for disaster and you’re the one pushing us there!’

#

I am not pushing, good citizen of Mans—I feel it coming like Cassandra[8] wandering in Troy. Except that after reading your letter, the revolutionary spirits to come, that were messing up my respect for others, appear to me, I don’t know why, under a different light… says the shepherdess to the shepherd that you are, kind capitalist!

And as a reward for this gift of unwitting propaganda to change my feelings like this, to make the sheep grow fangs… no, absolutely not, I won’t give out your bourgeois address… You are a too perfect example of your race—I’ll hang on to it!

 

[1] Included in En Marche, 1896.

[2] Spartan slaves, Roman peasants, French serfs, all who rose up against their masters.

[3] In 1789 when feudalism was abolished and the privileges abandoned.

[4] Symbol of Republican France.

[5] The first major victory of the Revolutionary War in 1792.

[6] The title character in Molière’s The Miser.

[7] Jean-Baptiste Calvignac (1854-1934), son of a miner became mayor of Carmaux in 1892. He was fired by the mining company that ran the town and it touched off a huge miners’ strike.

[8] The prophetess in Greek legend who was cursed to never be believed.

Farewell

Standard

Henri-Edmond Cross-L'errant-1896

Farewell[1]

This is not the last time that I will talk to you, my dear friends in the workshops and factories, my working class comrades. Nor is this the last time that I will talk about you. But this is the last time that I will talk in Le Cri du Peuple and that my name will appear at its head.

Tomorrow I will be gone.

I am not deserting. The soldier who stops in the middle of the battle because he has been vanquished is not abandoning his fellow fighters. And if someone criticizes him for staying in the middle of the road while the others are moving on, he has the right to respond by showing them his wounds and telling of the weakness in his depleted veins. He has done his duty—and I also have done mine.

It has been five years now since I have been on the go and over the last three years especially I have spent every day defending the cause to which I am devoted and to which I would like to stay devoted until the day I die.

I have thrown 400,000 francs into Le Cri du Peuple. Personally I am going out a little poorer than when I came in. I do not like to talk about these things, but contrary to the custom today, my humble glory is precisely that I have given everything and received nothing.

But, yes, I got paid: a handful of insults and basketfuls of vile slander. If they came only from adversaries, I would not complain. When you are with the poor, you have to expect all kinds of insults and injuries and courageously take your share—and your sides! But sometimes they came from those fighting next to me and my heart is still bleeding…

#

I said what socialism has been for me from a “business” point of view. I was expecting no better from the other points of view.

Being a woman was a sure guarantee that I had no personal ambition. I had none for others either; I never wanted the people I loved to be “something”.

My goal was not wealth or influence. I dreamed of something even more beautiful and worked at a task even more arduous. I wanted—expecting that my weakness would defuse the animosities and make it easier to give up their bitterness and to wipe out their pride—I wanted to give power and cohesion to socialism by reconciling the different schools whose divisions, all those personalities, were the only reason that the enemy triumphed.

I hoped (and I was cruelly punished for it) that in spite of and outside of the party leaders the battalions would merge and the great army of the poor would close ranks again. I dreamed of fraternity, but the leaders whose interests I damaged gave me a rude awakening.

I am not making accusations. I speak of the past with deep sadness, but without a hint of bitterness and only to explain why I welcome this retirement, which circumstances have forced upon me, without rebelling in my sorrowful fatigue. And then because there is something greater than me at stake in this plague of hatred that is killing socialism.

#

I am being blunt, but this article is a kind of testament and has the right to say and show everything.

Look at where we were eight years ago and where we are today. The fasces[2] are undone and lie in pieces on the ground; they only have to be stepped on to be broken. Of course, there are a few big branches left, but do any of them alone offer the resistance of the fasces as a whole? No, and you know it.

Moreover, those who stand or fight against unity are guilty. And this in itself is a comfort to me in leaving Le Cri du Peuple. My disappearance will also take with it some people’s envy.   If my departure can in any little way secure some harmony, I will not regret it.

As long as the leaders of socialism do not sense the danger of these discords that are infesting the whole party little by little like gangrene, as long as they do not abdicate their resentments like the nobles once abdicated their privileges on the night of August 4[3], as long as they put themselves above their ideas, their personal interests above the common interest, their “me” above the “we”—the social state will stay the same and the poor will remain without hope… and without food!

They say that those who are about to die see the future clearly. Those who are about to leave maybe see the present from a little higher up and a little more distinctly. Well then, watch out! Socialism has never been in such danger!

For, besides their hostility, the leaders are now mixed up in politics. They no longer debate about the economic interest of workers, but about the electoral interests of candidates. In their hands socialism is no longer a goal, it is a tool.

They are for or against someone according to the profit they can get out of attacking or defending him. And in this political shell game they forget that those who have everything at stake are waiting downstairs. If they win, so much the better for themselves! If they lose, too bad for the others!

#

Le Cri du Peuple did not want to get mixed up in party politics—it stayed at the door with the “vile multitude”, which was its sole preoccupation, concerned with its needs, its sufferings, its demands and its pains.

In this conflict, which it had no use for, it did not choose to support Boulanger or the Parliament[4]—it simply remained socialist, worrying more about strikes than elections and much busier with the question of wages than the question of the Cabinet.

Neither Rue Cadet nor Rue de Sèze—only the working suburbs, humiliated, defeated, dying of hunger!

That is what it will remain.

Those who will come after me were comrades of Vallès during the Commune. I know them through him. He loved them like childhood friends and like neighbors who lived through tragedy together. Of course, he did not share all their ideas—no more than I do—but he respected them… and how many people would he respect today?

That is why I am glad that as my strength wanes they will be the ones to take my place in the fight.

#

They asked me to stay on the bandwagon, but I refused. I thanked them with all my heart for thinking of keeping me with them, but I am beginning to believe that I am too libertarian to ever write for a socialist newspaper. I love the independence of an adversary as much as my own. I do not think my neighbor’s mind should be molded out of mine.

We are like that in this family. Vallès cried out for freedom “without borders” and during the Commune he was the only one to protest against the suppression of Le Figaro and Le Gaulois. So, I got this bad education and I stick to it.

Now, those who are coming here are a disciplined party. I would only throw a note of discord in what they want to be a perfect whole, like my little flowers sometimes look mischievous around the solemn wreaths of the immortals up there at the grave of old Blanqui[5].

What I am going to do right now is to play hooky from the Revolution. I will go from right to left following life’s ups and downs, always defending the ideas that are dear to me, but without any responsibility other than that which I have signed my name to.

At present I am writing nothing that can make the headlines of Le Cri du Peuple—it will not change in the future.

#

And now, farewell, dear house that was mine.

I dreamed of making a good home for socialism, of seeing Guesde and Brousse, Vaillant and Kroptkin[6] toast glasses at the same table. Instead of this I had only temporary guests who swallowed the lusty mouthful, drank the last glass of wine, and then left shaking their fists and grumbling insults—some even threw rocks at the window from outside!

I had so many of these thankless guests that now it is time for me to go, in spite of the efforts of those who have been faithful allies for the last four months and put their youth, devotion and self-sacrifice at the service of a lost cause.

What does it matter! The house is still solid. It was only missing “an advantage” and supplies. Those who are coming have all that and into the bargain they will throw their firm fist to make the bad guys come to their senses. Good luck, successors!

A last look back, a final embrace of my true friends—and farewell!

My things are packed in a red handkerchief. When I want you to know where I am, I will break a branch on the road and lay it down…my friends will watch me go.

[1] Le Cri du Peuple, August 26 1888 (in Pages Rouges, 1893).

[2] Roman symbol of power and authority—of the people and Liberty in France— consisting of wooden rods tied together in a bundle.

[3] In 1789 the Constituent Assembly officially abolished the old feudal system.

[4] See 9-General Boulanger.

[5] Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881), revolutionary socialist founder of Blanquism.

[6] Jules Guesde (1845-1922), Marxist; Paul Brousse (1844-1912), Possibilist; Edouard Vaillant (1840-1915), Blanquist and Centrist; Peter Kroptkin (1842-1921), Anarcho-communist.