The Satisfied


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.


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