The Broken Mirror



The Broken Mirror[1]

Felix Pyat, who was a great stylist and remarkably learned, loved to tell the Hindu fable that I am going to relate.

Truth, who is a goddess, but who is also a woman, started feeling that staying in the depths of her well was getting a little tedious. Therefore, she decided to go back up to the surface and get back in touch with humans. Maybe they were better after so many centuries when their excesses and depravity had forced her to seek refuge underground? Besides, her curiosity was piqued… everything must have changed a lot? The fashions were obviously not important to her, seeing her traditional suit, but their hearts and minds, their customs and relationships? And what might they think of her after all this time for them to get used to her absence?

She took the risk… When she came over the edge, children greeted her by throwing stones; women heaped insults on her because of her garb, or lack thereof; the village watchman ran up to protest; the priest mumbled exorcisms, slammed the door in her face; the schoolmaster got scared and made all the kids face the wall when she showed up; the men at arms threw an old coat over her and brought her to the city. The judges found her guilty of public indecency and the people jeered her. She faced all sorts of misery and insult, saw lies victorious everywhere and sincerity gagged.

Then she went back to her hole. But before going back down, in anger at the thrashing she had got, she threw her mirror on the ground and broke it.

Her loyal followers patiently gathered up the pieces, then tried to put them together again, to rebuild the symbol. But they never managed to succeed; it is still missing one piece.

Since that time, nobody can boast of possessing the whole truth. Each of us has only a bigger or smaller piece of it, sometimes a few pieces, but disconnected…


Thus the Cri du Peuple of the past, serving one truth, had to become the Cri des Peuples of today by multiplying.

The world was grand in 1871, when in the midst of the tempest Jules Vallès launched what he called a “neighborhood firebrand”. Every nation considered its people special, very distinctive, above all devoted to national industries. They fraternized when the soldiers of the [National] Convention brought up new ideas; they fraternized at a distance in 1830 and 1848; but the insurrection of 1871 produced no echoes except in the still stammering Second International. Even after the Empire was overthrown, we bore the charge, in Europe’s eyes, of having declared war and remaining combative.   As witness, before the Investigative Commission on the causes of the movement, [Adolphe] Thiers’ statement calling it an “explosion of patriotism”.

Every people was full of nationalism.

Now, given that science has reduced space, the world is small. The air has been conquered, the globe is no longer enough for man’s ambitions as they start to dream of other planets that they will try to reach tomorrow. Although the three great races separated by skin color remain so because of climates, their inner subdivisions, despite the rivalries, conflicts and wars, are breaking down every day. Nations are tending to be no more than provinces. Tomorrow let Europe be threatened by the Yellow Peril or the Black Peril and you will see not an alliance but a total, absolute union.


That does it for the big picture. But in the heart of each of the provinces remains a portion of the native or annexed people, caged in obligation and submission, for whom, just like international solidarity is forbidden, so too is it prohibited to stay attached to their origins and traditions, all the more dear the farther they are separated so harshly. They are without a voice just like they are without rights. They are nothing but a piece broken off from the destroyed unity they belong to.

In 1871 the effort could be limited to only one nation. Today all the points of the globe are rising up in protest and calling for justice. The enslaved minorities, national or conquered, have to make a sound; they have to make their demands heard, to express their suffering and hopes.

The treaties of 1918-19 have resolved nothing. They have only shifted the injustice, increased the confusion and the pretexts for conflict. We will not refer to the mirror. We will never know what secret negotiations led to certain break-ups and trickery. But we can study the fractures, gather up the fragmentary truths and try to get those who have been frustrated cynically to know at least some relief in expressing their grievances.

The people cry out with chains around their ankles and chains around their wrists. The rumble is rising from deep in the fortresses, the prisons, from around the gallows and scaffolds. My poor old Cri du people, you would not be up to the task; there are too many! Here now is your descendent picking up the sack and the staff to travel the wide world and on the way, with the shards of the mirror, to collect the groans of the oppressed.


Next:  Fascism and Finale

[1] Le Cri des peuples, Issue no.1, May 1928.