Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jules Leroux, "What is the Republic?"



WHAT IS THE REPUBLIC?

CONCERNING MR. LAMARTINE’S CIRCULAR

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Unity.

TO THE MEMBERS OF THE 
PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT.

Holy and august Republic, keep your promises; produce Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Unity among us; make it so that there are no longer people who live in extreme opulence and those who die in extreme misery; destroy inequality, slavery, and hate, not in some of their effects, but in their deepest roots, or yours is a vain name!

Such is, gentleman-agents of the Republic, such is the ardent prayer that the people who suffer, feel, and know, utter each day.
That prayer was long uttered under Louis XVIII and under Charles X; but you were deaf, and did not hear. Stronger and still more resounding, it spewed in 1830 from the very guts of the popular Revolution of July; but you were deaf, and you did not hear! Seventeen years have passed, and in thousand on thousands of forms, from political assassination to popular riot, that prayer has rung out, menacing and sublime; but you were deaf, and did not hear! Finally, last February, it roared and broke again the scepter of tyranny, and every day since it echoes from the dawn in the hearts of those who suffer, feel, and know: are you still deaf, and do you not hear?
One among you, Mr. de Lamartine, minister of foreign affairs, just addressed a circular to the diplomatic agents of the Republic. That circular aims to initiate the foreign powers in the principles and tendencies who will direct from now on the foreign policy of the French government. Does Mr. de Lamartine hear the prayer of those who suffer, feel, and know?
The foreign policy of any nation rises from its domestic policy. Wishing then to make known to the foreign powers the principles and tendencies which will direct from now on the foreign politics of the French government, Mr. de Lamartine was forced to explain himself on this first, important question: What is the Republic? Does Mr. de Lamartine hear the prayer of those who suffer, feel, and know?
We will not follow Mr. de Lamartine in all the questions raised by his circular. We will only concern ourselves with this one, which is first and fundamental: What is the Republic?
Our fathers said, without hesitation: The Republic is the government of men; the Monarchy, the government of slaves. Honor and glory to the Republic, shame and contempt to the Monarchy. M. de Lamartine does not share that opinion of out fathers at all. The Monarchy and the Republic are, for him, facts that contrast, and that can live face to face by understanding and respecting each other.
Between the Monarchy and the Republic, there are no essential, fundamental differences in the eyes of Mr. de Lamartine. It is only a matter of form, and there is still time for something between them. One matures, and blossoms to the Republic by I know not what force. Some people are not yet mature, and patiently await for the hour of their maturity to sound; some people are mature, and break with anguish and suffering the royal form of government in order to put on that other form de government which the peoples use, the republican form.
Thus, the nations and their governments appear to Mr. de Lamartine as individuals and their garments appear to us. The child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, grows, discards them, and puts on the frock; then, growing more, abandons the frock, and puts on the clothes of a young man. So also the nation, growing, loses its royal form of government in order to put on the republican form of government.
In July 1830, Mr. de Lafayette said to those who suffer, feel, and know: “My friends, the best of Republics is a Monarchy surrounded by republican institutions;” and so it is, evidently, that in February 1848, M. de Lamartine has in his turn said to those who suffer, feel, and know: “My friends, the best of Monarchies is a Republic surrounded by monarchial institutions.”
Shame and misfortune, gentlemen. Don’t you see clearly that Mr. de Lamartine is mistaken, and does not hear the prayer of those who suffer, feel, and know? His mouth refuses to say with them:

Holy and august Republic, keep your promises; produce Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Unity among us; make it so that there are no longer people who live in extreme opulence and those who die in extreme misery; destroy inequality, slavery, and hate, not in some of their effects, but in their deepest roots, or yours is a vain name!

And his mind is busy tarnishing the light, denying the evidence.
He dares to say that, in 1848, there are no longer distinct, unequal classes; he dares say that liberty reigns and all have been freed; he dares say that equality before the law has leveled everything. But do you know longer remember, Minister of Foreign Affairs, these condemnations and convictions pronounced by the deposed power against those conscientious writers who, in their works, began with that incontestable fact of two distinct and unequal classes? Don’t you remember those proletarian riots when the people, dying of hunger, inscribed on their flags: Live working or die fighting! Don’t you remember those convictions for combination with which the tribunals have resounded for so long? Your labor camps, your prisons, your hospitals, your morgue, your thousands and thousands of charity offices, the scaffold prepared at Buzançais, your workshops, your factories, your life of ease and luxury, are they mute to your ears, and aren’t you loudly accused by the presence of an unfortunate and suffering nation which is not part of the nation into the midst of which an accident of birth has cast your? In 1848, as in 1792, there are two nations: the nation of laborers, for whom a government commission has been appointed and the nation of idlers; the nation of the poor, and that of the rich. Consider the four million indigent reported by the official statistics within the towns; think of the four million beggars who live in the country, and do not profane your lips with this official lie that there are no longer distinct and unequal classes today, that liberty has freed all, that equality before the law has leveled all, that fraternity has united all.
No, no, the political problem, the republican problem is not as simple as you make it here, Mr. de Lamartine. It is not a question of fraternity, but of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity all together. Hatred, slavery, and inequality are flagrant, and to deny them is to put yourself in the delicate situation making others ask: What then are your reasons?
In 1792, the nation was not one: two peoples existed on the same soil; in 1848, the nation is not one: two peoples existed on the same soil. In 1792, there were the priests, the nobles and the king on one side, and on the other the bourgeoisie, behind whom disappeared, like an appendage, the workers, the proletarians; in 1848, we have the bourgeoisie on one side, and on the other the proletarians, behind whom appear the beggars, the indigent, and those in whom the moral sense is more or less lacking. In 1792, the question posed between the priests, the nobles and the king on one side, and the bourgeoisie on the other, was a question of freedom, of liberation. Everything occurred on a purely political terrain. Would the king, nobles, and priests govern as masters, despots, sovereigns, or wasn’t the bourgeoisie, under the name of the third estate, able to govern itself, couldn’t it be something, according to the expression of Sieyès? In 1848, the question, raising itself above the bourgeois and the proletariat, arises between the rich and the poor, and will seek the elements of its solution in the veritable knowledge of the true nature of human beings. Before being rich or poor, bourgeois or proletarian, learned or ignorant, virtuous or criminal, the human being is a human being, a being triple and unified at once. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Unity, that is the whole question en 1848. And that question, posed in that way, is not limited to the single terrain of politics, it also embraces the spheres of political economy, morals and religion.
Nothing has changed, you say, in the basis of social life: three days have been able to do nothing in that regard, and after February 1848 was are as we were before. The poor remain poor, the workers remain workers, the rich are still rich, the indigent are indigent, the beggars still beggars, and the capitalist is still a capitalist. The king alone has disappeared, France has lost one of its children, that is all, and going to bed last night royalist, has risen this morning as a republican.
No, no, it is not at all thus, and it is because they think us very stupid that they tell us these things.
The Republic of 1848 which was just established in France has nothing in common, believe me, with that which was established in the same France in 1792, with the Republics which reign in the Americas, with those which flourished in Rome and ancient Greece. A new basis of human sociability has appeared, which strictly and pitilessly rejects all inequality of condition among people. This basis urgently demands the realization of what you pretend not to understand, of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity; of what you regard as three words pushed by the people, at random, without any idea of connection intimate link, as they emerged triumphant from their struggle against the Monarchy; words that our fathers also let escape from their dying lips, and that they have handed down to us.
Gentlemen, agents of the sovereign authority of the People, understand the present situation, the real situation well, and you will not let yourself be led astray by a false estimation of things which are revealed all at once to your sight the day after the popular victory. The Republic is not a hollow governmental form which can be applied to the ancient basis of sociability where slavery, inequality of ranks and fortunes, and hatred reign at pleasure; the Republic something old, something remodeled from the Greeks: it is a still imperceptible seed that the hand of God has planted within it, and that he entrusts to our thoughtful care; it is the government of a new society that will conjure up a new basis of human sociability. Misfortune then to those who lay a hand on this seed other than to shelter and preserve it from all influence deleterious; for the crime that they will commit is a crime against humanity, a crime against God. Do you render yourselves guilty of it, you who at this very moment only have power because its name has been loudly proclaimed by the those who always, at all times, announce and predict the coming of the saviors, the Christs—by the People.
And you, Lamartine, return to yourself, and abjure the dangerous heresy that your circular comes to produce in the world. The people, those who suffer, feel, and know, will not let themselves be taken in by your words. They know that this language: The best of Monarchies is a Republic surrounded with monarchical institutions, the language of the Girondins and not of the Mountain: you yourself have condemned it.
But what did I say, montagnard! The people, those who suffer, feel, and know, are no longer there. You could very well be Girondin, Lamartine; but the people have beyond the Mountain on the bloody ridge if which Robespierre and Saint-Just stood for a moment. They are at the highest peak of that mountain, the nearest to God, source of all truth, and there, disregarding all these deep divisions which separate us into rich and poor, into bourgeois and proletarians, into masters and slaves, they repeat their prayer:

Holy and august Republic, keep your promises; produce Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Unity among us; make it so that there are no longer people who live in extreme opulence and those who die in extreme misery; destroy inequality, slavery, and hate, not in some of their effects, but in their deepest roots, or yours is only a vain name!

JULES LEROUX (of Boussac)
Paris, March 9, 1848.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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