Félix Pyat 1848
Source: Compte rendu du banquet Démocratique et socialiste des écoles de Paris. Bourdeaux, Imprimerie des ouvriers associés, 1848;
Translated: for Marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.
Amidst the enthusiasm that animates this gathering I can’t help but feel some sadness. A bitter thought, almost remorse, troubles me despite myself, poisons my joy in the same way that a drop of bile would poison our glasses. I find myself thinking that while we are sitting here, at this fraternal banquet, breaking bread and communing in a common spirit, I think with pain that there are men, brothers who are hungry and who will not eat today. (Movement) Yes, citizens, the tears of the ill and the blood of victims, this is the bile that now renders bitter all joy and all cups. This is the evil that troubles the present, which makes us sigh for a better republic, the true republic, the democratic and social republic, the only one that will finally realize the reign promised 20 centuries ago, the reign of God, the reign of daily bread for all humanity’s children. (Applause)
The republic means solidarity. (Movement) Republicans, we are all in solidarity with each other. And as long as one man lacks for bread we won’t have a republic. (That’s true! That’s true!) As long as the sovereign has the beggar’s rod and pouch as his mantle and scepter we won’t have the republic. (Bravos) As long as the necessities of some are the surplus of others, as long as the proletarian plants wheat and eats bran (Bravos), as long as the sons of the people are born for the poor house or prison, their daughters for prostitution or suicide, we won’t have the republic! (Applause) As long as man is unhappier than the brute, as long as we see what I saw when coming here, horses with hoods with sparkling knee boots and polished sabots and half-naked men sweeping the streets so that the horses not dirty their feet, we will be neither republicans, nor humans; we won’t have the republic! (Interruptions. Prolonged applause)
Son of the bourgeoisie, son of privilege, follow me into the house of the poor. It is night, it’s cold. Enter this sordid, filthy alley that offends sight and smell, all the senses at once. Climb that staircase, enter that humid and black cubbyhole, with its tiny, creviced garret that doesn’t let air enter, only the cold. Over there a little bit of coal smoking in the hearth, two little children in bed; the mother, after the day’s work washes their rags while they sleep. Poor pale woman, thin from fatigue and want, fighting to the death against poverty, stealing from her sleep and her life, and striking her dried out breast that can no longer nourish her children. (Movement)
Next door, in a mansard, a table and a lamp, a young girl working lets fall her needle, tears up a wretched letter and lights a coal furnace. (Renewed movement)
Elsewhere, at the hospital a man who is perhaps the father, a sick man, a number; there are so many that they don’t name them: at best they count them. A poor man, finally dying as he lived, for the profit of the rich, exploited by them even after death, for he belongs to them body and soul. He feeds them in peace, he defends them in war and he doesn’t even find repose in the grave, for science learns from him so as to cure the rich (profound sensation). No, we don’t have a republic!
We have a royalty less the name, an empire less the glory; a kind of republic out of Africa, with a policeman’s bonnet. (That’s true - Movement - Laughter) Sorry, I meant with a kepi. (Prolonged laughter), a mixed race head covering, neither military nor civil, a middle way between the policeman’s bonnet and the helmet, a bastard bonnet, just like the authorities, which have the drawbacks of monarchy without the advantages of liberty. We have the regime of force, the rule of chance, a chaos lacking in justice and order, where half of humanity eats the other; a world with neither faith nor law, full of vices and crimes, errors and misfortunes, a society selfish and rotten to the marrow, having the executioner as king and the golden calf as God. No, we don’t have a republic! (Applause)
For the republic means liberty, and he who doesn’t have this is a slave. It’s Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of pottage. (That’s true)
The republic means equality. And as the proverb says, everyone must live, an old, truly French proverb that truly contains the genius of our country, that in germ contains our entire revolution, for it denies privilege and affirms the right. He who dies of hunger is not the equal of he who dies of indigestion. (Movement)
Finally, the republic means fraternity. Love each other, they said to us at the Festival of the Constitution. (Movement) But how can we love those who kill us, since letting someone die also means killing them. (Yes, yes. Bravo!) The rich man is not the brother of the poor man who dies at his door. Or else this is the fraternity of Cain, and the voice of the people, the voice of God will one day ask: “What have you done to your brother?’ No, a thousand times no, we don’t have a republic! (Applause)
And we want it, in its entirety, without exclusion, without exception. This is why we want the right to live for all. Those who want to deny and repress that right and who call themselves honest and moderate have faith in force, in violence. They have made Paris a camp, France a barracks and the army a gendarmerie. (That’s true. Bravos) They imprison, they deport, they kill. And there they are again falling on the press, recommencing the old war of error against truth, in their madness mistaking the lighthouse for the reef, accusing barometers of causing storms because they announce them. (Yes, yes), not seeing that the light burns the bushel, that the storm comes from those who refuse the right and not those who call for it, for right is inalienable! (Yes, yes! Bravos) These blind men, not seeing that nothing is obtained through force, the republic no more than monarchy, that a principle isn’t founded through a contrary principle, liberty by a state of siege, equality by exile, fraternity by death (Very prolonged bravos) that order can’t be founded on cannon blows, but by institutions! (Very good! Bravos). We, on the contrary, extremists, Reds (Laughter), we have faith only in principle and right. We only want to found the republic on justice and satisfaction. We want to recognize and assure, forever and for all, the first of the rights of man, the right to life. (Yes, yes) And the right to life, and I said and proved this at another tribune, is the right to work! (Great movement. Applause)
And so, citizens, to the supreme right, to the right superior and prior to all the others; to the most sacred, the most legitimate, the most necessary of all rights, to the right proclaimed last so as to become the first: (Bravo, Bravo) To the president, the king, the master, the capital of the future: To Labor! (Prolonged applause)
(This speech, which produced the greatest of affects, was followed by an interruption during which Citizen Pyat was surrounded by a great number of people who shook his hand and congratulated him. The entire hall resounded with the cries of “Long live the right to work! Long Live Felix Pyat!)