Words of a Rebel : Chapter 6 : To the Young
(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "...the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "ANARCHISM, the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government - harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being." (From : "Anarchism," by Peter Kropotkin, from the Encyclop....)
• "Which side will you take? For the law and against justice, or for justice and against the law?" (From : "An Appeal to the Young," by Peter Kropotkin, 1880.)
IT is to the young that I wish to speak now. Let the old-I mean of course the old in heart and spirit-put these pages aside without tiring themselves pointlessly by reading something which will tell them nothing.
I assume you are about eighteen or twenty; that you are finishing your apprenticeship or your studies; that you are about to enter into life. I imagine you have a mind detached from the superstitions people have tried to inculcate in you; you are in no fear of the Devil and you do not listen to the rantings of priests and parsons. Furthermore I am sure you are not one of those popinjays, the sad products of a society in decline, who parade in the streets with their Mexican trousers and their monkey faces and who already, at their age, are dominated by the appetite for pleasures at any price. I assume, on the contrary, that your heart is in the right place, and it is because of this that I am speaking to you.
An urgent question, I know, lies before you.
Many times you have asked yourself, "What shall I become?" In fact, when you are young you understand that, after having studied a trade or a science for several years-at the expense of society, let it be noted-you have not done so in order to make yourself an instrument of exploitation. You would have to be very depraved and vicious never to have dreamed of one day applying your intelligence, your capacities and your knowledge to help in the liberation of those who still swarm in poverty and ignorance.
You are one of those who dreamed in this way, are you not? Very well, let us see what you might do to turn your dream into a reality.
I do not know into what condition you were born. Perhaps, favored by fortune, you have made scientific studies; you intend to become a doctor, a lawyer, a man of letters or science; a wide field of action opens up before you, and you are entering into life with broad knowledge and proven aptitudes. Or you are an honest artisan; your scientific knowledge is bounded by the little you have learned at school, but you have had the advantage of knowing at first hand the life of harsh labor which the worker must lead in our days.
For the sake of argument, I am assuming that you have received a scientific education. Let us suppose you are about to become a doctor.
Tomorrow, a man in a worker's blouse will call you to visit a sick person. He will lead you into one of those alleys where neighbors can almost shake hands over the heads of the passersby; you will climb in fetid air and by the shivering light of a lantern up two, three, four or five flights of stairs covered in slippery filth, and in a dark, cold room you will find the invalid, Iying on a straw pallet and covered in dirty rags. Pale, anemic children, shivering under their tatters, look at you through great, wide-open eyes. The husband has worked all his life twelve or thirteen hours a day on any jobs he could get; now he has been out of work for three months. Unemployment is not unusual in his trade; every year it happens periodically; but normally, when the man was idle, the woman would take casual work-washing your shirts, perhaps, and earning a dollar or so a day; but now she has been bedridden for two months, destitution rears its hideous face before the family.
If you show an honest look and a good heart, and speak frankly, the family will tell you a good many things. They will tell you that the woman on the other side of the partition, the woman with the heartbreaking cough, earns her wretched living by ironing; that on the floor below all the children have fever, that the laundress on the ground floor will not see the spring, and that in the next door house things are even worse.
What would you prescribe for all these sicknesses? Good food, a change of air, less exhausting work? You would very much like to say that, but you dare not, and you hurry broken-heartedly out of the house with a curse on your lips.
Next day you are still thinking about those inhabitants of the slums, when your colleague tells you that a footman came to fetch him in a coach. It was for one of the inhabitants of a rich mansion, a woman, exhausted by sleepless nights, who gives all her life to her boudoir, to paying visits, to balls and to quarrels with her boorish husband. Your colleague has prescribed for her a less frivolous way of life, a less rich diet, walks in the open air, calm of mind and some exercises at home which might partly make up for the lack of productive work! One woman is dying because, all her life, she has never eaten or rested enough; the other is wilting because all her life she has never known what work is.
If you have one of those apathetic natures that can adapt itself to anything and in the face of the most revolting facts can console itself with a sigh and a glass of beer, you will harden yourself to these contrasts, and, given your nature, you will have only one idea, which is to make yourself a niche in the ranks of the pleasure-seekers so that you will never find yourself a place among the poor.
But if you are a real man, if each feeling is translated within you into an act of will, if the beast within you has not killed the intelligent being, one day you will go back to your house, saying: "No, it is all unjust! It cannot continue like this! It is not a question of curing sicknesses; they must be prevented. A little bit of well being and intellectual development would be enough to wipe from our lists half the sick people and their sicknesses. To hell with drugs! Fresh air, proper feeding, less brutalizing work: that is where we must start. Without these things, the whole occupation of a doctor is no more than a trickery and a deception."
That day you will begin to understand what socialism means. You will want to know more about it, and if altruism is more to you than a word void of meaning, if you apply to the study of the social question the severe inductive standards of the naturalist, you will end up in our ranks, and like us you will work for the social revolution.
But perhaps you will say: "To the Devil with practice! Let us devote ourselves, like the astronomer, the physicist, and the chemist, to pure science! That will always bear its fruits, even if it is only for later generations." But before you do that, let us determine what you will be seeking in science. Will it be simply the enjoyment-which is certainly immense-that you will gain from the study of the mysteries of nature and the exercise of your intellectual faculties? If that is so, let me ask you how the scholar who cultivates science to pass his life agreeably differs from the drunkard who also seeks in life no more than immediate enjoyment and finds it in wine? It is true that the scholar makes a better choice of the source of his pleasures, since they are more intense and more durable, but that is all. Both of them, the drunkard and the scholar, have the same egotistical aim, personal enjoyment
But of course you will tell me you are not seeking such an egotistical life. In working for science, you have every intent of working for humanity, and that idea will guide you in the choice of your research.
What a beautiful illusion! And who among us, giving himself for the first time to science, has not cherished it for a moment?
But if you are really thinking of helping humanity, if that is what you aspire to in your studies, you will find yourself facing a formidable objection, for, in so far as you have any sense of justice, you will immediately observe that in present-day society, science is only a kind of luxury that makes life more agreeable to a few, and remains absolutely inaccessible to almost the whole of humanity.
For example, it is more than a century since science established strong cosmological notions, but what increase has there been in the number of people who hold such notions or who have acquired a spirit of truly scientific criticism? Hardly a few thousands, lost in the midst of hundreds of millions still sharing prejudices and superstitions worthy of barbarians and destined in consequence to serve for ever as the playthings of religious impostors.
Or take a look at what science has done to elaborate the rational foundations of physical and moral hygiene. It tells you how we must live to preserve our bodily health, how we can maintain in good condition our human collectivities; it shows the way to intellectual and moral happiness. But does not all the immense work carried out in these directions remain as dead words in our books? And why is that? Because science nowadays is carried on for a handful of privileged people, because the social inequality that divides wage-earners from the owners of capital turns all our teachings about the conditions of a rational life into a mockery for nine-tenths of humanity.
I could cite you many more examples, but I will be brief: just come out of Faust's study, whose dust-blackened window panes hardly allow the daylight to reach the books, and look around you; at every step you yourself will find proofs to support my contention.
It is no longer a question at this moment of accumulating scientific truths and discoveries. It is more important to spread the truths already gained by science, to make them enter into human life, to turn them into a common domain. This must be done in such a way that the whole of humanity may become capable of assimilating and applying them, so that science will cease to be a luxury and will become the foundation for the life of all. Justice demands that it happen in this way.
I would add that the interests of science itself also impose this solution. Science makes real progress only when a new truth enters a situation that is ready to accept it. The theory of the mechanical origin of heat, stated in the last century in almost the same terms as Hirn and Clausius(11) enunciate it today, remained for eighty years buried in academic memoirs until our knowledge of physics was sufficiently expanded to create a milieu capable of accepting it. Three generations had to pass by until the ideas of Erasmus Darwin on the variation of species were welcomed from the mouth of his grandson and accepted, not without pressure from public opinion, by the scholarly academicians. For the scholar, like the poet or the artist, is always the product of the society in which he lives and teaches.
The more deeply you look into these ideas, the more you will realize that before anything else is done we must modify the state of affairs which today condemns the scholar to overflow with scientific truths while almost the whole of humanity remains what it was five or ten centuries ago, in the condition of virtual slaves, mere machines incapable of adapting themselves to established truths. And the day you accept that idea, which is at once broadly humanitarian and profoundly scientific, you will lose all your taste for pure science.
You will devote yourself to seeking ways to bring about that transformation, and if you do not abandon the impartiality that has guided you in your scientific investigations, you will inevitably adopt the cause of socialism; you will put an end to sophistry and find your place among us; tired of working to create enjoyment for that small group which already has so much of it, you will apply your knowledge and devotion to the immediate service of the oppressed.
And you can be sure that then, when you have fulfilled your sense of duty and feel a true harmony between your sentiments and your acts, you will discover within yourself forces whose existence you had never even suspected. And one day-which with all due respect to your professors will not be long in coming-when the modifications you have worked for become evident, then, drawing new strengths from collective research and from the powerful cooperation of the masses of workers who will put themselves at its service, science will take on an impetus in comparison with which the slow progress of today will seem like the simple experiments of schoolboys.
Then you will be able to take joy in science, since that joy will be available to all humanity.
If you have finished your studies in law and are preparing yourself for the bar, it is likely that you too have illusions about your future activity-granted that you are one of those who know the meaning of altruism. Perhaps you think like this: "To consecrate one's life without truce or surrender to bringing about the triumph of a law that is the expression of supreme justice; what vocation could be finer?" And you enter life full of confidence in yourself and in the vocation you have chosen.
Very well, let us open at a venture the chronicles of the judiciary, and see what life has to tell you.
Here is a rich landowner; he is asking for the expulsion of a tenant farmer who is not paying the rent agreed on. From the legal viewpoint, there is no question; if the farmer does not pay, he must go. But when we analyze the facts, this is what we learn. The landlord has always dissipated his rents on high living, the farmer has always worked hard. The landowner has done nothing to improve his property, yet its value has tripled in fifteen years, thanks to the surplus value given the soil by laying down a railway, making new local roads, draining marshes, clearing bushland; while the farmer, who has largely contributed to raising the value of the land-is ruined; having fallen into the hands of speculators and burdened himself with debt, he can no longer pay his rent. The law, always on the side of property, makes a technical decision in favor of the landlord. But what would you do, if legal fictions have not yet killed in you the sense of justice? Would you demand that the farmer be thrown out on the road-which is what the law says-or would you demand that the landlord return to the farmer all the share of surplus value that is due to his labor, which is what equity would dictate? On what side would you stand? For the law, but against justice? Or for justice, which would make you against the law?
And when workers go on strike against their employers without giving the required fortnight's notice, on what side would you be found? On the side of the law, which means on the side of the employer who, profiting from a time of crisis, made scandalous profits (as you will see from reading about recent trials), or on the side of the workers who at the same time were getting a wage of two and a half francs and watching their wives and children wasting away? Would you defend the fiction which affirms the "freedom of agreement"? Or would you uphold equity, according to which a contract concluded between a man who has dined well and one who sells his work in order to eat, between the strong and the weak, is not a contract at all?
Here is another case. One day in Paris, a man is prowling around. Suddenly he seizes a steak and runs. He is caught and questioned, and it turns out that he is an unemployed worker and that he and his family have had nothing to eat for four days. People beg the butcher to let him go, but the butcher wants to taste the triumph of "justice," he prosecutes, and the man is condemned to six months in prison. Such is the will of the blind goddess Themis.12 Doesn't your conscience rebel against the law and against society when it sees such verdicts given from day to day?
Or, to give another example, would you demand the application of the law against that man, ill-treated and scoffed from childhood, growing up without hearing a word of sympathy, who in the end kills his neighbor to take five francs from him? Would you demand that he be guillotined or-worse, that he be shut up for twenty years in a prison when you know that he is sick rather than criminal, and that in any case society as a whole must bear the responsibility for his crime?
Would you demand that the weavers who in a moment of exasperation set fire to their factory be sent to prison? That the man who has shot at a crowned tyrant be sent to prison? That the military should fire on the insurgent populace when it plants the flag of the future on the barricades? No, a thousand times no!
If you apply your reason instead of repeating what you have been taught, if you analyze and remove the law from that fog of fictions in which it has been veiled to conceal its origins, which lie in the will of the strong, and also to mask its substance, which has always been the consecration of all the opressions bequeathed to humanity by its bloody history-you will acquire a supreme contempt for that law. You will understand that to remain the servant of the written law is to find yourself each day in opposition to the law of conscience, with which you will find yourself trying to accommodate; and as the struggle cannot continue, either you will stifle your conscience and become a mere rascal, or you will break with tradition and come to work among us for the abolition of all injustices, economic, political and social. But that will mean that you are a socialist, that you have become a revolutionary.
And what about you, my young engineer, who have dreamed of bettering the lot of the workers through applying science to industry? What sad disillusion and vexation awaits you! You give the youthful energy of your intelligence to elaborating a railway project which, by clambering along the edges of precipices and penetrating the hearts of granite mountain giants, will bring together two lands divided by nature. But once you have reached the site of this work, you will see whole battalions of workers decimated by exhaustion and sickness in the building of a single tunnel, you will see thousands of others going home with a few dollars and the unmistakable signs of consumption, you will see human corpses -the victims of a vicious avarice-marking off every meter you have pushed you line forward, and once the railway is completed you will see it becoming a highway for the cannon of invaders.
Perhaps you have devoted your youth to a discovery that will simplify production and, after many efforts and many sleepless nights, you have finally completed and confirmed this precious discovery. You set out applying it, and the result exceeds all your hopes. Ten thousand, twenty thousand workers are thrown out on the streets. Those who remain, mostly children, are reduced to the condition of machines. Three, four, perhaps ten employers will make fortunes and celebrate with brimming glasses of champagne! Is this what you have dreamed about?
Finally you make a study of recent industrial advances and you find that the dressmaker has gained nothing, absolutely nothing, through the discovery of the sewing machine; that the worker on the Gothard dies of ankolystosis in spite of diamond drills;13 that the mason and the laborer are unemployed as before despite the introduction of Giffard lifts. If you discuss social problems with the independence of mind which has guided you in your technical problems, you will arrive inevitably at the conclusion that, under the regime of private property and the wages system, each new discovery, even when it augments slightly the worker's well being, also makes his servitude all the heavier, his work all the more brutalizing, unemployment more frequent and crises sharper, and that he who already possesses all the luxuries is the only one who will seriously benefit.
What will you do then, once you have reached that conclusion? Perhaps you will begin to silence your conscience with sophistries; then, one fine day, you will say goodbye to your honest dreams of youth and set out to gain for yourself the right to luxuries, and then you will find your way into the camp of the exploiters. Or perhaps, if you have a good heart, you will say to yourself: "No, this is not the time to make discoveries! Let us work first to transform the mode of production; when individual property is abolished then each new industrial progress will be made for the benefit of all humanity; and the mass of workers, who today are mere machines, will become living beings and will apply to industry and intuition sustained by study and informed by manual skill. Technical progress will take on in the next fifty years an impetus we dare not dream of today."
And what can one say to the schoolteacher-not to the one who sees his profession as a tedious trade-but to the other who, surrounded by a happy band of kids, feels at ease among their animated looks, their happy smiles, and seeks to awaken in their little heads the humanitarian idea he cherished when he was young?
Often, I see that you are sad and knit your brows. Today, your favorite student, who indeed is not so good in Latin but is good-natured nonetheless, told with enthusiasm the tale of William Tell. His eyes shining, he seemed to wish to kill every tyrant on the spot, as he recited with fire in his voice these passionate lines of Schiller:
Before the slave as he breaks his chains,
before the free man, do not tremble!
But when he went home, his mother, his father and his uncle reprimanded him severely for his lack of respect for the parson and the policeman. They lectured him by the hour on "prudence, respect for authority, submission," and so he put aside his Schiller to read "The Art of Making Your Way in the World."
And yesterday you learned how badly some of your best students had turned out: one does nothing but dream of military glory, and another collaborates with his employer in embezzling the wretched pay of the workers. And you, having put so much hope in these young people, now reflect on the sad contradiction that exists between real life and the idea.
You are still reflecting on it, but I foresee that in two years, having experienced disillusion after disillusion, you will abandon your favorite authors, and you will end up saying that Tell may have been an impeccable father, but he was also a bit of a fool; that poetry is an excellent thing for reading by the fireside, particularly when one has spent a whole day teaching the rules of compound interest, but that-after all-poets always soar in the clouds and their verses have nothing to do either with life or with the next visit of the school inspector.
Alternatively, your youthful dreams develop into the firm convictions of your mature years. You would like to see a broad humanitarian education for all, in the school and outside it, and seeing that this is impossible in present conditions, you set about attacking the very foundations of bourgeois society. Then, suspended by the minister, you will quit schooling and join us in showing adults who are less educated than you, what is important in knowledge, what humanity should be, what it could be. You will come to work with the socialists in the complete transformation of present-day society and its redirection towards equality, solidarity and freedom.
And now for you, young artist, whether you are a sculptor, a painter, a poet or a musician! Are you not aware that the sacred fire which inspired so many of your predecessors is lacking today among you and your kind? That art is banal? That mediocrity reigns?
And could it be any different? The joy of having rediscovered the antique world, of having turned back to the forces of nature, that inspired the masterpieces of the Renaissance, no longer exists in contemporary art: the revolutionary idea has not yet inspired it, and in its absence artists today think they have found something as good in realism' which strives to represent a drop of dew on a leaf like a photograph but in color, to imitate the muscles of a cow's rump, or to represent meticulously, in prose or verse, the suffocating mud of a sewer or the boudoir of a lady of love.
"But if this is really the situation," you ask, "what can be done?"
If the sacred fire you claim to possess is no more than a snuffed and smoking candle, then you will continue to do as you have done, and your art will soon degenerate into a craft to decorate the parlors of shopkeepers, into the scribbling of libretti for operettas and of journalistic frivolities like those of Emile de Girardin; most of you in fact are already making your way fast down the fatal slope.
But if your heart truly beats in unison with that of humanity, if, as a true poet, you have the ear to listen to life, then, confronting the sea of suffering whose tide rises around you, the peoples dying of hunger, the corpses piled in the mines and Iying mutilated in heaps at the feet of the barricades, the convoys of exiles who will be buried in the snows of Siberia and on the beaches of tropical islands; confronting that supreme struggle which is now going on, echoing with the sorrowful cries of the defeated and the orgies of the victors, with heroism at grips with cowardice, enthusiasm fighting against baseness-you can no longer stay neutral! You will come to stand beside the oppressed, because you know that the beautiful, the sublime and life itself are on the side of those who fight for light, for humanity, for justice!
But now you interrupt me. "If the abstract science is a luxury," you ask, "and the practice of medicine a sham, if law is injustice and technical advances are instruments of exploitation; if education is defeated by the self-interest of the educators and if art, lacking a revolutionary ideal, can only degenerate, what is there left for me to do?"
And my answer is this. "An immense task awaits which can only attract you, a task in which action will accord completely with conscience, a task that can win over the most noble natures and the most vigorous characters."
"What is this task," you ask. I propose to tell you.
Either you compromise constantly with your conscience and end up one fine day saying: "To Hell with humanity, so long as I can gain and profit from all the advantages, and the people are stupid enough to let me do so!" Or you take your place on the side of the socialists and work with them for the complete transformation of society. Such is the inevitable conclusion of the analysis we have made; and such will be the logical decision which all intelligent people will inevitably reach if only they reason wisely and resist the sophisms whispered in their ears by their bourgeois education and the self-interested views of those around them. And once that conclusion has been reached, the question, "What to do?" naturally offers itself.
The answer is easy.
Merely shake yourself free of your world in which it is customary to say that the people are no more than a heap of brutes, go out to meet those very people, and the answer will emerge of its own accord.
You will see that everywhere, in France as in Germany, in Italy as in the United States, and in all places where there are privileged and oppressed, a gigantic development is taking place in the heart of the working class, whose aim is to break for ever the servitudes imposed by capitalist feudalism and lay the foundations of a society based on justice and equality. It is no longer enough today for the people to express their woes in those laments sung by the seventeenth century serfs and still by Russian peasants, whose melody breaks one's heart. They work now, with full consciousness of what they are doing, and fight against all obstacles to their liberation.
Their thought is constantly engaged in divining what needs to be done so that life, instead of being a curse for three quarters of humanity, shall be a joy for all. They approach the most challenging problems of sociology, and seek to resolve them with their own good sense, their powers of observation, their hard experience. To make common cause with other unfortunate people, they group together and organize. They form societies sustained with difficulty by tiny contributions; they seek to make contact over the frontiers and, more effectively than the philanthropical rhetoricians, they prepare for the day when wars between peoples will become impossible. To know what their brothers are doing, and to become better acquainted with them, as well as to elaborate and propagate ideas, they maintain at great cost in sacrifice and effort their working class press. Finally, when the time comes, they rise up and, staining the paving stones of the barricades with their blood, they leap forward to the conquest of those liberties which later on the rich and the powerful will corrupt into privileges and turn against the workers who won them.
What continual efforts are demanded, what unceasing struggles! What tasks begun again and again, sometimes to fill the gaps created by weariness, by corruption, by persecution; sometimes to resume the studies that were rudely interrupted by mass exterminations!
Their journals are created by men who have been forced to steal their scraps of education by depriving themselves of sleep and food; the agitation is sustained by pennies wrung out of scanty necessities, sometimes out of dry bread; and all that goes on in the continual fear of seeing one's family reduced to the starkest poverty as soon as the employer realizes that "his worker, his slave, is playing with socialism!"
This is what you will see, if you go among the people.
And in that endless struggle, how often the worker, as he sinks under the weight of obstacles, has said to himself in vain: "Where are these young people who have been educated at our expense, whom we have fed and clothed while they studied, and for whom, our backs bent under burdens and our bellies empty, we have built these mansions, these colleges and museums, and for whom, with our wan faces, we have printed their fine books which we cannot even read? Where are they, these professors who claim to possess humanitarian knowledge and for whom humanity is not worth as much as a rare species of caterpillar? These men who talk of freedom and never defend ours which day by day is trampled under foot? These writers, these poets, these painters, this whole gang of hypocrites, who speak of the people with tears in their eyes yet are never to be found among us, helping in our endeavors!"
Occasionally a young man does turn up who has been dreaming of drums and barricades and who is on the lookout for sensational scenes; he will desert the cause of the people as soon as he sees that the way of the barricades is long, that the work to be done on the way is onerous, and that the laurel crowns he may win are mingled with thorns. More often they are individuals of unfulfilled ambition who, having failed in their first ventures, attempt to capture the voice of the people, but later will be the first to thunder against them as soon as the people wish to apply the principles they themselves have professed; it may be they who will have the cannon aimed at the "vile multitude," should it dare to step beyond the point which they, the leaders, have indicated.
Add the stupid insults, the haughty contempt, the cowardly calumnies expressed by the greater number, and you will see what the people can expect from bourgeois youth to help them in their social revolution.
Lover of pure science, if you have opened your minds to the principles of socialism and understand the full significance of the approaching revolution, do you not recognize that the whole of science must be reorganized to suit the new principles; that we will have to carry out in this domain a revolution whose importance will vastly surpass that accomplished in the sciences during the eighteenth century? Do you not understand that history, today a convenient mythology regarding the greatness of kings, of notable personalities, of parliaments-must be entirely recast from the popular point of view, from the viewpoint of the work accomplished by the masses in the phases of human revolution? That social economics-hitherto concentrated on capitalist exploitation-must be entirely re-elaborated, both in its fundamental principles and in its innumerable applications? That anthropology, sociology and ethics must be completely revised and that the natural sciences themselves, seen from a new point of view, must undergo a profound modification both in their concepts of natural phenomena and in their methods of exposition? If you do understand these things, why don't you start making these changes and devote your insights to a good cause? But above all come to our aid with your rigorous logic in combating secular prejudices and elaborating through synthesis the foundations of a better organization; above all, teach us to apply to our reasoning the boldness of true scientific investigation, and, teaching by example, show us how one must sacrifice one's life for the triumph of truth!
And you, physician, whom hard experience has led to understand socialism, do not tire of telling us-today, tomorrow, every day in every occasion-that humanity is doomed to degenerate if it remains in the present condition of living and work; that your drugs will remain powerless against sickness while 99 per cent of humanity vegetate in conditions absolutely opposed to those that science teaches; that it is the causes of sickness which must be eliminated-and how are we to eliminate those causes? Come then with your scalpel to dissect with a meticulous hand this society on its way to collapse, tell us what a rational way of life could and should be, and, as a true doctor, repeat to us untiringly that one does not hesitate to amputate a gangrenous limb when it might infect the whole body.
And you who have worked on the applications of science to industry, tell us frankly what has been the result of your discoveries; reveal to those who dare not yet stride boldly into the future what possibilities of new inventions are carried within the knowledge we have already acquired, what industry could be under the best conditions, what humanity could produce if it produced always in such a way as to augment its productivity. Offer the people the support of your intuitions, or your practical spirit, of your talents of organization, instead of putting them at the service of the exploiters.
And you, poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, if you have understood your true missions and the interests of your art as well, come and put your pen, your brush, your chisel at the service of the revolution. Retell, in your prose rich with images or on your gripping canvases, the titanic struggles of the peoples against their oppressors; inflame the hearts of the young with the marvelous revolutionary breath which inspired our ancestors; tell the woman how splendid her husband's actions will be if he gives his life to the great cause of social emancipation. Show the people what is ugly in present-day life, and put your finger on the causes of that ugliness; tell us what a rational life might be if it did not have to stumble at every pace because of the ineptitude and the ignominies of the present social order.
All of you who possess knowledge and talents and good heart as well, come with your companions to put them at the service of those who have the greatest need of them. And be confident that if you come, not as masters, but as comrades in the struggle; not to govern but to seek your inspiration in a new setting; less to teach than to understand and formulate the aspirations of the masses and then work unslackeningly and with all the energy of youth to introduce them into daily life: be confident that then, but then only, you yourselves will be living complete and rational lives. You will see that every one of your efforts made in this direction will bear fruit amply; and this feeling of accord established between your acts and the commands of your conscience will give you energies which you would not suspect existed if you were working for yourself alone.
To struggle in the midst of the people for truth, justice, equality- what could you find more splendid in the whole of life?
I have taken up three long chapters demonstrating to well-to-do young people that when they face the dilemma that life offers them, they will be forced, if they are brave and honest, to take their places in the ranks of the socialists and embrace with them the cause of the social revolution. This might appear to be a simple truth. Yet in speaking to those who have been subjected to the influence of their middle class environment, what sophistries one has to counteract, what prejudices one must try to overcome, what mercenary motives one must seek to push aside!
But I can be more direct in speaking to you, the young people who yourselves come out of the populace. The very force of circumstances makes you willing to become socialists, so long as you have the courage to reason and to act according to your conclusions. In fact, modern socialism has emerged out of the depths of the people's consciousness. If a few thinkers emerging from the bourgeoisie have given it the approval of science and the support of philosophy, the basis of the idea which they have given their own expression has nonetheless been the product of the collective spirit of the working people. The rational socialism of the International is still today our greatest strength, and it was elaborated in working class organization, under the first influence of the masses. The few writers who offered their help in the work of elaborating socialist ideas have merely been giving form to the aspirations that saw their first light among the workers.
To have emerged from the ranks of the working people and not to dedicate oneself to the triumph of socialism, is to misunderstand your own true interests, to deny your own cause and your historic mission at the same time.
Have you forgotten the times when you were still a child and would go on a winter's day to play in your dark alley? The cold bit into your shoulders through your thin clothes and the mud filled your broken down shoes. Sometimes you would see passing by at a distance plump and richly clothed children who looked haughtily down on you, but you knew perfectly well that these spoiled brats, so spick and span, were not worth as much as you and your comrades, either in intelligence, or good sense, or energy. But later, when you let yourself be shut up in a dirty workshop from five to six in the morning, and for twelve hours had to stand beside a noisy machine, and became a machine yourself in following day by day and years on end the pitiless cadence of its movements, during all this time they-the others-were going happily to their lessons in colleges, in fine schools, in universities And now these same children, less intelligent but more educated than you, have become your bosses, and enjoy all the pleasures of life, all the benefits of civilization. And you-what expectations do you have?
You go home to a tiny apartment, dark and damp, where five or six human beings swarm in a few square meters, where your mother, exhausted by life and grown old from cares rather than from age, offers you as your meal some bread, potatoes and a blackish liquid which ironically passes as coffee; for your only distraction you have always the same question on the order of the day, that of knowing how you will pay the baker and the landlord tomorrow!
But must you really follow the same wretched way of life that your father and your mother have endured for the past thirty or forty years? Must you work all your life to obtain for a few the pleasures of wellbeing, of knowledge and of art, and keep for yourself the continual anxiety over that scrap of bread? Must you renounce for ever everything that makes life good so that you can devote yourself to providing all the advantages that are enjoyed by a handful of idlers? Must you wear yourself out, and know only poverty and starvation when unemployment comes close? Is that what you expect from life?
Maybe you will resign yourself. Seeing no way out of the situation, perhaps you will say to yourself: "Whole generations have suffered the same fate, and since nothing can be changed, I must endure it too! So let us work and try to live as best we can."
So be it! But if you do this, life itself will take on the task of enlightening you.
One day the crash will come, a crisis that is no longer temporary like those in the past, but one that will kill off whole industries, that will reduce to poverty thousands of workers and decimate their families. You will struggle, like the rest, against that calamity. But you will soon see for yourself how your wife, your child, your friend, are succumbing gradually to their privations, weakening before your eyes, and, for want of food and care, dying on some wretched pallet, while life, careless of those who perish, rolls on in its joyous multitudes down the streets of the great city, brilliant with sunshine. Then you will understand how repulsive this society is, you will think about the causes of the crisis, and you will plumb me depths of that inequity which exposes thousands of men to a handful of idlers; you will realize that the socialists are right when they say that society could and should be transformed from top to bottom.
Another day, when your employer makes yet another reduction in wages, to rob you of a few pence to augment his fortune even farther, you will protest, but he will answer arrogantly: "Go and eat grass if you do not want to work for that rate." You will then understand that your employer is not only seeking to shear you like a sheep, but that he also thinks of you as belonging to an inferior race; not content with holding you in his claws through the wages system, he seeks to make you a slave in every other respect. Then you will either bend your back, renouncing any feeling of human dignity and end up suffering all kinds of humiliation; or the blood will rise to your head, you will see with horror the slope down which you are sliding, you will resist and, thrown out on the street, you will understand when the socialists say: "Revolt! Revolt against economic slavery, for that is the cause of all slaveries!" Then you will come to take your place in the ranks of the socialists, and will work with them for the abolition of all slaveries: economic, political and social.
One day you may hear the story of the young girl whom you once liked so much for her open gaze, her slender figure and her animated conversation. Having struggled year after year against poverty, she left her village for the city. She knew life there would be hard, but at least she hoped to earn her bread honestly. But by now you can guess the fate that overtook her. Courted by a young bourgeois, she let herself be trapped by his fine words, and gave herself to him with the passion of youth, to find herself abandoned at the end of a year, with a baby in her arms. Ever brave, she did not cease struggle, but she succumbed in the unequal fight against hunger and cold and ended up dying in some hospital or other. What can you do about it? Perhaps you will push aside your painful memories with a few stupid words: "She isn't the first or the last!" you will say, and one evening we will hear you in some café, seated among other brutes of your kind, soiling the young woman's name with filthy slanders. Or perhaps your memories will move your heart; you will seek out the contemptible seducer to throw his crime in his face. You will think about the causes of these incidents of which you hear every day, and you will understand that they cannot cease while mankind is divided into two camps; the poor on one side and on the other the idlers and the playboys with their fine words and brutal appetites. You will understand that it is time to level out this gulf of separation, and you will hasten to range yourself among the socialists.
And you, women of the people, has this story left your cold? As you caress the blond head of that child which crouches beside you, do you never think of the fate that awaits it if the present social order does not change? Do you never give a thought to the future that is in store for your young sister, for your children? Do you want your son to vegetate as your father vegetated, with no care but the need for bread, no pleasures but those of the tavern? Do you want your husband and your boy to be for ever at the mercy of the first comer who may chance to have inherited from his father an interest to exploit? Would you like to see them always remaining the slaves of the employer, the cannon fodder of the powerful, the dung that serves to fatten the fields of the rich?
No, a thousand times no! I know very well that your blood boiled when you heard that your husband, after loudly proclaiming a strike, ended up accepting---cap in hand-the conditions contemptuously dictated in a haughty tone by the big business men! I know that you admired those Spanish women who went into the first ranks to present their breasts to the soldiers' bayonets during a popular uprising!
I know that you repeat with respect the name of the woman who lodged a bullet in a satrap's breast when he chose one day to outrage a socialist held in prison. And I know also that your hearts beat when you read how the women among the people of Paris gathered together under a rain of shells to encourage "their men" in heroism.
I know all this, and that is why I do not doubt that you also will end by coming to join those who work for the conquest of the future.
All of you, sincere young people, men and women, peasants, workers, clerks and soldiers, will understand your rights and come to us; you will come to work with your brothers in preparing the revolution which, abolishing every kind of slavery, shattering all chains, breaking with the old traditions and opening new horizons to all humanity, will finally succeed in establishing in human societies the true Equality, the true Liberty, work for all, and for all the full enjoyment of the fruits of their labor, the full enjoyment of all their faculties; a life that is rational, humane and happy!
Do not let anyone tell you that we are only a tiny handful, too weak ever to attain the grand objective at which we aim. Let us count ourselves and see how many of us there are who suffer from injustice. We peasants who work for another and eat oats to leave the wheat for the master-we are millions of men; we are so numerous that we alone form the mass of the people. We workers who wear rags and weave silks and velours, we too are multitudes, and when the factory whistles allow us our brief period of rest we flood the streets and squares like a roaring sea. We soldiers who follow the beat of the drum and receive bullets so that our of officers can win medals and ranks, we poor fools who up to now have known nothing better than to shoot our brothers, it would be enough for us to turn our rifles for the faces of those decorated personages who command us to turn pale. All we who suffer and who are outraged, we are an immense crowd; we are an ocean in which all could be submerged. As soon as we have the will, a moment would be enough for justice to be done.
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Words of a Rebel
Current Work in Words of a Rebel
Next Work in Words of a Rebel >>
All Nearby Works in Words of a Rebel