Jacques Roux 1793
Source: Jacques Roux, Scripta et Acta. Textes presentés par Walter Markov. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, 1969;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2004.
Address presented at the National Convention in the name of the Sections of Gravillers, Bonne-Nouvelle and the Cordelier Club by Jacques Roux
People, I brave death to support your rights; prove to me your recognition by respecting persons and property – Jacques Roux
Delegates of the French people!
One hundred times this hall has rung with the crimes of egoists and knaves; you have always promised to strike the bloodsuckers of the people. The constitutional act is going to be presented to the sovereign for sanction: have you proscribed speculation there? No. Have you called for the death penalty against monopolists? No. Have you determined what freedom of commerce consists of? No. Have you forbidden the sale of minted money? No. Well then, we say to you that you haven’t done everything for the happiness of the people.
Freedom is nothing but a vain phantom when one class of men can starve another with impunity. Equality is nothing but a vain phantom when the rich, through monopoly, exercise the right of life or death over their like. The republic is nothing but a vain phantom when the counter-revolution can operate every day through the price of commodities, which three quarters of all citizens cannot afford without shedding tears.
Nevertheless, it’s only by stopping the brigandage of trade, which must be distinguished from commerce, its only by putting comestibles within the reach of the sans-culottes that you will attach them to the revolution, and that you will rally them around the constitutional laws.
And is it because unfaithful representatives, the statesmen, have called down on our unfortunate fatherland the plague of foreign war that the rich should declare a more terrible one internally? Is it because 300,000 Frenchmen, traitorously sacrificed, perished by the homicidal steel of the slaves of kings that those who remained in their homes should be reduced to devouring stones? Is it necessary that the widows of those who died for the cause of freedom pay, at the price of gold, for the cotton they need to wipe away their tears, for the milk and the honey that serves as food for their children?
Representatives of the people, when you had among you the accomplices of Dumouriez, the representatives of the Vendée, the royalists who wanted to save the tyrant; those execrable men who organized the civil war, those inquisitorial senators who patriotism and virtue as a crimes, the Gravilliers Section suspended its judgment...it saw that it wasn’t within the power of the Mountain to do the good that was in its heart, it rose up ...
But today, when the sanctuary of the laws is no longer soiled by the presence of Gorsas, Brissot, Barbaroux and other chiefs of the appellants; today when these traitors, in order to escape from the scaffold, have gone to hide their nullity and infamy in those departments they’ve whipped up against the Republic; today when the National Convention has been returned to its dignity and vigor, and when in order to do good it only has to want to do so, we call on you, in the name of the salvation of the republic, to strike speculation and monopoly with a constitutional anathema, and to decree the general principle that commerce doesn’t consist in ruining, rendering hopeless, or starving citizens.
For the last four years the rich alone have profited from the advantages of the Revolution. The merchant aristocracy, more terrible than that of the noble and sacerdotal aristocracy, has made a cruel game of invading individual fortunes and the treasury of the republic; we still don’t know what will be the term of their exactions, for the price of merchandise rises in a frightful manner, from morning to evening. Citizen Representatives, it is time that the combat unto death that the egoist carries out against the hardest working class of society come to an end. Pronounce against speculators and monopolists: either they’ll obey your decrees or they won’t. In the first hypothesis you will have saved the fatherland; in the second case you will still have saved the fatherland, for we will have been able to identify and strike the bloodsuckers of the people.
And can the property of knaves be more sacred than the life of a man? Armed force is at the disposal of administrative bodies; how can they not be able to requisition those goods necessary to life? The legislator has the right to declare war, i.e., to have men massacred; how could he then not have the right to prevent the grinding down and starvation of those who guard their homes?
The freedom of commerce is the right to use and to make use of, and not the right to tyrannize and prevent use. Those goods necessary to all should be delivered at a price accessible to all. Pronounce then...the sans-culottes with their pikes will execute your decrees ...
You didn’t hesitate to strike with death those who would dare propose a king, and you did well; you have just outlawed those counter-revolutionaries who, in Marseilles, reddened the scaffold with the blood of patriots, and you did well. You would have deserved well of the fatherland if you would have put a price on the head of the fugitive Capets and the deputies who deserted their posts; if you would have expelled from our armies the nobles and those of the court who held their places; if you would have taken hostage the wives and children of émigrés and conspirators; if you would have held the pensions of the ci-devant privileged to pay the costs of the war; if you would have confiscated for the profit of volunteers and widows the treasures acquired since the Revolution by bankers and monopolists; if you would have chased from the Convention the deputies who voted for the appeal to the people; if you would have turned over to revolutionary tribunals the administrators who provoked federalism; if you would have struck with the sword of justice the ministers and the members of the executive council who allowed a counter-revolutionary nucleus to form in the Vendée; finally, if you had arrested those who signed anti-civic petitions, etc, etc ... And monopolists and speculators, aren’t they every bit as guilty, if not more? Like the others, aren’t they veritable national assassins?
So don’t fear having the thunder of your justice burst over these vampires; don’t fear making the people too happy. To be sure, it never calculated when it was a question of doing everything for you. It proved to you, notably on the days of May 31 and June 2, that it wanted total liberty. In exchange, give them bread and a decree; prevent the good people from being “put to the question ordinary and extraordinary” by the excessive price of comestibles.
Up to the present moment the big merchants who are, by principle criminals and by habit accomplices of kings, have abused the freedom of commerce to oppress the people; they have falsely interpreted that article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man that establishes that it is permitted to do all that is not forbidden by the law. Well then, decree constitutionally that speculation, the sale of minted money, and monopolies are harmful to society. The people, who know their true friends, the people who have suffered for such a long time, will see that you are sorrowed by their lot and that you seriously want to cure their ills. When it will have a clear and precise law in the constitutional act against speculation and monopolies it will see that the cause of the poor is closer to your hearts than that of the rich; it will see that there don’t sit among you bankers, arms merchants and monopolists; finally, it will see that you don’t want the counter-revolution.
It is true that you have decreed a forced loan of one milliard on the rich; but if you don’t uproot the tree of speculation, if you don’t put a national brake on the avidity of monopolists, then the following day capitalists and merchants will raise this sum from the sans-culottes through monopoly and fraud. It would thus not be the egoist, but the sans-culotte that you will have struck. Before your decree the grocery store owner and the banker ceaselessly pressured citizens; what vengeance will they not exact today, now that you make them pay; what new tribute will they not raise on the blood and tears of the unfortunate?
It will be objected in vain that the worker receives a salary in keeping with the increase in the price of goods. In truth there are some whose industry is better paid; but there are also many whose labor is less well paid since the revolution. Besides, all citizens are not workers, and all workers are not occupied, and among those who are there are those with eight or ten children incapable of earning a living, and in general women don’t earn more than 20 sous a day.
Deputies of the Mountain, if you would climb from the third to the ninth floor of the houses of this revolutionary city you would be touched by the tears and the sobs of an immense people, without bread or clothing, reduced to a state of distress and misfortune by speculation and monopoly because laws have been cruel to the poor, because they were only made by and for the rich.
Oh rage, oh shame of the 18th century! Who could believe that the representatives of the French people, who declared war on the enemies without were so cowardly as to not crush those within? Under the reign of Sartines and Flesselles the government wouldn’t have tolerated that goods of prime necessity be paid for at three time their value. What am I saying? They even fixed the price of arms and viands for the soldier. And the National Convention, invested with the force of 25 million men, will allow the merchant and the rich egoist to habitually bear it a mortal blow by arbitrarily taxing the things most useful to life? Louis Capet, in order to carry out the counter-revolution, had no need to provoke the wrath of foreign powers. The enemies of the fatherland had no need to flood with a rain of fire the departments of the West: speculation and monopolies suffice to overturn the edifice of republican laws.
But, it will be said, it’s the war that is the cause of the dearness of goods. Then why, representatives of the people, did you provoke it? Why, under the cruel Louis XVI, did the French have to repel the league of tyrants, and why didn’t speculation spread over this empire the standard of revolt, of famine and of devastation? And under this pretext it is permitted to the merchant to sell candles at six francs the pound, soap at six francs the pound, oil six francs the pound. Under pretext of war the sans-culotte will thus pay for shoes at 50 livres the pair, a shirt at 50 livres, a poor quality hat 50 livres ...So it can be said that the predictions of Cazales and Maury have been fulfilled: in this case you will have conspired with them against the freedom of the fatherland. What am I saying? You will have surpassed them in treason. And so the Prussians and the Spaniards can say; we are free to enchain the French, for they lack the courage to enchain the monsters that devour them; and so we can say that in spreading around millions, in associating bankers and big merchants with the party of the counter-revolutionaries, the republic will destroy itself.
But it’s paper, it can be said, that is the cause of the dearness of things. Ah, the sans-culotte doesn’t see that there’s much in circulation; in any event, its prodigious issuance is proof of its value and the price attached to it. If the assignat has a real value, if it rests on the loyalty of the French nation, the quantity of national effects takes nothing from their value. Just because there is much money in circulation, is that a reason to forget that we are men, to commit brigandage in taverns of commerce, to make oneself master of the fortunes and lives of citizens, to employ all means of oppression suggested by avarice and party spirit, to excite the people to revolt and force it, by famine and the torture of unfulfilled needs, to devour its own entrails?
But the assignats lose much in commerce. Why then do the internal and foreign bankers, businessmen and counter-revolutionaries, fill their coffers with them? Why do they have the cruelty to diminish the salaries of certain workers and why don’t they offer an indemnity to others? Why don’t they offer a discount when they acquire national lands? England, whose debt perhaps exceeds by twenty times the value of its territory and who flourishes only on the paper of its bank, does it proportionally pay for its goods as dearly as we do? Ah, Minister Pith (sic) is too skillful to allow the subjects of George to be crushed in this way. And you, citizen representatives, you the deputies of the Mountain, you who boast of being among the numbers of the sans-culottes, from the height of your immortal rock you refuse to exterminate the constantly reborn hydra of speculation!
But, it is added, we get many articles from overseas, and they only want money in payment. This is false: commerce is almost always carried out through exchange of merchandise for merchandise, and paper for paper. In many cases effects are preferred over money. The metallic monies that circulate in Europe would not suffice to cover the one hundred-thousandth part of the bills in circulation. So it is clear as day that speculators and bankers discredit assignats only in order to sell their money more dearly, to find the occasion to monopolize with impunity and to traffic at the counter in the blood of patriots they burn to spill.
But it isn’t known how things will turn out. It’s certain that the friends of equality will not always suffer that we have them slaughtered beyond the borders, and that within them they be besieged by famine. It’s certain that they will not always be the dupes of that public plague, of charlatans who eat away at us like worms: the monopolists whose storehouses are nothing but dens of swindlers.
But when the death penalty is pronounced against whoever will attempt to re-establish the royalty; when the countless legions of citizen soldiers form a vault of steel with their weapons; when they spit out saltpeter and fire from all sides on a horde of barbarians, can the baker and the monopolist say that they don’t know how things will turn out? In any event, if they don’t know it, we’ve come to tell them: The people want freedom and equality, the republic or death; and this is precisely what drives you to despair, vile henchmen of tyranny!
Not having succeeded in corrupting the heart of the people, in subjugating it through terror and calumny, you employ the last resources of slaves in order to stifle the love of liberty. You take control of manufacturing and seaports, of all branches of commerce, of all the products of the land in order to make the friends of the fatherland die of hunger, thirst and lack of clothing, and to push them to throw themselves into the arms of despotism.
But the knaves will not reduce to slavery a people that lives only by steel and liberty, privations and sacrifices. It is reserved to partisans of the monarchy to prefer ancient chains and treasures to the republic and immortality.
And so representatives of the people, to demonstrate heedlessness much longer would be an act of cowardice, a crime of lese-nation. You mustn’t fear incurring the hatred of the rich, that is, the evil. You mustn’t fear sacrificing political principles to the salvation of the people, which is the supreme law.
Agree with us then that it is through pusillanimity that you authorize the discrediting of paper; that you prepare bankruptcy by tolerating abuses and crimes that despotism would have blushed before in the last days of its barbarous power.
We know that no doubt there are evils that are inseparable from a great revolution; that there are sacrifices that must be borne to make liberty triumph, and that we cannot pay too dearly for the pleasure of being republicans. But we also know that the people have been betrayed by two legislatures; that the vices of the constitution of 1791 were the source of public calamities, and that its time that the sans-culottes who smashed the scepter of kings see the end to insurrections and all types of tyranny.
If you don’t quickly remedy this how will those who have no estate, those who have only 2,3,4,5,6 hundred livres in annuities – and this not well paid, either in land rents or personal accounts – how will they subsist if you don’t stop the course of speculation and monopolies, and this by a constitutional decree that is not subject to the variations of legislatures. It’s possible that we won’t see peace for twenty years. The costs of the war will cause a new issuance of paper. Do you thus want to perpetuate our ills during this whole time by a tacit authorization of speculation and monopolies? This would be the means for expelling all foreign patriots and preventing the slave peoples from coming to France to breathe the pure air of liberty.
Is it not enough then that your predecessors, for the most part of infamous memory, left us the monarchy, speculation and war without your leaving us unclothed, starving and in despair? Must it be that the royalists and the moderates, under the pretext of the freedom of commerce, continue to devour manufactories and landed property, that they grab the fruits of the fields, the forests and the vine, of the very skin of animals; and that they still drink under the protection of the law from cups gilded with the blood and tears of citizens?
Deputies of the Mountain: No! No! You will not leave your work in a state of imperfection. You will found the bases for public prosperity; you will not consecrate the general and repressive principles of speculation and monopoly; you will not give to your successors the terrible example of the barbarism of powerful men over the weak, of the rich over the poor. You will not end your career in infamy.
With this full confidence, receive here the new oath we swear to defend unto the grave liberty, equality, and the unity and indivisibility of the republic and the oppressed sans-culottes of the departments.
Let them come, let them quickly come to Paris to solidify the ties of fraternity! Then we will show them those immortal pikes that overthrew the Bastille; those pikes that brought down in putrefaction the Commission of Twelve and the faction of statesmen; those pikes that will render justice to the intriguers and the traitors behind whatever mask they wear, and of whatever country they inhabit. It’s then that we will lead them to the young oak where the Marseillais and the sans-culottes of the departments abjured their error and vowed to overturn the throne. Finally, it’s then that we will accompany them to the sanctuary of the laws where, with a republican hand, we will show them the side that wanted to save the tyrant, and the Mountain that pronounced his death.
Long live the truth, long live the National Convention, long live the French Republic!
In the printed version of the speech Roux continues:
After this exposé of this evidence I will ask of the National Convention, which I respect, of my cruelest enemies, who I do not fear, of all the sans-culottes, who I’ll defend unto the grave; I’ll ask them if I deserved the insults and the calumnies which journalists have poured over my head. There is nevertheless a reproach that they are right to make with impunity; that’s that I am a priest...yes, unfortunately, my father gave me no other estate.
But if all priests, like me, had taken the civic oath without being forced; if like me they had employed their time in striking down pride and fanaticism; if like me they had exposed the crimes of the court at the moment when counter-revolution was going to break out; if like me, they had led Louis Capet to the scaffold; if all, like me, had made the commitment to soon wed a virtuous woman; if all, like me, had set out in pursuit of the traitors of the three legislatures; if all, like me, had signed the petition of the Champ-de-Mars and the one against the faction of statesmen; if all, like me, had declared that they did not hold with the Pope who, at this time, is a counter-revolutionary and an assassin; if all, like me, had voted for the universal republic; finally, if all, like me, made religion consist of the happiness of our fellows; if they didn’t know any other cult than that of the fatherland, any other flame than that of liberty, then we would attack priests less relentlessly. In any event, Cazales and Barnave weren’t priests, and they betrayed the cause of the people; Brissot and Barabaroux weren’t priests and they wanted to save the tyrant; Manuel wasn’t a priest and he received assignats from the court; and many others who play at being patriots aren’t priests, and they starve the republic...but they won’t put it in irons.
Journalists have too often covered me with insults for me not to resist, patriotically, to oppression.
I will thus oppose to all those who call me a fanatic, blood-thirsty, a counter-revolutionary, a formidable arm: the address I presented last May 31 at the National Convention under the banner of the Gravilliers Section, and which had the honor of being inserted in the bulletin.
Note: When I attack monopolists and speculators I am far from including in his infamous class a great number of grocers and merchants who have rendered themselves praiseworthy by their civisme and their humanity.