Armand Barbès 1839

A Few Words to Those Who Possess, in Favor of
Proletarians Without Work

Translated: from the original flyer, by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2006.

Solidarity in danger makes everyone work together on a vessel in danger, and sometimes changes a passenger who has no functions when the wind and tide are propitious into a pilot.

In times of social distress it is even more the case that every citizen has the obligation to pay the fatherland the tribute of his ideas, his counsels and even his prayers.

It is this obligation that we are fulfilling today. Without a function in ordinary times, obscure and perhaps disdained passengers, we come to tell you: the ship is sinking, it’s sprung a leak: Help! Help! Bring us hemp and tar.

The best and most interesting portion of the people, that portion which through the unjust constitution of society is forever condemned to produce without ever reaping, finds itself deprived of its sole resource, labor.

You know of the extreme poverty that tortured this unfortunate class last winter. It is said that the summer, by re-opening work in the countryside, will bring relief to these ills. Summer has arrived, giving food to the beasts of the fields, furnishing feed to young animals. But for the unhappy man to whom the law – which he didn’t make – ceaselessly cries out: “This field isn’t yours, go away, these harvests belong to another, don’t dare touch them,” the summer is no longer fecund, and cruel mother earth, though covered with riches and fruits, seems to cause in him the desire suffered by Tantalus on the orders of the powers of hell.

The first of all rights is the right to live, which man bears upon being born. Before it disappear all social conventions that nature has not ratified. The poor man submits himself to their injunctions, though he is their victim. But if we were insensible to his sufferings it would be just that he trample upon the human law that orders him to die.

So it is not what is vulgarly called charity that we come to ask of you in the name of our unfortunate brothers. No, the cause we are pleading is too holy for us not to make you listen to our virile and severe words. It is the fulfilling of an obligation that we demand of you, for the right of the poor man to his existence is not out of date, and it is to this right that the son of Mary gave the sanction of his mighty word when he said: “The rich are naught but the guardians of the goods of the poor.”

It is true that for quite some time the teachings of the illustrious proletarian have fallen into disuse. Christ, in ordering us to give charity – which is nothing else but the love of your neighbor – did not only mean that the rich should give pitiful alms in the same way as we throw a scrap to a dog.

No, I say again, it is not this diminished charity that we demand of you. Awaken true charity in your hearts, that which Christ and nature command of you. Think of your unfortunate brethren, of their sufferings, their rights, their merits.

Can we forget that in this world, like on a ship in danger, there is solidarity for all, and that it is as foolish as it is absurd to contemplate the storm with arms folded, softly murmuring the cruel saying: Every man for himself and God for all!

And you abandoned and unhappy brothers who, upon seeing the evil ones fortify themselves with this maxim, were perhaps led to doubt the existence of the author of nature, do not blaspheme his holy name: it is not He, the eternal source of all justice and bounty, who commands man to be selfish and without pity. The evil have loaned him their language, they have painted him in their image. Woe on them! For God is not the accomplice of the evil and of tyrants. He will be their severe and inflexible judge.

And don’t accuse us of having spoiled your cause by the sharpness of our words. Above all we are frank and truthful and even, on this occasion when we so ardently desire to see the owning class consecrate a part of its superfluity for the relief of your poverty, we cannot hide the fact that our sympathies are entirely on your side.

We would have feared humiliating you by using a low and sycophantic language to serve you for, as a virtuous young man said who expiated on the scaffold of Thermidor the crime of having loved the people too much: “The unfortunate are the powers of the earth. They have the right to speak as masters to those governments that neglect them.”