Jules Vallès 1883
Source: Le Cri du Peuple, October 28, 1883 ;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.
It was twelve years ago.
The Commune was in its death throes. On the heights of Belleville a barricade hopelessly held out from a sense of duty.
In the middle of the combatants in smocks, a bourgeois in a jacket charged, aimed and fired – mute, bareheaded, his gun filled with cartridges posed between two paving stones. At a given moment, though, he stopped, because his gun was burning his hands.
I pretended to try to recall his face.
“We've already seen each other, right?”
He shook his head.
“But you're with us, right?”
“The soldiers are paid to believe it.”
He smiled bitterly, his face darkened, his gaze became veiled, and he answered between his teeth:
“It’s just that I've suffered a lot.”
He was killed a minute later I think. I have often remembered this chance insurgent, and his corpse rises up before me at this moment when I revive something else that is dead, a newspaper which had its name attached to public contempt and which fell on the battlefield where the unknown man of Belleville blindly avenged himself and fired on a society.
What were his passions and hatreds? What scars did he hide under his clothes of fine fabric, in which a Versaillais bullet made its first hole and powder its first stain? He didn’t have the least air of a bohemia, but rather of a regular, and yet he sleeps in the mass grave where were buried the union members of the great league, this Saracen of the revolt!
How many are there who shared his sorrows, his sadness, and who still carry their crosses on the dark roads because they were lacking in his mad courage and his minute of bizarre and somber revenge?
I say that they are of the people, these men, though they didn’t wear the smock in time of war or the working man’s jacket in time of peace. Proletarians of the counter, the university, the army... Worn out jackets, faded togas, reddened epaulettes.
This is anger’s portion and the password of combat.
But I think that after we've settled down to work, after having reconciled on this field, the sickness of sadness that kills us and the undermines our generation will die for all to see and we will once again be Frenchmen, alert and of one family.
It is finally time for this. The genius of the fatherland, which drags its feet, will flap its wings.
A new literature must grow out of the earth from under this breath of broad fraternity and from behind our fear of exactitude and truth.
Social, human, pearled with tears or sprinkled with laughter, open a all, a free tribune, this is what “le cri du people’ wants to be.
I am waiting for laughers and the irritated.
If they answer the call I will have done more for the honor of the republic and the salvation of the poor than if I'd have dismantled ten Versailles generals. Whoever tells the story of Gallifet’s life will kill him more surely than the fédéré who would shoot him down.