Frederick Engels in The Northern Star

Reform Banquet at Lille. — Speech of M. Ledru-Rollin

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 393;
Compiled and translated into English: in the first half of December 1847;
First published: in The Northern Star, December 18, 1847.

In response to the toast: — “To the labourers, — to their imprescriptible rights, — to their sacred interests, hitherto unknown.” [Ledru-Rollin’s speech at the banquet at Lille on November 7, 1847 was translated by Engels according to the report in La Réforme, November 10, 1847]

“Citizens, — Yes, to the labourers! to their imprescriptible rights, — to their sacred interests, hitherto unknown. To the unalienable rights of man, proclaimed in principle, by two glorious revolutions b ; but artfully eluded in their application, and successfully re-wrested from the people, and which are now only a glorious, yet bitter remembrance! Political rights to the people, it is said, is madness. How entrust them with them, in their state of incapacity, of ignorance, of moral depravity? To give the people political freedom is a blind and dangerous power; it is revolution — blood -anarchy — chaos! Gentlemen, you know the people; you in this industrial city, at once so wealthy and so poor, believe you this picture to be true! Oh! doubtless, if we cast our eyes over the pages of certain romance writers, to whom the grand side of things has appeared trivial, vulgar — who have sought for effect in the humorous, the fantastic, the exceptional, the people — is it thus! Taking the normal life of our towns, from one point, where criminals escaped from justice, find a refuge, the way of life, the dregs of society, they have said, ‘Such are the people!’ Doubtless such would still be the people, did we put faith in those mercenary writers, who, to terrify the wealthy, cry out against the invasion of the barbarians! Barbarians! they have cast that epithet upon the people, as the most outrageous of insults. Ah! if barbarians always signify men full of simplicity, of strength, of social and youthful energy, those barbarians can alone save our worn-out official world, fast hastening to decay in powerlessness and corruption. No; a thousand times no, it is not the people. It is not upon the theatre of crime and debauchery, that it must be sought for. To be acquainted with it, we must transport ourselves into those manufacturing towns, where the merchant, struggling against unrestricted competition which crushes him, between the tyrannical pressure of capital and opposition to wages, which cat him up, he is compelled to reduce those wages, in order to avoid bankruptcy and dishonour. Ah! believe not that the people, in their spirit of justice, always accuse the masters as the cause of that cruel necessity. Know they not that our industry fails for want of outlet; that we have seen the greatest number of the markets of the world closed against us; and that our commerce has perished, where our flag has been trampled under foot? Well; in the midst of those vicissitudes, of those fluctuations, of this crisis of wages, what befalls the workman? The labour of the father, no longer sufficing to procure bread for the family, the daughter prostitutes herself for food; the child must go to aid the formidable machine, and exhaust his unevolved strength; and by the side of those beauteous fabrics, the product of our industry, the eye wanders over rickety boys, faded girls, worn-out men, bent under the pressure of premature labour. And, nevertheless, of that physically decayed population — those who have escaped enervation, sickness — who have attained their proper height, will go forth to do battle for their country — nobly to encounter death beneath her banner. Such are the people of the towns, sociable, good, patient in the midst of those daily evils, — doing more, deriving from within themselves the light of knowledge, dealt out to them with such a niggardly hand, reading, sometimes composing verses upon their sufferings or their prospects, publishing journals, which enlighten and prepare those formidable problems, respecting the future fate of mankind! It is those people of the towns whom some writers, who only judge by their own flimsy minds, call barbarians!... In this slight and rapid sketch, we have only seen the people in their habitual fife — their daily struggles; but were one of those unforeseen scourges, in which a fearful inundation sweeps off everything in its destructive course, a terrible fire, or a severe cholera suddenly to arise, who would be foremost in the cause of humanity? who would forget their families and their wives, upon their lowly couches? their children, who might die on the morrow? who would peril life, without counting the cost; and fly when the service was performed, without even leaving their names? — the people! Intelligence or devotedness, head or heart, the people are, therefore, worthy to exercise the rights to which they lay claim. And who are better aware of it than the citizens, who by the superhuman efforts of the people, have conquered the twofold tyranny of the nobility and the priesthood. It was to that clergy, to that nobility, as to the States of 1614, that a member of the bourgeoisie once said — ‘You, our elder brothers, you, our younger brothers — for we are all brothers — forming but one and the same nation.’ And the clergy and the nobles attempted to make that courageous member of the third retract and their minions to scourge him, regarding a plebeian as of a conquered and inferior race.... Not only are the people worthy to represent themselves, but if justice is to be rendered, they can only he efficiently represented by themselves. Who, then, in a legislative chamber knows sufficiently, at this present moment, their interests, their wants to dare to defend them? There are many men, gentlemen, who would unite in our principle of Reform; for it is now made evident — but they still dread the advance of democracy; yet never has a solemn and decisive movement, in the onward march of humanity, been preceded by more significant auguries! Let us pass rapidly in review those transcendent men of our own age. Towering above all, is one, whose prophetic speech is engraven on every heart. ‘Before fifty years,’ said Napoleon, ‘Europe will be Cossack or Republican.’... It shall not be Cossack — and in this patriotic city exists the right so to say. if doubt could ever have prevailed, it would assuredly not have been in the midst of those whose love of national independence and of the revolution of 1792, transformed each citizen into a hero! Republican — but I pause, gentlemen — the laws of September [196] are in force, and in order to he strong, when armed in a good cause, we must know how to keep within the law. I shall, therefore, only permit myself to choose, as interpreters of my thoughts, a few men, whose very names shed a glory over their country. He, for example, who has sung the high hymn of legitimacy, and who has achieved renown, in essaying to restore the ancient ruins of the past. Chateaubriand, in his sincerity, has been unable to avoid regarding the approaching future of the world, as tending towards democracy.... Beranger, whose patriotic hymns will be eternally repeated by the world-hymns, which we, his contemporaries, ought ‘to teach to our children as a prayer, whilst a Waterloo remains to be avenged!! Beranger believes in the approaching sovereignty of the people. And Lamartine, sparkling with poetry, with eloquence, has passed by legitimacy — he has traversed the marshes of the plain, in order to approach nearer to us. Though an ardent admirer of the Girondists, yet the noble candour of his mind leads him to draw conclusions favourable to the Radicals. There is a something, however, which still divides him from pure democracy; as for myself, I only behold the steps of giants, each day rapidly striding towards us. So much for men of letters, gentlemen, and that unanimous testimony rendered by such illustrations in favour of our party, might suffice for its hopes. But cast your eyes into the domain of science; behold a man who is at the summit of all — of whom the two worlds would deprive us — Arago! But for an imperious duty he would have been here in the midst of you. He would, much better than I am able, have spoken to you of the rights of the people; he who was the first to advocate their cause in another assembly, where to do so required no small amount of moral courage. Is not, then, Arago entirely for democracy? And in the arts, who with his powerful chisel draws forth, from marble, those men who have best served the people? Who confides to the eternity of bronze those grand revolutionary figures, to bequeath them to the admiration of future ages? David of Angers! Is he not, also, for the cause of the people? Well, when so many illustrious men declare in favour of democracy, or struggle for its attainment, how conclude otherwise than that right and Providence combat with us, and for us? Those are the teachings of talented men; but have not the teachings of the people also their manifestations? Look at Poland — heroic Poland — the last pulsations of whose heart still throb for liberty — no longer possessing an army; each day some martyr consecrates himself to her cause. Italy; she too longs for unity. She emerges from her ruins, which constituted her glory, in order to acquire fresh renown. May she on awakening distrust herself; let her remember Masaniello. Switzerland; — I feel that I ought well to weigh my words at this solemn moment. We can do one thing, gentlemen, we can unite ourselves for an instant, by recollection, by thought, with those whom we look upon as brothers, in order to pray that victory may be with them, as have hitherto been right and reason! The cause of Switzerland is ours, gentlemen; the Radicals there wage war against two things, which are the plague-spots of our era — aristocrats and worthless priests. Respect our creeds, but war against those who, under the mask of religion, are the abettors of despotism, and of tyranny. Short-sighted beings! who see not in this double association of genius and of the people, the near advent of a Messiah of equality! Thus then, O people, to whom I would sacrifice all that I possess of devotedness and strength, hope, and believe. Between this period, in which thy ancient faith is extinguished, and in which the new light has not yet been showered upon you, each evening in thy desolate dwelling piously repeat the immortal symbol — LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY! Yes, liberty for all; liberty of conscience; liberty of thought, liberty of association; for man cannot become moral without communing with man, and it is in order the better to subjugate him that he is isolated by a system of corruption. They know that a bundle of sticks cannot be broken. Equality likewise for all — equality in presence of civil law, equality in political matters, equality in education, in order that man may have no superior, except in morals or in virtue! Fraternity — inexhaustible source, from whence will spring noble and celebrated institutions; of association, of strength. Then labour will no longer be a right, it will be a duty. Let there be no more revenues, except from labour and for labour. Yes, salvation. O great and immortal symbol, thy advent draws nigh! People, may the plaudits bestowed on thy humble interpreter be wafted to thee, and prove at once a consolation and a hope!”