Sylvain Maréchal, “Manifesto of the Equals” (1796)

Le Manifeste des Egaux

Sylvain Maréchal

Egalité de fait, dernier but de l’art social.—Condorcet, Tableau de l’esprit humain, page 329.

Peuple de France !

Pendant quinze siècle tu as vécu esclave, et par conséquent malheureux. Depuis six années tu respires à peine, dans l’attente de l’indépendance, du bonheur et de l’égalité.

L’Egalité ! premier vœu de la nature, premier besoin de l’homme, et principal nœud de toute association légitime ! Peuple de France ! tu n’as pas été plus favorisé que les autres nations qui végètent sur ce globe infortuné !… Toujours et partout la pauvre espèce humaine livrée à des anthropophages plus ou moins adroits, servit de jouet à toutes les ambitions, de pâture à toutes les tyrannies. Toujours et partout, on berça les hommes de belles paroles : jamais et nulle part ils n’ont obtenu la chose avec le mot. De temps immémorial on nous répète avec hypocrisie, les hommes sont égaux, et de temps immémorial la plus avilissante comme la plus monstrueuse inégalité pèse insolemment sur le genre humain. Depuis qu’il y a des sociétés civiles, le plus bel apanage de l’homme est sans contradiction reconnu, mais n’a pu encore se réaliser une seule fois : l’égalité ne fut autre chose qu’une belle et stérile fiction de la loi. Aujourd’hui qu’elle est réclamée d’une voix plus forte, on nous répond : Taisez-vous misérables ! l’égalité de fait n’est qu’une chimère ; contentez-vous de l’égalité conditionnelle ; vous êtes tous égaux devant la loi. Canaille que te faut-il de plus ? Ce qu’il nous faut de plus? Législateurs, gouvernants, riches propriétaires, écoutez à votre tour.

Nous sommes tous égaux, n’est-ce pas ? Ce principe demeure incontesté, parce qu’à moins d’être atteint de folie on ne saurait dire sérieusement qu’il fait nuit quand il fait jour.

Eh bien ! nous prétendons désormais vivre et mourir égaux comme nous sommes nés ; nous voulons l’égalité réelle ou la mort ; voilà ce qu’il nous faut.

Et nous l’aurons cette égalité réelle, à n’importe quel prix. Malheur à qui ferait résistance à un vœu aussi prononcé !

La révolution française n’est que l’avant-courrière d’une autre révolution bien plus grande, bien plus solennelle, et qui sera la dernière.

Le peuple a marché sur le corps aux rois et aux prêtres coalisés contre lui : il en fera de même aux nouveaux tyrans, aux nouveaux tartuffes politiques assis à la place des anciens.

Ce qu’il nous faut de plus que l’égalité des droits ?

Il nous faut non pas seulement cette égalité transcrite dans la Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, nous la voulons au milieu de nous, sous le toit de nos maisons. Nous consentons à tout pour elle, à faire table rase pour nous en tenir à elle seule. Périssent, s’il le faut, tous les arts pourvu qu’il nous reste l’égalité réelle !

Législateurs et gouvernants qui n’avez pas plus de génie que de bonne foi, propriétaires riches et sans entrailles, en vain essayez-vous de neutraliser notre sainte entreprise en disant : Ils ne font que reproduire cette loi agraire demandée plus d’une fois déjà avant eux.

Calomniateurs, taisez-vous à votre tour, et, dans le silence de la confusion, écoutez nos prétentions dictées par la nature et basées sur la justice.

La loi agraire ou le partage des campagnes fut le vœu instantané de quelques soldats sans principes, de quelques peuplades mues par leur instinct plutôt que par la raison. Nous tendons à quelque chose de plus sublime et de plus équitable, le bien commun ou la communauté des biens ! Plus de propriété individuelle des terres, la terre n’est à personne. Nous réclamons, nous voulons la jouissance communale des fruits de la terre : les fruits sont à tout le monde.

Nous déclarons ne pouvoir souffrir davantage que la très grande majorité des hommes travaille et sue au service et pour le bon plaisir de l’extrême minorité.

Assez et trop longtemps moins d’un million d’individus dispose de ce qui appartient à plus de vingt millions de leurs semblables, de leur égaux.

Qu’il cesse enfin, ce grand scandale que nos neveux ne voudront pas croire ! Disparaissez enfin, révoltantes distinctions de riches et de pauvre, de grands et de petits, de maîtres et de valets, de gouvernants et de gouvernés.

Qu’il ne soit plus d’autre différence parmi les hommes que celles de l’âge et du sexe. Puisque tous ont les mêmes besoins et les mêmes facultés, qu’il n’y ait donc plus pour eux qu’une seule éducation, une seule nourriture. Ils se contentent d’un seul soleil et d’un même air pour tous : pourquoi la même portion et le même qualité d’aliments ne suffiraient-elles pas à chacun d’eux ?

Mais déjà les ennemis d’un ordre des choses le plus naturel qu’on puisse imaginer, déclament contre nous.

Désorganisateurs et factieux, nous disent-ils, vous ne voulez que des massacres et du butin.

PEUPLE DE FRANCE !

Nous ne perdrons pas notre temps à leur répondre, mais nous te dirons : la sainte entreprise que nous organisons n’a d’autre but que de mettre un terme aux dissensions civiles et à la misère publique.

Jamais plus vaste dessein n’a été conçu et mis à exécution. De loin en loin quelques hommes de génie, quelques sages, en ont parlé d’une voix basse et tremblante. Aucun d’eux n’a eu le courage de dire la vérité tout entière.

Le moment des grandes mesures est arrivé. Le mal est à son comble ; il couvre la face de la terre. Le chaos, sous le nom de politique, y règne depuis trop de siècles. Que tout rentre dans l’ordre et reprenne sa place.

A la voix de l’égalité, que les éléments de la justice et du bonheur s’organisent.

L’instant est venu de fonder la République des Egaux, ce grand hospice ouvert à tous les hommes. Les jours de la restitution générale sont arrivés. Familles gémissantes, venez vous asseoir à la table commune dressée par la nature pour tous ses enfants.

PEUPLE DE FRANCE !

La plus pure de toutes les gloires t’était donc réservée ! Oui, c’est toi qui le premier dois offrir au monde ce touchant spectacle.

D’anciennes habitudes, d’antiques préventions voudront de nouveau faire obstacle à l’établissement de la République des Egaux. L’organisation de l’égalité réelle, la seule qui réponde à tous les besoins, sans faire de victimes, sans coûter de sacrifices, ne plaira peut-être point d’abord à tout le monde.

L’égoïste, l’ambitieux frémira de rage. Ceux qui possèdent injustement crieront à l’injustice. Les jouissances exclusives, les plaisirs solitaires, les aisances personnelles causeront de vifs regrets à quelques individus blasés sur les peines d’autrui. Les amants du pouvoir absolu, les vils suppôts de l’autorité arbitraire ploieront avec peine leurs chefs superbes sous le niveau de l’égalité réelle. Leur vue courte pénétrera difficilement dans le prochain avenir du bonheur commun ; mais que peuvent quelques milliers de mécontents contre une masse d’hommes tous heureux et surpris d’avoir cherché si longtemps une félicité qu’ils avaient sous la main ?

Dès le lendemain de cette véritable révolution, ils se diront tout étonnés : En quoi ! le bonheur commun tenait à si peu ? Nous n’avions qu’à le vouloir. Ah ! pourquoi ne l’avons-nous pas voulu plus tôt. Oui sans doute, un seul homme sur la terre plus riche, plus puissant que ses semblables, que ses égaux, l’équilibre est rompu ; le crime et le malheur sont sur la terre.

PEUPLE DE FRANCE !

A quel signe dois-tu donc reconnaître désormais l’excellence d’une constitution ? …Celle qui tout entière repose sur l’égalité de fait est la seule qui puisse te convenir et satisfaire à tous tes voeux.

Les chartes aristocratiques de 1791 et de 1795 rivaient tes fers au lieu de les briser. Celle de 1793 était un grand pas de fait vers l’égalité réelle ; on n’en avait pas encore approché de si près ; mais elle ne touchaient pas encore le but et n’abordait point le bonheur commun, dont pourtant elle consacrait solennellement le grand principe.

PEUPLE DE FRANCE !

Ouvre les yeux et le coeur à la plénitude de la félicité : reconnais et proclame avec nous le République des Egaux.

Sylvain Maréchal.

[from Philippe Buonarroti, Gracchus Babeuf et la conjuration des égaux]

Manifesto of the Equals

Sylvain Maréchal

Actual equality, the final aim of the social art.—Condorcet, Picture of the Human Mind, page 329.

People of France!

For fifteen centuries you have lived as slaves, and consequently unhappy. For six years you have hardly breathed, awaiting independence, happiness and equality.

Equality! First wish of nature, first need of man, and principal bond of all legitimate association! People of France! You have not been more favored than the other nations that stagnate on this unfortunate globe!… Always and everywhere, the poor human species, given over to more or less skilled cannibals, serves as a plaything for all the ambitions, fodder for all the tyrannies. Always and everywhere, the men of fine words beguile: never and nowhere have they obtained the thing with the word. From time immemorial we have repeated, hypocritically, that men are equal, and from time immemorial the most degrading and most monstrous inequality weighs insolently on the human race. As long as there have been civilized societies, the finest prerogative of man has been acknowledged without objection, but has still not be realized a single time: Equality was nothing but a beautiful, but sterile fiction of the law. Today, when it is demanded in a louder voice, they respond to us: Silence, wretches! Actual equality is only a chimera; content yourselves with conditional equality; you are all equal before the law. Canaille, what more do you need? What more do we need? Legislators, governors, rich proprietors, listen in your turn.

We are all equal, aren’t we? This principle remains uncontested, because unless on e is afflicted with madness, you would not seriously claim that it is night when it is day.

Well! We intend from now on to live and die equal as we are born; we want real equality or death; that is what we need.

And we will have that real equality, no matter the price. Woe to those who would resist so strong a wish!

The French Revolution is only the forerunner of a much greater, much more solemn revolution, which will be the last.

The people have marched over the bodies of the kings and the priests combined against them: they will do the same to the new tyrants, to the new political Tartuffes seated in the place of the old ones.

What more do we need than equality of rights?

We not only need that equality transcribed in the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and Citizen, we want it in our midst, under the roofs of our houses. We consent to everything for it, to make a clean slate in order to hold on to it alone. Let all the arts perish, if necessary, as long as real equality remains to us!

Legislators and rulers who have no more genius than good faith, rich proprietors without guts, you try in vain to neutralize our holy enterprise by saying: They only seek to reproduce that agrarian law already demanded once before them.

Slanderers, be silent in your turn, and, in the silence of confusion, hear our ambitions dictated by nature and based on justice.

The agrarian law or division of the countryside was the momentary wish of some unprincipled soldiers, of some small tribes moved by their instinct rather than by instinct. We offer something more sublime and more equitable, the common good or the community of goods! No more individual property in land, the land belongs to no one. We demand, we desire the communal enjoyment of the fruits of the earth: the fruits belong to everyone.

We declare that we cannot tolerate any more than the great majority of men would and sweat in the service and for the good pleasure of the great majority.

For long enough, and more, less than a million individuals have disposed of that which belongs to more than twenty millions of their fellows, of their equals.

Let it finally cease, this great scandal that our descendents will hardly believe! Disappear, finally, revolting distinctions of rich and small, of great and small, of masters and servants, of rulers and ruled.

Let there no longer be any difference among men but those of age and sex. Since all have the same need and the same faculties, let there no longer be anything but a single education, a single nourishment. They content themselves with a single sun and a single air for all: why is the same portion and the same quality of foodstuffs not sufficient for each of them?

But already the enemies of an order of things more natural than one can imagine, rail against us.

Disorganizers and rebels, they say to us, you only want massacres and plunder.

People of France!

We do not waste our time in responding to them, but we say to you: the holy enterprise that we prepare has no other aim but to put an end to the civil dissensions and to the public misery.

Never has a more immense design been conceived or put into execution. As it approaches some men of genius, some sages, have spoken of it in low and trembling voices. None of them have had the courage to speak the entire truth.

The moment for grand measures has arrived. Evil has reached its height; it covers the face of the earth. Chaos, under the name of politics, has reigned there for too many centuries. Let everything revert to order and retake its place. At the voice of equality, let the elements of justice and happiness be organized. The moment has come to found the Republic of Equals, that grand refuge open to all men. The days of general restitution have arrived. Wailing families, come seat yourselves at the common table set by nature for all her children.

People of France!

The purest of all glories was thus reserved for you! Yes, it is you who must first offer this touching spectacle to the world.

Some old habits, some ancient prejudices would make new obstacles to the establishment of the Republic of Equals. The organization of real equality, the only organization that responds to all needs, without making victims, without costing sacrifices, will perhaps not please everyone at first.

The selfish, the ambitious will shudder with rage. Those who possess unjustly will cry injustice. The exclusive enjoyments, the solitary pleasures, the personal comforts will cause keen regrets in some individuals jaded in the face of others’ struggles. The lovers of absolute power, the vile accomplices or arbitrary authority will cede their splendid leaders with difficulty under the level of real equality. Their short sight will penetrate with difficulty into the coming future of common happiness; but what can a few thousand malcontents do against a mass of men, all happy and astonished to have sought for so long a felicity that had been close at hand?

On the morrow of that revolution, they will say to themselves in astonishment: What! The common happiness depended on so little? We had only to want it. Ah! why have we not wished it sooner. Yes, without doubt, a single man on the earth who is richer, more powerful than his fellows, than his equals, and the balance is broken; crime and misfortune are on the land.

People of France!

So, from now on, by what sign should you recognize the excellence of a constitution?… That which rests entirely on actual equality is the only one that can suit you and satisfy all your wishes.

The aristocratic charters of 1791 and 1795 fastened your irons instead of breaking them. That of 1793 was a great step indeed toward real equality; we have still not approached it so closely. It still did not touch the goal and did not achieve common happiness. It did, however, solemnly consecrate its great principle.

People of France!

Open your eyes and hearts to the fullness of bliss: recognize and proclaim with us the Republic of Equals.

Sylvain Maréchal

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

MANIFESTO OF THE EQUALS.

“REAL EQUALITY—THE LAST END OF THE SOCIAL ART.”—Condorcet, Picture of the Human Mind, page 329.

People Of France !—During fifteen ages you have lived slaves, and consequently unhappy. During six years you breathe with difficulty in the expectation of independance, of prosperity, and of equality.

Equality !—first vow of nature, first want of man, and chief bond of all legitimate association! People of France! you have not been more favoured than the other nations which vegetate on this ill-fated globe! Always and everywhere does the unfortunate human species, delivered over to cannibals more or less artful, serve for a plaything to all ambitions—for pasture to all tyrannies. Always and everywhere have men been fooled by fine words; never and nowhere have they obtained the thing with the word. From time immemorial we have been hypocritically told—men are equal; and from time immemorial does the most degrading and monstrous inequality insolently oppress the human race. Ever since the first existence of civil societies has the finest apanage of man been uncontradictedly acknowledged; but never, up to this moment, has it been once realized. Equality has never been other than a beautiful and barren fiction of law. Even now, when it is claimed with a stronger voice, we are answered, “Be silent, miserables !—absolute equali y is but a chimeera; be content with conditional equality; you are all equal before the law. Rabble! what more do you want?” What more do we want? Legislators, governors, rich proprietors—listen in your turn.

We are all equal, are we not? This principle remains uncontested, because, without being self-convicted of folly, one cannot seriously say that it is night when it is day.

Well! we pretend henceforward to live and die equal, as we are born so. We desire real equality or death; behold what we want. And we shall have this real equality, no matter at what price. Woe to them who will interpose themselves between it and us! Woe to him who will offer resistance to so determined a resolve!

The French Revolution is but the forerunner of another revolution far more grand, far more solemn, and which will be the last. The people has marched over dead bodies against the kings and priests coalesced against it; it will do the same against the new tyrants— against the new political Tartuffes* who have usurped the places of the old.

“What do we want,” you ask, ” more than equality of rights?” We want that equality not merely written in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen;” we want it in the midst of us—under the roofs of our houses. We consent to everything for it— to become as pliable wax, in order to have its characters engraven upon us. Perish, if needs be, all the arts, provided real equality abides with us!

Legislators and governors, who are as destitute of genius as of honesty—you rich proprietors, without bowels of pity—in vain do you essay to neutralize our holy enterprize, by saying, “They are only re-producing the old Agrarian law, so often demanded already before them.”

Calumniators! be silent in your turn; and in the silence of confusion hearken to our pretensions, dictated by nature heiself, and based upon eternal justice. The Agrarian law, or partition of lands, was only the instantaneous wish of certain soldiers without principles—of certain small tribes, moved by instinct rather than by reason. We aim at something more sublime, and more equitable; we look to common property, or the community of goods! No more individual property in lands. The earth belongs to no one. We claim—we demand—we will the communal enjoyment of the fruits of the earth; the fruits belong to all.

We declare that we can no longer suffer that the great majority of men shall labour and sweat to serve

and pamper the extreme minority. Long enough, and too long, have less than a million of individuals disposed of what belongs to more than twenty millions of men like themselves—of men in every respect their equals. Let there be at length an end to this enormous scandal, which posterity will scarcely credit. Away for ever with the revolting distinctions of rich and poor, of great and little, of masters and servants, of governors and governed.

Let there be no longer any other differences in mankind than those of age and sex. Since all have the same wants, and the same faculties, let all have accordingly the same education—the same nourishment. They are content with one sun, and the same air for all; why should not the like portion, and the same quality of food, suffice for each according to his wants?

But already do the enemies of an order of things, the most natural that can be imagined, declaim against us, —” Disorganizes, and seditionists,” they exclaim, ” you want but massacres and plunder.”

People Of France! We will not waste our time to answer them; but we will tell you,—” the holy enterprise we are organizing has no other object in view than to put an end to civil dissensions and to public disorder. Never was a more vast design conceived and put in execution. At distant intervals in the history of the world it has been talked of by some men of genius—by a few philosophers —but they spoke it with a low and trembling voice. Not one of them has had the courage to speak the entire truth.

The moment for great measures has arrived. Evil is’ at its height; it has reached its maximum, and covers the face of the earth. Chaos, under the name of politics, has too long reigned over it. Let everything revert to order, and resume its proper place. At the voice of equality, let the elements of justice and felicity be organized. The moment is come to found the Republic Of Equals—that grand asylum open to all human kind. The days of general restitution are come. Weeping families, come and seat yourselves at the common table provided by nitUre for all her children.

People Of France! The purest of all earthly glories has been reserved for you—yes, ’tis you who are first destined to present the world with this touching spectacle.

Old habits, old prejudices, will again seek to oppose obstacles to the establishment of the Republic or Equals. The organization of real equality—the only one which satisfies all wants, without making victims, without costing sacrifices—will not, perhaps, at first please everybody. The egotist, the ambitious, will yell with rage. Those who possess unjustly, will raise the cry of injustice. Exclusive enjoyments, solitary pleasures, personal ease and privileges, will cause poignant regrets to some few individuals who are dead or callous to the pangs of others. The lovers of absolute power, the vile instruments of arbitrary authority, will feel it hard that their haughty chiefs should bend to the level of equality. Their short-sightedness will, with difficulty, penetrate into the future of public happiness, however near; but what can avail a few thousand malcontents against such a mass of human beings, all happy, and astonished at having been so long in quest of a felicity which they had within hands’ reach. On the day that follows this real revolution, they will say to one another in amazement—” What—universal happiness depended on so little! We had but to will it. Ah, why had wc not willed it sooner? Was it then necessary to have it told to us so often? Yes, no doubt, a single man on the earth, more rich, more powerful, than his fellow men, than his equals, destroys the equilibrium, and crime and misfortune come on the world.

People Of France! By what sign then ought you henceforward to recognise the excellence of a constitution? ….That which altogether reposes on actual, absolute equality, is the only one that can be suitable to you, and satisfy all your desires.

The aristocratic charters of 1791 and 1795 riveted your chains, instead of breaking them. That of 1793 was a great practical step towards real equality; never before was equality so nearly approached; but that Constitution did not yet touch the end, nor was it fully competent to attain general happiness, of which, however, it has solemnly consecrated the great principle.

People Of France! Open your eyes and hearts to the fulness of felicity; recognize and proclaim with us the REPUBLIC OF EQUALS!

[From Buonarroti’s History of Babeuf’s Conspiracy for Equality]

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2124 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.

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