Paul Adam, “Eulogy for Ravachol” (July 1892)

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Paul Adam

In these times, miracles and saints seem set to disappear. We can easily believe that the souls of contemporaries lack the spirit of sacrifice. The martyrs of this century have always been obscure citizens, maddened by the din of political words, and then gunned down without mercy, in 1830, 1848, and 1871, for the benefit of certain parliamentary situations arranged by a few violent and shifty advocates. And it would even be imprudent to claim that no wish of individual interest committed these unfortunate combatants themselves to seek some electoral profit, arms in hand.

The parades of the two chambers with their daily scandals, their syndicates of sugar-makers, of distillers, of beer venders, of winemakers, of grain brokers and livestock breeders, reveal to us, time and again, the motives of universal suffrage. There were Méline and Morelli, senator Le Guay… Also all these battles of the Parisian streets, all the histories of the rue Transnonain or of Satory end up appearing to us as simple quarrels of merchants in fierce competition.

Our souls, lacking complexity, would probably still be displeased to follow the brusque plays of these marionettes; and politics would have been banished completely from our preoccupations, had not the legend of sacrifice, of the gift of a life for the happiness of humanity, suddenly reappeared in our epoch, with the martyrdom of Ravachol.

Whatever the invective of the bourgeois press and the tenacity of the magistrates have been able to do to blacken the act of the victim, they have not succeeded in persuading us of its falsehood. After all the judiciary debates, chronicles, and appeals to legal murder, Ravachol properly remains the proponent of the great idea of the ancient religions which would advocate seeking individual death for the good of the world, the denial of self, and the sacrifice of life and reputation for the exaltation of the poor and humble. He is plainly the restorer of the essential sacrifice.

To have affirmed the right of existence at the risk of allowing himself to be contemned by the herd of the civic slaves and to bring on himself the ignominy of the scaffold, to have conceived as a technique the suppression of the useless in order to sustain an idea of liberation, to have had that audacity to conceive this, and the devotion to accomplish it, is that not sufficient to merit the title of Redeemer?

Of all the acts of Ravachol, there is one perhaps most symbolic in itself. In opening the sepulcher of that old man and by going to seek on the cadaver, groping on sticky hands, a jewel capable of sparing a family of paupers from hunger for some months, he demonstrated the shame of a society which adorns its carrion sumptuously while, in one year alone, 91,000 individuals die of starvation within the frontiers of the rich country of France, without anyone thinking anything of it—except him and us.

Precisely because his attempt was useless, and the cadaver was found stripped of adornment, the meaning of the act becomes more important still. It is stripped of all real profit; it takes the abstract form of a logical and deductive idea. From that affirmation that nothing is owed to those who have no immediate need, it is proven that for every need a satisfaction must respond. It is the very formula of Christ: To each according to their needs, so marvelously conveyed in the parable of the father who paid at the same price the workers who entered his vineyard at dawn, those who came at noon, and those who hired on at night. The work does not merit a wage; but the need demands satiety. You must not give in the hope of a lucrative recognition, or of a labor useful to you, but for the love of your fellow alone, in order to satisfy your hunger for altruism, your thirst for the good and the beautiful, your passion for harmony and universal happiness.

If one reproaches Ravachol for the murder of the hermit, is there not, each day, an argument to gather among the various facts of the gazette? Is he, indeed, more guilty in this than society, which allows to perish in the solitude of the garrets beings as useful as the student of the Beaux-Arts recently found dead in Paris, lacking bread. Society kills more than assassins, and when a man brought to bay by the greatest misery arms his despair and strikes, in order not to succumb, isn’t he the legitimate defender of a life for which could be charged some careless parents and an instant of pleasure? So long as men exist in the world to suffer slow starvation, to the final exhaustion of life, theft and murder will remain natural. No justice can logically oppose and punish it, unless it expresses honestly, and without other reasons, Force crushing Weakness. But if a new strength is raised before its own, it must not blacken the adversary. It must accept the duel and deal with the enemy so that in the days of its own defeat, it may find mercy in the New Force.

Ravachol was the champion of that New Force. First he explained the theory of his acts and the logic of his crimes; and there is no public declamation capable of convincing him of straying or of error. His act was the consequence of his ideas, and his ideas were born of the lamentable state of barbarity or stagnant humanity.

Ravachol saw sorrow around him, and he has exalted the sorrow of others by offering himself in sacrifice. His incontestable charity and disinterestedness, the vigor of his acts, and his courage before inevitable death raise him up to the splendors of legend. In this time of cynicism and irony, a Saint is born to us.

His blood will be an example from which will spring new courage and new martyrs. The great idea of universal altruism will flower in the red pool at the foot of the guillotine.

A fruitful death has been accomplished. An event of human history is marked in the annals of the people. The legal murder of Ravachol opens a new era.

And you artists who, with an eloquent brush, recount on the canvas your mystic dreams, a grand subject is offered here for your work. If you have understood your era, if you have recognized and kissed the threshold of the future, it is for you to trace out in a pious triptych the Life of the Saint, and his demise. For a time will come when in the temples of Real Fraternity, we will place your stained glass window in the loveliest place, in order that the light of the sun passing through the halo of the martyr will light up the gratitude of men free of selfishness on a planet free from property.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 2/26/2012]


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.