Manifesto of the Equals, Sylvain Marechal (april 1796)
De facto equality, the final goal of the social art. (Condorcet)
PEOPLE OF FRANCE!
For fifteen centuries you have lived as slaves, and have therefore been miserable. For the past six years you have scarcely been able to breathe, awaiting independence, happiness, and equality.
EQUALITY! The first desire of nature! The first need of man, and the principal bond that ties together all legitimate association! People of France! You have not been more favored than the other nations that vegetate on this unfortunate globe! Everywhere and at all times the poor human species, delivered over to cannibals of varying degrees of adroitness, has served as the plaything of ambitions, the grazing-ground of tyrannies. Everywhere and at all times man has been rocked to sleep with fine speeches: nowhere and at no time has he received the real thing along with the word. Since time immemorial it has been repeated to us hypocritically: men are equal; and since time immemorial the most debasing and widespread inequality has insolently weighed upon mankind. For as long as civil societies have existed, man’s finest appanage has been acknowledged without protest, but so far it has not been realized even once: equality was nothing but a fine and sterile fiction of the law. Today, when it is being demanded in a stronger voice, we are told: “Be quiet, you poor wretches! De facto equality is nothing but a chimera; be satisfied with conditional equality: you are all equal before the law. You vulgar mob, what more could you need? What we need?” Legislators, governors, rich property-owners, now it is your turn to listen.
We are all equal, are we not? This principle remains incontestable, because nobody would seriously claim, unless he were willing to be considered mad, that it is night when it is really day.
Well, then, we henceforth lay claim to living and dying equal, as we were born. We want real equality or death; that is what we need.
And we will have it, this real equality, at any price. Woe to those whom we encounter standing between it and ourselves! Woe to those who would resist a vow thus pronounced!
The French Revolution is only the herald of another revolution, far greater, far more solemn, which will be the last of them all.
The People have marched over the bodies of the kings and priests who were allied against them. They will do the same to the new tyrants, to the new political Tartuffes who are now seated in the place of the old ones.
What is it, you ask, that we need above and beyond equality of rights?
We not only need that equality which is set down in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen; we want it right in our midst, under our own roofs. We consent to everything for the sake of this, and will renounce everything else in order to have this alone. Let all the arts perish, if necessary, as long as real equality remains to us!
Legislators and governors, you who have no more ingenuity than you have good faith, rich property-owners without insides, it is in vain that you try to neutralize our sacred undertaking by saying: “They are only trying to bring about that agrarian law that has been asked for more than once before.”
Calumniators, you be quiet now, and in the silence of your confusion, listen to our aspirations, dictated by nature and founded upon justice.
The agrarian law, or the division of the land, was the immediately avowed desire of a few unprincipled soldiers, of a few mobs that were moved by their instinct rather than by reason. We are speaking of something more sublime and more equitable, the COMMON GOOD, or the COMMUNITY OF GOODS! No more individual ownership of the land: the land belongs to no one. We are demanding, we desire, communal enjoyment of the fruits of the earth: the fruits belong to all.
We declare ourselves unable any longer to tolerate a situation in which the great majority of men toil and sweat at the service and at the pleasure of a tiny minority.
For a long enough time now, for too long a time, less than a million individuals have had at their disposal what belongs to more than twenty millions of their fellows, of their equals.
Let it come to an end at last, this great scandal that our posterity will never believe! Disappear at last, revolting distinctions between rich and poor, great and small, masters and servants, governors and governed.
Let there be no differences between human beings other than those of age and sex. Since all have the same needs and the same families, there should be a common education and a common supply of food for all. Everyone is satisfied with having the sun and the air in common. Why could not the same portion and the same quality of food suffice for all?
But already the enemies of an order of things that would be the most natural one possible are declaiming against us. Disturbers of the pence, they say to us, faction-mongers, you want only pillage and slaughter.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
We will waste no time in answering them, but first we want to say to you: the sacred undertaking that we are organizing has no other aim than to put an end to civil dissension and widespread suffering.
Never has a more immense scheme been conceived and put into effect. Every once in a great while, throughout history, a few sages, men of genius, have spoken of it in low and trembling voices. None of them has had the courage to speak the whole truth.
The moment for great measures has arrived. Evil is at its saturation point; it covers the face of the earth. Chaos, under the guise of politics, has reigned for too many centuries. Let everything now return to order and resume its proper place. Let the elements of justice and happiness be organized in response to the voice of equality. The moment has come to found the REPUBLIC OF EQUALS, this great refuge open to all men. The day of general restitution has arrived. Suffering families, come sit at the common table that Nature has set for all her children.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
The purest of all glories has therefore been reserved for you! Yes, it is you who are to be the first to offer this moving spectacle to the world.
Old habits, worn-out prejudices, will rise up anew to try to block the establishment of the REPUBLIC OF EQUALS. The organization of true equality, the only equality that will answer to all needs without demanding victims or sacrifices, will perhaps not please everybody at first. The selfish man, the ambitious man, will quiver with rage. Those who now possess unjustly will cry out against the injustice.
The loss of exclusive possessions, solitary pleasures, personal comforts, will arouse some lively regrets among a few individuals who have no regard for the sufferings of others. The lovers of absolute power, the vile pillars of arbitrary authority, will only reluctantly allow their haughty chiefs to be bent down to the level of true equality. Their nearsighted vision will have trouble penetrating into the imminent future, with its prospect of common welfare. But what can a few thousand malcontents do against a mass of completely happy men, who will be surprised that it took them so long to discover a felicity that had always been right under their noses?
On the morrow of this true revolution they will say to themselves in amazement: “What! It took so little to achieve the common welfare. We had but to want it. And why did we not want it sooner? Did it have to be spoken of over and over again so many times?” Yes, most certainly; it takes only one man on earth, more resolute and more powerful than his fellows, than his equals, to upset the equilibrium; then crime and misery return to the earth.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
What signs do you need in order to recognize an excellent Constitution when you see one? The one founded entirely upon de facto equality is the only one that can suit you and satisfy all your desires.
The aristocratic charters of 1791 and 1795 simply rivet down your chains instead of breaking them. The one of 1793 was a great de facto step toward real equality; never had anything come so near to real equality. Yet even this latter Constitution did not reach the goal and bring about the common welfare, the great principle of which it nevertheless solemnly consecrated.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
Open your eyes and your hearts to the fullness of felicity. Recognize and proclaim along with us THE REPUBLIC OF EQUALS.
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