[26 siècles d’engatse] Immortal Congress

The Socialist Party is holding its congress this weekend at the Palais du Pharo. Discussions promise to be stormy. Apart from the battles of the people, the two tendencies that have always dominated the socialist movement: the revolutionary and the reformist, will confront each other in their present style: uncouth, mean, almost unrecognizable. In 1879, already in Marseilles, when the French Socialist Workers’ Congress was held at the Folies Bergères (near Place Sadi-Carnot), it was something else entirely. The delegates all came from the working class, ideas far outweighed electoral concerns, and it was essential that the debates were both democratic and inclusive, as evidenced by the more than 800 pages of reports that were subsequently published.

Let’s go back 150 years and look at the meeting of the three people who participated in what we call the “Immortal Congress” today.

Eugène Cépède, sitting restlessly in the third-class carriage, could still dream. A dream full of solidarity, universal education and the inevitable prosperity of a new society. Expelled from school at the age of eleven, this amiable thirty-year-old educated himself by visiting municipal libraries. He had read Robinson Crusoe Parallel Lives Plutarch and Poor people when he was just a student.

He grew up, became an excellent wallpaper artist, and abandoned classical literature to devour all the socialist pamphlets he could get his hands on. Later, he joined the house painters union chamber. He met secretary Isidore Finance. He admired him, became a supporter of his concepts: the recognition of private property, the independence of trade unions, the transition to socialism through education. He knew that he was going to speak at the congress where his mentor was going, the weather was good and it was the first time he was going to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. That’s why he felt especially good. His eyes left the blue of the sky only to read the names of the stations, to imagine what cities they served and how many good zigs lived there, ready to build a new world with him.

At Arles, the train stopped a little longer. A hundred kilometers remained, the locomotive had to be filled with water. Eugene went to the window. He saw some kind of bearded giant in the crowd about to go up. The man was holding a small suitcase in one hand and a folded newspaper in the other, his name was easily guessed: LEGALITY, a weekly run by Jules Guesde, a partisan of proletarian revolution and collectivism. These were not Eugene’s thoughts, but the young man did not dwell on this detail. ” This a boy from homehe thought. If only it could fit in our compartment, we would have a good conversation among companions. Luck and the railways work well: after a few minutes the stranger sat down in front of little Keped.

Arms up, arms down

It didn’t take long for them to talk to each other. They did not delay the beginning of the congress, which they were going to attend, after measuring the conviction and sincerity of each one (the police were everywhere). But if they protested, it was all out of respect, convincing each other, and being happy to be with someone from his camp. Then they moved on to more practical issues. It was then that they realized that they would be staying in the same place in Marseille: in the boarding house of the sister of their friend, Marie Graves, who was to represent the trade union chamber in Marseille at the congress. .

They went arm in arm to their common home. Marie Graves’ smile was discovered with such amazement. They fell asleep in the same ecstasy, dreaming of constructive and peaceful discussions, unprecedented speed of the revolutionary movement, and single comrades ready to create a true socialist family with them.

The next day they joined the Folies Bergères and raved about the room and the contestants. The tribune is decorated with national flags mixed with revolutionary flags. On the walls, the coats of arms of the cities alternated with the slogans of the movement: Liberty, Equality, Solidarity (rather than fraternity); There are no rights without duties. Positions without rights; Land for peasants, tools for laborers, work for all; Science, peace, unity, justice, painted on a red background. The delegates wore Sunday clothes to honor their class, and the debates were promised to be perfectly regulated, perfectly democratic: the election of a bureau of nine members at each session, the reading of the minutes the day before, the reading of the delegates. reports, each based on a long-announced topic and transcribed in full by a team of stenographers.

Eugène and Daniel (the giant’s name was Daniel, Daniel Forestier, and he was a printer) sat side by side in the chairs reserved for the public, and delighted to participate in such a solemn assembly, they all opened their blunt staffs.

The voice of Marseillais Jean Lombard rose first: “The bourgeoisie, which emerged from the people and is forever separated from the people, holds everything in its hands. The monstrous militarism, senseless speculation, financial feudalism, which false science and political economy claim to legitimize, supported by an immoral system, make this precious independence of the people increasingly impossible. in a word. This has been sent. Thousands of active former jeweler students who filled the room applauded the student’s words. The stenographers noted, “crazy bravos! and the following representatives took the floor. They read letters of support addressed to the congress by Italian, Swiss, Romanian, Ruthenian or London socialists. Our two friends were happy. Yes, the whole world was on the road to socialism. We could endlessly listen to the encouragement of comrades abroad. But the day was about to end. Having left the Folies, Eugene and Daniel were already looking forward to finding their place. And tomorrow, tomorrow and the day after that. Especially the day after tomorrow. The session on October 22nd was indeed called DE LA FEMME, and their oh-so-glamorous hostess, Marie Graves, was to perform. After the debates, he promised to introduce them to Marcel.

“I believe you have less doubt than fear
from our equality

The first speaker that day was former teacher Hubertine Auclert. He proposed to link the women’s movement with the movement of the proletariat: Like you, we have been victims of abuse of power. In our modern society, like you, we still experience the tyrannical power of those in power, compounded by the tyrannical power of those who have rights over us… “. He brought the essentially male assembly back to its contradictions: If I ask this question: Do you believe in human equality? They would all answer me like this: Yes… If I tell you, are you a supporter of equality between women and men? Many will answer me: No. “. And clearly concludes: I believe you have less doubt than fear of our equality. Little did he know that a triple salvo greeted the speech, and the speaker was escorted to his seat with attention to the smallest detail, as the stenographers noted again.

Louise Tardif then took to the podium and spoke mainly about girls’ education. He was also very clear: Society’s prejudices and permission given to men are still the cause of women’s inferiority. “. There were other speakers, men and women, and then finally it was Mary’s turn.

What have the great and immortal principles of ’89 done for women so far? If anything, it’s less.

What are we today?

What were we before ’89. That is, slaves ! »

He attacked strongly. The ones that followed were just as brilliant. Eugene and Daniel were captured. Was that the power of the case? Was Marie’s voice, her look, her brave reserve mixed with the precision of her words? That was all. It happened again, when the three met again by the sea.

He walked slowly. They were walking at the same speed, one to his left and one to his right. He would have given them his arms, but he felt that they would not dare to take them. They were very strict, very formal. Like good students, they resorted to the debates he had prepared earlier, giving him his speech like the children sang a compliment for Mother’s Day. They arrived at the Corniche, where a luxury beach resort had just been built. They were walking by Lafleur’s restaurant. A troop of waiters in aprons, ready to serve their great men, watched them pass. It was at this moment that Daniel, the bolder of the two, decided to change the register. To show himself in his best light, his most masculine, his most radical day, he began:

See it. Another trick for the rich. I would claim this restaurant from you and make it a homeless shelter.

so let it Yevgeny answered immediately as if irritated. They don’t know what is good, bourgeois. The house still employs its own people.

You say, he uses it!

Of course. But Lafleur still owns the business. Our movement will be able to convince him to treat his workers better, if necessary by striking.

From there, the tone escalated and the discussion turned into a theoretical debate. A difficult and abstract argument. An argument to be smarter and more knowledgeable than the other, an argument to never agree. Eugène became pedantic in developing the theses of his master Isidore Finance: ” Property, as common in origin, explained it has passed through the tribe and become collectivized to become personal in the modern family, this is a natural law and progress is not going backwards. “. Daniel said, repeating Jules Guesde’s speech verbatim: ” The solution is the nationalization of real estate and furniture, from floor to machine, now delivered directly to producer groups. »

The two boys had separated themselves from their guides. They were now a few paces ahead of him. Voices became harsh, arguments gave way to insults. On the one hand, people treated each other like nutty Girondins, valets of capital; the overexcited Montagnard and the rubbish Atilla on the other. We came to blows.

That’s when Marie Graves, who was watching the argument from afar, decided to intervene. He caught up with his two friends, separated them, fixed the hat of one, the cap of the other, and smilingly gave his arm to each of them.

That’s not all, gentlemen, you need to sleep. Congress continues tomorrow!

Note: Apart from Eugène Cépède and Daniel Forestier, all the people mentioned in this short story actually existed and most of them attended L’immortel Congrès. The reported comments are their interventions. History especially remembers that of Hubertine Auclert. Marseille employee Marie Graves, no less topical and no less feminist, is well and truly sunk for her part. His name does not appear in Maitron’s dictionary, the Bible of the labor movement.

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