Outline of the Social Question

Method of Solution — Equivalence of the political question and the social question

Le Représentant du Peuple

9th May 1848

Translator: Barry Marshall

Privilege protects itself to the death. It threatens us from the north and south, east and west. It demands revenge on us from the four points of the compass. We cried like prophets that there is a time for mercy and there will be a time for punishment.

It is marvellous, Messieurs: having looked for war, we are going to have it tough and decisive. Let privilege defend itself if it can; it is the only way it has of beating our resolve. We will be the first to congratulate it. But it cannot hope to intimidate us: to us its bayonets are no more deadly than its words. Let it be fully understood: we are going to go after privilege, no matter what it calls itself, whether respectable, traditional or holy, until it has been wiped out. While the National Assembly meets, we without ideas, without a plan, like a well without water, are going to lose time to politicking. We shall organise draining and mining underneath the citadel of property. Work will go fast; success is assured.

Long ago, gladiators who went to fight in the Colosseum, paused before the emperor’s box and said to him with a poignant and terrible heroism, “Caesar, those who are about to die, salute you, Morituri te salutant!” Times have changed: the roles are now reversed. Labour has beaten capital. As the victorious gladiator, we can say today, while raising the sword before the Queen of the World:[1] morituram saluto: Property, I salute you! You will die by my hands!

But what am I saying? What use are threats from now on? We should change our language. It makes no sense to frighten the man of property. The day when the abolition of property begins, the day when individual right is supplanted by social right, this will be the day when everyone salutes, bourgeois and proletarian. What the worker gains in revolution because of the poverty he shakes off, the bourgeois gains in proportion to the property he abandons. In exchange for liberty, equality, security and wealth, the first gives up his poverty, the second his despotism. Thus, after a universal negation, when we agree to an increase in the freedom, guarantees and well-being of everyone, it would be absurd to sow terror. The privileged, instead of loading their guns, will back down, and we should listen peacefully. If we keep to our principles, they will immediately find that our aims are peaceable. We are going to talk to them in terms of facts and figures. But we must first of all talk to them about values.

End Notes

[1] A reference to a famous pensée of Blaise Pascal: “Force and not opinion is the queen of the world; but it is opinion that uses the force.” (“La force est la reine du monde, et non pas l’opinion; mais l’opinion est celle qui use de la force.”) (Translator)