Victor Hugo's Address to the Workman's Congress at Marseille

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Address to the Workman's Congress at Marseille  (1879) 
by Victor Hugo
Delivered at the Chateau d'Eau

For four hundred years the human race has not made a step but what has left its plain vestige behind. We enter now upon great centuries. The sixteenth century will be known as the age of painters, the seventeenth will be termed the age of writers, the eighteenth the age of philosophers, the nineteenth the age of apostles and prophets. To satisfy the nineteenth century, it is necessary to be the painter of the sixteenth, the writer of the seventeenth, the philosopher of the eighteenth; and it is also necessary, like Louis Blane, to have the innate and holy love of humanity which constitutes an apostolate, and opens up a prophetic vista into the future. In the twentieth century war will be dead, the scaffold will be dead, animosity will be dead, royalty will be dead, and dogmas will be dead; but Man will live. For all there will be but one country—that country the whole earth; for all there will be but one hope—that hope the whole heaven.

All hail, then, to that noble twentieth century which shall own our children, and which our children shall inherit!

The great question of the day is the question of labor. The political question is solved. The Republic is made, and nothing can unmake it. The social question remains; terrible as it is, it is quite simple; it is a question between those who have, and those who have not. The latter of these two classes must disappear, and for this there is work enough. Think a moment! man is beginning to be master of the earth. If you want to cut through an isthmus, you have Lesseps; if you want to create a sea, you have Roudaire. Look you; there is a people and there is a world; and yet the people have no inheritance, and the world is a desert. Give them to each other, and you make them happy at once. Astonish the universe by heroic deeds that are better than wars. Does the world want conquering? No, it is yours already; it is the property of civilization; it is already waiting for you; no one disputes your title!

Go on, then, and colonize. If you require a sea, make it; and the sea will beget navigation, and navigation will bring cities into being. Only find the man that really wants a plot of land, and then say to him, 'Take it; the land is yours; take it, and cultivate it.'

These plains around you are magnificent; they are worthy to be French, because they have been Roman. They have relapsed into barbarism, and next into savagery. Do away with them. Restore Africa to Europe; and, by the same stroke, restore to one common life the four mother-nations—Greece, Italy, Spain, and France. Make the Mediterranean once more the centre of history. Add England to the fourfold fraternity of nations; associate Shakespeare with Homer.

Meanwhile, be prepared for resistance. Deeds mighty as these must provoke opposition. Isthmuses severed, seas transported, Africa made habitable, these are undertakings that can only be commenced in the face of sarcasm and ridicule. All this must be expected. It is a novel experiment; and sometimes those who make the worst mistakes are those who ought to be the least mistaken. Forty-five years ago, M. Thiers declared that the railway would be a mere toy between Paris and Saint-Germain; another distinguished man, M. Pouillet, confidently predicted that the apparatus of the electric telegraph would be consigned to a cabinet of curiosities. And yet these two playthings have changed the course of the world.

Have faith, then; and let us realize our equality as citizens, our fraternity as men, our liberty in intellectual power. Let us love not only those who love us, but those who love us not. Let us learn to wish to benefit all men. Then everything will be changed; truth will reveal itself; the beautiful will arise; the supreme law will be fulfilled, and the world shall enter upon a perpetual fête day. I say, therefore, have faith!

Look down at your feet, and you see the insect moving in the grass; look upwards, and you will see the star resplendent in the firmament; yet what are they doing? They are both at their work: the insect is doing its work upon the ground, and the star is doing its work in the sky. It is an infinite distance that separates them, and yet while it separates unites. They follow their law. And why should not their law be ours? Man. too, has to submit to universal force, and inasmuch as he submits in body and in soul, he submits doubly. His hand grasps the earth, but his soul embraces heaven; like the insect, he is a thing of dust, but like the star he partakes of the empyrean. He labors and he thinks. Labor is life, and thought is light![1][2]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. Alfred Barbou (1882), “Victor Hugo and his time”, 265-266, <http://books.google.com/books?id=VsAaAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA265>. Retrieved on 16 July 2012(16 July 2012) 
  2. Newton Bishop Brury (1912), “Tolstoy's What Shall We Do Then A Problem and an Attempt at a Solution”, 206, <http://books.google.com/books?id=IMELAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA206>. Retrieved on 16 July 2012(16 July 2012)