Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.

By Romain Rolland

(French novelist and critic, born 1866; lecturer at the University of Paris. This epoch-making ten-volume novel, probably the greatest published in France since “Les Miserables,” tells the life story of a German-born musician. The following passage describes his attitude towards the revolutionary movement in Paris)
CHRISTOPHE was dragged into the wake of force in the track of the army of the working-classes in revolt. But he was hardly aware that it was so; and he would tell his companions in the restaurant that he was not with them.  1
  “As long as you are only out for material interests,” he would say, “you don’t interest me. The day when you march out for a belief, then I shall be with you. Otherwise, what have I to do with the conflict between one man’s belly and another’s? I am an artist; it is my duty to defend art; I have no right to enroll myself in the service of a party. I am perfectly aware that recently certain ambitious writers, impelled by a desire for an unwholesome popularity, have set a bad example. It seems to me that they have not rendered any great service to the cause which they defended in that way; but they have certainly betrayed art. It is our business—the artists’—to save the light of the intellect. We have no right to obscure it with your blind struggles. Who shall hold the light aloft if we let it fall? You will be glad enough to find it still intact after the battle. There must always be workers busy keeping up the fire in the engine, while there is fighting on the deck of the ship. To understand everything is to hate nothing. The artist is the compass which, through the raging of the storm, points steadily to the north.”  2
  They regarded him as a maker of phrases, and said that, if he were talking of compasses, it was very clear that he had lost his: and they gave themselves the pleasure of indulging in a little friendly contempt at his expense. In their eyes an artist was a shirker who contrived to work as little and as agreeably as possible.  3
  He replied that he worked as hard as they did, even harder, and that he was not nearly so afraid of work. Nothing disgusted him so much as sabotage, the deliberate bungling of work, and skulking raised to the level of a principle.  4
  “All these wretched people,” he would say, “afraid for their own skins!… Good Lord! I’ve never stopped working since I was eight. You people don’t love your work; at heart you’re just common men.… If only you were capable of destroying the old world! But you can’t do it. You don’t even want to. No, you don’t even want to. It is all very well for you to go about shrieking menace and pretending you’re going to exterminate the human race. You have only one thought: to get the upper hand and lie snugly in the warm beds of the middle classes.…”  5
  Thereupon they would all lose their tempers and all talk at once. And in the heat of the argument it would often happen that Christophe, whirled away by his passion, would become more revolutionary than the others. In vain did he fight against it; his intellectual pride, his complacent conception of a purely esthetic world, made for the joy of the spirit, would sink deep into the ground at the sight of injustice. Esthetic, a world in which eight men out of ten live in nakedness and want, in physical and moral wretchedness? Oh, come! A man must be an impudent creature of privilege who would dare to claim as much. An artist like Christophe, in his inmost conscience, could not but be on the side of the working-classes. What man more than the spiritual worker has to suffer from the immorality of social conditions, from the scandalously unequal partition of wealth among men? The artist dies of hunger or becomes a millionaire for no other reason than the caprice of fashion and of those who speculate on fashion. A society which suffers its best men to die or gives them extravagant rewards is a monstrous society: it must be swept and put in order. Every man, whether he works or no, has a right to a living minimum. Every kind of work, good or mediocre, should be rewarded, not according to its real value—(who can be the infallible judge of that?)—but according to the normal legitimate needs of the worker. Society can and should assure the artist, the scientist, and the inventor an income sufficient to guarantee that they have the means and the time yet further to grace and honor it. Nothing more. The Gioconda is not worth a million. There is no relation between a sum of money and a work of art: a work of art is neither above nor below money: it is outside it. It is not a question of payment: it is a question of allowing the artist to live. Give him enough to feed him, and allow him to work in peace. It is absurd and horrible to try to make him a robber of another’s property. This thing must be put bluntly: every man who has more than is necessary for his livelihood and that of his family, and for the normal development of his intelligence, is a thief and a robber. If he has too much, it means that others have too little. How often have we smiled sadly to hear tell of the inexhaustible wealth of France, and the number of great fortunes—we workers, and toilers, and intellectuals, and men and women who from our very birth have been given up to the wearying task of keeping ourselves from dying of hunger, often struggling in vain, often seeing the very best of us succumbing to the pain of it all,—we who are the moral and intellectual treasure of the nation! You who have more than your share of the wealth of the world are rich at the cost of our suffering and our poverty. That troubles you not at all; you have sophistries and to spare to reassure you: the sacred rights of property, the fair struggle for life, the supreme interests of that Moloch, the State, and Progress, that fabulous monster, that problematical Better to which men sacrifice the Good,—the Good of other men. But for all that, the fact remains, and all your sophistries will never manage to deny it: “You have too much to live on. We have not enough. And we are as good as you. And some of us are better than the whole lot of you put together.”  6

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