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

The Bad Shepherds

Octave Mirbeau

(Celebrated French man-of-letters, born 1850. A play, first produced in 1897, with Sarah Bernhardt in the leading rôle, presenting the class-struggle from the point of view of the anti-parliamentarian. At the height of a desperate strike of steel-workers, the leader of the strikers is addressing a secret gathering in a forest, near a religious shrine)

JEAN:—You reproach me—and this is the worst charge you bring against me—that I refused the meeting with the radical and socialist deputies who wanted to mix up in our affair, and take the direction of the strike?

VOICES:—Yes—yes! Silence! Hear him!

JEAN:—Your deputies! Ah, if you had seen them at work! And you, yourselves—have you forgotten the infamous rôle, the pitiful, sinister comedy they played in the last strike? How, having pushed the workers to a desperate resistance, they gave them up weakened, despoiled, bound hands and feet, to the master—the very day where a last effort, a last surge, would have compelled him, perhaps, to surrender? Ah, no indeed! I have not wished that intriguers, under the pretext of defending you, should come to impose upon you combinations—wherein you are nothing but a means to maintain and increase their political power—a prey to satisfy their political appetites! You have nothing in common with those people! Their interests are not any more yours—than those of the usurer and the creditor, of the assassin and his victim!

VOICE:—Bravo! It’s true! Down with politics! Down with the deputies!

JEAN:—Understand, then, that they exist only by your credulity! Your brutalization, they exploit it as a farm—your servitude, they treat it as an income. They grow fat upon your poverty and your ignorance, while you are living; and when you are dead they make a pedestal of your corpses! Is that what you want?

VOICE:—No, no. He is right!

JEAN:—The master is at least a man like yourselves! You have him before you—you speak to him—you make him angry—you threaten him—you kill him. At least he has a face, a breast into which you can thrust a knife! But go now, and move that being without a face that is called a politician! Go kill that thing that is known as politics! That slippery and fugitive thing, that you think you have, and that always escapes you—that you believe is dead, and it begins once again—that abominable thing by which all has been made vile, all corrupted, all bought, all sold—justice, love, beauty! Which has made of the venality of conscience a national institution of France—which has done worse yet, since with its foul slime it has soiled the august face of the poor—worse yet, since it has destroyed in you the last ideal—the faith in the Revolution! Do you understand what I have desired of you—that which I still demand of your energy, your dignity, your intelligence? I have desired, and I desire, that you shall show for once, to the world of political parasites, that new example, fecund and terrible, of a strike made, at last, by yourselves, for yourselves! And if once more you have to die, in this struggle which you have undertaken, know how to die—one time—for yourselves, for your sons, for those who will be born of your sons—and no more for those who trade upon your suffering, as always!

MADELEINE (a girl-striker, springs up):—March—march with him, and no longer with those whose hands are red with the blood of the poor! March! The road will be long and hard! You will fall many times upon your broken knees—what matters it? Stand up and march again! Justice is at the end!

A VOICE:—We will follow you!

MADELEINE:—And do not fear death! Love death! Death is splendid—necessary and divine! It makes life young again! Ah, do not give your tears! Through all the centuries that you have wept, who has seen them, who has heard them flow? Give your blood! If blood is as a hideous spot upon the face of the hangmen, it shines upon the face of martyrs as an eternal sun! Each drop of blood that flows from your veins—every stream of blood that pours from your bosoms—will mean the birth of a hero—a saint (pointing to the crucifix)—a god! Ah, would that I had a thousand lives, that I might give them all for you! Would that I had a thousand breasts, so that all that blood of deliverance and love might pour out upon the ground where you suffer!