This manifesto, drawn up by Sylvain Maréchal, for an attempt to organise an insurrection in Paris in 1796 known as the “Conspiracy of the Equals”, was never formally adopted by the conspirators. It is nevertheless a fine appeal for the establishment of the same sort of class-free communist society as Winstanley and the Diggers had advocated in the course of the English revolution some 150 years previously.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE!
For fifteen hundred years you have lived in slavery and in misery. And for the last six years you have existed in the hourly expectation of independence, happiness, and equality.
Equality is the first principle of nature, the most elementary need of man, the prime bond of any decent association among human beings. But in this you, the French people, have fared no better than the rest of mankind. Humanity, the world over, has always been in the grip of more or less clever cannibals—creatures who have battened on men in order to advance their own selfish ambitions and to nourish their own selfish lust for power. Throughout man’s history he has been gulled with fine words, he has received only the shadow of a promise, not its substance. Hypocrites, from time immemorial, have told us that men are equal; and yet monstrous and degrading inequality has, from time immemorial, ground humanity into the dust. Since the dawn of human history man has understood that equality is the finest ornament of the human condition, yet not once has he been successful in his struggles to bring his vision to life. Equality has remained a legal fiction, beautiful but baseless. And today, when we demand it with a new insistence, our rulers reply: “Silence! Real equality is an idle dream. Be content with equality before the law. Ignorant and lowborn herd, what else do you need?”
Men of high degree—lawmakers, rulers, the rich—now it is your turn to listen to us.
Men are equal. This is a self-evident truth. As soon say that it is night when the sun shines, as deny this.
Henceforth we shall live and die as we have been born—equal. Equality or death: that is what we want. And that is what we shall have, no matter what the price to be paid. Woe to you who stand in our way or try to thwart the realization of our dearest wish!
The French Revolution is only the forerunner of another, even greater, that shall finally put an end to the era of revolutions. The people have swept away the kings and priests who have been leagued against them. Next they will sweep away the modern upstarts, the tyrants and tricksters who have usurped the ancient seats of power.
What else do we need other than equality before the law?
We need not only this equality as it is written down in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen; we need it in life, in our very midst, in our homes. For the true and living equality we will give up everything. Let the arts perish, if need be! But let us have real equality.
Men of high degree—lawmakers, rulers, the rich—strangers as you are to the love of man, to good faith, to compassion: it is no good to say that we are only “bringing up again the old cry of loi agraire.” It is our turn to speak. Listen to our just demands and to the law of nature which sanctions them.
The loi agraire—the division of the land—has been the instinctive demand of a handful of soldiers of fortune, of peoples here and there governed by passion, not by reason. We intend something far better and far more just: the COMMON GOOD, or the COMMUNITY OF GOODS. There must be an end to individual ownership of the land, for the land is nobody’s personal property. Our demand is for the communal ownership of the earth’s resources. These resources are the property of mankind.
We say that an end must be put to the situation in which the overwhelming majority of mankind, living under the thumb of a tiny minority, sweats and toils for the sole benefit of a few. In France fewer than a million persons own and dispose of wealth that rightfully belongs to twenty millions of their fellow men, to their fellow citizens.
There must be an end to this outrage! Will people in times to come even be able to conceive that such a situation ever existed? There must be an end to this unnatural division of society into rich and poor, into strong and weak, into masters and servants, into rulers and ruled.
Age and sex are the sole natural distinctions existing between men. All men have the same needs, all are endowed with the same faculties, all are warmed by the same sun, and all breathe the same air. Why then should not all receive an equal share of food and clothing—equal both in that quantity and quality to which all shall be entitled?
But a howl arises from the sworn enemies of a truly natural order of things. ‘Anarchists! Demagogues!” they shriek. “You are nothing more than instigators of mob violence. That’s what you are.”
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
We shall not waste time dignifying such charges with an answer. But to you we say: the high enterprise which we are engaged upon has a single purpose— to put an end to civil strife and to the sufferings of the masses.
No vaster plan than ours has ever been conceived or put into execution. Once in a long while men of vision have discussed it, cautiously and in whispers; none of them has had the boldness to speak out and to tell the whole truth.
The hour for decisive action has now struck. The people’s suffering has reached its peak; it darkens the face of the earth. For centuries chaos has reigned under the name of “order.” Now the time has come to mend matters. We, who love justice and who seek happiness—let us enter the struggle for the sake of equality. The time has come to establish THE REPUBLIC OF EQUALITY, to prepare an asylum for mankind. The time has come to set the earth to rights. You, who are oppressed, join us: come and partake of the feast which nature has provided for all her sons and daughters.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
A glorious and historic destiny has been reserved.for you.
Hidebound tradition and blind prejudice will set barriers, as they always have, in the way of the establishment of the Republic of Equality. True equality—that alone provides for all human needs without sacrificing some men to the selfish interests of others—will not be welcome to everyone. Selfish and ambitious people will curse us. Men who have grown rich by thieving from their fellows will be the first to cry “thief.” Proud men, living in privilege or in idleness, who have grown callous to the sufferings of others, will do battle with us. Men who wield arbitrary power, or who are its creatures, will not unprotesting bow their stiff necks beneath the yoke. The shape of things to come, the common good, their blind eyes cannot see. But how can a handful of such people prevail against a whole nation that has at last found the rapturous happiness it sought so long?
The day after the revolution for true equality has taken place people will be amazed. They will say “The common good was so easy to attain! We only had to will it! Why on earth didn’t we realize that sooner—why did we have to be told so often? It’s absolutely true: when one man is richer and more powerful than the rest of us, everything is spoiled; crime and misery flourish”.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
What is the hallmark of excellence in a constitution? Only true equality can serve as a foundation on which to base your Republic and satisfy all your needs. The aristocratic charters of 1791 and 1795 did not break your chains: they riveted them upon you more firmly. The Constitution of 1793 was a giant step toward true equality, the greatest that we have yet taken. It was dedicated to the goal of the common good, but did not, even so, fully provide the basis for organizing it.
PEOPLE OF FRANCE,
Open your eyes and hearts to full happiness: recognize the REPUBLIC OF EQUALITY. Join with us in working for it.