Home > Uncategorized > Émile Zola: Encomiums on labor and peace

Émile Zola: Encomiums on labor and peace


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Émile Zola: Selections on war


Émile Zola
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified


Labor ought to be pleasure. The happiness of each would one day consist in the happiness of others. There would be no more envy, no more hatred, when there should be space in the world for the happiness of all. The wheels of the social machine, as they were at present, must be done away with, for they were useless – they consumed force; and trade would also have to be condemned; the consumer would have to buy from the producer. With one blow all parasites would be swept away. The innumerable unwholesome growths which live on social corruption, or on the state of warfare in which men, as things are now, live a living death, would disappear. There would be no more armies, no more law courts, no more prisons. And, above all things, when that great dawn shall have taken place, righteousness would shine like the sun, dispersing poverty, giving to every creature who is born the right to live, bestowing upon each his daily bread, and the perfect happiness which is his birth right.


“And how admirably can work regulate things; what order it creates wherever it reigns! It is peace and joy, as well as health. I am amazed when I see it despised, belittled, – looked upon as a shame or as a punishment. If it has saved me from certain death, it has given me also all the good that there is in me; it has recreated my intelligence; it has given me nobleness. And what an admirable organizer it is! – how it regulates the workings of our minds, the play of our muscles, the special function of each group in a multitude of laborers! It is a political constitution, a police to look after humanity, a reason for maintaining social order. We are born to do the work of the world. Every one of us must help it on; we cannot explain the necessity for our lives except by perceiving that nature wanted one more laborer to carry on its work. Any other explanation is false and self-glorious. Our individual lives seem like a sacrifice to the universal life of future worlds. There is no such thing as happiness, unless we place it in the united happiness of perpetual united labor. And that is why I wish that some one would preach to the world the religion of labor, and sing hosannas to labor, as to a savior, the only true source. of health, peace, and happiness.”


He recapitulated the history of the past – the robbery, from the earliest ages, of the weak by the strong; crowds of poor wretches reduced to slavery; he spoke of men who had committed crimes that they might not make restitution to the needy who were dying of hunger and violence. And all the world’s wealth heaped by time, he showed, was in the hands of but a few persons – propertyowners – who had lands, houses, factories, and mines in which lay unworked coal and metal, men who put capital into transportation, rolling-stock, canals, railroads – nay, even into government bonds, men who owned the gold and silver, hundreds and thousands of which were paid out by the banks; in short, all the good things of this earth, everything that contributes to the good fortune of men. And was it riot an abomination that all this wealth should lead only to the frightful indigence of the greater number of people? Did this not cry for justice? Was there not an inevitable necessity for a new division? Such injustice on the one hand, such idleness on the other, caused by a plethora of riches, while hopeless toil, necessitated by poverty, had turned men into wolves. Instead of uniting to conquer and utilize the forces of nature, men devoured one another; the barbarous social system made them ate their fellow-men, made them err, go mad, abandon their children and their aged parents, crush women into beasts of burden or into instruments of lust. The laborers them selves, corrupted by bad example, resigned themselves to slavery, and succumbed to the baseness that was universal.

And what bad use was made of wealth – enormous sums spent for war, large amounts given to useless office-holders, to judges, and to gendarmes! – besides all the money that lay useless in the hands of merchants, those parasitical middle-men, who make their money out of consumers! Such was the daily leakage of wealth caused by an illogical social system. There was crime, besides, and also hunger, imposed by owners on their workpeople to increase their own profits. They would reduce the output of a factory; they would impose days of idleness on miners; and they would use poverty as an instrument of warfare that they might keep up prices; and then they would be astonished if the machine broke down under such a mass of suffering, injustice, and shame!

“No, no!” cried Luc, “it must come to an end; else humanity will be destroyed in some last outbreak of insanity. A new agreement must be made between capital and labor. Every man born into this world has the right to live; and the soil is the common property of all. The tools for toil must be given to every man; and every one must do his own personal share in the work of all…If history, with its past crimes and hatreds, has thus far been mere ly the abominable record of former robbery and the tyranny of a few robbers who have stimulated men to cut each other’s throats, and to set up law-courts, and build prisons to defend their ill-gotten gains, it is high time to begin a new era, and on the opening of a new century to commence with a single act of justice giving back to men the riches of the earth, letting labor become the universal law of human society, even as it is the law of the universe, that peace may be made among us and blessed fraternity commence its reign…It will come to pass; I will work for it; I shall succeed.”

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