INDIGNEZ-VOUS! GET ANGRY! CRY OUT
by Stéphane Hessel
After 93 years, it is almost the final act. The end for me is not very far off any more. But it still leaves me a chance to be able to remind others of what acted as the basis of my political engagement. It was the years of resistance to the Nazi occupation -- and the program of social rights worked out 66 years ago by the National Council of the Resistance!
It is to Jean Moulin [murdered founder of the Council] that we owe, as part of this Council, the uniting of all elements of occupied France -- the movements, the parties, the labor unions -- to proclaim their membership in Fighting France, and we owe this to the only leader that it acknowledged, General de Gaulle. From London, where I had joined de Gaulle in March 1941, I learned that this Council had completed a program and adopted it on March 15th, 1944, that offered for liberated France a group of principles and values on which would rest the modern democracy of our country. [Note 1]
These principles and these values, we need today more than ever. It is up to us to see to it, all together, that our society becomes a society of which we are proud, not this society of immigrants without papers -- expulsions, suspicion regarding the immigrants. Not this society where they call into question social security and national retirement and health plans. Not this society where mass media are in the hands of the rich. These are things that we would have refused to give in to if we had been the true heirs of the National Council of the Resistance.
From 1945, after a dreadful drama [WWII], it was an ambitious resurrection of society to which the remaining contingent of the Council of the Resistance devoted itself. Let us remember them while creating national health and pensions plans such as the Resistance wished, as its program stipulated, "a full plan of French national health and social security, aimed at assuring all citizens
the means of existence whenever they are unable to obtain them by a job; a retirement allowing the old workers to finish their days with dignity."
The sources of energy, electricity, and gas, mines, the big banks, were nationalized. Now this was as the program recommended: "... the return to the nation of big monopolized means of production, fruits of common labor, sources of energy, wealth from the mines, from insurance companies and from big banks; the institution of a true economic and social democracy involving the ousting of the big economic and financial fiefdoms from the direction of the economy."
General interest must dominate over special interest. The just man believes that wealth created in the realm of labor should dominate over the power of money.
The Resistance proposed, "a rational organization of the economy assuring the subordination of special interests to general interest, and the emancipation of 'slaves' of the professional dictatorship that was instituted just as in the fascist states," which had used the interim [for two years after the war] government of the Republic as an agent.
A true democracy needs an independent press, and the Resistance acknowledged it, demanded it, by defending "the freedom of the press, its honor, and its independence from the State, the power of money and foreign influence." This is what relieved restrictions on the press from 1944 on. And press freedom is definitely what is in danger today.
The Resistance called for a "real possibility for all French children to benefit from the most advanced education," without discrimination. Reforms offered in 2008 go contrary to this plan. Young teachers, whose actions I support, went so far as refusing to apply them, and they saw their salaries cut by way of punishment. They were indignant, "disobeyed," judging these reforms too far from the ideal of the democratic school, too much in the service of a society of commerce and not developing the inventive and critical mind enough.
All the foundations of the social conquests of the Resistance are threatened today. [Note 2]
The motive of the Resistance: indignation (Indignez-vous!)
Some dare to say to us that the State cannot afford the expenses of these measures for citizens any more. But how can there be today a lack of money to support and extend these conquests while the production of wealth has been considerably augmented since the Liberation period when Europe was in ruins? On the contrary, the problem is the power of money, so much opposed by the Resistance, and of the big, boldfaced, selfish man, with his own servants in the highest spheres of the State.
Banks, since privatized again, have proved to be concerned foremost for their dividends and for the very high salaries of their leaders, not the general interest. The disparity between the poorest and the richest has never been so great, and amassing money, competition, so encouraged.
The basic motive of the Resistance was indignation!
We, the veterans of the resistance movements and combat forces of Free France, we call on the young generation to live by, to transmit, the legacy of the Resistance and its ideals. We say to them: Take our place, "Indignez-vous!" [Get angry! or Cry out!].
The political, economic, intellectual leaders, and the whole society do not have to give in, nor allow oppression by an actual international dictatorship of the financial markets, which threatens peace and democracy.
I wish for you all, each of you, to have your own motive for indignation. It is precious. When something outrages you as I was outraged by Nazism, then people become militant, strong, and engaged. They join this current of history, and the great current of history must continue thanks to each individual. And this current goes towards more justice, more freedom, but not this unbridled freedom of the fox in the henhouse. The rights contained in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 are just that, universal.
If you meet somebody who does not benefit from it, feel sorry for them but help them to win their rights.
Two visions of history
When I try to understand what caused fascism, what made it so we were overcome by Hitler and the Vichy [French government that collaborated with Hitler], I tell myself that the propertied, with their selfishness, were terrifically afraid of Bolshevik revolution. They were allowed to lead with their fear.
But if, today as then, an active minority stands up, it will be enough; we shall be the leavening that makes the bread rise. Certainly, the experience of a very old person like me, born in 1917, is different from the experience of the today's young persons. I often ask professors for the opportunity to interact with their students, and I say to them: You don't have the same obvious reasons to engage you. For us, to resist was not to accept German occupation, defeat. It was comparatively simple. Simple as what followed, decolonization. Then the war in Algeria.
It was necessary that Algeria become independent, it was obvious. As for Stalin, we all applauded the victory of the Red Army against the Nazis in 1943. But already we had known about the big Stalinist trials of 1935, and even if it was necessary to keep an ear open towards communism to compensate against American capitalism, the necessity to oppose this unbearable form of totalitarianism had established itself as an obviousness. My long life presented a succession of reasons to outrage me.
These reasons were born less from an emotion than a deliberate commitment. As a young student at normal school [teachers college] I was very influenced by Sartre, a fellow student. His "Nausea" [a novel], "The Wall," [play], and "The Being and Nothingness" [essay] were very important in the training of my thought. Sartre taught us, "You are responsible as individuals." It was a libertarian message. The responsibility of a person can not be assigned by a power or an authority. On the contrary, it is necessary to get involved in the name of one's responsibility as a human being.
When I entered the French Ecole Normale Superieure, Ulm Street, in Paris in 1939, I entered it as a fervent adherent of the philosopher Hegel, and I adhered to the thought of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. His teaching explored concrete experience, that of the body and of its relations with the senses, one big singular sense faced with a plurality of senses. But my natural optimism, which wants all that is desirable to be possible, carried me rather towards Hegel. Hegelism interprets the long history of humanity as having a meaning: It is the freedom of man progressing step by step. History is made of successive shocks, and the taking into account of challenges. The history of societies thus advances; and in the end, man having attained his full freedom, we have the democratic state in its ideal form.
There is certainly another understanding of history. It says progress is made by "freedom" of competition, striving for "always more"; it can be as if living in a devastating hurricane. That's what it represented to a friend of my father, the man who shared with him an effort to translate into German "The Search for Time Lost" [novel] by Marcel Proust.
That was the German philosopher Walter Benjamin. He had drawn a pessimistic view from a painting by the Swiss painter Paul Klee, "Angelus Novus," where the face of the angel opens arms as if to contain and push back a tempest, which he identifies with progress. For Benjamin, who would commit suicide in September 1940 to escape Nazism, the sense of history is the overpowering progression of disaster upon disaster.
Indifference: the worst of attitudes
It is true the reasons to be indignant can seem today less clearly related or the world too complex. Who's doing the ordering, who decides? It is not always easy to differentiate between all the currents that govern us. We are not any more dealing with a small elite whose joint activities can be clearly seen. It is a vast world, of which we have a feeling of interdependence. We
live in an interconnectivity as never before. But in this world there still are intolerable things. To see them, it is well and necessary to look, to search. I say to the young people, Search little, and that is what you are going to find. The worst of attitudes is indifference, to say "I can do nothing there, I'l just manage to get by." By including yourself in that, you lose one of the essential elements that makes the human being: the faculty of indignation and the commitment that is a consequence of it.
They [young people] can already identify two big new challenges:
1. The huge gap which exists between the very poor and the very rich and that does not cease increasing. It is an innovation of the 20th and 21st centuries. The very poor in the today's world earn barely two dollars a day. The new generation cannot let this gap become even greater. The official reports alone should provoke a commitment.
2. Human rights and state of the planet: I had the chance after the Liberation to join in the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations organization, on December 10th, 1948, in Paris at the palace of Chaillot. It was as principal private secretary of Henry Laugier, the adjunct general-secretary of the UN, and as and secretary of the Commission on Human Rights that I with others was led to participate in the writing of this statement. I wouldn't know how to forget the role in its elaboration of René Cassin, who was national commissioner of justice and education in the government of Free France in London in 1941 and won the Nobel peace prize in 1968, nor that of Pierre Mendès-France in the Economic and Social Council, to whom the text drafts we worked out were submitted before being considered by the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the General Assembly. It was ratified by the 54 member states in session of the United Nations, and I certified it as secretary.
It is to René Cassin that we owe the term "universal rights" instead of
"international rights" as offered by our American and British friends. This [universal versus international] was key because, at the end of the Second World War, what was at stake was to become emancipated from the threats of totalitarianism that had weighed on humanity.
To become emancipated, it was necessary to acquire from the member states of the UN a promise to respect these universal rights. It was a way to outmaneuver the argument of "full sovereignty," which a nation can emphasize while it devotes itself to crimes against humanity on its own soil. Such was the case of Hitler, who felt himself supreme and authorized to carry out a genocide. This universal statement owed much to universal revulsion towards Nazism, fascism, and totalitarianism -- and owes a lot, in our minds, to the spirit of the Resistance.
I had a feeling that it was necessary to move quickly so as not to be dupes of the hypocrisy that there was in the UN membership, some whom claimed these values already won but had no intention at all to promote them faithfully -- claimed that we were trying to impose values on them. [Note 3]
I can not resist the desire to quote Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): "Everyone has the right to a nationality." Article 22 says, "Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality." And if this statement has a declarative scope, and not statutory, the Declaration nevertheless has played a powerful role since 1948. It saw colonized people take it up in their fight for independence; it sowed minds in a battle for freedom.
I note with pleasure that in the course of last decades there has been an increase in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and social movements
such as ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions);
also FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) and Amnesty International, which are active and competitive. It is obvious that to be effective today it is necessary to act in a network, to use all modern means of communication.
To the young people, I say: Look around you, you will find topics that justify your indignation — facts about treatment of immigrants, of "illegal" immigrants, of the Roma [aka Gypsies]. You will find concrete situations that lead you to strong citizen action. Search and you shall find!
My indignation regarding Palestine outrages by Israel [Indignez-vous!]
Today, my main indignation concerns Palestine, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank of Jordan. This conflict is outrageous. It is absolutely essential to read the report by Richard Goldstone, of September 2009, on Gaza, in which this South African, Jewish judge, who claims even to be a Zionist, accuses the Israeli army of having committed "acts comparable to war crimes and perhaps, in certain circumstances, crimes against humanity" during its "Operation Cast Lead," which lasted three weeks.
I went back to Gaza in 2009 myself, when I was able to enter with my wife thanks to our diplomatic passports, to study first-hand what this report said. People who accompanied us were not authorized to enter the Gaza Strip. There and in the West Bank of Jordan. We also visited the Palestinian refugee camps set up from 1948 by the United Nations agency UNRWA, where more than three million Palestinians expelled off their lands by Israel wait even yet for a more and more problematical return.
As for Gaza, it is a roofless prison for one and a half million Palestinians. A prison where people get organized just to survive. Despite material destruction such as that of the Red Crescent hospital by Operation Cast Lead, it is the behavior of the Gazans, their patriotism, their love of the sea and beaches, their constant preoccupation for the welfare of their children,
who are innumerable and cheerful, that haunt our memory. We were impressed by how ingeniously they face up to all the scarcities that are imposed on them. We saw them making bricks, for lack of cement, to rebuild the thousands of houses destroyed by tanks. They confirmed to us that there had been 1400 deaths — including women, children, and oldsters in the Palestinian camp — during this Operation Cast Lead led by the Israeli army, compared to only 50 injured men on the Israeli side. I share conclusions of the South African judge. That Jews can, themselves, perpetrate war crimes is unbearable. Alas, history does not give enough examples of people who draw lessons from their own history.
[The author, Stéphane Hessel, had a Jewish father.]
Terrorism, or exasperation?
I know that Hamas [party of Palestine freedom fighters], which had won the last legislative elections, could not help it that rockets were launched on Israeli cities in response to the situation of isolation and blockade in which Gazans exist. I think, naturally, that terrorism is unacceptable; but it is necessary to acknowledge (from experience in France) that when people are occupied by forces immensely superior to their own, popular reaction cannot be altogether bloodless.
Does it serve Hamas to send rockets onto the town of Sdérot [Israeli town across the border from Gaza]?
The answer is no. This does not serve their purpose, but they can explain this gesture by the exasperation of Gazans. In the notion of exasperation, it is necessary to understand violence as the regrettable conclusion of situations not acceptable to those who are subjected them.
Thus, they can tell themselves, terrorism is a form of exasperation. And that this "terrorism" is a misnomer. One should not have to resort to this exasperation, but it is necessary to have hope. Exasperation is a denial of hope. It is comprehensible, I would say almost natural, but it still is not acceptable. Because it does not allow one to acquire results that hope can possibly, eventually produce.
Nonviolence: the way we must learn to follow
I am persuaded that the future belongs to nonviolence, to reconciliation of different cultures. It is by this way that humanity will have to enter its next stage. But on this I agree with Sartre: We cannot excuse the terrorists who throw bombs, but we can understand them. Sartre wrote in 1947: "I recognize that violence in whatever form it may manifest itself is a setback. But it is an inevitable setback because we are in a world of violence. And if it is true that recourse to violence risks perpetuating it, it is also true it is the sure means to make it stop." [Note 4]
To that I would add that nonviolence is a surer means of making violence stop. One can not condone the terrorism, using Sartre or in the name of this principle, during the war of Algeria, nor during the Munich Games of 1972 the murder attempt made against Israeli athletes. Terrorism is not productive, and Sartre himself would end up wondering at the end of his life about the sense of violence and doubt its reason for being.
However, to proclaim "violence is not effective" is more important than to know whether one must condemn or not those who devote themselves to it. Terrorism is not effective. In the notion of effectiveness, a bloodless hope is needed. If there is a violent hope, it is in the poem of William Apollinaire "that hope is violent," and not in policy.
Sartre, in March 1980, within three weeks of his death, declared: "It is necessary to try to explain why the world of today, which is horrible, is only an instant in a long historical development, that hope always has been one of the dominant forces in revolutions and insurrections, and how I still feel hope as my conception of the future." [Note 5]
It is necessary to understand that violence turns its back on hope. It is necessary to prefer to it hope, hope over violence. Nonviolence is the way that we must learn to follow. So must the oppressors.
It is necessary to arrive at negotiations to remove oppression; it is what will allow you to have no more terrorist violence. That's why you should not let too much hate pile up.
The message of Mandela and Martin Luther King finds all its pertinence in the world that overcame the confrontation of ideologies [e.g., Nazism] and conquered totalitarianism [e.g.,Hitler]. It is also a message of hope in the capacity of modern societies to overcome conflicts by a mutual understanding and a vigilant patience. To reach that point is necessarily based on rights, against which violation, whomever is the author, must cause our indignation. There is to be no compromise on these rights.
For a peaceful insurrection
I noted, and I am not the only one, the reaction of the Israeli government when confronted by the way that every Friday the citizens of Bil'in, Palestine, advance -- without throwing stones or using force -- up to the separation wall against which they protest. Israeli authorities characterized this step as "bloodless terrorism." That's a good one .... It is necessary to be Israeli to qualify nonviolence as terrorist. It is especially necessary to be embarrassed [as Israelis are] by the effectiveness of nonviolence, which is found to provoke support, understanding -- the support of all those in the world who are the adversaries of oppression.
The thought process advanced by the West drew the world into a crisis from which it must emerge by a radical break: "always more," in the financial domain but also in the fields of science and technology . It's high time that concerns about ethics, justice, and LASTING EQUILIBRIUM (economic and environmental) prevail. Because the most serious risks threaten us. They can put an end to the human adventure on the planet, which they can make unfit for habitation by man.
But it remains true that important progress was made after 1948 [year of UN founding and Declaration of Human Rights]: decolonization, the end of apartheid, destruction of the Soviet empire, fall of the Berlin Wall. On the other hand, the first ten years of the 21st century were a period of degeneration. This degeneration is explained partly by the American presidency of George Bush, the September 11th events, and disastrous consequences that involved the United States, such as the military intervention in Iraq.
We had this economic crisis, but we still did not initiate a new policy of development. Also, the summit of Copenhagen against climatic warming did not bring about a true policy for the preservation of the planet.
We are on a threshold between the terror of the first decade and the possibilities of following decades. But it is necessary to hope, it is always necessary to hope. The previous decade, that of 1990s, had been a time of great progress. The United Nations had enough wisdom to call conferences such as those of Rio on environment, in 1992, and that of Beijing on women, in 1995. In September 2000, on the initiative of the general secretary of United Nations, Kofi Annan, the 191 member countries adopted a statement on the "eight objectives of the millennium for development," by which they notably promised to reduce poverty in the world by half before 2015.
My big regret is that neither Obama nor the European Union has yet committed themselves to what should be the provision for a useful forum bearing on the fundamental values.
How to conclude this call to be indignant? By saying still what, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the program of the National Council of the Resistance, we said on March 8th, 2004 -- we veterans of the resistance movements and combat forces of Free France (1940-1945) -- that certainly "Nazism was conquered, thanks to the sacrifice of our brothers and sisters of the Resistance and United Nations
against fascist barbarism. But this threat did not completely disappear, and our anger against injustice is ever intact." [Note 6] Also, let us always be called in "a truly peaceful insurrection against means of mass communication that offer as a vista for our youth only the consumption of mass trivia, contempt of the weakest and the culture, a generalized amnesia, and the hard competition of all against all."
To those who will make the 21st century, we say with our affection:
TO CREATE IS TO RESIST; TO RESIST IS TO CREATE.