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by Maurice Ulrich

Equality and Freedom

Translated Saturday 18 July 2009, by Alison Billington and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Two hundred and twenty years after the storming of the Bastille, the new ‘bastilles’ are a challenge to reasoned thinking. Hundreds of millions of men, women and children live on less than 50 pence a day, and that isn’t all. Access to water, massive pollution of the air, access to medical aid, to education, the situation of women, children and minorities have just as much glaring and often criminal inequality attached to them in a world said to have become a village.

In the developed countries, in France, how can we justify the fact that the director-general of a big enterprise earns three hundred times more then the paid workers of the same group? What is equality for the most modest of paid workers, the unemployed, the young moving from work placement to work placement, subject to insecurity, the immigrants deprived to the right to vote, illegal immigrants and the those of no fixed abode?

The crisis has revealed multiple scandals and golden handshakes, stock options and phenomenal bonuses which are for the use of the biggest employers and their groups of managers. Indignation even seemed to have reached the Head of State, who was even their friend , frowning, shrugging his shoulders and straining his voice. Several people have been well and truly lectured but it has started all over again and, above all, nothing fundamental to the system has changed. The riches produced by the work of the greatest number are hoarded by the few. This is called capitalism. Private incomes are received by those who owe all to the labour of others: these are called dividends.

Is this so obvious ? Doubtlessly not, because they quickly went to work to reduce equality to a fight against inequalities, then to reduce this to a fight against discrimination. These fights are obviously intolerable. The salary differences between men and women are scandalous, just as are the barriers erected with respect to hiring, involving origins, name, sexual preferences or all other expressions of the diversity which makes up the richness of humanity. Equality isn’t uniformity, it’s just the opposite, it’s each one of us having the chance to be himself. It is, to borrow Marx’s definition of communism: ‘The free opening up of the creative faculties of each one of us without a pre-established standard.’ Which also means that equality is not only a necessary and urgent response to injustices but also the development of the freedom of each one of us.

Nicolas Sarkozy and the spokesman for European employers, Ernest-Antoine Seillière [1]
have used very much the same words, more or less, to oppose equality and freedom. This is something from free and reactionary thinking of the past. It’s astonishing, furthermore, that it comes from the mouth of the President of the republic when Equality and Freedom are, with Brotherhood, the precisely the motto of the Republic. Doesn’t it suit him? But freedom and equality really make up an inseparable couplet from which brotherhood could well be the offshoot. The three terms, with their tension of meanings, with their coming into existence, express this community of men, all recognizing each other as free subjects and taking mutual responsibility for public matters and for the construction of common humanity. This is what Jaurès [2] really meant when he wrote that Humanity is to come.

From here on in, there isn’t an inch of the planet which will escape the exploitation of Man, leading to the exhaustion of the planet’s resources through profiteering. But modernised capitalism isn’t modernity. It is something to be outrun, in the unceasing conquest of new rights and new freedoms. Men are born free and equal in rights. That’s not a statement. It’s an affirmation and a programme of action.

[1Ernest-Antoine Seillière was a French entrepreneur who was heir of Wendel enterprises, president of MEDEF and vice president of CNPF. Wikipedia.

[2Jean Jaurès is oneof the main historical figuresof the French Left. He was a French socialist leader, later assassinated. Wikipedia.

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