Almost three thousand workers and their families gather silently at a clearing in the forest as Jeanlin, Lydie, and Bébert sit in a tree above the crowd and watch. In the front of the group are Lantier, Maheu, and Rasseneur and an argument has begun. Rasseneur wants to properly elect a committee, idealistically believing he can regain his authority in front of everyone. Lantier thinks they should be acting like uncivilized revolutionaries rather than civilized meeting-goers.
Lantier finally climbs a tree and calls out to his comrades and the hubbub subsides. Lantier tells the crowd they have to meet here because they have been forbidden to meet in public, as if they were criminals. Here they are free and nobody can silence them. This statement incites thunderous applause and shouts of agreement.
Without emotion, Lantier reviews the history of the strike, how no one had wanted it but had been forced into it by the deceitful actions of the Board of Directors and the new Company policy. He concludes that things are currently at their worst. Now the Company is threatening to fire the strike instigators and hire replacement workers. Hunger has defeated them. Hope is lost and they are now in the “death throes of their courageous struggle.” He ends abruptly by asking if they want to continue their strike and, if so, how they will defeat the Company.
A deep silence prevails as the crowd contemplates the direness of their situation and the significance of their choice. Lantier’s voice becomes powerful and persuasive again as he asks if all their suffering was for nothing and if they were going to return, defeated, to work again in endless poverty. This time the Company has gone too far and the day is coming when the poor will rise up and obtain justice.
When he says justice, the crowd begins to echo his cry for justice now. He tells them the wage system is another form of slavery because the mine belongs to all of them. The crowd is with him, and finally Lantier talks about the collectivization of all means of production. First, collectivism will not work without the destruction of the State. Second, once the people take power, they can reform every aspect of society to guarantee equality for all, ensuring that individuals can own, and enjoy the fruits of, production. Finally, as these changes occur, the “great edifice of truth and justice…will rise with the dawn of the twentieth century.”
The forest roars its acclamation. This audience is simple, but it understands the call for justice, equality, and the end of suffering. The women grow hysterical in their fervor and the men grow angry. Souvarine would not have been successful in moving the crowd, and Rasseneur now shrugs his shoulders in contempt and asks to speak. Lantier relents, knowing the crowd will not listen to him.
Rasseneur is “like a fallen idol,” and just seeing him makes the crowd angry. He says they have to give...
(The entire section contains 787 words.)
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