Hessel’s hugely popular, multi- million selling pamphlet, Time For Outrage has found resonance in today’s fraught times due to his own combative past as resistance fighter against the Nazi regime; as a survivor of Nazi torture and their bestial concentration camps; as one of the original authors of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and as a UN diplomat seeking to put substance into those fine sounding words of that Declaration. Hessel must be a huge embarrassment to today’s authorities because while they, the Bush’s, the Blair’s, The Sarkozy’s and the Cameron’s, pretend to stand for the democratic ideals that helped defeat fascist aggression, Hessel indicts them precisely for having abandoned those very ideals.
As millions of people worldwide now desperately protest against the ravages of global corporatism, including in London today, Hessel’s words shout out like thunder and remind us all of our responsibilities to stand up against social, political and economic oppression in all its myriad forms. How the old Etonians must be squirming in their suits and tails as they busy themselves with yet another Oxbridge Boat-race and yet another foreign adventure in North Africa? They must squirm a little as they contemplate just how far they have taken us from the egalitarian ideals of the welfare state as imagined and demanded by earlier generations after the slaughter of the two world wars.
As for a manifesto for today’s demonstrations, we could do no better than to inscribe on our banners the call to protest by Hessel himself. Printed below are some of his most poignant declarations: It is up to us, all of us together, to ensure that our society remains one to be proud of: not this society of being suspicious of immigrants; not this society where our pensions and other gains in social security are being called into question; not this society where the media is in the hands of the rich.
Let us remember the social safety net that the Resistance called for: A comprehensive Social Security Plan, to guarantee all citizens a means of livelihood in every case where they are unable to get it by working; and retirement benefit that allows older workers to end their lives with dignity.
After the war, sources of energy electricity, gas, coal were nationalised, along with large banks, returning to the nation the major means of production that have been monopolised, the fruits of common labour, the sources of energy, mineral riches, insurance companies and big banks; and establishing a true economic and social democracy which entails removing large scale economic and financial feudalism from the management of the economy.
Genuine democracy needs a free press. The Resistance knew this, and it demanded the freedom and honour of the press and its independence from the state and the forces of money and foreign influence. The Resistance called for the practical opportunity for every child to have access to the most advanced education without discrimination; (not) beholden to a society of money. The power of money, which the Resistance fought against, has never been as great and selfish and shameless as it is now, with its servants in the very highest circles of government. The banks, now privatised, seem to care primarily about their dividends, and about the enormous salaries of their executives, not about the general good. The gap between richest and poorest has never been so wide, competition and circulation of capital never so encouraged.
The immense gap between the very poor and the very rich never ceases to expand. This is an innovation of the 20th and 21st centuries. The very poor in the world today earn barely two dollars a day. We cannot let this gap grow even wider. This alone should arouse our commitment. The worst possible outlook is indifference that says, I can’t do anything about it, I’ll get by. Behaving like that deprives you of one of the essentials of being human: the capacity and freedom to feel outraged. That freedom is indispensable, as is the political involvement that goes with it.
Nazism was defeated, thanks to the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters of the Resistance and of the United Nations against fascist barbarity. But the menace has not completely disappeared, and our outrage at injustice remains intact to this day. No, this menace has not completely disappeared. In addition, we continue to call for a true peaceful uprising against the means of mass communication that offer nothing but mass consumption as a prospect for youth, contempt for the least powerful in society and for culture, general amnesia and the outrageous competition of all against all. To you who will create the twenty-first century, we say, with affection, TO CREATE IS TO RESIST. TO RESIST IS TO CREATE.