Saturday, June 18, 2011

Le Sillon by It's Founder Marc Sangnier

Le Sillon (the Furrow) is an association, whose growth is not hampered by an iron-bound constitution.  It is a live organism.  It voices the aspirations of generations of young Frenchmen who, born since the war of 1870k turned their eye toward the future in order to gather new courage and conceived the dream of making their country the world's initiatrix in social endeavor.

Le Sillon had very humble beginnings; its cradle was in a vault in one of the buildings of the Stanislas High School, where, in the early part of 1894, some of the students were allowed to hold meetings during the recess hour.

We had then no definite aim; we only knew that we were not born for a humdrum existence, barren of enthusiasm, with nothing to look forward to except passing examinations and settling down in some office.  We resolved to devote our efforts to bringing about more justice on earth and more fraternity among men.  Religious convictions, our strongest incentive, made us consider the Christian idea as a well-spring of energy which it was our duty not to reserve selfishly for ourselves, but at which we should invite every man to quench his thirst.
Apostolate, social and religious, is the term that best characterizes the activity of our original membership.  After graduating from the high school everyone of us took with him a spark of that divine fire.  At the Ecole Polytechnique, which I entered in November, 1895, with several of my schoolmates, we won new recruits, and we organized meetings, some strictly private, at which we read the gospels and recited prayers, and some at which we discussed the solutions of the moral problems confronting military and civil engineers in the course of their careers.

After 1897 our meetings were no longer held in the Stanislas vault; we met from time to time with our friends and acquaintances in various halls.  We invited speakers representing all shades of opinions to address us.  For instance, in March and April 1909, Father Janvier, who was to preach later at Notre Dame de Paris, discussed with us "The Role of Theology in the Questions of the Hour"; on December 20, 1897, M. Keufer, a printer, and a member of the Supreme Council of Labor, spoke to us on "Woman in the Printing Trades."
In January, 1899, Le Sillon, a little magazine conducted along literary lines, was founded by our friend, Paul Renaudin, and became the organ of our movement, so vague as yet in scope, but so clearly defined in its expression of a certain frame of mind. 

This publication, which is now in the seventeenth year of its existence, gave its name to the considerable effort which was to spread so widely over the country and to permeate so deeply the young generations of Frenchmen.
An officer in the Engineer Corps, I kept up for a couple of years my work of social organization, with the support of Major Jaeger, who entrusted me with the moral direction of his battalion.  At the end of 1899, however, I decided to resign from the army and devote myself entirely to a mission of which I had by that time a more definite conception.

It was then I launched the idea of "study circles" in Catholic parochial clubs.  Their aim was to train a thinking and active elite, able to exert a certain moral influence, and to lead a vigorous social propaganda. 
My efforts were very successful, for congresses-of-study circles met with increasing frequency.  People's institutes were founded to give the leaders a chance to spread their influence and to conquer new adherents.  The clergy showed itself, from the very first, enthusiastic over the idea.  On the occasion of the second annual congress of the study-circles of people's institutes, Le Sillon received from Cardinal Rampolla, Secretary of State to Pope Leo XIII, as well as from all the French Cardinals and from many bishops, letters praising our work very highly.  In 1904 Pope Pius received with affectionate greetings a pilgrimage of Sillon members.

Our campaign of propaganda was extremely active; our meetings were attended by huge crowds; Le Temps estimates at ten thousand the audience which filled the big tent sheltering the eighth national congress of the Sillon held in Paris in 1909.
We organized interesting debates, among other ones with M. Buisson at th Alcazar d'Italie on November 26, 1903, and one with Jules Guesde in Roubaix on March 9, 1905.  Our meetings were sometimes held under difficult circumstances.  On May 23, 1903, at a time when rioters had been causing grave disturbances in Paris churches, we organized a meeting at the Salles des Mille Colonnes; "Apaches" attacked our friends as they left the hall and a pitched battle was fought, in the course of which some hundred people were injured.

While the outward activity of Le Sillon was developing in a gratifying way, its political and economic ideas were whipped into a more definite creed thru their contact with life. 
Le Sillon considers democracy as a social system that tends to increase to its maximum the civic conscience and the feeling of responsibility of the individual; and it has given itself as its aim the development in France of a true republic along political and economic lines.

Its program of action is threefold:

1.    Legislative action.  Legislation must correct as far as possible the abuses of our present capitalistic system and guarantee to the workers a material and intellectual existence such as will make them free and thinking citizens able to assume the responsibilities of community.

2.    Economic action.  Labor must work out its own emancipation and look upon cooperative or syndical enterprises not only as a remedy for present ills, but as a means of social transformation.

3.    Moral action.  Neither legislation nor propaganda will avail unless a spiritual factor imparts them.  The stumbling block at present is the conflict between public interests and private interests.  Moral factors only will bring about the subordination of private to public interests.
Christianity is a wonderful source of democratic energy, since it reconciles individual welfare and public welfare; for it teaches that unless we strive to realize justice in ourselves and in our environment we shall not enjoy its blessings in the other world.

Thru some of its members, the Sillon has exerted a deep influence on labor exchanges and on certain syndicates of the "General Confederation of Labor," which we tried to save from the domination of anarchistic ring-leaders.  We have not confined ourselves to expounding theories; we have fought the sweating system, not only on the platform, but by organizing a co-operative clothing store; we have fought night work in bakeries by establishing co-operative bakeries; thru many congresses and conferences we have succeeded in enlarging considerably our sphere of action and influence until the Sillon has become "Le Plus Grand Sillon" - The Greater Sillon.
We have received from many corners much vaulted expressions of sympathy; at the same time, however, we have had to contend with a bitter opposition.  The Royalists have attacked us more than once, and have tried to discredit us in the minds of Catholics by questioning our orthodoxy or our attitude towards the religious hierarchy.  Vainly did the Sillonists reply that while the Sillon had been founded and was directed by faithful Catholics, it was, nevertheless, a lay organization aiming at temporal results.  The attacks continued.

Even the friendly intervention of Monsignor Mignot, Archbishop of Albi, the eloquent and learned advocate of the Sillon, failed to settle controversies of that kind, which have caused many Catholics and several bishops to withdraw their support.  Nothing, however, could damp the ardor of the Sillonists or stop their activity.
Sillonists are recruited mostly from the ranks of the working class.  Statistics gathered in 1906 show that in every hundred Sillonists there were 46 laborers (33 urban and 13 agricultural laborers), 27 clerks, 12 professional men (several of them university professors), 9 priests, 3 employers of labor and 3 persons of independent means.

The Sillon is now devising ways and means to publish a daily paper, which will be called La Democratie.  It has taken a good deal of energy, not to say heroism, to gather the necessary 250,000 francs and take subscriptions payable before the date was even set for the appearance of the first issue.
La Democratie will be edited, printed and distributed by Sillonists exclusively.  None of the manual or intellectual workers employed on this paper will receive any regular salary.  If all our friends were financially independent they would certainly make it their duty to work for the cause without any renumeration; this is what a few well-to-do friends of ours are doing for La Democratie and for Le Sillon Central.  Indeed, they only follow the example set by the rank and file of Sillonists, who, in their leisure hours or on Sundays, sell our literature, put up posters, organize meetings, attend to the correspondence, and instead of demanding a salary turn over to the Sillon whatever money they are able to put aside.  If a man of independent means works for La Democratie, not only will he receive no pay, but he will be expected, as a matter of course, to contribute to the cause.  Still it would not be reasonable or democratic to refuse employment on this daily to men without personal resources.  Therefore, as our friends must live, those who devote all their time to the common enterprise should receive, if not a salary, at least a living wage.

Such a remuneration cannot be calculated according to the market value of the services rendered, but according to the man's needs.  The living wage will, therefore, age and family conditions being equal, be the same for all' the man who sweeps the floors and delivers papers is to receive as much as the editor in chief; he will receive even more if he is married and the editor single, for his living expenses are bound to be heavier.
We consider the remuneration should be sufficient to supply every individual not only with what he needs personally, but with what is necessary for the upkeep of his family.  Therefore the remuneration will increase when a comrade marries or becomes a father.

The fact that Sillon has been constantly extending its activities over new fields has obliged us to introduce more system into our organization.  Thus far there had not been any real organization.  Groups sprung up spontaneously; national congresses, quarterly conferences of out of town leaders, "Sillon Days" during which, in meditation, study and prayer, we planned for the development of the movement, were the only bonds that united individual efforts, but welded together in reality by a constant unanimity of purpose.
The time has come, however, when we must divide our work into distinct departments, which would not function properly unless sharp lines were drawn between them.

For instance, the "Union for Civic Education," whose aim is to assist young Catholics in preparing themselves for good citizenship in republican and democratic France, and the "Democratic Committee of Social Action" have become autonomous bodies, practically independent of the Sillon.
In the near future a "League for Republican Action" will enable our friends to collaborate in the political field with men who come perhaps form other philosophical and religious camps, but who are willing to lend their help to the creation of a new party, the Democratic Republican party.  This party will stand for radical reforms, will be resolutely idealistic, and will respect all moral and religious factors.

The Sillon is very young yet, although its history extends over the past fourteen years.  Thru all the different forms of Sillonist propaganda, however, something stands out permanently, which is the justification of its existence, and explains the fecundity of its action:  I mean the spontaneous and lasting friendship which unites and characterizes Sillonists, the thing at which the very dawn of our movement, in the warm and brotherly intimacy of our little high school vault, our comrades called:  "The common soul of the Sillon."
Originally published in The Independent Magazine, September 15, 1910.
Written by Marc Sangnier, founder of Le Sillon.

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