Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/637/10191

From The Socialist newspaper, 9 September 2010

Zola's Germinal: still relevant today

It is 125 years since Emile Zola's Germinal was first published. Dave Gorton delves into one of the most renowned and important works of French literature.

Germinal was the 13th of Emile Zola's monumental 20-volume Rougon-Macquart series but, like all the books, stands alone and can be read without knowing any history of the characters or previous events.

Set in the coalfields on the French/Belgian border in 1867, it was the first 19th century novel to have a major strike as one of its central features, but Germinal was more than this.

It was written shortly after a period of revolution and counter-revolution throughout Europe, including France's revolutions of 1789 and 1848. Zola, who wouldn't have called himself a socialist at the time of writing Germinal, showed the battles taking place between competing class forces.

The disagreements between two of the central characters emulate debates between socialism and anarchism in the then newly formed First International.

Étienne

At the outset of the novel we accompany a wandering Étienne Lantier in his quest to earn a few sous to feed himself. He was hired at one of the many pits in the region, in horrendous inhumane conditions which Zola describes at some length.

Étienne was in contact with the First International and tries to sign up fellow miners to its ranks. Early on we read of "a rebellion [was] germinating in this narrow hole nearly six hundred metres below ground. Soon the voices rose in anger, and these men, blackened with coal and frozen with waiting, accused the company of killing half its employees underground and letting the other half die of hunger."

Anger let loose

As the employers tried to change payment methods (ie cut wages), that anger was let loose. The French mines employed through sub-contracting so that groups of workers had to bid to work on the 'better' seams, in the process undercutting their colleagues and neighbours.

The employers used arguments that will appear familiar to readers currently active in trade unions. To a delegation of miners that interrupted a bosses' dinner party to demand an increase in the basic rates of pay, the manager of the Montsou mines retorts: "Do you think that the company hasn't as much to lose in the present crisis as you have? It cannot fix wages as it likes, it must be competitive or go under. Why don't you blame the facts instead of the company?"

Hardship

The workers strike and receive massive support. Zola leads us through all the, still relevant and recognisable, facets of a strike: the attempts to widen it to other pits in the coalfield (today this would be secondary picketing); the excruciating hardship; the role of the women in support of their striking husbands, fathers, sons and daughters.

Zola makes it plainly clear that the women were as much to the fore, if not more so, than the 'menfolk'. Yet the brutal work and social conditions manifested themselves in the appalling treatment of women: "It was the usual thing, wasn't it? She had never imagined it would be anything else - raped behind the slag-heap, a baby at sixteen and then a poverty stricken home if her lover married her."

Rasseneur

Zola introduces us to Rasseneur, formerly a militant miner turned reformist who owned a local bar: "Surely it was stupid to think the world could be changed at one blow... It would need perhaps thousands and thousands of years for that to come about... The wisest course, if you didn't want to come a cropper, was to go straight ahead with demanding feasible reforms and bettering the workers' conditions as and when the chances arose."

Germinal is also a great story. Zola, with the knowledge of the events that led to the Paris Commune, finished Germinal with an evocative passage:

"Men were springing up, a black avenging host was slowly germinating in the furrow, thrusting upwards for the harvests of future ages. And very soon their germination would crack the earth asunder."

Germinal
by Emile Zola
£3.99, plus £1.50 p&p

Available from Socialist Books, PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD

Phone 020 8988 8789 Cheques payable to Socialist Books.

Buy on our website: www.leftbooks.co.uk


New edition

The Transitional Programme
by Leon Trotsky
With an introduction by Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe
£2.50 plus 50p p&p from Socialist Party Wales

socialistpartywales@btinternet.com

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 9 September 2010:

We can stop the Con-Dem cuts

Health workers' victory

National Shop Stewards Network lobby of the TUC


Socialist Students

We won't be a lost generation!

No to slave labour apprenticeships!


Socialist Party news and analysis

Tony Blair - a journey to Thatcherism

Blair admits he was wrong...

Academies will lead to a two-tier education system

Jobs and services are facing axe in Cornwall


Socialist Party youth and students

Far right not welcome in Brighton

Con-Dems threaten EMA


Socialist Party workplace news

Solid strike on London Underground

London bus workers fight cuts

London: Unite members to strike against NHS privatisation

Corus Redcar - the real story

New Royal Mail boss sharpens her axe


Socialist Party NHS campaign

Fighting for the health service

The callous cutting of NHS Direct


Socialism 2010

Against cuts? Come to Socialism 2010


International socialist news and analysis

Russia: Motorway construction through Khimkinsky forest halted

Global food crisis reveals failure of capitalism


Socialist Party feature

No to Trident nuclear weapons


Socialist Party review

Zola's Germinal: still relevant today


 

Home   |   The Socialist 9 September 2010   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Zola:

triangleA socialist Christmas gift guide

Socialist:

triangleConference on state spies: who's watching who?

triangleSocialist Students 'welcome' Hillary Clinton to Swansea

triangleHundreds turn out for rally aimed at removing west Wales Tory MP

triangle'Dazzling' Bad Art show points to socialist future

Women:

triangleYoung people being strangled by debts

triangleCardiff East Socialist Party: Is equality for women possible under capitalism?

triangleShocking insight into Isis

Strike:

triangleArriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

triangleRoyal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

International:

triangleAustria: Success In Defending Women's Right To Abortion

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns

19/10/17

North West

Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

18/10/17

Democratic rights

Conference on state spies: who's watching who?

18/10/17

Leeds

Striking back against sackers' charter at Leeds Uni

18/10/17

PCS

PCS ballots members on the pay cap

18/10/17

Royal Mail

Royal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

18/10/17

Art

'Dazzling' Bad Art show points to socialist future

18/10/17

Council

Sheffield Labour council threatens peaceful protesters with prison

18/10/17

South West Wales

Hundreds turn out for rally aimed at removing west Wales Tory MP

18/10/17

NHS

Uprising to save the NHS!

18/10/17

Socialism

Can you donate to the Socialism 2017 appeal?

18/10/17

East London

No cuts - hands off King George A&E!

18/10/17

North London

North London hospital workers fight cuts and job losses

18/10/17

BAE

Nationalise to save jobs at BAE Systems

18/10/17

Schools

Schools "can't go any further" - stop the cuts: set deficit budgets now

18/10/17

Swansea

Socialist Students 'welcome' Hillary Clinton to Swansea

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle19 Oct Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

triangle18 Oct Russia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangle18 Oct Tories torn - bin them now

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

triangle11 Oct CWU fights court attempt to stop national strike

triangle11 Oct The fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against...

More ...

triangle19 Oct Waltham Forest Young Socialists: Deaths in police custody

triangle19 Oct Swansea Socialist Party: Spanish revolution 1936-37

triangle19 Oct Cardiff East Socialist Party: Is equality for women possible under capitalism?

triangle19 Oct Wirral Socialist Party: The October 1917 Russian Revolution

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2