The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
One of the first Communist texts I read, following the French edition of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, also known as, The Little Red Book, was Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables. For those purists among my colleagues who may object to me referring to Les Miserables as a Communist text, I offer the following in rebuttal. The political stance of Les Miserables can be interpreted in relation the theories of Karl Marx, as both focus on the lower classes, and share a concern with social and economic injustice and their effects. Both believe that revolutionary change is inevitable, but must come from the working class.
Norman Denny in his introduction to Les Miserables states that “Hugo was always …deeply concerned with the social and political developments of his time” and this strong political interest and awareness is reflected throughout the novel, particularly through his knowledgeable depictions of key events such as the June Rebellion, or the Paris Uprising of 1832, following the death General Lamarque.
In Les Miserables, Hugo views Lamarque as the government’s champion of the poor. The insurrection was an unsuccessful, anti-monarchist insurrection of Parisian Republicans—largely students—from June 5 to June 6, 1832. The Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era details Hugo’s political views, mentioning his campaigns “on behalf of the poor, in favour of social justice, against kings and their wars, and against capital punishment”, a preference for “liberal democracy over imperial despotism” and his move towards to the political Left Les Miserables reflects these opinions, with Duncan Heath stating that “Hugo’s portrait of the Parisian underworld is essentially socialist“
Les Miserables is a novel very much focused around characters fighting against their oppression and exploitation. Some of them, like ex-convict Jean Valjean, are successful in their struggle, others, such as the prostitute Fantine, are not. The main form of exploitation and oppression in the novel is that of economics, as Hugo portrays characters forced into terrible positions by poverty. Hugo also portrays the struggle between classes, for example, Fantine is unfairly arrested for retaliating to a bourgeois who taunted her for being a prostitute and threw snow down her back. Marx devotes the opening to his revolutionary work The Communist Manifesto to this class conflict, saying that throughout history, social classes have fought against each other as “oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight” and one which Hugo revisits throughout the novel.
This brings me to the point of this post, the oppressor and oppressed. Any form of oppression is an injustice, it doesn’t matter if the oppressor is oppressing his or her victims for economic, political, racial or other discriminatory purposes – oppression is oppression in whatever form it comes.
Each individual or group I have written about on Blak and Black has been a victim of oppression, in each case the oppressor has been one or more of the ACT Government, the Australian Government, Ernst & Young (“E&Y”), the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”) or the Indonesian Military. Mr Julian Moti QC, Captain Fredrick Marten, Ms Jill Courtney, Pat, Ms King, Angelique, Dr Mohamed Haneef, Mamdouh Habib, the indigenous people of the Pacific, especially those of West Papua have all been victims in one way or another of a politicised, corrupt and racist AFP. Mr Cathal Lyons, Pat, the innocent victims of the fallout following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the indigenous people of West Papua have all been victims of corruption and/or incompetence within E&Y, who are incidentally the auditors of Freeport, the company at the centre of the ‘troubles’ in West Papua as well as having been the auditors of Lehman Brothers immediately prior to its collapse.
I denounced you as a convict – you, a respectable man, a mayor, and a magistrate. This is a serious matter, very serious. I have committed an offense against authority
Javert when he realised that he falsely accused Monsieur the Mayor of being a convict
In a nutshell Les Miserables is the story of Jean Valjean a hardened ex-convict in nineteenth century France. Valjean spends nearly twenty years in prison doing hard labour on a chain gang, his crime? He stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her starving child. Not exactly what one would call “perfect justice.” He comes out of prison a bitter man, determined to get even with the unfair world, that’s probably where the story would end, but for his conversion to religious Humanism by Bishop Myriel, the saintly prelate of Digne. As an added twist, before his conversion is completed, Valjean robs a young boy as a consequence he is hunted by a relentless servant of the law, Monsieur L’inspecteur Javert.
Adopting the persona of one Monsieur Madeleine, a ruse by which he hopes to avoid detection by the forces of the law, Valjean rises from the ranks factory labourer to factory owner due to his discovering a manufacturing process that revolutionizes the local industry of Montreuil-sur-mer. Valjean’s discovery brings prosperity to the area, makes him a fortune and results in his appointment as mayor. True to his conversion to religious Humanism, Valjean saves an innocent man, in so doing, he reveals himself as Jean Valjean and is captured by his nemesis Javert.
Valjean, determined to keep his word to a former employee, escapes prison, rescues the young, cruelly-mistreated Cosette, daughter of the dead (and equally-cruelly-mistreated) prostitute and former employee Fantine. Valjean pursued by a relentless Javert eventually finds refuge in a convent. Years later, Cosette falls in love with Marius Pontmercy, who, distraught at the impossibility of their relationship, intends to die on the barricades with his revolutionary friends, Enjolras and the Society of ABC in the June 1832 Paris uprising. Valjean rescues both Marius and Javert and then escapes the police by fleeing through the sewers. Javert, upon realization of the saintly nature of the criminal he has persecuted, commits suicide. Jean Valjean unites Marius and Cosette, who are wed, then withdraws from their life. Without his adopted daughter, he dies.
All jolly good, but what has this to do with the aforementioned innocent victims of governmental, institutional and police corruption? Exactly nothing; but for, the concept of the law, or more precisely the law and hypocrisy, Monsieur L’inspecteur Javert was a servant to the law and sacrificed his life, literally, to this cause, however misconceived, that cause may seem today. Javert to many, doesn’t have a scrap of good in him, that being said, he’s always trying to do the right thing, the problem is he just doesn’t have a very clear concept of what “right” is, because he doesn’t realise that the world is not in black and white and that the letter of the law doesn’t always apply directly to real life, and that sympathy, etc., is not ‘weakness.’
Probity, sincerity, candor, conviction, the sense of duty, are things which may become hideous when wrongly directed; but which, even when hideous, remain grand: their majesty, the majesty peculiar to the human conscience, clings to them in the midst of horror; they are virtues which have one vice, – error. The honest, pitiless joy of a fanatic in the full flood of his atrocity preserves a certain lugubriously venerable radiance. Without himself suspecting the fact, Javert in his formidable happiness was to be pitied, as is every ignorant man who triumphs. Nothing could be so poignant and so terrible as this face, wherein was displayed all that may be designated as the evil of the good.
Is Javert deserving of our pity? Perhaps, perhaps not, but what Javert has in spades over the aforementioned paragons of law and virtue – the AFP, E&Y, the ACT Government and the Australian Government is that to Javert, “I am the Law and the Law is not mocked” or so he says in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s musical interpretation of Les Mis just before he commits suicide. And that is the point of this post – “the Law is not mocked”, but that is exactly what happens when those with the power to make, enforce or interpret the law, ignore it, bend it or corruptly apply it for ends foreign to the laws intended purpose, something that Javert would find abhorrent.
If for example the AFP were to misuse Australia’s child sex tourism laws for political ends, as it appears to have done in the Moti and Marten’s cases, those actions serve no other purpose than to mock the law. Similarly, if the AFP goes along with allowing to ACT Government and E&Y to fit-up the ACT’s Commissioner for Revenue because that person is trying to expose corruption within the ranks of ACT Treasury, the APF as a law enforcement agency and the ACT Government as a law making body and mocking the very laws they are entrusted with formulating and enforcing – something the Javert would most certainly never do.
If E&Y, as is alleged by Mr Lyons, bribes a judge to bring down a favourable ruling in a tax case involving them, the law is mocked; the law is further mocked if E&Y then finds an excuse to sack the whistle-blower who was doing nothing more than insisting that “the Law is not mocked”. If E&Y as auditors of companies such as Freeport, turn a blind eye to payments made to the Indonesian Military, payments that provide incentives or could be seen as providing incentives for certain rogue elements within the military to commit human rights abuses against innocent West Papuan civilians, is not the law mocked?
Australia claims to be a country where the law is sovereign, but yet, certain senior public servants and elected officials seem to see no issue with fitting-up other senior public officials such as a Commissioner for Revenue or the Attorney-General of the Solomon Islands to achieve political ends, ends which if just, should be able to be meet while adhering to the ‘rule of law’ – in that way the law is not mocked.
Likewise if E&Y has nothing to hide, why the need to allegedly bribe a judge or to alter a former employee’s personnel file at the behest of an ACT Treasury official? – In both cases the law was mocked.
Hugo’s theme in Les Miserables is principally from the field of political/social philosophy, the branch of cognition that studies the principles governing the formation of a proper political system. The essence of the field is the application of moral precepts to the study of man’s social relations. Its fundamental question is: What is the basis of a civilized society? The wealth of negative examples Hugo provides highlights his view that nineteenth century French society is permeated by an inhumane lack of civilization. The novel’s theme necessitates that the story be filled with painful, agonizing, heart-breaking events. The action of the book must constitute an impassioned, from-the-heart outcry against the ills of contemporary society.
How far removed is our society from that of 19th Century French society. At one level, the technological, one would be unrecognisable to the other. On the political/social front however, the story is very different, or is it? While we still have the social injustices, they are perhaps not as pronounced as they were in 19th Century France; however, what 19th Century France had in spades over contemporary Western society is its Javert’s – people who thought the law supreme – a foreign notion to contemporary Western attitudes, where the law is mocked on a regular basis by the Hyenas of Capitalism and their partners in crime, the law making authorities of the so called Western Democracies.
As a special note to the august members of the ACT Legislative Assembly, you mock yourselves, when you mock the law!