George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, 1962, Postscript 1975.
10 Anarchism in France
In England, with Winstanley and Godwin, anarchism first appeared as a recognizable social doctrine. In Spain it attained its largest numerical support. In Russia it produced, with Kropotkin, Bakunin, and Tolstoy, its most distinguished group of theoreticians. Yet for many reasons it is France that deserves pride of place among the countries that have contributed to the anarchist tradition. This is not merely because it is the country of Proudhon, from whom most varieties of anarchism draw their ultimate inspiration, or because Proudhon's mutualist disciples in the First International created the prototype of an organized anarchist movement. It is also because in France the various implications of anarchism were explored with a passion and a logical extremity rare elsewhere. In France the only form of anarchism that gained real mass support -- anarcho-syndicalism -- was first developed; in France the contradictory trend of extreme individualism was carried to its grim conclusions by a series of dedicated assassins; yet in France anarchism, as a doctrine of almost spiritual intensity, also caught the imagination of poets and painters to such an extent that its links with Symbolism and Post-Impressionism form one of the most interesting aspects of that fin-de-siecle world in which it reached its fertile and sensational apogee.
As I have shown, the early stirrings of French anarchism can be found among the Enrages of 1793 and among the mutualist working men of Lyons with whom Proudhon mingled during the 1840s. In 1848 anarchism was peculiarly associated with Proudhon, and in a sense Proudhon and the disciples who helped him with Le Representant du peuple and the People's Bank -- Darimon, Duchene, Langlois, Ramon de la Sagra -- established the primitive form of the anarchist functional group, dedicated not to political partisanship but to the tasks of propaganda and economic organization.
Of Proudhon's own significance and of the way in which he
consistently personified the anarchist viewpoint during the dark Bonapartist days from 1849 to his death in 1865, I have already written sufficiently, but before I begin to discuss the broadening of anarchism into a distinct movement through the activities of his followers, it is desirable to consider three lesser-known men who during this early period made independent contributions to the anarchist tradition in France.
Most of the revolutionaries who turned toward anarchism as a consequence of 1848 did so by virtue of hindsight, but one man at least, independently of Proudhon, made his defence of the libertarian attitude during the Year of Revolutions itself, 'Anarchy is order: government is civil war.' It was under this slogan, as wilfully paradoxical as any of Proudhon's, that Anselme Bellegarrigue made his brief, obscure appearance in anarchist history. Bellegarrigue appears to have been a man of some education, but little is known of his life before the very eve of 1848; he arrived back in Paris on 23 February from a journey in the United States, where he had met President Polk on a Mississippi steamer and had developed an admiration for the more individualistic aspects of American democracy. According to his own account, he was as little impressed as Proudhon by the revolution that broke out on his first morning back in Paris. A young National Guardsman outside the Hotel de Ville boasted to him that this time the workers would not be robbed of their victory. 'They have robbed you already of your victory,' replied Bellegarrigue. 'Have you not named a government?'
Bellegarrigue appears to have left Paris very soon, for later in the year he published from Toulouse the first of his works that has survived, a pamphlet entitled Au fait! Au fait! Interpretation de l'idee democratique; the epigraph, in English, reads: 'A people is always governed too much.' During 1849 Bellegarrigue was writing articles attacking the Republic in a Toulouse newspaper, La Civilization, but by early 1850 he had moved to the little village of Mezy, close to Paris, where, with a number of friends who had formed an Association of Free Thinkers, he attempted to set up a community devoted to libertarian propaganda and natural living. Their apparently harmless activities soon attracted the attention of the police; one of
their members, Jules Cledat, was arrested, and the community then dispersed.
Bellegarrigue returned to Paris, where he now planned a monthly journal devoted to his ideas. The first number of L'Anarchie: journal de l'ordre appeared in April 1850; it was the first periodical actually to adopt the anarchist label, and Bellegarrigue combined the functions of editor, manager, and sole contributor. Owing to lack of funds, only two issues of L'Anarchie appeared, and though Bellegarrigue later planned an Almanach de l'anarchie this does not seem to have been published. Shortly afterward this elusive libertarian pioneer disappeared into the depths of Latin America, where he is said to have been a teacher in Honduras and even -- briefly -- some kind of government official in El Salvador, before he died -- as he was born -- at a time and place unknown.
Bellegarrigue stood near to Stirner at the individualist end of the anarchist spectrum. He dissociated himself from all the political revolutionaries of 1848, and even Proudhon, whom he resembled in many of his ideas and from whom he derived more than he was inclined to admit, he treated with little respect, granting merely that 'sometimes he steps out of the old routine to cast a few illuminations on general interests'.
At times Bellegarrigue spoke in the words of solipsistic egoism. 'I deny everything; I affirm only myself. . . . I am, that is a positive fact. All the rest is abstract and falls into Mathematical X, into the unknown. ... There can be on earth no interest superior to mine, no interest to which I owe even the partial sacrifice of my interests.' Yet in apparent contradiction, Bellegarrigue adhered to the central anarchist tradition in his idea of society as necessary and natural and as having 'a primordial existence which resists all destructions and all disorganizations'. The expression of society Bellegarrigue finds in the commune, which is not an artificial construction, but a 'fundamental organism', and which, provided rulers do not interfere, can be relied on to reconcile the interests of the individuals who compose it. It is in all men's interests to observe 'the rules of providential harmony', and for this reason all governments, armies, and bureaucracies must be suppressed. This task must be carried out neither by political parties, which
will always seek to dominate, nor by violent revolution, which needs leaders like any other military operation. The people, once enlightened, must act for itself.
It will make its own revolution, by the sole strength of right, the force of inertia, the refusal to cooperate. From the refusal to co-operate stems the abrogation of the laws that legalize murder, and the proclamation of equity.
This conception of revolution by civil disobedience suggests that in America Bellegarrigue may have made contact with at least the ideas of Thoreau, and there is much that anticipates American individualist anarchism in Bellegarrigue's stress on possession as a guarantee of freedom, though this of course he shared with Proudhon. His picture of the progression of the free individual places him clearly outside the collectivist or communist trend in anarchism.
He works and therefore he speculates; he speculates and therefore he gains; he gains and therefore he possesses; he possesses and therefore he is free. By possession he sets himself up in an opposition of principle to the state, for the logic of the state rigorously excludes individual possession.
A different current of anarchism is represented by the two other men of the 1850s who merit our attention. Unlike Proudhon and Bellegarrigue, both Ernest Coeurderoy and Joseph Dejacque were physically involved in the revolution of 1848. As young men in their twenties, they took active parts in the February rising, and Dejacque at least fought on the barricades of the workers' insurrection during June 1848. He was imprisoned, but released in time to take part, like Coeurderoy, in the insurrection of 13 June 1849, when the republicans of the Mountain rose belatedly against the Presidency of Louis Napoleon. Coeurderoy fled to Switzerland and was condemned in his absence to transportation. Dejacque escaped with a slight sentence, but two years later he also fled, to avoid heavy punishment for having written revolutionary verses; he was condemned in his absence to two years' imprisonment.
Coeurderoy spent the rest of his life in exile, travelling restlessly from country to country -- Spain, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland
-- and dying in poverty near Geneva in 1862. Dejacque travelled farther; he reached New York in 1854 and spent seven years in that city and in New Orleans. In 1861 he returned to France, and he appears to have died some time during the 1860s, though the accounts of his death are vague and contradictory; according to one, he died mad in 1864, according to another he committed suicide in 1867, and according to a third he found consolation in religion and died peacefully at an unspecified time. The very doubt that attends his passing out of life suggests the obscurity in which his final years were lived. Not merely are there remarkable parallels between the lives of Coeurderoy and Dejacque, but their writings also reveal the same kind of sombre desperation, a desperation that must have been widespread among the disillusioned exiles of the Second Empire.
Coeurderoy, who was a physician and an intellectual, is best known for a philosophizing autobiography entitled Jours d'exil, which he published in Brussels during 1854, but he also wrote during the same decade a number of polemical works, including Revolution dans l'homme et dans la societe, the bitterly ironical Hurrah! ou la revolution par les cosaques, and a Letter to Alexander Herzen, whose ideas influenced him considerably.
The progression of Coeurderoy seems to have led him from Jacobinism, through Blanquism, to a final rejection in exile of all the political and authoritarian revolutionary groups. He signalized his break with them by publishing in 1852 a pamphlet attacking, among other venerated expatriates, Mazzini, Ledru-Rollin, Cabet, and Pierre Leroux. He significantly omitted Proudhon from those he so emphatically rejected.
Coeurderoy was not a very clear or specific writer. His style was romantically lush and he was given to wordy passages of rhapsodical prophesy. At the same time, he harboured a passion for destruction as extraordinary as Bakunin's. He believed that a new barbarism might be necessary before society could be regenerated. He longed to set the torch to the old world, beginning with his own father's house.
Disorder is salvation, it is order [he cried]. What do you fear from the uprising of all the peoples, from the unleashing of all the instincts, from the clash of all the doctrines? ... Anarchist
revolutionaries, we can take hope only in the human deluge, we can take hope only in chaos, we have no recourse but a general war.
The idea of the liberating general war, of the universal uprising of the peoples, haunted Coeurderoy; nowhere else does the apocalyptic strain in anarchism reach quite the same intensity as in the prophetic passages of Hurrah! ou la revolution par les cosaques, where destructionism and Satanism are combined in a startling vision of man rising upward and asserting his dignity through the paradoxically revivifying processes of war:
Forward! Forward! War is Redemption! God desires it, the God of the criminals, of the oppressed, of the rebels, of the poor, of all those who are tormented, the Satanic God whose body is of brimstone, whose wings are of fire and whose sandals are of bronze! The God of courage and of insurrection who unleashes the furies in our hearts -- our God! No more isolated conspiracies, no more chattering parties, no more secret societies! All that is nothing and can achieve nothing! Stand up, Man, stand up, people, stand up, all who are not satisfied! Stand up for right, well-being, and life! Stand up, and in a few days you will be millions. Forward in great human oceans, in great masses of brass and iron, to the vast music of ideas! Money will no longer avail against a world that rises up! Forward from pole to pole, forward, all peoples from the rising to the setting of the sun! Let the globe tremble under your feet Forward! War is life! The war against evil is a good war!
It is the vision of the world revolution in the image of Armageddon, yet beneath all its violence of phrase lurk ideas advocated more soberly by Kropotkin and even Proudhon: that political methods are unavailing, that the liberation of the people is their own task, that no power could stand against a humanity resolved and united in the war against injustice and social evil.
Coeurderoy set himself against conspiracy and the secret society, features of his own Blanquist past, and in this sense his advocacy of violence does not really anticipate the attitude of those who came forward in the 1870s as propagandists of the deed. He did not see the deed as an isolated provocative or preparatory act; he saw it as an apocalyptic fact, part of a
cumulative and irresistible process of liberation through destruction.
In Dejacque, on the other hand, we meet the true ancestor of the theorists of propaganda by deed, and of the ascetic assassins of the 1890s. But we meet also a man to whom the paradox of a natural order arising out of disorder was as provocative as it had been for Proudhon. Like Proudhon, Dejacque was a manual worker -- an upholsterer -- and like him he had an original mind, a natural power of writing, and a considerable self-taught erudition. He called himself a 'social poet', and published two volumes of heavily didactic verse -- Lazareennes and Les Pyrenees nivelees. In New York, from 1858 to 1861, he edited an anarchist paper entitled Le Libertaire, journal du mouvement social,1 in whose pages he printed as a serial his vision of the anarchist Utopia, entitled L'Humanisphere. And he expounded his 'war on civilization by criminal means' in a treatise entitled La Question revolutionnaire, which was written in 1852 among the peaceful gardens of Jersey and read to a unanimously disapproving audience at the Society of the Universal Republic in New York before eventually being published in that city during 1854.
Dejacque's advocacy of violence was so extreme as to embarrass even the anarchists in a later generation, for when Jean Grave came to reprint L'Humanisphere in 1899 he eliminated many passages that might have been interpreted as incitements to criminal acts. Unlike Coeurderoy, Dejacque retained the idea of conspiratorial and secret action as a means of destroying the old society in order to make way for the new. He envisaged a campaign for the final abolition of religion and property, the family and the state, which would be carried out by small anarchist groups, each containing three or four direct-actionists who would be willing to use steel and poison and fire to hasten the destruction of the old order. Clearly, despite his avowed admiration for Proudhon, Dejacque went far beyond him, attacking institutions -- like the family -- which Proudhon
considered sacred nuclei of a free society, and recommending means which Proudhon, though he never declared himself a pacifist, would have considered repugnant because of their amorality. In his conviction that all moral constraints must be relaxed in the cause of the revolution, Dejacque anticipated Nechayev, but he did not accept Nechayev's concept of hierarchical discipline as necessary for the revolutionary movement.
Dejacque balanced a passion for destruction with an equally strong passion for order, which he developed in L'Humanisphere. For reasons I have already discussed, anarchists rarely construct Utopias, but Dejacque's humanispherical world which he imagined might have evolved by the year 2858, stands in the true Utopian tradition and in some remarkable ways anticipates the vision of the future which H. G. Wells projected in Men Like Gods.
Man holding up in his hand the sceptre of science [says Dejacque] has henceforward the power which formerly one attributed to the gods, in the good old times of the hallucinations of ignorance, and according to his will he makes rain and good weather and commands the seasons.
As a result of these godlike powers, humanispherical man makes the desert blossom and brings eternal spring to the poles; he has channelled the heat of volcanoes and domesticated the beasts of prey, so that lions are children's pets. In this kind of futurist fantasy one soon begins to see the influence of Fourier, and when we come to Dejacque's actual proposals for social organization the Phalansterian influence is evident; it is Fourier modified by his opposite, Proudhon.
In Dejacque's world of the future, the great metropolises of the nineteenth century will disappear, and on their sites will rise enormous monumental meeting halls, called cyclideons, each capable of holding a million people, and conceived by Dejacque as 'altars of the social cult, anarchic churches of Utopian humanity'. There, in the total liberty of discussion, 'the free and great voice of the public' will be heard; there the solemn ceremonials of the libertarian world and its vast universal exhibitions -- an idea which haunted nineteenth-century anarchists as much as it did mid-Victorian liberal princes -- will take place in grandiloquent splendour.
At the same time the actual working lives of the people will be decentralized into humanispheres, which bear a strong resemblance to Fourier's phalansteries, without their hierarchical organization. Each will contain five or six thousand people, housed in a great building of twelve wings radiating like enormous starfish. Though the physical form of the humanispherical community is so rigidly set by its author, the life within it will be conducted on the principles of complete freedom, so that members will be allowed to exchange apartments and to change their work whenever they desire, since labour will be organized on Fourier's principle of attraction. The family will be abolished, love will be free, and children will be lodged separately and cared for by those whose instincts of maternity or paternity are well developed. Workshops and stores will be integrated into the star pattern of the humanisphere, and in the centre will be the assembly hall, the place for dealing with 'questions of social organization', in which the seemingly rigid physical pattern of the humanisphere will be counterbalanced by its intellectual liberty.
In this parliament of anarchy, each is his own representative and the peer of his associates. Oh, it is very different from what happens among the civilized; one does not perorate, one does not debate, one does not vote, one does not legislate, but all, young and old, men and women, confer in common on the needs of the humanisphere. It is each individual's own initiative that grants or refuses him speech, according as he believes it useful to speak or otherwise. ... Neither the majority nor the minority ever makes the law. If a proposition can gather enough workers to put it into operation, whether they be in the majority or the minority, it is carried out, so long as it accords with the will of those who support it. And usually it happens that the majority rallies to the minority, or the minority to the majority ... each yielding to the attraction of finding himself united with the rest.
Natural solidarity, in other words, becomes the uniting and activating force of the humanisphere, as it is in the world seen by all anarchists. It is true that an administrative bureau will exist in each humanisphere, but 'its only authority is the book of statistics'. Just as each individual will be his own master in every respect, so each humanisphere will be autonomous, and
the only relation existing between the various communities will be economic, based on the exchange of products. But this exchange will be free in nature, deriving from universal benevolence and keeping no account of obligations.
Exchange takes place naturally and not arbitrarily. Thus one human sphere may give more one day and receive less; it matters little, since tomorrow it will doubtless receive more and give less.
Here, mingled with so much that derives obviously from Fourier and from Proudhon, we have a clear anticipation of the ideas of economic organization elaborated by Kropotkin in The Conquest of Bread; since Jean Grave republished L' Humanisphere it is possible that his friend Kropotkin was aware of Dejacque's ideas.
I have dwelt at some length on Bellegarrigue, Coeurderoy, and Dejacque in order to show the variety of thought among French anarchists even during that early period of the 1850s. But none of these men exercised any appreciable influence, either direct or deferred, and when anarchism began to gain importance in France during the 1860s it was at first mutualist in character, deriving almost entirely from the ideas Proudhon elaborated during his last months in De la capacite politique des classes ouvrieres. Although some of the mutualist leaders, such as Tolain and Limousin, departed from Proudhon's abstentionist attitude toward politics by appearing as candidates in elections, the movement was generally non-political in character and sought to permeate the workers' associations of various kinds that were beginning to emerge as a result of Napoleon Ill's policy of trying to woo the support of the lower classes. Mutualism not only became a dominant influence in many of these organizations, particularly where they had a cooperative orientation; its advocates also began, in various directions, to revive libertarian journalism.
Some of the most active propagandists were friends of Proudhon, like Darimon, who advocated popular banking in La Presse, and Langlois, who wrote in Rive gauche, the organ of the younger republican intellectuals. But more typical of the current trend was the desire of the Proudhonian working met to establish their own journals; in June 1865 La Tribune ouvriere  appeared, announced by its editors as 'a kind of thermometer of the intellectual development of the labouring classes'. In the four numbers of La Tribune ouvriere the most active contributors were the craftsmen already involved in the creation of the International, particularly Tolain and Limousin. They avoided direct political attacks on the government, and concentrated a great deal on criticizing bourgeois conceptions of art and science from the point of view laid down by Proudhon in Du Principe de l'art, but their evident anticlericalism was distasteful to the government and their review was soon suppressed. Its editors then attempted to publish a journal in Brussels for importation into France. However, the first number of La Presse ouvriere was seized by the customs officers, and, though one issue of its successor, La Fourmi, was allowed to pass the frontier, the police issued a warning that any further numbers would be seized. Opposed as they were to clandestine activity, the mutualists accepted the situation and began to contribute articles to a friendly republican paper, L'Avenir national.
Workers' association and mutual credit were the panaceas which the mutualists put forward in L'Avenir national, as they did in the avowedly Proudhonian and socialist paper, Le Courrier francais, which the poet Vermorel established shortly afterward. Vermorel himself was a thorny, uncompromising journalist, and in the pages of Le Courrier francais some of the Proudhonian fire of 1848 and 1849 returned to Parisian journalism. Duchene and Tolain, Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue, all wrote in its pages, whose vigorous criticism of government and financiers alike upheld Vermorel's claim to have raised once again the banner of socialism and to have provided its first avowed and authentic organ since the disappearance of Le Peuple. Its fate was not unlike that of Proudhon's papers. Crippled by persecutions, fines, and libel suits, it came to an end in 1868.
In the meantime, however, a considerable working-class movement, largely dominated by Proudhonian ideas, was coming into existence as a result of the activities of the International. The beginnings of the Association in France had been slow. Tolain, Fribourg, and Limousin were named as French
correspondents at the inaugural London Congress of 1864, but it was only nine months later, on 8 July 1865, that they opened the Paris bureau of the International. Support was at first scanty, largely because the Blanquists, fearing that the International would draw away much of their own following among the Paris workers, accused the organization of being a tool of the Bonapartists, a suggestion given at least a certain colour by Jerome Bonaparte's interest in the workers' delegation to the London exhibition of 1862. Eventually, in an effort to dissipate suspicion, the members of the commission called 150 militant Parisian workers to a secret meeting. Here they insisted on the working-class character of their organization, on their desire to recruit as many republicans as possible, on their intention to avoid political action. Their effort was successful; a new and enlarged commission, including some of the former critics, was appointed, and the International began to spread into the provinces, so that by September 1865 the French delegates to the London Conference could report correspondents in Lyons, Marseilles, Rouen, Nantes, and a number of smaller cities.
Nevertheless, the actual membership of the International in France long remained scanty. At the time of the Geneva Congress in 1866 it appears to have been less than 500. Yet, barely four years later, on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War, the International was claiming a membership of 245,000 in France. There are several reasons for this rapid growth. The workers who were organizing themselves in trade associations long remained aloof from the International, largely because at first its leaders were thought to disapprove of strikes. Then, early in 1867, the bronzeworkers went on strike, and the International decided to support them. Tolain crossed to London to collect funds, and his success so impressed the employers that they agreed to the strikers' demands. As a result one workers' association after another came into the International, which continued during this period of labour unrest to assist workers whenever they came out on strike.
As soon as the International began to show activity of this kind, the tolerance which the Imperial government at first extended came to an end. The excuse for the first official proceedings against the organization was the participation of its
members in republican demonstrations during November 1867. On 30 December Tolain and his colleagues of the Paris commission were arraigned on charges of belonging to an unauthorized organization with more than twenty members. In March 1868 they were fined, and the Association was dissolved. It continued to grow in semi-secrecy. Before the condemnation of the first commission, a second commission had already been elected, on 8 March 1868; Eugene Varlin and Benoit Malon were its leading members. Within a few months, they too were arrested because Varlin had organized the collection of funds to support a strike of building workers in Geneva; this time the convicted men were imprisoned for three months each, and the International was once again dissolved. It still operated, however, and even prospered from a third trial, so that at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War the legally non-existent French federation was numerically the strongest in the whole International.
The accession of Varlin and Malon to positions of influence was indicative of deep changes in the orientation of the French International, beginning in the early days of 1868. It remained inspired by anarchistic ideas, but the recruitment of large bodies of organized workers shifted the emphasis from mutualism to collectivism. In addition, the influence of Bakunin and his Alliance was now beginning to operate in France. Elie and Elisee Reclus had been closely associated with Bakunin since 1864. During the immediately following years a number of other prominent French militants joined his Alliance, including Benoit Malon, Albert Richard of Lyons, and Bastelica of Marseilles, while Varlin, as a result of his activities in Geneva, established enduring contacts with the Jura Federation. Through these men, and many lesser-known militants, particularly in the south, the ideas of Bakunin began to permeate a working-class movement which by 1869 was already beginning to establish Federated Chambers of trade associations closely anticipating the Bourses de Travail developed by the anarcho-syndicalists twenty years later. A considerable ideological influence on these events in France was wielded by L'Egalite, which was published in Geneva but primarily intended for distribution in France. This journal had been started originally as an organ
of the Bakuninist Alliance, but later it became the first mouth- piece of the libertarian trend within the International, and among its contributors were the men who by 1868 were shaping the attitudes of the movement in France -- Reclus, Malon, Varlin, and Richard.
At the same time, by no means all the French collectivists within the International were personal disciples of Bakunin. Varlin, despite his links with the Jura and Geneva anarchists, seems to have moved independently toward his collectivist position. Pure Bakuninism was influential only in the Rhone Valley, and it was the presence of groups of personal adherents in the towns in the Midi that led Bakunin, in September 1870, to play his only direct part in the history of French anarchism, when he travelled to Lyons to take part in the communalist rising that was also the first French insurrection in which anarchists played a notable part. I have already described that rather comic fiasco, whose main significance in the present context is its illustration of the unpreparedness of the Bakuninists in the Midi for any serious action. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Lyons rising is that it did not discredit anarchism in the Rhone Valley; indeed, the fact that the anarchists were the only people who even attempted serious revolutionary action in the region at this period may have told in their favour. Certainly, when the doctrine re-emerged in France after the proscriptions that followed the Paris Commune, it was in Lyons that it made its first successful appeal.
Meanwhile, in the Paris Commune of 1871, the internationalists played a considerable and courageous part. During the Franco-Prussian War their attitude had been confused; Tolain and his associates had published a statement vaguely proclaiming the international solidarity of the workers, and early in August 1870, some of the internationalists in Paris had hatched an abortive plot to capture the Palais-Bourbon and proclaim the Social Republic, but the anti-militarism that in later decades became a predominant anarchist attitude did not appear in any clear form. Even during the Commune the French sections of the International were not wholly united in their support, for Tolain and some of the other mutualists remained aloof. Nevertheless, a notable contribution to the activities of the Commune
and particularly to the organization of public services was made by members of various anarchist factions, including the mutualists Courbet, Longuet, and Vermorel, the libertarian collectivists Varlin, Malon, and Lefrancais, and the Bakuninists Elie and Elisee Reclus and Louise Michel. Yet the Commune really stands on its own as an episode in revolutionary history. Neither the Blanquists nor the anarchists, much less the Marxists, can claim it as their own. In a larger sense it may be true that the Commune fought under the banner of Proudhonian federalism; there were sentences in its Manifesto to the French People of 19 April 1871 that might have been written by Proudhon himself:
The absolute autonomy of the Commune extended to all the localities of France, assuring to each its integral rights and to every Frenchman the full exercise of his aptitudes, as a man, a citizen, and a worker. The autonomy of the Commune will have for its limits only the equal autonomy of all other communities adhering to the contract; their associations must assure the liberty of France.
Yet even the mutualists and collectivists within the Commune made little effort to put their ideas into practice during the period in which they shared control of Paris; they were content with doing their best to carry on existing services and with a few reformist measures for the improvement of working conditions. The most that can be said is that they often showed that working men can be efficient administrators.
In terms of anarchist history the after-effects of the Commune were perhaps more important than the rising itself. The immediate result of its defeat was the suppression of all socialist activities and the passing of a specific law in March 1872 banning the International as a subversive organization. This meant that for more than a decade all socialist or anarchist activity in France was illegal and had to be carried on secretly. The other important result was a mass flight of all the leading Internationalists who were not -- like Varlin -- summarily shot by the Versailles troops or -- like Louise Michel -- transported to the penal settlements. Many of these expatriates settled just over the border in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland; there they formed an important element in the Saint-Imier
International and sought to create a base from which propaganda could be directed into France.
In France itself it was in the south-eastern region, nearest to Switzerland and therefore most open to the influence of the Jura Federation and the Communard exiles, that anarchist activity first began to appear after the months of repression that followed the Commune. The earliest organizations were small secret groups which toward the end of 1872 began to re-establish connexions with the Bakuninists over the frontier, to hold secret meetings in Lyons and Saint-Etienne, and to import literature from Geneva. In the autumn of 1872 a small secret congress of local militants was held in Saint-Etienne. Its participants all adhered to the Saint-Imier International, and its resolutions, in favour of autonomous groups and abstention from parliamentary activities, were anarchistic in tone. Shortly afterward a group of Bakuninist refugees from southern France established a propaganda committee in Barcelona and in the beginning of June 1873 published the first number of La Solidarite revolutionnaire, which ran for ten issues and had a considerable influence on the nascent groups of the Midi and particularly on the first important post-Commune anarchist congress in France, held on the night of 15 August in the unlit basement of a Lyons tavern.
The thirty delegates were all collectivists, for, though the mutualists re-emerged later in the 1870s and even retained some influence in the trade unions until the later 1880s, the two libertarian currents were from this time sharply distinct. While the collectivists became steadily more extreme in their revolutionism, the mutualists, following the example of Tolain, who had now made his compromises and entered the ranks of respectability as a Senator of the Third Republic, became steadily more reformist, so that it was no longer possible to regard them as representing even an approximately anarchistic point o view.
The Lyons Congress was concerned largely with organizational questions, and it showed that the anti-authoritarians -- who did not yet openly call themselves anarchists -- were planning the re-creation of a national movement. Some groups in the region had already accepted Bakunin's advice -- transmitted
through a Saint-Etienne worker named Gillet -- to reorganize in the traditional conspiratorial pattern of groups of five, but it is doubtful if this kind of segmentation was ever thoroughly carried out, and there was a compensating urge toward a more sweeping form of federal organization. This the secret congress in Lyons attempted to achieve. The autonomy of groups was reaffirmed, but at the same time a regional council for eastern France was created, and similar councils were planned for the north, the centre, and the south. The regional council of the east actually came into being, largely through the energy of Gillet, and sent its delegates to the Geneva Congress of the Saint-Imier International.
The hopes of re-establishing the International in France were thwarted toward the end of 1873 by a series of arrests of active propagandists which led to the Lyons Plot trial of April 1874. Twenty-nine Bakuninists were accused of plotting against the state, and there seems no doubt that some at least of them, such as Gillet and Camille Camet, an old associate of Bakunin in the Lyons Commune, had tried to create an insurrectional organization to take advantage of the confusion that might follow a widely expected attempt to restore the monarchy. However, the evidence was insufficient to support the prosecution's case, and the accused were finally condemned for affiliating themselves with the forbidden International and for concealing weapons; Camet at the time of his arrest was well-armed with a loaded revolver, a knife, and a dagger. All but three of the accused were imprisoned, and the International ceased to function in France even as a secret organization.
It was several years before an identifiable anarchist movement appeared again on French soil; when it did the anti-authoritarians were no longer the dominant force in French socialism. Politically oriented movements had arisen in the meantime, and ironically their most important leaders were drawn from the anarchist ranks. The first to split away was Jules Guesde, who in November 1877 founded a socialist weekly which bore the old Bakuninist title, L'Egalite, but tended toward the Marxism that was to dominate the Parti Ouvrier which Guesde founded in 1882. The anti-authoritarian rival of L'Egalite was Paul Brousse's L'Avant-garde, which began to
appear during August 1877 at Chaux-de-Fonds in the Swiss Jura. At this period Brousse was one of the most uncompromising of the French anarchists in exile; the first issue of his paper appeared under the slogan, 'Collectivism; Anarchy; Free Federation', and demanded the complete destruction of the state and its replacement by a society based on contract and 'the free formation of human groups around each need, each interest and the free federation of these groups'. However, after the suppression of L'Avant-garde at the end of 1878 and his own brief imprisonment, Brousse quickly shifted ground until he too entered the socialist ranks and became the leader of a dissident faction within the Parti Ouvrier which advocated the most unanarchistic doctrine of possibilism and sought a way to socialism through factory legislation and municipal government.
But before this extraordinary volte-face Brousse had been one of the most active promoters of the revival of French anarchism. He returned to France secretly in the early part of 1877 to re-establish contacts with the Lyons militants, and started a series of gatherings in the Swiss frontier village of Perly. Some fifty Frenchmen crossed the border clandestinely for the first of these meetings; later, at a special congress at Chaux-de-Fonds, in August 1877, the delegates of twelve groups gathered to refound the French Federation of the International, with a programme accepting the principle of propaganda by deed already upheld by the Italian and Spanish federations. The International itself was by now moribund, but the gatherings of 1877 at least indicated a resurgence of anarchist sentiment in the Rhone Valley. The next year, largely owing to the activities of Kropotkin and Andrea Costa, the first Parisian groups began to appear, though their growth suffered a setback when Costa and a number of his associates were arrested.
It was not until 1881 that the anarchist movement separated itself clearly from the general socialist trend in France. Until that time the Guesdists, the mutualists, and the collectivist anarchists -- now turning toward anarchist communism -- all participated in the series of National Labour Congresses which were held during the latter half of the 1870s in the hope of
creating a unified workers' movement; only the Blanquists, headed by Edouard Vaillant, kept aloof. The first and second
of these congresses, in Paris (1876) and Lyons (1878), were largely dominated by mutualist moderates. By the time the third Congress was held at Marseilles in 1879 a considerable change was evident in the general political climate of France; the reactionary tendencies of the early Third Republic were diminishing, and various left-wing movements began to emerge into the open. At the 1879 Congress the new atmosphere was reflected in the triumph of collectivism over mutualism; the socialists and the anarchists voted together in favour of the public ownership of the means of production. They disagreed, however, on the question of parliamentary activity, and the Guesdist victory on this point preluded the breaking of the uneasy unity between the various factions.
Later in 1879 the Chamber of Deputies voted a general amnesty for those who had taken part in the Commune. The exiles returned from the countries where they had taken refuge; the prisoners came back from New Caledonia and were welcomed by enthusiastic crowds at the stations. The influx of dedicated militants invigorated the various socialist factions; it also sharpened their differences of viewpoint. At regional congresses in Marseilles and Lyons, during July 1880, the anarchist majorities carried resolutions rejecting political activity, while in Paris the authoritarian socialists were victorious. The real splintering of the movement began at the National Labour Congress of 1880 in Le Havre, where the mutualists split away completely to form their own short-lived Union des Chambres Syndicalistes. The anarchists remained, but the irreconcilable differences over tactics which emerged during the Le Havre Congress made further collaboration between them and the socialists difficult. The final crisis occurred in May 1881 over a relatively minor point of procedure at the Regional Congress of the Centre in Paris. The nine participating anarchist organizations asked that delegates should identify their groups without revealing personal names. The Guesdist majority refused to accept this condition, and the anarchists withdrew to hold their own Revolutionary-Socialist Congress from 25 to 29 May; it was attended by some 200 militants who voted in favour of
propaganda by deed and the abolition of property -- even collective property -- and against participation in political action. Similar schisms followed in the provinces, and the separate identity of the anarchist movement in France was further emphasized by the participation of many groups and of a number of important French anarchist leaders in the 'Black International' Congress of 1881.
The year 1881 can thus be taken as that in which a separate and avowedly anarchist movement began its independent career in France. The actual strength of this movement in its early stages is hard to estimate. In terms of groups and members alike it appears to have been far smaller than its repute in France during the 1880s might suggest. The anarchists themselves often made extravagant claims; in 1882, for instance, the delegates who attended the International Congress in Geneva spoke of 3,000 militants in the city of Lyons alone and another 2,000 in the surrounding region. For other reasons, the conservative newspapers also tended to exaggerate anarchist strength; in 1883 L'Univers estimated that there were 5,000 active members of the movement in Paris. However, the evidence recently gleaned by Jean Maitron from confidential police reports and more sober anarchist estimates2 suggests that in 1882 there were about forty groups in the whole country, with an active membership of approximately 2,500. Lyons and Paris were the most active centres, with 500 militants each; there were strong groups in Bordeaux, Marseilles, and Saint-Etienne. During the next decade the growth in numerical strength was not great; a police estimate at the end of 1894 gave a total of just over 4,500 activists, but this appears to have been based partly on the subscription lists of anarchist journals, and subscribers were not necessarily active anarchists; the poet Stephane Mallarme' subscribed regularly to libertarian papers, but the most elastic imagination does not allow one to consider him an anarchist militant.
On the basis of these figures it seems reasonable to assume that during the 1880s there were about fifty anarchist groups in France with an active membership averaging 3,000 and a fringe of sympathizers whose strength is suggested by the fact that at
the end of the decade the two leading Paris anarchist journals, Le Revolte and Le Pere peinard, sold between them more than 10,000 copies each week.
Between the groups there were few organizational links. After a number of futile attempts at regional, national, and international organization in 1881 and 1882, the trend toward group autonomy became progressively stronger, and no national organization of French anarchists came into active existence until the eve of the First World War. But organizational disunity does not necessarily mean an absence of either solidarity or communication; in practice there was a real unity of feeling in the French movement and a constant intellectual intercourse between groups and individuals, encouraged by the emergence of journals that circulated nationally and by the presence of a number of prominent propagandists who enjoyed the prestige, if not the power, commonly accorded to political leaders. Elisee Reclus, the internationally famous geographer; Louise Michel, the heroine of the Commune and veteran of the penal settlements; Jean Grave, the shoemaker turned tireless editor and propagandist; Sebastien Faure, the former Jesuit seminarist who became a leading libertarian philosopher and educationalist; Emile Pouget, editor of the fearless Pere peinard and later a devoted interpreter of anarcho-syndicalism: these men and women were national figures in the France of the fin-de-siecle, and their activity as writers and touring lecturers gave the anarchist movement far more importance, in the eyes of workers and intellectuals alike, than its numerical strength might lead one to expect.
Moreover, it must be remembered that the French anarchists deliberately restricted their groups to men and women willing to take part in regular propaganda by speech, writing, or the deed. After the collapse of the International they no longer tried to establish the large card-carrying memberships at which political parties usually aim. Their real influence -- as against their numerical strength -- was to be shown before the end of the century by their ability to dominate for at least a decade the largest working-class movement of pre-1914 France, the revolutionary-syndicalist movement that reached its height in the golden days of the C.G.T. They attained this position of
influence not because of their numbers, but because of their passionate devotion to ideals that seemed to coincide with the longings and the experience of the French workers in that age when the insolent display of wealth went hand-in-hand with dire poverty, when arrogant corruption and naked repression tempted the minds of the poor to desperate dreams of an idyllic equality attained through social revolution.
But before the syndicalist phase of French anarchism began to open, there was a clearly defined period of somewhat different character that began with the separation of the anarchists from the main socialist movement in 1881 and ended with the Trial of the Thirty in 1894. It was above all a period of dramatic gestures and the cult of romantic violence, and it came to a climax in the series of sensational terroristic acts that marked the beginning of the 1890s. By no means all anarchists at this period were terrorists; in fact only a tiny minority were implicated in acts of violence. But the idea of violence wielded an extraordinary fascination even over those whose gentler spirits shrank from its practice.
Several influences contributed to this attitude. In 1877 Paul Brousse, whose part in the resurrection of anarchism after the Commune we have already noted, became converted to the idea of propaganda by deed already evolved by the Italian Internationalists, and in the following year Andrea Costa -- one of the leading exponents of this trend in Italy -- propagated his point of view in Paris. The Bakuninist tendencies of the anarchists in the Rhone Valley made them naturally sympathetic to the idea of conspiratorial violence, and the passionate discussions of the London International Congress of 1881 on the questions of insurrection and terrorism encouraged the tendency. Separation from other currents of the socialist movement undoubtedly removed certain moderating influences, and at the same time encouraged the development of those very features of theory and tactics which differentiated the anarchists from the Marxists and mutualists. Finally, there was the sinister influence of the Paris Prefect of Police, Louis Andrieux, and his creature Serreaux, a Belgian agent provocateur whose real name was Egide Spilleux.
Serreaux made contact with the Paris groups during 1880
and drew attention to himself by his eloquent defence of violence. Shortly after his appearance, he began to talk of founding an anarchist journal, and offered 3,000 francs for the bond demanded by law and a subsidy of 1,500 francs a month for six months so as to assure the establishment of the paper. The money really came from Andrieux, but Serreaux claimed that it was the gift of an elderly London lady who was sympathetic to the anarchist cause. He took care to find an accomplice who would act the part of the benevolent heiress, and she maintained the role well enough to hoodwink one of the leading French anarchists, Emile Gautier, who went over to visit her. Jean Grave and Elisee Reclus, whom Serreaux first approached, were both suspicious of his story, as were Kropotkin and Malatesta, but the desire to have a magazine of their own lulled the misgivings of most of the Paris comrades, and on 12 September
1880 a weekly journal was launched under the title of La Revolution sociale.
La Revolution sociale was the first anarchist journal to appear in France since the suppression of the Commune, and the movement as a whole was enthusiastic, as was the real founder, Andrieux, who in his memoirs remarked: 'To give the anarchists a journal was to set up a telephone line between the conspiratorial centre and the office of the Prefect of Police." But the role of Serreaux was not merely to spy; it was also to provoke, and the columns of La Revolution sociale, to which Gautier, Merlino, Cafiero, and Louise Michel all contributed, maintained a violent tone as well as -- with calculated indiscretion -- publishing names and even addresses of anarchist groups and their leading members. The suspicions of the more astute comrades were soon aroused, but La Revolution sociale continued for more than a year, and came to an end in September
1881 only because Andrieux left the Prefecture.
Not until 1885 did a regular anarchist periodical again appear in Paris, when Le Revolte, which Jean Grave had gone to Geneva to edit in 1883, was transferred to the French capital, where it continued to appear -- changing its title in 1887 to La Revolte -- until the wave of police repressions that led to its disappearance in March 1894.
In the interval between 1881 and 1885 the centre of anarchist
journalism shifted to the militant city of Lyons, with its close links with the anarchists of Geneva and northern Italy and its traditional loyalty to the Bakuninist tradition. There, early in 1882, appeared the first number of Le Droit social. Its publishers were men of extraordinary enthusiasm and tenacity, and of an outspoken militancy which continually involved their paper in trouble with the authorities. Le Droit social disappeared under the burden of fines in July 1882; less than three weeks later its successor, L'Etendard revolutionnaire, was being published, and for more than two years the succession of papers with different titles but the same policy and the same contributors continued, until, on 22 June 1884, the last number of Le Droit anarchique appeared. It was the ninth in the succession of Lyonnais anarchist papers; the seventh had been called, with defiant humour, L'Hydre anarchiste. The editors of this eventful dynasty of Lyons papers claimed that on an average 7,000 copies were distributed, and, even making allowances for the customary exaggerations, there is no doubt that -- with the Geneva Le Revolte as their only rival -- Le Droit social and its successors played an extremely important part in shaping French anarchism during the early 1880s.
There remains one anarchist paper of the decade which to my mind reflects more eloquently than any of those I have mentioned the spirit of the period of propaganda by deed. This is Le Pere peinard, whose first number appeared on 24 February 1889 under the very lively editorship of Emile Pouget It represented a new direction in anarchist journalism. In the hands of Kropotkin and Grave Le Revolte had spoken in the language of the educated, simplified and pruned of academic affectation, but uncorrupted by the vernacular. Pouget revolted against middle-class language as well as against middle-class morality and middle-class politics, and deliberately encouraged his writers to use the argot of the outer boulevards. Moreover, in his exhortations to his readers -- 'les bons bougres' -- he lost no opportunity to recommend decisive and dramatic action. The result was a humorous, unpredictable, scurrilous, irascible paper which is still entertaining for its vigour and eccentricity, while Grave's solemn lucubrations in Le Revolte exact an effort from even the most earnest modern researcher.
The violent spirit of the times was manifested in many other ways. It appeared in the names adopted by anarchist groups -- La Panthere of Paris, La Haine of Bordeaux, Les Terribles of La Ciotat. It appeared in the songs written by the anarchist charnsonniers, of which 'La Dynamite' by Marie Constant, one of the numerous revolutionary shoemakers of the time, was among the most popular:
Nos peres ont jadis danse
Au son du canon du passe;
Maintenant la danse tragique
Veut une plus forte musique:
There were many who did not merely talk of dynamite. Indeed, given the amount of violent oral and written propaganda that began to emanate from anarchist sources in France after the London Congress of 1881, and the enthusiasm aroused by the populist assassination of the Tsar Alexander II in 1881, it is surprising that the wave of terrorism mounted so slowly to its peak at the beginning of the 1890s.
The first widely publicized act of violence during this period was an attempt to blow up a statue of Thiers at Saint-Germain in June 1881; since the Prefect Andrieux admitted a previous knowledge of the plan and did nothing to prevent it, this act may well have been planned by him and Serreaux and it cannot therefore be regarded as a genuine anarchist deed of propaganda. A few months later the first assassination was attempted by a French anarchist. Emile Florian, a young unemployed weaver, tramped from Reims to Paris with the intention of shooting the republican leader, Gambetta. Failing to get near his intended victim, Florian decided to kill the first bourgeois he met, and on 20 October he shot and slightly wounded a certain Dr Meymar, afterward trying to kill himself. His attempt is important only because it established a pattern; all the terrorist acts by French anarchists were to be acts of individuals or at most of minute circles of three or four people, prompted by personal and not by group decisions. In this sense the practice of terrorism in France differed markedly from that in Russia, where almost all the political assassinations were
performed by groups organized in the Social Revolutionary Party.
The first actual assassination did not take place until the spring of 1884, when a gardener named Louis Chaves, a convinced advocate of propaganda by deed who had been sacked from his work at a convent in Marseilles, decided to take his revenge by what seemed to him a pioneer act of propaganda. He accepted his own extinction as inevitable, and wrote to L'Hydre anarchiste a letter of explanation which he calculated would arrive after his death.
You start with one to reach a hundred, as the saying goes. So I would like the glory of being the first to start. It is not with words or paper that we shall change existing conditions. The last advice I have for true anarchists, for active anarchists, is to arm themselves according to my example with a good revolver, a good dagger, and a box of matches....
He then returned to the convent and killed the Mother Superior. When the police came to arrest him, he shot at them without warning and died from their bullets.
Chaves became a nine days' wonder for the anarchist papers, which praised his heroism and held up his act as an example. One paper even opened a subscription for a revolver to avenge him, but nobody came forward to use it, and almost eight years were to elapse before another anarchist assassin succeeded in his attempt.
It was direct action of a different kind that in the meantime led to some of the most dramatic incidents in the history of French anarchism. The series of events began in the mining town of Monceau-les-Mines, which was dominated by a particularly ruthless company with whose management the local representatives of church and state cooperated willingly. An organization known as the Black Band began to send warning letters to managers and government officials; in August 1882 the members of the Band proceeded to a series of anti-religious acts, first overthrowing roadside crosses and then, on the night of 15 August, gathering in considerable numbers to pillage and burn a chapel and a religious school in a near-by village, after which they sounded the tocsin and began to march on Monceau,
but dispersed before reaching the town. The authorities acted
quickly, and arrested twenty-three men, who were brought to trial in an atmosphere of excitement and apprehension; the
court was guarded by companies of infantry and gendarmes. The evidence produced at the trial suggests that the Black Band, whose membership was estimated at 800, was a working-class terrorist organization of the primitive kind that appears when the desperation of half-educated and half-starved workers is confronted by ruthless and unimaginative repression. Its members met at night in the forests, and neophytes were initiated in elaborate ceremonies accompanied by macabre oaths.
In spite of the prosecution's efforts to implicate the anarchists in the Monceau-les-Mines incidents, no facts were offered which suggested that they had any hand in them. On the contrary, the Lyons anarchists were surprised and admiring when they heard of the miners' exploits and immediately sent their representatives into the region. There is no doubt, however, that members of local anarchist groups took part in a later series of dynamitings directed at churches and managers' houses during 1883 and 1884, though it was also shown at the trials connected with these explosions that at least one of them was engineered by a police agent with the object of implicating suspected terrorists.
The events at Monceau-les-Mines might soon have been forgotten if the French government had not conceived the idea that the first series of outrages were signs of a widely laid insurrectional plot on the part of the already extinct Saint-Imier International. Acting on this assumption, the police began in the middle of October a series of arrests in Paris and southeastern France, and on 8 January 1883 sixty-five prominent anarchists were brought to trial at Lyons; as well as Peter Kropotkin and Emile Gautier, almost all the leading militants of eastern France were among them.
The atmosphere in which the Lyons trial took place was made particularly tense by the explosion, shortly after the arrests began, of a bomb placed in the restaurant of the Theatre Bellecour at Lyons, a place already denounced in Le
Droit social as a rendezvous of 'the fine flower of the bourgeoisie' which should be destroyed as the first act of the Revolution;
only an employee of the restaurant was killed. The crime was never satisfactorily solved, although at the end of I883 an anarchist journalist named Cyvoct was condemned on highly circumstantial evidence to penal servitude on Devil's Island. The anarchists consistently denied any connexion with the affair and proclaimed Cyvoct's innocence. Remembering how eager they were to hail as heroes other terrorists of the period, one is tempted to accept their denials and to suspect that, like at least one of the dynamitings at Monceau-les-Mines, the outrage may indeed have been police-inspired. It could not have happened at a more convenient time -- during the actual trial of the members of the Black Band and at the beginning of the widespread arrests of anarchist leaders.
I have already discussed in my chapter on Kropotkin the main features of the Lyons trial. Accused of belonging to the forbidden International, Kropotkin, Gautier, and some of the other defendants proved effectively that the International no longer existed, but this did not prevent their being given sentences which showed clearly the French government's intention to behead the anarchist movement before it grew too strong. Kropotkin and Gautier, the two intellectuals of national importance, and Bernard and Bordat, the leaders of the strong Lyons movement, were sentenced to five years each. Liegon, Ricard, and Martin, the most active militants in Villefranche, Saint-Etienne, and Vienne respectively, were sentenced to four years each.
The same governmental eagerness to manipulate justice for the sake of political expediency was evident in the other celebrated anarchist trial of 1883, that of Louise Michel and Emile Pouget. During the 1880s, before the anarchists began to enter the organized labour movement in large numbers, they tended to concentrate on the more depressed groups in society, and particularly, in Paris, on the unemployed, whom they encouraged to protest against their condition by illegal actions. On 9 March 1883 an open-air meeting of the unemployed near the Invalides was broken up by the police, and about 500 of the demonstrators, led by Louise Michel and Pouget, who was carrying a black flag, marched off in the direction of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. In the rue des Canettes the demonstrators,
shouting 'Bread, work', or lead!' pillaged a baker's shop. Two other shops were similarly plundered and the bread they contained distributed to the marchers. Then, having allowed the procession to get as far as the Place Maubert, the police attacked them. Pouget chivalrously put up a fight to allow Louise Michel to escape, but she was arrested and in due course appeared in court. The case was complicated by the fact that leaflets were found in Pouget's room addressed to 'soldiers who have decided to aid the Revolution', calling on them to burn their barracks, kill their officers, and join the insurgent people in their fight against the police. The leaflets had been printed in Geneva, but Pouget had assumed the task of distributing them in France. Louise Michel was, with very little proof, accused of inciting the pillage of the bakers' shops. She was sentenced to six years' solitary confinement and Pouget to eight years.
At this point the French government must have congratulated itself on the stretching of justice which had put away for a long period the most active and intelligent anarchists in France. But public opinion was disturbed by the trial and the sentences, and eventually forced the granting of an amnesty which freed Louise Michel and Pouget as well as the condemned of the Lyons trial. Far from harming the anarchist movement, the Lyons and Paris trials increased its prestige among both the workers and large sections of the educated classes.
Indeed, by the end of the 1880s the place of anarchism among the complex pattern of urges toward liberation from social, moral, and artistic bonds which characterized the fin-de-siecle in France, was recognized by both intellectuals and artists. The first group of anarchist students was formed in Paris in 1890, and from that year onward many writers and painters began to identify themselves with anarchism, which became something of a fashion in literary-artistic circles, as it was to become in London, New York, and San Francisco in the 1940s. The visiting celebrity Oscar Wilde, answering a questionnaire which the Symbolist review L'Hermitage submitted to various writers in 1893, remarked that once he had been politically a supporter of tyrants, but that now he was an anarchist. He spoke for very
many of his French colleagues, as one can see from the anarchist journals and the near-anarchist literary reviews.
Among the painters, Camille Pissaro and his son Lucien were both intimately involved in the anarchist movement, and regularly contributed drawings and lithographs to Le Pere peinard and to Les Temps nouveaux, the journal Jean Grave founded in 1895 after La Revolte had ceased publication. Grave, in fact, attracted to his pages many of the important experimental painters and the more vigorous caricaturists of the 1890s; not only the two Pissaros, but also Paul Signac, Van Dongen, Felix Vallotton, Steinlen, Caran d'Ache, and Van Rysselberghe provided illustrations for Les Temps nouveaux, while a few years later Vlaminck and other Fauve painters found anarchism a congenial doctrine.
As for the writers, many of the characteristic figures of the nineties hovered like splendid and fascinated insects around the dangerous flame of anarchism. Octave Mirbeau, Richepin, Laurent Tailhade, Bernard Lazare, and Paul Adam all contributed to Les Temps nouveaux, while the Symbolist poet Stuart Merrill was one of the 'angels' who helped the journal out of its periodical financial crises. In 1892 another leading Symbolist, Francis Viele-Griffin, turned his review, Les Entretiens politiques et litteraires, into an organ of literary anarchism; his contributors included Paul Valery, Henri de Regnier, Remy de Gourmont, and Stephane Mallarme. The most violently anarchist review, L'Endehors, a kind of intellectual Pere peinard run by a flamboyant eccentric who called himself Xo d'Axa but whose real name was Galland, published the work of such writers as Emile Verhaeren and Saint-Pol Roux. In one way or another almost every important Symbolist writer was linked with anarchism in its literary aspects.
What attracted the writers and painters to anarchism was clearly not the prosaic daily activity of the groups. It was perhaps not even principally the idea of anarchy itself, but rather a spirit of daring and inquiry which Mallarme expressed sensitively when he gave evidence on behalf of an anarchist friend at the Trial of the Thirty in 1894, and described him as 'a fine spirit, curious about everything that is new'. It was the anarchist cultivation of independence of mind and of freedom
of action and experience for its own sake that appealed to the artists and intellectuals. Significantly, when the terrorists carried out their sensational series of attempts and assassinations during 1892 and 1893, the libertarian intelligentsia, far from deserting anarchism, saw in these acts of isolated protest great expressions of individuality. They also saw, with their fin-de-siecle thirst for the varieties of experience, a terrible but intriguing sensationalism in the lives of the assassins. Perhaps most of all, they recognized the element of perverted mysticism which formed part of the terrorist attitude, and which Paul Adam identified when he referred to Ravachol, the most formidable of all the assassins, as 'le Renovateur du Sacrifice Essentiel'.
The series of terrorist acts which Ravachol initiated in March 1892 form the most dramatic and controversial passage in the history of French anarchism. It lasted for only a brief period -- from March 1892 to June 1894 -- but during that time there were eleven dynamite explosions in Paris in which nine people were killed; the Serbian minister was severely wounded by an anarchist shoemaker, and the President of the Republic was killed by the dagger of an assassin. As a result of these acts, four of the assassins were executed, repressive laws were passed against revolutionary groups, and the anarchist movement faced and survived its worst crisis, to emerge changed and renewed at the end.
As I have shown, the terrorism of the 1890s had been prepared by a decade in which French anarchists had talked much of violence without showing any great inclination to turn their talk into action. So long after the event, it is not easy to decide why in 1892 a number of young men should appear at the same time, resolved to act violently and willing to sacrifice themselves for what they conceived to be justice. Unlike their medieval namesakes, these assassins belonged to no order and worked in no disciplined group. They acted on their own initiatives, carrying individualism to a Stirnerite extreme. Society looked upon them as criminals; they regarded themselves as judges and executioners. Many of their fellow anarchists applauded them, even raised them to the status of martyrs, but for the most part declined to imitate them. And in this
reluctance to imitate they were right from their anarchist point of view, since killing is the supreme form of power, and the terrorist who kills on his own responsibility is surely the most irresponsible of tyrants. The act of assassination in fact completes a circle that unites anarchism with its opposite. One may perhaps be moved by the sincere intentions of these men and the darkness of their fates, but their deeds remain as negative as any other murder. Nevertheless, their shadows walk darkly beside any historian of anarchism; he cannot dismiss them as intruders on the road. By the right of tragedy alone they demand their place.
The terroristic acts of 1892 and 1894 follow a curious chain of cause and effect which began in an apparently insignificant incident on the outskirts of Paris. On 1 May 1891 a group of anarchists attempted to hold a demonstration in the suburb of Levallois. The police dispersed them and set off in pursuit of the leaders, whom they caught in a Clichy wineshop. The anarchists were armed, and a gun-fight followed in which one of them was wounded. The wounded man and two others were caught and brought to trial, where the prosecutor Bulot demanded the death penalty; the jury acquitted the wounded man and, on the instigation of the President of the Court, Benoit, sentenced the two others to long terms of imprisonment.
This case, which aroused comparatively little comment in the anarchist press, stirred deeply the anger of a dyer named Koenigstein, who went under the name Ravachol. Ravachol had been converted to anarchism as a youth and, largely through his extreme poverty, had slipped into the margin of the criminal underworld. It was a time when the justification of robbery was being lengthily debated in anarchist circles. Men of high principle and exemplary life, like Elisee Reclus and Sebastien Faure, were so carried away by their convictions on the immorality of property that they were ready to condone any kind of theft on purely theoretical grounds; others, like Jean Grave, saw in the practice of crime a corruption that would make men unfitted for the high ideals of a free society. Ravachol was one of those who put the theories of Reclus and Faure into practice, and his life is perhaps an object lesson in the truth of Grave's arguments. He began with petty thefts.
and went on to liquor smuggling and counterfeiting, in neither of which he was very successful. During this time he evolved a primitive philosophy which naively combined a defence of violence in the present with an idyllic vision of future brotherhood. He expressed it thus in one of the songs he would chant to the accompaniment of his own accordion:
Pour etablir l'Egalite
Il faut le coeur plein de colere,
Reduire les bourgeois en poussiere;
Alors au lieu d'avoir la guerre,
Nous aurons la Fraternite.
Soon he decided to leave the unprofitable ways of petty crime for large-scale robbery, and during the early summer of 1891 he committed two unsavoury crimes which only came to light some time afterward and which in no way fall into the category of propaganda by deed. One was the rifling of the tomb of the Comtesse de la Rochetailtee at Terrenoire in search of rings and jewels; he found nothing of value, and a month later he was involved in the one murder that was conclusively proved against him. The victim was Jacques Brunei, a nonagenarian miser known as the Hermit of Chambles, who had lived on alms for fifty years and was reputed to have accumulated a considerable fortune. Rumour, which in such cases often lies, was true of the Hermit; when Ravachol and his accomplices killed the old man they took 15,000 francs away with them. In the following year, brought to trial for the murder, Ravachol declared that his motives were not wholly selfish:
If I killed, it was first of all to satisfy my personal needs, then to come to the aid of the anarchist cause, for we work for the happiness of the people.
How much he gave to the cause is not known, but it is certain that he used part of his gains to maintain the families of the men imprisoned in connexion with the Clichy affair. Meanwhile, four of his accomplices in the murder of the Hermit of Chambles were rounded up and imprisoned for their parts in the affair. Ravachol was arrested, but escaped, and the police
showed a singular lack of interest in tracking him down. This led to rumours that he was an informer, and a writer in Le Revolte described him as 'nothing more than a new edition of the agent Serreaux who formerly published La Revolution sociale of sad memory for Monsieur Andrieux'.
A desire to remove this stigma may have been one of the motives that now led Ravachol into a series of crimes which could not be interpreted either as acts of a police agent or as being committed for personal gain. The victims he chose were those who had played the most prominent part in the prosecution of the men involved in the Clichy incident. On 11 March 1881 he blew up the house of President Benoit. Sixteen days later, on 27 March, he blew up the house of the prosecutor Bulot. Nobody was harmed in either explosion. Two days later Ravachol was arrested, after a dramatic struggle, in a restaurant where one of the waiters had recognized him and informed the police.
On 26 April, in a heavily guarded courtroom, Ravachol was sentenced to hard labour for life. Two months later he appeared at Montbrison to face trial for killing the Hermit of Chambles. He was now being tried for his life, but in the court he showed a calmness which astonished all those who saw him. He greeted the sentence of death with a shout of 'Vive l'Anarchie!' and walked to the guillotine singing an anticlerical song.
Ravachol was in the tradition of the heroic brigand. His courage was undeniable. Even his idealism and his sense of mission seem to have been sincerely held. He really believed that his terrible acts would lead to a world where such horrors need never again be done by men to men. He saw himself as the novelist Octave Mirbeau described him -- 'the peal of thunder to which succeeds the joy of sunlight and of peaceful skies'. Poverty and the experience of injustice done to himself and others had bitten deeply into his mind, and he acted for ends which he thought were just. But he forgot how far the means can warp the end, how the contempt for individual lives -- even for the life of a worthless old man like the Hermit of Chambles -- can lead to contempt for life as a whole. He was tragically mistaken, and he paid stoically for his mistakes.
As Ravachol stood before his judges at Montbrison, he said these words: 'I have made a sacrifice of my person. If I still fight, it is for the anarchist idea. Whether I am condemned matters little to me. I know that I shall be avenged.' The process of vengeance had begun when he spoke these words. Four days after his first dynamiting, a bomb exploded mysteriously outside the Lobau barracks in Paris. Then, the day before he was sentenced on his first trial, another bomb, placed in the restaurant where he had been arrested, killed the proprietor and a customer. Not until 1894 was the perpetrator of these acts arrested in London and brought to trial in France. He was Theodule Meunier, a cabinet-maker, and he represented a quite different type of terrorist from Ravachol. A young man of exemplary life, an excellent and sober worker, he was also, as his former comrade Charles Malato described him, 'the most remarkable type of revolutionary illuminist, an ascetic and a visionary, as passionate in his search for the ideal society as Saint-Just, and as merciless in seeking his way towards it'. The natural violence that surged in Ravachol was not a part of Meunier's nature, but the cold rationality that impelled him was just as destructive. Meunier escaped the guillotine, but during the long years he endured in the penal colony he never repented the killing of innocent persons to which his act had led. 'I only did what I had to do,' he told Jean Grave more than twenty years later. 'If I could start over again, I would do the same thing.'
After the execution of Ravachol there was a lull of several months in the terrorist campaign. Then, on 8 November 1892, a bomb was placed in a mining company's offices in the avenue de l'Opera. Four policemen were killed when it exploded in the police station of the rue des Bons-Enfants. The assassin was not immediately discovered, and more than another year went by before the terrorist fever suddenly reached its climax in a whole series of sensational acts.
They began on 13 November 1893, when another honest, sober, and fanatical workman, Leauthier, inspired by the thought that 'I shall not be striking an innocent if I strike the first bourgeois I meet', attacked the Serbian Minister with a cobbler's knife and gravely wounded him. And four weeks
later, on 9 December, Auguste Vaillant threw a bomb from the gallery of the Chamber of Deputies and struck fear in the hearts of the French rulers.
Unlike Meunier and Leauthier, Vaillant was an amiable bohemian, bred in poverty, shifting restlessly from occupation to occupation, becoming converted to socialism and then to anarchism, and finally emigrating to the Argentine, where for three years he tried to work a concession of land in Chaco province. He failed and returned to France in March 1893. There he tried to get the kind of work that would bring comfort to his companion and his daughter, and was distressed by the poverty in which they were forced to live. This preyed so much on his mind that at last he decided to commit a symbolic deed that would be 'the cry of a whole class which demands its rights and will soon add acts to words'. The obvious mental torture that led him to plan and carry out his attempt makes him one of the more sympathetic of the terrorists; here at least was a mind working in passion, moved by devotion and pity for human beings who were near his heart, and confusedly believing that one great gesture might awaken men from the nightmare of injustice.
But the fear his attempt aroused left no room for pity or for understanding. Nobody had died from this act, but he was condemned to death; it was the first time since the beginning of the century that such a sentence had been passed on a man who had not actually killed another. But, despite a petition circulated by one of the wounded deputies, the President, Sadi Carnot, refused to sign a pardon.
Vaillant went to the scaffold as courageously as Ravachol, crying out: 'Long live Anarchy! My death shall be avenged!' And avenged it was, terribly and repeatedly. A week after his execution a bomb was thrown into the Cafe Terminus at the Gare St Lazare. Twenty people were wounded; one of them died.
The bomb-thrower, who was arrested immediately, was a young man named Emile Henry, the son of a famous Communard; later he confessed with pride that he had planted the bomb which exploded in the police station of the rue des Bons-Enfants. Henry was perhaps the most remarkable -- and
certainly the most ferocious -- of the French terrorists. He had an extraordinary intelligence and considerable literary ability, but he had sacrificed the possibility of a good career to devote himself to anarchist propaganda. At first he had opposed the theory of propaganda by deed, but Ravachol's execution had a great effect on him and afterward he turned full circle to become a defender of the violent acts which 'waken the masses and show them the vulnerable side of the bourgeoisie'. With the implacable logic that replaces passion in a cold mind, Henry followed his new course to its extremity, and that extremity led him to the indiscriminate attack on people certainly innocent of the injustices he hated. His only regret, he said afterward, was that the explosion had not claimed more victims.
Henry's crime sent a shudder of fear through France, and it shocked the anarchists themselves into a realization of the destination to which their decade of violent dreams had brought them. 'The act of Henry,' said the militant Charles Malato, 'has struck anarchy most of all.' The event had a similar sobering effect on the literary anarchists. Laurent Tailhade had seen 'a beautiful gesture' in Vaillant's attempt; Victor Barracund had seen Ravachol as 'a kind of violent Christ'; but there were few who, after Henry's horrifying act, did not echo the admirable words with which Octave Mirbeau dissociated essential anarchism from the deeds that were done in its name:
A mortal enemy of anarchy could have acted no better than this Emile Henry when he threw his inexplicable bomb into the midst of peaceful and anonymous persons come to a cafe to drink a glass of beer before going home to bed. . . . Emile Henry says, affirms, claims that he is an anarchist. It is possible. It is a fashion nowadays among criminals to use it for their justification when they have carried out a good coup. . . . Every party has its criminals and its fools, because every party has its men.
The lesson was not lost. From the explosion in the Cafe Terminus one can date the beginning of a new trend in French anarchism towards the assumption of more realistic responsibilities in the world of its time. But the era of terror had not quite closed. A group of three explosions shortly after the arrest of Henry ended when a Belgian anarchist, Pauwels,
blew himself up in the Madeleine. On 4 April an explosion in a restaurant -- the last of the bomb outrages -- ironically injured the admirer of Vaillant, Laurent Tailhade. But the final vengeance for which Vaillant had called was still to come, and it brought a dramatic finale to the years of violence. On 24 June President Carnot arrived in Lyons on a state visit. On the same day the Italian anarchist Santo Caserio arrived from Cette; at nine o'clock in the evening he mingled with the crowd that pressed around the President and stabbed him in the liver, shouting, 'Vive la Revolution! Vive l'Anarchie!' in what had become a ritual manner. Carnot died from his wound. It was an act of primitive justice. Carnot had shown no mercy for Vaillant, and Caserio, the blood revenger, showed no mercy for him. But for those who seek something beyond the law of vendetta it was merely the last of a series of heroic and useless sacrificial acts which neither furthered the cause of anarchism nor lessened the weight of injustice borne by nineteenth-century man.
To this realization the anarchists came, assisted by the struggle for life which the movement had to undergo as the indirect result of the terrorist campaign. In the panic following Vaillant's attempt, the Chamber of Deputies passed a series of measures which gained infamy in French political history as les lois scelerates. The first made it a crime not merely to incite to criminal acts, but even to apologize for them. The second concerned 'associations of malefactors', and defined them by intent rather than by action. Finally, after the death of Carnot, a third law forbade acts of anarchist propaganda 'by any means whatever'.
A rigorous use of these laws could at the least have driven the anarchist movement completely underground. And this was what the government hoped to do. Its first target was the anarchist press. On 21 February 1894 Le Pere peinard was forced out of publication. Less than three weeks later La Revolte ceased to appear. Many anarchist intellectuals were arrested, and on 6 August some of the best known were brought before the courts in the Trial of the Thirty.
The prosecution arranged the Trial of the Thirty with a self-defeating Machiavellianism. Among the defendants it placed
a celebrated gang of 'illegalist anarchists' led by a Mexican named Ortiz; in plainer terms, they were professional burglars who handed part of their profits to the cause. By putting nineteen well-known anarchist theoreticians in the dock beside these latter-day Robin Hoods, the prosecution hoped to confuse the issue before the jury, and to present men like Jean Grave and Sebastien Faure, Paul Reclus and Emile Pouget, as the actual accomplices of criminals. The trial lasted for a week, and, despite the evident bias of the judges, the links which the prosecution sought to establish were easily disproved. In the end only Ortiz and two of his companions were imprisoned. The verdict acquitting the actual anarchist leaders spelled the end, not only of the terrorist epoch, but also of the reaction it had produced.
The essential vitality of French anarchism and the toughness of its roots in the nineteenth-century political terrain were shown by the rapidity with which the movement climbed out of the depths of 1894, when its press was destroyed, its leaders were standing trial, and its structure of autonomous groups was almost completely dispersed, toward the highest point of its influence, which came in the last years of the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth century. The period from 1881 to 1894 had been a time of isolation, when the anarchists wandered in a wilderness of marginal social groups and sought the way to a millennium in desperate acts on the one hand and idyllic visions on the other. The period from 1894 to 1914 saw a fruitful equilibrium between the visionary and the practical, accompanied by a tendency to experiment, not only in ways of embarrassing the existing system of authority, but also in means of training men and women for a fuller, freer life, and even in organizations that might be regarded as fragmentary sketches of the future. Anarcho-syndicalism, as well as the movement to establish anarchist-communist colonies in the French countryside (which resulted in the creation of many communities that lasted into the 1930s), and the movement of libertarian education (which led to the formation of some famous progressive schools, including Faure's La Ruche, and the University Populaires with their evening courses for adults), all showed anarchism seeking constructive solutions.
It is, of course, true that there were other fields of activity in which only resistance to established authority was involved. This was so particularly with the Ligue Antimilitariste and other war-resisting organizations in which the anarchists formed the most active element. Finally, the end of the terrorist era and the imprisonment of the celebrated Ortiz did not bring an end to illegalist activities. On the fringe of the movement and particularly in the individualist faction which became relatively strong after 1900 and began to publish its own sectarian paper, L'Anarchie (1905-14), there were groups and individuals who lived largely by crime. Among them were some of the most original as well as some of the most tragic figures in anarchist history. The gang led by Marius Jacob operated successfully for five years, from 1900 to 1905, carrying out hundreds of robberies and priding itself on robbing only the unproductive.3 But there was also the much more sinister Bonnot gang of neo-Stirnerite individuals, who in 1913 embarked on a career of large-scale banditry; most of its members died in gun-battles with the police. But these were exceptions, running contrary to the generally constructivist tendencies of anarchism during the two decades after 1894.
Since I have no space to deal fully with all these variations of French anarchist activity in its most fertile age, I will restrict myself to something about the organization and press of the movement, and rather more about anarcho-syndicalism and its relationship to the anarchist movement in the narrower sense. For, from the 1890s onward we are in fact concerned with two parallel and interconnecting forms of libertarian doctrine -- or perhaps even with three if one considers the individualists, who bitterly opposed the syndicalist trend and even rejected the anarchist communism that had preceded it. The anarchist movement itself remained an organization of propagandists -- of the word now rather than of the deed -- adhering for the most part to Kropotkin's free communist doctrine, and organized, as before, in autonomous groups. The distrust of organizational unity persisted almost to the eve of the First World War. It was only in 1908, under the stimulus of the
Amsterdam' International Congress of 1907, that the trend began to change, and the first efforts at regional organization were made in northern and central France. Later, in 1911, a Communist-Anarchist Alliance was created, weakly supported by individual members, but from this eventually emerged a National Congress, held in Paris during August 1913, which created a nation-wide Federation Communiste Revolutionnaire Anarchiste. The F.C.R.A.'s short life was terminated by the outbreak of the First World War, but its successors, under various names, have maintained a precarious peacetime existence in France down to the present.
The numerical strength of the movement during the twentieth century is hard to determine owing to the lack of any attempt to keep records of membership. Sixty groups took part in the Congress of August 1913, but since there was opposition to the Congress, other groups certainly existed. So far as individuals are concerned, one anarchist leader of the time, A. Hamon, estimated the adherents of anarchism at the turn of the century at 60,000 'or perhaps 100,000', a statement whose very vagueness makes it suspect. Jean Maitron, in criticizing Hamon, produced figures which suggested that in the Paris groups there were just over 500 militants, as there had been twenty years before, and from such evidence he contends that the movement in France was no larger in the 1900s than it had been in the 1880s. However, when one takes into account the multiple forms of anarchist activity which had developed outside the actual propaganda groups, and when one remembers the number of convinced anarchists who worked within the syndicates, it seems certain that the active adherents of various kinds were considerably more numerous than the 3,000 French militants of the 1880s, though even the smaller of Hamon's figures seems far too generous.
Anarchist influence was exerted most powerfully during the decades after 1894 through its press and through active participation in the trade unions. The anarchist press rose enriched from the persecutions of 1894. Pouget, who had fled to England to avoid the Trial of the Thirty, continued to publish Le Pere peinard in exile; after his return to France in 1895 he founded La Sociale, but the next year he resumed the former title, and
Le Pere peinard continued until 1900, when Pouget abandoned it in order to edit the daily paper of the Confederation Generale du Travail, which revived the old Proudhonian title of La Voix du peuple. Meanwhile Jean Grave, conscious that a new era had begun in anarchist activities, came back to journalism with the appropriately titled Temps nouveaux which was not merely a replacement of La Revolte, since it took a fresh direction by supporting from the beginning the developing trend of anarcho-syndicalism. Finally, in December 1895, Sdbastien Faure established the most durable of all the nationally distributed anarchist papers, Le Libertaire, which continued to appear, with interruptions caused by two world wars, until the late 1950s.
During this period there were also efforts to create anarchist dailies but, with the exception of La Voix du peuple, which was a trade-union journal and only partly anarchist in its orientation, none of them was lastingly successful. The most important was Le Journal du peuple, founded by Sebastien Faure during the heyday of the Dreyfus agitation; it printed articles by left-wing socialists as well as by anarchists, and followed a sharply anti-clerical line, but it was never a financial success and disappeared after ten months of publication in December 1899. Two years later Faure founded in Lyons a second anarchist daily, Le Quotidien, which ran for almost 300 numbers, until it also failed for lack of adequate support. Clearly, outside the trade unions, the following of the anarchists was not wide enough to support anything more frequent than weekly periodicals; even these were always in debt and had to be subsidized by supporting groups.
It was through the increasing participation of French anarchists in the trade-union movement during the 1890s that the doctrine of anarcho-syndicalism developed; during the following years it spread beyond France and largely replaced anarchist communism as the dominant libertarian attitude, not only in the Latin countries, but also in Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia.
Neither the basic approach of anarcho-syndicalism nor the forms of action advocated by its supporters was entirely new. In England of the 1830s, under the theoretical influence of
Robert Owen, the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union had not merely set out to press the demands of the workers for better conditions under capitalism; it had also envisaged the establishment of a socialized society by means of a movement divorced from political activity. And the method which the Owenite unionists favoured for bringing an end to capitalism and ushering in the new world was the Grand National Holiday of the Working Class -- an early version of the general strike, conceived and advocated by the English restaurant-keeper William Benbow in 1833. Even in France the syndicalist emphasis on the need for working men to achieve their own liberation dated back to Proudhon's De la capacite politique des classes ouvrieres; Varlin and the French Bakuninists had also recognized before the Paris Commune the role of the trade unions in the social struggle, and the general strike had been supported by the non-Marxist collectivists within the International, particularly as a means of war-resistance. What was original in anarcho-syndicalism was its adaptation of these elements from the past to the circumstances of the industrial world of the late nineteenth century, and its creation of a theory that made the trade union the centre of the class struggle and also the nucleus of the new society. The emphasis on the syndicate rather than the commune as the basic social unit, and on industrial action as opposed to conspiratorial or insurrectional action, were the two points on which the anarcho-syndicalists principally differed from the anarchist communists and the collectivists.
The trade-union movement began to re-form in France after the legislation of 1884 which allowed working-class associations for the defence of economic interests. Almost immediately the anarchists began to enter the new unions; among the first of them was the carpenter Joseph Tortelier, a celebrated orator and a great advocate of the general strike as the means to the social revolution.
It was some time, however, before a clearly revolutionary trend began to appear in the unions. Their first general organization, the Federation Nationale des Syndicats, was created in 1886; it was a reformist body controlled by the socialists of Guesde's Parti Ouvrier. Two years later an anarchist tendency
began to emerge. Encouraged by the government of Waldeck-Rousseau, which hoped to gain social peace by courting the workers, the unions of Paris founded in 1888 a Bourse de Travail, or labour exchange, to compete with the bureaux de placement operated in the interests of the employers. It was hoped that the activities of the Bourses de Travail might moderate the militancy of the workers; the reverse happened. The local groupings of unions formed by the Bourses appealed to anarchist decentralism and offered a means of opposing the centralizing tendencies of the Guesdists within the Federation Nationale des Syndicats. Moreover, the anarchists hoped that the Bourses would result in union control of the supply of labour and thus establish a useful instrument of economic power.
The movement spread rapidly, Bourses de Travail were set up in many provincial towns, and the anarchists quickly established control over the most important. By 1892 there were enough to form a Federation des Bourses de Travail, which also the anarchists effectively infiltrated; in 1894 Fernand Pelloutier became assistant secretary of the federation, and in 1895 he rose to the position of general secretary, while another anarchist, Paul Delesalle, was made his assistant. Pelloutier was a brilliant young journalist who had started as a Radical and moved on to the Guesdists; disillusioned by his experience of political parties, he decided that industrial action, culminating in the general strike, was the best protection for the workers in existing conditions and also their best way toward the eventual social revolution. It is an exaggeration to say -- as G. D. H. Cole has said -- that 'Pelloutier founded syndicalism', but it is at least true that his idealistic and pure-hearted enthusiasm made him its first and most important leader. The anarchists in general brought with them into the Bourses de Travail their hatred of the state and their extreme anti-militarism, represented particularly by Georges Yvetot, who succeeded Pelloutier in the secretaryship of the federation after the latter's premature death in 1901.
Meanwhile the anarchists had also begun to penetrate the rival Federation Nationale des Syndicats. In alliance with the Blanquists and the revolutionary socialist group led by Jean
Allemane, they managed to unseat the Guesdists from their control of the F.N.S. Collaboration between the two organizations now became possible, and at a joint Congress at Nantes in 1894 a large majority of the delegates resolved that 'the ultimate revolutionary means is the general strike', and established a special committee, controlled by the revolutionary factions, to transmit this millennial idea to the workers.
An actual amalgamation of the two federations did not take place immediately (though it had already been urged at a joint congress in 1893) largely because the militants of the Bourses de Travail were reluctant to abandon their decentralized form of organization. As a consequence, it was not until 1902 that the syndicalist movement in France was finally united. A first step toward unification was made in 1895 when the Federation Nationale des Syndicats transformed itself into the Confederation Generale de Travail; by providing a structure of two sections -- one of national syndicates and the other of local federations -- it hoped to attract the Bourses de Travail into affiliation, but Pelloutier and his followers entered the Confederation for a few months and withdrew. Meanwhile, in 1898, the C.G.T. planned a dress rehearsal of the general strike, in support of a projected walkout of the railwaymen who, as public servants, were excepted from the provisions of the Trade Union Act which legalized strikes; the railwaymen, however, were intimidated by the threats of the government, and the great experimental general strike ended in a fiasco which discredited the moderates within the C.G.T., who had allowed the plans for the strike to reach the authorities. This enabled the anarchists to strengthen their influence within the Confederation, and by 1902 the attitudes of the two organizations were sufficiently close for a union to be achieved. In the enlarged C.G.T., a former Blanquist, Victor Griffuelhes, became secretary-general, but the anarchists Yvetot and Delesalle headed the section of Bourses de Travail while Pouget headed the section of national federations and also edited La Voix du Peuple.
In the years from 1902 to 1908 the anarchists reached the peak of their influence among the French workers. The C.G.T., of course, was never a completely anarchist organization. A
large minority of its members remained reformist in attitude, while among the revolutionary majority the anarchists competed with Blanquists, Allemanists, and a new generation of 'pure' syndicalists, of whom Pierre Monatte was typical, who saw in the militant trade union the only means and the only end of revolutionary activity. Nor did the C.G.T. as a whole represent a majority among the workers of France; the anarcho-syndicalist theoreticians rather welcomed this fact, since they felt that a relatively small organization of dedicated militants could activate the indifferent masses in a critical situation, and in the meantime would not lose their potency by immersion in a mass of inactive card-carriers. The Bakuninist conception of a revolutionary elite played a considerable part in anarcho-syndicalist theory.
During the first decade of the twentieth century the C.G.T. set the pace for labour action, and turned this into a tense period of strikes, sabotage, police violence, and syndicalist attempts to undermine the morale of the armed forces. Perhaps not very much was achieved materially in the improvement of working conditions, but this did not seem important to the anarcho-syndicalists; they wished to create an atmosphere of struggle, in which class enmities would sharpen and the workers would learn from experience the need for a revolutionary solution to the social problem.
In this context of intense strife the revolutionary syndicalists worked out their theories. Beginning with the conception of a society divided between producers and parasites, they saw the syndicates as a union of struggle on the part of the producers, a union strengthened by the fact that it bound men by their most fundamental bonds -- the bonds of common work and common economic interests. In the industrial struggle alone the worker actually confronts his nearest enemy, the capitalist; in that struggle alone can he practise 'direct action', action not perverted by intermediaries. In the eyes of the revolutionary syndicalist, action can be violent or otherwise. It can take the form of sabotage, of boycott, of the strike. Its highest form is the general strike, which the anarcho-syndicalists regard as the means of overthrowing not merely capitalism, but also the state, and of ushering in the libertarian millennium. This was a
teaching that reinforced the anarchist's traditional rejection of political action, since the syndicate seemed to provide a practical alternative to the political party; it also left undiminished his hatred of the state, the Church, and the army, all of which stood in the background as supporters of the direct enemy, the capitalist.
Such a doctrine attracted not only the militant workers, but also the intellectuals they distrusted. Among these the most imaginative was Georges Sorel. Sorel, whose ideas were most fully developed in his Reflections on Violence, had no direct connexion with the syndicalist movement, and he was repudiated by its theoreticians, Pelloutier, Pouget, Pataud, and Yvetot. He was an engineer by profession who had become interested in Marx and then in Bergson, and who tried to combine the ideas of these very different philosophers with the practical experience of the syndicalist movement in order to create his own theory of social development. According to this theory, the class struggle was valuable because it contributed to the health and vigour of society, and should be pursued with violence because -- says Sorel in words that seem to foreshadow writers like Malraux and Sartre -- violent action provides extreme moments 'when we make an effort to create a new man within ourselves' and 'take possession of ourselves'. These moments, for Sorel, are the true freedom; he looks for no world that goes beyond them. And so, while he praises the conception of the general strike, he does so not because he thinks it will ever achieve its millennarian aim, but because the idea of its success is an invaluable 'social myth' for sustaining the enthusiasm of the workers and maintaining their willingness to take part in the struggle -- which is everlasting. There are elements of Sorel that certainly remind one of Proudhon, whom he admired, but he never claimed to be an anarchist, and his place in anarchist history is peripheral. For his ideas could have led him to the right as easily as to the left; indeed, he later became involved in monarchist and anti-Semitic movements, and eventually found a niche among the prophets of Italian Fascism.
The influence of anarcho-syndicalism reached its height in France round about 1906, with the celebrated Charter of
Amiens, which announced the complete autonomy of the syndicalist movement and denied all political allegiances, whether to the Right or to the Left. It began to decline round about 1908. This was partly due to a series of disastrous strikes which led to the imprisonment of the principal revolutionary-syndicalist leaders -- Griffuelhes, Pouget, Yvetot, and others -- and to their replacement by the 'pure' syndicalist group led by Leon Jouhaux, which moved steadily toward the right. As a result, the national unions, which always had an inclination toward the reformism of the British trade-union movement, gradually attained more power within the Confederation; the anarchists remained well entrenched within the Bourses de Travail, but their influence over the policy of the C.G.T. as a whole declined rapidly from 1909 to 1914, their grasp on key positions weakened, and the organization ceased to bear their peculiar stamp.
During the anarcho-syndicalist heyday, the strictly anarchist propaganda groups continued their work, and the relationship between these two currents of the movement was often strained. From the start the individualists were opposed to any participation in trade unions. At the opposite extreme, Jean Grave and Temps nouveaux were in general sympathetic to the syndicalists. In Le Libertaire Sebastien Faure maintained for several years an opposition based on a purist conception of anarchist communism, but later shifted to benevolent neutrality. As time went on and the younger syndicalists began to think in terms of a revolution only through industrial activity, many of the anarchists outside the syndicates became disturbed by the vision of a future dominated by monolithic syndicates, and the debate between Malatesta and Pierre Monatte at the Amsterdam International Congress of 1907 underlined a difference of viewpoint that increased as a type of revolutionary syndicalism began to evolve whose exponents found it no longer necessary to declare in any way their allegiance to anarchism.
For anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism alike, in France, the First World War precipitated a decline that had already begun several years before. The loudly proclaimed anti-militarism of both anarchists and syndicalists produced no spectacular effects when the testing of war came upon them. Most of the anarchists of military age went to the colours
without resistance, and many of their leaders, including Jean Grave, Charles Malato, and Paul Reclus, declared their support of the Allies. It is true that Sebastien Faure and E. Armand, the leading individualist, stood their ground in opposition, but the disunity within the movement hastened its decline. The anarchist papers ceased to appear; the anarchist groups were dissolved; no effective underground movement came into existence.
When the war was over, the Russian Revolution, with the concreteness of its achievement, became an equally disintegrative influence. Within the C.G.T. it created vast divisions of opinion. The communists and the revolutionary syndicalists at first entered into alliance and formed a Centre Syndicaliste Revolutionnaire within the Confederation, of which the anarchists, led by Pierre Besnard, gained temporary control. In 1921 the Centre split away to form a rival oganization, the C.G.T. Unitaire. Again the anarcho-syndicalists at first seemed to have the upper hand, and they succeeded in provoking, in various parts of France, a strike movement whose failure discredited them and enabled the communists to seize control of the C.G.T.U. at its Saint-Etienne Congress in 1922. Shortly afterward the C.G.T.U. joined the Profintern, and a further split ensued, as the anarchists broke away to form a Federal Union of Autonomous Syndicates, which allied itself to the International Workingmen's Association recently founded in Berlin, and in 1925 became the C.G.T. Syndicaliste Revolutionnaire. The C.G.T.S.R. survived until 1939, but it was never more than a small sectarian movement, and from 1923 onward anarcho-syndicalism played an insignificant part in French working-class activity.
The decline in the anarchist movement itself was in militancy rather than in numbers. Anarchist journals and groups revived after 1918, but the revolutionary glamour which anarchism in its various forms had almost monopolized in the years from 1880 to 1910 faded in the light of the Russian Revolution, and many of the younger activists deserted to the Communist Party, while no new leaders of stature emerged, and many of the survivors of the pre-war elite were discredited by their support of the war. French anarchism took no new directions. It merely
followed with diminished vigour the paths laid down in the fruitful years after 1894. With the decline in importance of the artisan class which had contributed so greatly to its ranks in the past, it seemed out of tune with the mood of French workers, yet it was kept alive largely by the fascination which the logic of extreme doctrines holds for certain types of Frenchmen of all classes.
Yet, if the native libertarian movement became a kind of living fossil during the years between 1918 and 1939, Paris and parts of southern France remained notable anarchist centres because of the willingness of most French governments during the 1920s and the 1930s to give asylum to political refugees. Wave by wave, as the totalitarian nightmare struck Europe, the foreign anarchists converged on France. First they came from Russia, then from Italy and Germany, and finally from Spain, until, by 1939, there were probably more foreign than native anarchists on French soil. Nestor Makhno and Alexander Berkman died there; Camillo Berneri, the last of the great Italian anarchists, lived there until his sense of duty called him to a death in Spain. But these were only transients, waiting -- usually in vain -- for the day when fortune would call them back to the struggle in their own countries. They had very little influence on the French movement, and their presence did nothing to halt the decline that had come from the withering of its roots in popular life.
1 Sibastien Faure, who founded Le Libertaire in 1895, is often credited with having invented the word libertarian as a convenient synonym for anarchist. However, Dejacque's use of the word as early as 1858 suggests that it may have had a long currency before Faure adopted it. .
2 Histoire du mouvement anarchiste en France (1880-1914), Paris, 1955.
3 Once Jacob was burgling a house when he realized that it belonged to the writer Pierre Loti; he left without taking anything.