5-The End of Le Cri

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Séverine by Louis Welden Hawkins-1895

The fight over control of Le Cri du Peuple had started even before Jules Vallès died. Guesde and his friends had tried to take over the paper during his sickness and impose their form of scientific socialism under the cult of Marx. They wanted a newspaper in their image: rigid, authoritarian and dogmatic. The little bourgeois upstart, the little anarchist in skirts (as they saw her) was tolerable while Vallès was alive because she provided the money, but after his death, it was time to put her in her place—in the bottom shelf of a desk in the basement, preferably. They did not know Séverine. She was not the kind to stand by idly and let them usurp the paper. And a couple of events shook up their plans.

Firstly, the Naquet Law was passed in France, authorizing divorce. Séverine took advantage right away and on December 2 1885 she married Dr. Adrien Guebhard. In spite of all the scandals that would follow and their separation soon afterward, they would never divorce. Their relationship always remained respectful and affectionate. Presently it meant that she continued to hold the coffers of the paper.

The other significant event took place the day after Vallès’ funeral. A journalist by the name of Georges de Labruyère from L’Echo de Paris came to interview Séverine. Labruyère was young, handsome and talented, although less famous for his journalism than for his duels. Still, the article that he wrote, “Vallès’ Friend”, was not just a praise of the disciple, but a flattering portrait of the woman, the only one to be accepted as an equal among the editors of the press. She immediately saw in him an ally, which she sorely needed at Le Cri. When she invited him to join the staff, he had no trouble accepting. The Guesde clan saw that she was not about to step down quietly, so the battle was on. But they were willing to sink lower than she would ever go.

Séverine was trying to keep Vallès’ dream alive: that Le Cri du Peuple be the voice of the people, the voice that was imprisoned in silence, a militant voice against economic and political exploitation. But she also wanted to modernize the paper that she saw becoming sad and boring. She wanted more than the traditional professors of revolution spouting propaganda from their high chairs. The workers deserved more. They wanted excitement and information and they wanted to identify with the stories being told to them. Georges de Labruyère had ideas. He, like Séverine, was part of the new “American” school of journalism popularized by the New York Herald—fewer commentaries, more facts. Who, what, why, where and when. Investigative reporting on the scene with eyewitness accounts. Séverine, however, never lost sight of the goal or sacrificed her role, which she saw as spreading the hatred of injustice and the love of truth among the people. But as Vallès used to say, you made no progress if you only preached to the converted, if you only reflected the opinion of your readers. So, Le Cri was anarchist, absolutely, but it was also collectivist, Blanquist, republican, independent or possibilist depending on who was writing.

She knew that this harmony was a façade and would last only as long as she yielded to the editorial staff. But with the source of money at her back they could not get rid of her and with Georges de Labruyère at her side they could not shut her up.   Through Clément Duval they attacked. Theft, they claimed, was unacceptable and thieves, no matter where they came from, were no allies of theirs. Séverine did not yield. Their mutiny failed, bitterly. When they abandoned ship, they went to war.

They founded a new paper, La Voie du Peuple, and resuscitated an old scandal. Back in December 1885 a certain Lissagaray started a campaign to bring down the competing newspaper. It denounced Le Cri as a vain, contemptible rag full of hot air, lies and exaggeration that compromised the Cause for the sake of sales and publicity for its director, Dr. Guebhardt, a shameless profiteer disguising himself as a revolutionary. Not only was Adrien unconcerned by this, but he was not a fighter. And yet such slanders demanded satisfaction.

The duel was illegal, but it was inseparable from the life of the press, as absurd as it might sound—but absurdity is part of the French spirit. Although they rarely proved fatal—they usually stopped the fight at the first drop of blood for swords or a limited number of shots for pistols—they still risked life. Of course dueling was exclusively male, which was another difficulty for a woman journalist—the editor had to represent her. Without a champion to fight for her, it could be an excuse for censorship. Astie de Valsayre, the secretary of the League of Women’s Freedom, jumped in the fray, however, criticizing Séverine for needing a man to fight for her and demanding women’s right to duel. Since it was impractical to fight in long frilly skirts and a corset she petitioned the right to wear pants—it was refused (it was still technically illegal for women to wear pants until the law was revoked in 2013). Séverine loved her dresses and therefore hated Astié de Valsayre and all her hype.

So, it was Georges de Labruyère who took the field for Le Cri and its sponsor. But far from settling the issue, Lissagary felt it was halted too soon, without enough blood being spilled, hinting that his adversary was dodging out of danger. Labruyère sent witnesses for a second fight, but Lissagaray refused. He claimed that he had just learned how despicable the representative of Le Cri really was and he would never have accepted the first challenge if he had known: George de Labruyère, he claimed, was a hired pen and a snitch for the police. A year later, in December 1886, the polemic was resumed by Abel Peyrouton in L’Echo de Paris who dragged Séverine’s personal life into the battle, calling her a whore who squeezed money out of her john (Adrien, her husband) to pay her pimp (Labruyère, her lover). And there was worse: Séverine and Labruyère had been caught doing the dirty deed in the public restrooms of Tuileries by the police, but her connections had kept it quiet since Séverine’s father had been a policeman.

Bad as this was, it was worse a few months later, after the confrontation over anarchy, when her former staff resuscitated the accusations and slung all kinds of calumnies, insinuations, insults and obscenities with no other goal but to destroy her. Worst of all, they sent a collection of the articles to Madame Guebhard. With her poor sight, it was Séverine’s son Roland, now seven years old, who had to read all the slanders to her. After first refusing to answer such base recriminations, Séverine finally responded, point by point, to all the dirt. It was true that she was having an affair with Georges de Labruyère, but she had told Adrien all about it during the Duval polemic and he had accepted peaceably, leaving Paris to live with his mother and son in Provence. As for her father, she gives a long, sympathetic portrait of his career, describing the proletariat in ragged overcoats, the whole class of petty, pen-pushing bourgeoisie.

This would not be the last public confrontation for Séverine in her career, but for Le Cri it was the end. Not because of the scandal, but because of the spirit. Since the “revolutionaries” had been replaced by the “possibilists”, more moderate reformers, the energy and hope of the debut had been snuffed out. She wrote her farewell article on August 29 1888.

Henceforth Séverine had to write for various newspapers, meet headlines, earn a living. Becoming the first professional female journalist in France, she had to hire out her pen, but she would not hire out her soul. Not only because she had a keen sense of responsibility of the press, but also because she did not have to: by now Séverine was famous. Feared by some, notorious to others, respected by most and in demand—her name on the front page sold papers.

 

The Chicago Anarchists

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Haymarket_hanging

The Chicago Anarchists[1]

They took these four men, full of life and health, and covered their shoulders with the shroud that, a few minutes later, would wrap their twisted limbs and hide their contorted faces—and their eyes popping out of the sockets to punish them for having seen too far and too high into the future of humanity; and their tongues hanging out of their mouths, gags of purple flesh sealing forever those lips guilty of having spoken of truth and justice!

They staggered along because ropes bit into their ankles and hobbled their feet like tied up animals before being thrown into the slaughterhouse.

They were pale because the night before their dear friend Louis Lingg had sacrificed himself in the hope of saving their four lives. They heard a sudden explosion, then the commotion in the prison and the cries of pain that his horrible wounds wrenched from him. They counted the minutes of his agony before their last night’s sleep was troubled by the double sound of hammering: the coffin they were nailing shut and the gallows they were building.

And the night before they had removed their hearts from this world. Their wives and mothers had wept in their arms, groaned against their chests and clasped their knees. There were dreadful scenes in that dungeon. Fisher’s companion and Parsons’, Spies’ mother, and that poor, beautiful Nina Van Zandt, his fiancée, had watered the floor of the cells with their tears.

Parsons’ wife came back in the morning. She dragged herself up the prison gate, knocked softly and begged, with words that would have softened up a wild beast, to allow her to give one last kiss to the man who was still alive but who had already made her a widow.

“No.”

She said nothing, did not yell, did not cry, but her fingernails embedded in the bars of the gate suddenly let loose and she fell backward with a terrible shriek that resounded throughout the prison.

No one knows if Parsons recognized that cherished voice, but from that minute on his face was scored with frightful wrinkles so that he looked like he was sixty years old when the hangman took him.

The four condemned men had listened proudly, with something superhuman in their eyes, to the reading of the death sentence. Then while walking to the gallows, Fisher—the German Fisher—started singing at the top of his voice the French song, the heroic Marseillaise whose red wing hovered over these martyrs.

The executioner grabbed them. The ignominious ropes were knotted around their necks, the trapdoors dropped—and the four bodies swung in the air like four big bell clappers sounding the alarm of retaliation in the petrified air…

Before dying Spies said, “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than our voices that you are strangling to death!”

Engel yelled, “Hurray for Anarchy!”
Fisher yelled, “Hurray for Anarchy!”

The last words of Lingg’s testament were, “Long Live Anarchy!”

 

–November 1887

[1] The Preamble to En Marche 1896, conerning the Haymarket Affair.

The Responsible Parties

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clement_duval

The Responsible Parties:

Concerning the Anarchist Duval[1]

I do not approve of the theory of theft—or better said, I do not understand it. It disturbs me because it seems to be the kind of thing that pushes away the undecided, intimidates the naïve and frightens the timid. But in spite of my confusion I still feel that it is the most distressing social problem that has ever shaken up the world…and I remain undecided, I suspend my judgment.

Someone said to me, “You preach collective theft and call it restitution. But you spit on individual theft and call it a crime. Why?”

Yes, why?

#

I have too much loathing for pompous doctrines, school catechisms and sectarian grammars to argue and go into endless details about the act of a man whose head is already in the hands of the executioner and whom everyone has the right to insult and condemn—except for us!

We spend our lives telling the humble people (it is our conviction and our duty) that they are being robbed, exploited and slowly murdered; that their bodies are machines, their daughters are playthings and their sons will be used as cannon fodder. We fuel their anger, set their minds on fire, burn their souls and in the name of supreme Justice and sovereign Equality we make citizens out of the outcasts and rebels out of the defeated.

We tell them, “The Revolution is at hand. It will free you and give you your daily bread and the dignity of being free. Be patient, poor people! Hold on and put up with everything! Wait for the right time, gather your sorrows and bundle up your bitterness and hopes—and have confidence in the Social Revolution for a few years of grief and sacrifice.”

The stubborn and persistent understand. They notch their belt around their empty bellies and get back to the social work dreaming of the harvest to come.

But the others? The impatient and impassioned who are dying of hunger and hatred, who have suffered, struggled and endured too much, who have too many children in their homes or too much fury in their heads, with their minds impervious to any idea of discipline and organization, who listen to us but do not hear! The sound of our words enters their brains, but the meaning does not stick in their minds. And these madmen of misery, these neurotics of revolt get drunk on our venomous hostility like on too much wine.

And then they do something crazy or criminal…

Bourgeois society jumps up, grabs hold of the man and tortures him… and we excommunicate him. We come down on him hard, cruel and heavy like the last rock at a stoning.

Oh, no, not that! Everyone…except for us!

The road we have chosen presents us with grave dangers, not the least of which are these disturbing “compromises”, but we have to accept them with our heads held high, like good people with enough honor to lend some of it to the unfortunates who are dishonored because they misunderstood us. All responsibility falls on us, the educated and the leaders of the crowd—they deserve leniency and pity.

#

So, turn to history and look at the past. There were always adventurous and deranged people who “compromised” the cause. And there were always blind puritans who branded these misfits with public condemnation. Babeuf was guillotined by the Republic; Proudhon was dishonored by the republicans; the rebels of June were defamed by Pelletan; and after ‘71 how many slanders were there against once fellow fighters![2]

And always, always this word “thief” tossed by one democrat at another. Babeuf, thief! Proudhon, thief! The June workers, thieves! The Communards, thieves! This or that opponent, thief! This or that, dissident, thief!

If the accusation is false, let us come to his defense; if it is true, let us sympathize! We other socialists have no other role in humanity. We are not judges. We are defenders!

I spoke of the legend of socialism, but you can take the legend of Christianity, its ancestor. A boy from Bethlehem, weak in body but strong in mind, gathered around him some workers whom he talked to quietly and simply about their great misery. They became staunch friends with him and left everything to follow him when he went to travel around Palestine. Like the vagrants of our day they had no occupation. They slept in the streets like our homeless. They held demonstrations on graves like us others and meetings like the unemployed in every Champs de Mars where they met.

There were twelve of them. Now there are a hundred. Tomorrow there will be a thousand!

Like a snowball turning into an avalanche, the group got bigger as it went along. Everyone whom the country considered prowlers, lost girls, bandits and brigands followed this young man who preached Equality. Since they had to live they foraged around and got what they could where they could. The bourgeoisie closed their doors in terror before this “army of crime” made up of the rejects of society.

The province was disrupted and the government went into action. Jesus was arrested for inciting people to pillage and to hate one another. They judged him along with a thief. It was the thief who got pardoned. Then Barabbas turned away from his co-defendant in disgust and said, “Take this criminal away.”

Jesus was executed amidst a laughing, booing and spitting crowd. The drunken soldiers had a great time while he was dying and he breathed his last breath between two thieves on the infamous gallows. Beneath him wept an old craftswoman, his mother and a poor prostitute who loved him…

#

This “criminal” was resurrected—and now he has reigned over the world for nineteen centuries!

The whole strength of this religion is drawn from the shame of torture, from the humility of the tortured, from its contact with the poor, from its solidarity with the guilty. He was judged by the Pharisees and denied by his apostles and he loved his ignorant, criminal people enough to be glad to take upon himself all their slanders and then die like the worst of beggars.

How can you, Social Pharisees, not know the deep significance of this legend and the thought of this pale orator nailed like the first socialist poster on the tree of Golgotha?

It would be too easy, really, to give only one’s life to the cause, to want only glorious punishments, brilliant martyrs, Millière at the Pantheon or Delescluze at the barricade[3].

So, let’s go!

You heard me right, we have to give everything: honor, reputation, prejudices, and misgivings. Follow the people on the road and follow them to their cells.

With the poor at all times—despite their mistakes, despite their faults…despite their crimes!

[1] Le Cri du People, January 30 1887 (included in Pages Rouges).

[2] François Noël “Gracchus” Babeuf (1760-1797), anarcho-communist ahead of his time and one of the leaders of “The Conspiracy of Equals”; Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), anarchist and pacifist; Eugène Pelletan (1813-1884) and the bloodily repressed uprising of 1848; reference to the Paris Commune of 1871.

[3] Jean-Baptiste Millière and Charles Delescluze were shot dead during the Bloody Week of May 1871.

4-Propaganda By Deed

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Séverine1

On the night of October 22 1882 a bomb exploded in the restaurant of the Bellecour Theater in Lyon, killing a waiter and causing considerable damage. The next day another bomb went off at an army recruitment center but resulted only in material damage. The investigation was naturally focused on the anarchists. Fearing a huge conspiracy by the “anti-authoritarian” International, the government rounded up the “leaders” all over France and brought them to Lyon to face the law. This famous Trial of the Sixty Six began on January 8 1883 against defendants who were divided into two categories: the first “to have, for 3 months, in Lyon or other parts of the French territory, been affiliated with or performed acts affiliated with an international society and with the goal of provoking the suspension of work, the abolition of the rights of property, family, country and religion, and having thus committed an attack against the public peace”; the second group for supporting and instigating such acts by publishing and circulating propaganda in favor of them. Stiff sentences ranging from six months to several years in prison were handed down to the likes of Peter Kroptkin, Elisée Reclus, Emile Gautier (who would later abandon anarchism) and many others. Antoine Cyvoct, a young anarchist journalist was sentenced to death for the Bellecour bomb[1] based solely on circumstantial evidence—in fact, they never even established that it was an anarchist attack. Nevertheless, thus began the Era of Dynamite and the government’s absolute intolerance of the anarchist movement.

In that same year of 1883 Karl Marx died in London and Jules Vallès launched Le Cri du Peuple in Paris. In following his dream to have a newspaper open to all cries of revolt, not just to one school or one theory, Vallès had welcomed Jules Guesde onto the editorial staff. Guesde would brag that he had met Karl Marx in person and was the guardian of orthodox revolutionary dogma. Séverine, being deeply, thoroughly libertarian[2], felt an immediate, instinctive dislike of him. She feared that with Guesde the authoritarians had set up house at Le Cri. Her distrust was well founded. For a while Séverine and the doctrinaires lived a difficult co-existence—a great big family that may not have liked but tolerated each other—until the question of anarchy came between them. And it was Clément Duval who caused the rupture.

Clément Duval was in court in January 1887 for robbing and setting fire to an affluent house and later stabbing (not fatally) the police sergeant Rossignol who tried to arrest him. The incident would likely have been relegated to the police blotter if Duval had not defended his act as an anarchist attack—he did not steal but put into action the theory of individual reclamation of capital, a “just restitution made in the name of humanity”. He stole not for his own benefit but to support the Revolution. It earned him a death sentence. The anarchist companions got to work right away to save him from the guillotine. Louise Michel spoke at one meeting where Séverine had the opportunity to meet her, the heroine of the Commune, the legend, who had written for the original Le Cri du Peuple. Today, however, the new staff of Le Cri (save Séverine) thought the anarchists were too damaging to the cause. The conflict that would last for decades to come was waging between propaganda by word and propaganda by deed, which not only pitted socialists against anarchists but also anarchists against each other.

“I have the conviction that the time of grand theoretical discourse, printed or spoken, is over… The time for ideas is over. It is the time now for deeds and action,” Mikhail Bakunin had said in his farewell speech in 1873[3]. Paul Brousse, in his article “Propaganda by Deed” in 1877, tried to show how much more effective action was compared to theoretical propaganda—it is the realization, the materialization of the idea. As the government became more repressive and corrupt and the workers became more downtrodden and poorer, many revolutionary militants became more radical and violent. When the Communards returned to France under the amnesty of 1880, so too did a renewed energy for anarchy, fiercer than ever. And it inaugurated a new era in the struggle against oppression.

There was no official anarchist party in France at the time. The anarchists called each other “companion” and formed only local groups with little or no links between them, adopting such provocative names as the Rebels, The Outraged, The Gun in Hand, The Starved, The Terrible, The Hatred. One group founded in 1886 was called the Anti-Owners: it was made up of “Midnight Movers”, who would skip out on rent; it had no rules, no statutes, no office, no headquarters; it counted around fifty active members who helped anyone who wanted to relocate without paying their debts. Another group was The Panther of Batignolles. On the agenda of its first meeting was the item “How to fabricate homemade bombs.” The soon to be famous Clément Duval was one of its founding members.

They practiced propaganda by deed, the idea first justified by Proudhon and then encouraged by Bakunin: “to destroy is to construct”. Everything from insurrection to explosives, from riding the train without a ticket to counterfeiting money, all forms of revolt, as insignificant as they might seem, were worth the effort. But substituting deeds for words, action for speech gave the anarchist movement a bad reputation and was not welcomed by all companions and certainly not by their socialist comrades, especially because of the crackdown by the law like in Lyon following the bomb attacks. With Duval’s defense, however, a new “crime” was being given significant attention. Later, Vittorio Pini, an Italian anarchist in France, with his better education would defend the theory of individual reclamation better than Duval[4], but with Duval’s death sentence, completely disproportionate to the crime—the government wanted to make an example of him—the libertarian theorists were forced to take a stand.

See, Clément Duval was making noise, a lot of noise. And the people, the workers were not unaware that he, at least, had not stolen from them. While a number of rebels were trying to create unions to help the unemployed and injured, others like him acted alone. Exasperated by misery, they could not wait for the future revolution. They cried out their desperation and struck. They put theory into practice. Some anarchists like Jean Grave, while justifying the action, denied any real value to theft. Others, like Sébastien Faure and Elisée Recluse, approved of the right to steal. To some he was just a criminal; to others he was a hero; to others again he became a martyr. No one could just stand on the sidelines.

Séverine took up the cause and championed Duval. She did not justify his action but rather decried the reaction. Justice was not equitable. There was one for the rich and another for the poor—it did not judge the facts, it judged the classes. And worse than this, who were all these socialists who judged him? Where did they get their right to condemn him without his right to appeal? She did not condone the theft, but she sympathized with the convicted. For her, the individual always took precedence over the category—humanity trumped doctrine. As Montaigne (3.2) said, “Man regards theft as a dishonest deed; and he hates it… but less than he hates poverty”.

Jules Guesde considered her articles a declaration of war. The staff rose up against her. Who was this woman who pretended to give lessons to the holders of the correct political line, who dared to contradict their dogma? It was the break. Marxists, blanquists, republicans, independents, all left en bloc. They quit, Séverine said. We were fired, they said. And the paper would die. Was it worth it?

Duval was defended by Fernand Labori, a young lawyer committed to his office, making his first appearance before the high court. He would go on to defend (along with his own life) Pini and Auguste Vaillant and the famous Captain Dreyfus, along with Emile Zola. All the uproar and popular support saved Duval’s head: his sentence was commuted to life of hard labor in the dry guillotine, as they called the penal colony. After fourteen years in hell and countless failed escape attempts Clément Duval (“one of the most dangerous men that anarchy ever unleashed against our social state”[5]) finally managed to reach New York in 1901 to die there at the age of 85 in 1935.

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At the same time across the Atlantic the Haymarket Affair in Chicago was causing shock waves : A bomb exploded during a labor demonstration for the eight-hour workday on May 4 1886 and the police reacted by firing indiscriminately into the panicked crowd, killing and injuring a number of people. No bomber was ever found, but eight anarchists were arrested and convicted despite no proof of a conspiracy. Four of them were sent to prison and the four others sentenced to death: one of them committed suicide in jail and the three remaining were hanged on November 11 1887. The injustice was an international scandal. In commemoration of the Haymarket Martyrs, it was first proposed in 1890 at the Second International in Paris and then formally recognized internationally in 1891 that May 1st be celebrated as International Workers Day. Today May Day continues to celebrate the Labor Movement all over the world except in the USA and Canada, which officially celebrate Labor Day in September so as to forget its origins.

[1] His sentence was commuted to hard labor on Devil’s Island in French Guiana until he was finally pardoned in 1898.

[2] Libertarian understood in the traditional, European sense, i.e. nearly equivalent to anarchist, and not in the American sense, i.e. free-market capitalist.

[3] Bulletin de la Fédération jurasienne, n. 27, October 12 1873.

[4] The two became friends in the hellish penal colony of French Guiana. See Outrage: An Anarchist Memoir of the Penal Colony by Clément Duval (translated by Michael Shreve), PM Press, 2012.

[5] Flor O’Squarr, Les coulisses de l’anarchie, 1892.

Battlegrounds

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Battlegrounds[1]

Let’s leave the “speechmakers” to their vain arguments, the troublemakers, the anarchy-mongers, the utopists and idealists, the theoreticians and philosophers, the subversives and dissidents, the whole sorry bunch that muddles order and afflicts, understandably, good thinking little brains.

Let’s leave aside the casuistry and discussion, the turns of phrase and figures of speech, the arguments and the replies, all the confusion or sublimity of words—empty prattle! When it comes to social issues, nothing matters but the deed. It alone arbitrates; it decides the opinions, confirms or denies them, and irrefutably establishes where the truth lies, in what North is the pole, in what East is the dawn! For an unsure conscience it is like a compass needle for the hesitant traveler… Follow its direction, proceed from its deductions and no error is possible; no doubt can remain.

Therefore, let’s go look for this magic talisman, in the thick of the social struggle, in the ordinary, everyday realities. Far from the orators and even from those precursors who, opposed to Jean Grave, do not make the deed sister to their dream, do not bind their action to their word, their existence to their Ideal. Very far from the empty rhetoric, let’s enter the great battle of demands and interests to seek insight by contemplating the results. And they are a complete, very suggestive revelation of the antagonism in which the strongest (today!) insist on monopolizing all the rights and leaving all the duties to the weakest.

We can judge the mentality of a caste like the morality of an army: by following in its wake… by counting the pointless victims outside of regular combat, all the shameful plundering, all the inhuman devastation, all the massacres and fires.

There were surely honest men, whose hearts shook with revolt and whose brows were soaked in shame, among the Bavarians at the sack of Bazeilles[2]. History’s fatality will remain forever ignorant. Impassively it will write in the book of memory: “The Bavarian army sacked Bazeilles, set fire to the town and slaughtered the inhabitants.”

It is the same for the employers. They strive so hard to be impartial that the principle trumps the individual; and they cannot distinguish it in the work of collectivity.

“Wounded? Who hurt you?”

“I don’t know. Whoever forged the weapon…”

This forge here has the insignia of tiny scales, a pledge of balance, and a mighty sword, a threat of punishment—it is better not to talk about the weights.

#

And yet, if we talk about them! Because they play their role among the most important actions worthy of attention that I have noticed recently.

This is only an illustration, but instructive. It concerns a simple fraud—the nibbled morsel of bread swiped from the meager wages of young girls earning thirty sous a day… for eleven hours of work!

In this instance, P***, the manufacturer of wire ribbing, not yet satisfied with his profits, decided to pay for piecework. He weighed both the raw materials and the finished work, incoming and outgoing, so that he would only have to pay for the labor. Now, there were always discrepancies and waste tallied against the worker, but under the threat of being fired, it was forbidden to check. One of these young girls, feeling rather bold one Sunday when the boss was absent, snatched up the weight. IT WAS STUFFED WITH LEAD; IT WEIGHED SIXTY-FIVE GRAMS—6.50 percent stolen by the manufacturer out of everyone’s wages every day or nine centimes lost out of the pitiable thirty sous that was already so hard to get. P*** was sentenced to ten days in prison and a twenty-five franc fine for falsifying the weights. Great, but the fraud? Isn’t it pretty blatant? Or are the gullible victims so worthless that the avenging equity of the Courts did not care?

Well, its wrath takes a nap when it comes to the flock of poor.

#

So it is that the metallurgists have salt scalers to help them. What is this strange occupation? What task does this name refer to? I am going to tell you.

To reduce the material, he puts into the boiler a thick layer of sodium chloride (otherwise called sea salt) that he has to attack with a pick. His eyes burn from it and from the acrid smoke coming out of the lamp. In winter the humidity freezes his body, ruins his lungs and brings on consumption; while the cooking of his eyelids and the near-suffocation of his breathing congest his brain horribly.

One of these damned, named Sabatier, talked to a journalist at the L’Ouvrier syndiqué of Marseille, from whom I borrow these revelations:

“I worked in construction; I made rope; I was a coalman; and now I’m a salt scaler. Well, of all the jobs I’ve done, the hardest work was in construction as a laborer. But the most exhausting, what’s killing my chest, is the salt scaler. But I have to do it. If I want to get any scraps for my brothers to eat.”

So, do you know how old this poor fellow is? Thirteen or fourteen years old.

For (here is the horrible crime!) they get children to use for this deadly work. The mouth of the machine is generally too small for adult bodies. The boilers are fitted with cross “turners” that block a man from getting all the way in. So they get twelve-year old children—AND THEY CHOOSE THE SKINNY ONES!

#

After the injured, the martyrs. After the martyrs, the dead.

They disappear when they are between fifteen and twenty years old, the poor little powder girls in Limoges, the ones who decorate ceramics with butterfly wings, tossing in the blush of their cheeks and the sparkle in their eyes.

The powder girl (with a cotton swab she fixes the pulverized colors on the still fresh tracing sheets for the ornamentation of luxury dishes) gets 15 to 20 centimes an hour and rarely lasts more than three years. Starting work at around fifteen years old, she is affected within a few months and at around eighteen—or nineteen for the laggards—she leaves to die wherever she can, poisoned, permeated with lead salts to the marrow of her bone.

It is useless to give them masks to wear. It is useless to give them milk to drink. They are rapidly reduced to nothing but skeletons, old women ravaged by disease. And the pain devours them, constantly tears them apart… until the grim reaper finishes them off!

It was, to say the least, the seventh death in a few months that made me cry out for mercy. And no worthwhile measures were taken—as always, my call was lost in the void, in the desert, in profound indifference!

There were seventeen or eighteen girls who passed away recently in the Limoges hospital. Two others died at their parents’ house. And neither the Health Council nor the Inspection Office warned of such crimes being bound to happen. They let them do it!

Right now they are quibbling over the last corpse—sixteen years old. The inspector, being accused of negligence, says that he referred the matter to the Administration four times in two months: on November 3, 10 and 17 and then on December 1. How will the Administration respond? While all this red tape rolls out, other girls, being poisoned at four sous an hour, are breathing their death.

In the meantime, around the Somme[3], there is a silica factory where in four years forty-two workers have died of tuberculosis, this kind of work being so deadly, from breathing the dust that deteriorates the lungs. Those who wrote to me about this, in their vast, voiceless desolation, said, “Although they treat us like slaves, at least the master will feed us because our death would be a loss!” And they recounted the torments of six thousand workers in the region of Vimert, Saint-Valéry, Escarbotin, Fressenneville and Wonicourt.

#

Yes, it is monstrous, but an ordinary monstrosity, everyday and everywhere, which nobody worries about too much.

The sugar crackers[4] are vowed to gastritis and tuberculosis, wounded in their sides from carrying the crates to the scales; their fingernails are worn down to the nub, their teeth are gone, their chests hollow—who cares? Furthermore, when they tried to alleviate their misfortune, how many people did they find to support them?

The workers in the matchstick factories (a State-owned business) are guaranteed necrosis, i.e. bone death… the most horrifying torture in the world! They asked that a harmless phosphorus be used rather than the one that was inflicting them with such torments. They were refused—IT WOULD BE TOO EXPENSIVE!

#

Faced with such things, you see, the notion of legal good and evil is eradicated in passionate souls and all that remains is a morality freed of conventions, drawing its support from the conscience and its strength from righteousness.

A society that allows, that owns such murders for the sake of profit is rotten to the core—let the axe men through!

 

[1] Included in En Marche 1896.

[2] On September 1 1870 just before the Battle of Sedan and Napoleon III’s crushing defeat.

[3] In Picardy in the north of France.

[4] The “casseuses de sucre” piled sugar onto crates and hauled them to the scales.