Fear of Death

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Fear of Death[1]

I pity the living. I don’t pity the dead—those who, as Luther well said, are finally at rest.

But why does this rest frighten so many people? Why, just at the thought of this end, maybe far in the future, do they feel the back of their necks grow cold and the blood in their veins freeze?

I will never understand this.

Life seems to me to be a storehouse entrusted to our honor and uprightness. We are forbidden to embezzle from it and we should go to the grave with the entire stock like those ancients whose toll for eternity we still find in their skeletal hands or on their mummified lips.

Fear of death? But it is because you made a mess of your life!

I think it is so simple, this idea of doing good all the time, constantly, unceasingly, as if the Great Ghoul was right about to sweep you up and lay you in the cold ground—lining the final resting place with a rim of clay and rocking to sleep, the final sleep, to the tolling of bells.

Yes, doing good: that is the cure for fear of death. And by “doing good” I do not mean living in that state of grace that is so hard to reach and so fragile to keep, which the Church speaks of. That is reserved for elect souls. Me, I am talking about what is accessible to common mortals, to the indifferent crowd that, not having seen the light, has lost the way to heaven.

And I hope there are some paths crossing it where they can find the way again.

#

Every human being has inside a little voice that speaks very loudly at times of horrible doubt; a little light that makes the heart and brain see clearly… as full as they are sometimes with dangers and darkness. This is the conscience.

You only have to listen to it speak, reflect the inner light to act as well as you should. It never hesitates, is never wrong because it preaches self-denial, self-sacrifice and love of others…

Whoever has a conscience has a guide. As for the unfortunate people who do not have one, it is not their fault and they deserve our pity. Mother Nature stamped them with irresponsibility when badly forming their thinking organs. Or being raised by parents who are irresponsible themselves or who are conscious criminals deformed the child’s intellect, making a monster of its soul.

There were Gwynplaine[2] makers in England who sculpted in children’s flesh shocking faces—there are some among us too, except they respect the face and their gruesome work is carried out on the heart and brain of the little creature who is the fruit of their loins. When he escapes them he can no longer tell the difference between good and bad, just like those poor birds who need only a neck wound to destroy their sense of direction.

So, go and ask a child who has been mutilated like this to have a conscience! Who can blame him for not saving his? Who would dare throw the first stone?

His bad luck gives him rights—our good luck gives us duties.

And the first of all is to repair the injustices committed by chance, each of us as much as we can.

Following our conscience is fine, but this leads only to justice—and it is not enough. We must also listen to our hearts, open wide our arms to the miseries of this world, suffer with joy in the good, in the pride, in the flesh, in order for the humble to suffer a little less, to contribute its share in Israel’s redemption.

Practice justice, practice fraternity—you will see if you are scared of death!

#

It is frightening only for those who are left behind, who weep holding a hand whose tenderness seems to fade away with the ever colder embrace.

Alas! Who of us has not felt this awful wrenching of separation? Who of us has not looked for the shiver of awakening on the face asleep forever?

Through tears we eagerly watch over the indecipherable enigma and our mouths stick furiously to the forehead whose icy touch throws us back? It is like we came to kiss some stone statue lying on a tomb, hands crossed and eyes closed, like we see in the back of old abbeys.

And the fingers, those wax fingers, transparent and bloodless like a mother’s who has just given birth, how many times in one hour do we not see them go limp or contract with subtle movements? A play of shadows! The mirage of a tenderness that does not want to retreat before ugly reality!

The next day the men in black come. They follow, swaying the wagon, while the wreaths twitch around them on the pavement as if the heart of the deceased was arousing them with its beats.

A stone falls down… the friends drag you away, going back to an empty home—then nothing.

If… the soul! The invisible and sovereign soul that has cast off its rags buried underground, that soars off far from the stench of the charnel house and that comes back swiftly to its loves like a faithful dove to its nest.

It is here, near the survivors, in the impalpable air around us, and in the hours of distress or desperation we feel that we are not alone.

The poor intelligence that we are so proud of has not yet pierced the mystery of worlds. A whole part of creation remains illegible to us and centuries will pass, perhaps, before we have babbled the first word about it.

But they lie if they claim that we die entirely! You must never have loved another being, never have caught their final breath, never have wept over a grave, never have felt that silent voice of the beloved soul pointing out your duty or soothing your troubles to have uttered such a blasphemy!

Too bad for those who say this sincerely, but how illogical, then, to fear the tranquility of nothingness! Fear of death and the negation of the soul—how can they be compatible?

In truth, I tell you, there is only one way not to fear Death: it is to prepare yourself for it justly, to think about it with a smile and to go down with your hands full of good deeds…

 

[1] Signed Renée, Le Gaulois, January 11 1890.

[2] From Victor Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit; his mouth is deformed into a perpetual grin.

Go away, outcasts!

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Go away, outcasts![1]

Who said this? France? You wouldn’t really want to! The old crone who said what is the foulest part of hatred, what is the least noble issue of servility is no more France than the fury in black shirts shaking their fists at us and spitting insults from the other side of the Alps is Italy!

Look here: the two harpies are the same. The one has achieved in the domain of terror what the other dreams and thinks about, what it might commit tomorrow if there were not spirited energy and physical bodies between its action and freedom. The one perpetuates, the other approves. The fascist is soaked in blood up to its elbows; the reactionary (who preserves the memory of the 30,000 casualties of 1871[2]) still has only its fist stained with the generous purple that spurted out of the skull of Jaurès[3]—but it threatens, it hopes, it aspires!

These witches are the visible faces of the past who are struggling to come back to life in the present. They are not—let’s shout out loud in honor of the provinces of Europe where we were born!—either chivalrous France or magnificent Italy. They had, they have other faces. Their people (who sometimes argue and fight but who are often allied together) have demonstrated, in the past, elegance and courtesy. Will we only be here, then, to miss those long lost days?

I don’t think so. There is a mirage on the banks of the Tiber. The Italian language is so intoxicating that the people frequently get drunk on words. Their sun is so hot that thoughts fly happily beyond the limits of the possible, borrowing its wings from illusions. A man fitting the national profile, full of passionate speech and imagery, jumps on the platform, speaks down to people, takes a gamble; the king gives in and a boisterous minority rushes onto the stage. The “march” to Rome is made on railroads, don’t forget. Who paid for the seats? That’s the mystery of the aperitif. The “Apero” sponsored the “Impero”. All-powerful alcohol incites people to dictatorial aspirations in every country. Using a famous poster it seems to be innocent Nicolas coming with a sack full of bottles—it might, depending on the circumstances, just as well be Josephine Baker carrying bananas or Napoleon with laurels.

Laurels are so far lacking for Mr. Mussolini. His brow is heavy with greed, his speech bursting with metaphors… but his feet are clay. Especially since he relies on a horde that is known to surrender itself to its violent instincts (with the bridle round their necks) and is eager to enlarge its field of operations. Out of the entire population of Italy how many members of fascism are registered? The great, passive masses, manipulated only up to a certain point, being nice when the going’s good but vicious when things go wrong, this mass is an essentially inconsistent and shifting base.

Severe, silenced by force, but the mind imprinted with ghastly memories, the heart swollen with bitterness, the Italian people, the true ones, who don’t get sucked in by the speeches or blinded by all the flash, think about things and mark their time… They are fed up with war and they weigh the dictatorship in their strong hands. They are our brothers like they always have been—and its in the face of these outcasts where we will find traces of our common ancestry, a family resemblance that will always bind Italy to France—whatever the madmen do.

Even though the club wants to turn into a scepter, it can do nothing—the tombs of Jaurès and Matteotti[4] earn our equal respect and affection.

#

And now concerning the sentence of Di Modugno[5] fascism is making a stink and our government, completely uninvolved with the verdict of the jury, figures it is the opportunity to bear witness to who’s side its on. Because the enemy is no longer clericalism like in the times of Gambetta nor Germany like during the war. Since Albert Sarraut declared it in a movement that was more spirited than sensible—communism is the enemy!

Only that? It doesn’t seem so. A glance at Europe is enough to show that under this broad label, the fascism in all the States is also targeting socialists, radicals and progressive republicans. It’s considered and called all communism militant and a bother to the “rackets” of the masters.

Even being pacifist (unless it’s very official) with filed down teeth and gnawed fingernails, not to mention the harmless character natural to such an opinion, is suspicious. Especially if it’s “whining”. No preachers! They cannot govern peacefully except at this price.

So, they hunt them down everywhere with a particular system. Where oppression is pretty strong they kill them, secretly, or else in a small group. Mercy means only deporting them, like the wife and young child of Di Modugno, in a place chosen so that they won’t be living off the state for too long. They tyrannize the others in such a way that they risk everything, death, the loss of civil rights, confiscation of goods, to reach a more hospitable land.

It was France once, beautiful France with arms wide open to receive all the outcasts, all the hunted, all the “survivors”. It had taken over the generous tradition of Holland and Switzerland during the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; of England and Germany during the Revolution; of Belgium, the Swiss and the British again after the Commune (Hugo was expelled to Brussels only because of a letter to the defeated).

So in the time of the Encyclopedists it welcomed philosophers and writers who were not prophets in their own country; after 1830 and 1848 for the Greek, Hungarian, Italian and Polish refugees it became the asylum for all the victims of tsarism. My childhood saw the end of this era (who didn’t have a refugee either after the attack by Orsini or Berezowski[6]?). All of subversive France was vibrating with the perhaps impolite but very human cry of Floquet as Tsar Alexander II passed by: “Long live Poland, Sir!” My youth was a regular visitor to the nihilists on the left bank, often grouped together around Lavrov and old Considerant.

Since the map of Europe has been cut up by haphazard scissors, they are coming here from all points of the globe. But especially from Italy after fascism clamped down there. They flee vandalism, looting, the burning of their houses, being thrown out windows, summary executions, organized shootings, pseudo-conspiracies, hostage taking, all the exploits that the Golden Book of Fascio prides itself on.

Many of them have white hair, belong to the working or intellectual elite. Welcome, Latin brothers. We’ll squeeze a little tighter to make room for you in the home, in the stable, with the books…

But Mussolini is grumbling because a French jury showed some indulgence to a husband whose wife they are holding, to a father whose child they are holding, to a citizen chased from his homeland. The supporters of Il Duce are hissing at France like its other members in Venice after the hostilities hissed at our military envoy Marshal Fayolle after tearing off and throwing in the canal the insignia of the consulate of France. There was no question of Di Modugno at that time or of strengthening our institutions in a strict sense.

Bad French woman that I am, I want desperately for France not to be dishonored!

 

[1] Le Cri des peuples, December 10 1928.

[2] From the Paris Commune

[3] Jean Jaurès, pacifist socialist murdered on the eve of WWI.

[4] Giacomo Matteotti, Italian socialist murdered by fascists in 1924.

[5] Sergio Di Modugno, an anti-fascist who assassinated Count Carlo Nardini, vice consul of Italian Consulate in Paris in September 1927, sentenced to only two years in prison.

[6] Assassination attempts on Napoleon III in 1858 and on Tsar Alexander II in 1867.

24-Fascism and Finale

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Fascism and Finale

Several reasons contributed to the weakening of the anarchist movement after WWI: the fact that some anarchists, like Kropotkine, Jean Grave and Charles Malato rallied to the cause of war; also the libertarian soviets of the Russian Revolution turning into centralist authoritarians; so too the defeat of the Spanish Revolution first by the communists and then by Franco; and perhaps its inability to organize effectively. But anarchism was not dead. As the older anarchists were dying off, younger ones took up the banner. Names and faces changed but the spirit remained the same and the call to action kept ringing out.

Séverine also continued to mobilize public opinion for noble causes. “What I hate most in the world is injustice!” Always more libertarian than socialist, she cared less for theories and subtle arguments than for action and real change. She always defended the man or woman, innocent or guilty, standing alone before the all-powerful justice system of the State, which earned her a reputation for defending those whose cause she did not necessarily espouse.

As a Pioneer of anti-racism, she called out “to free the white race from the irons of prejudice” while she denounced fascism and its “fanatic horde” when it first raised its ugly head in the 1920s. As post-war Europe was finding prosperity again and trying to forget the trauma of its latest slaughter, a surge of violence rose up out of the buried trenches. Séverine rose up against them: In Spain Primo de Rivera; in Bavaria “that little” Hitler; and in Italy one man incarnated it—Mussolini.

One recurrent theme of her final writings was the threat that Mussolini and fascism presented to Europe and the world. She would not live through the war he ushered in but she felt it coming and urged people to prevent it.

In 1903 in Médan she spoke long and movingly on the first anniversary of Zola’s death. Two years later 120,000 people came to the Gare de Lyon to meet the coffin of Louise Michel, dead in Marseille while giving conferences at 85 years old. Séverine was asked to give a speech at the cemetery. As public speaking had once become one of her talents and sources of income, so too did giving eulogies. She was promoted to the rank of professional mourner.

In her seventies Séverine continued to write, giving articles to provincial papers and weekly columns in Paris dailies that asked her to contribute to their first issue, acting like a godmother, as Vallès had said she was of the Cri so long ago. Her last article was sent from her bed on February 16 to La Volonté, only two months before her death.

She died on April 24 1929 in Pierrefonds. The final words of her rebel life, spoken to her friend Georges Pioch, were “You have to work and you always have to tell the truth”.

She was buried in Pierrefonds on April 27, her 74th birthday. The day was chosen because it was a Saturday and workers could come. A special train was reserved from Paris to the small town in the Oise.

In the background, more than 2,000 followed her remains to the sound of Chopin’s “Marche Funebre”.

In the foreground the long-lamenting song of a beggar drags on.

Curtains down. Fade to black.

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