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.
Next: Go away, outcasts!