The Death of Vaillant

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Auguste Vaillant

The Death of Vaillant[1]

Monsieur Dupuy or Monsieur Casimir Perier[2]—it little matters which, they’re the same!—speaking in the forum of the repressive laws, had said that it was necessary for the “good men” to have their New Year’s gifts. He had not spoken of the Carnaval gift. This gift is the power that was bestowed on them. The head of Vaillant, as pale as the face of Pierrot, with a red collar like Polichinelle’s boss[3], had been put by him on the platter of the Salome parliament!

And the Herodiases of the Senate thanked him, congratulated themselves and were glad to be living under a prince who was an enemy of fear, with such an iron fist for anyone thinking of attacking them. The only regret is that we could not “interrogate” the wretch a little: to pound his own nails into his eyes and fingers and make him suffer a lot. For, regicide is calculated by the number of kings—and we have a thousand! Therefore, Vaillant was a thousand times guiltier than any other perpetrator of a capital crime.

Furthermore, the principle of National Sovereignty, although it is not divine right, amounts to the principle of Divinity. Whoever attacks it is guilty of parricide. And they used to burn sacrilegious tongues! No, definitely, they were merciful to this scoundrel by just guillotining him!

But to pardon him… I believe a riot would have broken out under the dome of the Luxembourg Palace and inside the glass skull of the Palais Bourbon[4] if they had snatched the corpse, the hostage, the ransom from the representatives.

If they cared! But remember the words of an honorable father-conscript recorded in Le Gaulois on February 3 without a shadow of protest arising: “Well, if President Carnot pardons Vaillant, we won’t pardon Congress!”

That’s how far they went—to this bargaining, this blackmail, this shameful intimidation!

#

I don’t want to believe that such considerations could influence the head of State, to make the scales tilt toward severity… but what will the simple people think, with their naïve souls, whose judgment is formed by instinct alone, far from governmental circles, in the almost anonymous shadow of suffering and labor?

Many of them knew Vaillant, had met him in the workshops or in meetings, that tall, gaunt figure with sunken eyes sparkling feverishly, with his soft speech, frugal gestures and shy demeanor, his reserve and sadness: the looks of a luckless, tragic man.

In the Marxist party, ten years ago now, he had the reputation of a good man, fairly focused, somewhat fanatic. But no one at that time could have guessed what was sprouting in his soul.

He used to lecture to the young anarchists (because in the revolutionary world at that time we were going from anarchy to Marxism, whereas today it is the opposite); he used to preach to them about the dangers of disorder; he used to praise the benefits of “socializing the means of production”; he used to be an example for Guesde—his god!—who said of him: “He’s got a good mind.” And there was certainly no partisan more active, more enthusiastic, more blindly submissive than he.

Yes, at that time, and later still, with evolution on his mind, Vaillant was an uncompromising Guesdist. He struggled to establish a neighborhood periodical with him; he lost his job for supporting the others’ candidacies. And I remember that evening when Monsieurs Guesde, Massard and Deville were dismissed by me from Le Cri du Peuple (not that I demanded them to champion Duval[5], but because it seemed monstrous to me that socialists, the fringes, in order to further their system, would push a prisoner under the guillotine’s blade), either I am totally wrong or Vaillant was among them when they came that evening to try to intimidate and set their chief up on the new editorial board—collectivist as well, but collectivist-possibilist and therefore enemy!

Today, all his beloved chiefs have turned away and against him. Some have gone so far as to insinuate that he could be working for the police…

Ordinary people are not fooled. Their opinion about the crime and the criminal is already formed. And it is quite different from what it was at the time of Ravachol![6] The pharmacist’s baby who was in danger on rue de Clichy, even though it was not hit, had struck a very different emotional chord than the deputies who were scratched by nails from the bomb in the House on the Corner of the Quay. And Ravachol, especially as seen by sectarians, was brash and cocky. Like the erstwhile Rocambole[7] he appealed to the readers of serials, but he also scared them with his tale of the hermit of Chambles and his attempts at counterfeiting, etc.

Vaillant, on the other hand, they feel sorry for… look at how feelings develop! Everyone whose childhood was lonely, misguided and forsaken can relate to this policeman’s son who was abandoned, left on the street, scarcely out of short pants, by his father’s iron rule.

Everyone who had a rough adolescence see themselves in the odyssey of this poor man, wandering from town to town in search of bread, rejected by his relatives, more alone in the desert of noisy cities than a traveler lost on the sands of the Sahara!

Everyone who suffers, struggles, is out of work; everyone who earns, who used to earn, six sous an hour; everyone who has been disappointed by their elected officials—there are some, Monsieur President!—has identified with this outcast, this casualty who incarnates the countless evils that the plebs die of!

Everyone who has felt the temptation, at any given moment, harried by the obsession of crime, whose belly is too hungry, whose throat is too thirsty, has looked upon his five crimes with pity: For begging, for pinching from a barrel on a public street, for riding a train without a ticket, for eating sixteen sous worth of food when the hungry man found himself penniless. Even the worst, involved in the misappropriation of a pair of boots with and for a friend, only makes them think, “But it wasn’t even to share in the spoils.”

So, remember, in the funeral oration, this criminal record that is so full of lessons—which was used in court to blacken a life just as it was pleaded to dishonor a memory.

Think on this, philosophers!

#

From the cradle, without a family or rather without a home, tossed around from one place to the next, almost an orphan, Vaillant was passed on from relative to relative throughout his childhood until finally wearied of this merry-go-round an aunt, trusting to fate (without a full ticket, but with a piece of bread and a bit of sausage), sent him halfway to his native city.

Thus he committed his first crime by continuing without a ticket. He was fifteen. The Est company remanded him to court because he had cheated them out of twenty francs and twenty centimes. And the court inflicted on this boy a fine of sixteen francs on May 27 1876. The sentence was not heavy, but the criminal record had begun!

It continued on April 27 1878 before the judges in Charleville with the allocation of six days in jail for “swindling food.” Starving to death he had entered a cabaret and eaten sixteen sous worth of bread, soup and cheese. I don’t know but maybe he had even offered himself the luxury of a glass or a quarter liter of something to drink.

A few months later, after making a trip from Paris to Marseille on foot, after being treated in a hospital for his bloodied feet, after spending the three mandatory nights in the ward, Vaillant found himself on the street, barely healed, now hungry and cold… and holding out his hand. The Marseille court sentenced him on November 14 1878 to three days in jail for begging.

The fourth conviction is the worst. In a factory in Algeria he helped a comrade hide and then take a pair of boots. The judges in Alger sentenced him on April 24 1879 to three months in prison. In captivity he ran a fever; when he was freed he came back to France and dragged his shivering rags from one hospital to another. In the port in Marseille he saw some barrels of wine abandoned, almost as if offered to public indulgence. Furthermore, someone told him that “white wine is good for fevers”—while his burning throat was yearning for something fresh and healthful. At night he took a little pipe, stuck it in and drank… The Marseille court on March 25 1881 gave him a month in jail.

Such was the past of this repeat offender.

Now, if the working class, at least the majority, did not get much out of the defense that he presented (too abstract, too confused, full of technical terms, as uneducated people are wont to do), they did learn his history and talked about it in their “lairs.” More than one working-class woman had tears in her eyes when hearing about his childhood; more than one working-class man clenched his fists looking at his kids and thinking of the other father: the policeman!

You should be with them, grandson of the assembly, even if it means displeasing the others, those dead leaves that the wind will blow away!

#

What I would like to know, of course, is the opinion of Commandant Maréchal, the liberal of 1848, the brilliant retired officer, the friend of Hippolyte Carnot, the one who got into the Elysée with the quatrain signed by [Victor] Hugo begging Louis-Philippe to pardon [Armand] Barbès with a beautiful and touching supplication concluding, “You do not want them to say that in 1839 the King of the French showed mercy and in 1894 the President of the Republic was ruthless.”

Poor good man, old democrat who remained humanitarian, what disillusionment he must be feeling, what heartache he must be suffering! It is a denial inflicted on his dreams, a life’s worth of effort quashed. His heart bleeds but also his belief, his ideal—a worse sorrow among many sorrows. He was, however, prepared for it after asking the widow of his dead comrade, the mother of Sadi Carnot, to present his letter and press his request. An elderly lady, that should be good, carrying her clemency up the steps that separate her from heaven? A letter, a request, a step—the old bourgeois woman refused everything.

And a monarchist newspaper straightaway published these moving lines in response, written long ago by the Duchesse of Orléans to the Countess Lobau. Here they are:

“My good, dear Maréchale’s wife, I cannot tell you how happy I am. The king just commuted the death penalty of Barbès to hard labor for life. He performed an act of generosity and grandeur. He saved the life of this man, acting according to his constitutional right, taking over in his Council because the ministers were, for the most part, leaning to the death penalty. The king told them sternly, “No, gentlemen, the hand that shook Barbès’ sister’s hand yesterday, by vowing to save him, can never sign his death certificate.” They will yell a lot and be very afraid, but such an act will never suffer from petty attacks.” — Hélène

It is a hard lesson, but I am calm: it will not be understood any more than it has been—now that Deibler[8] has acted. It remains troublesome only to the republicans who spoke in favor of the thing; and a little mercy in the guts of this cruel mother Republic for the most destitute of her children.

Vaillant’s head has fallen, but this bloody exclamation point ends nothing, concludes nothing. I hope to Heaven that I am wrong, but I tremble for the ruthless!

 

[1] Written February 7 1894 included in En Marche 1896.

[2] Former and current President of the Council of Ministers. The latter would become president after Sadi Carnot’s assassination.

[3] Characters in Commedia Dell’Arte.

[4] Seats of the Senate and National Assembly.

[5] See 4-Propaganda By Deed.

[6] See 11-Ravachol.

[7] Fictional adventurer created by Ponson de Terrail who started out on the wrong side of the law, later turned to doing good, and became the first literary super-hero.

[8] The executioner.

De Profundis Clamavi Ad Te…

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Ravachol

De Profundis Clamavi Ad Te…

After the Explosion at the Véry Restaurant[1]

With the poor at all times—despite their mistakes, despite their faults…despite their crimes! – Le Cri du peuple, January 30 1887 (“The Responsible Parties”)

 

For the first time in ten years since Vallès taught me—a selfish little bourgeoisie—to think and ponder about and bow before human despair, to picture its breadth and measure its depth, in the seven years since his death that I have had to come out of his shadow in order to continue the good fight, gathering up weapons like the sword of Angantyr[2], too heavy for my weak hands, and marching faithfully down the path of his wishes—for the first time I am hesitant, confused, worried about making a mistake, wavering in tears before the innocent victims whom they found among the ruins and carried out on stretchers and who are bleeding on their hospital beds.

I seem to have come to a crossroads filled with darkness where every light has gone out inside and outside of me and where the smoke from the bombs, settling on women and children and veiling the sun in mourning, has made night fall on all my hopes, all my courage and all my convictions. And I stumble in this dreadful darkness, with my hands out in front of me and my feet trembling in fear of tripping over one of the victims whose cries tear apart my heart. Where is my way? What is my path?

How awful and painful it is to tell yourself, “What if I was wrong! If the cause to which I have given ten years of my life and sacrificed my family’s fortune, for which I have suffered so many insults and received so many wounds, risked and lost my livelihood so many times, what if this cause was not on the side of truth and justice—what if I was wrong!” Ah, the unbearable anguish, the painful torture!

Meanwhile the shrill voice of Guesde cuts through the moaning darkness. He has no doubts at all! Neither his brain nor the metronome ticking in his chest has the slightest fear or even a moment of hesitation and humility. He is sure of what he does—and what he hates. He joins his anathema to the general outcry. His socialist hand throws the first rock at the stoning…

“All anarchists are fools, madmen or snitches.”

Those whom he claims to fight against also support him and cheer him on and turn out to be the surest ally. Later in the day, after he speaks out, on his signal, a crowd of innocent men are arrested.

Five years ago it was the same with regard to the impersonal theft of Duval, but I had the courage then, while not approving of it, to stand up before it and say that the bourgeoisie might condemn these extreme doctrines but they had no right to condemn the revolutionaries; that the chiefs in the army of revolt were always responsible for the acts of its soldiers; and that if they criticized this enraged soldier, they should not choose the moment he was being threatened with the death penalty to tell him this and put the Social finger on the trigger of the guillotine. And God knows how much they sullied my dress when they answered me!

Blood has been spilled today. And I do not dare anymore, I do not know anymore…My master is dead and my conscience wavers. I am without a guide or compass, nothing but my pity, which rises up before that injured little girl, that half-mad woman and that dying man! Who will cast a ray of light into my night? Who will explain to me the reason for this growing, savage anger? Who will help me see beyond this barbarity?

#

Voices from the Shadows

“We are the poor, little souls of Limbo, the children whom love’s work began and who were not born. We would have loved to exist like the others and clung to life with all our atoms’ energy, but there was no substance for us in our poverty-stricken mothers and we fell, withered before blooming, like buds in April. Their blood was so weak and limpid, more watered down than beggar’s wine! Their flesh was so pale and faint, almost dead already from fatigue and hardship!

“In their bellies shivering under their thin skirts in the chilly evenings under the roofs or sweating like beasts of burden in the factory ovens and in their bodies constantly standing behind the counter or ceaselessly bent over their work, we could not grow and develop. Misery, like an abortionist, caught us in its claws and ripped out our anemic guts!

“We are the poor children who could not be born because our mothers were too hungry and cold, were driven like animals without ever any rest. And from this existence that was promised to us, to which we had a right just like rich children, we, the seed of social outcasts, knew only the echo of suffering, the remnants of our mothers’ anguish and an inkling of our future joys.

“We are the children whose mothers were scared, whose mothers preferred to see us dead right away, embryonic, rather than to watch us die slowly for want of blankets or milk.   We are those who died of hunger in front of a dried up breast and died of cold on December streets when our parents wandered homeless. We are those who passed away in some small room at the backstreet abortionist… where they tossed us because it was cheaper, where they killed us because no one could watch over us. We are the poor kids whom they picked up frozen on the roads, in the woods, in the corner of carriage entrances or who groaned in the sickrooms of reformatories. We are infantile humanity, banned, bruised and dispossessed!”

#

“We are the women, the sad women of the common people for whom all is mourning and misery. At eight years old we become mothers of our many brothers and sisters crowded into our lodging. When we can read, there are no more games. At twelve we have to be self-sufficient and contribute to the household expenses. If we are haunted by a dream of routine, we are married at fifteen and we start the sad life of endless pregnancies, continual labor and constant worry, which is the fate of women of our race. And we learn all about unemployment, strikes and the awful catastrophes that carry our men away on stretchers, crushed and massacred, so disfigured by death that they are unrecognizable—even by us!

“Or else at thirteen some foreman rapes us in a corner of the factory. At fourteen we have a baby. At sixteen, by hook or by crook, the police nab us and register us—flesh for pleasure, flesh for work, doomed to all the contempt and filth and sickness!

“Drudgery by day, drudgery by night, a worker bent over the workbench twelve hours a day to earn forty sous or a pitiful streetwalker offering her empty belly and her hungry mouth—the same destiny on the horizon: hospital, dissection room and a pauper’s grave!

“We are the poor women, fading at twenty years old and withered at twenty-five from whom fate takes everything, even the flower of youth and the ray of beauty—such luxuries are not made for us! It is the rose of our cheeks that we sew into the pretty ladies’ dresses. Their make-up is composed of our radiance. Their diamonds are fashioned with our tears—and the poppies that our fingers weave for their garlands are less red than our weary eyes and our tattered hearts!”

#

“We with our hoary heads, our trembling knees and feeble hands are the poor old people worn out by work and thrown out now. For thirty or forty years, we did our social duty, striving in the common labor. As long as our lungs breathed strongly, as long as we could move our arms, as long as we stood up straight, even under the snow of ages, we boldly faced the fight every morning.

“Then when we grew old, they threw us out on the street. We are the shamed old people who kill themselves rather than hold out our hand—our calloused, scarred hands, not made for begging! We are the pitiful elders who drag their half-bare limbs, their worn-out shoes and their quiet, hopeless despair down the boulevards when the night owls go home. Sometimes one of us falls down and the few passers-by gather round. “He’s drunk,” someone says. But a voice replies, “No, he’s hungry!” Unless they say, “He’s dead!”

“We are the old workers without support, without help, without retirement, without a way out, good for the street when we no longer produce, less fortunate than the mangy dogs kept by their pitiful masters, less fortunate than broken down horses—whom they shoot, at least, whom they are kind enough to shoot when they are nothing but useless mouths!”

#

“Court of Miracles[3], more deplorable than in the past, wreckage of humanity, hideous bunch of all the deformities a creature can suffer—we are the crippled, maimed and mutilated in the great industrial battle. All the wheels have taken our skin; the teeth of the machines have chewed up our meat; the ground has drunk our blood. A few of us rest in the earth, above or below ground, in the mouth of the puddling furnace[4] or in the guts of mines, here and there. Every factory, every mill, every mine is a cemetery where we lie in pieces, arms here, legs there, not counting the eyes and teeth and all the skin and bones of our poor bodies.

“While we moan in delirium during the amputation, our wives and children fast. We need savings while waiting for the outcome of the legal process. Savings! We don’t have any. They know it and we have to compromise—because we have to eat!

“One thousand francs per hand or foot, that is to say per tool for eating or walking—that’s well paid. And we accept it, even if it we hold it out to passers-by later on, like a blind man’s spaniel with a begging bowl between its teeth.”

#

“We are the strong young men, full of energy and courage. We ask for nothing but work. So much energy circulates in our veins and so much goodwill swells our breasts that it would serve our employers well. But no one wants us. We have knocked on all the doors in vain. In vain, almost begging, we have asked for work, running around day and night all over the place without ever giving up. They turn us down everywhere.

“Hey! What! Such a thing is possible? That boy in good shape, determined and brave, can’t get hired? And then we starve. It gnaws at our bellies like a wolf. We’re hungry and we have no more place to stay, no more clothes, no more hope! Why were we put on this earth if we have no right to live, when they have everything and we have nothing—not even the right to use our strength? But we are stronger and more numerous—and if we wanted…”

#

The Governments

“Listen, free citizens, it is time for you to be free of the old beliefs that have deluded you for so long. The priests lied to you about the eternal soul. They lied to you when they promised you a better and sweeter life that would amend the iniquities of this one. Lies! Abominable lies! Born out of nothing, Man will return to nothing. He has nothing to hope for except from himself. He will taste no joys except for those he can offer himself here and now…Matter is everything. Matter is God!”

And then?

 

[1] Pages Rouges, 1893. De Profundis from Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you…”

[2] Cf. Leconte de Lisle’s L’Épée d’Agantyr from the Old Norse about Hervor getting the magic sword Tyrfing from the ghost of Angantyr, her dead father.

[3] An area with no law and no rights called thus because disabilities and sicknesses would seem to disappear at night as if by a miracle. Most cities had such an area for the poor, unemployed and homeless. Paris had a dozen.

[4] Puddling was an old process for smelting iron and steel.

11-Ravachol

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Séverine by Rodin-1893-mask

While the soldiers were shooting innocent demonstrators in Fourmies on May Day 1891, a group of anarchists marching through the streets of Clichy, a working-class suburb of Paris, also came into conflict with the police. Although shots were fired on both sides, no one was injured. However, three of the demonstrators were arrested. After being “questioned” at the police station they had to be transferred to a hospital before appearing before a judge—the police denied any knowledge of how their wounds had been inflicted. Two of the prisoners were given five and three years hard labor and the third was acquitted. The anarchists were in an uproar over the harsh punishment but almost a year passed before they tried to avenge the “Clichy Martyrs.” Then a wave of anarchist attacks swept over Paris.

On March 11 1892 a bomb exploded at 136 Boulevard Saint Germain in the house where two judges were living, one of whom was the presiding judge of the Clichy trial. Four days later another bomb went off at the Lobau barracks, followed by a third on March 27 at the residence of the prosecutor in the Clichy case. A man by the name of Ravachol was arrested after the third explosion, but the fuse had been lit on both sides. Thus began the Anarchist Terror of 1892-94. The militant anarchists were more driven than ever to destroy the symbols of bourgeois order: the justice system and the military. Out of the rhetoric of propaganda by word, dynamite started talking through propaganda by deed to which the government responded in turn with ever more ruthless laws and practices. The clash culminated in the assassination of President Carnot.

Illegalism had been a hotbed of contention since Clément Duval’s trial in 1887[1], but it was not the first time that propaganda by deed caused a rift in revolutionary currents. As we know, Pierre Joseph Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Misery in 1846 used the epigraph destruam et aedicabo, I will destroy and I will build, meaning that every social constraint must be torn down in order to establish social harmony. In 1873 Mikhail Bakunin bid farewell by saying, “If ideas alone could save the world, I challenge anyone to invent a new one. The time for ideas is over. It is time now for deeds and action.” Then at the International Congress in London in 1881, the militant voices voted to back up their talk by studying and using modern scientific discoveries for their cause. This was the point where the anarchists separated from the socialists. It was this joining of science and politics, of technology and social philosophy that was characteristic of anarchy, but the rather violent eruption of bombs in the early 1890s stained the idea of anarchism for generations to come.

For the anarchists, on the other hand, in their competition with Nobel to create a powerful explosive like nitroglycerine, as a means to political ends, chemistry became a kind of alchemy: chemical transformation for social transformation, explosion for revolution. But these experiments lasted only a short time at the turn of the century. Very soon, at least in France, the calls for dynamite would change into calls for general strikes, “propaganda by deed” would change into “direct action” and the individualists would be eclipsed by the syndicalists. The explosions of 1892 would become legend and Ravachol was the hero.

Ravachol[2] grew up poor, supporting his fatherless family, and remained poor. He worked and struggled and fanned the fires of his revolt. After first turning to counterfeiting he soon committed more serious crimes In May 1891 he heard that a Countess of Rochetaillée had died and been buried with her jewels. Ravachol took the opportunity to expropriate the riches from the grave, but apparently came up empty. Later he heard about the Hermit, an old man living alone in the hills with a hoard of money. Ravachol killed and robbed him. Unfortunately he and his companion were arrested, but they somehow managed to escape.

On the run and more determined than ever, Ravachol decided to avenge the Clichy victims. First he plotted with some partners to steal dynamite. One of his accomplices was a young man of eighteen named Simon, called “Biscuit”. The two of them staked out the house of the judge and on March 11 1892 planted the bomb on the third floor. The property damage was substantial, but no one was injured.

Then on the eve of the anniversary of the Paris Commune, March 15 1892, there was an explosion at the Lobau barracks. This, however, was not the work of Ravachol, but of Théodule Meunier. Again no loss of life, but the government introduced a bill that would demand capital punishment for such crimes. This did not discourage Ravachol. On March 27 he carried a more powerful bomb to the house of the public prosecutor. Besides the even greater property damage, six people were injured this time.

Paris was seized by fear and panic. Despite the bloody battles it had seen in recent war and the growing number of poor dying in the streets, it was these benign but direct attacks that made the government tremble and the bourgeoisie stand aghast with horror, as if the cost of property damage was more valuable than human lives. One discontent worker had brought Paris to her knees.

After the last explosion, Ravachol went to lunch at the restaurant of Monsieur Véry on Boulevard Magenta. When speaking to the waiter, Lhérot, he boasted of his crimes in no uncertain terms while trying to propagandize him. Lhérot informed the police immediately and they arrested Ravachol with a number of friends.

Ravachol was praised in the anarchist press. Emile Pouget in Le Père Peinard, Jean Grave in La Révolte and Zo d’Axa in L’En-Dehors along with the likes of Sébastien Faure, Octave Mirbeau and Bernard Lazare, to one extent or another, supported and justified his militant actions. Some of these outspoken supporters who saw a general revolt of the poor on the horizon went to jail for expressing their opinions; others would later change their opinions when faced with more serious consequences of anarchist strikes. But no one could sit idly by and not voice an opinion.

The authorities were worried about more attacks, but they did not address any of the issues that were at stake. Séverine responded by saying that in 1789 they cut off heads, so it was only natural that the people would start blowing up the bourgeoisie. But, “Come on, they only blow up once!” And whose turn will it be tomorrow?

The more serious consequences followed quickly when Ravachol’s trial opened. Théodule Meunier took revenge on Véry’s restaurant by planting a bomb that killed two people, including the owner. Thus the anarchists could talk about “Verification.” But the explosion also wounded a little girl, which pulled the public’s heartstrings. Séverine had a dilemma with these fatalities.   Who was really responsible? Did his supporters in the press now have blood on their hands? How deeply were they entangled in the struggle? And how deep did they want to go? As with Duval, however, she looked beyond the mere act and addressed the real causes: the social injustices that pushed people into the pit of despair. As long as the exploitation continued, the violence would never stop.

In the trial, only Ravachol and young Simon were found guilty of the bombs and thus sentenced to hard labor for life. However, as result of the investigation, Ravachol was sent off to answer for his crimes committed in other parts of France. When he was sentenced to death for murder, he cried, “Vive l’Anarchie!” He refused to appeal, refused to ask for a reprieve and refused the priest who was sent on execution day. He was publicly guillotined on July 11 1892 in Montbrison.

He would become a martyr, a cult figure, a thing of legend over time. But immediately, perhaps the most surprising response was how quickly things went back to normal, how easily people forgot. No changes. Case closed. Move on. People could breathe more easily now because Ravachol was gone. What they did not know was that the threat of dynamite was just beginning.

 

[1] See 4-Propaganda by Deed.

[2] His real name was François Auguste Koenigstein—he used his mother’s name.

 

Apartments For Rent

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explosion

 Apartments for Rent[1]

As I told you here the other day, Séverine is my comrade, my confidant, my close friend. We are from the same “region”, both born right in the heart of the 9th, Rue du Helder, in an old house that Baron Haussmann tore down around 1868 and that has since been replaced by the office of the Taitbout-La Muette tramway.

We grew up together. We played with the same dolls, wore out our seats on the same school benches, shared the punishments and rewards, the wallops and the candy. In brief, we almost never left each other’s side.

Likewise professionally. When we had to choose a career, destiny held out a pair of blue stockings[2]—always fraternal we each took one. She matched it with a black stocking and red garters, battle colors. Me, being more frivolous, was satisfied with pastel pink frilled with pale pink ribbons. And while I worked on the society columns, smiling a little at everything, rarely getting angry, mostly discreet and proper, that good, nutty Séverine went running off, running wild, starting controversies, fending off attacks… the kin of Louise Michel for her sincerity and the cousin of Déroulède[3] for her windmills!

I call her good?… hmm. I do not want to belittle her, but that is a legend that needs to be cut down to size. She is good, of course, but often with such lack of tact! Look, we could never make her understand that when an abuse is commmitted by the rich, the right people, or the people in government keeping silent about it is proof of a good upbringing, good taste and good manners; and in betraying the unspoken freemasonry that binds people of the same social status you have everything to lose and nothing to gain; and finally that it is bad form and degrading to look too low. Seriously, she is doing herself a disservice!

But when you tell her these things she gives you that cocky, I-don’t-give-a-damn-what-anybody-thinks look—and, like the marshal’s negro, continue!

In truth she is very mean. So, when I see this usually gloomy girl laughing, I am suspicious. Surely, while pretending to defend the weak she just ran into some distinguished person again. And I never fail to greet her by asking, “Well, what did you do this time, you scamp?”

#

Now, this morning she was laughing so loudly and so cheerfully, with tears in her eyes, that she could not answer right away. She slumped down in the cushions and wiped her eyes. As I was getting impatient she said, “Wait a minute. It’s so funny.”

“Well, what?”
“I’m going to move.”

“Oh, great.” And here comes the best part. “Where are you going to move?”

“The left bank.”

“Why? It’s been barely a year since you got your new apartment and you’re set up so nicely there.”

“Yes, but I’m paying for it.”

“And over there?”
“Not a sous, my dear! No matter how much I insist, the landlord will keep my rent very low and the other tenants will provide me with soap, sugar and coffee.”

“Give me the address, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.”

“Oh, there’s nothing there for you, sweetie.”

“Well, are you going to tell me everything?”
“Here you go. Thirteen months ago, you remember (right after the Padlewski affair), I was looking for an apartment. I needed something not very expensive for reasons that I’ll let you guess, but very spacious because of my books and papers, my collection of newspapers, my birds and what the good old master Cladel[4] would call my litany of dogs: Rip, Tiote and Mégot.

“I scoured the districts, went up one street and down another, up one flight of stairs and down another, without finding that pearl of a nice landlady and that other pearl that is no less precious: a smiling, helpful concierge!”

“But you have them where you are, ingrate, and you want to leave!”

“Hold on, I’m not finished. In brief, I’d run all over Paris from east to west, from north to the Midi, without finding the nest of my dreams when I noticed on Rue d’Assas (you’ll understand in a minute why I’m not giving you the number) a lovely apartment. Huge and on the first floor—with a little garden where roses could grow and where all the animals, including myself, could lie in the bright sun.

“I told him timidly that I had birds but the doorman remained calm. I confessed my four-footed friends… and with a smile that looked beatific he said he loved them. ‘Animals are good’ he even deigned to add. You understand now my enthusiasm and the down payment I handed to this fellow beastiomaniac. I got him to arrange a meeting with the manager for the next day and I went dancing back home, happy as a lark.

“The next day I showed up with mama because we had to rent in her name. We settled everything with the manager, a nice man who was the spitting image of Hector Malot. I pointed out the wall partitions that needed to be taken down and the ceiling in need of repair. We agreed so marvelously on every point that there were no misunderstandings and no discussion. We decided on what the owner would pay for and what would be my responsibility. I saw the cellar and the maid’s room and was already arranging the furniture. We parted. Everyone was delighted.

“The day after that, mama came home and broke down in tears. ‘My poor child, they don’t want to rent to us!’ I was startled, ‘Why?’ And she explained that they gave full credit to me as a renter and that even my character as far as being a woman was in no way questionable, but that the house was full of judges and that they were disturbed by the idea of having as a neighbor the former editor-in-chief of Le Cri du Peuple, a ‘petroleuse’, a hell-raiser, a Communard, a journalist imbued with the most ‘subversive’ attitudes toward their association. And my dear mother finished with this predictable comment: Your father and I told you that by choosing that position you would have nothing but trouble! If you were with the government, they would rent to you right away!

“So, I went elsewhere and I’m fine. But now…”

“Now?”

“Take a guess.”

“No, go on!”

“Well… so… the guys on Rue d’Assas got a real scare put in them by the explosion on Boulevard Saint Germain[5]. And all of a sudden they feel terribly guilty and passionately sympathetic toward me. They thought it wasn’t good that their occupational prejudice prevented a poor little woman from living wherever she pleased and that they had lost a unique opportunity to bond with friendly ‘companions’, those young anarchists who are so interesting and admired and slandered! Nothing but positive could come of us getting to know each other, right? And so much incrimination and hatred and reciprocal danger might be avoided that way…”

“You’re joking, come on!”
“I swear it’s the truth. They figured that the anarchists might think twice about blowing to bits a woman who has always defended them and…”

“And?”

“THEY CAME LOOKING FOR ME! A envoy who was ‘subtle and sensible’, as they say in Lazare le Pâtre[6], came on behalf of the tenants to know if I would accept being the fireshield for this tribe of magistrates.”

“And you accepted?”
“No worries, my dear. I love quiet houses with nice people. So, I’m not going there. There are judges in that house!”
[1] Writing as Jacqueline in Gil Blas, March 18 1892.

[2] For intellectual women interested in the literary world.

[3] Paul Déroulède (1846-1914), nationalist founder of the League of Patriots and supporter of General Boulanger.

[4] Léon Cladel (1834-1892) was a French novelist.

[5] In March 1892 a bomb planted by Ravachol exploded in a judge’s house. See 11-Ravachol.

[6] A play by Joseph Bouchardy that was first staged in 1840.