They Wanted It

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WWI

They Wanted It[1]

We said to them:

“Watch out. Can’t you see where you’re headed? We live in a Republic and you forget too much, you who pretend to be its steadfast defenders! What business does Marianne[2] have with the autocrat, the Emperor-Pope, the most absolute, perfectly despotic regime in Europe[3]? What aberration moves you to link this living symbol with the dying, with the wayward corpse that exploits you?

“There are strings on this puppet. Who is pulling them? Who needs our money, not to build roads, bridges and tunnels, not to improve the railways, not to enlarge the public transport system into the wide-open areas, rich in soil but poor in prospects, and not, finally, to extend the empire’s prosperity throughout its territory, but instead to finance the crown’s whims, the grand dukes’ orgies, the courtesans’ luxuries and Rasputin’s demands! You will regret your trust and cry for your savings because the support is illusory and bankruptcy is certain.”

Wasted words! Begging for more and high interest, the people clutch their nest eggs and rush into slavery, kissing the boots of the tsar and footprints of Alexandra Feodorovna[4]. Ooh, ooh, it’s an Empress!

Already you were looking askance at us, mumbling snide remarks. At best if you did not accuse us of being paid by Pitt and bankrolled by England. Because it was England at the time that was the enemy and between the two shores neither side wasted any opportunity to be nasty. Joan of Arc and Napoleon were back in style; you went wild for Michel Strogoff [by Jules Verne], old Krüger, the little queen of Holland [Wilhelmina] and the heroes of Fashoda[5].

My friends Stead, Moschelès and others got beat up at the Guildhall in London while fighting for world peace against English imperialism, so glorified by Rudyard Kipling. The same with us in Paris, pretty much everywhere.

Both they and us were preaching in the wilderness. The spirit of conquest over there, the spirit of revenge here, and even more so the spirit of profit made the crowds deaf, closed off to everything that did not flatter their monomania or their greed.

Betrayed by the Court of Russia, long before the lack of arms, munitions, supplies and the desertion of their troops had forced the Soviet leaders to sign the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty[6], now able to see the misappropriation of funds used for everything but what they were allocated for and finally knowing—it’s about time!—all about the “steamroller”, the French public, especially the supporters of the fine Russians, let loose their criticism, complaints and recriminations.

And the same press for whom the issue of loans was an inexhaustible godsend, who never had enough good things to say about the Franco-Russian Alliance, are trying to cover up the splendid results of its intervention by blaming others for what it and those who used it as a docile tool did.

Blaming us, of course! We who were warning them, predicting the fraud, bankruptcy and collapse!

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We told them:

“There’s still time, despite the harm already done. Europe is badly wounded but it can still get better. The bleeding can be stopped. Everything is compromised; nothing is lost. Consider the continual offers of peace. Reason can also sometimes have a say in the matter. Passion has never been a good form of government. Whether you want it or not there exists an economic solidarity between nations, even temporary enemies. You do not triumph over nothingness, a chaos where nothing remains but the winner. This nation you so noisily clamor for, have pity on it, not only for its sacrifices but in its resources, its necessary relations with the rest of the world. Don’t reduce it to a skeletal state to reduce the others to deprivation. Don’t try to make it into the tallest headstone in the graveyard. Have mercy on the survivors!”

They answered us frantically, waving their fists and foaming at the mouth, “To the bitter end! To the bitter end!”

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We told them:

“It’s a bad and reckless action. You who clamor for it so frantically are denying four years of official assertions of the “right of people to manage themselves”. The personal affairs of Russia have nothing to do with you: leave them alone; worry about bandaging our own wounds, clearing away our own rubble; it will be much smarter. Our coffers are empty. The little that remains to us ought to be devoted to relieving the great misery that resulted from the conflict. Save the public funds, keep them for real suffering; give a roof to the poor in devastated regions, bread to the Austrian and Russian children who are innocent and beyond reproach.

And finally, listen to the great words of Terence about human solidarity[7], hear the more recent cry of Paul Jouve: “You are all men!” No more money, no more soldiers for the venture! Think of the future. You are doing everything you can to throw Russia into the arms of Germany…”

Our masters replied with the picture of Man-with-knife-between-teeth, which made us French the laughingstock of the world because it influenced the direction of our domestic policy. They answered us by sponsoring, one after another—and with such determination!—the expeditions of Denikin, Yudenich, Koltchak, Wrangrel[8], all the gang leaders who attacked and sacked poor Russia. Millions followed upon millions into the money pit of hatred. The press, feeling fine about the great Russian emigration, dumped cartloads of filth on the sister Republic.

Through the genius of Lenin and his companions, through an effort only comparable to that of France in 1792, Russia, despite the losses from hunger and typhus, has survived and remains free. It is useless and vain to try to massacre and enslave it.

And it is allied with Germany. So, don’t pretend to be surprised, you leaders! It was to be expected, a foregone conclusion, you did everything you could to bring it about! You are the only ones responsible, with your unusual alliance, your fierce protraction of the war, your mad hatred for the Russian Republic that asked you for nothing but brotherhood.

What have you done with the public funds? What have you done with our army? What have you done with our future?

 

[1] L’Humanité, April 24 1922.

[2] Symbol of the French Republic representing liberty.

[3] Referring to Russia. The Franco-Russian Alliance was formed in the late 19th century to oppose Germany and further their economic and imperialist interests.

[4] Granddaughter of Queen Victoria, wife of Nicolas II, last ruler of the Russian Empire. She was put to death by the Soviets in 1918.

[5] References to anti-revolution or anti-English affairs.

[6] In 1918 that ended Russian engagement in WWI.

[7] Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am human: I consider nothing human alien to me — Heauton Timorumenos, Act 1, scene 1).

[8] Reactionary generals commanding the White Army against the Bolshevik Red Army.

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23-Bolsheviks and Bullies

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Séverine11

23-Bolsheviks and Bullies

In October 1917 hope for social justice was once again kindled by the distant revolution in Russia, which revived in Séverine a passion that she thought had died out forever. She was swept away “like a dry leaf”.

Like many others in different camps she saw the revolution that she had dreamed of: a revolution without government, guided by those councils of workers, farmers and soldiers in a direct democracy electing representatives who could be revoked at any time. In reality it was only a temporary façade. As soon as the Bolsheviks arrived and took control of the movement, nothing remained of the Revolution except the name.

Between 1917-1920, however, the anarchists supported the Russian Revolution or at the very least stayed quiet. But the resistance to anarchists by the growing dictatorship was already visible. The 1st Congrès de l’Union Anarchiste in November 1920 appaluded the Russian Revolution. The second Congrès a year later in Villeurbanne, unanimously condemned the dictatorship of the proletariat. After the crushing defeat of the Kronstadt revolt in March 1921 and the violent reaction to Makhno’s insurrection in August it is easy to see why.

At first Séverine, too, adhered to the cause. In January 1921 the newspapers announced the solidarity of Anatole France, Henri Barbusse and Séverine to the newly formed French Communist Party. After all these years of fierce individualism, at 65 years old she was joined to a party, in the majority, and back in the fight. She was brought out as the grandmother for the good cause, an icon, assumed to be more passive and forgiving at her age. They wanted her to stay quiet and play along but they had forgotten who she was. Against their wishes, for example, she was the star witness in the trial of Souvarine and Loriot, fierce critics of Stalin.

The final straw for her came when the soviet leaders demanded the French Party get rid of intellectuals who belonged to bourgeois organizations like the Freemasons or the League of Human Rights. They were to renounce publicly or be banned from the Party. Well, Séverine had helped found the League of Human Rights back in 1898 during the Dreyfus Affair and would never give up her membership. Before the deadline came up she sent back her card—all illusions about Soviet Russia were lost.

Russia had adopted all the mechanisms of the State that were anathema to libertarian ideals: army, police, centralized administration, etc. Thus, Séverine, along with most anarchists and the disenchanted socialists, became anti-Bolshevik, anti-Stalin and eventually anti-Hitler, a tyrant as abominable as the Russian.

The anarchist movement itself was on the rise after 1918, perhaps more in numbers than in action. The revolutionary magnetism of the years 1880 to 1910 had faded, but rather than die an idle death, it transformed (as it does today) and its influence endured. But the image of the anarchist as a bomb-throwing, chaos-spewing nihilist persisted (as it does today) and they became easy scapegoats for the powers that be.

A tragic example: Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchist sent to the electric chair for a crime they did not commit. There’s no need to retell their story that has become part of international history; the accusation of murder in 1920 in Massachusetts, the speedy conviction, the appeals, false evidence, dozens of witnesses in their defense, the confession of the real criminal, etc. For seven years the case dragged on before the death sentence was finally set for August 23 1927.

Their innocence was obvious and protests were held in every major city in America and throughout the world. John Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, Albert Einstein, HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and others all spoke out for them. In Japan, Australia, South America and Europe they protested this travesty of justice. In their cells Sacco and Vanzetti were on hunger strike.

In France they held a meeting on July 24 1927 at the Cirque de Paris. 20,000 people squeezed in, 10,000 gathered outside. The organizers called on Séverine to preside over this unified demand for pardon from the American government. For a long time she had left Paris to reside in her home in Pierrefonds, but this cause brought her back into the fray, once again. If at 72 years old she could still serve for something, it would all be worth it.

After the meeting at the Cirque de Paris Séverine stayed in Paris. On July 26 she and Marguerite Durand were invited to lunch at the Maison des Jounalistes, the first time such an “honor” was accorded to women of the press. But the anarchist victims of American injustice were center stage.

To the global protests and calls for lenience America turned a deaf ear and sent the two innocents to the electric chair. Violent confrontation with the police broke out that night in Paris, 100 people wounded and 200 arrested. Séverine regretted this outburst of violence because it was too late—there was nobody to save.

In their final statements the two men tried to console and give hope to the countless men and women who had and would always devote their lives to the cause of freedom and justice: “The last moment belongs to us—that agony will be our triumph.”