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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The Broken Mirror

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The Broken Mirror[1]

Felix Pyat, who was a great stylist and remarkably learned, loved to tell the Hindu fable that I am going to relate.

Truth, who is a goddess, but who is also a woman, started feeling that staying in the depths of her well was getting a little tedious. Therefore, she decided to go back up to the surface and get back in touch with humans. Maybe they were better after so many centuries when their excesses and depravity had forced her to seek refuge underground? Besides, her curiosity was piqued… everything must have changed a lot? The fashions were obviously not important to her, seeing her traditional suit, but their hearts and minds, their customs and relationships? And what might they think of her after all this time for them to get used to her absence?

She took the risk… When she came over the edge, children greeted her by throwing stones; women heaped insults on her because of her garb, or lack thereof; the village watchman ran up to protest; the priest mumbled exorcisms, slammed the door in her face; the schoolmaster got scared and made all the kids face the wall when she showed up; the men at arms threw an old coat over her and brought her to the city. The judges found her guilty of public indecency and the people jeered her. She faced all sorts of misery and insult, saw lies victorious everywhere and sincerity gagged.

Then she went back to her hole. But before going back down, in anger at the thrashing she had got, she threw her mirror on the ground and broke it.

Her loyal followers patiently gathered up the pieces, then tried to put them together again, to rebuild the symbol. But they never managed to succeed; it is still missing one piece.

Since that time, nobody can boast of possessing the whole truth. Each of us has only a bigger or smaller piece of it, sometimes a few pieces, but disconnected…

#

Thus the Cri du Peuple of the past, serving one truth, had to become the Cri des Peuples of today by multiplying.

The world was grand in 1871, when in the midst of the tempest Jules Vallès launched what he called a “neighborhood firebrand”. Every nation considered its people special, very distinctive, above all devoted to national industries. They fraternized when the soldiers of the [National] Convention brought up new ideas; they fraternized at a distance in 1830 and 1848; but the insurrection of 1871 produced no echoes except in the still stammering Second International. Even after the Empire was overthrown, we bore the charge, in Europe’s eyes, of having declared war and remaining combative.   As witness, before the Investigative Commission on the causes of the movement, [Adolphe] Thiers’ statement calling it an “explosion of patriotism”.

Every people was full of nationalism.

Now, given that science has reduced space, the world is small. The air has been conquered, the globe is no longer enough for man’s ambitions as they start to dream of other planets that they will try to reach tomorrow. Although the three great races separated by skin color remain so because of climates, their inner subdivisions, despite the rivalries, conflicts and wars, are breaking down every day. Nations are tending to be no more than provinces. Tomorrow let Europe be threatened by the Yellow Peril or the Black Peril and you will see not an alliance but a total, absolute union.

#

That does it for the big picture. But in the heart of each of the provinces remains a portion of the native or annexed people, caged in obligation and submission, for whom, just like international solidarity is forbidden, so too is it prohibited to stay attached to their origins and traditions, all the more dear the farther they are separated so harshly. They are without a voice just like they are without rights. They are nothing but a piece broken off from the destroyed unity they belong to.

In 1871 the effort could be limited to only one nation. Today all the points of the globe are rising up in protest and calling for justice. The enslaved minorities, national or conquered, have to make a sound; they have to make their demands heard, to express their suffering and hopes.

The treaties of 1918-19 have resolved nothing. They have only shifted the injustice, increased the confusion and the pretexts for conflict. We will not refer to the mirror. We will never know what secret negotiations led to certain break-ups and trickery. But we can study the fractures, gather up the fragmentary truths and try to get those who have been frustrated cynically to know at least some relief in expressing their grievances.

The people cry out with chains around their ankles and chains around their wrists. The rumble is rising from deep in the fortresses, the prisons, from around the gallows and scaffolds. My poor old Cri du people, you would not be up to the task; there are too many! Here now is your descendent picking up the sack and the staff to travel the wide world and on the way, with the shards of the mirror, to collect the groans of the oppressed.

 

[1] Le Cri des peuples, Issue no.1, May 1928.

They’re Going to Kill Sacco and Vanzetti

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They’re Going to Kill Sacco and Vanzetti[1]

So, it’s been decided? America, having reached the height, the culmination of its power and prosperity, the creditor of the world, swollen with gold and pride, dares, as once did Nineveh, Babylon and Carthage, to defy destiny.

Don’t say that these are big words for a small act in the grand scheme of things, that two poor devils, two human atoms are just going to be taken away forcibly from the human community… Their names, that no one used to know, are famous today everywhere; every manual laborer, wage-earners like they were, knows their odyssey and willingly shares their martyrdom.

Already registered in the annals of the proletariat by the unusual, horrific length of their torment (which the tyrant Damocles needed to perpetuate his memory in the hatred of ages), now with the pronouncement of a sentence that had expired, these two names, in no blaze of glory, are going to become a symbol, a program, a flag! They will be brought out in every street demonstration; they will be engraved forever in the memory of the people and it is these names, alas!, that will be used to answer us when we try desperately to stammer out some words of pity.

For, these are not just two men condemned to capital punishment—as unjustly as they were. It is a principle that is attacked, a principle of such weight, of such important, of such a high moral value that we live in terror of seeing it annihilated.

Torture, according to the law, has been abolished by all people claiming to be civilized. It can only be practiced secretly, underhandedly. As soon as a scandal broke out, the criminals defended themselves by denying it. The governments of Romania, Poland, etc, pleaded not guilty in the face of the most damning, the least deniable evidence. The torturers of all fascisms, the blood-dripping hands, argue their innocence. As deviant as they are, they are still subject to the fear of the universal conscience and its verdicts. They lie about it instead of admitting it—which is a pathetic kind of shame—and they “do” it relatively quickly.

In Massachusetts it lasted seven years… and when the seven years had gone by, they execute!

They even spruce it up. They transfer the men to a special cell for condemned men for ten days before killing them, no doubt to make the agony more painful, that their nights be either sleepless or wracked with nightmares and their days full of agonizing visions! And Sacco has a wife and nine-year old daughter!

Next Thursday they are going to take them. For us here they do it at dawn. Obviously it is later over there so that the person will miss the daylight more deeply. They will walk down the corridors and arrive in the room where they will be tied like animals to the lethal chair. The electric current will pass through them and something invisible, something crushing will fall in the balance that weighs the fate of nations.

Let’s not talk about individual vengeance. It is something for great crimes and is not very useful as an excuse for atrocious retaliation. I don’t know from where or how or when the response of immanent justice will come for this act dishonoring those about to commit it. The unfortunate thing is that every ruin, every disaster, every plague affects the innocent… They also have to think of this, those who have a cold heart and lash out, even while defending them, with elusive curses that result in all kinds of wickedness.

There are loud cries of damnation rising in the world against yankee stubbornness…

[1] Notes d’une frondeuse, 6 August 1927.

They Wanted It

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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!

#

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!”

#

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.

23-Bolsheviks and Bullies

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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.”