The Responsible Parties

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clement_duval

The Responsible Parties:

Concerning the Anarchist Duval[1]

I do not approve of the theory of theft—or better said, I do not understand it. It disturbs me because it seems to be the kind of thing that pushes away the undecided, intimidates the naïve and frightens the timid. But in spite of my confusion I still feel that it is the most distressing social problem that has ever shaken up the world…and I remain undecided, I suspend my judgment.

Someone said to me, “You preach collective theft and call it restitution. But you spit on individual theft and call it a crime. Why?”

Yes, why?

#

I have too much loathing for pompous doctrines, school catechisms and sectarian grammars to argue and go into endless details about the act of a man whose head is already in the hands of the executioner and whom everyone has the right to insult and condemn—except for us!

We spend our lives telling the humble people (it is our conviction and our duty) that they are being robbed, exploited and slowly murdered; that their bodies are machines, their daughters are playthings and their sons will be used as cannon fodder. We fuel their anger, set their minds on fire, burn their souls and in the name of supreme Justice and sovereign Equality we make citizens out of the outcasts and rebels out of the defeated.

We tell them, “The Revolution is at hand. It will free you and give you your daily bread and the dignity of being free. Be patient, poor people! Hold on and put up with everything! Wait for the right time, gather your sorrows and bundle up your bitterness and hopes—and have confidence in the Social Revolution for a few years of grief and sacrifice.”

The stubborn and persistent understand. They notch their belt around their empty bellies and get back to the social work dreaming of the harvest to come.

But the others? The impatient and impassioned who are dying of hunger and hatred, who have suffered, struggled and endured too much, who have too many children in their homes or too much fury in their heads, with their minds impervious to any idea of discipline and organization, who listen to us but do not hear! The sound of our words enters their brains, but the meaning does not stick in their minds. And these madmen of misery, these neurotics of revolt get drunk on our venomous hostility like on too much wine.

And then they do something crazy or criminal…

Bourgeois society jumps up, grabs hold of the man and tortures him… and we excommunicate him. We come down on him hard, cruel and heavy like the last rock at a stoning.

Oh, no, not that! Everyone…except for us!

The road we have chosen presents us with grave dangers, not the least of which are these disturbing “compromises”, but we have to accept them with our heads held high, like good people with enough honor to lend some of it to the unfortunates who are dishonored because they misunderstood us. All responsibility falls on us, the educated and the leaders of the crowd—they deserve leniency and pity.

#

So, turn to history and look at the past. There were always adventurous and deranged people who “compromised” the cause. And there were always blind puritans who branded these misfits with public condemnation. Babeuf was guillotined by the Republic; Proudhon was dishonored by the republicans; the rebels of June were defamed by Pelletan; and after ‘71 how many slanders were there against once fellow fighters![2]

And always, always this word “thief” tossed by one democrat at another. Babeuf, thief! Proudhon, thief! The June workers, thieves! The Communards, thieves! This or that opponent, thief! This or that, dissident, thief!

If the accusation is false, let us come to his defense; if it is true, let us sympathize! We other socialists have no other role in humanity. We are not judges. We are defenders!

I spoke of the legend of socialism, but you can take the legend of Christianity, its ancestor. A boy from Bethlehem, weak in body but strong in mind, gathered around him some workers whom he talked to quietly and simply about their great misery. They became staunch friends with him and left everything to follow him when he went to travel around Palestine. Like the vagrants of our day they had no occupation. They slept in the streets like our homeless. They held demonstrations on graves like us others and meetings like the unemployed in every Champs de Mars where they met.

There were twelve of them. Now there are a hundred. Tomorrow there will be a thousand!

Like a snowball turning into an avalanche, the group got bigger as it went along. Everyone whom the country considered prowlers, lost girls, bandits and brigands followed this young man who preached Equality. Since they had to live they foraged around and got what they could where they could. The bourgeoisie closed their doors in terror before this “army of crime” made up of the rejects of society.

The province was disrupted and the government went into action. Jesus was arrested for inciting people to pillage and to hate one another. They judged him along with a thief. It was the thief who got pardoned. Then Barabbas turned away from his co-defendant in disgust and said, “Take this criminal away.”

Jesus was executed amidst a laughing, booing and spitting crowd. The drunken soldiers had a great time while he was dying and he breathed his last breath between two thieves on the infamous gallows. Beneath him wept an old craftswoman, his mother and a poor prostitute who loved him…

#

This “criminal” was resurrected—and now he has reigned over the world for nineteen centuries!

The whole strength of this religion is drawn from the shame of torture, from the humility of the tortured, from its contact with the poor, from its solidarity with the guilty. He was judged by the Pharisees and denied by his apostles and he loved his ignorant, criminal people enough to be glad to take upon himself all their slanders and then die like the worst of beggars.

How can you, Social Pharisees, not know the deep significance of this legend and the thought of this pale orator nailed like the first socialist poster on the tree of Golgotha?

It would be too easy, really, to give only one’s life to the cause, to want only glorious punishments, brilliant martyrs, Millière at the Pantheon or Delescluze at the barricade[3].

So, let’s go!

You heard me right, we have to give everything: honor, reputation, prejudices, and misgivings. Follow the people on the road and follow them to their cells.

With the poor at all times—despite their mistakes, despite their faults…despite their crimes!

 

Next:  The Chicago Anarchists

[1] Le Cri du People, January 30 1887 (included in Pages Rouges).

[2] François Noël “Gracchus” Babeuf (1760-1797), anarcho-communist ahead of his time and one of the leaders of “The Conspiracy of Equals”; Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), anarchist and pacifist; Eugène Pelletan (1813-1884) and the bloodily repressed uprising of 1848; reference to the Paris Commune of 1871.

[3] Jean-Baptiste Millière and Charles Delescluze were shot dead during the Bloody Week of May 1871.

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