Victor Serge. Memoirs of a Revolutionary
After the fight for Ferrer the philosopher, the battle for Liabeuf the desperado proved (although we did not see it) the seriousness of the deadlock in which the revolutionary movement of Paris was situated, no tendency being exempt. Energetic and powerful in 1906-7, the Confédération Générale du Travail began to decline, mellowed after a mere few years by the development of highly-paid sections among the working class. The ‘insurrectionism’ of Gustave Hervé and Miguel Almereyda revolved in a vacuum, expressing nothing in the end but a craving for verbal and physical violence. Bloated Europe, whose wealth and prosperity had grown to an unprecedented degree in the thirty years since 1880, still based its social system upon ancient injustices, and thereby created in its great cities a limited but numerous social stratum to whom industrial progress brought no real hope, and only that minimum of consciousness that sufficed to shed light upon its own misfortune. More: through its excess of energy, as well as the incompatibility of its historical structure with the new needs of society, the whole of this Europe was drawn towards resolving its problems in violence. We breathed the oppressive air of the prelude to war. Events heralded the catastrophe clearly enough. The Agadir incident, the partition of Morocco, the massacre at Casablanca; Italy’s aggression against Tripolitania began the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, and the ‘futurist’ poet Marinetti detailed the splendour of bowels steaming in the sun of a battlefield. The Austrian Empire annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Tsar continued to borrow money from the French Republic and to hang and deport the best of the Russian intelligentsia. From the two ends of the globe the Mexican and Chinese revolutions flamed out to illumine our enthusiasm.
On the Left Bank, bordering the Latin Quarter, I had founded a study-circle called ‘Free Inquiry’ (La Libre Recherche), which met upstairs in a Socialist co-operative in the Rue Grégoire-de-Tours, down dark corridors cluttered with barrels. The houses near by were brothels, with red lamps, large numerals, brightly-lit doors and signs in seventeenth-century script: The Basket of Flowers. The crowded thoroughfare of the Rue de Buci, packed with stalls jutting on to the pavement, unsavoury little bars, and costermongers, gave me the sensation (or so I thought) of going back to the Paris of Louis XVI. I was familiar with all the old doors along the street and on the peeling façades above the advertisements for the hire of eveningdress, I discerned the brand, invisible to others, of the Reign of Terror.
In public meetings, I would dispute with Le Sillon’s Christian Democrats, who were fond of tough, strong-arm tactics, and with the Royalists, who were roused to white-hot frenzy by Leon Daudet. When the tall Léon appeared on the platform with his plump profile, rather like that of a declining Bourbon or an Israelite financier (the similarity between these would be exact), we would form a battle-square in a corner of the hall we had picked beforehand, and as soon as his thunderous voice proclaimed ‘The monarchy’ traditional, federalist, anti-Parliamentarian!, etc., our jeering interruptions would chime in: ‘A century behind the times! Coblenz! The guillotine!’, and I would demand leave to speak, protected by a rampart of stalwart comrades. The Camelots du Rois waited for this moment to charge our square, but we were not always defeated.
By contrast Georges Valois, a former anarchist himself but recently converted to royalism, was very willing to discuss his syndicalist-royalist doctrine; he invoked Nietzsche, Georges Sorel, ‘the social myth’, the communal guilds of the Middle Ages, national sentiment. Meanwhile, certain comrades suggested that I should again take up the editing of L'Anarchie, now transferred from Montmartre to the Romainville Gardens, and threatened by splits among the different tendencies. I made it a condition that the previous editorial and printing staff, a collection of ‘scientific individualists’ whose leading light was Raymond, should get out and that I should be allowed to recruit my own colleagues. Nevertheless, for a month two staffs co-existed, the old one and mine
For a while I caught up again with Raymond and Edouard. They were intoxicated with their algebraic formulae and in thrall to their dietary discipline (absolute vegetarianism, no wine or coffee, tea or infusions, and we who ate otherwise were ‘insufficiently evolved’). They were already, or were becoming, outlaws, primarily through the influence of Octave Garnier, a handsome, swarthy, silent lad whose dark eyes were astoundingly hard and feverish. Small working-class by origin, Octave had undergone a vicious beating on a building site in the course of a strike. He scorned all discussion with ‘intellectuals’. ‘Talk, talk!’ he would remark softly, and off he would go on the arm of a blonde Rubensesque Flemish girl, to prepare some dangerous nocturnal task or other.
No other man that I have met in my whole life has ever so convinced me of the impotence and even the futility of the intellect when confronted with tough primitive creatures like this, rudely aroused to a form of intelligence that fits them purely technically for the life-struggle. He would have made an excellent seafarer for .a Polar expedition, a fine soldier for the colonies; or, at another period, a Nazi storm-troop leader or an N.C.O. for Rommel. There was no doubt of it, all he could be was an outlaw. His was a restless, uncontrolled spirit, in quest of some impossible new dignity, how or what he did not know himself. Petty quarrels multiplied. Raymond, Edouard, and Octave departed soon enough, and I transferred our print-shop, in which we lived together as comrades, to the top of Belleville behind the Chaumont hills, in an old workingmen’s house in the Rue Fessart. I set out to give a new emphasis to the paper, in the form of a turn from individualism to social action. I opened a polemic against Elie Faure the art historian who, citing Nietzsche, had just proclaimed the civilizing function of war. I noted, almost enthusiastically, the suicide of Paul and Laura Lafargue, the son-in-law and daughter of Karl Marx; Lafargue, having reached the age of sixty, an age at which, he decided, active creative life was over, administered poison to himself and his wife. I sought to affirm a ‘doctrine of solidarity and revolt in the here and now’, quoting Elisée Reclus: ‘Man is Nature become conscious of itself.’ Of Marx I knew practically nothing. We denounced syndicalism as a future Statism, as terrible as any other. The cult of ‘the workers’, a reaction against the politicians (who were primarily lawyers interested in their Parliamentary careers), struck us as being over-rigid and as carrying within itself the seeds of an anti-intellectual careerism.
The end of 1911 saw dramatic happenings. Joseph the Italian, a little militant with frizzled hair who dreamed of a free life in the bush of Argentina, as far away as possible from the towns, was found murdered on the Melun Road. From the grapevine we gathered that an Individualist from Lyons, Bonnot by name (I did not know the man), who had been travelling with him by car, had killed him, the Italian having first wounded himself through fumbling with a revolver. However it may have happened, one comrade had murdered or ‘done’ another. An informal investigation shed no light on the matter and only annoyed the ‘scientific’ Illegalists. Since I had expressed hostile opinions towards them, I had an unexpected visit from Raymond. ‘If you don’t want to. disappear’ be careful about condemning us.’ He added, laughingly, ‘Do whatever you like! If you get in my way I'll eliminate you!’
“You and your friends are absolutely cracked” I replied, “and absolutely finished.” We faced each other exactly like small boys over a red cabbage. He was still squat and strapping, baby-faced and merry. “Perhaps that’s true” he said, “but it’s the law of nature.”
A positive wave of violence and despair began to grow. The outlaw-anarchists shot at the police and blew out their own brains. Others, overpowered before they could fire the last bullet into their own heads, went off sneering to the guillotine. ‘One against all!’ ‘Nothing means anything to me!’ ‘Damn the masters, damn the slaves, and damn me!’ I recognized, in the various newspaper reports, faces I had met or known; I saw the whole of the movement founded by Libertad dragged into the scum of society by a kind of madness; and nobody could do anything about it, least of all myself. The theoreticians, terrified, headed for cover. It was like a collective suicide. The newspapers put out a special edition to announce a particularly daring outrage, committed by bandits in a car on the Rue Ordener in Montmartre, against a bank cashier carrying half a million francs. Reading the descriptions, I recognized Raymond and Octave Garnier, the lad with piercing black. eyes who distrusted intellectuals. I guessed the logic of their struggle: in order to save Bonnot, now hunted and trapped, they had to find either money, money to get away from it all, or else a speedy death in this battle against the whole of society. Out of solidarity they rushed into this squalid, doomed struggle with their little revolvers and their petty, trigger-happy arguments. And now there were five of them, lost, and once again without money even to attempt flight, and against them Money was ranged — 100,000 francs’ reward for the first informer. They were wandering in the city-without-escape, ready to be killed somewhere, anywhere, in a tram or a café, content to feel utterly cornered, expendable, alone in defiance of a horrible world. Out of solidarity, only to share this bitter joy of trying to be killed, without any illusions about the struggle (as a good many told me when I met them in prison afterwards), others joined the first few, such as red-haired René (he too was a restless spirit) and poor little André Soudy. I had often met Soudy at public meetings in the Latin Quarter. He was a perfect example of the crushed childhood of the back-alleys. He grew up on the pavements: T.B. at thirteen, V.D. at eighteen, convicted at twenty (for stealing a bicycle). I had brought him books and oranges in the Ténon Hospital. Pale, sharp-featured, his accent common, his eyes a gentle grey, he would say, ‘I'm an unlucky blighter, nothing I can do about it.’ He earned his living in grocers’ shops in the Rue Mouffetard, where the assistants rose at six, arranged the display at seven, and went upstairs to sleep in a garret after 9 p.m., dog-tired, having seen their bosses defrauding housewives all day by weighing the beans short, watering the milk, wine, and paraffin, and falsifying the labels. ... He was sentimental; the laments of street-singers moved him to the verge of tears, he could not approach a woman without making a fool of himself, and half a day in the open air of the meadows gave him a lasting dose of intoxication. He experienced a new lease of life if he heard someone call him ‘comrade’ or explain that one could, one must, ‘become a new man’. Back in his shop, he began to give double measures of beans to the housewives, who thought him a little mad. The bitterest joking helped him to live, convinced as he was that. he was not long for this world, ‘seeing the price of medicine’.
One morning, a group of enormous police officers burst into our lodgings at the press, revolvers in hand. A bare-footed little girl of seven had opened when the bell rang, and was terrified by this irruption of armed giants. Jouin, the deputy Director of the Sûreté, a thin gentleman with a long, gloomy face, polite and almost likeable, came in later, searched the building, and spoke to me amiably, of ideas, of Sébastien Faure, whom he admired, of the deplorable way in which the outlaws were discrediting a great ideal.
‘Believe me’, he sighed, ‘the world won’t change so quickly.’ He seemed to me neither malicious nor hypocritical, only a deeply distressed man doing a job conscientiously. In the afternoon he sent for me, called me into his office, leant on his elbows under the green lampshade, and talked to me somewhat after this fashion:
‘I know you pretty well; I should be most sorry to cause you any trouble — which could be very serious. You know these circles, these men, those who are far away from you and those who have a gun in your back, more or less. They are all absolutely finished, I can assure you. Stay here for an hour and we'll discuss them. Nobody will ever know anything of it and I guarantee that there'll be no trouble at all for you.’
I was ashamed, unbelievably ashamed, for him, for myself, for everybody, so ashamed that I felt no shock of indignation, nor any fear. I told him, ‘I am sure that you must be embarrassed yourself, talking to me like this.’
‘But not at all!’ All the same, he was doing the dirty job as if he were overwhelmed by it.
In a cell of La Santé, behind a wall in the specially guarded section reserved for men condemned to death, I began to study seriously. The worst of it all was the constant hunger. From a legal point of view I could easily have cleared myself, since the paper’s management and editorship was in the name of Rirette; but I was determined to assume all responsibility.
The murders and collective suicide continued. Of these I picked up only distant echoes. Meanwhile the reward of 100,000 francs was burrowing into the brains of certain ‘conscious egoists’, and the arrests began; Bonnot was besieged for a whole day at Choisy-le-Roi, defending himself with a pistol and writing, in the intervals of the firing, a letter which absolved his comrades of complicity; he lay between two mattresses to protect himself against the final onslaught, and was killed, or else killed himself, no one really knows which. Octave Garnier and René Valet, caught up at Nogent-sur-Marne in a villa where they were roughing it with their women, underwent an even longer siege, taking on the civil police, the gendarmerie and the Zouaves. They fired hundreds of bullets, viewing their attackers as murderers (and themselves as victims) and, when the house was dynamited, blew out their own brains. Rebellion’s just another dead-end, nothing we can do about it; we may as well hurry up and re-load! At heart, they resembled the dynamiteros of Spain who stood up in front of tanks shouting Viva la Fai!; bidding defiance to the world. Raymond, betrayed by a woman for a considerable sum, was surprised and arrested. André Soudy, betrayed by an anarchist writer, was arrested at Berck-Plage where he was nursing his tuberculosis. Edouard Carouy, who had no part in these events, was betrayed by the family hiding him, and arrested, although armed like the others, without any attempt at self-defence; this athletic young man was exceptional in being quite incapable of murder, though bent on suicide. The others too were all betrayed. Some of the anarchists shot at those informers, one of whom was killed. Nonetheless, the shrewdest one of them continued to edit a little Individualist review on the blue cover of which the New Man could be seen struggling up from the shadows.
My examination was short and pointless, since I was actually accused of no offence. The first magistrate who interrogated me for identification purposes, an ageing, refined personage, nearly threw a fit of temper as he meditated on my future. ‘A revolutionary at twenty! Yes — and you will be a plutocrat at forty!’ ‘I do not think so,’ I replied in all seriousness, and I am still thankful to him for that outburst of revealing anger. I endured the long, enriching experience of cell-life, allowed no visits or newspapers, with only the squalid statutory rations (which were picked at by all the thieves on the staff) and some good books. I understood, and ever since have always missed, the old Christian custom of retreats which men spent in monasteries, meditating face to face with themselves and with God, in other words with the vast living solitude of the universe. It will be good if that custom is revived, in the time when man can at last devote thought to himself. Some very simple rules will suffice for that end: physical and intellectual discipline, exercise (absolutely necessary for the man in a cell), walks for meditation (I did my six miles around the cell every day), intellectual work, and recourse to that exaltation, or slight spiritual tipsiness, which is furnished by great works of poetry. Altogether, I spent around fifteen months in solitary confinement, in various conditions, some of them hellish.
The trial of 1913 assembled on the benches of the Assize Court about twenty prisoners, of whom maybe half a dozen were innocent. In the course of a month, 300 contradictory witnesses paraded to the bar of the court. Against the half-dozen main culprits there was no worthwhile evidence since they denied everything. Six witnesses out of forty contradicted each other in their identifications of the most incriminated defendants; but sometimes, in this hotchpotch of confused testimony, a single word would hit the mark and convince the jury. Someone had recalled a word pronounced with a certain accent, a shout of Soudy’s (’the man with the rifle’) in the middle of a minor street-fight: ‘Come on, fellows, let’s blow!’ And no further doubt was possible because of the tone, the accent, the slang. It was hardly a piece of scientific evidence, but it was human evidence all the same.
On some days, it became a trial of the police, who were pumping a star witness, an old half-blind, half-deaf peasant woman, to make her identify photographs. The head of the Sûreté, Xavier Guichard, a man of aesthetic pretensions, admitted having hit a woman, shouting at her: ‘You're young. You can still become a tart! As for your kids, they can go to hell on the Public Assistance!’
Dr. Paul, an expert in forensic medicine, pomaded, elegant and somewhat fleshy, lectured on the corpses with visible relish. He had been conducting post-mortems on all the murder victims of Paris for the last forty years — after which he would go off to a good lunch, select a tie to wear for tea and, leaning against the mantelpiece of some drawing-room, recount his 10,000 anecdotes of crime. Beaming M. Bertillon, the inventor of anthropometry, modestly admitted that he could be mistaken over finger-prints: there was a probability of error of about one in a billion. The lawyer who, in an attempt to embarrass Bertillon, had elicited this bombshell from him, could not recover from his own confusion.
The principal defendants, Raymond Callemin, André Soudy, Monier, a gardener, and Eugene Dieudonné, a joiner, denied everything and, in theory, had a plausible case. In reality, irrefutable signs of guilt were killing them, apart from Dieudonné who was in fact innocent, not of all complicity but of the particular aspect in which he stood accused. His arrest had arisen from a resemblance between his dark eyes and another pair of eyes, still darker, which were in the graveyard. He alone shouted his innocence in frenzy, with no sign of apathy; which made a striking contrast with the real culprits, insolent and jeering, whose whole behaviour was a calm challenge: ‘We dare you to prove it.’ Since everyone knew the truth, proof was superfluous, as they themselves were aware, but they continued acting after their vocation as desperadoes; smiling blustering, taking notes. Raymond, denied the right of the court to judge” but weakened in the face of authority, directing little sallies, like a peevish schoolboy, at the President of the court. Soudy, cross-examined as to whether a rifle was his property, replied, ‘Not mine, but as you know, Proudhon said that property is theft.’
The prosecution had intended to unearth (for the benefit of the public) an authentically novelettish conspiracy, assigning me to the role of its ‘theoretician’, but had to abandon this project after the second session. I had believed that I would manage to be acquitted, but now understood that in such an atmosphere the acquittal of a young Russian, and a militant at that, was impossible, despite the entire clarity of the facts of the case; for no direct or indirect responsibility for these tragedies could be laid against me. I was there only because of my categorical refusal to talk; that is, to become an informer. I demolished the prosecution’s case on various points of detail (which was easy). I defended our principles — of uninhibited analysis, solidarity and rebellion (which was much more difficult); and I annoyed the ‘innocent’ culprits by demonstrating that society manufactured crime, criminals, desperate ideas, suicides, and the poison of money.
Bonds of genuine sympathy were formed between the defendants and their counsel — except for Paul Reynaud, who defended some accessory or other with reasonable skill, but still remained aloof. Moro-Giafferi, leonine in appearance, a Napoleon in a neck-tie, thundered on behalf of Dieudonné. His grand, arm-waving eloquence, invoking the crucified Christ, the French Revolution, the grief of mothers, the nightmare fears of children, sickened me at first. By the end of twenty minutes of it, I was hypnotized, just like the jury and the gallery, by the power of his astounding dialectic. A relationship almost of friendliness drew me towards Adad (who committed suicide in Paris some years ago — and what better course was there for an old, penniless lawyer?) and to César Campinchi, a cool, brilliant debater who appealed only to reason, though with a certain irony. I was to see him again much later, seriously wounded in the First World War, and Minister of the Navy in the Second.
(One of those who favoured resistance to the death, he died under house-arrest in Marseilles in 1941, just as I was embarking for America.) I reflected that if these desperadoes had been able, before their struggle, to meet men like this, understanding, cultured and liberal-minded, both from inclination and by profession (perhaps more apparently than really so, but even that would have been enough), they would not have entered upon their paths of darkness. The most immediate cause of their revolt and ruin seemed to me to lie in their isolation from human contacts. They were living in no company but their own.
During the trial we were confined in the tiny cells of the Conciergerie, dark holes honeycombed in the ancient stonework of the same buildings where tourists still go to visit the prison of the Girondins and Marie-Antoinette’s cell. Going to court, we would reassemble, escorted by Gardes Républicains, beneath old archways which gave us the feeling of being underground. We would walk up a corkscrew staircase inside one of the pointed towers which overlooked the Seine and, passing through a little side-door, enter the great court-room of the Assizes, which would be buzzing with the presence of a crowd. The last session took twenty hours and the verdict was announced at dawn. We waited for it, sitting together in two anterooms, in a strange atmosphere rather like our old meetings in Montmartre. The usual arguments started all over again. Our lawyers, pale-faced, came to fetch us. Then, the sweltering silent court-room, and twenty prisoners, tense, erect and hard-faced. Four death-sentences, several condemned to hard labour for life. The only acquittals were for the women, who were in any case innocent, but apart from this Parisian juries were reluctant to find women guilty. (They had acquitted Mme Steinheil, who was accused of murdering her husband; they acquitted Mme Joseph Caillaux, wife of the former Prime Minister, who had killed the editor of Le Figaro; later they acquitted the anarchist Germaine Berton, who had killed a Royalist leader.)
Dieudonné was condemned to death even though no one doubted his innocence (which was compromised by his faulty alibis); once more he shouted his guiltlessness and, alone among the accused, seemed on the verge of collapse. Raymond, who had demanded an acquittal, jumped up, his face crimson, and interjected violently: ‘Dieudonné is innocent — it’s me, me that did the shooting!’ The President requested him to sit down, for the pleadings were over and confession no longer had any juridical value.
I myself received five years’ solitary confinement, but I had managed to get Rirette acquitted; two revolvers discovered on the premises of the paper served to justify my conviction, which was provoked, no doubt, by my calm hostility during the hearings.
I found this justice nauseating; it was fundamentally more criminal than the worst criminals. This was incontestably obvious; it was just that I was an enemy, of a different sort from the guilty ones. As I pondered the judgement, its enormity did not surprise me. I only wondered if I would be able to live that long, for I was very weak — at any rate physically. I made up my mind to live it out, and was very ashamed to be thinking of myself like this, next to others who ...
We said our farewells to one another beneath the high vaults of the Terror. Through a frightful slip, while I was talking to Raymond I used an expression for which I have never forgiven myself. ‘You live and learn,’ I remarked, I cannot now say why, perhaps because I had just decided in favour of living. He stared, and then broke into laughter: ‘Living is just the problem!’
‘Forgive me,’ I broke out.
He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Of course, man! My mind’s set.’
An hour later, in the pale light of morning, I was once again pacing around my suffocating cell. Somebody was sobbing incessantly in the next cell, and it got on my nerves. A little old warder, kindly and sad, came in, averting his face: ‘Carouy (Edouard) is dying. Can you hear him?’ I could indeed hear a queer panting noise, coming from beyond the sobs next door. ‘That’s him gasping away .... He took some poison which he'd got hidden in the soles of his shoes .... Well, well, what a life!’ He had not been condemned to death.
The obviously innocent Dieudonné was reprieved, in other words given forced labour for life. For eighteen years he fought fantastically against his servitude, escaping several times and spending years in solitary confinement. After his final escape he reached Brazil. Through the good offices of Albert Londres, he was able to return to France.
Raymond was so stolid in the death-cell that they did not keep the date of the execution from him. He spent the waiting period in reading. In front of the guillotine he noticed the group of reporters and shouted to them: ‘A nice sight, isn’t it?’
Soudy’s last-minute request was for a cup of coffee with cream and some fancy rolls, his last pleasure on earth, appropriate enough for that grey morning when people were happily eating their breakfasts in the little bistros. It must have been too early, for they could only find him a little black coffee. “Out of luck” he remarked, “right to the end.” He was fainting with fright and nerves, and had to be supported while he was going down the stairs; but he controlled himself and, when he saw the clearness of the sky over the chestnut trees, hummed a sentimental street-song: ‘Hail, O last morning of mine’. Monier, usually taciturn, was crazy with anxiety, but mastered himself and became calm. I learned these details only a long time afterwards.
So ended the second explosion of anarchism in France. The first, equally hopeless, was that of 1891-4, signalled by the outrages of Ravachol, Emile Henry, Vaillant, and Caserio. The same psychological features and the same social factors were present in both phases; the same exacting idealism, in the breasts of uncomplicated men whose energy could find no outlet in achieving a higher dignity or sensibility, because any such outlet was physically denied to them. Conscious of their frustration, they battled like madmen and were beaten down. In those times the world was an integrated structure, so stable in appearance that no possibility of substantial change was visible within it. As it progressed up and up, and on and on, masses of people who lay in its path were all the while being crushed. The harsh condition of the workers improved only very slowly, and for the vast majority of the proletariat there was no way out. The declassed elements on the proletarian fringe found all roads barred to them except those which led to squalor and degradation. Above the heads of these masses, wealth accumulated, insolent and proud. The consequences of this situation arose inexorably: crime, class-struggles and their trail of bloody strikes, and frenzied battles of One against All. These struggles also testified to the failure of an ideology. Between the copious theorizing of Peter Kropotkin and Elisée Reclus, and the rage of Albert Libertad, the collapse of anarchism in the bourgeois jungle was now obvious. Kropotkin had grown up in a completely different Europe, one less stable, where the ideal of liberty seemed to have some future and people believed in revolution and education. Reclus had fought for the Commune; the confidence inspired by the greatness of its thwarted vision had lasted him for the rest of his days; he believed in the saving power of science. On the eve of war in Europe, science was functioning solely to assist the progress of a traditionalist and barbaric social order. One felt the approach of an era of violence: inescapable.
In other lands, namely Poland and Russia, the revolutionary movement confronted régimes of a mongrel character, half-absolutist and half-capitalist: there the movement was able to concentrate these diffuse energies and channel them along ways of sacrifice, at the end of which lay victories that were not only possible but popularly desired.
The men, the situations and the conflicts were almost the same, only with a historical complexion different from that in France, the ‘Rentier State’ as Yves Guyot put it. In Poland, Joseph Pilsudski’s Socialist Party (P.P.S.) was raiding Treasury vans and tax-offices, attacking governors and policemen. In Russia, the SocialRevolutionary Party was conducting a similar campaign, and the combat groups of the Bolshevik fraction of Social-Democrats — including the extraordinary terrorist Kamo, the intellectual and laboratory-maker Krassin, the skilful organizer Koba-Stalin, the man of action Tsintsadze and the courier Litvinov — were conducting the struggle for the Party’s income on the highways, the public places of Tiflis and the ships of Baku, bomb and revolver in hand. In Italy, in Pagine Libere of 1 January 1911, a young Socialist agitator, Benito Mussolini, was chanting the praises of the anarchist desperadoes.
Of this hard childhood, this troubled adolescence, all those terrible years, I regret nothing as far as I am myself concerned. I am sorry for those who grow up in this world without ever experiencing the cruel side of it, without knowing utter frustration and the necessity of fighting, however blindly, for mankind. Any regret I have is only for the energies wasted in struggles which were bound to be fruitless. These struggles have taught me that, in any man, the best and the worst live side by side, and sometimes mingle — and that what is worst comes through the corruption of what is best.
1 Le Sillon: journal of social Catholicism founded by Marc Sanginer in 1894; condemned by Pius X in August 1910.
2 Leon Daudet (1868-1942): son of Alphonse Daudet; co-founder of the monarchist and extreme Right L'Action Française. Novelist and anti-Semitic writer.
3 Coblenz: the base of the Royalist émigrés during the French Revolution.
4 Camelots du Roi: nickname given to the young toughs who sold L'Action Française.
5 Georges Valois (Alfred Gressent) (1878-194?) : first an anarchist and organizer of the first bookshop assistants’ union (1903); subsequently a leader of L'Action Française, and founder of the first French fascist movement (Les Faisceaux) (1925-8); later reverted to a left-wing, anti-State position. A prolific writer through his various phases, Valois died in a Nazi concentration-camp.
6 Sébastien Faure (1858-1942): after a period of Guesdism, became an anarcho-communist writer and publicist; editor of L'Encyclopédie Anarchiste.
7 i.e. through a Press campaign on his behalf.
8 Ravachol exploded bombs in the homes of two officials connected with a recent anarchist trial; he was guillotined in 1892. Vaillant was executed for a bomb-explosion in the Chamber of Deputies in December 1893, which killed nobody. Emile Henry threw a bomb in the Café Terminus, which (much against his intentions) caused only minor injuries; executed in May 1894. Caserio, a young Italian anarchist, stabbed President Carnot to death in June of the same year.
9 Yves Guyot (1843-1928): free-trade economist, Deputy, and Minister of Public Works from 1889 to 1892.
10 ‘Kamo’: the Party name of S. A. Ter-Petrosian (1882-1922), Bolshevik revolutionary who committed numerous robberies, was four times sentenced to death, and feigned insanity for four years in Germany in order to prevent his extradition to Imperial Russia. ‘Koté’ Taintsadze, Kamo’s Icy sensational colleague, undertook similar activities in the pre-revolutionary period; later became a prominent Georgian Bolshevik, at odds with Stalin; was arrested in 1929, and died in captivity in 1931.