Emile Henry

Emile Henry police mug-shot


By Mitch Abidor

On May 21, 1894 22 year-old Emile Henry went to the guillotine, his last words being: “Courage camarades! Vive l'anarchie!” Henry was the third in a series of French anarchists executed after carrying out “propaganda of the deed,” after Ravachol in 1892 and Auguste Vaillant earlier in 1894. He was to be followed by Santo Caserio, an Italian — born anarchist who was to assassinate President Sadi Carnot on June 24, 1894. All were motivated by the same ideal, and all acted as if, as Ravachol said: “All that is needed...is a shove...and the revolution will take place.” Henry’s background, however, differed from that of the others.

Caserio had lived in various European cities looking for work. Ravachol had lived his entire life in crushing poverty, was self-taught, and had engaged in a life of crime before carrying out political attacks, bombing the homes of a judge and a lawyer involved in the prosecution of anarchist comrades. Auguste Vaillant, who had also suffered from poverty and dabbled in crime, made a failed attempt to relocate to Argentina. He had found his way to anarchism in his youth and edited an anarchist journal. Disgusted by the corrupt political system of the Third Republic, he had placed a bomb in the Chamber of Deputies which detonated, causing no deaths. Despite the lack of fatalities, Vaillant was sentenced to death and, despite public outcry against the execution of a man who had killed no one, he went to the guillotine on February 5, 1894.

Henry came from a revolutionary family. His father was an exiled Communard, and his brother, Fortuné, a key figure in anarchist circles who later founded an anarchist community in the French country-side. Accepted to the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique, Emile had been expelled and found work in a draper’s shop. Like so many of his comrades, he was enraged by Vaillant’s execution.

To avenge this death, Emile Henry went after a different kind of target. On February 12, 1894 a bomb went off in the Café Terminus in the Gare St — Lazare, killing one and wounding 20. It was not the political system or the justice system Henry attacked; it was the bourgeoisie itself for, as he later said, “there are no innocent bourgeois.” And his intent in this bombing was to kill dozens, not just one.

Already on November 8, 1892 he had placed a time bomb at the offices of the Carmaux Mining Company, which had exploded when the police removed it, killing five officers in the commissariat on the rue des Bons-enfants. Indeed, after his arrest for the Terminus bombing, Henry took credit for a series of other bombings in Paris, and in his apartment was found material to make many more explosive devices.

At his trial in April 1894 he did nothing to hide his guilt, instead using his trial as a propaganda forum: his defense speech was later published as “Why I Fired Into the Crowd.” He warned that “the bourgeoisie must understand that those who have suffered are finally tired of their suffering; they are showing their teeth and, as brutally as they have been treated, they strike all the more brutally....We who hand out death know how to take it...(Anarchism) is in violent revolt against the established order. It will finish by killing you.”