Félix Frenay: The Law (1864)

Félix Frenay was a Belgian worker who may have been involved in the Belgian section of the International Workingmen’s Association (the “First International”). In addition to writing political pieces like this one, Frenay was a poet. An English review of his book of poetry about working class life described his views as being radical communist-Internationalist. His comments regarding the law are reminiscent of Proudhon’s statement in his 1851 work, General Idea of the Revolution: “Laws: We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of government” (included in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). The translation is by Shawn Wilbur.

The Law

It is truly interesting to observe that over the course of the centuries that history allows us to survey, the human mind, in its slow, but continual march, while undermining institutions, beliefs and prejudices, while attacking all the abominations, has always made one exception. Indeed, when all the religions have fallen or totter on their foundations, one alone will remain upright and solid… and that is the law.

We have polished manners and softened legislations, ridding them of the most shocking asperities, but who has ever attacked the law in its very essence? Who? We could almost respond: no one. And, yet, isn’t it an injustice!

A few men gather and devise constitutions, codes and rules, to which they give the name of laws and which they then impose on others under penalty of death or prison. How is this not tyranny?!

The least idea of justice and injustice is enough to make us understand that, if we can sacrifice our own interests, we are not allowed to dispose of those of others, and that, according to this principle, a law could only be legitimate if, against all odds, an entire nation, since there is a nation, could gather, hear one another out and reach agreement to draw it up; still, it would only be legitimate for a generation. So make as many laws as you like, but obviously only for yourself; give up your own liberty, but respect ours.

What is the law? A dictate emanating from sovereign authority, says the dictionary. But dictated by what right and by what authority?

Law implies justice, harmony, and yet whoever says law says violence and oppression.

The most precise definition of the word law is imposed justice. But justice imposed by force ceases, by that very fact, to be justice. Besides, justice imposes itself, and has no need, like law, to rely on bayonets, to have an escort of gendarmes. True law is written in the consciousness of free people, where it illuminates much better than in codes produced by minds that are sick or clouded by prejudices.

Thus, what we are accustomed to call the law cannot be justice, car justice is one, and the liberal subtleties of the relative can in no way be applied to it, for what is just is just everywhere, as much in Belgium as in France, as in Prussia, Turkey or Japan, unlike the law, which condemns in one country what it permits in some other.

On the other hand, and in modern scientific language, law has a more rational definition and means: necessity, inevitable; thus all bodies obey the laws that govern matter and non can escape from them.

Can we make a body raided in the air and then left to itself not fall toward the earth, which is its center of attraction? Can we make a light that is not transmitted in a straight line and a shadow that would be on the side of a body facing the source of light? No, the laws of nature oppose it. It is impossible that is should not be thus and, consequently, it is not necessary that someone makes sure that the law is observed, for the law is the thing itself… The law is harmony and does not resemble in any way the human absurdities that we manage to impose and enforce a bit only by means of a large cohort of police, and which demand a frightening abundance of courts and condemnations.

We know full well that man, reading this, will cry “abomination,” because we attack the conventional ideas, which are those of the majority, and that the majority must always be right and true. And yet, when the minority becomes the majority, as we almost always see, does it follow that what has just and true yesterday can be unjust and false tomorrow?… How are we to reconcile all that with the universally accepted axiom that justice and truth are immutable?

“When a system of morals and politics is established over a people,” say Paul de Jouvencel, “that system may be true or false, just or unjust, but if it has soldiers, magistrates and executioners, it is necessary to obey. Vainly the conscience of man makes a just rebellion against the absurd iniquity; they insist to the man that it is his conscience that is criminal, and they prove it by reading the article of the code that declares it criminal; and, in order that the proof be most efficacious, they throw him in a dungeon, hang him, burn him, they have him drawn by 4 horse or they cut off his head, according to the customs of the country and the prescriptions of the code that watches over the system of morals.

“There is little hope that this will end. On the contrary, in time one becomes accustomed to it: one accepts what the code says as just and for what it forbids as unjust. Finally, in order to have peace, one tries to do as they are ordered and not to do what is forbidden. And then the time that this obedience has lasted forms a kind of prescription, and serves, if need be, as roof and support for the system of morals and politics. “

The child is born. The law takes note of it, hovers over his cradle, like a threat, to the great despair of the mother; it guards him, observes him, lies in wait, waiting with an implacable patience until he is big and strong enough. Then when the young man emerges from adolescence, when he becomes useful to his fellows, when he begins to help his family or create a new one, that is when all at once the law appears, and he is torn from his affections, from his future. They put in his hands a weapon, which they teach him to maneuver absolutely like an automaton. They read him regulations, from which, they tell him, he cannot free himself without dishonor. It is forbidden for him to think, to speak, to love and to move. He must disregard all the faculties that make him a man. He must abdicate his individuality, become a machine, and, like the machine, obey blindly. Such is the military law: obedience, passive… and stupid.

And there is a man who becomes, despite himself, a member of the soulless body that we can the Army.

There is a being, living an individual life, a man who only asks to develop his own faculties, suddenly reduced to the ranks of the zoophytes, for what is the regiment, if not a collective being like the coral, which has [un]intelligence instead of immobility? Yes, there is an individual who can no longer walk like everyone, nor greet others like you and me; an individual whose hair must be cut in a certain manner and whose beard must be trimmed according to a certain fashion, who eats, drinks, sleeps and, as needed, kills—all according to the rules. In short, there was a man… there is a beast.

Is the law equal for all? No, it tolerates compromises; it has, above all, a weakness for money. It is only inexorable for the poor. For them society has nothing, neither instruction, nor science, nor food, nor clothing, nor shelter, nothing but scorn and harshness. It pushes the wretch to the brink of the abyss, then strikes him with all the rigor of its laws. In this it resembles the imbecile who plunges his dog in the water and then beats it because it is wet.

In a particular society there exist a rule, most often absurd, it is true, but one made known to you before you are admitted, to which you submit willingly. From then on, humiliations and fines can rain down without anyone being about to find fault with it. Didn’t we make an informed commitment? But what would say of a society where we found ourselves inserted despite ourselves and subject to all the humiliations of a regulation that is that much heavier as we cannot avoid it? We would laugh, as that clearly far surpasses the mark of injustice and absurdity, and we would break both the rules and the society. Yet this is how we are in the great society, where individual sovereignty has pride of place. We find ourselves ruled over by an arsenal of codes and regulations that, far from having been made by us, we never even manage to known, although we most certainly feel their effects.

Can we take a step without bumping up against the law? Make a move without feeling its aggravations? Doesn’t it weigh on us in every act of life, from the cradle to the grave? Assuredly. Consequently, the law is a yoke, a straightjacket and cannot be reconciled with liberty, any more than darkness can be reconciled with light. — That is our conclusion.

It might not be superfluous to seek the causes of this obsession with following a rule, from which even the most independent minds have so much difficulty freeing themselves. But as that is a study that goes beyond the scope of this article, we will set it aside for later, promising however to address, along with that other question comes after it: Can or must the law be eliminated abruptly or gradually? We will limit ourselves, for the moment, to protesting against all the laws, oppressive or protective, no matter what one wishes to call them, against all codes, regulations and prescriptions, as being incompatibles with liberty, and declare that above the principle of the sovereignty of the people we put that of the sovereignty of the individual.

Brussels, December 1864.


Le Prolétaire 10 no. 1 (January 8, 1868): 2–3

Elisée Reclus on Anarchy

Elisée Reclus

Elisée Reclus (1830-1905) was one of the leading 19th century exponents of anarchy and anarchism. Like Kropotkin, he was a geographer. He advocated anarchy from an early age, but only in the 1870s did he begin to play a prominent role in the emerging anarchist movement, as the anarchists in the First International reconstituted the International along anti-authoritarian lines immediately after the expulsion of Bakunin and James Guillaume from the International by Marx and his allies at the 1872 Hague Congress. The anti-authoritarians represented the majority of the International’s sections. Reclus took an active role in the “anti-authoritarian” International, and was instrumental in convincing many involved in the International to adopt anarchist communism as their goal. The following excerpts are taken from Reclus’ well known essay, “An Anarchist on Anarchy,” which was first published in the Contemporary Review, and then republished by Benjamin Tucker as a pamphlet in 1884.

An Anarchist on Anarchy

We are not among those whom the practice of social hypocrisies, the long weariness of a crooked life, and the uncertainty of the future have reduced to necessity of asking ourselves — without daring to answer it — the sad question: “Is life worth living?” Yes, to us life does seem worth living, but on condition that it has an end — not personal happiness, not a paradise, either in this world or the next — but the realization of a cherished wish, an ideal that belongs to us and springs from our innermost conscience. We are striving to draw nearer to that ideal equality which, century after century, has hovered before subject peoples like a heavenly dream. The little that each of us can do offers an ample recompense for the perils of the combat. On these terms life is good, even a life of suffering and sacrifice — even though it may be cut short by premature death.

The first condition of equality, without which any other progress is merest mockery — the object of all socialists without exception — is that every human being shall have bread. To talk of duty, of renunciation, of eternal virtues to the famishing, is nothing less than cowardice. Dives has no right to preach morality to the beggar at his gates. If it were true that civilized lands did not produce food enough for all, it might be said that, by virtue of vital competition, bread should be reserved for the strong, and that the weak must content themselves with the crumbs that fall from the feasters’ tables. In a family where love prevails things are not ordered in this way; on the contrary, the small and the ailing receive the fullest measure; yet it is evident that dearth may strengthen the hands of the violent and make the powerful monopolizers of bread. But are our modern societies really reduced to these straits? On the contrary, whatever may be the value of Malthus’s forecast as to the distant future, it is an actual, incontestable fact that in the civilized countries of Europe and America the sum total of provisions produced, or received in exchange for manufacturers, is more than enough for the sustenance of the people. Even in times of partial dearth the granaries and warehouses have but to open their doors that every one may have a sufficient share. Notwithstanding waste and prodigality, despite the enormous losses arising from moving about and handling in warehouses and shops, there is always enough to feed generously all the world. And yet there are some who die of hunger! And yet there are fathers who kill their children because when the little ones cry for bread they have none to give them.

Others may turn their eyes from these horrors; we socialists look them full in the face, and seek out their cause. That cause is the monopoly of the soil, the appropriation by a few of the land which belongs to all. We Anarchists are not the only ones to say it: the cry for nationalization of the land is rising so high that all may hear it who do not willfully close their ears. The idea spreads fast, for private property, in its present form, has had its day, and historians are everywhere testifying that the old Roman law is not synonymous with ethanol justice. Without doubt it were vain to hope that holders of the soil, saturated, so to speak, with ideas of caste, of privilege, and of inheritance, will voluntarily give back to all the bread-yielding furrows; the glory will not be theirs of joining as equals their fellow-citizens; but when public opinion is ripe — and day by day it grows — individuals will oppose in vain the general concourse of wills, and the axe will be applied to the upas tree’s roots. Arable land will be held once more in common; but instead of being ploughed and sown almost at hazard by ignorant hands, as it has hitherto been, science will aid us in the choice of climate, of soils, of methods of culture, of fertilizers, and of machinery. Husbandry will be guided by the same prescience as mechanical combinations and chemical operations; but the fruits of their toil will not be lost to the labourer. Many so-called savage societies hold their land in common, and humble though in our eyes they may seem, they are our betters in this: want among them is unknown. Are we, then, too ambitious in desiring to attain a social state which shall add to the conquests of civilization the privileges of these primitive tribes? Through the education of our children we may to some extent fashion the future.

After we have bread for all, we shall require something more — equality of rights; but this point will soon be realized, for an individual who needs not incline themselves before their fellows to crave pittance is already their equal. Equality of conditions, which is in no way incompatible with the infinite diversity of human character, we already desire and look upon as indispensable, for it offers us the only means whereby a true public morality can be developed. An individual can be truly moral only when they are their own master. From the moment when they awaken to a comprehension of that which is equitable and good it is for them to direct their own movements, to seek in the their conscience reasons for their actions, and to perform them simply, without either fearing punishment or looking for reward. Nevertheless their will cannot fail to be strengthened when they see others, guided like themselves by their own volition, following the same line of conduct. Mutual example will soon constitute a collective code of ethics to which all may conform without effort; but the moment that orders, enforced by legal penalties, replace the personal impulses of the conscience, there is an end to morality. Hence the saying of the Apostle of the Gentiles, “the law makes sin.” Even more, it is sin itself, because, instead of appealing to humanity’s better part, to it’s bold initiative, it appeals to it’s worst — it rules by fear. It thus behooves every one to resist the laws that they have not made, and to defend their personal rights, which are also the rights of others. People often speak of the antagonism between rights and duties. It is an empty phrase; there is no such antagonism. Whoso vindicates their own rights fulfills at the same time their duty towards their fellows. Privilege, not right, is the converse of duty.

Besides the possession of an individual’s own person, sound morality involves yet another condition — mutual goodwill, which is likewise the outcome of equality. The time-honoured words of Mahabarata are as true as ever: “The ignorant are not the friends of the wise; the man who has no cart is not the friend of him who has a cart. Friendship is the daughter of equality; it is never born of inequality.” Without doubt it is given to some people, great by their thoughts, by sympathy, or by strength of will, to win the multitude; but if the attachment of their followers and admirers comes otherwise than an enthusiastic affinity of idea to idea, or of heart to heart, it is speedily transformed either into fanaticism or servility. Those who are hailed lord by the acclamations of the crowd must almost of necessity attribute to themselves exceptional virtues, or a “Grace of God,” that makes them in their own estimation as a predestined being, and they usurp without hesitation or remorse privileges which they transmit as a heritage of their children. But, while in rank exalted, they are morally degraded, and their partisans and sycophants are more degraded still: they wait for the words of command which fall from the master’s lips; when they hear in the depths of their conscience some faint note of dissent, it is stifled; they become practiced liars, they stoop to flattery, and lose the power of looking honest individuals in the face. Between those who command and those who obey, and whose degradation deepens from generation to generation, there is no possibility of friendship. The virtues are transformed; brotherly frankness is destroyed; independence becomes a crime; above is either pitying condescension or haughty contempt, below either envious admiration or hidden hate. Let each of us recall the past and ask ourselves in all sincerity the question: “Who are the individuals in whose society we have experienced the most pleasure?” Are they the personages who have “honoured” us with their conversation, or the humble with whom we have “deigned” to associate? Are they not rather our equals, those whose looks neither implore nor command, and whom we may love with open hearts without afterthought or reserve.

It is to live in conditions of equality and escape from the falsehoods and hypocrisies of a society of superiors and inferiors, that so many men and women have formed themselves into close corporations and little worlds apart. America abounds in communities of this sort. But these societies, few of which prosper while many perish, are all ruled more or less by force; they carry within themselves the seed of their own dissolution, and are reabsorbed by Nature’s law of gravitation into the world which they have left. Yet even were they perfection, if humans enjoyed in them the highest happiness of which their nature is capable, they would be none the less obnoxious to the charge of selfish isolation, of raising a wall between themselves and the rest of their race; their pleasures are egotistical, and devotion to the cause of humanity would draw back the best of them into the great struggle.

As for the Anarchists, never will we separate ourselves from the world to build a little church, hidden in some vast wilderness. Here is the fighting ground, and we remain in the ranks, ready to give our help wherever it may be most needed. We do not cherish premature hopes, but we know that our efforts will not be lost. Many of the ignorant, who either out of love of routine or simplicity of soul now anathematize us, will end by associating themselves with our cause. For every individual whom circumstances permit to join us freely, hundreds are hindered by the hard necessities of life from openly avowing our opinions, but they listen from afar and cherish our words in the treasury of their hearts. We know that we are defending the cause of the poor, the disinherited, the suffering; we are seeking to restore to them the earth, personal rights, confidence in the future; and is it not natural that they should encourage us by look and gesture, even when they dare not come to us? In times of trouble, when the iron hand of might loosens its hold, and paralyzed rulers reel under the weight of their own power; when the “groups,” freed for an instant from the pressure above, reform themselves according to their natural affinities, on which side will be the many? Though making no pretension to prophetic insight, may we not venture without temerity to say that the great multitude would join our ranks? Albeit they never weary of repeating that Anarchism is merely the dream of a few visionaries, do not even our enemies, by the insults they heap upon us and the projects and machinations they impute to us, make an incessant propaganda in our favour? It is said that, when the magicians of the Middle Ages wanted to raise the devil, they began their incantations by painting his image on a wall. For a long time past, modern exorcists have adopted a similar method for conjuring Anarchists.

Pending the great work of the coming time, and to the end that this work may be accomplished, it behooves us to utilize every opportunity for rede and deed. Meanwhile, although our object is to live without government and without law, we are obliged in many things to submit. On the other hand, how often are we enabled to disregard their behest and act on our own free will? Ours be it to let slip none of these occasions, and to accept tranquility whatever personal consequences may result from doing that which we believe to be our duty. In no case will we strengthen authority by appeals or petitions, neither shall we sanction the law by demanding justice from the courts nor, by giving our votes and influence to any candidate whatsoever, become the authors of our own ill-fortune? It is easy for us to accept nothing from power, to call no one “master,” neither to be called “master” ourselves, to remain in the ranks as simple citizens and to maintain resolutely, and in every circumstance, our quality of equal among citizens. Let our friends judge us by our deeds, and reject from among them those of us who falter.

There are unquestionably many kind-hearted individuals that, as yet. hold themselves aloof from us, and even view our efforts with a certain apprehension, who would nevertheless gladly lend us their help were they not repelled by fear of the violence which almost invariably accompanies revolution. And yet a close study of the present state of things would show them that the supposed period of tranquility in which we live is really an age of cruelty and violence. Not to speak of war and its crimes, from the guilt of which no civilized State is free, can it be denied that chief among the consequences of the existing social system are murder, maladies, and death. Accustomed order is maintained by rude deeds and brute force, yet things that happen every day and every hour pass unperceived; we see in them a series of ordinary events no more phenomenal than times and seasons. It seems less than impious to rebel against the cycle of violence and repression which comes to us hallowed by the sanction of ages. Far from desiring to replace an era of happiness and peace by an age of disorder and warfare, our sole aim is to put an end to the endless series of calamities which has hitherto been called by common consent “The Progress of Civilization.” On the other hand, vengeances are the inevitable incidents of a period of violent changes. It is the nature of things that they should be. Albeit deeds of violence, prompted by a spirit of hatred, bespeak a feeble moral development, these deeds become fatal and necessary whenever the relations between people are not the relations of perfect equity. The original form of justice as understood by primitive peoples was that of retaliation, and by thousands of rude tribes this system is still observed. Nothing seemed more just than to offset one wrong by a like wrong. Eye for an eye! Tooth for a tooth! If the blood of one person has been shed, another must die! This was the barbarous form of justice. In our civilized societies it is forbidden to individuals to take the law into their own hands. Governments, in their quality of social delegates, are charged on behalf of the community with the enforcement of justice, a sort of retaliation somewhat more enlightened than that of the savage. It is on this condition that the individual renounces the right of personal vengeance; but if they be deceived by the mandatories to whom they entrust the vindication of their rights, if they perceive that their agents betray their cause and league themselves with the oppressors, that official justice aggravates their wrongs; in a word, if whole classes and populations are unfairly used, and have no hope of finding in the society to which they belong a redresser of abuses, is it not certain that they will resume their inherent right of vengeance and execute it without pity? Is not this indeed an ordinance of Nature, a consequence of the physical law of shock and counter-shock? It were unphilosophic to be surprised by its existence. Oppression has always been answered by violence.

Nevertheless, if great human evolutions are always followed by sad outbreaks of personal hatreds, it is not to these bad passions that well-wishers of their kind appeal when they wish to rouse the motive virtues of enthusiasm, devotion, and generosity. If changes had no other result than to punish oppressors, to make them suffer in their turn, to repay evil with evil, the transformation would be only in seeming. What boots it to those who truly love humanity and desire the happiness of all that the slave becomes master, that the master is reduced to servitude, that the whip changes hands, and that money passes from one pocket to another? It is not the rich and the powerful whom we devote to destruction, but the institutions which have favoured the birth and growth of these malevolent beings. It is the medium which it behooves us to alter, and for this great work we must reserve all our strength; to waste it in personal vindications were merest puerility. “Vengeance is the pleasure of the gods,” said the ancients; but it is not the pleasure of self-respecting mortals; for they know that to become their own avengers would be to lower themselves to the level of their former oppressors. If we would rise superior to our adversary, we must, after vanquishing them, make them bless their defeat. The revolutionary device, “For our liberty and for yours,” must not be an empty word.

The people in all times have felt this; and after every temporary triumph the generosity of the victor has obliterated the menaces of the past. It is a constant fact that in all serious popular movements, made for an idea, hope of a better time, and above all, the sense of a new dignity, fills the soul with high and magnanimous sentiments. So soon as the police, both political and civil, cease their functions and the masses become masters of the streets, the moral atmosphere changes, each feels themselves responsible for the prosperity and contentment of all; molestation of individuals is almost unheard of; even professional criminals pause in their sad career, for they too, feel that something great is passing through the air. Ah! if revolutionaries, instead of obeying a vague idea as they have almost always done, had formed a definite aim, a well-considered scheme of social conduct, if they had firmly willed the establishment of a new order of things in which every citizen might be assured bread, work, instruction, and the free development of their being, there would have been no danger in opening all prison gates to their full width, and saying to the unfortunates whom they shut in, “Go, brothers and sisters, and sin no more.”

It is always to the nobler part of humanity that we should address ourselves when we want to do great deeds. A general fighting for a bad cause stimulates their soldiers with promises of booty; a benevolent individual who cherishes a noble object encourages their companions by the example of their own devotion and self-sacrifice. For them, faith in their idea is enough. As says the proverb of the Danish peasants: “His will is his paradise.” What matters is that he is treated like a visionary! Even though his undertakings were only a chimera, he knows nothing more beautiful and sweet than the desire to act rightly and do good; in comparison with this vulgar realities are for him but shadows, the apparitions of an instant.

But our ideal is not a chimera. This, public opinion well knows; for no question more preoccupies it than that of social transformation. Events are casting their shadows before. Among individuals who think is there one who in some fashion or another is not a socialist — that is to say, who has not their own little scheme for changes in economic relations? Even the orator who noisily denies that there is a social question affirms the contrary by a thousand propositions. And those who will lead us back to the Middle Ages, are they not also socialists? They think they have found in a past, restored after modern ideas, conditions of social justice which will establish for ever the brotherhood of man. All are awaiting the birth of a new order of things; all ask themselves, some with misgiving, others with hope, what the morrow will bring forth. It will not come with empty hands. The century which has witnessed so many grand discoveries in the world of science cannot pass away without giving us still greater conquests. Industrial appliances, that by a single electric impulse make the same thought vibrate through five continents, have distanced by far our social morals, which are yet in many regards the outcome of reciprocally hostile interests. The axis is displaced; the world must crack that its equilibrium may be restored. In spirit revolution is ready; it is already thought — it is already willed; it only remains to realize it, and this is not the most difficult part of the work. The Governments of Europe will soon have reached the limits to the expansion of their power and find themselves face to face with their increasing populations. The super-abundant activity which wastes itself in distant wars must then find employment at home — unless in their folly the shepherds of the people should try to exhaust their energies by setting the Europeans against Europeans, as they have done before. It is true that in this way they may retard the solution of the social problem, but it will rise again after each postponement, more formidable than before.

Let economists and rulers invent political constitutions or salaried organizations, whereby the worker may be the friend of their master, the subject the brother of the potentate, we, “frightful Anarchists” as we are, know only one way of establishing peace and goodwill among women and men — the suppression of privilege and the recognition of right. Our ideal, as we have said, is that of the fraternal equity for which all yearn, but almost always as a dream; with us it takes form and becomes a concrete reality. It pleases us not to live if the enjoyments of life are to be for us alone; we protest against our good fortune if we may not share it with others; it is sweeter for us to wander with the wretched and the outcasts than to sit, crowned with roses, at the banquets of the rich. We are weary of these inequalities which make us the enemies of each other; we would put an end to the furies which are ever bringing people into hostile collision, and all of which arise from the bondage of the weak to the strong under the form of slavery, serfage, and service. After so much hatred we long to love each other, and for this reason are we enemies of private property and despisers of the law.

Elisée Reclus, 1884

Elisée Reclus: Kropotkin’s Words of a Rebel

In October 1885, the anarchist revolutionary, Peter Kropotkin, was in a French prison, having been condemned in 1882 for being a member of the by then defunct International Workingmen’s Association. Of course, the real reason for his imprisonment was that he was directly involved in reviving the French anarchist movement after ten years of state repression following the defeat of the Paris Commune. Kropotkin was the major contributor to the manifesto that he and his co-defendants issued during their trial. While in prison, his friend, the anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus, put together a collection of Kropotkin’s essays under the title, Words of a Rebel. Here I reproduce Nicolas Walter’s translation of Reclus’ introduction. I previously posted some of Walter’s translations of Kropotkin’s preface to the 1904 Italian edition and the post-script to the 1921 Russian edition.

Preface to Words of a Rebel

FOR TWO AND A HALF YEARS Peter Kropotkin has been in prison, cut off from the society of his fellow-men. His punishment is hard, but the silence imposed on him concerning the things he cares about most is much harder: his imprisonment would be less oppressive if he were not gagged. Months and years may perhaps pass before the use of speech is restored to him and he can resume interrupted conversations with his comrades.

The period of forced seclusion which our friend has to undergo will certainly not be wasted, but it seems very long to us! Life quickly goes by, and we sadly watch the weeks and months running out when this voice-so proud and honest among the rest–cannot be heard at all. In its place, how many common places will be repeated to us, how many lying words will afflict us, how many biased half-truths will ring about our ears! We long to hear one of those sincere and forthright tongues which boldly proclaim the truth.

But if the prisoner of Clairvaux no longer has the freedom to speak to his comrades from the depths of his cell, they can at least remember their friend and recall the words he spoke before. This is a task which I am able to perform, and I have devoted myself to it with pleasure. The articles which Kropotkin wrote from 1879 to 1882 in the ‘anarchist’ paper Le Révolté seemed to me ideal for publication in book form, especially because they did not run after chance events but followed a logical order. The vigour of the thought gave them the necessary unity.

Faithful to the scientific method, the author first explains the general situation of society, with its scandals and defects, its elements of discord and war; he studies the evidence of collapse shown by states, and shows us the cracks opening in their ruins. Then he pushes the experience offered by contemporary history in the direction of anarchic evolution, indicates its exact significance, and draws the lessons which it teaches. Finally, in the chapter ‘Expropriation’, he sums up his ideas, which derive from both observation and experience, and appeals to men of good will who want not just to know, but also to act.

I do not wish to sing the author’s praises here. He is my friend, and if I said all the nice things I think about him I might be suspected of blindness or accused of partiality. It would be enough for me to report the opinion of his judges, even his jailers. Among those who have observed his life, from far or near, there is no one who does not respect him, who does not bear witness to his high intelligence and to his heart which overflows with kindness, no one who does not acknowledge him to be truly noble and pure. Anyway, is it not because of these very qualities that he has known exile and imprisonment?

His crime is to love the poor and weak; his offence is to have pleaded their cause. Public opinion is unanimous in respecting this man, and yet it is not at all surprised to see the prison gates closing remorselessly on him, so that it seems natural that superiority has to be paid for and devotion has to be accompanied by suffering. It is impossible to see Kropotkin in the prison yard and to exchange greetings with him without wondering: ‘And what about me, why am I free? Could, it be perhaps because I am not good enough?’

However, the readers of this book should pay less attention to the personality of the author than to the value of the ideas he expresses. These ideas I recommend with confidence to honest people who do not make up their minds about a work before opening it, or about an opinion before hearing it. Clear away all your prejudices, try to stand aside temporarily from your interests, and read the pages simply looking for the truth without bothering for the time being about its application. The author asks only one thing of you – to share for a moment his ideal, the happiness of all, not just of a few privileged people.

If this desire, however fleeting it may be, is really sincere, and not a mere whim of your fancy, an image passing before your eyes, it is probable that you will soon agree with the writer. If you share his yearnings you will understand his words. But you know in advance that these ideas will bring you no honour; they will never be rewarded with a well-paid position; they may well bring you instead the distrust of your former friends or some cruel blow from your superiors. If you seek justice, you can expect to suffer injustice.

At the time when this work is being published, France is in the middle of an election crisis. I am not so naive as to recommend the candidates to read this book – they have other ‘duties’ to perform – but I do invite the electors to take a look at Words of a Rebel, and I would particularly draw their attention to the chapter called ‘Representative Government’. There they will see how far their confidence will be justified in these men who are springing up on all sides to solicit the honour of representing their fellow-citizens in Parliament.

At the moment all is well. The candidates are omniscient and infallible – but what about the deputies? When they at last receive their share of the kingdom, will they not be fatally afflicted by the dizziness of power and, like kings, be deprived of all wisdom and all virtue? If they decided to keep all those promises which they made so lavishly, how would they maintain their dignity in the midst of a crowd of petitioners and advisers? Even supposing that they went into Parliament with good intentions, how could they emerge without being corrupted? Under the influence of that atmosphere of intrigue, they can be seen turning from left to right, as if they were impelled by an automatic mechanism-clockwork figures who come out looking proud and strike noisily in front of the clock face, then soon afterwards go round and disappear ‘pathetically into the works.

Choosing new masters is no solution at all. It is we anarchists, enemies of Christianity, who have to remind a whole society which claims to be Christian of these words of the man whom they have made a God: ‘Call no man Master, Master! Let each man remain his own master.’ Do not go to the offices of bureaucrats, or the noisy chambers of parliaments, in the vain hope for the words of freedom. Listen rather to the voices which come from below, even if they come through the bars of the prison cell.

Elisée Reclus

Clarens (Switzerland), October 1, 1885

The First International and the September 1871 London Conference

Marx v. Bakunin

Chapter 8 of my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement, begins with a section on the September 1871 London Conference of the International, where Marx and Engels manipulated both the composition of delegates to the Conference and the agenda to ensure the adoption of their favoured political strategy for the working class, which was to form political parties that were to achieve state power through participation in electoral politics. Such a policy was in direct contradiction to the resolution at the 1869 Basle Congress of the International which called for the federated trade unions to abolish “the present wage system” and to create “the free federation of free producers,” an essentially anarcho-syndicalist program. Unfortunately, a number of typographical errors that crept into my manuscript during the copy editing process rendered my analysis of the composition of delegates to the London Conference a bit confusing. Accordingly, here I present a corrected version that I hope makes this clear: before the Conference began, Marx and Engels could count on the support of at least 12 of the 22 voting delegates (including themselves), while the federalists and anarchists who continued to support the Basle Congress resolution could count on the support of no more than 8 voting delegates, ensuring that Marx and Engel’s resolution, committing the International to a program of electoral participation through political parties with the aim of achieving state power, would be accepted.

The September 1871 London Conference of the International

By September 1871, when Marx and Engels convened the London Conference of the International, the political orientation of the majority of Internationalists in Italy, Spain and the Swiss Jura, was anarcho-syndicalist in all but name. Among the surviving French Internationalists, most of them were federalists and collectivists, and some were outright anarchists, such as Bastélica, Bakunin’s associate from Marseilles. The Belgians also favoured federalist collectivism, and can be considered revolutionary syndicalists. Nevertheless, Marx and Engels carefully orchestrated the adoption at the London Conference of a policy requiring the creation of workers’ political parties and their participation in national politics.

The London Conference was not a proper Congress of the International. It was a “private” conference organized by Marx and Engels. They were concerned that if a congress or conference were held on the continent, the federalists and anarchists associated with Bakunin would be too well represented. Marx and Engels took steps to ensure that Bakunin’s supporters would be held to a minimum, and that their supporters would be well represented.

The majority faction of the Romande Federation was not advised of the conference, despite having asked the General Council to resolve which group was entitled to call itself the Romande Federation. Being unable to send any delegates to the conference, the majority group sent a letter to the conference to be read by Robin, who was to attend the conference as a non-voting member of the General Council. The majority group asked that no decision be made at the conference regarding which section was the legitimate Romande Federation because the majority group was unable to present its case. The majority group took the position that the issue should be left for the next general congress of the International, but that in the meantime the General Council could investigate and prepare a report.[i] This proposal fell on deaf ears, as the General Council had already decided that the Utin/Perret group was the legitimate representative of the Romande Federation. That is why Utin and Perret were invited to the conference, and given full voice and vote.[ii]

In addition to ensuring Utin and Perret’s attendance at the conference, upon whose support Marx and Engels could rely, Marx easily persuaded the General Council to determine itself how many and which members of the General Council would be able to vote at the conference, against the objections of Bastélica, who argued that the issue should be decided at the conference itself.[iii] The General Council decided that all of its members could attend and speak at the Conference, but only seven of the Council’s corresponding secretaries and six other members of the Council would have the right to vote, with those six other members being chosen by a vote of the members of the General Council present at its pre-conference meeting.[iv]

The seven corresponding secretaries, which included Marx (for Germany), Engels (for Italy), Eccarius (for the U.S.), Hales (for England, as the English still lacked their own federal council), MacDonnell (for Ireland) and Dupont (for France), were appointed on the basis that they would represent “those countries not appointing” their own delegates, as Engels put it.[v] Marx and Engels were thus assured of at least six votes (the seventh corresponding secretary was Cohn, for Denmark, but he did not participate in the conference).[vi]

Bastélica again objected, saying that he had the confidence of the Marseilles branch, and argued that the French refugees in London ought to be able to elect three delegates, as the Council itself had previously decided, rather than Dupont, one of Marx’s supporters, being designated to represent France.[vii] In fact, Dupont was not even the corresponding secretary for France and had let his membership on the General Council lapse.[viii] Robin also argued that the French were entitled to their own delegates. Despite the presence of several French refugees, some of whom were on the General Council, Marx successfully argued that the French were not entitled to any delegates of their own, no more than were “Italy, Germany and America,” ignoring the fact that no one from any of those countries was at the conference, other than the German exiles on the General Council, such as Marx and Engels themselves.[ix]

It is not clear if the Italians were even invited to the conference. In any event, Engels hardly represented their views, as most of them supported Bakunin. As for the U.S., an irrevocable split was already developing there between the German immigrants, loyal to Marx, and the English speaking Americans, such that Eccarius’ ability to represent their views was also highly suspect.[x] None of the General Council members who so generously gave themselves a vote at the conference had any mandate or instructions from any of the national councils, branches or sections and cannot be said to have acted either as their representatives or as their delegates.

Of the six members at large elected by the General Council to act as its own representatives at the conference, only one could be expected to support Bakunin and the Swiss federalists, Bastélica. The rest, with the possible exception of Thomas Mottershead, could be counted on to support Marx (Seraillier, Frankel, Jung and the French Blanquist, Vaillant).[xi] With respect to the issue of making participation in bourgeois politics mandatory policy, Mottershead was clearly a supporter of political action, belonging to several groups committed to working within the English parliamentary system, such as the Labour Representation League and the Land and Labour League.[xii]

The problem with having members of the General Council making important and mandatory policy changes for the International’s members was that, as Hales himself admitted, a majority of them had never been elected by the delegates at a general congress of the International.[xiii] Now here they were determining who would make up 13 of the 22 delegates at the London Conference.

There were six delegates from Belgium, including De Paepe, and one delegate from Spain, Anselmo Lorenzo. De Paepe did not play an effective role at the conference, where he proved “indecisive and easily succumbed to pressure.”[xiv]

Lorenzo was unfamiliar with the conflicts within the International but then witnessed first-hand Marx’s attacks on Bakunin and the Alliance at the conference. There he saw Marx “descending from the pedestal where my admiration and my respect placed him to the most vulgar level. Some of his partisans had fallen to even greater depths by practising adulation, as if they were vile courtiers facing their master.”[xv]

Just before the London Conference, the Spanish Internationalists had held a conference in Valencia at which they declared themselves in favour of “collective property, anarchy and economic federation,” by which they meant “the free universal federation of free agricultural and industrial workers’ associations.”[xvi] According to Lorenzo, the only matter to be discussed at the London Conference that had an authentically working class and emancipatory nature was the “Memoir on Organization” from the Valencia conference that he was to present, but the General Council and the majority of delegates were not interested in dealing with how to constitute a revolutionary force and to give it a form of organization adopting a line of conduct that would accomplish its goals. Instead, they were preoccupied with “the question of command” and of giving the International, this “great union of men,” a “chief.”[xvii]

Even before the conference began, Marx could count on the support of at least 10 of the General Council’s voting members, including himself and Engels, plus Utin and Perret, giving him a majority. At most, Bakunin could count on Bastélica, and as things turned out, he proved no match for Marx. Without anyone to advocate effectively on behalf of Bakunin, the Alliance, Guillaume or the majority Swiss federation, it was difficult for them to garner the support of the seven remaining delegates, the six Belgians and Lorenzo. Even if Bastélica had more effectively defended Bakunin and the Swiss federalists, at most he could have put together a block of about eight votes (himself, Lorenzo and the Belgian delegates), far short of the number needed to prevent the Marxist majority from having their way. Needless to say, the agenda for the conference was prepared by Marx and Engels.[xviii] As Carr comments, “it was clear that the dice had been well and truly loaded.”[xix]

With Marx’s support, the Blanquist, Édouard Vaillant, put forward a resolution on the inseparability of the political and economic struggles. The target of Vaillant’s resolution was the surviving group of French Internationalists who advocated federalism, abstention from participation in bourgeois politics, and opposition to the revolutionary dictatorship advocated by Blanqui. It must be remembered that within the International, as opposed to the Commune, the majority of French Internationalists had been federalists, and the Blanquists were in the minority, the opposite of the situation within the Commune itself, where the Blanquists and Jacobins had constituted the majority. Even more significant is that in his campaign against Bakunin, the Proudhonists and the federalists within the International, Marx allied himself with the authoritarian Blanquists to stamp out these anarchist heresies. Despite his qualified support of the Commune’s challenge to the French state, Marx was neither in favour of free federation within the International nor as a model for a revolutionary government.

Lorenzo and Bastélica opposed Vaillant’s motion on the ground that such a significant policy position could only be adopted after an open debate at a properly convened congress of the International with full representation from the various sections. Furthermore, the Conference was not supposed to deal with matters of principle, but only organizational matters.[xx] Marx brushed aside these criticisms, claiming that the General Council had the power to present “a programme for discussion at the [general] congresses” of the International.[xxi] He supported Utin’s motion that the resolution be given to the General Council “to draw up the final text of the resolution.”[xxii]

This enabled Marx to refine the wording of the resolution, which was then published to the various sections of the International at the beginning of October 1871 as the official policy of the International.[xxiii] The final version of the resolution provided that, against the “collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party;” consequently, the “constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the Social Revolution and its ultimate end—the abolition of classes.”[xxiv]

The Marxist majority effectively overturned the resolution from the Basel Congress that the General Council was “to provide for the alliance of the trade unions of all countries” for the purpose of replacing “the present wage system” with “the free federation of free producers.”[xxv] One of the non-voting delegates at the London Conference, Pierre Louis (or Victor) Delahaye (1838-1897), a member of the Paris Federation and a refugee from the Paris Commune, proposed, in opposition to the resolution directing the formation of working class political parties, that the Basel resolution be implemented, as it ought to have been, by the organization of an international trade union federation, based on “administrative decentralisation,” that would eventually lead to the creation of the “real commune of the future,” based on workers’ self-management.[xxvi]

Marx opposed this resolution by initially denying that any resolution to this effect had been passed at the Basel Congress. After he was corrected, he then dismissed the proposal as “a pious wish” that could never be achieved because trade unions could only represent “an aristocratic minority” of workers, not the vast majority of poor workers and peasants. He therefore argued that trade unions “can do nothing by themselves,” remaining a “minority” without any “power over the mass of proletarians—whereas the International works directly on these men.” The International did not need trade unions “to carry along the workers,” as the International was “the only society to inspire complete confidence in the workers.”[xxvii] Marx’s statements make clear that either he did not read or he chose to ignore the Spanish Internationalists’ “Memoir on Organization,” which showed how revolutionary unions can be organized that are not limited to skilled trades, but can include poor workers and peasants.

Marx’s position clearly foreshadowed that of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, with the “Communist Party” standing in the place of the International, that “only the political party of the working class, i.e., the Communist Party, is capable of uniting, training and organising a vanguard of the proletariat and of the whole mass of the working people.”[xxviii] Marx’s choice of words is very telling: trade unions “have no power over the mass of proletarians,” in contrast to the International, which presumably did. And there was no doubt in Marx’s mind that the General Council was “a governing body, as distinct from its constituents,” not simply an administrative body.[xxix]

Marx and the other delegates understood that endorsement of Delahaye’s proposition would be inconsistent with the resolution mandating political action by the proletariat. Consequently, Delahaye’s proposal was voted down. In its place the majority of delegates passed a resolution inviting the General Council “to assist” trade unions in entering “into relations with the Unions of the same trade in all other countries,” with the General Council acting merely as an “international agent of communication between the national Trades’ Societies.”[xxx] This fell far short of providing “for the alliance of the trade unions of all countries” for the purpose of replacing “the present wage system” with “the free federation of free producers.” Yet again a small group of largely self-appointed “delegates” were changing policies agreed to by the delegates at a general congress who, unlike the delegates at the London Congress, had genuine mandates from their respective councils, branches and sections.

The London Conference also purported to ban secret organizations, sects and “separatist bodies under the name of sections of propaganda,” reaffirmed the alleged power of the General Council “to refuse the admittance of any new group or section,” and threatened to “publicly denounce and disavow all organs of the International” which had the temerity to deal with “questions exclusively reserved for the local or Federal Committees and the General Council.”[xxxi] The targets of these resolutions were not just Bakunin, the Alliance and the French speaking Swiss Internationalists who opposed the reformist Geneva section, but a new section of the International that former members of the Alliance, such as Zhukovsky, and Communard refugees, including Gustave Lefrançais, had tried to form in Geneva in September 1871, the “Section of Revolutionary Propaganda and Action.”[xxxii] The Geneva Alliance had been dissolved in August 1871, so Marx took the opportunity to ensure that neither it nor any similar organization would be able to join the International again, despite the original statutes containing no prohibitions regarding the names that sections of the International could use to identify themselves.[xxxiii]

Marx’s other targets included Robin and the Swiss federalist papers, Solidarité and Progrès. Utin had by now told Marx that it was actually Robin and not Bakunin who had written the (relatively innocuous) articles in L’Égalité in the fall of 1869 that had so infuriated Marx that he had denounced them in his “confidential” communications to the various national councils in 1870, ascribing them to Bakunin.[xxxiv] The London Conference specifically denounced Progrès and Solidarité for publicly discussing issues that the Council claimed should be kept secret (presumably the same sort of issues the discussion of which had earned Marx’s previous condemnation, such as whether federal councils, national branches and their respective sections and members of the International should be required to participate in bourgeois politics).[xxxv]

The federalist majority of the French speaking Swiss Internationalists protested through Robin against the General Council’s recognition of Utin’s minority group as the Romande Federation, and asked that the dispute between the two groups be left for resolution by a full Congress of the International.[xxxvi] Utin personally attacked Guillaume, Bakunin and the Alliance, with the support of Marx and Engels.[xxxvii] Unsurprisingly, the General Council continued to side with Utin’s group. Guillaume’s majority faction would either have to join the Utin group, or reconstitute themselves as a separate section, under the name of the Jura Federation, which is what they ultimately did.[xxxviii] For standing up to the Marxists on behalf of the majority of the French-speaking Swiss Internationalists, Robin was expelled from the General Council soon after the London Conference, with Bastélica then resigning in solidarity.[xxxix]

Utin accused Bakunin of being an “aristocratic pleasure seeker… totally ignorant of Russian affairs,” in the pay of the Russian secret police and responsible not only for writing Nechaev’s notorious Catechism of a Revolutionary, but for Nechaev’s murder of the Russian student, Ivanov.[xl] Marx, who had been collecting this misinformation from Utin since 1870, disingenuously agreed with De Paepe that Bakunin “could not be condemned without hearing his defense,” but then persuaded the General Council to authorize Utin to prepare a full report on the so-called Nechaev affair.[xli] Marx then used Utin’s handiwork as the basis for expelling Bakunin from the International at the Hague Congress in September 1872.

Marx and Engels had published accusations that Bakunin was an agent of the Russian secret police as far back as 1848, and various allies of theirs had attempted to revive these false charges to discredit Bakunin prior to the 1869 Basel Congress, including Wilhelm Liebknecht, who was forced to admit there was no basis to them.[xlii] The charges were then repeated in German language, pro-Marxist, papers in Leipzig and New York in 1870.[xliii] Marx and Engels’ Spanish operatives again “tried to revive the rumour that Bakunin was a police spy” in 1872, around the time of the Hague Congress.[xliv] At the beginning of the Hague Congress in September 1872, the German social democrats actually republished the story from Marx and Engels’ 1848 Neue Rheinische Zeitung that had accused Bakunin of being a Russian agent provocateur.[xlv]

One of the “administrative” measures adopted at the London Conference gave the General Council the power to send its own delegates to attend the meetings of all federal councils, branches and sections.[xlvi] However, the Conference made clear that the federal councils, branches and sections had no right to elect delegates to represent them at meetings of the General Council. The General Council retained the power to determine who could be on the General Council. To allow the councils, branches and sections to choose who represented them on the General Council would be to substitute “the influence of local groups… for that of the whole International,” as if the General Council was somehow more representative of the membership as a whole.[xlvii]

The “Federalist French Section of 1871,” in exile in London, was subsequently denied admission into the International because it had, among other things, included in its statutes a requirement that it be able to send its own delegates to the General Council. As its name implies, the “Federalist Section” was committed to the principles of working class democracy and federalist organization. Its members included surviving members of long standing in the International, such as Camélinat.[xlviii]

Marx also used the London Conference to change the wording of the French version of the International’s Statutes, despite the fact that the original French version of the Statutes had been adopted by the French delegates to the Geneva Congress in 1866.[xlix] He had added to the provision regarding “the economical emancipation of the working classes” being “the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate” the concluding words contained in the English version of the Statutes, “as a means.”[l]

Marx of course had known of the differences in wording between the French and English versions of the Statutes for years, but had never raised the issue at any congress of the International, either the 1867 Lausanne Congress, the 1868 Brussels Congress, or the 1869 Basel Congress. Instead of putting the issue to a democratic vote of the delegates to a general congress, he waited until the London Conference where he had virtually guaranteed himself a majority of the so-called delegates, none of whom had a mandate from the French speaking members of the International to make such a change.

After Marx had the change in the wording of the French statutes confirmed at the September 1872 Hague Congress, Émile Aubry (1829-1900), the moderate Proudhonist from Rouen, pointed out that the original French sections of the International had joined the International on the basis of the version approved at the 1866 Geneva Congress. And yet the French sections were not consulted regarding the change to the statutes upon which their original affiliation to the International had been based.[li]

Robert Graham

[i] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 188-190.

[ii] General Council, 1870-1871: 448; Stekloff: 208.

[iii] General Council, 1870-1871: 269.

[iv] General Council, 1870-1871: 276.

[v] General Council, 1870-1871: 276.

[vi] Katz: 89.

[vii] General Council, 1870-1871: 271 & 275.

[viii] Katz: 89.

[ix] General Council, 1870-1871: 276.

[x] Messer-Kruse: 158-166.

[xi] General Council, 1870-1871: 276.

[xii] Collins and Abramsky: 95 & 165.

[xiii] General Council, 1870-1871: 269-270.

[xiv] Katz: 94.

[xv] Katz: 92.

[xvi] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 199.

[xvii] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 201.

[xviii] General Council, 1870-1871: 268 & 315-316.

[xix] Carr: 442.

[xx] Katz: 90-91.

[xxi] Marx, Vol. 22: 616.

[xxii] Marx, Vol. 22: 618 & 706, fn. 415.

[xxiii] Katz: 94.

[xxiv] Bakunin, 1974: 283, fn. 20.

[xxv] Rocker: 72.

[xxvi] Marx, Vol. 22: 688, fn. 271.

[xxvii] Marx, Vol. 22: 614.

[xxviii] Lenin, in Marx, 1972: 327.

[xxix] General Council, 1870-1871: 270.

[xxx] General Council, 1870-1871: 443.

[xxxi] Leier: 263.

[xxxii] Vincent: 46-47.

[xxxiii] General Council, 1870-1871: 447-448.

[xxxiv] General Council, 1868-1870: 399-407.

[xxxv] General Council, 1870-1871: 449.

[xxxvi] Katz: 91.

[xxxvii] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 195-196 & 201.

[xxxviii] Katz: 92.

[xxxix] Guillaume, Vol. 2: 195-198.

[xl] Katz: 92-93.

[xli] Katz: 93.

[xlii]Guillaume, in Bakunin, 1980: 28 & 38.

[xliii] Bakunin, 1974: 283, fn. 18.

[xliv] Bookchin: 74.

[xlv] Bakunin, 1974: 248.

[xlvi] General Council, 1870-1871: 441.

[xlvii] General Council, 1870-1871: 490-491.

[xlviii] Lehning, 1965: 442-446.

[xlix] General Council, 1870-1871: 463.

[l] General Council, 1870-1871: 451.

[li] Aubry, in Freymond, Vol. 3: 137.

Bakunin’s Speech at the League of Peace and Freedom



The League of Peace and Freedom was created by various European intellectuals, radicals, socialists and reformists in 1867 in order to prevent war in Europe. Some of the founding figures included the English philosopher of liberty and utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill, the future anarchist, Elisée Reclus, and his brother Elie, the French writer and opponent of Napoleon III, Victor Hugo, the Italian revolutionary, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the French socialist, Louis Blanc, the Russian socialist, Alexander Herzen, and Herzen’s old friend, Michael Bakunin. Bakunin thought the League would be a useful place to promote his developing conception of a revolutionary, federalist socialism, as he was firmly convinced that lasting peace could only be created by abolishing the state and national rivalries, and through the creation of an international, federalist socialism. He was disappointed in his hopes, as the League was much too ideologically heterogeneous for any consensus to be reached regarding any political program, much less a revolutionary socialist one. But he was particularly disappointed by the opposition to his ideas that he received from Proudhon’s self-styled followers at the League’s September 1868 Congress, where they accused Bakunin of being a Communist (in a Marxist, not anarchist, sense). On the 150th anniversary of the League’s 1868 Congress, I reproduce excerpts from Bakunin’s second and final address at the Congress (translated by Shawn Wilbur), in which he defends himself against these accusations. At the end of the Congress, Bakunin and his colleagues resigned from the League, with Bakunin then focusing his attention on the International Workingmen’s Association, which he had (re)joined in July 1868.

Bakunin’s Second Address to the 1868 Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom

Gentlemen, I do not want to respond to all the pleasantries that have been hurled at me from the height of this rostrum. I would have too much to do if I wanted to unravel the truth through the mass of confused ideas and contradictory sentiments that have been raised against me. Several orators have employed, in order to combat me, some arguments so far from serious I would well have the right to put their good faith in doubt.–I would not do it, Gentlemen. I have only asked to speak a second time in order to place again on its true terrain a question that some have had an obvious interest in shifting…

Do not believe, Gentlemen, that I recoil before the frank explanation of my socialist ideas. I could ask nothing better than to defend them here. But I do not think that the regulatory fifteen minutes would suffice for this debate. However there is one point, one accusation hurled against me that I cannot leave without a response.

Because I demand the economic and social equalization of classes and individuals, because with the Congress of laborers at Brussels [the International], I have declared myself a partisan of collective property, I have been reproached for being a communist. What difference, they have said to me, do you intend between communism and collectivity? I am astonished, truly, that Mr. Chaudey does not understand that difference, he, the testamentary executor of Proudhon! I detest communism, because it is the negation of liberty and because I can conceive nothing human without liberty. I am not a communist because communism concentrates and causes all the power of society to be concentrated in the State, because it leads necessarily to the centralization of property in the hands of the State, while I want the abolition of the State,—the radical extirpation of that principle of authority and of the guardianship of the State, which under the pretext of moralizing and civilizing men, have thus far enslaved, oppressed, exploited and depraved them, I want the organization of society and of collective or social property from bottom to top, by the way of free association, and not from top to bottom by means of any sort of authority. Wishing the abolition of the State, I want the abolition of individually hereditary property, which is only an institution of the State, nothing but a consequence of the very principle of the State. That is the sense in which, Gentlemen, I am collectivist and not at all communist.

I have asked, I ask for the economic and social equalization of classes and individuals. I want to say what I mean by these words.

I want the suppression of classes as much in economic and social relations as political. Let Mr. Chaudey and Mr. Fribourg, who seem today to be united by the same feeling of aversion for that poor equality, allow me to say to them that equality, proclaimed in 1793, has been one of the greatest conquests of the French Revolution. Despite all the reactions which have arrived since, that great principle has triumphed in the political economy of Europe. In the most advanced countries, it is called the equality of politic rights; in the other countries, civil equality—equality before the law. No country in Europe would dare to openly proclaim today the principle of political inequality.

But the history of the revolution itself and that of the seventy-five years that have passed since, we prove that political equality without economic equality is a lie. You would proclaim in vain the equality of political rights, as long as society remains split by its economic organization into socially different layers—that equality will be nothing but a fiction. For it to become a reality, the economic causes of that class difference would have to disappear—it would require the abolition of the right of inheritance, which is the permanent source of all social inequalities. It would be necessary that society, no longer being divided into different classes, presents a homogeneous whole—an organization created by liberty according to justice, and in which there would no longer be the shadow of that fatal separation of men into two principal classes: that which is called the intelligent class and the class of workers;—the one representing domination and the right of command, and the other eternal submission. All men must be at the same time intelligent and hard-working, so that no one can live any longer on the labor of another and that all can and must also live as much from the labor of their heads as from that of their arms. Then, Gentlemen, but only then, equality and political liberty will become a truth.

Here then is what we understand by these words: “the equalization of the classes.” It would perhaps have been better to say suppression of classes, the unification of society by the abolition of economic and social inequality. But we have also demanded the equalization of individuals, and it is there especially that we attract all the thunderbolts of outraged eloquence from our adversaries. One has made use of that part of our proposition to prove in a conclusive manner that we are nothing but communists. And in order to prove the absurdity of our system, one has had recourse to arguments as witty as new. One orator, doubtless carried away by the energy of his indignation, has even wanted to compare his stature to mine.

Allow me, Gentlemen, to pose this question in a more serious manner. Do I need to tell you that it is not a question at first of the natural, physiological, ethnographic difference that exists between individuals, but of the social difference, that is produced by the economic organization of society? Give to all the children, from their birth, the same means of maintenance, education, and instruction; give then to all the men thus raised the same social milieu, the same means of earning their living by their own labor, and you will see then that many of these differences, that we believe to be natural differences, will disappear because they are nothing but the effect of an unequal division of the conditions of intellectual and physical development—of the conditions of life

Man, Gentlemen, like everything that lives and breathes in the world, is not a creation of his own will, good or bad, for that same will, as well as his intelligence, is nothing but products—a result created by the cooperation of many natural and social causes. Correct nature by society, equalize as much as possible the conditions of development and labor for all, and you would have destroyed much nonsense, many crimes, many evils. When all have received roughly the same education and the same instruction, when all will be obliged by the very of things to associate in order to work and to work in order to live; when labor, recognized as the true foundation of all social organization, will become the object of public respect, the men of ill will, the parasites, and the fools diminish noticeably and will end by being considered and treated as sick. It is not just me, monsieur Chaudey, it is your master Proudhon who has said it.

Finally, Gentlemen, I repeat it once more: it is not a question at this moment of debating the very basis of the social question, we must only decided if we want equality, yes or no? That is what I had to point out to you.

Michael Bakunin, September 23, 1868

Johann Most: Ready for Freedom Now

Johann Most

Johann Most (1846-1906) was one of the most notorious anarchists in the latter part of the 19th century. He began his political career as a Social Democrat, elected to the German parliament, the Reichstag. He was imprisoned many times for his attacks on religion, property and the state. By the late 1870s, he was forced into exile in England, where he continued to advocate for revolutionary socialism. He soon became an anarchist, advocating anarchist collectivism. It was only much later that Most adopted an anarchist communist position. He was imprisoned in England for celebrating in his paper, Freiheit, the assassination of Czar Alexander II in Russia, after which he went to the United States, where he continued to publish Freiheit, and was again imprisoned for his inflammatory writings. He helped organize the International Working Peoples’ Association in 1883, a North American successor to the European based International Workingmen’s Association. The IWPA adopted essentially an anarcho-syndicalist program. In this piece from 1884, Most takes on his former fellow social democrats, criticizing them for claiming that the people were not ready for revolution. I included the Pittsburgh Proclamation in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Anti-Most cartoon from Harper’s Weekly (1886)

When Is The People “Ready” For Freedom?

“Not yet, by a long chalk!” is what the world’s blackguards have been answering since time immemorial. Today, things are not so much better as worse in this regard, since we have people agreeing with this sentiment who otherwise behave as if they were working for the highest possible human happiness.

It is easy to understand some crown prince or other declaring that the people are not “ready” for freedom; after all, if he were to say the opposite, he would be showing just how superfluous he is and signing his own death warrant.

In the same way, unless he is going to deny his own right to exist, no aristocrat, bureaucrat, lawyer or other mandarin of the government or the “law” can concede that the people might be “ready”. True, we know from the proverb that the world is ruled with unbelievably little wisdom; but however stupid these state layabouts may be, they still have enough gumption to realize that a people fit for freedom will soon cease to put up with their slavery.

All the clerical and literary preachers who’s existence, indeed, entirely depends on being the guardians of the people, and who therefore exert themselves to the utmost to try and befuddle the human brain with their twaddle about the Bible and the Talmud, their newspaper humbug and theatrical garbage, their sophistry and trashy novels, their falsifications of history and their philosophical rubbish — in short, with hundreds of different sorts of hogwash — they will always be trotting out something about the “immaturity” of the people.

The swells and other fat-faced philistines who, though one can read their stupidity on their faces, feel, in their positions as exploiting parasites and state-protected robbers, as happy in this stage of unfreedom as pigs in muck, naturally rub their hands in glee and nod well-contented approval when their mouthpieces, declaiming from their pulpits, lecterns, desks, and podiums, seek to prove to the people that it is not ready for freedom and that therefore it must be plundered, pillaged, and fleeced.

The average man in the street has something of the ape or parrot about him. This explains why it is that hundreds of thousands go round cutting their own throats by squawking to others what those cunning mind-warpers have proclaimed. We are too stupid for freedom — alas, how stupid, stupid, stupid we are!

This is all perfectly comprehensible. What, however, is not comprehensible is that people who make themselves out to be advocates of the proletariat likewise hawk round this hoary old legend about the people’s “unreadiness” and the resulting temporary impossibility of allowing it to take possession of its freedom.

Is this just ignorance or a deliberate crime?

Let these people speak for themselves; they show clearly and distinctly enough in both their speeches and writings that:

(1) the consequences of modern society will in themselves bring about its destruction.

(2) one of the most terrible consequences of the system we have today is the gradually increasing deterioration of large sectors of the population, their physical enervation and spiritual demoralization.

(3) today’s state of enslavement must be succeeded by a state of freedom.

In other words, what they are saying is this: in the first case, the society we have now is heading for inevitable collapse; in the second case, the people grow steadily more and more wretched (i.e. less and less “ready” for freedom) the longer the present set-up exists.

Hence, when such philosophers, despite such statements, exclaim in moving tones that the people are not yet “ripe” for freedom, they cannot do other than concede, in conformity with their own doctrine, that this “readiness” will be even more lacking later on.

Is it, then, that these people are incapable of following the train of their own thought from established fact to resulting conclusion? If this were the case, they would indeed be dunderheads and, at the very least, not sufficiently “mature” to set themselves up as educators of the people. Or is their crippled logic perfectly clear to them, and are they — in order to play the whore with the people — making it dance around on the crutches of purpose? If this were the case, they would be criminal blackguards.

Wait! — someone cries in defense of these people — we have found a way of counteracting the degenerating effects of capitalism and making the people ready for freedom despite everything. We enlighten. All well and good! But who has told you that the speed at which things are evolving will leave you enough time to carry out your so-called enlightenment in a systematic way? You yourselves do not believe in that kind of magic.

But what do you want?

We provoke; we stoke the fire of revolution and incite people to revolt in any way we can. The people have always been “ready” for freedom; they have simply lacked the courage to claim it for themselves.

We are convinced that necessity is, and will remain, the overriding factor in the struggle for freedom and that therefore hundreds of thousands of men and women will in time appear on the scene as fighters for freedom without ever having heard our call to arms; and we are content, as it were, to construct — by training those who we are able to reach now — sluices which may well prove apt to direct the natural lava-flow of social revolution into practical channels.

As in every previous great social cataclysm, the “readiness” of the people will reveal itself in all its majesty at the moment of conflict — not before, nor after.

And then, too, as always, it will become apparent that it is not the theorists and “enlightened” pussy-footers who will provide the reeling society with a new solid foundation, but those miraculous forces when they are needed. Practical children of nature who, until that point, have lived quiet and modest existences, reach out suddenly to take steps of which no philosopher in the whole wide world could ever have dreamed in a hundred years. The readiness for freedom is then customarily documented in the most astonishing fashion.

It is, therefore, a piece of monstrous idiocy on the part of any socialist to maintain that the people are not “ready” for freedom.

Everyone who does not number among the exploiters complains that others are more privileged than he. Far and wide, it is clear that the people are dissatisfied with their lot. And if it does not know yet what to replace the present set-up with, it will discover it at the moment when something practical can be done in this regard; which is — immediately.

Johann Most

Freiheit, November 15, 1884

Karl Marx RIP

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

We have already had the 200th anniversaries of the births of two of the founding figures of modern anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (2009) and Michael Bakunin (2014). Now has come the turn of their younger and more famous contemporary, Karl Marx. Even some of the mainstream media have published articles on Marx’s revolutionary ideas, how prophetic his writings were, and how relevant his politics continue to be. Over the years, I have posted various anarchist critiques of Marx and Marxism, and will continue to do so. The first anarchist to criticize Marx’s approach was Proudhon himself, in a letter that he wrote to Marx in 1846, the year before Marx wrote his scathing (and unfair) critique of Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy. Proudhon sensed even then Marx’s tendency toward intellectual intolerance of conceptions of socialism contrary to his own, an intolerance that came to the fore in the International Workingmen’s Association, where Marx did everything he could to neutralize Proudhon’s followers, and the more explicitly revolutionary federalists and anti-authoritarians associated with Bakunin, engineering the expulsion of Bakunin and his comrade, James Guillaume, from the International in 1872 (something which I cover in more detail in my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’ – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement).

Proudhon (1809-1865)

Proudhon’s Letter to Marx

My dear Monsieur Marx,

I gladly agree to become one of the recipients of your correspondence, whose aims and organization seem to me most useful. Yet I cannot promise to write often or at great length: my varied occupations, combined with a natural idleness, do not favour such epistolary efforts. I must also take the liberty of making certain qualifications which are suggested by various passages of your letter.

First, although my ideas in the matter of organization and realization are at this moment more or less settled, at least as regards principles, I believe it is my duty, as it is the duty of all socialists, to maintain for some time yet the critical or dubitive form; in short, I make profession in public of an almost absolute economic anti-dogmatism.

Let us seek together, if you wish, the laws of society, the manner in which these laws are realized, the process by which we shall succeed in discovering them; but, for God’s sake, after having demolished all the a priori dogmatisms, do not let us in our turn dream of indoctrinating the people; do not let us fall into the contradiction of your compatriot Martin Luther, who, having overthrown Catholic theology, at once set about, with excommunication and anathema, the foundation of a Protestant theology. For the last three centuries Germany has been mainly occupied in undoing Luther’s shoddy work; do not let us leave humanity with a similar mess to clear up as a result of our efforts. I applaud with all my heart your thought of bringing all opinions to light; let us carry on a good and loyal polemic; let us give the world an example of learned and far-sighted tolerance, but let us not, merely because we are at the head of a movement, make ourselves the leaders of a new intolerance, let us not pose as the apostles of a new religion, even if it be the religion of logic, the religion of reason. Let us gather together and encourage all protests, let us brand all exclusiveness, all mysticism; let us never regard a question as exhausted, and when we have used our last argument, let us begin again, if need be, with eloquence and irony. On that condition, I will gladly enter your association. Otherwise — no!

I have also some observations to make on this phrase of your letter: at the moment of action. Perhaps you still retain the opinion that no reform is at present possible without a coup de main, without what was formerly called a revolution and is really nothing but a shock. That opinion, which I understand, which I excuse, and would willingly discuss, having myself shared it for a long time, my most recent studies have made me abandon completely. I believe we have no need of it in order to succeed; and that consequently we should not put forward revolutionary action as a means of social reform, because that pretended means would simply be an appeal to force, to arbitrariness, in brief, a contradiction. I myself put the problem in this way: to bring about the return to society, by an economic combination, of the wealth which was withdrawn from society by another economic combination. In other words, through Political Economy to turn the theory of Property against Property in such a way as to engender what you German socialists call community and what I will limit myself for the moment to calling liberty or equality. But I believe that I know the means of solving this problem with only a short delay; I would therefore prefer to burn Property by a slow fire, rather than give it new strength by making a St Bartholomew’s night of the proprietors …

Your very devoted,

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

May 17, 1846

Ambrose Cuddon and the Origins of English Anarchism

In my book on the International Workingmen’s Association and the origins of the anarchist movement, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It,’ Ambrose Caston Cuddon (1790 – 1879) made a very brief appearance. He was part of the group of English workers who welcomed Bakunin back to Europe after his escape from Siberia, and he spoke at the 1862 London meeting between English and French workers that led to the founding of the International. I was therefore very happy to see that the latest issue of the Kate Sharpley Library Bulletin included a link to this article by Christoper Draper, where he provides much more biographical detail, demonstrating that Cuddon was likely the first working class anarchist activist in England.

Political Development

[The anarchist historian Max] Nettlau claimed, “the first Anarchist propagandist pamphlet published in England” appeared in October 1853 and accurately identified its anonymous author as Ambrose Caston Cuddon. Produced under the auspices of the “London Confederation of Rational Reformers”, founded two months earlier by Cuddon, and regarded by Nettlau as, “perhaps the first English Anarchist group”.

By then Cuddon had spent over a decade agitating within and without various radical movements before arriving at an anarchist platform. Two prominent threads in his development through the 1830’s and 1840’s were Owenite Socialism and Chartism. Cuddon’s involvement with the former peaked with his 1841 appointment to Secretaryship of the HCS [Robert Owen’s “Home Colonisation Society] whose programme he formally advocated in a leaflet published that year; “A sound education and permanent beneficial employment cannot be given under the present competitive arrangements of society; and the best mode of securing these benefits to the population will be by the establishment of SELF-SUPPORTING HOME COLONIES”. However throughout the forties the HCS grew more centralised, less democratic and ever more dominated by Owen himself. Cuddon correspondingly developed an increasingly radical perception of relations between legislators, capital, labour and freedom.

Keen to promote open discussion of social and radical issues, in 1846 Cuddon was amongst a mixed group of artisans and intellectuals that established London’s Whittington Club. Cuddon escaped the State’s repressive measures of 1848 but supported those less fortunate. In July 1851 Ambrose addressed a large protest meeting at the Dog & Duck Tavern, Soho called to establish a subscription fund to support and defend imprisoned and transported “victims of the spy system of the Whig government”.

Cuddon enthusiastically organised radical groups and meetings described by the press as an, “Attempted Revival of Chartism”. Voted into the chair at an influential gathering at the British Institution in November 1851, to loud cheers Ambrose “attributed all poverty and wretchedness in this country to bad government”. A few months later, at a March 1852 Soho meeting he was again voted into the chair and assured his audience that, “It was morally impossible they (Parliamentarians) would ever legislate for the benefit of the people. It was of far more importance that they should study the proper position and relative connexion of capital and labour than the speeches of ministers” (Northern Star, 6.3.1852).

The Prophet Josiah

 By 1853 Ambrose Cuddon was convinced workers must dispense with all government to secure freedom, equity and justice. Between March 1852 and March 1853 Cuddon had corresponded with Josiah Warren who’d exorcised Cuddon’s last vestiges of O’Brienite faith in land nationalisation with a letter explaining, “Of course with us there can be no such thing as a nation or state. There should only be the family of mankind – each individual managing his own affairs supremely and absolutely, but equitably, with his fellow man. The ownership of the soil for the sake of order and harmony, for the sake of disposing with legislation, must be absolute in the individual, guaranteed by a public sense of justice, the purchases and sales of it being conducted upon the cost principle, which renumerates only the labor in the transaction”.

This “labor cost principle” was a fundamental building block of Warren’s mutualist anarchism demonstrated in the practical success of his “Time Store” where goods were priced solely in terms of the amount of worker-time that went into producing them. Josiah was ideally placed to lead Ambrose from the failed dreams of Owenism, avoiding the rocks of O’Brienite nationalisation onto the sunlit uplands of practical, demonstrable anarchism. Warren was himself a former disciple of Robert Owen who’d learnt from his mistakes. As a member of Owen’s 1825-7 New Harmony experiment in communalism Warren had realised the venture failed because of Owen’s fixation on community at the cost of individual needs. He concluded that the suppression of the individual exacerbated rather than removed social conflict and he’d resolved to come up with a scheme that better balanced individual and communal needs.

From NRL to LCRR

Inspired and emboldened by Warren’s ideas and practical demonstrations in August 1853 Ambrose Caston Cuddon led a small group of libertarian minded “private individuals of the middle and working classes” out of Bronterre O’Brien’s National Reform League to form the London Confederation of Rational Reformers (LCRR). Cuddon and A M Dickey served as Joint Secretaries and the group’s libertarian philosophy was contained in a four page “outline of principles” and explained in a detailed tract, “A Contribution Towards the Elucidation of the Science of Society”, both published before the year end. It is the latter document that Nettlau identifies as, “the first Anarchist propaganda pamphlet published in England” and recognises as CUDDON’s handiwork. Labelled “fundamentally individualist” by Peter Ryley this LCRR statement evidences its Warrenite influence, “Liberty– the sovereignty of the individual – is the highest good of life, for which no artificial substitute, however ingeniously disguised, can ever be made an adequate compensation”.

Class Conscious Individualism

 Cuddon’s essentially anarchist LCRR vision didn’t prompt him to embrace Utopianism but to support advanced alternatives alongside short term labour struggles. At a January 1854 “Trades Conference” organised to discuss “Strikes and Lockouts” and supposedly open to all, “Mr Cuddon of Camden Town, was of the opinion that combinations were objectionable, though necessary; and they were necessary because they were produced by a false and unjust system – the present competition system of trade” but the gathering refused to debate fundamental flaws in the existing system merely the “indiscipline” of labour for it was a “packed” gathering chaired by Lord Robert Grosvenor. As the meeting concluded, Cuddon’s joint LCRR Secretary, “Mr Dickey handed in a protest, amidst laughter and loud cries of NO from the meeting generally; which the Chairman declined to receive”.

The LCRR responded with an open letter published in the press alongside the original 3-part protest. It’s essential reading as it evidences the class conscious dimension of Cuddon’s anarchism. The LCRR protest –

“1. Because the working classes seem not to be really represented at this meeting, whilst it is composed of the representatives of the master and capitalist classes, several of the speakers being members of Parliament, barristers and others, who to my own knowledge do not possess the confidence of the people who are directly inimical to their rights and interests.

2. Because the questions are cunningly deprived of all point – are a delusion; and whether carried one way or the other are equally useless or adverse to the cause of the suffering people.

3. Because it seems to me to be a suicidal act for any honest delegate to allow himself to be entrapped into a decision that hereafter may be used to prejudice the rights and interests of the working classes.”

Cuddon’s “sovereignty of the individual” should be read as a primary, essential ingredient of an equitable, egalitarian anarchist society NOT a macho assertion of rampant capitalist individualism with the Devil left to take the hindmost. He aimed to revolutionise society not simply stimulate individual or communal experiments and proposed revolutionary ideas in every available forum. In July 1855 Cuddon assured a gathering at London’s Freemasons’ Tavern, “it was an absurdity to talk of ever remedying the existing evils by mere administrative reform…he had no confidence in the mercantile and monied (sic) classes, who were a new aristocracy more tyrannical than the older one”.

Modern Times

 Josiah Warren recognised Cuddon as a fellow spirit and invited him to America. In 1857 Ambrose visited Warren at “Modern Times” and was much impressed by the whole enterprise. From Long Island CUDDON wrote, “They (the principles) are comprehensive and of universal application. They cover the whole ground of social economy, extending into all the ramifications of life…they introduce real science with all its requirements into a branch of knowledge generally abandoned to speculative reasoning or unsuspecting credulity.”

 The Inherent Evils of Government

 In the autumn of 1858 Cuddon composed an “Appendix” for Edmund Burke’s, “A Vindication of Natural Society” (1750) which was then republished as “The Inherent Evils of All State Governments demonstrated”. The cover carried Burke’s bold proclamation, “In vain you tell me that artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with its abuse: the thing itself is the abuse!” Cuddon’s appendix opens, “Although Burke, in the preceding Essay has proved that he was fully convinced of the evil consequences of political institutions (or state-craft) upon the happiness of a people, he has not suggested any mode by which such institutions could be abrogated, and Natural Society established. We will endeavour to show how this deficiency could be supplied…” and over the next 18 pages, Ambrose proceeded to do just that.

A Workers’ International

 Aged 71, in February 1861 Cuddon launched a new monthly journal, The Cosmopolitan Review – a Political, Social, Philosophical and Literary Magazine which a century later inspired the title of Albert Meltzer’s magazine. Cuddon’s paper was a forum for discussion of the most advanced ideas of the age. Although generally positively received it didn’t gain universal Cuddonlamation with the South London Chronicle complaining, “The worst article in our opinion is Radical Reform – What is It? by Henry H Wiltshire, whom we should suppose to be an ambitious youth, who just thinks he can write. The article reads like a speech and is diffuse enough to suit the most childish intellect…”

Nevertheless, as James Martin observes, “Cuddon continued to head up the literary front in the London area, publishing articles with a strong anarchist flavour in the Cosmopolitan Review and the Working Man throughout most of 1861-2.” In January 1862 Ambrose chaired a committee welcoming Michael Bakunin to London, following his escape from Siberia, at a reception organised by Alexander Herzen.

In October Cuddon led a welcoming committee of English workers in hosting a reception at Freemasons Hall for a group of about seventy French workers who’d come to London to attend the World’s Fair. A prominent member of the French delegation who’d taken part in the 1848 revolution was [Henri] Tolain who although not actually an anarchist was much influenced by the ideas of Proudhon and actively involved in a variety of working-class mutual aid societies. Cuddon addressed the gathering which, for the first time, proposed the idea of forming an International Workingmen’s Association.

The following year, Josiah Warren published, True Civilization – Being the result and conclusions of thirty-nine years laboring in the study and experiments in civilization as it is and in different enterprises for reconstruction. In the concluding section Warren invited reader’s opinions on his findings, directing correspondents to either himself or, “A C Cuddon, No. 7 Arthur’s Grove, Kentish Town, London, England”.

The True Order and Science of Society

At the end of the decade Cuddon supported the revived Republican movement, contributing both correspondence and money to The Republican newspaper, despite his own increasingly straightened circumstances. Cuddon had by then worked up his political programme into a series of twelve lectures which in 1871 he advertised as, Ready for Publication – A Familiar Treatise on the True Order and Science of Society but sadly, as he subsequently confided to Josiah Warren, “I could not afford to publish” but Ambrose assured Josiah that although he was then 82 he was enjoying life as much as ever. The following year (1874) Cuddon met and impressed Warren’s young protégé, Benjamin Tucker, during his visit to Europe.

Cuddon never did manage to get his comprehensive lecture series published although an undated (c1875?) six page section entitled, What is Education? was by some curious circumstance published and printed in Dunedin, New Zealand by “Mills, Dick & Co”. This pamphlet reveals an anarchism couched, in part, in uncomfortably Catholic language that nonetheless combines a searingly Godwinian indictment of conventional “education” with Marxist materialist analysis; “this dictatorial teaching is not education; at best, it is but instruction, putting into the mind erroneous notions or crochets which interested men or parties of men in assumed and unjust authority may wish toprevail for their own party purposes and views, that they may live in ease and affluence out of the labor of the industrious millions without themselves labouring at all.”

Cuddon’s alternative implicitly looked back to Rousseau and Godwin and forward to Kropotkin and Tolstoy. Ambrose claims real education supports the natural intellectual development of every human being for, “The kingdom of God is within you”. The learner is the subject not the object of real education, not a cistern to be filled, instead, “opening up its own fountain, to draw out from its own resources the immortal spirit that is there – to develop our consciousness and bring into action the intellectual conceptions, the instincts and intuitions of our inward selves, the pure and unperverted tastes, inclinations, propensities and powers of human nature”.

The Roots of English Anarchy

Having outlived two wives, Ambrose Caston Cuddon died at home, 5 Leigh Terrace, Chaucer Road, Acton, West London on 15th April 1879, aged 89. His estate, valued at “less than £200”, was administered by his married daughter Jemima Remington who’d cared for him at home in his final years. Of Ambrose’s other three children, Anna Maria Dugdale had emigrated to America where CUDDON visited her during his trip to meet Josiah Warren. Anna’s son was the pioneering American sociologist, Richard Louis Dugdale (1837-83).

One of Ambrose’s two sons, John (1821-1875) was a devout Catholic who lived in a Belgian monastery, whilst the other, Ambrose junior, died in 1887 in Islington Workhouse. When Henry Seymour boosted England’s embryonic movement in 1885 with publication of The Anarchist he didn’t acknowledge his debt to Cuddon but if you examine the back page of issue two, alongside adverts for Proudhon’s “What is Property?” and Bakunin’s “God and the State” is another for “The Inherent Evils of All State Governments Demonstrated” which is Burke’s “A Vindication of Natural Society” supplemented by Cuddon’s anonymous 18-page appendix. This booklet was advertised and distributed as part of Seymour’s “The Revolutionary Library” for years. On the paper’s demise, further reprints, sales and distribution were taken over and continued by Freedom until well into the twentieth century.

English anarchism has too often been treated as a virgin birth precipitated by the arrival of European anarchists in the 1880’s. Ambrose Caston Cuddon didn’t have the revolutionary dynamism of Johann Most or the charisma and scholarship of Kropotkin but his many decades of political activism conveyed elements of Owenism, Socialism, Chartism, Republicanism along with Warrenite anarchism into an emergent English movement. Nettlau’s identification of Ambrose Caston Cuddon as the First English Anarchist, seems fairly established but there’s far more to be done to unearth and untangle other personal, practical and ideological roots of English anarchism. Nettlau’s pioneering 1905 paper kicked off the process and I trust this modest article might prompt more comrades to get the shovel out of the shed and dig down into early English anarchist history.

Christopher Draper (January 2018)

The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future (1869)

César De Paepe

In 1868, at the Brussels Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association (the “International”), César De Paepe, on behalf of the Belgian section, put forward the idea that the workers’ “societies of resistance,” or trade union organizations, constituted the “embryo” of the future socialist society based on workers’ self-management.  This idea was to have enormous influence in the International, and led to the development of what would now be described as anarcho-syndicalism. In February 1869, the Belgian section published a pamphlet by De Paepe, “The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future,” which developed this idea in more detail, this time focusing on the International’s constitutive workers’ organizations as the building blocks for the society of the future. De Paepe’s pamphlet was reprinted in various Internationalist papers, and translated into Spanish by the Spanish Federation. Similar ideas were expressed and adopted by the French Internationalists, with Eugène Varlin writing that trade union organizations “form the natural elements of the social edifice of the future.” Bakunin agreed with this approach, arguing that the trade union sections “bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old world.” Marx and Engels derided this approach, claiming it would introduce “anarchy,” in the pejorative sense, into the ranks of the workers, rendering them incapable of combatting the counter-revolution (for the details, see my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It” – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement).

It is with great pleasure then that I present Shawn Wilbur’s translation of De Paepe’s pamphlet. It is a welcome antidote to Marcello Musto’s anthology, Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later, from which De Paepe’s pamphlet is notably absent (for an excellent critique of Musto’s book, see Iain McKay’s review essay). Contrary to Musto’s general analysis, De Paepe’s pamphlet illustrates the degree to which Proudhon’s mutualist ideas continued to play an influential role within the debates in the International, despite the declining influence within the International of his more conservative adherents, such as Henri Tolain. De Paepe argues first and foremost for a federalist form of organization, in which higher level committees simply do the bidding of the sections’ members. Whereas Marx supported the General Council of the International having executive powers over the sections, and consistently opposed attempts to comprise the Council as a Council of delegates, subject to imperative mandates and recall, De Paepe, consistent with Proudhon’s federalist ideas, advocates that the General Council should be only an administrative, not a governing, body. De Paepe, as with Proudhon, also supports the creation of a variety of self-managed workers’ organizations separate and apart from existing political institutions, not simply trade unions and societies of resistance, but also mutual aid societies, worker and consumer cooperatives, and worker controlled integral education. It is these workers’ organizations that are to provide the basis for the future socialist society based on worker self-management.

With respect to socialism itself, De Paepe advocates a form of socialism based on Proudhon’s, not Marx’s, conception of socialism. It is a form of socialism based on the exchange between the workers themselves, without any capitalist intermediaries to exploit them, of products and services of equivalent value, with credit being available at “cost-price,” coordinated through a Bank of Exchange. Marx’s derided this form of socialism (exchange without exploitation) in his unfair critique of Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy (see Iain McKay’s essay, “Proudhon’s Constituted Value and the Myth of Labour Notes”). Finally, De Paepe envisages the gradual hollowing out of existing institutions by the workers’ organizations, resulting in the collapse of those institutions “with a sigh,” without the need for a violent revolution, which is also what Proudhon advocated.

The Present Institutions of the International in Relation to the Future

The International Workingmen’s Association bears social regeneration within itself.

There are many who agree that if the Association should realize its program, it will have effectively established the reign of justice, but who believe that certain present institutions of the International are only temporary and are destined to disappear. We want to show that the International already offers the model of the society to come and that its various institutions, with the required modifications, will form the future social order.

So let us examine the structures in which the association currently presents itself, taking its most complete examples, for a great number of sections have still not arrived at a perfect organization.

The section is the model of the commune. There the workers of all trades are gathered without distinction. There we must address the affairs that concern all the workers, whatever their profession.

At the head of the section is an Administrative Committee, which is charged with carrying out the measures decreed by the section. Instead of commanding, like the present administrations, it obeys the citizens.

The Federal Council is composed of the delegates of different worker groups; to it [are assigned] questions of relations between the different trades and of the organization of labor. This is a gap in our present governments, which only represent a confused rabble of individuals instead of representing groups united by interests.

The different societies gathered in the Federal Council are societies of resistance. These societies also belong as much to the future as to the present. Gathering around them the workers of a single trade, teaching them their interests, to calculate the sale price and cost price in order to base their expectations on it, the society of resistance is destined to organize labor in the future, much more than the society of production, which, in the present state, can hardly be expanded. Nothing will be more easy, when the moment comes, than to transform the societies of resistance into cooperative workshops, when the workers have agreed to demand the liquidation of the present society, which bankrupts them perpetually.

The cooperative consumer societies, which are established in the majority of sections, are destined one day to replace the present commerce, full of frauds and pitfalls; they will transform themselves into communal bazaars, where the different products will be displayed with exact indication of the consignments, without any other surcharge but the payment of the costs.

The mutual assistance and provident funds, will take on a wider expansion and become societies of universal insurance. Sickness, disability, old age, widowhood and all these present sources of poverty will be swept away. No more charity office, public assistance dishonored; no more hospitals where one is admitted on charity. All the care that one will receive will have been paid for; there will no longer be doctors for the poor.

Ignorance, that other source of poverty, will disappear in the face of the education given by each section. It is not a question of that training that even our doctrinaires demand in loud cries. We want to make men, and one is only a complete man when one is a laborer and scholar at the same time; and have not all the workers gathered at the Congress of Brussels last September demanded integral education that includes science apprenticeship in the trades. That instruction being presently impossible, as a result of material impediments, the sections compensate as best they can, by organizing meetings and conferences, by founding newspapers, where the workers are taught the rights of man, where they are taught to claim them, where finally we assemble the materials for the edifice of the future society.

The problem of the organization of justice is already resolved within the International. The defense funds will accomplish that aim. They have their current relevance, in the sense that having examined the case, the Defense Committee decides if the affair will be upheld in justice, when a worker has to complain of an injustice committed by their boss. But that institution also looks toward the future, in that it decides contestations between members by means of a jury chosen by election and rapidly renewable. In the future, no more quibblers, judges, prosecutors or attorneys. The same rights for all and justice based, no longer on some more or less muddled text, about which we quarrel, but on reason and rectitude.

The different sections are connected in their turn by federation, by basins, then by country. These federations include not only a grouping by sections, but also by trades, as that exists in the communes. So the relations between the different groups will be facilitated and labor can be organized, not only within the communes, but within the entire country.

Vast institutions of credit will be like the veins and arteries of that organization. Credit will no longer be what it is today, an instrument of death, for it will be based on equal exchange: it will be credit at cost-price.

If the International has not yet been able, in its present state, to establish an institution of this sort, at least it has already discussed its principles and statutes at the Congresses of Lausanne and Brussels. At that latest Congress, a plan for a bank of exchange has been presented by the Brussels section.

Finally, the relations between the different countries are dealt with by an international General Council. Such will be the future diplomacy: no more embassy attachés, no more smartly dressed diplomatic secretaries, no more diplomats, protocols or wars.

A central office of correspondence, information and statistics would be all that is necessary to connect the nations united by a fraternal bond.

We now believe that we have shown that the International contains within itself the seeds of all the institutions of the future. Let a section of the International be established in each commune; the new society will be formed and the old will collapse with a sigh. Thus, when a wound heals, we see a sore form above while the flesh slowly settles itself below. One fine day, the scab falls off, and the flesh appears fresh and ruddy.

César De Paepe

February 1869

Remembering Nathalie Lemel – Revolutionary Communard

Nathalie Lemel

Nathalie Lemel (1827-1921), friend of Eugène Varlin and Louise Michel, was one of the most prominent anti-authoritarian activists in France during the 1860s. She worked tirelessly with Varlin, organizing workers’ resistance societies, strikes, and workers’ co-ops, such as La Marmite, a restaurant for the working poor. She played an active role during the Paris Commune, working in the Association of Women for the Defence of Paris and Aid to the Wounded, and helping to write their manifestos, giving the group’s material a noticeably anarchist tinge. Here I reproduce Shawn Wilbur’s translation of an article from 1921, written by Lucien Descaves (1861-1949), a French novelist, soon after Lemel’s death, which provides some biographical details regarding this extraordinary woman’s revolutionary life. I discuss Lemel’s role in the beginnings of the French anarchist movement in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’ – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

A Friend of Varlin

Last week there died, at the hospice of Ivry, at 95 years of age, an old revolutionary that I have known well and to whom I owe one of my greatest joys as a man of letters.

One day when I was questioning Martelet, the former member of the Commune, about his colleague [Eugène] Varlin, the finest figure of a worker from those heroic times, Martelet said to me: “You have, practically next door, a woman who fought the good fight beside him in the last years of the Empire. She has preserved his memory. It is Nathalie Le Mel, who was deported, in 1871, with Louise Michel, Rochefort and do many others! Do you want to meet her?”

Did I want to!

So one morning in April, Martelet led me to the home of the citoyenne Le Mel. She lived in the Rue des Gobelins, on the ground floor of a squalid house, a dark and damp room, of a single story with a small paved courtyard, where flourished, miraculously, a thin lilac. The room was only furnished with a bed, two chairs and a sticky table, on which remained in place an alcohol lamp, a bottle of milk and a coffee pot. Mama Le Mel nourished herself on milk and coffee. And what could she have added to this frugal menu? She lived on thirty francs from the Assistance to the Elderly. The husband of his late granddaughter, a brave man, killed during the war, regularly paid her modest rent. The walls of the room were decorated with portraits of Varlin, Louise Michel, Rochefort—and the tenant.

We immediately became excellent friends. I often went to drop in on her, in the morning or late in the afternoon, and brought her some books. We chatted. She was born in Brest in 1826. She was the daughter of merchants and was married to a worker, named Duval, a good gilder, but a bad penny. After holding, for some time, a small trade in books at Quimper, she was separated from her husband. She arrived in Paris in 1861, at 35 years old, and started to work to raise her child. She made the acquaintance of Eugène Varlin, at the seat of the Society of Bookbinders, in the home of a wine-merchant on the Rue de l’Ecole-de-Médecine, and was immediately devoted along with him to the emancipation of the proletariat. The strikes of 1864 and 1865, among the bookbinders, had further tightened the pure links of friendship that united them. She had participated in the organization of the first cooperative restaurant opened in the Rue Mazarine and then transferred, under the name of the Marmite, to the Rue Larrey. Other Marmites were established, later, in the Rue des Blancs-Manteaux, the Rue du Château and the Rue Berzélius. The good times! The ardent apostolate! They worked ten hours a day,—happy for the gain of two hours obtained, in 1864, by the strike,—and on often met them, in the evening, here and there, often at Varlin’s home, 33, rue Dauphine, to organize the means of obtaining more and [to] lead the whole working class into the movement.

From 1866, Nathalie Le Mel was affiliated with the International. During the siege of Paris, she took part in the Central Committee of the Union des Femmes, without ceasing to concern herself with the Marmite on the Rue Larrey. May 6, under the Commune, she drafted, with Mme. Dimitrief, a call to arms addressed to the women, and during the bloody week, she cared for the wounded and distributed munitions to the insurgents. Arrested on June 10, she was not held at Saint-Lazare. She remained at Versailles, sick, and appeared, in the month of September, before the 4th council of war, presided over by Lieutenant-colonel Pierre. She was accused of inciting civil war and provoking the construction of barricades.

Here is the impression that she made on the legal reporter of the Corsaire:

“Nathalie Duval, wife of Le Mel, is 46 years of age; she practices the profession of bookbinder. Her appearance is very simple, being that of a worker: a black dress and shawl, and, on her head, a linen cap. The conduct of the accused is as simple as her appearance. However, she expresses herself with a great ease and a truly remarkable purity of language. No grandiloquence, no bravado, no gestures, no cries: truth without pomp.”

Defended by Mr. Albert Joly, Nathalie Le Mel was nevertheless condemned, on September 10, to deportation to a fortified enclosure.

From the prison of Auberive, where she was taken first, she went to rejoin her friends in New Caledonia. On her return, after the amnesty, she worked on the presses of the Intransigeant for Rochefort, who was always fond of her.

All of that interested me, but I stubbornly returned to Varlin; and she had told all that she recalled of him, when one day she spoke to me of his family, originally from Claye, in Seine-et-Marne.

“I do not know,” she added, “if his two brothers are still alive. I knew them well. After the Commune, the younger, who was hemiplegic, was condemned, simply because he was Eugène’s brother, to two years in prison and sent from the prison hulks of Brest to Clairvaux, and from Clairvaux to Embrun.”

I did not have to be told twice! A few days later, I was in Claye, and I found Varlin’s brothers there, in a family house where we affixed a commemorative plaque, on the eve of the war.

Louis and Hippolyte Varlin, Eugène’s brother, have survived that war as well. I returned to see them and speak with them of the hero and martyr whose memory the working class will not fail to glorify on next May 28, the anniversary of his death, under the outrages, as it belongs to an emancipator of men, as well as to their redeemer.


“A Friend of Varlin,” 45 no. 15998 (May 18, 1921): 1.