Part 6: Western Europe, Section 3

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Part 6: Western Europe, Section 3

This text was taken from the 1st edition of Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1899.

Part Six

Section III

     QUITE a number of remarkable men, of different nationalities, nearly all of whom bad been personal friends of Bakúnin, belonged at that time to the Jura Federation. The editor of our chief paper, the Bulletin of the federation, was James Guillaume, a teacher by profession, who belonged to one of the aristocratic families of Neuchâtel. Small, thin, with the stiff appearance and resoluteness of Robespierre, and with a truly golden heart which opened only in the intimacy of friendship, he was a born leader by his phenomenal powers of work and his stern activity. For eight years he fought against all sorts of obstacles to maintain the paper in existence, taking the most active part in every detail of the federation, till he had to leave Switzerland, where he could find no work whatever, and settled in France, where his name will be quoted some day with the utmost respect in the history of education.

     Adhémar Schwitzguébel, also a Swiss, was the type of the jovial, lively, clear-sighted French-speaking watchmakers of the Bernese Jura hills. A watch engraver by trade, he never attempted to abandon his position of manual worker, and, always merry and active, he supported his large family through the severest periods of slack trade and curtailed earnings. His gift of taking a difficult economic or political question, and, after much thought about it, considering it from the workingman's point of view, without divesting it of its deepest meaning, was wonderful. He was known far and wide in the "mountains," and with the workers of all countries he was a general favorite.

     His direct counterpart was another Swiss, also a watchmaker, Spichiger. He was a philosopher, slow in both movement and thought, English in his physical aspect; always trying to get at the full meaning of every fact, and impressing all of us by the justness of the conclusions he reached while he was pondering over all sorts of subjects during his work of scooping out watch lids.

     Round these three gathered a number of solid, stanch, middle-aged or elderly workmen, passionate lovers of liberty, happy to take part in such a promising movement, and a hundred or so bright young men, also mostly watchmakers, --all very independent and affectionate, very lively, and ready to go to any length in self-sacrifice.

     Several refugees of the Paris Commune had joined the federation. Elisée Reclus, the great geographer, was of their number,--a type of the true Puritan in his manner of life, and of the French encyclopædist philosopher of the last century in his mind; the man who inspires others, but never has governed any one, and never will do so; the anarchist whose anarchism is the epitome of his broad, intimate knowledge of the forms of life of mankind under all climates and in all stages of civilization; whose books rank among the very best of the century; whose style, of a striking beauty, moves the mind and the conscience; and who, as he enters the office of an anarchist paper, says to the editor,--maybe a boy in comparison to himself, -- "Tell me what I have to do," and will sit down, like a newspaper subordinate, to fill up a gap of so many lines in the current number of the paper. In the Paris Commune he simply took a rifle and stood in the ranks; and if he invites a contributor to work with him upon a volume of his world-famed Geography, and the contributor timidly asks, "What have I to do?" he replies: "Here are the books, here is a table. Do as you like."

     By his side was Lefrançais, an elderly man, formerly a teacher, who had been thrice in his life an exile: after June, 1848, after Napoleon's coup d'état, and after 1870. An ex-member of the Commune, and consequently one of those who were said to have left Paris carrying away millions in their pockets, he worked as a freight handler at the railway at Lausanne, and was nearly killed in that work, which required younger shoulders than his. His book on the Paris Commune is the one in which the real historical meaning of that movement was put in its proper light. "A communalist, not an anarchist, please," he would say. "I cannot work with such fools as you are;" and he worked with none but us, "because you fools," as he said, "are still the men whom I love best. With you one can work and remain one's self."

     Another ex-member of the Paris Commune who was with us was Pindy, a carpenter from the north of France, an adopted child of Paris. He became widely known at Paris, during a strike supported by the International, for his vigor and bright intelligence, and was elected a member of the Commune, which nominated him commander of the Tuileries palace. When the Versailles troops entered Paris, shooting their prisoners by the hundred, three men, at least, were shot in different parts of the town, having been mistaken for Pindy. After the fight, however, he was concealed by a brave girl, a seamstress, who saved him by her calmness when the house was searched by the troops, and who afterwards became his wife. Only twelve months later they succeeded in leaving Paris unnoticed, and came to Switzerland. Here Pindy learned assaying, at which he became skillful; spending his days by the side of his red-hot stove, and at night devoting himself passionately to propaganda work, in which he admirably combined the passion of a revolutionist with the good sense and organizing powers characteristic of the Parisian worker.

     Paul Brousse was then a young doctor, full of mental activity, uproarious, sharp, lively, ready to develop any idea with a geometrical logic to its utmost consequences; powerfull in his criticisms of the state and state organization; finding enough time to edit two papers, in French and in German, to write scores of voluminous letters, to be the soul of a workmen's evening party; constantly active in organizing men, with the subtle mind of a true "southerner."

     Among the Italians who collaborated with us in Switzerland, two men whose names stood always associated, and will be remembered in Italy by more than one generation, two close personal friends of Bakúnin, were Cafiero and Malatesta. Cafiero was an idealist of the highest and the purest type, who gave his considerable fortune to the cause, and who never after asked himself what he should live upon in the future; a thinker plunged in philosophical speculation; a man who never would harm any one, and yet took the rifle and marched in the mountains of Benevento, when he and his friends thought that an uprising of a socialist character might be attempted, were it only to show the people that their uprisings ought to have a deeper meaning than that of a mere revolt against tax collectors. Malatesta was a student of medicine, who had left the medical profession and also his fortune for the sake of the revolution; full of fire and intelligence, a pure idealist, who all his life--and he is now approaching the age of fifty--has never thought whether he would have a piece of bread for his supper and a bed for the night. Without even so much as a room that he could call his own, he would sell sherbet in the streets of London to get his living, and in the evening write brilliant articles for the Italian papers. Imprisoned in France, released, expelled, re-condemned in Italy, confined in an island, escaped, and again in Italy in disguise; always in the hottest of the struggle, whether it be in Italy or elsewhere,--he has persevered in this life for thirty years in succession. And when we meet him again, released from a prison or escaped from an island, we find him just as we saw him last; always renewing the struggle, with the same love of men, the same absence of hatred toward his adversaries and jailers, the same hearty smile for a friend, the same caress for a child.

     The Russians were few among us, most of them following the German social democrats. We had, however, Joukóvsky, a friend of Hérzen, who had left Russia in 1863,-- a brilliant, elegant, highly intelligent nobleman, a favorite with the workers,--who better than any of the rest of us had what the French call l'oreille du peuple (the ear of the workers), because he knew how to fire them up by showing them the great part they had to play in rebuilding society, to lift them by holding before them high historical views, to throw a flash of light on the most intricate economic problem, and to electrify them with his earnestness and sincerity. Sokolóff, formerly an officer of the Russian general staff, an admirer of Paul Louis Courier for his boldness and of Proudhon for his philosophical ideas, who had made many a socialist in Russia by his review articles, was also with us temporarily.

     I mention only those who became widely known as writers, or as delegates to congresses, or in some other way. And yet, I ask myself if I ought not rather to speak of those who never committed their names to print, but were as important in the life of the federation as any one of the writers; who fought in the ranks, and were always ready to join in any enterprise, never asking whether the work would be grand or small, distinguished or modest,-- whether it would have great consequences, or simply result in infinite worry to themselves and their families.

     I ought also to mention the Germans Werner and Rinke, the Spaniard Albarracin, and many others; but I am afraid that these faint sketches of mine may not convey to the reader the same feelings of respect and love with which every one of this little family inspired those who knew him or her personally.

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January 21, 2017 17:36:35 :
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