Part 6: Western Europe, Section 5

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Part 6: Western Europe, Section 5

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

Part Six

Section V

     Two congresses were held in the autumn of 1877 in Belgium: one of the International Workingmen's Association at Verviers, and the other an international socialist congress at Ghent. The latter was especially important, as it was known that an attempt would be made by the German social democrats to bring all the labor movement of Europe under one organization, subject to a central committee, which would be the old general council of the International under a new name. It was therefore necessary to preserve the autonomy of the labor organizations in the Latin countries, and we did our best to be well represented at this congress. I went under the name of Levashóff; two Germans, the compositor Werner and the engineer Rinke, walked nearly all the distance from Basel to Belgium; and although we were only nine anarchists at Ghent, we succeeded in checking the centralization scheme.

     Twenty-two years have passed since; a number of international socialist congresses have been held, and at every one of them the same struggle has been renewed,--the social democrats trying to enlist all the labor movement of Europe under their banner and to bring it under their control, and the anarchists opposing and preventing it. What an amount of wasted force, of bitter words exchanged and efforts divided, simply because those who have adopted the formula of " conquest of power within the existing states " do not understand that activity in this direction cannot embody all the socialist movement! From the outset socialism took three independent lines of development, which found their expression in Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Robert Owen. Saint-Simonism has developed into social democracy, and Fourierism into anarchism; while Owenism is developing, in England and America, into trade-unionism, coöperation, and the so-called municipal socialism, and remains hostile to social democratic state socialism, while it has many points of contact with anarchism. But because of failure to recognize that the three move toward a common goal in three different ways, and that the two latter bring their own precious contribution to human progress, a quarter of a century has been given to endeavors to realize the unrealizable Utopia of a unique labor movement of the social democratic pattern.

     The Ghent congress ended for me in an unexpected way. Three or four days after it had begun, the Belgian police learned who Levashóff was, and received the order to arrest me for a breach of police regulations which I had committed in giving at the hotel an assumed name. My Belgian friends warned me. They maintained that the clerical ministry which was in power was capable of giving me up to Russia, and insisted upon my leaving the congress at once. They would not let me return to the hotel. Guillaume barred the way, telling me that I should have to use force against him if I insisted upon returning thither. I had to go with some Ghent comrades, and as soon as I joined them, muffled calls and whistling came from all corners of a dark square over which groups of workers were scattered. It all looked very mysterious. At last, after much whispering and subdued whistling, a group of comrades took me under escort to a social democrat worker, with whom I had to spend the night, and who received me, anarchist though I was, in the most touching way as a brother. Next morning I left once more for England, on board a steamer, provoking a number of good-natured smiles from the British custom-house officers, who wanted me to show them my luggage, while I had nothing to show but a small hand bag.

     I did not stay long in London. In the admirable collections of the British Museum I studied the beginnings of the French Revolution,--how revolutions come to break out,--but I wanted more activity, and soon went to Paris. A revival of the labor movement was beginning there, after the rigid suppression of the Commune. With the Italian Costa and the few anarchist friends we had among the Paris workers, and with Jules Guesde and his colleagues, who were not strict social democrats at that time, we started the first socialist groups.

     Our beginnings were ridiculously small. Half a dozen of us used to meet in cafés, and when we had an audience of a hundred persons at a meeting we felt happy. No one would have guessed then that two years later the movement would be in full swing. But France has its own ways of development. When a reaction has gained the upper hand, all visible traces of a movement disappear. Those who fight against the current are few. But in some mysterious way, by a sort of invisible infiltration of ideas, the reaction is undermined; a new current sets in, and then it appears, all of a sudden, that the idea which was thought to be dead was there alive, spreading and growing all the time; and as soon as public agitation becomes possible, thousands of adherents, whose existence nobody suspected, come to the front. "There are at Paris," old Blanqui used to say, "fifty thousand men who never come to a meeting or to a demonstration; but the moment they feel that the people can appear in the streets to manifest their opinion, they are there to storm the position." So it was then. There were not twenty of us to carry on the movement, not two hundred openly to support it. At the first commemoration of the Commune, in March, 1878, we surely were not two hundred. But two years later the amnesty for the Commune was voted, and the working population of Paris was in the streets to greet the returning Communards; it flocked by the thousand to cheer them at the meetings, and the socialist movement took a sudden expansion, carrying with it the radicals.

     The time had not yet come for that revival, however, and one night in April, 1878, Costa and a French comrade were arrested. A police court condemned them to imprisonment for eighteen months as Internationalists. I escaped arrest only by mistake. The police wanted Levashoff, and went to arrest a Russian student whose name sounded very much like that. I had given my real name, and continued to stay at Paris under that name for another month. Then I was called to Switzerland.

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January 21, 2017 17:37:35 :
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 5 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 23, 2017 17:47:36 :
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 5 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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