Part 6: Western Europe, Section 7

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Part 6: Western Europe, Section 7

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

Part Six

Section VII

     IN the meantime affairs in Russia took quite a new turn. The war which Russia began against Turkey in 1877 had ended in general disappointment. There was in the country, before the war broke out, a great deal of enthusiasm in favor of the Slavonians. Many believed, also, that a war of liberation in the Balkans would result in a move in the progressive direction in Russia itself. But the liberation of the Slavonian populations was only partly accomplished. The tremendous sacrifices which had been made by the Russians were rendered ineffectual by the blunders of the higher military authorities. Hundreds of thousands of men had been slaughtered in battles which were only half victories, and the concessions wrested from Turkey were brought to naught at the Berlin congress. It was also widely known that the embezzlement of state money went on during this war on almost as large a scale as during the Crimean war.

     It was amid the general dissatisfaction which prevailed in Russia at the end of 1877 that one hundred and ninety-three persons, arrested since 1873, in connection with our agitation, were brought before a high court. The accused, supported by a number of lawyers of talent, won at once the sympathies of the great public. They produced a very favorable impression upon St. Petersburg society; and when it became known that most of them had spent three or four years in prison, waiting for this trial, and that no less than twenty-one of them had either put an end to their lives by suicide or become insane, the feeling grew still stronger in their favor, even among the judges themselves. The court pronounced very heavy sentences upon a few, and relatively lenient ones upon the remainder, saying that the preliminary detention had lasted so long, and was so hard a punishment in itself, that nothing could justly be added to it. It was confidently expected that the Emperor would still further mitigate the sentences. It happened, however, to the astonishment of all, that he revised the sentences only to increase them. Those whom the court had acquitted were sent into exile in remote parts of Russia and Siberia, and from five to twelve years of hard labor were inflicted upon those whom the court had condemned to short terms of imprisonment. This was the work of the chief of the Third Section, General Mézentsoff.

     At the same time, the chief of the St. Petersburg police, General Trépoff, noticing, during a visit to the house of detention, that one of the political prisoners, Bogolúboff, did not take off his hat to greet the omnipotent satrap, rushed upon him, gave him a blow, and, when the prisoner resisted, ordered him to be flogged. The other prisoners, learning the fact in their cells, loudly expressed their indignation, and were in consequence fearfully beaten by the warders and the police. The Russian political prisoners bore without murmuring all hardships inflicted upon them in Siberia or through hard labor, but they were firmly decided not to tolerate corporal punishment. A young girl, Véra Zasúlich, who did not even personally know Bogolúboff, took a revolver, went to the chief of police, and shot at him. Trépoff was only wounded. Alexander II. came to look at the heroic girl, who must have impressed him by her extremely sweet face and her modesty. Trépoff had so many enemies at St. Petersburg that they managed to bring the affair before a common-law jury, and Véra Zasúlich declared in court that she had resorted to arms only when all means for bringing the affair to public knowledge and obtaining some sort of redress had been ex hausted. Even the St. Petersburg correspondent of the London "Times" had been asked to mention the affair in his paper, but had not done so, perhaps thinking it improbable. Then, without telling any one her intentions, she went to shoot Trépoff. Now that the affair had become public, she was quite happy to know that he was but slightly wounded. The jury acquitted her unanimously; and when the police tried to rearrest her, as she was leaving the court house, the young men of St. Petersburg, who stood in crowds at the gates, saved her from their clutches. She went abroad and soon was among us in Switzerland.

     This affair produced quite a sensation throughout Europe. I was at Paris when the news of the acquittal came, and had to call that day on business at the offices of several newspapers. I found the editors fired with enthusiasm, and writing powerful articles to glorify the girl. Even the serious "Revue des Deux Mondes" wrote, in its review of the year, that the two persons who had most impressed public opinion in Europe during 1878 were Prince Gortchakóff at the Berlin congress and Véra Zasúlich. Their portraits were given side by side in several almanacs. Upon the workers in Europe the devotion of Véra Zasúlich produced a tremendous impression.

     A few months after that, without any plot having been formed, four attempts were made against crowned heads in close succession. The worker Hoedel and Dr. Nobiling shot at the German Emperor; a few weeks later, a Spanish worker, Oliva Moncasi, followed with an attempt to shoot the King of Spain, and the cook Passanante rushed with his knife upon the King of Italy. The governments of Europe could not believe that such attempts upon the lives of three kings should have occurred without there being at the bottom some international conspiracy, and they jumped to the conclusion that the Jura Federation and the International Workingmen's Association were responsible.

     More than twenty years have passed since then, and I may say most positively that there was absolutely no ground whatever for that supposition. However, all the European governments fell upon Switzerland, reproaching her with harboring revolutionists, who organized such plots. Paul Brousse, the editor of our Jura newspaper, the "Avant-Garde," was arrested and prosecuted. The Swiss judges, seeing there was not the slightest foundation for connecting Brousse or the Jura Federation with the recent attacks, condemned Brousse to only a couple of months' imprisonment, for his articles; but the paper was suppressed, and all the printing-offices of Switzerland were asked by the federal government not to publish this or any similar paper. The Jura Federation thus remained without an organ.

     Besides, the politicians of Switzerland, who looked with an unfavorable eye on the anarchist agitation in their country, acted privately in such a way as to compel the leading Swiss members of the Jura Federation either to retire from public life or to starve. Brousse was expelled from Switzerland. James Guillaume, who for eight years had maintained against all obstacles the official organ of the federation, and made his living chiefly by teaching, could obtain no employment, and was compelled to leave Switzerland and remove to France. Adhémar Schwitzguébel found no work in the watch trade, and, burdened as he was by a large family, had to retire from the movement. Spichiger was in the same condition, and emigrated. It thus happened that I, a foreigner, had to undertake the editing of the organ of the federation. I hesitated, of course, but there was nothing else to be done, and with two friends, Dumartheray and Herzig, I started a new fortnightly paper at Geneva, in February, 1879, under the title of "Le Révolté." I had to write most of it myself. We had only twenty-three francs (about four dollars) to start the paper, but we all set to work to get subscriptions, and succeeded in issuing our first number. It was moderate in tone, but revolutionary in substance, and I did my best to write it in such a style that complex historical and economical questions should be comprehensible to every intelligent worker. Six hundred was the utmost limit which the edition of our previous papers had ever attained. We printed two thousand copies of "Le Révolté," and in a few days not one was left. The paper was a success, and still continues, at Paris, under the name of "Temps Nouveaux."

     Socialist papers have often a tendency to become mere annals of complaints about existing conditions. The oppression of the laborers in the mine, the factory, and the field is related; the misery and sufferings of the workers during strikes are told in vivid pictures; their helplessness in the struggle against employers is insisted upon: and this succession of hopeless efforts, related in the paper, exercises a most depressing influence upon the reader. To counterbalance that effect, the editor has to rely chiefly upon burning words by means of which he tries to inspire his readers with energy and faith. I thought, on the contrary, that a revolutionary paper must be, above all, a record of those symptoms which everywhere announce the coming of a new era, the germination of new forms of social life, the growing revolt against antiquated institutions. These symptoms should be watched, brought together in their intimate connection, and so grouped as to show to the hesitating minds of the greater number the invisible and often unconscious support which advanced ideas find everywhere, when a revival of thought takes place in society. To make one feel sympathy with the throbbing of the human heart all over the world, with its revolt against age-long injustice, with its attempts at working out new forms of life,--this should be the chief duty of a revolutionary paper. It is hope, not despair, which makes successful revolutions.

     Historians often tell us how this or that system of philo sophy has accomplished a certain change in human thought, and subsequently in institutions. But this is not history. The greatest social philosophers have only caught the indications of coming changes, have understood their inner relations, and, aided by induction and intuition, have foretold what was to occur. It may also be easy to draw a plan of social organization, by starting from a few principles and developing them to their necessary consequences, like a geometrical conclusion from a few axioms; but this is not sociology. A correct social forecast cannot be made unless one keeps an eye on the thousands of signs of the new life, separating the occasional facts from those which are organically essential, and building the generalization upon that basis.

     This was the method of thought with which I endeavored to familiarize my readers, using plain comprehensible words, so as to accustom the most modest of them to judge for himself whereunto society is moving, and himself to correct the thinker if the latter comes to wrong conclusions. As to the criticism of what exists, I went into it only to disentangle the roots of the evils, and to show that a deep-seated and carefully-nurtured fetichism with regard to the antiquated survivals of past phases of human development, and a widespread cowardice of mind and will, are the main sources of all evils.

     Dumartheray and Herzig gave me full support in that direction. Dumartheray was born in one of the poorest peasant families in Savoy. His schooling had not gone beyond the first rudiments of a primary school. Yet he was one of the most intelligent men I ever met. His appreciations of current events and men were so remarkable for their uncommon good sense that they were often prophetic. He was also one of the finest critics of the current socialist literature, and was never taken in by the mere display of fine words or would-be science. Herzig was a young clerk, born at Geneva; a man of suppressed emotions, shy, who would blush like a girl when he expressed an original thought, and who, after I was arrested, when he became responsible for the continuance of the journal, by sheer force of will learned to write very well. Boycotted by all Geneva employers, and fallen with his family into sheer misery, he nevertheless supported the paper till it became possible to transfer it to Paris.

     To the judgment of these two friends I could trust implicitly. If Herzig frowned, muttering, "Yes--well--it may go," I knew that it would not do. And when Dumartherary, who always complained of the bad state of his spectacles when he had to read a not quite legibly written manuscript, and therefore generally read proofs only, interrupted his reading by exclaiming, "Non, ça ne va pas!" I felt at once that it was not the proper thing, and tried to guess what thought or expression provoked his disapproval. I knew there was no use asking him, "Why will it not do?" He would have answered: "Ah, that is not my affair; that's yours. It won't do; that is all I can say." But I felt he was right, and I simply sat down to rewrite the passage, or, taking the composing-stick, set up in type a new passage instead.

     I must own also that we had hard times with it. No sooner had we issued four or five numbers than the printer asked us to find another printing-office. For the workers and their publications the liberty of the press inscribed in the constitution has many limitations beside the paragraphs of the law. The printer had no objection to our paper: he liked it; but in Switzerland all printing-offices depend upon the government, which employs them more or less upon statistical reports and the like; and our printer was plainly told that if he continued to print the paper he need not expect to have any more orders from the Geneva gov ernment. I made the tour of all the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and saw the heads of all the printing-offices, but everywhere, even from those who did not dislike the tendency of our paper, I received the same reply: "We could not live without work from the government, and we should have none if we undertook to print 'Le Révolté.'"

     I returned to Geneva in very low spirits; but Dumartheray was only the more ardent and hopeful. "It's all very simple," he said. "We buy our own printing-plant on a three months' credit, and in three months we shall have paid for it." "But we have no money, only a few hundred francs," I objected. "Money, nonsense! We shall have it! Let us only order the type at once and immediately issue our next number--and money will come!" Once more his judgment was quite right. When our next number came out from our own "Imprimerie Jurassienne," and we had told our difficulties and printed a couple of small pamphlets besides,--all of us helping in the printing,--the money came in; mostly in coppers and small silver coins, but it came. Over and over again in my life I have heard complaints among the advanced parties about the want of money; but the longer I live, the more I am persuaded that our chief difficulty is not so much a lack of money as of men who will march firmly and steadily towards a given aim in the right direction, and inspire others. For twenty-one years our paper has now continued to live from hand to mouth,--appeals for funds appearing on the front page in almost every number; but as long as there is a man who sticks to it and puts all his energy into it, as Herzig and Dumartheray did at Geneva, and as Grave has done for the last sixteen years at Paris, the money comes in, and a yearly debit of about eight hundred pounds is made up,--mainly out of the pennies and small silver coins of the workers,--to cover the yearly expenditure for printing the paper and the pamphlets. For a paper, as for everything else, men are of an infinitely greater value than money.

     We started our printing-office in a tiny room, and our compositor was a man from Little Russia, who undertook to put our paper in type for the very modest sum of sixty francs a month. If he could only have his modest dinner every day, and the possibility of going occasionally to the opera, he cared for nothing more. "Going to the Turkish bath, John? "I asked him once as I met him at Geneva in the street, with a brown-paper parcel under his arm. "No, removing to a new lodging," he replied, in his usual melodious voice, and with his customary smile.

     Unfortunately, he knew no French. I used to write my manuscript in the best of my handwriting,--often thinking with regret of the time I had wasted in the classes of our good Ebert at school,--but John could read French only indifferently well, and instead of "immédiatement" he would read "immidiotermut" or "inmuidiatmunt," and set up in type such wonderful words as these; but as he "kept the space," and the length of the line did not have to be altered in making the corrections, there were only four or five letters to be corrected in such uncouth words as the above, and but one or two in each of the shorter ones; thus we managed pretty well. We were on the best possible terms with him, and I soon learned a little typesetting under his direction. The composition was always finished in time to take the proofs to a Swiss comrade who was the responsible editor, and to whom we submitted them before going to press, and then one of us carted all the forms to a printing-office. Our "Imprimerie Jurassienne" soon became widely known for its publications, especially for its pamphlets, which Dumartheray would never allow to be sold at more than one penny. Quite a new style had to be worked out for such pamphlets. I must say that I was often wicked enough to envy those writers who could use any number of pages for developing their ideas, and were allowed to make the well-known excuse of Talleyrand: "I have not had the time to be brief." When I had to condense the results of several months' work--upon, let me say, the origins of law--into a penny pamphlet, I had to take the time to be brief. But we wrote for the workers, and twenty centimes for a pamphlet is often too much for the average worker. The result was that our penny and half-penny pamphlets sold by the scores of thousands, and were reproduced in many other countries in translations. My leaders of that period were published later on, while I was in prison, by Elisée Reclus, under the title of "The Words of a Rebel,"--Paroles d'un Révolté.

     France was always the chief object of our aims; but "Le Révolté" was severely prohibited in France, and the smugglers had so many good things to import into France from Switzerland that they did not care to meddle with our paper. I went once with them, crossing in their company the French frontier, and found that they were very brave and reliable men, but I could not induce them to undertake the smuggling of our paper. All we could do, therefore, was to send it in sealed envelopes to about a hundred persons in France. We charged nothing for postage, counting upon voluntary contributions from our subscribers to cover our extra expenses,--which they always did,--but we often thought that the French police were missing a splendid opportunity for ruining our paper by subscribing to a hundred copies and sending no voluntary contributions.

     For the first year we had to rely entirely upon ourselves; but gradually Elisée Reclus took a greater interest in the work, and finally gave more life than ever to the paper after my arrest. Reclus had invited me to aid him in the preparation of the volume of his monumental Geography which dealt with the Russian dominions in Asia. He had learned Russian, but thought that, as I was well acquainted with Siberia, I might be helpful; and as the health of my wife was poor, and the doctor had ordered her to leave Geneva with its cold winds at once, we removed early in the spring of 1880 to Clarens, where Elisée Reclus lived at that time. We settled above Clarens, in a small cottage overlooking the blue waters of Lake Geneva, with the pure snow of the Dent du Midi in the background. A streamlet that thundered like a mighty torrent after rains, carrying away immense rocks and digging for itself a new bed, ran under our windows, and on the slope of the hill opposite rose the old castle of Châtelard, of which the owners, up to the revolution of the burla papei (the burners of the papers) in 1799, levied upon the neighboring peasants servile taxes on the occasion of births, marriages, and deaths. Here, aided by my wife, with whom I used to discuss every event and every proposed paper, and who was a severe literary critic of my writings, I produced the best things that I wrote for "Le Révolté," among them the address "To the Young," which was spread in hundreds of thousands of copies in all languages. In fact, I worked out here the foundation of nearly all that I wrote later on. Contact with educated men of similar ways of thinking is what we anarchist writers, scattered by proscription all over the world, miss, perhaps, more than anything else. At Clarens I had that contact with Elisée Reclus and Lefrançais, in addition to permanent contact with the workers, which I continued to maintain; and although I worked much for the Geography, I could produce even more than usual for the anarchist propaganda.

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January 21, 2017 17:38:32 :
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 7 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 23, 2017 17:47:46 :
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 7 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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