Wednesday, February 12, 2014

“Anarchism swept us away completely because it both demanded everything of us and offered us everything. There was no remotest corner of life that it failed to illumine; at least so it seemed to us. A man could be a Catholic, a Protestant, a Liberal, a Radical, a Socialist, even a syndicalist, without in any way changing his own life, and therefore life in general. It was enough for him, after all, to read the appropriate newspaper; or, if he was strict, to frequent the café associated with whatever tendency claimed his allegiance. Shot through with contradictions, fragmented into varieties and sub-varieties, anarchism demanded, before anything else, harmony between deeds and words (which, in truth, is demanded by all forms of idealism, but which they all forget as they become complacent). That is why we adopted what was (at that moment) the extremest variety, which by vigorous dialectic had succeeded, through the logic of its revolutionism, in discarding the necessity of revolution. To a certain extent we were impelled in that direction by our disgust with a certain type of rather mellow, academic anarchism, whose Pope was Jean Grave in Temps Nouveaux. Individualism had just been affirmed by our hero Albert Libertad. No one knew his real name, or anything of him before he started preaching. Crippled in both legs, walking on crutches which he plied vigorously in fights (he was a great one for fighting, despite his handicap), he bore, on a powerful body, a bearded head whose face was finely proportioned. Destitute, having come as a tramp from the south, he began preaching in Montmarte, among libertarian circles and the queues of poor devils waiting for their dole of soup not far from the site of Sacré Coeur. Violent, magnetically attractive, he became the heart and soul of a movement of such exceptional dynamism that it is not entirely dead even at this day. Libertad loved streets, crowds, fights, ideas, and women. One two occasions he set up house with a pair of sisters, the Mahés and then the Morands. He had children whom he refused to register with the State. ‘The State? Don’t know it. The name? I don’t give a damn; they’ll pick one that suits them. The law? To hell with it.’ He died in hospital in 1908 as the result of a fight, bequeathing his body (‘That carcass of mine,’ he called it) for dissection in the cause of science.

His teaching, which we adopted almost wholesale, was: ‘Don’t wait for the revolution. Those who promise revolution are frauds just like the others. Make your own revolution, by being free men and living in comradeship.’ Obviously I am simplifying, but the idea itself had a beautiful simplicity. Its absolute commandment and rule of life was: ‘Let the old world go to blazes.’ From this position there were naturally many deviations. Some inferred that one should ‘live according to Reason and Science,’ and their impoverished worship of science, which invoked the mechanistic biology of Félix le Dantec, led them on to all sorts of tomfoolery, such as saltless, vegetarian diet and fruitarianism and also, in certain cases, to tragic ends. We saw young vegetarians involved in pointless struggles against the whole of society. Others decided ‘Let’s be outsiders. The only place for us is the fringe of society.’ They did not stop to think that society has no fringe, that no one is ever outside it, even in the depth of dungeons, and that their ‘conscious egoism,’ sharing the life of the defeated, linked up from below with the most brutal bourgeois individualism.

Finally, others, including myself, sought to harness together personal transformation and revolutionary action, in accordance with the motto of Élisée Reclus: ‘As long as social injustice lasts we shall remain in a state of permanent revolution.’ (I am quoting this from memory.) Libertarian individualism gave us a hold over the most intense reality: ourselves. Be yourself.”

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