domingo, 16 de enero de 2011

Anarchism and Law by Alexei Borovoi


Biographical Note

Alexei Borovoy. Brilliant Russian Anarchist theoretician, writer and orator. Professor of Political Economy at Moscow University, prior to and after the Revolution, until ousted by the Bolsheviks. Known and respected throughout Russia, where he had great influence among workers, students and intellectuals. In 1920 the students of Sverdlov petitioned the university administration to permit a series of debates on “Anarchism versus Marxism,” Borovoy representing the Anarchist viewpoint. The local Communist Party, designated the famous Bolsheviks, Bukarin and Lunacharsky, to defend Marxism. The Central Committee of the CP of Russia at the last minute overruled the local CP and forced cancellation of the debates.

Because of his great popularity, the Bolsheviks postponed the silencing of Borovoy until 1929 when he was arrested and deported to Viatka, Siberia, where he died in 1936, the victim of persecution, cold and hunger.

Alexei Borovoy
Anarchism and Law

In literature concerning anarchism there is a general opinion that anarchism, which negates existing society and existing legal codes, has an equally negative position concerning social codes in general. This opinion is absolutely false.

The reasons for this error are:


confusion over the problem of the relationship between social codes and the State in the writings of anarchists themselves;

the variety of definitions of society and social codes in the writings both of anarchists and of their critics;

rash statements by certain anarchists who, because of a certain sociological naivete, are sincerely convinced that anarchy is the absence of any sort of regulation;

the laziness of those who consider themselves critics of anarchists but do not bother to learn even the essential elements of anarchist thought;

finally, conscious distortion, characteristic of the philosophy called “scientific socialism.”

The Problem of Law and the State

The problem in which we are interested can be presented as follows: Can a society exist in which nothing limits the individual, where all regulation is an affair of the individual and not of the collective will?

Anarchism favors the establishment of a society

“of brothers, each of whom contributes his share, living harmoniously, not because of a legal system which severely punishes those who disobey, but because of the force of interpersonal relations, the inevitable force of natural laws.” — Reclus

How restrictive are these natural laws? Do they permit of a society in which each individual is free to do as he pleases, or on the other hand, do they require the existence of a State for the preservation of an orderly society?

Impartial sociologists have found that the State (the authoritarian society with an established power) is not the first form of human society. The State appeared as the result of complex phenomena: of a particular material and intellectual culture, of the progressive differentiation of society, of conquest and at the same time of a progressive consciousness of the advantages of solidarity among large groups. The same sociologists have pointed out the parallel growth of the institution of power, which progressively engulfs functions which previously belonged to local and autonomous social organisms. If some of these functions have been better executed by the new power, others have been executed badly and with a constant disregard for the fundamental rights of the individual.

The process of governmental hypertrophy is well described by Durkheim:

“The governmental power tends to pre-empt all forms of social activity. Among them it is obliged to take upon itself a considerable number of functions for which it is unsuited and which it executes in an insufficient manner. Its passion for bringing everything under its jurisdiction is matched only by its inability to regulate human life. It expends enormous amounts of energy which are totally out of proportion to the obtained results.

“On the other hand, men obey no other collectivity before the State, because the State proclaims itself the only collective organism. They acquire the habit of looking upon society as having a perpetual dependence on the State. And meanwhile, the State is situated very far from them, it remains an abstract entity which cannot exercise an immediate influence, so that in a great part of their lives they move in a void.”

It is on this terrain — the tendency of the State to engulf all things, the human person, his social needs, to paralyze his will with threats and sanctions, that the anarchist revolt is born.

Anarchists seek to abolish the State and in general to replace it, not with chaos, but with anew form of organization. They seek to organize society not on the principle of class power, but on the principle of mutual aid.

Imposed and Spontaneous Codes

There has not been a single society, even prior to the birth of the State, that has not made certain demands upon its members. While specific regulations may vary from society, some form of regulation is always necessary.

Aside from legal codes, there exist in all societies what can be called codes of convention. Shtamler points to these:

“In rules of ethical conduct, in interpersonal relationships.., in collective norms such as the chivalric codes of the Middle Ages or the codes of the guilds.”

The force of these codes is perhaps greater than the force of laws. The fundamental difference is that these codes are based on a collective accord:

“Men consent to a collective agreement, perhaps an unconscious one, like the majority of social phenomena, but an agreement nevertheless.”

Meanwhile, legal codes are created by a specialized body, detached from society, having as its primary aim the preservation of the established order, which imposes its “sovereignty” without regard to the needs of individual human beings. Genuinely collective codes, based on the free agreement of human beings, can be correctly called anarchist codes. This is recognized by the foremost representatives of anarchist thought, and follows necessarily from the fact that neither social organization nor social progress are consistent with unlimited individual liberty.

After this brief theoretical exposition, we would do well to see what the more important anarchist thinkers have to say about the role of collective codes in future society.

1. Godwin

According to Eltzbacher, Godwin opposes all forms of social regulation. However, while he opposes government in all its forms, he speaks of communes as organizations for the collective benefit of all, and points out the necessity of accepting such organizations. Considering the possibility of anti-social acts on the part of particular members of a commune, he speaks of a committee of wise men which would have the power to punish these people or expel them from the group. Furthermore, he envisages regional conferences for the discussion of conflicts betwen communes and for the necessities of defense against the attacks of common enemies. He feels that such institutions would be much more effective than existing ones. Thus he favors the replacement of existing legal codes with the regulation of society by communal organizations.

2. Proudhon

There are many seeming contradictions in the work of Proudhon concerning centralization and the State. One can call the institutions advocated by Proudhon “anarchist” and “federalist,” but these institutions carry with them certain governmental characteristics. Even the word “anarchism” is used by Proudhon in two senses: one is the ideal, the vision of a society totally without coercion; the other is simply a form of organization characterized by a preponderance of individual liberty. Proudhon compromises the ideal of anarchism even further. He envisions a society built largely on the principle of centralization, and his federalism follows largely from the overt recognition that anarchy is impossible. In realizing that a realistic solution of social problems must start with a principle of federalism, he makes a realistic compromise between anarchy and democracy.

3. Bakunin

No one has written such passionate criticisms of the State as Bakunin. For him the State is an absolute evil:

“The State is an immense cemetery, the scene of the suicide, death and burial of all manifestations of individual life or collective life — briefly, of life. It is the altar for the sacrifice of liberty and wellbeing, and the more complete this sacrifice is, the more perfect is the State. The State is an abstraction which destroys the life of the people.”

But the State, he insists, is a “historically necessary” evil, in the same way that the bestiality of the first humans or the theological imagination of men is necessary. But the State must disappear. It must be replaced by a free society built on the basis of total autonomy; starting with the small commune and building toward a worldwide union joining all men. The relation between different organizations will no longer be violent — it will be imposed not by law but by the free consent of all. The voluntary commune — that is the source of Bakunin's social norms.

4. Kropotkin

Kropotkin, like his predecessors, accepts social norms in relations between men, for example, the obligation to fulfill a freely accepted contract. In “The Conquest of Bread,” for example, he deals extensively with the objections to and false notion of anarchist communism. In his answers he shows himself to be above all a humanist, believing more in human nature than in logic. He correctly insists that the most effective way to deal with antisocial behaviour is to find and remove the reasons for its existence. Meanwhile, such problems as the refusal of some men to work or the refusal to submit to a collective decision can appear even in the most perfect society. In this case, the recalcitrant can always be banished. But in a communist society this can be a terrible punishment, even for the perpetrator of a despicable crime. Unless, of course, the banished criminal simply finds another commune. We must find other solutions.

5. Tucker and the Individualists

In his philosophical constructions, Tucker follows the reasoning of Stirner and Proudhon. From Stirner he takes the principle of the absolute sovereignty of the individual; from Proudhon he takes his methods for achieving a free society constructed on the principle of individual agreement.

Like all extreme individualists, Tucker rejects all imposed organization. From there he launches a violent attack on the State:

“The State is the greatest criminal of our time. It acts not for the defense of its most important unit, that is, the individual, but on the contrary, to limit him, to oppress him, to attack him.”

Tucker vehemently criticizes all monopolies: government, the classes it protects, money, laws. Against monopolies he opposes the principle of unlimited competition:

“General and unlimited competition leads to absolute peace and true cooperation.”

From there begins the battle of the anarchist individualists against state socialism — they reproach it as being the victory of the mob over the individual. Under state socialism power arrives at its culminating point, monopolies wield their greatest power. At the same time, the anarchist individualists fail to distinguish between state socialism and anarchist commuism. For them, the latter is a phase in the development of state socialist doctrine.

The characteristic trait of anarchist individualists is their acceptance of private property. The problem they face is the following: can they accept the monopoly of the individual over the product of his labor? If they reply negatively, they give society the right to infringe upon the individual. They have therefore chosen the other response and therefore reintroduce the private ownership of land and the means of production.

From the principle of egoism as the sole motive force of men, Tucker derives the law of equal liberty for all. The limit of the power of each is found precisely in this egoism. The source of social norms based on the will of all is the necessity to accept and honor the liberty of each. Thus the anarchist individualists not only accept certain social norms, but they tend to defend them.

Therefore, in anarchist individualism, as in anarchist communism, we are faced with the tragic impossibility of resolving the incompatibility of the individual and society, the choice between absolute individual liberty or the necessity of a harmonious society.

If anarchism accepts this incompatibility, it turns to the principle which is the proper basis of its theories: the principle of the equality of all members within a free organization. If anarchism does not accept this, it must then accept other social norms.


This article follows from the fact that anarchism is not an imaginary dream, but a reality which gives logic and a realistic sense to the revolt of the human spirit against violence. To be anarchist one does not have to speak of fictions such as “absolute, unlimited liberty” and the negation of duty and responsibility. The eternal contradiction, the incompatibility of the individual and society, is insoluable, because it is rooted in the nature of man himself, in his need for independence and his need for society.

Let us openly admit that anarchism admits social norms. The norms of a free society resemble neither in spirit nor in form the laws of contemporary society, the bourgeois society, the capitalist society. Neither do they resemble the decrees of a socialist dictatorship.

These norms will not seek the detachment of the individual from the collectivity, neither will they serve such abstractions as a “common good” to which the individual must sacrifice himself. Anarchist norms will not be a torrent of decrees from a higher authority. They will1 come organically from the restlessness of the spirit which feels in itself the force of creation, the thirst for the creative act, for the realization of its desires in forms accessible to men.

The guarantee of this order of things will be the responsibility for our own liberty and for the liberty of others. Like all social orders, it will have to be defended. The concrete forms of this defense cannot be indicated in advance. They will correspond to the concrete needs of the society at the given moment.

sábado, 8 de enero de 2011

Against Organisation by Giuseppe Ciancabilla

We cannot conceive that anarchists establish points to follow systemically as fixed dogmas. Because, even if a uniformity of views on the general lines of tactics to follow is assumed, these tactics are carried out in a hundred different forms of applications, with a thousand varying particulars.

Therefore, we don’t want tactical programs, and consequently we don’t want organization. Having established the aim, the goal to which we hold, we leave every anarchist free to choose from the means that his sense, his education, his temperament, his fighting spirit suggest to him as best. We don’t form fixed programs and we don’t form small or great parties. But we come together spontaneously, and not with permanent criteria, according to momentary affinities for a specific purpose, and we constantly change these groups as soon as the purpose for which we had associated ceases to be, and other aims and needs arise and develop in us and push us to seek new collaborators, people who think as we do in the specific circumstance.

When any of us no longer preoccupies himself with creating a fictitious movement of individual sympathizers and those weak of conscience, but rather creates an active ferment of ideas that makes one think, like blows from a whip, he often hears his friends respond that for many years they have been accustomed to another method of struggle, or that he is an individualist, or a pure theoretician of anarchism.

It is not true that we are individualists if one tries to define this word in terms of isolating elements, shunning any association within the social community, and supposing that the individual could be sufficient to himself. But ourselves supporting the development of the free initiatives of the individual, where is the anarchist that does not want to be guilty of this kind of individualism? If the anarchist is one who aspires to emancipation from every form of moral and material authority, how could he not agree that the affirmation of one’s individuality, free from all obligations and external authoritarian influence, is utterly benevolent, is the surest indication of anarchist consciousness? Nor are we pure theoreticians because we believe in the efficacy of the idea, more than in that if the individual. How are actions decided, if not through thought? Now, producing and sustaining a movement of ideas is, for us, the most effective means for determining the flow of anarchist actions, both in practical struggle and in the struggle for the realization of the ideal.

We do not oppose the organizers. They will continue, if they like, in their tactic. If, as I think, it will not do any great good, it will not do any great harm either. But it seems to me that they have writhed throwing their cry of alarm and blacklisting us either as savages or as theoretical dreamers.

Expedients by Le Rétif

A collaborator of the “Dépêche de Toulouse,” M. Eugène Fournière, recently commented on the prose of M. Ernest La Jeunesse and the article in response to it that appeared here. M. Eugene Fournière, analyzing my defense of the “bandits” writes that “the murder of a messenger carrying receipts or the violation of a grave” will not “put a stop to the culpable regime.” He adds that if, like me, his sympathies are for “those who fights” he distinguishes between those who fight to satisfy their hunger, like a wolf, and “capital’s oppressed and exploited, who are uniting and learning in order to attain to collective leadership.”

This is more or less how they answer us every time we legitimize the rebellion of the criminal, that economic rebel.

And M. Eugene Fournière exclaims in conclusion: “And I’m too afraid that the wolves will have babies... and that they will devour each other. I prefer to re-read the admirable ‘Mutual Aid’ of the anarcho-socialist Kropotkin.”

I understand all this. I too would have preferred, instead of writing in praise of the implacable rebels, instead of justifying anti-social crime against a society based on crime, instead of calling for violent, often cruel and always painful rebellion, to reveal all the good things I think about “Mutual Aid.” But no; I don’t have the time to talk about it, for there is a fight going on all around me. I am with the wolves — the wolves they are hunting, that they starve, that they are tracking down, and which bite.

And I am with the outsiders and the bandits precisely because I love mutual aid. And these wolves live on the edges of society, precisely because, loving mutual aid, the free life, the free collaboration of generous forces, they detest the production line, the factory, wage labor. M. Eugène Fournière must nevertheless know this: what makes we anarchists rebels is not our laziness, our cruel instincts or our anti-social dreams. Society furnishes the lazy, the cruel and the brutal the means to use their strange aptitudes in the colonies — or in the metropolis — in various uniforms. What makes us rebels is our firm determination to be neither masters nor slaves; it’s our aspiration for free labor that leads us to refuse the infamous salaried task; it’s our desire for true fraternity that leads us to detest hypocritical and misleading social conventions. But above all we are wolves because, thinking perhaps in the same way as M. Eugène Fournière, who for his part is an honest man, we want to live in accordance with our ideas.

We have no illusions about the social scope of our revolts; it’s only that we remain logical. For every obstacle met there must correspond an appropriate method of struggle. In order to transform the social milieu we have confidence only in an education that renovates minds.

We know that force alone is useful in forcing us to respect arrogant masters. In order to conquer our place among the living, in order not to vegetate until the end alongside the sorrowful enslaved, we know that sometimes force is still necessary.

Our objective is twofold. We have often repeated that waiting for the future wastes the present. Well then, without waiting any longer, we intend to profit from the passing moment. Only then will we worry about transforming the social milieu.

Living in the present: what is that? For the anarchist it is, M. Eugène Fournière, working freely, loving freely, every day being able to come to know the beauties of life; to be a man, i.e., to be healthy, strong, good: to work, think, be artistic. As you see, we demand everything of life. And do you know what is offered us?

Eleven, twelve, thirteen hours of labor a day so as to obtain the daily pittance. And what labor for such a pittance! Robotic labor under authoritarian direction in humiliating and filthy conditions, through which life is permitted us in the gloom of poor housing tracts.

And so, M. Eugène Fournière, we have to choose: will we be slaves or rebels? Wolves, as you call it.

Allow me to be indiscreet and ask you what you’d choose?

In principle, we always choose revolt. And yet, in keeping with our possibilities we are wage earners or bandits. We can’t do much about this. We find the two things equally unpleasant, equally disagreeable. We don’t want to be wolves, as I told you, but men. Alas.

Obviously, if we are workers or thieves, we will not, by this fact, transform the social milieu. We know that if leagued together in a union we were to seek to improve the conditions of our subjection, or that if through our daring we were to wrest a few advantages, the social effect of our gestures would be minimal. Nevertheless, individually we would have profited, which is enough.

In order to transform society — if this is possible — we know that something else is needed besides reformist collective movements or acts of banditry. But in order to do these other things one must live; and in order to live one must be a wage earner or a bandit.

Individual education, the popularization of scientific knowledge, the diffusion of the critical spirit and the spirit of revolt, these, in our opinion, are the surest methods of seeing individuals evolve and, through this, to transform society. We have never failed to say this. Wage labor and banditry are for us nothing but deplorable expedients we are forced to resort to in order to survive and fulfill our task in an abominable world.

First Published in L’anarchie, No 354 January 18, 1912

Our Anti-Syndicalism by Le Rétif

Today, in light of the upcoming anti-parliamentary campaign, the anarchists are divided into two apparently irreconcilable groups: the syndicalists and the anti-syndicalists.

The comrades on the other side, in a brief declaration that it is only right to recognize has the dual merits of clarity and honesty, have said what they want and who they are. Their anti-parliamentary campaign will serve as the basis for syndicalist-revolutionary agitation.

It is thus on this plane that we meet up with them. After Lorulot spelled out our anti-parliamentarism, I think it is right to spell out what our anti-syndicalism should be.

This theme has already been discussed and re-discussed thousands of times among us, and we must recognize that the arguments of both sides have often been of a disconcerting puerility. No later than last week did I not hear friends reproach unions for establishing fixed dues and compare these to taxes? And others defend them by saying that in such and such a professional association they had educational discussions? Ordinarily it is with such futilities that the union movement is attacked and defended. Or else hairs on split about side issues like the functionary-ism of the CGT, the arrivisme of the leaders, the authoritarianism of the revolutionary method...

These are details that are without a doubt interesting to know and useful to criticize. But our anti-syndicalism is based, I believe, on more serious, more profound arguments, and it is important that in the upcoming anti-parliamentary battle that we have something other than these clichés to oppose to the theoreticians of working class action.

We shouldn’t be declaiming against the demagogues of the rue de la Grange-aux-Belles, nor should we be involved in endless discussions over whether it’s advantageous or not to participate in a corporate association; nor should we be elucidating the question of knowing whether we can make anarchist propaganda there. Yes, there is perhaps an interest in taking part in a trade grouping; yes we can sometimes carry out good anarchist work. In the same way there is an interest in being a good soldier and a good worker. In the same way it is sometimes possible to spread ideas in a barracks. It’s the very principle of syndicalism that should be attacked in order to demonstrate its inanity and dangerous consequences.

Let us first look at what syndicalist theory is and what it rests on. We can sum it up thusly:

Two adverse social classes exist and confront each other: idle owners and working non-owners, the latter being far more numerous. All social evil comes from the fact that the ownership of the means of production permits the minority, called “bourgeois,” to pressure and exploit the minority, called “proletarian.” There is only one remedy for this state of affairs: that the proletarians group together in corporate associations, in a vast confederation — class associations — and that they battle to every day rip from the enemy caste a few small advantages until such time as, having become numerous and daring enough, they profit from a war or an economic crisis to decree the insurrectionary general strike and take control of the means of production. Once this is accomplished, the unions will organize work. It will be the Social Republic. The fundamental “causes” of human suffering having disappeared, humanity will progress in peace, joy, happiness... Here the field remains open to everyone’s imagination, permitting the composition at leisure of the tableaus of universal happiness that, of course, can only ever be way below the reality! This is, with more or less variations, the sales spiels that the syndicalists of all shapes and forms prepare to serve (with, incidentally, much conviction and sincerity) to the good voters. We have to refute this entirely, point by point, omitting nothing. And I say this is quite feasible.

The problem to be solved is this: transforming the revolting milieu in order to finally establish a social milieu assuring every individual the maximum of happiness. This, in summary, is our objective as reformers, and also that of the syndicalists. Let us then pose the question this way: Given this goal, is it logical to count on the working class for this labor of destruction and construction?

Can we reasonably believe it capable of leading such an enterprise to a successful conclusion?

“Yes,” say the ouvrieristes (without ever explaining why). “No,” we answer them, and we will prove it: The working class has behind it a whole atavism of servitude and exploitation. It is the weakest of the two classes from every point of view. It is above all the less intelligent, and this is the sole cause for its state of subjection. It is within the logic of nature for the stronger to dominate the weaker. By virtue of this law the unaware and cowardly plebe, the imbecilic masses, credulous and fearful, have always been despoiled by more intelligent, healthier, more daring minorities. At present, after nineteen centuries of oppression, the difference between the two classes has been considerably accentuated. Let us repeat it again: in all areas impartial science demonstrates to us the inferiority of the working class. Well then, it is foolish to believe it capable of organizing a rational society. The degenerates, the hereditary slaves, the pitiful mass of working stiffs that we know de visu are physiologically incapable of living in harmony.

Consequently: organizing the working class in view of a social transformation means wasting time and energy.

Consequently: all the theoretical affirmations flowing from the principle that the working class can and must modify the social regime are false.

Consequently: there is only one urgent, useful, indispensable task; that which, in creating individuals finally worthy of the title of men, little by little improves the milieu, the task of education and anarchist combat.

* * *

This being established with the assistance of arguments strictly scientific and of an impeccable logic, the very principle of syndicalism having been demonstrated false, let us now pass to a critical examination of the union movement and see if it confirms our deductions. It fully confirms them.

To begin with, let us note a salient contradiction. With the goal of organizing one class against another, the workers are invited to group together in professional associations. Yet the interests of various corporations are often opposed, which renders class cohesion economically impossible, on this basis at least. And which causes a veritable waste...

Now let’s look at the unions. Examined with a bit of attention they appear, reproducing at various degrees, the defects and the wounds of the bourgeois society they claim to have a mission to destroy. A union is a miniature of the old society. Foolish and complicated administrative gears galore, regulations restrictive of individual initiative, oppression of minorities by feeble majorities, the triumph of the mediocre on condition that they have the gifts of gab and swindling, everything can be found there, up to and including parasites.

Let us look at the tactics. Far from combating the established social order, it seems that the unions have as a goal their sanctioning. Supposedly anti-statists, they never cease battling for this or that law, to demand another one, thus recognizing the entity Law and, as a corollary, the entity State. These anti-parliamentarians sign duly legalized contracts and call for this to be voted for and that to be rejected...

In their organization they are a perfect copy of the parliamentary farce. Even the clowns aren’t missing. Delegation of power, votes, decisions having force of law, as well as half hidden combinations, personal competition, kitchen squabbles: we can find in the CGT the exact, though reduced, transposition of parliamentary hideousness.

As for the unmistakable incoherence in their blather, they pass from a tragic to a comic character by a series of gradations amusing to observe. It’s the smashing — is it not, Clemenceau — victory of the postal workers transformed a few days later into... well, you find the diplomatic word. It’s the valiant corporation of construction workers who a few months ago naively allowed themselves to be muzzled by a collective contract that was extremely...clever. It’s the CGT today building itself up as defenders of bank employees, as if the valets of the financier were not as repugnant as the financier himself. We could write columns on this theme.

Let us look at the results. Today the CGT is combative: in words more than in acts, but combative all the same. Taking off from this point, comrades promise us that in the future its combative force will grow and will end by assuring it the complete triumph of its demands. We saw above what the reasons were that authorize us — let us be modest — to have some doubts on this subject. A glance at our neighboring countries will be instructive in this regard.

At their beginning all parties, all groups (even all individuals) are combative. Age comes, and with it a potbelly and wisdom. This is the story of many men who we are today permitted to admire raised to the top of the social machine, the history of the trade union socialist parties. Very revolutionary during the blessed period of their youth, the English trade unions have become what we know them to be. The same thing happened to many German unions, and is now happening to the Belgian worker’s movement, which is losing all energy as it grows. In certain places in the United States, in Australia, in New Zealand, in England, where the unions have reached their heights, they have only managed to create a caste of privileged, conservative workers, lined up under the protective shield of the state, and are hardly worth more than the more official bourgeois.

Having seen the evolution of the French unions and observed the incoherence of the CGT, I don’t think it’s possible to foresee a different destiny for it.

* * *

We will thus not lack for arguments during he upcoming discussions, for each of these criticisms lends itself to interesting developments and must be backed with proofs drawn from union activity itself — proofs it is not difficult to find cartloads of.

Our critical work thus understood, it remains to define the positive, affirmative part of our propaganda. It is clear and has no need of long developments: the making of anarchists.

In parallel with the tissue of illogic that is syndicalism, and the monument of incoherence that is the union, let us show how, by the transformation of men, society is transformed; how as men become more healthy, more noble, more intelligent, more educated, the air becomes breathable and life appears admirable...

“Salvation lies within us!” Let us show that the salvation of men is within them and that the route to enlightenment has been laid out for them, if they want to make the effort to free themselves from the old lies... Let us show — as it is in its fertile intransigence — anarchist action!

And I can’t end any better than did Lorulot the other week:

“And now... to work!”

First Published in l’anarchie, no. 255 February 24, 1910;
Source: LeRétif, articles parus dans “l’anarchie.” Textes réunis et présentés par Yves Pagés. Paris, Monnier, 1989;

Egoism by Le Rétif

It constitutes the basis of every animal mentality. Being necessary, it is legitimate. “Legitimate” — such picturesque language. In truth, our language is poorly adapted to reality. I mean to say that, primordial and indisputable, it is beyond our good and evil; it is. We glimpse it in various forms that can be reduced to two essential forms, and this has allowed us to imagine a conflict between altruism and egoism: egoism of the weak, altruism of the strong.

The weak man is greedy, self-interested, narrow spirited. What is a weak man? A being poor in strength. Can the poor man give? Offer himself the luxury of being generous, spendthrift, prodigal? No. He watches over his every penny, he watches out for every occasion to increase his tiny horde. He is — and he is doubtless right, retreating constantly into himself and taking advantage of all he can in order to survive — at antipodes from altruism.

The altruist? It is he who gives of himself, exerts himself, is prodigal with himself, which shows that he has the means of being so. Altruism is nothing but the logical form of the egoism of the strong. Goodness, generosity, devotion, abnegation are characteristics of strength and health. It’s an egoism of superior joys, for not only do they augment the vitality of he who feels them, but they also provoke in others an increase in vitality. The word “superior” here has no moral value: it is as superior in relation to life that we should understand this. Is there some merit in the strong being strong? We can only admit this when it’s a matter of an individual who has strengthened himself by his own will. And even then the strict determinist can protest. Let us leave him there with his casuistry.

Like the will, it seems that egoism is modified by heredity, education, and specific maladies. We should keep them in mind in order to explain these monstrosities: the individual who is strong and vulgarly egoist, and the other whom we admire: the weak, strengthened by his conviction, becoming altruistic — heroically.

Anarchists — Bandits by Le Rétif

Last week the dailies related in detail a tragic incident of the social struggle. In the suburbs of London (in Tottenham) two of our Russian comrades attacked the accountant of a factory and, pursued by the crowd and the police, held out in a desperate struggle, the mere recounting of which is enough to make one shiver...

After almost two hours of resistance, having exhausted their munitions, and wounded 22 people, three of them mortally, they reserved for themselves their final bullets. One, our comrade Joseph Lapidus (the brother of the terrorist Stryge, killed in Paris in the Vincennes woods in 1906) killed himself; the other was taken seriously wounded.

Words seem powerless to express admiration or condemnation before their ferocious heroism. Lips are still; the pen isn’t strong enough, sonorous enough.

Nevertheless, in our ranks there will be the timorous and the fearful who will disavow their act. But we, for our part, insist on loudly affirming our solidarity.

We are proud to have had among us men like Duval, Pini, and Jacob [1]. We today insist on saying loudly and clearly: The London “bandits” were at one with us!

Let this be known. Let it be finally understood that in the current society we are the vanguard of a barbarous army. That we have no respect for what constitutes virtue, morality, honesty, that we are outside or laws and regulations. They oppress us, they persecute us, they pursue us. Rebels constantly find themselves before the sad alternative: submit, that is, abolish their will and return to the miserable herd of the exploited, or accept combat against the entire social organism.

We prefer combat. Against us, all arms are good; we are in an enemy camp, surrounded, harassed. The bosses, judges, soldiers, cops unite to bring us down. We defend ourselves — not by all means, for the most peremptory response we can give them is to be better than them — but with a profound contempt for their codes, their morals, their prejudices.

By refusing us the right to free labor society gives us the right to steal. In taking possession of the wealth of the world the bourgeois give us the right to take back, however we can, what we need to satisfy our needs. Anti-authoritarian, we have the burning determination to live free without oppressing anyone, without being oppressed by anyone. Current society, based on the absurd egoism of the strongest, on iniquity and oppression, denies us this. In order not to die of hunger we are forced to have recourse to various expedients: accept the stupefying and demoralizing existence of the wage earner: work, or the dangerous existence of the illegal: steal, and get ourselves out of our mess through means on the margin of the law.

Let this be known! In order to wrest an existence, working — submitting ourselves to the slavery of the workshop — is as much an expedient as stealing. As long as we haven’t conquered the ample and large life for which we fight, the various means which the social organization will force us to have recourse to will be nothing to us but a last resort. And so we choose, in keeping with our temperaments and the circumstances, those that are most appropriate to us.

Your codes, your laws, your “honesty”: you can’t imagine how we laugh at them!

This is why, in the face of the fuming bourgeoisie, in the face of those who judge, of honest brutes, of the prostitutes of journalism, we insist on proclaiming: “The bandits of London are ours!”

They are also, incidentally, noble bandits, and we can be proud of them. We won’t have vain words of regret, vain tears for them. No! But may their deaths be an example and etch in our memories the sublime motto of the Russian comrades: “Anarchists never surrender!”

Anarchists don’t surrender! No more under policemen’s bullets than before the shouts of the crowd or the condemnation of those who judge! Anarchists don’t surrender!

Resolved to live as rebels and to pitilessly defend themselves to the bitter end, they know, when it’s necessary, to accept the epithet of “bandits.”

I can guess, dear reader, the sentimental objection that is on your lips: But the 22 unfortunates wounded by your comrades’ bullets were innocent! Have you no remorse?”

No! For those who pursued them could have been nothing but “honest” citizens, believers in the state, in authority. Perhaps oppressed, but oppressed who, by their criminal weakness, perpetuate oppression. Enemies!

Unthinking, you will answer. Yes, but the ferocious bourgeois is also unthinking. For us the enemy is he who prevents us from living. We are under attack, and we defend ourselves.

And so we don’t have words of condemnation for our daring comrades fallen in Tottingham, rather much admiration for their peerless bravery, and much sadness this evening to have thus lost, in the fullness of their vigor, men of an exceptional courage and energy.


[1]^ Clement Duval (1850-1935) — leader of a group of illegalist anarchists called “La Panthére des Batignolles.” Pini (1850-189?) — anarchist shoemaker and partisan of “individual expropriation.” Marius-Alexander Jacob (1879-1954) — Thief and head of a band of anarchist criminals.

First Published in “Le Révolté” No 36, February 6, 1909;

The Individualist and Society by Le Rétif

The word society is synonymous with a group. Today most men constitute an immense grouping that, though subdivided into an infinite number of sub-groups (races, nationalities, social classes, ideological groups) can nevertheless be considered as a whole. It is this whole, this formidable collectivity that we designate with the word society.

To consider society as an assemblage of individuals and to deny this any importance, as some do, is simplistic, too simplistic. It means failing to understand social psychology, the psychology of crowds and, what is most surprising, the results of the most elementary observations. In truth, observation shows us and study confirms that from the fact that they find themselves brought together through interests, aspirations, or similar heredity, men are modified. A new psychology is created, common to all the members of the association. From this point they constitute a crowd, and that crowd has a mentality, a life, a destiny distinct from the individuals that compose it.

The existence of a society is this ruled by laws as immutable as those of biology that rule the existence of individuals.

Let us now pose the question: are these laws favorable to the individual? Are they in harmony with his instincts?

In a excellent little “Precis de Sociologie” M. G. Palante wrote: “A society, once formed, tends to maintain itself,” by virtue of which, “in all domains — economic, political, legal, moral — individual energies will be narrowly subordinated to common utility. Woe on those energies that do not bow before that discipline. Society breaks or eliminates them with neither haste nor pity. It brings the most absolute contempt of the individual to this execution. It acts like a blind instinct, irresistible and implacable. In a terribly concrete form it represents that brutal force that Schopenhauer described: ‘The will to life separated from the intellect.’

“Despite all the optimistic utopias, every society is and will be exploitative, dominating, and tyrannical. It is so not by accident, but by essence.”

This is even more the case because we feel the “general law of social preservation,” admitted by almost all contemporary sociologists, weighing painfully upon our shoulders.

And if we add the “law of social conformity, which consists in every organized society demanding of its members a certain similarity of conduct, appearance, and even of opinions and ideas,” and which “consequently brings with it a law of the elimination of individuals rebellious to this conformism,” the conflict between the individual and society appears to us to its full extent.

A glance around us confirms in a striking fashion the conclusion that we arrived at theoretically.

What is more iniquitous in fact than the so-called social contract, in the name of which each is crushed by all? You will be a worker, you will be a soldier, you will be a prostitute, for social necessities demand this, and because a contract that no one will ever asked you to agree to forces you be so. You will obey the law, you will be tradition’s servant; you will live according to usage and custom. And yet tradition, law, and usage restrict you, hinder your development, make you suffer. Obey, bow, abdicate, otherwise your neighbors will condemn and pursue you. Public opinion will deride you and will call for the worst punishments for your insolence; the law will attack you. Starved, defamed, cursed, dishonored you will be the rebel who they implacably strangle.

Such is the reality. “I” have neither fatherland, nor money nor property to defend. What difference do my interests make to society? It needs soldiers, and so it imposes on me the fatherland, the barracks, a uniform...

“I” am no longer the dupe of the outdated morality that rules the life of the crowd. I aspire to love freely...But the social body needs loves that are respectful of the law, and if I don’t marry before the mayor the law and opinion reserve their rigors for me.

I love work. But I want to freely carry it out. The wage system presents me with the alternative of being a slave, a thief, or of dying of hunger.

And we shouldn’t condemn one form of social organization — authoritarian capitalism — more than other. To be sure, it isn’t difficult to conceive of a society incomparably less bad, more logical, more intelligently organized. But aside from the fact that its more or less distant realization is an arguable hypothesis, we shouldn’t hide from ourselves that it will always present serious obstacles to the development of the individual.

The hypothesis of a collectivist tomorrow presages a ferocious struggle between the state and the few individualities desirous of preserving their autonomy. Even understood in the broadest sense — that of our anarcho-communist friends — a social grouping will inevitably tend to impose one ideological credo on its members. There will still be the struggle between the individual and society, but instead of disputing his liberty and his material life it will dispute his intellectual and moral independence. And nothing says that for the men of the future — if that future is ever realized — the course of that struggle will not be every bit as painful as the fight for bread, love, and fresh air is today!

In every social grouping the individualist will remain a rebel.

Just because we take note of the antagonism between the individual and society we shouldn’t be thought to be unsociable. Yet on several occasions adversaries have sought to create that confusion.

Life in society has advantages that none among us would think of contesting. But as egoists, desirous of living in accordance with our ideas, we don’t want to accept even the unavoidable inconveniences. This is one of the characteristic traits of an individualist: “He doesn’t resign himself, even to what is fated.”

If by a sociable individual we mean he who doesn’t disturb his neighbor — or disturbs as little as possible, the individualist is the soul of sociability. Above all, this is the case through interest: to disturb more often than not opens one to being disturbed. He thus lets others live as they wish, as long as they grant him the same right. He doesn’t ignore the advantages of “association freely consented to,” a temporary association of good wills, with a practical goal in mind. But he doesn’t want to be the dupe of the idol of Solidarity and allow himself to be absorbed by a coterie, a chapel, or a sect.

If he is strong — and we think that it is impossible to affirm yourself without being strong — he is even more sociable.

The strong are generous, being rich enough to be generous: the most energetic rebels, the most indomitable enemies of society have always been big-hearted.

The Illegals by Le Rétif

Armand’s conviction in Paris for counterfeiting has brought back the old question of the Illegals.

I don’t know Armand or the details of his affair. And so without showing any particular interest in his personality — towards which I only feel that sentiment of fraternity that binds all the militants of the idea — I will simply pose questions of principle.

What should our attitude be towards Illegals (in the economic sense of the word, i.e., people living off illicit labor) and particularly towards the comrades in that category?

The answer seems so clear to me that if I hadn’t heard numerous discussions on this subject — and even in our circle — the idea of writing this article would never have occurred to me.

We approve and admire the anti-militarist who either by desertion or by some other means refuses to serve the Masters’ Fatherland and in so doing puts himself in open struggle against society, whose law he violates: that of military service, otherwise known as servitude owed the state.

After this, how can we disavow that other comrade whose temperament bows as little before the regime of the workshop as the anti-militarist bows before that of the barracks and who, by some illegal method puts himself in revolt against the law of the slavery of work?

Every revolt is in essence anarchist. And we should stand alongside the economic rebel (when he is conscious, of course) the same way we stand beside the political, antimilitarist or propagandist rebel.

All rebels, through their acts, are one of us. Anarchism is a principle of struggle: it needs fighters and not servants the away statist socialism does, a machine with complicated gears that has only to allow itself to vegetate in order to live in a bourgeois fashion.

But it seems proper to me to trace a limit. I said above “economic rebel,” for if the Duvals and the Pinis, who steal because they can’t submit to the oppression of the bosses, are our people, it isn’t the same for many so-called anarchists who have paraded through the various criminal courts over the past few years. Theft is often nothing but an act of cowardice and weakness, for he who commits it has no other goal than that of escaping work, while at the same time escaping the difficulties of social struggle. Before the jury, instead of being a common criminal the burglar or the counterfeiter declares himself an “anarchist” in the hope of being interesting or appearing the martyr to a cause he knows nothing about. He finds nothing better to respond to the judge who condemns him but the traditional and a bit banal “ Vive l’anarchie!” But if this cry in other mouths has taken on a powerful resonance, it has here a flimsy title to our solidarity.

For our part these unfortunates deserve neither sympathy nor antipathy. They aren’t rebels, but escapists. They have clumsily escaped from the social melee. More clever, more daring, or luckier they would have “arrived” and become bankers, functionaries or merchants — in a word, honest men. They would have legislated against us like vulgar Clemenceaus and without hesitation would have sent their unlucky brethren to the penal colonies. Such shipwrecks denote so much weakness and powerlessness that they can only inspire pity.

Between them and the militant who steals though revolt the distance is as great as that between a revolutionary terrorist and the highway murderer who kills a shepherd in order to steal ten sous from him. One is a rebel of conscience, the other a rebel by powerlessness or bad luck. The act of the former is an act of revolt; the act of the latter is that of a brute too stupid to imagine better.

To stand alongside economic rebels does not in the least mean preaching theft or erecting it into a tactic. This method has so many drawbacks that preaching it would be madness. It is admissible and nothing more. Noting this simply means acting as an anarchist who doesn’t fear that what he says will be heard, and having the courage to take his reasoning to its limits.

Admissible, and nothing else. For the anarchist, if he doesn’t care about bourgeois legality and honesty, must above all aim at preserving himself as long as possible for action and realizing to the greatest extent possible for himself the life he desires . His work, rather than appearing harmful and destructive, should be a work of life, a long apostolate of stubborn labor, of goodness, of love. In order to partake of the ambiance, the new man, the man of the future must live with goodness, fraternity, and love. In this way, when he will have passed he will have left behind him a trail of sympathy and astonishment that will do more for propaganda than a whole life of petty and shady struggles could have done.

But to work at his labor of life and to preserve himself all means are good, for in order to reach the summits of clarity the route is often dark.

First Published in Le Communiste, No. 14, June 20, 1908, under the pseudonym of Le Retif

The Revolutionary Illusion by Le Rétif

“Humanity marches enveloped in a veil of illusions,” a thinker — Marc Guyau — said. In fact, it seems that without this veil men aren’t capable of marching. Barely has reality torn a blindfold from them than they hasten to put on another, as if their too-weak eyes were afraid to see things as they are. Their intelligence requires the prism of falsehood.

The scandals of Panama, Dreyfus, Syveton, Steinhell, etc; the turpitudes and incapacities of politicians, and the rifle blows of Narbonne, Draveil, and Villeneuve have, for a considerable minority, torn away the veil of the parliamentary illusion.

We hoped for everything from the ballot. We had faith in the good faith and power of the nation’s representatives. And that hope, that faith prevented us from seeing the fundamental idiocy of the system, which consists in delegating one to look after the needs of all. But the ballot revealed itself to be a paper rag. Parliamentarians showed themselves to be ambitious, greedy, corrupt, and most of all, mediocre... Men appeared who were angered by the electoral farce, the comedy of reforms, the reign of republican clowns. A minority was born, which necessarily grows every day and upon which the old illusion has no hold.

Nevertheless, in order to inspire men used to being led, in order to stimulate their activity, images are needed... and so, replacing the defunct parliamentary illusion the other illusion was forged and was encrusted onto brains: the revolutionary illusion.

Yes, laws are powerless to transform society, parliamentary assemblies are pitiful, and there is nothing to expect from governments. But what legislation can’t do demonstrations and strikes will do; and union assemblies will keep the promises of their pitiful predecessors: the Chambers. Finally, we can expect everything from the conscious proletariat which... and which... and that...

Once the good suckers thought that sonorous speeches, official texts written and placarded with solemnity were capable of favorably modifying social life. This time has passed. At present it is thought that on order to do this it suffices to demolish street lamps, burn kiosks, to “knock off” a cop from time to time (on very serious occasions.)

Once, popular hopes were concentrated on deputies. These paunchy messieurs were capable of some morning decreeing marvelous things. Alas! Now that we’ve seen them slog through the mud the ideal type of the transformer appears a bit differently. It’s the “comrade secretary,” influential member of the CGT, whose voice during meetings unleashes waves of enthusiasm. It’s Pataud, — his malicious and jovial face, his imperative speech...and it’s also the long-haired revolutionary, with his belligerent hat, and who (his neighbors affirm) never goes out without his two automatic pistols...

Once the brave voters trusted in parliament — incarnation of the Welfare State — to organize their happiness. Only the “backward masses” today still maintain so foolish a confidence in their representatives. The “advanced,” the “conscious,” in short: the revolutionaries know what the state and parliament are worth. So they announce to us that after the general strike it will be the CGT that will organize universal felicity and the union committees will deliberate on the measures to be taken for the common welfare. As you can see, this in no way resembles the old parliamentary regime.

Like all errors, it was harmful to be made drunk by the parliamentary illusion . And it earned for the good citizens of this country the admirable democratic regime, so well illustrated by the Russian alliance — O! Most advantageous of alliances, the great and small affairs, and, finally the reign of Clemenceau and Briand... while waiting for that of Jaures. M. Viviani — today His Excellency — once said a propos of I don’t know which legislature: “There was the Lost Chamber, and there is the Infamous Chamber,” and this could equally be said of all the legislatures that have followed, vainly striving to surpass each other in buffooneries. Illusions cost dearly.

And yet, though it’s been costly to the poor buggers who have benevolently had their heads shaved, been whipped and shot down, the parliamentary illusion has not done half as much harm as the other illusion can do.

Oh, don’t worry. We’ll get over this. We’ll end up by seeing that the little game of shake-ups doesn’t help at all. And we won’t see the bloody dawn rise that M. Meric announces to us. Illusions don’t last forever. But men will have died for the Cause, died stupidly, uselessly. But one or two generations will have wasted their strength in foolish efforts. We would have wasted life — that’s all.

We’ll get over this. The great day isn’t ready to shine, and probably never will shine, except in the feverish imaginings of its prophets.

And yet, since this dream makes the crowd drunk let’s look and see what it presages for us. Let’s see what these efforts tend to, what they will manage to do if an impossible victory was to crown them.

Not too long ago a pamphlet came out that shows us what this will be. Our old friend, Citizen Meric, aka Flax, is the author. It is titled: “How We Will Make the Revolution.” This pamphlet is serious, like the program of a future party. In certain places it is as enthralling as the novels of Captain Danrit. In its general appearance it recalls the writings of Mark Twain, the phlegmatic and impassible humor of the Americans.

Citizen Meric — who knows what he’s about — demonstrates that when all is said and done a revolution is an easy thing. Our Russian friends can have no doubts on this subject. And then, a few words on the organized proletariat. But without a doubt the most interesting chapter is the one that shows us what will happen after the triumphant insurrection. Here it is possible to see just how far intelligences in the throes of an illusion can be led astray. For if it is possible that Citizen Meric doesn’t believe a single word of what he says, it is certain that many people sincerely conceive what he has formulated.

On the day after the great day Citizen Meric announces the revolutionary dictatorship, backed by the Terror. Woe to the adversaries of the new social order (read: The Federal Committee). “Violence alone could give us our momentary victory; terror alone can preserve that victory... we must not fear being ferocious! We’ll speak of justice, goodness and liberty afterwards.” And so, dear anti-authoritarian friends, we have been warned.

From these lines we can understand the little enthusiasm among individualists inspired by M. Meric’s revolution. The present order crushes us, tracks us down, kills us. The revolutionary order will crush us, will track us down, will kill us. The party can count on our collaboration.

But Citizen Meric gets better and better. On page 22 we note the existence of two committees, and a revolutionary army and police. The rebels will be executed (sic,sic, sic). Isn’t this interesting?

The unions “will order everyone to get to work,” or else watch out. After this a workers parliament (sic) will be named, which “will have nothing in common with the odious parliamentarism of today.” Yeah, sure. Even more as we’ve already noted, this charming little regime will have nothing in common with the abominable bourgeois oppression.

There will also be a permanent labor council. And the comrade ends by saying forthwith: “The current CGT already gives an approximate idea of the future working class organization.” Won’t that be lovely!

In order to defend the new fatherland thus constructed, and which will certainly be the gentlest of fatherlands, oh ineffable Meric, militias will be formed. For war is inevitable...

And after talking about a “new morality imposing heavy obligations and sacrifices,” after having told us of revolutionary prisons and tribunals, in short, of what he himself calls worker tyranny, Citizen Meric tranquilly concludes: “This isn’t for today, or for tomorrow.” Didn’t I tell you he had the impassible humor of the Anglo-Saxons!

* * *

Citizen Meric is perhaps a joker or a refined humorist knowing how push a joke to an extreme. I’d like to think so. But the fact is that there are simple souls who accept these writings as gospel.

The harmful illusion is that of the belief in this redeeming revolution, when there is no other redemption than that of the human personality, when we can build nothing without having made better and stronger men.

The evil illusion is that of waiting for the revolt of the crowd, of the organized, disciplined, regimented masses. In fact, the only fertile acts are those committed by individuals knowing clearly what they want and advancing without let or hindrance, needing neither chiefs nor discipline. In fact, the only good rebellions are the immediate rebellions of individuals refusing to wait any longer and decided to immediate grab their portion of joy.

The imbecilic illusion is that of imagining that by violence alone, by terror, by bombs and rifles we can create the new society. Violence employed by brutes will be absurd and harmful. A society founded on gibbets, maintained by the force of chains, will always be ignobly oppressive. The revolution of anger and hatred, the revolution of unionized fanatics can only make vainly flow torrents of blood and prepare the arrival of new filibusterers.

In 1789 Robespierre’s dictatorship prepared the way for the Empire. The guillotinades were the prelude to the Napoleonic carnage. The Terror, by decreasing the value of human life, allowed free rein to the bloody folly of the “Little Corsican.” This, brutally, is history’s response to revolutionary illusions.

* * *

To be sure, society does not evolve without bumps, crises, bloody shocks. Often, angry revolts, dictated by sentimental indignation or instilled with faith in the salutary power of violence, break out and are quickly repressed in the horrors of bourgeois reaction. They have their use. They are inevitable. But we should have no illusions as to their fate. Above all, we should not fool ourselves as to the transformative value of force — of the blind force of fanaticized crowds.

In certain circumstances acts of violence can be precious: when they complete the work already accomplished by the revolution in mentalities. And it’s a right, a right that sometimes becomes a duty, to rebel by force against the crushing weight of authoritarian institutions. But to deduce from this that the Terror is panacea is a lamentable error in reasoning.

To think that through disordered shake-ups and with the savage energy of worker cohorts we can abolish a power, establish a bit of harmony, is infantile.

To imagine the ideal actor in the form of an individual quick with the fist — or the gun — is naive.

In order to act fruitfully — in whatever way — it is indispensable to know how to reflect, calculate, appreciate an action, to know how to accomplish it with a vigorous hand. The actor — the individual whose revolt, violent or not, is a factor in progress — must be a strong personality, conscious, clear-headed and proud, not clouded with hatred or illusions.

To think that impulsive, defective, ignorant crowds will have done with the morbid illogic of capitalist society is a vulgar illusion. It is precisely the defects of these crowds that must be destroyed so that life can be ample and good for all. Bestial violence, hatred, the sheep-like spirit of leaders, the credulity of the crowds, these are what must be annihilated in order to transform society. Improving individuals, purifying them, making them strong, making them ardently love and desire life, making them capable of salutary revolts: these are the sole resulted. There is no salvation outside the renewal of man!

Published in `L’anarchie', April 28, 1910