Category Archives: 1920s

Emile Armand, “Without amoralization, no anarchization” (1926)

I came across this article by Emile Armand in L’Insurgé while working on something entirely unrelated, but it was interesting enough that I went ahead and translated it. If there is nothing here that would convince anyone not already sympathetic, it is a clear statement of Armand’s position, with a few nice examples of his literary eccentricities.

Without amoralization, no anarchization

The Larousse dictionary defines the word morality as: the relation of an act, of the sentiments of a person, with the rule of morals. From this comes the expression “certificate of morality,” to designate an official confirmation of a clean criminal record. Each time that I hear morality spoken of in a publication that calls itself anarchist, to whatever degree, there comes to my mind, unbidden, the idea of a “certificate of good behavior,” delivered by the police chief of the district.

As I wrote in the last issue, the word morality would never have appeared in the anarchist or anarchist-friendly journals if the anarchist movement had not been swamped with people coming from bourgeoisie backgrounds, who have brought with them the notion that it is important to conform, in matters of morals, with the established rules.

An experience that is already great, a familiarity that does not date from yesterday, has shown me that a great number of people who declare themselves theoretically as advocates of anarchism have been seduced particularly by the teachings of Rousseau, humanitarianism, and the revolutionary aspiration to egalitarianism revealed by the writings of certain anarchist dogmatists. From that comes an all too obvious tendency to make pronouncements on the acts and movements of comrades, valuations and judgments like those issued by the representatives of bourgeois society and those chiefs of police who deliver certificates of good behavior.

When, in 1900, I entered into contact with the anarchists, I came from a Christian milieu; many times, I have been stupefied by comparing the materialist declarations of certain anarchist theorists with the judgments they passed on the conduct of comrades who had taken seriously formulas like “no gods, no masters” or “with neither faith nor law,” which makes concrete, in a brief and clear form, the whole individual anarchist idea of life. I could not understand how, after having battled the law and the prophets, both religious and secular, they could bring, with regard to certain kinds of individual behavior, condemnations that would not have been disapproved of by the judges in the criminal court. As I did not consider propaganda a profession and did not wish to make a vocation of it, I would have long since dumped these respectable folks, and that would have saved me some unpleasantness, if afterwards I had not been convinced that these judgments simply reflected the bourgeois education (primary and secondary) received by these theorists, of which they have never wished or been able to rid themselves. Later, fortunately, I met real anarchists, liberated and freed from the education of the schools, who avoided, in general, bringing judgment on the actions of their comrades. When they ventured to express an opinion on their manner of conducting themselves, they did so in relation to the anarchist conception of life and not some standard of morality established by the supporters of bourgeois society.

I meet old compagnons who tell me that they have withdrawn from the movement because of the disillusionment they have experienced, meeting too many anarchist theorists with bourgeois inclinations. Where they hoped to meet men who had abandoned social prejudices and moral preconceptions, they found only minds, so spineless as to be ridiculous, whose ethical mentality differed in no way from that of their porter and their housekeeper.

Not that, forced by circumstances, the anarchist individualists do not disguise themselves, but in the manner of the Calabrian brigand, who disguises himself as a carabineer in order to rob a stage-coach. Every concession that the anarchist individualist makes to the social milieu, every concession that seem to make to the State, they make amends by undermining the notion of the necessary power, by demonstrating to all those with whom they come into contact that there is no need for morals and moralists, for imposed, obligatory leaders and magistrates, in order to fulfill the organic individual functions and for humans to get along.

But where is the giant who will get on with the task of amoralizing and immoralizing the anarchist men and women, of making them catalysts of the amoralization and immoralization of the human milieu? For it is only then, O anarchy, that your advent could foreseen.

E. Armand.

L’Insurgé 2 no. 48 (April 3, 1926): 2.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]


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Lucien Descaves, “A Friend of Varlin” (on Nathalie Le Mel)

A Friend of Varlin
Last week there died, at the hospice of Ivry, at 95 years of age, an old revolutionary that I have known well and to whom I owe one of my greatest joys as a man of letters.
One day when I was questioning Martelet, the former member of the Commune, about his colleague Varlin, the finest figure of a worker from those heroic times, Martelet said to me: “You have, practically next door, a woman who fought the good fight beside him in the last years of the Empire. She has preserved his memory. It is Nathalie Le Mel, who was deported, in 1871, with Louise Michel, Rochefort and do many others! Do you want to meet her?”
Did I want to!
So one morning in April, Martelet led me to the home of the citoyenne Le Mel. She livedin the Rue des Gobelins,on the ground floor of a squalid house, a dark and damp room, of a single story with a small paved courtyard, where flourished, miraculously, a thin lilac. The room wasonly furnished with a bed, two chairs anda sticky table, on which remained in place an alcohol lamp, a bottle of milk and a coffee pot. MamaLe Mel nourished herself on milk and coffee.And what could she have added to this frugal menu? She lived on thirtyfrancs from the Assistance to the Elderly. The husband of his late granddaughter, a brave man, killed during the war, regularly paid her modest rent. Thewalls of the room were decorated withportraits of Varlin, Louise Michel, Rochefort—and the tenant.
We immediately became excellent friends. I often went to drop in on her, in the morning or late in the afternoon, and brought her some books. We chatted. She was born in Brest in 1826. She was the daughter of merchants and was married to a worker, named Duval, a good gilder, but a bad penny. After holding, for some time, a small trade in books at Quimper, she was separated from her husband. She arrived in Paris in 1861, at 35 years old, and started to work to raise her child. She made the acquaintance of Eugène Varlin, at the seat of the Society of Bookbinders, in the home of a wine-merchant on the Rue de l’Ecole-de-Médecine, and was immediately devoted along with him to the emancipation of the proletariat. The strikes of 1864 and 1865, among the bookbinders, had further tightened the pure links of friendship that united them. She had participated in the organization of the first cooperative restaurant opened in the Rue Mazarine and then transferred, under the name of the Marmite, to the Rue Larrey. Other Marmites were established, later, in the Rue des Blancs-Manteaux, the Rue du Château and the Rue Berzélius. The good times! The ardent apostolate! They worked ten hours a day,—happy for the gain of two hours obtained, in 1864, by the strike,—and on often met them, in the evening, here and there, often at Varlin’s home, 33, rue Dauphine, to organize the means of obtaining more and of lead the whole working class into the movement.
From 1866, Nathalie Le Mel was affiliated with the International. During the siege of Paris, she took part in the Central Committee of the Union des Femmes, without ceasing to concern herself with the Marmite on the Rue Larrey. May 6, under the Commune, she drafted, with Mme. Dimitrief, a call to arms addressed to the women, and during the bloody week, she cared for the wounded and distributed munitions to the insurgents. Arrested on June 10, she was not held at Saint-Lazare. She remained at Versailles, sick, and appeared, in the month of September, before the 4th council of war, presided over by Lieutenant-colonel Pierre. She was accused of inciting civil war and provoking the construction of barricades.
Here is the impression that she made on the legal reporter of the Corsaire:
“Nathalie Duval, wife of Le Mel, is 46 years of age; she practices the profession of bookbinder. Her appearance is very simple, being that of a worker: a black dress and shawl, and, on her head, a linen cap. The conduct of the accused is as simple as her appearance. However, she expresses herself with a great ease and a truly remarkable purity of language. No grandiloquence, no bravado, no gestures, no cries: truth without pomp.”
Defended by Mr. Albert Joly, Nathalie Le Mel was nevertheless condemned, on September 10, to deportation to a fortified enclosure.
From the prison of Auberive, where she was taken first, she went to rejoin her friends in New Caledonia. On her return, after the amnesty, she worked on the presses of the Intransigeant for Rochefort, who was always fond of her.
All of that interested me, but I stubbornly returned to Varlin; and she had told all that she recalled of him, when one day she spoke to me of his family, originally from Claye, in Seine-et-Marne.
“I do not know,” she added, “if his two brothers are still alive. I knew them well. After the Commune, the younger, who was hemiplegic, was condemned, simply because he was Eugène’s brother, to two years in prison and sent from the prison hulks of Brest to Clairvaux, and from Clairvaux to Embrun.”
I did not have to be told twice! A few days later, I was in Claye, and I found Varlin’s brothers there, in a family house where we affixed a commemorative plaque, on the eve of the war.
Louis and Hippolyte Varlin, Eugène’s brother, have survived that war as well. I returned to see them and speak with them of the hero and martyr whose memory the working class will not fail to glorify on next May 28, the anniversary of his death, under the outrages, as it belongs to an emancipator of men, as well as to their redeemer.
“A Friend of Varlin,” 45 no. 15998 (May 18, 1921): 1.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Emile Armand, “Variations on Voluptuousness” (1922)

This short piece by Emile Armand appeared with his essay “On Sexual Liberty.”

I know that sensual pleasure is a subject about which you do not like people to speak or to write. Dealing with it shocks you. Or it provokes a joke in bad taste among you. You have books in your libraries which embrace nearly all the branches of human activity. You possess dictionaries and encyclopedias. You count perhaps a hundred volumes on one specialty of manual production. And I do not speak of political or sociological books. But there is not on your shelves a single work consecrated to sensual pleasure. There are some journals concerned with numismatics, philately, heraldry, angling or lawn bowling. The least of the poetic or artistic tendencies has its organ. The tiniest chapel of an ism has its bulletin. The novels of love abound. And we find brochures and books concerned with free love or sexual hygiene. But not one periodical devoted to sensual pleasure frankly considered, without insinuations. As one of the sources of the effort to live. As a felicity. As a stimulant in the struggle for existence. Long studies unroll on the techniques of painting, and sculpture—on the working of wood, stone, and metals. But I search in vain for documented articles which consider sensual pleasure as an art—which exhibit its ancient refinements—which propose novel ones. It is not that pleasure leaves you indifferent. But it is only clandestinely, in the shadows, behind closed doors that you discuss or debate it. As if nature was not truly voluptuous. As if the heat of the sun and the scent of the meadows did not invite sensual pleasure?
I am not unaware, certainly, of the reasons for your attitude. And I know its origin. The Christian poison flows in your veins. The Christian virus infects you cerebrally. The kingdom of your Master is not of this world. And you are his subjects. Yes, you, socialists, revolutionaries, anarchists, who swallow without batting an eye a hundred columns of estimates for demolition or social construction, but that two hundred lines of appeal to voluptuous experience “obsess”—that is to say “scandalize.”
Oh, slaves! 
 [Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 3/17/2012]

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Emile Armand, “Our Rule of Ideological Conduct” (1922)

Manifesto of the journal L’En-Dehors
Émile Armand

Everywhere, individualists of our tendency wish to establish — now and at all times — a human milieu founded on the individual act, in which, without any control, intervention, or intrusion of the State, all individuals can, whether isolated or associated, govern their affairs among themselves, by means of free agreements, voidable on notice, no matter what the activity, whether the association be the work of a single person or of a collectivity. Their voluntary associations are unions of comrades, based on the exercise of reciprocity or “equal liberty.”

The individualists of our sort consider as their adversaries all the institutions and all the individualities that, directly or by intermediaries, wish to subject them to their authority and use violence against them, in other words, all the partisans of imposed contracts. They reserve the right to defend themselves against them by all the means at their disposal, including deception.

The individualists of our sort oppose sentimental-sexual jealousy, bodily propertarianism and exclusivism in love, which they regard as authoritarian manifestations, if not psychopathic behavior. They propagate the thesis of “amorous camaraderie.” They claim every sexual freedom (as long as they are not sullied by violence, misrepresentation, fraud or venality) including the rights of education, publicity, variation, fancy and association.


Manifesto of the journal L’En-Dehors

Originally published as “Notre ligne de conduite idéologique.”

Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur (revised 12/14/2011)

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Voline, “Nihilism” (Anarchist Encyclopedia)

NIHILISM n. m. (from Latin nihil, nothing)

A deeply rooted and widely spread misunderstanding is closely linked to this word born, 75 years ago, in the Russian literature and passed without being translated (thanks to its Latin origin), into other languages.

In France, in Germany, in England and elsewhere, one usually understands by “nihilism” a current of ideas – or even a system – revolutionary and social politics, invented in Russia, having there (or having had) numerous organized partisans. We routinely speak of a “nihilist party” and of “the nihilists,” its members. All this is false. It is time to correct that error, at least for the readers of the Anarchist Encyclopedia.

The term nihilism has been introduced into the Russian literature – and thus into the language – by the famous novelist Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883), towards the middle of the last century. In one of his novels, notably, Turgenev described in this way a current of ideas that had arisen among Russian intellectuals in the late 1850s. The word was a success and rapidly entered into circulation.

This current of ideas had above all a philosophical and moral character. Its field of influence always remained very small, having never extended beyond the intellectual stratum. Its style was always personal and peaceful, but that did not prevent it, however, from being very lively, imbued with a great breath of individual revolt and guided by a dream of happiness for all mankind. The movement it had provoked, contented itself with the literary domain and especially that of morals. But in these two areas, the movement did not shrink before the last logical conclusions, that it not only formulated, but sought to apply individually, as a rule of conduct.

Within these limits, the movement opened the way to a very progressive and independent moral and intellectual evolution: an evolution that, for example, brought the entire Russian intellectual youth to extremely advanced general concepts and resulted in, among others things, the emancipation of cultured women, of which the Russia of the late nineteenth century could rightly be proud. It is necessary to add that this current of ideas, while being strictly moral and individual, was nevertheless in itself, thanks to its largely human and emancipatory spirit, the seed of future social ideas: conceptions that succeeded it and later resulted in a vast political and social action, with which, precisely, this school of thought is confused today outside of Russia. Indirectly, “nihilism” prepared the terrain for the movements and political organizations of a markedly social and revolutionary sort, that appeared later under the influence of ideas prevalent in Europe and of external and internal events. The misunderstanding is, precisely, in that we confuse, under the name of “nihilism”, the revolutionary movement later led and represented by organized groups or parties having an agenda and a purpose, with a single stream of ideas which preceded and to which alone the word “nihilism” should be attributed.

*      *

As a philosophical and moral conception, nihilism had for bases: on the one hand, materialism, and, on the other hand, individualism, both pushed to the extremes.

Force and Matter, the famous work of Büchner (German materialist philosopher, 1824-1899) appeared in that era, was translated into Russian, lithographed clandestinely and distributed, despite the risks, with a very great success, in thousands of copies. That book became the veritable gospel of the young Russian intellectuals from then on. The works of Moleschott, Ch. Darwin and several other foreign naturalists and materialists, exercised and equally great influence. Materialism was accepted as an incontestable, absolute truth.

As materialists, the “nihilists” waged a relentless war against religion and against everything that was beyond pure, positive reason; against everything found to be outside material and immediately useful reality; against everything that belonged to the spiritual, sentimental, idealist domain. They despised beauty, the aesthetic, sentimental love, the art of dressing, of pleasing, etc … In this vein, they went so far as to completely disown art as an expression of idealism. Their great ideologist, the brilliant publicist Pisarev (who died accidentally in his youth), launched, in one of his articles, his famous example, saying that a simple shoemaker was infinitely more to be esteemed and admired than Raphael, because the first produced material and useful objects, while the works of the second served no purpose. The same Pisarev tried desperately, in his writings, to dethrone, from the materialist and utilitarian point of view, the great poet Pushkin. “Nature is not a temple, but a laboratory, and man is there to work,” said the nihilist Bazarov in the novel of Turgenev. (In speaking of a “fierce war” waged by the nihilists, we must understand by this a literary and verbal “war,” and nothing more. For, as I already said, “nihilism” limited its activity to the propaganda of its ideas in a few reviews and some intellectual circles. This propaganda was already difficult enough, for it had to reckon with the tsarist censorship and police that cracked down on “foreign heresies” and every independent thought).

But the true basis of “nihilism” was a sort of characteristic individualism. Risen, first, as a normal reaction against all that, especially in Russia, crush free and individual thought, its bearer, this individualism ended by renouncing, in the name of an absolute individual liberty, all the constraints, all the shackles, obligations and traditions imposed on individuals by the family, society, customs, mores, beliefs, etc… Complete emancipation of the individual, man or woman, from all that could attack its independence or the liberty of its thought: such was the fundamental idea of “nihilism.” It defended the sacred right of the individual to complete liberty, and the inviolable privacy of existence

The reader will easily understand why this current of ideas has been called “nihilism.” We mean by this that the partisans of that ideology admit nothing (nihil) of that which was natural and sacred for others (family, society, religion, art, traditions, etc … ) To the question that one posed to such a man: — what do you accept, what do you approve of all that is around you and claims to have the right or even the obligation to exert over you some influence? – The man responded: nothing – “nihil.” He was thus a “nihilist.”

*       *

Despite its essentially individual, philosophical and moral character (let us not forget that it defended individual liberty, equally, in an abstract, philosophical and moral fashion, and not against concrete political or social despotism), nihilism, as I have said, prepared the terrain for the struggle against the real and immediate obstacle, the struggle for political and social emancipation.

But it did not itself undertake that struggle. It did not even pose the question: what is to be done to genuinely liberate the individual? It remained, to the end, in the domain of purely ideological discussions and purely moral accomplishments. That other question,—which is to say, the problem of real action, of a practical struggle for emancipation,—was posed by the following generation, in the years 1870-80. It was then that the first revolutionary and socialist parties were formed in Russia. The real action commenced. But it no longer had anything in common with the old “nihilism” of the past. And the word itself remained, in the Russian language, as a purely historical terms, the trace of a movement of ideas in the years 1860-70.

The fact that those in foreign countries have the habit of understanding by “nihilism” the entire Russian revolutionary movement prior to bolshevism, and speak of a “nihilist party,” is only a historical error due to the ignorance of the true history of the revolutionary movements in Russia.


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Anarchist Encyclopedia: Babel (Tower of)

BABEL (Tower of)

The Tower of Babel was an immense tower that, according to the Bible, the sons of Noah wanted to raise in order to reach the heavens. God then annihilated this mad enterprise by the confusion of tongues. The word Babel or Tower of Babel has entered the language to designate either a gigantic construction, a confused mass of objects, a rash idea or enterprise, or a place where many languages are spoken, etc… ― There have been attempts to identify the Tower of Babel with different ruins, like that of Babil, north of Babylon, or that of Borsippa, to the south of Hillah, but nothing has come to confirm these conjectures. ― As it has come down to us, the legend of the Tower of Babel can be a lesson to us. It shows us that it is necessary, above all else, that the peoples regard one another fraternally. And it is less their different languages that are an obstacle to that, than the shifty diplomacies of their leaders. The peoples must learn to commune in a common ideal, that they strive to understand each other, and that they banish or punish all those who would ignite national discords. This is why an international language would be useful, and serve to suppress many misunderstandings between the peoples. (See Esperanto, Ida, International language.)

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