HIST 202: European Civilization, 1648-1945
Socialism in the nineteenth century can be divided into two different strains of thought: reformist and revolutionary. While reformist socialists believed in changing the State through legal activity, such as voting, revolutionary socialists viewed such measures as ineffective and perhaps even complicit in maintaining the status quo. Along the spectrum of leftwing political thought, syndicalists and anarchists shared the conviction that the State could not be reformed from within. In some cases, this conviction resulted in acts of violence, so-called propaganda by the deed. Émile Henry, a French anarchist, was among the first militants to target civilian rather than official targets; as such, he can be seen as one of the first modern terrorists.
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European Civilization, 1648-1945
HIST 202 - Lecture 14 - Radicals
Chapter 1. Revolutionary and Reform Socialism [00:00:00]
Professor John Merriman: So, what I want to do today is resist the temptation to talk about anarchism the entire time. I sent around the terms for today of which I only forgot one or two. What I think I’ll do at the beginning is I’m going to talk very quickly about socialism, and the difference between revolutionary socialism and reform socialism. Add syndicalism to the mix, and these are all terms that I sent to you, so I’m not going to write them on the board, because I need the board. Then for most of the lecture I’m going to talk about anarchism. Anarchists didn’t want to reform the state. They didn’t want to seize control of the state either by revolution or by electoral process. They wanted to destroy the state. So, I’m going to talk about those guys for a while.
Most anarchists were not terrorists, but at the end I’m going to talk about a guy that I followed around for four or five years who was a terrorist, and arguably — it’s a book I just finished — one can find the origins of modern terrorism in this guy, who is called Émile Henry. This will fit into Paris. It’s obviously sort of a sub-theme in this course, and so is the state and capitalism. This particular person, Émile Henry, set out to bomb and to kill. His targets changed the name of the game for terrorists. That’s obviously what I can’t wait to talk about. But first I’m going to just review briefly for you, it’s getting briefer every second that I think about this, the socialist stuff, which you can read about. With the rise of mass politics in Europe in the 1880s and 1890s, there was the rise of mass socialist parties.
Basically just to review: there are two kinds of socialism. There were the revolutionary socialists, of which Marx was an obvious example and his son-in-law Paul Lafargue, a name you don’t have to retain, who brought Marxist theory to France, who believed that revolution would come when the proletariat was class-conscious and after a bourgeois revolution, of which he basically thought 1848 had been a good example following in 1789. And the proletariat would rise up and break their chains and bring this brave new world. And, so, there were revolutionary socialists in Italy, in Spain, and in France, and even a few in Germany.
Reform socialists said, “Look, states are becoming stronger and stronger, and can break revolutions very easily. Look what happened to the Paris Commune of 1871 when about 25,000 people are massacred, men, women and children are gunned down, and that the way to bringing social reform and abolishing the abuses of capitalism is through reform.” This is the reformist tradition in Germany. It’s identified with somebody who’s in the book, Edouard Bernstein. And you can see this in the growth of the SPD, the German Socialist Reformist Party, which was the largest party in the Reichstag in 1914 when war breaks out.
What you do is if you organize, you can — legislatures, if you have enough socialists and enough well-meaning other people in the legislatures, in the Reichstag, or in the Chambre des Députés, or the other parliaments in places that had parliaments, then you can vote in laws. You can vote in mine safety regulations, because mining accidents killed so many people. There’s one in the Pas de Calais where hundreds and hundreds of people, a thousand people get killed in one accident in about 1910 or 1911. You can pass an eight-hour day or a ten-hour day. You can pass laws making it harder and harder to employ children, particularly in dangerous tasks. You can do things for women. You could do things for families. If you elect the right kind of people, you can have a revolution through reform, through the ballot.
And the great socialist leaders such as Bernstein, whom I just mentioned, or the great Jean Jaurès, whose death on the 31st of July in 1914 was really the end of an era and the beginning of another era, a scary era of the war — people had that sense. He was the one who in France unified the reform socialists and the revolutionary socialists, though there are still fissures in their approaches. Of course, the old revolutionary socialists would become the Communists after 1920, when the French Communist Party is begun in the wake of the Russian Revolution, which seemed to be, even though it was a revolution in a very complex situation, that seemed to say that you can have a revolution. But anyway, reform socialists dominate in Germany. They dominate in France. They dominate in Belgium. The Socialist Party is terribly important in Italy; they become more important in Spain as well. Those are the two big traditions.
Some of the tensions between revolutionary socialists and reform socialists can be seen in the fact that revolutionary socialists said, “Look, if you are working in the Reichstag and you’re trying to get better insurance plans,” ironically it was Bismarck’s Germany that gives really the first substantial insurance program for workers, “what you’re doing is you’re propping up the bourgeois state. You’re buying into it. You’re supporting indirectly their armies that crush workers and strikes,” and they did in the heroic age of syndicalism, but more about that in a minute, 1895 to about 1907 in France. But in other countries it’s about the same thing. “You’re propping up the bourgeois state by participating in electoral politics.” But lots of revolutionary socialists, and this is all in the book so don’t worry about this, but a lot of them say, “Look, if we don’t run candidates and elections, how are they going to know about us?” So, they, too, would run candidates and elections. So, they’re put at really kind of coincé. They’re really sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place, because they’re running candidates in elections in which they do not believe.
I’m not here talking about Russia, because that is more complicated with the Bolsheviks, and the Mensheviks, and the socialist revolutionaries, and we will come back to them. I’m talking basically about Western Europe. You have to imagine that Lenin and the other Russian socialists are sort of walking around the lakes of Geneva and of Zurich in exile and trying to imagine this future. But that’s the big difference between socialists, reform and revolutionary.
Chapter 2. Syndicalism [00:07:29]
Now, to make things even more complicated, you have a group called the syndicalists. The word “syndicalist” is an English word which I sent along on your friendly email from yours truly.
Syndicalist, the word comes from the French word for unions, which is a syndicat. What they said is, “Hang on.” They kind of believed with the revolutionary socialists, saying, “If you get involved in electoral process, you are propping up this corrupt bourgeois state. You are propping up this dynamic duo of the state and capitalism.” Syndicalists say, “Look, we will organize from the ground up, beginning in the shop floor, the factory. That will be not only a means to obtain a revolution, it’s a way of seeing what the future world will be like when everybody tutoies everybody or Dus everybody. The kind of relations, the friendly equal relations of the shop floor become, after the revolution, the way the world will be organized.” In the South of Europe, in Italy and in Spain, these folks are called, and I sent this around to you, anarcho-syndicalists.
You see a transition here. Anarcho-syndicalists. Because they’re rejecting the state and they’re looking in the future, the decentralized organization is part of it. Anarcho-syndicalists have considerable influence in Spain and Italy. They believe in direct action, and sabotage, and strikes, but in union organization. One of the most interesting — I mention him in the book — Fernand Pelloutier, who wrote a book called The Dying Society, was one of the theoreticians of anarcho-syndicalism, of syndicalism. He was dying. He was dying of TB. Though he was not a worker, tuberculosis was a working-class disease. Go to Pennsylvania. Go to West Virginia. Tuberculosis, the ravages of the mines in the United States, were just incredible. In porcelain factories and all sorts of places, glass factories all over the place.
Pelloutier creates these things called labor exchanges. He’s one of the people who come to these things called labor exchanges, bourse de travail, you call them in French, which were towns where you had municipal socialists in power at the municipal level — and you did, in some cities, are giving municipal funds to start these labor exchanges which are buildings. You can still see them. When I was invited to Limoges to give a big talk by the Conféderation Général du Travail, we started the apéro, the first round of drinks, about noon in the labor exchange, in the maison du peuple, the house of the people. They were places where workers coming from other places could come and get a meal, get some money and, above all, find out about jobs. So, syndicalists — the way they imagine the future, and preparing for this brave new world of post-revolutionary relationships, that has an important privileged place in the way they view the world.
There was an engineer called Georges Sorel, whose name I should have send around, S-O-R-E-L. He comes to the notion of the general strike. One day all workers will simply put down their tools and say, “Hell with you, capitalism. Hell with you, the State. And they will bring capitalism to its knees.” It doesn’t really ever work out that way, does it? The capitalists and the State win the day.
Chapter 3. Anarchism: Roots and Reasons [00:11:15]
So, having rushed through all of that, let me talk about what I want to talk about. That is anarchism, of which there is only a couple short, and I hope sprightly, paragraphs in which you’re reading. I am not an anarchist. Sometimes when I give talks at various places — I was at St. Louis recently, and other places, people at the end will think — hopefully, they’ll never think I’m a terrorist, because I’m certainly not, and when I talk about this guy I do not do so with affection or admiration. But I know him because I followed him around. I followed him around.
Most anarchists were not terrorists. One wants to make that clear. It’s not surprising that the great strengths of anarchism are in Spain in Catalonia and in Andalusia in the south of Spain and in southern Italy. Why? Because that’s where the Italian and the Spanish states have very limited success in convincing people that they’re Spanish or Italian. Why should they believe they’re Spanish or Italian? Southern Italians thought that the republic was a monarchy. But the progressive monarchy, so called, was a plot launched by tax collectors and industrial capitalists in the North of Italy. In Andalusia and in Catalonia were the Civil Guard, who tended to be from Galicia, a conservative part of Spain where the odious Franco was from or from Castile, a huge area around Madrid. It was easy to see how they associated the state with something that they didn’t want. In writing about anarchism, I tried to put myself and tried to think of how anarchists viewed the world.
I want to tell you a story that’s a true story. If you’re trying to imagine how anarchists viewed the world, this story is not a bad one. It’s about a cork worker making corks for bottles of sherry in the south of Spain. He’s dying. He’d been an anarchist his entire life. He hated the state. He hated capitalism. He hated the church. He’s dying. He’s on his deathbed. He had married a woman from a religiously practicing Catholic family. In the scene in this room in which he’s dying, in one part of the room is his family, who hated organized religion, who view it as a prop for capitalism and the state. On the other side of the room are people who are not so sure. They went to church sometimes. They knew the priest.
When he’s lying there, the end is near. His wife’s family says, “Pedro, don’t you want me to bring a lawyer in? A lawyer who will take your last will.” Anarchists don’t have wills and they don’t have very much property. The other side of the room is just utter terror, horror. How can they suggest such a thing, that Pedro is going to make a will? That’s a bourgeois thing to do, to make a will. Then somebody else from his wife’s family says, “Pedro, the end is near. Don’t you want us to get a priest for the last rights?” He’d never set foot in a church and proudly so. Consternation on the other side of the room. How will it all end? How will Pedro end his life? With a lawyer and a priest?
So, Pedro looks up and he says, “Go and get me a lawyer. Bring me a lawyer.” Then he says, “Go and tell father,” the priest, “to come to see me.” Joy — utter consternation. Pedro’s lying in a bed in the middle. So, pretty soon the lawyer comes dressed in his little suit. He doesn’t yet have a calculator to tote up the bill, but he’s got his legal pad. He’s never been in that house before. He comes down by the bed and he says, “Pedro, you have a few possessions, a fork, a knife, a couple of plates. Don’t you want to give me your will now?” Pedro says, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute, señor. Wait a minute.” Then the priest comes. He has his purple — I remember this from Jesuit high school days — thing that they wear on Easter. He has his little case also, which he has the holy oil to bless Pedro and give him the last rights. He comes close and he says, “Pedro, the end is near. You’ve led a good life, but I haven’t seen you in church very much or ever, for that matter. Your children are not baptized. Don’t you want to make a confession? You’re going to meet your maker soon. Don’t you want to make a confession to me right now? Nobody can hear you. Don’t you have something you want to tell me? Isn’t there something you can tell me?”
Consternation on one side, silent joy on the other. Pedro says to the lawyer, “Come here, señor. I want you to stand on the left side of my bed.” He says to the priest, “Father, come here please. I want you to stand on the right side of my bed.” Then he smiles a smile of utter contempt. He says, “Now you can all see both sides of the family. Like Christ, I am dying between two thieves.” And he died. To imagine the kind of hate that anarchists had of soldiers, and priests, and of officials, and of Castilian Guardia Civil, that was how anarchism was born. When was anarchism born? There’s a couple antecedents in the eighteenth century, but they’re terribly irrelevant people that hardly anyone read, including a British one.
It really starts with Proudhon, a name a sent around. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. He was from the east of France, from Besançon, in the mountainous Franche-Comté. He believed that if you didn’t have the state, the people could live pretty much as with a little bit of prosperity that they had, a few chickens, a little piece of land. People tended to live like that there. It was a place where nobody had very much but everybody had enough to get along. He writes the following. It’s in my lecture notes.
To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censored, commanded by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed at every operation at every transaction, noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished, under the pretext of public utility in the name of the general interest to be placed under taxes, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, poached, and robbed. At the slightest resistance or the first word of complaint to be repressed, fired, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government. That is its justice. That is its morality.
He wrote a pamphlet in 1841 called What is Property? His answer is, “Property is theft.” He didn’t mean that all property was theft. What he meant was too much property was theft, or unearned property was theft. Proudhon had lots of influence among some peasants, but mostly artisans. In the world, by the way, that the great painter, Gustave Courbet painted a lot, in the area around Besançon or Nantes, lots of really marvelous paintings of people at work, the stone breakers and people just working their guts out for very little. Proudhon, in 1848, it’s said he went down in Paris and put a brick on a barricade and threw up, nauseated by the thought of violence, of revolution.
His successors, sort of the leaders of the anarchist movements, were Mikhail Bakunin, an enormously tall, bearded, heavy-drinking, heavy-eating, heavy-sweating Russian noble, a prince who was an anarchist who said, “The revolution will come. It will come with a single spark and all the hundreds of millions of toilers, the serfs will rise up, and they will slay their social betters, and create this new brave world based upon their village harmonies.” He said, “Destruction is a creative passion,” entre guillemets. Destruction is a creative passion. In 1848 he led police on a merry chase. He spent time in the Russian slammer. He escapes through Japan, goes through the United States and ends up back in London, terrified people. His image, this is before photographs or photographs are just starting out, and there are photographs of him.
He met Marx, whom he hated, and Marx hated him. He thought that Marx was ruining class struggle, was ruining revolution by preaching over and over again about waiting for revolution. Class-conscious workers. What you need is peasants to rise up as they had in Pugachev’s rebellion, and all the other rebellions in the early seventeenth and eighteenth century. He dies in the early 1870s, a phenomenal character. The other Russian, a gentle man, a geographer, Peter Kropotkin, K-R-O-P-O-T-K-I-N, is in the book. He wrote a pamphlet called The Anarchist Morality. When you get rid of the state, people are basically good. Anarchists believe that people are good. There’s a tradition from Rousseau, by the way, there too. Rousseau, who lived in the east of France, or what would become France, around Chambéry, who believed in the primitive.
Chapter 4. Propaganda by the Deed [00:22:50]
Anarchists believe that primitive social relations and even primitive ways of producing things, just associations you enter in because you want to, were the future. Kropotkin, who at the end of his life was once toasted by the king of England, and who had turned against the Russian Revolution — he died in, I think, 1921 or 1922. He was terrified, just disgusted by the Russian Revolution, which was already creating a centralized state. That’s what he hated. He hated states. “You must destroy the state.” But he was a gentle man. Yet he and a guy called Paul Brousse, you don’t have to remember, who became a socialist leader and then went nuts later — that’s not a very clinical term, but he had big problems later — they create the term “propaganda by the deed.” What is a deed? A deed is a bomb. A deed is an attack. It’s the murder of an official. The anarchists weren’t the only ones doing this stuff.
There was a Russian group, briefly mentioned, called Narodnaya Volya, who believed in kind of a hierarchical post-revolutionary system. What they wanted to do was set out and kill officials. But so did the anarchist terrorists. They killed officials, one of which you’ve heard of already. You’ve probably heard of some of the others. President McKinley in 1901, Buffalo, New York, is killed by somebody who received funds from an anarchist organization in Patterson, New Jersey, I think, or is that Bresci? Anyway, Bresci kills King Umberto I of Italy, another anarchist assassination. They kill five or six leaders during this period of anarchist heyday really, the late nineteenth century. King Umberto I of Italy said that he considered assassination a professional risk. There were two attempts on his life and the third one nails him.
Alexander II, who liberated the serfs, is killed when he gets out of a sled to look at a bomb that doesn’t work. Elizabeth, the empress of Austria-Hungary, who couldn’t stand Franz Joseph and lived apart from him, is assassinated as well. But most anarchists were not killers. Now, if you think of American history, those of you who had Glenda’s course, or David Blight’s, other people here, you might know about Haymarket, the Haymarket affair in the 1880s. There they hanged four anarchists who were called les pendus in France. They had enormous influence. The les pendus were the hanged, as they’re swinging in the breeze in a Chicago prison yard. They were anarchists and they inspire someone like Emma Goldman, who was a Russian-Jewish immigrant to the United States, who becomes an important American anarchist.
Anarchists set off to kill policemen, or to kill heads of state, or to kill generals; propaganda by the deed, the spark that will ignite this revolution. But the man you see before you — and I have become today a very modern man. I want to tell you, because this is my first try at PowerPoint. The person that you see before you is the guy I’ve been following around. I got interested in him for two reasons. One is that he is the first, really, along with a bombing at an opera in Barcelona, the Liceo to target ordinary people. To say that people of a social class were guilty because they were who they were. The spark does not necessarily have to be lit by killing a head of a state. Sadi Carnot, who would get his in 1894 on the Rue de la République in Lyon, president of France. He takes the decision to kill ordinary people.
Lots of terrorists since then have taken that decision. A classic example is insurgents in Punjab in India in the 1920s, bombing officers’ clubs. There’s a terrifying scene in that fantastic, but very difficult movie — because of the torture scene, I can’t even use it in the French History course, The Battle of Algiers. You are with this woman who’s planting a bomb in a café and she sees the people who are going to die. She sees babies with their mothers. She sees people having a drink in the French community there. She takes the decision to place the bomb. I believe that it kind of started with this guy. This is, again, not somebody I admire. I know him. Everywhere he’s lived I’ve been. I guess if you’re going to write a book about somebody as a prism on something or other, it’s good to pick somebody who only lived to be twenty-one, because it’s a shorter book. He was guillotined in May 1894.
Chapter 5: The Life and Crimes of Émile Henry [00:27:46]
Again, I do not admire him, but I’m going to tell you about him anyway. With the help of PowerPoint! How in the hell do I do this? I’ve got to remember how to do this. All right. That’s Émile Henry. His father was a communard who was condemned to death, somebody who’d fought in the Commune. So, this guy is born in Spain. His father contracted mercury poisoning in Spain, and comes back to France after the amnesty and dies. He has an older brother and a younger brother. What he does is, on a day in 1894, he sets out with a bomb and he walks in the fancy boulevards that, for him, represent all of the class differences between wealthy and poor people, center versus periphery and all of that. He goes down to the Café Terminus, which is on your right. It’s those awnings there near the Gare Saint-Lazare.
I’ve had the rather odd experience of twice, once with friends and once with my son, having eaten in the restaurant that my book subject blew up, because it’s still there, and sitting at the same table. He goes to four or five cafes, but there are not enough innocent people in them. So, he goes to the Terminus where there is a gypsy orchestra playing, pays for two beers. That seems a little odd, anarchist paying for a beer, because the right to theft was something that they still believed in, many of them, not all. Most were not terrorists, remember that. He goes into the Café Terminus. He gets a cigar. He lights the fuse. He throws it toward a chandelier and it blows up, killing one and wounding about eighteen people. That’s not him. This anarchist is called Malatesta, who doesn’t look particularly scary there.
Émile Henry had gone back to the Paris region. His mother had a very pitiful auberge. This is the era of bomb attacks in the early 1890s. That’s a marmite, as bombs were sometimes called. He became an anarchist. His brother had already become an anarchist. To put yourself into the early 1890s in Paris, ordinary people, but not so much as the elites, were terrified of anarchist bombers. Ravachol, a name I sent around, who was a poor, pathetic in many ways but extremely poor guy who’d been sent out to beg by his mother. They had almost no money. They’re from a place called Saint-Chamond, near Saint-Étienne. Ravachol was a counterfeiter and finally a murderer. He suffocates to death a hermit who had a mini fortune hidden in his bizarre cottage near Saint-Étienne. He escapes from the police and he goes to Paris.
In 1891 police beat the hell out of three anarchists in a march, a rather one-sided brawl. Two of them are condemned to big-time sentences. Ravachol decides to go and to kill the prosecuting attorney. He places a bomb, not knowing where the apartment was, and the bomb blows up. Then he set other bombs, too. After having done this, he goes to a restaurant, and he eats rather well, and he engages a waiter in conversation. He tries to convince the waiter to be an anarchist. The waiter sees he has a scar on his left hand, Ravachol did. Then he stupidly goes back later and eats in the same restaurant. Instead of bringing the second course, the waiter brings the police. After a tremendous struggle, Ravachol is captured, put on trial for his life, and he memorably holds up — how do you work this thing? — anyway, he is guillotined. He’s really kind of a bastard. More than that, and he killed other people too, probably. But he finally is guillotined.
Two things happened, not only in Paris but in other places. The people of means living in the fancy quarters are extremely frightened. There are all sorts of death threats that get sent around. Ravachol, to those anarchist terrorists, he becomes a martyr. Look, here his head is framed by the guillotine. Ravachol, who had been betrayed by an anarchist friend, dies at age thirty-three. Christ died at age thirty-three, betrayed by a friend. So, he becomes this sort of, for radical anarchists, he becomes a vision of how life should be. There are songs called La Ravachol. There’s another one calledThe Dynamite Polka, being sung.
Dynamite, from the point of view of anarchists, leveled the playing field. They viewed dynamite rather as the way in which muskets helped end the domain of feudalism. It levels the playing field. Dynamite, after all, was invented by whom? By Nobel, as in the Nobel Prize. So the people who support dynamite in French are called the dynamitards, the dynamiters. The Dynamite Polka. In Montmartre, where you have a lot of anarchist writers and artists. Pizarro is an anarchist. The literary and art critic, above all art, Félix Fénéon, who was a friend of Émile Henry, is an anarchist as well. So, it’s into this world that the young Émile Henry. Here you go. Here’s this one. I’ve read hundreds of these things that said, “You’ve always been hard with your domestics. You’re going to be blown up. Death to the riches.” There are hundreds of these things. They’re sent all over Paris, not just the fancy neighborhoods.
There, hundreds and hundreds of times, at the airports you hear these explosions sometimes as they blow up suitcases that haven’t been claimed. That’s the first known machine that blows up suspect items, including lots of bad jokes — sardine cans with a little bit of powder left in them, and that kind of thing. It’s in this world that Emile Henry learns to hate, and that he certainly does. That’s where his mom had her auberge. Ironically, it’s near Euro Disney now, but then it was a village. That’s not the one. It was up the street a little bit. I did follow him around, you can see. There’s his mother there. Up on the right is one of the places he lived, always around, except for one occasion, Montmartre.
That’s his girlfriend. He had unrequited love. She had the disadvantage of being married to another anarchist. He writes her clumsy poems. He falls in love with her. She blows him off. But in the end, she wanted to take full credit before the press for having been the lover of Émile Henry after his deeds, his bombs, but he wasn’t. That’s one of the places he worked in Paris. I love that. That’s a beautiful sign and that company hasn’t existed since World War I. But you can follow him around. In 1892, Émile Henry, two years earlier, he had killed before. There was a strike in the south of France, glassworkers in Camaux. The third block on the left is number eleven and that’s where the company is. They found a bomb there placed about 11:00 in the morning. Right there. That’s not the way it looked then. I’ve gotten in there twice to see where he placed the bomb. My son gets a little tired. “Dad, do we have to look at another one of these places?” They find the bomb and they carry it down to the police station, which is still there. It was a reversible bomb, which means when the chemicals run together, boom! It kills five people terribly, five policeman and a secretary among them. Body parts all over the place.
Emile Henry, that’s one of the places he lived. He is eliminated from the list of suspects because they said he could not have gone on the two errands his boss sent that day from near the station of the north, down toward the center of Paris, then up toward the Arc de Triomphe, gone back to Montmartre and gotten the bomb, placed the bomb, and gotten back in two hours and fifteen minutes. When he went on trial for his life in 1894, a detective said, “Yes, he could have done that in two hours and fifteen minutes.” So, being a bit of an empiricist, I did it. And I replaced tramway and Omnibus with a bus and with a Metro. I never take cabs, but I took, instead of a carriage — of course I didn’t take that — I took a cab and I subtracted eleven minutes when my cab couldn’t turn left on the Avenue de l’Opéra. He did it. There’s no question about it. In fact, when they did the reconstitution of this building, he knew every single part of this building. He did it. There’s no question about it.
Why did he hate so? Part of it again, this is the theme we’ve talked about before, was the social geography of Paris. Everywhere he lived, with one exception that you just saw, was in people’s Paris. All of the facades are still there. That’s where he lived on the Rue Véron, on the very top floor. That’s where the poor lived. He gets the bomb there in 1892. They hated Sacré-Coeur, for reasons you already know. It was a symbol of penance for the Franco-Prussian War and penance for the commune. His father was one of the people condemned to death, who was lucky enough to get out and not be executed.
In a Zola novel that’s very underappreciated called Paris, published in 1898, it’s about a priest who, to take an REM song, is “losing his religion.” His brother is an anarchist, Guillaume. He has fantasies about blowing this place up. I think it’s ugly as hell. I once went with my wife to see where they cast the huge bell that would drive people nuts and still does, called la Savoyarde. But that bell wasn’t there. But as a symbol, you can’t walk around Montmartre and not see it from various places. He becomes a terrorist because the people that he sees around him are very, very poor, and he convinces himself, even though he’s an intellectual, he’s a bourgeois. He could have gotten into the École Polytechnique, which is a super, Grande École. It’s a big engineering school. He’s a great student.
He’s an intellectual. That’s the other thing. Besides picking “innocent people.” All people are innocent, but you know what I mean. The other thing is he is not a sad sack or a dangerous one like Ravachol. He is not a guy called Vaillant, who places a little, teeny tack bomb and throws it in the Chamber of Deputies to call attention to the plight of the poor, and is guillotined. The first person in the nineteenth century guillotined who did not kill somebody. This guy goes out to kill. There’s a scene in an old Balzac novel called — all Balzac novels by definition are old, obviously — Old Goriot, Père Goriot, in which Rastignac, who was sort of this down-and-out noble who wants to make the big time in Paris by sleeping with all the right people. After Goriot dies, he’s up in the northeast quadrant of Paris at Père Lachaise cemetery. He waves his hand down toward the fancy quarters, down ironically near where Café Terminus would be. The fancy quarters, even before there are boulevards, and he says the equivalent of, “It’s war between you and me now, baby.” That’s a rough translation, but that’s what he said.
Émile Henry, walking around on the hills and seeing people walk down to be domestics, because they couldn’t afford to take the tramway or the Omnibus, horse-drawn carriages. He waves his hand and says, “It’s war between you and me, baby, and I will ignite the spark that kills you MFs right away.” That’s what he does. When he walked out of his apartment, he looked down and happily he didn’t have to see the Tour Montparnasse, which hadn’t been built after huge payoffs in the early 1970s. Disgusting! But what he could see were these symbols of capitalism, the state, and the church. What did he see? He saw the Eiffel Tower, which was five years old, a symbol of the republic and the bourgeois revolution, as he saw it. He sees the Pantheon, where they buried all these Napoleonic marshals who basically got a lot of people killed if they didn’t get themselves killed. And he sees Notre Dame. He says, “It’s war between you and me.”
This is the façade. I love this stuff. The inside building where he lived isn’t there anymore. Now it’s kind of an area that’s a little bit sketchy. There’s a lot of drug dealing. When I got myself into there, I had to kind of — I didn’t want to look like a plainclothes policeman. Do I risk looking like a plainclothes policeman? No. I didn’t want to look like a tourist sort of slumming. I don’t look like that much, either. When I went by these guys who were sort of hanging out there, I said, “Salut les gars,” or “Hi guys, what’s up?” I got myself in there to see where he once had lived. The point of that is that you can see what he saw. That gate is exactly the same as that day when he walked out to kill for the second time.
His bomb that he threw into the Terminus — this is back in 1894, this is where we started. It hit a chandelier and exploded. He said at his trial that he threw it too low. He should have thrown it higher; it would have killed more people. Only one died. He’d already killed five before. People are terrified. They run all over the place. It was speculated that his was sort of an indirect suicide, because his unrequited love, this lady who lived in the Boulevard Voltaire, whose name was Elisa. But no, because he tries to escape in order to kill again. They chase him and they catch him. A barber helps catch him. A controller on the tramway hits him with the control mechanism that punches tickets, just like in the old days on those things, not that I ever was in a horse-drawn carriage. They get him and they take him.
He’s arrested for murder, Émile Henry, and is put on trial. That’s where he’s writing his mother. We know a lot about him, because they kept all these documents. It was so fun doing this. I love stuff like that. His mother was devastated, as you can well imagine. She cannot believe that her Émile could have done this. He was her pride and joy after the death of the father. Those of you who have been to Paris will recognize this. This is the Conciergerie. This is where Louis XVI, Danton, Robespierre, Marie Antoinette, and others awaited, they put their head between the little window, as they used to say, la petite fenêtre, to be guillotined. It’s also got one of the three most magnificent gothic halls anywhere in France.
His guards took notes every single day about what he said and the anarchist songs. They want to prove that somebody else was involved in this. There probably was somebody else in the 1892 attack who helped him close the bomb. So, Emile Henry goes on trial in April of 1894. He makes the famous declaration in which he says, “You have hung us in Chicago,” Haymarket; “You have garroted us,” that’s slowly strangling us, “in Barcelona.” When Franco was croaking in 1975, they were garroting an anarchist even at that time, 1975 in Barcelona. “You have shot us in Germany.” I don’t know how they killed them in Italy, but, “You’ve killed us in Italy.” He says, “You, the bourgeois, who are in this café, you are not innocent. It’s because of you, the petty bourgeois. You support les gros,” the big ones, “on every possible occasion. You forget about us when your factory owners throw us out when we can no longer work any longer, or women workers happy not to have had to prostitute themselves in order to pay their rent and their husbands’ rent by the end of the month. But what you can never do is destroy anarchism. Its roots are too deep.”
On the 22nd of May 1894 — that’s what I said about writing a book about somebody that doesn’t live very long — he is executed at Place Roquette in Paris, which was, by intent, the place where the state meted out justice, right in the heart of working-class Paris. That was not an idle selection of a space. We have his notes up to the very end of his life. This guy, Deibler, is the executioner. Monsieur de Paris. This is the executioner meting out, in quotes, “justice.” Public execution, by the way, in France, maybe I said this already, was in 1936 at Versailles — the last execution was in 1974. I’m constantly asked by people all sorts of political opinions in France, where executions, public capital punishment is repudiated by most everybody, how that we still have it here. This is not a political diatribe, so I won’t say anything about that.
Anyway, Deibler, his son was the last public executioner, did the last public execution back when. There he is. There’s somebody else putting their head through the little window. That’s what I mean by that. That’s the equivalent of his mug shot. So, he was wrong about the roots of anarchism being too deep. What clearly happens is that there was a trial during that same summer where they put a lot of intellectuals on trial who did nothing except to say that they were anarchists or to criticize the state. What my book — it’s really a book also about state terrorists. It’s about the overreaction of states. Our state is a good example of that, and the tendency to try to denigrate anyone who doesn’t agree with us as being terrorists, whether they were or not.
The intellectuals, the jury sees through it in 1894 and only a couple thieves are condemned and them not to death. There’s anarchists in 1968 in Paris. There’s a band of anarchists in about 1909, 1910, 1911, that hold up stores with most modern tools, shotguns and things like that. The anarchist attacks were over. There was no question about that. That doesn’t make Émile Henry less interesting. As an intellectual, the cross-class kind of — you see this in Middle-Eastern terrorism, too. My book is also about state terrorists. What stops anarchist attacks in Spain is the fact that the public becomes aware that the police were hideously torturing people who did not agree with the politics of the State. They were torturing them. You see where one could go in a political diatribe, which this isn’t. In Italy when the state overreacts, anarchist attacks virtually end.
Now, anarchism does not end in Spain. It does not end also for reasons that are perfectly clear already in Buenos Aires. There’s still a huge anarchist community of exiles from these Western European countries from all over the place living in London, ironically in one of the more chi-chi parts of London which was then very poor, around Charlotte Street, where you can’t afford to have a pint of beer anymore. That’s where they live. So, he was wrong about that. The roots of anarchism were too great. But the connection that I want to make, obviously, especially since this is being filmed it’s not the place to do it, but when states, including our own, overreact, what they tend to do is to lash out in ways, and imprison unjustly, and torture, and don’t give legal rights. What they do is tend to increase the number of those people who despise us.
If you look back, and again the commune is not a bad way of thinking about this, somebody figured out that of all the victims of terrorist attacks, no matter how you define them, the ratio between victims of overreaction by states to victims of anarchist terror — and I’m not apologizing for anarchist terror. I hate it. I’m not apologizing for terror of any kind. I hate it. But the ratio was 260:1. I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned there somewhere. But it was fun to follow Emile Henry around, even though I don’t admire him, and to try to give you a sense of how people felt when they hated in the 1890s. Their answer was not the same answer as socialists, which are to take power mostly through electoral processes, but to smash the state by blowing it up. See you on Monday.
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