HIST 276: France Since 1871
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France Since 1871
HIST 276 - Lecture 8 - Dynamite Club: The Anarchists
Chapter 1. The Roots of Anarchism: Founders and the French Context [00:00:00]
Professor John Merriman: I’m going to talk about anarchism today, and especially I’m going to talk about the life and death of one guy, somebody I don’t admire, Émile Henry; but, in a way he represents some aspects of the origin of modern terrorism in late nineteenth-century Paris. And, I guess if you’re going to write a book about somebody it’s not a bad idea to pick someone who only lived to be age twenty-one, because it makes for a shorter book; because he was guillotined, as you’ll see, in 1894. So, there we go. First of all, anarchists, unlike socialists, did not want to capture the State, seize control of the State. They wanted to destroy the State, they wanted to abolish the State. They viewed political participation — and in this way they were rather like the syndicalists — as for propping up capitalism and its army, defending the interests of wealthy people.
The first anarchist was a man called Proudhon, whose influence really is in the 1850s and 1860s. And Proudhon is from the east of France, he was from Besançon, in the east. And he once wrote a pamphlet called “Property is Theft,” in 1841 — he meant too much property or unearned property was theft — but it was a provocative kind of title, and he once wrote the following: “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 is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished, and on the pretext of public utility and in the name of the general interest to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; and then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint could be repressed, fired upon, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, checked, 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.”
Now, Proudhon was followed by two important Russian anarchists, both of whom I won’t talk about, but who are extremely interesting, and both of whom were nobles, one the guy called Peter Kropotkin and the other the terrifying, quite terrifying Mikhail Bakunin, and they become quite important. Kropotkin, who was a gentleman geographer and once toasted by the King of England, and in the end was horrified by the Bolshevik Revolution, he was among those who came up with the term “propaganda by the deed”; that is, the belief that the masses were potentially revolutionary, and it took a single spark, a single assassination, a single bomb to start revolution rolling. Anarchists assassinated, depending on how you count it, five, or six, or seven heads of state in the late decades of the nineteenth century, including President McKinley of the United States, who was shot or stabbed, I can’t remember which, in Buffalo, New York in 1901. That number included, as we’ll see in awhile, Sadi Carnot, c-a-r-n-o-t, who was the president of France.
So, I want to begin with a bomb. And I’ve had, because of this bomb, years and years afterward — I’ve had the rather odd feeling of twice having eaten in the café restaurant that my book subject blew up, the Café Terminus — and it is the turning point in the origins of modern terrorism. On February 12th, 1894, a pale, thin young man called Émile Henry prepared a bomb in his room in Paris. He hid it in his clothing along with a loaded pistol and a knife, and he headed toward the elegant boulevards near the Paris Opera, which had been completed twenty years earlier. He wanted to throw the bomb and kill as many people as possible. Henry stopped before the Opera itself, which, as you can see, resembles a giant gilded wedding cake. There was a fancy ball going on, and he knew he could not get past the guards to get close enough to claim any victims.
He then checked out the Restaurant Bignon, followed by the Café American, and then the most chic of them all, the Café de la Paix in the Grand Hotel, which is still there. He was in some way a flâneur, an intellectual who had briefly in his life been something of a dandy, but if so he was an impoverished flâneur who lived on the margins of urban life and who now came to the Grand Boulevard not just to observe with detached distance, as the flâneur did, but to hate, and now to kill. He moved on, finding each place was not crowded enough. At eight p.m. he reached the Café Terminus, right next to the Gare Saint-Lazare, around the corner from the Gare Saint-Lazare and, as the café was slowly filling up, he ordered a beer, and soon another, and then a cigar, and in a rather un-anarchist-like gesture he paid for them, as the small orchestra played on. About an hour later he walked to the doorway, turned, lit the fuse with a cigar. He threw the bomb back into the café, which was now very crowded.
Already famous for its great expositions, Paris, more than ever identified with leisure and with consumerism, had become a permanent exposition in itself, its boulevards the staging ground, as you shall see later in the course, for the Belle Époque. Department stores welcomed clients with dazzling electric lights and arranged shop windows inspiring Zola to call them ‘the cathedrals of modernity.” The aisles of the department stores were, as has been argued, a continuation of the great boulevards themselves. In contrast, the poor workers lived along the narrow grey streets of thequartiers populaires — this is not a quartier populaire, this is the Terminus — the plebeian neighborhoods of eastern Paris, where cholera had killed as late as 1884.
The rebuilding of Paris by Haussmann in the fifties and sixties had chased thousands of ordinary people, by higher rents, to the exterior neighborhoods of northern Paris, northeastern Paris, and to the working class suburbs. But the capital of the world, that is, Paris, was no longer the capital of revolution. Soldiers in Paris seemed to be — police and soldiers seemed to be everywhere, and there were indeed many more of them. For that matter, Haussmann’s boulevards were too wide for barricades. To Auguste Renoir, the Impressionist painting, the buildings that lined the boulevards were, “cold and lined up like soldiers at review,” a nice description of the consolidation of State power in nineteenth-century France. On May Day 1891, troops fired on demonstrators, killing women and children in the small industrial town in the north of Fourmies, a woolens town.
France may not then have had strong executive authority because of the fear of Caesarism, after two Napoleons, but no other state was so centralized. And, so, in the early 1890s did anarchists begin to create small organizations, along La Mouffe, which is the Rue Mouffetard, between the Pantheon where a guy called Jean Grave published one of the anarchist newspapers at number 140, here and there in the Latin Quarter, but above all in Montmartre and in these northern industrial regions, and beyond in suburbs. Now, the 1880s and ’90s will, as you may already know, will be remembered as a time of scandal — the sleazy Panama Canal scandal and lots of other ones; the president’s son-in-law selling the Légion d’Honneur, et cetera. And the memory of the Paris Commune loomed large for anarchists. More than 25,000 people had been gunned down, and now from the heights of Montmartr,e and from Belleville, another peripheral neighborhood, anarchists looked down on the flashing lights of the capital, and they hate it.
Many admired the Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin for whom destruction was “a creative passion that would bring about the end of the State, capitalism, and private property.” “The modern state,” Bakunin wrote, “with all its terrible means of action given to them by modern centralization, was becoming an immense, crushing, threatening reality,” as those slaughtered communards saw up close in May of 1871. And, so, a wave of anarchist bombings swept the capital between 1892 and 1894. They ended with the assassination of Sadi Carnot in June of that year in Lyon. After two attempts on his life, King Humberto I of Italy noted that assassination was “a professional risk,” and, indeed, he was later assassinated himself. Yet, many of the anarchists were people of peace, indeed, and women of peace in the case of Louise Michel, about whom you can read.
For Kropotkin and before him Proudhon, the goal was the primitive, the goal was sort of communities that would exist without the state. Kropotkin had lived in the French Jura mountains, in the east, and also in Switzerland, and their watchmakers seemed to get along fine without the intrusion of the state. But yet, as I said before, it was Kropotkin who accepted and may have created the phrase, “propaganda by the deed,” sometimes attributed to the Italian anarchist Malatesta who had lots of influence in Spain, in Italy and in Argentina; who doesn’t look like such a terrifying guy himself, when you see him there, but again the belief that a single act of violence would be the spark that would bring social revolution. Now, Kropotkin later had doubts about this, and he said, “personally I hate these explosions, but I cannot stand as a judge to condemn those who are driven to despair.” He had, after all, in 1880, described the importance of permanent revolt by oral and written propaganda, by the knife, the rifle and dynamite. “Everything that is not legal is good for us.”
Now, dynamite was invented by that man of the Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel, in 1868. And what it seemed to do was level the playing field. It seemed to represent a modern revolutionary alchemy, and as a compensation for many evils, for humiliation and weakness, for discrimination and frustration, anger at social exploitation and injustice. The German anarchist, Johan Most, who came to the United States, he had written in his newspaper Freedom that it was within the power of dynamite to destroy capitalism, just as it had been within the power of gunpowder and the rifle to wipe feudalism from the face of the earth. And American anarchists crowed, before being hung in Chicago, Haymarket, 1886, “in giving dynamite to the downtrodden millions of the globe, science has truly done its best work.”
Chapter 2. The Legacy of Ravachol [00:12:59]
The famous Ravachol, Francois Claudius Ravachol, took this to heart. He had been born in gnawing poverty near Saint-Etienne in ‘59, his father a Dutch mill hand who abandoned his wife and four children. In primary school and at Mass he was embarrassed by having clothes so shabby that they resembled those worn by beggars. He worked here and there, but periods of unemployment became longer. He turned toward anarchism, also to grave robbing, counterfeiting, and finally murder, strangling a strange old hermit who had a lot of money stashed away in his house in the hills, near Saint-Etienne. He was arrested, managed to escape the police wagon, and went to Paris living under an assumed name.
In 1891 police fired on demonstrators on the Boulevard Clichy in Paris, on the edge of Paris. Three were hauled to the Police Station and they were beaten up, put on trial and two condemned to long prison sentences. Ravachol’s two deeds followed. He bombed the houses of two of the magistrates on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, a very elegant neighborhood, and on the Rue du Clichy, voilà. On the way home he stopped in a restaurant called Le Véry, v-e-r-y, with an accent, on the Boulevard Magenta. A waiter remembered a scar he had on his left hand. Three days later he went back to the same place to eat, because he’d eaten well. It took ten policemen to subdue him. “See this hand,” he told judge and jurors, “it has killed as many bourgeois as it has fingers.” He was guillotined on the 11th of July 1892 in the Loire, in Montbrison. Several days later a bomb destroyed the restaurant, Le Véry, killing the patron, the owner, leading to the ghoulish pun that served as an anarchist signature, vérification.
Ravachol so terrified contemporaries that for a time his name became a French verb; to ravacholiser quelqu’un, somebody, was to dynamite them. And after his death the anarchists of Paris and their exiled friends in London, from all over the continent, debated long into the night the wisdom of such attacks. A wood print — here you can see it — by the artist Charlotte Morin, reproduced in a widely read anarchist newspaper, portrayed Ravachol as a martyr, his defiant, heroic face set within the frame of the guillotine. Some sympathizers began to compare their martyr, Ravachol, to sort of a violent Jesus Christ. Both Christ and Ravachol were thirty-three when they were executed. And anarchists sang a song called La Ravachol, that is, The Song of Ravachol, to the tune of Ça Ira, a song from the French Revolution: “In the great city of Paris live the well-fed bourgeois and the destitute who have empty stomachs, but they have long teeth. Long live Ravachol, let’s dance the Ravachol; long live the sound of explosions. So it will be, so it will be, ça ira.”
In his eulogy for Ravachol, an anarchist critic, art critic, and literary critic, Paul Adam, warned that the murder of Ravachol will open an era; and it did. An anarchist writer outraged public opinion by provocatively stating, “what do the victims matter if the gesture is beautiful?” — the beau geste. A veritable psychosis took hold of Paris with people of means afraid to go to good restaurants or the theater and in nice neighborhoods people fearing to rent to magistrates for fear of les dynamiteurs, the dynamiters. Nearly twenty Parisian dailies carried each installment of anarchist attack — this is a bomb, this is called a marmite, it’s a pan, it’s a casserole, but it’s a bomb. Hundreds of scrawled — and here’s the first, they invented at this time the wagons that’d come to detonate, and to make safe as best they can these objects, and they kept finding joke bombs in sardine cans, and stuff like that. And, so, here’s the municipal chemist, a guy called Girard, who’s checking this out.
Hundreds of scrawled threats, which I read, they’re in the Archives there, arrived to property owners and to concierges, to people of means, signed by the Avengers of Ravachol; or an anarchist from the neighborhood addressed to an exploiter of the proletarian, “finally the day when social justice will arrive; next Sunday, the First of May, you’ll be blown up; signed, La Dynamite.” And in Montmartre, a benefit dance for anarchists played the dynamite polka, as one of the dances. The well-known next act. On the ninth of December, 1893, Auguste Vaillant, an unemployed worker distraught at being unable to feed his family, tossed a small bomb filled with tacks, thumb tacks, into the Chamber of Deputies. His goal was not to kill — there were several scratches on the deputies — but to call attention to the plight of the poor whose situation seemed to be getting worse and worse. He was captured on the spot. The guillotine immediately, instantaneously, after a brief trial, severed his head as he defiantly shouted the obligatory, “long live anarchy.”
Chapter 3. The Story of Émile Henry: The Individualist Anarchist [00:18:51]
Émile Henry’s father, a militant republican, who wrote poetry, had been elected to the Commune from the tenth arrondissement, and was a member of the Central Committee of the Federated National Guard in the Paris Commune. He fled under a sentence of death to Spain. And in Catalonia he worked in the mines, turning from socialism to anarchism; because the anarchists were terribly influential in Spain, right through the Spanish Civil War, particularly in Barcelona and also in Andalusia, in the south. Émile was born in 1872 in a suburb of Barcelona, dominated by the textile factories. He had two brothers, Fortuné, who was older, who had the same name as his father, and Jules, who was fifteen in 1894. Following his father’s death in 1882, from what appeared to be mercury poisoning, Madame Henry returned to Paris with her children, or to the region.
Émile became a pupil of the City of Paris, receiving the equivalent of a scholarship to a school outside of Paris. His mother bought or had a little bit of land that had been in the family and found — started up an auberge, right down the street from this, it was actually an inn. I was actually able to find it, to go out to this place called Brévon, which now, sort of strangely enough, is not all that far from Euro Disney, but then was truly in the countryside. So, Émile Henry becomes a scholarship student. He’s very smart, he gets certificates of merit in all the schools he goes to, and he gets his bac, his baccalaureate exam; he passes it at age sixteen, which was pretty tough to do. He was examined in physics, math and chemistry, and he would put some of the latter to use, as we shall see.
The last report on his scholarship read, “he will begin studies next year at the école polytechnique,” which is one of thegrands écoles, the big military engineering school, extraordinarily hard to get in. He was classified as admissible, that is, he could be admitted. But after passing one part of the exam he failed the oral exam, but he could have taken it again. He claimed that one of his friends threw a stink bomb into the room when he was taking the exam. And it was said later that he vowed vengeance on bourgeois society, blah-blah-blah. That wasn’t the case. He took a position with an uncle, an engineer working on a water project in Venice, but he precipitously returned to France. He dabbled in spiritism, trying to contact the soul of his dead father — that’s where you try to move tables around and all of that.
His anarchist friend Charles Malato claimed that he lost his footing, and fell into the abyss of spiritism, even becoming a medium of incarnation, and wasted his health in such exhausting experiments because he longed for knowledge. But he left it all behind and, in Paris, he worked here and there while living on the margins of urban life. His brother, Fortuné, became an anarchist and was a prominent orator at the meetings and debates held in smoky halls and cafés on the edge of Paris, principally Montmartre, and the Faubourg du Temple, and in the Latin Quarter, and he went to jail in 1894 for things that he’d written. Émile, now twenty years of age — et vous voilà, pas mal, parmi vous — he was calledmicrobe by his classmates because of his relatively small size. He was pale, deep-set black eyes, as you saw, and sported the beginnings of a blonde beard on his chin, to go with chestnut hair. He was devoted to his mother and would walk, or take the train out to not a really nearby station, to go and visit her. And there was a bar, several tables with workers drinking wine, the inevitable checkered tablecloths, green shutters and a red brick roof, and chickens poking around and laundry hanging out to dry.
As I said, it was a village. And of the 120 francs that Émile Henry earned a month, he gave about a third to his mother. Here she is down below, and there she is up above, on the left — prematurely aged. And that is one of the places that he lived that we’ll see later, and where I — I’ve been to everywhere that he lived. I’ve managed to get into the buildings of everywhere he lived; sort of, you kind of walk around and follow him. I don’t admire him, but it’s interesting to try to see what he saw, and that’s what I really love about history.
Anyway, so he began meeting with some of the anarchist groups. He read Kropotkin’s great book, The Conquest of Bread, as well as works by Malatesta and various French counterparts. His two targets were private property and authority, “two vicious germs,” as he called them, that formed the base of contemporary societies that, he wrote, “have to be destroyed, eradicated from social life.” He remained an intellectual, somewhat detached, arguably, from those people who crowded into these anarchist meetings, or who came to get, for once, a bite to eat in the various lectures where soup was served to the poor afterward.
In contrast to Vaillant, who loved the people — Vaillant was the guy executed for throwing the tack bomb — Malato remembered Émile only loved the idea; he felt a marked estrangement from the ignorant and servile plebs, plebeians, a feeling distinctive, also, of a number of literary and artistic anarchists, by whom he met no less a painter than Camille Pissarro, who was an anarchist. And Montmartre also was the center of this sort of literary and cultural anarchism, the anarchism of this sort of the intellectual elite who lived in Montmartre because it was cheaper, and they’re the next generation removed down to Montparnasse — and then Montmartre would already become the sort of the tourist trap it is now, though it still has its charms. Émile Henry was a loner. He never spoke in public, as far as we know, though he did shout out some things at a meeting once. He was described later, after his death, as the Saint-Just of anarchy. Saint-Just was one of the — was a cold, steely guy who had ripped off his mother’s silver during — before the French Revolution, who became a member of the Committee of Public Safety, and he and Robespierre were the sort of main men of the Committee of Public Safety.
So, he didn’t speak like Fortuné, who was a really gifted orator. And in March 1893, Fortuné gave a speech at this one place where they met over and over again, denouncing the government class and the bourgeoisie, and he appeared to pull a dynamite cartridge from — he said, “this is our arms, these are our arms,” and he appeared to pull a dynamite cartridge from his pocket. It actually was nothing but a pen, or a pen case, but he was arrested, and so was Émile. And Émile lost his job, at that point he worked in the garment industry. I love this because here’s the Rue du Sentier in the center of Paris and that’s still — the sign is so beautiful from the 1890s that they left it there; that company hasn’t been there since World War I. But that’s where Émile worked, but he lost his job after he was arrested and then released.
He bounced between bad jobs, once working as an apprentice and unpaid watchmaker in order to perhaps work on timing mechanisms for bombs. In 1892 — and he always got very good — employers loved him because he was very smart. He served as an accountant, he penned letters and that kind of stuff. But in 1892 he briefly served as the manager for the Anarchist Literary, a newspaper. In the meantime he was gathering materials to make bombs and learning how to prepare them. That July he and his brother may have gone to Saint-Etienne and Montbrison with the intention of blowing up the house of the magistrate in Ravachol’s trial down there but — and I went to Saint-Etienne to try to find if he actually went there, and the police think he did but I have no positive proof of that.
Anyway, he — the police informants, and the police were everywhere. If you want to see this, Joseph Conrad has a wonderful novel called The Secret Agent, and G.K. Chesterton has another one called The Man Who Would be Thursday, in which all seven anarchists in this anarchist group turn out to be police spies; and London was just riddled with police spies, watching the Dutch, and Spanish, and French, and Russian, and Czech anarchists, and all of the others. But, anyway, he was overheard telling somebody, “I didn’t put enough nitroglycerin into this one and it didn’t work, but I’m going to put a little more acid next time and we’ll see what happens.” And the police report, which I’ve seen, assigned him the number 318,532, and so he had a police existence, which was good for me. The police, as I said, had infiltrated these groups.
One of the police spies, who was known as X number 4, reported that the old ways of the anarchists no longer seemed to be in play, that where anarchists had used to go to these big halls where the police were scribbling notes, and identifying everybody who was there, that the ones you had to worry about were not the ones who were in the hall giving speeches but the ones who were lurking in the shadows, looking for other people, with evil deeds, as it were, in mind. They were the ones who would show up and then leave quickly. These were the most violent ones, the ones who were capable of carrying out propaganda by the deed. They were not the halbeurs, the posers, or the boasters; they were off by themselves. And they reflected a debate within anarchist circles between the associationalists, who would end up being syndicalists, and those who believed in individual autonomy, the single anarchist making his decision to go out and kill — individual autonomy.
And, thus, I use the description of this lecture, for better or for worse, as dynamite club; but dynamite club was the perception of, not the police because they knew better, but of the public, that imagined that behind every incident, every sardine can, was a nefarious plot to destroy organized society. There was no club, but there were some violent individuals capable of — minorities within the anarchist movement — of doing deeds. On the eleventh — backing up one year, for reasons we’ll see — the eleventh of November, 1892, an employee of the mine company of Carmaux, those mining strikes that had catapulted Jaurès to fame, found a suspicious looking package on the floor outside the company door at eleven Avenue de L’Opéra — there, eleven, up on the left.
This is 1900, this picture. I’ve gotten in that building too, my son and I did, and I showed him where he put the bomb; it’s still a very elegant building. And they carried it downstairs rather stupidly, placed it on the sidewalk at the back entrance, and a policeman came along and said, “well you better take it to the police station,” not noticing that there were little powders that seemed to be coming out of this machine, as they used to call them in those days. It was a reversible bomb, it was a bomb not made by a fuse but by chemicals and when they came together would blow up. And so these poor policemen are carrying it to the nearest police station, which is there — no, that’s the building now; you can get into it, it’s on the first floor. I love stuff like that, just love it. That’s the police station, which is still there also. And, so, they carry it through the first courtyard. One guy says, “hurry up, it’s heavy.” It was a heavy thing. They put it in, put it down on the table and boom, arms, legs everywhere, gone, five people killed in the most horrible way.
The bomb had been wrapped in a newspaper, the issue of Le Temps, from June first, 1892, which related the story of the arrest of Émile Henry and his brother. Émile Henry left Paris the next day for London, sending along his apologies. He was on a list of one hundred and thirty suspects. He hangs around Fitzroy Square — which now is so expensive, so, with Charlotte Street, just full of one fancy unaffordable restaurant after another — he hangs around with the anarchists there. A friend of Oscar Wilde’s remembered meeting him there. He spoke some English, but not terribly well. Once he told people, “today is the anniversary of the dancing lesson,” by which he meant bodies jumping up and down, in their last final agony, in the police station. He was proud, he had exterminated six enemies. Malato said, “he grew in his own eyes. He said to himself that his role as a destroying angel had just begun.”
But, why didn’t they think he was a serious suspect? Well, because a policeman that particular day, that day, November 8th, 1892, he’d gone to work near the Gare du Nord, the Station of the North. He had two errands to do; one was near the Church of the Madeline, the second was way up by — near the Arc d’Triomphe. His boss gave him some money to do these errands. And a policeman tried to do the same thing, and said that he could not have gone back to his house in Montmartre, to the fifth floor, Rue Veron — it doesn’t matter, I love this stuff — and got the bomb, gone all the way back down to the Avenue de l’Opèra, and then finished his errands and got back in two hours and fifteen minutes — pas possible. So, I did it. I replaced tramway and omnibus with buses and metros, and I replaced a carriage — I never take cabs — with a cab, and my cab couldn’t turn left on the Avenue de l’Opèra, so I subtracted 11 minutes. I paused — I couldn’t get that day into one of his houses where he put the bomb. And I came back in about two hours and fifteen or sixteen minutes. Somebody did the same thing in 1894, and said he certainly could have done it.
Anyway, old Émile is off in London. Now, I’m just trying now to imagine what he imagined. What converts him to anarchism was the appalling gap between the wealthy and the poor in Paris, and other places. The heritage of the father, of course, had something to do with it. Never had people lived it up in such flamboyant, one could even say egregious ways, as in Paris in the Belle Époque, the so-called Gay ‘90s. Now, the nostalgia for that is a creation, really, of how horrible things would be later with World War I, but still — and the Belle Époque was not belle for very many people. But what leads him to anarchism is that. Everywhere he lived — that was the only place, the exception a minute ago, which was near the Bastille — everywhere he lived was on the edge of Paris, and everywhere he lived, the facades of the buildings are still the same. This is one that’s near Montmartre — and they’re building Sacré-Coeur, this is from that same time. It hadn’t been completed yet but — and its big bell drowning out the whole city, hadn’t been put in there, but this — Sacré-Coeur was built where the Commune had started, and it was seen as a monument of penance for the Government of the Moral Order. And, so, they hated this and they refer constantly to this. They have fantasies.
Zola wrote a novel called Paris in 1898, which is modeled after Émile Henry and some of these other people. And the brother of this priest who, like the REM record, is losing his religion, he has these fantasies about blowing up Sacré-Coeur. And Émile Henry lived near there, he lived on the Rue Véron, which is now fairly chic. He lived on the top floor up there. That’s where he went to get the bomb. And then he moves into this place. It says Villa Faucheur, and that’s not fancy at all. And this is the same façade. He lived on the inside there in 1894. And I went up there because I got to see, I got to see. And this is a pretty sketchy neighborhood and there are a lot of dealers, drug deals going on here, and I didn’t want to look like a flic en civil, a plain- clothes cop, and I don’t want — I don’t want to look like I’m a wealthy tourist, either. And, so, I kind of hid behind a truck and took pictures and then I walked in and said something like, “salut les gars.” And I had to see.
But, when you walk out of this — that’s how you got in, that’s 1894 — when you walk out of this, you turn right and there is the Park of Belleville, and down below the Place de la Roquette where he would lose his head, and he looked out — he was lucky, he couldn’t see the Tour Montparnasse, which didn’t then exist, but he could see symbols that he hated. There was the Tour Eiffel that had only been there — the Eiffel Tower had been there for five years. There was the Pantheon, where the State commemorated its heroes, and there was Notre Dame, which he hated as well. And, so, he once wrote that love can lead you to hate — he wrote that before he was guillotined, and he hated; he loved humanity in the abstract. He loved his mom too. But he loved humanity and he hated the State, and so he set out to kill.
So, these are sort of visual signifiers, I guess in the new cultural history they would call them, these buildings upon which — or these monuments that he looked down and hated. If you’ve read Balzac’s Old Goriot ever in your reading career, at the very end of the story Rastignac is up at Père Lachaise Cemetery, and he — and poor — Père Lachaise is not poor, but the area around it is — and he gestures down to western Paris, the fancy Paris, and he says the equivalent of, “it’s war between you and me now, baby.” But he wanted to make the big time, he wanted to sleep with the right people, he wanted to just do better and better, for himself. And Émile Henry says, points down in those neighborhoods, and he says, “it’s war between you and me now, baby.” And he meant it. And he built bombs and he went out to kill, at a time when anarchist deeds were being celebrated by some anarchists.
Chapter 4. Henry’s Deed: The Bomb and the Aftermath [00:39:10]
The explosive device that he threw into the Café Terminus, February 1894, hit a chandelier, then a marble table, and fell to the ground exploding. Twenty people were wounded, of whom one later died. Broken glass, pieces of tables and chairs, blood and injured people, fear was everywhere. An architect had five wounds, a draftsman seventeen. Henry had seen — had been seen, he’d after all sipped his second beer, first also, and at one point, not so he wouldn’t be caught — so we can rule out indirect suicide, which I’ll talk about just briefly in a minute — he said, “oh, where’s the scoundrel that did this?” and runs away. And he’s chased by policemen, by an apprentice barber, by a contrôleur from the tramway, and they finally catch him around the corner from the Gare Saint-Lazare, and he fires point blank with his pistol. He also had — his knife had poison on it, as well. One policeman called Poisson was very lucky to have escaped with his life, because his big wallet was hit by one of these shots.
And, so, he’s put in prison here, in the Conciergerie — and that cell no longer exists, that he was in. Danton, and Robespierre, and Marie Antoinette, and Louis XVI were also in this prison. And one of the great sources about this guy’s life was the prison guards, because they’re trying to get information out of him, and he tries to convert them to anarchism, and they have a very interesting kind of relationship. The first night he was in prison, friends of his broke into his room and took out enough dynamite to make fourteen or fifteen other bombs, and so Paris is, to say the least, on high alert. And, so, Émile Henry was put on trial and, in a flourish, he saluted anarchism, and gave a declaration for anarchism that was read, and is still read today, where he says, “you have garroted us in Spain, you have hung us in Germany, you have shot us here and there, you have guillotined us in France, but what you can never do is extinguish anarchy, because its roots are too deep.”
Not surprisingly, he was condemned to be executed, and he was, on the 21st of May, 1894. And it’s in early morning, at four in the morning, and the executioners all come from the same family, and this guy called Diebler was the executioner. I got to go back to that woman in a minute. This is Dibler, who was called Monsieur Paris, who was the chief executioner and, for him, one more execution was just one more execution. The last public execution in France was 1936. The last execution in France using a guillotine, of course, comme d’habitude, was 1972 or 1973; I can’t remember what date. And the chill of that morning, where people paid for seats on the roof, and there were little children whose parents bought them seats as if they were — on the roof as if they were outside Wrigley Field watching the Cubs from a roof far away.
Executions were festive events for those people, also, finishing their nights. And there was always sort of some speculation about, “when this is going to happen, when is he finally going to be executed?” And the scene, which I’ve tried to recreate in this book, of Dibler, of the wagons with the wood of justice showing up, and with the apprentices doing their work and putting up this guillotine, as if you’re putting together this basically perfect toy that didn’t need any nails, because everything fit together so well. Really, these guillotine scenes were so important for anarchists, also, because it’s part of the idea of martyrdom, of revolutionary immortality. This comes from a Christian religion also, doesn’t it, the execution scenes. Again, you see what I’m saying in that, but these scenes of the martyrdom and the use the anarchists put to this are still rather important.
Now, was this a form of indirect suicide? He’d fallen in love with the wife of an anarchist; and her building is still there too, ironically not far away from the place where he was executed. And he hit on her, and they would go out with the husband to his auberge, and he would proclaim his love, and she kind of blew him off. Was it indirect suicide? No, obviously not, because he tries to escape at the end, and then she, in a real anticipation of the modern life, she is out giving interviews to the journalists after his execution. She’s saying, “oh he loved me so much, and one could well understand why.” And the whole thing was just incredible. But it was not any kind of indirect suicide at all.
Chapter 5. Anarchism Today: Symmetries with Modern Terrorism [0044:43]
But, what do I mean about the origins of modern terrorism? What was new about it? Well, a couple of things. Ravachol, Vaillant were very poor. Ravachol was a pauvre type, a sad sack; Vaillant was not, he was a very honorable person. Most of the people in Western Europe — there were some exceptions in the Russian case, but these weren’t anarchists, it’s a group called People’s Will — were ordinary workers. Émile Henry was an intellectual; he was an intellectual. That’s new, but that’s not as important as what else was new. Instead of targeting a head of state, or a uniformed person, as other anarchists had done, he just picked people who were having a beer, petty bourgeois that he hated because they propped up capitalism, and threw the bomb at them, knowing he was going to kill a lot of them. He sat there and looked at them — there’s a very amazing scene in The Battle of Algiers, in the movie The Battle of Algiers, where this woman’s going to place a bomb, and she’s looking at people that are going to die because of what she is doing there — and he looked at these people and he said, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you, because I love — I hate.” And that’s really new about it.
Is it worth at all musing about what this has to do with modern terrorism? I don’t know, just a few reflections; there’s no doubt about that, that there are some connections. If you take Osama bin Laden, for example, he announced, as everybody knows, in the late nineties that he’ll attack civilians, American civilians, just like American military people — that’s perfectly obvious. Another connection is within modern terrorism you have this sort of alliance between intellectuals, students, and people who are simply down and out. There are big differences also. The suicide bomber is something — no, it’s very different. But, still, there are things that are worth thinking about. Third, the whole idea of revolutionary immortality, that you kill people, you die, and you have revolutionary immortality. For many fundamentalist terrorists you pass immediately into this nirvana. Fourth, both sets of terrorists target a powerful enemy, a structure they set out to destroy and try to — “kill one, warn a thousand,” goes an old Chinese proverb.
And they want to attack the State and capitalism, in the case of the anarchists, and the targets are perfectly obvious in the case of contemporary terrorists as well. Fifth, dynamite, like roadside bombs, are seen as leveling the playing field. You attack, you can prove that you are strong when, in reality, you are weak. They demonstrate that powerful states are vulnerable even to small groups of determined anarchists. Next, also these groups, as I said, their tendency is always to try to find one person running the whole show. That’s absolutely not the case in the case of the anarchists, as I already said, nor is it the case now as well. So, the French government then, and officials now, have a tendency to look for centrally organized, massive conspiracy, instead of acknowledging the role of small groups, or even isolated individuals undertaking locally organized or freelance operations. Anarchists, to repeat, always emphasize the full autonomy of the individual; indeed, the potentially murderous individual as the case, as I’ve said.
And I obviously detest everything that Émile Henry stood for, but I’ve tried to understand his hatred. Yet, there’s one more thing that could be added too, is that when you think of the word terrorism, the word terrorism was originally applied to actions taken by the State to terrorize. “The Terror” was terrorizing opponents in the French Revolution. And it’s often forgotten that the vast majority of victims of terror are victims of State terrorism. And the anarchists hated the State because they’d seen up close what State terrorism did in the wake of the Commune, and the beating of the police at Clichy, the massacre of the innocents, of these women, young women gunned down during the strike in the north, or demonstrations in the north in 1891, must be remembered. During the 1890s the anarchist attacks, which were terrible, killed a maximum of sixty people — tragic — wounding more than two hundred. But, if you look at State terrorism, the ratio somebody has figured out stands at approximately 260:1; two hundred and sixty victims of State terrorism as opposed to one victim of this horrible thing.
Terrorism has thus become part of the political process, but it’s been called a danse macabre, or sort of a macabre dance between states and their fiercest opponents. The two interact dynamically and need each other. The hatred of dissidents is only further stoked by the over-reaction of authorities; it simply encourages attack. And, certainly, this is not a course in political science, but the reaction of the United States government and other governments to the horrible, horrible attacks on September 11th are a pretty good example of that. When states take tactics that swell the hatred of their opponents by abusing prisoners, by torturing prisoners and by that sort of thing, that line between that goes all the way back to Spain of the 1890s, the first decade of the twentieth century, back to the Paris Commune before that and, unfortunately, to our very day. That is the story of Émile Henry. See you on Wednesday.
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