Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library
An Anarchist on Devils Island
Often writers on Anarchism use fictional anecdotes from literature as history; here however we see that anarchist history has been turned into literature. The story of Clement Duval was lifted and, shorn of all politics, turned into the bestseller Papillon.
Paris, October 1886. Hidden in the shadow of an archway, Brigadier Rossignol tugged nervously at his moustache. If everything went according to plan, he was about to bring another brilliant police operation to an end; yet another success to add to his already fat personal record. He had no reason to doubt the success of the plan. He was a self-confident man, the Brigadier, one of the Calabrians of his time, famous for the courage and efficiency with which he persecuted wrongdoers. This time it was a question of arresting a dangerous subversive, suspected of burglary and arson, and the ambush had been planned with all necessary precautions; so there was nothing to worry about. There were 20 cops strategically placed; he himself was there under the archway, ready to give the signal. If he was nervous it was because of the waiting.
Perhaps it was through an excessive faith in his plan, or through his obsessive desire to cut a good figure, or for both of these reasons, that as soon as the person in question appeared, Brigadier Rossignol jumped without hesitation from his hiding place, followed by his colleagues.
In a flash he was on top of his quarry, shouting like a madman his favourite phrase of all those available to him in the police vocabulary: "I arrest you in the name of the law". This was the technique he used in such cases, both to frighten the suspect and to dissuade them from any idea of resisting arrest. But it didnt work. Instead of trembling resignation, his cry was met with a snarl of "And I kill you in the name of freedom!" To confirm his intentions, the man had drawn a long-blade knife. The scuffle that followed was very violent. While the other participants vainly tried to block him, the persistently aggressive individual made half a dozen lunges at Rossignol and, in a desperate attempt to get free, managed to put out one of the Brigadiers eyes. In the end, numbers told. He was handcuffed and taken to jail. Meanwhile the Brigadier went to hospital, one up in terms of success, one down in terms of eyes. The antagonist of the overconfident policeman was Clement Duval, anarchist expropriator, who that day had bloodily finished his career as a militant revolutionary, to start another as a convict deported to Guyana. The inescapable consequence of his violent act of rebellion was to be a joyless existence, suffering under the yoke of exploitation and tyranny. From this point of view, what happened to Duval is of great significance because it is a mirror of an epoch, in which is exhibited the reactionary face of newly-industrialised France, imperialist, exploitative and repressive. This story could have happened to anyone at that time, and in effect it happened to many. It is in its unexceptional nature that the value of the story lies.
He returned to Paris in 1873, where, as his father had died, he was now the sole breadwinner of the family: he was still in one piece, but he suffered for the rest of his life with arthritis and rheumatism a legacy of his war wounds and the stay in hospital. Ironically, he found that the family for which he had to provide no longer existed as such. His young wife (who had married him just before he left for the front), unable to cope with being left alone, had had an affair with another man, and poor Duval, after the joys of the martial life, found himself wearing horns on his return from the war.
With regard to sexual customs and extra-marital relationships, the mentality of the era was not very broad-minded. and Duval, although he was he was of progressive views was in no state of mind to view matters with the serenity his ides required. Fourteen months of bitterness and jealousy followed, until the young couple succeeded in forgetting the matter. It was the beginning of a period of relative tranquillity. He worked as a mechanic in a Paris factory, and she took care of domestic affairs; and his life, although hard, seemed almost happy compared with that of the front, even if it was not all hearts and flowers. At the factory, fourteen hours a day under iron discipline, always with the threat of the sack for any form of minor deficiency. At home, a poor life, dirty and squalid, long silences because of fatigue and misery. it was normal working class life in the industrialised countries at the time.
It was in this period that Duvals libertarian ides matured, he refined them through reading and direct experience, realising the nature of exploitation and that the only chance for the emancipation of the lower classes lay in revolution. But, more than for his subversive ideas and intentions, he was known for his proud firmness of character, for his honesty, and for the passion which, in spite of everything, he put into his work.
But he was a marked man. Not by a supernatural destiny; not even so much by the ideas he professed; but by his position as one of the exploited, one of the rejects from which society demanded everything- grief, sacrifice, resignation and gave nothing in return. After just three years of normal life, a terrible attack of rheumatism came to remind him of his battles for the fatherland. He was bedridden almost continuously until 1878. He lost his job, and if previously there had been poverty, now there was pauperdom. And, with misery came family quarrels, recriminations, the contempt of others, the anguish of an existence without prospects and without mercy. Desperation. Hatred.
Although solitary because of the conditions in which he was forced to act, his was not an egoistic struggle. After his first unaware attempts, he knew how to go beyond his own personal tragedy, finding in it a point of departure for a fuller vision, the rationale of a struggle fought not for his own benefit, nor for that of a few others, but for everyone.
When Duval was released from prison, he started actively spreading libertarian propaganda in the Paris factories, and he realised he was at war. Violence was not excluded: this was a war without international conventions or any aristocratic notions of fair play. Every wage claim was met by massive sackings, every strike was met with gunfire, many were wounded or killed, every public demonstration was an occasion for mass arrests (and then it was jail, deportation or the guillotine). Duval thought (and who is to say that he was wrong?) that the only way to answer violence was with violence. And he answered.
A piano factory, the offices of a bus company, a furniture factory, the Choubersky workshops where he himself worked, the firm of Belvalette de Passy; all places where the most inhuman exploitation was practised, where workers had their health ruined for fourteen hours a day in exchange for four miserable francs, where the most unfair advantages were taken, all these became ruins, gutted by fire or explosives. It was in this period that the figure of the anarchist bomber, sombre vindicator of the wrongs done to the proletariat, nightmare of the bourgeoisie became part of the iconography of the regime. By now Duval was one.
The episode which brought him to ruin happened on the night of 25th October 1886. Duval broke into the apartment of Mme. Lemaire, a rich lady who lived at Rue de Monceau. The residents were away on holiday in the country, and he was able to move about undisturbed: he carefully put aside all the precious objects that he could find, and smashed all that he was forced to leave behind because it was too heavy or inconvenient. While leaving, he accidentally (for he had no desire to attract attention while he was at work) set fire to the house. The damage caused by both the theft and fire was worth more than ten thousand francs, a respectable sum, which gave a certain renown to the event. The police were not slow in finding out who was responsible. The expropriated jewels, put up for sale too soon, left an obvious trail, which led back to the fence, and thus to Duval. Taken by surprise in front of a comrades door, both were arrested, not without trouble, as we have already mentioned.
The final hearing ended uproariously with Duval expelled shouting "Long live anarchy", the police overwhelmed by the crowd, the judges in flight to their chambers, and then insults and blows, fights and arrests. An hour later, when the uproar had been quelled, the Court delivered its verdict: death. A penalty dictated by fear, certainly disproportionate to the gravity of the offences under trial. On February 28th perhaps revealing this lack of proportion, the President of the Republic commuted the sentence to one of deportation for life.
Freedom was closing its doors on him, and the inferno was to take him in, forever.
At four oclock on the afternoon of 25th March, Duval departed the city on the Orne, from the military fortress of Toulon, bound for the vaults of Guyana. He had a ghastly anticipation of what to expect from the very first day of his stay in the fortress. His own words, for all their tone, are so eloquent as to not need comment: "... I would never dare to repeat the experience of the putrid corruption which poisoned every human emotion and sentiment to the last stages of decomposition. Along the walls, lying on their beds made from scraps of material those exhausted people who had said goodbye to all hope... In hidden corners, where neither the flickering light of the oil-lamps nor the gaze of the curious reached, they were trembling and sobbing; lust showed itself in delirious, bestial fornication. One of Sodoms slums, built in the shade of the well-meaning bourgeoisies Third Republic, a tribute to their modest morality and their positive penal science."1
Duval was not the sort to accept this treatment willingly. On the first occasion he rebelled, answering the provocations in the same vein, and thus he had a taste of what was awaiting him in the penitentiary: naked as a worm, he was thrown into a water-logged cell where he stayed for two days, unable to stand upright because the ceiling was too low, and unable to lie down because the cell was too small. Repression inside repression.
Guyana was a real hell-hole, a filthy abyss of violence and depravity made even more intolerable by the hot and humid tropical climate. There the lie was given to the hypocritical idea that prison can lead to atonement and repentance. Guyana was synonymous with forced labour, fettered ankles, rotting food, punishment cells, swarms of insects, scurvy, dysentery. Redemption? In captivity, men lost their health, their dignity, they died of disease and want, their bodies and spirits scarred, humiliated, broken, brutalised, reduced against their will to the level of animals. The more assertive among them achieved some squalid privilege at the expense of their companions. The most cynical curried favour with the guards by crawling and informing on the others. The weakest went under. The penitentiary was the perverted image of all the vices, every misery, all the oppression of the society which had produced it. Because of this, those who had not submitted before, when they were free, did not accept the idea of submitting now that they were in a society that was more vicious but otherwise not dissimilar. Duval (and in general all the anarchists who ended up in prison) was no exception.
The story of his stay on the terrible island is the story of his pride of his unbeatable fighting spirit, of the constant struggle with the situation, not to lose his identity, of his refusal to fall into the abyss of misery that confronted him. And he succeeded. He opposed the guards traps, rebelled against the injustices, helped the most wretched fellow prisoners, unmasked spies and provocateurs. The cruellest bullies, the drunken directors, the scum, the murderers, the mindless brutes that peopled the prison camp, learned to pay him a sort of respect, certainly worthy of better circles, in which admiration for his correctness was united with fear for his toughness. A respect that was merited, if one thinks of the terrible price that had to be paid for it.
Duval stayed fourteen years in Guyana. In this time, he tried to escape more than twenty times, seizing every chance, every means: on rafts, on stolen or patiently built boats, hiding in ships that passed. Every time something went wrong.
He was captured, suffered from the inevitable punishment, and began again. Had he given up after the first attempts he would have died in prison like so many others, killed either by fever or by the guards. Instead, unable to resign himself to his fate, he was saved. After trying again and again, the time finally came when luck turned his way.
Backed by a light breeze, they sailed all day. At the helm was a cabin-boy, an excellent sailor, whose experience of the sea helped to keep the morale of the others high. But in the evening the weather changed, turned nasty. The breeze soon became a hurricane, making huge waves that filled the boat with water, forcing the men to a nerve-wracking bailing. Further, the cabin-boy was quite unable to see in the dark because of a lack of vitamins in the penitentiarys diet, and thus his ability was rendered less useful. It was a hellish night, and they many times risked ending up as shark food.
The next day weather conditions were better, and Duval and his companions soon sighted land. It was the district of Paramaraibo, in Dutch Guyana. Outside the claws of the penitentiary administration. The worst was past. However, the fugitives were still in danger. As escaped convicts, they could still be imprisoned by the Dutch police. If the French got to hear about it, they could be extradited and again interned on the terrible island.
The odyssey was not yet over. It would last another two years. Always with false names, always on the lookout against discovery, always struggling against hunger and the authorities, forced into the most worthless and poor jobs. Duval made his way to British Guyana, then to Martinique, finally reaching Puerto Rico. Here he stayed a while, somewhat recovering his broken health and recommencing a normal life. On 16 June 1903 he left for the united States, with the prospect at least of living in liberty. Deportation was by now only a memory, even if an indelible one.
reprinted from Black Flag Quarterly, Vol 7, Number 5 (Winter 1984)
Birth of the FAI
Edgar Rodrigues On The Origins Of The Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI)
For some time now I have been of the opinion that our historians afford little if any attention to the Portugese-speaking movement and anarchists (in Brazil and Portugal). Most of them simply are not familiar with the writings of militants from those countries, do not translate their writings, the Anarchist Encyclopaedia ignored their existence and FAI writers are still ignorant of their origins: where did it come from? Whose idea was it to set it up? Who sketched its essential guidelines? Who tabled the original proposal for an Iberian Anarchist Federation for discussion and prior consent?
The FAI - and this needs saying - was an idea, a proposal that emanated from the Portuguese militant Manuel Joaquim de Sousa, with backing from Manuel Peres Fernandes who had been deported from Brazil in 1919 by the Epitacio Pessoa government and found refuge in Lisbon in 1923-1924 with Doctor Pedro Vallina and his family.
The launching of the FAI was first mooted at the Congress of workers organisations from Portugal and Spain held in the Portuguese town of Evora in 1923.
Manuel Joaquim de Sousa was an Oporto-born militant who was extremely active and wrote books of great historical import. the congress was attended by CNT representatives Manuel Peres, J. Ferrer Alvarado and Sebastian Clara: the Portuguese CGT was represented by Manuel Joaquim de Sousa and Jose da Silva Santos Arranha.
It was in fact at this get-together of representatives from the Iberian libertarian trade union organisations that the Portuguese Manuel Joaquim de Sousa suggested that the confederal libertarian movement in the Iberian peninsula amalgamate, uniting Portuguese and Spanish anarchists into a single body. From the outset he had support from Mauel Peres who had been born in Spain but raised in Rio de Janiero, where he had discovered Anarchism.
In May 1926, having completed his project, Manuel Joaquim de Sousa represented the Portuguese CGT at the Marseilles Congress: Manuel Peres was representing the Portuguese Anarchist union (UAP). Thirty delegates from French and Spanish groups and from the IWMA attended. Armando Borghi attended as representative of the Italian Syndicalsit Union (USI).
The congress debated topics like: the reorganisation of anarchist forces in Spain and France; disagreements on organisational matters; non- recognition of the so-called Revolutionary Alliance which advocated dealings with politicians; and the strengthening of the prisoners aid committees.
Finally, at that congress, Manuel Joaquim de Sousa, with Manuel Peress support, mooted once again unification of the Iberian movement and (this time) succeeded in securing agreement on the following points: "1) Congress agrees to launch an Iberian Anarchist Federation, notifying Portugals Anarchist Union of this decision: 2) in view of the abnormal and dangerous situation obtaining in Spain, the liaison committee is to be based in Lisbon: 3) its launch is a matter for the Portuguese Anarchist Union, the latter being entitled to seek aid and support as well as collaboration from Spanish anarchists resident in that place: 4) whensoever it sees fit, that committee will summon an Iberian congress in order to put the finish touches to said federation: 5) the liaison committee will be provisional, pending that congress: 6) Spanish anarchists are to be consulted so that they may give their endorsement to these resolutions."
"The Portuguese Anarchist Unions congress will be attended by a delegate representing the Spanish anarchists movement" (unpublished memoirs of Manuel Peres, in the possession of Edgar Rodrigues, published in the Lisbon newspaper O Anarquista of 20 June 1976).
To escape from repression at home, the Spaniards were scattered across the world just then.
On 28 May 1926, a military coup in Portugal forced Portuguese anarchists to bring forward their planned congress and to relocate it to Valencia, where it proceeded surreptitiously on 25 July 1927. It was attended by Francisco Nobrea do Quintal, as the secretary of the Portuguese Anarchist Union. Germinal de Sousa, son of the author of the draft project to launch an Iberian Anarchist Federation, and a refugee in Spain at the time was also on hand. From the outset, he was a member of the new anarchist body and was a participant, along with other Portuguese delegates, in the National Plenum of Regionals held in Madrid on 30 and 31 October 1927. several delegates from the Portuguese Anarchist Federation and from exiles were also present at the FAI meeting on 31 January and 1 February 1936.
It is, as I see it, very important for the historical record and for ourselves that we call to mind these true stories that sometimes have a tendency to slip from our memories.
Edgar Rodrigues, Le Monde Libertaire no. 934, 25 Nov.- 1 Dec. 1993.
See also: "We, The Anarchists", a study of the FAI, 1927-1931 by Stuart Christie £12.95 from The Meltzer Press PO Box 35, Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 2UX Fax: (01424) 442913 email: email@example.com
Kate Sharpley Library Partial wants list
Please note that this is only a list of our most obscure requests. We rely on comrades to donate recent books- which we may not know of, and common classics which we can sell on at low prices. This provides a vital income for the library.
Mother Earth Publishing Association:
A bibliography of books and pamphlets. Compiled for the Anarchist Archives Project by Jerry Kaplan (July 1994)
God and the state (1916) -first MEPA edition; first published in the US
by Benjamin R Tucker in 1883
Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (1912)
Voltairine de Cleyre
Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre (1914)
Anarchism and Other Essays (intro. Hippolyte Havel, 1910. Second,
revised edition in both cloth and paper, 1911; third revised edition co-
published in paper [and cloth?] with A.C Fifield, London 1917)
Voltairine de Cleyre
Anarchism and American Traditions (1909)
Direct Action (1912)
Dominant Idea (1910)
McKinleys Assassination From the Anarchist Standpoint (1907)
The Mexican Revolt (1911)
The Modern School
E.C. Ford And Wm Z. Foster
Anarchism: What it Really Stands For (1911, 2nd? 1914?)
Anarchy versus Socialism, Marriage and Love (1911, 2nd 1914)
Patriotism: A Menace To Liberty (1908?)
Preparedness: The Road To Universal Slaughter (1916?)
The Psychology Of Political Violence (1911)
Syndicalism: The Modern Menace to Capitalism (1913)
The Tragedy Of Womens Emancipation (1910)
Trials and Speeches Of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (1917)
The Truth About the Bolsheviki (1918)
Victims of Morality and the Failure of Christianity (1913, 2nd. ed. 1916)
What I believe (1908)
The White Slave Traffic (1909?)
Charles L. James
Anarchism and Malthus (1910)
Anarchist Morality (1916)
A Talk about Anarchist Communism Between Two Workers
Free Speech For Radicals
A. A. Project
PO Box 381323
MA. 02238 1323
Unknown Anarchists: Celso Persici
Celso Persici died in Nice (France) on 15 September 1988. Up until 1923, Celso, who came from Bazzano (Bologna) had been very active in the Anarchist movement and in the USI (Italian Syndicalist Union). Armando Borghi was the head of the USI in Bologna at the time. He was also active in other places around the province of Bologna. Among his associates, those whom I met and can recall now, were Luigi Fabbri, Gino Balestri, Primo Proni (my grandfather), Emilio Predieri (an uncle of mine), Castagnoli and there were others whose names I cannot call to mind. There was an uprising in Bazano (I cannot recall the exact year) in which my father was an active participant, holding rallies in several towns around the province and in Bologna.
Seventy people were arrested as a result of that revolt and they included Gino Balestri and my father who got a bigger sentence than anyone else (8 months served in the San Giovanni in Monte prison in Bologna). My grandfather and my mother Libertaria attended the trial, as did many other comrades, in a show of support for the jailed comrades. It was there that my mother and father first met. The fascists, who were growing increasingly violent at the time, so much so that my grandfather was picked up from his home one night by a gang of fascists who brought him to the banks of the Reno river (in Bologna) to shoot him, and someone miraculously saved him. My father was harassed several times and beaten almost to death, as a result of which he was obliged to go into exile in France in 1923. In Paris he was active alongside many other Italian and French comrades. The ones I can recall include Gino Balestri, Edoardo Angeli, the Gigliolis (father and sons- Libero, Equo, Rivoluzio and Siberia), my uncle Emilio Predieri, my uncle Antonio Persici, Mastrodicasa, the Berneri family, Luigi Fabbri and his daughter Luce, Mioli, the painter Vezzani, Pio Turroni, Vella, Marzocchi and Chessa along with many another Italian comrade whose name escapes me. All of these comrades, virtually all of them dead now, were very well known in Italy and beyond.
In Paris and Marseilles my father joined with some other comrades to form a bricklayers co-operative; the others included Gino Balestri, Edoardo Angeli, Emilio Predieri, Tozi, Mioli, and Berneri worked with them for a short time, as did others I have forgotten. The aim of their co-operative was to find work for comrades whose papers were in order and others whose status was not regularised. Profits wen to the anarchist movement. In search of work, they moved several times, to Vichy to build the casino there, and worked on the casino in St Jean de Luz and worked in Nice on the Monte Carlo Sporting Club. After two years in Nice they moved on to Marseilles for health reasons. After some years, the French police, acting in cahoots with Mussolinis police, raided the house one morning to arrest my father. They waited outside the house in a car for him to emerge, aiming to pick him up and deliver him secretly to the Italian border. He was quick-witted enough to evade capture, retreating inside the house where he was followed by two plain- clothed policemen. We were therefore aware that he had been placed under arrest, as a result of which they had to process his detention through proper channels. He was taken to the Eveche (the main police station in Marseilles) and deported from France. Spain was the only country that would take him and so he was taken to the Spanish border. The revolution broke out there a few months later and he was involved in the early fighting in Barcelona and along with some others he organised the influx of volunteers from all over. He worked at the Italian Section in the FAI Regional Committee premises in Barcelona alongside Berneri and Barbieri. Cavallina was the Italian vice-consul at the time. Many comrades passed through there and on to the Huesca front and to other key places where the Italians served. Siberia Giglioli, Castagnoli and another comrade who had been living in Switzerland, saw to the reception of volunteers.
Following the murder of Berneri and Barbieri, he left for France, living clandestinely in Brest for about two years. He fled Brest when the French police came looking for him and another comrade, Lelli, and they headed for Marseilles to embark clandestinely for Algeria to visit Edoardo Angeli who had been living in Algiers for several years. Within 24 hours of their reaching Angelis home, the police burst in and arrested all three of them. Angeli served several months and my father and Lelli were jailed for a year. On leaving prison, all three of them left for Casablanca in Morocco.
In Casablanca they were to join the Moroccan resistance. After the
Liberation, my father returned to Italy where my mother and I joined him in Bologna. In
1947 we returned to Marseilles but my mother went back to Bologna for health reasons. When
my mother died, my father moved in with me in Marseilles and then in Nice where he died at
the age of 93. Throughout all this time he was an active member of the anarchist movement,
the USI and the CNT.
The Albert Memorial:
The Anarchist life and times of Albert Meltzer (7 January 1920 - 7 May 1996)
An appreciation by Phil Ruff, with a postscript by Acrata.
Published by The Meltzer Press, October 1997. ISBN 1 901172 10 4
Printworker, writer, troublemaker, but above all a tireless anarchist activist, Albert Meltzer is one of the most important figures in twentieth century anarchism. Scourge of Liberals and tyrants, he never stood aside from the struggle for a better world.
Written by Phil Ruff, a friend and collaborator of
Alberts since the 1970s, this is a tribute to the man described by the Special
Branch as "The doyen of the anarchist movement". Drawing from, and
On the way, it mentions all the historic events that Albert Meltzer took part in; his support for Spanish anarchists in the Civil War; the Cairo Mutiny; his involvement in the revival of Spanish resistance to Franco in the 1960s; the creation of the Anarchist Black Cross and the increase of revolutionary anarchist activity in the 1970s. The stories of some of the hundreds of comrades that Albert worked alongside are mentioned: Jack White, Leah Feldman, Tom Brown, John Olday, Octavio Alberola, Salvador Puig Antich, Stuart Christie, Miguel Garcia...
The Albert Memorial also contains Stuart Christies full
obituary of Albert, and his funeral tribute, as well as tributes from the CNT and his
close friend Simon McKeown. Acratas postscript deals with the feeble (and
unsuccessful) attempt to malign Alberts reputation, and is backed up by documents
from Octavio Alberola, active in the struggles which his detractors cant believe
existed. This well produced, illustrated A4 booklet deserves a home with everyone
interested in our revolutionary heritage, whether they were fortunate enough to know
Albert Meltzer or not.
Phil Ruff, The Albert Memorial. The Meltzer Press,
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