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Édouard Carouy

Édouard Carouy


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Édouard Carouy was born in Lens-sur-Deudre, Belgium, on 28th January, 1883. His mother died when he was three-years-old. He moved to Paris where he worked in a factory. He also associated with a group of anarchists.

Jules Bonnot arrived in the city in 1911. According to Victor Serge: "From the grapevine we gathered that Bonnot... had been traveling with him by car, had killed him, the Italian having first wounded himself fumbling with a revolver." Bonnot soon formed a gang that included local anarchists, Carouy, Raymond Callemin, Octave Garnier, René Valet, André Soudy and Stephen Monier. Serge was totally opposed to what the group intended to do. Callemin visited Serge when he heard what he had been saying: "If you don't want to disappear, be careful about condemning us. Do whatever you like! If you get in my way I'll eliminate you!" Serge replied: "You and your friends are absolutely cracked and absolutely finished."

These men shared Bonnot's illegalist philosophy that is reflected in these words: "The anarchist is in a state of legitimate defence against society. Hardly is he born than the latter crushes him under a weight of laws, which are not of his doing, having been made before him, without him, against him. Capital imposes on him two attitudes: to be a slave or to be a rebel; and when, after reflection, he chooses rebellion, preferring to die proudly, facing the enemy, instead of dying slowly of tuberculosis, deprivation and poverty, do you dare to repudiate him? If the workers have, logically, the right to take back, even by force, the wealth that is stolen from them, and to defend, even by crime, the life that some want to tear away from them, then the isolated individual must have the same rights."

Richard Parry, the author of the The Bonnot Gang (1987) has argued: "The so-called 'gang', however, had neither a name nor leaders, although it seems that Bonnot and Garnier played the principal motivating roles. They were not a close-knit criminal band in the classical style, but rather a union of egoists associated for a common purpose. Amongst comrades they were known as 'illegalists', which signified more than the simple fact that they carried out illegal acts. Illegal activity has always been part of the anarchist tradition, especially in France."

On 21st December, 1911 the gang robbed a messenger of the Société Générale Bank of 5,126 francs in broad daylight and then fled in a stolen Delaunay-Belleville car. It is claimed that they were the first to use an automobile to flee the scene of a crime. As Peter Sedgwick pointed out: "This was an astounding innovation when policemen were on foot or bicycle. Able to hide, thanks to the sympathies and traditional hospitality of other anarchists, they held off regiments of police, terrorized Paris, and grabbed headlines for half a year."

The gang then stole weapons from a gun shop in Paris. On 2nd January, 1912, they broke into the home of the wealthy Louis-Hippolyte Moreau and murdered both him and his maid. This time they stole property and money to the value of 30,000 francs. Bonnot and his men fled to Belgium, where they sold the stolen car. In an attempt to steal another they shot a Belgian policeman. On 27th February they shot two more police officers while stealing an expensive car from a garage in Place du Havre.

On 25th March, 1912, the gang stole a De Dion-Bouton car in the Sénart Forest by killing the driver. Later that day they killed two cashiers during an attack on the Société Générale Bank in Chantilly. Leading anarchists in the city were arrested. This included Victor Serge who complained in his autobiography, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1951): "A positive wave of violence and despair began to grow. The outlaw anarchists shot at the police and blew out their own brains. Others, overpowered before they could fire the last bullet into their own heads, went off sneering to the guillotine.... I recognized, in the various newspaper reports, faces I had met or known; I saw the whole of the movement founded by Libertad dragged into the scum of society by a kind of madness; and nobody could do anything about it, least of all myself. The theoreticians, terrified, headed for cover. It was like a collective suicide."

The police offered a reward of 100,000 in an effort to capture members of the gang. This policy worked and on information provided by an anarchist writer, André Soudy was arrested at Berck-sur-Mer on 30th March. This was followed a few days later when Edouard Carouy was betrayed by the family hiding him. Raymond Callemin was captured on 7th April.

On 24th April, 1912, three policemen surprised Bonnot in the apartment of a man known to buy stolen goods. He shot at the officers, killing Louis Jouin, the vice-chief of the French police, and wounding another officer before fleeing over the rooftops. Four days later he was discovered in a house in Choisy-le-Roi. It is claimed the building was surrounded by 500 armed police officers, soldiers and firemen.

According to Victor Serge: "They caught up with him at Choisy-le-Roi, where he defended himself with a pistol and wrote, in between the shooting, a letter which absolved his comrades of complicity. He lay between two mattresses to protect himself against the final onslaught." Bonnot was able to wound three officers before the house before the police used dynamite to demolish the front of the building. In the battle that followed Bonnot was shot ten times. He was moved to the Hotel-Dieu de Paris before dying the following morning. Octave Garnier and René Valet were killed during a police siege of their suburban hideout on 15th May, 1912.

The trial of Carouy, Raymond Callemin, Victor Serge, Rirette Maitrejean, Edouard Carouy, Jean de Boe, André Soudy, Eugène Dieudonné and Stephen Monier, began on 3rd February, 1913. Victor Serge has claimed: "Edouard Carouy, who had no part in these events, was betrayed by the family hiding him and, although armed like the others, was arrested without any attempt at self-defense; this athletic young man was exceptional in being quite incapable of murder, though quite ready to kill himself."

Callemin, Soudy, Dieudonné and Monier were sentenced to death. When he heard the judge's verdict, Callemin jumped up and shouted: "Dieudonné is innocent - it's me, me that did the shooting!" Carouy was sentenced to hard labour for life. Serge received five years' solitary confinement but Maitrejean was acquitted. Dieudonné was reprieved but Callemin, Soudy and Monier were guillotined at the gates of the prison.

On 27th February, 1913, a prison warder told Serge: "Carouy is dying. Can you hear him? That's him gasping away... He took some poison that he'd got hidden in the shoes of his shoes." Édouard Carouy died later that day.

Edouard Carouy, who had no part in these events, was betrayed by the family hiding him and, although armed like the others, was arrested without any attempt at self-defense; this athletic young man was exceptional in being quite incapable of murder, though quite ready to kill himself. The others too were all betrayed. Some of the anarchists shot at those informers, one of whom was killed. Nonetheless, the shrewdest one of them continued to edit a little individualist journal on the blue cover of which the New Man could be seen struggling up from the shadows.


Against the Logic of the Guillotine

148 years ago this week, on April 6, 1871, armed participants in the revolutionary Paris Commune seized the guillotine that was stored near the prison in Paris. They brought it to the foot of the statue of Voltaire, where they smashed it into pieces and burned it in a bonfire, to the applause of an immense crowd. 1 This was a popular action arising from the grassroots, not a spectacle coordinated by politicians. At the time, the Commune controlled Paris, which was still inhabited by people of all classes the French and Prussian armies surrounded the city and were preparing to invade it in order to impose the conservative Republican government of Adolphe Thiers. In these conditions, burning the guillotine was a brave gesture repudiating the Reign of Terror and the idea that positive social change can be achieved by slaughtering people.

“What?” you say, in shock, “The Communards burned the guillotine? Why on earth would they do that? I thought the guillotine was a symbol of liberation!”

Why indeed? If the guillotine is not a symbol of liberation, then why has it become such a standard motif for the radical left over the past few years? Why is the internet replete with guillotine memes? Why does The Coup sing “We got the guillotine, you better run”? The most popular socialist periodical is named Jacobin, after the original proponents of the guillotine. Surely this can’t all be just an ironic sendup of lingering right-wing anxieties about the French Revolution.

The guillotine has come to occupy our collective imagination. In a time when the rifts in our society are widening towards civil war, it represents uncompromising bloody revenge. It represents the idea that the violence of the state could be a good thing if only the right people were in charge.

Those who take their own powerlessness for granted assume that they can promote gruesome revenge fantasies without consequences. But if we are serious about changing the world, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that our proposals are not equally gruesome.

A poster in Seattle, Washington. The quotation is from Karl Marx.

You can print a zine version of this essay here.


The Bonnot Gang: Two Reviews

Without a Glimmer of Remorse The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists, 2nd ed.

The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists By Richard Parry PM Press, 2016

Without a Glimmer of Remorse By Pino Cacucci. Illustrated by Flavio Costantini Black Powder Press, 2016

Class war is usually envisioned as a mass movement, often under the umbrella of formal organizations like revolutionary parties or syndicalist federations. But is that the only articulation of class war? In 2016, two books came out looking at other forms of expropriation. Both books are reprints of classic texts exploring the French illegalists known as the Bonnot Gang, a group of individualist anarchists involved in forgery, counterfeiting, and, most notoriously, bank robberies and burglaries to support their insurrectionary politics.

The first book is The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists by Richard Parry. The second is the novel Without a Glimmer of Remorse written by Pino Cacucci and illustrated by Flavio Costantini. Each of these texts, in different ways – one historical, the other fictive – presents informative, engrossing, and exciting narratives exploring political and personal revolt against society. The texts make you wonder: what if folk heroes like Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, or John Dillinger actually had politics behind their actions?

Parry contrasts the Bonnot Gang with “American antiheros” and argues: “[T]he illegalists were consciously political, both on a personal level and in their view of the structure of the state and society. They are far more fascinating as individuals with their vegetarianism, teetotalism and belief in anarchy and free love as well as for their daring exploits.” Their “daring exploits” included the expropriation of wealth from capitalists and other members of the bourgeoisie as a means of personal survival while funding anarchist projects. They also carried out acts of revenge against those responsible for poverty, exploitation, and violence.

Cacucci, meanwhile, explores the ideas of rebellion and action through a fictional monologue by Jules Bonnot: “Hitting the exploiters with their fondness for the guillotine and for champagne in precisely what they cherished most, their purse. Not for the sake of lining one’s pockets, but so as to repay them in kind for a little of the terror they spread, so cocksure that they were unreachable. And not with bombs, but at gunpoint, wresting back a fraction of everything that they were hiding from the millions in despair.” While this passage appears as a fictional representation of Jules’ perspective, it is also a vantage point through which to consider the perspective of many anarchists at the time. Specifically, many European individualist anarchists believed the act of expropriation was a legitimate form of revolt against the social order (capitalists, politicians, and the church). Expropriative anarchism, or “expropriations on the bourgeoisie,” has been a practice of anarchist affinity groups – most famously in Argentina and Spain by Buenaventura Durruti, Severino Di Giovanni, Miguel Arcángel Roscigna, and Lucio Urtubia – that has involved theft, robbery, scams, and counterfeiting currency. The French illegalists expropriated not only to finance anarchist activities for them, it became a way to live.

Parry situates the Bonnot Gang’s philosophies within a larger individualist anarchist milieu that was thriving in France in the interwar period. Founded by Octave Garnier, Raymond la Science (Raymond Callemin), and René Valet, the cornerstone of the Bonnot Gang’s philosophy was the liberation of an individual’s desires (that is, following one’s desires rather than being crushed by the laws and morality of the church, state, family, and so on) and the drive to live a free life outside of or in contrast to the forced labour of the masses. Members of the Bonnot Gang were influenced by earlier anarchists: La Science was inspired by Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and others were also influenced by Max Stirner’s egoism. Cacucci explores these ideas through Jules Bonnot’s meditations on Stirner: “Revolution has its sights set on a new organization rebellion on the other hand prompts us to reject being organized any longer, but rather to look to self-organization and places no great hopes in institutions.”

When the gang started out, the press referred to them as the “Auto Bandits” because they were the first gang to utilize an automobile for their getaways. Because of this, the gang had an edge over the French police, who didn’t have access to the repeating rifles and automobiles used by the gang. The gang was later referred to as the Bonnot Gang after Bonnot – worker, soldier, chauffeur to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and primary character in Cacucci’s novel – walked into the offices of the popular daily newspaper Le Petit Parisien and, in an act of bravado, set his semi-automatic gun on a desk and complained to the journalists about stories they had been running about the gang.

It was also around that time that Garnier published a letter in Le Matin mocking the police, challenging their “intelligence,” and taunting them for their inability “to pick up my trail again.” In the letter, he wrote, “Don’t think I’m going to run away from your police on my word, I believe they’re the ones who are afraid.” Addressing the police, he closed the letter: “Awaiting the pleasure of meeting you.” These acts of defiance led to an increase in police funding of 800,000 francs a bounty of 100,000 francs was charged as a reward for the gang’s capture.

Eventually the police rounded up the gang’s supporters and other anarchists, and the Bonnot Gang’s spree of bank robberies, burglaries, and shootouts with police came to an end. André Soudy was arrested on March 30, 1912. According to Parry, “On his person they found the, now standard, loaded Browning, six bullets, a thousand francs in cash and a phial of potassium cyanide.” Shortly after, in early April, Édouard Carouy and la Science were arrested. Cacucci describes the arrest: “Raymond was unable to draw any of the three pistols he had in his pocket because Sevestre brought the butt of his own pistol down on his head. At the Sûreté, Raymond retreated into absolute silence. Screams, threats and kicks proved useless. There was no way that he was about to talk.” As April closed, the police had arrested or detained 28 gang members and supporters, but Bonnot, Garnier, and Valet remained at large.

“The walls of the old house bore the scars of gunfire and there wasn’t a single pane of glass left intact in the window-frames,” writes Cacucci, illustrating the famous shootout between police and Jules Bonnot on April 28, 1912. The police had tracked Bonnot to Choisy-le-Roi, a suburb of Paris. For some time, he kept the 500 armed police officers and soldiers at bay despite the Hotchkiss machine gun in their possession. Finally, the police chief sent three officers to place dynamite charges under the house, blowing up the entire front portion of the residence. Bonnot took cover in a rolled-up mattress and continued to shoot back at the police. Ultimately, he was shot in the head. Roughly two weeks later, 300 police and 800 soldiers surrounded Garnier and Valet in an eastern suburb of Paris, Nogent-sur-Marne the skirmish resulted in another dynamite explosion that killed Garnier and wounded Valet.

When the gang’s survivors were put on trial, Victor Serge was sentenced to five years for robbery, and Eugène Dieudonné to life imprisonment. Carouy and Marius Metge also got life in prison, with hard labour. Metge was sent to a penal colony, while la Science, Étienne Monier and Soudy were executed by guillotine because they refused to plead for clemency. Like many classic anti-hero tales, these ones end with shootouts and guillotines … but these rebels had an articulate anarchist politics of defiance as they looked into their executioner’s eyes.

Both books are great individually, but when read together, they fill gaps created by the other’s genre. Where Parry gives a detailed and documented history, Cacucci articulates emotion and subjectivity through his narrative. The only thing I found wanting in the texts was their treatment of the women involved as background subjects. These women were writers, journal co-editors, and active proponents of free love. They were also, importantly, involved in clandestine activities, and these two books would be richer if they engaged with the strong history of individualist-anarchist women. That said, both authors have a deep understanding of and sympathy for the philosophies and desires of the individuals involved in the Bonnot Gang, bringing out powerful accounts of this too-often ignored group in anarchist history.

Chris Kortright is an independent researcher and writer and has been involved in the anarchist milieu for many years. He is a collective member of the new anti-authoritarian publishing project Changing Suns Press and writes a blog called Firebrand Dictionary.


Jules Bonnot, infamous French criminal

The Bonnot Gang was a French criminal anarchist group that operated in France and Belgium from 1911 to 1912. The gang utilized cutting-edge technology (including automobiles and repeating rifles) not yet available to the French police.

Originally referred to by the press as simply "The Auto Bandits", the gang was dubbed "The Bonnot Gang" after Jules Bonnot gave an interview at the office of Petit Parisien, a popular daily paper.

The first robbery by Bonnot's Gang was at the money transfer of Société Générale Bank in Paris on December 21, 1911. They escaped with an automobile they had stolen a week before. The gang had the dubious honor of being the first to use an automobile to flee the scene of a crime.

On December 28, 1911 the gang broke into a gun shop in the Paris center. A few days later, on the night of January 2, 1912, they entered the home of the wealthy M. Moreau and brutally murdered both him and his maid. The booty take was equal to 30,000 Francs, and the crime aroused a public outcry.

French Central Police did its best to catch the gang. They were able to arrest one man based on their registry of anarchist organizations. The gang continued their automobile thefts and robberies, shooting two more policemen in the process. Automobiles were not yet common so the gang usually stole still expensive cars from garages, not from the street.

By March 1912, police had arrested many of the gang’s supporters and knew many of the members' faces and names. In March 1912, gang member and would-be leader Octave Garnier sent a mocking letter to the Sûreté.

On March 25, 1912, the gang stole a car in a forest south of Paris by shooting the driver in the head. They drove into Chantilly north of Paris where they robbed the local branch of Société Générale Bank — shooting the Banks's three cashiers. They escaped in their stolen automobile as two policemen tried to catch them - one on horseback and the other on a bicycle.

Even politicians became concerned, increasing police funding by 800,000 Francs. Banks began to prepare for forthcoming robberies and many cashiers armed themselves. The Société Générale promised a reward of 100,000 Francs for information that would lead to arrests.

On April 24, three policeman surprised Bonnot in the apartment of a suspected fence. He shot at the officers, killing one and wounding another, and then fled over the rooftops. Part of the 100,000 Francs reward was later given to the widow of the killed policeman.

On April 28, police tracked Bonnot to a house in the Paris suburbs. They besieged the place with 500 armed policemen, soldiers, firemen, military engineers and private gun-owners. By noon, after a sporadic firing from both sides, Paris Police Chief Lépines sent three policemen to put a dynamite charge under the house. The explosion demolished the front of the building. Bonnot was hiding in the middle of a rolled mattress and tried to shoot back until Lépines shot him non-fatally in the head.

The trial of the Gang's survivors began on February 3, 1913. Viktor Serge was sentenced to five years for robbery. All the others were initially sentenced to death. The sentence of Eugene Dieudonne was commuted to life imprisonment. Sentences of Eduard Carouy and Marius Metge were commuted to life imprisonment at hard labor. Carouy later committed suicide. Metge was sent to a penal colony. Raymond Callemin, Antoine Monnier and Andre Soudy refused to plead for clemency and they were executed by guillotine.


A visit to L’anarchie

É. Armand assumed the editorship of L’Anarchie from April 4 th , 1912 to September of the same year.

These dates are inscribed in his own handwriting on a questionnaire which he had filled out at the request of Alain Sergent (André Mahe) at the time when Sergent was gathering documentation to write his “Historie de ‘Anarchie”, of which one volume has so far appeared.

Here is a picturesque public report by the “Temps” of May, 1912, where this brief period in É. Armand’s life is captured. It is not without interest to see how the anarchists of 1912 are depicted in one of the best-known journals of the time.

A Visit to L’Anarchie

“L’Anarchie” is located in the quartier Saint-Paul on an old and narrow street which bears the picturesque name rue du Grenier-sur’l’Eau. Above the door hangs a sign, “L’Anarchie: On both sides of the door are leaflets announcing “a great and controversial public meeting” on a current subject: “Bandits: those high and those on low” by André Lorulot, one of the anarchists arrested last week and immediately released.

The storefront where one enters is dimly lit. Two men are occupied with typesetting. Four young women, in a kitchen to the right, are preparing the mid-day meal. In the back of the room is a bed. The scene has a family-like atmosphere of intimacy.

A man, bare-headed with long locks of hair pulled back, clean shaven with blue eyes and a gentle expression peering behind a set of small wire-frame glasses is seated in front of a cabinet filed with brochures, books and journals. This is Monsieur Armand, the director — if this title can be used in a libertarian milieu — of the journal “L’Anarchie”.

Mr. Armand explains the ideas of the different schools of anarchism to us, from “Les Temps Nouveau” edited by Jean Grave, to Sébastien Faure’s “Libertaire” to Lorulot’s “Idee Libre”, he speaks about the foreign groups, the Italian individualists and their organ “Le Novatore”, the “illegalists” of the United States. etc.

“L’Anarchie”, he says, “was founded in 1905 its first number appearing on April 13. It provoked a sort of reaction against the traditional anarchism of Kropotkin and Jean Grave, against sentimental anarchism.

Around us was found Libertad, a man of action, with a violent temperament and who sought in public meeting to urge the individual to rebel. At the beginning it was marked by the influence of Paraf-Javal, who was himself preoccupied with scientific education.”

“At the same time, L’Anarchie was anti-syndicalist.”

“Then comrades knew of Stirner and Nietschze. One was not concerned with a future society always promised and which never came the economic and social point of view was put to the side. Individualism was a permanent struggle between the individual and their surroundings, the negation of authority, law and exploitation and its corollary, authority.”

“But all this is theoretical. How can one reject authority and exploitation in practical life? Very simply — by living without authority and exploitation.”

The name of the bandits entered into our conversation.

“Bonnot?”, said Monsieur Armand to us. “It is very possible that Bonnot and his comrades could have been a product of anarchist-individualism. They were not satisfied with the social contract and they rebelled against its arbitrariness. They were outsiders, illegalists.”

An anarchist who was assisting with our interview interjected:

“At the bottom, they were caught in an impasse. They could not get out of it any other way.”

Monsieur Armand continued:

“I did not know Bonnot, I did not know Garnier. I knew Carouy, who had frequented “L’Anarchie”. We do not ask of those who come around us if they live on society’s margins or not. We are concerned only with knowing whether they are good or bad comrades. As for me”, finished Armand, “I was a Tolstoyan at first. Within me remains a loathing of bloodshed.”

“Oh! It is not to protect myself that I say that. It is because I think it.”


Against the Logic of the Guillotine Why the Paris Commune Burned the Guillotine—and We Should Too

148 years ago this week, on April 6, 1871, armed participants in the revolutionary Paris Commune seized the guillotine that was stored near the prison in Paris. They brought it to the foot of the statue of Voltaire, where they smashed it into pieces and burned it in a bonfire, to the applause of an immense crowd.[1] This was a popular action arising from the grassroots, not a spectacle coordinated by politicians. At the time, the Commune controlled Paris, which was still inhabited by people of all classes the French and Prussian armies surrounded the city and were preparing to invade it in order to impose the conservative Republican government of Adolphe Thiers. In these conditions, burning the guillotine was a brave gesture repudiating the Reign of Terror and the idea that positive social change can be achieved by slaughtering people.

“What?” you say, in shock, “The Communards burned the guillotine? Why on earth would they do that? I thought the guillotine was a symbol of liberation!”

Why indeed? If the guillotine is not a symbol of liberation, then why has it become such a standard motif for the radical left over the past few years? Why is the internet replete with guillotine memes? Why does The Coup sing “We got the guillotine, you better run”? The most popular socialist periodical is named Jacobin, after the original proponents of the guillotine. Surely this can’t all be just an ironic sendup of lingering right-wing anxieties about the French Revolution.

The guillotine has come to occupy our collective imagination. In a time when the rifts in our society are widening towards civil war, it represents uncompromising bloody revenge. It represents the idea that the violence of the state could be a good thing if only the right people were in charge.

Those who take their own powerlessness for granted assume that they can promote gruesome revenge fantasies without consequences. But if we are serious about changing the world, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that our proposals are not equally gruesome.

A poster in Seattle, Washington. The quotation is from Karl Marx.

Vengeance

It’s not surprising that people want bloody revenge today. Capitalist profiteering is rapidly rendering the planet uninhabitable. US Border Patrol is kidnapping, drugging, and imprisoning children. Individual acts of racist and misogynist violence occur regularly. For many people, daily life is increasingly humiliating and disempowering.

Those who don’t desire revenge because they are not compassionate enough to be outraged about injustice or because they are simply not paying attention deserve no credit for this. There is less virtue in apathy than in the worst excesses of vengefulness.

Do I want to take revenge on the police officers who murder people with impunity, on the billionaires who cash in on exploitation and gentrification, on the bigots who harass and dox people? Yes, of course I do. They have killed people I knew they are trying to destroy everything I love. When I think about the harm that they are causing, I feel ready to break their bones, to kill them with my bare hands.

But that desire is distinct from my politics. I can want something without having to reverse-engineer a political justification for it. I can want something and choose not to pursue it, if I want something else even more—in this case, an anarchist revolution that is not based in revenge. I don’t judge other people for wanting revenge, especially if they have been through worse than I have. But I also don’t confuse that desire with a proposal for liberation.

If the sort of bloodlust I describe scares you, or if it simply seems unseemly, then you absolutely have no business joking about other people carrying out industrialized murder on your behalf.

For this is what distinguishes the fantasy of the guillotine: it is all about efficiency and distance. Those who fetishize the guillotine don’t want to kill people with their bare hands they aren’t prepared to rend anyone’s flesh with their teeth. They want their revenge automated and carried out for them. They are like the consumers who blithely eat Chicken McNuggets but could never personally butcher a cow or cut down a rainforest. They prefer for bloodshed to take place in an orderly manner, with all the paperwork filled out properly, according to the example set by the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks in imitation of the impersonal functioning of the capitalist state.

And one more thing: they don’t want to have to take responsibility for it. They prefer to express their fantasy ironically, retaining plausible deniability. Yet anyone who has ever participated actively in social upheaval knows how narrow the line can be between fantasy and reality. Let’s look at the “revolutionary” role the guillotine has played in the past.

“But revenge is unworthy of an anarchist! The dawn, our dawn, claims no quarrels, no crimes, no lies it affirms life, love, knowledge we work to hasten that day.”

-Kurt Gustav Wilckens—anarchist, pacifist, and assassin of Colonel Héctor Varela, the Argentine official who had overseen the slaughter of approximately 1500 striking workers in Patagonia.

A Very Brief History of the Guillotine

The guillotine is associated with radical politics because it was used in the original French Revolution to behead monarch Louis XVI on January 21, 1793, several months after his arrest. But once you open the Pandora’s box of exterminatory force, it’s difficult to close it again.

Having gotten started using the guillotine as an instrument of social change, Maximilien de Robespierre, sometime President of the Jacobin Club, continued employing it to consolidate power for his faction of the Republican government. As is customary for demagogues, Robespierre, Georges Danton, and other radicals availed themselves of the assistance of the sans-culottes, the angry poor, to oust the more moderate faction, the Girondists, in June 1793. (The Girondists, too, were Jacobins if you love a Jacobin, the best thing you can do for him is to prevent his party from coming to power, since he is certain to be next up against the wall after you.) After guillotining the Girondists en masse, Robespierre set about consolidating power at the expense of Danton, the sans-culottes, and everyone else.

“The revolutionary government has nothing in common with anarchy. On the contrary, its goal is to suppress it in order to ensure and solidify the reign of law.”

-Maximilien Robespierre, distinguishing his autocratic government from the more radical grassroots movements that helped to create the French Revolution.[2]

By early 1794, Robespierre and his allies had sent a great number of people at least as radical as themselves to the guillotine, including Anaxagoras Chaumette and the so-called Enragés, Jacques Hébert and the so-called Hébertists, proto-feminist and abolitionist Olympe de Gouges, Camille Desmoulins (who had had the gall to suggest to his childhood friend Robespierre that “love is stronger and more lasting than fear”)—and Desmoulins’s wife, for good measure, despite her sister having been Robespierre’s fiancée. They also arranged for the guillotining of Georges Danton and Danton’s supporters, alongside various other former allies. To celebrate all this bloodletting, Robespierre organized the Festival of the Supreme Being, a mandatory public ceremony inaugurating an invented state religion.[3]

“Here lies all of France,” reads the inscription on the tomb behind Robespierre in this political cartoon referencing all the executions he helped arrange.

After this, it was only a month and a half before Robespierre himself was guillotined, having exterminated too many of those who might have fought beside him against the counterrevolution. This set the stage for a period of reaction that culminated with Napoleon Bonaparte seizing power and crowning himself Emperor. According to the French Republican Calendar (an innovation that did not catch on, but was briefly reintroduced during the Paris Commune), Robespierre’s execution took place during the month of Thermidor. Consequently, the name Thermidor is forever associated with the onset of the counterrevolution.

“Robespierre killed the Revolution in three blows: the execution of Hébert, the execution of Danton, the Cult of the Supreme Being… The victory of Robespierre, far from saving it, would have meant only a more profound and irreparable fall.”

-Louis-Auguste Blanqui, himself hardly an opponent of authoritarian violence.

But it is a mistake to focus on Robespierre. Robespierre himself was not a superhuman tyrant. At best, he was a zealous apparatchik who filled a role that countless revolutionaries were vying for, a role that another person would have played if he had not. The issue was systemic—the competition for centralized dictatorial power—not a matter of individual wrongdoing.

The tragedy of 1793-1795 confirms that whatever tool you use to bring about a revolution will surely be used against you. But the problem is not just the tool, it’s the logic behind it. Rather than demonizing Robespierre—or Lenin, Stalin, or Pol Pot—we have to examine the logic of the guillotine.

To a certain extent, we can understand why Robespierre and his contemporaries ended up relying on mass murder as a political tool. They were threatened by foreign military invasion, internal conspiracies, and counterrevolutionary uprisings they were making decisions in an extremely high-stress environment. But if it is possible to understand how they came to embrace the guillotine, it is impossible to argue that all the killings were necessary to secure their position. Their own executions refute that argument eloquently enough.

Likewise, it is wrong to imagine that the guillotine was employed chiefly against the ruling class, even at the height of Jacobin rule. Being consummate bureaucrats, the Jacobins kept detailed records. Between June 1793 and the end of July 1794, 16,594 people were officially sentenced to death in France, including 2639 people in Paris. Of the formal death sentences passed under the Terror, only 8 percent were doled out to aristocrats and 6 percent to members of the clergy the rest were divided between the middle class and the poor, with the vast majority of the victims coming from the lower classes.

The execution of Robespierre and his colleagues. Robespierre is identified by the number 10 sitting in the cart, he holds a handkerchief to his mouth, having been shot in the jaw during his capture.

The story that played out in the first French revolution was not a fluke. Half a century later, the French Revolution of 1848 followed a similar trajectory. In February, a revolution led by angry poor people gave Republican politicians state power in June, when life under the new government turned out to be little better than life under the king, the people of Paris revolted once again and the politicians ordered the army to massacre them in the name of the revolution. This set the stage for the nephew of the original Napoleon to win the presidential election of December 1848, promising to “restore order.” Three years later, having exiled all the Republican politicians, Napoleon III abolished the Republic and crowned himself Emperor—prompting Marx’s famous quip that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Likewise, after the French revolution of 1870 put Adolphe Thiers in power, he ruthlessly butchered the Paris Commune, but this only paved the way for even more reactionary politicians to supplant him in 1873. In all three of these cases, we see how revolutionaries who are intent on wielding state power must embrace the logic of the guillotine to acquire it, and then, having brutally crushed other revolutionaries in hopes of consolidating control, are inevitably defeated by more reactionary forces.

In the 20th century, Lenin described Robespierre as a Bolshevik avant la lettre, affirming the Terror as an antecedent of the Bolshevik project. He was not the only person to draw that comparison.

“We’ll be our own Thermidor,” Bolshevik apologist Victor Serge recalls Lenin proclaiming as he prepared to butcher the rebels of Kronstadt. In other words, having crushed the anarchists and everyone else to the left of them, the Bolsheviks would survive the reaction by becoming the counterrevolution themselves. They had already reintroduced fixed hierarchies into the Red Army in order to recruit former Tsarist officers to join it alongside their victory over the insurgents in Kronstadt, they reintroduced the free market and capitalism, albeit under state control. Eventually Stalin assumed the position once occupied by Napoleon.

So the guillotine is not an instrument of liberation. This was already clear in 1795, well over a century before the Bolsheviks initiated their own Terror, nearly two centuries before the Khmer Rouge exterminated almost a quarter of the population of Cambodia.

Why, then, has the guillotine come back into fashion as a symbol of resistance to tyranny? The answer to this will tell us something the psychology of our time.

Fetishizing the Violence of the State

It is shocking that even today, radicals would associate themselves with the Jacobins, a tendency that was reactionary by the end of 1793. But the explanation isn’t hard to work out. Then, as now, there are people who want to think of themselves as radical without having to actually make a radical break with the institutions and practices that are familiar to them. “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living,” as Marx said.

If—to use Max Weber’s famous definition—an aspiring government qualifies as representing the state by achieving a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory, then one of the most persuasive ways it can demonstrate its sovereignty is to wield lethal force with impunity. This explains the various reports to the effect that public beheadings were observed as festive or even religious occasions during the French Revolution. Before the Revolution, beheadings were affirmations of the sacred authority of the monarch during the Revolution, when the representatives of the Republic presided over executions, this confirmed that they held sovereignty—in the name of The People, of course. “Louis must die so that the nation may live,” Robespierre had proclaimed, seeking to sanctify the birth of bourgeois nationalism by literally baptizing it in the blood of the previous social order. Once the Republic was inaugurated on these grounds, it required continuous sacrifices to affirm its authority.

Here we see the essence of the state: it can kill, but it cannot give life. As the concentration of political legitimacy and coercive force, it can do harm, but it cannot establish the kind of positive freedom that individuals experience when they are grounded in mutually supportive communities. It cannot create the kind of solidarity that gives rise to harmony between people. What we use the state to do to others, others can use the state to do to us—as Robespierre experienced—but no one can use the coercive apparatus of the state for the cause of liberation.

For radicals, fetishizing the guillotine is just like fetishizing the state: it means celebrating an instrument of murder that will always be used chiefly against us.

Those who have been stripped of a positive relationship to their own agency often look around for a surrogate to identify with—a leader whose violence can stand in for the revenge they desire as a consequence of their own powerlessness. In the Trump era, we are all well aware of what this looks like among disenfranchised proponents of far-right politics. But there are also people who feel powerless and angry on the left, people who desire revenge, people who want to see the state that has crushed them turned against their enemies.

Reminding “tankies” of the atrocities and betrayals state socialists perpetrated from 1917 on is like calling Trump racist and sexist. Publicizing the fact that Trump is a serial sexual assaulter only made him more popular with his misogynistic base likewise, the blood-drenched history of authoritarian party socialism can only make it more appealing to those who are chiefly motivated by the desire to identify with something powerful.

-Anarchists in the Trump Era

Now that the Soviet Union has been defunct for almost 30 years—and owing to the difficulty of receiving firsthand perspectives from the exploited Chinese working class—many people in North America experience authoritarian socialism as an entirely abstract concept, as distant from their lived experience as mass executions by guillotine. Desiring not only revenge but also a deus ex machina to rescue them from both the nightmare of capitalism and the responsibility to create an alternative to it themselves, they imagine the authoritarian state as a champion that could fight on their behalf. Recall what George Orwell said of the comfortable British Stalinist writers of the 1930s in his essay “Inside the Whale”:

“To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial etc., etc., are too remote to be terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything except liberalism.”

Punishing the Guilty

“Trust visions that don’t feature buckets of blood.”

-Jenny Holzer

By and large, we tend to be more aware of the wrongs committed against us than we are of the wrongs we commit against others. We are most dangerous when we feel most wronged, because we feel most entitled to pass judgment, to be cruel. The more justified we feel, the more careful we ought to be not to replicate the patterns of the justice industry, the assumptions of the carceral state, the logic of the guillotine. Again, this does not justify inaction it is simply to say that we must proceed most critically precisely when we feel most righteous, lest we assume the role of our oppressors.

When we see ourselves as fighting against specific human beings rather than social phenomena, it becomes more difficult to recognize the ways that we ourselves participate in those phenomena. We externalize the problem as something outside ourselves, personifying it as an enemy that can be sacrificed to symbolically cleanse ourselves. Yet what we do to the worst of us will eventually be done to the rest of us.

As a symbol of vengeance, the guillotine tempts us to imagine ourselves standing in judgment, anointed with the blood of the wicked. The Christian economics of righteousness and damnation is essential to this tableau. On the contrary, if we use it to symbolize anything, the guillotine should remind us of the danger of becoming what we hate. The best thing would be to be able to fight without hatred, out of an optimistic belief in the tremendous potential of humanity.

Often, all it takes to be able to cease to hate a person is to succeed in making it impossible for him to pose any kind of threat to you. When someone is already in your power, it is contemptible to kill him. This is the crucial moment for any revolution, the moment when the revolutionaries have the opportunity to take gratuitous revenge, to exterminate rather than simply to defeat. If they do not pass this test, their victory will be more ignominious than any failure.

The worst punishment anyone could inflict on those who govern and police us today would be to compel them to live in a society in which everything they’ve done is regarded as embarrassing—for them to have to sit in assemblies in which no one listens to them, to go on living among us without any special privileges in full awareness of the harm they have done. If we fantasize about anything, let us fantasize about making our movements so strong that we will hardly have to kill anyone to overthrow the state and abolish capitalism. This is more becoming of our dignity as partisans of liberation.

It is possible to be committed to revolutionary struggle by all means necessary without holding life cheap. It is possible to eschew the sanctimonious moralism of pacifism without thereby developing a cynical lust for blood. We need to develop the ability to wield force without ever mistaking power over others for our true objective, which is to collectively create the conditions for the freedom of all.

“That humanity might be redeemed from revenge: that is for me the bridge to the highest hope and a rainbow after lashing storms.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche (not himself a partisan of liberation, but one of the foremost theorists of the hazards of vengefulness)

Communards burning the guillotine as a “servile instrument of monarchist domination” at the foot of the statue of Voltaire in Paris on April 6, 1871.

Instead of the Guillotine

Of course, it’s pointless to appeal to the better nature of our oppressors until we have succeeded in making it impossible for them to benefit from oppressing us. The question is how to accomplish that.

Apologists for the Jacobins will protest that, under the circumstances, at least some bloodletting was necessary to advance the revolutionary cause. Practically all of the revolutionary massacres in history have been justified on the grounds of necessity—that’s how people always justify massacres. Even if some bloodletting were necessary, that it is still no excuse to cultivate bloodlust and entitlement as revolutionary values. If we wish to wield coercive force responsibly when there is no other choice, we should cultivate a distaste for it.

Have mass killings ever helped us advance our cause? Certainly, the comparatively few executions that anarchists have carried out—such as the killings of pro-fascist clergy during the Spanish Civil War—have enabled our enemies to depict us in the worst light, even if they are responsible for ten thousand times as many murders. Reactionaries throughout history have always disingenuously held revolutionaries to a double standard, forgiving the state for murdering civilians by the million while taking insurgents to task for so much as breaking a window. The question is not whether they have made us popular, but whether they have a place in a project of liberation. If we seek transformation rather than conquest, we ought to appraise our victories according to a different logic than the police and militaries we confront.

This is not an argument against the use of force. Rather, it is a question about how to employ it without creating new hierarchies, new forms of systematic oppression.

A taxonomy of revolutionary violence.

The image of the guillotine is propaganda for the kind of authoritarian organization that can avail itself of that particular tool. Every tool implies the forms of social organization that are necessary to employ it. In his memoir, Bash the Rich, Class War veteran Ian Bone quotes Angry Brigade member John Barker to the effect that “petrol bombs are far more democratic than dynamite,” suggesting that we should analyze every tool of resistance in terms of how it structures power. Critiquing the armed struggle model adopted by hierarchical authoritarian groups in Italy in the 1970s, Alfredo Bonanno and other insurrectionists emphasized that liberation could only be achieved via horizontal, decentralized, and participatory methods of resistance.

“It is impossible to make the revolution with the guillotine alone. Revenge is the antechamber of power. Anyone who wants to avenge themselves requires a leader. A leader to take them to victory and restore wounded justice.”

-Alfredo Bonanno, Armed Joy

Together, a rioting crowd can defend an autonomous zone or exert pressure on authorities without need of hierarchical centralized leadership. Where this becomes impossible—when society has broken up into two distinct sides that are fully prepared to slaughter each other via military means—one may no longer speak of revolution, but only of war. The premise of revolution is that subversion can spread across the lines of enmity, destabilizing fixed positions, undermining the allegiances and assumptions that underpin authority. We should never hurry to make the transition from revolutionary ferment to warfare. Doing so usually forecloses possibilities rather than expanding them.

As a tool, the guillotine takes for granted that it is impossible to transform one’s relations with the enemy, only to abolish them. What’s more, the guillotine assumes that the victim is already completely within the power of the people who employ it. By contrast with the feats of collective courage we have seen people achieve against tremendous odds in popular uprisings, the guillotine is a weapon for cowards.

By refusing to slaughter our enemies wholesale, we hold open the possibility that they might one day join us in our project of transforming the world. Self-defense is necessary, but wherever we can, we should take the risk of leaving our adversaries alive. Not doing so guarantees that we will be no better than the worst of them. From a military perspective, this is a handicap but if we truly aspire to revolution, it is the only way.

Liberate, not Exterminate

“To give hope to the many oppressed and fear to the few oppressors, that is our business if we do the first and give hope to the many, the few must be frightened by their hope. Otherwise, we do not want to frighten them it is not revenge we want for poor people, but happiness indeed, what revenge can be taken for all the thousands of years of the sufferings of the poor?”

-William Morris, “How We Live and How We Might Live”

So we repudiate the logic of the guillotine. We don’t want to exterminate our enemies. We don’t think the way to create harmony is to subtract everyone who does not share our ideology from the world. Our vision is a world in which many worlds fit, as Subcomandante Marcos put it—a world in which the only thing that is impossible is to dominate and oppress.

Anarchism is a proposal for everyone regarding how we might go about improving our lives—workers and unemployed people, people of all ethnicities and genders and nationalities or lack thereof, paupers and billionaires alike. The anarchist proposal is not in the interests of one currently existing group against another: it is not a way to enrich the poor at the expense of the rich, or to empower one ethnicity, nationality, or religion at others’ expense. That entire way of thinking is part of what we are trying to escape. All of the “interests” that supposedly characterize different categories of people are products of the prevailing order and must be transformed along with it, not preserved or pandered to.

From our perspective, even the topmost positions of wealth and power that are available in the existing order are worthless. Nothing that capitalism and the state have to offer are of any value to us. We propose anarchist revolution on the grounds that it could finally fulfill longings that the prevailing social order will never satisfy: the desire to be able to provide for oneself and one’s loved ones without doing so at anyone else’s expense, the wish to be valued for one’s creativity and character rather than for how much profit one can generate, the longing to structure one’s life around what is profoundly joyous rather than according to the imperatives of competition.

We propose that everyone now living could get along—if not well, then at least better—if we were not forced to compete for power and resources in the zero-sum games of politics and economics.

Leave it to anti-Semites and other bigots to describe the enemy as a type of people, to personify everything they fear as the Other. Our adversary is not a kind of human being, but the form of social relations that imposes antagonism between people as the fundamental model for politics and economics. Abolishing the ruling class does not mean guillotining everyone who currently owns a yacht or penthouse it means making it impossible for anyone to systematically wield coercive power over anyone else. As soon as that is impossible, no yacht or penthouse will sit empty long.

As for our immediate adversaries—the specific human beings who are determined to maintain the prevailing order at all costs—we aspire to defeat them, not to exterminate them. However selfish and rapacious they appear, at least some of their values are similar to ours, and most of their errors—like our own—arise from their fears and weaknesses. In many cases, they oppose the proposals of the Left precisely because of what is internally inconsistent in them—for example, the idea of bringing about the fellowship of humanity by means of violent coercion.

Even when we are engaged in pitched physical struggle with our adversaries, we ought to maintain a profound faith in their potential, for we hope to live in different relations with them one day. As aspiring revolutionaries, this hope is our most precious resource, the foundation of everything we do. If revolutionary change is to spread throughout society and across the world, those we fight today will have to be fighting alongside us tomorrow. We do not preach conversion by the sword, nor do we imagine that we will persuade our adversaries in some abstract marketplace of ideas rather, we aim to interrupt the ways that capitalism and the state currently reproduce themselves while demonstrating the virtues of our alternative inclusively and contagiously. There are no shortcuts when it comes to lasting change.

Precisely because it is sometimes necessary to employ force in our conflicts with the defenders of the prevailing order, it is especially important that we never lose sight of our aspirations, our compassion, and our optimism. When we are compelled to use coercive force, the only possible justification is that it is a necessary step towards creating a better world for everyone—including our enemies, or at least their children. Otherwise, we risk becoming the next Jacobins, the next defilers of the revolution.

“The only real revenge we could possibly have would be by our own efforts to bring ourselves to happiness.”

-William Morris, in response to calls for revenge for police attacks on demonstrations in Trafalgar Square

Voltaire applauding the burning the guillotine during the Paris Commune.

Appendix: The Beheaded

The guillotine did not end its career with the conclusion of the first French Revolution, nor when it was burned during the Paris Commune. In fact, it was used in France as a means for the state to carry out capital punishment right up to 1977. One of the last women guillotined in France was executed for providing abortions. The Nazis guillotined about 16,500 people between 1933 and 1945—the same number of people killed during the peak of the Terror in France.

A few victims of the guillotine:

Ravachol (born François Claudius Koenigstein), anarchist

Auguste Vaillant, anarchist

Sante Geronimo Caserio, anarchist

Raymond Caillemin, Étienne Monier and André Soudy, all anarchist participants in the so-called Bonnot Gang

Mécislas Charrier, anarchist

Felice Orsini, who attempted to assassinate Napoleon III

Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst—members of Die Weisse Rose, an underground anti-Nazi youth organization active in Munich 1942-1943.

André Soudy, Edouard Carouy, Octave Garnier, Etienne Monier.

Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.

“I am an anarchist. We have been hanged in Chicago, electrocuted in New York, guillotined in Paris and strangled in Italy, and I will go with my comrades. I am opposed to your Government and to your authority. Down with them. Do your worst. Long live Anarchy.”

-Chummy Fleming

Further Reading

The Guillotine At Work, GP Maximoff

I Know Who Killed Chief Superintendent Luigi Calabresi, Alfredo M. Bonanno

Critique’s Quarrel with Church and State, Edgar Bauer

[1] As reported in the official journal of the Paris Commune:
“On Thursday, at nine o’clock in the morning, the 137th battalion, belonging to the eleventh arrondissement, went to Rue Folie-Mericourt they requisitioned and took the guillotine, broke the hideous machine into pieces, and burned it to the applause of an immense crowd.
“They burned it at the foot of the statue of the defender of Sirven and Calas, the apostle of humanity, the precursor of the French Revolution, at the foot of the statue of Voltaire.”
This had been announced earlier in the following proclamation:
“Citizens,
“We have been informed of the construction of a new type of guillotine that was commissioned by the odious government [i.e., the conservative Republican government under Adolphe Thiers]—one that it is easier to transport and speedier. The Sub-Committee of the 11th Arrondissement has ordered the seizure of these servile instruments of monarchist domination and has voted that they be destroyed once and forever. They will therefore be burned at 10 o’clock on April 6, 1871, on the Place de la Mairies, for the purification of the Arrondissement and the consecration of our new freedom.”

[2] As we have argued elsewhere, fetishizing “the rule of law” often serves to legitimize atrocities that would otherwise be perceived as ghastly and unjust. History shows again and again how centralized government can perpetrate violence on a much greater scale than anything that arises in “unorganized chaos.”

[3] Nauseatingly, at least one contributor to Jacobin magazine has even attempted to rehabilitate this precursor to the worst excesses of Stalinism, pretending that a state-mandated religion could be preferable to authoritarian atheism. The alternative to both authoritarian religions and authoritarian ideologies that promote Islamophobia and the like is not for an authoritarian state to impose a religion of its own, but to build grassroots solidarity across political and religious lines in defense of freedom of conscience.


Intensive care

Ten or so beds had to be able to take thirty sick people, or even more. The isolated bed in the middle of the ward – a bastard bed, as it was called – is the forerunner of intensive care : it was occupied by the most ill patient, who required a lot of treatment, continuous supervision and easy and quick access. At the foot of the bed, on a small portable altar, everything needed is ready to administer the sacrament of extreme unction.


Tag Archives: octave garnier

“I know that there will be an end to this fight between the formidable arsenal of the State and me. I know that I will be vanquished, I will be the weaker, but I hope I can make you pay dearly for the victory.” – Octave Garnier

On the this day over 100 years ago on the 21st of April, 1913, Illegalist and Individualist anarchist Raymond Callemin was executed by guillotine by order of the French state. On the anniversary of his execution I write this in memory of all those that have fallen or been jailed in the social war against society.

The illegalist current is an offshoot of individualist anarchism. Refusing to be exploited, forced to work for some rich tyrant, instead the illegalist chooses to rob them. It’s an anti-work ethic for individual autonomy to be realized in real life right away through Individual expropriation also known as individual reclamation.

Individual reclamation gained notoriety in France in the last decades of the 19th and early 20th century and gave birth to what was to become known as illegalism. Proponents of individual reclamation were anarchists such as Clement Duval and Marius Jacob. Marius Jacob stole to fund himself as well as the anarchist movement and other causes. This is the main factor that separates illegalism from individual reclamation, the illegalists stole solely for themselves. Although some Individual illegalists did fund individualist anarchist newspapers from the proceeds of their expropriations and gave money to comrades that were in need.

The illegalists, many of whom, inspired by Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche were of the persuasion of why should they have to wait on the passive herd of exploited and poor classes to rise up and expropriate the rich? The poor seemed quite content with the conditions they inhabited. Why should the illegalists have to wait on the exploited workers to become enlightened with a revolutionary consciousness? Why should they have to continue to live a life of being exploited and worked to death while they wait for the future social revolution that may not ever happen? The illegalist anarchists had no faith in the workers struggle, so decided to fight back and rob the wealthy, it was a purely egoist endeavor.

Stirner would have called them “conscious egoists”, expropriating their lives back for themselves, not asking for permission to exist. They refused to be slaves to bosses and the state. The illegalists chose to steal through conscious revolt against society

The illegalists anarchists robbed, shot, stabbed, counterfeited money and committed the odd bit of arson across Europe, but predominantly in France, Belgium, and Italy. There were gun battles and shootouts with cops. Long jail sentences and executions.

One such group of illegalist anarchists were to become immortalized as “The Bonnot Gang”.

Raymond Callemin was born in Belgium, a former socialist who then became an anarchist after becoming disillusioned with the reformism of the Belgian Socialist Party. Having become influenced by anarchism, Raymond left the Socialist Party with Victor Serge and Jean De Boe who were equally disillusioned with socialist electoral politics. Together they published an individualist anarchist newspaper “Le Revolte” which was totally hostile to unions and political parties, and was for “permanent insurrection against the bourgeoisie”.

Octave Garnier on the run from France, fled to Belgium to avoid being conscripted to the army. He had already committed several expropriations on the rich via burglaries and had spent time in jail. He first started out in syndicalism but didn’t take long before developing a disgust with the union leaders being akin to the bosses using and manipulating workers for their own ends. He then joined the ranks of the anarchists. Not being able to work in the profession of his choice, having to work menial jobs and forced into being a wage slave in jobs he did not even want in order to live, he became a committed illegalist.

The four anarchists were in their early 20’s, they found each other through the anarchist circles in Belgium and shared a mutual hatred for the rich and their system of exploitation. Raymond and Octave carried out many burglaries together and tried their hand at counterfeiting coins.

Victor Serge writing articles for Le Revolte brought a lot of attention on himself from the Belgium state. Since he was a refugee in Belgium from childhood it made it easier for the Belgian state to get rid him. He was expelled from Belgium as a dangerous subversive. He left for France and set up a libertarian commune with other anarchists. Not long after, Octave Garnier having warrants out for his arrest, followed Victor to France, with Raymond.

In France they met with Jules Bonnot who was on the run. Jules was in his early 30’s, an ex soldier and a committed illegalist anarchist. The police were looking for him for a murder, which was really an accidental shooting of a comrade. Jules having a lot of experience carrying out expropriation and being quite successful, offered Octave and Raymond a proposition to carry out a big job together. The pair were only happy to accept Jules’s offer, being fed up not making as much as they’d like to from the burglaries and counter fitting, risking a lot while not getting much back in return.

The three along with another anarchist, Eugène Dieudonné, came up with a plan to rob a bank messenger who would be delivering money. They started by robbing a high powered car from a rich neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris. Jules learned how to drive in the army so he’d be the getaway driver. Raymond, Octave, and Eugene would rob the bank messenger. And so on 21st of December 1911 in broad daylight they robbed the messenger. They held up the messenger’s security guard as the pair were leaving the bank. Octave demanded the messenger to hand over the briefcase. Raymond grabbed it and attempted to make his way for the getaway car. But the messenger wouldn’t let go of the case. Octave shot him twice in the chest (the messenger was badly wounded but did not die). They made their getaway speeding through the streets of Paris in what was one of the best model cars of the time. It was the very first time a car was used in an armed robbery in France, because of that the media nicknamed them the “auto bandits”.

From the robbery they made 5,000 francs which they weren’t happy with. They expected to have expropriated much more. A few days after the robbery of the bank messenger they broke into a gun shop stealing many guns including high powered rifles. Not long after, on the 2nd of January 1912, they broke into the home of a rich bourgeois, killing him and his maid in the process They got away with 30,000 francs from this burglary. They soon fled to Belgium carrying out more robberies and shot 3 cop along their way. Then back to Paris to rob another bank, but this time they would hold up the bank. While doing the robbery they shot 3 bank clerks. After the robbery a bounty of 700,000 francs was put on the anarchists heads, the Société Générale bank they robbed put another 100,000 francs on their heads.

There is a deep nihilism, egoism, and anti-reformism within illegalist praxis with its continuity today with groups like the Conspiracy Cells of Fire, the Informal Anarchist Federation/ International Revolutionary Front and individuals such as the Chilean Anarcho-nihilists Sebastian Oversluij who was shot dead while expropriating a bank, and Mauricio Morales who was killed when the bomb he was transporting in his backpack detonated prematurely,

Modern day insurrectionary anarchy also has a direct lineage with this anarchist history. Many of the main components of ideas and praxis that comprise illegalism and individual reclamation (which includes propaganda of the deed, which is individual direct action against the bourgeois class, their property and their flunkies, ie pigs, screws and judges, in the hope the action will inspire others to follow suit anti-organisational in the form of individual insurrection, affinity groups and informal organisation and an extreme disliking of the left and its tactics of reformism) are also found in the different strands of insurrectionary anarchism today.

What was branded the “Bonnot Gang” by the media and the pigs was an affinity group. Jules Bonnot was not a leader of the group, there were none. The individuals that comprised the different affinity groups that carried out the so called crimes that were branded with the name the “Bonnot Gang” were simply individuals with mutual aims that came together to carry out actions. The French state used the name to brand any anarchist they pleased with association to any of the so called crimes.

On the 30th of March 1912 André Soudy (an anarchist who took part in some of the robberies of the group) was caught by police. A few days later, another anarchist involved with some of the robberies, Édouard Carouy was arrested. On the 7th of April, Raymond Callemin. By the end of April, 28 anarchists had been arrested in connection with the“Bonnot Gang”.

On April 28 police discovered the location where Jules Bonnot was hiding in Paris. 500 armed police surrounded the house. Jules refused to give himself up, a shoot out commenced. After hours of exchanging shots, the police detonate a bomb at the front of the house. When the police stormed the house they discovered Jules rolled up in a mattress, he was still firing shots at them. He was shot in the head and died later from his injuries in hospital.

On the 14th of May police discovered the location of Octave Garnier and Rene Valet (another member of the group). 300 cops and 800 soldiers surrounded the building. Like Bonnot the pair also refused to be arrested. The siege lasted hours, the police eventually detonated a bomb and blew part of the house up killing Octave. Rene badly injured was still firing off shots, he died not long after.

A year later on the 3rd of February 1913 Raymond Callemin, as well as many other anarchists including Victor Serge were put on trial by the French state for their alleged parts in the “Bonnot Gang”. Although Raymond did carry out many robberies and shot dead a bank clerk, many others who were put on trial had no part whatsoever in any of the so-called crimes that were attributed to the “Bonnot Gang”. The French state was thirsty for revenge and so after it gunned them down and blew then up the state executed, locked up and exiled many anarchists. On the 21st of April, 1913, Raymond Callemin, Étienne Monier and André Soudy were executed by guillotine . Many of their co-accused were sentenced to life and hard labour in French colonies.

This revenge practice by states is still carried out today with the Scripta Manent trials in Italy which are directly related to the kneecapping of the manager of a nuclear power company by individualist anarchists Alfredo Caspito and Nicola Gia, and other acts of resistance in Italy. And the repressive trials in Russia against anarchists, anti-fascists, and the FSB’s (Federal Security Service) fabricated “Network” organization case. In retaliation Anarcho-communist Mikhail Zhlobitsky last October detonated a bomb in the Russian Federal Security Service Regional Headquarters in Arkhangelsk, dying in the process. And so the FSB carried out another round of repression against anarchists after the bombing, arresting, interrogating and slapping false charges on many anarchists as payback for the attack. On the 22nd of March, 2019 a cell from the Informal Anarchist Federation naming Itself FAI/FRI Revenge Faction – Mikhail Zholbitsky carried out a grenade attack against the Russian embassy in Athens, Greece as revenge for the repression carried out by the Russian state against anarchists.

Whichever current of anarchism an individual lives, it doesn’t matter, once it is subversive and in conflict with whatever authority that attempts to infringe on an individual’s autonomy. The ongoing war against industrial capitalist society has been raging for over 200 years, which has claimed many lives of anarchists with even more being jailed. The same insurrectional spirit of no mediation and no compromise with authority continues to flow in subversive anarchy today.

In solidarity with all anarchists imprisoned and at war with industrial capitalist society.


La Bande à Bonnot (1968) Directed by Philippe Fourastié

1 968 was an eventful year for France. In the dying days of the De Gaulle presidency, the spirit of revolution was in the air and the appetite for far-reaching social reforms had never been greater. In that memorable spring of 1968 the country came perilously close to civil war, with widespread demonstrations and a brief period of civil unrest that saw almost a quarter of the population go on strike. It was a dramatic time, with old resentments and new concerns for the future brimming over as France teetered on the brink of outright chaos. In no other film of this traumatic year is this sense of impending social breakdown more strongly evoked than in Philippe Fourastié's La Bande à Bonnot , one of the most violent films to be screened in French cinemas before the relaxation of the censorship rules in the 1970s (evidenced by the fact it was released with an 18 certificate).

Boasting a top-notch cast (Bruno Cremer, Jacques Brel, Annie Girardot and Jean-Pierre Kalfon) and an alarming body count, the film recounts, in graphic detail, the murderous exploits of one of France's most notorious criminal gangs, the so-called Bonnot gang. Motivated by anarchist anti-bourgeois ideology, this formidable gang of trigger-happy hotheads embarked on a fierce campaign of murder and pillage across France and Belgium at the time of the Belle Époque before being brought to justice in 1912. This was the first gang to make use of the motorcar, which gave them an immediate advantage over the police who still went about on horseback and bicycle. The Bonnot gang's main claim to fame is that it was the first gang to use a car as a get-away vehicle, after robbing the Société Générale Bank in Paris. The gang's activities resulted in a huge crackdown by the authorities against anarchists and their sympathisers and a massive overhaul of policing in France.

Whilst Fourastié's film plays fast and loose with historical fact and makes next to no attempt to understand the psychology of Bonnot and his partners in crime, it does provide a harrowingly true-to-life sense of the scale and impact of the Bonnot gang's reign of terror. The characterisation is generally weak and sheds little light on the personality and motives of the criminals, but the production values are excellent. On the plus side, the film offers an authentic reconstruction of France circa 1911 and its spectacular action scenes (the high point being the climactic showdown between the gang and the police) are choreographed with immense dramatic and visual flair. It prefigures the increasingly realistic retro-gangster films that would be made in France over the next decade, most notably Jacques Deray's Borsalino (1970).

La Bande à Bonnot is to French cinema and culture pretty well what Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is to their American counterparts. Both films were born out of and reflect the burgeoning counter-culture movement in their respective countries, each reflecting the incendiary anti-authority, pro-freedom ethos of a disenchanted, openly rebellious generation. Fourastié's film may not attain the lyrical power of Penn's film but it is just as evocative of the revolutionary mood that so vividly coloured the final years of the 1960s and endured into the mid-1970s.

Unlike Penn, who can be legitimately charged with romanticising the exploits of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, Fourastié makes no attempt to cast his murderous gangsters as heroes. From the outset, they impress us as misguided social outsiders, who surrender their legitimacy as a force for social good as soon as they pick up a gun and start shooting at people. We have no sympathy for any member of Bonnot's gang, least of all for Bonnot himself, who, portrayed by Bruno Cremer at his most demonically chilling, comes across not as a committed revolutionary but as a cold-hearted killer intent on waging a private war against the whole civilised world.

Unlikely as it may seem, this was the second of only two films that Philippe Fourastié directed for the cinema. Previously he had worked as an assistant to some of the leading lights of the French New Wave (Chabrol, Rivette and Godard) before making his directing debut with Un choix d'assassins (1966). He concluded his directing career in 1972 with a serial for French television entitled Mandrin . On La Bande à Bonnot , Fourastié was assisted by Claude Miller, a former production manager for François Truffaut who later became a significant auteur in French cinema. The adventures of Jules Bonnot and his gang also featured in a popular French television series of the 1970s, Les Brigades du Tigre , which would be remade in 2006 into a film of the same title, directed by Jérôme Cornuau. Fourastié's film is less significant as a biographical account of Jules Bonnot and his gang than as a stark evocation of the tumultuous period in which it was made.


4. Making History

Stade Rennes are currently enjoying one of the most successful spells in their history with the help of Mendy between the sticks.

The French side defeated European giants Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de France final last season, although Mendy had yet to join the club, but arguably went one better this time around.

Despite winning a domestic trophy in 2018/19, Rennes only finished in 10th position in Ligue 1 conceding 52 goals along the way. When their previous no. 1, Tomas Koubek, departed for Bundesliga outfit Augsburg they turned to Mendy.

The Rouges et Noir enjoyed a fabulous campaign until the enforced halt in proceedings but did enough to secure a spot in the Champions League for the first time in their history via a third-placed finish. It remains to be seen whether Mendy will still be around to enjoy the fruits of his labour but he'll undoubtedly be remembered as part of a historical Rennes side for years to come.


Watch the video: Joe Dassin La bande à Bonnot live officiel. Archive INA (May 2022).