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(en) Emile Pouget's Life As An Activist

From Ben <mrreko@yahoo.com.au>
Date Sun, 13 Oct 2002 02:25:49 -0400 (EDT)


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Emile Pouget?s Life As An Activist - by Paul Delesalle

Youth

Emile Pouget was born in 1860 near Rodez in the department of the Aveyron.
His notary father died young. His mother re-married and in this way his
life was, in a sense, unbalanced. Nonetheless, his stepfather, a good
republican in his day, and a fighter like his stepson, quickly lost his
post as a petty official over something he wrote in a little campaigning
journal which he had founded.

It was at the high school in Rodez, where he began his studies, that his
passion for journalism was conceived. At the age of fifteen, he launched
his first newspaper, Le Lycéen républicain. I need not say what sort of
reception this little sheet received from his teachers.

In 1875, his stepfather died. Emile was obliged to leave the high school
to earn his living. Paris attracted him ( ... ) Working in a novelty
store, he began, after work, to frequent public meetings and progressive
groups and quickly became wholly committed to revolutionary propaganda.

But even then, merely speculative, idealist anarchism left his pronounced
social sensibilities unsatisfied and, as early as 1879, he was involved in
the foundation in Paris of the first shop assistants' union. Such was
Pouget's single-mindedness as an activist that he soon got his trade union
to publish the earliest of anti-militarist pamphlets. Needless to say, it
had been penned by our syndicalist and let me add that it would be
unpublishable today on account both of the vehemence of his text and of
the advice with which it was punctuated.

In and around 1882-1883, unemployment was pretty bad in Paris, so much so
that on March 8, 1883 the cabinet-makers' chamber of trade invited the
unemployed to an open air meeting scheduled to be held on the Esplanade
des Invalides.

Naturally, the meeting was quickly broken up by the police, but two
sizable groups of demonstrators formed: one set off for the Elysee palace,
only to be dispersed quickly; the other, which included Louise Michel [2]
and Pouget, raced towards the Boulevard Saint-Germain. A bakery in the Rue
de Four was pretty well stripped bare.

Nevertheless, the demonstration carried on and it was only on arrival in
the Place Maubert that it confronted a significant force of police. When
the police rushed forward to arrest Louise Michel, Pouget did what he
could to free her: he in turn was arrested and marched off to the station.

A few days later, he was brought before the assizes on the incorrect
charge of armed robbery. Louise was sentenced to twelve years in prison,
and Pouget to eight years, a sentence he was to serve in the criminal
prison in Melun. He remained there for fully three years and an amnesty
granted after pressure from Rochefort [2a] ensured that he was then
released. Prison, however, had not cowed the militant.

Le Père Peinard

February 24, 1889 saw the publication of the very first edition of Le Père
Peinard in small pamphlet form, reminiscent of Rochefort's La Lanterne and
written in the picturesque style of Hubert's Père Duchene, but in a more
proletarian style.

( ... ) Pouget's little pamphlets met with a success difficult to
appreciate today. During the life-span of Le Père Peinard -- and then La
Sociale -- there was real proletarian agitation in certain workers'
centres and I could name ten or twenty workers' districts, like Trélazé or
Fourchambault, where the whole movement dwindled to nothing once the
pamphlets stopped coming out.

In Paris in particular, among the cabinet-makers in the Faubourg
Saint-Antoine, the trade union movement lasted just as long as Le Père
Peinard did. In the years 1891-1893, a little campaigning sheet called Le
Pot-à-Colle was published there, imitating the style.

( ... ) Pouget's anarchism is above all primarily proletarian. Right from
the earliest issues of Le Père Peinard, he was praising strike movements
and the May 1st editions were wholly given over to encouragement to the
"lads" to get involved: "May 1st is an occasion that can be put to good
use. All that is required is that our brothers, the troopers, should
disobey their orders as they did in February 1848 and March 18, 1871 and
that would be that."

He was one of the first to grasp the potential of the idea of the general
strike and as early as 1889 he was writing:

Yes, by God, there is nothing else for it today, but the general strike!

Look what would happen if the coal was to run out in a fortnight.
Factories would grind to a halt, the big towns would run out of gas and
the railways would be at a standstill.

All of a sudden, virtually the whole population would be idle. Which would
give it time to reflect; it would realise that it is being robbed blind by
the employers and yes, it might shake them up in double quick order!

And again:

So once the miners are all out and the strike would be all but general, by
God, let them set to beavering away on their own account: the mine is
theirs, stolen from them by the moneybags: let them snatch back what is
theirs, double-quick. Come the day when they've had enough arsing about,
there'll be a crop of good guys who will raise a storm like this and then!
by Père Peinard, we'll have the beginning of the end!

A Great Proletarian Pamphleteer

But while the labour movement occupies a prime position, Pouget subjects
every other aspect of the social question to the fine scrutiny of his
implacable censure: he overlooks none of the blights of bourgeois society:
one huge bank, the Comptoir d'Escompte, had just gone bust: it is worth
quoting his article "The gabbers" in its entirety:

Those in government, cake-guzzlers and financiers, blackguards and
sidekicks they are! Take today: it has been decided that there will be an
inquiry. Let me have the system of '89, which was better. Thus, in July
'89, Berthier de Sauvigny was strung up on a street lamp and another of
his cronies, Foullon, [3] was massacred. When are we going to get around
to reviving that system for popping the clogs of the whole Rothschild and
Schneider clique?

The excitement on the streets never left him cold.

Thus: "At home with our pals next door"; "In addition to the lads from
Germany who are strutting around with bravado, the Macaronis are socking
it to their big landlords and the Serbian and Bulgarian peasants, whom our
hack journalists describe as brigands, are pitching into the bigwigs. And
even the Brits, for all their phlegm and namy-pamby airs, have had their
little strike." Next came the "military nincompoops," criticism directed
at the army, the "dirty work in the barracks" and an all-out assault --
and how! -- against the army and militarism.

"In the Palace of Injustice" takes on the bench and class justice and all
I can say is that it too gets the treatment it deserves.

But that is not all. Every murmur of public opinion triggered an article,
a special edition, for Pouget, above all else, had a real talent for
propaganda and what needed to be said to the crowd.

The drawing of lots was one good excuse, as were the anniversaries of the
Commune or of July 14, and the relevant issue of Le Père Peinard often
carried a pull-out poster. [4] Nothing that roused public opinion, however
trivial, left him indifferent. Because Pouget was, above all, a born
reporter.

But where his polemics took a more personal turn - which was not exclusive
to him, for it was typical of all the anarchists of the day - was in his
criticisms of parliamentarism and the whole machinery of State.

What Pouget and the anarchists of his day were reviving in fact were the
old tussles of the First International, between libertarian socialism on
the one hand, represented by Bakunin, and Marx's authoritarian socialism
on the other.

Guesde, the best of the representatives of the authoritarian socialism of
the day, Pouget's bete noire, who gave as good as he got, used to go
around everywhere shouting: "You working class! Send half of the deputies
to Parliament plus one and the Revolution will not be far off a fait
accompli." To which Pouget and his friends retorted: "Band together into
your trades societies, into your unions and take over the workshops."

Two approaches which then and now pitted libertarian and authoritarian
socialists one against the other, sometimes violently.

And when Pouget turned to illustrating his argument, the polemics were
mordant. Judge for yourself. "These blessed elections are scheduled for
Sunday! Naturally there is no shortage of candidates - there is something
for every taste and in every hue; a sow could not pick out her own farrow.
But by God while the candidates' colours and labels may alter, one thing
never changes: The patter! Reactionaries, republicans, Boulangists,
socialists, etc. - they all promise the people that they'll work
themselves to death!"

And there was a virulent poster to expand upon this line of argument.

Repression

But such propaganda, conducted with so much vigour, was certainly not
without drawbacks. Prosecutions came hot and heavy and while his editors
might escape, Pouget too served his time in Saint-Pelagie, the prison of
the day, not that that stopped Le Père Peinard from appearing, as his
colleagues took it in turns to collect his copy from inside prison itself.

A period of such intense agitation - and, it must be said, not just that
had driven a number of individuals over the edge; a series of attentats
followed, culminating in the assassination of President Carnot [5] in
Lyons.

Whipped up by its servile press, the bourgeoisie was so spooked that it
could see no way of salvation other than the passing by Parliament of a
series of repressive laws quite properly described, once the panic had
subsided, as lois scélérates	(blackguardly laws).

Arrests followed the hundreds of house searches carried out across the
country and a great trial, known as the "Trial of the Thirty" was mounted.

Pouget and quite a few other comrades put some distance between themselves
and their would-be judges. For him, it was the start of his exile and
February 21, 1894 saw the publication of the 253rd and final edition of
the first run of Le Père Peinard.

He fled to London, where he found Louise Michel. [7] It would be a mistake
to believe that our comrade was about to stop, and in September that very
same year the first issue of the London run of Le Père Peinard appeared.
Eight issues appeared, the last in January 1895. But exile was no
solution. The bourgeoisie was feeling a little more reassured and Pouget
went home to face the music, and was acquitted, as were all of his
co-accused in the "Trial of the Thirty."

None of these adventures had changed the militant's fervour one iota; on
May 11 the same year, Le Père Peinard?s successor La Sociale came out. For
a number of reasons, its founder was unable for the time being to
resurrect the former title (which reappeared only in October 1896).

What are we to say of Pouget's two newborn creations, except that in terms
of the intensity of their propaganda they were the match of their older
brother? There was the same courage, more than courage indeed, for the
"blackguardly laws" made difficulties even worse, and there was the same
effrontery. It is from this period that the celebrated Almanachs du Père
Peinard date, as do numerous propaganda pamphlets, one of which, Les
Variations Guesdistes (Guesdist Zig-zagging) under Pouget's own signature
created something of a sensation in socialist political circles.

Come the Dreyfus Affair, Pouget again could not help commenting. He threw
himself into the fray, but his goal was to demand justice also for
anarchists deported for penal servitude and perishing on Devil's Island,
which was a destination specially reserved for them. Through his many
articles and the pamphlet Les Lois scélérates (co-written with Francis de
Pressense), he successfully captured the attention of the masses, and the
government of the day was obliged to release some of the survivors of a
supposed revolt adroitly staged in advance by the prison administration.

"La Voix du Peuple"

We come now to the year 1898. The General Confederation of Labour (CGT)
was growing and growing and assuring an ever greater significance in
society.

At Pouget's instigation, the Toulouse Congress (1897) had adopted a
significant report on Boycotting and Sabotage offering the working class a
novel weapon of struggle.

Finally, and this was his most cherished idea, he had dreamt of equipping
the working class with a fighting journal written entirely by interested
parties. An initial commitment to this had been forthcoming at the
Toulouse Congress, and had been reiterated by the Rennes Congress. What
the comrades had in mind at that point was a daily newspaper, a project
which they were later forced to abandon in the light of all sorts of
financial difficulties.

No matter. The idea had been floated and we would do well to remember here
that it was also thanks to Pouget's tenacity that the first edition of La
Voix du Peuple appeared on December 1, 1900.

Pouget, who had been appointed assistant secretary of the CGT, Federations
branch, was in charge of getting the newspaper out each week. Thanks to
his dogged efforts and with the aid of Fernand Pelloutier, the working
class for the first time ever had a newspaper all of its very own.

( ... ) It would be an easy matter for me, with the aid of a complete run
of La Voix du Peuple to rehearse, one by one, the campaigns of all sorts,
the struggle against the placement offices, the campaign for a weekly rest
day, the eight hour day and the battles against all manner of iniquities,
in which the name of Emile Pouget continually crops up in the forefront of
the battle.

The entire working class fought through his pen.

However, I have to recall those splendid and unforgettable special
editions on "Drawing lots" or "May the first," conceived and presented in
such a way that it is no exaggeration to say that such intensity of
propaganda has never been outdone.

Let me recall too the campaign for the eight hour working day, culminating
in May 1, 1906: One has to have lived through those times alongside Pouget
to appreciate what propagandistic science - and no, that does not strike
me as too strong a word for it - he deployed then. With the aid of his
alter ego Victor Griffuelhes, [8] over a period of nearly two years, he
was able to come up with something new every time to hold spellbound a
mass of workers occasionally overly inclined to self-doubt. So there is no
exaggeration in saying that, wherever it was able to enforce its will
entirely, the working class enjoyed the eight hour day and owes that, in
no small part, to Emile Pouget. One need only review the succession of CGT
congresses between 1896 and 1907 to get the measure of the profound
influence that he wielded over those labour gatherings. His reports, his
speeches and above all his effective work on working parties are still the
most reliable index of syndicalism's debt to him. Might I recall that in
Amiens he wielded the pen and that the motion which to this day remains
the charter of authentic syndicalism is partly his handiwork? [9]

Apart from the many brochures written by him, we ought also to remember
his contributions to many little labour newspapers as well as his great
articles in Hubert Lagardelle's Le Mouvement socialiste, [11] studies so
substantial that they cannot be ignored in any future examination of the
origins and methods of the syndicalist movement in France that may wish to
probe beneath the surface.

"La Revolution," Villeneuve-Saint-Georges and Retirement

( ... ) Pouget had a life-long obsession with a daily newspaper, but it
had to be a proletarian newspaper reflecting the aspirations of the
working class only. This is what he had in mind when, with other comrades,
he launched La Révolution. Griffuelhes had a hand in it, as did Monatte.
[11] Unfortunately, it takes a lot of money to keep a daily newspaper
afloat and the anticipated help was not forthcoming. After a few months,
La Révolution was forced to shut down. It was one of the greatest
disappointments he had in his life, watching the foundering of a creation
for which he had yearned so fervently.

I might stop at this point, but I have to recall the
Draveil-Villeneuve-Saint-Georges affair. Indeed, with hindsight, it really
does appear that this miserable and dismal episode was desired by
Clemenceau. [12] That moreover was Griffuelhes's view, as well as
Pouget's. Prosecutions were mounted against a number of militants, of whom
Pouget, of course, was one. But after more than two months spent in
Corbeil prison, the charges had to be dropped and there is no exaggeration
in saying that had it come to trial, the stigma would doubtless not have
attached itself to those in the dock.

But even then the health of Pouget, who is a good ten years older than us,
was beginning to leave something to be desired.

In the long run, the struggle - as he understood the term - consumed the
man to some extent. For him rest consisted of starting back to working for
a living and right up until the day when illness laid him low, he never
stopped working, despite his seventy one years. [13]


Notes to Emile Pouget's Life as an Activist by Paul Delesalle

1. Paul Delesalle (1870-1948), former steel-worker, anarchist and
revolutionary syndicalist: contributed to Les Temps nouveaux, then was
elected secretary of the Federation of the Bourses du Travail until 1907:
later publisher and revolutionary book-seller. This text has been taken
from Le Cri du People of July 29 and August 5, 1931.

2. On Louise Michel see note 7 below.

2a. Henri Rochefort (Marquis de Rochefort-Luzay, 1830-1913), journalist
and pamphleteer: mounted lively opposition to the Empire from his weekly
paper La Lanterne. Deputy of the Commune in 1871.

3. Joseph Foullon (1717-1789) comptroller-general of finances, hanged and
then beheaded after the fall of the Bastille.

4. A number of placards and posters under the title of " Le Père Peinard
au Populo" had a print run in excess of 20,000 copies, and I could cite
more than thirty such. (Note by Paul Delesalle)

5. Sadi Carnot (1837-1894) President of the French Republic, assassinated
in Lyons by the Italian anarchist Caserio.

6. The "blackguardly" laws, designed to stamp out anarchist terrorist
activity were passed after Auguste Vaillant's outrage in 1894. Auguste
Vaillant (1861-1894), anarchist, enfant de la balle, Jack of all trades,
was guillotined after throwing a bomb into the benches of the Chamber of
Deputies on December 9, 1893.

7. Louise Michel (1830-1905) teacher and indomitable anarchist militant:
she participated in the Paris Commune of 1871, was deported and later
pardoned.

8. Victor Griffuelhes (1874-1923) one-time cobbler, at first a Blanquist,
he became a revolutionary syndicalist: general secretary of the CGT from
1902 to 1909.

9. The Charter of Amiens (1906), in which revolutionary syndicalism
proclaimed itself independent of political parties.

10. Hubert Lagardelle (1875-1958), lawyer, began as a Guesdist, then
became founder of Le Mouvement socialiste (1899-1914), a theoretical
revolutionary syndicalist review: author of the remarkable book Le
socialisme français. He ended up a minister under Marshal Petain.

11. Pierre Monatte (1881-1960), proof-reader, contributed to the anarchist
review Les Temps nouveaux then, having become a revolutionary syndicalist,
joined the CGT's pre-1914 Confederal Committee: he founded the review La
Vie ouvriere which lasted from 1909 to 1914. In 1923 he joined the French
Communist Party and became editor of the social affairs page in
l?Humanite. He was expelled from the Party in November 1924, whereupon he
launched La Revolution Proletarienne, organ of the Ligue syndicaliste. See
Syndicalisme revolutionnaire et communisme, les archives de Pierre Monatte
(1969).

12. In 1908 strikes in Draveil and Villeneuve-Saint-Georges were crushed
with bloodshed by the government of Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), after
which the leaders of the CGT were arrested.

13. In 1920, in the village of Lozere (Palaiseau) a pauper's hearse,
followed by Pierre Monatte, Maurice Chambelland and a few others, myself
(Daniel Guérin) among them, bore Emile Pouget to his final resting place.

: on the web at http://www.anarchosyndicalism.org/protagonists/pouget.htm






=====
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In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.
	- Percy Shelley
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