Biographie manuscrite datée du 9 décembre 1935 et rédigée en anglais
IISH (Amsterdam), Max Nettlau papers. Cote : ARCH01001.2014 Manuscrit original numérisé
Cette biographie a été rédigée en anglais pour être insérée dans l’hebdomadaire Freie Arbeiter Stimme de New-York, publié en yiddish. En 1935, l’organe de la Yiddish Anarchist Federation, est publié sans interruption depuis 1899. D’après une lettre d’A. Frumkin datée du 5 juillet 1935 et conservée dans les archives Nettlau à l’IISH, cette biographie est une commande puisqu’elle s’insère dans une série de portraits d’anarchistes publiés dans le Freie Arbeiter Stimme. En revanche, Frumkin mentionne des textes de 1500 mots alors que la biographie manuscrite de Guillaume en contient presque dix fois plus, son texte représentant 24 pages manuscrites. Une lettre du 3 novembre suivant accuse réception des premiers « portraits » (en français dans le texte) et en particulier de celui de Cafiero. Dans cette deuxième lettre, Frumkin demande à Nettlau une biographie de James Guillaume pour l’insérer dans la liste des libertaires français (French libertarians) en raison de la méconnaissance de ce dernier (et d’autres) chez les lecteurs du F.A.S.
Les fautes de grammaire et d’orthographe ont été conservées sans que chacune ne soit signalée par un « sic » pour en faciliter la lecture. Les parties illisibles ont été signalées entre crochets.
“James Guillaume (1844-1916)
This relatively littleremembered man was on the side of Bakunin and, of course, many other comrades, the most efficient actor of those in the old International who resisted the will of Marx, leading to socialdemocracy, reformism and bolshevism, and affirmed complete libertarian socialism, expressed by anarchist thought and, to a certain degree, by revolutionary syndicalism. The strategy of this struggle of defense was shaped to a large degree by Guillaume, before whose judgment of real possibilities also Bakunin used to give way. He was an intellectual, and manual workers are sometimes prejudiced against intellectuals. In reality, the libertarian ideology, professing complete socialism, claims also for the complete man who shall be well filled, intellectually to do manual work efficiently, whilst authoritarians, on one side nominally abolishing classes, reconstitute them on the other side by separating workers, technical experts and an administrating bureaucratic cast, supportedly a military organization. Guillaume who, by the way, also learned printing and became the skilled manager, sometimes compositor of a small printing office of which the output was useful to the movement whilst the debts and cares reposed on his own shoulders, was one of the libertarian type of intellectuals – those who lose everything and have more cares than many workers in regular employment, and he worked in his way to the bitter end with nothing before him – and not of the authoritarian type of those who climb up the social ladder, to become ministers and dictators. If he had only cared, he might have reached the top of a political career in his native Switzerland, for he was born right into such a milieu. His life is worth knowing for itself; in the present sketch I must omit most of the historical explanations on the various stages of the International and later of Anarchism and Syndicalism, and the description of the other actors in these movements. The reader must credit me with talking only of events and personalities of a certain importance and about whom very many details might be produced, if they were not out of place here. Where sources are deficient and problems remain open, I always mention the state of our knowledge even here. But where materials are plentiful, I may be trusted to condense them with some care and I need not go back to the proofs for every statement.
James Guillaume happened to be born in London, in February 1844 in a part of Clerkenwell, close by to where Hermann Jung, the Swiss secretary of the International, later passed all his life until he was murdered in his house, and where Kropotkin also in the earliest eighties lived for some time and the nihilist Leo Hartmann close by. But he left London in 1848, for Switzerland, and never visited England again, although Kropotkin, from 1902 onward constantly invited him to a visit. This and practically most of his equipment for his whole life were brought about in this way. His grandfather was the owner of a manufacture of watches in the, then, principality of Neuchâtel, a personal domain of the King of Prussia until the eighteen fifties. His grandmother and other ladies of the family had been teachers in English families, cultivating French, English, also Italian. The Grandfather had a London branch establishment. They were all liberals and took part in the general conspiration for republican purposes and to join the Swiss Confederation, and his father, sent to London to take charge of the business there, had an interest in liberal studies and acquired a considerable library of the most advanced an best classical books. He married a girl of French descent, from a family of professional musicians, also a teacher sometime residing in Germany and in England.
To all of them the revolutionary proclamation of the Republic in Neuchâtel in 1848 meant a new hopeful local life and so the parents and James returned to their country. But then, an economic crisis paralysed the watch industry and this led his father to enter the local political carreer in which he always remained, becoming later chief of governmental departments, but always depending from re-election. He seems to have been a man of liberal dispositions thus far, that he gave to his children every opportunity to instruct themselves and to indulge in the most of radical studies, if they wanted so; but he felt as a thorough bourgeois of small or no sentiment and expected his children to shift for themselves as soon as they ever could, and to go abroad as teachers or governesses or to be moderately under the patronage of their father, if they had some local purpose for settling in life, seemed the lot also of James, as it was that of his brothers and sisters.
In any case, this gave him great facilities to instruct himself and he was an early linguist (French, German, English, Italian, Latin), devoured the classics of all ages, the poets and the novelists, soon philosophers and naturalists and then he specialized himself much upon the history of revolutions, notably the French Revolution. In the liberal house, with refugees of 1848 and of December 1851 (France) all about the canton and Switzerland, with Neuchâtel insurrectionary tradition of 1831 and the final separation from allegiance to the King of Prussia all around him, James became an adept to all advanced causes and – checked by his unsentimental father in any direct manifestation (unless a liberal poem appealed to the father and he saw himself to see it published) – he wrote no end of lyrical and epical poetry, dramatic and novelistic texts, which remained unpublished. Thus the miners in Victor Hugo ‘old novel Han d’Islande greatly impressioned him and were to him the first vivid picture of a worker’s rebellion and he wrote songs of the Swedish rebel univers. His revolutionary heroes were Marat (born in the vicinity of Neuchâtel), Robespierre and Saint-Just. Kropotkin later said of Guillaume that if an occasion had offered, he had all the qualities, good and bad, of a Robespierre in him, an observation which implies want of real libertarian characteristics. No doubt, this was so; between his father and Marat, Robespierre and Saint-Just, there was hardness and rigidity in common to all and this was James’s share too, if he had milder sides, they may derive from his mother. He loved music very much, but exercised it much less in practice than as a composer; I take this also to be an authoritarian characteristic, as the composer disposes of the tunes from above, ordering them, whilst the practical player experiments and constructs as an evolutionist.
The lyceum of Neuchâtel which he frequented since the autumn of 1853 culminated in three years of courses of a university character (1859-62) where he enjoyed an adult’s freedom and then he began real university studies in the University of Zurich, one year and a half only, until Easter 1864. This was a time of classical studies, mainly Greek, of German poetry and philosophy, of general esthetic teaching by Vischer, whilst the professor of antique philology, Koechly had been a friend of Bakunin and was a refugee of the Dresden insurrection of 1849. Here a Neuchâtel friend, David Perret, recommended the study of Proudhon, whom he admired, but James felt no interest in him at that time. He found the huge files of the official organs of the French Revolution, giving the debates of the great Assemblies and all the new legislation, and through these volumes James penetrated page by page until he had to leave Zürich. He prepared an epos, to be called Floreal, chanting the period of the height of revolutionary enthusiasm. Garibaldi’s campaign in Sicily and Naples had fascinated him before (1860-61). He began to translate Die Leute von Seldwyla by Gottfried Keller, a famous book of Zürich-novels and this was printed in Neuchâtel in 1864, showing Guillaume’s great talent to be precise and concise in expression. Whatever in all his life he heard or read of complicated, over-abstract or over-florid or obscure character, he understood to present in simple and clear terms. These are characteristics of his socialist teaching and explain his very great efficiency. Kropotkin did not possess this faculty; in very many statements of his – except in direct intimate talk and in very private letters – there is certain vagueness and it was difficult to pin him to a point. Malatesta and Guillaume have a really latin, lapidary concision.
These happy eighteen months were cut short, when his father declared that he could not afford to pay for further studies and suggested that James should go to Edinburgh; earn his living by giving lessons and studying at the university there. James preferred another chance – that of replacing for a year a professor at a rather elevated school in the cantonal town Locle, up in the Jura mountains, where he gave lessons in literature, history and French grammar. His plan was to save money and then to study in Paris where two brothers of his were going, a young typographer and an artist. But the artist died in February 1865 and then followed for James a long period of intense mental depression, the first of several in his life. He gave up Paris and other university plans and just passed the examination to become a definite professor at the Industrial School of Locle (July).
Then in looking round, in observing the local working population, by reading socialist and advanced philosophical books, by frequenting an old local revolutionist of strong social feelings, Constant Meuron, he found consolation in devoting himself to educational work for the people and he began by evening classes for apprentices. He read Feuerbach, Darwin, Fourier, Louis Blanc, Proudhon, he emancipated himself entirely from metaphysics, felt intered in what he heard of the French cooperators (an effort then supported in a broad spirit by Elie and Elisée Reclus etc.) and of the International of which in the larger township nearby, at Chaux-de-Fonds, a section had already been founded. In august 1866, Guillaume, old Meuron and a small handfull of others founded another section of Locle and in september Guillaume represented it at the first Congress of the International, held in Geneva. There he met French, Belgian, British and other delegates and had his first direct glimpse at several of the social and labour currents of that times.
The activities of Guillaume, beginning in this small and new section, yet show him gradually coming to the front in the then small jurassian milieu as a man who had a solid basis of general socialist information, who was penetrated by the wish to establish fraternal relations all over the awakening world of labour, but who could not imagine that such relations could be based upon another bases than that of mutual fraternity and solidarity, of equality and of autonomy, non-interference with the local life. He had no idea that a Karl Marx resided in London who had the ambition to impress his own ideas upon the association, nor that a Central or General Council could be under the impression to be some organ of authority in the association, nor that parties, cliques, coteries could be formed and that locally useful and efficient men would try to extend their influence over districts, provinces and regions. All this was, in his opinion, exactly what the International did not wish to be; it was founding solidarity, respecting autonomy and had no call to be a doctrinary or an administrative unifying authority. Guillaume was far from being an anarchist then and, in the real sense he was this always as we shall see. He had not broken with politics, whilst he had not made an effort to enter a political carreer. He had lived in politics all his life, seeing his father a professional politician and office holder and this gave him some inside experience and created the strong wish, not to have to court the favour of the electors year by year, as his father had to do. He had watched closely, French and Italian popular and insurrectional movements – the continuous struggles against Napoleon III, the usurper, and against the Bourbons, the Pope and the Austrian in Italy and he was observing with curiosity the English trade unionists, the German Lassalleans, the Russians of Tchernychevski’s time. All interested him and he loved and admired many things but he never wished to introduce artificially outside ideas and tactics into the Jurassian milieu. In this respect already Geneva and Lausanne, much more Berne and Zürich were already, one might say, foreign continents to him. He did not dream of recommending Jurassian method anywhere outside the mountain district, nor did he wish or tolerate that outsiders should interfere with the Jura.
By an by he concluded that the Internationalist of Belgium were least of all disposed to impose their ideas either by propaganda or by authority (majorities, administrative power) upon others and he was on the best possible terms with them, notably with Caesar de Paepe. Later, as Paris always attracted him as the mother of Revolutions, he conceived great admiration for Varlin who was equally disposed to feel fullest international solidarity, but to maintain the autonomy of Parisian tactics. As to Bakunin, his idea of a swaging, sweeping, all-entraining revolution was always strange and unnecessary and seemed to be improbable to Guillaume, who reserved the Jurassian autonomy before everything. Bakunin was of ripe experience and fully understood Guillaume and abstained with tact and care from all that might mean to be an infringement upon that autonomy. This brought about and safeguarded their close cooperation of several years, mainly from 1869 to 1872. Marx was incapable to conceive the notion of autonomy, just as Lenin’s later scorned the bourgeois notion of freedom and so, with all respect for his economic learnedness – Bakunin and Guillaume were the two only men in Switzerland who had read Das Kapital of 1867 in the years following, about 1869-1870 – it was impossible for them to cooperate with him (Marx) in the International as he (Marx) scorned and flouted Bakunin’s highest ideal – Freedom – Guillaume’s ethical basis – Autonomy.
Guillaume, then, had a life purpose before himself, at twenty two, to cooperate internationally and locally in the reconstitution of socialism which had so languished in the nearly twenty years of reaction and apathy intervening since 1848. He was in what he considered an independent local position of not elementary but almost high school teaching and further educational and political advancement (by elections) was within his grasp. But he did nothing to promote such a carreer; when he understood that taking part in elections was of no social value to the workers, he and his friends proclaimed abstention from politics, and when his militant socialism and local independence were considered by the authorities incompatible with his employment as a public school-professor, he did nothing to bow before the storm and was in due form destituted in 1869, aged twenty five, walking out of office as a well read young man, soon to be married, but with no earthly goods and prospects locally a marked man. So he remained throughout a long life, always having to shift for himself.
He had no precarious resource to-hand and another dimly lights on the sky. The latter was his old plan to live in Paris and this has been nourished by his close contact with Ferdinand Buisson, lecturing in 1869 in Switzerland on the subject of a renewed liberal Christianism, left-wing Protestant Rationalism. Both he and Guillaume were deeply interested in tearing elementary education in France from the hands of the Catholic clergy, of laïcising and improving it, and as Buisson was a staunch republican his counsel would be listened to when that party would triumph over Napoleon III, and then he and Guillaume would cooperate as educational Robespierres, so to speak. This, they planned about 1869 and some of this they were able to realize between ten and twenty years later, indeed.
But meanwhile, to get a living, he came to business arrangement with his unsentimental father, who was furious to see him loose his professional position. The father had a little printing office, badly managed at the time and this James took over, investing money of his wife, and thus from August 1869 to the end of 1872 he kept this small business going, managing, reading proofs, setting up type himself sometimes, employing confidential compositors, keeping up punctual business relations with his father, whilst many less punctual relations where on his own shoulders. For here papers and pamphlets for the movement, international books, some Italian printing, all in the interest of the Swiss, French, Italian movements were printed and sometimes work requiring caution and meeting with difficulties in distribution. At other times, unskilled, helpless refugees would learn composing there. This little office at Neuchâtel was a real oasis of international printing for some time, one of the very few places at that time where work was efficiently done which defied equally Napoleon III, Bismarck, the Tsar and the Pope – and Karl Marx, Liebknecht and all the capitalists, and where Bakunin, the refugees of the Commune, Kropotkin (a visitor in 1872), the Italian and Spanish internationalists anarchists and the Jura Swiss workers felt at home. It required intense work and care on Guillaume’s side to keep this place going with real efficiency and evading absolute financial disaster. He was finally unable to continue his own overlarge mixture of intellectual, business, routine and often manual occupations and felt relieved when his father sold the printing office (end of 1872) and from then to the spring of 1878 he had to make a living in Neuchâtel by private lessons, many small paid translations and beginning literary work for encyclopedic publications in Paris and London.
The situation, made to him in 1877-1878, however, was so little hopeful, locally, that then, finally, in may 1878 he carried out his plan to go to live in Paris. He had been preparing to do this in the beginning of 1871, already, on the invitation of Buisson, but the Commune had intervened and the years of full reaction in France had made it quite impossible.
Within this modest outside life lay the internationalist activities of Guillaume and his person would not be the object of this somewhat long description, if these activities had not been of permanent fundamental interest to the history of European Working Class emancipation. A real student of this must consult as primary sources on the on the libertarian side the periodicals : Le Progrès [Progress], at Locle, Dec.28, 1868 to april [illisible], 1870 ; La Solidarité [Solidarity] at Neuchâtel, April 11 to September 3, 1870, at Neuchâtel (suppressed), followed by 4 numbers, edited by N. Joukovski, in Geneva, march to may 1871) ); and Bulletin de la Fédération jurassienne [Bulletin of the Jurassian Federation], February 15, 1872 to march 25, 1878 – all edited by Guillaume, as also the “Almanachs of the People” for 1871 up to 1875.
The essence of these papers as far as bearing the great conflict in the International (Marx-Bakunin) is lucidly presented in the Mémoire of the Jurassian Federation, a volum of 285 and 139 pages (1873).
Many years later, from 1905 to 1910, Guillaume composed L’Internationale. Documents et souvenirs (1864-1878) [Documents and Recollections], 4 volumes in great 8°, closely printed, some 1380 pages combining reprints of documents and articles with comments, recollections, explanations: this is the Internationalist student’s very first and definite handbook, by which – if I may venture to advise him – he will first familiarize himself with the ideology, the facts, the personalities, the problems of the Old International. Next, however, he must rise from this basis to the study of much other literature and by this I do not so much refer to publications on the Marxist side – these he will have learned to look at critically and well-informed, when he knows Guillaume’s volumes, – but I mean other libertarian documentary publications, such which refer to Bakunin, Malatesta, the Spanish International, Kropotkine, the early Russian activities and the Netchaev-problem, the Paris Commune, early German libertarian beginnings etc. Only then such a student will see a little clearer and feel able to see Guillaume’s statements in a fuller light. For although his memory was excellent, when he began to work on the new volumes in 1903-1904, he did not dispose of many materials which he had to hand in 1866-78 and there were, inevitably, many materials which he had not seen at all nor had cared to investigate at the time, as his hands were always full with work.
There is yet, to some experts, another stage of information: this concerns the discussion of great portions and problems of the period described with the author of the present sketch, in the years 1904 to 1909 and even later. Then Guillaume dived further into some controversial matters or added pithy anecdotical details, sidelights which from one reason or the other were not printed in the volumes. Of this, not a few vivid memories are preserved in unpublished private historical notes.
It is obvious that I cannot refer her to any particular part of Guillaume’s internationalist activities, as, at least since the autumn of 1868 until the winter of 1877-78, were his every-day lifework – and he was a man of most regular habits, organizing his own work ant not loosing time over anything. At the same time, he kept up historical reading (French Revolution, etc.), observation of the paedagogic movements, some good general reading and when he had nothing else to do; he refreshed himself with gleanings in a favorite Greek or Latin classic or with composing tunes of musical melodies.
The watchmakers in Geneva and in the small jurassian townships and large villages were up to the second half of the eighteen-seventies, when American machine made watches and similar factories established also in Switzerland, ruined them and made them slaves to machinery – they were until then a very independent home-industry, very skilled work was done by men in their own rooms of small houses ; the demand for their output was universal and constant, they were used to combine against the large firms, they were citizens interested in local politics, some of them in social questions, they were not proletarianized at all and many of them wellcomed the International and formed sections which were meant at first to be local educational units, forming local electoral power as district from the bourgeois, the agricultural, the conservative and other interests. In Geneva, the electoral power of these skilled workers was so great that the International sections – except the one inaugurated 1868 by Bakunin (the Section of the Alliance) – never emancipated themselves from the politicians. In the Jura (the cantons of Berne and Neuchâtel mainly) the other electoral powers were stronger and those of the International sections who had expected to further socialist aims by electoral methods, by local politics, saw that they were powerless after all at the elections. The same experience was made by a number of militant workers and citizens in Geneva who had tried to form a more advanced workers ‘party and had failed at the elections of the autumn of 1868. Thus about that time these two milieus of socialists abandoning electoral politics had been formed – that of Guillaume in the Jura and that of Perron in Geneva, – and that very summer, about July, Bakunin had entered the International at Geneva – and he made the acquaintance of Perron in August and that of Guillaume at the end of the year: from then, for some time, these three men cooperated intimately.
Before this, Guillaume had assisted at the international Congresses of Geneva (1866) and Lausanne (1867), [illisible] most interest in the company of some Belgians, notably De Paepe, of some London and Paris delegates, informing himself on trade unionism, Parisian Proudhonism, meeting Dr. Ludwig Büchner, the author of “Kraft und Stoff”, the old German socialist Johann Philipp Becker; he corresponded with Hermann Jung, the Swiss secretary of the General Council, talked with Eccarius a German tailor of London who was to some degree in the confidence of Karl Marx etc. All that interested him, just as he had met before old Fourierists in the Jura, old Pierre Leroux himself and others. And he was of the delegates sent by the Lausanne Congress to the Peace Congress of Geneva (September 1867) where he saw Garibaldi and first saw and heard Bakunin, though not making his personal acquaintance. This took place at the congress held at the end of 1868 in Geneva, for the purpose of federating the French-speaking sections of Switzerland, to form the Fédération Romande. He was standing out by his earnest activity and his skill as a clear debater and writer and this may have contributed to make Bakunin wish to see more of him. In any case, as the outside delegates lodged with comrades in Geneva, it may not have been quite an accident, that the young professor from the Jura was invited to lodge with Bakunin and in this way they became friends and Guillaume was eager to invite Bakunin to come to the Jura, and Bakunin was quite satisfied to extend his sphere of activity to this new ground, taking thus up his position both in the Geneva and in the milieu of the Mountains.
Bakunin’s visits in the Jura (February and May 1869), short as they were, were time well spent in local manifestations affirming the independence of the sections from powerful politicians who propagated an adulterated socialism which was just some petty reformism, with more intimate, cordial discussions with many workers, with very intimate revolutionary discussions with a number of militants who shaped the activities of their whole lifes, in not a few cases upon these early impressions, – and in conversations of the fullest confidence with Guillaume and but a very few others. Bakunin (as we know) always had in view this : to inspire a small number of men of real value and efficiency with the whole of the anarchist ideas and the desire for action and these would each operate upon the best men of their acquaintance and confidence – and these upon a wider milieu of less advanced, and so on. The most intimate would consult among themselves and consult with Bakunin, who was in a similar way in touch with efficient men of a number of other countries – and thus, by personal contact, correspondence, some travelers, the meeting of these intimates during congresses, etc., all these men could co-operate upon similar lines, albeit locally modified, and such private mutual understanding would harmonize the propaganda, create local milieu disposed to act upon similar lines and someday, when action was possible and imminent, would facilitate it efficiently. “Action” was not and idle dream in those years (1864-1870) of Bakunin’s impulse in this direction, as in at least three countries (France, Italy, Spain) rotten powers were doomed to fall – Napoleon III, the Pope as souverain of the Roman State [Kirchenstaat] and Queen Isabella of Spain – and indeed Isabella fell in September 1868 and both Napoleon III and the Pope’s power over Rome fell in September 1870.
In Spain followed a revolutionary period lasting up to the end of 1874, including a Republic and the great insurrection of the federalist republicans of 1874. In France the accumulated discount led to the two months of the Commune of Paris, march to may 1871, and in Italy, Garibaldi, straight from the Geneva congress of 1867 went to fight the Popish army in open battle and, after his failure, three years later the Italian army fought Rome and reduced the Pope to live from that time onward – until Mussolini’s surrender – in the Vatican, nominally declaring himself to be a prisoner.
Here we have all elements of revolutionary warfare – the Commune defying the French State and the French bourgeoisie, the insurgent Spanish cities proclaiming their autonomy, the Church of Rome bombarded by the Italian army and many other events – and if in all these the popular forces, the workers did not succeed and were even terribly defeated and massacred (Paris), surely it was neither a chimeric and idle or absurd, nor a useless, unpractical thought and effort of Bakunin to try to prepare and to coordinate forces which should be ready to act on such occasions. His activities were strongest just in these countries and if he failed, if he and his comrades could not overcome all the enormous obstacles, the blame may be laid on them for this or that mistake, but it lays much more upon all those who did not help them and it lays heaviest upon those who did all they could to combate, to discredit, to destroy them: here lays one of the various culpabilities which Marx accumulated during his carreer.
Marx, in those years, wielding the power which, he imagined, his participation in the General Council of the International had legitimately given to him, was haunted by the idea of war against Russia in favour of Poland and a secondary thought of Irish rebellion in England, whilst he also, after the easy victory of Prussia over Austria in 1866, was impressioned by Bismarck’s prestige and had)(but contempt for France, Italy and Spain. None of his then expectations was realized whilst Bakunin, as to the West and South of Europe, had seen clear. When Bakunin tried to rally the revolutionists in preparation of very struggles which did come, Marx insisted to start electoral labour parties, as Lassalle had done, and urged upon the States to begin the world war against Russia. So his fraction of the International became emasculate and he used the very nominal powers confided to the General Council to make regular war by chicanery and other means against the autonomous sections and federations.
This was keenly felt by an autonomist like Guillaume and wielded him and Bakunin together until autonomy had triumphed in 1872-1873. But Guillaume was not accessible to Bakunin’s favorite attempt, to give to his relations with the intimate comrades a formal name
Fraternité internationale, Alliance secrète or so, to write or even print statements of principles and rules, to correspond in cypher, etc. He practised the real thing, but rejected the form, and in this respect he was wiser then Bakunin who lost time in drawing up documents of such apparently conspirative character which, when misused, seized, published gave an extraordinary aspect to very harmless things. Bakunin knew that as well, but all the secret societies had such documents and some of the members seemed to like and to require it, whilst, in practice, very few or hardly any one conformed to such documents. Anyhow, Guillaume obtained from Bakunin in 1869 a general indulgence not to have anything to do with written rules himself, nor should Bakunin introduce them in the Jura. For the rest he did not care and he did exactly what Bakunin did (and had done before, locally) – he had incessant private relations with the militants in the Jura and he corresponded with all the intimates of Bakunin abroad, whenever necessary, without using terms of any secret body (Fraternité, Alliance). He was most eager to attract militants of France within this inner sphere and came to some understanding with Varlin during the Congress of Basel (1869) etc. He was at times most painstaking to arrive at agreements by discussion, whilst when he considered that the occasion required immediate or modified action, he took it on his sole responsibility.
Two examples of this are the manifesto of September, 5, 1870 in Neuchâtel, when upon the first news of the collapse of the Empire in Paris (September 4), he was misled to consider this political change a social revolution and called to all to take up arms to defend the Revolution in France. The Swiss government had this Manifesto seized and suppressed the Solidarité and Guillaume’s father felt anxiety about the printing plant which belonged to him. Bakunin wrote a most generous letter on that occasion to the Committee of the Fédération Romande, in defence of Guillaume’s overrash act on his personal account which deprived the organization of its paper.
The other case happened at the Hague Congress, where an artificial majority, fabricated by Marx, Engels and others, expelled Bakunin and Guillaume from the International (september 1872). It had been agreed upon that the revolutionary federations should leave the congress, when the Marxist intrigue should unfold itself openly. Guillaume preferred to pass much time during the congress week to explain the situation to quite a number of non-revolutionists, but who were not friends of Marx either and who simply ignored the facts. In this way he formed a minority of revolutionists and general friends of fair play, and Marx turned yellow, when he saw to his surprise, that not the revolutionists just left, as he had expected, but that a declaration of solidarity by a strong minority was read, to which he had no reply to shake. Guillaume preferred an International composed of autonomous bodies of revolutionary or reformist, anarchist or socialdemocratic opinion, to a body composed exclusively of revolutionists. He did not object to such a body as the latter described, but he valued the principle of solidarity and autonomy expressed by the former composition – and so became the antiauthoritarian International of the St. Imier, Geneva, Brussels, Bern and Verviers congresses of the years 1872 (september) to 1877 (september). Bakunin formed intimate ties with the revolutionists at Zürich (September 1872), the Alliance of the Revolutionary Socialists (secret), but, after discussion with Guillaume, agreed with his tactics at the public Congress of St. Imier. A year later, in Geneva, Guillaume mainly shaped the new forms of the organization during a week of arduous discussion; Bakunin watched this from the distance, at Bern.
There is no question that the fall of the Commune, 1871, made Guillaume understand that socialism in France would not be revived in the spirit of his friend Varlin (who had been shot) for a long time to come, nor that the Hague congress, 1872, displaying all the malignity of Marx and Engels, made him see that socialism had that deleterious dry rot inside of it, Marxism, an emasculating disease which from then, has produced some fifty years of social democracy and communist despotism in Russia. Both hard facts made Guillaume concentrate on Swiss local socialist autonomy and he had no real faith in revolutionary attempts as these are preparing in Spain and in Italy, by the fervent young Internationalists and by Bakunin who, hopeful or hopeless, was active up to 1874. Otherwise expressed, – Guillaume considered his association with Bakunin more or less come to an end, as the fight in common against Marx was over, as there was nothing to do in France, for some time, and as the Russian, Italian, Spanish activities of Bakunin did not concern him, whilst Bakunin was less interested than he in Belgian, British, Swiss, German and other movements. It came to this, sorry to tell, that whilst Bakunin continued to value what Guillaume did, the latter who saw and heard little of Bakunin in 1873-74, came to imagine that Bakunin’s carreer was coming to an end. I cannot enter into this delicate subject and let it be sufficient to say here that at a moment in the autumn of 1874, when Bakunin would most have needed a clear thinking and fairminded friend as Guillaume might have been to him, Guillaume proved utterly prejudiced, hard and cruel and there was an absolute separation between Guillaume and several others and Bakunin (September 1874) and this remained so up to Bakunin’s death, 1876.
This fact did not influence outwardly what Guillaume wrote after Bakunin’s death, the necrologue, but he wrote very little about him from 1874 to 1878. By this he contributed much to make him forgotten even whilst he still lived. When I began to study Bakunin’s life, in 1892, I visited Guillaume in Paris, even with a good introduction, but he discouraged me absolutely. A few years later, when Elisée Reclus encouraged me in everyway and Guillaume knew this, he alluded to the 1873-74 period, to a document in his keeping by Bakunin’s hand which no one should ever see, and in 1898, being very ill, he burned that document and many other papers. In 1899 an unexpected copy of that very document was shown to me and I made full use of it in my biography of 1900. I sent that biography in humbles to Guillaume, to make him my first reader. He burned them or did not look at them and once his sisters in Neuchâtel handed back quite an armful to me. But sometime he did open one or two and then he happened to see the copious extracts from the important document which he had himself burned. I have no doubt, that from that instant he disliked me more than ever, but he did now consider that he ought to speak himself about everything and then he borrowed permanently Grave’s copy of my biography, and examined it most carefully – in fact he invited me in the beginning of 1904 to explain a number of details to him. Then I had the first serious talk about Bakunin with him. He said almost immediately that he executed (hinrichtete) Bakunin in 1874 at Neuchâtel – Bakunin noted indeed that his voice had been “cutting like the axe of a guillotine” (tranchant comme un couperet). (Schneidand wie ein Fallbeil). To his word I replied: for execute (hinrichten) it were better to say assassinate (ermordern) – and then we had a three hours or so hard discussion on that scene and the merits of the case. On other subjects we discussed much friendly, but on this matter (and some others) we never agreed and I consider his exposition of that whole subject in his large book, based in part upon unpublished documents which I collected in my manuscript – supplement, as an ex-parte-statement, and as all the materials are not placed before the reader, judgment ought to be suspended. The same applies to statements made by the late M. P. Sazin (Ross). This cruelty of 1874 weighed upon Guillaume’s mind and he did what he could to persuade himself that his attitude was justified. Malatesta and Kropotkine did not think so.
In this way Guillaume’s relations with Bakunin had a bitter end, one time more a Robespierrist mind was unable to understand a Dantonesque character and felt obliged to try to destroy it.
That same autumn Guillaume wrote a the invitation of Cafiero an exposé of the social arrangments in a free society, a text published in 1876 as Idées sur l’Organisation sociale (Ideas on social organization), Chaux-de-Fonds, 1876, 56 p. in-12° – a clear statement of the collectivist anarchist conception with its eventual evolution toward communist anarchism ; there were Italian and Spanish translations. He also composed two series of Esquisses historiques (Historical Sketches), Neuchâtel, 1874, 1875, 112 and 99 pages, a description of earliest civilization, of Grece and early Rome, a series which was not continued. Like all he wrote, this is neatly done, no rhetorics, the best of facts must lucidly presented. He had analysed Proudhon’s Confession of a Revolutionist, adding a description of mutualism and of collectivist anarchism, a book of which only a Russian translation, [titre en russe] (Anarchy according to Proudhon) exists in print, set up and printed by M.P. Sazin, in London, 1874 : the French manuscript is lost. He lectured on the French Revolution and printed sketches of great historical days in the Bulletin. He wrote also a study of the conspiracy of Babeuf. The Bulletin is very exact in foreign notes which he translated often from letters or took from secretly printed Spanish and other publications. The more one is able to inspect documentary relics of those years, the more there are traces of Guillaume’s constant care, resourcefulness and husbanding of very small means.
He was really masterful in exposing the Marxist protagonists, the Engels, Lafargue, Greulich, etc. ; but he always tried to be on terms of polite correction with those who show respect for autonomy toward the Jurassians, like some of the German Lassalleans and some less narrow socialists in Switzerland, in England etc. But he keeps out such as would adulterate and mix up the ideas like Benoît Malon and others of his ilk.
Kropotkin was greatly impressioned by Guillaume on his first visit to him in the spring of 1872 and visited him again, end of 1876 (after his escape from Russia) and saw him frequently in 1877 when he had settled himself in the Jura. At that time, Paul Brousse, a French Southerner from Montpellier, was doing advanced and lively popular anarchist agitation in Bern and in the Jura, was best liked by the young people, whilst the elder generation preferred the sedate Guillaume. Kropotkin stood nearer to Brousse, but had a very great respect for Guillaume. Brousse inspired the Red Flag procession in Bern, assaulted by the Gendarmes, when all the Jurassian and French militants and a number of Russians, Kropotkin as well as Plechanov, were in a hand-to-hand fight, with or without all sorts of weapons, implements and fists and letters, recollections and the report of the ensuing trial still record who smashed up with gendarmes or was himself almost battered to pieces or was rescued by the intervention of that other comrades. There was a big trial in the autumn and 20 or 30 had to pass weeks or months that winter in the Jura prisons. They entered there in procession with the red flag (permitted there) and music and had their watchmakers ‘table and tools brought into prison and worked there as casual, and Guillaume arrived with cases of books and papers and did his literacy work as before. He had last seen the Internationalists at their private meeting at Chaux-de-Fonds where also a large Jurassian congress was held; also a small and private French congress. Then he assisted at the Verviers-congress in Belgium, with Vonas and Morago from Spain, Costa, Brousse, Kropotkin, Emil Werner, the Belgians, and at the so-called “World’s Socialist Congress’ (Soz. WeltKongress), held at Gent: here Liebknecht and Guillaume confronted themselves and all the effort of Guillaume to bring about a state of mutual toleration between the authoritarians and the libertarians – he had acted in that spirit at the Bern international Congress of 1876 – were frustrated by Liebknecht.
Thus, he was active to the last, but his material situation was locally hopeless, whilst a more efficient collaboration in Buisson’s large Dictionnaire de Pédagogie (Paris, Hachette) was possible only if he were settled in Paris. The Bulletin was succumbing – end of march 1878 – as the great crisis in the Jura (American competition by machinery) was approaching. In May Guillaume went to Paris, having before resigned membership of the International, as this was a society prohibited in France.
The French liberal revival had begun by the elections early in 1876, but clerical governments still held power and James Guillaume imposed himself the strictest incognito and abstained from participation in propaganda. Just then, Costa, who took no precautions, was arrested and heavily sentenced, and Kropotkin in connection with this had had to leave Paris and France. Later, 1879, when Caferio and Malatesta, released from Italian prisons, came to see Guillaume, he was not exactly glad to receive the two romantic figures in his quiet home and so, by and by, he hinted to all visitors that they had better not come again and years of voluntary solitude followed. He assisted in the crowd at great historical gatherings, like the immense procession which in January 1881 followed Blanqui to the cemetery – just as about 25 years later he followed the Louise Michel funeral procession (I was walking on his side) and in 1913, I believe, in Zürich, he took his place in the procession escorting his dead adversary August Bebel. He took a faraway silent interest in Paul brousse and wrote good works about him after his death.
It would be a great mistake to consider the twenty five years following, 1878 to 1903, as an epoch of waste, stagnation, intellectual idleness in Guillaume’s life. He was working hard to get his living, as before, and he reached high efficiency and did excellent work in two important branches. He did things thoroughly and the old Internationalist was gone up to 1901-2 at the earliest, gone entirely, though later he tried to persuade himself that this had not been so. Elisée Reclus who had opportunities to know, knew better.
His one sphere was paedagogical work in every respect, and this was an all-important subject in France in those years when the liberals and radicals had not vanquished the clericals and monarchists politically, by elections, etc., but the hands of the clergy were still deep in many things, especially in education – the Volksschule – and, evidently, the higher departments supervising public instruction, [illisible] with clericalism, protecting the reactionary teachers, etc. Here the bourgeois-liberal governments themselves did good work in their own interest, even a minister like Jules Ferry who nominated Buisson, Guillaume’s old friend, director of primary education. Buisson was seconded by other liberals, but by none better than James Guillaume, who, then, for years did excellent work behind the curtains, inspiring the reforms in primary education and advising how to checkmate the clerical resistance, how to eliminate the accomplices and tools of the clericals and if gradually the French elementary teachers became for the greater part a radical, freethinking, often socialist, not unfrequently syndicalist and independent-communist body, the foundations of this were laid by Buisson and Guillaume. The latter had to remain strictly in obscurity; as a foreigner, of course he had never an official position, and if the clericals had known that the most notorious of the Bakunist-Internationalists stood behind their enemy Buisson, of course they would have made and outcry and Buisson and Guillaume would have been hunted down. They did that in 1894 to Paul Robin, the educator and neo-malthusian propagandist, who was then for many years the director of the educational establishment of Cempuis. His past was found out, denounced and he was driven from office. He was a notable Internationalist too; militant in Belgium, in Geneva, in Bakunin’s time and in Paris and in his London exile was always in the intimate cercle of Guillaume and of Kropotkin. He was a zealous propagandist and when by Guillaume, who recommended him to Buisson, he was employed in the department of public instruction, his somewhat reckless propaganda became Guillaume’s and Buissons nightmare and so they shifted him to the Cempuis Orphanage, a non-governmental institution, where Buisson’s influence was powerful. So Robin was left to himself there and when the flow fell against him at last, it did not hit also Buisson, nor Guillaume. These activities of Guillaume were wellknown to Elisée Reclus, a near relative of whom was connected with the educational reforms, and by Reclus, Kropotkin knew it. Otherwise, Guillaume had become strictly invisible for his old comrades and they had quite queer notions as to, what had become of him, and, where he did come from, when from 1903 onward, 25 years after 1878, he turned up again as if he had left but yesterday.
He did the main work of Buisson’s Dictionary of Paedagogics after Buisson stepped into the official situation mentioned (1879) and he was then also for very many years sub-editor (doing practically all the work) of the Revue pédagogique (Paedagogical Review). One may be certain that this review under his care does not contain a page, not a line probably, which is not progressive, liberal, freethinking and socially well meant. Paedagogics interested him also historically and he published Pestalozzi’s life in one volume (1890).
Here is second sphere soon came in. He was aware, as we all are, that the intellectual and ethical awakening of the second half of the 18thcentury, producing also a regeneration of educational aims and methods which the names of Rousseau and Pestalozzi sufficiently characterize, had inspired also great efforts at organizing popular education during the French Revolution. But Guillaume was startled when he looked closer into his large subject upon examining the documents in the French National Archives. Here he had before him the quiet work of Committees of Public Instruction of the great Assemblies, the work of many excellent men who wished to lay solid new foundations and also the indirect co-operation of many others who wished to help by advise and new proposals or who were consulted. This part of revolutionary history had been little touched upon by the political and social historians and James Guillaume formed the plan to publish these records, the minutes of the Committees and the plans and proposals, all with notes and explanations on thousands of special issues and on the persons and publications of this lost world of paedagogic idealists. At last, in 1887, a Commission was nominated to publish such documents and Guillaume then produced one volume of the period of the Legislative Assembly and six on that of the National Convention – volumes meaning here thick, gigantic volumes in-folio. He began the volumes on the Convention in 1891 and finished the table of the whole work not before 1913 or 14.
Meanwhile, this great past led him to make many special investigations resumed in essays printed in the review La Révolution française and these were later collected as Études révolutionnaires (Revolutionary Studies), published by the publisher Stock in two volumes nearly a thousand pages (1908-9), in the same series Bibliothèque historique, which contains Kropotkin’s work on the French Revolution (1909). Kropotkin’s book (750 pages) was, by the way, examined in manuscript by Guillaume, a tremendous task, as Guillaume verified and corrected no end of details, whilst, a the same time, he abstained evidently from interfering with any particular hypothesis or interpretation or conclusions by Kropotkin, although he differed very often with his conceptions. But there were points where Guillaume thought right to question statements which were the result of Kropotkin’s personal interpretation and such collisions caused large correspondence. I have found a very few of such endless letters on both sides on the interpretation of a certain law on communal lauds. Both, Kropotkin and Guillaume, tore their hair for this waste of time, but none the less they fought out this controversy to the bitter end in the long letters and both remained unconvinced. Kropotkin interpreted by the old common law or law of equity and by what Russian peasants and other peasants with collective leanings and instincts would do – and Guillaume maintained that to the lawyers of the assemblies and to the individualist peasants such social feelings were unknown and the strict Roman laws of property were their second nature. I have heard both Kropotkin and Guillaume say with a sight: what an excellent fellow is James, only he cannot understand the French Revolution! and Guillaume said: what an excellent fellow is Peter, only he has no grasps on the French Revolution! In any case, the readers of Kropotkin’s historical volume owe much to Guillaume who, lynx-eyed and expert, gave to Kropotkin’s work an exactitude which the author alone, working far from libraries and not a specialist, could or would not have been able to produce himself alone.
Guillaume also wrote a little historical account on how the declaration of the Rights of Man originated (1900; 108 pages) and he wrote fine articles on memorable events of the Revolution in La Bataille syndicaliste, the daily paper. His plan to gather all this in a third volume of Studies was not yet executed when the war broke out. His personal favourite of the revolutionary period was Romme, a man to the fore in the educational work and one of the rebels who made the last stand for and advanced republic – he was guillotined. These Derniers Montagnards, the last Montagnards, of Prairial, had a real fascination for Guillaume and if other events had not intervened, he might have composed their history as a memorable book.
He had other work to do to make a living, namely work on a great geographical Dictionary of France, and he was also for some twenty years the literary editor of the publications of the French Alpine Club. His diversion were summer visits in the old house of his father, Rosevilla, in Neuchâtel, where his old sisters kept a boarding home. But his quiet life was disturbed by the long lingering illness, since 1895, of one of his daughters, her death which himself caused a terrible depression – this made him burn most of his papers in 1898 when he expected to die – and then his wife fell ill and become blind and died in 1901 : all that made a wreck of him for a long time and he was trying to recover once more in Rosevilla near Neuchâtel.
There he happened to see a boarding lady read the German translation of Kropotkin’s Memoirs, 1900. That moment gave us the renewed Guillaume who from then or soon later worked in his old way (1865-1878) up 1915 when he broke down physically. He had no idea that such a book existed, he was not even curious to see it and read it only when he returned to Paris and had borrowed there the English original edition from Peter Lavrov’s library. He did not read it from sentiment, as he always looked upon Kropotkin as a man with whom he different fundamentally in most matters and particularly about anarchism. He felt compelled to see how Kropotkin had written on all this with real admiration and enthusiasm, but inevitably with some inexactitude here and some vagueness there. So Guillaume sat down and produced a heavy list of rectifications – I have seen his first draft – (Autour d’une vie, Paris, 1902). Kropotkin was tremendously delighted when he saw Guillaume’s handwriting again after 24 years of silence; it was impossible not to recognize it, as I have seen myself, remembering letters of 1867 or 68 and of 1916). He wrote a happy letter and for years was eager to make Guillaume visit him in Bromley, as he himself was then expelled from France, but Guillaume never came there, nor later to the island of Jersey in the Channel. He had seldom had occasion to travel, though he was at the Hague and in Brussels in 1872, and in the eighties at a Paedagogical Congress in Stockholm, when he also visited Berlin (he was adviser and interpreter to the official French delegate). Kropotkin’s letters to Guillaume are preserved for several years, taken from him by Marie Goldsmith who just found him having burned all the others when, broken down, he last left Paris in 1915. Kropotkin does what he can to cheer him up and Guillaume, indeed, choose to let himself be roused. He wrote himself (1906): since that time (after the death of his wife “je me survis” (ich überlebe mich selbst), and I endeavor to employ for general utility the days which are a burden to me: a feverish activity permits alone that I escape from the “Leeremeiner Existenz,” no doubt, there is some real truth in this melancholic observation; it would lead too far if I were to state my own interpretation of his case in full.
In Kropotkin’s first letter (December 12, 1901) he tells of his most dangerous illness, the breakdown in November after his second American journey. He also says: …”I have often thought of this: the immense work (I am sure of it) which you [Du] did for the reform of elementary education in France. I had several striking occasions to judge of the deepness (Tiefe) of that reform. But looks here – of all this work, nobody knows that you (Du) have put a hand to it and to which degree. I have often thought what can be done to make your part in this right visible. Can you write this yourself? Everybody will know that you wrote not from boasting, but give a simple statement of facts. If this is placed into the hands of our “historiographer” Nettlau (the author you know, of the immense meticulous biography of 2000 pages [recte 1281] of Bakunin), this work will not be lost.”… It was exceedingly well meant of Kropotkin to write this; Guillaume, of course, never wrote such a statement, but his role in educational work is described by Buisson and Kropotkin in retrospective articles of the Vie ouvrière (Paris) on his 70th birthday, February 1914.
In any case either frequent amiable invitations from Kropotkin in his letters, or the desire to re-state the position of the International in neat distinction as well from the claims of Marxism, as from the ideology of communist anarchism (Reclus and Kropotkin) induced Guillaume to plan a historical work and soon, when he had discovered French Syndicalism, his purpose became to inform the syndicalist of the real work and spirit of the International as, unknown to most of them, they were in Guillaume’s opinion, its direct continuators. He first intended simply to reprint his principal articles in the old papers (1868-1878), adding explanatory notes. But soon he outstepped several initial stages and in 1903 wrote the draft of the final text, the first volume published in November 1905. He had been revisiting the Jura in the summer of 1903, being eager now to see again the few old workers who were his nearest comrades up to 1878 and with whom until then, in all the years intervening, he had not wished have any contact at all. When one of them used to cross his way in Neuchâtel or Geneva and was saluting him joyfully, Guillaume used to stare at him with freezing coldness, saying about: yes, I [Illisible] to remember you, how are you – good morning. But 1903 he treasured them again and tried to galvanize them, to make friends with their sons, to start them going again on the old lines, as if 25 years had not been interrupting all the old ties. He did not wish to see this. He explained collectivism once more in Pages of socialist history in the socialist Sentinelle of Chaux-de-Fonds, reprinted as The Collectivism of the International, a very concise pamphlet (Neuchâtel, 1904, 52 p., in-16°). He had before that published precise statements on collectivism in Paris (1902). These were received with interest in intellectual milieu, as he was so well known now as a competent student of the French Revolution and as a specialist on paedagogics, whilst all ignored or knew but as a dim legend his connection with the International and with Bakunin.
His loneliness, after the family [Illisible] made it interesting for him to pass many evenings in the local Popular University, the U.P. of the 14th ward. These were simply social gatherings of local socialists, syndicalists, anarchists with lectures and discussions, music and glimpses at literature and art – homely evenings where there was a momentary truce between conflicting ideas – or, to express this better, the combative, intolerant elements did not go there and were discouraged and all prefered to enjoy friendliness after the day’s work in the cold outside milieu. These good people were not a little surprised when on almost every subject, be it socialism, history, literature, philosophy, music, teaching, languages, current politics, an unconspicuous old man would give a clear, well informed statement, unravelling confusion, patiently dealing with their own insufficient efforts and proposing practical solutions. They had very vague notions about Marx; Guillaume had stood up right become the grim face of Marx in 1872 and had fought him. To them Bakunin was a myth; Guillaume could give them the living description. So he helped them along and they liked it and to himself, this was useful contact with the socialist currents of these years.
He knew Marie Goldsmith in connection with Peter Lavrov’s library, where he found old books and pamphlets necessary for his work. She induced him to talk of the International to a small Russian gathering. By and by, since 1904, he discussed this subject with the syndicalists of the C.G.T. (General Confederation of Labour), Pouget, Griffuelhes, Yvetot, Delesalle and others. Pouget was informed to a certain degree, but the others ignored the past and, to speak the plain truth, they did not much care about it as well before, as after Guillaume had explained things to them. One remembers the similar position of old Buonarroti, the comrade of Babeuf in the 17-nineties, who lived in Paris from 1830 to his death in the latter thirties and who unfolded the Communism of Babeuf and himself to the new communists of the thirties: these also listened to him or did not listen and preferred to do things in their own way. So these last effort of Buonarroti and of Guillaume was doomed to disappointment and to failure. But it gave to these valiant old men a consolation in their solitude and, of course, they did some real good work: only those of the new generation were not capable to really profit by it. At least very, very few did so.
Guillaume identified the ideas and aims of the collectivist International with those of Revolutionary Syndicalism – and he considered Communist Anarchism, the work of Reclus, Kropotkin, Malatesta etc., as an aberration, a period of time lost (1878-94) – and since 1895, more since 1900 and 1904 the C.G.T. had resumed in his opinion the old work of the International. Exactly so, Buonarroti would have considered Babeuf’s and his Communist effort at the close of the French Revolution as the crowning height of Revolutionary conception, and he would consider Saint Simon, Fourier, Godwin, Owen and all the other socialists as aberrations – and he would recognize again in the authoritarian communists of the thirties the real continuators of Babeuf’s effort. It is more logical, however, to think, that, in the thirties, only a conception which combined the best both of Babeuf and of all the other socialists was up-to-date; and so in Guillaume’s last ten years (1904-1914) only a conception combining the best of the collectivist International and of the largest conceptions of Anarchism was up-to-date. Something very much larger than the socalled “anarchosyndicalism”, something of what men like Malatesta, Mella, Landaner, a woman like Voltairine de Cleyre began to conceive, but to which none of even these has given a final expression for the simple reason that such conceptions are wirklich lebende Evolution, moving quickly and manifoldly as life itself…
That much can be said to-day, 20, 30, 40 years later than the principal period of that revolutionary syndicalism, which florished somewhat between 1905 and 1906, which notably declined from 1907 to 1914 and which has virtually changed and cannot be even galvanized again to a notable degree ever since 1914. It underwent the same inevitable change which a diluted, reduced, minimalized effort always undergoes: when millions of social-democrats were considered to replace the thousands of earnest socialists, when millions of nominally organized workers are considered to replace some tens of thousands of earnest syndicalists, this is to play with illusions, to build upon mere sand and such loose and minimized constructions are overthrown by storms or become inefficient in front of large obstacles. We are often told that the anarchist period in France, let us say the years 1880 to 1894 were a period of illusions: but if that were the case, the 1895 to 1906 and 1914 period of syndicalist illusions was infinitely more deceptive. With the workers by millions abandoning socialism for politics (social democracy) it was inevitable and logical on their part to abandon revolutionary syndicalism for reformist labourism (ouvrièrisme) and so they did, and the syndicalist leaders could not stay that current, but continued to proclaim the syndicalist ideology. They all knew that they were painting red the white cheeks of a corpse. Only old James Guillaume did not wish to see things in their real light and in midst of reformism choose to believe to march ahead with an invincible revolutionary current impelling them all. It was pathetic to see the wish and the will of the old man not to see things as they were. To him, the syndicalists were the men of 1792 who when roused, as the events of 1914 – the war – might have done, would once more conquer Europe for freedom as the Sansculottes of 1792 had meant to do – and when nothing of the kind happened, when the truth confronted him that summer, within six months he had become a wreck and his life was nearly over, as we shall learn soon.
Meanwhile, from 1903-4 onward, he was “an International” (eine Internationale) by himself, entering into contact with the most suitable elements which he could find, trying to make them work together and like a spider, whose webs are almost constantly destroyed in part, he was undismayed by failure, always patched up the webs, but it told upon his nerves, he became bitter and in 1914 the open struggle by him against anarchism, as expressed by men like Bertoni and Malatesta was only averted by great efforts of Kropotkin, as we know by letters which are published, whilst the printed texts exist in the papers and reviews of those years. I refer to the Bataille syndicaliste, the Vie ouvrière, the Réveil-Risveglio, Volontà (of Ancona), Les Temps Nouveaux, etc.
Two factors stood in the way of any real success of his ceaseless activity. One was his absolute separation from the movements during the 25 years. This meant that even those whom he knew intimately up til 1878, had changed, sometimes greatly developed, sometimes the contrary. He attributed to his old friends qualities which they had lost long since and – it was touching to see this – he imagined to see such qualities even in their grown up children who – were quite unable to come up to his expectations. Of course, he understood this himself very soon, but he seemed to hope against hope, to try to produce miracles by encouragment and a firm will. It was painful to see how he was true to his friends in all concerning their old prejudices, local gossip and enmities; he was ready to continue the old feuds on their behalf and I have seen how the most direct testimony and a bundle of documentary evidence, the word of Kropotkin and others, were unable to shake his preventions on the character of persons about whom he had formed an opinion before his 25 years of Rip von Winkle-dream sleep. In short, he could not rejuvenate the old Jurassians, nor win influence over their children who had grown in their own way – and, the more so, he had no hold on all the men of the 1904-1914 movements who had formed their social opinions in the decades before and who listened to him some by curiosity, others by polite respect; others soon became bored and had no interest for history. Others, again, made use of him, as a translator, an ever-willing provider of precise and well-written articles and a man who could explain out of the way things; he was not unaware of being made use of in such ways, but as he thought that such correct information would reach others also, he gave what help he could and really slaved at translations etc., which then, in some cases, a supercilious editor would cut up or publish in neglected form. Again I say, Guillaume was not the fool not to see through such men, but he was satisfied that, some good would come out of his efforts, for others.
If Kropotkin preserved his letters, they will be worth reading someday; from those of Kropotkin’s letters to him which had survived, one sees their entire separation : for the one, anarchism (implying Communism), for the other the Syndicalist Society were the next ideal aims and coming realities. Kropotkin never wished to work for a Syndicalist Totalism, and Guillaume saw but this and considered Anarchism as the dream of the workers of Lyons (notorious dreamers), of Kropotkin (with all the vagueness of wide Russia-Siberia in him), of Malatesta (a romantic Italian insurrectionist), of Elisée Reclus (of old Christian mysticism) etc. So Guillaume had, in France, only the syndicalist leaders as comrades in the domain of ideas and these – some of whom like Pouget and Griffuelhes before all he really admired – these men had their hard daily struggle before them and not a moment’s rest and not time to listen to his advice, nor any wish to take him into their counsels in a really solidary way.
For these anti-parliamentarians and antipoliticians had themselves as much or more of “politics” in hand, as ministers or political leaders. They had to control their committees and the members of these, the delegates of the Syndicates, had to secure the support of the majority of members; all were confronted by a strong reformist opposition, by governmental manoeuvres, and they required all the science or the tricks of regular “bosses” to do this. Besides, in the years after 1908, the syndicalist leaders themselves ceased to believe in the direct action-methods and became reformists at heart – Léon Jouhaux, once an anarchist, from 1909 to the present the secretary of the C.G.T. is typical for these transformations, – whilst before the main body of members, at the Congresses, in the papers, they still affirmed until the war of 1914 to be revolutionist. Now a man like Guillaume, could not [illisible], nor hinder all this and it was best for all sides that he should keep out of it. He had the good fortune to feel interested in La vie ouvrière, a syndicalist review regularly published from October 5, 1909, to July 1914, twice a month, edited by Pierre Monatte and a little group, cultivating the internationalisation of syndicalism, the observation of economic developments, the particular forms of the labour struggle in the various trades and localities (descriptive syndicalism). Here Monatte and this friends subtly showed the wags toward detailwork, toward essential forms of greater practical efficiency, toward some coming grasp for power – very interesting studies, but which led them a few years later toward bolshevism, and later, toward all the developments which La Révolution Prolétarienne, their present review still represents. Guillaume wrote, translated, arranged for others to write about Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Germany mainly and he wrote sometimes on Bakunin and other early subjects. His help was invaluable to that review. When the great daily, La Bataille syndicaliste, was founded as the organ of the C.G.T. (April, 27, 1911), he wrote occasionally very pointed articles, sometimes gave foreign news from his letters, but he was not encouraged to become more connected with the paper, as he was to painstaking and they were not interested in exact literacy work, whilst he was never the man of cheap ignorant journalism pretending omniscience. He was in touch mainly with some comrades in the Jura, in Lausanne, Berne and Zürich, with Lorenzo in Barcelona, with Alceste de Ambris in Lugano or in Italy; but, as I hinted at before, this influence was not lasting, as all this correspondents had more or less made up their minds and had their own irons in the fire. He dreamed of coordinating them, as his friends had been internationally in Bakunin’s time. But all this was ephemeral or barely begun, and he had great disappointments.
These arose also, inevitably, out of the second factor which I now shall mention. As those who know the history of the International are aware of, at some time, in 1869, it was suggested that that organization was already the framework or the embryon of the coming free society and others, in 1870, accepted this as an organisatory dogm and, logically – if any totalitarian reasoning could be logical at all – it was concluded and resoluted upon, that in each locality, district, region, only one such organisatory unit can and must exist. If by differences of opinion, etc. two units were forming, one was considered and decreed to be wrong and was expelled or expelled the other unit. Endless and useless quarrels ensued in several places, but the dogm of the one unit in one place was maintained. Consequently also the French syndicalists recognized one territorial C.G.T. which, on its side, internationally, would enter into friendly relations, “be on speaking terms” only with one similar territorial association for each country. Now in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, etc. such territorial organisations were all controlled by social democrats and were utterly reformist. None the less, the only international contact which the C.G.T. cared to have, was that meeting every two years of the general secretaries of these great bodies – meetings where the French were faced by a compact body of socialdemocratic adversaries, Legien etc. and which consisted only of mutual bickering and useless travelling expenses. When the real syndicalist movements were founded in several countries, they looked to the C.G.T. to encourage and help them. But the C.G.T., linked up with the socialdemocratic Gewerkschaften of other countries, did nothing to help these struggling new movements and for instance ignored their international Congress held in London in september 1913 – where the foundations were laid to what after the long war was founded as the present I.W.U.A (I.A.A.; A.I.J). Guillaume could not alter this state of things, which made it so difficult for the new syndicalists of other countries to sympathize with the French C.G.T. when they saw it linked up with their most bitter local enemies, the social democratic unions. At the same time, Guillaume was opposed to anarchist spirit in the syndicates and both in Switzerland and in Italy he was with those who were the adversaries of the most recognized anarchist promotors of syndicalism – of Bertoni, Borghi, etc. All this made his task always more hopeless.
This embittered him and made him on one hand take sides with men who introduced national partiality in socialist discussion – I refer to the notorious French professor Andler (1912-13). On the other hand, he was at the bottom of the new dogm of syndicalist “automatism” (1913-14) which mis-used certain writings of Bakunin (mainly of 1869, 1870). By this dogm, by merely becoming an organised worker, a worker is expected to become automatically a revolutionary syndicalist, a social revolutionist. Bakunin, urging workers to enter into the International, had described in elementary writings, for publication, how a milieu of solidarity promotes social feelings and lead to social action, may lead to final revolutionary activities. But, as Guillaume of all men knew best, Bakunin considered as essential efficient secret activities of militants of real mark, of the Alliance and thus only revolutionary action, in his opinion, could be initiated, spread, coordinated, rousing the less developed members and reaching masses of men. Guillaume was free to proclaim “automatism”, but he had no right to say that Bakunin had advocated it ; nor had he ever himself practiced it in the Jura, where he and his nearest friends always had been the initiators of everything, the men who on certain days met in a little known locality and arranged everything among themselves. Malatesta in Volontà pointed out the real facts and said that Guillaume better than anybody knew, that Bakunin and his near comrades practiced the Alliance-method. So did Kropotkin who, when he was really militant, was the secretary of the intimate cercle and who believed in this method, whilst, of course, he would not discourage spontaneity in public utterances. The revolutionary activities of the workers are so slow in unfolding, that beginnings must be made by the very best developed – and if these beginnings can be reasoned out intelligently and co-ordinated as much as possible, so much the better: – this is what Bakunin, Guillaume in his early days (and in practice to the last), Malatesta, Kropotkin meant and tried to do. Automatism in this domain would mean revolutionary parthenogenesis or self-combustion (as in wet haystacks): that may happen, but when other initiatory methods exist, why reny, reject, belittle, ignore them? That controversy of the first months of 1914, when Guillaume was especially hard on Bertoni, who was combating that other weak side of syndicalist organisations, the inevitable reformism and conservativism of paid functionaries, was brought to an end by private letters of Kropotkin conjuring Guillaume and Bertoni to give up public polemics. As to the question at issue, Kropotkin considered Guillaume to be in the wrong.
In those very last years, Guillaume was in some difficulties about new work, as his documentary publications on the French Revolution were finished, about new subjects of books and about a publisher, as in 1913, the publisher Stock was forced to give up his business. He planned a reprint of the Mémoire of 1873, with notes, a reprint of the three trials of the French International during the Empire, a third volume of collected articles on the Revolution, a seventh and eighth volume of Bakunin’s works, – but only the long preface of the three trials (based on materials which he extracted from the volumes of Marx’ and Engels’ Correspondence which he read in 1914) was published in a form as rewritten in the autumn of 1914 under the influence of the war spirit, in the first half of 1915 as a little book, Karl Marx Pangermanist (Paris, Armand Colin) and anti-german extracts from a manuscript of Bakunin (1872) in the Bataille Syndicaliste, autumn of 1914.
He had been very happy to see again in 1904 his old Russian friend Ross (M. P. S. Sazin), arrested in 1876 and saw him several times since then. In 1905 he met Kropotkin in a seaside place in Britanny (Bretagne) and since then, quite a number of times in Paris. In June 1914, Malatesta, after the insurrection in the Romagna, passed Paris going to London and they met once more after 34 or 35 years. In February 1914, his comrades of the Vie ouvrière, quite as a surprise to him, invited him to what turned to be a little banquet for his seventieth birthday and presented him with a special issue of their review, recording his long activities. He knew best Auguste Spichiger (in the Jura), Marie Goldsmith, doctor Brupbacher (Zürich), the author Lucien Descaves, Ferdinand Buisson, also the widow and a daughter of Proudhon, a list which it is useless to lengthen. It was a satisfaction to him that someday Jean Jaurès applied to him to be informed on Bakunin, and the outcome was that Jaurès pledged himself to lay before the International Socialist Congress, which was to be held in Vienna in August 1914, the proposition: to declare annullated the vote of the Hague Congress (1872) which expelled Bakunin and Guillaume from the International. James Guillaume did good work to clear up the machination of Marx against Bakunin to the bottom; he had in this the loyal and willing support of Eduard Bernstein (Germany) and he pinned Hermann Sopatin to the wall, making him unwillingly and unsincerily admit his sinister rôle in this affair in 1870. But Guillaume remained unrelenting in vindicating his own regrettable attitude against Bakunin in 1874, as explained here above.
He was so absorbed by the inner life of the C.G.T. and his own writings and polemics, that the war took him by surprise, like many others; but then, from the first moment, it was to him the year 1792 come again, the regiments which he saw marching being to him like the old sansculottes, now the founders of Socialism and Syndicalism on the ruins of Marxism. He immediately wrote in this spirit in the Bataille syndicaliste almost every day for a few weeks. Then his eyes opened to the fact that it was all militarism and that the workers introduced nothing of their own, nothing socialist nor revolutionary, into what was being done and that they were quite powerless or inactive, the C.G.T. and all. This was a terrible blow to him – he had believed that a working class power and will did exist in France and he now saw that this was not so. This did not in the least diminish his solidarity with the French cause in the war, but it broke his hopes and his spirit, if not his body. He went to Neuchâtel once more, in september, when many left Paris, and passed an uncomfortable time in Switzerland, returning to Paris in november. He still wrote in the Bataille until about January 1915, but a serious illness, badly defined, had struck him and after a short recovery his state seems to have required in february or march 1915 that he should leave Paris for the last time, and he was then in a deplorable state of physical deperdition and mental despair. For some time he lived in Neuchâtel; later and up to his death he lived elsewhere. His brain was breaking down and he knew it. His memory was destroyed in part and he made a pathetic and touching struggle to regain, what was gone for ever, by mental exercise. Thus he would note masses of early dates of his life, early poetry and all that, whilst so many more recent facts were obliterated. It was now a well defined medical case, the breakdown of a brain which certainly this man had intensively used from earliest childhood to the age of seventy. So he expired in the late autumn of 1916 in his native canton of Neuchâtel.
I do not regret to have spoken to this length of the life of this remarkable man, an intellectual worker of as intense painstaking working effort, as the most hardworked manual worker might claim for himself. With his qualities and the tenth part of his effort he might have acquired power and wealth in any other cause than the most advanced causes, those which he helped with absolute abnegation. Intellectual efficiency and personal self-effacement, patient co-ordination of forces for collective action, Freue zu Freunden, free thought, study, a firm will were some of his qualities. Of his deficiencies I have said more than enough for the sake of historic truth, as far as I can see it. His long story ought to stimulate us to work and to study, without which we are less than nothing.
December, 9, 1935.
[Retransription et note par Jean-Charles BUTTIER, janvier 2016]