Anarchists in their Own Words: Paul Z Simons

in Arcane Bookslast year

This series of posts will insure that these authors' works live on in living memory.
If only a few.
Don't lose hope.
Rule by force has had it's day.
We just have to survive its death throes.

There is a reason these authors are not in the modern curriculum.

Illegalism: Why Pay for a Revolution on the Installment Plan…When You Can Steal One?

Paul Z. Simons source

In truth, it isn't indispensable to feel oneself an anarchist to be seduced by the coming demolitions.
All those who society flagellates in the very intimacy of their being instinctively wants vengeance.
A thousand institutions of the old world are marked with a fatal sign.
Those affiliated with the plot have no need to hope for a distant better future; they know a sure means to seize joy immediately:

Destroy passionately!

-Zo d'Axa

Well as through this world I've traveled,
I've seen lots of funny men,
Some will rob you with a six gun
and some with a fountain pen
But as through this world you ramble,
as through this world you roam,
you will never seen an outlaw
drive a family from their home.
-Woody Guthrie
Pretty Boy Floyd


Illegalism: The open embrace of criminality as an expression of anarchism, particularly individualist anarchism.

The advent of the illegalist tendency in the last three decades of the nineteenth century and first two decades of the twentieth century, primarily in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy, proved to be yet another contentious, seemingly indefensible dark stain on the soul of Anarchy for many of its working class adherents.
Like the terrorists, the assassins, and the bandits - the illegalists presented to the world the tableau of the vessel of social morality tipped, emptied and smashed.
For the illegalists crime was an accepted economic activity, and simultaneously the very heart and soul of social insurrection, the negation and the negation of the negation.

Passage into the illegalist milieu portended a commitment that encompassed the condemnation of all law, all morality, a rejection of both virtue and vice.
It established a terrain of activity that by definition was beyond the purview of all social institutions and accepted relationships - the landscape of the illegalist was a place where the insurrection had already been fought and won.

The illegalists were probably the most individual of anarchists while simultaneously maintaining the strongest bonds of association and communication — bonds required by the social activity of crime as insurrection.
The illegalist milieu also illuminates a singular aspect of utopia, specifically that when the anarchist society is realized it will not be as a result of some esoteric will-to-liberty, or a Freudian erotic demiurge, nor as the result and sum of a labored economic equation, rather utopia will arise as a function of necessity, as banal as breakfast and as certain as summer heat.

In the same manner that the illegalists turned to crime to survive and to speak, so society will turn to utopia to survive ... and to speak.
Of course, illegalist actions and theory are the stuff from which controversy is manufactured, not even ordinary criminals will condone crime publicly, and the Left, which has always asserted a monopoly on morality, was as outraged as the politicians and the press of the dominant society when anarchists started cracking safes and shooting bank tellers.

Anarchist history provides shining examples of theoretical hypocrisy; certainly the syndicalists, with their dreams of economic organization built atop massive industrial union structures were no grant fans of the illegalists.

The anarcho-communists who had watched as their tendency bled adherents into the various communist parties on one side and the syndicalists on the other were in no position to respond at any level, though Jean Grave, among others would develop a ranting liberal critique of the whole scene.


A very similar controversy reared its head two decades ago when Murray Bookchin and his "social anarchist" minions started throwing much at "lifestyle anarchists" for being uninterested in organizing for the masses for either the social revolution, or even a late July Social Ecology picnic.
Though Bookchin obviously felt this was a new controversy within anarchism, his ravings (and ours) had all the trappings of the syndicalist versus illegalist tribal warfare conducted circa 1910.

Finally, the occupations of 2011 and the arguments brought for and against violence in the General Assemblies, as reported in the non-MSM press, also seemed yet another rehash of the illegalist controversy that played out a full century ago in France.

Yet, illegalism strikes deeper into anarchy than an economic or political construct - including class struggle, surplus value, or post-modern analysis done in crayon.

Certainly, the illegalist tap roots penetrate further than most anarchists would like to admit, and they are not only buried in the conceptual tangle that supports the anarchist challenge, they are also present and resonate throughout every historical manifestation of anarchy or anarchism.

Thus one day in a post-insurrectionary era a toddler holding fast to a chair for balance may query a parent - "are you an anarchist, too, Mama?"

For the simple reason that the child already knows that mom is an illegalist - it goes without saying.

Clément Duval from War to Crime to Devil's Island to New York


The very first illegalist, and the man who would provide the initial intellectul argument for anarchists as criminals, was Clément Duval.
He had served as a line soldier during the Franco-Prussian War and while unclear whether he participated in the Commune, he was wounded horribly by a Prussian mortar shell and subsequently contracted smallpox while recovering.
He spent the next 10 years of his life recovering, including four years in hospital.

Upon release he was basically unemployable, being skilless save soldiering and with multiple physical challenges, and so set about becoming a thief.
He also later jointed the legendary anarchist group the Panther of the Batignolles, one of the many contemporary Parisian affinity groups in that era who were notorious for their extreme ideas and also their street actions which seemed designed more to imperil police officers and violate laws than to protest any perceived slight to the anarchist community.

The Panther also doubled as a criminal conspiracy and their occasional forays into illegality would push Duval even further into the milieu.
Duval, however, was a pretty mediocre criminal, shortly after joining the Panther he was arrested for the theft of 80 francs and spent a year in prison.
Then on October 25th of 1886 Duval broke into a socialites house, stole 15,000 francs and set the house on fire - either accidentally or on purpose, his "confession" is unclear on this point.

He was apprehended two weeks later trying to fence some of the goods from the burglary.

The myth of the illegalists begins with his arrest, for as the cop Rossignol trying to apprehend Duval, Duval pulled a dagger from his coat and stabbed him repeatedly.

Though Rossignol would survive his wounds, the image of an apprehended criminal striking back at an officer of the law mid-arrest was an addition to the history of crime that only an illegalist could have made.
His trial drew loud support from all segments of the anarchist milieu and ended in chaos as he was dragged from court screaming,...

"Long Live ANARCHY!"

He had also sent to the anarchist paper La Révolte an article which included the lines,

'Theft only exists through the exploitation of man by man...when Society refuses you the right to exist, you must take it...the police-man arrested me in the name of the Law, I struck him in the name of Liberty.'

Duval was sentenced to the "dry guillotine" of Devil's Island from which, after 20 unsuccessful attempts, he finally got it right and escaped in April of 1901 and lived out the rest of his life in New York City.

His memoirs were published in 1929, and have just recently been republished,
Outrage: An Anarchist Memoir of the Penal Colony, translated by Michael Shreve, PM Press, 2012.

Duval never renounced nor backtracked from his life as an anarchist and criminal.

(No picture of the cop was available through brave search. ed)

The Workers of the Night


The second foray of anarchists into the criminal milieu is due to one man, Marius Jacob, who just didn't seem to be able to fit in.

Initially, a sailor's apprentice on a voyage to Sydney Australia, he jumped ship at some point in time and among other employments tried piracy but found it too cruel to his tastes.

Upon returning to France he took up typography and militant anarchist activity that ended with him being caught with a parcel of explosives after a string of minor larcenies.
Jacob knew when he was beat, and thereafter never sought legitimate employment, rather he gathered around him a group of anarchists similarly alienated from the world of work and formed what they termed the "Workers of the night."

He used the term "pacifistic illegalism" to describe this new twist on anarchist activities.
Jacob and his band evolved a simple though powerful set of guidelines, one does not kill except to protect one's life and freedom from the police, one steals only from social parasites like bankers, bosses, judges, soldiers, the clergy, and not from useful members of society like doctors, artists or architects.

Finally, a percentage of the proceeds were to be donated to anarchist causes, depending on the choice and tastes of the illegalist doing the stealing and the giving.
Jacob and his gang proved to be cunning and successful burglars.

One of the many tricks they introduced was forcing their way into an apartment from the apartment above.

To facilitate this a small hole was drilled through the floor of the top apartment and into the ceiling of the lower dwelling.
A closed umbrella was inserted through the hole and opened so that falling debris and noise would be lessened in the target apartment.

From 1900 to 1903 Jacob and his small crew of two to four burglars perpetuated at least 150 burglaries throughout France, including a smash and grab at the Tours Cathedral and pilfering an Admiral's mansion in Cherbourg.

Then in April of 1903 the whole venture went sour with the slaying of a police officer in Abbeville during an escape.
Jacob and his confederates were eventually captured and tried two years later in Amiens.
Anarchists flocked to the city to support him, and while his legal defense left much to be desired he avoided the guillotine and was sentenced to life at hard labor in Cayenne.

After 17 escape attempts he was finally pardoned and returned to France, though he was unhappy in Paris and moved to the Loire Valley where he continued on with his life.

He eventually remarried (his wife had died while he was in the bagne, the Gallic Gulag) and took up a life of commercial travel.
In spite of this his anarchist activities never abated.
He traveled to Barcelona in 1936 to volunteer for the CNT/FAI militas, but was convinced that the battle would be lost by the communists and republicans and so returned to France.

During the Nazi occupation he participated in Maquis sabotage squads (mostly expat Spainards, like Sabate, with a score to settle with any fascist - Spanish or German), primarily as a safe house operator and providing food and succor for the guerrillas.

Marius committed suicide by intentional morphine overdose on August 28th 1954.

His suicide was far from surrender, rather he wrote that it was a result of his calm acceptance of being unwilling to fight the rigors of old age.
(My father committed suicide with a pistol in March of 2008 for very much the same reason, and I honor his will and courage in his action.)

Marius in the final years of his life developed a mixed attitude towards illegalism, based in part on the old magnetic attraction of proletarian workerist anarchism:

'I don't think that illegalism can free the individual in present-day society.
If he manages to free himself of a few constraints using this means, the unequal nature of the struggle will create others that are even worse and, in the end, will lead to the loss of his freedom, the little freedom he had, and sometimes his life.'

Basically, illegalism, considered as an act of revolt, is more a matter of temperament than of doctrine.
This is why it cannot have an educational effect on the working masses as a whole.
By this I mean a worthwhile educational effect.

Strangely, this statement would have been accepted by Bonnot, Garnier and the other illegalists as being accurate - they were not very interested in propaganda by the deed, rather they were convinced that the deed itself, the robbery, the assassination, was the insurrection.

The point was not to educate the masses towards the social revolution, but to realize their insurrection here, now and for no one else but the individual, and possibly the union of egoists that she surrounds herself with - the herd, the collaborators - be damned.

Both Marius and Duval must be considered ultimately as proto-illegalists, each saw their respective criminal enterprises in a propaganda-of-the-deed conceptual framework, and as la reprise individuelle (basically individual expropriation).

The act was justified in a moral universe that turned as nearly as possible the dominant moral codes upside down, but nonetheless acknowledged and accepted society and its flaws as the strawman - the thing that conceptually must be destroyed and altered, manipulated in a negative fashion.

The illegalists, however, were less interested in social revolution than they were in living in a state of rebellion.

Given the chance they would have saved damn little of the dominant society, and certainly wouldn't have used it as a negative paradigm from which to design an anarchist community - which is the single greatest conceptual flaw of the workerist anarchism.

In this sense these proto-illegalists seem more aligned to the mass-base anarchist tendencies than to the individualist milieu from which Bonnot and others would arise.

This is best exhibited by Marius's ploughing his ill gotten gains into any one of a number of anarchist papers and projects, and the fact that such donation was an expected part of the gang's ethics.
Both men viewed their crimes as a means to an end, as a way to pay the rent and also as bringing the social revolution that much closer to fruition by supporting anarchist causes.

One is also reminded of Durruti, Ascaso and Oliver who, during their "pistolero" period, were clearly closer to either Marius, Duval or even Nobiling, than to say, a Kropotkin.

Yet in their case the assassination and robberies were, among other things, a way to support the CNT, and later the FAI, and hence were only mildly tinged with individualist anarchist ideas.

The success of La Revista Blanca, and the popularity of its editors, Federic Montseny and her father Joan (Federico Urales), would leave a deeply individualist mark on all of Spanish anarchism, including the syndicalist CNT.



Given the repression that was present in Spain during the period when such actions took place, criminal or not, their "outrages" were politically consistent and while not illegalist are worth recalling with fondness.

Finally it should be noted that Marxists and the syndicalists who drew dark, bold lines between crime and the working class did so in spite of the very real proclivity of both groups to pass back and forth freely from one social role to the other.

Victor Kibalchich, of whom more later noted of Paris in the early 1900s,

'One of the particular characteristics of working class Paris at that time was that it was in contact with the riff-raff, i.e. with the vast world of irregulars, decadents, wretched ones, with the equivocal world.'


There were few essential differences between the young worker or artisan of the old quarters of the center and the pimps in the alleys of the neighborhoods of the Halles.

The rather quick-witted driver and mechanic, as a rule, stole whatever they could from the bosses, through class spirt and because they were 'free' of prejudices.

Similarly, the majority of "loss" to theft in businesses today is due less to customers than to employees conscious enough to fill their backpacks with store inventory and office supplies after a hard day's wage slavery.

Toccata and Fugue in Dynamite, Dagger and Pistol

Concurrent with the fusion of anarchism and crime were the waves of assassinations and bombings throughout Europe perpetrated by anarchists.
The opening salvo of the assassination campaigns began in the anarchist watershed year of 1878.
Emil Max Hödel attempted to end the life of the Kaiser, Wilhelm I, on May 11, 1878 with a pistol.
When the first shot strayed he walked across the street to try again, but was apprehended in the process.


Less than a month later the anarchist Dr. Karl Nobling had another go at Wilhelm I, again with a pistol and being a better shot he wounded the aging monarch but did not kill him.
Nobling then shot himself in the head, succumbing to his wounds a few weeks later.


Hödel was tried and subsequently beheaded on August 16, 1878.

On November 17, 1878, the anarchist Giovanni Passannante attacked the king of Italy, Umberto I, while on the tour of the kingdom, accompanied by Queen Margherita and the Prime Minister, Benedetto Cairoli.


Wielding a dagger he tried to stab the monarch who warded off the lunge with a sabre blow.
The king lived, but Cairoli, a former Garibaldian officer and total sellout, was severely wounded and retired, briefly, from public life.

Passannante was tried and condemned to death, even though that punishment was explicitly reserved for successful regicides.
Umberto commuted his sentence to life imprisonment in a cell only 1.4 meters high, without sanitation and wearing thirty pounds of chains.
Passanante would later die in an insane asylum from his treatment during his years in hell.

The Russian anarchist populist People's Will (Norodnya Volya) finally got it right (after several wild attempts) on 13 March, 1881 by tossing a bomb into Czar Aleksandr II's coach.
The bomb fired but didn't harm the autocrat, however, as he stood in the street observing the carnage - and waiting for the transport back to the Winter Palace, another member of the People's Will, also armed with a bomb, threw it at Aleksandr's feet, which exploded - killing himself instantly.

The repression by the Russian state was savage and in response the People's Will set about plotting to kill the replacement czar, Nicholas.
Their plans were uncovered leading to the arrest and hanging of Aleksandr Ulianov, Lenin's older brother, which launched his younger sibling on the road to the Marxists/statist counterrevolution.


So in terms of the long term political scorecard an anarchist should probably chalk that assassination up to a draw - sure they got Aleksandr, but ultimately the world got the Bolsheviks.
Mixed bag.

The political violence revives, after a ten year lull, in 1891 in France when during a May Day celebration at Fourmies the police fired into a crowd of workers with a new device, the Lebel machine gun - by official count 14 dead, 40 wounded.

(Back the blue, until they do it to you. ed)
(Obviously the author isn't a gun guy, 'machine guns' didn't exist until later. ed)

On the same day a small anarchist demonstration of laborers in Clichy degenerated into a running gun battle after the police attempted to break up the meeting.
Three of the anarchist fighters from Clichy were rewarded by the French justice system with unusually harsh prison sentences for the time (three and five years).

Enter Ravachol, an impoverished, but highly motivated, anarchist who unleashed a singular and determined bombing campaign.


First he bombed the home of the presiding judge of the Clichy anarchists (March 1, 1892), then the Lobau police barracks, where Communard prisoners had been taken to be executed (March 15, 1892).

Ravachol was turned in after speaking a bit too openly about his exploits to a waiter while having dinner.
He was arrested and executed in July of 1892.

Of note is the fact that on the day before the start of his trial a bomb exploded in the restaurant where Ravachol had spilled the beans to the waiter; evidently an attempt at vengeance.


Next stop Spain - November 7, 1893, with the tossing of two Orsini bombs by the anarchist Santiago Salvador into the orchestra pit of the Liceu Theater in Barcelona meant to avenge the garroting of anarchists in Jerez.
The explosions killed twenty and injured an unknown number of others.


Not to be outdone by a Spanish comrade, and with Ravachol's guillotine to avenge - on December 9, 1893 August Vaillant walking into the Chamber of Deputies in Paris and tossed a bomb packed with nails at the assorted legislators (no fatalities, one injury).
He gave himself up and was guillotined on February 3, 1894.


Then on February 12, 1894 Emile Henry upped the ante and tossed a bomb into the Cafe Terminus at the Gare St. Lazare train station to avenge the death of Vaillant.
He was apprehended, tried and guillotined on the 21st of May in the same year.
Henry distinguishes himself by giving a brilliant account of his political movement towards anarchism and his justification for his bombing in court.


The peroration is still reprinted to this day link and is worth the time spent to read it.

Finally to top it all off Sante Geronimo Caserio, an Italian anarchist, to avenge the death of Henry Vaillant, Ravachol and anybody else he could think of, stabbed and killed the French President Sadi Carnot on 24 June 1894.
He was tried and guillotined in Lyons on 15 August of the same year.


The life of bombings and assassinations goes on almost without interruption until September 1932, when several galleanisti, using a large dynamite device, effectively leveled the home of Judge Webster Thayer, who presided over the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti - then resumes again in the sixties and continues on into the present...


continued tomorrow


Dang.. some pistol shooting.. now that's passion! :P

I liked what he wrote on his guitar.

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