Georges Brassens

1921-1981 • France

Anarchist • Singer

A leading anarchist poet and songwriter of the 1950s and 1960s, he encouraged anti-authoritarianism.

Brassens contributed regularly in 1946-1947 under pseudonyms to the weekly anarchist newspaper Le Libertaire. In the 1950s Brassens’ donations enabled the Libertarian communist federation that ran the paper to move into an office in Rue Saint-Denis.

Brassens was one of many famous singers who appeared at the venue the Concert Pacra in the boulevard Beaumarchais.

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Félix Fénéon

1861-1944 • Italy

Anarchist • Art Collector • Dreyfus campaigner

Born in Turin and raised in Burgundy, Félix Fénéon topped an examination to become a senior administrator at the Ministry of War in Paris at the age of 20. During the 1880s he became known as a leading literary and art critic in the Paris. In the 1890s he was accused of being an anarchist bomber and jailed for several months before being found not guilty.

To my great surprise while travelling to Paris on June 20 2019, Marian found an advertisement in the Eurostar magazine for a major art exhibition devoted to Fénéon. It began at the Musée du Quai Branly, where it was essentially devoted to his collection of African art. From October to January 2020 it continued at the Musée de l’Orangerie, where it focused on his anarchist artist friends. The combined exhibition was then scheduled to cross the pond to New York in 2020.

Fénéon wrote for a journal called La Libre Revue in 1883 and 1884 while he was still living with his parents in Rue Vaneau. Its correspondence address was 8 Place du Palais Bourbon. He then became a founding editor of La Revue Indépendante in 1884, whose offices were in the Rue de Médicis. He then became editor of La Vogue in 1885, contributing to Le Symboliste in 1886. All of these posts were part-time.

Fénéon coined the term ‘neo-impressionism’ and promoted pointillism. Very friendly with Georges Seurat, he promoted pointillism. 

Paul Signac painted Felix Feneon in the pointillist style in 1890

At the same, like many intellectuals in the ten years from 1885, Fénéon was attracted by anarchist libertarian and egalitarian ideals. He attended anarchist meetings, was a friend of Émile Henry, the 20-year-old bomber of the Café Terminus. He supported the ‘propaganda by deed’ movement and had a substantial police file. 

Bombing 

The senators’ favourite local Restaurant Foyot in the rue de Conde was bombed by an anarchist on April 4 1894

After the Rue de Condé explosion at the Restaurant Foyot, the police found nothing incriminating at his flat in Rue Lepic. But a flask of mercury and detonator tubes were found in his office at the War Ministry. He was arrested and jailed in the Prison Mazas

Laurent Tailhade, an anarchist friend of Feneon and sole victim of the 1894 Foyot bombing

With 29 others in August 1894 he was put on trial at the Palais de Justice for ‘criminal association’ with other anarchists in the ‘Trial of the Thirty‘. 

This was in the same month that the 20-year-old Italian anarchist baker, Caserio, who in June 1894 in Lyon had mortally stabbed the French President Sadi Carnot, was guillotined. The political climate was highly hostile to anarchism.

In the witness box, however, Fénéon mounted a brilliant defence. He totally ridiculed the prosecution. Fénéon and 26 others were found not guilty.

Fénéon lost his War Office post and steady income. His lawyer, Edgar Demange went on to represent the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus in his two trials in 1894 and 1899.

He was then asked by Thadée Natanson to became editor of La Revue Blanche, an influential artistic and literary journal, sympathetic to anarchist ideas that the wealthy banker’s son had founded in 1889. Its offices were in the Rue Laffitte.

Active in supporting Dreyfus, Natanson was in 1898 one of the founders of the Rights of Man League. His wife Misia, the daughter of the Polish sculptor, Cyprien Godebski, were at the heart of the Parisan cultural and artistic scene at the beginning of the 20th century.

Misia and Thadee Natanson painted by Pierre Bonnard in 1906

Artists like Pierre Bonnard and Toulouse-Lautrec designed the front covers of La Revue Blanche and illustrated articles by authors such as Proust and Gide. He also published poems by Stéphane Mallarmé

Toulouse-Lautrec was one of many leading artists who Feneon attracted to La Revue Blanche from 1895. Here he is using Misia Natanson as a model

Fénéon broadened the journal’s politics to include pieces by Lucien Herr, Léon Blum, Kropotkin and Tolstoy. In January 1898 Fénéon signed the Manifesto of Intellectuals published in support of Dreyfus the day after Zola’s ‘J’accuse’ letter that led to Dreyfus’ second trial. 

Feneon at La Revue Blanche painted around 1896 by Felix Vallotton

La Revue Blanche ceased publishing in 1903 and Feneon then worked as a jobbing art critic journalist.

World War 1 

From 1906 until 1925 Fénéon was artistic director of the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune art gallery, also initially located in the Rue Laffitte. He edited its journal from 1919 to 1926. 

During the World War 1, when some leading anarchists identified with their national governments, Fénéon began to distance himself from anarchism. After the Bolshevik revolution, along with his friend Paul Signac, he became closer to the Communist Party

From 1920 to 1922 he worked as a literary editor for Editions de la Sirène, publishing James Joyce, Jerome K Jerome and many others. In 1936, on the victory of the Popular Front, he hoisted a red flag in front of his house.

He died at Châtenay-Malabry aged 82 in 1944. 

In 1947, shortly before her own death, his widow, Fanny Goubaux, set up the annual Prix Fénéon (Feneon Prize), organised by the University of Paris. This was funded by the sale of much of his by then extensive art collection, bought from antique dealers and given by his friends.

In 1947 Fanny Fénéon established the Prix Fénéon from the proceeds of the three sales of Fénéon’s art collection.

Today, Feneon Prizes for literature and art still offer under 35-year-old poor French artists and writers funding to help them follow their chosen path. In 2018 Julia Kerninon won the literary prize, and Salomé Fauc the artistic prize.

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Jean Grave

1854 – 1939 • France

Anarchist • Kropotkin

Son of a Communard, Jean Grave became an anarchist of notoriety for saying he ‘preferred dynamite to the vote’.

With Kropotkin during World War 1 he argued that defeating Germany and its autocratic monarchy should be the main aim.

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Peter Kropotkin

1842 – 1921 Russia

Anarchist

An aristocrat by birth, he became an influential anarchist. In the 1890s he synthesised Bakunin and Proudhon. His influential journals, le Révolté and La Révolte were published in Paris from 1885.

Locations

  • 140 Rue Mouffetard. Editorial offices and printworks of Kropotkin’s le Révolté, whose presses were seized in on May 1 1890, and of la Révolte which succeeded it.

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Louise Michel

1830 – 1905 • France

AnarchistFeministParis Commune

A teacher, she became a republican, feminist and anarchist in the 1850s and 1860s. She was one of the first women to take an active part in the defence of the Paris Commune in 1871. On her return from her deportation in 1880 she campaigned until her death for women, strikers and anarchism.

So on what was a cold wet miserable day in Paris and the anniversary of a murder that some see as helping change history, I decided just to walk near my flat to follow in some of Louise Michel’s footsteps.

Pierre Bonaparte murdered the unarmed Victor Noir and is acquitted. Louise Michel is among the 100,000 who join the funeral protest

On January 12 1870, in a temper tantrum, Napoléon III’s cousin murdered a 21-year-old journalist, Victor Noir. He had come unarmed to Prince Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte’s Paris house at 59 rue d’Auteuil to act as a witness to a duel between the Prince and a Corsican republican journalist. The republican had taken umbrage at the Prince publishing an article describing Corsican republicans as ‘traitors and beggars’ who deserved to have their ‘guts roasted in the sun’.

In a verbal row in his living room, the Prince pulled out a gun and shot Victor Noir. 

As befits a close relative of the Emperor, Pierre-Napoléon was acquitted of murder very soon after. Even before Napoleon III stumbled into the Franco-Prussian war of July 1870 republican sentiment was on the rise. Louise Michel, disguised as a man, and with a knife concealed in her clothes, was one of the 100,000 crowd who attended Noir’s funeral. 

Moral democracy 

Michel worked as a teacher outside and then within Paris before the 1871 Commune

Louise Michel was then aged 40. The illegitimate daughter of a chamber maid she had become a teacher, moving to Paris in 1856, staying first in the Boulevard des Batignolles and then in the Rue du Château d’Eau. There, she became increasingly involved in radical democratic and then socialist and revolutionary clubs. 

With funding from her mother, she opened her own day school in the working class 18th arrondissement in 1865.  She was then living in the Rue Houdon. In 1868 she was also teaching in a school in what is now called the Rue Championnet.

In 1869 police records suggest she had become Secretary of a club called ‘The Moral Democratic club’ whose aim was to help working women live by their work. 

On December 1 1870 she spent two days in jail for the first time, for having been involved in a women’s demonstration. By then she was president of the Republican Women’s Vigilance Club of the 8th arrondissement and soon after became director of a school in the Rue du Mont Cenis.

Paris Commune 

Michel was one of the first women to join the Communards fighting on the barricades

On January 22 1871, dressed in National Guard uniform, she fired her first rifle shot (in the air) outside the Paris Town Hall, as the city began to mobilise against the inertia of the new government. She fired many more during the battles on the barricades between the 21 and 24 May. 

Her feminism and belief in education combined on 12 May 1871 when, with other supporters of the Paris Commune created on 18 March, she opened a school to teach draftsmanship, modelling and wood carving (‘industrial art’) to girls, at 7, Rue Dupuytren

This short street is a favourite of mine because it is named after Baron Guillaume Dupuytren, who both treated Napoleon Bonaparte’s hemorrhoids and gave his name to the Viking-origin genetically-transmitted disease that as a sufferer I call ‘bendy finger’. (Thanks dad!) 

Michel’s girls’ school lasted all of two weeks before disappearing in the bloody week of May 21 to 28, when the Commune was brutally suppressed and between 20,000 and 30,000 killed. Today Dupuytren has four perfume/chemist boutiques and three hairdressers. 

Louise Michel volunteers to take the place of her mother as a prisoner of the Versaillais soldiers on May 24 1871

On May 24 Louise Michel learned that her mother had been captured by the Versaillais troops. So she arranged to be taken prisoner in exchange for her mother’s release. She was sentenced to be deported and in August 1873 was shipped off to the penal colony on New Caledonia in the South-West Pacific. 

She arrived at Nouméa (Port-de-France) in December 1873. In 1878 she openly supported the indigenous anti-colonial revolt. 

Michel returned to Paris on 9 November 1880 via Melbourne and London after the general amnesty for the Communards. 6,000 supporters came to meet her and the other 550 who were shipped home to Dieppe and arrived with her at the Gare St Lazar station. 

Michel was jailed for 6 months after the 9 March 1883 unemployed marchers stole bread from bakeries in the Rue du Four

She immediately threw herself back into agitation. In March 1883 she and Émile Pouget (1860-1931) led a demonstration of some 500 unemployed workers and children from the Invalides Esplanade along the Boulevard Saint-Germain to the Rue du Four, where three bakeries were invaded and largely emptied by the demonstrators. 

Michel was carrying a black piece of cloth at the end of a broom in mourning for the dead of the Commune and for the starving Parisians as they marched, and this soon became the black flag associated with anarchism

In July 1883 she was sentenced to six years in the Saint-Lazare women’s prison (finally closed in 1935). Pouget was sentenced to 10 years. Michel was only released after an 1886 presidential grant of mercy to her and other anarchists, including Peter Kropotkin

Michel was jailed again for four months in 1886, after speaking at a meeting in support of the Decazeville striking miners, along with Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue

Michel was shot at in 1888 but refused to make a complaint against her attacker

In 1888 she was shot while speaking at a public meeting in Le Havre, but as an anarchist refused to support the state’s prosecution of her attacker. 

In 1890 she was jailed again while mobilizing for the May Day demonstration and strike. Amnestied she refused to leave her cell while others were still in jail, and the government tried to get her committed as ‘irresponsible for her actions’ to an insane asylum. 

Concerned about this threat she then moved to London and opened an international school for anarchists. Closed down after the London police found explosives in the basement, she returned to Paris permanently in 1897 living in the Rue Jacob and resumed speaking tours all over France. 

Michel continued to campaign until her death at 75

She died in Marseille in 1905 after returning from a speaking tour in Algeria. 

Around 120,000 people followed Michel’s remains from the Gare de Lyon station to the Levallois cemetery in north-west Paris. In 2005 a garden just below the Sacré Coeur monument was renamed the Square Louise Michel. The Sacré Coeur had been built between 1875 and 1914 by right-wing Catholics to beg God for forgiveness for the sin of the Paris Commune. 

There’s now a tiny plaque to the Paris Commune on a wall in the Luxembourg Garden. Hundreds of Communards were summarily executed there during the ‘Bloody Week’ of May 1871. But from 1906 to 1984 the gardens also had a memorial column sculpted by the anarchist sympathizer Emile Derré

Louise Michel is shown kissing love and goodbye to Elisee Recl;us. The two other kisses sculpted represent tenderness (with maternal instincts) and consolation (with Michel kissing Auguste Blanqui)

Originally called ‘A dream for a People’s House’ Derré’s column became known as the ‘Cornice of Kisses’: its three images show tenderness with a mother kissing a child, the lovers’ goodbye kiss (featuring Michel and Reclus) shown above, and a consolation kiss (featuring Michel and Blanqui). Michèle Audin (author of La Commune de Paris blog) found the wonderful postcard of the column when it was still in the Luxembourg Gardens

A postcard of the Cornice of Kisses in the Luxembourg Gardens taken around 1910

The Louise Michel column was replaced by a statue of Pierre Mendès-France in 1984 on the order of Pierre’s friend, President François Mitterrand. The Kisses column was then unceremoniously dumped, forgotten and was only finally reborn in the old Northern textile town of Roubaix in 1997. 

What a treat, I thought at the end of my short walk in the rain, to go to one of the bakers Louise Michel was supposed to have helped pillage in 1883 and buy a baguette (at prices that are still controlled right across France). 

But the Rue du Four (Road of the Oven) no longer has a single bakery. The closest to a shop with anything to eat was this quick crepe and sandwich bar. I walked home disappointed. The drizzle was getting worse as I passed the new shiny Marks and Spencers food store in the totally renovated St Germain covered market.

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Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

1809-1865 * France

AnarchistCooperatismSocialism

Proudhon was the major influence on the core beliefs of French left in the 19th and early 20th centuries. His ideas can be seen to have shaped anarchists, socialists, utopian communists, cooperatists and revolutionary syndicalists and created a backcloth of sympathy and support for a democracy involving working people that kept attracting artists and writers to the left throughout the century following his first major work ‘What is Property’ in 1840.

When Marx was in Paris in 1843-1845 Proudhon discussed politics with him frequently in a bar in the Rue Coquillière and at their respective homes in the Rue Vaneau and 36 Rue Mazarine. Proudhon later moved to 70 rue Mazarine where he was living in 1847 and in the revolutionary year 1848.

In 1849 he was jailed in St Pélagie prison, where he was kept until 1852. He was out on parole at the moment of Louis-Napoleon’s 2 December 1851 coup d’etat. He had to inform Victor Hugo regretfully that as a result he was not in a position at that moment to defend the Republic.

locations

  • 55 Quai des Grands Augustins 6 arr. Printshop where Proudhon is supposed to have worked briefly, meeting Fourier in 1828, before returning to Besançon ;
  • 31 Boulevard St Michel , 6 arr. Courbet’s first Parisian workshop (at the time the location of the demolished 89 rue de la Harpe) where he met Proudhon in 1842;
  • 4 Rue de Bourgogne, 7 arr. Proudhon often used to meet Bakunin at his lodgings in a Slave enclave between 1844 and 1847;
  • 14 Rue des Moulins, 1 arr. Proudhon attended the meetings of the editorial committee of the Franco-German Annals journal held here with Marx in 1844;
  • 154 Rue Montmartre, 2 arr. Proudhon’s first newspaper ‘The people’s representative‘ was produced here, appearing first on 27 February 1848 and running until August 1848;
  • 23 Rue du Faubourg St Denis, 10 arr. The site of the short-lived People’s Bank established by Proudhon to try and put his ideas into practice in 1849.
  • 46 Rue Boulard, 14 arr. Proudhon lived here first after his release from jail in 1852
  • 83 Avenue Denfert-Rochereau 14 arr. was where Proudhon moved to in the mid 1850s,
  • 14 Rue Jacob, 6 arr. in 1862 Proudhon lived in a house off the back of the yard behind the building here.
  • 12 Rue de Passy, 16 arr. Where Proudhon lived for the last few years of his life and died on 19 January 1865.

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Élisée Reclus

1830 – 1905 • France

AnarchismEcology • Geographer

Member of the First International Reclus was influenced by Bakunin. A Communard fighter in 1871 who was expelled in perpetuity from France aged 41 he became the most prominent French 19th century geographer and an early ecologist and environmentalist.

Reclus was the major geographer of the late 19th century focusing on ecology

Reclus was an engaged anarchist, a vegetarian and a naturist, and in his professional life a leading academic geographer. He described how he reconciled anarchism and scientific study in the 1880s and 1890s when ‘propaganda by the deed’ was being denounced everywhere in Third Republic political life and in the French media is this letter to his fellow anarchist geographers:

Great enthusiasm and dedication to the point of risking one’s life are not the only ways of serving a cause. The conscious revolutionary is not only a person of feeling, but also one of reason, to whom every effort to promote justice and solidarity rests on precise knowledge and on a comprehensive understanding of history, sociology and biology

Quoted in David Harvey “Listen, Anarchist!” A personal response to Simon Springer’s “Why a radical geography must be anarchist”
Élisée Reclus photographed by the son of his old friend and fellow Communard, Félix Nadar

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Locations

  • 77 Rue Claude Bernard. Arr5. The three Reclus brothers, Élie, Élisée and the surgeon Paul  lived here in the 1860s, where they were visited among others by Courbet, Proudhon, Nadar, Bakunin and Michelet.
  • 140 Rue Mouffetard. Arr5. This was the editorial office of the anarchist journal ‘La Révolte‘ launched by Kropotkin on 1 February 1885. Reclus, Pouget and Monatte wrote for it or were influenced by it. Elsewhere in the road, Élie Reclus, the eldest brother, who had been nominated Director of the National Library under the Commune, was hidden after its defeat by a family friend living in the road . From there he was able to escape to England.
  • 32 Rue Gabrielle. Arr18. The journal ‘La Revue anarchiste that Reclus’ wrote for in the early 1890s was based here.
  • Jardin du Luxembourg Arr6. In 1906 Émile Derré‘s sculpture, ‘The column of kisses’, originally called ‘Dream for a People’s House’, featuring Louise Michel kissing Élisée Reclus in one scene and August Blanqui in another, was installed in the Luxembourg Gardens. It stayed there until 1984 when it was replaced with a statue of Pierre Mendes France. The original sculpture is now outside the town hall in Roubaix.
  • Avenue Élisée Reclus. Arr7. When the Champ-de-Mars public garden stretching from the Eiffel Tower to the Military School (Hotel des Invalides was revamped in 1907, a section of its North-Eastern side was sold to become a tree-lined avenue for wealthy Parisians named, nearly uniquely in Paris, after a man who had fought for the Paris Commune. Five years later the section still called Reclus was reduced in length by two-thirds to honour a more conservative Republican politician and academic whose son would briefly become President of France in 1920.

Élisée Reclus places

Victor Serge

1890-1947 • Belgium

AnarchismLiterature • Trotsky

Serge lived in Paris from 1909 and jailed for five years for his writing about the Bonnot gang, he was an independent socialist. His life took him from anarchist, to Bolshevik, jailed under Stalin. and associate of Trotsky. Back in Paris at the end of the 1930s he eventually escapes to the US, and then Mexico. He was a journalist and novelist.

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Paul Signac

1863 – 1935 • France

ArtAnarchism • Anti-fascism

Like several other intellectuals in the 1880s, Signac broke with bourgeois attitudes, and by 1896 was collaborating closely with Jean Grave and the anarchist journal Les Temps Nouveaux. Unlike Kropotkin and Grave, however, Signac opposed World War 1 and in 1934 opposed the fascists.

Signac was commission to paint this picture for the House of the People in Brussels between 1893 and 1895. His initial title was ‘Under Anarchy’ (Au temps de l’anarchie), but because of the bombings and arrests and executions in France he called it ‘Under Harmony’ (Au temps d’harmonie).
From 1902-1914 the influential anarchist review, ‘Les Temps nouveaux’ (New Times) was edited at No. 4 rue Édouard Quenu. Among those actively supporting the journal were Monatte, Signac, Pissarro and Luce.

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Avenue General Leclerc

Arrondissement 14

Numbers 5, 11, 19, 43, 70, 101, 110

Since 1948 the Avenue is now named after Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, the first French general to arrive in Paris in August 1944 – in American-loaned tanks and armoured vehicles and wearing American helmets with the Croix de Lorraine painted on their sides. He died in a plane crash in 1947 just as he was about to argue the case for French withdrawal from Indochina – before the wars of national liberation in the region had really started.

From 1863 to 1948 the tree-lined avenue was called the Avenue d’Orléans, running from the Denfert-Rochereau Square to the southern ‘ entrance to Paris (Porte d’Orléans), at the huge roundabout now called the Place du 25 Aout 1944, commemorating the Liberation of Paris.

It is one of Paris’ oldest roads, down which pilgrims used to follow what the Pope officially called one of the three most important pilgrimages for Christians in 1492 to the cathedral of Saint Jacques de Compostelle in Spain. This pilgramage had begun as early as the 9th century AD.

In the days when it was still the Avenue d’Orléans Lenin was often seen in the Café du Lion at No. 5 , where he organised meetings of the Bolshevik faction of the Russian social democrats.

Lenin might well turn in his Moscow mausoleum. His old meeting place is now a McDonald’s with a tiny Lion tobacco shop adjoining it that still bears the name of the original Lion cafe.

The French police estimated there were around 25,000 Russians in Paris around 1910, of whom 1,000 were revolutionary socialists and 500 anarchists. They were being watched both by the French police and by the Czar’s secret police, the Okhrana. On one occasion an agent spying on them was chased by Lenin and other Bolsheviks along the pavement in front of No. 101.

In 1911 a meeting of the Bolshevik faction organised by Lenin in the first floor room at the Café Les Manilleurs at No. 11 saw a near physical fight between them and Anatoli Lunacharsky and other followers of his brother-in-law, Bogdanov in the Vpered faction.

In December 1908 Lenin opened a bank account at the Crédit Lyonnais bank branch at No. 19.

Lenin and Inessa Armand used to frequent the old Cafe d’Orleans at No. 43 in 1910-1912. This is the new one, even closer to Rue Marie-Rose where the lovers lived. And still good for a drink after a long walk.

During his time in the area, Lenin used occasionally to be seen at the music hall called the Fantaisies de Montrouge at No 70. It was converted from being a theatre to the Grand-Cinéma that re-opened there in September 1911. That building was knocked down and rebuilt in reinforced concrete in 1922 and then became the 1,300-seater cinema the Mistral. Gaumont finally closed it in July 2016 and sold it to a housing developer.

The headquarters of the Russian Social Democrats on the first floor and the printworks of the ‘Social Democrat’ paper in a office in the back of the yard, were at No 110. Among those regularly present between 1909 and 1912 were Lenin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev.

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