Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Dynamite Club by John Merriman

At precisely 4 a.m., the silence on the square was broken by the sound of the interior gate opening beyond the prison door, followed by the roll of drums and the rifles of the soldiers snapping into position. Deibler led Emile, his chest largely uncovered, toward the guillotine. With his hands folded in front of his stomach, he was being pulled more rapidly than his shackled legs could move. In the first light of the new dawn he could see spectators perched on the roofs and a photographer pointing his camera in the direction of the apparatus. He saw the mounted calvary of the Republican Guard, and the gendarmes, with sabers drawn, in a semi-circle.

Someone said, "poor lad! You wouldn't think him more than fifteen years old". Another witness remembered how incredibly calm his face looked. Conversations stopped and hats came off, as if a religious service were about to begin. The chaplain was two steps behind Emile, with nothing to do. Emile looked quickly right and left, as if looking for someone he knew in the crowd.

He had been contemplating his final moments for three weeks and wanted to project a noble image. Twenty steps from the guillotine, his face became paler. After a few more steps, he stopped and shouted what everyone expected to hear: "Courage, comrades! Long live anarchy!"

As he reached the scaffold, he repeated, "Long live anarchy!" Deibler's aides then grabbed him, pushed him brutally against the plank so that he lay flat, and shoved his head through the little window, which resembled the porthole of a ship.

Twenty seconds later, the dull sound of the guillotine reaching the end of its rapid descent could be heard. Emile's head fell to the ground and was quickly tossed into the awaiting basket just as casually as one would throw a large wad of paper into a small bin. An almost inaudible gasp of horror rippled through the crowd; some people turned rapidly on their heels and moved rapidly away. Two assistants pushed the body into a waiting box and then carried it quickly to the executioner's wagon.

The politician and journalist Georges Clemenceau left place de la Roquette horrified by the "crude vengeance" of French society that he had just witnessed. Emile's terribly pale face disturbed him: he saw the young man as a tormented Christ, "trying to impose his intellectual pride upon his child's body..let those for the death penalty go, if they dare, to smell the blood of La Roquette. We'll talk about it after"

Paris, 1894


  1. For Emile Henry vengence came quickly. Twenty years old, Santo Caserio, a former apprentice baker from Lombardy and an anarchist, had read in a newspaper about the execution of Emile and noticed, by chanced, that the President of France- who had not even read the legal appeals for clemency- would be traveling to Lyon..as Carnot's carriage drove down rue de la Republique on the way to an elegant evening at the Grand Theatre, Santo jumped past the guards and plunged a knife into his breast.

  2. The Declaration of Emile Henry

    "...The bomb in the Cafe Terminus is the answer to all your violations of freedom, to your arrests, to your searches, to your laws against the Press, to your mass transportations, to your guillotinings. But why, you ask, attack those peaceful cafe guests, who sat listening to music and who, no doubt, were neither judges nor deputies nor bureaucrats? Why?

    It is very simple. The bourgeoisie did not distinguish among the anarchists. Vaillant, a man on his own, threw a bomb; nine-tenths of the comrades did not even know him. But that meant nothing; the persecution was a mass one, and anyone with the slightest anarchist links was hunted down. And since you hold a whole party responsible for the actions of a single man, and strike indiscriminately, we also strike indiscriminately.

    Perhaps we should attack only the deputies who make laws against us, the judges who apply those laws, the police who arrest us? I do not agree. These men are only instruments. They do not act in their own name. Their functions were instituted by the bourgeoisie for its own defence. They are no more guilty than the rest of you. Those good bourgeois who hold no office but who reap their dividends and live idly on the profits of the workers' toil, they also must take their share in the reprisals. And not only they, but all those who are satisfied with the existing order, who applaud the acts of government and so become its accomplices, those clerks earning three or five hundred francs a month who hate the people even more violently than the rich, that stupid and pretentious mass of folk who always choose the strongest side - in other words, the daily clientele of Terminus and the other great cafes!

    That is why I struck at random and did not choose my victims! The bourgeoisie must be brought to understand that those who have suffered are tired at last of their sufferings; they are showing their teeth and they will strike all the more brutally if you are brutal with them. They have no respect for human life, because the bourgeoisie themselves have shown they have no care for it. It is not for the assassins who were responsible for the bloody week and for Fourmies to regard others as assassins.

    We will not spare the women and children of the bourgeois, for the women and children of those we love have not been spared. Must we not count among the innocent victims those children who die slowly of anaemia in the slums because bread is scarce in their houses; those women who grow pale in your workshops, working to earn forty sous a day and fortunate when poverty does not force them into prostitution; those old men whom you have made production machines all their lives and whom you cast on to the waste heap or into the workhouse when their strength has worn away?

    At least have the courage of your crimes, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, and grant that our reprisals are completely legitimate...


  3. Emile's defense caused a marked, prolonged stir in the court-room, Henri Varennes of "Le Figaro" was amazed by his composure: "He is perhaps a monster, but he is not a coward."

  4. By the beginning of the 20th century many in Europe began to understand that seemingly random acts of terrorism against "innocent civilians", always uncommon, were not the result of widespread conspiracies but the works of isolated and often deranged individuals and that widespread repression- draconion press laws, mass arrests, detentions and executions, broad-bushing all left-leaning political opposition as the work of evil-doers-was not a solution to the tide of popular resentment against economic inequalities, corruption and poor conditions for the laboring classes. Anarchists themselves started to realize important gains in the field of organized labor.

    The exception to this general rule was, of course, Spain where anarchist terror continued for many decades.

  5. However, belligerant nationalism became a new base upon which to expand the repressive apparatus of the State. Subsequent to World War I, in the wake of the economic and political chaos that followed the unbridled expansion of finance, the fascists understood the provocative power of seemingly random acts of terror but coupled their campaigns with lavish promises for the establishment of social security and public health care reforms and State-sponsered economic development.