Jean Grave, 1893

At the invitation of Elisee Reclus, Jean Grave (1854-1939) became the editor of Le Revolte [The Rebel] in 1883, after Kropotkin, one of its founding editors, and several other anarchists were imprisoned in France for advocating anarchy. In 1887, Grave changed the name of the publication to la Revolte {Revolt], which he continued to publish until it was suppressed by the French government in 1 894 and Grave was also imprisoned for publishing anarchist propaganda. He began a new paper in 1895, les Temps nouveaux {New Times], which lasted until the First World War in 1914, publishing the works of leading anarchist theorists, including Kropotkin and Reclus, as well as contemporary art and literature by anarchist artists and sympathizers, such as the painter, Camille Pissarro (1830- 1903), and the writer, Octave Mirbeau (1850-1917). The following excerpts are taken from Voltairine de Cleyre’s 1899 translation of Grave’s Moribund Society and Anarchy.

THE STRONGEST OBJECTION … persons have so far been able to bring against the Anarchists is to say to them, “Your theories are very fine, but they cannot be realized.” This is not an argument. “Why can they not be realized?” we ask, and instead of answering us with reasons they bring forward their fears. They tell us that with man’s evil nature it is to be feared that he would profit by his liberty to stop working altogether; that when no mediating power existed it might happen that the stronger would exploit the weaker, etc. The Anarchists have shown the lack of foundation for these fears by proving that this evil tendency in man, these shortcomings in his character, are stimulated and encouraged by the present social organization which sets one against the other, forcing them to tear from each other the pittance it apportions with such exceeding parsimony. They also show … that every social system based upon authority cannot but beget evil effects; since power is vested in persons subject to the same defects as other men, it is clear that if men do not know how to govern themselves, still less do they know how to govern others …

For our own part we are not exactly partisans of a propaganda accomplished by means of sonorous or sentimental phrases; their effect is to make people hope for an immediate triumph, which is impossible … Our ideal is to fulfill a less brilliant and grandiose task, but a more lasting one. Instead of confining our efforts to capturing people through sentiment, we seek above all to win them through logic and reason. We certainly do not want to underrate those whose ability consists in winning people through an appeal to feeling. To
each his task, according to his temperament and his conceptions. But for ourselves we p refer securing conviction rather than belief All those who take part in the propaganda should know what difficulties await them, that they may be ready to meet them and not be discouraged by the first obstacle in the way …

Another very generally accepted prejudice among Anarchists is to consider the
masses as plastic dough, which may be molded at will and about which there is no necessity of troubling oneself. This notion comes from the fact that, having made one
step in advance of the rest, these people consider themselves in a way as prophets,
and as much more intelligent than common mortals. “We shall make the masses do so-and-so,” “we shall lead them at our backs ,” etc. Verily a dictator would not talk differently.

This way of regarding the masses is an inheritance from our authoritarian past. Not that we wish to deny the influence of minorities upon the crowd; it is because we are convinced of such influence that we are so concerned. But we think that, in the time of revolution, the only weight the Anarchists can have with the masses will be through action: putting our ideas in practice, preaching by example; by this means only can the crowd be led. Yet we should be thoroughly aware that, in spite of all, these acts will have no effect upon the masses unless their understanding has been thoroughly prepared by a clear and well-defined propaganda, unless they themselves stand on their own feet, prompted by ideas previously received. Now, if we shall succeed in disseminating our ideas, their influence will make itself felt; and it is only on condition that we know how to explain and render them comprehensible that we shall have any chance of sharing in the social transformation. Hence we need not be afraid of not obtaining followers, but rather to be on the watch for hindrance from those who consider themselves leaders.

In times of revolution its precursors are always outdone by the masses. Let us spread our ideas, explain them, elucidate them, remodel them if necessary. Let us not fear to look the truth in the face. And this propaganda, far from alienating the adherents of our cause, cannot but help to attract thereto all who thirst after justice and liberty.

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