A short biography of French anarchist Octave Jahn, active in France, Belgium and Switzerland and a participant in the Mexican Revolution.
“A fervent propagandist of libertarian communism” - Max Nettlau
“A prototype even of the young anarchist of the heroic period of the movement” - Gaetano Manfredonia
Octave Jahn was born on 10 February 1869 in Cherbourg, France.
He started work as a telegraphist at the age of 15 and took part in the first strike in this sector. His father threatened to send him to a reform school because of this, so he left home and took shelter with the anarchist journalist Séverine.
In 1886, he took part, with the anarchist carpenter Joseph Tortelier and others in founding the Ligue des Anti-patriotes and the paper L’Avant-Garde Cosmopolite and was an animator of Les Jeunesses Antipatriotes.
In 1890 he was involved in a cross border Congress of Swiss and French anarchist groups which led to the foundation of the Federation International de Revendications Prolétariennes. He was the author of at least one chanson, Les Pieds Plats, named after a group of the same name, which specialised in swindling restaurant owners in Paris.
Because of repression against the anarchist movement, he crossed the border to Belgium, where he took part in the miners’ strike of May 1897 in the Hainaut basin. During strike meetings at Verviers he marked himself out by the fierce and revolutionary tone of his speeches. He was arrested and condemned at Mons to two and a half years in prison. After this, he became an extremely active anarchist propagandist, despite many arrests and several stretches in prison, moving around France, North Africa, Switzerland, England and Spain, where he lived until 1909.
At Valencia he edited the anarchist papers La Cuestion Social and Controversia. He formed a relationship with the anarchist Salud Borras, daughter of the anarchist Martin Borras.
They then left for Mexico where they took part in the revolution. He was involved in the agitation initiated by the Casa del Obrero Mundial, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation agitating amongst the urban workers of Mexico City.
In May 1914 Octave was one of the few urban anarchists like Diaz Soto y Gama to ally themselves with the Zapata movement in Morelos as a result of a flight from the forces of General Huerta in Mexico City. In 1915, he was one of the founders of a rationalist school based on the educational principles of Francisco Ferrer, the Rationalist Cultural Centre.
He was sent by the Casa to do work in Guatemala, as well as several visits to Europe, including one as delegate of a union involved in the Casa. He was a correspondent for various anarchist papers, including the paper CQFD of Sébastien Faure, to which he contributed a series on the Mexican Revolution.
He died in Mexico City on 9 June 1917.