Montels, Jules, 1843-1916

Jules Montels in his Commune military uniform

A short biography of anarchist, Paris Communard and tutor to Leo Tolstoy's children, Jules Montels.

Jules Montels was born in France at Gignac in the Herault department, on 25th March 1843. As a young boy he experienced the uprising in 1851 against the coup of Louis Napoleon, which was followed by savage repression. These left bitter memories for him.

Working either as a clerk or commercial traveller, he was in Paris when the Commune broke out. It is possible that he may have been a member of the First International at the time, although there is no solid evidence of this.

He served as a colonel in the 12th Federated Legion of the Commune (Montels always harboured deep resentment against Karl Marx and his followers for Marx’s maligning of the Communards). The Commune delegated him to liaise with Beziers and Narbonne.

With Emile Digeon, he participated in the short-lived Narbonne Commune. With the fall of the Commune he fled to Geneva. There Jules Guesde, with whom he had had close contact in the Herault, and then still an anarchist, sheltered him for a while.

Guesde was involved in the work of the French exile group of the International, the Section de Propagande et d’Action Revolutionnaire-Socialiste, and Montels took part alongside him in this work.

He was one of the few French exiles to take this work seriously. He was an active correspondent with the Internationalists in Beziers. He passed details of the movement in southern France and Spain to Guesde, who left for Rome in April 1872. He may have been unacknowledged co-editor of the Guesde pamphlet Le Livre Rouge et la Justice Rurale.

He attended the Geneva Congress of the International in September 1873. Montels supplied the groups in southern France with reports of the International Congresses between 1873 and 1877, and with a number of different revolutionary newspapers and pamphlets.

He was instrumental in the foundation of the Beziers section of the International. He was a member of the Cercle d’Etudes Sociales.This group produced a series of abstentionist pamphlets in 1876 aimed at the French working class. He himself wrote one of these pamphlets Lettre aux socialistes-revolutionnaires du Midi de la France, urging abstention in the 1876 French elections to the workers in southern France.

He was very active within the movement in Geneva. With Paul Brousse he was one of the founders of the French Federation of the International in 1877. On August 19-20 1877, he attended a secret congress of the French Federation, alongside Brousse and Jean Louis Pindy. With Brousse, he represented sections of the French Federation at the International Congress in Verviers, Belgium in September 1877. From here he went with Brousse to the World Socialist Congress at Ghent where he was involved in the debate between the anarchist wing and the social-democratic wing of socialism, and which consecrated the split between them. He drafted a motion, together with Brousse, Peter Kropotkin, and Francois Dumartheray to the Second Working-Class Congress at Lyons in 1878. This was presented by Ballivet, delegate of the mechanics union of Lyons, calling for the collectivisation of the land and the instruments of labour. The motion was defeated.

In August 1877 he left for Russia, where he became tutor to two of Leo Tolstoy’s sons, Macha and Tafia. He married Lucie Gachet (1849-1900) who was governess in Tolstoy’s household. He returned to the Herault in 1880.

In 1881, remembering the 1851 insurrection, he published a pamphlet on one of its martyrs, La Justice de l’Ordre en 1851, La Vie et Mort d’Andre-Abel Cadelard.

Some time later he moved to Tunis. Here he worked as chief editor of the daily Tunis Journal. Lucie died in Tunis in 1900 and Jules passed away on September 20 1916 at Sfax.

Nick Heath