Monatte, Pierre - Laín Díez

Monatte, Pierre - Laín Díez

A short biographical sketch of the French revolutionary syndicalist organizer and author, Pierre Monatte, by the Chilean council communist, Laín Díez.

Pierre Monatte – Laín Díez

1. Pierre Monatte recently celebrated his 70th birthday this past January. His life as a militant spans the last half century. At fifteen years of age, when he was still in high school, he joined the socialist youth and helped publish a small daily newspaper. At the time of the Dreyfus Trial he distributed, in the form of a leaflet, the “Letter to the Youth” written by the great French writer, Zola, who had come to the defense of the officer unjustly condemned by the General Staff. After having completed his baccalaureate, he worked as an intern at a provincial college; but when he came back to the dormitory late one night after having attended a demonstration, the night wardens of the school refused to let him enter. Indignant, he resigned and went to Paris, where he got a job at a bookstore. That was in 1902.

In Paris, he soon made contact with some militants of the workers movement, among whom the most important were: Fernand Pelloutier, the founder of the Federation of the Bourses du Travail; Alphonse Merrheim, the secretary of the Federation of Metal Workers; and Emile Pouget, the founder and editor in chief of The Voice of the People, the official newspaper of the National Confederation of Labor, the CGT. These representatives of the revolutionary syndicalist movement exercised a decisive influence on Monatte. The revolutionary syndicalist movement had spontaneously freed itself of all political tutelage, in response to the failures experienced by the working class in its struggles due to the fact that it had been fragmented by the diversity of party ideologies and policies.

It must be pointed out, however, that a handful of anarchists played the preponderant role in the CGT’s emancipation from the political parties’ domination of the trade unions. Pouget, for example, formed a small group of followers of Bakunin, who read The Social Revolution, an anarchist weekly published by Emile Gautier in 1880.1 Pouget once said that it was reading that journal that caused him to become an anarchist. He fought alongside Louise Michel and, for having defended her from the police during a protest march by unemployed workers when some of them stormed a bakery, he was tried and condemned to 8 years in jail, while she was sentenced to 6 years in jail. He served 3 years of his sentence and was released following the proclamation of an amnesty. Shortly thereafter he founded Pére Peinard, undoubtedly the most important journal of its time in France due to its incomparable value as an instrument of agitation and propaganda and its extremely original, yet popular style. Once again targeted by government persecution, he sought refuge in London, where he lived with Louise Michel. When he returned to France he gravitated towards the trade union movement. Already, at the age of 20, in 1880, he had founded the first trade union of retail employees. His favorite themes were direct action as means and the general strike as goal. It can thus be understood why he would finally rise to the leadership of the CGT during its heroic period of formation and consolidation. The culmination of his labors in this organization would take place in 1907 at the Congress of Amiens, where he co-wrote and spoke on behalf of the famous “Charter” which marked the consummation of the independence of the French trade union movement from the tutelage that the Socialist Party was attempting to exercise over it.

It was necessary to relate these antecedents in order to understand Monatte’s trajectory and the decisive role played by a revolutionary tradition. The incorporation of such a tradition within the workers movement was more beneficial to the aspiring fighter than a whole lifetime of readings and meditations outside of any movement. Monatte did not come to revolutionary syndicalism, like so many university or party ideologues, to preach “his” doctrine. He apprenticed himself to masters of the workers struggle and gradually acquired the indispensable theoretical armory to match his experiences as a trade union militant.

2. A few years after being hired he quit his job as a proofreader in order to agitate among the coal miners in the northeast of France. The social environment was reformist; but there was a core group of determined workers concentrated in the so-called “young trade union”. This latter group published a little magazine, Trade Union Action. It was in this journal that Monatte served his apprenticeship as a working class journalist. The atmosphere was charged with intense agitation. The miners were demanding an eight-hour day and health and safety reforms for underground work. The warnings issued by the workers delegates concerning health and safety threats to the lives of the miners in certain jobs and locations were systematically ignored by the coal companies and the government department of mines.

In March 1906 the most terrible disaster in the history of mining took place at the Courrières mine: 1,200 men were buried alive as a result of an explosion or were burned to death by the fire that immediately followed. The subsequent strike in the coalfield was almost universally observed. The strike was brutally repressed. Monatte, who had published an article in Le Temps Nouveaux entitled, “A Capitalist Crime: Courrières”, and who had spearheaded a tenacious campaign as a member of the strike committee in favor of the trade union demands, was caught in the net of an entrapment operation that was designed by the Minister of the Interior, the unfortunately famous Clemenceau. After 40 days in a prison cell he was released. Shortly before that, for having shouted “Down with the Court!” from the audience as a protest against an unjust sentence pronounced against one of his comrades, he was sentenced to 6 months in prison, although he would only serve 1 month, because his appeal was upheld and his sentence annulled.

3. In 1907, after having returned to his job as a proofreader in Paris, he made preparations to attend the CGT Congress of Amiens and the Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam.

At the CGT Congress, as we have already pointed out, the theory of trade union independence from all political tutelage emerged victorious. Unfortunately, this victory of revolutionary syndicalism would be short-lived. Reformism was gradually driving more and more people towards the refuge of social legislation, which would finally sanction the eight-hour day and other conquests achieved by direct action. The organized working class enjoyed greater economic security and benefited from more social welfare measures. These conditions diminished the influence of the revolutionary tendencies. The war of 1914 delivered the coup de grâce not only on the domestic trade union front but also on the international working class front.

The revolutionary minority lost control of the CGT and the latter, betraying its basic Charter, jumped on the bandwagon of the Communist Party. Today there are two trade union federations in France: the one that still follows the Communist Party, and the “CGT-Force Ouvrier”, dominated by the Socialist Party, but some of whose trade unions enjoy a relative degree of autonomy, which allows a certain degree of freedom of propaganda to minority groups. The other federations are numerically insignificant.

The old guard of revolutionary syndicalism has been reduced to a handful of people (the old militants, including, of course, Monatte, grouped around an extraordinary journal called La Revue Prolétarienne).

4. At the Amsterdam Congress, Monatte took on the challenge of presenting the case of syndicalism in response to the critiques offered by some anarchists. In a carefully elaborated and vigorous speech, he pointed out that, unlike socialism and anarchism, its historical predecessors, revolutionary syndicalism emerged from action before its doctrine was formulated; but it was obvious that it had much in common with these two schools of thought, and especially with anarchism. “Both pursue the complete destruction of capitalism and wage labor by way of the social revolution. Syndicalism, which expresses an awakening of the workers movement, has revived in anarchism the awareness that its origins lie in the working class, while the anarchists for their part are helping to channel the workers movement into the revolutionary path and are popularizing the idea of direct action. In this way, syndicalism and anarchism have a mutual influence on each other that redounds to their mutual advantage.” In one passage of his speech he emphasized the self-sufficiency of syndicalism. This opinion was vigorously opposed by Malatesta, who considered such self-sufficiency to be erroneous, “because all organizations, and even ideas, have never been self-sufficient but, to the contrary, have constantly been nourished by other realities.”2 Subsequent events would prove that Malatesta was right and would also demonstrate that it is always dangerous to dissociate doctrines from action. Man, regardless of his class and his condition, is perpetually seeking answers for his anxieties and doubts of various kinds which torment him, and if he does not find at least an attempt at an integral solution to his problems, he will succumb to religion or skepticism, the two most fearsome obstacles on the road to freedom. There is, of course, the political party; but if one examines the matter closely, the party is nothing but an ineffective substitute for religion, with all of the latter’s defects and none of its virtues, exacerbated by the seduction of power, of spiritual and physical power over men, the most corrupting and lamentable of all seductions, and one which feeds the flames of the worst human passions.

Monatte himself, with the passage of time, would be compelled to prove the falsehood of his theory. Having to account for the collapse of revolutionary syndicalism he sought an answer in a variety of political experience, the Bolshevism of the heroic period of the Russian Revolution. Fortunately for the revolutionary tradition that Monatte and his comrades of the small and select group, La Révolution Prolétarienne, represented, the experience was a negative one. He emerged with clean hands and his moral authority intact. It may be said in his defense that even those militants who seemed to be the most devoted advocates of syndicalism had wavered when confronted by the challenge of the Russian Revolution. It was a harsh blow for a man who had, as early as 1907, praised one of his predecessors in the trade union struggle as a model, whose exemplary conduct led him to say the following words, which sound like a lingering echo of his debate with Malatesta: “While the ferocious guardians of the old formulas and the old methods inherited by trade unionism from socialism and anarchism lost their way in the storm, he could still stay the course”. But if even he could falter and give way, why continue to plow sterile ground? We look for a new field of experience where our seed can germinate. This is how I explain his sojourn in the Communist Party.

5. In 1909 he undertook the most productive initiative of his career: the founding of the journal, Vie Ouvrière (“Workers Life”). The first issue came off the presses on October 5. It was a worthy successor to Pouget’s Père Peinard; but with more documentation and a more discriminating selection of articles. It corresponded to a syndicalism in full development, mature, conscious of its powers and its importance, which had been consolidated by a series of victories in memorable battles. Although Monatte was the editor in chief of the journal, this did not imply that he exercised a personal and exclusive control. To the contrary, he took special care to see to it that the journal would interpret the orientation of a group and a movement rather than expound just the views of traditional or fashionable ideologies.

The journal soon acquired international fame. Rosmer, his collaborator at the time (he is still a contributor to today’s Révolution Prolétarienne), recalls that, when the Bulgarian Andreychin arrived in Moscow in July 1921, he told him: “I have been familiar with it for a long time; when I was still in Sofia I always read Vie Ouvrière.” He had just returned from America, where the government had just engineered a large-scale trial of the IWW due to its opposition to the war. He had served a prison sentence with his comrades and had recently been released. Zinoviev, who was in Switzerland at the time and an intimate collaborator of Lenin, was a faithful subscriber. Among the men who came to Moscow in 1920 from all over the world and who represented all the tendencies of the movement, few were those who were completely unfamiliar with Vie Ouvrière; some of them had contributed articles to its pages.

The tiny room where the journal was edited received frequent visits from foreign comrades; the last visitor was Malatesta. He was fleeing Italy after the “Red Week” of Ancona in June 1914, where his supporters had seized and held the town without any opposition for several days. On his way to London, where he often resided when he was forced to leave the country of his birth, he stopped by to see his erstwhile rival from the Amsterdam Congress.

The tragic days of the First World War were approaching. Monatte, who had assumed the entire responsibility for publishing the journal and making sure it was financially sound, who knew neither rest nor discouragement during an exhausting labor of five years, requested a brief holiday in his home country. He was unable to enjoy his well-deserved days of leisure. The immanence of the catastrophe led him to hastily return to Paris. And then night fell over so many ambitions and so many hopes.

6. Monatte was a member of the confederal committee of the CGT. The reformist majority that had dominated the federation for some time surrendered to the pressure of patriotic enthusiasm and pledged its support for the “Sacred Union”. Only the Federation of Metal Workers, led by Merrheim, attempted to oppose this betrayal. All the efforts of the consistent and sincere internationalists proved to be fruitless. Monatte then decided to resign his position on the committee and justified his action in a letter which circulated clandestinely, due to the prevailing conditions of war and censorship, but which nonetheless reached many trade unions.

This letter was a touchstone for the few lucid minds who remained faithful to the old internationalist faith that their popes had renounced. It is a historical document, the clarion call that was the precursor of the first meeting that would be held a few months later in Zimmerwald, attended by the adamant stalwarts of internationalism for the purposes of laying the foundations of a new workers international. One of its last paragraphs reads as follows:

“I am very much afraid that our central organizations, both in France and in Germany, the CGT as well as the Socialist Party, the Trade Union International as well as the Socialist International, have proven their bankruptcy. They revealed that they were too weak to prevent the war, after so many years of organizational propaganda. But we can still delude ourselves into thinking that perhaps the fault for the war lies with the isolated masses that had not understood the duties of internationalism. This illusion went up in smoke with the words of the militants of both countries. It was in the center that the fire, that is, the faith, was lacking.

“If humanity is to ever experience peace and freedom, within the United States of the World, only a more real and more passionate socialism, arising from the present disappointments, tempered in the rivers of blood that are flowing today, will be capable of pointing out the way and the means.

“In any case, it will not be the work of the allied armies or of the old discredited organizations.”

Monatte’s letter was written at almost the same time that Liebknecht cast his dissenting vote in the Reichstag in December 1914. Monatte’s letter of resignation mentions some of the same points featured in Liebknecht’s speech on that occasion, which shows how much passion informed Monatte’s attentiveness to the first outbursts of resistance against the massacre that was breaking out on the international horizon, even in the nation against which his own nation was waging a fratricidal war.

The impact of Monatte’s letter was profound and there are eloquent testimonials to his tenacious and dangerous labors of resistance against the collective war hysteria. One of the most illustrative is that provided by the great French writer Romain Rolland. From the chapter entitled "Mother and Son" in his novel The Soul Enchanted, we will quote two paragraphs that admirably depict the atmosphere created by Monatte during those tragic days:

“It was an exceptional time, when the brother enemies—anarchists, socialists, syndicalists—all in revolt against the war, forgot their differences in order to unite on this terrain. But how few they were! Barely a handful! All the others had ‘deserted’—from weakness in the face of public opinion, from fear of reprisals, from the awakening of old instincts of national pride or a taste for blood, but above all from confusion—the appalling confusion of oratorical ideas that stupefied the democracies and turned people into dummies. Not even the Jesuits, not even during the heyday of casuistry, had so terribly abused the ‘criterion’ which, applied to everything, causes everything to blend together: war and peace, right and wrong, freedom and the deprivation of liberties. The inevitable result was that the few steadfast spirits who tried to free themselves from this confusion returned to their posts at the oars of the galley and rowed, their backs bowed, below deck. There were no more than a dozen of them, in Paris, towards the end of 1914; the unvanquishables who had managed to avoid passing under the yoke. Their number would gradually increase afterwards, and they were concentrated in two or three small groups, the most tenacious of which was that of Vie Ouvrière.


“Clear ideas—Marcos found them by the handful among the logical formulations of working class theory. All its rebellious ideas were deduced from and constructed on a scaffolding of facts and figures. Merrheim’s unadorned, slow, exploratory and monotonous speech, in search of the precise word that would not exceed the thought; that great integrity that was sometimes, as in Fotion, evinced by a genius of eloquence; the tranquil good nature of Monatte, self-effacing and single-minded in his observation of the course of events; the steely precision and the passionate commitment of Rosmer—this frozen heat produced a serious upheaval in the feverish, violent adolescent. The necessarily clandestine nature of these meetings, the constant threat of danger that loomed over these little catacombs, the consciousness of the oppressive weight of all the nations that had these ‘lovers of justice’ in their gunsights, illuminated the rebellion in a twilight radiance, despite the coldness of its leaders, and bestowed upon it a religious aura. This transfigured, like the intermittent flashes of a lighthouse, those subdued faces, those tired eyes.

“And the haughty petty bourgeois felt humbled by these feelings that had arisen in his heart.”

Another important historical testimonial is provided by a document from the Zimmerwald Conference, published in its first bulletin on September 21, 1915. It reads as follows:

“The Conference conveys its deepest and most fraternal expressions of sympathy to the members of the Duma who have been exiled to Siberia and who carry on the glorious revolutionary tradition of Russia; to comrades Liebknecht and Monatte, who have led a brave struggle against the civil truce in their respective countries; to Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg, who have been imprisoned for their socialist convictions and to the comrades of all nationalities who have been persecuted or imprisoned because they have fought against the war.”3

It would soon be Monatte’s turn to lose his freedom. The zealous vigilance of the authorities never lost track of him. Suddenly, he received his mobilization orders. It was a very hard blow for his friends and for the work that he had begun. The impression made on his friends by his departure for the front is movingly depicted in some stanzas by the inspired poet Marcel Martinet, entitled, “Tonight”, whose final verses read:

I know you. I know your hands will be clean.
Amidst the herd of victims,
Facing the other herd,
Your soul inflamed with loyalty and rage
And your human eyes wide open
Beholding the shame of humanity,
Perhaps you will fall,
Oh, my friend, I know that you will not kill.

7. Monatte’s tour of duty would not be a sterile sacrifice, however. To the contrary, he took advantage of the opportunity to reflect upon the causes of the working class defeat and the ways to restore the combative spirit of the workers in a revolutionary sense. Between February and June of 1917, while in the trenches, he wrote his Reflections on the Future of the Trade Unions, organized into five chapters and a prologue. It is a brief document; but such is the density of thought that permeates its pages that it is more like a book than a mere pamphlet. In this work, Monatte has condensed his trade union experience and his ideas on the most effective way to contribute to the renewal of the syndicalist movement. His reflections may be read as the worthy continuation of The Socialist Future of the Syndicates, in which Sorel, twenty years previously, condensed his perspectives on the society of free and equal producers; but Monatte, as a result of his personal experience, naturally had a better understanding of the working class environment than that great theoretician of the socialist future. It is this quality that confers such importance and authority to his work.

Monatte’s main idea is that the regeneration of the trade unions cannot be accomplished from directly within the trade unions but only in propaganda centers embracing a minority of the organized workers. These centers must pursue the work of propaganda and education in parallel with the trade unions and in constant contact with them, although they must remain free of any official trade union control.

The first step is the responsibility of the “far-sighted minorities”, as he calls them, and this involves the problem of education. But we must explain just what he means by this. It would be a mistake to imagine that courses, conferences or debates in study groups can generate a new way of thinking. You do not have to waste all your evenings going from one meeting to the next; you have to spend at least four or five nights in the comfort of your home, in your room, surrounded by some carefully selected books, surrounded by the best revolutionary books of all times, face to face with yourself.

Before the study group, there is the shelf of books. Let us begin, then, he tells us, “with personal effort, with the shelf of books, with serious study, with meditation in the peace of your room, and see how these hours of seclusion and concentration transform us into different men than the ones we were before. Then we will be able to go to the study circle because we shall have something to contribute and something to gain in exchange. But as long as we go to these meetings with an empty or disordered mind, we shall return with empty hands and resentful minds. Enough of this scattering, enough of this wandering from one meeting to another; enough of this precious time so poorly spent, of intelligence that is fed on hot air, and of enthusiasms that wither before they can even bloom.” The individual is the center and the root of everything, and from there you must proceed via concentric circles. The first circle is the syndicalist study group, and around that circle a series of educational efforts will develop; all of which taken together will constitute the “workers circle”.

Monatte points out that we have overestimated the real value of syndicalism and that we have enclosed all of our activity within its framework. We have thus confused the starting point with the end stage of development. In the near future it is likely that a vast network of educational projects will be implemented in the trade union sphere and under its auspices. But at the present time, what projects have been initiated, grown and prospered within the trade union sphere? None. The trade union is empty, despite the fact that there is no lack of good intentions and the fact that it has even taken a few steps in the right direction.

The shadow of the trade union seems to be fatal for such initiatives. From such experiences Monatte deduced the transitional need for the separation and the independence of such educational projects, whose potential emergence we outlined above. These initiatives will help to prevent the best elements of the working class youth from coming to grief on the two shoals where so many have foundered: politics, where those of excessive ambitions succumb, and individualism, where those who lack excessive egoism are shipwrecked.

This is a good opportunity to mention something about the evolution of anarchosyndicalism in Spain. On a terrain that is, in every respect, very different from the one Monatte knew in France, his theory is nonetheless confirmed. There can be no doubt that the workers circles and all the educational work that he advocated were anticipated in the FAI and the Rationalist Schools.

This convergence of solutions, which in the one case was theoretical, and in the other was successfully realized in a different environment, gives us reason to believe that they possess a general validity. Hence the interest of comparing the two experiences and the need to devote intensive study to the Spanish example.

8. After the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, shortly after he was demobilized, Monatte once again began to publish Vie Ouvrière. In April 1919 he distributed the first issue of the second series. As a regime of relative liberty was being reestablished, the reformist workers movement, muzzled during the war years, grew by leaps and bounds. The French Government, in an attempt to crush this movement, tried to implicate Monatte and some of his syndicalist comrades, along with some communist leaders, in an alleged “conspiracy” against the State. After spending ten months in preventive detention he was unconditionally released. He continued to publish Vie Ouvrière until the split in the trade union front that was provoked by the aggressive machinations of the Communist Party. The CGT was split, and the communist fraction formed the Unitary CGT.

During this transitional period between the armistice and December 30, 1921, the date of Monatte’s last article in Vie Ouvrière, Monatte engaged in a settling of accounts with the old leaders of the CGT who were responsible, along with others, for the betrayal of the movement that allowed the hecatomb of the First World War. His speech at the 14th Congress of the CGT in Lyon, on September 17, 1919, expressed a noteworthy evolution in his thinking and amounts to a summary and continuation of historical accounts. The “great duty” is now “world revolution” and the question that demands attention above all others is: the Russian Revolution.

9. We have already mentioned the hiatus that opened up in Monatte’s life with his membership in the Communist Party. The hiatus was brief. Neither his past experiences nor his moral background were such as to predispose him to accept the methods of a party that used communism to yoke the workers of all countries to the cart of a dictatorial government, the inaugurator of new privileges with the old weapons of terror. In response to his abstentionist critics, to the Cassandras of doctrinaire purity, he could have recited the words of the revolutionary and historian of the Paris Commune, Lissagaray. In a polemical exchange with some anarchists who were friends of Reclus, Lissagaray told them: “Silence and inertia were never signs of vitality. How can we distinguish between those who are abstentionists out of indolence and those who are abstentionists for the struggle?”4

He could also have invoked the example of Landauer, that brilliant and peerless genius, who also fought for a tolerant and non-dogmatic anarchism. When his friend Nettlau, informed of Landauer’s decision to participate in the revolutionary government of Bavaria, resolved to assume the hardly heroic role (in his own words) of preventing him from doing so, Landauer responded: “… I am always the old man; but time wants to start afresh, and I rejoice in this with all my heart and I will help it, with both hands, with my last powers, where I can. This might be just what I was waiting for.”5

Without a lot of noise or hypocritical recantations, having seen enough, with tranquility Monatte returned to his old positions. What a desert he would find!

10. The labor of reconstituting an affinity group was slow and arduous. However, in 1930 he founded an extraordinary journal, La Révolution Prolétarienne, which was regularly published every month thereafter until the outbreak of the Second World War. In its pages were contributions from syndicalists, anarchists and socialists. Its broad-based appeal and its tolerance had no other restrictions than those imposed by the tendency that he represented, which was The Syndicalist League. The latter, according to the caption printed on the back cover of every issue of the journal, proposed the following tasks, among others:

“Fight against the chauvinism that has spread even to the CGT and the International Trade Union Federation. The place of the workers is neither the tail of American imperialism nor the tail of Russian imperialism. The place of the workers is to stand behind a Trade Union International that will not confuse its role with either that of the International Labor Office or the League of Nations. An International that will incite the workers to unity with more passion than has been seen for 100 years. Every effort devoted to the support of a governmental institution is one more effort robbed from the CGT and the International; to never tire of repeating that a powerful syndicalism cannot arise except on the triple foundation of independence, the class struggle and internationalism;

“Remain faithful to the motto of the First International: the emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves.”

But one must not assume that RP closed its pages to other topics, to literature and criticism. For example, it featured Louzon’s penetrating analyses on economic and historical questions, and Brupbacher’s marvelous essay on Jules Vallés, the great revolutionary author of the trilogy, The Child, The Student, and The Insurgent, and the novel, Les Réfractaires. Nor did it ignore the emergence of manifestations of social life that expressed the awakening of a spirit of independence and creative spontaneity in opposition to the totalitarian incursions of the State, such as the youth hostel movement.

The most important service performed by the group that published RP, however, was that of providing a terrain of encounter for the two ideological fractions that had split working class thought since the times of the First International: anarchism and Marxism. Both tendencies were represented by some of the journal’s regular, occasional or sporadic contributors. It imposed on sterile sectarianism the necessity of a synthesis that would preserve the most valuable characteristics of the two approaches: the critical rigor, philosophical depth, and the concrete historical understanding of Marxism, and the love of freedom, justice and ethical perfection of anarchism. History, “the achievement of liberty”, will accomplish this creative synthesis that will save humanity on the ashes of capitalism. Happy the future generations!

11. I do not want to conclude this brief biographical essay without relating a few anecdotes that will give you an idea of the kind of man Monatte was.

In 1930 Monatte had to respond to a venomous attack from a confederal secretary. He did so very modestly; not one word too few or too many. A family tragedy haunted his enemy. But for Monatte, for whom anything that was not of exclusive interest for the movement was of no concern, the movement was not a dung heap where one opened up old wounds in the style of the polemical fashions introduced by Stalinism. He could be envied for “the severity with which he lashed the militant without torturing the man.”

And, another anecdote: one day, a placid old militant met Monatte’s female companion and, during the course of their chat, confessed: “You see, Luisa, there is something that we will never forgive him for: that is, he is always the same. He is the same person he was before 1914. We all have something that can be thrown in our faces. He has remained pure. For us, Monatte is a living reproach.” How many people who grew up in our country in the 1920s could say the same thing about themselves?

Monatte’s work has been stigmatized as utopian. Observers have often responded to his group’s labors with both irony and skeptical doubt. So what? “Whether what is up there above us is called a mirage or a reality, let us rise, because we would be the most wretched beings if we don't rise, because, even if life does not make sense, we need our lives to have meaning and that meaning is ascent.” These words come from Han Ryner’s biography of Reclús.6 And Monatte’s life has been just such an ascent for all of those who have had the good fortune to fight at his side.

Laín Díez
April 1951

Translated from the Spanish original.


First published as a pamphlet by the Centro de Estudios materialistas, (Santiago de Chile, 1951, 22 pages).

The text can be found online at:

  • 1. Émile Pouget, Ad Memoriam, a pamphlet containing various articles, among them one by Paul Delesalle: “Émile Pouget: The Life of a Militant”. La Publication Sociale, Paris (1931?).
  • 2. R. Rocker, “La fundación de la International Anarquista”, in Solidaridad Obrera, Year VIII, No. 307, January 13, 1951.
  • 3. O. H. Gankin and H. H. Fisher, The Bolsheviks and the World War (The Origins of the Third International), Stanford University Press, Stanford University, California, 1940, p. 338.
  • 4. A. Dunois, Introduction to Lissagaray (1929), in the new edition of The History of the Commune of 1871, Paris, M. Riviére, 1947, p. XV.
  • 5. M. Nettlau, The Life of Gustav Landauer Based on His Correspondence. There is a Spanish translation by D.A. de Santillán in the Americalee of B. A. edition of Landauer’s For Socialism, 1947, p. 324. As is known, this great anarchist fighter was murdered by soldiers just like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
  • 6. Conference held in 1927 in Paris, published by the Groupe de propagande par la brochure, No. 61, January 1928, p. 24.


Nov 26 2012 00:14

Skimmed the article. Interesting.

Love this quote, but wonder if his politics were really truly the same throughout his life-span. From the little of Monatte I've read (including copies of the post WWII "RP"), not really sure. Clearly he seemed more of a committed militant workerist then anything else. So I wonder about the anarcho-syndicalist aspect of his politics. Or, at least, being ideologically committed to anarcho-syndicalism.

But I dig the temperament aspect and the steady hand in ones belief's and a commitment to stand by them. Through thick and thin. Standing by the few remaining comrades you started the journey with. And standing steady and principled with those who turned against you and with those who lost principles just to push themselves and their egos ahead. Sometimes ya just gotta rock steady to rock on.

And, another anecdote: one day, a placid old militant met Monatte’s female companion and, during the course of their chat, confessed: “You see, Luisa, there is something that we will never forgive him for: that is, he is always the same. He is the same person he was before 1914. We all have something that can be thrown in our faces. He has remained pure. For us, Monatte is a living reproach.” How many people who grew up in our country in the 1920s could say the same thing about themselves?

More on Monatte:

Nov 26 2012 10:02

Hi, thanks very much for translating this!

[Just a short editorial note on the tags, in general try to keep the number of tags short. I have removed most of the tags given to this article as this article is not primarily about those other things/people (like Malatesta, or World War I for example). If extra tags need to be added to an article, admins can do that, and actually it is easier for us to add tags than to remove ones! This is not meant as criticism so please don't take it as such!]

Nov 26 2012 11:16

La Révolution Prolétarienne (1925-1939) online:

Alias Recluse
Aug 16 2015 13:12

"Syndicalist" was right.

Monatte is more accurately described as a "revolutionary syndicalist" than as an "anarchosyndicalist", especially in light of his activities in the immediate post-war period (the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committees of the CGT in France, the Communist International, the Red Trade Union International...). He was a supporter of the Charter of Amiens and emphasized its principle of neutrality with regard to the personal ideological views (religion, philosophy, "politics", etc.) of trade union members. Here is an excerpt from the Charter of Amiens:

"The Congress declares that this double task [defense of the workers standard of living and working conditions/preparation for administering the economy after the revolution], daily and in the future, flows from the situation which weighs on the working class, and which renders obligatory for all workers — whatever their opinions or their political or philosophical leanings — membership in that essential group that is the union.

"In consequence, as far as it concerns individuals, the Congress asserts the complete freedom for union member to participate — outside of his corporate grouping — in those forms of struggle that correspond to his philosophical or political concepts, limiting itself to asking him in exchange to not introduce into the union the opinions he professes outside it."

I have therefore edited the "Introduction" to this article and replaced "anarchosyndicalist" with "revolutionary syndicalist".