Dave, Victor, 1845-1922


Biography of a Belgian radical, imprisoned in Germany and militant within the proofreaders' union.

Submitted by Ed on March 2, 2007

Victor Dave
Born Jambes, Belguim 1845. Died Paris, France 1922

Victor Dave was born in Jambes, near Namur in Belgium on February 25th, 1845. Son of a senior judge (President of the Cour des Comptes Belge) he completed his higher education at the Faculty of Letters in Liège and the Free University in Brussels.

He started developing libertarian socialist ideas. He participated in the International Congress of Socialist Students in Liège in 1865. The following year he became a member of the Brussels Federation of the International Working Men's Association (IWMA) and in 1869 a member of its General Council. The same year he was a delegate to the International Congress of Freethinkers in Naples. He worked closely with the German socialist movement between 1865 and 1873. In September 1873 he was a delegate of the Hague section at the 5th Congress of the First International in that town. He witnessed the expulsion of Bakunin and James Guillaume by the Marxists. Taking their side, he pronounced that he was for the autonomy of the sections and against the General Council in London controlled by Marx.

On the 13th April 1873, he took part in the Congress of the Belgian Federation where he was on a commission to write a call to rural workers. Another conference of the Belgian Federation took place on 1st June calling for the suppression of the General Council of the International and adopting the principles defined by the Jura Federation.

Dave was in Spain in June-July 1873 and took part in the Catalonian cantonalist uprising there. From there he went to Switzerland in September, attending the 6th Congress of the First International (Anti-Authoritarian) in Geneva as a delegate of the mechanics section of Verviers in Belgium, where he was then living (even though he was a journalist and not a mechanic!). In 1878, he settled in Paris and married a young French woman. Expelled from France in March 1880, he went to London. Dave had adopted the collectivist anarchism of Bakunin and Guillaume and drew close to the German Johann Most. In 1881, he was arrested in Germany for distributing clandestine propaganda for Most. He was accused of treason and violation of the anti-socialist laws and was sentenced to five years in the Halle fortress. Released after two and a half years, he returned to London.

He now became involved in the War of the Brothers - die Bruderkrieg - where the exile German movement fell out with the collectivist tendency of Most and Dave opposed to the anarchist-communist tendency of Josef Peukert. Another bone of contention was Peukert’s support for the shady character Theodor Reuss, accused of being a police spy. Dave was in his turn denounced as a police spy. In the meantime Reuss had fingered John Neve, thanks to the foolishness of Peukert, leading to the arrest, imprisonment and death of this outstanding anarchist. Peukert retaliated by accusing Dave of Neve’s betrayal. As a result Dave was expelled from the Communistische Arbeiter-Bildungs-Verein. None of this did Peukert or Dave much good, and it had a disastrous effect on the German anarchist movement as well as having harmful repercussions within the English movement.

Dave was active in the Socialist League and was a member of its North London branch. He co-wrote a pamphlet on the Paris Commune with Belfort Bax and William Morris and contributed to the international news section of the League’s paper Commonweal.

Dave returned to France after the suspension of his exile order. He became editor of the anarchist paper L'Humanité nouvelle founded by Augustin Hamon from 1897. In 1899 in Paris he published a pamphlet on Marx and Bakunin. With Costes he published the Revue générale de bibliographie française in 1903-04.In 1903 with an associate he published two translations from Lassalle and also wrote a pamphlet portrait of one of the founders of French anarcho-syndicalism, Fernand Pelloutier. In 1909, after the death of his ailing compagne, he worked as a proof reader and joined the proofreaders union in 1911.

When war broke out in 1914 he rallied to the pro-war position of Kropotkin and Jean Grave and signed the "Manifesto of the Sixteen" in February 1916 in favour of the Allies against Germany and Austria; and against the majority of the anarchist movement.

He died in Paris on October 31st, 1922 and was cremated at the Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Emma Goldman on Dave around 1900:
"He was kindly and jovial. Though sixty, he was as alert in mind and spirit as in his student days. Eking out a meager existence as contributor to anarchist and other publications, he yet retained the buoyancy and humour of youth. I spent much time with him and his lifelong companion, Marie, an invalid for many years, but still interested in public affairs... The most fascinating thing about Victor Dave was his innate feeling for life and ready enjoyment of fun. He was the freest and gayest among the many comrades I met in Paris, a companion after my own heart." (vol. 1, Living My Life)