A short biography of possibly the founder of anarchist communism, Francois Dumartheray of France.
Francois Dumartheray was born at Collonges, Haute-Savoie in the Savoy on 27th January 1842.
A member of a utopian Icarian group in Lyons, he was one of those who fled to Geneva after the Paris commune and subsequent repression.
He became a member of the L’Avenir (Future) group, along with Antoine Perrare, composed mostly of workers who had their roots in the Cabetian strand of communism (utopian socialist followers of Etienne Cabet) in Lyons.
Later he helped Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin edit Le Révolté, and it was he who penned a small pamphlet for the group, Aux travailleurs manuels partisans de l’action politique (To Manual Workers Partisans of Political Action) in 1876.
In this pamphlet a further forthcoming pamphlet on anarchist communism is promised. This pamphlet has never been traced. This is the first traceable mention of the term.
Dumartheray is the missing link, or rather the catalyst, in the fusion of the best of the communist current that sprang from Babeuf, the Communist banquets of Belleville, Weitling and Cabet and the new anarchist current emerging from the First International.
He was a delegate to the anti-authoritarian International Congress in September 1873, and those to follow. In 1877, he helped Pindy, together with Paul Brousse, found a French-speaking section of the International in Switzerland with its newspaper L'Avant-Garde".
The anarchist historian George Woodcock makes the patronising comment that Elisee Reclus, who was in Geneva at the time, and who had a background in Fourierist phalansterism, was more likely to have introduced Dumartheray to a realisation of anarchist communism, saying, with no apparent evidence, that the worker Dumartheray “does not appear to have been a man of highly original mind’.(p.189. Anarchism, Penguin edition 1975).
The famous contemporary anarchist, Peter Kropotkin contradicts Woodcock on this. In his Memoirs of a Revolutionary he writes warmly about Dumartheray:
“with two friends, Dumartheray and Herzig, I started a new fortnightly paper at Geneva, in February, 1879, under the title of 'Le Révolté.' I had to write most of it myself. We had only twenty-three francs (about four dollars) to start the paper, but we all set to work to get subscriptions, and succeeded in issuing our first number…. Dumartheray and Herzig gave me full support in that direction. Dumartheray was born in one of the poorest peasant families in Savoy. His schooling had not gone beyond the first rudiments of a primary school. Yet he was one of the most intelligent men I ever met. His appreciations of current events and men were so remarkable for their uncommon good sense that they were often prophetic. He was also one of the finest critics of the current socialist literature, and was never taken in by the mere display of fine words or would-be science.
“To the judgment of these two friends I could trust implicitly. If Herzig frowned, muttering, 'Yes--well--it may go,' I knew that it would not do. And when Dumartherary, who always complained of the bad state of his spectacles when he had to read a not quite legibly written manuscript, and therefore generally read proofs only, interrupted his reading by exclaiming, 'Non, ça ne va pas!' I felt at once that it was not the proper thing, and tried to guess what thought or expression provoked his disapproval. I knew there was no use asking him, 'Why will it not do?' He would have answered: 'Ah, that is not my affair; that's yours. It won't do; that is all I can say.' But I felt he was right, and I simply sat down to rewrite the passage, or, taking the composing-stick, set up in type a new passage instead.
"When there were problems with printing, it was Dumartheray who insisted that all obstacles could be overcome. 'It's all very simple,' he said. 'We buy our own printing-plant on a three months' credit, and in three months we shall have paid for it.' 'But we have no money, only a few hundred francs,' I objected. 'Money, nonsense! We shall have it! Let us only order the type at once and immediately issue our next number--and money will come!' Once more his judgment was quite right. When our next number came out from our own 'Imprimerie Jurassienne,' and we had told our difficulties and printed a couple of small pamphlets besides - all of us helping in the printing - the money came in; mostly in coppers and small silver coins, but it came. Over and over again in my life I have heard complaints among the advanced parties about the want of money; but the longer I live, the more I am persuaded that our chief difficulty is not so much a lack of money as of men who will march firmly and steadily towards a given aim in the right direction, and inspire others. For twenty-one years our paper has now continued to live from hand to mouth, - appeals for funds appearing on the front page in almost every number; but as long as there is a man who sticks to it and puts all his energy into it, as Herzig and Dumartheray did at Geneva, and as [Jean] Grave has done for the last sixteen years at Paris, the money comes in, and a yearly debit of about eight hundred pounds is made up, - mainly out of the pennies and small silver coins of the workers, - to cover the yearly expenditure for printing the paper and the pamphlets. For a paper, as for everything else, men are of an infinitely greater value than money”.
Dumartheray was a great understander of the need for cheap, accessible propaganda, and Kroptkin notes that he insisted on pricing all pamphlets produced by the group at one penny.
Le Révolté’s propagation of libertarian communism, by Kropotkin, Herzig and Dumartheray led to it being adopted by the Jura Federation, the Swiss section of the First International, at its Congress of 9 and 10 October 1880.
Dumartheray has left us some warm tributes to his friends and comrades Reclus and Kropotkin, which were produced as short pamphlets with their deaths.
Despite the French amnesty of 1880, Dumartheray remained in Switzerland until 1927. He died in 1931