So on this 8 March 1905, while the Black Marias were being awaited, the people in charge of maintaining order prepared themselves for every eventuality. They were torn between ‘cautious optimism’ and ‘reasonable caution’, endeavouring not to yield to uncontrolled panic like last week when an apprentice plumber searching for leaks in the guttering upon the roofs of the Passage Couvreur, near the Bicêtre prison, found himself set upon by two gendarmes and handcuffed. Suspected of preparing an escape for Jacob, the unfortunate fellow had been interrogated throughout the night, somewhat brutally, by some overzealous inspectors. (Moreover, there was nothing to show that they were not in fact faced with an accomplice of the Robber). From his vantage-point atop the staircase, the superintendent tries to divine the crowd’s intentions. They are murmuring. Getting worked up. Ready to intervene, narks monitor its changing moods. He picks out scattered anarchists distributing packets of leaflets attempting to offer a justification of Jacob. Their manes of hair, their beards and sombre faces make them readily visible from a distance. Over on the left, three of them are trying to organise a meeting. Four plain clothed inspectors immediately move in to frustrate them. A crowd gathers round. Soon it degenerates into the most immense confusion. Five ranks of chasseurs protect the court-house, not to mention the troops held in reserve. The officials blithely step inside, mingling with the bourgeois who have come to watch the spectacle and who are holding forth on the threshold. Let us go! Disorder will not triumph this time! But the ranting floats off in the direction of the boulevards. The rumbling of the Black Marias reverberates from the cobblestones. The escort appears, a squadron from the 30th Chasseurs Regiment headed by a general in undress. The muffled sound of a song covers everything… la Carmagnole, intoned by prisoners and taken up by 20, by 100, by 1000 raucous voices from the populace. The wagons come to a halt amid a clatter of ironwork. The infantrymen push back the huddled ranks of the crowds. The doors are opened. Four women disembark first, shackled in pairs: Jacob’s mother, Rose his companion and two others pale and skinny and rather elegantly dressed, though their furs are mangy. The Petit Parisien and Gil Blas correspondents will be scathing about them in their reports: but it has to be said that, as these wretches are unloaded, they have been languishing in prison for the past two years and have scarcely had the opportunity to renew their wardrobe at Paquin’s, Worth’s or the Callot sisters’ place. Then it is the men’s turn. Hollow cheeks, fiery looks. ‘A truly strange sort, low-set, supple and agile as a sailor,’ notes Monsieur Beau of the Havas Agency. ‘A queer, devilish head, pierced in the middle by two bright points of extraordinary vivacity,’ notes L’Aurore. ‘A sallow face, the nose strong and flattened, the beard sparse, the lips sparse and pouting, the ears sticking out,’ the reporter from Le Petit Parisien, unkindly notes. He is wearing a broad black bowler hat. He has on a black overcoat with astrakhan collar, a red tie and straight collar slightly crumpled at the edges. In his hand he has a huge briefcase stuffed with papers.’ It appears that inside the prison he has a secretary to whom he dictates his thoughts. His mother and mistress do nothing unless he has first given his consent,’ opines Le Petit Parisien. In any case, there is nothing about him that is redolent of a lout in a peaked cap. Nothing of the sinister-faced ogre. His dress is correct, his toilet painstaking, his moustaches crimped and almost bristling under his strong nose. Of medium build, but squat. He has the air of a civil servant, bordering on that of a teacher or savant. Two by two, his nineteen accomplices line up. Jacob’s face is brightened by a broad grin when he spots the crowd gaping at him. He makes to raise his arms, despite the shackles,. ‘Long live anarchy!’ he cries. ‘Long live anarchy! Long live Jacob!’ answer the onlookers in a burst of applause. The gendarmes step in: they jostle the prisoners, prodding them with vehemence towards the steps. Jacob does not comply. They have to drag him by the arm. His eyes sparkle. He sings the Internationale. The cortege, the women, the public, join in. The song rises into the air and ascends towards the overcast skies. The accused and their guards, followed by the flapping black sleeves of their lawyers, disappear beneath the archway. They vanish into the corridors. The team from Germinal tries to follow in their footsteps. Jénot signals to his men to head them off. The argument lasts barely a few seconds and then the anarchists give up the attempt. They vanish into the crush of people standing around in small knots waiting for God knows what. The courtroom is shabby, dim, grimy, with faded frescoes on the back wall. Some benches and an additional platform have been arranged to accommodate the accused. The exhibits of the prosecution, a real mountain of them, overspill onto the press benches: jemmies, artistically laid out in order of size; bit-braces, drills, hacksaws, glass-cutters; some Edison lamps linked together by five metres of wiring; some oilcans, a few soapboxes. Jacob’s own personal kit, dubbed by him his ‘double bass’ is a wondrous specimen. The judicial police’s best experts have given up on trying to understand the function of several instruments. They admit to never having seen anything like them. According to them there is at least 10,000 francs worth of equipment here. Let us listen to Petit Parisien ‘Upwards of 80 keys in nickel-plated steel, each one actually comprising two keys, for there is an extremely ingenious moving part which, it seems, is of American manufacture. Furthermore, the end of these keys presents a rectangular-shaped recess which makes it possible to tailor a special attachment to the instrument for opening the most complicated locks. The malefactor also carried electric lamps, one of which, collapsible and fitted with reflectors, provided a powerful beam capable of lighting up an entire room. He also had in his possession a highly refined instrument designed to break open safes and from one of the finest companies in New York: a ladder of silk fitted at the ends with two sturdy hooks capable of gripping anywhere and other sundry accessories, all of them equally refined.’ The whole thing fits into a black leather satchel just 70 centimetres long by 95 centimetres high. At noon, the Court makes its entrance. Councillor Wehekind, who seems ill at ease, presides. He is assisted by his assessors Job Vaselle and Thorel. The procurator-general Regnault in person occupies the chair of the public prosecutor, aided by his deputy, Monsieur Pennelier. First item of business: the drawing of lots for jury membership. First sensation: only 5 of those whose names are called are present. The others have been detained by urgent business. Or indeed by illness: one angina attack, some renal colic complaints, some severe bronchitis. An epidemic appears to have descended upon Amiens. Procurator Regnault appeals to a sense of civic duty, to dedication to the law: why did they come forward as volunteers only to absent themselves now? Some medical certificates, properly and duly completed, offer the only reply. To tell the truth, the jury panel members were afraid. They have no wish to get embroiled in some squalid episode. They put themselves forward as volunteers in the trials of murderers, of ‘normal’ thieves. Not of anarchists. That is too risky. Their neighbours have intimated as much to them. Their wives have pleaded with them in the name of their children. And then… this is something that they do not admit… each one of them has received a threatening letter written in vitriol. thrown for a moment, court president Wehekind regains his composure: let some gendarmes be dispatched, accompanied by a doctor, to verify these excuses and summon the dodgers. The sitting is suspended. For lunc
h. Capitalising upon the absence of the reporters, the troops have left unmanned the approaches to the courthouse, which are now deserted. In the clammy atmosphere about 50 soldiers are napping on the steps, belts unbuckled, rifle laid across their bellies. One would say it was the aftermath of battle. Thousands of leaflets litter the pathway. When at last the court resumes at 2 pm, the definitive jury is at last appointed… pallid men with worried brows and frightened faces. Then comes the establishment of the identities of the accused: ‘Jacob… Alexandre Marius, Fischer the clerk of the court calls out. ‘Present,’ he replies. He is seated peacefully, tethered by his handcuffs to his warder guardian angel. The bowler hat is pulled down tight upon his head. He grins at the angels. The court president, who had not hitherto glanced in his direction, gives a start: ‘Stand up!’ he exclaims. ‘You’re well and truly seated, you are!’ Jacob returns. ‘And remove your hat when you address me!’ ‘You’re well covered!’ ‘You are here to stand trial. You must conform to practice and show greater decorum!’ ‘This is a sham! A parody of justice! I will show regard for you when you show some for the workers!..’ (1) The gendarme escorting him snatches the hat from his head. The remainder of the outburst is lost amid the brouhaha. ‘Silence!’ shouts Wehekind. ‘Silence! Or I will have the court cleared.’ Then: ‘Do you wish to challenge any of the jury?’ he proceeds. ‘I challenge them all,’ answers Jacob, ‘for they are my enemies.’ Everyone catches his breath again. The enumeration of names, surnames, ages, professions proceeds without further incident. However, there is no article in the code capable of preventing the bandits from adopting an air of mockery. Next, the clerk sets about the litany of the 161 pages of the indictment sheet. The public strain to understand. Several of the accused ejaculate expressions of astonishment at the relation of certain exploits of their mastermind, of which they had been unaware. At 6 pm., after various formalities, their first day’s proceedings are concluded. When Jacob emerges, the crowd has formed again and is controlled by the cordons of chasseurs only with great difficulty. Revolutionary songs burst forth on all sides. Two anarchists who succeed in gaining access to the courtroom despite superintendent Jénot’s strict screening procedure rush to the printing works of Germinal, the workshop of Jules Lemaine the shoe-mender. At the back of the shop, the yard and shed, an ancient much repaired hand-operated press has been set up and a compositor’s workroom. On the grimy panels of the front door are two placards: ‘Germinal – Editorial – Administrative – Advertising offices’ ‘Soles (heels included): Men (Hobnailed) 3 Francs and 3.25F.; (stitched) 4F.; women: (hobnailed) 2.50F.; (stitched) 3.25F.; fittings guaranteed invisible, 0.30F.’ Two advertising notices… ‘No more abortions! Scientific and practical means of limiting female fertility, by Doctor Knowlton. Translated from the English by Lennoz. Pamphlet prosecuted and acquitted by the Brabant assizes. Price 0.50F. Apply within.’ And the other reads… ‘Midwife. Cures all women’s complaints. Absolute discretion, receives boarders at any stage of pregnancy. Apply to Mlle. Berthe Leguillier, 388 Route d’Abbeville, Montières. Consultations daily from 1 pm. to 3 pm.’ For the anarchists, 60 years or so ahead of their times, are also actively campaigning on behalf of birth control—which brings them plenty of vexations. By 7 pm., the team, bolstered by a number of persons who have come down from Paris, is in full session, amid the shoes, clogs, awls, gouges, lasts and nails. Feverishly, they set about preparing the special edition which they have resolved to put out just as soon as possible. Pacaud sees to the editorial: ‘Rarely will a trial have caused such a sensation… (…) The judiciary, the army and the police are dumbfounded. The defenders of order have been seized by a tremendous funk that shows itself in the grotesque, not to say pointless deployment of manpower (…). The courthouse has been turned into a barracks (…). But disappointment among the bourgeois newspapers, the mouthpieces of middle-class mediocrity, has been great indeed! Good Lord! Sacrosanct property has been attacked. The quivering bourgeois must have visions of looting and riot flashing before their eyes: all because the demonstrations of hate by those who own nothing against a recuperator such as Jacob have ceased. The prejudices that underpinned the old authoritarian society have melted away. Which just goes to show that our propaganda is on the right track!’ Then he takes the jury to task: ‘Sometimes, doctors’ certificates are convenient.’ He breaks down by profession… each profession accompanied by some epithet of his own devising… the ‘panel list’ from which Jacob’s jurors have been chosen by lot. There is among them, he notes, ‘not one worker, not one peasant, not a single proletarian’. How come? Because if justice was just and were Jacob’s jury made up of twelve workers, he would necessarily have been acquitted! What, then, is the difference between the judges and the judged? It is that the thieves are not the ones that are believed to be so!’ At the corner of a table, Maurice Lucas is drafting another document in the same vein: ‘They have been racking their brains since the start of the investigation to cultivate a mysterious lust for vengeance in the crowd, in the ignoble aim of ensuring that Jacob would be lynched. For the sake of the soundness of its foundations, it was in the interest of society as a whole that some avenging spirit should stir the stupidity of the mob. To meet the requirements of its cause, the people had to anathematise the destroyers of property. All in vain! Today, for all the tremendous obstacles placed in its way, the people are in contact with these revolutionary heroes! Miscalculation and amazement! The accused are men of mettle! Jacob, Pélissard, Augain, Chalus, Soutarel, Baudy and Charles are educated minds, noble hearts devoted to the cause of humanity. How could the people’s sympathies fail to fly to them, who are going to pay with their lives and their liberty for the tremendous wound they have inflicted upon the butchers of the people?’ Jules Lemaire picks up the baton. He is on edge. Demonstrations of sympathy from the crowd were not enough for him. He had called a meeting of all militants in the region for today: he had been expecting a riot: they had made do with a rendition of the Internationale. He looks for, still wishes for a reversal of opinion, a gesture, a backlash, something. But Souvarine, a Russian emigre who by some miracle escaped the clutches of the Okhrana, is not happy with Lemaire’s prose. One does not make revolution with demonstrations, but with bombs. Souvarine has drawn up a text which, according to him, should override all the rest. ‘Even as the dispatches are reporting that in Russia, hordes of muzhiks, starving bands made up of several thousands of peasants in open revolt are roaming the countryside, looting the castles and mansions of the landlords, burning and pillaging with no one capable of opposing them—at this very moment, a sinister comedy is being played out between robbers and robbed in the Amiens courthouse: a comedy that nearly two years have been spent to concoct. We have to believe that fear is the getting of wisdom, for this time the selection of the jury was not without complications. Nonetheless it is an exceptional delight for twelve who own to sit in judgement of 23 dispossessed. COULD IT BE TRUE, AS IS BEING SAID, THAT JACOB STILL HAS SOME FRIENDS AT LARGE WHO ARE MONITORING THE ACTIONS AND MOVES OF THE JURORS, AND PREPARING TO TAKE REVENGE FOR THEM? IT WOULD CERTAINLY BE REGRETTABLE TO HAVE TO RESORT TO WEAPONS OF INTIMIDATION LIKE THE BOMB OR THE REVOLVER, but if this salutary fear had the effect of making them reflect, they would at least grasp one self-evident fact: JACOB, BEING AN A
NARCHIST, CANNOT BE A LEADER. Whereupon the thesis of a band of malefactors led by him collapses. The fiction maintained by the hireling press caves in. You have gulled the people long enough: long enough have you managed to induce them to believe the robbed the robber! Today the truth explodes for all to see! The proletariat are awakening, they read, they listen, they reflect, they see clearly. They know that Property is theft. You have the effrontery to pose as fair-minded men! Craven hypocrites, you well know that there is nothing fair in your stinking society. Your learned men, your professors, your journalists are repeatedly forced to concede that injustice, everything most ghastly in the moral and material sense… these are the rules of your beautiful society of carrion flesh and inverts. The risen people are expropriating your like in Russia. A new day has dawned at last when there will be no more judges, no more robbed and no more robbers!’ Having perused Souvarine’s text one by one, the comrades say nothing. Are they afraid perhaps? Do they fear lest he may go out and down one of these grasping bourgeois? Yet he is ready to do just that! And this very evening if need be. To set an example. To strike terror into the others. Violence is atrocious when it serves the master. But sublime when it serves the free man! Let’s go! What is holding them back? But a man enters the shop, a short, bearded, eagle-eyed man with a hooked nose, dressed almost like a bourgeois alongside the rest. He shakes himself as he removes his rain-soaked mackintosh. His name is Charles Malato. One of Jacob’s oldest friends. He made his acquaintance in Marseilles when he was just 17 years old. He himself is aged 40. He is a man who carries some weight, a man that one can tell does not hesitate to lend a hand to the plough if need be. An insurrectionist anarchist. They respect him. He has been out and about making inquiries. He has contacts everywhere, known to him alone. They huddle around him. ‘So?’ ‘So, it’s a hell of a mess. The screw who was in with us has been moved to another department. Jacob has been moved to another cell yet again. It’s back to scratch again.’ A sympathetic silence greets the news. Be that as it may, Malato has managed to get hold of a message from Jacob. Jacob thanks them for all they are doing. However he does not think an escape is feasible at present neither in the Bicêtre nor in the courthouse: he is hemmed in by too many soldiers. It would also be madness to attempt to pull something as he is being removed from the van. It only remains to await a favourable opportunity and then to try to cobble something together… One never knows… In any case, Jacob prefers to be guillotined rather than be the cause of any pointless blood-letting: so, he hopes, when his head falls it will bloody the enemy. They all bow their heads: would they show the same courage in similar circumstances? They have not many chances left to get him out of there. ‘Let’s go to it,’ Malato begins again. ‘In one way he has the finest part. He has conducted himself like a free man. If die he must, he will die like a free man. And then what! At this very moment throughout France, in Paris, in Marseilles, in Lyons, in Perpignan, all of the comrades have their eyes turned to Amiens. We have to live up to expectations. Mustn’t disappoint them.’ ‘Here!’ he concludes after a pause. ‘I’ve brought you this. Libertad sent it for you. He had prepared it in advance. It puts things back into perspective. From our point of view, of course. He will release it to the public simultaneously through Germinal and L’Anarchie.’ Libertad, the redoubtable crutch-borne leading light behind Causeries du XVIIIe and who had just founded L’Anarchie, a libertarian weekly of the individualist persuasion, is known to all present. Soon, despite himself, he is to be the inspiration of the ‘Bonnot Gang.’ The article is passed from hand to hand. They peruse it. Comment upon it. Gradually life returns and so does a diehard hope. ‘At this very moment,’ Libertad writes, ‘there are two collections of individuals in attendance at Amiens. One seems to have scored a victory: it no longer fights, it merely judges. It has even appointed its delegates who deck themselves out in uniforms and adorn themselves with special names: gendarmes, judges, soldiers, prosecutors, jurors. But they fool nobody. In them one discerns the usual partners of the social struggle: robbers, counterfeiters, murderers, according to the circumstances. ‘Securely bound, the members of the second gang may be shackled but beaten they are not. And whenever they shake their heads, delegates and onlookers look like taking to their heels. ‘The folk from the first gang call their operation doing justice and claim to prosecute crime. In any event, it is not remorse that drags their enemies before them, but handcuffs instead. ‘Whether they be judges, officers of the peace, businessmen, inspectors or administrators, no useful work has ever emanated from the ten fingers of the former. They did not make the bread they eat, nor build the mansions where they live, nor make the garments they wear, nor the vehicles which transport them. So what they live by THEY HAVE STOLEN. ‘In another society, Jacob and his friends might find useful employment. Their shrewdness, their expertise, their strength and courage are questioned by no one. They began to burgle society in order to live in the… perhaps mistaken… hope that this would cause disruption in the body of society. That was their only fault—if fault they have committed.’ The following day, the crowd control was equally impressive. Before the proceedings commence, Rose, dragging her gendarme behind her, manages to hurl herself into the arms of her lover who squeezes her to himself. Unexpectedly it is decided that the women are to be held apart from him and he is moved back to the fifth row of the accused instead of the second where he spent yesterday. Even so, he blows kisses to his mother and to Rose. The clerk completes the recitation of the charges whereupon the examination begins immediately: ‘You are a native of Marseilles?’ President Wehekind asks Jacob. ‘Proud of it!’ he answers with a grin, laying the accent on thick. ‘You received good primary schooling.’ ‘Free of charge and compulsory. The people were led to believe that it was for their own good and out of a care for social progress that schooling was made compulsory for them. What a lie! It was in order to turn them into learned monkeys, more refined slaves in the bosses’ hands.’ ‘I am not asking for your opinion.’ ‘You are recounting my life before all and sundry. I have my piece to say.’ ‘Then you were a seaman. The references from your officers are generally good.’ ‘I’ve seen the world, it wasn’t pretty. Everywhere a handful of malefactors like you exploiting millions of unfortunates.’ Outraged cries from those present. The president of the court raises his gavel. Maître Justal, Jacob’s counsel, leans towards him in an effort to get him to moderate his conduct: his client won’t save his skin with this sort of behaviour. Notes. 1. Gold francs are difficult to translate into contemporary money, budgets in those days having little in common with our own. However, one can reckon on the following basis: 20 francs were then the equivalent of one ‘louis’; in 1969 one louis was worth roughly 60 francs. So one need only multiply by three. Which in this instance would give us 15 million revalued francs. A premier main with the house of Worth was then earning 250 francs monthly: a good carpenter was making 300.