Max Nettlau (1865-1944)

Anselme Bellegarrigue

by Max Nettlau (1865-1944)

Excerpted from Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, trans. Ida Pilat Isca, ed. Heiner M. Becker (London: Freedom Press, 1996), pp. 66-68.

© 1996 by Heiner M. Becker

The individuals around Proudhon were well-known through their great periodicals in the years 1848 to 1850. In addition to these, there were also published in Paris two independent mutualist organs: La France Libre (Free France) of Maximilien Marie (from April to October 1848, six issues in all) and Le Socialiste, Journal de l’égal-échange (The Socialist, Journal of Equitable Exchange), published by C. F. Chevé (8 July to October 1849, four issues in all).

But if we are to consider anti-statist ideas of a more incisive type, we shall speak of a young man in Toulouse, born between 1820 and 1825 in the extreme Southwest of France, that is, in a section of the Pyrénées (I have heard him called a Basque but I do not know on what authority). He had attended the lyceum at Aux, and had spent 1847 in the United States. He then returned to Paris, on the occasion of the Revolution of February 1848. His name is found among those registered in the Blanqui club, the ‘Central Republican Society’; this circumstance, however, is no proof of any Blanquist convictions in those agitated weeks.

This young man was Anselme Bellegarrigue, who, a few months later, published a pamphlet entitled Au Fait! Au Fait! Interprétation de l’idée démocratique (To the Point! To the Point! Interpretation of the Democratic Idea), published in Toulouse. He was the editor of the journal La Civilisation, which appeared in Toulouse from March 1849 on. This was also the most popular daily in Toulouse in that year, with a circulation of 1,800 to 2,500 copies. While, as editor, he defended the most advanced social democracy of the period, Bellegarrigue’s writing bears the distinctive impression of his own personality.

Taking as a basis his American experience, with the minimum of central government and the autonomous local activities which he had observed in that country, his work was a complete refutation of that French governmental idea which flourished within the French republic as it had flourished under the monarchy. As a means of paralysing the governmental machine, he proposed complete abstention, later called ‘the political strike’. In an era when democracy wanted to act in a revolutionary way, Bellegarrigue himself called it on 13 June 1849 ‘the theory of calm’. On that occasion, democracy was crushed by the government without putting up a fight, because the people of Paris, crushed in June 1848, proceeded in June 1849, as well as in December 1851, to leave it to democracy and reaction to straighten things out as best they could.

Bellegarrigue persevered in his point if view. He came to Paris in 1850, and, together with some of his friends from his own region, formed the ‘Association of Free Thinkers’ of Meulan (Seine-et-Oise). (One of its members, Ulysse Pic, who called himself P. Dugers, and who later became a renegade, at that time wrote in a way similar to Bellegarrigue.) This group published various pamphlets, but arrests of the members stopped any further activity. Among the pamphlets which were announced, one was published independently by Bellegarrigue under the title L’Anarchie, Journal de l’ordre (Anarchism, Journal of Order). He also brought out L’Almanach de la vile multitude (The Almanac of the Vile Multitude) and prepared an Almanac of Anarchism for 1852, which, however, was not published. He also wrote a novel based on his recollections of America, parts of which appeared in 1851 and 1854, and an essay on the women of America (1851). His emigration to Honduras, and later to San Salvador, which probably took place after the coup d’état, is a confirmed fact. And I learned, as a result of investigations which I had started in 1906, that a son of his lived in El Pimental, in the vicinity of La Libertad, San Salvador, bit I have not been able to obtain any further information.

He did not engage in any extended discussion of social questions, perhaps because whatever he felt against political government, he felt equally against social government. He felt quite satisfied with the anti-State activities of old Lamennais in 1850 in La Réforme (Paris). Bellegarrigue may be criticised for an exaggerated admiration of American liberties – of the type expressed in Édouard Laboulaye’s De Paris en Amérique (1862) – although his novel shows him to be a realistic observer. But he was genuinely hurt by the tremendous hankering for power felt by men and parties; this strong pull was intensified in France by the revolution of February 1848, which extinguished all hope of a free life for the people. No one, according to Bellegarrigue – not even Proudhon was a consistent defender of liberty. ‘We cannot escape,’ he wrote, ‘the brutality of this inexorable dilemma: either unlimited liberty or oppression to the death, annigilation; there is no middle ground, any more than there would be between life and death.’ (La Civilisation, 1 Nov 1849)

Young Elisée Reclus spent 1849, at least until the summer of that year, at the University of Montauban, a city not far from Toulouse. We do not know whether he had at that time seen La Civilisation, published by Bellegarrigue from early March to December of that year. This, of course, is a small matter since Reclus probably felt himself to be an anarchist even then. And surely Bellegarrigue’s cold critique could not have influenced him in any decisive way if anarchism had not already been nascent within him.

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