2001: Zhang Jun and his gang 1946: Karl Hermann Frank

1894: Emile Henry, because there are no innocent bourgeois

May 21st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1894, Emile Henry was guillotined in Paris for bombing the Cafe Terminus three months before.

Yale history professor John Merriman (see him lecturing on the Paris Commune) explores how Henry’s bombing “ignited the age of modern terror.” (Review.) (Another.)

A bourgeois youth who, disgusted at the gross economic exploitation of the Gilded Age, had turned against his class with the fury only the apostate can command, Émile Henry had chucked a bomb into the chic cafe of the Parisian Gare Saint-Lazare a week after the execution of Auguste Vaillant.

Henry’s act killed only one, but electrified the country.

The Terminus bombing stood out in an era of violent anarchist ferment for its target selection: not a prince or president or parliamentarian, but the faceless multitudes of the bourgeoisie (formerly) secure in their metropolitan repose — who, in their indifference to the misery of workers assented to and profited from the more infamous repressions wrought by their plenipotentiaries.

Henry was completely explicit about his intent: “there are no innocent bourgeois.”

Recognizing the hopelessness of his legal position, he proudly admitted the charges against him and mounted an eloquent defense for the wider world of his version of anarchist terror.

I had returned to Paris at the time of the Vaillant affair, and I witnessed the frightful repression that followed the explosion at the Palais Bourbon. I saw the draconian measures which the government decided to take against the anarchists. Everywhere there were spies, and searches, and arrests. A crowd of individuals were indiscriminately rounded up, torn from their families, and thrown into prison. Nobody was concerned about what happened to the wives and children of these comrades while they remained in jail.

The anarchist was no longer regarded as a man, but as a wild beast to be hunted everywhere while the bourgeois Press, which is the vile slave of authority, loudly demands his extermination.

But, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, you have reckoned a little too much without your host. You arrested hundreds of men and women, you violated scores of homes, but still outside the prison walls there were men unknown to you who watched from the shadows as you hunted the anarchists, and waited only for the moment that would be favourable for them in their turn to hunt the hunters.

… The bomb in the Cafe Terminus is the answer to all your violations of freedom, to your arrests, to your searches, to your laws against the Press, to your mass transportations, to your guillotinings. But why, you ask, attack these peaceful cafe guests, who sat listening to music and who, no doubt, were neither judges nor deputies nor bureaucrats? Why? It is very simple. The bourgeoisie did not distinguish among the anarchists. Vaillant, a man on his own, threw a bomb; nine-tenths of the comrades did not even know him. But that meant nothing; the persecution was a mass one, and anyone with the slightest anarchist links was hunted down. And since you hold a whole party responsible for the actions of a single man, and strike indiscriminately, we also strike indiscriminately.

Perhaps we should attack only the deputies who make laws against us, the judges who apply those laws, the police who arrest us? I do not agree. These men are only instruments. They do not act in their own name. Their functions were instituted by the bourgeoisie for its own defence. They are no more guilty than the rest of you. Those good bourgeois who hold no office but who reap their dividends and live idly on the profits of the workers’ toil, they also must take their share in the reprisals. And not only they, but all those who are satisfied with the existing order, who applaud the acts of the government and so become its accomplices, those clerks earning three or five hundred francs a month who hate the people even more violently than the rich, that stupid and pretentious mass of folk who always choose the strongest side — in other words, the daily clientele of Terminus and the other great cafés.

That is why I struck at random and did not choose my victims! The bourgeoisie must be brought to understand that those who have suffered are tired at last of their sufferings; they are showing their teeth and they will strike all the more brutally if you are brutal with them. …

We will not spare the women and children of the bourgeois, for the women and children of those we love have not been spared. Must we not count among the innocent victims those children who die slowly of anaemia in the slums because bread is scarce in their houses; those women who grow pale in your workshops, working to earn forty sous a day and fortunate when poverty does not force them into prostitution; those old men whom you have made production machines all their lives and whom you cast on to the waste heap or into the workhouse when their strength has worn away?

At least have the courage of your crimes, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, and grant that our reprisals are completely legitimate.

In that pitiless war which we have declared on the bourgeoisie, we ask for no pity. We give death, and we know how to endure it. So it is with indifference that I await your verdict. I know that my head is not the last you will cut off; yet others will fall, for the starving are beginning to know the way to your great cafes and restaurants, to the Terminus and Foyot. You will add other names to the bloody list of our dead.

You have hanged in Chicago, decapitated in Germany, garotted in Jerez, shot in Barcelona, guillotined in Montbrison and Paris, but what you will never destroy is anarchy. Its roots are too deep. It is born in the heart of a society that is rotting and falling apart. It is a violent reaction against the established order. It represents all the egalitarian and libertarian aspirations that strike out against authority. It is everywhere, which makes it impossible to contain. It will end by killing you.

Clemenceau, who witnessed the beheading at the Place de la Roquette, saw in the ghastly white 21-year-old crying “long live anarchy!” in the predawn gloom this morning in 1894 “the face of a tormented Christ, terribly pale, implacable in expression, trying to impose his intellectual pride upon his child’s body … let those for the death penalty go, if they dare, to smell the blood of La Roquette.”

Five weeks later, the French president who had refused to spare Henry was himself assassinated by another anarchist.

The clip above uses an actual 1893 anarchist hymn to dynamite, that fruit of the chemical science whose pyrotechnics were held to catalyze social change. Henry, who probably hummed the song a few times in his life, must have approved the songwriter’s philosophy.

Tant mieux s’il éclate parfois en faisant beaucoup de victimes
Chez nos ennemis les bourgeois cela nous venge de leurs crimes

For more on Henry’s place in the era’s revolutionary ferment, enjoy this lecture by Dynamite Club author John Merriman as part of his course European Civilization, 1648-1945.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,France,Guillotine,History,Infamous,Martyrs,Murder,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Terrorists

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