May Day, by Sophie Zaïkowska

May Day
Sophie Zaïkowska
May 1st, 1912

This day was chosen by our fathers so that the proletariat throughout the world protest and demand rights in a global movement. The boldest among them saw there, in a faraway future, the means for the proletarian class to rise up against oppression, to grab social wealth, and to establish a fairer system. In the meantime, to everyone, it was a means to remind the bourgeoisie that workers were tired of being treated like beasts of burden, and that they demanded a few immediate improvements.
The main demand was and still is the 8-hour day: to have 8 hours of work a day, okay, but also 8 hours of leisure and 8 hours of sleep.
Every demand must stem from economic conditions and not from a desire, as justifiable as it can be. The 8-hour day propaganda was intense for a number of years, but, in in the industry, commerce and agriculture, such a reform could only ever be imposed by force. Maybe a firm will of the proletariat acting directly, in a revolutionary capacity, could have succeeded in imposing this demand. But we know how the May Day march was transformed, we know that it was mutated into a delegation to public powers. Some of us have in front of our eyes the painting in which Guesde and a group of Socialist deputies give a man the notebook of worker’s demands in an office.
On May 1st, 1912, there won’t even be a delegation, some Socialists town councils will officially celebrate May Day. And in quite a few places where workers are conscious and organised, after a day’s work, they will attend meetings and parties!
Of course, many workers wish to obtain a shorter working day. But even if we achieve some results to that effect, we can see that it is not as a class that this demand is imposed. Shorter hours are obtained in such and such a trade, then in another by a series of strikes and struggles limited to that industrial branch.
May Day has totally failed. Maybe a small result was obtained in some industries, but that’s all. In the textile industry in Vienna, for example, thanks to the energy of some of our comrades, among whom was Pierre Martin.
May Day has failed like everything that the ignorant, cowardly mass of workers has ever undertaken, as they stop at the first obstacle on their way: even in Vienna, where workers obtained a few improvements in the brutality of their exploitation only thanks to anarchists, when a strike occurred, the women who had especially benefited from past struggles exclaimed: “If anarchists get involved, we are going back to work. We don’t want any more martyrs.”
Women, who sabotage every social movements by their narrow and personal minds, would need to be educated so that they acquire, like many men, some personalities. Unfortunately, this issue is never addressed head-on. People try to lure women, are afraid to scare them. As high as the motives which lead militants to try and win over women may be, they approve women who, like Jacqueline in “La Bataille Syndicaliste” (The Syndicalist Fight) flatter their sisters’ prejudices.
Still, “La Bataille” is truly the best daily paper, the only workers’ paper, but Jacqueline wants her sisters to read it, so she writes:
“Even without being greedy like many of these women are (women of the bourgeoisie) let’s not allow people to steal from us. Let’s keep a watchful eye and tell ourselves that this money which we get from our partner’s sweat and labour must be used in the most intelligent way and in the way that benefits the community the most.”
Proudhon had said: either a courtisane or a housewife; Jacqueline boldly claims: a courtisane and a housewife!
By giving us advice, Jacqueline tells us that when some friends unexpectedly visited, she bought a piece of roast beef which, all things taken into account (parts to be discarded, inaccurate weight and so on) she paid 2,70 franc a pound. She adds, grumbling:

“It is still necessary to have some on the table sometimes, especially in Paris to compensate for the air we don’t get. Workers need food well thought-up: not too much, not too little.”

Later she says: “we must not forget that beef stew is the basis of family food.”
Jacqueline’s main course is always a meat dish! The inevitable beef stew, that workers’ ignorance believes to be a healthy and fortifying food, is, even for the partisans of meat-eating, recognised to be a breeding ground for microbes, in such a way that it acts on our organisms like a real poison.

Ignorant like every courtisane, like every housewife, vegetarianism, dairy products and eggs don’t seem enough for her to feed her man who’s been working all day!

But this poor Jacqueline talks about cooking like Jouhaux talks about workers’ needs. That is because among the militant proletariat there is a unity of opinion on the issue of needs.

Jouhaux, in a study entitled “The Minimum Wage” (its social value), demands a minimum wage which should be indexed on the absolute necessities of the life of a worker’s family, that is: “rents, necessary foods: bread, meat, wine or beer, vegetables, clothes, etc.” And he concludes that “it is for an extension of our needs that the fight for wage increases must go on.”

How do you want a worker to work less while spending more and having to feed his courtisane—his wife—on top of that?

Workers can’t wait to go back to the factory because they are always on the break of terrible misery, despair, thanks to the excellent advice from Comrade Jouhaux, from revolutionaries, who tell them to increase their needs instead of reasoning them.

It is obvious that if consumer demand decreased, working days would be shorter. People will say that the number of unemployed people would increase without the working day getting any shorter. I’ll say that it is possible that unemployment rates would momentarily go up, but it would be such a danger that measures would have to be taken, because revolt would soon threaten. The people is great only when it is hungry, it is like my neighbour’s cow who moos when her hay is late.

People will say that there has been high unemployment rates in some capital cities at some time, and that this did not lead to the revolution. It is easy to reply that this was only momentary, that it was only some economic disturbance. But I believe this disturbance would soon become a chronic condition, if workers reasoned their needs. And then, and only then, would the bourgeoisie be forced to let workers’ demands be imposed by the course of events itself!

Let’s keep it short, Sophie Zaikowska

Let’s keep it short
Sophie Zaïkowska
March 1912
La Vie Anarchiste

We owe the greatest scientific discoveries to the experimental method. Philosophers of old, who used their own imagination to explain natural phenomenon, gave us some extraordinary theories, which for centuries were held as truth in schools and against which modern scientists had to fight hard.

I think that we can fear the same in sociology. Always, theoreticians from different philosophies prophesied, announcing that there will be a day when the sun would shine for everyone. But since they didn’t try to put their theories to practice, happy days may well be faraway.

Communists tell us, based on figures, that thanks to mechanisation, we would have so little work to do – a few minutes a day according to Kropotkin – that communism will necessarily be established, therefore ensuring happiness for the whole of humankind.

Others, still theoretically, deny the possibility of communism. It would even be, according to them, a catastrophe for the strong individual who wouldn’t enjoy the entirety of their production. The lives of these “militants” explain their opposition to communism; these defenders of private property are now experiencing, presently, what communism cannot offer their inveterate laziness: they live without doing anything manual, without being taken by work in any office, workshop, building site or field; they live without being subjected to the discipline of collective effort; they live without having to struggle to find means of existence. They live from their pensions, or from the produce of their “proprietary” arguments which they sell in books, pamphlets or small 25-centime journals.

From this reality we can explain everything else: a free milieu, a communist association horrifies them! It would be hell for them: they would have to work when paradise is theirs with its juicy pears!

Like scholastic philosophers who opposed experimentation, our theorists hold the principle of preventing any anarchist action.

Chamber revolutionaries called the propagandists of the heroic period insane, or accused them of being snitches.

Nowadays, character assassination, conspiracy of silence, any means is accepted in order to crush an attempt at a communist colony, for example, or at a free column newspaper.

Recently, in “l’anarchie”, the former colonists of Vaux were called beggars because, since they lived on Earth and not on the Moon, they raised funds to get the starting capital they needed. Let’s say, in passing, that most colonists were themselves among the people donating funds. But even the small Bascon colony, who never asked anyone anything, who only offered its production, why was it insulted by Armand, who bravely hid under the pseudonym “le Guépin”?

Even if we don’t do much, we sure talk a lot these past few dozen years. We are worried when we treat a subject about repeating ourselves. This is why we strive for originality, and therefore we sometimes say absurdities.

In this way, some comrades, while observing the monstrosity of the current organisation of society, wish for it always to remain so, so that they can enjoy fighting against it. They imagine that under communism this famous machinery will always ensure the happiness of individuals, who would have nothing to do and become weak from idleness.

We don’t have to worry about idleness, machines will never work on their own and to build them, take care of them, program them, we will have to toil; we will have to go down the mines to extract the minerals used in their construction; in the summer, the communist sun will still burn brightly enough to make fieldworkers sweat. We will not want for work. And if it is less crushing than it is now – which we gladly hope – people will have a bit of time to rest and study.

This harmonious society will only be established once individuals will have enough self-will to do away with cops. Everyone will not evolve at the same time, and for a long time, alas! Stupid fratricidal war between people will endure. The task of the anarcho-individualist propagandist is educational in the best sense, it aims at preparing individuals to a more rational life. That is our goal.

It is being incoherent to fight, to strive to educate, to perfect individuals with the desire never to achieve it. Nothing is more tiring than efforts in vain. It is hard labour. Even children when they play try to achieve some result. To fill a wheelbarrow with grass or to dig a square in the garden to plant some real vegetables, which we will be able to consume, to use, seem much more attractive to them than a complicated very expensive toy, created only to distract them.

Also, the fight is not as attractive as all that, if we judge it by the number of greying beards among us.
And those who fight are the small comrades in groups, us the workers, who thirst for less misery, less material efforts to earn our living; don’t call it fight, you, the “propagandists” who never work and live off of us, off of propaganda.

I keep on fighting, knowing that our struggle will lead to communism – partial at first – in which individuals will have only a few minutes to work every day but in which our struggle will increasingly lose its cannibalistic character, will be less petty, more aimed against natural disasters, in order to achieve maximum well-being from nature.

Two fears cancel each other: the fear that under communism we find existence unpalatable because individual needs will be met too easily and there will not be enough stimulation; and the fear of individuals not being conscious enough to work enough for the community, that they would refuse to produce.

Skepticism, by Sophie Zaikowska


Sophie Zaikowska

June 1912

La Vie Anarchiste

Reading is a useful thing. But, above all, we must learn how to think for ourselves, observe, draw lessons from our own experience. We should only read as much as our brain can process. If not, we risk, always following someone else’s thoughts, not to have any of our own ideas any more. Echoing words, but without meaning, coming from a well-known author, can sometimes blind us if we are not careful. In a word, let’s be sceptical, even towards the authorised thinkers who discuss at length about scepticism.

I must say I have little taste for metaphysics. Does Truth exist? What is Truth? What is Absolute? I don’t care! I happily leave the trouble to answer these questions to those who have more time on their hands than I do. But whether absolute truth exists or not, I know that, through experiment and patience, studious men, who more modestly worked on exact sciences, have found a few truths, which appear true, which can be sensed and help us make our lives easier. And that is enough for me. They observed, among other things, that a life form which becomes parasitical atrophies. This is why our famous authors, philosophers and propagandists, who live from their writings and leave the trouble to ensure their existence to manual labourers, sometimes ramble.

Propagandists, who left the workshop, the office, or the building site, who no longer live a worker’s life, do not realise fully workers’ misery, the oppression which a proud being feels to be subjected every day to the gaze of a boss. Their revolt diminishes and patiently they wait for the faraway Revolution and the future Society.

Since they don’t ground their arguments in real living conditions, philosophers, Metaphysicians have always been nefarious to the advancement of humankind. They obscured many brains, misled the judgement of many people – even people who were no fools – but who got entangled in the nets of their sentences. In philosophy, as in poetry: the least clear it sounds, the most beautiful it is, the more awesome it seems! A friend served me this blunder, which he deems an “admirable definition”: “a man of action is a brute who believes in the reality of things.” It is an extract from T. de Gaultier’s book “The Universal Fiction”.

Everything is not fiction however. There are some things which are real in this world. The need for food, for love are not fictional, since the impossibility to satisfy them cause us great suffering and leads us to disease and to death. These needs could, should be fully satisfied, it is man’s foolishness – a very real thing too, sadly enough! – which prevents this.

Doubt is necessary, it encourages critique. If men doubted more, they wouldn’t be ready to follow the first magician they see. They would be more conscious, more themselves. Their thought would develop more clearly. Doubt does not necessarily makes people eunuchs. And the action that it provokes is better thought out, lasts longer than the action of enthusiasts.

The sworn sceptics who were the old nihilists were very positive people. Their demands could be summed up like this: as perfect egoists, they wished for conditions which allowed the integral development of the individual, physical and intellectual. Refined as they were, they also wanted intelligent partners.

Since every law, institution, or prejudice hinders the complete development of the individual, they critiqued everything they saw around them; they understood that patching up was worthless, so they wished to destroy everything.

Their critiques caused actions of a great energy, which their sons, today’s Russian revolutionaries, continue to this day.

Unfortunately, although just as energetic, the young ones follow a different way of thinking. They gave up egoism, a natural feeling, and they no longer fight for themselves, but for the people, for mankind, they have no more compass. And I am thinking of the small grey bird of one of Gorki’s short stories, who sings that further away, beyond the swamps and forests, the sun shines, the air is pure, there is freedom. That is vague.

And everything is just as vague in Gorki’s writings, very popular writer amongst revolutionaries. In vain can we try to find a precise theory or idea in all this. Is he a socialist? Is he an anarchist? What does he want really? Since if need be he would be content with a constitution.

We can see the old Kropotkin, in his book, “Fields, Factories, Workshops”, wonder at the fact that in London you can find incredibly cheap violets and grapes in the middle of winter.

And this other anarchist, Bogroff, Stolypin’s executioner, by period a snitch and a faithful comrade, because he has needs of luxury, gambling and women, why did he not think as an egoist, like the old Nihilists, about the development of his own individuality first of all?

The true successors, the real inheritors of the old Nihilists, are certainly the individualist anarchists, in theory as in methods of action.

Anarchist socialists, libertarians, have a tendency to group, to act as an organised mass. The larger the organisation, the less the individual feels accountable, less efforts they have to make. In order to achieve a set task, the preparation work is huge and risks of missing the goal which the initiators had set themselves, since, in order to have a lot of people, they call on many comrades who don’t have exactly the same ideas, and for it to work, everyone plays down their own. Under the pretence of calming down feuds, they end up avoiding any discussion of theory. They become like Gorki’s little grey bird, with a lot of good will, a big heart, which they would tear from their chests, like Danko, so that the light of it would shine above people, lead them and inflame them. All of this, sadly, like in the resolution of the Gorki short story once again, is of little use, since the people still wander in the dark woods, in the swamps, where the air is unbreathable.

Individualists rely mainly on themselves. They reason their needs, avoid anything superfluous, which allows them to save money. Also when they wish to do something, they can. It is to individual effort, for example, that we owe Fraigneux’s “l’Affranchi”, Zisly’s “La Vie Naturelle” and our free tribune.

And still, is there anyone more sceptical than the Reims comrade who launched the provincial and little-known “Vie Anarchiste”? Zisly and his half-dozen wildists would have waited long to publish their journal if they counted on an eighth of the “Temps Nouveaux Groups” created to support a newspaper the life of which is exhaling in a whimpering and ongoing agony. Fraigneux and his stencil does by himself the work of a hundred of the illuminated believers in the future society. There are many anarchists dispersed into groups, federations, and what newspapers do they have? What would they not have if they thought like Fraigneux that it is better to act now, to march with those who are marching, rather than stop and wait for the others?

The sceptic only believes in the reality which presents itself to them, which is manifest, evident, they are sceptic about what is not certain. They ignore the millions of individuals who have only ideas, those ones have no influence on them, they doubt of their reality, they don’t see them as existing since they are only potential. But their scepticism stops when an idea is manifested by an action; only the positive convinces them, and the only way to kill scepticism is to act. Most individuals are ghosts of individuals, and the sceptics observe this, often even when they are considering their own person.