[copied from the IISH Berkman papers https://socialhistory.org/en/collections/yiddish-letters/alexander-berkman ]
Anarchist Aid Society for Political Prisoners
New York July 15, 1925
Your letter of June 20 received. You will please pardon the long delay in answering it. Due to some reasons it was impossible to get the comrades together any sooner.
Regarding the question of sending money through you or direct to the prisoners has been discussed several times before. Our group is still with the opinion that we make as many direct connections as we possibly can. We shall continue sending money through your channels and direct addressees. This matter will however be under consideration again when we make our final decision on the form of orgaization.
Your second proposition, the amalgamation of the four wings into one, was taken up and discussed from all angles. We considered it from a principle point of view as well as from a practical. We have a definite division of opinion on this matter. Some maintain that combining forces with other factions means diminishing our activity. It will divide more than unite us. Our group is very well known in the labor circles. It is very well known that we have struggled through great difficulties and yet maintain our work alone. The small amounts we are able to collect is of greater value in my own opinion. It makes it much more pleasant to work with our own forces than lean upon the shoulders of others. The money we collect comes from entertainments and other great efforts. It is made quite clear for what the money is collected. Some of the Comrades were with the same opinion as you.
We have taken no definitive action for the time being. Several of our active comrades are away for a short time and since the difference of opinion is wide therefore we decided to postpone our final decision for about a month. We have meanwhile appointed a committee to get in touch with the other groups if there are any or individuals to find out what they are doing and how.
I suppose you have already received the $50 sent two weeks ago. We shall send you some more very soon. We have arranged a concert and dance for next month which I hope will bring us in some funds. It will be held in Coney Island where many idlers spend valuable time. It is there where people find themselves in hot summer days.
As you already notice that our secretary is away, I shall correspond with you until she gets back.
With comradely greetings,
Anna L. Sasnovsky
[Supplement to Freedom, April 1898]
Down in the South of France stands an old fortress where a woman was imprisoned for 40 years, and in her prison cell is seen to this day, carved deeply into the stone wall, the single word–“Resist.”
[Published in Freedom in the 1890s.]
By Teresa Claramunt
When I read about the news published by the Spanish newspapers I could not help taking up my pen in order to write a small article with the title « Tenderness. » It is well-known that this quality is familiar to us women, because of the natural feebleness of our organism and also of the limited education we receive. Such a state of things being general amongst the fair sex, it is supposed that queens are not an exception to the rule under ordinary circumstances ; therefore I was not surprised by the Spanish Regent’s declarations. But the good señora has become aware of the infamies that were committed by her ministers somewhat too late ; because, indeed, since her elevation to regency so many infamies have been committed that she should have shown sooner the tender feelings of her heart.
But the poor señora is not to be blamed, because strength and feeling have their limit in the human machine and it is not to be expected that a being who is constantly lifting her eyes to heaven or to the altar should see what is passing about her. On the other hand, when one’s heart is full of divine love, there is o place for any human feeling ; because, by dint of consecrating all one’s love on a single fixed object, all the rest lose their worth for him who is in such a mood. I, therefore, do not find fault with the Regent’s having so recently awaked to so grave a matter. The perfume of incense causes perturbations in the brain ;—the innocent victims’ cries have made the throne quake, and the concussion has had for result that Maria Cristina has moved her eyes from the altar to direct them to the ground on which it stands.
Then—oh, how horrible !—she saw at her feet rivers of blood and heard piteous bewailing. Then, sharpening her senses, she saw obvious chinks in the solid walls of her palace ; then, as a tender mother and a tender woman, she made known to the whole nation that she is « willing to have justice done, » and that she reproves her ministers for the infamies they have committed. And as, amongst these infamies, the crime of Montjuich is to be taken into account,the queen could not help speaking about it : since innocent victims have filled with blood the moat of this Bastille called Montjuich ; because not only in the last trial were innocent men tortured, but she who writes these lines can affirm that the said men who were shot, and the four that were condemned to perpetual detention for the bomb thrown by Pallas at Marshal Campos were also tortured.
But let us leave the dead—the tenderness of a queen cannot recall them to life ;—let us occupy ourselves with those who are innocently suffering in the hulks in consequence of these infamies.
« I am willing that justice should be done, » said Maria Cristina. It is well-known that the justice a queen is minded to have is very limited, but it is to be supposed that the queen’s limits of justice will reach these honest workmen so unjustly condemned and so enable them to again take their place in society.
We who bitterly remember the infamies committed in Montjuich by Marzo, Portas, G
arcia, Navarro, Tresolo and other torturers, do not forget the four workmen who are innocently suffering at the Ceuta hulks for the first trial, and the twenty that also suffer for the second one. We have given important information to the public, and its sad character of truth has interested all the hearts of civilised countries.
The queen’s latest affirmations are the last stroke that will compel the revision of these atrocious sentences, and chastise severely the torturers and impostors.
If that is not done, the people surely will do it.
(Dedicated to the thousands of Revolutionaries languishing in Soviet prisons.)
Still serving thee, O Freedom, thee alone,
Great formless spirit brooding earth and air,
Flashing in sunlight, in wild waves that dare
The age-old rocks, flung back with cry and moan.
Serving, though we be pillowed on a stone,
Our warders dream-eyed Hope and grim Despair,
We know thou art no mocking vision fair—
These wounds being thine, our darkest griefs thy own.
Laughing at times to muse how those who prate
Of Liberty can think to make a cell
Strong to extinguish thy immortal flame
Unflickering in the windy gusts of hate,
Still steadfast in the ramparts of Power’s hell—
Though on its wall it writes thy murdered fame.
(Dedicated to the Anarchist comrades waiting to be released from Soviet prisons.)
Most might Epic of one swift, bold leap
Which spanned two epochs terrible and vast!
The World-Besieged come staggering, safe at last—
Triumphant, dazed, immortal—burst from sleep
Whose age-long vision terrors grim defied.
A country which bred giants thunderous-named,
And women who could not with whips be tamed,
Unmastered deeply tombed ‘neath Neva’s tide.
Russia! Our great Beethovian history chord
Which through the centuries pulsed slow and strong,
Still beating out the music of her dreams—
To set them in one hour in one wild word,
One flaming breath which hurled like chaff her wrong.
Russia! That thou shouldst strive to stem Thought’s streams!
They built the house of Power on Force and Fear,
And gave authority the key to hold,
Stamping it with the hall-mark of dead gold,
And rusting it in human Blood and Tear.
“Behold!” cried Power, “The glory of my state!
Here I conserve forever all that Is,
Here, manacled and gagged, my priests shall kiss
My sceptre. Prisons, dungeons, be my Gate!
Whilst outside millions claw and scratch for Bread,
And burdened lives go swiftly to the grave.
Hold fast my key, my mistress, and all’s well!”
But Liberty came by with rose-crowned head,
And piped upon her pipe to every slave
These words of Laughter, “Fear is all their spell.”
Who was the great Ozymandias, “king of kings”?
The desert answers with its fiery breath.
Democracy of Time, and Space, and Death
Its fatal arrow at Great Nothing flings.
Law, Force, and Power—dark Superstition’s blight,
And all the majesty of sword and chain
Left but his futile image to remain
Half-buried where the sand-storm whirls in flight.
Feebler and feebler grow the decadent line
Which followed on that mightiest Nothingness,
Slave of that Power wherein his weakness lay,
Whom only Human Ignorance held “divine.”
With every reasoned thought their shades grow less,
To vanish in the light of ampler day.
Out of the large, calm, starry night it ran,
Reaching the wine-drugged monarch’s inward ear;
Close round his neck, snake-wise, a white arm dear,
Blue-veined, gold-circled—his warm courtesan!
“I, too, have known the couch of last year’s gold;
I, too, the splendours of a prison-house,
Wherein all chained and padded men carouse,
And sell their freedoms for the shadows cold.
Now it is Spring and beggars may go blessed
When there are crowns of May on every bough,
And to each mothering bird the cock makes cry.”
“Hist!” cried the king, upstarting and distressed,
“What minstrel of my court is singing now?”
The beggar at his gate went laughing by!
[Translated by Jesse Cohn.]
G.L. “A Caminho do Trabalho (entre companheiras).” A Terra Livre 1.11 (São Paulo, June 28, 1906).
On the Way to Work (A Conversation Between Companheiras)
— Come on, Joanninha, it’s time already.
— Here we go, Mariquinhas of my soul, back to this hell… I’m really tired of it. You don’t even get to eat, and at home there’s nothing to do but go without necessities… it’s a life of bitterness!
— Look Joanna: this is not living in the world. It’s our own fault, too. I’m sick of talking to you, to you and all the other companheiras, when you don’t want to hear…
— Shut up, there’s a spy over there.
— I don’t care about spies, nor the devil that pays them! Let them go to hell and let them tell anything they like. This isn’t life. I’m hoping that the day will come when we see all these hounds run to the pavement.
— You’re wrong. Mariquinhas, these dogs are kept by employers.
— And the bosses, who guards them?
— The soldiers, the police…
— That’s what the anarchists say…
— Anarchists? By the way, Mariquinhas, the other day I heard a spy say that socialists and anarchists are a bunch of bastards and rioters who only want to make trouble… Is that true?
— And you’re going to listen to those dogs? If there were no socialists and anarchists and all were humble and resigned, the bosses could do anything they liked to us, and our misery would be even greater. Everyone works for the bosses: government, judges, soldiers, spies… and the great herd of employees – a bunch of sheep… Against them and for us, there’s just ourselves, those of us who have a little knowledge of our rights and dignity. Now, the anarchists are of our number, and they often risk their lives fighting the beast… And so it is that the rich and powerful denounce them and try to get the ignorant to hate them: the bosses and rulers don’t want to be bothered in their business; they want to exploit us more easily. Look at the socialists and anarchists you know and look at the bosses: you’ll see in a minute that they are on our side. Look at the bourgeois touring the factory, as they stroll about in luxury… at our expense.
— Yes, you’re right. Well said the priest, the other day, in the Church, when he gave the sermon: When we die, we will be avenged. We suffer patiently in life, but afterward, we’ll see who was in the right… He said such beautiful things! To say there are no such priests!
— Ah! Joanna! Its because of both of these that we are in this state… For you still believe in the priests?! Would you like me to tell you? Priests, monks, bishops, all this scum of the Church, all of them are a bunch of pimps for the bosses. They help the employers to exploit us and live well at the expense of our sweat, selling us, at great expense, their latinorios* and their lies… They say we have to suffer in this life, because they want to live well without working, at our expense, in the company of our bosses. Don’t you see how they are friends? Don’t you see how pious the rich are? If the pleasure and wealth lead to hell, why don’t the priests, the bishops, the pope, try to convert the pious rich to poverty and not the poor? …
— Yes… But listen, Mariquinhas, we must always respect the priests, because they are God’s ministers, and we need to go to the Mass, go to confession …
— And what good does all this do you? And how can you, believing in God, who, as the believers say, doesn’t make mistakes, never deviates, never changes his mind, and is always just, how can you think that your prayers would change his mind? If it is God, then it is as they say: he must always judge in the same way, listening neither to insults nor pleas, never being swayed by flattery or spite. Do you know why there are churches? For the same reason that there are shops: because there are dealers who live on them… And all that are left to steal. The priests, dealers in religion, bolster the Church, which is their livelihood. And the confession? See these spies that our boss to keep watch over us, to tell them our protests, our words of discontent? The priests have done even better: they invented the confessional. That’s how they find out our secrets, direct souls, govern houses, snatch up inheritances. They make great cops! …
— So anarchists and socialists don’t go to Church? They have no saints?
— And you trust in the saints? Don’t you constantly have to work to earn some bread? If you have to do everything yourself, you must expect everything from yourself… If we trust in our own arms and our own union, we don’t need to kneel before any saint, whether of wood or flesh, nor would our work be so hard and so little profitable…
— Do you know something? I also, since I started reading the papers you gave me, which say so many truths, and a little book called “Why We Are Anarchists,” I have lost my faith in the saints, and when I go to the Church, I don’t even pray: I get to thinking, thinking…
— That all of this is a lie and that the priests are thieves, right?
— I don’t say these things, but… Ah! Mariquinhas, it’s true: you know what an anarchist said to me and the other companheiras?… He come to us with good manners, and so, in conversation, he told us that employers, governors, and the ignorant and traitorous workers who help them are all allied against the poor; that the anarchists want the land, machines, houses, railways, all the things used to produce and transport, all to be managed by those who work on them; that in this way, they’ll produce much more than today, because there no one will be interested in stopping the work just to sell things for a higher price, and because we wouldn’t be working for a boss, but to satisfy consumers, that everyone will work and everyone will consume without the need for money; that today, the factories and farms produce just as long as there are those who buy, and then stop, and are useless, although there are a lot of people left hungry, naked, and homeless; that people are really stupid to put up with this; that women have the same rights as men and will belong to themselves… That we need to be united and resolute! And other things. I was eager to learn more …
— And you thought you didn’t know anything about anarchists!… But here is the prison. Let’s talk again another time.
My enthusiasm for anarchism went in all directions. I was at risk of becoming inefficient, spreading my energies too thin. Chance made me cross paths with Louis Lecoin. It was in 1921 that I first met him. From that moment on, I spent most of my time making war to war.
Louis Lecoin was just out from the prison of Albertville after an eight-year sentence for antimilitarism. What stroke me first were his blue eyes which glistened with intelligence, with a touch of mischievousness, but also his goodness, his energy, and his courage. He even courted me for a short while. But, at 20, I thought this great man was too small. This did not stop us from being good friends all our lives.
I was not disappointed, the legend about him seemed justified. I knew him well from what Sébastien Faure, Pierre Le Meillour and other people had told me, with such warmth, such love! I knew all the things for which he had been imprisoned: his refusal, as a young soldier, to march against train workers on strike, and to shoot at them, defying the military machine of which he was a part. His campaign against the war, in 1914, the thousand leaflets he had distributed, his long years in jail, punctuated with hunger strikes to demand the reestablishment of the status of political prisoners, and for it to be granted to the anarchist comrade Jeanne Morand, injustly suspected of intelligence with the enemy.
Louis Lecoin was to us, young libertarians, young syndicalists, an example to follow. He had proven us that we could be at the same time syndicalists, liertarians, and antimilitarists.
When he got out he became the administrator of Le Libertaire, the newspaper of the Union Anarchiste, which did not prevent him from being a militant in his union (the builders’ union) and to intervene energetically and efficiently at the Lille congress in 1921 and Saint Etienne in 1922.
Like most of us, he felt enthusiastic about the Russian revolution, from which we expected great things, and which only brought us disillusions, but he resisted being enrolled into the Communist Party, unlike some other comrades.
In 1921, he led a campaign to avoid the extradition of three Spanish men: Ascaso, Durruti, and Jover, sentenced in Argentina pretendingly for some robbery, but in fact for being anarchists. Their extradition was imminent: a cruiser was coming to get them. He reached out to the highest political and judiciary figures, and, finally, won their case.
He also worked to avoid the deportations of Camille Berneri and Nestor Makhno and managed to save them.
But his biggest case was the Sacco and Vanzetti affair.