François Claudius Koeningstein
, known as Ravachol
, (1859-1892), was a French anarchist
best known for terrorism. He was born 14 October 1859
) and died guillotined 11 July
Son of a Dutch father (Jean Adam Koeningstein) and a French mother (Marie Ravachol), he adopted his mother's maiden name after the father abandoned the family when he was only 8 years old. From that time on he had to support his mother, his sister, his brother and looked after his nephew. He eventually found work as a dyer's assistant, a job which he later lost. He was very poor throughout his life. For additional income he played accordion at society balls on Sundays at Saint-Étienne.
Having had a difficult childhood, he took up a criminal lifestyle from the age of eight onwards.
Before becoming a symbol of anarchist terrorism, Ravachol was being sought for the attack of a 93 year old man that he strangled in the course of robbing him. His offenses included the breaking and entering of the tomb of a rich countess from which he hoped to retrieve jewelry.
Ravachol held that property was immoral and that criminal acts, such as robbery and forgery, furthered the anarchist cause. He gained notoriety for the robbery and murder of Jacques Brunel, and Ravachol used the 15,000 francs he stole to help the families of anarchists sentenced for resisting arrest.
He was the author of three dynamite attacks against representatives of the judiciary.
On 1 May 1891, at Fourmies, a workers demonstration took place for the eight hour day, confrontations with the police followed. The Police opened fire on the crowd, resulting in nine deaths (including women and children) amongst the demonstrators. The same day, at Clichy, serious incidents erupt in a procession in which anarchists were taking part and three are arrested and taken to the commissariat of police. At the commissariat, they are interrogated (and brutalised with beatings and injuries). A trial (the Clichy Affair) ensues, in which two of the three anarchists are sentence to prison terms (despite the questionable situation).
These events, but also the ongoing repression of the communards, which had continued from the time of the insurrection of the Paris Commune of 1871, revolted Ravachol, and led him to acts of terrorism. He placed bombs in the living quarters of the Advocate General, Bulot (executive of the Public Ministry), the councillor Benoit who presided over the Assises Court during the Clichy Affair. Informed on by a restaurant employee called Lhérot, Ravachol was captured. In reprisal, the restaurant where Lhérot worked was bombed the day before Ravachol's trial.
Arrested on 30 March 1892 for his bombings at the Restaurant Véry (24, boulevard de Magenta, Paris Xth), his trial at the Assises Court of Seine took place on 26 April and he was condemned to prison for life. On 23 June, Ravachol was condemned to death in a second trial at the Assises Court of Loire for three killings, though his participation in two of them remains very doubtful (that of the murder, admitted by Ravachol, of the hermit of Montbrison was claimed to be the result of the poverty in which he lived).
On 9 December 1893, Auguste Vaillant threw a bomb into the French Chamber of Deputies to avenge Ravachol (however the explosion merely injured one deputy).
The Myth of Ravachol
Ravachol became a somewhat romanticised symbol of desperate revolt and a number of French songs were composed in his honour, such as la Ravachole, on the air of la Carmagnole.
Fans of Tintin in the original French will note that Ravachol is used a number of times as an insult by Captain Haddock.
Taken from his declaration at his trial - for each quote the original is followed by a translation:
- « Si je prends la parole, ce n'est pas pour me défendre des actes dont on m'accuse, car seule la société, qui, par son organisation, met les hommes en lutte continuelle les uns contre les autres, est responsable. En effet, ne voit-on pas aujourd'hui dans toutes les classes et dans toutes les fonctions des personnes qui désirent, je ne dirai pas la mort, parce que cela sonne mal à l'oreille, mais le malheur de leurs semblables, si cela peut leur procurer des avantages. »
- "If I chose to speak, it is not to defend myself of the acts of which I'm accused, as only society, which by its organisation puts men into continual struggle each against the other, is responsible. Indeed, today do we not see in all classes and walks of life, people who desire, I will not say death as this sounds bad to the ear, but misfortune for their fellows if that can bring them advantages."
- « Que peut-il faire celui qui manque du nécessaire en travaillant, s'il vient à chômer ? Il n'a qu'à se laisser mourir de faim. Alors on jettera quelques paroles de pitié sur son cadavre. C'est ce que j'ai voulu laisser à d'autres. J'ai préféré me faire contrebandier, faux-monnayeur, voleur, meurtrier et assassin. J'aurais pu mendier : c'est dégradant et lâche et même puni par vos lois qui font un délit de la misère. Si tous les nécessiteux, au lieu d'attendre, prenaient où il y a et par n'importe quel moyen, les satisfaits comprendraient peut-être plus vite qu'il y a danger à vouloir consacrer l'état social actuel, où l'inquiétude est permanente et la vie menacée à chaque instant. »
- " What can he do who lacks the necessary work, if he comes to be unemployed? He has nothing but to let himself die of hunger. Then a few phrases of pity will thrown on his cadaver. That's what I decided to leave to others. I preferred to make myself a black-marketer, forger, thief, murderer and assassin. I could have begged: it's degrading and cowardly and even punished by your laws that make a crime of poverty. If all those in need, instead of waiting, took wherever there was enough to be taken and by any means whatever, the satisfied would perhaps understand quicker that there is danger in trying to consecrate the current social condition, where worry is permanent and life threatened at every instant."
- « On finira sans doute plus vite par comprendre que les anarchistes ont raison lorsqu'ils disent que pour avoir la tranquillité morale et physique, il faut détruire les causes qui engendrent les crimes et les criminels : ce n'est pas en supprimant celui qui, plutôt que de mourir d'une mort lente par suite de privation qu'il a eues et aurait à supporter, sans espoir de les voir finir, préfère, s'il a un peu d'énergie, prendre violemment ce qui peut lui assurer le bien-être, même au risque de sa mort qui ne peut être qu'un terme à ses souffrances. »
- " We would no doubt end up understanding quicker that the anarchists are right when they say that in order to have moral and physical tranquillity, we must destroy the causes that create crimes and criminals : it is not by suppressing he who, rather than die a slow death by the deprivations that he has had to and will have to undergo, with no hope of seeing them end, prefers, if he has a bit of energy, take by force that which can assure him well-being, even at the risk of his own death which can only be an end to his sufferings. "
- « Que faut-il alors ? Détruire la misère, ce germe de crime, en assurant à chacun la satisfaction de tous les besoins ! Et combien cela est difficile à réaliser ! Il suffirait d'établir la société sur de nouvelles bases où tout serait en commun, et où chacun, produisant selon ses aptitudes et ses forces, pourrait consommer selon ses besoins. Alors on ne verra plus des gens comme l'ermite de Notre-Dame-de-Grâce et autres mendier un métal dont ils deviennent les esclaves et les victimes ! On ne verra plus les femmes céder leurs appâts, comme une vulgaire marchandise, en échange de ce même métal qui nous empêche bien souvent de reconnaître si l'affection est vraiment sincère. »
- " What is needed then? Destroy poverty, that source of crime, by assuring to each the satisfaction of all needs! And how difficult is this to achieve? It would suffice to establish society on new bases where everything would be in common and each, producing according to their aptitudes and strengths, could consume according to their needs. Then we would no longer see people like the hermit of Notre-Dame-de-Grace and others crave a metal of which they become the slaves and the victims! We would no longer see women flaunt their charms, like a vulgar merchandise, in exchange for this same metal that so often prevents us from recognising if the affection is truly sincere. "
- « Oui, je le répète : c'est la société qui fait les criminels, et vous jurés, au lieu de les frapper, vous devriez employer votre intelligence et vos forces à transformer la société. Du coup, vous supprimeriez tous les crimes ; et votre œuvre, en s'attaquant aux causes, serait plus grande et plus féconde que n'est votre justice qui s'amoindrit à punir les effets. »
- " Yes, I repeat it: it's society that makes criminals and you jurymen, rather than striking them, you should use your intelligence and your powers to transform society. At once you would suppress all crime; and your work, in attacking the causes, would be greater and more fecund than your justice that limits itself to punishing the effects. "
- « J'ai travaillé pour vivre et faire vivre les miens ; tant que ni moi ni les miens n'avons trop souffert, je suis resté ce que vous appelez honnête. Puis le travail a manqué, et avec le chômage est venue la faim. C'est alors que cette grande loi de la nature, cette voix impérieuse qui n'admet pas de réplique : l'instinct de la conservation, me poussa à commettre certains des crimes et délits que vous me reprochez et dont je reconnais être l'auteur. »
- "I worked to live and to make a living for my own; as long as neither myself nor my own suffered too much, I remained that which you call honest. Then work got scarce and with unemployment came hunger. It was then that that great law of nature, that imperious voice that allows no retort: the instinct of survival, pushed me to commit some of the crimes and offences that you accuse me of and that I recognise being the author of."
- « Jugez-moi, messieurs les jurés, mais si vous m'avez compris, en me jugeant jugez tous les malheureux dont la misère, alliée à la fierté naturelle, a fait des criminels, et dont la richesse, dont l'aisance même aurait fait des honnêtes gens !»
- " Judge me, members of the jury, but if you have understood me, in judging me, judge all the unfortunates that destitution, allied with natural pride, has made criminals and whom wealth, even just ease, would have made honest people."
- « Une société intelligente en aurait fait des gens comme tout le monde ! »
- " An intelligent society would have made of them people like everybody else! "
- Maitron, Jean. Ravachol et les anarchistes, collection Archives, 1964, 216 p.