Interview With French Anarchist André Arru

Jean-René Saulière, aka André Arru was born in Bordeaux on 6 September 1911. When the Second World War was declared, he refused to answer the draft and made his way to Marseilles where he founded an underground anarchist group, one of the members of which was Voline. It was one of the members of this anarchist group, a Marcel-André Arru, who let him have the army discharge book in his name.

Q. So you arrived in Marseilles in 1940?

A. On the morning of 13 February to be precise. As a draft-dodger I had changed my name to André Arru. I shall skip the details of how I settled in Marseilles insofar as that is a matter for myself alone. I was lucky enough to find work quite quickly. I ran and manned a small filling station, No 46, on the Route Nationale in Saint-Loup. There was a puncture repair shop there too. That lasted for only six months, up until petrol ran short. From the owner I then borrowed enough money to set up a bicycle repair shop. Armand Maurasse, a black comrade, had been called up and been sent to Syria. When he was demobbed, I sent for him. Since Bordeaux was in the occupied zone by then, there was no way he was going back there. With his help I started to run off stickers and hand-written leaflets. We would go out at night to stick them up on posts and at tram stops .. As for my position in society, I made the most of my status as a "reject" - and I was not the only one - by learning the trade of vulcanisation and then of bicycle repairer. Which was a far cry from my recent employment as a salesman. I made every effort to procure the necessary papers to substantiate my adopted identity. Little by little, I accumulated rent receipts, an artisan's card from the Trades Council and finally an identity card made out in the name of André Arru, duly stamped and signed by the police: which gave me an idea. Then I made the acquaintance of Francois, who was of Italian birth and who had fled to France before the war to escape imprisonment by the fascists. We chatted and he eventually gave me addresses of other refugees, some of them anarchists. And so our group began to take shape.

Q. And how did you meet Voline for the first time?

A. In happy circumstances. At one meeting a comrade happened to mention Voline and said that he was living in Marseilles. I knew him only by reputation, through his writings and his activity. He had lodgings in the Rue Edmond-Rostand, a couple of yards from the prefect's office. I called there to see him one evening. I was rather overawed but was soon put at my ease. I will skip the preliminaries. I spelled out my intentions and my situation to him. As I saw it, we had to relaunch an anarchist movement that would, of necessity, be an underground movement; we would have to get in touch with the old hands, rise above factionalism and engage in propaganda by whatever means we could, etc. I had no need to argue my case. He had heard me out attentively, put a few questions to fill in the gaps and then he told me where he stood with regard to the French police. He was required to report regularly to the prefecture for purely 'regulation' questioning. There was no big file on him but his appearance, his command of French, his refusal to make any secret of his anarchist philosophy all made him look like some sort of a utopian to the police questioning him. I came away from our two or three hour meeting reassured, stunned and delighted. I was 30 years old at the time and Voline a little over 60. Yes, I found it marvellous that we had hit it off so quickly, so well and so profoundly. At the time, being caught in the act of anarchist propaganda meant going straight to jail: volunteers were few and not overly enthusiastic. My plans worried those who already had records on account of their pre-war activities. The political refugees were in the same boat. Moreover, I was a stranger in Marseilles and the border between the occupied zone and the supposedly free zone made communications difficult.

Q. And then ..?

A. Gradually our group took shape. Voline's presence at our meetings had a lot to do with that. Ours was a truly international crew. It included Italians, Spaniards, a Czech and a Russian. We used to meet at my place in a room that I pretty much used as a storeroom or somewhere for comrades or other fugitives to bed down. It was there that I drafted our first handbill of any note. It was addressed to "All workers of brain and arm". It had been worked out with Voline, discussed at our meetings, then was printed up in Toulouse, then finally slipped through letterboxes after curfew. It was also posted up on walls.

Q. Voline hardly took part in posting them up, did he?

A. He did volunteer a few times, but I dodged giving him an answer. On several occasions - I was fly-posting with Armand - we had been forced to take to our heels to escape being arrested. Anyway, Voline was plagued by chronic stomach trouble. He had picked it up as a prisoner in the Peter and Paul fortress in the tsar's day. After one meeting, he took me to one side and told me: "You know, I doing pretty well right now. You should count me in as part of the fly-posting squad." Most often a group was made up of two comrades, rarely three and nobody ever acted alone. At the time that Julia, Étienne Chauvet and I were arrested a short while after that, we had seven teams out posting up a handbill entitled: "Death to the cattle!" Had it been put up, it would have created a sensation the following day. Alas!

Q. And these meetings you held, what did you talk about?

A. At first, of necessity, the events of the day. Then there was communication with the Spanish movement with an eye to joint operations. We had to lay the groundwork for a clandestine congress and we were on the lookout for correspondents in towns where we had no contacts. We already had contacts in Beaucaire, Nîmes, Lyon, Montluçon, Clermont-Ferrand, Paris (where I had established contact with Laurent, Toublet, Bouye and others), Montpellier, Toulouse, Agen, Foix, Villeneuve- sur-Lot … We were faced with another problem: should we have contacts with the Resistance? A schoolteacher who attended our meetings and who had written the "Lessons of the Past" piece under the "Trade Unionism" rubric in La Raison, disclosed to us that he also worked with the Resistance. He took some soundings and reported back to us: every applicant would be approached individually. On acceptance, he would be put in touch with a Resistance member who would give him assignments to carry out and there could be no discussion about these. No one was agreeable to these conditions. Our position as set out in our writings was: we accused Hitler and Mussolini of responsibility for the war, but we also pointed a finger at Stalin and international capitalism as represented by Churchill and Roosevelt, not forgetting Petain and the rest. In 1974 Pierre Guiral wrote in The Liberation of Marseilles (pp.46 and 47): "And let's not overlook the anarchists in a town where they still had 'sympathisers'. Jean-René Saulière, alias André Arru, managed to set up a small, underground, strictly libertarian group hostile to the Germans, to Vichy, to capitalism, to those warmongers and the Stalinist dictatorship. It delighted in mounting up enemies, so much so that the anarchists were to be as suspect in Gaullist eyes as they were in communist ones (…)"

Q. And did Voline involve himself in this debate?

A. He was rarely absent. It was very often he who did the summing up in our discussions. He was very busy too. To support himself he did a few hours' work for a business house every day, whilst he was cashier at matinee and evening shows at the Le Gymnase theatre, and he gave French and German lessons to kids who had fallen behind a bit in their studies and, then again, he wanted to get on with the writing of his book, The Unknown Revolution which was quite properly a cherished project with him. I knew that he ate poorly and ate little, because his finances did not allow him access to the black market. Every time I invited him to dinner or lunch he came up with some excuse for not accepting. One day I suggested that he give Julia French lessons and me German lessons. He was an outstanding teacher. He patiently encouraged his students along and always found that they were progressing. The lessons he gave me were placed in the context of German history and every single word or phrase played its part.

Q. And did he contribute to meetings?

A. Yes, he was very well received. He was the wise man who knew how to calm things down.

Q. Who drafted your handbills? How was that done?

A. I honestly believe that I was the one who drafted our handbills, posters and pamphlets. As far as La Raison goes, there was a different writer covering each rubric: "Trade Unionism" was the teacher's province: "History" was handled by San Clemente; I wrote "The Katyn Forest"; "It's all up this time" was by Voline; And Voline and I co-wrote "The reason for La Raison". As for the pamphlet Les Coupables (The Guilty Ones), I drafted that on my own, before correcting it with Voline's help before it was put to Pierre Besnard (who was living in Bon-Encontre, 6 kilometres outside of Agen) who wanted to add on a closing part, an outline of the organisation of the society of the future. When I got back, Voline was furious when he discovered that this had been added and I was overwhelmed by the whole scheme which struck me as unconvincing. After a re-reading, the decision was made to have it printed up by the Lion brothers. Friends put up the money for that pamphlet - But the security police inspector who interrogated me refused to believe this. In his report he wrote: "Moreover, there is a curious excellence in the quality of the paper used and I for one would not be surprised to find that this organisation is overseen by citizens of a foreign power or hired individuals eager to sow disorder through their supporters."

Q. And how did relations with the outside world go?

A. Much as I have said. When I tried to extend the movement, I have to travel and yet my workshop had to stay open, so Armand at first and then Chauvet took over the running of it. The first address I had was a craftsman, comrade Noël, in Agen. He was trying to rally his friends himself. He was an enterprising sort. He introduced me to the engraver who made me the twelve phoney rubber-stamps. He also led me to Pierre Besnard's door. In Toulouse he introduced me to the printers Antoine and Henri Lion. It was in Toulouse that I met René and Marcelle Clavé. Throughout our time in detention, Chauvet and I had been receiving good quality food parcels from them. Not the sort of thing one forgets! I also established contact with the brothers Charles and Maurice Laisant. Tricheux and his wife Paule, Étienne who ran a restaurant where meetings where held, and others whose faces I can recall but whose names escape me … Around 1941, Pierre Besnard had a book printed up in Toulouse but it was not for distribution, because it contained the author's signature and photograph. Copies were buried so that they could be circulated once the war was over (…) To return to that Les Coupables pamphlet, I was informed at the beginning of 1943 that copies were ready. So off I went to fetch them. At the printer's, I placed them in two suitcases. On arrival in Marseilles, I dropped them off at the left luggage office at the railway station. I went back that afternoon to pick them up. Just as I was boarding a tram, an officer from the economic police tapped me on the shoulder and said to me: "What are you carrying in those cases?" I told him it was students' theses. Together with the Lion brothers, we had made up bundles and since there were theses lying around in the printshop, I had the idea of sticking one on top of each bundle of pamphlets. So I threw the suitcase open, he peeped inside, must have seen the word "thesis" and allowed me to proceed. A close call!

Q. And you took part in a number of congresses with Voline?

A. In 1943 we agreed to our old pal Tricheux's suggestion that a congress be held. Tricheux's home was roomy and set in a large piece of ground where he grew a few things. It was located on the outskirts of town. Voline was not allowed to move outside of Marseilles, yet was keen to attend. I had some phoney papers made for him. The risk he was running was high, but everything went off well. At that congress, three delegations from the Spanish movement attended as observers. When we were leaving, one of the members of one delegation came up to tell me that he was impressed by the seriousness of our work. Voline made a number of outstanding contributions.

Q. How many of you were there?

A. Fifteen to twenty of us. Several delegates from Toulouse (groups or individuals), from Foix, two girl delegates from Paris, from Marseilles (Voline, San Clemente and I). And there were letters of support from Thiers, Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, etc.

Q. And afterwards?

A. The congress finished on 20 July: Julia, Chauvet and I were arrested on 3 August In personnel terms, the damage was none too great, just the three of us. I was on my own when the police came. I was immediately placed in handcuffs. That must have been somewhere between 3 and 6 o'clock in the afternoon. Julia turned up. I immediately showed her the cuffs and told her (in Spanish): "Not a word! Not one! You don't know a thing! Not a thing!" One of the cops barked "Shut up, you!" but he was too late by then. Chauvet arrived later and promptly bumped into the policemen. They had just found the rubber stamps, handbills, birth certificates and now things were out of their hands. One of them went off to phone from a neighbouring bar where the owner sent out the word through the grapevine. Francisco Botey who arrived shortly after Chauvet found a helmeted, armed, uniformed police officer and immediately took the stairs before coming back downstairs with one of the tenants and racing off to use the telephone himself. We were loaded into a police van with the handbills and the rest of the stuff. This was at about 8 o'clock. They questioned us over five days, with no brutality used. All of our mates had been tipped off in time. Under questioning, I learned that a couple of elderly Jews, caught with phoney papers, had given my name. With the questioning over and reports drawn up, Julia was committed to the Présentines prison: then a while later, having been taken ill, she was moved to the Conception Hospital. Chauvet and I were committed to the Chave prison and initially placed in a one-man cell together. There were six of us in it. The walls were stained with blood - the blood of fleas squashed on a daily basis. We were thrown in among the criminal offenders. We were then moved to the political wing with the Gaullists and communists. Neither was inclined to forgive us our anti-patriotism and when the National Liberation Movement orchestrated a breakout in March 1944, the communists refused to open our cell on the grounds that "we were not patriots". After that we were moved to Aix-en-Provence in handcuffs, each of us cuffed to a gendarme and escorted by a GMR vehicle which followed us with its guns cocked. On the night of 24-25 April 1944, the Franc Tireurs et Partisans (FTP) resistance group organised an escape with assistance from inside the prison. This time we were included. Everything went well and after spending a month with a non-combatant maquis, I was able to rejoin Julia in the home of a friend of Lorgues' in the Var department. Chauvet left to join some relatives he had in the Vaucluse whilst Julia and I moved to Toulouse.

Q. And you resumed your activities in Toulouse …

A. We left the Var department on Pentecost Sunday 1944. The night before the railway lines had been bombed. We caught the 7 o'clock morning train to Marseilles and arrived in Toulouse at about 11.00 pm. Our friends the Claves were not at home but we managed to take a room in a hotel. Later I re-established contact with other comrades. Toulouse was liberated early, in August 1944. The German troops manning the Southwest passed through the city on their retreat. Together with Maurice Laisant, a handbill had been drawn up to rally anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists. It was entitled "Manifesto of the anarcho-syndicalist inclined libertarian groups". A group was promptly formed. Later the Spanish movement suggested that I revive the SIA (International Antifascist Solidarity). I became the SIA general secretary.

Q. You were still in touch with Voline at the time?

A. Yes, I had been in touch with him throughout. When we passed through Marseilles en route to Toulouse, we met up in the Saint-Charles station. I wanted him to join me in Toulouse to launch an SIA newspaper. He agreed, on condition that everybody was happy with the idea. They were not. A pity, because Voline was very competent in this area and would have been able to speed up the launch. In October 1944, there was the pre-congress in Agen, the aim of which was to rally anarchists of every persuasion. Voline attended. So did Julia and I. We were delighted to meet up again. Voline was very worried about the cracks that were starting to emerge in Paris. The pre-congress drew delegates from Agen, Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Bordeaux, Langon, Toulouse, etc. Louis Louvet who was publishing Ce qu'il faut dire (What Needs Saying) and Simone Larcher had sent letters of apology setting out the situation of anarchists in the Paris region. For the time being the Agen pre-congress papered over the cracks. Voline spent an extra day with us in Toulouse before returning to Marseilles where he had a lot of work on.

Q. When he fell ill, how did that come about?

A. We used to write regularly to each other, then, all of a sudden, replies to my letters stopped coming. This went on for two months until one long letter came telling me that he was in the Conception hospital, that he was doing a lot better and meant to go home just as soon as they would allow him. He claimed that his "stomach trouble" had returned, adding that the quacks were useless. He was somewhat afraid of medicine because both his parents had been doctors. I knew him well enough to know that I could believe him except where his health was concerned. So I set off for Marseilles the next morning. I went along to the hospital and was allowed to see him behind glass. He was in quarantine, the doctors fearing that he had something contagious. I saw the hospital manager to get permission to step inside the glass cage and stay there as long as I could. I pulled it off. We talked a lot about The Unknown Revolution, but very little mention was made of his health. He told me how the nurse taking his blood pressure had been stunned: it did not register. He had begun again with a different piece of equipment and the result was the same. And as Voline pressed him, he got the anxious response: "This is impossible. You have no blood pressure!" Physically, he had shrunk a lot and must have been down to 40 or 50 kilos. His mind, however, was as sharp as ever. He was very lucid. The nurses and doctor told me in fact that he did not know what was wrong with him. They meant to hold on to him for a little while longer. I returned to Toulouse whilst keeping in touch with him. A few weeks later, he wrote me that he was due to leave hospital and was planning to go home. Off I went to Marseilles again. I had some epic conversations with him. Voline was absolutely determined to go home but I tried to talk him out of it. There were the stairs to climb and errands to be run. He would not last the fortnight and was going to kill himself. I managed to talk him round. I had to find him somewhere to stay: getting him out of the hospital was not easy: petrol was rationed and there were more petrol coupons than petrol in circulation. Eventually I found a couple of Spanish comrades - Francisco Botey and his wife Paquita - who agreed to take in our friend. They did not have much room, having two children, but they had a cottage in La Treille. It was airy and well-lit. A doctor friend of Voline's ferried him to the Boteys' place where he stayed for a time. Then his son, Léo, took him up to Paris. Voline was then given a thorough examination by a doctor friend whom he had invited to call on him. The X-ray results were emphatic: tuberculosis and exhaustion. He returned to Laennac. And on 18 September 1945, Voline died.


From: Itinéraire (Paris) No 13, 1995. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.