Clement Duval

The sad news of the death of Clement Duval has just come to us from New York City. He was eighty-five years old. 

Comrade Clement, (our “Nonno”) was connected with the revolutionary movement from the age of fifteen. With his father, he went to the Republican Clubs in which, at that time, men like Raspail and Blanqui were leaders. On this subject, a few months ago, Clement wrote to Paicentino :– “The word Republic meant abolition of all privileges and arbitrary rules; the Republic would do away with idleness, parasitism and bring about the co-operation of all the people in general for the common cause … That is the reason why, when the French Empire crumbled down, it was easy for my father to convince me that I had a duty to protect the French Republic from the German invasion … Surely, I was forced to. Made as were thousands of fathers and sons who ignore the fact that all governments are alike; and that those who take part in them, no matter what good intentions they might have, become invariably despots.” 

Wounded during the war of 1870, suffering with arthritis and rheumatism, Clement passed years and years in hospitals. And then, France rewarded his patriotic services by leaving him to starve in the streets of Paris. However, he would not stand by to see his wife and child go hungry. What was the alternative? Work? He could not find any. Need he beg? He was too much of a man to lower himself to such degradation. And then it was that Clement decided to help himself to food. He was arrested and sent to jail for one year. 

Back in the movement, he passed six months in the hospital, in 1876, as the result of the war and his sojourn in jail. Now, the movement was lacking in financial support. Clement as a man of action decided to procure the necessary means and was determined to get those means. In 1888, on 18th October, he entered the house of a wealthy woman – Madeleine Lemaire – and helped himself to all the jewels he could put his hands on. A few days later, Rossignol, a police officer came to arrest him:– “In the name of the law I arrest you!” exclaimed Rossignol:– “In the name of Freedom, I suppress you!” answered Clement. Rossignol was wounded and twenty policemen arrested the well-known anarchist Clement Duval. 

Duval’s trial took place on the 11th and 12th of February, 1887. His defence, as a man who asserted that he had dedicated his life to Anarchism, was a master-piece of propaganda:– “I am neither a thief nor a murderer. I am only a rebel. And I shall tell you why I am an anarchist … I accuse you and the wretched society you represent … a society in which thieves are venerated in their unmolested triumph upon the misery and sufferings of the starving masses– …” 

But Duval was sentenced to death. However, he was a kind of French John Brown, and through the numerous protests on the part of the thinking element, he was sent to the Guyana Penitentiary for life. One must really read his autobiography to grasp the sufferings our comrade went through.

After fourteen years of infernal life, Clement succeeded in escaping; but only after thousands of difficulties. He landed in the United States in 1903. And here, he has been venerated by all those who knew him. 

And why this veneration? In one of his letters to Piacentino, he wrote:– “To be an anarchist, one must really be human, love beauty, love that which is noble, generous; be proud of oneself, have personal dignity and an upright character. One must also have compassion for those who suffer, not as cowardly sufferers, but as victims of the wicked oppressors. And when a man lives up to such a standard, only then, can he speak as a renovator of society …” 

Clement’s wife came to him in New York, but twenty years of separation had rendered them total strangers. She returned to France. 

In conclusion, we shall give a quotation from his last letter to Comrade Piacentino, to whom Clement wrote:– “I am ready to pay nature her inevitable tribute. Discouraged? Yes, I am discouraged. But certainly not for myself. At the age of eighty-five, I can say that I have lived my span of years. There are not ten per cent who reach a ripe age such as mine. What discourages me is the vision of the actual conditions. Men ought to awaken with a boiling conscience! Still what do we see? Apathy, passivity … Nevertheless, the work must go on. It does not pay to quit or even then, to be a renegade. The Comrades have been so kind and generous towards me … always, always …” 

And to think that the life of such a man has been stolen from him by condemnation. Clement Duval died of uncompromising purposes, in full possession of his senses as well as with all his intellectual faculties. There are few men like him and we shall always keep a warm place in our hearts for our dear Comrade “Nonno” (Grandfather). 

Man! Vol. 3 No. 5 May 1935