This profile first appeared in Itineraire No 13, 1996, pp.61-62. The piece was primarily about Voline which explains some of the focus of the article.
Posthumous fate is often curious. Whereas everybody, inside the anarchist movement and some outside knew the name Voline (1882-1945), the same cannot be said of Andre Prudhommeaux (1902-1968).1 However in the years between the world wars, they were most certainly among the handful of anarchist militants whose thinking was grappling most directly with the great issues of the day. In the few years that saw the failure of a flurry of working class movements and social revolutions in Russia, Germany and Spain, they were the clear-sighted observers as well as the enthusiastic militants, always swimming against the tide.
Yet there was nothing to suggest that the path of Vsevolod Mikhailovitch Eichenbaum (aka Voline) should intersect with that of Andre Prudhommeaux, who was born in the Phalanstery in Guise (Aisne Department) in 1902. When the young Voline was embarking upon his career as a militant, Andre Prudhommeaux was still wet behind the ears. His mother, nee Marie Dollet, was niece to the second wife of Jean-Baptiste Godin, a late convert to and practitioner of Fourierism and founder of the familistery. His father, Jules, author of a remarkable thesis on "Icaria and its founder, Etienne Cabet" was not merely an historian of the social movement but a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist and active co-operator as well.
Andre Prudhommeaux became an activist at a very early age, but unlike Voline, his choices did not bring him quite so directly to anarchism, in that he first was an habitué of opposition communist circles. Thus he contributed to the monthly Clarte, using the pen name of Jean Cello, and was active in Albert Treint's group Redressment Communiste, finally breaking with that in 1928. He was then involved with a short-lived Communist Vanguard Group that published Le Reveil Communiste, which, after August 1929, turned into L'Ouvrier Communiste, organ of the Communist Workers' Groups which were close to the German and Dutch currents subscribing to council communism. Thus Andre Prudhommeaux was the translator of Hermann Gorter's Reply to Lenin (published in 1930 by the librairie ouvriere) which Voline reviewed for the Revue Anarchiste (No 17, February 1932) run by Fernand Fortin. According to Voline, the document was an interesting one but "Lenin had turned into a counter-revolutionary long before 1920", in that, as early as February 1918, he had made peace with the German imperialists in defiance of the views of most workers' organisations. Prudhommeaux replied to this review in a letter of March 1932, which was subsequently published by the review in question (No 20, August-September 1934), in which he mentioned that Gorter's disciples, whilst critical of "The original sins of Leninism as Russian practice" had stopped "muddling the empty formulas of State and dictatorship of the proletariat with their proletarian conception of the social revolution".
Earlier, in the last edition of L'Ouvrier Communiste (No 11, August 1930), one editor, almost assuredly Prudhommeaux himself, had wondered about "the anarchists and us", following the appearance of an article in Lotta Anarchia the organ of the anarchist-communist groups affiliated to the Italian Anarchist Union (UAI), suggesting that ongoing dialogue be opened with the monthly of the Communist Workers' Groups. He remarked that, as events gathered pace, there was a need for an "overall clarification" if the revolution was to draw its militants among the members of the various tendencies, whatever their past labels might have been.
Between September 1932 and May 1933, along with Jean Dautry, Prudhommeaux issued a bi-monthly bulletin, Correspondance internationale ouvrier, the object being to offer an unsystematic, non- doctrinaire view of the proletarian movement and of social revolt in all its guises. Hitler's advent to power and the Reichstag fire finally drove him into the arms of anarchism, as a result of the manifest powerlessness of the old workers movement. Dutch council communists and some anarchists, particularly individualist anarchists rallied to the defence of the alleged arsonist, Marius Van der Lubbe against the calumnies of the Stalinists. After having "weighed up twelve years of the bolshevisation of the German proletariat", in a series of articles in Le Libertaire (Nos 90 to 92, 17-31 March 1933), he stopped writing for it when the paper labelled Van der Lubbe "Hitler's agent". He reserved his co- operation for other publications committed to defending Van der Lubbe (publications like La Revue Anarchiste or Alphonse Barbe's Le Semeur) and was one of the labour stalwarts of the French section of the International Van der Lubbe Committee.
From then on, Prudhommeaux was to contribute to the same publications, especially, in addition to La Revue Anarchiste, La Voix Libertaire and Terre Libre, and had a hand in the setting up of the French-speaking Anarchist Federation (FAF) at the congress in Toulouse on 5-16 August 1936. In the view of Henri Bouye, who was to be a member of it, the FAF embraced those anarchists "who, in their notions about militant activity, their analyses of potential social revolution, of the transformation of society and of the new human relationships which the latter were to make possible, placed the emphasis upon the primacy of a freedom of the individual that was never to be sacrificed, without thereby lapsing into a twee humanism overly forgiving of the inequalities, injustices and cruelties of this world." (2)
In response to events in Spain, with anarchist ministers involved in the Generalidad government in Catalonia and the Central Anti- Fascist Militias Committee being abolished "Andre Prudhommeaux was, along with Voline, one of those who most forcefully articulated the dissenting current within the French anarchist movement." (3) According to them, "instead of pursuing a policy of compromise, it would have been better to restore to the Spanish conflict its social importance, and proceed with the complete liquidation of politics and press on with producer-consumer administration of things." But Spanish libertarians refused to "win as anarchists"… and agreed "to go to their deaths as governmentals, as defenders of the states legitimacy". "The completion of the Spanish defeat in March 1939 did not, for Prudhommeaux, spell the failure of the anarchist idea: quite the opposite. That defeat offered confirmation of the libertarian contentions about the necessity of destroying the state if one wanted the social revolution to succeed." (4)
With the Second World War, both men were separately swept up in the storm. Voline, a Jew and a freemason, stayed in Marseille until 1944. There he lived in some straightened circumstances, but nonetheless carried on being active with a clandestine group made up of anarchists of a variety of nationalities. Worn out and stricken with TB, Voline passed away on 18 September 1945 in the Laennec Hospital in Paris
Andre Prudhommeaux fled to Switzerland to his partners family after war was declared. Finding it impossible to engage in any open political activity, he specialised instead in literary translation, but kept in touch with personalities like Louis Bertoni, the publisher of the weekly Le Reveil Anarchiste and the First World War French war resister Jean-Paul Samson
To launch The Unknown Revolution in an edition published by Jaques Doubinsky and a group of Voline's friends, the anarchist movement organised a "Voline Commemoration" on 2 November 1947 at the Salle des Societes Savante in Paris. Andre Prudhommeaux spoke there, alongside Fontenis, Franssen and F.Granier, whilst Le Libertaire the following week carried a tribute to Voline, stressing the significance of his contribution to The Anarchist Encyclopedia and to the French-language libertarian press. As far as Le Libertaire was concerned, certain of his essays such as "Real Social Revolution" figured "among the most important writings of the inter-war period."
As an editor with Le Libertaire Prudhommeaux rejected the conversion of the Anarchist Federation into the Libertarian Communist Federation (FCL) and was one of a circle of militants which reverted to the FA initials after a foundation congress on 25-27 December 1953 and brought out Le Monde Libertaire after October 1954. Prudhommeaux also contributed to numerous French or French-language (Cahiers de Pensee et Action, Contre-courant, Defense de l'homme, L'Unique, Le Contrat Social, Preuves, Temoins) or foreign (Freedom, L'Adunta del Refrattari, Volonta) publications. Among his translations pride of place must go to French translations of Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind (Gallimard 1954) and Milovan Djilas's The New Ruling Class (Plon 1957). One need only read the pamphlets he published with the aid of Rene Lefeuvre to appreciate the importance of this anarchist whose career was as original as it is little known.(5)
1. For further details see under 'Prudhommeaux' in the Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier Francais (Paris, Editions Ouvrieres, 1991) Vol 39 pp. 250-252.
2. See Bulletin du CIRA (Marseille branch) no 26/27, 1986, p.60
3. Jean Maitron Le Mouvement Anarchiste en France, [vol.] ii De 1914 a nos jours (Paris, Maspero 1982) p.33
4. ibid p.35
5. Lefeuvre's Cahiers Spartacus published or reissued Catalogne libertaire 1936-1937 (No 11, November 1946), Spartacus et la Commune de Berlin 1918-1919 (No 83 August/September 1977) - both of these being jointly written with his wife Dori Prudhommeaux - and L'Effort Libertaire i Le Principe d'autonomie, with introduction by Robert Pages (No 99, October/November 1978)
Translated by: Paul Sharkey.