Born in Guise (Aisne department) 15 October 1902 – died in Versailles (Yvelines) on 13 November 1968: ultra-left communist militant turned libertarian: poet, writer and translator
André Prudhommeaux was born in the Familistère de Guise established by J-B Godin. His mother, née Marie Dollet, had family links with Godin and his father, Jules Prudhommeaux (see the Dictionnaire biographique du movement ouvrier français) was an active pacifist and cooperativist.
He spent his childhood in Guise, Nîmes and Sens and then Versailles. After completing his secondary schooling, he entered the Grignon agricultural school (Seine-et-Oise) and then studied at the science faculty in Paris. He was active in the Jeunesses communistes in Paris’s 7th arrondissement, joining the Antifascist Students’ Defence Alliance and hanging around the quasi-communist review Clarté, to which he was contributing by 1927.
In 1926-1927, he was a helper-assistant at the Agriculture ministry’s research and analysis laboratory, before being dismissed from his job as chemist-micrographer because of his political activities. He was part of the oppositionist faction led by Albert Treint – ‘Redressement communiste’ – up until 1 December 1928 before mingling with ‘Contre le courant’ militants.
On 6 October 1926, in Paris he married the Swiss Dora aka Dori Ris. At 67 Boulevard de Belleville, Paris 11, they opened the Librarie ouvrière which was a hang-out for oppositionist communists close to the Italian Left. Alongside Italians like Michelangelo Pappalardi from a Bordiguist background, and Jean Dautry, he became involved with L’Ouvrier communiste (August 1929-May 1930), the mouthpiece of the communist worker groups; it took over from Le Réveil communiste. This group radically condemned the Leninist strategy that accepted the need for a bolshevik Party, alliance with Social Democrats and certain segments of the bourgeoisie, and use of the parliament and trade unions. Such ideas had been inspired by the arguments of the Dutch communist Hermann Gorter whose Response to Lenin Prudhommeaux had translated and published through the Librairie ouvrière in July 1930. The group was in touch with the German and Dutch council communist movements and with Franz Pfemfert’s literary magazine Die Aktion.
During the summer of 1930, the Prudhommeaux couple toured Germany, seeking out members of the Communist Workers’ Party (KAP) and Allgemeine Arbeiter Union Deutschlands (AAUD) and ferreting out documentation on the revolutionary movements traceable to Spartakism. Their search led to the publication of three editions of a new newspaper called Spartacus (May-July 1931), in which Prudhommeaux engaged in a probing examination of the German Revolution and the ideological and tactical lessons to be learnt from that first attempt at revolution in an advanced capitalist country. Remarkably, he published the last articles of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht as well as a translation of the Manifesto of the Kronstadt Workers and Sailors, a text that was of considerable influence in his subsequent drift towards anarchism.
After his bookshop shut down, André Prudhommeaux turned to window-cleaning and working as a driver, before being asked in 1931 to head the ‘La Laborieuse’ printing cooperative in Nîmes (Gard). That printworks employed eight people of varying persuasions. On a follow-up visit to Germany with Dori in 1934, they found themselves under arrest and briefly jailed in Dortmund. In the one-off publication Le Soviet he printed his farewell “to marxism, even should it be spontaneist and party-free” but had to explain himself again in September 1946 in No 33 of Ce qu’il faut dire.
In September 1932, he and Jean Dautry brought out a new bi-monthly bulletin La Correspondance internationale ouvrière, inspired by “a non-systematic, non-doctrinaire view of the proletarian movement and of social revolt in all its forms”
Following Hitler’s accession to power, Prudhommeaux spelled out his thoughts on the roots of and responsibilities for the German tragedy in a series of articles carried by Le Libertaire (No 390-392, 17 March-31 March 1933). He was obliged, during the man’s lifetime, to mount a passionate defence of the alleged Reichstag arsonist, Marinus Van der Lubbe (who has since been rehabilitated). Having fallen out with Le Libertaire, which wrote Van der Lubbe off as “an agent of Hitler”, Prudhommeaux, under the pen name Jean Cello, maintained his defence of him in Fernand Fortin’s La Revue anarchiste and Alphonse Barbé’s Le Semeur, as well as in the Bulletin spécial de correspondence published by the French chapter of the International Van der Lubbe Committee. In Holland, he met Jan Appel and Anton Pannekoek, to gather their testimony.
It was this campaign that made an anarchist activist out of him once and for all. At the congress of the Union anarchiste communiste révolutionnaire (UACR) in Orléans on 14-16 July 1933, he represented the Nîmes anarchist group and the Federation of the Gard department. After that, Prudhommeaux’s platform was to be Terre libre, the very first issue of which was introduced in L’Éveil social as the monthly organ of the Free Alliance of the Anarchists of the Midi. Terre libre took over from L’Éveil social and printed several regional editions. By June 1935, the paper was displaying the sub-title “libertarian federalist organ”. Finally, in February 1937, it became the newspaper of the ‘Francophone Anarchist Federation’ (FAF) launched the previous year on 15-16 August 1936 by a congress meeting in Toulouse. Terre libre also produced studies in the form of monthly pamphlets; notably, it published Simone Weil’s article “On the Job, Memories of an Exploited Woman” (No 7, 15 July 1936).
Along with Voline, Prudhommeaux was one of the mainstays of the FAF. In keeping with the tradition of solidarity with revolutionaries persecuted in the USSR, Terre libre published regular updates on the Stalinist repression, whilst in 1935 Prudhommeaux had signed an appeal to worldwide revolutionary opinion on behalf of the Russian deportees, as had Sébastien Faure, Robert Louzon, Jacques Mesnil and Magdaleine Paz (see Le Libertaire, 15 May 1935). But from 1936 onwards, developments in Spain were to become the priority for Prudhommeaux and his friends.
In 1936, he was in Barcelona where, from 22 August to 3 September, he tried to produce the first few editions of L’Espagne antifasciste, only to have these confiscated at the French border. In October, he returned to Nîmes. From then on, L’Espagne antifasciste was published in Paris under the auspices of the “Anarcho-syndicalist Committee for the Defence and Liberation of the Spanish Proletariat” which had, from that summer, served as an umbrella for the three main French anarchist organizations (the Union Anarchiste, the Francophone Anarchist Federation and the CGT-SR), with financial backing from the CNT-FAI. After its production was suspended in January 1937, L’Espagme Nouvelle took over from February 1937 to July 1939. As editor and manager, Prudhommeaux alternated its production with that of Terre libre and he looked upon the two papers as mutually complementary. According to Jean Maitron, he was “along with Voline, one of those who most forcefully represented the dissenting current within the French anarchist movement”, opposing the CNT-FAI’s concessions and partnership in the republican government. In light of repeated setbacks and the rising tide of a war in Europe, Prudhommeaux wrote: “The ground lost since July 1936 has been too widespread to leave us any opportunity to fight our own corner effectively.” And he added: “As for our marching to the slaughter for capitalism, too many of our people have already perished in Spain and elsewhere.” (L’Espagne nouvelle, 15 April 1939)
In August 1939, he left Nîmes for the safety of his in-laws’ home in Switzerland, with his wife and daughter in tow. Precluded from engaging in any political activity, he turned, after lots of difficulties, to literary criticism in publications of francophone Switzerland or over the wireless in Geneva, as well as translation of poetry. March 1942 saw the appearance of a selection of his own poetry: Les Jours et les Fables. He formed lots of friendships, notably with Louis Bertoni, publisher of Le Réveil anarchiste, Jean-Paul Samson, a French war-resister from the First World War who was to published the magazine Témoins from spring 1953 onwards, with Prudhommeaux contributing along with Albert Camus, René Char, Louis Mercier, Pierre Monatte, Ignazio Silone, etc.
Towards the end of 1946, the Prudhommeaux and their daughters Jenny and Michèle settled in Versailles. Prudhommeaux, using the name André Prunier, was active in the Anarchist Federation (FA) and helped edit Le Libertaire. From January 1947 he replaced Georges Brassens as editorial secretary and was also running the Students’ Libertarian Circle.
From 1948 to 1958 he was general secretary of the Anarchist International Relations Commission (CRIA) alongside Ildefonso González, Renée Lamberet and Clément Fournier, among others. That Commission, launched at a European anarchist conference in Paris in May 1948, took over from the Provisional International Relations Secretariat (SPRI) which had been set up to re-establish connections between anarchist groups and federations after the war. The CRIA published about forty bulletins in a range of languages (French German, Spanish, and Esperanto) and its activities were wound down in 1958 when it was replaced by the International Anarchist Commission based in London, with Giovanni Baldelli (aka John Gill) as secretary.
Having been a proof-reader, Prudhommeaux joined the review Preuves, writing for it from 1951 to 1957. He was taken to task for this and barred from the columns of Le Libertaire. He was one of that pioneering core of militants who were the first to raise the alarm about the grip that Georges Fontenis’s (the Organisation-pensée-bataille) tendency was gaining over the FA. On 11 October 1952, those militants launched L’entente anarchiste in Le Mans, with Prudhommeaux one of the main drivers behind this.
Once the Anarchist Federation (FA) had been turned into the Libertarian Communist Federation (FCL) in December 1953, Prudhommeaux took part in the launch of a brand-new FA at a congress on 25-27 December 1953. In this new federation, Prudhommeaux was appointed international relations secretary in 1956 and again at the Nantes congress in June 1957. He was the FA representative at the London international anarchist congress, 25 July – 1 August 1958.
A contributor to lots of independent libertarian publications such as E. Armand’s L’Unique, Louis Louvet’s Contre Courant or Louis Lecoin’s Défense de l’homme, Prudhommeaux had also launched the bi-monthly newspaper Pages libres in 1956. Internationally, he contributed to Freedom (Great Britain), Volonta (Italy), Cahiers de Pensée et Action (Belgium), L’Adunata dei refrattari (USA). His translation work saw him produce French translations of several works by Alexander Herzen, Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind (Gallimard, 1954), and Milovan Djilas’s The New Class (Plon, 1957).
In the 1950s the Eastern Bloc countries were at the heart of his concerns, especially the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 (he wrote an article about it for Le Contrat social of September 1957).
In 1960 he was stricken with the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease which would kill him eight years later after horrible suffering. Despite his affliction, he carried on with his translation work, notable translating the American sociologist David Riesman. Prudhommeaux was cremated on 16 November 1968.
Haunted all his life by what he termed “the ancient quarrel between the reforming Physiocrat […] and the apocalyptic revolutionary”, he had, one after the other, espoused both stances with equal fervour. The marginal’s marginal, the multi-faceted, though still scattered output of this “most liberal of libertarians” awaits discovery.
His archives and the CRIA archives have been deposited with the CIRA in Lausanne and the IISH in Amsterdam.
Entry in the online version of the Dictionnaire Des Anarchistes https://maitron.fr/spip.php?article155496 Article posted on-line on 9 March 2014 and last modified 8 May 2020/consulted 02/08/20