Jean Grave, “Free-Land” (1908)



(The Pioneers)

by Jean Grave




By the translator of the Spanish edition.

Tasked with translating this book for the collection of readings for the “Modern School” of Barcelona, I first experienced, on reading it, a feeling of pleasant melancholy.

The arbitrary and brutal act, undertaken in the name of social defense and in order to decapitate a revolutionary party, that casts a load of deportees into the steerage of the Arethusa — which every reader of bourgeois judgment will take for an act of rabble-rousing exaggeration, reminded me of the bombing at Cambios Nuevos in Barcelona, of the trial concerning it and the atrocities that ensued, and of that heaping of prisoners at Montjuich, in the military jails [maisons d’arrêt] and in the old prison.

Between this real event, over which the veil of an amnesty was later extended, in order to mark tyranny and violence with charity, and the imaginary event recounted in this book, the difference is great, and it is the real event that would seem implausible.

In reality, there was a crime, some of those accused, and others who were not accused like Francisco Gana subjected to torture in order to extract from them denunciations against men who were indicated to them, a tribunal where one went so far as to say: “We must shut our eyes to reason;” some men shot, others condemned to the penal colonies, without proof and almost without defense; many, without even being implicated in the proceedings, would remain imprisoned for long months, under the threat of deportation to Rio de Oro [in the Western Sahara], an uncivilized and inhospitable country, only to be exiled from the nation in the end, thanks to a violent law, announced several months after their imprisonment, to which was given a retroactive effect the height of arbitrariness and absurdity.

In the novel, we only see a general strike, a panicked bourgeoisie, a government indulgent of the privileged and a court system that condemns in advance, seeing in each of the accused a culprit already convicted and confessed; no matter how senseless this may be, it is nonetheless the current practice in the world of privilege.

Continuing to read this book, my favorable impression grew, to see how much the conception that it sets forth, which the author owes to his psychological science, tallies with the memories left to me by my experience of life in prison. I know that the prisoners, my comrades, in the sadness caused by their separation from their own, whom they know are beset by all sorts of miseries, still had enough courage to live in good harmony between their four walls, and those who had something divided their belongings with those who had nothing; they read, they wrote, they taught the unlettered to read, to count and to reason; they read aloud for the instruction and pleasure of all; they made speeches on the subjects of science, industry or literature; they debated the means of escaping from Rio de Oro in order to reach Casablanca or found a colony; and I have no doubt at all that, placed in similar circumstances, they would have become perfect Freelanders.

It was in these fine spirits that I came to plumb the depths of the though that dominated the whole book, guided by the author as he navigated, with perfect confidence, between reefs and shoals of error and utopia.

That certainty of judgment rests on the knowledge of the forces in struggle in the present world and of the result that they must produce in specific circumstances. What occurs in Free-Land, following the shipwreck, is what could not fail to occur.

In this fragment of humanity, which bears within it tendencies created by the evolution realized in the worldlike a bit of cosmic matter that would carry some living germs from one world to another, the authoritarian pride of one leader and the passion for liberty of the exiled laborers leads to a revolution, on a supplementary continent, situated five degrees beyond the limits of the known world.

As a consequence of that great shock, the Arethusians, paralyzed by passive obedience, sink into decadence and inertia, while the Freelandians, restored to natural liberty, develop all the initiatives, organize all the activities and produce a magnificent communist flowering.

How? There, no time is lost in sterile discussions; there no one can pretend that they are more than the others and better than them; there, there is no place for the superman and the failures who use their transcendent personality as an excuse to avoid the obligations of reciprocity, while they abuse its benefits; no one would put up with it. The important thing is to be free and to live; naturally and inevitable the firm intention to break every dependency and every servitude manifests itself. It is accomplished by means of a revolution that triumphs as the partial revolutions will triumph and as the final revolution will triumph, if we call a revolution that which is only a culminating revolutionary episode because the authoritarian regime is a centralization for the profit of a narrow, routine intelligence, a collection of outdated institutions that function thanks to a base and foolish way of being, thanks to mechanical obedience, thanks to the unconscious support from which the privileged brigands benefit, and only by exception thanks to self-sacrifice and to heroism; while the libertarian regime is the human individual achieving all its value, and growing from the value and strength of all the other human individuals, free, provident, active and harmonious. 

In the liberty that they have won, the Freelandians organize consciously, with the certainty with which the atomic elements of matter group themselves in order to form beings and things and in order to realize the universal life; and if atavism costs them the presence of an idler, of a dishonest person and of a mandarin, liberty itself renders this bad comrades inoffensive and then corrects them.

In these pages there lives and acquires persuasive force the idea that the anarchists are perfectly human, not a product of the imagination, nor of a special doctrine, that they have need of a better society in order to hope for their existence which would be an absurd reversal of cause and effect but that they exist today, that they existed formerly and will always exist, evolving progressively toward the perfection in every human being, man or woman; they are the egoist-altruists who want the good for themselves and for those that they love, because it is the essential basis of all true happiness; they are the ones who sacrifice themselves for an idea, for a loved one, for a friend, for their parents, for their children, for their siblings, for their comrades, for a stranger in peril, as everyone does or is inclined to do.

And if these natural conditions of existence have been unknown and in large part suppressed as a result of antagonisms born first of poverty, then of the ignorance maintained by the States and religions, today when, thanks to the development of the geographical science, humanity knows itself and knows that it is rich with all the wealth accumulated by science and labor, these antagonisms have no more reason to exist; they tend to disappear through the effects of that great worker solidarity that abolishes differences of race, religion, language and customs, and that, scorning borders, unites the whole proletariat in a single entity, exclusively concerned with progress. Later, it will unite it in communism, not according to an ideal of justice forged by the fevered imaginations of metaphysical doctrines, whether religious or philosophical but virtue of the law of least effort, which directs in an absolutely rational mode the activity in search of the goal that it must necessarily pursue, a natural law which I regard as superior that of the struggle for existence where the privileges seek their justification, which, along with the law of evolution and that of mutual aid, contains the justification of the human society to which it will give stability and an indefinite perfection.

The Freelandians, depending on the knowledge acquired by humanity, have thus been able to create a new society, a society of labor and happiness. As easily as a torrent spills over a fragile embankment, they sink to the bottom, with cannon shots, a warship that arrives at Free-Land in order to chain these freedmen in the name of the homeland. Then the set themselves to construct a vessel in order to come to Europe to restore momentum to the socialists of all shades, who waste their time and energy is sterile discussions, betraying the hopes of those who suffer, leaving them to resist, as if they were truly strong, these governments that feed and maintain the skeptical and ephemeral bourgeoisie. And we have nothing more to do, we European and American laborers awaiting the arrival of the Freelandians, than to prepare a good reception for them, at least if we are not capable of being truly original by imitating them and preempting their arrival.

Anselmo Lorenzo

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.