Anarchist Unrest and The Trial of the Thirty 

On  9 December 1893 an anarchist by the name of Auguste Vaillant threw a home-made bomb from the public gallery into the Chamber of Deputies slightly injuring some twenty people. This attack on the National Assembly provoked the government into passing the a number of draconian measures into law. These lois scélérates or ‘villainous laws’ effectively muzzled the anarchist and other left wing press and proscribed ‘criminal association’. In France, between 1892 and 1894, eleven bombings were attributed to anarchists. For the government, business and the middle class these attacks were a profound challenge to the established social order. In 1892, the Chamber of Deputies voted by a huge majority to brand anarchism as a criminal conspiracy. In the first months of 1894 the authorities acted against known anarchist sympathisers arresting over 400 people between January and the end of June.

As a notable anarchist sympathiser Camille Pissarro was feeling the heat. In a letter to his son Lucien dated 28 April 1894 “Our friend Fénéon has just been arrested, it is alleged that he is connected with some criminal organisation. – What next – Isn’t this the limit?”   The government crackdown reached fever pitch after the assassination of the popular and respected President Sadi Carnot by an Italian anarchist on 24 June.

Pissarro decided to leave the country, staying in Belgium until the autumn. On 5 September in a letter to his son Lucien he asked “Could I return to France safely? I don’t know at all. I notice that a number of militant figures have left. It seems to me that I, who am of absolutely no importance and participate in no actions of any kind, should have nothing to fear; but as you point out, there is always a threat of some sort.”   By October Pissarro was back in France but in his absence a number of anarchists had been prosecuted in the Procès des trente – the sensational Trial of the Thirty. Proceedings began on 6 August on charges of ‘criminal association’; Félix Fénéon and Maximilien Luce were among the defendants as well as the anarchist leader Jean Grave. On 31 October the jury acquitted all of the anarchist defendants (some of the accused who had criminal associations were found guilty).

Text by Geoffrey Smith