An Exemplary Life

An Exemplary Life

At about 7:80 on the evening of June 27, 1960, in a tiny book-crammed lodging of a workers’ suburb of Paris, Pierre Monatte died. He was seventy-nine years old.

Monatte entered the union movement in 1902, having been attracted to it by reading Fernand Pelloutier’s l’Histoire des Bourses du Travail. The son of a lacemaker and a blacksmith in a small mountain town, he had been a scholarship student at the Brioude college. Reading Hugo’s Les Miserables had, since adolescence, oriented him toward socialism.

In Paris he met Charles Guiyesse, at that time publisher of the review Pages Libres, and in this environment he came to know Pelloutier, Sorel, Merrheim, and Broutcheux. In 1904, he sat on the committee of the Labor Exchanges, then at Lens he edited L’Action Syndicale, the weekly paper of the newly organized miners’ union. He became a proofreader and joined the Federation du livre, remaining a member until his death.

Monatte was well acquainted with prison: during the great miners’ strike in March-April 1906 triggered by the catastrophe of CourriPres (1200 victims), an enraged government accused him of participation in a fantastic and totally imaginary plot. But the accusation did not stick, and Monatte was freed. The same year he participated in the Congress of Amiens, out of which came the charter for the Con federation Generale du Travail (CGT). In 1908 he stayed in Switzerland to escape the prosecution to which he, and all the other directors of the CGT, were subjected for their union activities. 1909 found Monatte editing La Revolution, an ephemeral labor daily, which lasted only forty days. Next, he established the Vie Ouvriere, his greatest success. This magazine, which he directed until 1921, constitutes a precious source concerning the working-class movement.