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The Cynosure

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This letter was translated by John Clark and appears in Anarchy Archives with his permission

To the editors of la Huelga General in Barcelona.
Brussels, Dec. 4, 1901.
Corresp. III:238-240.

Dear comrades,

We have an ingrained habit of exaggerating both our strengths and our weakness. During revolutionary periods, it seems that our most minor actions have incalculably great consequences. On the other hand, during times of stagnation, though we may be totally dedicated to our work, our entire lives seem barren and useless, and we may even feel swept away by the winds of reaction.

What then should we do to maintain our intellectual vigor, our moral energy, and our faith in the good fight?

You come to me hoping to draw on my long experience of people and things. So, as an elderly person I give you the following advice:

Do not quarrel or deal in personalities. Listen to other people's arguments before you present your own. Learn how to remain silent and reflect. Don't try to get the better in an argument at the expense of your own sincerity.

Study with discretion and perseverance. Great enthusiasm and dedication to the point of risking one's life are not the only ways of serving a cause. It is easier to sacrifice one's life than to make one's whole life an education for others. The conscious revolutionary is not only a person only of feeling, but also one of reason, for whom every effort to promote justice and solidarity rests on precise knowledge and on a comprehensive understanding of history, sociology, and biology. Such a person can incorporate his personal ideas into the larger context of the human sciences, and is sustained in the struggle by the immense power he gains through his broad knowledge.

Avoid overspecialization. Side neither with nations nor with parties [ni aux patries ni aux partis]. Be neither Russians, Poles nor Slavs. Rather, be men of truth, free from any thoughts of particular interests, and from speculative ideas concerning the nature of peoples, whether Chinese, Africans, or Europeans. The patriot always ends up hating the foreigner, and loses the sense of justice that once kindled his enthusiasm.

Away with all bosses, leaders, and those who treat language as if it were Sacred Scripture. Reject such idolatry and value the words even of your closest friend or the wisest professor only for the truth that you find in them. If, having listened, you still have some doubts, turn inward toward your own mind and reexamine the matter before making a final judgment.

So you should reject every authority, but also commit yourself to a deep respect for all sincere convictions. Live your own life, but also allow others the complete freedom to live theirs.

If you throw yourself into the conflict to sacrifice yourself on behalf of the humiliated and the downtrodden, that is a very good thing, my companions. Face death nobly. If you prefer to take on slow and patient work on behalf of a better future, that is an even better thing. Make it the goal of every instant of a generous life. But if you choose to remain poor among the poor, in complete solidarity with those who suffer, may your life shine forth as a beneficent light, a perfect example, a fruitful lesson for all!

Greetings, comrades.
Elisee Reclus.


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