Eugène Bévant

Source: ‘Les Anarchistes et le cas de conscience’ Paris: Librairie Sociale, 1921

  • 22 June 1884 Bévant is born in Minzier to a family of Farmers.
  • 1905 Bévant refuses to attend compulsory military service.
  • Bévant goes to Paris and meets Alphonse Barbé and the Anarchists.
  • January 1906 – pressured by his parents, he agrees to do his military service.
  • March 1906 – Bévant is put before the military council for having been absent without leave and is given a suspended sentence; Bévant flees the barracks just 4 days after his trial.
  • He goes to Switzerland for 18 months but is expelled for taking part in an anti-military campaign; Bévant is then expelled from Germany for talking to German anarchists.
  • 31 December 1907 he heads to London, England.
  • Bévant is part of a small group of French ‘deserters’, his house on Manette St in central London is used as the HQ for the Social Studies Group (Group d’Études sociales) which distributes a French anarchist art journal called Art Action (Action d’art).
  • December 1916 he is arrested by English police.
  • January 1917 the French military court sentences him to 5 years forced labour.
  • Bévant is sent to the army but deserts.
  • He makes his way to Paris and collaborates with a handful of remaining militants there, including Barbé.
  • Bévant is arrested and put in a military prison in Grenoble.
  • Barbé gives a statement at Bévant’s trial and speaks of his friendship and solidarity.
  • Summer 1920 Le Libertaire (the Anarchist newspaper) also tries to fundraise for him.
  • August 1920 Eugène Bévant is sentenced to 18 months in prison by the war council. His previous suspended sentence is revoked.

At the war council in Grenoble, Summer 1920:

“Yes, I refused to kill my fellow man, and I declare that to you in your capacity as men, not judges…

I was raised according to the teaching of Christ – respect for life and for others’ wellbeing – and the teachings of my parents, who, in their simplicity, always showed me the meaning of goodness and beauty…to get to my first desertion, as you call it, in 1905 – nothing but heartbreak for me and my family. To leave behind everyone I loved, forever, never to see them again.

Cruel reality had it that my father died in 1907; my younger brother (after being evacuated from the Western Front at Yser) died in January 1915. I never saw either of them again…in 1917, time took my mother, who died before we could ever meet again; and in July 1918 my older brother, who I had seen just three times when he was on leave, died in the battle at Tahure. These are the sufferings we have endured, my loved ones and I.

When asked if he had anything more to say:

“Just one last thing: we each have in front of us two opposing forces. On one side, the brutal force directed by a privileged elite – an elite which governs the social and moral laws of the day, an elite which has at its service the police, the army, the judiciary, religion, and the ignorance of the masses. On the other side, the force of reason – reason based on all the human knowledge held by philosophers, scientists, and scholars. A force which is constantly engaged in sceptical philosophy in search of the Truth. You can weaken it by condemning me, but you cannot destroy it; the Truth will always win out. Now, look at me, see if I have the face of a coward.”