- 30 September 1888 Lecoin is born in Saint-Amand-Montrond.
He loves watching regimental parades and aged 16 thinks about a military career.
- Lecoin works for low wages as a Gardener, where his political consciousness is awakened.
- He becomes an Anarchist and later writes in his newspaper, Liberté, [June 1962], ‘I’ve been an Anarchist since 1905, and if death comes soon, let me assure you that I will be dying an Anarchist’.
- 1906, Lecoin joins a Gardeners’ strike. He sees Jean Jaurès (a famous Socialist) and Sébastien Faure (a famous Anarchist) speak.
- Lecoin is arrested at another Gardeners’ strike and, is sentenced to three months in jail. He turns up two months late to the barracks; worried that not enrolling would force him into exile and would put paid to his anarchist activities.
A rail strike breaks out before he is due for discharge and his company is deployed against the strikers. Lecoin refuses and is put in prison in Bourges, sentenced to six months.
He gains support from left wing newspaper Le Libertaire for this act of conscience.
- March 1912 Lecoin gets a job in the building industry.
He joins the Anarchist Communist Federation (FCA).
- October 1912 Lecoin is elected as secretary and gets involved in antimilitarist activity.
- 15 October 1912, Lecoin is arrested for printing a poster inciting desertion and speaking out against conscription.
- December 1912 he is sentenced to 5 years in prison.
Whilst in prison, Lecoin learns the FCA has disbanded: his role models in the anarchist movement fall out over which stance to adopt. The anarchist movement is falling apart.
Sébastien Faure stops printing pacifist materials at the request of the government.
- November 1916, Lecoin is released from prison and does not obey his mobilization order.
- December 1916, Lecoin prints a handbill entitled ‘Let’s impose peace!’, is immediately arrested and sentenced to a year in prison.
- 12 September 1917 Lecoin is released – he, again, refuses to report to his army unit.
- December 1917 he is put in Cherche-Midi prison for refusing to answer the call to arms; Lecoin is sent to Poissy, then to Fort of Bicêtre, where he goes on hunger strike.
- Summer 1918 Lecoin is sent to the Monge military work camp.
- March 1919 he is transferred to Albertville penitentiary.
1919 Le Libertaire newspaper is restarted by anarchist friends, behind bars Lecoin writes articles under a pseudonym.
The paper carries out a campaign for Lecoin’s release from Albertville, in October 1920, Lecoin writes a letter that is used by the defence in Alphonse Barbé’s trial for desertion; the defence Barbé uses is the ‘crisis of conscience’ [‘cas de conscience’].
- November 1920 he is freed, concluding his eighth year in prison.
- Lecoin continues working as an anarchist activist and public figure for the rest of his life.
11 December 1963 – conscientious objection is recognised by law in France.
June 1971 Lecoin dies.
Source: Sylvain Garel, “Louis Lecoin: An Anarchist Life” (1982). Translated by Paul Sharkey (London: Kate Sharpley, 2000)
A letter sent by Lecoin to the Military Governor in September 1917, explaining his refusal to be conscripted:
I firmly believe that a man can and should refuse to kill his fellow men. This war, stirred up by worldwide capitalism, is the worst of the crimes visited on the working classes. I am protesting the war by not responding to the call to arms.
In refusing to obey the orders of the army rabble, by refusing to let myself be militarized, I am acting in accordance with my anarchist ideals. I am logical in my beliefs and I am following both my heart, which is pained by the ugliness of these events, and my conscience, which is outraged that people are suffering so much.
His statement before the war tribunal in 1917:
“My presence in this dock and the reason why I am here can be taken as proof of my hatred of war and my reproach for the French government. They, along with the leaders of the other warring countries, are responsible for this massacre of human beings and responsible, too, for prolonging it.
In aid of the class struggle, the battle which will deliver the working classes from their capitalist oppression, I am committed to revolutionary methods and direct action.”
Translated extracts from his self-published autobiography, De Prison en prison (1947).
A sergeant came out of an adjoining office. He questioned me:
‘What are you doing here?’
‘I refuse to take part in the war.’
‘Troublemaker! Scoundrel! Coward!’
‘No more than you are. Less, perhaps.’
‘Strip him naked and put him in solitary!’
They left me in there for several days. I paced around my tiny room, sitting on the floor when I got tired of walking …That very evening, I was taken to the sergeant’s office. He conceded that, given my opinions, I should not be allowed to communicate whatsoever with the other inmates…he gave these orders so that I had the least inhumane treatment possible. I went before the military tribunal to demand my right to not be a soldier; the right to say no to war, even in times of war, especially in times of war.
After the war tribunal; Lecoin was put in an ordinary prison (rather than one for military prisoners)
A barber cuts off our moustaches and shaves our heads. And we have to undress. Guards examine us in great detail. Oh, it isn’t our physical health that interests them. We open our mouths, lift up our arms to show that we aren’t hiding anything in our armpits. They explore all the cavities. We are even invited to turn round, bend down and… cough hard. Poor human dignity! You are nothing but a memory now.
Farewell to everything that still connected us to civilian life: our clothes, letters, a photograph. A bundle of all these objects will be given back to us in a year, or in ten…I go through to the administrative office, where I learn that a certain sum will be deducted in advance from my assets for the ‘black mass’. That is, we must pay for our coffin up front.
‘Lecoin! Ah! Lecoin! Best behave yourself, that’s all I can say, if you don’t want to leave here feet first!’
I am assigned to the brush factory and I start my training. Completely forbidden from talking…the guards touch us…the blows rain down with no rhyme nor reason, just for fun. If an inmate reels from a slap, another slap straightens him out. I have often felt big tears fall down my cheeks at the sight of it.
Lecoin’s friends appeal on his behalf and he is moved to the military prison called the Fort of Bicêtre in Cherche-Midi:
I was not going to spend my entire life there, all the same…I took the decision to go on hunger strike…on my sixth day I received visits from the sergeant, who seemed annoyed by my tenacity.
The ‘Spanish flu’ – the mysterious illness which, over the summer of 1918, deepened the mass grave of the war – struck our camp…death conquered the most vulnerable. One morning, I awoke to find my two neighbours dead by my side. The day before, sleeping in the same straw, we had spoken a little – to reassure ourselves and each other.
The early winter shrivelled us up like old people. And one day, lacking even the energy to chase the cold from our limbs, news of the armistice came to the quarry. I didn’t wonder whether I was coming to the end of my own woes; I thought about how the misery of the world was coming to a close, and I was infinitely happy for all those whom we would no longer kill.