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Alexandre Jacob (September 29, 1879 – August 28, 1954), known as Marius Jacob, was a French anarchist illegalist. A clever burglar equipped with a sharp sense of humour, capable of great generosity towards his victims, he became one of the models for Maurice Leblanc's character Arsene Lupin.
A rough start
Jacob was born in 1879 in Marseille to a working-class family. At the age of twelve, he signed up as a sailor's apprentice for a voyage that would carry him to Sydney where he deserted from the crew. Of his voyage he would later say, "I saw the world; it is not beautiful". After a short episode of piracy, which he soon rejected as too cruel, he returned to Marseilles in 1897 and gave up navy life definitively, plagued by fevers which would accompany him for the rest of his life. As an apprentice typographer he attended anarchist meetings and met his future wife Rose.
The parliamentary socialists of the late 19th century were opposed, often violently, to anarchists in the working world. Socialists sought to attain power legally through the electoral process. Anarchists, however, felt that social justice was not something that could be attained through the existing power structure, but instead had to be seized by the working classes. In the Europe of the Belle Epoque, after the repression of the Paris Commune, revolt tended towards the individual act of violence, often directed towards kings, politicians, soldiers, police officers, tyrants, and magistrates. Numerous militant anarchists were imprisoned and faced the guillotine. Men such as Ravachol, considered by many to be terrorists, were condemned to death.
Caught with explosives after a string of minor larcenies, Jacob was condemned to six months in prison, after which he had difficulty reintegrating himself. From that point forward, he choose "a pacifistic illegalism."
In Toulon on July 3, 1899, Jacob pretended to suffer from hallucinations in order to avoid five years of reclusion. On April 19, 1900, he escaped from the asylum in Aix-en-Provence with the assistance of a male nurse and took refuge in Sète. There he organized a band of men, calling them "the workers of the night." The principles were simple: one does not kill, except to protect his life and his freedom from the police; one steals only from those considered to be social parasites - bosses, judges, soldiers, and the clergy - but never from the professions considered useful - architects, doctors, artists, etc.; finally, a percentage of the stolen money was to be invested into the anarchist cause. Jacob chose to avoid working with the idealistic anarchists and instead surrounded himself with criminals and fellow illegalists.
To see whether those who they sought to burglarize were on their premises, Jacob's gang wedged pieces of paper into their doors and returned the following day to check if the paper was still in place. Additionally, Jacob became an expert on lock-picking doors and safes. Another clever criminal method involved entering an apartment from the floor above. Jacob would slip an umbrella through a small hole in the target apartment's ceiling. Once inserted, the umbrella could be opened to catch rubble and dampen the noise created by breaking through the ceiling.
Between 1900 and 1903, operating with groups of two to four people, Jacob made over 150 burglaries in Paris, surrounding provinces and even abroad. But Jacob began to feel that his was a lost cause. One day while attempting to convert a workman to anarchism, Jacob obtained a significant answer: "And my retirement?"
On April 21, 1903, an operation carried out in Abbeville turned sour. Having killed a police officer in order to escape, Jacob and his two accomplices were captured. Two years later in Amiens Jacob appeared in court. Anarchist supporters flocked to the city, creating a platform for his ideas. "You now know who I am: one revolted, living on the product of his burglings." He escaped from the guillotine but was condemned to a life of forced labor in Cayenne.
Forced labor and resurrection
In Cayenne, Jacob maintained correspondence with his mother Marie, who never gave up on her son. He tried to escape seventeen times without success.
Following the countrywide ban on forced labor (inspired by the writings of Albert Londres), Jacob returned to the city, where he suffered from depression until 1927, after which he relocated to Loire Valley where he became a commercial peddler and remarried (Rose having died during his time in prison).
In 1929 Jacob was introduced to Louis Lecoin, director of the newspaper Libertaire. The two men resembled each other and built a lasting friendship. After the international support effort for anarchist prisoners Sacco and Vanzetti, they gave their support to prevent the extradition of Durruti, who had been promised the death penalty in Spain. In 1936, Jacob went to Barcelona in the hopes of aiding the syndicalist CNT, but convinced that there was no hope for the struggle in Spain, he returned to the market-life of France.
If he did not engage directly in the French resistance (there were few anarchist networks, even though some libertarians, primarily Spanish, participated in the movement), partisans were able to find refuge in his home. His mother died (1941) and his wife (1947), surrounded by friends and comrades. Jacob never renounced his criminal lifestyle or his opinions.
- Écrits by Alexandre Marius Jacob
- Marius Jacob, the Anarchist Cambrioleur' ' by William Caruchet, Séguier editions
- An Anarchist of the Beautiful Time, Alexandre Jacob by Alain Sergent
- Lives of Alexandre Jacob 1879-1954 by Bernard Thomas, Fayard 1970, Mazarine 1998.
- Alexandre Jacob l'honnête cambrioleur by Jean-Marc Delpech, Atelier de création libertaire, 2008
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