Maurice Laisant

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Maurice Laissant (11 March 1909 – 29 September 1991) began his career working for the French national railway company before taking a job as a sales representative. He became progressively more widely known as a militant anarchist individualist, free thinker and pacifist.[1] He was a co-founder in 1953 of the newly regrouped Paris based Anarchist Federation.

In 1955 he hit the headlines when he was convicted for printing a poster condemning the war in Indo-China and the writer Albert Camus publicly came to his defence.[2]


Provenance and early years[edit]

Maurice Laisant came from a political family. His grandather was the radical Deputy for Nantes, Charles-Ange Laisant. Maurice and his younger brother Charles Laisant [3] inherited their libertarian beliefs from their parents.

He was initiated into the Free Masons in 1926, joining the "Concordia" lodge of the Grand Orient de France. Normal minimum age requirements were waived because his father was already a member. However, his father died shortly afterwards, on 28 November 1928, and he was required to quit. Despite this unhappy experience he would later defend the Masons from criticism, notably among any fellow anarchists hostile to free masonry.[4]

He joined the Young Pacifists' Union (Union des Jeunesses pacifistes de France /UJPF) in 1935. In 1939 he began working on Le Libertaire, the weekly newspaper which at this time was published by the "Anarchist Union".

Co-founder of the Anarchist federation[edit]

After the Second World War ended in May 1945 Maurice Laisant was one of a number of individuals who co-founded, in December 1945, the Anarchist Federation. The co-founders also included Robert Joulin, Maurice Fayolle, Maurice Joyeux, Roger Caron and Henri Bouyé. In 1946 he started to work with Louis Louvet on the anti-militarist weekly publication, "Ce qu'il faut dire" ("What needs to be said") (fr). He attended the first congress of the "General Pacifist Federation" (Confédération générale pacifiste / CGP), held in Paris in November 1946, participating as a member of the propaganda commission.

Laisant frequently intervened in support of conscientious objectors even where his personal position on conscientious objection was more nuanced. Maurice Rajsfus recalled a debate on fundamentals within the Anarchist Federation in which Maurice Laisant, while inviting discussion, nevertheless set forth his own point of view with great coherence:

"What is conscientious objection if it is not the refusal of a man to bend himself to laws and current customs? In every age and place there has been conscientious objection, individually or in groups, of man against the established order .... I have never advocated conscientious objection, because I judge that it can only be a personal matter, and not something that can ever be judged by anyone other than the individual directly affected: I also should not wish to impose on others a path that I have not myself had the courage to pursue."[5][6]

Following fragmentation within the Anarchist Federation Maurice Laisant was one of those who set about reconstructing the group in 1953, in the process becoming one of its leading members. In 1956, together with Maurice Joyeux, he joined the editorial committee of Le Monde libertaire, the Federation's (by now monthly) magazine.

At the start of the 1950s he was a member of "Free Forces for Peace" ("Forces Libres de la Paix"), becoming the group's propaganda secretary in 1952.

The poster affair[edit]

In October 1954 Laisant faced charges following the publication of a forceful poster calling for the ending of hostilities in Indo-China. The poster failed to include the requisite legal notice, and it had been printed on white paper.[7] In February 1955 he was condemned by a Paris court and required to pay a large fine.[8] One of those who spoke up for Laisant at his trial was Albert Camus, already an influential supporter of French liberal traditions.[2][9]

Camus told the court:

"I got to know Camus in a meeting where we joined together to call for the freedom of med condemned to death in a neighbouring country. Since then I have on various occasions had to admire his willingness to struggle against the scourge that menaces humanity. I find it impossible that anyone could ever condemn a man whose actions are so completely aligned with the interests of every other person. People prepared to stand up gainst a danger to humanity that grows more terriuble every day are too rare".[10][11][12][13]

Camus was clearly impressed by the activism of Maurice Laisant.[14]

Later years[edit]

In June 1957, at their congress in Nantes, Laisant was appointed Secretary General of the Anarchist Federation, a post he would continue to hold till 1975.

In May 1978, after the Ris-Orangis congress at which the Anarchist Federation recognised the class struggle, he took issue with the federation for its drift towards Marxism. With various other groups out of sympathy with this trend, he launched a new edition of Le Libertaire, publication of which had lapsed a few years earlier. It was on the basis of this latest split that in November 1979 he was among the founders of the Union of Anarchists: he remained a member till he died.


  1. ^ Jacqueline Lalouette (1997). La Libre Pensée en France, 1848-1940. Bibliothèque Albin Michel Histoire. p. 568.
  2. ^ a b Neil Helms; Harold Bloom (Compiler) (1 April 2003). Biography of Albert Camus. Albert Camus (Bloom's BioCritiques). Chelsea House Publications. p. 39. ISBN 978-0791073810.
  3. ^ RD (16 February 2008). "LAISANT, Charles: Né à Asnières (Seine) le 22 janvier 1911 – mort le 16 décembre 1952 - Comptable - UA – FA – SIA - CGT - Asnières (Hauts-de-Seine) – Toulouse (Haute Garonne)". Dictionnaire international des militants anarchistes (in French). Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  4. ^ Léo Campion. "Le drapeau noir, l'équerre et le compas ... Maurice Laisant". Éditions Alternative Libertaire. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  5. ^ Maurice Rajsfus (2008). 17, rue Dieu, et autres cris de colère. Le Temps Des Cerises. p. 48. ISBN 978-2841097500.
  6. ^ « Qu'est-ce que l'objection de conscience, sinon le refus d'un homme de se plier aux lois, aux usages ayant cours. Dans tous les domaines, et dans tous les temps, il y eut objection de conscience, individuelle ou collective, des hommes devant l'ordre établi. .... Je n'ai jamais prôné l'objection de conscience, estimant que ce ne pouvait être qu'un acte personnel que nul autre n'a à juger que l'intéressé, par surcroît parce que j'aurais assez mauvaise posture pour engager des hommes dans une voie que je n'ai pas eu moi-même le courage de suivre »
  7. ^ Maurice Laisant (October 1954). "Les Forces Libres de la Paix". Comme légalement rien, dans le texte, ne pouvait être poursuivi, le chef d’accusation se réfère à une loi du 29 juillet 1881, tombée en désuétude, et par laquelle l’usage du papier blanc est interdit pour toute affiche, quelle que soit la couleur de l’encre employée. Fédération internationale des centres d’études et de documentation libertaires (Archives du Monde libertaire (1954-2009)). Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  8. ^ Maurice Joyeux (February 1955). "Maurice Laisant condamné: Agression gouvernementale contre les Forces Libres de la Paix". Le Monde libertaire, Paris. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  9. ^ Édouard Jourdain. L'anarchisme. La Découverte, coll. reprinted, 2013. p. 100.
  10. ^ " J'ai connu Laisant dans un meeting où nous réclamions ensemble la libération d'hommes condamnés à mort dans un pays voisin. Depuis. je l'ai parfois revu et j'ai pu admirer sa volonté de lutter contre le fléau qui menace le genre humain. Il me semble impossible que l'on puisse condamner un homme dont l'action s'identifie si complètement avec l'intérêt de tous les autres hommes. Trop rares sont ceux qui se lèvent contre un danger chaque jour plus terrible pour l'humanité."
  11. ^ Herbert R. Lottman (1985). Albert Camus. Editions du Seuil, (digitalised University of California 2011). ISBN 978-2020086929.
  12. ^ Maurice Joyeux (compiler). Albert Camus et les libertaires. Fédération anarchiste, Groupe Fresnes-Antony.
  13. ^ Paul F. Smets (1988). Albert Camus, La chute: un testament ambigu : pièces pour un dossier inachevé. digitised l'Université du Michigan, 18 January 2007. Fondation Théâtre et culture.
  14. ^ Olivier Todd (7 September 2011). Albert Camus: A Life. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978 0307804761.