Monday, November 29, 2010

Emile Pouget, "Sabotage" (from the Almanach du Père Peinard, 1898)

This short essay on sabotage covers some of the same ground as Pouget's famous book, but where that work is in some ways rather scholarly, this piece, from the 1898 Almanach du Père Peinard, is written in the language of the street. It's profane in places, sometimes rather gratuitously so, and that poses some translation problems. Mitch Abidor has previously translated the piece for the archive, and in a few places I have followed his translation more or less word-for-word. In others, our translations diverge significantly. And then there are a whole series of stylistic differences. Enjoy!


Emile Pouget

Sabotage is a fine stratagem which, before long, will make the capitalos laugh out of the other side of their mouths. At the last Congrès Corporatif at Toulouse, where a lot of good chaps have gathered, sent by the Syndicates, from the four quarters of France, sabotage has been loudly acclaimed.

The enthusiasm was staggering.

And all delegates have pledged, once they returned to their home towns, to popularize the thing so that the workers can put it into practice all over.

And I assure you, my friends, that the enthusiasm is not the result of a passing enthusiasm,—a straw fire.


The idea of Sabotage will not remain in the state of a blue dream: we will use the trick!

And the exploiters will finally understand that the job of boss will no longer be all rosy.

That said, for the good sorts who still don’t know what this is about, I’ll explain what sabotage is.

Sabotage is the conscious shirking of duties, it is the botching of a job, it is the grain of sand cunningly stuck in the fine gears so that the machine remains broken down, it is the systematic sinking of the boss…. All this practiced on the sly, without making a fuss, or showing off.

Sabotage is the younger cousin of the boycott. And, hell, in a whole string of cases where the strike is impossible it can render damn good service to the proles. When an exploiter senses that his workers are not in a position to strike, he doesn’t deprive himself of the pleasure of humiliating them. Caught in the spiral of exploitation, the poor buggers, afraid of being sacked, dare not say a word. They are eaten up with anger, but bow their heads: they submit to the bosses’ indignities, burning up inside.

But they suffer it! And, whether it is with or without rage, the boss doesn’t give a damn, provided they do as he wishes.

Why is it this way?

Because the proles have not found a means to respond tit-for-tat and, by their actions, neutralize his nastiness.

Yet the means exists:

It is sabotage!

The English have been practicing it for a long time,—and they find it a damned good thing.

Suppose, for example, some big labor camp whose boss, all of a sudden, has some acquisitive whim,—whether it’s a new mistress to maintain, or he has bad luck in the purchase of a house, or another fantasy which necessitates an increase of profits on his part. The bastard does not hesitate: in order to realize the profit that he wants he cuts back on workers—on the pretext that business is bad—he has no fucking lack of bad reasons.

Let us suppose that this mangy character has made his plans very well and the tightening of the screws coincides with a situation so tangled that his proles cannot attempt a strike. What happens then?

In France, the poor exploited will protest loudly, and curse the vampire. Some—the shrewdest—will raise a ruckus and leave the camp; as for the others, they will suffer their sad fate.

In England, things would pass otherwise, for fuck’s sake! And that is thanks to sabotage. Quietly, the proles of the factory slip the watchword in the ear: “Hey, friends, we sabot... we must go piano, piano…” And, without further ado, production will find itself slowed. Indeed it will be so slowed that if the boss is not a complete simpleton, he will not persist in his loutishness: he will return to the old tariff,—for he will realize that in this little game, for every five sous that he chisels on the daily wage of each prole he loses four times as much.

What it is to have a nose for these things!

There where some suckers had been swindled, some clever devils, stuffed with common sense and initiative, pull themselves out of the mess.


The English picked up sabotage from the Scots, for the Scots are loafers, and they even borrowed from them the system’s baptismal name: the Go canny.

Recently, the International Longshoremen’s Union, which has its offices in London, sent out a manifesto advocating sabotage, so that the dockers will have the nerve to practice it, since up to this point, the English proles have used sabotage particularly in the mines and textile factories.

Here is the manifesto in question:

What does “Go canny” mean?

It’s a short and useful word to designate a new tactic employed by workers instead of going on strike.

If two Scotsmen are walking together and one is going too fast the other says to him: “Go canny,” which means, “Slow down.”

If someone wants to buy a hat worth five francs he has to pay five francs. But if he wants to only pay four then he’ll have one of lesser quality. A hat is a form of “merchandise.”

If someone wants to buy six shirts at two francs each he has to pay twelve francs. If he only pays ten he’ll only get five shirts. A shirt is a form of “merchandise sold in the market.”

If a housewife wants to buy a piece of beef worth three francs she has to pay for it. And if she only offers two francs then she’ll be given bad meat. Beef, too, is a “merchandise sold in the market.”

Well, the bosses declare that labor and skill are “merchandises for sale in the market,” like hats, shirts, and beef.

Perfect, we answer. We’ll take you at your word.

If it is “merchandise” we’ll sell it like the hat maker sells his hats and the butcher his meat. They give bad merchandise for bad prices, and we’ll do the same.

The bosses have no right to count on our charity. If they refuse to discuss our demands, well, we’ll put in practice the “Go canny,” the slowdown, while waiting for them to listen to us.
Here, then is sabotage neatly defined: for bad pay, bad work!

Well, it will be damn swell when the stuff has entered our customs: a dirty trick on the bosses’ band, when those apes are convinced—by experience—that, from now on, the blow is always ready to fall on their heads. The fear of losing cash and of sliding towards bankruptcy will soften the arrogance of the capitalists.

Feeling themselves vulnerable,—at the cash register, which serves them for a heart!—they will think twice before producing some of their customary bullshit.

Certainly, there are some good fellows who, under the pretext that we should look avidly for the radical disappearance of capitalism, will find it too little to limit themselves to holding the apes at bay and preventing them from showing their claws.

They forget to look at the double face of the Social Question: the present and the future.

Now, the present prepares the future! If ever the proverb “As one makes his bed, so must one lie on it!” has been fitting, it is certainly here:

The less we allow ourselves to be put down by the bosses, the less intense will be our exploitation, the strong will be our revolutionary résistance, the greater will be the consciousness of our dignity and the more vigorous our desires for liberty and well-being.

And, consequently, the more able we will be to prepare the blossoming of the great society where there will be no more governors, nor capitalists;

And, more able as well, when we have achieved it, to evolve in the new milieu.

If, on the contrary, instead of beginning now the apprenticeship of liberty, we show no interest in daily life, and show contempt for the needs and passions of the present hour, it won’t be long before we wither in a world of abstractions and become renowned only as hair-splitters. In this way, living too much in dreams, our activity will dampen, and as we have lost all contact with the masses, the day we want to shake off our torpor, we will be as tangled up as an elephant who has found an enema pump.

There’s no question about it: in order to realize equilibrium in life, to carry human activity to the highest degree, it is necessary to neglect neither the present, nor the future.

When one of the two prevails over the other, the rupture of equilibrium which results produces nothing helpful: when we are all in the present, we get caught up in pettiness and silly games; but when we sail off into the blue skies, we end up trapped in the realm of the ideal.

And that is why I will drum it into those lads who have some pluck, that they not neglect either the present or the future.

In this way, they will activate the germination of rich ideas and of the spirit of rebellion.

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