Kropotkin: Happy Solstice (Across the Anarchist Universe)

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Around this time of year, the combination of religious idolatry and capitalism called “Christmas” can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are other things to celebrate, like Peter Kropotkin’s birthday and the Winter Solstice, both of which fall on December 21st. Instead of focusing his critique on religion and its role in perpetuating the domination and exploitation of the masses, something that Bakunin was adept at, Kropotkin tried to articulate a positive view of the universe and people’s place in it, which mirrored his views of an anarchist society. In Modern Science and Anarchism (1903), Kropotkin described anarchism as “a world-concept based upon a mechanical [kinetic] explanation of all phenomena, embracing the whole of nature.” This was a 19th century conception of nature and the universe, still steeped in Newtonian physics, soon to be replaced by Einstein’s theories of relativity and quantum physics. But in Kropotkin’s earlier pamphlet, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal (1896), he set forth a view of the universe that is surprisingly modern, anticipating post-Einsteinian theories, such as the hypothesis of the “God particle,” infinitesimally small particles that hold the universe together. Space considerations prevented me from including these passages in the excerpts from Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. In celebration of Kropotkin’s birthday and the Winter Solstice, I reproduce them below, hopefully providing some respite from the relentless religious and commercial propaganda at around this time of year.

Across the Anarchist Universe

Across the Anarchist Universe

An Anarchist Across the Universe

Those who are persuaded that anarchism is a collection of visions relating to the future, and an unconscious striving towards the destruction of all present civilization, are still very numerous. To clear the ground of such prejudices as maintain this view we should have to enter into many details which it would be difficult to cover briefly.

Anarchists have been spoken of so much lately that part of the public has at last taken to reading and discussing our doctrines. Sometimes men have even given themselves the trouble to reflect, and at the present time we have at least gained the admission that anarchists have an ideal. Their ideal is even found too beautiful, too lofty for a society not composed of superior beings.

But is it not pretentious on my part to speak of a philosophy, when according to our critics our ideas are but dim visions of a distant future? Can anarchism pretend to possess a philosophy when it is denied that socialism has one?

This is what I am about to answer with all possible precision of clearness. I begin by taking a few elementary illustrations borrowed from natural sciences. Not for the purpose of deducing our social ideas from them—from it; but simply the better to set off certain relations which are easier grasped in phenomena verified by the exact sciences than in examples taken only from the complex facts of human societies.

What especially strikes us at present in exact sciences is the profound modification which they are undergoing in the whole of their conceptions and interpretations of the facts of the universe.

There was a time when man imagined the earth placed in the center of the universe. Sun, moon, planets and stars seemed to roll round our globe; and this globe inhabited by man represented for him the center of creation. He himself—the superior being on his planet—was the elected of his Creator. The sun, the moon, the stars were made for him—towards him was directed all the attention of a God who watched the least of his actions, arrested the sun’s course for him, launched his showers or his thunderbolts on fields and cities to recompense the virtue or punish the crimes of mankind. For thousands of years man thus conceived the universe.

An immense change in all conceptions of the civilized part of mankind was produced in the sixteenth century when it was demonstrated that far from being the center of the universe, the earth was only a grain of sand in the solar system—a ball much smaller even than the other planets—that the sun itself, though immense in comparison to our little earth, was but a star among many other countless stars which we see shining in the skies and swarming in the milky way. How small man appeared in comparison to this immensity without limits, how ridiculous his pretentions! All the philosophy of that epoch, all social and religious conceptions, felt the effects of this transformation in cosmogony. Natural science, whose present development we are so proud of, only dates from that time.

But a change much more profound and with far wider-reaching results is being effected at the present time in the whole of the sciences, and anarchism is but one of the many manifestations of this evolution.

Take any work on astronomy of the last century. You will no longer find in it our tiny planet placed in the center of the universe. But you will meet at every step the idea of a central luminary—the sun—which by its powerful attraction governs our planetary world. From this central body radiates a force guiding the course of the planets, and maintaining the harmony of the system. Issued from a central agglomeration, planets have, so to say, budded from it. They owe their birth to this agglomeration; they owe everything to the radiant star that represents it still: the rhythm of their movements, their orbits set at wisely regulated distances, the life that animates them and adorns their surfaces. And when any perturbation disturbs their course and makes them deviate from their orbits, the central body re-establishes order in the system; it assures and perpetuates its existence.

This conception, however, is also disappearing as the other one did. After having fixed all their attention on the sun and the large planets, astronomers are beginning to study now the infinitely small ones that people the universe. And they discover that the interplanetary and interstellar spaces are peopled and crossed in all imaginable directions by little swarms of matter, invisible, infinitely small when taken separately, but all-powerful in their numbers.

It is to these infinitely tiny bodies that dash through space in all directions with giddy swiftness, that clash with one another, agglomerate, disintegrate, everywhere and always, it is to them that today astronomers look for an explanation of the origin of our solar system, the movements that animate its parts, and the harmony of their whole. Yet another step, and soon universal gravitation itself will be but the result of all the disordered and incoherent movements of these in finitely small bodies—of oscillations of atoms that manifest themselves in all possible directions. Thus the center, the origin of force, formerly transferred from the earth to the sun, now turns out to be scattered and disseminated. It is everywhere and nowhere. With the astronomer, we perceive that solar systems are the work of infinitely small bodies; that the power which was supposed to govern the system is itself but the result of the collision among those infinitely tiny clusters of matter, that the harmony of stellar systems is harmony only because it is an adaptation, a resultant of all these numberless movements uniting, completing, equilibrating one another.

The whole aspect of the universe changes with this new conception. The idea of force governing the world, pre-established law, preconceived harmony, disappears to make room for the harmony that Fourier had caught a glimpse of: the one which results from the disorderly and incoherent movements of numberless hosts of matter, each of which goes its own way and all of which hold each in equilibrium.

anarchist galaxy

If it were only astronomy that were undergoing this change! But no; the same modification takes place in the philosophy of all sciences without exception; those which study nature as well as those which study human relations.

In physical sciences, the entities of heat, magnetism, and electricity disappear. When a physicist speaks today of a heated or electrified body, he no longer sees an inanimate mass, to which an unknown force should be added. He strives to recognize in this body and in the surrounding space, the course, the vibrations of infinitely small atoms which dash in all directions, vibrate, move, live, and by their vibrations, their shocks, their life, produce the phenomena of heat, light, magnetism or electricity.

In sciences that treat of organic life, the notion of species and its variations is being substituted by a notion of the variations of the individual. The botanist and zoologist study the individual—his life, his adaptations to his surroundings. Changes produced in him by the action of drought or damp, heat or cold, abundance or poverty of nourishment, of his more or less sensitiveness to the action of exterior surroundings will originate species; and the variations of species are now for the biologist but resultants—a given sum of variations that have been produced in each individual separately. A species will be what the individuals are, each undergoing numberless influences from the surroundings in which they live, and to which they correspond each in his own way.

And when a physiologist speaks now of the life of a plant or of an animal, he sees an agglomeration, a colony of millions of separate individuals rather than a personality, one and invisible. He speaks of a federation of digestive, sensual, nervous organs, all very intimately connected with one another, each feeling the consequence of the well-being or indisposition of each, but each living its own life. Each organ, each part of an organ in its turn is composed of independent cellules which associate to struggle against conditions unfavorable to their existence. The individual is quite a world of federations, a whole universe in himself.

And in this world of aggregated beings the physiologist sees the autonomous cells of blood, of the tissues, of the nerve-centers; he recognizes the millions of white corpuscles who wend their way to the parts of the body infected by microbes in order to give battle to the invaders, More than that: in each microscopic cell he discovers today a world of autonomous organisms, each of which lives its own life, looks for well-being for itself and attains it by grouping and associating itself with others. In short, each individual is a cosmos of organs, each organ is a cosmos of cells, each cell is a cosmos of infinitely small ones. And in this complex world, the well-being of the whole depends entirely on the sum of well-being enjoyed by each of the least microscopic particles of organized matter. A whole revolution is thus produced in the philosophy of life.

anarchist-bigpic

But it is especially in psychology that this revolution leads to consequences of great importance.

Quite recently the psychologist spoke of man as an entire being, one and indivisible. Remaining faithful to religious tradition, he used to class men as good and bad, intelligent and stupid, egotists and altruists. Even with materialists of the eighteenth century, the idea of a soul, of an indivisible entity, was still upheld.

But what would we think today of a psychologist who would still speak like this! The modern psychologist sees in a man a multitude of separate faculties, autonomous tendencies, equal among themselves, performing their functions independently, balancing, opposing one another continually. Taken as a whole, man is nothing but a resultant, always changeable, of all his divers faculties, of all his autonomous tendencies, of brain cells and nerve centers. All are related so closely to one another that they each react on all the others, but they lead their own life without being subordinated to a central organ—the soul.

Without entering into further details you thus see that a profound modification is being produced at this moment in the whole of natural sciences. Not that this analysis is extended to details formerly neglected. No! the facts are not new, but the way of looking at them is in course of evolution. And if we had to characterize this tendency in a few words, we might say that if formerly science strove to study the results and the great sums (integrals, as mathematicians say), today it strives to study the infinitely small ones—the individuals of which those sums are composed and in which it now recognizes independence and individuality at the same time as this intimate aggregation.

As to the harmony that the human mind discovers in nature, and which harmony is on the whole but the verification of a certain stability of phenomena, the modern man of science no doubt recognizes it more than ever. But he no longer tries to explain it by the action of laws conceived according to a certain plan pre-established by an intelligent will.

What used to be called “natural law” is nothing but a certain relation among phenomena which we dimly see, and each law takes a temporary character of causality; that is to say: If such a phenomenon is produced under such conditions, such another phenomenon will follow. No law placed outside the phenomena: each phenomenon governs that which follows it—not law.

Nothing preconceived in what we call harmony in Nature. The chance of collisions and encounters has sufficed to establish it. Such a phenomenon will last for centuries because the adaptation, the equilibrium it represents has taken centuries to be established; while such another will last but an instant if that form of momentary equilibrium was born in an instant. If the planets of our solar system do not collide with one another and do not destroy one another every day, if they last millions of years, it is because they represent an equilibrium that has taken millions of centuries to establish as a resultant of millions of blind forces. If continents are not continually destroyed by volcanic shocks it is because they have taken thousands and thousands of centuries to build up, molecule by molecule, and to take their present shape. But lightning will only last an instant; because it represents a momentary rupture of the equilibrium, a sudden redistribution of force.

Harmony thus appears as a temporary adjustment established among all forces acting upon a given spot—a provisory adaptation. And that adjustment will only last under one condition: that of being continually modified; of re presenting every moment the resultant of all conflicting actions. Let but one of those forces be hampered in its action for some time and harmony disappears. Force will accumulate its effect, it must come to light, it must exercise its action, and if other forces hinder its manifestation it will not be annihilated by that, but will end by upsetting the present adjustment, by destroying harmony, in order to find a new form of equilibrium and to work to form a new adaptation. Such is the eruption of a volcano, whose imprisoned force ends by breaking the petrified lavas which hindered them to pour forth the gases, the molten lavas, and the incandescent ashes. Such, also, are the revolutions of mankind.

Eco-Anarchism

Eco-Anarchism

An analogous transformation is being produced at the same time in the sciences that treat of man. Thus we see that history, after having been the history of kingdoms, tends to become the history of nations and then the study of individuals. The historian wants to know how the members, of which such a nation was composed, lived at such a time, what their beliefs were, their means of existence, what ideal of society was visible to them, and what means they possessed to march towards this ideal. And by the action of all those forces, formerly neglected, he interprets the great historical phenomena.

So the man of science who studies jurisprudence is no longer content with such or such a code. Like the ethnologist he wants to know the genesis of the institutions that succeed one another; he follows their evolution through ages, and in this study he applies himself far less to written law than to local customs—to the “customary law” in which the constructive genius of the unknown masses has found expression in all times. A wholly new science is being elaborated in this direction and promises to upset established conceptions we learned at school, succeeding in interpreting history in the same manner as natural sciences interpret the phenomena of nature.

And, finally, political economy, which was at the beginning a study of the wealth of nations, becomes today a study of the wealth of individuals. It cares less to know if such a nation has or has not a large foreign trade; it wants to be assured that bread is not wanting in the peasant’s or worker’s cottage. It knocks at all doors, that of the palace as well as that of the hovel. It asks the rich as well as the poor: Up to what point are your needs satisfied both for necessities and luxuries?

And as it discovers that the most pressing needs of nine-tenths of each nation are not satisfied, it asks itself the question that a physiologist would ask himself about a plant or an animal:—”Which are the means to satisfy the needs of all with the least loss of power? How can a society guarantee to each, and consequently to all, the greatest sum of satisfaction?” It is in this direction that economic science is being transformed; and after having been so long a simple statement of phenomena interpreted in the interest of a rich minority, it tends to become a science in the true sense of the word—a physiology of human societies.

While a new philosophy—a new view of knowledge taken as a whole—is thus being worked out, we may observe that a different conception of society, very different from that which now prevails, is in process of formation. Under the name of anarchism, a new interpretation of the past and present life of society arises, giving at the same time a forecast as regards its future, both conceived in the same spirit as the above mentioned interpretation in natural sciences. Anarchism, therefore, appears as a constituent part of the new philosophy, and that is why anarchists come in contact on so many points with the greatest thinkers and poets of the present day.

In fact it is certain that in proportion as the human mind frees itself from ideas inculcated by minorities of priests, military chiefs and judges, all striving to establish their domination, and of scientists paid to perpetuate it, a conception of society arises in which there is no longer room for those dominating minorities. A society entering into possession of the social capital accumulated by the labor of preceding generations, organizing itself so as to make use of this capital in the interests of all, and constituting itself without reconstituting the power of the ruling minorities. It comprises in its midst an infinite variety of capacities, temperaments and individual energies: it excludes none. It even calls for struggles and contentions; because we know that periods of contests, so long as they were freely fought out without the weight of constituted authority being thrown on one side of the balance, were periods when human genius took its mightiest flights and achieved the greatest aims. Acknowledging, as a fact, the equal rights of its members to the treasures accumulated in the past, it no longer recognizes a division between exploited and exploiters, governed and governors, dominated and dominators, and it seeks to establish a certain harmonious compatibility in its midst—not by subjecting all its members to an authority that is fictitiously supposed to represent society, not by trying to establish uniformity, but by urging all men to develop free initiative, free action, free association.

Kropotkin A pamphlet

It seeks the most complete development of individuality combined with the highest development of voluntary association in all its aspects, in all possible degrees, for all imaginable aims; ever changing, ever modified associations which carry in themselves the elements of their durability and constantly assume new forms which answer best to the multiple aspirations of all.

A society to which pre-established forms, crystallized by law, are repugnant; which looks for harmony in an ever-changing and fugitive equilibrium between a multitude of varied forces and influences of every kind, following their own course—these forces themselves promoting the energies which are favorable to their march towards progress, towards the liberty of developing in broad daylight and counterbalancing one another.

This conception and ideal of society is certainly not new. On the contrary, when we analyze the history of popular institutions—the clan, the village community, the guild and even the urban commune of the middle ages in their first stages—we find the same popular tendency to constitute a society according to this idea; a tendency, however, always trammelled by domineering minorities. All popular movements bore this stamp more or less, and with the Anabaptists and their forerunners in the ninth century we already find the same ideas clearly expressed in the religious language which was in use at that time. Unfortunately, till the end of the last century, this ideal was always tainted by a theocratic spirit. It is only nowadays that the conception of society deduced from the observation of social phenomena is rid of its swaddling-clothes.

It is only today that the ideal of a society where each governs himself according to his own will (which is evidently a result of the social influences borne by each) is affirmed in its economic, political and moral aspects at one and the same time, and that this ideal presents itself based on the necessity of communism, imposed on our modern societies by the eminently social character of our present production.

In fact, we know full well today that it is futile to speak of liberty as long as economic slavery exists. “Speak not of liberty—poverty is slavery!” is not a vain formula; it has penetrated into the ideas of the great working-class masses; it filters through all the present literature; it even carries those along who live on the poverty of others, and takes from them the arrogance with which they formerly asserted their rights to exploitation.

Peter Kropotkin

Anarchist Sky

Kropotkin: Neither God Nor Master

Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included some brief excerpts from Kropotkin’s essay on “revolutionary government” in Words of a Rebel. In the following excerpts, having demonstrated the failings of representative government, Kropotkin argues against those revolutionaries who think they can make a social revolution by seizing power and imposing their own so-called “revolutionary” dictatorship. He ends by quoting the French revolutionary, Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881), who at the end of his life proclaimed: “Neither God Nor Master,” which was to become the battle cry of the anarchist movement.

From Revolutionary Government to Personal Dictatorship

From Revolutionary Government to Personal Dictatorship

Revolutionary Government

The perils to which the revolution is exposed should it allow itself to be managed by an elected government are so evident that a whole school of revolutionaries has completely renounced that idea. They understand that it is impossible for an insurgent people to give itself by electoral means a government that does not represent the past, a government that does not act like fetters around the ankles of the people, above all when it sets out to accomplish that immense economic, political and moral regeneration we mean when we talk of the social revolution. So they renounce the idea of a “legal” government, at least for the period of revolt against legality, and they call for “revolutionary dictatorship.”

“The party which has overthrown the government — they say — will forcefully take its place. It will seize power and proceed in a revolutionary manner. It will take the measures needed to secure the success of the insurrection; it will demolish old institutions; it will organize the defence of the territory. As for those who do not want to recognize its authority — the guillotine! And for those, people or bourgeoisie, who do not wish to obey the orders it will issue to regulate the progress of the revolution — the guillotine as well!” That is how the budding Robespierres reason — those who have retained from the great epoch of the past [18th] century only its decadent phase, who have learnt nothing from it but the speeches of the public prosecutors.

For us, the dictatorship of one individual or one party — and basically it is the same thing — can be judged without hesitation. We know that a social revolution is not directed by the ideas of a single man or group. We know that revolution and government are incompatible; the one must destroy the other, no matter what name one gives to the government: dictatorship, monarchy or parliament. We know that what makes the strength and originality of our [anarchist] party lies in its fundamental formula:

“Nothing good and lasting is made except by the free initiative of the people, and all power tends to kill it.” That is why the best among us, if his ideas are not accepted by the people as fit to be applied, and if he becomes master of the formidable engine of government that allows him to act out his own fantasies, will in a week be fit only to be struck down. We know where every dictatorship — even the best intentioned of them — leads: to the death of the revolution. And we know finally that this idea of dictatorship is never more than an unwholesome product of that governmental fetishism which, in the same way as a religious fetishism, has always perpetuated slavery.

anarchism-law-and-freedom

But today it is not to the anarchists that we are addressing ourselves. We speak to those among the governmentalist revolutionaries who, misled by the bias of their education, sincerely deceive themselves and are open for discussion. We will approach them from their own viewpoint.

To begin with, a general observation. Those who preach dictatorship do not generally perceive that in sustaining this attitude they only prepare the ground for the successors who will swallow them up…

But the predisposition to government so completely blinds those who talk about dictatorship, that they would prefer to further the dictatorship of a new Brissot or Napoleon rather than renounce the idea of giving another master to men who have broken their chains.

The secret societies that sprang up during the Restoration period [after the fall of Napoleon] and the reign of Louis-Phillipe contributed to sustaining this cult of dictatorship. The middle class republicans of the period, supported by the workers, initiated a long series of conspiracies which aimed at overthrowing royalty and proclaiming the Republic. Failing to take into account the profound transformations that would have to take place in France, even to enable a bourgeois republican regime to be established, they imagined that by means of a vast conspiracy they would in a single day overthrow the monarchy, seize power, and proclaim the Republic. For nearly thirty years these secret societies continued to work with boundless devotion and heroic perseverance and courage. If the Republic emerged naturally from the insurrection of February 1848 it was thanks to such societies, thanks to the propaganda of the deed they carried on for thirty years. Without their noble efforts, the Republic would even now have been impossible.

Their aim was thus to seize power for themselves, to install themselves as a republican dictatorship. But of course they never reached their goal. As always, through the inevitable course of events, it was not a conspiracy that overthrew the kingdom. The conspirators had indeed prepared for the event. They had spread broadly the republican idea; their martyrs had offered an ideal to the people. But the last thrust, which finally overthrew the bourgeois king, was much broader and much stronger than anything that could come from a secret society; it came from the popular masses.

1848 French Revolution

1848 French Revolution

The result is well known. The party which had prepared the downfall of the monarchy was pushed to the side on the steps of the Hotel de Ville [in 1848]. Others, too prudent to run the risks of conspiracy, but better known and also more moderate, watched for the moment to seize power, and assumed the position which the conspirators thought they had conquered to the sound of the cannonade. Journalists, lawyers, glib speakers who had worked at making names for themselves while the true republicans forged their arms or died in the prisons, seized hold of power. Some were acclaimed by the boobies because they were already celebrated; others pushed themselves forward, and were accepted because their names represented nothing or at best a program of being all things to all men.

Let no one stand up and tell us that it was a lack of practical intelligence on the side of the party of action — that others could have done better. No, a thousand times no! It is a law, like that of the movement of the stars, that the party of action stays on the outside, while the intriguers and the talkers take over power. They gather more votes, with or without ballots, by acclamation or through the intervention of the voting booths, because basically it is always a kind of tacit election that takes place even when there is only acclamation. Those chosen are acclaimed by everyone, and especially by the enemies of the revolution who like to push forward nonentities, and in this way acclamation recognizes as leaders those who, basically, are foes of the [revolutionary] movement or indifferent to it.

The man who more than any other was the incarnation of the system of conspiracy, the man who paid by a life in prison for his devotion to that system [Blanqui], uttered on the eve of his death these words which are a whole program: “Neither God nor Master!”

Neither God Nor Master

Neither God Nor Master

Kropotkin: Representative Government

kropotkin birthday

Well, Kropotkin’s 170th birthday has come and gone, and the world has not come to an end. In celebration of being able to continue celebrating Kropotkin’s and others’ birthdays, I am posting the first of two excerpts from Kropotkin’s essay on representative, or parliamentary, forms of government, from Kropotkin’s Words of a Rebel, which I was unable to include in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. The continuing failings of representative government are well illustrated by recent elections in the United States and Egypt, where representative forms of government are still being used to deprive people of any effective control over their daily lives.

Representative Government

“The mission of the State,” we have been told in order to delude us, “is to protect the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich, the working classes against the privileged classes.” We know how governments have fulfilled such missions; they have done the reverse. Faithful to its origin, representative government has always been the protector of privilege against those who set out to free themselves from it. Representative government in particular, with the connivance of the people, has organized the defence of the privileges of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie against the aristocracy on one side and the exploited on the other — showing itself modest, polite, well mannered toward the first, and ferocious towards the others. That is why even the slightest of laws protecting the worker, no matter how harmless it may be, can be wrung from a parliament only by an agitation that comes close to insurrection. Remember merely the struggles it was necessary to wage, the agitations to which people had to devote themselves, in order to obtain from the British Houses of Parliament, the Swiss Federal Council, the French Chambers, a few wretched laws limiting the hours of work! The first legislation of this kind, voted in England, was extorted only by putting barrels of powder under the machines in the factories.

Elsewhere, in countries where the aristocracy has not yet been destroyed by the revolution, the lords and the bourgeois get along marvellously together. “Grant me the right to legislate, m’lord, and I will mount guards around your castle!” — and he mounts the guard as long as he does not feel threatened.

It took forty years of agitation, which sometimes carried fire through the countryside, before the English parliament decided to guarantee to the farmer the benefit of improvements he made on land he held by lease.

As to the famous “land law” voted for Ireland, it was necessary, as Gladstone himself admitted, for the country to rise in a general insurrection, openly refusing to pay rents and defending themselves against evictions by boycott, fires and the killing of landlords before the bourgeois would vote the wretched law that purported to protect the hungry land against the lords who starved it.

But if it is a matter of protecting the interests of the capitalist, threatened by insurrection or even agitation, then representative government, that organ of capitalist domination, will turn savage. It attacks, and it does so with more confidence and baseness than any despot. The law against socialists in Germany is the equivalent of the edict of Nantes; and not even Catherine II after the peasant rising of Pugachev or Louis XVI after the wheat riots displayed such ferocity as the two “National Assemblies” of 1848 and 1871, whose members shouted: “Kill the wolves, the she-wolves and their cubs,” and unanimously, without a single opposing voice, rejoiced in their slaughter by soldiers drunken with blood! The anonymous beast with six hundred heads showed itself able to surpass Louis XI and Ivan the Terrible and their kind!

Executed Communards

Executed Communards

It will be the same wherever there is a representative government, whether it is elected in the regular way or is imposed in the lurid light of an insurrection. Either economic equality will prevail in the nation and the free and equal citizens will no longer surrender their rights into anyone else’s hands, seeking out instead a new organization that will permit them to manage their own affairs; or, there will still be a minority who will dominate the masses on the economic level, and it is then that the masses must be watchful. Representatives elected by that minority will act appropriately. They will legislate to maintain their privileges and will act with violence and massacre against those who do not submit.

It is impossible for us to analyze at the present moment all the faults of representative government; that would take up whole volumes. In limiting ourselves entirely to what is essential, we can avoid the trap of pedantic classification. Yet there is still one fact that calls for discussion.

It is a strange fact indeed! Representative government had as its aim to put an end to personal government; it set out to place power in the hands of a class, and not of an individual. Yet it has always shown the tendency to revert to personal government and to submit itself to a single man.

The reason for this anomaly is quite simple. In fact, having armed the government with thousands of prerogatives which are still from the past; having confided to it the management of all matters that are important to a country, and given it a budget of billions, was it possible to confide to the mob in parliament the administration of such numberless concerns? Thus it was necessary to nominate an executive power — the ministry — which was invested with all these quasi-royal prerogatives. What a miserable authority, in fact, was that of Louis XIV, who boasted of being the State, in comparison with that of a constitutional chief minister in our day!

It is true that the Chamber could overturn such a minister — but for what reason? To name a successor who would be invested with the same powers and whom it would be forced, if it were consistent, to dismiss in a week? So it prefers to keep the man it has chosen until the country cries out loudly enough, and then it discards him to recall the man it has dismissed two years ago. It becomes a seesaw: Gladstone-Beaconsfield, Beaconsfield-Gladstone. And basically it changes nothing, for the country is always ruled by one man, the head of the cabinet.

But when the choice falls on a clever man who guarantees “order” — that is to say internal exploitation and external expansion — then the parliament submits to all his caprices and arms him with ever new powers. However much contempt he may show for the constitution, whatever the scandals of his government, they are accepted, and even if there are quibbles over details, he is given a free hand with everything of importance. Bismarck is a living example of this; Guizot, Pitt and Palmerston were such in preceding generations.

Bismark directing the German Parliament

Bismarck directing the German Parliament

That is understandable: all government has a tendency to become personal since that is its origin and its essence. Whether the parliament is elected by property-owners or by universal suffrage, even if it is named only by workers and consists only of workers, it will always search for the man on whom it can unload the cares of government and to whom in turn it will submit. As long as we confide to a small group all the economic, political, military, financial and industrial prerogatives with which we arm them today, this small group will necessarily be inclined, like a detachment of soldiers on a campaign, to submit to a single chief.

This happens even in undisturbed times. But let a war blaze on the frontier, let a civil struggle start up in the interior, and then the first ambitious newcomer, the first clever adventurer, seizing control of the machine with a thousand ramifications which we call the administration, will be able to impose himself on the nation. The parliament will no more be capable of preventing him than five hundred men picked by chance in the street; on the contrary, it will paralyze the resistance. The two adventurers who carried the name of Bonaparte did not succeed by chance. As to the efficacy of the parliamentary debating society in resisting coups d’états, France knows something about this. Even in our day, was it the Chamber that saved France from MacMahon’s attempted coup? As we now know, it was the extra-parliamentary committees. Perhaps the example of England will be cited. But it should not boast too loudly of having retained its parliamentary institutions intact during the nineteenth century. It is true that it has managed throughout that century to avoid class warfare, but everything leads one to believe that it will break out there too, and that Parliament will not emerge intact from that struggle and will founder in one way or another during the march of the revolution.

If we want, at the time of the coming revolution, to leave the gates wide open to reaction, to monarchy perhaps, we have only to confide our affairs to a representative government, to a ministry armed with all the powers it possesses today. Reactionary dictatorship, first tinged with red, and then turning blue in proportion as it feels itself more securely in the saddle, will not be far behind. It will have at its direction all the instruments of domination; it will find them all at its service.

But even if it is the source of so much evil, does not the representative system at least render some services in the progressive and peaceful development of societies? Has it not perhaps contributed to the decentralization of power which has asserted itself in our century? Has it not perhaps helped to hinder wars? Has it not bowed to the exigencies of the moment and at times sacrificed certain antiquated institutions, so as to prevent civil war? Does it not offer at least certain guarantees, a hope of progress, of amelioration within the nation?

What a bitter irony is to be found in each of these questions and in so many others that nevertheless spring up as soon as one judges the institution! For all the history of our century is there to condemn it.

Robespierre - the original Jacobin

Robespierre – the original Jacobin

Faithful to the royalist tradition in its modern guise, which is Jacobinism, parliaments have done nothing other than to concentrate powers in the hands of the government. Bureaucracy carried to an extreme becomes the characteristic of representative government. Since the beginning of this century the talk is all of decentralization, of autonomy, and nothing is done but to centralize and kill the last vestiges of autonomy. Even Switzerland is suffering from this influence, and England submits to it. If it had not been for the resistance of manufacturers and merchants, we should today be in the position of having to ask permission in Paris to kill a cow in Brive-la-gaillarde. Everything falls more and more under the high hand of government. All that is left to us is the management of industry and commerce, of production and consumption, and the social democrats — blinded with authoritarian prejudices — already dream of the day when in the parliament of Berlin they can regulate manufacturing and consumption over the whole surface of Germany.

Has the representative system, which we are told is so pacific, saved us from wars? Never has there been so much extermination as under the representative system. The bourgeoisie needs to establish its domination over markets, and that domination is gained only at the expense of others, by shot and shell. Lawyers and journalists like to talk of military glory, and there is nobody more warlike than stay-at-home warriors.

But is it not true that parliaments lend themselves to the needs of the moment and are ready to modify institutions that are in decay? As in the days of the Convention it was necessary to put a knife to the throats of the Conventioneers to extort from them nothing more than agreements to faits accomplis, so today we have to stage a full insurrection to tear from the “representatives of the people” the smallest of reforms.

As to the improvement of the elected body, never has there been seen a generation of parliaments like that in our day. Like every institution in its decadence, they carry on while their condition gets worse. People used to talk of the corruption of parliaments in the days of Louis Philippe. Speak today to the few honest men who have wandered into these morasses and they will tell you: “ I am sick at heart with it all!” Parliamentarianism inspires only disgust in those who see it close at hand.

But is it really impossible to improve it? Would not a new element, the working class element, infuse it with new blood? Very well, let us analyze the constitution of representative assemblies, study their functioning, and we shall see that such dreams are as naive as the thought of marrying a king to a peasant girl in the hope of being given a succession of good little kings!

Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson

Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson

The God Particle and the State

The God Particle

Being a materialist and a determinist, I couldn’t resist posting something in response to the recent announcement of the potential discovery of the so-called “God particle,” the Higgs boson particle that gives mass to the universe, answering the age old question, “why is there something rather than nothing.” The religious answer to this question was of course “God.” Without him, we would literally be nothing. Modern science suggests the answer is an infinitesimal particle which gives energy mass and therefore form and shape, a particle without intelligence, will or reason. While omnipresent, as with the God of the theologians, and in a way omnipotent, the Higgs boson particle is certainly not omniscient. If the God particle does exist, it is a far cry from the God of the theologians (if the God particle did not exist, would it be necessary to invent it?).

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from Bakunin‘s famous essay, God and the State, regarding the proper role of science and authority in a free society. Space limitations prevented me from including the following excerpts on the nature of God and human freedom.

The Divine Phantom

Jehovah, who of all the good gods adored by men was certainly the most jealous, the most vain, the most ferocious, the most unjust, the most bloodthirsty, the most despotic, and the most hostile to human dignity and liberty – Jehovah had just created Adam and Eve, to satisfy we know not what caprice; no doubt to while away his time, which must weigh heavy on his hands in his eternal egoistic solitude, or that he might have some new slaves. He generously placed at their disposal the whole earth, with all its fruits and animals, and set but a single limit to this complete enjoyment. He expressly forbade them from touching the fruit of the tree of knowledge. He wished, therefore, that man, destitute of all understanding of himself, should remain an eternal beast, ever on all-fours before the eternal God, his creator and his master. But here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge.

Satan v. Son O’ God

We know what followed. The good God, whose foresight, which is one of the divine faculties, should have warned him of what would happen, flew into a terrible and ridiculous rage; he cursed Satan, man, and the world created by himself, striking himself so to speak in his own creation, as children do when they get angry; and, not content with smiting our ancestors themselves, he cursed them in all the generations to come, innocent of the crime committed by their forefathers. Our Catholic and Protestant theologians look upon that as very profound and very just, precisely because it is monstrously iniquitous and absurd. Then, remembering that he was not only a God of vengeance and wrath, but also a God of love, after having tormented the existence of a few milliards of poor human beings and condemned them to an eternal hell, he took pity on the rest, and, to save them and reconcile his eternal and divine love with his eternal and divine anger, always greedy for victims and blood, he sent into the world, as an expiatory victim, his only son, that he might be killed by men. That is called the mystery of the Redemption, the basis of all the Christian religions. Still, if the divine Savior had saved the human world! But no; in the paradise promised by Christ, as we know, such being the formal announcement, the elect will number very few. The rest, the immense majority of the generations present and to come, will burn eternally in hell. In the meantime, to console us, God, ever just, ever good, hands over the earth to the government of the Napoleon Thirds, of the William Firsts, of the Ferdinands of Austria, and of the Alexanders of all the Russias…

God and the State – “C’est moi”

They [the idealists] begin with God, either as a person or as divine substance or idea, and the first step that they take is a terrible fall from the sublime heights of the eternal ideal into the mire of the material world; from absolute perfection into absolute imperfection; from thought to being, or rather, from supreme being to nothing. When, how, and why the divine being, eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect, probably weary of himself, decided upon this desperate salto mortale [jumping the shark] is something which no idealist, no theologian, no metaphysician, no poet, has ever been able to understand himself or explain to the profane. All religions, past and present, and all the systems of transcendental philosophy hinge on this unique and iniquitous mystery.

Holy men, inspired lawgivers, prophets, messiahs, have searched it for life, and found only torment and death. Like the ancient sphinx, it has devoured them, because they could not explain it. Great philosophers from Heraclitus and Plato down to Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, not to mention the Indian philosophers, have written heaps of volumes and built systems as ingenious as sublime, in which they have said by the way many beautiful and grand things and discovered immortal truths, but they have left this mystery, the principal object of their transcendental investigations, as unfathomable as before. The gigantic efforts of the most wonderful geniuses that the world has known, and who, one after another, for at least thirty centuries, have undertaken anew this labor of Sisyphus, have resulted only in rendering this mystery still more incomprehensible. Is it to be hoped that it will be unveiled to us by the routine speculations of some pedantic disciple of an artificially warmed-over metaphysics at a time when all living and serious spirits have abandoned that ambiguous science born of a compromise – historically explicable no doubt – between the unreason of faith and sound scientific reason?

“I believe because it is absurd”

It is evident that this terrible mystery is inexplicable – that is, absurd, because only the absurd admits of no explanation. It is evident that whoever finds it essential to his happiness and life must renounce his reason, and return, if he can, to naive, blind, stupid faith, to repeat with Tertullianus and all sincere believers these words, which sum up the very quintessence of theology: Credo quia absurdum. Then all discussion ceases, and nothing remains but the triumphant stupidity of faith. But immediately there arises another question: How comes an intelligent and well-informed man ever to feel the need of believing in this mystery?

Nothing is more natural than that the belief in God, the creator, regulator, judge, master, curser, savior, and benefactor of the world, should still prevail among the people, especially in the rural districts, where it is more widespread than among the proletariat of the cities. The people, unfortunately, are still very ignorant, and are kept in ignorance by the systematic efforts of all the governments, who consider this ignorance, not without good reason, as one of the essential conditions of their own power. Weighted down by their daily labor, deprived of leisure, of intellectual intercourse, of reading, in short of all the means and a good portion of the stimulants that develop thought in men, the people generally accept religious traditions without criticism and in a lump. These traditions surround them from infancy in all the situations of life, and artificially sustained in their minds by a multitude of official poisoners of all sorts, priests and laymen, are transformed therein into a sort of mental and moral habit, too often more powerful even than their natural good sense.

Churches – Dram Shops for the Poor

There is another reason which explains and in some sort justifies the absurd beliefs of the people – namely, the wretched situation to which they find themselves fatally condemned by the economic organization of society in the most civilized countries of Europe. Reduced, intellectually and morally as well as materially, to the minimum of human existence, confined in their life like a prisoner in his prison, without horizon, without outlet, without even a future if we believe the economists, the people would have the singularly narrow souls and blunted instincts of the bourgeois if they did not feel a desire to escape; but of escape there are but three methods – two chimerical and a third real. The first two are the dram-shop and the church, debauchery of the body or debauchery of the mind; the third is social revolution. Hence I conclude this last will be much more potent than all the theological propaganda of the freethinkers to destroy to their last vestige the religious beliefs and dissolute habits of the people, beliefs and habits much more intimately connected than is generally supposed. In substituting for the at once illusory and brutal enjoyments of bodily and spiritual licentiousness the enjoyments, as refined as they are real, of humanity developed in each and all, the social revolution alone will have the power to close at the same time all the dram-shops and all the churches.

Till then the people, taken as a whole, will believe; and, if they have no reason to believe, they will have at least a right.

There is a class of people who, if they do not believe, must at least make a semblance of believing. This class comprising all the tormentors, all the oppressors, and all the exploiters of humanity; priests, monarchs, statesmen, soldiers, public and private financiers, officials of all sorts, policemen, gendarmes, jailers and executioners, monopolists, capitalists, tax-leeches, contractors and landlords, lawyers, economists, politicians of all shades, down to the smallest vendor of sweetmeats, all will repeat in unison those words of Voltaire:

“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” For, you understand, “the people must have a religion.” That is the safety-valve.

Voltaire

There exists, finally, a somewhat numerous class of honest but timid souls who, too intelligent to take the Christian dogmas seriously, reject them in detail, but have neither the courage nor the strength nor the necessary resolution to summarily renounce them altogether. They abandon to your criticism all the special absurdities of religion, they turn up their noses at all the miracles, but they cling desperately to the principal absurdity; the source of all the others, to the miracle that explains and justifies all the other miracles, the existence of God. Their God is not the vigorous and powerful being, the brutally positive God of theology. It is a nebulous, diaphanous, illusory being that vanishes into nothing at the first attempt to grasp it; it is a mirage, an ignis fatuus, that neither warms nor illuminates. And yet they hold fast to it, and believe that, were it to disappear, all would disappear with it. They are uncertain, sickly souls, who have lost their reckoning in the present civilization, belonging to neither the present nor the future, pale phantoms eternally suspended between heaven and earth, and occupying exactly the same position between the politics of the bourgeois and the Socialism of the proletariat. They have neither the power nor the wish nor the determination to follow out their thought, and they waste their time and pains in constantly endeavouring to reconcile the irreconcilable. In public life these are known as bourgeois Socialists…

All religions, with their gods, their demigods, and their prophets, their messiahs and their saints, were created by the credulous fancy of men who had not attained the full development and full possession of their faculties. Consequently, the religious heaven is nothing but a mirage in which man, exalted by ignorance and faith, discovers his own image, but enlarged and reversed – that is, divinized. The history of religion, of the birth, grandeur, and decline of the gods who have succeeded one another in human belief, is nothing, therefore, but the development of the collective intelligence and conscience of mankind. As fast as they discovered, in the course of their historically progressive advance, either in themselves or in external nature, a power, a quality, or even any great defect whatever, they attributed them to their gods, after having exaggerated and enlarged them beyond measure, after the manner of children, by an act of their religious fancy. Thanks to this modesty and pious generosity of believing and credulous men, heaven has grown rich with the spoils of the earth, and, by a necessary consequence, the richer heaven became, the more wretched became humanity and the earth. God once installed, he was naturally proclaimed the cause, reason, arbiter and absolute disposer of all things: the world thenceforth was nothing, God was all; and man, his real creator, after having unknowingly extracted him from the void, bowed down before him, worshipped him, and avowed himself his creature and his slave.

Christianity is precisely the religion par excellence, because it exhibits and manifests, to the fullest extent, the very nature and essence of every religious system, which is the impoverishment, enslavement, and annihilation of humanity for the benefit of divinity.

God being everything, the real world and man are nothing. God being truth, justice, goodness, beauty, power, and life, man is falsehood, iniquity, evil, ugliness, impotence, and death. God being master, man is the slave. Incapable of finding justice, truth, and eternal life by his own effort, he can attain them only through a divine revelation. But whoever says revelation says revealers, messiahs, prophets, priests, and legislators inspired by God himself; and these, once recognized as the representatives of divinity on earth, as the holy instructors of humanity, chosen by God himself to direct it in the path of salvation, necessarily exercise absolute power. All men owe them passive and unlimited obedience; for against the divine reason there is no human reason, and against the justice of God no terrestrial justice holds. Slaves of God, men must also be slaves of Church and State, in so far as the State is consecrated by the Church. This truth Christianity, better than all other religions that exist or have existed, understood, not excepting even the old Oriental religions, which included only distinct and privileged nations, while Christianity aspires to embrace entire humanity; and this truth Roman Catholicism, alone among all the Christian sects, has proclaimed and realized with rigorous logic. That is why Christianity is the absolute religion, the final religion; why the Apostolic and Roman Church is the only consistent, legitimate, and divine church.

With all due respect, then, to the metaphysicians and religious idealists, philosophers, politicians, or poets: The idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, both in theory and practice.

Unless, then, we desire the enslavement and degradation of mankind, as the Jesuits desire it, as the momiers, pietists, or Protestant Methodists desire it, we may not, must not make the slightest concession either to the God of theology or to the God of metaphysics. He who, in this mystical alphabet, begins with A will inevitably end with Z; he who desires to worship God must harbor no childish illusions about the matter, but bravely renounce his liberty and humanity.

If God is, man is a slave; now, man can and must be free; then, God does not exist.

I defy anyone whomsoever to avoid this circle; now, therefore, let all choose.

Michael Bakunin

Kropotkin: Anarchy & Order

Kropotkin in his study

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several excerpts from Kropotkin’s Words of a Rebel, Kropotkin’s first collection of anarchist essays, originally published (in French) in 1885, while Kropotkin was still imprisoned in France for his revolutionary views. Space limitations prevented me from including the following excerpts from Kropotkin’s essay, “Order,” translated by Nicolas Walter. I have previously posted Kropotkin’s Preface to the 1904 Italian edition of Words of a Rebel, and his Postscript to the 1921 Russian edition.

Words of a Rebel

Peter Kropotkin: Order

We are often reproached for accepting as a label this word anarchy, which frightens many people so much. ‘Your ideas are excellent’, we are told, ‘but you must admit that the name of your party is an unfortunate choice. Anarchy in common language is synonymous with disorder and chaos; the word brings to mind the idea of interests clashing, of individuals struggling, which cannot lead to the establishment of harmony.’

* * *

Let us begin by pointing out that a party devoted to action, a party representing a new tendency, seldom has the opportunity of choosing a name for itself. It was not the Beggars of Brabant who made up their name, which later became so popular. But, beginning as a nickname-and a well-chosen one-it was taken up by the party, accepted generally, and soon became its proud title. It will also be seen that this word summed up a whole idea.

French sans-culotte

And the Sans-culottes of 1793? It was the enemies of the popular revolution who coined this name; but it too summed up a whole idea—that of the rebellion of the people, dressed in rags, tired of poverty, opposed to all those royalists, the so-called patriots and Jacobins, the well-dressed and the smart, those who, despite their pompous speeches and the homage paid to them by bourgeois historians, were the real enemies of the people, profoundly despising them for their poverty, for their libertarian and egalitarian spirit, and for their revolutionary enthusiasm.

It was the same with the name of the Nihilists, which puzzled journalists so much and led to so much playing with words, good and bad, until it was understood to refer not to a peculiar—almost religious—sect, but to a real revolutionary force. Coined by Turgenev in his novel Fathers and Sons, it was adopted by the ‘fathers’, who used the nickname to take revenge for the disobedience of the ‘sons’. But the sons accepted it and, when they later realized that it gave rise to misunderstanding and tried to get rid of it, this was impossible. The press and the public would not describe the Russian revolutionaries by any other name. Anyway the name was by no means badly chosen, for again it sums up an idea; it expresses the negation of the whole of the activity of present civilization, based on the oppression of one class by another-the negation of the present economic system, the negation of government and power, of bourgeois politics, of routine knowledge, of bourgeois morality, of art for the sake of the exploiters, of fashions and manners which are grotesque or revoltingly hypocritical, of all that present society has inherited from past centuries: in a word, the negation of everything which bourgeois civilization today treats with reverence.

It was the same with the anarchists. When a party emerged within the [First] International which denied authority in the Association and also rebelled against authority in all its forms, this party at first called itself federalist, then anti-statist or anti-authoritarian. At that period they actually avoided using the name anarchist. The word an-archy (that is how it was written then) seemed to identify the party too closely with the Proudhonians, whose ideas about economic reform were at that time opposed by the International. But it was precisely because of this—to cause confusion—that its enemies decided to make use of this name; after all, it made it possible to say that the very name of the anarchists proved that their only ambition was to create disorder and chaos without caring about the result.

The International (Paris Section)

The anarchist party quickly accepted the name it had been given. At first it insisted on the hyphen between an and archy, explaining that in this form the word an-archy—which comes from the Greek—means ‘no authority’ and not ‘disorder'; but it soon accepted the word as it was, and stopped giving extra work to proof-readers and Greek lessons to the public.

So the word returned to its basic, normal, common meaning, as expressed in 1816 by the English philosopher Bentham, in the following terms: ‘The philosopher who wishes to reform a bad law,’ he said, ‘does not preach insurrection against it… The character of the anarchist is quite different. He denies the existence of the law, he rejects its validity, he incites men to refuse to recognize it as law and to rise up against its execution.’ The sense of the word has become wider today: the anarchist denies not just existing laws, but all established power, all authority; however its essence has remained the same: it rebels—and this is what it starts from—against power and authority in any form.

But, we are told, this word brings to mind the negation of order, and consequently the idea of disorder, of chaos.

Let us however make sure we understand one another—what order are we talking about? Is it the harmony which we anarchists dream of, the harmony in human relations which will be established freely when humanity ceases to be divided into two classes, of which one is sacrificed for the benefit of the other, the harmony which will emerge spontaneously from the unity of interests when all men belong to one and the same family, when each works for the good of all and all for the good of each? Obviously not! Those who accuse anarchy of being the negation of order are not talking about this harmony of the future; they are talking about order as it is thought of in our present society. So let us see what this order is which anarchy wishes to destroy.

Order today—what they mean by order—is nine-tenths of mankind working to provide luxury, pleasure, and the satisfaction of the most disgusting passions for a handful of idlers.

Order is these nine-tenths being deprived of everything which is a necessary condition for a decent life, for the reasonable development of intellectual faculties. To reduce nine-tenths of mankind to the state of beasts of burden living from day to day, without ever daring to think of the pleasures provided for man by scientific study and artistic creation—that is order!

Order is poverty and famine become the normal state of society. It is the Irish peasant dying of, starvation; it is the peasant of a third of Russia dying of diphtheria and typhus, and of hunger, following scarcity—at a time when stored grain is sent abroad. It is the people of Italy reduced to abandoning their fertile countryside and wandering across Europe looking for tunnels to dig, where they risk being buried after existing for only a few months or so. It is the land taken away from the peasant to raise animals to feed the rich; it is the land left fallow rather than being restored to those who ask for nothing more than to cultivate it.

Order is the woman selling herself to feed her children, it is the child reduced to being shut up in a factory or to dying of starvation, it is the worker reduced to the state of a machine. It is the spectre of the worker rising against the rich, the spectre of the people rising against the government.

Order is an infinitesimal minority raised to positions of Power, which for this reason imposes itself on the majority and which raises its children to occupy the same positions later, so as to maintain the same privileges by trickery, corruption, violence and butchery.

Order is the continuous warfare of man against man, trade against trade, class against class, country against country. It is the cannon whose roar never ceases in Europe, it is the countryside laid waste, the sacrifice of whole generations on the battlefield, the destruction in a single year of the wealth built up by centuries of hard work.

Order is slavery, thought in chains, the degradation of the human race maintained by sword and lash. It is the sudden death by explosion or the slow death by suffocation of hundreds of miners who are blown up or buried every year by the greed of the bosses and shot or bayoneted as soon as they dare complain.

Finally order is the Paris Commune drowned in blood. It is the death of thirty thousand men, women and children, cut to pieces by shells, shot down, buried in quicklime beneath the streets of Paris. It is the fate of the youth of Russia, locked in the prisons, buried in the snows of Siberia, and—in the case of the best, the purest, and the most devoted—strangled in the hangman’s noose.

Order in the streets of Paris, 1871 (M. Luce)

That is order! 

* * *

And disorder—what they call disorder?

It is the rising of the people against this shameful order, bursting their bonds, shattering their fetters, and moving towards a better future. It is the most glorious deeds in the history of humanity.

It is the rebellion of thought on the eve of revolution; it is the upsetting of hypotheses sanctioned by unchanging centuries; it is the breaking of a flood of new ideas, of daring inventions, it is the solution of scientific problems.

Disorder is the abolition of ancient slavery, it is the rise of the communes, the abolition of feudal serfdom, the attempts at the abolition of economic serfdom.

Disorder is peasant revolts against priests and landowners, burning castles to make room for cottages, leaving the hovels to take their place in the sun. It is France abolishing the monarchy and dealing a mortal blow to serfdom in the whole of Western Europe.

Disorder is 1848 making kings tremble, and proclaiming the right to work. It is the people of Paris fighting for a new idea and, when they die in the massacres, leaving to humanity the idea of the free commune, and opening the way towards this revolution which we can feel approaching and which will be the Social Revolution.

Disorder—what they call disorder—is periods during which whole generations keep up a ceaseless struggle and sacrifice themselves to prepare humanity for a better existence, in getting rid of past slavery. It is periods during which the popular genius takes free flight and in a few years makes gigantic advances without which man would have remained in the state of an ancient slave, a creeping thing, degraded by poverty.

Disorder is the breaking out of the finest passions and the greatest sacrifices, it is the epic of the supreme love of humanity!

* * *

The word anarchy, implying the negation of this order and invoking the memory of the finest moments in the lives of peoples—is it not well chosen for a party which is moving towards the conquest of a better future?

Geoffrey Ostergaard: The Relevance of Syndicalism, Part 2

Here is the second part of the revised and previously unpublished version of Geoffrey Ostergaard’s The Relevance of Syndicalism, the original version of which was published in Anarchy magazine in 1963. It is in this portion of his article that Ostergaard argues that the syndicalists’ anti-statism and direct action tactics retained their relevance in the context of the post-war peace movement. Because “War is the health of the State,” as Randolf Bourne once wrote, it will continue to plague humanity until nation states are abolished.

The Relevance of Syndicalism: Part 2

Leninists have often classified the syndicalists as ‘economistic’ and accused them of ignoring politics and the State and, more generally, the problem of power. The label and the accusation, however, are both unwarranted. To the Leninist, the syndicalists might have replied thus: ‘Our actions demonstrate clearly that we appreciate what real politics are about. Nor are we unaware that the bourgeoisie will use the coercive forces of the State to try to repress our movement: that is why we envisage the workers having to resort to arms to defend what they will capture in the course of the revolution. And as for ignoring the problem of power, far from doing that we propose the most realistic way open to the workers to acquire power. We propose to begin to acquire power at the point of production where, according to the logic of Marxist theory, we ought to begin; that is, in the factories and mines. We propose this because we are convinced that, unless the workers win power bases within capitalist society, there will be no proletarian revolution, whatever other kind of revolution there might be. As we syndicalists see it, the revolution must begin in the workshop. Our message to our fellow workers is much the same as Goethe’s message to the emigrant in search of liberty: Here, or nowhere, is your America. Here, in the workshop and in the mine, we must accomplish the revolution or it will be accomplished nowhere. So long as we are a subject class industrially, so long will we remain a subject class politically. The real revolution must be made not in Parliament, not even at the barricades, but in the places where we earn our daily bread. The organizations that we have built up to carry on our daily struggle must be the foundations of the new order and we must be its architects. The law and morality that we have evolved in our long struggle against capitalism must be the law and morality of the future workers’ commonwealth. All other proposals are but snares and delusions.’

The syndicalist strategy of revolution did, therefore, involve a struggle for social power — a struggle to be conducted through direct action based on the workers’ own class organizations. The tactics of direct action included ca’canny or go-slow, the use of the boycott, insistence that goods produced should carry a trade union label, sabotage, and, of course, industrial strikes. What is common to all these tactics is a determined refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of bourgeois rule. It is not, argued the syndicalists, a proper function of trade unions to make agreements with the employers. Negotiations, agreements, contracts all necessarily involve bargaining and compromise within the framework of rules contrived by capitalists. The proper function of trade unions is not to participate with employers in ruling workers but, as far as they able, to impose the will of the workers on the employers. Vincent St. John, a Wobbly leader, expressed clearly the syndicalist attitude when he described how the Industrial Workers of the World operated among the miners in Goldfield, Nevada: ‘The minimum wage for all kinds of labour was $4.50 a day and the 8 hour day was universal. No committee was ever sent to any employers. The unions adopted the wage scales and regulated hours. The secretary posted the same on a bulletin board outside the union hall, and it was the LAW. The employers were forced to come and see the union committee.’ The only kind of contract syndicalists were prepared to consider was ‘the collective contract,’ conceived as part of a strategy of ‘encroaching control’; that is, a contract according to which workers within a factory or shop would undertake a specific amount of work in return for a lump sum, to be allocated among the work-group as the workers saw fit, and on condition that the employers abdicated their control of the productive process itself.

After a period of vigorous pursuit of the various tactics of direct action, the syndicalists envisaged that the workers in their unions would have gained sufficient power to make a successful General Strike possible. Such a strike, seen as the form which the proletarian social revolution would take, could not be planned in advance: the conditions had to be ripe for it. It would probably begin as a local strike or as a national strike confined to a single industry. Class solidarity would lead to its extension to other industries, and rapidly it would build up to a strike general in its dimensions. Symbolized as a mass ‘folding of arms,’ such a strike would constitute a total withdrawal by the workers of their consent to a continuance of the system of class servitude. The legitimacy of the bourgeois order would be finally shattered and in its place would emerge the new proletarian order based on the unions.

The syndicalist General Strike, as we now know, proved to be a dream. It was not, however, a dream that has simply faded. The syndicalist theory of revolution was never put to the test, except perhaps in Spain under the exceptionally difficult conditions of civil war. But long before that the syndicalist movement elsewhere had disintegrated, the Bolshevik Revolution marking the turning point. For many syndicalists who had not drunk deep the waters of anarchism, Lenin appeared to offer a superior strategy. Thus syndicalism was relegated to the list of history’s failures. The reasons for the movement’s failure are varied and complex, but one may be noted here. There was a basic weakness in the syndicalist strategy, a weakness that was revealed only as the movement developed. The strategy, as we have seen, assigned to the unions a dual role: the traditional role of acting as the workers’ defensive organizations, and the revolutionary role of transforming capitalism and constituting themselves the nuclei of the future socialist society. The idea was plausible in theory but, in practice, the two roles proved difficult to combine. To be effective as defensive organizations, the unions needed to embrace as many workers as possible — ideally, all of them. But the more they succeeded in doing this, the more diluted became their revolutionary membership — the mass of their members or potential members being, for commonsense reasons, more interested in the short-term aims than in the ultimate long-term aims. So, in practice, syndicalists found themselves faced with a dilemma, or painful choice. They had to choose between unions which were either large, basically defensive and reformist, or small, composed of convinced revolutionaries but, for that reason, relatively ineffective as defensive organizations. Given the democratic structure of union organization, there was a natural tendency to make the first of these two choices. In this connection, it is significant that even the Spanish CNT, although its leaders were committed revolutionaries, tended to become reformist in practice — some avowed anarchists going so far as to swallow their principles by joining the Republican Government.

But the most interesting thing about syndicalism is not why it failed but that it failed — and what that failure implies. In retrospect, syndicalism can be seen as the great heroic movement of the industrial proletariat. It was the first and, indeed, the only socialist movement to take really seriously Marx’s injunction that the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves. As we have noted, syndicalism sought to achieve the emancipation of labour (as the phrase then was) unaided by middle class intellectuals and politicians, and it aimed at establishing a genuinely working class conception of socialism and culture, free from all bourgeois taints. That it failed suggests that, whatever else they may be, the socialist revolutions that have occurred since the eclipse of syndicalism are not the proletarian revolutions that the ideologists of these revolutions would have us believe.

We are, indeed, living in a revolutionary epoch in which dramatic changes are taking place in the composition and structure of the ruling class. The changes are unevenly spread but in East and West, North and South, the emerging rulers, displacing the old capitalist class, are not the workers but the managerial bureaucrats whose privileges and power are based on their command of organizational resources and control of the major instruments of physical coercion. In the West the rule of this new class is being legitimized in terms of a rationalized corporate capitalism operating in a mixed economy; in Communist countries, the formula of legitimization is ostensibly socialist and the economy is state-owned and managed. But, in both, the rulers, like all ruling classes known in history, accord to themselves superior rewards and privileges; and the mass of humankind continue to toil and to spin for inferior rewards and for the privilege of keeping their rulers in a state to which they show every sign of becoming accustomed.

The new society, rationalized managerial capitalism or bureaucratic state socialism, is in many respects a more tolerable society than competitive capitalism. Given industrialization and modern economic techniques, mass poverty can be and is being abolished, at least in advanced industrial countries. For this reason, among others, in such countries the acute class divisions that marked 19th and early 20th century capitalism are becoming increasingly blurred and it is no longer possible to locate in the social arena a simple straight forward contest between two main classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. At the same time, the techniques of social control available to the rulers in the shape of the mass media of communications, mass political parties and sophisticated police forces have enormously increased their power vis-à-vis the ruled. All in all, the rulers of the emerging managerial-bureaucratic society possess historically unparalleled potentialities for maintaining a stable system of exploitation. There is only one major flaw in the system: its patent inability to solve the problem of war in an age when, for technological reasons, war has become a truly deadly institution.

The omnipresent threat of nuclear annihilation has now clearly vindicated the anti-statism of the anarchists and the syndicalists. For modern war is a function of the state and of the state system into which humankind is politically divided. War can be defined as the use of armed force by states and by those who aspire to build or control states. From its origins some 6,000 years ago, the institution of the state has been harnessed with the institution of war. States have made wars and wars have made states — bigger and better states. Both have thrived together in unholy wedlock. Certainly, war is not an accidental or incidental institution. War is no aberration or sickness: all historical evidence confirms the judgment of Randolph Bourne that ‘War is the health of the state.’

The emerging new social order has modified the classical bourgeois state system; it is no longer a system of many balancing sovereign nation-states but rather a system of two superstates each surrounded by their satellites plus a group of uneasy non-aligned and relatively undeveloped states. The state system has been rationalized but not rationalized enough: for, within the framework of a state system, nothing short of one world state would be adequate to solve the problem of war in our nuclear age. And a world state — set up by mutual agreement — is just not on the political agenda of the great powers. But the reasons which led the capitalist ruling classes in their several states to engage in mutually destructive wars still operate to make possible, and perhaps almost inevitable, a third world war between states dominated by the managerial-bureaucrats. Such a war is likely to be humanity’s final war, a supremely ironical version of ‘the war to end all wars.’

The great tragedy of our epoch is the lamentable failure of the socialist movement, with its fine promise of universal peace and human brotherhood, to appreciate that an indispensable condition for achieving its objective was the liquidation of that quintessentially bourgeois institution, the modern sovereign state. Failing to appreciate this, the socialists after one hundred and seventy-five years of endeavour have succeeded not in making socialism but only in making socialist states. Not surprisingly, in this situation the socialist leaders have found what the anarchists and syndicalists predicted they would find: that it is impossible for socialists to accept the responsibility of governing states without thereby becoming defenders of them. The role that they occupy as state leaders inevitably impels them to act like state leaders, even to the extent, as in the case of the USSR, of making them subordinate, in the interests of the Soviet State, revolutionary Communist movements in other countries. That the Soviet leaders have not always and everywhere succeeded in this attempted subordination, with the result that in recent decades we have witnessed the development of national rivalries within the international Communist sector of the world, is no consolation. It makes only more obvious the fact that socialist revolutions within states, even socialist revolutions within all states of the world, would not solve the problem that now confronts humankind. If the American continent were to sink beneath the ocean tomorrow, the state system in the rest of the world would not prevent, for example, the possibility of war sooner or later between a Communist Russia and a Communist China. To think otherwise is to put far too high a value on the beneficent effects of a common ideology, to ignore the material interests that divide one state from another, and to overlook the disastrous increase in nationalist sentiment that is a feature of the contemporary world.

It may be that, from the point of view of sheer survival as a species, humanity has already passed the eleventh hour. In the present context of human affairs, Levine’s cryptic phrase, ‘We are all dead men on furlough’, takes on a new significance. In the contemporary crisis, there is only one sensible course open to those who wish to survive to see the year 2000 and beyond: to join the struggle to control, or better still to overthrow, the nuclear warlords, other militarists, the managerial-bureaucrats and political bosses in all states. This struggle in an inchoate form began in earnest in the late 1950s and, after waxing and waning, has been gathering momentum again in many countries. And it is no accident that the most determined participants in the anti-war movement have found themselves adopting the classic stance of the syndicalists: direct action of a basically nonviolent kind. A direct action movement always has been and always will be anathema to the rulers and would-be rulers of states.

For direct action involves a refusal to play the political game according to the rules laid down by our masters. It is a grassroots, do-it-yourself kind of action which recognizes implicitly if not explicitly the truth of what M.K. Gandhi called ‘voluntary servitude’: the fact that, in the last analysis, people are governed in the way they are because they consent to be so governed, the ‘consent’ ranging from active acceptance to sullen acquiescence.

When sufficient numbers of the governed — and ‘sufficient’ here may be less than a majority according to a simple head-count — can be persuaded to withdraw that consent and to demonstrate by their actions that they do not recognize the legitimacy of the rulers to act in their name, the government must either collapse or radically change its policies. When politicians and their pundits warn the participants in Civil Disobedience campaigns that they are undermining the foundations of social order, we should take heed. Civil Disobedience, pressed to its radical and logical conclusion, involves just that. All that we need to add is that it undermines the existing social order which has brought humankind to the edge of the abyss and prepares the way for a new social order in which power will be recovered and retained by the people.

There is thus a clear link between the classical syndicalists and the radical nonviolent direct actionists who constitute the cutting edge of the contemporary peace movement. The link is most obvious at the level of method or political style but it extends also to the level of values. What may be called anarcho-pacifism shares with anarcho-syndicalism both a negative value — rejection of the State as an institution — and a positive value — the construction, in the here and now, of an alternative culture and alternative institutions. Both are strongly internationalist or transnationalist in outlook, and both emphasize the need for a radical dispersion of social power. In connection with the latter, the old syndicalist slogan of ‘workers’ control of industry’ now re-appears as the more generalized demand for collective ‘self-management’ in all areas of social life.

Of course, the differences between the two movements are obvious too. Syndicalism was clearly and self-consciously a class movement of the industrial proletariat: the anti-war movement directs its appeal to the sane-minded in all classes and is thus populistic or universalistic. In terms of revolutionary potential, the contemporary movement may be judged of greater significance. The immediate issues involved are simpler and more dramatic than those raised by the syndicalists, and the crisis is more compelling. In struggling to resolve the present crisis, the new generation of social radicals cannot hope to revive a movement that, in its classical form, is now almost dead. But they would do well to learn the lessons of syndicalism and to draw inspiration by breathing in full measure the syndicalist spirit of militant direct action.

Geoffrey Ostergaard, 1984

Haymarket Martyrs Page

I have now set up a Haymarket Martyrs page where I have consolidated the previous posts of the excerpts from their trial speeches. I have also incorporated links to some of the source material, such as the 1883 Pittsburgh Proclamation of the International Working People’s Association, Albert Parson’s Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis and the works of Peter Kropotkin referred to in my commentary. The image above is the Haymarket Memorial in Chicago, inscribed with August Spies‘ last words:

“The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.”

The Chicago Anarchists: Samuel Fielden

Samuel Fielden (1847-1922) was one of the few Haymarket defendants whose life was spared after pleading for clemency. Fielden joined the International Working People’s Association in 1884 (Anarchism, Volume One, Selection 55) and became a popular and effective speaker among the Chicago workers. He was speaking at the Haymarket protest meeting when the police arrived, right before the bomb was thrown. As he points out in his trial speech, he successfully defended himself against the charge of murder, only to find out after he had called the evidence in his defence that what he and the other defendants were really on trial for was preaching “anarchy.”

Samuel Fielden

Your Honor, I was brought into this court by the police officers and the civil authorities of the city of Chicago to answer to the charge of murder… I answered that charge in this court. My attorneys on my behalf met that charge; we brought evidence which we thought was competent to rebut and meet the charge of murder. After all our evidence was put in, after all the speeches had been made on both sides, with the exception of one, we were suddenly confronted with the fact—and there is in that statement of the State’s Attorney, in his closing argument, an acknowledgment that the charge of murder had not been proven—when all the witnesses had been heard, I am suddenly told that I am being tried for ‘Anarchy.’

If I had known that I was being tried for Anarchy I could have answered that charge. I could have justified it under the constitutional right of every citizen of this country, and more than the right which any constitution can give, the natural right of the human mind to draw its conclusion from whatever information it can gain, but I had no opportunity to show why I was an Anarchist. I was told that I was to be hung for being an Anarchist, after I got through defending myself on the charge of murder. Now, your honor, my reputation, my associations, my history, as far as the lynx-eyed detectives of Chicago could get it, has been raked up, as Mr. Foster has said, from the cradle to the grave. I have been charged here with being a disturber of the peace, an enemy of public order, and generally a dangerous man…

Being of an inquiring disposition or turn of mind, and having observed that there was something wrong in our social system, I attended some meetings of workingmen and compared what they said with my own observation. I knew there was something wrong. My ideas did not become settled as to what was the remedy, but when they did I carried the same energy and the same determination to bring about that remedy that I had applied to ideas which I had possessed years before.

There is always a period in every individual’s life when some sympathetic chord is touched by some other person. That is the open sesame that carries conviction. The ground may have all been prepared. The evidence may all have been accumulated, but it has not formed any shape. In fact, the child has not been born. The new idea has not impressed itself thoroughly when that sympathetic chord is touched, and the person is thoroughly convinced of the truth of the idea. It was so in my investigation of political economy. I knew there was something wrong, but I did not know what the remedy was; but discussing the condition of things and the different remedies one day, a person said to me that socialism meant equal opportunities—and that was the touch. From that time I became a socialist; I learned more and more what it was. I knew that I had found the right thing; that I had found the medicine that was calculated to cure the ills of society. Having found it I had a right to advocate it, and I did. The constitution of the United States, when it says: ‘The right of free speech shall not be abridged,’ gives every man the right to speak his thoughts. I have advocated the principles of socialism and social economy, and for that and no other reason am I here, and is sentence of death to be pronounced upon me?

What is socialism? Taking somebody else’s property? That is what socialism is in the common acceptation of the term. No. But if I were to answer it as shortly and as curtly as it is answered by its enemies, I would say it is preventing somebody else from taking your property. But socialism is equality. Socialism recognizes the fact that no man in society is responsible for what he is; that all the ills that are in society are the production of poverty; and scientific socialism says you must go to the root of the evil.

There is no criminal statistician in the world but will acknowledge that all crime, when traced to its origin, is the product of poverty. It has been said that it was inflammatory for me to say that the present social system degraded men until they became mere animals. Go through this city into the low lodging houses where men are huddled together into the smallest possible space, living in an infernal atmosphere of death and disease, and I will ask you to draw your silks and your broadcloths close to you when these men pass you. Do you think that these men deliberately, with a full knowledge of what they are doing, choose to become that class of animals? Not one of them. They are the products of conditions, of certain environments in which they were born, and which have impelled them resistlessly into what they are. And we have this loadstone. You who wish it could be taken from the shoulders of society. What is it? When those men were children, put them into an environment where they have the best results of civilization around them, and they will never willfully choose a condition like that. Some cynic might say that this would be a very nice thing for these men. Society, with its rapidity of production of the means of existence, is capable of doing that without doing injury to a single individual; and the great masses of wealth owned by individuals in this and the old world have been produced in exactly the same proportion as these men have been degraded—and they never could have been accumulated in any other way.

I do not charge that every capitalist willfully and maliciously conspires to bring about these results; but I do charge that it has been done, and I do charge that it is a very undesirable condition of things, and I claim that socialism would cure the world of that ulcer. These are my ideas in short, on socialism. The ultra patriotic sentiment of the American people—and I suppose the same comparative sentiment is felt in England and France and Germany—is that no man in this country need be poor. The class who are not poor think so. The class who are poor are beginning to think differently; that under existing conditions it is impossible that some people should not be poor.

Why is it that we have ‘over-production?’ And why is it that our warehouses are full of goods, and our workshops have to shut up, and our workmen are turned out on the highway because there is nothing to do? What is this tending to? Let me show the change of conditions as shown in Boston in forty years. Charles Dickens, a man of acute perceptions, visited this country forty years ago, and be said that the sight of a beggar in the streets of Boston at that time would have created as much consternation as the sight of an angel with a drawn sword.

A Boston paper in the winter of 1884-5 stated that there were some quarters in Boston where to own a stove was to be a comparative aristocrat. The poor people who lived in the neighbourhood paid a certain sum of money to rent the holes on the top of the stove that belonged to the aristocrats. You see the change, and there is this comparative change in the working classes of that city, and in every large city in the Union. It is a noted fact that within the last twenty or thirty years the farms of this country have been gradually going out of the possession of the actual cultivators until today there is a little more than a quarter of the actual cultivators of farms in this country who are renters; and within twenty years in the states of Iowa and Illinois the mortgages on farms have increased thirty-three per cent of the actual value of the farms. Is it not enough to make any thinking man ask if there is not something wrong somewhere? Possibly it would be answered ‘yes, a man has a right to inquire whether there is something wrong or not, but for God’s sake, don’t think that socialism will do it any good, or if you do we will hang you! It is all right to think, but we will punish you for your conclusions.’

The Haymarket Martyrs: Albert Parsons

Albert Parsons (1848-1887) was perhaps the best known of the Haymarket Martyrs prior to their execution on November 11, 1887. Parsons published the Alarm, at the time the leading English language anarchist newspaper in North America. He played a prominent role in the struggle for the 8 hour day and was already well known as an advocate for socialism. Prior to becoming an anarchist in 1880, Parsons had been involved with several political parties, including the Socialist Labor Party of America. He ran for office several times but came to the conclusion that meaningful change could not be achieved through the ballot box. He was influenced by Marx‘s critique of capitalism, as clearly illustrated in the passages set forth below taken from his trial speech. Parsons believed that the capitalist system was destroying the middle class, creating a vast and impoverished working class reduced to starvation wages. While he could have accepted this state of affairs and become himself a successful capitalist, he refused to do so, rejecting the power and privilege of the master. As with many other 19th century socialists, Parsons compared wage labour to chattel slavery, describing the former as a form of “wage slavery.” He denied that he wished to destroy the machinery that was putting thousands out of work, objecting rather to the uses to which modern technology was being put. While awaiting execution he wrote his memoirs and edited a collection of writings, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, which included some of Marx’s writings on political economy, essays on anarchism by Peter Kropotkin and Elisée Reclus, and the trial speeches of himself and his fellow defendants. His references to anarchy being the next step in progressive evolution illustrate the influence of Kropotkin and Réclus. As he was about to be hanged he cried out, “Will I be allowed to speak, O men of America? Let me speak Sheriff Matson! Let the voice of the People be heard!”

Albert Parsons

Labour is a commodity and wages the price paid for it. The owner of this commodity—of labour—sells it, that is himself, to the owner of capital in order to live. Labour is the expression of energy, the power of the labourer’s life. This energy of power he must sell to another person in order to live. It is his only means of existence, he works to live, but his work is not simply a part of his life; it is the sacrifice of it. His labour is a commodity which under the guise of free labour, he is forced by necessity to hand over to another party. The reward of the wage labourer’s activity is not the product of his labour—far from it. The silk he weaves, the palace he builds, the ores he digs from out the mines—are not for him—oh, no. The only thing he produces for himself is his wage, and the silk, the ores and the palace which he has built are simply transformed for him into a certain kind of means of existence, namely, a cotton shirt, a few pennies, and the mere tenancy of a lodging-house. In other words, his wages represent the bare necessities of his existence, and the unpaid for or ‘surplus’ portion of his labour product constitutes the vast superabundant wealth of the non-producing or capitalist class. That is the capitalist system. It is the capitalist system that creates these classes, and it is these classes that produce this conflict. This conflict intensifies as the power of the privileged classes over the non-possessing or propertyless classes increases and intensifies, and this power increases as the idle few become richer and the producing many become poorer, and this produces what is called the labour movement. Wealth is power, poverty is weakness. If I had time I might answer some suggestions that probably arise in the minds of some persons not familiar with this question. I imagine I hear your honor say, ‘Why, labour is free. This is a free country.’ Now, we had in the southern states for nearly a century a form of labour known as chattel slave labour. That has been abolished, and I hear you say that labour is free; that the [Civil] War has resulted in establishing free labour all over America. Is this true? Look at it. The chattel slave of the past—the wage slave of today; what is the difference? …

Formerly the master selected the slave; today the slave selects his master and he has got to find one or else he is carried down here to my friend, the jailer, and occupy a cell alongside myself. He is compelled to find one. So the change of the industrial system, in the language of Jefferson Davis, ex-president of the Southern Confederacy, in an interview with the New York Herald upon the question of the chattel slave system of the south and that of the so-called ‘free labourer,’ and their wages—Jefferson Davis has stated positively that the change was a decided benefit to the former chattel slave owners who would not exchange the new system of wage labour at all for chattel labour, because now the dead had to bury themselves and the sick take care of themselves, and now they don’t have to employ overseers to look after them… They say: ‘Now, here, perform this piece of work in a certain length of time,’ and if YOU don’t (under the wage system, says Mr. Davis), why, when you come around for your pay next Saturday, you simply find in the envelope containing your money, a note which informs YOU of the fact that YOU have been discharged. Now, Jefferson Davis admitted in his statement that the leather thong dipped in salt brine, for the chattel slave, had been exchanged under the wage slave system for the lash of hunger, an empty stomach and the ragged back of the wage-slave, who, according to the census of the United States for 1880, constitutes more than nine-tenths of our entire population. But you say the wage slave has advantage over the chattel slave. The chattel slave couldn’t get away from it. Well, if we had the statistics, I believe it could be shown that as many chattel slaves escaped from bondage with the bloodhounds of their masters after them as they tracked their way over the snow-beaten rocks of Canada, and via the underground grapevine road—I believe the statistics would show today that as many chattel slaves escaped from their bondage under that system as could, and as many as do escape today from wage bondage into capitalistic liberty. I am a socialist, I am one of those, although myself a wage slave, who holds that it is wrong, wrong to myself, wrong to my neighbour and unjust to my fellowmen, for me, wage slave that I am, to undertake to make my escape from wage slavery by becoming a master. I refuse to do it; I refuse equally to be a slave or the owner of slaves. Had I chosen another path in life, I might be upon the avenue of the city of Chicago today, surrounded in my beautiful home with luxury and ease and slaves to do my bidding. But I chose the other road, and instead I stand here today upon the scaffold. This is my crime. Before high heaven this and this alone is my crime. I have been false, I have been untrue, and I am a traitor to the infamies that exist today in capitalistic society. If this is a crime in your opinion I plead guilty to it. Now, be patient with me; I have been with you, or rather, I have been patient with this trial. Follow me, if you please, and look at the impressions of this capitalistic system of industry. Every new machine that comes into existence comes there as a competitor with the man of labour… as a drag and menace and a prey to the very existence of those who have to sell their labour in order to earn their bread. The man is turned out to starve and whole occupations and pursuits are revolutionized and completely destroyed by the introduction of machinery, in a day, in an hour as it were. I have known it to be the case in the history of my own life— and I am yet a young man—that whole pursuits and occupations have been wiped out or revolutionized by the invention of machinery.

What becomes of these people? Where are they? Tens of thousands are thrown out of employment, and they become competitors of other labourers and are made to reduce wages and increase the work hours. Many of them are candidates for the gibbet, they are candidates for your prison cells. Build more penitentiaries, erect new scaffolds, for these men are upon the highway of crime, of misery, of death. Your honor, there never was an effect without a cause. The tree is known by its fruit.

Socialists are not those who blindly close their eyes and refuse to look, and who refuse to hear, but having eyes to see, they see, and having ears to hear, they hear. Look at this capitalistic system; look at its operation upon the small dealers, the middle class. Bradstreet’s Commercial Statistics tells us in last year’s report that there were 11,000 small business men financially destroyed the past twelve months. What became of those people? Where are they, and why have they been wiped out? Has there been any less wealth? No: that which they had possessed has simply transferred itself into the hands of some other person. Who is that other? It is he who has greater capitalistic facilities. It is the monopolist, the man who can run corners, who can create rings and squeeze these men to death and wipe them out like dead flies from the table into his monopolistic basket. The middle classes, destroyed in this manner, join the ranks of the proletariat. They become what? They seek out the factory gate, they seek in the various occupations of wage labour for employment. What is the result? Then there are more men upon the market. This increases the number of those who are applying for employment. What then? This intensifies the competition, which in turn creates greater monopolists, and with it wages go down until the starvation point is reached, and then what?

Socialism comes to the people and asks them to look into this thing, to discuss it, to reason, to examine it, to investigate it, to know the facts, because it is by this, and this alone, that violence will be prevented and bloodshed will be avoided, because, as my friend here has said, men in their blind rage, in their ignorance, riot knowing what ails them, knowing that they are hungry, that they are miserable and destitute, strike blindly, and do as they did with Maxwell here, and fight the labour-saving machinery. Imagine such an absurd thing, and yet the capitalistic press has taken great pains to say that socialists do these things; that we fight machinery; that we fight poverty. Why, sir, it is an absurdity; it is ridiculous; it is preposterous. No man ever heard an utterance from the mouth of a socialist to advise anything of the kind. They know to the contrary. We don’t fight machinery; we don’t oppose these things. It is only the manner and methods of employing it that we object to. That is all. It is the manipulation of these things in the interests of a few; it is the monopolization of them that we object to. We desire that all the forces of nature, all the forces of society, of the gigantic strength which has resulted from the combined intellect and labour of the ages of the past shall be turned over to man, and made his servant, his obedient slave forever. This is the object of socialism. It asks no one to give up anything. It seeks no harm to anybody. But, when we witness this condition of things, when we see little children huddling around the factory gates, the poor little things whose bones are not yet hard; when we see them clutched from the hearthstone, taken from the family altar, and carried to the bastiles of labour and their little bones ground up into gold dust to bedeck the form of some aristocratic Jezebel, then it stirs me and I speak out. We plead for the little ones; we plead for the helpless; we plead for the oppressed; we seek redress for those who are wronged; we seek knowledge and intelligence for the ignorant; we seek liberty for the slave; socialism secures the welfare of every human being…

Anarchists do not advocate or advise the use of force. Anarchists disclaim and protest against its use, and the use of force is justifiable only when employed to repel force. Who, then, are the aiders, abettors and users of force? Who are the real revolutionists? Are they not those who hold and exercise power over their fellows? They who use clubs and bayonets, prisons and scaffolds? The great class conflict now gathering throughout the world is created by our social system of industrial slavery. Capitalists could not if they would, and would not if they could, change it. This alone is to be the work of the proletariat, the disinherited, the wage-slave, the sufferer. Nor can the wage-class avoid this conflict. Neither religion nor politics can solve it or prevent it. It comes as a human, an imperative necessity. Anarchists do not make the social revolution; they prophesy its coming. Shall we then stone the prophets? Anarchists do not use or advise the use of force, but point out that force is ever employed to uphold despotism to despoil man’s natural rights. Shall we therefore kill and destroy the anarchists? And capital shouts, ‘Yes, yes! exterminate them!’

In the line of evolution and historical development, anarchy—liberty—is next in order. With the destruction of the feudal system, and the birth of commercialism and manufactories in the sixteenth century, a contest long and bitter and bloody, lasting over a hundred years, was waged for mental and religious liberty. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with their sanguinary conflicts, gave to man political equality and civil liberty, based on the monopolization of the resources of life, capital—with its ‘free labourers ‘—freely competing with one another for a chance to serve king capital, and ‘free competition’ among capitalists in their endeavours to exploit the labourers and monopolize the labour products. All over the world the fact stands undisputed that the political is based upon, and is but the reflex of the economic system, and hence we find that whatever the political form of the government, whether monarchial or republican, the average social status of the wage-workers is in every country identical. The class struggle of the past century is history repeating itself; it is the evolutionary growth preceding the revolutionary dénouement. Though liberty is a growth, it is also a birth, and while it is yet to be, it is also about to be born. Its birth will come through travail and pain, through bloodshed and violence. It cannot be prevented. This, because of the obstructions, impediments and obstacles which serve as a barrier to its coming. An anarchist is a believer in liberty, and as I would control no man against his will, neither shall anyone rule over me with my consent. Government is compulsion; no one freely consents to be governed by another, therefore there can be no just power of government. Anarchy is perfect liberty, is absolute freedom of the individual. Anarchy has no schemes, no programs, no systems to offer or to substitute for the existing order of things. Anarchy would strike from humanity every chain that binds it, and say to mankind: ‘Go forth! you are free! Have all; enjoy all!’

Anarchism or anarchists neither advise, abet nor encourage the working people to the use of force or a resort to violence. We do not say to the wage-slaves: ‘You ought, you should use force.’ No. Why say this when we know they must—they will be driven to use it in self-defence, in self-preservation, against those who are degrading, enslaving and destroying them.

Already the millions of workers are unconsciously anarchists. Impelled by a cause, the effects of which they feel but do not wholly understand, they move unconsciously, irresistibly forward to the social revolution. Mental freedom, political equality, industrial liberty!

This is the natural order of things, the logic of events. Who so foolish as to quarrel with it, obstruct it, or attempt to stay its progress? It is the march of the inevitable; the triumph of progress.

The Haymarket Martyrs: George Engel

George Engel (1836-1887) was one of the four Chicago anarchists hanged on November 11, 1887 for his alleged participation in the Haymarket bombing in May 1886, despite the fact that he was at home playing cards when the bomb went off. Engel, as with the other Haymarket Martyrs, was a member of the International Working Peoples Association (Anarchism, Volume One, Selection 55). Engel expressly rejected any plea for clemency and shouted “Hurrah for anarchy!” as he was being hanged. The following excerpts from his trial speech show that Engel was not one to compromise his beliefs, not even when facing death. As with the other defendants, Engel denounced the hypocrisy of his prosecutors and the so-called justice system, which turned a blind eye to striking workers being shot dead and workers being maimed and killed on the job, but condemned him and his comrades to death for urging the workers to overthrow their oppressors.

George Engel

All that I have to say in regard to my conviction is that I was not at all surprised; for it has ever been that the men who have endeavoured to enlighten their fellow man have been thrown into prison or put to death, as was the case with John Brown. I have found, long ago, that the working man has no more rights here than anywhere else in the world. The state’s attorney has stated that we were not citizens. I have been a citizen this long time; but it does not occur to me to appeal for my rights as a citizen, knowing as well as I do that this does not make a particle of difference. Citizen or not—as a working man I am without rights, and therefore I respect neither your rights nor your laws, which are made and directed by one class against the other: the working class.

Of what does my crime consist?

That I have laboured to bring about a system of society by which it is impossible for one to hoard millions, through the improvements in machinery, while the great masses sink to degradation and misery. As water and air are free to all, so should the inventions of scientific men be applied for the benefit of all. The statute laws we have are in opposition to the laws of nature, in that they rob the great masses of their rights to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’

I am too much a man of feeling not to battle against the societary conditions of today. Every considerate person must combat a system which makes it possible for the individual to rake and hoard millions in a few years, while, on the other side, thousands become tramps and beggars.

Is it to be wondered at that under such circumstances men arise who strive and struggle to create other conditions, where the humane humanity shall take precedence of all other considerations. This is the aim of socialism, and to this I joyfully subscribe.

The state’s attorney said here that ‘anarchy’ was ‘on trial.’

Anarchism and socialism are as much alike in my opinion, as one egg is to another. They differ only in their tactics. The anarchists have abandoned the way of liberating humanity which socialists would take to accomplish this. I say: Believe no more in the ballot, and use all other means at your command. Because we have done so we stand arraigned here today—because we have pointed out to the people the proper way. The anarchists are being hunted and persecuted for this in every clime, but in the face of it all anarchism is gaining more and more adherents, and if you cut off our opportunities of open agitation, then will all the work be done secretly. If the state’s attorney thinks he can root out socialism by hanging seven of our men and condemning the other to fifteen years’ servitude, he is labouring under a very wrong impression. The tactics simply will be changed—that is all…

If anarchism could be rooted out, it would have been accomplished long ago in other countries. On the night on which the first bomb in this country was thrown, I was in my apartments at home. I knew nothing of the conspiracy which the state’s attorney pretends to have discovered.

It is true I am acquainted with several of my fellow defendants; with most of them, however, but slightly, through seeing them at meetings, and hearing them speak. Nor do I deny that I too have spoken at meetings, saying that if every working man had a bomb in his pocket, capitalistic rule would soon come to an end.

That is my opinion, and my wish; it became my conviction, when I mentioned the wickedness of the capitalistic conditions of the day.

When hundreds of workingmen have been destroyed in mines in consequence of faulty preparations, for the repairing of which the owners were too stingy, the capitalistic papers have scarcely noticed it. See with what satisfaction and cruelty they make their report, when here and there workingmen have been fired upon, while striking for a few cents increase in their wages, that they might earn only a scanty subsistence.

Can anyone feel any respect for a government that accords rights only to the privileged classes, and none to the workers? We have seen but recently how the coal barons combined to form a conspiracy to raise the price of coal, while at the same time reducing the already low wages of their men. Are they accused of conspiracy on that account? But when workingmen dare ask an increase in their wages, the militia and the police are sent out to shoot them down.

For such a government as this I can feel no respect, and will combat them despite their power, despite their police, despite their spies.

I hate and combat, not the individual capitalist, but the system that gives him those privileges. My greatest wish is that workingmen may recognize who are their friends and who are their enemies.

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