The Haymarket Martyrs: Adolf Fischer

Adolf Fischer (1858-1887) was one of the Chicago anarchists executed on November 11, 1887. His trial speech has often been cited for his comment that “every anarchist is a socialist but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist,” emphasizing that by the mid-1880s, anarchism was clearly regarded by most of its proponents as a form of revolutionary socialism. Fischer quotes from the International Working People’s Association’s Pittsburgh Proclamation (Volume One, Selection 55), which had effectively become the program of anarchist revolutionaries in North America. In his speech he contrasts anarchist communism to the “middle class” anarchism of Proudhon and the mutualists, but makes no mention of the anarchist collectivists, such as Johann Most (1846-1906), who also advocated armed struggle but thought that each worker should be entitled to the full product of his or her labour, rather than distributing goods on the basis of need. The trial speeches of the Haymarket Martyrs demonstrate the degree to which by the mid-1880s anarchist communism had become the prevalent point of view among those anarchists who advocated a far-reaching social revolution, by force of arms if necessary.

Adolph Fischer

The capitalist press, and even numerous labour journals, define anarchism as murder, plunder, arson and outrage upon society in general. These ‘learned’ journalists, or at least a majority of them thus defining anarchism, misrepresent the object and aims of this teaching maliciously. Anarchism does not mean plunder and outrage upon society; contrarily, its mission is to uproot the systematic plunder of a vast majority of the people by a comparative few—the working classes by the capitalists. It aims at the extermination of the outrages committed by the reigning classes upon the wage-slaves, under the name of ‘law and order.’

Murder, plunder, robbery, outrages. ‘Is an anarchist really the impersonation of all crimes, of everything dastardly and damnable?’ The International Working Peoples’ Association, the organization of the anarchists, has the following platform, which was agreed upon at the congress at Pittsburg in October, 1883. Let this platform be the answer to the question I have raised before:

“I. Destruction of the existing class rule, by all means, i.e., by energetic, relentless, revolutionary and international action.

2. Establishment of a free society based upon co-operative organization of production.

3. Free exchange of equivalent products by and between the productive organizations without commerce and profit-mongery.

4. Organization of education on a secular, scientific and equal basis for both sexes.

5. Equal rights for all without distinction of sex or race.

6. Regulation of all public affairs by free contracts between the autonomous (independent) communes and associations, resting on a federalistic basis.”

Does this sound like outrages and crime?

In the course of my observations I will dwell more thoroughly on the aims and objects of anarchy.

Many people undoubtedly long to know what the relationship between anarchism and socialism is, and whether these two doctrines have anything in common with each other. A number of persons claim that an anarchist cannot be a socialist, and a socialist not an anarchist. This is wrong. The philosophy of socialism is a general one, and covers several subordinate teachings. To illustrate, I will cite the word ‘Christianity.’ There are Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, and various other religious sects, all of whom call themselves Christians. Although every Catholic is a Christian, it would not be correct to say that every Christian believes in Catholicism. Webster defined socialism thus: ‘A more orderly, equitable and harmonious arrangement of social affairs than has hitherto prevailed.’ Anarchism is aiming at this: anarchism is seeking a more just form of society. Therefore every anarchist is a socialist but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist.

The anarchists again are divided into two factions; the communist anarchists and the Proudhon or middle-class anarchists. The International Working Peoples’ Association is the representative organization of the communist anarchists. Politically we are anarchists, and economically, communists or socialists. With regard to political organization the communist anarchists demand the abolition of political authority, the state; we deny the right of a single class or single individual to govern or rule another class or individual. We hold that, as long as one man is under the dictation of another, as long as one man can in any form subjugate his fellow man, and as long as the means of existence can be monopolized by a certain class or certain individuals, there can be no liberty. Concerning the economic form of society, we advocate the communist or co-operative method of production.

As to the distribution of products, a free exchange between the organizations of productions without profit-mongery would take place. Machinery and the means of production in general would be the common servant, and the products certainly the common property of the whole of the people. In what respect do the social democrats differ from the anarchists? The state socialists do not seek the abolition of the state, but they advocate the centralization of the means of production in the hands of the government; in other words, they want the government to be the controller of industry. Now, a socialist who is not a state socialist must necessarily be an anarchist. It is utterly ridiculous for men like Dr. Aveling to state that they are neither state socialists nor anarchists. Dr. Aveling has to be either one or the other [Aveling toured the United States in 1886 with his companion, Eleanor Marx].

The term ‘anarchism’ is of Greek origin and means ‘without government,’ or, in other words, ‘without oppression.’ I only wish that every workingman would understand the proper meaning of this word. It is an absurd falsehood if the capitalists and their hired editors say that anarchism is identical with disorder and crime. On the contrary, anarchism wants to do away with the now existing social disorder; it aims at the establishment of the real—the natural—order. I think every sensible man ought to conceive that where ruling exists on the one hand, there must be submission on the other. He who rules is a tyrant, and he who submits is a slave. Logically there can be no other outlet, because submission is the antithesis of rule. Anarchists hold that it is the natural right of every member of the human family to control themselves. If a centralized power—government—is ruling the mass of people (no matter whether this government ‘represents the will of the majority of the people’ or not) it is enslaving them, and a direct violation of the laws of nature. When laws are made there must be certain interests which cause their issue. Now every statute law, and consequently every violation thereof—crime— can be traced back to the institution of private property. The state protects the interests of the owners of private property (wealthy class), and therefore does not and cannot possibly protect the interests of the non-possessing people (the wage-workers), because the interests of both are of an opposite nature. The capitalists who have taken possession of the means of production—factories, machinery, land; etc., are the masters, and the workingmen who have to apply to the capitalists for the use of the means of production (for which they receive a small compensation in order to live), are the slaves. The interests of the capitalistic class are backed by the state (militia, sheriffs, and police) while the interests of the non-possessing people are not protected. Anarchists say that there should be no class interests, but that every human being should have free access to the means of existence and that the pantries of mother-earth should be accessible to all of her children. One part of the great human family has no right to deprive their brothers and sisters of their legitimate place at the common table, which is set so richly by generous mother nature for all. Anarchists, as well as all other thinking people, claim that in the present society a great number of people are deprived of a decent existence. We demand the re-installation of the disinherited! Is this a crime? Is this an outrage upon society? Are we therefore dangerous criminals, whose lives should be taken in the interests of the common good of society?

Yes, the anarchists demand the re-installation of the disinherited members of the human family. It is, therefore, quite natural that the privileged classes should hate them. Why, do not wrong doing parties always hate those who disclose the nature of their transactions and open the eyes of their ignorant victims? Certainly they do. The anarchists are very much hated by the extortioners; indeed, they are proud of it. To them, this is a proof that they are on the right road. But the ruling classes very cunningly play the role of the thief, who, when pursued by his discoverers, cries out, ‘stop the thief,’ and by this manipulation succeeds in making good his escape. The anarchists have proven that the existing form of society is based upon the exploitation of one class by another; in plain words, upon legalized robbery. They say that a few persons have no right whatever, to monopolize the resources of nature; and they urge the victims, the toilers, to take possession of the means of production, which belong to the people in common, and thus secure the full benefit of their toil. Anarchists do not want to deprive the capitalists of their existence, but they protest against the capitalists depriving the toilers of their right to a decent existence. Should the communistic form of production prevail, the capitalists of today would not have to starve; they would be situated just as comfortably and would be just as happy (yea, happier than they are now) as the rest of the people. But, certainly they would have to take an active part in the production and be satisfied with their respective share of the results of labour, performed in common with their fellowmen. The strongest bulwark of the capitalist system is the ignorance of its victims. The average toiler shakes his head like the incredulous Thomas, when one tries to make plausible to him that he is held in economic bondage. And yet this is so easily to be seen if one only takes the pains to think a little. Working at my trade alongside my colleagues, whom I tried to convince of my ideas, I used to tell them a story about some foxes:

‘Several foxes, in speculating about some scheme whichwould enable them to live without hunting for food themselves, succeeded at last in discovering one. They took possession of all the springs and other water-places. Now, as the other animals came to quench their thirst, the foxes said unto them: The water-places belong to us; if you want to drink, you must bring us something in return, you must bring us food for compensation. The other animals were foolish enough to obey, and, in order to drink, they had to hunt the whole day fat food for the foxes, so that they themselves had to live very meagerly.’

I asked one of my colleagues, who was prominent as a denunciator of socialism, what his opinion was concerning the just mentioned story. He said that the animals who were thus swindled by the foxes were very foolish in obeying them, and ought to drive the latter away from the water-places. When I directed his attention to the fact that a similar practice was being cultivated in modern society, with the only difference that the role of the foxes was occupied by the capitalists, and the water-places were represented by the means of production, and that he (my colleague) was very inconsistent in condemning the one and defending the other, he owed me the answer. This, for instance, illustrates the ignorance and indifference of average workingmen. In the case of the foxes, they see no more and no less than robbery in their schemes, while in the case of the capitalists they approve of their methods.

Many inconsistent objections to anarchism are being made by its opponents. Some people have the impression that in an anarchistic society, where there is nobody to govern and nobody to be governed, every person would be isolated. This is false. Men have implanted by nature an impulse to associate with their fellow men. In a free society men would form economic as well as social associations; but all organizations would be voluntary, not compulsory. As I have asserted before, laws and the violations thereof, crimes, are attributed to the institution of private property, especially to the unequal distribution of the means of existence, to degradation and want. When the institution of private property will be abolished; when economic and social equalities will be established; when misery and want will belong to the past, then crime will be unknown and laws will become superfluous. It is a wrong assertion when people claim that a man is a criminal because of a natural disposition to crime. A man, as a rule, is but the reflex of the conditions which surround him. In a society which places no obstacles on the road of free development of men, and which gives everybody an equal share in the pursuit of happiness, there will be no course which will induce men to become bad.

The legalized private-property system gives birth to crime and at the same time punishes it because it exists. The mother punishes her own child because it is born. Do away with the systems that produce evils and the latter will vanish. The removal of the cause is synonymous with the removal of the effects; but the social diseases will never be cured if you declare war against the victims and on the other hand defend the cause which produced them. If one has small pox it would not cure the disease if one would scratch the scabs off. The disease in this case is the system of private property, and the scabs its evil effects.

How will the anarchists realize their ideas? What means do they intend to employ to accomplish the realization of a free society? Much has been written and talked on this subject and, as an avowed anarchist, I will in plain terms give my individual opinion… ‘Anarchism’ itself does not indicate force; on the contrary it means peace. But I believe that everybody who has studied the true character of the capitalistic form of society, and who will not deceive himself, will agree with me that now and never will the ruling classes abandon their privileges peaceably. Anarchism demands a thorough transformation of society, the total abolition of the private property system. Now, history shows us that even reforms within the frame of the existing society have never been accomplished without the force of arms. Feudalism received its death blow through the great French revolution a century ago, which at the same time gave form to modern capitalism. Capitalism now is speedily attaining its most extreme character, that is, it is developing into monopolism. Wealth concentrates itself more and more in a few hands and the misery and poverty of the great mass of people is consequently enlarging in the same degree. The rich get richer and the poor poorer. Like the ruling classes in the eighteenth century, so the same classes at the eve of the nineteenth century are deaf to the complaints and warnings of the disinherited, and blind to the misery and degradation which surround their luxuriously outfitted palaces. The natural result will be that perhaps before the nineteenth century will wing its last hours the people will arise en masse, expropriate the privileged and proclaim the freedom of the human race. It is wrong if people assert that the anarchists will be responsible for the coming revolution. No, the drones of society are the parties who will have to answer to the charge of being the cause of the prospective uprising of the people; for the rich and mighty have ears and hear not, and eyes and yet see not.

To abolish chattel slavery in this country a long and awful war took place. Notwithstanding the fact that indemnification was offered for their losses, the slaveholders would not bestow freedom upon their slaves. Now, in my judgment, he who believes that the modem slave holders—the capitalists—would voluntarily, without being forced to do so, give up their privileges and set free their wage-slaves, are poor students. Capitalists possess too much egotism to give way to reason. Their egotism is so enormous that they even refuse to grant subordinate and insignificant concessions. Capitalists and syndicates, for instance, rather lose millions of dollars than to accept the eight-hour labour system. Would a peaceable solution of the social question be possible, the anarchists would be the first ones to rejoice over it.

But is it not a fact that on the occasion of almost every strike the minions of the institution of private property—militia, police, deputy sheriffs, yea, even federal troops—are being called to the scenes of the conflict between capital and labour, in order to protect the interests of capital? Did it ever happen that the interests of labour were guarded by these forces? What peaceable means should the toilers employ? There is, for example, the strike. If the ruling classes want to enforce the ‘law’ they can have every striker arrested and punished for ‘intimidation’ and conspiracy. A strike can only be successful if the striking workingmen prevent their places being occupied by others. But this prevention is a crime in the eyes of the law. Boycott! In several states the ‘courts of justice’ have decided that the boycott is a violation of the law, and in consequence thereof a number of boycotters have had the pleasure of examining the inner construction of penitentiaries ‘for conspiracy’ against the interests of capital. ‘But,’ says some apostle of harmony, ‘there is something left which will help us; there is the ballot.’ No doubt many people who say this are honest in their belief.

But scarcely did the workingmen participate in the elections as a class, many representatives of ‘law and order’ advocate a limitation (in many instances even the total abolition) of the right of the proletarian to vote. People who read the Chicago Tribune and Times and other representative capitalistic organs, will confirm my statement. The propaganda among capitalists in favour of limiting the right to vote to tax payers—property owners—only, is increasing constantly, and will be realized whenever the political movement of the workingmen becomes really dangerous to the interests of capital. The ‘Law and Order League’ of capitalists recently organized all over the country to defeat the demands of organized labor, has declared that the workingmen must not be allowed to obtain power over the ballot box. They have so resolved everywhere.

The anarchists are not blind. They see the development of things and predict that a collision between the plebeians and patricians is inevitable. Therefore in time for the coming struggle—to arms! If threatening clouds are visible on the horizon, I advise my fellow man to carry an umbrella with him, so he will not get wet. Am I then the cause of the rain? No. So let me say plainly that, in my opinion, only by the force of arms can the wage slaves make their way out of capitalistic bondage.

As the court as well as the states attorney have plainly said, the verdict of death was rendered for the purpose of crushing the anarchistic and the socialistic movement. But I am satisfied that just the contrary has been accomplished by this barbarous measure. Thousands of workingmen have been led by our ‘conviction’ to study anarchism, and if we are executed, we can ascend the scaffold with the satisfaction that by our death, we have advanced our noble cause more than we could possibly have done had we grown as old as Methusalah.

The Chicago Anarchists: Michael Schwab

Michael Schwab (1853-1898) was the co-editor, with August Spies, of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, the German language anarchist newspaper published in Chicago from 1884 t0 1910. He only briefly attended the May 4, 1886  Haymarket protest meeting, and left before the bomb was thrown. Nevertheless, he was convicted and sentenced to death, commuted to life imprisonment. He was pardoned by Governor Altgeld in 1893, and died in 1898 from a respiratory disease he contracted in prison.

Schwab was a proponent of the “Chicago Idea,” the proto-syndicalist doctrine which saw the role of trade unions as pressing for the immediate betterment of working conditions, such as the achievement of the 8 hour day, while preparing the workers to overthrow the capitalist system, replacing it with anarchist communism. In the following excerpts from his trial speech, Schwab describes the misery of the working classes in Europe and the United States, and sets forth a socialist critique of capitalism based on the labour theory of value. He regarded anarchy as a society based  on reason without any coercive authority.

We contend for communism and anarchy—why? If we had kept silent, stones would have cried out. Murder was committed day by day. Children were slain, women worked to death, men killed inch by inch, and these crimes are never punished by law. The great principle underlying the present system is unpaid labour. Those who amass fortunes, build palaces, and live in luxury, are doing that by virtue of unpaid labour. Being directly or indirectly the possessors of land and machinery, they dictate their terms to the workingman. He is compelled to sell his labour cheap, or to starve. The price paid him is always far below the real value. He acts under compulsion, and they call it a free contract. This infernal state of affairs keeps him poor and ignorant, an easy prey for exploitation.

I know what life has in store for the masses. I was one of them. I slept in their garrets, and lived in their cellars. I saw them work and die. I worked with girls in the same factory—prostitutes they were, because they could not earn enough wages for their living. I saw females sick from overwork, sick in body and mind on account of the lives they were forced to lead. I saw girls from ten to fourteen years of age working for a mere pittance. I heard how their morals were killed by the foul and vile language and the bad example of their ignorant fellow workers, leading them on to the same road of misery, and as an individual I could do nothing. I saw families starving and able-bodied men worked to death. That was in Europe. When I came to the United States, I found that there were classes of workingmen who were better paid than the European workmen, but I perceived that the state of things in a great number of industries was even worse, and that the so-called better paid skilled labourers were degrading rapidly into mere automatic parts of machinery. I found that the proletariat of the great industrial cities was in a condition that could not be worse. Thousands of labourers in the city of Chicago live in rooms without sufficient protection from the weather, without proper ventilation, where never a stream of sunlight flows in. There are hovels where two, three and four families live in one room. How these conditions influence the health and the morals of these unfortunate sufferers, it is needless to say. And how do they live? From the ash barrels they gather half-rotten vegetables, in the butcher shops they buy for some cents offal of meat, and these precious morsels they carry home to prepare from them their meals. The dilapidated houses in which this class of labourers live need repairs very badly, but the greedy landlord waits in most cases till he is compelled by the city to have them done. Is it a wonder that diseases of all kinds kill men, women and children in such places by wholesale, especially children? Is this not horrible in a so-called civilized land where there is plenty of food and riches? …What these common labourers are today, the skilled labourers will be tomorrow. Improved machinery that ought to be a blessing for the workingman, under existing conditions turns for him to a curse. Machinery multiplies the army of unskilled labourers, makes the labourer more dependent upon the men who own the land and the machines. And that is the reason that socialism and communism got a foothold in this country…

Socialism, as we understand it, means that land and machinery shall be held in common by the people. The production of goods shall be carried on by producing groups which shall supply the demands of the people. Under such a system every human being would have an opportunity to do useful work, and no doubt would work. Four hours’ work every day would suffice to produce all that, according to statistics, is necessary for a comfortable living. Time would be left to cultivate the mind, and to further science and art…

Is it not strange that when anarchy was tried nobody ever told what anarchy was. Even when I was on the witness stand, and asked the state’s attorney for a definition of anarchy, he declined to give it. But in their speeches he and his associates spoke very frequently about anarchy, and it appeared that they understood it to be something horrible—arson, rapine, murder. In so speaking, Mr. Grinnell and his associates did not speak the truth. They searched the Alarm and the Arbeiter-Zeitung… In the columns of these papers it is very often stated what we, the “anarchists,” understood by the term anarchy. And we are the only competent judges in this matter. As soon as the word is applied to us and our doctrine, it carries with it the meaning which we, the anarchists, saw fit to give to it. “Anarchy” is Greek, and means, verbatim, without rulership; not being ruled. According to our vocabulary, anarchy is a state of society in which the only government is reason.

A state of society in which all human beings do right for the simple reason that it is right, and hate wrong because it is wrong. In such a society, no laws, no compulsion will be necessary. The attorney of the State was wrong when he said: “Anarchy is dead.” Anarchy, up to the present day, has existed only as a doctrine, and Mr. Grinnell has not the power to kill any doctrine whatever… Anarchy is a dream, but only in the present. It will be realized. Reason will grow in spite of all obstacles. Who is the man that has the cheek to tell us that human development has already reached its culminating point? I know that our ideal will not be accomplished this or next year, but I know that it will be accomplished as near as possible, some day, in the future. It is entirely wrong to use the word anarchy as synonymous with violence. Violence is one thing and anarchy is another. In the present state of society violence is used on all sides, and, therefore, we advocated the use of violence against violence, but against violence only, as a necessary means of defence.

If I had never seen life as it is, I never would have taken to foretelling the coming downfall of this murderous system, and might now cry out like the learned and the ignorant mobsters: “Hang the anarchists!” instead of living in the shadow of the gallows. Seeing the terrible abuses with my own eyes, seeing how girls became prostitutes, before they knew it, observing the slaughter of the little ones, the killing of workingmen by slow degrees, corruption, misery, crime, hypocrisy, poverty, dirt, ignorance, brutality and hunger everywhere, and conceiving that all those things are the legitimate children of the capitalistic system, which, by establishing the right for single persons to possess the means of production and the land, makes the mass of the people wretched, I became a “kicker.” For an honest and honourable man only one course was left, and I became an opponent to the existing order of things, and was soon called an anarchist.

What are my views? If we socialists, communists and anarchists held the views malicious or ignorant hirelings impute to us in their writings, we would simply be madmen who should be confined in an insane asylum forever…

The modern communist holds that labour is the fountain of all wealth and all culture and that, because useful labour only is possible by association of all mankind, the fruits of labour belong to all mankind. Even land has no value except where it can be put into use by labour. No empty lot in a city would have the least value, if labour had not built around it houses and streets, if business was not going on near that lot. We know further, that labour is not paid its full value; if this were the case, it would be unprofitable to employ labour and would not be done. Let one man work alone for himself, he never could grow rich, although even in such a case his knowledge would be the fruit of the work of others, the labour of generations. And because the latter is the case, the communist wants education, culture and knowledge for all…

The sentence: ‘Property is robbery,’ is literally true… The socialists and communists know further that the capitalistic system requires always expansion. The so-called profits—that is, the fruit of the labour withheld by the employer—are transformed into capital, to gain for him new profits. New factories are built, more machines set to work, new markets are sought for, if necessary by war. More and more nations are drawn into competition. It begins to become difficult to find buyers for the goods; each nation, each corporation, each capitalist wages war against the other for supremacy. He who sells cheapest holds the market. But not only this is required; he who is first in the market, he who can supply the demand in any emergency quick and cheap, will win the battle.

This brings in speculation. The demand of the market is but limited, but the capitalists of all industrial countries are busy to glut it, to overflood it with the products of their factories. To come out all right from this insane race for money, it is necessary to supply cheap and quick, so as to leave other competitors behind. The greater the plant, the better the machines, the cheaper the workmen, the more probable is victory. The smaller manufacturer is soon driven from the contest and forced to close his establishment; new inventions of labour saving machines throw workmen out of employment and compel these forces to look out for new work, as machines tend to transform skilled labour into common labour. The competition for work among workingmen grows to fearful dimensions and brings wages down to a minimum. But this in turn has its effect on production, and the battle wages more fearful than ever. But now reaction sets in. Millions of workmen are starving and leading the lives of vagabonds. Even the most ignorant wage-slave commences to think. The common misery makes it clear to them that they must combine, and they do it. The great levellers, the machines, destroyed the guild-pride of olden times. The carpenter feels that he has a common interest with the farm hand, and the printer with the hod-carrier, the German learns that his interest is that of the Negro, of the Frenchman, of the American… The workingmen learn that the capitalistic system, although necessary for some time, must make room for universal co-operation; that the land and means of production must pass from the hands of speculators, private individuals into the hands of the producing masses; this is communism.

Any thinking man must concede that strikes, boycotts, co-operation on a small scale and other means will not and cannot better the condition of the working-classes, not even so-called factory laws can bring the sought for result about. It is true the workingmen cannot help to use these insufficient means, often enough they are forced upon him. They must be looked on as means of education. Man learns by failures. A little baby who commences to stand on his feet, tumbles down many and many a time, before his limbs gain sufficient strength to walk. Many and many a time it tries to raise itself, till at last the great feat is accomplished. In all these fights, in striking, boycotting, going into politics, yes, even in street riots, the young Hercules collects strength to throttle the serpent— the capitalistic system. The workingmen may be sometimes wrong, why not, the baby sometimes tries to raise itself by means of the table-cloth, thus bringing down the dishes, but his impulse to raise is all right, and therefore the workingman should continue to try raising his condition, even if he sometimes brings down the dishes.

Now as to anarchism. Anarchism is order without government. We anarchists say that anarchism will be the natural outgrowth of universal co-operation (communism). We say that, when poverty has vanished and education is common property of the people, that then reason will reign supreme. We say that crime will belong to the past and that the misdeeds of erring brethren can be righted by other means than those of today. Most of the crimes of our days are engendered directly by the system of today, the system which creates ignorance and misery.

We anarchists do believe that the time is near at hand when the working people will demand their rights of their exploiters, and we further believe that the majority of the people will rebel against the slave-holders of today, aided by the slums of the cities and duped people of the country. This struggle, in our opinion, is inevitable.

Manifesto of the Anarchists: Lyon 1883

The following manifesto was issued by a group of anarchists during their trial in Lyon, France in 1883. Over 60 suspected anarchists were charged with belonging to the International Workers’ Association (the First International: Anarchism, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939), Chapters 5 & 6 ), which had been banned following the suppression of the Paris Commune (1871: Anarchism, Volume One, Chapter 7).The signatories included Peter Kropotkin, Emile Gauthier, Joseph Bernard, Pierre Martin and Toussaint Bordat. The picture above shows Kropotkin cross-examining the Lyon chief of the French secret police. Despite the lack of any real evidence, the accused were convicted as charged. Kropotkin and three co-accused were sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment, 10 years of police surveillance, deprivation of their civil liberties for 5 years and fines of 1,000 francs each. The others received lesser sentences. Kropotkin’s experience in prison is recounted in his book, In Russian and French Prisons (1887).

Manifesto of the Anarchists

What is anarchy and what are the anarchists?

Anarchists are citizens who, in a century where freedom of opinion is preached everywhere, have believed it to be their right and duty to appeal for unlimited liberty.

Throughout the world there are a few thousand of us, maybe a few million, for we have no merit other than saying out loud what the crowd is thinking. We are a few million workers who claim absolute liberty, nothing but liberty, every liberty.

We want liberty; we claim for every human being the right to do whatever he pleases and the means by which to do it.  A person has the right to satisfy all his needs completely, with no limit other than natural impossibilities and the needs of his neighbours, which must be respected equally with his.

We want freedom, and we believe its existence incompatible with the existence of any power whatsoever, no matter what its origin and form, no matter whether it be elected or imposed, monarchist or republican, inspired by divine right, popular right, holy oil, or universal suffrage.

History teaches us that every government is like every other government and that all are worth the same. The best are the worst. In some there is more cynicism, in others more hypocrisy, but at bottom there are always the same procedures, always the same intolerance. There is no government, including even the ones that appear the most liberal, which does not have in the dust of its legislative arsenals some good little law about the [First] International to use against inconvenient opposition.

Evil, in the eyes of anarchists, does not dwell in one form of government more than any other. Evil lies in the idea of government itself. The principle of authority is evil.

Our ideal for human relations is to substitute free contract, perpetually open to revision or cancellation, in place of administrative and legal guardianship and imposed discipline.

Anarchists propose teaching people to do without government as they are already learning to do without God.

Anarchists will also teach people to get along without private ownership. Indeed, the worst tyrant is not the one who locks you up; it is the one who starves you. The worst tyrant is not the one who takes you by the collar; it is the one who takes you by the belly.

No liberty without equality! There is no liberty in a society where capital is monopolized in the hands of an increasingly smaller minority, in a society where nothing is divided equally, not even public education, which is paid for by everyone’s money.

We believe that capital is the common patrimony of mankind because it is the fruit of the collaboration between past and present generations, and that it ought to be put at the disposal of everyone so that no one is excluded and no one can hoard one part of it to the detriment of others.

In a word, what we want is equality. We want actual equality as the corollary of liberty, indeed as its essential preliminary condition.

From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.

That is what we want; that is what our energies are devoted to. It is what shall be, because no limitation can prevail against claims that are both legitimate and necessary. That is why the government wishes to discredit us.

Scoundrels that we are, we claim bread for all, knowledge for all, work for all, independence and justice for all.

Herbert Read: War & Revolution (1945)

In April 1945, Marie Louise Berneri (Volume Two, Selections 4, 15 & 75), Vernon Richards (Volume Two, Selection 33), John Hewetson and Philip Sansom (Volume Two, Selection 58) were tried in England for “incitement to disaffection” and for conspiring “to seduce from duty” members of the armed forces by making available to British soldiers copies of the anarchist paper, War Commentary (which was shortly thereafter renamed Freedom, reviving the name of the paper founded by Kropotkin (Volume One, Selections 33, 34, 41 & 52) and Charlotte Wilson (Volume One, Selection 37) in 1886). Marie Louise Berneri was acquitted on a technicality (on the basis that she could not conspire with her husband, Vernon Richards), but the other three were sent to jail. Herbert Read (Volume One, Selection 130; Volume Two, Selections 1, 19 & 36) was active in the defence of the accused, and was even able to solicit support, on free speech grounds, from the then pro-war George Orwell. The following excerpts are taken from Read’s contribution to the Freedom Press Defence Committee’s pamphlet, Freedom: Is it a crime? The strange case of the three anarchists jailed at the Old Bailey, April 1945, in which he defends freedom of expression, exposes the hypocrisy of the authorities, and argues that war can only be prevented by radically transforming society.

Herbert Read: War and Revolution (1945)

At our last meeting I said that if our comrades were imprisoned, we who remained free would continue the struggle against the forces of repression now active in this country, against the political police, against every enemy of freedom. That struggle is now on. The weapons with which we can fight are limited: they are the very weapons which our authoritarian government is attempting to take away from us — our printing-press, our pamphlets, our right to speak and publish the truth that is within us. Limited as they are, these are nevertheless the only weapons we need to create such a volume of protest that press and parliament, the public at large will be compelled to listen to us. We shall not rest until our comrades are released, and even then we shall go on, to create such a consciousness of the existing danger to our common liberty, that the cause of it is forever eliminated from our society.

It will not be an easy campaign. Among the many lessons which this episode has taught us, the most surprising to me has been the indifference of the so-called liberal press… Here was a clear threat to the liberty of the Press. Did the Press rise in righteous indignation? We have not heard a single note of complaint. This institution which boasts that it is the guardian of our national liberties was perhaps a little drunk with the prospects of a military victory: at any rate, it slept whilst the very liberties which they thought were being secured in Europe were filched from us here in the Old Bailey [criminal court].

Then there is Parliament. We anarchists have never placed much faith in the dim inmates of that opium den, but we note that many of them talk frequently of liberty, inside the House and out. But what has Parliament done to defend our liberty in this case? We know well enough that all that gang talk endlessly about freedom, it is a nice, inspiring word — but they uphold its reality only so long as it does not threaten their private interests.

In these last few weeks more hypocrisy has been smeared over our daily and weekly papers than ever before in our history. If you can bring yourself to read the leading articles and commentaries in these periodicals, you will find the word “freedom” in almost every paragraph. You are told that we have just won the greatest war in history — for “freedom.” You are asked to celebrate this glorious victory — “in the cause of freedom.” You are even encouraged to get drunk for “freedom.” We are not deceived. So long as our three comrades remain in prison, victory is an illusion, and the man who celebrates it is nothing but a mug.

…[W]e are by no means intimidated by what has happened. The penalties of the Courts are only justified on the assumption that they deter others from repeating the alleged offence. We are not moved one inch from our course. All that legal pantomime at the Old Bailey was from every point of view a futile and costly farce…

But for what in actual fact were the prisoners in the dock? They were men who held a certain belief, a theory of society, an ideal of civilization, and all they had done, the only crime with which they could be charged, was that they had incidentally taken steps to bring their beliefs to the attention of members of His Majesty’s Forces.

What is this belief whose mere propagation constitutes a crime? I am going to tell you, in simple direct words, and what I shall say will amount to no more and no less than the substance of the beliefs for which our comrades are now suffering a sentence of imprisonment.

We begin with the central fact of WAR. We say that if our civilization is to survive — not this country nor that country, but the whole civilization of which we are members — war must be eliminated. War has now reached a stage of technical development which in future will involve, not merely the deaths of millions of human beings — men, women and children — but also the complete destruction of the material necessities of life: food, housing, communications, health. War will henceforth mean annihilation, not merely for the vanquished, but for all who engage in it.

We then analyze the causes of war, and this is where we begin to differ from other people who would also like to get rid of war. We say that modern war cannot be explained in terms of capitalism, of imperialism, of economics or of populations: it is a disease of civilization itself, something inherent in the very structure of modern society. In order to get rid of war, we must alter the structure of society.

But “to alter the structure of society” is merely a polite way of saying that a revolution will be essential, and it is for using this word “revolution” that our comrades are in prison. They would not have been put in prison if they had expressed a wish to alter “the structure of society” — which only shows what power is attributed to words when they become weapons.

But whatever we call the process, the choice before our civilization is clear: either revolution or annihilation. That is the inescapable conclusion which we anarchists have reached, and we claim that it is a rational, indeed a logical conclusion.

But what then does revolution imply? We say that the structural fault in our civilization which leads to war lies in the doctrine of national sovereignty, which requires for its expression and propagation the social organ known as the State. Modern wars are conducted by States, through their paid servants — the politicians, civil servants and armed forces. Wars do not, in our stage of development, break out naturally between peoples, and in spite of all the powers of persuasion which States can command and direct, the peoples remain largely indifferent to the issues involved in State wars. Put in another way, we might say that modern wars are essentially ideological, and ideologies belong to classes, not to peoples. The peoples have no ideologies, anywhere. They have interests and prejudices, customs and superstitions: they may be selfish and egotistic, but everywhere and at all time their main purpose is to secure a living from the soil, or from the labours of their hands or brains: and they know that such a purpose is not furthered, but frustrated, by war. Lives, houses, cattle, tillage, material possessions of every kind — these are the common wealth of the people, however unevenly distributed that wealth may be. That kind of wealth is destroyed by war. What is not destroyed by war is another kind of wealth — gold, bonds, credits and other goods not made by labour: these may escape war, just as German Bonds will survive this war, or as Russian Imperial Bonds have escaped “the greatest revolution in history”: but this kind of wealth does not belong to the people, but to the State and its servants, and, one must add, to its dupes.

Under defeat, a particular State may disintegrate. We have seen several States disintegrate during the past few years — France, Belgium, Italy, Greece, and now Germany. This, we say, provides a golden opportunity to make the necessary structural alterations in our social system. It is, in fact, a revolutionary situation, and in such a situation, when the State has revealed all its insubstantiality, and has vanished overnight, we must not let any body of gangsters or looters step out of the ruins and organize another State. That will only lead inevitably to another war and a worse war. In such a revolutionary situation, our comrades said, and I repeat, the armed forces have ceased to exist as instruments of a State: for the moment the nations have become peoples, people in arms. Let the nation remain a people in arms — stick to your arms, we say to such a people, rather than deliver them up to any gang which takes upon itself to speak in the name of a new State. If we are a people, all equal and all equally armed or disarmed, then we can get together and agree on a new form of society, a non-governmental society, in which nation will no longer be opposed to nation, State to State, but a society in which people will work together for the common good. When that reform has been accomplished, everywhere in the world, we can all throw away our arms, and live in peace ever after.

That is the doctrine which our comrades preached, for which they have been persecuted and imprisoned. You may not agree with it — you may not agree with Buddhism or Christianity, with communism or conservatism, but we do not, in this country, imprison people for being Buddhists or Christians, conservatists or communists. Why, then, in the name of all that is just and equitable, are these three anarchists deprived of their liberty?

Well, it is perhaps a simple miscarriage of justice, an anomaly of the law, some bad kind of joke played by the State jesters. That would be the most agreeable explanation to offer. But if that is not the right explanation, if our comrades have been imprisoned in the pursuance of a ruthless and determined policy, then the rights we believe we possess as citizens of this democratic country are at an end. There is no longer, in this land such a thing as the liberty of unlicensed printing for which Milton made his immortal and unanswerable plea: there is no longer any such thing as freedom of expression which ten generations of Englishmen have jealously guarded. These words are now a mockery, and either we have been duped slaves to accept such a breach of our traditional rights, or we resolve never to rest until they are restored… the war which has been won on the Continent of Europe has been lost in this island of Britain, and we can have no joy in victory, nor ease from strife, until our comrades once more stand beside us as free men.