The Anarchists (Voltairine de Cleyre)

From Libertarian Labyrinth
Jump to: navigation, search

Correspondence The Anarchists

To the Editors of the Outlook:

Under the caption "Anarchists in Hard Times," Mr. Jno. Gilmer Speed makes a number of incorrect statements in The Outlook of November 11. According to these, Anarchists judged by those he has met, are of two sorts—briefly, fanatics and fools. He adds, in a kind of parenthesis, that he has never met any Americans among them. Regarded in the light by which, Mr. Speed was probably illuminated in writing said parenthesis there is very little in it. There is no virtue in being born in any particular part of the globe, national vanity to the contrary; there arc quite as many fanatics and fools among the Americans as any other people, and I who say this am an American. From a sociological standpoint, however, the fact (if it were a fact) of there being no American Anarchists would have great significance. It would prove either that social reformers had not calculated all the factors that produce the movement called Anarchism (which its exponents declare to be the result of two cooperating tendencies: socialization of industry, brought about by mechanical invention, and decentralization of authority, the logical outcome of the political revolt in the last century), or it would prove that like causes do not produce like results, since these factors are even more prominent in America than in Europe.

Mr. Speed, however has been unfortunate enough to express himself without sufficient information. Anarchism is a plant of native growth, and is, indeed, indebted to a profound though comparatively unknown thinker, the American Josiah Warren, for its first formulas. These were set forth in a little pamphlet called “True Civilization," appearing about 1830, thus antedating by a decade Proudhon's great work, "What is Property?" In the year 1851 Stephen Pearl Andrews, a noted New York controversialist, who, it will be remembered, defeated Horace Greeley in the columns of his own journal, published a collection of lectures first delivered in Mechanics' Institute, under the title "Science of Society." In his preface Mr. Andrews acknowledges his indebtedness to Warren, and this elucidation of the latter's principles is one of the pillars of Anarchism.

Mr. Speed's analysis of the fanatic class is as follows: "Uneducated men who, without much mental force, try to think out unaided a theory of government through which all suffering, all crime, all unhappiness, all injustice, would be eliminated. They know next to nothing of history, . . . and have nothing to guide them save their own crude notions." Yet Mr. Speed calls Proudhon the founder of Anarchism, and Proudhon was a member of the Academy of Besançon, a literary giant, and not only a student but a writer of history. Elisée Reclus, whose house was searched by the French Government on suspicion of implication in the Vaillant affair, is one of the greatest living geographers; his authority is quoted by “Appleton's Cyclopædia. Peter Krapotkin, a noted contributor to such journals as the “Forum," “Nineteenth Century," etc. is probably the greatest living exponent of Anarchism. He has treated the subject, not only as a political principle, but placed it upon a biological basis. (See articles on “Mutual Aid " and "The Scientific Bases of Anarchy" in the "Nineteenth Century," Nos. 120, 126, 165, 170.) John Most, than whom probably no one living has received more abuse and misrepresentation, once debated a historical question in Berlin, his antagonist being Professor Mommsen, an acknowledged authority on history, and the Berlin daily press gave the victory to Most. Mr. Benjamin R. Tucker, of New York, the leading American Anarchist, translator and publisher of Proudhon’s works, the famous “Kreutzer Sonata,” and numerous others, was at one time assistant editor of the Boston “Globe,” and later of the New York “Engineering Record.” Dyer D. Lum, recently deceased (by the way, of Puritan descent) has left a valuable momento of his historical studies in his “Eighteen Christian Centuries.”

Names might be multiplied, proving that Mr. Speed has spoken too hastily, but I pass to his assertion concerning the Anarchistic ideal. It is untrue that Anarchists try to plan a theory to do away with the several "alls" enumerated. But they do apply the scientific method of research to the facts of crime, injustice, etc.; and they find that a large proportion of these arise from a system of production by which mankind is divided into owners of materials and tools upon one side, and owners of labor power only on the other They do say that by these means the former is enabled to dictate terms and to absorb a portion of the latter's product. Like Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, the owners of materials have permitted the negro to whitewash the fence on condition that they be paid for having a fence to whitewash. Anarchists, in common with Socialists, therefore, question the monopoly of materials. The see that so long as it exists the absorption of products by the non-produce must continue, thus destroying, eventually, the purchasing power of the workers (witness our recent panic). On the question of abolishing monopoly, however, Anarchist and Statist part company. And it is precisely as students of history that we declare for the abolition of the State, because history shows those peoples to have been progressive, and their spirit enduring, which reduced government to its minimum, and left as much scope as possible to the individual. Greece lives to-day; her spirit, risen from the submerging waves of Roman militancy and Middle Age ignorance, is the dominant spirit of western Europe and northern America. It is this spirit which Anarchism invokes. It calls upon the individual to trust himself; it declares its supremacy; the perpetual right of secession; in other words, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed," and when the consent is withdrawn the right of government is ended. It teaches that, as society is not the creature of government, but of human needs, society will die only with the death of human needs; that forms of administration being necessary so far as interests arc common, those persons having such interests will of necessity unite and agree to such rules as are adapted for the time, just as any voluntary society docs now, that cooperative production will be so administered, not because any statesman in his superior wisdom plans it so, but because the people, perceiving their own interests, will thus move along the line of least resistance. It does teach that involuntary idleness and poverty, with their resultant ills will thereby be abolished.

Thus Anarchism, instead of being, as asserted, a war on property, is precisely the assertion of property, or that which is proper to the individual. It is the war of the "Individual and his Own" against the State and legal theft. And if any one will take the trouble to go and see Justus Schwab, whom Mr. Speed not only wrongs as a man, but misrepresents as to his principles, he will find one who will correctly define and defend property, a definition and defense much needed by credulous believers in the present institution of robbery called property. So much for the fanatics; I would like to say a word for the fools, but lack of space forbids.


A Reply

To the Editors of the Outlook:

Had the letter of the lady who objects to the facts stated and the conclusions reached in my article "Anarchists in Hard Times" been printed in the same number with the article, I should not have cared to reply to her comments. I did not say there were no American Anarchists, but that I had met none. Unfortunately, there are American fools and madmen, but neither folly nor madness, according to my observation, is apt to take that particular direction in this country. There are here and there in America, I believe, men and women who call themselves theoretical Anarchists. They differ from the practical sort in that they have the saving sense not to put their mad theories into execution. One of this kind was in Recorder Smyth's court some time ago, and was examined as to his qualifications to act on a petit jury. He said he did not believe in law, that he did not believe in punishment for crime, and so on. The Recorder ruled that this theoretical Anarchist did not have the mental capacity to act as a juryman. The fact is that these Anarchists sincerely believe that they are proposing some system to the world; instead of that, each one has an individual hodge-podge of a theory, and they are all as different as possible. The lady tells us that Most is a learned man, and that Justus Schwab is a sincere one. To any one whose judgment can be so misled it is useless to address arguments. Indeed, I never addressed any arguments to Anarchists, and do not propose to do so. It would be as bootless a task as to set up a school of logic in the Bloomingdale Asylum.

But one thing I will venture to say: while I hold the practical Anarchist to be insane, and while I believe that he should be kept in confinement for his own sake and for the sake of society, I have no such view of the theoretical Anarchist. He is so harmless from lack of courage that he may be permitted to go where he chooses and enjoy all the distinction that other timid cranks can bestow.


New York City.

Personal tools