What it Really Stands For
Ever reviled, accursed, ne'er understood,
Thou art the grisly terror of our age.
"Wreck of all order," cry the multitude,
"Art thou, and war and murder's endless rage."
O, let them cry. To them that ne'er have striven
The truth that lies behind a word to find,
To them the word's right meaning was not given.
They shall continue blind among the blind.
But thou, O word, so clear, so strong, so pure,
Thou sayest all which I for goal have taken.
I give thee to the future! Thine secure
When each at least unto himself shall waken.
Comes it in sunshine? In the tempest's thrill?
I cannot tell but it the earth shall see!
I am an Anarchist! Wherefore I will
Not rule, and also ruled I will not be!
JOHN HENRY MACKAY.
The history of human growth and development is at the same time the history
of the terrible struggle of every new idea heralding the approach of a
brighter dawn. In its tenacious hold on tradition, the Old has never hesitated
to make use of the foulest and cruelest means to stay the advent of the
New, in whatever form or period the latter may have asserted itself. Nor
need we retrace our steps into the distant past to realize the enormity
of opposition, difficulties, and hardships placed in the path of every
progressive idea. The rack, the thumbscrew, and the knout are still with
us; so are the convict's garb and the social wrath, all conspiring against
the spirit that is serenely marching on.
Anarchism could not hope to escape the fate of all other ideas of innovation.
Indeed, as the most revolutionary and uncompromising innovator, Anarchism
must needs meet with the combined ignorance and venom of the world it
aims to reconstruct.
To deal even remotely with all that is being said and done against Anarchism
would necessitate the writing of a whole volume. I shall therefore meet
only two of the principal objections. In so doing, I shall attempt to
elucidate what Anarchism really stands for.
The strange phenomenon of the opposition to Anarchism is that it brings
to light the relation between so-called intelligence and ignorance. And
yet this is not so very strange when we consider the relativity of all
things. The ignorant mass has in its favor that it makes no pretense of
knowledge or tolerance. Acting, as it always does, by mere impulse, its
reasons are like those of a child. "Why?" "Because."
Yet the opposition of the uneducated to Anarchism deserves the same consideration
as that of the intelligent man.
What, then, are the objections? First, Anarchism is impractical, though
a beautiful ideal. Second, Anarchism stands for violence and destruction,
hence it must be repudiated as vile and dangerous. Both the intelligent
man and the ignorant mass judge not from a thorough knowledge of the subject,
but either from hearsay or false interpretation.
A practical scheme, says Oscar Wilde, is either one already in existence,
or a scheme that could be carried out under the existing conditions; but
it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to, and any scheme
that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The true criterion
of the practical, therefore, is not whether the latter can keep intact
the wrong or foolish; rather is it whether the scheme has vitality enough
to leave the stagnant waters of the old, and build, as well as sustain,
new life. In the light of this conception, Anarchism is indeed practical.
More than any other idea, it is helping to do away with the wrong and
foolish; more than any other idea, it is building and sustaining new life.
The emotions of the ignorant man are continuously kept at a pitch by
the most blood-curdling stories about Anarchism. Not a thing too outrageous
to be employed against this philosophy and its exponents. Therefore Anarchism
represents to the unthinking what the proverbial bad man does to the child, a
black monster bent on swallowing everything; in short, destruction and
Destruction and violence! How is the ordinary man to know that the most
violent element in society is ignorance; that its power of destruction
is the very thing Anarchism is combating? Nor is he aware that Anarchism,
whose roots, as it were, are part of nature's forces, destroys, not healthful
tissue, but parasitic growths that feed on the life's essence of society.
It is merely clearing the soil from weeds and sagebrush, that it may eventually
bear healthy fruit.
Someone has said that it requires less mental effort to condemn than
to think. The widespread mental indolence, so prevalent in society, proves
this to be only too true. Rather than to go to the bottom of any given
idea, to examine into its origin and meaning, most people will either
condemn it altogether, or rely on some superficial or prejudicial definition
Anarchism urges man to think, to investigate, to analyze every proposition;
but that the brain capacity of the average reader be not taxed too much,
I also shall begin with a definition, and then elaborate on the latter.
ANARCHISM: The philosophy of a new social order
based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all
forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and
harmful, as well as unnecessary.
The new social order rests, of course, on the materialistic basis of
life; but while all Anarchists agree that the main evil today is an economic
one, they maintain that the solution of that evil can be brought about
only through the consideration of EVERY PHASE of life, individual,
as well as the collective; the internal, as well as the external phases.
A thorough perusal of the history of human development will disclose
two elements in bitter conflict with each other; elements that are only
now beginning to be understood, not as foreign to each other, but as closely
related and truly harmonious, if only placed in proper environment: the
individual and social instincts. The individual and society have waged
a relentless and bloody battle for ages, each striving for supremacy,
because each was blind to the value and importance of the other. The individual
and social instincts, the one a most potent factor for
individual endeavor, for growth, aspiration, self-realization; the other
an equally potent factor for mutual helpfulness and social well-being.
The explanation of the storm raging within the individual, and between
him and his surroundings, is not far to seek. The primitive man, unable
to understand his being, much less the unity of all life, felt himself
absolutely dependent on blind, hidden forces ever ready to mock and taunt
him. Out of that attitude grew the religious concepts of man as a mere
speck of dust dependent on superior powers on high, who can only be appeased
by complete surrender. All the early sagas rest on that idea, which continues
to be the LEIT-MOTIF of the biblical tales dealing with the relation of
man to God, to the State, to society. Again and again the same motif,
MAN IS NOTHING, THE POWERS ARE EVERYTHING. Thus Jehovah would only endure
man on condition of complete surrender. Man can have all the glories of
the earth, but he must not become conscious of himself. The State, society,
and moral laws all sing the same refrain: Man can have all the glories
of the earth, but he must not become conscious of himself.
Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness
of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent,
that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only
through man's subordination. Anarchism is therefore the teacher of the
unity of life; not merely in nature, but in man. There is no conflict
between the individual and the social instincts, any more than there is
between the heart and the lungs: the one the receptacle of a precious
life essence, the other the repository of the element that keeps the essence
pure and strong. The individual is the heart of society, conserving the
essence of social life; society is the lungs which are distributing the
element to keep the life essence that is, the individual pure
"The one thing of value in the world," says Emerson, "is
the active soul; this every man contains within him. The soul active sees
absolute truth and utters truth and creates." In other words, the
individual instinct is the thing of value in the world. It is the true
soul that sees and creates the truth alive, out of which is to come a
still greater truth, the re-born social soul.
Anarchism is the great liberator of man from the phantoms that have held
him captive; it is the arbiter and pacifier of the two forces for individual
and social harmony. To accomplish that unity, Anarchism has declared war
on the pernicious influences which have so far prevented the harmonious
blending of individual and social instincts, the individual and society.
Religion, the dominion of the human mind; Property, the dominion of human
needs; and Government, the dominion of human conduct, represent the stronghold
of man's enslavement and all the horrors it entails. Religion! How it
dominates man's mind, how it humiliates and degrades his soul. God is
everything, man is nothing, says religion. But out of that nothing God
has created a kingdom so despotic, so tyrannical, so cruel, so terribly
exacting that naught but gloom and tears and blood have ruled the world
since gods began. Anarchism rouses man to rebellion against this black
monster. Break your mental fetters, says Anarchism to man, for not until
you think and judge for yourself will you get rid of the dominion of darkness,
the greatest obstacle to all progress.
Property, the dominion of man's needs, the denial of the right to satisfy
his needs. Time was when property claimed a divine right, when it came
to man with the same refrain, even as religion, "Sacrifice! Abnegate!
Submit!" The spirit of Anarchism has lifted man from his prostrate
position. He now stands erect, with his face toward the light. He has
learned to see the insatiable, devouring, devastating nature of property,
and he is preparing to strike the monster dead.
"Property is robbery," said the great French Anarchist, Proudhon.
Yes, but without risk and danger to the robber. Monopolizing the accumulated
efforts of man, property has robbed him of his birthright, and has turned
him loose a pauper and an outcast. Property has not even the time-worn
excuse that man does not create enough to satisfy all needs. The A B C
student of economics knows that the productivity of labor within the last
few decades far exceeds normal demand a hundredfold. But what are normal
demands to an abnormal institution? The only demand that property recognizes
is its own gluttonous appetite for greater wealth, because wealth means
power; the power to subdue, to crush, to exploit, the power to enslave,
to outrage, to degrade. America is particularly boastful of her great
power, her enormous national wealth. Poor America, of what avail is all
her wealth, if the individuals comprising the nation are wretchedly poor?
If they live in squalor, in filth, in crime, with hope and joy gone, a
homeless, soilless army of human prey.
It is generally conceded that unless the returns of any business venture
exceed the cost, bankruptcy is inevitable. But those engaged in the business
of producing wealth have not yet learned even this simple lesson. Every
year the cost of production in human life is growing larger (50,000 killed,
100,000 wounded in America last year); the returns to the masses, who
help to create wealth, are ever getting smaller. Yet America continues
to be blind to the inevitable bankruptcy of our business of production.
Nor is this the only crime of the latter. Still more fatal is the crime
of turning the producer into a mere particle of a machine, with less will
and decision than his master of steel and iron. Man is being robbed not
merely of the products of his labor, but of the power of free initiative,
of originality, and the interest in, or desire for, the things he is making.
Real wealth consists in things of utility and beauty, in things that
help to create strong, beautiful bodies and surroundings inspiring to
live in. But if man is doomed to wind cotton around a spool, or dig coal,
or build roads for thirty years of his life, there can be no talk of wealth.
What he gives to the world is only gray and hideous things, reflecting
a dull and hideous existence, too weak to live, too cowardly
to die. Strange to say, there are people who extol this deadening method
of centralized production as the proudest achievement of our age. They
fail utterly to realize that if we are to continue in machine subserviency,
our slavery is more complete than was our bondage to the King. They do
not want to know that centralization is not only the death-knell of liberty,
but also of health and beauty, of art and science, all these being impossible
in a clock-like, mechanical atmosphere.
Anarchism cannot but repudiate such a method of production: its goal
is the freest possible expression of all the latent powers of the individual.
Oscar Wilde defines a perfect personality as "one who develops under
perfect conditions, who is not wounded, maimed, or in danger." A
perfect personality, then, is only possible in a state of society where
man is free to choose the mode of work, the conditions of work, and the
freedom to work. One to whom the making of a table, the building of a
house, or the tilling of the soil, is what the painting is to the artist
and the discovery to the scientist, the result of inspiration,
of intense longing, and deep interest in work as a creative force. That
being the ideal of Anarchism, its economic arrangements must consist of
voluntary productive and distributive associations, gradually developing
into free communism, as the best means of producing with the least waste
of human energy. Anarchism, however, also recognizes the right of the
individual, or numbers of individuals, to arrange at all times for other
forms of work, in harmony with their tastes and desires.
Such free display of human energy being possible only under complete
individual and social freedom, Anarchism directs its forces against the
third and greatest foe of all social equality; namely, the State, organized
authority, or statutory law, the dominion of human conduct.
Just as religion has fettered the human mind, and as property, or the
monopoly of things, has subdued and stifled man's needs, so has the State
enslaved his spirit, dictating every phase of conduct. "All government
in essence," says Emerson, "is tyranny." It matters not
whether it is government by divine right or majority rule. In every instance
its aim is the absolute subordination of the individual.
Referring to the American government, the greatest American Anarchist,
David Thoreau, said: "Government, what is it but a tradition, though
a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity,
but each instance losing its integrity; it has not the vitality and force
of a single living man. Law never made man a whit more just; and by means
of their respect for it, even the well disposed are daily made agents
Indeed, the keynote of government is injustice. With the arrogance and
self-sufficiency of the King who could do no wrong, governments ordain,
judge, condemn, and punish the most insignificant offenses, while maintaining
themselves by the greatest of all offenses, the annihilation of individual
liberty. Thus Ouida is right when she maintains that "the State only
aims at instilling those qualities in its public by which its demands
are obeyed, and its exchequer is filled. Its highest attainment is the
reduction of mankind to clockwork. In its atmosphere all those finer and
more delicate liberties, which require treatment and spacious expansion,
inevitably dry up and perish. The State requires a taxpaying machine in
which there is no hitch, an exchequer in which there is never a deficit,
and a public, monotonous, obedient, colorless, spiritless, moving humbly
like a flock of sheep along a straight high road between two walls."
Yet even a flock of sheep would resist the chicanery of the State, if
it were not for the corruptive, tyrannical, and oppressive methods it
employs to serve its purposes. Therefore Bakunin repudiates the State
as synonymous with the surrender of the liberty of the individual or small
minorities, the destruction of social relationship, the
curtailment, or complete denial even, of life itself, for its own aggrandizement.
The State is the altar of political freedom and, like the religious altar,
it is maintained for the purpose of human sacrifice.
In fact, there is hardly a modern thinker who does not agree that government,
organized authority, or the State, is necessary ONLY to maintain or protect
property and monopoly. It has proven efficient in that function only.
Even George Bernard Shaw, who hopes for the miraculous from the State
under Fabianism, nevertheless admits that "it is at present a huge
machine for robbing and slave-driving of the poor by brute force."
This being the case, it is hard to see why the clever prefacer wishes
to uphold the State after poverty shall have ceased to exist.
Unfortunately there are still a number of people who continue in the
fatal belief that government rests on natural laws, that it maintains
social order and harmony, that it diminishes crime, and that it prevents
the lazy man from fleecing his fellows. I shall therefore examine these
A natural law is that factor in man which asserts itself freely and spontaneously
without any external force, in harmony with the requirements of nature.
For instance, the demand for nutrition, for sex gratification, for light,
air, and exercise, is a natural law. But its expression needs not the
machinery of government, needs not the club, the gun, the handcuff, or
the prison. To obey such laws, if we may call it obedience, requires only
spontaneity and free opportunity. That governments do not maintain themselves
through such harmonious factors is proven by the terrible array of violence,
force, and coercion all governments use in order to live. Thus Blackstone
is right when he says, "Human laws are invalid, because they are
contrary to the laws of nature."
Unless it be the order of Warsaw after the slaughter of thousands of
people, it is difficult to ascribe to governments any capacity for order
or social harmony. Order derived through submission and maintained by
terror is not much of a safe guaranty; yet that is the only "order"
that governments have ever maintained. True social harmony grows naturally
out of solidarity of interests. In a society where those who always work
never have anything, while those who never work enjoy everything, solidarity
of interests is non-existent; hence social harmony is but a myth. The
only way organized authority meets this grave situation is by extending
still greater privileges to those who have already monopolized the earth,
and by still further enslaving the disinherited masses. Thus the entire
arsenal of government laws, police, soldiers, the courts,
legislatures, prisons, is strenuously engaged in "harmonizing"
the most antagonistic elements in society.
The most absurd apology for authority and law is that they serve to diminish
crime. Aside from the fact that the State is itself the greatest criminal,
breaking every written and natural law, stealing in the form of taxes,
killing in the form of war and capital punishment, it has come to an absolute
standstill in coping with crime. It has failed utterly to destroy or even
minimize the horrible scourge of its own creation.
Crime is naught but misdirected energy. So long as every institution
of today, economic, political, social, and moral, conspires to misdirect
human energy into wrong channels; so long as most people are out of place
doing the things they hate to do, living a life they loathe to live, crime
will be inevitable, and all the laws on the statutes can only increase,
but never do away with, crime. What does society, as it exists today,
know of the process of despair, the poverty, the horrors, the fearful
struggle the human soul must pass on its way to crime and degradation.
Who that knows this terrible process can fail to see the truth in these
words of Peter Kropotkin:
"Those who will hold the balance between the benefits thus attributed
to law and punishment and the degrading effect of the latter on humanity;
those who will estimate the torrent of depravity poured abroad in human
society by the informer, favored by the Judge even, and paid for in clinking
cash by governments, under the pretext of aiding to unmask crime; those
who will go within prison walls and there see what human beings become
when deprived of liberty, when subjected to the care of brutal keepers,
to coarse, cruel words, to a thousand stinging, piercing humiliations,
will agree with us that the entire apparatus of prison and punishment
is an abomination which ought to be brought to an end."
The deterrent influence of law on the lazy man is too absurd to merit
consideration. If society were only relieved of the waste and expense
of keeping a lazy class, and the equally great expense of the paraphernalia
of protection this lazy class requires, the social tables would contain
an abundance for all, including even the occasional lazy individual. Besides,
it is well to consider that laziness results either from special privileges,
or physical and mental abnormalities. Our present insane system of production
fosters both, and the most astounding phenomenon is that people should
want to work at all now. Anarchism aims to strip labor of its deadening,
dulling aspect, of its gloom and compulsion. It aims to make work an instrument
of joy, of strength, of color, of real harmony, so that the poorest sort
of a man should find in work both recreation and hope.
To achieve such an arrangement of life, government, with its unjust,
arbitrary, repressive measures, must be done away with. At best it has
but imposed one single mode of life upon all, without regard to individual
and social variations and needs. In destroying government and statutory
laws, Anarchism proposes to rescue the self-respect and independence of
the individual from all restraint and invasion by authority. Only in freedom
can man grow to his full stature. Only in freedom will he learn to think
and move, and give the very best in him. Only in freedom will he realize
the true force of the social bonds which knit men together, and which
are the true foundation of a normal social life.
But what about human nature? Can it be changed? And if not, will it endure
Poor human nature, what horrible crimes have been committed in thy name!
Every fool, from king to policeman, from the flatheaded parson to the
visionless dabbler in science, presumes to speak authoritatively of human
nature. The greater the mental charlatan, the more definite his insistence
on the wickedness and weaknesses of human nature. Yet, how can any one
speak of it today, with every soul in a prison, with every heart fettered,
wounded, and maimed?
John Burroughs has stated that experimental study of animals in captivity
is absolutely useless. Their character, their habits, their appetites
undergo a complete transformation when torn from their soil in field and
forest. With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into
submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?
Freedom, expansion, opportunity, and, above all, peace and repose, alone
can teach us the real dominant factors of human nature and all its wonderful
Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from
the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion
of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government.
Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals
for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee
to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the
necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.
This is not a wild fancy or an aberration of the mind. It is the conclusion
arrived at by hosts of intellectual men and women the world over; a conclusion
resulting from the close and studious observation of the tendencies of
modern society: individual liberty and economic equality, the twin forces
for the birth of what is fine and true in man.
As to methods. Anarchism is not, as some may suppose, a theory of the
future to be realized through divine inspiration. It is a living force
in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions. The methods
of Anarchism therefore do not comprise an iron-clad program to be carried
out under all circumstances. Methods must grow out of the economic needs
of each place and clime, and of the intellectual and temperamental requirements
of the individual. The serene, calm character of a Tolstoy will wish different
methods for social reconstruction than the intense, overflowing personality
of a Michael Bakunin or a Peter Kropotkin. Equally so it must be apparent
that the economic and political needs of Russia will dictate more drastic
measures than would England or America. Anarchism does not stand for military
drill and uniformity; it does, however, stand for the spirit of revolt,
in whatever form, against everything that hinders human growth. All Anarchists
agree in that, as they also agree in their opposition to the political
machinery as a means of bringing about the great social change.
"All voting," says Thoreau, "is a sort of gaming, like
checkers, or backgammon, a playing with right and wrong; its obligation
never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right thing is doing
nothing for it. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance,
nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority." A close
examination of the machinery of politics and its achievements will bear
out the logic of Thoreau.
What does the history of parliamentarism show? Nothing but failure and
defeat, not even a single reform to ameliorate the economic and social
stress of the people. Laws have been passed and enactments made for the
improvement and protection of labor. Thus it was proven only last year
that Illinois, with the most rigid laws for mine protection, had the greatest
mine disasters. In States where child labor laws prevail, child exploitation
is at its highest, and though with us the workers enjoy full political
opportunities, capitalism has reached the most brazen zenith.
Even were the workers able to have their own representatives, for which
our good Socialist politicians are clamoring, what chances are there for
their honesty and good faith? One has but to bear in mind the process
of politics to realize that its path of good intentions is full of pitfalls:
wire-pulling, intriguing, flattering, lying, cheating; in fact, chicanery
of every description, whereby the political aspirant can achieve success.
Added to that is a complete demoralization of character and conviction,
until nothing is left that would make one hope for anything from such
a human derelict. Time and time again the people were foolish enough to
trust, believe, and support with their last farthing aspiring politicians,
only to find themselves betrayed and cheated.
It may be claimed that men of integrity would not become corrupt in the
political grinding mill. Perhaps not; but such men would be absolutely
helpless to exert the slightest influence in behalf of labor, as indeed
has been shown in numerous instances. The State is the economic master
of its servants. Good men, if such there be, would either remain true
to their political faith and lose their economic support, or they would
cling to their economic master and be utterly unable to do the slightest
good. The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be
a dunce or a rogue.
The political superstition is still holding sway over the hearts and
minds of the masses, but the true lovers of liberty will have no more
to do with it. Instead, they believe with Stirner that man has as much
liberty as he is willing to take. Anarchism therefore stands for direct
action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions,
economic, social, and moral. But defiance and resistance are illegal.
Therein lies the salvation of man. Everything illegal necessitates integrity,
self-reliance, and courage. In short, it calls for free, independent spirits,
for "men who are men, and who have a bone in their backs which you
cannot pass your hand through."
Universal suffrage itself owes its existence to direct action. If not
for the spirit of rebellion, of the defiance on the part of the American
revolutionary fathers, their posterity would still wear the King's coat.
If not for the direct action of a John Brown and his comrades, America
would still trade in the flesh of the black man. True, the trade in white
flesh is still going on; but that, too, will have to be abolished by direct
action. Trade-unionism, the economic arena of the modern gladiator, owes
its existence to direct action. It is but recently that law and government
have attempted to crush the trade-union movement, and condemned the exponents
of man's right to organize to prison as conspirators. Had they sought
to assert their cause through begging, pleading, and compromise, trade-unionism
would today be a negligible quantity. In France, in Spain, in Italy, in
Russia, nay even in England (witness the growing rebellion of English
labor unions) direct, revolutionary, economic action has become so strong
a force in the battle for industrial liberty as to make the world realize
the tremendous importance of labor's power. The General Strike, the supreme
expression of the economic consciousness of the workers, was ridiculed
in America but a short time ago. Today every great strike, in order to
win, must realize the importance of the solidaric general protest.
Direct action, having proven effective along economic lines, is equally
potent in the environment of the individual. There a hundred forces encroach
upon his being, and only persistent resistance to them will finally set
him free. Direct action against the authority in the shop, direct action
against the authority of the law, direct action against the invasive,
meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical, consistent method
Will it not lead to a revolution? Indeed, it will. No real social change
has ever come about without a revolution. People are either not familiar
with their history, or they have not yet learned that revolution is but
thought carried into action.
Anarchism, the great leaven of thought, is today permeating every phase
of human endeavor. Science, art, literature, the drama, the effort for
economic betterment, in fact every individual and social opposition to
the existing disorder of things, is illumined by the spiritual light of
Anarchism. It is the philosophy of the sovereignty of the individual.
It is the theory of social harmony. It is the great, surging, living truth
that is reconstructing the world, and that will usher in the Dawn.