The Psychology of
To analyze the psychology of political violence is not only extremely
difficult, but also very dangerous. If such acts are treated with understanding,
one is immediately accused of eulogizing them. If, on the other hand,
human sympathy is expressed with the ATTENTATER,* one risks being considered
a possible accomplice. Yet it is only intelligence and sympathy that can
bring us closer to the source of human suffering, and teach us the ultimate
way out of it.
* A revolutionist committing an act of political violence.
The primitive man, ignorant of natural forces, dreaded their approach,
hiding from the perils they threatened. As man learned to understand Nature's
phenomena, he realized that though these may destroy life and cause great
loss, they also bring relief. To the earnest student it must be apparent
that the accumulated forces in our social and economic life, culminating
in a political act of violence, are similar to the terrors of the atmosphere,
manifested in storm and lightning.
To thoroughly appreciate the truth of this view, one must feel intensely
the indignity of our social wrongs; one's very being must throb with the
pain, the sorrow, the despair millions of people are daily made to endure.
Indeed, unless we have become a part of humanity, we cannot even faintly
understand the just indignation that accumulates in a human soul, the
burning, surging passion that makes the storm inevitable.
The ignorant mass looks upon the man who makes a violent protest against
our social and economic iniquities as upon a wild beast, a cruel, heartless
monster, whose joy it is to destroy life and bathe in blood; or at best,
as upon an irresponsible lunatic. Yet nothing is further from the truth.
As a matter of fact, those who have studied the character and personality
of these men, or who have come in close contact with them, are agreed
that it is their super-sensitiveness to the wrong and injustice surrounding
them which compels them to pay the toll of our social crimes. The most
noted writers and poets, discussing the psychology of political offenders,
have paid them the highest tribute. Could anyone assume that these men
had advised violence, or even approved of the acts? Certainly not. Theirs
was the attitude of the social student, of the man who knows that beyond
every violent act there is a vital cause.
Bjornstjerne Bjornson, in the second part of BEYOND HUMAN POWER, emphasizes
the fact that it is among the Anarchists that we must look for the modern
martyrs who pay for their faith with their blood, and who welcome death
with a smile, because they believe, as truly as Christ did, that their
martyrdom will redeem humanity.
Francois Coppee, the French novelist, thus expresses himself regarding
the psychology of the ATTENTATER:
"The reading of the details of Vaillant's execution left me in a
thoughtful mood. I imagined him expanding his chest under the ropes, marching
with firm step, stiffening his will, concentrating all his energy, and,
with eyes fixed upon the knife, hurling finally at society his cry of
malediction. And, in spite of me, another spectacle rose suddenly before
my mind. I saw a group of men and women pressing against each other in
the middle of the oblong arena of the circus, under the gaze of thousands
of eyes, while from all the steps of the immense amphitheatre went up
the terrible cry, AD LEONES! and, below, the opening cages of the wild
"I did not believe the execution would take place. In the first
place, no victim had been struck with death, and it had long been the
custom not to punish an abortive crime with the last degree of severity.
Then, this crime, however terrible in intention, was disinterested, born
of an abstract idea. The man's past, his abandoned childhood, his life
of hardship, pleaded also in his favor. In the independent press generous
voices were raised in his behalf, very loud and eloquent. 'A purely literary
current of opinion' some have said, with no little scorn. IT IS, ON THE
CONTRARY, AN HONOR TO THE MEN OF ART AND THOUGHT TO HAVE EXPRESSED ONCE
MORE THEIR DISGUST AT THE SCAFFOLD."
Again Zola, in GERMINAL and PARIS, describes the tenderness and kindness,
the deep sympathy with human suffering, of these men who close the chapter
of their lives with a violent outbreak against our system.
Last, but not least, the man who probably better than anyone else understands
the psychology of the ATTENTATER is M. Hamon, the author of the brilliant
work, UNE PSYCHOLOGIE DU MILITAIRE PROFESSIONEL, who has arrived at these
"The positive method confirmed by the rational method enables us
to establish an ideal type of Anarchist, whose mentality is the aggregate
of common psychic characteristics. Every Anarchist partakes sufficiently
of this ideal type to make it possible to differentiate him from other
men. The typical Anarchist, then, may be defined as follows: A man perceptible
by the spirit of revolt under one or more of its forms, opposition, investigation,
criticism, innovation, endowed with a strong love of liberty, egoistic
or individualistic, and possessed of great curiosity, a keen desire to
know. These traits are supplemented by an ardent love of others, a highly
developed moral sensitiveness, a profound sentiment of justice, and imbued
with missionary zeal."
To the above characteristics, says Alvin F. Sanborn, must be added these
sterling qualities: a rare love of animals, surpassing sweetness in all
the ordinary relations of life, exceptional sobriety of demeanor, frugality
and regularity, austerity, even, of living, and courage beyond compare.*
* PARIS AND THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION.
"There is a truism that the man in the street seems always to forget,
when he is abusing the Anarchists, or whatever party happens to be his
BETE NOIRE for the moment, as the cause of some outrage just perpetrated.
This indisputable fact is that homicidal outrages have, from time immemorial,
been the reply of goaded and desperate classes, and goaded and desperate
individuals, to wrongs from their fellowmen, which they felt to be intolerable.
Such acts are the violent recoil from violence, whether aggressive or
repressive; they are the last desperate struggle of outraged and exasperated
human nature for breathing space and life. And their cause lies not in
any special conviction, but in the depths of that human nature itself.
The whole course of history, political and social, is strewn with evidence
of this fact. To go no further, take the three most notorious examples
of political parties goaded into violence during the last fifty years:
the Mazzinians in Italy, the Fenians in Ireland, and the Terrorists in
Russia. Were these people Anarchists? No. Did they all three even hold
the same political opinions? No. The Mazzinians were Republicans, the
Fenians political separatists, the Russians Social Democrats or Constitutionalists.
But all were driven by desperate circumstances into this terrible form
of revolt. And when we turn from parties to individuals who have acted
in like manner, we stand appalled by the number of human beings goaded
and driven by sheer desperation into conduct obviously violently opposed
to their social instincts.
"Now that Anarchism has become a living force in society, such deeds
have been sometimes committed by Anarchists, as well as by others. For
no new faith, even the most essentially peaceable and humane the mind
of man has yet accepted, but at its first coming has brought upon earth
not peace, but a sword; not because of anything violent or anti-social
in the doctrine itself; simply because of the ferment any new and creative
idea excites in men's minds, whether they accept or reject it. And a conception
of Anarchism, which, on one hand, threatens every vested interest, and,
on the other, holds out a vision of a free and noble life to be won by
a struggle against existing wrongs, is certain to rouse the fiercest opposition,
and bring the whole repressive force of ancient evil into violent contact
with the tumultuous outburst of a new hope.
"Under miserable conditions of life, any vision of the possibility
of better things makes the present misery more intolerable, and spurs
those who suffer to the most energetic struggles to improve their lot,
and if these struggles only immediately result in sharper misery, the
outcome is sheer desperation. In our present society, for instance, an
exploited wage worker, who catches a glimpse of what work and life might
and ought to be, finds the toilsome routine and the squalor of his existence
almost intolerable; and even when he has the resolution and courage to
continue steadily working his best, and waiting until new ideas have so
permeated society as to pave the way for better times, the mere fact that
he has such ideas and tries to spread them, brings him into difficulties
with his employers. How many thousands of Socialists, and above all Anarchists,
have lost work and even the chance of work, solely on the ground of their
opinions. It is only the specially gifted craftsman, who, if he be a zealous
propagandist, can hope to retain permanent employment. And what happens
to a man with his brain working actively with a ferment of new ideas,
with a vision before his eyes of a new hope dawning for toiling and agonizing
men, with the knowledge that his suffering and that of his fellows in
misery is not caused by the cruelty of fate, but by the injustice of other
human beings, what happens to such a man when he sees those dear to him
starving, when he himself is starved? Some natures in such a plight, and
those by no means the least social or the least sensitive, will become
violent, and will even feel that their violence is social and not anti-social,
that in striking when and how they can, they are striking, not for themselves,
but for human nature, outraged and despoiled in their persons and in those
of their fellow sufferers. And are we, who ourselves are not in this horrible
predicament, to stand by and coldly condemn these piteous victims of the
Furies and Fates? Are we to decry as miscreants these human beings who
act with heroic self-devotion, sacrificing their lives in protest, where
less social and less energetic natures would lie down and grovel in abject
submission to injustice and wrong? Are we to join the ignorant and brutal
outcry which stigmatizes such men as monsters of wickedness, gratuitously
running amuck in a harmonious and innocently peaceful society? No! We
hate murder with a hatred that may seem absurdly exaggerated to apologists
for Matabele massacres, to callous acquiescers in hangings and bombardments,
but we decline in such cases of homicide, or attempted homicide, as those
of which we are treating, to be guilty of the cruel injustice of flinging
the whole responsibility of the deed upon the immediate perpetrator. The
guilt of these homicides lies upon every man and woman who, intentionally
or by cold indifference, helps to keep up social conditions that drive
human beings to despair. The man who flings his whole life into the attempt,
at the cost of his own life, to protest against the wrongs of his fellow
men, is a saint compared to the active and passive upholders of cruelty
and injustice, even if his protest destroy other lives besides his own.
Let him who is without sin in society cast the first stone at such an
* From a pamphlet issued by the Freedom Group of London.
That every act of political violence should nowadays be attributed to
Anarchists is not at all surprising. Yet it is a fact known to almost
everyone familiar with the Anarchist movement that a great number of acts,
for which Anarchists had to suffer, either originated with the capitalist
press or were instigated, if not directly perpetrated, by the police.
For a number of years acts of violence had been committed in Spain, for
which the Anarchists were held responsible, hounded like wild beasts,
and thrown into prison. Later it was disclosed that the perpetrators of
these acts were not Anarchists, but members of the police department.
The scandal became so widespread that the conservative Spanish papers
demanded the apprehension and punishment of the gang-leader, Juan Rull,
who was subsequently condemned to death and executed. The sensational
evidence, brought to light during the trial, forced Police Inspector Momento
to exonerate completely the Anarchists from any connection with the acts
committed during a long period. This resulted in the dismissal of a number
of police officials, among them Inspector Tressols, who, in revenge, disclosed
the fact that behind the gang of police bomb throwers were others of far
higher position, who provided them with funds and protected them.
This is one of the many striking examples of how Anarchist conspiracies
That the American police can perjure themselves with the same ease, that
they are just as merciless, just as brutal and cunning as their European
colleagues, has been proven on more than one occasion. We need only recall
the tragedy of the eleventh of November, 1887, known as the Haymarket
No one who is at all familiar with the case can possibly doubt that the
Anarchists, judicially murdered in Chicago, died as victims of a lying,
bloodthirsty press and of a cruel police conspiracy. Has not Judge Gary
himself said: "Not because you have caused the Haymarket bomb, but
because you are Anarchists, you are on trial."
The impartial and thorough analysis by Governor Altgeld of that blotch
on the American escutcheon verified the brutal frankness of Judge Gary.
It was this that induced Altgeld to pardon the three Anarchists, thereby
earning the lasting esteem of every liberty loving man and woman in the
When we approach the tragedy of September sixth, 1901, we are confronted
by one of the most striking examples of how little social theories are
responsible for an act of political violence. "Leon Czolgosz, an
Anarchist, incited to commit the act by Emma Goldman." To be sure,
has she not incited violence even before her birth, and will she not continue
to do so beyond death? Everything is possible with the Anarchists.
Today, even, nine years after the tragedy, after it was proven a hundred
times that Emma Goldman had nothing to do with the event, that no evidence
whatsoever exists to indicate that Czolgosz ever called himself an Anarchist,
we are confronted with the same lie, fabricated by the police and perpetuated
by the press. No living soul ever heard Czolgosz make that statement,
nor is there a single written word to prove that the boy ever breathed
the accusation. Nothing but ignorance and insane hysteria, which have
never yet been able to solve the simplest problem of cause and effect.
The President of a free Republic killed! What else can be the cause,
except that the ATTENTATER must have been insane, or that he was incited
to the act.
A free Republic! How a myth will maintain itself, how it will continue
to deceive, to dupe, and blind even the comparatively intelligent to its
monstrous absurdities. A free Republic! And yet within a little over thirty
years a small band of parasites have successfully robbed the American
people, and trampled upon the fundamental principles, laid down by the
fathers of this country, guaranteeing to every man, woman, and child "life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." For thirty years they have
been increasing their wealth and power at the expense of the vast mass
of workers, thereby enlarging the army of the unemployed, the hungry,
homeless, and friendless portion of humanity, who are tramping the country
from east to west, from north to south, in a vain search for work. For
many years the home has been left to the care of the little ones, while
the parents are exhausting their life and strength for a mere pittance.
For thirty years the sturdy sons of America have been sacrificed on the
battlefield of industrial war, and the daughters outraged in corrupt factory
surroundings. For long and weary years this process of undermining the
nation's health, vigor, and pride, without much protest from the disinherited
and oppressed, has been going on. Maddened by success and victory, the
money powers of this "free land of ours" became more and more
audacious in their heartless, cruel efforts to compete with the rotten
and decayed European tyrannies for supremacy of power.
In vain did a lying press repudiate Leon Czolgosz as a foreigner. The
boy was a product of our own free American soil, that lulled him to sleep
My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty.
Who can tell how many times this American child had gloried in the celebration
of the Fourth of July, or of Decoration Day, when he faithfully honored
the Nation's dead? Who knows but that he, too, was willing to "fight
for his country and die for her liberty," until it dawned upon him
that those he belonged to have no country, because they have been robbed
of all that they have produced; until he realized that the liberty and
independence of his youthful dreams were but a farce. Poor Leon Czolgosz,
your crime consisted of too sensitive a social consciousness. Unlike your
idealless and brainless American brothers, your ideals soared above the
belly and the bank account. No wonder you impressed the one human being
among all the infuriated mob at your trial a newspaper woman as a visionary,
totally oblivious to your surroundings. Your large, dreamy eyes must have
beheld a new and glorious dawn.
Now, to a recent instance of police-manufactured Anarchist plots. In
that bloodstained city, Chicago, the life of Chief of Police Shippy was
attempted by a young man named Averbuch. Immediately the cry was sent
to the four corners of the world that Averbuch was an Anarchist, and that
Anarchists were responsible for the act. Everyone who was at all known
to entertain Anarchist ideas was closely watched, a number of people arrested,
the library of an Anarchist group confiscated, and all meetings made impossible.
It goes without saying that, as on various previous occasions, I must
needs be held responsible for the act. Evidently the American police credit
me with occult powers. I did not know Averbuch; in fact, had never before
heard his name, and the only way I could have possibly "conspired"
with him was in my astral body. But, then, the police are not concerned
with logic or justice. What they seek is a target, to mask their absolute
ignorance of the cause, of the psychology of a political act. Was Averbuch
an Anarchist? There is no positive proof of it. He had been but three
months in the country, did not know the language, and, as far as I could
ascertain, was quite unknown to the Anarchists of Chicago.
What led to his act? Averbuch, like most young Russian immigrants, undoubtedly
believed in the mythical liberty of America. He received his first baptism
by the policeman's club during the brutal dispersement of the unemployed
parade. He further experienced American equality and opportunity in the
vain efforts to find an economic master. In short, a three months' sojourn
in the glorious land brought him face to face with the fact that the disinherited
are in the same position the world over. In his native land he probably
learned that necessity knows no law there was no difference between a
Russian and an American policeman.
The question to the intelligent social student is not whether the acts
of Czolgosz or Averbuch were practical, any more than whether the thunderstorm
is practical. The thing that will inevitably impress itself on the thinking
and feeling man and woman is that the sight of brutal clubbing of innocent
victims in a so-called free Republic, and the degrading, soul-destroying
economic struggle, furnish the spark that kindles the dynamic force in
the overwrought, outraged souls of men like Czolgosz or Averbuch. No amount
of persecution, of hounding, of repression, can stay this social phenomenon.
But, it is often asked, have not acknowledged Anarchists committed acts
of violence? Certainly they have, always however ready to shoulder the
responsibility. My contention is that they were impelled, not by the teachings
of Anarchism, but by the tremendous pressure of conditions, making life
unbearable to their sensitive natures. Obviously, Anarchism, or any other
social theory, making man a conscious social unit, will act as a leaven
for rebellion. This is not a mere assertion, but a fact verified by all
experience. A close examination of the circumstances bearing upon this
question will further clarify my position.
Let us consider some of the most important Anarchist acts within the
last two decades. Strange as it may seem, one of the most significant
deeds of political violence occurred here in America, in connection with
the Homestead strike of 1892.
During that memorable time the Carnegie Steel Company organized a conspiracy
to crush the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. Henry
Clay Frick, then Chairman of the Company, was intrusted with that democratic
task. He lost no time in carrying out the policy of breaking the Union,
the policy which he had so successfully practiced during his reign of
terror in the coke regions. Secretly, and while peace negotiations were
being purposely prolonged, Frick supervised the military preparations,
the fortification of the Homestead Steel Works, the erection of a high
board fence, capped with barbed wire and provided with loopholes for sharpshooters.
And then, in the dead of night, he attempted to smuggle his army of hired
Pinkerton thugs into Homestead, which act precipitated the terrible carnage
of the steel workers. Not content with the death of eleven victims, killed
in the Pinkerton skirmish, Henry Clay Frick, good Christian and free American,
straightway began the hounding down of the helpless wives and orphans,
by ordering them out of the wretched Company houses.
The whole country was aroused over these inhuman outrages. Hundreds of
voices were raised in protest, calling on Frick to desist, not to go too
far. Yes, hundreds of people protested, as one objects to annoying flies.
Only one there was who actively responded to the outrage at Homestead, Alexander
Berkman. Yes, he was an Anarchist. He gloried in that fact, because it
was the only force that made the discord between his spiritual longing
and the world without at all bearable. Yet not Anarchism, as such, but
the brutal slaughter of the eleven steel workers was the urge for Alexander
Berkman's act, his attempt on the life of Henry Clay Frick.
The record of European acts of political violence affords numerous and
striking instances of the influence of environment upon sensitive human
The court speech of Vaillant, who, in 1894, exploded a bomb in the Paris
Chamber of Deputies, strikes the true keynote of the psychology of such
"Gentlemen, in a few minutes you are to deal your blow, but in receiving
your verdict I shall have at least the satisfaction of having wounded
the existing society, that cursed society in which one may see a single
man spending, uselessly, enough to feed thousands of families; an infamous
society which permits a few individuals to monopolize all the social wealth,
while there are hundreds of thousands of unfortunates who have not even
the bread that is not refused to dogs, and while entire families are committing
suicide for want of the necessities of life.
"Ah, gentlemen, if the governing classes could go down among the
unfortunates! But no, they prefer to remain deaf to their appeals. It
seems that a fatality impels them, like the royalty of the eighteenth
century, toward the precipice which will engulf them, for woe be to those
who remain deaf to the cries of the starving, woe to those who, believing
themselves of superior essence, assume the right to exploit those beneath
them! There comes a time when the people no longer reason; they rise like
a hurricane, and pass away like a torrent. Then we see bleeding heads
impaled on pikes.
"Among the exploited, gentlemen, there are two classes of individuals:
Those of one class, not realizing what they are and what they might be,
take life as it comes, believe that they are born to be slaves, and content
themselves with the little that is given them in exchange for their labor.
But there are others, on the contrary, who think, who study, and who,
looking about them, discover social iniquities. Is it their fault if they
see clearly and suffer at seeing others suffer? Then they throw themselves
into the struggle, and make themselves the bearers of the popular claims.
"Gentlemen, I am one of these last. Wherever I have gone, I have
seen unfortunates bent beneath the yoke of capital. Everywhere I have
seen the same wounds causing tears of blood to flow, even in the remoter
parts of the inhabited districts of South America, where I had the right
to believe that he who was weary of the pains of civilization might rest
in the shade of the palm trees and there study nature. Well, there even,
more than elsewhere, I have seen capital come, like a vampire, to suck
the last drop of blood of the unfortunate pariahs.
"Then I came back to France, where it was reserved for me to see
my family suffer atrociously. This was the last drop in the cup of my
sorrow. Tired of leading this life of suffering and cowardice, I carried
this bomb to those who are primarily responsible for social sufferings.
"I am reproached with the wounds of those who were hit by my projectiles.
Permit me to point out in passing that, if the bourgeois had not massacred
or caused massacres during the Revolution, it is probable that they would
still be under the yoke of the nobility. On the other hand, figure up
the dead and wounded on Tonquin, Madagascar, Dahomey, adding thereto the
thousands, yes, millions of unfortunates who die in the factories, the
mines, and wherever the grinding power of capital is felt. Add also those
who die of hunger, and all this with the assent of our Deputies. Beside
all this, of how little weight are the reproaches now brought against
"It is true that one does not efface the other; but, after all,
are we not acting on the defensive when we respond to the blows which
we receive from above? I know very well that I shall be told that I ought
to have confined myself to speech for the vindication of the people's
claims. But what can you expect! It takes a loud voice to make the deaf
hear. Too long have they answered our voices by imprisonment, the rope,
rifle volleys. Make no mistake; the explosion of my bomb is not only the
cry of the rebel Vaillant, but the cry of an entire class which vindicates
its rights, and which will soon add acts to words. For, be sure of it,
in vain will they pass laws. The ideas of the thinkers will not halt;
just as, in the last century, all the governmental forces could not prevent
the Diderots and the Voltaires from spreading emancipating ideas among
the people, so all the existing governmental forces will not prevent the
Reclus, the Darwins, the Spencers, the Ibsens, the Mirbeaus, from spreading
the ideas of justice and liberty which will annihilate the prejudices
that hold the mass in ignorance. And these ideas, welcomed by the unfortunate,
will flower in acts of revolt as they have done in me, until the day when
the disappearance of authority shall permit all men to organize freely
according to their choice, when we shall each be able to enjoy the product
of his labor, and when those moral maladies called prejudices shall vanish,
permitting human beings to live in harmony, having no other desire than
to study the sciences and love their fellows.
"I conclude, gentlemen, by saying that a society in which one sees
such social inequalities as we see all about us, in which we see every
day suicides caused by poverty, prostitution flaring at every street corner, a
society whose principal monuments are barracks and prisons, such a society
must be transformed as soon as possible, on pain of being eliminated,
and that speedily, from the human race. Hail to him who labors, by no
matter what means, for this transformation! It is this idea that has guided
me in my duel with authority, but as in this duel I have only wounded
my adversary, it is now its turn to strike me.
"Now, gentlemen, to me it matters little what penalty you may inflict,
for, looking at this assembly with the eyes of reason, I can not help
smiling to see you, atoms lost in matter, and reasoning only because you
possess a prolongation of the spinal marrow, assume the right to judge
one of your fellows.
"Ah! gentlemen, how little a thing is your assembly and your verdict
in the history of humanity; and human history, in its turn, is likewise
a very little thing in the whirlwind which bears it through immensity,
and which is destined to disappear, or at least to be transformed, in
order to begin again the same history and the same facts, a veritably
perpetual play of cosmic forces renewing and transferring themselves forever."
Will anyone say that Vaillant was an ignorant, vicious man, or a lunatic?
Was not his mind singularly clear, analytic? No wonder that the best intellectual
forces of France spoke in his behalf, and signed the petition to President
Carnot, asking him to commute Vaillant's death sentence.
Carnot would listen to no entreaty; he insisted on more than a pound
of flesh, he wanted Vaillant's life, and then the inevitable happened:
President Carnot was killed. On the handle of the stiletto used by the
ATTENTATER was engraved, significantly,
Santa Caserio was an Anarchist. He could have gotten away, saved himself;
but he remained, he stood the consequences.
His reasons for the act are set forth in so simple, dignified, and childlike
manner that one is reminded of the touching tribute paid Caserio by his
teacher of the little village school, Ada Negri, the Italian poet, who
spoke of him as a sweet, tender plant, of too fine and sensitive texture
to stand the cruel strain of the world.
"Gentlemen of the Jury! I do not propose to make a defense, but
only an explanation of my deed.
"Since my early youth I began to learn that present society is badly
organized, so badly that every day many wretched men commit suicide, leaving
women and children in the most terrible distress. Workers, by thousands,
seek for work and can not find it. Poor families beg for food and shiver
with cold; they suffer the greatest misery; the little ones ask their
miserable mothers for food, and the mothers can not give them, because
they have nothing. The few things which the home contained have already
been sold or pawned. All they can do is beg alms; often they are arrested
"I went away from my native place because I was frequently moved
to tears at seeing little girls of eight or ten years obliged to work
fifteen hours a day for the paltry pay of twenty centimes. Young women
of eighteen or twenty also work fifteen hours daily, for a mockery of
remuneration. And that happens not only to my fellow countrymen, but to
all the workers, who sweat the whole day long for a crust of bread, while
their labor produces wealth in abundance. The workers are obliged to live
under the most wretched conditions, and their food consists of a little
bread, a few spoonfuls of rice, and water; so by the time they are thirty
or forty years old, they are exhausted, and go to die in the hospitals.
Besides, in consequence of bad food and overwork, these unhappy creatures
are, by hundreds, devoured by pellagra a disease that, in my country,
attacks, as the physicians say, those who are badly fed and lead a life
of toil and privation.
"I have observed that there are a great many people who are hungry,
and many children who suffer, whilst bread and clothes abound in the towns.
I saw many and large shops full of clothing and woolen stuffs, and I also
saw warehouses full of wheat and Indian corn, suitable for those who are
in want. And, on the other hand, I saw thousands of people who do not
work, who produce nothing and live on the labor of others; who spend every
day thousands of francs for their amusement; who debauch the daughters
of the workers; who own dwellings of forty or fifty rooms; twenty or thirty
horses, many servants; in a word, all the pleasures of life.
"I believed in God; but when I saw so great an inequality between
men, I acknowledged that it was not God who created man, but man who created
God. And I discovered that those who want their property to be respected,
have an interest in preaching the existence of paradise and hell, and
in keeping the people in ignorance.
"Not long ago, Vaillant threw a bomb in the Chamber of Deputies,
to protest against the present system of society. He killed no one, only
wounded some persons; yet bourgeois justice sentenced him to death. And
not satisfied with the condemnation of the guilty man, they began to pursue
the Anarchists, and arrest not only those who had known Vaillant, but
even those who had merely been present at any Anarchist lecture.
"The government did not think of their wives and children. It did
not consider that the men kept in prison were not the only ones who suffered,
and that their little ones cried for bread. Bourgeois justice did not
trouble itself about these innocent ones, who do not yet know what society
is. It is no fault of theirs that their fathers are in prison; they only
want to eat.
"The government went on searching private houses, opening private
letters, forbidding lectures and meetings, and practicing the most infamous
oppressions against us. Even now, hundreds of Anarchists are arrested
for having written an article in a newspaper, or for having expressed
an opinion in public.
"Gentlemen of the Jury, you are representatives of bourgeois society.
If you want my head, take it; but do not believe that in so doing you
will stop the Anarchist propaganda. Take care, for men reap what they
During a religious procession in 1896, at Barcelona, a bomb was thrown.
Immediately three hundred men and women were arrested. Some were Anarchists,
but the majority were trade unionists and Socialists. They were thrown
into that terrible bastille, Montjuich, and subjected to most horrible
tortures. After a number had been killed, or had gone insane, their cases
were taken up by the liberal press of Europe, resulting in the release
of a few survivors.
The man primarily responsible for this revival of the Inquisition was
Canovas del Castillo, Prime Minister of Spain. It was he who ordered the
torturing of the victims, their flesh burned, their bones crushed, their
tongues cut out. Practiced in the art of brutality during his regime in
Cuba, Canovas remained absolutely deaf to the appeals and protests of
the awakened civilized conscience.
In 1897 Canovas del Castillo was shot to death by a young Italian, Angiolillo.
The latter was an editor in his native land, and his bold utterances soon
attracted the attention of the authorities. Persecution began, and Angiolillo
fled from Italy to Spain, thence to France and Belgium, finally settling
in England. While there he found employment as a compositor, and immediately
became the friend of all his colleagues. One of the latter thus described
Angiolillo: "His appearance suggested the journalist rather than
the disciple of Guttenberg. His delicate hands, moreover, betrayed the
fact that he had not grown up at the 'case.' With his handsome frank face,
his soft dark hair, his alert expression, he looked the very type of the
vivacious Southerner. Angiolillo spoke Italian, Spanish, and French, but
no English; the little French I knew was not sufficient to carry on a
prolonged conversation. However, Angiolillo soon began to acquire the
English idiom; he learned rapidly, playfully, and it was not long until
he became very popular with his fellow compositors. His distinguished
and yet modest manner, and his consideration towards his colleagues, won
him the hearts of all the boys."
Angiolillo soon became familiar with the detailed accounts in the press.
He read of the great wave of human sympathy with the helpless victims
at Montjuich. On Trafalgar Square he saw with his own eyes the results
of those atrocities, when the few Spaniards, who escaped Castillo's clutches,
came to seek asylum in England. There, at the great meeting, these men
opened their shirts and showed the horrible scars of burned flesh. Angiolillo
saw, and the effect surpassed a thousand theories; the impetus was beyond
words, beyond arguments, beyond himself even.
Senor Antonio Canovas del Castillo, Prime Minister of Spain, sojourned
at Santa Agueda. As usual in such cases, all strangers were kept away
from his exalted presence. One exception was made, however, in the case
of a distinguished looking, elegantly dressed Italian the representative,
it was understood, of an important journal. The distinguished gentleman
Senor Canovas, about to leave his house, stepped on the veranda. Suddenly
Angiolillo confronted him. A shot rang out, and Canovas was a corpse.
The wife of the Prime Minister rushed upon the scene. "Murderer!
Murderer!" she cried, pointing at Angiolillo. The latter bowed. "Pardon,
Madame," he said, "I respect you as a lady, but I regret that
you were the wife of that man."
Calmly Angiolillo faced death. Death in its most terrible form for the
man whose soul was as a child's.
He was garroted. His body lay, sun-kissed, till the day hid in twilight.
And the people came, and pointing the finger of terror and fear, they
said: "There the criminal the cruel murderer."
How stupid, how cruel is ignorance! It misunderstands always, condemns
A remarkable parallel to the case of Angiolillo is to be found in the
act of Gaetano Bresci, whose ATTENTAT upon King Umberto made an American
Bresci came to this country, this land of opportunity, where one has
but to try to meet with golden success. Yes, he too would try to succeed.
He would work hard and faithfully. Work had no terrors for him, if it
would only help him to independence, manhood, self-respect.
Thus full of hope and enthusiasm he settled in Paterson, New Jersey,
and there found a lucrative job at six dollars per week in one of the
weaving mills of the town. Six whole dollars per week was, no doubt, a
fortune for Italy, but not enough to breathe on in the new country. He
loved his little home. He was a good husband and devoted father to his
BAMBINA, Bianca, whom he adored. He worked and worked for a number of
years. He actually managed to save one hundred dollars out of his six
dollars per week.
Bresci had an ideal. Foolish, I know, for a workingman to have an ideal, the
Anarchist paper published in Paterson, LA QUESTIONE SOCIALE.
Every week, though tired from work, he would help to set up the paper.
Until later hours he would assist, and when the little pioneer had exhausted
all resources and his comrades were in despair, Bresci brought cheer and
hope, one hundred dollars, the entire savings of years. That would keep
the paper afloat.
In his native land people were starving. The crops had been poor, and
the peasants saw themselves face to face with famine. They appealed to
their good King Umberto; he would help. And he did. The wives of the peasants
who had gone to the palace of the King, held up in mute silence their
emaciated infants. Surely that would move him. And then the soldiers fired
and killed those poor fools.
Bresci, at work in the weaving mill at Paterson, read of the horrible
massacre. His mental eye beheld the defenceless women and innocent infants
of his native land, slaughtered right before the good King. His soul recoiled
in horror. At night he heard the groans of the wounded. Some may have
been his comrades, his own flesh. Why, why these foul murders?
The little meeting of the Italian Anarchist group in Paterson ended almost
in a fight. Bresci had demanded his hundred dollars. His comrades begged,
implored him to give them a respite. The paper would go down if they were
to return him his loan. But Bresci insisted on its return.
How cruel and stupid is ignorance. Bresci got the money, but lost the
good will, the confidence of his comrades. They would have nothing more
to do with one whose greed was greater than his ideals.
On the twenty-ninth of July, 1900, King Umberto was shot at Monzo. The
young Italian weaver of Paterson, Gaetano Bresci, had taken the life of
the good King.
Paterson was placed under police surveillance, everyone known as an Anarchist
hounded and persecuted, and the act of Bresci ascribed to the teachings
of Anarchism. As if the teachings of Anarchism in its extremest form could
equal the force of those slain women and infants, who had pilgrimed to
the King for aid. As if any spoken word, ever so eloquent, could burn
into a human soul with such white heat as the life blood trickling drop
by drop from those dying forms. The ordinary man is rarely moved either
by word or deed; and those whose social kinship is the greatest living
force need no appeal to respond even as does steel to the magnet to
the wrongs and horrors of society.
If a social theory is a strong factor inducing acts of political violence,
how are we to account for the recent violent outbreaks in India, where
Anarchism has hardly been born. More than any other old philosophy, Hindu
teachings have exalted passive resistance, the drifting of life, the Nirvana,
as the highest spiritual ideal. Yet the social unrest in India is daily
growing, and has only recently resulted in an act of political violence,
the killing of Sir Curzon Wyllie by the Hindu, Madar Sol Dhingra.
If such a phenomenon can occur in a country socially and individually
permeated for centuries with the spirit of passivity, can one question
the tremendous, revolutionizing effect on human character exerted by great
social iniquities? Can one doubt the logic, the justice of these words:
"Repression, tyranny, and indiscriminate punishment of innocent
men have been the watchwords of the government of the alien domination
in India ever since we began the commercial boycott of English goods.
The tiger qualities of the British are much in evidence now in India.
They think that by the strength of the sword they will keep down India!
It is this arrogance that has brought about the bomb, and the more they
tyrannize over a helpless and unarmed people, the more terrorism will
grow. We may deprecate terrorism as outlandish and foreign to our culture,
but it is inevitable as long as this tyranny continues, for it is not
the terrorists that are to be blamed, but the tyrants who are responsible
for it. It is the only resource for a helpless and unarmed people when
brought to the verge of despair. It is never criminal on their part. The
crime lies with the tyrant."*
* THE FREE HINDUSTAN.
Even conservative scientists are beginning to realize that heredity
is not the sole factor moulding human character. Climate, food, occupation;
nay, color, light, and sound must be considered in the study of human
If that be true, how much more correct is the contention that great social
abuses will and must influence different minds and temperaments in a different
way. And how utterly fallacious the stereotyped notion that the teachings
of Anarchism, or certain exponents of these teachings, are responsible
for the acts of political violence.
Anarchism, more than any other social theory, values human life above
things. All Anarchists agree with Tolstoy in this fundamental truth: if
the production of any commodity necessitates the sacrifice of human life,
society should do without that commodity, but it can not do without that
life. That, however, nowise indicates that Anarchism teaches submission.
How can it, when it knows that all suffering, all misery, all ills, result
from the evil of submission?
Has not some American ancestor said, many years ago, that resistance
to tyranny is obedience to God? And he was not an Anarchist even. I would
say that resistance to tyranny is man's highest ideal. So long as tyranny
exists, in whatever form, man's deepest aspiration must resist it as inevitably
as man must breathe.
Compared with the wholesale violence of capital and government, political
acts of violence are but a drop in the ocean. That so few resist is the
strongest proof how terrible must be the conflict between their souls
and unbearable social iniquities.
High strung, like a violin string, they weep and moan for life, so relentless,
so cruel, so terribly inhuman. In a desperate moment the string breaks.
Untuned ears hear nothing but discord. But those who feel the agonized
cry understand its harmony; they hear in it the fulfillment of the most
compelling moment of human nature.
Such is the psychology of political violence.