General Walker and the Anarchists.

General Walker and the Anarchists.[19]

[Liberty, November 19, 1887.]

Ladies and Gentlemen:—Some four years ago I had occasion to write a criticism of a work then new,—Professor Ely’s French and German Socialism in Modern Times,—and I began it with these paragraphs:(127 ¶ 1)

It is becoming the fashion in these days for the parsons who are hired, either directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, to whitewash the sins of the plutocrats, and for the professors who are hired, either directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, to educate the sons of the plutocrats to continue in the transgressions of their fathers,—it is becoming the fashion for these to preach sermons, deliver lectures, or write books on Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, and the various other phases of the modern labor movement. So general, indeed, has become the practice that any one of them who has not done something in this line begins to feel a vague sense of delinquency in the discharge of his obligations to his employer, and consequently scarce a week passes that does not inflict upon a suffering public from these gentlemen some fresh clerical or professorial analysis, classification, interpretation, and explanation of the ominous overhanging social clouds which conceal the thunderbolt that, unless the light of Liberty and Equity dissipates them in time, is to destroy their masters’ houses.(127 ¶ 2)

The attitudes assumed are as various as the authors are numerous. Some are as lowering as the clouds themselves; others as beaming as the noonday sun. One would annihilate with the violence of his fulminations; another would melt with the warmth of his flattery and the persuasiveness of conciliation. These foolishly betray their spirit of hatred by threats and denunciation; those shrewdly conceal it behind fine words and honeyed phrases. The latest manifestation coming to our notice is of the professedly disinterested order. Richard T. Ely, associate professor of political economy in the Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore and lecturer on political economy in Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y., comes to the front with a small volume on French and German Socialism in Modern Times, the chapters of which, now somewhat rewritten, were originally so many lectures to the students under his charge, and substantially (not literally) announces himself as follows: Attention! Behold! I am come to do a service to the friends of law and order by expounding the plans and purposes of the honest but mistaken enemies of law and order. But, whereas nearly all my predecessors in this field have been unfair and partial, I intend to be fair and impartial. And we are bound to say that this pretence has been maintained so successfully throughout the book that it can hardly fail to mislead every reader who has not in advance the good fortune to know more than the author about his subject.(127 ¶ 3)

I quote these paragraphs at the beginning of this paper, because I was forcibly reminded of them on reading the other day in the Boston Post a long and very interesting report of an address on Anarchism and Socialism, delivered the previous evening before the Trinity Club of this city by General Francis A. Walker, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The tone of the address, like that of Professor Ely’s book, was seemingly so fair; there was such an apparent effort to carefully discriminate between the different schools of Socialism, and to bestow words of praise wherever, in the speaker’s judgment, such were deserved; and a disposition was so frankly exhibited to find important elements of truth in Socialistic teachings,—that I myself, usually so wary and so doubtful of the possibility of any good issuing from the Nazareth of orthodox political economy, was misled, not indeed into acquiescence in the speaker’s errors, which were many and egregious, but into a belief in his honesty of purpose and his genuine desire to understand his opponents and represent them accurately. This man, said I to myself, is ready to be set right.(127 ¶ 4)

So I wrote him a letter, asking the privilege of an hour’s interview. The request was phrased as politely as my knowledge of English and of the requirements of courtesy would permit. I congratulated General Walker on his evident disposition to be fair, but hinted as delicately as I could that certain things had escaped him and certain others have misled him. I assured him that I had no expectation of converting him to my views, but was confident that I could give him a better understanding of Anarchism. I told him that, if necessary, I would give him references among the foremost Socialists of America as to my competency to accurately represent Anarchism, and added that for three years I was a regular student in the educational institution of which he is now at the head.(127 ¶ 5)

A day or two later I received this reply:(127 ¶ 6)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology,

Boston, October 27, 1887.

Dear Sir:—Your letter of the 25th inst. is received.(127 ¶ 7)

I regret that I have not time to go into the subject of Anarchism, as you propose. The report of my speech before the Trinity Club, on the 24th, was altogether unauthorized. I was assured that I was addressing a private club, informally; and, at the last, only assented to the title of the lecture being mentioned.(127 ¶ 8)

I dare say the report was also incorrect. Such reports generally are. I have not read it.(127 ¶ 9)

Respectfully yours,

Francis A. Walker

This letter completely dissolved my illusion. It showed me at once that General Walker’s fairness, like that of his brother economist, Professor Ely, lay entirely on the surface,—the only difference between them, perhaps, being that, while Professor Ely falsified deliberately and with knowledge of the truth, General Walker spoke in ignorance, though posing as a teacher, and became a hypocrite only after the fact, by refusing to know the truth or have it pointed out to him. Here is a man, famous as an economist, with a reputation to sustain, who has time to prepare and deliver, or else to deliver without preparation, before a private club, on the uppermost and most important question of the day, an address so long that even an inadequate report of it filled a column and a half of the Boston Post, but has not one hour in which to listen to proof offered in substantiation of a charge of gross error preferred against him by one who for fifteen years has made this question a subject of special study.(127 ¶ 10)

It will not do for him to plead in excuse that the Post’s report, which he has not read, may be incorrect, and that therefore the charge of error may be based on statements unwarrantably attributed to him. It so happens that it falls to my lot as a daily journalist to revise and prepare for publication reports of all descriptions to the number of several hundred a week, and in consequence I know an intelligent report when I see one as infallibly as a painter knows a good picture when he sees one. In the report in question there may be minor inaccuracies; as to that I cannot say: but as a whole it is a report of uncommon excellence and intelligence. Given a report containing a mass of errors, if these errors are the reporter’s, they will be a jumble; if, on the other hand, they bear a definite relation to each other and proceed from a common and fundamental error, it is sure that they are not the reporter’s errors, but the lecturer’s. In this case the error fallen into at the start is so consistently held to and so frequently repeated that it would be contrary to the law of chances to hold the reporter responsible for it; General Walker must answer for it himself. And as he will not listen to a private demonstration offered in a friendly spirit, I am compelled to submit him to a public demonstration offered in a somewhat antagonistic spirit.(127 ¶ 11)

What, then, is the fundamental error into which General Walker falls? It is this,—that, in trying, as he claims, to set Anarchism before his hearers as it is seen by its most intelligent advocates, he discriminates between men of whom he instances Prince Kropotkine as typical, as intelligent exponents of scientific Anarchy on the one hand, and, on the other hand, men like the seven under sentence at Chicago as unintelligent, ignorant, ruffianly scoundrels, who call themselves Anarchists, but are not Anarchists.(127 ¶ 12)

Now, I perfectly agree with General Walker that the Chicago men call themselves Anarchists, but are not Anarchists. And inasmuch as my subject compels me to say something in criticism of these men’s opinions and inasmuch also as five days hence they are to die upon the gallows, victims of a tyranny as cruel, as heartless, as horrible, as blind as any that ever bloodied history’s pages, you will excuse me, I am sure, if I interrupt my argument, almost before beginning it, long enough to qualify my criticism in advance by a word of tribute and a declaration of fellowship. Instead of ruffianly scoundrels, these men are noble-hearted heroes deeply in love with order, peace, and harmony,—loving these so deeply, in fact, that they have not remained contented with any platonic affection worshipping them as ideals ever distant, but have given their lives to a determined effort to win and enjoy them to the fullest. I differ with them vitally in opinion; I disapprove utterly their methods; I dispute emphatically their Anarchism, but as brothers, as dear comrades, animated by the same love, and working, in the broad sense, in a common cause than which there never was a grander, I give them both my hands and my heart in them. Far be it from me to shirk in the slightest the solidarity that unites us. Were I to do so, for trivial ends or from ignoble fears, I should despise myself as a coward. For these brave men I have no apologies to make; I am proud of their courage, I glory in their devotion. If they shall be murdered on Friday next, I fear that the vile deed will prove fraught with consequences from which, if its perpetrators could foresee them, even they, brutes as they are, would recoil in horror and dismay.(127 ¶ 13)

I say, however, with General Walker, that these men are not Anarchists, though they call themselves so. But if I prove that Prince Kropotkine agrees with them exactly, both as to the form of social organization to be striven for and as to the methods by which to strive for and sustain it, I show thereby that, as they are not Anarchists, he is not one, that General Walker’s discrimination is therefore a false one, and that, in making it, he showed utter ignorance of the nature of Anarchism proper. Now, precisely that I propose to prove.(127 ¶ 14)

To this end the first question to be asked is: What is the Socialistic creed of the Chicago men? It is a very simple one, consisting of two articles: 1, that all natural wealth and products of labor should be held in common, produced by each according to his powers and distributed to each according to his needs, through the administrative mechanism and under the administrative control of workingmen’s societies organized by trades; 2, that every individual should have perfect liberty in all things except the liberty to produce for himself and to exchange with his neighbors outside the channels of the prescribed mechanism. Not stopping to consider here how much any liberties would be worth without the liberty to produce and exchange, I proceed to the second question. How do the Chicago men propose that their creed shall be realized? The answer to this is simpler still, consisting of but one article: that the working people should arm themselves, rise in revolution, forcibly expropriate every proprietor, and then form the necessary workingmen’s societies, whose first duty should be to feed, clothe, and shelter the masses out of the common stock, whose second duty should be to organize production for the renewal of the stock, and whose third duty should be to suppress by whatever heroic measures all rebellious individuals who should at any time practically assert their right to produce and exchange for themselves. The literature circulated by this school is now so well known that I do not need to make quotations from it to show that its teachings are as I have stated. I assume that this will not be disputed. It remains to consider whether Kropotkine’s teachings materially differ from them. I claim that they do not, and, as Kropotkine’s writings are less familiar to Americans, it is necessary to prove this claim by quotations. His chief work is written in French, a volume of some 350 pages entitled Paroles d’un Révolté (Words of a Rebel). The title of the closing chapter is Expropriation. From that chapter I now translate and quote as follows:(127 ¶ 15)

We have to put an end to the iniquities, the vices, the crimes which result from the idle existence of some and the economic, intellectual, and moral servitude of others. The problem is an immense one. But, since past centuries have left this problem to our generation; since we find ourselves under the historical necessity of working for its complete solution,—we must accept the task. Moreover, we are no longer obliged to grope in the dark for the solution. It has been imposed upon us by history, simultaneously with the problem; it has been and is being stated boldly in all European countries, and it sums up the economic and intellectual development of our century. It is Expropriation; it is Anarchy.(127 ¶ 16)

If social wealth remains in the hands of the few who possess it to-day; if the workshop, the dockyard, and the factory remain the property of the employer; if the railways, the means of transportation, continue in the hands of the companies and the individuals who have monopolized them; if the houses of the cities as well as the country-seats of the lords remain in possession of their actual proprietors, instead of being placed, from the beginning of the revolution, at the gratuitous disposition of all laborers; if all accumulated treasure, whether in the banks or in the houses of the wealthy, does not immediately go back to the collectivity—since all have contributed to produce it; if the insurgent people do not take possession of all the goods and provisions amassed in the great cities and do not organize to put them within the reach of all who need them; if the land, finally, remains the property of the bankers and usurers,—to whom it belongs to-day, in fact, if not in law,—and if the great tracts of real estate are not taken away from the great proprietors, to be put within the reach of all who wish to labor on the soil; if, further, there is established a governing class to dictate to a governed class,—the insurrection will not be a revolution, and everything will have to be begun over again.…(127 ¶ 17)

Expropriation,—that, then, is the watchword which is imposed upon the next revolution, under penalty of failing in its historic mission. The complete expropriation of all who have the means of exploiting human beings. The return to common ownership by the nation of all that can serve in the hands of any one for the exploitation of others.(127 ¶ 18)

This extract covers all the doctrines of the Chicago men, does it not? That it covers common property and distribution according to needs no one can question. That it covers the denial of the right of individual production and exchange is equally clear. Kropotkine says, it is true, that he would allow the individual to access the land; but as he proposes to strip him of capital entirely, and as he declares a few pages further on that without capital agriculture is impossible, it follows that such access is an empty privilege not at all equivalent to the liberty of individual production. But one point remains,—that of the method of expropriation by force; and if any one still feels any doubt of Kropotkine’s belief in that, let me remove it by one more quotation:(127 ¶ 19)

We must see clearly in private property what it really is, a conscious or unconscious robbery of the substance of all, and seize it joyfully for the common benefit when the hour of revendication shall strike. In all former revolutions, when it was a question of replacing a king of the elder branch by a king of the younger branch or of substituting lawyers for lawyers in the best of republics, proprietors succeeded proprietors and the social régime had not to change. Accordingly the placards, Death to robbers! which were placed at the entrance of every palace were in perfect harmony with the current morality, and many a poor devil caught touching a coin of the king, or perhaps even the bread of the baker, was shot as an example of the justice administered by the people.(127 ¶ 20)

The worthy national guard, incarnating in himself all the infamous solemnity of the laws which the monopolists had framed for the defence of their property, pointed with pride to the body stretched across the steps of the palace, and his comrades hailed him as an avenger of the law. Those placards of 1830 and 1848 will not be seen again upon the walls of insurgent cities. No robbery is possible where all belongs to all. Take and do not waste, for it is all yours, and you will need it. But destroy without delay all that should be overthrown, the bastilles and the prisons, the forts turned against the cities and the unhealthy quarters in which you have so long breathed an atmosphere charged with poison. Install yourselves in the palaces and mansions, and make a bonfire of the piles of bricks and rotten wood of which the sinks in which you have lived were constructed. The instinct of destruction, so natural and so just because it is at the same time the instinct of renovation, will find ample room for satisfaction.(127 ¶ 21)

Nothing more incendiary than that was ever uttered in the Haymarket or on the lake front at Chicago by the most rabid agitator of that volcanic city. And if further proof were needed, it could readily be found in the columns of Kropotkine’s paper, Le Révolté, in which he lately lauded to the skies as a legitimate act of propagandism the conduct of a member of his party named Duval, who, after a fashion externally indistinguishable from that of a burglar, broke into a house in Paris and plundered it, and who afterwards vindicated his course in court as deliberately entered upon in pursuance of his principles.(127 ¶ 22)

In view of these things, I submit that General Walker has no warrant whatever for referring to such men as Kropotkine as true Anarchists and among the best men in the world, while in the same breath he declares (I use his words as reported in the Post) that the mobs at the Haymarket were composed of pickpockets, housebreakers, and hoodlums, and that the ruffians who are called Anarchists who formed the mob in the Haymarket in Chicago were not Anarchists. If Kropotkine is an Anarchist, then the Chicago men are Anarchists; if the Chicago men are not Anarchists, then Kropotkine is not an Anarchist. If the Chicago men are pickpockets and housebreakers, then Kropotkine is a pickpocket and housebreaker; if Kropotkine is not a pickpocket and housebreaker, then the Chicago men are not pickpockets and housebreakers. The truth is that neither of them are housebreakers in the ordinary sense of the term, but that both of them, in advocating and executing the measures that they do, however unjustifiable, these may be from the standpoint of justice and reason, are actuated by the highest and most humane motives. And as to their Anarchism, neither of them are Anarchists. For Anarchism means absolute liberty, nothing more, nothing less. Both Kropotkine and the Chicago men deny liberty in production and exchange, the most important of all liberties,—without which, in fact, all other liberties are of no value or next to none. Both should be called, instead of Anarchists, Revolutionary Communists.(127 ¶ 23)

In making this discrimination which does not discriminate, General Walker showed that he does not know what Anarchism is. Had he known, he would have drawn his line of discrimination in a very different direction,—between real Anarchists like P. J. Proudhon, Josiah Warren, Lysander Spooner, and their followers, who believe in the liberty of production and exchange, and miscalled Anarchists like Kropotkine and the Chicago men, who deny that liberty. But of the true Anarchism he seems never to have heard. For he says:(127 ¶ 24)

All Anarchistic philosophy presumes the Communistic reorganization of society. No Anarchist claims that the principles of Anarchy can be applied to the present or capitalistic state of society. Prince Kropotkine, in common with other Anarchistic writers, claims that the next move of society will be free Communism. We must understand that Anarchism means Communism.(127 ¶ 25)

So far is this from true, that Communism was rejected and despised by the original Anarchist, Proudhon, as it has been by his followers to this day. Anarchism would to-day be utterly separate from Communism if the Jurassian Federation in Switzerland, a Communistic branch of the International, had not broken from the main body in 1873 and usurped the name of Anarchism for its own propaganda, which propaganda, having been carried on with great energy from that day to this, has given General Walker and many others an erroneous idea of Anarchism. To correct this idea we must go to the fountain-head.(127 ¶ 26)

In 1840 Proudhon published his first important work, What is Property? or, An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government. In it the following passage may be found:(127 ¶ 27)

What is to be the form of government in the future? I hear some of my younger readers reply: Why, how can you ask such a question? You are a republican.A republican! Yes; but that word specifies nothing. Res publica; that is, the public thing. Now, whoever is interested in public affairs—no matter under what form of government—may call himself a republican. Even kings are republicans.Well, you are a democrat?No.What! you would have a monarchy?No.A constitutionalist?God forbid.You are then an aristocrat?Not at all.You want a mixed government?Still less.What are you, then?I am an Anarchist.(127 ¶ 28)

Oh! I understand you; you speak satirically. This is a hit at the government.By no means. I have just given you my serious and well-considered profession of faith. Although a firm friend of order, I am (in the full force of the term) an Anarchist. Listen to me.(127 ¶ 29)

He then traces in a few pages the decline of the principle of authority, and arrives at the conclusion that, in a given society, the authority of man over man is inversely proportional to the stage of intellectual development which that society has reached; that, just as the right of force and the right of artifice retreat before the steady advance of justice, and must finally be extinguished in equality, so the sovereignty of the will yields to the sovereignty of the reason, and must at last be lost in scientific Socialism; and that, as man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in Anarchy.(127 ¶ 30)

This is the first instance on record, so far as I have been able to discover, of the use of the word Anarchy to denote, not political chaos, but the ideal form of society to which evolution tends. These words made Proudhon the father of the Anarchistic school of Socialism. His use of the word and its adoption by his followers gave it its true standing in political and scientific terminology. Proudhon, then, being the Anarchist par excellence, let us examine his attitude towards Communism in order to test thereby General Walker’s assertion that all Anarchistic philosophy presumes the Communistic reorganization of society and that Anarchism means Communism.(127 ¶ 31)

It probably will surprise many who know nothing of Proudhon save his declaration that property is robbery to learn that he was perhaps the most vigorous hater of Communism that ever lived on this planet. But the apparent inconsistency vanishes when you read his book and find that by property he means simply legally privileged wealth or the power of usury, and not at all the possession by the laborer of his products. Of such possession he was a stanch defender. Bearing this in mind, listen now to the few paragraphs which I shall read from What is Property? and which are separated only by a dozen pages from what I have already quoted from the same work:(127 ¶ 32)

I ought not to conceal the fact that property and communism have been considered always the only possible forms of society. This deplorable error has been the life of property. The disadvantages of communism are so obvious that its critics never have needed to employ much eloquence to thoroughly disgust men with it. The irreparability of the injustice which it causes, the violence which it does to attractions and repulsions, the yoke of iron which it fastens upon the will, the moral torture to which it subjects the conscience, the debilitating effect which it has upon society; and, to sum it all up, the pious and stupid uniformity which it enforces upon the free, active, reasoning, unsubmissive personality of man have shocked common sense, and condemned communism by an irrevocable decree.(127 ¶ 33)

The authorities and examples cited in its favor disprove it. The communistic republic of Plato involved slavery; that of Lycurgus employed Helots, whose duty it was to produce for their masters, thus enabling the latter to devote themselves exclusively to athletic sports and to war. Even J. J. Rousseau—confounding communism and equality—has said somewhere that, without slavery, he did not think equality of conditions possible. The communities of the early Church did not last the first century out, and soon degenerated into monasteries. In those of the Jesuits of Paraguay, the condition of the blacks is said by all travellers to be as miserable as that of slaves; and it is a fact that the good Fathers were obliged to surround themselves with ditches and walls to prevent their new converts from escaping. The followers of Babœuf—guided by a lofty horror of property rather than by any definite belief—were ruined by exaggeration of their principles; the St. Simonians, lumping communism and inequality, passed away like a masquerade. The greatest danger to which society is exposed to-day is that of another shipwreck on this rock.(127 ¶ 34)

Singularly enough, systematic communism—the deliberate negation of property—is conceived under the direct influence of the proprietary prejudice; and property is the basis of all communistic theories.(127 ¶ 35)

The members of a community, it is true, have no private property; but the community is proprietor, and proprietor not only of the goods, but of the persons and wills. In consequence of this principle of absolute property, labor, which should be only a condition imposed upon man by Nature, becomes in all communities a human commandment, and therefore odious. Passive obedience, irreoncilable with a reflecting will, is strictly enforced. Fidelity to regulations, which are always defective, however wise they may be thought, allows of no complaint. Life, talent, and all the human faculties are the property of the State, which has the right to use them as it pleases for the common good. Private associations are sternly prohibited, in spite of the likes and dislikes of different natures, because to tolerate them would be to introduce small communities within the large one, and consequently private property; the strong work for the weak, although this ought to be left to benevolence, and not enforced, advised, or enjoined; the industrious work for the lazy, although this is unjust; the clever work for the foolish, although this is absurd; and, finally, man—casting aside his personality, his spontaneity, his genius, and his affections—humbly annihilates himself at the feet of the majestic and inflexible Commune!(127 ¶ 36)

Communism is inequality, but not as property is. Property is the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In property, inequality of conditions is the result of force, under whatever name it be disguised: physical and mental force; force of events, chance, fortune; force of accumulated property, etc. In communism, inequality springs from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence. This damaging equation is repellent to the conscience, and causes merit to complain; for, although it may be the duty of the strong to aid the weak, they prefer to do it out of generosity,—they never will endure a comparison. Give them equal opportunities of labor, and equal wages, but never allow their jealousy to be awakened by mutual suspicion of unfaithfulness in the performance of the common task.(127 ¶ 37)

Communism is oppression and slavery. Man is very willing to obey the law of duty, serve his country, and oblige his friends; but he wishes to labor when he pleases, where he pleases, and as much as he pleases. He wishes to dispose of his own time, to be governed only by necessity, to choose his friendships, his recreation, and his discipline; to act from judgment, not by command; to sacrifice himself through selfishness, not through servile obligation. Communism is essentially opposed to the free exercise of our faculties, to our noblest desires, to our deepest feelings. Any plan which could be devised for reconciling it with the demands of the individual reason and will would end only in changing the thing while preserving the name. Now, if we are honest truth-seekers, we shall avoid disputes about words.(127 ¶ 38)

Thus, communism violates the sovereignty of the conscience, and equality; the first, by restricting spontaneity of mind and heart, and freedom of thought and action; the second, by placing labor and laziness, skill and stupidity, and even vice and virtue on an equality in point of comfort. For the rest, if property is impossible on account of the desire to accumulate, communism would soon become so through the desire to shirk.(127 ¶ 39)

This extract sufficiently disposes of General Walker’s claim. He probably has never read it. In fact, I should judge from his address to the Trinity Club that his sole knowledge of Anarchism was derived from one very mild article written by Prince Kropotkine for the Nineteenth Century. I think I have proven what I started to prove,—that his discriminations between Anarchists have no existence outside of his own imagination, and that he knows next to nothing of this subject, upon which he professes to teach others. His addressed contained a number of other errors which I might as easily expose, had not this paper already extended beyond the limits originally set for it. Time also forbids me to explain the true idea of Anarchism. That I must leave for some future occasion. The lesson that I have endeavored to teach to-day I find stated by General Walker. He says: Even our public speakers themselves exhibit a gross ignorance of the principles of Anarchism and Socialism as they are held by large bodies of intelligent men. Of all his remarks to the Trinity Club, that was nearly the only one the truth of which he succeeded in establishing; and that one he established, not by argument, but by the object-teacher’s method of personal illustration and example.(127 ¶ 40)

127 n. 1. An address delivered before the Boston Anarchists’ Club on November 6, 1887.