Liberty and Violence.

Liberty and Violence.

[Liberty, May 22, 1886.]

The recent bomb-throwing at Chicago opens the whole question of the advisability of armed revolution. The right to resist oppression by violence is beyond doubt; it is only the policy of exercising this right that Anarchists at this juncture have to consider. In Liberty’s view but one thing can justify its exercise on any large scale,—namely, the denial of free thought, free speech, and a free press. Even then its exercise would be unwise unless suppression were enforced so stringently that all other means of throwing it off had become hopeless. Bloodshed in itself is pure loss. When we must have freedom of agitation, and when nothing but bloodshed will secure it, then bloodshed is wise. But it must be remembered that it can never accomplish the Social Revolution proper; that that can never be accomplished except by means of agitation, investigation, experiment, and passive resistance; and that, after all the bloodshed, we shall be exactly where we were before, except in our possession of the power to use these means.(149 ¶ 1)

One thing the Chicago bomb-thrower established emphatically,—the superiority of dynamite to the Winchester rifle. No riot has occurred in this country in which so many policemen were killed and wounded at one time as by this single bomb; at least, so I am informed. As a true terrorist, the bomb-thrower made but one mistake,—in choosing a time when a crowd of working people were gathered upon whom the police could wreak their vengeance. If it becomes necessary to vindicate free speech by force, the work will have to consist of a series of acts of individual dynamiters. The days of armed revolution have gone by. It is too easily put down. On this point I may quote an instructive extract from a private letter written to me by Dr. Joseph H. Swain, of San Francisco, a few days before the Chicago troubles broke out:(149 ¶ 2)

For two or three weeks we have had labor orators from Oregon, Washington Territory, Colorado, Kansas, etc. They tell us that we are behind. In the places named labor societies are being organized and armed with Winchester rifles, while, as one of the fire-eaters said, we of San Francisco are not prepared to even lift a toothpick in a contest with capital. They claim there are many men already prepared for the coming conflict, and in Denver many women,—I think seventy,—all of whom are expert riflemen. They are urging the Socialists here to do the same. There is a good deal of secrecy. Some time ago it was said that the Knights of Labor Executive Committee ordered the local bodies to cease adding members or to go slow, the reason given being that men were joining before they understood the objects of the order. I think it was because revolutionists were joining. These men say that the Knights in the above States are Socialists. I think the trouble on the Gould line was caused by these revolutionary Knights. Powderly is a good fellow, but doesn’t understand the labor problem. He thinks the Knights could make money running Gould’s railroad. One orator said revolutions started in conservative reform bodies, but soon the radicals took them out of their hands. The Socialists would do the same with this movement of the Knights. He said the Anarchists in Chicago were pretty good fellows. They predict an uprising within a year. I think there is great activity among these advocates of armed resistance. Their statement is that they must be armed to command the respect of the capitalists and to prevent an attack. Like Grant, they will have peace if they have to fight for it,—the peace of Warsaw. Which means, if they are armed, they can seize a railroad, and the owners won’t dare to resist. As one speaker from Kansas said last night, the strikers had a right to prevent others from taking their places, for they had acquired a labor title to the road,—i.e., were owners as well as the capitalists. He did not use the term labor title, but that was the idea. Of course, then, they will justify themselves in seizing the railroad, their property. If a conflict is precipitated it will be a severe blow to Liberty, and the fellows will find what fools they are, or were. They forget that it is brains, skill, long training, knowledge, and natural fitness that win in a contest of arms; that the men so qualified are in the service of capital, and that they will lead other working-men against these undisciplined bodies, so that workingmen will shoot down each other. Fatal error, to think they can intimidate the capitalists, who are mostly men of courage and superior to the masses, and as sincere in their opinions as to their rights to the property they control. Then, the rebels will be in small bodies and unable to concentrate, for the authorities will hold the depots and use trains, if they are run at all, to concentrate troops at given points, which the rebels will be unable to reach. This will afford the capitalists excuse for a strong government, and progress will be retarded. The net gain will be money in the pockets of manufacturers of guns and other war munitions, and a strong government, with loss incalculable to the workers, who will lose some of the liberty they now have, and have to pay the cost of the war. If I could control the men in all these labor organizations, I could, without even lifting a toothpick other than to write with it, in a perfectly quiet way, bring capital to its knees; or, if I thought it just and wise, force proprietors to sell their property at cost, or less. A resort to arms is suicidal to the side that initiates it. Moral force once clearly perceived as a social principle will be found to yield inexhaustible working power to defend natural rights. The simplicity of the thing is so apparent when you once strike a true lead that all brute force would cease. What a glorious chance the Irish had to rid themselves of landlords and politicians! Had the no-rent policy been adhered to one year, the landlords would have been beggared. The price of land would have been discovered to have its only basis in monopoly, seizure, legal title. One such success would have opened the eyes of all civilized men to the weakness of brute force in a contest with moral force, and would have shown the ease with which governments could be rendered powerless. What a fraud and shadow they are, terrible only to childish men! If there were a God, he would never forgive Parnell and the priests for furling the no-rent banner. If we could get but one such illustration of passive resistance on a large scale, Anarchy would be an accomplished fact.(149 ¶ 3)

I can add nothing to these wise words, nor can I make plainer their valuable lesson.(149 ¶ 4)

Leaving now our consideration of the actual throwing of the bomb, surrounding which, as I said, there is some doubt, let us glance a moment at what has happened since, regarding which there can be no doubt. The conduct during the last fortnight of the police, the courts, the pulpit, and the press, including many of the labor organs themselves, has been shameful in the extreme. Mammon’s priests have foamed at the mouth; the servants of Plutus who sit in editorial chairs have forthed at the point of the pen; the stalwart graduates of the slums who are licensed and paid to swing shillalahs over the heads of unoffending citizens have shrieked for vengeance; and wearers of judicial ermine on which there is room for no new spots have virtually declared their determination to know no bounds of right, mercy, or decency in dealing with any Anarchist who may be brought before them. Spies and Fielden have been arrested and held for murder, though they are not known to have done anything worse than to speak their minds; nearly every one in Chicago who has dared to avow himself an Anarchist has been clapped into jail, and those who reach that haven without a broken head deem themselves peculiarly fortunate; houses have been broken into and searched by wholesale; the Arbeiter Zeitung and the Alarm, and for aught I know, the Budoucnost, have been suppressed without a shadow of natural or legal right; to be a German is to be looked upon with suspicion, and to be a Pole or Bohemian is to be afraid to show one’s head; and it has become exceedingly unsafe for the most respectable of men to stand upon the streets of Chicago and question the superiority of existing social and political systems to the Utopia of Sir Thomas More. Talk about the Communists being madmen! The authorities and their mouthpieces are the real madmen now. One would think that the throwing of this bomb was the first act of violence ever committed under the sun. These lunatics seem to forget that they are the representatives and champions of a standing régime of violence,—a régime which is a perpetual menace levelled at every one who dares to claim his liberty; a régime which ties the hands of laborers while a band of licensed robbers called capitalists picks their pockets. How can they expect aught but violence from their victims? The fact is, there are two ways of inciting the suffering classes to violence: one is that of the so-called revolutionists, who directly advise them to use force; the other, and by far the more dangerous, is that of the so-called friends of order who try to leave them no other hope than force. These two parties, though outwardly opposed, really play into each other’s hands, to the damage of the real revolutionists and the real friends of order, who know that force settles nothing, and that no question is ever settled until it is settled right. Just as truly as Liberty is the mother of order, is the State the mother of violence.(149 ¶ 5)