The Beast of Communism.

The Beast of Communism.

[Liberty, March 27, 1886.]

Henri Rochefort is reported to have said in an interview the other day: Anarchists are merely criminals. They are robbers. They want no government whatever, so that, when they meet you on the street, they can knock you down and rob you. This infamous and libellous charge is a very sweeping one; I only wish that I could honestly meet it with as sweeping a denial. And I can, if I restrict the word Anarchist as it always has been restricted in these columns, and as it ought to be restricted everywhere and always. Confining the word Anarchist so as to include none but those who deny all external authority over the individual, whether that of the present State or that of some industrial collectivity or commune which the future may produce, I can look Henri Rochefort in the face and say: You lie! For of all these men I do not recall even one who, in any ordinary sense of the term, can be justly styled a robber.(146 ¶ 1)

But unfortunately, in the minds of the people at large, this word Anarchist is not yet thus restricted in meaning. This is due principally to the fact that within a few years the word has been usurped, in the face of all logic and consistency, by a party of Communists who believe in a tyranny worse than any that now exists, who deny to the laborer the individual possession of his product, and who preach to their followers the following doctrine: Private property is your enemy; it is the beast that is devouring you; all wealth belongs to everybody; take it wherever you can find it; have no scruples about the means of taking it; use dynamite, the dagger, or the torch to take it; kill innocent people to take it; but, at all events, take it. This is the doctrine which they call Anarchy, and this policy they dignify with the name of propagandism by the deed.(146 ¶ 2)

Well, it has borne fruit with most horrible fecundity. To be sure, it has gained a large mass of adherents, especially in the Western cities, who are well-meaning men and women, not yet become base enough to practise the theories which they profess to have adopted. But it has also developed, and among its immediate and foremost supporters, a gang of criminals whose deeds for the past two years rival in pure cussedness any to be found in the history of crime. Were it not, therefore, that I have first, last, and always repudiated these pseudo-Anarchists and their theories, I should hang my head in shame before Rochefort’s charge at having to confess that too many of them are not only robbers, but incendiaries and murderers. But, knowing as I do that no real Anarchist has any part or lot in these infamies, I do not confess the facts with shame, but reiterate them with righteous wrath and indignation, in the interest of my cause, for the protection of its friends, and to save the lives and possessions of any more weak and innocent persons from being wantonly destroyed or stolen by cold-blooded villains parading in the mask of reform.(146 ¶ 3)

Yes, the time has come to speak. It is even well-nigh too late. Within the past fortnight a young mother and her baby boy have been burned to death under circumstances which suggest to me the possibility that, had I made this statement sooner, their lives would have been saved; and, as I now write these lines, I fairly shudder at the thought that they may not reach the public and the interested parties before some new holocaust has added to the number of those who have already fallen victims. Others who know the facts, well-meaning editors of leading journals of so-called Communistic Anarchism, may, from a sense of mistaken party fealty, bear longer the fearful responsibility of silence, if they will; for one I will not, cannot. I will take the other responsibility of exposure, which responsibility I personally and entirely assume, although the step is taken after conference upon its wisdom and with some of the most trusted and active Anarchists in America.(146 ¶ 4)

Now, then, the facts. And they are facts, though I state them generally, without names, dates, or details.(146 ¶ 5)

The main fact is this: that for nearly two years a large number of the most active members of the German Group of the international Working People’s Association in New York City, and of the Social Revolutionary Club, another German organization in that city, have been persistently engaged in getting money by insuring their property for amounts far in excess of the real value thereof, secretly removing everything that they could, setting fire to the premises, swearing to heavy losses, and exacting corresponding sums from the insurance companies. Explosion of kerosene lamps is usually the device which they employ. Some seven or eight fires, at least, of this sort were set in New York and Brooklyn in 1884 by members of the gang, netting the beneficiaries an aggregate profit of thousands of dollars. In 1885 nearly twenty more were set, with equally profitable results. The record for 1886 has reached six already, if not more. The business has been carried on with the most astonishing audacity. One of these men had his premises insured, fired them, and presented his bill of loss to the company within twenty-four hours after getting his policy, and before the agent had reported the policy to the company. The bill was paid, and a few months later the same fellow, under another name, played the game over again, though not quite so speedily. In one of the fires set in 1885 a woman and two children were burned to death. The two guilty parties in this case were members of the Bohemian Group and are now serving life sentences in prison. Another of the fires was started in a six-story tenement house, endangering the lives of hundreds, but fortunately injuring no one but the incendiary. In one case in 1886 the firemen have saved two women whom they found clinging to their bed-posts in a half-suffocated condition. In another a man, woman, and baby lost their lives. Three members of the gang are now in jail awaiting trial for murdering and robbing an old woman in Jersey City. Two others are in jail under heavy bail and awaiting trial for carrying concealed weapons and assaulting an officer. They were walking arsenals, and were found under circumstances which lead to the suspicion that they were about to perpetrate a robbery, if not a murder.(146 ¶ 6)

The profits accruing from this propagandism by deed are not even used for the benefit of the movement to which the criminals belong, but go to fill their own empty pockets, and are often spent in reckless, riotous living. The guilty parties are growing bolder and bolder, and, anticipating detection ultimately, a dozen or so of them have agreed to commit perjury in order to involve the innocent as accomplices in their crimes. It is their boast that the active Anarchists shall all go to the gallows together.(146 ¶ 7)

It is only fair to John Most, editor of the Freiheit, to say that he had nothing to do with originating the plots of these criminals, and for a long time was unaware of what was going on; but it is none the less true that, after he was made aware of these acts, he not only refused to repudiate them, but persisted in retaining as his right-hand men some of the worst of the gang. The facts have been coming to light one by one for some time, and the knowledge of them has been a torture to all decent men who have had any connection with the Communists. Justus Schwab, who is an exceptionally honest man, sickened long ago. He abandoned the business management of the Freiheit, summarily ejected all the criminals from his saloon with a warning not to visit it again, and served notice on his friend Most that he (Most) must entirely sever his connection with the villains or he (Schwab) would sever his connection with him. Thus called upon to choose, Most elected to lose Schwab and keep the criminals as his lieutenants. Perhaps he was too dependent on them to do otherwise. Now Schwab is posted in the Freiheit as a man with whom no Socialist should have anything to do. An erroneous conception of party duty has kept Schwab quiet so far as the public are concerned. I trust he will realize ere long that he cannot truly serve his party in any such way. It is high time that he threw off this yoke of party loyalty and spoke out like a man.(146 ¶ 8)

One of the most astonishing features of this abominable business has been the blindness of the police, the press, and the insurance companies. Although in a number of cases the criminals have been detected and arrested, the fact that these men all belong to one or two organizations and are acting in accordance with a course agreed upon has not dawned upon the mind of any detective or reporter, although it is an open secret among the German-speaking Socialists of New York. So far as the authorities or the newspapers have hitherto suspected, each of these offences is simply an isolated case of crime. How vigilantly our lives and possessions are protected by this government of ours! One would think that the interests of the insurance companies would prompt them at least to greater vigilance. But they have been as blind as the rest, and paid this extraordinary series of losses seemingly without a question.(146 ¶ 9)

The attempt will doubtless be made in some quarters to vindicate these horrors as so many revolutionary acts. It will fail. Private greed and popular vengeance have nothing in common. Even so rigid a Communistic journal as La Révolté pointed out some time ago that the Revolution can have no solidarity with thieves. It was one thing to kill the Czar of Russia; it is quite another to kill and rob an innocent old woman; it was one thing for the striking miners of Decazeville to take the life of the superintendent who had entered into a conspiracy with the corporation to reduce the miners’ wages in consideration of a percentage, it is a far different thing for lazy, selfish, cowardly brutes to set fire to a tenement house containing hundreds of human beings. There are certain things which circumstances justify; there are certain others which all lofty human instincts condemn. To the latter class belong these deeds of John Most’s followers.(146 ¶ 10)

John Most has a great deal to say about the beast of property. Property as it now exists, backed by legal privilege, is unquestionably a horrible monster, causing untold and universal suffering; but I doubt if it can equal in essential cruelty the act of a father who will insure the lives of his wife and boy and conspire to cause their death that he may fill his pockets with a few paltry dollars. Of such acts as that the Beast of Communism seems to have a monopoly.(146 ¶ 11)

In conclusion, I appeal to every honorable newspaper in America to lay these facts before its readers, placing the blame where it belongs and distinguishing the innocent from the guilty. And especially do I address the Anarchistic press. Every Anarchistic journal ought to copy this exposure and send it forth with the stamp of its approval. The cause is entering upon a serious crisis. The malicious and the ignorant will do their utmost to damage it. Much will depend upon the promptness with which good men and true separate themselves from common criminals. He who is not against their crimes is for them.(146 ¶ 12)