SO ENCHANTING WAS the vision of a stateless society, without government, without law, without ownership of property, in which, corrupt institutions having been swept away, man would be free to be good as God intended him, that six heads of state were assassinated for its sake in the twenty years before 1914. They were President Carnot of France in 1894, Premier Canovas of Spain in 1897, Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898, King Humbert of Italy in 1900, President McKinley of the United States in 1901, and another Premier of Spain, Canalejas, in 1912. Not one could qualify as a tyrant. Their deaths were the gestures of desperate or deluded men to call attention to the Anarchist idea.
No single individual was the hero of the movement that swallowed up these lives. The Idea was its hero. It was, as a historian of revolt has called it, “a daydream of desperate romantics.” It had its theorists and thinkers, men of intellect, sincere and earnest, who loved humanity. It also had its tools, the little men whom misfortune or despair or the anger, degradation and hopelessness of poverty made susceptible to the Idea until they became possessed by it and were driven to act. These became the assassins. Between the two groups there was no contact. The thinkers in press and pamphlet constructed marvelous paper models of the Anarchist millennium; poured out tirades of hate and invective upon the ruling class and its despised ally, the bourgeoisie; issued trumpet calls for action, for a “propaganda of the deed” to accomplish the enemy’s overthrow. Whom were they calling? What deed were they asking for? They did not say precisely. Unknown to them, down in the lower depths of society lonely men were listening. They heard echoes of the tirades and the trumpets and caught a glimpse of the shining millennium that promised a life without hunger and without a boss. Suddenly one of them, with a sense of injury or a sense of mission, would rise up, go out and kill—and sacrifice his own life on the altar of the Idea.
They came from the warrens of the poor, where hunger and dirt were king, where consumptives coughed and the air was thick with the smell of latrines, boiling cabbage and stale beer, where babies wailed and couples screamed in sudden quarrels, where roofs leaked and unmended windows let in the cold blasts of winter, where privacy was unimaginable, where men, women, grandparents and children lived together, eating, sleeping, fornicating, defecating, sickening and dying in one room, where a teakettle served as a wash boiler between meals, old boxes served as chairs, heaps of foul straw as beds, and boards propped across two crates as tables, where sometimes not all the children in a family could go out at one time because there were not enough clothes to go round, where decent families lived among drunkards, wife-beaters, thieves and prostitutes, where life was a seesaw of unemployment and endless toil, where a cigar-maker and his wife earning 13 cents an hour worked seventeen hours a day seven days a week to support themselves and three children, where death was the only exit and the only extravagance and the scraped savings of a lifetime would be squandered on a funeral coach with flowers and a parade of mourners to ensure against the anonymity and last ignominy of Potter’s Field.
The Anarchists believed that with Property, the monarch of all evil, eliminated, no man could again live off the labour of another and human nature would be released to seek its natural level of justice among men. The role of the State would be replaced by voluntary cooperation among individuals and the role of the law by the supreme law of the general welfare. To this end no reform of existing social evils through vote or persuasion was of any use, for the ruling class would never give up its property or the powers and laws which protected ownership of property. Therefore, the necessity of violence. Only revolutionary overturn of the entire malignant existing system would accomplish the desired result. Once the old structure was in rubble, a new social order of utter equality and no authority, with enough of everything for everybody, would settle smilingly upon the earth. So reasonable seemed the proposition that once apprised of it the oppressed classes could not fail to respond. The Anarchist task was to awaken them to the Idea by propaganda of the word and of the Deed, and one day, one such deed would flash the signal for revolt.
During the first and formulative period of Anarchism, beginning around the time of the revolutionary year 1848, its two major prophets were Pierre Proudhon of France and his disciple, Michael Bakunin, a Russian exile who became the active leader of the movement.
“Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me,” Proudhon proclaimed, “is a usurper and a tyrant; I declare him to be my enemy.… Government of man by man is slavery” and its laws are “cobwebs for the rich and chains of steel for the poor.” The “highest perfection” for free society is no government, to which Proudhon was the first to give the name “An-archy.” He excoriated government in a passion of contempt. “To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, ruled, censored, by persons who have neither wisdom nor virtue. It is every action and transaction to be registered, stamped, taxed, patented, licensed, assessed, measured, reprimanded, corrected, frustrated. Under pretext of the public good it is to be exploited, monopolized, embezzled, robbed and then, at the least protest or word of complaint, to be fined, harassed, vilified, beaten up, bludgeoned, disarmed, judged, condemned, imprisoned, shot, garroted, deported, sold, betrayed, swindled, deceived, outraged, dishonored. That’s government, that’s its justice, that’s its morality! And imagine that among us there are democrats who believe government to be good, socialists who in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity support this ignominy, proletarians who offer themselves candidates for President of the Republic! What hypocrisy!”
Proudhon believed that the “abstract idea of right” would obviate the need of revolution and man would be persuaded to adopt the stateless society through reason. What Bakunin added, learning from Russia under Nicholas I, was the necessity of violent revolution. As opposed to his rival, Karl Marx, who maintained that revolution would come only from an industrial proletariat, organized and trained for the task, Bakunin believed that immediate revolution could explode in one of the more economically backward countries—Italy, Spain or Russia—where the workers, though untrained, unorganized and illiterate, with no understanding of their own wants, would be ready to rise because they had nothing to lose. The task of the conscientious revolutionist was to popularize the Idea among the masses, hitherto bound in ignorance and prejudice by the ruling class. It was necessary to make them conscious of their own wants and “evoke” from them thoughts to match their impulses, thoughts of revolt. When this happened the workers would know their own will and then “their power will be irresistible.” Bakunin, however, lost control of the First International to Marx, who believed in organization.
There was an inherent paradox within the body of Anarchism that frustrated progress. Anarchism rejected the political party, which Proudhon had called a mere “variety of absolutism”; yet to bring about a revolution it was necessary to submit to authority, organization and discipline. Whenever Anarchists met to prepare a program, this terrible necessity rose up to face them. Loyal to their Idea, they rejected it. Revolution would burst from the masses spontaneously. All that was needed was the Idea—and a spark.
Each strike or bread riot or local uprising the Anarchist hoped—and the capitalist feared—might be the spark. Mme Hennebau, the manager’s wife in Zola’s Germinal, watching the march of the striking miners under the bloody gleam of the setting sun, saw “the red vision of revolution that on some sombre evening at the end of the century would carry everything away. Yes, on that evening the people, unbridled at last, would make the blood of the middle class flow,… in a thunder of boots the same terrible troop, with their dirty skins and tainted breath, would sweep away the old world.… Fires would flame, there would be nothing left, not a sou of the great fortunes, not a title deed of acquired properties.”
Yet each time, as when Zola’s miners faced the guns of the gendarmerie, the spark was stamped out. The magic moment when the masses would awaken to their wants and their power did not come. The Paris Commune flared and died in 1871 and failed to signal a general insurrection. “We reckoned without the masses who did not want to be roused to passion for their own freedom,” wrote Bakunin, disillusioned, to his wife. “This passion being absent what good did it do us to have been right theoretically? We were powerless.” He despaired of saving the world and died, disillusioned, in 1876, a Columbus, as Alexander Herzen said, without America.
Meanwhile in his native land his ideas took root in the Narodniki, or Populists, otherwise the Party of the People’s Will, founded in 1879. Because of communal use of land peculiar to the Russian peasant, reformers worshipped the peasant as a natural Socialist who needed only the appearance of a Messiah to be awakened from his lethargy and impelled upon the march to revolution. The bomb was to be the Messiah. “Terrorist activity,” stated the Narodniki program, “consisting in destroying the most harmful person in government, aims to undermine the prestige of the government and arouse in this manner the revolutionary spirit of the people and their confidence in the success of the cause.”
In 1881 the Narodniki struck a blow that startled the world: they assassinated the Czar, Alexander II. It was a triumphant coup, equal, they imagined, to the battering down of the Bastille. It would shout aloud their protest, summon the oppressed and terrorize the oppressors. Instead it ushered in reaction. The dead Czar, whose crown may have been the symbol of autocracy but who in person was the “Liberator” of the serfs, was mourned by the peasants, who believed “the gentry had murdered the Czar to get back the land.” His ministers opened a campaign of savage repression, the public, abandoning all thoughts of reform, acquiesced, and the revolutionary movement, “broken and demoralized, withdrew into the conspirators’ cellar.” There Anarchism’s first period came to an end.
Before the movement burst into renewed bloom in the nineties, a single terrible event which enlarged the stature of Anarchism took place, not in Europe, but in America, in the city of Chicago. There in August, 1886, eight Anarchists were sentenced by Judge Joseph Gary to be hanged for the murder of seven police killed on the previous May 4 by a bomb hurled into the midst of an armed police force who were about to break up a strikers’ meeting in Haymarket Square.
The occasion was the climax of a campaign for the eight-hour day, which in itself was the climax of a decade of industrial war centering on Chicago. In every clash the employers fought with the forces of law—police, militia and courts—as their allies. The workers’ demands were met with live ammunition and lockouts and with strikebreakers protected by Pinkertons who were armed and sworn in as deputy sheriffs. In the war between the classes, the State was not neutral. Driven by misery and injustice, the workers’ anger grew and with it the employers’ fear, their sense of a rising menace and their determination to stamp it out. Even a man as remote as Henry James sensed a “sinister anarchic underworld heaving in its pain, its power and its hate.”
Anarchism was not a labour movement and was no more than one element in the general upheaval of the lower class. But Anarchists saw in the struggles of labour the hot coals of revolution and hoped to blow them into flame. “A pound of dynamite is worth a bushel of bullets,” cried August Spies, editor of Chicago’s German-language Anarchist daily, Die Arbeiter-Zeitung. “Police and militia, the bloodhounds of capitalism, are ready to murder!” In this he was right, for in the course of a clash between workers and strikebreakers, the police fired, killing two. “Revenge! Revenge! Workingmen to arms!” shrieked handbills printed and distributed by Spies that night. He called for a protest meeting the next day. It took place in Haymarket Square, the police marched to break it up, the bomb was thrown. Who threw it has never been discovered.
The defendants’ speeches to the court after sentence, firm in Anarchist principle and throbbing with consciousness of martyrdom, resounded throughout Europe and America and provided the best propaganda Anarchism ever had. In the absence of direct evidence establishing their guilt, they knew and loudly stated that they were being tried and sentenced for the crime, not of murder, but of Anarchism. “Let the world know,” cried August Spies, “that in 1886 in the state of Illinois eight men were sentenced to death because they believed in a better future!” Their belief had included the use of dynamite, and society’s revenge matched its fright. In the end the sentences of three of the condemned were commuted to prison terms. One, Louis Lingg, the youngest, handsomest and most fervent, who was shown by evidence at the trial to have made bombs, blew himself up with a capsule of fulminate of mercury on the night before the execution and wrote in his blood before he died, “Long live anarchy!” His suicide was regarded by many as a confession of guilt. The remaining four, including Spies, were hanged on November 11, 1887.
For years afterward the silhouette of the gallows and its four hanging bodies decorated Anarchist literature, and the anniversary of November 11 was celebrated by Anarchists in Europe and America as a revolutionary memorial. The public conscience, too, was made aware by the gallow’s fruit of the misery, protest and upheaval in the working class.
Men who were Anarchists without knowing it stood on every street corner. Jacob Riis, the New York police reporter who described in 1890 How the Other Half Lives, saw one on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fourteenth Street. The man suddenly leaped at a carriage carrying two fashionable ladies on an afternoon’s shopping and slashed at the sleek and shining horses with a knife. When arrested and locked up, he said, “They don’t have to think of tomorrow. They spend in an hour what would keep me and my little ones for a year.” He was the kind from which Anarchists of the Deed were made.
Most of them were voiceless or could speak their protest only in the wail of a dispossessed Irish peasant spading his field for the last time, who was asked by a visitor what he wanted. “What is it I am wantin’?” cried the old man, shaking his fist at the sky. “I want the Day av Judgment!”
The poor lived in a society in which power, wealth and magnificent spending were never more opulent, in which the rich dined on fish, fowl and red meat at one meal, lived in houses of marble floors and damask walls and of thirty or forty or fifty rooms, wrapped themselves in furs in winter and were cared for by a retinue of servants who blacked their boots, arranged their hair, drew their baths and lit their fires. In this world, at a luncheon for Mme Nellie Melba at the Savoy, when perfect peaches, a delicacy of the season, were served up “fragrant and delicious in their cotton wool,” the surfeited guests made a game of throwing them at passers-by beneath the windows.
These were the rulers and men of property whose immense possessions could, it seemed, only be explained as having been accumulated out of the pockets of the exploited masses. “What is Property?” asked Proudhon in a famous question and answered, “Property is theft.” “Do you not know,” cried Enrico Malatesta in his Talk Between Two Workers, an Anarchist classic of the nineties, “that every bit of bread they eat is taken from your children, every fine present they give to their wives means the poverty, hunger, cold, even perhaps prostitution of yours?”
If in their economics the Anarchists were hazy, their hatred of the ruling class was strong and vibrant. They hated “all mankind’s tormentors,” as Bakunin called them, “priests, monarchs, statesmen, soldiers, officials, financiers, capitalists, moneylenders, lawyers.” To the workers themselves it was not the faraway rich but their visible representatives, the landlord, the factory owner, the boss, the policeman, who were the Enemy.
They could hate but only a few were rebels. Most existed in apathy, stupefied by poverty. Some gave up. A woman with four children who made match boxes at 4½ cents a gross, and by working fourteen hours could make seven gross a day for a total of 31½ cents, threw herself out of the window one day and was carried from the street dead. She was “discouraged,” a neighbor said. A young man who had a sick mother and had lost his job was charged in magistrate’s court with attempted suicide. The lockkeeper’s wife who pulled him out of the river testified how “as fast as I pulled to get him out, he crawled back” until some workmen came to assist her. When the magistrate congratulated the woman on her muscular powers, the courtroom laughed, but an observer named Jack London wrote, “All I could see was a boy on the threshold of life passionately crawling to a muddy death.”
The failure of practical attempts at Anarchism in Bakunin’s period caused Anarchist theory and practice to veer off in a direction not toward the earth but toward the clouds. In the new period beginning in the nineties, its aims, always idyllic, became even more utopian and its deeds less than ever connected with reality. It became impatient. It despised the puny efforts of Socialists and trade unionists to achieve the eight-hour day. “Eight hours of work for the boss is eight hours too much,” proclaimed the Anarchist paper,La Révolte. “We know that what is wrong with our society is not that the worker works ten, twelve or fourteen hours, but that the boss exists.”
The most prominent among the new Anarchist leaders was Prince Peter Kropotkin, by birth an aristocrat, by profession a geographer, and by conviction a revolutionist. His sensational escape after two years’ imprisonment from the grim fortress of Peter and Paul in 1876 had endowed him with a heroic aura, kept bright afterwards during his years of exile in Switzerland, France and England by unrepentant and unremitting preaching in the cause of revolt.
Kropotkin’s faith in mankind, despite a life of hard experience, was inexhaustible and unshatterable. He gave the impression, said the English journalist Henry Nevinson, who knew him well, of “longing to take all mankind to his bosom and keep it warm.” Kindliness shone from his bald and noble dome ringed with a low halo of bushy brown hair. An ample beard spread comfortably beneath his chin. He was very short, “with hardly enough body to hold up the massive head.” Descended from princes of Smolensk who, according to family tradition, belonged to the Rurik Dynasty, which had ruled Russia before the Romanovs, Kropotkin took his place in that long line of “conscience-stricken” Russian nobility who felt guilty for belonging to a class which had oppressed the people for centuries.
He was born in 1842. After service as an officer of Cossacks in Siberia, where he studied the geography of the region, he became Secretary of the Geographical Society, for whom he explored the glaciers of Finland and Sweden in 1871. Meanwhile he had become a member of a secret revolutionary committee, and on this being discovered, his arrest and imprisonment followed. After his escape in 1876—the year Bakunin died—he went to Switzerland, where he worked with Elisée Reclus, the French geographer and a fellow Anarchist, on Reclus’ monumental geography of the world. Kropotkin wrote the volume on Siberia and, with Reclus, founded and for three years edited Le Révolté, which, after suppression and a rebirth in Paris as La Révolte, was to become the best-known and longest-lived Anarchist journal. His stream of convincing and passionate polemics, the prestige of his escape from the most dreaded Russian prison, his active work with the Swiss Anarchists of the Jura—which caused his expulsion from Switzerland—all topped by his title of Prince, made him Bakunin’s recognized successor.
In France, where he came next in 1882, the traditions of the Commune had nourished a militant Anarchist movement of which there was a flourishing group in Lyons. A police raid and a retaliatory bomb causing one death had been followed by the arrest and trial of fifty-two Anarchists, including Kropotkin, on charges of belonging to an international league dedicated to the abolition of property, family, country and religion. Sentenced to prison for five years, Kropotkin had served three, had then been pardoned by President Grévy and, with his wife and daughter, had settled in England, the inevitable refuge of political exiles at the time.
In a small house in Hammersmith, a drearily respectable dormitory of outer London, he continued to write fiery paeans to violence for La Révolte, scholarly articles for geographical journals and for the Nineteenth Century, to entertain visiting radicals in five languages, to lecture Anarchist club meetings in a cellar off Tottenham Court Road, to thump the piano, and paint, and to charm with his sweet temper and genial manners everyone who met him. “He was amiable to the point of saintliness,” wrote George Bernard Shaw, “and with his full beard and lovable expression might have been a shepherd from the Delectable Mountains. His only weakness was the habit of prophesying war within the next fortnight. And he was right in the end.” This weakness was in fact an expression of Kropotkin’s optimism, for war to him was the expected catastrophe that was to destroy the old world and clear the way for the triumph of Anarchy. The “galloping decay” of states was hastening the triumph. “It cannot be far off,” he wrote. “Everything brings it nearer.”
This agreeable person, conventionally dressed in the black frock coat of a Victorian gentleman, was an uncompromising apostle of the necessity of violence. Man’s progress toward perfection was being held back, he wrote, by the “inertia of those who have a vested interest in existing conditions.” Progress needed a violent event “to hurl mankind out of its ruts into new roads.… Revolution becomes a peremptory necessity.” The spirit of revolt must be awakened in the masses by repeated “propaganda of the deed.” This phrase, which became the banner of Anarchist violence, was first used by a French Socialist, Paul Brousse, in 1878, a year which saw four attempts on crowned heads: two on Wilhelm I of Germany and one each on the Kings of Spain and Italy. “The Idea is on the march,” Brousse wrote, “and we must seek to inaugurate the propaganda of the deed. Through a royal breast is the way to open the road to revolution!”
The next year at an Anarchist Congress in the Swiss Jura, Kropotkin specifically advocated propaganda of the Deed, if somewhat less explicit as to method. Though never recommending assassination in so many words, he continued during the eighties to urge a propaganda by “speech and written word, by dagger, gun and dynamite.” He sounded an inspiring summons in the pages of La Révolte to “men of courage willing not only to speak but to act, pure characters who prefer prison, exile and death to a life that contradicts their principles, bold natures who know that in order to win one must dare.” Men such as these must form an advance guard of revolution long before the masses were ready, and in the midst of “talking, complaining, discussing,” must do the “deed of mutiny.”
“A single deed,” Kropotkin wrote at another time, “is better propaganda than a thousand pamphlets.” Words are “lost in the air like the sound of church bells.” Acts are needed “to excite hate for the exploiters, to ridicule the Rulers, to show up their weakness and above all and always to awaken the spirit of revolt.” The acts he loftily called for on paper were performed, but not by him.
In the nineties, when he was in his fifties, Kropotkin, though never altering his demand for revolt, subdued a little his enthusiasm for the individual Deed. Although “the revolutionary spirit gains immensely through such deeds of individual heroism,” he wrote inLa Révolte of March, 1891, “nevertheless it is not these heroic acts that make revolutions. Revolution is above all a mass movement.… Institutions rooted in centuries of history are not destroyed by a few pounds of explosives. The time for such action has passed and the time for the anarchist and communist idea to penetrate the masses has come.” Disclaimers, however, rarely have the same force as the original proposition.
In London, in a restaurant in Holborn during the coal strike of 1893, Kropotkin was arguing with Ben Tillett and Tom Mann, two tough-minded trade unionists. “We must destroy! We must pull down! We must be rid of the tyrants!” shouted Mann.
“No,” said Kropotkin in his foreign accent, with the eyes of a scientist gleaming behind his spectacles, “we must build. We must build in the hearts of men. We must establish a kingdom of God.”
He had the plans for the kingdom already drawn. After the revolution—which he calculated would take three to five years to accomplish the overthrow of governments, the destruction of prisons, forts and slums and the expropriation of land, industries and all forms of property—volunteers would take inventory of all food stocks, dwellings, and means of production. Printed lists would be distributed by the million. Everyone would take what he needed of the things which existed in plenty and there would be rationing of the things of which there was shortage. All property would be community property. Everyone would draw upon the community warehouse for food and goods according to his needs and would have the right “to decide for himself what he needs for a comfortable life.” As there would be no more inheritance, there would be no more greed. All able-bodied males would enter into “contracts” with society through their groups and communes by which they would engage to do five hours’ daily work from the age of twenty-one to about forty-five or fifty, each in a labour of his choice. In return, society would guarantee them the enjoyment of “houses, stores, streets, conveyances, schools, museums, etc.” There would be no need for enforcement or judges or penalties because people would fulfill their contracts out of their own need of “cooperation, support and sympathy” from their neighbors. The process would work because of its very reasonableness, although even Kropotkin might have noticed that the reasonableness of something is rarely a motive in human affairs.
Shaw, with his unrelenting common sense, picked out the trouble in a Fabian Tract called The Impossibilities of Anarchism, published in 1893 and reprinted several times during the next ten years. If man is good and institutions bad, he asked, if man will be good again as soon as the corrupt system ceases to oppress him, “how did the corruption and oppression under which he groans ever arise?” Yet the fact that Shaw felt required to write the Tract was his tribute to the force of the Idea.
The most vexing problem of the Anarchist plan was the question of an accounting of the value of goods and services. According to the theories of Proudhon and Bakunin, everyone would be paid in goods in proportion to what he produced. But this required a body to establish values and do the accounting, an Authority, which was anathema to “pure” Anarchy. As resolved by Kropotkin and Malatesta, the solution was to assume that everyone would want to work for the good of the whole, and since all work would be agreeable and dignified, everyone would contribute freely and take from the community storehouse freely without the necessity of accounting.
In proof Kropotkin evolved his theory of “mutual aid” to show that Anarchism had a scientific basis in the laws of nature. Darwin’s thesis, he argued, had been perverted by capitalist thinkers. Nature was not, in fact, red in tooth and claw nor animated by the instinct of each living thing to survive at the cost of its fellow but, on the contrary, by the instinct of each to preserve the species through “mutual assistance.” He drew examples from the ants and the bees and from wild horses and cattle—who form a ring when attacked by wolves—and from the communal field and village life of men in the Middle Ages. He greatly admired the rabbit, which, though defenceless and adapted to nothing in particular, yet survived and multiplied. The rabbit symbolized for him the durability of the meek who, an earlier Preacher had claimed, would inherit the earth.
Although Kropotkin never slackened his lust for the total destruction of the bourgeois world, that world could not forbear to honor him. He was such a distinguished scholar—and besides, a Prince. When he refused membership in the Royal Geographic Society because it was under royal patronage, he was invited anyway to the Society’s dinner, and when he refused to rise upon the chairman’s toast to “The King!” the chairman promptly rose again to propose “Long live Prince Kropotkin!” and the whole company stood up to join in the toast. When he visited the United States in 1901 and lectured to the Lowell Institute in Boston, he was entertained by its intellectual elite and, not to be outdone, by Mrs. Potter Palmer in Chicago. His memoirs were commissioned by theAtlantic Monthly, his books bore the imprint of the most respectable publishers. When Mutual Aid appeared, the Review of Reviews called it “a good healthy cheerful, delightful book which does one good to read.”
Aside from Kropotkin, Anarchist thought was most highly developed in France. Among a wide assortment, some serious and some frivolous, the leaders were Elisée Reclus and Jean Grave. Reclus, with a dark-bearded melancholy face of somber beauty like that of a Byzantine Christ, was the soothsayer of the movement. He had fought on the barricades of the Commune and marched to prison down the dusty blood-stained road to Versailles. He came from a distinguished family of scholars and, besides his work as a geographer, had devoted years to explaining and preaching the Anarchist system through his books and through the journals he edited at one time or another with Kropotkin and Grave. In his lectures at the Université Nouvelle of Brussels, where he held for a time the chair of Geography, he exerted on listeners, wrote one of them, an “irresistible magnetism.” He moved from the formation of the earth to the future of man and “affirmed, like Rousseau, his unalterable faith in human goodness once it was released from the blemishes of a society founded on force.”
In contrast, Grave came from a working-class family. Once a shoemaker and then, like Proudhon, a typesetter and printer, he had, in the eighties, practiced making fulminate of mercury to blow up the Prefecture of Police or the Palais Bourbon, seat of the French parliament. His book, The Dying Society and Anarchism, so persuasively argued the overthrow of the State and offered so many insidious suggestions that it cost him two years in prison. While there he wrote another book, Society After the Revolution, which he promptly printed himself and published upon his release. Being utopian, it was not considered dangerously subversive by the authorities. In a fifth-floor garret in a working-class street, the Rue Mouffetard, he now edited, largely wrote, and printed on a hand pressLa Révolte, at the same time working on his great history, Le Mouvement libertaire sous la troisième république. In a room furnished with a table and two chairs, he lived and worked, dressed invariably in a French workman’s long black blouse, surrounded by pamphlets and newspapers, “simple, silent, indefatigable,” and so absorbed in his thought and task that “he seemed like a hermit from the Middle Ages who forgot to die eight hundred years ago.”
The followers who were the body of the movement never formed a party but associated only in small, localized clubs and groups. A few comrades would pass out notices informing friends that, for instance, “the Anarchists of Marseilles are establishing a group to be called The Avengers and Famished which will meet every Sunday at —–. Comrades are invited to come and bring reliable friends to hear and take part in the discussions.” Such groups existed not only in Paris but in most of the large cities and many small towns. Among them were the “Indomitables” of Armentières, the “Forced Labour” of Lille, the “Ever-Ready” of Blois, “Land and Independence” of Nantes, “Dynamite” of Lyons, the “Anti-Patriots” of Charleville. With similar groups from other countries, they occasionally held Congresses, such as the one in Chicago during the World’s Fair in 1893, but they neither organized nor federated.
Enrico Malatesta, the firebrand of Anarchism, was an Italian, always carrying the flame to whatever corner of the world there was an Anarchist group. Ten years younger than Kropotkin, he looked like a romantic bandit who might have befriended the Count of Monte Cristo. In fact, he came from a well-off bourgeois family and as a young medical student had been expelled from the University of Naples for participating in a student riot at the time of the Paris Commune. Thereafter he learned the electrician’s trade in order to make a living, joined the Italian section of the International, sided with Bakunin against Marx, led an abortive peasant revolt in Apulia, went to prison and then into exile. He tried to direct the Belgian general strike of 1891 away from its petty aim of manhood suffrage because the vote, in his Anarchist credo, was merely another booby trap of the bourgeois state. He was expelled for similar revolutionary efforts from one country after another and condemned to five years on the prison island of Lampedusa, from which he escaped in a rowboat during a storm. When confined to Italy he escaped in a packing case marked “sewing machines.” It was loaded on a boat for Argentina, where he hoped to prospect for gold in Patagonia to provide funds for the cause, and where, in fact, he found it, only to have his claim confiscated by the Argentine government.
Not content merely with talking about the coming disappearance of the State, Malatesta was constantly embroiled in practical attempts designed to help it disappear. This caused him to be suspected of deviating from “pure” Anarchism and even of leaning toward Marxism. On one occasion he was shot by an Italian fellow-Anarchist of the extreme anti-organizzatori wing. Never discouraged, no matter how many of the insurrections he midwifed were stillborn, Malatesta was always just in or out of prison, fresh from some dramatic escape or desperate adventure, forever an exile without a home or with hardly a room to call his own, always turning up, as Kropotkin said, “just as we saw him last, ready to renew the struggle, with the same love of man, the same absence of hatred for adversaries or jailers.”
Their optimism was the outstanding characteristic of these leaders. They were certain that Anarchism because of its lightness must triumph and the capitalist system because of its rottenness must fall, and they sensed a mysterious deadline in the approaching end of the century. “All are awaiting the birth of a new order of things,” wrote Reclus. “The century which has witnessed so many grand discoveries in the world of science cannot pass away without giving us still greater conquests. After so much hatred we yearn to love each other and for this reason we are the enemies of private property and the despisers of law.”
Kropotkin’s benevolent eyes peering at the world around him found encouraging signs everywhere. The increasing number of free museums, free libraries and free parks, for instance, seemed to him to be progress toward the Anarchist day when all private property would eventually become common property. Were not turnpikes and toll bridges becoming free? Were not municipalities providing free water and free street lights? Proof of the Anarchists’ contention that the society of the future would no longer be held together by government but by the “free association of men into groups” was, he thought, appearing in such developments as the International Red Cross, the trade unions and even the cartels of shipowners and railroads (elsewhere being denounced as “Trusts” by a rather different type of reformer in America).
As formulated by men like Kropotkin, Malatesta, Jean Grave and Reclus, Anarchism at the end of the century may have attained, in the words of one of its recorders, “a shining moral grandeur,” but only at the cost of a noticeable removal from reality. These men had all suffered prison more than once for their beliefs. Kropotkin himself had lost his teeth as a result of prison scurvy. They were not men of the ivory tower except in so far as their heads were in ivory towers. They were able to draw blueprints of a state of universal harmony only by ignoring the evidence of human behavior and the testimony of history. Their insistence on revolution stemmed directly from their faith in humanity, which, they believed, needed only a shining example and a sharp blow to start it on its way to the golden age. They spoke their faith aloud. The consequences were frequently fatal.
Anarchism’s new era of violence opened in France just after the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution. A two-year reign of dynamite, dagger and gunshot erupted, killed ordinary men as well as great ones, destroyed property, banished safety, spread terror and then subsided. The signal was given in 1892 by a man whose name, Ravachol, seemed to “breathe revolt and hatred.” His act, like nearly all that followed it, was a gesture of revenge for comrades who had suffered at the hands of the State.
On the previous May Day of 1891, at Clichy, a working-class suburb of Paris, a workers’ demonstration led by les anarchos carrying red banners with revolutionary slogans was charged by mounted police. In the melee five police were slightly, and three Anarchist leaders severely, wounded. Dragged to the police station, the Anarchists were subjected, while still bleeding and untended, to a passage à tabac of uncontrolled savagery, being made to pass between two lines of policemen under kicks and blows and beatings with revolver butts. At their trial, Bulot, the prosecuting attorney, charged that one of them, on the day before the riot, had called on the workers to arm themselves, and told them, “If the police come, let no one fear to kill them like the dogs they are! Down with Government! Vive la révolution!” Bulot thereupon demanded the death penalty for all three, which, since no one had been killed, was an impossible demand that he might better not have made. It was to start a train of dynamite. For the moment, M. Benoist, the presiding judge, acquitted one defendant and sentenced the other two to five and three years’ imprisonment respectively, the maximum allowable in the circumstances.
Six months after the trial, the home of M. Benoist on the Boulevard St-Germain was blown up by a bomb. Two weeks later, on March 27, another bomb blew up the home of Bulot, the prosecuting attorney, in the Rue de Clichy. Between the two explosions the police had circulated a description of the suspected criminal as a thin but muscular young man in his twenties with a bony, yellowish face, brown hair and beard, a look of ill health and a round scar between thumb and first finger of the left hand. On the day of the second explosion a man of this appearance took dinner at the Restaurant Véry in the Boulevard Magenta, where he talked volubly to a waiter named Lhérot about the explosion, which no one in the quarter yet knew had taken place. He also expressed anti-militarist and Anarchist opinions. Lhérot wondered about him but did nothing. Two days later the man returned and this time Lhérot, noticing the scar, called the police. When they arrived to arrest him the slight young man suddenly became a giant of maniacal strength and it required ten men and a terrific struggle to subdue and take him prisoner.
This was Ravachol. He had adopted his mother’s name in preference to Koenigstein, the name of his father, who had abandoned his wife and four children, leaving Ravachol at eight years of age as chief breadwinner of the family. At eighteen, after reading Eugène Sue’s The Wandering Jew, he had lost faith in religion, adopted Anarchist sentiments, attended their meetings, and as a result, was dismissed with a younger brother from his job as a dyer’s assistant. Meanwhile, his younger sister died and his elder sister bore an illegitimate child. Although Ravachol found other jobs, they did not pay enough to keep the family from misery. Accordingly, he took to illegal supplements, but with a certain fierce pride of principle. Robbery of the rich was the right of the poor “to escape living like beasts,” he said in prison. “To die of hunger is cowardly and degrading. I preferred to turn thief, counterfeiter, murderer.” He had in fact been all these and grave robber as well.
At his trial on April 26, 1892, he stated that his motive had been to avenge the Anarchists of Clichy who had been beaten up by the police and “not even given water to wash their wounds,” and upon whom Bulot and Benoist had imposed the maximum penalty although the jury had recommended the minimum. His manner was resolute and his eyes had the peculiarly piercing gaze expressive of inner conviction. “My object was to terrorize so as to force society to look attentively at those who suffer,” he said, putting volumes into a sentence. While the press described him as a figure of sinister violence and cunning and a “colossus of strength,” witnesses testified that he had given money to the wife of one of the imprisoned Clichy Anarchists and bought clothes for her children. At the end of the one-day trial he was sentenced to imprisonment at hard labour for life. But the Ravachol affair had just begun.
The waiter Lhérot, meanwhile, was winning heroic notoriety by regaling customers and journalists with his story of the Scar, the Recognition and the Arrest. As a result he attracted an unknown avenger who set off a bomb in the Restaurant Véry which killed, not Lhérot, but his brother-in-law, M. Véry, the proprietor. The act was hailed by Le Père Peinard, an Anarchist journal given to coarse street argot, with the ghoulish double pun, “Vérification!”
By now the police had uncovered a whole series of Ravachol’s crimes, including a grave robbery for the jewelry on a corpse, the murder of a ninety-two-year-old miser and his housekeeper, the further murder of two old women who kept a hardware shop—which had netted him forty sous—and of another shopkeeper, which had netted him nothing. “See this hand?” Ravachol was quoted as saying; “it has killed as many bourgeois as it has fingers.” At the same time he had been living peaceably in lodgings, teaching the little daughter of his landlord to read.
His trial for these murders opened on June 21 in an atmosphere of terror induced by the avenger’s bomb in the Restaurant Véry. Everyone expected the Palais de Justice to be blown up; it was surrounded by troops, every entrance guarded, and jurors, judges and counsel heavily escorted by police. Upon being sentenced to death, Ravachol said that what he had done had been for the “Anarchist idea” and added the prophetic words, “I know I shall be avenged.”
Faced with this extraordinary person, at once a monster of criminality and a protector and avenger of the unfortunate, the Anarchist press fell into discord. In La Révolte Kropotkin repudiated Ravachol as “not the true, the authentic” revolutionary but the “opéra-bouffe variety.” These deeds, he wrote, “are not the steady, daily work of preparation, little seen but immense, which the revolution demands. This requires other men than Ravachols. Leave them to the fin de siècle bourgeois whose product they are.” Malatesta likewise, in the literary Anarchist journal, l’En Dehors, rejected Ravachol’s gesture.
The difficulty was that Ravachol belonged almost but not quite to that class of Ego Anarchists who had one serious theorist in the German Max Stirner and a hundred practitioners of the culte de moi. They professed an extreme contempt for every bourgeois sentiment and social restraint, recognizing only the individual’s right to “live anarchistically,” which included burglary and any other crime that served the need of the moment. They were interested in themselves, not in revolution. The unbridled operations of these “miniature Borgias,” usually ending in gun battles with the police and flaunted under the banner of “Anarchism,” added much to the fear and anger of the public, who did not distinguish between the aberrant and the true variety. Ravachol was both. There was in him a streak of genuine pity and fellow feeling for the oppressed of his class which led one Anarchist paper to compare him with Jesus.
On July 11, calm and unrepentant, he went to the guillotine, crying at the end, “Vive l’anarchie!” At once the issue was clear. Overnight he became an Anarchist martyr and among the underworld, a popular hero. La Révolte reversed itself. “He will be avenged!” it proclaimed, adding its bit to the unfolding cycle of revenge. L’En Dehors opened a subscription for the children of an accomplice tried along with Ravachol. Among the contributors were the painter Camille Pissarro, the playwright Tristan Bernard, the Belgian Socialist and poet Emile Verhaeren, and Bernard Lazare (soon to be an actor in the Dreyfus case). A verb, ravacholiser, meaning “to wipe out an enemy,” became current, and a street song called “La Ravachole,” sung to the tune of “La Carmagnole,” carried the refrain:
It will come, it will come,
Every bourgeois will have his bomb.
Ravachol’s significance was not in his bombs but in his execution. Meantime, violence erupted across the Atlantic.
Anarchism, which rejected government in sexual matters as in all others, had its love affairs, and one that was to have explosive effect upon the movement in America was at this time in progress in New York. It began in 1890 at a memorial meeting for the Haymarket martyrs at which the speaker was the German exile Johann Most, with the twisted face and deformed body, who edited the Anarchist weekly Freiheit in New York.
An untended childhood accident which caused his facial disfigurement, a scorned and lonely youth spent wandering from place to place, sometimes starving, sometimes finding odd jobs, was natural food for an animus against society. In Most it sprouted with the energy of a weed. In Germany he learned the bookbinder’s trade, wrote wrathfully for the revolutionary press, and achieved one term as deputy in the Reichstag in the seventies. Exiled for his revolutionary incitement, he had taken refuge first in England, where he became an Anarchist, founded his journal of fiery sentiments and welcomed the regicide of Alexander II in 1881 with such enthusiasm that he received a prison term of eighteen months. When his comrades, while he was in gaol, applauded equally the assassination of Lord Frederick Cavendish by Irish rebels in Dublin, England’s traditional tolerance was outraged at last; Freiheit was suppressed and Most, when he emerged, took his paper and his passion to the United States.
Freiheit’s incitements and ferocity continued unabated and to one reader seemed like “lava shooting forth flames of ridicule, scorn and defiance … and breathing hatred.” After working secretly for a time in an explosives factory in Jersey City, Most published a manual on the manufacture of bombs and expounded in uninhibited language in Freiheit on the uses of dynamite and nitroglycerine. His goal, like his hate, was generalized and directed toward destruction of the “existing class rule” by “relentless” revolutionary action. Most cared nothing for the eight-hour day, that “damned thing” as he called it, which even if gained would serve only to distract the masses from the real issue: the struggle against capitalism and for a new society.
In 1890 Most was forty-four, of medium height with gray, bushy hair crowning a large head, of which the lower part was twisted to the left by the dislocated jaw. A harsh, embittered man, he was yet so eloquent and impassioned when he spoke at the memorial meeting that his repellent appearance was forgotten. To one female member of the audience, his blue eyes were “sympathetic” and he seemed to “radiate hatred and love.”
Emma Goldman, a recent Russian Jewish immigrant of twenty-one, with a rebellious soul and a highly excitable nature, was transported. Her companion of the evening was Alexander Berkman, like herself a Russian Jew, who had lived in the United States less than three years. Persecution in Russia and poverty in America had endowed both these young people with exalted revolutionary purpose. Anarchism became their creed. Emma’s first job in the United States was sewing in a factory ten and a half hours a day for $2.50 a week. Her room cost $3.00 a month. Berkman came from a slightly better-class family which in Russia had been sufficiently well-off to employ servants and send him to the gymnasium. But economic disaster had overtaken them; a favorite uncle of revolutionary sentiments had been seized by the police and never seen again and Sasha (Alexander) had been expelled from school for writing a Nihilist and atheistic composition. Now twenty, he had “the neck and chest of a giant,” a high studious forehead, intelligent eyes, and a severe expression. From the “tension and fearful excitement” of Most’s speech about the martyrs, Emma sought “relief” in Sasha’s arms and subsequently her enthusiasm led her to Most’s arms as well. The tensions of this arrangement proved no different from those of any bourgeois triangle.
In June, 1892, in Homestead, Pennsylvania, the steelworkers’ union struck in protest against a reduction of wages by the Carnegie Steel Company. The company had ordered the wage cut in a deliberate effort to crush the union, and in expectation of battle, set about erecting a military stockade topped with barbed wire behind which it planned to operate the mills with three hundred strikebreakers recruited by the Pinkerton Agency. Having become a philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie discreetly retreated for the summer to a salmon river in Scotland, leaving his manager, Henry Clay Frick, to do battle with organized labour. No one was more competent or more willing. A remarkably handsome man of forty-three, with a strong black moustache merging into a short black beard, a courteous controlled manner and eyes which could become suddenly “very steely,” Frick came from a well-established Pennsylvania family. He dressed with quiet distinction in dark blue with a hairline stripe, never wore jewelry and when offended by a cartoon of himself in the Pittsburgh Leader, said to his secretary, “This won’t do. This won’t do at all. Find out who owns this paper and buy it.”
On July 5 the strikebreakers recruited by Frick were to be brought in to operate the plant. When they were ferried in armored barges across the Monongahela and were about to land, the strikers attacked with homemade cannon, rifles, dynamite and burning oil. The day of furious battle ended with ten killed, seventy wounded, and the Pinkertons thrown back from the plant by the bleeding but triumphant workers. The Governor of Pennsylvania sent in eight thousand militia, the country was electrified, and Frick in the midst of smoke, death, and uproar, issued an ultimatum declaring his refusal to deal with the union and his intention to operate with non-union labour and to discharge and evict from their homes any workers who refused to return to their jobs.
“Homestead! I must go to Homestead!” shouted Berkman on the memorable evening when Emma rushed in waving the newspaper. It was, they felt, “the psychological moment for the deed.… The whole country was aroused against Frick and a blow aimed at him now would call the attention of the whole world to the cause.” The workers were striking not only for themselves but “for all time, for a free life, for Anarchism”—although they did not know it. As yet they were only “blindly rebellious,” but Berkman felt a mission to “illumine” the struggle and impart the “vision of Anarchism which alone could imbue discontent with conscious revolutionary purpose.” The removal of a tyrant was not merely justifiable; it was “an act of liberation, the giving of life and opportunity to an oppressed people” and it was the “highest duty” and the “test of every true revolutionist” to die in its cause.
Berkman boarded the train for Pittsburgh bent on killing Frick but surviving long enough himself “to justify my case in court.” Then in prison he would “die by my own hand like Lingg.”
On July 23 he made his way to Frick’s office, where he was admitted when he presented a card on which he had written, “Agent of a New York employment firm.” Frick was conferring with his vice-chairman, John Leishman, when Berkman entered, pulled out a revolver and fired. His bullet wounded Frick on the left side of his neck; he fired again wounding him on the right side, and as he fired the third time, his arm was knocked up by Leishman so that he missed altogether. Frick, bleeding, had risen and lunged at Berkman, who, attacked also by Leishman, fell to the floor dragging the other two men with him. Freeing one hand, he managed to extract a dagger from his pocket, and stabbed Frick in the side and legs seven times before he was finally pulled off by a deputy sheriff and others who rushed into the room.
“Let me see his face,” whispered Frick, his own face ashen, his beard and clothes streaked with blood. The sheriff jerked Berkman’s head back by his hair, and the eyes of Frick and his assailant met. At the police station two caps of fulminate of mercury of the same kind Lingg had used to blow himself up were found on Berkman’s person (some say, in his mouth). Frick lived, the strike was broken by the militia, and Berkman went to prison for sixteen years.
All this left the country gasping, but the public shock was as nothing compared to that which rocked Anarchist circles when in Freiheit of August, 27, Johann Most, the priest of violence, turned apostate to his past and denounced Berkman’s attempt at tyrannicide. He said the importance of the terrorist deed had been overestimated and that it could not mobilize revolt in a country where there was no proletarian class-consciousness, and he dealt with Berkman, now a hero in Anarchist eyes, in terms of contempt. When he repeated these views verbally at a meeting, a female fury rose up out of the audience. It was Emma Goldman, armed with a horsewhip, who sprang upon the platform and flayed her former lover across his face and body. The scandal was tremendous.
That personal emotions played a part both in Most’s act and hers can hardly be doubted. Most may have taken his cue from Kropotkin and Malatesta, who already in Ravachol’s case had begun to question the value of gestures of violence. But the dedicated Berkman was no Ravachol and it was clearly jealousy of him as a younger rival both in love and in the revolutionary movement that galled Most. His splenetic attack on a fellow Anarchist who had been ready to die for the Deed was a stunning betrayal from which the movement in America never fully recovered.
It had no effect on the public at large, who were aware only of the Anarchists’ blows, or attentats, as the French called them. Society’s fear of the disruptive force within its bowels grew with each attack. In the year after Homestead the fear burst out when Governor John P. Altgeld of Illinois pardoned the three remaining Haymarket prisoners. A strange, hard, passionate man who had been born in Germany and brought to the United States at the age of three months, Altgeld had come from a boyhood of hardship and manual labour. He had fought in the Civil War at sixteen, had studied law, become State’s Attorney, judge and finally Governor and had made a fortune in real estate, and was an almost demonic liberal. He had pledged himself to right the injustice done by the drumhead trial as soon as he had the power and he was also not unmotivated by a personal grudge against Judge Gary. As soon as he was elected Governor he set in motion a study of the trial records and on June 26, 1893, issued his pardon along with an 18,000-word document affirming the illegality of the original verdict and sentence. He showed the jury to have been packed and “selected to convict,” the judge prejudiced against the defendants and unwilling to conduct a fair trial, and the State’s Attorney to have admitted that there was no case against at least one of the defendants. These facts had not been unknown, and in the year between the verdict and the hanging, many prominent Chicagoans, uneasy over the death sentence, had worked privately for pardon and had in fact been responsible for the commutation of the sentence of the three defendants now still alive. But when Altgeld displayed publicly the cloven hoof of the Law, he shook public faith in a fundamental institution of society. Had he pardoned the Anarchists as a pure act of forgiveness, there would have been little excitement. As it was, he was excoriated by the press, by ministers in their pulpits, by important persons of all varieties. The Toronto Blade said he had encouraged “the overthrow of civilization.” So outraged was the New York Sun that it resorted to verse:
Oh wild Chicago …
Lift up your weak and guilty hands
From out the wreck of states
And as the crumbling towers fall down,
Write ALTGELD on your gates!
Altgeld was defeated for office at the next election. Although there were other reasons besides the pardon, he never held office again before he died at fifty-five in 1902.
Simultaneously with these events the era of dynamite exploded in Spain. There it opened with more ferocity, continued in more savagery and excess and lasted longer than in any other country. Spain is the desperado of countries, with a tragic sense of life. Its mountains are naked, its cathedrals steeped in gloom, its rivers dry up in summer, one of its greatest kings built his own mausoleum to inhabit while he lived. Its national sport is not a game but a ritual of danger and blood-letting. Its special quality was expressed by the deposed Queen, Isabella II, who, on a visit to the capital in 1890, wrote to her daughter, “Madrid is sad and everything is more unusual than ever.”
In Spain it was natural that the titans’ struggle between Marx and Bakunin for control of the working-class movement should have ended in victory for the Anarchist tendency. In Spain, however, where everything is more serious, the Anarchists organized, with the result that they took root and their power lasted long into the modern period. Like Russia, Spain was a cauldron in which the revolutionary element boiled against a tight lid of oppression. The Church, the landowners, the Guardia Civil, all the guardians of the State held the lid down. Although Spain had a Cortes and a façade of the democratic process, in reality the working class did not have open to it the legal means for reform and change which existed in France and England. Consequently, the appeal of Anarchism and its explosive methods was stronger. But unlike “pure” Anarchism, the Spanish form was collectivist because it had to be. Oppression was too heavy to allow hopes of individual action.
In January, 1892, occurred an outburst which, like the May Day affair at Clichy, was to inaugurate a terrible cycle of deed, retaliation and revenge. Agrarian revolt was endemic in the south where the immense latifundia of absentee landlords were farmed by peasants who worked all day for the price of a loaf of bread. Four hundred of them now rose in revolt, and armed with pitchforks, scythes and what firearms they could lay hold of, marched on the village of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia. Their object was the rescue of five comrades sentenced to life imprisonment in chains for complicity in a labour affair ten years earlier. The rising was promptly suppressed by the military and four of the leaders garroted, a Spanish form of execution in which the victim is tied with his back to a post and strangled with a scarf which the executioner twists from behind by means of a wooden handle. Zarzuela, one of the condemned, died calling upon the people to “avenge us.”
A bulwark of the Spanish government was General Martínez de Campos, whose strong arm had restored the monarchy in 1874. After this he had defeated the Carlists, suppressed an early Cuban insurrection, and served as Premier and Minister of War. On September 24, 1893, he was reviewing a parade of troops in Barcelona. From the front row of the crowds an Anarchist named Pallas, who had been with Malatesta in the Argentine, threw first one bomb and then a second, killing the General’s horse, one soldier and five bystanders, but erratically leaving its intended victim, who was thrown under the body of his horse, only bruised. Pallas, as he confessed with pride, had planned to kill the General and “his whole staff.” When condemned to death by court-martial he cried, “Agreed! There are thousands to continue the work.” He was allowed to take farewell of his children but, for some barbaric reason, not of his wife and mother. Sentenced to be shot with his back to a firing squad, another Spanish variant of usual custom, he repeated the cry of Andalusia, “Vengeance will be terrible!”
It came within weeks, again in the Catalan capital, and in the number of its dead was the most lethal of all the Anarchist assaults. November 8, 1893, almost coinciding with the Haymarket anniversary, was opening night of the opera season at the Teatro Lyceo and the audience in glittering evening dress was listening to William Tell. In the midst of this drama of defiance to tyrants, two bombs were thrown down from the balcony. One exploded, killing fifteen persons outright, and the other lay unexploded, threatening to burst at any moment. It caused a pandemonium of “terror and dismay,” shrieks and curses and a wild rush for the exits in which people “fought like wild beasts to escape, respecting neither age nor sex.” Afterwards, as the wounded were carried out, their splendid dresses torn, blood streaming over their starched white shirt fronts, crowds gathered outside “cursing both Anarchists and police,” according to a reporter. Seven more died of their wounds, giving a total of twenty-two dead and fifty wounded.
The answer of the government was as fierce. Police raided every known club or home or meeting place of social discontent. Hundreds, even thousands, were arrested and thrown into the dungeons of Montjuich, the prison fortress seven hundred feet above the sea, whose guns dominate the harbor and city of Barcelona and foredoom any revolt by that chronically rebellious city. So full were the cells that new prisoners had to be kept shackled in warships anchored below. There being in this case no one to admit to the guilt of so many deaths, torture was applied mercilessly to extract a confession. Prisoners were burned with irons or forced with whips to keep walking thirty, forty, or fifty hours at a time and subjected to other procedures indigenous to the country of the Inquisition. By these means information was extorted that led to the arrest in January, 1894, of an Anarchist named Santiago Salvador who admitted to the crime in the Opera House as an act of revenge for Pallas. His arrest was immediately answered by his fellow Anarchists of Barcelona with another bombing, which killed two innocent persons. The government replied with six death sentences carried out in April upon prisoners from whom some form of confession had been extracted by torture. Salvador, who had attempted ineffectively to kill himself by revolver and poison, was tried separately in July and executed in November.
The ghastly tale of the Opera House explosion in Spain excited the nerves of authorities everywhere and caused even the English to question whether allowing Anarchists to preach their doctrines openly was advisable. When, three days later, the Anarchists held their traditional memorial meeting for the Haymarket martyrs, questions were put in Parliament about the conduct of the Liberal Home Secretary, Mr. Asquith, in permitting it, since such meetings required specific approval by the Home Office in advance. Mr. Asquith endeavored to shrug the matter aside as insignificant but was “crushed,” according to a reporter, by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Balfour, who in his languid way suggested that the right to throw bombs was not an open question for public meetings nor defensible on the ground that society was badly organized. Whether convinced by Balfour or by second thoughts about the Spanish deaths, Asquith in any event reversed himself and announced a few days later that, as “the propagation of Anarchist doctrine was dangerous to the social order,” no further open meetings of Anarchists would be permitted.
London’s Anarchists at this time were mostly Russians, Poles, Italians and other exiles who centered around the “Autonomie,” an Anarchist club, and a second group among Jewish immigrants who lived and worked in desperate poverty in the East End, published a Yiddish-language paper, Der Arbeiter-Fraint, and gathered at a club called the “International,” in Whitechapel. The English working class, to whom acts of individual violence came less naturally than to Slavs and Latins, was on the whole not interested. An occasional intellectual like William Morris was a torch-bearer; but he was mainly interested in his personal version of a utopian state, and his influence having waned by the end of the eighties, he lost control of Commonweal, the journal he had founded and edited, to more militant, plebeian and orthodox Anarchists. Another journal, Freedom, was the organ of an active group whose mentor was Kropotkin, and a third, called The Torch—edited by the two daughters of William Rossetti—published the voices of Malatesta, Faure and other French and Italian Anarchists.
In 1891 with the appearance of The Soul of Man Under Socialism a strange recruit alighted briefly on the movement like a gorgeous butterfly and then flew off. The author of the essay was Oscar Wilde. He had been much moved by the personality of Kropotkin and saw true freedom for the Artist in a society in which, “of course, authority and compulsion are out of the question.” Despite his title he objected to Socialism on the same ground as the orthodox Anarchist, namely, that it was “authoritarian.” If governments are to be armed with economic power, “if in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first.” Wilde’s vision was of Socialism founded upon Individualism, and when this had set free the true personality of man, the Artist would at last come into his own.
In France meanwhile there had been no pause in the assaults. On November 8, 1892, at the time of a miner’s strike against the Société des Mines de Carmaux, a bomb was deposited in the Paris office of the company on the Avenue de l’Opéra. Discovered by the concierge, it was taken out to the sidewalk and carefully carried off by a policeman to the nearest precinct station, in the Rue des Bons Enfants. As the policeman was bringing it in, it burst with a devastating explosion, killing five other policemen who were in the room. They were blown to fragments, blood and bits of flesh were splashed over shattered walls and windows, pieces of arms and legs lay about. Police suspicion centered on Emile Henry, younger brother of a well-known radical orator and son of Fortuné Henry who had escaped to Spain after being condemned to death in the Commune. When Emile Henry’s movements during the day were traced, it appeared impossible that he could have been in the Avenue de l’Opéra at the right moment, and for the time being, no arrests were made.
The bomb in the police station threw Paris into a panic; no one knew where the next bomb would hit. Anyone connected with the law or police was regarded by his neighbors—since Parisians live largely in apartments—as if he had the plague and was often given notice to leave by his landlord. The city, wrote an English visitor, was “absolutely paralyzed” with fear. The upper classes “lived again as if in the days of the Commune. They dared not go to the theatres, to restaurants, to the fashionable shops in the Rue de la Paix or to ride in the Bois where Anarchists were suspected behind every tree.” People exchanged terrible rumors: the Anarchists had mined the churches, poured prussic acid in the city’s reservoirs, were hiding beneath the seats of horsecabs ready to spring out upon passengers and rob them. Troops were assembled in the suburbs ready to march, tourists took flight, the hotels were empty, busses ran without passengers, theatres and museums were barricaded.
The time was in any case one of public rancor and disgust. Hardly had the Republic warded off the Boulanger coup d’état than it was put to shame by the nexus of corruption revealed in the Panama scandal and in the official traffic in decorations. Day after day in Parliament during 1890–92 the chain of Panama financing through loans, bribes, slush funds and sales of influence was uncovered, until, it was said, 104 deputies were involved. Even Georges Clemenceau was smeared by association and lost his seat in the next election.
In proportion as the prestige of the State sank, Anarchism flourished. Intellectuals flirted with it. The buried dislike of government and law that exists in most men is nearer to the surface in some. Like the fat man who has a thin man inside crying to get out, even the respectable have a small Anarchist hidden inside, and among the artists and intellectuals of the nineties his faint cry was frequently heard. The novelist Maurice Barrès, who at one time or another tried every position in the political spectrum as a tribune for his talents, glorified Anarchist philosophy in his l’Ennemi des Lois and Un Homme Libre. The poet Laurent Tailhade hailed the future Anarchist society as a “blessed time” when aristocracy would be one of intellect and “the common man will kiss the footprints of the poets.” Literary anarchism enjoyed a vogue among the Symbolists, like Mallarmé and Paul Valéry. The writer Octave Mirbeau was attracted to Anarchism because he had a horror of authority. He detested anyone in uniform: policemen, ticket-punchers, messengers, concierges, servants. In his eyes, said his friend Léon Daudet, a landlord was a pervert, a Minister a thief, lawyers and financiers made him sick and he had tolerance only for children, beggars, dogs, certain painters and sculptors and very young women. “That there need be no misery in the world was his fixed belief,” said a friend; “that there nevertheless was, was the occasion of his wrath.” Among painters, Pissarro contributed drawings to Le Père Peinard and several brilliant and savage Parisian illustrators, including Théophile Steinlen, expressed in the Anarchist journals their disgust at social injustice; sometimes, as when the President of France was caricatured in soiled pajamas, in terms unprintable in a later day.
Scores of these ephemeral journals and bulletins appeared, with names like Antichrist, New Dawn, Black Flag, Enemy of the People, the People’s Cry, The Torch, The Whip, New Humanity, Incorruptible, Sans-Culotte, Land and Liberty, Vengeance. Groups and clubs calling themselves “Anti-patriots’ League” or “Libertarians” held meetings in dimly lit halls furnished with benches where members vented their contempt for the State, discussed revolution, but never organized, never affiliated, accepted no leaders, made no plans, took no orders. To them the State, in its panic over the Ravachol affair, in its rottenness revealed by the Panama affair, appeared to be already crumbling.
In March of 1893 a man of thirty-two named August Vaillant returned to Paris from Argentina, where he had gone in the hope of starting a new life in the New World but had failed to establish himself. Born illegitimate, he was ten months old when his mother married a man not his father, who refused to support the child. He was given to foster parents. At twelve, the boy was on his own in Paris, living by odd jobs, petty theft and begging. Somehow he went to school and found white-collar jobs. At one time he edited a short-lived weekly called l’Union Socialiste but soon, like others among the disinherited, gravitated to Anarchist circles. As secretary of a Fédération des groupes indépendants, he had some contact with Anarchist spokesmen, among them Sebastien Faure, whose “harmonious and caressing voice,” beautiful phrases and elegant manners could make anyone believe in the millennium as long as they were listening to him. Vaillant married, parted from his wife, but kept with him their daughter, Sidonie, and acquired a mistress. Not the footloose or libertarian type, he held together his tiny family until the end. After his failure in Argentina he tried again to make a living in Paris, and like his contemporary Knut Hamsun, then hungrily wandering the streets of Christiania, experienced the humiliation of “the frequent repulses, half-promises, the curt noes, the cherished deluded hopes and fresh endeavors that always resulted in nothing,” until the last frustration when he no longer had any respectable clothes to wear when applying for a job. Unable to afford a new pair of shoes, Vaillant wore a pair of discarded galoshes he had picked up in the street. Finally he found work in a sugar refinery paying 3 francs a day, too little to support three people.
Ashamed and bitter to see his daughter and mistress go hungry, disillusioned with a world he never made, he decided to end his life. He would not go silently but with a cry of protest, “a cry of that whole class,” as he wrote the night before he acted, “which demands its rights and some day soon will join acts to words. At least I shall die with the satisfaction of knowing that I have done what I could to hasten the advent of a new era.”
Not a man to kill, Vaillant planned a gesture that had some logic. He saw the disease of society exemplified by the scandal-ridden Parliament. He manufactured a bomb out of a saucepan filled with nails and with a non-lethal charge of explosive. On the afternoon of December 9, 1893, he took it with him to a seat in a public gallery of the Chambre des Députés. An observer saw a tall gaunt figure with a pale face rise to his feet and hurl something down into the midst of the debate. Vaillant’s bomb detonated with the roar of a cannon, spraying the deputies with metal fragments, wounding several but killing none.
The sensation, as soon as the news was known, was enormous, and was made memorable by an enterprising journalist. He asked for comment that night at a dinner given by the journal La Plume to a number of celebrities, including Zola, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Rodin and Laurent Tailhade. The last-named replied grandly and in exquisite rhythm, “Qu’importe les victimes si le geste est beau?” (What do the victims matter if it’s a fine gesture?) Published in Le Journal next morning, the remark was soon to be recalled in gruesome circumstances. That same morning Vaillant gave himself up.
All France understood and some, other than Anarchists, even sympathized with his gesture. Ironically, these sympathizers came from the extreme right, whose anti-Republican forces—Royalists, Jesuits, floating aristocracy and anti-Semites—despised the bourgeois state for their own reasons. Edouard Drumont, author of La France Juive and editor of La Libre Parole, who was busy raging at the Jews involved in the Panama scandal, produced a piece richly entitled “On Mud, Blood and Gold—From Panama to Anarchism.” “The men of blood,” he said, “were born out of the mud of Panama.” The Duchesse d’Uzès, married into one of the three premier ducal families, offered to give a home and education to Vaillant’s daughter (whom Vaillant, however, preferred to leave to the guardianship of Sebastien Faure).
In an angry mood, and determined to finish off the Anarchists once and for all, the government acted to stifle their propaganda. Two days after Vaillant’s bomb, the Chamber unanimously passed two laws making it a crime to print any direct or “indirect” provocation of terrorist acts or to associate with intent to commit such acts. Although known as les lois scélérates (the scoundrelly laws), they were hardly an unreasonable measure, since the preaching of the Deed was in fact the principal incitement. Police raided Anarchist cafés and meeting places, two thousand warrants were issued, clubs and discussion groups scattered, La Révolte and Le Père Peinard closed down, and leading Anarchists left the country.
On January 10, Vaillant came to trial before five judges in red robes and black gold-braided caps. Charged with intent to kill, he insisted that he had intended only to wound. “If I had wanted to kill I could have used a heavier charge and filled the container with bullets; instead, I used only nails.” His counsel, Maître Labori, who was destined for drama and violence in a far more famous case, defended him with spirit as un exaspéré de la misère. It was parliament, Labori said, which was guilty, for failing to remedy “the misery of poverty that oppresses one third of a nation.” Despite Labori’s efforts, Vaillant received the death penalty, the first time in the Nineteenth Century it had been imposed on a person who had not killed. Trial, verdict and sentence were rushed through in a single day. Almost immediately petitions for pardon began to assail President Sadi Carnot, including one from a group of sixty deputies led by Abbé Lemire, who had been one of those wounded by the bomb. A fiery Socialist, Jules Breton, predicted that if Carnot “pronounced coldly for death, not a single man in France would grieve for him if he were one day himself to be victim of a bomb.” As incitement to murder, this cost Breton two years in prison and proved to be the second comment on the Vaillant affair, which was to end in strange and sinister coincidence.
The government could not pardon an Anarchist attack upon the State. Carnot refused to remit the sentence and Vaillant was duly executed on February 5, 1894, crying, “Death to bourgeois society! Long live Anarchy!”
The train of death gathered speed. Only seven days after Vaillant went to the guillotine, he was avenged by a blow of such seemingly vicious unreason that the public felt itself in the midst of nightmare. This time the bomb was aimed not against any representative of law, property or State, but against the man in the street. It exploded in the Café Terminus of the Gare St-Lazare in the midst, as Le Journal wrote, “of peaceful, anonymous citizens gathered in a café to have a beer before going to bed.” One was killed and twenty wounded. As later became clear, the perpetrator acted upon a mad logic of his own. Even before he came to trial, the streets of Paris rocked with more explosions. One in the Rue St-Jacques killed a passer-by, one in the Faubourg St-Germain did no damage and a third exploded in the pocket of Jean Pauwels, a Belgian Anarchist, as he was entering the Church of the Madeleine. He was killed and proved to have set off the other two. On April 4, 1894, a fourth exploded in the fashionable Restaurant Foyot, where, though it killed no one, it put out the eye of Laurent Tailhade, who happened to be dining there and who only four months earlier had shrugged aside the victims of a “fine gesture.”
Public hysteria mounted. When, at a theatrical performance, some scenery back stage fell with a clatter, half the audience rushed for the exits screaming, “Les Anarchistes! Une bombe!” Newspapers took to printing a daily bulletin under the heading, “La Dynamite.” When the trial of the bomber of the Café Terminus opened on April 27, the terrible capacity of the Anarchist idea to be transformed from love of mankind to hatred of men was revealed.
The accused turned out to be the same Emile Henry who had been suspected of setting the earlier bomb in the office of the Mines de Carmaux which had ultimately killed the five policemen. Already charged for murder in the Café Terminus, he now claimed credit for the other deaths as well, although no proof could be found. He stated that he had bombed the Café Terminus to avenge Vaillant and with full intention to kill “as many as possible. I counted on fifteen dead and twenty wounded.” In fact, police had found in his room enough equipment to make twelve or fifteen bombs. In his cold passion, intellectual pride and contempt for the common man, Henry seemed the “St. Just of Anarchism.” A brilliant student who had been admitted to the arcane Ecole Polytechnique and had been expelled for insulting a professor, he had been left to occupy his mind as a draper’s clerk at 120 francs a month. At twenty-two he was, along with Berkman, the best educated and best acquainted with Anarchist theory of all the assassins, and of them all, the most explicit.
In prison he wrote a long, closely reasoned account of his experience of the cynicism and injustice of bourgeois society, of his “too great respect for individual initiative” to permit him to join the herd-like Socialists, and of his approach to Anarchism. He showed himself thoroughly familiar with its doctrines and with the writings of Kropotkin, Reclus, Grave, Faure and others, although he affirmed that Anarchists were not “blind believers” who swallowed whole any or all the ideas of the theorists.
But it was when he explained his choice of the Café Terminus that he suddenly set himself apart. There, he said, come “all those who are satisfied with the established order, all the accomplices and employees of Property and the State,… all that mass of good little bourgeois who make 300 to 500 francs a month, who are more reactionary than their masters, who hate the poor and range themselves on the side of the strong. These are the clientele of the Terminus and the big cafés of its kind. Now you know why I struck where I did.”
In court, when reproached by the judge for endangering innocent lives, he replied with icy hauteur, in words that should have been blazoned on some Anarchist banner, “There are no innocent bourgeois.”
As for the Anarchist leaders, he said, who “dissociate themselves from the propaganda of the deed,” like Kropotkin and Malatesta in the case of Ravachol, and “who try to make a subtle distinction between theorists and terrorists, they are cowards.… We who hand out death know how to take it.… Mine is not the last head you will cut off. You have hung in Chicago, beheaded in Germany, garroted at Jerez, shot in Barcelona, guillotined in Paris, but there is one thing you cannot destroy: Anarchism.… It is in violent revolt against the established order. It will finish by killing you.”
Henry himself took death staunchly. Even the caustic Clemenceau, who witnessed the execution on May 21, 1894, was moved and disturbed. He saw Henry “with the face of a tormented Christ, terribly pale, implacable in expression, trying to impose his intellectual pride upon his child’s body.” The condemned man walked quickly, despite his shackles, up the steps of the scaffold, glanced around and called out in a raucous strangled cry, “Courage, Camarades! Vive l’anarchie!” Society’s answer to Henry seemed to Clemenceau at that moment “an act of savagery.”
Almost without pause fell the next blow, the last in the French series and the most important in its victim, although the least in its assassin. In Lyons on June 24, 1894, during a visit to the Exposition in that city, President Sadi Carnot was stabbed to death by a young Italian workman with the cry, “Vive la révolution! Vive l’anarchie!” The President was driving in an open carriage through crowds that lined the streets, and had given orders to his escort to let people approach if they wanted to. When a young man holding a rolled-up newspaper thrust himself forward from the front row, the guards did not stop him, thinking the newspaper contained a bouquet of flowers for the President. Instead it contained a dagger and, with a terrible blow, the young man plunged it six inches into the President’s abdomen. Carnot died within three hours. His wife next day received a letter mailed before the attack and addressed to the “Widow Carnot” which enclosed a photograph of Ravachol inscribed, “He is avenged.”
The assassin was a baker’s apprentice, not yet twenty-one, named Santo Caserio. Born in Italy, he had become acquainted with Anarchist groups in Milan, the home of political turbulence. At eighteen he was sentenced for distributing Anarchist tracts to soldiers. Following the drift of other restless and troublesome characters, he went to Switzerland and then to Cette in the south of France, where he found work and a local group of Anarchists which went by the name “Les Coeurs de Chêne” (“Hearts of Oak”). He was brooding over Vaillant’s case and the refusal of the President to give a reprieve when he read in the newspapers of the President’s forthcoming visit to Lyons. Caserio decided at once to do a “great deed.” He asked for a holiday from his job and for twenty francs that were due him, and with the money, bought a dagger and took the train for Lyons. There he followed the crowds until he met his opportunity.
Afterwards, in the hands of his captors and in court he was docile, smiling and calm. His wan and rather common but gentle face looked to one journalist like “the white mask of a floured Pierrot illuminated by two bright little blue eyes, obstinately fixed. His Up was ornamented by a poor little shadow of a moustache which seemed to have sprouted almost apologetically.” During his interrogation and trial he remained altogether placid and talked quite rationally about Anarchist principles, by which he appeared obsessed. He described his act as a deliberate “propaganda of the deed.” His only show of emotion was at mention of his mother, to whom he was greatly attached and to whom he had been writing letters regularly when away from home. When the gaoler came to wake him on August 15, the day of execution, he wept for a moment and then made no further sound on the way to the guillotine. Just as his neck was placed on the block he murmured a few words which were interpreted by some as the traditional “Vive l’anarchie!” and by others as “A voeni nen,” meaning, in the Lombard dialect, “I don’t want to.”
When Anarchism slew the very chief of State, it reached a climax in France after which, suddenly, face to face with political realities and the facts of life in the labour movement, it retreated. At first, however, it looked as if the Anarchists would be handed a magnificent opportunity for either propaganda or martyrdom. Charging to the offensive, the Government on August 6 staged a mass trial of thirty of the best known Anarchists in an effort to prove conspiracy between theorists and terrorists. As the known terrorists had already been executed, the only examples the Government could produce were three minor characters of the “burglar” type, none of them Ravachols. Of the leaders, Elisée Reclus had left the country, but his nephew Paul Reclus, Jean Grave, Sebastien Faure and others were in the dock. In the absence of a party or corporate body as defendant, the prosecution was in a difficulty similar to having no corpus delicti. Nevertheless it accused what it called the “sect” of aiming at the destruction of the State through propaganda that encouraged theft, pillage, arson and murder “in which each member of the sect cooperates according to his temperament and facilities.” In dread perhaps of the irresistible oratory of Faure, the prosecution did all the talking, hardly allowing the defendants to open their mouths and regretting it when they did. Addressing Felix Fenéon, the art critic and first champion of the Impressionists, who was one of the defendants, the presiding judge said, “You were seen talking with an Anarchist behind a lamppost.”
“Can you tell me, Your Honor,” replied Fenéon, “where is ‘behind a lamppost’?”
In the absence of evidence connecting the accused with the deeds, the jury was not impressed and acquitted everyone except the three burglars, who were given prison terms. Once again French common sense had reasserted itself.
The jury’s sensible verdict deprived Anarchism of a cause célèbre, but a greater reason for the decline that followed was that the French working class was too realistic to be drawn into a movement suffering from self-inflicted impotence. The sterility of deeds of terror was already beginning to be recognized by leaders like Kropotkin, Malatesta, Reclus and even Johann Most. Searching for other means of bringing down the State, they were always tripped up by the inherent paradox: Revolution demands organization, discipline and Authority; Anarchism disallows them. The futility of their position was beginning to make itself felt.
Banished from the meeting of the Socialist Second International in London in 1896, because of their refusal to subscribe to the necessity of political action, Anarchist groups called a Congress of their own in Paris in 1900. They made efforts to arrive at a formula of union which the comrades could accept, but every proposal foundered against the stubborn devotion to singleness of Jean Grave. A second attempt in a Congress at Amsterdam in 1907 produced a short-lived International Bureau which, for lack of support, soon withered and ceased to function.
Yet in the end there was a kind of tragic sense in the Anarchist rejection of Authority. For, as the Jesuit-educated Sebastien Faure said in a moment of cold realism, “Every revolution ends in the reappearance of a new ruling class.”
Realists of another kind during these years began to come to terms with the labour movement. It was the eight-hour day that the French working class wanted, not bombs in parliament or murdered presidents. But it was the Anarchist propaganda of the Deed that woke them to recognition of what they wanted and the necessity of fighting for it. That was why Ravachol, whom they understood, became a popular hero and songs were sung about him in the streets. Ever since the massacres of the Commune, the French proletariat had been prostrate; it was the Anarchist assaults that brought them to their feet. They sensed that their strength lay in collective action, and in 1895, only a year after the last of the attentats, there was formed the Confédération Générale de Travail (CGT), France’s federation of labour.
Upon the Anarchists, frustrated by their own inherent paradox, it exerted a strong pull. One by one they drifted into the trade unions, bringing with them as much of their doctrine as could be applied. This merger of Anarchist theory and trade-union practice took the form known as Syndicalism, derived from syndicat, the French word for trade union. In this altered form, though extremists of the “pure” kind like Jean Grave shunned it, French Anarchism developed during the years 1895–1914.
Its dogma was direct action through the general strike and its new prophet was Georges Sorel. Under his banner the general strike was to replace propaganda of the deed. The overthrow of capitalism, Sorel argued, could only be accomplished when the working class developed a will to power. The use of violence was to be the means of fostering and training the revolutionary will. The Syndicalists continued to abhor the State or anyone willing, like the Socialists, to cooperate with it, and they had no more use than their Anarchist predecessors for half-way reformist measures. The strike was all, the general strike and nothing but the strike. They retained the sinews of the old movement; but something of its soul, its mad marvelous independence, was gone.
In Spain the cycle had far from run its course. On June 7, 1896, during the festival of Corpus Christi in Barcelona, a bomb was thrown into the midst of a religious procession as it was entering the church door led by the Bishop and the Commanding General of Barcelona. The two representatives of the Church and the Army at whom the bombs were aimed escaped injury, but eleven others were killed and forty wounded amid scenes of blood and terror comparable to the slaughter in the Opera House three years before. The Anarchists succeeded in thoroughly frightening the country, if not its Premier, Antonio Canovas del Castillo, who was not a man to tremble.
Recalled in 1895 for his fifth term as Prime Minister, Canovas was a man of “humble origin,” as the phrase then was, who had risen—through engineering, journalism, diplomacy and election to the Cortes—to the top post of the Conservative Party. He had been the political arm of the restoration of the crown in 1874. In addition to practicing politics, he wrote poetry, literary criticism, a life of Calderón, a ten-volume history of Spain, and was President of the Royal Academy of History. He collected paintings, rare china, old coins and walking sticks, lived in a sumptuous palace in Madrid, dressed always in black and, like Frick, never allowed jewels “to obtrude their vulgarity” upon his person. Whether considered a man of reaction by the republicans or the ablest statesman of his time by others, he was acknowledged to be the only man who could hold the Conservative Party together and hold Cuba for Spain. Although he had formulated a plan for Cuban autonomy, he had also sent out General Weyler to quell theinsurrectos, and already a firm hand and stern measures, in contrast to that of his Liberal predecessors, were taking effect. Against the Anarchists Canovas had no compunctions about proceeding ruthlessly.
With his sanction the mass arrests began again. Over four hundred persons were imprisoned, the Government as usual seizing the pretext to proceed against any or all enemies of the regime, whether Anarchists, anti-Clericals, or Catalan Republicans. The cries of agony from Montjuich were heard again, followed by the fearsome report that the Attorney-General would ask the death penalty for no less than twenty-eight out of eighty-four accused persons who were to be tried by court-martial. This was under a law passed by the Cortes after the Opera House explosion, making all crimes committed with explosives subject to court-martial and providing the death penalty for the guilty. Life imprisonment was decreed for those guilty of advocating violence through speeches, articles or pictures. The trial took place behind the stone curtain of Montjuich with only military personnel permitted to be present. Only the sentences were announced: eight condemned to die, of whom four were reprieved and four executed. Seventy-six were sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight to nineteen years, of whom sixty-one were sent to the penal colony of Rio de Oro, the Spanish Devil’s Island.
At the same time the outside world learned from a firsthand report of the tortures inflicted at Montjuich upon the prisoners of 1893. Tarrida del Marmol, member of a leading Catalan family and director of the Polytechnic Academy of Barcelona, had, because of his liberal opinions, been caught up in the arrests, and his account, published in Paris in 1897 under the title Les Inquisiteurs de l’Espagne, aroused horrified protests. It included a posthumous cry for help in the form of a letter from a fellow prisoner, written before his execution and addressed to “All good men on earth.” It told how he had been taken at night from his cell to a cliff over the sea where the guards loaded their guns and threatened to shoot him unless he said everything the lieutenant told him to say. When he refused, his genital organs were twisted and later, back in prison, this torture was repeated while he was hung from the door of his cell for ten hours. He was also subjected to the enforced walking for a period of five days. “Finally I declared everything they wanted and in my weakness and cowardice signed my declaration.”
Some time later, in August, 1897, Premier Canovas went for a summer holiday to Santa Agueda, a spa in the Basque mountains. During tranquil days there, he noticed a fair-haired well-mannered fellow guest at the hotel who spoke Spanish with an Italian accent and several times saluted him politely. Canovas was moved to ask his secretary if he knew who the strange young man was and found he was registered as correspondent from the Italian newspaper Il Popolo. One morning as the Premier was sitting with his wife on the terrace reading his newspaper, the young Italian suddenly appeared, pulled a revolver from his pocket, and at three yards’ distance fired three shots into Canovas’ body, killing him instantly, Mme Canovas, in a passion of rage and grief, flew at the man still holding the revolver and struck him in the face with her fan, crying, “Murderer! Assassin!”
“I am not an assassin,” replied the Italian sternly. “I am the Avenger of my Anarchist comrades. I have nothing to do with you, Madame.”
Upon arrest and examination, his real name proved to be Michel Angiollilo. When in the Italian Army, he had served three terms in the disciplinary battalion for insubordination. On release from the Army he became a printer, a trade with an affinity for Anarchism, either because the Anarchist seeks contact with the printed word or because contact with the printed word leads to Anarchism. In any case Angiollilo was shortly sentenced to eighteen months in prison for printing subversive literature. In 1895, following a futile attempt, along with some Italian Anarchist comrades, to set up a clandestine press in Marseilles, he went to Barcelona and left after the Corpus Christi explosion. He drifted to Belgium and then London, where he bought a revolver with the intention of killing the Spanish Premier for “ordering the mass torture and execution of Anarchists.” He returned to Spain, stalked Canovas in Madrid but failed to find his opportunity, followed him to Santa Agueda and found it there. Tried by court-martial a week later, he attempted to expound his Anarchist principles, and when silenced by the Court, shouted, “I must justify myself!” but was not allowed to speak. At his execution by the garrote he refused religious rites and maintained an unbroken sangfroid.
The European press erupted in agitated demand for a concerted effort to suppress the “mad dogs” of Anarchism. There was a sense that the loss of a man of Canovas’ stature could be grave for Spain if not, as the Nation of New York predicted, a “national disaster.” In fact, his death proved to be one of those accidents that give a decisive jerk to the course of events. With Canovas gone, the Liberals succeeded in taking office and soon retreated before the wild howls of Hearst-engendered indignation against “Butcher” Weyler then reverberating from the United States. General Weyler was relieved just when he was close to restoring order and the Cuban insurrection flared up again, providing the imperialists in the United States with the excuse for the most deliberately manufactured war of the century. Had Canovas lived, the excuse might not have been available.
For his death there was a reason; for two of the three that followed within the next three years there was none whatever. They were the product partly of Anarchist propaganda, which supplied the suggestion, but even more of public excitement over Anarchist deeds, which gave assassins promise of heroic notoriety and acted as an intoxicant to unsound minds.
The first death took place by dagger on September 10, 1898, alongside the lake steamer at the Quai Mont Blanc in Geneva. Here met, in mortal junction, as meaningless as when a stroke of lightning kills a child, two persons so unconnected, so far apart in the real world, that their lives could never have touched except in a demented moment. One was the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, wife of the Emperor Franz Joseph, the other Luigi Lucheni, a vagrant Italian workman.
The most beautiful and the most melancholy royal personage in Europe, married and crowned at sixteen, Elizabeth was still, at sixty-one, forever moving restlessly from one place to another in endless escape from an unquiet soul. Renowned for her loveliness, her golden-brown hair a yard long, her slender elegance and floating walk, her sparkling moods when she was the “incarnation of charm,” she suffered also from “court-ball headaches,” and could not appear in public without holding a fan before her face. She was “a fairies’ child,” wrote Carmen Sylva, the Queen of Rumania, “with hidden wings, who flies away whenever she finds the world unbearable.” She wrote sad romantic poetry and had seen her son’s life end in the most melodramatic suicide of the century. Her first cousin, King Ludwig of Bavaria, had died insane by drowning; her husband’s brother, Maximilian, by firing squad in Mexico; her sister by fire at a charity bazaar in Paris. “I feel the burden of life so heavily,” she wrote her daughter, “that it is often like a physical pain and I would far rather be dead.” She would rush off to England or Ireland to spend weeks in the hunting field riding recklessly over the most breakneck fences. In Vienna she took lessons in the most dangerous tricks of circus riding. At times she adopted frenetic diets, reducing her nourishment to an orange or a glass of milk a day, and when her health could no longer sustain hunting, she indulged in orgies of walking for six or eight hours at a time at a forced pace no companion could keep up with. What she was seeking was plain: “I long for death,” she wrote her daughter four months before she reached Geneva.
On September 9 she visited the lakeside villa of the Baroness Adolfe de Rothschild, a remote, enchanted world where tame miniature porcupines from Java and exotic colored birds decorated a private park planted with cedars of Lebanon. As she left her hotel next morning to take the lake steamer, the Italian, Lucheni, was waiting outside on the street.
He had come from Lausanne, where he recently had been reported to the police as a suspicious character. The orderly of a hospital where he had been taken for an injury suffered during a building job had found among his belongings a notebook containing Anarchist songs and the drawing of a bludgeon labeled “Anarchia” and underneath, in Italian, “For Humbert I.” Accustomed to misfits, radicals and exiles of all kinds, the Swiss police had not considered this sufficient cause for arrest or surveillance.
According to what he told the hospital orderly, Lucheni’s mother, pregnant at eighteen with an illegitimate child, had made her way to Paris to give birth among the anonymous millions of a great city. Later she was able to return to Italy, where she left her child in the poorhouse in Parma and disappeared to America.
At nine the boy was a day laborer on an Italian railroad. Later when drafted into a cavalry regiment of the Italian Army, he made a good record and was promoted to corporal. Upon his discharge in 1897, having neither savings nor prospects, he became manservant to his former Captain, the Prince d’Aragona, but on being denied a raise, left in anger. Later he asked to come back, but the Prince, considering him too insubordinate for domestic service, refused. Resentful and jobless, Lucheni took to readingL’Agitatore, Il Socialista, Avanti and other revolutionary papers and pamphlets whose theme at the moment was the rottenness of bourgeois society as demonstrated by the Dreyfus case. A single Samson, they indicated, could bring down the State at a blow. Lucheni, now in Lausanne, sent clippings from these papers with his comments to comrades in his former cavalry regiment. Apropos of a workman killed in a quarrel, he remarked to a friend at this time, “Ah, how I’d like to kill somebody. But it must be someone important so it gets into the papers.” He attended meetings of Italian Anarchists who fiercely discussed plans to shake the world by a great deed, of which the favored victim was to be King Humbert of Italy.
Meanwhile the Swiss papers reported the coming visit of the Empress Elizabeth to Geneva. Lucheni tried to buy a stiletto but lacked the necessary 12 francs. In its place he fashioned a homemade dagger out of an old file, carefully sharpened and fitted to a handle made from a piece of firewood. As the Empress and her lady-in-waiting, Countess Sztaray, walked toward the Quai Mont Blanc, Lucheni stood in their path. He rushed upon them with hand upraised, stopped and peered beneath her parasol to make sure of the Empress’ identity, then stabbed her through the heart. She died four hours later. Lucheni, seized by two gendarmes, was caught in his great moment by an alert passer-by with a camera. The picture shows him walking jauntily between his captors with a satisfied smile, almost a smirk, on his face. At the police station he eagerly described all his proceedings and preparations and when later it was learned that the Empress had died, expressed himself as “delighted.” He declared himself an Anarchist and insisted on its being understood that he had acted on his own initiative and not as a member of any group or party. Asked why he had killed the Empress, he replied, “As part of the war on the rich and the great.… It will be Humbert’s turn next.”
From prison he wrote letters to the President of Switzerland and to the newspapers proclaiming his creed and the coming downfall of the State, and signing himself, “Luigi Lucheni, Anarchist, and one of the most dangerous of them.” To the Princess d’Aragona he wrote, “My case is comparable to the Dreyfus case.” Yet behind the poor foolish megalomania, even in Lucheni, glowed the Idea, for he also wrote to the Princess that he had learned enough of the world during his twenty-five years in it to feel that “never in my life have I felt so contented as now.… I have made known to the world that the hour is not far distant when a new sun will shine upon all men alike.”
There being no death penalty in Geneva, Lucheni was sentenced to life imprisonment. Twelve years later, after a quarrel with the warder which resulted in his being given a term of solitary confinement, he hanged himself by his belt.
In the month following the Empress’ death, the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, in the course of a widely heralded royal progress to Jerusalem, was the most conspicuous ruler of the moment. Police rounded up all known Anarchists along the route and international excitement reached a peak when an Italian Anarchist was arrested in Alexandria in possession of two bombs, a ticket for Haifa and obviously murderous intent upon the Kaiser. That sovereign had little to fear, however, from the Anarchists of his own country, for the two who had attempted to kill his grandfather were the last and only activists. Otherwise, German Anarchists remained theorists, except for those who got away to America. Germans were not fit for Anarchism, as Bakunin had said with disdain, for with their passion for Authority, “they want to be at once both masters and slaves and Anarchism accepts neither.”
The assassins of the President of France, the Premier of Spain, and the Empress of Austria, as well as the would-be assassins of the Kaiser, had all been Italians. Inside Italy itself, in 1897, an Anarchist blacksmith named Pietro Acciarito had attempted to kill King Humbert, leaping upon him in his carriage with a dagger in the identical manner of Caserio upon President Carnot. More alert than Carnot to these occupational hazards, the King jumped aside, escaped the blow, and remarking with a shrug to his escort, “Sono gli incerti del mestiere” (“These are the risks of the job”), ordered his coachman to drive on. Acciarito told the police that he would have preferred to have “stuck that old monkey” Pope Leo XIII, but that as he could not get inside the Vatican, he chose to attack the monarchy as the next evil after the papacy.
The hatred for constituted society that seethed in the lower classes and the helplessness of society to defend itself against these attacks was becoming more and more apparent. As usual, the police, in wishful hunt for a “plot,” arrested half a dozen alleged accomplices of Acciarito, none of whom in the end could be proved to have had any connection with him. Plots by groups or parties could be dealt with; there were always informers. But how could the sudden spring of these solitary tigers be prevented?
So serious was the problem that the Italian Government convened an international conference of police and home ministry officials in Rome in November, 1898, to try to work out a solution. Secret sessions lasted for a month with no known result except the admirable if negative one that Belgium, Switzerland and Great Britain refused to give up the traditional right of asylum or agree to surrender suspected Anarchists upon demand of their native countries.
In the following year, 1899, there were bread riots in Italy, caused by taxes and an import duty on grain, which the Anarchists saw as another aspect of the war on the poor by the State. The riots spread north and south despite repressive measures and bloody collision between troops and people. In Milan, streetcars were overturned to make barricades, people hurled stones at police armed with guns, women threw themselves in front of trains to prevent the arrival of troops, a state of siege was declared, and all Tuscany put under martial law. The cry that at last the revolution had come brought thousands of Italian workmen back from Spain, Switzerland and the south of France to take part. Control was only regained by the dispatch of half an army corps to Milan. All Socialist and revolutionary papers were suppressed, parliament was prorogued, and although the Government succeeded in re-establishing order, it was only on the surface.
The inoffensive monarch who found himself presiding over this situation had a fierce white moustache, personal courage, a gallant soul and no more noticeable talent for kingship than any of the House of Savoy. Humbert was passionately fond of horses and hunting, totally impervious to the arts, which he left to the patronage of his Queen, and very regular in his habits. He rose at six every morning, attended to the management of his private estates (whose revenues were large and deposited in the Bank of England), visited his stables and drove out in his carriage every afternoon at the same hour over the same route through the Borghese Gardens. Every evening at the same hour he visited a lady to whom he had remained devotedly faithful since before his marriage thirty years earlier. On July 29, 1900, he was distributing prizes from his carriage to athletic competitors in Monza, the royal summer residence near Milan, when he was shot four times by a man who stepped up to the carriage and fired at hardly two yards’ distance. The King gazed at him reproachfully for a moment, then fell over against the shoulder of his aide-de-camp, murmured “Avanti!” to his coachman and expired.
The assassin, “holding his smoking weapon exultantly aloft,” was immediately seized. He was identified as Gaetano Bresci, a thirty-year-old Anarchist and silk-weaver who had come from Paterson, New Jersey, to Italy with intent to assassinate the King. His act was the only instance of Anarchist propaganda of the deed for which there is some evidence, though unproven, of previous conspiracy.
Paterson was a center of Italians and of Anarchism. Certainly the Anarchists of Paterson held many meetings and heatedly discussed a Deed which would be the signal for overthrow of the oppressor. Certainly the King of Italy figured as their preferred target, but whether, as charged in reports after the event, lots were actually chosen to select the person to do the deed, or whether the discussions simply inspired Bresci to act of his own accord, is not certain. The picture of a cabal of Anarchists in a cellar drawing lots to select an assassin was a favorite journalistic imagery of the time.
One imaginative reporter pictured Bresci as having been “indoctrinated” by Malatesta, “the head and moving spirit of all the conspiracies which have recently startled the world by their awful success.” He claimed that Malatesta had been glimpsed quietly drinking at an Italian bar in Paterson, but the police found no evidence that Bresci had ever met Malatesta. He had, however, either obtained or been given a revolver in Paterson with which he practiced shooting in the woods while his wife and three-year-old daughter picked flowers nearby. Also, he was given by his comrades, or somehow obtained, money to buy a steerage ticket on the French Line with enough left over to make his way from Le Havre to Italy.
“He was not insane enough to expect that the change of Government would follow his act,” explained Pedro Esteve, editor of the Paterson Anarchist journal, to a reporter. “But how else could he let the people of Italy know that there was any such force in the world as Anarchy?” An amiable and scholarly person whose bookshelves held the works of Emerson next to those of Jean Grave, Esteve accepted as quite reasonable that one of his own readers should go out and express the protest of the masses in a magnificent gesture.
Bresci’s comrades sent him a congratulatory telegram in prison and wore his picture on buttons in their coat lapels. They also insisted at a mass meeting in Paterson, attended by over a thousand persons, that there had been no plot. “We don’t need to make plots or talk,” said Esteve, who was the principal speaker. “If you are an Anarchist you know what to do and you do it individually and of your own accord.”
Bresci himself suffered the same fate as other instruments of the Idea. As Italy had abolished the death penalty, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, the first seven years to be spent in solitary confinement. After the first few months he killed himself in prison.
In the United States the newspaper account of King Humbert’s assassination was read over and over again by a Polish-American named Leon Czolgosz. The clipping became a precious possession which he took to bed with him every night. Twenty-eight at this time, he was small and slight, with a peculiar fixed gaze in his light-blue eyes. Born in the United States shortly after his parents came to America, he was one of six brothers and two sisters, and lived with his family on a small farm in Ohio. According to his father, he had “the appearance of thinking more than most children,” and because of his fondness for reading, was considered the intellectual of the family. In 1893, when he was twenty years old, he had been laid off during a strike in the wire factory where he worked, and afterward, according to his brother, “he got quiet and not so happy.” Prayer and the local priest having proved ineffective, he broke away from the Catholic Church, took to reading pamphlets issued by “Free Thinkers” and through these became interested in political radicalism. He joined a Polish workers’ circle where Socialism and Anarchism were among the topics discussed, and also, as he said later, “we discussed Presidents and that they were no good.”
In 1898 he suffered some undefined illness which left him moody and dull. He gave up work, stayed home, took his meals upstairs to his bedroom, kept to himself, read the Chicago Anarchist paper Free Society and Bellamy’s utopia, Looking Backward, and brooded. He made trips to Chicago and Cleveland, where he attended Anarchist meetings, heard speeches by Emma Goldman and had talks with an Anarchist named Emil Schilling to whom he expressed himself as troubled by the conduct of the American Army, which, after liberating the Philippines from Spain, was now engaged in war upon the Filipinos. “It does not harmonize with the teaching in our public schools about our flag,” said Czolgosz worriedly.
As flags were a matter of no respect to Anarchists, Schilling became suspicious of him and published a warning in Free Society that the oddly behaved Polish visitor might be an agent provocateur. This was on September 1, 1901, and was wide of the mark. Five days later Czolgosz turned up in Buffalo, where, in a receiving line at the Pan-American Exposition, he shot President McKinley. The President died eight days later and was succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt. Thus Czolgosz, on the lowest level of understanding among Anarchist assassins, performed of them all the act with the greatest consequences.
“I killed President McKinley,” Czolgosz wrote in his confession, “because I done my duty,” and later added, “because he was an enemy of the good working people.” He told reporters that he had heard Emma Goldman lecture and her doctrine “that all rulers should be exterminated … set me to thinking so that my head nearly split with pain.” He said, “McKinley was going around the country shouting prosperity when there was no prosperity for the poor man.” And further, “I don’t believe we should have any rulers. It is right to kill them.… I know other men who believe what I do that it would be a good thing to kill the President and to have no rulers.… I don’t believe in voting; it is against my principles. I am an Anarchist. I don’t believe in marriage. I believe in free love.”
The Idea of Anarchism, its vision of a better society, had not come within Czolgosz’s ken. Like Caserio, the simple assassin of President Carnot, he was of the type of regicide who becomes obsessed by the delusion that it is his mission to kill the sovereign. This was brought out, shortly after Czolgosz’s hurried trial and electrocution on October 29, by Dr. Walter Channing, Professor of Mental Diseases at Tufts, and son of the poet William Ellery Channing. Dissatisfied with the official alienists’ report, Channing made his own study and concluded that Czolgosz had been “drifting in the direction of dementia praecox” and was a victim of a delusion already isolated and described by a French alienist, Dr. Emanuel Regis, in 1890. According to Dr. Regis, the regicide type is much given to cogitations and solitude and “whatever sane reason he may have possessed gives way to a sickly fixation that he is called on to deal a great blow, sacrifice his life to a just cause and kill a monarch or a dignitary in the name of God, Country, Liberty, Anarchy or some analogous principle.” He is characterized by premeditation and obsession. He does not act suddenly or blindly, but on the contrary, prepares carefully and alone. He is a solitaire. Proud of his mission and his role, he acts always in daylight and in public, and never uses a secret weapon like poison but one that demands personal violence. Afterwards, he does not seek to escape but exhibits pride in his deed and desire for glory and for death, either by suicide or “indirect suicide” as an executed martyr.
The description fits, but for the delusions to become active there is required a certain climate of protest—and an example. This the Anarchist creed and deeds provided. There may be at any time a hundred Czolgoszes living mute, inactive lives; it took the series of acts from Ravachol to Bresci to inspire one to kill the President of the United States.
The public was by now thoroughly aroused, and the public was composed not only of the rich but of the imitators of the rich. The ordinary man, the petty bourgeois, the salaried employee, associated himself—as Emile Henry knew when he threw his bomb in the Café Terminus—with his employers. His living, as he thought, depended on their property. When this was threatened, he felt threatened. He felt a peculiar horror at the Anarchist’s desire to destroy the foundations on which everyday life was based; the flag, the legal family, marriage, the church, the vote, the law. The Anarchist became everybody’s enemy. His sinister figure became synonymous with everything wicked and subversive, synonymous, said a professor of political science in Harper’s Weekly, with “the king of all Anarchists, the arch-rebel Satan.” His doctrine, said the Century Magazine after the death of McKinley, “bodes more evil to the world than any previous conception of human relations.”
The new President, an extraordinarily mixed man equally capable of subtle understanding, courageous action and extremes of banality, saw in the Anarchist simply a criminal, more “dangerous” and “depraved” than the ordinary kind. In his message to Congress on December 3, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt said, “Anarchism is a crime against the whole human race and all mankind should band against the Anarchist.” He was not the product of social or political injustice and his protest of concern for the workingman was “outrageous.” The institutions of the United States, the President insisted, offered open opportunity “to every honest and intelligent son of toil.” He urged that Anarchist speeches, writings and meetings should henceforth be treated as seditious, that Anarchists should no longer be allowed at large, those already in the country should be deported, Congress should “exclude absolutely all persons who are known to be believers in Anarchistic principles or members of Anarchistic societies,” and their advocacy of killing should by treaty be made an offense against international law, like piracy, so that the federal government would have the power to deal with them.
After much discussion and not without strong objections to the denial of the traditional right of ingress, Congress in 1903 amended the Immigration Act to exclude persons disbelieving in or “teaching disbelief in or opposition to all organized government.” The amendment provoked liberal outcries and sorrowful references to the Statue of Liberty.
Of the dual nature of Anarchism, half hatred of society, half love of humanity, the public was aware only of the first. It was the bombs and explosions, the gunshots and the daggers, that impressed them. They knew nothing of the other side of Anarchism which hoped to lead humanity through the slough of violence to the Delectable Mountains. The press showed them Malatesta, for instance, as the evil genius of Anarchism, “silent, cold, plotting.” It did not show him as the man whose philosophy of altruism caused him to deed two houses he inherited from his parents in Italy to the tenants inhabiting them. Since the public likewise knew nothing of the theory of propaganda by the deed, it could make no sense of the Anarchist acts. They seemed purposeless, mad, a pure indulgence in evil for its own sake. The press customarily referred to Anarchists as “wild beasts,” “crypto-lunatics,” degenerates, criminals, cowards, felons, “odious fanatics prompted by perverted intellect and morbid frenzy.” “The mad dog is the closest parallel in nature to the Anarchist,” pronounced Blackwood’s, the dignified British monthly. How was it possible, asked Carl Schurz after the murder of Canovas, to protect society against “a combination of crazy people and criminals”?
That was the unanswerable question. All sorts of proposals were put forward, including the establishment of an international penal colony for Anarchists, or disposal of them in hospitals for the insane, or universal deportation, although it was not explained what country would receive them if every country was engaged in sending them away.
Yet the cry of protest in the throat of every Anarchist act was heard by some, and understood. In the midst of the hysteria over McKinley, Lyman Abbott, editor of the Outlook and a spokesman of the New England tradition which had produced the Abolitionists, had the courage to ask if the Anarchist’s hatred of government and law did not derive from the fact that government and law operated unjustly. So long, he said, as legislators legislate for special classes, “encourage the spoliation of the many for the benefit of the few, protect the rich and forget the poor,” so long will Anarchism “demand the abolition of all law because it sees in law only an instrument of injustice.” Speaking to the comfortable gentlemen of the Nineteenth Century Club, he suggested that “the place to attack Anarchism is where the offenses grow.” He was echoing a concern that was already expressing itself in movements of reform, in Jane Addams and the social welfare work she inspired from Hull House, in the Muckrakers who within a year or two were to begin exposing the areas of injustice, rottenness and corruption in American life.
With McKinley the era of Anarchist assassinations came to an end in the western democracies. Even Alexander Berkman in his prison cell recognized, as he wrote to Emma Goldman, the futility of individual acts of violence in the absence of a revolutionary-minded proletariat. This second disavowal sent his correspondent, who still believed, into “uncontrollable sobbing,” and left her “shaken to the roots,” so that she took to her bed, ill. Although she retained an ardent following, especially among the press, who referred to her as the “Queen of the Anarchists,” Anarchist passion on the whole passed, as it had in France, into the more realistic combat of the Syndicalist unions. In the United States it was absorbed into the Industrial Workers of the World, founded in 1905, although in every country there remained irreconcilables who stayed lonely and true to the original creed.
In the two countries on Europe’s rim, Spain and Russia, each industrially backward and despotically governed, bombs and assassinations mounted as the world moved into the Twentieth Century. When in Spain a bomb was thrown at King Alfonso and his young English bride on their wedding day in 1906, killing twenty bystanders, it spread a fearful recognition of the deep reservoir of hatred which could have impelled such a deed. The reciprocal hatred of the ruling class was confirmed in 1909, when as a result of an abortive revolt in Barcelona known as “Red Week,” the Government executed Francisco Ferrer, a radical and anticlerical educator, though not a true Anarchist. The case raised storms of protest in the rest of Europe, where, as usual, Spanish iniquities provided a vent for liberal consciences. In 1912 a Spanish Anarchist named Manuel Pardinas stalked the Premier, José Canalejas, through the streets of Madrid and shot him dead from behind as he was looking into the window of a bookstore in the Puerta del Sol. It was a poor choice, for Canalejas, carried into office in the wake of Ferrer’s death, was attempting some reforms of the unbridled power of Church and landlords, but it was evidence that in their continuing combat against society, Spanish Anarchists were moved, as Shaw wrote, by “consciences outraged beyond endurance.”
In Russia the tradition of revolution was old and deep and as full of despair as of hope. Each generation turned up new fighters in the long war between rebel and despot. In 1887, the year the Haymarket Anarchists were hanged, five students of the University of St. Petersburg were hanged for the attempted murder by bomb of Alexander III. Their leader, Alexander Ulyanov, justified the use of terror at his trial as the only method possible in a police state. He was one of three brothers and three sisters, all revolutionaries, of whom a younger brother, Vladimir Ilyich, swore revenge, changed his last name to Lenin, and went forth to work for revolution.
Increasing unrest during the nineties encouraged the revolutionists to believe that the time was ripening for insurrection. A new Czar who was that most dangerous of rulers, a weak autocrat, marked his accession as Nicholas II in 1895 by flatly dismissing all pleas for a constitution as “nonsensical dreams,” thereby causing democrats to despair and extremists to exult. In the cities, strikes by newly industrialized workers followed one upon another. Over all, exerting a mysterious intangible pull, like the moon upon the tides, loomed the approaching moment of the end of the century. There was a sense of an end and a beginning, of “a time to break.”
All the groups of discontent felt the need to prepare for a time of action, to gather their strength in parties and to state their program. But there was conflict between the followers of Marxism, with its hardbitten insistence on organization and training, and the inheritors of the Narodniki tradition, who believed in spontaneous revolution brought on by some deed of terror. As a result, two parties took shape in the years 1897 and 1898, the Marxist Social-Democratic party on the one hand, and on the other, the Populist Socialist-Revolutionaries, whose various groups merged into a definitive party in 1901.
In so far as they accepted organization as a party, the Socialist-Revolutionaries were not Anarchists of the true breed, but they shared the Anarchists’ belief that deeds of terror could precipitate revolution. Like them they saw revolution as a sunburst on the horizon under whose benevolent beams the future would take care of itself. The public’s identification of Anarchists with Russians stemmed partly from their addiction to the bomb, which, ever since the killing of the Czar in 1881, seemed peculiarly a Russian weapon, and partly from the unconscious syllogism: Russians were revolutionists; Anarchists were revolutionists; ergo, Anarchists were Russians. Orthodox Anarchists, of whom there were small groups who published Russian-language journals in Geneva and Paris, and took their inspiration from Kropotkin, were not a significant force inside Russia.
In 1902 Maxim Gorky put into The Lower Depths all the woe, the wretchedness and the despair of Russia. “Man must live for something better!” cries the drunken cardsharp in the play, “something better,” and searching for words, for meaning, for a philosophy, he can only repeat, “something better.” Toward that end, in the years 1901–03 the Terror Brigade of the Socialist-Revolutionaries assassinated the Minister of Education, Bogolepov; the Minister of Interior, Sipiagin, who directed the Secret Police; and the Governor of Ufa, Bogdanovitch, who had put down a miners’ strike in the Urals with particular brutality. On July 15, 1904, in the midst of the Russo-Japanese War, they disposed of a second Minister of Interior, Wenzel von Plehve, the most hated man in Russia. An ultrareactionary, Plehve was if anything even firmer than the Czar in the belief that autocracy must be kept unimpaired by the slightest concession to democratic processes. His sole policy was to smash every possible source of antipathy to the regime. He arrested revolutionaries, suppressed the orthodox “old believers,” restricted the zemstvos, or village governments, victimized the Jews, forcibly Russified the Poles, Finns and Armenians and, as a result, increased the enemies of Czarism, and convinced them of the need for a final change.
A method he favored for diverting popular discontent was expressed to a colleague in the words, “We must drown the revolution in Jewish blood.” Stirred up by his agents, watched tolerantly by the police, Russian citizens of Kishinev during the Passover of 1903 burst into a frenzy of violence against the eternal scapegoat, killing and beating, burning and plundering homes and shops, desecrating synagogues, tearing the sacred Torah from the arms of a white-bearded rabbi whose horror at seeing it defiled by Gentiles was shortened by his death under their clubs and boots. The Kishinev pogrom not only resounded around the world but succeeded in penetrating under the skin of the leader of the Terror Brigade, Evno Azev, who was at the same time an agent of the Secret Police and also happened to be a Jew. Azev took care not to inform on the plan for the assassination of Plehve which duly took place. It made an enormous impression upon everyone in Russia as a terrible blow against the system of which Plehve was the incarnation. So ominous did it seem that the assassin was condemned to hard labour in Siberia for life instead of to death by Plehve’s successor, Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky, in the hope that a mild policy might accomplish something.
Six months later, in January, 1905, occurred the massacre in front of the Winter Palace known as “Bloody Sunday,” when troops fired on a crowd of workingmen who had come to petition the Czar for a constitution. About one thousand were killed. The terrorists now made plans to assassinate the Czar and his uncles, the Grand Duke Vladimir, who was held responsible for the massacre, and the Grand Duke Sergei, who was said to be the person with the greatest influence on the Czar. As Governor-General of Moscow, Sergei was known for the merciless brutality of his rule, for a capricious and domineering character and extremes of autocratic temperament bordering on derangement. According to an English observer, he was “conspicuous for his cruelty and renowned, even among the Russian aristocracy, for the peculiarity of his vices.” Although in the pay of the police, Azev had to allow the Brigade enough successes to satisfy them and to maintain his position as their chief, without which he would have been of far less value to the police. In February, 1905, Sergei was blown up with a bomb thrown by a young revolutionary named Kaliaev who was left standing alive in the midst of the debris, in his old blue coat with a red scarf, his face bleeding, but otherwise unhurt. All that was left of the Grand Duke and of his carriage and horses was “a formless mass of fragments about eight or ten inches high.” That evening when the Czar heard the news he came down to dinner as usual and did not mention the murder, but, according to a guest who was present, “after dinner the Czar and his brother-in-law amused themselves by trying to edge one another off the long narrow sofa.”
At his trial in April, 1905, Kaliaev, thin, haggard and with eyes sunken in their sockets, said to the judges, “We are two warring camps,… two worlds in furious collision. You, the representatives of capital and oppression; I, one of the avengers of the people.” Russia was in the midst of war, outside against the Japanese, and inside against her own people, who were in open revolt. “What does all this mean? It is the judgment of history upon you.” When sentence of death was pronounced, Kaliaev said he hoped his executioners would have the courage to carry it out openly and publicly. “Learn to look the advancing revolution straight in the eye,” he told the Court. But he was hanged, dressed in black, after midnight in the prison yard and buried beneath the prison wall.
In October the Revolution came; propaganda of the deed, in the murders of von Plehve and the Grand Duke Sergei, had helped to excite the nerves of the masses toward the point of insurrection. Neither organized nor led by the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Social-Democrats or Anarchists, it was the spontaneous revolution Bakunin had believed in and did not live to see. In accordance with Syndicalist theory it erupted out of a general strike by the workers, and during the regime’s first fright, succeeded in forcing the concession of a constitution and a Duma. Although these were subsequently withdrawn, and the Revolution, when the regime had recovered its nerve, ferociously suppressed, it heartened the Syndicalists’ belief in “direct action” through the general strike, and re-enforced the movement of Anarchists into the industrial unions. In Russia the Terror Brigade accomplished several more deaths before it disintegrated under the shock of the exposure of Azev in 1908. By the time the Premier, Stolypin, was assassinated in 1911 the half-lunatic world of the Romanov twilight had so darkened that it was never clear whether the assassins were genuine revolutionaries or agents provocateurs of the police.
However self-limited its acts, however visionary its dream, Anarchism had terribly dramatized the war between the two divisions of society, between the world of privilege and the world of protest. In the one it shook awake a social conscience; in the other, as its energy passed into Syndicalism, it added its quality of violence and extremism to the struggle for power of organized labour. It was an idea which drew men to follow it but because of its built-in paradox could not draw them together into a group capable of concerted action. It was the last cry of individual man, the last movement among the masses on behalf of individual liberty, the last hope of living unregulated, the last fist shaken against the encroaching State, before the State, the party, the union, the organization closed in.