Source: Literary Digest
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Radical Comment on the President’s Assassination”
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 23
Issue number: 12
|“Radical Comment on the President’s Assassination.” Literary Digest 21 Sept. 1901 v23n12: pp. 336-37.|
|McKinley assassination (quotations about); McKinley assassination (public response: anarchists); Johann Most (public statements); Emma Goldman (public statements); anarchism (compared with socialism); McKinley assassination (public response: socialists); Eugene V. Debs (public statements).|
|Mikhail Bakunin; Leon Czolgosz; Eugene V. Debs; Emma Goldman; Peter Kropotkin; Errico Malatesta [first name misspelled below]; Karl Marx; William McKinley; Johann Most [variant first name below]; Albert R. Parsons; Lucy E. Parsons; J. A. Wayland.|
Radical Comment on the President’s Assassination
NOT the least striking feature in connection with Czolgosz’s deed is the indignant repudiation of his act by the Anarchists themselves. Prince Kropotkin, the intellectual leader of the Anarchists, in a London interview, characterizes Czolgosz as “a common murderer,” and says he should be treated as such, while Enrico Malatetsa, the best known of the Italian Anarchists, declares “there is no reason for such an act in a country like America.” Mrs. Lucy Parsons, of Chicago, the widow of Albert R. Parsons, pronounces Czolgosz’s action “the deed only of a lunatic,” while even John Most says that “no Anarchists in this country want to kill McKinley. He is not a despot, and it is only against the despotic rulers of the Old World that men who are working for better social conditions have any enmity.” It should be added, however, that Most has been arrested for printing in the issue of his paper preceding the attack upon the President a lurid and violent article lauding the killing of “despots.” In the issue of Freiheit which appeared after Most’s imprisonment, but before the President died, he says:
“The people far and wide have shown themselves, so far as we can convince ourselves, wholly indifferent. Only the press, church, and political priests have given vent to idiotic howls of anger. Whenever these prostitutes are seen their faces show cynical grins and doggish depravity. O tempora, O mores! These shootings occur all the time among cowboys—5,000 or 6,000 times a day, and the county sheriffs and local papers hardly take any notice of the matter, and since it has been said year after year that all citizens of this country are equal, there is no difference between a President and a street-cleaner, and no excuse for all this noise and nonsensical uproar. . . . . . .
“It was said that there was a plot to assassinate the President. Notwithstanding all the excitement no one has yet discovered a plot, and it will be necessary to release all those who have been arrested, which will make the politicians, Government, and press ridiculous. Assassinations are not especially Anarchistic. We rejoice that Mr. Czolgosz is not a foreigner but a native.”
Emma Goldman, when arrested in Chicago and asked her opinion of Czolgosz’s crime, is reported to have said: “Oh, the fool!” and to have expressed her opinion of the utter futility of his act. In a recent interview with a New York Sun reporter she said:
“I have never propagated violence. I don’t know of a single truly great Anarchist leader who ever did advocate violence. Where violence comes with Anarchy it is a result of the conditions, not of Anarchy. There is ignorance, cruelty, starvation, poverty, suffering, and some victim grows tired of waiting. He believes a decisive blow will call public attention to the wrongs of his country and may hasten the remedy. He and perhaps one or two intimate friends or relatives make a plan. They do not have orders. They do not consult other Anarchists. If a man came to me and told me he was planning an assassination I would think him an utter fool and refuse to pay any attention to him. The man who has such a plan, if he is earnest and honest, knows no secret is safe when told. He does the deed himself; runs the risk himself; pays the penalty himself. I honor him for the spirit that prompts him. It is no small thing for a man to be willing to lay down his life for the cause of humanity. The act is noble, but it is mistaken.
“No, I have never advocated violence, but neither do I condemn the Anarchist who resorts to it. I look behind him for the conditions that made him possible, and my horror is swallowed up in pity. Perhaps under the same conditions I would have done the same.”
Lucifer, an Anarchist paper published in Chicago, says:
“We need not say that the shooting of President McKinley is wholly condemned by this office, as the suicidal act of a madman. . . . . . .
“We believe that all acts of violence recoil on the party which institutes them. If a society of Anarchists had caused the assassination of Mr. McKinley, that act would do more harm to their cause than to the cause of governmentalism. On the other hand, the methods adopted by police and newspapers in manufacturing ‘evidence’ and promulgating lies about their victims will in the end be an injury to their own cause.”
The opinion is freely expressed
in the newspapers, however, that these Anarchist comments are not sincere, and
that they are simply given utterance at this time because of the imminent danger
in which the Anarchists find themselves.
In the popular mind, Socialism is often confounded with Anarchism, and these principles are held to be closely related. But, as a writer in the Brooklyn Eagle points out, the doctrines of Socialism and Anarchism are diametrically opposed, and warfare has existed between the Socialists and the Anarchists for thirty years. The struggle may be said to have begun, the writer continues, in the contest for supremacy between Marx and Bakunin, and it culminated in the action of the London Socialist Congress of 1896, which summarily ejected the Anarchists and decreed that they could have no representation in future conventions. The hostile spirit existing between Socialism and Anarchism is a very marked feature in Socialist comment on the President’s assassination. “Socialism,” says J. A. Wayland, editor of the Appeal to Reason (Girard, Kans.), the most widely circulated of the Socialist papers, “demands an extension of the functions of law, while Anarchy denies all law. They are the opposite poles of thought. Every Socialist deplores  the crime just committed.” The Worker’s Call (Chicago) declares that “to a Socialist, murder is always equally detestable and useless, regardless of the position of the victim,” and adds that “Anarchy is a disease inherent in present society and will disappear only with the present economic system.” The Social-Democratic Herald (Milwaukee) declares that “the Anarchists have been a stumbling-block in the way of the labor movement in this as in every other country,” adding that the acts of Anarchist assassins furnish “the reactionaries” just the excuse they need for inaugurating repressive measures against the whole radical movement. The Worker (New York) continues:
“No man who understands the social system in which we live and who is capable of reasoning from cause to effect could suppose that the killing of the head of the Government or of any number of public officials or even of the great capitalists who dictate the actions of those officials could right the wrongs of the system or give liberty to those whom the capitalists and their official agents exploit. On the contrary, such attempts can only put off the day of the social revolution which is to bring labor’s emancipation.”
Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist Presidential candidate last year, when asked for his opinion of Czolgosz’s deed, replied:
“I have sympathy for any man who is the victim of such an attack, because I am constitutionally opposed to shedding human blood under any circumstances. But I have no more sympathy for McKinley than I have for the innocent victims who were shot down by the New York militia at Buffalo a few years ago, or the inoffensive miners who were trudging along the highway of Latimer and were riddled with bullets in the name of law and order.
“The talk about suppressing Anarchy is a waste of breath. Where shall the line be drawn and who shall draw it? When it comes to respect for law, the poor, misguided and much-hated Anarchists are models of innocence compared to the great trusts and corporations that trample all law under foot and so manipulate business and industry as to bring suffering, misery, and death to thousands, each of which in its own small circle is as great a tragedy as the attempted assassination of the President. . . . . . .
“As long as society breeds misery, misery will breed assassination. Every now and then the poverty and desperation in the social cellar will explode in assassination at the sumptuous banqueting board on the upper floor. The way, and the only way, to end Anarchy is to quit producing it. Sympathy for its victims, while praiseworthy in the human heart, does not mitigate the evil.”