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Source: Modern Culture
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Anarchism—A Study of Social Forces”
Author(s): Virstow, Henry
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 14
Issue number: 2
Pagination: 140-42

Virstow, Henry. “Anarchism—A Study of Social Forces.” Modern Culture Oct. 1901 v14n2: pp. 140-42.
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Named persons
Mikhail Bakunin; Karl Marx; Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; Johann Karl Rodbertus; August Spies.


Anarchism—A Study of Social Forces

THE most exciting event in the United States during the new century is intimately connected in the popular mind, whether correctly or not, with this subject. For twenty years anarchy has strained the vigilance of governments in their endeavor to detect it in given instances, since many of the most far-reaching crimes of the age have been traced to this as their source. It is no hyperbole to say that at this moment the powers are stirred as they have not been for several years, in making provisions to prevent its coming to the surface in the shape of startling deeds of violence, and every day crowned heads and the republic of the United States are realizing the meditation, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
     The reader does not need to be very old who remembers the first organized appearance of what we term Anarchism. Its present status furnishes an apt illustration of the radical change of what is implied in a name, for Anarchism as it was taught by its founder, in the middle of the last century, was declared to be “the true form of the State.” This was Proudhon, the celebrated French writer on socialism. By this he did not mean disorder, but the absence through education, of effective municipal government. Innocent in itself, it had, however, the germ of the extremest socialism. His famous paradox, “La propriete, c’est vol, had in it the content of the philosophy of modern anarchy. Its leaven was seen working in his editorship of “Representat du People, which in 1848 became the most fiery sheet of France. His paper was suppressed before the end of that year, for its dangerous economic doctrines, but the anarchy of our day must regard him as its father. “Property is theft” was a terse, catchy phrase, which then as now caught the ear of the impecunious masses. Whether, as someone has suggested, he was the dupe of his own paradoxes, or blind to the logical result of his socialistic claims, it is, how- [140][141] ever, clear that before his death, “a well-developed anarchist,” might be affirmed of him.
     With his teachings for a basis, radical socialism branched out freely. The German “Scientific Socialism,” as it was called, made rapid progress. Johann Karl Rodbertus, who had been minister of education and public worship in Prussia, was its originator, about 1850. His best-known disciple, the Hebrew, Karl Marx, became such an able exponent of it, that his “Capital” has been called the Socialist’s Bible. The transition from the socialism they taught to a violent Anarchism was not difficult. The expulsion of M. Bakunin from the society of which Marx was president resulted in perhaps the first anarchistic organization that recommended the application of force, though Marx was not averse to it, in the furtherance of their doctrines. This murderous child thrived amazingly, as the fit emblem of the worst passions of the race.
     Michael Bakunin was a Russian of aristocratic family, born at Torshok, Russia, in 1814. He served in the Russian army and afterwards traveled in western Europe, meeting Proudhon at Paris in 1847. He was active in the German revolutionary movement of 1848, was arrested and sent to Siberia by his own government, but escaped, and making his home in Switzerland founded there the Social Democratic Alliance, devoted to a propaganda of force. The revolutionist after his pattern is a man consecrated to merciless and universal destruction, without human interests or feelings, without religious or moral scruples, bent solely on overturning the existing order of society. He is opposed to all authority, all government, whether based on universal suffrage or not, and proclaims everywhere the sacred right of insurrection. The Alliance demands the abolition of classes and the absolute equality of individuals and of the sexes. It rejects all religions, all morality, and attacks marriage and the family as opposed to “liberty.”
     This is the propaganda which, under Bakunin’s influence, made great headway in Spain, Italy, and France, and through certain branches of the Nihilists, in Russia, although the revolutionary party in Russia is not as a whole committed to the principles of Anarchism, but is more closely allied with the Scientific Socialism of Germany.
     Germany was the first government that deemed it necessary to pass repressive measures against anarchists. One result of the extreme stringency of these laws was the commencement of the dastardly attempts upon the life of the Emperor, another was the migration of anarchists to the United States, which they hailed as “the land of free speech,” and so they have seemed to find it.
     The first appearance of the monster here was in 1883. At the congress of the International Association of Workingmen, held at Pittsburg [sic] in October of that year, the anarchistic contingent from Chicago publicly advocated all the force necessary to carry their doctrines into effect. August Spies was one of the chosen advocates, and when he returned to Chicago, work was begun in earnest to spread this awful gospel. Under the slogan of free speech in a free country, they disseminated their theories, and the city and state took but little note of the danger lurking in it. The city was roused from its apathy by the terrible crime at the Haymarket, and the people began apparently to realize the danger of “The Red Philosophy.” Even the executions which followed seem to have been only a temporary deterrent to the deeds of this foreign school of blood, for we recognize today that Chicago is the chief center of anarchy in the West, as New Jersey is in the East.
     When the assassin at Buffalo proclaimed his creed, the nation instantly demanded the crushing out of the principles of which he claimed to be the advocate. Whether this will prove only a spasmodic burst of indignation, as did that of Chicago fifteen years ago, we do not know, but if we do not take measures to put down this worst form of organized rebellion against government, we may rest assured that it is not one of those evils which work their own cure. In other words, it is political suicide to let it alone. It will not do to let it claim protection as the socialism which advocates the uplift of humanity as its creed, a state [141][142] which contemplates such a condition of enlightenment that each citizen becomes a law unto himself, rendering unnecessary any idea of municipal government. The principle of scientific socialism may be an ideal one, and in teaching it there is no offense. But anarchy supplements this with the advocacy by any means of revolutionary energy, which denies any right of existence to political forms, except the free commune, so-called.
     Anarchy is revolutionary socialism, and has materialism for its basis. It therefore subserves every means designed to overthrow all forms of religion. Anarchy means the destruction of all political restraints, and therefore all governments are its especial victims. It condemns all political authority, whether that proceeds from the individual will of a sovereign, or from elective suffrage. It denies the sacredness of home, and therefore free love is advocated as a substitute for marriage under law. In short, it means the unbridled indulgence of individual will in everything. What efficiency there is in the law of the land, to prevent the public teaching of such principles, has never yet, unfortunately, been tried to any appreciable extent in our country.
     Under the banner of Anarchism have been committed some of the most heinous crimes of our generation. It lays its secret conspiracies against kings and emperors and presidents and every representative of organized government. It foments the direst hatred between the masses and the classes, and openly proclaims war upon all that we hold most sacred in the home, in society, and in the state. It is an anti-social force of slow and insidious growth developing in the untrained intellects and undernourished brains of the half-starved laboring and peasant classes of southern and eastern Europe. Driven from its natural habitat by the wisely repressive laws of European governments it takes refuge in free America, only to turn its blood-stained hand against our institutions and the highest person in our government.
     It remains to be seen whether the Anglo-Saxon love of fair play, righteous government, and regard for the rights of others, which are the foundation of this Republic, will assert themselves, as in part at least the outcome of the awful deed at Buffalo.

     Union City, Mich.



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