Source: Mother Earth
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Leon Czolgosz”
Author(s): Baginski, Max
Date of publication: October 1906
Volume number: 1
Issue number: 8
|Baginski, Max. “Leon Czolgosz.” Mother Earth Oct. 1906 v1n8: pp. 4-9.|
|Leon Czolgosz (connection with anarchists); Leon Czolgosz; McKinley assassination (sympathizers); society (criticism); United States (government: criticism); William McKinley (criticism); McKinley assassination (investigation of conspiracy).|
|John Peter Altgeld; Grover Cleveland; Leon Czolgosz; Emma Goldman; Jesus Christ; William McKinley; Peter; Ravachol; Souvarine [misspelled below]; Émile Zola.|
(Stray Leaves in Commemoration of the 29th October, 1901.)
When I think of Leon Czolgosz I reproach myself
for having indifferently passed by, without a kind and tender word, an outraged
and deeply-wounded soul.
It happened thus.
On the 12th of July, 1901, a party of friends met at the Chicago railroad station to bid adieu to our departing comrade Emma Goldman.
As the train left, a friend remarked to me, “There is a fellow from Cleveland here who asks very peculiar questions. If we do not wish to be bored by him, we must make our escape.” We went our way without taking leave of the rest.
The man from Cleveland was Leon Czolgosz. He had just arrived in Chicago and called upon the publishers of “Free Society” at the very moment when they were leaving for the railroad station. Czolgosz was invited to accompany them.
I had but a casual glance at the man. His picture, however, revealed to me a soul out of harmony with the world about it, shrinking from the coarse touch of life and finding shelter in its own seclusion.
His was a face with childlike eyes, full of eager questioning. Confronted with the cruel complexities of life they would express shyness and helplessness. It was a face that indicated a singular combination of tenderness and extreme daring. His was a composite character that reminded me of Souvarin in Zola’s “Germinal.”
The latter shed tears of anguish over the death of his beloved squirrel; but the sight of slavish submission of the striking miners, driven back to work by hunger, exasperates him. He is so infuriated by the cowardly spirit of these slaves that he dooms them to perish in the mines. At night he descends into the shafts and, at the risk of his own life, he saws through the supporting pillars. He goes about his work coolly and without hesitation. In the morning he indifferently suffers the miners to go down to certain death. 
The official history of revolutionary acts of violence is absolutely bare of psychological data. It pictures Ravachol, for instance, as an extremely cruel and heartless man; yet there are numerous incidents which prove him to have been unusually kind and tender.
This combination of extreme tenderness and cruelty is only an apparent contradiction. Supersensitiveness to suffering and injustice often is the richest soil that fertilizes hatred of the forces that cause human suffering.
The act of Czolgosz was the explosion of inner rebellion; it was directed against the savage authority of the money power, and against the government that aids its mammonistic crimes.
But few characteristic incidents of the personality and life of Leon Czolgosz are known.
Reared under the lash of poverty and the tyranny of the home, he passed a wretched and joyless childhood. This misery soon forced the tender youth upon the block of modern slavery. Driven and kicked about in the industrial treadmill, unable to adjust himself to the demands of commonplace existence, he was often the target for the brutality and scorn of his colleagues.
It were too much to demand that the psychological keenness of the manufacturers of public opinion should concern itself with the motives and feelings of such an unimportant individual. Their wonderful ingenuity was exhausted by the blood-curdling portrayal of the man in dime novel style. These scribblers, as well as the mentally stagnated mass, considered the Czolgosz problem solved when the Auburn executioner had completed his horrible work.
Even the revolutionists and anarchists of this country have added nothing that would serve to silhouette the personality and act of the man upon the background of those black days. He was unknown to them; he seldom frequented their gatherings. Unaided he meditated upon our terrible social contrasts. Inevitably, his reflections crystallized in the conviction that the social hell in which the majority of mankind endured the agony of the damned, must be abolished. His soul craved freedom and he longed to hear the trumpet of the liberating battle. 
His naive questions about the existence of secret revolutionary societies merely proved his belief in the necessity of an uncompromising fighting organization, implacably waging war against existing conditions. He sought spiritual companionship, yet found nothing but disruption, animosity and pettiness—lack of courage and initiative.
His vague, indefinite yearnings gradually ripened into the quiet determination to carry out an independent act—an act to bring relief to his own oppressed soul and possibly disturb the lethargy of the masses.
For various reasons the motives and character of Czolgosz were ignored. Peter, the most jealous disciple of Christ, at the critical moment denied his master, vowing that he knew not this law-breaker. Such is the historical fate of him that stakes his life for an ideal. The experience with the “human, all-too-human” found a repetition after the shot at Buffalo. But few sought the explanation within the spirit of our times; the rest failed to realize that it was the bursting of a human heart, quivering under the pressure of an unbearable life.
It required neither judgment nor wit to prate about the “normality” or “insanity” of the man. I know of no instance in the revolutionary annals where a man faced a condemning world so absolutely alone and forsaken,—a world of cold, cruel judges flippantly passing the sentence of death. But lo! the contrast between the executioners and the simple grandeur of their victim.
One there was that dared to voice human sentiments in an article published in “Free Society,” October 6th, 1901.
As the governmental and press flunkies strenuously endeavored to associate the author with the Buffalo tragedy, such an expression of sympathy, at such a time, was courageous indeed.
The act of September 6th still affects me like the lifting of a veil designed to hide a dangerous truth. For years we are maintaining the illusion that no social question exists in this country; that our republic has no place for the struggle of poor and rich. The voices of the deep, crying of human misery and distress, were  thought to be silenced by the formula, “We are free and equal in this country; we have no social problems here.” The empty phrase of political liberty has been made to serve as a panacea for all social ills. Those that dare to suggest that political freedom is but a farce, so long as social and economic slavery exists, are branded criminals. Mere declarations of independence and political rights dissolve into nothing if the few may monopolize the earth, control the sources of subsistence, and thus force mankind to a life of poverty and servitude. Under such conditions alleged political liberty is but a means to blind the masses to the real necessities of the times, and to create artificial campaign issues, the solution of which is in reality of little consequence to the general welfare.
All this was echoed to me by the Buffalo shot. McKinley fell as the first and chief representative of a republic, the main mission of which is to protect by force the wealth stolen from the people.
This mission of government—the violent suppression of every human right—becomes more accentuated with the growing intensity of commercial and industrial exploitation.
In the 80’s, the labor movement for an eight-hour workday was forcibly subdued, and five men judicially killed at Chicago. Under the régime of President Cleveland the Federal forces are employed as the executioners of striking workingmen. Capitalists wire for soldiers and their demand is readily complied with at the White House. The last true Democrat, John. P. Altgeld, protests as Governor of Illinois against this arbitrary invasion of State rights. For this crime he later pays with his political life. What? Shall the government not serve monopolists à la Pullman? What else is it here for?!
The régime of McKinley proved even more servile. It lost no opportunity in aiding capitalism in mercilessly crushing the aspirations of labor. The use of Federal troops during strikes becomes a daily occurrence. Thus the mask slowly falls from the lying Goddess. Her chief priest, however, proudly carries his starched dignity and pretended piety. 
McKinley personified at once social corruption and political servility. Indeed, he was the ideal President of the secret kings of the republic; both in character and appearance a Jesuit, he was eminently fitted to shield the traitors of the country. He always reminded me of the typical porter, whose severe, dignified appearance proclaims his master’s gilded respectability, veneering a rotten core.
Such were the environments that prompted Czolgosz’s act. Many felt this; few dared to express it. The amazement that such a thing should happen in America really had something artificial about it. To the close observer there exists but an insignificant difference between the social conditions in this country and that of European monarchies, upon whose horizon revolutionary flashes had been playing for years. There, as well as here, the governments are the willing gendarmes and sheriffs of the possessing class; we, however, still cling to the superstition of political liberty.
Pure in aspiration and motive, the personality of Leon Czolgosz towers above our stifling social existence. Purer, indeed, than his accusers and judges wished. They have left nothing undone to make him appear a low, vile creature, since it was necessary to lull the nation into the belief that only the basest of men could be guilty of such a deed.
In vain unscrupulous torturers attempted to defile the sensitive soul—no confession, unworthy of the man, could be forced. His alleged statement, that a lecture of Emma Goldman inspired his act, emanated from a lying press.
The State of New York employed 200 detectives and spent 30,000 dollars to trump up evidence to convict Emma Goldman as the intellectual instigator of McKinley’s death. Is it reasonable to suppose, then, that such efforts and means would have been used had Czolgosz been induced to make statements in the least incriminating.
Even the peace of death was denied him. His last moments were poisoned by the Christian kindness of the prison warden. To the last he was tortured by insinuations reflecting on his character; in the hope of  obtaining a confession the dying man was annoyed; he was told, among other things, that Emma Goldman had denounced him as tramp and beggar. But even such brutality failed to touch his lofty spirit. “I care not what Emma Goldman or others say about me. I had no accomplices. I did it for the dear people, and I am ready to die.”
These were the only words Leon Czolgosz uttered during all those terrible weeks. Not even at his trial, which mocked every conception of justice, could he be induced to speak.
The only decent reporter present at the trial—a woman—relates that she was so overcome by the farcical proceedings that she was unfitted to do newspaper work for months. Czolgosz impressed her, she says, as a visionary, totally oblivious to his surroundings.
His large, dreamy eyes must have beheld in the distance the rising dawn, heralding a new and glorious day.
Five years have since rolled into eternity. His spirit still hovers over me. In tender love I lay these immortelles on his grave.