Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Anarchism”
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: 4
Issue number: 180
|“Anarchism.” Public 14 Sept. 1901 v4n180: pp. 358-60.|
|anarchism; anarchism (personal response); Emma Goldman (impact on Czolgosz).|
|Leon Czolgosz; William Goebel; Emma Goldman; Peter Kropotkin [misspelled below]; William McKinley.|
The assault upon President McKinley by an assassin
who avows himself an anarchist, and proclaims that his murderous act was a duty,
once more directs attention to the subject of anarchism.
Of anarchists there are various schools or parties. They differ all the way from conspirators and revolutionists to men of Quaker-like principles and practices. To suspect all anarchists, therefore, of complicity in assassination because one has committed the crime, is like suspecting every Christian of believing in transsubstantiation [sic] because Catholics do, or in immersive baptism because Baptists do, or in predestination because Presbyterians do, or in the non-existence of disease because Christian Scientists do.
One school of anarchists is simply what the name implies—extreme individualists. They believe that government is bad, because it interferes with equal freedom. But to abolish government by assassinating rulers is as far from their thoughts as the abolition of war by assassinating generals would be to a Quaker. They depend upon education in their philosophy, and upon the development of thought, for the triumph of their theories. The distinguishing characteristic of this school is its absolute reliance upon the efficiency, for the maintenance of order and the equitable adjustment of social relations, of the natural law of competition.
Another school is that of the communist-anarchist.
All the schools except that mentioned above, might be classed as sub-groups
of this one, the classification depending less upon di- 
versity as to principle than upon disagreement as to practical methods. Communist-anarchists
resemble socialists in rejecting or proposing to abolish the law of competition,
but they are repelled from socialism by its governmentalism. They would have
government, but not coercive government. Their system is, as its name implies,
individualism modified by communism. Prince Krapotkin, whose views we considered
last spring (p. 36), is a famous apostle of communist-anarchism.
That there are adherents of this school who advocate physical force, including assassination, is doubtless true. But that policy is no more a characteristic of the school than it is of the Republican party, some of whose members in Kentucky murdered Goebel, and whose governor of Indiana made an asylum for one of the indicted persons.
It is a policy, however, which subjects anarchists of the peaceable sort to serious misconception and grave danger. Not only are they liable to be prosecuted as accomplices of revolutionary anarchists, with whom they are in agreement upon philosophical principles but whose practical methods they reject; they are in even greater danger of being victimized by detectives masquerading as anarchists. It is an old detective trick to join suspected conspirators and urge violence with a view to disclosing their lawless character and fixing guilt upon individual members. With shrewd men, or men of clear convictions and strong individuality who oppose violence, the trick fails. But weak or enthusiastic men, though they have no sympathy with violence, are easily led into good-naturedly assenting to almost any abstract proposition made by a “comrade,” even if he be a man they wish in future to avoid. Very much of the police information about anarchists has, we suspect, been obtained in this way.
We believe the truth to be that there are very
few anarchists in this country who expect to resort to violence against American
public servants, or who either directly or indirectly advocate such violence.
There may be more who believe that a violent revolution will come in time, even
here; but this is not a programme with them, it is a prophecy. There are many
who talk loosely, but their speeches would attract no more attention than the
speeches of any other stump speaker, if their ideas were not already labeled
“dangerous.” But with that label the Lord’s prayer or the declaration of independence,
repeated by them, has a sanguinary sound to the ignorant.
There are also some weak-minded characters in the anarchist movement who think that these speeches inspire them to commit murder. Mr. McKinley’s assailant appears to be one of that kind. He traces his murderous impulse to a speech by Emma Goldman. But the speech he refers to appears, as now published, to furnish no reason for suspecting Miss Goldman of being his instigator. So far from advocating violence in this speech, she expressly declared against it. She did refuse to condemn those who resort to violence, and she expressed sympathy with several who had done so; but our criminal law would have to be badly twisted to make her responsible, on the basis of those utterances, for the attack, four months later, upon President McKinley. According to a special dispatch from Cleveland to the Chicago Tribune, published on the 8th, Miss Goldman could not have said much to incite to assassination; for, as that dispatch read, “during Miss Goldman’s address a strong detail of police was in the hall to keep her from uttering sentiments which were regarded as too radical.” This intrusion of arbitrary power in police uniform at a lecture might very much more easily have incited a man like Czolgosz to commit his crime, than anything Miss Goldman is reported to have said.
The reckless speeches of anarchist orators are, as we believe, best left alone. We believe this because there are worse things than speeches advocating violence, and one of them is a public policy which turns policemen into censors of public speaking. We believe it also because speeches urging violence react, if left alone, upon those who make them, and if they fairly represent a cause, upon the cause itself. We believe it also because we do not believe that assassins are ever really instigated by violent speeches, unless they are insane; and that if insane they are just as liable to be instigated by a temperance speech or a chapter from the old testament. No public speaker would be safe if any murderer might implicate him in the crime by asserting that he received the murderous impulse from a speech of his.
It is needless for us to say that we have no
sympathy with the physical force idea in this country. There are countries where
public opinion is kept in ignorance and subjection, and where, consequently,
physical force and terrorism of officials are excusable though exceedingly ineffective
methods of agitation. But in this country press and platform are as a whole
entirely free, so that the people can be educated along any lines that interest
them. The right of anarchists to use these means for spreading a knowledge of
their theories of civilization without government has been and must be maintained.
This right can be safely taken from nobody who seeks the public ear. And if
anarchists succeed in converting a majority of the people to their views, the
ballot offers an adequate, even if crude, method of putting them into practice.
Crude as it is, it is a better method than terrorism, better than assassination
or violence of any kind, better even than passive non-conformity. With facilities
like these there is no warrant for violence, no need for conspiracies, no excuse
for speeches suggesting or applauding violence, no reason whatever for that
playing at revolutionist in which some anarchists find a species of satisfaction.
Not only is there no excuse, but such conduct is calculated to excite a popular
frenzy, which, when some one shoots down a prominent man, may engulf not only
the slayer, but those also who have played at conspiracy, and even better men
who have not.
It behooves the peaceable anarchists of this country, if they insist upon using a name that is associated in the public mind with the idea of cowardly assassination, to break off all organic  relations with physical force anarchists, and not only to disclaim but to denounce assassination as a method of advancing their cause. On the other hand, it behooves people who are not anarchists to learn the difference between men who murder and teach murder and men who by peaceable methods propagate the political doctrine of individualism.