Source: Socialist Spirit
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Lessons from the Assassination”
Author(s): Pomeroy, Eltweed
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 1
Issue number: 2
|Pomeroy, Eltweed. “Lessons from the Assassination.” Socialist Spirit Oct. 1901 v1n2: pp. 27-28.|
|McKinley assassination (personal response: socialists); anarchism (personal response); McKinley assassination (lessons learned); socialism.|
|Chester A. Arthur; James G. Blaine; John Wilkes Booth; Roscoe Conkling; Leon Czolgosz; James A. Garfield; Emma Goldman; Charles J. Guiteau; Peter Kropotkin; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley.|
Lessons from the Assassination
The assassination of McKinley is not politics,
it is not economics, it is not sociology; it is murder. Socialists of all kinds
believe that the social organism is growing, and they would aid that growth.
They see faults in our present government,—of course. It is human. They would
remedy those faults and make it a finer, purer, better government, but they
would not tear it down. The destruction of government is the direct opposite
of their aim. The aim of Leon Czolgosz was to strike the government of the United
States a blow that would stagger, if not shatter it. That his act has had the
reverse tendency is due to the shortsightedness of the criminal. Socialists
of all kinds are opposed to the aim of Czolgosz.
Secondly, they are opposed to his methods, which are the old Jesuitical methods of doing evil that good may come. This is the very best view that can be put on it. There was no personal animosity, no partisan bitterness, no race hatred, no religious enmity. There was a class-conscious hatred and a deliberate intent. Prince Kropotkin, a professed anarchist and one of a recognizedly high grade, says this is not anarchy, but murder. He is right as to the method and wrong as to the aim. Socialists unite with Prince Kropotkin and the philosophical anarchists; they unite with the government and society in general in condemning with horror the method used by Czolgosz. Society in general is perhaps beginning to dimly understand his aim and to be opposed to it; but only dimly. Socialists are opposed to both aim and method.
There are four lessons to be learned from this murder. In McKinley’s last speech he said: “God and man have linked the nations together. No nation can longer be indifferent to any other.” A Russian Pole, brought up under centuries of tyranny, emigrates to America. His son’s heart is full of bitterness and vanity, his mind and body are that of a degenerate. Born and brought up in squalor, he is apt soil for violent words. Russian tyranny was one of the causes of McKinley’s assassination. The world is one. Socialists are fond of illustrating the brotherhood of man by the death of the rich man’s child due to a contagious disease caught from sweatshop-made garments. The antecedents of the murderer of McKinley were made by Russian tyranny. The world is one.
The immediate development of Czolgosz’s murderous intentions was due to wild and destructive words here. He lays it to the talk of Emma Goldman, although the speech he heard condemned assassination specifically. Guiteau, the murderer of Garfield, said he was a “stalwart” or the faction of Republicans opposed to Garfield and that he shot Garfield that Arthur might succeed him. It would be equally as just to charge the  murder of Garfield to Conkling and his friends, who bitterly opposed Blaine and Garfield, as to charge the murder of McKinley to Emma Goldman and the anarchists. And yet this is partially true in both cases. Bitterness of denunciation in whatever cause may fall into a prepared mind and produce unexpected results. It is easy to denounce and find fault. It is hard to build, to construct. But when you commence to denounce present conditions, think of Booth, the assassin of Lincoln, Guiteau of Garfield and Czolgosz of McKinley. In all three cases, bitter denunciation was one of the causes of the crime. What is needed is persuasiveness of argument, clearness of statement and sanity in all methods.
Concentration of power focuses public attention on the man holding that power. The President of the United States is the most powerful ruler in the world. This makes our political campaigns for that office feverish and unhealthy and distracts attention from the really more important municipal and local affairs. It also makes him a more shining mark for the assassin’s bullet. Decentralization of power would partially remedy both evils. The President of the Swiss Republic is simply the chairman of an executive board of strictly limited powers. He has none of the vast appointive power that our President wields. A minor lesson of the assassination should be the stripping from the Presidency of some of its vast, unusual and unwieldy power.
As long as men are human, some of them will reason illogically and act on those wrong reasons, or some will be moved by false and bitter emotions. The anarchist method, if so peculiar, so negative a thing can be called a method—of sowing bitterness and denunciation that it may sink into the heart of some degenerate and result, on his own responsibility, in acts of violence against governments, is absolutely unconquerable against society as at present constituted. Every method used against it can never be wholly successful. All the resources of spy, detective and police at the command of the strong Russian despotism, have failed to suppress anarchy. The complete freedom of speaking and propaganda in the United States have not prevented three assassinations. The methods have run from repression in a despotism to freedom in a republic. All have failed and will continue to fail. As long as men do not find life worth living, some of them will be willing to give up that life for what they mistakenly consider the good of their fellows. The ultimate remedy is justice, to make life worth living for all. When all the resources of civilization are used for the benefit of all, and not for the benefit of a few as at present, then life will be worth living for all. When an injury to one is the concern of all, when the social organism is the servant of the lowliest as well as of the highest, then life will be worth living for all, then assassination need never be feared.
The making of the social organism the servant of all is the aim of Socialism.