The Lesson of the Attempted Assassination
There can be but one opinion among
clear-thinking Socialists in regard to the attempt upon the life
of President McKinley—that the man who committed it played the part,
both of a criminal and of a fool.
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 this 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
It is surely not necessary for us
further to emphasize our condemnation of the crime, for the public
is rapidly learning that the Socialist movement has no toleration
for the assassination policy, that it represents the very opposite
As men and women who look forward
with hope to the end of violence and needless suffering, we sympathize
with the man William McKinley in his pain and with his wife in her
grief. Our opposition to the principles he represents and our utter
condemnation of his whole political career should not deter us from
feeling or expressing such human sympathy.
But in the storm of hysterical talk
that has been raised, in the midst of the unthinking condemnation
which has been carried to the point of rant and the often insincere
condolence which has been carried to the point of gush—it is right
that the sane and the sincere should speak certain words of protest
and of comment.
We are sorry for the man who has lain
a week between life and death.
But we do not forget that this same
man is the responsible head of the administration which supplied
rotten meat to its enlisted soldiers and allowed men suffering from
dysentery and typhoid fever to go without medicine, without proper
food, without nurses—while army contractors, supporters of that
administration, were counting their profits in the millions.
We do not forget that this same man
is the chief executive of the nation, charged with the enforcement
of the laws; that among those laws was one relating to the use of
safety appliances on railroads; that this president has allowed
that law to go unenforced through the five years that he has been
in office; and that, owing to his criminal negligence, thousands
of poor widows and orphans weep over railway workers’ graves and
tens of thousands of workingmen have suffered needless pain and
danger as great as he feels now—while the railroad capitalists,
who contributed to his election, have swelled their dividends by
this manifold murder.
We do not forget that this man, as
president, of his own personal and uncompelled volition, sent troops
(negro troops, carefully chosen for the purpose) into the Cœur d’Alenes
to crush the miners’ strike, to overturn all civil laws, to re-enact
at the Bull Pen the horrors of Weyler’s Cuban campaign, to railroad
innocent men to prison, and to establish for the benefit of the
Standard Oil Company, a system of military despotism hateful to
all the American traditions he professed to hold so dear.
All these are historic [sic] facts,
as well attested as Czolgosz’ [sic] act of last week; and we see
no reason why we should forget them now. If we sympathize with him
as a man in mortal pain, we sympathize a thousand times more deeply
with the fever stricken soldiers in those “hospital” corps, with
the maimed and slaughtered railway toilers, with the miners hounded
from their homes in Idaho.
The public has, not unnaturally, grown
hysterical over this crime; and the capitalist newspapers have (with
a few honorable exceptions) done their utmost to lash this hysteria
The New York “Herald” (a paper too
cowardly to express an opinion save when it is sure of being on
the popular side) has been loudly clamoring for the re-establishment
of the tortures of the inquisition; and the gilt-edged “Commercial
Advertiser” seconds the demand. Others, while not going to this
ridiculous excess, are still demanding the enactment of special
laws against “dangerous agitators,” like the famous exception laws
If they would but have learned from
history they would know that cruel punishments never prevent crime,
but always provoke it. And the history of the Socialist movement
in Germany, growing from year to year in spite of Bismarck’s “blood
and iron” policy should teach them the suicidal folly of their plans.
But it is always the fate of a ruling class to suffer from its own
foolish cowardice. They are afraid of free speech; and when they
begin to curb free speech their cause for fear is trebled.
If they were wise—if the agents of
class rule ever could be wise—instead of talking about repressive
laws, they would be asking for the causes of such crimes and trying
to remove them.
There is no considerable class or
group of the American people that seriously approves of assassination.
It is highly improbable that Czolgosz’ [sic] act was even the result
of a conspiracy—though the police will do their best, now as in
1885, to prove or to manufacture such a conspiracy.
But it is remarkable that even the
news of the capitalist press shows how little real indignation or
sorrow has been stirred among the people. And all over the country,
in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and elsewhere, individuals
or groups of men—native Americans, and by no means revolutionists—have
impulsively expressed joy at the attempt.
What does this mean? It means that
there is a most wide-spread and deep-seated discontent in the land,
a feeling that injustice prevails and that the government is its
agent, a feeling of blind antagonism to the ruling class. This discontent
will express itself in violence only in the case of some unbalanced
“crank” like Czolgosz. On the other hand, it has not yet learned
to express itself in peaceful, intelligent, and organized action.
The Socialists are teaching it that.
But the capitalists cannot or will
not learn that such crimes as this always have their cause in justified
social unrest—that the real guilt lies finally at the door of those
who have disinherited their fellowmen and would make of them mere
hewers of wood and drawers of water.
There is one way and only one of guarding
against the repetition of such wild and disastrous outbreaks as
this. That was is to establish social justice, to inaugurate real
freedom and equality, to create genuine social content and fraternity
by the overthrow of capitalism and the building up of the Socialist