Source type: newspaper
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Lesson of the Attempted Assassination”
City of publication: New York, New York
Date of publication: 15 September 1901
Volume number: 11
Issue number: 24
|“The Lesson of the Attempted Assassination.” Worker 15 Sept. 1901 v11n24: p. 2.|
|McKinley assassination (personal response: socialists); William McKinley (criticism); McKinley presidency (criticism); McKinley assassination (public response: criticism); McKinley assassination (news coverage: criticism); freedom of speech (restrictions on); McKinley assassination (sympathizers).|
|Otto von Bismarck; Leon Czolgosz; William McKinley; Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau.|
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 Labor’s emancipation.
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 of Anarchism.
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 into madness.
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 of Germany.
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 Commonwealth.