Albert R. Parsons, “Parsons’ Plea for Anarchy” (1886)

“So much is written and said nowadays about socialism or anarchism, that a few words on this subject from one who holds to these doctrines may be of interest to the readers of your great newspaper.

“Anarchy is the perfection of personal liberty or self-government. It is the free play of nature’s law, the abrogation of the statute. It is the negation of force or the domination of man by man. In the place of the law maker it puts the law discoverer and for the driver, or dictator, or ruler, it gives free play to the natural leader. It leaves man free to be happy or miserable, to be rich or poor, to be mean or good. The natural law is self-operating, self-enacting, and cannot be repealed, amended or evaded without incurring a self-imposed penalty. The statute law is license. Anarchy is liberty. The socialistic or anarchistic programme leaves the people perfectly free to unite or disunite for the purpose of production and consumption. It gives absolute freedom of contract by and between individuals or associations, and places the means of life–capital–at the disposal of the people. To those persons who may regard these aspirations as merely sentimental or utopian, I invite their attention to the operation of our capitalistic system, as outlined by Marx and others.

“The capitalist system originated in the forcible seizure of natural opportunities and rights by a few, and converting these things into special privileges, which have since become vested rights formally entrenched behind the bulwarks of statute law and government. Capital could not exist unless there also existed a class, a majority class, who are propertyless–that is, without capital. A class whose only mode of existence is by selling their labor to capitalists. Capitalists maintained, fostered and perpetuated by law. In fact, capital is law, statute law, and law is capital.

“Labor is a commodity, and wages is the price paid for it. The owner of the commodity, labor, sells it (himself) to the owner of capital in order to live. Labor is the expression of the energy or power of the laborer’s life. This energy or power he must sell to another person in order to live.It is his only means ofexistence. He works to live. But his work is not simply a part of his life. On the contrary, it is the sacrifice of it. It is a commodity which under the guise of ‘free labor’ he is forced by necessity to hand over to another party. The aim of the wage laborer’s activity is not the product of his labor. Far from it. The silk he weaves, the palace he builds, the ores he digs from out the mine are not for him. The only thing he produces for himself is his wage, and silk, ores and palace are merely transformed for him into a certain quantity of means of existence —viz: a cotton shirt, a few pennies and the mere tenancy of a lodging house.

“And what of the laborer who for twelve or more hours weaves, spins bores, turns, builds, shovels, breaks stones, carries loads, and so on? Does his twelve hours weaving, spinning, boring, turning, building, shoveling, etc., represent the active expression or energy of his life? On the contrary, life begins for him exactly where this activity, this labor of his ceases–viz: at his meals, in his tenement house, in his bed. His twelve hours work represents for him as a weaver, builder, spinner, etc., only so much earnings as will furnish him his meals, clothes and rent. Capital ever grows with what it feeds on–viz: the life, the very existence, the flesh and blood of the men, women and children of toil. The wage slaves are ‘free’ to compete with each other for the opportunity to serve capital and capitalists to compete with each other in monopolizing the laborer’s products. This law of ‘free’ competition establishes the iron law of subsistence wages. Thus in every country the average wage of the working people is regulated by what it takes to maintain a bare subsistence and perpetuate their class.

“The increase of capital grows with every stroke of the laborers. So does his dependence. To-day there are but two classes in the world–to wit: the capitalist class and the wage class; the latter a hereditary serving class, dependent upon the former for work and bread; the former a dictating class, dominating and exploiting the latter.

“The struggle of classes, the conflict between capital and labor is for possession of the labor product of the laborers. As profits rise wages fall, and as wages rise profits fall. As the share of the capitalist (his profit) increases, the share of the laborer (his wages) diminishes, and the interest of the capitalist class is in direct antagonism to the interests of the wage class. Profit and wages for every class are in inverse proportion. Wage laborers are doomed by the capitalist system to forge for themselves the golden chains which bind them more securely in industrial slavery. Thus the industrial war wages–to wit: the captains and generals of industry contest with each other as to who can dispense with the greatest number of industrial soldiers. This brings on a rapid sub-division and simplification of the productive process, the employment of women and children, and the introduction of labor-saving machinery. Result, surplus laborers.

“The United States Commissioner of Labor Statistics tells us in last year’s report that over one million able-bodied men were in compulsory idleness, and that the general average of wages for the whole wage class was estimated at fifty-five cents per day. As the struggle for existence intensifies among the laborers the struggle among capitalists for profits intensifies also. The crisis? What is it? When the dead level of cost of production is reached, which is near if not already at hand-the capitalist system-being no longer able to preserve the lives of its slaves-the wage workers-will collapse, will fall of its own weight, and fail because of its own weakness. Modern enterprise and commercialism is the oldtime piracy of our fathers legalized, made respectable and safe. The homeless, the destitute, hungry and ragged, and ignorant and miserable, are the victims, the creatures, the offspring, the product of our modern system of legalized piracy. The capitalist system has its morality–a plastic, convenient morality–which it puts on or off like a coat.

“The golden rule of the carpenter’s son is made subservient to the laws of trade, whose morality and religion are expounded in the churches (temples of Mammon) where the clergy propagate that good philosophy which teaches man (poor man) that he is here to suffer, denouncing as atheistic and anarchistic that other philosophy which says to man: ‘Go! the earth is the gift of God to the whole human race. Discover nature’s laws, apply them and be happy.’

“To quarrel with socialism is silly and vain. To do so is to quarrel with history; to denounce the logic of events; to smother the aspirations of liberty. Mental freedom, political freedom, industrial freedom-do not these follow in the line of progress? Are they not the association of the inevitable?


[From the N.Y. Herald, August 30, 1886.]

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.