“Anarchy and How To Overcome It” (1901)


Following the intense excitement that prevailed at the time of the death of the President, many theories have been advanced concerning the meaning of the term “anarchy,” and each one has had as its accompaniment a plan for the suppression of the anarchist

At the present the definition given by Webster suits the popular idea better than anything that is offered, and it is: “Absence of government; the state of society where there is no law or supreme power; a state of lawlessness; political confusion; disorder in general.” The blatant type of anarchist best represented by the Herr Most brand of the article will accept this definition with pleasure for they have endeavored by word and act to exemplify every interpretation of the term; there are others who claim to be anarchists who repudiate the definition as false; these are the individualist anarchists who do not believe in force to work out their theories.

Anarchism is defined by Professor Bliss as the social doctrine of the abolition of government man by man, and the constitution of society without governing it. This is an impossible and improbable theory, and is so proven by the formation of bodies of the anarchists them selves with their recognized leaders and governors. . .

Bliss further defines anarchy thus: Under the general definition of anarchy, there are, however, two schools of anarchists, so totally distinct and even opposed in their doctrines, their methods, and general characteristics, that we must consider them separately and distinguish between them at every point. The two schools are those of the individualist and the school of anarchist communists. The individualist anarchists are in this country the abler body of thinkers, and carry out to their fullest logical results the principles which a great many individuals accept, but do not fully carry out. Individualist anarchists do not believe in the use of force—not because they hold that it is wrong to use it, but simply because they are aware that the use of force never truly liberates, while their aim is absolute liberty—their motto being “Liberty, not the daughter, but the mother of order.” They start from the philosophy of individual sovereignty, and apply it to the problems of social science with relentless logic. While by no means objecting to organization and co-operation, provided it be voluntary, they would have all organization spring from the individual.

Anarchist communists, on the other hand, form a wholly different school of thought. They do not believe in government, and they do believe In overthrowing it by force. On its ruins they would plant a communal life, whose ideal is very little different from that of the socialists, except that It is not to be realized through the state. Most of the men, who are called anarchists through the press, particularly of Europe, and almost all the bomb throwers and dynamiters of recent years, on either continent, have been anarchist communists. The school is mainly European, as individualist anarchism is mainly American. Anarchist communism counts among its followers names favorably known to science and letters, while many, even of the dynamitards, have been men of education, and even of refinement. Nevertheless, it is mainly a movement among the working classes of France, Italy, Spain and to a less extent Germany and Austria. In America, they are found only in a few cities. The so-called Chicago anarchists were anarchist communists.

Individualist anarchism, on the other hand is not a class movement, but almost purely intellectual, drawing its strength largely from the classes possessed today of intellectual advantages. It will thus be seen that in philosophy, method, and general characteristics the two classes of anarchists are careful to be distinguished. Both are distinctly revolutionary and opposed to the state; but the one starts from the individual, and advocates a revolution through ideas, the other starts from the community, and advocates a revolution through force.

Communistic anarchism declares in part as follows: “Emancipation of the producer from the yoke of capital; production in common and free consumption of all the products of common labor.”

“Emancipation from the governmental yoke; free development of individuals in groups and federations; free organization ascending from the simple to the complex, according to mutual needs and tendencies.”

“Emancipation from religious morality; free morality, without compulsion or authority, developing itself from social life and becoming habitual.”

The anarchist of the individualist type accepts the doctrine of Josiah Warren as expressed in his “True Philosophy” and states the needs of society thus:

“1. The proper, legitimate and just reward of labor.

“2. Security of person and property. .

“3. The greatest practical amount of freedom to each individual.

“4, Economy in the production and uses of wealth.

“5. To open the way for each individual to the possession of land and all other natural wealth.

“6. To make it the interests of all to cooperate with and assist each other, instead of clashing with and counteracting each other.

“7. To withdraw the elements of discord, of war, of distrust and repulsion and to establish a prevailing spirit of peace, order and social sympathy.”

But Warren did not believe in a community of interests and held that our welfare was to be conserved, not in unity but in diversity and he declared that, “Out of the indestructibility of one’s individuality grows the absolute right of its exercise, or the absolute sovereignty of every individual.”

Warren gathered together a splendid collection of words that are repudiated by every anarchist who declaims against the present “inequalities of our social system” that gives to one man more of opportunity and advantage than another. The millionaire type represents about the most perfect exhibition of the freedom of the individual that can be offered, but the anarchist who believes in individualism seldom dares to express his belief in the individualism of the millionaire, for he is not the kind he means and truth to tell it will puzzle all of them to say just where they draw the line on community of interest and individualism. It will perhaps be best illustrated by referring to the Chicago anarchists who are openly in favor of lawlessness and who begged the protection of the jails against the threatened lawlessness of the people who wanted to kill them for their connection with the breed that gave birth to the murderer of the President. The true anarchist believes in lawlessness for himself and all kinds of law for everybody else. We can simplify this by calling it criminal selfishness. But Warren did not use the word “anarchy,” not so bold as Proudhon, who said that the true form of the state is anarchy. Not meaning disorder but the absence of a ruler or supreme power. What an absurd thought to express when the world knows that the only persons in it who are afraid of law, properly applied, are the criminal classes, but what else can the communistic anarchists be called?

Larousse says: “Anarchy is a political system by which society would be able to govern itself without established government.” Think of it. Look to the anarchist groups of New York, Paterson, Pittsburg, Chicago, Spring Valley, New Orleans and San Francisco, all rejoicing in the death of the President and then in the face of it to declare that this brood of human devils Is fitted for absolute control of its performances. The very fact that they are playing the deepest kind of a game of “follow your leader” in shouting the set phrases taught them by their leaders of the Most and Goldman type, places the seal of denial on every utterance declaring in favor of individualism.

Prince Krapotkin visited Chicago and was received with open arms, for he was supposed to be an ideal anarchist without bombs but even he said:

“It is necessary, first of all, to understand what is meant by anarchy. The absence of all power, of all authority, of all hierarchy; the autonomy of individuals, groups, communes, departments, etc., the grand human confederation, true liberty. To be sure, all that is for the future; but, today, anarchy is an incessant attack and an eternal war upon all established power, upon all authority; upon the organization, civil, religious, military, economic, judicial, etc., of which is composed this rotten society whose day is done and which is to be the victim of the next social revolution.”

It matters not what type the anarchist may be he contends that the state is the great invader of his rights; it denies to each individual the right of access to the natural means of earning a living. This is the whole theory of anarchy. When the fever has not become of the virulent type the anarchist takes it out in talking; when the inspiration sinks deep enough, murder and other crimes are accepted as the means for the accomplishment of their ends. Both classes are dangerous and both repudiate their doctrine of individuality and personal freedom of action in almost every act of their lives, for they simply follow the rabid mouthings of their better educated leaders whose command of language Is always a thousand years in advance of their good judgment.

But what will be done? The Journal ventures to say, nothing, unless Congress may attempt to legislate and succeed in restricting the liberties of the people where restriction will be unfair and allow the “reds” to continue unmolested. Understanding the doctrine of free speech to mean expression of opinion that is not treasonable or criminal, and knowing the judicial suppression of right of speech through the injunction, and at the same time permitting treasonable gatherings denouncing the government and advocating the destruction of all legal forms, the people would have a perfect right to fear that any legislation directed against anarchy would be applied to all gatherings except real anarchistic gatherings.

Everything from force to reason has been suggested. Suppression does not seem to be the best plan, for where there is the most of it there are found the most anarchists; freedom of speech and unlimited freedom of everything else as in the United States seems to encourage a breeding ground for them, so it seems that conditions have no influence on anarchistic tendencies. All the repressive measures now proposed have been in force in other countries and without result and the statement of Albert Shaw seems to be pretty close to the truth: “After all no direct measures taken by our national or state lawmakers can accomplish much. The best safeguard lies in our greater devotion to all the best ideals of a democratic republic.”

In suggesting a remedy the Journal believes that an excellent beginning will have been made when the immigration laws will positively prevent the admission of known anarchists to the country and then by following the highest ideals of popular government to assimilate what foreign population we have and to apply the most promising cure to the anarchistic malady, namely, education. If we teach by example and precept that the rights and persons of the most lowly are as sacred as those of the most high, we will be doing something that must appeal to the better natures of all who are not mad, and a remedy for them is out of the question.

Anarchy is impractical, it is visionary and dangerous; self-defense led men to first gather themselves together to mutually protect themselves against their enemies; society has always been reliant upon community of interest; laws have been necessary to restrain the vicious and a head to everything is the supreme order of our being, a natural law from which there is no getting away. Much of the solution of the question remains with the money power. Brooding over wrongs, fancied or real, will never eliminate anarchy; employment, fair wages, good living conditions, education and an ideal government will do it.

“Anarchy and How To Overcome It,” Railroad Trainmen’s Journal 18 no. 11 (November 1901): 942-945.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2701 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.