Steven T. Byington, “Anarchist Labels” (1903)


I think Comrade Morton speaks inaccurately when he says Tucker and his disciples have popularized the notion that commercialists are the only “philosophical Anarchists.” I tried a while ago to find out the origin of the sect name “philosophical Anarchist,” which I didn’t like. I wrote an open letter to Liberty, asking who could help me to the information. Tucker, in comment on my letter, said he didn’t like the name and had never used it; when it was proved that he had used it once at least, he said it was a case of “seen too oft, familiar with thy face, we first endure,” etc. The most valuable answer that I received was from Comrade Wm. Holmes; he said that to the best of his recollection the name was originated about 1883 by Anarchist Communists of Chicago, because there seemed to be no other name handy to distinguish the Tucker party from them. For anything he knew, he might himself have been the first to use it. He added, I believe, that he did not now think the name a good one.

Having got this information, I introduced the name “commercialist,” taking my hint from a usage of William Morris in “News from Nowhere.” Comrade Holmes has been doing good service in popularizing the new name, and I see that Comrade Morton now uses it.

Tucker commonly insists on using the name “Anarchist” alone to designate his school from the Anarchist Communists. When de does put a tag on, he habitually uses “individualistic,” I believe. I don’t like this last name because I think it carries to the ordinary mind a flavor of isolation; the notion that Anarchism means isolation seems to be perhaps the commonest and most pernicious misconception among those who mean to be too fair minded to put it down as anything but bombs.

The above, I believe, includes all the facts I know that bear on the history of names to distinguish the different schools of thought that call themselves “Anarchist.”

Steven T. Byington.

Steven T. Byington, “Anarchist Labels,” The Demonstrator 1 no. 2 (March 18, 1903): 2.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.