Josiah Warren, a Most Unlikely Internationalist

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Josiah Warren was, famously, not a joiner. He habitually quarreled with anyone who suggested that he had followers or had founded a school. By his own account, after his early adventures with Owenite socialism, he only ever joined one organization—but what an organization! It appears that, for roughly a month in the summer of 1873, Josiah Warren was affiliated with Section 26, of Philadelphia, of the International Workingmen’s Association.

Warren was certainly not the only individualist anarchist who took an interest in the I. W. A., and participated to some extent in the activities of its American sections. William B. Greene has been the primary author of an Address of the Internationals, issued by Boston’s French-speaking Section 1, and published by the Heywoods’ Co-operative publishing Company. Various others, such as Joshua King Ingalls and Lewis Masquerier, are supposed to have been affiliated, and the faction around Victoria Woodhull and Stephen Pearl Andrews, pushing a typically Andrusian mix of extreme individualism and integralist centralization, made enough of a nuisance of themselves that they were effectively purged from the International by Marx’s faction even before he dealt with Bakunin. But Warren was not one of those conscious dialectical, or trialectical, or synthesist mutualists. At the end of his life, he showed no evidence that he had read Proudhon, bristling at the phrase “property is theft” like someone unacquainted with any of the subtleties involved. His aversion to connecting interests seems to have extended even to the various “reform leagues” organized by his fellow-radicals—organizations primarily characterized by their almost purely formal character.

Warren’s brief romance with Section 26 began when this item appeared in Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, in their regular “International” section:

The meeting of the American Federal Council on Sunday was well attended, and a vacancy was filled by the election of Thomas Lalor.

The following communication was received from Section 26 (American) in Philadelphia, Pa.:

At a meeting of Section No. 26, I. W. A., of Philadelphia, held June 16, 1837, was passed the following, by a unanimous vote, as declaratory of the views of the members of the Section touching the question of the fundamental basis of the body, and recommending their consideration to the Internationals everywhere; and in answer to the request of the American Federation, that we consider and act upon certain propositions submitted by the Corresponding Secretary of said body.

Declaration.—1st. That no movement can be permanently successful among progressive minds which stops short of a full and complete recognition of the entire liberty of the individual, so long as the action coming from such liberty trespasses upon neither the person or property of another.

2d. That the voluntary union and co-operation of the units of working bodies is the only sure and unobjectionable mode of attaining practical success, in the effort to establish the rightful position of the labor interest in the world, and thereby to secure the supremacy of production over capital.

3d. That the delegation of individual rights to men to perform other than assigned duties as agents is the fatal error from which has arisen all the tyranny of government, class-rule, and the subjugation of man the world over.

4th. That the practical observance of these principles is a sure guarantee against any and all internal dissentions, which more than all else have embarrassed the progressive movement of the age, and especially the organized bodies of workers in their efforts at emancipation.

5th. Earnestly hoping that for the future the industrial armies of the earth may move on the basis of inalienable right, and that we may practice that justice to each other we seek to establish everywhere, to the end that despotism under every name and in every climate may be extinguished, and that Liberty, Order, Justice and Truth may be enthroned in every heart, and gain a practical expression in all human relations, Section No. 26 most fraternally recommends the above as a basis of unity, which, while preserving the liberty of the individual, must tend to an efficient consolidation of the working bodies, and make us an irresistible power against all who seek the continuation of the enslavement.

Jesse B. Beune, President.

John Mills, Recording Secretary.

Isaac Rehn, Corres. Secretary.

By and with the advice of the members.

[“The International,” Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly,” 6, 5 (July 5, 1873), 3.]

Warren, who was somewhat unsympathetic to at least some of the projects of Woodhull, Claflin, and Andrews, appears to have followed their paper anyway. Two weeks later, he wrote the following letter to the paper:

To Jesse B. Beune, John Mills, Isaac Rehn and other Members of Section 26, I. W. A. opf Philadelphia:

Ladies and Gentlemen—After having seen the decided defeat of every kind of organization which subordinates some persons to other persons through the interpretation of verbal formulas, I have for forty-five years persistently refrained from joining any organization whatever; but having just read your wise, simple and deep-reaching programme, I see that it is exempt from this fatal defect, and I wish to express my hearty sympathy with you and my readiness and desire to work with you according to my best judgment.

I should rather prefer to see the words after the word “world” (in your 2d article or section) omitted, as I don’t think that, you wish, any more than I do, to have it understood that we aim at subordinating capital to labor any more than we do the enslaving of labor by capital.

I should also be glad to see the word reputation inserted after the word “property” in the first section of our Declaration.

One other little item. Your programme, in my view, is entirely superior to that which has heretofore borne the same name, I should think a change of name almost a necessity.

With much sympathy and respect, yours,

Josiah Warren,

Princeton. Mass.

[Josiah Warren, [letter], Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly,” 6, 7 (July 19, 1873), 13.]

It’s not hard to see the elements of the communication which appealed to Warren. Apparently, he pursued the connection, or it was pursued by Sec. 26, with enough speed and seriousness that Warren quickly came to reevaluate his new allies. Less than a month later, another letter from Warren appeared, this time at the head of the “International” column, which led off the paper:

To Section No. 26 (American) of I. W. A. of Philadelphia:

Gentlemen—When I expressed my hearty concurrence in your views, I had in contemplation only what I had just read in the Weekly of July 5, particularly the 1st and 3d sections of your programme there announced; but by documents since received, I perceive that you propose measures and modes which, I regret to say, I cannot approve, and feel impelled to withdraw from connection with them.


Josiah Warren.

[Josiah Warren, [letter], Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly,” 6, 10 (August 9, 1873), 3.]

And that, as they say, was pretty much that. Warren, who would live less than a year more, appeared a couple more times in the pages of the Weekly, in reprints from The Index, reports of his failing health, a rather backhanded obituary tribute by Andrews, and a more straightforward tribute in song. Woodhull and Claflin remained warm to him. The American I. W. A. conflict deepened. Andrews’ comments were simply really just characteristic of his rather enormous ego. But at least one Internationalist, probably Joseph Treat, took umbrage at Warren’s brief affiliation and subsequent defection.


Many of as have thought, for over twenty years, that friend Warren was running Individualism into the ground. We were only surprised that he lately gave in his adhesion to the International of Philadelphia, and now we are not surprised that he recants that act. He makes the mistake of supposing that it is against individualism to work with others. But I doubt that he is as individual as I, for I differ from all the Doctors, all the Scientists, supersede Universal Gravitation, have no Religion, no Conscience, believe in no Duty, but only in nature and pleasure, know there is no God nor Immortality, am satisfied and glad to go out, and can not love any one (much) who is not, thus all my life departing from, departed from,

Lone and lonely, all alone,

even till I have to pray, Let me go to the Future, Oh! let me go home: they will greet me there as their own, and I shall then be with the many and the strong!—and yet I am a Communist, an Absolute Communist, and know that Josiah Warren can never begin to be so Individual, standing alone, as be could and would be if he were member of a Community, for then, what every other one owned would be his, to enjoy, to use, to be greatened and Individualized by—the same piano which no man could purchase alone, would serve and satisfy twenty, as if each owned it exclusively. But even if friend Warren could own all things, standing apart, yet being himself in solitude, with nobody to act upon him, would be no Individualism at all, compared with being himself in Community, with everybody to act upon him—which is like a flash of lightning! I am a Communist to achieve that intense individualism.

J. T.

[J. T., “Josiah Warren’s Mistake,” Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly,” 6, 11 (August 16, 1873), 15.]

We don’t need to speculate much about the reasons why an “Absolute Communist” might have been ill-disposed towards Warren. The veteran radical had, just the year before, contributed an 11-part series to the Weekly, on “The Motives for Communism, and What It Led To.” If J. T.’s claim that Warren was against working with others sounds a bit overblown—and it should—there is good evidence in those articles that Warren had come to think of “communism” in terms that were probably as frustrating as they were unflattering to its adherents.

[to be continued in the next number]


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