1881 – the first three

[Ah, for the settled life of a scholar, where I could tackle my 1.104 issues of Liberty each day, and keep a regular schedule, rather than the constant fire-fighting and scrambling that goes with part-timing. But the show must go on, however fitfully.]

So what actually appears in the pages of Liberty? The staple, stable source for Tucker’s opinions remained, from first to last, the “On Picket Duty” column. From the first issue, of August 6, through the remainder of 1881, this occupied the first two columns on the front page of nearly every issue, while a collection of clippings “About Progressive People,” occupied the third column. The two exceptions to this rule are interesting. The very first issue devotes the center column of the front page to a portrait of Sophie Perovskaya, the Russian nihilist martyr, together with a poem by Joaquin Miller. And the ninth issue devotes the entire front page, together with half a column on page four, to a short biography of Michael Bakunine, identified there as “the founder of Russian Nihilism,” together with a portrait, which was apparently the object of a long search by Tucker to find an authentic likeness. In that issue, both of the usual front-page features were preempted.

The debates that we associate with Liberty start slowly, in part because Tucker dominates the pages of these early issues. The first issue is full of preliminaries, such as this statement:

Our Purpose
LIBERTY enters the field of journalism to speak for herself because she finds no one willing to speak for her. She hears no voice that always champions her; she knows no pen that always writes in her defence; she sees no hand that is always lifted to avenge her wrongs and vindicate her rights. Many claim to speak in her name, but few really understand her. Still fewer have the courage and the opportunity to consistently fight for her. Her battle, then, is her own, to wage and win. She accepts it fearlessly and with a determined spirit.

Her foe, Authority, takes many shapes, but, broadly speaking, her enemies divide themselves into three classes: first, those who abhor her both as a means and as an end of progress, opposing her openly, avowedly, sincerely, consistently, universally; second, those who profess to believe in her as a means of progress, but who accept her only so far as they think she will subserve their own selfish interests, denying her and her blessings to the rest of the world; third, those who distrust her as a means of progress, believing in her only as an end to be obtained by first trampling upon, violating, and outraging her. These three phases of opposition to Liberty are met in almost every sphere of thought and human activity. Good representatives of the first are seen in the Catholic Church, and the Russian autocracy; of the second, in the Protestant Church and the Manchester school of politics and political economy; of the third, in the atheism of Gambetta and the socialism of Karl Marx.

Through these forms of authority another line of demarcation runs transversely, separating the divine from the human; or better still, the religious from the secular. Liberty’s victory over the former is well-nigh achieved. Last century, Voltaire brought the authority of the supernatural into disrepute. The Church has been declining ever since. Her teeth are drawn, and though she still seems to show here and there vigorous signs of life, she does so in the violence of the death-agony upon her, and soon her power will be felt no more. It is human authority that hereafter is to be dreaded, and the State, its organ, that in the future is to be feared. Those who have lost their faith in gods only to put it in governments; those who have ceased to be Church-worshippers only to become State-worshippers; those who have abandoned pope for king or czar, and priest for president or parliament,—have indeed changed their battle-ground, but are no less the foes of Liberty still. The Church has become an object of derision; the State must be made equally so. The State is said by some to be a “necessary evil”; it must be made unnecessary. This century’s battle, then, is with the State: the State, that debases man; the State, that prostitutes woman; the State, that corrupts children; the State that trammels law; the State that stifles thought; the State that monopolizes land, the State that limits credit; the State that restricts exchange; the State that gives idle capital the power of increase, and through interest, rent, profit, and taxes, robs industrious labor of its products.

How the State does these things, and how it can be prevented from doing them, Liberty proposes to show in more detail hereafter in the prosecution of her purpose. Enough to say now that monopoly and privilege must be destroyed, opportunity afforded, and competition encouraged. This is Liberty’s work, and “Down with Authority” her war-cry.

This is a somewhat different Tucker than we generally think of—one fascinated with the nihilists, taking “pleasure and pride” in presenting their likenesses to the world. “Down with Authority!” is certainly the kind of slogan that Tucker later avoided, or quibbled with. But he is still finding his feet. The remainder of the first issue does contain “Who is the Somebody?,” which introduces the anti-monopoly focus and will precipitate the earliest debates. The second issue [more scans to come] is likewise “thin” and heavy on clippings, mixed with commentary on the decline of “free religion.” The noteworthy articles include two reports on the International Revolutionary Congress, together with an editorial, “Vive l’Association Internationale!,” which refers to William B. Greene’s involvement in the IWA, questions the strategy of “propagandism by fact” (propaganda by deed), and takes a wary, but generally enthusiastic approach to the affair. Tucker quotes some of Greene’s most mystical notions about the Internationals, from the Address of the Internationals of which he was the primary author. Tucker was clearly capable of partisan tolerance of such stuff.

Issue No. 3 is where things begin to take off. Besides some response to the assassination of President Garfield and more shots at the free religionists, there are a couple of major statements: “Land and Liberty,” which praises the Irish World for its radicalism, but damns it for not being fully anarchist; “Two Kinds of Communism,” the first of a series of pieces elaborating the difference between libertarian and authoritarian forms within the broad socialist movement [see Lesigne’s “The Two Socialisms” and Tucker’s “Armies that Overlap“]; and the piece to which the last responds, Wm. Harrison Riley’s “Communism versus Commercialism” and W. G. H. Smart’s “A Welcome and a Warning.” Riley contributed at least one more item to Liberty, and Smart was something of a communist gadfly in most of the periodicals with which Tucker was involved. So we will meet up with both of them again down the road.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.