Anarchism: A Criticism and History of the Anarchist Theory

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The Knickerbocker Press

Copyright, 1897
The Knickerbocker Press, New York



n the day of the bomb outrage in the French Parliament I gave an impromptu discourse upon Anarchism to an intelligent audience anxious to know more about it, touching upon its intellectual ancestry, its doctrines, propaganda, the lines of demarcation that separate it from Socialism and Radicalism, and so forth. The impression which my explanations of it made upon my audience was at the same time flattering and yet painful to me. I felt almost ashamed that I had told these men, who represented the pick of the middle-class political electorate, something entirely new to them in speaking of matters which, considering their reality and the importance of the question, ought to be familiar to every citizen. Having thus had my attention drawn to this lacuna in the public mind, I was induced to make a survey of the most diverse circles of the political and Socialist world, both of readers and writers, and the result was the resolve to extend my previous studies of Anarchism (which had not extended much beyond the earliest theorists), and to develop my lecture into a book. This book I now present to my readers.

The accomplishment of my resolve has been far from easy. What little literature exists upon the subject of Anarchism is almost exclusively hostile to it, which is a great drawback for one who is seeking not the objects of a partisan, but simply and solely the truth. One had constantly to gaze, so to speak, through a forest of prejudices and errors in order to discover the truth like a little spot of blue sky above. In this respect I found it mattered little whether I applied to the press, or to the so-called scientific Socialists, or to fluent pamphleteers.

“In vielen Worten wenig Klarheit, Ein Fünkchen Witz und keine Wahrheit.”[1]

Laveleye, for instance, does not even know of Proudhon; for him Bakunin is the only representative of Anarchism and the most characteristic; Socialism, Nihilism, and Anarchism mingle together in wild confusion in the mind of this social historian. Garin, who wrote a big book, entitled The Anarchists, is not acquainted with a single Anarchist author, except some youthful writings of Proudhon’s and a few agitationist placards and manifestoes of the modern period. The result of this ignorance is that he identifies Anarchism completely with Collectivism, and carries his ridiculous ignorance so far as to connect the former Austrian minister Schäffle, who was then the chief adviser of Count Hohenwart, in some way or other with the Anarchists. Professor Enrico Ferri, again, exposes his complete ignorance of the question at issue sufficiently by branding Herbert Spencer as an Anarchist. In fact, the only work that can be called scientifically useful is the short article on “Anarchism” in the Cyclopædia of Political Science, from the pen of Professor George Adler. All pamphlets, articles, and essays which have since appeared on the same subject are, conveniently but uncritically, founded upon this short but excellent essay of Adler’s. Since the extraordinary danger of Anarchist doctrines is firmly fixed as a dogma in the minds of the vast majority of mankind, it is apparently quite unnecessary to obtain any information about its real character in order to pronounce a decided, and often a decisive, judgment upon it. And so almost all who have hitherto written upon or against Anarchism, with a few very rare exceptions, have probably never read an Anarchist publication, even cursorily, but have contented themselves with certain traditional catchwords.

As a contrast to this, it was necessary, for the purposes of a critical work upon Anarchism, to go right back to its sources and to the writings of those who represented it. But here I found a further difficulty, which could not always be overcome. Where was I to get these writings? Our great public libraries, whose pride it is to possess the most complete collections possible of all the texts of Herodotus or Sophocles, have of course thought it beneath their dignity to place on their shelves the works of Anarchist doctrinaires, or even to collect the pamphlet literature for or against Anarchism—productions which certainly cannot take a very high rank from the point of view either of literature or of fact. The consequence of this foresight on the part of our librarians is that, to-day, anyone who inquires into the development of the social question in these great libraries devoted to science and public study has nothing to find, and therefore nothing to seek. I have thus been compelled to procure the materials I wanted partly through the kindness of friends and acquaintances, and partly by purchase of books—often at considerable expense,—but always by roundabout means and with great difficulty. And here I should like specially to emphasise the fact that it was the literary representatives of Anarchism themselves who, although I never concealed my hostility to Anarchism, placed their writings at my disposal in the kindest and most liberal manner; and for this I hereby beg to offer them my heartiest thanks, and most of all Professor Elisée Reclus, of Brussels.

But if I thus enter into details of the difficulties which met me in writing the present book, it is not with the object of surrounding myself with the halo of a pioneer. I only wish to lay my hand on a sore which has no doubt troubled other authors also; and, at the same time, to explain to my critics the reason why there are still so many lacunæ in this work. I have, for instance, been quite unable to procure any book or essay by Tucker, or a copy of his journal Liberty, although several booksellers did their best to help me, and although I applied personally to Mr. Tucker at Boston. It was all in vain. Ut aliquid fecisse videatur, I ordered from Chicago M. J. Schaack’s book, Anarchy and Anarchists, a History of the Red Terror and the Social Revolution in America and Europe: Communism, Socialism, and Nihilism, in Doctrine and in Deed. After waiting four months, and repeatedly urging things on, I at last received it, and soon perceived that I had merely bought a pretty picture book for my library for my five dollars. The book contains, in spite of its grandiloquent title, its six hundred and ninety-eight large octavo pages, and its “numerous illustrations from authentic photographs and from original drawings,” not a single word about the doctrine of Anarchism in general, or American Anarchism in particular. The author, a police official, takes up a standpoint which is certainly quite explicable in one of his position, but which is hardly suitable for a social historian. To him “all Socialists are Anarchists as a first step, although all Anarchists are not precisely Socialists” (see page 22),—which is certainly praiseworthy moderation in a police officer. He calls Ferdinand Lassalle “the father of German Anarchism as it exists to-day” (page 23); on the other hand he has no knowledge of Tucker (of Boston), the most prominent exponent of theoretical Anarchism in America. This, then, was the literature which was at my disposal.

As regards the standpoint which I have taken in this book upon questions of fact, it is strictly the coldly observant and critical attitude of science and no other. I was not concerned to write either for or against Anarchism, but only to tell the great mass of the people that concerns itself with public occurrences for the first time what Anarchism really is, and what it wishes to do, and whether Anarchist views are capable of discussion like other opinions. The condemnation of Anarchism, which becomes necessary in doing this, proceeds exclusively from the exercise of scientific criticism, and has nothing to do with any partisan judgment, be it what it may. It would be a contradiction to adopt a partisan attitude at the very time when one is trying to remind public opinion of a duty which has been forgotten in the heat of party conflict.

But I do not for a moment allow myself to be deluded into thinking that, with all my endeavours to be just to all, I have succeeded in doing justice to all. Elisée Reclus wrote to me, when I informed him of my intention to write the present book, and of my opinion of Anarchism, that he wished me well, but doubted the success of my work, for (he said) on ne comprend rien que ce qu’on aime. Of this remark I have always had a keen recollection. If that great savant and gentle being, the St. John of the Anarchists, thinks thus, what shall I have to expect from his passionate fellow-disciples, or from the terror-blinded opponents of Anarchism? “We cannot understand what we do not love,” and unfortunately we do not love unvarnished truth. Anarchists will, therefore, simply deny my capacity to write about their cause, and call my book terribly reactionary; Socialists will think me too much of a “Manchester Economist”; Liberals will think me far too tolerant towards the Socialistic disturbers of their peace; and Reactionaries will roundly denounce me as an Anarchist in disguise. But this will not dissuade me from my course, and I shall be amply compensated for these criticisms which I have foreseen by the knowledge of having advanced real and serious discussion on this subject. For only when we have ceased to thrust aside the theory of Anarchism as madness from the first, only when we have perceived that one can and must understand many things that we certainly cannot like, only then will Anarchists also place themselves on a closer human footing with us, and learn to love us as men even though they often perhaps cannot understand us, and of their own accord abandon their worst argument, the bomb.

E. V. Zenker.


Part I.Early Anarchism.
I.Precursors and Early History3
 Forerunners and Early History — Definitions — Is Anarchism a Pathological Phenomenon? — Anarchism Considered Sociologically — Anarchist Movements in the Middle Ages — The Theory of the Social Contract with Reference to Anarchism — Anarchist Movements during the French Revolution — The Philosophic Premises of the Anarchist Theory — The Political and Economic Assumptions of Anarchism. 
II.Pierre Joseph Proudhon32
 Biography — His Philosophic Standpoint — His Early Writings — The “Contradictions of Political Economy” — Proudhon’s Federation — His Economic Views — His Theory of Property — Collectivism and Mutualism — Attempts to Put his Views into Practice — Proudhon’s Last Writings — Criticism. 
III.Max Stirner and the German Proudhonists100
 Germany in 1830-40 and France — Stirner and Proudhon — Biography of Stirner — The Individual and his Property (Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum) — The Union of Egoists — The Philosophic Contradiction of the Einziger — Stirner’s Practical Error — Julius Faucher — Moses Hess — Karl Grün — Wilhelm Marr. 
Part II.Modern Anarchism.
IV.Russian Influences141
 The Earliest Signs of Anarchist Views in Russia in 1848 — The Political, Economic, Mental, and Social Circumstances of Anarchism in Russia — Michael Bakunin — Biography — Bakunin’s Anarchism — Its Philosophic Foundations — Bakunin’s Economic Programme — His Views as to the Practicability of his Plans — Sergei Netschajew — The Revolutionary Catechism — The Propaganda of Action — Paul Brousse. 
V.Peter Kropotkin and his School172
 Biography — Kropotkin’s Main Views — Anarchist Communism and the “Economics of the Heap” (Tas) — Kropotkin’s Relation to the Propaganda of Action — Elisée Reclus: his Character and Anarchist Writings — Jean Grave — Daniel Saurin’s Order through Anarchy — Louise Michel and G. Eliévant — A. Hamon and the Psychology of Anarchism — Charles Malato and other French Writers on Anarchist Communism — The Italians: Cafiero, Merlino, and Malatesta. 
VI.Germany, England, and America213
 Individualist and Communist Anarchism — Arthur Mülberger — Theodor Hertzka’s Freeland — Eugen Dühring’s “Anticratism” — Moritz von Egidy’s “United Christendom” — John Henry Mackay — Nietzsche and Anarchism — Johann Most — Auberon Herbert’s Voluntary State — R. B. Tucker. 
Part III.The Relation of Anarchism to Science and Politics.
VII.Anarchism and Sociology: Herbert Spencer245
 Spencer’s Views on the Organisation of Society — Society Conceived from the Nominalist and Realist Standpoint — The Idealism of Anarchists — Spencer’s Work: From Freedom to Restraint. 
VIII.The Spread of Anarchism in Europe260
 First Period (1867-1880): The Peace and Freedom League — The Democratic Alliance and the Jurassic Bund — Union with and Separation from the “International” — The Rising at Lyons — Congress at Lausanne — The Members of the Alliance in Italy, Spain, and Belgium — Second Period (from 1880): The German Socialist Law — Johann Most — The London Congress — French Anarchism since 1880 — Anarchism in Switzerland — The Geneva Congress — Anarchism in Germany and Austria — Joseph Penkert — Anarchism in Belgium and England — Organisation of the Spanish Anarchists — Italy — Character of Modern Anarchism — The Group — Numerical Strength of the Anarchism of Action. 
IX.Concluding Remarks304
 Legislation against Anarchists — Anarchism and Crime — Tolerance towards Anarchist Theory — Suppression of Anarchist Crime — Conclusion. 






narchy means, in its ideal sense, the perfect, unfettered self-government of the individual, and, consequently, the absence of any kind of external government. This fundamental formula, which in its essence is common to all actual and real Theoretical Anarchists, contains all that is necessary as a guide to the distinguishing features of this remarkable movement. It demands the unconditional realisation of freedom, both subjectively and objectively, equally in political and in economic life. In this, Anarchism is distinct from Liberalism, which, even in its most radical representatives, only allows unlimited freedom in economic affairs, but has never questioned the necessity of some compulsory organisation in the social relationships of individuals; whereas Anarchism would extend the Liberal doctrine of laisser faire to all human actions, and would recognise nothing but a free convention or agreement as the only permissible form of human society. But the formula stated above distinguishes Anarchism much more strongly (because the distinction is fundamental) from its antithesis, Socialism, which out of the celebrated trinity of the French Revolution has placed another figure, that of Equality, upon a pedestal as its only deity. Anarchism and Socialism, in spite of the fact that they are so often confused, both intentionally and unintentionally, have only one thing in common, namely, that both are forms of idolatry, though they have different idols, both are religions and not sciences, dogmas and not speculations. Both of them are a kind of honestly meant social mysticism, which, anticipating the partly possible and perhaps even probable results of yet unborn centuries, urge upon mankind the establishment of a terrestrial Eden, of a land of the absolute Ideal, whether it be Freedom or Equality. It is only natural, in view of the difficulty of creating new thoughts, that our modern seekers after the millennium should look for their Eden by going backwards, and should shape it on the lines of stages of social progress that have long since been passed by; and in this is seen the irremediable internal contradiction of both movements: they intend an advance, but only cause retrogression.

Are we, then, to take Anarchism seriously, or shall we pass it by merely with a smile of superiority and a deprecating wave of our hand? Shall we declare war to the knife against Anarchists, or have they a claim to have their opinions discussed and respected as much as those of the Liberals or Social Democrats, or as those of religious or ecclesiastical bodies? These questions we can only answer at the conclusion of this book; but at this point I should like to do away with one conception of Anarchism which is frequently urged against it.

Those who wish nowadays to seem particularly enlightened and tolerant as regards this dangerous movement, describe it as a “pathological phenomenon.” We have done our best to make some sense of this mischievous, though modern, analogy, but have never succeeded, in spite of Lombroso, Kraft-Ebing, and others undeniably capable in their own department. The former, in his clever book on this subject,[2] has confused individual with social pathology. When Lombroso completely identified the Anarchist theory and idea—with which he is by no means familiar—with the persons engaged in Anarchist actions, and made an attempt (which is certainly successful) to trace the political methods of thought and action of a great many of them to pathological premises, he reached the false conclusion that Anarchism itself was a pathological phenomenon. But in reality the only conclusion from his demonstration is that many unhealthy and criminal characters adopt Anarchism, a conclusion which he himself admits in this remark, that “Criminals take part specially in the beginnings of insurrections and revolutions in large numbers, for, at a time when the weak and undecided are still hesitating, the impulsive activity of abnormal and unhealthy characters preponderates, and their example then produces epidemics of excesses.” This fact we fearlessly acknowledge; and it gains a special significance for us in that the Anarchists themselves base their system of “propaganda by action” upon this knowledge. But if we are therefore to call this phenomenon a symptom that Anarchism itself is a pathological phenomenon, to what revolutionary movement might we not then apply this criterion, and what would it imply if we did?

I have stated, and (I hope) have shown elsewhere[3] what may be understood by “pathological” social phenomena, namely, an abnormal unhealthy condition of the popular mind in the sense of a general aberration of the intellect of the masses, as is possibly the case in what is known as Anti-Semitism. But even in this limited sense it appears quite inadmissible and incorrect to call Anarchism a pathological phenomenon. Let us be fair and straightforward, if we wish to learn; let us be just, even if we are to benefit our most dangerous enemies; for in the end we shall benefit ourselves. With Anarchism there is no question of transitory anomalies of the public mind, but of a well defined condition which is visibly increasing and which is necessarily connected with all previous and accompanying conditions; it is a question of ideas and opinions which are the logical, even if in practice inadmissible, development of views that have long been well known and recognised by the majority of civilised men. A further test of every unhealthy phenomenon, namely, its local character, is entirely lacking in Anarchism; for we meet with it to-day extending all over the world, wherever society has developed in a manner similar to our own; we meet it not merely in one class, but see members of all classes, and especially members of the upper classes, attach themselves to it. The fathers, as we may call them, of the Anarchist theory are almost entirely men of great natural gifts, who rank high both intellectually and morally, whose influence has been felt for half a century, who have been born in Russia, Germany, France, Italy, England, and America, men who are as different one from another as are the circumstances and environment of their respective countries, but who are all of one mind as regards the theory which we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.

And that is what Anarchism undoubtedly is: a theory, an idea, with all the failings and dangers, but also with all the advantages which a theory always possesses, with just as much, and only as much, validity as a theory can demand as its due, but at any rate a theory which is as old as human civilisation, because it goes back to the most powerful civilising factor in humanity.

The care for the bare necessities of life, the inexorable struggle for existence, has aroused in mankind the desire for fellow-strugglers, for companions. In the tribe his power of resistance was increased, and his prospect of self-support grew in proportion as he developed together with his fellows into a new collective existence. But the fact that, notwithstanding this, he did not grow up like a mere animal in a flock, but in such a way that he always—even if often only after long and bitter experience—found his proper development in the tribe—this has made him a man and his tribe a society. Which is the more ancient and more sacred, the unfettered rights of the individual or the welfare of the community? Can anyone take this question seriously who is accustomed to look at the life and development of society in the light of facts? Individualism and Altruism are as inseparably connected as light and darkness, as day and night. The individualistic and the social sense in human society correspond to the centrifugal and centripetal forces in the universe, or to the forces of attraction and repulsion that govern molecular activity. Their movements must be regarded simply as manifestations of forces in the direction of the resultants, whose components are Individualism and Altruism. If, to use a metaphor from physics, one of these forces was excluded, the body would either remain stock-still, or would fly far away into infinity. But such a case is, in society as in physics, only possible in imagination, because the distinction between the two forces is itself only a purely mental separation of one and the same thing.

This is all that can be said either for or against the exclusive accentuation of any one single social force. All the endeavours to create a realm of unlimited and absolute freedom have only as much value as the assumption, in physics, of space absolutely void of air, or of a direction of motion absolutely uninfluenced by the force of gravity. The force which sets a bullet in motion is certainly something actual and real; but the influence which would correspond to this force, this direction in the sense in which the physicist distinguishes it, exists only in theory, because the bullet will, as far as all actual experience goes, only move in the direction of a resultant, in which the impetus given to it and the force of gravity are inseparably united and appear as one. If, therefore, it is also clear that the endeavour to obtain a realm of unconditional freedom contradicts ipso facto the conception of life, yet all such endeavours are by no means valueless for our knowledge of human society, and consequently for society itself; and even if social life is always only the resultant of different forces, yet these forces themselves remain something real and actual, and are no mere fiction or hypothesis; while the growing differentiation of society shows how freedom, conceived as a force, is something actual, although as an ideal it may never attain full realisation. The development of society has proceeded hand in hand with a conscious or more often unconscious assertion of the individual, and the philosopher Hegel could rightly say that the history of the world is progress in the consciousness of freedom. At all events, it might be added, the statement that the history of the world is progress in the consciousness of the universal interdependence of mankind would have quite as much justification, and practically also just the same meaning.

The circumstance that, apart from the events of what is comparatively a modern period, the great social upheavals of history have not taken place expressly in the name of freedom, although they have indisputably implied it, only proves that in this case we have to deal not with a mere word or idea, but with an actual force which is active and acting, without reference to our knowledge or consciousness of it. The recognition of individual freedom, and much more the endeavour to make it the only object of our life, are certainly of quite recent date. But these presuppose a certain amount of progress in the actual process of setting the individual free in his moral and political relationships, which is not to be found in the whole of antiquity, and still less in the middle ages.

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