Friday, 9 August 2013

ANARCHIST TENDENCIES

 The anarchists, of whom little is usually heard, have, of late, been very much in evidence. The tragedy which formed the sequel to the Spanish Royal wedding, like all the regicidal acts of this small determined band of his guided reformers, has given them a huge advertisement. On the other hand, it has probably robbed them of more than one "triumph." Not the least noticeable consequence of the Madrid affair has been a quickening of police surveillance in those centres where members of the advanced wing of this loose cosmopolitan organisation most do congregate. Since Matteo Moral's abortive attempt to assassinate the young King and Queen of Spain on their wedding day, two other conspiracies of a somewhat similar character have, it would appear, been frustrated. A Russian Pole has been arrested in America on a charge of plotting against the life of President Roosevelt, and at Ancona, in Italy, a plan of the anarchists, obviously designed for the assassination of King Victor Emmanuel, has been opportunity revealed. The Spanish incident may thus have proved a blessing in disguise. Society, however, is not wholly reassured. These dramatic events have, at any rate, once more suggested in some quarters the expediency of instituting concerted international measures for restricting the liberty of, and even of more directly punishing, all and sundry who are suspected of anarchist tendencies. The lessons of history are lost on some nations. The failure of extreme measures under like circumstances in the past is for the moment forgotten. It is not improbable, however, that the more enlightened Governments will think twice, before committing themselves to a policy of organised retaliation. Hitherto Great Britain, alone among the Great Powers, has resolutely refused to pass exceptional laws against these revolutionaries. When, in 1894. the Italian Caserio, assassinated the amiable and respected French President, probably thinking that he was thereby ridding the world of a tyrant, the people almost everywhere, in a mood perfectly comprehensible, if not justifiable, were ready to take the severest measures against anarchists, whether singly or as a class, and wherever and whenever opportunity offered. The same feelings were momentarily excited by the assassination of President McKinley, in 1901. On both occasions the British Government, true to its traditions, consistently deprecated panic legislation. The ordinary law and the existing executive machinery were declared to be amply sufficient to cope with criminals of all classes, anarchists included. The wisdom of this attitude has since been abundantly demonstrated. Certainly countries like Russia, Italy, and Spain, which have placed the anarchist propagandists under a ban, and deprived them of equal rights with their fellows before the law, so far from ridding themselves of these Ishmaelites of society, have become the theatres of the most menacing of revolutionary and nihilistic enterprises, while England has been in no way disturbed by such murderous manifestations of political and social unrest.
    No one in his senses will justify or extenuate anarchist crimes. The State must protect itself. It is perfectly fair that it should proceed against a criminal propaganda by legal means, and that anarchist criminals should suffer just as do other criminals. What they sow that, also must they reap. Men who, while denying the right of the State to take life, themselves preach and practise the gospel of assassination, cannot expect to escape the consequences of their own excesses. But since the doctrines of the anarchists are so nebulous, and range from mere academic opinion to the glorification of murder, it is difficult to know how best to combat them—how, indeed, to separate what is not criminal in those doctrines, some of which are not without an element of good, from what is hateful and abhorrent. The suppression of opinion is always difficult and in most cases undesirable. The anarchists, it is well to remember, are not all assassins nor sympathisers with deeds of violence. Proudhon, who may be said to have founded the anarchist school of thought, neither preached nor excused resort to force. His hope for the future was based solely on reason. Hence his famous declaration :—"When once ideas have germinated the very pavement stones will rise." If Governments failed to recognise the force of these ideas, then nothing, he declared, could be of any use. Tolstoi, again, who proclaims the gospel of non-resistance—whose philosophy of life and government is based on a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount—is a high priest of anarchism. Russia, so notoriously misgoverned, has it is not surprising to find, furnished the world with its three outstanding apostles of this new Utopia, in which there is to be no Government, and when every man is to be a law unto himself. Tolstoi, Krapotkin, and Bakounine represent the three schools of present-day anarchism. All differ in their teaching, but all have the one objective. The tenets of the two former, who would equally denounce the Spanish tragedy, have, strangely enough, largely resulted in recruiting the followers of Bakounine, who applauded all such crimes. The explanations of this remarkable evolution is doubtless to be found in the impatience of the average citizen suffering from gross misgovernment, and his consequent tendency to translate ideas into action. Though a much more sober teacher, our own Herbert Spencer came very near to proclaiming himself an anarchist. In "Man versus the State," his thesis is that every increase of the power of government implies an equivalent decrease in the liberties of individuals, which is only Krapotkin's theory of government, and Tolstoi's conception of the ideal state slightly qualified.
     The anarchist, after all, is but an extreme individualist. The main difference between him and Mr. Spencer, for instance, is that he is, in the language of the British hustings, "a whole hogger." For the existing order of things he seeks to substitute a condition of society, in which all forms of authority would be abolished. Free contract, perpetually revisable and dissoluble, is his ideal. Nothing could be further from the truth than the popular idea of the anarchist that he is a socialist of an extreme type. Both terms stand badly in need of a definition easily understanded of the people "Terminological inexactitude," to use a phrase now common in polemical discussions, is responsible in no small degree for the vicious circle in which some of our own Federal politicians are constantly arguing. In anarchism, as a matter of fact, we have the extreme antithesis of socialism and its bitterest enemy. The socialist so desires to extend the sphere of the State that it shall embrace all the more important concerns of life. Its older school would make the sway of its authority universal. The anarchist would regard society organised on such a basis as a crowning tyranny. He would only have a system of perfect individual liberty. He would not concede to it negatively regulative functions. The happy mean, of course, is between these two extremes. Where the anarchist of the class to which men like the assassin Moral belong make the mistake, is in believing that there lies a short cut to the realisation of their social paradise. They have yet to learn with the philosophic anarchists, and with the wisest reformers of all political schools, that in the words of the elder Piccolomini, in "Wallenstein"—
"The way of Order,
though it lead through windings,
 Is the best"—
and that it is impossible to kill the organism of society by destroying some of its symbols. The best of our institutions are not immutable. The true attitude to be observed towards all of them is embodied in the Pauline injunction to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. The very elasticity of English political institutions—their liability to change has permitted of their almost imperceptibly accommodating themselves to new conditions in the national life. The good sense and conservative instincts of the people have also been "a power to make this ever-changing world of circumstance, in changing, chime with never-ending law." And it is fair to assume that were the people in other countries as completely master of their own destinies as they are in British communities, the criminal anarchist's occupation would be gone. The cult would perish for want of real grievances.

 The West Australian 11 June 1906,

No comments: