Wednesday, 23 October 2013


[From our Special Correspondent.]

London. October 5. 189i

One of the most interesting books I have had in my hands for some time is the translation of M. Dubois's essay on Anarchism, opportunely published in England under the title "The Anarchist Peril." It is worth everybody's reading, being admirably written and copiously illustrated. Most readers are already aware of how many strands the movement vaguely know as Anarchism is composed, but M Dubois deals mainly with militant Anarchism — the Anarchism which horrifies the world with bomb and knife.
Passing over the first chapter, in which the origin of the Anarchist party is traced to the feuds between Marx and Bakounine, we come to a subject of more immediate interest, namely, the organisation of the party. The very phrase, however, is self-contradictory. What has Anarchy to do with organisation, or organisation with Anarchy? The Anarchist "groups" are of the loosest description :— " It is contrary to the rules to pass resolutions of any kind. To do so would be to interfere with that absolute liberty of action which is toe corner-stone of the Anarchist creed. No one binds himself in any way, but is free under all circumstances to do what he thinks fit. This absence of any guiding, not to say commanding, influence, which characterises the constitution of the group, is an essential feature of the organisation of the party as a whole. The party is without leaders as it is without rank and file."
This secures to the Anarchist his individual freedom. It also incidentally throws difficulties in the way of the police: — "No difficulties are thrown in the way of persons desirous of entering a group. As a natural consequence it is an easy matter for detectives to present themselves as members of a group. They avail themselves to the full of this generous hospitality, but the advantages they derive from it are not as brilliant as might be supposed. The mutual acquaintance of the majority of members remains slight and casual. On the other hand, one comrade may decide to make overtures to another, with the result that a close intimacy may spring up between them outside the group, and unknown to it. The Anarchist who resolves to take some special step to promote what he conceives to be the interest of his party, either by committing an act of violence or by resorting to exceptional measures to spread the doctrine, does not think of revealing his intention to the croup to which he belongs. He carries out his purpose without consulting anyone, or, if he is obliged to seek assistance, he applies, not to the group at large, but to his intimate friends." It will be remembered, in illustration of this view of the matter, that Valliant did not disclose to his group his intention to throw a bomb in the French Chamber ; and that the efforts of the authorities to connect Caserio's crime with other conspirators was not successful. The view of our author is that, under these circumstances, "effective observation of the party is in consequence almost impossible."
The total number of militant Anarchists has been estimated, it seems, at 50,000. Of this number the largest contingents belong to the tailoring, shoemaking, and cabinetmaking trades. Mr. Dubois' explanations on this head are interesting:— "The workers in large factories have remained remarkably free from the contagion. The majority of Anarchists are either men who are alone while at work or whose occupation isolates them for the time being from their companions. The cabinet maker or the turner, as he passes hour after hour at his bench or lathe, has ample opportunities to reflect on the anomalies of our social system and to piece together, with what skill he may, a panacea for its crying imperfections." If these generalisations be sound, a new meaning is given to the saying " It is not well for man to be alone."
The means taken by the Anarchists to spread their doctrine are as various as the shades of that doctrine itself. They include everything from social reunions to dynamite explosions. As in all revolutionary movements the feud between the more moderate and the more advanced sections is very bitter. The Revolte for instance — edited by Jean Grave — has been unsparingly denounced by more "advanced" journals for its lukewarmness. It is a pedagogic "rag," conducted by "packs of capitalist charlatans and vipers." There was a time when even this "organ of the pedagogues" did not denounce crime quite as categorically as it might have done, but of late the literary sympathisers with the Anarchist movement have spoken out with no uncertain sound. Here, for instance, is a passage from a recent manifesto by Elisée Réclus :— "Supposing you have a quarrel with anyone what do you do? You settle the difference between yourself and the individual as best you may. You do not make the innocent suffer for the grudge you bear. Anarchism is, above everything else, a humanitarian doctrine. It is the primary duty of whoever calls himself an Anarchist to be kind and forbearing. Genuine Anarchists regard outrages as crimes. If those who are responsible for these barbarous deeds imagine that by committing them they are doing a service to the Anarchist cause they are terribly deceived. The only result of such outrages will be that the public will conceive such a horror of Anarchism that all possibility of the doctrine making further progress will be destroyed."
The true method of advancing the doctrine is, according to the theorists, the printed and the spoken word, and certainly the Anarchist press is very active. Especially is this the case with tracts, pamphlets, and fly-sheets, which are cheap to print, easy to circulate, and easy to conceal. Our author declares that London is one of the chief centres for the production of these publications. The style of them is often as profane and indecent as the matter is incendiary. Many of the broad sheets are, however, in the form of poetry, which occasionally has some literary merit. The Anarchist press has two chapters to itself, in the course of which interesting character sketches are given of Jean Grave and others of the literary Anarchists who were acquitted by a Paris jury a few days ago. As in all revolutionary movements, so in the Anarchist movement, cartoons play an important part in the propaganda. In addition to the distribution of pamphlets, periodicals, almanacs, and cartoons, itinerant missionaries scour the country, passing from place to place in the guise of pedlars or tramps, preaching the Anarchist gospel to whoever will hear them, and distributing tracts and Anarchist songs. To these measures taken by the Anarchists themselves must be added among the propagandist agencies the measures taken against them. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Anarchism has found this out, and has shown a truly marvellous enterprise in the manufacture of saints. This Anarchist martyrolatry began with the famous execution at Chicago in 1887. Idealised portraits of these and other martyers, with symbolic surroundings are distributed broadcast. Pilgrimages are paid to their nameless graves, when floral souvenirs and equally flowery sentiments are offered to the dead. Of the panegyrics composed in honor of Ravachol. I quote a sample : —
"The martyrdom of Ravachol has revived the tradition of self-sacrifice, and furnished the present age with an example of a man laying down his life for the good of humanity. Ravachol stands forth as a disciple of the lofty ideal preached by the old religion. He has re-introduced into the world the Acceptable Sacrifice. He saw that the earth is full of anguish, and he has glorified the sufferings of his fellows by offering his own agony as a holocaust. Into this hour of cynicism and irony A SAINT IS BORN TO US. His blood will rouse the courage of other martyrs. The noble conception of universal altruism will spring from the ruddy pool at the foot of the guillotine."

 South Australian Chronicle 7 November 1894,

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