Sunday, 19 January 2014

BELLAMY, MORRIS & DONNELLY

ANARCHISTS AND SOCIALISTS.

THERE was much dissatisfaction in the opening years of this century with existing forms of government, but associations of men under the name of Anarchists or Socialists were unknown. On the continent of Europe Socialism has for some time past been regarded as a menace to political systems, and, in Germany more especially, stringent methods have been adopted for its suppression. Anarchists have only recently excited much apprehension anywhere, but cruel, and apparently almost senseless, outrages have been so frequent of late, and so generally attributed to their agency, that the Governments of Europe are seriously considering the advisability of unitedly, taking active steps against them. Anarchy, in its modern sense, took its rise in Russia, when, under the designation of Nihilism, it has long held its ground as a secret but powerful enemy of the recognised State authorities. As a check to autocracy, in a country where liberty of speech or writing was, proscribed, and the discussion of grievances at meetings' of citizens prohibited, Nihilism carried a certain measure of sympathy from people at a distance who dwelt under a happier regime. The full measure of the Nihilist creed was not comprehended, and it was popularly supposed in other countries that only what is turned constitutional freedom was demanded. Fuller information has since been secured, and it is evident, that the Anarchists of Europe are the legitimate inheritors of the aspirations of the Russian Nihilists. To most people the terms Nihilists, Anarchists and Socialists merely represent disturbers of the public peace who are ready to combine for purposes of destruction, and have no theories of construction to present worthy of a sane man's attention. This is a misapprehension, and is liable to be attended with serious consequences, when it is found, as frequently happens, that some eminent man, who has gained the world's esteem by his actions, is inclined to support constitutional changes which have been banned by association with an evil name. In point of fact, it is sheer ignorance to confound together the different sections of revolutionaries who have of late years made themselves prominent. Their views of life, hopes of reform, and propagandist efforts place them in reality at the opposite poles of society. The Anarchist or Nihilist proclaims the sovereignty of the individual, and looks for the abolition of State Governments and the formation of simply voluntary associations. The Socialist, on the other hand, aims at increasing the powers of the State so long as it is representative of an unmistakable majority of the people to an extent that has never yet been known in practice, and claiming from the individual during a certain portion of life as complete a surrender of selfhood in the course of industrial progress as has hitherto been yielded only in military campaigns. Whatever may be thought of these theories, it is well that they should be clearly understood by the intelligent reader. Overt acts of violence, whatever name may be assumed by those who perpetrate them, have to be suppressed and punished by the State, but theories of society may claim to be ventilated in all communities where freedom of speech is permitted, so that if there be any good in them it may be ascertained. Men of the highest standing in the Christian church have advocated the cause of Socialism because they conceive that in a stricter discipline of individuals, and a more scientific organisation of society, lies the best hope for progress of the race. They are probably enough mistaken enthusiasts, but they cannot be supposed to have the slightest sympathy with aggressive revolution.
Within the last four years three books have been published in the English language, possessed of notable characteristics, and covering no small portion of the struggle of social ideas to which we have briefly reverted. They deserve to be regarded as a trilogy dealing with the imaginative side of the subject. They share one common element, namely, that of prophecy, as they profess to peer into the future, but in all other respects are strikingly dissimilar. The first of these, under the title of "Looking Backward," has  gained a considerable measure of fame, and a wide circle of readers. Its author, Mr. EDWARD BELLAMY, under the guise of a romance, whose characters live in the twenty-first century, treats of the Socialistic scheme pure and simple. Society is arranged and captained for industrial purposes, just as is an army now for military ones ; and although the people composing it have plenty of opportunities for free action outside of drill hours, within them they have to surrender their personal likings for the benefit of the machine. Everyone has to work for a definite time at a specific occupation, and whatever the merit or capacity of individuals, all receive the same remuneration, emulation being stimulated, as is largely the case at present in military operations, by hope of distinction and love of public approbation. The second work to which we refer is also from the pen of an American, and cannot be said to have excited the same attention as, or to be equal in merit with, "Looking Backward." The writer, IGNATIUS DONNELLY, attained a notoriety that can hardly be denominated fame by the publication of a somewhat cranky work, called the "Great Crytogram," designed to prove that Bacon was the author of Shakspeare's plays. His later production, "Csesar's Column," though much less ambitious, may possibly have a greater value for modern society. In it he purports to narrate the history of the evils arising through the efforts of privileged and wealthy citizens to maintain dominion over the workers. He does not commit himself to any project of social salvation, but is content to paint in lurid colors the social damnation liable to be caused by in justice and cruelty. Book number three has issued from the press within the last few months. Its author, WILLIAM MORRIS, gained a reputation as a poet before he presented himself as a reformer. His earlier volumes, "The Earthly Paradise," have, long been prized by all lovers of classical English verse, and contain poems of a beauty and luxuriance which would not have discredited the muse of Keats. Although himself placed by inheritance beyond the fear of want, Morris became struck by the terrible inequalities of fortune which he witnessed around him, and conceived that in the teachings of the German socialists was to be found the panacea of existing evils. He joined the Social Democrats, and became so ardent a public advocate of their principles as to find himself at the time of the Trafalgar-square disturbances in collision with the police. Although he was brought up before the magistrates, he, in common with some of his friends, escaped the penalty of imprisonment, and has since, with more sobriety but equal pertinacity, propagated his opinions concerning the rottenness of nineteenth century systems and the coming day of communal glory.
Although Mr. Morris has been mixed up with the Socialists through out his later public career, his volume, which bears the title of "News from Nowhere," is occupied with a development of the Anarchistic ideal rather than the Socialistic. It is, in brief, at attempt to realise in practice the central principle of Herbert Spencer's 'Social Statics,' that every person is entitled to the utmost freedom compatible with the like freedom of every other person. By means of the some what hackneyed expedient of a dream the narrator of the story finds himself projected into a future century of English life, the associate of, a superior race of people, who dwell about the banks of transfigured Thames, and scarcely know the meaning of the disagreeable word "compulsion." The leading characteristic of the age is enjoyment of the beauty of the world and the pleasure of life, bereft of any fear of either visible or invisible authority. Each person works for the love of work and not for private gain, and if he grows tired of one kind of toil effects a transfer with some other worker, just as a minister in our day who preaches in the country occasionally exchanges pulpits with a brother of the cloth in the city. The happy people of that regenerated England cannot understand how any one would ever have felt it unpleasant to have work to do, and are mainly occupied in extending the scope of useful occupation, so as to make sure that everyone who wants to work can do so. Government, in our sense of government, there is none ; politics have to be picked out of the black letter volumes of the past, and the Houses of Parliament have been turned to profitable account as a dung market. Nobody wants to harm any person, so there is no necessity for courts of police or lawyers, and where, through occasional outbreaks of evil temper not yet redeemed from heredity, some wrong is done, the wrongdoer finds himself an object of sympathy rather than persecution, and is shamed into repentance. Of course the dreamer meets with the querulous old antiquary, who tells him all about the process of reformation, how through mighty strikes, social upheavals and civil wars the idea of freedom had taken possession of mankind, and they had found that if everybody was well treated no. one would wish to do ill to his neighbour. Anarchy in this sense becomes a sort of millennium, and Mr. Morris's literary ability and poetical nature have helped him to turn out a decidedly fascinating composition. But on rising from its perusal, and remembering that Anarchists are just now engaged in propagating their faith by the agency of dynamite bombs and electric explosions, we have to acknowledge with a sigh that there is a great gulf between the dream and the reality.

The Burrowa News 8 April 1892,

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