To analyze the psychology of political violence is not only extremely
difficult, but also very dangerous. If such acts are treated with
understanding, one is immediately accused of eulogizing them. If, on
the other hand, human sympathy is expressed with the attentater,1 one risks being considered a possible accomplice. Yet it is only intelligence and sympathy that can bring us closer to the source of human suffering, and teach us the ultimate way out of it.|
The primitive man, ignorant of natural forces, dreaded their
approach, hiding from the perils they threatened. As man learned to
understand Nature's phenomena, he realized that though these may
destroy life and cause great loss, they also bring relief. To the
earnest student it must be apparent that the accumulated forces in
our social and economic life, culminating in a political act of
violence, are similar to the terrors of the atmosphere, manifested in
storm and lightning.
To thoroughly appreciate the truth of this view, one must feel
intensely the indignity of our social wrongs; one's very being must
throb with the pain, the sorrow, the despair millions of people are
daily made to endure. Indeed, unless we have become a part of
humanity, we cannot even faintly understand the just indignation that
accumulates in a human soul, the burning, surging passion that makes
the storm inevitable.
The ignorant mass looks upon the man who makes a violent protest
against our social and economic iniquities as upon a wild beast, a
cruel, heartless monster, whose joy it is to destroy life and bathe
in blood; or at best, as upon an irresponsible lunatic. Yet nothing
is further from the truth. As a matter of fact, those who have
studied the character and personality of these men, or who have come
in close contact with them, are agreed that it is their
super-sensitiveness to the wrong and injustice surrounding them which
compels them to pay the toll of our social crimes. The most noted
writers and poets, discussing the psychology of political offenders,
have paid them the highest tribute. Could anyone assume that these
men had advised violence, or even approved of the acts? Certainly
not. Theirs was the attitude of the social student, of the man who
knows that beyond every violent act there is a vital cause.
Bjornstjerne Bjornson, in the second part of Beyond Human Power,
emphasizes the fact that it is among the Anarchists that we must look
for the modern martyrs who pay for their faith with their blood, and
who welcome death with a smile, because they believe, as truly as
Christ did, that their martyrdom will redeem humanity.
Francois Coppee, the French novelist, thus expresses himself
regarding the psychology of the attentater:
Again Zola, in Germinal and >Pairs, describes the tenderness and kindness, the deep sympathy with human suffering, of these men who
close the chapter of their lives with a violent outbreak against our
"The reading of the details of Vaillant's execution left me in a
thoughtful mood. I imagined him expanding his chest under the ropes,
marching with firm step, stiffening his will, concentrating all his
energy, and, with eyes fixed upon the knife, hurling finally at
society his cry of malediction. And, in spite of me, another
spectacle rose suddenly before my mind. I saw a group of men and
women pressing against each other in the middle of the oblong arena
of the circus, under the gaze of thousands of eyes, while from all
the steps of the immense amphitheatre went up the terrible cry, ad leones! and, below, the opening cages of the wild beasts.|
"I did not believe the execution would take place. In the first
place, no victim had been struck with death, and it had long been the
custom not to punish an abortive crime with the last degree of
severity. Then, this crime, however terrible in intention, was
disinterested, born of an abstract idea. The man's past, his
abandoned childhood, his life of hardship, pleaded also in his favor.
In the independent press generous voices were raised in his behalf,
very loud and eloquent. 'A purely literary current of opinion' some
have said, with no little scorn. It is, on the contrary, an honor
to the men of art an thought to have expressed once more their disgust
at the scaffold."
Last, but not least, the man who probably better than anyone else
understands the psychology of the attentater is M. Hamon, the author
of the brilliant work, Une Psychologie du Miltaire Professionel, who
has arrived at these suggestive conclusions:
To the above characteristics, says Alvin F. Sanborn, must be added
these sterling qualities: a rare love of animals, surpassing
sweetness in all the ordinary relations of life, exceptional sobriety
of demeanor, frugality and regularity, austerity, even, of living,
and courage beyond compare.2
"The positive method confirmed by the rational method enables us to
establish an ideal type of Anarchist, whose mentality is the
aggregate of common psychic characteristics. Every Anarchist
partakes sufficiently of this ideal type to make it possible to
differentiate him from other men. The typical Anarchist, then, may
be defined as follows: A man perceptible by the spirit of revolt
under one or more of its forms,--opposition, investigation,
criticism, innovation,--endowed with a strong love of liberty,
egoistic or individualistic, and possessed of great curiosity, a keen
desire to know. These traits are supplemented by an ardent love of
others, a highly developed moral sensitiveness, a profound sentiment
of justice, and imbued with missionary zeal."|
"There is a truism that the man in the street seems always to forget,
when he is abusing the Anarchists, or whatever party happens to be
his bete noire for the moment, as the cause of some outrage just
perpetrated. This indisputable fact is that homicidal outrages have,
from time immemorial, been the reply of goaded and desperate classes,
and goaded and desperate individuals, to wrongs from their fellowmen,
which they felt to be intolerable. Such acts are the violent recoil
from violence, whether aggressive or repressive; they are the last
desperate struggle of outraged and exasperated human nature for
breathing space and life. And their cause lies not in any special
conviction, but in the depths of that human nature itself. The whole
course of history, political and social, is strewn with evidence of
this fact. To go no further, take the three most notorious examples
of political parties goaded into violence during the last fifty
years: the Mazzinians in Italy, the Fenians in Ireland, and the
Terrorists in Russia. Were these people Anarchists? No. Did they
all three even hold the same political opinions? No. The Mazzinians
were Republicans, the Fenians political separatists, the Russians
Social Democrats or Constitutionalists. But all were driven by
desperate circumstances into this terrible form of revolt. And when
we turn from parties to individuals who have acted in like manner, we
stand appalled by the number of human beings goaded and driven by
sheer desperation into conduct obviously violently opposed to their
That every act of political violence should nowadays be attributed to
Anarchists is not at all surprising. Yet it is a fact known to
almost everyone familiar with the Anarchist movement that a great
number of acts, for which Anarchists had to suffer, either originated
with the capitalist press or were instigated, if not directly
perpetrated, by the police.
"Now that Anarchism has become a living force in society, such deeds
have been sometimes committed by Anarchists, as well as by others.
For no new faith, even the most essentially peaceable and humane the
mind of man has yet accepted, but at its first coming has brought
upon earth not peace, but a sword; not because of anything violent or
anti-social in the doctrine itself; simply because of the ferment any
new and creative idea excites in men's minds, whether they accept or
reject it. And a conception of Anarchism, which, on one hand,
threatens every vested interest, and, on the other, holds out a
vision of a free and noble life to be won by a struggle against
existing wrongs, is certain to rouse the fiercest opposition, and
bring the whole repressive force of ancient evil into violent contact
with the tumultuous outburst of a new hope.|
"Under miserable conditions of life, any vision of the possibility of
better things makes the present misery more intolerable, and spurs
those who suffer to the most energetic struggles to improve their
lot, and if these struggles only immediately result in sharper
misery, the outcome is sheer desperation. In our present society,
for instance, an exploited wage worker, who catches a glimpse of what
work and life might and ought to be, finds the toilsome routine and
the squalor of his existence almost intolerable; and even when he has
the resolution and courage to continue steadily working his best, and
waiting until new ideas have so permeated society as to pave the way
for better times, the mere fact that he has such ideas and tries to
spread them, brings him into difficulties with his employers. How
many thousands of Socialists, and above all Anarchists, have lost
work and even the chance of work, solely on the ground of their
opinions. It is only the specially gifted craftsman, who, if he be a
zealous propagandist, can hope to retain permanent employment. And
what happens to a man with his brain working actively with a ferment
of new ideas, with a vision before his eyes of a new hope dawning for
toiling and agonizing men, with the knowledge that his suffering and
that of his fellows in misery is not caused by the cruelty of fate,
but by the injustice of other human beings,--what happens to such a
man when he sees those dear to him starving, when he himself is
starved? Some natures in such a plight, and those by no means the
least social or the least sensitive, will become violent, and will
even feel that their violence is social and not anti-social, that in
striking when and how they can, they are striking, not for
themselves, but for human nature, outraged and despoiled in their
persons and in those of their fellow sufferers. And are we, who
ourselves are not in this horrible predicament, to stand by and
coldly condemn these piteous victims of the Furies and Fates? Are we
to decry as miscreants these human beings who act with heroic
self-devotion, sacrificing their lives in protest, where less social
and less energetic natures would lie down and grovel in abject
submission to injustice and wrong? Are we to join the ignorant and
brutal outcry which stigmatizes such men as monsters of wickedness,
gratuitously running amuck in a harmonious and innocently peaceful
society? No! We hate murder with a hatred that may seem absurdly
exaggerated to apologists for Matabele massacres, to callous
acquiescers in hangings and bombardments, but we decline in such
cases of homicide, or attempted homicide, as those of which we are
treating, to be guilty of the cruel injustice of flinging the whole
responsibility of the deed upon the immediate perpetrator. The guilt
of these homicides lies upon every man and woman who, intentionally
or by cold indifference, helps to keep up social conditions that
drive human beings to despair. The man who flings his whole life
into the attempt, at the cost of his own life, to protest against the
wrongs of his fellow men, is a saint compared to the active and
passive upholders of cruelty and injustice, even if his protest
destroy other lives besides his own. Let him who is without sin in
society cast the first stone at such an one."3
For a number of years acts of violence had been committed in Spain,
for which the Anarchists were held responsible, hounded like wild
beasts, and thrown into prison. Later it was disclosed that the
perpetrators of these acts were not Anarchists, but members of the
police department. The scandal became so widespread that the
conservative Spanish papers demanded the apprehension and punishment
of the gang-leader, Juan Rull, who was subsequently condemned to
death and executed. The sensational evidence, brought to light
during the trial, forced Police Inspector Momento to exonerate
completely the Anarchists from any connection with the acts committed
during a long period. This resulted in the dismissal of a number of
police officials, among them Inspector Tressols, who, in revenge,
disclosed the fact that behind the gang of police bomb throwers were
others of far higher position, who provided them with funds and
This is one of the many striking examples of how Anarchist
conspiracies are manufactured.
That the American police can perjure themselves with the same ease,
that they are just as merciless, just as brutal and cunning as their
European colleagues, has been proven on more than one occasion. We
need only recall the tragedy of the eleventh of November, 1887, known
as the Haymarket Riot.
No one who is at all familiar with the case can possibly doubt that
the Anarchists, judicially murdered in Chicago, died as victims of a
lying, bloodthirsty press and of a cruel police conspiracy. Has not
Judge Gary himself said: "Not because you have caused the Haymarket
bomb, but because you are Anarchists, you are on trial."
The impartial and thorough analysis by Governor Altgeld of that
blotch on the American escutcheon verified the brutal frankness of
Judge Gary. It was this that induced Altgeld to pardon the three
Anarchists, thereby earning the lasting esteem of every liberty
loving man and woman in the world.
When we approach the tragedy of September sixth, 1901, we are
confronted by one of the most striking examples of how little social
theories are responsible for an act of political violence. "Leon
Czolgosz, an Anarchist, incited to commit the act by Emma Goldman."
To be sure, has she not incited violence even before her birth, and
will she not continue to do so beyond death? Everything is possible
with the Anarchists.
Today, even, nine years after the tragedy, after it was proven a
hundred times that Emma Goldman had nothing to do with the event,
that no evidence whatsoever exists to indicate that Czolgosz ever
called himself an Anarchist, we are confronted with the same lie,
fabricated by the police and perpetuated by the press. No living
soul ever heard Czolgosz make that statement, nor is there a single
written word to prove that the boy ever breathed the accusation.
Nothing but ignorance and insane hysteria, which have never yet been
able to solve the simplest problem of cause and effect.
The President of a free Republic killed! What else can be the cause,
except that the attentater must have been insane, or that he was
incited to the act.
A free Republic! How a myth will maintain itself, how it will
continue to deceive, to dupe, and blind even the comparatively
intelligent to its monstrous absurdities. A free Republic! And yet
within a little over thirty years a small band of parasites have
successfully robbed the American people, and trampled upon the
fundamental principles, laid down by the fathers of this country,
guaranteeing to every man, woman, and child "life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness." For thirty years they have been increasing
their wealth and power at the expense of the vast mass of workers,
thereby enlarging the army of the unemployed, the hungry, homeless,
and friendless portion of humanity, who are tramping the country from
east to west, from north to south, in a vain search for work. For
many years the home has been left to the care of the little ones,
while the parents are exhausting their life and strength for a mere
pittance. For thirty years the sturdy sons of America have been
sacrificed on the battlefield of industrial war, and the daughters
outraged in corrupt factory surroundings. For long and weary years
this process of undermining the nation's health, vigor, and pride,
without much protest from the disinherited and oppressed, has been
going on. Maddened by success and victory, the money powers of this
"free land of ours" became more and more audacious in their
heartless, cruel efforts to compete with the rotten and decayed
European tyrannies for supremacy of power.
In vain did a lying press repudiate Leon Czolgosz as a foreigner.
The boy was a product of our own free American soil, that lulled him
to sleep with,
Who can tell how many times this American child had gloried in the
celebration of the Fourth of July, or of Decoration Day, when he
faithfully honored the Nation's dead? Who knows but that he, too,
was willing to "fight for his country and die for her liberty," until
it dawned upon him that those he belonged to have no country, because
they have been robbed of all that they have produced; until he
realized that the liberty and independence of his youthful dreams
were but a farce. Poor Leon Czolgosz, your crime consisted of too
sensitive a social consciousness. Unlike your idealless and
brainless American brothers, your ideals soared above the belly and
the bank account. No wonder you impressed the one human being among
all the infuriated mob at your trial--a newspaper woman--as a
visionary, totally oblivious to your surroundings. Your large,
dreamy eyes must have beheld a new and glorious dawn.
My country, 'tis of thee,|
Sweet land of liberty.
Now, to a recent instance of police-manufactured Anarchist plots.
In that bloodstained city, Chicago, the life of Chief of Police
Shippy was attempted by a young man named Averbuch. Immediately the
cry was sent to the four corners of the world that Averbuch was an
Anarchist, and that Anarchists were responsible for the act.
Everyone who was at all known to entertain Anarchist ideas was
closely watched, a number of people arrested, the library of an
Anarchist group confiscated, and all meetings made impossible. It
goes without saying that, as on various previous occasions, I must
needs be held responsible for the act. Evidently the American police
credit me with occult powers. I did not know Averbuch; in fact, had
never before heard his name, and the only way I could have possibly
"conspired" with him was in my astral body. But, then, the police
are not concerned with logic or justice. What they seek is a target,
to mask their absolute ignorance of the cause, of the psychology of a
political act. Was Averbuch an Anarchist? There is no positive
proof of it. He had been but three months in the country, did not
know the language, and, as far as I could ascertain, was quite
unknown to the Anarchists of Chicago.
What led to his act? Averbuch, like most young Russian immigrants,
undoubtedly believed in the mythical liberty of America. He received
his first baptism by the policeman's club during the brutal
dispersement of the unemployed parade. He further experienced
American equality and opportunity in the vain efforts to find an
economic master. In short, a three months' sojourn in the glorious
land brought him face to face with the fact that the disinherited are
in the same position the world over. In his native land he probably
learned that necessity knows no law--there was no difference between
a Russian and an American policeman.
The question to the intelligent social student is not whether the
acts of Czolgosz or Averbuch were practical, any more than whether
the thunderstorm is practical. The thing that will inevitably
impress itself on the thinking and feeling man and woman is that the
sight of brutal clubbing of innocent victims in a so-called free
Republic, and the degrading, soul-destroying economic struggle,
furnish the spark that kindles the dynamic force in the overwrought,
outraged souls of men like Czolgosz or Averbuch. No amount of
persecution, of hounding, of repression, can stay this social
But, it is often asked, have not acknowledged Anarchists committed
acts of violence? Certainly they have, always however ready to
shoulder the responsibility. My contention is that they were
impelled, not by the teachings of Anarchism, but by the tremendous
pressure of conditions, making life unbearable to their sensitive
natures. Obviously, Anarchism, or any other social theory, making
man a conscious social unit, will act as a leaven for rebellion.
This is not a mere assertion, but a fact verified by all experience.
A close examination of the circumstances bearing upon this question
will further clarify my position.
Let us consider some of the most important Anarchist acts within the
last two decades. Strange as it may seem, one of the most
significant deeds of political violence occurred here in America, in
connection with the Homestead strike of 1892.
During that memorable time the Carnegie Steel Company organized a
conspiracy to crush the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel
Workers. Henry Clay Frick, then Chairman of the Company, was
intrusted with that democratic task. He lost no time in carrying out
the policy of breaking the Union, the policy which he had so
successfully practiced during his reign of terror in the coke
regions. Secretly, and while peace negotiations were being purposely
prolonged, Frick supervised the military preparations, the
fortification of the Homestead Steel Works, the erection of a high
board fence, capped with barbed wire and provided with loopholes for
sharpshooters. And then, in the dead of night, he attempted to
smuggle his army of hired Pinkerton thugs into Homestead, which act
precipitated the terrible carnage of the steel workers. Not content
with the death of eleven victims, killed in the Pinkerton skirmish,
Henry Clay Frick, good Christian and free American, straightway began
the hounding down of the helpless wives and orphans, by ordering them
out of the wretched Company houses.
The whole country was aroused over these inhuman outrages. Hundreds
of voices were raised in protest, calling on Frick to desist, not to
go too far. Yes, hundreds of people protested,--as one objects to
annoying flies. Only one there was who actively responded to the
outrage at Homestead,--Alexander Berkman. Yes, he was an Anarchist.
He gloried in that fact, because it was the only force that made the
discord between his spiritual longing and the world without at all
bearable. Yet not Anarchism, as such, but the brutal slaughter of
the eleven steel workers was the urge for Alexander Berkman's act,
his attempt on the life of Henry Clay Frick.
The record of European acts of political violence affords numerous
and striking instances of the influence of environment upon sensitive
The court speech of Vaillant, who, in 1894, exploded a bomb in the
Paris Chamber of Deputies, strikes the true keynote of the psychology
of such acts:
Will anyone say that Vaillant was an ignorant, vicious man, or a
lunatic? Was not his mind singularly clear, analytic? No wonder
that the best intellectual forces of France spoke in his behalf, and
signed the petition to President Carnot, asking him to commute
Vaillant's death sentence.
"Gentlemen, in a few minutes you are to deal your blow, but in
receiving your verdict I shall have at least the satisfaction of
having wounded the existing society, that cursed society in which one
may see a single man spending, uselessly, enough to feed thousands of
families; an infamous society which permits a few individuals to
monopolize all the social wealth, while there are hundreds of
thousands of unfortunates who have not even the bread that is not
refused to dogs, and while entire families are committing suicide for
want of the necessities of life.|
"Ah, gentlemen, if the governing classes could go down among the
unfortunates! But no, they prefer to remain deaf to their appeals.
It seems that a fatality impels them, like the royalty of the
eighteenth century, toward the precipice which will engulf them, for
woe be to those who remain deaf to the cries of the starving, woe to
those who, believing themselves of superior essence, assume the right
to exploit those beneath them! There comes a time when the people no
longer reason; they rise like a hurricane, and pass away like a
torrent. Then we see bleeding heads impaled on pikes.
"Among the exploited, gentlemen, there are two classes of
individuals: Those of one class, not realizing what they are and what
they might be, take life as it comes, believe that they are born to
be slaves, and content themselves with the little that is given them
in exchange for their labor. But there are others, on the contrary,
who think, who study, and who, looking about them, discover social
iniquities. Is it their fault if they see clearly and suffer at
seeing others suffer? Then they throw themselves into the struggle,
and make themselves the bearers of the popular claims.
"Gentlemen, I am one of these last. Wherever I have gone, I have
seen unfortunates bent beneath the yoke of capital. Everywhere I
have seen the same wounds causing tears of blood to flow, even in the
remoter parts of the inhabited districts of South America, where I
had the right to believe that he who was weary of the pains of
civilization might rest in the shade of the palm trees and there
study nature. Well, there even, more than elsewhere, I have seen
capital come, like a vampire, to suck the last drop of blood of the
"Then I came back to France, where it was reserved for me to see my
family suffer atrociously. This was the last drop in the cup of my
sorrow. Tired of leading this life of suffering and cowardice, I
carried this bomb to those who are primarily responsible for social
"I am reproached with the wounds of those who were hit by my
projectiles. Permit me to point out in passing that, if the
bourgeois had not massacred or caused massacres during the
Revolution, it is probable that they would still be under the yoke of
the nobility. On the other hand, figure up the dead and wounded on
Tonquin, Madagascar, Dahomey, adding thereto the thousands, yes,
millions of unfortunates who die in the factories, the mines, and
wherever the grinding power of capital is felt. Add also those who
die of hunger, and all this with the assent of our Deputies. Beside
all this, of how little weight are the reproaches now brought against
"It is true that one does not efface the other; but, after all, are
we not acting on the defensive when we respond to the blows which we
receive from above? I know very well that I shall be told that I
ought to have confined myself to speech for the vindication of the
people's claims. But what can you expect! It takes a loud voice to
make the deaf hear. Too long have they answered our voices by
imprisonment, the rope, rifle volleys. Make no mistake; the
explosion of my bomb is not only the cry of the rebel Vaillant, but
the cry of an entire class which vindicates its rights, and which
will soon add acts to words. For, be sure of it, in vain will they
pass laws. The ideas of the thinkers will not halt; just as, in the
last century, all the governmental forces could not prevent the
Diderots and the Voltaires from spreading emancipating ideas among
the people, so all the existing governmental forces will not prevent
the Reclus, the Darwins, the Spencers, the Ibsens, the Mirbeaus, from
spreading the ideas of justice and liberty which will annihilate the
prejudices that hold the mass in ignorance. And these ideas,
welcomed by the unfortunate, will flower in acts of revolt as they
have done in me, until the day when the disappearance of authority
shall permit all men to organize freely according to their choice,
when we shall each be able to enjoy the product of his labor, and
when those moral maladies called prejudices shall vanish, permitting
human beings to live in harmony, having no other desire than to study
the sciences and love their fellows.
"I conclude, gentlemen, by saying that a society in which one sees
such social inequalities as we see all about us, in which we see
every day suicides caused by poverty, prostitution flaring at every
street corner,--a society whose principal monuments are barracks and
prisons,--such a society must be transformed as soon as possible, on
pain of being eliminated, and that speedily, from the human race.
Hail to him who labors, by no matter what means, for this
transformation! It is this idea that has guided me in my duel with
authority, but as in this duel I have only wounded my adversary, it
is now its turn to strike me.
"Now, gentlemen, to me it matters little what penalty you may
inflict, for, looking at this assembly with the eyes of reason, I can
not help smiling to see you, atoms lost in matter, and reasoning only
because you possess a prolongation of the spinal marrow, assume the
right to judge one of your fellows.
"Ah! gentlemen, how little a thing is your assembly and your verdict
in the history of humanity; and human history, in its turn, is
likewise a very little thing in the whirlwind which bears it through
immensity, and which is destined to disappear, or at least to be
transformed, in order to begin again the same history and the same
facts, a veritably perpetual play of cosmic forces renewing and
transferring themselves forever."
Carnot would listen to no entreaty; he insisted on more than a pound
of flesh, he wanted Vaillant's life, and then--the inevitable
happened: President Carnot was killed. On the handle of the stiletto
used by the attentater was engraved, significantly,
Santa Caserio was an Anarchist. He could have gotten away, saved
himself; but he remained, he stood the consequences.
His reasons for the act are set forth in so simple, dignified, and
childlike manner that one is reminded of the touching tribute paid
Caserio by his teacher of the little village school, Ada Negri, the
Italian poet, who spoke of him as a sweet, tender plant, of too fine
and sensitive texture to stand the cruel strain of the world.
During a religious procession in 1896, at Barcelona, a bomb was
thrown. Immediately three hundred men and women were arrested.
Some were Anarchists, but the majority were trade unionists and
Socialists. They were thrown into that terrible bastille, Montjuich,
and subjected to most horrible tortures. After a number had been
killed, or had gone insane, their cases were taken up by the liberal
press of Europe, resulting in the release of a few survivors.
The man primarily responsible for this revival of the Inquisition was
Canovas del Castillo, Prime Minister of Spain. It was he who ordered
the torturing of the victims, their flesh burned, their bones
crushed, their tongues cut out. Practiced in the art of brutality
during his regime in Cuba, Canovas remained absolutely deaf to the
appeals and protests of the awakened civilized conscience.
"Gentlemen of the Jury! I do not propose to make a defense, but only
an explanation of my deed.|
"Since my early youth I began to learn that present society is badly
organized, so badly that every day many wretched men commit suicide,
leaving women and children in the most terrible distress. Workers,
by thousands, seek for work and can not find it. Poor families beg
for food and shiver with cold; they suffer the greatest misery; the
little ones ask their miserable mothers for food, and the mothers
can not give them, because they have nothing. The few things
which the home contained have already been sold or pawned. All they
can do is beg alms; often they are arrested as vagabonds.
"I went away from my native place because I was frequently moved to
tears at seeing little girls of eight or ten years obliged to work
fifteen hours a day for the paltry pay of twenty centimes. Young
women of eighteen or twenty also work fifteen hours daily, for a
mockery of remuneration. And that happens not only to my fellow
countrymen, but to all the workers, who sweat the whole day long for
a crust of bread, while their labor produces wealth in abundance.
The workers are obliged to live under the most wretched conditions,
and their food consists of a little bread, a few spoonfuls of rice,
and water; so by the time they are thirty or forty years old, they
are exhausted, and go to die in the hospitals. Besides, in
consequence of bad food and overwork, these unhappy creatures are, by
hundreds, devoured by pellagra--a disease that, in my country,
attacks, as the physicians say, those who are badly fed and lead a
life of toil and privation.
"I have observed that there are a great many people who are hungry,
and many children who suffer, whilst bread and clothes abound in the
towns. I saw many and large shops full of clothing and woolen
stuffs, and I also saw warehouses full of wheat and Indian corn,
suitable for those who are in want. And, on the other hand, I saw
thousands of people who do not work, who produce nothing and live on
the labor of others; who spend every day thousands of francs for
their amusement; who debauch the daughters of the workers; who own
dwellings of forty or fifty rooms; twenty or thirty horses, many
servants; in a word, all the pleasures of life.
"I believed in God; but when I saw so great an inequality between
men, I acknowledged that it was not God who created man, but man who
created God. And I discovered that those who want their property to
be respected, have an interest in preaching the existence of paradise
and hell, and in keeping the people in ignorance.
"Not long ago, Vaillant threw a bomb in the Chamber of Deputies, to
protest against the present system of society. He killed no one,
only wounded some persons; yet bourgeois justice sentenced him to
death. And not satisfied with the condemnation of the guilty man,
they began to pursue the Anarchists, and arrest not only those who
had known Vaillant, but even those who had merely been present at any
"The government did not think of their wives and children. It did
not consider that the men kept in prison were not the only ones who
suffered, and that their little ones cried for bread. Bourgeois
justice did not trouble itself about these innocent ones, who do not
yet know what society is. It is no fault of theirs that their
fathers are in prison; they only want to eat.
"The government went on searching private houses, opening private
letters, forbidding lectures and meetings, and practicing the most
infamous oppressions against us. Even now, hundreds of Anarchists
are arrested for having written an article in a newspaper, or for
having expressed an opinion in public.
"Gentlemen of the Jury, you are representatives of bourgeois society.
If you want my head, take it; but do not believe that in so doing you
will stop the Anarchist propaganda. Take care, for men reap what
they have sown."
In 1897 Canovas del Castillo was shot to death by a young Italian,
Angiolillo. The latter was an editor in his native land, and his
bold utterances soon attracted the attention of the authorities.
Persecution began, and Angiolillo fled from Italy to Spain, thence to
France and Belgium, finally settling in England. While there he
found employment as a compositor, and immediately became the friend
of all his colleagues. One of the latter thus described Angiolillo:
Angiolillo soon became familiar with the detailed accounts in the
press. He read of the great wave of human sympathy with the helpless
victims at Montjuich. On Trafalgar Square he saw with his own eyes
the results of those atrocities, when the few Spaniards, who escaped
Castillo's clutches, came to seek asylum in England. There, at the
great meeting, these men opened their shirts and showed the horrible
scars of burned flesh. Angiolillo saw, and the effect surpassed a
thousand theories; the impetus was beyond words, beyond arguments,
beyond himself even.
"His appearance suggested the journalist rather than the disciple of
Guttenberg. His delicate hands, moreover, betrayed the fact that he
had not grown up at the 'case.' With his handsome frank face, his
soft dark hair, his alert expression, he looked the very type of the
vivacious Southerner. Angiolillo spoke Italian, Spanish, and French,
but no English; the little French I knew was not sufficient to carry
on a prolonged conversation. However, Angiolillo soon began to
acquire the English idiom; he learned rapidly, playfully, and it was
not long until he became very popular with his fellow compositors.
His distinguished and yet modest manner, and his consideration
towards his colleagues, won him the hearts of all the boys."|
Senor Antonio Canovas del Castillo, Prime Minister of Spain,
sojourned at Santa Agueda. As usual in such cases, all strangers
were kept away from his exalted presence. One exception was made,
however, in the case of a distinguished looking, elegantly dressed
Italian--the representative, it was understood, of an important
journal. The distinguished gentleman was--Angiolillo.
Senor Canovas, about to leave his house, stepped on the veranda.
Suddenly Angiolillo confronted him. A shot rang out, and Canovas was
The wife of the Prime Minister rushed upon the scene. "Murderer!
Murderer!" she cried, pointing at Angiolillo. The latter bowed.
"Pardon, Madame," he said, "I respect you as a lady, but I regret
that you were the wife of that man."
Calmly Angiolillo faced death. Death in its most terrible form--for
the man whose soul was as a child's.
He was garroted. His body lay, sun-kissed, till the day hid in
twilight. And the people came, and pointing the finger of terror and
fear, they said: "There--the criminal--the cruel murderer."
How stupid, how cruel is ignorance! It misunderstands always,
A remarkable parallel to the case of Angiolillo is to be found in the
act of Gaetano Bresci, whose attentat upon King Umberto made an
American city famous.
Bresci came to this country, this land of opportunity, where one has
but to try to meet with golden success. Yes, he too would try to
succeed. He would work hard and faithfully. Work had no terrors
for him, if it would only help him to independence, manhood,
Thus full of hope and enthusiasm he settled in Paterson, New Jersey,
and there found a lucrative job at six dollars per week in one of the
weaving mills of the town. Six whole dollars per week was, no doubt,
a fortune for Italy, but not enough to breathe on in the new country.
He loved his little home. He was a good husband and devoted father
to his bambina, Bianca, whom he adored. He worked and worked for a
number of years. He actually managed to save one hundred dollars out
of his six dollars per week.
Bresci had an ideal. Foolish, I know, for a workingman to have an
ideal,--the Anarchist paper published in Paterson, La Questione Sociale.
Every week, though tired from work, he would help to set up the
paper. Until later hours he would assist, and when the little
pioneer had exhausted all resources and his comrades were in despair,
Bresci brought cheer and hope, one hundred dollars, the entire
savings of years. That would keep the paper afloat.
In his native land people were starving. The crops had been poor,
and the peasants saw themselves face to face with famine. They
appealed to their good King Umberto; he would help. And he did.
The wives of the peasants who had gone to the palace of the King,
held up in mute silence their emaciated infants. Surely that would
move him. And then the soldiers fired and killed those poor fools.
Bresci, at work in the weaving mill at Paterson, read of the horrible
massacre. His mental eye beheld the defenceless women and innocent
infants of his native land, slaughtered right before the good King.
His soul recoiled in horror. At night he heard the groans of the
wounded. Some may have been his comrades, his own flesh. Why, why
these foul murders?
The little meeting of the Italian Anarchist group in Paterson ended
almost in a fight. Bresci had demanded his hundred dollars. His
comrades begged, implored him to give them a respite. The paper
would go down if they were to return him his loan. But Bresci
insisted on its return.
How cruel and stupid is ignorance. Bresci got the money, but lost
the good will, the confidence of his comrades. They would have
nothing more to do with one whose greed was greater than his ideals.
On the twenty-ninth of July, 1900, King Umberto was shot at Monzo.
The young Italian weaver of Paterson, Gaetano Bresci, had taken the
life of the good King.
Paterson was placed under police surveillance, everyone known as an
Anarchist hounded and persecuted, and the act of Bresci ascribed to
the teachings of Anarchism. As if the teachings of Anarchism in its
extremest form could equal the force of those slain women and
infants, who had pilgrimed to the King for aid. As if any spoken
word, ever so eloquent, could burn into a human soul with such white
heat as the life blood trickling drop by drop from those dying forms.
The ordinary man is rarely moved either by word or deed; and those
whose social kinship is the greatest living force need no appeal to
respond--even as does steel to the magnet--to the wrongs and horrors
If a social theory is a strong factor inducing acts of political
violence, how are we to account for the recent violent outbreaks in
India, where Anarchism has hardly been born. More than any other old
philosophy, Hindu teachings have exalted passive resistance, the
drifting of life, the Nirvana, as the highest spiritual ideal. Yet
the social unrest in India is daily growing, and has only recently
resulted in an act of political violence, the killing of Sir Curzon
Wyllie by the Hindu, Madar Sol Dhingra.
If such a phenomenon can occur in a country socially and individually
permeated for centuries with the spirit of passivity, can one
question the tremendous, revolutionizing effect on human character
exerted by great social iniquities? Can one doubt the logic, the
justice of these words:
Even conservative scientists are beginning to realize that heredity
is not the sole factor moulding human character. Climate, food,
occupation; nay, color, light, and sound must be considered in the
study of human psychology.
"Repression, tyranny, and indiscriminate punishment of innocent men
have been the watchwords of the government of the alien domination in
India ever since we began the commercial boycott of English goods.
The tiger qualities of the British are much in evidence now in India.
They think that by the strength of the sword they will keep down
India! It is this arrogance that has brought about the bomb, and the
more they tyrannize over a helpless and unarmed people, the more
terrorism will grow. We may deprecate terrorism as outlandish and
foreign to our culture, but it is inevitable as long as this tyranny
continues, for it is not the terrorists that are to be blamed, but
the tyrants who are responsible for it. It is the only resource for
a helpless and unarmed people when brought to the verge of despair.
It is never criminal on their part. The crime lies with the
If that be true, how much more correct is the contention that great
social abuses will and must influence different minds and
temperaments in a different way. And how utterly fallacious the
stereotyped notion that the teachings of Anarchism, or certain
exponents of these teachings, are responsible for the acts of
Anarchism, more than any other social theory, values human life above
things. All Anarchists agree with Tolstoy in this fundamental truth:
if the production of any commodity necessitates the sacrifice of
human life, society should do without that commodity, but it can not
do without that life. That, however, nowise indicates that Anarchism
teaches submission. How can it, when it knows that all suffering,
all misery, all ills, result from the evil of submission?
Has not some American ancestor said, many years ago, that resistance
to tyranny is obedience to God? And he was not an Anarchist even.
I would say that resistance to tyranny is man's highest ideal. So
long as tyranny exists, in whatever form, man's deepest aspiration
must resist it as inevitably as man must breathe.
Compared with the wholesale violence of capital and government,
political acts of violence are but a drop in the ocean. That so few
resist is the strongest proof how terrible must be the conflict
between their souls and unbearable social iniquities.
High strung, like a violin string, they weep and moan for life, so
relentless, so cruel, so terribly inhuman. In a desperate moment the
string breaks. Untuned ears hear nothing but discord. But those who
feel the agonized cry understand its harmony; they hear in it the
fulfillment of the most compelling moment of human nature.
Such is the psychology of political violence.
1 A revolutionist committing an act of political violence.
2 Paris and the Social Revolution.
3 From a pamphlet issued by the Freedom Group of London.
4 The Free Hindustan.