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The Cynosure

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This manuscript is part of the International Institute for Social History's Alexander Berkman archive and appears in Anarchy Archives with ISSH's permission.

To the International Convention
New York

Nice, December 13th, 1931

DEAR COMRADES, I greet you.

      I cannot send you a long referat for the occasion, as I had been requested to do. To speak frankly, what is the use of long referats, or even of short ones, for that matter?

      What ails our movement is NOT lack of referats or of discussions. Discussion is of course a very necessary thing, but discussion alone accomplishes nothing.

      I have been following some of the discussions in the Freie Arbeiter Stimme. Practically all of them, I notice, assume as their premise the "changee conditions" , the "new post-war Europe", the "different new generation" since the war, and other similar things. These "changed conditions" are supposed to be responsible for the lack of hearing our ideas receive, for the poverty of our movement (qualitatively and quantitatively) and for all the other ills to which the Anarchist cause is subject to.

      I think that is all rot. They are fictions without any real basis in fact, self-indulging excuses to soothe an uneasy conscience.

      In fact what has really changed since the war? Capitalism has become more capitalistic, government more despotic and arbitrary--in one word, more governmental. The alleged "changes" are by no means in any sense essential or fundamental; they are a natural development, one foreseen by all revolutionary thinkers for the past 50 years.

      The present world-wide crisis, with its millions of unemployed, its consequent increase in crimes of desperation, its suicides and other tragedies -- is that to be considered as a "changed condition"? I don't see by what logic one can consider intensified capitalism as a "change" from its pre-war forms. We've had crimes before, economic crime and starvation, as the regular accompaniments of existing conditions wherever we had Government and Capitalism, in any form. I see nothing changed: I see it only intensified. And that's a big, a very big difference.

      And as to the allegedly "different" postwar generation, that is also one of the fictions of the Ladies; Home Journal and similar mentalities. I've come in close contact with the post-war generation in Germany and in France, I have observed it in Sweden and Denmark, I've watched it in Belgium, and I keep in touch with Russia. The great war and its slaughter of millions had taught the new generation nothing at all. They will go as dumbly to new slaughter as they (some of them) and

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their parents had gone in 1914 in 1917. In Germany and France they are consumed by nationalistic hatreds and secret hope of vengeance, just as they were in 1914 and as they have been ever since 1870.

      No better demonstration of it than was given by the young patriots recently at the Paris Conference of the Peace Delegates. It was not a mere handful of rowdies that disturbed the meeting. It was an organized attack against peace by the "young generation", which consisted of students and young men of the "better classes", followers of Daudet, frenzied patriots and jingoists. The authorities let them not only disturb but completely break up the huge meeting, because the authorities were in sympathy with the jingoes. Nor has there been any public or press protest worth mentioning against this outrage. Because the French people, as a whole, are not a bit less jingoistic today than they were in 1914, and exactly the same is true of the new generation in Germany and other countries.

      So, in what manner is the post-war generation different from what it was before the war? Only in one superficial direction, particularly in the United States: "morals have been weakened", as the philistine complains. But even that is not true, for the young generation does today more openly what it did before more secretly. And that is all there is to the "great changes since the war".

      And since nothing has really changed in the last decade, except superficially and in appearance only, how can we blame lack of success of our propaganda on the "changed conditions"?

      Don't let us salve our conscience by the meaningless talk of "changed conditions". It can only lead us into false paths and blind alleys.

      Nothing has changed, except ONE THING: and that is our comrades themselves. THERE is where the cause of our Anarchist debility is to be sought. Especially is that true of America. A few years of prosperity have made all too many of our comrades fat, 40 and satisfied. And that spiritual condition is fatal to any social ideal, to any movement. Happily there are some exceptions, of course. But I am speaking of the majority.

      If anything, the present intensified condition of government and capitalism should prove a favorable soil for the seeds of dissatisfaction with the existing and for the growth of an intelligent revolutionary perception of a different social possibility. In other words, the ideas of anarchism, in its criticism of the existing status and in its constructive side, should find a more ready hearing among the masses than ever before. Indeed, have not the other social theories been tried and found wanting? Socialism has failed throughout the world, failed through the very achievement of political power by the Socialists. Bolshevism has turned Russia back to feudalism and has caused the ascent of Mussolinis in almost every European country. Bolshevism has set up a new "ideal": to catch and outrun the industrialism of America!!! For that the great revolution was fought! With that ideal Russia is and must continue for generations to be the worst political dictatorship and economic slavery that the world has ever seen.

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      Lenin's mottoes were taken up by Mussolini, though there was some difference in the phrasing. Between Mussolini and Stalin even that difference has disappeared. With the result that Bolshevism has taught the Mussolinis and Hitlers HOW to make revolutions for the bourgeoisie. Their example is being followed throughout Europe.

      In short, intelligent men everywhere realise the fatal failure of Socialism, Bolshevism and their related isms. There remains only Anarchism. It has a double advantage: first, it is has been proven right in all its claims about politics and the inevitable corruption of the political parties when they ascend to power; it has proven right in its cardinal attitude to ALL forms of government, however red their national and political flags and phrases; it has driven right, a thousand-fold right in its attitude to all government, all capitalistic forms, be it private or State capitalism, to all national movements and imperialistic designs.

      Secondly, Anarchism has not only proven right in all the above directions, but it also remains the only social form that has not yet been tried and the only one that the human mind has so far conceived that has any possibility of giving social satisfaction. There is no other social proposal for betterment in the world today except Anarchism. Outside of that there is only the Salvation Army. Everything else has been tried and has failed most miserably.

      What, then, is the trouble with our movement? Why does it made no progress in spite of all the apparent advantages of the situation? I think that the MAIN, if not only, reason lies in the fact that our own comrades has lost faith and hope, have become discouraged, disillusioned and pessimistic.

      What we suffer from is lack of faith in our ideas, lack of enthusiasm, lack of energy, of Tatkraft, as the Germans say. We lack the WILL TO BE, to assert ourselves in our ideals, the WILL TO DO.

      I know of no great cause or movement that has won the world, or even its attention, without great enthusiasm on the part of its adherents. The early Christians impressed even barbarian Rome by their readiness to be sacrificed for their faith; the Crusades were inspired by an enthusiasm that continued for several centuries; never mind that it was a puerile and silly idealism that moved even little children to take up the cross and the sword for the conquest of the "holy land"; never mind that the Popes and the priests profited by the slaughter of the innocents. The point is that it was pure enthusiasm and faith in the cause that moved mountains.

      But enough of history. I repeat again, it is faith and enthusiasm, the true, active belief in one's ideal and ideas -- it is that alone which can succeed and bring results. This holds true in every phase of life. It is this that we lack, this that we need.

      Take for instance the present million-headed army of unemployed in the United States. It is a dissatisfied even if not a socially conscious element. It needs the spark to kindle that mass into active rebellion; it needs at least some propagandistic efforts to enlighten them on the

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true causes of their terrible condition. But where are the Anarchists that are active among them? If there are, I have not heard of it.

      This I mention only to point out how shamefully we neglect the opportunities for work. That work should be carried on everywhere where there are masses, where there are those that can profit by hearing us. True, there may be some danger in agitating among the unemployed, expecially at this time. But if we are afraid of danger, then we had better close up shop. Nothing can be accomplished if we are forever to run from danger.

      I have no doubt your Convention will discuss ways and means of broadening our propaganda, and the manner in which our ideas, methods and tactics are to be applied under given circumstance. That is well and as it should be. What I want to call your attention to in this already too long greeting is the PRIMARY need of having oneself faith in our ideals, of understanding them FULLY with heart and mind, and of daring to BE and DO as an Anarchist.

      I wish you well.


Nice, December 13, 1931

8, Rue Trachel
Nice (A.M.)


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