A PICTURE OF CIVILIZATION AT THE CLOSE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
JOHN HENRY MACKAY
THE work of art must speak for the artist who created it; the labor of the thoughtful student who stands back of it permits him to say what impelled him to give his thought voice.
The subject of the work just finished requires me to accompany it with a few words.
* * *
First of all, this: Let him who does not know me and who would, perhaps, in the following pages, look for such sensational disclosures as we see in those mendacious speculations upon the gullibility of the public from which the latter derives its sole knowledge of the Anarchistic movement, not take the trouble to read beyond the first page.
In no other field of social life does there exist to-day a more lamentable confusion, a more naïve superficiality, a more portentous ignorance than in that of Anarchism. The very utterance of the word is like the flourish of a red rag; in blind wrath the majority dash against it without taking time for calm examination and consideration. They will tear into tatters this work, too, without having understood. it. Me their blows will not strike.
* * *
London and the events of the fall of 1887 have served me as the background for my picture.
When in the beginning of the following year I once more returned to the scene for a few weeks, principally to complete my East End studies, I did not dream that the very section which I had selected for more detailed description would soon thereafter be in everybody's mouth in consequence of the murders of "Jack the Ripper."
I did not finish the chapter on Chicago without first examining the big picture-book for grown-up children by which the police captain, Michael Schaack, has since attempted to justify the infamous murder committed by his government: "Anarchy and Anarchists" (Chicago, 1889). It is nothing more than a --- not unimportant --- document of stupid brutality as well as inordinate vanity.
The names of living people have been omitted by me in every case with deliberate intent; nevertheless the initiated will almost always recognize without difficulty the features that have served me as models.
* * *
A space of three years has elapsed between the writing of the first chapter and the last. Ever newly rising doubts compelled me again and again, often for a long period, to interrupt the work. Perhaps I began it too soon; I do not finish it too late.
Not every phase of the question could I treat exhaustively; for the most part I could not offer more than the conclusions of chains of reasoning, often very long. The complete incompatibility of the Anarchistic and the Communistic Weltanschauung, the uselessness and harmfulness of a resort to violent tactics, as well as the impossibility of any "solution of the social question" whatsoever by the State, at least I hope to have demonstrated.
* * *
The nineteenth century has given birth to the idea of Anarchy. In its fourth decade the boundary line between the old world of slavery and the new world of liberty was drawn. For it was in this decade that P. J. Proudhon began the titanic labor of his life with "Qu'est-ce que la propriété?" (1840), and that Max Stirner wrote his immortal work: "Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum" (1845).
It was possible for this idea to be buried under the dust of a temporary relapse of civilization. But it is imperishable.
It is even now again awake.
For more than seven years my friend Benj. R. Tucker of Boston has been battling for Anarchy in the new world with the invincible weapon of his "Liberty." Oft in the lonely hours of my struggles have I fixed my gaze upon the brilliant light that thence is beginning to illumine the night.
* * *
When three years ago I gave the poems of my "Sturm" to the public, I was hailed by friendly voices as the "first singer of Anarchy."
I am proud of this name.
But I have come to the conviction that what is needed to-day is not so much to arouse enthusiasm for liberty as rather to convince people of the absolute necessity of economic independence, without which it will eternally remain the unsubstantial dream of visionaries.
In these days of the growing reaction, which will culminate in the victory of State Socialism, the call has become imperative upon me to be here also the first champion of the Anarchistic idea. I hope I have not yet broken my last lance for liberty.
JOHN HENRY MACKAY
ROME, in the spring, 1891.