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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Elisée Reclus
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
  Noam Chomsky
  Bright but Lesser Lights
  Cold Off The Presses
  Anarchist History
  Worldwide Movements
  First International
  Paris Commune
  Haymarket Massacre
  Spanish Civil War
  Art and Anarchy
  Education and Anarchy
  Anarchist Poets


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"The slightest concession, the smallest grace and compassion will bring us back to the past again, and leave our fetters untouched. Of two things we must choose one. Either we must justify ourselves and go on, or we must falter and beg for mercy when we have arrived half-way."

In these terms, written in a mood of uncompromising Nihilism, Herzen condemned his later career. The condemnation applies to the world socialist movement. It is safe to say that the careerist labour leaders of European politics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries flourished in retreat. The organisation of the Labour Movement has been a long story of calculated anti-socialist conspiracy and intrigue. Should a future generation ever pause to tell the story it will be found that the workers never organised from the time of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the triumph of Fascism and the outlawry of Marxism in Germany. They were organised steadily towards the arrestment and finally, the destruction of their power of resistance. Herzen's career symbolised this organised surrender to capitalism. Only, he retreated reluctantly. Unlike the labour politician he succumbed without enthusiasm and had the decency to acknowledge disaster. He did retreat. As he retreated, Bakunin advanced.

In 1848, it did not seem possible that the world would have to wait long for the inevitable conflageration. Although we must be nearer the revolution than our forebears of that time, the fact that they expected it should check our own absolute certitude of its realisation in the immediate future. Belief that Caesarism must collapse misled the apostles and the first Christians. Karl Marx expected John Most to see it. There have been tremendous changes in the world since death of Most. The revolution, however, is still on its way. It will arrive, but no one can say when. As Jesus so wisely remarked, it is due to come like a thief in the night. The delay saddened Herzen. The downfall of all existing institutions had seemed imminent. Socialism was the gospel of youth, the hope of humanity, the goal to be attained. The youth of the world of time revelled in the thought that the spring-time was at hand. With joy and vigour he prophesied:--

"When the spring comes, a young and fresh life will show itself over the whitened sepulchres of the feeble generations which will have disappeared in the explosion. For the age of senile barbarity, there will be substituted a juvenile barbarity, full of disconnected forces. A savage and fresh vigour will invade the young breasts of new peoples. Then will commence a new cycle of events and a new volume of universal history. The future belongs to Socialist ideas."


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