anarchy archives

An Online Research Center on the History and Theory of Anarchism



About Us

Contact Us

Other Links

Critics Corner


The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  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
Berkman, Alexander (1912) Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Mother Earth Press.



THE COURTROOM BREATHES the chill of the graveyard. The stained windows cast sickly rays into the silent chamber. In the somber light the faces look funereal, spectral.
      Anxiously I scan the room. Perhaps my friends, the Girl, have come to greet me.... Everywhere cold eyes meet my gaze. Police and court attendants on every side. Several newspaper men draw near. It is humiliating that through them I must speak to the People.
      "Prisoner at the bar, stand up!"
      The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania-the clerk vociferates-charges me with felonious assault on H. C. Frick, with intent to kill; felonious assault on John G. A. Leishman; feloniously entering the offices of the Carnegie Company on three occasions, each constituting a separate indictment; and with unlawfully carrying concealed weapons.
      "Do you plead guilty or not guilty?"
      I protest against the multiplication of the charges. I do not deny the attempt on Frick, but the accusation of having assaulted Leishman is not true. I have visited the Carnegie offices only-
      "Do you plead guilty or not guilty?" the judge interrupts.
      "Not guilty. I want to explain-"
      "Your attorneys will do that."
      "I have no attorney."
      "The Court will appoint one to defend you."
      "I need no defense. I want to make a statement.,,
      "You will be given an opportunity at the proper time.
      Impatiently I watch the proceedings. of what use are all these preliminaries? MY conviction is a foregone conclusion. The men in the jury box there, they are to decide my fate. As if they could understand! They measure me with cold, unsympathetic looks. Why were the talesmen not examined in my presence? They were already seated when I entered.
      "When was the jury picked?" I demand.
      "You have four challenges," the prosecutor retorts.
      The names of the talesmen sound strange. But what matter who are the men to judge me? They, too, belong to the enemy. They will do the master's bidding. Yet I may, even for a moment, clog the wheels of the juggernaut. At random, I select four names from the printed list, and the new jurors file into the box.
      The trial proceeds. A police officer and two negro employees of Frick in turn take the witness stand. They had seen me three times in the Frick office, they testify. They speak falsely, but I feet indifferent to the hired witnesses. A tall man takes the stand. I recognize the detective who so brazenly claimed to identify me in the jail. He is followed by a physician who states that each wound of Frick might have proved fatal. John G. A. Leishman is called. I attempted to kill him, he testifies. "It's a lie!" I cry out, angrily, but the guards force me into the seat. Now Frick comes forward. He seeks to avoid my eye, as I confront him.
      The prosecutor turns to me. I decline to examine the witnesses for the State. They have spoken falsely. there is no truth in them, and I shall not participate in the mockery.
      "Call the witnesses for the defense," the judge commands.
      I have no need of witnesses. I wish to proceed with my statement. The prosecutor demands that I speak English. But I insist on reading my prepared paper, in German. The judge rules to permit me the services of the court interpreter.
      "I address myself to the People," I begin. "Some may wonder why I have declined a legal. defense. My reasons are twofold. in the first place, I am an Anarchist: I do not believe in man-made law, designed to enslave and oppress humanity. Secondly, an extraordinary phenomenon like an Attentat cannot be measured by the narrow standards of legality. It requires a view of the social background to be adequately understood. A lawyer would try to defend, or palliate, my act from the standpoint of the law. Yet the real question at issue is not a defense of myself, but rather the explanation of the deed. It is mistaken to believe me on trial. The actual defendant is Society-the system of injustice, of the organized exploitation of the People."
      The voice of the interpreter sounds cracked and shrill. Word for word he translates my utterance, the sentences broken, disconnected, in his inadequate English. The vociferous tones pierce my ears, and my heart bleeds at his meaningless declamation.
      "Translate sentences, not single words," I remonstrate.
      With an impatient gesture he leaves me.
      " Oh, please, go on!" I cry in dismay.
      He returns hesitatingly.
      "Look at my paper," I adjure him, "and translate each sentence as I read it."
      The glazy eyes are turned to me, in a blank, stare. The man is blind!
      "Let-us-continue," he stammers.
      "We have heard enough," the judge interrupts.
      "I have not read a third of my paper," I cry in consternation.
      "It will do."
      "I have declined the services of attorneys to get time to-"
      "We allow you five more minutes."
      "But I can't explain in such a short time. I have the right to be heard."
      "We'll teach you differently."
      I am ordered from the witness chair. Several jurymen leave their seats, but the district attorney hurries forward, and whispers to them. They remain in the jury box. The room is hushed as the judge rises.
      "Have you anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon you?"
      "You would not let me speak," I reply. "Your justice is a farce. "
      " Silence!
      In a daze, I hear the droning voice on the bench. Hurriedly the guards lead me from the courtroom.
      "The judge was easy on you," the Warden jeers. "Twentytwo years! Pretty stiff, eh?"

This page has been accessed times since September 12, 2001.


[Home]               [Search]               [About Us]               [Contact Us]               [Other Links]               [Critics Corner]