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The Knickerbocker Press 1897

Copyright, 1897
The Knickerbocker Press, New York


On the day of the bomb outrage in the French Parliament I gave an impromptu discourse upon Anarchism to an intelligent audience anxious to know more about it, touching upon its intellectual ancestry, its doctrines, propaganda, the lines of demarcation that separate it from Socialism and Radicalism, and so forth. The impression which my explanations of it made upon my audience was at the same time flattering and yet painful to me. I felt almost ashamed that I had told these men, who represented the pick of the middle-class political electorate, something entirely new to them in speaking of matters which, considering their reality and the importance of the question, ought to be familiar to every citizen. Having thus had my attention drawn to this lacuna in the public mind, I was induced to make a survey of the most diverse circles of the political and Socialist world, both of readers and writers, and the result was the resolve to extend my previous studies of Anarchism (which had not extended much beyond the earliest theorists), and to develop my lecture into a book. This book I now present to my readers.

The accomplishment of my resolve has been far from easy. What little literature exists upon the subject of Anarchism is almost exclusively hostile to it, which is a great drawback for one who is seeking not the objects of a partisan, but simply and solely the truth. One had constantly to gaze, so to speak, through a forest of prejudices and errors in order to discover the truth like a little spot of blue sky above. In this respect I found it mattered little whether I applied to the press, or to the so-called scientific Socialists, or to fluent pamphleteers.

"In vielen Worten wenig Klarheit,
Ein Fünkchen Witz und keine Wahrheit."[1]

Laveleye, for instance, does not even know of Proudhon; for him Bakunin is the only representative of Anarchism and the most characteristic; Socialism, Nihilism, and Anarchism mingle together in wild confusion in the mind of this social historian. Garin, who wrote a big book, entitled The Anarchists, is not acquainted with a single Anarchist author, except some youthful writings of Proudhon's and a few agitationist placards and manifestoes of the modern period. The result of this ignorance is that he identifies Anarchism completely with Collectivism, and carries his ridiculous ignorance so far as to connect the former Austrian minister Schäffle, who was then the chief adviser of Count Hohenwart, in some way or other with the Anarchists. Professor Enrico Ferri, again, exposes his complete ignorance of the question at issue sufficiently by branding Herbert Spencer as an Anarchist. In fact, the only work that can be called scientifically useful is the short article on "Anarchism" in the Cyclopœdia of Political Science, from the pen of Professor George Adler. All pamphlets, articles, and essays which have since appeared on the same subject are, conveniently but uncritically, founded upon this short but excellent essay of Adler's. Since the extraordinary danger of Anarchist doctrines is firmly fixed as a dogma in the minds of the vast majority of mankind, it is apparently quite unnecessary to obtain any information about its real character in order to pronounce a decided, and often a decisive, judgment upon it. And so almost all who have hitherto written upon or against Anarchism, with a few very rare exceptions, have probably never read an Anarchist publication, even cursorily, but have contented themselves with certain traditional catchwords.

As a contrast to this, it was necessary, for the purposes of a critical work upon Anarchism, to go right back to its sources and to the writings of those who represented it. But here I found a further difficulty, which could not always be overcome. Where was I to get these writings? Our great public libraries, whose pride it is to possess the most complete collections possible of all the texts of Herodotus or Sophocles, have of course thought it beneath their dignity to place on their shelves the works of Anarchist doctrinaires, or even to collect the pamphlet literature for or against Anarchism—productions which certainly cannot take a very high rank from the point of view either of literature or of fact. The consequence of this foresight on the part of our librarians is that, to-day, anyone who inquires into the development of the social question in these great libraries devoted to science and public study has nothing to find, and therefore nothing to seek. I have thus been compelled to procure the materials I wanted partly through the kindness of friends and acquaintances, and partly by purchase of books—often at considerable expense,—but always by roundabout means and with great difficulty. And here I should like specially to emphasise the fact that it was the literary representatives of Anarchism themselves who, although I never concealed my hostility to Anarchism, placed their writings at my disposal in the kindest and most liberal manner; and for this I hereby beg to offer them my heartiest thanks, and most of all Professor Elisée Reclus, of Brussels.

But if I thus enter into details of the difficulties which met me in writing the present book, it is not with the object of surrounding myself with the halo of a pioneer. I only wish to lay my hand on a sore which has no doubt troubled other authors also; and, at the same time, to explain to my critics the reason why there are still so many lacunæ in this work. I have, for instance, been quite unable to procure any book or essay by Tucker, or a copy of his journal Liberty, although several booksellers did their best to help me, and although I applied personally to Mr. Tucker at Boston. It was all in vain. Ut aliquid fecisse videatur, I ordered from Chicago M. J. Schaack's book, Anarchy and Anarchists, a History of the Red Terror and the Social Revolution in America and Europe: Communism, Socialism, and Nihilism, in Doctrine and in Deed. After waiting four months, and repeatedly urging things on, I at last received it, and soon perceived that I had merely bought a pretty picture book for my library for my five dollars. The book contains, in spite of its grandiloquent title, its six hundred and ninety-eight large octavo pages, and its "numerous illustrations from authentic photographs and from original drawings," not a single word about the doctrine of Anarchism in general, or American Anarchism in particular. The author, a police official, takes up a standpoint which is certainly quite explicable in one of his position, but which is hardly suitable for a social historian. To him "all Socialists are Anarchists as a first step, although all Anarchists are not precisely Socialists" (see page 22),—which is certainly praiseworthy moderation in a police officer. He calls Ferdinand Lassalle "the father of German Anarchism as it exists to-day" (page 23); on the other hand he has no knowledge of Tucker (of Boston), the most prominent exponent of theoretical Anarchism in America. This, then, was the literature which was at my disposal.

As regards the standpoint which I have taken in this book upon questions of fact, it is strictly the coldly observant and critical attitude of science and no other. I was not concerned to write either for or against Anarchism, but only to tell the great mass of the people that concerns itself with public occurrences for the first time what Anarchism really is, and what it wishes to do, and whether Anarchist views are capable of discussion like other opinions. The condemnation of Anarchism, which becomes necessary in doing this, proceeds exclusively from the exercise of scientific criticism, and has nothing to do with any partisan judgment, be it what it may. It would be a contradiction to adopt a partisan attitude at the very time when one is trying to remind public opinion of a duty which has been forgotten in the heat of party conflict.

But I do not for a moment allow myself to be deluded into thinking that, with all my endeavours to be just to all, I have succeeded in doing justice to all. Elisée Reclus wrote to me, when I informed him of my intention to write the present book, and of my opinion of Anarchism, that he wished me well, but doubted the success of my work, for (he said) on ne comprend rien que ce qu'on aime. Of this remark I have always had a keen recollection. If that great savant and gentle being, the St. John of the Anarchists, thinks thus, what shall I have to expect from his passionate fellow-disciples, or from the terror-blinded opponents of Anarchism? "We cannot understand what we do not love," and unfortunately we do not love unvarnished truth.

Anarchists will, therefore, simply deny my capacity to write about their cause, and call my book terribly reactionary; Socialists will think me too much of a "Manchester Economist"; Liberals will think me far too tolerant towards the Socialistic disturbers of their peace; and Reactionaries will roundly denounce me as an Anarchist in disguise. But this will not dissuade me from my course, and I shall be amply compensated for these criticisms which I have foreseen by the knowledge of having advanced real and serious discussion on this subject. For only when we have ceased to thrust aside the theory of Anarchism as madness from the first, only when we have perceived that one can and must understand many things that we certainly cannot like, only then will Anarchists also place themselves on a closer human footing with us, and learn to love us as men even though they often perhaps cannot understand us, and of their own accord abandon their worst argument, the bomb.

E. V. Zenker.

1Many words, but little light; a spark of with, but no truth.

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