A PICTURE OF CIVILIZATION AT THE CLOSE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
JOHN HENRY MACKAY
The "bloody Sunday" on Trafalgar Square no longer excited people to passionate discussions. On the following Sunday, indeed, a company of patriotic volunteers had come to offer their support to the police, but after they had been exposed a few hours in the Square to the scorn and ridicule of the curious crowd, who made no attempt at reconquering a lost right, they had to return home, drenched by the rain, and without having swung their newly turned clubs.
After the grand spectacle, the comedy of voluntary self-abasement; after the "bloody Sunday" the "laughing-stocks"! . . .
The Square was and remained empty.
The question of the "unemployed" was of course not solved, but it had been pushed into the background, and no longer cried for an answer in the shrill tones of hunger.
In Chicago the corpses of the murdered men had been followed to their graves by an unparalleled outpouring of the population. It looked like a wish to atone for a wrong.
The time of great events had passed. Everything had taken again its usual course.
The days had grown more chilly and damp as the month approached its end.
Auban had not again seen Trupp, nor any of his other friends. Only Dr. Hurt had occasionally called on him, to "warm his feet" and smoke his pipe. They approached each other spiritually more and more closely, and understood each other better and better.
The Sunday afternoon gatherings seemed not only interrupted, but to have been suspended altogether. Nor did Auban think of reviving them. He was now convinced of their uselessness.
The clubs, too, he had not again attended since the evening of his talk with Trupp. And the greatest change in his life --- he had also given up his walks through the districts of hunger.
He had much to do. He began now with the work of his life, compared with which all that he had previously done was only preparation.
For himself he had at this time won a little victory.
The management of the French compilation, to assist in which he had been called to London three years ago, had gradually passed into his hands. Thanks to his conscientiousness, circumspection, and independence, the enterprise, which was now approaching its completion, had been attended by brilliant success. Although he had become indispensable to the publishing firm, one of the greatest in England, they had failed to adequately reward his services and but slightly raised his salary.
He had waited long for the voluntary fulfilment of that duty. He waited until he held all the trumps in his hands. Then he turned them up one day, and handed in his resignation, to take effect by the end of the year.
A long interview followed with the two members of the firm. At the outbreak of their moral indignation at the breach of the contract which had not been entered into by Auban, either in writing or by any word of his, but by them, as they claimed, only in "good faith," Auban had begged of them to put all sentimentality aside in a business transaction. Then he demonstrated to them by the use of figures that the only service they had rendered in the publication of the work consisted in furnishing the capital, but that that service had been so profitable as to give them four-fifths of the product of his labor.
Then, when he was asked to remain a quarter of a year longer, till the preliminary completion of the work, he made his demands: first, his monthly salary to be increased threefold.
"Never had they paid any of their employees such a salary --- "
"Never, surely, had any of their employees rendered them such services --- "
Further, --- and that was Auban's principal move by which he hoped in a degree at least to secure his future, --- a share of the profit of each edition of the work.
"Was ever such a demand made?"
"That was immaterial to him. It was in their power to accept or reject it."
They did the former.
Finally, Auban's third demand; a compensation, in proportion to the success of his labor, for services hitherto performed, payable at once.
"That looks damnably like blackmail."
"They might call it what they pleased. He had learned of them. Were they surprised? Did they not also force down the wages of their workingmen as far as possible? He would resist, and in his turn force them --- "
When he had gone, the partners gnashed their teeth. But as shrewd business men they tacitly admitted that they had never respected Auban more than at that moment. . . .
Auban submitted the contract, which both parties had drawn up, to one of the best lawyers, for examination and approval, before he signed it and bound himself for three months.
Then he was free for some time; and never had he felt so clearly how necessary pecuniary independence was for what he now wished to do. . . .
A quarter of a year, and he was in a position to return to Paris. To Paris! His heart beat faster at the thought.
He loved London and admired it, that wonderful, immense London, and he loved Paris. But he loved it differently. . . .
London began to weigh heavily on him with its eternally gray sky, its pale fog, its gloomy darkness.
A sun rose. And that sun was Paris. Soon he would again bask in its rays, which were so warm, so animating, so beautiful! . . .
The piles of papers and pamphlets on Chicago had disappeared from Auban's writing-desk, and it was covered by new works, which filled his few free hours.
He was clear concerning what he wanted.
He stood alone: none of his numerous friends had gone with him in the latter years; none had been able to draw the last conclusions.
So he had to leave them behind, --- he who had restlessly advanced towards liberty.
But he had formed new connections, and ever and anon he cast his glances towards America, where a small but steadily and surely increasing company of excellent men had already been engaged for years in the task which in the Old World had not yet been begun.
It was becoming urgent to begin it here too.
Two circumstances aggravated the difficulties in the way of the spread of the idea of Anarchy in Europe: ---
Either people regarded every Anarchist as a dynamiter; or, if they had cast a glance at the philosophy of the new party, as a Communist.
While in America already some rays of light had begun to enter the dull eyes of prejudice and bias, all were still veiled in Europe.
It was necessary, above all, to newly examine, understand, and explain the misapprehended meaning of the word.
Those who accepted everything as it was offered them, and who saw in Anarchy only chaos, and in the Anarchist only the violent revolutionist, had to be taught that Anarchy was, on the contrary, the goal of human development, and designated that condition of society in which the liberty of the individual and his labor constitutes the guarantee alike of his welfare and that of mankind.
And those who rightly did not believe in the ideal of liberty in fraternal Communism, had to be shown that Anarchy, far from seeing liberty in Communism and sacrifice, sought, on the contrary, to realize it by the removal of definite forcible obstructions and artificial barriers. Then after this first crude and ungrateful preliminary work had been accomplished, and after the perception had gained ground, even if at first only among the few, that Anarchy is not a heaven on earth and that men need only to understand their true nature and its needs, and not to "fundamentally change it," in order to make liberty possible, the next task would consist in designating the institution of the State as the greatest and only obstacle in the path of human civilization.
It was necessary to show: that the State is privileged force, and that it is force which supports it; that it is the State which changes the harmony of nature into the confusion of force; that it is its crimes which create the crimes; that it grants unnatural privileges here, while it denies natural rights there; that it paralyzes the competitive evolution of forces in all domains, stifles trade, and thus undermines the welfare of the whole people; that it represents mediocrity in all things, and that everything which it undertakes to do could be done far better, more satisfactorily, and more profitably without it if left to the free competition of private men; that a nation is the richer and happier the less it is governed; that far from constituting the expression of the will of the whole people, the State is rather only the will of those who stand at its head, and that those who stand at the head do indeed always look out for themselves and "their own," but never for those who are foolish enough to entrust them with their cares; that the State can only give what it has first taken, because it is unproductive, and that it always gives back less than it received, --- in short, it was necessary to show that, taken all in all, it is nothing but one
immense, continued, shameless trick, by means of which the few live at the expense of the many, be its name what it will. . . .
Then, after the faith in the infallible idol of the State had thus been shaken with regard to some points, and the spirit of self-reliance correspondingly strengthened, the laws dominating social economy had to be studied. The truth had to be established that the interests of men are not hostile to each other, but harmonious, if only granted free rein for their development.
The liberty of labor --- realized by the fall of the State, which can no longer monopolize money, limit credit, withhold capital, obstruct the circulation of values, in a word, no longer control the affairs of the individual, --- when this had become a fact, the sun of Anarchy had risen.
Its blessings, --- they would be felt like warmth after the long night of cold and want. . . .
But nothing ought to be promised. Only those who did not know what they wanted made promises. It was necessary to convince, not to persuade.
That required different talents from those of the flowing tongue which persuades the masses to act against their will instead of leaving the choice of his decisions to the individual and trusting to his reason.
All knowledge would have to be drawn upon in order to demonstrate the theory of the newly awakening creed: history, in order to avoid the mistakes of the past in the future; psychology, in order to understand how the soul is subject to the conditions prescribed by the body; philosophy, in order to show how all thought proceeds only from the individual, to whom it must return. . . .
After everything had thus been done, in order to demonstrate the liberty of the individual as the culmination of human development, one task remained.
Not only had the ends and aims to be shown: the best and surest ways had also to be pointed out along which they were to be achieved. Regarding authority as the greatest enemy, it was necessary to destroy authority. In what way?
This also was found. Superior as the State was in all the appliances of power and armed to the teeth, there could be no idea of challenging it to a combat. It would have been decided before it had yet been begun. No; that monster which feeds and lives on our blood had to be starved by denying it the tribute which it claimed as a matter of course. It had to die of exhaustion, starve, --- slowly, indeed, to be sure, but surely. It still had the power and the prestige to claim its booty, or to destroy those who should resist. But some day it would encounter a number of men, cool-headed, calm, intrepid men, who with folded arms would beat back its attack with the question: What do you want of us? We want nothing of you. We deny you all obedience. Let those support you who need you. But leave us in peace!
On that day liberty would win its first victory, a bloodless victory, whose glory would travel round the earth with the velocity of the storm and everywhere call out the voice of reason in response.
What else were the strikes before which the exploiters trembled than passive resistance? Was it not possible for the workingmen to gain victories by means of them? Victories for which they would have to wait in vain if they continued to trust in the perfidious game of political jugglers!
Hitherto, in the history of the century resorted to only in individual cases here and there, and only temporarily for the purpose of securing certain political demands, passive resistance, methodically applied as against the government --- principally in the form of resistance to taxation --- would some day constitute the presented bayonet against which the State would bleed to death.
But until then?
Until then it was necessary to watch and to wait.
There was no other way in which finally to reach the goal, but that of calm, unwearied, sure enlightenment, and that of individual example, which would some day work wonders.
Thus in its entire outline lay before Auban the work to which he decided to dedicate his life. He did not overestimate his strength. But he trusted in it. For it had led him through the errors of his youth. Consequently it could be no common strength.
He was still alone. Soon he would have friends and comrades. Already an individualistic Anarchistic movement was noticeable among the Communists of Paris, championing private property.
The first numbers of a new periodical --- founded evidently with slender means --- had just come to him, which gave brilliant proof of the intelligence prevailing in certain labor circles of his native country. The "Autonomie individuelle" had extricated itself from Communism, and was now attacked as much by it as formerly by the Social Democrats. Auban became absorbed in the reading of the few papers which were imbued with a spirit of liberty that enchanted him. . . .
A knock at the door interrupted him.
A letter was handed to him. It asked of him the favor of a rendezvous that very evening, and bore no signature. At first Auban wanted to throw it aside. But after reading it a second time his face assumed a more thoughtful expression. There must have been something in the style of the letter that changed his decision, for he looked at his watch and studied the large map of London that hung on the wall.
By the underground railroad he rode over Blackfriars from King's Cross to London Bridge. He had to change cars, and was delayed in consequence. Nevertheless, he arrived at the street and the appointed house before the time set. When he knocked at the closed door, it was at once opened.
Auban did not need to mention the name which had been told him. It died on his lips in an involuntary exclamation of recognition and fright when he saw the man who opened the door for him. Before him stood a man who had been one of the most feared and celebrated personalities in the revolutionary movement of Europe, but whose name was now mentioned by most people only with hate and contempt. Auban would have sooner expected to see anybody else than this man who received him silently and now led him silently up stairs into a small, low room.
There, by the only window, they stood opposite each other, and Auban's recognition yielded to a feeling of deepest agitation when he saw what the few years during which he had not seen him had made of his former acquaintance. Then his figure had been erect and proud; now he stood before him as if staggering under the burden of a terrible fate. Not yet thirty-five, his hair was as gray as that of a man of fifty; once his smile had been so confident and compelling that no one could resist it; to-day it was sad and painful when he saw how little Auban could conceal his fright and his agitation in consequence of his changed looks.
Then, as if he feared the walls might hear him, Auban called him by his real name, that name once so popular, now almost forgotten.
"Yes, it is I," said the other, and the sad smile did not disappear from his lips. "You would not have known me again, Auban?"
Auban shook off his excitement with an effort.
"Where have you come from? Do you not know --- "
"Yes, I know; they are everywhere at my heels, even here in England. In France they would extradite me, and in Germany bury me for life, if they had me. Here also I am not safe. But I had to come here once more before I disappear forever. You know why --- "
Certainly, Auban knew. On this man lay the terrible suspicion of having betrayed a comrade. How much, how little truth there was in that suspicion, Auban could not determine. It had first been uttered by Social Democrats. But so many wilful lies concerning the Communists had originated from that source, that this one, too, might have been made of whole cloth. Then it had been repeated by a hostile faction in his own camp. The accused had not replied. But whether he would not or could not: in short, in spite of many words, the matter was never fully cleared up. But it was altogether impossible to do it in public; too many things had to be suppressed lest the enemy should hear them, too many names had to remain unmentioned, too many relations untouched which ought to have been thoroughly discussed, to allow the accused the hope of ever again rehabilitating himself in the eyes of all.
Such was the curse of the slavery with which a false policy bound one to the other, so that no one could turn and move as he liked.
Although he was attacked on all sides, he could still have continued his work among the old circle of comrades, if he had not himself become wavering. Then one day he burned all the bridges behind him and disappeared. His name was forgotten; what he had done was forgotten, after his great influence, which had been fascinating where it had made itself felt, had disappeared with his person.
Auban knew it, and said, therefore: ---
"Your trip was useless?"
"Yes," was the reply, and his voice was as gloomy as his eyes, "it was useless."
Completely broken down, he dropped his head as he continued in a lower voice, as if he were ashamed alike of his return and his cowardice: ---
"I could not stand it any longer. I was alone two years. Then I decided to return and make a last attempt to justify myself. They do not believe me. No one believes me. . . ."
"Then believe in yourself!" said Auban, firmly.
"To-day I thought of you. They spoke to me of you. They criticised you for going your own ways. And, indeed, you are the only one who has preserved his freedom in the confusion. I thank you for having come."
He looked exhausted, as if those few words had tired him. Three years ago he had been a brilliant speaker, who could talk for three hours without showing a sign of fatigue.
Auban was deeply agitated. He would gladly have told him that he believed him. But how could he without becoming dishonest? The whole affair had remained almost unknown to him, as much as he had heard of it. The other seemed to feel it.
"I should have to tell you the whole story to enable you to pass a judgment. But that would require hours, and perhaps it would be useless nevertheless. Only so much, and this you may believe: I made a mistake, but I am innocent of the crime with which I am charged. Besides, I neglected to do many things in my defence that I ought to have done immediately. Now it is too late."
He looked at his watch.
"Yes, it would require hours, and I have not half an hour to spare. I am going away to-day."
"Where?" asked Auban.
"First, up the Thames with a boat. And then," --- sadly smiling, he made a motion with his hand in space, --- "and then farther --- anywhere --- " He took a little valise which lay packed beside him.
"I have nothing to do here; let us go, Auban. Accompany me to the bridge, if it is not out of your way."
They left the room and the house without any one looking after them. They walked silently as far as London Bridge.
But as they were crossing the bridge, the pent-up anger of the outcast broke forth.
"I gave all I had to the cause: the whole of my youth and half my life. After taking everything from me, it left me nothing, not even the belief in itself."
"Half your life still remains in which to win back in its stead the belief in yourself, the only belief that has no disappointments."
But the other shook his head.
"Look at me; I am no longer what I was. I have defied all persecutions, hunger, hate, imprisonment, death; but to be driven away like a mad dog by those whom I loved more than myself, is more than I can endure. Ah, I am so weary! --- so weary! --- so weary! . . ."
He entered one of the resting-places of the bridge, and dropped on a bench, while the human stream rushed on. Auban sat down beside him. The tone in which the unfortunate man repeated the last words agitated him anew to his very depths. And while the grandiose life behind them was sweeping over the bridge, he talked to him, in order to give him time to collect himself, of his own sad experiences and lessons, and how his strength was nevertheless unshaken and his courage undaunted since he had found himself again and --- standing on his own feet --- doing and letting as he pleased --- not dependent on any party, any clique, any school --- no longer allowed any one to interfere with his own life ---
But the other sat indifferent. He shook his head and looked before him.
Suddenly he sprang up, seized his baggage, pointed to the chaos of ships, and muttered a few incomprehensible words.
Then, before Auban could reply to him, he vehemently embraced him and hurried away, making a sign with his hand that he did not wish to be accompanied any further. . . .
Auban looked after him a long time.
Sacrifice upon sacrifice, and all in vain, he thought. For a long time he saw before him the aged face and the gray hair of the persecuted man, who --- a restless wanderer --- was facing a strange world, without strength and without courage to continue a life that had deceived him.
The evening began.
The sun went down.
Two immense human streams surged across London Bridge; back and forth rolled, rattling and resounding, two unbroken lines of vehicles.
The black waters of the Thames flowed lazily.
Auban stood against the railing of the bridge, and, facing the east, contemplated the grand picture which presented itself: Everywhere, on both sides of the stream, towers, pillars, chimney-stacks, church steeples rose above the sea of houses. . . . But beneath him a forest of masts, poles, sails. . . . On the left Billingsgate, the great, famous fish-market of London. . . . Farther, where the four towers rise, the dark, dismal structure of the Tower. With a reddish glare the setting sun, the pale, weary sun of London, lay on its windows a few minutes; then also its light was suddenly extinguished, and a gray twilight drew its streaks around the dark masses of the warehouses, the giant bodies of the ships, the pillars of the bridge. . . .
By the clock on the Adelaide Buildings it was already seven, but still the task of unloading the great ocean steamer at Auban's feet was not yet completed. Long lines of strong men carried boxes and bales over wavering wooden bridges to the shore. Their foreheads, heads, and necks protected against the crushing pressure of their heavy burdens by strangely shaped cushions, they looked like oxen in the yoke as they staggered along under their weight. . . .
A strange feeling crept over Auban. Such was London, immense London, which covers seven hundred miles with its five millions of human beings; such was London, where a man was born every fifth minute, where one died every eighth. . . . Such was London, which grew and grew, and already immeasurable, seemed to aspire to the infinite. . . .
Immense city! Sphinx-like, it stretched on both sides of the river, and the clouds of smoke, vapor, noise it belched forth, lay like veils over its panting body. . . .
Lights after lights began to flash and mingled the warmth of their glow with the dampness of the fog. Their reddish reflections trembled through the twilight.
London Bridge thundered and resounded under the burdens it bore.
Thus day after day, week after week, year after year, raged that mighty life which never grew tired. The beatings of its heart grew ever more feverish, the deeds of its arms ever mightier, the plans of its brain ever bolder.
When would it reach the summit of its aspirations? When would it rest?
Was it immortal?
Or was it also threatened by destruction?
And again Auban saw them approaching, the clouds of ruin which would send the lightning that would ignite this mass of inflammable material.
London, even you are not immortal. . . . You are great. But time is greater. . . .
It grew darker and darker.
Then he turned towards the north, and as he was walking along with his heavy, long strides, supported by his cane, many a passer-by looked after the tall, thin, proud form, round which swung his loose cloak.
And as Auban crossed street after street, and came nearer and nearer to his dwelling, he had already overcome the agitation of the last hours, and once more the wings of his thoughts circled restlessly around the longed-for light of liberty.
What was still resting in the womb of time as a germ but just fructified --- how would it develop, and what shape would it take?
Of one thing he was certain.
Without pain it was to take place, this birth of a new world, if it was to live.
The social question was an economic question.
So, and in no other way, it could be solved:
With the decline of State authority the individual becomes more and more self-reliant. Escaping from the leading-strings of paternalism, he acquires the independence of his own wishes and deeds. Claiming the right of self-determination without restriction, he aims first at making null and void all past privileges. Nothing was to be left of them but an enormous heap of mouldering paper. Land left vacant and no longer recognized as the property of those who do not live on it, is used by subsequent occupants. Hitherto uncultivated, it now bears fruit and grain and nourishes abundantly a free people. Capital, incapable of any longer fattening on the sweat of others' labor, is compelled to consume itself: although it still supports the father and the son without obliging them to turn a hand, the grandson is already confronted with the alternative of starving or disgracing the "glory of his fathers" by working. For the disappearance of all privileges entails on the individual the duty of responsibility. Will it be a heavier burden for him than the thousand duties towards others with which hitherto the State saddled its citizens, the Church its members, morality the righteous?
There was but one solution of the social question, but one: no longer to keep one's self in mutual dependence, to open for one's self and thereby for others the way to independence; no longer to make the ridiculous claim of the strong, "Become weak!" no, to exhort the weak at last, "Become strong!" no longer to trust in the help "from above," but at last to rely on one's own exertions.
The nineteenth century has deposed "our Father in Heaven." It no longer believes in a divine power to which it is subject.
But only the children of the twentieth century would be the real atheists: doubters of divine omnipotence, they had to begin to test the justification of all human authority by the relentless criticism at their reason.
They would be imbued with the consciousness of their own dignity. Instead of seeking their pride as hitherto in subjection, humility, devotion, they would regard command as presumption, obedience as sacrifice, and each as a dishonor which the free man despises. . . .
The race, crippled in uniforms, might require a long time to regain its natural growth and the erect carriage of pride.
Auban was no dreamer. By raising the demands of liberty, he did not ask of time their immediate realization. The great changes of the social organs would probably require centuries before they would attain to the normal condition of equal opportunities for all.
The development towards liberty would last the longer, the more powerful and triumphant the great opposition current of authority would become.
Violence would everywhere retard the peaceable cause of development. It was inevitable. Hate, blindness, want of confidence, were too intense on both sides to make impossible collisions such as would make the earth tremble in terror.
The nature of things must have its course.
The logic of events neutralized the wish for the impossible.
Ever and ever the follies must pay their tribute to experience before it will rise to the surface.
Socialism was the last general stupidity of mankind. This last station of suffering on the way to liberty had to be passed.
Not until then could the God of illusion be nailed to the cross.
Not until all faith lay strangled on the ground and no longer lent wings to any hope, --- to scale the heavens, --- not until then had the time come for the true "kingdom on earth": the kingdom of happiness, of joy and exuberant life, which was liberty. . . .
But liberty had also a powerful ally: the dissensions in the camp of its enemies.
Everywhere divisions; everywhere unrest; everywhere fear; and everywhere the cry for more authority! Authority, authority! --- it was to cure all evils. And the armies sprang from the earth, the nations were armed to the teeth, and dread of the bloody future frightened sleep from the eyes of the seeing.
The rulers no longer knew what to do. Like that general of antiquity, they ordered the sea to be lashed which flooded the deck with its billows and threatened to drown all on board.
Wars in whose streams of blood the holders of power would attempt to extinguish the flames of popular revolt were inevitable, wars such as the world had never seen. . . .
Crime and injustice had been piled too high, and terrible would be the revenge!
Then, after the chaos of the revolutions and the slaughter of the battles, when the desolated earth had crumbled together from exhaustion, when the bitterest experience had destroyed the last faith in authority, then, perhaps, would be understood who they were and what they wanted, they, the lone ones, who in the confusion round about them trusted in liberty, calm and composed, which they called by the name: Anarchy! . . .
How it surged and roared, that London! How its pulses beat faster and faster with the approach of night! What signified those thousand-fold voices?
Farther and farther had Auban gone, till he reached his dwelling.
Now he was again in the secluded stillness of his room, which he had left only a few hours ago.
The fire still glowed in the fireplace.
But before he again took up his work, he moved up a chair and sat a short time, his hands stretched towards the warmth, and, bent forwards, gazing into the glow.
A great, almost overpowering joy, such as he had never felt before, filled him.
The walls of his room, the fogs of London, the darkness of the evening, --- everything disappeared before the picture which he saw:
A long night has passed.
Slowly the sun rises above the sleeping house-tops and the resting fields.
A solitary wanderer passes through the expanse.
The dew of the night still trembles on the grasses at the edge of the road. In the woods on the hillsides the first voices of the birds are heard. Above the summit of the mountains soars the first eagle.
The wanderer walks alone. But he does not feel lonely. The chaste freshness of nature communicates itself to him.
He feels: it is the morning of a new day.
Then he meets another wanderer. And another. And they understand each other by their looks as they pass each other.
The light rises and rises.
And the early morning walker opens wide his arms and salutes it with the liberating cry of joy. . . .
So was Auban.
The early morning walker at the break of the new day was he.
After a long night of error and illusion, he walked through a morning of light.
The sun of truth had risen for him, and rose higher and higher.
Ages had to pass before the idea of Anarchy could arise.
All the forms of slavery had to be passed through. Ever seeking liberty only to find the same despotism in the changed forms, so had the people staggered.
Now was the truth found to condemn all forms which were force. Authority began to yield.
The wild chase was approaching its end.
But still it was necessary to battle, to battle, to battle --- not to grow tired and never to despair! ---
The issue was not one of transitory aims. The happiness of liberty which was to be conquered was imperishable.
Like the wanderer was Auban.
And like the early morning walker he also opened his arms, saluted the future with the cry of joy, and called it by the immortal name: Anarchy! . . .
Then he took up his work.
Upon his thin, hard features lay a calm, magnanimous, confident smile.
It was the smile of invincibility.