Voluntary Socialism

A SKETCH (1896)

by Francis Dashwood Tandy (1867-1913)

Chapter XIII.


VS-13.1 Many and various as are the different ideas in regard to what are the best social conditions, the opinions held concerning the best methods of attaining the desired end, are no less so. That different conditions may be brought about by different means is to be expected, but that so many entirely different methods are proposed as likely to produce the same results, is indicative of the loose thinking that is prevalent upon all subjects.
VS-13.2 A correct idea of what we wish to attain is essential before we are capable of discussing how we can best attain it. Usually a thorough understanding of the first problem is a sure guide to the solution of the second. Having seen that the abolition of the State is necessary to progress, and that private enterprise is perfectly capable of performing the duties for which the State is said to be necessary, it is now in order to discuss how this end can be achieved. One thing should be borne in mind from the start. It has been shown that the State is essentially an invasive institution. Since the person of the invader is not sacred, there is no ethical reason why we may not use any means in our power to achieve the result we desire. The State is founded in force. Therefore, there is no good reason why it should not be abolished by force if necessary. The whole field is open to us. All we are bound to consider is, which method will be most likely to meet with success.
VS-13.3 Where is the State? What is it? How are we to attack it? We see its agents around us every day. They are not the State and do not pretend to be. Where is the State from which these agents derive their authority? It only exists in men’s minds. Karl Marx says: “One man is king only because other men stand in the relation of subjects to him. They, on the contrary, imagine that they are subjects because he is king.” [Online editor’s note: Capital, I.1.3.A.3, n. 22; for the same idea see La Boétie, Hume, Godwin, Gandhi, Traven, Rand, and Russell. – RTL] The officers of the State derive their authority simply and solely from the submission of its citizens. When it is said that the State is the main cause of our social evils, it must not be forgotten that the State is but a crude expression of the average intelligence of the community. Every law is practically inoperative that is very different from the general consensus of opinion in the community. The position of the State seldom exactly coincides with public opinion in regard to new measures, because it moves much slower than individuals. But it follows slowly in the wake of new ideas, and when it lags much behind its power is weakened. These facts are seen very plainly in prohibition States. They would be apparent to everyone, were it not for the superstition that we must obey the law because it is the law. It is said that our representatives are our servants. These servants make laws which we consider bad, yet, because they are our servants, we must obey the laws they make! The State is king only because we are fools enough to stand in the relation of subjects to it. When we cease to stand in the relation of subjects to it, it will cease to be king. So that, in order to abolish the State, it is necessary to change people’s ideas in regard to it. This means a long campaign of education.
VS-13.4 These means are too slow to suit many who want to inaugurate a new social system at once. They cannot hasten matters a bit too much to suit me. The sooner the “new order” comes, the better I shall like it. But often “the shortest cut home is the longest way round.” Ill-advised haste is disastrous. By all means let us hasten the progress of the race, but let us also use care lest our zeal upset our reason and cause us to hinder, instead of help, the re-adjustment of social forces.
VS-13.5 A favorite method of reform, with those whose impatience with the present system is very great, is a violent revolution. If the State is purely an idea, how can we attack it with force? True, its agents use force to compel us to support it, and we might oppose them with force, but unfortunately we are not yet strong enough. As far as morality is concerned, it is, of course, justifiable to meet force by force. But, as an Egoist, the only morality I recognize is the highest expediency. So it would be highly immoral to attempt a revolution which would be foredoomed to failure. When a large minority have a clear idea of the nature of the State and an earnest desire to abolish it, such a revolution might be successful. But then it would be unnecessary, for people having refused to stand in the relation of subjects to it, the State would be no longer king. Till then it must inevitably be a fearful failure, no matter which side was actually successful in the battles.
VS-13.6 Under the existing state of affairs, when even those who are considered leaders in the reform movement have but a very indefinite idea of what they really want, such an outbreak can bring no good. At best it would be a fight between ignorance and cupidity, on the one hand, and stupidity and rage on the other. What good can we expect from a conflict between such forces?
VS-13.7 Spencer has pointed out how any increase in military activities invariably produces an increase in the powers of the governing classes, supported as they are by the blind patriotism of those who fought and bled for their country. With the example of the G. A. R. [Online editor’s note: Grand Army of the Republic, an organisation of Union Army veterans, formed in 1866. – RTL] as a result of the late civil war before our eyes, it seems hardly necessary to emphasize this point. If such an uprising were successful, it would mean the creation of a new race of revolutionary fathers, whose power would dominate all the interest of the community. A system of State Socialism would be inaugurated under the leadership of these quondam military officers – men accustomed to implicit obedience and who expect their words to be obeyed as law. They would ever be ready to enforce their commands at the point of the bayonet and to check all murmurs of discontent with powder and shot.
VS-13.8 If, on the other hand, the plutocrats came out victorious, it would establish the system of modern capitalism more firmly than ever. It would give the powers that be an excuse for extreme vigilance in the suppression of discontent, and add to their present arrogance the consciousness of having successfully conquered all opposition.
VS-13.9 In any event such an appeal to force must prove detrimental. It would stir up class hatred to an enormous extent and so hinder, if not altogether prevent, all rational consideration of social problems. It would hand the government over to the military classes, as no man who could not show a good “war record” would have any chance of election. Add to all this an increase of sickening patriotism and glorification of “the men who saved the Union,” and we get some idea of the national degradation which would result from such a civil war.
VS-13.10 Acts of terrorism, such as bomb-throwing, etc., stand condemned by the same line of reasoning. Every such manifestation causes a reaction in favor of more stringent police regulation. This effect was very noticeable after the dynamite explosions in Europe during 1893-’94. They resulted in stricter laws the world over. Reactionary “anti-Anarchist bills,” limiting freedom of speech and giving more absolute powers to the upholders of the present condition of affairs, were passed in almost every country in the world. [Online editor’s note: This was also an accurate prediction of what would indeed happen in the U.S. five years later in the wake of the McKinley assassination. – RTL]
VS-13.11 These methods can only be justified in extremely exceptional cases. A revolution may be of advantage if the people demand an extension of their liberties and really know what they want, while the governing classes insist upon restraining their activities. But under such conditions, force is used as a defensive weapon only. Even then it would be well to postpone the actual conflict till success was assured. So with terrorism. It is only when all other means of expression are denied that bomb-throwers can hope to do any good. If public meetings are prohibited, if all freedom of speech is restrained and the conditions can hardly be made worse, then terrorism may become useful as the only means of propaganda that is possible.
VS-13.12 Political methods must be condemned without even these qualifications. The ballot is only a bullet in another form. An appeal to the majority is an appeal to brute force. It is assumed that, since all men are on the average equally able to carry a musket, the side which has the largest number of adherents would probably conquer in case of war. So, instead of actually fighting over questions, it is more economical to count noses and see which side would probably win. The political method is a form of revolution, and most of the arguments directed against the latter are valid when applied to the former. The result shown at the polls indicates a certain stage of mental development in the community. As that mental development is changed, the political manifestations of it change also. So we are brought back to the original starting point. If we wish to effect the abolition of the State through politics, we must first teach people how we can get along without it. When that is done, no political action will be necessary. The people will have outgrown the State and will no longer submit to its tyranny. It may still exist and pass laws, but people will no longer obey them, for its power over them will be broken. Political action can never be successful until it is unnecessary.
VS-13.13 But let us look at the more practical side of the question. It sometimes seems that some small advantage might be gained by political action. Some of “the very elect” were deceived [Online editor’s note: A reference to Matthew 24:24. – RTL] by the promise of the Democratic party in 1892 to repeal the ten per cent. tax on the issue of bank notes. How badly they were duped became apparent when the repeal bill was introduced. It was hardly discussed at all, and was practically killed in committee. Its defeat was largely due to the action of Tom L. Johnson [Online editor’s note: Tom Loftin Johnson (1854-1911), Democratic Congressman (1891-1895). – RTL] – a man, by the way, who claims to be a Single Taxer, and is thereby pledged to the repeal of all taxes except that on land values – a Free Trader who believes in removing the tariff restrictions of trade between individuals of different counntries, while supporting a far greater restriction of trade between all individuals, whether of the same or of different countries.
VS-13.14 Does the history of politics teach us nothing? What have we ever gained by such means? The Republican party has robbed us by taxes. It has robbed us still worse by its financial legislation, its national bank laws and its depreciated greenbacks. It has given our lands to its servants and sold our birthright to corporations. Yet this was the reform party of half a century ago. As soon as it gained power, it kicked the men – and deservedly, too – who were fools enough to support it. Nor is the record of the Democratic party – which but a few years since claimed to be the only true reform party in the country – one whit better. For two years it had full control of every branch of the Federal government, and what did it do? It violated every pledge made before gaining power. It turned its back on those it promised to help. It originated a new weapon of tyranny – government by injunction. And it crushed the demands of labor beneath the heels of the –Communism of Pelf.– [Online editor’s note: Grover Cleveland’s expression for pro-business interventionist legislation. – RTL] In despair we turn to the People’s Party, and what do we find? Not quite so much corruption, to be sure, because it has not yet had the chance, but from the samples it has already given it has proved itself a very apt pupil. Should it ever gain control of Federal affairs, there is every indication that it will follow the examples of its predecessors.
VS-13.15 As soon as a new party springs up and begins to show signs of success, a lot of political tramps are immediately attracted to its ranks. These men possess a certain amount of influence. They are trained politicians, well versed in the art of packing conventions and proficient at counting the ballots. When they come to the new party with crocodile tears of repentance coursing down their cheeks, it is too weak to refuse their aid. It opens its arms and kissing away their repentant tears, places them in the front rank where glory awaits them. The result of this is a large gain in votes and sometimes success at the polls. But this victory is only gained at the expense of principle, and the last state of that party is worse than the first. [Online editor’s note: A reference to Luke 11:26. – RTL]
VS-13.16 In order to show how far this is true of the People’s Party, I quote the following from a Populist organ of national reputation: “We all know that shameful bribery was practiced by the sugar trust last year – Senator Hunton declared that he had $75,000 offered for his vote, and others &36;15,000. Even Populist members are accused of standing in with the rest. On the sugar duty question it is well known that Kyle, of South Dakota, Allen, of Nebraska, and Peffer, all voted to continue the Sugar Trust’s license to rob the people who use sugar. Senator Peffer, who is looked up to as one of the leaders of the Populist party, is accused by the ‘Star and Kansan’ of having accepted a good position for his son from the Sugar Trust last winter.” And in a footnote the author adds: “No man was more trusted among Californian Populists than Marion Cannon, President of the Farmers’ Alliance, and yet as soon as he got to Washington he earned the execrations of his supporters by voting to reduce the people’s money supply – the Sherman repeal bill.” (F. A. Binney, Abolish Money, in Twentieth Century, 4th April, 1895.) Defeat, crushing defeat, is all that can purge a party of such political parasites.
VS-13.17 This is ever the result of political action. As long as the movement is unsuccessful, the energy expended is wasted, and success can only be purchased at the expense of principle and reform.
VS-13.18 Any one who has had any experience in practical politics must know how hopeless it is to attempt to effect any reform – especially any reform in the direction of freedom – by that means. Platforms are adopted to get elected on, not to be carried out in legislation. The real position of a party depends, not upon the justness or unjustness of measures, but upon the probabilities of reelection. Scheming and “diplomacy” are the methods of the candidates for public office. Reasoning and honest conviction do not concern them in the least.
VS-13.19 The whole political machine is a very complex affair. Wheels within wheels have to be kept in motion, secret orders have to be manipulated, committees have to be worked and a thousand and one details looked after if any measure of success is to be gained. At present there are the A. P. A., the Women’s A. P. A., the P. O. S. of A., [Online editor’s note: The American Protective Association and the Patriotic Order Sons of America (both founded as anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant organisations). – RTL] the Junior Order of American Mechanics, the Loyal Legion, the Veteran Legion, the Sons of Veterans, the G. A. R. and other “patriotic” orders, besides a host of others, which have to be controlled by the politician. All political parties have to truckle to these orders or fail. How can we expect any progress towards freedom from such a source.
VS-13.20 These facts give us a glimpse of the intricacies of politics. How can the reformer or business man who has to earn his living hope to cope with the professional politician while this is the case? The politician is in possession of the field. He is able to devote his whole time to studying the situation and to heading off any move to oust him. What can you do about it? You can give the matter a little attention after business hours and think you grasp the situation. You can vote once a year or so for a different set of thieves. If you are very enterprising you can go to the primaries and think you are spoiling the politician’s little game. What do you think the politician has been doing since last election? Instead of going to the primaries you might as well go to – another place which politics more nearly resembles than anything on this earth. Perhaps better, for a spook devil would probably be an easier task-master than a politician in flesh and blood. You can do what you please, the politician is dealing from a stacked deck and has the best of the bunco game all the time.
VS-13.21 At its very best, an election is merely an attempt to obtain the opinion of the majority upon a given subject, with the intention of making the minority submit to that opinion. This is in itself a radical wrong. The majority has no more right, under Equal Freedom, to compel the minority, than has the minority to compel the majority. When a man votes he submits to the whole business. By the act of casting his ballot, he shows that he wishes to coerce the other side, if he is in the majority. He has, consequently, no cause for complaint if he is coerced himself. He has submitted in advance to the tribunal, he must not protest If the verdict is given against him. If every individual is a sovereign, when he votes he abdicates. Since I deny the right of the majority to interfere in my affairs, it would be absurd for me to vote and thereby submit myself to the will of the majority.
VS-13.22 Some people tell us, “If you don’t like this country, why don’t you go off and leave us?” Actually a number of reformers take them at their word, and go off into the wilderness and start colonies. They think that the object lesson of a colony will have a great effect. So it does, but it has taught a moral far different from that intended by the founders of such concerns. The Mormons followed this foolish advice. They didn’t like this country. They went off into the wilderness. They worked hard and transformed the desert into a garden. And then? Well, then this country discovered that the Mormons were very wicked, and that the Lord never intended such wicked men to possess so much wealth. So dear old Uncle Sam, being a humble servant of the Lord, determined to repair his Master’s oversight and deprive those wicked men of their power and money. Uncle Sam is a religious old man withal, especially if he can pocket a few dollars by his piety!
VS-13.23 Others again assure us that the only way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it. But as long as a bad law is not enforced it does no harm. To be sure, as long as it is on the statute books it may be enforced at any time, and so do mischief. But it is the enforcing of it that does the harm, not the fact that it exists. The protective tariff is a bad law, and if enforcing it would repeal it, it would have been dead years ago. The same may be said of nearly all the laws. They are nearly every one of them bad, and most of them are enforced, but they seem to thrive on that method of repeal. Our salvation must be sought in other directions.
VS-13.24 Must we then sit still and let our enemies do as they please? By no means. Three alternatives offer themselves, active resistance, passive resistance and non-resistance. The folly of the first has already been demonstrated. Non-resistance is just as bad. Unless we resist tyranny, we encourage it and become tyrants by tacitly consenting to it. But passive resistance still remains. The most perfect passive resistance has often been practiced by the Quakers. During the Civil War the Quakers all absolutely refused to serve in the army. In European countries they have resisted conscription in the same manner. What could be done about it? A few were imprisoned, but they stood firm, and finally, by passive resistance, they have gained immunity from this particular form of tyranny.
VS-13.25 The history of the Irish agitation is another example. As all familiar with the situation know, the Irish question is essentially an agrarian question. The howl for Home Rule is purely incidental and secondary. For some time passive resistance was the leading feature of the movement. The no-rent agitation was essentially of this nature. Tenants refused to pay any rent. They refused to have any dealings with landlords, or with those who helped them in any way or who paid any rent. They were evicted, but they went back onto the land again. The British government was nonplussed. The boycott was a force that it could not crush with an army, because it was passive, not active resistance. The authorities resembled men who were attempting to chop their way through a river with an axe. Every time they hit the water, they got splashed until they were drenched, but the river was unaffected. But while this was going on the leaders were urging political action. Some of the more hot-headed resorted to active resistance, which culminated in the murder of Cavendish and Burke. [Online editor’s note: Irish politician Thomas Henry Burke (1829-1882), Permanent Under Secretary at the Irish Office, was assassinated by a Fenian splinter group for being, in their eyes, a British collaborator; English politician Frederick Charles Cavendish (1836-1882), Chief Secretary for Ireland, had the bad fortune to be standing next to him. – RTL] This demoralized the Land League and the leaders gained their point. Passive resistance was abandoned and politics was adopted in its stead. From an energetic and vigorous fight for a well defined object, the Irish movement began to fizzle out as a decrepit political issue. The recent elections in England, resulting as they did in the overwhelming defeat of the Home Rule party, may be the means of opening the eyes of the Irish people to the folly of attempting to gain anything by politics, and it is possible that the Land League may once more become a power in the question.
VS-13.26 Some claim that the boycott is invasive and cannot be consistently used as a weapon of passive resistance. What care I whether it is invasive or not, so long as it accomplishes my purpose? The upholders of the present invasive system must not tell me not to use invasive weapons to overthrow it. Let them abandon invasion first, and then I will not need to use such weapons against it. If the boycott is invasive, it is active instead of passive resistance and its power is in no wise weakened. But for the sake of consistency let us see to which category it belongs.
VS-13.27 The boycott is an agreement entered into by several individuals to leave some other person or persons severely alone – to refuse to have any connection with them in a social, business or any other manner. It is a conspiracy to do nothing. In Chapter IV. it was shown that a passive condition can never be invasive. If it is non-invasive for one individual to refuse to have anything to do with another, how does it become invasive when several men refuse to have anything to do with him? Surely I am within my right under Equal Freedom if I refuse to patronize a certain grocer. I am also within my right if I persuade others to pursue the same line of conduct. To deny this is to say that I must patronize the grocer in question, or if I do not patronize him I must not persuade others to leave him alone, in short, I must not criticize his actions in the slightest. How can it be invasive for me to persuade another to pursue a non-invasive course of action? Such a proposition is absurd. An action that is noninvasive when performed by one person, cannot become invasive by being performed by more than one. The invasiveness of a conspiracy1 depends, not upon the number of the conspirators, but upon the invasiveness of the act which they agree to perform.
VS-13.28 A boycott may necessitate a man removing from a certain place, but it does not in any way deprive him of his liberty of action. He can go elsewhere if he sees fit. His person is unmolested and his property is still at his disposal. Where, then, is invasion committed? It is often asserted that by means of the boycott a man may be compelled to act in a way he does not like. True. But that is not the question. It is the means, not the end, that are under discussion. Some people can see no difference between killing a man and refusing to prevent him from committing suicide. To such as these the distinction between invasion and non-invasion does not exist. They are morally color blind. But to well-balanced minds the difference between doing something and remaining passive must be apparent.
VS-13.29 To gain anything by political methods, it is first necessary to gain a majority of the votes cast, and even then you have to trust to the integrity of the men elected to office. But with passive resistance this is unnecessary. A good strong minority is all that is needed. It has been shown that the attitude of the State is merely a crude expression of the general consensus of the opinion of its subjects. In determining this consensus, quality must be taken into consideration as well as quantity. The opinion of one determined and intelligent man may far outweigh that of twenty lukewarm followers of the opposition. “To apply this consideration to practical politics, it may be true that the majority in this country are favorable, say, to universal vaccination. It does not follow that a compulsory law embodies the will of the people; because every man who is opposed to that law is at least ten times more anxious to gain his end than his adversaries are to gain theirs. He is ready to make far greater sacrifices to attain it. One man rather wishes for what he regards as a slight sanitary safeguard; the other is determined not to submit to a gross violation of his liberty. How differently the two are actuated! One man is willing to pay a farthing in the pound for a desirable object; the other is ready to risk property and perhaps life, to defeat that object. In such cases as this it is sheer folly to pretend that counting heads is a fair indication of the forces behind.[”] (Donisthorpe, Law in a Free State, pp. 123-124.) A strong, determined and intelligent minority, employing methods of passive resistance, would be able to carry all before it. But the same men, being in a numerical minority, would be powerless to elect a single man to office.
VS-13.30 Another thing must be remembered. Passive resistance can never pass a law. It can only nullify laws. Consequently it can never be used as a means of coercion and is particularly adapted to the attainment of Anarchy. All other schools of reform propose to compel people to do something. For this they must resort to force, usually by passing laws. These laws depend upon political action for their inauguration and physical violence for their enforcement. Anarchists are the only reformers who do not advocate physical violence. Tyranny must ever depend upon the weapon of tyranny, but Freedom can be inaugurated only by means of Freedom.
VS-13.31 The first thing that is necessary, to institute the changes outlined in this book, is to convince people of the benefit to be derived from them. This means simply a campaign of education. As converts are gradually gained, passive resistance will grow stronger. At first it must be very slight, but still it has its effect. Even the refusal to vote does more than is often supposed. In some States the number of persons who, from lethargy or from principle, refuse to vote is large enough to alarm the politicians. They actually talk at times of compulsory voting. This shows how much even such a small amount of passive resistance is feared. As the cause gains converts and strength, this passive resistance can assume a wider field. The more it is practiced greater attention will be drawn to underlying principles. Thus education and passive resistance go hand in hand and help each other, step by step, towards the goal of human Freedom.

VS-13.n1.1 1 I use the word conspiracy advisedly. It originally meant any agreement, and not till recently has its meaning been restricted to agreements to invade.

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