An American Anarchist (1902)

by Paul Ghio

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BT-IOB.1 The characteristic feature that is observed in all human societies, past and present, is the presence, within the same territory, and forming part of the same collectivity, of two distinct categories of men, the category of governors and the category of the governed; the category of those who command and the category of those who must obey; the category of those who make the laws and the category of those who are compelled to observe them. Is it absolutely indispensable that these two human should groups exist, one superimposed upon the other? This is what the anarchists have asked themselves, and their answer has been negative. Whether the government, they say, be the representative of a self-proclaimed divine right or the emanation of the will of a majority, the result of conquest or the product of a plebiscite, it can only be the organ of a permanent and systematic violence. “I do not quite grasp,” I was recently told in New York by Mr. Benjamin R. Tucker, the author of the beautiful book which he himself has titled in such an original, though to my mind too modest, fashion, Instead of a Book: “I do not quite grasp what difference there can be between violence exercised against individuals by a State whose head has become so by force of bayonets, and a State represented by a Parliament selected by the majority of voters. What, in reality, is the ballot? The ballot is nothing, in sum, but the legal agent of bayonets and cannons; it represents, so to speak, merely cannon and bayonets in disguise.” Thus, according to the anarchists, the State, even in the most democratic societies, organised on the basis of the most universal suffrage conceivable, is perforce an obstacle to the development of individual initiative. It acts by authority; thus it relieves us of a portion of our personal liberty. Whether it leads us on the path to good or the path to evil, it is by force that it conducts us there, and we do not intend to tolerate our actions’ being made the product of violence. But the state protects us, say the democrats. Against whom? Against criminals? Not in the least! for criminality springs from the law itself, and from the monopolies that it engenders. Remove the law, destroy the monopolies that are its natural consequence, and criminality will disappear in turn. In any case, the protection with which the State provides us is an imposed and not a requested protection.
BT-IOB.2 Protection is a service like any other, and consequently, in a truly free society, should be subjected to the law of supply and demand. If the market were free, we would be able to procure protection in case we had need of it, at prices varying and always advantageous. Unfortunately, the State has monopolised the production of this protection and, like all monopolists, it delivers junk instead of good merchandise, and at exorbitant prices too. Just as those who hoard foodstuffs often sell poison in place of nourishment, so the State profits from its monopoly by delivering invasion in place of assistance, and as the customers of the former pay to be poisoned, those of the latter pay to be enslaved. In addition, the rascality of the state far exceeds that of all the hoarders, because it and it alone, in æternum, has the right to provide us with its goods and force us to purchase them. Democracy, in consequence, has little attraction for anarchists. It is, according to them, just as autocratic as any absolute regime.
BT-IOB.3 The majority of voters, they say, exercises an abusive authority over the minority, and this not only in spite of the interests of the latter, but often in spite of its own interests as well, since as history informs us, the vote of the majority reliably results in the consecration of the self-proclaimed rights of an organised minority, one already thoroughly powerful prior to the elections. Thus the vote ultimately serves only to provide legal consecration to the existing privileges and to consolidate their effective power. Just as landowners elect as deputies only those who are committed to maintaining their monopoly of property; and industrialists, deputies favourable to the prerogatives of capital; so the workers will be fatally led to elect spokesmen for the aspirations of the proletarians –: that is, deputies whose influence tends necessarily toward the conservation of the state of servitude in which the workers live. A constant struggle, accordingly, takes place among the various classes of society, whereas liberty, once freed from the fetters of the State and invigorated by a voluntary spirit of social solidarity, would naturally lead men to a fraternal agreement.


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BT-IOB.4 Such is, in essence, the opinion of the anarchists concerning the State and its functions. Nowhere is this more opinion more widespread or more intelligently sustained than in American intellectual circles. The anarchist doctrine is making enormous progress every day in the United States and acquiring new proselytes. Benjamin R. Tucker is the true creator of this interesting movement, which finds its inspiration not in precipitate and fruitless rebellion, but in active and peaceful propaganda on behalf of individual liberty. I had, I repeat, the occasion to approach Mr. Tucker in New York, and it is from his own lips that I have plucked the exposition of its doctrines. Benjamin R. Tucker was born in 1854 in South Dartmouth [Online editor’s note: Ghio writes “Darmouth.” – RTL] near New Bedford (Massachusetts). From 1872 to 1874, he studied technology in Boston, where he made the acquaintance of Josiah Warren, [Online editor’s note: Here and below, Ghio writes “Josah.” – RTL] a precursor of the anarchist idea. After having completed numerous trips to Europe, he founded in Boston a bi-monthly journal, Liberty, of which a German edition appeared for some time under the title of Libertas. [Online editor’s note: A Latin rather than German title, presumably because the latter was taken. – RTL]
BT-IOB.5 In Boston, he also worked at the Globe. Then, after another trip to Paris, where he remained for nearly six months, he took himself in 1893 to New York, where he still continues publishing his journal Liberty1, now become a weekly. Tucker, in addition to his own newspaper, runs a publishing house established under his name in New York itself, and has published a number of works of propaganda, including inter alia the complete works of Pierre-J. Proudhon translated by Mr. Tucker himself. [Online editor’s note: This overstates a bit how far Tucker’s Proudhon translation project got. – RTL] Mr. Tucker’s teaching on the State and on social life is explained in full in his aforementioned book titled Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One. A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism. [Online editor’s note: Ghio writes “Fragmentary Exposition of the Philosophical Anarchism.” – RTL]
BT-IOB.6 Mr. Tucker establishes as follows the essential difference between anarchist doctrines and socialist-collectivist doctrines:
BT-IOB.7 “No intellectual or social movement,” says Tucker, “has reached an importance of greater magnitude than the socialist movement in the XIXth century. The movement had its origin in the words of a philosopher of political economy, Adam Smith: it was he who affirmed that labor is the natural measure of value. Three men then seized upon Smith’s brilliant idea to Smith, three men of different nationalities: Josiah Warren, an American; Pierre J. Proudhon, a Frenchman; Karl Marx, a German. But while the first two arrived at the same conclusions, independently of one another, the third, Marx, made use of Smith’s formula to arrive at conclusions completely opposed to theirs. The fundamental question of economic life resides in the right of ownership over the means of production and circulation, that is to say, land, machinery, and currency. These three factors of economic life are presently monopolized by a minority of individuals whose power springs from laws that affirm the legitimacy of these monopolies. If the law, backed by organized force, did not recognize the monopolies enjoyed by capitalists and proprietors, the monopolies would necessarily fall of themselves. It is necessary, therefore, to destroy the legislative tool that is the basis of all these privileges. By what means? Josiah Warren and Pierre J. Proudhon converge in agreement on the point that destruction of a constraint can be the result only of a voluntary resistance. Marx, on the contrary, held that monopolies can be destroyed only by organizing a single and unique monopoly, the monopoly of the State. Thus were born the collectivistic socialism and anarchistic socialism.” [Online editor’s note: This passage seems to be drawn from Tucker’s “State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, And Wherein They Differ,” but it’s such a free paraphrase that I’ve simply translated Ghio’s French rather than trying to cobble together the equivalent from Tucker’s text. – RTL] The problem could not, in my opinion, be posed with greater clarity and perspicacity. Mr. Tucker is thus a staunch individualist. He sees the State the source of all social injustices, and views its abolition as a remedy these injustices. The State, Tucker adds, favors the privileges of capitalist by limiting to particular organisations, or in reserving to itself, the right to mint coins and issue banknotes. Everyone, however, should possess this right – all workers, all producers of any category.
BT-IOB.8 Today for example, I myself work ten hours but consume only the product of five hours’ labour; I should have the right to circulate a good representing the five labour hours saved. A free bank, or several free banks, on the model of the Bank of the People imagined by Proudhon, would undertake the exchange of these goods among producers who have made savings and workers who have need of capital. The privileges of the capitalists receive yet further encouragement through tariffs and customs, as well as through copyrights and patents. Consequently, no customs duties, no patents, no copyright. The market must be absolutely free to producers of all countries and to new inventors. As for landowners, their privilege, according to Mr. Tucker, is still more immoral: the land belongs only to those who work it directly and the rent which the proprietor receives constitutes, in consequence, an arbitrary levy on the product of the cultivator’s labour. [Online editor’s note: Ghio’s text speaks of the “sale which the proprietor perceives” rather than the “rent which the proprietor receives”; but my guess is that “vente que perçoit” is an error for “rente que reçoit” – RTL]


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BT-IOB.9 But the negative portion of Tucker’s doctrine does not, to speak frankly, have much originality to it. Political economy itself seeks what Mr. Tucker himself desires; it seeks it at least as far as the broad outlines of the program are cocnerned. The true originality of Tucker’s doctrine, considered qua anarchist doctrine, consists in his worship of the human personality and his affirmation of the unshakable rights of the individual against society. Individual property is for Tucker a sacred thing, provided, however, that the State does not facilitate a monopoly therein at the expense of those who have nothing. Mr. Tucker is justly afraid of what is happening in his country, where a tiny minority tends to absorb more and more economic wealth, thanks to the privileges with which it is laden. An immoral pestilence of individualism has arisen in the United States, and Mr. Tucker is trying, by contrast, to return individualism to its moral foundations. He asks us to undertake a systematic struggle against the State and its usurpations. But the struggle to which Mr. Tucker invites us is not the violent revolt preached by the communists. He vigourously rejects any kinship in ideas and methods with the communists, whose aim is to destroy rather than to enfranchise individual personality. [Online editor’s note: All this talk of “unshakable rights” and “moral foundations” sounds decidedly un-Tuckerite. – RTL]
BT-IOB.10 “My ideas differ profoundly from theirs,” Mr. Tucker has said; “and I strenuously disapprove of their senseless acts.” [Online editor’s note: Translated from Ghio’s French, pending identification of the English original. – RTL] For Mr. Tucker, the only effective means of propaganda the example of firm and manly conduct in the face of the encroachments of power. For attempting to demonstrate the application of anarchist principles by founding isolated communities would be a vain effort; “a fair practical test of Anarchistic principles cannot be fulfilled elsewhere than in the very heart of existing industrial and social life .”
BT-IOB.11 “But in some large [modern] city,” Tucker goes on, “let a sufficiently large number of earnest and intelligent Anarchists, engaged in nearly all the different trades and professions, combine to carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle and,” in spite of legal prohibitions, “to start a bank ... for the conduct of their commerce and dispose their steadily accumulating capital in new enterprises ... more and more ... would actually take part in it, and ... the whole city would become a great hive of Anarchistic workers, prosperous and free individuals.” And the State would fall of itself. [Online editor’s note: I’ve barely managed to shape Tucker’s “Colonization” into something resembling Ghio’s free paraphrase of it.. – RTL]
BT-IOB.12 In light of the views expressed by Mr. Tucker, I cannot see where to find those terrible crimes with which the anarchists are reproached. How, indeed, could intellectual anarchists like him be confounded with a few stray fellows who throw bombs or kill kings! By that reasoning, every man conscious of his own strength would have to count as an anarchist. There are thousands of men in society who, while being willing to recognise the need for a government for all the other people, refuse to admit it for themselves. So all these men are anarchists, and their conduct is intended to prepare the advent of the anarchic society. At bottom, are not those who abstain from voting anarchists as well? The State is represent to us as an organ of social peace. So it ought to be. But where is this ideal State? We see around us only authoritarian, usurpative States, protectors of all the privileges; and that makes us fear that the State cannot be anything other than what it is and always has been. Perhaps the State as moderator of human lusts is no more than a dream! In any case, a propaganda tending to augment the domain of individual initiative is undoubtedly a beneficial propaganda. It is from the improvement of individual morality and not from modifications in codified morality that we can expect a bit of justice; it’s from the goodness springing from hearts and not from laws, springing from the will and not from constraint, that society can hope for genuine progress along the path of human solidarity. Leaving aside, then, the reasons for divergence that exist between the anarchist doctrines and our own, I think Mr. Tucker is to be lauded doe pursuing this propaganda with so much activity and intelligence.


Journal des Économistes (5th series, 52, no. 3; Dec. 1902), pp. 335-340.

BT-IOB.n1.1 1 Mr. Tucker’s journal Liberty should not be confused with the journal of the same name that the communist McQueen publishes clandestinely in New York.

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