The Present Situation in Russia, Doris Zhook

[published in Freedom in June, 1896]

Now that Russia is in a state of extraordinary excitement owing to the attractive coronation of the Czar, it may not be without interest to the readers of Freedom to get a glimpse of the situation in that darkest of all European lands. The more so, as the advent on the throne of Nicholas II. has been accompanied by quite a number of rumours of his supposed liberality and broad-mindedness, not only abroad, but also in Russia. What wonder, then, that the people of Russia hailed him as the inaugurator of a new era; teir hearts began to beat hopefully, and in their trustfulness they approached the yound Czar, and, while assuring him of their most devoted loyalty, they ventured to utter the desires, hopes and expectations of the people. Many may still remember the Czar’s reply to the petition of the zemstvos (district assemblies) of the government of Tver, where he told the representatives of the people that it was all “foolish dreams.” This reply was a shock to all; even the most ardently devoted conservatives, who did not cease to sing hymns in praise of the new Czar, seemed rebuffed. After such a reply there can be little hope left for any noteworthy reform, and, indeed, Nicholas II. has left everything much in the same state as it was under his father, whose policy he is simply continuing or extending.

However, in spite of all this, the Russians did not give up hope entirely, and a petition, signed by 78 well-known authors of St. Petersburg, was handed by the Academician Bilbassov to the Tzar, asking for justice and fair play in dealing with the press, which is bound hand and foot. Articles and whole books are being suppressed without any trial whatever, simply by administrative order. They therefore appealed to the Tzar in very eloquent terms to take them under the protection of the law and to do away with arbitrary administration. The Tzar, acting upon the advice of the Minister of Justice, decided to “leave the petition without any attention whatever.” Meanwhile, the brief reign of Nicholas II. has been signalised by numerous suppressions of journals and other publications on the most trivial pretexts; for instance, the paper Russian Life, for publishing an article on the measures taken by the Minister of Finance; the Moscow journal Art and Life, for revealing the bribery of the Commission of Building by a new Moscow theatre; the retail sale of the Moscow daily paper Russian Gazette was prohibited on account of its having been published without a black margin on the day of the anniversary of the death of Alexander III. Various other journals and reviews received warnings and reprimands; a weekly paper, called Njedelia (The Week), for some articles on Marxism; another, Russian Thought, for describing the miserable position of the Russian workers and indicating the labour movement in Western Europa as an example for Russia. Besides these, many other arbitrary dealings took place, all of which space would not permit me to chronicle; and to crown all this, a ne list of books has been sent to all public librarians with the special order not to lend them for reading, at the same time strictly forbidding them to let the public know of this arrangement.

Those who are acquainted with the course of the world’s history will be able to jusge from the above that plutocratic Russian absolutism is struggling with all its might to keep itself alive, and there can be no doubt as to the fact of it being on the eve of its downfall. Woe unto those rulers who think that by making the laws ore stringent, or that by using brutal force and suppression, they will succeed in stopping for ever the stream of progress! They may retard it for a while, but afterwards it will break forth wth irresistible force and sweep away everything in its path.

Hypocrisy has always been a useful aide-de-camp to governments of all kinds; more than ever it is now the order of the day of the new government in Rssia. While the above-described suppressions, etc., are going on, the Czar, anxious to throw dust in the eyes of the public and to pose as the beneficient ruler, opened a fund in aid of poor journalists and their families. Of course, those who keep their eyes open will be able to see through this “benevolence” and easily detect its underlying motives. Especially when one sees how every attempt on the part of the intelligent to help in the education of the poor ignorant people is frustrated; and it is quite naturally so, since the upholders of absolutism are fully aware that as soon as the people become enlightened they will also become conscious of their rights. In accordance with the line of tactics so distinctly proclaimed by the late Minister of Public Affairs, M. Durnevo, who said that the bureaucracy recognised “in principle” the task of education is “perfectly honourable,” but to leave it in the hands of society would be dangerous, he therefore proposed to put all existing Committees of Popular Education as well as all private societies under the immediate control of the Minister of Education. His proposal has since been put into effect by an ukase of Nicholas II. (see St. Petersburg Correspondent of The Daily Chronicle of April 22). If all this is not sufficient to convince our readers to what an extent the new Czar is furthering popular education, the following anecdote which happened in Russia may help to do so. The local zemstvo was ver active in trying to organise reading-rooms in the villages. The chief obstacle lay in finding rooms for that purpose; consequently they petitioned the Minister of Education to give them permission to make use of the schoolrooms. The answer was a point blank refusal. But let nobody imagine that the Minister is against libraries, and that it is his intention to hinder the spreading of such–oh no! he is only afraid the visitors of the reading-rooms “might make the floors dirty”!

It may be regarded as a remarkable sign of the time, however, that in spite of persecutions, suppressions and so forth, the social question is being discussed everywhere. The theories of Karl Marx are subjected to severe criticism at the hands of the best known critics such as N. Mikhailovsky, in his journal Russian Wealth; Slonimsky in the Messenger of Europe; Obolénsky, Daniélson and Professor Karéjeff in the chief organ of the Russian populists, Novoyé Slovo (The New World), as well as various other professors and learned men, have taken up that subject for discussion.

Property is Government, Louisa Sarah Bevington

[Freedom, May 1895]

Can it be said too often: “Property is Government”? It is the modern measure and means of domination, and it is nothing else at all. It ceases to exist directly the human will decrees its annihilation; the moment a private individual is sick of it in his wn case, he is rid of it. The moment collective opinion shall be averse to it, it will vanish from the planet. The word “property” slips glibly enough from many a pen; yet I declare that it fits nothing real within the range of my intelligence, and nothing desirable in the range of my emotions. Objects may be partly made by me, or handed to me; they may, next, be welcome (because useful) to me); or they may be in my way, because useless to me. In the latter case, the wisest thing to do is to send them or carry them across the street to the neighbour whose requirement they exactly fit. The objects may, by the custom or the law prevailing around me, be called my “property”, in which case the neighbour, unless he be a “thief”, will take no direct steps towards removing them from my custody, but will, if I choose, meekly permit me to fine him of time, trouble, or goods (as represented by money), before considering himself their fit custodian. Yet the things are still only the things; and have no natural point of attachment with either my neighbour or me, until one of us puts them to their appropriate use.

Popular concession, fixed with force-law, may never have been questioned by citizens born under the law; but no amount of human concession, or human force, can make real a relation which is naturally non-existent; or will avail to keep up the solemn pretence of it when the general discomfort and distress arising from such pretence, causes the force-law to be chafed against, and thus annuls the ancient concession on which law originally took its stand.

At the present hour, the bulk of humanity has not begun to recognise the property idea as in itself debateable. All the talk is of a change of title in property-owning; and this even among many who dream of abolishing Government. And all the while Property and Government are as inseperable as Substance and Shadow; and as long as you keep either one of them, you will have to put up with the vagaries of the other.

Meanwhile of those whose minds are active concerning the Property “question”, one set regards it as a necessary element of orderly progress that may safely be left to evolve through future phases as a dominant institution; while another set regards it as the chief, and constant, and necessary foe of order and progress; the bulwark and the raison-d’être of force-law; the promoter of militarism; the cause of human antagonisms, great and small; the root of all evil, and of all the frightful waste involved in the arming and defending of man against man.

The question then arises: Which of these two sets of thinkers is in advance of the other? Which see the deepest into the springs of human action? Which displays most intellectual perspicacity and moral (that is, healthily social) momentum? Which most accurately interprets Nature and History? And which, if at once able (by help of revolution) to put theory into practice throughout a whole community, would do most to dissipate existing evil tendencies in surrounding citizens, and to invigorate and foster in them useful and beneficient tendencies?

The thing to bear firmly in mind is that property, however acquired, must maintain itself by governmental force. And this is in itself a tell-ale fact. We do not need to force upon one another that which Nature has instituted as useful to all.

Letter to Freedom about the Carmaux strike, Agnes Henry

Dear Comrades,

The Carmaux Strike, as a strike, is, as all the world knows, at an end. Reséguier, the employer, has succeeded in securing the services of the men he required, and has rejected 330, to whom he objects and are still unemployed.

On the other hand, he has not succeeded in crushing their Union, which was his object in forcing the strike, while it (the strike) has been the means of calling forth an enthusiastic manifestation of solidarity on the part of all the Socialists of France. That in itself is a gain in the development of Socialism, but that is not all. Where the politicians have failed, the non-political revolutionary Socialists have come not merely, as we trust, to the rescue of the Carmaux glass-blowers, but to effect a far grander, because more far-reaching purpose.

The French trade unions are composed of real Revolutionary Socialists and they would not support a mere co-operative glassworks. They are opposed to political influence and dictation, and they have learned the futility, for Socialist ends, of merely co-operative concerns. They have, however, set themselves the arduous task of erecting a Workingmen’s Glassworks, which is to belong to the whole body of French Socialist workmen, under the direction of a committee of 45 members of various unions, and the profits of which are to go to the benefit of the Socialist propaganda on purely economic lines.

Never yet has such a Communistic effort, on so large a scale, been attempted in the Socialist movement. Such an example, too, when once successfully carried out, will certainly be followed, and will strike a death-blow at all political Socialism.

There are two methods adopted for collecting the necessary capital: by the sale of tickets at 2d. each (which give the right to all who buy them to attend all meetings and all entertainment free, which may be held on behalf of the factory), and by lottery subscriptions of articles to be drawn for on 30th June next at Paris, or of money towards such articles.

The tickets at 2d. are sent post free in packets of 50. Could not our propagandists speak and collect in their meetings towards buying the tickets and gve entertainments to which the said tickets would give admission? In short, could not our English comrades immediately start a movement of assistance and, at the same time, of propaganda? I trust they will do so, and do it speedily.

Fraternally yours,

A. Henry.

To the Editor of “Freedom”, Mary Everest Boole

[published in Freedom September, 1895]

May I send you a little item of news about a friend of yours. M. Elisée Reclus has been lecturing on a geographical subject to a summer gathering of teachers and students. I was not able to come in time for the beginning of the course; and, when I arrived, I was greeted with this announcement: “We have all found out that we did not know what Anarchism meant: we used to think it meant throwing bombs; but now we think it means, being nicer and kinder than other people.” one intensely Conservative person, after describing to me some of M. Reclus’ personal habits, and retailing some items of his conversation, added: “Really one does not know what to make of it. It seems to me that our conceptions of Anarchism will have to shed a good deal of dead skin before we can understand truly what it is.”
Now the persons who spoke thus would never have gone to hear a lecture on Anarchism. If you wish to destroy prejudices in your opponents, do not fling at them either bombs or hard arguments about Anarchism; but send some Anarchist, whose conduct they will be forced to respect, to teach them some art or science which they themselves desire to learn, and let him make his own impression.
Yours truly,
Mary Everest Boole.
August, 1895.

In Warsaw (two letters to l’anarchie), by “Nanitcha”

[published in l’anarchie n°4, May 4th 1905]

With songs, only songs, with red flags for all guns, the people, in Russia, has yet again gone to their deaths.

And the cosaks, without risk, were able to beat them left and right, this powerless crowd.

They were having a stroll, over 5000 of them, and women and children were with them. They left the Vitzkovsky square, were they had gathered; they went through the streets, protected, they thought, by their red flag and their wisdom.

And the uhlans… and the cosaks came. In the Marchalskovskaia street, police murderers started to charge with great blows from their nagaikas.

I don’t know… they say there are over 50 dead and as many wounded… We will never know the truth, as always here…. Everyone takes home their dead and cry…

A few officers, they say, were hurt by a bomb. Is it true? These brutes have such tough skin…

60.000 soldiers, children of the people, were waiting, arms in hands, for their brothers of servitude. What to tell them, what to shout at them? What inconsequence, what madness on both sides! To walk without weapons towards guns! To use guns on an unarmed crowd!

Here, like in every country, will unfortunate men carry weapons much longer to protect the fortunate and kill their own kin?

How long will poor men who have strength in numbers  still have the ridiculous magnanimity not to use every means to kill the riche men?


[published in l’anarchie n°5 Thursday May 11th 1905]

I told you all yesterday that people had gone empty handed, without weapons, towards the soldiers. that there had been many dead and wounded, more than 50 of each. I was well below the truth; there has been over 200 dead and 300 wounded.

The workers and the others who went on a stroll like with popes, were following an order by doing this silly action. And this order, how surprising, was given by the Committee of the Socialist Workers’ Party. On the day before the celebration, they had published proclamations throughout the city. They said that people should be on a completely general strike for one day. But also, they wrote: that all who attacked private property would be killed.

The committee wanted it to be a peaceful demonstration, a procession; it was that, a death procession for many people.

Since people don’t have weapons at home, they couldn’t take them, since they had to respect individual property, and consequently the places where there were guns… and then they let themselves be slaughtered.

I don’t have news from your country, but Rosalef told me that the same had happened, in a town where they make pottery in the middle of France [Limoges]… and that the socialists had said the same thing as here.

They are all the same in every country. they do not want to destroy the cause of social evil, the economic injustice. They think or pretend to think that, once they replace the picture of the tsar by the picture of the republic, all will be over.

I feel deeply within myself, as do a few others, that it is not so and that we must do better.


Letter from Russia, “Nanitcha”

[Published in l’anarchie, n°1, April 13th 1905]

Petersburg, April 5th 1905.

Quickly I set out to write this reply to you, dear comrades, because I need to burn your letter, although it is so dear to me. It has been eight days already that my primitive freedom hangs by a thread, which is getting thinner and thinner.

This whole week i was a bit worried, awaiting a not so pleasurable visit. But fortune is on my side, the blow has not yet been struck. And I start to learn to be watchful. You think that the excess of oppression will make the spirit of revolt grow. I also believed that before coming back here and it is only now that reality has proven the opposite.

Maybe this has to do with the psychology of the Russian people, which is very strange to establish. I could give you a few traits of this psychology in a little article for the newspaper, but you will correct my terrible Franco-Russian, which is becoming more and more Russian because, without practice, I am forgetting how to speak French.

As for unpublished details, I am afraid I can tell you nothing new.

Your newspapers, I suppose, have told you what is happening here, even more than that.

I totally agree with you, we need to enter each head to abolish the idea, the meaning even of authority.

To consider each person as an individual, to speak their language, to help them walk by walking alongside them–that is free creation, that is the most productive work, although unnoticed.

Don’t think that comrades here let themselves be hypnotised by the face of the republic, not at all; but, you know yourself that we can achieve nothing with ignorant people, with a herd. And if the people is a herd, as energetic as its leaders might be, what good will it achieve? But that is too sad, and we all had too many illusions.

I wish I could talk more about this, but I am in a hurry.

One last word. A few days ago, A few “anarchist rebels”, as they were called (they are only social revolutionists), were arrested. People say that in Paris 37 Russians were arrested, and that the Russian government demands that they be sent back here. What will your government do?! Is it true?!


Anarchism and a Moribund Society, Olivia Rossetti

A most interesting and important book on the Anarchist movement, entitled “La Société Mourante et l’Anarchie” has just been brought out in French by Jean Grave, for some time past editor of La Révolte. Another work of Grave’s, “Society on the Morrow of the Revolution,” published under the nom de plume Jean le Vagre, which has reached its 13th edition in France, is already known to our readers, having run through Freedom, from January 1890 to March 1891.
The 1st chapter of “Anarchism and a moribund Society” deals with the growth and development of the Anarchist idea, showing how it sprang up from the undefined aspirations of humanity—the “enragées” in the French Revolution being amongst its pioneers; how it began to be put into shape by Proudhon and others, and in spite of the scant means of propaganda has grown into a wide-spread movement; how this rapid growth, in spite of every obstacle, is, in itself, a strong proof of the truth of the idea. Grave then points out that the only real reason for governmental Authority is the defence of private property, and that when this is destroyed government will be no longer required, and will of itself cease to exist.
The next chapter is devoted to showing that the terms Anarchism and Communism are not opposed to each other, as the Individualists try to make out. Societies or associations, says Grave, are recognised by Anarchists, as by Individualists, as having been created for the benefit of the individual, and not the individual for that of societies, their object being to obtain the greatest possible results with the least expenditure of labor; and therefore a state of free communism, in as much as it would accomplish this object and satisfy the physical and intellectual requirements of man, who is essentially a social animal and not an isolated individuality unaffected by the conditions of his fellow beings, would be a benefit to each and all, and not subject the individual to tyranny. Both Individualism and Altruism pushed to an extreme are equally harmful, but combined they resolve themselves into a third term, Solidarity, the ruling principle of the future society.
Speaking later on of the objection so often raised against Anarchists that they are too fond of discussing abstract questions, Grave very truly points out that, in as much as they aim at bringing about a total change of present conditions, it is absolutely necessary for them to go deeply into all sorts of questions, so that they may clearly show the workers that they will never improve their condition by a mere change of masters; the mere fact of being Anarchists implies that we do not wish people to follow our advice unless convinced of its desirability, which can only be shown by serious study and by reasoning out all sorts of questions to their logical conclusion. We must prepare ourselves intellectually for the Revolution by thought and education, just as the bourgeoisie prepared themselves for the abolition of royalty.
Grave next attacks the important question as to whether man is in himself bad or whether he is not rather the creature of circumstances, the expression of his environment, deteriorating or improving in direct ratio with his surroundings. Grave inclines to this latter opinion, but considers that the fact that men are as good as they are under existing conditions is a strong proof of an essential tendency towards goodness. But be they good or bad, the downfall of capitalism is alike inevitable, as in either case people still have the right to live as they wish and to revolt if exploited. We cannot help, however, thinking that it is not owing to a tendency towards goodness, as Grave puts it, but rather owing to a spirit of cowardice that men have allowed themselves to be tyrannised and exploited.
The following chapters deal with existing institutions, which Anarchists wish to destroy: private property, the family as at present understood, government, the magistracy, jingo patriotism, and militarism. After sketching the growth of private property, Grave contends that the bourgeoisie, unable any longer to maintain the theory of their divine right to all the means of life, have built up a completely false science to defend it; how, after terming everything Capital which is put out in the shape of labor, intelligence, machinery, etc., for the production of wealth, and requiring to be paid back in the shape of subsistence, security against risk, and wear and tear of machinery, etc., they have still been unable to account for the surplus money capital, and so have been reduced to the absurdity of saying that that capital is the reward of abstinence!
The chapter on government is a masterpiece of clear, logical reasoning. It shows how the bourgeoisie only conceded universal suffrage when they saw it could do them no harm, how the idea of representing a nation is a complete impossibility, and how majority rule resolves itself really into minority rule, or at best means mediocrity rule. Almost everyone will agree that they themselves could do without government, but they do not think others could, as human beings are as a rule so bad, which, as Grave says, comes to this: Taken as a whole men are too bad to be able to agree among themselves, but taken individually they are fit to govern others.
The chapter on proposed reforms also deserves careful study, showing how it does that all such measures put in force under the present capitalist system must always turn in the long run to the advantage of the capitalists and the greater misery of the workers. He also deals with the mistake of advising the use of governmental machinery to bring about Anarchism, truly saying that the only way to bring about Anarchism is to act as Anarchists. The Revolution, he concludes, is under present circumstances necessary and inevitable, and must be used by the Anarchists as a means to bring about an end—Anarchism.
These are in outline the contents of this most interesting book. It is written in a clear, emphatic style, involved sentences and ambiguous terms being carefully avoided. All French-speaking comrades should read it, and we hope a translation may soon be ready for English-speaking friends. The preface by Octave Mirbeau, a leading French journalist, is also very interesting.