The “Productor” & the Chicago Conference, Olivia Rossetti

The “Productor” & the Chicago Conference

[Supplement to Freedom, September 1893]

A series of articles has been appearing of late in our Spanish Comrade “El Productor”, under the title “Puritanism and exaggeration. They have been written in answer to a criticism by some Valencia comrades of an article which appeared in the “Productor” concerning the Chicago conferences, called “Shoulders to the wheel. As the Chicago conference is so near at hand it may be interesting to English comrades to hear what the opinion of Spanish Anarchists on the question of conference is.
In the disputed article, the “Productor” proposes that all Anarchists who agreed with the desirability of the Chicago Conference, should send in a voluntary subscription, accompanied by the name of the delegate whom they thought best suited to represent the Spanish Anarchists at the Conference; when these votes had all come in, they were to be collected, counted up and verified, and the men whose names had most supporters was to be sent to Chicago, with the money obtained by the subscriptions, there to give voice to the opinions and wishes of the Spanish groups, and to bring back to them an account of the proceedings and the conclusions arrived at.
To these propositions six Valencia comrades answered by a declaration, in which they state that while they fully realize the importance and undeniable advantage to be derived from the Chicago conference, they are completely opposed to the program put forward by the ‘Productor,’ which they denounce as opposed to the Anarchist principle, which denies the possibility of one man representing another, under any circumstances. Especially do they object to a subscription being required as an accompaniment to a vote, declaring that even the Bourgeois governments are seeing the absurdity of a money qualification. To these objections the ‘Productor’ replies by saying that it does not consider that the question of the best way for the Spanish Anarchists to take part in a conference is in any sense a matter of principle, which it defines as a fundamental basis, but a matter of convenience. It states that it does not consider the idea of representation to be opposed to Anarchy; that it is only so when applied as it is by our existing Bourgeoise society, and it asks if any one would maintain that it would be contrary to Anarchist principles if, after the revolution, several groups wishing to confer together on points of common interest, and it being impossible for all the members of the said group to meet together to discuss, they should each choose delegates to set forth the opinions of their comrades, and afterwards announce the result of the conference so that the different groups might come to some common understanding, provided the delegates received no authority to enforce their decisions. As to the money qualification, the ‘Productor’ says, that as they made the subscription entirely voluntary, that is to say that it might consist of 1 centime or 50frs., it did not think that it would be an obstacle to any one’s voting; but, of course, it says, if any one should be found in so destitute a condition as not to be able to afford eve a centime, he would be allowed to give his vote without a subscription.
This seems a dangerous method to establish, savouring rather of the method in vogue in Bourgeoise society of remedying present evils by charities in various forms. But, of course, it is true enough that people as a rule are very disinclined to produce money unless some pressure is supplied, and there would be very few cases in which it would be impossible to give a half-penny or a farthing; the other objections as to verifying votes, etc., disappear if we once invade the first two points.
The Valencia Anarchists say that their idea of what an Anarchist conference should be is that any Anarchist who feels inclined to go should go; that he should go on no one’s behalf and represent no one but himself; that the Anarchists thus assembled should discuss for their own benefit any subjects they feel inclined to, and by thus strengthening themselves individually, they would ultimately strengthen the cause, and they point to the Paris congress as a beau ideal of an Anarchist conference. The ‘Productor’ answers this by asking if a single object was attained, or result arrived at by the Paris congress, and replies in the negative. It therefore concludes that if the expense of going to Chicago is to be stood, it must be compensated by substantial results, and that this can only be the case if a plan something like the one they suggested be adopted.
It is to be regretted that the articles on both sides have been written in a spirit of active antagonism, most unfortunate among Anarchists when a mere point of tactics is under discussion. Surely Anarchists should be the first to respect free individual initiative in such matters, and if one set of comrades wish to send a delegate to a conference, others should surely not require them to retract on pain of declaring them not to be Anarchists and vice versa.
To overthrow our present society means that we have such a tremendous and varied work to do, that there is surely room for every description of method and propaganda, and no time should be wasted in trying to compel others to adopt one’s own special line.
We are Anarchists because we recognize that all men are different, and that it is desirable that they should be so; let us put this principle into practice, and no more waste our time in trying to lord it over some one else.

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.