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Anarchism and State Violence in Sydney and Melbourne

An argument about Australian labor history.
By Dr Bob James


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The time will come when mankind will look back upon the execution of the anarchists as we of this day look back upon the burning of the witches in New England.
-ex-Senator Trumball at the 1887 funeral

On 1 May, 1886 1, Fred Upham from Rhode Island, U.S.A. and the Australian born Andrade brothers, David and William, called into existence the Melbourne Anarchist Club (M.A.C.)2. This, the first formal anarchist organisation in Australia reflected the Boston Anarchist Club's approach to strategy and philosophy, having a Secretary, a chairperson, speakers' rules and prepared papers. It was also a response to a call in 1884 by the Federation of Organised Trades and Labor Unions of the U.S. and Canada, for a celebration of the day, 1 May 1886, as an expression of international working class solidarity. The six members of the Australasian Secular Association (ASA) who came together to form the Club on that day could not have foreseen that the US-connection was to prove, not a blessing, but a disaster. They were not to know that the establishment of the MAC was to rapidly bring to a head disagreements in radical labor circles over the nature of the 'new order' and begin a no-holds barred contest over the definition of anarchism itself. They were not to know that in Chicago, three days after the Club's first meeting, which was not widely publicised, would occur the first act of what is undoubtedly a pivotal event, not only in the history of anarchism but in modern history generally.

At 10.00 pm on 4 May 1886, one hundred and seventy-six Chicago policemen were marched out to disperse an orderly meeting called to protest a shooting of locked-out workers by those same police the day before. The Mayor, after attending the meeting, had gone home believing the gathering, which had dwindled from some thousands to about 200, was peaceful and on the verge of being wound up. The police however were formed up in ranks by their officers and Captain Bonfield ordered the meeting to disperse immediately. At this point someone, to this day unknown, threw a bomb near to the police lines. The police opened fire into the terror-struck crowd and later, after a massive round-up program, charged the erstwhile organisers of the meeting, eight anarchists, with capital crimes. On the wave of media-fed hysteria which swept the country the Chicago authorities disregarded the evidence and a world-wide protest movement to execute 4 and jail three. The eighth was found dead in his cell the day before the execution on 11 November, 1887.

Over the next 30 years at least, meetings of radicals in Australia and elsewhere, were held regularly to commemorate the death of the martyrs. The Haymarket Affair "became for years the rallying centre for the revolutionary Socialist movement - a shrine where one found inspiration and hope for a better realisation of the immorality of capitalism and the inevitability of Socialism.3"

Properly owners and business people had mobilised against the idea of an eight-hour day and the level of fear and excitement was already high before the deadline arrived. Nowhere in the USA was this higher than in Chicago where those arrested after the explosion had been prominent for most of the decade in labour and community organisations.

On the same day that those Melbourne Anarchists convened in a corner of the ASA-meeting room, one of those executed, Albert Parsons had accompanied his wife, Lucy, and their two children in what is regarded as the first-ever May Day Parade, singing. and arm-in-arm up Michigan Avenue, Chicago, at the head of 80,000 workers.4 One would have had to have been in Chicago to know that. On the other hand, the 4 May explosion was immediately made available to the english-speaking world by especially strident and bigoted news organisations, the emergent Hearst network for example. The resulting denigration of reformers has had an impact on more than just anarchism:

So expertly was this campaign of red-baiting waged that it moulded the popular mind for years to come, and played its part in conditioning the mass response to the imaginary threat of the 'social revolution' frequently displayed ... since 1886.5

Certainly since 1886 anarchy and anarchism have been widely used as synonyms for chaos, terror and social breakdown, despite anarchists believing that what they were talking about was:

... a system of social thought, aiming at fundamental changes in the structure of society and particularly ... at the replacement of the authoritarian state by some form of non-governmental co-operation between free individuals.6

The first Australian references to 'anarchy' or its derivatives date from the mid-nineteenth century and show variations on the early misuse of the word. W.C. Wentworth, newly established NSW Tory, used the word to 'slander' John Dunmore Lang7 and Henry Parkes8. Even when the word was used more accurately it could still be seen as a term of abuse, as when Henry McDermott, a Sydney City Councillor in 1842 9 complained that he had 'suffered abuses', that is, he had been called an anarchist for suggesting 'agricultural areas' and small towns on the coast to encourage decentralisation.10 More usual was the association expressed by James McEachern who established the Tambaroora Association of Alluvial Miners in 1852 and disputed merchants' claims that individual miners were causing 'law and order' to be superseded by anarchy and confusion. 11

The abusive use of 'anarchy' Woodcock tells us goes back at least to the time of the French Revolution.12 To understand therefore the twentieth century association of anarchism with negative ideas, specifically terrorism, one has to begin by understanding the reverse, that just prior to the period from which that association most clearly dates, 1880-1910, anarchism as a philosophy was emerging from a longer-standing and still incorrect stigma attached to 'anarchy' the word perceived as indicating an anger at social conditions, but unsupported by a social philosophy. A contrary interpretation, running as a sub-theme through the nineteenth century, and derived from the same notion of 'anarchy' as meaning. a chaotic situation 'bereft of a guiding philosophy' was used by 'socialists' against 'the existing organisation of society' (that is, competitive industrialisation) as 'organised anarchy, maintained by force and fraud .... '13 Socialists, wishing to call themselves anarchists thus already had a double stigma to confront.

Proudhon, printer, philosopher and sexist social critic, is credited with making the first notable, public statement that anarchism could be viewed positively. His 1840 statement was a position today called mutualist-anarchist, that is, it involves only one of the possible strands within anarchism. He wrote:

(The) authority of man over man is inversely proportional to the state of intellectual development which that society has reached... Property and royalty have been crumbling to pieces ever since the world began. As man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy. 14

Arguing for a society made up of small-scale producers associating in full freedom to exchange labor products equivalent in value, Proudbon believed in change to a just society through principle and not revolution.15 Benjamin Tucker, a significant figure for Australian anarchism, though a North American (see below), wrote in 1888:

When Warren and Proudhon, in prosecuting their search for justice to labour, came face to face with the obstacle of class monopolies, they saw that these monopolies rested upon Authority, and concluded that the thing to be done was, not to strengthen this Authority and thus make monopoly universal, but to utterly uproot Authority and give full sway to the opposite principle, liberty, by making competition, the antithesis of monopoly, universal.... The Manchester men (Ricardo, etc) were accused of being inconsistent. They believed in liberty to compete with the labourer in order to reduce his wages, but not in liberty to compete with the capitalist in order to reduce his usury.

Thus, this strand of anarchism which has attracted different names, has argued for 'Absolute Free Trade ... the logical carrying out of the Manchester doctrine' as the means to socialise resources, in opposition to State Socialists who wished to seize capital, and in opposition to class' monopolies, in particular, of money, land, tariff and patents. 16

Tucker's anarchist solution for injustice is clearly wealth-inspired and economic in nature despite his very important distinction between Authority and Liberty. His concern for economics parallels that of what could be called mainstream socialists. As G.D.H. Cole concluded thirty years later:

Socialists have all too often fixed their eyes upon the material misery of the poor without realising that it rests upon the spiritual degradation of the slave. 17

Another, more recent commentator seems to have disregarded this similarity while summarising the distinctions between the two sets of organising principles which have dominated radical theory 'from the time of the Paris Commune' (1871). The distinctions are 'exemplified by the split between the Marxists and the anarchists' which culminated organisationally in 1872. The distinctions were over:

the three inter-related questions of the constituency of the movement (proletarians versus proletarians and declasse intellectuals, peasants, petit bourgeoisie and lumpen elements); the structure of the movement (centralised versus decentralised); and the role of the state and politics (dictatorship of the proletariat versus decentralised federation, party versus movement, political economy versus holistic socio-economic-cultural reconstruction).Closely related to these major differences are questions about the forms of ownership and decision-making (nationalism versus collectivisation, central planning versus self-management).18

Chodorkoff is in fact talking about the communist-collectivist strand of anarchism, opposed by Tucker, which began to appear with Bakunin in the 1870s, and which has moved in the twentieth century to a predominant concern for a power analysis, advocating, in particular, autonomy and personal power within small groups. 19 Such a concern is only viable for mass society when large-scale chan-es in attitudes occur, thus education and personal growth are far more important change- agents than cataclysmic revolution. The late-nineteenth century decision by radicals for direct action, in addition to being a continuation of a long- standing approach, was however a reaction against abstract theorising, against attempts to change non-democratic institutions such as parliaments by joining them and against the mounting tide of 'respectable' moderation implied in both of these. Direct action was inspired greatly by the words and example of Bakunin (1814-1876) who has been made out to be the archetypal 'crazy'anarchist. Bakunin, while raging about the need for personal endeavour, extended and sharpened an anti-State polemic which can be seen today as having been remarkably prescient.20 His multi-faceted view of anarchism as social revolution is inadequately summarised in the following:

The future organisation of society should be carried out entirely from below upwards, by the free association and federation of the workers in associations first of all, then in communes, in regions, in nations and finally in a -reat international and universal federation. It is only then that the true and invigorating order of liberty and -eneral happiness will be established, that order which far from denying either of them, affirms and brings into harmony the interest of individuals and of society.21

He regarded conflict and struggle, even in the fully evolved future society as inevitable and natural, and thus presupposed the need for twentieth century anarchists to develop insights into healthy resolution of conflict as alternatives to either State surveillance or personal and mass violence.22 Conflict was inevitable but not necessarily destructive or even divisive. Dolgoff commented that contrary to impressions given by historians about Bakunin, that he advocated indiscriminate violence against persons, he opposed regicide and stressed that destruction be of institutions. Dolgoff quotes Bakunin:

it will then become unnecessary to destroy men and reap the inevitable reaction which massacres of human beings have never failed and never will fail to produce in every society.23

In the same 1869 Program of the International Brotherhood quoted by Dolgoff Bakunin wrote:

It will not be surprising if the rebellious people kill a great many of them (oppressors) at first. This will be a misfortune ... and as quickly over; but ... neither moral nor even useful.24

Part of the reason for the misreading of Bakunin is his enthusiasm for personally-experienced action which, taken with his penchant for direct language,' produced among observers literal interpretations of his words which in context are far more subtle.

The Haymarket affair while the most influential was not the only or the first event linking anarchism to bombings or violence against State forces or symbols of the State just as the Haymarket prisoners were not the first to suffer for their opposition to exploitation. The phrase 'propaganda of the deed' thought of today as individual terrorism and commonly believed to be anarchists' only contribution to political science, became current during the 1870s but was merely a new name for a very old idea - civil dissent. Taken up by socialists in general as 'direct action' it was premised on the belief that 'the workers' were unlikely to be moved to revolt by theory, but might follow exemplary action or learn from it. Initially, 'the deed' amongst anarchists involved peaceful demonstrations, speeches and burning of public records where possible.25 They were often present at strikes which turned into one- sided battles between State rifles or sabres and workers' fists or stones or took the brunt of attacks by 'roughs' when the authorities declared war on all radicals.26 State responses incensed the more emotional activists and sympathisers into highly individualised and specific actions in the midst of what looked increasingly in the 1880s and 1890s, like civil war between 'socialists' and those with property or authority to protect.

Yet anarchists or their sympathisers appear to have initiated only (approximately) forty violent attacks in the period 1880-1912. This figure includes the six heads of state assassinated, the first of which was President Carnot of France in 1894, when the stigma was already in place. Deaths attributable to anarchists therefore for the whole period and for the whole world (so far researched - see below) amount to less than 100. The number of attackers was probably less than twenty,27 yet there were at least 3,000 anarchists just in Chicago in 1886 and no other 'events' occurred there. Charges of individual or large-scale terrorism made against anarchists as a whole by those under threat and therefore likely to see anyone wanting to do them damage as crazy and evil cannot be based on logic. The catalyst for the 'indiscriminate' or 'senseless' murder charge apart from the Haymarket event was probably Emile Henry's bombing attack on the Terminus Restaurant (1894) or Vaillant's on the French Chamber of Deputies (1893) both in Paris, during a period of French political upheavals. One person was killed in the first and none in the second.28 The greatest number killed was probably in the Barcelona religious procession of 31 May 1906 where twenty-three died. In these cases the hysteria of those who believed they were innocent produced a lot of the over-reaction. Henry's logic was cool and precise:29

The whole of the bourgeoisie lives by the exploitation of the unfortunate and should expiate its crimes together.30

Their social critique insisted that anarchists emphasise and denounce State violence and those they saw as fellow-travellers. It was inevitable that some made calls to fi-ht back and at times spoke of their own militant actions as terrorism. In an atmosphere tense with expectation and often ablaze with sensation, discussions in anarchist circles were often of nothing else but heroic stances, brave deeds and acts of struggle. Cranks, police spies and the self-opinionated abounded in these circles until it became difficult to determine, from their utterances, whether any members of particular groups knew anything at all about anarchism, were simply parroting cries about 'absolute liberty' and 'death to tyranny', or were simply involved in 'dirty tricks'. The image of the anarchist meeting, chaotic, disorganised, ineffectual comes down to us from this time.31

Use of extreme language to attract attention and express outrage was common on both sides, indeed on all sides. A Republican newspaper editor at election time, October 1886:

The grain stacks, houses and barns of active Democrats should be burned; their children burned and their wives outraged, that they may understand that the Republican Party is the one which is bound to rule ... 32

But power to enact repressive measures was concentrated on the side that most clearly opposed anarchists - the State. Two days after the Chicago execution London police attacked peaceful demonstrators attempting to maintain the freedom to speak on political issues in Trafalgar Square. Three were killed, over two hundred injured. The further one looks at the statistics of the question, the more anomalies there are. In numbers of attacks,33 in numbers of victims,34 in applications of indiscriminate force, the label of 'mindless terrorist' attaches more reasonably to the disciplined mercenary police, military and paramilitary such as the Pinkertons, than to anarchists. In a rare moment of its kind the Age of 17 May 1886 acknowledged where the blame for the violent clashes of that time lay: 'The attempt to organise an 8-hour system ( in the US) is put down by volleys of musketry'. In the twentieth century, of course, many more people have come to accept the long-standing anarchist contention that the State personifies terror and murder.35

Immediately after the Haymarket explosion many calls were made for violent handling of all anarchists and other such traitors' while rural as well as urban areas of the US experienced their own 'full-blown Panic'.36 The racism of much of the prejudice was apparent, most of the eight being German immigrants, but neither it nor a defense of capital was the only element:

...long-haired, wild-eyed, bad-smelling atheistic, reckless foreign wretches, who never did an honest hour's work in their lives, but who, driven half-crazy with years of oppression (before coming to 'the land of the free') and mad with envy of the rich...

was a description offered in 188637. Among those who knew them was a different view:

(On) the eve of their execution, a long procession with muffled drums and banners draped with crepe marched through the streets of New York .... On the Sunday after the execution their dead bodies were carried to the -rave in Chicago with demonstrations of respect and sympathy such as are rarely accorded to unquestioned public benefactors, and in all parts of the country there are indications that a considerable class regard these men not as criminals but as heroes and martyrs.38

Such was the polarisation of views that in 1891 the 'great' Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso could claim that the faces of anarchists possess peculiar physical characteristics common among the inmates of our idiot and imbecile asylums.

He claimed 34 per cent of his 'anarchist' sample possessed the criminal type' face as compared with 43 per cent among 'ordinary criminals' of the prison at Turin. He found 40 per cent 'criminal types' among photographs of Chicago anarchists, seventeen out of forty-three having 'disagreeable peculiarities of the face'.39 Unfortunately for Lombroso's credibility, his findings have not stood the test of time. Even as he wrote other views were more logical. Bonfield and police colleague Schaak were exposed in a series of articles in the 1889 Chicago Times for exaggerating, if not concocting the Haymarket tragedy to gain promotion and to defuse pressure building up for their dismissal over corruption.40 Schaak had then released a book called Anarchy and Anarchists to drum up business for the Pinkerton Detectives and to justify repression of dissidents. In later years he admitted it was lies in large part.41 In January 1892, the Chicago Herald revealed how police had recently raided a public meeting to delude business people, who had donated $487,000 since May, 1886 to 'wipe out the Reds', that the payments should continue despite a lack of results in terms of people charged or plots discovered. In 1893 a pardon was given to the three anarchists still in jail by the incoming Democrat Governor Altgeld, whose published report referred to the injustice done to those executed:

the jury had been rigged, the jurors were legally incompetent, the judge partial and the evidence insufficient.42

An after-the-event, calm re-appraisal of the threat by one of the status-quo's most militant defenders, Robert Pinkerton, admitted:

The great majority of Anarchists ... are a harmless body of people ... unalterably opposed to all forms of murder and violence.43

Unfortunately the illogical stigma was already strong enough even by 1893 to mean, for example, that Governor Altgeld never again won public office. It has continued to the present day: 'The romantic image of the anarchist bomber ...'44 is just one recent example of a throwaway remark taking the most common of the negative correlations for granted. Clearly this continuity in the face of the facts must result from the way 'history' has been recorded and transmitted.

Divider: anarchist regional flag colours


Divider: anarchist regional flag colours
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