ANARCHY by Élisée Reclus

The following text was originally a talk presented in Brussels on June 18, 1894 to the members of “The Philanthropic Friends,” Masonic lodge (“Les Amis Philanthropes”, Lodge No. 5 of the Grand Orient of Belgium*). It was published as “L’Anarchie” in Les Temps nouveaux 18 (May 25-June 1, 1895).

Jacques Élisée Reclus (15 March 1830 – 4 July 1905)

Anarchy is far from being a new theory. The word itself, in its accepted meaning of “the absence of government” and “a society without leaders,” is of ancient origin and was used long before the time of Proudhon.1 Besides, what difference do words make? There were “acratists” before there were anarchists, but the acratists were not given their name — a learned construction — until many generations had passed. In all ages there have been free men, those contemptuous of the law, men living without any master and in accordance with the primordial law of their own existence and their own thought. Even in the earliest ages we find everywhere tribes made up of men managing their own affairs as they wish, without any externally imposed law, having no rule of behaviour other than “their own volition and free will,” as Rabelais expresses it, 2 and impelled by their desire to found a “profound faith” like those “gallant knights” and “charming ladies” who gathered together in the Abbey of Thélème.

But if anarchy is as old as humanity, those who represent it nevertheless bring something new to the world. They have a keen awareness of the goal to be attained, and from all corners of the earth they join together to pursue their ideal of the eradication of every form of government. The dream of worldwide freedom is no longer a purely philosophical or literary utopia, as it was for the creators of the Cities of the Sun and the New Jerusalems.3 It has become a practical goal that is actively pursued by masses of people united in their resolute quest for the birth of a society in which there are no more masters, no more official custodians of public morals, no more jailers, torturers and executioners, no more rich or poor. Instead there will be only brothers who have their share of daily bread, who have equal rights, and who coexist in peace and heartfelt unity that comes not out of obedience to law, which is always accompanied by dreadful threats, but rather from mutual respect for the interest of all, and from the scientific study of natural laws.

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Pierre-Joseph PROUDHON His revolutionary life, mind and works by Edward S. Hyams eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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PROUDHON WAS BORN in the same year, 1809, as Charles Darwin, at about the moment when the reaction against the French Revolution, led by the old imperial monarchies and the British aristocratic oligarchy, began to triumph. That triumph was short-lived but at the time it was clear to only a very few men that Europe was facing a century of revolution.

It was in the half-century following Proudhon’s birth that a number of men of talent and two men of genius, Proudhon and Karl Marx, sought to give form and practical applicability to the social, political and economic philosophy to become known as socialism. Thus Auguste Blanqui, who when not fighting the monarchy and the bourgeoisie, was in prison working out the principles of communist trade unionism and was the father of the French Socialist Party, was only four years Proudhon’s senior; Alexander Herzen, the great publicist of socialism in Russia, was born in 1812, as was Louis Blanc who developed revolutionary socialism out of the idealistic proto-socialism of Saint-Simon. Michael Bakunin, the Russian anarchist and Marx’s most troublesome enemy, was born in 1814; Marx in 1818 when his master, Hegel, was not yet fifty; and Engels in 1820. Lassalle, founder and master of the formidable German Workers’ Party, was born in 1825.

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KILLING NO MURDER A study of assassination as a political means by Edward Hyams eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

‘… it is lawful to call to account a tyrant or wicked King and after due conviction to depose and put him to death… .’ — JOHN MILTON, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates

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First published in 1969, ‘Killing No Murder’ is a provocative and stimulating study dedicated to the memory of the tens of millions of war dead who, since the author’s birth, have sacrificed their lives for the score of leaders who might, at the cost of their own, have saved them. When should we or must we kill a politician? Churchill is said to have refused to sanction the assassination of Hitler—was he right to consider aerial bombing a more acceptable way of dealing with Nazism? If a racist, populist, wilfully ignorant, narcissistic, cynically scapegoating, truth-twisting and irredeemably self-serving and apparently irremovable political leader emerges, paving the way to civil strife, the breakdown of the social fabric, xenophobia, the dictatorship and possibly war — when, if ever, can we appeal to justice and common sense? How useful or ethical is assassination or tyrannicide as an expression of domestic or foreign policy? Edward Hyams here considers two classes: socially or politically motivated assassinations, and assassinations designed to advance or protect the interests of oppressed peoples. By what right do assassins judge, condemn and execute their victims? Is it the same right that legitimises the murder by politicians, air force and drone pilots of innocent civilians along with a randomly and arbitrarily selected adversary? Can a society that condones war morally condemn assassination? The conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq have shown, time and time again, how it is the ordinary man, woman and child, caught in the crossfire of the paranoid fantasies of political leaders, who suffer as a consequence. Would it not be logical and in the widest human interests if assassination could be accepted as a legitimate and highly preferable alternative to war itself ? These questions are central to the conclusions drawn in Edward Hyams’s book.

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Terrorists and Terrorism by Edward Hyams eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

Anarchist novelist, viticulturalist, garden writer, political scientist and historian, Edward Hyams* (1910-1975) argues that despite government and mainstream media homilies to the contrary, sustained political terrorism is often effective and no more nor less morally reprehensible than any other form of warfare. Where is the rationale for the absolute denial of military force to all but those “who happen to be the holders of political power?” Beginning with the the 19th century “theorists” of terrorism— Bakunin, Johann Most, Max Stirner and especially Nechayev, who created for himself the persona that was to become a literary archetype of the revolutionary fanatic (he was the model for Verkhovensky in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed) — Hyams moves on to discuss, more generally, some of the “practitioners” such as the Carbonari, the Serbian “Black Hand,” the Narodnaya Volya and even the Mafia before concentrating his argument on the two most successful terrorist campaigns of modern times — those which established the independent states of Israel and Ireland. In 1918 it was not Lloyd-George’s sympathy with Irish and Welsh nationalist aspirations but the brilliant guerrilla tactics of Michael Collins which forced the British to rethink “the Irish question”. Similarly though the moderates took over the reins of power quickly enough, “it was the terrorists who gave Israel to the Jews.” Hyams concludes that terrorism will be with us so long as there are laws because: it is in law that social injustice is embodied and by law that it is sanctioned. Terrorism thus becomes nothing less than a “cathartic fever” endemic in civilization, which can only be eliminated by “pre-emptive, sustained counter-terrorism” of the leviathan state — which may be infinitely more brutal and oppressive than any band of brigands. A lucid, tough-minded, well-argued and disturbing book.

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* Hyams other works include: Killing No Murder. A study of assasination as a political means; Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: His Revolutionary Life, Mind and Works; The Grapevine in England; A History of Gardens and Gardening; and English Cottage Gardens (in which he describes how between 1760 and 1867 the English ruling class stole seven milion acres of common land, the property and livelihood of the common people of England, which he called a “gigantic crime, by far the grandest larceny in England’s history”.
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In The Struggle for Equality. The History of the Anarchist Red Cross by Boris Yelensky eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

A fascinating first-hand account of the activists of the Anarchist Red Cross (later the Anarchist Black Cross — ABC) in the Russian revolutionary movement from 1905 through 1917, and the subsequent Leninist/Stalinist repression.

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The book contains a tribute to Yelensky from fellow Russian revolutionary M. Beresin: “When I arrived in the United States in 1911, a fugitive from a hard-labor sentence in Siberia, my first thought was to devise some means of extending aid to our comrades who were languishing in Russian prisons. I promptly proceeded to have a noticed inserted in the Russian language newspapers requesting any co-workers in our ideological movement who were located in Philadelphia… to come to a meeting. Among those who attended that gathering was Yelensky. Our first step was the … organization of the “Anarchist Red Cross” … Yelensky is one of the most ardent and dynamic workers in our Movement; he has not for a single moment deviated from his ideological course; He has not allowed himself to become assimilated… by the American Bourgeois spirit. This intransigence of his… was responsible for the fact that in time he became to be recognized as more than a person. He became a veritable `institution’“

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