“When, in some obscure country town, the farmers come together to a special town meeting, to express their opinion on some subject which is vexing the land, that, I think, is the true Congress, and the most respectable one that is ever assembled in the United States.”
— Henry David Thoreau, “Slavery in Massachusetts,” 1906 Houghton Mifflin edition printing
What is it that turns a man or a woman in to an Anarchist? When I ask this question, there are many others that I might as well ask. What is it that makes a person a Communist, a Socialist, a Liberal, a Leftist, a Syndicalist, a Freethinker, a Non-Conformist — all words in to one, what is it that makes a man a Progressive? I know the definitions of these terms. I am quite familiar with that part of the question, “what makes a person a progressive?” A person is made a Communist by his ideal of turning all farms, factories, and mines in to public property. Another individual is made an anti-authoritarian by his ideal for a social organization where authority must respect all the rights of the private citizen. Those who call themselves Liberals are supportive of reform measures in the system, such as welfare to alleviate poverty. All of these individuals, all of these little sects, collectives, and groups work to change the world. Respect for the freedom of association, speech, and thought; demilitarization of all western nations; regulations to protect the working class; a fair tax that takes more from the wealthy than from the poor. It is understood by nearly everyone that these are the common ends that these progressive groups organize to achieve.
The essential premise of every group I mentioned was the improvement of mankind by certain changes, reforms, and other alterations of habit and policy. “By following the suggestions we present here, in heart and in mind, following them as a practice and believing in them as a theory, we will create a better condition of civilization,” they all say, “We will support this change. Some will offer our support in finances, others in action, others in their vote, and others still, just in their voice. In effect, we will be creating a new order of social organization and cultural understanding that will alleviate misery and create happiness.” All of our arguments generally seem to be based on philanthropy; we have the same motives as those men and women who want to end suffering and make a utopia out of the existing social order. That is to say, not that class of individual who calls themselves revolutionary, or even reformer, but one who goes by the title philanthropist, humanitarian, or saint to the poor and unwanted. These people who are trying to improve the lot of mankind when they build hospitals, arrange for funds to cure cancer or educate the people, organize community activities, or they work to feed those whose our social order has hurt the most. This is always the case when it comes to the poor, minorities, or other groups that have been disadvantaged by the present situation of society. Today when we look back, at authors like Saint-Simon who argued for a fund be set up for innovation and technology, or promiment figures like Jane Addams who managed a charity house. While we praise these people as the great forefathers of the philanthropy movements, in their time, they were considered revolutionaries, breakers of society’s tides. In their own time, these defenders of science funds and poor houses were considered unorthodox, maybe even un-Christian and anti-social.
The goals of these humanitarians and revolutionaries are the same: to create a society where there is less evil and greater good. What is the difference, then, between the philanthropists and social agitators? The motives of both may essentially both be the same: we want to create a world that is much more desirable. The philanthropists do this through charity work, while the revolutionaries do this through trying to change the system. The first respect the social order and desire not to change it, while the second feels that all of the ills of our present system are caused by the regulations and laws of the people. The call of the charity worker is, “Work together, in order to help those who have been lost.” But the call of the revolutionary soldier is, “Work together, in order that we might overthrow today’s oppressive regime.” We differ from the humanitarians in many marked ways. Most notable of all differences, there is the question of how society respects these two groups. Rarely has the established order ever taken an opposition to charity groups. They don’t seek to change things, but only to alleviate temporary miseries; and they do this as though the suffering they end is not a part of the system’s excess, but in accordance with the idea that the humans of this society are flawed. They believe in the theory that humanity, not the social relationship, needs to be reformed. Either it’s the poor not trying hard enough, or it’s the wealthy not being liberal enough. The theories of charity workers never ceases to impress the imaginations of revolutionaries.
We want to alter the system, change its rules, revolutionize the social organization. The traditions or heritages that the members of human history have carried with them must be abandoned. There is a better word for such “traditions”: prejudices. And they must be left behind, ignored, and not our source of guidance, if we are going to live cooperatively and mutually in order to achieve peace and happiness. In desiring to change social roles, we revolutionaries act as an enormous threat to those who have power. The defenders of Civil Rights acted as a threat to those the white community that had accepted the prejudices of an ancient society. Martin Luther King’s efforts focused on allowing African Americans in any role in society, whether as members of the ruling class, employees of any business, or students of all schools. The advocates of Free Enterprise were an enormous threat to the feudal lords. They wanted all serfs to be freed from what has always seemed to be a perpetual slavery of the poor and downtrodden. The Feminist movement, the anti-Child labor movement, the Socialist movement, the Environmentalist movement — all of these organizations of citizens were brought together so that the social order would be rearranged for the interests of all. We are a threat to the established “way of things,” this rightfully demonized thing called culture. All of the members who benefit from the culture, all of those who hold high positions, or moderately high positions, all of them have an interest in preventing the revolution from achieving its aims. Whether it creates happiness or not, whether it prevents suffering or not, it doesn’t matter. Their argument is and always will be: “We may or may not believe in our way of doing things. That’s not the point at hand. The point at hand is that I can live like a king so long as you live like a slave. If you stop being a slave, I won’t be able to exist in the lavish conditions that give me luxury and comfort.”
Philanthropists and charity workers organize in order to save the system. Their calling to hand is the betterment of mankind. That is the initial instinct that draws together Socialists, Communists, Leftists, Progressives, and Anarchists in their efforts: the betterment of mankind. However, we differ widely at this point in the road with our brothers of good heart. We want to destroy the system, in order so a more effective social organization can take place, where the miseries of mankind are absent and where his freedom is prized above all else. In their efforts, they are met with kindness and felicity. But in our efforts, as revolutionaries and agitators of the government, the coals under the foot of the giant, we are opposed, detested, and persecuted. The Haymarket Riot was caused by police officers shooting and killing unarmed protestors who wanted an eight hour work day. Thousands of Pacifists were arrested by the government for refusing to take up arms against their fellow brethren of European nations in the first world war. Those who burned their draft cards during the Vietnam conflict were likewise arrested. The authors of unpopular essays, pamphlets, and journals have always been oppressed by society or looked upon with suspicion by authorities. Whether they released publications that question sexual morals or supported equal rights, their books have been censored and their publishers have been fined. There is this enormous structure of the privileged classes, doing all that they can, committing all types of crimes, so that they can prevent this change of organization, these revolutionary changes.
The arguments presented by all Conservative theorists and parties are always the same. Whenever presented with a new reform, an alteration of modern society, a change in organization of social order, we always hear the same arguments. We will always hear their primary argument: humanity was not built for this new system. There is no way that the nature of humans could ever allow for a utopian dream. Man is naturally cruel, greedy, and mean-hearted, and it is his baser instincts that should be given free reign in the social order; otherwise, the functionality that we appreciate of today’s economy would completely fail. “It won’t work!” Of course, though, this was the same argument the Conservatives presented to Abolitionists and Women Suffragists. They claimed that, if the slaves were freed, or if women were allowed to vote, that the nuts and bolts of social organization would snap, and we would end up as hunter gatherers again. They also tell us that these new reforms will compromise our integrity. “By giving women the right to vote, it saps the morality out of men,” is the argument. They will make references to god and religion, or just about any obscure, unknown, unseen principle. Since religion has kept men in shackles for hundreds of years, these industrialists feel content that it can still keep them in slavery for the coming years. Whatever the case, the arguments of these Conservatives always fail. Our social organization is a much more effective system than theirs, in theory and in practice. There is no argument that can bypass that simple fact.
It is we, the Anarchists, the Progressives, the Communists, the Socialists, and the others who want to compromise the position of a few top individuals in order to give peace and liberty to the general population. Because of this, we have a second reason to come together and work in cooperation. We call this reason a sense of justice, of right conquering wrong, of good triumphing over evil; we are motivated to work side by side so that we can achieve the greater good. In marches, we stand face-to-face with riot police. In unions, we always must accept the fact of a lockout or losing our jobs. We are rebellious and non-conformist students in the schools and organizers of the people. The fact that we must band together, that we must have a living and breathing solidarity with our brothers and sisters, that we are fighting together against the enemies of goodness and truth, that there are people who are working to oppress us, all of these facts bring us together and make us fight harder. Philanthropists never bring people together to “achieve social justice” or “eliminate the system that has caused so many toxic excesses.” Only revolutionaries come together in order to obstruct the path of the god Moloch, to organize so that our combined strength is enough to outdo the enormous, centralized, regimented forces of the defenders of slavery. That is where this sense of justice always come from. We unite not just as bringers of a new way of life, the prophets of an ideal civilization realized through cooperative effort. We unite as active and powerful changers of the current standing order. We work together not to ask for scraps from our masters, but to demand and take our liberty back from them!
The first act of becoming a revolutionary is in understanding that the current state of society is not the only way social organization can take place. There is a better way for the world exist and there are better policies for men to adopt. Should these progressive policies gain widespread approval, the primary miseries of civilization will be abolished and the excesses and corruption of the spirit will be eliminated. The philosophers will look at this new culture and this new people, and maybe they will call them ideal, but I know the poets will look upon our new world and say it is free. The second step in becoming a revolutionary is accepting and believing the fact that this free world is and always has been possible, but there are privileged individuals of the current system who have mobilized their power against the interests of the people. In order to set up a food bank or housing for the homeless, philanthropists are not hindered by police officers. But in order to destroy the system that causes starvation and homelessness, we are are attacked, harassed, and beaten by the stormtroopers of the present order. They bitterly oppose us, because if we succeed, then they lose their power, and the world loses all forms of slavery and authority. The third and final step of becoming a revolutionary, of becoming the gunpowder to spark an explosion in social relationships, is action. We must act. We must proliferate these ideas, organize unions, protest, march in the streets, publish, distribute, exchange, cooperate, manage, organize, organize, organize. That is the call to the Anarchist of our world.
The only reason that liberty means anything to us is because authority means something to us. If we were ignorant of their tactics of imprisonment, torture, executions, censorship, and deception; if we were totally blind to their methods of oppression, coercion, and violence, then we would not cling to liberty as an all-serving agent of good. It was not until disease came about that physicians stressed prevention methods of spreading germs. It was not until cancer came about that medical professionals became so engrossed in chasing the cure. And it so happens with our cause: the illness Capitalism and government shows with the extraordinary amounts of poverty, unemployment, and misery. It seems to be a perpetual hell on this earth, solely because the heritage and traditions of our forefathers included Capitalism, an idea that would serve as the right hand to exploitation. The one common string that can be found in all of these progressive movements, whether Anarchist, Syndicalist, Libertarian, Liberal, Communist, Socialist, or Marxist, is to overthrow authority where it is harmful towards mankind. Progressivists of human sexuality argue that the state should have no authority over sexual activity; group of individuals can do whatever they want, so long as there is consent. Unionists always organize so that employers do not have as much authority over them. And those proud members of the civil disobedience squad are in opposition to the government’s use of authority in foreign countries, through aggressive militarism and imperialism. We may use all of these titles and names that we’ve applied to ourselves in so many cases. But the goals of these leftist activists is all the same: to eliminate the painful condition of being a slave in obedience to an unjust authority.
As men and women who seek change in society, our primary objective is this: to organize the social forces in a way that justice, peace, and equality genuinely exist. For this reason, we are in the same ranks as social reformers, organizers of charities, pro-bono legal counsel for the poor, distributors of food boxes to low-income families, and those who cook food to give to the homeless. What makes us, the revolutionaries of the world, different from these philanthropists is that we believe the misery of society was created by its organization. In our opinion, poverty is not simply the byproduct of the Capitalist, so much as it is the direct result of Free Enterprise. War, Imperialism, and Colonialism, the exploitation of these foreign countries, is not an indirect result of government, but the chief aim of all organized, hierarchal groups. Racism, bigotry, prejudice, and cultural clashes are not so much caused by differences of heritage, so much as they are caused by lack of a truly free education. We analyze society, and see the very causes of all the suffering that humans are enduring. And, as revolutionaries, it is our goal not to repair the damage done by the system, but to change the system. That is the manifesto of a revolutionary.