The press has just announced the assassination of King Humbert of Italy, by a man named Gaetano Bresci, said to be an Anarchist. Thereupon the usual howl is set up that Anarchists are public enemies, whose main aim is to spread abroad a gospel of blood and destruction. It is passing strange that crimes by rulers are always condoned, while crimes against rulers are denounced as the height of infamy. The crowned fiend of Germany bids his soldiers to kill without mercy, and take no prisoners; and civilization looks on, with scarcely a mark of disapproval. These are only Chinamen. All through the South, men are hung, shot, tortured, and burned at the stake on the flimsiest pretexts; and the dastardly murderers invariably escape unpunished. These are only negroes. In Pennsylvania, and elsewhere in this free land, unarmed men, marching in peaceful procession on the public highway, are shot down like dogs by the hirelings of capital; and their death remains unavenged. These are only workingmen. But when the bullet or dagger strikes down one solitary man who sits on a throne, a parasite whose hands are red with the blood of his fellow-men, whose coffers are filled with the wealth wrung from the exploited and starving wage-workers, all the world cries out in horror. For he is a king.
A king! What is there in this magic word? What manner of titan is this, whose life so vastly outweighs the lives of thousands of common men? In what is the world richer by his existence? What immense benefits has he conferred on mankind, in return for the treasures showered upon him? Let the history of the world answer. Who dares to deny that men have ten-thousandfold more cause to curse the name of king than to bless it? He is a pampered pet of luxury, who waxes fat at the expense of the toilers. His idleness is made possible by their bowed backs and crushed lives. Countless tears are shed, that he may smile. Millions of men and women must grovel in the dust, that he may indulge to the full his arrogant pride. Thousands of fathers, sons, brothers, lovers, must be torn from the sides of those who love them, and sent across mountains and over seas, to shoot down thousands of men who have done them no wrong, and in their turn be murdered by men who never saw them before – and all that the greed and vanity of the rulers may be appeased.
Does the life of such a one so greatly outweigh the life of a Tchernitcheffsky, an Algernon Sidney, an Arnold of Brescia, a Toussaint l’Ouverture, a John Ball, or any of the long line of heroes and martyrs who have been “butchered to make a” royal “holiday?” How many kings can the history of any nation afford us, who have a deserved renown as benefactors of their race? From William to Victoria, not one philosopher, poet, artist, scientist, or philanthropist has mounted the throne of England. Scarcely any other nation can present a better record, These be thy gods, O monarchy: The average king, queen, or emperor, is an inferior man or woman, both in intellect and in ethical development.
Why, then, the unusual sanctity which envelops the personality of these petty beings? Why is the murder of a parasite a higher crime than the murder of a more useful human being? Shall we never escape from the servile sycophancy of the past? Kings arc common enemies of the human race. Their aims and interests are eternally opposed to those of their fellow-beings. They demand all, and give nothing. The spirit of unqualified, heartless self-seeking is incarnated in the typical monarch. The lives of his fellow-men are of little consequence to him; though his own security, no matter how many suffer for it, assumes exaggerated importance in his eyes. One of the last acts of the Italian ruler was to send out soldiers to exact from outraged China the penalty which must be paid by every yellow, brown or black race that dares to defend itself against Caucasian aggression.
Do I therefore applaud the act of the assassin? By no means. The shedding of human blood, though at times to be justified or excused, is never a fit cause for exultation. Nor is the spirit of revenge an element of the Anarchist philosophy. Our mission is not to incite to violent acts, but to wage an eternal warfare against the crime-producing and misery-breeding conditions of the day. When the down-trod proletarian, filled with a deep sense of the myriad wrongs inflicted on himself, his dear ones and his kind, strikes a blow of vengeance against the representatives of the system which has transformed men into beasts, we do not rejoice – nor condemn. We simply explain. Would you put an end to the assassination of rulers? Then end the conditions which make men miserable; end the wrongs which provoke men to resistance; cease to outrage flesh and blood as human and as sensitive as that of kings.
There were assassins before the Anarchist propaganda was born. Even in our own day, only in a minority of cases has the hand raised against a monarch been that of an Anarchist. Were the name of Anarchy, and the social philosophy which it represents, to be blotted out of human memory, kings would sit no more securely on their thrones. Force begets force; and the oppressors of mankind will never want relentless enemies.
There is no such thing as a “good king.” Such an expression is a manifest contradiction in terms. A good man would hurl the crown from him as an emblem of the foulest degradation. He would scorn to trample on the necks of his fellow-men, or to inhale the incense of a polluted sycophancy. His first act of State would be to abdicate in favor of the people. The desire to rule over others is itself the strongest mark of a corrupted nature.
The task of the Anarchist is to preach freedom. Pointing out, as no social theorist has done before him, the cause of human ills, he indicates at the same time their remedy . It is not the individual who must be destroyed; but the principle of authority must be exterminated root and branch, before the day of liberty can dawn on the human race. Rulers fear him, because he strikes, not at their personality, but at their prerogatives. They hate him, because he tells the truth, and exposes the plots by which the rights of the people are betrayed. They persecute him with fire and sword, and deny him the right of peacefully propagating his ideas, because in his teachings is wrapped up the downfall of the whole scheme of robbery and injustice, on which foundations their thrones are raised. Nearly every Anarchist of prominence in the world has at some time or other been the victim of malignant persecution. Imprisonment, torture, exile, death, have been the penalties paid for devotion to humanity. Is it a marvel that here and there one of the wronged ones strikes back? If the victim becomes the avenger, what else should be expected? It may not be the height of human wisdom; but it is in strict accordance with human nature.
The Anarchist movement cannot be crushed by persecution. Cruelty is the mother of terrorism. While there are kings, there will be king-haters and king-slayers. The only complete cure is to cease from exploiting the people. If the rulers will not do this, they will best promote their personal safety by securing the widest measure of free speech for representatives of every school of thought. In an open forum, the truth may best be discerned. Anarchists are confident of the correctness of their principles, and will not shrink from hardships or even martyrdom, in behalf of their cause. Prove that they are wrong; and they will abandon their efforts. But to the argument of force they will never yield.
Mourn, rulers of the earth; mourn, hypocrites of a subsidized press; mourn, deluded peoples; mourn for one man, struck down by the bullet of one of the people of his misgoverned land. We too mourn; we mourn for the helpless women and children, the prey of the spoiler in every land where commercialism plunges its cruel fangs into human flesh; we mourn for strong men, driven to despair by the stern pressure of economic want: we mourn for the robbed and exploited toilers of every land, stripped of the wealth they, and they only, have produced; we mourn for a warped and degraded human nature, for starvation, poverty, madness and crime; we mourn for the lands ravaged by devastating wars, and the thousands of innocent lives wrecked and ruined, to feed the passions and pride of rulers; we mourn the folly and ignorance which makes this earth a constant theatre of strife and hatred. The death of one ruler helps little, hinders little. It is but an indication of a rising spirit, not to be tamed by the prison or the gallows. Had we our will, no individual should perish; but the systems of greed and injustice, the governments founded in fraud and maintained by force, the institutions which crush the life out of men and women, should vanish with the spectres of the past. While the wrongs continue, victims will be claimed, now on one side, now on the other. If violent deeds are committed, the honest thinker will trace the effects to their true causes. The blame is not ours, who point the way to a higher ideal, and seek to develop independence and self-reliance in men and women. On the day when aggression ceases, assassination will become a thing unknown. In the light of each new tragedy, be it a king who falls, or a workingman or woman over whom the Juggernaut car of uncivilized civilization passes, we see ever more clearly the need of the race for a life in which there shall be neither ruler nor ruled, but a world of brothers and sisters, freely co-operating together under the banner of liberty.
By James F Morton, Jr.
From: Free Society Library no. 6, September 1900. A. Isaak, Publisher, San Francisco.