This is part of a series
After Nestor: Making Anarchy Happen
From withdrawing every sort of tax revenue to trans-Atlantic reform associations, Tucker argues that ‘passive resistance’ can kill the state.
Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One
Part Seven: Methods
The Power of Passive Resistance.
(published in Liberty on October 4, 1884)
“Edgeworth” makes appeal to me through Lucifer to know how I propose to “starve out Uncle Sam.” Light on this subject he would rather have than “roast beef and plum pudding for dinner in sæculâ sæculorum.” It puzzles him to know whether by the clause resistance to taxation on the sphynx head of Liberty on God and the State I mean that “true Anarchists should advertise their principles by allowing property to be seized by the sheriff and sold at auction, in order by such personal sacrifices to become known to each other as men and women of a common faith, true to that faith in the teeth of their interests and trustworthy for combined action.” If I do mean this, he ventures to “doubt the policy of a test which depletes, not that enormous vampire, Uncle Sam, but our own little purses, so needful for our propaganda of ideas, several times a year, distrainment by the sheriff being in many parts of the country practically equivalent to tenfold taxes.” If, on the other hand, I have in view a minority capable of “successfully withdrawing the supplies from Uncle Sam’s treasury,” he would like to inquire “how any minority, however respectable in numbers and intelligence, is to withstand the sheriff backed by the army, and to withhold tribute to the State.”
Fair and pertinent questions these, which I take pleasure in answering. In the first place, then, the policy to be pursued by individual and isolated Anarchists is dependent upon circumstances. I, no more than “Edgeworth,” believe in any foolish waste of needed material. It is not wise warfare to throw your ammunition to the enemy unless you throw it from the cannon’s mouth. But if you can compel the enemy to waste his ammunition by drawing his fire on some thoroughly protected spot; if you can, by annoying and goading and harassing him in all possible ways, drive him to the last resort of stripping bare his tyrannous and invasive purposes and put him in the attitude of a designing villain assailing honest men for purposes of plunder,—there is no better strategy. Let no Anarchist, then, place his property within reach of the sheriff’s clutch. But some year, when he feels exceptionally strong and independent, when his conduct can impair no serious personal obligations, when on the whole he would a little rather go to jail than not, and when his property is in such shape that he can successfully conceal it, let him declare to the assessor property of a certain value, and then defy the collector to collect. Or, if he have no property, let him decline to pay his poll tax. The State will then be put to its trumps. Of two things one,—either it will let him alone, and then he will tell his neighbors all about it, resulting the next year in an alarming disposition on their part to keep their own money in their own pockets; or else it will imprison him, and then by the requisite legal processes he will demand and secure all the rights of a civil prisoner and live thus a decently comfortable life until the State shall get tired of supporting him and the increasing number of persons who will follow his example. Unless, indeed, the State, in desperation, shall see fit to make its laws regarding imprisonment for taxes more rigorous, and then, if our Anarchist be a determined man, we shall find out how far a republican government, “deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed,” is ready to go to procure that “consent,”—whether it will stop at solitary confinement in a dark cell or join with the Czar of Russia in administering torture by electricity. The farther it shall go the better it will be for Anarchy, as every student of the history of reform well knows. Who can estimate the power for propagandism of a few cases of this kind, backed by a well-organized force of agitators without the prison walls? So much, then, for individual resistance.
But, if individuals can do much, what shall be said of the enormous and utterly irresistible power of a large and intelligent minority, comprising say one-fifth of the population in any given locality? I conceive that on this point I need do no more than call “Edgeworth’s” attention to the wonderfully instructive history of the Land League movement in Ireland, the most potent and instantly effective revolutionary force the world has ever known so long as it stood by its original policy of “Pay No Rent,” and which lost nearly all its strength the day it abandoned that policy. “Oh, but it did abandon it?” “Edgeworth” will exclaim. Yes, but why? Because there the peasantry, instead of being an intelligent minority following the lead of principles, were an ignorant, though enthusiastic and earnest, body of men following blindly the lead of unscrupulous politicians like Parnell, who really wanted anything but the abolition of rent, but were willing to temporarily exploit any sentiment or policy that would float them into power and influence. But it was pursued far enough to show that the British government was utterly powerless before it; and it is scarcely too much to say, in my opinion, that, had it been persisted in, there would not to-day be a landlord in Ireland. It is easier to resist taxes in this country than it is to resist rent in Ireland; and such a policy would be as much more potent here than there as the intelligence of the people is greater, providing always that you can enlist in it a sufficient number of earnest and determined men and women. If one-fifth of the people were to resist taxation, it would cost more to collect their taxes, or try to collect them, than the other four-fifths would consent to pay into the treasury. The force needed for this bloodless fight Liberty is slowly but surely recruiting, and sooner or later it will organize for action. Then, Tyranny and Monopoly, down goes your house!
“Passive resistance,” said Ferdinand Lassallel, with an obtuseness thoroughly German, “is the resistance which does not resist.” Never was there a greater mistake. It is the only resistance which in these days of military discipline resists with any result. There is not a tyrant in the civilized world to-day who would not do anything in his power to precipitate a bloody revolution rather than see himself confronted by any large fraction of his subjects determined not to obey. An insurrection is easily quelled; but no army is willing or able to train its guns on inoffensive people who do not even gather in the streets but stay at home and stand back on their rights. Neither the ballot nor the bayonet is to play any great part in the coming struggle; passive resistance and, in emergencies, the dynamite bomb in the hands of isolated individuals are the instruments by which the revolutionary force is destined to secure in the last great conflict the people’s rights forever.1
The Irish Situation in 1881.
(published in Liberty on October 29, 1881)
Ireland’s chief danger: the liability of her people—besotted with superstition; trampled on by tyranny; ground into the dust beneath the weight of two despotisms, one religious, the other political; victims, on the one hand, of as cruel a Church and, on the other, of as heartless a State as have ever blackened with ignorance or reddened with blood the records of civilized nations—to forget the wise advice of their cooler leaders, give full vent to the passions which their oppressors are aiming to foment, and rush headlong and blindly into riotous and ruinous revolution.
Ireland’s true order: the wonderful Land League, the nearest approach, on a large scale, to perfect Anarchistic organization that the world has yet seen. An immense number of local groups, scattered over large sections of two continents separated by three thousand miles of ocean; each group autonomous, each free; each composed of varying numbers of individuals of all ages, sexes, races, equally autonomous and free; each inspired by a common, central purpose; each supported entirely by voluntary contributions; each obeying its own judgment; each guided in the formation of its judgment and the choice of its conduct by the advice of a central council of picked men, having no power to enforce its orders except that inherent in the convincing logic of the reasons on which the orders are based; all coördinated and federated, with a minimum of machinery and without sacrifice of spontaneity, into a vast working unit, whose unparalleled power makes tyrants tremble and armies of no avail.
Ireland’s shortest road to success: no payment of rent now or hereafter; no payment of compulsory taxes now or hereafter; utter disregard of the British parliament and its so-called laws; entire abstention from the polls henceforth; rigorous but non-invasive “boycotting” of deserters, cowards, traitors, and oppressors; vigorous, intelligent, fearless prosecution of the land agitation by voice and pen; passive but stubborn resistance to every offensive act of police or military; and, above all, universal readiness to go to prison, and promptness in filling the places made vacant by those who may be sent to prison. Open revolution, terrorism, and the policy above outlined, which is Liberty, are the three courses from which Ireland now must choose one. Open revolution on the battle-field means sure defeat and another century of misery and oppression; terrorism, though preferable to revolution, means years of demoralizing intrigue, bloody plot, base passion, and terrible revenges,—in short, all the horrors of a long-continued national vendetta, with a doubtful issue at the end; Liberty means certain, unhalting, and comparatively bloodless victory, the dawn of the sun of justice, and perpetual peace and prosperity for a hitherto blighted land.
The Method of Anarchy.
(published in Liberty on June 18, 1887)
To the editor of the San Francisco People Anarchism is evidently a new and puzzling doctrine. It having been propounded by an Anarchist from a public platform in that city that Anarchism must come about by peaceful methods and that physical force is never justifiable except in self-defence, the People declares that, except physical force, it can see but two methods of settling the labor question: one the voluntary surrender of privileges by the privileged class, which it thinks ridiculous, and the other the ballot, which it rightly describes as another form of force. Therefore the People, supposing itself forced to choose between persuasion, the ballot, and direct physical force, selects the last. If I were forced to the alternative of leaving a question unsettled or attempting one of three ineffectual means of settling it, I think I should leave it unsettled. It would seem the wiser course to accept the situation. But the situation is not so hopeless. There is a fourth method of settling the difficulty, of which the People seems never to have heard,—the method of passive resistance, the most potent weapon ever wielded by man against oppression. Power feeds on its spoils, and dies when its victims refuse to be despoiled. They can’t persuade it to death; they can’t vote it to death; they can’t shoot it to death; but they can always starve it to death. When a determined body of people, sufficiently strong in numbers and force of character to command respect and make it unsafe to imprison them, shall agree to quietly close their doors in the faces of the tax-collector and the rent-collector, and shall, by issuing their own money in defiance of legal prohibition, at the same time cease paying tribute to the money-lord, government, with all the privileges which it grants and the monopolies which it sustains, will go by the board. Does the People think this impracticable? I call its attention, then, to the vast work that was done six years ago in Ireland by the old Irish Land League, in defiance of perhaps the most powerful government on earth, simply by shutting the door in the face of the rent-collector alone. Within a few short months from the inauguration of the “No-Rent” policy landlordry found itself upon the verge of dissolution. It was at its wits’ end. Confronted by this intangible power, it knew not what to do. It wanted nothing so much as to madden the stubborn peasantry into becoming an actively belligerent mob which could be mowed down with Gatling guns. But, barring a paltry outbreak here and there, it was impossible to goad the farmers out of their quiescence, and the grip of the landlords grew weaker every day.
“Ah! but the movement failed,” I can hear the People reply. Yes, it did fail; and why? Because the peasants were acting, not intelligently in obedience to their wisdom, but blindly in obedience to leaders who betrayed them at the critical moment. Thrown into jail by the government, these leaders, to secure their release, withdrew the No-Rent Manifesto, which they had issued in the first place not with any intention of freeing the peasants from the burden of an “immoral tax,” but simply to make them the tools of their political advancement. Had the people realized the power they were exercising and understood the economic situation, they would not have resumed the payment of rent at Parnell’s bidding, and to-day they might have been free. The Anarchists do not propose to repeat their mistake. That is why they are devoting themselves entirely to the inculcation of principles, especially of economic principles. In steadfastly pursuing this course regardless of clamor, they alone are laying a sure foundation for the success of the revolution, though to the People of San Francisco, and to all people who are in such a devil of a hurry that they can’t stop to think, they seem to be doing nothing at all.
A Seed Planted.
(published in Liberty on May 26, 1888)
Time: Thursday, May 17, 7.30 P.M.
Place: Residence of the editor of Liberty, 10 Garfield Ave., Crescent Beach, Revere (a town in the suburbs of Boston).
Dramatis Personæ: Charles F. Fenno, so-called tax-collector of Revere, and the editor of Liberty.
In answer to a knock the editor of Liberty opens his front door, and is accosted by a man whom he never met before, but who proves to be Fenno.
Fenno.—“Does Mr. Tucker live here?”
Editor of Liberty.—“That’s my name, sir.”
F.—“I came about a poll-tax.”
Editor of Liberty.—“Well?”
F.—“Well, I came to collect it.”
E. of L.—“Do I owe you anything?”
F.—“Well, no; but you were living here on the first of May last year, and the town taxed you one dollar.”
E. of L.—“Oh! it isn’t a matter of agreement, then?”
F.—“No, it’s a matter of compulsion.”
E. of L.—“But isn’t that rather a mild word for it? I call it robbery.”
F.—“Oh, well, you know the law; it says that all persons twenty years of age and upwards who are living in a town on the first day of May—“
E. of L.—“Yes, I know what the law says, but the law is the greatest of all robbers.”
F.—“That may be. Anyhow, I want the money.”
E. of L. (taking a dollar from his pocket and handing it to Fenno)—“Very well. I know you are stronger than I am, because you have a lot of other robbers at your back, and that you will be able to take this dollar from me if I refuse to hand it to you. If I did not know that you are stronger than I am, I should throw you down the steps. But because I know that you are stronger, I hand you the dollar just as I would hand it to any other highwayman. You have no more right to take it, however, than to enter the house and take everything else you can lay your hands on, and I don’t see why you don’t do so.”
F.—“Have you your tax-bill with you?”
E. of L.—“I never take a receipt for money that is stolen from me.”
F.—“Oh, that’s it?”
E. of L.—“Yes, that’s it.”
And the door closed in Fenno’s face.
He seemed a harmless and inoffensive individual, entirely ignorant of the outrageous nature of his conduct, and he is wondering yet, I presume, if not consulting with his fellow-citizens, upon what manner of crank it is that lives at No. 10 Garfield Ave., and whether it would not be the part of wisdom to lodge him straightway in a lunatic asylum.
The “Home Guard” Heard From.
(published in Liberty on June 23, 1888)
The last issue of the Workmen’s Advocate contains the following communication:
To the Workmen’s Advocate:
Oh! what a feeling of rapture came over me as I began reading the dialogue between Tucker and Fenno in the last number of Liberty. (Ego Tucker needs no introduction; Fenno is the fiend who came to collect the poll-tax.) My thoughts went back to another age and to distant clime. I thought of John Hampden refusing to pay the ship-tax. I had often asked myself, who will be the leader in this, the struggle of the fourth estate? Where is the man who will dare resist oppression? I thought I was answered. Here! here was the man who would risk all for Liberty! And although she slew him, still would he trust in her!
But softly; as I read further, he takes the big iron dollar from his pocket and gives it to the minion.
Oh, ignominy! Instead of refusing to pay, he indulges in a little billingsgate,—a favorite pastime with him. He pays, and all is over. Our idol is but clay, and we must seek another leader. Is this what Ego Anarchists call “passive resistance?” If it is, it is certainly passive.
H. J. French
Denver, June 5.
When I published the poll-tax interview, I foresaw that it would call out some such rubbish as the above from my Socialistic critics. The fact that timely retreat often saves from defeat seldom saves the retreating soldier from the abuse of the “home guard.” The “stay-at-homes” are great worshippers of glory, but are always willing to let others win it. To the man of peace the man who runs is never a hero, although the true soldier may know him for the bravest of the brave. After reading such a criticism as Mr. French’s, well may one exclaim with Wilfrid Scawen Blunt: “What men call courage is the least noble thing of which they boast.” To my mind there is no such depth of poltroonery as that of the man who does not dare to run. For he has not the real courage to obey his own judgment against that “spook,” public opinion, above which his mind is not sufficiently emancipated to rise in scorn. Placed in a situation where, from the choice of one or the other horn of a dilemma, it must follow either that fools will think a man a coward or that wise men will think him a fool, I can conceive of no possible ground for hesitancy in the selection. I know my circumstances better than Mr. French can know them, and I do not permit him to be my judge. When I want glory, I know how to get it. But I am not working for glory. Like the base-ball player who sacrifices his individual record to the success of his club, I am “playing for my team,”—that is, I am working for my cause. And I know that, on the whole, it was better for my cause that I should pay my tax this year than that I should refuse to pay it. Is this passive resistance? asks Mr. French. No; it is simply a protest for the purpose of propagandism. Passive resistants, no less than active resistants, have the right to choose when to resist.
Far be it from me to depreciate the services of the Hampdens and the martyrs reverenced by mankind. There are times when the course that such men follow is the best policy, and then their conduct is of the noblest. But there are times also when it is sheer lunacy, and then their conduct is not for sane men to admire. Did Mr. French ever hear of the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava? And does he remember the comment of a military man who witnessed that memorable, that splendid, that insane exploit, fruitful in nothing save the slaughter of half a thousand men: “It is magnificent, but it is not war.” The editor of Liberty is engaged in war.
(published in Liberty on July 26, 1884)
An excellently written article by E. C. Walker sets forth considerations in favor of isolated communities for reformatory purposes which are forcible and weighty, especially that of preventing, by the avoidance of social ostracism, the constant and serious drain upon the radical forces. Nevertheless, Réclus is right, all things considered. It is just because Mr. Walker’s earnest desire for a fair practical test of Anarchistic principles cannot be fulfilled elsewhere than in the very heart of existing industrial and social life that all these community attempts are unwise. Reform communities will either be recruited from the salt of the earth, and then their success will not be taken as conclusive, because it will be said that their principles are applicable only among men and women well-nigh perfect; or, with these elect, will be a large admixture of semi-lunatics among whom, when separated from the great mass of mankind and concentrated by themselves, society will be unendurable, practical work impossible, and Anarchy as chaotic as it is generally supposed to be. But in some large city fairly representative of the varied interests and characteristics of our heterogeneous civilization let a sufficiently large number of earnest and intelligent Anarchists, engaged in nearly all the different trades and professions, combine to carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle and to start a bank through which they can obtain a non-interest-bearing currency for the conduct of their commerce and dispose their steadily accumulating capital in new enterprises, the advantages of this system of affairs being open to all who should choose to offer their patronage,—what would be the result? Why, soon the whole composite population, wise and unwise, good, bad, and indifferent, would become interested in what was going on under their very eyes, more and more of them would actually take part in it, and in a few years, each man reaping the fruit of his labor and no man able to live in idleness on an income from capital, the whole city would become a great hive of Anarchistic workers, prosperous and free individuals. It is such results as this that I look forward to, and it is for the accomplishment of such that I work. Social landscape gardening can come later if it will. It has no interest for me now. I care nothing for any reform that cannot be effected right here in Boston among the every-day people whom I meet upon the streets.