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After Nestor: The Mother of Violence

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

After surveying a string of possible arsons (by communists, for insurance fraud) and the Haymarket Square bombing, Tucker advises against all violence.

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

Part Seven: Methods


Time Will Tell. 

(published in Liberty on April 14, 1886)

To the fearful charges of crime made in the last issue of Liberty against the “Communistic Anarchists” of New York and vicinity, John Most makes answer in Freiheit. After exhausting his choice vocabulary of epithets upon myself and parties whom he supposes to be behind me, he says that the press have ignored the charges as foolish; that I could not know that such deeds have been done, because I live in Boston; that the two Bohemians referred to by me did not belong to the Bohemian group; that Schwab left the Freiheit, not to separate himself from crime, but out of cowardice and fear of the police; that he (Most) was never informed that such crimes had been perpetrated; that, if he had been, he would have done nothing about it, because he never meddles with private matters that do not concern the party; and that he has not had criminals for lieutenants. I do not see why he did not add one more to his catalogue of lies by saying either that the crimes alleged by me were never committed, or that they were not committed by members of the organizations which I mentioned. Perhaps he was deterred from this by the memory that he has admitted in the presence of a dozen persons the perpetration of the crimes, and attempted to apologize for or excuse the guilty parties.

I do not propose to bandy words with John Most. It has never been my intention to try these charges, or prove them, in these columns. Sooner or later that will be done elsewhere. But I have nothing to retract. On the contrary, I reiterate all my charges as emphatically as before, and declare that I kept far inside of the horrible truth. Those who know me know that I would not make such charges lightly. I came into possession of certain facts, and I used such of them as I chose in what seemed the wisest way. I have done what I could to save the lives and possessions of unoffending people and to save Anarchy from being smirched by association, even in name, with crime and criminals. The poor fools who choose to attribute my course to jealousy, envy, revenge, or any other petty motive whatsoever, may wag their tongues as they will; I wait for Time to do justice to the firebugs, to their friend, John Most, and to their enemy, myself. And I shall not wait in vain.


The Facts Coming to Light. 

(published in Liberty on May 22, 1886)

In a recent editorial, speaking of my accusations against the firebugs, I said: “It has never been my intention to try these charges, or prove them, in these columns. Sooner or later that will be done elsewhere.” That I was not talking at random has since been shown by the appearance of a remarkable article in the New York Sun, of May 3, corroborating the charges in a way that defies all answer. After referring to Liberty’s exposure and Most’s answer thereto, the Sun says:

An attempt to verify Most’s denial discloses a peculiar condition of things in Anarchistic circles here. There is internal dissension and discord, or rather there was, for a considerable number of the hundred or so members of the International Working People’s Association have withdrawn from it. The cause of the secession lies in the facts which led Liberty to make its charges of incendiarism and rascality. These facts, which have been gleaned after considerable difficulty, show that the leading members of the International Working People’s Association have been remarkably unlucky men. Taken in connection with Most’s extraordinary doctrines, the curious fires from which these gentlemen have suffered are interesting. They have all originated in the upsetting, breaking, or exploding of kerosene oil lamps, and have resulted in more or less damage to the property of others than Anarchists, and in the collection of more or less insurance money each time by the persons in whose apartments the fires occurred.

Before taking up these occurrences in detail, it will be interesting to review rapidly various events in the past few years that may tend to throw light upon the German revolutionists of America.

After this historical review, the Sun describes the mechanical devices for carrying on “propaganda by the deed,” according to the instructions laid down by John Most in his pamphlet, Revolutionary War Science, and proceeds as follows:

It is by no means asserted that Mr. Most has himself put into practical use any of his destructive devices, or even that his friends and followers have done so, but certain it is that the idea of “propaganda by deed” was received by several members of the International Working People’s Association with enthusiasm. Earnest and eloquent in seconding and advocating Most’s doctrines were Comrades J. C. Panzenbeck and Joseph Kaiser. These two are frequently mentioned in Freiheit as having partaken in the public discussions of the association, as well as having made set addresses on revolutionary topics. Among the radical Socialists of the city they are known as having extremely “radical” views upon their relation to society. Others who listened with marked attention to the seductive doctrine were Comrades Fritz C. Schaar, Wilhelm Scharff, Carl Heusler, Otto Nicolai, Hermann Wabnitz, Adolph Kramer, and Comrades Nolle, Weber, Kubitsch, and Beck. Some of these, as Schaär and Kubitsch and Beck, are acknowledged as members in Freiheit; the others are well known as frequenters of the meetings now held in Coburger Hall, Stanton street, but formerly in a hall on Bond street, and in various other places where the association met to hear Most’s harangues. Quiet inquiries in various quarters elicited the invariable response that all these men were Most’s associates and members of either the International Working People’s Association or the Social Revolutionary Club.

On the evening of May 14, 1883. Comrade Joseph Kaiser was so unfortunate as to suffer the ravages of a fire in his tenement at 432 East Fourteenth street. The fourth floor of this building was occupied by Adolph Kramer as a dwelling. Kaiser lived on the third floor, where the fire originated, owing, according to the story told to the firemen, to Mrs. Kaiser’s accidentally letting a kerosene lamp fall. The building was damaged to the extent of $250. Mr. Kaiser’s furniture naturally suffered some injury,—$25 worth, say the official records of the Fire Department. The insurance company which took the risk on the property, however, thought differently, and settled with the agitator for $278.68. The amount of the policy was $300, and it is a piece of good fortune that Mr. Kaiser had managed to secure the policy on May 7, a week preceding the calamity.

On November 27 John Charles Panzenbeck was then living at 406 East Sixty-third street. He or some resident of the building told the fireman that a picture fell from its place on the wall and knocked over a kerosene oil lamp. At any rate, the fire resulting from this or some other cause damaged the house to the extent of $1,000, but Caroline Yost, the owner, was amply insured. The contents of Panzenbeck’s suite on the third floor were injured to the amount of several hundred dollars, he said. Some time in the first part of the month he had luckily taken out a policy for $700, and was paid nearly that amount as indemnity. Other tenants in the house lost from $50 to $100 each.

On the 29th of December, 1884, Wilhelm Scharff applied to one of the greatest companies in the city for a policy upon worldly goods contained in the fourth floor tenement of 400 East Fifty-ninth street. His application was successful, and after the lapse of a few days he found himself the holder of a document securing him against loss by fire to the extent of $500. This was peculiarly fortunate; for, in the evening of January 5, 1885, six days after his application, a kerosene lamp upset in his apartments and fire broke out. The damage to the building, owned by John D. Hines, was not over $200. The record maker of the Fire Department thought Scharff’s furniture was not injured over $200 worth, but the insurance company nevertheless were induced to settle for $456.25. An interesting feature of this case was that, when Scharff presented his bill of losses at the headquarters of the company, the day after the fire, his policy had not been registered. The money, however, was paid over.

Some time in this same year Carl Heusler, Social Democrat, established a small fancy-goods store at 137 Ludlow street. The building is a six-story tenement house, and was occupied in all apartments. On the evening of June 5, Mr. and Mrs. Heusler, after shutting up shop, entertained a few friends in the room back of the store. The people were Joseph Kaiser and his wife Mary, who lived at the time at 65 Walton street, Brooklyn; Hermann Wabnitz of 61 East Eleventh street, Carl Baum of 98 Avenue B, and Otto Nicolai, the engineer of St. Charles Hotel. Shortly after nine o’clock a kerosene oil lamp exploded, and besides damaging the property caused severe but not dangerous injuries to the little party. No one else in the building was hurt, though great excitement prevailed, and the fire was soon extinguished. Heusler’s goods were insured, and a collection of upwards of $300 was made from the company. Most of the unfortunate persons present, however, had to pass two or three weeks in the hospital, some going to Bellevue, others to the New York Hospital. Heusler had but recently stocked up his store, and did not resume business after this unfortunate event.

Long before this the International Working People’s Association had suffered several secessions. Certain of the members became suspicious of their comrades and preferred to withdraw from association with them. The seceders are one and all exceedingly reticent on the subject, and it was difficult to obtain information from them. This much, however, is certain: It was frequently asserted among the habitués of saloons where the advanced Socialists are in the habit of congregating that accidents to kerosene lamps were sometimes arranged with great skill; that the comrades were shrewd and successful in their onslaughts on capitalistic society. It was even asserted that the injuries received by the party in Heusler’s back room were due to the premature appearance of the fire fiend, owing to carelessness in handling the materials or ignorance of the teachings of Kriegswissenschaft.

But these are not the only fires that have visited the agitators. On February 1, 1885, Adolph Kramer took possession of a tenement at 157 Ellery street, Brooklyn, in the house owned and in part occupied by Frederick Stuft. At ten o’clock in the evening of February 9 a kerosene oil lamp broke in his apartments, and an interesting conflagration was the result. Stuft’s house was seriously damaged, over $300 worth, he says, and Kramer’s furniture and belongings to an unknown amount. Mr. Kramer was paid $300 by the insurance company. It was not, however, until Kramer had been prosecuted ineffectually on a charge of incendiarism that he collected from the company.

In the autumn of the same year a similar accident happened in the tenement of a house on Clinton avenue, West Hoboken, occupied by Fritz C. Schaär. The house, owned by Mr. William Murphy, was so badly damaged that only the walls remained intact. Mr. Schaär was fortunately insured.

Mr. Murphy, owner, noted the fact that, when he arrived at the scene, the only thing burning was a bed, and that a strong odor of kerosene pervaded the entire building. But the odor may have been caused entirely by the lamp, and the lamp might have been placed accidentally near the bed before it broke.

Another unfortunate Anarchist was Louis Weber, who lived at 84 Avenue A. The lamp exploded in his tenement at 7.53 o’clock in the evening of November 30 last. His furniture was insured for $600.

Not long ago Wilhelm Scharff and Carl Wilmund were arrested for carrying concealed weapons with felonious intent. The circumstances are well known, although Scharff was then travelling under the alias Schliman, and was convicted under that name. He is at the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, and Wilmund was sent to State prison for three and a half years by Recorder Smyth on Monday last. It may be remembered that a letter was found upon Wilmund in which he addressed himself to Most, offering his services in the cause of propaganda by deed.

The flaxen-haired Justus Schwab was approached. The reticence of this reformer is well known, and in this instance he preserved his character.

“I would rather have nothing further to say,” remarked Mr. Schwab to the reporter; “you know how it is yourself?”

“But would you explain upon what grounds you ejected Wilhelm Scharff, alias Schliman, Adolph Kramer, and Joseph Kaiser from your saloon, and forbade their return?”

The muscular German drew himself up to his full height, and exclaimed sharply: “Where did you get those names?”

“From the official records of the Fire Department,” replied the reporter.

The answer apparently failed to satisfy Mr. Schwab. However, he said:

“I turned them out because I had good reason to believe that they were immoral men, and that is reason enough for me.”

An interesting interview was obtained with a young mechanic who is conversant with these affairs. He suggested a way in which such fires as have occurred might have been set, had the occupants so desired.

“They might take a lamp, filled with oil,” he said, “and securely plug up the passage on the side of the burner intended for the escape of gasses. Then, if the lamp be lighted and a candle placed so that the candle flame touches the oil chamber, gases will be quickly generated that, having no means of escape, will soon break the lamp and cause a fire. If the materials are skilfully placed, the breaking lamp will be sure to tip the candle off the table, so that its agency will not be suspected. This method may be made more sure by saturating strips of cloth with benzine and laying them from a point near the lamp to inflammable material elsewhere in the room. Benzine leaves no trace, and its fire-conducting qualities are so powerful that an experiment of this kind is perfectly sure of success. But if the parties at work are careless in handling the benzine, a conflagration may take place prematurely, and somebody will get hurt.”

The article from the Sun, although it does not tell one-half the truth or the worst half, is a collation of names, dates, facts, and figures from official records sufficient to convince every fair-minded person that I told the truth about the scoundrels who are practising the precepts of John Most. They were sifted from an immense mass of material by weeks of tireless investigation pursued under great difficulties, and the writer would have been able to make his exposure much more complete had he not been hampered by the officials of the police and fire departments of New York, whose jealousy and pique at being outdone, and at the incidental revelation of their own stupidity, incompetence, and negligence, know no bounds. The work that he succeeded in doing, however, has thoroughly scared the firebugs, and they will probably discontinue their hellish practices. If not, the first attempt to renew them will be met by prompt and vigorous exposure. The charge made by Freiheit that Moritz Bachmann wrote the Sun article for money is utterly unfounded. It was written by a professional journalist not identified with the Anarchistic movement, and no one but himself received any pay for it or for the facts contained in it. Most’s answer to the Sun is ridiculous and inadequate in the extreme. He says that he does not know whether the statements are true, and that, whether true or not, he does not know who the men mentioned are. Now, the greater number of these men have been mentioned in Freiheit as comrades from ten to fifty times each, and by a singular coincidence, in the very next column to that containing this audacious assertion, Panzenbeck, one of the first of the firebugs, is credited with a certain sum of money among the cash receipts. Most then asks, with characteristic assurance, if it is to be expected that Anarchists’ houses will never take fire, and suggests the advisability of preparing a list of such capitalists’ houses as have been burned. It will be time enough for Most to talk about this when he can find a society of one hundred capitalists even ten of whom (to say nothing of fifteen or twenty) have been so unfortunate as to lose their property by separate fires within a period of three years, and so prudent as in each case to take out an insurance policy somewhere from a week to a year before the occurrence of the calamity. And even then, would the fact that he could fasten such crimes upon the capitalists excuse the Communists for doing likewise?


Liberty and Violence. 

(published in Liberty on May 22, 1886)

The recent bomb-throwing at Chicago opens the whole question of the advisability of armed revolution. The right to resist oppression by violence is beyond doubt; it is only the policy of exercising this right that Anarchists at this juncture have to consider. In Liberty’s view but one thing can justify its exercise on any large scale,—namely, the denial of free thought, free speech, and a free press. Even then its exercise would be unwise unless suppression were enforced so stringently that all other means of throwing it off had become hopeless. Bloodshed in itself is pure loss. When we must have freedom of agitation, and when nothing but bloodshed will secure it, then bloodshed is wise. But it must be remembered that it can never accomplish the Social Revolution proper; that that can never be accomplished except by means of agitation, investigation, experiment, and passive resistance; and that, after all the bloodshed, we shall be exactly where we were before, except in our possession of the power to use these means.

One thing the Chicago bomb-thrower established emphatically,—the superiority of dynamite to the Winchester rifle. No riot has occurred in this country in which so many policemen were killed and wounded at one time as by this single bomb; at least, so I am informed. As a true terrorist, the bomb-thrower made but one mistake,—in choosing a time when a crowd of working people were gathered upon whom the police could wreak their vengeance. If it becomes necessary to vindicate free speech by force, the work will have to consist of a series of acts of individual dynamiters. The days of armed revolution have gone by. It is too easily put down. On this point I may quote an instructive extract from a private letter written to me by Dr. Joseph H. Swain, of San Francisco, a few days before the Chicago troubles broke out:

For two or three weeks we have had labor orators from Oregon, Washington Territory, Colorado, Kansas, etc. They tell us that we are behind. In the places named labor societies are being organized and armed with Winchester rifles, while, as one of the fire-eaters said, we of San Francisco are not prepared to even lift a toothpick in a contest with capital. They claim there are many men already prepared for the coming conflict, and in Denver many women,—I think seventy,—all of whom are expert riflemen. They are urging the Socialists here to do the same. There is a good deal of secrecy. Some time ago it was said that the Knights of Labor Executive Committee ordered the local bodies to cease adding members or to go slow, the reason given being that men were joining before they understood the objects of the order. I think it was because revolutionists were joining. These men say that the Knights in the above States are Socialists. I think the trouble on the Gould line was caused by these revolutionary Knights. Powderly is a good fellow, but doesn’t understand the labor problem. He thinks the Knights could make money running Gould’s railroad. One orator said revolutions started in conservative reform bodies, but soon the radicals took them out of their hands. The Socialists would do the same with this movement of the Knights. He said the Anarchists in Chicago were pretty good fellows. They predict an uprising within a year. I think there is great activity among these advocates of armed resistance. Their statement is that they must be armed to command the respect of the capitalists and to prevent an attack. Like Grant, they will have peace if they have to fight for it,—the peace of Warsaw. Which means, if they are armed, they can seize a railroad, and the owners won’t dare to resist. As one speaker from Kansas said last night, the strikers had a right to prevent others from taking their places, for they had acquired a labor title to the road,—i.e., were owners as well as the capitalists. He did not use the term labor title, but that was the idea. Of course, then, they will justify themselves in seizing the railroad, their property. If a conflict is precipitated it will be a severe blow to Liberty, and the fellows will find what fools they are, or were. They forget that it is brains, skill, long training, knowledge, and natural fitness that win in a contest of arms; that the men so qualified are in the service of capital, and that they will lead other working-men against these undisciplined bodies, so that workingmen will shoot down each other. Fatal error, to think they can intimidate the capitalists, who are mostly men of courage and superior to the masses, and as sincere in their opinions as to their rights to the property they control. Then, the rebels will be in small bodies and unable to concentrate, for the authorities will hold the depots and use trains, if they are run at all, to concentrate troops at given points, which the rebels will be unable to reach. This will afford the capitalists excuse for a strong government, and progress will be retarded. The net gain will be money in the pockets of manufacturers of guns and other war munitions, and a strong government, with loss incalculable to the workers, who will lose some of the liberty they now have, and have to pay the cost of the war. If I could control the men in all these labor organizations, I could, without even lifting a toothpick other than to write with it, in a perfectly quiet way, bring capital to its knees; or, if I thought it just and wise, force proprietors to sell their property at cost, or less. A resort to arms is suicidal to the side that initiates it. Moral force once clearly perceived as a social principle will be found to yield inexhaustible working power to defend natural rights. The simplicity of the thing is so apparent when you once strike a true lead that all brute force would cease. What a glorious chance the Irish had to rid themselves of landlords and politicians! Had the no-rent policy been adhered to one year, the landlords would have been beggared. The price of land would have been discovered to have its only basis in monopoly, seizure, legal title. One such success would have opened the eyes of all civilized men to the weakness of brute force in a contest with moral force, and would have shown the ease with which governments could be rendered powerless. What a fraud and shadow they are, terrible only to childish men! If there were a God, he would never forgive Parnell and the priests for furling the no-rent banner. If we could get but one such illustration of passive resistance on a large scale, Anarchy would be an accomplished fact.

I can add nothing to these wise words, nor can I make plainer their valuable lesson.

Leaving now our consideration of the actual throwing of the bomb, surrounding which, as I said, there is some doubt, let us glance a moment at what has happened since, regarding which there can be no doubt. The conduct during the last fortnight of the police, the courts, the pulpit, and the press, including many of the labor organs themselves, has been shameful in the extreme. Mammon’s priests have foamed at the mouth; the servants of Plutus who sit in editorial chairs have forthed at the point of the pen; the stalwart graduates of the slums who are licensed and paid to swing shillalahs over the heads of unoffending citizens have shrieked for vengeance; and wearers of judicial ermine on which there is room for no new spots have virtually declared their determination to know no bounds of right, mercy, or decency in dealing with any Anarchist who may be brought before them. Spies and Fielden have been arrested and held for murder, though they are not known to have done anything worse than to speak their minds; nearly every one in Chicago who has dared to avow himself an Anarchist has been clapped into jail, and those who reach that haven without a broken head deem themselves peculiarly fortunate; houses have been broken into and searched by wholesale; the Arbeiter Zeitung and the Alarm, and for aught I know, the Budoucnost, have been suppressed without a shadow of natural or legal right; to be a German is to be looked upon with suspicion, and to be a Pole or Bohemian is to be afraid to show one’s head; and it has become exceedingly unsafe for the most respectable of men to stand upon the streets of Chicago and question the superiority of existing social and political systems to the Utopia of Sir Thomas More. Talk about the Communists being madmen! The authorities and their mouthpieces are the real madmen now. One would think that the throwing of this bomb was the first act of violence ever committed under the sun. These lunatics seem to forget that they are the representatives and champions of a standing régime of violence,—a régime which is a perpetual menace levelled at every one who dares to claim his liberty; a régime which ties the hands of laborers while a band of licensed robbers called capitalists picks their pockets. How can they expect aught but violence from their victims? The fact is, there are two ways of inciting the suffering classes to violence: one is that of the so-called revolutionists, who directly advise them to use force; the other, and by far the more dangerous, is that of the so-called friends of order who try to leave them no other hope than force. These two parties, though outwardly opposed, really play into each other’s hands, to the damage of the real revolutionists and the real friends of order, who know that force settles nothing, and that no question is ever settled until it is settled right. Just as truly as Liberty is the mother of order, is the State the mother of violence.

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