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After Nestor: The Pittsburgh Forge-Master

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

Reacting to the deadly fiasco at Homestead, Pennsylvania, Tucker renews his alliance with labor in the face of industrialized corporate-capitalism.

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

Part Eight: Miscellaneous


The Lesson of Homestead.

(published in Liberty July 23, 1892)

Regarding methods, one of the truths that has been most steadily inculcated by this journal has been that social questions cannot be settled by force. Recent events have only confirmed this view. But when force comes, it sometimes leads incidentally to the teaching of other lessons than that of its own uselessness and becomes thereby to that extent useful. The appeal to force at Homestead affords a signal example of such incidental beneficence; for it has forced the capitalistic papers of the country, and notably the New York Sun, to take up a bold defence of liberty in order to protect property. Now, all that Anarchism asks is liberty; and when the enemies of liberty can find no way of saving their own interests except by an appeal to liberty, Liberty means to make a note of it and hold them to it.

Listen, therefore, to the New York Sun preaching the gospel of liberty. The passages here quoted are fair samples of its editorial columns for the last fortnight:

If a man has labor to sell, he must find some one with money to buy it, or it is of no more use to him than unused capital is to Mr. Carnegie. If the man does not like the price offered, he can reject it. If the buyer does not like the price asked, he has the same liberty. Neither is obliged to accept the bargain, though both are under the same law which forces men to take what they can get. If the laborer does not want the work longer than he contracted to give it, he can throw it up, and the employer has the same right to dispense with the laborer. The workman can choose his employer, and the employer can choose his workmen. No law can take away that right from either. The workman can refuse to work and the employer to hire. Such is liberty.

There are a good many fools and there are not a few scoundrels in the United States; but, even if the scoundrels could persuade the fools that violence is a friend of the workmen, the great majority of the American people, heartily despising the scoundrels and pitying the fools, would stand up … for the right of every citizen to enjoy his own property and select his own employees; for the right of every citizen to work for whom he chooses, and to belong or not to belong to a labor organization, as he chooses. By whatever folly or violence these rights are attacked, they are invincible while the present idea of civilization lasts.

Truth, every word! Golden truth! Anarchistic truth! But the bearing of this truth, as Cap’n Cuttle would say, lies in the application of it. Applied to the conduct of the Homestead strikers, this principle of equal liberty, of which the Sun’s words are an expression, instead of condemning it as the Sun pretends, palliates and even excuses it; for, before these strikers violated the equal liberty of others, their own right to equality of liberty had been wantonly and continuously violated. But, applied to the conduct of capitalists generally, it condemns it utterly, for the original violation of liberty in this matter is traceable directly to them.

This is no wild assertion, but a sober statement of fact, as I will explain. It is not enough, however true, to say that, if a man has labor to sell, he must find some one with money to buy it; it is necessary to add the much more important truth that, “if a man has labor to sell, he has a right to a free market in which to sell it,—a market in which no one shall be prevented by restrictive laws from honestly obtaining the money to buy it.” If the man with labor to sell has not this free market, then his liberty is violated and his property virtually taken from him. Now, such a market has constantly been denied, not only to the laborers at Homestead, but to the laborers of the entire civilized world. And the men who have denied it are the Andrew Carnegies. Capitalists of whom this Pittsburg forge-master is a typical representative have placed and kept upon the statute-books all sorts of prohibitions and taxes (of which the customs tariff is among the least harmful) designed to limit and effective in limiting the number of bidders for the labor of those who have labor to sell. If there were no tariffs on imported goods; if titles to unoccupied land were not recognized by the State; above all, if the right to issue money were not vested in a monopoly,—bidders for the labor of Carnegie’s employees would become so numerous that the offer would soon equal the laborer’s product. Now, to solemnly tell these men who are thus prevented by law from getting the wages which their labor would command in a free market that they have a right to reject any price that may be offered for their labor is undoubtedly to speak a formal truth, but it is also to utter a rotten commonplace and a cruel impertinence. Rather tell the capitalists that the laborer is entitled to a free market, and that they, in denying it to him, are guilty of criminal invasion. This would be not only a formal truth, but an opportune application of a vital principle.

Perhaps it will be claimed in answer to this that the laborers, being voters, are responsible for any monopolies that exist, and are thereby debarred from pleading them as an excuse for violating the liberty of their employers. This is only true to the extent to which we may consider these laborers as the “fools” persuaded by the capitalists who are the “scoundrels” that “violence (in the form of enforced monopoly) is a friend of the workmen”; which does not make it less unbecoming in the scoundrels to rebuke and punish the fools for any disastrous consequences that may arise out of this appalling combination of scoundrelism and folly.

Conspicuous among the scoundrels who have upheld these monopolies is the editor of the New York Sun. If he tells truth to-day, he tells it as the devil quotes scripture,—to suit his purpose. He will never consent to an application of equal liberty in the interest of labor, for he belongs to the brotherhood of thieves who prey upon labor. If he only would, we Anarchists would meet him with cheerful acquiescence in its fullest application in the interest of capital. Let Carnegie, Dana & Co. first see to it that every law in violation of equal liberty is removed from the statute-books. If, after that, any laborers shall interfere with the rights of their employers or shall use force upon inoffensive “scabs,” or shall attack their employers’ watchmen, whether these be Pinkerton detectives, sheriff’s deputies, or the State militia, I pledge myself that, as an Anarchist and in consequence of my Anarchistic faith, I will be among the first to volunteer as a member of a force to repress these disturbers of order and, if necessary, sweep them from the earth. But while these invasive laws remain, I must view every forcible conflict that arises as the consequence of an original violation of liberty on the part of the employing classes, and, if any sweeping is done, may the laborers hold the broom! Still, while my sympathies thus go with the under dog, I shall never cease to proclaim my conviction that the annihilation of neither party can secure justice, and that the only effective sweeping will be that which clears from the statute-book every restriction of the freedom of the market.


Save Labor from Its Friends.

(published in Liberty on July 30, 1892)

During the conflict now on between capital and labor, seldom a day passes without the shedding of blood. One of the most recent victims is a prominent leader of the forces of capital. The disaster that has befallen him has called out a display of grief on his behalf which, so far as it comes from the camp of labor, seems to me theatrical, and in which I certainly cannot share. Henry C. Frick, like Charles A. Dana, the godfather of his two weeks-old son, is a conspicuous member of the brotherhood of thieves. In joining this nefarious band he took his life in his hands, and he knew it. It is but just to say that he has accepted his fate in the spirit of a bold bandit, without a cry or flinch. His pluck excites my admiration, but his suffering moves me to less pity than I would feel for the most ordinary cur. Why should I pity this man? What have he and I in common? Does he aspire, as I do, to live in a society of mutually helpful equals? On the contrary, it is his determination to live in luxury produced by the toil and suffering of men whose necks are under his heel. He has deliberately chosen to live on terms of hostility with the greater part of the human race. When such a man falls, my tears refuse to flow. I am scarcely sorry that he is suffering; I shall be still less sorry if he dies.

And yet I am very, very sorry that he has been shot.

Who is his assailant? I do not know Alexander Berkman, but I believe that he is a man with whom I have much in common,—much more, at any rate, than with such a man as Frick. It is altogether likely, despite the slanders in the newspapers, as insincere in their abuse as in their grief, that he would like to live on terms of equality with his fellows, doing his share of work for not more than his share of pay. There is little reason to doubt that his attitude toward the human race is one, not of hostility, but of intended helpfulness. And yet, as one member of the human race, I freely confess that I am more desirous of being saved from friends like Berkman, to whom my heart goes out, than from enemies like Frick, from whom my heart withdraws. The worst enemy of the human race is folly, and men like Berkman are its incarnation. It would be comparatively easy to dispose of the Fricks if it were not for the Berkmans. The latter are the hope of the former. The strength of the Fricks rests on violence; now it is to violence that the Berkmans appeal. The peril of the Fricks lies in the spreading of the light; violence is the power of darkness. If the revolution comes by violence and in advance of light, the old struggle will have to be begun anew. The hope of humanity lies in the avoidance of that revolution by force which the Berkmans are trying to precipitate.

No pity for Frick, no praise for Berkman,—such is the attitude of Liberty in the present crisis.


VIII.3 Is Frick a Soldier of Liberty?

(published in Liberty on August 20, 1891)

To the Editor of Liberty:

In vain have I waited to hear from you a word in approval of the efforts of a man who lately has even risked his life in a fierce struggle for liberty. For even though Frick is one of the “Brotherhood of Thieves,” he is now on the side of Liberty. Nor can I see that he is any more responsible for the existence of that “Brotherhood” than those that lead the contention against him. His only crime is that he is successful under present conditions. Of course, being an employer myself, my opinion may possibly be warped; but if Frick, in this particular case at least, has instituted a war against the oppressive monopoly of labor unions, defending liberty and independence, I do not see why Anarchists should condemn him therefor. Let the other side do the same,—i.e., combat the iniquities of the present system by removing obstructions instead of increasing their number. I am sure, if the workmen should insist upon the proper remedy, the inequitable power of capital would be soon be gone. If, however, these men do not understand the source of this power, is it fair to assume that the Fricks do? Is it true that all the workmen are fools, while all the Fricks are knaves? And, on that assumption, how is it possible to help those who resist the only measure that can help them,—i.e., Liberty?

Hugo Bilgram

Philadelphia, August 12, 1892

When the most brilliant of Catholic journalists, Louis Veuillot, was once taunted by the Freethinkers in power because he, a Catholic and an unbeliever in liberty, had complained that the liberties of Catholics were denied, he thus made answer to his critics: “When I am not in power, I demand of you who are in power all possible liberties, because you believe in liberty; when I get into power, you shall have no liberties at all, because I do not believe in liberty.” Veuillot was in religion what Frick is in political economy,—a believer in liberty for himself and his immediate allies, and in slavery for everybody else. Neither the Veuillots nor the Fricks have any use whatever for a society based throughout on equal liberty. Now when a man goes into a struggle in this Napoleonic style and in the course of it gets a knock-down blow, it is going too far to ask an Anarchist, a believer in equal liberty, to sympathize with or approve this would-be despot simply because at a particular moment in his struggle for unequal liberty he happens to defend a liberty which equal liberty recognizes.

But, Mr. Bilgram tells me, these union laborers are also struggling for unequal liberty; why then sympathize with them? True enough; and their claim to sympathy is greatly lessened by their abominable authoritarianism. If it will comfort Mr. Bilgram, I take pleasure in assuring him that, if the time ever comes when these trade-union employees are thoroughly on top with their hands fastened upon their employers’ throats, and when in consequence the employees begin to wax fat and the employers to grow wan and thin, much of my sympathy will be transferred from the employees to the employers. When both parties to a fight are wrong, whatever sympathy is felt goes naturally to the one that suffers most. Apart from this friendly feeling for the under dog, however, there is another consideration which mitigates the offence of the labor authoritarians as compared with that of the capitalist authoritarians. The latter, for the most part in knavery, set up authority as a weapon of aggression; the former, for the most part in ignorance and following the latter’s example, resort to authority originally as a weapon of defence. The difference is considerable.

Mr. Bilgram and I agree almost to a dot as to what constitutes the true solution of the difficulties at Homestead and of nearly all other labor difficulties whatsoever. I agree with him too that, if the workmen knew the remedy, they could apply it very quickly and effectively. But I do not think that the ignorance of the workmen implies a similar and equal ignorance on the part of the employers. For one thing, the employers, as a rule, are men of superior education and intellect. And for another thing, the creators of a scheme of aggression are much less likely to be innocent of evil intent than the victims. To be sure, there are many exceptions, and I have said nothing to the contrary. I am just as certain, for instance, that the employer, Hugo Bilgram, is not a knave as I am that Dana and Frick are knaves. If there were no such exceptions then, as Mr. Bilgram says, the situation would be hopeless. It is on these exceptions that my hope rests. All the employers are not knaves, and all the workmen are not such fools that they cannot acquire wisdom; and because of these two facts I see Light and Liberty ahead.


Shall Strikers be Court-Martialled?

(published in Liberty on August 25, 1883)

Of the multitude of novel and absurd and monstrous suggestions called forth from the newspapers by the telegraphers’ strike, none have equalled in novelty and absurdity and monstrosity the sober proposal of the editor of the New York Nation, that unsentimental being who prides himself on his hard head, that hereafter any and all employees of telegraph companies, railroad companies, and the post-office department who may see fit to strike work without first getting the consent of their employers be treated as are soldiers who desert or decline to obey the commands of their superior officers; in other words (we suppose, though the Nation does not use these other words), that they may be summarily court-martialled and shot. The readers of Liberty not being noted for their credulity, some of them may refuse to believe that a civilized journal, especially one which claims to be of “the highest order” and to represent “the best thought of the country and time,” has been guilty of uttering such a proposition; therefore we print below an extract from a leader which appeared in the Nation of July 19, and defy any one to gather any other practical meaning from it than that which we have stated.

The truth is that a society like ours, and like that of all commercial nations, has become so dependent on the post-office, the railroads, and the telegraph, that they may be said to stand to it in the relation of the nerves to the human body. The loss even for a week of any one of them means partial paralysis. The loss of all three would mean a total deprivation, for a longer or shorter period, of nearly everything which the community most values. It would mean a suspension of business and social relations equal to that caused by a hostile invasion, barring the terror and bloodshed. It is consequently something to which no country will long allow itself to remain exposed. It cannot allow strikes of employees in these great public services, any more than it can allow the corporations themselves to refuse to carry on their business as a means of extracting what they think fair rates of transportation. No Legislature would permit this, and one or two more experiences like the railroad strike will cause every Legislature to take measures against the other. Telegraphers, railroad men, post-office clerks, and policemen fill places in modern society very much like that of soldiers. In fact, they together do for society what soldiers used to do. They enable every man to come and go freely on his lawful occasions, and transact his lawful business without let or hinderance.

During the rebellion, when all of us, except the much-abused “copperheads,” temporarily lost control of our reasoning faculties (we dare say that even the editor of the Nation at that time forgot himself and became sentimental for once), we got very angry with Carlyle for patly [aptly, or suitably] putting the American Iliad in a nutshell and epigrammatically establishing the substantial similarity between the condition of slave labor at the South and that of so-called “free” labor at the North. England’s blunt old sham-hater was answered with much boisterous declamation about “freedom of contract,” and his attention was proudly called to the fact that the laborer of the North could follow his own sweet will, leaving his employer when he saw fit, attaching himself to any other willing to hire him, or, if he preferred, setting up in business for himself and employing others. He was at liberty, it was loudly proclaimed by our abolitionists and free-traders, to work when he pleased, where he pleased, how he pleased, and on what terms he pleased, and no man could say him nay. What are we to think, then, when the chief newspaper exponent of the “freedom of contract” philosophy deliberately sacrifices the only answer that it could make to Carlyle’s indictment by proposing the introduction of a military discipline into industry, which, in assimilating the laborer to the soldier, would make him—what the soldier is—a slave? Think? Simply this,—that the hypocritical thieves and tyrants who for years have been endeavoring to make their victims believe themselves freemen see that the game is nearly up, and that the time is fast approaching when they must take by the horns the bull of outraged industry, which, maddened by the discovery of its hitherto invisible chains, is making frantic efforts to burst them it knows not how. It is a point gained. An enemy in the open field is less formidable than one in ambush. When the capitalists shall be forced to show their true colors, the laborers will then know against whom they are fighting.

Fighting, did we say? Yes. For the laborer in these days is a soldier, though not in the sense in which the Nation meant. His employer is not, as the Nation would have it, his superior officer, but simply a member of an opposing army. The whole industrial and commercial world is in a state of internecine war, in which the prolétaires are massed on one side and the proprietors on the other. This is the fact that justifies strikers in subjecting society to what the Nation calls a “partial paralysis.” It is a war measure. The laborer sees that he does not get his due. He knows that the capitalists have been intrusted by society, through its external representative, the State, with privileges which enable them to control production and distribution; and that, in abuse of these privileges, they have seen to it that the demand for labor should fall far below the supply, and have then taken advantage of the necessities of the laborer and reduced his wages. The laborer and his fellows, therefore, resort to the policy of uniting in such numbers in a refusal to work at the reduced rate that the demand for labor becomes very much greater than the supply, and then they take advantage of the necessities of the capitalists and society to secure a restoration of the old rate of wages, and perhaps an increase upon it. Be the game fair or foul, two can play at it; and those who begin it should not complain when they get the worst of it. If society objects to being “paralyzed,” it can very easily avoid it. All it needs to do is to adopt the advice which Liberty has long been offering it, and withdraw from the monopolists the privileges which it has granted them. Then, as Colonel William B. Greene has shown in his Mutual Banking, as Lysander Spooner has shown in his own works on finance, and as Proudhon has shown in his Organization of Credit, capital will no longer be tied up by syndicates, but will become readily available for investment on easy terms; productive enterprise, taking new impetus, will soon assume enormous proportions; the work to be done will always surpass the number of laborers to do it; and, instead of the employers being able to say to the laborers, as the unsentimental Nation would like to have them, “Take what we offer you, or the troops shall be called out to shoot you down,” the laborers will be able to say to their employers, “If you desire our services, you must give us in return an equivalent of their product,”—terms which the employers will be only too glad to accept. Such is the only solution of the problem of strikes, such the only way to turn the edge of Carlyle’s biting satire.

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