Workers’ Republic, 17 September 1898.
Reprinted in Red Banner, No.14.
Transcribed by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
As most of our readers are probably aware the Empress of Austria was assassinated in the streets of Geneva, Switzerland, on Saturday last.
We deeply regret the untimely death of this lady as we would regret the untimely death of any other unoffending woman, but we cannot see any reason for the hysterics into which our daily papers are attempting to work their readers on the subject. A woman has been foully murdered. Stated thus simply the fact would arouse in all thinking men a righteous horror of the deed. But when column is piled upon column, when we are told “humanity stands aghast,” that the crime is “unparalleled,” that the “world is plunged in mourning,” etc., we begin to suspect the presence of more cant than sincerity in all this newspaper grief. When sailors are lost in rotten ships at sea, miners choked in the mine, labourers killed by falling machinery, women and girls poisoned in match works, etc., our friends on the capitalist press do not shed many tears over or devote many columns to the matter. Wherefore we conclude that these newspaper tears are shed for the Empress and not for the woman.
For our part we regard all human life as equally sacred, whether it be the life of an Empress or the life of a charwoman, and we have no desire to emulate our contemporaries in their attempt to magnify the horror of a crime because the victim belonged to the former rank of life rather than the latter. The deed was the deed of a madman, its perpetrator will be punished, in all probability with the utmost severity the law of Switzerland allows. Had we the power we certainly would not lift a finger to save him from or to modify that punishment, whatever it may be, but we can see nothing in the case to justify the outbreak of savagery to which our Dublin daily and evening papers are at present treating their readers. When we find ‘respectable’ newspapers actually regretting that the barbarous tortures of the Middle Ages are no longer possible, indulging in fearful and disgusting recitals of the fiendish cruelties perpetrated in the name of Law upon regicides in the past, and openly wishing they could be revived, we feel that even the fear of being misrepresented would not justify us in keeping silent longer, in longer refraining from uttering a protest against this outburst of ferocity in those who are so fond of posing as guardians of public morals. The old Mosaic law demanded a life for a life, but our newspaper oracles, who at ordinary times are so fond of mouthing their devotion to the new dispensation which replaced the stern justice of the Mosaic code by the more merciful ethics of Christianity, would now surpass that code in the ferocity of their vengeance. A life for a life, it appears, may serve as a basis of justice among ordinary mortals, but the life of a crowned head must be hedged round with greater terrors, or else the masses of desperate and starving people whom society creates in our midst cannot be kept in subjection. Here, then, we find the real reason of the outcry. The governing classes seek through Press, platform, and all other means to impress the public mind with the divinity of their persons, the ‘divinity’ which doth hedge their positions. A hundred working-class women are murdered in the streets of Milan – bayonetted and shot with their starving babes at their breasts ; society grudges a paragraph in its newspapers to chronicle the fact; one Empress is stabbed in the streets of Geneva, and lo! Humanity is Shocked. Yet, perhaps the remorseless hand of history will reverse the procedure: give to that holocaust of the workers a dedicatory chapter as to the martyrs of humanity – and dismiss this murder of an Empress with the curtness of a footnote. As we progress toward a proper recognition of the dignity of humanity we lose the inculcated respect for the tinsel glory of a crown. Democracy is ever merciful and humane. The crime of a Luccessi is in no sense attributable to the revolutionary party in Europe, no more than the Phoenix Park murders were justly attributable to the Nationalist party in Ireland.  The criminal passions which blazed out in Geneva last Saturday are nurtured and blossom only in the dark shadows cast by capitalist society and its financial and hereditary rulers. The present social and political order in Europe breeds such criminals. They are its children. Let them deal with each other.
We, who detest equally the criminal and the social order which creates him, work unceasingly for the coming of the day when an enlightened people by abolishing the latter will render impossible the former.
1. Earlier in the year, workers demonstrating in Milan against food shortages and inflation were brutally attacked by troops.
2. Luigi Luccheni was the actual name of the empress’s killer. In 1882 the colonial Chief Secretary and his deputy were killed in the Phoenix Park by a Fenian splinter group, the Invincibles.
Last updated on 11.8.2003