Henry Mayers Hyndman

The Record of an Adventurous Life

Chapter XV
Start of Social Democracy

During the opening months of 1881 several more or less important gatherings were held with a view to establishing a really democratic party in opposition to the monstrous tyranny of Mr. Gladstone and his Whigs in Ireland and their equally abominable policy in Egypt, with the object also of bringing about democratic changes in England. Among those who took part in these preliminary meetings were Mr. Joseph Cowen, then member for Newcastle and quite at his best as an orator, both in and out of the House of Commons; Professor Beesly, the well-known Positivist who took the chair at the first public meeting of the “International” in 1864; Helen Taylor, the stepdaughter of John Stuart Mill; Herbert Burrows, Morrison Davidson, Butler Johnstone, for fifteen years the Tory member for Canterbury and a strong philo-Turk; the two brothers James and Charles Murray, old Chartists, intimate friends of Bronterre O’Brien, and like him Catholics; Morgan and Townsend and Oliver, also old Chartists; Dr. G.B. Clark, an active Radical and free-thinker, afterwards member for Caithness; Justin M’Carthy, the Irish M.P. and popular historian and writer; John Williams, the famous proletarian agitator and leader of the unemployed; James Macdonald, Joseph Lane, Garcia, and many more. I was the main mover in calling these meetings together, but with the exception of Butler-Johnstone, Justin M’Carthy and Joseph Cowen I scarcely knew any of those present.

At the principal meeting at the Westminster Palace Hotel, which I myself called, I leant over to Herbert Burrows and asked him his name, while even sturdy Jack Williams I was only recently acquainted with; though he had come up to Devonshire Street to talk to me and I had seen him at the old revolutionary club in Rose Street. Of course, with so many different sections involved, it was impossible at first to agree upon much beyond a thorough-going political programme, and I very much doubt whether any of those present, except myself, Jack Williams and perhaps Butler-Johnstone, had the least idea that it was intended to lead up to the formation of a Socialist party in Great Britain. This, too, although already lectures were being delivered in the Radical Clubs on The Curse of Capital and similar subjects by myself and one or two more.

There was certainly no general feeling in this direction, and it was not considered of the slightest importance that even so revered a person as Mr. John Stuart Mill was among the advanced Radicals at the close of his life had declared almost without reserve in favour of Socialism. I felt that a blow ought to be struck, but how or when to strike it I scarcely knew. We had gradually gathered around us enough of the Radical Clubs and Irish committees of the metropolis to call a Conference of all in sympathy with our programme. The decision to call this Conference was arrived at, I think, at the end of April or the beginning of May 1881. I still felt greatly puzzled as to what I ought to do, especially as it was arranged that I should take the chair.

After talking the whole matter over carefully with my wife, I came to the conclusion that I ought to take a plunge myself and that, as Tory Democracy was beginning to make way and Liberalism had given itself over to Coercion and Aggression, I ought to formulate a definite policy for the whole Empire, giving at the same time full expression to those ideas of the Socialists which the new organisation intended to advocate. I told nobody of my intention, but I set to work at once to write my little book England for All, which contained a longer exposition of the summary of my views that I had tumbled out on Lord Beaconsfield and was the first Socialist work that appeared up to 1881 in English. I do not pretend for a moment that this booklet covered the whole of the ground by any means; but, in the main, the policy therein sketched out for Home, Colonial, Irish, Indian and Foreign Affairs holds the field to-day; though very unfortunately, as I think, our governing classes, instead of taking the lead in carrying it out, as they might and should have done, have put every possible obstacle in the way of progress in every direction. What I hoped to see was an England that, having reorganised herself at home and abandoned mere dominant imperialism abroad, was able to come to the front, with its free federated communities, as the champion of national freedom, democracy and Socialism, in Europe and all over the world. What I longed to realise then seems scarcely attainable even now. Here nevertheless is my dream of that day, the concluding passage of my England for All:–

“Thus in every direction the policy of the democracy is clear and well defined. Freedom, social reorganisation, thorough unity at home, justice, self-government, and consideration for our colonies and dependencies, and a warm friendship and ready assistance for the oppressed peoples abroad, – such is the work we are called upon to begin and carry out. Democracy, which the so called ’governing – classes’ jeer at as anarchy, incapacity, and self-seeking, means a close confederation, first, of our own people, and next, of the workers of the civilised world. This is a policy not of to-day or of to-morrow, now to be taken up and again to be laid aside: it is an undertaking in which each can continuously bear his share, and hand on the certainty of success to his fellow.

“The current of events will help on the cause of the people. Within the past generation greater changes have been wrought than in centuries of human existence before. For the first time in the history of mankind the whole earth is at our feet. Railways, telegraphs, steam communication, have but just begun to exercise an influence. Education and intercourse are breaking down the barriers of ages. The men who do the work of the world are learning from one another how it is that the poor and the miserable, the unfortunate and the weak, suffer and fall by the wayside. In our own country, which has led the way to the new stage of social development, all can see that the lot of the many is sad, whilst the few are rich and luxurious far beyond what is beneficial even to them. Our action in redress of these inequalities and the better ordering of our affairs will guide and encourage the world. We, perhaps, alone among the peoples can carry out with peace, order, and contentment, those changes which continental revolutionists have sought through anarchy and bloodshed. Religion, which should have helped in this striving for a happier period, has suffered the rich and powerful to twist its teachings to their own account. Now, therefore, is the time, in the face of difficulties and dangers which threaten from many quarters, for Englishmen of all classes, creeds, and conditions, to push aside the petty bickerings of faction or the degrading influence of mere selfish interests, to the end that by sympathy and fellow-feeling for their own and for others they may hold up a nobler ideal to mankind. Such an ideal is not unreal or impracticable. Not as yet of course can we hope to realise more than a portion of that for which we strive. But if only we are true to one another, and stand together in the fight, the brightness of the future is ours—the day before us and the night behind. So, when those who come after look back to these islands as we now look back to Athens or Palestine they shall say: This was glory – this true domination: these men builded on eternal foundations their might, majesty, dominion, and power.”

Well, this work with its clear Socialist tendencies and proposals I had nicely printed and bound, and presented it to every delegate who attended our First Conference, as we now reckon it, held on June 8, 1881. The Conference itself went off well enough, was indeed a distinct success; though my friend, Dr. Clark, in his eagerness to overturn the Monarchy, insisted upon having a pronouncement in favour of Republicanism, which I ruled out of order, with the result that there were, as the French say, “movements in various senses.” But that Conference was the public commencement of a really great movement, and that the organisation then set on foot was started on the right lines is clear from the fact that it has lasted continuously from that day to this as by far the most active and initiative Socialist body in the United Kingdom, and has indeed continued in existence for a much longer time than any organisation of and for the people ever established in this island. But England for All, the “Text-Book of Democracy,” the exposition of the policy of the new party as I called it on its neat blue cover, was scarcely so successful at the moment. On the contrary, its publication led to the withdrawal of several prominent friends who saw clearly enough that the collectivist and Socialist doctrines which were therein expounded must lead in the long run to the final break-down of capitalist individualism. So they went their way, though some of them came back in after years.

Unfortunately, however, England for All did worse than this so far as I was personally concerned. It led to the breach with Marx to which I refer below. Engels induced him to believe that I was a very ambitious person who was about to use the organisation I had set on foot to my own advantage, and that I had plagiarised some of Marx’s ideas to aid me in my nefarious projects. How funny this reads to-day.

But Marx took it all as truth, and, from that date onwards, for years, first Marx, until shortly before his death when a reconciliation took place, and then Engels, persistently vilified and traduced me in their conversations and correspondence as a self-seeking, unscrupulous person of whom all good Socialists should beware. The Letters to Sorge overflow with this balderdash and with silly misrepresentations and denunciations of the only Socialist organisation in Great Britain. I was, indeed, a sort of “King Charles’ Head” to Engels, who, as his private letters show, dragged me in on all possible occasions, whether my appearance on the scene were relevant to the matter in hand or not. But I don’t take attacks of this kind with the calmness of the philosopher and the Christian, and I generally contrive sooner or later to give my assailants quite as good as they bring. So our Teutonic “Grand Llama of the Regent’s Park Road,” as I called Engels, by reason of the secluded life he led and the servile deference he exacted, did not have matters all his own way; though with respect to his writings I may claim on excellent grounds that I was the very first person outside Germany to give him full credit for the admirable work he had done for the movement independently of Marx.

That, however, I was not wrong in my estimate of Engels’s overbearing character and outrageous rudeness will be apparent from the following anecdote of what befell Adolphe Smith, a Social-Democrat of some forty years’ standing, a master of his own subject, national and international hygiene, and one of the most courteous and considerate as he is one of the ablest of men. He was with a party of Danish Social-Democrats who were going to pay their respects to Engels at his house. They asked him to go with them, as they were sure Engels would be glad to see him. Smith said he doubted this, as Engels bore him a grudge on account of a dispute in the International some twenty years before when Smith was little more than a lad. The Danish comrades, however, would not hear anything of this, and pressed Smith until he accompanied them on their visit.

They were all received very well at first, Smith passing in unnoticed with the rest. But in the course of conversation one of the Danes addressed Smith in such wise as to awaken the memories of Engels. He jumped up, rushed up to Smith saying, “What, are you Smith, Smith-Headingley? You are! then get out of my house. I am amazed you should have had the impudence to come here.” Other flattering observations followed, until Smith got in a word congratulating the old bear upon his notions of politeness and hospitality and took his departure. The reason for this ungoverned outburst of fury was that Smith had actually joined with Vesinier and others in publishing a manifesto of protest against the autocratic, drill-sergeant fashion in which Marx and Engels had conducted the old International, opposed as it was altogether to French and English notions of reasonable consideration for those with whom they were working. But this, as I say, was twenty years before, and Engels need not so far have forgotten himself in his own house as to lose his temper on so ancient an injury. At the close of his life, when he was dying of cancer of the throat at Eastbourne, he expressed his regret, however, that he had probably been mistaken as to the Social-Democratic Federation and myself. He certainly was as to Adolphe Smith.

At any rate the Democratic Federation was founded and began its work in earnest. The rent of our rooms and the salary of the Secretary were paid by myself. Few even of those who were with us thought much would come of it. Of this I had amusing evidence at an early meeting. A vigorous Radical and Secularist named Sadler had been appointed Secretary at the salary of £2 a week which I had offered. I had remained behind that evening, and several of the members were going down the stairs at the Westminster Palace Chambers where our offices were. I overheard, as I came out and followed them down, Sadler saying “I don’t believe in the concern a bit, but when I heard that £2 a week were going about I b— well determined to have some of it.” Yet Sadler made a very good secretary of his kind, and he got his £2 a week regularly, without ever knowing that I had overheard his remark – by no means the only queer utterance I remember as coming to my ears from men who have been supposed to be earnest in the cause.

Sadler went the way of so many English workers, when they have a secure place at what they consider “a good screw”; but when he became generally known in London as “two of Irish” it was necessary to get rid of him. Sadler was a basket-maker by trade. Morgan, one of the old Chartists, was a slipper-maker, a very different class of man, and, though he never became a thorough Socialist, he understood his own class and its shortcomings very well. Walking back with him one night accompanied by another member of the Executive of that day named Butler, who was little better than an Anarchist, the latter began to talk of the rack and ruin they would wreak on the upper classes when their turn came. “Would you?” said Morgan; “about that time we should be putting a Provost-Marshal’s guard at the street corner where you live with strict orders to hang fellows like you.” As Morgan was a lean and lathy customer, very active on his legs and handy with his fists, Butler allowed this remark to pass with a mild protest. But Morgan, who had been a boatswain on board a man-of-war, and a very smart one too, could hold his own in other company. As we made way, and it began to look as if one of those fine days we might have an active revolutionary party in London, an artillery officer, Major Edwards, who partially sympathised with our objects, invited several of our working men, including the two Murrays and “Bill” Morgan, down to Woolwich, where he treated them very well, and showed them one of the biggest guns from the Arsenal. “There,” said the Major, “what is the use of you fellows talking about fighting and coming to close quarters with the upper classes? What could you do against a gun like that?” “Yes,” replied Morgan, “and what should we be doing while you were getting that plaything into position?” Major Edwards, of course, did not know that Morgan had had any experience with pacifist tools of this sort.

During the whole of 1881 the Irish question overshadowed all others, and our organisation, young as it was, took a very active part against Coercion, and supported the Irish cause to the fullest extent we could. We sent a large Commission to Ireland to examine into the land problem, and to report upon the action of the Land League. I went over to Dublin myself and spoke in Phoenix Park with two quite admirable speakers Winks and Sabin, then active members of our body but now forgotten. I joined the Irish Land League which had been started by the famous Michael Davitt, who afterwards became my close and intimate friend, and I served as a member of the Executive of the Land League of Great Britain. The mention of this last-named organisation recalls to my mind a rather amusing incident. I have generally been considered a perturbing rather than a pacificatory agent in public affairs in Great Britain, and even on the Continent of Europe. But among Irishmen my truly urbane disposition and peace-loving tendencies were at once appreciated at their real value. So obvious was this in the Council of the Land League of Great Britain, that I received more than one letter from my friend Justin M’Carthy, then President of that body, to the following effect: “My dear Hyndman, we expect to have rough times this evening. I hope you will be able to be present in order to throw oil upon the troubled waters, etc.” I have always felt that this was an invaluable testimony to character coming from such a quarter. I hope some of my opponents will take careful note of it.

One sitting of that Executive will be always present to my memory, which occurred later but may be mentioned here. Parnell was in Kilmainham Gaol and some two or three hundred of the best men in Ireland were in custody at the same time. The agitation on the land question was spreading to England and Scotland, and a “No Rent” manifesto was issued. We were about to hold a big conjoint demonstration of Irish Land Leaguers and English Socialists in Hyde Park, with Joseph Cowen, I think, in the chair, in order to protest vigorously against such a monstrous policy as that of the Liberal Party in Ireland. I was strongly in favour of making the “No Rent” agitation a prominent feature in our pronouncement, and I moved that the Manifesto against Rent should be displayed and read from all the platforms. Thereupon Frank Byrne the secretary, who was, as afterwards appeared, hand in glove with the extreme section, but acted most fairly as secretary, read out a letter from Kilmainham in Parnell’s own handwriting ordering that no such step should be taken. The more advanced men present were not prepared to give way to this extraneous dictation, and I was quite determined myself that my resolution should go to the vote. The discussion got warm. A hint that weapons were handy was given. The value of chair legs as shillelaghs and as aids to debate presented itself to my mind. I even looked hard at the tumblers and water-bottle on the table and bethought me of the reflection Charles Lever put in the mouth of one of his favourite characters: “A wine-glass, my boy, is useful on occasion, but a cut-glass decanter well aimed and low I have seen do excellent service.”

But – I shall always declare the result was due to my mollifying pacifism – things quieted down, revolvers were not drawn, less lethal implements were not brought into play, voices resumed their melodious intonation, and my resolution in favour of the “No Rent” manifesto being promulgated in the Park was put solemnly to the vote. It was carried with equal solemnity – the Irish can do these things well when they like – and I at once jumped up, upon our majority being declared, and proposed that, in order to compose any possible differences, the decision should be made unanimous. This was done, the “No Rent” cry was raised in earnest, and Parnell was released within three weeks. Why? Parnell was not a “No Rent” man by any means, and he alone could keep the advanced movement from becoming formidable. I firmly believe that was the reason of his prompt release.

I never spoke to Parnell but once, and then it was merely as two old Cambridge men meeting by chance in the offices of the Irish Party. I confess he did not produce upon me a favourable impression, but that, of course, is of no importance. What was more to the point was the dictatorial and arrogant attitude he assumed towards his supporters. It may have been necessary, and the conduct of the persons whom he dominated when living during the quarter of a century which has passed since his death looks as if it were, but it was scarcely pleasant to see. On one occasion he was talking in the large reception room of the Land League offices to a member of our organisation when perhaps the most prominent man among his followers looked in at the door. On noticing Parnell he said, “Oh, I beg your pardon, sir,” and out he went without another word, though he had more right in the room than Parnell had. Yet that Parnell was a first-rate Parliamentary leader cannot be doubted, while his strictly limited fanaticism was precisely suited to the times, which, I am forced to admit, were much less revolutionary than they looked.

It is strange now to recall how very revolutionary they did look. It seems incredible, at this time of day, that a Liberal Government, headed by Mr. Gladstone and comprising such men as the extreme Radical Mr. Chamberlain then was, Sir Charles Dilke, Mr. Henry Fawcett, and others, with a strong Radical party behind them numbering some one hundred and thirty strong, should have been engaged in putting down in Ireland, by sheer force of arms and police brutality and buck-shot, those ordinary commonplace liberties which on this side of the Channel are regarded, too laxly, as beyond even Whig interference; and that this should have been done in the interest of one of the worst land-owning classes that ever preyed upon a community, whose outrageous proceedings that very same Government had vainly attempted to check. It was an extraordinary position. Everybody admitted that Ireland had been badly governed and that some change ought to be made. Even Lord Beaconsfield spoke of the need for a revolution by legislation. But, as usual with English affairs, reforms were postponed until revolution was knocking hard at the door. Even those who lived through the period can scarcely think themselves back into the days when a dynamite explosion was organised in the House of Commons, when Victoria Station was nearly blown to pieces by clock-work bombs left in the cloak-room, – my wife and I slept that night close by, and were roused and shaken by the shock, – when a serious attempt to wreck London Bridge was only averted by the two dynamiters entrusted with the task blowing themselves up in their boat instead of the bridge, and when grave apprehensions were entertained as to the safety of Westminster Abbey. Dean Stanley, whom I met at dinner while this was all going on, seemed quite relieved, in his courtly way, when he discovered that I, a pronounced Home Ruler and Land League member, had no sympathy whatever with the desperadoes who were reported to be plotting the destruction of his cherished cathedral.

Party feeling naturally ran very high indeed. Ladies of high position who not long before had listened with pleasure to the charming conversation of Mr. Justin M’Carthy drew away from him as if from contamination in a drawing-room, and he himself said to me: “It is a terrible work, Hyndman, going on night after night in the House of Commons with the whole Assembly bitterly against you. At times it is most depressing, and nothing but the profound conviction of the justice of our cause keeps me up against the furious attacks and howlings of the overwhelming majority of the members.” When, also, Mr. Gladstone declared in the Guildhall that he had sent Mr. Parnell to prison for his treasonable efforts, any stranger would have imagined, from the enthusiasm with which his announcement was acclaimed, that some great triumph of justice and right had been achieved.

It was during this period of storm and strife, also, that the surgical knives afterwards used in the Phoenix Park assassinations of Mr. Burke and Lord Frederick Cavendish were kept concealed in the offices of the Land League and the Irish Parliamentary Party by Mr. Frank Byrne, the secretary spoken of above. I think a good many of the “respectable” people and comfortable Parliament men of the Irish Party, who then frequented the handsome rooms in Westminster Palace Chambers, would have felt a little ill at ease had they known that these ugly implements were so close to them, that their trusted secretary held them in safe custody, and that the wife of that official conveyed them to Dublin for use on the fatal day. Assassination is a nasty form of protest against tyranny, and it is not always used with the greatest discrimination as to the persons removed. The death of Mr. Burke and particularly of Lord Frederick Cavendish, naturally roused a great deal of indignation, especially among those whose tyrannical methods had been the cause of their taking-off. Then came the treachery of Carey, who betrayed all his accomplices, but whose one good action was that he swore he did not recognise Mrs. Frank Byrne, who herself gave him the knives, when she appeared in the witness-box.

But a more tremendous revenge than any of these had been prepared, and but for an accident would have been carried out. I am very glad it wasn’t; for the reaction it would have occasioned might easily have led to a sort of White Terror, both in this country and in Ireland. This conspiracy was to place a number of men with bombs in the gallery of the House of Commons, then much more easy of access than it is to-day, these desperadoes being backed up by another set of equally determined persons in the lobby below. The set in the gallery having thrown their bombs, with judicious political impartiality, at both the front benches, were to rush down and out as fast as they could, while their fellow-conspirators took up the tale of slaughter by crowding on to the floor of the House and shooting with revolvers all who had not been already despatched or intimidated by the bomb explosions.

Happily the man who held the key of the entire plot drank a trifle more than was good for him the night before, lost his nerve at the last moment, and failed to call the sworn band of assailants together. So the thing fell through, and the plot was never renewed. Quite possibly it may be denied that any such terrible scheme was ever set on foot, now that a quarter of a century’s undisturbed residence in London has rendered some of the active members of the conspiracy quite constitutional persons. But the facts are as I state them, and the names of not a few of those who were to take part in the attack are known to me. As a matter of fact, and to my certain knowledge, at least two of the best known sympathisers with Ireland in the House of Commons, who were privately and solemnly warned not to be in their places on that particular night, refrained from going, in view of the quarter from which the intimation of danger came, and even went so far as to notify members of the Government that something very serious was on foot. And all this occurred less than thirty years ago Similar policy from above is producing similar revolt from below in India at this present time.

Strange to say, I saw the news of Carey’s treachery as informer displayed on the placards of the evening newspapers as I went into Earl’s Court Station, after having visited my old friend Colonel Yule in Pen-y-Wern Road hard by, with Tchaikovsky the Russian Anarchist. We had gone to Yule in order to obtain his signature to a Memorial to the French Government I was using my best endeavours to get signed in favour of giving Kropotkin, then imprisoned at Clairvaux for complicity in Anarchist plots, better accommodation, and the right to see his wife. The names appended to that Memorial were those of some of the most distinguished men of science and men of letters in the country, which I think did them great credit; for Kropotkin was far better known at that time as a vehement advocate of “the propaganda-of-deed” than as a geographer or a littérateur. The man who refused most positively to lend any help at all was, as it happened, Thomas Huxley, who gave it as his opinion that Kropotkin was already too well off as he was. I was rather surprised at this from Huxley; but fortunately the lack of his signature made no difference, and Kropotkin was accorded by the French Ministry that amelioration of his prison discipline for which the English Memorial asked.

I had previously made Prince Kropotkin’s acquaintance and friendship upon an introduction from Joseph Cowen, that consistent friend of the revolutionists and subversionists in every country but (in later years) his own. As said, Kropotkin, in those days, was an out-and-out direct action Anarchist. He was overflowing with enthusiasm and vigour. When he came to our house I was at once captivated by the charm of his manner and the unaffected sincerity of his tone. His appearance was to me what I then thought was typically Russian, a bright engaging face, in spite of its irregular features and nose of the Kahmack type, lightly brushed long hair, and heavy beard and moustache. At first I tried to argue with him about his Anarchist opinions, which seemed to me entirely out of accord with his intelligence and naturally charming disposition. I found this was quite hopeless. You could pin him to nothing, and his capacity for genial misrepresentation of Social-Democratic thought and principle and argument transcended belief. But I tried hard, nevertheless, for a time to convince him that no society of any kind could dispense with leadership and authority of some sort, voluntarily constituted and freely submitted to.

According to Kropotkin, however, each commune, each individual, could be bound by nothing, and nobody and no number of people could, under any circumstances, be overruled in their individual rights, no matter how many thousands or even millions of people might be permanently injured or starved by their recusancy. As to existing social relations, Kropotkin took the view of Bakunin that any action was not only justifiable but imperatively necessary which the individual himself judged to be calculated to terrorise or shake the horrible society of to-day. These opinions Kropotkin expressed freely, not only in private conversation but in his journal Le Révolté. And, notwithstanding his pleasing character and humane disposition, there can be no doubt that at that period he was quite serious in these beliefs, and wholly devoted to his propaganda. He could not also detect any incompatibility with his theories in his own conduct as Editor of his paper. I asked him one day who appointed him Editor? He looked puzzled but answered, “I did myself, of course.” “Do you,” I asked, “print all the contributions and letters which come to you, in agreement with, or in protest against, your own ideas?” “Certainly not,” was the reply; “it would be utterly impossible to do so.” “But who then decides,” I went on, “as to what should be put in and what should be kept out?” “Why, I do: I am the Editor.” “There is no appeal from your judgment?” “Of course not. How could there be?” “Then, Kropotkin,” I wound up, “let me tell you you are no better than a tyrannical journalistic Czar, and some day we shall hear of your bombing off by one or other of the highsouled comrades whose lucubrations you have so despotically suppressed.”

On another occasion we argued the matter of railways. “Do you seriously contend,” I urged, “that if it were of the greatest importance to construct a railway between two large and populous centres of industry, and the direct route lay through the land of a commune peopled by, say, a hundred persons, and that any other line would necessitate a detour of a couple of hundred miles, thus entailing enormous additional expense at the outset and the permanent daily cost of 200 miles of extra transport, you would consider that the two great cities ought to be held up and prevented from building this railroad because this handful of peasants objected?” “Oh, but they wouldn’t object.” “Yes, but if they did, how then?” And so we went on, Kropotkin admitting in the end that he would religiously respect the rights of this inconspicuous minority to obstruct progress. At a public meeting where one of our Social-Democratic comrades raised the same question about the railroad, and persisted in having a plain answer, it has always been stated that Krppotkin, nettled at the heckling he experienced, closed the discussion amid shouts of laughter by saying, “Damn the railroad!”

A much more serious objection to Kropotkin and other Anarchists is their wholly unscrupulous habit of reiterating statements that have been repeatedly proved to be incorrect, and even outrageous, by the men and women to whom they are attributed. Time after time I have told Kropotkin, time after time has he read it in print, that Social-Democrats work for the complete overthrow of the wages system. He has admitted this to be so. But a month or so afterwards the same old oft-refuted misrepresentation appears in the same old authoritative fashion, as if no refutation of the calumny, that we wish to maintain wage-slavery, had ever been made. There is evidently, as we might expect from their doctrines, close community of sentiment and method between Anarchists and Liberals.

Not only do they both consider that the grossest misrepresentation and disregard for truth is quite allowable against an adversary, but, strange as it may appear, Anarchist after Anarchist, attracted by this similarity of sentiment and method, turns Liberal. The very last time I met Kropotkin he bitterly reproached me and Social-Democrats generally for our opposition to the Capitalist-Liberal party and its special organ the Daily News. It is very odd indeed, but nearly all the extreme Anarchists whom I have known have gone off sooner or later in the same direction. Nor is this confined to foreigners resident in Great Britain, who become so imbued with admiration for our seductive pseudo-freedoms that they think Englishmen have only themselves to blame for their economic and social subjection, but native English Anarchists go off in the same way and show a like tendency towards the most hypocritical and offensive forms of Capitalist-Liberalism.

Abroad it is the same. I knew Aristide Briand at one time pretty well. He was then an even more ferocious and a much less urbane Anarchist and Subversionist than Kropotkin. At International Congresses, as Secretary and Boss of the anarchistic and general strike elements of French Trade Unionism, the man made himself a perfect nuisance, upsetting the proceedings systematically and insisting upon having far more than his share of the talk – an ill-conditioned, overbearing, self-idolising creature: that was the impression which the vehement propaganda-of-deed Anarchist Briand made upon all who met him at these Congresses. And I believe at the time he meant it all. He was a thorough-going individualist, eager to fight for complete freedom of the individual as a step to social freedom, and had not the slightest regard for principle, or for the opinion of anybody but himself. Yet he has been Prime Minister of France, having applied his individualist principles, on Capitalist-Liberal lines, wholly and solely to his own personal advancement. Evidently a natural process of evolution in his entire disregard for others and religious worship of himself.

Kropotkin, of course, has never thus carried his change or modification into practical life. On the contrary, he has in this respect remained throughout quite true to his principles, such as they are, and has refused to benefit himself personally in any way whatever, even when he might have done so without reproach. That is why, notwithstanding his pro-Liberal attitude in England, his outrageous travesty of Social-Democracy, and his rather amusing perversions of natural history to support his own peculiar views, Kropotkin has never forfeited the esteem and goodwill of his opponents in the movement; while on the platform and in private life his popularity has been well earned by his never-failing good temper under all circumstances.

But the movement owes him more than this. In my opinion Kropotkin’s Aux Jeunes Gens, which I translated into English under the title of An Appeal to the Young, and which in that shape has been distributed far and wide in all English-speaking countries, is the best propagandist pamphlet that ever was penned. Even to-day I can read it again with pleasure. The thing is a masterpiece, alike in conception and execution. Nothing ever written so completely combines the scientific with the popular, the revolutionary with the ethical. Anarchist in sentiment, here and there, it may be; but all sectional differences are merged and carried away in the broad sweep of its universal sympathy for down-trodden humanity, and its adjurations to men and women of all classes to combine for the attainment of a life worthy of what mankind under Socialism may and will be. At one time we saw a good deal of Kropotkin, his wife, and daughter, and I introduced him to the late Sir James Knowles of the Nineteenth Century, for which periodical he has done most of his writing in English. Of late years we have met seldom, but, notwithstanding very sharp differences of opinion, our cordial friendship and good feeling remain.

Last updated on 30.7.2006