X. AMERICAN LIBERAL-ANARCHISM
THE classic land for the efflorescence and experimentations of bourgeois Liberal-Anarchism was America. If bourgeois Anarchism called for free land, free capital, free labor, and free exchange, what country could appear more favorable than the United States? (*1) Indeed, in a country where Liberalism could afford to appear as Radicalism, could there be a sharp line drawn between Liberalism and Liberal- Anarchism? The conditions of American life not only had forced men into a certain pattern of individualism, but had also compelled them to idealize this individualism and to make it an end in itself. It was in the United States that the development of State versus Individual had reached its sharpest point. Liberalism and Liberal-Anarchism could well blend into one another.
With Godwin, Anarchism had been argued for social reasons, for the welfare of society. With Stirner, Anarchism had been turned into more philistine egotism under a metaphysical guise. With the Americans, Anarchism turned practical and was actually put to work as a doctrine of individualism. Anarchism became the very apotheosis of individualism. Its credo was the “Sovereignty of the Individual,” a sovereignty which was being encroached upon by State, Law, and Government. Significantly enough, only after the first real capitalist economic crisis did Liberalism begin to feel the need to turn into Liberal-Anarchism. The devastating crisis of 1837 which caused such acute distress was the first sign that America would not escape the cataclysms of Europe and that the “little man” here, too—and America had been the classic happy hunting ground of the “little man” for so long a time—was doomed to go. With the first pinch of world competition, the petty bourgeoisie began to fear that their labor inevitably would be deemed inefficient and that they themselves were destined to become discarded. This realization only drove them all the more to attempt to defend whatever “sovereignty” was left to them, namely, the sovereignty of individualism.
Among the very first theoreticians of the sovereignty of the individual was Stephen Pearl Andrews (*2) who deduced his conclusions from a study of “Natural Law.” In his case, this meant a study of the actual wilderness and the natural forces around him. To him, “The doctrine of the Sovereignty of the individual---in one sense itself a principle---grows out of the still more fundamental principle of Individuality, which pervades universal nature. Individuality is positively the most fundamental and universal principle which the finite mind seems capable of discovering, and the best image of the infinite.” (*3) Thus individuality became the essential law of order, conformity became absolutely impossible, and all government would have to pass away. To support individualism by the Law of Individuality in Nature---could anyone have done this better than an American?
It is to this same type of Anarchism that Thoreau adhered. As a profound naturalist, a true son of this immense continent where sheriffs and police of the State had only just now set foot and defiled the land, or so it seemed, Thoreau could not fail to be impressed with the smallness of society as compared with the vastness of nature. Not only in comparison with geography but also in comparison with the individual, the State seemed insignificant. The individual had existed before the State, was suffering under the State; his soul, as the concrete embodiment of the infinite, the State would never possess.
America, be it remembered, was a land of abundance. Any man expert in the wiles of nature could prosper easily, provided he was let alone. Thoreau could manage. A skilled mechanic and naturalist, Thoreau did not have to work hard to live. Why should he work, then, for others? What duty did he owe to others? Why should he pay allegiance to the State and submit to all the horrible crimes which he could see so clearly the State was committing upon the people? Like Walt Whitman, he represented the care-free spirit of American youth. In his own Liberal-Anarchistic way he declared war upon the State.
He turned over the following statement to the selectmen of his town: “Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated society which I have not joined.” (*4) “I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually…. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases." (*5)
An open declaration of war against the State! Not with the bomb and not through revolution, but only through withdrawal not only from the State but from wicked society as well. A voluntary poverty, a voluntary asceticism, reducing his standards to that of the Indian, marked his life, .not because he desired to immolate himself to a cause or believed in asceticism for itself, but because he had turned partly Indian, because he had reverted to “primitive man” and was in that unique situation where Rousseau’s “Back to Nature” and primitiveness actually could be both idealized and practiced. Thoreau’s Anarchism was accomplished through renunciation, through pacifism, through running away from the struggle. This was no cowardly running away, however, but a deliberate retreat into the wilds of that nature which he loved and to which he was so thoroughly attuned. Thoreau was a high-type example of the “American Savage.” (*6)
And what country in the world would have treated this declaration of ,war in the way Massachusetts did? There was no howling of “subversive tendencies,” there was no campaign of destruction against the Anarchism which Thoreau not only was talking but trying to live. It was with the deepest regret that the sheriff jailed him for a day for non-payment of taxes. And there were many friends to get him out and to pay his tax for him, despite his protest. True, the childlike Anarchism of Thoreau could not possibly be harmful to American society; it was also true that the theory of “Sovereignty of the Individual” had been embedded entirely too long in the social consciousness for anyone in this country to become excited over its enunciation and its attempted practice.
Indeed, there was plenty of patriotic precedent for the views of such Anarchism. The Liberal had declared: “The best government is that which governs least.” The Anarchist merely added: “The best government, then, is no government.” The American Revolution had recognized, both theoretically and practically, the Right of Revolution. This implied the superiority of moral law to government; and, using his conscience as his guide, Thoreau declared his own revolution. The American Revolution, then, was the great inspiration for early American Anarchism! Nay, more. Anarchism could be said to stem from the early settlers themselves. Were not Mrs. Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dwyer in the seventeenth century perhaps the first Anarchistic persons to set foot upon this country? And what of the Quakers? In the nineteenth century, American Liberal-Anarchism simply broke its religious ties and stepped out in its own right.
Thoreau’s love of nature and his advocacy of Anarchist doctrine was far more than an accidental combination. Just as, in America, Nature took the place of society and “freedom” meant nature, as “restraint” meant State and Society, so have many Anarchists proved that their hatred of the State was really the hatred of artificial society and but another side of their love of nature. Between certain types of American Anarchists and “Friends of Nature” there is very little difference.
The American Thoreau thus was quite different from the Englishman Godwin who was living in a far more developed society. The Englishman had ridiculed the rationalization of “Natural Rights” and “Natural Law"; the Americans, like Thoreau, were still using the argumentations and the beliefs of the eighteenth century. The Englishman had carefully separated the concept of society from that of State and government; with Thoreau, society itself had disappeared and only the naked individual remained in all his “sovereignty.” Both Thoreau and Godwin stemmed from Liberalism, but how different were their Liberalisms! As different as the English bourgeois was from the American. Here, again, we see that Anarchism or at least Liberal-Anarchism was but the negative shadow that a solid bourgeois Liberal world was casting before it in its march.
The Anarchism of Thoreau, however, soon came into collision with the great forces leading to the American Civil War. He had opposed the Mexican War and had been against the institution of slavery, and, as the conflict of the Civil War became to all thinking persons more and more inevitable, Thoreau took his side with the Abolitionists. Prior to the civil War, he had written “On Civil Disobedience.” Now he wrote, “But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no- government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but AT ONCE a better government,” (*7) and in his plea for Captain John Brown he wrote: “I do not wish to kill nor to be killed, but I can foresee circumstances in which both these things would be by me unavoidable." (*8) Just as in many a critical moment Liberalism turned conservative, so did American Liberal- Anarchism turn into Liberal governmentalism.
The struggle of the Abolitionists taught Thoreau that he could not run away from society nor the struggle. And while he could write, “The remembrance of my country spoils my walk. My thoughts are murder to the State and involuntarily go plotting against her,” yet did he defend that State in its struggle against chattel slavery. (*9)
Native Americans never were able to break away from this basic approach. Even in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Lysander Spooner could reach the conclusion, from a study of eternal “Natural Law” (*10) and the “Science of justice,” that all legislation whatsoever is an absurdity, a usurpation and a crime. From the Liberal institution of trial by jury Spooner could deduce that the trial by jury gives the right of each person to evade the law and that the jury as the palladium of liberty is the stronghold of the minority against the tyranny of the majority.
In America, as in France, there was developed a mutualist or rather a co-operative Anarchism. However, different from the French, the Americans not only had evolved a theory of a future state of society; they began to practice what they believed. Further, in contradistinction to Proudhon’s bank, the voluntary co-operation of the Americans had nothing whatever to do with the State. Finally, the whole orientation of the mutualism of the Americans was entirely distinct from that of the French. The French, driven as they were by the evil effects of competitive capitalism, had turned to mutualism. The petty bourgeoisie, seeing the handwriting on the wall, were in this manner attempting to strike back. At all times, and in spite of Proudhon, the mutualism of Proudhon yet spoke in the name of the French Nation and allied itself with those forces which could not help but be considered subversive in French bourgeois society.
Nothing at all like this was apparent in the practical panaceas of Americans like Josiah Warren. (*11) In America the sky, not the dungeon, was the limit. Josiah Warren was simply an unterrified democrat who carried democracy to its logical conclusions in the name of “Sovereignty of the Individual” and who believed that the individual was so far superior to the State that the State was not necessary. Whereas Proudhon was forced to struggle against the powers that be, Warren was simply building an utopia, one of the many that were being constructed at that time. This utopia was to illustrate that America was the cure for all the ills of Europe, was a country where inventions and patents which developed so freely in other sciences could arise in social science as well. Warren was an inventor, and America was known for its great inventors. Why could not Americans invent mechanical social schemes as well?
With Proudhon, Anarchism evolved from below as a result of the pressure from above. With Warren, Anarchism arose as a result of lack of pressure from the State and government. In France the mass of agrarians were oppressed. In America, they were controlling the West and the frontiers and wished to make their interests dominate forever. In France the petty bourgeoisie had never tasted power; in Western America, they were in power. America itself had become the petty bourgeois utopia, giving hope to all. French Anarchism was the antithesis of French tyranny and English victories of the market; American Anarchism was but the development of individualism to the highest point because there was no force capable of restraining it. That is why Americans like Warren could attempt to put into practice peacefully what Proudhon could have hoped to accomplish in France only through revolution.
And yet, just as there was much in common between the French and American agrarian, so was there considerable in common between Warren and Proudhon. Both identified labor with the agrarian toiler or handicraftsman who, although a petty owner, worked directly at his own means and tools of production. And if both wanted labor to come into its own, it was because labor to them was the petty bourgeois toiler and not the wage earner. Since to both labor was the measure of price, the main question was how to regulate affairs so that laborers would not be cheated and the petty bourgeois toiler really would receive the equivalent in price for his labor embodied in his goods. To both, the problems became how to insure the freedom of competition and to guarantee equal exchanges.
Both Proudhon and Warren stood against monopoly in money, land, tariffs, and patents; against both, naturally enough, stood the monopoly in money. But whereas, to Proudhon, the oppression of the poor was symbolized in the Bank of France, which he advocated transforming, with the help of the State, into the People’s Bank of Exchange, to Warren the monopoly that most affected him was the monopoly of the merchant in the rural communities, the merchant who paid the lowest price for farm goods and charged the farmer the highest price possible for manufactured goods in return. In this period of American History, in the West especially, not finance capital nor even industrial capital was the dominant factor, but merchant capital. (This situation, of course, changed after the Civil War.) Warren’s struggle, therefore, was primarily in the sphere of circulation and more specifically against the monopoly of the merchant.
With this in mind, Warren brought forth his social invention. This was in the form of a “Time Store” or “Equity Store” where goods were to be sold at cost, plus the time of the trader to be paid for by the time of the buyer. Western rural life had been familiar with exchange by barter, and many country stores had adopted a system whereby trappers and farmers could bring in their products and exchange them for different products equivalent in value. (*12)
Warren’s Equity Store, therefore, was really nothing but a project designed to carry further an old American practice born of necessity. The peculiar feature of Warren’s experiment, however, was that the store was to issue labor notes for goods received, and the possessor of these notes could buy any goods similarly marked in the store. This was to put into effect Robert Owen’s “Labor Notes” scheme to establish justice and equity and to do away with money. Indeed, Warren had been in the Robert Owen colony of “New Harmony” but had objected to its rigid suppression of the individual, its lack of initiative and responsibility. Instead of a communistic utopia, Warren established on the very site of New Harmony his own Anarchist utopia. If Owen was the pale bourgeois reflection of the needs of the proletariat, Warren was their extreme antithesis.
The Equity Stores which Warren stimulated, operated for some time and, having been successful with a store, Warren branched out with an utopian colony. This was an individualistic form of co-operation that could attract many, and which was different from the phalanstaries of Fourier or the communistic experiments of Owen and others. “Each owned his house and land, and by mutual understanding political authority was dispensed with. None felt responsible for the behavior of his neighbors, and only aggressive or invasive conduct was resented by combined action.” (*13) Alas, however, these fine utopian colonies failed and, by the time of the great panic of 1857, the great invention of Warren and his colony, founded on his system of the Sovereignty of the Individual, had come to an end.
In spite of his mutualism, Warren was far nearer to Liberalism than to the Anarchism of Proudhon. His denunciation of government was simply an extreme formulation of typical American Liberalism, and his reason for opposition to government was the belief that “There is no service undertaken by government that could not be more efficiently and more economically performed by associated or individual effort….." This was rugged individualism running rampant indeed.
Warren opined, “A piece of land set apart for each person who desires it, is I think, the first step in Civilization; and the undisturbed and exclusive control of it is as necessary to Security of Condition as the land itself.” With such an idea it was natural that Warren should have fought the slogan: “restore all existing wealth to its proper owners.”
Warren did not conceive the world as clash and conflict, or, if he did, he wanted, like Thoreau, to run away from such a world—especially since the vast expanse of America could allow him to do that temporarily, at least. To the bourgeois socialists of the time, the problem of life was to achieve harmony. Communism meant harmony and harmony was the aim of life. Warren sincerely believed that he could secure the harmonious results aimed at by the Communism of a Robert Owen through "equity" and individualism.
Bourgeois individualistic Anarchism lasted throughout the nineteenth century in the United States, although by the third quarter of the century it had given way in Europe to Communist Anarchism. The leading disciple of this old Liberal-Anarchism was Benjamin R. Tucker (*14) who, however, could not preserve the naive freshness of Thoreau or Warren. Tucker’s ideas were but the counterpart of those of Herbert Spencer, whose disciple Tucker was. If Warren was an “unterrified Jeffersonian,” Tucker was a dauntless Spencerian, following pure “science” as the former followed practical utopias.
“The Anarchists are not only utilitarians, but egoists in the farthest and fullest sense.” (*15) With this as his credo, Tucker came out for free banking, for free trade, for free land, land going only to the user, for capitalism and against all patent rights, for free love, and the abolition of any external will over the individual. Government was but “the subjection of the non-evasive individual to a will not his own.” (*16)
“Nor does the Anarchistic scheme furnish any code of morals to be imposed upon the individual. ‘Mind your own business’ is its own moral law. Interference with another’s business is a crime and the only crime, and as such may be properly resisted. In accordance with this view the Anarchists look upon attempts to arbitrarily suppress vice as in themselves crimes. They believe liberty and the resultant social well-being to be a sure cure for all vices. But they recognize the right of the drunkard, the gambler, the rake and the harlot to live their lives until they shall freely choose to abandon them.” (*17) “Anarchism implies the right of an individual to stand aside and see a man murdered or a woman raped.” (*18)
By the time of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, bourgeois Anarchism had a value only as a weapon against Communism. Against the government Tucker did not wish to use force for, according to him, violence would not accomplish its purpose. As against the Liberal (and the Tolstoyan-Anarchist) theory of non-resistance to State taxation on the one hand, and the Communist theory of the overthrow of capitalism by force, Tucker opposed his ideas of passive resistance.
The real method of Anarchists was declared to be defying tax collection and inaugurating general passive resistance. “An insurrection is easily quelled; but no army is willing or able to train its guns on inoffensive people who do not even gather in the streets but stay at home and stand back on their rights.” (*19) Tucker, while opposed to force employed against the government, was also against the use of the ballot, since he was also against democracy as a State. To him, neither the ballot nor the bayonet was to play any part in the coming struggle.
But his attitude towards the workers was quite different. Labor must not make extravagant claims. The job, according to him, was to end monopoly, although Anarchism did not want any anti-trust legislation, but if, monopoly ended, “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." (*20) Gone was the peaceful language, now. Beneath the formula of “Anarchism” was revealed the frightened white-collar scab, ready to turn vigilante.
Tucker, like Proudhon, but without Proudhon’s French environment, was bitterly opposed to unions as a form of monopoly, and, therefore, was in constant struggle against the later development of Anarchism known as Communist-Anarchism and its offspring, Anarcho-Syndicalism. Against Communism and against the Communist-Anarchism of Kropotkin, Tucker advertised his “Anarchistic Socialism.” Note the use of the term “Socialism.” By this time Tucker had to put an end to the identity of state and society and the criticism against both which Anarchists such as Thoreau had conducted. Tucker now spoke of the value of a society (and thus of a form of “Socialism") where the aim was “Not to abolish wages but to make every man dependent upon wages, and secure to every man his WHOLE wages… .” (*21)
According to Tucker, “liberty” was to be obtained not because it was a natural right but because it was the mother of order, while the State was the mother of violence, even when the State was run by the majority. His break from natural rights showed the influence of Spencer and also showed that America had grown up since the Civil War. But to appeal to Anarchism as the mother of order made Tucker the ideal bourgeois Anarchist.
Between his “Anarchistic Socialism” and Karl Marx’s Communism, Tucker found the following oppositions: Marx’s Socialism was communistic and dictatorial; it was metaphysical (that is Hegelian) and dogmatic, emotional and destructive; Tucker’s Socialism, on the other hand, was solidaritarian (mutual banking), libertarian, positive and scientific (in the sense of Spencerianism), reflective and constructive. Communism wanted happiness for all; Anarchism wanted each to be happy in his own way. Under Communism there would be a State (proletarian dictatorship) which would have special rights, where monopoly would be the rule and where a class will would dominate. Under Anarchism, the State would be merely an association; there would be no sovereign, no monopolies, no classes. Communists advocated revolution, Anarchists declared that violence was useless; while the Anarchist pointed out that repression alone turned evolution into revolution, Marxism put forth its faith in cataclysms. Tuckerism called for social progress by the free play of individual efforts. Under Communism, all would be proletarians without property; under Anarchism all would be proprietors. Despotism, governmental control, and social war, under Communism, all would give way to liberty, self-control, and peace, under Anarchism. If Communism stood for equality by lowering heads that were too high, Anarchism would create equality by raising heads which were too low; if Communism would bring equality through the common yoke, Anarchism would achieve equality through liberty; if under Communism everyone was to be supported, under Anarchism everyone was to support himself. Communism demanded that resources, tools, and products go to the State. Anarchism raised the slogan: land to the cultivator, mine to the miner, tool to the laborer, product to the producer. Thus, while Communism was intolerant and frightening, Anarchism was tolerant and reassuring. Such was Tucker’s analysis.
Like Tucker’s bourgeois Anarchism, the Mutualist movement that still drags along in America, also has as its chief function the struggle against Communism. “The Mutualist standards are: INDIVIDUAL: Equal freedom for each-without invasion of others. ECONOMIC: Untrammeled reciprocity, implying freedom of exchange and contract---without monopoly or privilege. SOCIAL: Complete freedom of voluntary association---without coercive organization.” (*22) As against the method of strike they would use the boycott, against insurrection, the means of passive resistance; for the seizure of government, they would substitute utopian colonies where their mutual banking schemes could be carried out. Their article of faith on the matter of property reads: “One of the tests of any reform movement with regard to personal liberty is this: Will the movement prohibit or abolish private property? If it does, it is an enemy of liberty. For one of the most important criteria of freedom is the right to private property in the products of ones labor. State Socialists, Communists, Syndicalists and Communist-Anarchists deny private property.” (*23) Up to this point and no further has “native” American Anarchism advanced.
We are now ready to summarize the position of the early Liberal-Anarchists. We have seen that Anarchism does not mean anarchy or chaos, but that it is a social movement for the abolition of all authority, of any power of coercion of one person over another. Anarchism is anti-authoritarianism and as such is outside the pale of Liberalism, which has always recognized the need of the State and some authority. While the Liberal would limit the power of authority, the Anarchist would overthrow and abolish it. Thus while the first may be deemed petty bourgeois reformism, the second can be not more than petty bourgeois revolutionism.
The early Anarchists, not yet broken from Liberalism, stood on the basis of individual competition and agreed with the slogan: “Each for himself and the devil take the hindmost"; nevertheless, they could not but view with alarm the fact that they themselves were becoming the hindmost. Competition was eliminating competition by breeding monopoly. To prevent competition from destroying itself was the task which the Anarchists set for themselves. The existing capitalist competitive order means the rule of the anarchy of the market. In this sense, indeed, Anarchism does have some connection with anarchy. Under capitalist competition there is no order, no plan, no authority in the market to control it. The Liberal-Anarchists wished to perpetuate this condition and idealized it. These very people who were the first to feel themselves victims of this rule of disorder were the first to fight, not against the disorder, but against the rules. In the name of disorder and free competition, what the Anarchist objected to was the rules under which he was forced to play the game and which dominated him. The first Anarchists did not disown competition, but they objected to the fact that far from their dominating competition, competition was authoritatively dominating them. It was this rule, this authority, this power which was driving them out, against which they so strenuously protested.
1. See D. D. Lum: Economics of Anarchy.
2. Lived 1812-1886; wrote The True Constitution of Government in the Sovereignty of the Individual, also called the Science of Society.
3. Quoted by Sprading: Liberty and the Great Libertarians (Anthology), pp. 236-237.
4. Works, X, 151, (Houghton Mifflin edition, 1893).
5. Works, X, 161-162. Compare the action of the town of Cornwall, Connecticut, which ostensibly refused to enter the Union after the Revolution.
6. As a civilized man, Thoreau reconciled his position through an Orientalist philosophy. “My most essential progress must be to me a state of absolute rest.” (.Autumn, p. 122.) (Also see H. A. Snyder: Thoreau’s Philosophy of Life with Special Consideration of the Influence of Hindoo philosophy.) Both in his retreat to the primitive (although to Thoreau this meant the woods and not the farm lands) and in his dislike of society, Thoreau resembles Tolstoy. Tolstoy, too, declared against slavery of all kinds and that people should not take part in government. As a decayed Russian Czarist emissary, Tolstoy preached a pacifism that urged people not to refuse to pay taxes and espoused a Christian love that wanted to divert the rising revolutionary indignation against the Russian aristocracy on the part of the peasantry and workers into the care of vegetables.
7. Works, X, 133.
8. Works, X, 228.
9. Works, X. 195. Yet Emma Goldman, so-called “revolutionary” Anarchist, could write in her book, Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 62, that Henry Thoreau was the greatest American Anarchist.
10. Lysander Spooner: Natural Law. See also his “Free Political Institutions” which is an abridgement of his work Trial by Jury.
11. Josiah Warren, who lived from 1798 to 1874, was the first man to use the term “Sovereignty of the Individual,” according to both J. S. Mill and Herbert Spencer.
12. See E. C. Kirkland: History of American Economic Life, p. 95.
13. This and the following quotations are from William Bailie: Josiah Warren, pp. 77, 104, 105, 130. At one time Warren was editor of a paper, The Peaceful Revolutionist.
14. Born 1854 of Quaker parentage. Was editor of paper, Liberty, from 1881 to 1908.
15. B. R. Tucker: Individual Liberty, p. 23. This book is an abridged compilation of articles that had appeared in his paper and had been originally published under the title “Instead of a Book.”
16. The same, p. 43.
17. The same, p. 14.
18. The same, p. 44.
19. The same, p. 78.
20. The Same, pp. 260-261.
21. The same, p. 263. Tucker was violently opposed to the 1905 Russian Revolution.
22. C. L. Swartz: What is Mutualism? p. 46.
23. The same, p. 194.