Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader


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Read it not in a combative spirit. Read to understand. Do not read to agree, of course, but read to see. Clearly every detail of that day is engraved on my mind. It is the sixth of July, We are quietly sitting in the back of our little flat—Fedya and I—when suddenly the Girl enters. Her naturally quick, energetic step sounds more than usually resolute. As I turn to her, I am struck by the peculiar gleam in her eyes and the heightened color. She speaks in a quick, jerky manner.

Her words ring like the cry of a wounded animal, the melodious voice tinged with the harshness of bitterness—the bitterness of helpless agony. I take the paper from her hands. In growing excitement I read the vivid account of the tremendous struggle, the Homestead strike, or, more correctly, the lockout. The report details the conspiracy on the part of the Carnegie Company to crush the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers; the selection, for the purpose, of Henry Clay Frick, whose attitude toward labor is implacably hostile; his secret military preparations while designedly prolonging the [Pg 2] peace negotiations with the Amalgamated; the fortification of the Homestead steel-works; the erection of a high board fence, capped by barbed wire and provided with loopholes for sharpshooters; the hiring of an army of Pinkerton thugs; the attempt to smuggle them, in the dead of night, into Homestead; and, finally, the terrible carnage.

I pass the paper to Fedya. The Girl glances at me. We sit in silence, each busy with his own thoughts. Only now and then we exchange a word, a searching, significant look. It is hot and stuffy in the train. The air is oppressive with tobacco smoke; the boisterous talk of the men playing cards near by annoys me. I turn to the window. The gust of perfumed air, laden with the rich aroma of fresh-mown hay, is soothingly invigorating.

Green woods and yellow fields circle in the distance, whirl nearer, close, then rush by, giving place to other circling fields and woods. The country looks young and alluring in the early morning sunshine. But my thoughts are busy with Homestead. The great battle has been fought. Never before, in all its history, has American labor won such a signal victory. By force of arms the workers of Homestead have compelled three hundred Pinkerton invaders to surrender, to surrender most humbly, ignominiously. What humiliating defeat for the powers that be!

Does not the Pinkerton janizary represent organized authority, forever crushing the toiler in the interest of the exploiters? Well may the enemies of the People be terrified at the unexpected awakening. But the People, the workers of America, have joyously acclaimed the rebellious man [Pg 3] hood of Homestead. The steel-workers were not the aggressors. Resignedly they had toiled and suffered. Out of their flesh and bone grew the great steel industry; on their blood fattened the powerful Carnegie Company.

Yet patiently they had waited for the promised greater share of the wealth they were creating. Like a bolt from a clear sky came the blow: wages were to be reduced! Peremptorily the steel magnates refused to continue the sliding scale previously agreed upon as a guarantee of peace. The Carnegie firm challenged the Amalgamated Association by the submission of conditions which it knew the workers could not accept. Foreseeing refusal, it flaunted warlike preparations to crush the union under the iron heel.

Perfidious Carnegie shrank from the task, having recently proclaimed the gospel of good will and harmony. The right of the workingmen to combine and to form trades-unions is no less sacred than the right of the manufacturer to enter into association and conference with his fellows, and it must sooner or later be conceded. Manufacturers should meet their men more than half-way.

With smooth words the great philanthropist had persuaded the workers to indorse the high tariff. Every product of his mills protected, Andrew Carnegie secured a reduction in the duty on steel billets, in return for his generous contribution to the Republican campaign fund. In complete control of the billet market, the Carnegie firm engineered a depression of prices, as a seeming consequence of a lower duty.

But the market price of billets was the sole standard of wages in the Homestead mills. The wages [Pg 4] of the workers must be reduced! The offer of the Amalgamated Association to arbitrate the new scale met with contemptuous refusal: there was nothing to arbitrate; the men must submit unconditionally; the union was to be exterminated. And Carnegie selected Henry C. Frick, the bloody Frick of the coke regions, to carry the program into execution. Must the oppressed forever submit? The manhood of Homestead rebelled: the millmen scorned the despotic ultimatum.

Then Frick's hand fell. The war was on! Indignation swept the country. Throughout the land the tyrannical attitude of the Carnegie Company was bitterly denounced, the ruthless brutality of Frick universally execrated. I could no longer remain indifferent. The moment was urgent. The toilers of Homestead had defied the oppressor. They were awakening. But as yet the steel-workers were only blindly rebellious. The vision of Anarchism alone could imbue discontent with conscious revolutionary purpose; it alone could lend wings to the aspirations of labor.

The dissemination of our ideas among the proletariat of Homestead would illumine the great struggle, help to clarify the issues, and point the way to complete ultimate emancipation. My days were feverish with anxiety. The stirring call, "Labor, Awaken! It would carry to the oppressed the message of the New Day, and prepare them for the approaching Social Revolution. Homestead might prove the first blush of the glorious Dawn. How I chafed at the obstacles my project encountered! Unexpected difficulties impeded every step.

The efforts to get the leaflet translated into popular English proved unavailing. It would endanger [Pg 5] me to distribute such a fiery appeal, my friend remonstrated. Impatiently I waived aside his objections. As if personal considerations could for an instant be weighed in the scale of the great Cause! But in vain I argued and pleaded. And all the while precious moments were being wasted, and new obstacles barred the way.

I rushed frantically from printer to compositor, begging, imploring. None dared print the appeal. And time was fleeting. Suddenly flashed the news of the Pinkerton carnage. The world stood aghast. The time for speech was past. Throughout the land the toilers echoed the defiance of the men of Homestead. The steel-workers had rallied bravely to the defence; the murderous Pinkertons were driven from the city. But loudly called the blood of Mammon's victims on the hanks of the Monongahela. Loudly it calls. It is the People calling. Ah, the People!

The grand, mysterious, yet so near and real, People In my mind I see myself back in the little Russian college town, amid the circle of Petersburg students, home for their vacation, surrounded by the halo of that vague and wonderful something we called "Nihilist. To the beautiful, simple People, so noble in spite of centuries of brutalizing suffering! Like a clarion call the note rings in my ears, amidst the din of contending views and obscure phraseology.

The People! My Greek mythology moods have often pictured HIM [Pg 6] to me as the mighty Atlas, supporting on his shoulders the weight of the world, his back bent, his face the mirror of unutterable misery, in his eye the look of hopeless anguish, the dumb, pitiful appeal for help. Ah, to help this helplessly suffering giant, to lighten his burden! The way is obscure, the means uncertain, but in the heated student debate the note rings clear: To the People, become one of them, share their joys and sorrows, and thus you will teach them.

Yes, that is the solution! But what is that red-headed Misha from Odessa saying? With an effort I realize the situation. The card-players are exchanging angry words. With a deft movement the conductor unhooks the board, and calmly walks away with it under his arm. A roar of laughter greets the players. Twitted by the other passengers, they soon subside, and presently the car grows quiet. I have difficulty in keeping myself from falling back into reverie. I must form a definite plan of action. My purpose is quite clear to me. A tremendous struggle is taking place at Homestead: the People are manifesting the right spirit in resisting tyranny and invasion.

My heart exults. This is, at last, what I have always hoped for from the American workingman: once aroused, he will brook no interference; he will fight all obstacles, and conquer even more than his original demands. It is the spirit of the heroic past reincarnated in the steel-workers of Homestead, Pennsylvania. What supreme joy to aid in this work!

That is my natural mission. I feel the strength of a great undertaking. No [Pg 7] shadow of doubt crosses my mind. The People—the toilers of the world, the producers—comprise, to me, the universe. They alone count. The rest are parasites, who have no right to exist. But to the People belongs the earth—by right, if not in fact. To make it so in fact, all means are justifiable; nay, advisable, even to the point of taking life. The question of moral right in such matters often agitated the revolutionary circles I used to frequent.

I had always taken the extreme view. The more radical the treatment, I held, the quicker the cure. Society is a patient; sick constitutionally and functionally. Surgical treatment is often imperative. The removal of a tyrant is not merely justifiable; it is the highest duty of every true revolutionist. Human life is, indeed, sacred and inviolate. But the killing of a tyrant, of an enemy of the People, is in no way to be considered as the taking of a life.

A revolutionist would rather perish a thousand times than be guilty of what is ordinarily called murder. In truth, murder and Attentat [1] are to me opposite terms.

Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist by Alexander Berkman

To remove a tyrant is an act of liberation, the giving of life and opportunity to an oppressed people. True, the Cause often calls upon the revolutionist to commit an unpleasant act; but it is the test of a true revolutionist—nay, more, his pride—to sacrifice all merely human feeling at the call of the People's Cause. If the latter demand his life, so much the better. Could anything be nobler than to die for a grand, a sublime Cause?

Why, the very life of a true revolutionist has no other purpose, no significance whatever, save to sacrifice it on the altar of the beloved People. And what could be higher in life than to be a true revolutionist? It is to be a man , [Pg 8] a complete MAN. A being who has neither personal interests nor desires above the necessities of the Cause; one who has emancipated himself from being merely human, and has risen above that, even to the height of conviction which excludes all doubt, all regret; in short, one who in the very inmost of his soul feels himself revolutionist first, human afterwards.

Such a revolutionist I feel myself to be. Indeed, far more so than even the extreme radicals of my own circle. My mind reverts to a characteristic incident in connection with the poet Edelstadt. It was in New York, about the year Edelstadt, one of the tenderest of souls, was beloved by every one in our circle, the Pioneers of Liberty , the first Jewish Anarchist organization on American soil.

One evening the closer personal friends of Edelstadt met to consider plans for aiding the sick poet. It was decided to send our comrade to Denver, some one suggesting that money be drawn for the purpose from the revolutionary treasury. I objected. Though a dear, personal friend of Edelstadt, and his former roommate, I could not allow—I argued—that funds belonging to the movement be devoted to private purposes, however good and even necessary those might be.

The strong disapproval of my sentiments I met with this challenge: "Do you mean to help Edelstadt, the poet and man, or Edelstadt the revolutionist? Do you consider him a true, active revolutionist? His poetry is beautiful, indeed, and may indirectly even prove of some propagandistic value.

Aid our friend with your private funds, if you will; but no money from the movement can be given, except for direct revolutionary activity. He could not know me. To his bourgeois mind, for all his imitation of the Chicago martyr, my words must have sounded knavish. Well, some day he may know which I am, knave or revolutionist.

I do not think in the term "hero," for though the type of revolutionist I feel myself to be might popularly be so called, the word has no significance for me. It merely means a revolutionist who does his duty. There is no heroism in that: it is neither more nor less than a revolutionist should do. Rakhmetov did more, too much. In spite of my great admiration for Chernishevsky, who had so strongly influenced the Russian youth of my time, I can not suppress the touch of resentment I feel because the author of "What's To Be Done? It was a sign of weakness. Does a real revolutionist need to prepare himself, to steel his nerves and harden his body?

I feel it almost a personal insult, this suggestion of the revolutionist's mere human clay. No, the thorough revolutionist needs no such self-doubting preparations. For I know I do not need them. The feeling is quite impersonal, strange as it may seem. My own individuality is entirely in the background; aye, I am not conscious of any personality in matters pertaining to the Cause. I am simply a [Pg 10] revolutionist, a terrorist by conviction, an instrument for furthering the cause of humanity; in short, a Rakhmetov.

Indeed, I shall assume that name upon my arrival in Pittsburgh. The piercing shrieks of the locomotive awake me with a start. My first thought is of my wallet, containing important addresses of Allegheny comrades, which I was trying to memorize when I must have fallen asleep. The wallet is gone! For a moment I am overwhelmed with terror. What if it is lost? Suddenly my foot touches something soft. I pick it up, feeling tremendously relieved to find all the contents safe: the precious addresses, a small newspaper lithograph of Frick, and a dollar bill.

My joy at recovering the wallet is not a whit dampened by the meagerness of my funds. The dollar will do to get a room in a hotel for the first night, and in the morning I'll look up Nold or Bauer. They will find a place for me to stay a day or two. We are nearing Washington, D. The train is to make a six-hour stop there. I curse the stupidity of the delay: something may be happening in Pittsburgh or Homestead.

Besides, no time is to be lost in striking a telling blow, while public sentiment is aroused at the atrocities of the Carnegie Company, the brutality of Frick. Yet my irritation is strangely dispelled by the beautiful picture that greets my eye as I step from the train. The sun has risen, a large ball of deep red, pouring a flood of gold upon the Capitol. The cupola rears its proud head majestically above the pile of stone and marble. Like a living thing the light palpitates, trembling with passion [Pg 11] to kiss the uppermost peak, striking it with blinding brilliancy, and then spreading in a broadening embrace down the shoulders of the towering giant.

The amber waves entwine its flanks with soft caresses, and then rush on, to right and left, wider and lower, flashing upon the stately trees, dallying amid leaves and branches, finally unfolding themselves over the broad avenue, and ever growing more golden and generous as they scatter. And cupola-headed giant, stately trees, and broad avenue quiver with new-born ecstasy, all nature heaves the contented sigh of bliss, and nestles closer to the golden giver of life.

At this moment I realize, as perhaps never before, the great joy, the surpassing gladness, of being. But in a trice the picture changes. Before my eyes rises the Monongahela river, carrying barges filled with armed men. And I hear a shot. A boy falls to the gangplank. The blood gushes from the centre of his forehead. The hole ploughed by the bullet yawns black on the crimson face. Cries and wailing ring in my ears. I see men running toward the river, and women kneeling by the side of the dead. The horrible vision revives in my mind a similar incident, lived through in imagination before.

It was the sight of an executed Nihilist. The Nihilists! How much of their precious blood has been shed, how many thousands of them line the road of Russia's suffering! Inexpressibly near and soul-kin I feel to those men and women, the adored, mysterious ones of my youth, who had left wealthy homes and high station to "go to the People," to become one with them, though despised by all whom they held dear, persecuted and ridiculed even by the benighted objects of their great sacrifice.


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Clearly there flashes out upon my memory my first impression of Nihilist Russia. I had just passed my second year's gymnasium examinations. Overflowing with blissful excitement, I rushed into the house to tell mother the joyful news. How happy it will make her! Next week will be my twelfth birthday, but mother need give me no present. I have one for her, instead. Something has happened, I thought; mother never speaks so loudly. Something very peculiar, I felt, noticing the door leading from the broad hallway to the dining-room closed, contrary to custom. In perturbation I hesitated at the door.

I was struck with terror. I tiptoed out of the hallway, and ran to my room. Trembling with fear, I threw myself on the bed. I moaned. Her own youngest brother, my favorite uncle Maxim. Oh, what has happened to him? My excited imagination conjured up horrible visions. Suddenly the two fiery eyes fused into a large ball of flaming red; the figure of the fearful one-eyed cyclop grew taller and stretched higher and higher, and everywhere was the giant—on all sides of me was he—then a sudden flash of steel, and in his monster hand I saw raised a head, cut close to the neck, its eyes incessantly blinking, the dark-red blood gushing from mouth and ears and throat.

Something looked ghastly familiar about that head with the broad white forehead and expressive mouth, so sweet and sad. Nearer and nearer I came,—another quick rush, and then the violent impact of my body struck him in the very centre, and he fell, forward and heavy, right upon me, and I felt his fearful weight crushing my arms, my chest, my head What is the matter, golubchik?

I open my eyes. Mother is kneeling by the bed, her beautiful black eyes bathed in tears. Passionately she showers kisses upon my face and hands, entreating: " Golubchik , what is it? Her sudden change of expression chills my heart with fear. She turns ghostly white, large drops of perspiration stand on her forehead, and her eyes grow large and round with terror.

Her lips move, and I feel her warm breath on my cheek; but, without uttering a word, she bursts into vehement weeping. The pall of death seems to have descended upon our home. The house is oppressively silent. Everybody walks about in slippers, and the piano is kept locked. Only monosyllables, in undertone, are exchanged at the dinner-table. Mother's seat remains vacant. She is very ill, the nurse informs us; no one is to see her. The situation bewilders me. I keep wondering what has happened to Maxim. Vaguely I feel guilty of mother's illness.

The shock of my question may be responsible for her condition. Yet there must be more to it, I try to persuade my troubled spirit. One afternoon, finding my eldest brother Maxim, named after mother's favorite brother, in a very cheerful mood, I call him aside and ask, in a boldly assumed confidential manner: "Maximushka, tell me, what is a Nihilist? With a show of violence, quite inexplicable to me, Maxim throws his paper on the floor, jumps from his seat, upsetting the chair, and leaves the room. The fate of Uncle Maxim remains a mystery, the question of Nihilism unsolved.

I am absorbed in my studies. Yet a deep interest, curiosity about the mysterious and forbidden, slumbers in my consciousness, when quite unexpectedly it is roused into keen activity by a school incident. I am fifteen now, in the fourth grade of the classic gymnasium at Kovno. By direction [Pg 15] of the Ministry of Education, compulsory religious instruction is being introduced in the State schools.

Special classes have been opened at the gymnasium for the religious instruction of Jewish pupils. The parents of the latter resent the innovation; almost every Jewish child receives religious training at home or in cheidar. The roll-call at the first session finds me missing. Summoned before the Director for an explanation, I state that I failed to attend because I have a private Jewish tutor at home, and,—anyway, I do not believe in religion.

The prim Director looks inexpressibly shocked. His manner disconcerts me; but the sarcasm of his words and the offensive tone rouse my resentment. Impulsively, defiantly, I discover my cherished secret. But the next instant I realize the recklessness of my confession. I have a fleeting sense of coming trouble, at school and at home. Yet somehow I feel I have acted like a man. Uncle Maxim, the Nihilist, would act so in my position. I know his reputation for uncompromising candor, and love him for his bold, frank ways.

His voice grows stern. The words fall upon my ears with the harsh metallic sound of my sister's piano that memorable evening of our musicale when, in a spirit of mischief, I hid a piece of gas pipe in the instrument tuned for the occasion. The Educational Board, in conclave assembled, reads the essay. My disquisition is unanimously condemned. Exemplary punishment is to be visited upon me for "precocious godlessness, dangerous tendencies, and insubordination. The peculiar sentence robs me of a year, and forces me to associate with the "children" my senior class looks down upon with undisguised contempt.

I feel disgraced, humiliated. Thus vision chases vision, memory succeeds memory, while the interminable hours creep towards the afternoon, and the station clock drones like an endless old woman. On and on rushes the engine, every moment bringing me nearer to my destination. The conductor drawling out the stations, the noisy going and coming produce almost no conscious impression on my senses.

Seeing and hearing every detail of my surroundings, I am [Pg 17] nevertheless oblivious to them. Faster than the train rushes my fancy, as if reviewing a panorama of vivid scenes, apparently without organic connection with each other, yet somehow intimately associated in my thoughts of the past. But how different is the present! I am speeding toward Pittsburgh, the very heart of the industrial struggle of America. I dwell wonderingly on the unuttered sound. Why in America?

And again unfold pictures of old scenes. I am walking in the garden of our well-appointed country place, in a fashionable suburb of St. Petersburg, where the family generally spends the summer months. As I pass the veranda, Dr. Semeonov, the celebrated physician of the resort, steps out of the house and beckons to me. Are you alone with her? Could you sit up with her to-night? Mother has been improving, the nurses have assured me.

My presence at her bedside may prove irksome to her. Our relations have been strained since the day when, in a fit of anger, she slapped Rose, our new chambermaid, whereupon I resented mother's right to inflict physical punishment on the servants. I can see her now, erect and haughty, facing [Pg 18] me across the dinner-table, her eyes ablaze with indignation.

I cannot suppress the sharp reply that springs to my lips: "The low servant girl is as good as you. I see mother's long, slender fingers grasp the heavy ladle, and the next instant a sharp pain pierces my left hand. Our eyes meet. Her arm remains motionless, her gaze directed to the spreading blood stain on the white table-cloth. The ladle falls from her hand. She closes her eyes, and her body sinks limply to the chair. Anger and humiliation extinguish my momentary impulse to rush to her assistance.

Without uttering a word, I pick up the heavy saltcellar, and fling it violently against the French mirror. At the crash of the glass my mother opens her eyes in amazement. I rise and leave the house. My heart beats fast as I enter mother's sick-room. I fear she may resent my intrusion: the shadow of the past stands between us. But she is lying quietly on the bed, and has apparently not noticed my entrance. I sit down at the bedside. A long time passes in silence. Mother seems to be asleep. It is growing dark in the room, and I settle down to pass the night in the chair.

Suddenly I hear "Sasha! I bend over her. I feel so near to her, my heart is overflowing with compassion and love. But I dare not kiss her—we have become estranged. Affectionately I hold her in my arms for just the shadow of a second, dreading lest she suspect the storm of emotion raging within me.

Caressingly I turn her to the wall, and, as I slowly withdraw, I feel as if some mysterious, yet definite, something has at the very instant left her body. In a few minutes I return with a glass of ice water. I hold it to her lips, but she seems oblivious of my presence. No reply. Then I become conscious of an arm upon my shoulder, and hear the measured voice of the doctor: "My boy, you must bear up. She is at rest. Whatcher sighin' for? Not wishing to encourage conversation, I pretend to become absorbed in my book. How strange is the sudden sound of English! Six months passed after my mother's death.

Threatened by the educational authorities with a "wolf's passport" on account of my "dangerous tendencies"—which would close every professional avenue to me, in spite of my otherwise very satisfactory standing—the situation aggravated by a violent quarrel with my guardian, Uncle Nathan, I decided to go to America.

There, beyond the ocean, was the land of noble achievement, a glorious free country, where men walked erect in the full stature of manhood,—the very realization of my youthful dreams. And now I am in America, the blessed land. The disillusionment, the disappointments, the vain struggles! The kaleidoscope of my brain unfolds them all before my view. The night wind sweeps across the cheerless park, chilling us to the bone.


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I feel hungry and tired, fagged out by the day's fruitless search for work. My heart sinks within me as I glance at my friends.

An independent labor magazine

Fedya groans in uneasy sleep, his hand groping about his knees. I pick up the newspaper that had fallen under the seat, spread it over his legs, and tuck the ends underneath. But a sudden blast tears the paper away, and whirls it off into the darkness. As I press Fedya's hat down on his head, I am struck by his ghastly look. How these few weeks have changed the plump, rosy-cheeked youth! Poor fellow, no one wants his labor.

How his mother would suffer if she knew that her carefully reared boy passes the nights in the What is that pain I feel? Some one is bending over me, looming unnaturally large in the darkness. Half-dazed I see an arm swing [Pg 21] to and fro, with short, semicircular backward strokes, and with every movement I feel a sharp sting, as of a lash. Oh, it's in my soles!

Bewildered I spring to my feet. A rough hand grabs me by the throat, and I face a policeman. Quickly, silently, we walk away, Fedya and I in front, Mikhail limping behind us. The dimly lighted streets are deserted, save for a hurrying figure here and there, closely wrapped, flitting mysteriously around the corner.

Columns of dust rise from the gray pavements, are caught up by the wind, rushed to some distance, then carried in a spiral upwards, to be followed by another wave of choking dust. From somewhere a tantalizing odor reaches my nostrils. Unconsciously our steps quicken. Shoulders raised, heads bent, and shivering, we keep on to the lower Bowery. Mikhail is steadily falling behind. A thorough inspection of our pockets reveals the possession of twelve cents, all around. Mikhail is to go to bed, we decide, handing him a dime. The cigarettes purchased for the remaining two cents are divided equally, each taking a few puffs of the "fourth" in the box.

Fedya and I sleep on the steps of the city hall. The harsh cry of the conductor startles me with the violence of a shock. Impatient as I am of the long journey, the realization that I have reached my destina [Pg 22] tion comes unexpectedly, overwhelming me with the dread of unpreparedness. In a flurry I gather up my things, but, noticing that the other passengers keep their places, I precipitately resume my seat, fearful lest my agitation be noticed.

To hide my confusion, I turn to the open window. Thick clouds of smoke overcast the sky, shrouding the morning with sombre gray. The air is heavy with soot and cinders; the smell is nauseating. In the distance, giant furnaces vomit pillars of fire, the lurid flashes accentuating a line of frame structures, dilapidated and miserable. They are the homes of the workers who have created the industrial glory of Pittsburgh, reared its millionaires, its Carnegies and Fricks.

The sight fills me with hatred of the perverse social justice that turns the needs of mankind into an Inferno of brutalizing toil. It robs man of his soul, drives the sunshine from his life, degrades him lower than the beasts, and between the millstones of divine bliss and hellish torture grinds flesh and blood into iron and steel, transmutes human lives into gold, gold, countless gold. The great, noble People! But is it really great and noble to be slaves and remain content? No, no! They are awakening, awakening!

Contentedly peaceful the Monongahela stretches before me, its waters lazily rippling in the sunlight, and softly crooning to the murmur of the woods on the hazy shore. But the opposite bank presents a picture of sharp contrast. Near the edge of the river rises a high board fence, topped with barbed wire, the menacing aspect heightened by warlike watch-towers and ramparts. The sinister wall looks down on me with a thousand hollow eyes, whose evident murderous purpose fully justifies the name of "Fort Frick. Men carrying Winchesters are hurrying by, their faces grimy, eyes bold yet anxious.

From the mill-yard gape the black mouths of cannon, dismantled breastworks bar the passages, and the ground is strewn with burning cinders, empty shells, oil barrels, broken furnace stacks, and piles of steel and iron. The place looks the aftermath of a sanguinary conflict,—the symbol of our industrial life, of the ruthless struggle in which the stronger , the sturdy man of labor, is always the victim, because he acts weakly.

Alexander Berkman: What is Communist Anarchism? Chapter 1

But the charred hulks of the Pinkerton barges at the landing-place, and the blood-bespattered gangplank, bear mute witness that for once the battle went to the really strong, to the victim who dared. A group of workingmen approaches me. Big, stal [Pg 24] wart men, the power of conscious strength in their step and bearing.

Each of them carries a weapon: some Winchesters, others shotguns. In the hand of one I notice the gleaming barrel of a navy revolver. In one of the mill-yards I come upon a dense crowd of men and women of various types: the short, broad-faced Slav, elbowing his tall American fellow-striker; the swarthy Italian, heavy-mustached, gesticulating and talking rapidly to a cluster of excited countrymen.

The people are surging about a raised platform, on which stands a large, heavy man. I press forward. You all know who I am, don't you? The speaker advances to the edge of the platform. It is my sworn duty, as Sheriff, to preserve the peace. Your city is in a state of lawlessness. I have asked the Governor to send the militia and I hope—". Shaking his clenched fist, his foot stamping the platform, he [Pg 25] shouts at the crowd, but his voice is lost amid the general uproar.

We have driven the Pinkerton invaders out of our city—". Vociferous cheering interrupts the speaker. The Pinkertons were invaders. We defended our homes and drove them out; rightly so. But you are law-abiding citizens. You respect the law and the authority of the State. Public opinion will uphold you in your struggle if you act right. Now is the time, friends! Welcome the soldiers. They are not sent by that man Frick.

They are the people's militia. They are our friends. Let us welcome them as friends! Applause, mixed with cries of impatient disapproval, greets the exhortation. Arms are raised in angry argument, and the crowd sways back and forth, breaking into several excited groups. Presently a tall, dark man appears on the platform. His stentorian voice [Pg 26] gradually draws the assembly closer to the front. Slowly the tumult subsides.

Soft words these, Mr. They'll cost us dear. Remember what I say, brothers. The soldiers are no friends of ours. I know what I am talking about.

They are coming here because that damned murderer Frick wants them. The scoundrel of a Sheriff there asked the Governor for troops, and that damned Frick paid the Sheriff to do it, I say! You all know this cowardly Sheriff. Don't you let the soldiers come, I tell you. First they 'll come; then the blacklegs. You want 'em? If you don't, they'll drive you out from the homes you have paid for with your blood. You and your wives and children they'll drive out, and out you will go from these"—the speaker points in the direction of the mills—"that's what they'll do, if you don't look out.

We have sweated and bled in these mills, our brothers have been killed and maimed there, we have made the damned Company rich, and now they send the soldiers here to shoot us down like the Pinkerton thugs have tried to. And you want to welcome the murderers, do you? Keep them out, I tell you! I am eager to see the popular Burgess of Homestead, himself a poorly paid employee of the Carnegie Company.

A large-boned, good-natured-looking workingman elbows his way to the front, the men readily making way for him with nods and pleasant smiles. There is a good deal of truth in what the brother before me said; but if you stop to think on it, he forgot to tell you just one little thing. The how? How is he going to do it, to keep the soldiers out? That's what I'd like to know. I'm afraid it's bad to let them in. The blacklegs might be hiding in the rear. But then again, it's bad not to let the soldiers in. You can't stand up against 'em: they are not Pinkertons.

And we can't fight the Government of Pennsylvania. Perhaps the Governor won't send the militia. But if he does, I reckon the best way for us will be to make friends with them. Guess it's the only thing we can do. That's all I have to say. Like a gigantic hive the twin cities jut out on the banks of the Ohio, heavily breathing the spirit of feverish activity, and permeating the atmosphere with the rage of life. Ceaselessly flow the streams of human ants, meeting and diverging, their paths crossing and recrossing, leaving in their trail a thousand winding passages, mounds of structure, peaked and domed.

Their huge shadows overcast the yellow thread of gleaming river that curves and twists its painful way, now hugging the shore, now hiding in affright, and again timidly stretching its arms toward the wrathful monsters that belch fire and smoke into the midst of the giant hive. And over the whole is spread the gloom of thick fog, oppressive and dispiriting—the symbol of our existence, with all its darkness and cold.

This is Pittsburgh, the heart of American industrialism, whose spirit moulds the life of the great Nation. The spirit of Pittsburgh, the Iron City! Cold as steel, hard as iron, its products. These are the keynote of the great Republic, dominating all other chords, sacrificing harmony to noise, beauty to bulk. Its torch of liberty is a furnace fire, consuming, destroying, devastating: a country-wide furnace, in which the bones and marrow of the producers, their limbs and bodies, their health and [Pg 29] blood, are cast into Bessemer steel, rolled into armor plate, and converted into engines of murder to be consecrated to Mammon by his high priests, the Carnegies, the Fricks.

The spirit of the Iron City characterizes the negotiations carried on between the Carnegie Company and the Homestead men. Henry Clay Frick, in absolute control of the firm, incarnates the spirit of the furnace, is the living emblem of his trade. The olive branch held out by the workers after their victory over the Pinkertons has been refused. The ultimatum issued by Frick is the last word of Caesar: the union of the steel-workers is to be crushed, completely and absolutely, even at the cost of shedding the blood of the last man in Homestead; the Company will deal only with individual workers, who must accept the terms offered, without question or discussion; he, Frick, will operate the mills with non-union labor, even if it should require the combined military power of the State and the Union to carry the plan into execution.

Millmen disobeying the order to return to work under the new schedule of reduced wages are to be discharged forthwith, and evicted from the Company houses. In an obscure alley, in the town of Homestead, there stands a one-story frame house, looking old and forlorn. It is occupied by the widow Johnson and her four small children. Six months ago, the breaking of a crane buried her husband under two hundred tons of metal. When the body was carried into the house, the distracted woman refused to recognize in the mangled remains her big, strong "Jack.

Where's my husband? Accompanied by her four little orphans, she recently gained admittance to Mr. On her knees she implored him not to drive her out of her home. Her poor husband was dead, she pleaded; she could not pay off the mortgage; the children were too young to work; she herself was hardly able to walk.

Frick was very kind, she thought; he had promised to see what could be done. She would not listen to the neighbors urging her to sue the Company for damages. Frick was kind, and surely he knew best about the crane. Did he not say it was her poor husband's own carelessness? She feels very thankful to good Mr. Frick for extending the mortgage. She had lived in such mortal dread lest her own little home, where dear John had been such a kind husband to her, be taken away, and her children driven into the street.

She must never forget to ask the Lord's blessing upon the good Mr. Every day she repeats to her neighbors the story of her visit to the great man; how kindly he received her, how simply he talked with her. She is now telling the wonderful story to neighbor Mary, the hunchback, who, with undiminished interest, hears the recital for the twentieth time. It reflects such importance to know some one that had come in intimate contact with the Iron King; why, into his very presence!

Frick,' says I," the widow is narrating, [Pg 31] "'dear Mr. Frick,' I says, 'look at my poor little angels—'". A knock on the door interrupts her. Come in! Won't last long, I fear. A tall, rough-looking man stands in the doorway. Behind him appear two others. Frightened, the widow rises from the chair. One of the children begins to cry, and runs to hide behind his mother. We are Deputy Sheriffs. Read this. Very sorry, ma'am, but get ready. Quick, got a dozen more of—". East End, the fashionable residence quarter of Pittsburgh, lies basking in the afternoon sun.

The broad avenue looks cool and inviting: the stately trees touch their shadows across the carriage road, gently nodding their heads in mutual approval. A steady procession of equipages fills the avenue, the richly caparisoned horses and uniformed flunkies lending color and life to the scene. A cavalcade is passing me. The laughter of the ladies sounds joyous and care-free. Their happiness irritates me. I am thinking of Homestead. In mind I see the sombre fence, the fortifications and cannon; the piteous figure of the widow rises before me, the little children weeping, and again I hear the anguished cry of a broken heart, a shattered brain And here all is joy and laughter.

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The gentlemen seem pleased; the ladies are happy. Why should they concern themselves with misery and want? The common folk are fit only to be their slaves, to feed and clothe them, build these beautiful palaces, and be content with the charitable crust. Why, here is his house! A luxurious place, with large garden, barns, and stable. That stable there,—it is more cheerful and habitable than the widow's home. Ah, life could be made livable, beautiful! Why should it not be? Why so much misery and strife? Sunshine, flowers, beautiful things are all around me.

That is life! Joy and peace There can be no peace with such as Frick and these parasites in carriages riding on our backs, and sucking the blood of the workers. Fricks, vampires, all of them—I almost shout aloud—they are all one class.

Berkman, Alexander 1870-1936

He was eventually pushed into disagreement by the reality of increasing repression - both of non-Bolshevik revolutionaries like the anarchists and of popular participation, as the soviets were turned from organs of popular control into enforcers of Bolshevik rule. After leaving Russia, both Berkman and Goldman found themselves not only exiled but isolated from the bulk of progressives and left-wingers who could not distinguish the Communist Party from the revolution. From Berlin in Berkman issued three pamphlets attacking the Bolshevik seizure of power and diversion of the revolution into shoring up their own rule.

From Berkman lived in France. He was menaced by destitution, the threat of deportation and prey to depression. Under these circumstances, and barred from political activism, he began work on a popular explanation of the aims and principles of anarchism. He took up the challenge to revitalise the anarchist movement with new propaganda and refine its ideas in the light of the failure of the Russian revolution to create a free society.

Rather like the work of Errico Malatesta at the same time it represents a determination to push anarchist theory away from easy answers towards a practical but principled engagement with the world as it is. Yet it was followed by a greater achievement. Not that they held identical ideas and attitudes.

He had none of her longing to return to America, nor so much faith in the intelligentsia in the struggle for freedom. His friendship, experience and skills as an editor meant there was no-one better suited to the job. After years of poverty, wracked with ill-health and unwilling to live on charity, Berkman committed suicide on 28 June Berkman was a natural rebel and wanted nothing more than to be in the thick of the struggle.

However, he often ended up in a position where the pen was the only weapon available. In the nineteen-twenties Berkman began a new battle of ideas against the supposed success of Bolshevism. Even before executions and repression became the rule inside the Party, the popular liberation movement of had been subordinated to the needs of the new ruling class by the very same methods. Berkman still awaits his biographer, but his writings abound with insights for those who want to change the world as well as those who want to understand it.

They still have something to say on the nature of tyranny, opposition and revolution, and about the way in which principles and realities interact. The Blast AK Press, What is Anarchism? AK Press,

Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader
Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader
Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader
Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader
Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader
Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader

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