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The Physical Force Annihilators

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE men whose peculiar characteristics and purposes I mean to discuss in this chapter, are not such objects of dread as their name, "Annihilators," might seem to indicate. The safety of both themselves and their intended victims is secured by the magnitude of the task they have undertaken, compared with the paucity of the means proposed to accomplish it. Their proposed scheme is nothing less than the annihilation of society and its reconstruction. In the reconstructed state it is presumed that everybody will be able to enjoy leisure, after performing about an hour's easy work daily. "Annihilator" is a generic term comprising several species, the principal of which are communists, anarchists, and nihilists. There may be a few others, but they are of minor importance, and, at present, I shall confine my remarks to those named. They wish to destroy everything and to build up anew. This purpose may include themselves in the general annihilation, and they may think that, like the phoenix, they can again rise from their ashes,- a supposition not more preposterous than some of the feats in the way of transforming society which they propose to achieve. The annihilators think that they are very much oppressed in this country, but they are under a delusion. The large majority of them have come from countries where the people are oppressed by military rule, and where the one-man power is predominant; and they think that the same condition of things exists everywhere. They do not pay any attention to the study of our constitution and the nature of our government. If they did, they would discover that there is no place in the world where the laws and institutions, regarding personal liberty and the right of free speech, approach those of this country; and no place where the annihilators themselves would be afforded the opportunity of earning as good a living as here. The enjoyment of such privileges is fully demonstrated by the fact that but few of them are in our prisons,- probably not any greater proportion than there are of our other citizens. This exemption in itself is a privilege they could not enjoy in other lands, as many of them know from hard experience. If they would only conduct themselves decently for five years after arriving, they might have the chance of rising to the highest positions in the land, except that of president; and their sons born here would be eligible even for that eminent office. There is no other place in the world where such aspirations find any such encouragement or possibility of realization. Yet this country is probably first in wealth, second in area, and third in population, being excelled in the last only by China and Russia. Just think of. the son of a poor, miserable, starving creature who was born in slavery, under the heel of an effete despot of Europe, being able to become a greater executive in power and influence than the imperial tyrant whose serf his father was born! A few centuries ago an historic possibility like this would have been read in Europe like a fairy tale, classed with such stories as Cinderella and the Glass Slipper, or some of the tales in the "Arabian Nights' Entertainment." Such, however, is the ingratitude of human nature, that the very people admitted to the full fruition of these inestimable benefits, purchased by terrible struggles, are ready to turn, serpent-like, and destroy the social and political fabric reared at so much expense and suffering, and which munificently confers the great boons of protection and sustenance on the downtrodden portion of humanity from every clime, on the most agreeable and easy terms. They have only to fall in with our facile customs and benign laws and perform a sufficiency of manual labor, or brain work if they are capable of it, to keep their bodies and minds in a healthy condition. In return for this they are fed and clothed better than some of the nobility whose servants they were; and yet they are not happy. Are such people fit for freedom? Not except on the principle laid down by Macaulay, who said that the best way to regulate discontent, arising from what may be considered too much liberty, is to grant more liberty. Macaulay may be right, but he never had European annihilators, transplanted to American soil, to deal with, or he might have thought differently. I do not think, however, that we have anything to fear from these destructive elements in human form. They do not thrive on this soil; they are not indigenous to it. They are exotics, and poisonous ones, but the fact that the poison is labeled in sight of all men is the best protection against its fatal effects. The few native or naturalized converts that these pernicious missionaries may bring over to their way of thinking, or raving, have no influence on the body politic in general, and only show by the ease with which they have been captured that they are not qualified to enjoy and exercise the prerogative of the citizenship bestowed upon them. Such easy subjects to the hypnotic influence of the annihilators do not count for much as members of our political system. They are excrescences upon it, and have to be endured in accordance with our generous system of government, by which drastic measures are seldom resorted to except in the last extremity. This mild treatment may work to the detriment of our system in some instances, on the principle that forgiveness sometimes only encourages sin; but the country is strong enough to afford a large measure of benevolence, even at the risk of having its benignant rule of action imposed upon. The rule has worked tolerably well in practice for over one hundred years, and it would hardly be prudent to change it except in the face of clearly demonstrated necessity. Germany seems to have been the birthplace of socialism, but the present German organizations, and especially the scattered portions that have been transplanted to our soil, have departed materially from the principles held by the older brood in the fatherland. The latter believe in prosecuting their ends by constitutional, semi-constitutional, and educational methods; but the new brood proposes first to demolish the existing system, and that without anything to put in its place. These people seem to think that, when chaos has come through this act of demolition, reorganization on a basis of social equality will be effected in some mysterious way. When the question, How? has been asked at any of their big conventions, the effort to formulate a plan has frequently ended in violence among the very people who propose to organize the world as one happy family and harmonious brotherhood. This was notably the case in the Congress at The Hague in 1872. Two divisions were formed out of that secession, one called the " Black" and the other the "Red." The Blacks were the most uncompromising annihilators, and proposed the destruction of all existing governments by physical force. They were the full-fledged nihilists, and took their name from the Latin word "nihi," -nothing, or "having no foundation in truth." The latter meaning, given in the Latin dictionary, seems to be peculiarly significant, as the system itself has certainly no foundation in truth; but the organization which had itself baptized by this name evidently meant that "nothing " should remain of any government when they got through with it. Their special field was Russia, where, it must be admitted, they have worked so as to make their influence felt. The "Reds" were inclined to work by constitutional and educational methods, and at that time devoted themselves chiefly to Germany; but their idea also was to make the annihilating brotherhood universal. The nihilists have probably not been so powerful or compact for the purpose of general mischief in Europe since that dissension. At that time the crowned heads were beginning to stand in awe of them, and the division in their ranks was regarded as a good omen by the royal families and rulers of Europe. Bismarck is reported to have said: " Crowned heads, wealth, and privilege well may tremble should ever again the 'Black' and the 'Red' unite." It was recently reported that there has been a secret reunion, and also that the more rational portion of the annihilators propose to make the United States a camping-ground and preparatory field where the sinews of war can be collected for the purpose of overturning the thrones and decapitating the rulers of Europe. They may decide on using this country for that purpose until the European conquest is accomplished, before turning their dynamite on us. There are a few able heads among them who have seen military service on the other side in all three armies, Russian, French, and German. There are also some Italians of the Carbonari type, and a small sprinkling of Spaniards, but very few English or Irish. Some of the more enthusiastic ones imagine that the revolution can be made general and simultaneous on both sides of the Atlantic with the same facility that the telegraphers' strike was inaugurated at the same moment all over the country a few years ago by a whistle in the Western Union Building. These sanguine annihilators think that they will communicate with all their centers of activity through land and cable telegraph at the same instant, thus giving the command for the universal holocaust, when the armies of Europe, America, and Oceanica will be pounced upon mercilessly and become the prey of dynamite, no quarter being allowed except to those who are quick to embrace the destructive tenets of the annihilators. This part of the contract, however, is considered too vast by the more rational leaders, and especially by the "Reds," who favor the tactics of dividing and then conquering. While the "Blacks " consider the old method too slow and antiquated, the "Reds" think it is better to make sure of the victory even at the expense of a little delay, than to take risks by precipitation. The anarchists, too, are rather inclined to be on the conservative side; but the nihilists are uncompromising, and want to get into action with their dynamite bombs and the murderous machinery of nitro-glycerine on the very shortest notice. In fact, the anarchists seem to be coming back to the original idea of their organization indicated by their name, " without government," which was used then in the sense that every man shall be a law unto himself, as predicted by some of the old prophets. This prophecy has yet to be fulfilled, for there is no record of any experience of its realization. It is supposed that the anarchists might have tried it on these lines with the favorable opportunities offered in this country at the time of the Chicago strike; but Governor Altgeld of Illinois, being stronger with the nihilists than with the anarchists, was opposed to the views of those who advocated this theory, and they had to succumb, as Altgeld and his adherents had the "pull" in politics, and were bent in the first instance on the crippling of the trunk line railroads. As to the communists, who are members of the same annihilating family under consideration, there has been little heard of them since the sacking of Paris after the German invasion. From this long quietude of the commune we learn a lesson of great interest and significance to our own republic. Annihilators cannot multiply on republican soil. It is too rich for them, and they become plethoric upon it; so, in order to avoid death by apoplexy they are obliged to emigrate, if they can find any place on earth that will harbor them. If they cannot, they await their inevitable fate where they are. Sometimes they even see the error of their ways, reform, and become peaceable citizens. John Most is now as gentle as a cooing dove and seldom makes an inflammatory speech; the two terms in prison, one in London and the other in New York, cured him. And the name of Justus Schwab of this city, who was so prominent a few years ago as a red-hot socialist, is seldom mentioned. Why? Simply because he has accumulated some money by selling beer, sauerkraut, and quick lunch, and now owns some real estate, including the house in which he lives. Consequently he is unable to see why he should divide up the fruit of his hard earning and frugality with the fellows who spent all their money in his saloon, while he was collecting it carefully and putting it in property to be divided among his children when he goes to the happy hunting grounds of the social reformers. He encouraged the socialists and the newspapers to advertise him and his place until he became independent, and then he did not have much use for either. The socialistic slate has been broken years ago, and the man who used to proclaim in the language of Prudhomme that "all property is robbery," now adheres firmly to the plunder which he was then amassing. Justus Schwab is a whole object lesson in himself, when the fiery Justus of seven or ten years ago is contrasted with the sedate and tenacious property owner of the present time. John Swinton is another of those who have been careful to adhere to a fair share of the good things of this life, and, though he has been fairly consistent and has contributed according to his means both materially and intellectually to the cause of socialism, yet he has never been known, I believe, to let his own supply of loaves and fishes run short. John Swinton has always been the first consideration with him. Even when he started a newspaper he called it John Swinton's paper, so much was he in favor of giving John the preference; and probably the name helped to kill it, for socialists are very jealous about individual honors, though their theory is the reverse. These eminent failures, and many others similar in kind, go to show that the proposed revolutionary system of reform must be sadly lacking in the elements of cohesion, popularity, and permanency. The great problem which these reformers have yet to solve is the exclusion of the selfish principle in human nature. In that they have apparently made very little headway in half a century, and without this solution their socialistic schemes are so many ropes of sand.

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