Anarchists In History Essay, Research Paper
Nancy Allen, Howard Jones
English II, World History
February 19, 1998
Anarchists in History
Anarchy is one of the most misdefined words in the English language. Many people believe it means total chaos. It is actually the idea that any form of government is unnecessary and undesirable. Although anarchism is often despised, anarchists have helped shape the lives and governments of today’s world.
Anarchism has been around longer than most can recall. There is evidence of anarchists who lived as early as ancient Greeks. One such anarchist was Zeno. As father of the Stoic philosophy, Zeno of Cittium established the anarchist philosophy as we know it today (Harrison).
“While the necessary instinct of self-preservation leads man to egotism, nature has supplied a corrective to it by providing man with another instinct-that of sociability. When men are reasonable enough to return to their natural instincts, they will unite across the frontiers and constitute the cosmos. They will have no need of law courts or police, will have no temples and no public worship and use no money-free gifts taking place of the exchanges.” (Harrison)
Greeks were not the only anarchists in history. The philosophy can be found in almost every country. Many prominent anarchists have come from France. One of the most famous French anarchists was Prouhdon. Born in Battant, Burgundy on January 15, 1809, Pierre- Joseph Prouhdon would become one of the best known anarchist thinkers in the world. Proudhon was actually the first person to use the term “Anarchy” (Brogan 5). He wrote many books about anarchy and his ideal way of life. One of these books is titled Qu’est-ce que la propriete? or What is Property? This book described the normal way of life as opposed to the way of the anarchist. He became very popular as an anarchist philosopher and soon arose to be very well known throughout the world (Brogan).
Another famous writer named Mary Shelley was related to an anarchist. William Godwin was her father. He was born on March 3, 1756 in Wisbech, England (Cox). Godwin grew up in a strong religious environment. He attended Hoxton Academy to train as a preacher himself. After realizing he did not like the system of government and the ways of the Christian religion, Godwin declared himself a “complete unbeliever” and rejected his preaching (Cox).
Like many anarchists, Godwin found he did not like being constantly bound by religion. He felt it was also very contradictory. He believed that if everyone were perfect Christians, nothing would ever get done (Cox). For example, if one always put others before himself, he would have to refuse if offered something. At the same time, the person who was offering something must demand that he take it, for he cannot have it for himself (Cox). Such thoughts were unheard of at the time and Godwin was often ridiculed for them.
Henry David Thoreau was a prominent anarchist writer. He wrote one particular book on the subject titled Civil Disobedience. In this book he expressed his views on the government.
“I heartily accept the motto, ?That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe-’That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which the will have.” (Thoreau 6)
Thoreau also wrote that “the government is just a contest in which the most power goes to the one with the most money” (7). Thoreau also disliked the corrupt system of justice. He believed that “under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is in prison” (Thoreau 24). Henry David Thoreau scorned democracy also. Thoreau’s philosophy was that “voting is only a guessing game to determine which bigot gets to abuse the power” (11).
Henry David Thoreau’s writings have influenced many other anarchist thinkers in different times and countries. One such anarchist was Emma Goldman. She was born into a Jewish ghetto in Russia in 1869. Goldman soon moved to St. Petersburg when her family sold the small inn they ran (”Emma”). Emma was forced to work in a factory at 13. She was never fully educated because of her poverty. Her father arranged Goldman’s marriage at 15 years of age. Emma refused to marry and was sent to live with her half sister in Rochester. She stayed there until she was 19. Goldman married a Russian immigrant and soon got a divorce. She left him and moved to New York City (”Emma”).
In New York Emma Goldman met Johann Most. He ran a German anarchist newsletter. She did not, however, believe in anarchism until she heard of the “Haymarket Square” trial. In this trial anarchist were wrongfully sentenced for a crime. She felt it was extremely unfair and began to claim the anarchist philosophy. Goldman went on speaking tours where she would talk of the overthrow of capitalism. Goldman also was a prominent feminist speaker. She influence many anarchists to come.
The “Haymarket Square” trial was not the only judicial act against anarchists. Another of these was the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. On April 15, 1920, a factory payroll of 15,776 dollars was being carried through a street in South Braintree, Massachusetts (D’Attilio). Two gunmen fired at the carriers and ran off with the payroll. Sacco and Vanzetti were two Italian immigrants and were admittedly anarchists. They had been questioned by the police about the crime. At the time of questioning, both men were carrying guns and lied about their whereabouts in fear of incrimination (D’Attilio). They were arrested and summoned to court. Sacco and Vanzetti both had very strong alibis and many witnesses. The witnesses only spoke Italian for the most part and had to have their testimonies translated. At one point in time, the judge declared, “You are not on trial because you committed a crime, but because you’re anarchists,” (D’Attilio). The testimonies apparently were not enough to convince the jury. Vanzetti was sentenced to ten to fifteen years for another robbery while both men received a death sentence for the Braintree crimes (D’Attilio).
The case of Sacco and Vanzetti was not the only incident of injustice to anarchists. This type of ill-treatment happens everyday. Many present day anarchists are ridiculed for their beliefs. They are hardly ever taken seriously.
Many anarchists are influenced by music. There is an increasing number of anarchist bands. Most of these bands play a type of music called punk rock. Punk originated in England in 1977. The band some people recall as the founders of punk rock was called the “Sex Pistols.” They sang of anarchy in the U.K. and had records banded for their anarchist content. The band responded to the banning by playing their song “God Save The Queen” on a barge while following the Queen’s caravan.
While the Sex Pistols only sang of anarchy, another band did everything in their power to live the anarchist life. The band was called “Crass.” The word itself means unrefined to an extent that one is lacks sensibility. They were anarchists, but only believed that anarchy is worth having if it coincides with peace. Crass believed that if it does not, only chaos will come of it.
The singer of the band, Steve Ignorant, lived in a commune with a dozen other like minded individuals. Bass player Penny Rimbaud met Steve and decided on starting a band. At first the band was only meant to be a way of having fun. Everyone that could play an instrument was invited to the Saturday sessions. Eventually they wrote some songs and got regular gigs at the White Lion. An artist named G. Sus also lived in the commune and made backdrops and artwork for the band (Ignorant 3). They would usually play with another band called the U.K. Subs. The lack of public enthusiasm led the two bands to take turns being the audience (Ignorant 3).
After punk became more popular, Crass began playing larger gigs such as benefits. They were requested to play at the “Rock Against Racism” concert, but when they told them to keep the wages they had earned for the cause, the man informed him that the musicians were the cause (Ignorant 4). This outraged Crass and they never played for RAR again (Ignorant 4).
Punk was on the rise in the UK. There was an onslaught of punk rockers who shopped for bondage clothes and had spiked and colored hair. Crass then adopted black clothes in protest to “the narcissistic peacockery of fashion punks,” (Ignorant 5). They had realized that their fellow punk bands were not actually doing anything but promoting pop culture. They felt like they were the only band that ever did anything for a true cause.
Crass finally began to make their first record. They met Pete Stennet in 1978 at show (Ignorant 6). He listened to a tape of the band and wanted to produce a record. He could only make a single so he had to pick out a song to record. This was not an easy task. They finally decided to record them all on the first ever multi-tracked 45 rpm record. They decided to call it “The Feeding of the 5000″ because they could only produce 5000 copies (Ignorant 6).
Crass began having troubles with the police. When the next record from the band came out, police squads raided record stores and the band was visited by Scotland Yard. The record contained a song titled “Asylum,” which many record companies refused to make because of its blasphemous content (Ignorant 7). Crass received letters from the authorities saying that they were indeed free “but they’d better not try it again,” (Ignorant 8).
Since the beginning of 1977, Crass had been engaged in a graffiti war throughout London (Ignorant 10). They used spray paint and stencils to convey such messages as “Fight WAR, Not WARS,” (Ignorant 10). The band also began putting up banners with the infamous circle “A” which was a symbol for anarchy that could only be found in books at the time (Ignorant 11). Now this symbol is found everywhere throughout the world.
George Orwell’s book 1984 influenced Crass greatly (Ignorant 1, 8). They believed in his predictions of an overwhelmingly strong government in the year 1984. When this year arrived, Crass had extremely increased popularity. Many people in foreign countries knew about the band and bought their records (Ignorant 18). They realized that they had lost their cause. They themselves had become everything they had been fighting for seven years. The band decided to split and embark on their own solo careers.
Punk did not die when Crass broke up. A new type of music actually formed. Anarcho- punk is a style of music derived from punk. It has a message of anti-system beliefs and is still strong today. Some anarchist bands are actually at the top of the charts today. This is a big accomplishment for anarchists everywhere.
From the 500’s to the 1900’s and from New York to New Zealand, anarchism has been a belief shared by many. Although anarchy has only been in effect for very short periods of time in a country, the assumption that it would be a successful way of living seems to be appealing to thousands. Anarchism has influenced us in many different ways. Many revolutionaries where anarchists who shaped the government today. Art and literature are forms of media that have always provided anarchists with a way of expressing their beliefs. Music itself is to blame for many present day anarchist. It is a belief that has shaped our lives and will continue to do so forever.
Brogan, Denis. Proudhon. London: H.Hamilton, 1934.
Cox, Matt. William Godwin. http://cityhonors.buffalo.k2.ny.us/city/reference/English/shelley/godwin.html.
D’Attilio, Robert. Events of the Sacco and Vanzetti Case. http://flag.blackened.net/daver/anarchism/saccvanz.html.
Emma Goldman. http://www.geocities.com/Paris/2159/redemm.html.
Harrison, Paul. Zeno of Cittium-Founder of Stoicism. http://members.aol.com/heraklit1/zeno.htm.
Ignorant, Steve. Crass-Best Before. London: Crass Records Company, 1984.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience.” Walden. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992. 633-661.